Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Last Day

It was my twenty-first year working as a postman for Royal Mail. Back when I began at the tail end of the 1980s I had been warned a couple of times about getting out while I could. Find something else while you're still young, they told me. Once you've been in the job five years that's it - they'll take out your brain and you'll be stuck doing the same old shit until the day you die. The warning came to mean more as each year plodded by with a hole in one shoe and shooting pains in that shoulder which bears the weight of the delivery bag. After about the fifteenth year I really began to appreciate what had been meant by that warning, but it didn't seem like there was much I could do about it. It was a job, not a lifestyle choice. My options were limited.

The work was tough, and became tougher over the years. Management initiatives obliged workers to cut corners in order to get the job done in the allotted time so as to avoid disciplinary action or even the sack; and these were corners of the kind which would occasionally result in serious injuries to backs, knees, legs, or hips. The job crippled a few people I knew for life. Some grumbling problem with a knee might heal in six weeks, but not when the first week back on the job made it worse with tough, demanding work and long hours on your feet carrying anything up to a hundred kilos of mail each day; and no there weren't always light duties to which one could be assigned for a recuperative period, and yes it was either suffer or pull a sickie and risk dismissal for excessive sick leave; but just so long as we were knuckling down to whatever new working practices kept the economists happy, that was the main thing.

It had become unbearable, but by 2009, the end was in sight. It was time for me to go, and to keep my fingers crossed for whatever the future held turning out better than the crippling present: slogging my nuts off just to afford the Camberwell based Quality Street tin which took most of my wages in rent, and in which I lived mainly because it was close to the work I had to do in order to pay the rent. I handed in my notice, which didn't feel so weird as I always thought it would have done, as my life had become pretty weird by that point anyway; but at least it was changing at long last. I'd spent the previous three years trying hard not to dwell on certain paragraphs from Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly because they were a bit too close to home:

Arctor had hit his head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet directly above him. The pain, the cut in his scalp, so unexpected and undeserved, had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. It flashed on him instantly that he didn't hate the kitchen cabinet: he hated his wife, his two daughters, his whole house, the back yard with its power mower, the garage, the radiant heating system, the front yard, the fence, the whole fucking place and everyone in it. He wanted a divorce; he wanted to split. And so he had, very soon. And entered, by degrees, a new and somber life, lacking all of that.

Probably he should have regretted his decision. He had not. That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected.

I handed in my notice and realised how few of my colleagues I would genuinely miss. Half of the office had stopped talking to me anyway. There had been a strike, and everyone but everyone had agreed that it was bollocks, that a work to rule would be far more effective, and that they weren't going to honour this strike, not this time. We had all had enough. Then the strike came, and everyone went on strike because hey it was a day off. I went into work regardless for reasons already stated, and because I couldn't afford not to. It was strike and make myself homeless whilst remaining on good terms with people who had probably never really been my friends in the first place, or do my shitty job and just about keep a roof over my head.

I had expected the traditional last day I'd seen when old boys packed it in, everyone called off the sorting for a few minutes, a speech, some jokes, and everyone patting Ron or Jeff or Snowy on the back. When my time came I knew not to expect that, because to most of the staff I was just another scab. This made it easier to leave. Andre, who hadn't said a word to me in three months, shuffled up once all of his mates had left to do their deliveries. He shook my hand and muttered that he was sorry about how things had turned out. The people I liked were sad to see me go, or were at least happy for me, and thankfully I had taken Woodward Road as my regular delivery route for those last couple of weeks. The position of the Woodwarde Road sorting frame meant that I was at least among friends. We laughed and joked as usual, as we did most mornings, and I still couldn't quite take in that this would be my last time here, the end to something which had endured for the entirety of my adult life.

The conversation somehow turned to getting caught short whilst out on delivery. I began the job working in Chatham in Kent, a town with many, many alleyways, and with a much earlier starting time than came to be the case in the London offices. It had been fairly easy to find somewhere to take an early morning leak if necessary; but the situation was very different in London, obliging delivery staff to race back to the sorting office in the absence of an accommodating café or public convenience. It being my last day, I decided that I might as well confess my guilty and possibly disgusting secret. I kept an empty plastic two pint milk container in my delivery trolley. If no other options were available, it usually wasn't too difficult to find a dark corner around the side of someone's home in order to make use of this improvised portable urinal. Naturally this set Terry chuckling, it being exactly the sort of thing that tickled him. Jokes were exchanged as we worked, expanding on the theme and making each other laugh all the more. We decided that Royal Mail should commission delivery trolleys with a built in urine storage facility. A strategically placed hole in the side of the trolley would provide access, so one could appear to be simply stood by one's trolley inspecting letters without any member of the public realising you were actually having a sneaky piss.

'What about the postwomen?' I wondered.

Terry explained that their needs could be met by means of some sort of extendible hose attachment with a funnel on the end. By this point I was, as usual, crying with laughter. This was the sort of shit I really was going to miss.

Eventually I had all the mail in the frame. I tied it up, stowed it away in the trolley, and left without ceremony. The few who I liked, who had made working at that place bearable, all wished me well, and I have since kept in touch with them by one means or another. The rest left a bad taste in the mouth, not so much because I had let anyone down - as was clearly the view - but because I felt they had let me down. I had expected better of them than playground politics.

Not talking to you. You smell.

Yet in a sense it helped, serving to cauterise twenty plus years worth of memories, rendering them down into something finite, something which had happened and which no longer really mattered by any terms I could have anticipated.

It was sunny as I pushed the trolley up Woodward Road and began pulling bands from bundles of mail. The load was relatively light for a Saturday, but I didn't feel like rushing around. For once, I could afford to take my time.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Breakfast in Catford

It was coming up to half past nine and I'd made it back to the sorting office in good time, these being the days of the reasonable workload, the two deliveries, back when Royal Mail gave a shit about its people. I pulled open my locker and stuffed my delivery bag and jacket inside.

'Ah - young Lawrence.'

I turned and saw that it was Ernie, one of the old boys tending to his own locker. I liked Ernie. He was a man of few words, and he always gave an impression of finding himself quietly amused by something.

'Hello, Ernie.'

'We'll have to stop meeting like this.' He forced something down inside his locker to make more room. As ever, it was not entirely clear who he was speaking to, whether these were just words he liked the sound of. 'People will start to talk.'

I twisted the key and pulled it from the lock. I went for the stairs as Ernie continued with his monologue.

'Lawrence and Ernie, they'll be saying. Lawrence and Ernie.'

The second door at the top of the stairs led into the canteen whilst the first led directly into the kitchen. When I transferred to Catford in September 1990, the kitchen had been off bounds, the exclusive domain of two cooks employed by an agency called Centra, or something like that.

Breakfast had been good, at least of the standard to which I had become accustomed from working at two previous sorting offices. Breakfast up until that point - and keeping in mind here this would be breakfast for someone who began work well before 6AM - had been two sausages, a fried egg, chips and baked beans, every day without fail, six days a week, forty-nine weeks a year. It wasn't exactly health food, but the work was such that it cancelled out the supposed drawbacks of what was basically a lard and salt regime.

Unfortunately Royal Mail had decided it could make savings by dispensing with Centra contract catering given that our office was supposedly too small to justify a full time canteen. Centra went, as did the chips of my traditional two sausages, fried egg, chips and baked beans, and staff canteen became a Royal Mail duty immediately bagged by Alan Durkin who was fed up of walking around in the pouring rain all morning and had the seniority necessary for the procurement of just such a cushy number. Alan's menu tended to focus more on the egg on toast aspect of breakfast catering, and whilst he made a reasonable job of it, no-one was too worried about him being headhunted by any of those expensive west end eateries.

Now the first door, the kitchen door, was left open so we could place orders as we went through to the canteen. Requests shouted through the hatch would usually be ignored or forgotten. There was only one of him, as Alan Durkin reminded his customers with some frequency, and he had only one pair of hands, one of which usually had a fag on the go.

Today the cigarette was cemented to his lower lip in the manner of Andy Capp in the newspaper cartoon by Reg Smythe. A grey cylinder of ash precariously held its shape at the end of the cigarette as sausages, mushrooms and bacon sizzled in the frying pan immediately below.

'What the fuck do you want?'

I always enjoyed the thrust with which he made the enquiry as though asking who you were and what business you might have in his kitchen.

'Just beans on toast and some bacon please, Alan.'

'Right. About five fucking minutes'

I tried not to think about the ash that could so easily join whatever ingredients he was presently bullying into resembling breakfast.

Alan had been nicknamed Teenage Mutant Ninja Durkin, although most people stuck with just Durkin, content that it already sounded vaguely insulting. He was of a certain type, probably not an alcoholic, but giving it his best shot most evenings and at least a few afternoons. He was loud and impressively offensive, and yet somehow difficult to dislike. The jokes weren't that funny, but you still had to give him credit for trying. Wherever you stood in the sorting office, you were never more than a minute away from Alan making some appalling observation far too loudly.

'We've had a great evening, I'm sure you'll agree, ladies and gentleman,' Billy Playle announced loudly in the wake of one particularly salty Durkin zinger. 'The strippers will be on later, but first I'd like you all to put your hands together for the comedy stylings of Mr. Alan Durkin!'

'Fuck off,' suggested the target of the satire.

'Take my wife,' Billy continued, effecting gruff Durkinesque tones. 'Please...'

I took a seat in the canteen. Micky Evans was setting some of the younger postmen right about the Kray twins, recently subject of a film starring those two blokes out of Spandau Ballet. We had all taken passing interest because some pub on Catford Hill had recently been host to a violent incident relating in some way to the Richardsons. I had never heard of the Richardsons before I came to London, but apparently they had been the south London rivals of the Krays back in the sixties - or something like that. The Krays were of course big names in organised crime, and specifically names which actually made them sound like supervillains.

Richardsons could have been a string of newsagents, so far as I was able to tell, which was possibly why no-one had made a film about them starring those two blokes out of Spandau Ballet.

Anyway, some of the younger postmen had an impression of the Kray twins as not having been much different to Robin Hood apart from there being two of them. They were the lovable rogues of murder. Micky Evans had worked in Deptford at the dockyard in the sixties and recalled in some detail how the management had called in the Krays to help break up a strike.

'They were cunts,' Micky explained. 'Don't let no-one tell you they was anything else. They were horrible cunts.'

Dudley the cleaner stood a little way away, wiping at a smudge on the window with a cloth.

'When I'm cleaning windows,' Tony sang, invoking George Formby and smiling innocently as Dudley turned to glare at him with those sunken Boris Karloff eyes.

Troy was meanwhile readjusting his worldview in accordance with the new information recently supplied by Micky Evans. His name was Mark, but everyone called him Troy following someone pointing out the resemblance to Troy Tempest, the submariner and puppet star of Gerry Anderson's Stingray. It was the eyes and the apparently permanent five o'clock shadow. Also he was quite short. The nickname had stuck with such tenacity that I'd spent my first six months at Catford actually believing it to be his real name.

'When I'm cleaning tables,' Tony sang, now adapting the words of the song to new domestic duties with a cheeky grin.

Dudley looked up from wiping some crap from one of the tables with his cloth. He stared at Tony. He said nothing, but you could tell he was thinking wanker. I could hear some chuckling under the general noise of conversation, a tinny radio, and Alan Durkin telling someone or other to go and fuck themselves.

'Uh oh! Here comes the fat kid!'

His name was Scott, but everyone knew him as Earthquake. He was young and massive with the voice of Bernard Bresslaw. He ran into the canteen and stage dived our group like an enormous happy dog. Chairs scraped quickly back across the floor and only Troy was caught beneath the guffawing mass of our very own delivery manatee.

'You stupid cunt!' Troy groaned, clutching his ribs.

Earthquake chortled and picked himself up, setting chairs straight. Order resumed. 'You still waiting?'

Troy nodded, glancing over towards the hatch.

Earthquake began telling us about the time he'd been taking a dump downstairs, listening to someone evacuate their bowels in the next cubicle along. He had emerged, washed his hands, and watched as a grunting Teenage Mutant Ninja Durkin emerged, returning immediately to the canteen without stopping to wash his own hands.

'That's why I don't bother.' Earthquake sent a distrusting glance towards the kitchen. 'I just have a sandwich or something instead, you know?'

'Troy!' Alan Durkin called out.

A plate was slapped down on the counter. Troy went over to fetch it, and as he sat we could see he now wore a sour expression. He was studying the bacon and eggs as though anticipating fag ends, fingernails, toilet paper, even fecal matter. 'I've gone right off it.'

'When I'm moving chairs...'

A few more people laughed this time.

Dudley stood glowering at his nemesis, hands upon the back of a chair he had been moving over to an empty table.

'Why don't you fuck off.'

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Raven

The first time I moved house, in fact the first time I left home - which was for the purpose of attending college in Maidstone, Kent - with all of my boxes of crap and ephemera unloaded from my dad's car, I set up my stereo and my turntable - or record player as would be its correct title. I wanted to listen to music whilst unpacking and lining up crappy Doctor Who novelisations on a window sill recently washed clean of mildew by some friend of the landlord, and I chose The Raven, the fourth album by the Stranglers.

Ever since then, each time I move house I baptise each new address with The Raven. There's something special about the record. Longships is well placed near the beginning of side one, and has an optimistic thrust without resorting to happy-clapping. It suggests a future full of new and exciting possibilities, and the album as a whole - after more than thirty years - still manages to sound as exciting as the very first time we all piled around Graham's house and sat listening to his copy on the day of its release. Somehow, at least in terms of my own private mythology, The Raven sets things up for the future.

I am now living at the fourteenth address since leaving home three decades ago, the second address to terminate with a country other than the United Kingdom. It has taken me nearly three years during which time I have shipped my record collection over from the old country, bought shelving, set it all up, sought out a new turntable, then an amplifier, and most recently a preamp because regular stores no longer sell amplifiers with phono inputs suited to the low level signal put out by a record player.

Just an hour ago, my preamp arrived in the mail. I am at last sat here listening to The Raven. The unpacking and sorting out and moving in and settling have been long dealt with, but this one undertaking was still to be done.

The Raven still sounds as wonderful as it did that first time.


All is right with the world.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Texas Chainsaw Defriending

Facebook, for those recently emerging from a lengthy spell of suspended animation and blissfully unfamiliar with the same, is a social networking site. You have your basic facebook account, with people you know - by one definition or another - signed up as your friends. You can exchange messages with your friends on facebook, just as they can exchange messages with you. If one of your friends pisses you off by - for example - suggesting that John Patitucci is a superior jazz-fusion bassist to Jaco Pastorius because Jaco Pastorius plays like a wanker, then you can defriend them. Once defriended, your cloth-eared acquaintance will no longer be able to spread his or her wrong-headed pro-Patitucci lies on your page, nor send you messages. You are effectively dead to one another. That's how it works.

I'm reluctant to write at length about events which have no real existence beyond the internet, mainly for fear of going down the road towards unreadable self-involved blogs written about what someone who poos their pants said on some other blog or on facebook or on Tossr or some other place which doesn't really exist and doesn't matter. I'm reluctant, but sometimes you just have to squeeze out that last drop of poison.

I met Haunty Ghostbum in September 1984, the month in which I first left home and the security of almost everything I had known and understood since being born. I was young, naive, and probably easily impressed. Haunty was a little older than me by a year or so, and he was a fellow student at Maidstone College of Art. I thought his films were terrific, and the music he produced seemed like the work of a genius. He was worldly, talented, funny, and had experienced sexual intercourse with lovely naked ladies on occasions numbering in double figures. He had spiky red hair, obvious confidence, and was a close approximation of the person I believed I wanted to be. Either we became friends or he had a vacancy for a worshipper - I'm not sure which is the more accurate statement, but at the time it felt like the former.

His name wasn't really Haunty Ghostbum, but that's the one I'm using here for the purposes of anonymity and mockery; but if it had been he would have spelled it Hornty Ghostbum, because it's cute to contrast one's darker, more Byronic affectations with the conviction that this life is but a chapter of Winnie the Pooh. Baby talk can be very handy for those who take themselves far too seriously. It implies a sense of humour without the necessary work of having to say anything which is either interesting or funny, leaving one free to get on with the business of being a self-important cock.

Anyway, Hornty and myself were good friends for a couple of years. We drank beer in pubs and laughed loudly at each other's jokes. We helped each other out with our work at college, and told ourselves we were apart from the common herd because we were the real thing 'n' shit. We were starving artists and therefore more valuable as people than all those other wankers. We suffered as we played our Swans albums, and we didn't have rich mummies and daddies to support us, as Hornty testily observed. Actually, it was even worse for Hornty because even though he didn't have rich mummies or daddies to support him, the local council didn't see it that way for reasons I never quite understood, so he didn't get much of a grant either. He was therefore forced to work for a living to support himself whilst taking the course, and he was forced to take speed in order to work a night shift contemporaneous to turning up at college during the day; and then some drug dealers put heroine in his speed and made him be a junkie like the skinny man on the telly adverts that you used to see in the eighties. Our pampered, rich mummy and daddy having fellow students - what the hell did they know about anything?

Based on not much more than having some of the same records, our friendship became strained as we came to the final year of the course and I learned how to hold civilised conversations with people of different hairstyles, musical tastes, and even those supported by rich mummies and daddies. It became strained but it held because I guess he had pissed off just about everyone else he knew by that point; or at least they had fallen out with him, which was mostly their fault. He had enemies. Even the people with whom he shared a succession of houses were enemies, with their slightly different dress sense and failure to recognise his dark genius. Girlfriends were enemies, or became enemies after the first six to eight months, by which point the current controlling harpie castratrix was usually no longer able to understand the profound depths of Hornty and his frowning seriousness, leaving him no choice but to start shagging someone else and write a few grimacing songs about the evil one who had understood not the tenebrous passion of his troubled genius. Every six to eight months it seemed like there was some new raven-tressed and back-combed Elvira, and I could only watch and admire his apparently hypnotic charm as all those notches began to diminish the structural integrity of his bedposts, I who had done it with a lady about a year before and without so much as a tickle since. He even made moves on the girl in my house during the months when I let him sleep on the couch in our spare room. He'd been made homeless by some enemies or something that absolutely couldn't have been his own fault, and there he was in my kitchen sliming all over Claire, apparently unaware of her finding his advances obvious and faintly ridiculous.

I felt a little as though my hospitality was being abused.

'You're pissing me off something rotten, Lol,' he growled at me before retiring for the evening, Lol here being the short form of Lawrence, an abbreviation I've never enjoyed.

I joined his band but was found to be lacking musical ability. It was a fair judgement and so naturally I was asked to leave. I had let him down, Hornty told me. He had pulled strings and had words so as to get me in the group, and I had let him down. I had betrayed him. I had peed upon his cornflakes like the traitorous cow-son I undoubtedly was. It was definitively the end of our friendship, although only now, thirty or so years later, have I realised this.

I moved to the Medway towns as my degree course came to an end. I would visit Hornty, but he had new friends. He never came over to see me in my bedsit, not once during the entire two years of my time in Chatham when even his girlfriend of the time - whom I didn't know particularly well - visited me, although it wasn't exactly a social call. He'd spent a year working on her, raising her up. He was turning her into Jarboe of the Swans with the braids and everything - a perfect complement to his supermarket's own brand Michael Gira. He was pushing her towards art education, but she had probably been trying to control him without even realising it, and so he had been left with no choice but to knob some other girl he'd met in the pub. She was distraught, and she no longer had quite so many of her own friends because Hornty had made them all go away for her own good, helping her to see how they weren't really her friends. The fact of her having turned to me of all people didn't say much about her situation. I listened and agreed that Hornty had been a complete tosser, because he had, and I'd begun to recognise the pattern, the six to eight months cycle.

'I don't even want to go to art college,' she told me. 'I'm not interested in it. Can you understand that?'

I could.

I moved away and what small thread of contact we had maintained reduced to nothing. My friend Carl encountered Hornty by chance and so my name came up. Carl mentioned that I was in a group called Konstruktivists and seemed to be doing well for myself. This seemed to make Hornty angry, for some reason.

Cyclical nostalgia brought me back into Hornty's orbit years later, a few evening-sized snapshots of his decline spread across the nineties. I always believed we would laugh and catch up on old times and become friends again just as we had been in my imagination, but he always came back with some weirdly confrontational performance - the continuing saga of his endless suffering, the latest teenage girlfriend as we both hit our mid-thirties. She had probably trapped him into being a daddy. He'd probably insisted on wearing a rubber johnny but she had controlled him not to, and now he would be forced to get out the old vodka telescope and look for someone else. How the hell could I ever hope to understand such pain, such struggle? I with my fancy London ways and sipping alcopops with the drummer from Menswear in Camden Town and thinking I'm all lush but really I'm not - what the hell did I know about anything?

The band for which I played guitar supported Hornty's grimacing karaoke turn - the same under-appreciated songs about enemies and self hatred and all that good stuff wheeled out for their tenth anniversary with a backing tape because no fucker who ever joined his band was still talking to him by the end of the year; and he managed to work an entire decades worth of passive-aggressive into that encounter. I wrote about it at length, then glued the essay to the internet with certain reservations. I needn't have worried. Hornty was never really interested in anything occurring external to himself, and so naturally he never read it.

Then facebook was invented, and here we are again. Hornty now operates as Hornty Ghostposterior because it sounds more Victorian and more serious. He tags me in a picture of the new girlfriend for reasons that I don't really understand but which feel weirdly like bragging. My Sally, reads the proud caption, then, tagged in this photograph: Lawrence Burton. We catch up, and I tell him that I've written a novel which has been published. I describe some of what it is about.

It sounds like my novel, he observes, presumably as a compliment and as ever surprised by nothing. So I look up his novel. It is self-published on Amazon, moody photographs of Chatham interspersed with lines of dark, pensive poetry. I fail to see any common ground between what we have done.

He announces the publication of his novel on a facebook page made for the purpose of promoting his work, mostly downloads of those same songs from the late teenage years three decades earlier, still with the same old bollocks about enemies and introspection and suffering so much more than anyone else. I have written a book, he tells us, it is of course quite horrid, because we all know him so well, all of us fans.

Oh that Hornty!, we exclaim as one, our hands batting the air as we pull faces of amused indulgence, what is he like!

Uncle Lawrence is being mean to Hornty, he later observes in response to something else, referring to himself in third person and still apparently talking like a character out of Winnie the Pooh. I inspect the sentence I have written once again and cannot see how it has been taken out of context, how it can have been read as any sort of criticism. Later I discover that he's drunk most of the time, and such misunderstandings are now common.

The new girlfriend and I become facebook friends in accordance with Hornty's wishes, that I may thus appreciate the girth of his creative magnificence and how he has all the really fit birds beating a path to his door. He spends his time painting and sharing virtual cigars with fellow artists, mostly the people he spent the eighties slagging off, so I suppose he can no longer afford to be so choosy. Because the new girlfriend and I have become facebook friends in accordance with Hornty's wishes, I notice her becoming distinctly upset and unhappy around the six to eight months mark.

I hope this won't seem too nosey, I enquire, but I was just wondering...

History has of course repeated, and this time the inside story is worse than I could have imagined. My advice to the new girlfriend amounts to run and don't look back, and I decide I want no further association with Hornty or any of his manipulative self-involved bullshit. I could defriend, but instead I unfollow - meaning we remain facebook friends but I no longer see anything he posts. There's always a possibility that he might once again turn up in response to something I have said in a status message, but as he doesn't really seem interested in anyone else other than as mirrors in which his genius may be reflected, it seems unlikely.

I make no online reference to him for many months.

On the 23rd of October, 2014 I watch the beginning of a television show which inspires me to opine online as follows:

I've just had a look at Peaky Blinders. I made it to about seven minutes and that seemed like plenty. Looked like a Nine Inch Nails video or a steampunky Who episode, grim, gritty, high contrast picture, shaky camera, and a Nick chuffing Cave title song. All that's missing is Cucumber or James bloody Nesbitt. Are there any really good reasons why I need to bother with any of the rest of it? Anyone?

Within forty minutes Hornty Ghostposterior returns from the wilderness to set me straight, although I initially simply assume him to be drunk and having a fight with himself.

Or would you rather have Big Bang Theory, which puts us all in the gutter. Nothing is perfect. Ooòo crossss!!!!

This is the most bewildering part of his commentary. The Big Bang Theory is a situation comedy of which I have seen roughly five minutes in total, five minutes I disliked with sufficient venom to put me off watching the thing at any greater length. I have no idea why Hornty offers this particular show as counterweight, and wonder if it could even be that he suspects I'm probably a fan given my fancy London ways and sipping alcopops with the drummer from Menswear in Camden Town and thinking I'm all lush but really I'm not. All I can tell for sure is that he is angry, or at least crossss with me. Ooòo crossss!!!!, he taunts, presumably mocking what he anticipates as my reaction to the righteous truths he hath brought forth down from Mount Sinai on carven tablet. That'll teach me to take the piss out of either cod-gothic-bollocks or possibly Nick Cave. How do I like those apples!? Minutes later he announces that something or other is ironic, but it's anyone's guess as to what that could be.

Next day he declares on his facebook page that he has defriended me, cast me out into the wilderness that I may no longer take succour from his announcements about having recorded the four-hundredth version of a song he wrote in 1983, and then he deletes the declaration. We are not friends. I guess maybe we never were.

I am surprised by how much pleasure this realisation brings; and I am surprised at how much fun I have writing about it.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Last of the Sumer Wine

The Goddess Ishtar did one day come out from the wood crafted door of the ziggurat and began to wash the step, cleaning desert sand and mud from the brick with a pale of water. Hidden near to the ziggurat within a mulberry bush were Enkidu, Gilgamesh, and Utnapishtim. As ever, Utnapishtim wore upon his face a faraway look as though lost in thought. Enkidu on the other hand jostled forth, regarding the Goddess with lascivious intent. He licked his lips and rearranged his crude woollen headpiece saying, 'By heck, Gilgamesh, were it not for the dampness of my sandals, I would believe that we were in heaven.'

'Well, she certainly is a vision,' conceded Gilgamesh. 'I'll give you that much.'

Ishtar, sensing the consideration of unseen eyes, paused in her work and looked out from the balcony, her gaze ranging across the great city of Uruk from one doorway to the next. 'Who speaks? Who is here that dare not show themselves?' She raised up the wooden handle of the implement with which she had been making her work. Her lips pursed together as though she had eaten of some bitter fruit.

The mulberry bush sneezed, rattling its leaves and boughs before coming to bloom with conversation.

'You stupid great lump!'

The thin, high voice of Utnapishtim came forth like a timid bird, halting but not quite apologetic. 'Well perhaps if we had not taken such a route through the marshes. It plays havoc with my sinuses.'

'I'll play havoc with your sinuses in a minute!'

A third voice offered amused commentary. 'I think he means to punch you on the nose, Utnapishtim.'

'Yes, well that's his answer to everything.'

'Well, he is a wild man, after all. Pinched from clay of the stuff of the firmament by Aruru, unless I'm very much mistaken.'

'I'll pinch you in a minute!'

Ishtar's brow turned dark and she called out, 'All right you three idiots, I know you're there. You may as well show yourselves before I set the temple guards on you.'

Enkidu emerged, turning back to his two companions as they followed, and yet keeping both twinkling eyes and an unseemly smile trained upon the enraged Goddess. 'My lady beckons! Methinks the time has come when my rustic charms have at last worked their magic, as unto the shepherd's crook upon his wandering flock.'

The lady Ishtar stepped back a little way, fearful of the trio and yet reluctant to reveal that fear. 'Yes, it's the wandering that bothers me - the wandering hands!'

Now Enkidu ran forward to the base of the temple, gazing up with eyes made heavy by devotion, and by the strong desire that he might plant his wild, manly seed within the fundament of the Goddess. 'You know you're gorgeous when you're angry.'

Gilgamesh, now fully emerged from the bush and stood alongside the taller third of their group, showed a face of great wryness. 'Not just when she's angry either, but most other times as well. That's our Enkidu for you. He's nothing if not consistent in his affections.'

Utnapishtim effected to shudder as though stricken with thoughts of death. 'Please - I'd rather not give too much consideration to his consistency. I'm sure the bit about the clay was a euphemism.'

Ishtar was again at the edge of the overhang raining blow after blow down upon the hapless and yet happy wild man. 'You're disgusting, you are! Get away from here!'

Enkidu's great hair-covered paws reached upwards to the heavens, his fingers opening and closing like grapples. 'You know that wrinkled flax robe drives me wild.'

'You're already wild, you fool!'