Call of nature [ca1985]

I can't help but feel alienated from all the other students. It's not because I seem to be the only bloke in a college full of girls. It has nothing to do with realising I'm the only student here over the age of twenty. It's not even due to the fact that I'm possibly the only person in the world who might be mad enough to leave the army and embark on a course in fashion design. The one thing which makes me think I don't fit in is my terribly un-student-like love of clean clothes. However hard I try, I can't imagine ever pulling on some old garment which smells like a glassblower's jockstrap and drowning out the stench of it with a bottle of patchouli.

I left it for as long as I could this time but since I can't stand the thought of my socks and Y-fronts parading around under their own steam I've ended up back at the launderette again. It's getting late and it's dark outside so there's not the usual throng of slum mums and people who years ago would doubtless have been confined to insane asylums willing their washing to spin a bit faster so they can win the race for the last working dryer. I really do hate the fact that I can't wash all my clothes at once, including the ones I'm wearing. If only I had the balls to act like Nick Kamen in that Levis advert on the telly, looking cool and immaculately groomed as I casually remove my jeans and place them in the machine to the nostalgic strains of Marvin Gaye's 'Grapevine'.

This Year's Model

Sadly, I'm much too self-conscious for that. I just sit here as I always do, wishing I'd thought to bring a book and wondering if there's anyone watching through that peep-hole in the door marked 'TAFF ONLY'. Whether the sign's been vandalised or some Welsh person has their own private suite of washing appliances I'm not altogether sure.

I'm busting for a pee now. I guess I could make a dash for home but that would be tempting fate. No doubt in my mind that if I left for more than a minute, the strange person who usually steals single socks would suddenly get all courageous and run off with my complete wardrobe. There's an alley behind the Laundromat, so I step hurriedly but cautiously out of the glow of the street lights and into the complete and utter darkness beyond. I can't really imagine there's anything down here which I shouldn't be pissing on but I can't honestly see a damned thing. Casting caution to the wind I unzip my flies and adopt the typical gunslinger pose, sighing the most relieved of sighs as I let loose one of those torrents which your bladder just knows it has no way of stopping.

Quietly but unmistakably, there's a sound from the blackness in front of me.... the sound of rattling chains. As I take a few bandy-legged steps backward the sound gets ever nearer, horror-film style. Suddenly I'm faced with the head of a massive, snarling dog, eyes wild with fury and teeth snapping only inches from my still gushing pipework. Fearing the worst I fall to the ground anticipating the monster's revenge but there's a loud crunch followed by a painful yelp as the hellhound reaches the end of its chain, teeth and eyes disappearing once again into the shadows.

As I scramble back into the reassuring glare of the strip-lights in the launderette everything suddenly becomes clear to me. Perhaps Nick Kamen wasn't so cool after all. Maybe, like me, he'd just pissed all over his jeans.

Hearts and minds [ca1973]


I've taken to drawing things in minute detail. Gruesome things, mostly. It started when I found a dried-up stoat in a trap and was fascinated by the angry and/or terrified expression on what was left of its face. These days I mostly draw hearts. Pigs hearts, sheeps hearts.... whatever I can get from the butcher's shop in the village. The butcher looks at me in a strange way and disapproves of me talking to his daughter Amanda but I don't mind. Everyone thinks I'm some sort of freak anyway.

I'm in love with Amanda and she knows it. Everyone does.... even her boyfriend. He may be one of the hardest kids in school but he's really fucking ugly and I don't know what she sees in him. At least he found it funny when I scared everyone with the pig's heart that day on the school bus, even though Amanda didn't like me waving it under her nose. She didn't speak to me for days but I don't mind. She always says I'm unapproachable anyway.

I'm not all that comfortable at youth club discos. I'd normally hide in a corner but Bowie's 'John, I'm Only Dancing' is on and I just can't help myself. I'm amazed when Amanda starts dancing with me even though her boyfriend doesn't like it. Eventually he wanders up and punches me and I find myself just standing motionless in this big, empty space with blood pouring out of my nose. Everyone else stops and stares at the angry and/or terrified expression on what is left of my face but I don't mind. They all seem to think I have a death wish anyway.

Perhaps I'll get Amanda something for Valentine's Day.... but then I don't really have any money. I could always spend hours and hours on a truly incredible drawing so she'll know how much she means to me, then turn the drawing into some sort of fancy Valentine's card. I'll make something appropriate.... something with hearts on it. I wonder if the butcher's shop's still open?

The coat [ca1965]


Luckily I don't often have to suffer the psychological child abuse known as hand-me-down clothes. It's one of the few benefits of being the only boy in a houseful of girls. Today though, is different: I don't have a coat and my parents can't afford to buy me a new one.

"Here you go" my mum says cheerily, "You can wear this."

"But.... but...." I stammer, with all the apprehensiveness of a gruel-starved Oliver Twist; "Mum! It's a.... it's a girl's coat."

"Oh, don't be silly" she says, starting to get slightly annoyed. "You're only seven. Your friends won't even notice the difference."

Hmm.... maybe she's right, but I'm not altogether convinced. It's a duffel coat, so that's good - sort of androgynous.... but those shiny tusk-shaped buttons definitely fasten the wrong way. The cut is strange too: the waist is a bit on the high side and it flares out quite a lot at the bottom. Apart from that I'm really not sure mustard yellow is my colour, even if it does go quite well with the gold quilted satin lining and the brown fake fur around the hood. Ah well, what's a boy to do? I just wish it didn't smell quite so much like my sister.

I'm hardly through the school gates when a voice rings out with all the subtlety of an air-raid siren. "Har-har, look everyone! Girl's coat, girl's coat. Someone's wearing a girl's coat. Har-har!"

Great. Now I can consign the theory that mum knows best to the nearest toilet, along with the tooth fairy and that advice about telling lies getting you into even more trouble. I'm starting to think there should be a law against people having parents.

Miscarriage of justice [2000]


I'm sitting by the phone in my sister Lou's house after yet another conversation with Katie. If I ever had any doubts about leaving her and coming back to this city, they're completely gone now.

In each of her previous phonecalls she made it more and more obvious that she wanted me back. The calls started pleasantly enough with polite enquiries as to my wellbeing and gradually led to her telling me how much her six year old son was missing me. I miss him too but it doesn't make me feel bad about moving away; there's no doubt in my mind that his mother and I could never salvage anything from our wreck of a relationship and me being there would do him no good at all.

With tonight's call she moved the pressure up a notch. I listened sympathetically as she explained how she'd been in hospital for a few days with nobody around to visit her or comfort her. I grew slightly more sceptical as she told me the parents she was so close to had pretty much disowned her - apart from babysitting her son, of course. I managed to remain calm and unmoved even when she informed me she'd found out she was pregnant with our child but had then suffered a miscarriage which had put her in the hospital. I bit my lip and said nothing when she told me how she'd defended me against all the hateful comments made by our mutual friends when they found out how I'd abandoned her at such a difficult time.

There were a few moments of silence after she'd finished tugging at my heart strings. I took a deep breath and then said softly: "Katie, I'm not coming back. Please don't ever ring me again."

It's strange to think that during all those months of wild, passionate, unprotected lovemaking, we never once discussed the fact that I can't have children.

Colour torture for babies [1958]

Duck Tape

They finally gave me something to look at. I woke to find these four coloured plastic blobs stretched out above my head on this piece of elastic stuff. Are they ducks? I think they might be ducks, although I'm not sure what a duck is.... except that big people point to shapes like this and say "duck" and then make a really funny noise that makes me laugh a lot. Sometimes I think the big people are all barking mad.

There's a real problem with these plastic things though: I presume they're supposed to amuse and stimulate me but I really feel someone should have thought this through properly before tormenting a baby in such a way. I've spent hour after hour trying to grab a hold of the damned things without any success, until every bone in this new body of mine aches from the effort. Every now and then I've found myself in a position where I can just about reach them but all I can manage to do is smack them with my fingertips so they rattle a bit and spin on the elastic stuff. These stupid, stubby little fingers they gave me are useless. Why can't I have some proper ones like the big people? I don't even want to think about the ones on my feet - they're real non-starters - too small and stunted even to grab my blanket when it slides down into the bottom of the pram! I have a plan though: as soon as I can reach my feet I'm going to chew them off and hopefully grow some better ones.

Oh, and if I can get my hands working properly these damned ducks are going to get a flying lesson.

What gets me most about the ducks is the colour sequence. Yes , you guessed it: it's the usual red, yellow, blue, green. Do they not see how annoying this is? Green, being a mixture of blue and yellow, doesn't really belong with the other three primary colours at all and yet they always insist on putting it in. Okay, I can understand green being preferred to say orange or purple since it seems somehow stronger than these other two secondary colours - maybe because it's easier to distinguish between different shades of green - but what's wrong with only having three ducks? Even if I reluctantly accept the inclusion of the green duck I really can't consent to it being placed next to the blue one in this four colour sequence; green is too close in hue to blue, being a mixture of blue and yellow, so for the same reason it probably shouldn't be next to the yellow either. Blue and green also have much less visual and psychological impact than yellow and red and therefore they should surely be mixed up in a way which creates some sort of harmony. Also, since yellow seems generally to be the palest of these four colours it shouldn't be on the end as this too messes up any chance of a balanced composition. Taking all this into account the only remotely satisfying order for these coloured plastic ducks would be: green, red, yellow, blue (or the reverse: blue, yellow, red, green). Even this isn't wholly satisfactory since I can't help but look for some kind of symmetry which is never going to be there.

So here I am staring at these coloured ducks in their stupid, stupid colour sequence, completely unable to do anything about it. Thanks a lot big people.

Oh, I get it. If I'm going to grow up to be a big person I'm supposed to be insane, right? I'm supposed to lie here going quietly mad so that when I'm bigger I can make silly noises at other little people and drive them potty with plastic ducks too, right? Maybe there's a method to this madness that I'm not yet aware of. Maybe, just maybe, it's a necessary part of growing up.

The nearly-drawing [ca1980]


Last spot from the last transmission
Flickers from the television.
Babysitting, being boring
Badgers me to take up drawing.

I can't do stick figures justice.

My excuse, to my disgust
Is that I only own two pencils.
All the greatest artists started
With the very best utensils.

It's good to be ugly [1958]


Why do people always talk about how much a baby weighs? Six pounds.... seven pounds.... sixty eight pounds and a hundred and thirty nine ounces.... who the hell cares? I guess the truth is there's little you can say about a newborn baby, unless it happens to have really funny ears or an abnormal amount of hair. Perhaps all people really want to know is what the mother wants to know but they're afraid to ask - perhaps they should be told "it's got two arms, two legs, and just the one head.... feel better now?". Still, twelve pounds twelve ounces is something a bit different: pretty much the size of a healthy pair of twins. So here I am, new to the world and already taking up twice as much space as I'm supposed to.

Except for the obvious size difference I look just like every other baby. Damned ugly if the truth be told. Don't get me wrong, ugly is good. Ugly is.... normal. It's when you have a baby that's not ugly you really have cause for concern. Let's face it, there's something not quite right about a truly beautiful baby. Who knows what that freakishly handsome child is going to look like when it's older? And don't give me any of that "he looks just like his father" crap either. For a start, my father is six foot two and wears glasses. While I may be big I'm not that big and even though my eyes don't really work yet I'd look a real spectacle in a pair of spectacles. My dad's a handsome devil too; he'd be within his rights to feel insulted should anyone say I look like him.

Be honest now, no newborn baby really looks like their father, do they? Not unless Winston Churchill has had secret affairs with more than half the women in the world, did so before he was born, and will continue doing so even after he's dead. Wherever you go in the world you'll find arab babies, eskimo babies, pacific island babies and black african babies all bearing a rather striking resemblance to old Winston. All this makes me wonder if the idea of children looking like their fathers is a ruse devised by women to assure worried husbands that these strange looking creatures staring blankly back at them really are their offspring, and not somebody else's.