Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Odd Couple

The two dogs had lived next door to each other for three years.

One was a bearded collie that loathed the colour red, the other was a red setter that despised beards. This was the main reason that they had hated each other for the first two years and eight months. There were other reasons, but minor in comparison.

Things changed when the owners of each dog fell in love and knocked down the fence between their two gardens. This was a disaster for the dogs and as their owners stared lovingly into each other’s eyes, the dogs growled and scowled and tried to dig up each others’ bones, until a misunderstanding over who owned the stripy rubber ball resulted in a bitten ear and a nasty graze.

‘This can’t go on,’ thought the setter. ‘And as the oldest, most elegant and by far the most intelligent of us both, I shall be the one to make the first move towards peace.’

So he trotted out into the garden and as the bearded collie looked up from the hole he was digging in the setter’s favourite flowerbed, said in deep, dignified tones:

‘Woof, woofwoofwoof. Woof.’

This meant: ‘Look here, you. I’m going to the park in a minute and I’m going to run about really fast and sniff trees. Would you care to join me?’

‘Ruff. Ruff. Ruff ruff ruff ruff’ - ‘I too am going to the park. But if I do run about really fast, it’ll be nothing to do with you. It’ll be because my owner throws my brand new stripy rubber ball for me.’

‘Suit yourself, ‘ said the setter.

So the setter and the collie ran all the way to the park, both trying to be first, but without appearing to be together.

The setter sniffed a few trees, barked a bit then ran back. His owner hadn’t noticed a thing, because she’d been too busy staring happily into her neighbour’s eyes.

‘Hmm.’ thought the collie. ‘That really did look like fun. Perhaps if he asks me again tomorrow, I’ll join in.’

But the next day came, and the setter didn’t ask.

“Ruff?’ enquired the collie the next time they were at the park at the same time. ‘I’m going to dig those leaves up and see what’s underneath. You coming?’

‘Nah, said the setter haughtily.’ Did that yesterday. Boring.’

The collie thought of something very rude under his breath and got a stern look from his owner.

Oh dear. Would they never be friends? What could possibly bring two dogs together, united in joy with one common purpose?


Later, panting with the glow of the chase, the setter glanced over at the collie. ‘Well done, old chap. You really chased him up that tree.’

The collie laughed modestly. ‘I couldn’t have done it without your help. The way you sprinted over and barked – well – he knew he’d met a true professional all right!’

And they almost smiled at one another, just their owners concluded their first ever argument and privately made plans to replace the fence.

Thursday, 28 March 2013


An excerpt from The Colourist    
I had to stand on tiptoe to see the paintings properly; all misty scenes of mighty mountains and forests, precipitous slopes and jagged cliffs, but populated by only one or two human figures, tiny in the landscape. They were the lonely travellers, hermits sitting in their pavilions enclosed and subsumed by the mountain walls, small and bold and very far away. The brush strokes were fine sweeps of black, admirable in their self-assuredness and they carried extraordinary energy in their colour. I could see the explosive burst of black ink as it sprang form the artist’s pen across white paper, as sure in its stroke as a skier headlong down slope. Each one was a whiplash curve that seduced with endless possibilities – where would it end? And would you want to follow it?
No other colour could do this. Only purple, dark and sinuous, could convey a hint of the same sensuality of not knowing, of being led and controlled.

I travelled on the underground to the hospital to be checked over after suffering a spell of fainting. I was disturbed by the sour green smell of the hospital waiting room, but reassured by the controlled chaos of doctors and nurses, their hurried footsteps charting collision courses that never quite happened. The doctor gave me iron tablets and told me to eat plenty of green vegetables. 'At any other time, I'd prescribe red meat, too,' he said and asked if I had any cravings. I smiled and said no, although privately I had a desire for dark reddish purple, the colour and texture of an aubergine, and wondered in more fantastical moments if that was what the child looked like; gently curved, featureless, smooth.

 I heard voices, then Anna, in the slightly dictatorial tones of a small practical girl: 'Mummy is not well today because of purple.' And she closed the door.
'Anna? Who was that, darling?'
'A man. He came to take you away. I told him no.' Anna appeared in the doorway, looking pleased.
‘Oh Anna. That was the man I was going to see the film with. What did you say about purple?'
'I told him you weren't very well because of it,' she replied, matter-of-factly.
'I see.' The offending colour had been purple, the hard-bitten kind, but that seemed beside the point, it was just the wrong colour on the wrong day and it had given me a headache. Sometimes colours are simply too strident; they shout too loud, and like anyone trying to have a quiet day, they can rattle the delicate bars of one's equilibrium. Purple often causes me angst; it's a curious shade, an impostor, a fly-by-night, too theatrical to be taken seriously. It's moody and bruised, and makes me feel that way, too.
‘Shall I get him back?’ she asked, concern written across her face, eyebrows high, biting her lip.
‘I’ll look out of the window, see if he’s still there,’ I told her half-heartedly. He wasn’t and I thought; I’m relieved. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. Perhaps purple was, this time, my friend.

Monday, 4 March 2013

The duck’s tale – a memoir

(I recommend reading this in your best Robert de Niro voice.)

Man, but I get so tired these days. It’s all I can do to get my breath back during the day, have a little nap, read the headlines before he’s back home from school and it begins all over again. I don’t how these younger ones do it – ‘You were born old, mate,’ says that Monkey they call Unkey, although he tells me his real name is Kev. “Don’t want to disappoint the little fella though, do we, mate? If he wants to call me Unkey, then Unkey I am.”

I’ve long forgotten my real name. And I wish he’d stop calling me mate. As the oldest one here, I’ve got a position to maintain. Without respect, it all goes to pot. ‘You should write you memoirs, dear, ‘ says that lah-di-dah bear from the other bedroom, but I don’t know about that. Memoirs? Load of self-important hoo-haa if you ask me. Who’d be interested in the story of my life?

You see, we’ve grown up together, me and the little guy. Yes, hard as it is to believe, I was just a little guy myself when I arrived here. Granted, I didn’t talk as much rubbish as he did in those early days, and I’ve always been very careful about my…well, my toilet habits, but we’ve been though a lot together. I’ve been lost and found, I’ve been sicked on, more times that I care to remember frankly, but you get used to it in the end. I mean, that Unkey guy, he’s never been sicked on, but then he’s never been near enough – get what I mean?

And that time I got my head stuck between the cross wires of a fence – yeah, I still remember how that hurt – man, I had a headache for weeks. He’d stuffed me in there then couldn’t get me out again. And the time the car reversed over me…this wing’s never been the same since. I tell you, it’s lucky I love the little guy so much because without the love, well, you wonder whether you’d put up with any of it.

There are perks, though, of course there are perks. I’ve travelled, I’ve met some movers and shakers. That raggy sheep that come here once? Remember her? Well, you’ll never believe who she belonged to. I’m a discreet guy, so I’m not gonna start naming names, but seriously, she was rock n roll royalty. And even she got left down the back of the sofa until the next day, so you see, these things can happen to the best of us, you gotta remember that.

Well, will you look at that. See what I’ve done there? I’ve gone and given you my memoirs after all, haven’t I? And you know what? It makes me feel kinda young again – which is as well, cos I’ve just heard the front door slam like the little guy’s angry with it, he’s pounding up those stairs like he’s a bull. Deep breath and brace yourself, man. Five more hours to bedtime.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Snowmen Cometh

(After reading advice from the Environment Agency asking people to build snowmen to reduce flood risk.)

Something odd happened this morning. When I drew back my curtains, there was a large and flustered-looking snowman in the back garden. I hadn’t built it. The children hadn’t built it. They didn’t seem as surprised as I was, and said perhaps it built itself.

‘Snowmen can’t do that.’ I said.

‘They might,’ they said.

‘They don’t because they haven’t got hands to build themselves with, until they’re built.’  Well, I knew what I meant.

We examined him after breakfast. I’m not what it was about him that looked flustered, but he did. Something in the angle of his carrot nose, perhaps. A startled expression in his sultana eyes.

‘Maybe he was in a hurry to get here,’ suggested my son, adjusting the snowman’s scarf. It was very cold out in the garden.

As we walked to school that morning, there were two more snowmen, one with a briefcase and one with a shopping bag, heading down towards the station, although of course they weren’t actually moving.

‘They can’t walk,’ said my son in his matter-of-fact tone. ‘Because they haven’t got proper legs.’

‘Maybe they slide, slowly so we can’t see them. Like glaciers,’ said my daughter thoughtfully and we stopped for a little while, just in case we might catch a tiny movement.

There was a little huddle of them at the bus stop. One was reading a newspaper and looking pleased.

‘He’s probably glad about this weather,’ said my son.

We all looked at each other – ‘I didn’t know they could read…’ we said in unison and laughed, our hot breath puffing the icy air. Clearly, there was a lot we didn’t know about snowmen.

Near the school were many more snowmen with what I supposed were their children. (Who else’s are they going to be?’ said my daughter. Good point, I thought.)

I dropped my children at the school gates and walked home, wrapping my coat tightly about me to keep the weather out. ‘Morning,’ said one of the snowmen, walking a scruffy little snowdog. ‘Morning, I said then thought, did he really just speak to me? But it was hard to tell, as he’d pulled his hat further down over his face. Or maybe it had just slipped.

The snowmen stayed for a week, then it got warmer. Overnight, they were all gone. But the garden and the path to school were strewn with carrots.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


Excerpts from The Colourist

‘I’ll leave you to unpack, Miss Carmichael.’ Ellis withdrew himself and softly padded back the way we’d come. He was a very quiet man, Ellis, and like his master, not much given to small talk. One rarely heard him approach.
‘Thank you!’ I called after him, then flung my suitcase on the high, rather unforgiving-looking bed. It creaked when I sat on it, but in a friendly, well-used way. Someone had thoughtfully placed some gypsophilia on the dressing table and now their tiny petals lay like a lace mat around the vase. The room was furnished with cherry wood, the walls painted an old-fashioned, knowing pink; full of face powder and gossip. I wondered if it had once been Nathan's mother's own room, or some female relative before her, for its atmosphere was heavy with the rustle of women. In one corner stood an armchair covered in pale blue velvet which I quickly smothered with the coverlet from the bed, for as much as I love the purr of velvet, it seemed so discordant in that flimsy colour that I couldn't feel comfortable until it was hidden. Velvet has to be dark, cloaked in the sort of colours that hold back storms.

We wandered from room to room, Sylvia and I; she chattering about this and that until we found ourselves in the small drawing room.
‘That’s a pretty dress you’re wearing tonight, Rosa. Is it new?’
‘Not very, no. But I haven’t worn it often. You made me realise that I should make more of an effort - you always look so elegant.’ I smiled at her. This was the sort of conversation she liked. I wondered what was coming, for I was sure that our wanderings were not prompted by after-dinner ennui.
‘Hmm, well I try…But I do think you could wear a better colour; that green does make you look a little flat, if you don’t mind me saying. You don’t, darling, do you? I just want to help. Maybe a pink would do the trick, don’t you think?’
I was going to say something, then didn’t. I raised my eyebrows in what I hoped was a non-committal but open gesture.
I never wear pink. Pink is like a house guest whose arrival has been much vaunted, but whom one wishes would leave after a couple of hours. I find it too slippery and impossible to capture; it sidles up to blue to create fuchsia, joins with orange to make salmon, has an unhappy marriage with yellow to give a sickly sweet calamine colour, nestles ingratiatingly with brown to make antique tea rose. It thinks it is cleverer than it is. No wonder Sylvia liked it so much.
She had paused at the window and spun around to face me, our conversation about my choice of dress forgotten.

If you’re interested in the use of pink in art, this might tickle those cones http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/great-works-painters-table-1973-philip-guston-1903803.html