Unlocked: final three audio tracks from Let Me Tell You A Story

So go on, let us do that – we’re ready and waiting.

‘Terminus‘; descent into a room of sly eyes.

‘Puddles Like Pillows’. When gravity stops holding things down & litter fills the skies.

Phillippa Yaa de Villiers exceptional poem, ‘Origin’. 

From Let Me Tell You a Story available from Amazon.

‘Dressing Up Boxes, and Dressing Up By Wearing Boxes’

drawing of figure with wingsYou have to be a certain age to remember dressing up boxes. Today’s tiny tots can put in for a replica of the entire Beckham estate for Xmas & call their lawyers if Santa doesn’t deliver, so the frisson of transforming cast off curtains and abandoned antimacassars into theatrical costumery will be lost to them.

Our dressing up box was a battered old suitcase out of which we selected ancient curtains & lace doilies to serve as the trappings of royalty. Net curtains became the wings or the floaty ethereal dresses of fairies; the big velvet ones you had to lug out two-handed transformed scabby-kneed six year-olds into caped crusaders, aided by some tin foil and a cracked cricket stump to serve as a death ray. A bit of old rag and several terabytes of imagination and you were castaways, princesses, knights and astronauts, pirates and bandits, pressing into service old cardboard boxes, stuff from your dad’s tool box and any domestic animals that could be persuaded to wear a bonnet.

But once you’re grown up, that’s it, isn’t it?  Well, no as it turns out. Somewhere in the depths of your computer, assuming it’s fast enough and has a graphics card you could light NASA up with, is the facility to grant access to the biggest dressing up box you ever saw in your life.  Second Life[1], actually. Once you’ve signed up, logged on and discovered how to make your legs work, you can be let loose onto The Grid, as it’s called by its developers, or the ‘What the Cripes Was That?’ as everyone else knows it, at least until they’ve discovered how not to wear boxes on their heads[2].

Once there and in full charge of your limbs, you can head off (walk, fly, teleport if you don’t mind) to a shopping mall of your choice and dress yourself in anything at all that takes your fancy. A bit of a yen to be a punk? Missed out on the Goth era and fancy taking another crack at it? Want to feed your inner Barbara Cartland with acres of pink fluff and confection? No problem.  You can even change your skin colour, your hair and your shape – Bit less bum, rather more leg Madam? Of course. T-W-E-A-K. One person I first came across as a rather gangly bloke, turned up a few days later looking much shorter and rather more girlie.  Clearly either an identity crisis or he/she hadn’t got the hang of the controls yet.

And you don’t have to wait to get your new stuff home before trying it on – just drag it over there and then and … this is the moment you realise that all your clothes just disappeared and you’re standing in a shopping mall wearing only a pair of leopard print stilettos and a mysteriously acquired tattoo on your backside proclaiming, ‘Queen Bitch’ in a large florid font.

Still, at least you haven’t got a chunk of advertising hoarding round your neck or a skateboard with a mind of its own attached to your left foot. Once you have that sort of thing in hand, you can afford to pass off the odd episode of inadvertent exhibitionism with a casual burst of multi-coloured particles, or simply break into some smooth moves you picked up at the animation warehouse. Do be careful with these though, some of them are not too clearly labelled and you don’t want to be demonstrating er, how shall I put this – reproductive behaviour. In a crowded bar. On your own. Best way to get yourself banned.

 

[1] Second Life is a virtual world in which scientists conduct experiments and everyone else dresses as dragons, cats, or women in suspenders whose legs end somewhere under their armpits. The populations are possibly interchangeable.

[2] It still happens. Did it last week.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

Unlocked: five more audio tracks of poems & short stories

All from the Let me Tell You a Story anthology.

Here’s ‘Tantric Twister‘ by multi prize-winner Tracy Fells, who is also a very naughty girl! Lyn Jennings, who isn’t – here reading her poem ‘Heatwave’, and you know you need that as the nights draw in up here in the north!

There’s Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s gentle poem, ‘Mrs Moreno’,  about grief and comfort, and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers’ insightful ‘Breastsummer‘, an awakening so many of us will recognise.

Finally, a bit of sci fi; a tale of first contact but not as we know it, Jim. This is ‘When Gliese Met Glasgow – and Muira made a mint’.

The print book is on sale at Amazon 

 

‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – a Halloween(ish) tale of a ghostly (maybe) gran

drawing of people on a sofaDrop Dead Gorgeous – a Halloween(ish) tale of ghosts (maybe) and quantum phasing (your guess is as good as mine). Bit sweary so don’t let the kids loose.


I first met Dillon when my dead Gran tripped me up in front of him. There was me, meandering along the sea front watching small dogs on extending leads crochet themselves into yapping compounds each time they encountered others of their ilk; and there was he, arrowing through them, the sleek lycra-ed warp to their woof. I was ok but he landed up in hospital with several broken bones and his bike was a write-off. Gran beamed like it was her birthday and she’d knocked back her celebratory bottle of whisky all in one go.

I wasn’t planning on visiting him; after all he’d reason to be mad and maybe even to monetise that. Can you sue pedestrians? But Gran had other ideas; I got the train to uni, it broke down and the replacement bus dropped me outside the hospital. I walked, there was an incident and a diversion that went right past A&E. I tried taking a taxi; the driver had a heart attack. So to avoid any further disasters befalling the largely innocent public, I gave in. Five minutes tops should do it, I reckoned.

‘Ok, I’ll go,’ I said. ‘But I don’t need an audience, right?

Fat chance. ‘Lovely, innee?’ Gran said, breathing pickle fumes over my shoulder.

‘Shut up,’ I said, trying not to move my mouth as if this somehow compensated for the conspicuous absence of a third party. It didn’t. Dillon looked around the room and started to reach for the call bell. I could see his point.

‘No, not you,’ I said, and fiddled around with a fantasy earpiece under my hair. ‘Bloody signal’s gone,’ I said, palming the non-existent device and shoving it in my pocket. I gave him one of those modern technology, what can you do? looks and shrugged at him.

Gran continued her onslaught. ‘Physicist,’ she said, picking at teeth that would be at least a hundred years old if she’d managed to haul her liver past eighty-six. ‘Should suit you, with all your book-learnin’ an’ that.’ She gave me a shove, ‘Go on, sit on his bed.’ I was propelled forwards and alarm spread across Dillon’s face as the woman who had put him there in the first place threatened to flatten him all over again. I grabbed at a drip pole. It was on wheels so we took each other down, along with a vase of flowers, a jug of water, and a box of tissues. The almighty racket drew the attention of a frosty-looking nurse in pink scrubs who rushed first to Dillon to inspect him for injury, and then turned her rather less solicitous gaze on me, sprawled on the floor at her feet.

‘And you are?’ she said, like we were at a posh party and I wasn’t on the guest list. I opened my mouth preparing to kill two birds with one F-bomb but …

‘My girlfriend,’ said Dillon, into the gap.

‘What?’

‘Yes,’ Gran said through my teeth, tittering in my ear and making kissy-kissy noises.

The nurse glared at me, then at Dillon, ‘Well, in that case …’ and she stomped away to find a cleaner she could terrorise.

‘Jeez!’ Dillon said, rolling his eyes. ‘I owe you; bloody woman’s been ogling me since I got here. Never seems to be off-duty. Have you seen that Stephen King film?’ He smiled one of those crooked smiles you read about.

‘Look look look!’ Gran whickered at me, ‘Drop dead gorgeous!’

I cocked an appraising eye, ‘Well, actually …’

‘You saw it, the movie?’

‘No, I meant – anyway, how are you?’

He told me.

We laughed.

I stayed two hours.

I promised to pick him up and take him home when he was discharged, and cook dinner as he couldn’t use his hands that well. Turned out he could. Whole other story.

I moved in.

Gran stayed away for quite a while, probably to focus on another deviant descendant, then suddenly, back she came.

‘Cheating gigolo,’ she announced from behind the sofa. I nearly lost my takeaway. ‘Quantum research shove-it-up-your-jacksie conference, my Aunt Fanny,’ she said. Gran liked an expletive or two, albeit somewhat retro ones.

‘What do you mean?’

‘So-called research assistant – more bosom than brains,’ she said, ‘And the bosom’s not much to write home about, if you ask me.’

Gran was right; Rihanna, her name was, and I met her at the faculty Christmas do a couple of months later. There she was, goggling at Dillon, passing him wine and nibbles, chirping about quantum entangled whatnots and superstring that apparently has toes, and Dillon mesmerised by her heaving chest. Gran dug me in the ribs then grabbed both my ears. This, apparently, was a way of establishing a conduit between her plane of existence and ours. She shrieked at Dillon, ‘You cunning, conniving, slippery little wormhole, you!’ Then she rose into the air and loomed over Rihanna, ‘And you should know all about quantum, with your itty bitty IQ and your Schroedinger’s now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t brazz-ee-ere!’ Gran had evidently upgraded her vocabulary since our last encounter; she embarked on a cackle.

Then somebody with a beard that looked as though it might house a decent sized lunch, and a T shirt bearing the periodic table in swear words said, ‘Quantum phasing,’ in hushed tones like he was in a church. He gawped, simultaneously awestruck and terrified and Gran turned on him, treated him to a blast of old onions and fried liver right into his face. She clacked her teeth, ‘Phantom,’ she hissed, and hovered yellow fingers over his throat.

‘Cobblers,’ said Dillon. ‘No such thing as ghosts. Quantum phased reality shifts though, there’s mileage in that.’ His face went into intellectually distracted mode. It was short-lived. Gran loomed back in Dillon’s direction, ‘Quantum reality shift, my arse,’ she said. ‘Tell you what, though, let’s put it to the test.’ And she dropped the ceiling on him.

Some days it’s just Dillon sitting behind me on the train; sometimes it’s Gran; other times it’s the pair of them. They’re still arguing the toss about ghosts versus quantum universes and they can’t agree on suitable boyfriends for me, which threatens the long term survival of potential suitors. So Gran borrowed me a part-time dog for company. ‘Big bugger,’ she said, handing me his collars, ‘And he’s got what you might call ongoing duties elsewhere, but he’ll keep the riff-raff away; happy clappies, dodgy roofers, Tories.’

He is and he does because he’s got one helluva howl on him, but he’s a poppet and when all three of us are indoors together, we each have a head to pat.

(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2017

‘February-ish’

drawing cat and photographerThis week has been quite an eventful one in the life of our rather unremarkable little hamlet. Described variously as ‘picturesque’ (Oooh!), ‘quaint’ (Aaah!) and ‘sleepy’ (Oi!), our hitherto undistinguished residential aggregation has attracted the national press. Why, you may ask. Ok so you didn’t but you might as well stick around; you’ve got nothing better to do or you wouldn’t be here, right?  Apparently Dark Forces have infiltrated our local political environment.  Already somewhat right wing, apart from a very few socialists and a larger LibDem enclave whose meetings are apparently attended by one of my cats, the locality was obviously thought fit for an assault by an unpleasant but not banned extremist organisation in the guise of a harmless looking mum who appears to be involved in everything from Scouts to taking out vandals single handed.

Not that we have too many vandals. For the most part the kids here are decent and responsive so that even teenage boys are capable of mustering a social nicety when greeted in the street.  Headlines trumpeting the activities of miscreants generally end in the shocking revelation that litter bins were pushed over and bring to mind an article about terrorists hitting a nearby town.  After describing in detail across an entire front page the alert, the police, and the evacuation of three shops; the journalist, somewhat unwisely in my view, added the clinching commentary of an eyewitness that it was, ‘Really cold out here!’  Well that’s terrorists for you, no consideration of climate or people’s clothing requirements in the event of being decanted onto the pavement in December.

So anyway – Harmless Mum (HM) decided to get herself co-opted onto the parish council (think Dibley[1] here) which woke up with a start (even the bloke responsible for burials and booking the village hall) and began consulting protocols that hadn’t borne the gaze of human eye since Bob Cratchet’s day. The upshot was a parish council election and the sudden racking up of national interest with retired councillors putting themselves back on the market and a couple of new ones emerging to take up the slack, an ill-judged reaction as it (nearly) turned out.

The village, we were told, was divided with HM cornering the market in other HMs who were evidently able to get past the poisonous politics to the wonderful warm human being beneath, and the rest who consulted Babel Fish which translated ‘community involvement’ as ‘subversive infiltration tactics’. We were out in force. There were paparazzi.  Well, one anyway, presumably on the lookout for a rumpus which, disappointingly, did not transpire while I was doing my civic duty at the polling station.

The upshot? According to the parish web site (oh yes, there is one although you can quite easily end up on the god-botherers’ home page and narrowly miss signing up for the graveyard grass-mowing rota) the Good Burghers of the village thwarted the Silly Burghers by just twenty votes.  We went back to being journalistically immaterial.

[1] That’s the BBC’s The Vicar of Dibley with Dawn French, just in case this publication ends up in a time capsule under a bridge.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

‘Soaked Again’

drawing of person and dogs

Ok, you’re getting the hang of it now, Brits really do talk about the weather constantly. This is because it is generally neither insipid nor deeply traumatic but impactful in that must-find-something-that-doesn’t-go-transparent-when-wet sort of way.  British weather is idiosyncratically variable such that prediction is rather more psychic than meteorological and today is no exception. After hurling rain with the consistency of stair rods most of the night and glowering in a hostile manner most of the day, it turns the heat up the moment I hit the fields.

Not that this evaporates the moisture (I say moisture – it’s more like an Olympic swimming pool dangling on threads at knee-height) from the vegetation.  No. Two yards in and I’m soaked from the feet up and the grass is at chest level so now I’m wading through the equivalent of the Thames and gathering enough seeds to keep me in lawn mowing for the better part of this century.

Donovan the Lonely Horse has friends today, both in outdoor kit.  A nod to him (if it still is him, I’m not that great at equine face recognition) and I’m nearly deposited full length over a patch of nettles.  The thing about long grass is that, while the motion is essentially one of wading through water, the behaviour of the medium is not the same at all.  One wrong placement of the left foot clamps the distal end of a clump to the ground and constrains the proximal end under which one’s right foot is now hooked so that an impromptu triple axel is both beautifully executed and irritatingly unappreciated.  The dogs, of course, are simply further convinced of the madness of humans and in that they are not far wrong. After all, I wouldn’t be out there at all if it weren’t for them. 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

Typical NASA …

Asteroid flyby? Pah! It was the Fat Fairies, obviously.

Back in the day, Fat Fairy’s life was an unmitigated misery; at least during the episodes not involving jam sponge or double cheese pizza. She was surrounded by gaggles of thin, twinkly fairies who flitted and flounced through the air on gossamer wings, while her wings were more like the carapace of a large bug. Hence, she didn’t so much flit as lumber into the air in the manner of a VW Beetle being hand-winched upwards by a bunch of inebriated undergraduates. Fat Fairy had no friends and never got invited to star in pantomime, except as a joke when, quite often, she was also required to pretend to be a man in drag.

Read More: http://zouchmagazine.com/fiction-how-the-fat-fairies-saved-the-world-dr-suzanne-conboy-hill-short-story-month/#ixzz4vJnB6nTs

From: How the Fat Fairies Saved the World.

An asteroid came close to the earth, just above our highest satellites, on October 12th. NASA.

‘Rain’

It’s a Bank Holiday here in UK land – or the fifty-first state as it’s more commonly known.  Fifty-first? Fifty-second?  How would I know, I don’t even know how many counties we’ve got here and you could fit the whole shebang into Central Park with room round the edges for immigration and a dog track.  Although you’d have to find somewhere else for the Scots as they are currently on an independence high and sawing their way along Hadrian’s Wall with a view to casting themselves off[1].

Anyway, Bank Holidays are the times when us Brits arm ourselves with barbeque gear, enough food to feed the massed armies of several small republics, and an optimism that consistently fails to be met by reality.  The heavens open, we are deluged with rain and we retreat indoors with all the neighbourhood kids, their dogs and assorted elderly relatives waiting for the men (or man more often, as his mates are now down the pub) to dash in out of the thunderstorm periodically with unidentifiable, partially singed, and often still bleeding, bits of dead animal.

It didn’t used to be like that.  In fact when we wanted to be wholly dispirited and soaked to the skin in the interests of leisure, we would drive for hours to a coastal town in vehicles held together with string and started with the aid of a large spanner.  There we would sit in shelters on the sea front gazing dismally out at the pounding grey sea and rubbing the blisters caused by the compulsory wearing of plastic sandals.  Soggy tomato sandwiches and tea made at five in the morning from a flask that contributed a vaguely metallic flavour to the contents were something of a highlight as this frugal repast at least distracted the adults from that other traditional activity – yelling at the fractious and justifiably whingeing kids.

When that was all over and we had taken another painful stroll along the seafront for the bracing quality of the air, everyone would pile back in the car for the journey home. Dads would then, as one, leap out again and attack the engine with a spanner and off we would all go in clouds of exhaust fumes back to our home towns; all of which seemed to require exactly the same road for roughly 92% of the journey so that an immense queue would build up and vehicles whose spanners and string had not been up to the job would fall by the wayside.

For children, this was a wonderfully exciting diversion as a breakdown might mean the summoning of an AA Man. These jolly chappies would turn up in motorbike and sidecar and salute to your dad, and was that something to talk about at school or what!  It beat a couple of dead leaves and a beetle on the nature table that’s for sure.  If you were really lucky, you got towed to somewhere exotic like Pocklington or Nafferton and didn’t get home until after midnight.

Today, the Bank Holiday weather is doing its thing so it’s on with the wellies and out with the dogs to encounter people who have come to the countryside with the express intention of not meeting any animals.  Please then, go to CenterParks and sit on the astroturf under a polythene propagation tunnel.

[1] In 2014, they hacked through 42% of the way then got confronted by the English with a crack team of Morris Dancers and went home again.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

‘When We Only Had Radio Luxembourg and Buying a Bulb Was Men’s Work’

drawing 1950s cabinet radioRecently, I felt compelled to add some variety to the sounds escaping the windows and boot of my car when either of these is opened. The neighbours at least will have observed that I’ve had the same cd in the deck for several months and so, clearly, something has to be done about it. Time then to burn a special edition so I crank up the media player, load a blank and start dragging and dropping tracks onto the slate.  But what’s this? No drive?  How can that be?  It was there yesterday, it ripped yesterday, it was acknowledged as a drive yesterday, for all I know Bill Gates himself approved its presence and tickled it under the chin yesterday, but today – zilch!

I check out Help and Support; there are reams of FAQs but nothing that addresses the recapture of errant CD drives. Online then; it’s the drivers maybe.  Nope.  I shout at Media Player but it doesn’t respond, other than to confirm gently, as to a rather dim child, that it needs a CD drive through which to effect the burning of a cd. I resort to tea because that usually shifts something, but not on this occasion. It would appear not even a large mug of Lapsang Souchong is going to persuade it that the drives with which it was wholly acquainted a few short hours ago are still within reach if it would only look.  It’s time for the Shut Down and Restart approach – that’ll teach it. And lo, after a great deal of packing away of programmes, counting its fingers and toes, and then setting out its pens, pencils and blotting paper again, a full set of drives appears on the map with not a squeak of an apology for absence.  That’s half an hour of my life I won’t get back although the tea is always worth having and, under duress, an obligatory biscuit. But most importantly, I am fully equipped in relatively short order with the means to put together a collection of tracks that should last me a good year if I keep the car windows closed[1].

Back in the day, this would have been nothing short of magic and people would have brought you toads in the hope of taking home a bit of Bert Weedon. In the 1960s, the only access to music that wasn’t Joe Loss and his Big Band came via the BBC Light Programme on Sundays when we got two hours of Pick of the Pops to be recorded but never replayed on a reel-to-reel in strict silence with absolutely no visits to the loo in case the flush became forever embedded in Mike Sarne’s Come Outside.

Alternatively, there was Radio Luxembourg which transmitted in the evenings but, with your parents generally monopolising the one piece of equipment in the house, could only be heard at youth clubs.  These palaces of entertainment; offering table tennis and possibly a quick snog if anyone suitable turned up, often boasted a wooden cabinet the size of Oswestry out of which scratchy bursts of melody would be coughed as the frequency wafted in and out of range.  These devices would also heat up during the course of the evening, usually as the strength of the signal improved, so that they would suddenly expire with a kind of pfff and an alarming spark as accompaniment.  The trick was to turn them off mid-evening in the hope that, when switched back on again later, you would have made it up the chart past Pat Boone and arrived at a bit of Elvis before the bulb went.

Yes, bulb. Lord knows what bulbs were doing in those things but they were clearly of the incendiary type rather than the sort whereby, if you hang about long enough, you get daffodils.  If they blew, arcane rituals were activated that usually involved a visit to a small, unlit retail outlet up a side street and housing a bloke in a brown warehouse coat.  Only men were inducted into these rituals although, in the absence of sons, daughters may be granted access, a socially risky strategy that necessitated some introductory butch language on the part of the Dad so as to establish proper credibility with the shop owner. It was a lengthy ritual. By the time the dead bulb had been inspected by everyone present, a grubby dog-eared book of serial numbers consulted and the order finally placed to be collected in – well, let’s see, it’ll be coming from Hull tha knows – Elvis had fallen off the toilet and the Beatles had invented colour.

[1] This has been superseded by iThings that plug into your car’s radio and could keep you entertained from Brighton to Bangalore with tracks you no longer recognise because you only played them once before downloading them from iTunes.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

‘Glastonbury, Meteorology, and Shouting at Swans’

drawing of sheepSaturday and I’d spent most of the morning keeping an eye on the weather as we had been promised our seasonal blend of sun, showers and thunder storms and, finally judging it safe to head for the fields without a wetsuit, I strapped the dogs into their harnesses and hit the road. Naturally, as soon as we arrived at a wide open space devoid of any cover, the sky assumed the quality of the inside of a biscuit tin and the rain came down in stair rods, thereby putting paid to any chance of a future career as either a psychic or meteorologist.  On reflection though, the latter may not be entirely out of the question as, in 1987, Michael Fish famously dismissed the approach of the hurricane that flattened most of the south east and left me with somebody else’s shed in my garden and a bemused looking sheep outside my garage.  That kind of meteorology I can manage.

Of course the biggest clue to forthcoming weather conditions is the open air music festival calendar and this week it’s Glastonbury where the mud is traditionally at chest level and after about half an hour nobody knows what gender anyone else is because of the layers of variously baked on and reapplied primeval loam.  Liberally mixed with E.coli and various exotic herbs, this stuff is guaranteed to expand the minds of sleep deprived and over-indulged punters or at the very least peel off a few layers of alimentary epithelials and chuck them over the fence into next door’s tent.

There’s something remarkably special about Glasto;  it’s not polished, it’s not slick – well it is if you’re up to your fundamentals in sludge and you take a run at something – it’s raw and intimate, personal and communal. Back in the day when I was spritely enough to leap about in a field with several thousand other people to a band of unwashed youths at a headline gig rather than sofa-bopping in front of the telly, there weren’t any such shindigs to go to. Hendrix pretty much started it at the Isle of Wight, and Glastonbury followed with a hippy, folksy, medieval fayre event that got entirely upstaged by Hendrix himself who’d had the bad grace to pop his clogs twenty four hours earlier. These days we have multi-acre swamps for the hardy young creatures of the twenty-first century who are willing to queue in the rain for the privilege of taking a leak in an oversubscribed and thoroughly dispiriting portaloo. Probably the wacky baccy and litres of Stella Artois go some way to knocking the edge off that particular experience while, curiously enough, enhancing the rest.

Back in the fields, there is a bit of a ruckus going on up ahead.  Apparently a large swan in an ugly mood is attacking another that has got in the way of him and his mate who is sailing majestically down-river with her flotilla of tiny cygnets.  People on either side of the river are doing what people do when two large entities start slugging it out – they are standing back and shouting ‘Oi!’ One group is smiling; they think the birds are mating.  We give them a country look as we pass by; ‘stoopid townies’ it says. It’s Saturday.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.