18th June 2019 Lately it’s occurred to me that I should experiment with less overt methods of taking photographs than pointing my camera at people. I’ve had a few spots of trouble on recent outings
I was on Deansgate again, not quite in the centre of Manchester. Percy approached a steel bollard. A man and three ladies approached us along the pavement. As a possible picture it was unpromising but it was an opportunity to try out sitting about looking like I wasn‘t taking a photograph while I was. I sat on the bollard behind the one Perce was assessing, wearing, I hoped, the mild look of an oldish chap quietly enjoying an evening out with his little dog, my camera rested on the top of my thigh, just happening to be pointed towards Percy and the three ladies, my face aimed elsewhere. I considered whistling. Percy’s leg went up. A finger pressed the button four times.
‘Did you just take a photograph of my legs?’
Probably boring any regular readers (and myself when I check this back through in the hope of catching some speling and grammatical, mistakes) who know that I am always pleased when legs are prominent in Percy Pissing photographs I mused for a while that she was at least partially right.
‘Did you just take a photograph of my legs?’
It’s stupid to muse when you are surrounded by three women, two of them creasing their brows and straightening their lips in support of the one who is ever more crossly repeating the same sentence.
‘Did you just take a photograph of my legs?’ Weekend evenings and nights do make people verbally repetitive. As does not answering them. She settled those legs like a wrestler. She really did. She’d eschewed high heels for her Saturday night out.
‘Did you just take a photograph of my legs?’
That was quite a hard question for me. I knew what she meant and it wasn‘t what I meant. Eventually I said, ‘Well, in a way I did and and in another way
I’ve stopped that sentence like that because she interrupted me. ‘Show me the photo. Show me the photo.’ She’d decided to not waste time between repetitions. I didn‘t see why I shouldn’t show her. I like showing people my photographs. I anticipated that she would see in the foreground a dog pissing, and her and her companions in the middle distance – only part of them being their legs – and would be charmed and intrigued, and even perhaps tell me all about her cockapoo and give me a like and we’d be lifelong doggy friends on Instagram. She got close to me. She didn‘t like doing it and I didn‘t like her doing it. Unfortunately I had chopped Percy in half and got nothing much of her except leg. I did think of mentioning that she was only showing the flesh of her shins and calves between a below-the-knee skirt and ankle socks, but mainly I was sad that she’d spotted me and that the new improvised sitting-down and doesn‘t-look-like-photography photography which I’d hoped would decrease castigation and bashing wouldn’t. And wasn’t.
Then I was disappointed with the quality of the photograph. I can find a reason to like most photographs,and there is something in the way that she and Percy are pushed to the margins and truncated that very slightly appealed to me, but it wasn‘t what I’d been after. I may have grimaced or shook my head. My lightbulb moment was blown.
‘They‘re my legs! You‘ve photographed my legs!’
Me taking photographs of Percy pissing does make a lot of people cross, but I’m not ashamed as nothing seems to make them happier than getting cross. It seems such a simple and undemanding thing to do for them, both comforting and engrossing. As she shouted I scrutinised her face for some small softness that I could talk to.
‘They‘re my legs! You‘ve photographed my legs!’
I considered showing the previous photographs. But I was worried they might be as dull and as badly composed as this one.
‘They‘re my legs! You‘ve photographed my legs!’
My slowness was really annoying her. I wondered further if she was a boss of people and used to faster responses.
I noticed she was shouting something else at me. It was, ‘What do you think you‘re doing: taking photographs of women‘s legs.’ I thought it was a question and I started to answer; but it was merely rhetorical; she had an answer prepared for me: ‘You‘re a leg pervert!’ Then to make sure I understood what I was, ‘You photograph women’s legs. You‘re a leg pervert.’
I said, ‘I’m not.’ It’s annoying for a pervert to be accused of a perversion he is not perverted by. I like the bottoms that are on top of the legs best. To bore you yet again: my interest in legs is relatively conceptual.
Also if I was a leg picture collector I wouldn‘t have started with hers as they looked like mine. I could be wrong though – as I’m not one.
She said, ‘You are.’
I said, ‘I’m not.’ I was getting repetitive now.
‘Who else walks their dog around at this time of night?’ Now I know what novelists mean when they write that someone ‘scoffed’. I silently chatted to myself about telling her about Percy Pissing. It sounds terrible though, far more niche and nobbly than photographing ladies’ legs. I wished I had a phone so I could show her all the nice photographs. I said, ‘Would you like me to tell you what I am actually doing?’
‘Delete it now.’
This is my 8,578th best photograph of Percy Pissing: I was as happy to delete it then as later. I‘ve recently learned how to delete lots of pictures in one go which, at three a.m. last Sunday Morning I realised had had the knock on effect of causing me to forget how to delete photographs singly. I asked her if she knew how to do it. Now I know what novelists mean when they write that someone ‘snorted with derision‘. I said, ‘I‘m not deleting all my previous photographs. There are some good ones from earlier on.’ There weren‘t I realised later, but I tend to optimism. Also looking at the other three photographs I could see one of her friends, the one showing more of her legs, I think spotting me at work, and I further think not looking bothered. Perhaps I should purchase a disability scooter for surreptitious Percy Pissing photographic outings. Perhaps I’d better get one before someone puts me in one.
The cross lady said something disparaging about me to the world and to me and they went. I think she was just sick of me by then. And crossness runs out: it’s a quick high with a greasy hangover. I went on up Deansgate, the bloke in her anecdote.
I was going to stop writing there but seeing only those dull photographs in this post irked me until I remembered that a little further up the street and a few minutes later I took this one. I see this gesture occasionally in my life and it always seems to say a lot, and I was very happy to find it in my lens. I’m reminded of Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride. And I’ve just remembered that the time I went to town before this, and only yards away from where I took this photograph of a girl with a hand on another’s heart I took a photograph of a girl with her hand on another‘s back. It’s the first photograph in the post below this.
31st May 2019 I stared at where I‘d parked the car and said where it was. Percy marked a lamppost. We walked to Whitworth St West which is usually a good street for kissers. The young lady who soothes the path to Revolution was pleased to see Percy again. At the corner of Whitworth Street and Deansgate a bunch of chaps in cheerful shirts conferred. They might have helped make a jolly picture if they had been nearer the coign of a wall or some street furniture. I clicked a few times anyway so I could re-enjoy their shirts later. In Manchester, these days, women on a night out tend to colourful dresses and complicated make-up but most chaps favour dull.
Further along Deansgate I took this photograph which doesn‘t look like what it’s made of, which is a girl comforting and supporting her friend who is screaming, distraught, and furious at a boy who I recall as resentful. That hand on the back goes through to my heart.
We crossed the road. Percy fancied the furniture outside a cafe. I played out some lead and he pissed on a chair as I pressed the button a few times in the hope that something might bounce into the photograph and enliven its not quite special-enough ordinariness. Afterwards I took some inconsequential photographs of people waiting for a taxi, perhaps slightly peeving some of them. About forty footsteps later I was enraptured by some green trousers and red brothel creepers.
A small fluffy contentedly-busy dog is a delight for some revellers, and not many more footsteps later two girls fell as far as their knees for Percy. In the only sharpish one of the three photographs I took Percy isn‘t pissing, so it’s no use. A lot of my night-time photographs are blurred; often because I find it tricky to respond innocuously and nicely to the people I‘m trying to unobtrusively photograph in weak light with one hand, while holding Percy’s lead with the other. I wish an expert would walk round with me pointing out the things I‘m doing wrong; technically not morally I mean.
I had three goes at the next shot. I’ve tried before to photograph Percy pissing on a front tyre of a parked car without its driver noticing. There are wonderful exceptions where people who notice me find a way to enthusiastically improve my photograph but most Percy pissing shots are better if their subjects aren‘t pulling one of the half dozen or so faces people typically pull when they notice me immortalising them. I’m pleased enough with this one; usually the driver is hard to see or looking cross or perplexed. I don’t regret the lack of a top to the girl’s head as I think she had already spotted me. The lad and the girl (I rarely use lass because I‘m Southern and lad is but lass isn‘t. Daisy uses both) got cross. This is obvious in the photograph that immediately follows this one. ‘You took our picture’, she said crossly, and her and the lad each took a cross step towards me. ‘I took the little doggy’s picture,’ I said in a voice that I hope sounds friendly but not quite right in the head, then took steps away back towards Deansgate as, the voice not having worked, they said, ‘No you fucking didn‘t,’ and added nasty nouns. I do like the blue of that taxi.
In the first five minutes of a walk Percy will piss on most things including walls; in the first fifteen minutes of a walk Percy will piss on most free-standing stationary objects and two sided protrusions such as the corners of walls, but is no longer guaranteed to piss on a stretch of unbroken wall. Which is what I very much wanted him to do when I saw these legs. Which he did. And included in that ‘did‘ was lifting the same leg as the plastic runner’s lifted leg. He could as easily have chosen to face the other way and lift the other leg.
I rarely take photographs of homeless people unless of course they are doing something very interesting. I don‘t really know why I don’t. But I took this photograph because I am fairly sure the sleepers are children, which is very interesting. I certainly thought they were at the time and I was looking through my glasses. I didn‘t wish to go any closer and risk waking them. We turned right at the end of Deansgate and passed the print works and this incident. The man with the sticks was waving them about but had stopped by the time Percy had sniffed about and selected his piss posture.
Then there was a man in a green wig and then some ladies. I didn‘t try very hard with them as Percy was too far away and also because I was distracted by a conversation and laughter. One part I remember accurately. I love it when conversation rhymes. ‘My seven’s getting me all the way to heaven.’ ‘I‘m having to make do with five. Fuckin’ ’ell I’m laying there and thinking go on then, shove the rest of it in, but there isn‘t any rest.’ .
I’ve always coveted a photograph of Percy and a man pissing but have been frequently frustrated by Percy not joining in or darkness or farawayness. The chap you can’t see in this photograph had no wish to sidle modestly into a shadowed corner or an alleyway. Loudly and forcefully and twice he announced to the world that he was going to piss just here. ‘Here’ was as you can see a well-lit street. I was delighted: it would be so useful to me if people announced whenever they were about to do something I would like to photograph and give me a little time to get organised. He was a good-looking chap of about thirty, perhaps a little older. He freed his cock and waved it about. It was a big cock and I thought that‘s good for the photograph. But the thing that I really really thought would be good for the photo was the man’s one leg. His other leg stopped above the knee. As I’ve written I think Percy Pissing pictures are nearest to perfect when legs are the most interesting thing about them. Percy briefly sniffed the nicely-sited bin we’d found and then just as he lifted his leg the man’s lady-friend rushed far enough into the frame to conceal him and his pissing cock from my lens and stood close to him while twice saying, ‘Oh no you‘re pissing in the street,’ in an aghast but indulgent way. He told her to take over his cock and point it for him, which she did while pointing out that she really shouldn‘t be. He told her roughly but not nastily that she should just keep doing it and not splash his shoe. I heard rather than saw all this. Percy was pissing happily, but because of a parked car and because she was close to him, all I could get of them both was her back. So I don‘t have a picture of a one-legged man pissing in the street while his lady friend helps him aim, and isn‘t it annoyingly sharp too.
Legs: mine were sore and tired. I need two new hips. Percy was low on piss. I decided to walk back without taking any more photographs. Except for this one.
And it came to pass that the waters of the flood were upon the earth
21st May 2019 Daisy noticed that on Sunday on the nearby green the vicar from the local C of E church of Saint Clements was to conduct a dog blessing. On Saturday night Daisy shampooed Perce. He emerged from all his towels sun-bright white and fluffed.
We were a little late. The weather was lovely. The vicar was stood in front of a pavilion addressing through a small P A a small crowd which included at least a dozen dogs and their owners. The vicar explained to us that it was good when we were nice to our pets but understood that sometimes we were not as perfect as we wished to be. He congratulated God on producing so many marvellous animals for his world. We sang a pretty hymn with some enjoyable hallelujahs. A girl read from the Book of Genesis. Sometimes a dog barked and the other dogs joined in. Percy had a big bark at a huge hairy dog that lifted its leg higher than I can. I walked Percy away then walked him back and around and took some photographs. I joined in a prayer. The vicar announced that he and his assistants would walk among us and bless the dogs. I was photographing the blessing of a brown dog by an assistant and I didn’t notice the priest approach. He asked Percy’s name and leaned over him and touched his back and reading from his guide thanked God for creating Percy, and blessed Percy. While being blessed Percy lifted his leg and blessed the vicar back on the front of his surplice and cassock. Quickly I pointed out to the priest this was happening, but he continued with the last few words of the blessing, which impressed me a lot. Then he said, with a touch of regret but without irritation, and even amiably, that this was the first time any dog had done that and I felt proud. I am well-trained to take pictures of Percy pissing in any interesting situation and even though I had been unprepared for a photograph, and was mainly occupied in warning the vicar, I was still able to take two quick and hardly aimed photographs.
Returned to the house I told Daisy how it had gone. She asked if it was his best surplice and cassock which would need an expensive dry clean. When she looked at the pictures we were pleased it was only his workaday outfit. We hoped Percy had missed his stole. Perhaps I should buy him a box of chocolates. Daisy said that yesterday when she was having a coffee outside a cafe Percy had pissed on her shopping bag which he hadn‘t done previously. And she wondered that today he had pissed for the first time that she knew of on a person. She wondered if he was affected by me sometimes cheerfully saying what a good dog he is a few times after he had contributed to a photograph that pleased me. I think not: he is indifferent to praise.
3rd November 2018 Daisy, Percy and me, went to Morecambe for three days for my 60th birthday. We stayed in a Travellodge having forgotten that we‘d said we‘d never do so again. We remembered that promise when all the things that had made us make it happened again. I woke for the last time, invented some new swear words then set out to walk Perce anywhere. It‘s always nice weather on my birthday. I have never even nearly seen so many mobility scooters. Here‘s a picture with a man with a lot of pale ale. I wish I‘d taken a picture of the smart lady who is here behind him, as after catching him up, she made off with a pack, but I didn‘t think to because Percy wasn‘t pissing. I just read that last bit out to Daisy to see if it was obvious I was joking. She thought it wasn‘t.
A sign at the start of the Stone Jetty explained that filming was underway and anyone who thought they might have been filmed and didnt want to end up on telly should inform someone or other – I forget. I thought I‘d take our six legs down to the far end and have a look at the Irish sea. A thirty-ish chap in a high viz jacket and a practised scowl told me we couldn‘t go any further. I said we could. He said we couldn‘t. I tried some coulding. He responded with canting. There we were, a dance, me trying to go forward and him pushing me back with his belly and holding his arms out sideways to prove he wasn‘t touching me. ‘‘You‘re not allowed to touch me,‘‘ I explained. ‘‘I‘m not,‘‘ he said, bellying me while flapping his arms to show he wasn‘t touching me. Percy‘s lead was now tangled around one of his legs and Percy was looking indignant. I wondered if Percy would nip him. Percy can try to fix confusion with tooth-work. A woman not much older than a girl and wearing bright clothes half-ran over and asked what was happening. The man suddenly shouted, ‘‘Don‘t shout at me,‘‘ in the hope that I‘d suddenly start shouting and he could biff me. I was busy looking smiley and harmless for the young lady. She was a bit cross with him and said she‘d walk me down the jetty. We chatted pleasantly as she worked out what the chances of me being trouble were and once we were past the filming said goodbye, and I walked to the end. There I took this picture and looked at the grey bustling sea and had the usual deep trite moments of reflection. There was also those flowers to think about. A man of my own age who didn‘t bother to impress me that he could if necessary be efficiently nasty turned up, easily apologised for his colleague – ‘‘door-work makes some of them like that‘‘ – and said that he‘d be happy to walk with me back along the jetty whenever I felt like it. He had a nice drift-woody face. He asked quite formally if I‘d like him to tell me about this particular bit of sea. He was a yachtsman, always on the sea, and his son held the record for – I think – rowing to the Isle of man from Morecambe. Whatever it was it took fifteen hours, I remember. When the conversation returned to dry land I learnt that he had for twenty years been the publican at the Nags Head on Deansgate – I‘ve been in there a few times. We found some other coincidences and parted almost as friends a little way after the filmers and all their kit. As I passed the first fellow I said, ‘Alright‘, as if it hadn‘t really been anything rankle-worthy after all, had it? He aimed at blithe and said, ‘‘Wonderful‘‘, his mouth not quite the right shape for the word.
26th March 2018 I was wondering why the music I was making was so frantic and intense. Then I realised it was because I frantically and intensely needed a wee, but despite this realisation I decided not to go for a wee quite yet as I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I really really needed a wee to make the track sound even more like the feeling of needing a wee. And I wanted to sing ‘I need a wee‘, for added authenticity. When I returned, I wrote the tinkling section that finishes the piece. Now this is what everybody in our house sings when they need a wee. It‘s tea, rather than hard drugs, that informs my creative process.
12th March 2018 Every few years over the last thirty I‘ve written a song while imagining I‘m one particular chap. I must have a dozen. I didn‘t know what he looked like until Daisy mentioned she‘d been waiting for a bus with a chap and his Mum, and how pleased she was because she hadn‘t seen them in fifteen years, and as she told me more about this chap I realised he was him, my Mr Particular Person. And now, at last, I knew what he looked like; and his mum.
Daisy told me how they used to regularly visit the cafe in Cole Bros in Sheffield for a light lunch or afternoon tea, probably like most of the other elderly ladies there chatting, after going round the shops. Cole Bros was a big posh-ish department store. Daisy was a waitress there in the early nineties. She would wonder about their life, what it would be like to have a son that never grew up and what would happen when she died. Daisy also wondered about the woman that only wore green, the too thin woman that only ever drank black coffee, and Dave Berry who sang the crying game in the Sixties and used to come in with his glamorous wife.
After some more about Dave, Daisy returned to the man and his mum at the bus stop. His mum wore beige crimplene slacks, beige Clarks K Skips shoes and either a beige-ish anorak or perhaps a fleece. They were probably from Dore and Totley or Whirlow, probably had a big Thirties house. Daisy could imagine her other sons were doctors or solicitors. The two of them were waiting for the bus with another lady. Both ladies seemed nice, sprightly but reserved, and well over seventy but doing a good job of ignoring that fact. Ladies is how they would have described themselves.
I hadn‘t realised how tall he was. I‘d got his clothes wrong too. I‘d had him in a V neck short-sleeved Fair Isle jumper. His Mum had him in a light woollen navy jumper with the tips of the collar breaking the round neck. He had a little round tummy – Daisy remembered him as always keen on buns. His shoes were often-polished brown lace-ups, double knotted, very solid and probably polished by her. He was clean and smart, very presentable. He seemed about forty now, with an un-detailed face and an always slightly delighted expression. Quite handsome, but not manly, his hair dark with a careful side-parting like a 1950‘s boy. Daisy even knew his name: Michael.
He used a pause in the conversation between his mother and her friend to ask her friend. ‘‘Do you like fruit?‘‘ She replied ,‘Yes.‘ He asked, ‘Do you like music?‘‘ She replied, ‘Yes.‘ He said, very pleased to be able to say it, ‘I know you do!‘ He was still smiling at this successful exchange when they got on their bus. I used that conversation in a song called Fruit and Music. Although in it I misremembered the conversation as a monologue directed at a bus of people:
‘Do you like fruit? I do. Do you like music? I do.‘
Another song he is in is this one, written before I‘d met Daisy. I‘ll tell you what happens in it so you don‘t have to concentrate too much or because I just like thinking about what happens in it. Someone -- probably, I know now, his mum -- buys him a red balloon which of course makes him deliciously happy. Then a bee appears. He worries that the bee might mistake the balloon for a fruit: it is an apple-red and pear-shaped balloon after all. He appeases the bee with candyfloss. No sting in the tail in this story. You can‘t train bees. I know you know that! So in the video for the song the bee is played by our West Highland Terrier, Percy. Edwin is Mr Particular‘s mum and Neil Fitzpatrick is the balloon vendor.
22nd October 2017 I usually like big fat men. If I was gay perhaps I would bother big fat men. My Dad was fat. It suited him. His parents owned a corner shop. ‘They gave him whole cream cakes,‘ my mother would say, a grimace making her wrinkles squeak in the crush. My mother weighed six stone and most of that was unwanted memories.
This poem-song thingy is all about a thin man marvelling at a big fat one. The painting probably is too. The poem was started in the middle Eighties. The painting is from halfway back to then. The photograph from not long after: that wall is now not green.
And if you have always wanted to see my radiators: here is some of one.
Look at the fat man eating his tea from a big pan, flat on one knee; look at his fat hand feeding him peas, potatoes and spam. He doesn’t see me. In his deep shade I fade as the red sun smoulders on the dimpled boulders of his head and shoulders.
O! Such a show: he’s eating chips. A pearl of slow grease drips from his lips onto that torso and lazily slips, to tremble and glow on the brink of a hip. He lifts his cup, up and up, to quaff more beer: far off, down here, I shout out, ‘cheers!’
That’s the last of the jam, and there’s nothing to sup: his careless hands relinquish his cup. All that I am could fit in that cup. Hands on his hams, and he’s standing up. Suppose I fell into the well of his hot, dark, long, strong-smelling belly-button, soft at the bottom.
I once met a man who saw him sneeze. He said the fat man started to wheeze like a broken brass band, to bob and to heave; his innards began to struggle and seethe, boiling within his tight skin: the sneeze hurled the man until he was slammed back into a tram.
He blinks and blows, standing at last: I stand below his best-ever arse. If he took me in tow, I’d live on grass to buy him gâteaux, pâté de fois gras and figs. I’m a twig in a wig. All of the worth of this poor earth is in his girth.
My tears flow; my face is slime: If only he’d slowly incline his spine, and let me know that he wouldn’t mind if I held a toe; That would leave nine. ‘You have so much: may I touch your smallest toe, not all of a row? That done, I’d go.’
22nd October 2017 Love Your Local I thought this might be my last pic of Percy pissing. It was about midnight in Stretford. After pleasing me by pissing outside the Robin Hood Pub he wriggled under a parked car. I don‘t like to pull on his lead as it can‘t be good for his neck, and anyway I thought it was probably a cat and he would do as he normally does: snarl and brandish his teeth, and then when the cat hissed, spat or raised a paw, retire snarling backwards to piss swaggeringly on everything standing. But I couldn‘t hear snarling. I could hear eating. And he wouldn‘t enjoy spending another half week again slowly sicking up an old kebab. I cajoled my body downwards, and chin on the pavement, grabbed two back legs. As his jaws appeared I saw very briefly the corner of a cling-film wrapped sandwich disappear. I slept badly. He slept well. On today‘s first walk, concentrating, he poohed out eight inches of cling film.
20th October 2017 As I bathed my closed eyes saw these famous three monkeys equipped with a camera, headphones and a microphone. I was delighted, then sighed or swore: inspiration is often a nuisance. I hate getting out of bed and not finding the dictaphone it would be sensible to always leave by it. A memory would be useful. Once while driving I surprised myself by saying the line that fitted the hole in a song. Car swaying, I found in the dashboard or, perhaps under the seat, three ballpoints that didn‘t really work, so still saying the line, pulled over, then scrawled it along the ground with a twig and photographed it. By the time the photographs came back I‘d decided all the lines in the song weren‘t much good. I‘ve stopped people in the street, asked them to ring my home phone (I dont have a mobile) and sung quite a lot of a song into my answer-machine.
So, anyway, I walked half the water of my bath downstairs then shivered and steamed flappily back up with a pad of A4, jumped back in, turned on the hot tap, pushed my hair back, and with drops of water trotting down the underside of my forearm and jumping off the heel of my hand onto the pad pressed on the tops of my raised knees, I drew this crossly confident and rubbishy approximation of my vision. Bad as it is it does the job. I don‘t think I could have done any better if water was dry.
20th October 2017 Percy Missing Last night was disappointing. Percy failed to loiter near the sign for Barton Road – probably, and sensibly, because it would have necessitated actually standing on Barton Road. I was prepared to risk him but he wasn‘t. He then failed to wet a poster with just the initials P P on it, really big too. I‘ve started taking photographs of some of his Near Pisses so as I sighed I pressed the button as he pissed on a National Lottery poster next to it. ‘You‘ve done that lottery joke ages ago, Perce,‘ I muttered. He ignored me. He never bothers much with me when we‘re out. He‘s friendly enough in the house, but outside I only get two looks: ‘Hurry up,‘ and ‘Oi! Can‘t you see I‘m busy here.‘ The evening before he didn‘t piss on the Sun (see above) that all the way towards I was silently begging him to. Go on, Percy, plunge the Solar System into perpetual black. He‘s walked past every Gents we‘ve walked towards.
16th October 2017 Percy Pissing on Holiday This year we took our holiday at Silloth on the coast of Cumbria. It‘s got everything we (Percy and me) need for a photograph: space. Usually the first part of most of these photographs is me elbowing stuff out of the way to make room for Percy‘s performance. In Manchester I end up getting close to keep out attention-seeking stuff. In Silloth, on the beach, on the promenade, in fields, even in front gardens, any objects tend to be nicely far off from each other, as do people. It was easy. Percy pissed: I pointed.
I took these photographs of a friend‘s windowsill about fifteen years ago. I found them last week having forgotten I‘d taken them. For years I‘d been trying to preserve my deteriorating memory of its splendour in a lyric. Now I can see that there is only one plate and no cups and saucers, that fish have left the river, that the set is more pattern than picture and that it was carefully placed to avoid symmetry. That it‘s not a set.
She leaned the plates against the parlour sky, maker‘s marks to the far off no-mark street, and in the middle of the sill she set that shapely pot to show its silhouette.
Blue folk from blue houses gaze from their blue bridges at blue folk in blue boats on blue streams. Blue birds in pairs rise above blue trees into the white sky.
On both this side and that of the pot she placed two tiny cups on tiny saucers. The pout of the milk jug finished off one end of the row. At the other she placed the sugar bowl.
The sunshine through the short-sighted window shows how all about that Chinese village, flocks of spiders have knitted a year long Christmas mist thick with silver dust, as thick as candy floss.
20th May 2016 NAAFI Record Dept. Fontainebleau 1958 My Dad was the manager of the NAAFI shop in Fontainebleau, an area south of Paris which is also famous for its forest and Château. Not that long ago, most people I knew knew what the NAAFI was. Now they don‘t. It runs cafes, bars, clubs, and shops for servicemen and their families. It gets smaller every year. It‘s mentioned in most of the sentences that Spike Milligan wrote. I suspect that the word ‘naff‘, which is usually supposed to be borrowed from Polari, was popularised by service men who believed it was derived from NAAFI and who used it to describe everything that wasn’t as good as they felt it should have been – as I wrote that sentence I saw chagrin monopolise my Dad‘s expression. I know exactly which year these photographs were taken because I was born in it. I don’t have Fontainebleau on my passport however as the armed forces routinely flew expectant mothers back from France to Blighty for Caesarian births as the operation was expensive in French hospitals. So I was born in Mayday Hospital in Croydon like lots of other Bartons. It‘s the record shop I‘d most like to pop a couple of my records into the racks of. If only to tease my Dad who thought they were bloody horrible.
Charles Barrie Crescent I was one of the last residents of The Crescents in Hulme to leave; I was anticipating that if I dug my heels into its flaky concrete, the council would eventually sigh and give me a nice house on the Merseybank Estate, and close to my brother Pin‘s house in Chorlton. The Council kept offering me a small flat in a high rise in miles-away Miles Platting with half a lavatory. However, the small print in the relocation bumph loved me: it stated that because I was to be re-homed against my wishes, any abode the Council offered me had to have at least the same amenities and features as my current address. My flat had two floors, two lavs, a front and back balcony, and lots of rooms. The Council would never have allocated a single tenant such a splendid residence anywhere else in Manchester.
My Flat was the Bottom Left I kept blandly insisting on either the Town Hall or a house in Merseybank. My neighbour demanded the same. The Council were no doubt hoping that as The Crescents‘ population decreased they would increasingly be visited by looters and arsonists and people-haters out for the day, and the last few sticky beasts such as me would succumb to fear and flee up the stairs of that high rise in Miles Platting – the lifts not working. I did have a few tricky moments in those last few months with visitors to the area who wished me ill.
Other than my immediate neighbour, the only person I knew who was frustrating the Council with excessive demands was a little tubby Middle-Eastern chap who lived a dozen or so yellow doors along from me, and who during our first conversation asked if I had noticed him previously, and when I said I had, asked me if I thought he had got balder. I always called him Mr Sir because that was what he always called me and it‘s a wonderful name and I wanted to have as much fun saying it as he must be. He would stop me with graceful gestures while saying such as, “Ooh hello to you Mr Sir wonderful day would you lovely to step through to my small home all within for you deeply fine tea from my own too far away land.” I never did cross into his dark-scented darkness: he was after my arse, and I was concerned my refusal to lend it might have spoilt our pleasure in exchanging our more and more ornate daily greetings. After all he was one of my, by then, very few neighbours. I believe he was the last tenant to leave the Crescents, and was definitely the last to leave ours – Charles Barrie Crescent – which was the last of the four to be pulled down. I think when I finally went I was joint-third to last. The reason Mr Sir was the last to leave, was that the council were renting him four of the by then vandalised garages on the ground floor. The bods at the local Council Offices, a year or two earlier, amazed that any one would want one, never mind four, had rented them for a mere £4 a week, and crucially he was up to date with the payments. Now they had to find him a house with four garages. He would accept nothing less, was politely, floridly adamant. His big brown eyes widened innocently – perhaps they could build him one?
A few months later when I was living on the Merseybank Estate I saw Mr Sir at a bus stop, pulled up, leaned over Oz, wound down the window, and then, about to advance an extravagant wish for the wonderfulness of his health, I noted he had two black eyes, a less obviously nose-like nose, and his head wasn’t bobbing with the fluid geniality I remembered because of a neck brace. It seemed that the last resident of probably all the Crescents had left his flat for the last time with the last two cases of his belongings and was on his last and sweetly thoughtful descent of the stairs when he also became the last resident of the Crescents to be mugged. I forgot to ask about the garages.
Officialdom, Wary of the Wild Ways of some Hulme Inhabitants My next-door neighbour and I had been nearly as persistent as Mr Sir, if less ambitious. We received grumpy, polite threatening letters. We were told it was impossible that we would be given nice houses in a nice place. Officialdom, wary of the wild ways of some Hulme inhabitants, never actually visited. Most difficult for me and my next-door neighbour was being called in to be interviewed by the same person on the same afternoon. My neighbour looked a lot like me – if you looked hard at him. He had a light beard whereas I was freshly shaved; he wore tinted glasses and a lot of clothes, which made him look fatter than me, as did his soft cushion of a belly; he wasn’t taller than me – he was just wore old-fashioned, stack-heeled boots; his voice was similar to mine, although not pitched as highly, but his South London working-class accent was very different to my Home Counties one; he was taciturn, a bit stooped – I was chatty and at ease; my hair was reddish and cut neatly short, and I was bare headed, whereas he had long dark hair hanging from under a bobble hat. It takes a wig collection to save a plank collection.
The Third-Best Plank Collection
It was also the Council‘s responsibility to physically relocate tenants and their possessions. Osbornes, a local company, had won the contract; the Council paid them £100 to move a household regardless of the effort and time involved. Osbornes were well ahead on the deal as a lot of Hulme‘s inhabitants were light on actual stuff, and more interested in short-lived perishables. I remember skinny Tyrone perched in the front of an Osbornes‘ van with a carrier bag full of empties on his knee – the Hulme supermarket had closed down and he was hoping to cash them in somewhere near his new address.
A small blue Osbornes van drew up outside the back window of my flat and two oldish smallish fellows knocked on my door, exchanged greetings with me, glanced briefly inside, grinned, asked to borrow my phone, then rang H.Q. to explain they‘d need the big lorry and all the blokes, including Sam, and the three of us went back outside and had tea on the walkway where there was room for everyone to raise a cup of tea at the same time rather than take turns. The supervisor turned up. He looked as if he always looked tired and as if supervising wasn’t doing him any good. The two smallish oldish fellows grinned like schoolboys. “This is it,” one of them announced unnecessarily: the door was open and piled-up fullness was apparent. “That‘s him,” the other fellow added, and as unnecessarily, as I was the only other person for miles and was stood by the open door. I wanted to grin like a schoolboy myself, but had decided to wear a while longer my I-am-just-like-you-only-I-own-more-wood face. The supervisor‘s face looked to be experiencing perplexity tiptoeing into dismay. He sought to arrest this unpleasant motion with a question, the shaky delivery of which betrayed its putter‘s suspicion of its likely usefullness – it hardly needs its question mark. “Are these planks going?” “Oh yes.” I said, standing close to him. The old schoolboys sniggered. “But why would anyone want– ” He stopped; he had noticed that I now wore a new face, an only-wood-is-good face, and that I was dressed like a man who took his planks everywhere -- I was making sure. I still have the grey lederhosen and the big brown felt hat and, three addresses and thirty years later, I can see some of those planks from here . He tried again. “All of them?” “Oh yes.” I beamed at him. “I don’t know...” he said. I was suddenly concerned that he might have found a clear spot in his dismay and be nearly about to think, then object, that many of the planks were infested with a variety of sharp stuck-out nails, ancient and rusty; also, some planks were darkly sticky with what might have been tar. Splinters seemed likely. I‘m sure all this constituted a health hazard. So I put my arm around him, lightly but friendly. That always works. He took a few steps away, nodded, said okay, went. I was now in the company of six more fellows, all of them bigger and younger than the two small shortish old schoolboys who now were grinning with the pleasure of having been first to the scene and welcoming the newcomers. Sam said – it was obvious he was Sam – “Ah fuck. I could do with a decent bit of work. Lets get on with it. He stripped to his vest. Some of his muscles made room for others, and he took hold off the fair-sized metal chest I keep my metal collection in, squeaked it a little sideways but not upwards, smiled at it‘s unassuming heavyness, and hoisted it with a grunt onto a shoulder; off it went to the big blue lorry. The other movers boasted cheerfully about Sam and shrugged on their gloves.
It took eight fellows two and a half days to move my possessions – five loads in the biggest lorry they’d got. Inspired by Sam they worked hard and cheerfully. Sam took a liking to me because I was an artist and he did a bit of art himself – “good stuff, proper,” said his mates – and unlike most customers I was happy to lift stuff myself (I loved lifting and moving stuff – I had dragged and carried hundreds of those planks miles to my flat) and was useful with a kettle. Also, I rarely asked them to ‘be careful with that‘ and never tutted. And I was moving a lot of stuff in my own car. So they were more awed and amused than irked, to discover that the collection of planks they had seen from the doorway and that had filled my front downstairs room, and they had just emptied, was not my best collection, nor my biggest. That filled all of the back left downstairs room except for the area given over to my log collection. They fined me eight teas and got on with it, Sam hardest, They did stop to report on and laugh at H.Q.‘s frequent telephoned inquiries as to the proximity of the end. We didn’t see the supervisor again but I was told he rang the council offices for their opinion on his obligation, legally, to move a huge rock. And they would stop to ask, ‘is this going?‘ or are these going?‘ and to chide me. The answer was almost always yes, usually with some explication and encouragement attached such as "Oh yes they are very important. That‘s my bollard collection. Not as heavy as they look, actually. More tea?" Watching eight workmen disappear down a stairwell each clutching at least six dirty but still colourful teddy bears was warming, and has become one of my most comfortable memories. Towards the end of the move they discovered my wig collection and selected Friar Tuck style wigs with tonsures, most of them ginger, for the last few loads. Here is a picture of the bollards I mentioned wearing a selection of the wigs.
A Bollard in a Wig The safe took a long time, and levers, and back straightening, and grunting, and discussion, to get it out and down the stairwell, as did the big rock.
That rock had already been moved once – from our first flat at 149 Charles Barry Crescent. We had needed a rock because that flat had been both empty and even much colder than the one I was being re-housed from. All the flats were cold: the window frames had begrudging relationships with the windows, agreeing to just about hold on to them. Someone told me the panels of concrete that mainly comprised a Crescent didn’t fit each other properly; clearly the wind had heard the same. But 149 was much colder because it was on the ground floor with an open space underneath it, and was at the end of a walkway next to the stairs, so had the cold as a neighbour on three of its four walls. It had no carpets, no curtains and the walls were mostly bare or painted concrete, except, almost sarcastically, in the living room, where the friends we had inherited the house from had lined two walls with a poster designed for a bill board advertising Marlborough cigarettes poster that showed a hot and hazy desert scene. And in those days the pubs were shut at odd, long times. We coped. We had a television, duvets and blankets, and a pallet for putting a thermos of tea on. We sat on the sofa under the bedding, drank tea and watched The Sweeney with our feet on the pallet. Our only concern slowly revealed itself to the inside of our wooly-hatted heads: the insufficient height of the pallet; every time one of leaned forward to reach for the Thermos he inevitably pulled the covers from the other and our slowly accumulated warmth was lost. Also, the pallet wasn’t far enough off the ground for us to achieve proper, horizontal slump: we were forced into a twenty-to-two position rather than the desired fourteen to three, or even a little later. We decided to keep an eye open for a better coffee table. Pin and I have always had a passion for perfection. The rock was spotted – I think by Pin – one night on the way back from the White Horse, and praised as potentially an ideal pallet-raiser. I immediately worried that it might not be there in the morning, so suggested we should set to transferring it without ado. Pin, drunker yet more sensible, said that it had probably been there for years and we had only just noticed it and it would probably still be there in the morning. It took all the next afternoon to worry it into the flat. It loved the ground and would not completely leave it, but was drag-and-pushable, six inches or so at a time. As we dragged and pushed it along the path we wondered how we would get it up the stairs. At the foot of the stairs we eventually discovered it was tippable and – as long as we stayed mostly underneath it – up-pushable-slidable, although shiveringly scared of heights, and constantly seeking to return to the ground at the bottom of the stairs, and stonily indifferent to crushing us on the way. People frowned or smiled at us, then used a different stairwell. Anyway, moving it kept us warm. We knew it was a stupid thing to do, but knew life is stupid. The trouble I have caused myself has always been when I have misplaced the conclusion that life is stupid. The pallet wouldn’t sit nicely on the rock. Not on either side of the rock. It wobbled. A boot or anything much placed on the pallet caused it to tip or slide. We wrestled the rock onto the pallet and life was perfect. We slumped on the sofa in the big empty cold room and we were warm at a lovely angle and tea was only a twitch away of an extended arm. Most of the conversation for the next few days was about how lucky we had been and how we were lovely and warm.
Rock on a Pallet We got back from visiting our parents for Christmas to a mat of letters from Pin‘s bank. No-goods had pinched his bank cards. A tall policeman in mufti came round to the flat. I think he was a Detective Sergeant. He was friendly and sympathetic to our plight. We invited him to sit down, but there was no other seating than the sofa and he chose not to swaddle under the covers with us; it probably was a bit too small for three. He said that he was happy to stand, and strode about our big empty room – probably to keep warm as much as anything – passing us smiley, innocuous questions about our lives and hardly mentioning the missing bank cards. He was answered honestly, but the most important thing in our lives was that me and Pin should keep each other in a state of gentle amusement, and he didn’t seem able to find a way to share in it; we were not rude, but specialised in obscure and unquestionable answers. A few days later in the Police Station, as the policeman gradually, begrudgingly – and at times nastily – realised we couldn’t be guilty as we had definitely been in a different part of the country to the bank cards and all the night clubs they had been used in, and that none of the many flashy pairs of shoes that had been bought with them were in our sizes, and noticed how disgusted we (interviewed separately) were by the thought of entering those nightclubs in those shoes with women who would wish to wear those dresses and that jewellery and those other shoes, it became obvious to Pin and I that he had been confident of our guilt from the start, and had only been able to stand trying to be nice, by promising himself he would be sincerely horrible to us after he had tricked us into admitting that guilt.
But that was later. So there he was in our un-livable living-room trying to be nice when he wasn’t and didn’t think we were, dissembling irritation and running out of nice things to say. Again, he looked around our our room, but as I have written, it was short on conversation pieces. He was obviously a clever fellow, but while not yet floundering, was starting to fidget. Then he saw that the rock was a rock. He asked what the rock was for. I looked at the rock and so did Pin. The Policeman hadn’t wanted a cup of tea and the rock was bare. Pin and me had adjusted to the rock‘s presence by then, but the policeman mentioning it gave me a nice warm feeling and reminded me how deeply pleased I still was by the rock. I replied to his question, “To stop the pallet flying away.” He said he‘d better be off then; his farewell was curter than his greeting.
“Is that going?” asked one of the movers, pointing at my rock. “Oh yes. It‘s got great sentimental value.” “Sam!” he called.
My phone rang. I smiled at a mover. We knew who it would be. They were missing the big blue lorry. Someone said that they’d hoped we would be finished by now – particularly as they they wanted to get on with moving my neighbour. The main reason that the supervisor‘s estimate of how long and how many loads it would take to empty my flat was being constantly extended, was that unknown to them they were also emptying my neighbour‘s flat and he had a valuable plank collection of his own. However, my neighbour had already thought about the similarity of his flat‘s contents to those of his neighbour‘s, and that it would be the same chaps doing the moving, and the difficulty of being distant and gruff to them when they were so nice and friendly – oh and lots of things…. that accent – and they‘d seen all the wigs, and he‘d decided it would be best to inform the Council he wouldn’t need help moving; he had just forgotten to ring them. So he did and gruffly said he‘d move his stuff himself, and not long after one of the movers mentioned that it looked like we we‘d be all right with the lorry for a bit longer.
My neighbour‘s flat had once been Pins. We had decided it would be nice to have a flat each. When we had squatted Pin and I had deliberately selected a pair of flats that shared a back balcony as we didn’t wish to be burgled, and knew the easiest way to burgle a flat in the Crescents was to have already broken into one, and then to break through the flimsy, asbestos fire-wall that separated that flat‘s half of the back balcony from the flat next door‘s half; kicking it in and connecting our flats had been one of our first pleasures. Pin had done well with his clothes business and long since bought the house in Chorlton that I mentioned a couple of dozen paragraphs back. My current neighbour had taken over his tenancy. The way to my balcony was through what would have been the upstairs back bedroom in most flats but in mine was through a timber-clad room containing a throne composed mainly of railway sleepers. One evening,after the chaps had left for teas and pubs, and most of that night I transferred planks and bears and suchlike from next door via the balcony and filled up the throne room. “How much stuff have you got in that bloomin‘ throne room?” was the sort of question I was asked a few times the next day as I lugged down stairs such as a nice, resiny-smelling, pitch-pine roof-truss I‘d saved from a falling-over Victorian factory by the canal. I‘d asked them not to go into the throne-room as I hadn’t de-sanctified it yet, and being agreeable chaps they’d agreed. I left the big stuff from next door until last. In the morning, tired, I informed the removal chaps that the throne-room was now de-sanctified (one chap asked, a shade nervously, “Are you sure?”) and asked if they would care to help empty it. “Strewth,” was the first chap‘s response on entering. “I thought you said you‘d been emptying this room all afternoon.” It was full. Finally underneath all that stuff he mentioned, was the throne made mainly of railway sleepers. “Sam!”
The next day, the last, the first chap in said, “I‘m sure it wasn’t as full as this when we left it yesterday.” “That‘s it, I promise,” I said. “You got that kettle on yet?” he said.
I couldn’t bring myself to strip the throne-room of it‘s timbers and left it to brief regal solitude and a violent future. On my last walk away from my flat I wasn’t mugged, but I did pick up a dog that was hiding in what was rumoured to be some sort of heating shaft – if it was, it had never worked, at least not in the fifteen or so years I‘d lived there.
9th May 2016 I had a friend called Malcolm Willett. He drew cartoons for lots of newspapers and magazines. I don‘t remember why his writer stopped writing with him for a month or so. It can‘t have been an argument as Malcolm was a very nice man. Perhaps his writer was sick or needed a rest. I would not be surprised if it was the latter as it‘s hard – as I quickly found – to think up a joke a day, and he had written hundreds.They had a stack put aside for such situations, but when it had thinned, Malcolm asked me to think up some jokes. On the copies he sent to me, Malcolm, beneath his, nicely replaced his usual chap‘s signature with a slightly too neat facsimile of mine.
I like all the squares: the checks on the side of the ambulance, the bricks of the factory wall and its square windows and their small square panes; and I like all the stripes; and that big patch of sky. And I like that diagonal made by the ambulance‘s back wheel, its back window and the globe of the Belisha beacon. And I like how the ambulance men are just about coping with this abnormally heavy casualty. That stuck-up leg is unpleasantly good too. And in the cartoon below I like it that Jesus is lifting his tunic.
3rd May 2016 Truncheons and Clothes Horse Afflex‘s Palace was on a beat. The two constables who took turns to pop in for a patrol of its many pathways enjoyed themselves. They were out of the weather, always offered a tea, and being friendly types, were happy to pass from stall to stall on a small wind of smiles and chats. I asked one if he would pose alongside Truncheons and Clothes Horse. He looked uncertain. He said, “I will, if you don‘t make me look like an idiot.” “Hang you out to dry, you mean?” He grinned. I promised I wouldn‘t, and I didn‘t.
30th April 2016 Daisy said, “Look – ducks. Yellow.” Daisy said, “Good in the garden.” They were reduced to ten bob each. I placed them on a front windowsill just so. I knew they wouldn‘t last. They sat there for about three months. They went on a Saturday night. I was sad, then I wasn‘t.
17th April 2016 An elderly lady‘s dog died. She knew she would miss it and decided to have it stuffed, but was alarmed by the taxidermist‘s price. She was then given a much lower quotation for having the head and front paws stuffed and framed in the front of a kennel. This pleased her: as she said at the time: “That was the only end of the dog I liked.”
16th April 2016 Away I can‘t remember why the Teds are facing away from the room, looking out of the window. Perhaps I was – or pretending to be – embarrassed that I had such a family, or thought they would be happier in the light and looking out at the world rather than being stared at, or that they were so wonderful I only wanted them found by people curious enough to find them. Also, I probably didn‘t want any pinched – or poked. Not that you could have made a profit on them if you‘d bought the lot for a penny. At home we stared at each other.
15th April 2016 Anne Parkins Pin and his girlfriend Anne were in Burger king on Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester town centre on a Saturday night in the late Eighties. Pin glanced up and two lads, one big, one (Pin‘s word) weaselly, were staring at him. Pin looked away, then back; they were still staring at him. Anne had noticed now. Pin and Anne left. The lads followed them out. The lads started to mock them, unimaginatively, and loudly list the many unimaginative and unpleasant things they were just about to do to Pin and Anne. “Better get it over and done with then,” said Pin. He turned, tripped the big lad to the ground, got them both arranged and started banging the lad‘s head on the kerb. He was trying to do everything as quickly as possible because hurting the big lad was using up all his concentration and he was constantly expecting a boot in the head or some-such from the smaller lad. He was pleased with how useless the big lad was at both hurting and not being hurt. When the big lad was bloody enough, and begging, and seemed unlikely to be able to follow through on the threats he had made, Pin let go of him, then was at last able to look around. Anne was on her back on the pavement, the weasely lad tight to her front, her legs and arms around him, pinning him. He looked as if he was trying to look as if he wasn’t there. Anne said to the lad, “You’re next,” then smiled up at Pin and said, “I‘ve got this one ready for you.” Anne‘s smile was always a nice big, big white-toothed, super-cheerful job. A woman said to Pin, “Didn’t she do well. She‘s a good ‘un. I‘d hang on to that one if I were you lad.” It‘s best if I don‘t think about what to paint. I think hard about what music to have on. I undress down to shoes and underpants and open some paint-cans. I clear my big square head until it‘s as empty as the big square of white ply in front of me and then I let them both fill up as quickly as I can. A long time after the tale above happened I picked up a brush and the first thing to jump into the white of my head was that tale. It soon got lost as my arm and the paint took over and shooed the facts away, and Pin isn’t even in it, and and Anne is dealing with an abundance of adversaries, but it feels like that tale. That‘s why the painting‘s called Anne Parkins. For for a while It was called A Partly True Story or Mis-remembered Story or or something else a bit like those titles.
I liked how tea bags dried out on my kitchen work surfaces, and then I really liked how the tea bags that I dumped on the cooker and then a little later pushed aside so I could use the rings dried out as I used the rings: quickly crisp with Autumnal oranges and browns. I don’t like throwing anything away but I don’t like owning things without making them happy – both seem naughty. So I was noddingly pleased when I knew that the plant pots that had been moping in a crate on the stairs were the right home for the crispy tea bags slowly filling a cardboard box in the Wooden Room. That always biddable school gym-shoe cage thingy got a new job. And there was a task for one of the low tables I rescued from the basement of the rubber factory.
It looks, to me now, as sincerely sentimental as a good amateur water-colourist’s Landscape in Autumn.
5th April 2016 I put on two exhibitions in two rooms at home in Hulme. The first was called Cant Remember and Cant Find and no one but me saw it, as I didn’t mention it. The rooms in those Hulme flats were large and sparsely detailed and their big windows let the light make a nice fuss of things. The second exhibition was looked at by a few friends and, after one of those friends had noticed them filming and told them about it, by a BBC Arts programme who padded out a programme about Hulme with a half minute of stare about. I asked Elaine who ran Affleck‘s Palace where I had a stall selling tee-shirts (I have mentioned Affleck‘s earlier so won‘t labour over a description) if she would like me to fill the big space between the lifts and the cafe on the top floor with my work. Elaine liked art, and me – I hadn‘t done anything bad that she knew of yet – and she said that that would be nice. I think the first exhibition opened at the end of 1990. I have always remembered the name of this first exhibition as Shared Underpants but the poster seems to disagree.
5th April 2016 I still have this; now six bundled canvases muffledly muttering to each other in the small room off the top room. I wish I had a see-able wall to put it on as it possibly hints at advice which I need to sometimes take. I used to use a phrase with my sister – an always passionate and usually disappointed supporter of the rightness of right – ‘Every where’s an unfair funfair‘, to which she would inevitably reply, “but that’s not fair.” Like a few other things from my first Oblong Gallery exhibition, it‘s also a song. I sing it on Here is my Spoon.
11th March 2016 Tadidas I took this photograph of my brother Tad in about 1978. I am fairly sure that‘s a wall of the local primary school in Waldniel where we used to play football after school hours. The drawing must be from a few years later.
2nd March 2016 My brother paid for me to go on Holiday with him to Thailand. I enjoyed it. I thought how nice it would be to have some money. My brother made his selling second-hand clothes from a couple of stalls in Afflex Palace, a big old ex-department store in Manchester. He said, “You could get a stall too, Ted. It‘s a licence to print money. Fill your shelves with any clobber you like and you‘ll be rich by the time the pubs open.” I wasn‘t sure: I had tried to make money before and hadn‘t – I‘ll tell you about it if I can stand being so mean to myself. I took the train to London and my brother‘s advice exactly literally and spent all my small money on the cheapest most colourful clothes in the first half-dozen wholesalers I chanced upon. I still have some of them. I‘ll photograph and show them to you if I can stand being so mean to myself. I rented a stall on the top floor of Afflex Palace where rents were cheapest. None of the other stall-holders on the top floor laughed at me because they were the sort of thin people that sold fashionable clothes on the top floor of Affleck‘s Palace, and also, I was a not-thin person who looked like he might not like being laughed at. I found out years later that as I had been laying out my wares many of them were taking turns to catwalk frozen-faced past my stall, and then, once they had gone around the corner, run into each other‘s changing rooms to giggle and pat each other on the back – not only to share a delicious sensation of superiority, but to help each other breathe. After a while the Top Floor organised their mirth into a sweepstake. The winner of the pot would be the one who most accurately predicted the day on which my stall closed down. Three months was the longest bet. There were about thirty other stall holders and it was a couple of quid for a ticket. I would have laughed at me too. Although Laughing Me might also have felt sorry for Selling-Nothing Me as I sold nothing for two weeks. Nothing. n0thing. If I had known about it, to make some money, I would have entered the sweepstake. During the second week of sitting selling nothing I thought of how two fish might pass one fish. Two weeks later, not long after I put it out, I sold a tee shirt with Two Fish Passing One Fish on it.
27th February 2016 Naughty students dropped this Henry Moore bronze into the pond of a Cambridge college one night in, I think, 1979. I am fairly sure he is a Fallen Warrior who has lost his shield. Swopping his pedestal for a pond has done wonders for the poor chap; placid pleasure being better than agony any old day. I keep wishing a loofah into that right hand.
23rd February 2016 On one of the two tours I went on with the band Microdisney they had a roadie left over, so lent him to me. He was a Rocker – denim and leather and hair and a bandanna; always been a roadie; wiry and crinkly; a lively, jovial, travelled, dedicated and knowledgeable chap. Only I didn‘t need a roadie. I had a beer and he had two and we tried to work out how he could help me. He was confused, and then immeasurably sad, that I didn‘t want my guitar tuning as I believed it sounded best when it was in charge of itself. He was surprised I only had the one guitar; then he brightened and told me he could change a string as quickly as anyone – so that would be useful. Reluctantly, I responded that one of my favourite tricks was to stretch a broken string until it could be used as a strap, and also, that I never minded losing a few strings as it made the guitar easier to play. Like Paganini, he agreed, nodding a sigh. He offered to take my guitar on stage for me and collect it after I had finished. I said that that would be great and also that because I don’t use a strap I like to put my foot on a chair or a beer crate so I can rest my guitar on a thigh, and I can‘t always find a spare chair at venues. He said that it would always be a chair and not a bloody crate as long as he had anything to do with it. I saw him shift someone‘s arse off one once. "Wooden," he said, "like in that last song you do about the chicken." We couldn‘t think of anything else he could do. He concentrated on being encouraging; he said that after he‘d got used to what I was up to, it had a lot going for it. "Got yer spoon?" he‘d say, half an hour before I was on. The happiest I saw him in my company was when returning my guitar a little later than usual after a show. "I caught some bugger trying to nick the babies shoe of yer guitar," – my guitar usually has a babies shoe hanging on a ribbon from the machine head. My brow furrowed. "Don’t worry, I got it back," – he opened his hand and showed me – "and he got a beating. Bastard bled like a bastard." His stories were better than mine. I wish I could remember his name; his face is still sharp, grinning, in my memory.
10th February 2016 I can tell by it‘s rounded corners that this view is from the very end of the Seventies. I rarely passed it by without resting my chin on the top of the wall from which I took the photograph,and making small squeaks of appreciation. And I worked earnestly on a clumsy, canal-shaped poem in it‘s praise. Only the canal and the viaduct, which is listed, remains. The official proposal for the recent demolition of the building to the right of the canal asserted:
"When considering the structure as a whole, it is apparent that it is modest in terms of its size, scale and architectural style. Its overall appearance is utilitarian, although it does present some features of limited architectural interest: Although generally of red brick construction, there is some stone detailing to the openings (stone lintels/cills), cast iron guttering and a chimney stack. The building is now is a serious state of dilapidation, with partial collapse of the roof and semi-mature trees taking hold of the site. It is considered that this dereliction now negates any limited aesthetic value held by the building, with the effect that the entire site is an eyesore and harmful to its setting and surrounding street scene."
9th February 2016 If you are singer who is not always able to persuade an audience to attend to your songs, then perhaps you might try a method that I have found effective: handing out a multiple choice test with a question about each of your songs. I usually hold a marking session just before my last song. Prizes are nice.They like praise.
23rd October 2015 While trying to get a lot of things in the top-room into some sort of order I found myself overdoing it by trying to put some of those things in an order in which each thing stood between the two things it was most alike. I continued doing this, off and on, for the next ten years. The film shows my nephew John helping me. Very nice of him too, as he was impatient to watch Popeye and point out to me all the good bits I might be missing. John came round last week; he said I had done pretty well, but the bishop and the toothbrush are poor neighbours.
Incidentally, a high proportion of ornaments in charity shops boast red neck-wear.
1st October 2015 I‘ve been writing a novel and chewing on my pen. Often, particularly during a tricky paragraph, there‘s a snap of plastic and I‘ve crunched through my pen. My teeth hate that. My gums are scarred. Another frequent shock occurs after I‘ve pressed the tip too hard and the ravaged top of the pen is unable to keep the spring suppressed so the ink cartridge and the spring shoots out of the fuselage and over my shoulder. I have reached the editing stage; hence the preponderance of red ballpoints in the top quarter of the jar.
Here also is Nine Poems and a Letter to my Mum. Pens resist my chewing in different ways.
A Letter to my Mum
I have a strong bite and quick reactions. My dentist, Mr Kettlwell, said so a little while after saying the third word of a sentence that in its entirety would probably have been, “Bite down hard when I say so.”
20th September 2015 I drew two people, a man and a woman, both a year or two older than my twenty-one years, as they sat opposite me talking increasingly fast German, in a busy bar in Berlin one evening in 1981. They had asked me if I minded sharing my table, and for twenty minutes – until they broke off into German – we had been been chatting pleasantly in English. The woman said something fast crossly, then stood up, smiled nicely, if wryly at me, said a clenched goodbye to him and went. I asked what they had been talking about. He explained that they were arguing about which of them would sleep with me, and he had won by pointing out that it was his turn. I had time during their conflab to quickly draw their close together faces half a dozen times on unused bar tabs. I can find only one and a trodden on photostat of another.
23rd August 2015 When I had a tee-shirt business I had a business telephone number. I think it meant that you paid a bit more but they fixed things quicker and their employees selected a more respectful tone when they rang. I was also offered a listing in The Yellow Pages which was a huge book containing business numbers for your locality and a lot of advertisements for those businesses. A lady rang and asked which category I wished my number to be placed in. Probably because I was (and am) groggily grumpy and incapable of being funny before the afternoon is well under-way, I answered, “VIPs please.” She explained that this was not an existing category and that I was not allowed to invent one, it didn’t work like that. I confessed to having joked and said, “Better just put me under abattoirs then.”
Not quite mollified, she checked with me that I was actually an abattoir and I confirmed I was. Oblong Abattoir‘s was the first number in the next directory.
When I ordered a telephone number for my art gallery I was offered another entry in the Yellow Pages. “Zoo,” I said. This lady remarked, “Oh you‘ll be the only entry in that category -- Manchester‘s only zoo!” Then with a stutter of possibly suspicious surprise she observed that my other business was an abattoir.
“Oh yes, it‘s connected to the abattoir. Just a small zoo. For the children.”
She hesitantly agreed that that made sense. I was now very pleased to have the first and last number in the Yellow Pages. Earlier today I lifted a few books and sighed into some cupboards but haven’t found an edition with the zoo‘s number. I did find this on the internet.
It soon became annoying to be rung up by people keen to chat about meat and I wished a few times that I wasn‘t always trying to make myself laugh. There were a lot of inquiries to the Oblong Abattoir after goat‘s heads. The Oblong Zoo was once rung in the early hours by a lady from somewhere near Birmingham asking if our panther was missing as there was one in her back garden. On another occasion I was loudly upbraided and loudly cried at by a young girl for being a horse murderer.
31st July 2015 I bought an elephant, a panda, a donkey and a yellow bear from a man in Ashton Under Lymne, which, from here, is up and over in East Manchester. The man had long hair and strong, skinny arms sticking out a long way from his worn-to-almost-transparent Metallica tee-shirt. He kept breaking off from cheerful and pleased to see us, to angry that somescumone had stolen an only recently-installed stuffed tortoise from his front garden~a gravel and concrete grotto. He was surprised that I wanted his dirty animals and kept asking which was the valuable one. “It‘s the donkey, isn‘t it?”
Ash on Under
The five syllables of Ashton Under Lymne made it easy to name my new charges. The man didn‘t know what they were called and was anticipating a beer soon. I chose Ash for the elephant, Ton for the panda – who is heavy, and Under for the donkey because donkeys get ridden. That left Lymne for the yellow bear who I am looking out for a bright-green tank-top or vest for.
30th July 2015 My bath narrows at half-way down. The bathroom walls are not as pink as they were; occasionally their pink falls on mine. The three biggest patches of dropped paint are above the taps. About a hundred baths ago those patches announced to me that they looked like dogs and could look even more like dogs. There is more stationary than body-cleaning stuff in my bathroom cabinet drawers so I reached up an arm and opened a drawer and felt for a ball-point.
21st July 2015 My brother Pin was concerned that I was always in that dirty house and wooden room on my own. This poem recalls the conversation.The parts directly about the monkey are fairly accurate.
Monkey’s not in the Shed
The last song was not true; I have been singing lies to you. You have been misled: there was no monkey, merely a shed. This is what really happened.
My brother came to see me. He said, ‘You’re so slow, boring: I worry, my brother. You’re sullen, bored. not the sporty sort of fellow who taught me all I know about fun and duty. I’m worried, and so’s Mother. You’re just not the same chap: don’t you ever leave the flat? You really need new scenery. We think some far off country. Me and you! Sun, sand and sea would stand us both fine and dandy.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’
‘It’s beautiful, and cheap.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘The fruit is so sweet.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘The girls will make you weep.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘We can lie on the beach and sleep.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘Feel hot sand under our feet.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘It’ll be my treat.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘You can bring your own Shredded Wheat.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘We can hire a Jeep.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ ‘We can watch strange animals leap across picturesque streets in a haze of mellow heat as we beep the horn of our Jeep.’ ‘No; I have important things to do.’ Then, sweetly, and brightly My brother whispered to me.
‘There’s what?’ ‘A shed.’ ‘What, a shed?’ ‘Yes, a shed.’ ‘And a monkey?’ ‘Yes, a monkey.’ ‘A monkey monkey?’ ‘Yes, a monkey monkey.’ ‘A real monkey monkey?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And the monkey’s in the shed?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And the monkey does your blackheads?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Right, there’s a real monkey, in a shed, that does your blackheads.’ ‘Yes.’
We ate the cheap sweet fruit with the Shredded Wheat I brought. We wept over girls as we lay on the beach among the inexpensive beauty, in the shorts my brother bought. We walked on hot sand, and I got a nice tan, and we watched strange animals leap across picturesque streets in a haze of mellow heat as we beeped the horn of our Jeep. Every day, it was a lot of fun. Every day, I asked, ‘Can I see the monkey now?’
‘Monkey?’ ‘Yes, monkey.’ ‘What monkey?’ ‘The monkey monkey. The monkey in the shed.’ ‘In the shed?’ ‘In the shed.’ ‘Shed?’ ‘Shed. Shed. Shed.’ ‘Monkey?’ ‘Yes, the monkey in the shed. That does your blackheads. That every day I ask to go and see, and you always say, “some other day.” That monkey.’ ‘O, right. That monkey.’
‘So that’s the shed.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘The shed with the monkey in it.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘That does your blackheads?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I’m so happy.’ ‘Right, I’ll wait outside.’ ‘Aren’t you coming in?’ ‘No. It’s alright.’
‘There’s no monkey.’
‘It must be out.’
I enjoyed that holiday with my brother long after it was over. However I continued to regret that lack of a blackhead-pinging monkey. Luckily, art can make the never-happened a momentous occurrence for ever. I set to and after a fortnight of spooning salt into tea and forgetting to open the doors of rooms I was walking into, I had this happier poem. Towards the end of the first verse when reading it, and even sooner when singing it, I can usually feel the earnest beast sifting the hair off my back, the hot blows of breath, those certain finger‘s grip.
Monkey’s in the Shed
I work hard to make a sort of lard from sweat and dirt inside my shirt. This rich grease crawls in each new crease, each old crack of my neck and back. By morning, amazing spawning! Monkey says, ‘Sit down,’ wraps his legs around my waist: I brace.
Blackheads in their holes, jumping out like tadpoles! The light is brown; black flies fly round. Wet heat rots; Monkey squats. I take off my shirt: Monkey goes to work, puckers his lips, grips me so softly; Monkey, keen as mustard, kind as custard, empties my back until my fat is slack.
Monkey’s in the shed! Monkey does your blackheads!
I returned to Thailand and also visited Laos and Cambodia. I was pleased by how very many shops, particularly those in country towns, had hand-painted signs.
In a small town in Cambodia, I asked a young chap who had introduced himself to me to and was eager for employment to take me to a sign-making shop and request the painting of a sign to place on a shop I owned in which monkeys removed people‘s blackheads. I did not not give him any other information. The sign painter, a cheerful and respectable, solid fellow of about fifty, looked at me and my companion as if he might not have fully grasped my requirements; I provided a quick imitation of a monkey attending to a client in my shop. The sign writer nodded affably and with comprehension.
Monkey does your Blackheads
This is the sign I was cheerfully and proudly shown a day or two later. I responded as cheerfully with the rest of the cash. I think I may have paid ten dollars in all. The chap being de-blackheaded looks a little like me and a little like his painter. The shorts are mine, and the back-hairs certainly suggest mine – surprisingly too, as I had not removed my shirt for my enactment of the purpose of my shop. I think the next sign-painting shop I visited was in Pnom Pen, Cambodia‘s capital. There, myself and another young chap who had suggested this shop and offered to translate for me, was greeted by a smart and confident youth who, with his long and cared-for hair and tight denim, obviously claimed kinship with the South-Eastern Asian Metal I had been hearing just perhaps a little too much of. He too was requested to provide a sign for a shop in which monkeys removed people‘s blackheads. He smiled nicely then asked for an extra piece of information: “Did the monkey staff extract blackheads from ladies?” I said they did and he looked delighted. Here is his remarkable response.
7th July 1986 I wrote Me and my Mini sometime in the early 1980s to cheer up my brother Pin when he was ill in bed in 149 Charles Barry Crescent. He drove a Mini and I had owned one in the Seventies. I sat in a chair at the end of his bed and played the guitar and sang at him. If his face seemed to at all notice a line I kept it. He got – and gets – bored easily and only likes things he thinks are obviously good, and nothing much for very long. I put girls and violence and him in it to keep him interested for as long as possible.
Eight Inches by Eight
The first time I tried to get on The Tube was in its early days. I phoned up, was put through to a researcher, announced I was a poet, and offered to walk about Newcastle‘s streets getting people to read aloud my poems. They didn‘t have a poet: they said yes. A camera crew followed me about Newcastle for an afternoon; most people asked to read agreed without obvious consideration and enjoyed doing it. A small girl walked over and insisted on her turn as her class had been doing learning to read. An elderly woman said, “You‘ve put a tear in my eye,” then grinned and added, “and what‘s the bloody use of that.” A row of women at a bus stop dispatched one poem in seconds, almost gaplessly lobbing out a line each with bouncy pleasure, then congratulated themselves on their performance -- it‘s not a self-conscious city. A policeman on a horse did falter to a stop with disappointment and irritation halfway through a poem in which he was about to kiss a man. I remember sharply how I was briefly sharply sad that I had upset him.
I was told that the piece would be broadcast soon. I didn‘t have a television. Nor did many people I knew. Mick Hobbins did, and because he was always at work at Oxford Road Railway Station, lent me a key to his flat. His living room was mainly a big television set and a woman watching it. She was quietly friendly. We watched The Tube and I wasn‘t on it. We talked about Germany because that was where she was from and where I used to live. I toddled off to the phone-box and rang the researcher; he said my clip had been put back and I would probably be on soon. I watched The Tube thrice more with the quiet friendly woman without having my poems read to me in Geordie accents, then rang the researcher again and was told that the producers were moving away from poetry. The woman turned out to be Nico of the Velvet Underground. The flat – unlike most of that Hulme – is still there.
Pin also went with me to Newcastle when I tried for the second time to get on The Tube. A new and junior and not concentrating researcher let me invite us into the programme‘s office, a huge, packed – and until just after we started – busy room. I jumped on to a desk and then jumped from desk to desk playing and singing Me and my Mini. Most of the desks were sat at ,and also burdened by lots of paperwork, telephones, coffees and so on. A few things got broken but I didn‘t think anyone would mind. I always sing most of Me and my Mini loudly. Pin drove around the room with exaggerated dignity and verve and without a car, sometimes signalling and beeping. The researcher praised us, took Pin and me to a pub, bought us a drink, said he had to go to the toilet, then didn‘t return.
We were cheered by finding a long, about beer-keg sized and heavy coil of thick rope in one of the derelict turrety things near part of a bridge over the Tyne. It hadn‘t been so obvious in the open air that it stank of creosote as it was in the train carriage. We refused to get rid of it and a lot of people moved to different cabbages. I am tired – I meant carriages.
A friend‘s friend asked me to play at a charity concert in London. Unknown to me, the friend‘s friend‘s friend who was the other organiser, was also a researcher for The Tube and afterwards suggested that I might like to play on it. My friend Alan filmed me doing four songs in a small room in the basement of the W.M.C.A in London borrowed by another friend, Malcolm, a swimming guard there. If Me and my Mini is below this sentence I have sifted the fullness of the top room and found that video tape. No I can‘t find it.