Monday, 31 May 2010

World Cup Guide - Group 1

With the World Cup just over a week away, please enjoy this, the Million Words guide to the tournament. Each day we'll be previewing a different group. Today we start, as we should, with Group A.


Form: Patchy. Qualified only through accidental own goal by Irish defender Vladimir Nkomo who riverdanced the ball into his own net in the mistaken belief the referee had blown for full time. Unbelievably, the squad contains a few survivors from their 1998 World Cup win including Tommy Poirot, Claude Lambada and 63 year old goalkeeper Albert Squierre.

Tactics – Nonchalant as a Gallic shrug, the team literally seem to sigh the ball into the net.

– Didier Douelle (pictured). Mental. In his second spell as French coach, the first having ended after imprisonment for impersonating Charles De Gaulle on Bastille Day, Douelle divides French opinion like no other man. For some, his decision to recall veterans such as Poirot and Lambada reeks of desperation. Literally, in Lambada’s case, as he has been dead since 2001. Others say his use of imported voodoo techniques has worked wonders with the team’s fitness and point to their recent 9-0 win over the entire cast of Les Miserables as proof he’s turned things around.

Star Player – Awopbopalooba Awambambou. The 24 year old Toulouse Argyle striker is rumoured to be off to a bigger club if his explosive form continues in South Africa. Fast, powerful and big in the air he is also a Facebook friend of Nelson Mandela.

: Striker Simon D’aurevoir is nicknamed “Flymo” not because he’s quick on the grass but because he lost his right testicle to one in an unfortunate gardening prank that went wrong.

Odds 14-1


Form: Overcast. Los Gringos, as the team are affectionately known at home, looked like crashing out after a bizarre defeat at home to Belize. However, one of the Belize players, Lord Ashcroft was not a registered international and the game was replayed in a Guadalajara car park with Mexico winning a hotly disputed parking space in the last minute.

: Get the ball to Mel Gibson. Born Sancho Sanchez, the young Aston Tortilla winger was so overcome by Gibson’s Apocalypto that he changed his name to Mel Gibson and began constructing an ancient Aztec temple in his back garden. Gibson’s pace is terrifying especially when he’s wearing full battle gear and threatening to disembowel match officials who displease him.

Manager: At the time of writing, the Mexico coach is forgotten 80s heartthrob Glenn Medeiros. Mexican national coaches last about four days on average, during qualifying the team were under the guidance of no less than 15 different coaches including three during the infamous Battle of San Juan when they lost 22-21 to Costa Rica, a match that was abandoned when Costa Rica’s mum said it was time for tea.

Star Player
: Apart from Sanchez, look out for goalkeeper Little Jose Osmondo. Just eight years old, he is the youngest player in the tournament and his tactic of flinching whenever any striker gets near him has won him a number of admirers as well as sympathetic decisions from homesick linesmen.

Trivia: A lot of fans hope that Medeiros will pick Carlos Doodoodoodoodoodoodoodora. The tiny bearded full back is revered as “Senor Claypole” in Mexico due to his facial resemblance to Mr Claypole from seventies kids show Rentaghost. Rentaghost is the most popular programme on Mexican television, not least because it is marketed as a documentary series on British life.

Odds: 66-1

South Africa

Form: The hosts have not had to go through the hell of qualifying which is probably just as well as pre-tournament friendlies have been disastrous. The indignity of turning up to the opening match at Durban’s new Arthur Fonzarelli Dome only to find that no one had thought to put a pitch down was a particular low point as was the goalless draw with a Vatican City XI.

Tactics: Praying for rain. Home fans are equipped at each match with Christmas crackers filled with such annoyances as indestructible yellow plastic frogs, those blowy things where the paper rolls out into a tongue shape, and appallingly bad jokes. These jokes are read out by the home crowd en masse to disillusion the away supporters and disorientate the team’s opponents.

Manager: Joop Mbonza. Colourful, abrasive, paranoid and passionate – the most popular person in the continent apart from Mandela himself, Mbonza has his skin painted permanently in the stripes of a zebra. This, he says, is “to symbolise the coming together of two tribes in a new nation.” Critics point out that the death of his mother during a zebra stampede on his eighth birthday may also have a fair bit to do with it and point to his 19 years as manager of Pietermaritzburg Mental Hospital FC as proof that he may be more than a little unhinged.

Star Player: Genesis Collins. Now with FC Nigel of Switzerland, the winger is the face of the team. Not a billboard or advertising opportunity is complete without Genesis smiling features. Mbonza calls him Genius but not all are enamoured with him. Team mate Leonardo Rossiter has never forgiven him for sharing a bowl of cheese and chips with his ex-girlfriend’s best friend’s sister and has not played for the national side since.

Trivia: Straw Botha (pictured) is a surprise inclusion in the squad, having only just been released from a ten year jail term imposed for telling a well known joke with the punchline Winnie Mandela on children’s television show Martin Chebe’s Madhouse, before launching into his offensive hit record You Got To Fight For Your Right To Apartheid. Botha, now goalkeeper for Bullingdon Club, says he is a reformed character and broke down on the Oprah Winfrey show before being led off set by security for intruding.

Odds 200-1


Form: The surprise package of the South American qualifying group, Uruguay beat Brazil and Argentina in succession to clinch a spot in South Africa. Foul play was suspected in the latter match, not least because Argentina had been informed that kick off was at 9pm, an hour after Uruguay had taken a one-nil lead in a packed stadium.

Tactics: Physically imposing and masters of the dark arts, Uruguay take tackling to levels beyond cynicism. Such is the culture of Uruguyan football that their Saturday night highlights show is entitled Amputato. Veteran defender Marcos Resplendidos is known as The Cleaver and presents a Sunday afternoon cookery show on national television wherein he kicks things to pieces before cooking them. The fans expect violence and bloodshed in the national cause, Uruguay never fail to deliver either.

Manager: Gustavo Gonzalo Goncalves (pictured). Owner of the most fantastic moustache in football, as well as the writer of several foul-mouthed children’s novels, Goncalves is revered in Uruguay as a thinker, a womaniser and a football genius. Promoted to the national job after winning umpteen titles with FC A Very Old Team With Enormous Wingers, he famously celebrates victories by firing his machine gun into the night air. The destruction of the national stadium roof aside, Goncalves CV is most impressive, nicely spaced and using a sensible Palatino Linotype font.

Star Player: The Felicidad brothers are the only quintuplets in the history of international football. Born to a lowly crop sprayer, they have risen from rural poverty and form an unusual defensive unit. With Gary, Howard, Robbie, Mark and Jason in goal, they take conceding goals personally and although it’s widely accepted that Robbie’s the only one who can play, there is grudging admiration for Gary’s organisational skills.

Trivia: The first verse of Uruguay’s national anthem roughly translates as “For fuck’s sake there’s no need to go on about it/it happened two hundred years ago/ you sound just like your mother/ it will come off with detergent.”

: 80-1

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Just Got Fooled Again

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" - The Who, Won't Get Fooled Again.

And so it was, just nineteen days into the new politics, that the Cleggeron Coalition suffered its first casualty. David Laws has had to resign as Chief Secretary to the Treasury because he claimed £40,000 expenses for rent that he paid to his lover. The Daily Telegraph (The Daily Mail but for people with bigger hands and larger houses) outed David as a cheating politician and as a homosexual.

David's excuse for his basking in the taxpayer's unwilling largesse was that he wanted to keep his private life private. His sexuality was unknown to all but a very few select friends, one of whom he paid £900 a month in rent.

And there's the problem. David's resignation from the Cabinet isn't, as some would have it, a victory for homophobes. It's a personal and self-inflicted disaster. David is a multi-millionaire who claimed an extra £900 a month to give to his partner towards an apartment which he already owned outright. But he's done the decent thing, he's resigned and has paid back the 40 grand. Because he's rich, he can do that, see.

This was the man about to wield a considerable axe to the finances of the country, breaking up public services and sending thousands into unemployment as he did so. For that same person to be able to STEAL from the taxpayers, some of whom will soon be signing on, is morally reprehensible.

In the same week where a Malawian gay couple were sentenced to 14 years in separate prisons (a sentence now thankfully quashed), accusations of homophobia ring pretty hollow. This was greed, pure and simple.

The promise of a new politics from the Cleggerons was always empty rhetoric. The coalition, already wobbling behind closed doors and gritted teeth, is now visibly damaged. I'll give it six months. A damn sight less than either you or I would have got had we taken 40 grand from the public's purse.

Friday, 28 May 2010

A Letter To Richard Littlejohn re the Bradford murders.

Christ, I hate this bastard. Today's Daily Mail column reprises a Littlejohn theme, the depiction of murdered women as "women who worked as prostitutes" rather than just "prostitutes" or, as Richie would no doubt prefer, "drug-addled slags who had it coming." Anyway, I've written to him. I doubt he'll reply.

Dear Richard

Some people, myself included, believe that by merely describing someone as a "prostitute" in the reporting of this horrific crime, that that reduces the status of that person in death to something less than deserving of our sympathy.

Richard, you're described as a "columnist" whereas, in reality, you're a "racist, homophobic bigot peddling hysterical pieces of hate-filled nonsense to be read by ill-informed morons like yourself". You add nothing to the cultural or intelligent life of this country.

I trust your own demise will be reported with sympathy and sensitivity towards your friends and family, a token of decency and respect you have failed to show in kind.



Monday, 24 May 2010

Unusual Telly Syntax #2 - Egghead Contestants.


It's a show wherein a team of a bunch of hateful, deluded fucktards - the kind of people who think the ability to retain information such as the Latin name of elm trees or the first name of Doctor Zhivago - are invited to take on basically the Harlem Globetrotters of quizzing. The Eggheads are bastards. Total wankers. CJ, Judith, that old bitch with the face like a sheep and the permanent expression of someone unsure whether they've just shit themselves or had a massive orgasm and the one who looks like eighties enviro-cartoon hero Dr. Snuggles.

Anyway, enough about the Heads. What bothers me is this new style of answering questions that contestants on the show have been forced to adopt in the hope of padding out the program.

A contestant is asked "Who wrote Catch-22"
Three options pop up on screen. Joseph Heller. Les Dennis. Malcolm X.
This didnt really happen but you'll see what I mean now. I hope.

The contestant knows the answer, you can tell by the mildly ejaculatory look in their stupid face. But he cant do that. He has to do what I call a "minor Cowell."
Invariably they'll pull a wickle puzzled face.
"Well, I dont think its Les Dennis." Bit of a pause. "I think Malcolm X mainly wrote political speeches urging the Afro-American man to fight for a positive and deliberate segregation of themselves from the white American society." Bigger pause. "I think it must be Joseph Heller."

Then Dermot, the poor host who clearly cant believe he has to do this shit but has to because he's not a Paxman, never will be, looks at his card and reveals that they're right with a level of mock-surprise a toddler would find insulting.

I dont know how much use there can be for the minor Cowell syntax in the outside world. Could you use it in the bedroom?

"Where would you like to stick your cock?"
"I dont think I'm going to put it in your ear......"

Unusual Telly Syntax #1 - Simon Cowell.

There's a lot to admire about Simon Cowell. Like the fact he's clearly such a wanker. But why does he do that pause thing? The naff Snow Patrol on in the background thing. The thing where there's a chance (about the same chance as Nick Griffin marrying June Sarpong mind) of him saying no to a contestant who's just had two Yesses, yeses? What is the plural of yes? He says something like

"That wasn't good."

Big pause, Snow Patrol or Take That are about to launch in the background.

"That wasn't very good."

Cut to crying troupe of street ventriloquists.

Cut to Cowell grinning like a man who's just spelt out the word "Magic" on a supermodel's breasts with his own seed.

"That was outstanding." Big uplifting music. Street ventriloquists hugging each other at the thought of switching on Matlock's Christmas lights.

I wish doctors would take the Cowell approach to delivering good news. Or any news. "You aren't going to live much longer." Big pause. "You're not going to see much past Christmas." Massive pause. "You're going to live another 50 years."

Or the flip.

"You haven't got AIDS." Big pause. "You haven't got cancer." Big pause. Cut to patient, quivering in chair. "You've got the Ebola Virus with a side order of bubonic plague. Get away from me."

And then he presses some unseen button on his desk and "Rule The World" starts pumping through the stereo. Amazing.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Potato and the Lion

Another short story. My attempt at being Chekhov. The one in Star Trek.

Mikhail Antonovich lived in Apartment 142. It was a dull apartment in a dull building, Block 94 East of the Luzhyna Development north of the river. Mikhail worked as a civil servant organising the repair of the city’s broken lamp posts. He lived a life of simplicity and monotony. Each day he would wake early, drink some tea. He would eat some toast and then make his way to the metro station and alight at Lubyanka.

Walking across the great square each morning he would check the lamp posts around him. Nothing could be of greater torment to a man entrusted with illuminating Moscow’s streets at night than a smashed or otherwise deficient lamp post within spitting distance of his office.

Each morning his assistant Svetlana, an elfin girl with large eyelashes and a slight moustache, would bring him the overnight report on new faults, as well as lists of completed repairs. When these reports were read, signed, counter-signed and filed, Antonovich would dismiss Svetlana and take lunch alone at a small cafe on Myasnitskaya. Usually he would eat soup, perhaps some dumplings. On a hot day he might allow himself a small beer. After eating, he would return to his office, look out of the window and write imaginary letters of complaint to his department as well as sarcastically worded replies from himself. Occasionally, if the weather had been excessively hot, Mikhail would try to transcribe the words his heart were incapable of saying and his mouth unlikely to. Rare were the afternoons when he would have something official to do. The nights offered their own torment; the clock reaching six brought joyless sighs from his unsmiling mouth. He would wait for Svetlana to leave and shred the day’s love letters as he watched her depart from his window.

It was a dull and loveless life and that is why his story is of not much concern to us except perhaps to warn us against the perils of the bureaucratic existence. His brother Alexei, however, lived a life of adventure and though we may be as quick as his brother to envy him his daring, pluck and courage let me state now that you will see this tale is also a cautionary one.

Alexei was as different to his brother as a potato is to a lion. Alexei was shorter and darker than his brother. Older too by a year and wider around the waist, but he had charisma where Mikhail had attention to detail. In his brother’s eyes, Alexei was a degenerate playboy. In reality he was a Mafia puppet who ran a nightclub close to the Alexander Garden called Napoleon’s. Whilst outwardly appearing to be the man in charge, Alexei would often be snowed under with administration and repairs but he too had a beautiful assistant to take care of things.

Her name was Katarina. Alexei loved Katarina but he could not bring himself to settle down with her. Whenever he got the opportunity he would pursue unsatisfactorily brief liaisons with the glamorous prostitutes who were hired to ensnare the wealthy Western tourists and local businessmen who patronised his club. It was a perk of the job; Alexei even got a staff discount. He joked to his male friends he was in charge of quality control. But that was in the club. At home, he was alone. Katarina would visit and the urge to be a good man would raise its voice within him, only to be drowned by other louder voices the moment she suggested moving in together or getting married.

Eventually, as is sometimes the case in such situations, Katarina was visited by the stork.

“It’s not so bad,” Alexei told Katarina over coffee in a small cafe near to the clinic. “I’ve got plenty of money.”

“It’s frightening,” she said

“There is nothing to worry about. People go through this all the time,” Alexei tried to comfort her.

They were talking about two different outcomes.

Little Oleg came in at seven pounds exactly. He was a beautiful boy and the happiness he brought to Katarina when she first held him was matched only by the deep sense of distress Alexei felt rising inside of him. The midwife at the hospital handed little Oleg to his father and almost immediately, both father and midwife regretted that decision, the infant screamed with all its might the moment his father’s fingers wrapped themselves around his tiny shawled body. Despite what you might have heard about the bond between parent and child, it is quite possible for a baby to be dropped at such a moment – the quick thinking midwife, a stocky girl from Odessa called Irina who was the only child of a former Spartak Moscow goalkeeper, fell to her knees and caught the child before tragedy could strike.

Alexei looked to his girlfriend and saw the fear in her eyes. He looked to the midwife and saw the anger in hers. Sensing the gravity of the situation, Alexei ran out of the ward, out of the hospital and all the way to his own comforting womb.

Ignoring the hellos of his staff and the enquiring open palms of his regulars, Alexei grabbed a large bottle of vodka from a fridge behind the bar, and moved silently but quickly to a corner table.

People would approach the table to see if they too might wet the baby’s head, and on seeing Alexei’s forbidding expression, would retreat rapidly. Soon people began to worry that all was not well with mother and child.

One of Napoleon’s regulars, a loan shark called Petruchek, a man who enjoyed a reputation for heartlessness in all things, went to ask one of the barmaids what was the matter.

“I do not know. Perhaps somebody should phone the hospital.”

“Yes. That is a good idea. I do not like to see my business associates unhappy,” agreed Petruchek.

“I’m fine,” shouted Alexei, “I’m fine, the baby is fine, and Katarina is fine.”

“Then what is the problem?” asked the barmaid.

The evening passed quickly, Alexei emptied his heart as quickly as his glass. He was not an especially tolerant drinker and was soon slurring his words. However, both Petruchek and the barmaid, a beautiful girl from the former Ukraine whose name escapes me, came to understand that the father had been rejected by the child on first sight. Petruchek made a phone call and sent flowers from both himself and Alexei to mother and child. The girl filled the glasses all night and ordered Alexei a taxi to take him home.

In the back of the taxi, Alexei slept like a baby. He dreamt himself back to his own childhood, to a school corridor, he found himself running down this corridor faster and faster towards the window at the far end. At the moment he leapt through the glass, he awoke to find the taxi stopped. The driver watched him in the rear view mirror and sipped from a flask. Alexei tried to take it all in – the drink, the baby, the dream, the smell of black coffee filling the cab’s interior.

“How much do I owe you?”


“What? Come on man, how much?”

“Seriously, the fare is paid. Let me give you something in return.”

Alexei yawned and rubbed his eyes before staring outside. A light sprinkling of snow had fallen; the ground was sugar-coated.

“What do you want to give me?”

“There is a book that contains all the knowledge you need.”

“Ah, a holy man! Please, keep your bibles. I am fine,”

Alexei reached for the door handle but the lock was on.

“Please, if this is a kidnapping, I can assure you I know powerful people. Just let me go,”

The driver handed a folded piece of paper back through the screen.

“There is a book. Once, all fathers knew of this book though few do now. It contains all the information you need to bond with little Oleg.”

“What? Who are you, what is this? How do you...?”

“My name is Kharms. There is a village in Tibet called Bangada. To the north of the village there is a mountain called Unghru. There is a small cave halfway up the mountain. It is difficult to access but a word to the right people in the village will get you safely there. The Book will provide all answers. And, armed with that knowledge, you will be a better person, a better father.”

“What? What is this? Please, let me go. Goodnight.”

The locks were sprung, Alexei got out. He stood as the little yellow car pulled away and, once satisfied by the disappearance of its red taillights, screwed the piece of paper in his hand into a ball and threw it into the air, where the white bluster mistook it for a larger snowflake and sent it spinning into the darkness.

The next day, Alexei awoke in horror. His bedside clock read a few minutes before midday. His wife and his son would be home soon. His home. Alexei stumbled around his apartment, a place he no longer recognised. In the corner of his bedroom, a room where once he had taken the pick of Moscow’s young ladies, a cot now stood. He approached the crib as though there was already a babe asleep within; softly and cautiously.

It did not stop him screaming when he saw the piece of paper folded neatly upon the blankets within. Unfolding it, Alexei began to sob. His eyes read the directions as Kharms had spoken them the night before. He removed a cigarette lighter from his pocket, walked into the small kitchen and, after opening a silver pedal bin, lit the paper and dropped it burning into the darkness within.

For a few days after Katarina and Oleg came home, all seemed well. The baby fed well, slept well, did not seem sick or irritable. The only thing that was amiss was Alexei. Every time he went to hold the baby, the baby awoke with a scream that shook the whole apartment. After the third such scream, Alexei put the baby back into its cot and went to the bathroom.

After going to the toilet, he noticed that the toilet roll sheets were strangely patterned with a faint rubric. On closer examination, Alexei’s heart sank as he realised nothing would stop until he had followed Kharms’s instructions.

That night he packed a small suitcase with clothes and documentation. He found himself continually thinking that he had done all this before. He told his wife he had been called away on sudden business.

“Do you have to go? Where? When will you be back?”

Alexei had no honest answer he could give to any of these questions. He kissed his wife and looked briefly in on the sleeping infant.

"I’ll be back in a few days,” he shouted as the taxi beeped outside.

The journey was an awkward one to say the least. The taxi driver seemed oddly familiar. Like Kharms, this man too refused a fare. And then, on the train to Tashkent he found himself sat opposite a young couple, each with a baby strapped to their chest. The cries of these babies filled the carriage each time the train made a fearsome noise but the parents could not have been more serene or more genuine in their desire to soothe the infants. By contrast Alexei was a wreck, each time the driver blew his whistle or negotiated a change of track, each time the train whinnied or shunted, he became nauseous, agitated. Just before arriving at a station some 300 miles north of Tashkent, the train entered a tunnel and the lights failed momentarily. This was enough for Alexei to scream for his mother.

At Tashkent he decided he needed rest. He had been travelling three days by train and decided he needed a bed that didn’t move. He picked up his suitcase and made his way off the train, he had passports, papers and bribe money all safe in the inside pocket of his leather coat. As he strode confidently through the grand hall of the station he noticed a familiar looking man holding up a white card with his surname.

There are many Antonoviches east of Moscow, he told himself. Perhaps a hundred thousand, but passing the familiar looking driver he could feel the hand upon his shoulder before it even landed.


“Of course, I’m here to take you to your hotel.”

By this point Alexei did not know whether he was tired or already sleeping. Perhaps it was a dream. Perhaps he was dead. He knew he did not want to climb into the back of Kharms’ cab but he did so as though under orders. He imagined he had been drugged. The city passed by the windows in a blur of autonomous office blocks and gaily coloured bazaars. He felt like he was travelling through time. To the past and back again and then into the future. Before finally drifting into the snows of sleep Alexei saw his wife, smiling. He saw his little son, too. His face was perfectly still.

The brightness of the city and the noise of the sun awoke him. He washed, dressed and made his way to reception. He felt invigorated. Perhaps this book was nonsense. He may yet turn back. Striding through the lobby Alexei imagined himself to be a touring diplomat or a rock star. He approached the receptionist with something close to a swagger.

With a heavy heart Alexei took the news that his bill had already been paid, he found himself almost immediately exhausted by the sight of Kharms outside, the back door of the cab wide open like the mouth of some long forgotten creature from childhood nightmares.

Alighting once more from the cab, he was once again tricked into not paying. He reached inside his pocket for money but the cab pulled away. As he withdrew his wallet, a golden piece of folded paper fell out. Alexei unfolded it and saw that it seemed to be some sort of itinerary. Until this point he had made plans roughly along the lines of bribing tradesmen to smuggle him in their lorries across the Tibetan border and beyond. Bangada was at least four days travelling away. Several bribes would be needed. On replacing the golden piece of paper in his wallet, he found that he now had hundreds of American dollars, Russian roubles and Chinese yen. His sudden wealth only made him feel sicker.

In a coffee house a few yards stagger from the hotel, Alexei sat with his suitcase and waited for his drink to cool. He read the itinerary again. The train to Bishkek would take two days. From here he was to meet a man wearing a shirt decorated with a blue dragon. This man would take him to a battered lorry carrying goatskins. For two hundred US dollars he would take Alexei across the border and to the city of Kashgar. Here there was an internet cafe in the main square. He would email an address to arrange transportation to the town of Nimyan. Here he would meet a man called Shukhan who would guide him to the temple where the Book was housed.

All proceeded as the itinerary had instructed. Emails and bribes and goatskins. Alexei could not remember if Kharms had written about hiding beneath a pile of goatskins whilst Chinese soldiers accepted cigarettes less than three feet from him. He could not remember but could not rule it out.

The road to Kashgar was an old silk trading route and could have been less apposite for its cause – an unending rocky track. The journey was hell, the road lunar. Alexei lay in an almost foetal position, stuck between worlds.

The internet cafe was easy to find, the crowded square parted for the westerner. He bribed the proprietor as per his instructions, and emailed the address given to him by Kharms.

The reply was worryingly immediate.

“Wait one hour Mr Antonovich. I will collect you.”

Alexei bought a Coke and took a seat at a table outside. He felt nauseous. What was he doing here? How could he have got himself into this situation? He was angry for allowing himself to be taken up by the whims of a stranger. He was thousands of miles from home. He missed his old life. He wanted his wife.

He wanted to see his son and felt something akin to a resignation to that never happening again when he heard his own name being spoke aloud.

"Mr Antonovich. Welcome to Kashgar.”

Alexei sighed as Kharms took a seat opposite him.

The journey to Nimyan involved a road that made the crossing to Kashgar seem a luxurious cruise on some flawless autobahn. Landslides were common as the road climbed higher and higher into the mountains. Kharms little yellow taxi dodged boulders larger than itself, would slam on the brakes every couple of minutes to avoid collision with a farmer marching his yaks to market. Though the road would often disappear into great waves of mist, Kharms drove on, oblivious to their fates. His meter stayed shut off. Occasionally Alexei would drift off into a brief nightmarish nap, dreaming of ropes and fires and talking trees. His father would loom out of the mist at him. His son fought with a two headed bear. His nightclub was staffed by ghosts. And always the same thing, Kharms whooping with delight as he swerved round a cluster of slowly moving monks or a fallen piece of Himalaya.

Finally, when it seemed the car could climb no more, Kharms announced their arrival in Nimyan.

Alexei felt like an astronaut as he climbed out of the car. Around him a chill wind swirled, the snowflakes twisting and rising and falling but never landing. Kharms carried Alexei’s belongings. He pointed to a building a few feet away.

“In there. Come.”

They walked up an uneven stone staircase to the side of a three story building, the top floor wooden. Kharms knocked upon a thick wooden door which soon was opened by an unseen hand. Upon entering Alexei saw an avenue of candles lighting his way to an altar at which someone knelt.

The figure rose slowly and turned. An elderly man with a face straight out of a martial arts movie spoke in perfect Russian with a voice that seemed too young, too strong for the figure that it came from.

“You seek the book?”


“I have not seen the book but I know of its location. I have never had need of the book for I have no children.”

“I have a son. I do not know what to do.”

“You have travelled far. You are tired. In the morning your guide will be here. It is not a long journey but it is a perilous one. It will be worth it.”

That night Alexei slept on a bed of various animal skins and furs. He dreamt of a room full of blind children. In this room the only source of light was a solitary thin window at which sat a terrible bird. This bird was like a rook but much larger, closer to the size of an eagle. All the children were silent except for one who sat at the furthest end of the room. Bathed in a mysterious light, this child played with a bright red fire engine. Alexei approached the little child. When it looked up at him, no before that, for in the dream Alexei knew what was coming, he saw his son, a little older. Alexei went to lift Oleg but the boy melted into water.

Alexei screamed and woke, soaked from the dream. He dressed quickly and made his way downstairs. There he was guided by a small boy towards a long, thin room where a breakfast had been prepared. It was a sort of porridge. Something in its taste and smell reminded Alexei of his mother. To the side lay a bowl of unusually shaped sweet breads and a pot of tea. Alexei pondered where he remembered this smell from when the elderly man from the previous night entered the room.

“Your guide is here. Be quick, a storm is coming.”

Alexei hurried his tea and almost as soon as he wondered where Kharms was, he knew who his guide would be.

The road they had driven on had ended at the old man’s house. To the side of the staircase they had climbed the day before, a narrow cobbled path of sorts stretched upwards, snaking its way higher up towards a mountain whose peak could not yet be seen. Kharms walked quickly, never seeming to tire, stopping only to chastise Alexei for his lack of fitness. For several hours they walked until finally they could see above them a steep precipice of black rock. Around this precipice wound a thin path, almost like a helter skelter. At the top of this path was a cave, in the mouth of which could be seen a soft pulsing light.

“Nearly there then” said Alexei, lifting his head towards Kharms.

But Kharms was gone.

At first Alexei was irritated by the disappearance of his guide. Though he could not be certain if he was a ghost or a demon or just an incredibly well-connected and resourceful taxi driver, Alexei had grown to be reassured by his presence. But now, as he circumnavigated the black peak, he began to wonder if Kharms had led him by dark design to some terrible place. The path round the mountain grew thinner as it grew higher. Bones lay here and there – fallen climbers lay with rusting crampons at their feet, yak heads bloomed like flowers here and there. One climber still clutched a sepia print of some frowning children in his frozen mitten.

Alexei reassured himself that it was only fear that stopped Kharms from progressing, or perhaps it was local ritual that only one may enter the cave. Certainly Alexei was not turning back now. If the book existed, it could make him rich. This would surely be worth something. And if not, well, his own story would be worth telling.

Finally, when the air was as thin as the path which only just existed beyond the sides of his feet, Alexei reached the cave.

The source of the soft light they had seen below was a great flaming torch which lit the way from deep inside. As Alexei approached the light, he saw a golden lectern beneath it. On that lectern lay a thick red tome.

As he approached the book, Russian letters began to form on the cover. The Book Of The Dad. Alexei crept towards the book which seemed to be glowing. Finally he steadied himself and went to open the book.

A gust of wind filled the cave and the book turned to a page somewhere close to its middle. Alexei read a random paragraph.

Remember, kids absolutely adore brightly coloured things. Always keep a large supply of child-friendly painting material around the house. Decorate with a child’s view of the world in mind. Unless you’re a funeral director or something like that, in which case, what the hell are you doing having children. The world isn’t an airport, you know. Stop treating the place like some arrivals and departure lounge.

Alexei was confused by this somewhat less than ancient wisdom. Before he could compose his thoughts, the book turned to another random page.

By the age of twenty four months your infant will have probably formed a small vocabulary of words based around the family and some favourite possessions, perhaps a blanket or a much loved cuddly toy. Encourage these expressions and try to incorporate new words into their vocabulary with first stage children’s books. If your child hasn’t said Mama or Dada by this point, you’d probably be better off cancelling that university savings account.

This is just rubbish, thought Alexei. He lifted the book off its lectern and turned to another page at random for himself.

Oleg needs a father.

These four words fell from the back of Alexei’s eyes, producing tears as they did so. The words trickled down his throat and produced a cry that echoed off the walls of the cave and made his heart sob. He suddenly felt everything he should have felt all along. His heart was filled with a longing he could only call love. Carefully, Alexei wrapped the book inside his coat and slowly began to make his way outside.

The snow began to fall again almost as soon as his feet touched the thin ledge of path. Alexei moved slowly, his back against the cliff. The wind lashed at his face and stung his cheeks where his tears had not yet dried. He held the book as tightly as though it were his little son up there with him but the book was hot to the touch. Reaching a slightly wider section of path, Alexei withdrew the book from his coat; it was as though the book were aflame. Dropping it in front of him, Alexei wrapped his hand in his scarf and went to pick the book up again but the book opened and the pages began to disintegrate in front of him, the paper turning and folding in on itself, forming little snowflakes and flying away into the wind. Alexei closed his eyes and in his mind, he saw the little dancing flakes rushing back towards the cave, forming a new book on the altar. With this thought Alexei saw the error of his ways and waited for the wind to take him.

Some weeks later, Mikhail is on his way across the courtyard to Katarina’s apartment block with a toy fire engine that he has brought his little nephew. He pictures him playing with it, he smiles at the thought of little Oleg clapping as the lights and siren come on. He pictures Oleg’s mother smiling down at him. Mikhail won’t look up for fear she is not there, for fear of spoiling this image, and so he will pretend to be absorbed in the project’s lamp posts. For this reason he holds in his other hand a toolbox stamped with the city crest. But yes, she will definitely be looking at him. She’ll have little baby Oleg in her arms. Perhaps she will point to Mikhail and say Dada. Mikhail likes this feeling. He looks at the flakes forming around him in mid air. Snow? At this time of year? Mikhail wraps his coat tighter around him, when suddenly he senses his brother’s presence and looks up from the night.

Alexei is holding Oleg. He looks down from the window and smiles at his crazy brother.

“Wave to Uncle Mikhail!” he cries, and waves the infant’s hand for him.

“Alexei,” his brother cries, “you are home!”

The family celebrates long into the night. There is drinking and singing. Katarina takes little Oleg to bed. Alexei falls asleep clutching a fire engine. Mikhail looks out of the apartment window onto the frosted night. Across the city he sees a galaxy of lamplights and basks in their orange glow. Beneath the window, at the end of the courtyard, a taxi lies in wait. The driver stands outside, sipping from a flask with one hand, the other raised in a beckoning gesture to Mikhail. Mikhail raises a hand in return.

He moves towards the door.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


NOTE: I'm going to put some short stories I've written on this here blog thing. Let me know what you think. Anyway, this one's called Digging.


My dad’s been digging all day. And not just today, he’s been at it for weeks now apparently. A huge hole at the bottom of the garden with the discarded earth behind him rising, becoming quite the little mountain. My mum just takes him out tea and sandwiches. She walks out with the tray and the torch and hollers down into the deep that there is refreshment. Then she starts with the pulley.

All hours he’s out there, digging.

When she called me over for Sunday lunch I knew that there was something wrong. My parents don’t phone me; apparently it’s my job to phone them. If I don’t call at least once a week then I can expect to be on the receiving end of several doses of low-level emotional blackmail.

“Just ring her up once or twice a week, mate. It’s not hard.”

“Well, I know you’re busy but I worry. Five minutes is all.”

I didn’t know about the hole till today.

My brothers are both there when I arrive. I’m the youngest of three and I’m thirty five in a month’s time. This, I suppose, is better than being the youngest of thirty five and being three in a month. Ben’s a year older than me, runs a garage about ten miles from here. It’s called Ben’s Garage. There’s a huge neon B written in the kind of font they have on American vaudeville posters. A big letter B just hanging out above the road off the roof of the garage. Every time I walk past part of me dies a little.

My older brother is called William and I have no idea what he does but it earns him enough money to live out by the lake and drive a car that will cost more money to insure than I’ll ever see in my bank account.

I am an obituarist. I write obituaries to order for national papers. Someone famous dies, the phone rings. That’s how I make a living. I answer the phone and listen out for dead people.

Ben and William, of course, ring my mother every day. They seem oblivious to the great crater our dad is making at the end of the garden. They sit there and drink their coffee and read the sports pages.

“How long has he been doing this?”

“Couple of months,” says William without looking up.

“Why? What is he doing?”

“He’s just digging a hole, he’s happy enough.”

Ben starts humming La Cucaracha. My mum joins in whilst she peels potatoes at the sink.

I leave the three of them to it and make my way into the garden.

I hear the echo of my own voice before I see how deep the hole is. One syllable, the second I ever learnt, dropping deep beneath the earth and repeating itself. At the lip of the hole there is the first of what appears to be several improvised ladders. I turn my gaze to the flanks of the garden and notice that the trees are all stumps, amputated limbs from the garden war.

I start to climb down the first ladder.

“Dad,” I call again.

It was around the time of the third or fourth ladder that I started to really worry. Christmas lights stretched down from the extension lead from the shed. Rather than getting thinner, the tunnel started to widen the further I descended. The ladders became stronger, the lights brighter. Further and further down I climbed, calling my Dad’s name all the time until I reached a platform lit by flaming torches.

A few yards in front of me there was a door. Through the door I could hear voices, one of them clearly my father’s. Several other voices, all male-sounding, all familiar to me somehow. A lot of laughter and the clinking of glasses, somewhere beneath those voices I could hear distinctly strains of music.

Swallowing hard and trying to keep my breath at a polite volume, I knocked the door and entered.

It was a wonderful few hours we spent sitting round that table. My great-grandfather was a hoot; he had us in stitches about his time at sea. His own father was also present; several generations of my family were there. Just the fathers mind. We talked about raising children, we talked about politics and women. One of my really old ancestors told us about the time he slept with one of the Brontes. I can’t remember which one now but it was a good story. My dad just sat there laughing, turning to me and smiling occasionally as he poured another round of drinks. Every now and then I would feel myself starting to panic; my dad would sense this and reassure me with a hand on my shoulder.

A guy with exactly the same jaw as my dad was halfway through a story about hiding from Oliver Cromwell when my dad looked at his watch and said it was time for us to go.

“Nice to meet you all,” I said.

They all smiled politely, raised glasses, and wished me the best.

My dad held out a hand as I negotiated the last few rungs to the surface. I brushed a little dirt off myself and made my way into the kitchen. Will and Ben were sat there eating sandwiches. I made my excuses, kissed my mum goodbye and got into my car.

I drove under the neon B on my way home without grimacing. I made a mental note to call in at the garden store in the morning. Tomorrow I will plant a tree in my garden. Maybe after that, as long as nobody I’ve heard of dies, I’ll phone home.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Red And White Faces Everywhere.

The Beaufort Scale of Engerlund.

It’s a World Cup summer which can only mean one thing. It’s time for flags. If you don’t stick a flag in your window or on your car then you aren’t proper Eng-er-lund, right. Check your flag waving capacity and Engerlundness here with this recognised scale of windy patriotism.

0 Calm
– Flag at complete standstill. Not that you own a flag. Christ, is this thing visible in Wales?

1 Light Air – Direction of air shown by slight movements in some lighter flags. You know the words to God Save The Queen, well some of them. You bought a copy of Three Lions when it came out the first time.You get a bit emotional at the end of Zulu.

2 Light Breeze – Wind felt on face, some movement in most flag types. You wear an England top to the pub to watch the match if you remember and, more importantly, if it’s clean. You have started buying the Sun and last night you joined a St Georges Bank Holiday group on Facebook whilst pissed.

3 Gentle Breeze
– Wind able to extend fully a light flag. You always wear your England top to the pub for the match, regardless of its state. All your mates are called Darren. You’ve changed your ringtone to World In Motion.

4 Moderate Breeze – Most flags fluttering to full extent. You’ve got a bulldog called George and have a flag on your car. You are wondering what is the most patriotic lager to buy during the World Cup.

5 Fresh Breeze
– All flags fluttering to full extent. You have started a St Georges Bank Holiday group on Facebook whilst pissed up on Carling which you believe to be English on account of it having a red and white flag on the 48 can box. You have added the Express to your daily papers and you reckon the country’s full.

6 Strong Breeze
– Flags move at a continual blur. Your Facebook group gets 1,000 members but keeps getting trolled by students. You research your family tree with but cancel the direct debit when it turns out your nana was Polish. The internet is full of paedos anyway you tell your mates down the pub. You have a picture of Stuart Pearce wearing a Tommy’s uniform in your front room window.

7 Moderate Gale – You’re on your second flag for the car now as the first one blew off on the way home from Fat Darren’s stag weekend in Marbella. You spent most of your time drinking in an English-themed pub called Shirley’s where they do a fucking proper breakfast. Drunkenly, you appear to have got yourself a tattoo with the legend “Gay Lineker”.

8 Gale – Where are these flags made? They keep breaking. Ah fucking thought so. Bastard Hong Kong. Used to be ours. Now its all Chinese kids in sweatshops innit. Breaks your heart. You decide you’re going to make your own flag. Fucking right. Soon as Ultimate Force is finished.

9 Strong Gale
– You should have used nails on the pole, shouldn’t you? Fuck, it’s windy. Well, it was nice whilst it lasted. You’ve painted the roof of the van in a red and white flag. You’ve told the kids they can’t have a McDonalds till after the USA game and you’ve gone and got a bulldog tattoo to commemorate George. It broke your heart when you ran over him. Fucking flag blew into the windscreen, didn’t see the poor fucker.

10 Whole Gale
– Huh, flags. Who needs em? Cos you’ve painted the house in St George’s colours and your face. And your kids faces. You phone The Sun. You phone the local telly. See if they want to come down and photo you. England are in the quarter finals. France. Come on. Have some of that. Your wife’s hidden her Allo Allo boxset just in case we lose and you get nasty. You can’t stop singing Engerlund. You are still under the impression that Al Murray is a documentary.

11 Storm
– Fucking hell. The satellite dish blew off Mr Gupta’s house next door and right through your patio doors. Act of God, the insurance said. Which God, you said? Bastard hung up on you. Anyway, before the France match you decided to put on that Kenneth Branagh film where Henry the something stuck it to the Frogs, you know, for a bit of inspiration. So you sat Chardonnay and Nicky down in front of the telly, you goes to the DVD shelf and it fucking aint there. So you stuck on Braveheart instead. Have that you French fuckers, you says. Your wife got a bit upset.

12 Hurricane – House blown down. Wife’s left. Kids are staying with the Guptas whilst you wait for that Polish roofer to get back to you. England lose to bastard Portugal in the fucking semis again. Penalties. You are on the cover of the Halesowen Chronicle.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Being Fat Is A Civic Duty

Today the Tuck Shop Boys, David Cameron and Nick Clegg unleashed their super big teamwork folder in orange and blue handwriting. Dave's going to do more of the housework and Nick's going to help out with the kids a bit more. Anyway, the best bit of the press conference was Dave's coalition soft-sell.

"When you take Conservative plans to strengthen families and encourage social responsibility and add them to the Liberal Democrat passion for protecting our civil liberties and stopping the relentless incursion of the state into the lives of individuals, you create a big society matched by big citizens."

Where do I sign up to being a big citizen. I cant wait. Something to stick on the CV instead of being unemployed. "Although currently out of paid work, my weight increase through depression/fast food/laziness (delete as appropriate) has enabled me to become a big citizen."

So there we have it, being a big citizen is the must-have new fat excuse. "I'm not fat, I'm a big citizen." Ace, I'm off for some chips and a lager as part of my civic duty.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Starting Over

I used to blog infrequently at this site. And I write all manner of shit everywhere else and I'm trying to make a go of it full time. So now this is my new blog, I just kept the old one for old times sake.

I got 365 days till the next time I can honestly tell someone that today is the nineteenth of May. By then, I will have blogged one million words. And on this blog, there will be stories, poems, social commentary (this is my media-friendly term for badly thought out shit I pondered on the bog), reviews and all other kinds of shite I need to do in order to exercise the creative part of my brain. A lot of it will probably be self-aggrandising, egotistical, vanity shite but hey thats the internet and my skidmark wasn't the first in the bowl. Though it might have a cool shape.

Basically, the reason I'm doing this is I had loads of different things going on in various blogs and other sites and I wanted to kind of centralise everything so I didnt have to remember loads of passwords and stuff.

Anyway, this is the first post of the new fourfoot blog. A Million Words A Year. If I had a calculator I could tell you how many words that is each day but it's about two thousand seven hundred or so. That's less than a hundred an hour. Pizza Piss.

By the way, if you're thinking of opening a place where you can eat pizza and go for a piss, then help yourself to that name, Pizza Piss. I have form in this naming of eating establishments game. I once tried to convince JD Wetherspoon, that foul mouthed cokehead, that he should name his chain of pubs Wanker Tankers. This would be about 1996. We were trying to hitch a lift back from Leslie Crowther's funeral. We'd originally been promised a lift back but me and JD were asked to leave the church after belching a version of Abide With Me.

Anyway, I says to JD, "Wankertankers. That's a great name. It's catchy and it'll be accurate for your cavernous holes of drunken dolery." JD says to me "Who would drink in a place with a name like that?" I said "Man, you're selling pints of Stella for one pound sixty. Your target demographic would drink in a pub called The Old Child Molester for those prices." Anyway, to cut a long story short, we never spoke again. I had polaroids of him flicking bogies at Prince William during THAT funeral procession and he owed me £200 for losing that bet in the first place. They were crazy times and he was a crazy guy. It should have been wankertankers. It could still be Pizza Piss.

Back to the original subject, I'm gonna revitalise some of my old shit ideas here like knobituaries and maybe deathbirds. Certainly I'll be emailing crap celebrity email addresses again to see if I can get any response. If you like me, link to me and shit like that.