Thursday, 30 August 2012

Guided Tour

Hello, and welcome to this guided tour of Renaissance and Seventeenth Century art. My name is John, and I’ll be your guide for the hour.

Now this painting is ‘The Last Supper’, so called because it’s the last evening meal the artist ever painted. His body of work after this mostly consists of pictures of kittens in boxes.

And if you all look to your left now, we can scare that child who’s standing with her back to us when she turns around.

Actually, if you look behind the child, you’ll see a doorway. If you want to head through that door after the tour, be sure to take a knife with you: a few years ago we had a Damien Hirst piece that was self-assembly, and the tiger arrived before the formaldehyde.

This work over here, entitled ‘Four midgets relay race against a camel’ is one of my favourites. It took the artist eight years to complete. And I think, what’s interesting about this piece is the lack of perspective. I mean, this was the seventeenth century! You were probably only going to live for thirty years, what are you doing spending eight of them painting?

Right, any questions?

The Waiting Room

It was 2008, the year that the egg marketing board sued the unicycle marketing board for the use of the slogan 'go to work on a unicycle'.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Cowboy (Monologue)

It was 1835, the year when archaeologists admitted they were wrong. The Romans had actually been a race of skeletons that lived underground and ate off broken plates.

It was a Tuesday, and we’d spent the morning branding the cattle. We decided to go with the slogan ‘beef on legs’. The morning’s work had tired us out, so we decided to take the rest of the day off and head down to the local saloon. We were just about to go in when the Sheriff rode up. He got down from his horse. It was pale brown, and made great pillows. In fact, the more I think about it, I’m pretty sure the sheriff rode a duck. You know the saying; you can take a horse to water, but if it dives in and starts eating pondweed you’ve been conned by a dodgy horse salesman. Not one to admit his mistakes, the Sheriff duly tied his steed to the hitching post, next to our stallions. Not one to turn up a chance for a swim, his steed duly jumped in the drinking trough and paddled in circles, quacking contentedly.

When we called out our orders we were served by the Saloon-keeper’s daughter. She moved with grace and speed. She seemed to glide across the floor, like a swan on roller-skates. I would have liked very much to have made an honest woman out of her. For she was a compulsive liar, and it made it quite difficult to keep track of your bar tab.

We’d only just settled our accounts, denying that we had drunken three bathtubs of whisky and that she was the queen of Sheba, when the saloon door swung open, and a stranger sidled on over. He was wearing a ten gallon hat, tight pinstriped trousers, and a grimace. I supposed that the tight trousers explained his sidling and grimace. He opened his mouth as if to speak, and then spoke. People tend to do the two actions together.

“I was born in squalor, destitution, and Eastbourne, which explains the accent. You fellers seem like decent, honest folk. What’s say I’ll exchange you a story for a glass o’ firewater? A jug o’ hooch? A jar o’ moonshine?” We agreed to buy him some alcohol instead. He started recounting his story.


“I remember it as if it were yesterday, which is worrying as it happened this morning. I’d just ridden past Bover’s Rock, and I was heading towards Morningside. The Irn-Bru Kid had tipped me off that the mayor o’ Morningside was offering a large cash reward to anyone who could rid the town of its terrible infestation. You see, Morningside was experiencin’ a plague o’ mentalists. A travellin’ stage show had visited the town three months ago. A coupla stage magicians from the visitin’ rodeo musta ‘scaped, and started breeding in the woods. Within weeks, it weren’t safe for people to leave their houses. Every time they opened their doors and stepped into the streets, they’d be surrounded by a clamourin’ crowd urging them to ‘pick a card, pick a card, pick a card.’ This shoutin’ had been so loud it’d spooked the buffalo, so the local Injuns had packed up and moved on to hunt elsewhere.

After speakin’ to the Mayor, it was agreed that I would disguise myself as one of ‘em, and walk amongst ‘em to find out why they weren’t leavin’ the town. So I donned a tight suit, shaved my beard into a moustache, and walked out into the midday heat. When they leapt upon me, a crowd of fifty or so, I abandoned Hope. It seemed unwise to take my six year old daughter with me.

They accepted me as one of their own immediately. The disguise had worked. I followed them back to the woods, joining in their refrains of ‘A round of applause for the gentleman’ and ‘nothing up my sleeves’. As we walked closer and closer towards the raked ranks of pines, I realised that I was stopping short of breath. It wasn’t a steep hill, but the tight trousers made the going tough. Then it hit me. The town was in a valley, and the reason the mentalists were causing havoc in the town was that they were trapped. Like spiders in a bathtub. It wasn’t their fault they were unwelcome (like spiders in a bathtub). But they needed gettin’ rid of. Like spiders in a bathtub.

At night, I snuck back to Morningside to tell the Mayor what I had discovered. The townspeople built a large ramp, out of desperation, sweat, and pine. The mentalists left, filing over it, until the cries of ‘think of a number between one and a hundred’ faded into silence. The Injuns returned, and at last they could finally brutally massacre each other in peace.”


He finished his drink, and bid us farewell. We watched through the saloon doors as he untied his steed from the hitching post and slapped its rump, causing it to gallop off majestically into the distance. As he watched it recede into the sunset, he couldn’t help wishing that he’d climbed onto it first.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Agony Aunt

Dear Agony Aunt,

I’m writing for help regarding a serious problem. I feel the need for constant external validation. Please tell me what I should do.

Lost, Devon


Dear Lost,

None of us are perfect; I, for example, view myself as an infallible moral arbiter. What you really need to do is follow my advice.

Agony Aunt.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Fish-Canner’s Prayer

Lord in heaven, thou who art
Strong of mind and soft of heart
Please heed my words and hear my prayer
Or, if, indeed, you are not there
Then Brahman, Zeus, or Thor would do
Horus, Dawkins or Vishnu.
I’m desperate, I would accept
Bono or Geldoff if they leapt
To act, improve my situation
Trapped within the wrong vocation

I ensure that tins are filled
With squid and salmon, sole and sild
Grab the creatures from the kettle
Furnish them with crypts of metal
The odour makes me feel unwell
Please save me from this soggy hell
The octopus keeps climbing out
Last night he freed a vat of trout
I stand with hands over the tin
Just to attempt to keep him in.

I longed to be a ballet dancer
By day, find a cure for cancer
But I fell short of super-surgeon
Now I’m here and packing sturgeon
Seems unlikely I’ll have my dream
Lest ‘cure’ means ‘pack’ and ‘cancer’ ‘bream’
So Lord, or Geldoff, Horus, Thor
Please see to it that I no more
Touch cod or plaice or hake or eel
Long as I live I never feel

The scales of any wretched wrasse
or see another bloody bass.


Friday, 24 August 2012

Work in Progress

I've dug out the brushes, dusted off the paints, and questioned why I buried the brushes in the first place. Click to see full-size.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Door to Door

It was 1992, the year that an engineer registered a patent for the chaos-theory powered hair dryer. The idea was that a butterfly flapped its wings in Brazil, and in Texas someone could dry their hair in the resulting breeze. Although ineffective, it was installed in every youth hostel. It was cheap, and people couldn’t tell if it had broken.

It was also the tenth anniversary of when I moved house. And I stress that house was the appropriate word. Watch any news channel, read any paper, and you’ll see that only rich people live in homes. The rest of us occupy houses. This was a house. Located just a stone’s throw away from a group of people throwing stones, it offered commanding views of the neighbour’s window, offering commanding views of my window, offering commanding views of their window. It was described as spacious, which I thought was reassuring. Well, it’s a relief to hear that the room you’ve put a deposit on isn’t restricted solely to the dimension of time. Having said that, the decor wasn’t to my taste. It was as if Lawrence Llwelyn-Bowen had taken inspiration from Noel Edmond’s shirts, then buggered off leaving someone else to decorate the house. Every wall was white, every carpet grey. After a few sleepless nights it was easy to imagine that you were in some Arctic wasteland. I think the lack of heating and furniture probably reinforced that. I kept saying that I’d go to Ikea and pick up some cheap units, but things always got in the way. In lieu of a desk, wardrobe, or shelf I operated a system best described as ‘open plan filing’. It had a sort of archaeological charm; you could dig down through the strata, charting the seasons from the dates of newspapers, the weight of items of clothing, and the presence or absence of ice-cream.

Today I was at home in the house. I would have liked to be at the library, but there was a man doing the gardening across the road. I couldn’t leave the house or he would have seen me. I had to avoid that at all costs. You see, all my jeans were in the wash, and the only item to hand was a pair of beige corduroy flares that I bought for a fancy dress party. The theme of the party was ‘superheroes’, so I did stand out at the time. I don’t want you to think that I’m vain. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to wear the flares for aesthetic reasons, although it is true that they made the wearer look like two fence posts started melting and then gave up. No, it was that as I walked the two cuffs overlapped, making a noise. I couldn’t possibly walk past him. He’d hear the ‘plaf-plaf-plaf’ of corduroy-on-corduroy. It’d be fine in the library as I could tip-toe, take vast strides to avoid leg overlap. But I couldn’t get past the man.

I like the library. Not just because no-one can tell that I don’t like speaking, but also for the atmosphere. Populated by the elderly, who mainly group there for warmth, hunched corpses shuffle around in no particular direction. You catch fleeting snatches of conversation, while a clerk on a telephone reads out thirteen digit numerical codes. It feels like a zombie film directed by David Lynch.

But no library for me today. I’d have to occupy myself around the house. I had just settled down with a pen and paper, when a ringing noise sounded in my ears. I thought nothing of it, and got up to make myself a cup of tea. But the ringing noise continued. It continued as I put the teabag in the water, fished it out, discovered the milk was off, reboiled the kettle, and absent-mindedly repeated the process. It was then that I realised that it was the doorbell.

I ran to the door. It had been a good ten minutes since the ringing noise had started, and I didn’t want to anger someone so persistent. When I opened the door there stood a briefcase, with a man attached to the handle. He asked if he could come in. I asked him why. “Because,” he said, tapping his briefcase “I can change your life”.


After I’d offered him a cup of tea, remembered that the milk was off, apologised, offered him a cup of coffee and repeated the process, he opened his briefcase. He beckoned for me to sit, and I took position amongst the nest of papers. I supposed that he was probably used to his audience sitting on sofas, but then, I was used to not having a man with a briefcase standing in my living room. I figured we were about even.

“I” he said “have discovered the secret to doing well in life”. He reached into his briefcase, and pulled out a small pie chart and laser pointer. I found this reassuring. Everyone has a laser pointer nowadays. It’s a sign of legitimacy, it validates the speaker. The pie chart had no units or segments, and the more I think about it was just a circle on a piece of paper. “I’ve cracked it.” he said. “Life, I mean.” He reached back into the briefcase, and pulled out a gun. “You stand on the doorstep of some unsuspecting idiot, with a briefcase. Ring the doorbell and they let you in, assuming that you’re there to sell them a religion, or a holiday home, or some tupperware. They just let you in. No questions asked. You pull a gun on them” here he stroked the barrel, “and you can live rent free. So, do you want to give me a tour of my new house?”

I obliged, leading him from the paper mountains of the living room to the tin-can valleys of the kitchen. I smiled to myself. You see, I was thinking about getting a room-mate, and here was one who did home delivery. He asked where the furniture was, and I explained to him about Ikea. His face fell with a sickening crunch, and he asked how I cooked without an oven. I told him the truth – that I didn’t need to cook. I had bread, and cheese, and lemons. He queried the lemons, but once I explained to him about scurvy, I think he understood. “Is this some kind of joke?” the man asked. He didn’t look amused, so I wasn’t sure why he was asking. I told him that it wasn’t. This was just how I lived.

“But how do you pay for the house?” he asked. “I mean, you don’t strike me as doing nine to five.” It was true that I had answered the door to him at twelve. I explained that I was an inventor. My last creation was the jazz alarm. It worked on a simple premise. If a burglar enters your house, it plays inaccessible jazz at them, and they run off without bothering to take any of your possessions. The creation before that was the carpet-shoe. It was aimed at the student market, first-time renters. It was a foot-shaped piece of carpet that strapped to the wearer’s foot. You’d wear it around the bedsit, to pretend that the entire flat was carpeted. If I’m honest, the world and I didn’t see eye to eye on the value of my inventions. I lived off the allowance my brother gave me. He was a moderately successful musician, the bassist of ‘Buck Fizz and The Opium Wars’. But I wasn’t going to admit that to my new roommate.


“Look” my roommate said, after we finished the tour of the house “I’ve given it some thought, and I think I can do better. I’ll let myself out.” I was sad to see him go. I thought he would have made a nice room-mate, and watching where he was pointing the gun had taken my mind off the corduroy and the library, and the man doing the gardening and - . And then I noticed the man doing the gardening was gone. I could go to the library. I went immediately, but left the door unlocked, just in case my room-mate decided to change his mind and come back.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Derren Brown (image)

Messing around in photoshop while listening to this week's episode of Chain Reaction.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


This blog will be going on a short hiatus; I'm working on a few larger projects at the moment, but they should, hopefully, be completed by the end of August. In the meantime, please take this Victorian advertisement for sewing thread as an apology.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Red Herring (Part 2)

It was 2016, the year when BT admitted that the telephone had actually only been invented in 2007. Prior to this, BT’s installation process involved hiding actors behind the skirting board and paying them to mimic the voices of your friends and family. The unemployment associated with the ‘credit crunch’ of 2008 was really just these actors being laid off.

It was July, and I still hadn’t received my invitation to this year’s detective’s awards. May and June had passed without a word, but then Sophie stopped to talk “I don’t think you’re invited’, she said. I sighed, and picked a bourbon out of the drawer. I dunked it in my tea. “Look on the bright side,” she said “at least now you don’t have to make small talk with the others.” She didn’t understand; I wanted to be there, making small talk with the others, bumping into the odd guest and occasionally a normal one.

I called to Baxter, my assistant. Baxter was a bright lad, with eyes like a hawk: small, beady, and attached to the face of a hawk. It must have been quite inconvenient for him, but I didn’t want to pry into his private matters. He was a valued member of my team - witty, tongue in cheek. He had spent the morning searching for leads and found it, in a matter of hours, near Bradford.

I called across to him. “Baxter, what do you think? Why weren’t we invited?” Baxter said nothing, and simply shrugged. The problem with being tongue-in-cheek is that it does make it difficult to talk.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Red Herring

Everyone likes to be told that they’re talented. It’s the reason that sycophants exist, that the x-factor works, and that the inventor of the gold star-shaped sticker currently lives in an eight storey mansion in the Bahamas.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a child or an adult, the rule applies. It crosses nations, continents, postcodes. Whether you’re a lawyer, a cheese-maker, or a person who lists professions for a living, recognition is craved. It doesn’t necessarily have to be public (although the glut of televised award ceremonies suggests that there’s some attraction to the idea). It just has to happen. So it was no surprise, then, when the guild of detectives announced that they were to present an award of their own.

It was to be given to the sleuth who cracked the most baffling case with the greatest charm, the most cunning of guile, and the most distinctive of hats. Having a recognisable car was deemed helpful, but made tailing criminals difficult.

Congratulations are all very well, but a trophy – well, a trophy is to a word as Channel Four is to ITV. Better. It was decided that the trophy should be ambiguous. After all, detectives traded on their ability to go covert, and having a cast bronze ‘World’s Best Detective’ trophy was one way to blow your cover. After dismissing the idea of buying a pre-made trophy – something for karate, or bearing the legend ‘world’s best dad’, the committee settled upon the design of a cast bronze fish with two diamonds for eyes. This award, the Red Herring as it came to be known, was presented at a ceremony, a gathering of detectives. This meeting was always held in a hotel, under the auspices of this-or-that convention. It was thought that this would prevent any unwanted attention. A single detective may make powerful enemies. A gathering of detectives would be an appealing target for the criminal underworld. Or a hat salesman. Many a detective had been canvassed by a passing milliner. Had any hat-makers known the location of the gathering, they could have bankrupted the trade within hours.

And so the precaution was taken, and false identities assumed. It was an almost perfect system. Almost perfect because it did rather confuse the receptionists when approximately four hundred ‘John Smith’s turned up for the doorstop convention. (Plus it made picking up post or charging to a tab impossible to co-ordinate).

The next awards were to be held in Brighton, in 2016.