Archive for the ‘fiction or fact’ Category

Petrol Station with a Grass Roof

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

…as seen on the 16:15 London to Nottingham.

At first a blank, but the moment I begin to write
a sheep appears from behind the rooftop
chewing on greased-up blades
licking its lips longer than usual

while below a tanker pulls in
viking at the wheel, shakes his gold ring
tambourine of an arm at the attendants
to unscrew his caps and drain the trailer.

Satisfied, he leans forward and pulls out
a scalded sheep’s head, plucks an eye
tugs a cheek with his oily finger.

The Glass House

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

It’s a recent, steel-frame building, and inside the space is vast and light—far more impressive than on the outside. In the foyer you have to queue at reception for a visitor pass that will let you past the gates. Once through, you can get anywhere.

The workspaces are open plan, with glass meeting rooms of different sizes around the outside and the central atrium. Endless rooms, open to the viewer, none belonging to anyone, none with any determinate function. The whole space has been designed with flexibility in mind, and it consequently feels like it might be about to collapse.

You’d never feel secure working here, never entirely sure that your desk would still be there in the morning. The furniture is ephemeral and portable, ready to be picked up and carted off at any moment. The workers on flexi-time come and go, each replaceble by the next, the pattern of their appearances entirely lacking in regularity. Even the walls seem to have moved every time you look at them.

But what about the plumbing, plumbing isn’t mobile? I wander about looking for toilets, but they are nowhere to be found. Eventually a cleaner shows me the way. They’re round the corner, behind a screen, through a set of double doors, along a corridor with a low ceiling and…walls. Walls? These are the first things I’ve seen in over two hours that really look like walls. There has been glass, partitions, legs, and furniture. But walls, no.

When I leave there are people on cycling machines in the lower atrium level. Someone is shouting at them. “Faster”, he says, “go on, you can do it. Faster!”. They’re straining to break free. If only, I think, they had real bicycles.

Witches of Kinshasa

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

The children of Ndjili, Kinshasa, fly about on broomsticks at night.
They have been turfed out on the streets for their witchery.
Where else is there for them to go?
They are the cats and lizards, spirits of the power blackout.

The Duchess Bakery

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I normally pride myself on my ability to eat pretty much anything that comes my way. Chinese chicken feet, Icelandic sheep’s eye, Colombian deep-fried ants…I’ve had them all. The ants weren’t actually that bad. They had a woody kind of flavour—a passable alternative to peanuts. But the Duchess Bakery really put my courage to the test.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at the display cabinet.

“Carrot and tape cake,” said the woman behind the counter.

“Tape?” I said, “not….”

“It’s made from carrots,” she explained, “and the kidneys of tape worms. They go into the fluffy white frosting round the outside.”

I paused for a moment. “Imagine that was your job—extracting the kidneys from tape worms!”

“Oh, there’s no need for that, it’s all mechanical these days.”

There was something reassuring about the way she said it, so I took the plunge: “I’ll take one, please.”

“Would you like horseradish with that as well?”

My White Van Man Day: An Epic Journey of Delivery

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Ever wondered what it would be like to be totally independent, the cowboy of the A-roads, to be able to cram a whole family of gypsies in your rear end?

Well, this week I got the chance. For 24 hours only, I was transformed into White Van Man as I undertook an epic Journey of Delivery from London to Sheffield to Immingham to Norwich to London.

To begin with, I was apprehensive about how I would handle my newfound girth, and worried about the lack of an inside mirror. But, to tell you the truth, she went like a dream, and in no time at all I was cutting up cyclists, pulling Gs off roundabouts, and mowing down pedestrians that didn’t know their right of way. They’ll never know now, bless’em.

What a motor! The competition stood no chance. They were still standing while I was a distant puff on the horizon. The fuel consumption was impressive too. She got through 93 litres of diesel for the whole trip. That’s some appetite.

I floored it down the M40, speeding up to 90 mph whenever I passed a speed camera. They don’t always seem to work at 80, and I wanted to make sure they caught me at my best. Which gave me a brilliant idea—why not link the speed camera network up to Facebook? Every time you get flashed, the photo is immediately posted to your profile, along with date and speed. Somebody could develop an ap. That way, all your friends can see how fast you are, and when you tell them about the time you did 110 going past Watford Gap, you’ll have the evidence to prove it. Genius!

Breakfast was a bacon butty at a roadside caf. Fuelled up on meat, I was raring to go, and put in a star performance, completing the second leg of my journey from Sheffield to Immingham in an hour and a half.

The warehouse was a sight to behold. There were pallets loaded with monster tyres, Typhoo tea, and boxes of salt’n’vinegar crisps piled as high as I can reach. And the forklift truck drivers whizzing about at breakneck speed. You’ve got to admire their skill. These guys can pull a ton and turn on a tuppence. Maybe that’s the life for me, I started to wonder, but was called back to the van, which was blocking operations in the container yard.

Scunthorpe–Grimsby. I’ve one word for it—industrial. Not in a bad way, mind you. The skyline was filled with chimneys and pipes twisting about loop-the-loop like the Fulham water slides. I was awestruck and was brought to several times by the shudder of my wheels straying over the white line.

‘Who needs trees’, I thought, ‘when you’ve got chimneys like that?’. If ever proof was needed that Man has left Nature well and truly stuck in the slow lane, that’s it. I mean, I passed some mincing wind turbines earlier, but they’re just imitation trees, waving their blades about like they think they’re branches blowing in the wind. And they kill birds. Chimneys don’t.

The road down to Spalding and across to Norwich took me through some lovely countryside. It’s mostly single lane, so if you don’t pull a few fast ones you get stuck behind some nutter doing 40. But even so, it’s 50 or 60 mph most of the way. I just rolled down the window and cruised along with some banging choons on the blower.

With only the last stretch of my journey to go, I had 4 hours to get from Norwich to London. I legged it down the M11, but of course there was heavy traffic on the M25 in a clockwise direction and we crawled over the Dartford bridge at a snail’s pace. Then another hold up, which mysteriously vanished the moment we’d passed an accident in the opposite direction. What a knock up! But I don’t get it—why does an incident one side of the barrier cause the traffic to grind to a virtual halt for several miles going the other way? It’s not logical.

By this time I was sweating bucketloads, thinking I wasn’t going to make it back in time for 6pm. I dropped off the boxes—literally, in the driveway—then dashed over to the hire place, making it back with just 4 minutes to go. In the nick of time.

Without my van now, I feel somehow incomplete. It’s back to being an androgynous pedestrian or cissy-boy cyclist. With my white van, I felt like a Man. And it teaches you respect. When you’re towering over other motorists, you know you can push them about, but with that comes responsibility. You realise there’s a pecking order too. It takes skill to handle a load, and while I proved myself with a long wheelbase, you’ve got to hand it to the guys in the lorries. I was just a day tripper; for them, it’s a way of life. They’re the kings of the road.