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When was the last time you laughed like this? My dad found this picture in a dusty old photo-album while he was clearing out my great aunt’s house. Who is she? Where was it taken? Who took it? What did they say to make her laugh like that? Why is she there? What day is it? What time is it? Why is she not wearing a coat? Who are her parents? What did she do next?
It’s a moment captured by an unknown photographer, and the only thing you can really know from the picture is for that moment she’s happy. The kind of belly-laugh happy that makes you throw back your head and clutch your throat because you’re scared you’re going to fall off the earth. I don’t know a lot about the girl in this picture, apart from the fact that she was laughing.
I went to a meat-themed party with my friend Soph on Friday night. They had a meat raffle and luncheon-meat beer coasters. The waitresses were wearing pork pie hats and bacon earrings. They served us meat-based hors d’oeuvres like sausage sushi, mini-burgers and pork vol au vents. The air smelled like beef. Just as well I’m not a vegetarian. I was once….for three months when I was 16. That was the extent of my teenage rebellion – vegetarianism. I was making a stand. None of your drugs, alchohol, or tattoos. No sir. My parents were going to have to deal with something much worse: they were going to have to cook my meals a little bit different from the rest of the family. It didn’t work. I had to make my own dinner…usually just a Quorn version of what everyone else was having. I shortly ended my half-hearted rebellion when I ate a bacon sandwich…with HP sauce, which I’d heard makes a bacon sandwich. It doesn’t, by the way. I stood looking at that bottle for ages. I had to make it myself.
Some of my work is currently being shown at the Glasgow Podcart Sketchbook Exhibition at the Welcome Home Gallery in Partick. This is a picture of it. See how it hangs from tiny little clothes pegs? They must have mugged a borrower to find pegs that small. I say “work” but I use the term loosely…it’s really just some things I’ve written down…often on trains, in the middle of the night and sometimes by leaning on a wall outside the St Enoch centre when I see a life size cut out of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen in a skip and just have to record it. Who does that anyway? Throws one of those away I mean. What a waste. By the way…who made him an opera expert? I thought all he cared about was wallpaper, chintz and curtains….not Darius, diaphragms and arias. Incidentally, not only is Darius a singer and a Campbell, he’s also a landlord. I wouldn’t mind having him as a landlord. If he was mine, I’d ask him where the love was, in each room.
Anyway….the Sketchbook exhibition is on until the 25th April. When I was there they had a cake and some free wine. I don’t think you get it every time though. Although that would be a nice touch. As well as appearing in paper form on a miniature washing line, I have also been appearing on Glasgow Podcart’s Podcast….oh yes. It’s all very exciting. I even read some things out loud…which I enjoy. I love it so much that sometimes I read the paper out in different accents…but only when there’s no one else around. There was a poet on that podcast too, he was called Martin and knew it…and a musican called Matthew, who plays the guitar. Sophie was the presenter. She gets everywhere….for example she’s in The List this week. She’s an artist and likes to draw.
The 1806 to Glasgow.
Chewing gum on my seat,
Suzy 4 Eva on the table.
The man in the hi vis waves.
The train begins to move.
Fast, faster, fastest,
When it rushes through the vein of a tunnel,
Your face in the window.
Where will you meet me?
Under a clock, with no carnation.
The land runs by like paint.
I’m lost in your eyes.
You always sound suspicious when you answer the phone.
We’re at Table 14.
The women in front, laugh like hens.
Cluck their way through a game of cards.
The Queen of Spades,
Digging holes in their journey.
Some of the things I have written down in the past will be on show at the SKETCHBOOK exhibition at the Welcome Home Gallery from the 17th – 25th April. It’s an interactive exhibition of sketches, scribbles and inspirations from the fingers and minds of artists, writers and musicians. It’s at 19 Keith Street, Glasgow, G11 6QQ. Do go along. It’ll be lovely. You can even buy things in their shop.
Michael’s mother takes Irish Cream on her Cornflakes. Not because she enjoys the taste but because she when runs out of milk and she’s often too drunk to notice. Michael sometimes comes home to find her on the carpet talking to the television. Today, she’s crouched in the back garden stroking the painted head of a one-armed garden gnome. Her other hand drags on the patio clutching an empty wine bottle. Argentinean Malbec, Michael notices – the £2.99 one from Tesco’s that goes best with meat and casseroles, not the half eaten sausage roll that is stuffed into the pocket of her house coat. It’s three o clock in the afternoon and she’s not even opened the curtains.
Dave the dog is sniffing in a corner. He’s called Dave because when Michael was fourteen he thought it would be funny. But his mother wouldn’t let him change it because she was scared Dave the dog would have a canine identity crisis. Michael wonders if she knows the neighbours call her Funny Mary when she’s not listening.
Funny Mary likes the garden. Apart from cuddling the garden ornaments, she likes the faint but alcohol-tainted perfume of the flowers and the earthy gulp of the soil.
Michael helps her into the house. She moves in a dribbly slow motion and he leaves her on the couch under a blanket, grumbling drunk talk into a faded flowery cushions because she’s too hot under the gagging fingers of her stupor. If this was a film I’d be dead by now, Michael thinks. I’d have shot myself in the head weeks ago.
He goes to his room and lies on his back in the silence and it swells like a dough in his head. Every thought he has feels like a bird hitting a windscreen. Lively, then a rush of something, then dead. It’s half three now. He starts his shift at the library in eighteen hours. They are laid out like corpses. He squeezes his eyes shut and the darkness squirms. He thinks about Ursula from the cheese counter. She’s beautiful. Eyes the colour of navy blue midnight and a tangled madness of hair. She has the reddest lips he’s ever seen. They’re so crimson her mouth is a gash, but the only word they’ve ever parted for was sorry when he collided with her in the freezer aisle.
Michael must have fallen asleep. He hears Funny Mary clacking dishes in the kitchen. She’s probably just tripped over something on her way to the fridge for another drink, he thinks. He sits up too quickly and it feels like someone’s flushed something in his head. He walks to the kitchen and Funny Mary’s at the table, staring into a bowl of Cornflakes.
He walks past her and touches her hand. She clamps her one down on it, staring at the table like her head’s too heavy to hold up or she’s trying to read the formica. “Go to bed, mum.” He says and prises his hand from beneath her clammy drunken fingers. He can smell the liquor fug swimming like an ugly fish in the air around her. She mumbles something about carrots and lets her spoon clatter to the table.
“Mum,” he says again and puts a hand on her shoulder. She hasn’t worn day clothes for months. She gets up and her knees click like she’s old. She seems rubbed out as she shuffles from the room, a smudge of a person. She doesn’t even care. Michael sits in the seat she left behind and crunches the spoon in to the congealed cereal.
On the wall there’s a calendar with the scrawl of a message that says “Adam next Tuesday.” His brother must be visiting, but his mother hasn’t told him. Adam lives in Essex. He’s an estate agent and sells houses to crooked millionaires. His hairdresser girlfriend has blonde hair, wears short skirts and looks like a hooker. She wears black clothes, a leather handbag tan and a swindling smile. And the fragrant chemical scent of fake tan wafts in her wake. Michael doesn’t like her mucky accent or her clicky tappy shoes. He wishes Adam would just forget her and then come home and save them.
He looks at the clock and it’s just gone seven. Fourteen hours. He goes to the living room and turns on a light. The glow from the lamp that makes him feel safer than he did in the grey fag ash chill of the room before. He turns on the telly and sits for a while as the credits roll to the end of the news. There’s a chat show on now so he leaves it for background noise. He opens his book where he left the bookmark but it’s not the page he remembers stopping at. He can’t concentrate with the noise on the telly but knows it’ll be worse if he can hear nothing. There’s no one left.
At nine thirty Michael goes to check on Funny Mary. She’s on the bed with her head over the edge and her arm sprawling on the floor. He can only see the back of her head so he goes round the side of the bed so he can see her alcohol-pickled face. There’s a white puddle on the floor under her head and milky slug trails of vomit on her chin. She got one of those brown child-proof bottles clutched in her fingers. He looks at it and it’s some sort of dog medicine. The colour of the glass makes him of something from the 70s, like his grandparents’ carpet. Funny Mary doesn’t look too clever so he tries to find her pulse. He can just feel it, beating randomly like there’s an insect scratching nervously under her skin.
At the hospital Funny Mary is sleeping when he’s allowed to see her. The sheets draped over her look like icing and she’s a wrinkled yellow colour like she’s made of paper that’s been left in a window for too long. Tubes burrow under her skin like plastic worms and a machine near the top of the bed pips like a morbid computer game. Michael wonders how many lives she’s got left. A nurse comes in and smiles the creased smile that people use when they don’t know what to say and wouldn’t mean it anyway. She touches wires and gives Funny Mary an injection. “What did you give her?” He says and the nurse stops in the doorway. “Just something to make her feel a bit more comfortable,” she says like they do in Casualty, and punctuates her sentence with a wee staccato tap on the door frame with her finger. Then she’s gone like a pastel shadow into the hall and away under the fluorescent lights.
Michael took a different route to work the next morning. He was fed up with seeing the same woman fighting with someone outside the post office every morning. The last time he saw her she had a pram and a toddler clinging to her leg as she flicked red finger-nailed Vs at a beggar in a wheelchair who was clutching a squashed bottle of White Lightening to his person.
Michael didn’t like post offices at the best of times. They were synonymous with queuing and a glue smell that serrated his nose. Ursula’s parents ran the shop, but he still didn’t like it. His mother was always sending him to post things, sealed with the alcoholic kiss of her tongue. When he went in there was always a different perishable foodstuff on the shelf behind the post master. On Tuesday, Funny Mary had sent him a birthday card for his Grandmother. She only lived a car ride away but Funny Mary didn’t have a driving license anymore. What was the point. There had been a Toulouse sausage on the shelf then. On the following day there had been a blood orange and a packet of J-clothes; and the time before that, a tin of tongue.
Michael had never eaten tongue, but he didn’t like the thought of it. He always imagined it would be like biting into his own, but without the pain. And you’d hear it crunch like soft ice before the taste of irony blood. His Grandad loved it. Every time he came for lunch he demanded tongue sandwiches. Michael thought it sounded like something teenagers did behind the bike sheds.
His Grandad had a garden and an allotment, which Michael thought was horticulturally greedy. But he just went there to escape from Grandma. He used to take Michael there when he was younger, decked in his tweed cap and Wellingtons. His rickety old shed smelt of tobacco smoke and compost. There were 29 other gardeners there – the fruits of their labours woven together like a botanical patchwork, bound by the slow silver ribbon of the Tweed.
Michael liked watching his Grandad at his methodical weeding, counting dandelions and removing sticky willow with a quiet dedication. Sometimes Michael helped and went home with dirt under his fingernails and old broken china and dusty marbles in his pocket. He’d built a collection, which he kept in an old biscuit tin in a drawer beside his bed. When he wasn’t helping his Grandad he was fishing for tadpoles in the stagnant pond under the weeping willow. It was bigger than most – its tangled trailing limbs sweeping inconsolably to the water. Michael had a little red fishing net, but he’d only ever caught seven tadpoles, a can of Tizer and a condom.
After several foiled attempts at catching fish, he bought some goldfish with the pound he got every forth night as pocket money. Now they swam like misshapen sequins in the bowl Funny Mary had bought him for getting a good school report. But when he went the Scout camp for the weekend, he’d returned to discover them floating like tiny golden astronauts in their own watery space. Funny Mary told him they’d died of Norwegian Sleeping Disease. Michael didn’t know what that was, but it sounded like a form of Scandinavian boredom.
God really does work in mysterious ways – he’s on twitter. Wow. They’re right – everyone is doing it. I’ve always thought God was a bit longwinded…and bellowy. So how’s he supposed to cope with just 140 characters? That’s surely not enough room to denounce homosexuality, herald the second coming or list the ten commandments. That said, I don’t believe it is actually the real God. His account isn’t even verified. If he is who he says he is, then going by one of his recent tweets he’s just bought four tickets to the Pixies in Oakland California. Since when did the supreme being have to pay to get in? And who’s he going to take? I thought God wasn’t into favouritism. He’s supposed to love everyone.
If God is indeed such a fan of Twitter, then he won’t be pleased to hear that according to US research body, Pear Analytics, forty per cent of Twitter postings are “pointless babble.” Are they serious? What about the man I’m currently following? His name is Rob, and apparently for the month of November, he’s trying to grow a moustache. Time well spent. Or the other gentlemen I like to call Dave, because that is his name. His latest musing was “Do cats really like music?” Well Dave, I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve really given a lot of thought. But if pushed, I would say that all cats care about is sleeping, trying to find fish and staring at people.
The thing is, these boffin types had to spend actual money to work out that Twitter posts like this were, in fact, generally inane. They didn’t use magic beans. They used money. Actual coins and currency and stuff, despite the fact that there’s a recession on and they’d have been better keeping their money for useful things like paying the electricity or going out with their friends. Then they wouldn’t need to do useless experiments to find out things that people secretly already know.
But the whole success of Twitter is down to the fact that people keep using it. Each tweeter thinks that someone, somewhere will care about what they last ate, how many times they’ve been to the toilet that day, or what the person opposite is doing on the train. (Incidentally, I sat next to a lady on a Scotrail journey from Perth to Glasgow the other day, who wore a pair of latex gloves to eat her lunch. It was only a sandwich. Wierdo.) Maybe it’s because keeping the world updated on every mundane detail of our lives makes us feel a tiny bit special. Like people are listening to us. Personally, it makes me feel a bit like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, except I don’t sleep with people I met at the bus stop, I don’t have a perm and I only wear a tutu on special occasions. And it certainly doesn’t mean that my tweets will ever contain such musings like: “Relationships are like socks. Sometimes they stink. Sometimes they have holes in them. And sometimes you just can’t find a pair.” I think I’ll stick to posts about food, bowel movements and funny things my boyfriend said. See for yourself at http://www.twitter.com/youngswain