Heck Ek it’s been ages. So let’s make time fly Like the Tardis Or the fastest Masarati We need a party! Heck Ek let’s rush Not like a trike Or a slow cook A long book Or a pilati Class We need a party A bonfire party A dinner party Or just a good hearty Laugh WITH YOU Hek Ek In York Ok X
I still have the guide book I took with me in 1980. “Umbria the green heart of Italy – The City of Perugia – In the evening young people, many of them foreign language students from the famous Italian language school for foreigners, sprawl on the cathedral steps, still warm from the sun, chatting together, eating ice cream or watching the nightly “passeggiata” of fashionable Perugini.” The stone steps outside the cathedral are still warm but I don’t chat or sprawl or eat ice cream nor am I young, I just sit with my ant.
Like me, my ant enjoys the warmth of the steps. I believe It helps her charge her battery for the important tasks she does during the day. We all have important tasks don’t we. I have to learn Italian, my ant has to do whatever ants do, like get food, build a nest or have baby ants. – Lay eggs I should say.- Ants lay eggs don’t they? – I think she builds her nest underground, and lays eggs, maybe under the actual stones I am sitting on. That would explain why I don’t need to look for her or call her. She’s been waiting all day, waiting for the feel of my body on top of her. Or that’s what I like to think. I just place my hand flat on the stone and in a minute or so she appears and climbs on. It’s like we are holding hands.
I have never studied ants – not in the way you study Italian. I just feel things about her without having to read books. It’s the same with people. You know when somebody likes you without studying them. It’s an instinct. Sometimes I look at her though my reading glasses while she fusses about on my hand. She’s small and dark and very beautiful with an amazing body. It seems to shine even in the late evening. We don’t stay holding hands for long in case I squash her, instead I gently guide her off onto the steps and draw a circle around her with a black marker and she stays in it. She must think it’s a wall.
Perugia has the highest, oldest walls of any Italian city and the steepest hills. That’s what I think anyway. The sun has trouble getting in so it always dark even in the day. Dark enough that when I walk back down the hill after lunch for my nap through the cramped streets it’s like I am tunnelling. It makes me think of my ant. I imagine her laying her eggs in the cosy corners of her stone step or in my bed, tunnelling under the duvet or in the pillow-case to the safe places, so nobody can find them but us.
Of course, I miss my Maria. I want to be sprawling on these same warm steps, eating ice cream watching the nightly “passeggiata” of fashionable Perugini” with my Maria.
She’s long gone of course – I’m not stupid – I’m just saying in those days she was my best friend. Nothing improper mind you. She just sat next to me every evening. She was young and dark, and beautiful, very Italian. She listened to me attentively. “Mi chiami Christopher. Io abito in Inghilterra. Io ho vent anni.” She was gregarious with lots of friends. They all listened to me. They loved my accent. I think they found me very charming as they were always there waiting, loads of them! Sometimes Maria was very cheeky and lay against my arm licking the sticky ice cream stream that trickled down my wrists, her head thrown back soaking up the sugary liquids flavoured with peach or melon or hazelnut. She was brazenly unconcerned about flavours or hygiene.
She was my first love.
My first and most precious ant.
After the incident with the steam roller Kenneth the ginger and white cat was reincarnated as a red post box. It appeared overnight at the bottom of the Rise, his favoured haunt from his previous life.
No humans commented on its sudden appearance assuming that the post office had at last delivered on their promise to provide one for the convenience of the many commuters who used the railway station. The cats on the other-hand were incensed that a symbol of respectable utility should be derived from the soul of such a vagabond. They formed a protest group to campaign for its replacement with one sprung from the soul of a solid sort of cat but it didn’t fly.
Kenneth’s mouth that had hitherto been used for biting and eating was now a gaping invitation for anyone to insert their pennings. Had they been aware of the post boxes provenance that may have thought twice before so committing. You see Kenneth’s physical form may have changed but his personality hadn’t.
Kenneth had led the life of an adventurer. His adventures were largely of the amorous variety but he took in some skirmishing, vandalism, and petty larceny as well. Accordingly he received the offerings thrust between his red open lips as opportunities to exercise his previous passions and extract some payback. A letter to a lover he would lick until the ink ran purple, the stamps fell off and it smelt of stale lamb gravy. A letter to the bank, perhaps enclosing a cheque or even cash he would shred with his claws in an effort to extract the good capital and find away to spend it on fish. A letter complaining to the parish council about stray cats digging up the freshly raked soil in somebody’s allotment would be drowned in the most noxious acidic spray he could muster until it was reduced back to the pulp that formed it and thus made a perfect a spring mulch for the aforesaid allotment should the complainer be so inclined as to be granted it back thorough solicitous negotiation with the postman whose job it was to disembowel Kenneth at 4:15 on weekdays and 10:15 on Saturdays.
So the post box soon acquired a reputation as a malevolent force intent on ruining the orderly rhythm of the neighbourhood and providing little value in terms of its intent as somewhere to send letters from. The commuters avoided it for anything but the most thoughtless birthday card or ill intended thank you letter . The residents of the rise crossed the road rather than pass too close to avoid the noise and smell. Even those intent in debasing themselves by utilising its inviting orifice did so with exceptional care. Life had come full circle but Kenneth had evolved from cat to container, thus he was content.
I slipped off my socks, rolled up my trousers and picked up my sixpenny fishing net. The gate had corroded to such a point that parts of it were now missing and local children had long since found ways to squeeze through the bars. Now much of it had disappeared allowing access to any child not put off by the cavernous darkness and strange echoes beyond. I climbed through with little difficulty. Behind me were children paddling, framed within the gaping mouth of bridge, trousers rolled up or dresses tucked into pants wielding fishing nets and loudly declaring their prowess at netting fish or tadpoles. I knew that on the other side, inaccessible accept by this means, lay an abandoned water mill it’s wheel still sloshing relentlessly, grinding no more grain, and providing no living for the parents of these children. The children watched me enter but didn’t try to follow.
Despite the pressing current and the darkness that initially made me panic a little, I told myself that the secret would be to consider each new footstep carefully while bracing myself against the current with the stick of my fishing net. That way I wouldn’t stumble and make a fool of myself. I knew that ahead there were troughs in the river bed as well as sharp stones. I knew the water became noticeably colder especially near the middle where for some reason the current seemed to pause and miniature whirlpools would sometimes appear. I was sufficiently far in that I could already feel the water chilling. My feet were accustomed to the route but appeared whiter and thinner with blue veins that in the cold water glowed like an ancient script. As I lifted my head I was aware of a distant descant of children dwarfed occasionally by rumble of a car passing over the bridge overhead and the slosh the waterwheel. It brought it all back.
I looked back. A small audience of children had assembled beyond the gate framed by the bridge arch now in silhouette against a bright afternoon sun. The bridge was made from flint and consequently the raw edges of sharp stones glistened and reflected the light back into the rivers flow and back onto there faces like the moving grain of an old film. The children were smiling, kind smiles like they recognised me. The faces were familiar. I knew them everyone. My eyes filled with tears and I leant against the wall blotting out the reflected light. The screen went dead. My feet were freezing. My fishing net slipped from my grasp. I felt myself falling. The flints scraped against my back as a sat into the water. The water filled my trousers and I wet myself.
“Chris I can see you ? Are you alright. We have been really worried .You have missed your tea but we kept some for you. It’s trifle your favourite. Come on now everyone’s waiting it’s bingo night.
Most common shrews are shaped like a thumb, but today Shrewdini polished off a snail, a slug and a worm in one go, and consequently became spherical. Satisfied that he could absorb no more goodies, and passing a somewhat liquid trail in his wake, he threaded his way beneath the kitchen table, skirting Tuffin’s feet (who was absorbed in eating his cornflakes), toward the convenient gap under the back door leading to the garden.
When Rita the ginger and white cat spotted something rolling across the lawn, at first she thought that a ball of wool (like those designed to, but typically failing to, tempt her into performances of playfulness) was on the loose, but then moments later the smell of a meat-sweating shrew entered her nostrils and she contemplated the convenience of addressing the obligations of ‘playtime’ and the pleasures of ‘lunchtime’ in one go.
Despite having sprung him to safety on numerous occasions – only yesterday from a steam roller engaged in rolling new tarmac on one side of the road between the station and the semidetached house, number 11, that was home to Rita, and its dense front garden, that was home to Shrewdini – today, the shrew’s reflexes (undermined by the excessive consumption of grub) let him down.
Rita had no need to pounce as reaching was sufficient. She trapped Shrewdini under the weight of her paw, her claws snagging his tail like the coil of a snake in a miniature croquet hoop.
Tuffin, the owner of number 11 and Rita, had grown aware of Shrewdini from the tell-tale rodent ‘calling cards’ that had started to appear each morning in his cornflakes (delivered bi-weekly via Mr Munn’s grocery van). However, he was not aware that at night, from time to time, after the shrew had finished dining and shitting, Shrewdini and he would have a doze in front of the Parkway stove, or listen to the Archers together, or share flakes of pastry from a vanilla slice that fell onto Shrewdini’s velvet fur like edible snowflakes. Despite having no great fondness for people in general, Shrewdini had only good thoughts for Tuffin and his vanilla slices.
Had Tuffin been aware of Shrewdini’s good thoughts, he might have intervened in the perilous situation now faced by the shrew awaiting his fate under Rita’s paw, who, in common with all cats, was prolonging the agony for her intended victim by pausing to reflect.
Rita’s life with Tuffin was one of neglect punctuated by savagery. She belonged to Tuffin only in the way a stray primrose belonged to Tuffin’s garden: it got there somehow and then stayed. This trait was shared, to varying degrees, by all the cats distributed the length of the street (known as the Rise), from number one (nearest the station), a black cat with a slightly disfiguring white stain on her face known as the ‘Station Cat’, although she wasn’t; to number fifty-eight, another one of the ubiquitous ginger and white variety, described by the owner of the last and most prestigious house at the highest point of the Rise (where the road ends abruptly, crowned with a dense wood peopled by nothing but squirrels) as ‘strawberry blond.’ All the Rise cats endured fortnightly calls from a strikingly scarred but angelically white bastard called Kenneth who would deliver a shag or a punch topped off with a snack on whatever tidbits his victim had to hand. This meant that Rita relied on rodents like Shrewdini to supplement the meagre fare provided sporadically by Tuffin (and stolen by Kenneth) that most recently consisted of little but shit-stained cornflakes (a fact she took a little pleasure in contemplating as she observed Kenneth’s enthusiastic post coital feasting on said). The larder robberies that elicited Rita’s modest pleasures and partial starvation provoked in Tuffin an urgent interest in shrews and how best to trap them.
He researched what things shrews like to eat using his almost complete edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (purchased from Mr Kirby who toured the streets in his Ford Anglia signing up those citizens obliged to seek knowledge in instalments). Mr Kirby’s terms were sufficient to encourage Tuffin to fill his bookshelf with a lifetime’s worth of scholarly reading – including the details of the dietary habits of the common shrew, to be found in volume 10.
Thus, over the ensuing weeks Tuffin deployed the shrew tidbits recommended, in volume 10, one by one, as bait for a mouse trap. First snail, then slug and finally worm were prepared, one for each sitting, taking care to attach the live bait to the trap using an assortment of electrical tape, pins, glues and staples. For three weeks Tuffin checked the efficacy of the slug, snail, or worm, and each week he noted that the trap had been triggered without leaving a decapitated or paralysed shrew to slowly desiccate, and that the bait had been removed, the staples pulled out, electrical tape peeled off and pins unpinned. Shrewdini had clearly struck, and thus, driven by financial imperatives and revulsion, Tuffin felt obliged to strike back and to load the trap with snail, slug, and worm in a seductive sandwich formation, making sure to attach the bait with his complete arsenal of adhesives, staples, and pins, hoping to overwhelm the shrew’s rational thought and allow his unbridled greed to cause him to ‘lose his head’ when faced with such a supersized feast.
However, the entry on the evolutionary advantage of intelligence, sufficient that the more gifted in the shrew community could recognise a mouse trap for what it was (namely, a blunt force guillotine) and acquire the engineering skills and dexterity of paw, claw, and tooth to disable said device safely while not rendering the bait irrecoverable, was in the supplementary volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica yet to be supplied by Mr Kirby, so, upon encountering Tuffin’s triple-decker, Shrewdini used his skills in engineering to counter Tuffin’s knowledge of shrews to yet again disable the trap, this time repurposing the mechanism to lever off the heavy load (so securely stapled and glued) and eat all three baits in one glorious blow out. Thus inflated by an excess of gastropoda and invertebrates, and with the commensurate impairment to his reflexes previously referred to, Shrewdini ended up held captive under Rita’s paw.
And so he found himself looking into the jaws of death as Rita prepared to swallow him head first, this being the custom for the consumption of shrews by cats. The shrew’s volume, Rita estimated from previous experience of the species, was that of a canapé. True, he looked somewhat rotund in comparison to the examples she had savoured in the past, but a velvet glaze, a soft bone shell, and a liquid centre was her expectation, and, confident in her appraisal, she forked him into her mouth with her teeth, taking care not to puncture the delicate skin and let any of the juice go to waste.
Rita attempted to swallow, but the spherical Shrewdini stuck fast. Rita tried to swallow again, but her airway was blocked as effectively as an acorn can block a squirrel’s arse, a rare phenomenon she had encountered during her safaris into the dense wood at the top of the hill that as you may recall was peopled only by squirrels. Rita tried to breathe, but, if a ginger and white cat could turn blue, she was in the process of doing so. The only recourse was to cough, and, being a cat, she had a cough specifically designed to dislodge furry objects. Accordingly she lay flat, extended her neck like a sword swallower, pulled her projectile vomit face, and after several painful attempts Shrewdini was ejected at considerable force, sweeping past the aforementioned stray primrose in Tuffin’s garden, into the road, right between the legs of Kenneth, who was approaching with the intent of biting Rita’s neck and then shagging her.
So surprised by the unexpected projectile that passed under him and them skittered forth, Kenneth redirected his violent passions aroused by Rita toward food and fun, and accordingly turned and gave chase to the ball of wool that smelt like shrew and cat sick. With monstrous aplomb, he sucked Shrewdini down in one go, unaware of the rumble of iron on stone and the shadow of a steam roller (employed to roll the new tar on the other side of the road) that bore down on him so swiftly that, in just a second, it had embossed a perfect white cat-shaped puddle into the perfect black tarmac and triggered a noise of such specificity (that of squashed white cat in consort with squashed, partially-digested, and suffocated shrew) that Tuffin, who coincidentally was busy reading the history of human cannonballs in volume 4 of his encyclopaedia, was drawn into the street just in time to witness the grisly scene.
Rita purred and caressed Tuffin’s shins with her tail as the steam roller passed by and the traffic was allowed to flow one more, bearing Mr Kirby’s Ford Anglia. In his front seat was the final supplementary volume of the Complete Encyclopaedia Britannica bound for Tuffin’s creaking bookshelf. Moments later came Mr Munn’s grocery van to number 11 carrying cornflakes and a vanilla slice for Tuffin, who, after meticulously restocking his larder, sat in front of the Parkray stove, dropping flakes of pastry onto the floor and perusing the entry on the recently discovered evolutionary enhancements that enabled the most gifted common shrews to escape from even the most advanced traps, earning them the nomenclature of the Houdini Variant Common Shrew, or ‘Shrewdini’.
(IN THIS SCRIPT THE GAPS BETWEEN THE UTTERANCES MATTER AS MUCH AS THE UTTERANCES THEMSELVES. THE ACTOR AND DIRECTOR HAVE COMPLETE FREEDOM IN TERMS OF PAUSE LOCATION AND DURATION. THOSE THAT ARE IDENTIFIED IN THE SCRIPT MAY ALSO BE FREELY INTERPRETED OR OMITTED. THEY ARE JUST SUGGESTIONS).
(CHRIS IS A STUDENT AROUND 20. HE IS AT HOME AT HIS PARENTS HOUSE. HE IS COMMUNICATING WITH SOMEONE BY A VIDEO LINK FROM HIS LAPTOP. HIS OWN CAMERA IS OFF AND HE WEARS HEADPHONES SO WE CAN ONLY HEAR HIS SIDE OF THE CONVERSATION CLEARLY. ON HIS LAPTOP SCREEN WE SEE A YOUNG WOMAN, OF ABOUT THE SAME AGE ATTEMPTING TO CONNECT. SHE IS IN A DRESSING GOWN. SHE INADVERTENTLY MOVES THE CAMERA AROUND SO THAT THE INSIDE OF A SMALL BEDSIT FLAT CAN BE SEEN. IT LOOKS NEWLY PAINTED. PROBABLY STUDENT ACCOMMODATION. OUTSIDE HER WINDOW WE OCCASIONALLY GLIMPSE A NONDESCRIPT URBAN ENVIRONMENT. WE HEAR HER INDISTINCT VOICE LEAKING THROUGH CHRIS’S HEADPHONES BUT NO WORDS CAN BE HEARD. WHEN CHRIS IS ADDRESSING THE YOUNG WOMAN HIS TONE IS PARTICULARLY FRIENDLY AND CALMING. SHE IS ANXIOUS. WE ONLY EVER SEE THE BACK OF CHRIS’S HEAD NOT HIS FACE. THERE IS JUST ONE CONTINUOUS SHOT THROUGHOUT)
AMBIENT SOUND: VERY DRY. A FAINT ELECTRONIC BUZZ. A COMPUTER FAN. A TEENAGE BEDROOM. OCCASIONAL CREEK OF AN OFFICE CHAIR
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
I can hear you but I still can’t see you. (PAUSE) I know it’s crap isn’t it. Is the camera definitely turned on? (PAUSE) Can you see me? (EXCITED AND SUPRISED). How are you by the way? Sorry, so…no.
What? (PAUSE) No that’s no better. Try the settings. Top R on the screen.
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC OFF) TO HIMSELF
I am lying. I can see you perfectly. Every little detail. In fact I can see right through you. In and out, straight to the… You’ve still got it. That look. Right through me alright. (Pause and audible breath) I can see through the window. Even though it’s steamed up. (Pause) That window. Right above the bed. “This bed has a history” you used to say. It wasn’t funny. Why did you say that? Just to make me feel sick. Feel sick that you had a history. You were never funny. Do you know that?
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC ON)
No nothing yet. Let me see if it’s a setting at this end.
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE (CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC OFF)
I can see that garage across the road. It kept me awake all night. All the coming and going. Where we bought milk in the morning. The Turkish Takeaway.
The noise. The shop with the guys sitting outside on the street. I was scared of them. You were never scared of me. Why would you be. You knew me. You could see right through me. (He realises what he has just said) Huh!
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC ON)
Nope not at this end, nothing so far. (pause) That might work. Don’t worry, don’t rush, I am not going anywhere (laughs).
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC OFF)
What have you been doing. Showering I would guess. Every morning a shower. You made me do it. Before I met you I had baths? You stopped all that. Lying in my own dirty water. I stopped all my dirty habits for you. At least you thought I did. (Pause and slight laugh) The windows always steamed up after your shower. You could draw on them. A heart. “I love you“ I wrote. Then the look. I didn’t deserve it. (Pause) That look. There it is. Go on look at me. I am here looking right back this time.
SOUND: CREAKING CHAIR AS HE SITS BACK
Such a tiny flat. It stank. You hated the smell. Mould everywhere, every time it rained, every time we boiled a kettle, every …
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC ON)
Yea! Something popped up for a second. Give it another go. Maybe it’s the camera itself. Plug it again and then unplug it.
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC OFF)
The place looks much better now. Perhaps you want to show it off. Show me the the paint job, the new things, the ’accessories.’ You’ve got what you wanted.
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC ON)
Yes it’s working. Hooray! Wow looking really great. I barely recognise it. (Pause) You can’t see me though. Oh no! No you’ve gone again! Let me try something.
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC OFF)
I am lying. You’re still there. (Pause) Why me, why after three months. How about all that history.
Where are they? (Like an advert) ‘Lonely?
Call Chris.’ You, now, here, your look, your room, our room. (Pause) Huh! The window ledge that hasn’t changed. still the same stuff. (Pause) I remember that! That’s the bear. You called it..? What did you call it? Something obvious but trying soo hard, but you said it, said it like nobody had… Basil that was it. Basil Bear. “After the brush.” I said. You didn’t get that. You said it looked like me. Said it in your cute voice. The one that… YOU REALLY HURT ME! You are looking now. Looking into the camera.
That look that only I can see. So close I can read your skin. It looks drab. Too long indoors, not enough air, not enough sun. Open the window get some air. Go outside. Oh of course you can’t, the new rules. No open doors, no open windows, don’t go out its airborne. Government says it spreads like pollen. Wear your mask. WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!
(He laughs loudly) I am lying.
SOUND: FAINT FEMALE VOICE
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC ON)
No sorry, still nothing. it must be the line. can you see me?
(CHRIS TURNS HIS MIC OFF)
I wish. (long pause) So now you are on your own. Like me. You deserve it.
(CHRIS TURNS HIS CAMERA AND MIC ON)
I can see you. Can you see me? Great! How are you long time no see. Its been an age…
In the beginning, in the darkness, it floated into my mouth and then stuck. I had discovered my thumb or rather it had discovered me. I was addicted.
Blog Post: by Sampson
By the time I was four it became apparent that I would never be able to stop sucking my thumb. Despite the protestations of my mother and most particularly my father – ’You stupid little baby’ – I could not face the world without a wet thumb pushed through my lips caressing the roof of my mouth. The sensation of sweet, boney fleshiness was how I imagined a pig might feel about its trotter were it to mistakenly suck upon it while gobbling rotting brussels or snuffling in the mud. By fourteen my thumb was sufficiently central to my continued existence that, when other boys were trying to look cool by hanging about sucking on cigarettes, I was still hanging about sucking my thumb. As you can imagine this created a distance between me and others of my age such that the only bond with other creatures I felt were those either engaged in the same act as me, or its derivatives. Toddlers in push-chairs, babies at the breast and any number of suckling baby animals, in particular pigs.
As my parents ran a pig farm my familiarity with pigs outweighed any other beings. Their capacity to eat and digest everything thrown into the pen including discarded version of their own species or even their own children fascinated me. Consequently my internet bookmarks catalogued all species of pigs from wild and obscure Asian ones, to mainstream types similar to ours. I also relished images and videos of suck-a-thumbs that I arranged in a convenient hierarchy from the relatively rare, actual thumb sucking (adult, child, baby) to tangential links to dummies, bottles, teats and alike. I was aware that this interest could be perceived as unhealthy for a teenager so I ensured that neither my mother or father could gain access to my computer by securing it with a password ‘suck-a-thumb14.’ My parents were farmers so there was little danger of them gaining access to my computer both of them being uneducated in matters technical and only really clever with pigs.
Now in my twenties I have a computer and I have started this video blog to realise two ambitions. One to provide some tips for thumb sucking, and two…
“…well that will be a surprise for later.
My three tips for thumb sucking are displayed on the screen now:
- The perfect thumb should be cold and wet and smell of Brussels sprouts.
- A dry thumb is just a step a step toward a wet one.
- A warm thumb is the price you pay for sucking
Thumb sucking cannot be rushed. A snatched thumb suck is a wasted one. Better to wait until you have the time to invest in the activity. They say the place to ‘suck-a-thumb’ is in bed, on your own at sleeping time, so to be polite and not annoy people I don’t suck-a-thumb where people can see me. Well only you, and my parents. Besides what’s the point if there’s someone to talk to. You sound dumb talking with your thumb in your mouth and don’t you look stupid!
My dad likes to call me stupid whenever I suck my thumb. This doesn’t stop me and it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as he thinks it does. Given that he is a stupid farmer that knows nothing and I have I have read all of Shakespeare all of a Dickens and all of the Bible as well as the AA book of British Mammals and all the maps we have in the house and I have a computer, it’ s funny that he calls me stupid. If I am that stupid I wouldn’t have found out all the important stuff I have found out on the internet. For example, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, got his lines wrong. My father does not know that, as it has nothing to do with pigs. If the first person on the moon was a pig then he would know it. He thinks he knows everything. My father knows that sucking your thumb means you are a baby. He says he never ever sucked his thumb, not even as a baby, not even in the womb. Although, how he knows that, is anyone’s guess
Anyway, back to the tips. The first one is the most important. A new thumb is dry and tepid but an old thumb soaked in saliva, out of the mouth for several seconds will be cold, damp and smelling of Brussels sprouts.
Here in Yorkshire we eat Brussel sprouts at Christmas. Here on the farm the pigs love them too. They get all the messed up ones we eat the good ones. Dad says Brussel sprouts are good for you unlike thumb sucking. Brussel sprouts make you strong unlike thumb sucking. Thumb sucking is more than stupid it’s evil he says.
This Christmas, while we were eating dinner and I was thumb sucking between mouthfuls of turkey and roast potatoes, dad was shouting “Sampson, you are a stupid baby” so ferociously I got frightened and confused and thinking I was biting into a nice buttery Brussel I bit into my thumb. Well it didn’t hurt much but blood poured down my wrist onto Mum’s Christmas cloth, into my plate, all over the place. Dad began screaming stuff I can’t say on this video. Mum was sponging the Christmas cloth with her napkin, picking out the blood-soaked parsnips from my plate and telling me to go and wash my hands. She was crying. At the kitchen sink I realised I had actually bitten off a piece of my thumb so I spat it into a tissue to keep it. We finished without saying another word. Once I had finished the Christmas pudding, while dad slept in front of the TV and mum washed up, I savoured the bit of thumb preserved in the tissue.
I had bitten through a bit just under the pad. This proved to be a lucky accident. Closer to the nail all I would have produced would have been a blood blackened nail and we wouldn’t be here now. I had no hesitation in popping the fragment into my mouth. It seemed so familiar like a single grain of rice pudding and jam left over from tea. At first I sucked. This was exquisite. The familiar thumb taste was now laced with one less familiar, somewhere between soil and sweat, between beetroot and plums and as I chewed, a texture neither too firm nor too soft. I swallowed and a peculiar calm descended on me. I knew from the bible that this was a religious experience, something that would change my life.
Needless to say the pleasure was beyond words, even Shakespeare’s words. I was addicted.
Since Christmas I have developed my taste. I have stopped sucking my thumb but continue biting it. My parents are delighted. I explain my gloved right hand as a means of dissuading me from relapsing and a crucial step toward conquering my addiction. Dad has stopped calling me stupid and mum has stopped crying. They are both happy.
But that can’t be right.
I promised a surprise and here it comes!
I hold up my gloved hand to the camera. I offer it to you all, all the suck-a-thumbs of the world, all the cool boys with their cigarettes, all the mums and dads swearing and cursing their silly baby boys, all the kittens, the babies at breast, to myself and my thumb in the dark in the womb .
This little piggy went to market – little finger
This little piggy stayed at home – ring finger
This little piggy had sliced bread – middle finger
This little piggy had none – first finger
And this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home
(Sampson bites his thumb off.)
End of video
End of blog post
Sampson. No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I do bite my thumb, sir.
William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Act 1, scene 1.
Grandma was fat and ugly. Not fat-jolly or fat-cuddly, just fat-full, full of food, full of sweets.
Her favourites were penny sweets, the sort she could buy at the village shop when she was little. Rock-hard lollies on wooden sticks, mini sherbety Swizzlers, sweet cigarettes in cartons with pictures of cowboys on, tiny fruity balls called millions, gobstoppers with seeds in the middle and her favourite of all, tubes of Parma Violets she pretended were pills. Nowadays she could buy them all in the Co-op. Giant cellophane bags called “Children’s Party Selection” containing the lot. Not as much fun as choosing each one separately – but there were so many! She could suck down all of a tube of Parma Violets, the whole lot in one go. No need to keep some for later.
She ate so many she smelt of sweets. As she walked down the street kids would follow, sniffing her sugary scent, like the pied piper she would lure them to a cave and imprison them till their parents paid up. No not really – as she walked down the street nobody followed as nobody cared. Another fat, old, ugly lady full of sweets.
One day on her way to the Co-op she passed a new shop.
The new shop used to be a newsagent. She never used it as it was full of chocolate bars and crisps and she didn’t like them. The new shop smelt good. It smelt like her. She went in. The counters and shelves were stacked with the giant sugary sweets. Not the little sweets she knew but big, fat ones. Fat like her. Gross sugary bars of green and white and blue and purple. Stacks of giant balls coloured strawberry and cream with sprinkles on. Trays of blocks and spheres and cubes and pyramids and hearts in all the colours of refreshers and spangles and opal fruits and the flavours of the rainbow and best of all stacks and stacks of giant cakes of Parma violet. Grandma filled her basket. She bought tons. So many they sold her a fancy wicker basket to carry them all.
So, the fat, ugly, old Grandma walked home carrying her basket of sweets. On the way she met a Wolf who told her about another Grandma. No not really – on the way she met no one, and nobody talked to her as nobody cared.
When she got home, she set about eating her sweets. She started with the plainest looking ones so she could look forward to the fancy ones. She tore into the green and white bars. Mmmm! – they were so good. Then the blue and the purple. Next she licked the giant balls clean of their sprinkles down to a sticky pink and cream centre. She gorged on her basket of shapes, colours, textures and tastes until her mouth foamed, her eyes watered and her tongue was sore. Nearly everything was gone but the Parma violet were last. ‘Ready’ she thought! She sucked her fingers clean. Slowly and lovingly she ground the tablets to a grit that spattered and showered the roof of her mouth before bathing her taste buds in their perfumed soapiness. ‘Soapy’ she thought. ‘Soapy but so good.’
But then a bubble.
First one little bubbly fart slipped out. Who cares, nobody. Fat grandmas fart don’t they. But it was followed by another and then another. She waddled toward the toilet loudly projecting her continuous fragrant stream of sweetness as she went. She dropped her drawers and aimed her fat arse at the seat. Just in time for an avalanche of soapy bath products and sugar to thunder into the pan. It kept on coming, overspilling the pedestal and onto the lino forming a mosaic of multicoloured sugary crystals that spread about her just like Millions.
Next day Grandma was thin and popular. She was still old but now she looked like Joan Collins. People liked her because she smelt of soap and not sweeties but mainly because she was thin.
The Panettone cat
would never ever forget
Lardi lardi dardi
The memories rung like dumplings
Across the summer somethings
Sweet party party A&Gshaadi
We love the love hearty lee.
So with singing will make fly
the moulting pussy fur of time.
Them again – like a year ago,
really, so, wow!
Like a panettone boxed and bowed
Miaow, miaow, miaow
Oh love and shadi like a horse and carriage
Limoncello, vanilla, almond and chocolatt
We lap it up like a panettone cat
Sweet party party A&Gshaadi
We love the love hearty lee.
Our car was a Ford Cortina in beige. Once it might have been gold but by the third owners – us – it had lost its glister. The colour fitted the occupants. We lived in a beige Bromley suburb in a beige brick house behind a ‘hint of caramel’ front door – beige. Our life was dull and safe. That is until Dad discovered Campingaz.
Dad was a fan of camping shops, though he had never camped. He was a thrifty chap and the idea of a holiday which required no investment in such necessaries as a tiled roof appealed to him. Thus our Saturday morning shopping trips to Bromley High Street typically ended with the three of us in Blacks cataloguing the tents, sleeping bags, guy ropes, and walking boots. At twelve years old, these goods promised the sort of adventures that my timid self could imagine but never execute, but to Dad they offered ‘savings’.
‘Adventure’ to Dad and Mum was framed by the experience of being bombed almost to blazes in the war. Dad described to me the occasion when an oil bomb ripped through their flat, and the scraping and rattling sound of shrapnel from the anti-aircraft guns dropping onto the ruptured roof as they waited for the bomb to explode. (It didn’t.) Dad had only one leg so he was a warden, specialising in preparing for a gas attack. Luckily one never occurred, but how he managed to scramble over the nightly accumulation of rubble in the Lewisham housing estates I really don’t know. As she was walking back from work Mum saw a stray bomb land on a primary school in Catford. That was how they met, picking up burnt bits of children.
Nowadays ‘adventure’ meant going to the library, shopping in Marks, walking our vicious red setter Grace, and frequent Saturday afternoon car rides. The Campingaz was intended as an enhancement to the car rides. Cocooned in its blue tin box, printed with instructions in French and English a luggage catch hid a series of deft flaps that displayed two spare canisters and a base to rest the burner.
Caution determined that we avoid too much excitement all in one go. This particular car ride would be unambitious, no more than 25 miles there and back. The participants would not include my sister, a perpetual dieter and dismisser of fried food, thus allowing room in the car for Grace, who in any case forbade us from leaving her at home if there was any prospect of a walk.
Mum intended a tea consisting of Walls sausages, fried eggs, and tinned tomatoes. This would be complemented by a fresh cream cake, delivered by the milkman this morning and currently defrosting, and McVities chocolate digestives. As the Gaz stove would be occupied with frying, she also prepared a small flask of tea with sugar for me, and a larger flask of Gold Blend, with a plastic bag of Coffeemate (a recent and much-admired discovery on the shelves of Safeway). To top off this assortment, she had found a bag of barley sugars left over from some travel sickness incident, and a single Express Dairy yogurt which nobody wanted but she insisted had to be eaten. For Grace, there were Bonio biscuits.
After a forty-five-minute drive, the Cortina was berthed in a lay-by somewhere north of Tunbridge Wells. We were sitting on folding chairs between the open car doors, which acted as a windbreak, squeezing some warmth from an indifferent English sun. The view was of a field through a gap in the hedge. The spot was chosen for the grass, a bin provided by Sevenoaks District Council, and the gap in the hedge, which provided access to unobserved penny-spending, invisible even to a double decker bus.
Dad took care to remove the spare canisters and place them on the parcel shelf before lighting the stove. At the beginning of the year, Miss Hutchinson had instructed us at length about the danger of Bunsen burners, but given Dad’s war time expertise we knew we were in good hands. The blue tin provided a sort of tent for the device as well as a flat base. Because it was outside and in common with a tradition that hitherto I had been unaware of, dad cooked. This tradition emerged quite naturally from nowhere. I had never seen Dad cook before and it was almost as embarrassing as catching him without his artificial leg on a night-time hop to the toilet. Once the Spry Crisp and Dry was bubbling, Mum opened the packet of sausages, Dad lanced them with a fork and dropped them into the pan. The eggs and tomatoes would wait until a later round of frying. Dad’s face beamed with delight. We knew why, and Mum and I joined in with the beaming. This was hot food outdoors. Proper food, smelling – and soon to be tasting – just like the food Dad had more or less every day. No reading restaurant menus outside to check the prices, no awkward looking at the tablecloth while we were served, no non-Walls sausages, and best of all no bill. Mum and I felt loved and hungry.
Grace meanwhile had smelled the sausages. She had been resting in the grass unenthusiastically licking a Bonio. With no one to bark at and no other dogs to bite she was much less present than normal and we had all forgotten about her. Grace combined athleticism with focus. This was demonstrated by the acceleration she achieved in crossing the ten yards from her dining spot to the frying pan, and the precision with which she hit pan, Campingaz stove, and Dad simultaneously before disappearing with a sausage through the gap in the hedge into the fields. Meanwhile Dad, Mum and I spectated this event as if we were catching up with an old Laurel and Hardy movie. By the time we had gathered ourselves the entire back seat of the Cortina was ablaze. Instinctively I stepped back into the council bin, which seemed to hold me like a supportive adult at the scene of an accident. Which I suppose this was.
And then wonder came to pass.
With uncanny agility Dad leapt to the back of the car, opened the boot, and threw Mum a large can of water used to fill the radiator. For himself he grabbed an old blanket he kept for the frequent winter breakdowns or when Grace’s blanket became too unsavoury for the back seat. He threw it on the grass and Mum doused it with the entire contents of the can. As Dad shut the front kerbside door, Mum moved to the other side of the blanket. The two of them raised it as though folding laundry and somehow managed to launch the blanket like a salmon over the back seat. Dad snatched the two spare canisters from the parcel shelf and Mum slammed the door. Almost immediately the flames subsided, black smoke filled the car, and the back window cracked. Mum and Dad retreated to the council bin and cuddled me.
A green double decker bus swung round the corner and pulled up down the road. Inside, a crowd of primary school children, presumably on a weekend trip, massed at the windows. Grey faces peered at us. The driver came over. Were we OK, what had happened, the car was ruined, did we want a lift, tell the dog to stop barking.
We wanted a lift.
I was designated the front seat with Grace, who was asleep. I had the best view of the overhanging tree branches before they scraped the roof of the bus and enjoyed being the eldest on board other than Mum and Dad and the driver. Mum and Dad were in the back row, bathing in children, who had already forgotten about the smoking Cortina that smelled like breakfast and were singing songs. The children did not seem to notice that Mum and Dad were crying. I knew it wasn’t about our Cortina, or our burnt tea.