never really ‘got’ Glasgow. My main dislike is that, as soon as you leave Queen
Street or Central Station, you are faced with a sea of shops and a surge of
shoppers. You have to push against the tide to find the stuff for which Glasgow
is also famous. I usually head straight for GOMA, then Trongate or cca to get
my cultural bearings, yet it is impossible to ignore the thousands of people
surfing through the ‘style mile.’
I was in Glasgow recently, on the last weekend before Christmas, the worst
possible time of year for one who hates displays of commerce, consumerism and
affluence – a different sort of cca. And the first thing I thought about when I
saw a piece by Barbara Kruger in GOMA was her famous work, I shop, therefore I am.
think that the run-up to Christmas is what the festive season represents. This
frenzy of shopping, partying and pseudo-celebration of something that hasn’t
yet happened becomes a fairground without a purpose except to rejoice in its
own existence. It’s as though people can only identify with their materialist
identity by jumping on the merry-go-round of spending.
thing that halts this spree is Christmas Day, when – thankfully – most shops
are shut. Well, sometimes I also wish it could be Christmas every day. Far from
being the first of twelve days of hearty eating and drinking to fatten us up
for the hard months ahead, for many this is where the celebration ends: Boxing
Day is when you tear down the decorations, chuck out the tree, and start the
an expression in the Bible about performing acts of charity without letting the
left hand know what the right is doing. A sinister adaptation of this image now
occurs as a metaphor for corporate ignorance, where one ‘body’ is unaware of
what is going on in a different department. This lack of communication between
two elements is, on one hand, a worthy sentiment while, on the other, a symbol
of course, that not all acts of generosity are performed with pure altruism.
There is a concept in psychology which takes on the idea that we rarely give
without expecting some form of reciprocation. I have played with this in the
next of my Cautionary Tales, which I will post below. But first, to return to
Glasgow. Not the shops, or pubs, or other cultures, but the people.
I was due
to attend the launch of Northern Renewal
who had included two of my poems in their latest issue. Nervous about going to an event where I didn’t know anyone, feeling fractious after battling through Christmas crowds, I popped into a
nearby Wetherspoons for a pint of Old Scrooge. But when I arrived at the
Launch Party I was welcomed with warmth, generosity, and immense friendliness.
many folk are keen to point out, are factors that typify the Glasgow spirit,
whether in the streets and shops, theatres or concert halls, pubs, clubs, or
art galleries. Sadly, as I write this, Glasgow is reeling in another tragedy,
following on from the Clutha disaster and the GSA fire, which will test its spirit
imagine the horror of this incident, and my heart goes out to all those who,
while engrossed in what I have dared to suggest was a meaningless pursuit of
‘happiness,’ found themselves in the grip of true horror. A lorry, out of
control, among the juggernaut crowds of shoppers. There are some who will want
to throw out the tree before Christmas Day arrives. And who can blame them?
who tells you that Jesus came to die for us so that we might have eternal life
is lying: He came that we might live life to the full. This is what those folk
were doing when death ploughed through the crowds with its uncharitable scythe.
Days before, I was moaning about meaningless money, forgetting that Edinburgh
Council’s vulgar slogan is ‘Inspiring
Capital’ while Glasgow’s is, ‘People
Make Glasgow.’ This is what will get those hardy Glaswegians through the
coming days, and years. And life.
Charlotte & The Charlatan– and other
lived for one thing only:
His reason to live was
this was a need more than basic;
greed and favoured altruistic
that required no reciprocity.
to a tee, he gave to charity,
abhorred all selfish acts.
was selfless and never performed
hoping for something back.
a donation was money-well-spent:
the philosophy of Mr. Benevolent.
life-choice wasn’t derived
religious affinity. For Ben,
more about ‘light’ than
darkness of religions’ thrust,
required you to trust that
would be rewarded for your
deeds. Whether there’s laughter
Heaven or not, there’s no point
bequeathing a gift to someone
breathed their final breath.
by the life-hereafter,
awarded a higher value to life before death.
you be sure?” his friends would ask:
all your giving will be remembered
you’ve left the land of the living?”
said Benedict, confident,
concern to me: I’ll be dead and gone.
money I earned or spent
follow me into the grave.
remembered by what I gave,
I took, even if eternity has been,
be, proven to be a reality.”
this life,” his friends remonstrated,
for the taking: we must get all we can.”
really!” said Ben: “You’ll pay dearly
consider this life as anything more
gift.” Saying this, he knew that a rift
forming between him and his associates.
creates wealth,” they said:
give it away, you’ll have nothing to show for.”
November is a Big Month for writers – in
particular those who attempt the crazy exercise of writing a novel in a
month. Last year, I engaged in NaNoWriMo but cheated, somewhat, by re-editing a
draft of a novel that I had shelved for a while. Sadly it remains on
For Scots, and especially Edinburghers, the 13th
of November represents another important literary date: Robert Louis Stevenson
Day. My friends at the UNESCO City of Literature throw themselves into
this each year, with a mixture of events both intellectual and frolicsome. Two years
ago a “tache-mob” was organised, where literary types gathered sporting
the celebrated RLS moustache.
Another sort-of related theme that has taken over November is
where (mainly) men let the hair on their top lip grow out. I’ve nothing against
this, but I believe it has resulted in a resurgence of tache-fashion.
Not, I confess, something I view with much passion.
Let’s not be churlish: “Movember” raises not
only money, but awareness of an important issue. We are not as entrapped in the
taboo over cancer as we used to be, but I think there’s a vital factor which is
the way men deal with things mentally. The UK Movember website suggests numerous,
complex factors affecting men’s health:
Lack of awareness and understanding of the health issues
Men not openly discussing their health and how they’re
Reluctance to take action when men don’t feel physical
or mentally well
Men engaging in risky activities that threaten their
Stigmas surrounding mental health
It’s that last one that gets me. If men were
more minded to fix their minds, wouldn’t the former factors follow suit? Sadly,
many men hide behind a mask that prevents them from confronting their problems.
Ultimately, Movember is a fun way to address this. And so, my next Cautionary
Tale is just a bit of fun… but with a serious message.
Charlotte & The Charlatan– and other
was fond of a drink or two, and although not a soul in his work-place would
think, when he got down the pub, that this mild-mannered man from finance
without but a hair out of place, with a beer down his throat, was all over the
place. And Why? Because Gerry seemed to lose the capacity to articulate his
mildly intelligent words without an absurd need to over-gesticulate.
In the office you’d hardly call
Gerry flamboyant, passionate, animated. There was nothing about him you loved
or hated; he was neither a winner nor loser. But down the boozer, his arms flew
around like a windmill; his fingers were nimble, his hands, never still; he’d
give vent to his words with elaborate gestures; a casual onlooker could
probably guess what his dramatised spraff meant – which Gerry performed without
hint of embarrassment.
In the mirror you’d see him perform
in full flow, with waving and gesture out-camping his colleagues with
exaggerated posture, as if so engaged with his story the floor was a stage for
each anecdote, adage, analogy, tale. Arms, fingers and sometimes legs would fly
out and around like semaphore flags – you could say his stories were quite
metaphorical, or in this case, downright semaphorical.
If he was eclipsed by another body,
you could still see Gerry’s limbs fly around like a fire-fly, like a demented
marionette with its strings all akimbo; behind that silhouetted torso, like a
daddy-long-legs in a lamp-shade – but more so. Gerry had arms too, and long
ones at that, which presented a danger; a cause of alarm for the casual
stranger. Keep an eye on your beer; hold on to your hat.
Yet Gerry, with all his gesticular
flair wasn’t only content with just groping the air. He thought nothing of
grappling with gentlemen’s bits, nor – for the pursuit of a narrative –
grabbing a handful of threepenny bits. You had to admit, he was entertaining,
though Gerry’s behaviour took some explaining back in the office, after the
weekend. If given the slightest interrogation, he’d pretend it was all gross
You could never accuse him, for all
his exuberance, of outlandish or concupiscent deviance: Gerry had no time for
human touch, intimacy or lusty intention. His life was inert in that
department, he had no truck with whatever affairs of the heart meant. In the
morning he could barely recall how many body-parts his fingers had fumbled, or
how many glasses tumbled as he threw out his shapes, molesting tits and arses
for the sake of a quip: Gerry couldn’t give a flip.
Only, one day in his morning shower,
preparing himself for the 9-to-5 hour, he recalled the weekend’s escapades, his
indulgence of over-dramatic charades, he wished he’d tried a similar action upon
himself. He was caught in the single person’s accumulation of wealth that leads
a man to care little, or naught, for his health. For all Gerry’s secret
existence gesticular, he’d failed to feel for a far bigger issue testicular.
At risk of repeating
myself, I will begin this blog-post by quoting Graham Greene who said that
writing is a form therapy:
“I wonder how those who do not write, compose
or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear
which is inherent in the human situation.”
Through a wide variety
of expressions, I have used creativity to make sense of and come to terms with
this strange existence that we call ‘life.’ Some years ago, following a major
crisis in my life, I took my life-long passion – writing – and dared to share
this ‘form of therapy’ with those who cared to read, or hear, or even to
publish my words. I opened up this (turret) window for that very purpose and
My fiction, as I have
said before, is exactly that: fictional. I’ve no intention of pre-empting
everything I post on this blog with that dreary disclaimer:
characters are fictitious: any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is
Art, as we know, has no real meaning beyond itself. Besides,
as a friend once said to me, ‘You
don't owe people anything.’ That includes my
time, or explanations; nor my pointless paranoia over people judging me.
Instead, I offer,
freely, my art in the shape of this blog.
It may be that it
suited that friend to say what they said. Should we start to question what is
true or made up; factual or fictional; artificial or genuine, we might all be
found wanting. This turret window is an open invitation, to anyone who cares to
look in, with open eyes. Unlike the fictional character in the next of my
series of Cautionary Tales, I will not hide away.
I’ve got far too much to say.
Charlotte & The Charlatan– and other
Bruce the Recluse
“It’s no use,” said Bruce, “I can’t take
any more. No matter how often I beg or implore, you refuse to permit me to do as I choose –
to live as a hermit.”
quite right,” said Charlotte, “I will not allow you to hide in your shell; you
know very well no matter how dreary your life is, or drab, it will do you no
good to exist like a crab.”
I’m diffident, shy; that’s why I long to be a recluse,” he said. The reason why
Bruce was unconfident in public was extremely abstruse.
did not accept his excuse. “If you shut yourself off from abusive retorts,
you’ll have nothing to help or defend you; the onslaughts will come in from
every side,” she told him: “You need a thicker hide.”
I’m happy with the skin I’m in,” Bruce replied: “I don’t care if it’s thin.
It’s apparent to all those who judge by the skin that theirs is transparent by far. I’ll remain as I am, and leave them
as they are.”
wasn’t persuaded. “Now, Bruce.” she upbraided: “I don’t care how far or
hell-bent on your plan you are to exclude yourself; I consider it rude to keep
yourself under lock and key.”
speak about ‘us’ or ‘them’ – but not me.”
Bruce complained: “I’ve got nothing to rile me; nothing to fear,” claimed Bruce:
“I’m better off here.”
knew Bruce was on the attack, and while she was on the defensive, she thought
it best not to answer back. She pondered a while, looking pensive.
expert (self-claimed) in the understated, Bruce rated her lack of response as a
shout; aggressive as Stentor: ironic; as loud as a whisper. “I know what you’re
saying,” he countered her silence with vehement vocals that bordered on
violence. “If I shut myself off, I’ll hide in a hovel or live in a cave, I will
take self-ostracised existence as an endless curse to the grave.”
pondered a second more, and though she wasn’t sure she could find a cure for
Bruce’s dream of being deprived of reality she offered a solution. “Let’s call
it a New Year Resolution,” suggested Charlotte, “A Ramadan Fast or Lenten
days,” he conceded – “I’ll give it a try.” Believing he had Charlotte outwitted,
he hid in his bunker; re-grouped his resolve to live an existence without
interference. Thus he hunkered down for a season, leaving others to work out
the rhyme or the reason.
at any rate, time ceased to make sense. At least, it seemed to slow, but no:
time, meaningless and perfunctory ticked on in imperfection. Bruce reduced
himself below-par, surreal; a nihilism that justified his inexistentialism.
in her new-found wisdom, took note of Bruce’s absurd position and, without
reserve declared him miserly, mean. At the end of the forty days, she attempted
to snap Bruce out of his dream.
It’s been some time since Edinburgh emptied, and the sound of
suitcases trundled along the cobbled streets is a distant memory of Festivity.
Sometimes in September I feel as deflated as the purple cow that stood with its
legs in the air on Bristo Square. But there is still much to recall from
There was one person whose work made a big impact on me
during this Fringe. A brilliant actor, Helen Duff, successfully flyered me a
few years ago, and coincidentally was performing in the same venue as me this
year. Her show was a solo piece about anorexia, combining drama, clown, and
I was apprehensive about going. I have had more than one
relationship with someone with an eating disorder history, and have been
personally affected by the effects of this serious mental health condition. The
way Helen tackled the subject with humour and drama was incredibly moving. Had I
reviewed the show, I would have given it five stars without hesitation. So here
is my take.
Vanity Bites Back ✭✭✭✭✭
As a self-confessed
exploration of anorexia, this show is not an easy sell. Yet from the start we
are lured into empathy with the solo performer. Offering Digestive biscuits to
every member of the audience, Duff immediately develops a jovial rapport, and then
takes us into the contrivance of the show. We are watching a Television Pilot
of a Cookery Show hosted by a slightly crazy 1950’s cookery presenter-cum-Home
The recipe of the day is
cheesecake. Realising that she has given the chief ingredient to the audience,
Duff proceeds to collect the biscuits back. However, most have been eaten. One person
complains that they saved it for later, to which Duff retorts, “Well now is
later – that’s how time works.” In ‘real time’ we are given an absurd cookery
demonstration, involving an attempt to melt butter by placing the pack between
two close-sat audience-members.
But through ‘flash-back’
we get serious food for thought.
The hilarity, clowning,
and quick humour disguise a carefully devised script. While our TV host mixes
ingredients or spreads butter up her arms (the relationship with food, demonstrably
complex and distressing) we get insights into the back-story of her eating
disorder, and a horrific, life-changing incident. At these points the audience
falls into rapt silence.
Duff is completely in
control of her craft at every stage of her performance. But then, ‘control’ is
often an underlying factor in this disorder. Some of the ‘clowning’ with food might
be viewed as distasteful, yet we are quickly snapped out of our reaction as
Duff apologises, “We’re not in the business of making people uncomfortable!”
Regarding her cheesecake demonstration, the completed creation
is clearly inedible, although our host points out “We’ve had fun.” But have we?
Having been subtly led through a narrative of trauma disguised as a funny,
anarchic Fringe-show in a dank cave on Niddrie Street, some may feel that Duff
is either taking the biscuit, or the piss.
But when she comes out of character and speaks as Helen, the
real person who has made this show – not the cookery pilot but this Fringe-show
– the work turns into a powerful, emotional and thoroughly honest piece of
theatre. Art, as we know, is a lie that helps us to understand the truth. “This
is what I have,” says Helen Duff: “Me. Hello?”
There may have been more
than one person in the audience fighting back tears then. Helen’s performance
was produced in association with B-eat, the UK's leading support network
dedicated to beating eating disorders. Through her honesty, integrity, and
artistic prowess, Helen Duff is a powerful ambassador whose work deserves a
bigger audience. Art may lie, but truth will tell.
On this day, of all days, I am conscious that, when faced
with pain and confusion, we have to embrace life. Giving life to others is all
very well, but we have to celebrate the gift we ourselves have been given. And never
Here, then, is the next in my series of stories for this
Charlotte & The Charlatan– and other
Charlotte & The Potato
Lottie liked potatoes. She liked them quite
a lot. She cooked them by the plateful; she cooked them by the pot. She loved
the musical ones – Chopin, Mozart, Vivaldi; savoured Harmony and Melody well;
Nicola, Nadine and Annabelle. Oval, long, or round, she’d buy them by the
pound. Fluffy, smooth, firm to the bite, she’d purchase every type: King
Edward, Maris Piper, or the nutty ones called Anya that you get in M-&-S or
Tesco. But her favourite was the Charlotte Potato.
cooked potatoes in every conceivable style. Boiled, baked, roasted; steamed,
mashed, chipped, even toasted. Once in a while she’d try something fancy: Dauphinoise,
Parmentier; or she’d boil them ’til al
dente for Salade Niçoise;
chop them with chives and add mayonnaise. Bangers and Mash was a staple for
Charlotte, and swordfish went best with sweet potato lightly crushed; while for
Kippers, Roosters were always a must, tossed with sea-salt, or in their
wedges, crisps, or gratin; Bombay, Cajun; Spanish Omelette, or Corned Beef Hash:
Charlotte prepared a potato in any way a human humanly can. Except for one
thing. Although Charlotte loved potatoes, she couldn’t stomach them. She could
only bear to eat them adorned with little more than butter and pepper. Those
who knew who her better knew that, for all her dabbling with the culinarily
experimental, she couldn’t eat a potato in any other form than elemental.
she claimed, was for a simple but spurious reason. It was due to the taste.
‘taste’ as we know comes from ‘gusto’ – or in French, dégoûté. If potatoes fill you with disgust, you must vomit them out
straightaway. And this is what Charlotte did. She kept this hidden, but when
she met the Charlatan her secret was discovered. By then, recovered from her
purging, Lottie was healthy again, so the Charlatan introduced cuisine that
Charlotte had never seen.
dishes Italians call farinaceous, he thought gnocchi would be a sensible start
(he wanted to win her stomach before her heart) then every variety of
pasta-and-sauce, which he put, of course, before pastry. Salads more tasty than
she’d ever tried, and vegetables, roots, tubers, fruits and legumes; from
mundane to exotic, prickly to passionate, even erotic.
he presented in joints, cuts, casseroles, stews; and of fruits-of-the-sea there
was much to choose: Charlotte adopted a Sea-food diet. As soon as she saw it,
she wanted to try it, attacking mussels with nymphomaniacal fervour, she
ignored oysters’ aphrodisiacal claim.
the same, the Wizard considered her hooked. There was, however, something he’d
overlooked. Charlotte was intelligent, wise, but her mind was academic; her
body was ruled by a controlling condition. Lottie was bulimic. Her stomach was
full but her heart was an open sore. When the Charlatan told her he loved her,
Charlotte wanted no more.
the Charlatan’s love, Charlotte was in no doubt. But she hated herself, and
bloated by his affection, she stuck her fingers down her throat. And puked him
(ADDED, September 24TH)
Charlotte & The Charlatan– and other
Polly the Pilferer
Polly was witty, intelligent, wise, so why
she loved to plagiarise was anybody’s guess. She had money and means and plenty
of friends; a fiancé and a wedding dress; she had beauty and talent and
suffered little emotional pain; she had a fertile body and an equally fertile
brain. Was she greedy or needy or envious? Her life was hardly bereft of
material acquisitions, so why the serial compulsion for theft of other people’s
husband-to-be was well-endowed (at least, financially) and could give Polly
(almost) anything: she only had to ask. Perhaps she was hiding behind an
invisible mask; Polly craved a different sort of satisfaction that required deceit.
She devised an elaborate plan, and steadily put it into action.
set up a fraudulent Facebook page with photos purloined from the internet.
Whatever she wanted Polly would get: her Youtube channel had videos filched
from other users’ shows – she’d paste over the captions and pass them off as
her own. Her twitter was mainly re-tweets – she never gave her opinions away –
and her Tumblr and Pinterest profiles attracted attention, although they were
frauds through and through.
cuckoo-nest blog gained a hundred daily views: nobody thought it absurd or knew
that Polly had written not a single word. Her Curriculum Vitae was peppered with qualifications – most of them
fake or invented – and her entire work-history was only a mystery to Polly, for
no prospective employer suspected her life was not her own, but rented. She
went through every job like a vulture, picking off posts as if they were
carrion; usurping positions, jumping the queue. If anyone dared to challenge
her she would carry on with a different department.
had not the slightest care for what ‘affairs-of-the-heart’ meant. She’d found
herself a suitably older man to marry. He had a couple of grown-up offspring –
for Polly this wasn’t a worry. There was, however, one thing of which he was
incapable. Due to a small operation called a vasectomy. No matter, he had
money, and as he slid the engagement ring on her finger, Polly created another
joined a dating website where she posed as a rich business-women. Her few
photos were real, her profile, alluring, her appeal soon created a stir. Polly
was pretty particular about her Perfect Partner, and found the ideal sort:
sensitive, intelligent, a good sense of humour and friendly smile. And most
important: virile. By night, she said she loved him but, by daylight, she
robbed him. ‘Whether a lover, husband, best friend, acquaintance
or even, enemy,’ she told
him: ‘I want you in my life in any capacity.’
lured him like a honey-pot; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter. She didn’t
really want him; what she wanted was a daughter. And much as Polly loved her
fiancé (especially his money) he
couldn’t provide her with her greatest need. All the same, reader, she married
him. Then she dumped her part-time lover, having plagiarised his seed.
This Festival, I am
mostly appearing in other peoples shows. So far, I have done eight slots in
open-mic performances, or as a guest, and may do more before taking part in a
play in the last five days of the Fringe – a quirky, amusing piece called Brian. It’s about a therapist to the
gods and celebrities who is cracking up. Naturally, I play Brian… not that I’m
cracking up, but life as a mere mortal is never less than fractious.
Although I’ve not
got my own show this year, I have been repeating some of the phone-box tales
from last year’s show, including two stories which make it quite clear what I
think of particular journalists. One of these stories was recently published on
Dead Ink. You can read it here. It was doubly well-timed, not just because of
the start of the Fringe, but with the death of Robin Williams, those
gutter-sniping papers were at it again.
When the Samaritans
circulated emails warning papers from dwelling on the method of suicide, their
advice was blatantly ignored. I did not know Robin Williams, and I did not need
to know the cause of his death. I knew some of his work, and would like to
celebrate (and commemorate) how his life was a cause of great mirth to many.
Sadly, the shits who publish papers think that making money out of someone else’s
tragedy is acceptable. It is not. It is immoral, repugnant, and utterly
damaging to society.
While not dashing
around Edinburgh’s plethora of Festivals, I am also writing reviews for
Broadway Baby. One of my five star write-ups was forWarrior, Jen Adam’s powerful piece exploring not only sectarianism,
but also the way that the media adds their foetid fuel to the fire of personal
tragedy. Yet again, the same old story. Our minds are complicated places, and
to play so wilfully with emotions that are not ours to push and pull around is beyond
Which brings us to
this month’s Tale from my collection…
from Charlotte &
The Charlatan– and other cautionary tales
Peter and The Ballerina
people of Charlotteville waited for the Event-of-the-Year – the Shrovetide Fair
– with fear and trepidation. The Charlatan presented a show, and although
no-one guessed just how it would go, they knew it would be a sensation.
was a puppet, a sad little fellow. Let’s call him Peter (or, in French,
Pierre.) Oh, how he loved that Ballerina. From the moment he saw her, he was
sure that he’d seen her before. Although he thought her movements slightly
wooden, he couldn’t deny he adored her more than Petrarch loved Laura; Paulo, Francesca;
or Tristan, Isolde. He longed to hold her, to make her his wife, to love her
for the rest of his life.
a darker shadow fell over that puppeted fellow, the nature of which he could
never define or explain. While his movements were firmly in his grip and his
thoughts were established without a slip, his emotions were totally out of
commission – because they weren’t governed by his own volition.
emulated the gait of the much-admired Ballerina, yet his mental state was mired
in dolorous musical moods. The pair were like melodies tripping over each
other. Like the union between two incompatible lovers, her movements were
jerky, ironic, impetuous, while Peter’s pathetic mien was ridiculous, dripping,
prepared himself for an unrequited passion. But here’s the thing: she took him
in. And that’s where the trouble started. There was something missing; it was
as if she’d never allowed a lover into her life; or perhaps her heart had been promised
to another. When they kissed, it was at the Ballerina’s instigation. But
something wasn’t right.
a cursory investigation he found the Ballerina’s Boudoir (a tent at the Fair)
conspicuously bare. He expected fine linens, exquisite silks, exotic hangings
and delicate charms reflecting her form; he was certain the colours and
textures of her beauty would be matched in tapestries and curtains – but there
was nothing there.
seemed she too was governed by a greater force. As a dancer, she moved without
emotion, her thoughts created little commotion, but over her body she had
little say as to why she behaved either this way or that. Now the Charlatan
introduced a third to this triumvirate of characters that he – as puppet-master
– put down to ‘Theatre.’ Others of a religious persuasion would call him ‘Creator;’
while those who dabble in psychology would call them archetypes.
what may, the tearful puppet Peter and the wooden Ballerina were not ready for
the darkness that descended. A mysterious character entered, unbeknown,
although they sensed its presence. The Puppet checked his emotions (although
they weren’t his own); Ballerina struck a pose (though not the position she
chose) and when Peter said those three, fateful words – you know the ones I
mean – it was clear to the gathering crowd that this was not a ménage-a-deux
but a battle between three.
superior mind, that dark and devious creature, moved among the lovers and at
every opportunity undermined the movements of one and meddled with the
heart-throbs of the other; playing on their most vulnerable places like fingers
on a clavichord; bashing on their weaknesses like hammers on the strings of a
piano. As they made music together, it was a motley melody that neither love,
nor movement, could sustain.
thought, of course, that they could overcome the meagre interruptions of
intellect; put aside the assertions of those who relied on their brains; reject
the analytical as merely clever. They would never be parted, even if it said in
the Charlatan’s script, ‘both depart the scene broken-hearted.’ Ever fond of
the over-dramatic, the Wizard introduced jealousy into his tale.
was not the first piece of theatre to use a triangle of a devious tyrant, a
madly jealous knave, and a seemingly innocent pawn: it’s a classic ruse. But as
to who was who, I’ll let you choose. All the Charlatan had to do was pull a few
strings to put his Shrovetide Show out of joint. The point is, the audience of
Charlotteville were left wanting – not for more, but for answers.
Peter the Puppet kill the Ballerina, or vice versa? Or did something more
sinister end the show? The Charlatan, a chancer to the last, told them: look, I
cut their strings. That’s why these characters – I mean – things are lifeless
and dead. That said, the crowd drifted away, and Charlotte arrived on the
on, let’s go,” she said, “The Festival’s over.” The Wizard looked up, hoping to
find the ghost of Petrushka, or even the Ballerina above the proscenium. But
the blackest thought came over him, since neither was there to be seen. What if
the Shrovetide Fair was no more than a sad, elaborate dream?
The world is full of con-people, and
sometimes you can never be sure who to trust. For this year’s blogging I am
posting some pieces called Cautionary Tales, partly because I’m not sure where I
can send them for publication. They are all quirky, a touch whimsical in
places, and, with meagre moralistic stance, contain little message.
Each is around 500 words long, and
flash fiction – if nothing else – is an excellent discipline for a writer. The
initial prompt was the call for submissions to the Antisocial Writer’s annual
zine. This month’s Tale was published in the Circus Antizine, along with the
title-story of this set. It is about a sweet old dear called Melinda who turned
out to be a con-woman with a flaw. But she had the last laugh.
Or did she?
Charlotte & The Charlatan– and other
Millie laundered money. She quarrelled with
the cashpoint, fiddled and diddled the lottery, and haggled with the
I asked for two-hundred, not twenty;
no, I haven’t forgotten my PIN; I want a statement – service unavailable? I
want five quid, not ten.
terrorised the checkout staff by placing fewer, not less, than ten items in her
trolley, then queuing in the baskets-only line.
she argued and debated with the self-service tills.
That is not an unexpected item in
the bagging area: it’s my bag – I put it there; no I don’t need your approval,
and I don’t have a Nectar Card at all. Not at all – no – not even a little bit.
never checked her change at the Post Office Counter; mistakes could always be
rectified; and when the bus instructed her ‘Exact change required’ in the
absence of a conductor she simply threw in exactly what change she had.
I’ve paid my fare; it’s not enough?
That’s unfair – okay, I’ll get off one stop early.
ever challenged her, or asked for proof of purchase.
I’ve got my goods, what more proof
do you need?
if she ever needed a refund, you can be sure the product never came in its
original packaging, so why should she return it in the condition that she
It came that way, that was how it
was in the shop; this shop? Of course; it was ex-display! What do you mean, you
don’t even sell it; are you accusing me; how dare you; who’d have thought it!
became a friend of Paypal, travelled East with Western Union, and docked her
ship in E-Bay; kept her pocket-money in a sock, and phished the internet for
plastic cash. She cracked more codes than an enigma, learned more passwords
than a Russian Spy; cyphered and deciphered those illegible spam-filters
quicker than a coffee pot can percolate a caffeinated scam.
was a con-woman, a fiddler, a daylight-robber; a launderette, and a scamstress.
At eighty-four, she thought was above suspicion – well sort of – more or less.
was one thing Millie hadn’t bargained for: that her brain might let her down in
the end. She had a good mind for figures; knowledge of numbers, an unquenchable
thirst for ready cash.
when she got home with her stash, she could never be sure of the street-name,
let alone the colour of her front door. Every day Colin the Constable found her
trying every lock; more often than not on a different street.
take her home, never suspecting the millionaire granny was anything other than
I’ll remember you in my will, dear –
no I’ll not forget.
sadly for Colin the Constable, she pulled off her greatest con-trick. All the
money she left him was hookie, and he, being bent as a ten-bob note, himself ended
up in the nick.
Skewing the anonymity with which this blog began (see December 2009), my twitter-biog says “Writer, photographer, poet, composer, phone-box fanatic and film-buff - all to varying degrees of accomplishment.” Here, then, is the evidence: weigh it up.
This is my third blog (the first two, part of my old life, are no longer extant) and was started as a way of lifting the lid on my turreted loneliness and saying, I’m still here, still writing, still alive – and thriving. The window is open: come in and have a look around. And follow me on
NB: All poetry and prose on this blog is entirely fictional; comment and opinion is my own.