Saturday, 22 July 2017

My Top Ten Songs With Balls


My good friend Rob Wells has just had his first graphic novel published by Little Brown. It tells the uncomfortably hilarious story of his longtime fight with a variety of embarrassing ailments, and his struggle to find a member of the medical profession who would a) take him seriously and b) sort them out. It's a hugely entertaining read for anyone who's ever had an embarrassing illness and anyone who's ever tried in vain to find a sympathetic doctor. Or anyone who enjoys a witty tale about men's bits malfunctioning... and let's face it, who doesn't want to read that? (Squirm.) I'm really excited and pleased for Rob, having watched the project develop over a couple of years, seeing it accepted by a publisher, and finally getting my hands on a printed copy.

Here's the link to the book on Amazon. Other retailers will, I'm sure, be stocking it too.


In tribute, here are ten songs with balls...

10. Isaac Hayes (Chef) - Chocolate Salty Balls

Erm...

You had to be there.

9. W.A.S.P. - Dirty Balls

I'll play this one especially for Rob, since I know he's quite the metalhead. I, of course, couldn't ever approve of such things.

(I'm lying: this is in my record collection.)

8. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys - Big Balls In Cowtown

Take your partner by the hand...

I said HAND! Jeez...

7. The Broken Family Band - The Booze & The Drugs

From the album Balls. How long you gonna be in the bathroom, baby?

6. AC/DC - Big Balls

See also She's Got Balls and Got You By The Balls. Notice any pattern here?

Will Oldham does a pretty cool tribute to all this nonsense too.

5. Love - Coloured Balls Falling

The shortest song on Love's eponymous debut album (but only one of them scraped past 3 minutes). As with most Arthur Lee songs, I have no idea what it's about. I suspect chemical assistance might be required...

I suspect this song might have also given its name to 70s Aussie rockers The Coloured Balls, but the interweb appears unable to confirm that for me.  

4. Elizabeth Cook - Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman

Feminist country anthem. Dolly and Tammy would be proud.

3. Pulp - Can I Have My Balls Back, Please?

Poor old Jarvis. How can he be a man now...?
So I went to New York City to see a doctor thinking maybe that he..
Would understand the state I was in.
He said: "I'd dearly love to help you son,
but you see the same thing's happened to me."
So now I'm home and I'm asking you just once more.
Please.

Oh can I have my balls back, please?
Can I have my balls back, please?
How am I gonna get through my life if you don't return them to me?
2. Amy Rigby - Balls

It appears that Amy Rigby can't help falling for bad boys. (Wonder if that's why she ended up with Wreckless Eric.)
You've got a lot of nerve to be calling here
But I love your nerve
You've got a lot of gall, you don't even care
About me at all
You've got a lot of balls, you don't even care

Wish I could grow a pair...
1. Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls Of Fire

60 years old. Still as fresh and powerful as it ever was. Anyone who says the piano isn't a rock instrument hasn't ever listened to The Killer.




Next week: My Top Ten Enema Songs.

Or maybe not...


Friday, 14 July 2017

My Top Ten 5pm Songs


From 5 am to 5 pm. Let's blow this joint!


10. David Bowie - 5.15 The Angels Have Gone

Heathen isn't Dave's finest hour, but there are some pretty head-scratchingly intriguing songs on there. This is one of them.

9. Astrid - 5 O'Clock

What happens when you're already drunk by five o'clock: you start listening to Astrid.

8. Gang Of Four - 5.45

In which Jon King gets rather upset by the evening news...
How can I sit and eat my tea,
with all that blood flowing from the television?
At a quarter to six,
I watch the news,
Eating, eating all my food
As I sit watching the red spot
In the egg which looks like
All the blood you don`t see on the television.
7. Dolly Parton - 9 To 5

They just use your mind and never give you credit. Sound familiar?

See also The Kinks - Nine To Five

6. The Who - 5.15

Pete & Rog get out of their brain on the train home. Why should I care, why should I care?

5. Chris Isaak - 5:15

A controversial choice, putting this one ahead of The Who, but man... this recording is audio perfection.

4. The Supremes - 5.30 Plane

Post-Diana, Motown drafted in Jimmy Webb to work with The Supremes. Although the resulting album didn't set the charts alight, it contains some absolute gems. Let's face it: it's The Supremes and JIMMY WEBB. What's not to love?
How long have we been waiting for the light to change?
Long enough to know that green is dubious
Long enough to know that there's no sense to us
And the line is pretty long, yeah
Your starter for ten: name another song which features the word 'dubious' in its lyrics. (It is possible.)

3. Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffet - It's Five O'Clock Somewhere

I think I covered this one well enough in my last post. However, in retrospect, the song below might have been even more appropriate for that story...

2. The Jam - (Just Who Is) The Five O'Clock Hero?

This is one of those Jam singles that I always forget... and forget how good it is.
From this window I've seen the whole world pass
From dawn to dusk I've heard the last laugh laughed
I've seen enough tears to wash away this street
I've heard wedding bells chime and a funeral march

When as one life finishes another one starts...

Alright then, love, so I'll be off now
It's back to the lunchbox and worker / management rows
There's gotta be more to this old life than this
Scrimping and saving and crossing off lists...
1. Julian Cope  - 5 O'Clock World

Originally recorded in 1965 by The Vogues and covered by any number of people since (The Proclaimers, Hal Ketchum, Bowling For Soup, David McCallum... sadly I can't find that last one online, so please help me out if you have it). However, it's Lord Julian of Cope who gives the definitive reading, rewriting the lyrics to include 80's nuclear war paranoia and mixing in a little Petula Clark along the way.

Genius.




Which one would you take home after work?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

RE-ENTRY: It's Five O'Clock Nowhere


Here's a quick story for you. I know I usually only do these once a month, but it seems most appropriate to post this now because it forms the perfect bridge between my last post, My Top Ten Five a.m. Songs and the next one... My Top Ten Five p.m. Songs. Its title was based on one of the songs in that countdown... well, this one:

Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffet - It's Five O'Clock Somewhere

I love this song, even though I'm not the biggest Alan Jackson fan. A bit too Stetson-country, even for me, usually. But this is a great working man's hymn, made one hundred times better by the arrival of slacker king and Florida-country icon Jimmy Buffet. If you're one of those people who sits in the office all day waiting for the hands of the clock to hit five... or five thirty... this is the song for you.

What would Jimmy Buffet do?





It's Five O'Clock Nowhere



Sometimes it felt like even the second hand was fighting a losing battle. Karl spent much of his working day scrutinising the clock on the wall opposite his desk, and the more he watched it, the more it seemed like every single tick was a struggle against the inevitable, some wild Canutian battle to continue the forward progress of time when all around them – the clock, and Karl - everything else was trapped in amber.

Now every day was indistinguishable from the ones that surrounded it. The same unremitting routine. For Karl, it always began with email. Five minutes for work (he deleted many of the office memos without reading them, he’d been here long enough now to have read them all before), at least half an hour for his own private hotmail account. A few games of solitaire to get him in the mood, then, if he really felt like it, he might breeze through a couple of reports. He took regular breaks to check certain websites, monitor his eBay bidding, and to see if anyone new had poked him on Facebook, then went for a stroll around the building on the pretext of doing some photocopying or delivering a wrongly sorted item of mail or retrieving an important document from the archive room in the basement. He liked it down there in the archives, though the building work that was going on in adjacent rooms meant it wasn’t as peaceful as it’d once been. Still, he liked the snowflake pattern on the grill outside the windows, and how, if he got up on a box, he could stare out into the street, a feet-level view of the carefree world beyond. He liked to watch the people and wonder why they weren’t in work. Disregarding the kids, pensioners, and housewives, many of the passers-by remained unaccounted for. Deliverymen, council workers, window cleaners – people whose jobs involved moving about the city from one place to another – they made up another percentage, sure, but still not enough to answer for all of them. Some of them, Karl realised, just didn’t have an excuse. They were free, and that was all. Independently wealthy or dole-sponging layabouts, they were one and the same in Karl’s mind. The lucky ones.

After lunch (eaten at his desk because Head Office frowned on employees leaving the building in their lunch hour: what if there was a rush and no-one was around to deal with it?), Karl’s afternoon began with a brief spate of internal correspondence (some of it work-related, much of that deleted unopened, though mostly it was gossip, and the forwarded jokes, pictures and film clips that his colleagues had chanced upon over their sandwiches) before he set into the internet proper. He usually left his favourite worksafe websites ‘til the afternoon sag, the longest part of the day, when Karl needed all the distraction he could get. But even after scanning through all his various bookmarks – news sites, shops, blogs and games; even after downloading and burning another CD’s worth of not-strictly-legal mp3s he’d probably never get time to listen to; even after voting for all the new Hot Or Not girls and wondering for the five hundred and seventy fifth consecutive workday just why the plainer ones put themselves up for it (though he did always take this into account when voting, marking up the mooses, and downgrading the dolly birds)… even after all that: by 3pm, he still hit the flats. 

The flats were when Karl had exhausted every possible diversion the office had to offer, but there were still two hours left to kill. By this point in the afternoon his biorhythms and blood sugar were low, his exasperation and listlessness were high, and if Karl wasn’t careful, moribundity could set in. Sometimes, if absolutely necessary, he’d do a little work to distract himself. Take his mind off the incessant stain of his life, the chronic howl of it all. Other times, if there wasn’t any work that couldn’t be put off, he’d go back down to the archive room and stare out into the street. Wish himself out there, among the foot-loose and fancy-free. A man of means, or a man of no means. From this point in the afternoon, either seemed an occupation devoutly to be wished for. 

By four, he’d be back at his desk – and that was when the serious clock-watching began. With only an hour to go, the atmosphere in the office changed to an unusual mix of electricity and ennui. Postures slumped, eyes drooped then blinked violently alert, but conversations turned to the evening ahead. The drinks, the friends, the bars, the lovers. Films and music and life. Release. By ten to the hour, Karl had his things packed and ready. His final emails sent and websites browsed, he powered down his computer and made ready for escape. This part of the day always reminded him of being back at school, of waiting for the bell that launched everybody from their desks and spewed them out into reality. The tougher teachers always made you wait. Made you sit back down ‘til they’d finished their sentence, checked that you understood the homework, drew out your pain as far as their power could reach. But there were no teachers here, and middle management was just as eager to blow this joint come five o’clock as everybody else. Most days, they were the first ones out the door and into the carpark (unless somebody from Head Office was visiting, in which case they’d mock up devotion and switch on their desk lamps like there was a long night ahead).

Then finally, the silent bell rang. The notional whistle blew. And for a few short hours, this irrelevant enterprise relinquished its hold upon them. Time was no longer for frittering: it was for filling. That most of them went straight home and zombied in front of a flickering box was not the issue - the issue was that had they so wished it, they could have done or gone or been anything else they pleased. At least until the second hand (cracked from its amber, getting only green lights ‘til dawn)
double-quicked back to the 9am capture, where it all started over again. Until then, they were free.

And then one Monday, on the twenty-third of a month like most others, something changed. Karl noticed it first around lunchtime (potted beef, Monster Munch, and a can of Diet Pepsi from the machine), a hiccough in the daily routine of his workmates that became ever more pronounced as the afternoon went on. He tried to distract himself with the usual medley of myspace and minesweeper, but by three o’clock he could feel it in his guts and his water and his chest, in a heartburn those chalky pocket Rennies couldn’t assuage and an urgency in his bladder that usually only came in the middle of the night, when sleep was disturbed by apprehension of the coming grind. Something was different, and by correlation, something was wrong. Four o’clock came and by now it was unquestionable, though part of him was too scared to ask. Part of him didn’t want to know. Why everyone was behaving so strangely, like it was still 10am or 2pm, not nearly 5. Why today there was no late afternoon buzz, no pre-release expectancy, no excitement at all. The electric was off, and the whole place was running on emergency generators only.

Then finally it happened. Or rather, it didn’t. Five o’clock came and nobody moved. Karl, who’d been ready to spring for the last half hour, picked up his things and looked around the office. Still nobody moved. Mice clicked and eyes stared and feet shuffled and everything maintained. Karl didn’t understand. He tapped his watch, but it told the same story as the clock across from his desk, and he’d been watching that tick (like a lame man wading through mud) through the hour. It couldn’t have stopped. He didn’t understand. But neither did he care. He had places to go, even if they didn’t. He had people to see, he had—

“Where’re you going?” asked Lena, looking up from her Mah-jong with a curious pout.

“It’s five,” said Karl, with a tone that added, ‘where do you think I’m going’.

“What?” said Lena. “Didn’t you get the memo? Don’t you watch the news?”

And so she explained it. The new company policy. “In line with recent government legislation, to help make us a more competitive force in the international marketplace post-Brexit, and stave off the tide of outsourcing that’s driving so much of our industry and so many of our jobs overseas, Head Office has instituted a new twenty-four hour working day, commencing this morning at 9am. They’re calculating a projected increase in productivity across the week of… I think they said twenty-five per cent. I can’t quite remember now. God, Karl, where have you been?”

“But, that’s… We can’t… I mean, when do we sleep?”

“Well, obviously, that’s been taken into account. If you need more than a catnap at your desk, the company’s provided us with a comfortable new dormitory in the basement. Though they are asking us to sign up to a rota so that everybody isn’t trying to get in there at the same time – surely you got that email?”

“But…”

“Look, if you don’t like it, you’re allowed to opt for voluntary redundancy if you so… Go and take it up with Michael from HR. Just… I’m very busy!”

Karl left her to her Mah-jong and returned to his desk. He switched his computer back on and waited for it to boot up. He couldn’t just quit – how would he pay off his mortgage? His car? His three grand overdraft and five grand credit cards? Getting another job wouldn’t be that easy. Not one as relaxed as this, with as much freedom to do as he pleased, with no-one breathing down his neck, without the pressure of deadlines and paperwork and… well, work. Sometimes it takes the threat of losing it to make you realise how much of a good thing you’ve got going.

Back down in the archives, after filling in his name on the dormitory rota, Karl climbed up on a box and stared out into the world. Late evening sunlight fell through the grill, the pattern of the snowflakes warming his skin. And though it was almost six o’clock, the street wasn’t any busier now than it had been at eleven, or three. The rush hour was off. People just carried on about their day as though the clock no longer held any dominion over them. And in that respect, at least, now Karl was just as free as everybody else.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

My Top Ten 5am Songs



So there I was, just a few weeks back, complaining about having to get up at 6am. I should have remembered that in the summer, when the wood pigeon outside my bedroom window gets up at 5 o'clock in the morning, 6am is a lie in...

Here's ten bleary-eyed tunes to celebrate the light mornings.



10. Blur - Tracy Jacks

As with much of Parklife-era Blur, I loved Tracy Jacks at the time... but I find Damon's barking gets on my nerves these days. Still, for the good old days, it's worth pointing out that Tracy left home at 5 o'clock in the morning. And the bits where Damon sings rather than shouting are still quite nice.

From the same era (but aging slight better), I also offer Kenickie - 5 a.m.

9. The Village People - Five O'Clock In The Morning

In the early 80s, even The Village People had to accept that disco was dead. Their new wave change of direction (minus their signature costumes and camp) was greeted by derision (yeah, I know the idea of The Village People being treated with derision is hard to grasp) with one critic commenting the album was "simply an embarrassment that never should have seen the light of day." I've not heard the rest of the record, but I do like this song. Which only goes to prove that critics are... and I am... The video is brilliant.

8. Charlotte Gainsbourg - 5:55

You'd never guess that Charlotte was Serge and Jane's daughter. Not from watching this video, anyway. No siree. Maybe there was a mix-up on the maternity ward.

Sarcasm aside, you can pretty much imagine what she gets up to at 5:55. She's not doing the ironing.

Where do the French get their energy from? That's what I want to know.

7. Aphrodite's Child - Five O'Clock

Greek prog with Demis Roussos. I'll play this one for The Swede. Imagine A Whiter Shade Of Pale sung by the Go Compare man. And yet, I love it.

6. Mark Knopfler - 5.15 a.m.

Mark goes back to his Geordie roots. He will mostly be remembered as an axe-man. His lyrics deserve more attention.
The one armed bandit man Came north to fill his boots Came up from cockneyland
E-type jags and flashy suits Put your money in
Pull the levers Watch them spin Cash cows in all the pubs But he preferred the new nightclubs
5. Michelle Shocked - 5 am In Amsterdam

How does Michelle tell the time in the Netherlands? Listen to find out.

4. The Persuaders - A Thin Line Between Love & Hate

A soul classic which is also a hilarious tale of hell having no fury like a woman scorned. When he gets home at five, his lady is all sweetness and light, even offering to make him some toast. Cut to the next verse...
Here  am in the hospital
Bandaged from fee to head
In a state of shock
Just that much from being dead
Didn't think my woman would do something like this
Didn't think my girl had the nerve
Well, here I am
I guess actions speak louder than words...
Hitchcock would be happy with that twist.

3. Lily Allen - Who'd Have Known?

And this is why Lily Allen deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Kirsty MacColl.

My Top Ten: proud to have been irking the musos since before 2012.

2. Billy Bragg & Cara Tivey - She's Leaving Home

Apparently this was originally recorded by some obscure 60s combo: sadly I'm not enough of a muso to be familiar with their outfit and obviously their version couldn't have been as good as Billy and Cara's because it didn't even make the chart, unlike this smash hit Number One from 1988.

I'm sorry... Wet Wet Who?

1. Rialto - Monday Morning, 5.19

One of a clutch of classic Rialto singles from the Britpop era which has aged far better than Tracy Jacks. Heartbreaking too.




Which one sounds better than a 5am wood pigeon?

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

NEW ENTRY: The Indelicate Truth About Top Of The Pops



I know, I will go away soon, I promise. First though, I did mention that I was dropping the monthly top ten of what I'm listening to at the moment... but also that I'd come up with an idea of what to replace it with when I just wanted to write about something new. In keeping with this blog's ever-shackling Top Ten theme then, I'll now just title posts about new stuff as NEW ENTRY, and old stuff as RE-ENTRY (I haven't yet decided what to do with old stuff that's new to me). At least that way I won't have to do 10 of them a month (now I can do 15 if I want!). Anyway, there seems no more appropriate song to kick off with than this...

NEW ENTRY: THE INDELICATES - TOP OF THE POPS

The Indelicates remain my favourite band of the 21st Century. They are responsible for the most exciting single of the millennium so far (We Hate The Kids) and a series of albums that are always surprising, witty, literate and fun. They embrace a wide range of musical styles, from guitar pop to glam, embracing Brelian theatrical pomp and Jerry Lee Lewis piano. They're not afraid to admit to loving Jim Steinman. They're also indie in its most pure sense, having proudly resisted any kind of record deal since 2009, setting up their own label (Corporate Records) to promote their work and that of like-minded souls. They won't suck up to the music press (30 years ago, the NME would have been all over this band: the fact that they ignore them now is testament to what the NME has become) or radio (I'm always amazed that Lamacq doesn't support them). They are a cottage industry who rely on a loyal fanbase and word of mouth from the blogosphere to get their music heard... and I'm happy to play my (miniscule) part in helping promote their new record, Juniverbrechter. Because it's a record we need now more than any other.

I'll let Simon & Julia Indelicate explain why...

Lords and commons of England! Consider what nation it is whereof ye are!

It is one year since Brexit, half a year since Trump, stirrings abound - but the horrors persist and worsen!

England!

Cruel and Ugly! Mr Punch in the boiler room! Savile in a postcard! There's something wrong with Top Of The Pops. They cry hoorah for Daniel! Everything's so lovely by the sea! The bins have not been taken! 

We present this banishing ritual, to drive the demons from England!

Nous présentons ce hurlement en marge!
Unsere Damen, Herren und alle anderen! Wir präsentieren: JUNIVERBRECHER!


To find out more, visit The Indelicates website. Every time somebody clicks that link, an elitist scumbag loses their seat. (It might not be a parliamentary seat, it might just be a deck chair, rocking chair or chaise lounge. But every little helps.)


Friday, 30 June 2017

My Top Ten Pedantic Songs



I am well know for being a little bit of a pedant. It comes with being an English teacher... and a blogger. But at least I've never written a pedantic song. Unlike these people...

10. Weird Al Yankovich - Word Crimes

Good on Weird Al for parodying the hideous Blurred Lines... and turning it into a pedantic rant about grammar crimes.

Say you got an "I","T"
Followed by apostrophe, "s"
Now what does that mean?
You would not use "it's" in this case
As a possessive
It's a contraction
What's a contraction?
Well, it's the shortening of a word, or a group of words
By the omission of a sound or letter


9. Of Montreal - An Epistle To A Pathological Creep

Kevin Barnes has a pedantic mate he really doesn't like...

He'd explain to you but it would take too long
Why he is right and everybody else is wrong
He'd endeavor friend to make your mind correct
He'd try but he thinks it would take too long too long
It's probably simple math
That keeps him on his elevated path


8. Biffy Clyro - Born On A Horse

...whereas Simon Neil (least rock star name EVER?) doesn't like the way Americans spell and pronounce one particular kind of not-so-heavy metal.

I pronounce it aluminium
'cause there's an I next to the U and M
Now write it down slowly
And read it out fast


7. Harry Connick Jr. - Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

Yes, I know I should have gone with Fred & Ginger. Or Louis & Ella. But I have a special fondness for the HCJr version, even though he's arguing with himself. Seriously though, have you EVER met anyone who says 'po-tah-toe'?

6. William Shatner & Henry Rollins - I Can't Get Behind That

Two grumpy old pedants put the world to rights. I can get behind that.

5. My Life Story - If You Can't Live Without Me Then Why Aren't You Dead Yet?

Charming. You don't need to take things so literally, Jake. You might upset Father John Misty (below).

4. Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip - Thou Shalt Always Kill

Scroobius Pip tells you how to live your life... and gets his knickers in a twist over how the Oxford English Dictionary spells the word 'phoenix'. (He's wrong though.)

3. Half Man Half Biscuit - National Shite Day
 
I defy you to find a more pedantic songwriter than Nigel Blackwell. This is just one example... there are many more available.

I finally managed to reach the station
Only to find that the bus replacement service had broken down

After wondering to myself whether or not it should actually be called a train replacement service...

2. Father John Misty - The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment

FJM gets rather bent out of shape about a lady friend's use of one particular word...

She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means
Well, it's literally not that


He does have a point. Quite literally.

1. Barton Carroll - Past Tense

Barton's girlfriend dumps him when she gets her Master's Degree. She's a grammar nazi too. He's probably better off without her. But the strict ladies do make him weak at the knees...

Now if I ask what's wrong
You say, "It's not you, it's me"
And if I ask who's him?
You say, "It's not him, it's he."
My sentence composition is so far from refined
My participles dangle
Like a fish on a line


OK, my fellow pedants... which pedantic song did I miss out?

Thursday, 29 June 2017

June #1: Music To Watch Girls By


Thank you all for the kind words about my imminent sabbatical. I've never seen so many happy comments! Just to clarify though: I'm not going away completely. It'll just be one or two posts a week rather than five or six, until I've charged my batteries. In the meantime, we've reached #1 for June, so it's time for another song-based story. I originally titled this one Rockwell, which was a cleverer title, but Andy Williams has the far more obvious title. It was written nine years ago, so I've left the topical references as they were. I'm sure you can all remember George Bush Jr. What a great president he seems now, given the gift of Trumpian hindsight.

Anyway, today's story is about an age old quandary, and I'm not here to suggest any solutions, just tell the tale. I was amused to see some of the youtube comments about the "blatantly sexist" (from our present day perspective) video. The comments from men are often about how "feminists" will hate the video because of its portrayal of women. The comments from women tend to be more about how good the women in the video look and how all different kinds of body types were celebrated in days gone by. Make of that what you will.


1. Andy Williams - Music To Watch Girls By




Music To Watch Girls By / Rockwell

On Tuesday the 23rd of September, 2008, at precisely 10.45 in the morning, it happened. Every man on planet Earth went blind, and it all started with Dan. Daniel Tull, 27 years old, from Leeds, West Yorkshire. He was the first male to lose his eyesight completely – and then, in less time than it takes to butter a slice of toast, the blindness spread out from him like a shockwave. Like a bad CGI special effect, like the sudden blooming of a time-lapse stop-motion mushroom.

“Oh my god – this is like Day Of The Triffids, but for real, Keisha! What do you think’s gonna happen next?”

“Big tongued plants walking down the street zapping everyone with their evil phallic stamen, Jacs. Gotta be. Give it till nightfall, for the spores to start… sporing…”

Over in the corner of their Headingley flat, Lola sat shivering in that big, mouse-bitten sofa chair, the one they’d tried to throw out when they first got the place but hadn't been able to get down the stairs, even with the help of Jacqui’s ex, Ed. Lola was used to ignoring her housemates when they talked geek, a language she’d never taken at high school and could quite happily have gone the rest of her life without even hearing… but right now, she needed the distraction. Anything to take her mind off what she’d done.

“What are you two… on about?” she asked, pausing to clear her throat mid-question and stop her voice breaking like a spotty fourteen year-old lad. Like the ones who hung out around outside the Washeteria, shouting comments about her knickers through the glass as she dropped them into the machine.

“Classic John Wyndham novel—“

“Made into superior 1970’s BBC drama—“

“About an invasion of walking plants from another planet,” Lola’s housemates explained, tripping over themselves in their eagerness to engeek their normally geekproof sister.

“Before the Triffids attack, there’s this spectacular meteor shower which virtually everyone on the planet stays up to watch—“

“Only radiation from the meteor shower makes them all go blind—“

“Well, all the ones who watch it – there are some people who were either too pissed to get up, or living underground, or in hospital with bandages over their eyes or—“

“Just plain lucky, I suppose—“

“And they can still see, see—“

“A raggle-taggle group of survivors who lead the resistance battle against the Triffids until…”
Keisha scratched the stud on her left nostril and gave Jacqui a puzzled look. “What happens at the end?”

“I can’t… do the Triffids all catch, like, a cold or something?”

“No, you’re thinking of War of the Worlds.”

Jacqui and Keisha stared at each other, each scrunching their mouth over to one side of their face as a desperate-yet-futile memory retrieval aid.

“I can’t remember!”

“We should check the book out of the uni library, they’re bound to have it.”

“Unless someone’s already got it out.”

“Some boy?”

“–who can’t even read it anymore…”

On the television: more crashed airliners, derailed trains, motorway pile-ups. Kate Adie interviewing a brave Sir Trevor McDonald about his first hours without sight. Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman, standing in for the PM, urging everyone to remain calm.

“But it wasn’t just the men?” said Lola, sitting forward now but still hugging herself, still shivering, still semi-paralysed by the guilt. “It wasn’t just the men who went blind?” She was wearing what had become her uniform in recent weeks: a chunky Arran cardigan (despite the early Autumnal heatwave), baggy cargo pants, and heelless grey shoes. Her hair was cut short and not a lick of make-up tasted her face: the shadows round her eyes were entirely natural.

“No,” said Keisha, “in that regard, this is more like Y.”

“Oh yeah,” said Jacs, “very Y.”

“Why?” said Lola.

“Y, The Last Man,” Keisha explained. “Great comic—“

“Excellent comic—“

“Where all the men on earth are killed by this mysterious plague, except this one hot escape-artist bloke called Yorick, and his monkey—“

“Hot?” said Jacs. “You think Yorick’s hot?”

“Well, as pencil and ink cartoon drawings go—“

“Don’t you think that’s a little desperate, hon’?”

“What? Like you’ve never – little miss ‘I’ve Got A Puddle In My Pocket For John Constantine’!”

“Ahhh – get away from me – you said you’d never–! Not Keanu, let me make it quite clear, Lola – I never fantasised about Keanu!”

“Nobody fantasises about Keanu, Jacs. Even his fellow floorboards don’t get wood from Keanu—“

“How did it happen!?” said Lola, loud enough to make them both sit back in the collapsing sofa. On TV, George Bush was giving a speech about how Franklin Delano Roosevelt had served his country after being stricken with polio and Woodrow Wilson hadn’t let a series of severe strokes prevent him from seeing out his term in office, so nothing was going to stop him leading America in this time of international crisis. He did however question whether either of his potential successors were up to the job, and put it to the country that perhaps a change of leadership really wasn’t in the national interest at this time. ‘Perhaps this is a matter for the American people to decide,’ he concluded, before being led offstage by a disturbingly chipper Condoleezza Rice. The report cut to Hilary Clinton.

“The plague,” said Lola, when neither of her housemates seemed to understand the question, “in the story – what exactly caused all the men to die like that?”

“Oh,” said Keisha, “well, I reckon it was cloning. Once scientists had been able to successfully clone a human female, the entire male gender became obsolete – and in a Darwinian sense—“

“No way,” said Jacs, “it was the Culper Ring. Biological warfare gone way wrong, simple as that.”

“No, you see I prefer the interpretation that Gæa herself – the earth mother, who even in patriarchal Greek mythology is presented as a woman – chose to tackle head-on the infection blighting our planet—“

“Bollocks!” said Jacs.

“Exactly!” said Keisha.

“Wait a minute,” said Lola, “do you mean they never properly explained… I mean, there wasn’t actually a definitive—?“

“It’s open to interpretation,” said Jacs, “as so many things are in science and the natural…”

“So many of the theories on which we build our knowledge of the world are, in the end, unproven – it’s just, as yet, nobody’s been able to prove them wrong.”

Lola stared at them both for a very long time. It was the kind of stare that ruled out further conversation. Her eyes were tiny little bombs with the timers stuck on 00:01. The room held its breath.

Finally, Keisha broke. “Are you OK, Lol’? You look…”

“What about wishing?” said Lola, so quiet it was like listening to a mouse in another county. “Is there anything in any of your stories about wishing? Because that’s how it happened. They were always looking at me, wherever I went. Every day. Any time I stepped outside the house… I covered up, I stopped wearing anything that could be considered even remotely provocative… but still they kept on looking at me. Sometimes they’d try and be subtle about it, stealing glances as I walked by, watching my reflection in shop windows, rubbing their eyes but spying through the cracks in their fingers… but I always knew. I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything without…”

“People… looking at you?” said Jacs, her glasses making the frown in her eyes even bigger.

“Not – people,” said Lola, “not people – men! Men! Some of them were subtle, others… others were just so blatant! Staring – like, goggle-eyed, drooling…”

“Lols… you’re a pretty girl.”

“You’re a babe is what you…”

“I’d give my eye teeth to look like… and I don’t even know what my eye teeth are…”

“You say that that, yeah… but you’ve no idea. Neither of you. You don’t know what it’s been like for me, you don’t—“

“Yeah, well, we may not be total Heathers like you, Lols, but we do still get blokes eyeing us up, you know. Hard as that may be to—“

“Blokes really aren’t all that – I mean, I think they’re pre-programmed to pretty much ogle anything.”

“It’s genetic – really it’s back to that whole Darwinian—“

“You don’t see what I’m saying,” said Lola, “you don’t… This isn’t about me being a… I didn’t mean to compare myself to… I just meant, I caused all this. Don’t you see? I was in town this morning, and there was this guy off our course… Dan, Daniel something… guy with the glasses and that weird little moustache and…”

“Oh yeah, I know him—“

“I think he’s cute, actually—“

“Jacqui!!!”

“What? I do. I wouldn’t mind him staring at my—“

“I did it!” said Lola, shouting now to make them understand, standing up and using her hands and everything. “I caught him looking at me, even though I wasn’t even wearing anything remotely… He was watching me as I… Staring at me like I was an animal in the zoo or… and that’s when I did it. I wished. Don’t you see? I wished they’d all stop. Every single one of them. I closed my eyes and clicked my fucking heels and wished, harder than I’ve ever wished anything before in my whole fucking life… I wished they’d stop staring at me! And they did. All of them. At exactly quarter to eleven… they stopped. And now look what I’ve done…”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...