Legal gubbins All works contained within the pages of this magazine are protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence (with the exception of Books v. cigarettes by George Orwell, which has entered the public domain). Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the individual authorâ€™s moral rights. The fig leaf photograph used on p.31 was taken by flickr user geishaboy500, and is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.
[Insert witty, writing-related remark about the number 3 here.] why are they all so depressing?
We asked ourselves this question rather a lot while reviewing submissions for the last issue. Was it something about the magazine? Should we stop printing in black; maybe include some splashes of colour or pictures of kittens with captions scrawled underneath? While the juryâ€™s still out on the future inclusion of kittens, we are sticking with the monochrome colour scheme for the time being. The mechanics of short stories are not simple; the writer has to develop character quickly and tell something worthy off the telling in only a few thousand words. A lot of short stories are constructed somewhat like a joke, steadily building up to a final pay-off in the last paragraph or so. For dramatic stories of this ilk, what could be more gripping than something unfortunate happening to the protagonist right at the end? When done well this can be effective, but a number of the stories we rejected for issue two were like this, done less well. So this time around we wanted to make more of an effort to display just what it is possible to achieve with the short story form. And our writers didnâ€™t let us down. Stories in this issue range from snapshot moments of real life, to the whimsical, to the absurd, to the I-have-no-idea-what-this-is-but-I-love-it. I once had an idea for a magazine that would aim to promote the more maligned genres of literature: the experimental, the speculative, the new writing, the young writers, the fresh voices. I am not sure what I really expected to happen; but one thing I know for certain is that I didnâ€™t expect to be publishing writing of this quality so quickly. I am very proud of this issue, and thankful to the authors who have filled its pages with their stories. I suspect that we will be seeing some of their names facing out from our bookshelves before too long. Onwards and upwards. Euan Monaghan, Editor (Buckinghamshire, November 2009)
Guilty parties Editor/designer: Euan Monaghan Associate editor: Keir Pratt Copy-editor: Elaine Monaghan www.structomagazine.co.uk
by James Rawbone
A Part of the Furniture
the perspiration prickles the back of my neck as I painfully stretch out a single
digit. With inexorable slowness, my head tilted at a bizarre angle so I have to madly roll my right eye to see the toy keyboard, I stab at a white key. The note rolls out and is sustained until Sharon, irritated by the noise, flicks the off button. Silence abruptly falls. I press another key, even though I know it won’t make a sound. This action is important to me; the single moment of choice and power in a day where I am otherwise wheeled about like a piece of luggage. Today is a bad day though. Sometimes I can play three or four keys in a minute, listening to their various pitches with the satisfaction of an artist viewing a completed work. A Michelangelo surveying his finished Sistine Chapel maybe, but this morning I am exhausted after those two notes. My head decides it will flop to the left so that I cannot see the keyboard at all anyway. Sharon is talking again. The rubbish falls out of her mouth like a garbage truck dumping its contents. Incessant, patronising mediocrity directed around me, as she carefully explains how we will travel to the doctor. Again. Nurses, doctors, social workers, occupational therapists, I seem to be a one man job factory the educated middle classes can draw their not inconsiderable pay packet from. They tut and examine me with furrowed brows, concern tinged with a soupçon of disgust and talk and do nothing, and then go back to their detached houses in neat suburbia which I indirectly provide for them. I, indirectly of course, am responsible for the employment of over two dozen people. It is a weighty responsibility. Sharon is waving a picture of me. I hate every photo of me but I despise this one the most. My vacuous look is pronounced here, so I look like some kind of imbecile. She thrusts it into my face and talks slowly and loudly as if I am deaf. I want to talk back to her in the same manner, but today my voice isn’t working at all and not even my usual strangled squeak escapes. Then a photo of the people carrier, as if I don’t know what one of those is, and finally a photo of the surgery. As if I hadn’t been there a dozen times for each of the (so far) twenty three years of my life sentence. Imprisoned not in a cell, but in this useless body. Sharon’s phone rings as she replaces the photos in the folder that hangs from my wheelchair. She fumbles in the black hole of her handbag, cluttered with ointments, pills and potions and pulls the phone out as its final trill dies away. She looks at the number and a look of uncertainty and temptation crosses her face. I have seen this same look a dozen times in the past week and I am intrigued. Sharon talks incessantly. I suspect that she would talk even if she was alone. She is thirty-six years of brassy, big-hearted, big-breasted blonde, and I am fascinated by her vitality, her energy that contrasts so sharply with my own stillness. She is married and childless, and I have met her husband once. A tall, stooped, thin man who rarely speaks. Whether Sharon talks so much because he is so quiet, or whether he is so quiet because Sharon talks so much, I do not know. What I do know is that he is a shadow, a vague form that leaves no impression, no memory. Instantly forgettable, he fades into the background whilst Sharon dominates the foreground. He does not bother me; there is no passion in that relationship to arouse any form of envy. I can disregard him in the long, silent
nights when I dream of her. The dreams were the escape from my reality, my grinding, grudging monotony, my sole pleasure in life, until he arrived. Because she talks so much I have become the guardian of her closest secrets. I would esteem it an honour of some sort if I didn’t know it was because she regards me as she would the kitchen table; always there but solid, silent, safe. No, that may be a little harsh if I’m honest. Maybe she thinks of me in the same way as that pug nosed pooch Reg that she sometimes brings in to my house, and which she feeds with titbits from my cupboard when she thinks nobody is looking. Except me of course. But then it doesn’t matter if I am looking or not when she steals from me, whether I am listening when she is talking on the phone to that same number that she is studying so closely now. The wind is cold as we wait by the surgery. A man with an unshaven chin and long ringlets of black hair approaches us. He reminds me of the Turkish waiter in the curry house I like to go to, with hands full of rings and a gold chain around his neck. He looks at me with disdain, and then chooses to ignore me. I suspect I do not make the best first impression; I can feel that my head is tilted backwards against the cushion of my wheelchair and my eyes are rolled back into my head. Sharon has been too preoccupied waiting for him to notice the saliva dribbling down my chin. If I could look back with equal disdain and disgust I would, but have to settle for a violent jerking of my limbs to convey my feelings. Sharon’s hand automatically strokes my arm but her eyes are fixed on this man. Jealousy and impotence mix in equal amounts to create a bitter brew, the taste of which I am only too familiar with. They kiss. Not an informal greeting, but a lust filled slobber. I try to look away but my neck muscles have chosen this moment to lock up, and so I have watch, disgusted. They don’t even look at me as he slips his arm around her waist and one hand strays up to her breasts. Sharon pushes it away, but with a titillating, regretful delicacy. “People will see.” The man shrugs. “I don’t care if they do.” “Tony, I’m married. You know that.” “But that can change. You want it to change, don’t you?” Sharon looks away, and again that uncertainty. The man is annoyed by this. He pulls her roughly to her and they engage in some more tongue tonsil tennis. When Sharon finally pulls away with a little tremor of excitement I feel almost physically sick. “You can’t waste your life with him. The man, he is ...” The man shrugs his shoulder, as if he lacks the vocabulary to describe the shortcomings of Sharon’s husband.” “He’s … nice.” “Nice is how people describe losers they feel sorry for. You’re better than that, you’re better than him. You deserve someone with a bit of oomph, a bit of get up and go. A character, someone with something to say.” “Someone like you?” I sense a slight irony in Sharon’s tone, but the man seems to miss it. He smiles broadly, and squares his leather jacketed shoulders. “You’d
better believe it, baby.” “How do I know you’re serious? How do I know this isn’t just a bit of fun for you?” “Oh, Sharon.” The man pulls back slightly and looks at her with a look of deep disappointment. I watch Sharon unconsciously move closer to him, to narrow the space between them, and feel depressed at her stupidity. She looks at him again, and he gazes back with those deep brown eyes, muddy pools that you feel you could drown in. Eventually she sighs and says, “What do you want me to do?” “What time do you finish with this,” and he indicates me with a jerk of his thumb. Sharon doesn’t even glance towards me. “My shift finishes at eight.” The man smiles broadly. “I’ll ring you just before eight to tell you where to meet me. Come with a bag packed. You and me, we’re for better things than this place. I promise you that, honey.” “If you don’t ring me this time, Tony, it’s over. You know that? You can’t keep me on this piece of string forever, you know, just reeling me in when you fancy a bit of …” and Sharon blushes and looks away. I blush too at the mental picture that springs up in my mind, but as usual I am just scenery and no-one notices. “I will ring. I promise.” And with that Tony has turned and is walking back up the road. He pauses and shouts back over his shoulder. “Eight o’ clock, remember.” Sharon is in the laundry room at the other end of the house just as her phone rings. It vibrates on the table but I know she won’t hear it there. That is why I chose to soil myself twenty minutes ago, in the hope that after she had toileted and changed me, she would still be in the laundry sorting out my old clothes, and I would be back sitting at the kitchen table with my keyboard, waiting. I let the phone ring out, and then wait for that single beep that tells me a message has been left. I wait in vain. After a minute of silence I reach out with my single index digit. I have watched Sharon often enough to know how she operates her simple budget phone. I strain my arm forward, all the while listening for Sharon’s footsteps on the corridor beyond the kitchen door. I suck in my breath as the phone slips under my awkward finger and jolts a couple of inches further away. I swear, using the words I heard Sharon say sometimes, but they come out as a strangled squawk. A window has appeared in the phone’s screen. Missed Call. My face is screwed up with pain as I again stab at the right button beneath that window. Delete number? Another excruciating stab. My breath is coming in short, shallow gasps now. Number deleted. The screen slips back to the photo of Reg, all good nature and wagging tail. I slowly relax, watching my arm fold back into my chest with jerky, robotic movements.
Sharon strides back into the kitchen, straight over to her phone. She doesn’t need to look at the clock to know it is a couple of minutes past eight. She picks it up, thumbs the blank display and again that look of uncertainty. She looks up at the clock now, to check the time on her phone, then down at the floor, and then straight across at me. She is still looking at me as she thumbs a number into the phone and holds it to her ear. There is the distant sound of a phone purring, and then a man’s voice answers. “It’s me. I’ll be on my way back as soon as Vicky gets here. I was thinking that maybe we could get a takeaway and a dvd, what do you think? A cosy night in, just the two of us.” And she is still looking at me as the doorbell goes. “That’ll be Vicky, dear. I’ll be ten minutes.” She is bustling her belongings together as Vicky wanders in, all peroxide blond and hoop earrings. She kneels down beside my chair, and solicitously wipes the saliva from my chin. “If only we knew what was going on in that head of yours.” Vicky turned to Sharon. “Do you think he’s smiling?” Sharon glances at me as she throws her coat on. “It’s hard to say. Anyway …” And then they start to chat and I am forgotten. Maybe my small victory is Pyrrhic, but I know that my dreams tonight will once again be sweet.
by Emily Lynch
rasta Baby trots towards me with an empty Fanta bottle. She takes one look
at me and starts giggling through the straw clasped between her teeth. There’s only candlelight lighting the restaurant but I imagine if there were more of it, I’d see spit bubbles and an orange Fanta tongue. We’re speaking some language that’s known to neither of us but useful to both of us. Hers involves a lot of African-sounding syllables and although she responds with gusto anytime I ask her a question in Kinyarwanda, I’m pretty sure she’s not actually speaking Kinyarwanda. I have my sketch pad out – to give occupation to my table-tapping fingers while I wait for a friend – and my wrist starts to move in imitation of the arched sweep of her baby eyebrows as she considers me over a boundary of thick-edged glass. I ask her questions, like where is your mother? as I outline the balloon of her chubby cheeks. From a straw-biting mouth, she mumbles long-winded and enthusiastic explanations. It is not clear that they relate in any way to my questions but we are keeping each other company and neither one of us seems to mind. The waiter brings a candle to the table and waves to Rasta Baby, who nods back with great solemnity. None of the staff in the empty restaurant have shown any indication in the ten minutes of our conversation that they think it is strange that a two-foot high baby is wandering around alone with an empty Fanta bottle at seven pm in their Italian restaurant. Having lived in this country for two years and understanding little, if anything, that I see, I take this as a sign that, by the law of some unexplained assumptions, this event is normal. I make an exaggerated astonished face as the wick sputters into life and Rasta Baby bursts into a fit of giggles again. She wears a dress that would look dowdy on the most elegant of supermodels. It has a lace collar and is made out of some dark corduroy material with sombre flowers that would belong more naturally to the brocade of an antique sofa. The skirt puffs out like Mary Poppins descending and hangs almost to her ankles. This isn’t much distance, though, as she is only two feet tall. I finally locate the explanation of her presence. In spite of trying to imitate the behaviour of the staff, there was no way I was going to feel at ease about a random two year old materializing in front of me from no obvious origin. Rasta Momma sells jewellery from velvet-covered cardboard displays at the entrance of the Italian restaurant. I’d seen her displays of course, on the way in, but hadn’t yet connected the woman to the child. But now I glance up at a dreadlocked head peeking through the front door. I recognize the parental eye flicker and wave my pencil hand to point out Rasta Baby, who is still standing contentedly, lock-kneed, beside me. Rasta Momma set up shop four months ago. For the first few days everyone had hurried past her, avoiding her eyes, pretending to be focused on the stonelaid steps or caught in momentary fascination by a friend’s comment. Their faces betrayed their thoughts – what was a hawker doing on the steps of this nice restaurant? Wasn’t this just the thing we come here to avoid, the peaked eyebrows said? The type of thing we want to forget for just a few evening
hours? After several weeks though, people started to pause and look – usually on their way out when their bellies swelled heavy with creamed pasta and their cheekbones floated light with alcohol. Even then, though, they avoided the woman herself, preferring to pretend human interaction through the medium of touching the jewellery. Wood-beaded necklaces slipped past finger joints and silver-plated rings gained momentary units of body heat when passed over by curious fingertips. There were polite murmurs and conversation between couples and friends and a few thank-yous as those who had never intended to make a purchase tried to exit without taking with them a nagging guilt. It was this, after all, that they disliked about trying to browse the goods of street vendors – the constant anxiety of anticipated verbal attack, the whisper of a guilty conscience. But Rasta Momma waited with patience. She never approached a customer, just perched on her stool, tucked inconspicuously between a table and a postcard tree. When jewellery was touched, she leaned forward with an air of hospitality. When the jewellery was abandoned, she leaned back with an air of kind indifference. Rasta Baby reaches a half-foot in the air and sets her Fanta bottle precariously on the edge of my table. It begins to tip back towards her and I start forward but before I get there the bottle hits its own balance, rolling one complete circumference of its lipped bottom and then settling with a shudder. Rasta Baby pulls my left hand from the sketch pad and begins to trot away with it, towards the door. I stand up and follow, as if hypnotized. We must be intrinsically wired to follow the insistence of a trusting child hand. One set of rules says that conversation is not required between a street vendor and his browser, that the products themselves can serve as a proxy conduit of greeting, of compassion, of communication and of closure. A necklace proffered by a faceless hand and its acceptance with accompanying murmurs or head nods are all that is needed. Eyes are given excuses to avoid acknowledgement of the human. Eyes are offered other stimulation instead – stimulation by products which were theoretically made or chosen by the vendor and so, vicariously, absorb his humanity. With this transfer, their light caress, brief observation or shakethrough by strange hands may convey enough empathy to satisfy social etiquette. May excuse the absence of any more direct interaction between customer and vendor. May deliver a tentative client from the guilt of imposed obligation. Rasta Momma seems to understand these conventions but Rasta Baby comes from a different school of thought. She pulls off a turquoise necklace that’s been sharing rent with the postcard tree and yanks on my hand. As dumbly as I followed her trotting lead from the table, I now respond automatically to her hand yank and crouch down to match her level. Rasta Baby lifts chubby arms and dimpled elbows towards the crown of my head and I lean towards her chin, as much a deferential knight as ever I’ve been.
With royal dignity, she slides the turquoise over the highest point on my head and I lift my chin to finish its slide. The circle of beads slips on my hair and tumbles down my chest. With sharp eyes, I am appraised. Rasta Baby nods soberly and flops out an open baby palm in my direction. â€œMoney, sir!â€? she says in perfect English and then bursts for the third time that night into orange tongued giggles. Behind her, Rasta Momma chuckles too and swats at the toddler with the edge of her crocheted shawl. And for once that night, we are speaking a language that we all understand.
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by George Orwell
a couple of years ago a friend of mine, a newspaper editor, was firewatching
Books v. cigarettes
George Orwell was born in ... wait, really? I’m writing an introduction for George frickin’ Orwell? Forget that. Books v. cigarettes first appeared in Tribune magazine in 1946, and has now entered the public domain.
with some factory workers. They fell to talking about his newspaper, which most of them read and approved of, but when he asked them what they thought of the literary section, the answer he got was: “You don’t suppose we read that stuff, do you? Why, half the time you’re talking about books that cost twelve and sixpence! Chaps like us couldn’t spend twelve and sixpence on a book.” These, he said, were men who thought nothing of spending several pounds on a day trip to Blackpool. This idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so widespread that it deserves some detailed examination. Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price. After allowing for various other expenses, I can make a fairly good guess at my expenditure over the last fifteen years. The books that I have counted and priced are the ones I have here, in my flat. I have about an equal number stored in another place, so that I shall double the final figure in order to arrive at the complete amount. I have not counted oddments such as proof copies, defaced volumes, cheap paper-covered editions, pamphlets, or magazines, unless bound up into book form. Nor have I counted the kind of junky books-old school text-books and so forth--that accumulate in the bottoms of cupboards. I have counted only those books which I have acquired voluntarily, or else would have acquired voluntarily, and which I Bought (mostly second-hand) intend to keep. In this category I find that I have 442 Given to me or bought with book tokens books, acquired in the following ways: Review copies and complimentary copies Now as to the method of pricing. Those books Borrowed and not returned that I have bought I have listed at their full price, Temporarily on loan as closely as I can determine it. I have also listed at their full price the books that have been given to Total me, and those that I have temporarily borrowed, or borrowed and kept. This is because book-giving, book-borrowing and bookstealing more or less even out. I possess books that do not strictly speaking belong to me, but many other people also have books of mine: so that the books I have not paid for can be taken as balancing others which I have paid for but no longer possess. On the other hand I have listed the review and complimentary copies at half-price. That is about what I would have paid for them second-hand, and they are mostly books that I would only have bought
251 33 143 10 5 442
second-hand, if at all. For the prices I have sometimes had to rely on guesswork, but my figures will not be far out. The costs were as follows: Adding the other batch of books that I have £ s. d. elsewhere, it seems that I possess altogether Bought 36 9 0 nearly 900 books, at a cost of £165 15s. This is the Gifts 10 10 0 accumulation of about fifteen years--actually more, Review copies, etc 25 11 9 since some of these books date from my childhood: Borrowed and not returned 4 16 9 but call it fifteen years. This works out at £11 Is. a On loan 3 10 0 year, but there are other charges that must be added Shelves 2 0 0 in order to estimate my full reading expenses. The biggest will be for newspapers and periodicals, and Total 82 17 6 for this I think £8 a year would be a reasonable figure. Eight pounds a year covers the cost of two daily papers, one evening paper, two Sunday papers, one weekly review and one or two monthly magazines. This brings the figure up to £19 1s, but to arrive at the grand total one has to make a guess. Obviously one often spends money on books without afterwards having anything to show for it. There are library subscriptions, and there are also the books, chiefly Penguins and other cheap editions, which one buys and then loses or throws away. However, on the basis of my other figures, it looks as though £6 a year would be quite enough to add for expenditure of this kind. So my total reading expenses over the past fifteen years have been in the neighbourhood of £25 a year. Twenty-five pounds a year sounds quite a lot until you begin to measure it against other kinds of expenditure. It is nearly 9s 9d a week, and at present 9s 9d is the equivalent of about 83 cigarettes (Players): even before the war it would have bought you less than 200 cigarettes. With prices as they now are, I am spending far more on tobacco than I do on books. I smoke six ounces a week, at half-a-crown an ounce, making nearly £40 a year. Even before the war when the same tobacco cost 8d an ounce, I was spending over £10 a year on it: and if I also averaged a pint of beer a day, at sixpence, these two items together will have cost me close on £20 a year. This was probably not much above the national average. In 1938 the people of this country spent nearly £10 per head per annum on alcohol and tobacco: however, 20 per cent of the population were children under fifteen and another 40 per cent were women, so that the average smoker and drinker must have been spending much more than £10. In 1944, the annual expenditure per head on these items was no less than £23. Allow for the women and children as before, and £40 is a reasonable individual figure. Forty pounds a year would just about pay for a packet of Woodbines every day and half a pint of mild six days a week--not a magnificent allowance. Of course, all prices are now inflated, including the price of books: still, it looks as though the cost of reading, even if you buy books instead of borrowing them and take in a fairly large number of periodicals, does not amount to more than 12 the combined cost of smoking and drinking. It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them. “Books” includes novels, poetry, text books, works
of reference, sociological treatises and much else, and length and price do not correspond to one another, especially if one habitually buys books second-hand. You may spend ten shillings on a poem of 500 lines, and you may spend sixpence on a dictionary which you consult at odd moments over a period of twenty years. There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms of money, may be the same in each case. But if one regards reading simply as a recreation, like going to the pictures, then it is possible to make a rough estimate of what it costs. If you read nothing but novels and “light” literature, and bought every book that you read, you would be spending-allowing eight shillings as the price of a book, and four hours as the time spent in reading it-two shillings an hour. This is about what it costs to sit in one of the more expensive seats in the cinema. If you concentrated on more serious books, and still bought everything that you read, your expenses would be about the same. The books would cost more but they would take longer to read. In either case you would still possess the books after you had read them, and they would be saleable at about a third of their purchase price. If you bought only second-hand books, your reading expenses would, of course, be much less: perhaps sixpence an hour would be a fair estimate. And on the other hand if you don’t buy books, but merely borrow them from the lending library, reading costs you round about a halfpenny an hour: if you borrow them from the public library, it costs you next door to nothing. I have said enough to show that reading is one of the cheaper recreations: after listening to the radio probably THE cheapest. Meanwhile, what is the actual amount that the British public spends on books? I cannot discover any figures, though no doubt they exist. But I do know that before the war this country was publishing annually about 15,000 books, which included reprints and school books. If as many as 10,000 copies of each book were sold--and even allowing for the school books, this is probably a high estimate-the average person was only buying, directly or indirectly, about three books a year. These three books taken together might cost £1, or probably less. These figures are guesswork, and I should be interested if someone would correct them for me. But if my estimate is anywhere near right, it is not a proud record for a country which is nearly 100 per cent literate and where the ordinary man spends more on cigarettes than an Indian peasant has for his whole livelihood. And if our book consumption remains as low as it has been, at least let us admit that it is because reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub, and not because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too expensive.
by K.J. Pratt
Books v. cigarettes: 63 years on
To the best of the Editor’s knowlege, Keir John Pratt was not born in British India in 1903; nor did he serve with the Indian Imperial Police from 1922 until 1927. He does smoke*, read and write a lot though.
*correct at time of writing, but inaccurate at time of press
about two years ago I moved in around the corner from one of George Orwell’s
old homes in Islington. I know this because a blue plaque proudly declares the fact. Orwell is responsible for quite an important moment in my literary life; his masterpiece, 1984, was the first proper novel that I read without a teacher or a curriculum forcing me to. I didn’t know it at the time, but just a few years later, I would be addicted to the two same basic substances as this Great Writer... In 1946 Orwell wrote Books v. cigarettes. In the essay, he investigates his literary spending habits, concluding that he spends “in the neighbourhood of £25 a year” on books. He goes on to compare this amount to his other pastime, smoking, on which he spends £40 a year. In the end he implores people to “admit that it is because reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub, and not because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too expensive”. Orwell died in 1950 at the age of 46, from a burst artery in his lung; his six ounces of tobacco a week no doubt contributed to his untimely demise. Orwell was never really aware of the legacy he left us in 1984; what was perhaps his finest work was published only six months before his death. So have things have moved on in the intervening 60 years? We like to think that we are a brighter lot than the post-war poverty-stricken soot-covered masses; better fed, in better health and certainly more literate. But some things haven’t changed. I am addicted to the two same substances as Orwell was: the one that made him and the one that destroyed him – books and cigarettes. With the various economic pressures affecting leisure activities, and the arrival of new ones, what I want to know is: how does the book how does the book fare? Is reading still the cheaper pastime? I don’t smoke quite the same amount as Orwell, in fact I smoke around ten a day, or three-and-a-half packs a week. My brand is £5.11 per pack and so over a year I spend £930. Now for the tricky part: the books. Orwell breaks down the method of appropriation: bought, borrowed, gifted, or stolen etc. First of all, and similarly to Orwell, I have two sets of books in two different locations. However, each contains a similar number of volumes and can be sorted into comparable categories. So, based on the set that is readily available for me to count, here goes. The numbers in fig. 1 account for five years, so I can calculate the total expenditure based on Hardbacks bought 12 averaged prices, as fig. 2. Paperbacks bought 128 This comes to a total Hardbacks bought secondhand 4 expenditure of £235 per year, Paperbacks bought secondhand 42 just shy of ten times that in Gifted hardback 6 Gifted paperback 38 Stolen paperback 4 Cheap classics 24 Total 258
Hardbacks bought Paperbacks bought Hardbacks bought secondhand Paperbacks bought secondhand Gifted hardback Gifted paperback Stolen paperback Cheap classics Total
Orwell’s day – and he had more books. So as an addiction, reading is around four times cheaper than smoking cigarettes (£930 vs. £235). A book habit in Orwell’s days cost 60% that of a smoking one. The odds have improved for the readers (or worse for the smokers, depending on how you look at things). Orwell also looked at that other great British pastime: drinking. Alcoholism was just as popular in the mid 1940s as it is now. He calculated that a pint of beer a day (at 6d.) cost him £9 2s. 6d. over the course of the year. Today, at around £2.10 for a pint, you are spending £766.50. So, once again, better for the readers or worse for the boozers. What about other forms of entertainment? My cinema ticket today cost me £9.70 (and then of course there’s the ice cream, but I won’t go into that). The movie lasted an hour and 40 minutes, which translates to £5.82 for an hour’s entertainment. Orwell calculated 2 shillings an hour for one of the better seats in a cinema, and about the same per hour for a book. I calculate, using the same formula as Orwell, the book entertainment per hour to be (using £6.99 as the average price for a book) £1.75. Cinemas have got pricey. Dvds fare even worse at around £5 an hour for a cheap dvd, and don’t get me started on Blu-rays. Computer games fare slightly better however; it takes perhaps 36 hours to complete Max Payne 2. I bought this game new for £20, and so the game works out at 55p per hour. However, when you start taking into account the cost of the pc, the operating system to run it and the constant battling with machinery and software – perhaps 55p is a conservative value. Holidays are far more expensive, although often work in favour of the reader – especially for those like me, who tend to pack more books than clothes. Orwell concluded that reading was the least expensive habit of the lot and, if anything, things seemed to have got better for readers in the last 60 years or so. Of course, fewer people smoke now than in the mid 1940s, but do more people buy books now? Is this drop in the relative price of reading due to the fact that demand is high and supply has risen to meet it? Orwell calculated that on average people bought three books per year. Last year, the uk trade market for books was almost £2.5 billion. If you divide that by the 61 million population (bad statistics I know, please don’t write in), that’s around £40 per head, which is just shy of six books per annum. This is good, but what are they buying? With the advent of “celebrity culture” has come the joy that is the Celebrity Biography, and just how much money was spent on single book crazes? We may never know (or research) these facts, and so I can only conclude that we may read more these days, but what we are reading might not be quite what Orwell expected. I have one final – and even more important – conclusion however. My rather appalling analysis tells me that if I were to give up smoking, I could purchase another 310 secondhand books a year, or 133 new ones. And, with the extra years I get by not dying young, I might actually get a chance to read them.
£ 155 894 40 126 77 265 27 60
p 88 72 0 0 94 62 96 0
by Richard Jackson
darkness draws confusion/ shadows unite to play tricks in the night/ sounds
from a distance/ a distance of many years/ harmonies blowing in the wind/ guitar chords creeping/ under doors and out of bars/ out of cars/ over radio waves/ echoing the sounds/ of handcuffs cutting/ neck muscles tensing/ backs straining and shoulders shaking/ keys turning/ lights turning, off/ hear the sounds of an express train/ cha-ka, cha-ka, cha-ka. Addressing the Son, the Common Man/ the express leaves at ten/ your driver will be here at eleven/ now, we don’t want you getting on that train/ the guitar plays/ played by his harmonica friend/ it sounds like the express a-coming round the bend/ cha-ka, cha-ka, cha-ka/ Wild Bill trips the wires in the bank vault/ the ambassador to the illiterate/ swarms over the thinly clothed artists/ how much for your silence the blackout thief asks the Chief of Police/ the chief with the forehead replies a mansion in the shape of a coin/ the teacher who lives in a house with one hundred pairs of shoes/ and a woeful elf of doubt on her left shoulder/ the cracker-pull vest beneath her shirt/ we play no more in the puddles of your tears/ we sleep within the pack of cards/ she clears her throat and mind of debris and asks/ does anyone have any questions?/ a blonde haired little girl wearing a white dress raises her hand and whispers/ why did Othello have to die?/ The Son, the Common Man eats across from Big Mo/ Big Mo drinks three times a week/ he’s got a bill to pay every Wednesday and it dominates his thoughts/ ‘it’s like the express train’ he says/ ‘coming straight for my head’/ cha-ka, cha-ka, cha-ka/ he dates Rosie the Librarian nymph/ who was once a member of the windpipe police/ she handles my books with care/ there’s darkness in her eyes and darkness in her heart/ dark messages in the books she stamps/ Wild Bill thinks about where it all went wrong/ he’s a clumsy oaf who can’t see past his beard/ and he always, always trips the wires/ he comes from a broken home/ they all refuse to wear sleeves/ they wear studs on their rings/ it inflicts more damage when they punch/ the Chief of Police coerces Wild Bill from his slumber/ telling him he’ll be escorted onto the express soon/ leaving for a ship that will sail to the middle of the ocean/ and sink/ neck muscles tensing/ backs straining and shoulders shaking/ Wild Bill stares into space disbelievingly and shouts/ you came about your ignorance the hard way!/ I didn’t have to work for mine/ as he’s thrown backwards into a van/ handcuffs cutting/ neck muscles tensing/ backs straining and shoulders shaking/ keys turning/ lights turning, off/ the teacher has no tickets to spare/ she teaches ignorance the hard way/ she asks the class if anyone can tell her their father’s occupation/ a seven year old boy at the back of the class/ with toes in his mouth and whose heart beats six times an hour/ raises his hand and says ‘dream stealer’/ The Son, the Common Man laughs heartily and leans over to the barman/ catching his eyes with both hands in the mirror/ do you remember Blue-Face Babe?/ the singer who sang in here decades ago?/ sang through his ear long before the years he got drunk on ancient whores and wine/ remember, he sang/ it’s the living that’s hard/ the dying comes easy/ well, he sang that line for me/ the ennui of the barman is shattered by a commotion within earshot/ whilst reading a book entitled ‘How to be Happy’ Rosie the Librarian nymph shouts/ I don’t believe this is happening/ I don’t want to sleep with you!/ as a drunken Big
Mo writes ‘bitch’ with the salt shaker on the table/ before blowing it out of the window/ where it swirls, swirls, swirls/ and lands in the gutter. Dark waters unbreathing/ black on blue these visions of me and you/ numbers and days/ unblinking, unseeing/ slowly drifting, mumbling/ breathing. The Chief of Police/ who only speaks in capitals/ marks numbers on chains and hands them to the prisoners/ this is your name now he yells/a yes world is a good world and don’t take your future seriously!/ as Lazy Monday leads the way to his eyebrow where he shrinks confused and disappears/ to page 3 of the naked thoughts section/ hark ye ol’ funeral pyre/ save the clean and burn the poor/ it’s funny Cratchit shouts up-deck to Ebenezer/ we see your sorts in our areas now and again/ but you never see us in yours!/ and it’s overcrowded over there too/ the other side of the world/ far away enough not to see though/ But there are trains/ trains that will take you around the world and let you smell it/ if you’ll only let them/ trains of thought and trains with engines/ the 13:05 calls at Hiroshima/ Chernobyl/ Phnom-Penh/ Rwanda/ Sobibor/ The Days of Missed Chances/ Pianosa/ Page 147 of The Poems of War/ The Old Testament/ The New Testament/ My Testament/ Auschwitz/ until it finally stops at Your Testament on the daily loop/ Smoking is strictly prohibited The men brace themselves for the journey/ to the bottom of the ocean/ I’m gonna blow myself up, blow myself up for the one I love/ shouts the brother, shovelling his soul into the fire/ the sister pretending to listen says/ I’m only a Queen upon a square and you control my every move/ but right now, I’m a mess/ as she drinks her nail varnish/ every week she loans her body out to the kitchen staff/ they use it to move flour sacks/ Boss Man needs a shot shouts the brother/ a shot of his granny’s morals/ the captain with the perm overhears the shout and walks into the room/ semi-mad with syphilis he enquires the direction to Cuba/ the upper-deck cleaning lady changes the level lines on the spirit bottles/ lower and lower and lower/ as the ship jolts and slowly moves out of the port/ the grandfather serving drinks who shot a man once, twice/ hops up the steps and shouts to the Sailor/ drive to the sea/ the Sailor, slowly dying of boredom anchors and chases the sister shouting/ come and roll in my flag collection/ we can travel to Spain/ reign as King and Queen/ Boss Man polishes his eyes and calls out for another shot/ ‘one day’ he whispers/ ‘I’ll carry my load to the river’/ below the deck the mystics switch on the lights/ highlighting the faces of the criminals/ the Union leader/ a face full of soot hands out badges which read ‘I’m a friend of the working man’ and if Boss Man’s the answer, you’ve asked the wrong question/ before he turns to Wild Bill and spews red wine from his eyes/ he shouts/ tell them what they want to hear!/ the South African turns to him and says/ I know you!/ your grandmother was a poet/ she threw socks and scarfs at the moon/ and when Venus came expecting/ she said there were no Vs here except Voltaire’s and Van Dyke’s/ and even they can’t keep warm/ the body snatcher spits and then snorts in general disagreement/ whilst lighting his lighter with his cigarette and says/ let’s speak about oppression/ and let’s speak about starvation/ a starvation of people/ a starvation of countries/ a starvation of thought and change/ a starvation of action/ and then we can speak about law/ man’s law and natural law/ and then
we can speak about the rich and the poor/ and then about the future of genes/ and only then can we speak about ourselves and our predicament/ and why we’re here/ in the bowels of a ship/ en route to the bottom of the sea/ Wild Bill chuckles/ he’s got this talent for laughing at things that aren’t funny/ he says the right things but he’s a clumsy oaf/ and he always trips the wires/ he always, always trips the wires/ the jester in the corner squirms in the shadows/ his bum is bare and the Captain has requested his presence/ the Drama Queens shout ‘oh my God, where am I? They said there were no minorities, they said everybody had someone!’/ as their copies of Vogue lie on their shelves/ spines broken/ the strong man sitting in the corner with a watch that can tell the time in three time zones/ an I.Q. of 82 and a million pound idea/ looks away and re-reads his unsent letter under his breath/ Dear Mother/ is it wrong to love this girl? She’s the first person who has loved me but she throws further than me in shot-putt/ quizzically yours/ Hercules/ Wild Bill turns away and shuts his eyes for sanctuary. Everything true under teacher’s roof/ idealism of brothers and sisters/ days soon come/ questions were asked/ and were not answered/ the days the rain came … Who can tell me who invented the television enquires the teacher/ as she looks at the pack of cards/ a boy with ink in his ears and pity in his eyes says/ Big Brother?/ the wide eyed philosopher/ talks about the lightness of life/ as we break rocks in the sun/ he’s locked up in theory/ it’s got him firmly by the throat/ life’s no abstraction/ as his hot air blows/ under doors and out of bars/ out of cars/ and over radio-waves/ the local aristocrat/ who once funded a war/ swings with the night cats and search warrants/ the jailers of men and the investors/ together they instruct the young girls not to get sick of wanting/ he struts behind you with Josephine in the night/ sometimes she holds the aristocrat’s head between her thighs and screams/ the clinics wont do anything about it!/ she says get over here will you as you stare up at a sign that reads ‘No Exit’/ you begin to wonder/ you wonder what the weather was like when Old Man and Young Boy fell from the sky/ you wonder about these swinging cats and search warrants/ you wonder why Nietzsche went insane/ you wonder where your daughter goes in the night/ you wonder why you can’t sleep/ you wonder why everyone walks, staring at the ground/ you wonder about these wonders of the world built upon the bones of slaves/ you wonder when you realised you had a mind/ and you wonder where Napoleon is/ Josephine belongs with him/ the Captain of the ship removes a false eyelash from the jester’s face/ who slowly walks backwards talking about Justice with a whip/ she’s 5’3” and obsessed with handkerchiefs, he mumbles/ he walks backwards and trips over the anchor/ the sailor/ who is in three places at once/ wraps him in tin-foil/ preserving him for the talent show taking place below the deck/ the guilty conscience thinking about escaping via different time zones/ turns to the addict and says/ I’ve too much on my mind/ and anyway, addiction is all about taste/ the brother shouts at the sister/ I’ll show you I’m more of a masochist as he denies the silence of the blackout thief/ the sister has just returned with a new habit intact/ waving brands of enthusiasm/ but she shrieks as she sees her reflection in her brother’s glazed eyes/ she left her face on
the Sailor’s flags/ don’t come around here no more, she says through mouthfuls of varnish/ but let me know how it goes/ the teacher asks/ who can tell me which war Winston Churchill helped lead Britain to victory?/ a teenage boy with his hair posted missing and pungent nose breath/ answers ‘Star Wars?’/ Exterminate me shouts the Captain edging ever closer to death/ I’m no good/ I’m a louse/ exterminate me/ as death approaches on the lower deck/ the prisoners grow ever so profound/ in the gambling room on the third floor the Captain overthrows the local government/ and proceeds to lose their rule in a bet with Miss Italy/ as spiritual commercialism overhears and sneaks up behind them/ arms out, tin rattling/ the cleaning lady who owns the garden rake clears the underwear from the stairs and sings/ you got to read more than the warnings on cigarette packets my friends/ the librarian nymph is taking orders and there’s turbulence in the downstairs cupboard/ everybody walks backwards through that door/ and everybody knows that is nowhere/ the middle of the ocean approaches as death steps out in its leaden shoes/ the jester gags on the Captain’s pity/ as the cleaning lady/ rakes, rakes, rakes/ the pleas of the prisoners into the bleeding furnace with a bleeding gum cackle/ reminiscent of the express train/ a-coming round the bend/ cha-ka, cha-ka, cha-ka/ it pays to know what you got! screams Big Mo/ as the talent show is captured on black and white film/ accompanied by the repetitive subtitles/ ‘see you in court’ and ‘did you know you can control your own pencils?’/ the Captain’s perm blows in the wind as he shoots bullet holes through the sky/ he grabs his telescope/ trying to see through the bullet holes into heaven/ in the practice room there’s shadows on white backgrounds/ peppered with bullet holes like rain making holes on still water/ the white backgrounds are laid out in a pile/ hark ye ol’ funeral pyre/ open up/ but through the bullet holes in the sky/ there’s people/ people wandering around/ with holes in their heads/ holes in their heads!/ holes in their necks/ holes in their backs/ it’s overcrowded up there/ they’re building shanties and slums/ in that other world/ far away enough not to see/ there was a night once when Fat Man and Little Boy fell from up in that sky/ the teacher asks the class if anyone has any more questions before we finish for the day/ a scientist with a large bank account puts up his scaly hand and asks/ how do you spell holocaust?/ as the darkness draws confusion/ and shadows unite to play tricks in the night/ sounds from a distance/ a distance of many years/ harmonies blowing in the wind/ guitar chords creeping/ under doors and out of bars/ out of cars/ over radio waves/ echoing the sounds/ of handcuffs cutting/ neck muscles tensing/ backs straining and shoulders shaking/ keys turning/ lights turning, off/ hear the sounds of an express train/ cha-ka, cha-ka, cha-ka/ Wild Bill awakes/ a polished black boot on his navel/ you better get up and leave a voice barks at him/ if you don’t want a cell for a home/ as he raises his bearded face/ he staggers home whistling to the tune/ what a funny world we live in/ as far away/ somewhere in his mind/ teachers teach and death departs on leaden feet as a ship sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Left Right Project by Matevž Hönn
manual for choosing the title of a short story (page 360) … and
last but not least, Chekhov suggests keeping the title simple. He advises against naming one’s work after the author’s mother-in-law, a Japanese brand car, a natural disaster, semiconductors, an incurable illness, rare species, shareholder’s rights or war criminals. However, Chekhov’s counterpart from Cuba, Nobel prizewinning Hemingway, strongly disagrees. He claims it is perfectly all right to name a short story after an old man and some natural phenomenon. Only after I jumped off the train did I realize how stiff my muscles were. I would need a steam bath and Thai massage to recover after the long journey. I am in Poland, it is 1943, and it is minus 13. I am 42, nine years older than Christ at the peak of his career, and beneath my shoes snow is mixing with mud as I am directed toward the exit of the train station. I am rich; I am the son of a publisher of manuals from Odessa. The rims of my glasses are cold as hell on the tip of my nose. People in striped clothes rush toward the carts to collect the bodies of those who died during the journey.
manual for beginning a crime novel (page 978) … advises Christie:
if however you happen to have a body at the beginning of your work then make the most of it; don’t let this wonderful opportunity slip away! Make the reader curious instead. Let him wonder what happened. Who is the suspect? What are the characters’ relations to the victim? Are the police on their way? Focus on the autopsy report! Rewrite your work if necessary … Before I jumped off the train, I counted 17 bodies in our cart. Fifteen people were frozen to death; two had died of advanced leukaemia; one old granny had died of cerebral haemorrhage. She would have died in any case, even if she hadn’t been invited to travel with us in this harsh winter. My muscles are so stiff I can hardly walk on the platform. It would be wonderful to have access to a medical facility (or a whorehouse) where they provide massage of the prostate. At least I wish I could have plastic rims to my glasses, as steel feels damn cold on my nose. My family published books in Odessa for 450 years, but the business was lousy at the beginning of the 20th century. My father hired the famous international consulting firm xxx (can’t make this a commercial for them), which advised him to focus on manuals and abandon all other editions. No matter what, people will always be confused, and on the search for guides to everything. Business has flourished since then. I join people standing in the queue in complete silence. Far in front of me I hear something like: left … right … left … Where are we … *** I’m in London, it is 1989. “Excuse me, can you tell me where the antiquarian—” “Fuck off, wanker!” a friendly skinhead responds.
I wished I hadn’t stopped training as a boxer in Cuba. Next I approach a lady not old enough for a coffin, but old enough not to write about her tits. “Excuse me, can you tell me how I can get to the antiquarian on the crossroads of Oxford Street and …” “… turn right, then left, then let me see, next crossing right again, you’ll arrive in Soho. Don’t be naughty there … Oh it’s just a joke, I know you won’t be. Poor girls, and all these new diseases. Then turn right and walk up Brewer Street. That’s where Lucy lives. My friend Betty has a house in Bristol now, but her niece Lucy lives there. Such a nice girl. She dated a doctor from Yorkshire for … let me think … six years but finally she dumped him. Tell me, is it too much to expect from somebody who specialized in gynaecology to locate the clitoris!? Turn left, don’t turn right you will be in Chinatown if you do. Don’t buy any household appliances there, please. It’s always such rubbish and it takes decades to complete claims procedures.” Sweet Jesus, I’m happy I’m at the entrance of a concentration camp. “Walk up Broadwick Street and turn right. And please if you encounter a beggar on the right side of Wardour Street, give him a penny. Perry is blind on the left eye since playing with a grenade in his childhood. And his left leg was run over by train which departed at 8.31 from Birmingham and arrived into London at 10.28. Walk straight for a while. Turn right on Sheraton Street and then left on Great Chapel Street. You’ll see the crossing between Oxford Street and …” *** A German soldier is standing a few feet from me, patting his dog. Their breath is steaming in the freezing air and they are shivering uncontrollably.
guide to keeping german shepherds warm in winter (page
1998) … so hair implants might be a good solution if your dog is losing a lot of hair. This procedure can be done in a specialized clinic in Lyons. However, there are certain risks involved: Mrs De Levieux had installed expensive moose hair on Ludvik VI, her German Shepherd. Unfortunately, while on holiday in Stockholm, a merciless moose mistook the poor dog for an ovulating female and raped him on a pedestrian crossing, leaving his anus torn, with blood spraying all over the Swedish parliament. I try to flash them a grin, but I’m not sure what the result is, because I can hardly move my frozen lips. Behind me, a gypsy boy is hiding some folded banknotes in his violin. I can hear a little bit more clearly now: left … right … left … left … *** I am in Sardinia, it’s 1977. The basement of the old country cottage is quiet and
dark. I can smell olives and sunflowers and the sea. I must have been sedated for a long time for I have a terrible headache and I feel dizzy. I have been kidnapped for ransom from our summer villa. My father owns all the publishing houses from Turin to Rome. He is so rich we are all embarrassed about it. The basement seems empty and it is quiet, except for some gulls not far away. Then I hear a car followed by steps on the gravel. I hear gulls again and quiet voices approaching through the house. The bolt is pulled, the door opens, and three men enter the room with a lady in tight dress. My eyes adapt slowly to the sudden light. A huge man in a sleeveless shirt is holding an almost empty bottle of white liquid in his right hand. On his well-defined left bicep I notice a tattoo of the Virgin Mary. He says something to me in the local dialect, something that I don’t understand. The young lady kindly translates into Italian. “Your father refused to pay; we will send him a little present.” Her Italian is perfect. She must have graduated from the University of Padua, majoring in Italian language and literature. The big man speaks again, crossing the cellar toward me. Again I understand nothing. He hands me the bottle. “It’s homemade grappa. Drink it. You won’t feel any pain.” I notice some lipstick on her sexy moving lips. Before I emptied the bottle, I noticed that the huge man was holding a butcher’s knife in his left hand. I wish I was in a brothel in Gdansk quarrelling with drunk Finnish sailors for the only black whore left. The man says something again and I appreciate the lady’s translation. “Do you want left ear or right?”
cosa nostra’s operating instructions for cutting ears (page 695) …
Don Totino from Palermo describes the hypothetical situation in which you held several hostages and all are scheduled to have ears cut off at the same time. It is strongly advised to disinfect the knife between victims. Though the possibility of transmitting the HIV virus is remote, there are other diseases, like hepatitis c, which could spread … *** In the meantime we have moved on a couple of metres. The barbed wire is fixed around the complex. The soldier on duty in the guard tower is pacing left and right, right and left. I can’t see where his eyes are focused, but I am sure he is doing the precise activities as described in the manual for Wehrmacht guards. I hope he is allowed to have an electric stove or something otherwise his feet will need to be amputated.
manual for basic understanding of humour in greek comedy
(page 456) … pointing that way, but Aristotle is very straight about side characters. Unless you are writing a screenplay for a German erotic comedy from the 70s, complete with cows, overweight shepherds, blonde schoolgirls (with huge xxl tits) on holidays in the countryside, “jodl jodl” and sausages, it is already too late to
introduce side characters. Not being paid enough to start all over again, I will have to rush with supporting roles. Right in front of me I see my father, naked and holding a bathtub above his head. Apparently he was collected when showering. Ahead of him is Mr. Cheburko, a banker, as always holding his right hand in a strange position, with his palm firmly fixed on his left hip. Everybody in Odessa knows he keeps the key to the safe in that pocket. Then the fishermen Gaponenko, with a fresh salmon swinging on a fishing rod. Further in front, our dear old Elyzaveta is checking her exaggerated makeup in a pocket mirror; in a miniskirt as usual, her working uniform. Ahead of her I can see the water polo player Volodymir Kovalevsky, water still dripping from him. Further in the queue, beggar Leonyd is holding an excellent position, also in his working uniform. I make a few steps forward, while left … left … right … left … continues in front. The smoke rising from the chimney on the left reminds me of the volcano Fuji. *** I am in Japan, it is 1614. I am a disciple of the Zen master Satoshi whose single teaching method consists of one question. My head is covered with wounds which don’t heal well. So are the heads of the other disciples. Every morning at sunrise we gather in front of Satoshi’s shed, kneeling in line. He arrives with a baseball bat which is painted with our blood. In the background of the impressionist’s picture, Mount Fuji puffs an occasional smoke during our questioning. “What’s the difference between left and right?” No. 1 this morning is disciple Ichiro from Miyagi prefecture. He shouts: “None!” And he takes the blow. “What’s the difference between left and right?” No. 2 is disciple Katsuro who has been searching for enlightenment in Satoshi’s monastery for 15 years already. “I don’t know!” he answers today, and blood from his skull spills across neatly arranged gravel. “What’s the difference between left and right?” No. 3, disciple Minoru from Okayama prefecture answers: “Buda.” And is hit right above his left eye, which turns red in a second, due to inner bleeding. The story went around that Satoshi gained enlightenment 60 years ago, by answering the question like that. From time to time one of us would try the trick, but we didn’t dare to grab the bull by its horns too often, because the beating that followed was far more horrendous.
ten tips for grabbing the bull by the horns (page 453) … might be an option to smile kindly to the bull, while remembering that one shouldn’t wear any piece of red clothing. Torero Miguel from Cordoba writes in his memoirs that we can wear red underwear, but the Dead Toreros Society advises against it. “What’s the difference between left and right?”
No. 4 is me. Son of a papermaker, who ran away from home, refusing a promising career in papermaking to pursue enlightenment. I have been a disciple of Satoshi for four years now, and I have taken 1,200 blows already. My mother wouldn’t recognize my face even if she collected the missing pieces and put them all together like a jigsaw puzzle. She probably wouldn’t recognize my dnk either. “None Master!” I shout and take the blow. A piece of my right ear finishes on a branch of a cherry tree which is in full blossom. It isn’t the physical pain that hurts as much as my inability to find the right answer. I am digging in my brain and in my guts for it day and night. Sometimes I wish I had listened to my father, sometimes I wish I was a drug cartel hitman in Mexico, eliminating politicians who are not corrupt enough. And Fuji puffs another smoke. ***
equality of the sexes manual (page 1294) … famous feminist urges screenwriters to insert more female characters in scripts and portray them in a natural tender feminine way.
I am back on track. I’m approaching the woman with the kapo armband. She is yelling at anyone who doesn’t move forward in time. “Schnell! Schnell you Slavic rats! Schnell!” *** I am in Africa, it is 1986. We hold 74th position in the overall standing: 2 days, 14 hours, 4 minutes and 6 seconds behind the leaders. I’m a co-driver on the Paris–Dakar rally. I can see nothing while I am shouting directions. We pass poor villages 9 right!, civil wars 4 left!, starving children 200 sqaure left!, cholera 6 right!. I’m barking directions like a lunatic. Bloody diamonds 7 right!, starvation 50 m long 5 left!, Ebola kink left severity 4!.
a user guide for co-drivers on the saharan rally (page 534) … codriver’s duty is also to encourage the driver and cheer him up, especially if the latter feels blue or suffers from manic depression, bipolar disorder or shows symptoms of schizophrenia.
“Come on now! Let’s go! Go … Go … Go … push this fucking Japanese wreckage harder … Uoooo … yeeees …” … turn 6 right! coup d’état 9 right!, raped women 100 M oversqaure left!, aids very long right 6!, yellow fever 9 left!, gangs stealing petrol jump!, militias kink right severity 6!, child soldiers 100 square left!, refugees 5 right! I read the map, I listen to the gps. We see nothing, we have 260 horsepower, and sand is all over us. Then we crash. Our car flips over a couple of times before it lands in a sand dune. “What the fuck is this?!” I shout, because there wasn’t anything on the map.
Our Mitsubishi is completely busted, and a strange white liquid is streaming from the roof onto our combinations. I repeat the question once more before I notice that most of my teammate’s neck has been cut through by the windshield. Carefully, I unfasten his helmet and take it off. Between the last breaths of his life, he manages to give me an answer: “Pregnant camel.” *** I imagine the kapo woman has nice tits, right and left of equal size, below her fat coat. Unfortunately forced erotic pictures don’t push any blood to my dick. Behind me I hear the gypsy boy with the violin trying to sell a pack of Marlboro cigarettes to her.
north korean manual for smuggling cigarettes – new translation (page 223) … suggests keeping prices a little higher during world wars, as the supply might be limited due to fewer available transportation routes.
He probably kept the price too high, for I heard him being slapped a couple of times then saw the kapo woman pulling him by his right ear toward the reception desk and on left without much negotiation. Nobody recommended him to join the camp orchestra, which specialized in Wagner, by the way. How easily we waste talent nowadays! Without the support of advertising machinery young artists have such a slim chance of succeeding. I think about warming myself a bit with shadow boxing, but I am too lazy for that. I am genuinely bored now, listening to left … left … right … left … *** It is October, 1962. I am in Havana, and in the second round of a qualifying match for the Olympic team. Posters of Commandante Castro and Che Guevara are hanging on the dirty walls of the boxing gym and hasta la victoria siempre.
appendix to: pocket manual for the enhanced understanding of class strugle (page 7579) … circumstances a revolutionary is allowed to
swallow The Communist Manifesto, especially if his life is in danger. Budweiser’s spokesman suggests washing it down with Bud Light in this case, as it goes very well with cellulose. Russian submarines are parked not far away, while a bag of ice is pressed against my swollen face. I hear my toothless coach yelling into my left ear. “What’s wrong now? Tell me! Why didn’t you knock him down? Stop dreaming! Where are you now? Tell me, where are you! Stop drifting away! Do you hear me?” “In Cuba.” “Madre putta! Let’s go! right uppercut! left hook! You got him! Go left!
Mano derecha! right! He’ll go down! Stop fucking dreaming! Footwork! Move! left! right! left jab punch! right hook! Circle him! left! Don’t drop your shoulders! right!” *** My old man has trouble keeping his balance, for his left leg is shorter than his right one. He didn’t have time to bring his orthopaedic shoes with him. He will fall, I bet 3000 Deutch marks, he will fall before registering himself. I’m a shrink in la running a private practice. left … left … right … echoes in my brain like suppressed memories. *** … my husband has one leg shorter compared to the other … sometimes it seems to me that his left leg is shorter, other times I would bet $23,000 that his right leg is shorter …. He has quite sexy legs actually …. I mean he’s not Edwin Moses or anything, but I’m not Catherine Deneuve either …. His legs are muscular enough – he exercises every weekend after all, and with hair in the right places … it’s just this uncertainty …. I wish I wouldn’t wake up before him on Sunday mornings, watching his naked body and comparing the length of his legs. It drives me crazy … how long is the right one? Thirty-six inches … or 37 or 35? What about the left? Thirty-five and a half? … 36 4? I’m sure if I measured them, I would find out they are different … sometimes I am afraid I wouldn’t be able to resist anymore and I would tell him the truth about his legs …. I would call the emergency room or orthopaedics, though he doesn’t have any symptoms yet …. It doesn’t run in his family either … not at all …. My mother-in-law told me many times that her husband, his father, had nice legs … not a trace of arthritis or varicose veins … even in old age … plenty of calcium …. My office is air-conditioned and I charge $600/hour. … to tell you the truth, except me nobody notices anything unusual … or at least everybody pretends not to notice it … our families, his colleagues, and our friends pretend everything is normal … children are too little to notice anything, though they have the opportunity to see his legs from the best angle … everything is so normal and this depresses me even more ….
self-help for psychiatrists suffering from guilt for taking huge sums of money for barely listening (page 4894) … however that
might not be enough for psychiatrists with an overdeveloped righteous instinct. In this case psychiatrists should take extensive walks in the woods while discussing trivia with passers-by. Let’s not forget that there are no reported cases that half a bottle of Scotch per day can cause any harm to a psychiatrist’s health. Anything is better than lowering session prices, as the whole profession will suffer if … … sometimes I wish his brother would say something directly like: let’s not
pretend any more! Steven, your left leg is shorter than the right one … you need help … you must see a doctor. We all love you! The family will stand by you, no matter what happens … the truth would open everybody’s eyes … it is so hard to see the one you love the most suffering like this and you don’t dare to tell him the truth … than he wakes up: What … what? What was I … Bad dream darling? No … no … I had a wonderful dream … I dreamt like an 18-year-old kid … everything is perfect. Sure it is … perfect … everything is perfect, except your rotten legs …. *** The cold wind is bringing the echoes of a marching army on the eastern front. rechts … links … rechts … links …. Moscow will fall in a few weeks. As expected, my old man slipped and fell, so I had to step over him. Then I heard a deafening gunshot behind me. As I walk a few steps forward, I peek over Cheburko’s shoulder and I can see a receptionist in an ss uniform. He is holding a pen with his right hand and I notice his writing is very nice. He has mastered it perfectly. Too good to be true actually! Maybe he cheated the whole Third Reich, but he can’t cheat me, a natural born leftist. I hear the siren announcing the end of work for the day. *** I am in Odessa, it is 1911. I see my father picking up the phone, while checking accounting books with most of his attention. “… yes … he’s my son … yes … aha … left … I see … left hand … yes … a … all the others … right … yes … left-handed … I … see …dirty … right … right-handed …. I … thank you … I will take check it myself … thanks for calling.” Then he asked me to show him my notebooks. Seeing ink smeared all over the pages due to my left-handedness, he decides to take care of it immediately. He takes an iron edition of fat manual
for understanding the side effects of manipulating the communist party and begins beating my left hand against the table with it. He breaks two of my fingers and a couple of wrist bones. In two months I’ll get used to writing with my right hand. The fingers of my left hand will never heal completely, and I would experience a slight discomfort when delivering a left jab during my boxing career. *** Natural born left-handed people can recognize each other like zebras can recognise their kids by the stripes. His writing with the left hand has everything but soul. Like he would be playing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by the book. He would hit all the right notes, but there wouldn’t be any applause from the audience. Like a house with a nice façade, but empty inside. His hand doesn’t tremble despite the cold; I must give him credit for that. Now it is beginning to snow a little. I
am afraid the ss officer will have trouble keeping the pages of the visitor register dry.
guide for defending hotel registers (page 33) … not prepared to die in the
line of duty, then the aspiring receptionist better look for a job on the flower market … (page 456) … famous receptionist from Paris was shot 654 times, burned with cigarette lighters all over his face, seduced by whores 789 times, arrested 6 times, beaten 43 times and the cia almost drowned him 31 times, but he still managed to protect the privacy of his hotel’s guests for nearly 54 years. His glasses got a bit moist, but he kept the quality of his writing at an envious level. Suddenly his childhood flashes in my brain. I see him getting up at 6.17 every morning, having bacon and two eggs for breakfast, arriving at school at 7.29 and taking punishment for being left-handed. But after a couple of years of paddling he mastered writing with right hand perfectly. His writing was the best in school; he was the champion of the Baden Württemberg region. He was a champion, he was Schumann. Every letter he wrote was perfect. He was so good at writing with his right hand that he joined the Nazi party at the very beginning. He tried even to masturbate with his right hand. The erection was there, but not the climax. For orgasm he needed the left hand. He was a prisoner of his own body; he is a prisoner of the ss uniform. His life consists of rituals forcibly learned, but he never identifies with them. Compared to him, I enjoy the freedom of an albatross, although I will follow people to the left or to the right in a few seconds. On the left path are mostly old people, women and children, while people on the right are faster, healthier in a way. Beggar Leonyd is directed right. I wonder what potential the ss guy sees in him, for I bet 2000 Deutch marks he will never work. Apparently the Third Reich is not what it used to be. ***
I am in New York. It is 1937. The financial crisis emptied people’s pockets and stomachs. I enter the butcher’s shop on Fifth Avenue. Its shelves are completely empty, except for the remains of an old pig’s head rotting just below the ceiling. The fat woman, zia Bruna, leans over the countertop, smiles to me: “Hello, Roberto!” The contract is already signed with Robert De Niro who will play my character in a movie based on this story. “I … I … I …” I stutter. “Next Wednesday I’ll have some fat for your mother. Tell her to …” I’m wearing a brown suit with a matching dark green tie and a cap. “Sure I …” “Tell me Robertino … what did you come for?” “I … I heard you do … you know …” I almost whisper. “I know what, figliolo?”
“… you know … that …’ “Oh … come here … do you have a quarter?” “Yeah … yeah …,” I confirm, showing her the single coin in my otherwise empty wallet. “Come with me.” I follow her into a room full of steel hooks hanging from the ceiling. The lighting is intentionally kept low, with just one weak yellow bulb flickering below the ceiling. I’m glad the director made this decision; it will be less embarrassing for everybody involved. “Come here, boy,” she beckons to me, sitting down on a table which was used for axing cows in better days. She began unbuttoning her dirty uniform.
puritan manual for sex – with new preface by the vatican secretary of state (page 6590) … while the bride shouldn’t voluntarily expose
any part of her body to her husband even on their wedding night. She must switch off all the lights in the apartment, hoping that husband will trip over something and injure himself when approaching the bed. It’s too late, it’s much too late for decency, her huge breasts are already uncovered. I am so ashamed, I wish I was a correspondent for the New York Times covering the mushroom cloud in Hiroshima.
the key to practicing kamasutra in your workplace (position
654) … woman sits on the desk for butchering buffalos, parts her thighs and grabs the hooks above her. Yoni will accommodate lingam at the desirable angle and a gentle swinging will relax the muscles of the woman’s lower abdomen giving both partners enormous pleasure. My eyes are level her tits as I stand between her fat thighs. I think about an Oscar for the supporting actor, and collect enough courage to begin sucking the right tit. “That’s good … that’s good Robertino … bene … now the left one … yes … come here … right nipple … left …. You are a big boy already … right … left one … right … left … dai Robertino … destra … sinistra … zia Bruna will feed you … is it flowing … try the right one … *** Volodymir went recht, which was a good choice, he can move a mountain if fed properly. Elyzaveta however was directed left, toward the chimney. I worry the ss officer may be gay, but then again he probably took a good decision. Lizochka was rather mechanical in the last few years, passion for work long forgotten. Then the very interesting banker Cheburko is ordered to go left. Probably the ss reckoned his immobile hand is wooden and thought it might burn well. Elyzaveta moves clumsily around the registration desk. Jesus, I worry she
is looking for entries for single men in the registry. Finally, it is my turn. The ss officer finds my name in the hotel register almost immediately after I spell it out. Then he raises his head a bit, checking me from waist to hat. I notice his eyes are tired and the veins in his eyeballs are pale. Will he direct me to the right or to the left side of his table? This moment is too long. The director should cut it earlier. I am afraid he can’t move his frozen mouth anymore. The long pause continues. Then I hear “rechts” from the depth of his slightly parted lips. Now I really don’t know where to go. I glance at my right and left hand and then at his left and his firmly holding a pen right hand. Unable to take a decision I bow toward him as much as I can and whisper: “Excuse me … is it my right or your right?” In a fraction of a second everything went completely silent. People walking away on the left and right turn around and stop. The ss guy stares at me bewildered, his gaze locking with mine. Then suddenly his eyeballs fill with blood and begin moving right, left, right, left at a frenetic pace, flashing images of his life, while at the same time mirroring my own. right jab Cuba, exploited children turn right severity 7, suck mama’s left breast, London left-hand drive, turn right on Broadwick Street, writing with left hand punishment, soft left: Labour Party, “Sieg Heil” right hand, cut left ear, right hand masturbation, left climax, difference between left and right, leftright … rightleft … rechtslinks … leftrightrightleft and finally deep blue sea. The ss man experienced enlightenment. I diagnosed it in a second. His eyes are shining with the same glare as those of master Satoshi.
manual for building suspense in musicals (page 1) … as Julie Andrews described her experience in The Sound of Music. However, most directors would advise against having SS personnel sing, even at the peak of the action.
The ss character stands up gracefully. Piled snow on his coat falls down in slow motion. He is not looking at me any more. He puts his hat as well as his glasses on the reception desk, unbuttons his coat, unfastens the double claw officer’s belt. He takes off his jackboots, socks, combat trousers and underwear, all made of eco-friendly materials. The kapo woman stares at him open-mouthed. Waffen ss divisions stop marching on the eastern front.
guide for running a cinema in the 21st century (page 832) … competes
with the Internet; meaning artistic aspirations are nice, but they won’t feed your family. People don’t pay for a ticket to leave the cinema crying. Choose movies with happy endings otherwise you will face bankruptcy in four seconds.
The ss officer climbs over the reception desk then stops for a second. I see no goose bumps on his naked body. Then he starts toward the exit of the camp, walking steadily in the direction of the train station, his hair waving slightly. The people standing behind me make way. He marches straight; not diverging left or right, and it seems he doesn’t touch the ground as he walks. Inmates, dogs,
guards and I watch him walking away in the direction of Rio de Janeiro and I swear I see the sky opening in the west and a pool of sunlight focusing directly onto him.
how to cope with the rejections from publishers … (foreword) …
available now in all good bookshops*
New from Puritan Press
not necessarily the case
laugh at rejections … (page 3801) … If however the young writer still can’t cope, then one had better consider taking a gunshot in the temple. Before pulling the trigger, check LEFT and RIGHT and count the people around you. Try to minimize collateral damage as much as possible.
puritan: because what you don’t know can’t hurt you
salty Adams is one of the best opera singers in his homeland of Friblud. They
say he is spectacular. But this story has nothing to do with his musical talent, and you will not hear him sing. This particular tale deals with the special day Salty decided to get a haircut. “Harrilyne”, cried Salty to his beloved wife, “Get my Volkswagen out, I am going to get my hair cut.” There was a sudden panic in the air above Salty’s head. His hair strands rushed and scuttled to and fro. The main guard hair strands immediately announced the news: “Attention all hair strands! We are in danger. In a few minutes our tops will be removed, never to be seen again. All mother follicles are advised to regroup their little ones as far as possible towards the scalp. The idea is to place yourselves so you will not come into contact with the blade. As for all our parts beyond 18 mm, be courageous.” Salty’s entire hairdo was frantic. All the hairs were very upset about the news. Even the parts below 18 mm were sad to know they would lose their older relatives. They had always been together, as one. At the frontier of the cut, right at the hairline, the officer hair in charge was saying a few last words to his comrade soldiers: “Before the time comes to fight, I want to say a few last words. First of all, I am very proud of all of you. You have completed a remarkably harsh training. You have endured heavy winds, despicable shampoo treatments, annoying conditioning, and the worst of all, you have tolerated for many years that disgusting gel Salty is so fond of. I tell you truly, every single one of you, the thick and the thin, the dark and the light, the tall and the short, is ready for battle. Now I want you all to be fearless! Do not look away as the blade approaches. Be honourable to your follicles and keep your heads up high! Now who’s with me?!” There was a patriotic ovation from all strand soldiers, which was immediately followed by the Coif Anthem: We who stand united as one Away, we never run True we are to Salty’s Head As his hair strands, we stand till dead Through rough winds, bad gel or dry shampoo In the end, we always come through And although one day we will surely die In honour and good character, we will say goodbye For we have served well and provided much care Never will we forget, giving Salty a glorious head of hair By this point, Salty had arrived at the hair salon; it had taken him about five minutes. As he sat down, the hair follicle guards shouted to all: “Get ready!” “And how would you like your hair cut today Monsieur Salty?” asked the
hairdresser. As Salty looked at his reflection in the mirror, he thought to himself: what a glorious head of hair. Then he suddenly said: “You know, I think I will only get a dye; can I get one of those blonde streaks?” “Certainly Monsieur” responded the hairdresser. Immediately the hair strand guards announced the news: “Victory! The cut is cancelled! The War is over!”
Send all comments, criticism and frivolous lawsuits to:
by Will Coldwell
when Petr Drunns awoke that morning he had no idea that his house had
moved. He awoke in his usual sluggish manner, rolling about on his face for half an hour before stretching, sniffing loudly and removing himself from his bed. He staggered over to the bathroom where he examined his puffy eyes, then pulled on a shirt and trotted downstairs to the kitchen. Petr always set some water on the boil before he did anything else for breakfast, as he felt it was the most mundane task, yet the most necessary; a cup of tea being the obvious precursor to any extended activity. While he had some eggs sizzling in the frying pan he popped his head into the hallway to check for any post that day. Amongst the cab cards and charity requests there was one letter addressed to him. Stamped on the reverse was Hardcastle and Stawkins LLP. There was no point in contemplating this, Petr thought, as it would merely delay the realization that would come from opening the envelope itself. While thinking this he slipped his finger under the seal and slid it up, then slipped the neatly-folded, cream-coloured sheet of paper from its sheath. It read:
On reading this the first time, Petr blinked several times, feeling as if he was not fully awake, and then he read it again. He experienced briefly that feeling one gets upon finding themselves accused of something one has no knowledge of, causing one to suddenly doubt their own innocence. As a law-abiding citizen, this would inevitably be followed by the satisfaction of all parties jovially realizing the error that has been made. ‘What hoax or horseplay could be the cause of this letter?’ Petr thought, having calmed himself of that momentary anxiety. Nevertheless, his doubts had not been fully dispelled, and ignoring the eggs, which were now cooked beyond his preference, he walked hastily to the front door to confirm the situation, deciding breakfast could not be savoured fully with such doubts playing on his mind. The door flung open to a beautiful morning, however it was of the sort where the clear blue sky deceived one from behind the bedroom window, and only the cool breeze and musty smell in the air told truthfully of the likelihood of rain later in the day. Petr tutted, for he often fell foul of this meteorological trickery, and many a morn would find him halfway down the garden path before realizing the climate was not sympathetic for shorts and sandals. This was the case today, but not considering himself fully dressed yet, Petr felt he had gained something at least from venturing outdoors in his undergarments, reminding himself to bring an umbrella and anorak with him later for the journey to work. This thoughtful digression was suddenly interrupted by a realization. Petr’s house, that previously stood alone, was indeed now solidly conjoined to his neighbour’s, as if they had always stood in that way; as a neat, semi-detached suburban coupling. In fact, the ivy-covered houses expressed such an expression of tranquil normality, that no passer-by would ever consider that they were currently symbolic of the most absurd occurrence one would ever imagine of a property. Petr took several paces nearer, as if some closer inspection could perhaps explain what had happened. Of course, it didn’t, and he found himself speechless, looking around himself, perhaps for some kindly passer-by who could shed some light on the situation. But it was still early, and of course the street was quiet. The only activity was from two pigeons pecking at some chips spilling out of a newspaper wrapper at the foot of a dustbin. The rustling sound they were making caught Petr’s attention momentarily, distracting him from his shock. After jerking his head from one to the other for a second he directed himself straight for his door, and scurried hastily back into his home, slamming the door behind him. Petr’s return to the kitchen was acknowledged by the brief upward glances of his wife and daughter, who were so fully absorbed in their breakfasts of muesli and fruit, that they did not think to question his distress, nor wonder what he was doing outdoors in such disarray. ‘Good morning dear’, said his wife sweetly. Petr replied in kind, but bit his tongue before informing her of the morning’s incident. ‘How could I expect such a delicate creature, whose life’s comforts are my sole responsibility, to bear the burden that her husband is in possession of a house that is squatting illegally on another person’s land?’ He swiftly concluded that her fragile wellbeing was best not to be disturbed, especially at so early an hour, and he should keep these troubles to himself, until he could come to a solution.
However, before he could direct the conversation to small talk he felt the letter being tugged from his hand by his daughter, who flapped it in the air about her head while asking, ‘What could this be about father? A letter from a law firm?’ Before he could snatch it back and make his excuses, his wife plucked the letter into her possession, and unlike his daughter, took the time to read beyond the header before questioning its contents. ‘What on earth is this Petr?’ She exclaimed. She accentuated the first letter of the ‘what’ with such an outward breath that it was barely audible, and although the flourish with which she said it gave the desired emphasis, it almost sounded as if she had simply begun her sentence with ‘hat’ but for a faint whisper that preceded it. Before Petr could try to calm her, she had marched outside the house, where she soon realized there was no lie when the letter stated their home of two decades had shifted by two metres unnoticed. She gave a little gasp, before buckling onto the lawn in tears. His daughter, who in her youth did not quite grasp the gravity of the situation, put her arms round her mother and walked her back into the home, shooting a look of reproach at her father. ‘But what are we to do?’ Petr’s wife cried as she was led into the drawing room. ‘The authorities will surely knock our home down! We have not the means to compensate financially … how could such misfortune befall us? As if our lives are not stretched as it is!’ Indeed, Petr was working a considerable amount of overtime in his job as a clerk at the central train station, and his salary could not be allocated any further, not least for a lengthy legal process. ‘How could you have let this happen?’ asked his wife, ‘you know we cannot afford any mishaps at this point in our lives.’ Petr stuttered; he could not think of a way to explain that nothing in his power could have prevented this freak occurrence from happening. In any case, as the man, the householder, he could hardly pin responsibility on his wife, less still his daughter, and then who else? Instead he reassured her, ‘I will speak to Mr. Angelson. We have lived beside each other for many years and always been on good terms. Remember how he complimented that blueberry crumble you so kindly baked him when his wife had fallen sick? I am certain that this can be resolved between neighbours and he will soon realize his hastiness in commissioning a letter of this nature.’ This seemed to satisfy his wife, as, still sniffing slightly, she returned to her cereal. Their daughter still glared at him for making her mother cry, but he sensed some of the edge had been lost from the look she cast him earlier. He would have his breakfast en route to work, Petr thought to himself, and on his return converse with his neighbour in person regarding his unruly house. 2.
As he returned from his workplace Petr reflected on what a struggle his job had been that day. His role was quite a straightforward administrative one, and if anything he generally found that it under-stretched him, and he frequently impressed his superiors with his efficiency. This day, however, he was so distracted by his recent misfortune that he was confronted by his manager, Mr. Sterk, while
staring into space. This surprised even Petr himself, and he was grateful that his clean track record allowed him to appease Mr. Sterk from and avoid any serious complaint. Nevertheless he was grateful when the day was done and he was able to hurry home and discuss the case with Mr. Angeleson. ‘Rodrik, hello.’ ‘Mr Drunns.’ After a silent pause, the door was held open and Petr stepped into Mr. Angelson’s comparatively disciplined home. He followed Rodrik’s suit in taking a chair in the drawing room, and noticed Mrs. Angelson standing nervously in the doorway. Rodrik waved her away and leant in towards Petr, waiting for him to start the proceedings. ‘I received a certain letter this morning,’ started Petr, ‘Informing me of your desire to take legal action over the movement of my house.’ ‘Indeed,’ said Rodrik, ‘I do not understand how you thought such a thing would go unnoticed.’ ‘Yes, but sir, I had no part to play in any of this business. How do you imagine I moved our house without raising any attention?’ ‘I do not wish to dwell on how came to be set in motion, it is not the cause with which I am concerned, simply the effects. As you can see, these effects are causing my wife and me a considerable amount of distress, and we felt that the most succinct way to end this distress was to immediately hand the matter over to our solicitors. I’m sure you understand.’ ‘But can you not see how I am helpless to undo that which I had no role in the doing of? How do you imagine my home moved onto your land? No man could possibly initiate such action.’ ‘As I said before,’ Rodrik explained calmly, ‘I am not concerned with the action, more the consequent lack of action. In fact, I would be quite content if your home moved daily; that would not prompt me to raise any questions whatsoever of your integrity, but when said home deposits itself on my land, I am left little choice, as a man, but to act.’ ‘Sir, I implore of you. This infringement is nothing compared to that which my family will suffer in the event of legal proceedings …’ ‘I don’t know what more I can say. My position is clear, it is now up to your own initiative to resolve this as peacefully as possible.’ Petr thought of imploring Rodrik once again, with stronger words, but then thought better of it. He wished his now prosecutor good evening and made the brief walk back into his own home, a walk which was now apparently a good two metres shorter. 3. Petr’s wife and daughter did not take kindly to the news of this result. In fact, as the weeks leading up to the preliminary hearing went by, their resentment grew. Petr’s wife, now adamant that their home would be lost, cancelled the next book club meeting she was due to host, and took the opportunity, when obviously
questioned on her reason for doing so, to hysterically inform her friends of her woes. Petr’s daughter too became the subject of mockery at her school, as from mother to mother their story was leaked. She received taunts that she was a ‘gipsy girl’ and many more an insult regarding the uselessness of her father. They spoke to him less and less, and the icy silence of the evening meal was punctuated only by a request for a condiment. Petr’s managers had also noticed his increasing distraction, and on the last day of the week Mr. Sterk took him to one side to remind him that his position was not unassailable, and he that should think seriously over the weekend about how he planned to embark on the next week. Petr of course knew that the next week would undoubtedly lead to more firm words from his managers, as that Monday he would be fully enlightened of his legal position regarding Mr. Angelson, and he did not expect to have high expectations of a satisfying resolution. The offices of Hardcastle and Stawkins LLP were not situated far from the central train station, so Petr found himself pushing open the heavy oak doors to the meeting room still unrested after a full day’s work. At the terse gesture of one whom he presumed was Mr. Stawkins, as the only other occupant in the room was Mr. Angelson, Petr sank heavily into the chair before him. He then sat silently while Mr. Stawkins informed him, firmly and concisely, as one would expect from a man of law, what his position was. ‘… you see, Mr. Drunns, you are not left with many options. The most logical would be to compensate Mr. Angelson for the loss of land, essentially purchasing it from him, and then reimbursing him for his troubles and legal fees so far. However, you have made it apparent that your financial situation makes this impossible, which leaves you with the choice either to move your house back to its original position, or remove it.’ ‘Can you not see how the sheer impossibility of this situation makes it unjustifiable to punish me with such severity? Surely this is an act of God?’ pleaded Petr. ‘With all respect sir’, said Mr. Stawkins, breathing in sharply, ‘God destroys houses, he does not move them.’ Petr turned to Mr. Angelson, ‘Rodrik, please, I have done nothing but try to maintain a simple and bearable life for my beloved wife and daughter. Already these circumstances have had them in disarray, if you continue you will not only destroy my house, but my family also.’ Mr. Angelson sighed wearily, ‘You forget, Sir, that I also have a family, and it is my home that binds us as one. If this situation were reversed you would have no hesitation in commanding me to retreat.’ ‘I disagree, I would put in perspective the loss of a swift path to my back garden, and be thankful that I still have my home, family and a healthy relationship with my neighbour.’ ‘Mr. Drunns’, the solicitor interrupted sternly, ‘Do not belittle Mr. Angelson’s case. He has every right to be taking action, and you must remember that just as you are responsible for the goings-on in your property, you are also responsible for its whereabouts.’
4. This concluding statement echoed round Petr’s head as he walked home, and then mingled with the cries of his family until all he could hear was a tremendous clattering of sounds. The court date would be in three months time, at which the fate of the household, which was already inevitable, would be confirmed. The dreary pace at which proceedings went did little more than exacerbate the tensions already prevalent in his life. After a fortnight in which he steadily became more incapable at work, he wrote to Mr. Sterk requesting sick leave, until he could ‘secure his life once more, and steady his nerves soon after’. Mr. Sterk, who had clearly realized something serious was at the root of Petr’s change in character, agreed he should take some time off to recover, and return as soon as he should see fit. This was a rare piece of sympathy for Petr, who now lived almost completely in his study, poring over letters and documents that streamed through his letter box from the law firm, the council and the courts. He often found himself spending the night slumped in his armchair, with pieces of paper strewn beneath the limp hand that, while awake, had gripped them before his closing eyes. His wife showed no concern about this habit; when he did choose to make his way to the bedroom for the night, she would always make sure to be asleep by the time he had got through the door. His daughter also chose to spend an increasing amount of time away from home, often for days at a time, her departures and arrivals heralded by the throttle of a motorcycle with a leatherclad male in the seat. As for Petr, he battled constantly within himself, struggling to reconcile his complete blamelessness with the daily pressure from those around him to take responsibility. After two months without returning to work, he received a letter from Mr. Sterk explaining that that it would no longer be possible to continue to pay him for sick leave, as although the rail company sympathised with the stress he was under, ultimately it was self-inflicted as was up to him and no-one else to keep his property in check. ‘It is has gone too long for the company to treat this as we would any physical illness, and we must encourage you to either return to work, or seek work elsewhere when you eventually deem yourself fit enough to do so’. Within days this letter found itself beneath several more, from the council encroachment officer, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the property ombudsman. As Petr had a habit of dealing with things one at a time, he gave little thought to his job, and felt fully employed as it was in attempting to come up with original ways to explain how all the events of the last months had been completely out of his control. Nevertheless Petr’s life was falling apart around him, and the pleasant daily routine that he enjoyed before that dreaded day seemed like one of those relaxingly dull dreams where life simply continues as normal, and not much at all seems to happen. 5. The day of the court hearing was a beautiful one, although this time the blue
skies correlated with the temperature, and cats basked under the warm sun, their eyes squinting with contentment. Petr’s gaunt pale face seemed out of place on a day such as this. He had barely left his home in the weeks preceding the hearing, and his wife made no effort to bring food for him in his study, assuming wrongly that hunger would draw him out of his own accord. However, the case was a swift one, leaving most who attended the rest of the day to enjoy in the great outdoors, and do a little fishing, or ride a bicycle down to the river. Petr was the exception of course, and it was with his weeping family that he travelled back to his home to watch while the demolition services arrived. ‘My house simply moved itself,’ he had feebly tried to explain one last time, to which the judge responded with exasperation, before slamming down his wooden hammer. The first swing of the ball on its chain hit one of the top windows, taking a large portion of the surrounding walls in with it, and as it swung back, debris scattered onto Petr’s prim lawn. Amongst the debris were remnants of the geraniums his daughter had so lovingly kept on the window ledge, that, surrounded with the twinkle of glass, were now fluttering down prettily to join their floral companions beneath them, albeit in an untidy manner. With each blow to the house Petr found it harder to watch, and as the walls tumbled down, the memories that had been contained within them flooded into the vast space that is the atmosphere, where they could no longer be called upon or recollected at one’s leisure. Of course this was far too much for Petr’s wife to bear, and for the first time in months she forgot her resentment towards him and hid her face in his chest. As the dust settled, the family walked slowly away, with their Sunday suits on their backs, and a case in each hand. Rodrik Angelson watched all this from his doorstep, and as they moved out of sight, nodded politely some congratulations to himself that he had succeeded in getting closure of the situation. He stepped out onto his lawn, and treading carefully over the rubble, did what was equivalent to a victory march, strolling along the west side of his house, into his back garden, where his wife was just pouring out the lemonade. 6.
One month later Petr was walking back to the dreary bedsit in which he now resided. His wife and daughter who he had so loved had moved to stay with a distant aunt in her countryside estate, and had not written of their activities for weeks. His mind was lost in thought and he soon became physically lost too, taking one too many turn absent-mindedly, and to his distress he soon found himself in the area where he once had a life, before it was so inexplicably snatched away from him in a flurry of bureaucracy. Despite the contempt he had towards the last few months, he took it upon himself to have one look at the site of his former house. He ambled towards the rubble almost sheepishly. Mr. Angelson had now tidied up his side path and had erected a neat wooden fence, on which his wife had bound up some climbers with twine. It was as if the pile of rubble behind it was a non-event, rather than the destruction of someone’s life. Petr picked his
way through the wooden beams and brick towards the doorstep, where quite surprisingly there was a neat pile of letters. Presumably the postman had not considered the undeniable absence of a house enough to investigate a forwarding address. Still, Petr thought, ‘At least we’re in the dry season,’ He collected up the letters in his hands. Most, as usual, were not of particular interest, except for one with the words Property Boundary Association stamped across it in deep blue ink. He opened the envelope warily, as his past experiences had fostered a deep suspicion of official-looking letters, and held the paper before him. It read:
Petr glanced towards Mr. Angelson’s house just in time to spot the corner of a curtain flick back down to its original position. He looked back at the letter, turned around and strode purposefully back into town.
by Peter Jones
when he woke up his father was dead.
Completely drained of colour, he lay next to him on the bed they had made from a door that had been gathering dust in the far corner of their cellar. His father had instructed the boy to fetch bricks from the yard and bring them down, one by one, so that he could prop his makeshift bed up against the dry section of wall at the far end. The boy had been proud of carrying two bricks on the last of his journeys, and his father managed a warm smile as he dropped them at his feet. “Good lad, good lad” he murmured. Then, groaning, with his hand clamped on his wounded rib cage, he had stooped to put the last two bricks into place. Now his father lay, ash-grey skin tugged across the bones of his face. The boy went to tear some more material to replace the bloodied pad on his father’s side, as he had done every morning for a month now. As he eased the pad away from the skin no blood oozed. He was able to touch the wound’s jagged edge, and his nostrils could sense that the blood was no longer fresh. He left that afternoon. He was going to his grandfather’s house, outside the city. His father had talked of that house as he slid in and out of consciousness in his final hours, and the boy had joined in these musings. He liked to visit his grandfather and sit out on his patio, the two of them playing Monopoly by the light of some candles. He was always allowed Park Lane and Mayfair – the two most expensive properties – as a head start. As he emerged from the cellar, his battered Monopoly box under his arm, he remembered his father’s advice. Stay away from the riders. Listen for their engines. He knew that the riders had wounded his father, who had staggered into the yard some four weeks previously bleeding heavily from his side. His father had told him that he must not leave the cellar from that point on. That it was too dangerous. Things had got out of hand, he said. At the end of the garden path, the boy paused, inhaling the scent of the lavender bush for the first time in a month. He listened. All was quiet. He began to trot along the road, wishing that the Monopoly set would stop its dull rattle. It caused him to stop every ten paces to listen again, so he decided it would be safer to walk. Thirty minutes later he had another decision to make. Should he walk along the main road out of the city? He knew there would be sections of it where there would be no cover, where riders would be able to catch him out in the open. The boy knew no other route, however. He was following the journey he used to take in the back of his father’s car. After looking left and right down the empty lanes, and scrunching up his face in an effort to hear any distant engines, he set off towards the North. His Monopoly set pieces rattled softly under his arm, and he settled into a pattern of
strides that had him walking backwards for a couple of steps every twenty yards or so. Spinning round to face to the North again, he would enjoy the blur of green on the side of the road, then his focus would settle on the farthest point where the dusty asphalt disappeared between earth and sky. His watch told him it was six o’clock, and this awareness made him shiver as the afternoon fell away. Driving to his grandfather’s house only took a couple of hours, and here he was at supper time, still on the carriageway. At supper time. How his tummy growled. He reached into his pocket, and felt the smooth skin of his apple. He thought he should stop, eat his apple and consider how he might spend the night. Over to the west, the sun was gilding the landscape. He placed the Monopoly set down and sat with his back to the low concrete retaining wall. He munched on his apple, the warmth of the wall and the serenity of the view putting him in something approaching good spirits. This was, after all, quite an adventure, and he smiled as he envisaged the surprise on his grandfather’s face when he arrived. Then the memory of his father’s mushroom-grey face drifted into focus. He looked down and rubbed some dust off the face of the cartoon figure on the front of his Monopoly box. There was a rumbling, growling noise. First of all it formed a rough kind of backing track to the birdsong and the breeze through the branches of the fir trees nearby. Then the breeze failed, and the birdsong stopped. He dropped his head down below the level of the wall, and held his breath. The growl of the bike engines became louder, and he pressed his hands over his ears. Gritting his teeth, he prayed for the noise to end. But the pulse of the passing machines continued for several more seconds. He had got used to a single machine passing their house, when his father would raise his index finger to his lips to signal quiet in the cellar. Now the boy had his finger to his lips. Finally, the last machine rumbled by, and a few seconds later the boy peered nervously to the North. A pother of dust still swirled around him, but he could see the back of the swarm of bikes buzzing towards the horizon. The birdsong and the breeze reasserted themselves, but they sounded different now. The wall was cold too, and the sun’s retreat meant that the gloom of the landscape to the West was creeping towards him. His half-eaten apple was lying in the dust. No other riders passed him by that night as he lay trembling with cold, behind the wall. Presently, as streaks of grey began to reach across the sky from the East – four o’clock, according to his watch – he decided to get moving. This time his progress was tempered by the knowledge that he had to stay within dashing distance of some cover. He trotted along raised sectors of road, again wishing that his Monopoly box would stop rattling. By early afternoon he had reached Junction 23 of the carriageway, which he recognised as the exit he needed to take. He was exhausted and hungry. He sat on the grass verge, looking back down the way he had come, and trying to calculate how much further he had to go. He unlaced his shoes, now pale with dust, and eased them off. He pulled the sock on his right foot down to the heel, and touched the raw skin there. The inflammation told him there was a blister
on the way. He reached across the Monopoly box and slid the blue elastic band off. The contents were an anarchic jumble, as he expected. The boy tugged at some sycamore leaves and stuffed them into the box in the hope of reducing the rattling noise when he was running. As he began to feed the elastic band over the box again, he heard a bike engine to the North. The band snapped and the lid refused to close. He snatched the box up and ran, in a half crouch, up to the line of sycamores. Breathless, with his heart thumping, he lay flat on his stomach, his chin resting on the Monopoly box. With a flash of nausea, he saw his shoes, side by side on the edge of the road. The rider was getting nearer, but the boy couldn’t tear his gaze away from the shoes, and he cursed his own stupidity. The rider’s engine coughed, and then stopped. The boy looked across the carriageway. He heard the squeak of leather as the rider dismounted, and the visor was pushed back. The rider was looking at the shoes. For what seemed like an age, he stared across the two lanes of the Northern carriageway. He looked North and South, as if expecting someone, until he eased his right leg over the central crash barrier and strode across towards the shoes. Again, he looked back and forth along the road. He stooped over them, nudging them with the toe of his own calf-length boots. The boy was sure that the deafening roar of his own heart would give him away as the rider scanned the line of trees, looking directly in his direction for several seconds. Then, with a shrug, he snapped his visor back into place. Stooping down, his leathers squealing once more, he picked up the shoes. He spun round, marched off back to his bike and stuffed the shoes into a pannier at the back of the bike. Then with a last look in the boy’s direction, he kicked savagely at the bike, there was an angry roar, and he was gone. By this time the boy was thumping the grass in front of him, with angry and exhausted tears in full flow. The country road was below to his right, and he knew that the route to his grandfather’s house was not as certain as he would like it to be. He dragged a sleeve across his eyes to clear away the tears and glared off into the distance. He recognised the big barn on the ridge of a low hill, and his bleary gaze followed the road in that direction. When he came to a crossroads half an hour later, the hill had been steeper than he’d remembered, and he looked down on his naked feet as he padded along. He enjoyed not having the back of the shoe rubbing his heel, but knew full well that this relief would be short-lived. By the time he stood outside the barn, looking back towards the carriageway, the soles of his feet felt hot. He walked round to the other side of the barn, away from the cooling breeze, and sat with his back up against the warm wooden slats. A holly bush to his left meant that he could not be seen from the road. He curled up into a ball and tried to sleep. Two hours later, his growling tummy was still keeping him awake. He was cold, too. He had rejected the idea of sleeping in the barn, some instinct telling him that it wouldn’t be a good idea. But now he was driven inside by his body’s
desperate need for some comfort, for some sleep. The hefty door complained at being opened, and he stepped nervously into the sepulchral silence. All was still. There was enough light from a shaft of moonlight coming through a window high in the gable end to see a neat pile of hay bales before him. He quickly arranged half a dozen of them into a bed, with a wall on the door side so that anyone looking in would be unable to see him. Then he stretched his legs out, and after a brief seizure of panic when he thought he could hear footsteps outside, he fell into a deep sleep. The dreams of his father were visions from a happier time, before the Rebellion, when they played football in the garden. He had thought about bringing the football, but finally left it with his father in the cellar. His old granddad preferred Monopoly, anyway. He awoke in the freezing half light of dawn, rubbing his hair and clothes to shake out the straw. He slid out through the door of the barn, his Monopoly set under his arm, and gazed away towards the hills to the North. He recognized his next landmark – a white villa set in the forest that covered one of the hills, and he traced his route back to the barn. The villa’s position on the hill should make it an easy task in terms of navigation. He sighed, and moved towards the road, the slap of his feet on the mud reminding him of his folly back at the carriageway. An hour later, his prayers for food were answered. He passed a blackberry bush, then stopped and ran back. Ten minutes later, his fingers and lips were strained a deep purple and he felt as though he needed to sleep again. But he kept going – he wanted to get to his grandfather’s house. The thought of another night out under the stars made him feel sick with fear. So he pushed on, his sore feet getting hotter with a combination of the warmth of the tarmac and friction. He stopped at a ditch that had some stagnant brown water in it, and dangled his feet as he re-examined the contents of his Monopoly box. He reorganised the pieces in their proper containers, although he knew that once he tucked the box under his arm again chaos would reassert itself. He held up the racing car piece to the sky, driving it around an imaginary race track. Then he picked up the top hat, running his index finger around it, somehow soothed by the piece’s smooth surface. That was always his grandfather’s choice. The thought of his grandfather spurred him on, and he was at the gate of the white villa an hour later. This lifted his spirits, as he knew that he was close to his grandfather’s home now. He peered in through the five-bar gate, but the villa was silent. There was a smashed bay window by the front door, and a red car in the horseshoe driveway. The layer of leaves and dust on the windscreen told the story of the petrol crisis. He could never understand if the petrol crisis had caused the Rebellion, or vice versa. He knew that beyond the villa the road dropped downhill into a wooded valley, and that his grandfather’s cottage stood in a river-loud glade on the other side. His feet were so sore by now that he walking on the verge. The sharp, dry stalks of grass were preferable to the constant grating of his soles on the tarmac. Even so, the occasional thistle would have the boy hissing with pain, and he was sobbing from exhaustion and hunger. He knew his father would be telling him to dry his eyes and get on with the job, and would be urging him forward by
reminding him how close he was now. Just at the top of the hill. He lifted his eyes from the verge. Now he could see the track that led into the wood behind his grandfather’s cottage. His father had brought him here just a couple of months ago, when the rioting in the city had subsided, and left the boy there for a blissful fortnight. “Why are there no riots out here Granddad? And no riders?” The old man had looked up from their game and out over the cleft in the trees below the porch. “Well, lad, I don’t think they’ve found me yet.” Now the boy was wiping his tears away, smearing them across his face, as he jogged along the track. His feet cooled as they padded along the grass, shaded as it was by a stand of gnarled oak trees. As the trees parted on the down slope, he could see the porch. There, looking directly towards him was his grandfather, who stood and stared. He held a gingham dishcloth in his hands. He was moving his mouth – whether he was talking to himself, or calling, the boy didn’t know, for his dry throat was choking out more sobs, and the Monopoly set’s rattle filled the valley. His grandfather met him fifty yards away from the porch, sweeping him up in his huge hands and dabbing away the tears with the dishcloth. The boy clung to him with a desperate surge of energy, mumbling the story of his father’s last days, and his own trek. The old man sat in the swing seat on the porch and just held him until the boy started to slide towards sleep. Before doing so, the boy took the Monopoly box from under his arm and allowed his grandfather to put it on the table. Their table. They would play tomorrow.