Sunburnt Gullshit Wanderlust

Story for The Read Horse Issue 4: Lust, Fist-Fights and British Seaside Resorts.

Inside the Regis Rock Shop the walls were a brilliant white.  Not a clinical, hospital-kind-of-white, not even an over-starched first day of term school shirt white, but a heavenly one. The kind that’s depicted in low budget movies made by directors that lack imagination: harmless and inoffensive but unoriginal, at best: a glimpse of a better man’s fantasy.

Continue reading “Sunburnt Gullshit Wanderlust”

Bodies, Porn & Wind Farms

Story for issue 1 of The Read Horse: Bodies, Porn & Wind Farms

A Story About Me

I am going to start by remembering our trip to Blackpool which was very special because we don’t go on trips often because usually I am sick in the car. Though this was the one time I wasn’t sick. Dad was still with us and he was driving. He always knew how to make me not be sick. He’d say “Mark, look at the things outside the window and imagine you are there and not in the car”. And what I saw in the field by the road was three giant grains of white rice moving round a circle like the arms of a daisy; a daisy that was a fan and a daisy at the same time. I was not in the car any more, but sitting on the giant rice waving my arms and legs in the air, which is impossible because of a thing called gravity and because my legs don’t move. But it was a fun thought.

I heard shouting from the front and realised that mum was angry at dad and maybe this is why he has told me to look out of the window to start with and not just because I was feeling sick. The dream of the wind farm got further and further away and the sickness was coming more and more. I started to moan and mum said “now you’ve done it” and looked at dad very cross. Until Adam, who is my younger brother, held my hand and started telling me that what I’m looking at is a wind farm, where they make power and use it to make light bulbs glow in loads of houses.  He tells me about how the farm works as he’s learned it in school. All about dynamos and electromagnets and how energy doesn’t die it’s just transferred. Kind of like when food is grown and I eat it and it goes through me and comes out the bottom and then goes into the ground and makes more things grow.

I like this idea because it means that even though the doctors say that I’m not going to live as long as everyone else I know that I won’t really die but that one day a bit of my power will be turning the petals of the wind farm and that makes me smile. I got quite tired thinking about all the connections between the biggest battery, which is the sun, but I like listening to my brother talk. Adam is really very clever and it makes me happy that he is my brother and doesn’t belong to someone else. Then I fell asleep and when I woke up we were in Blackpool. But I didn’t like Blackpool very much because it is full of really ugly things that shine in your face and flash in your eyes and after about 10 minutes on the pier (just enough time for Adam to go on at least one ride and not hate me forever) I threw up and we went back to the hotel. I had to do my special power for a whole afternoon before Dad agreed we could go home but I got to see the wind farm on the way back so it was worth it.

My special power is this. I do an empty face where it looks like no one is there but actually I am listening hard to hear everything. This makes me look much more sick than I actually am. This is useful for many things but I use it most to get out of places I don’t like to be and to listen to other people’s secrets. It works like this. I try to fix my eyes on a plane in the sky or a cloud through a window then I feel far away although really I am not. If I’m being extra clever I let a bit of dribble fall on my t-shirt to convince them I’m really somewhere else. This works really well when we’re in Mr Khan’s and I want a chocolate bar but mum won’t buy me one. I dribble a lot so the front of my shirt gets really damp and Mr Khan looks away embarrassed and I take whichever chocolate bar I want. But when I use this special power for listening I have to concentrate really hard or I will go to the cloud in my mind or just get lost in the thought. If I stop staring at the plane or the cloud Adam will see me looking and push my chair in front of the television or just talk about something else very quickly and then I won’t get to hear any secrets.

I have found out several things using my special power.

1)      Adam’s friend Jason broke mum’s favourite lady figure and they blamed me because he knows that mum will not get as upset if it was me even though it wasn’t. Adam said it fell off the sideboard top and that I accidentally ran over it in my chair and that’s how it got smashed and the little bits got crushed into the carpet. What actually happened is Jason sat on it. He stuck the lady figure down his pants because he’s a show-off and they were drinking the White Lightning which tastes disgusting and just makes them act really silly even though I know Adam is not. It doesn’t make me silly but makes me need to wee lots so I don’t drink it even when my brother and his friends offer it to me. Anyway, Jason had a bruise on his bum for ages (he kept showing Adam) so I felt he had got what he deserved in the end.

2)      Adam is having it off with his friend Janine. She comes round when mum is out and he is meant to be looking after me. They go into his bedroom and make noises. They are the same noises that come from the TV when Jason comes round to drink the White Lightning. I sit in the corner using my special power so it looks like I am dribbling everywhere again but actually I am listening to the noises from the woman with the massive jugs who I can see out of the corner of my eye. Jason likes to watch videos about having it off. He brings new ones round a lot which he borrows from his dad when he isn’t looking. He prefers to watch women with mostly yellow hair though sometimes the top of it is brown. But the woman is always moaning in the same way, even if she has different coloured hair. I find it really boring, even if they do bend in different ways a lot. I suppose I’m a bit jealous because I can’t bend my legs like that at all but that still wouldn’t make me want to watch it as much as Jason does.

3)      You are worried about me and that’s why you wanted me to write a story about myself. Because you want to know if everything is okay but also because you are kind. You were talking to mum when she came to pick me up from The Centre and I was doing my special power to listen hard though it looked like I was staring at Megan’s painting on the wall, which I was a bit, because it is good. I know I am not getting any better, but it’s okay because I know what Adam told me about the wind farms is true, because Adam is clever and because he is my brother. Bodies don’t really die, our power just goes somewhere else. And one day there will be a wind farm that looks like it is just an empty wind farm with its daisy arms, but actually it will be listening to all the secrets in the air, because it will be me.

Picture by Tai Moolman, aged 5

The Number Two Ladies’ Detective Agency

Submitted to Smoke: A London Peculiar for consideration, Feb 2010.
Madame Bombola waddled up the street, a gentle breeze fondling her matted locks, accompanied by a rustle of plastic bags. On approaching the river she sidled up to the stone embankment and after looking round rather shiftily hurtled her rotund rear deftly over the edge. Thankfully the tide was out. Landing on the muddy bank with a thud almost caused her glass eye to disconnect from its socket and join the assortment of other brown looking stones below, but the scar that held her eyelid half shut rectified the situation. She began a profuse search amongst the many layers, semi-pockets and demi-sleeves about her person.

“Where me put dem ting?”

One zipper burst to release a flutter of dusty moths who were as dazzled by the brightness of the time of year as they were the year itself. Another woven patch was un-battened to reveal a rather collectable stamp with the picture of a bicycle and the mechanism of a music box that played All You Need Is Love.

Where me put dem ting?”

She sat down, perplexed on an upturned shopping trolley and stared dejectedly at her feet.

“Me shoe!”

Madame B, a creature of habit, often kept her most precious possessions in the heel of her boot. But, like all such creatures of habit was prone to forgetfulness after a few jars in the park as had been the case that very afternoon.

Unlatching the hidden compartment she pulled out an obscene length of blue washing line that more than tripled the capacity of her heel. And yet she kept tugging away. Minutes later and surrounded entirely by plastic twine she removed the rusty fish hook from her left ear and tied it to one end. Things could now get underway.

She meandered along the water’s edge, found a choice spot to begin her prognosticating and launched the line skilfully into the murky depths. The fish bit almost instantly. The washing line went taut. Bombola bobbed left and right, hopping over a variety of planks, pipes and wheels. Finally the creature began to tire and she brought the beast to land. Regarding the condom happily she conjured a tea-strainer and drained the river water from the latex sack to secure her prize: the microscopic remnants of sperm. Now some of her kin felt you could read male discharge like tasseographers read tea leaves, but Madame Bombola had no time for such foolish bunkum.  She was well-versed in the correct approach to fortune-telling. Quicker than a toad snaffling a fly with its bright pink tongue, she ingested every last morsel. The semen was stealthily making its way through her digestive system.

The potent magic began to take effect and her one good eye clouded milky white. Her body convulsed violently creating the rustling sound of a thousand plastic bags in a tornado. Madame Bombola started speaking in tongues.

“Archie dearest, if we are going to fuck in your car, you could at least have brought the Jag.”

“Darling you know Imelda needs the Jag for her client meetings. What was I supposed to say, the fat cats will have to wait, Camilla simply won’t suck my cock in the Audi!?”

“Oh haw-haw! You are a one! But you shouldn’t let her wear the trousers so.”

“Quite. Stupid bitch has even resorted to hiring private detectives to catch me out. Luckily we’re far too clever for that aren’t we darling? But speaking of trousers, down you go!”

The scene faded out to steaming windows and a violent rocking they’d never have had in a car with superior suspension.  The vision rushed downstream like a bubble rising to the surface. It pricked the film of day and with a distinct pop and sent Bombola’s rotund rear hurling backward with a muddy skid. She rose to her feet and gathered the line. She now had more than enough information to collect what was owed. Returning to the road she headed towards the city, her waddle transformed into the determined stride of a person of importance, who just happened to have one leg shorter than the other.

Across town in a million-pound skyscraper an equally determined yet slightly more snappily dressed woman stared coldly out the window. Her PA buzzed on the intercom that her two-thirty appointment had arrived. The familiar fanfare of plastic rustles left the lift and knocked on the executive’s door.

“Enter. Do you have it?”

Bombola nodded gravely and passed a reused envelope from a mail-order catalogue to her employer. She opened it. The contents flopped limply and apologetically onto the monogrammed desk diary below. The woman returned a larger, more professional looking envelope packed full of English currency. Madame B tried to throw a final sympathetic look towards her associate, but missed. She waddled out complaining to herself that throwing anything was so much harder with only one eye. The door shut behind her. Imelda sat, her steely resolve crumpled, and began to cry.

Clinical Records

It was freezing outside. Matt tried once more to slip his gloved fingers under the crack in the window’s edge and force the pane open. With one last determined push, it groaned upwards and allowed him to slip into the basement below. The dank room was walled with dusty filing cabinets and piled high with damp cardboard boxes.  The air was stale and there was an unnerving humming from behind one of the doors. He assumed it emanated from a boiler and immediately welcomed the sound of warmth. No matter how unpleasant the current surroundings, they were certainly warmer, almost tropical, compared with outside. He shut the window behind him and looked out with fondness at the derelict school next door. That had been quite a squat, but the recent addition of floodlights and guard-dogs meant he was definitely sleeping here tonight.

Matt took stock of the room and began to rearrange the boxes, unpacked his sleeping bag and sat down. He felt he could make this place quite homely if only he could convince his nose to overlook the intense aroma of mildew. The light was fading outside so he began to search the walls for a light switch, having judged the clinic and its surroundings deserted enough to avoid detection. He rightly assumed that the occupants of the encompassing tower blocks had their own worries and cared little about the carbon footprint of an NHS outpost that had left a few lights on. The computers upstairs were always left on anyway.

The strip lights buzzed on and illuminated the room. Curling posters advertising various charities and helplines charted the history of the place; from office to filing room and finally all-purpose dumping ground. In the corner was a crate of forlorn-looking toys. These included a handful of counting blocs, a pile of brown paged story books and several unfriendly looking stuffed animals Matt would later use for a pillow, when they had stopped grimacing.

He began to inspect one of the boxes and lifted its dusty lid to find it stuffed with pale green folders. He took the top one which had “Strictly Confidential: Not to be taken out of the hospital” on its cover in bold print, followed by a name and date of birth scrawled on the spine in marker pen. He leafed through the pages to find, a handful of appointment letters, a thin report and a few sparse notes at the back. Scanning through the letters the phrase “Department of Child and Family Psychiatry” found his eye. His interest caught, he discarded the meagre arrangement of dates and times in the folder in front of him and began to search for a larger file with more rewarding contents.

Then he saw the drawing. A child’s picture, etched in crude strokes of crayon, crumpled in the corner of the container. At first glance it seemed to be an average picture of a park scene; green grass, rudimentary flowers, a man with in big blue jacket walking a shaggy dog shaped like a mop and a girl on a swing, except perhaps for the fact that it was raining. Then Matt looked closer and saw that the expressions on the faces were all wrong. The man had an evil look in his eye, and it wasn’t raining, the girl had filled the sky with tears that flowed upward from her eyes. There was a name in the top left hand corner: Harriet Walker.

He found her notes at the bottom of the crate. They consisted of two large folders teeming with paper; half of it was loose and spilt onto the floor when he lifted them out.  He spent the next few minutes trying to organise them into a chronology of events and sat down to read.


5th September ’96 Harriet attended the clinic with her mother today for her first assessment. She was initially referred by her Head of Year due to behavioural problems and conduct disorder issues. Mum described a history of confrontational and defiant behaviour and angry outbursts that she believes stem from the breakdown in relations with her husband. Mrs Walker informed me that she had a physically abusive relationship with her husband and she has raised the possibility that he may also have been abusive to Harriet, even though she was never witness to this herself. Child is no longer at risk as father has returned to his native country and currently has no contact with H. No Social Services referral required. Plan: to offer a further session with Harriet, on a one to one basis, to try to establish if any abuse carried out. If none found, refer to tier 2 service for counselling to work out her anger issues as no serious mental illness found.


11th September ’96: Harriet DNA her appointment. T/c to mum revealed H not feeling well. Rescheduled for next week.


20th September ’96: Harriet and mother attended though it was apparent that H was reluctant to come and had to be coerced by Mrs Walker. Saw H alone, she appeared withdrawn, with flat affect and poor eye contact. I was alarmed by the striking contrast in presentation from the initial assessment two weeks ago where H has been outspoken and rebellious. Tried to engage H with the session with great difficulty, so asked H to draw how she felt. She produced a series of pictures that were somewhat disturbing. Plan: To discuss drawings with consultant and suggest possibility of offering art psychotherapy intervention.

Matt turned the page to find another picture, this time, a collage of cuttings from what looked like waiting room magazines; of the kind called Woman’s Monthly and Girl’s Room. These were wholesome little pictures from family life; a girl in her early teens cuddling a kitten, a women applying make-up, a child brushing her doll’s hair, but they were alarmingly interspersed with household cleaning products. One girl had a bleach bottle pouring into her eyes, another had fabric softener jutting from her lips, and the most disturbing image was of a young baby whose skin was being grated with a scourer.

Suddenly his skin tingled and the hair on the nape of his neck stood tall. He had heard a door slam and footsteps above his head. The building had been deserted and it was now well past opening hours. He thought perhaps that one of the doctors had forgotten something and decided to wait it out. Long minutes ticked by as he tracked the movement of the footsteps on the ceiling, wondering whether he should make a break for the window. Then finally after several cistern gurglings, the whir of a hoover began and he relaxed: the cleaner.

His instincts told him to leave immediately, hide his things and return a little later when the clinic was again deserted. But he was engrossed in the story and began to read on although a few pages were missing and the dates jumped:

12th January ‘97: Mum and H attended 5th session with Leila Smith, Art Psychotherapist, Dr Kendal, Consultant Psychiatrist, and myself in the observation room. LS reports that she is amazed by H’s technical development since the introduction of oil paints several weeks ago. She has begun to articulate her feelings on large canvasses in elaborate styles. Mother reports that H no longer socialises, has lost all interest in television and spends hours in her room painting with no reprieve. School have reported that her aggressive behaviour is no longer a problem but they expressed concerns about her increasingly withdrawn behaviour, stating that “H seems to be an entirely different person”. Today she painted the clinic itself (see storage tube)…


Matt paused to rummage in the box and unravelled a large canvas from a plastic tube. The clinic stared back at him; a large decrepit Georgian building with decorative urns on the rooftop and an NHS blue door. She had depicted the dilapidated essence of the building well, but it was the roses that captivated the viewer. They climbed out of the flowerbeds in deep carmine shades and wrapped around the walls and windows in elaborate patterns, as delicate as a snowflake but as suffocating as a pillow held over the face. Then he noticed it, a figure in a downstairs window, he estimated it was standing in the same place the footsteps were coming from now. Footsteps! A light in the hallway flicked on and a key rattled in the door, opening, to reveal a man in blue overalls, holding a mop shaped like a dog.