Lair of Horwins I gaze upon thee

November 22, 2013 - Leave a Response

Dawn broke slowly over Holloway, as if it had preferred us in the dark. By the time the sun had hauled itself on stuttering fingers over the roof of Paradise Discount and Luxury Household Goods I had been ornamenting the Horwin’s cotoneaster horizontalis for over an hour as its palest, newest, largest and most truculent berry. From here I could see two puce-curtained upper bedrooms, a front room Hilda Ogden might have rejected for the plodding vulgarity of its flatpack bum-punishers, and a white-tiled kitchen extension. Even the presence of enough thorns in my sides to drive our quoting vicar into carnal apoplexies of reminiscence had helped to ward off sleep. I had chosen well.

A bedroom light flicked on, lingered, flicked off. Radio Four brayed briefly and was stilled. It was starting. A molecule of adrenaline tipped tentative toes into my bloodstream, an Amazon it had seldom hitherto attempted to chart. Satisfaction at my choice of vantage both petered and palled, however,  over the course of an all-but-motionless hour. The Horwins could not have avoided the windows more assiduously if I were a ring of high-powered assassins.

My mood climbed briefly when the front door opened and a male voice cleared its throat in the hallway. Could this be my lank young epitome? Alas, it was the Horwin’s embattled husband, a frozen plume of a man with the posture and aspect of a stick of Wrigley’s chewed once and replaced in the foil. He trudged past me at treacle speed, scrape-faced and cavern-eyed. Then nothing.

Did I doze? I think I rather abolished the distinction between wakefulness and sleep. I was a body and a view. My eyes were open but my mind was numb.

This state, like bliss but with the pleasure drained out, persisted for what may have been an hour. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I leapt so far in the air I expected to land in a different time-zone, but not for the first time the earth’s rotation let me down. I came to ground again in the same bush with the same fell fingers on my collarbone.

“Mr Morrissey,” a low voice purred. I hoped wildly for an autograph hound, even one of those burger-breathed coils of avarice with twenty vinyl copies of Strangeways and an E-bay account. But I knew who it was. Her words bricked up any possible avenue of escape. “Mr Morrissey,” she repeated. “What are you doing in my hedge?”


No Boswell she

November 20, 2013 - Leave a Response

I have always viewed the figure of Sherlock Holmes with avid distaste. His calamitous reliance on opiates is a sure index of moral vacuity, and he seems to deem any adventure incomplete without the celebratory assassination of a goose, the wretched cadaver of which Watson is sure to slaver over like an ejaculating Mussolini. Still, an emulous, tremulous glee moved within me at the prospect of donning the great detective’s mantle. With Lulu as my dedicated sidekick, I ached to unveil the secrets of Horwin Manor in what I had already dubbed The Case of the Etiolated Avatar.

Alas, I was blown off course by a picture in the Daily Telegraph. This half-literate megaphone of royalist clotpollery, which had somehow been allowed to ooze into my living room, there thrust upon my violated eye the image of a rictal Pippa Middleton. An unfortunate display at any time, this vile instance found her lounging like a lobotomised odalisque atop a cairn of slaughtered birds. By the time I had honed my open letter down to a compact eighteen pages of jewelled revulsion, it was too late to probe the neighbours. Tomorrow I  shall don what I refuse to refer to, even in metaphor, as the deerstalker.

I realised as I wrote, partly from a red line under “realised”, that my spell-checker has been stuck on US English, a phrase that itself demands prompt and violent correction. I have no idea how long this has been going on. I only hope it has not affected the memoir.

Mon semblable, mon voisin

November 19, 2013 - Leave a Response

I was presenting bulbous TV awards in a submarine which was also a workingman’s cabaret. My patter was casual and keen and the response was riotous. Tears of laughter sparked in the autocue wrangler’s hulihee like sequins on a mohair catsuit. I had just felled Alan Titchmarsh with an offhand epigram when the podium split and I was back, curled like a furred foetus on the same cold Holloway pallet.

The source of the disturbance was soon clear. Lulu had grappled her fawn monstrosity into the scullery, and she was ranging across it with a hairdryer like an Uhlan shooting the wounded. I have lost the battle of the stairway. Throw in the plum-juiced upholstery and we have a home-furnishings holocaust. It is time to shop.

I had penetrated just far enough into Highbury Interiors to assure myself that it was in Highbury and did boast at least one interior when I spied the bear-brown quiff of my Halloween nemesis bobbing past the window. He was still, gladioli aside, in costume. He even sported the same lensless simulacra of my NHS hornrim, which had once displaced John Lennon’s execrable tin-rimmed squinters from an overlong sojourn at pop’s eyewear pinnacle.

Of course I followed him. Past low Biddestone, past the lacquered scowl of the City and Islington, on without a swerve through Parkhurst and Seven Sisters. He paused at Nambucca to ogle the poster of some grunting lumberjack with a five-string bass, and I dropped into a painful crouch behind the chalkboard of a pub. By the time I could creak erect and focus, he was disappearing into Brickfield Terrace itself. Odd. Odd and alarming. I ran in a ferment to the corner, and saw him draw close to my house. I feared alike for my sanity and for Lulu, though a stray unworthy image of gore-slabbered carpet held the promise of a compensatory boon from the rampage. But my uncanny shadow did not quite reach The Vapours. Instead he turned left, up the short path to Horwin Manor. Curious and ever more curious. He let himself in with a key.

Again I had the sensation of my surroundings peeling away to expose a bone-grim reality beneath.

This demands investigation.

Midnight hours of Julia Fordham

November 18, 2013 - One Response

Rolling out of my Ginger and Fred at unseasonably early water and power, I direct my plates of beet down the apple and pears to the drawing room. Lulu is champing a penitent plum and watching Eamonn Goblins and Gnomes on Sky. “Careful!” I cry, noting with passing approval the presenter’s quietly dandyish cravat. “You’re spilling Almighty Zeus on the Typhoon Bopha!”

People who talk about the speed of thought should spend a morning with dear Lulu. A big heart she has, but hearts and brains must run from the same power supply. Each can only develop at the other’s expense. She looked at me now as I imagine a fly looks at a rolled-up newspaper, while a second sap-bead formed on the bit plum. She had evidently forgotten my decision to speak only cockney today, in honour of Danny’s first day in studio.

“Lulu,” I chide. “Have you completely Dot Cotton my surgical incision to classical Greek only in cockney today, in Donald O’Connor of Danny’s first day in the Abacab and Sussudio?”

Blank panic. I summon up a reassuring smile and retire to the kitchen. As I pop a slice of unmade bed in the roller coaster, I remember that Abacab seeped out of Genesis, while Phil Collins committed Sussudio alone. I pretend to myself that my act of musico-linguistic bestiality was the source of Lulu’s confusion. It is a cheering thought, and the new week rises invitingly before me as I butter my Barbary Coast.

Cab gabble Tartarus

November 15, 2013 - Leave a Response

Florence Nightingale stole an owl in Athens. In Lambeth her latter-day acolytes have stuffed its corpse and exposed it to the gum-champing public gawp. I wake with a plan to steal and bury it.

Creeping past Lulu and possibly Borset, now mercifully silent, I equip myself with a hemp bag for a winding-sheet and my stoutest army boots. My plan is elegance itself. If I kick over the old crone’s medicine chest I can liberate the owl while the guards are blinded with bicarbonate and rhubarb dust.

The cabbie is a talker. Today he is talking about the unemployed. “If I couldn’t work,” he insists. “I don’t know what I would do.” Having confessed this two-headed failure of imagination I expect him to shame-kamikaze into the Wurlitzer frontage of Slim Jim’s Liquor store. I brace myself to die in a fountain of glass and tequila, and the picture is so vivid (pink light, a worm twirling slowly in a cloud of shards) that I am a little piqued when he drives on calmly past Gaskin.

His recipes for a better Britain spew forth with barbarous force. I hear myself thunder a Bracknellesque “Halt!” when we have barely pierced the rim of Finsbury, and spend the rest of the morning weeping in a grove of lavender. You have achieved nothing.

Emerging from my pot-pourri Gethsemane I pass a young couple on a bench. She is eating aubergine slices from a Tupperware tub. He is immersed in my book. She proffers a morsel at fork-point, but his white hand waves her away. His soul has a higher food.

I rattle home on the 153 with my hemp bag full of nuts. As I pass the Horwin dacha I see her husband on the roof again. We exchange slow salutes. Tomorrow I will free the owl.

A beast with six jowls

November 14, 2013 - Leave a Response

A burst of unseasonal sunshine having dried Lulu’s fawn carpet, its installation loomed hideously imminent. A cupped ear at her bedroom door caught low regular grunting, one of her ambitious repertoire of nocturnal noises. If David Byrne gave her a cheese sandwich and a duvet he could keep Luaka Bop afloat indefinitely. She was asleep. I had time to act.

I was dousing the malodorous weft from a watering can in the shape of an elephant’s head, part of the plethora of zoophilic tat abandoned by a previous occupant I can only ever picture defecating into a pith helmet and weeping for the Raj, like a Neil Tennant capable of emotion, when a dim gleam in the japonica caught my eye.

It was a gnawed bone. I was off the oak-stump and up the stairs with it before the spouting trunk had hit the grass. Some kindly providence of the senses stopped me on the threshold of Lulu’s room, however. I believe I literally paused mid-air and settled, like a leaf. The grunts were faster now, and they had been joined by a high jubilant whimper. I waited breathless. Monophony, and Lulu might have been having a nightmare. Polyphony, and the nightmare was mine. Dust danced in the sunlight. My heart slowed. The sounds edged into each other and finally, terribly, overlapped. Lulu and Borset, for I assume it was he, have gone carnal.

I saw my bone float to the landing, then somehow I was in the kitchen wreathed in the steam of a camomile tea I had no memory of brewing. I was gulping it directly from the pot.

Can an ear unhear? Lord, Lord, I hope so.

We get ourselves a reader

November 13, 2013 - Leave a Response

I call Danny to tell him he has left his script behind.

He informs me with swelling pride that he has started a novel. I cheerlead this latest evidence of his creative renaissance, or naissance, with bland pep. For fully thirty minutes I froth lush praise before he tells me that the novel is Animal Farm. “It’s about pigs,” he adds helpfully. “They’re very organised.”

Sometimes I feel my body has yet to adjust to Earth gravity.

Man cobbling

November 12, 2013 - Leave a Response

Danny and I worked on his first scene for five hours. He was happy with the second reading. “If you were harder to please,” I was friend enough to tell him, “you might have been the new Vin Diesel. Instead you have gurned and wotchered your way into a post as the new Shane Richie. It may behoove you to take counsel.” While my Nancy was broad but serviceable, there were murkier depths of Johnny I needed time to uncover.

I worried I had gone too far, but my co-star was unperturbed. ”Look at Moz,” he urged an imaginary audience, “giving it the verbals.” His mind is placid as a lake, its silver-glaze surface unrippled by a pebble of fear or thought. I envy him this.

We break at last for a cigarette (him) and a squint at the Guardian (me). An artist in Moscow has nailed his scrotum to the ground. I experience a burst of fellow feeling. I signed to Rough Trade. 

Ooh, get Carter

November 11, 2013 - Leave a Response

I was listening to Lulu’s breakfast and pressing the cold bowl of a ladle to my brow (I take a little wine on a Sunday) when the front door boomed. Remembering at length how to operate the handle, I found Danny beaming on the step.

“You look radiant,” I alleged, but in truth I was glad to see him. Morning television was a sea of paper poppies, each one pinned to an opinion of Miley Cyrus’s fringe and vagina.

“I ‘ave my script,” he crooned, producing from his Barbour and proceeding to brandish thirty or so pages of cheap typing paper. Small blocks of dialogue filled the left of each page. Even as the typescript blurred with Danny’s triumphal thrusting, I could tell that all stray polysyllables had been detained at immigration. They knew their man.

“What have they given you?” I asked.

“I’m a family man. You’ll like this. My son is one of your lot.”

“A Mancunian? A genius? The saviour of a tottering imprint?”

“A poof,” he replied. Lulu growled.

“I thought you could help me with my lines,” Danny continued. “You can do the son.”

I left that one were it lay and took the script. Danny jabbed at the first scene. “I’ve marked your lines blue. You get most of them.”

“Oh Danny,” I sighed after a moment. “You have two children.”

“No,” he said. “One. It’s Johnny.”

“And your daughter.” I was gentle. “Your daughter Nancy.”

“Oh.” It stilled him for a good ten seconds, a record.  An amused snort signalled his recovery. “Well,” he cantillated perkily. “That’s what rehearsals is for.”

“Rehearsals?” I all but sobbed. He had already pushed the sofa against the wall and tumbled both armchairs into the scullery. It was going to be a long day.

Short only a locust

November 8, 2013 - Leave a Response

Thunder in the evening. Lulu cowered on, and then behind, the sofa. I fought my  way through the Holloway Gazette, a weekly distillation of the darker canticles of Job.

The elderly of Nib’s Acre face winter without insulation. A pool of blood appears on Filrose Crescent. A man stabbed in the ear on a Tube platform is hit by his own ambulance, breaking both collarbones and an urn of his mother’s ashes. “She wanted scattering,” he reports, as her ground remnants coat a ring of chip-huffing onlookers, “but not here.”

I am waiting for Cliff Richard to announce his Christmas single on the One Show when an unexpected fist pounds at the window. What I assume to be a meth-crazed local barbarian yawps out a murderous vowel-string. In seconds Lulu is under the sofa. I fancy I can feel her ridged back through the upholstery. By the time I lure her out with warmed Nutella and throw open the door, the street outside is deserted. Even the lights of Sew Over It Suit Repair are dim.

Later, a text from Danny. “WR R U LOL??!” I fail to share his amusement. I angrily text him a picture of a doorbell, feel instant guilt for my harshness, and realise I have missed Cliff entirely. I turn to the cruel comforts of the Holloway Gazette. They have mutilated my letter about the rats. It seems I shall be forced to write to them again.