‘The Ditching of Dodgy Derek’

drawing of man and carBreaking in a strange vehicle (or vice versa) is for me a rather prolonged and edgy affair.  Not only are the wipers invariably positioned where the full beam headlights used to be, thereby prompting an episode of energetic windscreen washing when trying to send a message about courtesy to some oik in a beat up Cortina with speakers the size of Kent on the back shelf, but all manner of other instruments have generally been transposed to novel and entertaining locations.

Men seem able to climb into new  cars (or vans, trucks, and quite possibly tanks) and instantly blend with the systems in a kind of bio-mechanical union, whereas my process is rather more laborious and involves a great deal of sitting in the drive with the manual and a bemused expression, twiddling knobs and pulling hopefully on levers.

Anyway, with a substantial chunk of leave coming up, this looked like a good time to take the plunge so that I’d have the hang of the thing before needing to mess with morning traffic at the same time as discovering that what I took for the demister button is actually the seat height adjuster.  Advanced Motorist I may be but there’s nothing in the training that covers doing seventy on the motorway while horizontal, although I imagine it works for traffic cops hoping to scare the bejabbers out of people they don’t like the look of but can’t actually nick for anything.

A further spur is the arrival downstairs from my office of a new manager for the MOT and service centre whose approach to business practice is to ‘pack ‘em in and stack ‘em high’ – an objective generally achieved by nabbing our allocated spaces in the land fill site that passes for a car park round the back.  Dodgy Derek, shifting deftly between sucking in air through his teeth via the fag that seems permanently embedded there, and close scrutiny of an oil-stained rag for dramatic effect, is not open to negotiation about this, unless you’re prepared to accept a tirade of unsavoury language that amounts to ‘shove it’ as a reasoned discussion.

He is also numerically challenged – generally in an upward direction so that the bill I received for my old car’s annual service was unusually large – quite the biggest I’d ever seen actually.  Which is probably what Dodgy Derek believes all the girls say after an encounter with him.  So, when another Saab with a full Saab service history pops up at a nearby showroom, an escape plan formulates itself whereby I can rehearse the ear-bashing I might need to give Dodgy Derek about his parking strategies while ensuring that my brake pipes are nowhere near his pneumatic ramps.

A cunning plan indeed – aided and abetted by Dodgy Derek himself as it turns out.  He likes my new car.  He likes it a lot.  He likes it so much he’s willing to park it for me when I can’t find a space. He rasps huskily that ‘She’s a lovely girl’ and it’s very scary.  In fact it conjures up images of clandestine networks of blokes in brown pullovers gathering at pre-arranged venues to drool over tarted-up BMWs and over-blown jeeps, or having shady assignations over a dog-eared copy of What Car magazine and a floppy disc[1].


[1] Remember those? Oh, how we marvelled at the capacious storage space.


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

‘New Technology and the Problems of Public Neologising’

Something else likely to result in periods of isolation in a single room interspersed with episodes of careful questioning is Bluetooth technology.  My phone has it[1].  In addition to keeping my diary, taking pictures, downloading emails, and signalling the arrival of texts with a burst of birdsong (the first time was a shock – there seemed suddenly to be a flock of sparrows in my pocket), this thing is voice-enabled so you can give oral instructions to have it answer calls, make calls, and sustain conversations while located completely out of sight[2].  You’re advised to choose for activation an unusual word and since the device is quite often doing something else: writing its shopping list maybe, or having a fag, it can be necessary to yell this unusual word several times quite loudly, and then follow this with whatever other unusual word you’ve chosen for the particular task you have in mind.  It will not now be clear whether the person shouting neologisms into the air while negotiating a zebra crossing is engaging in a heavy internal conversation or just trying to phone home.  After a while, probably both.

[1] It was a Sony Erikson – or it could have been an iPaq – and this was seriously new. The phenomenon is widespread now, of course, and who hasn’t said hello in response to a complete stranger who then strides on oblivious, leaving you feeling a proper numpty?

[2] And you thought Siri was new. We could be just as flummoxed and frustrated long before our iThings started waking us up to tell us they couldn’t make sense of something they just heard on the radio and would we like to try again.

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


‘More Visitations and the Beginnings of Strange Utterances’

No spotlights this time, just a large orange globe hanging about somewhere east of the leylandei in the copse that screens our lane from Death Row (which I think the actual residents call sheltered accommodation). Mars is to be the nearest it has been to the earth for millennia, or possibly just decades, and both astronomers and astrologers are in a lather about it; the former more because of the frothing astrologers than anything else. I pop out to look and there it is; a large orb glowing Halloween orange and hanging just above my neighbour’s kids’ bedroom – which makes examining it through binoculars while creeping about in the shrubbery a bit of a dodgy exercise.  I am glad when it relocates to somewhere less likely to lead to several hours of interrogation and tea in a polystyrene cup.

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


‘The Mothership and the Wheelie Bin’

drawing of dogs and flying saucerWe were visited by a Mother Ship last night. Woken at 2 a.m. by a sound as of a mighty rushing wind, I found the house to be under the scrutiny of a light bright enough to qualify for the X Files.  Back and forth it went and back and forth went a little white van along the lane just opposite, clearly caught in the electromagnetic phase-shift graviton field that every child knows is generated by these things.  Eventually it headed off down towards the cement works where it must have transported its target off-world because it never came back.

Today, I find that my wheelie bin has been moved and tidily replaced – The Wrong Way Round.  Some claim it was the police trying to stir up a bit of action in the hope of a Channel 5 special but they can’t fool me.  Not a dog in the village barked.  Make your own mind up, I say.


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


drawing chest of drawers and spiderThe sock drawer used to be a safe place. An ordinary place from which socks, neatly cuffed into pairs, could be drawn for wearing. But now Gertrude has moved in and Gertrude likes her privacy. Gertrude is large and black and she darts quick as you like to the front of the drawer as it opens; hanging there, pulsing, her long legs bristling until the retrieval is over – which it is, very quickly. Her intelligence is mysterious, immeasurable, palpable. While Gertrude owns the sock drawer, I will wear tights.


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


‘Kitchen Forensics’

drawing of fliesMy resolve falters as I reach the kitchen door. It will be huge and offensive. It will require a delicate touch. It will be mine to deal with – yuk!

As I approach, an advance scouting party of flies lifts off and disperses itself across less appetising surfaces to wait, I imagine, for the all-clear. Well, not for a while and not here I tell them. I peer forensically at the agglutinated mass, put on gloves and aim a squirt of surfactant at the festering heap. Then, dissecting out two small bones and a piece of cartilage, I wonder for the nth time how come last night’s washing up is always my job[1].




[1] If you’ve ever shared a flat and had a party, you know how this goes. That is, unless you’re the one who gets up last and it’s all been done, gets up so early your hangover hasn’t even started yet and you leave the house in your underpants, or you emerge from the wardrobe three days later and nobody knows who you are.


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

‘Micro Management’

drawing of man painting sinking boat‘So they want us to use a particular font of a particular size and a particular colour for our email signatures?’[1]


‘And there’s no corporate stationery or template for this?’

‘Nope, you make your own.’

‘I see.’ I think it over, devoting a whole nanosecond to the process, which still seems rather too much in view of the subject matter. I deliver my judgment.

‘And when, collectively, we blow it out of our arses, do they want it to be a particular fragrance?’

Ok, not exactly constructive, I’ll give you that, but when the boat’s sinking, you don’t call in the painters and decorators do you? We aren’t meeting our targets and why? Because management is fiddling with the curtains when they should be checking out the dry rot. Each time a target is missed, instead of finding out why that happened, they simply beat everyone over the head with a big stick, threaten to name and shame poor performers and delete a whole band of jobs. The upshot? You guessed – the people who were doing one job and failing to meet targets are now doing two, one of which they didn’t apply for, have no skills in and don’t understand. So what happens? Right again. Even more targets get missed, another round of deletions ensues and suddenly everyone is doing three jobs, only one of which they have a now fading grasp upon.

Meanwhile, somebody with no important nail varnishing or nose hair removal scheduled, has got the hump about email signatures that show a spark of originality, and you’d think it is a form of insurgency given the attention it’s receiving.

I examine my signature: wrong font, wrong size, wrong colour. Perfect.

[1] This could apply to almost any corporate body, any time, anywhere. It didn’t.


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

‘The Bridge’

drawing of cowI am moseying along the river bank, heading towards the old wooden bridge. In the far pasture over on the other side, a batch of newly turned-out cattle is cavorting and bucking in celebration of its liberation. Also on the far side, well ahead of and oblivious to the cattle, is a family; a two + two of seemingly stranded townies who are staring with incredulity at the stile over which they must climb in order to cross the bridge. Each of them is carrying rather more bulk than is strictly necessary, and they clearly see the narrow step up and over as a ridiculous indulgence put there by the locals for no other reason than to inconvenience visitors.

They turn their attention to the metal gate, a makeshift affair bent to fit the wider entrance and there to give access for the odd cyclist or baby buggy. Lugging it aside far enough to allow them through, which is a substantial distance, the group is meandering onto the bridge, leaving the gate open. I call across.

‘Would you close that please?’

‘What?’ The man gathers the beginnings of a hostile expression onto his face, and it seems to suit him.

‘The gate, would you close the gate please. You just opened it.’

‘What for?’ The four of them draw together in a belligerent tableau.

‘It’s there to stop large, mindless beasts from getting onto the bridge, which is quite old and a bit delicate.’ I wave at the rumbustious cattle and then at the pock-holed planks and struts upon which they are standing. I look up and smile, ‘Too late though, I see.’

I step up my pace and skip over the stile onto the track back into the village wondering how long it will take them:

One …

Two …

‘Oi! What the … ?’

Ok – not bad.


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

Photography, art, and copyright

abstract image

Drowning Fields adapted from an original photograph by Slawek Staszczuk http://www.photoss.net

Since re-entering the art world recently (long layoff, politics, diversion, good-career-anyway-so-never-mind!), I’ve discovered something I hadn’t known which is that many people work from photographs, replicating the image with superb (or varying degrees of) accuracy, or placing on it their own interpretation. Many use their own photos for this, after all, it’s got to be more comfortable painting a landscape back indoors than struggling with the elements on a windy hillside, and do cats ever sit still when you need them to? But some don’t, they use images from the internet or cut from magazines and, from what I can tell, many are unaware that using those images is a breach of copyright if they pass them off as their own, and especially if they go on to enter them in competitions or benefit financially from them without crediting the photographer and getting their permission to do that. It’s a bit like someone re-typing one of my stories in a different font or rendering it as a poem and then cashing in on it without mentioning that it was mine in the first place, and since that’s plagiarism so must be using photographs in that way.

The image then: This is based on a photo from a magazine which my local art group has chosen as a project by which all of us can display our different skills. Most will never see a public platform of any kind but you know me, I was born with an Enter button pre-installed just waiting for the internet to happen! The photographer is Slawek Staszczuk and his website is www.photoss.net. Our agreement is that my adaptations of his work will not be used in connection with any commercial venture or for any profit which, to my mind, includes even local art competitions, and that I will send him links to wherever they end up – something he may regret asking! I’d include his original for comparison but since I’ve no idea what magazine it came from, I can’t request permission so you’ll have to take it from me that it’s very beautiful, full of luscious greens, and about as far from my interpretation as it’s possible to get. As to what ‘Drowning Fields’ means, you’ll not be surprised to find there’s an ecological message paddling around in there about rising sea levels. It’s probably easier to pick out in the colour version*, executed in Rebelle2 software, where you might spot a seal, a whale, turtles, and coral. The monochrome skinned down image above was further filtered in Procreate on my iPad.

I have paint and I’ve even used it recently but heck, I couldn’t resist importing the picture and running it through some software for added oomph! It’s called Beach Huts and it’s on the Rebelle* site next to this one. The sky top left quarter is unadulterated paint and pastel.

*My grandly titled gallery for Rebelle based work is here.This software is very easy to use, unlike some of the more elaborate programmes such as Paint Shop Pro’s Painter/Essentials. The paint behaves like paint, it runs and blots and drifts about, it merges unless you dry it, and you can do that with a click which is a whole lot easier than a hair dryer! What’s more, there’s no palette for cats to wander through, or water to knock over (or absently take a swig from instead of your coffee), and no disposal problem for leftover oils and acrylics. And if your eyesight is becoming a tad iffy, you benefit from being able to zoom right in while you dot in the tiny details. Perfect!

‘Let Me Tell You a Story’

Now released as an album via Soundcloud. All audio tracks are free to access but if you prefer to see what they’re saying, the book is still available from Amazon.