On either side of the kingdom of Fabulisia live two decidedly different beasts.
The Story Beast is a large, fruity toned monster, whose voice sounds as if all the words, however poetic or tender, were actually typed in bold.
The Gorey Beast, on the other hand, is a rangy creature who speaks entirely IN CAPITALS and whose manner would be described by an Englishman as ‘somewhat direct’ and by an American as ‘Goddam rude’.
I am, I must confess, equally fond of both of them. This is helped greatly by the fact that I have not actually met them, but on my visits to the kingdom I have heard the people speak of their beastly pair with a mixture of lemony wonder, earthy fear and a pinch of salt.
The Story Beast and the Gorey Beast are brothers, but as is often the way with siblings who are close in age, they are very very different in character.
Local legend has it that they fell out years ago and can only communicate with each other by remote telegraphic message – that if they met in person for confabulation, there would instead be conflagration. They are, to each other as matter and anti-matter, antipathy and pathy, pasto and … Well you get the idea.
They do however eat the same kind of food : stories; though the kind of tales they favour are quite distinct.
Story Beast favours tales of courage and hope, he loves to hear thoughtful little fables where peace and calm outs in the end.
Gorey on the other hand is restless and ambitious. He wants effort and brains to conquer all and many a tale of beauty has been hurled against the wall in a fit of rage and frustration.
They do share a scale of appetite that is formidable. Story after fable after tale is consumed by the beastly duo. Week after week they gorge themselves on fiction – sometimes they create plates of it stacked so high that they can’t even eat it in one sitting.
But as they have aged, so they have slowed.
When the beasts were youthful a week’s worth of stories would be devoured in but a single hour.
Now though the beasts are not so swift to nibble a narrative. Now they often pick at the stories for days – not really eating them at all.
What of the authors ? I hear you cry. Those poor enslaved scribes, tied to their chattering typewriters churning out tale after tale to the tastes of their beastly overlords …
They I am sorry to say, are destined to die. For without the scraps of encouragement thrown by the brothers Beast, they have nothing. Nothing but an excess of words and a diet of your own words is a thin gruel indeed.
Dear readers call for the beasts. Call them to the table to sup.
Let us feast on words once more till our imaginations burst the belt buckles of our minds.
But wait … Is that the sound of pawsteps ?
On either side of the kingdom of Fabulisia live two decidedly different beasts.
Granny Joyce died last weekend aged 88.
For the last two years she has had a sealed envelope on her mantlepiece labelled in her famously spidery handwriting
“To be opened in the event of my death”
She made sure that her children, her neighbours – everyone in fact who visited regularly, knew about the envelope.
Her son was concerned that the envelope was going to tell him some terrible secret
“Your father was a Russian spy”
“You were adopted. We found you in a shopping basket outside Waitrose”
The time came when the envelope had to be opened.
Her son poured himself a large whisky, sat down with the envelope in his hand and his wife in support, took a deep breath and ripped it open.
He pulled out the sheet of writing paper and slightly nervously unfolded it.
Turn off the gas.
Turn off the electricity.
Tell the DSS I’m dead.
From a true story told to me by Charles, published with permission
Mrs Pargeter lived in 32B with an immortal budgie called Bob.
He was yellow and green and chirruped at odd intervals as though passing comment on the old woman’s behaviour. He would swing manically back and forth on a trapeze looking for the catcher in his dirty hexagonal prism mirror. The floor of his cage was littered with feathers, poo and Trill. He lived his lives behind thin, plastic coated wire bars.
Every now and then Bob died, the cage got a scrub in hot soapy water and a new Bob moved in.
Much, thought Mrs P., like Flat 32B.
It stands to reason that where there is treason
There’s mistrust, suspicion and doubt
If you suffer temptation to damage the nation
I strongly suggest : leave it out
It’s really no mystery why all throughout history
Treason would earn you the rope
If the law of the land goes and falls at your hand
I very much doubt we would cope
We’re British we two, and the things that we do
and the thoughts that we think are alright
These are rights we enjoy, every girl every boy
And to mess with that’s just impolite
In the grounds of the Children’s Benevolent Trust was a large pond, cupped by willows on three sides, creating a curtain of green and willow-white. It was under this curtain that the warden Mrs Chattenoire hid her refrigeration unit – a small diesel engine that pumped heat from the pond, leaching it of vital centigrades. As a result, there was always a layer of ice on the surface – thick enough to hold the first few steps of a curious child, but thin enough to crack and swallow them whole.
“That ice” chuckled Mrs Chattenoire, “is mostly malice.”
He’s a tetchy old bugger.
He bloody hates commuting you see. All those wide people and men with overspread knees and headphones susstattering at you when you haven’t really woken up yet.
People who turn the page of the newspaper noisily. Man he really gets riled by that. Every flick and crack of the page is worth five or ten heartbeats a minute.
He’s not good when he’s hungry either – it seems to irritate him and nudge him towards the spleenventingly unfuckingreasonable.
Once he’s had breakfast he begins to behave like the world wasn’t invented for the sole purpose of pissing him off. Until he sees the morning’s emails.
Emails. They breed overnight. You leave two or three of them sitting in your inbox and by morning there’s fifty six of the little buggers all clamouring for attention. Needy little chicks all beak-wide-open cheeping at you begging for you to feedmefirst.
You can’t just kill them all. Control A Delete stamping on the nest with your boot and crushing the chirpy wormgobblers into a silent pulp because it’s not polite and it’s cruel and there are rules about that sort of thing.
Old grumpyboots is unconbloodyvinced. He’s pretty certain that an email that isn’t a reply to one he sent first is bloody spam and deserves to die. Left to his own devices he’d sit there hitting DEL fifty six times, and the best I can do to prevent him is to let him fire off one really massive over-reaction to some perceived slight.
That done, he’s got time to bubble up some proper resentment against the idle little bastards who rock up at nine o’bloody clock in the morning when you’ve been there for an hour and a half already and then potter around having a piss and getting a coffee and logging on and don’t even start being bloody productive until gone half past.
Then a morning of fuckwittery and dumbuggery as a never ending stream of people who haven’t got a fucking clue book his time just to torture him with their stupidity.
By lunchtime he’s got hungry again so he stops being quite so reasonable and his instinct control gets a little weak.
A good lunch calms him down some, provided he doesn’t eat at his desk and catch up on the emails again – usually the replies from the idle buggers who weren’t at work yet when he wrote to them before nine o’clock.
The afternoon’s often a little quieter, some of his pent up fury is wrapped up in tackling the afterlunch snoozies, but by five the pressure’s built up again and it needs an outlet and if you let him he will target you and everyone else and most of all himself until he’s spent and the day is done.
I’d like to think that that tetchy old bugger was my alcoholism – my addiction, and that he was somehow someone else entirely, but that’s not true. That grumpy bastard’s just me, unfettered and furious. All I have to do is to remember to check the locks every day.
Nonunhappiness. A deadened, dulled state of existing not living, where the horror of unhappy is avoided at the cost of happy.
Two thirds of the way through every romantic comedy is the part where it’s all going wrong, where I hug a cushion and yell “No ! No ! No !” at the screen and my wife laughs at me for taking it all so seriously.
But without the cushiongrabbing moment there is no heartfilling, triumphal “Yes !”
Wrestling against the edges of emotion is pinning your life to the mat shouting “Submit !”
Through gritted teeth I shout “No ! No ! No !”
Sir Charles sat upright on the stool allowing Knipe his valet to tilt his head back and forth and side to side as the razor scratched and slid across his jaw. Knipe’s fingers tugged at his skin, stretching his face into comical clown shapes and hiding his jawbone under sheets of skin and jowl fat. The towel around his neck smelt freshly laundered, the shaving soap the same blend his father had favoured and Knipe’s father had lathered before him.
Knipe wiped off the last of the soap with a clean flannel into which he had poured cool water and a few drops of lemon oil before handing Sir Charles a fluffy towel with which to dry his face.
“Thank you Knipe. I shall take breakfast in the conservatory.”
“Very good sir”
Knipe placed the towels and flannel into his enamel basin, slotted the razor into his apron pocket along with the soap dish and drew the strop over his shoulder. He headed downstairs to let chef know Sir Charles was ready for breakfast and where it should be served.
His master walked as purposefully as he always did towards the conservatory. The sun was shining, and he felt like sitting amongst his oranges, lemons and olives. A little part of Hampshire rich with the trees of Spain and memories of dark eyes laughing.
He was fondly lost in a long time ago when Sanders came in with his tray.
Swiftly and neatly, he placed the cutlery on the table – a steak knife and a fork, the salt and pepper at nine O’Clock and a glass of water, an apple juice and a strong, black French coffee from twelve to two.
The warmed plate with poached eggs on one slice of granary toast, halved; its flattened edge parallel to the table edge and, as Sir Charles sat, the simple, heavy cotton napkin addressed to his right hand.
“Excellent Sanders. Good man”
Sanders dipped his head in confirmation and silently left the room.
Two shots of black pepper for each egg. One each of salt.
Sir Charles sliced decisively diagonally across each egg, the edge of his mouth curled upwards at the sight of the rich, golden yolk spilling into the channel cut into firm white eggflesh and across the toast. The steak knife then cut clean through the corner of the toast, capturing a neat edge of egg and as his fork pushed through the right angled triangle of toast created he registered the satisfying depth of the toast and its pleasing colour and crunch. Chef had taken care not to let poaching water sit on the egg and wet the toast.
He drank deeply. First the water, then the apple juice and, once the egg was finished, the palette cleansing coffee. He cleaned the edges of his mouth with the napkin and pulled the last bit of egg white from between his front teeth with his tongue.
Standing, he threw the napkin down across the plate and breathed in the mixed citrus oils of his indoor garden. Today was going to be a good day.
As for the rest of the unruly world, he was less sure, but the quest for perfection had started well.
Chimera (n) A grotesque product of the imagination.
Paul doesn’t do imagining. It’s not his thing. He uses tried and tested thoughts that won’t muck about in his head. Thoughts that just get on with the job in hand. Thoughts that haven’t got ideas above their station. So he was more than a little annoyed to discover imaginings crawling unwanted around his skull like ants at a cranial picnic. Bloody things.
He squeezed his eyes tight shut as if that would somehow keep the pictures out, but it was no use. They seemed to enjoy the darkness – it made them brighter, somehow more energetic.
He stuck his fingers in his ears and la la laa’d to fill his head with sound but they just bounced off the echoes and riffed a harmony. One of the little buggers went double time and beat out a scattety rhythm. The little shit.
Paul picked up the paper. Shouldn’t think the Daily Mail had much patience for imagination. It had bugger all patience for anything else, and this sort of namby pamby making-things-up-for-no-good-reason was bound to be the very sort of thing The Mail opposed vigourously. Opposed or not, at every comma, every full-stop, every pause for a fiddly word – they crept in and interrupted him.
Hmmph. It was a lot harder than it ought to have been to stop his own brain from imagining.
His own brain ! Bloody traitor. He started picturing a trial where his brain was on trial for treasonous misconduct against itself, but as the image of his own brain in the dock popped into his mind he gasped in the realisation that he was imagining being tried for the crime of imagining and it all got too much for him.
Paul took his biro out of his jacket pocket, splayed his fingers out flat on the table in front of him and started stabbing the space between his fingers at high speed. He had to focus – eliminate all extraneous thoughts from his head or the conical metal at the biro’s end would come crashing down on hot, soft flesh, piercing the skin and driving the little round ball deep into the bone …
He could still hear the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap of the pen on the table but it was far off while he saw the red and black blood and biro ink spurting from where the pen had not yet speared his finger.
Botheration. There was no way round it. He was going to have to let it imagine stuff.
Let’s be honest. He wasn’t going to let it do anything. It was just bloody well going to do it whether he let it or not.
He breathed out in resignation and settled back to see the show.
Silence. Plain reality before his eyes. Not a fucking peep.
The little bastards – they’d gone. It was as if they didn’t want to play in this big space all on their own. Paul’s brow furrowed. Crap. He missed them now they were gone.
Phil was crammed into the sidewall of the trench trying to get some sleep when the letter fluttered across the lip. A light blue airmail tissue paper butterfly striking terror deep into his very core.
In an old fashioned serif, looking for all the world like it had actually been typed by hand, the letter was as follows :
We very much hope that this letter finds you well and that your officers have kept supply lines open in these difficult circumstances.
We are settling down well in the trenches we recently captured from you. Your engineers did a magnificent job building them, they really are first class. The same however cannot be said for your cooks – one of our chaps tasted some food that had been hurriedly left behind as you retreated and the poor fellow hasn’t been quite right since !
We just wanted to drop you a quick line to let you know that our next attack is scheduled for four thirty tomorrow morning. Hope this reaches you in time for you to take appropriate evasive action.
We thought we would preface the main thrust with an artillery barrage for half an hour or so with fairly regular flares so we can all see what’s going on.
Our supply master Wilf is particularly proud of his new delayed action ground clearance wotsit – you shoot it up above the area you want to clear and it howls loudly as it falls from altitude. Not really sure why it has to do that frankly – it’s a little overly dramatic don’t you think ? When it falls into the trench it goes completely silent for a while before exploding into lots of what he calls ‘bomblets’. Little packages the size of a golf ball apparently that bounce around the place making a bit of a mess of things before coming to rest and then exploding too ! No wonder Wilf loves it – howls and hundreds of explosions – he’s just a little boy in a uniform to be honest. The louder it all is, the more he likes it. I don’t deny the little thrill you get when you set one of those things off, but it does make an unholy mess of anyone underneath it when it comes down, so without teaching Grandma how to suck eggs and so on, I would strongly recommend you’re not there when it does.
There are a number of excellent options open for you at the moment, but once we get to four thirty I’m afraid choices will become severely limited. My personal suggestion would be a nice orderly surrender at the dip in the land about five hundred yards south of your current position – or you could of course flee to the rear and fight again another day – it’s really up to you.
Looking forward to meeting you at the dip or in battle someday,
The Gentlemen of the First Brigade, Roxton Harcourt.
Phil shuddered, shook his head slowly and looked to the south where he saw a thin stream of his fellow rebels heading for the dip. He stood to join them.
He was strangely relieved it was over. He looked at his watch to check the date.
September 12th. The end of the civil war.