Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dear Mr Whizzo

Dear Mr. Whizzo,
I saw your advert in the Chronicle and I was wondering whether you can bring your show to my son’s birthday party on 24 July. You will be required at 3 p.m. at the above address. Please let me know if you require any additional equipment. When confirming your availability for the date, please quote your fee and I will, by return, finalise the arrangement.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. Tidy
P.S. It is a young teenage party, so any dubious props will not be required. Conjuring, balloon-bending and juggling all would be fine. I don’t suppose you’re into jiggery-pokery, anyway.

Dear Mrs. Tidy,
I am grateful for your letter which I only received today. The postman is not so lightning quick with his prestidigitation as I! Anyway, I shall be delighted to attend your son’s party at the appointed time. The fee will be at your discretion according to satisfaction.
Yours dutifully “Whizzo”.
P.S. My speciality is sawing a lady in half. I hope you do not consider THIS trick to be dubious.

Dear Mr. Whizzo,
With reference to your letter of 21 July, I am pleased to confirm the arrangement. Do you know this part of the town? Our address is not in some of the street maps, believe it or not. To assist you, I attach a little hand-written sketch that takes you from the Broadway. We are at the end of the cul-de-sac that you can see I have called Brown Street because that is on the nameplate up on the end terrace, but the correct postal address is as you see it at the head of my letter. Any problems, please ring the telephone number shown which is my neighbour’s (we don’t have one ourselves). With regard to your P.S. I have only just had the carpet cleaned, so I would prefer you to give that particular trick a miss. I look forward to meeting you on the day. My son is over the moon.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. Tidy.

Dear Mrs. Tidy,
I am sorry I did not attend the party. It was not for the want of trying. But my sense of direction is as bad as my rabbit-pulling is good, no doubt. Brown Street turned out to be a long, endless road of semis where some of the houses were unnumbered and others randomly so it seemed. As for the telephone number you gave me, it got hold of someone who said they couldn’t hear me because of a lot of noise from their neighbours. I hope your son was not too disappointed by my non-appearance. I expect he has grown out of my old tricks, anyway.
Regards, “Whizzo”.
P.S. Call me again when your grandchildren arrive!

Dear Mr. Whizzo,
Thank you for your letter. I am extremely mystified by what you write. If it was not you who gave such a splendid performance at my son’s party, who was it? When you stepped into our broom cupboard under the stairs saying that when we opened it again you would be gone - and you were right, nothing but the gas meter chatting numbers through. And not one false bottom to be seen, of course, as lesser magicians so often use at the Variety House. I think it’s marvellous indeed you using my house as a prop. You ought to go on the stage! We did get a lot of complaints, however, from parents whose kids never came back from that game of Hide and Seek you organised. No complaints from me, though! I hope that small token of my appreciation I gave you was sufficient recompense. I was so head over heels with excitement, I didn’t know my fingers from my thumbs. Anyway, I assure you that I shall recommend you highly to my friends at the Ladies Group. By the way, your trick of making the house next door completely disappear along with everybody in it was really a coup-de-theatre.
Yours, Agnes Tidy.
P.S. I liked your cheeky costume. Very snazzy! Who sewed on all the sequins?

(published ‘Krax’ 1992)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Unmistakeable Silence

Published 'The Bound Spiral' 1992

From the way her case opened and shut throughout the day, I could assess her moods even if I never saw her in person once.

The thought of abandoning her home was one thing, but the enactment was evidently quite another. Several changes of mind. Once the bedroom was empty even of the case. But the next it had returned and where it had been in the meantime was a mystery.

It goes without saying that my hiding-place was under the bed. I could hear her clip-clopping upon her high-heels around the bed, but I did not lift the tassels of the quilt for a surreptitious look. Until I heard the clicking of the lock followed by a period of unmistakeable silence, I was reluctant to emerge in case she was still at large. But out I’d eventually come, eyes squinting...

I suppose she was justified in having such qualms about staying with a husband who spent most of his hours awake under the bed. But I was taught to look at both sides of a story — and a double-jointed wife who spends most of her time in a suit-case is not exactly a bed of roses.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Parachutist / Penguins at Midnight


First published 'Night Owl Network' vol 2 No 13 (1993)

It had been raining for hours on end. But what in heaven was “it”?

I discovered the man hanging from a large tree. The sodden ballooning of the white parachute trailed above him, punctured here and there by branches. I was near enough to guess that his boots dripped blood as well as rain-water. In the middle of Coulsdon, this was a strange occurrence, to say the least.

I looked to see if anybody else of the human persuasion was in the vicinity. There was no surprise in realizing that the force-ten winds of the earlier storm had cleared most of the suburban streets, their full effect having lasted past most people’s bedtime.

I knew the parachutist was not dead, since he was attempting to pull off his boots: a strenuous activity which sent showers of what must have been icy spray upon him from higher branches and, with each groaning tug, the white fabric began to gape with ferocious snagging noises. He would soon topple to the pavement, a good few yards beneath him, far enough to damage a bone or two.

I wondered whence the blood was seeping until, in the increasing light of the declipsing moon, I discerned a black stain down the length of one of his sides.

He had not noticed me witnessing his progress. After all, soon after encountering the sight, I had camouflaged myself behind another tree. An enemy parachutist had been my first illogical assumption.

But the Second World War had been over for forty-five odd years . . . and the other wars which were still proceeding these days across the surface of the Earth were certainly not anywhere near Coulsdon (or even Purley).

I tried to reconcile my feelings. I knew I was a sane person. I worked for an insurance company, so I must have been. On the other hand, here I was roaming benighted Coulsdon when I should have been in my snug togetherness of a bed. Perhaps this alien parachutist was nothing but me dreaming.

Throwing caution to the receding wind, I came out into the open and called to him:

“Are you OK? Shall I call an ambulance?”

There was no reply. The tree had become bereft of any strange, anachronistic inhabitant whatsoever. The wind resuscitated fitfully. The uncanny rustling of the branches made me shiver.

A jumbo jet droned heavily across the clearing sky like a UFO moving gently above a foreign planet, intent on making landfall at Gatwick. Even at the depth of night, pilots stayed awake, matchsticks propping up the midget chutes of their eyelids like frozen ripcords.

For a reason of which I comprehend no more the cause than I know where we are all going on this strange traveller planet called Earth, I wept uncontrollably. The man was beyond help.

Eventually, I squelched home in my wellingtons. It was already whitening from the direction of Croydon. But what in heaven was “it”?


Penguins At Midnight

Speed-writing exercise at Writer's Group in Clacton

When he talked to himself, he very rarely listened. Being lonely made him feel rather good, inasmuch as silence and lack of company insulated him within a cocoon of self – and the world’s pain couldn’t cross that silence, collecting outside the silence looking in, powerless to touch him through the silence.

Amid the silence, he had his own peculiar and irritating habits as he watched himself in the corner of the room dressing up as all sorts of creatures. He knew he was immune even from his own behaviour, being so utterly lonely – loneliness being the strongest anaesthetic. He watched himself as creatures from the zoo, many animals or reptiles or birds, often all at the same time. Loneliness was a multiplying force as well as a numbing one. There he was in the kitchen dressed in his lion suit and now he watched himself coming down the stairs wagging a trunk from side to side and simultaneously he heard loud noises from the toilet as a swamp creature conducted its ablutions – and as the evening wore on into night, he saw the two thousand wings of a thousand birds – and upon the stroke of midnight waddling penguin suits crossing the moonlit lawn outside the window.

He was immune. Against the disease of mind or body. Perfectly insulated. By the security of silence. By loneliness. By the loneliness of madness screening out the same madness. But one day – following the march of several versions of himself as various wading birds – he suddenly felt decidedly iffy. He tried to warn himself to get a doctor quick but, as ever he wasn’t listening. Or couldn’t listen because of the silence. And so he never knew he was a dicky duck with flu and no quack.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Frightening Landscape

Published before - but where? Magazine lost.

The tree branches were limned against the sky ... at first appearing as zigzags of black lightning then, as the air grew warm, like rivulets of India ink. It was evidently uncertain whether the sun had just set or was about to rise. There was no sense of time. And gradually the air grew a whitened edge or margin ... a migraine of shimmering light, except there was nobody around to suffer such an ailment as migraine or anything else ... whilst the air itself smelt of sickness. Through these ribbons of dawn ... yes the sun was surely rising ... there appeared the loping, humping shapes and, if there were anyone watching this landscape evolve before their very eyes, they would also have heard the bleating noises of these creatures great and small. Pitiful sounds, yet fraught with menace and mystery. Yet there can be no mystery without a conscious mind testing its own ability to fathom it. The mystery ... as well as the menace ... was the landscape becoming brighter, clearer, yet more menacing, more mysterious. The earlier darkness had seemed to insulate itself ... releasing no thought of danger and fright from its cloying embrace. Night had almost been comforting with its propensity to become a shroud. Night had indeed concealed night. Now, with the screaming orange rim of sun peeping above the horizon, the branches of the trees had become ... not zigzags of black lightning, not rivulets of India ink ... but flesh-coloured limbs, praying, begging, that night might hasten its own return to conceal such creatures from each other.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Country Dusk

published 'Dark Dreams' 1990

I fell in love with the picture as soon as I had entered the room. Strangely enough, it was the frame that first attracted me (because there were several other artefacts in its vicinity vying for my attention); it trailed golden vine leaves between studs of even deeper, finer gold. Evidently wood, but spiritually real gold. Gorgeous marginalia, true, but nothing compared .......

Once drawn into the actual canvas itself, I was enchanted by a little mid-Victorian girl playing by a stream, with a hoop leaning against her - but no way could she have bowled it across the rutted field towards the archetypal thatched cottage where her mother beckoned her to come in. A dusk scene, presumably, but above all its intrinsic charm was quite inexplicable: maybe it was the red flowers spotting the girl's pinafore or the twined green tendrils curling like eels from between her feet towards the mother or the fact I thought I could actually listen to the gurgling stream.

I acquired the painting with the house and, luckily, the vendor did not add much to the asking price to cover it. She was a lady of advanced years retreating, she said, to her daughter's to while away the evening of her life and, so, had no room for such a large painting.

"You sure your daughter won't want it?" I asked mock-concernedly for I could not bear the idea that I might lose such a potential prize.

"No, dear, she's never been a lover of this particular painting."


When you live with someone for a long time, you begin to discover traits and quirks that you did not even begin to suspect during the earliest honeymoon days. It's only the test of time that will reveal if those changes (each one small in itself, but taken as a whole may well represent a complete sea change) can mature into something that you can continue to love and cherish or whether they are ingredients that will eventually turn the whole meal into a mess of stinking offal

As with a person, so with that painting.

The mother by the cottage door was in a patch of deepening shadow, I noticed. I could have sworn that when I first cast my eyes upon the canvas, the face had been lit up by the horizontal beams of the setting sun. But now the sun was vaguely further behind the trees, I thought. The girl's face was now infinitesimally nearer to the surface of the stream as if to catch her own reflection before the light finally faded. Her hoop was not a hoop at all! It appeared to be more like a brown snake, thicker on one side of the circle, thinner at the other, like an endless ingrowing whip. The red dots on her pinafore was some substance seeping from the flesh...

I must not give the wrong impression. It was only over a long period that such changes emerged. I would get up in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep or because I had been fitfully dreaming of the eventual end result of the painting if I didn't do something about it. I would storm downstairs, only to be relieved to see that it was not as bad as I thought.

But it was always slightly different every time I looked at it. Until I could imagine that the vines of the frame were beginning to implicate co-existence with their cousin tendrils in the picture.

The girl became more aligned with the dark stream, more like an unwholesome, unnatural beast than a human, her flesh flowing as one with it.

The mother was nothing but a stain of darkness or had she gone in, shutting the door after her, despairing of her daughter ever returning from her twilight play?

And when the moon came out, I turned its face to the wall.


If anyone visits me (and the visits of my many friends who used to flock to my social events in my younger days had now begun to tail off, as they often do when you get older), but, if anyone did come, they would question me about the painting with its back to the room.

And I would tell them that it was none of their business! I would play the grand piano loudly to stop them hearing the gurgling tinnitus in my ears.