Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dark Days Indeed. Fatwah Week 2

The strange media bandwagon rolls on, leaving Drumseet's second best poet crushed beneath its weight. The Standard unhappily perpetrated the lie invented by the hack who first unearthed this non-story, and repeats that Chapter 6 criticises my own pupils. This makes things very awkward, though in the main everyone I've spoken to has been good humoured and sympathetic. My pupils think I'm deranged anyway, so nothing surprises them. However, I have succumbed slightly to the vapours as a result of the stress and as a result may have to cancel my forthcoming world book tour.

Needless to say the notoriety has not translated into a flood of sales for Strange Bamboo. At last night's event in Moffat, the performers, technicians, administrators, outnumbered the audience roughly two to one. Only one book was sold and an old woman had to be virtually wrestled to the ground in order to achieve this.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Most Hated Man in Drumsleet Part 2

Though hugely embarrassing, the fall-out from my castigation in the tabloids has been less severe than I expected, at least thus far. Apart from a few sharp words with one of the town drunks, some veiled , but naturally incoherent, threats from Rangers supporters and a barracking on the street by two drabs, most people have been very tolerant, some even going out of their way to express support for my views, barbarised though these were in the press. The pupils in my school have also shown themselves to be young men and women of warmth and true generosity of spirit. With such humanity and human potential in the town one wonders why it is in such a state of dismal decay, but I suppose the reasons are complex.

An exception to the generally sympathetic way I have been treated is , of course, that blaggard Theosyphilis Neil, merchant of Thistlemilk and local amputee, a man I trusted as a friend but who has in fact photocopied hundreds of copies of Chapter 6, laminated them, and intends to hawk them down the market on Saturday afternoon. I hope he is arrested or mistaken for me by a myopic member of the Masons who will beat him to a pulp.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Willie Kelvin and the Tide of Evil

Willie Kelvin knew exactly the moment he became a conduit for evil. It was when greed got the better of him and he put on his bonus ball in three separate pubs. It came in. 6.6.6. Willie got £147 in exchange for the introduction of a tide of pure evil into the south west of Scotland.

He first suspected something was wrong on Sunday night. He’d been standing at the bar regaling his old pals with his funniest old stories and there had suddenly been the most rank, fetid smell, worse than the worst toilet smells you could imagine, and accompanied all the while by a loud buzzing like flies.

“Jeez Willie” said someone, “you crapped yerself, or what?”

Bit by bit his friends had withdrawn, made their apologies and left, even though Willie had been standing all the drinks. He had retreated to a table in the corner, the smell accompanying him like a dog. “Must have been that kebab” he muttered, holding his palm up to sniff the deflected breath. He swallowed his drink and left the pub to walk the half mile home through the streets of Drumsleet. It was an Autumn evening, the cold nipped his skin. As he strode down the cobbled street, he saw, in the distance, a crowd of kids running along, whooping and cheering. They seemed to be carrying a dummy. “Guisers” thought Willie Kelvin, allowing himself a smile at the memories of Halloween and the innocence of youth. He fished in his pocket for a coin or two to give them, then, remembering his personal hygiene problem, ducked into a doorway instead. Kids could be cruel. From the shadowed safety of Poundstretchers doorway he watched them cavort along the road. They were parallel to him before he realised that the figures were dwarves, and that the burden they were carrying was a young girl, bound and gagged. As Willie Kelvin watched, one of the band grabbed the girl’s foot and bit into it. “Mmmm” it slobbered, then they were gone into the darkness. Willie stood for a moment to gather his senses. What he’d witnessed was a student rag, of course, even though there weren’t any students in Drumsleet. Or maybe it was a theatre troupe. The local Arts Association had recently appointed several bald women to revitalise local culture, so this could have been a piece of street theatre. Or maybe, and this seemed the soundest notion of all, the girl was on her way to a party. What an effort, finding all those dwarves. Willie Kelvin imagined there was an Agency in the Yellow Pages.
Shaking his head and forcing a grin in the reflected green glass of the shop window, Willie resolved to return to the pub for a stiff whisky before it shut. He wondered if the dominoes were still on, or whether the karaoke had begun. He was a man on whom economic necessity forced sober habits but he was going to enjoy his little windfall, even if it meant going to day 6 of the Social’s ‘Retraining for Success’ course with a massive headache in the morning. He began to anticipate the smoky warmth and atmosphere of the place. Even the smell had abated a bit. He retraced his steps. A fine mist had come out of nowhere and though he knew Drumsleet like the back of his hand, he hesitated at the top of the Vennel. He thought he could make out the dull yellow face of the Church clock, but he wasn’t sure. Automatically turning right along the High Street, he brushed into something outside the Oxfam Shop that he knew shouldn’t have been there. The object shifted against his shoulders. Reaching up, he grasped a foot and was left, as it moved, hanging on to an over-size leather shoe. A small, horrified, glance was enough to register a corpse swinging in a gibbet, its mouth and eyes open and staring. Willie Kelvin screamed and the noise echoed down the empty High Street. Somewhere a dog whined, as if in pain. Willie turned and blundered down the Vennel, running blindly in the direction of home.
He clattered across the old Bridge, his footsteps ringing in his ears. The orange lights flickered, swam, in the fog. He tried to think of normal things, being patronised by the Social, the football results, Sunday lunch with his mother, but every time he tried, his mind rebelled, and other images drifted in; horses dragging ghastly coaches, the faces of drowned babies, blood congealing on glass. He wheezed up the lane to his flat, the hair thick on his neck. With relief he unlocked the door and flung himself inside, bolting the door after him. He shut the blinds, put every light in the house on, then the heating, then the radio. He sat and poured himself a large whisky and crouched on the floor, shivering. The noise of the river and the world outside receded to a whisper. The whisky burned, then warmed. The radio began a summary of the day's football matches. Willie relaxed a little, making a mental note to contact his doctor. He’d been getting himself really worked up about things lately. He took a deep breath and poured himself another drink.

Somewhere between the second and the third gulp, the electrics in the flat failed and Willie was plunged into sudden and silent darkness. He stood up and looked out the curtains. There were no street lamps. Willie sat down, glass in one hand, the open bottle in the other. As he drank, the darkness itself seemed to change in nature, become oily and viscous. After a minute or two it began to slop about the room, momentarily obscuring the few vague shapes he could make out. Willie began to sweat profusely. There were candles in the hall cupboard and Willie resolved to get them to banish this unnatural darkness. Groping his way through the door and along the hallway, still carrying the whisky, he finally found the door handle of the cupboard and wrenched it open.

“Good evening” said a deep voice. Standing just inside and framed in deep yellow light that seemed to well up from the floorboards themselves was a man dressed in pantaloons and hose. As he bowed deeply Willie grew only marginally more petrified to discern that his visitor had no head. With great gentleness, the figure ushered Willie back from the doorway. “Please excuse the liberty” it said. Willie was hit in the face by a blast of hot air and then suddenly a torrent of noise and light erupted from his hall cupboard and streamed through his front door and down the stairs a succession of things, creatures, beasts, ghouls, trolls, some images so horrific that Willie’s brain could barely assimilate them. Willie slumped back against the wall, the bottle falling from his hand onto the threadbare carpet. After about three minutes, the cupboard door slammed shut. Instinctively Willie moved forward to shut the front door. The figure was on the other side, already closing it. “Thank you so very much” it said. No need to wait up.”

When Willie regained consciousness his head was thumping but he set off to find some drink anyway. It was still dark but a rind of dawn was forming over the derelict mills. After he’d opened a can of lager and drunk about a half of it, he took stock. Up to now, the only thing that had been wrong with Willie Kelvin had been his fungal feet: the reason he was signing on, and the reason why he was now, to keep his benefit, obliged to attend daily ‘Retraining for Success’, a form of torture specially invented for dole-hounds like himself. Willie had lost his temper on Friday, felt the veins in his forehead throbbing as he shouted at this twelve year old lassie appointed to sharpen his interview techniques up. It was one of the reasons why he’d gambled on the bonus balls. Bloody Hell, he thought. Must see the doctor today. He wasn’t going on the course- they could go to hell. He switched his living room lights off and moved towards his bedroom. As he did so something scuttled under the front door. Willie screamed then slowly unsnibbed the door and to his horror the whole ghastly cavalcade began again, except in the opposite direction, whirling through and into his hall cupboard in a howling torrent of red and black. Willie shut his eyes until the noise abated. He opened them just in time to see his cupboard door slam shut, and something hit the wall above and bounce close to Willie’s feet. Willie peered down. It appeared to be a human arm, dressed in part of a police sergeant’s uniform. It was still hot, and smoking slightly. As Willie stared open mouthed, the door opened and a long hand snatched the body part away. “I do so very much beg your pardon” said an urbane voice, and the cupboard door slammed shut again.

Willie did go to his course in the morning; not out of any sense of duty but out of a need to get as far away from the flat as he could. It was day 7 of his 6 week course, ‘Retraining for Success’. When he registered his attendance the girl looked up and gave a little jolt of fright. From his cursory look in the bathroom mirror earlier Willie could see her point. Waxy faced, slack jawed, eyes like pissholes in the snow and reeking of drink, Willie Kelvin looked more like one of the current inhabitants of his hall cupboard than a man seeking a kick start on the ladder to gainful employment. They were working on CVs that day. One of the fresh faced staff used a flip chart and big fat pens to illustrate the type of CV that would catch a prospective employer’s eye and then they were given smaller pads and pens to draft their own versions. Willie found himself next to Stevie, a nicotine stained old lag who’d recently had his disability allowance stopped after a rule change. The older man was already scribbling away. After a minute or two Willie looked over his shoulder.

“Christ Stevie you cannae say that.”
Stevie had written ‘Born: cannae remember’ and after ‘Education’ had scrawled ‘Doctorate of Social Anthropology from the University of Baghdad.’.
“You’ll need to take it more seriously Stevie” said Willie, “they’ll stop your benefit”
“I dinnae care” Stevie said. “I’ll probably no make it through the rest o the day anyway”
“How do ye mean?”
“Christ where have you been? The toon’s in the grip o a gigantic crime wave.”
Willie shook his head.
“God, where do I start? They burned down Marks and Sparks last night and every windae in the High Street’s oot. “
“Bloody Hell” whispered Willie, his headache increasing.
“An that’s no a’. Two bobbies sent oot tae investigate have vanished oaf the face of the earth, and a whole dormitory of Convent girls is missing.”
Willie shut his eyes. “Have they any idea…who it is?”
“Och there’s a’ soarts o’ stories goain’ the rounds. Rogue Polish potato pickers who’ve turned cannibal, Gretna supporters..only there’s no enough o’ them” Stevie leaned closer.
“If you ask me, it’s no’ of this world Willie. It’s the Apocalypse.”
“The beast Willie. 666. Dye see?”
Willie did see with great and sudden clarity. 666. His bonus balls. Through greed and stupidity he had delivered Dumfries and Galloway to the AntiChrist. He was to blame. Willie Kelvin.

“Mr Kelvin?” the young girl was at his elbow, a look of barely concealed distaste on her face. She nodded at his blank page. “How are we doing?” When he didn’t answer she made a little clucking noise with her teeth and the tip of a very ping tongue protruded for a second.
“Don’t we want a job? Do we want to be in Limbo forever?”

Willie Kelvin didn’t sleep that night but instead, through the long hours thought and thought, his concentration only periodically disturbed by loud explosions, sudden sheets of flame, and the screams of the damned as they rampaged through Drumsleet. There was no escaping the facts: Willie Kelvin was responsible for the impending destruction of the town in which he had been born and bred. Everything he was familiar with, the park speckled with dog turd, the threadbare bowling green, the boarded up businesses, the poundshops, the tanning salons, the pedestrian precincts swept by drizzle, the Social……By dawn he knew exactly what he had to do, even if it meant his own death. He rummaged around in a bookshelf, emerging with a thick and venerable tome. He blew the dust from its cover then, steeling himself, awaited the return of the supernatural procession. It came, as expected, in a blast of colour and noise, the headless figure at the rear.

“Excuse me” said Willie Kelvin, boldly stepping in front of him. The spectre inclined his torso as if in polite enquiry. “I was wondering” he began “if you intend staying here for any length of time.” “Yes indeed” said the apparition, “for we were invited.” “But” said Willie, and at this point he revealed the large volume under his arm. At its appearance, the figure seemed to recoil for a second. “It says here..” Willie opened the book and his finger trembled above a long passage. The devilish light in the cupboard seemed to flicker. “It says here” he continued doggedly, “that if I sub-let the premises I lose my benefit entitlements. And that guests are not allowed to stay overnight, even in the storage spaces. I mean I don’t want to cause trouble but…” The headless man stroked the space that might once have been occupied by a chin. “Hmmm” it said, “I see. Well perhaps we can make an accommodation.”

When Willie Kelvin returned from Rio, sated in every way, though not having put on a pinch of fat or aged a single second, he found that the Tide of Evil had progressed quite considerably. The Regional Council had declared war on England and the Wellington Boot Factory at the edge of town had been converted to make Poison Gas. Chain gangs of lawyers, dentists and minor civil servants had made excellent progress towards erecting the giant statue of Willie Kelvin that was to dominate the town’s new skyline. After a light breakfast of Lorne sausage and Champagne, Willie made his way to the middle of Drumsleet where the Social Security Building stood alone among the smoking ruins of other local government offices. He paused at the door. Through the windows he could make out the filing cabinets and desks, the glum faces sat round a central table and the Flip Chart. It bore the motto: RETRAINING FOR SUCCESS: WEEK THREE. EXPRESSING YOURSELF. Willie Kelvin strode up the steps to do just that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Most Hated Man in Drumsleet

I have to advise all people who have applied for this post that the vacancy has now been filled, by me. I intend to assume this onerous role sometime next Sunday afternoon, just after everyone's read an article in the paper detailing the bitterness and division in Drumsleet caused by my Blog article entitled 'Chapter Six' . Of course there is no bitterness and division at the moment, few people knowing or caring about 'Chapter Six' , but doubtless there will be after this. Such is the power of the press and the opportunism of some hack who has, admittedly, performed a task I had hitherto considered impossible, managing to make money out of my writing.

I would like everyone to know before they sharpen their staves that Chapter Six was a satirical rant and not factual social comment and that, like any other person who has lived and worked almost their entire life in Drumsleet, I know that the town has many strengths and many weaknesses.

My first task as the Most Hated Man in Drumsleet will be, of course, to appoint from among the many dole-hounds of my acquaintance men of sufficient physical strength and agility to repel the physical attacks planned for my person by a Special Hit Squad recently formed by the Provost and local Tourist Board. I understand from some of my sources that these agents have been trained at a camp deep within Ae Forest and may already be in place in the community armed to the teeth.

My second task will be to run for it. Perhaps, like the poet Publius Ovidius Naso, I shall go into exile in Constanta in Romania, where I will pine my life away dreaming of the poundshops of home. I have fond memories of Constanta, having been chased round several soviet era apartment blocks by a hunchback in 1992.