Archive for October 2007


31 October, 2007

1972248637_0802bf6384_m.jpgIf you’re at a loose end and want to read the gripping conclusion to the story, started in my last post, of my fateful encounter with the toll raven, you can click here. At least, I hope it’s gripping, though I’d settle for mildly interesting or even, at a push, mostly well spelt.

Otherwise, I’m now creatively clapped out and need a lie down. So, until we meet again by the side of a lonely, fog-shrouded highway on a moonlit night, I wish you a most haunted Halloween.


Dr Soulcompost’s Halloween Heap of Horror

28 October, 2007

08102007432.jpgI remember it was a Tuesday morning in mid-autumn. I was hurrying up the hill that leads from Penge to Upper Norwood to return some overdue library books, cursing myself for not wearing a more substantial coat. I’d been taken surprise by the abrupt change in weather from the idle balminess of an Indian summer to cold and damp more befitting the time of year. Labouring and shivering up the steep incline, head bowed against the sharp wind, I struggled to keep the books clamped against my side as my hands pulled my light jacket tighter around my body.

I first saw the raven – or is that crow? I’ve never known the difference, or even if there is a difference, but raven fits the mood of my story better – when I was still a little way off from the sideroad to the crumbling sport centre that cuts across my route. In the distance I could see that the bird had its head buried in a discarded fast food carton. Perhaps it heard me coming because almost as soon as I’d seen it, it jerked upright and looked at me. The suddenness of the action and the sustained stare that followed left me with with the distinctly uneasy impression of being sized up. I drew nearer, but instead of flying off as most of them seem to do, if anything it drew itself up taller. Then, when I was within a yard or two, it unwrapped a pair of oily black wings and flapped them at me. Startled, I hesitated and stopped. And as I came to a halt, the world around us also seemed to shudder and fall still. I could have been imagining this of course, what with the cold and the exertion, not to mention the sleepless nights with the new baby. But still, I could have sworn that the wind stopped blowing, the traffic on the busy main road had fallen silent, and that the newly-fallen leaves had ceased their tumbles and swirls across the footpath. All that remained was the cold, the damp and the grey of the morning.

After a moment of mutual observation, my raven opened its beak as though it was about to caw, but instead of the bleak and guttural cry I expected to hear, it spoke. Actually spoke. Now, I am no expert on the habits of native British birds, but I knew enough to realise that this was no ordinary example of the species.

“Thinking of passing, were we friend?” Something about it’s tone reminded me a little of an unsympathetic nightclub doorman I’d once had dealings with and for a second I wanted to check if I was wearing trainers. I resisted the impulse.

“Who, me? Are you talking to me?” That it should be talking at all would have been more to the point, but under the strange circumstances these were the words I found myself saying.

The creature, in the same self-assured manner, confirmed that it was indeed addressing me.

“Well, I was actually. Hoping to pass, that is. Library books overdue, bit of a hurry and all that. Is there a problem?” I had to bite back an urge to add ‘officer’.

“Well, now, that all depends.”

“Depends? On what exactly?”

“Ah, a very, very good question.” The emphasis on the second ‘very’ made me wish that I hadn’t asked. The raven continued, as if to spare any more pointless cross-examination, “It depends, you see, on payment of what I like to call ‘the toll’.”

“Oh, I see.” I didn’t really see, but there you are, that’s what I said. “And payment would be…?”

“Ah yes. Now we come to it. Payment would be your soul.”

Did I indeed part with my soul in exchange for passage to Upper Norwood library? Was Soulcompost reduced to mere compost? What was this strange beast and did the books get returned in time? Click here on All Hallows E’en (that’s Wednesday night) to find the answers to these and possibly other questions.

Oh, go on; if you’ve read this far you might as well find out what happened.

Back Staircase

16 October, 2007

1248776925_725ede1148_m.jpgThis is the staircase up to the function room at The Railway in Tulse Hill. I have a pint and a packet of crisps and, closing my nose to a faint whiff of pub-toilet coming from somewhere nearby, I’m about to ascend.

The hubbub of the weekly quiz night in the main bar cuts to a dull undulating hum as the heavy wooden door leading to this stairwell shuts behind me. As it does, I lift my gaze to where I think I can just make out the strains of melody against respectful hush.

The room at the top is the venue for Ingrid’s monthly music ‘n poetry evening, where mandolins and guitars and theramins (yes, on occasion, theramins) rub up alongside grizzled beat poets and hip urban versesmiths. It was originally intended to be a showcase for performers over forty and Ingrid christened it “Voices of Experience” accordingly. I remember suggesting “View From on Top of the Hill”, but no, VoE it is.

I’ve noticed a few young ‘uns slipping in lately, so she was probably right to ignore my suggestion. Ingrid would say that age can’t really claim exclusivity on experience; it’s not quantity but quality of years that counts in the final wash up. Old, young, old-young, young-old, goth, mod, rocker, modish rocker, hippy or dude, or whatever you think you are or were or might be or could be or should be – all that stands in the way of creative ascension is the smell of a slightly skanky loo and thirteen steps.

And if you ask nicely, Ingrid says you can bring your voice up too.

The Lost Post: ‘On Beauty’

9 October, 2007

06092007314.jpgIt’s OK. You will get this into perspective. I mean, it’s not like you accidentally switched off your own life-support machine or anything, is it? It could have happened to anyone. In fact, I bet it happens to everyone. So, buck up me lad, no more of this indulgent self-pity; it’s not how you fall, it’s how you pick yourself up that counts. There now, dry those eyes – it’s time to move on.

The sensible part of my brain has been trying to cheer me up all afternoon. Why? Well, pressing delete when you mean to press edit is so easy to do. To confirm that you are indeed sure is probably less easy to do, but still, as I have today found, eminently doable. Because that’s just what I did.

So, what was lost? It wasn’t a bad post, rather insightful I thought, in the sort of way that used to be called left field, connecting my favourite winebar, the subject of beauty, the aesthetic qualities of Tracey Emin and the harsh, arresting landscapes of Erith Marshes.

There’s a famous Arthur Quiller-Couch aphorism I read about once, a piece of advice to aspiring writers who have been tempted to extend their prose too far. Murder your darlings, he supposedly said. Well, commit editorial murder I certainly did. Five hundred words to zero in the twitch of a clumsy index finger; even Raymond Carver would have been hard pressed to get sparser. But maybe when I’m further along the rocky road to acceptance, though, I might allow myself to drop the charges to manslaughter. After all, I didn’t mean to do it, did I?

In the meantime, anyone reading this self-serving eulogy without the benefit of knowing the original, will just have to take my word for it: it was a bloody brilliant post. Arguably a work of genius. There may never be another like it.

And if you did by some unlikely chance read it, remember, it’s a bad thing to talk ill of the dead. A very bad thing.

Dead Green Crime Scene

7 October, 2007

1508348343_c7a808aa49.jpgWe got the call as we were riding back from the Upper North Side. Behind the classy sounding name, it’s a dingy patch of the garden known to everyone at the precinct as the Compost Heap, a depressing place where unwanted food scraps live a damp and degrading existence choked by uncouth brambles and vicious ivy.

Even in the gloom of the gathering twilight, it didn’t take long to find what we were looking for, a broad green leaf drooping on its stalk like the poorer half of a limp handshake, its edge raw and ragged. Our man was getting careless, or cocky maybe, not troubling to clear up after himself this time. Still, we were due a break in the case and this was the closest thing we’d had to a lead all summer.

Sonofsoulcompost cleared back the small crowd of onlookers, herbaceous perennials mostly, botanical ghouls looking for a late summer thrill. As he did, I pegged out the scene; no doubt about it, this was his work all right. It had to be. Same MO as did for Johnnie Courgette, Lucy Tomato, Mickey Mint, Terence ‘Big Red’ Strawberries and the others.

We’d bag the evidence and get it back downtown, of course. But we didn’t need the boys in forensic to tell us what we were dealing with. When you work a beat like this, even a rookie like Sonofsoulcompost soon learns to know a slug from a .45 when he sees one.

Never Mind the Pollocks

1 October, 2007

25092007400.jpgSecondsonofsoulcompost was born at home, happy and well, on 20th September. Indeed, he arrived just in time for lunch, betraying encouraging early signs of maintaining family traditions. Sonofsoulcompost slept through the whole thing in the neighbouring room.

I am sure there are people who would keep a running journal of an event like this, compiling humourous yet insightful resum├ęs of each day’s events, possibly supplemented by telegrammatic postings throughout the day to keep the world abreast of the latest state of nipple attachment, napping, winding, peeing and all that kind of thing.

I have discovered that I am not one of those individuals. I’m too knackered for one thing, and, for another, if MrsSC ever (and I mean ever) found me writing anything (and I do mean anything) to do with her nipples, then, well, the consequences could well invalidate the warranty on the blender. I may even have said too much already.

The big thing for me over the past ten days has been about becoming a complete manaboutthehouse while Mrs SC recovers. That means cooking, cleaning, shopping, foot rubbing, general jollying along and, most importantly, keeping sonofsoulcompost sweet as he makes the psychological transition to being a big brother. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but this all takes more proactive and creative planning than I’d anticipated.

Take, for instance, my foray into toddler fingerpainting, an event that reminded me of the cocktail party my flatmate and I once threw as medical students. An evening (this is the party I’m talking about now, not the fingerpainting) that began with a nominated mixer-person blending recipes according to time honoured and proven recipes, descended – and, really, we should have seen this coming – into a bacchanalian free-for-all with all sorts of spirits getting flung together. There was a time when science progressed in this way of course, but our party was not one of those occasions. As I recall, it put a dent in our deposit too.

Fingerpainting, as I’ve said, was similar. Sonofsoulcompost opened with a delicate stippling motif using the tip of one dainty index finger. Then it was two fingers up to the hilt. Then two pots at a time. Then – and it is here that I showed my experience in attempting to call time – it was multiple pots inverted and vigorously shaken.

Finally, with a maniacal laugh and waving his paint covered hands in the air like some mad scientist in a gothic thriller, he fled the kitchen. I caught him just as he reached what was once our nice cream sofa.

I’m keeping this one, I think. When he’s older it might go in his Turner Prize portfolio. Till then, though, we’re going to do our painting projects with one of those little brushes.

Oh, and if he wins (the Turner Prize, that is), I’m going to let him buy us a new sofa.