a twist of lemon

For someone surrounded by model racing cars, paintings of racing cars, signed photographs of racing car drivers, Mr Sullivan moves pretty slowly. The marked curvature of his spine and his general frailty means that making a pit stop to the kitchen can take all morning, lifting the zimmer frame, urging it forwards one slipper length at a time. It’s a painful procedure and fraught with danger.
‘Just a moment. Just a moment,’ he says.
‘Take your time. There’s no rush.’
He stops and – as far as he can – glances back at me over his shoulder.
‘Where are we going?’ he says.
‘To the kitchen. So we can get lunch on the go and I can do your blood pressure while we’re waiting.’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘I see.’
We carry on.

It’s a large house, with a thick and settled silence that fills each room so palpably, I imagine if you demolished the house, snatched all the bricks and windows and floorboards away in one clean movement, you’d still be left with a silent outline of the place, like some kind of memory jelly plopped from a mould.

Even though the house has rooms upstairs, Mr Sullivan stays on the ground floor, moving between the kitchen, bathroom and front room, where he has a small bed in the lounge to stretch out on after he’s finished watching TV. Although,‘stretching out’ isn’t something he can do these days, his kyphotic spine giving him the flexibility of an ancient fortune cookie.

‘What do you fancy for lunch?’ I say, after getting him settled on the perching stool.
‘Oh I don’t know!’ he snaps. ‘Look in the freezer.’
There’s nothing much in there other than a pack of vegetarian chilli burgers.
I show him.
‘That’s fine,’ he says. ‘Fetch one of those out. I can have it with some bread.’
‘Don’t you have a microwave?’ I ask him. ‘They’re very convenient.’
‘Where would it go?’
I look around. The kitchen is the same as the living room, in a state of orderly confusion, little piles of things everywhere, pill packets, letters, notes, cutlery, batteries and so on.
‘You’d need a bit of … rationalisation,’ I say.
‘I need nothing of the kind. Now – what does it say on the packet?’
I read out the burger cooking instructions.
‘Preheat the oven,’ he says. ‘Middle dial.’
Whilst I’m sorting out the oven and finding a clean plate, he leans forward on the zimmer frame, his forehead on his hands.
‘Are you okay?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ he says, addressing the floor, then after a pause: ‘I always knew I’d end up like this.’
‘Like what?’
‘Alone. I looked after my parents when they got old and sick. And now it’s my turn, there’s no-one to look after me.’
‘I can see how difficult it is for you,’ I say. ‘But you know – there are services around to help. When I get back to the office I’ll make some calls.’
The oven light goes out. Mr Sullivan flaps his hand to urge me on, so I slide the burger in.
‘Set the timer,’ he says.
I start to fiddle with the dials on the cooker but Mr Sullivan flaps his hand again.
‘No, no! Not that timer!’ he says. ‘The one on the window sill!’
The one he wants is shaped like a lemon. I twist it to twenty five minutes, then set it on the table next to him. It’s an eerie scene, Mr Sullivan crooked forwards in an exaggerated pose of despair, the timer whirring away next to him.
‘What did you do, before you retired?’ I ask him as I write up my notes, as much to break the frantic silence as anything.
‘A loss adjuster,’ he says.
‘Hmm,’ I say. And the timer marks out exactly how long it takes me to think of a reply.

birth of a masterpiece

the minute I’ve got some free time
some one hundred percent, positively ME time
time to wander aimlessly in my head
and not have to think about all the things everybody wants me to think about instead

as soon as I’ve found the perfect desk
something sturdy but nothing grotesque
by a window overlooking a railway station
or maybe a park, a supermarket, or a seafood restaurant whose sign is a flashing neon crustacean

the moment I’m done with the weekly shop
the dogs all walked, my photos cropped
and I’ve toured all my social media
and I’ve followed up a whole number of fascinating and possibly useful stories on google and wikipedia

the second I’ve finished snacking
and jogging, and crunching, and tracking
and there’s nothing left on the weekly agenda
except to look at the possibility of getting some kind of healthy veg and fruit juice blender

THEN I’ll be ready to sit down and start
(this lack of free time really breaks my heart)

the wizard of boz

pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
that frantic, distracted kinda person
stamping on the pedals and levers
manipulating the unbelievers

pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
the yellow brick road has gone for a burton
you’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy
not since they cheated on Brexit unfortunately

pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
how he got there no one’s certain
but if you march thru’ the Emerald City
he’ll clap his hands and cry ‘Fly my Priti’  

Stanley at the window

Stanley stands and stares out the window

what’s so fascinating I don’t know

the pigeons in the trees coo-cooing?

the cars in the street coming & going?

or does he have a bigger talent?

has he seen things I haven’t?

(he’s got the drop on me, I suppose

with that long and gently twitching nose)

the lost legend of king arthur

King Arthur
clanks across the park in a suit of armour
rapidly losing heart
takes his Malibu Barbie to the lake
and though his heart is fit to break
lifts his visor, kisses her
already madly misses her
says a prayer, caresses & crosses her
leans back & tosses her
The Barbie of the Lake rises up and catches her
leaps like a rainbow trout & snatches her
then with a fabulous flip of her tail
a super sushi flash of scales
slips away with a simple but satisfying slop
and Arthur drags himself back to Camelot

hats off

Paul’s flat is an extemporary landscape. Hundreds of empty whisky bottles on the floor, standing up or lying down, a sea of glass around the lifeboat of the sofa; volcanoes of cigarette butts rising from dinner plate islands; a tangled undergrowth of pepperoni packets; squadrons of flies cutting patterns through the air or crawling enthusiastically over everything. And overlooking the dismal scene, glaring like a vengeful god from the top of a filing cabinet, Johnny Rotten’s autobiography: Anger is an Energy.

‘How are you today, Paul?’
He tugs his beard, shrugs.
‘I’m okay,’ he says. ‘More or less.’

It’s a strange feeling, standing amongst the crap, nowhere to put my bag or set up my kit to take blood. So I just stand there a while, and we chat.

‘I’m not going to hospital,’ he says.
‘It’s entirely your decision. So long as you understand the risks.’
‘They keep on about potassium, calcium, magnesium…’
‘They’re all really important minerals, Paul. If you’re low it puts you at risk of serious heart problems. Even cardiac arrest.’
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘They’ve said that. But why?’
‘It’s complicated. I’m not even sure. But it’s something to do with the electrical conductivity of the heart. If your levels are screwed your heart can develop arrhythmias and stop working altogether. So…’
‘But why?’
‘I just don’t know enough about it. You’d need to speak to a cardiologist. Or Google it.’
‘Google it! The paramedics said that! Google it! That’s all everybody does these days.’
‘I know! It’s pretty handy, though. You gotta admit.’
‘Hmm,’ he says, stroking his beard in that classic beard-stroking way thoughtful men have, massaging the pointy end of it with a pulsing motion of his hand like an octopus swimming backwards.

I have to admit, his hair and beard are pretty amazing. He’s so unwashed, they’ve set into a wavy pattern like it’s carved from wood, the hair on his head progressing backwards in defined steps, the beard the other way as a counterbalance.

‘I drink,’ he says, releasing the beard long enough to make a grand gesture at the ruin of the room. ‘It’s an addiction.’
‘I can see that. I know it’s difficult, Paul, but there is help out there. You know – medication, therapy.’
‘Yes,’ he says, back on the beard. ‘Yes, I understand.’

There’s a blue metal chair in the dark of the galley kitchen. I wade through the bottles, tip it clear, wade back and plant my things on it.
‘Shall I take that blood, then?’
‘Be my guest!’ he says, rolling up his sleeve.

We chat whilst I work.
‘The doctor that came the other day? She said she thought I was more intelligent than she was. I said that may well be, but I don’t see what that has to do with the problem at hand.’
‘She was probably thinking about mental capacity. Whether you understood the risks you were running saying no to hospital.’
‘I’m not saying no to hospital as a general principle. I’m merely advancing the idea that it may not be the answer to my particular question.’
‘That’s fair enough, then. But your recent blood results are pretty poor.’
‘I’ve signed the forms,’ he says. ‘All done?’
‘Yep! All done.’
‘Thank you.’
I tape him up.
‘Have you got a cat?’ I say, noticing a flyblown bowl over by the window.
‘Somewhere,’ he says. ‘She’s shy. I’ve also got a collection of hats. How many hats do you think I have?’
‘Ten? That’s not a collection. That’s not even a weekend.’
I can’t imagine him wearing a hat. Maybe a stovepipe. Or a beehive beanie. Nothing else would fit.
‘One hundred!’ he says. ‘One hundred hats!’
And I can’t help looking round.

This Island Earth

This Island Earth, 1955. Dir. Joseph Newman. Watched on YouTube, so you don’t have to.

  1. The title sequence starts with blaring trumpets and trombones. It’s not an easy sound, but at least it shuts the audience up, or wakes them up, depending. To be fair, it does segue pretty quickly into a kind of thin, nervy organ sound to accompany the shots of space, and that lurch from blaring to nervy is pretty unsettling, especially if you’re wearing a hat.
  2. One of the actors is called Rex Reason, which is my new favourite actor’s name, after Red Buttons and Timothy Olyphant.
  3. The first scene is an aerial shot of Washington, with even blarier trumpets. Next thing you know, a bunch of reporters with HUGE flashbulbs are clustered round Dr Cal Meacham, a nuclear scientist-pilot-adventurer-national hero hybrid, draped seductively on the wing of a fighter plane, parked back of the White House. They don’t want to keep him long. Dr Meacham laughs (they ALL laugh) and then he puts a flying suit over his business suit. Nobody thinks that at all strange. But maybe that’s because all male children in the US back in the 50s were born in a business suit. And when the nurse delivered them, she tied the umbilical cord in a windsor knot.
  4. Turns out, Dr Meacham is played by Rex Reason. He sounds exactly as you might expect a 1950s hero to talk, which is essentially Zapp Brannigan on steroids. I’m going to call this character Rex from now on, because it’s quicker to type.
  5. Rex flies off in an airfix model of a jet fighter, blowing the reporters’ hats off. Next thing you know he’s buzzing a control tower in the desert. Would it be too much just to land, Rex? I suppose it shows his recklessness, sense of adventure, love of all things phallic.
  6. Turns out, Rex has fucked the plane up with his daring aerobatics (why they ever lent him the plane, I don’t know. I’m guessing he’s probably done this before). Rex is about to crash – but he’s saved by a mysterious green light that takes control of his ship, flashing on and off and waggling his joystick. Rex stares at his lap. He can’t believe his luck.
  7. Turns out the station is a nuclear research facility. Rex isn’t just a pilot, he’s a nuclear scientist. He shucks off his flying suit and gets straight to work, lowering a hunk of lead into a cylinder with one of those grabby claws you see at the fair. SIDE NOTE: I’m obsessed with Rex’ hair. It’s so thickly gelled he must brush it with a trowel.
  8. There’s a nuclear meltdown. Explosion and fire. Rex and his assistant Joe don’t seem that bothered, though. Joe shows him the reactor core that burned out the day before. They don’t have to go far. It’s sitting on his desk. Rex strokes it lovingly. Don’t worry, says Joe. I ordered another one. This is Three Mile Island all over again.
  9. More hokey science shit. It’s quarter of an hour into the film and the only sign of an alien is a green light and a vibrating joystick. I’d be throwing popcorn. We waste another five minutes watching Joe sign for an Amazon delivery he didn’t order. SIDE NOTE: Rex’s suit is not the same one he had on under his flying suit. When did that happen? Maybe he had to change it after the nuclear meltdown – although there wasn’t any splashback, so why would he need to?
  10. Spooky music (oboes, the only blowy instrument that doesn’t suck). Turns out, the Amazon package is a manual printed on metal paper, with impressive electronic instructions. Joe reads it over Rex’ shoulder. ‘Here’s something my wife could use in the house’ he says. ‘An interociter incorporating an electron sorter’. Rex smiles and replies: ‘Yes, Joe, but she’d gain twenty pounds while it did all the work.’ So they should rename the film This Sexist Fucker Island Earth.
  11. Based on the manual they order a shit-load more stuff from Amazon. Turns out it’s flatpack, self-assembly. 2,486 parts says Rex, checking the document, no mention of an allen key. (Or alien key – pause for laughter). Rex takes his jacket off, rolls his sleeves up. This is where we get to see how much of a hero he REALLY is.
  12. Montage. You gotta love a good montage. And this is a great one. With xylophones. Despite this, my favourite montage is still Ashley Judd getting in shape for her escape and revenge in the hit movie Double Jeopardy.
  13. Basically what they end up with is a twin tub with a nuclear symbol on the front. ‘Plug it in Joe and see what happens,’ says Rex, as flip with his gadgets as he is with his jet aircraft. However, you can’t help but notice Rex is holding a spare part in his hands. That’s never a good sign with flatpack. You should never have anything left over except an allen key. And maybe a large measure of self-loathing.
  14. The twin tub starts flashing and talking to them in a patronising way (it’ll fit right in on Earth). ‘Use the intensifier disc,’ says the voice. ‘The one in your hand’ it says. I’m guessing the alien has been around the galaxy a few too many times and it’s running out of patience with lower life forms. Even ones as perfect as Rex.
  15. Rex inserts the disc, turns it 18 degrees to the left, as per. The screen lights up (turns out the whole thing was just a primitive flat screen TV). At last! An alien – which turns out, disappointingly, also to be wearing a suit. It also has an unearthly tan and ludicrous hair, so prefiguring Trump by a good few years. The alien congratulates Rex on completing the task. The alien says he’s a scientist, just like Rex. He’s called Exeter. (Maybe they’re all named after the cities and towns of Devon & Cornwall, for some reason. Maybe later on we’ll meet his sister, Paignton.)
  16. This whole twin tub thing was a kind of interview, to see if Rex was good enough to be given a job. He passed, so Exeter says to meet the plane they’ll be sending Wednesday at 9. Then he disintegrates the manual and blows up the twin tub. Which is a great way to end any interview.
  17. Cut to: Rex and some guy in a hat driving in the fog in a jeep with the shonkiest looking windscreen wipers ever to appear on film. Is Rex working them with his foot? I’m guessing it’s nine o’clock or thereabouts, because where’s the value in seeing what Rex and Joe did to fill the time between the twin tub blowing up and Exeter landing the plane. Although actually I can think of a whole film that might satisfy that. The point is, it’s foggy. Which adds to the mystery (and eases the special effects bill).
  18. The plane lands despite the fog. Rex looks inside. A bare interior with a simple chair. No frills. A bit like EasyJet. There’s no pilot, either, just a nuclear symbol on the dash and a Robbie the Robot air freshener. Rex makes himself comfortable, manspreading to his heart’s content.
  19. The plane lands at a backwoods strip in Georgia. He’s met by Ruth Adams, a doctor, who says Exeter asked her to meet him. Rex is happier to see her than Ruth is to see him, for some reason. She mentions a conference they both went to a few years ago – thermo problems in nuclear reactors – but the way she says it sounds more like she’s talking about something else entirely. ‘Boston, wasn’t it?’ she says. ‘Vermont!’ says Rex, sounding angry. They’re definitely talking about another kind of problem.
  20. On the drive to meet Exeter, Ruth tells Rex all about the club that Exeter has set up for their work. It’s all beginning to sound a little culty, but Rex doesn’t mind. He still can’t get over the fact that Ruth thought it was Boston when it was obviously Vermont.
  21. Ruth shows him around the club house. The is the hallway. This is the living room. This is the lift down to the laboratory and slave quarters.
  22. After a bunch of international scientists stroll by to say hello, a guy who looks exactly like Exeter goes to the lab lift and gives Rex a meaningful look, a bit like Joe but not as wholesome. ‘Who’s that?’ says Rex, straightening his tie. ‘That’s Brack’ says Ruth. ‘One of Exeter’s assistants.’ Honestly, they look exactly alike. The least they could do is wear t-shirts or name badges.
  23. Exeter calls them into his office. They sit whilst he explains the mission – to end war, with the help of scientists. Rex strokes his chin. He’s interested but not convinced. Ruth gives him a sideways look. She’s remembering what he was like back in Boston.
  24. Actually, Exeter sounds a lot like Kelsey Grammar. Which would be a great casting choice for the remake.
  25. Exeter takes them on a virtual tour of the club using another one of the twin tub flat screens. He shows Rex the lab he’ll be using – ‘Still under construction,’ says Exeter, which is a classic estate agent ruse, and not to be trusted. They catch Brack in there, fiddling about. ‘Everything in order?’ says Exeter. ‘Yes,’ says Brack. Actually, I take it back about Brack. He looks like Tom Hiddleston made up to look like Donald Trump. Which is another casting suggestion for the remake.
  26. Everyone dresses for a formal dinner. Afterwards, Ruth and her friend Steve (er hem) takes Rex to look at the underground labs. Ruth has a cat in her lab. It’s called Neutron. ‘We call him that because he’s so positive.’ And as all the trivia forums are at pains to point out: NEUTRONS HAVE NO CHARGE. Which I have to say is still true for most cats, most of the time.
  27. Another casting suggestion for the remake: Eddie the dog from Frasier could totally nail the part of Neutron.
  28. Rex admires the lab – particularly the big lead slab hanging from chains. ‘That’s the same size lead I use in my lab,’ he says, flicking it suggestively with his finger. Steve looks uneasy.
  29. Exeter and Brack have a scene together (but not in that way). In some fine alien exposition we learn that they need all these scientists to help them find more energy (for some reason – aren’t they more advanced than us?). Brack is more hawkish. He wants to electronically lobotomise the subjects so they’ll be more submissive; Exeter thinks that’ll make them less able to hold a test tube, although they’ll be savings on the entertainments bill. Exeter and Brack are interrupted by an important message from Orson or someone – their superior, anyway. Their planet is in immediate danger from a failing layer of hokey science business. There’s no more time. They must fly back home and bring the scientists with them. Brack is thrilled; Exeter, less so.
  30. Ruth, Steve and Rex sneak out in a dreadful old car, escaping to the airport or something. They’re bombarded with neutron beams (nothing to do with the cat), that entirely miss every time until Ruth and Rex bail into a river so that Rex’ competition can be safely incinerated. Another scientist waves from the bank. He’s also zapped. So from this we can only assume it’s easier for a neutron beam to hit a scientist than a dreadful old car. Maybe the scientists have higher densities of chalk.
  31. Finally! A flying saucer. VERY much like a hubcap. Satisfying in the way only hubcaps pretending to be flying saucers can be. Cheap, but unaccountably satisfying. A bit like the whole film.
  32. The way Ruth runs. Honestly. She has to fling her arms about and stagger endlessly, looking distressed and tearful, while Rex plods with his suit and chin and comfortable shoes. It’s not easy being a female scientist, then or now.
  33. Rex and Ruth hotwire a small plane and take off. But the saucer pulls them up into its hatch with a tractor beam. Even though they’re a small plane and not a tractor (pause for laughter). ‘They’re pulling us up!’ says Rex, helpfully. Ruth looks like she’s going to scream, although I’m guessing that’s less to do with the beam and more to do with Rex.
  34. They jump out of the plane and stare in awe at the throbbing interior. Rex runs his hand up and down the wing stanchion. Maybe the Director wanted some action to suggest that here is a man who appreciates impressive machinery, but it also back-references nicely the incident with the joystick. An alien even more miserable than Brack with something horribly like a condom stretched on his head waves them to follow him. He reminds me of the people working in the Covid Testing centres.
  35. They end up on a flight deck that looks just as ‘under construction’ as Rex’ lab. Still, Exeter welcomes them aboard. Apologises for having to blow up the rest of the scientists. ‘We’re not all masters of our destiny’ he says. ‘I learned that on earth.’ Rex is pretty cross about it. Exeter appeals to Ruth. ‘Surely as a woman you’re curious about our destination,’ he says. ‘Where are we going?’ says Ruth. (She must have really loved this script).
  36. Apparently they’re going to a planet called Metaluna, which sounds more like an 90s rave duo, but they didn’t know that then. The hubcap zings away into space. They pass through the thermal barrier, and things get hot. ‘What’s to stop us all bouncing around like a lot of balloons when we leave Earth’s gravity?’ asks top scientist Dr Ruth. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Exeter. ‘We make our own gravity.’ (Why they ever had to come to Earth for any kind of advice is beyond me).
  37. There’s a procedure they have to go through to avoid being crushed to death on Metaluna. It involves being put in a tube and bathed in fog. The lunks that Exeter releases from the tube aren’t all that reassuring, though. When the tubes are fully up they all have mini-fits and stagger off looking sick. Exeter asks Brack to prepare Rex n’Ruth for the tubes. They’ll also have to change into the unflattering overalls that Exeter reassures them are vital to life on Metaluna.
  38. When Rex goes into the tube for conditioning, the camera focuses on his groin. Actually, it’s supposed to be his hands grabbing the handrails, but still, a bet’s a bet. When the tube comes down and fog rises around him, Rex says he ‘feels like a new toothbrush,’ which is brave, if a little weird. They both get x-rayed, we see all their internal organs, except for Rex’ brain, which is too small even for alien technologies. Exeter shows them the problems his people are having back on Metaluna, aside from the dreadful fashion. Apparently ‘the Zygon meteors are beginning to get through the ionised layer’ – which isn’t a good thing and nobody wants.
  39. Coming into land, Rex n’Ruth look at the screen as horrified as two people who booked a weekend away in an Airbnb and find out it doesn’t have WiFi. Exeter leads them outside to the monitor, stopping to point out the lovely view, if you ignore the apocalyptic destruction, flaming meteors etc, etc.
  40. They get introduced to Orson. He explains they needed them to come because all their own scientists are dead, their laboratories destroyed, Zygon will invade soon and there ain’t a thing they can do about it. Their intention is to relocate to Earth – as our superiors, naturally. He scorns humans, saying they’re like children looking through a magnifying glass thinking that’s their true size (although I’ve never met a child who did that). ‘Our true size is the size of our God,’ says Rex, folding his arms – which is an even weirder thing to say than the toothbrush jibe. Orson orders Exeter to take Ruth n’Rex to the Thought Transference Chamber. Which by this stage I’m thinking pretty much everyone needs.
  41. On the way there Ruth says her mind’s her own and no-one’s going to change it, which is signs of recovery. She goes to run – but is stopped by a creature so horrific I can barely describe it. The best I can do is to ask you imagine a traffic warden with a comedy brain cycle helmet, welding goggles and lobster gauntlets. ‘I’m sorry,’ says Exeter. ‘I had hoped to prepare you somewhat beforehand. This is a mute-ant. We’ve been breeding them here for ages to do menial work’. Ruth cannot look. (My reaction would be to speak to the thing and ask if it’s in a union, because really – this is unacceptable).
  42. Rex punches Exeter. The mute-ant shuffles hopelessly towards them in response, but unluckily for the mute-ant (and I’m guessing nothing much that’s lucky has EVER really happened to this mute-ant, number one being cast in this film), one of the meteors hits the building and it gets buried beneath a half pound of polystyrene rubble. Rex and Ruth run on.
  43. Exeter catches them up, forgives Rex for all the punching, offers to help them get back to the spaceship before the planet and the whole cinema goes up. They fly off together, just escaping the Zygon attacks (which look like meteors on wires). They watch Metaluna get transformed into a sun, then get in the tubes ready for the journey back to Earth. But whilst the tubes gas-up, the door opens and the poor mute-ant staggers in. Ruth screams. Rex asks if the tubes are strong enough to keep him out. ‘Possibly,’ says Exeter. ‘He’s badly injured. The pressure should crush him soon…’
  44. Despite this, Ruth raises her tube up, immediately putting herself at risk from both the mute-ant and / or crushing. But hey – it’s done. ‘Run, Ruth. Run!’ says Rex. She does, screaming. The mute-ant staggers after her. She could definitely outrun this thing. There’s probably even time to cook a sit-down lunch, clear up afterwards, and still escape it. But no – she trips, the mute-ant shuffles over, she ends up twisting and screaming helplessly in its gauntlets. Rex jumps out of the tube to do some more punching, but he needn’t have bothered. The poor mute-ant collapses and disintegrates from a basic lack of understanding or proper care.
  45. When they’ve reached Earth again, Exeter says he’ll drop them off and then go exploring the universe. ‘You’re a liar,’ says Rex. ‘You’ve run out of power.’ Exeter doesn’t deny it, and even shifts uncomfortably onto his left side, as if all this punching and planetary disintegration has given him gas. Rex n’Ruth run down to the little plane, Exeter drops them out of the hatch, then hurtles off over the ocean where he bursts into flames, ending the film in much the same way he liked to end job interviews.

So what have I learned from watching This Island Earth? Other than what a curse it can be to have too much time on your hands and no project to work on. Well – a few things:

  1. Neutrons have no charge
  2. You can make gravity if you really want to
  3. To avoid getting zapped by alien beams, jump in a river. Or eat some chalk.
  4. Science is cool
  5. Trump is an alien.

auntie gloria

Gloria is surrounded by dozens of crochet rabbits and ducks. In fact, sitting like she is, slumped squashily on the sofa, a tote bag of wool at her feet, tangles of yarn on her lap, a pair of needles all-angles in her hands, it’s hard to resist the idea I’ve just walked in on a woman who’s busy crocheting herself.
The rabbits and ducks all have the same malevolent, lopsided expression. In fact, the only difference between them is that the rabbits have ears and the ducks have beaks; the rabbits have waistcoats and the ducks a bonnet and pinny. There are rows and rows and rows of these things, in little polythene body bags, ready to go (who knows where); piles of them waiting to be dressed; piles of crochet skins waiting to be stuffed.
The rest of the room is subordinated to the manufacture of the rabbits and ducks, everything pushed to the side, piled-up, on the table and shelves and the arms of the sofa and chairs. And whilst it was obvious the place represented a significant trip-hazard, at least you’d have to admit you’d be guaranteed a soft landing.
‘Wha’d’ya think?’ says Gloria, waggling the current rabbit in the air.
‘He’s so cute!’ I say.
‘I like to keep busy,’ she says, jabbing it through the heart with a needle. ‘Now, then. How can I help?’


I’m finishing writing up my notes.
‘Do you have any children?’ says Gloria.
‘Two girls. Both grown up now. One’s away at university. The other’s just about to do her GCSEs’
‘How lovely!’
‘We’re very lucky.’
‘Here…’ she says, reaching to her side. She pulls out a bagged duck and rabbit.
‘Oh…no! That’s very kind of you, Gloria, but I couldn’t possibly…’
‘Go on! As a little thankyou. I’m sure your girls would love them…’

I wonder if she’s misunderstood how old the girls are – but I hesitate to put her straight. She looks so happy to be giving away the dolls. The thing is, the dolls aren’t that great. I lied when I said they were cute. Whilst the rabbit looks furious with the world, the duck looks positively vengeful. Even as an ironic knitwear animal they just don’t make the cut. Also, they have the same musty smell as the room. You’d have to run them through a vat of cleaning products to get them anywhere near to the point where you could safely handle them without surgical gloves, which wouldn’t improve their expression. So it’s not as if I could pass them on to anyone else. Charity shops aren’t accepting donations. And even if they were, the rabbit and the duck would sit on the shelves for months quietly hating the customers before discreetly disappearing one morning. So all in all, I’d rather not take them.
‘I’m sorry, Gloria, but we’re strictly forbidden to accept gifts,’ I say, shrugging and smiling as if this is the worst thing that ever happened to me, because ordinarily, of course, I’d leap at the chance of taking these crochet horrors home.
‘I insist!’ says Gloria, reaching forwards and dropping them in my lap. ‘You’ll offend me if you don’t.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well. That’s so kind of you.’
‘For your girls,’ she says, squeezing her eyes shut and folding her face into a broad smile. ‘From Auntie Gloria.’

stuff the moon

As soon as Frank tells me he used to be a butcher I can totally see it. It’s not just his dressing gown, the long blue and white stripes, exactly like a butcher’s apron. There’s something in the way he sits, his large hands draped over the armrests of his chair, the heavy, slightly disappointed sag of his face, the stainless steel glint of his specs, like someone who stood fifty years behind a chopping block waiting for a customer to choose between the knuckle and the brisket.
‘My sausages were famous,’ he says. ‘They went into space.’
‘How d’you mean?’
‘To Cape Canaveral, anyway.’
‘They took your sausages to Cape Canaveral and shot them into space?’
‘Nearly. One of the astronauts came by and took a coupla pound of my pork and apple specials. Said he was taking them back to Florida.’
I imagine an astronaut in a space suit, plodding in slow motion through customs, a string of sausages swinging from their respirator.
‘Risky,’ I say.
‘Yeah. Well. Astronauts get special treatment.’
Frank wrinkles his nose and vigorously rubs his forefinger back and forwards under it, a gesture accompanied by such a range of facial distortions it’s like the finger belongs to someone else and he’s only just learned to tolerate it.
‘He said he was an astronaut. I had no reason to doubt him. I had all sorts in my shop.’
He nods to a watercolour picture on the wall, a view of the old place. It’s a nostalgic, mournful kind of picture, like you’re looking at the shop through a shower of rain, or tears.
‘There was another butcher at the end of the street. Not nearly as good.’
‘A bit of competition.’
‘Only on price. You get what you pay for. One thing they absolutely could not do was make dripping. He used to make me laugh. He’d get his mum to come round and ask for a few pounds of dripping. I like it in me sandwiches she used to say. Is that right? I’d say. There’s quite a lot there. And she’d say Yes. I know. I like it a lot. And then the next thing you knew there it was, priced up in the window.’

back in the bunker

look at all my soldiers and generals / nuclear cocks and toxic genitals / juiced-up jets of deadly decibels / cyber-slime & biochemicals / stately statues on monitored pedestals / yaah! honestly I’m incredible 

and I promise you this / non-proliferation’s on the fritz / so if you get on my tits / I tap this button you cease to exist / as easy as one off the wrist / ready to blow at a moment’s notice

if it has to be it has to be / whatever the weather we’re heading for catastrophe / and I’m more than happy to see / all you lot go before me / and then maybe / when all that radioactivity / returns to normality / after the usual diplomatic formality / we can hunker down as one big bunker family