Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Wart Went

I got my first ever wart on the last day of Lent:
My nana Dot rubbed a chunk of raw-meat on it,
Then told me to go and bury it.
After about a week the wart went.

Rector Seal, he always parked his bike on top my nana’s,
In the graveyard - she was inside doing the church flowers.
I can see them now, locked like a couple of locked spanners,
Up against a gravestone.

Nana Dot said, he needs all the help he can get, pray for him,
Reverend Seal’s got trouble with his waterworks.
It turned-out to be a kidney stone.
But the miracle of the wart and buried meat
Led me to operate on Seal’s seat.

Splatter-proof in my cycle cape
I studied the anatomy of his bike:
Imagined the break cables and water bottle
Circulating Seal blood - full throttle.

There was even something scrotum-like
About his old leather saddlebag.

And I knew I’d made the right decision
As soon as I made the first incision;
Through the epidermis of Seal’s saddle,
To the blubber-like foam in the middle.

I cut round the colon of springs
To the sound of the choir practicing hymns,
Yet when I hit skeletal frame,
I settled on burying a chunk of the fat-like foam.

Before patching up the scars
With a strip of tape from the handlebars.

Nana Dot died years ago.
But Seal’s still on his bike as far as I know.

Nana Dot cradling, not glue-sniffing (traced), 1987

Reverend Seal was the vicar of St Mary’s Church. My grandmother, Dorothy (nana Dot) adored him; she was a tireless worker for the church – an “Excellent Woman” - Barbra Pymesque; tidying the graves; arranging the flowers; organizing jumble sales; ringing the bells; mending prayer mats; teaching Sunday School; attending funerals (often, the burials of complete and utter strangers – she lived for funerals).

Both sides of the same page of the Parish Magazine, announcing my baptism, 1964

I don’t know whether or not Dot noticed that an advertisement for ‘Complete Funeral Undertakers – Day and Night’ happened to be printed on the reverse-side of the page announcing my baptism in the Parish Magazine. The irony would have been lost on her though; given a preference, she’d have attended a funeral over a baptism any day.

The hand of my father (son of Dot), a Sunday-painter, sketched the outline and I added the colour, in this Sunday-school depiction of “The Cradling of Baby Jesus”.

Looking at it now, I appear to have got my bible stories reversed. My image reads more like the post-crucifixion gathering at Christ’s tomb than the ‘Birth of the Infant Child’: Mark 16:1-4 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
My chalk ‘Cradling’ is a direct copy (combination) of two sleeping bag advertisements from Climber & Rambler magazine (home of rock walls and boulders, the home too of Peter Storm). It’s as if I were painting the contradiction of my baptism/funeral collision from the pages of the Parish Magazine: plagiarism by anticipation?

The loner in the sleeping bag was based on Reverend Seal.

There were three women involved: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome; they planned to bring spices to apply to the body. Apparently the women did not know that the tomb had been sealed and placed under guard. The sealing involved a cord that passed around the stone, and that was attached to the rock wall with sealing wax that had been impressed with an official Roman seal.

Shady Cradle Roll Certificate

It’s not much of a leap: from cagoules to sleeping bags, via a cycle cape (doubling as a surgeon’s gown). Especially when bridged by a vicar called Seal. But isn’t the concept of hermetically sealed metaphors a contradiction? Vicars, like the rest of us, when sealed in hooded-sleeping bags, resemble seals. Perhaps now you can see why I’m so obsessed about stalking Peter Storm in Peter Storm in a storm (see “Storm-Proof”, 26/11/09). Larkin was right: you can't escape your wrong beginnings. But they are great levelers, sleeping bags: they reduce us all to the same sealed, seal state; as well as making us vulnerable to the same fate: very difficult to defend yourself against a golf club attack when you’re in a sleeping bag.

Sunny Cradle Roll Certificate

Thursday, 26 November 2009


29th Mon, 108 -16mins. No OAPs. Hairdryer start today. Grey. 2 Quality Street for breakfast. Peter Storm, I’m thinking of Peter Storm left in the sun. The magazine and say a real Peter Storm, say. No OAPs etc.
30th Tues. No OAPs etc. 108 – 17min. Sun – cold. Hairdryer in bed.

Interpretation of the translation:
On Monday 29th I managed 108 pull-ups in 16 minutes; but I didn’t do any on one arm (a shoulder injury or just too heavy?). I had the hairdryer on in bed (did I wake up with it on? Had it been on all night?). It was a grey day and I breakfasted on 2 sweets. Was Peter Storm, my waking thought, the froth of a forgotten dream? Notice the size of the text has doubled where I’m talking/thinking about Storms; the text occupies the remainder of the day (which appears to have ended badly without me having done a one-arm-pull-up.
On Tuesday 30th I still can’t do any one-arm-pull-ups but I do 108 two-armed, in 16 minutes. It’s cold and sunny and I’m in bed with the hairdryer again - and throughout the rest of the week I don’t appear to give another thought to Peter Storm.
So who is Peter Storm? I know of two Peter Storms; but which one is the real Peter Storm, the one that stormed my mind? Let’s revisit the original text: “I’m thinking of Peter Storm left in the sun. The magazine and say a real Peter Storm, say”.

Was I thinking of Peter Storm the chief Executive Officer of “Peter Storm Jewelry”, a seasoned professional in the jewelry industry with over 25 years in the business? “I design sensual jewelry for women to wear and treasure, pieces to be worn every day of their lives”, says Californian born, Peter Storm. 

This would explain my thinking of “a real Peter Storm left in the sun”. Yes, a real diamond radiating light – floating on my wedding finger - that fits. And the diamonds could also explain “Say a real Peter Storm, say”: the diamonds would have to be 'real'. At this point it’s worth quoting a bite of Storm’s advertising blurb (from a magazine advertisement) in full: A major theme in all Peter Storm’s designs is illusion. The diamonds in each of his pieces are presented to speak for themselves. His use of shadow and space allows the eye to focus on the diamonds and nothing else. Peter Storm is the first designer to create “Floating Diamonds”, princess cut diamonds set point to point, that appear to float with no visible metal holding the stones. All his designs are special in their simplicity and drama… Each diamond has its own distinct identity against the flesh tones of the wearer. The look combines the elegance of natural skin and the radiance of “Naked” diamonds”.

No, I must have been thinking about the other Peter Storm, the company that specializes in cheap waterproof and thermal clothing for walking, sailing and golf; Peter Storm, the manufacturer of cagoules, long johns and nylon trousers. Peter Storm wasn’t even its founder’s real name. One Noel Bibby started the company in 1954 and called it Storm for obvious reasons. But the Peter was more problematic; he agonized over Brian, Terry, Colin, Arthur and Connor before settling on Peter; and Peter Storm are still keeping us wet – yes - wet: even though their nylon products are rainproof they have a tendency to cause you sweat profusely: sweat they keep in. Go into any Blacks or Millets and discretely slip you hand down the front of the waterproof trousers worn by the Peter Storm-sealed manikins (and they are easy to spot – they’re usually in bright blue or orange) and you’ll be sure to pull your palm out again, sweaty.

In the early 1980’s, I read two climbing magazines: “Mountain” and “Climber & Rambler”. The back-covers of both journals were almost identical every month - full-bleed adverts for Peter Storm cagoules. I searched though my back-issues of both magazines and acted upon my strange journal entry "I'm thinking of Peter Storm in the sun. The magazine..." I put one magazine inside the other and left them on my windowsill for a year.

Peter Storm facing the sun

Peter Storm kept in the dark
The Peter Storm inside Peter Storm

But I’m not content to either bask in the sun or hide in the dark: I want to experience the eye of the storm. I have to meet the real Peter Sorm. I’m going to check the phonebook. I’m going to blind-call every P. Storm: “Hello, am I speaking to Peter Storm?” If a Patrick, Paul or Percy answers I’ll hang up (P-off?). But when I do get on to a real Peter Storm, I’m going to ask him if owns a Peter Storm cagoule. If he’s a ‘wearer’ I’m going to ask if I can photograph him in the cagoule (in the style of an old Peter Storm advert). If he doesn’t wear any Peter Storm products I’m going to ask him why on earth not?  I’ll even offer to buy him a cagoule on the condition that he lets me photograph him wearing it. He can be photographed with the hood up if he so chooses, but it has to be the real Peter Storm inside Peter Storm. 

Storm stalking disguise

If he asks "why?" Or "what for?" I’ll tell him I need ‘Storm-Proof’. And if he says he wear’s a cagoule but refuses to be photographed in it, I’ll stalk him whenever it rains; I'll be heavily disguised in Peter Storm gear  – stalk a Storm in a Storm in a storm: Peter Storm stalking Peter Storm. He exists all right, and I’m going to find him – the man born Peter Storm. You’ve probably passed him in the rain – an ordinary, average looking middle-aged character (could smell) in an orange cagoule. He breathes. He sweats; and beneath the nylon veneer his skin and bones and vital organs are all Peter Storm too; he’s Peter Storm through and through. But I’ve got to have proof; I need it to be Storm-proof.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Time In Tweed: Some Frightening Statistics

I’ve spent over half my life – a quarter of a century - wearing woman’s tweeds: Twenty-five years in a pair of trousers that, even though my weight has fluctuated, have always appeared too big for me. Perhaps that’s the problem: you should never just step into someone else’s trousers; think yourself so manly that you can step-in and fill somebody else’s trousers just like that – especially a complete stranger’s, and particularly if she’s a woman. I was full of meat when I first stepped into them in 1984 (inside a hollow tree without a mirror); I’m a vegan now (see “Dropped Trousers, 19/11/09, before continuing).

Notice my chicken-leg-like left thumb, in this one-arm-pull-up photograph (in another ill-fitting pair of trousers), taken in the Baden Wurttemberg (bratwurst country) in 1987. I was turning; part ape and part chicken. And too many chicken (hormones) seemed to be bringing out 'the woman'.  I had to turn vegan.

Over the intervening years I’ve filled my appropriated tweeds in different places, but never in the right places at the right (same) time.
Time and tweed: Let’s start with the lap: 15 partners (girlfriends not solicitors) have all sat on the lap at one time or another; so have 5 different laptops - all Mac's (but this isn't going to degenerate into a 'dirty mac and holes in the pockets' tale - no, I'm giving you statistics - facts). The pockets have held the keys to 2 cars: a Mini and a Volvo (a steady blue Volvo, bought secondhand from a girlfriend’s ex-husband) and the keys to 4 houses and 3 flats. These pockets (now holed) have mostly held my hands however; but it’s more complicated (unbalanced) than that.

I’ve only ever performed one-arm-one-finger-pull-ups (OFPs) with my right, middle-finger, which means the right pocket must have collected far more detached calluses than the left pocket, which only collects calluses from two-arm-pull-ups (TAPs). Look at this callus, it's about to fall off.

Either way, I always find calluses in the pockets when I come to wash them. Talking of pulling: since taking possession of the trousers I must have done close to 1,000,000 two-arm-pull-ups (an average of 100 TAPs a day is normal, making 25 years worth add up to 912000); I also manage 15 one-arm-pull-ups a day; so that makes 137000 OAPs; and injuries permitting, I usually perform at least 5 one-finger-pull-ups before I go to bed; so that’s 46000 OFPs.

Between all this pulling the trousers have been puffing: My tweeds must have secondary smoked at least 146000 cigars (tweed is very absorbent). This calculation is based on my daily intake of Panther cigars creeping up, from around 10 cigars day in 1984, to 20 per day at present - that’s £73000 spent on cigars! But think what I’ve saved on trousers.

The trouser-seat has seen very little in the way of action; I haven’t bought a sofa (or a chair for that matter) since I’ve worn tweed. This is ironic, since I saved them from a cyclist – their seat would have been the first to go. And despite all the cigars I’ve smoked in and around the trousers (not that I’ve smoked with the trousers on my head, mind) I’ve only burned one hole  – look – in the left knee: 146000 cigars and only one knee burn – not bad. But grass burns, on the other hand… No, there’s not the time or space.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Dropped Trousers

If I were approached by a film producer about making a low budget film about a priceless pair of trousers, I'd have the right material right to hand – no, to leg – cut from life (but it wouldn’t be a biopic). Furthermore, I’d be able to shoot the film in one take – without any cuts or edits - in real time. The star of the movie - a pair of trousers (green tweeds), exact size and age unknown – 25 at least. I know roughly how old they are because I’ve been wearing them on-and-off for a quarter of a century (even though they’ve never fitted and they tend to chafe on ‘Ladder Awareness’ courses).
The trousers in 1984

The same trousers in 2009

James Mcavoy would play my character, his trousers never look like they fit him properly (Dudley Moore would been even better in this respect); but Mcavoy’s lovely Scots accent will be wasted - his part has no lines. The only other roll requires a woman, an actor with a deep yet astonished sounding voice, and one who can cast a 'cutting', icy stare. Bettie Davis would have been perfect, but let’s send the script to Demi Moore. The trousers play themselves.

First one-arm-pull-up in the trousers, 1985

Latest one-arm-pull-up in the same trousers, 2009

London, autumn, 1984, I’m walking though Richmond Park, it’s getting dark. I’m on the main road (no more than a country lane really) and there’s nobody about - no traffic - the park gates are closed to cars at dusk. I slow down to light a cigar and admire the lights coming on across the city when a bike overtakes me – whizzes past with an affected cough (I hate that, joggers adopt the same cough). As the bike disappears into the distance I see something fall off the back. Even though the bike had gone quite a way I could have shouted, and I probably would have if I hadn’t been coughed at in such an affected manner. So I leave my cigar in my mouth and carry on walking until I reach what's been dropped: a pair of trousers. I go through the pockets (two), nothing; turn them inside out - no labels or other identifying features - they appear to be hand made. The fabric’s tweed - a hue of green, but the strangest thing is their weird cut – I’d never seen anything like it – they just balloon out from the waist to an enormous sagging behind, before tapering down into nothing, at the ankles. And it was impossible to sex them – they were odorless. These anonymous tweeds were without a doubt the most bizarre trousers I’d ever come across. I pop them in my bag and continue on my way until I see this ancient gothic-looking tree with a vertical opening in its hollowed-out trunk, a short distance from the road; the type of (“Sleepy hollow”) tree children love to hide in: this hollow-trunked tree provided the perfect changing room.  

Changing-room open

Changing-room closed

I enter a tree in chinos, and come out again, in tweeds. It’s a shame some of our older, time-hollowed- trees are not fitted with full-length mirrors (must get on to English Heritage or the National Trust about the idea).
I thought they looked great – the tweeds were me; so much so that I left my chino’s in the fitting-room – abandoned my trousers in a tree. Back on the road, despite a slight chafing, I was still pretty pleased with myself. By now it's almost pitch-dark (so I couldn’t admire my legs anymore) and I hadn’t gone very far before I see a light coming towards me. Next thing, my tweeds are illuminated by bicycle light. The cyclist had turned back (“The Nightrider Returns” – great title for the film). She stops at a safe distance and remains astride her bike: the up-lit face of a woman (30ish) staring with incredulity, at my groin. “You are in my trousers, my Jeff Banks”, she barked. I didn't have time to reply (and what could I have said?), before she stamps back into her rat-traps and disappears into the night, leaving me standing alone in the dark, with Jeff Banks.

Jeff Banks, who made my trousers, nowadays makes trousers for Sainsbury's.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

No Smoke Without Soya: The Most Photographed Man in Bermuda

I’m scrutinizing the advertising on the wrappings of two plants I can’t seem to live without: tobacco leaves and soya beans.
"Because what you eat shapes your lifeMake your body a better place to live". "Fumer tue" (smoking kills)

Two constants: cigars and soya: daily, orally, necessary; I have to swallow a contradiction. Yet there’s a harmony in the imagery; a sublime synchronicity unites my two favorite brands.
If I were to trace both the leafy-sleepy-island-nude and the poised panther, I'd have almost identical tracings.
Cheek to cheek.
Leaf to leaf.
But it has taken an out-of-time postcard from Bermuda, ironically, a place associated with disappearances, to reveal (through pataphysical association and pictorial logic) that there’s no such thing as “smoke without soya”.

On the reverse of the postcard there's a map of Bermuda: a country you wouldn't struggle to draw from memory - no need to 'know it like the back of your hand' - you could just trace the side of your hand.
"The policeman who directs traffic from his bird cage in the Island's busy capital is, perhaps the most photographed man in Bermuda".
I wonder how many photographs exist of this policeman's hand mimicking his native land?
I burn a book a day; smoke 20 Panthers every day; 2 tins of 10 cost €9.50 (£8.99) in France, where I go to import mine. The average paperback costs about £8.99. If I bought my Panthers in the UK, where they cost £8.99 per tin of ten, I’d be burning a hardback a day!
Look, I'm getting as mean as the Dean!
Pyramid of panthers/2800 cigar triangle.
Leaning tower of soya.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Wildfowl Management - Not Golf Course Management: And Elephant Memories

I bumped into a tree - a tree with a split personality. It had a trunk that wasn’t its trunk (in the tree-trunk sense): it’s trunk doubled as a nose. The tree was both an Indian elephant and a Red Indian, depending on how you faced it.
The elephant face had an eye – I’d heard of Elephantiasis – swelling of the lower torso: thick legs and swollen scrotums; I’d seen Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” (1980) with John Hurt as the unfortunate John Merrick who spoke like a door sticking; and let’s not forget the beautiful Hannah Gordon (the wife of kindly surgeon Antony Hopkins); I’ve been in love with her since 1972 (“My Wife Next Door"; “Call My Bluff”).
The last time I clapped eyes on her she was as fragrant as ever, presenting the highly successful “Watercolour Challenge” on Channel 4. In the episode I was glued to a group of Sunday painters were trying to depict the archetypal English village churchyard at Crowhurst, East Sussex, in watercolour.  The place seemed to have a placid beauty – in fact the village of Crowhurst is just the sort of wisteria cottaged village I’d imagined Hannah Gordon had retired to (she’s 68). Perhaps she just popped out from under her thatch – found a window between the jam pachón and her pension collection (from the village post office) to present “The Watercolour Challenge”.
I felt a sudden itch - an itch that could only be scratched against Hannah Gordon’s thatch – or at least, on the very gravestones the star of “My Wife Next Door” had rubbed against as she’d faked praise on those Sunday painters.
My guidebook says: “Crowhurst, with its famous yew-tree, is within a quarter of an hour's railway journey from either Bexhill or Hastings”; so I set out from London and alighted at Crowhurst an hour or so later, with a photograph of Hannah Gordon – book-marking “The Crowhurst Yew” – her face flattened against a mustached Victorian, jammed in a crack in the tree: A typical autumn day – thin sun between heavy showers. I make my way towards the Church. Here’s the guidebook again: “On the south side of the Church stands the famous Yew Tree, said by some to be three thousand, and by others fourteen hundred years old. Its iron-bound trunk and propped-up branches betoken its age: and the visitor, as he gazes upon it, may reflect with tolerable certainty that it was flourishing here when the Norman defeated the Saxon close by, more than 800 years ago. The tree is now 50 feet in circumference at its base, and 38 feet in circumference 6 feet from the ground.” The guidebook I am using is a bit out of date: Ward Lock &Co’s Red Guide, 1907. Would the ‘famous yew’ be still standing? My heart, like my pace, quickened. As I entered the village, I thought: funny, if this yew tree is so famous why I don’t recall any of the watercolourists painting it, or Hannah Gordon hugging it – why shun it?
Look: the ancient yew’s still standing; it dwarfs the 15th Century Church. I fight my way beneath the limb-like lower branches and vertical supports in search of the crack that leads to its heart – if I couldn’t photograph myself beside my favorite aging actress I was going to photograph myself inside one of the oldest trees in the land.
But look at this: the yew’s been fenced off. But would I have entered the crack? The tree’s infected - riddled with kind of disease (can trees catch elephantiasis?)
I’m looking for a crack and I find a bottom: this overhanging, seeping, bulbous, buttock-like branch reminds me of the baboon, Bosse-de-Nage (literally, “bottom-face”) who’s glowing buffed backside guided Jarry’s Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician, through Paris (by night) in a bed-boat (see “Hanging Around Toilets”, 29/10/09). But it looked too much like a zoo, this yew.
In search of a pew, I made for the church: but I didn’t get further than the porch, where I came across these books for sale. I was half-hoping to find a novel, often encountered in charity shops: “A Crack In Forever” (a great name for a climb) but I was out of luck. I settled for “The Manual of Ornamental Wild Fowl Management” instead. Look: it shows you "how to hold young birds for sexing".
Equipped with this knowledge I dropped a few coppers in the honesty box and headed off into Battle.
On the train back to London I replayed the day – examined my photographs. Bored, I blew up the books – look at this:
Not only did I miss out on Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers” – the perfect bookshelf companion to “Wild Fowl Management”- I failed to notice a novel about a hairdryer. Me who can’t fall asleep by just reading in bed: me who can't sleep at night without a hairdryer blowing me on the pillow! Me who’d once tried to shoot a thrush with a hairdryer! 
But I can’t really be blamed for missing these books next door to one another, I’d visited some ‘sacred sights’: elephants; memories; Red Indians; ancient burial grounds; buttocks; cracks; baboons; noses; split yew trees; split-personality trees, and Hannah Gordon, my wife next door (but here, next to a tree).