Really sorry I haven’t updated this last while. Not because I didn’t want to share with you but because, for once, I went through a period where nothing extraordinary happened to me, or near me, to tell you about. The munDane of our lives we should keep to ourselves, right? Else language would finally strangle itself, or turn on us properly, I’m sure of it. And – excuse me for this – when I read some of the crap that’s put up on the junior boards here by some of our newer members, recycled crap about poltergeists and slenderman and alien abductions, well it just reminds me that people should be kind enough to the rest of us to shut-up when nothing actual is happening them.
As usual you will have to bear with me, but I promise I will get to the point asap, even though getting to the point is what I find so difficult. I am a scattered person in scattered era living a scattered life in a scattered place and in a scattered mode. My emotions are scattered emotions. I perceive in a scattered way. That’s why I love the internet. How many random clips I have half-watched or quarter-watched and never bother returning to find out the rest. How many recommended tracks I have listened to and skipped over part of the way in. How many opening paragraphs I have read, and left it at that. There are people I fancy on Twitter but can’t stand on Facebook, or vice versa. How can you take such beautiful photographs of insects and circuses, and be such an ignorant bastard when it comes to politics?
The Indomanian family at the end of our row here were burgled last week and had all their gold and jewels taken – and that’s only the start of it. It’s nearly always members of the Indomanian or the Carabino communities that are burgled on our estate. It’s not racism, but economic profiling that selects them so, although I agree it’s easy to mix up racism and economic profiling.
*ians and *inos get burgled the most because they give the highest value return for the risk involved.
You may believe burglars do not think too much like ordinary business people, but they do. In fact, I think of them as an underground business sect, and a highly evolved and durable one at that, capable of adapting to every socio-economic trend. I am talking about sober-minded, professional, white-collar burglars. They are not junkies. At least not in our town. I don’t know how our town authorities have managed it but we have zero junkies here, even though the next town along the tracks is a hive of them.
Long-term survivors in the Burglar game are students of many things, architecture, demography, comparative culture and religion, consumer trends, wage levels and work practices in the security industry… there are doctrines and disciplines and degrees to be learned and taught in it.
It is likely that lessons in economic survival have to be taught to us many times over before we really get them. So it was probably a series of wars, droughts, economic collapses and other upheavals over several centuries that taught whole nations of millions and hundreds of millions not to trust in banks or paper money. Instead, they invest, over generations, in gold and jewelry to stash away and sell-off incrementally as needed, or to barter wholesale in case of emergency. This means every house that certain nationalities move into round here gets a large X struck across it by the ever-alert cartographers of the local housebreaking community, who can always back up their educated guess by dialing up their insiders in the house insurance community; finding out, in return for a cut, precisely what items of value are being secreted.
The family down the road didn’t have insurance. You could tell that by the way they (mother, father, children, infants, grandmothers) were wailing and sniffling and throwing hands in the air and cursing or beseeching demons or deities in a tongue or tongues I do not, nor will not, understand.
They have overreacted. They are extremely distressed. Or ‘they’re gone nuts from it’. So says sympathetic Wendy, who continously acts in strange defiance of all good sense and logic – unnoticed except by me. She went by to the victims this morning with a tray of cupcakes and an offer of further help, if needed. ‘Anything, really, anything atall. Don’t hesitate to ask.’
During the eight years that we have had the *ian family as neighbours, Wendy has spoken to them several times. Sometime in 2008 or 2009 she held a short conversation with the father about the school options for his then 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. On the basis of this conversation they have been nodding amicable greetings to each other ever since, and that’s about it. Over time, as is only to expected in these situations, the level of amicability and indeed of perceptibility in these greetings has descended almost to zero. For the first few weeks wide white smiles passed between them, cartoonishly grand, and for the sake of which both sets of experienced teeth were brushed for an extra few seconds a-night and glazed with peroxide, sometimes leading to a small, soporific exchange of pleasantries. They had the proud, charmed aura of neighbours who had been among the first of all the neighbours to make friends, to cross the jagged, barbed-wire boundaries of mistrust laid down like a curse at the foundation of the estate and springing up in a parallel, invisible thickness and strength beside every neighbour-dividing wall, fence or hedge. Now, when they pass it is more like a twitch than a nod which filters between them, seldom accompanied by a half-swallowed whisper which never intends amplifying itself into a word.
My love for Wendy is based on the fact that because she is different, by which I mean mad, by which I mean that she is still flowing and has not yet met a massive enough solidity in this world to dam her for good, she moves swiftly and fluidly between all social and imaginary borders. What in the social realm is as steel and brick to so many others is only air and water to her. Because of this, she gathers what little news there is round here, and, adding embellishment, stitches it together into something worth listening to.
‘They are moving out, immediately,’ Wendy says. The father had answered the door. He was crying. His voice had cracked higher. ‘Like a Tranny having a doorstep breakdown’. ‘Like a little girl in distress in the schoolyard’. ‘ Like a mewling cat, a burnt and blinded cat in a corner who doesn’t understand what is happening, crying out because that’s all it knows how to do’.
‘We couldn’t stay in this house together even one more night’, the house Daddy told Wendy. ‘It has been polluted by the evil of the thieves and we cannot remove this. Everything has been breathed over by a fouling mouth, branded by an evil look, fingered with a rotten grip’. This house, in this estate, had been like a paradise for his family, he snuffled, compared to the inferno they’d come here to escape from. Nobody bothered them here. Of course nobody was too friendly with them most of the time either, but ‘what do you expect people are so busy’. Now, everything was in ruins. ‘a heaven twisted overnight into a hell’.
‘The family must be some sort of weird Christian sect with that kind of attitude, those kind of beliefs’, Wendy said. ‘Christian?’ I said, surprising myself with the depth of my prejudice and the shallowness of my knowledge.
I know far more about the cats around here than I do about the people.
‘Yes, Christian’, Wendy said. ‘He mentioned Jesus a couple of times. I don’t know what denomination. It wasn’t the right time to ask. Do you know that there are 48000 christian denominations in the world? Well, wikipedia says so. And there are hundreds of Popes that aren’t catholics. Maybe thousands. You could probably fill the O2 arena with Popes. Anyway all of them, our neighbours I mean, the entire clan of them stole off in two cars this morning to go bunk-in temporarily with relatives in Raheny. Except the father, who is only staying on for a few days to sign-off on the affairs of the house and arrange for the removal of the rest of their belongings.’
‘What little I have left’, he had croaked at her, welling up.
A huge skip in their driveway now.
The father fills the skip up with goods from the house, new goods, undamaged goods. Many pristine items of furniture, a Flatscreen TV, various toys and kiddy gadgets of our period, bicycles, tricycles, scooters, a vacuum cleaner, a 5.1 speaker system, a dishwasher, a clothes-dryer, a washing machine, a garden patio set, an electric lawnmower, two buddha-bags (one dalmation, the other burgundy) a punchbag and a rowing machine, a Canon DSLR, laptops and tablets and phablets and smartphones… Word gets round. Many more people than usual stroll through our part of the estate, mostly people from other parts of the estate, one or two from further away. Wendy says he is crazy, that he should have had a jumble sale. I said that he was wiser with what he was doing, there being advanced jumble-sale exhaustion in play in our neighbourhood.
On the first night those that come for the loot in The Skip are from other close-by and poorer estates where there is no night and no day, neither common sleep nor common rising only endless racket babble endless senseless wakefulness. One pair of stealths arrive with a wheelbarrow in tow and make off with the flatscreen, returning after an hour for the clothes-dryer. Later on a gang of landscapers with a sizable van help themselves to almost everything else. A last few scurrying scavengers pick the skip clean by 3AM.
By training my night-sights on our little Fiat’s left hand wing-mirror I can just about make out that the father sits all the time at the window, curtain open, lights on, in full view of the human hyenas who come to feast on the death of his dream existence, but this does not deter them in the least.
In the morning the Indomanian father fills the skip again from within the house, with the same array of popular, fashionable, and useful domestic goods, this time with the addition of a side-carred motorbike. Wendy calls to his door, but he does not answer it. Wendy is freaked out. I suggest that the father must have been some sort of domestic goods salesman, holding spare stock at home. It’s not such an outlandish idea, but I know it’s not true and it doesn’t calm Wendy. Wendy takes to chainsucking lollipops, as she always does during anxious periods. That night people come to The Skip from the next town up the line, the dilapidated town over the hill I have told you about, where we are all so glad we don’t live. In view of what I have written above about the denizens of Junkytown, its emissary thieves seem surprisingly professional. A pick-up truck. Lookouts posted at the alleyways and corners. Everything cleaned out by just after midnight.
At 3am I look again and The Skip is full and gleaming.
At 6am it is empty.
3rd night. The police. Two cars, a wagon. They break down the door. Nothing inside. No man. No furniture. No appliances. Completely bare. Not even tiles. Not even paint on the walls. No lightbulbs. Empty sockets. Taps running dry. Boiler hollow. The police leave through the gap where the door they just broke down used be. I sleep. I wake. The Guards are back and the skip is full of loot again. They empty it, fill the cars, the wagon, drive off silently.
The blackbird sings. Does the blackbird sing? I do not care whether or not the blackbird sings.
4th night. Manifold Popes of various shisms come to exorcise The Skip. A beautiful Ethiopian Pope who strolls along like a river in flow, his violet robes rippling against his lithely bendable figure. An elderly Pope, with a silver-topped staff and centuries-old silver chains that have adorned a hundred other unheard of Popes before him. He oversees a small, pre-reformation sect of splitters based near Hyderabad. An Ossetian Pope who knows, in his soul of souls, in his wound of wounds, that his sins are too insistent and his guilt too deep for him to be worthy of being Pope, but continues hollow-heartedly to perform the role that chance has landed him in, for the sake of his people, and for appearances’ sake. Which, all told, is a holy and venerable path, as there is nothing in this world but appearances and so God, if there is a God, must be a God of appearances.
Later, the Popes are joined by priests, nuns, pastors, white witches, shamans, saddhus, clairvoyants and tarot card readers. They make a dense ring 20 holies deep around the skip, which is empty, and start to chant, each in their own tongue, their own rite. An exotic babble that goes on for a couple of hours. Nothing happens. Around 4am a gradual silence falls. Then, led by the gorgeous, model-slender, Ethiopian Pope, they all step forward one-by-one and climb into The Skip. One by one The Skip changes them into household items until as such they are piled up pyramidically and glittering like new stock just arrived from the billion-limbed factories of Nanjing. At dawn, junkies and heathens appear from out of hill-exuded mist and cart the new commodities off to be sold off round the backstreets of the city for money to buy drugs from the Hindu Kush.
And so all of these ministers of the word connect the shattered to their heavens after all.
I fear the consequences of telling Wendy about the Popes or the police. Her tongue is gone purple from the blackcurrant lollipops. It sticks to the roof of her mouth when she tries to talk. So, I hold the secret knowledge in reserve. Finally, her tongue comes unstuck. ‘Are you thinking what I am thinking’, she says.
We go upstairs together and perform a simple spell. Wendy lists the items she would like from The Skip (an ice-cream-maker, an 84-inch smart TV, an interactive whiteboard, an original and unplayed copy of The Carpenter’s first LP). I write them all down on my special paper, in my homemade ink. She then hands me several toenail cuttings which she filched from the *ian family’s ordinary black bin and I wrap them tightly and carefully into the folded paper. I flush the package down the toilet, where it will wend through the labyrinth of pipes, borne along minglingly with the adhesive content of flushes from throughout our enormous estate, on the way to chemical reconstitution in a treatment plant up the coast, and ultimate excretion into the sea. Where I imagine the package will be accidentally swallowed by a giant mackerel in whose belly there is a pristine, fully furnished contemporary sitting room.
And in the mackerel sitting room a man or a woman with a screen built into his or her palm reads this blogpost, and nothing else, repeatedly.
Last night. Listening to The Carpenters, Wendy and I gobble up scoop after scoop of our first batch of homemade icecream. Brownbread flavour. ‘It’s not perfect. It needs more of something or less of something else’, she says. ‘It suits me fine’, I say. Being honest, I would of preferred a bread machine anyway, but I don’t tell her that. I have ambitions around breadmaking. I would like to bake, for example, a saltless brown loaf. But I don’t mention any of this to Wendy. It would make her disappointed. We do not know how to operate the enormous television. We will have to pay someone to show us how. The whiteboard is for another evening. ‘There is a teacher in all of us’, Wendy says, ‘and all of us have things that we need to be taught’. Later on, she stops chewing altogether and says ‘’something bad is going to happen to us here, sooner or later, something really bad. I just can’t guess what’.
From my Short Story collection Wild Sessions, forthcoming from Frontline Press.