Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Humbug


I’ve 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.’

So there 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.

Many 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.

The only 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 diet.

There is 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 failure.

We know, 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.

These, as 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 and resilience.

I cannot 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?

Anyone 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.


from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales


 


Benevolent Benedict


 

Benedict lived for one thing only:

to give. His reason to live was

to show unconditional generosity.

For Ben, this was a need more than basic;

he hated greed and favoured altruistic

gestures that required no reciprocity.

Generous to a tee, he gave to charity,

and abhorred all selfish acts.

Giving was selfless and never performed

while hoping for something back.

To make a donation was money-well-spent:

this was the philosophy of Mr. Benevolent.

 

This life-choice wasn’t derived

from religious affinity. For Ben,

it was more about ‘light’ than

the darkness of religions’ thrust,

which required you to trust that

you would be rewarded for your

good deeds. Whether there’s laughter

in Heaven or not, there’s no point

in bequeathing a gift to someone

who has breathed their final breath.

Uninspired by the life-hereafter,

he awarded a higher value to life before death.

 

“But can you be sure?” his friends would ask:

“That all your giving will be remembered

after you’ve left the land of the living?”

“That,” said Benedict, confident,

“Is no concern to me: I’ll be dead and gone.

Whatever money I earned or spent

won’t follow me into the grave.

I’ll be remembered by what I gave,

not what I took, even if eternity has been,

or will be, proven to be a reality.”

“But this life,” his friends remonstrated,

“Is ours for the taking: we must get all we can.”

 

“Oh really!” said Ben: “You’ll pay dearly

if you consider this life as anything more

than a gift.” Saying this, he knew that a rift

was forming between him and his associates.

“Wealth creates wealth,” they said:

“If you give it away, you’ll have nothing to show for.”

“For sure,” was Benedict’s curt reply: 

“And, by the same token, nothing to pay!

It’s better not to be indebted

than die in the red with a life half-regretted.”

 

“Surely,” said his friends:  “You must make

the best of the life you’ve got? Yesterday-

remembered is better than tomorrow-forgot.

Speculate, accumulate, and enjoy it to the full.”

Benedict was dismayed by their rhetoric.

It wasn’t in Ben’s nature to be uncharitable,

so he showered them with compliments,

accolades and, above all, unconditional

forgiveness (otherwise known as love.)

But he still had something to prove.

So he gave the ultimate gift with his left hand

not knowing what the right was doing.

 

Again, his friends eschewing

his selflessness, said: “You may

think of yourself as a generous donor,

but if you disown a responsibility

that most of us are unable to avoid,

you are no more benevolent than

Father Christmas, that fraudulent fake,

is opulent.” This may have been true,

but there was nothing Ben could do.

Time went on, and Benedict never

considered that what he did was wrong.

 

He continued to do for others what

he never thought of doing for himself.

And whether he got into Heaven or not,

he spent all his earthly life alone,

on the shelf, confessing that life

had been an unrequited blessing.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Grappling with Issues

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 the shelf.

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 face
  • Men not openly discussing their health and how they’re feeling
  • Reluctance to take action when men don’t feel physical or mentally well
  • Men engaging in risky activities that threaten their health  
  • 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.


from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales


 

Gesticulate Gerry


 

Gerry 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 exaggeration.

            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.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Fiction. Or Stranger.


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 reason.
 
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:
 
All characters are fictitious: any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”
 
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.
 
 

from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales


 

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.”

            “You’re 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.”

            “But 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.

            Lottie 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.”

            “No, 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.”

            Lottie 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.”

            “You 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.”

            Charlotte 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.

            An 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.”

            Lottie 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 Abstention.”

            “Forty 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.

            Time passed.

            Or 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.

            Charlotte, 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.

            But Bruce the Recluse was nowhere to be seen.



 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Life Goes On

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 epicurean August.

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 improvisation.

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 Economics teacher.

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 give in.

Here, then, is the next in my series of stories for this year.


from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales


 

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.

            Lottie 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 jackets, perhaps.

            Sauté, 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.

            This, she claimed, was for a simple but spurious reason. It was due to the taste.

            But ‘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.

            With 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.

            Meat 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.

            All 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.

            Of 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 out.



(ADDED, September 24TH)

from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales


 

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 possessions?

            Her 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.

            She 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.

            Her 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.

            Polly 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 scheme.

            She 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.’

            She 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.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Pulling on Strings



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 for Warrior, 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 cruel.

Which brings us to this month’s Tale from my collection…
 
 
from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales
 

Peter and The Ballerina

            The 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.
            There 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.
            However, 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.
            He 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, laconic.
            Peter 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.
            On 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.
            It 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.
            Come 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.
            The 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.
            They 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.
            It 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.
            Did 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 scene.
            “Come 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?
 

 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Faking It


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?

from Charlotte & The Charlatan – and other cautionary tales



Melinda the Launderer


 

Millie laundered money. She quarrelled with the cashpoint, fiddled and diddled the lottery, and haggled with the hole-in-the-wall.

            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.

            She terrorised the checkout staff by placing fewer, not less, than ten items in her trolley, then queuing in the baskets-only line.

            The 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.

            She 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.

            No-one ever challenged her, or asked for proof of purchase.

            I’ve got my goods, what more proof do you need?

            And 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 bought it?

            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!

            She 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.

            Melinda 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.     

            There 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.

            But 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.

            He’d take her home, never suspecting the millionaire granny was anything other than sweet.

            I’ll remember you in my will, dear – no I’ll not forget.

            And she didn’t.

            But 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.