Deflated Frog

Frog_Gif

Deflated frog
Or
Fondle with care

Puberty, that moment in a boy’s life when girls suddenly become interesting, when a boy like me stops and thinks to himself, ‘oh now I understand.’ At this very moment in my development, a crucial yet highly sensitive moment I should stress, I turned into a freak.

My voice, once the avatar of angels, became coarse and vulgar not to mention unpredictable. Pubic hair started to appear in peculiar places; acne had a fantastic opening night and would run for years. Strange stirrings in my underpants occurred at the most inconvenient times, I had erections all over the place, on the school bus, in class (more during algebra for some reason), at mass, oh the shame, and once in the public pool…shallow end. I had all this weird stuff going on and then, just as I was becoming more aware of myself physically, I became fat.

It’s a strange time for a boy, those first couple of years, the body kicks into overdrive, hormones are on the loose, waging war on the boy you were, still are. That playful kid so full of magic and wonder is pulled towards manhood kicking and screaming and there is nothing to be done about it. Clocks continue to tick; time unstoppable in its stride drags you along, bobbing and weaving towards death. Death starts here, at this moment, Peter Pan wakes up and smells the putrid stench of reality and in doing so slowly fades away, withers with every blow descended upon him by an uncaring world.

It’s not all doom and gloom of course, alongside the obvious insecurities lays a hidden gem. A gem that at first seems totally unattainable, so far out of reach it might as well be on Mars. Sexual experience doesn’t arrive on Christmas day all wrapped up under the tree, batteries included and with a step by step colour guide. Sexual experience is gathered bit by bit until you have the whole kit. Sometimes you can try to accelerate the harvest, make hay while the sun shines, but mainly for me, at that age, sexual experiences came like an oasis in an otherwise barren land. Piece by painful piece I built the puzzle.

Being fat didn’t help nor did it help that my mother cooked the best food; her way of showing me she cared. In an attempt to battle the onset of premature obesity my father bought me a new bicycle. Dieting was not an option; the healthy full figure of the well fed was common place in my family. Even so, despite mother insisting that I had only become cuddlier, Dad made it his mission to, not only help me loose the weight, but to guide me in all matters of courting. His advice, to be myself, seemed, at the time, lame but well meant; after all I wanted to be anyone but myself.

The bike was a hybrid mountain bike; it had suspension and a rack for clipping my school bag on. On week-ends I would cycle for miles exploring the surrounding countryside. Sometimes I’d take a fishing net and sit for a while by the river, if I was lucky I’d catch a crayfish or two. Other times I’d meet up with the gang and play war in the woods. These gang meetings were becoming few and far between as each boy fell for the charms of one girl or another. I was fat, my friends were exploring new horizons I could only ever dream of and I had become, as a result of this, a bit of a loner! All of this I bore upon young and inexperienced shoulders because I had my bicycle… and freedom was her name.

It was on one of my trips with freedom that I happened upon a strange and wonderful sight, one I will never forget. As I paused for air and a jammy dodger by a millpond full of weed, I spotted a girl, thick set like me and about my age, lying in the long grass by the edge of the pond. The girl hadn’t noticed me at all; she seemed to be extremely engrossed in something. As I stood watching her I suddenly felt awkward and exposed; an intruder in someone else’s dream. I ducked (or tumbled) behind an upturned rotting peacock. The peacock had somehow managed to get his head stuck in a hole within the bank. There was a warm breeze and its plumage, faded but still colourful, fluttered gently in time with the reeds.

I finished the jammy dodger and then quietly rummaged through my rucksack looking for Jammy’s accomplice. I stole a quick peak around the decaying arse of the peacock as I finished off my second biscuit. The strange girl hadn’t moved, still there lying motionless in the grass, I had to get closer, maybe she was dead?
Corpses were common place in my family, recently many old and beloved family members had chosen to die in a cluster. I had a suit just for funerals. One relative had even died more than once! Uncle Gianni had died seven times; he’d been struck by lightning, drowned, frozen in a loch, shot at, crushed under a tank and poisoned by a jellyfish.

With each incident Uncle Gianni’s body lay motionless, dead like, his heart lurched to a standstill, as all hearts do, eventfully. Death arrived, sickle polished and ready for reaping, ready to free Gianni’s soul from the torments of mortality.
Gianni’s soul, once liberated, would start its long journey to the afterlife to stand shoulder to shoulder with loved ones and peers. Soul would pause, out of body, to look upon its vessel in life, to pay its last respects. Then, each time Soul thought its freedom was in the bag, some busybody resuscitated Uncle Gianni! Soul hesitated on the seventh occasion, hung around for a while just to make sure. Except in this final instance Uncle Gianni died alone while attending to his ablutions with no busybodies in sight; just like Elvis he died on the crapper. Soul was free to go.

As Uncle Gianni lay ashen in his silk lined coffin, the grimace of his efforts frozen forever upon his wrinkled old face, part of me expected him to sit up and gasp.

Anyway

I decided to sneak around the bank, concealing myself in the undergrowth as best a fat boy could. I found a good hiding place about six metres away from the girl, behind a tuft of something prickly, and watched.

The girl continued to lie motionless for several minutes but during that time I could see her body slightly rising with each intake of breath; she lived.
I was about to give up and return to my bike when she suddenly moved. With great speed and agility her arms, like two chubby torpedoes, shot out and grappled an enormous bug eyed frog. Her lily white hands closed around the amphibious crooker and she brought it close to her face; I thought for a moment that she was going to kiss it!

Then slowly she produced a drinking straw from a pocket in her jeans and still holding the poor thing with one hand, she shoved the straw up the frog’s rectum with rehearsed ease. I swear the frog’s eyes opened even wider in shock and discomfort, nevertheless the poor thing had no idea what was coming next. She then, it’s hard to believe I know, she then put her lips around the available end of the straw, puffed up her cheeks and blew!

The recipient of her cruelty doubled in size, inflated, and with nowhere for the air to go it eventually flew out over the pond; a deflating balloon, whizzing as it went, its anus, unable to cope with the quantity of escaping air, clapped away like a set of castanets.

We both fell about laughing, I couldn’t help myself it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen and probably still is. Of course she noticed me immediately and when she had stopped howling she came over to me and simply asked if I had any food. I lied, I said no I hadn’t, I did have a Curly Whirly in my rucksack but it was for emergencies only.

The girl said her name was Annette and that she lived on a campsite nearby. I couldn’t help but notice that, despite her solid form, Annette was not only pretty but in possession of a fine pair of breasts. Big breasts to be precise, because big breast were all a boy my age cared about. So when, after introductions were made she invited me for squash and crumpet, I couldn’t refuse.

I collected my bike and Annette produced an old chopper from the long grass, it had tassels and something that looked like a fog horn hanging from the handlebars. As we cycled together through Corpse Wood I asked her, for want of a better conversation starter, about the dead peacock.

‘It was Jimmy Dodson did that, the butcher’s son, slingshot, first time, right between the eyes.’ She informed me, slightly out of breath and getting pink in the cheeks. She seemed impressed with this Dodson character, I searched the events of my life for an impressive anecdote to tell her; I drew a blank. I decided then and there, in Corpse Woods, with dusk fast approaching, amidst the scent of pine needles and girl sweat that I would master the slingshot if it was the last thing I did.

One of the many impediments a boy must overcome on his journey to manhood and the loss of his virginity is to talk to girls. With boys it was easy, but nothing seemed appropriate when confronted with a girl, my mind froze. At school things were not quite the same; girls clung together in little covens, cackling and whispering as all sirens and necromancers do from time to time. Girls at school were aloof and unapproachable; to seduce one you must seduce them all; the very idea frightened me to death.

Annette seemed different, less like a girl from school, more like a mate, someone I could laugh with, do silly things with; she was like a boy with benefits.
I took a deep breath and plunged head first into a story that I believed would cover all the basis, a fable that Aesop would have been proud of. A tale that would make her not only smile but also want to be my girlfriend; it was a risk but a risk worth taking. Sometimes you have to pull out the big guns and this was my cannon.
Only, after an ambitious start Annette showed no signs of interest, my confidence waned and my story began to flag, lose momentum and eventually implode. I trailed off, entered into the weird world of mumbling like it means something, followed by an empty attempt to hum a tune, cough…Silence!

If there is a home for incurable stories mine sits alone gazing without focus through the window, sighing occasionally and telling anyone who cared to listen that once he had soared to heights unimaginable, that once upon a time he had been considered one of the best. When I visit him, and I do often, he no longer recognises me, thinks I’m Greta Garbo or a pre-Columbian Venezuelan potter. Maybe I remind him too much of the past and it upsets him to remember our defeat. We just sit there by the window gazing out upon manicured lawns, our eyes never meet and what’s more we both know that they never will. The shame is palpable, one day I just won’t visit him, one day he will be grateful I never came.

Anyway

Before long we came to a clearing in the woods and picked up a track leading towards a set of wrought iron gates. The gates, two giant guardians bore down upon us, they said ‘we are old and wise, we are important and foreboding.’ Their mission in life was to guard, but guard what from whom I didn’t know nor did I know which side of the gates offered the greatest danger. Those gates, I believe now, stood between childhood and adolescence and once I ventured through there was no going back.
Annette dismounted gingerly and whipped out a huge key that had been suspended by a piece of string between her breasts. She unlocked the gates and beckoned for me to follow her with a tantalising, seductive smile.

As the guardians groaned on their rusty hinges, as if furious to be parted, Annette breezed through to the other side leaving me motionless, frozen to the spot. ‘You trying to grow roots?’ Annette asked. I looked back along the path we had taken, back towards the pond, the peacock and the frog. I looked further still and, beyond the pond and the road that had led me there, I saw my mum preparing dinner and my Dad pottering in his green house. I saw the sanctuary of my bedroom, the comfort it offered, my records and books, my collection of fossils and hidden from the glare of any intruder or invited guest my teddy bear, Henry. I looked back at the womblike security of my childhood, Mother’s warm embrace, Father’s jokes and silly plans, the tree house in the garden, warm slippers, milk and biscuits before bedtime; idyllic, cosy, happy and safe.

Suddenly I didn’t care so much for those breasts and I would have happily traded my Curly Whirly for freedom and the familiar road home. Despite my sudden reservations I followed the temptress through the open gates and stepped onto unfamiliar soil.
Everything on Annette’s side of the gates seamed more sinister, maybe it was dusk’s imminent arrival, she sends out her scouts and sycophantic phantoms to prepare for her big moment. Dusk, unlike night and day has little time to make an impact, she must grasp and twist and stop as many hearts as she can, all within a very small window of opportunity.

Gnarled trees, there long misshaped fingers scratched my face as I pedalled and the wind began to whistle a lament; or a caveat; probably both. Wind, unlike Dusk, is on stage for hours at a time, her work load is, or can be, immense, she can often get confused.

As our wheels crunched the dead autumn leaves beneath, the skeletal bones of dried up branches cracked and snapped; parched of life, brittle and old. Dissolution had never felt so close.

I followed Annette to a campsite, not a holiday maker’s campsite, no this place had a real sense of permanence about it. Mobile homes, each with its own small, untended lawn were lined up in rows, stacked up on blocks and slowly being consumed by neglect. ‘Grubby’ is a fare assessment of Annette’s neck of the woods. Amongst the homes and overgrown gardens lay broken down or burnt out cars, rusty scrap metal piled up in heaps and discarded sofas silently seething. Dogs roamed freely and cats sat on car bonnets keeping watch, taking notes, ready to report back to the Cat Queen. The Cat Queen keeps files on everyone; she knows everything and says nothing, she knew my fate the moment I rode into camp, long before I had any idea what was about to transpire.

There were children everywhere, most of which gave Annette and I a wide birth, some older kids grabbed toddlers and rushed them inside as we passed. Annette looked over her shoulder as she skilfully dismounted while still in transit and called out, ‘this is us’.

Sitting outside a shabby looking mobile home, next to a gas canister half buried in the ground like a long forgotten doodlebug, sat a man in a deck chair. The man gave me a blank unreadable look as he took a swig from a jam jar, a bottle of Gin lay empty under his chair; I found him instantly despicable.

I said Hello because where I came from that was the polite thing to do. Mr Gin took another swig, scratched the stubble on his chin then spat on the ground between us.
‘That’s me Dad’ Annette said almost apologetically before mounting the milk crates that acted as steps to their home. She stood in the doorway attempting a coquettish demeanour, ‘come on up for crumpet, if you want?’ She said.

Given the choice of staying outside on the lawn with Mr Gin or following the mysterious Annette into her lair I ran up the steps like a fat gazelle. She led me straight to her small, untidy bedroom and sat down on her bed amidst the dirty discarded clothes and empty crisp packets. She took my hand and while I stood there in a daze, placed it upon one of her plump breasts; the left one, if I recall! I felt hot, my pulse raced as my penis, controlled by some ancient biological command, came to attention. We stayed that way for a full minute, neither of us spoke, I didn’t want to spoil it, however I did wonder to myself if Jimmy Dobson had had the same pleasure.

Annette seemed blasé, even a little bored until that is, while I was working up the courage to squeeze, Mr Gin kicked open her bedroom door and grabbed me. He pushed me up against the flimsy wall of their caravan, his haggard purple face only inches from my own he said with stinking putrid breath, ‘That will be five quid, it’s five quid a feel’.

I managed a ‘what?’

‘Five quid you owe me for feeling my girl’s tits, hand it over, or else’ he spat.
I didn’t have five quid and told him that, choosing, without meaning to, the ‘or else’ option. Annette meanwhile had picked up a magazine and was idly flicking through the pages. I’d been hoodwinked, taken for a ride, quite literally, and I’d fallen for it hook, line a sinker. Annette’s Gin swilling father used his daughter’s breasts to lure young boys back to his hovel and once there, the bait in your hand so to speak, he strikes. How many times had Annette done this? How many boys had paid her iniquitous father for the pleasure? How many frogs had died? I really wanted Annette to say, ‘it wasn’t like that Daddy, I really like this one, he’s different’ but she didn’t and wouldn’t even if she’d meant it.

I found her apparent nonchalance breathtaking; I realised that this situation had played itself out time and time again, become routine to her. This is what Annette did, what her filthy father had groomed her for, she knew only this, nothing else; this was her life, her survival. I knew nothing of her past, her history, her upbringing, all I knew was that I’d never met anyone as divorced from my own reality as her. I wondered briefly where this ‘routine’ would end, with Annette sucking off tramps to pay for her father’s gin, or pregnant at fifteen, suicide, even murder?

What possible chance did a girl like Annette have in life? No wonder my story of middle class angst failed to move her, she had no reference points, no way of knowing what the hell I was talking about. Her life was so far removed from my own, we lived on different sides of the track, different sides of the universe, I had freedom and she did not. I had the freedom to express myself, to grow, to explore my childhood, my adolescence and to own an opinion; Annette did not. Annette had been bullied and cajoled, perhaps even starved into submission, if she had an opinion it was well hidden, suppressed and kept at bay, whipped like a lion in a cage.

Amongst the fear I felt shame; I felt embarrassment, like it was my entire fault, like I was the one that had taken advantage of this poor girl. If anything I was a fool to believe that a girl like Annette with her various talents would be interested in a fat boy like me, even so, despite the shame, the embarrassment and the guilt, I had, with good intention, felt her breast!

I wanted to save her from this floored existence, this excuse for a childhood, no one should have to live like this, no one should have to prostitute themselves for survival. I wanted to save her but the urge to save my own yellow, middle class skin was slightly more overwhelming.

Oh I could be romantic, I could also be foolish and headstrong in a comfortable environment but right there, in that horrible, damp, dark caravan, a million miles from home, I was a scared and confused child. I became overwhelmed by the scale of realism, my mind, my Id experienced distortion, a tear in the fabric of whatever it was I’d labelled reality. I was totally unprepared for the discomfort suffered by many outside of my own snug, loving existence.

Outside dusk had wrapped up for the day and moved on, night-time had muscled in and taken residence. Somewhere in the woods I heard the Cat Queen call my name, she broke her silence just for me; her warning cry was a little late but appreciated nonetheless.

Only after the event did I ask myself if Mr. Gin helped himself to Annette’s bounty, did Mr Gin, once drunk enough, force himself onto his daughter. Did he tell her that it was ‘their special secret’, did he cry in shame after the event, did he wring his hands and pray for forgiveness, for the strength to be a better man, a better father? I managed to convince myself however that Mr Gin only cared about gin and nothing else. The alternative would be too much to bear.

I came to the conclusion very quickly that I could not save Annette, that maybe she had no desire to be saved at that point; I needed only to save myself. I only had enough will to save one of us and despite the pity I felt for her, I could only save me, live to fight another day, as they say.

The Cat Queen had broken her silence and her shrill chant; bone chilling as it was gave me the willpower I needed to get out of there and back home to the sanctuary of my comfortable life.

Mr Gin eyed me with suspicion and said ‘What ave you got then, a lovely new bike maybe?’
My heart fell, not my bike! Not freedom! But I knew I had no choice, I nodded and he let me go. ‘Now scram fatso’ he yelled through yellow teeth; and I did but not before laying my Curly Whirly on the bed before Annette as some sort of offering or apology…or snack.

I ran out of the mobile home, slammed the door shut, grabbed my bike (more instinct than reprisal) and without so much as a backward glance pedalled as fast as I could. As fear froze my mind my chubby legs just kept pumping away. Flight had won over fight and I cycled all the way back to those giant iron gates. I experienced a moment of terror as I wondered how the hell I would get past the guardians but then a young couple arrived on a motorbike, the passenger got off and opened the gates; I dashed through.

That night, despite my ordeal, I made two promises to myself, one was master the slingshot and the other was to feel another girl’s breast again, if she would let me.
I never saw Annette after that day; I never ventured anywhere near that pond or for that matter Corpse wood. But, now that I’m older and wiser, I do, from time to time wonder how her life turned out. I’d like to think that old Dodson won her heart in the end and that between them they forged a life together as far removed from the one she had as a child. Maybe they run a sanctuary for deflated frogs.

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GILF

GILF

GILF

 

When the weather turned, no one spoke to Anne about anything other than the weather; the same conversation, all day, every day until the sun returned. Glancing occasionally through the bakery window she saw the rain fall like strings of mercury, exploding into black droplets onto the pavement outside. Little drops of gloom, drops of gloom that keep us alive, that others in more remote corners of the globe tempt with elaborate dance. Anne had seen them on the Discovery Channel pounding their leathered feet on the scorched, cracked earth and shaking their rain sticks at the sun and sky. With no breeze to carry the weight of a prayer their cries fall, shattered, parched and trampled underfoot. If the rain did show up the locals danced naked in the downpour, a cause for celebration and song. Rain, Anne mused, as she rearranged her baguettes, was misunderstood and unappreciated just like her.

Anne only ever felt sad when it rained and nothing good ever happened on rainy days.

Meanwhile, Mothers evicted children from cosy car seats into the deluge (to buy bread) while they themselves sat and watched their offspring from behind frantic wipers. As the children battled with stubborn Brollies and millions of razor-sharp droplets falling from a pregnant, murky sky, mother glazed over, mummybot powered down for a few seconds; switched off.

Anne wished that she too could power down for a bit, just pull the plug for a while, but then who would plug her back in again? Why would they plug her back in, to vacuum the lounge, iron shirts, cook and find things? Would she just be forgotten and left under the stairs along with the other broken, unwanted appliances? Best stay plugged in then.

Old women shuffled in, old men shuffled out, young mothers loaded to the brim with toddlers and toddler accessories came and went. Umbrellas were shaken, boots wiped, dolls thrown by scowling babies and the bell above the door would ring her merry tune regardless of the weather; good old bell. Bell only had one thing on her mind, clarity, and for as long as there was clarity she was just as happy to see them go; coming, going, meant no odds to her.

On sunny days the world, Anne’s world, seemed brighter, people were happier and if ‘anything positive’ had plans, ‘anything positive’ would turn up on a sunny day with a spring in his stride and a tuneful whistle on his lips. Why ‘anything positive’ was Masculine Anne didn’t know, Masculine, ‘men’, ‘man’, no she’d fallen for one of those before and he’d died a terrible statistic, what a way to go. Even so, despite his untimely demise Anne was, she must admit; glad to see the back of him, idle bastard that he was.

On sunny days old women spoke about ‘Mrs Whatshername’ and her immoral habits, support tights, supper and the grand kids. Young mothers stressed about new teeth, tantrums, potty training and finding the right school, whereas old men just talked about themselves.

Something happened to men of a certain age Anne noticed, they completely gave up on the rest of humanity, instead they became insular and self obsessed. Nothing new is any good, it’s all bollocks, the internet is Satan, nothing is ever made like it used to be and kids are in need of a bloody good war. Rather than dwell on the state of the world they shut out everyone else but themselves, become blinkered and bitter. Their wives, if they still have them, become ghosts long before their time, shadow people that leave food on the table and wash their husband’s socks while husband spends his time pottering! Pottering never actually achieved anything in Anne’s book, or tinkering for that matter.

Anne could do without a man in her life.

Her late husband, second husband to be precise, never did a hard day’s work in his life and yet gave her three children to look after which when added to the one she already had made four! Husband number one only became husband number one because he got her pregnant at sixteen. Husband number one drank them into debt and desolation; it lasted all of a year. One night he went out with the housekeeping money and never came back. He ended up cuffed and charged with assault, a brawl about something he cared more for than his wife and child. By the time he was released from prison it was over.

Husband number two, well he was a charmer, one of life’s dreamers, if he could have been paid to daydream he’d have made a fortune. Perfect for the busy executive with no time for such folly; pay someone else to do your philosophising, to ponder life’s many unanswerable questions. Safe in the knowledge that those big important questions were being considered by proxy, executive can concentrate on the job at hand. At dinner parties’ people ask executive his opinion on the Anthropic principle or the dilemma of determinism, but he just waves his manicured hand and says, ‘no, no, you see I have a man for all that’.

Anne did love number two, at least for a short while, for as long as make believe can provide, can lift a finger, which to be fair wasn’t that long. While on a pilgrimage to Greece an eagle dropped a tortoise on his bald head. Just like Aeschylus before him an eagle mistook his head for a rock, it killed him outright, mid ponder; probably the second person in history to die from a falling reptile.

The rain continued, unabated with no sign of slowing down, rain was getting into her stride and Anne began to take it personally. Only the teenagers seemed not to notice or care about the weather, they slouched through the door on a rainy day just like any other day; rain or shine. Then again, it was hard to tell with teens, they all looked so miserable to Anne, her own included.

There were three official teens at home plus the constant flow of friends. They all just moped about, children lost in a sea of fluctuating hormones, insecurity and doubt. Even so her children had their own personalities, were finding themselves and offered moments of pure enjoyment.

Anne’s youngest was fourteen, adored chemistry, and took real pleasure in blowing up various public buildings and ‘masturbating like a boss’, his words not hers. He also made her a cuppa tea every evening, something that, although she appreciated the thought, worried her. With his love of chemicals and compounds she feared he may be spiking her drink and using her as a guinea pig to test his latest concoction.

Her next, in ascending order, was Millie the Goth chick who would rather be a boy. Millie, at sixteen had a mature figure, but hid her assets under sinister, baggy garments. Millie wore her hair long, not to look feminine but rather to hide her beautiful face! Millie cared for the elderly on Saturday mornings, took the time to hold their hands and listen; like she was looking for an answer. At home, she spent her time locked in her room listening to depressing songs about death, or practicing witchcraft. Some nights Anne would feel Millie climbing into bed with her, in the morning when Anne woke, Millie was gone.

Next there was Peter, eldest of the dreamer’s brood, nineteen years old. Peter never got out of bed before 1pm, only ate bread, which happened to be in great supply, luckily, and studied Philosophy at Winchester. Peter owned a profundity his father could only have dreamed of; absolutely nothing was funny other than, that is, flatulence! Flippancy was pounced upon; weary is the one who dares to jest. Peter would also defend his family to the death, as long as, that is, it didn’t get physical!

Her oldest child, born of husband number one, was thirty and expecting her first baby, making Anne a premature grandmother at forty seven! Heather the outsider, being ginger like her father only added to the sense of isolation. Heather’s partner, an only child, Elwin, encouraged the animosity Heather felt towards her immediate family and for her mother in particular. Even so, despite the quarrels and the tears and the ‘I hate yous’ Anne received a magnificent bouquet of a dozen Tulips every birthday; regardless of her rare Tulip allergy.

Peter’s friend Andrew was the closet clown amongst his merry band of deep thinkers, ‘Les Miserables’ as they were known; he was also the one most likely to get laid any time this millennia. Andrew, on hearing that Anne would be a grandmother soon, told her she would be officially GILF; she didn’t know what GILF meant so googled it.

Anne watched a video clip of a seventy year old women having sex with a twenty year old man, it made her feel quite queasy. It seemed like one of those fairground freak shows of an age gone by; bearded women juggling midgets. ‘Gather round folks, gather round and see the truly gruesome spectacle of Granny Slut being fucked by Dick Van Impaler, the boy with two cocks’.

Anne supposed there was a compliment implied within the remark, not that Anne felt flattered…just old all of a sudden.

For the phrase to exist at all meant that it had a use, that it was employed to describe a desire in younger men to sleep with older women and the desire was far from exceptional. Why men needed to label everything, to slap a tag on it, to own it was beyond her.   If woman exploited the same reasoning, older men with children would be FILF!

Why a young man would look twice at her, Anne didn’t know, Surely Men were predisposed to find younger, healthier women more attractive and not just intentionally, but subconsciously. Nature, working behind the scenes, persuades a man to look for a healthy, attractive mate, someone with the right hip to waist ratio, someone that can give him an attractive brood and then stick around long enough to raise them. Anne had seen that on the discovery channel too. On the other hand a young man may not be ready for procreation, in which case an older woman can offer not only experience and wisdom but practise too.

Having been unlucky in love Anne realised that trying to reason with human sexual behaviour, and all its various perversions was pointless; pointless because she had no interest in men any more.

 

Bell rang at five o’clock with her clarity intact. Anne brushed off her apron and looked up. A young man stood by the buns, there was a twinkle in his eye, and Anne never trusted a twinkle, not since husband number two. Husband number two twinkled her into bed, church and a life of servitude.

‘Hello’ Anne said.

Twinkle wiped rain from his eyes and absently rearranged his hair into a mess. ‘Hello, do you mind if we just skip the weather, it’s all anyone’s talked about today?’ He said with a smile.

‘I know what you mean, depressing isn’t it’

‘Why people feel the need to state the obvious I don’t know, sorry, I’m Luck by the way’

‘Luck?’

‘Yes, I’m luck personified, I bring fortitude wherever I go’ said luck.

‘Here we go’ thought Anne ‘another charmer on the loose’

‘Oh and what luck do you have for me then?’

‘Day off I’m afraid’

They both laughed.

Anne realised that the young man with the messy hair was attempting to flirt with her; she decided to close the deal. ‘I’m about to close for the day, I got kids your age to get back too, they need…’ she trailed off, what they needed, she wasn’t sure.

Twinkle smiled and said, ‘sorry to waste your time, I just, it’s just that I see you every day and felt that, well on impulse I came in, not sure why? Well I know why, but you are probably married or just not interested in a guy like me’

Anne, despite herself threw twinkle a life line, ‘what is a guy like you?’

Luck stepped a little closer, became serious, dropped the twinkle and cleared his voice. ‘A guy like me marries the first girl he meets and realises, once the confetti has settled, that maybe he’d made a mistake. A guy like me is divorced at twenty five and in need of some fun, is wary of dating sites and finds women his own age a bit boring really’.

‘Oh’ said Anne because ‘oh’ was all she had.

‘A guy like me passes this bakery more times than he’d like to admit but never finds the courage to come in. A guy like me likes you and asked me to tell you. So he’s telling you now.’

‘You don’t know me’ said Anne

‘No but I’d like the chance to’ replied Luck

Anne bit her lip and looked outside; rain had relinquished her grasp on the day and given way to dusk, dusk came early in the autumn. Anne wasn’t autumn yet, maybe late summer, but Luck was definitely summer, maybe late spring? She thought of a poem by Henry Wordsworth, ‘I venerate old age; and I love not the man who can look without emotion upon the sunset of life, when the dusk of evening begins to gather over the watery eye, and the shadows of twilight grow broader and deeper upon the understanding’

‘My husband was killed by a falling reptile’ Anne said, it just came out.

‘Like Aeschylus?’

‘Yes just like Aeschylus’

They regarded each other, took in the moment and laughed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thirty four minutes

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A drugged fuelled orgy in the suburbs of olde Londinium, coke and thighs, whiskey neat and neon poles and some other guy’s wife; it ended with a punch in the face followed swiftly by oblivion.

I awoke eventually, as we all do, stretched out, legs akimbo with nothing but my modesty concealed. Some kind stranger had taken pity on my naked member and draped my loin with a rather small pamphlet advising me on the merits of Hare Krishna.

There were, I must admit, a few moments of confusion. Nevertheless I realised soon that I’d been delivered by fortune, good or bad, I wasn’t sure, onto a beach in the onetime Portuguese settlement of Goa, India. I said to myself, ‘not again.’

It was early morning; daylight kept its promise to return, the translucent half moon made a slow but noble retreat in its wake. Luckily few souls were in sight; a handful of fishermen, who’d seen it all before, busied themselves with nets and ropes. Along the shoreline a troop of saffron robed, bearded hippy types glided with ease above the surface of the sand; silently and with reverence they paid me no heed, I was not on their plane, nowhere near it. Transcendence was not something I wished to master; in that moment I’d have exchanged the power to overcome the limitations of my physical existence for a set of dustbin lids; or a pair of trousers.

As far as I could make out through the grog and the smog of my rattled brain, the residues of excessive cocaine and alcohol consumption, I had but two choices. One was to seek help by attracting the attention of one or all of the fishermen. The second was to paint myself red and yellow, tie a brick to my penis and make out to be a Sadhu in mid rapture. I chose the first option; retrospectively I wonder how different my life would have turned out if I gone for option two!

As it happened there was a third option thrust upon me. How intricate a tapestry does fate weave? While considering my choices; glancing around for a brick and wondering what cocktail Lord Krishna drank last night to make himself blue; a young woman dropped a pancha in my lap.

Dressed in a silver blue sari, her long dark hair oiled and glistening in the early morning sun, she was, undoubtedly, a picture of beauty. The woman, without stopping or breaking her elegant stride, giggled and gave me a boisterous wink…a boisterous wink? And walked on by.

I struggled quickly into my loin cloth, all the while watching this vision of beauty, my saviour walk barefoot through the sand towards a hut further along the beach. She helped me once, would she be kind enough to help me again? I needed to find a phone, a place to sleep and something to eat. I ran like an oversized orang-utan in a sack race, desperately trying to keep my loin cloth from unravelling. Despite my various impediments I was pleased to be making ground when, from nowhere, I felt the heat of a beast upon me.

A bullock, obviously disturbed by my intrusion, and fully aware of his rights and sacred status, decided to charge at this thin white orang-utan in a nappy. At the same time as the bull mistook me for a matador I managed to finally secure my pancha, giving me the chance to sprint unhindered through the cool, soft sand. The bullock, head lowered, nostrils flaring and red eyed came bearing down upon my starboard side…he missed me by a cow’s lick, skidded, reset his sights and…. I was over the barrier and into the hut. I looked back, breathless, panting, toxins weeping from every pore and smiled a crooked smile. The bull strutted in triumph; he’d shown off the intruder, won the battle and looked around for praise or prize.

As did I.

Between watching the bull being all macho, and trying to catch my breath someone placed a warm hand on my arm.

My body swam in her caress; my soul felt purged, cleansed of chaos and my fears forever banished. I could live with her touch forever; pure, feminine and compassionate. Something sexual, I can’t deny it, stirred in me too.

I was no stranger to falling in love, it happened to me all the time, I’m a love junkie, and it takes, according to my research, thirty four minutes to fall in love, as long as all the ingredients are in place.

First you need the pheromones, an ancient and wizened chemical secretion, which has evolved in humans to tell shit from Shinola. Check. Next, hot on Pheromone’s heels; we have the norepinephrine and dopamine twins, two sweaty, dizzy, crazy happy, fools. Check. Aunty Oxytocin, a cuddly hormone had to be in the vicinity, or does she appear later? I’m not sure. Anyhow for the sake of the narrative I was primed and ready to go.

Thirty four minutes seemed like a ridiculously long time now, but I’m a stickler for protocol. Once the chemicals have kicked in you must first talk openly and honestly for thirty minutes. Reveal your deepest feelings, your desires and regrets then stare into each other’s eyes for the remaining four minutes. That’s my recipe for falling in love, take it or leave it.

She beckoned, with a slender hand, for me to follow her into the deepest part of the hut and I followed. There I saw a wrinkled old couple sitting together on a straw mat, yes, I thought, that could be us one day.

My saviour led me gently toward the wrinkly couple and sat down, she suggested, again without words, for me to follow suit. The old couple prepared and cooked samosa in a small pot of oil over a meagre flame, the flame performed remarkably well. For a while my hunger got the better of me and I ate like a bullfighter, enjoying every mouthful, every crumb.

That touch again.

I looked at her long dark hair, her deep brown eyes, her olive skin, neither native nor settler but an attractive melange. Her figure slim, her breasts pert beneath the silver sari, her neck slender and her Adam’s apple……..insert the sound of a needle sliding off a vinyl record here… what was up with the apple?

‘What’s your name?’ I asked tentatively, expecting to hear her say Derek or Dave for some reason. She ran her painted nails along her throat, glanced at the earth packed floor, sighed a heavy sigh and said in a deep voice ‘Loretta.’

To my shame I ran, but could not escape.

A few days later, my liver all but restored to its juvenile state, my wallet, bought with cash successfully transferred from my Swiss bank account, bulging, I decided to take a walk on the wild side.

‘A alma abandonada’ sat with a decadent sprawl, tumbling haphazardly (I wouldn’t want to suggest drunkenly) onto the beach. The bar glimmered in the light of the moon, tea candles and spliffs. Rave music, pumped from speakers the size of cars, spoke to the primitive self, the inner primate. The scent of latrines faded with the heat of the day and gave way to cinnamon, sea salt, lemon juice, body oil, marijuana and lust.

I ordered a beer and decided to stay a while. I looked around me, plenty of vacant students void of complexity, a few honeymooners clinging to their ‘cool’ clung to fruity cocktails they weren’t sure whether to drink or eat. A misplaced train spotter, complete with notepad and anorak wandered aimlessly through a mysterious labyrinth of unknown yearning; and some hookers were draping fat middle aged German laps.

My eye tends to rove, flitters and flutters, settles a while and roves once more, my eye has a mind of its own. My eye ignored the young, the young rarely have much to say, and the newlyweds bored me, too inclusive, too impenetrable, so my eye, despite its reluctance, was left with the spectacle of hooker/client interplay. I ordered another beer, scored some weed, made a brief but heartfelt apology to my liver and settled down for the show.

Oh but then…. I hadn’t noticed her to begin with, she was dressed like a cheap hooker, she was a cheap hooker! No Sari now, Loretta had gone western with her leather mini skirt and fishnet stockings, her cropped white shirt and red stilettos. But there she was sitting on a fat middle-aged German lap, sipping his whiskey and running her fingers through his thinning hair.

Was it Jealousy I felt?

I had to be honest with myself.

Honesty sits in the locust position, perfectly at ease in a crowded room sandwiched somewhere between conceit and self-esteem. Honesty doesn’t shout, it doesn’t demand attention or wave a whopping great flag. Rather she (I’ve decided honesty is definitely feminine) waits calmly for you to find her, sometimes she is never found; hence the yoga thing. Patience is a virtue. Transcendence can only be achieved with honesty.

Was I jealous? Honestly…yes I was. It made my blood boil; it boiled for two reasons operating independently of each other. Reason one…no there can be no order. One reason was repulsion; I felt repulsed at the kind of man who found it acceptable to pay for sex with any woman. But for this man to think that a woman as beautiful as Loretta enjoyed it, that she did it for fun? Ok I’m aware that hookers pretend to enjoy it and their clients know that they are pretending but even so, come on!

The other reason was how could humanity allow this to happen? Loretta obviously possessed no other choice in life but to shag Bi curious holiday-makers. That was the stark reality. Shagging a lady boy is a halfway house for a sex tourist, a stepping stone towards the full moon. And for the lady boy, a means to an end, I few more dollars towards another nip and tuck!

My heart went out to Loretta, it actually burst though my rib cage and flew through the warm night air; no other heart has ever done that.

I watched and wondered why I cared, why did I suddenly care? I’m someone who habitually gave less than a shit. You know that scenario where someone (we’ll call him Burt) holds a gun to your head and makes you chose between you and your spouse? I wouldn’t miss a beat. It’s always the same guy in these imaginings, I feel sorry for Burt, he’s been miscast, poorly treated and a cliché for two long, nevertheless altruism is dead, everyone knows that.

Bigotry is beyond me, intolerance is ignorance, I felt ashamed of my behaviour, and my response to Loretta’s condition’ was cowardly. I understood how difficult it might be to end up physically male and psychologically, emotionally, spiritually female. It’s just that, despite my conviction in an open mind; it turned out to be only ajar.

Her mind will not be swayed on this, she is female but her body says otherwise. Everything, even what she sees in the reflection of a broken mirror, is a lie. Take a moment to think about that, all the physical evidence, everything you are ever told by anyone is a fucking lie. How do you deal with that? How do you even begin to contemplate a happy ending?

 

Author’s note (this interruption is brought to you courtesy of Cagewriter)

Gender Dysphoria for many individuals can be a lifelong prison sentence, fifty percent of which die by their own hand before the time they reach thirty years old. Shunned by family and misunderstood by society. They are tortured by depression, self loathing and crippled by medical bills; no one would choose to be Gender Dysphoric. No one does, Gender Dysphoria begins in the womb and is believed to be caused by either an imbalance in the release of hormones or the presence of hormone mimicking chemicals; and occurs during moments of stress to the mother. More transvestites are born during or directly after times of war, conflict or great deprivation.

In India Hijra people are exiled by their families and local communities, they are considered shameful, abhorrent creatures that are often despised. Isolated they must find refuge in an uncaring, hostile world. With no rights a Hijra is nothing more than a ghost. A ghost considered to be good luck on your wedding day, but not actually allowed to marry because ghosts don’t actually exist!

The End

Then something happened. Newlywed husbands desperately fought the urge to stare as Loretta jumped up; the German’s fat lap was suddenly vacant, his whiskey now on his shirt. Loretta looked upset; I could see shouting, if you know what I mean? I couldn’t hear them, but it didn’t look pleasant. I admired her balls, err grit, sass, tenacity. Then her client grabbed her groin and laughed a big German laugh, she slapped him in reply, and he continued to laugh.

I stood up, standing up felt noble, standing up meant defiance, boldness, chivalry and giving a shit! Giving a shit felt right. She walked away, she never ran, I followed in a heartbeat. I found her on the shoreline gazing out at the ocean; I sat next to her and started the clock, thirty four minutes….

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Know yourself

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Know yourself

Over two thousand years ago a man walked this earth in slippers and a frock. He tried to understand humanity: to reach out, to touch us, not in a disturbing kind of way, but in some way philosophical, morally, perhaps even spiritually. Who knows?

He was born neither into poverty nor great wealth. His father was a tradesman, a practical man, a methodical man. A man perhaps eclipsed by the shadow cast by his heir, and yet, happy to be so.

Historically this man never wrote a single word for posterity, we assume he could write but had a problem dipping his quill. Perhaps he thought himself unworthy, that no one really cared for his thoughts or that posterity’ would not listen. Or maybe he never trusted the written word; found it too open to interpretation, too easy for the student to manipulate his words to fulfil his/her own agenda. Others, be they follower, admirer or disciple have passed on his musings, paraphrased his ramblings and attempted to understand his life and purpose.

When sentenced to death, a little unfairly, he refused to show remorse. He chose death over life, honour over defeat and eternal life over traipsing the earth any longer in those damned slippers.

During his time on earth he was regarded by many of his contemporaries as a raconteur, a non-conformist, a wino but above all a teacher. A teacher that promoted humility and believed that poverty allowed one to see the world with tangential clarity. A revolutionary to some, a seditious trouble maker to others; either way his memory has cast the kind of luminosity that has influenced, even moulded western civilisation ever since.

Then four hundred years after he was put to death along comes Jesus Christ.

Many people can find obvious commonalities between Socrates and Jesus. It’s true that at first glance it appears that they share many characteristics. Neither men were born into wealth or authority; they had to forge their own way in the world. Slaves to conviction and sincerity (as so few of us are) they, in their own way, changed the world forever. Neither name will be forgotten.

Over two thousand years after they were put to death one has fathered a whole new religion; his name used in vain as much as in praise. The other … well the other has influenced the world in more subtle ways; after all he brought philosophy down from the skies.

Even so the differences outweigh the similarities and the differences are found not in their lifestyles but in their thoughts and beliefs.

To illustrate one such difference, we need to go way back in time, before Socrates, indeed even before slippers were invented. To a time before man ambled, with arrogant aplomb, onto the scene Gods ruled the world.

Socrates was no atheist; in fact his core beliefs were formed from his understanding of how he and all other people came into being.

According to Greek mythology Old Cronus, King of the Titans, got it together with Rhea, daughter of Gaia, they had six children, Zeus was one of them. Zeus, after much daring do, overthrew his father and took control of the heavens. He also married his own sister Hera; well what was he supposed to do? Pickings were slim in those days – ‘Flowers in the attic’ had only just hit the bookshelves and Thai brides.com was merely a glint in the Cyclops’s eye.

Hera was a jealous woman, prone to hissy fits and tantrums if her husband so much as looked at another woman, which he did, he had a roving eye, the old dog. When she found out that not only had her husband produced a son with Persephone but that Zeus had also given the boy ‘Dionysus’ the throne, she could no longer control her rage. She took the child to the Titans who ripped him limb from limb, Athena managed to salvage the heart and bring it back to Zeus.  Zeus gets very pissed off at this point and fires a thunderbolt – his weapon of choice – across the street and destroys the Titans’ retirement home.

The soot that fell to Earth formed man (and woman): the Titans make up the body and Dionysus is the soul. So you see all men have a little bit of God in them.

Socrates believed that because of this tenuous link with the Gods it was possible to climb out of the squalor of mortal existence and forge a path towards virtue; that the Universe was of one substance, a continuum from the fabric of mortality to the ecstasy of the sublime. To complete the journey each man must use reason, to ‘know one’s self’. Reason brought you to God and a better understanding of Love or Eros.

Conversely, Jesus believed that man was cast out of the kingdom of Heaven for eating an apple to gain wisdom, they had been told not to, but went ahead and did it anyway! The only way back is through faith and faith alone. We are all fallible, fallen creatures who cannot, with the best will in the world, understand God. God will find us, we don’t find God.

This faith vs. reason contention has been the building block of western civilisation for millennia. Despite their many similarities these two historic figures are polar opposites.

Sin is inherent according to Jesus, we are born sinners and only God can save us. As for Socrates sin is a product of ignorance and not knowing ‘one’s self’, to know ‘one’s self’ is to act virtuously.

One of the greatest voids between the two men is the subject of Love or Eros. Jesus offered God’s agape, the Lords promise to love us all. Pleasures of the flesh are a sin, a curse on mankind; the only love worth seeking is God’s love. The Greeks on the other hand worshiped beauty, to the point where a person’s inner beauty was reflected upon the face; which could not have boded well for Socrates as he was, apparently, an ugly fucker! The pleasure found in the act of sex was a thing of beauty, understanding beauty brings you closer to God. Hence Socrates got laid and Jesus – apparently – did not…or did he?

Which brings us to the thorny issue of guilt, all Christians are born guilty, guilt is their lot in life; they can’t move for guilt. No matter how hard the Christian tries, whichever way he turns, up pops guilt. One can’t help thinking that Christians love the guilt; they get off on the guilt and then feel guilty about the guilt. That’s fucked up. In Socrates’ culture all men strove to be virtuous, if a man failed to be so he faced public humiliation. To be brought before your peers and shamed proved to be a great deterrent; to know you are riddled with guilt before you even start has proven otherwise. Behave or be shamed as opposed to no point even trying cos you’re buggered anyway.

Jesus preformed miracles, so they say, Socrates did not. Jesus had superpowers, healed the lame, gave sight to the blind and made a mean Bouillabaisse from only a handful of sardines. There are no such reports of Socrates’ wizardry – culinary or otherwise.

Jesus, as far as we know, showed little interest in the politics of his time, for him history went like this: beginning, (The Creation) middle (Him) and an end(Judgement Day).Obviously how men ruled themselves in the meantime was of little concern to Mr Christ.

Socrates reasoned that an end could not be known and living a virtuous life would bring enlightenment. He did get involved in politics as was every free male citizen’s duty in the world’s first democracy. Those lucky enough to be exempt from public duty were Women and slaves; jammy buggers. Albeit Socrates rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, was contentious and out spoken.

Socrates’ technique was to try and make others do their own thinking by way of questioning. He was well-known for confusing or stunning people into the unpleasant experience of realising their own ignorance. This revelation was often followed by curiosity and a desire to seek further understanding.

Jesus, by contrast, had an answer for everything. He had all the answers; he knew what was best for you so you need look no further. Jesus was hawking afterlife insurance; God shares, a guaranteed place in Heaven. However, eternal rapture requires a lifetime of deprivation and devotion, live by God’s Word, accept his agape and most importantly do not attempt to think for yourself.

Faith or Reason? Surrender to dogma or examine the world with impartial candour, search for your own truths and keep an open mind?

‘All I know is that I know nothing’, makes Socrates the wisest man in Athens because he is the only person aware of his own ignorance.

But, Socrates had faith: faith that every human being is born with innate wisdom. He saw his role as that of a midwife – through enquiry and dialogue he brought forth the truth and wisdom present within every soul.

We all need faith, not in God but ourselves

What if Socrates could have met Jesus? What would the conversation be like?

Socrates: Forgive me Jesus but I know nothing of your Gods, please do tell?

Jesus: There is only one God.

Socrates: Well what of these angels of which you speak then?

Jesus: They are just angels.

Socrates: Well what do they look like?

Jesus: They look like us but have wings and are immortal creatures.

Socrates: That’s what we call Gods here.

Jesus: There is only one God.

Socrates: What of the Devil?

Jesus: He was banished from Heaven for trying to overthrow the throne of God.

Socrates: And if he had succeeded, he would be God?

Jesus: No there is only one God.

Socrates: How do I find this God?

Jesus: Just have Faith and he will come.

Socrates: So he doesn’t exist unless I choose to believe in him?

Jesus: He exists.

Socrates: How do you know?

Jesus: I have Faith.

Socrates: What about this virgin birth?

Jesus: I was conceived in my mother’s womb by the Holy Spirit.

Socrates: Who is this Holy Spirit?

Jesus: He is God.

Socrates: Who are you?

Jesus: I’m God too.

Socrates: You impregnated your own mother?

Jesus: No that was the Holy Spirit.

Socrates: Are you going to turn this water into wine for me or not?

Jesus: Oh for God sake!

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The Duke

The Duke

In 1985 Sean-the-Duke Harris told the Woodley gazette that he would be bigger than John Lennon; an innocent, if not bold remark.  Twenty five years later Sean was shot down in a Woodley precinct with a dirty look! Brian King, the keyboard maestro in the band Samurai was with him on the day. ‘We were on our way to score some twiglets for the album launch of ‘Prince and Kings’ when this loner came out from behind a grassy knoll.’ At first Brian assumed he was a fan but says, ‘we know all our fans and I didn’t recognise this guy.’  Brian noticed that the loner carried a copy of ‘Cage Writer’ and had an ‘inscrutable expression upon his face that developed quickly from wince to a full on sneer.’

‘When I realised that the look was coming I had little time to act, I tried to block it from the Duke’s field of vision. I felt it was important to protect his ego; lead singers are very sensitive creatures. I threw myself between the assailant and the Duke. I would have taken the hit but I tripped on the hem of Sean’s trench coat and went flying into the arms of a juggling midget. Despite my efforts it was too late, Sean caught the glance of revulsion full on, he was badly wounded and collapsed in the street. I dusted off the midget and then had to call a nearby Salvation Army drummer to assist.’ 

The Salvation Army drummer, 80 year old sister Madeleine Brown, said, ‘I recognised the singer immediately, there is no mistaking the Duke. I offered the kiss of life, as a precaution I took my teeth out, I think my tongue may have slipped in.’ Nevertheless Sean was grateful for her help and later, publically made a deposit in her box!

Caroline Hambleton, a groupie sexually obsessed with Sean’s brother Paul, says, ‘Sean was really cut up over that attack, he hit the Lockets big time.’

It’s true that, like many rock stars, addiction remained a constant battle for Sean but after years of therapy he’d reduced his Locket fix to a manageable amount. After the dirty look affair he was on a packet a day.

Wife and mother of at least two of his children, Beverley, a Gary Numan fan and collector of snow globes told me, ‘He just drew the curtains and locked himself in his recording studio, he wouldn’t come out; which in itself proved problematic as we only have one bathroom.’

Chris Locke, his fixer, neighbour and one time band member, would turn up with the drugs every day.  Chris had contacts in the pharmaceutical industry, he knew someone that worked in Superdrug. Beverley continues ‘For days we could hear him in there, screaming and bashing about, he was like a wounded animal. We all tried to massage his ego, told him how awesome he was, what a great voice he had, all of that shit.’

It was only when fellow front man Robert Plant turned up that Sean began to calm down. Robert recalls, ‘I just began to sing one of his songs, finally Sean joined in, completely upstaging me, well it wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last.’

His worries unfortunately were not over, later that day the Woodley neighbourhood watch raided his semi detached mansion, ‘Couper towers’ and busted him for possession. His solicitor and friend Judith Locke, took charge of the situation as the Duke’s son Yan flushed the gear down the loo. Judith says, ‘someone close to him must have tipped off the pigs, I got him off on a caution, there is no way Sean would have survived prison, he’s way too pretty.’

Twenty five years earlier

Twenty five years earlier the Duke famously stepped off the number 47 bus and into the cold foggy November night. As he walked towards Cemetery Junction a figure came out of the fog carrying a guitar case, it was David Shingleton; that night history was made. David, several months earlier, had disappeared; everyone assumed he’d been swallowed up by the Winnersh triangle, a notorious black spot where, even now Sat Navs fail to work.  Not quite the case, according to legend, David went down to the cross-keys pub and sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for ‘the gift’.

Former Tourniquet bass player Julian Hobbs reminisces, ‘David was a fumbling novice, an embarrassment, but within the space of a few days a fucking God on the guitar. No one knew where it came from at first, he was like David Brent one minute and Robert Johnson the next.’

When pressed for confirmation Lucifer begrudgingly admits, ‘Yeah I was on my way back from Georgia after being swindled by a fiddle player. I was looking for a soul to steal; I was ready to make a deal when this amateur fret fucker turns up. I’m like, ‘hey Dude how would you like to swap your soul for the gift? He’s like, no problemo Dude.’

David, who now lives as a recluse in his penthouse apartment above the ‘Tesco express’ with wife Angie, says, ‘There was no fucking Devil Ok, I’m just one badass motherfucking guitarist who happens to be the second coming. Yes I’m the Messiah; I’m the fucking Messiah Ok? Now piss off.’

Whatever the truth Loose Tourniquet went from oxymoron one day to serious rock band the next.

Sean remembers their first gig with a mixture of gratification, pride, smugness, conceit, self-importance and indulgence, ‘I was fucking awesome.’ He said. ‘I looked out over a sea of happy, semi inebriated fans, there must have been thirty, maybe forty people in the pub that night, and I thought to myself, I’m gonna rock you, and I did.’

Later that same evening, while sipping hot chocolate and watching, ‘last of the summer wine’ he confessed, ‘I was born to rock’ and he was.

Born the son of a Mississippi truck driver by the name of Elvis Presley and a whore house Madame called Trixie La Belle he was brought up in a Memphis knocking shop and had little contact with his estranged father. Elvis once booked a recording booth in Memphis but never turned up, ‘what was the point’ he says now, ‘it’s not as if I’d amount to much.’

How Sean ended up living in the Sonning border town of Woodley no one really knows but he says, ‘I’m lucky that I moved from a backwater town like Memphis to the epicentre of rock music, god knows what would have become of me otherwise.’

Loose Tourniquet went from strength to strength becoming legends in their own right. David Mills, roadie and DJ remembers one, now notorious night, in particular. ‘The pub was packed; the queue to get in reached the door. For some reason Tourniquet had decided to hire a couple of local heavy’s, John ‘iron balls’ Morganti and Andy ‘skulduggery’ Miles, to take care of the security. The band was three songs into their epic five song set, the Duke had just bitten the head off a jelly baby when all hell broke out. Someone in the crowd tried to storm the stage, iron balls Morganti waded in and wrestled the assailant to the ground, the band carried on playing as the ‘skull’ relieved the aggressor of a large saveloy sausage’

Later conjecture amongst the bands supporters led to rumours that the large saveloy was part of Sean’s stage outfit, belonging to the trouser department. Others say it was Drummer Adrian Ogdon’s mid gig snack. Lynne Watts, a groupie with an IQ say’s, ‘despite the rumours Sean never stuffed anything down his jeans, he is just freakishly big in the pants department, it’s a genetic thing he shares with his brother Paul’.  David Mills was, at the time, more concerned with his friend Adrian’s iced tea addiction.

Dave had done tea in India, ‘I tried it once, everyone was doing it back then, it’s how we kept going. You know during the war they used to put it in the soldiers potassium bromide?’ Anyway when I found out that Adrian was cutting his tea with ice I knew he’d gone too far. Days later Adrian spontaneously combusted live on stage during a gig at Stonehenge, it was very messy, a lot of clearing up to do afterwards.’

Adrian’s impulsive, tea-fuelled departure from the band shocked fans and band mates alike. Days later the band decided to split up until science could rebuild Adrian from the traces of DNA found splattered on his cow bell. They never played together again for twenty years.

During the lost decades Sean enjoyed a flourishing solo career and later sang for many forgettable bands, until that is he found his soul mate in proggie key tickler Brian King. Sandra King, Brian’s crazy cat loving wife, told me, ‘Brian and the band were looking for a front man, someone with gravitas, personality and his own microphone, when the Duke turned up for an audition no one could believe it, somebody actually turned up!’

Samurai are now one of the greatest rock bands ever; to be the front man of one great band is an achievement in itself but two?

Wife Beverley says, ‘Sean needed that artistic outlet, that buzz that comes from creativity and performance; he also needed some friends.’

The Duke, with the support from his friends and family, made it through the dirty look episode and has recently installed three more mirrors in his mansion.

But the story doesn’t end there, twenty years after Adrian spontaneously combusted scientist were able to rebuild him. Hannah King, a groupie and one time official stalker of Aerosmith’s front man Steve Tyler, says, ‘it was amazing, one minute Adrian was just a pubic hair on a lab slide and the next a complete cock! Adrian was back!’

Unfortunately Adrian only had twenty four hours to live before melting, Sean got the band back together and Tourniquet played a stonking set at the Royal Albert village hall. Half way through the encore, ‘Whole lotta of Rosie’, Adrian began to melt. John Malone, bass player and all round good guy was there, ‘I grabbed a mop and bucket and later, during the after party, the Duke drank him!’ Which later became the inspiration for the hit song, ‘Drink your buddy’.

The last word should go to the Duke himself….’Greatness comes with immense responsibility, people need their icons, their legends, their idols and I deliver because I’m the Duke.’

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The Seventh Wave

quantum-immortality-1

The seventh wave

I tasted blood, metallic, sweet and warm; I couldn’t tell if it was mine or somebody else’s. I couldn’t move, paralysed I stared at the seemingly infinite darkness behind my eyes and sensed shadows, angry, unhappy shadows moving with purpose all around me; outside of myself.  The deafening clamour that screamed inside my head, initially one solid block of noise, slowly separated into fragments of tune and pitch. Voices, lots of voices, unfamiliar voices shouting in an unfamiliar language became separated from the other clamour, the clamour of trolley wheels on a stone floor, of doors crashing and slamming all around me and of my heart beat echoing in my ears.

What had happened to me? Where was I? The last thing I remembered was the gun going off! The gun had shot me at point blank range; it was ridiculous to believe that I had survived. Is it possible to remember a millisecond of your life?  A moment so small in time and yet so huge it totally consumes you? The time it took for me to register the gun would fire, to see the minuscule particles of gunpowder shimmer in the wake of the bullet was infinitesimal; and yet I remembered it all. I remembered the last thought that went through my mind before the bullet tore a hole in it, ‘Peace at last’.

The noise had begun to subside, fewer voices now and the yelling gave way to a mellow controlled murmur, no more slamming doors and no more wheels on a stone floor. I watched the shadows wax and wane, felt their presence and sensed their fear, their curiosity and their intelligence.

Certain sounds evoke dread and you never forget them, one of those memorable sounds, for me, is the sound of a nurse tapping a syringe before piercing my skin with a needle.

Then Oblivious dreamless sleep

I opened my eyes, or I should say that I awoke to find my eyes wide open, because that’s how it felt. I went from insensible, no longer aware of anything, to eyes wide open and all seeing. Cautiously I took in my surroundings without attempting to move any other part of my anatomy; just my eyes. Reality, as subjective as it is, needs to be verified by every means available, my sight, what I see to be real, had taken on the habit of illusion recently.

The prominent colour, white, suggested clinical, it also told me that if it wasn’t white don’t trust it. I lay on a hospital cot; straps bound me to it, leaving enough room to breathe and no more.  A ceiling fan, unaffected by boredom or routine whirled above me, creating a cool ambient air. I couldn’t see anything else without moving my head; I could however hear the slow methodical breathing of a sleeping person, probably male, probably nurse or orderly. I tried to move, just a little, a little was all the strap around my head seemed willing to allow, but it was enough.

In a chair (the only other piece of furniture in the room) next to my cot, a soft, portly mass of flesh slept peacefully; contentedly. I wondered if nightmares haunted his dreams, but supposed they never did. He had no reason to dread the witching hour; there were no night terrors for the blameless. Having a clear conscience and a full belly must be a satisfying place to be, I envied him that.

He wore a white coat and a small speck of drool, thick like molten lava, stumbled down his bristled chin. The hand gun nestling in the holster around his ample waist threw me a sardonic wink.

Why would a hospital orderly carry a gun, what harm could I do, and anyway how dangerous is a man when strapped to a bed?

Terror comes in waves; I remembered standing with my father on the shore looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. The sun warming our tanned bodies as seagulls cried over head.  With our bare feet in the shallow waters, my toes digging into the soft sand and my hand in his, we watched the waves breaking onto the beach together. ‘Every seventh wave will be a big one’ he’d promised me, and we stood and counted as the waves rolled in, one after another. Terror is like that, every seventh wave is a big one, so it’s best to keep the fear under control, don’t let the waves begin to brake at all; unless you want them to, that is.

Logically, I needed to think logically, go back to the beginning and work it out from there. A Quantum thought experiment gone wrong, or possibly right? The gun went off, I died there in the sealed compartment, the universe split into two; so it worked, bloody hell, now what?

A door opened and the guard spluttered and coughed into existence. I stared at the fan. Low voices, then a face appeared above mine; Intelligent, analytical and thoughtful with piercing blue eyes, young, alert eyes in a craggy worn face. ‘Er ist wach, lösen ihn’, said the man. German? Why was he speaking German?

The guard, still half asleep, came over and loosened the straps, just a little, as he did so he gave me a look that said, ’don’t even think about it‘, so I decided not to think about it, not just yet.

‘Wie fühlst du dich?‘

‘Why are you speaking German?‘

‘I’m German, why are you speaking English?‘

‘I’m English‘

’Not according to my records, according to my records you are Hans dieter from Munich suffering from, or should I say afflicted with, acute Dissociative identity disorder otherwise known as multiple personality disorder. Even so, speaking perfect English is not in your records.  No matter, I like to practice my English whenever I get the opportunity.’

My mind raced, innumerable calculations leading to innumerable possibilities that were all herded into one narrow tunnel, that led all the way back here, back to…what?

‘I don’t understand, where am I and why am I tied to this bed?’

‘Ok, let’s have it your way, my name is Doctor Hartmann and you are my patient. I’ve had the pleasure of studying you now for nearly twenty years! Within that time you have been an alcoholic airline pilot with an irrepressible desire to kill all your passengers. An agent for the Gestapo wanted for treason; a paralympian gold medal swimmer with a Hollywood lifestyle, and my personal favourite, Loretta, a twenty two year old female florist from Rome; to mention a few of the more memorable personas. This new one, the English one, well this is something new. I hope you realise how upsetting it is for me to have to explain this every time you decide to change character? Anyhow, it doesn’t matter, your need outweighs mine; besides with all the data I have managed to compile on your case I could write a book and retire to Patagonia!’

Things weren’t getting any easier for me, I’ll give you that. It seemed hopeless, but then isn’t that what I wanted all along; a living hell that would offer my misery a place to fester?  The reality of a dream made real can often be disappointing, I had liked the idea of eternal torture; it seemed romantic, until now.

‘Ok Doctor, let me persuade you of my existence, then you can let me go.’

The Doctor laughed with real satisfaction, he obviously enjoyed his job.

‘Yes of course, now do tell me who you think you are?’

‘Do you mind if we skip straight to the meaty stuff first? We can go over my childhood, education, formative years later; I feel a need to explain the physics of the situation, the whys and wherefores’.’

‘Be my guest, I have plenty of time; my 11oclock has been restrained and placed in the cooler, something about running naked through the dining area.’

Doctor Hartmann took a notebook and a pen from his brief case, leaned with languid grace into his chair and gave me the nod to begin. He had obviously heard it all before, or so he thought. The orderly stood nearby, he looked like he craved excitement or a sandwich or both.

I began by explaining the idea and how it came to exist. ‘I’m a quantum physicist, part of a small group of thinkers who work only for the military in a top secret bunker outside of London. Several theories exist around the quantum question, but one had caught the attention of the Army, the ‘multiple world theory’. The problem with the multiple world theory is that it exists outside the realms of corroboration, it’s purely hypothetical.

‘A thought experiment had been put forward and debated for years, it was a challenge because it seemed impossible to verify. The military wanted the apparatus, the hardware to validate or disprove the theory in the hope that (should it prove successful) it could be used to build bridges to parallel universes. I know it sounds crazy but, in theory at least, it was more than possible to build the equipment they needed, only ethically wrong to ever use it.’

The Doctor scribbled.

I continued. ‘I moved to the military bunker and left Sarah, my wife, in Edinburgh to complete her contract at the university. It had been a difficult but exciting time for us both. I had my dream project and Sarah had hers and yet we were based at different ends of the country. Even so, the army had agreed that Sarah could join me whenever she liked. I had to sign the official secrets act and remained equivocal about my work, but she knew what I did for a living, it wouldn’t have taken a genius to join the dots.’

The Doctor said ‘hmm.’

‘The idea is this; simply that nothing can be observed without being measured, everything in the universe is measured according to our understanding of time, space and gravity. Only when we get to the Quantum level do we find that the normal rules don’t necessary apply.

The experiment dubbed ‘quantum suicide’ requires a sealed compartment, no observers and a loaded gun rigged to a device that records the position of a single particle. Once observed the particle will be measured to exist either to the left or to the right. If the particle is measured to be on the left the gun fires, if it’s measured to be on the right the gun doesn’t fire.

The experimenter stands in front of the barrel, the gun fires or it doesn’t fire, the experimenter lives or dies. If he survives the first reading, multiple parallel versions of him will die leaving grieving widows. If he dies, he dies in his original reality; all peers will assume the experiment failed. But the experimenter will only ever experience the gun not going off and continue to do so for eternity. Neat isn’t it? Each time the particle is measured and the gun fires or doesn’t fire the universe creates new parallel realities to accommodate other outcomes.

The Military wanted us to build the machine and keep it running until such a time it proved valuable, or we had a better understanding of how we could profit from it.

‘During the time it took to complete the machine Sarah became ill, she’d apparently come into contact with high levels of radiation. She became so ill that eventually the army – who where now running our lives -took her off to a military hospital for treatment. I was ordered that under no circumstances should I be allowed to leave the bunker. I was placed under armed guard twenty four hours a day.  However, I had become so involved in my work, in my research that somehow I managed to block her and her illness from my thoughts. That is until the army told me she had died. I wasn’t permitted to see her body or attend her funeral. I had become the property of the state; too valuable to lose, I was nothing more than a highly paid, well fed prisoner.’

‘Such a shame’ said the Doctor

‘Mortified at her death and tortured by guilt I returned to my work and completed the machine. I christened her Sarah.  Unable to continue living, unable to die, I chose the machine ‘Sarah’ to decide my fate. If I died, all well and good, I deserved it after all; if I lived I’d experience something no one has knowingly experienced before! I entered the sealed room, started up the machine and made sure that there was live ammunition in the gun. The particle registered left and the gun discharged a single bullet at close range.

‘And so Doctor here I am, in your world, not mine.’

The doctor, never meeting my eyes said.

‘But you yourself said that the experimenter only ever experiences the gun not going off, hence as long as you stayed in that room you would experience a kind of immortality, you wouldn’t find yourself in a mental asylum in Dusseldorf, surly?’

He was right of course, in theory.

‘Hey it was only ever a hypothesis up until now, I didn’t expect this either, I just wanted to die.’

The Doctor sighed, got to his feet and spoke quietly to the orderly.

I stared once more at the fan above my head.

Doctor Hartmann sat down again and asked me to describe Sarah in more detail. I had no choice but to comply with his wishes despite a sense of despondency, of running through treacle.  A seventh wave beckoned on the horizon as the terror began to roll ashore.

‘Sarah was a beautiful woman….’ I began.

‘Yes, yes I’m sure she was, but it’s a little vague, please I need details, what did she look like, features, dress and manner’

‘Well she was tall, slim had short cropped blond hair and green eyes. She favoured jeans
and a pullover; she wore very little makeup.  She was studious but had a fun frivolous side too, she loved rock music, skiing and even had a tattoo of a butterfly on her left wrist, just above the watch line.’

I felt the first wave of terror crash onto the shore.

‘She spoke fluent French, road a motorcycle, cooked Indian food, learned jujitsu, smoked the occasional cigarette and subscribed to no religious or political persuasion.’ The terror began to serge through my body, taking hold of me, wave by wave.

‘What else do you want to know?’ I demanded ‘I have photos of her on my phone for Christ’s sake, please fetch me my phone.’ I said desperately. I could hear the panic rising in my voice now; I needed to move, to get away, to be able to run, to leap out of the window if I had to; only the room had no windows. I’d become accustomed to living without them, there are no windows in a bunker, strange that the same should apply to a mental asylum!

I felt breathless, trapped, and unable to move; I had to move, what the hell was happening to me? Where was I? This wasn’t a mental asylum in Germany, this wasn’t even a parallel universe; this was a staged event resembling a scene on a movie set, everyone knew their lines apart from me. Then it dawned on me that I had never left the bunker. What had happened to me? Anyone entering that sealed room should have found a corpse.  What went wrong? Why did they feel it necessary to convince me of my own insanity with this ridiculous charade?

‘Calm down’ pleaded the Doctor finally getting agitated.

I didn’t want calm now, it was too late for calm, I craved the terror, and I summoned it, terror with its strength and its fury, blind to the consequences, crashing into me, liberating me, taking control. I struggled against the straps (already loosened earlier by the orderly) I felt something give but it was too little, too late, the orderly was upon me. I let out a desperate roar and my cry, the cry of a caged man, trapped and raging against the universe introduced more actors onto the scene.

The orderly tried desperately to get a hold on me, and I thrashed frantically against him, under him; both of us spitting and shouting at one another.  I managed to bite him, draw blood from his fat face, sucking at it like a leach; he cried out in pain and fell to the floor; if he never had nightmares before he would now. A nurse with a needle aimed at my neck, her target within reach as my left hand found freedom. Tap, tap went the syringe. Her face was hidden from view by a surgeons mask, remote and inhuman. I had her throat in my grip, crushing her windpipe, feeling the life drain from her like the sand from an hour glass. Then I felt the cold steel of a sardonic gun on my temple.  As the podgy pale finger squeezed harder over the trigger I squeezed harder, crushing her delicate neck as the nurses hands clawed desperately at my fingers now pale and bloodless. Someone shouted ‘shoot him for god’s sake’ in English.  Just before the gun fired I saw the tattoo of a butterfly on her left wrist hovering above the watch line.

Oblivion again

I tasted blood, metallic, sweet and warm…..

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Intolerance

 

Immigration and Intolerance

For those of you that don’t know, I’m an immigrant, dirty word it seems these days, nevertheless I am and I struggle to be so. It all seemed like a good idea at the time and with my normal nonchalant, laid back, don’t give a hoot, approach, I figured I’d integrate just fine. I thought I’d crack the lingo tout suite and in the mean time relay on my devastating good humour and wit, not so, not so at all.

When one moves to another country, one needs to understand that cultural differences can be immense…even here in France. In the eight years I’ve lived here I have realised that the only French people I will be able to get on with, empathise with, are the none locals, those that are less insular, have travelled, and that are educated either scholastically or worldly. A tad snobbish perhaps but the truth is we orbit different planets, they are men of field and forest, of soil and gun oil and, well I’m not.  That said the locals are polite, well most of them, we exchange pleasantries on the promenade and I wouldn’t have them any other way.

Day to day life can be a struggle, especially with the language. As one commentator recently pointed out ‘the difference between an ex pat living abroad and an immigrant settled in the UK is that the immigrant will eventually learn the language.’ It irks me to agree but I do, my French is pigeon at best. Compared to other British settlers whose French, if we are to draw an Ornithological analogy would be akin to that of the bee Hummingbird, I’m doing ok. Oh it’s not through the lack of trying, well maybe a bit; it’s more to do with an inability to make my mouth do something it feels it shouldn’t.

In our village I’m tolerated as a rather odd, often eccentric, sometimes aloof Anomaly. The locals, who don’t like change or anomalies, tolerate me in the same way they tolerate gay men or women cohabiting, and we have both, well it’s just not natural is it?  Even so nothing is said, there’s just a palpable sense of extreme toleration in the air; some even turn blue with the effort required.

I contribute to the 0.4 percent of immigrants in my village; if the national/European average of around 9 percent of foreign born residents was applicable here too, I wonder what would happen to my community’s tolerance levels? I mention this because in a sense I have travelled back in time, to a time where traditions still matter, where family matters so much you’d marry your sister!   People don’t want their identities, personal or national, compromised by outside influence, foreign influence, just like the England of yore!

In 1905 Edward the V11’s Prime Minister Arthur Balfour introduced Britons first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Basically don’t mess with the gene pool, I guess.

Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’. Vicious products of Europe? Maybe he’s talking about Euro pop and man bags?

There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End’, claimed one witness giving evidence to the1903 Royal Commission.  ‘These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through this imaginative metaphor. ‘Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless’, he told Parliament, ‘but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it.’ A Metaphor that Hitler applied in the literal sense! Evans Gordon, much like Belfour was a Zionist and therefore favoured a Jewish state; somewhere the Jews could practice their religion and traditions without infecting the rest of us, someplace where they couldn’t cause any more trouble, a place like Palestine maybe?

Belfour, I’m sure, would be horrified at the multiculturalism now on display in the United Kingdom and Evens Gordon would be brandishing the Daily mail as evidence of the corrosive nature of immigration. But seriously, what’s behind all this scaremongering and anti immigrant sentiment? After all when you look at the facts, the numbers, there is only a positive reading to be had. Immigrants settling in the UK are less likely to claim out of work benefits than white nationals, 5% as opposed to 13%.  They are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing. They put into the system – the coffers – more than they take out, perhaps because they see coming to the UK as an opportunity to work hard and create a better life for themselves and their families. There is no evidence to suggest that they ‘take jobs away’ from the existing population or cause a decrease in wages, in fact, over all they have driven the average wage up!

So what is it? Is it fear, fear of losing a national identity already assigned to folk lore? Fear of foreign ways tainting our own traditions, of new religions or of grafting onto English stock the vicious products of Europe and other more tasteless places? Maybe people just need more time to become accustomed to new ideas, new ways etc, is it all happening too fast?

It could of course be displacement, after all, the Gingers have fought a good fight and, unlike before, you are no one without a ginger friend on Facebook; the gingers are tres rigour now. Where do you put this bubbling cauldron of blame and vexation, who do you point the finger at when things go wrong?

Or perhaps, quite simply, it’s Intolerance?

Recently on the BBC they reported a baby boom, an influx of newborn children, mainly, they said, due to an aging population wanting children later in life coupled with the popularity of larger families and partly, just partly due to immigrant children being born in the UK. The next day the Daily mail hit the street with the headline, and I paraphrase ‘Immigrants to blame for increase in new born children’ followed by a scandalous article on how these immigrants are costing the tax payer! That is hardly impartial, or for that matter, accurate reporting, its scaremongering designed to whip up hatred and mistrust.

What’s amusing is that a lot of these people, these doubters and contesters (I have no facts or figures for this next statement, just a hunch) still visit their local Indian restaurant or Chinese takeaway. Will still stagger out of the ‘Fleece and Firkin, (French owned) after drinking German beer before queuing for a kebab and getting a taxi home driven by a Pakistani, Seek or Pole without a single complaint!

I’d go as far as to suggest that foreign influences in the UK have, rather than degrade the existing culture, enriched it. Historically of course we are all immigrants, so we might as well kick ourselves out too. Julius Ceaser, a Roman geezer, never actually conquered England, least of all with a lemon squeezer, gee the things they teach you at school, he just came for a short city break and complained about the weather. It was in fact Emperor Claudius who led the campaign/invasion that paved the way for 400 years of Roman rule; and what, you may ask, did the Romans ever do for us?

Other than Roman influence, the Brits have of course been invaded by the Germans, the Nordic Vikings, and the Normandy French. On top of which we have had the Romani, Jewish, Huguenot, African and Indian settlers that make Great Briton… well… Great.

Now the other thing is this, why do only certain immigrants get the blame? It used to be the Indian and Pakistani communities but since they have done such a good job of integrating it’s now the eastern European lot that get the condemnation. No one ever complains about the Irish anymore even though they make up for 470,000 of the UK population, there are 297,000 Germans, 200,000Americans and 211,000 South Africans not to mention 137,000 French! In contrast there are only 87,000 Romanians and 42,000 Hungarians and it has to be said a fair number of Polish 600,000. Ok there are a lot of polish people but so what? They are hard working, family orientated people; it’s not as if they are trying to poison the water supply with Vodka or anything. And, when you think about it, a lot of Poland’s great minds are arriving on our shores, bad for Poland but good for us. They are the Nation that gave us the bullet proof vest, the first motion picture projector – no really – the mine detector and err the golf cart, innovation like that is priceless.

The only argument for restricting immigration to the UK that makes any kind of sense is that of over population, it seems that the UK is busting at the seams. On the other hand if young people actually used condoms for birth control rather than making water bombs ( good times) or families were means tested before banging out number four, five or six who knows what impact that would have on the population figures. On the other hand (how many hands do I have) if all the Ex pats living abroad were to come home – unlikely- all 4.5 million of us, there would be a serious problem. Just as well we are happy to live abroad; in fact we are making room for new comers, which is nice.

The Question: Are we all so different?

What really matters to most of us Earthlings, from the furthest reaches of the Amazonian rain forests to the bleak mean streets of Tunbridge Wells? After years of travelling the globe, from Long Dong in China to the desolate wastelands of Cuckoos knob in Dorset I have found the answer.  I have found that most people, no matter their religion, beliefs, culture or hue care about the same things. Work, family, food on the table and friendship is all that really matters, and we all have that much in common which is just about everything.

I’m not suggesting that the onus lies with the host country to just tolerate new comers, the immigrant must make his or her mark too, they should not be afraid of sharing their culture and of experiencing the culture of their new home. There will always be differences and that’s fine too, diversity is the spice of life after all. When you move to a new country you have to respect their laws and ways of doing things, it’s for that reason many people move in the first place! I’m not going to try and make France England but I will introduce the peasantry of Ariege to Pasties and Apple crumble, that’s my gift to them.

What I don’t like is intolerance, distain, mockery and hatred, this only leads to bad blood, violence and misconceptions on a, well, Nazi scale!

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Deus est anima brutorum’

Deus est anima brutorum’

(God is the soul of animals)

Or

Will the French ever eat Quorn?

 

I’m not sure if the French have a word for Vegan, rather a contemptuous sneer or Gaelic shrug in its place. They haven’t got used to the Idea of a vegetarian let alone a Vegan. Here in the Ariege a Vegan might as well be from Mars, or worse Paris.

It seems to me that, as far as many French people are concerned, vegetables are cattle fodder or garnish. Yet I have noticed a strange singularity here in the Ariege and it is this; they love their vegetable plots, it’s all part of the hunter gatherer, peasant ethos. Also, bizarrely, supermarket shelves and market stalls groan under the weight of muddy carrots and brazen leeks. Brazen leeks? Whom, I ask is eating them?

For example the plot of land we lend to a couple of old gardeners, well into their twilight years by the way, is host to an abundance of vegetables all year round. But neither of them would actually eat the fruit of their labour, no they do it for the fun of it. They would rather sustain themselves on a diet of duck cooked in fat and the kind of cheese that will, quite literally, blow your socks off, than let a courgette pass their lips! It’s enough to give my arteries hope.

A friend once challenged her family – visiting from abroad – to find one scrap of vegetation on any plate, on any terrace, outside any restaurant in the medieval town of Mirepoix other than lettuce. Suffice to say they didn’t.  It’s believed that the last time a vegetable was seen in Mirepoix it was winging its way towards the stocks. Who, you may ask was in the stocks on that historic day? Well a young Voltaire, the Famous French Philosopher and vegetarian that’s who. He was heard to scream ‘Deus est anima brutorum’ as a rotting aubergine found itself hovering between irony and collision. Source reference– my twisted mind.

 

Many moons ago my wife and I were travelling in Gascogne and after days of gorging on duck confit, ostrich steaks and beef daube we asked politely in one eatery, if we could possibly have something vegetarian. The waiter, with a nonchalant flick of his tea towel, gave us an agreeable ‘Bien sûr’ before retreating to the kitchen with what could only be referred to as a cantor. Soon enough he reappeared, his cantor intact, and with a resounding ‘Voilà’ he placed two salads before us comprising of foie gras and duck entrails! Well it did have the word salad in the title.

The lack of vegetarian options on the menu is not all that surprising when you consider that there is only 500,000 known veggies s in France as opposed to over three million in the UK. I have to, probably singlehandedly; change this notion that meal equals meat but it will be an uphill struggle. The French government have banned Vegan food from appearing on school menus – public and private – and have the wheels in motion to prevent them from showing up on hospital, care home or kindergarten menus too.

When you consider the healthy export of meat from France to Europe and beyond, let alone the domestic market, it’s no surprise the powers that be would rather a nation of carnivores than herbivores.

France has Europe’s largest population of beef cattle, with 25 different breeds raised solely for the production of meat.  The country accounts for one fifth of Europe’s total beef production, and exports 35% of its beef. It is also the continent’s leading poultry producer with nearly 2m metric tonnes every year. Source reference – Global meat news.

Recently while researching Vegan philosophy and the wholesale exploitation of non humans and their excretions, I was rudely torn from my rumination by the shrill ding dong of the door bell. The dog, whom moments before was sleeping in an almost catatonic state by the fire, jumped into action. On opening the front door I was presented with a dead rabbit by a local gardener and friend. The rabbit had been running amok amongst the radishes for weeks, the gardener had finely caught his nemesis. He pushed the poor creature towards me as a gift, a gift I couldn’t refuse. I wondered briefly if this wasn’t a sign from God, there I was; only moments before trying to justify my own carnivorous behaviour, when the next thing I know I’m clutching a rabbit complete but for his life. I shook off the notion but the truth is I did feel rather sorry for the poor thing, a city boy’s response to the origins of food. I accepted the gift and returned to my cosy nook by the fire only to find the dog, content with his attempts to scare off yet another intruder, sprawled out like a spatch-cock in my chair! Rather than disturb him, he can be a cantankerous mongrel, I stood by the window and thought of Thumper.

Thinking of rabbits my mind wondered off to Budapest, as it is want to do, and to my trip there many moons ago. I had visited the capital before the fall of the Soviet Union on a self funded reconnaissance mission to gather vital information on their women and food. On Easter Sunday, after an evening of Goulash and lechery, I took a stroll to the city zoo. There I happened upon the bird of prey enclosure, the cell floor was festooned with the remnants of baby rabbits, their insides out, as it were! A bloody mass of carcases, tendons and tiny unwanted spleens glittered in the afternoon sunshine.   After closer inspection I noticed a single bunny quivering with fear, overlooked by the feeding birds or just kept for later I don’t know.

Local children saw him too and began to cry before being dragged off to the monkey cage. I wondered if the children had any pity for the now consumed brethren of little bunny or was it sympathy reserved just for the fate of this lone soldier?  The birds should have been the main beneficiaries of our compassion; they were kept incarcerated and flightless amongst the fake branches of an inadequate enclosure. Still it was proof enough to me that animals feel fear, that little creature was shaking like a puppy having a crap.

Watching this spectacle did not stop me eating rabbit stew or any other kind of carrion but it did highlight something else, to do our upmost to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals bred for food or otherwise.

Now it’s nay on impossible to feed an ever growing population with meat reared cruelty free, battery chickens, chickens that never see natural sunlight, that are kept in RSPCA approved conditions  even, don’t appear that happy to me. It would be wonderful if all our meat led a carefree life, like my rabbit, before making that transition from frolicking beast to burger. It’s not going to happen, so the answer, rather than do what the Vegan would suggest and stop eating it completely, is a reduced meat diet. A reduced meat diet allows the consumer the option of buying quality meat bred with compassion and a gateway into the wonderful world of vegetarian and vegan cookery. Making meat consumption a luxury as opposed to an indispensable dietary component, as it was in the good old days, should satisfy everyone, well maybe not the vegan, she’s chasing an impossible dream I believe.

But will the French sign up to my plan? There are a few signs of hope flickering in the gloom. There is a lovely, albeit “hippyfied”, vegan restaurant in Mirepoix that serves homemade vegan fodder with an Indian twist. Also there is Le Rendez-vous in Leran that always offers a vegetarian option and seems to be rather popular with the French. The French here are crying out for something different and are, once put on the spot, rather open to new tastes and ideas; they just need a little nudge in the right direction.

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When she thought of dying

When she thought of dying, which wasn’t very often because Meryl was a child almost completely distracted by life; she thought about Henry. Henry had been an old man many years before Meryl was even born, before she was even an idea her father had brought home from work one day. ‘Come on love’, he’d pleaded with Meryl’s mother, ‘everyone’s got one, some even have two or three.’ Meryl’s Mother wasn’t convinced at first. ‘Well what do you want one of those for?’ She’d asked and then added with an element of distaste, ‘How do we, you know, get one?’

Meryl’s Father had the procedure written down, just in case he forgot, ‘First you got to relax, take a bath, glass of wine, game of crib, that sort of thing. Then you work up a bit of a sweat and nine months later you have a baby! Remarkable isn’t it? Obviously there are a few minor details I’ve overlooked in the telling, but I think that’s the gist of it.’

 Sure enough, one hot bath, some scented candles, a rather intense game of crib and nine months later Meryl was born at home, in a birthing pool. She wasn’t sure if the story, told by her father frequently, was the whole truth or not, she suspected not.  It seemed more plausible that her parents had had, in a moment of passion, unprotected sex with one another, that sort of thing happened to grownups all the time.

Henry had lived a life, possibly two by the time Meryl took notice of him, real notice that is. He’d always been there, like the oak tree at the bottom of the garden. Only it took a while before the interesting oak tree, like the equally interesting old man, grabbed her attention.

It had started with a chat about something peculiar, something she’d been mulling over while eating a piece of her mother’s toffee apple torte. Her mother, after barely any deliberation, opted not to have any more children. She decided to replace any lingering maternal desires with baking; something about her father missing out some of the more notable facts associated with procreation and child birth. As a result her baked goods were not only ‘melt in the mouth’ delicious, but were also made with real affection and Meryl received, and ate, the lion’s share of that affection.

Meryl had taken to sitting in one of the lower boughs of the oak tree, high enough for an uninterrupted view of the neighbouring gardens and without the need for specialist climbing equipment; such as a ladder or a rope. She had mastered the art of climbing to her favourite viewpoint with the obligatory torte wedged firmly in her mouth; leaving her hands free to find the familiar knots and branches on the ascent. To get down she swung out onto a sturdy branch and dangled her legs above the ground below, letting go and freefalling into the soft grass cuttings her father kept for composting.

It had been in the tree that day, whilst mulling and eating simultaneously, that she had noticed Henry appear at the low fence that separated their gardens. ‘Keeping watch are you?’ he’d said smiling, ‘look out for Mrs Grubber at number four, she has a catapult, fires it at cats and children with equal spite and distaste, can’t see the difference between the two, cats and children are both vermin as far as she is concerned. Dammed good shot too.’

Henry smiled.

Meryl blinked, considered the legitimacy of Henry’s statement and decided it was probably true, Mrs Grubber looked like a troll, or a close approximation of the troll she had living in her head, filed under the lengthy title, ‘weird and wonderful creatures of folklore that more than likely exist; really.’ The troll shared a fascinating section of her imagination and kept company with a whole host of other creatures such as pixies, fairies, banshees, unicorns and dragons. A sub category had been drawn up to cover the less likely to exist creatures such as Kraken, Dwarves, gnomes and mermaids. Trolls, as far as she was aware, but couldn’t be totally sure, ate cats and children, so with that in mind Mrs Grubber was more than likely a troll.

‘No actually, I’m just mulling over a question, one I’ve come up with, I’m just not sure it’s the right question now.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Well I decided that one good question can take you a life time to answer, all you really need is one really good conundrum. It would be like a chewing gum that never loses its flavour; you could take it out and stick it somewhere safe until you felt like having a little chew. I chew on ideas, well I suppose most of us do, don’t you think?’

‘I do believe you are right, children and women often are you know? And you fit both categories don’t you?’

Meryl Blinked

‘What’s your question?’ asked Henry politely.

Meryl took a moment to look Henry over, give him her full scrutiny. He had a face like a walnut, a friendly walnut, but a walnut all the same. His voice was warm with a hint of something Polish in it and when he spoke his eyes, sapphire blue, held her gaze and said as much, if not more, than his voice. He always wore a suit, come winter or summer, with a hanky discreetly placed in his breast pocket. It was never a boastful, self important hanky like some of those wedding hankies, it wasn’t red or anything, and it never stuck out of Henry’s pocket like it owned the place; like a rooster in a hen pen. She liked him.

‘Well if I tell you that, you will start mulling on my question and probably get the answer before me won’t you? Then I’d have to think of a new one all over again. Then again, as I said, I’m not convinced it’s the right question for me, if I decide I don’t want it, you can have it. Still it’s a bit of a risk, me telling you don’t you think?’

‘Yes, yes more than likely, I hadn’t thought of that. Tell you what, I’ll tell you a secret and if you like it, you tell me your question; ok?’

Meryl Blinked.

Henry smiled.

‘Ok it’s a deal’ she said finally. ‘Tell me your secret, it better be good’. Meryl settled into the bough and made herself comfortable, old people took a while to tell secrets, it normally involved a lot of back story and preamble. Her Aunt Mable had spent a whole lunchtime telling everyone her secret, it wasn’t even very good; just something about bumping into an old flame, and how she had arranged to meet him in the park but not told Uncle Simon.

‘I have a day to live’ said Henry smiling.

‘Is that it?’ asked Meryl a bit too readily she thought, with hindsight. She sat up again and regarded her neighbour, he probably understood her question as, ‘is that it, a day to live!’ not ‘is that it, what a rubbish story.’ He didn’t seem to be upset either way.

‘Isn’t it perfect? This time tomorrow I’ll be with my Elsie’ Said Henry.

‘How’s that perfect?’ Being dead, as far as she was aware, wasn’t perfect for most things.

‘Think about it, I’ll be back in an hour; you can give me your question then if you like, ok?’

With that Henry waved and hobbled away, stopping once to smell a rose in full bloom, before disappearing through the back door of his garage.

Meryl settled down for a bit of pondering, it was a Saturday and she had the whole morning to think. What did he mean it was perfect? Well, she supposed that if he was telling the truth, it meant that no matter what her question was he’d hardly have time to find the answer, what with all the other stuff he had to do before dying. Old people had bucket lists, things that they want to do before they die, Henry would be busy ticking stuff off. She wondered what was left to do on his list and whether she should make her own, then thought better of it. She had to grow up first after all, and that was hard enough.

 Was he telling the truth? Was Henry a liar? She didn’t think so, liars have what physiologists call ‘tells’ or ticks’, little subconscious physical warnings like scratching your nose or playing with your hair, Henry didn’t have much hair and he never scratched his nose.

So he was telling the truth, in which case how did he know exactly when death would come for him? No one knows when they will die, not really. No one knows what happens once they are dead either, not with any certainty, Henry couldn’t be totally sure he’d be reunited with his dead wife.

 Meryl’s father was an atheist; he believed in science and facts and said that when a person dies all that’s left is the memories held by the living. Meryl’s mother disagreed; she liked to think that, like Meryl’s dead hamster, we all go to heaven; or hell if you are really naughty like Mr O’Brian.

 Mr O’Brian had lived down on the canal in a rusty old barge that sat like a sore thumb amongst the other nicely painted barges. Children were told by their parents not to go near him; he had a reputation for ‘interfering’ with little boys and girls. Meryl had pressed her mother for more information on what sort of interference Mr O’Brian inflicted on his victims but once more she had been informed that she was too young to understand. She imagined the interference to be of a sexual nature, but sensed awkwardness and embarrassment in her mother’s voice so decided to not press the question any further. She had promised not to go near him and to report any ‘intrusion’ on his part. Mr O Brian had been found floating face down in the murky canal water; no one mourned his sudden death and in fact most people took a big sigh of relief.

Some people get sick, she knew that, and sometimes the Doctor will say, ‘you’ve only got four weeks to live.’ The Doctor doesn’t say, ‘you will die at eleven thirty ante meridiem on the third of March!’  Henry didn’t seem sick to her, just old and old people dropped dead all the time but with little notice. One minute they are feeding the pigeons in the park and the next their relatives are fighting over the antique figurines in the parlour; only old people had parlours.

All of a sudden Meryl sat bolt upright, losing her balance but regaining it quickly, forgetting for a moment she was in a tree. She felt a wonderful sensation in her mind as the riddle gave way to the answer, she loved that feeling but it was soon superseded by the terror of the reality. Henry intended to take the matter into his own hands, he had decided the time of his own death and this could only mean one thing; he intended to kill himself, to take his own life! Why?

Why would her friendly neighbour, who always seemed so happy and sort of permanent, want to end his own life? She decided to give him her question in return for answers; he might even decide to put off his dying to answer the question. It was a rather good question after all. Pleased with her resolution she stood on the bough of the oak tree; from here she could see into her mother’s kitchen, if she managed to catch her eye her mother might be persuaded to bring Meryl another piece of torte.

A blinding flash, white and hot hit her on the side of the head; she had enough time to see the troll standing, four gardens down, with a limp catapult in her hand and a hungry look upon her evil face. She thought, ‘I’m for the pot now’ before passing out and falling to the ground.

Darkness

A tunnel of light appeared before her, not a dark, scary tunnel, a pleasant welcoming tunnel that beckoned her to continue. Meryl made her way along the tunnel towards a warm amber glow that, the closer she got, started to take the shape of a person. First it just looked like a muffled, blurry silhouette, neither man nor woman. Then, slowly, it started to take shape; she noticed the hanky first, quiet and unassuming as it was, then the smile, then the suit and then finally the wrinkled, walnut face.

’ Keep coming towards me, don’t go back’ Henry warned her.

‘Why’ Meryl asked sleepily.

‘It’s not your time’ he replied.

‘It’s not yours either is it?’

‘No it’s not, I’m stuck here now, and I’m just going to have to wait it out.’

Meryl tried to move but it hurt, a warning system, pre installed and ready to set off the alarm whenever a body tried to compromise the heeling process, flashed angry red behind her eyes. She opted for stillness. Once the pain had abated and her vision less foggy she asked, ‘Why, why did you want to do it, you know, kill yourself?’

‘I Just had enough of life, I missed my Elsie, I wanted to be the one to decide, it’s my life after all, and I should be able to do as I please with it. I intended to hang myself in the garage, learnt how to hang people during the war, I saw enough people hung badly to know how to do it properly. I had everything planned out, wrote you a letter too, then, before going through with it, I came back to see you as promised, you were lying unconscious on the ground. That Mrs Grubber from number four got you pretty good. I’d watch out for her, I think she might be a troll.’

‘Me too’

‘Anyway they carted you off to hospital covered in wires and ventilators, it all looked very serious. I felt partly responsible, so I came here with your mother, the noose still hangs from a beam in my garage; we’ve been here by your bed now for two days’.

‘Where’s my mother?’

‘In the chapel praying, she’ll be back soon’

‘What are we going to do about Mrs Grubber?’

‘I’ll think of something, you leave that with me’

‘Do you believe in fate Henry?’

‘Is that your question?’

‘Meryl blinked.

Henry smiled.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harvey’s Dead

Harvey’s dead

The Assassin       

I knew that Harvey was out there somewhere, call it instinct, call it woman’s intuition but I definitely had a sense of his existence, sixth or otherwise. Even so, it took me nearly a year to track him down. People don’t just vanish, most people leave a trail, it’s impossible not to these days. Then again Harvey was never most people; he was anything but most people. He’d covered his tracks well, disappearing into the night like a phantom without a trace and for months my sniffer dogs and net bots turned nothing in. Not that I despaired, I always find them in the end, it’s the thrill of the chase; killing them, when the time comes, is just the cherry on the cake.

Despite my strict rules on allowing personal feelings to interfere with a target, I did, at times, regret taking the contract.  The country’s principal gang leaders including ‘fat boy’ Thompson, Michael ‘Bananas’ Bentley and the Meadows gang maestro George Shadows had put aside their differences, temporarily, to stump up the cash for the job. I never really had a choice. If I declined the offer I’d probably never work again, these guys were my paymasters and everyone knew it.

No one ever contacts me directly, it’s not possible, they just put the word out and sooner or later, if I’m inclined, I turn up. I turned up, it intrigued me.  The Clock Tower Pub, complete with boarded up windows loitered in a filthy side street called ‘Beggars Alley’, near Soho. Inside, smoke and gloom hung heavy in the air, sour faced men sat huddled over glasses, savouring either their last pint before incarceration or their first since emancipation; it was hard to tell.  The barman, known, for whatever reason, as Shirley Temple, a onetime jewel thief from Carlisle nodded towards a door at the back of the pub. I followed his nod. I stepped through into a plush interior, all crushed velvet, burgundies and reds, a glitter ball lit the room and a spot light trained on a pole in the middle of a stage flickered with anticipation. I looked at the pole and then at the men gathered with a stony look apiece, sitting nervously around a table. There they all were, these rivals, these hard men of gang land Britain sitting at a round table, the table had to be round, not that there is anything Arthurian or chivalrous about any of them, with one common agenda.

Meadows spoke first, ‘we were going to offer you a little entertainment’, gesturing toward the pole, ‘we assumed you were a bloke. Unless that is, you like that sort of thing?’ He added optimistically.

‘Let’s just get down to business, shall we?’ I said

Just then a young girl with tassels on her nipples, needle tracts on her arms and methadone on her mind came onto the stage and smiled a toothless, deprived smile.

‘Just give me the name and I’ll be on my way’

‘Take out Moriarty’, said Bananas.

I blinked once, a controlled flinch and then left them to the charms of the methadone dancer.

Harvey hated being called Moriarty, I think it was meant to be a compliment, you know, great criminal mastermind and all that. He was an outsider like me, did his own thing, worked for the gangs when it suited him. Harvey was a cunning strategist and the gangs, void of imagination, employed him for his creativity.  He was tough yet fair, as balanced as one can be in our line of work. He never drank, (only green tea) or smoked, never took drugs, kept his shit together, his suits and his mind sharp. Harvey managed to operate in disparate worlds, in the real world (your world) Harvey organised charity events, raised money for a children’s hospice, helped out at a clinic for drug abusers, even played the piano for his local church. There he went by the name, Philip Darcy, people thought him to be a wealthy banker with a keen interest in community. 

Despite his philanthropic commitments he remained pathologically meticulous when it came to keeping himself and his face out of the public domain. His day job was poles apart from his private life, forgery, embezzlement, misappropriation on a corporate scale, black mail, internet hacking and good old fashioned robbery; an impressive skill set.

 Like me he had managed to remove himself from the myriad of databases and files of officialdom; we don’t exist, we are as good as dead only better, we were never born. Not that a few hurdles has ever stopped me, I’m used to dealing with the underworld; faceless, nonexistent people are just more of a challenge, and I like a challenge; keeps me fresh.

 And yet as I watched him from across the street, Harvey looked normal, almost too normal in fact. Suburban man doing his suburban thing day in day out, bins in, bins out. His features had softened, become neighbourly, approachable!  His posture, slack and unperturbed suited a man twenty years his senior. He lived a humble, lower-middle class existence with no sign of the millions of pounds he’d swindled out of the gangs.

Over the past several months I’d read numerous statements, made freely to the police, by eyewitnesses, describing Harvey’s death.  Each account was different in content but all agreed that Harvey had been murdered in one way or another. The police had nobody, no crime scene, plenty of motives and allegations though, and as time passed, varying degrees of confusion and disbelief. Despite everything, Harvey had people willing to lie for him, to testify to his demise.

According to a young Turkish horticulturist from Bristol, whose job it was to tend skunk crops for a gang of Armenians, Harvey had sought sanctuary with the brotherhood. The brotherhood refused, not wanting to blot their copybook with George Shadows. Shadows had set the Armenians up in business expecting a healthy return. The Armenians worked quickly to transform abandoned warehouses into hydroponic skunk farms and supplied the southwest with enough dope to sink a flotilla.   Harvey, feeling snubbed, took it upon himself to blow those farms into next month, the blue haze that hung over the city for a week caused an influx in the purchase of tie died T shirts and joss sticks.

The Armenians found him drinking green tea in the oolong emporium at the foot of Park Street. They dragged him out in broad day light, bundled him into the boot of a Mercedes 280 and drove him to the suspension bridge. They sliced though his Achilles heels with a bread knife before throwing him off the bridge and into the muddy waters below.

The police dragged the river and found the body of an eighty year old woman whose body had been preserved in the clay for more than a century and Harvey’s money clip; but no Harvey.

Fat Boy Thompson’s son, Fat Boy junior, a psychopath with a penchant for misogyny and sadomasochism, left a string of beaten, broken women in his wake. One of which, Savannah Le-Pont turned up at Bootle street police station in Manchester, not as everyone thought, to press charges against Fat boy junior but to make a statement  as to the death of Moriarty.

According to Savannah Le-Pont, Fat boy had made a deal with Harvey, a fifty/ fifty split of the proceeds, cutting out the other gang members altogether. Fat boy offered Harvey asylum at his country retreat in Cheshire until the heat died down and they could smuggle him out of the UK.

Harvey, after several weeks, grew restless, paranoid, convinced that Fat boy’s security/ thugs were employed primarily to keep him there, rather than protect him. Harvey thought that he had been deceived and in reality was being held prisoner rather than guarded guest.

One weekend Fat Boy Junior arrived with Savannah Le-Pont and a bunch of sycophantic neo nihilists he’d handpicked for their inability to give a shit.  Harvey kept away from them, preferring instead to spend his time in the library pouring over hundreds of dusty unread books. Books placed there by Fat boy to outwardly display a culture and intelligence he never possessed. It was in the library that the affair between Savannah and Harvey apparently began. It was in the library, amid scattered tombs on ancient prose, that Harvey was caught on security camera performing cunilingus to a delighted Savannah Le-Pont!

Fat Boy Junior, furious and high on crack, had Harvey stripped naked and tied with barbed wire, face down on the pool table. He took a pre-heated poker from the fire and ordered Savannah to insert the red hot phallus into Harvey’s anus at gun point. Savannah, fearing for her own life and through tears and muttered apologies and pleas for forgiveness, complied. The smell of burning flesh filled the room and even the hardest and cruellest of Fat Boy Juniors nihilists flinched as Harvey’s agonised, tortured screams pierced the stale air.

His body, part cooked, had been tied to the back of a quad bike and dragged over the estate, a pack of savage dogs in hot pursuit.

Fat Boy’s retreat had been raided and the poker taken as evidence along with a copy of the Kama Sutra, found by an Alsatian called Moffet, filed wantonly under ‘animal husbandry!’ Other than a packet of Maofeng and a tea pot shaped like a stripper nothing relating to Harvey or the alleged circumstances of his death were found.

Other statements, equally flamboyant claimed Harvey had been mustard gassed by special branch, poisoned with arsenic infused tea by girlfriend Miranda Sinclair, thrown out of a moving plane at thirty thousand feet and drowned in a bucket of beer! My personal favourite however has to be the statement made by an ex-policeman known as Bent Rex.

 Bent Rex was serving time at Winchester Prison for killing an accomplice. The accomplice, a simpleton named Muddles had blown their cover, not purposefully, but as his moniker suggested he was easily confused.  In a fit of rage Bent Rex had stuffed toilet paper down his dim-witted accomplice’s throat until he choked. Once arrested and taken into custody Rex claimed that he suffered from Munchausen Syndrome by proxy and pleaded insanity, until he was asked what Munchausen Syndrome by proxy was.  

Harvey came to see him. ‘Harvey just appeared in my cell one night’, is how Rex put it. If anyone could break into a high security prison unnoticed, it was Harvey. Harvey told Rex the story of how he’d met a brilliant criminal while card counting blackjack in ‘Le Café de Paris Casino’, Monte Carlo. They were both drawn to each other; two great con artists operating the same patch would normally spell disaster! Harvey, intrigued by this man’s uncanny luck on the tables, asked how it was possible. The man explained to Harvey that he had studied and perfected the art of hypnotism; he rarely won, but instead performed a hypnotic trance on mass, making sure everyone believed he’d won including the dealer.

To demonstrate his talent he took Harvey on a bank robbing spree. Time after time this scandalous hypnotist just waited in line at the bank with everyone else, carried no gun, wore no balaclava and never used force in any way. Harvey watched on in amazement as his new friend simply hypnotised the bank teller to hand over a sum of money and then nonchalantly walked out of the bank!

After a while the man’s hubris gave way to concern and paranoia, convinced that Harvey would turn him into the police he asked for security. So Harvey agreed to be put under, to be hypnotised; hypnotised to step out in front of a bus if he ever went to the cops!

Harvey agreed willingly, but later wondered if he’d done the right thing, after all the man could have hypnotised him to do or say anything he wanted. Harvey could, unwillingly, unknowingly, be a pawn in a game he had no control over. Harvey feared that he no longer had any jurisdiction or influence over his own life or his actions; for all he knew he had been hypnotised to break into Winchester and murder Bent Rex.

Bent Rex began to worry at this point; self preservation after all had got him where he was today! Rex hit the panic button in his cell; Harvey disappeared, never to be seen again. Rex’s statement, considered laughable by the police, ended up being posted online, went viral and earned the less than flattering status of urban myth. Rex, unsure of his own proclamation, claimed he suffered from the little known mental health condition ‘Fregoli syndrome’ and demanded a transfer to Broadmoor prison where he, as far as I know, resides today.

Although Rex’s statement includes no victim, it does point the finger at a possible murderer, but who this man was and whether he ever existed no one will know.

The Kill

I had him in the crosshairs; I applied a little pressure to the trigger, just to get a feel, and relaxed. Not today, but soon. I wanted a chance to find out what Harvey was up to, why was he here, living this alien life, pretending to be someone else, someone beige, someone normal? I found the whole charade quite remarkable, the energy required to hide in this manner bemused me, it must be exhausting. Then again maybe he wasn’t pretending at all, maybe this was Harvey and the old Harvey was the phony, the interloper, trespassing in a world that didn’t belong to him. No one in the world knew who he was or where he was but me, I had a little time to satisfy my curiosity.

So far all I had was a record of his habits and routines. He awoke every morning at 7 a.m. precisely. He left the house at nine and walked the two blocks to ‘Le Salon’, a bohemian coffee house and internet cafe that served him green tea in a china cup.  He sat in the same overstuffed armchair by the window and poured over newspapers supplied by the Salon. He never used the internet and never looked out of the window; ever. One hour later he made his way to an office situated on the eleventh floor of an insurance company across the street. After a little digging I found out that he didn’t work for the insurance company but only rented office space. What he did there no one really knew, the company was registered under a ‘Mathew Wagner’ and called ‘The Internet Detective Agency’.

Before I pulled the trigger I decided to break into his office, have a little sniff around and see what I could find.

Breaking in needed planning, a little strategy and forethought, none of which I had the time for so I side stepped security, disabled the cameras, wore a cleaners outfit and caught the lift to the eleventh floor. The office boasted a cheap desk, a swivel chair, a water cooler and with further inspection a hand written note addressed to me.

Dear killer.

First I’d like to say that I have always admired your work and have the highest regard for your chosen profession. You take pride in your vocation, you shoot to kill and do so quickly and cleanly which is why you, and no one else, were chosen for the task of killing me. Deliberating as you are now, demonstrates to me that you are losing your edge, getting complacent, a little shabby around the edges; perhaps you need a holiday?

To solve the issue and save face with your employees I’d suggest you pull the trigger sooner than later, shall we say midnight this evening?  I must however warn you that this is your only chance as I’m moving overseas.

I believe that a professional like you cannot be persuaded to down tools. Even so perhaps you will consider that much needed holiday? In the top draw of my desk you will find safety deposit box key number 589. In the box I’ve placed a plane ticket, a new passport and details of an account opened in your new name with ten million Dollars on it. Whatever you decide to do let me just say that I respect your decision unconditionally and if, as I fear you may, decide to kill me, I couldn’t wish for a better assassin than you.

Yours

Harvey.

I stood wavering, frozen to the spot, like a rabbit in the headlights I was completely incapable of moving, like the rabbit I was dazzled by something greater, something incomprehensible. All I could do was to stand there and wait for it, whatever it was, to hit me.  My mind raced through every angle, each possibility caused more hesitancy, more uncertainty until I couldn’t breathe under the weight of my indecision. Harvey could have a gun trained on me right now, I would if I were him, he had the upper hand, had done all along.

What game, what diversion from his new humdrum existence had he planned for me?  Suddenly I found myself reaching for the draw, I recoiled my hand quickly  as if the draw had snarled at me like a rabid dog, I had to think fast, give my mind time to catch up with my actions. My hands were sweating; my head felt like it had been dipped in liquid nitrogen and my heartbeat, responding to the most basic instinct, screamed run! I’d been in many tight situations before now, plenty of seemingly impossible ones but I always managed to get through them. Lesson for the future, if there ever was a future, don’t fuck with Moriarty!

I’d come into this blind to my target’s shrewd intellect, his aforementioned ability for creative planning, his ability to come out on top. I had been too blasé, too confident, just another hit, just another kill in a long list of kills and now I’d pay the price. All the while I’d thought that I had been the cat and he the mouse, not the case; how long had he known that I was on his trail?

 A survival mechanism unique to killers suddenly coughed and spluttered into action, I dropped to the floor and crawled under the desk.  The draw in the desk could be booby trapped, rigged to explode as soon as I touched it. Did I want to open the draw? Yes I wanted to open the draw, what choice did I have now?  I could run but to where?  I couldn’t go back to my old life without a body; I’d have to disappear, just like Harvey had.  I could turn up tonight at Midnight but only a fool would appear for his own execution; rather he’d be waiting for me behind a grassy knoll or more likely be long gone.

Rationally I didn’t believe Harvey would rig his office with explosives, It wasn’t his style, too much of a gentleman. I took my time and checked out the desk, I found no sign of tampering, no wires, no traces of nitroglycerin, red phosphorus or potassium; no blinking red digital screen counting down to detonation….four…three…two…one…

I took a deep breath and opened the draw; inside I found the key 589.

Back on the street with the key burning a traitorous brand upon my palm, I ran to the salon, he wasn’t there; I didn’t think he would be. I decided to risk going back to my car, my surveillance equipment and weaponry were hidden in the boot, a bit of a risk, Harvey could just as easily have put a detonator in the ignition.

 Night had caught up with me now, the witching hour, my time of day, I felt alive, the adrenalin keening my senses.  I grabbed a small calibre hand gun from the boot, good for close up work. I shoved the gun into a small back pack along with ammunition, a switch blade and my trusty nunchakus given to me by my Hanshi before I killed him. Oh you haven’t got to like me, I’m a cold hearted bitch, it’s a prerequisite for the job. My Hanshi knew too much, nice guy but nice guys talk under pressure and I couldn’t risk that ever happening. He taught me everything, and once I’d drained him of knowledge I put a 9mm Beretta to his head and pulled the trigger.

I ran at a steady pace all the way to Harvey’s house, the lights were on. Now what? What the hell was I doing? My Job. What would Harvey expect me to do? Take the money and run, he hardly expected me to sit on my arse and wait for a better opportunity to arrive.

 Obviously if the fabulous offer existed at all, the bank account, the money, it would all be subject to Harvey’s survival.  If I killed him, job done, collect my pay and carry on as usual and if I turned the other cheek a life on the run.

 I walked calmly up the front steps with the pistol in my hand. I glanced down, I don’t know why, call it animal instinct, woman’s intuition, whatever, and there on the doorstep lay a cigarette butt still glowing amber in the half light of the suburban moon. Harvey had a visitor and judging from the brand a foreign one at that. The front door was slightly ajar, with my gun in my hand I pushed the door, it opened without a sound.

I was greeted by a deathly silence; the unmistakable aroma of Gauloise cigarettes dominated the air as I moved slowly along the entrance hall. Three doors led off the hallway, I stopped at each door and listened, my heartbeat slow and steady counted out the seconds. At the third door I recognised the sound of a metronome. I took a deep breath, held my gun at arm’s length and kicked the door open.

There slumped in a chair was a well dressed middle aged man smoking a cigarette, he looked up at me, smiled and clicked his fingers, ‘you’re feeling sleepy, take a seat, you are not in any danger’ said the man pointing to the vacant chair opposite him.

The next thing I know I’m in the chair, a little dazed, a little confused. Sitting opposite me Gauloise man smiled, I went to raise my gun but it was no longer there.

Harvey stepped out of the shadows with my gun in his hand; this was the Harvey I knew, the one I thought had gone forever. His back had regained its rigidity making him look decorous, his manner was deliberate and self possession oozed from every pore. He wore a tailored suit, his hair, greying with distinction, slicked back like James Cagney. Harvey patted the Gauloises man on the shoulder, a friendly, reassuring pat, he allowed his hand to settle there and his cold grey eyes on me.

‘Bent Rex’s hypnotist’ I said in amazement.

‘Who would have believed it’ replied Harvey distantly. He squeezed the man’s shoulder tenderly before walking behind me; I felt the steel of my own gun on the back of my head. Harvey seemed to be in some sort of trance, his eyes glassy and dull, his speech practiced yet mechanical; all the while his puppet master sat pompously smiling a smug and satisfied smile. I had enough time think to myself, ‘so be it’ before the gun went off.

The hypnotist lay dead on the floor with a bullet hole in his forehead, the smug look remained.

Harvey’s conduct changed immediately, ‘I’m so sorry to have put you through that, you see, I needed him dead and you need a body.’

He handed me back my gun, I looked at it, then at him, stunned.

‘Oh, yes its fine, you won’t kill me, you can’t, that’s been taken care of’, he nodded towards the corpse on the floor.

Harvey made me a cup of tea, said it was good for shock. Then, as I sipped, he told me his plan.

‘We will arrange the body in such a way that the face is obscured, dress it in a suit your employers will recognise as my own. Luckily we are a similar weight, age and build, him and I. Then you will cut off his little finger, the left one and feed it to the neighbour’s dog. After which you will cut off my little finger, the one with the signet ring and post it to your employers along with the photographs you will take of the scene. Once the police arrive here we will be long gone, they will find a body and assume it to be me; neither of us exists so it would be hard to prove otherwise.

You get paid and your reputation is intact, I’m officially dead to the gangs and I have also rid myself of a psychopath! Not, I should say before I learnt his technique. The offer still remains by the way, take the key, take a holiday and think about joining me in New York; we could make a killing over there.

I’m used to monologues and platitudes, I’ve heard it all before, some people beg me, some ask for forgiveness – like I’m in a position to give it – some even piss themselves with fear and I feel no pity. I came here to do a job, to kill Moriarty and I realised that I still had a chance. You see no one plans my life for me, no one but me, I can’t be bribed or dissuaded, it’s all part of the game, the merry dance I dance with my target. It’s true I don’t normally allow myself to get this close, but it happens and when it does, I kill them all the same. I pushed my chair away and put the gun to Harvey’s head, it all happened so quickly……………..

Rather than the usual sensation of pleasure I get before a kill I was overcome with lust. Harvey looked as bemused as I was, and once we’d had sex on the kitchen floor, he swore blind that he had never intended to profit from my hypnotism, other than the assurance of his own life.

Since that day I’ve tried relentlessly to kill Harvey time and time again, but to no avail. I’ll never stop trying.

 

 

 

 

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