Tiny Little Love Stories

Joel Golby is a man from the Internet who writes tiny little love stories over on his hipster-dude tumblr. They’re funny and rude and sometimes gross, and for Valentine’s Day he let a bunch of nerds submit guest stories. I wrote three.

Pea & Ham

The scab on her lip was close to lift-off, curling at the sides, wings enough to cast a shadow. He watched, silently repulsed, as spoon after careful spoon was tipped gently past her pavement-kissed lips. A sliver of pea washed ashore on the dead crust.  It hung there, quivering, gross.

“Maybe people will think I had cornflakes a week ago and ate them kind of messily,” he supposed she mumbled, through her accident strewn face. “Or maybe I just look like I have mouth herpes?”

The scab fell into the pea & ham, landing with barely a ripple. It floated there like a crouton.

Glass Slipper

Cars screeched on Theobalds Road, double-deckers honked and swerved. A young dude flailed apologetically while darting between the vehicles, scrabbling desperately for his lost quarry: a plastic banana-holder, now snapped, still salvageable.

She stood at the bus stop watching the scene, a single unbruised banana nestled gently in her coat pocket. She wondered if it would fit. It was February 12th.

She figured: bananas bend.

Torso

“KIRKAM AND WESHAM. NEXT STOP IS KIRKHAM AND WESHAM,” the announcer said. Our young protagonist checked her deceivingly slow watch, saw a missed train and a cold night in a grim Northern train station roll out like a rug in her immediate future.

The thin haggard man across the aisle sat in an oversized sport coat, hunched like an owl, holding in his hand a single drooped and rapidly browning daffodil. He handed it to her, publicly adjusted the heft of his balls. She would never correct the time.

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Posted in Elsewhere

A Leg of Ham is Likewise Essential

There’s a thing that happens around the time my face becomes routinely obscured by a rediscovered scarf from the back of the wardrobe; when the cold streets suddenly fill with little woolly spheres which I presume are the small children I saw the day previous, now frenzily bundled by their parents, more weeble than human; when other parents make bad decisions with respect to buying a little red hooded coat for their spawn, thus bringing back screaming memories of Donald Sutherland’s naked bottom for everyone within twenty feet. But lest the point of this paragraph floats away like a post-it unhinged, let me scrabble on the floor for it in my mittens. There’s a thing that happens: I get some emails.

It’ll generally be November when they arrive so they’re not yet Christmas wishes, instead they are missives from a few people who like to remind me of the things I left behind half a decade ago, and what I like best about them is that they’re probably dashed off by people in their underpants. Here’s an example from one Mick Evans, whose descriptions are no less graphic or eloquent in real life. In the tropical underside of the world, these are the things that come out of people’s mouths over polite tea and scones:

“Just thought you should know that today was the first genuine day of the Queensland summer in all its moist glory. That’s right, hot as hell, sticky as molasses, time for spots and pimples and rashes around your rude bits. Hope you’re freezing your tits off. Much love, Mick.”

Shops in Australia get Christmassy in a way that only appears absurd and surreal when you’re far away. If it’s your first one in England it will probably occur to you as you walk down Oxford Street at 2am, colder than you’ve ever imagined, despite being wrapped up like an Edward Gorey character. The Christmas lights are on. You’ll notice the spraycan snow nestled fakely in the corners of windows. You’ll think about Christmas back home and you’ll realise: it doesn’t make any fucking sense.

Christmas and its lead-up are some of the hottest days of the year – usually the high 30s, or, for the Americans, I mean about a hundred I think (I did a Google and you’re welcome) – and yet despite the soupy heat that causes your beshorted bottom to become glued to leather couches, your naked sweaty feet to slip on polished wooden floors, your will to live or even change the channel on the TV visibly ebb from your body along with the buckets of sweat dripping from your shiny red face: despite all this, they still spraycan snow on the windows. They still pay a middle-aged man to wear a big red fat suit and sit on a red velvet throne in a sea of white packing foam while children try to yank off his beard. Sitting on Santa’s knee was always a moist affair. As he peered down at you, occasionally wiping the sweat from his brow with his furry white cuff, you’d forget what you wanted for Christmas and you’d just want to say: Santa, your lap is sweaty. I can feel it through my culottes.

Look through the childhood album of any Australian and you will see a photo of a sweaty older man of no relation bouncing a traumatised under-5 on his overheated knee.

One year the council thought it would be a brilliant idea to set up a Winter Wonderland in the centre of town so that finally, finally, films like Home Alone: Lost in New York would make sense to the inhabitants of a land where there is no such thing as a “Christmas jumper”. But like the Game Joy one might receive in lieu of the Gameboy one had listed quite clearly on the Christmas list, it just wasn’t right. It was worse. It was like some sadist’s reconstruction of a thing they had never actually seen but merely had described to them. And so I and a dozen other kids who had never seen snow were pushed over the edge of a “mountain” (ledge) on our “toboggans” (large buckets) and sent careening down a slope that was not made of snow but slick ice, the kind of hard unyielding diamond-hard ice that insane Swedish people might construct a hotel out of. And should we make it all the way to the bottom without capsizing our “toboggans” (again, large buckets), we would smash our faces into a wall of upturned plastic-coated mattresses and have ourselves a Christmas nosebleed.

On Christmas Day you have two options, food-wise, being either a BBQ, or what most families (certainly mine) opt for: the traditional roast. With sweltering heat outside in lieu of postcard snow, everyone gathers to have a totally inappropriate meal based on half handed-down, half made-up conceptions of what a “proper Christmas meal” is. There’ll be a turkey and potatoes, etc, though you’ll probably never come into contact with an actual brussel sprout because these are things that exist solely in books and films so that children have something to hate, universally. It’s prepared by one near-dead mum having eschewed offers of help, and is such a complicated procedure that it’s bound to end up late and half-cold while everyone gets drunk and stroppy in the amplified heat. Once stuffed with seasonally-demented turkey and steadily soaking up tryptophan, most everyone will fall asleep on a sofa in a crumpled paper hat, with odd rivulets of sweat forming in their inner thighs. On Boxing Day someone will wail that we all forgot to eat the store-bought Christmas pudding, into which 5-cent pieces had been clumsily poked because no one knows how to bake thrupenny bits into a from-scratch pud.

One year, apropos of nothing, someone might insist that in addition to the roast turkey and all the vegetables and whatnot, that another roast creature, that a leg of ham is likewise essential, in order to supply a cold slice to sit alongside the aforementioned on the dinner plate. Reports from the frontline of one such incident suggest that “The fucker would still, wrapped in incrementally-growing-stickier muslin, be taking up a third of the downstairs fridge in late March.”

The other option is the Christmas barbeque, so here comes another list of stuff that you put in your face: instead of turkey you get sausages or prawns, and instead of warm Christmas pudding you get, well, warm Christmas pudding that you eat in your wet swimming costume (or “togs”) having just got a stitch and nearly died in the pool after neglecting to wait the suggested half hour after eating. And with all of the above you have beer, which is steadily warming in the sun despite a thing called a “stubby holder”.

On Boxing Day the post-Christmas sales work the same as anywhere, but there is the added draw of air-conditioning. Those who don’t have it in their own homes and are bored of driving around aimlessly in their air-conditioned cars flock to the Westfield shopping centre for a hospitable climate just as much as discounted TVs. But all those hot people standing around exuding bodyheat cause the machines to splutter and heave and inevitably pack it in entirely, and Westfield becomes an oven. We all abort the TV mission and get back in our air-conditioned cars. We drive around for an afternoon shouting at each other as those riding shotgun block the cool air vent with the expanse of their moist, pink face, before going home, shifting the dog out of the way and curling ourselves around the cool of the toilet bowl, panting.

—————–

Ta and apologies to Mick Evans and Chris Breach whose Christmases I have assimilated.

Posted in Essays

On My Knees

I was the first of three babies to slide out of my dear Mum over the course of a few years. I don’t know if the gene pool was particularly shallow the day they ladled some out for me, but I seem to have ended up with all the bad ones, the dreggy bits, the bit of ham hock in the middle that you’re not even supposed to eat. As Mum once put it “We were still getting the batter right. You’re like the first wonky pancake, darl.”  She said this to me as we sat in the waiting room of an orthopaedic surgeon, later, again, at a dermatologist, and once more when I, miserably teenaged, complained that my simian forehead made me look like Early Man.

The hand-me-down genetic trait I had my biggest beef with was not the downright unfair blanket of furious acne that covered my greasy face, but the fact that my knees and its constituent parts were apt to part company, by which I mean totally disassemble and cease to be of use. The first time it happened I was eight, swinging upside down on the monkey bars, showing off to some older boys who were about nine and paid no attention to me, my floral bike shorts or my impressive feats of monkey strength until I landed smack on my face on the black Astroturf. What happened was – and to the physiotherapist I saw much later, understanding what happened was key to my preventing it happening again, and thus he insisted on doing demonstrations with a plastic knee model complete with POCK! sound-effects as the pieces of bone slid out of place, until your correspondent hid in the armpit of her Mammy – what happened was, the impractically small kneecap on my left knee had slid out of its natural indent (which my forebears’ genetic material had ensured was too shallow to keep such a thing penned in) and swung around the side of my leg, stretching ligament and scratching against leg bone as it went. Some in-built survival mechanism told me how to fix it so I whacked the cap back into place where the joint immediately began to swell and stiffen before my watery eyes. Having established that I was put back together I set about screaming for my parents and watching the silhouette of two nine-year-old boys getting smaller and smaller in the distance. We had an awkward car trip home: me and my haphazardly braced leg took up all three of the back seats while my brother and sister hovered above it, their arms looped around the headrests of the front seats, pretending to sit as we passed police cars on the highway.

This happened countless more times over the next few years, becoming a more frequent occurrence as the problem snowballed; all the pieces became stretchier and smoother, and the owner of said pieces grew several feet and some hips. Like people with legitimate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder there are some moments in my life that have disappeared down a black hole in my memory so as to keep some semblance of sanity, and those moments were namely “anything to do with knees”. These events now exist as hazy CCTV replays, stitched together from eye-witness reports by the less physically traumatised, like the infamous Sausage Sizzle of 1997 when I was 11. The following report comes from a fellow student:

“Don’t you remember? We were all waiting in line to get our sausages and you were right at the front and then someone asked you to do a cartwheel? And you said no because you were about to get your sausage but they wouldn’t leave you alone because you were the best at cartwheels?”

It was true, I was the best at cartwheels and pointing this out was a sure-fire way of getting me to do them even if it meant missing out on a blackened sausage wrapped in a slice of cheap white bread, with a not inconsiderable amount of ketchup adorning its porky middle. So I forfeited my place in line and walked proudly to the edge of the park to ready myself for a run up (this bit I remember) because the whole Grade 6 class was watching, dripping in their swimsuits and clutching half-eaten dinners in their clammy mitts, and this cartwheel was going to be especially spectacular.

Mid-cartwheel was the point at which I essentially black out, memory-wise. But my eyewitnesses (those whose partially-masticated dinners tumbled from their open mouths and landed at their unshod feet) filled me in at a later date, when I returned to school a week later, on crutches:

“It was like your knees did something knees aren’t supposed to do?”

I put the question mark at the end because these are Australians, and everything is naturally phrased as a question. But also: they were also not entirely sure what happened – the legs, previously strong and straight and spinning in the air, had collapsed in the middle and bent at a sickening horror movie angle, before your broken narrator landed in a heap of dislocated bones on the dewy grass. I whacked them back into place, ensured everything was in order, and set about screaming, as per.

The above event exists in my mind as flashes of horrifying photographs – the bit in the movie trailer where the music stops, and they set freeze-frames of wide-eyed characters to the soundtrack of a beating heart. But I do remember what happened afterwards because, well:

Given the school’s locale, it was little wonder almost everyone had eschewed their cars for a leisurely walk on a summer’s evening, where there was to be an end of year pool party for the class, plus also the aforementioned sausages. And thus there were no cars to transport this one particular broken student home except for that of my nemesis: Rebecca.

Rebecca was not actually my nemesis, though I didn’t like her enough to change her name here, and neither did anybody else: she flagrantly picked her nose and ate it, and when she was completely tapped out of her own bodily produce she simply ate the teacher’s Blu-Tac. The image of my teacher rifling through her drawers in search of some Blu-Tac is an abiding memory of my school years. “Excuse me, Miss?”

“Yes?”

“Rebecca ate it again.”

She would bow her head, rub her eyes, and sigh as she led Rebecca, chewing, out into the hallway for a quiet word.

I was however her nemesis, a fact I gleaned from the title of a diary she kept in her desk called WHY I HATE HAYLEY CAMPBELL which was brought about because the object of her affection (a man who is now a model and ballet dancer but who was then about three feet tall and insisted on wearing a cowboy hat with a feather in) was at that point in time besotted by the best cartwheeler in class. And frankly, who wouldn’t be. They were some fucking phenomenal cartwheels.

So Rebecca’s Dad lifted me up and put me in the back of the car. For the entire five minutes of the drive Rebecca stared back at me from the front seat, while I eyeballed her back from the rear, frozen and splayed like a cornered spider. When I returned to school after my time off, people had forgotten about the knee thing thanks to it being superseded by a more universal horror. All they wanted to know was did I actually touch the insides of the car because ew, you guys.

Later, at 14, a high-kick ended my dance career, a thing that could only have been made more dramatic if I could transpose the soundtrack from a previous episode over this one – the strangled low-octave piano keys I landed on as my knees buckled beneath me at home. As my right leg became parallel with my face the supporting left leg collapsed and once again I found myself broken on a floor, this time covered in resin and surrounded by traumatised dancers.

Doctors and physiotherapists decided that surgery was the only thing that was going to fix this, hence the orthopaedic surgeon’s waiting room and my Ma’s comment about me being a wonky pancake. They sawed off the knobbly bit at the front of my leg, moved it over a bit, bolted it down, shortened some ligaments, did a bunch of stuff I never asked about, most notably “Why did I go into surgery wearing big green paper underpants and why were they not there when I woke up?” Hospital at night is full of gibbering horrors and lost old ladies doing shits in darkened corners. I got in trouble for pressing the self-administering morphine drip too many times in one hour, and could not wee in the presence of nurses so was left with my naked bottom hefted atop a dish for half an hour until they came back to collect their golden bounty, by which point I needed to go again.

They did this surgery three times, twice on one leg, once on the other, and I spent months out of school on the sofa watching Ricki Lake and Sally Jesse Raphael, occasionally Donahue if he was on, Oprah, Jerry Springer, obviously, as well as Home & Away repeats from the ‘80s, while also plowing through mountains of comics, novels and videos dropped off by my Dad’s friends (Twin Peaks, Lipstick on Your Collar and various other Dennis Potters). When I wasn’t doing that I was fashioning characters out of modelling plasticine or getting an awkward sponge-bath off my poor Mum, once a week. If I ever get a Wikipedia entry this is the bit where I become “stricken with polio” before the bit about my stubborn and unlikely climb to the top of the pile of geniuses [citation needed].

These days I have two bolts in each leg that go off in airport metal detectors, accompanied by scars on my legs that go purple when I’m cold. They’re vertical and kind of bunchy, and someone once said they look like fannies. I don’t run for buses, and I no longer cartwheel, and in answer to my Mum’s last question about them: no, I can’t kneel for blowjobs.

Posted in Essays

How Can I Dream When I Can’t Even Sleep At Night

I deliberately think and worry about things in order to delay sleep, which is a bad thing I do just to avoid a certain dream I’ve been having on a bi-monthly basis since roughly 1992, AD. I worry about the vegetables and fruit I bought after catching a glimpse of my grey, hungover face in the smeary mirror of the vegetable aisle; I doubt I’ll be able to eat them before they moulder audibly in the kitchen in the night, and occasionally I’ll get up and eat them before they do. I worry if I have enough underpants to see out the week; I wonder if I wasted my best ones two days before anyone had cause to see them. I worry about the letter from the post office I left unanswered —  the one informing me that those amateur CVs I sent out in A4 envelopes machine-gunned across the city in the hopes of hitting some sort of employment had been delivered to their myriad destinations in good faith, but that I had failed to meet the postage fee minimum for such lush A4 envelopes and could I please send a cheque for $4.38 to The Post Office, c/o The Mail Man (or whatever, I never did).

I’m under the house of my youth in the dead of night, the kind of flimsy Australian structure that’s up on stilts with a gap between the floorboards and the gravelled ground of about 12 feet. It’s where unclaimed neighbourhood cats get buried, where mud pies are constructed, where my friend Heidi, 5, takes a shit in the corner and says it wasn’t her, it was me. I’m standing in my pajamas looking down at the man I’ve just accidentally murdered: a man who, in eggy moustache and old man cap, is quite clearly David Jason. In his hand he has a half-eaten bacon sandwich. I pick it up and eat it – a dead man’s bacon butty – while I consider what to do next.

I am five years old. I drag him by his feet to a place where I know the gravel goes deep and I won’t hit cement or dead cat after two shovelled scoops. His overcoat splays vertically behind him and he leaves a furrow in his wake. It’s 4am and my Mum will be up soon. She’ll want to know why David Jason is dead and underneath my house. I don’t know why David Jason is dead and underneath my house. I won’t know what to tell her.

For the first half hour of waking I generally think this is a true thing that happened: that I somehow buried a dead David Jason under a house in suburban Australia, and that I ate his bacon butty after taking it from his rigor mortis grip, and it was inexplicably still warm when I did it and noticed he favoured red sauce, not brown. And then I walk to work and I see a man in a suit with a beard of white shaving foam, shaving a streak of stubble in a stop-start fashion, using the shop windows as mirrors as he passes. I wonder who it’s for, the shave, given that he must have passed some hundreds of people and it evidently wasn’t for them. I forget that I accidentally killed David Jason that one time, until it happens again two months later, Groundhog Day in the wrong RPM.

Posted in Essays

In Which You’ll Excuse My Ebonics

I have a problem wherein I am unhinged — I mean quite literally, I am making no reference to mental instabilities here. There are no hinges in my jaw like you probably have and the bottom bit sort of glides around on a track more out of memory than actual mechanics. As he shoved tampons in my mouth to staunch the flow of blood post-wisdom teeth removal, the oral surgeon asked if maybe I’d like to get some wires or bolts or whatever drilled into my unformed hinges lest the whole thing dislocates like a snake’s when I’m tackling a particularly impressive kebab. As I already walk around with knees held together by screws I declined — I have enough trouble at airport security gates as it is.

I work with a guy who is properly funny — like, certifiably funny, or at least he would be if he got a certificate for being funny on stage at the annual Hackney Empire comedy thing. Maybe he did, but by the time I weaselled my way backstage Nat Metcalfe was holding a paper napkin in one hand and about five chicken legs in the other so if a certificate was proffered that evening its whereabouts are now unknown, the chicken legs less so. One lunchtime we both sat out back eating our various selections from the local Pret (he an All Day Breakfast sandwich, and me a houmous salad as per), when something went horribly wrong. He said something funny. I laughed so hard I shook my jaw out of place and the thing slipped forward and up like a cartoon skeleton singing Knees Up Mother Brown. The top half of my head snapped down hard on my bottom lip, and basically, reader: I bit my own face off.

Well, not off exactly. I bit it hard, but it wasn’t visible, it didn’t draw blood. I spent the rest of the day poking it absentmindedly with my finger wondering if it was getting bigger or if it was my imagination.

The next day it was definitely bigger, but not unattractively so. The day after that it was bigger still. At the point where I started looking less like Angelina Jolie and more like Bubba from Forrest Gump, I decided to take action. I went to a walk-in clinic in Wembley because that’s where I happened to be when the panic set in, sat for two hours beside people who looked like they were actually dying, and when I was finally called in the blunt nurse who walked like a Nazi with rickets told me to stop being ridiculous: it’s ONLY a soft-tissue bruise, STOP touching it, put DOWN the Bonjela and STOP KISSING BOYS. “Get out of my surgery.”

For a month I tried to convince myself that she was right: I was being ridiculous and I did use this as an excuse to eat Bonjela. But if it was only a bruise: why was it getting bigger still?

I went to another doctor. She pulled my lip out as if to wedge an African tribal plate in there. Still holding it yanked thusly towards her person she concluded that I had done some fundamental damage to my insides, namely: I had bitten my saliva gland clean in half and for the last six weeks it had been steadily pumping spit into my bottom lip as opposed to my mouth, where it should be. My reply was the voice of John Merrick.

Could she cut it out? I slobbered hopefully on her hand. She couldn’t. It was way out of her jurisdiction to be cutting out peoples’ insides. She said she would refer me to the dentist down the road on account of they deal with oral things such as mouths.

I heaved myself down the road to the dentist, dragging my unfeasibly large mouth through the door and into an emergency appointment. The lady pulled my lip out with a deft pincer-grip and once again I looked up in hope. Blinded by the spotlight and with latex gloves in my gob, and I asked her: Canyouthiickssshhhhnee?

She explained what I had done, gland-wise, and said it was out of her jurisdiction to be cutting out peoples’ insides. I was pinged off out of out of her office like a sadfaced pinball.

The dentist made an appointment for the following month with an oral surgeon in Peckham, a place I had been to only once (for disappointing Chinese) and whose reputation in my head was cemented by a housemate of yore who, being a doctor, explained the difference between Brixton gangs and Peckham gangs based solely on what he had seen in the emergency room at the hospital. “The Peckham boys stab people in the bottom!” he said. “In the bottom, Campbell!” This tidbit of remembered information did nothing to allay my fears as it bubbled helpfully to the surface of my brain.

Because I was so hideous to behold, the intervening month was spent in my own personal fortress of solitude, where I and my fat lip wasted entire days watching endless re-runs of America’s Next Top Model (I became familiar with and had favourites in at least four cycles, plus also one Canadian cycle, two English and half an Australian) whilst surviving on mostly instant porridge sachets and last year’s Christmas puddings, which my flatmate had bought and wrapped then neglected to post. I convinced myself that I was definitely being led into a backalley abortionist’s who amputates faces on the side, and the final unveiling (ie. the unwinding of several dramatic feet of dubiously stained bandages) would be not unlike Jack Nicholson’s Joker reveal in Batman.

On the morning of my surgery I sat frozen in the waiting room. There were no magazines in that clinical green cell in South London. Having filled out the forms, forgotten to bring a book, and exhausted all five variations of the Wash Your Hands! personal hygiene posters on the walls, I had nothing left to read, and nothing to see but the frosted window that looked into the tiny surgery. I could hear a man with a heavy speech impediment explaining to the surgeon why he was there. A clumsy dentist’s hand had slipped and cut the man’s tongue. The clumsy dentist decided she was not qualified to fix it (having barely been qualified to be near it in the first place) and arranged for the very appointment the man now sat in. In the months between then and now his tongue had fused to the bottom of his mouth and would now have to be carefully jimmied apart. Your narrator did not feel so brilliant, no.

When I went in I was introduced to two students who would be sitting in on the procedure. The surgeon was a big old Jamaican guy with a full-body laugh and eyes that said he was smiling even though his face was obscured by a white paper mask. He gave me some protective glasses, laid me down, patted my head and told me to stop looking so worried. I wanted to hug him until then he started with the teaching:

“We gon’ slice de lip opahn to reveal de swollahn gland,” he said, and did. The male student peered down and pulled a face. “Don’t be pullin’ faces at de girl! And then we go like so — ”

The student’s cheeks ballooned and he rushed from the room as if to vomit. “Heh heh, boys, eh. Dey ain’t so tough.”

The female student stood holding the suction tube pointed in the direction of my face as the surgeon went on to explain that he was now pulling back the inner lip skin to reveal the swollen saliva gland so as to remove it with the scalpel by cutting —

The female student dropped the suction machine and fled the room mumbling something about blood.

“Dey ‘opeluss.”

The secretary was called in and told to don some latex gloves and come give him a hand. With a bored roll of the eyes she did so, yanked my bottom lip out with one hand and suctioned the blood off with the other. The bottom half of her body was three feet from the bed to protect her work clothes from gore and splashback; she was assisting surgery in the position would assume to play the arse-end of a pantomime horse.

When the offending gland was removed he dangled it over my protective glasses, wrongfully assuming I wanted to see what looked like a bloodied worm who’d had a balloon for dinner. When he saw a tear roll down my face he tried to catch it with his glove, smearing me with blood in the process. As he sewed me up he said he knew he had to be extra careful, because “When you sewin’ a wo-marn’s lip you gotta be careful or she’ll curse you every time she looks in the mirror.” He tugged and snipped and told me to smile so he could see if he’d put my mouth on right.

I left the surgery with a numb face and a river of bloody drool dripping onto the front of my t-shirt creating a puddle I wouldn’t discover for hours. As I opened the door to go, the surgeon added that I “shouldn’t be eatin’ such sweet delicious tings” because if I wasn’t eatin’ such sweet delicious tings I wouldn’t forget myself and bite my face off.

I didn’t tell him it was Nat Metcalfe’s fault. I can’t even remember what was so funny in the first place.

———————————————————————–

Related aside: go see him do comedy. So funny you’ll bite your face off.

Posted in Essays

On The Late Great Fantasy Author J.R.R. Tolkien

I have a theory about bumsex and I’m not boasting here when I say it’s a pretty good one. It goes like this: anal sex is exactly like The Lord of the Rings.

You see, everybody has opinions about Lord of the Rings. Anybody who admits to never having read Lord of the Rings is instantly barraged with thoughts on it, whether or not it’s any good. Everyone seems to have read Lord of the Rings but you. And then maybe you read Lord of the Rings and it’s a bit hard-going and you ultimately give up halfway through and you’re not quite sure what all the fuss is about.

And then there are the people who have read and love The Silmarillion, but that’s another theory.

What I’m saying is I got halfway through The Two Towers and, basically: I’m sticking to The Hobbit.

Posted in Essays

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, A Wholly Indiscreet Experiment in the Manner of David Foster Wallace

To wit: DFW’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men are included in a paperback collection of that name, interspersed among a dozen or so short stories of which your correspondent thoroughly recommends a good sit-down read. They – the fictional interviews – are presented in transcripts of conversations conducted with usually complexly contemptible male subjects.

Your narrator and evidently discreet host thought it apt to transcribe actual words that came out of six different men’s mouths during actual real life dates &c. Your narrator’s own side, if any, of the exchanges are presented merely as Q. and nothing else – your imagination, patience, and willingness to read the original ripped-off source material are wholly encouraged, nay vital. Also, it is excellent.

B.I. #01 03-10
Red Lion, Islington

‘And so I’ve had a couple of pints now and you’ll have to excuse me because I didn’t used to be such a lightweight. Really! No, it’s just when I moved down from Leeds, I – [the subject takes a sip of what your narrator knows to be light beer]I just walk everywhere and forget to eat. I fainted on a date the other night, actually. I walk because I need to get a sense of the city, you know? And it helps when I’m just thinking about a song or something, the poetry, the poetry of the song – it really comes a lot easier.’
Q.
‘Corinne Bailey Rae. Rhythm guitar. Oh yeah, really taking off, it really is. I mean, she hasn’t called me back since I got here but, you know, that’s probably like agents or whatever blocking her phone.’
Q.
‘Uh, selling broadband. Internet. But you know, rhythm guitar. Anyway, so I wanted to talk about you, because – ‘
Q.
‘Yes, about you. Ssssip! [subject #1 takes another loud sip of, again, light beer] Ahhh. I feel sorry for you. I really do. You’re sitting there with your half pint of beer probably trying to I don’t know, watch your weight or something, but it’s all pointless because no one will ever love you anyway.’
Q.
‘Stop interrupting me. See? So you’re here, you’re on this date which I think is going swimmingly but you do have a gob on you and I wish you’d be quiet for a second while I explain this. I think you’re actually quite beautiful, I really do, and that’s why I feel sorry for you. My aunt worked in a mental home all her life and she knows better than anyone else who’s likely to end up mad. This mental home was full of ex-models and beautiful women who never became models and this missed opportunity drove them insane, in the end, when they lost their looks and it was too late or their jobs started drying up and no one was interested in them. Their looks were gone. And of course while they still had their looks – sssip! – Ahhh… while they still had their looks of course no one wanted to talk to them or couldn’t, more to the point, because their appearance made everybody nervous. They thought they were too out of their league, these soon-to-be ex-models. So these women lived alone all their lives, totally lonely, had loads of cats and then eventually went mad and ended up in a mental home being looked after by my aunt.’
Q.
‘Well, obviously I’m not saying it’s definitely going to happen but it’s likely.’
Q.
‘Quavers.’

ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE

B.I. #02 06-11
Comic shop, Bloomsbury

‘Reasonably attractive, considering.’

ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE

B.I. #03 02-10
Soho

‘The gossip section of The Sun, Bizarre. Don’t pretend you don’t read it, darling. If you’ve got any scoops for me I can text them in right now.’
Q.
‘Well, I don’t make them up but that’s not to say they’re true. F’rinstance, you could tell me a story about the new Doctor Who and I’d believe you. Well maybe not the new Doctor Who, since I’ve met him. I’m mostly responsible for his entire outfit and character, actually. The bow-tie was totally my idea and he fucking loved it. We were there until like 4am just like, chatting, just me and him.’
Q.
‘A lock-in at the bar in Camden. He literally cornered me, would not let me leave, until I told him everything I knew about Doctor Who. [subject #3 laughs, audible sigh]’
Q.
‘I’ve never seen Karate Kid. What?’
Q.
‘No, why would you say that?’
Q.
‘Oh hardly. And it was your idea to meet in the theatre bar.’
Q.
‘[Laughter] Mmmph, meow. Maybe it was. But I assure you it’s not because I’m gay.’
Q.
‘Well for starters, I don’t like cock.’

ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE

B.I. #04 11-11
Islington

Q.
‘It’s a good job you’re pretty, because you’re horrendous.

ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE

B.I. #05 02-08
Oxford Street

‘Excuse me, are you Australian?’
Q.
‘You were at a talk I gave on the tourism industry. You work for QANTAS, yes?’
Q.
‘Yes you do. You were sitting down the front. Don’t you remember? You asked a question I couldn’t answer and made me look like an ass.’
Q.
‘Look, can I buy you a drink? I have an idea I want to run by you. I’m sure you work for QANTAS. Are you sure you don’t work for QANTAS?’
Q.
‘I want you to be my assistant and travel with me to Paris, Zurich, Tokyo, that sort of thing. You’ll have all your accommodation paid for and get £400 a week.’
Q.
‘Oh, uh, Travel Systems. You would have heard about us if you’d come to the talk today. But listen: we need to do something about how to dress and how you talk. It just won’t do for the position, you’re sending off the wrong vibes. I’m going to make you my own personal Eliza Dobson. I have no idea what your accent is. You don’t sound Australian after all, I think you’re lying.’
Q.
‘Doolittle, whatever. I think it’s entirely possible you may fall in love with me.’

ANY CHARACTER HERE
ANY CHARACTER HERE

B.I. #06 06-11
Stoke Newington

‘Well, you missed a treat. I totally shaved my balls.’
Q.
‘Like half an hour.’

[Part II]

Posted in Essays

Man-leg: A Problem I Have

In a beer garden in South London a man flip flops over to a table populated by one sunglassed man, a pint of San Miguel lager, and two chairs – one empty. The standing man in shorts asks the seated one with the JG Ballard book if perhaps he might be able to take the empty chair, there, since it is so empty and bereft of bottom. He waits for an answer, his purple feet puffing vaguely over the sides of his frankly past-it flip flops – which he has not slipped his unfeasibly large toes into but instead lets his yellow-nailed appendages rest on top, relying on a heretofore unknown scientific phenomenon involving some sort of sucker system to keep the shoes clamped to his horrific pedal extremities. The seated man lowers his book and is about to say Yes Of Course My Friend Won’t Be Here For Ages when his eyes fall on the heinous feet of the expectant man, the ones below the Hawaiian shorts with a pale hairy gap between hibiscus and toe. “Um,” he stumbles, “Actually, I need it for my uh, friend. In a minute.” The man suckerfoots away to ask the table in the corner if they are using that chair. The empty one.

This happened yesterday. I was not there when it occurred but when I eventually plonked my arse onto that previously empty chair some time later I was told of these corpse feet and experienced an increasingly rare Maybe It’s Not Just Me After All moment. They, the feet, were pointed out to me over the decking expanse of the Battersea beer garden – in the blazing sun they shone like putrid lavender nail varnish – and if I was anyone else maybe I could have stopped staring, maybe even stopped vomiting quietly into my mouth. But I’m me, and I have a problem.

There are reasons why I left Australia some years ago but none so relevant now in the English summer as the antipodean sartorial crime known as Stubbies, whose history (Wikipedia unthesaurusly summarises) can be compressed thusly: “The shorts introduced in 1972 as short fashion shorts for men.” They are usually of a beige colour unchanged since the 1970s and generally favoured by geography teachers. Cropped dangerously close to a human male’s dangling bollocks – so much so that when watching someone lurch out of a cab, (more likely) dismount a ute, or reaching for a loftily shelved globe, there is the vague and ever-present fear that one hairy ball might swing on out and slap against pale inner thigh.

This fear became a reality more recently when I took a notion to enroll in some yoga classes here in London. Knowing nothing about anything yoga-related except that people fart freely and you’re supposed to be okay with this, I selected the type of yoga Google informed me was closest to my house. Bikram yoga is basically regular yoga (from what I can deduce) and differs only from a thing called “hot yoga” in that some massive ego called Bikram insisted on tagging his name onto a thing he reckons he invented. It’s done in a stiflingly humid room heated to over 40 degrees Celsius: a room that smells of mould, sweat, and like fifty unwashed bottoms. For some masochistic reason I dragged myself to this torture chamber for a whole month, sweating buckets, ruining carpets, and learning what eyebrows are actually for (they are for sweat, apparently, and not just for raising in dramatic suspicion). The yoga positions are the same every time so every miserable class blends into every other miserable class, but I can recall one evening as if it were just five minutes ago thanks to a memorable horror that had much to do with those short fashion shorts for men.

About halfway through the prescribed 90 minutes, I and fifty others teetered on one flabby leg each with the other stretched out behind parallel to the floor, and an arm pointing to the front mirror so as to form with our own human bodies a moist and trembling letter T. The collective effort and strain was, as usual, both audible and palpable. I tore my eyes away from my hideously grasping toes, which were clawing desperate and chimp-like at the hired towel below me. I was trying to look at the front of the room – as directed by the instructor with the Britney Spears headset microphone – in order to find a personal point of focus (a thumb tack, a smudge on the mirror, my own crying face) so that there would be a diminished likelihood of a domino chain collapsing wetly in a heap of unclothed limbs. My eyes followed the weave of the carpet, hit the heel of the man in front of me and headed up. Directly where my theoretical point of focus was supposed to be was the back of this man’s dangling scrotum, twitching ever so slightly as his groinal muscles made tiny unconscious adjustments for the betterment of his balance and inner peace.

My Problem does not lie solely with puffy, fungal feet and the back of sweaty scrota, in fact I have problems with the whole lower half of dudes, fungus or no fungus, but only when divided in sections. I have no problem with entirely naked dudes, but when just parts of the lower body are highlighted for nakedness – say when a cyclist rolls up just one leg of his trousers for practical reasons involving mechanical cogs and chains, etc – I have a tendency to feel actually ill for mental reasons that are yet to be diagnosed. The idea that newsreaders are sitting in their underpants behind that desk is a thought that has been known to keep me up at night long after the 10 O’Clock round-up. In the same way a naked person’s nakidity is exaggerated when they’re wearing nothing but socks, a pair of three-quarter length trousers highlight a few inches of shin and calf in a most ridiculous and vulnerable way, a sight made all the worse by a the presence of a calf tattoo. What is the point of it, I ask you, the three-quarter indecisive length. It’s like the on-purpose version of that late night glimpse of leg you see on Parkinson, when Parky crosses his legs and the trousers hitch up ever so slightly to reveal a sparsely hairy gap betwixt cuff and sock.

The alternative is of course not even worth thinking about because there isn’t one. I can’t see Dragon’s Den giving my real-life door-sized censor bars the go ahead just like I can’t see men actually clipping the black Perspex sheets to their braces in the morning. As I go hurtling towards my inevitable blindness thanks to years spent staring nonchalantly into the sun in an ill-advised attempt to ignore the leggy horrors around me, I mostly just wonder why I say these things on the Internet.

Posted in Essays

Beam Me Up

If you’re reading this it means you weren’t beamed up on May 21st like some helium-injected sex doll in the sky. Neither was I. There are several reasons why this could be, the most obvious being ‘No one was ever going to be sucked up into the clouds to meet the Lord because that is clearly impossible what with all the obese Baconaisse fans, the unyielding bastard that is Gravity, plus also the improbability of God’s existence.’ It’s a good reason – probably the best – but as a couple of optimistic survivors explained in the disappointing Rapture-free days afterwards: Jesus came, few noticed. Millions were saved, we heathens just didn’t see them go.

I for one wasn’t expecting to go, for I was but eight years old when I was exiled from the warm embrace of Our Lord Jesus H. Christ. With staunch religious grandparents in our midst I was dutifully sent off to the Catholic school up the hill, where the Sacred Heart church – like all proper churches – sat at the utmost peak and loomed for miles and miles. It was a private school funded by fees, and with a diminishing student body many of the jobs fell to the parish Priest who would otherwise be (one imagines) putting his feet up or polishing some already blindingly shiny religious wossname like those relics in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (twelve years of Catholic school and that is a thing I just said). I do not know what actual priests do because the only priest I have to go on was seen jumping up and down in the skip every morning trying to flatten the rubbish.

He ran the Reconciliation classes once a week, every Tuesday after school – 45 minutes of sheer mind-numbing boredom (resulting in missed episodes of Degrassi Junior High and a grudge still held twenty years on) so that one day I would be able to go through another round of complexly torturous classes so that finally I would be able to drink cheap watered-down church wine and eat ice cream wafers in lieu of the patronising pat on the head they reserved for the as yet uninitiated. I am not even remotely religious and as an adult my sole church attendance is pretty much on a funerals-only basis – but if I did go, I would still be getting that patronising baff on the bonce, because I – like my daffy Golden Labrador, Monty Campbell – never made it through the obedience class. I was at least spared the indignity of being awarded a Certificate of Participation unlike my poor pup, who licked the ghosts of his balls throughout the entire doggy graduation ceremony.

Part of my willing endurance of these classes was the exceptional afternoon tea spread, which consisted not only of hot chocolate but also (and more impressively) an entire tray of Arnott’s Assorted Creams which were the sort of thing your Mum only got if you were having important people round at home and even then you were only allowed a ration of two (2). My worksheets were tinged brownly and my verbal answers about Bible stories were delivered through the masticated components of a Monte Carlo cream.

One fateful lunchtime, the jig was up. Having hiked up his clerical garb and shaken errant banana peels from his boots, Father Power (for that was his excellent name) vacated the bin and marched down the hill to bang on our door. A visit from the priest was a rare thing, so naturally fears were grave. Tea was made, the nibbles were placed on the crocheted doily, and when everyone was sitting awkwardly he revealed the nature of his visit: young Hayley Campbell was no longer welcome in his priestly classes. My mother was horrified. I don’t know what my Dad thought in the early moments but when the reason for my expulsion came to light I like to imagine he was proud.

“Because she’s only in it for the biscuits,” said the priest.

On May 21st I sat in an old Victorian cemetery drinking beer and eating crisps with the dead people. I would have eaten some biscuits but I’m an adult now and can have biscuits any time I want (most recently I had six Rocky bars for dinner and I do not regret a one of them). I’ll do it on October 21st, the revised date of the Rapture, because Harold Camping got his maths wrong and forgot to carry the one. Maybe he got kicked out of class too.

Posted in Essays

Drunk Amazon

I have a thing I do when I get home from the pub and that thing is not ‘vomit in the sink’. What I do is slump on my bed, locate my laptop and bring up (I mean “load” – again, not vomits) the Aladdin’s cave of websites: Amazon.co.uk. Then I buy a bunch of stuff. Maybe it will be one thing, perhaps possibly it will be three: I cannot say for certain because I never remember doing it. This is an activity I have only deduced from the evidence of browser history and my bank statement triangulated with the date of excessive imbibement, if that is a word, which I’ve decided it is.

I call this game “Drunk Amazon” because it is descriptive of the rules and this particular player. It’s a one-player game, this, though the relatively simple rules do not stipulate you must be a chunky lady over six feet tall to ride. Having confirmed your intoxicated purchase and swiftly passed out face down with your shoes on, all knowledge of the transaction evaporates faster than the drool on your pillow. In a week’s time you receive a parcel. You literally have no idea what’s in it but you’ve given it a shake and it’s definitely i. a DVD or ii. a book, probably purchased for the hefty sum of: one penny. Opening it is like receiving a gift from someone who knows you better than yourself. You find yourself sending love back through the mists of time to You Circa A Week Ago – that squinty-eyed, pink-cheeked thing that rolled in the front door still shaking dry roasted peanut crumbs out of her hair. The same one who had delusions of mental grandeur and ordered the entire literary output of Albert Camus.

I am totally unable to stop playing this game because I never consciously started it.

I’m assuming I’m not alone when I try to fool myself into thinking I’m significantly more interesting than I actually am. This is evident in the inebriated highbrow purchases I forget I make, and also the mild thrill I get when I open an Amazon recommends… e-mail to find that they are totally wrong. I am so interesting that not even their maths and science and wizards of extrapolation can predict where I will go next. I’m some sort of maverick, I’m outside their rules. I’m the one who fucks up the averages.

What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho?

0.02% buy The George Formby Songbook for £9.41.

Amazon is an upgrade from my previous drink problem, being the purchase of real life things, in real life, as I stumbled happily home. Notable purchases include a trilby hat I (mistakenly) wore for an entire summer, and ukulele I played for a whole afternoon (during which time I notified everybody I knew that they should be changing my name to Uku-Hayley in their address books and to some prehistoric mobile phones I am still Uku-Hayley to this day). Having moved house four times since that purchase I only ever see the instrument when it is the last forgotten thing in a corner of the van and I have to be given a leg up to fetch it. “You play the Zippy Zither?” asked one burly van-man, eyeing the almost triangular box with such an earnest look of nostalgic wonder that I lied to him and said I did.

Perhaps there’s one in the post.

Posted in Essays