The Return of Rich the Bitch

My previous post was uncharacteristically upbeat and even jolly, but now it’s time to get back to normal with a quick look back at some of the year’s nasties together with a few perennial grouches.

ALCOHOL I enjoy an occasional drink myself and don’t want to be hypocritical about this, but having had to watch two of my closest friends succumb to alcoholism and eventually die of it and quite a number of promising young writers ruin their talent and their lives because of booze I’m very wary of it.  I’m not being preachy here, but I’ve seen some dreadful things and been unable to help.

‘ALBATROSS’ We booed Fleetwood Mac for selling out (as we thought) when they played this at a free concert on Parliament Hill Fields one Sunday evening long ago, and since then I’ve become really sick of hearing it played as a party winds down.  Try this instead.

BEETROOT Nature’s most unappealing vegetable.  Dear friends, If you’re kind enough to invite me round for a meal please don’t let it be beetroot-based and especially not borcht.  It has happened.

DIGITAL ADVERTISING:  Does anyone actually like all the pop-ups, cookies and trackers that dog our every movement to try and get at our money by selling us things we don’t want or need?  Mac-users might like to install Little Snitch and run it for half an hour, and if you don’t already know you’ll be appalled to see the dozens of unidentifiable creeps that are accessing your computer whenever you go online.  It’s especially nauseating when this insidious business is targetted specifically at children, as it increasingly is.  I could name names …

DRAG ACTS:  I’ve never liked them, and the current popularity of Mrs Brown’s Boys depresses me beyond belief.  I find the whole thing demeaning for men and insulting to women.  Dame Edna might be an exception.

FISH:  Can’t eat it.  I say that I’m allergic, which isn’t quite true as fish doesn’t put me into hospital with anaphylactic shock, but if I eat it  — and I do try from time to time — it disagrees with me so strongly that I’m confined to the bathroom for hours or even days afterwards, which is a real nuisance as it reduces my personal menu by about a third.  And it looks so good!

THE HONOURS SYSTEM As I write this the New Year’s Honours List is just being announced, with its usual slew of cronies, Civil Service time-servers, sportsmen and sportswomen, and showbiz veterans, most of whom have already been amply rewarded with fame and money.  The politicians keep saying  that the whole thing needs reforming but they never do it.  A quick doff of the hat, though, to the splendid people who have turned honours down, especially Alan Bennett who has refused the offer of a knighthood on three separate occasions, and our friend Herbert who turned down an MBE because being from Nigeria he wanted nothing to do with the British Empire.

Oh no it isn't
Oh no it isn’t

‘IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’:  I never saw this movie when I was young and only caught up with it at a time when my business was in trouble thanks to the bank panicking unnecessarily during John Major’s recession — and did my authors, clients and suppliers rally round to support me like the townsfolk do in the film?  With a couple of exceptions they did not.  The movie lies, people, and I hate it.

LONDON:  It used to be a magical city but for me it has shrunk to a few dismal streets and a couple of hospitals.  Now unable to enjoy its pleasures I long to get away but — for the time being anyway — I can’t, damn it.

MEN’S PONYTAILS:  Don’t have one, guys, unless you’re actually aiming to look like an arsehole.

MY BODY:  A wreck.  ‘Nuff said about that horror, and definitely no …

SELFIES: A psychologist studying the phenomenon of social media generally and Instagram in particular called the phenomenal number of people continually posting photos of themselves ‘vanity validation’, which seems spot-on.  Have we really become so narcissistic?  From what I’ve seen, yes.  But I hadn’t realized that the selfie could be used as a cruel taunt until I received one from someone who had avoided a get-together and sent me a photo which seemed to be saying “Here I am having fun scoffing fish and chips at the sunny seaside while you’re stuck in London trying to cope with gruelling cancer treatment on your own, ha ha. And by the way, aren’t I cute?”  If there’s a good-natured way of responding to something like that I’m afraid couldn’t find it.

 

TIME:  It goes by too quickly, and this sure as hell isn’t how I wanted to spend what I have left of it.

Photo by Angela
Photo by Angela

TRAVEL:  I’ve never been a keen traveller and wouldn’t want to make a virtue out of not travelling since I can’t anyway, but I’ve been a bit miffed by people lecturing me about not recycling a few garden clippings when these same people jump on a plane at every opportunity, which is about the worst thing anyone can do to our poor suffering planet.  The photo on the right shows me on a camping holiday in Spain in a rare moment when it wasn’t raining — but we drove there.  Did I just get a bit preachy?  Oh well.

WEEDS:  Hey Science, when you’ve got rid of the coronavirus could you please turn your attention to producing a really effective weedkiller?  The bottom of my Dorset garden is infested with deadnettles which have resisted my efforts to dig them up and burn them and this year they’ve come back stronger than ever while the London garden is overrun with brambles, to the annoyance of the neighbours on both sides.  Sorry, neighbours.  I’ll have another go when I’m able.

I sympathize with you, Science, when the politicians disregard your warnings and blithely lead us into a second wave of a pandemic that’s even worse than the first one, and I do realize that eliminating the virus is a priority — I’m not completely selfish — but let’s not forget that the world also needs a chemical that will get rid of weeds completely and permanently.

Deadnettles to the left of us, brambles to the right.

YODELLING:  You know those people who can turn their eyelids inside out or bend their fingers right back and insist on doing so just to revolt you?  Yodelling is like that to me.  Some so-called singers evidently have some throat malformation that enables them to yodel, and by god they do.  A bootleg of Bob Dylan when he was young revealed that can yodel but he doesn’t.  He deseves the Nobel Prize for that alone.

ZOOM:  During 2020 I got sick of being told to clear off because an important Zoom meeting was scheduled.  So rude!  So humiliating!  I’ve never Zoomed myself, and I hope I never will.

Sorry about all that folks, but it’s been good to get a few things off my chest and where else could I have done it?  I’m afraid that many of these things will still be around to annoy us in the New Year, but perhaps I can be less of a curmudgeon.  Resolutions don’t usually last very long, but mine is a big one: to try and find a role for myself in the post-lockdown world when it comes.  I’ve gone on far too much about illness and have been feeling like a burden on the state and to my friends, and urgently need to find a way of making myself useful somehow.  What will it be?  Charity work as a volunteer. raising money for good causes, being more generous with my limited resources, writing the novel that’s been buzzing around in my brain for ages?  We’ll see.

By the way, HAPPY NEW YEAR.

′Tis the Season

Have you reached the end of your tether?

Do you feel as if you’re hanging by your fingernails to the crumbling edge of a cliff?

Have you been worn to a frazzle?

If the answer is yes, congratulations are in order, says my horoscope in The Daily Mail — I hate their politics but buy it on Saturdays for the weekly TV Guide — and it’s as if the paper’s resident astrologer Oscar Cainer knows me personally.  It certainly has been a tough year, for you as well as me I’m sure, but I’ve done enough moaning in this blog so let me take stock and look at the good things of 2020.  There have been a few.

FAVOURITE ANIMATED CHARACTERBrian from Family Guy, for about the seventh year running.

FAVOURITE BLOGM. John Harrison’s ambiente hotel here.  Mike and I collaborated on various things back in the day when he was a struggling writer and I was a very amateurish artist, and it’s been a real pleasure to see Mike’s career blossoming since then.  His novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again won the prestigious Goldsmiths Prize this year.  His blog is elegant, always interesting and of course beautifully written.

FAVOURITE BOOKS:  I read a lot and it would be tedious to list all the books I’ve enjoyed, but I was pleased to discover the short stories of Miranda July and am currently reading her novel The Last Bad Man. I was also delighted by David Nobbs’s autobiography I Didn’t Get Where I am Today, full of hilarious anecdotes about his career in comedy writing, and while sorting through old books with a view to getting rid of some I found myself re-reading Viz annuals, following the surreal footballing saga of Billy the Fish from beginning to end.

FAVOURITE CANCER NURSE:  Jingle: lovely, friendly, funny and super-efficient.  When we were out on our doorsteps applauding the NHS I was clapping louder than anyone — and why did we stop doing it?  These wonderful people are still working their asses off and taking great personal risks to keep the rest of us safe and cared-for.

FAVOURITE CAR:  I hate my own current car and hope to replace it with a better one next year, so my choice of car is my long-term favourite, the Duesenberg Model J Phaeton.  This was Jerry Cornelius’s car in Mike Moorcock’s novel The Condition of Muzak (1977) which I illustrated, and not having access to the real thing and with no internet in those days I bought a plastic construction kit which I carefully assembled and painted in Jerry’s colours (cream and chocolate brown), and drew the car from the model.  The book won the Guardian Fiction Prize that year, but I doubt whether my illustrations had anything to do with that.

FAVOURITE CHAIR:  My Lazyboy, like me very scruffy and fraying at the edges but still more comfortable than any other.

FAVOURITE CHEESE: Wensleydale, but it has to be the real thing made and perfectly matured in Yorkshire.  The plastic-wrapped stuff in the supermarket’s chill cabinet isn’t the same.

FAVOURITE DEATHS:  A tie between those of the Moors Murderer Ian Brady and of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. The world is better off without those two, and now we no longer have to pay for their decades-long upkeep in jail.  Also, I wasn’t too distressed by the death of Des O’Connor, who told me to fuck off when I asked for his autograph as a shy and acutely self-conscious 13-year-old.

FAVOURITE DOG:  Lady, next door’s elderly Red Setter, now deaf and arthritic but still a sweetheart.

FAVOURITE DOWNFALL:  Harvey Weinstein’s.  We had some very unsatisfactory dealings with him when I was running my publishing company and we knew he was a wrong ‘un long before news of his sexual shenanigans emerged.  He’s currently serving a 23-year jail sentence, his company has gone bust and he’s tested positive for the coronavirus.  There is a god.

FAVOURITE DRINK:  Heaven’s Door [see my earlier post ‘Heaven and Hell’].  Runner-up: Marston’s Owd Rodger which my friend Bob and I discovered in a country pub we used to frequent, and being less mobile these days I was pleased to find the bottled version for sale in my local Kwik-e-Mart.  Not quite as good as the keg but still a wonderful relaxative when needed.

FAVOURITE DRUG:  Levothyroxine.  A daily dose keeps me alive.

FAVOURITE FILMS:  It’s years since I visited a cinema so I have to make do with what gets shown on the multifarious tv channels that I get.

Beanie Feldstein and Caitlin Moran
Beanie Feldstein and Caitlin Moran

This year I particularly enjoyed How to Build a Girl starring Beanie Feldstein, having read the novel by local author Caitlin Moran.  Also good was The Constant Gardener, viewed on DVD as I’d missed it first time around and was reminded of it by the recent death of John Le Carré.

FAVOURITE FOOTBALL TEAM:  Leeds United, always and for ever.  2020 was their first year back in the Premiership after a very long and dreary absence, and it’s been a huge pleasure to see them holding their own in the upper tier and playing some superbly entertaining football.

FAVOURITE FRUIT: Pineapple. A surprising late entry this, as for my previous 73 years on this planet I’ve had a sort of ‘I can take it or leave it’ attitude to pineapple, but in recent weeks I’ve found I can’t get enough of the wonderful yellow stuff, and when I haven’t got any I’m thinking about how to get some. The recent hormone treatment I’ve been undergoing has done peculiar things to my body and my metabolism, but I wasn’t anticipating such a strange craving. I think I might be pregnant.

FAVOURITE GARDENING IMPLEMENT:  Draper’s telescopic soft-grip bypass ratchet-action loppers with aluminium handles, bought just before the radiotherapy put me out of action for a while.  Next year I hope to be able to use them a lot more.  Lopping is fun!

FAVOURITE GARMENT:  Not much clothes shopping this year because of the pandemic and various misguided online purchases, but a baggy pale grey top by Tu bought on a grocery-shopping trip to Sainsbury’s is very comfortable. I no longer care what I look like.

FAVOURITE HEADLINES OF THE YEAR:  “FA confirm Wembley is NOT being turned into a giant lasagne”;  “Monday Night Toilet Roll Fights: sport in the age of coronavirus”;  “A Man Whose Parents Threw Out His Porn Collection Wins Lawsuit Against Them”;  “Bad Sex In Fiction award cancelled – as people have suffered enough in 2020”;  “Adolf Hitler elected in Namibia’s local council elections – but has ‘no plans for world domination'”.

FAVOURITE HERB: Oregano, now that I grow my own.

Wojak
Wojak

FAVOURITE HOLIDAY:  No holidays this year. No big deal as I hate travelling anyway.

FAVOURITE INTERNET MEME:  Wojak.

FAVOURITE  JOKEQ. What’s the difference between COVID-19 and Romeo and JulietA. One’s a coronavirus and the other’s a Verona crisis.

FAVOURITE KITCHEN THINGIES: A pair of little rubber grippers, Poundland’s re-invention of the oven glove. They do the job and are much smaller and easier to wash than the quilted cloth things I’ve been using up to now.

FAVOURITE LOCOMOTIVE: Union Pacific 4014, reputedly the world’s biggest working engine. All of the other surviving Big Boy class are in museums but over the course of the year I’ve been avidly following the restoration and testing of this one on YouTube, and the sight of it now running under its own steam is a wonderfully stirring thing.

FAVOURITE MAGAZINEPrivate Eye.  Online magazines don’t count.

FAVOURITE MEAL: A pasta dish — don’t know its name — made by Celia-next-door. Her mushroom risotto was really good too. Much appreciated.

Elīna Garanča as Carmen
Elīna Garanča as Carmen

FAVOURITE MUSIC:  I love music and in recent years I’ve been listening mostly to classical stuff, but I’ve always been a bit deaf to the charms of opera.  Finding this on Youtube started to change my mind and I developed a bit of a thing for Elīna Garanča, so when I learned that she’d starred in Carmen I bought the DVD and am entranced by it.

FAVOURITE PIZZA:  ‘Garden Party’ with extra cheese, from Papa John’s.

FAVOURITE POEM:  If I was trying to impress I’d choose something by Donne or Eliot or Larkin, or something really obscure, but ’Jenny Kissed Me’ by Leigh Hunt (1838) has been popping into my head lately. I’ve always found it rather charming, and with advancing age it has taken on extra overtones. Here is someone reading it quite nicely. I’ve had only one kiss this year and was as delighted by it as the guy in the poem.

FAVOURITE POTATO CRISPS:  Vicente Vidal plain crisps.  Quite hard to find and rather expensive when you do find them, but as something of a crisp connoisseur I’ve found these light and fresh and much tastier than other brands.

FAVOURITE PUNCTUATION MARK:  The colon:  I know that I over-use it.

FAVOURITE RADIOLOGIST:  Bridgid. It’s been quite a while since an attractive young woman fiddled about with my dangly bits but she did it chatting merrily the while, then retired to a safe room to watch x-rays of my guts while the raygun did its work, so it’s very encouraging to find that knowing me literally inside-out she still wants to see me.

FAVOURITE RELATIVES:  The Tauranga mob, and not only because they’re now my only living relatives. It’s rather touching to know that a new generation on the other side of the world knows me by the nickname that my nephew and niece called me when they were children. Yay, I’m still Uncle Whiskers.

FAVOURITE RESTAURANT:  I’ve been to only one in 2020 and that was the one at the Whittington Hospital, where the food is rather good with (currently) plenty of social distance between the tables. Their chicken kebabs served with rice and salad are very tasty. No booze at a hospital, obviously.

FAVOURITE SERIAL KILLER:  I don’t actually like them of course, but having written and edited and published several books about them I try to keep up with the latest developments in Serial Killer World, and this year I was pleased to learn that they might have finally caught the so-called Golden State Killer, a particularly nasty specimen.  He’s currently in jail awaiting trial so I’d better say no more except nail the bastard.

FAVOURITE SLANG WORD:  Flart, an old fart who is something of a flirt.  Have I been a bit of a flart this year, particularly in the Radiology Dept?  Possibly.

FAVOURITE SOAP OPERA: Coronation Street, which I’ve been watching on and off ever since it started and the only soap I’ve ever watched. It’s pretty dire these days, relying far too much on overheard conversations which were a cliché in Shakespeare’s day, but a large part of the pleasure is discussing the preposterous plotlines as they unfold with fellow cynics on the Digital Spy forum.

FAVOURITE SOFTWARE:  Photoshop. Yet again.

FAVOURITE TRANSSEXUAL: Darcie Silver.

FAVOURITE TREE:  The aspen at the bottom of my garden.  It was growing rather lop-sided as a sycamore — in my view the weed of the tree world — grew up alongside it, but men with a chainsaw and a digger got rid of the intruder, and over the course of the year the aspen has balanced itself.  I love to see its leaves shimmering in a light breeze.

FAVOURITE STEELY DAN TRACK:  We lost Walter Becker this year but much of the Dan’s music is on my perennial playlist, and I’ve been listening to ‘Deacon Blues‘ a lot recently.   It seems to speak to me personally, as a good song should.

FAVOURITE TV SERIESKilling Eve, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, I May Kill You …  If pressed I might admit that I’ve also watched a couple of episodes of Naked Attraction — purely for its sociological interest of course.  I had no idea that so many young people have so many tattoos.

FAVOURITE US PRESIDENT: No contenders this year.

FAVOURITE WEAPON:  My antique swordstick, probably illegal to own these days but I sleep more soundly knowing it’s by the bed in case another burglar appears in the bedroom in the middle of the night.

FAVOURITE WEBSITE:  Facebook, which I joined a few months ago and which has put me back in touch with lots of old friends and colleagues, and brought some new friends too.

FAVOURITE WORD:  Adomania: the fear that the future is coming too quickly.

Let’s hope that next year will bring more of the good stuff and much less of the bad.  Oscar Cainer thinks that for me it will:  “The Solar Eclipse heralds a welcome (and positive) change. There’s no need to try to hold on to anything or fight against an invisible force. You’ve done enough. You can let go and flow with the tide. You’re being taken on a course that’s heading towards a safe and welcoming destination. Wonderful opportunities arise that are going to energise your life.

That’s good to know, and I hope that 2021 will be wonderful for you too.  In the meantime may I wish all my readers a very

THOG

‘”Seigneur, I have invented forty new dishes for to-night’s banquet,” François said pathetically, his eyes creeping out until they hung on the rims of their sockets like desperate people wavering on the edges of precipices.’ (George Viereck and Paul Eldridge, Salome The Wandering Jewess, 1930)

Connoisseurs of strained similes, mangled metaphors, grisly grammar, excessively purple prose and all writing that is differently good will love Thog’s Masterclass, a regular feature in David Langford’s monthly newsletter Ansible®, essential reading for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in the binary worlds of science fiction and fantasy.
Thog the Mighty is a not terribly bright barbarian hero, the creation of John Grant (Paul Barnett) in his “Lone Wolf” fantasy novels loosely based on Joe Dever’s gamebooks.  He first appeared in The Claws of Helgedad (1991) and was soon identified as the presiding genius behind much bad genre writing, with many fans avidly collecting examples of his influence, as they continue to do.
Mr Langford has very kindly allowed me to include a selection of some vintage Thogs here.  They’re mostly from SF stories, but not all.  My own passing thoughts are in green.

  • ‘Long-since dusty hopes are about to float away on the invisible ink of time, he thought.’ (Robert Newcomb, The Fifth Sorceress, 2002)
  • ‘A minute later, he was vomiting up the breakfast he had not eaten.’ (Peter Straub, Lost Boy Lost Girl, 2003)
  • ‘A thick branch crashed through the tunnel, just missing Filidor’s nose, and he carefully sliced it away before resuming his slow upward progress.’ (Matthew Hughes, Fools Errant, 1994)
  •  ‘… a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.’ (Morrissey, List of the Lost, 2015)
  • ‘… the pain marched across my shoulder like a shark army might have.’ (L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Fires of Paratime, 1980)
  • ‘Somehow, the mackerel paté of memory had escaped its wrapper, skipped its kitchen dish, and turned into a flickering silver shoal, darting and twisting in terror against an empty darkness.’ (‘Gabriel King’, The Wild Road, 1997)  My memory quite often does that too.
  • ‘She had an annoying habit of running her tongue over his teeth, and as she did that, he realised there was absolutely nothing between them.’ (Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, 2001)
  • ‘The wagon lurched forward like an armadillo trying to mate with a very fast duck.’  (James P. Silke, Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer, Vol II Lords of Destruction, 1989)
  • ‘She shrugged, quivers manifest beneath the thin material of her blouse, the breasts, unbound, moving like oiled balloons.’ (E.C. Tubb, Eye of the Zodiac, 1975)
  • ‘She knew how to embroider and milk a cow.’ (Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, 1992)
  • ‘The underwriter seemed equally amused, frisking up the ends of his moustache, eager for them to join in the fun.’ (J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights,1996)
  • ‘A pair of bushy eyebrows jutted out above his orbits like two hands cupped over the brow of a man peering into an unfathomable distance. At the same time, his dense windswept sideburns swerved back dramatically behind his earlobes, as though his mind was speeding faster than the rest of his head.’ (Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, 2003)
  • ‘He was handsome and blond, with the same height and almost the same muscular build as Chastity, except her chest-circumference measurement involved different lumps from his.’ (Robert L. Forward, Saturn Rukh,1997)
  • ‘O’Malley had a face like an inflated punctuation mark.’ (Joel Goldman, Motion to Kill, 2002)  Yes, but which punctuation mark – a semicolon? The mind boggles.
  • ‘”Are either of you aware of the fact that there’s nothing between us and the pole to break the wind but an occasional stray reindeer?”‘ (David Eddings, Castle of Wizardry, 1984)
  • ‘She sat down in that earthy way that said she was all there.’ (L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Fires of Paratime, 1980)  I know women like that
  • ‘It was dark. No darker than it had been while she fell through her dialectical hole, but no lighter, either. It was the kind of disorienting dark that, had she been a feather in a large, unopened can, she wouldn’t have the faintest idea which way was up.’ (Jenny Diski, Monkey’s Uncle, 1994)
  • ‘I felt my molars reach for each other.’ (Kathy Reichs, Death du Jour, 1999)
  • ‘Jocelyn came through the fog wall, muttering, her breasts swaying like two angry red eyes looking for a fight.’ (Gregory Benford, Furious Gulf Thog seems to have a bit of a thing about breasts doesn’t he.
  • ‘The horse’s fall had the sound of a bag filled with rocks and lamp oil, landing beside him and rolling over his legs.’ (Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon, 1999)
  • ‘She looked up, and the silence stopped. The carbonized sky howled as the Milky Way cracked its sternum, exposing its galactic heart.’ (Bryn Chancellor, Sycamore, 2017)   The mind boggles even more.
  • ‘Other-ness plays the same part in urinating as in producing poetry.’ (Colin Wilson, The Philosopher’s Stone, 1969)
  • ‘… there is always something magical about the moment when your eyes touch nipples running free; nipples are a door from one world to another, from the grey of the everyday to a place of enchantment.’ (Francesco Dimitri, The Book of Hidden Things, 2018)  … and there he goes again with the breasts.
  • ‘Vienna, in that perfunctory way of hers, has sighed and spread her legs to be shagged by the winter solstice.’ (Adrian Matthews, Vienna Blood, 2001)
  • ‘Somewhere in Snowfield, were there living human beings who had been reduced to the awful equivalent of foil-wrapped Pop Tarts, waiting only to provide nourishment for some brutal, unimaginably evil, darkly intelligent, other-dimensional horror?’ (Dean R.Koontz, Phantoms, 1983)
  • ‘”Pleased to meet you,” Arnstein said, and took the offered hand. It felt like a wooden glove inside a casing of cured ham …’ (S.M. Stirling, On the Oceans of Eternity, 2000)
  • ‘Some women, Commander Norton had decided long ago, should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting. It was bad enough when they were motionless; but when they started to move, and sympathetic vibrations set in, it was more than any warm-blooded male should be asked to take.’ (Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama, 1973)  No comment, absolutely no comment.
  • ‘Hope was a classic, a classic barmaid, one whose broad behind leaves an imprint on the pages of history.’ (Robert Leckie, Helmet for My Pillow, 1957)

I’ll leave Thog there contemplating Hope’s historic behind, and knowing his predilections I’m sure she had epoch-making breasts too.  My own hope is that these quotations will serve as a caution to all practicing writers as well as providing fine entertainment for the rest of us — and budding science fiction writers should bear in mind that Thog is watching.

  • There are hundreds more examples of Thog’s influence lurking on the Ansible website and here http://thog.org/  Do visit and have a click around (free but donations are welcome) and if you find any particularly good (bad) specimens please email them to me at jonesrglyn@yahoo.co.uk then maybe we’ll be able to publish another selection here.

  • Huge thanks to David Langford for allowing me to do this.

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD

My sister Carol, then aged 13, had got a holiday job as a waitress in one of Southport’s big department stores, the sort of place where ladies of a certain age would go for afternoon tea. One particular old biddy was there every afternoon for a toasted teacake and a pot of tea for one (she appeared to have no friends) and she was proving to be distinctly unpleasant, constantly finding fault with the food and the service and never leaving a tip.

Carol aged 14
Carol aged 14

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — I never have but I’ve known several ex-waitresses over the years and they all have shocking tales to tell — will know that upsetting the serving staff is not a sensible idea.  Revenge may be taken, sometimes in terrible ways: the ‘sneezer’ in Friends was a mild one. My sister was not a vindictive person but the kitchen staff didn’t like to see her treated this way, so before toasting the teacake they would play football with it behind the scenes, then slice it in half and toast it before having another kickabout on the kitchen floor, then Carol would take it to Miss Miserable and serve it with a flourish and a little curtsy (¨Your teacake, ma’am¨) trying to keep a straight face, which was difficult as she had a keen sense of humour and a broad grin.

My own involvement in the food-serving business was brief and dramatic, and not in a restaurant.   I had got a few days’ work at the Southport Flower Show as a bar porter. It wasn’t exacting. I had to take the full crates from the car park over to the beer tent in the morning then bring back the empties during the course of the day. There was a lot of hanging-about time, and on the final day the Catering Manager summoned me. “You’re a public-school boy aren’t you?” I admitted that I was. “I thought so,” he said; “You see, you were lounging about with your hands in your pockets, and an ordinary chap wouldn’t dare to do that here. Come with me, I have a special job for you.”  It was a curious method of selection but I said “OK, sir” and tried to look pleased and a bit honoured.

My special job was to carry a dish bearing a whole poached salmon over to the trestle tables on the far side of the field where the Lord Mayor was holding a celebratory lunch for the high-ups of the Flower Show plus various wives and assorted dignitaries, all dressed up to the nines. The dish was quite heavy but off I went, and I’d got about half-way across the field when I tripped and fell, sending the salmon spilling in fragments onto the grass. I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed this unfortunate mishap and expected cries of outrage from the Manager and anyone else who might have seen, but in the afternoon heat everything seemed to have gone strangely quiet, the Mayor and his party appeared to be miles away on some far-off horizon, the beer tent was merely a distant buzzing and time seemed to stand still, so I did what any decent, honest, godfearing public-school boy would have done: I bent down and scooped up the chunks of salmon with my bare hands, plonked the fragments back onto the platter and then patted and moulded them into the approximate shape of a fish, looking nervously about to see if I was being observed. I hoped that any odd bits of grass or other greenery clinging to the reconstituted salmon would pass for garnish.

I wiped my hands on my pants and made it to the high table without further incident, where I placed the dish gently in front of the Lord Mayor praying that he wouldn’t notice anything amiss, but he just said “Ah, the piéce de resistance” and started serving it.  I muttered “Bon appétit” and went over to the beer tent as quickly as I could without actually sprinting, and there I lurked for the rest of the afternoon doing my best to turn invisible. It seemed only a matter of time before one of the diners would discover a fag-end, or worse, in their salmon, and it would be all too obvious who had been responsible.  But there was no immediate outcry, and it soon transpired there were other things to experience behind the beer tent:  I was a fairly naïve youth and rather shocked to find that the bar staff, who to my young eyes seemed at best middle-aged and some of them actually old and distinctly ugly, were having sex back there, usually opting for what was then and maybe still is known as a knee-trembler, doing it standing up against one of the tent-posts, and if there was a height difference there were plenty of boxes and beer crates around for the smaller partner to stand on. And I’d thought that sex petered out at the age of about 25.

Back home with my guilty pay packet, I kept quiet.  I watched the local tv news expecting to see reports of an outbreak of botulism or salmonella poisoning at the Flower Show, and scanned the local paper the next day expecting headlines like

FLOWER SHOW FATALITIES

POLICE SEEK BAR PORTER

I didn’t tell my parents what had happened because I knew that if I had done my father, with whom I wasn’t getting on too well, would make a big deal out of it, making me write a letter of apology to the Lord Mayor or something like that and blowing the whole thing wide open. I didn’t even tell my sister Carol because I knew that she would find it hilarious and tease me about it, probably concocting a little performance of me effing and blinding while desperately scooping up the salmon.  I wouldn’t have minded this because we got on very well and Carol could be extremely funny, but I knew that my mother would soon be in on the joke, and then my dad …  I said nothing, but the headlines in my mind grew worse:

SOUTHPORT SENSATION – MISHAP OR MURDER?

Me in disguise
Me in disguise

After a couple of days with still no hue and cry I began to venture cautiously out into the town with my shades on and my collar turned up, looking nervously about for passing policemen and steering well clear of hospitals and flower shows.  I started growing a beard.

My family knew nothing of my fish fiasco but when the parents weren’t around I told Carol about the goings-on behind the beer tent expecting her to be a bit shocked perhaps but also amused — big bro being a bit sophisticated y’know — but she had a better story.  She said that she had gone to the basement toilet in the department store and pushing open the unlocked door had found one of the kitchen hands “having a bit of fun with himself”, as she put it.  (The expression “having a wank” was not yet current in 1963, at least not in respectable Southport.)  Other young girls might have found this traumatic and needed councelling in later life but Carol just found it wildly funny, and suggested that perhaps he might have been making a special ingredient for the Cream of Mushroom soup ordered by the snooty couple at Table 12, and there were more variations on this theme (“Was our home-made mayonnaise to your taste, sir?”), and I realized that li’l sis was rather more wordly-wise than I’d suspected.

I never did tell the family about the salmon —  indeed, I’ve never old anyone about it until now, even as a joke.  I’d like to say that confessing it has been a relief, an unburdoning of a guilty secret carried for far too many years, and beg the forgiveness of those ancient diners, but after all this time who gives a toss.

NON ALIAS PLOT

For anyone who likes to waste their time on pointless puzzles here’s one, and it’s even more pointless than most because I can’t supply the solution.  If you can you’ll be saving me from even more grief.

The mysterious list
The mysterious list

In my sorting through old papers I came across a single typed sheet headed NON ALIAS PLOT with a list of various names which I soon realized were all anagrams of each other.  The typing was done on what looks like my old Olivetti portable and the paper size is quarto, not A4, which would seem to date it back to the early 1970s.  But what does it mean, what on earth was I thinking?  Above all, what are all these names anagrams of?

At that time I was doing illustrations and writing various things for some of the more adventurous (meaning small-time and unsuccessful) periodicals of the day, and it looks as though this might have been an attempt at some sort of avante-garde piece.  Perhaps these characters were to feature in a story or playlet; I can imagine Pat Lion Sloan as the very posh p.a. to a top executive and maybe Alan Tinspool as a rather self-important manager in the grocery business, but after them things take a more bizarre turn.  Lon (‘Piano’) Salt is obviously an itinerant boogie-woogie piano player, perhaps in a vague partnership with Pliant Alonso the eccentric dancer, while Spain O’Tallon, Nina Last Loop and Lopo Slantani seem to be denizens of the US underworld, but I can offer no clues about Polliana Sot or Alan T. Loopins. Maybe the denouement of my little tale was to have been that all these characters were actually the same person.  I was always trying to be clever in those days, with little success then and not much more now.  J.G. Ballard I was not.

I’ve spent more time puzzling over this than I want to admit.  The letters in these names obviously came from something, some key name or title or phrase — I wouldn’t have just chosen them randomly — but searching what’s left of my brain produces absolutely no memory of it.  I’ve also tried feeding the letters into various online Anagram Solvers but the solution remains a mystery, although they did come up with a few amusing variations: the onanist Pallo making a mess on the post-anal lino and getting a notional slap from his indulgent mum.  I feel that the answer is staring me in the face, that with a bit more effort it will reveal itself, and when it does I’ll cry out “Of course!  Why didn’t I see it?”

But so far it hasn’t.  If one of my devoted readers can figure it out please post the answer in the Comments and put me out of my anguish.

Lexicon for a Pandemic

Neologisms for coronavirus communication, by Jay Martel, from The New Yorker (print edition), July 20, 2020.

Maskhole  An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective — e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.

Face naked  The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”

Body mullet  What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)

The NOVID-19  The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.

Overdistancing  When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.

Domino distancing  When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.

Emotional distancing  Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.

Covideo  A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.

Stockholm syndrome  The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.

Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday  Days of the week.

Parenting  The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.

Body Zoom-morphia  Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.

Quorumtine  The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.

Pan-demic  A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.

COVID-30  Formerly COVID-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.

Helter shelter  That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”

Flattening the curve  Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See COVID-30.)

Germophobe  Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.

Going viral  No longer used. ?

An interview with Madonna:

Bold Hussy-Woman or Test-Mouse?

In 1996 she was in Budapest filming some scenes for the movie Evita and she granted an interview to the local newspaper Blikk. Since the interviewer spoke little English and Madonna no Hungarian, an interpreter translated the questions from Hungarian into English, then translated Madonna’s replies from English into Hungarian. The result was published in Blikk, in Hungarian of course.

Then USA Today wanted to publish the interview and needed a copy of it, urgently. There was no time to go back to the original tape, so Blikk’s version was translated from Hungarian back into English — and not too well, happily for us. USA Today published only a part of it. This is the whole version from the re-translation.
—————————————————————
BLIKK:  Madonna, Budapest says hello with arms that are spread-eagled. Did you have a visit here that was agreeable? Are you in good odor? You are the biggest fan of our young people who hear your musical productions and like to move their bodies in response.
MADONNA:  Thank you for saying these compliments (holds up hands). Please stop with taking sensationalist photographs until I have removed my garments for all to see. This is a joke I have made.
BLIKK:  Madonna, let’s cut toward the hunt: are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?
MADONNA:  Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In America it is not considered to be mentally ill when a woman advances on her prey in a discothèque setting with hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day.
BLIKK:  Is this how you met Carlos, your love-servant who is reputed?  Did you know he was heaven-sent right off the stick? Or were you dating many other people in your bed at the same time?
MADONNA:  No, he was the only one I was dating in my bed then, so it is a scientific fact that the baby was made in my womb using him. But as regards those questions, enough!  I am a woman and not a test-mouse! Carlos is an everyday person who is in the orbit of a star who is being muscled-trained by him, not a sex machine.

Madonna with Carlos Leon. Their daughter Lourdes was born later in 1996.

BLIKK:  May we talk about your other “baby”, your movie then? Please do not be denying that the similarities between you and the real Evita are grounded in basis. Power, money, tasty food, Grammys — all these elements are afoot.
MADONNA:  What is up in the air with you? Evita never was winning a Grammy!
BLIKK:  Perhaps not. But as to your film, in trying to bring your reputation along a rocky road, can you make people forget the bad explosions of Who’s That Girl? and Shanghai Surprise?
MADONNA:  I am a tip-top starlet. That is my job that I am paid to do.
BLIKK:  OK, here’s a question from left space. What was your book Slut about?
MADONNA:  It was called Sex, my book.
BLIKK:  Not in Hungary. Here it was called Slut. How did it come to publish?  Were you lovemaking with a man-about-town printer?  Do you prefer making suggestive literature to fast-selling CDs?
MADONNA:  There are different facets to my career highway. I am preferring only to become respected all over the map as a 100% artist.
BLIKK:  There is much interest in you from this geographic region, so I must ask this final questions: How many Hungarian men have you dated in bed?  Are they No. 1?  How are they comparing to Argentine men, who are famous being tip-top as well?
MADONNA:  Well, to avoid aggravating global tension, I would say it’s a tie (laugh). No, no. I am serious now. See here, I am working like a canine all the way around the clock!  I have been too busy to try the goulash that makes your country one for the record books.
BLIKK:  Thank you for the candid chitchat.
MADONNA:  No problem, friend who is a girl.

————————————————————————————

Authentic?  Fake?  Either way it makes me laugh.

Put-downs

Heard a good one on TV the other day. It was in one of those true-crime things with a retired detective talking about some of the murder cases he had solved, and he amuses me because in his pieces-to-camera he occasionally goes into a sort of tough-guy lingo like a private eye in a 1940s movie:

Whenever someone would ask me if I felt any sympathy for the people I was arresting I used to say “The only place you’ll find sympathy round here is in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.”

Rather surprising to hear this on afternoon telly and probably the invention of a scriptwriter, but it’s one I’m storing up for possible future use myself, so if someone should come running to me saying “Wah, I’ve lost my wallet and I don’t know what to do!” I’ll have my response right there ready.

I once thought of compiling a book of put-downs, those crushing remarks also known as squelchers that put the other person firmly in their place, and started collecting examples — like this early one attributed to King George V who apparently said it to a guest who had arrived at a grand function wearing the newly-fashionable turned-up trousers:

We were unaware, sir, that the corridors of our palace were damp.

Rather unfair as the poor guest couldn’t answer back (“Oh, go fuck yourself, your majesty” would have been nice).

More modern instances can be more directly abusive, like this one from Kurt Vonnegut Jr:

If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.


and these unattributed ones:

Here’s a nickel. Go call up all your friends.
People clap when they see you. They clap their hands over their eyes.
If I throw a stick, will you leave?

and my little anthology would have included a few classics: certainly a few by the wonderful Dorothy Parker, e.g.

Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker

This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.

Tell him I was too fucking busy — or vice versa.

and some from Groucho Marx (or his scriptwriters):

Don’t look now, but there’s one man too many in this room and I think it’s you.

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

But my collection foundered because to make it a decent length I would have had to pad it out with more over-familiar quotations from the likes of Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Thomas Beecham and other historical wits so I reluctantly put it aside. That was a few years ago, though, and the put-downs go on.

Hecklers sometimes come up with good ones as when U2 were playing a gig in Glasgow and Bono decided to give the audience a little lecture.

A pause between songs, the lights go down. Bono begins clapping his hands together slowly . . . once . . . twice . . . three times . . . four times . . .
Bono says: “Every time I clap my hands, a child dies in Africa.”
Voice from crowd: “Stop fucking clapping then!”

But It can be dangerous to mix it with a sharp comedian like Paul Merton who once responded to a heckler with

Excuse me, I’m trying to work here. How would you like it if I stood yelling down the alley while you’re giving blowjobs to transsexuals?

But pride of place here goes to what Gershon Legman described as “the worst insult a woman can offer a man”:

Is it in?

Bird

The French windows in the study were open and a sparrow flew in. It perched on a standard lamp, and when I tried to shoo it out again it flew across to the bookshelves and found a hiding place high among the books where I couldn’t get at it.

We don’t see many sparrows these days. Loss of habitat, pesticides, cats? Who knows, but they have certainly become scarce round here, and this one didn’t look too well. Had it flown indoors to have a rest, or even to die? Dunno, but there’s something rather alarming about having a wild creature in your room, even a tiny and possibly sick one, and I needed to do something about it.

I had a long-handled brush thing for sweeping cobwebs away from corners and ceilings, and started poking about among the shelved books to try and shift the little visitor. It was a soft brush which I thought wouldn’t do any harm if it touched the creature, but when it did the sparrow simply flew across the room and took up a new position on top of the clock on the wall, looking at me with its mad bird’s eyes. I tried cajoling it, shouting at it and flapping my arms up and down to demonstrate what it ought to be doing, but it just sat there.

I wielded the brush again, trying to manoeuvre the sparrow towards the French windows, but it just flew back across the room and found another hiding place in the bookshelves. I had work to do and tried to get on with it, hoping that the bird would fly out of its own accord, but it didn’t, and I found that I couldn’t settle to my writing knowing that I had an avian observer only a couple of feet away. This went on for quite some time.

At one stage I went out into the back garden and tried to lure the bird out by making what I hoped might be seductive sparrow-like noises. God knows what the neighbours must have thought if they’d witnessed such a strange performance, but this didn’t work either. I went back inside and just sort of paced about, wondering what else I could do.

Soon I needed to pee, and this was tricky because if the bird flew away while I was out of the room how could I be sure that it had gone? It was adept at concealing itself. So I went upstairs to the loo, closing the study door behind me reckoning that at least it couldn’t get into any other part of the house, and when I returned all seemed calm. Perhaps the bird had gone, but I eventually spotted the little bastard still there amongst the books. Another long stand-off ensued.

By now it was starting to get dark and a good deal cooler, and I wanted to close the French windows and lock up but didn’t like to shut the bird in overnight, so out came the brush again, now applied much more vigorously, and with a good deal more poking and shouting the bird did eventually go. It didn’t seem to be flying very convincingly as it disappeared into the sunset, but what can you do?

And that, dear Editor, is why my manuscript is late.