Barbara Campbell is an Australian artist who has been running the 1001 Nights Cast for, at the time of writing, 898 days. Barbara invites writers to accept an emailed ‘prompt’ in the form of a phrase taken from a news story published on the day of writing. The news story is usually about the situation in the Middle East but the writer can write about what they want. My prompt was ‘but, anyhow’.I started writing at 9 pm, finished 90 mins later, forwarded it to Barbara, who was asleep, waited until she awoke then had the pleasure of hearing it performed live from Australia at 8.50 am, whilst watching a close-up of Barbara’s lips as she did it. I’m story number 895 on the Archive page on the site. I’ve posted the text below, however.
‘The point,’ gritted Tex, ‘is not to criticise another man’s Horse – that’s about the worst thing you could do in a standoff featuring the grinding to a halt of the street of a town at dusk in order that old-school insultists can can cans of moths and sell them as a palate tickler prior to a facedown of pride, taut issues and general manly strength concerns.’
A hush fell down over the street – all kinds of citizens were present, not just guys with a grouse. You had folk there who thought little about transport – they had cars mostly and this whole Back to the Horse movement struck them as quaint but not unwatchable especially if you’d done the grocery shopping and were just aiming along in an ambling saunter past lit bars and glimpses of the mountains.
‘That man called Tex,’ reasoned the passing Peter to his acquaintance Wendy, ‘is he, like, for the Horse in an animalist way, to replace roar with clip clop for health reasons or is it a more Reasonable type of thing where you argue coherently for the right for a person to say anything even if you hate what they say and actually harbour fantasies of violence against them which you would never act out because, like, to act out is not be confused with a good thing where you disinhibit, unrepress, exhold, unguard or dekeep?’
‘Peter, grow up,’ suggested Wendy. Peter’s eyes flicked tinily – it had been a while since That issue had been raised, and a good thing too, he was doing well and was actually beginning to enjoy shaving. ‘Look what we have here: it’s sunset, the town is on a plain, strong pinks are tearing through the purple sky, terrific cars are rolling through with groceries and leisure goods, and damn me if Carl Perkins don’t trip on a spittoon and rend the velvet of his outfit which, it has to be said, is not so much practical as a weird, wax-haired, gold-toothed old guy with lavender spats and one of those shiny walking canes spun from black sugar kind of retired showbusiness thing. Can we fail to commiserate or do we say ‘Hey mister, with language like that you’ll shrivel a stallion before you can grasp the pommel.’’
‘Pommel?’ pouted Peter. ‘Is that a small apple or a lady from Great Britain?’ Tex, up to this point calm, measured, even handed, not giving or at least showing side, overheard Peter’s petulant enquiry and felt his face taken by an expression. He had only moments ago made his Horse comment and had kind of expected the general nodding and uh-huh of assent that increasingly becomes the experience of communication for those whose qualities are so outstanding that everybody only ever asks them what they are doing now so all they ever talk about is themselves. ‘Kid,’ Tex commented. ‘It’s an important part of a saddle.’
The smooth running saloons shifted uneasily, their whitewall tyres rolling in small segments. Electric windows were activated so that the in-car crowd could hear better. Radios were quashed and players were paused. But in a jalopy was an unworldly child: open, free, young, ungripped, loosely, uninked, a blank slate, a rased table. Turns to his Mummy and says ‘Maw, they’re out there, I can hear them, is what they say anything I should pay attention to?’ ‘Darling,’ murmured his Mummy, ‘Some big mens is just jousting. Ain’t nothing for which to get unduly exercised.’ ‘Maw, I cannot let men hurt each other,’ peeped the shrimp.
But anyway, after that young innocent articulated his attractive lack of the effete and the affected, a barely audible sigh lifted from the thrumming coupés and all manner of hardened, sclerotised, leathery, repugnant antipathies dissolved. Mister Ward and his icy wife. Miss de la True and her twin liars. Chalky Boteet and his enviable position. And others much in that mould. They all thought that the general combination of Tex’s dry if ponderous sagacity, Peter’s somewhat arsey twerpery, Wendy’s faintly hygienic clarity and the young unsmirched youngster’s emotional directness was very much like a novelty pack of greetings cards and had, I suppose, its uses but the overall impact was actually to reinforce rather than wonderfully bring about.