Zoot Money Put Me Out with Beer – a Chat with Arthur Brown

Anna down our road is having a garden party. It’s a warm day, but hardly sweltering; nonetheless, one of the guests is stripped to the waist, clad only in pale purple loon pants that hang slackly from his bony hips. He’s piling lettuce onto a plate but such is the frailty of his exposed physique that one is tempted to guide him discreetly to the potatoes – his ribs protrude from his pallid flesh like railway lines dusted with snow. Shoulder-length greying hair falls from a balding dome and his long, aquiline nose is balanced by a neat black goatee. The effect is imposing but serene. A chat under a tree elicits the fact that the topless stranger is a musician with 17 albums to his credit. With a slow gentle delivery made even softer by a faint drawl, he starts to talk about his life. He reveals that he lives in Austin, Texas, that he is 52 years old and his name is Arthur Brown.

A misty veil is wiped from the mind’s eye. Suddenly, it’s 1968 and young people wearing curtains are waving their arms in a pagan manner in a darkened hall. On a podium before them a man in a silver mask has just hollered “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE!” with some menace. He is wearing a particularly striking curtain and his hair is in flames. The opening chords of “Fire” burst from the amps and the hippies flip.

Arthur Brown’s song is a major chart-topper, a nation is transfixed by hokey pop diabolism and adolescents conduct earnest debates on the merits of hairsprays that style, condition and fireproof in one application.

A few years and no more hits later, Arthur will be a rock legend. Serpent-sucking megastar Alice Cooper will say that he is indebted to the lanky Englishman for introducing him to rock theatrics. Proto-metal pompists Deep Purple will pay tribute to Brown’s fine bluesy voice. But where did Arthur go after all that fame? Indeed, what was he doing before it? Well, it’s a long story and here are some of the good bits.

Back in ’62, the God of Hellfire was studying sociology and philosophy at Reading University. He had already mastered the banjo and the double bass, and was making the transition from metaphysics to rhythm and blues. After gigging around in small clubs and not studying much, he was fired from a band called the South West Five, which was rather unfair considering he’d just convinced them to change their name to the Arthur Brown Union.

Arthur was moping in the Kilt Club, a hip Soho boite, when a sound engineer who worked at the Marquee asked him if he’d like to form a rock empire in Paris. Of course he would, and by 1965 their band was the toast of Montmartre, appearing nightly in the Ange Rouge, a club owned by Baron Lenur, who dressed like Louis Quatorze and kept a troupe of tame beatniks in the house for atmosphere. So unlikely was the spectacle of long-haired Britons playing the blues that Salvador Dali himself dropped by regularly to catch the act. “It was a very, very wild scene,” Arthur recalls fondly, “naked girls being passed around the club. I used to do audience diving.” Some nights he dived out of the front door and led the entire clientele round the block, spearheaded by a blaring saxophone.

The woman who owned the nearby strip clubs was impressed. She opened the Crazy Gambas, near Marbella in Spain and invited the Arthur Brown Set to be the house band. The management turned out to be white slave traders; they used to take their female employees’ passports, then fail to fix up their visas. “Two weeks later, they’d tell the girls the police were making enquiries and that they had to get out fast. Then they’d fly them to Africa and that was it.” One of the musicians objected to the imminent enslavement of his French girlfriend so the villains sealed off the club and sharpened their stilettos. Luckily, one of the Crazy Gambinos had some dirt on the slavemaster and turned him over to the police. Close one.

The band moved on to another Marbella club. As clubs do, it closed down, and when it did, the boys hadn’t been paid. “The band come to me and said ‘We’re going to set fire to it.’ I said ‘Count me out fellas!’ They didn’t burn the whole club down though, just the front of it.”

Strange, this aversion to arson, given what was to come, but a few clubs later Arthur had an experience in a Paris hotel corridor that marked his transition from lounge lizard to pyrotechnic legend. “I found a crown outside a door. It had candles on it. Somebody had thrown it out after a party. I went and lit the candles. It was the beginning of the ‘Fire’ thing.”

The “Fire” thing also saw Arthur blacking out his teeth, wearing big wigs and women’s dresses on stage. The reverse costume was a witch doctor’s outfit made of newspaper. Rock theatrics had taken a great leap forward. In 1967, at London’s highly psychedelian UFO Club, Arthur cut through the haze of paisley with an outfit that would etch itself in the memories of all those who escaped from the late-Sixties with unmelted synapses.

“I’d come on with the flaming helmet, and a huge orange Tibetan kind of robe, which would flare out like a whirling dervish when I turned fast, then at the end I’d take that off and there was a black velvet outfit under that.”
Helmet work had its drawbacks. “The earliest one was the crown with candles on; then we moved onto a colander with candles on, but that used to stick to my hair. So the next thing was a pie dish with a hole in the middle with a screw in it and a leather strap under my chin with gasoline on top of the whole thing. The problem was that the heat used to come down through the screw onto my skull; so we devised a thing to hold the plate and from that we arrived at the final solution – the Viking helmet.”

Cow gum and other flammables were daubed on the helmet’s horns, between which was a shallow dish to hold the petrol. “It was quite comfortable, but the lights man used to get drunk and pour petrol over me as well as into the hat.” The accident waiting to happen took place at the 1968 Windsor Jazz Festival. Arthur was about to go on stage when he burst into flames: “Zoot Money – you remember him? – he put me out with beer.”

A few months later the band, known by now as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, was spotted by Pete Townshend of The Who and introduced to Track Records. In no time at all, they released the show-stopping “Fire” and burned up the pop charts. Despite being voted the Most Undanceable Band on the scene, the Crazy World rapidly became a top, if controversial, draw: “Managers used to throw our equipment downstairs because we were so outrageous. People would slug me on stage – they’d never seen anything like it.” Antipathy was so advanced at one club that Arthur was compelled to smash the glass enclosing a double headed fire axe and brandish it defensively throughout the show. Those were the days.

Fuelled by fame, the band toured the States as support for the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, the Mothers of Invention and Jimi Hendrix. The latter had his reservations. “He initially refused to let us support him because he’d seen our press photos,” Arthur remembers. “He was worried – he knew about the fire and everything. Of course, after he’d played with us, he started setting fire to his guitar!”

Arthur, who has been winningly modest so far, cannot suppress a smug giggle at this point. However, life with the Sixties rock giants was not entirely a bowl of electric prunes: “It was a very traumatic tour. The keyboard player had been a manic depressive all his life and someone spiked his drink and he had to go into a mental home. The drummer was blown away by the culture and ended up right over the top.” At one big festival the drummer made a curious error of judgement, “He started to think he was Keith Moon but, whereas Moon would have roadies to catch the drums, this guy kicked all his off the stage and it took us 25 minutes to get the thing back together – by which time, of course, the impetus had gone.”

Arthur was not impressed by success. Despite being known as His Psychedelic Majesty and sharing the top of the UK charts with Tom Jones, it was, he felt, dull playing the same set over and over again and uncomfortable being regarded as a spiritual force by the more credulous fans. So he gave it all up, signed away his rights to “Fire” and went to live in a commune in Dorset. His managers were appalled.

Arthur was not impressed by success. Despite being known as His Psychedelic Majesty and sharing the top of the UK charts with Tom Jones, it was, he felt, dull playing the same set over and over again and uncomfortable being regarded as a spiritual force by the more credulous fans. So he gave it all up, signed away his rights to “Fire” and went to live in a commune in Dorset. His managers were appalled.

It wasn’t long, though, before the deep need to make bands surfaced again. Equipped with the suitably bucolic name of the Puddletown Express, he and his colleagues set off in 1969 for France which was still reeling from les evénements of May 1968, when students and workers had taken to the streets of Paris and de Gaulle’s government seemed set to be toppled by revolution. Rifle-toting police were everywhere and the Ministry of the Interior sent observers to the Paris gig. “The Communist Party had booked Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and us to tour France to show that they had control over the young people. Well, I came on naked and incited them to revolution.” Arthur had had his kit off before, at the Marquee back in London, and a reviewer from the Melody Maker had reported that his girlfriend had fainted when confronted with the bony spectacle. The Communists were less pleased; they lost a seat in parliament – as a result, they were convinced, of the scandal surrounding Arthur’s self-revelation. They begged him not to take his clothes off again: “Gomelsky (Arthur’s new manager) said ‘If it’s a moral statement you’re making, then go ahead, but if it isn’t please be kind to these people who’ve booked the tour’. Well, it wasn’t a moral statement, it was part of the act, so I stopped. We came home and the band folded.”

That might have been it, had Arthur not seen the angel. He was standing in a field when it appeared, four miles high, wearing a gold loincloth and holding a huge sword. It had been a question, at that point, of whether to go to a Buddhist monastery in Scotland or to form another band. Arthur gathered from the angel that he should take the path of rock. He returned to the world of tours and studios and over the next three years cut a couple of albums under the nom de guitare of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come. And then, once again, came the spiritual call. This led him first to a centre in Gloucestershire, and then on to a succession of other retreats where he picked up Buddhist meditation techniques. Eventually, and bizarrely, he travelled in 1971, at the invitation of the Israeli high command, to Tel Aviv, stayed in the Hilton and played songs to raise the morale of wounded troops. Mission accomplished, he returned to Britain and spent a year and a half at a Sufi school in Scotland before cutting an improvised album called Chisum in My Bosom. Then in the mid-Seventies, Africa beckoned. Arthur went to Burundi and taught music history. One of his odder tasks involved demonstrating to the local people that the American blues they admired so much actually originated in Africa.

Back home again in 1980, Arthur’s music featured a synthesiser, and Britain, he says, just wasn’t ready for it. He moved to America with his second wife, a Texan, who guided him to Austin. After a year doing carpentry in that congenial city, he fell in with Jimmy Carl Black of the Mothers of Invention, who were negotiating the post-fame thing by means of house painting. They called themselves the Gentlemen of Colour (Brown and Black) and made a decent living from their brushwork. So many of the guys in the paint team were musicians that Arthur, never one to pass up a band opportunity, managed to put out two more albums. By 1985, he’d succeeded in assembling a lucrative deal for a blues album that would bring together Jack Bruce, Carl Palmer, Keith Emerson and others. The deal fell apart, and Arthur had visions of struggling on in this not-quite mode until he was 90. Something had to be done.

At last, at the end of the Eighties, Arthur found the perfect way to reconcile his lust for rock with the increasing tranquillity of his inner life; he qualified as a counsellor and invented a new therapy. How does it work? A colleague leads the counselling session, while Arthur sits in silence and listens to the client unburdening him or herself. Then, taking up his guitar, “I improvise a song or a poem which brings out the unspoken undercurrents of the session”. The customised calypso is recorded onto cassette and given to the client to play at leisure in his or her home. Eminent psychiatrists were impressed; so much so that the singer was able to take his therapeutic guitar into a special unit for six months and work with young women drug addicts and their families.

The spontaneous song part of the process worked so well that Arthur wondered if it would work on stage. He’d always had a yen to do the Glastonbury Festival, so he asked an agent to fix up a British tour. The agent got 38 gigs in 42 days, but couldn’t clinch Glastonbury. Arthur stormed around the UK anyway, and all kinds of people came to see him: teenagers, grizzled fans who knew all his lyrics and a stream of ex-members of his innumerable bands. One night, he developed a terrible headache halfway through the set and had to stagger off, leaving the fans wide-eyed and feckless in the auditorium. Such was the level of abandon already generated that within minutes the rumour began circulating that Arthur had been abducted by aliens and whisked up into a hovering mothership.

That was last year. Now Arthur’s back again, recuperating from a second British tour, working with Lene Lovich, and writing an opera with a Latvian composer. Which is why he’s in Anna’s back garden. So what is the name of the band this time around, Arthur? The God of Hellfire smiles sagely. “Ah! That was the agent’s idea – it’s called ‘The Even Crazier World of Arthur Brown’.”



Around here real and imaginary characters are shockingly always crossing paths.

Diane Williams – ‘How Much Did You Ever Think the World of Me? (2019)


The mammals of the Oligocene are often described as though they were halfway creatures, semi-formed prototypes: dog-bears (bear relatives that looked like dogs), bear-dogs (dog relatives that looked like bears), large cat-like sabre-toothed hunters that were not true cats, and the most charismatic members of the Oligocene bestiary, the entelodonts, or ‘hell pigs’: each as big as a cow and equipped with huge crocodile-like jaws, a sort of ‘gigantic, hyper-carnivorous warthog’. Not actually pigs at all, they were more closely related to whales.

Francis Gooding – ‘Hell Pigs’, a review of Tim Flannery – ‘Europe: the First One Hundred Million Years’, London Review of Books vol 42, #1. (2020)

Among the many inhibitions that beset my writing for performance there is, in addition to a number of quite severe constraints that I apply voluntarily, one that never relaxes its grip and must be regularly challenged. It has an almost irresistible force and settles on me like a slothful powdery moth coiling and uncoiling its proboscis, injecting a nectar that tames unruliness and blankets the mind with logic. Narrative has a uniquely sedative gravitational pull that, I find, scuppers the poetic pleasures of disconnection and incongruity. Write half a page and groan, even as you strike the keys, as beginnings sprout middles and middles taper to their ends.

Moths Drink the Tears of Sleeping Birds

It’s hardly a novel thought (it’s hardly a novel) but if you don’t want theatre to tell stories then there are countless alternatives to narrative structure. The first performance script I wrote was ‘Jack, the Flames!’ (1972) and it was significantly lacking in throughlines, coherent structure and character depth. Which is what I wanted. I was in the habit of writing down my dreams back then so I transcribed some of them then imitated them to generate more text. The script was all over the place but Hilary knocked it into shape. For the next few years, however, with subsequent shows, I was bothered by the feeling that maybe I should pay more attention to this structure thing. I tried to put endings on the scripts that felt like endings but they were the weakest part of these works. I was very taken with The People Show back then and they never had endings. Or proper beginnings really. But when I picked up my pen (there were no PCs then) I couldn’t stop drifting into narrative. I’d go for a few pages without it and the next thing I knew I was connecting up the scenes as if they were going somewhere. I just couldn’t stop it.

I found myself doing something I didn’t believe in but it would creep up on me. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a proper playwright, I’d never wanted that. I liked other people’s stories in films and books, no problem there, but I didn’t find their various structures appropriate for theatre. I didn’t actually find theatre’s own structures appropriate, come to that. But when I was about 18 I read Ulysses in my bedroom one summer and that did it. A little while later I read Naked Lunch. After those two books there was no going back. I mean, do you want to live forever in your home town? Between about 1962 and 1972 I was gratifyingly overwhelmed by a barrage of experimental films, novels, poetry and Happenings and moved in circles increasingly populated by adventurers presenting a variety of pathological behaviours. All this was both formative and obliterative. I had so decisively crossed the channel that I couldn’t have gone back if I’d wanted to. To aspire to narrative would have been a betrayal of all that magnificent reading and viewing and hanging out.

But although I felt I had placed myself beyond the allure of the conventional play form, I hadn’t reckoned with the after effects of the 18 years of exposure to narrative that had preceded the meltdown. My parents were not connoisseurs of the arts but in their bookshelves I had discovered and devoured Steinbeck, James Jones, Salinger and Huxley. Throughout my boyhood I had returned time and time again to my father’s collection of Richmal Crompton’s William books and loved every single page of the witty, eventful, stories and their variously naughty, irascible, pompous and vain characters. In all this pre-adult reading I was gripped by the expressive elements on display, including the construction of narratives. But a few years later, the early 60s tsunami kicked in, I read Artaud at university (as distinct from the Eng Lit for which I had enrolled) and thought that I was ready to dance my own steps.

I saw four or five films a week at Uni, in the local cinemas, the local art-house cinema and the Uni film societies. After Uni I went to film school. I had already seen Breathless (1960), Zazie dans le Metro (1960) and Jules et Jim (1962) in my home town and along with my fellow RCA students I then revelled in a three year binge during which it seemed that a new Nouvelle Vague film, or something European with a similar spirit, was being released every week.

It was the thing in my home town to shout out in the cinema. Wags of all classes would bellow witty, indignant, inspired, vocal graffiti at the screen, usually to roars of approval and, in the case of those cinemas with raked floors, the rolling of empty bottles downhill towards the screen. There are many such outgusts that I cherish to this day, among them ‘Shag’er while she’s still warm, mate!’ addressed to the monster hovering above the body of the scantily clad young woman he had just killed; also ‘What about the woodpeckers?’, a riposte to Rod Taylor, in ‘The Birds’ (1963), who has just frantically nailed boards across all the windows and doors in the house under attack by angry birds in order to save Tippi Hedren and himself and then mops his brow and says to Tippi ‘We should be all right now.’

Quite why Roger Dibbs undertook to come to a showing of Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year in Marienbad’ (1961) I’ll never know. One of the artiest art-house films in the world at that time, it had done well at the Venice International Film festival but had, as they say, divided the critics. On one side of the critical chasm were those found it hopelessly obscure, painfully slow, devoid of meaning, little more than a form of torture. Others considered it to be a thing of great beauty, a masterpiece, ‘one of the most influential movies ever made (as well as one of the most reviled), Marienbad is both utterly lucid and provocatively opaque’ (J. Hoberman, Village Voice, 2008).

Roger Dibbs was a very cool dancer who was into jazz rather than The Beatles. He was well groomed in a tasteful European jacket and tie style, something of the lounge lizard about him, and his skills included the throwing of window boxes full of soil and flowers through the plate glass windows of the Lending Library, setting fire to a great pile of old newspapers in my friend’s mother’s hallway and tipping a huge ornamental urn from a pub balustrade onto a white Triumph TR4 sports car parked ten feet below. The police hurried to the last scene and captured half a dozen of us. Dibbs vanished but we resolved the issue by saying to the main policeman ‘Roger Dibbs did it and this is his address.’ He was a vandal, but so well dressed. I call his vandalisms skills because he practised them often, usually at the weekends, and they acquired greater and greater polish as he moved with charm and reserve through the leisure circles of that town in a flat area of the country.

Anyway, after about 25 minutes of vitalisingly melancholy monotone French voiceover as the camera tracked ‘once again, down these corridors, through these halls, these galleries, in this structure of another century, this enormous, luxurious, baroque, lugubrious hotel, where corridors succeed endless corridors – silent deserted corridors overloaded with a dim, cold ornamentation of woodwork, stucco, moldings, marble, black mirrors, dark paintings, columns, heavy hangings, sculptured door frames, series of doorways, galleries, transverse corridors that open in turn on empty salons, rooms overloaded with an ornamentation from another century, silent halls … ‘ there erupted across what, up to that point, had been a poised, unbreathing silence a stentorian interruption from the cheap seats. Dibbs – ‘It’s a load of bollocks, isn’t it, Dave?’

Delighted as I was with his uncouth observation, I didn’t actually agree with Dibbs. I felt his pain but also my own shocked enchantment. I have held Marienbad in my top three for some considerable time and while my own shows are considerably faster paced and regularly feature spasmic, homicidal and tourettish outblasts, the languid, plotless, frozen, dreamy world conjured by Resnais and his screenwriter Robbe-Grillet, with its barely mobile, stately and expressionless actors speaking without emotion or facial nuance is just what the doctor ordered insofar as I find it unfailingly restorative and just plain exciting. Lynch produces similar effects but they, like Fukunaga and Pizzolatto’s ‘True Detective’ (2014) and Refn’s ‘Too Old to Die Young’ (2019), are enhanced by explosive scenes of violence and episodes of manic pace. Refn actually out-slows Resnais – his 13 hour, 10 episode TV show glaciates exquisitely, pushing the envelope off the edge of the escritoire with the ‘Is there something wrong with my TV?’ majesty of the dialogue scenes – every single one of the dialogue scenes – in which characters routinely pause for between three and five seconds between exchanges – to call it a tic makes it sound screwball, it’s a cavernous tock – without ever acknowledging any situational reason for this extreme stylisation. The effect, in all three cases, is to bathe the most routine scenes in unremitting dread.

I took most of my cues from films. But in 1963 or so I was mightily impressed by Artaud’s short play ‘A Spurt of Blood’ (1925), whose preposterous, deranged, mythopsychoanalytical delirium I experienced as a soothing balm. I directed a version of it while at film school. The skies rained offal.

It helped that I didn’t like theatre itself very much. It was basically very strange but everyone behaved as though it were perfectly normal to carry on like that. The utter oddness of dressing up, learning lines, pretending to be someone else and inhabiting a space bounded by flats, drapes and lights was rarely acknowledged. This awkward other-worldliness was compounded by, in this country at least, the deployment of a range of hystericised (but not invigorating) speaking styles which, at their particular times, were held to be in some way reflective of the way people spoke and thought in the nearby everyday life.

Theatre was clearly stuck and it annoyed me. When I went to see it by accident it made me bad-tempered. But there was so much to be taken from films and books.

A few months ago, idly, from the top of a bus, gazing at nothing much, noticing a large municipal Christmas tree decked with white lights. A person with a dog is pushing at the tree making it undulate. Why would they do that? The picture clears: it’s not the person that is undulating the tree, it’s the wind blowing across it. The person’s arm is extended towards the tree, yes, but they are not touching it. I forgive the person. The event fades and becomes nothing. A slip of the eye. The essence of a disposable event. To call it the essence of anything is to grant it an undue importance. This kind of thing goes on all day long. It deserves to be edited out. Deleted. Surely even a human mind, which seems to be able to hold an infinite amount of information, need not process this kind of flotsam. Just let it pass. The alternative is to remember too much. To be cluttered as a matter of course.

Or just today, a bespectacled red-faced man walks past the window. He has a monstrous extra face beneath his chin. It ripples down to his top shirt button. Well, for a second perhaps. The kind of thing that happens when you’re wearing your reading glasses rather than your street glasses. It’s just a glasses thing. Gone with the wind. No big deal. But in that second what a show! A flesh riot in the high street!

Where do these snippettes come from? Do we make them up on the hoof, effortlessly, like nonchalant poets? Are our skills in this regard so fluent that at the least suggestion of an interruption to the flow we activate an elusive but super-efficient mechanism that seals all gaps? Which in turn suggests a certain urgency. What’s the rush? What could go wrong?

It would be a mechanism that works on an anything-is-better-than-nothing principle: if we didn’t fill those gaps, who knows what would press forth? But in the case of the extra face, monstrosity emerged anyway. And isn’t that something we’d rather not know about? So maybe ‘making them up on the hoof’ isn’t the way to look at it.

In fact it’s as if ‘we’ have very little to do with it. We just provide a platform. The images pop up in one piece, ready to go. A bit like an encounter with the Australian stonefish which delivers an incapacitating sting when accidentally stepped upon in shallow seas. We just do the treading – we didn’t ask for the fish.

It is unlikely that there is within us a repository in which resides, say, an image of a monstrous extra face suitable for insertion beneath a passerby’s chin. There is, however, the silent continent, the inland empire, the unconscious which is by its very nature restlessly protean. So utterly efficient is the messaging connectivity that, in terms of filling the gaps, it’s like lying in a tent in the rain – an incessant drumming against a membrane that keeps us dry but if you poke at it the water gets through. Is it conceivable that the rain is always raining? And the only reason we are not constantly drowned by intrusions is because we keep busy?

Were there such a repository then this is how its contents might be stored

The other weekend The Guardian had a story about Haribo suing some Spanish bar owners who were selling jelly bears containing alcohol. The Spaniards, the report said, ‘planned to carry on selling their products in Spain – and to their customers in France and the UK – to show that their bears would not be cowed.’ This raises the question of whether Haribo has a position on cows that will not be borne.

I realise this is not top notch wordplay but it had to be done. Ideally the past participle of ‘bear’ will not be ‘borne’, it will be ‘beared’. This would then deliver the much desired ‘cows that would not be beared’. This, in turn, suggests that the cow will resist transformation into a feared rather than domestic creature.

On the other hand, in the statement ‘Peter and Susan were cowed by dogs’, we will find, lightly concealed, the possibility that ‘Peter and Susan were dogged by cows.’ So much better. It suggests that, under certain conditions, the placid cow will be caninised.

So much better (The sausages carried by the cheeky dog have passed through the cow. They are hotdogs.)


It may seem odd, decadent even, to dwell on such fleeting flukes. To treat them as if they had something to say. It must be said, however, that, in their way, they do approach the Oligocene. (See quote at top of post.) In the Oligocene (I keep writing it ‘Oligoscene’ so I looked up ‘oligo’ just now and what do you know: just a few or scanty. From the Greek ‘oligos‘ (as in oligarchy but I was slow to make the connection) (palaeontologically speaking it must refer to an era of which little is known) (despite the profusion of creatures for which it is known) it is clear that things were coming and going, crossing paths, colliding, blending, unblending, indecisive, changeable, making up their minds, haven’t quite got this but we’re getting there, this will never work, it could go either way, yeah but give it a chance

I was driving along the M4 out of town one time and had to slow down because of a collision up ahead. As we crawled past the police cars a bizarre sight slowly came into view. On the other side of the buckled crash barrier two trucks had clipped each other with such force that their rear doors had burst and their contents were strewn across all six lanes of the motorway. The drivers were talking to the police on the hard shoulder. One truck had been full of furniture – sofas, armchairs and tables. These were lying randomly around on the tarmac. The other truck was a baker’s truck and had been full of loaves, buns, tarts, doughnuts, battenberg slices, cupcakes and bags of flour. The bags had exploded and created a Christmas scene across ground zero. A heavily powdered sofa bore several dainties in odd clusters and ragged stacks, as if impulsively abandoned by two untidy people. Slices of white bread festooned an inverted reclining chair. Jam doughnuts littered the scene like beached anemones. And so on.

As well as resembling a respectable site specific installation piece, the spectacle was a fine snapshot of the poetic process which went some way beyond ‘the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella’ to a higher hybridism wherein the battenberg on the scatter cushion was not on it but of it. A creature of a drained undersea world.

the possibility of recognising nature, even distorted nature, which is, after all, a kind of struggle between my interior life and the external world as it exists for most people

Picasso in ‘Life with Picasso’, Francoise Gilot (1964)

Freud, of course, gave us the Slip (in ‘The Psychopathologies of Everyday Life’ (1901)), something of an ur-text here insofar as it introduces the notion of the unbidden utterance – an involuntary speech event featuring the partial expression of unsettling memories and ideas in words which resemble and replace those that would have been spoken as part of an uncorrupted original remark. A similar but visually based principle animates what we could call the space-filler, wherein an often minor, often everyday, occurrence seems to elude comprehension yet is nevertheless, with the speed of thought, framed within an interpretation. The malfunctioning aspect of this operation – the absence of an initially acceptable understanding – features the barely conscious acknowledgement of a gap, a black hole, in the generally unstanchable stream of consciousness. Nature adores such a vacuum. Ever loaded, always cocked, it will spritz the narrative with alternatives drawn from what is probably a vast but uncatalogued collection of all that is inconvenient. A malcontent is undulating a tree. Public order is breaking down. A public good is being trashed.

(An earlier version of the paragraph above referred to ‘unnatural alternatives’ ( 2 lines from end of para) – this is careless. It suggests that the natural is limited to what we know. ) (Picasso saw it otherwise: “…I don’t want there to be three or four or a thousand possibilities of interpreting my canvas. I want there to be only one and in that one, to some extent, the possiblity of recognising nature, even distorted nature, which is, after all, a kind of struggle between my interior life and the external world as it exists for most people….I don’t try to express nature; rather, as the Chinese put it, to work like nature.”)

Greta Gerwig on the set of ‘Little Women’ with cast members

Reading an article on ‘Little Women’ (2019) in Sight & Sound (January 2020) I glanced at one of the accompanying photos and was surprised to note that Emma Watson had folded her right leg across Greta Gerwig’s lap as she studied the script with the director and cast members Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh. Watson is slight of build yet her bent leg looks quite heavy. Her posture also looks quite uncomfortable.

But, of course, Watson is doing none of this. The ‘knee’ that is seen is formed by the lid of Gerwig’s laptop and her ‘calf’ is Gerwig’s lower leg. The photo is sufficiently dark to allow the casual glancer to fuse the two dark objects into one encircling limb. If the exposure and contrast are tweaked with photo editing tools the actuality of the arrangement becomes crystal clear:

In such a situation if one would be asked ‘Are you seeing things?’ then the answer must be ‘Yes, I am.’ And supposing it were then asked ‘These things that you see – are they worthy of remark?’ then the response should be frank: ‘They are largely useless. Most would be wise to ignore them. There may be those who have some use for them, however.’

It took several minutes to write the three preceding paragraphs and less than one half of one second to misread the seating arrangements in the photograph. Correction of that misreading took perhaps three or four seconds. The economics of this are sufficient to dispel any ideas of the value of the mistake that can never be made again. But I dwell on such phenomena in part because they are so hastily discharged.

These corrections and realignments probably happen throughout everyone’s day every day on the planet all the time. They probably start when everyone is very young, when a mixture of misreading and intermittent realignment is all we have. A little later realignment becomes a more conscious operation as our confidence feeds off a steadily expanding bank of successful adjustments. And of course, as we get older it is as if the need for realignments is greatly reduced, our skills in this field are consolidated and the incidents, if they are noticed at all, have no more importance than an itchy nose. It may be, however, that it’s not so much a matter of skill as we simply learn to ignore events that have no apparent meaning or value.

In order to resurrect then reinstate a capacity for misperception, Salvador Dali conceived the Paranoiac Critical Method, wherein a specialised personal effort was required to undo the habit of ascribing an essential, final reality to objects in the world. By incubating some of what he considered to be the crucial characteristics of a paranoid state of mind he sought to expose himself to the world equipped ‘to systematise confusion and thus to help to discredit the world of reality’ (1930). The world thus apprehended will be constructively contaminated, its objects will be surrealised. Dali would deploy ‘a delirium of interpretation’ informed by ‘irrational knowledge’.

The crucial achievement of one who has deliberately and perhaps ‘methodically’ developed a paranoid frame of mind is to find, with considerable rapidity, connections and associations between objects and ideas that have no association or affinity. This destabilised mode of seeing lends itself equally successfully to the production of the double image, defined by Dali as ‘a representation of an object that is also, without the slightest physical or anatomical change, the representation of another entirely different object, the second representation being equally devoid of any deformation or abnormality betraying arrangement.’

Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire – Salvador Dali (1940)


Ernst, in a lecture delivered in 1935, described the objectives of systematic derangement variously: / the exploitation of the fortuitous meeting of two distant realities on an inappropriate plane / (a) means of bewitching reason, taste, and conscious will / the cultivation of the effects of a systematic bewildering / based on nothing other than the intensification of the irritability of the faculties of the mind /

The paranoid state was held to have artistic value (in addition to its capacity for enabling misery and terror) insofar as it, apparently effortlessly, remodelled the exterior in the terms of some of the more volatile or inconstant currents of the unconscious.

When we did peripheral vision in A level Biology we learned some things that were useful. The usefulness of some of these things was immediately apparent and I have valued them ever since. There are various types of gaze. The dominant one is characterised by visual fixation and refers to the field of vision within the point of fixation – the centre of the gaze. Vision beyond the bounds of the point of fixation is deemed peripheral vision and takes up the larger part of the visual field.

One thing in the diagram that fixates attention is the unusual scope of far peripheral vision. You can see behind you. If you look at the side of someone’s head you’ll notice that the eye curves round the front of the head. Without actually turning the head at all you can exceed what might be assumed to be the outer limits of peripheral vision. There is a visible ground between 90° (approximately the mid-line of either shoulder) and 110° (beyond your shoulder), where straight ahead fixity is 0°. The far peripheral. Out of the corner of your eye.

They told us at school that the far peripheral enabled creatures to move around without turning their heads unduly, to avoid bumping into things and to become aware of threats before they get too close. It is inevitable that things seen out of the corner of one’s eye will often carry a certain weight of menace, usually mild to the point of becoming barely perceptible.

On the other hand, our tendency to misread peripheral information can be regarded as having a survival value comparable to the indisputable advantages of a built-in optical early warning system. It could almost be argued that if peripheral vision generally delivers insufficient detail this actually enhances the survival project insofar as one is compelled to double check just in case one has overlooked a ravening nearby bear, dog or highwayman.

We’re not talking ayahuasca here. This is the straight street, not even the high street. But if the structure of the eye is such that it facilitates both detection and misinterpretation then it is tempting to imagine the capacities of the corner of the eye being extended right across the visual field so that the peripheral eclipses the fixated.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘That’s all very well but how are you going to get to the shops/the cinema/the other side of the room?’ To which I would riposte ‘Yes but is it not conceivable in this case that what would then be seen would be not the consensual external but a marvellous mélange not dissimilar to the dogbear (or beardog)?’

It might be that you would then feel obliged to observe that ‘I am an airline pilot/driving instructor/ person. The only way that would work would be sitting down. And not in an aeroplane. Kindly remove your sewing-machine from the dissecting table.’

The information delivered by peripheral vision is, of course, invaluable but it is also imprecise. If it seems ominous, however, it is not always the case that one need be dogged or cowed by it. You have the option of immediately turning your head and instantly resolving the matter. If you choose not to turn your head then the misinterpretation may linger, which introduces the possibility of savouring the distorted elements connoisseurially: where you do not discard but retain, perhaps in the belief that while it might be distorted it can also be regarded as a free offer.

Saccades: A saccade (from Fr: jerk) is a quick, simultaneous movement of both eyes between two or more phases of fixation in the same direction. Humans and many animals do not look at a scene in fixed steadiness; instead, the eyes move around, locating interesting parts of the scene and building up a mental, three-dimensional ‘map’ corresponding to the scene. (Saccades: Wikipedia) In this example the viewer’s eyes will saccade as they track the movements of the saccading eye.

It’s misleading to conclude that visual distortions of this kind are damaged goods. Along with misheard speech and misread texts they constitute a constant but elusive source of inspiration for artists who are keen to examine the sources of inspiration. All that glimmers is not gold, needless to say. A lot of this stuff is off-cuts. But they who denied it supplied it and should not disdain authorship.

Authors are free to develop their material. Many of them would see such development as a seamless extension of techniques or anti-techniques that they employ as a matter of routine. When paying attention to the suburbs of attention is successful, the event may be called ‘a good idea’ or ‘a brainwave’, something that ‘popped up’ etc.

In the well-known but only moderately amusing joke about drunks: Is this Wembley? No, it’s Thursday. So am I. Let’s have a drink. the rewards of mishearing are made clear. The peripheral becomes the contaminant that enters the mainstream and determines its course.

The dominant contaminant is probably not misperceived so much as overlooked. Everyday thought teems with mental events and is accordingly filtered in order to maintain fixation. The thoughts that don’t fit fall away into the wings. We learned how to ignore them years ago. If we were to unlearn those lessons then the beardogbears could lollop out of the woods and display themselves and if we didn’t like them we could send them packing. It’s like going to the gym (I imagine) – the more you do an exercise the easier it gets.

You paint in those few moments when you can formulate something. But lying in wait for them, that’s very different from representing something and giving it shape.
Sigmar Polke


On the foreshore of the Oxfam Book Shop a mint copy of ‘London in Fragments – a Mudlark’s Treasures’ by Ted Sandling. It’s about the people who dig antique fragments out of the mud when the Thames is at low tide. On Sandling’s first ever visit to the shore he spots a fragment of an old clay pipe and initially dismisses it as being simply too ordinary, as mudfinds go. On closer inspection he is excited to find that the bowl of the pipe is moulded to resemble ‘a perfect horse’s hoof, complete with a fetlock and a fine coat of hair.’ The muddy old pipe stem had been misperceived, its distortion overlooked. A thing of the interior was rejected in favour of the mundane. An inverted surrealisation has taken place: the hunter has construed something as unworthy of remark but upon taking it in hand he sees the commonplace morph into a dream object before his eyes. pipehorsepipe.

Pampas: Season 1

In April 2015 I started writing ‘Pampas’, a series of short text and image pieces that I posted more or less daily on Facebook. After a while I decided to put all the posts on Strength Weekly where they would scroll seamlessly up and down in elegant surroundings. The posts should be regarded as a series rather than a collection of one-offs. Given the fading in and out of narrative characteristics, I understand that some may find the seriality of Pampas debatable.

The first Pampas entry was written to thank Facebook friends who had wished me a Happy Birthday. A couple of days later I decided to keep it running and see what might pop up.

04/04/15 In the course of the day I pampered myself with both soft and hard things. I sorted through light fabrics, tissues, creams and the damp noses of adorable animals. Then I took hold of massive bars and bolts, moving them roughly through hedges whilst swearing. I shouted hoarsely. I barged along shopping streets. I demonstrated qualities in such a way as to suggest robust focus tempered by great suitability for teams.

06/04/15 Now there are great sales. I ran again through the streets communicating my ideas. “In films all the actors should be stars! Not just the stars should be them! The lesser should be more too I cried out!” I had a cup of tea at the pavement – what a cuppa! I wanted to knit. To be in a railway carriage. Going past the White Horse with a sheep. I could see that a pedometer would be informative. It was, after all, a long street.

06/04/15 I was approached by Johnny Depp. “I really like that whole stars thing,” he said. “Johnny!” this was me being so frank, “It’s not just for the character actors or bit part players – it’s for all of us so that films and of course television would be even more terrific!” Johnny said “Oh yeah, man. That’s completely cool. I have many colleagues who would go right along with that.” “Down the road?” I asked. “Oh yes,” Johnny said. I went on down the road, running.

07/04/15 I ran so fast, gesticulating, that soon I had burst, heedless, from the end of Oxford Street and, via Marble Arch, was quickly in the countryside. I looked about the moors around. Now I could collect some animals! Standing still by trees in copses I jumped out unexpectedly and soon had armsful. I had tiny struggling birds, warm stoats and martens writhing, a vixen, a pig in shit, butterflies about my hair, at my feet in the grass a snake. And many others of all types peculiar to the area.

08/04/15 I next arranged them in a varied group. In order to demonstrate my wranglerhood wherein I would call their names and they would trot or fly forward, I named them. I had Aquitaine, Charlemagne, Edith Clever, Gauvain, Cheddar Plate, Carlos, Saxmundham, Ernest, Beldame, Dobbin, Charity, Andrew, Gance, Coptic Thistle, Delphine, Victor, Geraint, Lordy, Raine, Aquavit, Tonelle, Sultan, Brunel, Launcelot, Roy, Hope, Gaston, Norman, Perlesvaus, Titi, Humphrey

08/04/15 I had Ron Contray, Mister Double You, Miss Emily Posthene, Miss Julia Margaret Cameron, Mister Kevin Waller, Prince John of Andorra, The Family Jack and Linda, The Couple Tina and Lofty, All of the Bensons, Evelyn de Mure, Cowslip, Fatty, Strange Dick, Dash, Torrance the Saturnine, Benjy, Paulette, Esprit, Monty Pulciano, Peter the Erratic, Sissy Boyce, Ted Brothers as well as the Ted Brothers, Flannery Walker, Agravain, Jack the Lady

09/04/15 We were where passersby paused. I clustered the creatures and began to wrangle. “Hola, All of the Bensons!” Forward from the collection came the grouse. “Avanti, Delphine!” Out of the cluster loped the vixen. “Hup! Hup! Dash!” The elk sedately emerged. Through the crowd murmuring began. As each creature was summoned so it came and so it stood in the sun on the plain. Creatures that dined on each other rubbed shoulders with each other as if they were herbivorous to a creature. Which they were not. Some seemed shiftless. I realised that they needed husbandry.

11/04/15 Tiring of the show I took my leave of those who had gathered. One man said “I would like to control Nature.” I said “It’s a slippery slope.” I made off in the direction of Thetford, anxious to expose the animals to an air base. Jets cracked above and Gauvain the lizard went still like wood. Shimmer rose. Flannery Walker said “I’m more of a city type.” How was I supposed to feed all these? And their la de da sensibilities. The F-15C Strike Eagle is hardly the stuff of buttercusp and davies is it?

11/04/15 A figure stepped sharply from the haze. “I’d like to introduce you animals and their guardian or carer (he nodded to me but it was imperceptible, as between men) to some body shapes.” Setting to one side his rifle he began to throw big fish, little fish, cardboard box. I glanced at the carp Perlesvaus. The officer had moved on to shelf on the wall. I became aware of unrest in the vole Edith Clever. I realized that the shapes, thrown competently enough, were nevertheless found offensive by the water creatures. I cut my losses and, as a diversion, plucked up into my hands the dry pangolin neonate Geraint.

12/04/15 “Every generation,” the airman declared “must pass down its shapes so that the young may rock out, bending these gestures to their own idiom.” “Shit,” I exclaimed, “I mean, I so agree.” “Look at the Egyptians – Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose – wild figurations!” So saying he turned about and within a moment was a wisp. I placed Geraint on my shoulder that he might communicate readily. Yet my charges were dispirited. Do animals dance? I don’t think so. Then again, the grebe…

13/04/15 Few hoots across the fen. Little lowing. Scant baaing. The cuckoo imperceptible, like its distance. No yap. No sheep bleats like blokes in the night on a hill. Gone from touch the velvet nose of the fallen horse Torrance the Saturnine, nor her warming whinny and snicker. Just the wind through the sedge. Scratched on the war memorial: “Suck Mine”. Were they not a herd or skein? Why the long faces? These creatures, now in three figures, were bunched, yes, but not affiliated.

14/04/15 I was distracted from this melancholic inwardness by the pushing to the front of Mister Double You, the pig in shit. Even animals are sensitive to caste and the excrementally compromised swine was given the widest of available berths. But what was Mister Double You doing? He seemed to be worrying something in his mouth. “What’s that in your mouth, Porky?” I said familiarly. He dropped it at my feet. It was a small, injured clown. “Long way from home, funny man,” I remarked, unpleasantly.

14/04/15 “Call me Bonkers,” said the entertainer. He noticed the pangolin Geraint on my shoulder. “Fuck’s that on your shoulder?” he said coldly, “Looks like it came out of the cheese.” I replied “Is that your humour talking?” He replied to me “A lot of people are drawn to it.” I picked him up, put him in my mouth, worried him briefly then bit him into various pieces. I swallowed his painted head then mindfully distributed the rest among the swarm. I won’t say he tasted funny. Things were looking up.

15/04/15 In an appropriately supportive environment the clown rush takes about an hour to come on. Subjects often choose to lie down but will rise in order to vomit, an essential process which, if resisted, will only postpone the rush. The practice as a whole would be regarded as anthropophagic but this, of course, could only apply to myself, as a human eating clown flesh. In the case of my charges the ritual could be seen as hematophagic but this is to stretch the definition. Early clown rush onset features only mildly humorous episodes.

The clown rush is upon me. I feel it in its earliest stages. Despite the wretched demeanour of the now digested funny fellow, whose blown chunks litter the soil around my shoes, it is not his acerbic tone that lingers. Rather it is the essence of his calling, the parfum of his métier, that now floods my cerebral veins and begins to humorise the cackle of voices that we are pleased to call thought. What presently clutters my consciousness are the most banal of utterances. I don’t mind if I do. Rather you than me. If I say so myself. Better in than out. You have to be mad. You know you like it. I won’t say no. If my arse was like your face. I could get used to this. A man goes into a box.

17/04/15 I had seen dogs dreaming by fires near water on beaches at night their feet pedalling their jaws working. Yelping to themselves perhaps they see rabbits said someone. The supine swarm while not asleep was flushed with flesh and small animal jokes were animating their limbs and fins and wings. Such was my affinity with the intoxicated herd that I was able to decode their humour and here is how I present it now. With pigs they suddenly straighten the tail then let it recoil. With butterflies they unfold their wings, spread them to the sides and pretend to be drawn to wardrobes thereby imitating cloth-eating moths whom they legendarily despise. These things the various creatures find diverting but of course they do not laugh. They cannot.

18/04/15 At the height of the rush so much the ostriches of the ineffable I’m losing the platform it’s higlady piglady the fur is flying here come the jest What it is is the herds are sherding the sheds are shed. What it is is that I’m like blending with the flock they’re incoming and I’m going out and yes I know the difference between snot and broccoli I know it’s epping barking I know what Della What? When did that happen? Johnny Depp? You’re kidding. Are you dicking me? Are you my uncle? He took what?

18/04/15 Hi. My name is Johnny Depp. Yes, I followed David out of Oxford Street and saw him get animals then do some clown in a bunch with the animals he got. I saw how stuff got out of hand. Way out of. I saw the bear and I figured they’re not going to miss it. I always wanted one anyway and I figured for David they’re just like toys or like a herd of bagatelle.

19/04/15 Yes, I am Johnny Depp. I know you will think that I’m not, that it’s hard to believe. But there we are. I have put the bear, it’s small, on my shoulder so that it can tell my moods and I its. From my low hill that I found in this flat place there are all manner of divers creatures just, like, tripping. The worst is their self appointed leader or herdsman David who, frankly, is well out of it. Later this afternoon I am meeting my wife Angelina and we will go to Carluccio’s for a tricolore salad. We expect to bump into Ryan Gosling – a terrific fellow – and one of your English actresses the young Carey Mulligan, born in Westminster. What a talent there!

20/04/15 The place was packed but it had the typical bustle. The gang studied the menus. The waiter was Paolo. He said “Today we have the sharing platter with caprese bites.” Johnny looked up “Do you have anything Hungarian? I’d like Hungarian today.” “He’s a pretty Hungary guy,” quipped Ryan. Angelina leaned mesmerically in. “Look, Johnny, they have polpette. That’s meatballs isn’t it? Kind of Hungarian.” Johnny pursed his lips. “The Magyar husgomboc comes on a platter with buttered noodles tossed in poppy seeds. It’s a quite different thing.” Paolo brightened, “We have the platter…”

20/04/15 Angelina smiled warmly at the young waiter and said “He really wants the husgomboc.” Ryan said “I’d like to go Swiss actually.” He glanced enquiringly at Paolo. Paolo said “We have the veal saltimbocca, signore. Is veal escalope wrapped in Parma ham, with a white wine and sage sauce.” Ryan came back with “Is that Swittish? It doesn’t sound Swittish.” Carey was gazing at Edith Clever, the stolen koala on Johnny’s shoulder. “Johnny,” she mused, “What about the bear?” Johnny pointed his first finger at Carey. “I’m on it! They only eat eucalyptus leaves.” He turned to Paolo, “Can we get some eucalyptus?”

21/04/15 I came through the detritus of old joke ends broken catch-phrases to see you nice laid out as if on a poisoned sea bed with immortal plastics and looked out around about me and there were the sheep lowing and the cattle barking and the pigs in the trees and I put them into their proper places patting them and saying yes that was surely far out but now is the time to walk wiser forth and emboldened. And I realized that for some of them they were qualities in the mind and for others they were there, near Thetford where we were, in the flat places that spread you utterly butterly. Now we would sort the sheep of mutton from the goats of frail insubstance, we would walk embrightened by the clown whose life we had taken into ourselves and we would find and get back Edith Clever the koala bear taken by feckless Johnny Depp the film star.

22/04/15 I had to work out which of the multitude of creatures stood for something and which were innocent. I was familiar with Leach’s work on animals and swear words wherein he asserts that we tend to frame insults in terms of animals which we are close to in our everyday lives, for example: bitch, dog, rat, pig, cow, sheep, fox. Leach also suggested that the edibility of animals is an issue – we are uneasy about creatures that taste nice yet could be pets.

22/04/15 These concerns, I thought, would help me in the task of eliminating those who were not suited to the business of tracking down Johnny Depp. Yes, I had myself killed and eaten a clown but there was no way I would have considered the fucker a pet – he was simply unlikeable. No, it was clear the farm animals would have to go. And the dogs and the cats. Geraint could stay. Who ever called anybody a fucking pangolin? I rest my case.

23/04/15 Evelyn de Mure I said to the white-tailed golden horse You will always be a pal of mine. Lordy I said to the cock You crow but you are not a crow – think about it. I embraced the sheep Cheddar Plate murmuring History is not made by individuals. Keep it in your pants Flopsy I jovialised at the buck The Couple Tina and Lofty. With heavy heart I worked the line as the kittiwakes wheeled and their mournful cries scraped the slate sky. I kissed a cow, stroked a playful piglet under the gaze of its spattered mother. They were my almanac, my zodiac.

25/04/15 Now I had about me a lean team stripped of sentiment and symbol. I could test the deedscape unencumbered. My invective would stream from the black stream without the barnyard. I had about me Gauvain the reptile (“Who’s a halted boy then?”); Agravain the marten recently run from Runton; the carp Perlesvaus, cold, disdaining flies; Aquitaine now larval, soon to be pupal then Blooey!!; Sissy Boyce and Miss Emily Posthene, the lovebirds dancing slowly with Launcelot – gaunt, gauche, cackhanded; Strange Dick the edible dormouse; and caterers. As a bunch we were bostin, swank. Don’t steal from us.

26/04/15 From her perch on Johnny Depp’s shoulder Edith Clever (rhymes with favour) was beginning to feel quite the show business columnist with seeing charmed lives everyday and eating from the table of piled eucalyptus of various strains gathered for her by Leaves of 24th Street, Suppliers of Arcane Provender to Whomever Would, Like, Search Such Provision. But last night a group of explorers and the German actress Edith Clever (Die Marquise von O. (1990); Ein traum, was sonst? (1994)), now 74, came round for supper and now Johnny is washing up.

26/04/15 Neither the koala, Johnny, Angelina nor Edith Clever (born in Wuppertal) knew the koala’s name was Edith Clever because Johnny stole the bear and didn’t think to ask its name before so doing (don’t get me started!). The bear watched from the shoulder as Johnny squeezed in the Ecover (or equivalent) and set about the plates. Angelina wanted to dry there and then with a cotton cloth but Johnny said “Just let’em drip” so Angelina arranged them in the draining board. Then Johnny set about the knives and forks, holding half his lower lip between his teeth.

27/04/15 As Johnny was fretting over how do you get the last vestiges of potato out of the masher the phone rang and Johnny said to Edith Clever the bear “Can you get that?” Unbelievable or what? I mean, he actually thought that a bear could answer the phone for him! What is it like the world in which these people live? That they thought that an animal – one without opposable thumbs – could do such dexterity!

27/04/15 I went on a spring holiday to Stockholm once, round the archipelago, very nice, not cold and they had a deal where if you go without opposable thumbs there’s a 30% discount so I took it. Let me say: it was shit. You can barely eat! You have to crowd the food with your palms and let’s not even go where when you drop something you have to clap at it and kind of hope to scoop it up. Ridiculous. I got some lip plumper cream at the Åhléns City beauty centre in Klarabergsgatan, it makes your lips bigger and I smeared it on and after a couple of days I had some thumbs again. You know, I don’t want to dwell on it but Johnny Depp does have his own thumbs!

The Pickup Unplucked

28/04/15 I bunched the animals by the gate and made my way down the path and passed the trees and some heifers (not my ones I had got rid of them in a purge just ones like you would expect to see) and there was a dark red house that I hadn’t expected there were no window frames and inside a woman with her hair down and her arm stuck straight up in the air. She was still but across the dark room was a man ironing with his back not ironing with his back but with his back to me. I started to speak and he said without turning “I’m ironing willy nilly.”

28/04/15 I said “Good day. Can I ask you about the pickup please?” “You’re welcome he said evenly.” “Okay,” I commenced in a businesslike way, “How much do you want for it?” He folded a bib and reached for a creased lace tucker. He said “Is it for sale?” I said “Oh. That depends. Is it?” He said “What do you want it for?” I said “I’m taking some animals around and it’s a slow business on foot.” He said “I certainly understand that. Are they a variety or of a type?” I said confidently “Very much a variety. I dispensed with types.” He nodded, “I hear what you’re saying. Fifty pounds.” “I accept that I said.” As an afterthought I said “I assume she’s a runner.” He nodded, “Fleet.”

29/04/15 Which would have been fine. The pickup when I turned it over there was nothing. I opened the bonnet and there was no battery. I held Geraint with his exceptional sense of smell over the petrol hole. He was indifferent. I kicked the tyres. You guessed it. Ames and Cora, her arm down for a change, watched from the window. “I think we may not be gone some time,” I declared.

29/04/15 There was a bucket which I rinsed and filled at the old pump for the carp Perlesvaus which I put in and Gauvain immediately skittered to it and took up his whole immobile thing near it which encouraged the whole of the rest including birds not to mention Aquitaine now a marvelous marsh fritillary with the colouring to find their way into the open rear cargo enclosure. I took the pangolin Geraint from my shoulder and clipped him under the wiper blade that he might flick out his adhesive tongue for flies otherwise impacting the windscreen.

                                The flies adherent

Perlesvaus Immersed

30/04/15 We had been in the pickup for several days. I took the driver seat and those in the back took turns sitting beside me. The pickup had not moved during this period. Ames would throw, at different times, seeds, pollen, ants and plankton into the back for sustenance. The days were long and uneventful. Ames was not unpleasant but he was not warmly sociable with affable greetings or similar. I said “Do you have the makings of a sandwich in the larder?” and he said “That’s more of a lady area.”

The Fridge Vert

30/04/15 Cora, where Ames would say things, said single words that were not connected to the topics under consideration at a given moment. I said “Is there ham in your coldbox by any chance?” and she looked at me for a long time, with her arm in the air then said “Pierrette.” On one occasion Ames and I almost had a conversation about van Gogh. I said “What about van Gogh?” and Ames said “From what I can put together he is unbalanced.” I thought to myself “Come on, Ames, your wife’s got her fucking arm in the air!”

01/05/15 Aquitaine was weakening after her piercing by the parasitoid wasp Gaston. It was in the nature of the latter but a bummer nevertheless. Such beauty. In the second week I found a broken fax machine under the driver seat. Ames said “It is a kind of television.” Then he said “You should see the barn.” My legs were frail and the barn was dark. Using my hands I found a package wrapped in oilcloth secured by cord. On removing these I found a deep blue reflective polycarbon shell which, when pressed like this (I am demonstrating) fell into the halfshell exposing a film of seamless nanomesh bound tight around a pebblesmooth glassite container.

02/05/15 The package was clearly a device. Or the means of containing a device. But how should it be regarded? I fell to ruminating on the issue of Ames. His eyes, hollow as if he had himself torn them out, spoke of melancholy and decrepitude, a world of falling buildings, unvisited lanes, torn boughs. Dust beneath taps, under the sink a cloth brittle with rust and residue. He would bring instead of the scream the hoarse whistle the low whir. What of his estate would he wish to share?

02/05/15 An obsidian disc etched with hieroglyphs from the Aztecs or space. A vellum scroll with treasure information marked with X or the equivalent of X. A will in which the finder is rewarded with a collection of vintage car barn finds. Two tickets to Latitude with motor home. A book commending the actuation of unrealised personal resources. An instrument to unlock portals to dimensions and safes. I replaced the package and strode from the barn to the light. “Keep the money,” I said to Ames. He said without a flicker “Olly olly olly tits in the trolley.” “Enjambement,” said Cora.

03/05/15 I was out of there. I herded the creatures onto the A11 and stuck my thumb out. Our first driver had a savagely capacious 4×4. I said “I’m David.” He replied “Richard. Richard Ostend.” It turned out that he ran an agency which introduced film stars to people with distinctive characteristics so that they, the film stars, might spend time with them, these people, learning to replicate their qualities. “That’s where the big money is,” Ostend asserted.

This gives a good idea of the space we had in the back

04/05/15 I asked Richard what if, in addition, the people studied the film stars and attempted to assimilate their qualities. “Collateral damage,” he said. We were passing through Mildenhall. Insofar as he might without taking his eyes off the road Richard turned to look at me. “David,” he asked, “You’re actually Johnny Depp, aren’t you?” I swallowed. The jig was up. I barely knew the guy but I felt I could tell him. “I guess I am,” I replied. “How is Scarlett?” enquired Richard. “She’s voicing the Jungle Book right now.” “You miss her, yeah?” I nodded. “I really do.”

05/05/15 I was moved by Richard Ostend asking after Scarlett. Aquitaine had passed away that morning and I had pinned her to my lapel, using hair spray to stiffen her wings. I had come to a turning point. “You probably don’t remember,” Richard said, “but when you were preparing for Edward Scissorhands I connected you with a nervous hairdresser in the Holloway Road.” “Oh yeah,” I cried “I recall that guy! Such mannerisms!” He turned to me again “Johnny, can I ask you, where exactly is David now?”

                Richard’s car can be seen here

06/05/15 Scarlett wanted to go to Nando’s for a late breakfast. She had enjoyed her last visit there with Carey and Ryan and found the peri-peri enlivening. The staff were kind to the bear Edith Clever and respectful of our privacy. Scarlett, recently returned from voicing the snake Kaa, was absentmindedly fondling one of my hands. “Yeah, it was terrific. Did you know in the first Jungle Book Kaa was voiced by Sterling Holloway? He did adult Flower in Bambi – can you imagine that?” I asked “Is that the guy with the cigar?” Scarlett rolled her eyes (gorgeous). “No, honey. That was Sterling Hayden! Doctor Strangelove!”

09/05/15 I swirled my Pinotage. “I kind of like this one,” I volunteered. “It has a distinctive nose.” “Rather like you,” Scarlett riposted. A smile played around my lips. But it may not have struck the right note. Scarlett raised an eyebrow. I swallowed. But she could not possibly know. My close resemblance to Johnny was beyond dispute. Her instinct would be to attribute her feelings of unease to my being out of sorts, not to the nature of my being. She cocked her head and murmured “Are you sure you’re okay?”

11/05/15 Richard Ostend was approaching the junction of the A11 with the A14 outside Newmarket. “What I don’t understand, Johnny,” he ventured, “is at what point the switch was effected.” I said “Maybe I can help you there. It was back in Oxford Road…” “Street?” intervened Richard. “Yeah,” I confirmed. “All the shops. I came out of M&H…” “H&M,” Richard corrected. “Yeah. I saw this guy running. He had a cup of tea. There was something about him.” Richard interrupted me. “Excuse me interrupting, Johnny. But the way you’re talking! It’s just like one of your films. Where the character sets the scene. And the voice…it’s very good.” “Well, you’re very kind,” I conceded. “No,” he said “I love it.”

12/05/15 Johnny Depp, and this is how it happened, rushed out of the store with some slacks where he saw a man running that he was curiously drawn to by. He (Johnny Depp) thought it was something in the man’s face. So he followed him to the country where he recognised due to him (Johnny) playing Tonto with a crow on his head that what it was was shamanistic where you all ate something, for example a clown or other job and their qualities went into you. This fucks around with your identity and Johnny saw that who we know now to be David had lost his so there was Johnny’s chance!

14/05/15 The thing was, Johnny told the rapt Richard, I had to gather the cloud. Without waiting for Richard to say “You what?” he said: It’s a Blavatsky thing, she picked it up in a lamasery in the U-Tsang province of Tibet. You concentrate the astral fluid between the palms of your hands, drawing it down from the atmosphere then enshroud it cloaklike around your vile body. It was in this manner that I was able to approach David unannounced, pluck off his pangolin and give him the koala I had scooped from among the swedes in their firm, non-acid soil.

15/05/15 I was getting increasingly nervy about Scarlett. We enjoyed at times a wordless communion beyond knowing – she would touch my cheek I would squeeze her elbow. She would move the salt cellar a fraction and I would nod. I did not feel false. We went round to Carey’s for supper, Ryan was doing his lasagne, and they had Noomi (so strong!), Jennifer, Bradley (still buff) and Michael (actually a really relaxed man!) there. They all accepted me and were solicitous about the terriers. Noomi picked up her flute (not the instrument) and went “Toot toot!” and this really caught on, with Michael going “Toot toot!” and Jennifer then going “Toot toot!” For dessert Ryan had got some dainties from Patisserie Valerie, that place in Soho.

16/05/15 We were fingering our macarons when there was a knock at the door. It was Jake, bearded and in a hurry. He greeted us breathlessly. Ryan said “Try these puits d’amour a caramelized jam-containing puff pastry.” Jake said “Can you lend me a fiver?” Noomi said “No sweat” and slipped him a bill. I said “Jake, I thought you were a homeless man when you came in.” Ryan said “I mean the pastry contains the jam, yeah? The jelly?” Jake said “I got it the first time round.” Then Jake turned to me “Where you coming from, man? This is connected to what I’m doing.” I said “What are you doing?” Jake shot me a glance. “Google it, man.” Then he hurried out. There was a silence. Carey said to me “He likes you to know what he’s doing.” Scarlett was looking at me funny. Again.

18/05/15 Michael, with his genial way, eased the froideur. He said “I have recently celebrated my birthday.” A murmur ran around. Noomi said “How old are you?” People said things like “Whoa!” but jovially. Michael went “I’m 38. What about you?” Noomi goes, to the point as you might expect, “35.” “Okay!” says Ryan. “Yeah Ryan?” Carey responds to him. Ryan shrugs like it’s nothing “34. Carey, you’re 12, right?” This gets a round of laughter. “Old joke, Ryan,” Carey says, “I’m actually 29. And fuck off, by the way.” Oh boy. It’s coming my way. And I don’t have a clue. When was Gilbert Grape? 80s? 90s? Scarlett is grinning at me. I’m fucked. Am I older than Michael? Got to be. Jennifer comes in “He-e-e-ere’s Johnny!” Scarlett’s looking quizzical. I’m fucked.

19/05/15 “Johnny,” said Richard as he expertly went along the road. “I was recently trying to move a filing cabinet. It slipped from my grasp and crushed my toe. The nail detached but is now regrowing. As I was putting my socks on this morning in Snetterton I glanced at the toe and…” Richard hesitated. “I feel embarrassed to say this.” “Go right ahead,” I urged. Richard said “Do you know Sheridan Smith? The actress?” I shook my head, “Is she good?” “Oh certainly,” he affirmed, “but when I glanced at my toe I thought of Sheridan Smith.” I asked “She looks like a toe?” “God no. Lovely looking woman. But I thought of her.” I nodded slowly. “I know people who would envy this, Richard.” He turned “Really? Is it good?” I replied “It’s terrific.”

20/05/15 Richard Ostend, emotionally fatigued after his outburst on the A14 took the vagabond film star Johnny Depp for a coffee in Bury St Edmunds, a market town in England’s Suffolk area. Richard chose a restaurant chain in Auction Street. As Johnny Depp examined the laminated menu he found himself suffused with a troublesome sensation of recognition. His eyes misted over as a mysterious but profound sadness overtook him.

21/04/15 So from above looking down people are respectfully encircling Johnny’s table in the chain restaurant as he sits his wrists flat to the surface tears coursing down his face. “Was it Sheridan?” Richard asks softly. Johnny shakes his head. Two truck drivers step forward not too close “We so like what you do,” they whisper. Johnny nods distractedly. A girl asks her mother “Who is that Mum?” She bends to the girl’s ear “That’s Johnny Depp darling from Nights of the Black Caribbean.” The girl pushes her way through the crowd now some thirty strong watching. Gently she puts her hand on top of Johnny’s hand. “I’m sorry you’re sad.” As one a family towards the back bite their lips and breathe in then out. The father looks up. “What is that music?” The air was filled with such magnificent music.

22/04/15 The restaurant manager suggested that the large crowd and Johnny go to the cricket pitch where Johnny could continue crying and people could watch. He set up an armchair and led Johnny to it. The people continued to be respectful, maintaining the social space measure common in the west, that is to say between 4 and 8 feet (for newly formed groups). Richard and the manager invited the people to write their questions on file cards which they distributed. Each card bore the legend ‘Johnny is Present’. Among those in attendance were visitors to Bury from the outlying villages of Little Saxham, Fornham St Genevieve and Cattishall.

23/05/15 For example Mr Butcher the baker, Ms Wheeler the walker, Mrs Baker the milliner, Jean Dexter the socialist, Jack Fitch the student, the nudist Ian Draper, Neville Carter the Formula One racing driver were there. It was a curious occasion but very human as the builder, Robert, observed. Towards the back the crowd was parting as a figure made forward. Eyes widened. “Is that Roy?” “Does he live round here?” “I think he moves from town to town.” “Who is Roy Mummy?” said the bright young girl. “He is a high-functioning psychopath darling.” “Does he gut people?” “Not all psychopaths gut people sweetheart. I’m not sure if Roy does or not. And the word is eviscerate.”

25/05/15 A silence held the place. The restaurant manager, Tom Spicer, walked over and put a plastic bucket of chocolates and toffees near Johnny’s chair, for anyone really. Some of the people were very quietly singing those lines from ‘Old MacDonald had a Farm’ – the title and the ee-aye ee-aye o bit – over and over. At the edge of the hedge at the side of the pitch a fox slipped the thicket and looked across. A baby cried once, possibly twice and way in the sky swooped a glider then soared to the sun. And now at the front Roy looked at Johnny quite hard to see clearly but that was the glare in our eyes.

26/05/15 Certainly Roy attracted lore. It was not that he was not the winds that passed through him. He is quoted, in fact, as saying “One thing I am fucking not is the wind that passes through me.” He hated that shit. No. He had his own impulses. Very much so. Nor was it that he didn’t get the codes. He said “I have them in my wardrobe. But it’s not all suits, yes?” There were times, he would say, when he would just step away. “Very few people know what I mean when I say that. Let me try to explain. We all love transparency, don’t we? We fucking love it, yes? Well, shall we just say, I’m walking through walls, all the time. No wardrobe. You should feel the wind out there, chummy.”

27/05/15 So who was more famous? I mean, Johnny we’d all say but why is there this story where in the Horn Dance that year a man with antlers and plain white underpants walked the other way through the deer-men shouting “Help my crops!”? It wasn’t a part of the dance. This man was not known personally but many recognised him. And now, if you please, as Roy walks out towards Johnny, why do the birds go up? It wasn’t the fox because there is no fox. And the bladder, was it a pig’s or what? These are things that you hear and the thoughts that you have.

28/05/15 David, masquerading as his double, Johnny Depp, had so far evaded detection by Scarlett, his consort or, to be fair, Johnny’s consort and as a result found himself in social situations with such film stars as Bradley, Carey, Jake, Jennifer, Michael, Noomi and Ryan in alphabetical order in Ryan’s place for example. Light-hearted banter featuring the ‘outing’ of people’s ages had begun and it looked strongly like David was fucked because although he had Googled everyone on Scarlett’s laptop he had omitted to look up his own age or, to be precise, Johnny’s. What a div! He was loath to be seen through by Scarlett, he enjoyed how she would pinch his hand lightly whilst talking to him but without seeming to notice that that was what she was doing. And little things like that.

29/05/15 “I’m 41,” I declared. Maybe that would do it. I looked over at Jennifer as if, you know, “Yeah?” She raised her eyebrows and turned to Scarlett suggesting with her face “Hmmm?” I chucked the bear Edith Clever, (which rhymes with favour) ever attendant, under the chin meaning to mean moving on without a care. Michael bent down his head and looked up under his brow to be like a judge. He clasped his hands together which was a good detail. “Had you figured for a 60s kid,” he said, nodding three times. I turned from the bear like I had been woken up from something. “This guy,” goes Scarlett, “this guy is 52 next Wednesday!” She presses my knuckles against her mouth. “Carey, your grandpa is here!” shouts Ryan.

Walking away from Ryan’s along a shopping street Scarlett and I did this thing where we put all the men on one side of the street and all the women on the other side and they could walk freely along in either direction. I can’t remember how it started. Obviously people knew who Scarlett was and when she went up to women – in a completely friendly way that being generally what she’s like – she’d say “Hi, would you like to cross the street with me?” and they would. She would talk to them mostly about the state of the world – how thoroughly fucked it was – and then she’d cross back again. Obviously people knew who I was – in the sense that they invested in my close physical resemblance to film star Johnny Depp – but I did not necessarily have access to his charisma.

But I was familiar with the hypno-therapeutic work of Milton Erickson (1901-1980) who maintained that everyday consciousness was a trance state that could be deepened with low-key hypnotic interventions. Erickson would chat casually with his patients, using phrases such as ‘taking it easy’, ‘going along with’ or ‘letting the matter drop’. These would impact on the unconscious of the patient, facilitating the changes that were being sought. I stepped into the crowd, which was, thanks to Scarlett’s diligence and charm, already largely male.

02/06/15 Recalling that Jerry Lewis, in ‘The Ladies’ Man’ (1961), wore his real-life wedding ring throughout the movie, thereby signalling that he was simultaneously a fictional (unmarried) character and Jerry Lewis, I resolved to draw not just on Johnny’s plus points but some of David’s social skills too. “Going to the other side of the street is taking it easy, no?” I suggested to a gentleman. “I’m sorry?” he replied. “Over there,” I gestured, “It’s not difficult to imagine.” Then I added “Is it?” The man said, unpleasantly, “Are you looking to get hurt, pal?” “No,” I said. And then I said “Thank you,” as David would have.

03/06/15 Scarlett’s side was dense with women but I had yet to extract a single man. Clearly there was something not quite right about my use of Erickson’s subtle and unobtrusive techniques. As I walked past Sports Direct I began going over his phrases in my mind. I must feel comfortable with them. I should let go of my frustration. This should not be difficult. It’s what I want. It would be a good feeling. To do this well would bring good feelings. It’s full of promise. It would be comfortable. I can let things go. I can fall away from this. My shoes are down there. The street is down there. I’m up here now. I

04/06/15 Roy strode through the murmuration swirling about his head they did not dive or joust just clouded around his head and as he steadily strode he searched his pocket and to a gasp and breath from those to hand as he drew upon the distraught loco Johnny he drew from the trousers a glinting thing and gripped it grimly a can a can of Red Bull an energy drink he slipped off Johnny’s moccasins and from the other pocket pulled a struggling hare he snapped it sharply and wetted it from the can and bent and with it bathed the feet of Johnny gently.

05/06/15 Roy the known psychopath brushed Johnny’s calves with the damp hare fur and the caffeine an accepted stimulant and the taurine from the bull sign in the zodiac above made their mark. The active liquid moved through the minute holes in Johnny’s skin and sank into his central nervous system causing alertness. His shuddering sobs soon subsided and his thoughts of Scarlett such sweet sorrow so hurtful to his heart as his eyes swam into focus on the bucket of toffees beside him. He rustled among them and extended one to Roy. Roy said “We purchase roots from the farmed earth but who among us can describe their tops?” From those to hand applause arose

07/06/15 Johnny said “Do you mean by that that we take much for granted in a world of corner store convenience?” Roy cocked his head to assess his questioner. “John, these titbits…” he gestured towards the bonbons, “are here to stop people sucking you. But I am liquid. I am good in the air. Were I to take off my shirt there would be no tattoos for I am not marked. I have no blood group. I am not a lava lamp. I am not milk. I have not come here just to kiss my sister. Fouled are those that follow me for they are muck.”

08/06/15 “What’s he on about?’ whispered Mr Cook the dietician. “I think he may have a background in football,” said Miss Cross the Yoga teacher, “The shirt, being good in the air…” “Oh,” said Ian Glazer the tiler, “I had him as a chocolatier – the titbits, the bonbons, the sucking.” “No,” chimed in the poulterer Madeline Fisher, “He is clearly at home on the farm – the fowl, the muck.” “I think you’ll find that was ‘foul’,” corrected Miss Wright. “Why did he come here to kiss his sister? You can do that in your house. Or her house,” mused a guy carrying a barrel. “That was his point, surely!” snapped a dilettante.

09/06/15 And so it was decided. Johnny, diverted from his melancholy by Roy’s gritty if elusive philosophy of life also, surprisingly, Richard Ostend, who saw in Roy the father he never had, resolved to invite the deranged but, it must be said, currently manageable homeless yet well groomed man to travel with them. A number of those to hand now stepped forward to grasp Roy and demonstrate their gratitude. Some gave small but thoughtful gifts – a number of ham sandwiches, a map, 100 millilitres of Jo Malone cologne (which Roy, to the startlement of the donor, and with some difficulty, opened then drank, exclaiming “Pokey! Not sure about the bouquet however!”), a mouth organ.

11/06/15 The presence of Roy in the 4×4 was invigorating. As he had been on the green so was he in the cruiser – resolute before a sickly wind that swept up all that was mould, gewgaw and disarray, reeking with the sweat of mangoes, the dung of lizards and the bright baubles of comfort. Roy, Johnny, Richard at the wheel, passed through this churn of light and clatter and it streamed around Roy’s head and in his wake was all this stuff made fresh, clear, edged, you could tell the sheep from the goats. There was a time and place for everything.

12/05/15 “Roy,” asked Richard, “How do you do that?” Richard, Johnny realised, was one of those who would enquire where others fear to tread. Attractive, if you can do it. Roy said “Certainly we can clean surfaces, removing clutter and obliging ourselves thereby to consider that which is beneath.” “Right,” Johnny interjected “Like when I was preparing for Captain Jack Black in ‘Hello Lagoon’.” Roy ignored him. “So consoling,” continued Roy to Richard, “the notion of the healing power of the submerged. But all that is beneath is wounded. Were it not, for what reason would it be concealed? We remove the world and the submerged becomes the terrain. The weekend begins here.”

13/06/15 “Roy,” Johnny asked, “Is this like a Freudian thing? The depth thing?” As the 4×4 sped south on the A134 through Bradfield Combust, Roy turned “When one passes the night with rough and ragged moss, with many unhappy birds on bare branches that pipe piteously there for pain of the cold, one is not so au courant with the world of the paperback. But in the high streets below those dank woods I have heard snippets. Subtract the implicit optimism, the disdain for those already equipped with clarity and the preoccupation with making whole the hole and we might have a deal.” He said. Richard said “Where would you like to go?” Roy said “I want to go to London to launch my own fashion range.”

14/06/15 “What a marvellous idea, Roy!” Richard remarks. “There will be an emphasis on all-weather daywear, realised in tweeds and merino mixes you cannot fuck with,” explains the short-fused psychic timebomb. Johnny leans forward, “I love it,” he goes, “What you gonna call it, Roy?” “Roy,” went Roy. “Roy?” Richard goes. “What?” asks Roy. “What you gonna call the line, Roy?” Johnny rephrases. “Yes,” Roy goes. “That’s the name of the line: ‘Roy’,” Richard helpfully goes. “Quite,” comes back Roy with uncharacteristic patience. “I can see it,” Johnny nods. “And maybe a dash or something then one more thing” Richard muses. “’Roy – There Is No Magic’,” supplies Roy. “Top notch!” acclaims Richard.

15/06/15 Then it was a question of discussing Roy’s fragrance line. “It will correspond with the various aromas that arise as I traverse the fundamentally unsocialised yet non-stratified terrain of my being,” Roy explained. “Many of them will be mineral, some having complex chemistry. Ideally they would be scraped or wiped from my skin but I need to shift bulk rather than exquisite droplets.” As for the naming he itemised his thinking so far: The Body of Roy; Le Corps du Roy (Fr); I Exude; Service; The Pungence; I May; Brunt; Mister Jazz Evening; My Nature; The Father; Lilies of the Felt; Newmarket; Toby; Désespoir; Sulphides by Roy; Cleft; On.

“Richard, can we do a hundred miles an hour, please?” Roy asked. Off they went. Soon the policeman said “Can I see your licence?” Roy asked the officer if he and Roy could discuss the situation at some remove from the 4×4. Basically Roy said okay we’re bang to rights but I know you are relaxed with the smooth flow and the air as it wraps around the vehicle cushioning it and making it so easy to stream and to get to the place where there is no hurry, no hurry at all. Roy got back in the 4×4. “Let’s go,” he said. Johnny looked back, “Is that guy zonked or what?” Roy said “He’ll be alright.” Richard asked “Does it wear off?” Roy replied “I’ve no idea.”

17/06/15 I could hear everything but it had become a soft roar with just the odd low or high note. The shops were more or less there too but slightly dark and not sharp enough. I seemed to be moving along without too much trouble though, despite the fact that my feet were not actually touching the ground. Or maybe the ground was very soft like eiderdowns. None of this was especially unsettling but I was aware that I had something important to do. Which was to find Keira. She was on the other side when I last saw her. So maybe I should cross over. I wouldn’t want to lose her. She was wearing a red dress, which would help.

On the other side I saw a number of women and I bumped them lightly in passing. They tended to be slightly softer by which I mean my arm would sink in about an inch before the bump as if they were padded. But it was summer so I suppose that was an effect. “Do you happen to have seen Keira?” I asked several. They each said “No, I’m sure I would have noticed.” A police constable said “What, that Keira?” and I said “Are there others?” to which he replied “Well, probably.” Then he asked “Are you romantically linked, sir?” I said “Yes. She has a red dress.” He said “We like red, do we?” I said “Yes I do like red. Yes I do.” And I did.

The darkness didn’t help, I have to admit. Around me the others appeared to be getting along well enough so I continued to thread my way down the women’s side, looking ceaselessly about me. It occurred to me that if Keira too was struggling with the low light, she might have gone into a brightly lit cafeteria. I made my way past the perfume counters with their smart young sales assistants and was soon at the very top of the building. Keira was seated with a macchiato, her coat tossed on the banquette beside her. She leaned forward and squeezed my hand. “I knew you’d come,” she smiled.

20/06/15 “Where did you get to?” she said. “Oh, it was just kind of dark,” I said. “Where?” “In the street,” I said. She glanced towards one of the big windows overlooking the street then shook her head and grinned at me, “What?” “It slowed me down,” I said. Then I said “Isn’t it quiet in here?” Keira said “You like quiet, don’t you?” “Yes, I do. I do like quiet,” I said then I stopped talking. I just didn’t want to talk anymore. “What are you thinking?” Keira asked me. “I’m being quiet,” I said, “In my mind as well as out here. Both.” “That’s because you’re deep, Johnny.” “Yes, I am deep. I like to be deep,” I replied. She giggled again.

21/06/15 “Will you look at that!” exclaimed Keira. “Yes,” I said, “I will.” “Isn’t that extraordinary? She’s just like her!” I looked around. The waitress was coming towards us. Keira said to her “I’m not going to say it. I bet everyone says it, don’t they?” The waitress said “They say it a lot.” Keira clapped her hands “And you have the accent!” The waitress said “Actually I’m Swedish. And she is Danish. Her Dad is Danish. Her Mum is from New York.” “Fantastic!” said Keira. “You could do her job!” “Well,” said the waitress, “They have one, I don’t think they want another one.” “I suppose not,” said Keira. “Can I get you something more?” the waitress said. “Not for me, thank you. You don’t want anything, do you, Johnny?” “I don’t want anything,” I said.

22/06/15 “You’re looking sort of cloudy,” she said cheerfully. “It’s like I’m in a corridor,” I replied. “You should walk to the end of it and see what’s there,” she suggested. I was familiar with the work of the anthropologist Kilton Stewart (1902 -1965) who, in a paper on the dream life of the Senoi of the central mainland of Malaysia, described a psychological technique practised in that group wherein if a child had a dream of falling and woke up to avoid hitting the ground he would be encouraged by the elders to fall all the way next time, in order to see what he might discover there. Keira clearly had something of the same wisdom; I got up and started to make my way across the cafeteria.

25/06/15 The little hands popping out of the walls were not children’s hands they were just small. Each time they managed to touch me I saw moments of light and these lit the way along. There were all sorts of things I could see. Some made no sense at all. kemo? fudge pipe? There was my home town, everybodyleaningout of windowswaving. my most respected bicycleet. All the fun of it. What did I just tell you? diamond dandy dinmont and the cut grass. This was all very well. Better than TV I suppose. We’ll have johnny on the left side: here. And we’ll put david on the right side; that’s right. They are coming out together, hands in the air. Nice and steady.

26/06/15 Oh dear, Keira thought. What is it with him? As Johnny shuffled towards the window he was raising his hands in the air and glancing shiftily hither and thither. Are we supposed to take this seriously? she wondered. The cafeteria was still empty. She jumped to her feet, sprinted the length of the room then, drawing on skills she hadn’t used since school, slammed her shoulder into Johnny at waist height, bringing him down in an instant. She tickled him mercilessly, shrieking as they rolled over and over. “He’s after my bike!” he yelled. “Why are you speaking in an English accent?” she panted. “In fact,” Johnny gasped “It was actually a trike!”

27/06/15 I pulled myself together. I realised that I was no longer host to the parasitic mindworm that was the film star Johnny Depp. And I was relaxed about my strong resemblance to him. It might be thought that if all this was so clear to me, why did I not simply secede from the masquerade that was Johnny and Keira? But reader, hey: was I not enjoying the tremendous company of one who so invigoratingly combined pale delicacy with great robustness of spirit? Come on! Assuming the American accent that was expected, I said “It’s a script I’m reading. You know.” Keira asked “What’s the character?” I said “He’s called David. But that could change.”

28/06/15 We made our way into the full sunlight of Kensington High Street a part of London. “So what’s he like?” she asked me. “Well,” I mused “He’s kind of quiet. Yeah.” “What class?” she asked. “Just a middle class guy.” Then I had a better one, “A salesman.” Keira said “So that’s quite interesting. What accent would that be? More lower middle? Where’s it set?” Blimey. “I’m just looking it over. They don’t even know I’m reading it.” “Still,” she said “Try something and I’ll give you my valuable opinion. Give me your David.”

The sudden requirement to deliver a professional impersonation of David via my ongoing enactment of Johnny which was itself, of course, a mere charade, teetered on the outer limits of practicality. The possibility of offering a version of David that was simply a full reversion to actual David might seem an obvious solution but were I simply to revert in this manner I would run the risk of becoming alarmingly and suspiciously credible to Keira in a way that would compromise my dalliance with her.

01/07/15 DOUBLE SUMMER BULLETIN Part 2 Keira would expect the legendarily versatile Johnny to construct a more than passable characterisation but it would not be based upon David because Johnny’s experience of David was fleeting at best. The challenge, then, was to present David as Johnny might have conceived him, based on Johnny’s perfunctory reading of a (non-existent) screenplay. Using David as a source of authentic material was beside the point. But given my limited skills it would be odd if I were not to draw upon my lifetime as this person. You could argue that Keira would be satisfied with anything that was believable but while Johnny had the technical wherewithal to compose such a persona, I didn’t.

02/07/15 I must apologise to my readers. I have grossly complexified a situation that did not merit the frankly baroque level of attention I gave it. Obviously Keira knew nothing of David and it was self-centred of me to suggest that she might. I could say anything I liked in any accent I liked and she would be free to offer criticism. I’m sure famous film stars do this all the time. Anyway I’ll leave them to it. Let’s move on. You’ll never fucking believe what Roy just did.

03/07/15 Yeah, Roy just ate the koala bear Edith Clever. Johnny’s bear. Just fucking ate her. While Johnny was dozing. Richard goes “Roy, don’t you think…” Roy puts his hand on Richard’s knee. “Richard, please. You’re a good man, you have various qualities. But I’ve heard this shit. I heard it way back ago.” Richard, still on it, goes “What’s Johnny going to say when…” “Listen,” goes Roy, “You know when you’re in Borneo or some fucking place and a skinny ill looking European steps out of the dark no shirt with shorts held up with string no shoes. He doesn’t tell you shit. He has a bowl of rice then fucks off back into the dark. Are you going to think about it? Why would you think about it? What are you going to learn? Be empty Richard. It makes time fly.”

05/07/15 Johnny wakes up and is like “Roy, you’ve got hair all down your face and shirt. What is that?” Roy says “You can’t digest them. You might want to but you can’t.” “Where’s Edith?” Johnny enquires. “I don’t see her.” “She’s not here,” Richard sums up. “Roy ate her.” Johnny electrified leans right forward into between Richard and Roy. “You’re dicking me!” he declares. “What did she taste like?” This really pisses Roy off. “What do you mean like? Why should she taste like anything? Was she like duck with notes of carp? Was she teasingly reminiscent of young horse marinaded in shrike fat? Fuck like! Like is for losers, John! Like is for systems! There are no systems!” Johnny looking tired says “Yeah. I get it. You ate my fucking bear, Roy.”

07/07/15 Roy said to park the car by this cornfield near Alpheton in the Suffolk area so Richard did and they all got out, Johnny sulking because of his eaten bear but Roy and Richard walking through the cropside cornflowers, corncockle, corn chamomile whatever. Suddenly whoosh! and a whir and outflew two quail at speed and Richard just breaks into a sprint and he’s making these grunts like Maria Shaparova and he closes on a quail and leaps up and catches it in his mouth and crunch it’s dead. Roy says “Here, Richard, here!” and Richard runs over and drops the quail at Roy’s feet. Even Johnny the sulk is moved to say “Cool, Richard!” then Roy says “We all know about poultry but what about machine parts?” and starts walking back to the 4×4.

08/07/15 Roy told Johnny and Richard that cows have 25 thousand taste buds per tongue while humans have only 8-10 thousand. “Are they tasting things we will never know?” he wonders to the men. “If we are to come closer to the beasts of the field – fucked if I know why we would but it’s a thought – then we must allow ourselves to move beyond the petty confines of the major food groups.” He opens the bonnet of the 4×4 and lowers his head towards the warm engine. “Excellent!” he cries, “Room temperature!”

09/07/15 Basically Roy was anxious to demonstrate to his companions that their palettes and, by extension, their entire sensoria and thus the dimensions of their being in the world were needlessly restricted and urgently required exposure to the transforming sensations that lay beyond the savouring of humdrum nutrients. He lowered his head deep into the engine cavity and ran his tongue lingeringly over an oily and odorous section of engine casing. Even after years of extreme licking he was still subject to intense and irresistible shudders, involuntary shrill vocalisations and alarming rotary nystagmus featuring rapid circular movements of the eyeballs in their sockets. Thus enwrapped he motioned to Johnny. The intention was clear.

10/07/15 Rapt, Roy, reeling, raised his ecstatic head to Johnny Depp of ‘Pirate Plenitude’ [12]. “John. Johnny,” he croaked, “Dip your stick, feller.” Johnny licked his lips, more nerves than relish, grasped the rim of the well and found a screw on the side of a knot of pipes and pumps. Roy nodded his approval. “Take it out.” Johnny popped the slick stub in his uncertain gob. The magnesium really did it. Intensely bitter, causing a consternation of the salivary glands which caused his back teeth to screech and grind the fierce chemical ricocheted through nerve pathways neglected since the days when people used to tongue their swords clean of blood and guts. Johnny didn’t see it like that, of course, he just said “Will I die?” and Roy said “It’s an upgrade.”

13/07/15 Before he dismantled the exhaust system in order to felch the tailpipe, two things happened to Richard. Roy said remember Richard this is not sexual and the other thing was that Richard, as he lay spasming among the vetch and scabious, rang the AA. The AA man, surveying the countless engine parts strewn around the flattened and oil-soaked corn, asked “That bloke that looks like Johnny Depp, why is his mouth full of earth?” Richard, usually quite the diplomat, had found that he could get some relief from the incessant gunshot noises in his skull if he started barking and was, in consequence, loath to desist. The AA man, who had confirmed that Richard was a member of the motoring organisation, said “That’s all right, sir. You take your time.”

14/07/15 The big thing, the AA man (Christopher) thought, was whether the situation should be regarded as automotive or medical. He had searched the corn carefully and concluded that several key pieces of car were nowhere to be found. So he winched the 4×4 onto the recovery trailer and ushered the three men into the passenger cab. The man with soil in his mouth sat in line with the mirror and Christopher could see thick streaks of what looked like white lithium grease on his shirt and in his hair. Suggesting that the man had, for whatever reason, crawled under the vehicle. Christopher’s brother-in-law had bipolar disorder and was supposed to take lithium to calm him down. But that was in capsule form. Surely this gagging, trembling zombie hadn’t confused the two?

15/07/15 Rolls Eyes looks up at sky. Clouds fly by. Rolls Eyes shakes like tree. “Christopher,” speaks Barks Like Dog, “Can you understand what I say?” “No,” Christopher just says to him “No. Can’t understand what you say, Barks Like Dog.” So Carries Soil in Mouth speaks but spills earth on earth. Rolls Eyes speaks to Carries Soil in Mouth “No John do not speak, do not spill earth.” Carries Soil in Mouth opens his mouth. It’s full of soil. You can see roots and creatures. “All things in his mouth,” says Rolls Eyes, “He is world child now.” “Aah!” cries Barks Like Dog, “Aah! He has eaten the world now he is Great Father as well as world child.” Christopher drives now. Three brave men sit with him. Under great sky. Going along.

16/07/15 And so Christopher, a good and kindly man, the rescuer of vehicles, took with him withal Roy the wild of gaze, Richard open of heart and John the bringer of great renewal and they came to J & L Motors and Leonard, the L of the concern, stated his regretful view that he had very few of the requisite parts and so must order them from Ipswich wherefrom they would arrive in at most three days and Roy, who saw the several stacked sacks of insecticide beside the coal and kindling said that they would make camp as night was nigh then good Christopher said my work for you is done and he vanished as in a puff.

18/07/15 As they lay in the lee of the lumber the dark had closed upon them yet there was little stillness for the nightsoil undulated as it streamed from John’s mouth and the waxy grubs the pale-pulsed eggs the aphids and the chittering ticks seethed over his chest. Surrendering a known and measured metabolism for something quite unearthly he shivered and as he did caused Roy, swathed in organophosphate fumes that mouldered through his motor centres, to swerve awake catch sight of John and mutter “My god, it’s full of stars!”

20/07/15 Johnny had barfed the badness of an obsolete value system onto his chest whence these contents had scampered off to get under stones where they felt more at home. As dawn broke Richard’s head stopped banging off and all that he saw was bathed in acetylene light, too bright for the eyes he used to have but now he could gaze unblinking into the sun for as long as he felt like it if he felt like it, no worries. Roy suddenly snapped his fingers and exclaimed “Brunt!” Then he added “By Roy.” After which he said “Ozonic.” “O what?” Johnny enquires. Roy explains “After the storm: the air.” Then he added “It’s all chemical.” Then, to himself, again “Brunt. By Roy.”

21/07/15 On the third morning packages came from Ipswich and their contents were entered into the car. Roy, who had no driving experience, picked up the basics and they headed off at a hundred miles per hour. Going along, Roy laid out his sense of the situation as it pertained. “Through a process of radical metabolic realignment we have thrown off structures of constraint that have confounded our species for millennia. In short, we have erased the unconscious. Using assaultive oral applications of hand-picked toxins we have dismantled neurochemical matrices that constituted what, with some understatement, we may refer to as a filter system. No longer will our foundational energies be obliged to communicate by obscure if at times poetic means. It is the end of art. It is the end of depth.”

The idea was that once in London Roy would seek venture capital for the launch of Brunt by Roy, a fragrance for Men & Women Who Are Prevalent. The blend comprises notes of musk, civet and ambergris which, initially at least, veil the unconventional elements in the accord. (The accord is a balanced blend of notes which lose their individual identity to create a completely new, unified odor impression.) The noxious or, as Roy would argue, radically transformative components in the fragrance would not be experienced as aromatically offensive consequently the absorption of the fine spray by the soft tissue of the mucous membrane would be unimpeded.

23/07/15 Obviously the only person that can stop the known high-functioning psychopath Roy from dispersing his mind-mangling fragrance far and wide and thereby loosing the discontents of our very lives upon us is David for at least he, by what can only be a fortuity of genetics actually looks closely like the even more well known Johnny Depp to the point where people go “Johnny! Wow! I really like what you do” at him in the street which gives him an edge in this particular situation because Johnny himself is – depending on your stance here – either a fucked and cancelled headcase or, Roy would contend, the ambassador for The New Behaviour.

26/07/15 David, regarded as Johnny by Keira, and Keira were walking hand in hand near the high bit in Notting Hill an area of London. David had been deep in thought but then he turned to Keira and said “I believe that stars such as ourselves who in our work present strong effective and dependable qualities are capable of applying these qualities in real life thereby eliminating the middle person.” They turned to the east, in the direction of Oxford Street. Keira then turned to the west out beyond Westfield a mall to the plains. I too turned. Keira tensed. She said “What’s that coming over the hill?” I replied “It is dark. We may be needed.”

27/07/15 And so, Readers, just at the point where Pampas is set aside until late August, some heavy shit is in the air. Will David and Keira be able to keep Roy out of Oxford Street? Will the toxified Johnny, the enchanted Richard and the compromised David-as-Johnny as distinct from the actual David, in their various states of possession and impersonation, be of any importance in the struggle to neutralise The New Behaviour? Or are these vaunted manners simply a less inhibited way of handling historically unprecedented conditions? Hey.

Pampas Season 2: part 1

2.1 Kind of quiet in the Edgware Road. Johnny Depp is on the hubbly bubbly but Roy has an American Spirit Black Pack Perique blend filter that he requested from a tourist. Richard has a snus portion under his upper lip. When he spits, Johnny says “You don’t have to spit. That’s the point. The Swedes don’t spit.” Roy nods wryly as if yeah what Swedes ever spit? Roy has this look at the moment: a tee shirt that says ‘I Forgot My Hot Pants’ and a picture of some denim hot pants with sequins. Under a pin stripe jacket. Johnny, largely with kind of a Bedouin thing, nevertheless has a tee shirt ‘Sublevel Yachting’. Roy sees a dog, says “Ah!”, leans over and stubs his cigarette out on its arse. The actual hole. Fucking mayhem.

2.2 The lady who had the dog swung the hubbly bubbly at Johnny’s head at which point of contact it smashed and propelled him onto the pavement he was spark out even as he flew in the air face down. She took the jagged base and went for Roy’s neck but he was rising to his feet and caught it on the shoulder she reared back and kicked his chest with her heels but he caught her ankle and flipped her over she landed on her back on Johnny’s back the dog went fucking nuts and clamped onto Richard’s leg but he did a massive punt and it went vertically up and as it came down later Roy blood all down his look grabbed its ears and swung it so hard the ears came off in his hands. He put them in his breast pocket and pointed at them. He said “My hanky.” And yeah it was a striking effect.

2.3 There was some concern about Johnny’s cheeks. He had broken the fall through the air with them. Richard had rolled him over and it was certainly the case that they (the cheeks) were now the site of contusions that enlarged even as you stood. Roy’s position was “It’s not what you look like” but Richard’s was “It’s what you look like.” Then Richard pointed out “I can’t see him fronting in Selfridge’s, Roy.” Roy took a bread roll that had rolled from its basket during the scuffle and broke it in half. He then surprised Richard with a joke, something the latter had not expected from one more at home among larches. Roy said “It’s a thing of two halves.” Richard held Johnny’s mouth open and Roy pushed a roll half, with its convexity outermost, into the space between the 52 year old film star’s upper right 8,7,6 and the flesh below his zygomatic bone and between upper left 6,7,8 and the flesh below his zygomatic bone on that side.

2.4 “Where’s his turban?” Roy said. “I don’t think it’s a turban,” Richard said. “The head thing. Where did it go?” Roy continued. “It’s under that car,” Richard indicated. “Leave it. He looks better, yes?” Roy went. “The cheeks look a bit low,” mused Richard. “Only if you know him,” Roy went. “People do, though,” Richard remarked. A lady came over. “Is that Roy?” she opened. “Ruth,” goes Roy, “How is Mrs Atkinson?” Ruth says “She is as well as can be expected. She lost some clothing on a train and more recently her son was murdered.” Roy responds “Mrs Atkinson’s son was not of the highest cut, to be frank.” “Have you hurt yourself, Roy?” she notices. “Blood of dog,” he says. “That could be a fragrance,” Richard says. “More of a wine,” Roy says. “I think so,” goes Ruth.

2.5 Ruth took Johnny’s feet while Roy and Richard took the heavy end. They got him into the 4×4 where Roy took a couple of minutes reshaping his (Johnny’s) cheeks with small pinches. Then Roy drove to a lady’s clothier up the road with skirts and cardigans and similar things where he asked the assistant to show Ruth some skirts. She got a pleated one like a kilt in different colours and a cardigan in lavender. Plus some brogued walking shoes but the holes don’t go right through. Then in Church Street a street off where they were they got a denim jacket like Lee or one of those. Richard said “It’s a shit look, Roy.” Ruth said “Well, it will cover many situations.” And Roy said “See, Richard? Shut the fuck up.”

2.6 Richard ruminated what does Roy know about Ruth? Settled among spruce, sleeping in seclusion, with whom would he wind up? How had he honed, who had he wooed? Ruth pulled another macaron from her rucksack. “Richard said you stuck a fag up a dog’s shitter, Roy.” “So I gather,” Roy shrugged. Richard goes “Actually Ruth, your look, it really works with that macaroon. I was hasty.” “Aron,” Ruth commented. “Where do you, you know, come from?” Richard directly asked. “Weakling,” she said. “Near Crowborough,” Richard said, “Sussex.” Ruth nodded very slightly. “Do you find,” ventured Richard, “despite yourself, that we tend to become like names that a) have long limned our pasts and b) are susceptible to such an operation, I mean you could hardly expect that of North Challey, for example.” Ruth replied As a matter of fact no.

2.7 Roy folded down the three seats in the 4×4 and rolled Johnny towards the hatch back. He then invited Ruth to go and lie on the floor with him, next to Johnny. Richard sat in the front looking at the street. Roy and Ruth rose and fell energetically and Richard felt himself flooded with ancient memories. Once again pistol shots rang out in his head and he could not stop them. And he could not stop the pain that flared around each shot. The street darkened and Richard went blind. He touched his eyes and then he reached out to feel the glass before him. He sat in the dark although it was not exactly dark it was nothing.

2.8 When the vehicle was quiet again Richard said “Please excuse me Ruth and Roy but I cannot see.” Roy said “We’ll see about that,” glancing at Ruth for acknowledgment of his swift wordplay. He took the blind Richard by the hand and led him down the road in the Marble Arch a monument direction. “Among us prowl the reptiles, Richard, their skin rife with light-sensitive proteins. For millennia the mammals have have suppressed this knowledge in order to deflect criticism of the vulgar binocular system. Take a leaf from the gecko and the sublevel cuttlefish, use the skin of the head, wear shorts that you may savour the vision that flows from the flanks. See the world anew with your neck.” He led Richard to the middle of the road and walked back without him to the 4×4 with pale Johnny in it and Ruth.

2.9 Fucking Richard man. He’s what 100 yards from where Edgware Road hits the park so we’re talking major traffic coming through and he’s holding up his arms out with the palms out moving them around people are swerving and yelling then he drops back his head so his neck is pointing to the sky and he shouts “I see through my throat! I see through my throat!” and runs towards the park right into the oncoming and he’s dodging and they’re careening and you wonder How does he do this? It’s a matter of time before he’s dogmeat but then he spins round, heads for the pavement and he’s running along away from the park and there are some guys with hubbly bubblies and he’s got his head so far back the scalp is practically between his shoulder blades and he goes “Hey! Guys! Hello!” and some of them are clapping and saying “Hello how are you?”

2.10 “Take it round the park,” Roy says. Richard pulls off his shirt and vest in order to optimise neck and shoulder vision. At first with dermally distributed visuality you can’t process the inputs – the brain can’t stitch them together from so many perspectives. Entomologists have stated that young flies also have this problem. Ruth is intrigued by his head lolling over the back of the driving seat – his eyes, were they not defunct, would be peering at her chest. His throat is taut and he has pushed the seat almost up to the steering wheel. “I’ll just check Johnny,” he says, raising his left hand to the roof of the 4×4 so that with a twist of the palm he may periscopically survey the rear area and its insensible resident. “Still still,” he reports. “Anyway, Rockahula,” he says and takes off down Park Lane a rich road.

2.11 He does well. Takes it at a fair clip, mind you it’s pretty much like a short strip of motorway along there, using his hands in all these increasingly snakey moves, it’s like rear view mirrors but on all sides (he has one hand through the sunroof) but it isn’t because with a mirror you look in it but with this his hand is looking you don’t need anything more. “I’m getting into it, I’m getting into it,” he declares and he’s whipping in and out past the shit statues and Ruth says to Roy “This is quite exciting” and Roy says back “I can see you like it” and Ruth says “Can you see what I’m doing?” and suddenly Richard’s skin goes off, just when it was so good it just goes off and Ruth looks down and sees his eyes go on and she shouts “He’s looking at my chest!” and in that dark gap Richard mounts the pavement.

2.12 “The Arab man is comatose yet shows no impacts other than facial contusions and minor abrasion. Possibly he was asleep at the moment of collision and failed to use his arms protectively,” said the good looking young Dr Peter Grant, “but he did have bread in his mouth which he must have been chewing.” “I don’t think he’s an Arab, doctor, “ said auburn haired young nurse Penny Arnold, “his trousers are roomily tailored but otherwise the indications are European or American.” Dr Peter Grant looked at the efficient young nurse with his hazel eyes. “I’m not happy with verbal and motor responses. We’ll go straight to imaging for subdural haematoma.” “Right away, Dr Grant,” said the pretty young professional.

2.13 Roy was in the finals of a Shaving Competition with five other men who had not shaved for two days. They would sprint through a cornfield to a roar from gathered men and women who understood shaving and supported the Shaving Group’s waiving of the No Cut rule, which disqualified contestants who drew blood, however modestly, in the course of the high speed challenge. At the far side of the field were the shaving stations, each bearing a disposable razor, an aerosol of unscented foam and a small bowl of warm water. Roy enjoyed the No Cut Waiver because he had mastered the Single Sweep, wherein the shaver describes a series of unpunctuated undulating crescents across his face and neck regardless of nicks and gouges. But to his horror he could not move his hands.

2.14 And who should Ruth see in that bare corridor but Anne of Austria. “Who are you with?” Ruth asked. “I am with Hildegard of Halifax and the Lady Jean of Jarrow.” “Will you dance when you get to where you’re going?” Ruth asked. “We will dance all the way there,” said Anne in a deep metallic voice and the three royal women began to spin and as they spun they spat. Then comes Louis the Eleventh and he does some neat capers involving small jumps and tiny turns with the toes just so and Ruth says “That shit is so cool” but she can’t hear herself speak because now they are being abrupt with each other like those air guns for wheel nuts vootvootvoot and Louis the Eleventh he just barrels down through the floor and he’s gone and Ruth asks someone “I’m so thirsty” and they say “I’m afraid we can’t give you any liquid yet.”

2.15 “Hold!” cried Sir Aquitaine. And the retinue came to rest. As they looked down from the brow to Sir Richard Quatrefoil resplendent. “Sir Gules de Blazon!” mocked Sir Aquitaine, employing the heraldic terms most appropriate to the flayed breast of the perfect gentle fellow. For pure Sir Richard’s breast was sorely striped like he’d been fed through a barbecue or something. Not to mention pocked. With glass mostly. As you might expect when effectively shot through a shield darkly. Now pitiless Aquitaine flanked by Sir Gauvain and his beast the carp Perlesvaus, filled with christian bale, harsh gutturance and lance arm strong, did bear down upon Sir Richard swiftly and with one thrust to that much cut front folded him into night.

2.16 We know from EEG that persons in coma are not brain dead. The comatose have brain activity, they are not flatliners. Their brains respond to stimuli by emitting an electrical impulse. But if Johnny were in deep coma they would not let him go home. If he were in a vegetative state, with modest reflexes and sleep-wake cycles, he could go home. But you wonder now if he thinks or sees pictures in this place beneath the sea. There is no way of telling. Is it a thought if there is no thinker? If there is no thinker then are there pictures floating down there and what are they of? Are they of things that we never see anyway even when we have the full box of waves?

2.17 Keira and I agreed that we had a sense of foreboding. As if a loathsome vapour or malodour were closing down the sky. “Perhaps we do need stars of the screen, Johnny,” said Keira, alluding to my suggestion (see Season 1:26/07/15) that actors should fully extend the scope of their impersonations so that they might step into everyday life and apply their strengths there rather than on the screen where people know it’s acting. “I suppose,” she continued, “there could be problems with getting carried away.” “In a sense that is collateral damage,” I opined. “In the world of entertainment we see many professionals, take Matthew McConaughey for example, who achieve remarkable verisimilitude. Such protean figures must, at this tipping point in the story of civilisation, make the transition.”

2.18 Keira, as game as ever, was convinced. She undertook to take on the character of Brogan, the feisty figure from the acclaimed film Brogan. In the film, Keira, as Brogan that is, confronted with a succession of dilemmas, coped confidently and showed depths that had not previously been apparent. Her love life was complex insofar as she found men generally unsatisfactory yet the film required her gradually to become enamoured of the character of John. When John became enfeebled by disease, Brogan was compelled to leave the United Kingdom for unrelated reasons yet succeeded in keeping in touch with John with email.

2.19 Just two days later Keira had gone. I was so sad. I knew that I would miss her dreadfully. For much of her life she had been feted as one of the beauties of her generation. She had a tremendous openness and spent much of her time in a state of delight. As she faded away I held her hand, her features softened and her breath grew light. “Can you remember when you knocked me over in the café?” I whispered. “No need to whisper,” Brogan said, “I’m not the nervous type.” “Hey, Brogan! What’s new?” I said. “Who are you?” she asked, matter of factly.

2.20 I suddenly glimpsed an unexpected possibility. Brogan did not know who I was, nor did she see, as others did, my close physical resemblance to film star Johnny Depp (‘The Lone Ranger’ dir Gore Verbinski. (2013)). “David,” I replied, and instantly felt a wave of relief followed by a considerable loosening of my joints. “Okay, David,” Brogan said. “Where did Harry go after dropping Amy off after their dinner at Paul’s?” She had me there. As I pondered this unanswerable enquiry, Brogan began pacing to and fro, from time to time glancing out of the window of the flat. I began to see that I was not the sort of companion who might assuage her restlessness.

2.21 Brogan, I’m afraid I don’t know Harry, Amy or Paul,” I said to Brogan. She turned from the window and looked firmly at me. “David, because I have had largely unsatisfactory relationships in one way or another, both intimately also with friends and acquaintances, such as with John who has, I must confess, faded in my mind of late, I tend to focus my energies on the travails of others. This should not be seen as somehow explaining my activities – I have skills and they are, I can say this, successfully applied. I can cut to the heart of the matter. I am driven, if you like, but I have found in life what I can do well and it pleases me.” I felt warmth towards Brogan. “Yes, Brogan, I see that,” I said.

2.22 It was clear that Brogan was feeling cooped up. We went for a walk in the neighbourhood. She moved quickly through the knots of passersby, sometimes pausing to scrutinise individuals who, for reasons that were not apparent, caught her attention. As we passed The Amount of Beer a young woman seated with friends at a streetside table looked up and smiled broadly. “Brogan! Wow!” she cried. Her friends seemed similarly delighted. The young woman was scanning the street beyond Brogan. “Are you doing another one?” she asked. Brogan replied “Are you a friend of Amy’s?” “Er…no?” said the young woman. “I’m looking for Amy,” said Brogan. “With Johnny?” the young woman said, looking at me. Brogan said “Johnny’s not around. That’s David.” The young woman grinned. “Right,” she said.

2.23 Brogan told me that while she was keen to locate Amy in order to ascertain just what happened with Harry after the dinner with Paul, she sensed that for the next few minutes it would be a waiting game. She said “From time to time in this caper, David, there are little gaps and it is in these that I pursue my personal interests.” “Good idea, Brogan,” I said, “I’m the same.” Brogan said “I like ornamental gardens. I have a dog, called Andrew. I am fond of jazz. There are some cousins. I relax when I can. I am drawn to certain sorts of figurine. My mother is blind. I dislike people who search their pockets for no reason. Before John there was Frank, who was moustachioed. My little nieces love me and I them. My best friend drowned. There is no God. Picasso is admirable. Let me be clear. There is so much.”

2.24 We passed a house in flames licking high and screams coming from it of despair. Brogan tore off her coat which was rayon and therefore a fire risk. She ran into the house as I held the coat. From all the windows came thick smoke and cries. Was there a person in every room? It could not be ruled out. To my amazement Brogan appeared at a window holding a side table which she repeatedly dashed against the window frame. “David, stand back!” she cried and moments later came an armchair. “Position it, David!” she instructed hoarsely as it went hard to the pavement. I shoved the chair round so that the man thrown next landed in it. “Reassure him!” yelled the tireless figure. “And look in my coat!” There was a bottle of Cien (the Lidl own-brand) aloe vera lotion. I smeared it on the man saying “No worries. Shit happens.”

2.25 I was trying to get a sense of what Brogan was. For example, from where did her memories come? The moustachioed Frank – had she encountered him in the course of her entirely prescribed and necessarily episodic past? How could it be otherwise? Unless her psychology was such that she was able to generate material to fill the biographical gaps. But to use the term ‘psychology’ was itself ridiculous. And how would she recognise that there was a gap to be filled? I was familiar with the work of Anheuser & Busch on confabulation but to apply that to Brogan would be to pathologise this exceptionally resourceful individual. And, of course, it was also my belief that since our future was now in the hands of those whose psychology was largely extinguished our salvation lay with those most adroit in the management of surfaces.

2.26 After the Fire Chief had warmly congratulated her, and the burned man had clasped her hands, I resolved to traverse with Brogan the archipelago the waters of which might prove to conceal branches, bridges, aspects opening onto aspects, in short, a body not pinned with trinkets but itself full and fruitful. “What’s it like having a blind mother?” I asked her. “You are not seen. The silver of the mirror is blackened. You are not carried in her mind. How then could you carry yourself? There is no echo. All moves ever outward, fading into air. I made my own sandwiches. I cleaned my own face,” Brogan said.

2.27 She sat beside me on a bench and I was able to study her in repose. Generally she looked resolute but I began to notice something odd in the way she composed the muscles of her face. It was the fact that I found myself using the word ‘composed’ that made me pay closer attention. We are used to seeing people drumming their fingers on tabletops or nodding absently in thought but Brogan seemed to be cycling through a repertoire of small facial movements that had the effect of slightly altering her expression then returning it to its initial state. This state, that I have called ‘resolute’, would liquefy – momentarily assuming an almost expressionless condition – then reproduce itself. It seemed odd rather than neurotic, almost as if she were using her spare time to perfect something.

2.28 “What are you doing later?” I asked her. “It depends what happens,” she said. “What if nothing happens?” I said. “That doesn’t arise,” she said. “But would you go home? To your house?” I asked. Brogan reached for her bag. She peered into each of its several compartments, working from the smallest, which bore a pair of fastenings, to the most capacious, which would normally lie beside her hip. Then she returned to the smallest and removed from it an ivory comb to which she quietly said “No”, then from the next a purse of coloured sand to which she said “No” from the next a jar of white dried beans to which she said “No” and to the most capacious then to the smallest again and “No” and I said “Can you not find them?” and she said “I can’t find them.” Then she said “But they must be there.”

2.29 In this way she searched her bag many times. The narrow boats passed, one with a sleeping cat on the hatch. A phone rang. Brogan reached into the inside pocket of her bright rayon coat. “No,” she said. It was mine. I said “David here.” A voice said “David, it’s Amy.” I said to Brogan “It’s Amy.” She took the phone. In a honeyed voice she murmured “Amy.” Then “We will.” Then Brogan turned to me and said “Let’s get up and go. Amy’s coming round.” “Where?” I enquired. “Where’s she coming?” Brogan strode away from the canal. “To mine.” After a few minutes we were at hers. Brogan released the fastenings on her bag. She put her hand into the smallest compartment at the front and took out her keys. They were on a fob with some bright fur.

2.30 Brogan showed me into her place. I was struck by its cleanliness. I understood that in a fundamentally anxious society one would tend to encounter a fetishisation of the clean and the tidy but Brogan’s place didn’t quite fit that bill. It was, for example, dustless and its edges and corners, including the edges of the carpeting, were marvellously accurate, abutting each other in such a way that one felt that even at several fractal magnifications there would be essential, geometric contiguity. She allowed me to look into her wardrobe, where I found long brass rails hung with skirts, blouses and coats made from polyester, acrylic, nylon satins and rayon taffetas. The colours were bold, bright, unpatterned. “Shall we sit down now?” asked Brogan. We did so in the sitting room. “She’ll be along,” Brogan reassured me.

2.31 After several hours, in the course of which Brogan sat quietly in an armchair, the door bell rang. Amy was in her early thirties with a mohair twopiece. “Amy,” Brogan said, “What did Harry do after dropping you off after your dinner at Paul’s?” Amy said gravely “Brogan, Harry is a selfish fuck inhabiting an extreme point on a spectrum reserved for those who experience others as a system of obscure and incoherent signs that are rarely worthy of a response. He is, psychologically, akin to one who cannot find his arse in the dark.” Brogan stood up “Are these the qualities of one who would do another in, Amy?” “Has Paul been done then?” Amy enquired. “Sundered,” rejoined Brogan. Amy crumpled. “I loved him,” she whispered.
2.32 Paul was rent. Riven by Harry. Amy aghast. I scarcely knew her. I had only known Brogan for hours. But now Brogan rose into her calling. As she moved dynamically around the bare, pure space she would, from time to time, stop. At one point coming to within a few feet of me she spoke fiercely to my face but not fully to my eye. Amy moved up behind her so that she was seen over Brogan’s shoulder. Then Amy walked to the table and sat at it, her hands clasped, staring down upon them. Brogan laid one hand on her shoulder but directed her speech towards the window. As their feelings intensified they strode, fell together, turned, restlessly crossing and recrossing the space abreast and in echelon. At one point they stopped. Amy said “When I sat at the table I felt I needed your hand there earlier.” Brogan said “That’s fine.”
2.33 Then Amy says “I’d just like a biscuit.” Brogan says “I have some. I’ll find them.” And she goes off to find them, looking around for them here, there. In all manner of places they might be. A drawer. A box. She looked. Then there they were, in her hand. Not like they’d been there all along be sensible. She also had a nice cuppa for Amy. And one for herself. “I so wanted this,” Amy declared. “Fig roll said brogan helpfully. I tell you what caught my eye she put the biscuit in her mouth then took it out and said I really wanted this but she actually hadn’t bitten it the end was still there but she was chewing and I thought eh

2.34 All at once Amy put her biscuit aside and curled up on the floor in a ball as if there were a fire there there wasn’t. Brogan (from the hugely successful ‘Brogan’) jutted her chin forward and gazed down upon Amy recently bereft. She (Brogan) walked from the pale space to an adjoining one and came back in with a stick. This stick was not dowel but pretty straight with like a handbrake kind of hand grip on the holding end and a knob of soft leather like I believe they are called percussion mallets in music at the other end. She prodded at Amy’s back and Amy said “fortunately” then at her neck Amy said “that question” then her thigh she said “de la rue” (of the road Fr) then her wrist she said “factory” then her navel she said “inasmuch Bobby”. It went on. I have to say, it was actually kind of okay.

2.35 Eventually Amy’s responses faded and she lay quite still on the carpet, as though every word had been tapped out of her body. “Is she okay?” I asked, “She barely seems to breath.” “Oh yes,” Brogan said, “She will rest now. We can go.” “Will she be okay when she wakes up?” I wondered. “Oh yes,” said Brogan, “She won’t wake up until the next thing.” “When’s the next thing then?” I sought. “Who for?” enquired Brogan, “Her or me?” I thought for a moment. “Er…you.” “Soon, I hope,” she said, “but there’s no hurry. I don’t mind in between. Do you?” “I guess not,” I said. “It could get boring, I guess.” “It’s just in between, David,” Brogan said, “No biggy.”

2.36 I was beginning to understand the situation. If I could somehow intervene in the scheme that animated Brogan, in some way divert its fitful expressions so as to seize authorship then I might realise my ambition to visit upon the world beings whose perfection of intent would quite eclipse the stuttering endeavours of those who merely made things up as they went along. Were I simply to execute my own designs then matters of light and shade, considerations of tone and tenor, all manner of titrations and refinements would cloud if not wholly entangle my purposes. How much more inexorable would these be if Brogan, the embodiment of gung ho can do know how, were my proxy and prosthetic!

2.37 “Brogan,” I said to Brogan (yes the one from ‘Brogan’) “Do you have any small talk?” Brogan, wearing a sky blue duffle coat of felted duffel with the horn fastenings (the blue was of the purest altitude I had seen) and beneath it a lime shift, said “How is it measured?” I replied “Well, it is to do with matters of little consequence and often used to make situations pleasant and make time pass before you get to your floor.” “You see,” she said “all that I say advances me. There is no slack, no roll of chub. Who of us can locate the wellsprings of our utterance? Not me certainly David. Even when I say Can’t complain or Is she really? I am in a situation that moves things towards something.” Brogan paused. Her eyes welled with tears. “I would like to say something that was nothing.”

2.38 “Amy is in the past now,” said Brogan. “That’s why she’s asleep. She might not wake up unless she is needed. She might not be needed. I’m usually the last to know. It’s not a problem though, because I’ll forget her. And then it’ll just be her clothes. They’re usually left in a neat pile. She herself will have gone. I don’t know where they go.” “Are there lots of them then?” I asked. Brogan frowned. “I suppose so,” she said. “It’s not something I dwell on. Did you see I’m wearing blue?” “Are there sausages to be had?” I heard myself saying. They were in the cupboard. Pork and lavender. I fried six. Brogan put one to her mouth. But whereas I munched mine hers came out untoothed. Again.

2.39 We looked up and there was this guy on the sofa. “That’s Big Vague Michael,” said Brogan. “Does he have a key?” I asked. “He doesn’t need one,” she said. Big Vague Michael had an interesting way of moving. He didn’t move much but he was moving all the time but not leaving the sofa. His head was big and you know where sometimes with people you can’t see them but you’re looking right at them? Well it was like that. We’re not talking invisible or anything, it was certainly there and plus there was nothing to stop you looking at his head but when you did it was unsatisfactory. You thought this head doesn’t sort of hang together. It’s not like deformed or anything. It’s like you could look all you want but there was nothing coming back. That’s a good way of putting it.

2.40 “Mike!” goes Brogan. “Mike!” He’s just across from her. Big Vague Michael hears this but his eyes are kind of nystagmus (see Pampas: Season 1: #93 09/07/15) but then he clicks them to a stop and looks at Brogan. “He’s…he’s..” he goes. “It’s Brogan, Mike.” She turns to me “We haven’t met,” she explains. “He gradually composes himself,” Big Mike says. “Yes,” Brogan says, “You do.” And as I’m looking his head is tightening together like air is sucked out. “See that?” asks Brogan. “They all do that. Sometimes as men, sometimes as women. Or before that.”

2.41 This big handsome man, Mike, looking certain and shaped, raises his head to address Brogan who is standing up. He smiles warmly, extends his arms then suddenly clutches his throat, from which are expressed the bubbling shrieks of what you would expect if treading on a box full of live but plucked young turkeys. A black powder trickles from his mouth and thickens to a steady stream, spilling down his shirt and lap onto the tailored carpet. “My God!” I cry aghast. “Soot,” says Brogan. “Dirt!” I insist. “No,” she is quite matter of fact. “It really is not. It is the final and pure sum of him as he burns.” Mike’s eyes roll up as he dies on the sofa.

2.42 “He came here to die,” I said. “A man comes in, heaves soot and snuffs it.” “No, he didn’t come here,” Brogan explains, “He is the next thing. We must search the body for identification.” She starts going through Mike’s pockets. “He’s Mike,” I said. “I know no Mikes,” she said. “Look…” She extracts from his inner breast pocket an oilcloth wallet and passes it to me. It was still warm. There was nothing in it. “I wish Jean and Max were here,” Brogan said. “I haven’t seen them in years,” I told her. Rather ruefully, Brogan said “They’re so good at this sort of thing, you know.” The doorbell rang. “Funny,” she said, “Usually they don’t ring.”

Readers: the Editor of Pampas would like to apologise for the uncharacteristically protracted gap in publication between the previous and the above. This is due to circumstances well within my control.

2.43 “David!” It was Brogan. “Brogan?” I said, snapping out of it. Brogan, reclining on a sofa ‘just like from shop’, looked largely relaxed but she said “That was the door. Ages ago.” I said, coming back to myself, “I was busy, for several weeks. I couldn’t get to it.” She vocalised “Humph!” Then she spoke “Well I just hope they’re still there.” “Who, Jean and Max?” “Tush!” she exclaimed, “I was actually mindful of the numbers.” I looked quizzical. “The numbers…” Brogan sat up. “David! I’m Borgan.” I appeared puzzled. “The Danish thing?” “Fuck!” she swore. “I meant Brogan. The various shit that I do – you have to have the numbers.”
2.44 It was, I realised, odd that Brogan could have a thought like that. “When you say ‘numbers’, what are you thinking exactly?” I put to her. “You feel them. When they like you,” she replied. “Brogan – who?” I was insistent. “I have a reputation. I take down scum. I slot punks. The loved ones of those whose condition I improve give cakes and cards of gratitude. Such things spread. The forces of the law begrudgingly admire my prowesses.” “That’s probably prowess, isn’t it?” (I saw no reason to let ordinary talk go off like bad squirrels.) Brogan said “Whatever.” Then she said “Sometimes on a hot night, on the porch, I can hear them. They’re out there.” “The numbers,” I nodded. “Yeah,” confirmed Brogan.
2.45 I wondered what Brogan knew. She could not, for instance, know that Johnny Depp lay in a coma, that Roy an obvious nutjob and chicken jalfrezi could not feel his hands with his hands, that Ruth in another wing was wounded and Richard the stout as in staunch and stalwart not lardy aide lay within a respirator. But there was one thing namely my own resemblance to filmstar Johnny where when people found I wasn’t him they said “Wow! That’s like some kind of 3D photocopier of meat or similar.” What would Brogan make of this, given her emerging sensitivity to those on the soft horizons of her mind? Brogan said suddenly “You’re not my cousin are you, David? You feel sort of close.”

No Respect

I was ugly, very ugly. When I was born, the doctor smacked my mother.

One night I came home. I figured, let my wife come on. I’ll play it cool. Let her make the first move. She went to Florida.

When my old man wanted sex, my mother would show him a picture of me.

I get no respect at all – When I was a kid, I lost my parents at the beach. I asked a lifeguard to help me find them. He said “I don’t know kid, there are so many places they could hide”.

I’ll tell ya, I don’t get no respect… The other day, I got back from a business trip. I got in a cab and said to the driver, “Hey! Take me to where the action is!” So ya know where he took me? He took me to my house!

A girl phoned me the other day and said… ‘Come on over, there’s nobody home.’ I went over. Nobody was home.

I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.

My mother never breast fed me, she told me she only liked me as a friend.

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

A t first glance he’s neat and smart – usually a sharp blue suit, a white shirt and a red tie. The outfit rarely changes. Neither do the mannerisms that threaten to compromise the overall composure. The left hand straying to adjust the tie knot, a knot that does not require adjustment. Every few seconds the hand flies there, fidgets needlessly then drops to the side again. And then, after a short while, the sweating. It’s real. It shines under the lights. He’s obviously working hard but part of the attraction of what he does lies in the contrast between the smart outfit and the material that he’s producing. The sweat is therefore a little jarring, perhaps a product of that contrast. It’s not quite right. He will reach inside his jacket or into a back pocket, produce a handkerchief then mop his brow. Even when he’s finished and sitting next to the host at the desk, he continues to mop his brow. And that seems to suggest that he was tense and is still tense and while it helps the act perhaps in the beginning it wasn’t planned but it suited the act and has now become a part of it and, to some extent, is inseparable from it. Rodney has an urgency that reminds us that if you’re going to channel a stream of gags as if they’re just naturally popping into your head then it’s hard work – these things don’t come naturally. Is that what anybody is actually like? They walk in and these compact formulations are ejected twice a minute until time is up?

The gags are one or two-liners on the whole and must, obviously, be separated in some way if they are to make sense. Between each gag, then, comes this small fusillade of tics, the fiddling and dabbing bringing to mind the tugging of the shirt shoulder, the adjustment of the head band and the bounce after bounce after bounce of the ball before it is served by the tournament tennis player. While we don’t doubt that the tennis player wants very much to deliver, with Rodney we wonder if each new set of birth pangs will be the one that scuttles the enterprise.

So although he is superb his persona isn’t relaxed. It is shot through with tremors from the one who, from beneath its damp skin, animates the performance.  In this respect he’s subtler than Woody Allen. The physique  of the latter, his posture and his vocalisation are brought together harmoniously in the character of the whining weakling who will never experience a satisfying social transaction. But when Rodney pushes through the curtains the first impression is of one who is combative. He has a bullish demeanour, bulging eyes and he seems like a man in a hurry. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if he were packing a handgun. He’s wired.

Except that Rodney tells us, from time to time, ‘I don’t get no respect.’ This is his catchphrase. His act consists in his itemising the hundreds of instances in which he has been disrespected. It’s not observational comedy, the overrated genre which, in its disingenuous claim to derive from the clear and nonjudgmental eye of the portraitist, asks us rue our inability to see the funny side of life that’s beneath our noses. Instead it’s where Rodney, who may or may not suffer from low self-esteem when he’s at home, merely opens a vein of abjection then complains about it within earshot. He’s talking to us but you get the feeling that his internal monologue is not that different.

Oliver Stone clearly suspected that there was a thin line between love and hate when he was casting for Natural Born Killers (1994). The self-flagellation of Rodney’s humour could be turned outward, at which point he would become a psychopath rather than a stand-up. This proved  to be entirely the case. Ed Wilson, his character in the much underrated film, is Rodney to the max, unalleviated by nervous tics or the least indication that he may be domesticated to any degree. A masterclass in cartoonish, horrifying domestic sitcom parody, Rodney’s scenes as abusive, ogling, pawing, incestuous father to Juliette Lewis’s rebel girl Mallory are, despite the use of a sitcom laugh and applause track throughout, appalling yet exhilarating because somehow soon the slavering beast will be neutralised and his comeuppance will be as lurid as his fatherly behaviour is beyond the pale.


Towards the end of his amiable work in Cheers, Woody Harrelson was approached by Stone and took the role of Mickey, a natural born killer of a more suitable age for Mallory in the homicidal folie a deux rampage (52 victims) on which the couple embarks after Mickey has despatched Ed with a crowbar.

The first hour of the film is incongruously experimental for a Warner  Brothers product, both formally and in the nihilism of its moral instruction. It is pitched as a satire that will address the enthusiastic attention paid to celebrity killers but is so extravagant and poetic in its means that it becomes, in the same breath, an irresistible paean to unfettered recreational slaughter. The first 15 minutes do not so much test as erase the contours of sitcom convention, setting free an ordinarily muffled content that celebrates, within the frame of a passionate romance between two attractive and murderous young people with a lot in common, the amputation of  sociality that we are encouraged to believe is one of the great privileges of dedicated coupledom.

By presenting Ed/Rodney as the prime and incestuous transgressor Stone creates a space in which the abused and avenging Mickey and Mallory may outdo him as killers yet retain the charm of the natural born. Rodney Dangerfield’s stand-up comedy work is made palatable, furthermore, because it is presented as a species of self-harm but  in the menacing sitcom preamble to Stone’s movie this effect is redirected with the support of, amongst other things, the sound of manic laughter from the laugh track serving to remind us how uniquely thrilling are the pleasures of rupturing taboo.