Friday, 30 July 2010

Sex and Drugs and Toy Story 3

The final segment of Pixar’s generation-spanning Toy Story trilogy has rightly attracted a great deal of praise for pulling off the rare feat of making a heart warming film that stays just the right side of sentimental without ever veering into histrionics or cliché. A number of theories have sprung up on what the stories themselves actually symbolise. In The Guardian, respected film critic Peter Bradshaw suggests that the discarding of one’s childhood toys represents our mordant fear of being rejected by our own children in our twilight years.

Elsewhere, some people seem to think it’s an endorsement of the pro-life, Papal approved side of 21st century living.

With the kind of what the heck enthusiasm I used to reserve for swallowing shit E’s in the 1990’s, I’ve decided to throw my own two pennorth into the ring. Never mind the fact that with my paltry A-level in Film Studies (grade A, suck on that Kermode) and a knowledge of cinema summed up by only six visits to the pictures (the pictures!!) this century, I’m as well-qualified to comment on film theory as Martine McCutcheon is on the Korea crisis. That doesn’t matter. For, as Simon Cowell surely said of Alexandra Burke, “talent is not necessarily the issue here.”

My theory is basically that Toy Story is essentially a film about the mortality of masculinity. It’s a theory that evolved over a number of half-drunken minutes contemplating the marketing possibilities of my almost-written film Titantric, in which Leonardo Di Caprio fucks a boat for hours without coming. Don’t tell me that won’t work, he’s in a film where he walks around in people’s heads right now. Ludicrous. And don’t tell me you’ve never found yourself looking longingly at a catamaran and found yourself in a need for a cold compress.

Basically, how it works is this. Andy is an Everyman figure, we barely hear him talk but we do hear the voice of that most recognisably Everyman of contemporary American culture, Tom Hanks. Tom is the voice of a cowboy, Woody. Now we can all go on about Woody representing some kind of homespun version of traditional Americana but he’s not. Woody is a penis. He’s Andy’s favourite toy in the first film, always playing with him. But what comes along to threaten his love of playing with his old chap. Buzz Lightyear. Buzz is drink, Buzz is drugs. Buzz is the distraction, the shiny new plaything. Andy goes from thinking about his old chap all day to reaching for the stars. There’s probably something important here about all of this being meta-textual and what have you but I’m on a roll now, this bong is starting to kick in and you’ll just have to bear with me.

Woody’s not physically attached to Andy but he might as well by, his dilemmas all spring from separation from his owner. Fear of castration and all that, a fear better symbolised by Woody’s continual losing of the hat. Yeah, yeah it’s Indiana Jones again I know but Indy’s hat symbolised a longing for being buttfucked. I read it in Take A Break. When Woody loses his hat, it’s a metaphor for being castrated.

Buzz is so clearly a cipher for hedonism. Like the erectile pun of Woody, Buzz’s name springs from the spine-tingling adrenalin rush one can only get from sitting around in the same clothes for five days straight smoking something you think might have been called “Summer Storm” but are now beginning to wonder if he didn’t actually say “Domestos”. Who in all three adventures goes mad, Buzz does. Buzz is the one who most clearly wrestles with his ego, his id. Buzz is the one who gets to go all Mexican, express his feminine side, and of course, convince himself of his ability to fly. He’s a space cadet.

Back in a sec, I just kicked over some Lilt. Fuck it, I’ll do it tomorrow.

The trilogy is basically still a story about growing up but it’s not so much the transition from childhood to maturity, as the rite of passage we must all make in between impregnating our first wanksock and gassing ourselves in a garage before the grandchildren come round for tea. It’s the hell of domesticity that Woody and the gang find themselves in constant battle with, despite the fact that that gang contains Mr and Mrs Potato Head whose love for each other is depicted in an endless display of self-harm, accidental disfigurement and transubstantive tortilla-based shape shifting. Suck on that, Mike Leigh, suck on that.

Anyway, that’s it. Andy’s toys represent all the conflicting fun urges he could be acting upon. Apart from Woody and Buzz, there’s cars (Bullseye), girls (Jessie), munchies (Ham), erm green dinosaurs. Look, I know I’m right. Science is just what they think they know and all that. And the journeys the toys make in each film represent the various forces stopping Andy from getting as much drunken action as he can be. In the first film they have to escape from the neighbours (SOCIETY) the second they have to escape from a wicked businessman (WORK) and the last, they have to escape other toys (PEER PRESSURE). When Andy says goodbye to the toys, it is a genuinely sad moment, because Andy is basically finished as a human being. He’s off to college. He’s off to get a mortgage, a middle management job with Pepsi Burger. His life is over. Cry much? I know I did.

Next week, I’ll be discussing The Cannonball Run with a view to expounding on my theory that Burt Reynolds moustache grew thicker and more lustrous after Deliverance and that’s because he basically liked the squeal piggy bum rape stuff.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Getting Off

It’s not a secret where I work. It’s not a secret because I don’t have anyone to keep secrets from. The only people who I ever see to talk to are the customers and they clearly know where I work.

The name of the shop is Unknown Pleasures and it belongs to my uncle Danny who broke his back in a car crash two years ago and probably isn’t going to be coming back soon. Don’t know why, I mean, even before the accident, he had to have the place all bloody wheelchair-access friendly and all that cos of the regulations now so he could conceivably get here. Maybe it’s an image thing. I’ve not seen any wheelchair guys come in since we had the ramp fitted anyway.

Perhaps they’re too fed up to, er, you know.

I had always known the name of the shop but somehow the nature of the business had always managed to evade my ears until the night I agreed to step in for my uncle. I thought it was a bookshop. I thought it was named after that Joy Division album.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

I went to visit my uncle in hospital a couple of times after the accident. He was pretty badly smashed up; all his own fault like. I can’t remember anyone successfully defending a drink driving charge by blaming the drink. He’d had eight or nine pints of wifebeater so he was pretty well lubricated.

But still, they say even Hitler liked dogs and I know my uncle isn’t that bad, despite what my parents say about him. He always bought me cool presents when I was a kid and always looked out for me when I had a row with my dad. When he asked me to mind the shop for a bit I’d just failed my finals so I was at a loose end anyway.

Two years ago that was. Two years in this dingy hole, not even the slightest bit of daylight creeping in except when following the customers in and out of the premises. Like this one bastard. Comes in three times a week. Slips me the wink like I was his mate. I don’t know what he does for a living but I just know it involves fucking people over. He’s probably a landlord or a loans manager or something else that profits on the currency of human vulnerability.

Mind you, I’m a fine one to talk. Look at me, fucking running a porn shop. If I had any friends I’d tell them the truth and hope that they understood my answer to mean working in a business where people trade possessions in for temporary loans. Not that there’s a world of difference between the two. When you’re broke, fifty quid’s fifty quid. Might be the necklace your nan gave you in the hospice before she slipped into flatline country, might be two cocks in your mouth. If you’re broke enough, you’re broke enough.

No windows in these shops. By law. Just so the moral majority are spared the sight of dildos and gimp restraints on their way to work each morning. Fair enough. I mean you turn on the telly or pick up a paper in the morning and it’s all murder, famine and ethnic cleansing so why really ruin your morning by seeing a naked woman or a device to help lonely people achieve sexual satisfaction.

Don’t talk to me about fucking lonely. You don’t know the half of it.

Before I go on, I better tell you, I’m no prude but I don’t really like pornography. That might make me a hypocrite but there’s fuck all else in this town except bar work and call centre work. I did a day in one of those call centres once. Some guy trying to tell me that the ultimate product I can sell is my own personality. Fucking no-mark. And I couldn’t go into a bar knowing that I wasn’t there to have a good time.

I’m only 23 but I reckon I’m the oldest virgin in town. The irony kills me. There I am, all day surrounded by magazines and films showing nothing but endless variations on the themes of fucking and sucking, and I’ve never had it off in my whole life. I don’t even feel like trying any more. You spend a year surrounded by jazzmags and fucktoys and see how horny you feel.

I had a girlfriend once. Met her at uni. Went out for six months but she was a fucking Godhead. Let me bastard finger her a couple of times but that was it. Wouldn’t fucking touch me anywhere erotic at all. She dumped me for Jesus and the precious little confidence I had in my looks and personality pretty much died on me then.

That’s it. My whole experience of women right there. I don’t think I’m that bad looking. Christ, my mate Ben Salmon, he’s got a face like a rhino with backache and he’s practically beating them off each Friday night in town. Got one of those silly angular hair cuts and his jeans start past his bollocks. Maybe that’s it.

Yeah, right.

There’s this girl works in the same arcade as the shop. Works in the bookshop up the road, Tall Stories. Small place. I think they sell a lot of sci-fi, fantasy sort of stuff. I keep meaning to go in there but she’ll be there so I daren’t.

She gets the same bus to me to work, gets on the stop after mine. She’s quite tall, skinny, always got her big fuck off headphones on. Sometimes she wears this psychedelic tartan dress with these big mad black futuristic boots. She looks like she’s all alone in this world but I can’t believe she is. I mean, she’s beautiful. Well, she is to me. I once caught her eye quite by accident and she shot me a smile which made my day and ruined my life all at the same time.

Ben Salmon would talk to her. He wouldn’t have second thoughts.

At least twice a week I’ll get off the stop before her and carefully follow her from a distance just to see the way she walks. Even her shadow, in summer, drives me crazy. I’m sure my shadow fancies hers. It must do.

Yeah, I suppose it is stalking. But it’s limited stalking. I don’t follow her home, I don’t know her name though I often see her in the sandwich bar at the end of the arcade spilling money all over the counter and apologising to everyone behind her in the queue without ever looking anyone directly in the eye.

Cheese and pickle. No margarine.

If I could just close the shop in time to catch her locking up behind her and get on the bus at the same time as her. Maybe have to sit next to her, strike up conversation. I think I would pretty much do anything for that.

Except of course, grow some fucking balls.

Every night, we close at fucking half five and there’s always some bastard trying to get in who’s sneaked off work ten minutes early just to run down here and buy a couple of sleazy looking magazines and a horrible film.

Night before last, it was that bastard I was telling you about. Mr Slip Me The Wink. Fucking hell. Six months or so ago the twat comes in, just as I’m trying to flip the sign in the tiny rectangle window to CLOSED. He says he won’t be a minute, wants to ask me something. There’s nobody else in the shop. I answer his second question.

“No we don’t stock rape films. Not even out the back.”

Anyway he was in again last night, making all the usual conspiratorial facial gestures. I think he thinks I won the job lottery. Like every night, I can’t wait to chuck people out the shop so I can suck on a dildo and knock one out in my leather bodice to Hospital Homos or No Cunny For Old Men.

Fucking prick’s got his head turned behind him as he’s halfway through the door.


He makes this noise like buses do when they’re letting people on and off. He looks at me, junks a thumb backwards behind him and, making his way into the shop, says to me.

“Fucking make a mess out of that.”

I’ve already shut the door behind him. I don’t want her to see me here, not ever. I could be strong one day, buy her a sandwich and take it to her shop. Send her a flower. I’ve seen it in films. Nice films with proper lighting. Films that don't end with five blokes casting diaphanous streams of spunk across the same face. Nothing like the nasty shit I sell.

Bus Noises is at it again.

“Twffffffff. That tall girl from the bookshop. Imagine hanging out the back of that, eh?”

He doesn’t stand a fucking chance.

I pick up a couple of gimp balls (£8.99 each, 2 for £12)from under the counter and slip them into one of the little sacks I use to take money to the bank on a Friday lunchtime. He’s trying to choose between Swallowing Amazons and Thelma Loves Louise and he’s practically wanking in his pocket. Before either of us can think our choices through my wrist has completed its own frantic circular motion and I’ve smashed his skull in with a wrapped-up sex toy.

The next thing, I’m dragging his body into the basement down the secret staircase behind the till. I run upstairs and I’ve got some novelty tissues (Wankerchiefs – scented with balm for your loving palm) out of a packet and cleaned up the blood from the display racks. I put the money into the safe. I go back under the stairs and I make sure he’s dead before switching all the lights off and locking the door behind me. He’s fucking dead all right.

It’s my lucky night.

I’ve locked the door behind me, I can hear the alarm going as the shutter goes down and, as I turn to walk to the bus, she’s forty yards ahead of me. She walks beautifully, like a gazelle or something else that doesn’t know it’s being watched. She’s got her headphones on and this mad gingham dress that I haven’t seen before. I feel my heart racing even faster than it was a few minutes ago when I was wiping blood off the cover of Julie Ate Romeo. I feel like a hunter. I follow her to the end of the arcade where the wind always takes you by surprise and the traffic sounds like an alarm clock and I think about that awful dead man in the cellar of my shop.

I would buy this girl flowers. I would tell her how I felt. I would ask if I could name and number each of her eyelashes and never put margarine on her bread. I would do anything just to know her name.

She gets on the bus, I am behind her but as I go to get on, this old lady steps in front of me and though I know what will happen, I have to let her on first. I mean, I just have to. The old lady takes the last available seat next to the beautiful girl from Tall Stories.

It starts to rain as we pull away. The bus heaters are on and I feel stupid hanging on to one of the little joke ropes at the front of the bus. We stop at the girl’s usual stop and as she brushes past me, I feel the momentary warmth of her body touching mine despite all the layers of clothing between us. She is gone and I remain, clutching onto the baby noose.

We pull away from the stop and I watch her adjusting her headphones in the drizzled lamppost light. I think for a moment of sitting where she has sat. To have a second moment of her warmth in my life but it’s my stop next and this is where I get off.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cop Out

Like most boys at the time, one of my favourite playground games when growing up was cops and robbers. Basically, this mainly involved running around making high pitched siren noises if you were a cop and squealing brake noises if you were a robber. Invariably, these games would end in childish debate about whether or not a cop was allowed an invisible gun to shoot back at the robbers, another about whether we were playing British rules or American rules and so on, eventually there’d be a drawing up of some sort of cop/robber game rules and then Mrs Murcott would ring the bell and we’d go back inside to learn the nine times table.

Every playtime was basically the same, a mob of boys running about childishly lashing out at each other with skilfully aimed blows so as not to actually hurt one another. Bad American accents and dodgy car noises aside, we were a perfect simulacrum of the police as we understood it – a non-violent force for good against the tide of crime.

Now, of course, the kids would have to be turning their school badges inside out and striking innocent protestors as they walked by.

The decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Simon Harwood, the policeman widely acknowledged as behind the assault on Ian Tomlinson moments before the latter’s death, is as depressingly predictable a decision as could have been made. Despite a seemingly strong body of evidence, such as the video footage of the unprovoked assault, the coroner’s own report and an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, it seems there is little stomach for the political carnage that would inevitably ensue should a trial for manslaughter at the hands of the police arise.

The tragedy of the decision is two-fold. Firstly, it means the Tomlinson family, who have so far acted and responded with a dignity not always seen by those caught up in high-profile police stories, are denied the opportunity to see justice done for their late relative. More importantly, perhaps, it means the rest of us, the people who presume that the police are employed for their protection, are themselves denied the necessary debate about the nature of 21st century policing, about the extent to which the police are involved in helping to stifle legitimate protest about issues of public concern.

Tomlinson’s death came at the end of a day when police tactics were under heavy scrutiny. The G20 protests were overshadowed by debate about the tactic of forcibly detaining large bodies of protestors with the tactic of “kettling” and the relationship between big business, government intelligence and police brutality seemed no longer to be the paranoid preserve of conspiracy theorists.

In 2008, the protest group Fit Watch, a group opposed to police surveillance being used at public protests, found themselves at the sharp end of this relationship. Two women were assaulted and subsequently held without charge for four days for asking policemen present at the Bridgnorth demonstration to display their badge numbers.

Police presence at demonstrations is an obvious necessity. All protests attract an element of trouble-makers, some more so than others. But the police are increasingly employed as a means of stifling such protest in the first place.

It is right that the sentences meted out to those found guilty of seriously injuring or murdering police men and women in this country is severe, those charged with the responsibility of keeping law and order in our streets must do so in the knowledge that the public they serve will stand firm with them in their time of need. But the status of the policeman has a flip side, the badges they wear with such pride must not protect them from the law they are sworn to uphold.

Nominally a member of the party most traditionally associated with civil liberties, our deputy Prime Minister would seem the person best placed to address your protest to. From his offices this week, he may well have observed the peace camp at Parliament Square finally being disbanded. Clegg recently urged the public: "Be demanding of your liberties. Be insistent about your rights." But you'd be well advised to do so in an orderly fashion.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

My Favourite 350 Songs of All Time. #334

Seriously, come on. How can anyone fail to like this?

Works best in a club, very loud, slightly but not too drunk/drugged, preferably surrounded by hundreds of beautiful happy people.

Which, in Saundersfoot, takes some fucking doing.

My Favourite 350 Songs of All Time. #335

The Smiths - Rubber Ring/What She Said (live)

I'm ashamed to say I didn't get the Smiths until a few weeks or so after they split up. Living in a derelict cottage in mid-Wales was hardly the perfect arena for a musical education and that, combined with a radio reception that amounted to getting Radio 1 if there was the right amount of fog in the air, was mainly my excuse. Late eighties two things happened round about the same time, radio 1 went FM and suddenly I could listen to Peel amongst other things. Two, I went to sixth form where much cooler people than myself introduced me to, amongst other things, The Smiths.

I'd seen them a couple of times on ToTP but I just didn't get it. Now, in majestic stereo at my mate John's house, I got it. A couple of blissful summers ensued and at every single party we went to, this live version of two of my very favourite Smiths songs was met with a soon to become traditional removal of shirts and spinning them Moz-style around our pigeon-chested torsos.

Pisses me off when people write off the Smiths as weak, limp miserable bedsit student wankery. It's a bit more substantial than that, and this proves they could rock out with the best of them.

Johnny Marr was on the radio this afternoon, talking about his musical education's reference points. He talked about the Shangri-La's, glam rock and 70s disco. The man's got style...

My Favourite 350 Songs of All Time. #336

David Bowie - Watch That Man

Me and Bowie go way back. Born in the same town (well, kind of). My dad went to school with him. And his mum used to get her newspaper from the paper shop where my mum worked. And it was me who lent him a copy of Surfer Rosa when he was short of inspiration after Tin Machine. Alright, the last one isn't true. But this was the first pop record I vividly remember hearing. I'd be about four years old and my mum put this on our tinny Fidelity 4-speed record player, a device so old it actually looks like it was made out of black and white.

The album was Aladdin Sane and I was terrified and secretly a bit excited about the famous sleeve. I'd never seen anything like that in my life, all the blokes in my family were hairy fellas whose idea of androgyny roughly equated to listening to 10cc whilst drinking a sly shandy bass.

It's one of the best starts to an album ever, big power guitar chord into some glam nonsense punctuated with the kind of honky tonk piano and excited backing vocals you just dont get anymore. I bought the CD a while back and I hated it, I wanted the cheap tinny sound of my mum's record player, some things age badly, this still sounds fresh as a newborn's toenails but it helps if you play it on something pre-war.

My Favourite 350 Songs of All Time. #337

The Shangri-La's - I Can Never Go Home Anymore

In the film of my life, the person who introduced me to this song would be some impossibly Jarvish bohemian, a hermaphroditic dandy with bisexual eyes or perhaps some lovesick Argentine peasant girl.

It certainly wouldn't be my mate Mike, who looked a bit like a Muppet version of Fagin, and dressed like a Moldovan geography teacher. We used to swap compilation tapes and I always came out of the exchange much richer than he did, what with me pilfering him off with obscure electro and Fall B-sides and him swamping me with the golden goodness of Glen Campbell and the vampish hysteria of the Shangri-La's.

We were out once in Dempseys in Cardiff, arguing as usual about music and films, Mike (not the best of drinkers it has to be said) comes back from the loo with his old boy hanging out.

ME: Mike, your cock's hanging out.

MIKE: Nggh, errr.

At this point, he merely dragged his shirt out of his trousers to cover it up and sat back down. It was about half four in the afternoon.

How a man capable of such drunken indecency ever stumbled across the Shangri-La's, I'll never know. Anyway, if there's nothing in this song that touches a part of your soul, then you don't have one. I haven't seen Mike in years, he's gone a bit doolally apparently but I hope he's ok. Or at least hope he's worked out how to put his cock back in his pants.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

My Favourite 350 Songs of All Time. #338

THE BELOVED - Scarlet Beautiful.

Terrible thing, nostalgia. Coming from the Greek word “nost” meaning “no longer able to see one’s toes” and another Greek word “algia” which probably has something to do with a love of cheap headphones, nostalgia is basically Alzheimer’s more successful, better looking older brother. Actually, that's an amazing idea for a sitcom, Alzheimer and Nostalgia, two young boys being raised and hit about the heads by a CGI Denis Nordern.

No-one’s ever written a book about the life they’re going to lead, unless my decision not to research that particular fact was a poor one (in which case, fuck it, it’s not meant to be taken seriously), but plenty have been written about one’s past. Nicholas Parsons, Lewis Hamilton, Lulu. They’re all it, writing about their past. Fuck, even Nelson Mandela’s written one.

Anyway, nostalgia. In his poem, Piano, DH Lawrence reflects on the awesome power of music to transport oneself back to one’s childhood, the sound of a particular song takes the speaker “back down the vista of years” and makes him “weep like a child for the past”. This particular song isn’t from my childhood, nor is it a particular classic of the era; it’s just something that reminds me of a certain time, place and emotion. Which is the kind of Proustian rush you just don’t tend to get sitting in front of old episodes of ToTP 2 watching Bad Manners mime to Lip Up Fatty. Not unless you were fucked silly by a gardener whilst it was first broadcast at any rate.

In March 1990, the Beloved released an album so absolutely of its moment it’s a miracle it didn’t come with a Best before date. Happiness is so drenched in a vaguely Balearic, slightly contrived House feel that it’s very much a guilty pleasure to listen to now. Eyes closed, I’m going back down my own vista of years, though the vista’s more of an eyesore than most, my knee feels a lot better, I’ve lost a few stone, gained a few teeth and suddenly found myself dancing with some horrible tie-dyed t-shirt on in a West Wales student union. I’m still fucking broke, mind.

People remember the singles from the album, Hello with its name checking of the good and the bad of eighties Britain, and The Sun Rising which ended up on an advert for Dignitas*

Scarlet Beautiful
is ridiculously good. And a bit shit. Lots of positive loved up vibes, cheesy rhyme schemes and even a tart nod to Blue Monday in the song’s climax. I can say that now, climax, couldn’t say that kind of thing in Lawrence’s day, no you had to dress it up as a flooded dam bursting or some such. Anyway, there we are then, Scarlet Beautiful by the Beloved, a song that practically reduces me to tears when I listen to it because well, it just does, right. Even though, as it often is when looking back at one's past, it isn't the fantastic place you've cracked it up to be. Right, I’m off to write something with lots of foul language in it to calm down.

*Alpen, sorry. I always get those two mixed up. Speaking of which, where’s my mum. I’m fucking starving.

P.S The singer of Beloved looks like an even smugger Richard E Grant. And his middle name is E. Spooky....

Monday, 5 July 2010

Short Story: A Better Place

At the home, there were a great many forms to be signed. Signed and counter-signed. Things that came in triplicate. A copy for ourselves, a copy for themselves, a copy for the insurance people. As if all this wasn’t hard enough.

The man had a fear of all forms of administration. He kept looking at his father sat there in the wheelchair with a thick green woollen blanket over his legs, staring out at something with those cold, empty pools of his. Up against the large back wheel of the chair there was a large suitcase of a fading reddish colour and a rubber plant. This was a very reasonable place. Some friends of the man’s wife had recommended it when they had recently made a similar decision. It was more than they could afford but the man could not afford to lose his wife. This thought alone seemed to bring him back to the paperwork on the receptionist’s walnut desk. All these boxes to be ticked. The time was getting on but he felt that, with his father behind him, he should at least properly read everything in front of him before signing. He thought he could hear his wife sighing each time he lifted the pen back off the pink form. He felt watched, like he was in the school gymnasium sitting an exam and being watched by the teacher sat below the big white clock with its unforgiving ticking. The man put his new mobile number in the emergency contact box. He had listed it on his phone that day, under the name me. He kissed his father goodbye and looked at his wife. It was time to go.

“Here they come,” said the little boy.

“Thank God,” said his sister.

The children had wanted to come but they were told to wait inside the car. It was late and it was raining. They sat in the back seat and played on their consoles.

Their mother entered the car first; she sat in the front passenger seat. She looked at the children.

“Granddad will be fine here. We’ll all miss him, but this is a better place for him,”

The man got back into the driver seat. He looked at his wife and then at his children. He didn’t know what to say. He sighed loudly and went to start the ignition and then stopped.

“I still have the receptionist’s pen,” he said, and made to leave the car.

“She’ll have another. Let’s just go. It’s late.”

The man looked at his children.

“Let’s go then.”

On the way home the children bickered about who would have use of the new bedroom. The mother occasionally shot them a look of reproach but more often she would put a consoling hand on her husband’s shoulder as he drove through the rain. All the man could think about was the receptionist’s pen. He could feel it in his shirt pocket, it wasn’t a feeling he was used to. This little silver ballpoint so close to his heart. It wasn’t a feeling he liked. He wished he could go back and return the pen. But that was impossible, for now.

Each time he turned a corner, he’d indicate and that little ticking noise would start up and would infuriate him for no reason he could properly articulate. So he said nothing.

They got home and ordered take away food.

In the morning the man woke earlier than he normally would on a Saturday. His wife was still fast asleep, his children too. He peered in on his father’s room. The thick curtains were closed and only a thin lip of light from above the rings permeated the gloom. He sat down upon the little single bed and placed his head in his hands. A clock ticked on an old side table. He knew that clock from his childhood. It sat above the old fireplace in the kitchen. He would use it as a guide to the bathroom if he needed it in the night when he was small. He breathed louder to see if he could stop hearing the ticking. It was impossible.

“I’m going to take the car for a wash, maybe get a service.”

“Why’s that?” his wife replied.

“It was making a weird noise last night on the way home. I just want to get it checked out.”

He checked again that he had the receptionist’s pen in the inside pocket of his coat and shut the door behind him quietly.

He rang the little bell on the receptionist’s desk. There was a room behind the chairs and he could hear a woman speaking on the telephone. She was giving directions. He thought perhaps he should just leave the pen there on the counter and go but he felt bad about ringing the bell for now he could hear the woman politely but clearly trying to end her telephone conversation.

The man remembered the first time that he had entered the building a few weeks previously. He had finished work early that day after having had a sympathetic chat with his line manager a few days before. His wife had been supposed to meet him here at two. She was running late. So he took a seat in the waiting area and started flicking through some magazines. In the background he could hear some music coming from a radio in the office. It wasn’t loud but it felt disrespectful.

The man started reading a short story about a guy who decides to kill a few hours in a strange town by visiting his father. In the story this guy mentioned that the song “Downtown” was playing on a radio in the background. At that very same moment that he read that line “Downtown” came on the radio in the office.

It was a coincidence that made the man’s head hurt. He put the magazine down. He didn’t like the way he felt. He never wanted to hear music again. Eventually his wife had arrived. They took a look around. Said they had some other places to view but they knew. They had decided things.

The man could see his surname written on a folder just beneath the counter. It took him a while to realise that this was also his father’s name. Eventually the woman came out of the office. She had beautiful red hair and spoke like she was about to serve fries.

“Sorry about that. How may I help?”

“I brought my father here but I took this pen by mistake. I just wanted to return it.”

“What’s your father’s name?”

“Oh. Erm. Yes, of course. Johnson.”

The woman picked up the folder.


“I was going to call by later, I just wanted to return the pen now.”

“I see.”

“Because I was passing.”

On the drive back home from the garage, the man refused to indicate. As the car slowed outside his house, he saw his wife cleaning in an upstairs room. The thick curtains had gone and she knelt upon the sill, spraying and wiping the glass. She had the radio on, which was odd, because she didn’t like music that much usually. He shut the car door loudly to show he had returned. She waved back for a split second and returned to the chore.

When he got inside the house, the first thing he could hear was his kids arguing on the second flight of stairs.

“Mum said I could have it for studying.”

“You liar. I need it for all my things.”

“Granddad said to me that I could have the room. Ask Mum.”

“He didn’t say that. He never said anything.”

“Dad said too. He said. He said. Ask Dad when he gets back.”

He got to the middle landing and everyone shut up. His wife came out of the bedroom where he had sat that morning and the house was filled with light from that side. He felt breathless. He walked into his father’s room and sat on the bare mattress. The clock was still ticking loudly upon the side table.

His children walked in after him, quietly with their hands locked together. The man looked into his children’s eyes and he was suddenly afraid.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

My Favourite 350 Songs of All Time. #339

Bobby Lewis – Tossin and Turnin

Two and a half minutes of the kind of music they just don’t make any more. An unbelievably feel good piece of old fashioned RnB, Bobby gets away with the most blatant wanking euphemism ever captured on vinyl. A paean to the sexual frustration of adolescent men in late 50s America, the song also contains a kind of ridiculous Benny Hill style musical interlude just to add to its sophistication. Verse Chorus Verse Chorus Silly Brief Middle Bit Chorus Fade. That’s all you needed back then. Muse, take note.

Although to be honest it really could just be about being unable to sleep because you were thinking of someone special.