Saturday, February 28, 2009

February 2009: At Least It's Over

It's no mystery to our regular readers by now what a burden and a trial I find February - and it's not just about Valentine's Day, either, although that is a big part of it. Mainly, I guess, it's because it's the end of winter here in Vancouver, and what with the rain and the lack of sunlight and all it just starts to get to me without massive infusions of retail therapy. In February's defense, this one has been one of the loveliest - in other words driest and brightest - in living memory; also, in my own defense, I did write more than 70 new posts this month. Also, as much fun as they've been to make, part of the reason I've been behind in posting is producing these videos, which take a certain amount of time to edit.

Rest assured, the Pop Culture Institute is entirely on track and will be caught up in a week or so; part of the problem has been the impending instalment of The Barington Encounter, which is both long and suffering from an indefinable flaw which has hitherto rendered it unpublishable. I think I've just about figured out what it is, and once I have that's yet another logjam cleared away.

Thanks for your patience!

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Seventeen

Since 1840, untold millions have passed beneath the steel-and-glass roof of Brighton Station on their way to untold millions of secret rendezvous, kinky assignations, and naughty pleasures; but not our Frederick Toady, not today anyway... ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3] * [4] * [5] * [6] * [7] * [8] * [9] * [10] * [11] * [12]

[13] * [14] * [15] * [16]

Barington Cathedral (actually the Cathedral Church of St. Sybarite) had a long and storied history - at least, it’d once had one - written, as these things are, in the loving placement of every block of stone, plank of wood, and donated memorial plaque, brass, and window in the place. It survived Henry VIII dissolving the monasteries, Oliver Cromwell dissolving the monarchy, and the Industrial Revolution dissolving just about everything else, only to be unceremoniously dissolved itself during World War II. Not that its ceremonious dissolution would have been any better, mind you, but a tasteful cenotaph excoriating Nazi atrocities next to the ruin of a church founded by William II on the site of a Saxon priory stroke sauna itself built on the site of the brothel stroke nunnery run by St. Sybarite herself would have at least brought in the tourists, in addition to looking bloody brilliant in brochures.

Only it wasn’t the Luftwaffe or indeed any other of Hitler’s other favourite outrages which reduced the once-elegant Barington Cathedral to rubble; one fine day in 1944 the caretaker carelessly tossed his fag end too close to some cans of varnish and the whole thing went up like - you should pardon the Popish connotation - a Roman candle. A thousand years of history lost in 77 minutes; Guy Fawkes himself couldn’t have done a better job, and in doing so the caretaker, though he went to his grave not knowing it, became eligible for an Iron Cross.

The parish rebuilt it, of course, when it could afford to, which meant that the majority of the new Barington Cathedral had been put up in 1972, with the rest completed by 1987.

And it showed. Oh, how it showed...

The new cathedral was even uglier than its most unflattering description; not even the talented wordsmiths at the British Tourist Authority (whose job it was to blow smoke up the arse of foreigners from near and far alike with the help of flowery adjectives) were able to come up with a better word to describe it than ‘austere’ and even that word had nearly caused a fist fight in their office when it was first bandied about. Well, a slapping match, but you get the point...

When the Prince of Wales visited in 1991 he was momentarily rendered speechless - much to the chagrin of the pack of reporters waiting for him to say something sensible so they could distort it out of all reason and thus make fun of him for it forever after - and even after he’d regained his composure the word he used, namely ‘dreck’, seemed like flattery compared to what the Bishop of Barington called it on a good day. The best thing any of the editors on that day in 1991 could say about the visit was that at least the word ‘dreck’ could be easily made to fit into a headline.

None of which, or at least very little, of course would have been known to Trudy Carlisle as she approached the lumpen pile of austere dreck from the ironically distant Cathedral Close, unaware of her being in hot pursuit by a man from the Foreign Office in a scenario that couldn’t have been less like Ian Fleming if it had been written by John Le Carre, and couldn’t have been of less interest to her than if it had been written by Jeffrey Archer.

‘I say,’ she heard a man’s voice say. ‘Are you Mrs Carlisle?’

At the sound of his voice (or, more accurately, at the sounding of her name by his voice, his voice being no inducement to any activity whatsoever) she turned to behold the sight of a man who looked to be in his fifties - but who was actually only 38 - wearing an outfit of monochrome grey approaching her rather rapidly, half running half hopping up the steps of the Cathedral, though not quite as rapidly as he might have done were he in any way gainly.

In addition to wearing a grey suit which was exactly the colour of his grey hair, he wore wire-framed spectacles, which were steel of course. He winced whenever he tried to smile (though he had once accidentally smiled after stubbing his toe), and though he wasn’t quite fat, he wasn’t quite thin either. He was, you might say, a civil servant in the Goldilocks mode (not that such a finicky girl would have chosen someone like him for anything, mind you, except maybe a spot of light bear-baiting). He seemed to wear the indignity of being himself like a sign around his neck, routinely blent into his surroundings like a shape-shifter in a house of mirrors, and on more than one occasion had managed to startle himself while alone, so extreme was his innocuity. He even made the quotations with his fingers, so you have some idea what a complete and total ‘wanker’ he was.

‘Y-yes,’ she said, unsure of what else to say to such a person. ‘I guess I am. Or was.’

‘Mrs Carlisle,’ he repeated as he reached her, somewhat out of breath, though not from exertion; it was how he always sounded, as though his entire life were an exertion, which in a very real way it was. ‘Despite the condolence-inducing situation which has brought us together I am very pleased to make your ‘acquaintance’.’

Having made his quotes he thrust his hand at her and she shook it entirely out of habit, even though it looked clammy at a distance; as she held it, it even felt like a clam, possibly a geoduck, although for the life of her she couldn’t tell how she knew such a word, let alone such an animal, having never once dared set foot inside a Chinatown. Momentarily she heard Gary’s voice in her head; he’d have been all het up by now at having been handed such a lifeless thing to shake, so evangelical was he about such things as handshakes vis-a-vis their limpness. ‘And who might you be?’ she said, petrified in her best British way of accidentally having an honest reaction to him.

‘I am Frederick Toady. A ‘representative’ of the Foreign Office.’ He let her hand go to make his other quote, which was something of a blessed relief to her as she wiped it dry on the back of her long, discreetly flowered skirt. ‘Sorry I was late. It’s quite a trek to come all the way from London to Sussex, especially when one has to change trains in Brighton.’ He looked around in a studiously approving way, unable to dislike it even if he had, lest he cast Her Majesty’s Civil Service in a bad light; he also muttered the word ‘Brighton’, but then he usually only mouthed words like ‘damn’, ‘Hell’ and ‘knickers’, even when used in their non-profane contexts, so the fact that he’d utter an actual profanity like ‘Brighton’ meant he was feeling quite daring on that otherwise ordinary day.

By now Trudy Carlisle had well and truly shrunk back from him, although she’d done so mainly to avoid being misted by his pronunciation of the word ‘Sussex’, whose incipient moistness she had never previously considered until that moment, although it did neatly sum up the climate of the place, not to mention how wet everyone there was.

‘What seems to be the ‘problem’ then?’ he enquired.

That’s when she described all that had happened to her yesterday and today, including the Andromedan national anthem, the death of her husband, the theft of his corpse from their sitting room, the blackout drunk she’d suffered as a result after the 999 operator had rung off without sending help and she’d found them all gone, then the pounding headache she’d awakened with and the morning’s mad dash across the village in order to break up the barricading within the very Cathedral before which they stood of five creatures from another planet with the body of said dead husband who was, it bears repeating, an officer of the law.

He took it quite badly, did Frederick Toady.

Yet with Whitehall efficiency he dealt with the worst of the shock by suggesting Mrs Carlisle for the job of Foreign Office go-between, at a starting salary of £28,500 per annum, which she accepted a little too readily. Nothing soothes the nerves of a civil servant quite like a good bit of squandering from the public purse, and when she’d leapt at the opportunity (even though it was the money she’d leapt at rather than the opportunity, which truth be told she rather dreaded) he sighed with multiple kinds of relief, some of which he’d never known existed until that very moment, and at least one of which was the kind of relief a workaholic feels after a bout of premature ejaculation, since it meant he could get back to work a few minutes sooner.

This meant that she could now enter the Cathedral (and hundreds of other heritage sites besides) unimpeded, which was just one of the fringe benefits of government work civil servants liked to keep to themselves. It also meant that she’d be able to afford to fly to Majorca on holiday this year, which would have been quite difficult on a policeman’s salary, unless they got a good deal on a package, and even more difficult, package or not, with the impending insurance settlement currently being tied up in all kinds of red tape at an office outside Norwich, which is where they did that sort of thing. Especially now since, with her husband dead, she’d have no double occupancy upon which to rely.

All of these thoughts (though not many more) occurred to her during a long pause in their conversation, which silence Frederick Toady found particularly nerve-wracking, since it clearly had the potential to become awkward, which potential made her feel awkward in its own unique way. He tried to get her attention, but it did not want to be got. He pulled against the cathedral’s heavy wooden doors, against which she’d slumped, and try as he might he could shift neither them nor her against them. He waved his hand in front of her face, and even tried snapping his fingers, an act as much hampered by the total lack of cool contained within them as the clamminess secreted upon them.

None of which mattered, since none of it worked.

He cleared his throat: nothing. ‘Erm,’ he said. Again, nothing. ‘I say, Mrs Carlisle,’ he tried, but as it was his curse to speak rather softly, and in this case had spoken as a lorry was passing, this had even less effect than his previous attempts, in which case, it seemed not even the tremendous roar of twelve pistons filled with diesel going past encased in a giant noisy machine could shatter her reverie.

Briefly, he considered touching her, but having just attended a workplace seminar on sexual harassment, he was unsure where; given that he was he and not some of the suave yuppies he’d seen on the make at that wine bar near his office in Park Lane he was also unsure how. Instead, he withdrew a mechanical pencil from its slightly moist place in his shirt pocket and, satisfied that its lead – which was not even lead, but was still dangerously pointy – was safely sheathed, he poked her on the forearm just above the wrist. He also used the rubber end of it, just to be extra safe.

He prodded. Quite gently at first. Then again. And again.

Force applied from him to her via the pencil eventually penetrated the sleeve of her overcoat, then the sleeve of her sweater, and finally the sleeve of her blouse. This force in turn activated a few rather blas√© nerve endings in her skin, which lackadaisically sent said impulses to her brain where they waited on queue for what seemed like hours (but which was in fact only seconds, as to most nerve-endings a second seems like an hour, especially when someone’s poking at them) until they were eventually received and processed by some rather surly neurons and not even told to have a nice day afterwards, since even the neurons in Britain had gotten ruder over the past twenty years.

Trudy Carlisle turned her head and rather blankly (as well as somewhat dreamily) stared at Frederick Toady. ‘Yes?’

‘Um, er, uh,’ he stammered, having completely forgotten what it was he’d been planning to say in the event of a still-rather handsome woman looking up at him dreamily. Then he remembered: ‘Hadn’t you ought to be getting inside?’ It was the first bit of supervision he’d ever given in the thirty years of his working life, and it felt good. So good he feared he might vomit again, which would be twice in one day, a personal best, as most days it was four or five.

There was another long pause, and another sickening feeling, such as usually accompanies that circular rainbow thing-a-my on the computer screen which appears whenever you don’t know if the damn thing’s going to do what you’d asked it to or crash. ‘Right,’ said Trudy Carlisle, finally - hesitancy, in this instance brought on by genuine fear. She took a deep breath and stiffened her own upper lip better than any Botox ever could.

To his credit, Frederick Toady waited until she was inside the Cathedral before fainting dead away from relief. Not that anyone noticed. Still, at least he hadn’t vomited...

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Sixteen

From out of a dank basement office in the marzipan-like splendour of the Foreign Office comes the unlikeliest hero in modern fiction, Frederick Toady... ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3] * [4] * [5] * [6] * [7] * [8] * [9] * [10] * [11] * [12]

* [14] * [15]

See, now here I am getting ahead of myself again, and more’s the pity, since the story’s been a ripping one so far, and’s bound to rip some more before it’s all told...

It seems that earlier yesterday, May 12th, as the residents of Barington were luxuriating in the comfort of their suburban smugness - or whatever was left of it these days, what with the credit crunch and its concomitant smugness smackdown and that - the Andromedans’ shiny new ship was streaking high above the Sussex Downs, through an area known only to those in the know as the Sussex Ups. While streaking thereabove it was detected upon radar by the good people at RAF Farnborough whose job it is to detect things upon radar, at which point fighter jets were scrambled to intercept it, but alas, were unable to; following which eggs were scrambled, as it was well past teatime by the time the pilots’d got back, and in their dutiful zeal they’d missed out on the last of the chicken pot pie.

According to Top Secret protocols known only to the Prime Minister, the Queen, (and, for some Super Top Secret reason known only to him, Rupert Murdoch) a representative from the Foreign Office was to be dispatched forthwith - the Foreign Office having been ruled the most suitable department for dealing with interstellar visitors, who were, after all, the ultimate foreigners. That, and the Foreign Secretary drew the shortest straw at the Cabinet meeting where the decision was made, which suited the Prime Minister just fine as he was her most serious rival, rather than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was the more normal custom.

Well, as was the case with all UFO sightings - or at least all the ones phoned in by reliable sources - the call eventually made its way through the labyrinthine telephone switchboard of Whitehall to the Foreign Office, and thence was passed from desk to desk like the proverbial hot potato, until it could go only one iota lower. Which is when the janitor placed the sealed folder - bearing a giant red sticker upon it which said ‘In the Event of an Alien Invasion’ - on the desk of one Frederick Toady. Having only just finished his lunch, the sight of the folder (or more likely the sight of the sticker upon the folder, the folder itself being a rather bland manila in colour and not in the least provocative) caused him to quite utterly unfinish his lunch, much to the same janitor’s chagrin.

The folder was duly slit open with an official Foreign Office secret file slitter, read through tears despite hands trembling like blancmanges on cobblestones, and once the reader was finally revived it was ‘on yer bike’ for Frederick Toady who, it scarcely needs to be said, didn’t even own a bike.

Now, Frederick Toady was so low on the roster he might have been team mascot; since this was only government and not something important like football, though, he was therefore given a great deal more responsibility than dancing up and down the pitch trying to dodge the projectiles of drunken yobs - not that he wouldn’t have to do that anyway at the Christmas party. Basically, it was his job, if anything were to go wrong at the Foreign Office, to be the someone they’d sack to demonstrate to the Press (and, as an added bonus, occasionally even the Public) how really very seriously they were taking that month’s, week’s, day’s, or - the way things’d been going lately - hour’s scandal.

And when it came to sacking, Frederick Toady was your man...

Already he’d been sacked by every department in Whitehall (and a couple of them twice) except for the Foreign Office, for which he’d never worked until six months before in the course of his 20 year career. It was a career, truth be told, which had saved many others more promising and illustrious than his own, at least on the surface (which was how all careers in Whitehall were judged, since there was precious little depth to be found anywhere in Central London apart from the Jubilee Line) and in careering from department to department in the way he’d done had made quite a career for himself indeed. For this reason alone, Frederick Toady was the single most important official in Her Majesty’s Government, though since that information was classified, it was therefore unavailable to him, his own security clearance being - as has been implied - below even that of the janitor.

All of which seemed to race through his mind in a way that would have better suited the Virgin train on which he found himself seated in that disconsolately fidgety way he had about him as it (and he within it) making an alternately sluggish and immobile way across what still passed for the English countryside between London and Brighton, where Frederick Toady was already dreading a missed connection to Barington with perfectly good reason, seeing as it had left early for no particular reason and had therefore made him late before he’d even left London.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

"The Heart of Saturday Night" by Tom Waits

Seeing as this year the worst day of the year* was a Saturday night, and seeing as it takes virtually no provocation for me to post a Tom Waits video, I figured this made the ideal combination...

(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night was the title track to Waits' 1974 album, at the height of his Asylum Years; this video contains a performance of the song he made in the UK in 1975, and features both a long, rambling, rather mordant introduction of the song, whereupon he takes his sweet time in finding the right vocal melody, before eventually landing a picture perfect rendition.

*The worst day of the year is Valentine's Day, duh!
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chumley's Fortnight In Hell

The Pop Culture Institute's latest video adventure details the challenges encountered by your intrepid reporter Cholmondeley St. John-Mainwaring in trying to put out a blog and produce enough original video content to keep the slavering maw of the Internet satisfied, all the while hopelessly saddled with a pair of housebound neurotics...

Of course, in this case, hilarity doesn't so much ensue as endure - despite Valentine's Day, overwork, and a plague of apathy!
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Fifteen

Once you get used to the temperature (about 1500 Kelvin on a good day - but it's a dry heat) the amenities offered in Great Red Spot are second to none; in fact, it's a real social whirl! Is it any wonder deities from around the galaxy have chosen it for their home away from home? ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3] * [4] * [5] * [6] * [7] * [8] * [9] * [10] * [11] * [12]

* [14]

Once Lililili had returned to 14 Juniper Mews, and related the (to them, at least) thrilling story of his maiden solo Earth-walk next door with a peace offering potful of left-over Andromedan stew from Gary Carlisle’s wake, during which he’d made the acquaintance of a discrete species his colleagues had yet to encounter, not to mention the marvellous discovery of Earthicacians engaged in sophisticated banter using archaic 38th Century Andromedan - and their seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of Centauri footballers, besides - the aliens returned to the task at hand...

Knowing nothing of human DNA, but a great deal about human burial - for reasons previously elucidated - the aliens laid Gary Carlisle out on their newly assembled kitchen table and gleefully set about pulling internal organs out of his oddly un-pocketed body to prepare them for their eventual embalming. It was all very thrilling to them, as it would be to the legions of exobiologists who were undoubtedly watching back at home... Only one heart, two small lungs rather than one big one, an appendix! Not since 14th Grade biology in primary school had they been so excited to cut open an alien and haul out its guts; other than the alien called Grimmnha, of course, whose job as a coroner at the Andromeda City Exo-Zoo routinely involved doing squeamish-making things to Persistence Lizards in the name of exo-zoölogical forensics.

Once the Egyptified scented oils and Mesopotamianated spiced unguents had been packed into the suitable orifices, smeared on the appropriate body parts, and otherwise dispensed with (most of them, it turns out, were smashing on Ryvita) the aliens called another taxi (actually the same one they’d called before - a good bet, since it was one of only three in all of Barington) to take them all to the nearest Anglican cathedral.

Somehow this got the attention of the newspapers...

Criminals of all kinds get away with larceny of all kinds in broad daylight of all kinds - even occasionally in Barington - and no one even notices (or cares if they notice, or bothers to anything about it, on the remote chance they care) but when five peaceable aliens with sky-blue skin and wearing silver boiler suits attempted (and, in fact, succeeded) in bringing a dead policeman dressed in the purple and ermine cloaks of an Andromedan emperor (hastily improvised with their brand new DIYnot? bath towels and without access to a sewing machine either) into Barington Cathedral, eventually someone noticed, and cared, and even bothered to do something about it - so maybe miracles did occur after all, even in houses of God, where God had not dwelt since moving into that converted mews on Jupiter.

Inevitably the same someone also got around to calling the papers; some time later a reporter managed to shake off the worst effects of his hangover - seeing as it was five in the afternoon, after all, and therefore nearly Happy Hour - in order to come round in person, with an equivalently haggard photographer in tow, and even the police, ironically enough for ‘colour’.

This is exactly what happened in the lowering evening of May 12th, as the stars in their unfamiliar positions danced above the alien’s heads - just in time to make the morning editions, in fact; and so it was on the morning of May 13th when Trudy Carlisle happened, in passing the tobacconist, to see a photo of her dead husband on the cover of one such morning edition, with the words ‘COP IN UFO CHOP SHOP SHOCK’ alongside. And so, even though she found it repellent, she bought the Daily Mirror anyway; since it had a picture of her dead husband on the cover, that made it okay - though only just. ‘I wish the Guardian had gotten there first,’ she was heard to mutter, although not by anyone reliable enough, not even for the Daily Mirror.

For good measure she bought a copy of Razzle in which to conceal it and then rushed across the village green, where on the hideously modernist steps of Barington Cathedral Trudy Carlisle was more or less appointed the go-between. This was said to be on account of how much she and the Andromedans had already been through; Frederick Toady of the Foreign Office thought it best, as she and they had already ‘bonded’.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Chris Rock Discusses Slavery, Affirmative Action

Birthday wishes go out today to Chris Rock, whose insights on such hot-button issues as race are so on the money that you should hear the crackers ragging on him for it; in fact, all you have to do is check the comment rolls for any of his YouTube videos. The closer he gets to the truth the harder they try to get that cross lit...

Well, I liked him on Saturday Night Live, I liked him on HBO (where his specials Bigger & Blacker and Never Scared aired in 1999 and 2004), and I like him still (despite its title) on Everybody Hates Chris, which he produces and narrates. If you want to know why I like him so much, watch the above clip.
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Monday, February 02, 2009

Screened: "Groundhog Day" (1993)


While I have long been a fan of Bill Murray (and for slightly less long wary of Andie MacDowell) something kept me away from the movie Groundhog Day for fifteen years... I call it the 'Rave Factor'. The more people go on and on about how great something is, the less inclined I am to partake, since invariably it's never going to be as good as the raves it's gotten. It doesn't work across the board - otherwise I'd be trying to peck this out on a PC for my BBS while listening to a Discman - but seems to pertain to media alone: books, TV shows, and movies especially. Because of this there are serious gaps in my knowledge, which in recent years I've been trying to fill.

Which is why today I finally sat down - on Groundhog Day - and watched Groundhog Day, despite the fact that I'd actually bought the thing in July*. I gotta say, as upset as I was with myself at not having seen it sooner, it couldn't have come into my life at a better time. There I sat, a cynical middle-aged schlub with what seems like his best years behind him, going nowhere, seemingly reliving the same day over and over again... It was less a movie than a mirror.

Clearly mine is the demographic director Harold Ramis was aiming at - a canny move, seeing as a) it's a group that's guaranteed to always be there, and b) living one's life in a rut could be the central metaphor for our times. Where Ramis achieves his most, though, is in toning down Murray's typically raucous approach while simultaneously endowing his leading lady with a personality. This move would not only bring about the cinematic revelation of Rushmore but prevent the filming of Green Card 2, and for both reasons we should all be grateful.

While not an epic movie in any way, Groundhog Day does deal with everyday life in an epic way; the magic realism of the time loop in which Murray's character finds himself (which, sensibly, remains unexplained) is a great device for exploring how we as individuals put ourselves - or otherwise allow ourselves to be put - in that rut we're in. What initially seems like a curse eventually turns into a blessing - time being the best gift there is - and Murray's character finds redemption, of course, when he stops living only for himself and puts his life in the service of others - as good a liberal moral as you're likely to find.

*For six bucks!

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Fourteen

Since I couldn't find a suitable image to accompany this thrilling instalment of The Barington Encounter I thought I'd include the logo and link to a worthy cause instead; besides which, there's a thematic link between the image and the story, if not an obvious visual one. ~ MSM


[1] * [2] * [3] * [4] * [5] * [6] * [7] * [8] * [9] * [10] * [11] * [12]


On any ordinary day the lovemaking of Felicia Fripp and her illicit lover the vicar, Victor Vickers, bordered on the stoic - and the wrong side of stoic at that, the East German side, if you will; despite the mighty effort he could be counted on to put into it - as befitted a pleasingly stocky man in middle middle-age still fit enough to teach Cub Scouts to play cricket - she would marshal her own even more considerable resources to drain whatever passion she could from the whole procedure, even going so far as to render a beautiful (not to mention necessary) form of human interaction into something best termed a ‘procedure’, making it seem more like he was inserting a catheter than a penis. Today, however - no matter how ordinarily it had begun - was shaping up to be anything but an ordinary day.

Meaning the torrent of passion unleashed by Felicia Fripp now not only startled him but her as well; in fact, she all but bit down on the mantelpiece in a sudden frenzy of ecstasy as he slid the same old cock into her he’d been sliding into her three times a week for the past two years - or was it two times a week for the past three years? who could be arsed to remember? - and he let out the kind of roar he’d always wanted to, the kind that even his wife wouldn’t let him do. When he did, much to his surprise, she ground her buttocks into his pelvis and seemed to spontaneously discover how to do Kegel exercises - despite the fact that they’d never been written about in Woman’s Own, let alone The Daily Mail, which were her two principal sources of information - whooping all the while like the geordie girl she’d put such a gargantuan effort into denying she was for all these years.

And on it went - for twenty, thirty, forty minutes or more - regardless of the potential that it might this once be mutually (or even individually) enjoyable, regardless of the distinct possibility that any of the neighbours might hear them over the subtle sound palette that was Emmerdale, regardless of the casserole-bearing presence on the back doorstep of a sky blue Andromedan named Lililili...

As for the alien, well, he was intrigued.

Bending momentarily at the waist and listening via the cat flap, Lililili was thrilled to discover that, although the accent they were using was archaic, he was still able to understand the conversation being held within and was, in point of fact, a little bit proud to learn that a species as primitive as the Earthicacians could be so readily fluent in such an obscure dialect of Andromedan. He briefly considered the social damage an equivalent ripple of pride such a discovery might cause amongst the viewers back home, not to mention the rising sense of shame his own sense of pride had enflamed, whereupon he considered placing his hand over his camera pendant. Only his own disgust at any form of censorship overrode his desire to prevent such a dangerous happenstance as pride from occurring in his fellow Andromedans. Instead, he set the casserole dish down on the mat, sat on the Fripp’s back step, and eavesdropped in his best documentarian way.

‘This ocelot tastes of radiator,’ he heard the male human say.

To which the female human offered the hilarious rejoinder: ‘Disagreeing. Coulis of wombat.’

‘I like aardvark sweaters,’ the male offered, an entirely thought-provoking - not to mention provocative - change of topic considering the context, which only moments before had been an absorbing discussion of modern cookery. Still, wasn’t that the way with sophisticated conversation, topic hopping this way and that from cuisine to fashion, er, seamlessly...

‘Flinch like an albatross, you whinging Indonesian,’ she offered, which made no sense to Lililili at all and therefore thrilled him because it meant he had something left to learn - whereupon they took turns shouting out the names of Centauri footballers for some reason. After a good (or bad, depending on what you’re into) forty-five seconds their previously intellectual discussion fell silent, followed by the scent of burning tobacco and another, faintly musky aroma the alien had never smelled before, but one which was redolent of something he wanted to put into his watering mouth nonetheless.

Lililili was licking his lips emphatically when he said ‘Fascinating,’ out loud, in Andromedan, which word sounds not unlike a strangulated meow.

‘Fascinating indeed,’ came a similar sound from behind him, at which point Lililili’s head then torso then pelvis turned jerkily, and he came face to face with a large ginger tomcat ambling awkwardly up the garden path. After several steps the cat stopped, watching with feline fascination and an undoubtedly impaired sense of depth perception as a wasp busily crossed his path. Then he sat.

‘You only have one eye,’ Lililili noted aloud, Lililili being notable for the painfully obvious quality of his insights. ‘This is fewer than standard, is it not?’

‘It is indeed,’ answered the cat, falling into the strange being’s speech patterns in the process, although not in the least surprised to find himself communicating with what looked like a human.

‘You are a cat, no?’

‘I am a cat, yes,’ he corrected, easing himself back onto his haunches before lazily drawing a paw across his tongue, or else busily drawing a tongue across his paw, depending on how one looked at such things. ‘You may also have noticed I also have only three legs.’

The Andromedan had noticed, but had been too polite to say anything, and would have let the fact fester in silence between them until the cat mentioned it if necessary, despite having only lived in Britain for a few hours. ‘Do you live here?’

‘Well, that all depends on what you mean by ‘do’, ‘live’, and ‘here’,’ the cat offered, cryptically - in a way only a cat (and possibly a president) could do well.

The alien - marveling at the idea that the shorter the word in English the deeper the meaning, yet also marveling at the way the more short words a person used the shallower they were considered - offered no immediate comeback; for his part, the cat smiled - albeit inwardly - at having so easily gotten the last word. In short, the cat felt he’d not only made a new friend, but had made precisely the kind of friend he preferred to make - that is to say a stupid, easily manipulated one who would always let him have the last word.

‘I like you,’ said the cat after a pause, a pause which had begun to grow increasingly awkward with each passing second from the very first of its seconds, and taking the risk that his statement might make the awkwardness worse the more seconds it lasted.

It did not. ‘I like you as well,’ the alien offered. ‘I’ve never met a cat before, and I’ve always wanted to meet one.’

Now, normally this kind of sentiment, no matter how sincerely presented, was to be dealt with as though it were toxic racism, rather than a plain-spoken statement of fact. The cat, however, chose to be amused rather than offended - not a choice made frequently among humans, but the sort of thing a ruthlessly situationally ethical animal such as a cat delighted in making. ‘You don’t say...’

‘My name is Lililili,’ the alien said, at which the cat reflexively made a chattering sound - since Lililili’s pronunciation of his own name sounded oddly, startlingly, erotically, like a chaffinch reading an eye chart.

However startled he’d been by his reaction to the sound, the cat managed not to show it. ‘For obvious reasons, they call me Winkie,’ the cat said, maintaining his poise, despite his resemblance to a tripod. He then stared at the alien with his one eye and the alien stared at the cat with his three eyes, and back and forth and on and on like two mirrors at the start of a duel, until such time as the cat’s curiosity got the better of him, which was not only his personal wont but all too often the downfall of his species. ‘Of course, that’s just my slave name. The name my mother gave me is Jeremy.’

The alien scarcely needed the prompting. ‘Pleased to meet you, Jeremy,’ he said, offering a hand to a paw, which paw came to rest in said hand once the cat had again oriented himself on his hindquarters.

The cat could tell he was getting nowhere fast, and so for the sake of his own attention span (and not at all the narrative pace) he decided to get to the point. ‘So why are you eavesdropping on the old battle-axe anyway?’

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