Friday, 26 February 2010

Shespy Ibuy: The Personal Shopper

No wife, no kids, and no degree in Golf Course Management. No milk, no eggs, no cheese, no fish, no mermaids, no meat, and no alcohol: but I’ve got a personal shopper.
Pre Shespy Ibuy
She spy’s it, I try it. I buy it. Shespy Ibuy sound’s Oriental: but she’s no Kato to my Clouseau.  Who else could give me, ‘Conversations with Cage’, and then have me in Car Coat? I don’t have a car. She introduced me to the ‘Sebald family’ (all shoes, all sizes); Terence Conran’s son’s spectacles; Duchamp’s ‘Notes on the Large Glass’ (I already knew about his Urinal)… and she bought me a wonderful sea-green toilet seat from Lidl – totally unexpected. She was pivotal in Basel, when I couldn’t decide on the right colour of lorry tarpaulin for my Freitag shoulder bag. I could go on…Celio clothes, Hero phones – there’s poetry in the brand names - raw cameras, and a Bikers’ leather jacket, lined with skull and crossbones (I don’t have a motorbike).
Post Shespy Ibuy
And we never set out to shop: we never go ‘out shopping’. It just sort of happens naturally - on the way to something or somewhere – between places. What I’m saying is: it’s never planned. Occasionally we come together in spontaneous consumerism. Quite often she’ll want something, so I’ll want it as well. Take Designer radiators: we were talking radiators on the phone late into the night recently. She was talking, heating - naming names: The Big One, Anaconda and Ron. Go on, Google them. I did, as she pronounced their names: sculpted pipe-work that’ll get your own pipes gushing! But this doesn’t mean we want the same things. She’s after a leather bed; left to myself I’d be in leather trousers. Shespy Ibuy don’t always see eye to eye. 
Pre Shespy Ibuy
But say I lost my job? No money: no more Shespy Ibuy. And I’d have time on my hands. I could volunteer to man in-store security cameras in all the shops we frequented: I’d Ispy Shespy. But how would I feel if I saw her personal shopping with another? Drawing the curtains of a changing room on another? 

Pictures by Lucinda Wells (who informs me, is a mermaid after all)

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Talking Of Tent Pegs

Talking of tent pegs, I was reading a children’s book in bed last night; reading to myself – there were no minors present. Which is just as well. Look.
I’ve had to blank the last bit out: it... it’s meant to be a children’s story! Although I can report, I slept without nightmares; indeed, I woke-up this morning thinking, it’s about time I bought a new sleeping bag. I fall asleep with a bulge in the canvas, wake-up wanting to splash-out on a new sleeping bag.
If I didn’t know better I’d think an unoccupied Nullah was an unfulfilled toilet-tent. And if toilet-tents could talk, I bet you wouldn’t meet a single one (and they are all single by nature – tall and thin – with only room enough for one) that wouldn’t tell you how it longs to be a normal, family-tent. Toilet-tents must really resent family-tents. Talking toilet-tents are a bad idea: who wants to hear an endless drench of latrine lamentation?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Climbs They Are A Changin

Alzheimer’s disease runs ‘club-footed’ through my father’s side of the family. I say ‘club-footed’ because I come from a family of shoemakers – my uncle’s an orthopedic shoemaker - and doubt whether Alzheimer’s will jump a generation: it lies in wait, like a blackboard rubber between me and oblivion. My grandparents, their brothers and sisters – my grandfather was one of thirteen - all ended their lives as ‘old children’ in old-peoples’ homes, as did their parents before them; and now, my uncle has just been diagnosed. Like Larkin says, in ‘The Old Fools: “Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms inside your head, and people inside them, acting. People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms like a deep loss restored…”
One thing I’ve noticed about Alzheimer’s: where, so much - once so close - becomes detached, old rhythms and rhymes, seem to stick. Where any kind of meaningful conversation is impossible and they no longer recognised their children (or spouses), and they’re missing their mouths with food (for ‘died of Alzheimer’s’, read, ‘died of starvation’), many Alzheimer suffers are still able to recite nursery rhymes - sing hymns and songs -, are wet-eyed with recognition during old sing-a-longs.
It’s with this in mind – with a dry eye on an old age, when I won’t be able to recall past-times, unless they’re preserved as rhymes – that I’ve begun to commit some of my ‘key’ experiences into rhyming verse.
This is a climbing holiday in Austria, in the 1990's, ruined, when we had our tent stolen from right under our noses. No: stolen from right under our toes. And seeing as rock climbers rhymes with Alzheimer’s, what better place to start?
It happened just as the poem says: we were a high – a good couple of rope-lengths - up a limestone cliff, climbing in the valley above our campsite, near Innsbruck, the day we were forced to watch our tent (and all our belongings – we hadn’t come by car) being stolen. It all happened as if in slow motion. We screamed at ants – carrier-ants: we were tied-up, in a tantrum, and to the world (the rocks, the sky, the birds) must have appeared mad. Perhaps that’s what it’s like, being old?

Watched My Tent Being Stolen (to be sung to the tune of, 'The Climbs They A Changin')

I watched my tent being stolen
Whilst dangling from a rope,
Halfway up a rock-face,
As if backwards through a telescope.

Hung helpless from a rusty peg
As they up-rooted my tent-pegs:
The view between my legs,
Ripped-off condom-sized sleeping bags.

Climbing a cliff above our campsite
(Too high-up to read their number plate),
Passports stolen in broad daylight,
Halfway through our July fortnight.

Yet, as the airbeds deflated
I could only feel elated;
Like the sea had just parted,
Like all the junk I’d carted,

Like the groundsheet had been pulled from under me
(They’d even taken my identity):
Like a vagabond - the chance to be free –
A new start in a foreign country?

But I abseiled down to the embassy,
Checked the cover on my indemnity,
Reversed charges to those close to me.
Reverted to whom I’d chosen to be.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

I Want To Live In An Oarhouse

At school, once a year, we had this thing called ‘Project Week’. Mixed groups of pupils (accompanied by a couple of teachers) would go off Youth Hosteling or camping, always in beautiful places like The Lake District, Wales, and Devon. We camped inland, we camped next to the sea; but it never made a blind bit difference: the girls, in their sleeping bags, always looked like mermaids. But they didn’t taste like mermaids (which I imagine to taste of the sea: fishy). 
One dark night a couple of us (boys) were crawling – literally, on all fours – around the girls’ tents when I knelt on something sharp. I felt my knee: it was wet. I thought I’d cut myself on a tent peg (an occupational hazard). I licked my hand: tasted blood. To better assess the damage I stuck a match. I hadn’t cut myself; I’d knelt on a used-tampon jammed into to opening of a flattened Coke can - thrust-out-from-under-a-tent.
I was recently reminded of this cautionary tale - a tale of poor taste (paw-tasting tale? Pour tasting tail, even) - when I found myself on all fours, tracing oars... tracing oars on rolls of wallpaper: I want to live in an Oarhouse. When I’ve finished decorating, the sitting room will look it’s been papered by something from the Laura Ashley Broadmoor Range… and my oars (like my home) will be open to contradiction: “Ooh, those oars are so well hung”. 
And I’m not having any paintings or photographs on the wall. No. I’m going to go out and get me lots of short, bright coloured skirts, and dress the oars - long-legged oars in short skirts. I’m going to paper the sitting room, hall, kitchen, and, of course, the bedroom. But if you have a children’s bedroom (I don’t) - and feel life-size oars might be ‘a bit much’ – you could consider scaling the oars down to the size of a Barbie doll’s legs and printing them on background of jolly coloured wallpaper. The short skirts might be inappropriate in the children’s room though. You could try painting slightly see-through sleeping bags over the junior oars: use watercolour to achieve the transparent paint-wash effect, and again, use vivid colours; watercolour sleeping bags are also in keeping with the overall mermaidness of the project, and after all, sleeping bags are appropriate to The Bedroom. But beware: condoms are also associated with The Bedroom, and a certain slippage (seepage?) can take place during the painting or drawing of a mummy-shaped sleeping bag: it can accidentally come out like a condom (an easy mistake to make; times, I've seen it done). And I’ve tried a condom on a Barbie doll - she looked as mermaid-like as any fully-grown woman in a sleeping bag does. So be warned! You don’t want your children waking-up to the sight of a room full of oars wearing condoms.
Finally, whilst I was tracing all those oars, I composed a poem: a bedtime poem.

If jellyfish swallowed goldfish whole,
You’d have a natural goldfish bowls.
But if mermaids swam out of their sleeping bags,
Like crocodiles burst out of eggs,
Wouldn’t mermaids walk on oars, instead of legs?
For more ideas about ‘useful things you can do with oars’, see my piece: “The Floating Photographer and the Mermaid’s Oars”, in Glen Jamieson’s superb new book: “Suspicions of a Peninsular Town”, YH485 Press, 2009.   
The oars and the photographs (of me) belong to Lucinda Wells, who also owns a sleeping bag and lives by the sea. Beyond that, there’s no connection.