When I was younger I had a certain fondness for playing with words, sometimes vocally but most often in my head. I liked to change the names given to most things; a garage became Derek and on the more formal occasions in my head, Derek the Garage; there was Rob the Bank and Alexander the Gate all making it to print in the blossoming new dictionary on the shelves in my mind. It was a constant work in progress though as names morphed into new names. Eventually names gave way to numbers- Rob the bank briefly became 801 and then in a partial u-turn became Robby 801. Derek transformed into Des 47. Then in the windy waves of warm spring air in a stick-in-hand walk through a birch wood a new naming system, which excited me greatly, entered my fertile head. All names were to be replaced with adjectives that described the quality I assigned to the objects themselves. Hence Derek the Garage took on the appellation of Oily or The Oily One; the sky became Bluey; a tarmac road became Treacle Lane and a peach became Fur Ball. This still left room for some charming anomalies, to wit an old abandoned truck in the ditch along the main road became Count Truckula and a ticket became Tickety-Boo.
Eventually, the new dictionary became so ingrained in my head that utterances slipped out in normal conversation. This threw people a little askew. My parents worried about me and then worried some more and eventually sent me to a special clinic for such problems.
There I met a man who put 'S' at the end of every word, a young girl who put ‘Sh’ at the beginning of every other word. The problem was that we all hung out together and picked up each other's unique wording. It didn't so much replace our own , rather it fused with it to create alarmingly non-sensical utterances, for instance a garage which had evolved through the ephemeral nicknames of Derek The Garage and Oily or the Oily one became Shoilys, as in ‘ I’ve put my bike in Shoilys’ except all the other words in that sentence were probably corrupted in other ways.
The clinic’s experts fashioned some bespoke exercises to counter this but these added even more corruption to our spoken words so in the end they concluded that rather than speaking such gibberish we had better say nothing at all. This annoyed me to such an extent that at the tender age of 12 I vowed not only to refrain from speaking then but forevermore!( much to my parents sadness). However, in the next few years my resulting choice of career was pleasing to my parents; it would allow me to express myself and entertain others- on my 16th birthday they bought me a tight black jump-suit and a pair of fine white gloves to enable me to hit the streets of London as a mime act.
The next week I stalked the embankment to practice with my new gloves. I chose a good patch on the grass by the Tate Modern where I could debut my Man-Pushing-A- Large-Ball-Up-A- Hill-And-Getting-Flattened-As-It-Rolls-Back-Down. I was tentative at first, thrusting my white-gloved in front of my then suddenly losing my nerve and then pretending I was just stretching into a yawn. But somehow the courage came and I started rolling my ball. It went well enough and as my confidence grew that afternoon I showcased all my gestures to an indifferent crowd of one old couple, a Japanese teenage girl and two skinny pigeons. As I became more accomplished I would walk into restaurants and practice hand flourishes to beckon diners to their seats; I’d elaborately refuse freely given flyers by people in the street by holding up both hands in the halt position and moonwalk away from them with hyperbolic rejection.
One day a restaurant owner actually chased me, not just for a few yards but all along the South Bank, and over London bridge; I jumped onto a passing ferry but he still kept coming, so I dived in the Thames and swam for my life. Once I came ashore at Blackfriars he was still hot on my trail. In the end I mimed my drama to a policeman who then apprehended the fucking nutter.
For the most part though people were charmed by my clumsy enthusiasm and apparent lack of talent, in perhaps the same way they would warm to Eddie The Eagle Edwards or a poodle on a skateboard.
I’d like to say that fame beckoned quickly but the only beckoning going on was my elaborate ‘pulling-in’ of traffic onto no-access roads( for which I received a catalogue of hand gestures, which I would then mimic as if I thought their exponents were practising mime like me.). And with time I refined the Man-Pushing-A- Large-Ball-Up-A- Hill-And-Getting-Flattened-As-It-Rolls-Back-Down by making it more real, so real in fact that I used an actual giant boulder and it really did flatten me.
There was a new ward in St Jospeh’s Hospital that catered especially for ‘cartoon accidents’. There were patients with bulging eyes, electric-shock hair, large pulsating head lumps, even one or two who had received such a forceful downward blow to the head that they were just a head on a pair of feet. I was the only patient who had been entirely flattened. Getting to the hospital had been an outrageous indignity, involving the paramedic rolling me up like a Morrocan Rug, if you please!
Nurse Wanda was young but she knew her mind and furthermore she seemed to know other people’s minds, especially mine. So when I garnered a suave approach to her affections, well the suavest a man can muster in that condition, by shuffling my body up the bedside cabinet so that it would faintly make contact with her hips as she bent over to plump up my pillows, she pulled away laughing. ‘That’s enough of that Flat-so,’ She said rolling her eyes with some barely perceptibly sauciness.
During my recovery she breezed in every day to straighten my blankets and pump my pillows and usually managed to makes some joke about my condition- ‘Are you feeling a little flat, today?’ ‘Good morning, 2D’ ‘Don’t worry you’ll soon be returning to your flat soon’ -all punctuated with warm yelps of laughter.
Once I’d blown up to my former proportions I started dating Wanda. We would meet at the Embankment tube station and walk arm and arm along the river. It occurred to me to break my silence and become a speaking member of humanity again. Love can do that. Love can break your silence. But my miming had become such a part of my soul’s expression that it seemed the most authentic me. So we strolled along laughing together at my most elaborate mimes of love, sketching in the air giant hearts or plucking our hearts from our chest and squishing them together.
She had a keen sense of mischief did old Wanda, which manifested in the most delightful spontaneity; one day she pulled us both into a joke shop and bought several sets of goofy dentures, the type that British comedian Dick Emery used to wear when he played his menacingly camp vicar. We wore them ourselves and entered shops as a goofy couple just to see any subtle responses from shop assistants. Then we insisted that our friends wore them while we compiled a photo album of every one we knew in their most goofy form. We persuaded strangers on the street to pose for our photos, waiters, policemen, taxi drivers, anyone we came across. Wanda found a friend in publishing and before that year was out we had published the first volume of Goof- an album of our pictures with captions and descriptions of who we had encountered these people. Soon ‘goofing’ became an internet craze in the spirit of its predecessors like planking and milking etc.
I walk across the quiet market town in early blue-skied January. It's dry and pleasant and I wonder why it engages me so much. I reason it may be the light, the way it hits the silver hair of passerbys, the way it turns the decorative white shop fascade and the silver lamp posts golden, the way it syrups the puddles. And I notice as so often I do, that the light once it hits its target hints towards an otherness, another version of the same thing, as if it is nudging me into a parallel life where everything is slightly agleam. And suddenly a cloud blinks the sun and we are all shifted to yet another version of things- less bright and hopeful, more stark and tedious.
I would have you here to see the things I can see, to smell the things I can smell and I am wondering how I can translate this sensual experience into a code that you would understand. It starts, I suppose with the apparent facts of this scene. I am jogging along a hilly part of town by the old hospital; there are cedar trees to my left which mark the entrance to the hospital and more trees in the distance which form part of the common attached to the hospital; the soil, I think, is sandy as it often is where pine trees grow. To the right are the front gardens of quiet little bungalows; on the road soggy leaves and berries and bird mess, the sky is typical East Anglian for the time of year- grey and heavy with the threat of a rain that may never happen; the trees are and shrubs around are bare and black. However this does not describe my true experience of all these things. They are there and I am here and what I am experiencing is a pure resonance of them or rather an orchestra of resonances that create the feeling of hometown-ness, of a vicarious cosiness gained from peering through windows at softly lit rooms, of a childhood of several impressionable hours spent in wet woods with curvy winding walls and dank lakes, of timeless yew trees and pigeons feeding on bright red berries, a sense of farmhouses, rusty plough shears and thick fog rolling on top of fields of sugarbeet and I would have you know all this of me. I would have you hear the sounds of all those features arranged as they are as a lyrical intensity in my soul and yet we both know that words will not transport experience. Instead you will have to picture the features and make of them what you will. And I will jog here again tomorrow with those same features but perhaps tomorrow the tiniest change in light will unravel yet more of me to know.
Frizzy waves of heat rise from the new tarmac and fuse into the light, forming that unreal brightness of summer. A spicy fragrance wafts from a hole in the brick work. I peer in but see only blackness, but vibrations emanate from inside. I put my ear to the hole, some of the mortar sawdust collects around my beard. I probably look as if I have been breakfasting on old houses. Then the foggy sound of three trumpets blows out into black emptiness. In the cool of a damp cellar a joyful trio of ingenues have gathered to make musically hay while the sun of youth shines.At least that is my preferred version of things.
The blue sky above is really yellow, I think it's blue, I know its blue and yet its yellow. That sometimes happens in summer; you assume the sky is blue but usually it is white. Across the street chrome mud guard from a bicycle blazes silver into my blinking eyes. The metal is so brilliant, so tense and poised that it lightly creaks like a little scurrying mouse. The spokes of the wheel have strands of straw in them so as the bike is pedalled, by a man dressed entirely in blue linen, the flicking sound of the straw tickling the spokes forms a harmony with the mouse. Up above the streets I see the church steeple in cubist squints and that completes the harvest of my attention on my walk up this small town on this hot, hot day.
I would happily continue to wander inside my thoughts allowing my physical trundle to take care of itself. Besides for some painful moments I had the vision that I was on a travel documentary where we see the presenter looking around his subject place with affected innocent interest. For moments, just moments, I was one such presenter, which galled me enough to retreat into an inner world of far-off thoughts. However, the pattern of the day is weaved thus: tracts of light beige ease suddenly interrupted by thick vermillion cords; all is well and normal and suddenly along comes a startling interlude which throws doubt on the entire previously imagined normality. One such bold thread happened on the train here, when on the screeching stalling into the station the train suddenly disappeared and we all fell to the platform.
One pedestrian dressed in the same blue as the man on the bike walks out of a shop. He sniffs his newspaper, wrinkles his nose, sniffs again, hoists his head back, sniffs again and then pops the newspaper in the bin and strides off looking very pleased with himself. Then a large woman steps out of a hotel gasping for breath, fanning her face with a sky blue fan. She too is dressed in blue linen (but more of a sky blue) in the form of a twin-set, even her hair has been dyed blue and her nail gloss is a match.
The next building attached to a congregational church, I peer in the window and see that everyone is dressed in blue, more or less the same zaffre blue but with some brandeis and bleu de france variations. I walk on distracting myself with thoughts about chopping boards- I recently saw a very thick wooden chopping board and wondered if the makers made them thicker. It caused me to imagine a chopping board so thick that it came with a built-on ladder. These are pleasant thoughts. I am at one with tanned graininess as I sweat along this high street going precisely nowhere, with no purpose in mind either.
Speck of rain appear on the pinkish grey road. ‘So it is true’ I say to myself as if the appearance of rain verified some mystical truth or scientific theory. It didn’t but how I must have fun with the imaginary audience. I take cover, then suddenly the loud, loud booming of the church bells shake the walls of the buildings around me. The streets are pouring with people all bustling and running to the playing field, I jog along, amazed at this swarm of coloured people; for everybody is dressed , from head-to-toe, in either red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo or violet. They all running with such purpose it’s like the church bells are a hypnotic trigger.
We make it to a playing field next to a school and each colour lines up to form a massive band, then the bands press together and once the final person arrives the borders of the bands wash away and one multi-coloured band is formed, I see now that the faces and limbs have disappeared, there is only colour, then the band floats up, expands and expands, and then arches across the valley and a thus a giant rainbow is formed.
What inspired me to interview Suzy was the following extract in an anarchic magazine:
Suzy takes it out of the pool queue case, unrolls it with some sense of ceremony and holds it as high as her small frame will allow. While others want the end of wars, to feed the world, a change of government or to extirpate wayward bankers Suzy's message is as refreshing as it is shocking. Her cotton bed sheet banner ,which she carries at some forty marches a year, simply calls for the end of people.
'No people, no people. What do I want? No people. When do I want it? Now!' she cries while she stomps her artificially-starved frame along the streets of a fed-up London.
October the 1st, muted chrome clouds above and an earnest wind tumbling paper coffee cups around the finer cobbled streets of Bloomsbury. Suzy skips along the pavement, dressed in baggy orange trousers, baseball pumps and a graffittied t-shirt, her long blonde hair blows not only across her face but anybody else’s who is walking at the same pace. We greet one another with mediterranean air kisses. She picks a two-tabled café and for the sake of readers of ‘Stupid Magazine’ I begin my interview.
‘So according to my records you have a degree in International politics?’
‘Yes, that’s right, for all the good it did me’ She pulls out a harmonica from her rear pocket and starts playing a soft, mournful blues. The waitress grimaces then smiles.
‘And then you worked for a shipping company as an account manager?’ I say raising my voice over her tune.
‘Don’t remind me’ she says with the harmonica in her mouth so her answer is vaguely and comically tuneful. The she laughs and laughs almost drunkenly. I decide to hurry up to the main point.
'So Suzy when you say you want an end to people do you mean a certain type of heartless greed-driven ignoramus?'
'No' she says putting away her harmonica and lovingly arranging her luscious hair. 'I want all people ended, finished, done, completed, terminated, you see?
'Yes, I do. It's just that it would sort of include me.....and I've become rather attached to my existence and anyway, it would also include you' I gulp on hot sour tea and watch her squint as a shock of surprising sun hits the window and a slight rustle of the London plane trees that line the square wafts in the top window.
'Oh, and what is wrong with that? What right do we have to existence?' Her face tightens to almost pure bone and her eyes fix and pale.
'But you can't deny someone the right to exist and anyway it's impossible.'
‘There is no state you can have where you are deprived of existence.'
'What about death?'
'You might experience dying but you cannot experience death'
'Well, anyway all people must go because they are wrong’
'Wrong? What do you mean wrong?'
'Look you know what I’m talking about…people are just wrong.'
'Well, not really. You want people to somehow experience non-existence' I say smarmily, returning to the thrust of my argument 'you see how crazy that is?'
'No, Why should it be?'
'Because there is no such thing as non-existence, don't you see?'
'You're making no sense. What do you mean, Mr. Philosopher?' She scratched on the section of firm thigh she had exposed through a rip in her skin-tight faded jeans. Her skin was Scandinavian flawless.
'Put it this way..it is impossible to imagine non-existence. You can imagine nothing but even nothing is the very barest form of something. Non-existence cannot be imagined and it cannot be known and yet you want people to somehow experience it because you don't like them?'
'Yes, that's right and you won't talk me out of it and by the way, I didn’t say that I didn’t like people'
'Then why in God’s name are you doing this?'
'Who knows? It rose in me. Anyway, you are supposed to be into this sort of thing. You are supposed to be alternative'
I was up for absurdity but it and my readers demanded at least a strand of rationale and since I am not interested in self-indulgence or psychotic motivations I decide to terminate the interview. She is clearly a childish fool albeit a beautiful one.
I spent the following week chasing up stories about virgin rabbits, real paper aeroplanes and a man who coughs through his ears and when I wasn’t doing that I was walking in the park with my siamese cat, sketching silouhettes of bare trees. Every now and then I would find myself thinking about Suzy and her antics and such is the case when you keep replaying and replaying some idea it seemed to embed itself into my model of reality. By the end of the week I was aching to her interview her again.
The following Tuesday I tracked her down in a large empty house in Lee, South London.
She opened the door before I knocked.
‘You took your time’ she said smiling. She then grabbed hold of my black wooly jumper and shoved me against the wall, and there and then on that cold wooden floor, under the soft blare of hallway candles, we became lovers.
Over the next few days we recruited several more supporters to our cause and since nobody had a house big enough to contain us all we all moved to a warehouse in Fish Island. Everybody cooked and cleaned and danced and made music .Suzy would recite poetry on the spot while I quietly kept rythm with her on an old banjo. There was a lot of love in a spontaneous group and after a month of cohabiting Mick the butcher from Southend stole a bus; we painted it up in psychedelic colours and toured around the east coast, swimming in the cold sea, preaching in the streets and parks and making bonfires for barbecues.
Soon the group got so big that we needed more land so we moved onto a deserted farm in Hampshire. It was a beautiful spot- crumbling building, wild flowers , willow trees by a stream. Pete, the carpenter from Southampton organised little workcamps so that we could cobble together more living areas in the barns and outsheds. People kept coming and coming, pitching their tents in friendly circles; some even built dens from tree branches. Suzy kept an eye on numbers and controlled the marches but in no less than two months we had over a million people in Britain calling for the end of people.
There was so much energy and love in our community and as the movement spread across Britain communities were transformed from anonymous and broken to thriving and caring. By the end of the year our message had reached mainland Europe and in a few weeks it swept right across to Russia, then China, Japan, Australia, and eventually to America. By year two our cause was established as the new world religion and one whole planet was finally united in its attempts to rid the world of people.
Realising the stupendous paradox we had created as a planet - that we were all loving one another because we were united in wanting to eliminate our species we ( and I do mean the entire population of the planet) sat in a calm void for three days and on day four we all spontaneously took up gardening. We turned the entire land mass of planet Earth into a flower bed and when the blooms came through Earth became one big ball of brilliant oranges, yellows and reds. The colours were so vivid, so overpowering and the fragrance so strong that we stopped eating and drinking as we were able to sustain ourselves on its energy alone. Suzy and I then sprouted wings and spent the next three hundred years just fluttering about the skies.
Richard Bones was strange man. On his 50th birthday he moved into a house previously abandoned by crack addicts and alcoholic tramps. He had a scrunched up den by the window with a white and blue striped mattress. And he made a pillow from a hessian sack stuffed with a collection of clothes raided from bins and from the back seats of buses as well. You would think (well, I imagine you would) his entire world was strewn around him on those rat-knawed floorboards, that the carrier bags and in pots was the limit of his fortunes, but you'd be wrong (perhaps you’ve been wrong before?); for in the high street he kept a fridge, yes it sounds vague and unlikely but really, I promise you, Old Bones had a fridge on the roof of the Natwest Bank, which he had somehow plugged into the attic of the next door chemist's. He refrigerated an array of food, including gallons of yogurt, which he stole from the health food shop on Connaught Road. ‘Yoghurt’ he said, to his falling roof beam, which he named ‘Rolf’, ‘Yogurt is the energy, yoghurt is protein, yoghurt is life’. Then he would laugh out loud to himself, a deep raucous laugh which slowed to a wheezy snigger.
He was monkey, by that I mean, he was born in the year of the monkey, a fact which seemed to render him prone to sniggering at the slightest of things, especially that which contained mischief, or the petty inconveniences of other people. Nothing delighted him more than listening to a public argument, something along the lines of a couple out shopping on a Saturday morning arguing about time or the price of something. Etched on his mischievous brain was the quote: “I waited for you outside that bloody shop for nearly an hour. Now where the fxxx were you?” which he had gathered on a rainy Saturday in Camden town.
When the chips were down he would replay it to himself until the wheezing laugh reduced him to a catatonic figure of enlightened serenity. Coupled with that was his ability to turn himself into the object of humour and spend several days in blissful amusement of himself, his tatty clothes, his aching arthritis, his elongated feet, his prayers, (which he said every night) his pet cat, who followed him everywhere, his rolled-up collection of comics and, in the deepest moments of his rigid jaw soul-stopping fed-upness, he would laugh at his very existence, his actually entity-ness. Once you reach that level of humour the laughter actually stops and you slip into a brief coma for five minutes or so. Locals often found Old Bones in that state on park benches or in the bus station waiting room, looking entirely frozen but with the most serene look on his face.
As the years gathered around him his periods of coma got longer and longer and more frequent as his entity-ness got funnier and funnier to him. The emergency services got tired of repeatedly being called to his aid. Doctors gave him a new drug designed to stop him from finding his entity-ness so funny. It didn’t work and one day the inevitable happened. Old Bones reached a point of such clarity about his existence, life, reality, the cosmos and All-That-Is, all of the usual distractions that prevent anyone from finding the whole thing so funny dissipated before him and he slipped into a coma from which he never returned. They now keep him alive on a machine in a secret London hospital. Yes, Richard Bones was a strange man.
When I was a pigeon I used to come into roost at aabout 3:30pm. I know it was 3:30pm because there are plenty of clocks in the sky, invisible, of course, to the human eye but as plain as day to bird life. Most of them are made by Seiko. Rolex used to have the contract but Seiko undercut them in the clock price wars of 1835. I am lying, of course....or am I? So where was I? Yes, I would come into roost mid afternoon after a casual day in the grain barns. Ash was my favourite tree. The tips are quite thin allowing for a more exciting sway in the breeze, and I also don't mind a thick yew tree around a graveyard where it's all dark and sinister, particularly in a cloudy twilight. Anyway, into roost I would come. The first task was to get comfortable and make sure no dangers lay around me, like a hapless teenager with an air-rifle or a cat in the tree, or even a ferret; for once a ferret made its way into a rabbit warren and unbeknown to me or him or anyone else the warren extended up through the tree trunk, a vast labyrinth of the elite of the rabbit world lay secretly within-Hell there were rabbits living in that tree! Imagine the fright I had seeing a rabbit scuttling past me with a golden bloody-mouthed ferret hot on his tail. Anyway, I digress, again and again. Pigeons, they say in the bird world, digress, which is hardly the greatest crime. I mean, lapwings actually beat their children with looted workshop tools-spanners, screwdrivers and the like and Canada geese kidnap humans and experiment on them, so digression pales into harmless fun by comparison. So, anyway, I would get myself comfortable in the tree and then select a book from the shelf. Oh yes, sorry, again invisible to the human eye, most trees have a book shelf about two-thirds up the trunk. Nobody knows who puts them there but let me tell you they stock some ripping good yarns. One book was entirely devoted to the life of a bank clerk who thought he used to be a pigeon and another was about a pigeon who thought he was a bank clerk. I even wrote one myself once- about a man who wrote an account of a man who thought he used to be a pigeon and then discovered when he got to the last line that he actually was a pigeon thinking that he used to be a man!!
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