Monthly Archives: May 2021

Tin Cans in the Backyard

Alabama has lifted its 27-year ban on yoga in public schools…

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When he was thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

That’s because yoga is harder than it looks.

It began the summer that Dill came to us, and one hot, lazy afternoon when he bet Jem that he couldn’t invent a silly pose. Jem got down on all fours and arched his back. He said he was calling it the Downward Dog, though I said why not just call it the Normal Dog, a downward dog should be lying flat out with a quick brown fox jumping over you.

Jem ignored that and told Dill it was his turn. Dill also got onto all fours, with his back stiff and horizontal.

“Shoot, that’s just a press-up,” said Jem, “without the press and the up.”

“It ain’t,” said Dill. “I call it the, um, Plank.”

“The Um Plank?” I said. The others laughed.

We played all afternoon. We called it ‘yoga’, because that was the funniest word we could think of, and with each pose we would say “um” as we were doing it, then roll around laughing. Our neighbours came and watched, because there was no hurry, there was nowhere to go in Maycomb.

Even in the Radley Place we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.

Aunt Alexandra was not impressed by our yoga. She told Atticus that if God had wanted us to stand on one leg he would have given us, well, one leg. Atticus asked her what God’s attitude was to holding a coffee cup in one hand, and it was at times like that that I thought that my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

Next day Jem, while attempting something he called the Ballet Giraffe, fell and broke his arm. Neighbours sniffed “I told you so,” the Maycomb Chronicle wrote a sharp editorial, and Sheriff Heck Tate said that anyone seen practicing yoga would be arrested.

Atticus argued our case, but lost, and yoga was done. Rumours grew that some people had secretly loved what we had been doing and had started practicing it in the privacy of their parlours. Occasionally when passing a house you might hear a wail, or a crash that sounded an awful lot like someone toppling from a Tree Pose onto a sideboard full of china, but no-one would ever admit to anything.

Then one night, on the way home from the school Halloween pageant, I was attacked by Bob Ewell.

I screamed and was struggling desperately when I saw a stranger race across the park. He wrapped both legs behind his own neck, thrust himself forward onto his hands and somersaulted toward us. His legs unwrapped, locked themselves instead around the neck of Ewell, and the stranger twisted in mid-air.

There was a snapping sound, and Ewell fell to the ground.

I looked into the eyes of Boo Radley.

My scream had attracted attention, and as Boo unwrapped his legs and stood, Sheriff Tate ran towards us. He looked at the scene for a long time.

“Practicin’ yoga,” he said eventually.

Boo bowed his head.

“Yep, I reckon that was it,” said the sheriff. “Ewell was illegally practicin’ yoga when he fatally injured himself attemptin’ the -” he looked down at the body.

“Corpse position,” I said.

“Looks like he’d got pretty good at it,” said Sheriff Heck Tate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in the Name

Two new characters, Mr Calm and Little Miss Brave, are being added to the Mr Men universe as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year…

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Mr Calm was very calm.

He would calmly patch up Mr Bump, calmly listen to Mr Chatterbox, calmly help Mr Forgetful look for his car-keys with his calm but utterly unhelpful catchphrase, ‘where did you see them last?’.

He was calm when his first girlfriend, Little Miss Late, arrived two hours late for their first date and remained calm even when he realised that her name had nothing to do with her tardiness but was because she was a zombie.

His current girlfriend was Little Miss Brave.

Little Miss Brave was very brave. She bravely challenged and beat Mr Strong in an arm-wrestling contest, bravely slapped Mr Tickle when he surprised her while she was having a bath, and bravely shopped for Mr Sneeze, who had found that even Amazon wouldn’t sell to him during the pandemic.

She was also brave about being referred to as ‘Little Miss’, about living in the ‘Mr Men’ universe, and about getting paid twenty per cent less than her boyfriend.

The couple had a child (yes, even though she wasn’t Mrs Calm, the world has moved on in fifty years), Wee Master Stoic, who would shrug as escaping balloons disappeared over the tree-tops and would refuse the lollipop after measles injections.

One evening they were at home. Little Miss Brave was calmly making sourdough, which she found relaxed her, and Mr Calm was bravely planning to eat it, because, much as he loved her, she was not Little Miss Star Baker. They didn’t hear the front door being jimmied open, didn’t hear the footsteps across the hallway, didn’t hear the muffled swear-word as a soft shoe stepped onto a piece of Lego.

Into the kitchen stepped Mr Robber.

Mr Robber was a robber. Nominative determinism is big in the Mr Men universe.

He wore an eye-mask and a beanie hat and carried a limp sack on which, had he been on his way home instead of his way out, you could have read the word ‘Swag’.

He also had a knife.

“Give me all your money,” he snarled. “And jewellery.”

Little Miss Brave snorted. “You should have brought a smaller bag,” she said.

“Shut up!” shouted Mr Robber.

“You don’t have to be so angry, you know,” said Mr Calm. “Have you ever tried mindfulness?”

“What?”

“just try becoming aware of your breathing.”

Mr Robber helplessly found himself listening to his breath, then holding it without meaning to, then trying to stop doing that. His knife lowered, just a fraction.

Little Miss Brave hit him in the face with her rolling-pin.

She hit him again, hard across the wrist, causing him to drop the knife. Mr Calm picked it up then held the kitchen door open as Little Miss Brave grabbed a fistful of collar and trouser and hurled Mr Robber out into the night.

“Yippee-kay-yay, mother-”

“Now, dear,” said Mr Calm.

Run to Seed

Ugg (image from me)

The fish weren’t biting.

Not only that, but the mammoths were too mammoth, the sloths weren’t slothful and even the hares were evading the snares.

Ugg hadn’t caught anything for over a week now.

Ogga looked on as he stared despondently into his breakfast bowl, which she had filled with oats. She had meant no implied criticism in this, yet she knew that to him every gritty mouthful would taste of failure.

Ogga (image also from me)

And not much else, she had to admit. She sadly watched his face contort as he tried to work down a first spoonful that had sucked his mouth dry of all saliva. He looked up at her. His hollow-eyed, soul-dead expression nearly broke her heart.

“It’s a bit dry,” he mumbled, through a small spray of grains. He stood and walked to the pot over the fire, took a ladleful of water from it, and poured it into the bowl. He stirred it absently as he walked back to the table.

“Careful,” said Ogga urgently, “that water’s boil-”

She stopped, and the two gazed in horror at the bubbling gloop that was forming in the bowl. They watched as it grew, as it turned a sullen gray, as it sent tendrils over the side. Ugg dropped the bowl, which rolled around on its edge before settling.

“We should warn the village,” said Ogga. “It’s going to devour us all.”

“No, look,” said Ugg. “It’s stopped.”

Sure enough, the substance had ceased expanding and now seethed balefully, like an angry brain.

“What will we do with it?” asked Ogga. “Pebble-dash the cave?”

Ugg stared at it for a long time. “I’m going to eat it,” he said quietly.

“Oh, please don’t,” groaned Ogga. She snatched up the bowl and held it upside down. None of the glop poured out.

“Imagine what that will do to your insides,” she said flatly. “You’re going to fossilize yourself from the inside out.”

“What it will do to my insides,” said Ugg, ” is fill them. It’s still just grains and water.”

He took the bowl from Ogga and stuck his spoon into it, trying to ignore the sucking sound as it forced its way in. He dug out a small amount, lifted the spoon and slurped the ooze into his mouth. Ogga watched, open-mouthed, as his closed mouth worked it down.

“What’s it like?” she breathed.

Ugg swallowed. “It needs salt,” he said.

“Salt?”

“Yes. Or sugar. Or honey. Or fruit. Or cowpat. Anything, really, because it tastes of nothing.”

“Never mind,” said a relieved Ogga, reaching for the bowl. “Here, I’ll get you some more oats.”

To her surprise, Ugg pressed the bowl to his chest. “I didn’t say i didn’t like it,” he said.

He ate the rest, in silence, then trudged off hunting. Ogga was left with the task of trying to clean the bowl. In the end she buried it in the woods, and made another one.

Ugg returned five hours later. On his spear were skewered three salmon, strapped to his back were the carcasses of two deer, and he was dragging, for his first time ever, a sabre-tooth tiger.

“Where did you get all them?” gasped Ogga.

“I caught them,” said Ugg proudly.

“Well, we can certainly eat well now,” said Ogga. “No more grains for you.”

“No,” said Ugg. “It’s the grains that did it. I just felt so strong and full of, well, full, mostly. I felt invincible, possibly because I reckoned I could be gored in the stomach and not be harmed. It really is the Breakfast of, of, of people who win things. From now on I’m going to get my oats every day.”

Ogga looked into his beaming face. My Ugg is back, she thought. She took his arm in hers and smiled.

“You certainly will,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Class is Permanent

The sofa was violet.

It had a built-in footstool, a vibrating setting, and a wine-bottle holder in each arm-rest. It was wide enough to accommodate a family of five, or perhaps just two people sprawled under open pizza-boxes, watching Netflix. It was utterly hideous.

“We’ll take it,” said Queen Carrie.

King Boris sighed.

He had been King for over a year now, having staged a bloodless coup over the bloodless Queen of May. He had freed his country from the yoke of its oppressor, which had wanted awful things like crime-fighting co-operation, free movement of its subjects and the chance to sell stuff to each other. King Boris had thought that this would make him the most powerful person in the land.

He now realised he was not even the most powerful person in his household.

It had been at Queen Carrie’s Lady Macbeth-like urging that he had made his thrust for power in the first place. She had since got rid of his closest advisor, Dominic of Barnard, whose much-vaunted vision had failed to see that coming. She now made all the important decisions, so while he was left to ponder how to sell brown sauce and Yorkshire pudding to remote Pacific islands, she had taken charge of decorating the castle.

The first thing she did was move them into their next-door neighbour’s, on the basis that their own wasn’t big enough. She then asked for a decorating budget, was given one, and tossed it.

History will ask did she have good taste. History will then remember that she had voluntarily gone out with Boris.

The bathroom was taupe, a colour and a word that exists only in interior design. The bath-taps were cherubs, gushing water from their mouths as if they were vomiting very politely. The cistern was modelled on a Vegas slot-machine. It was flushed by pulling the long lever at the side, causing three poop emojis to fill the little windows. The toilet paper had “The BBC” printed on it.

There was no mirror. You do not get hair like Boris’s if you have a mirror.

The main bedroom had flock wallpaper. In other words it had sheep on it, which King Boris could count on nights when he couldn’t sleep.

The kitchen was fully equipped, in that it had a phone that connected directly with the staff.

The sitting room had a glitterball, a ninety-inch TV and a statue of a nymph who had apparently decided to robe herself only from the waist down. It had an Alexa, though she had been so confused by Boris’s muttered ramblings that she now just wept gently. On one wall was a portrait of the historical giant on whom King Boris had famously modelled himself, Baloo the Bear.

It seemed that the room now also had a violet sofa. Boris decided it was time to speak up.

“I say,” he said. “We don’t have the money for all this.”

“Then get it,” said Queen Carrie. “Ask your friends.”

“I can’t do that,” said Boris. “I’d be breaking the rules.”

Carrie stared at him in genuine astonishment. Boris blushed.

“Er, well,” he stammered, “it’s just, er, we’re spending all this money, while the people, well, you know, the lockdown, the closures -”

“Let them eat Greggs,” said Carrie Antoinette.

 

 

 

 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Way to Fill an Afternoon

Back in the days before photography, the self-portrait was regarded as the ultimate test for an artist, his or her showstopper challenge. At the bottom of the aesthetic ladder was the bowl of fruit. Next came the view of the countryside, then the scene from the bible, then the thirty-foot long depiction of some battle. The final rung was to be able to accurately represent something that the artist had only ever seen in a mirror.

The mirror played an important part back then. This explains why the artist-come-models are always looking off to one side. It may also explain why none of them are ever wearing clothing with words on them like Adidas, or Abercrombie and Fitch.

The self-portrait was a test not just of one’s artistic ability, but also of one’s integrity, the visual equivalent of today’s Linked-In profile. The artist had to fight the urge to make themselves a bit more handsome, a bit taller, a bit less fat. You may think that they would also have to fight false modesty, the urge to make themselves look hideous, but in fact they were unlikely to do this anyway. Art for art’s sake is a beautiful concept, but in the real world artists have to eat and they knew that there is a limited market for paintings in which the subject looks like the runner-up in a face-punching contest.

Most importantly of all, the self-portrait had to convey a sense of the tortured soul within. There are no known works in which the artist is smiling, or eating a giant bowl of ice-cream. No-one wanted to hint, in any way, that painting for a living might in fact be fun. Thus in every picture the eyes stare glumly back at you, the face is gaunt, the pallor is pallid. Munch’s self-portrait, for example, shows him slack-jawed and wide-eyed in misery, though luckily for him he was such a bad artist that no-one realised it was supposed to be a self-portrait, and to his surprise it was hailed as a masterful depiction of the awfulness of existence.

There are no known nude self-portraits. The modern selfie generation should reflect upon this.