Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Twenty-One

Not unlike the Bishop of Barington - who's currently as burnt-out as his cathedral once was - the author of The Barington Encounter has seemingly come to a point in the story where, short of a miracle, he has nowhere else to go with it... His flights of fancy have succeeded, in their Icariosity, only in flying too high too soon with too predictable and too waxy results. If only there were actually such a people as Andromedans to help him maybe he'd know what to do with the ones created by his now sadly depleted imagination... ~ MSM


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

[13] * [14] * [15] * [16] * [17] * [18] * [19] * [20]

Although most of us dread socially awkward standoffs in the asymmetrical shadow of modernist Anglican cathedrals deep in the loveliest parts of suburban Sussex - except, of course, for those of you who don't - it was one such event which'd brought Frederick Toady, Trudy Carlisle, Marlak, Grimmnha, Bisree (nee Lakh), Croupf, and Lililili (along with their varying degrees of various familiar qualities including, but not limited to, dread) to their current locale - standing crowded round the desk of Robert Stephens, the Bishop of Barington...

Seated in front of them, unfortunately, were the volcanically livid Felicia Fripp and her vicar, Victor Vickers, who was then (not unlike the Bishop himself) having trouble following the conversation, so keenly was he considering early retirement.
So strong were the feelings of Mrs. Fripp and Vicar Vickers, in fact, that they even showed upon their backs, a happenstance not unfamiliar to Mr. Toady and Mrs. Carlisle - they being English, and therefore accustomed to such lavish displays of passive-aggressive opprobrium - but one which had previously been known to the aliens only via the entirely theoretical England contained within the pages of the Encyclopedia Earthica. Seeing it now face to back, needless to say, thrilled them to their very electrons.

‘What seems to be the problem again?’ the Bishop asked for the fourth (or was it the fifth?) time, right after the third (or was it the fourth?) time they’d tried to explain the relatively straightforward situation to him and succeeded only in failing.

‘We require your permission to bury Gary Carlisle with the full rites accorded to an Andromedan Emperor in the catacombs beneath Barington Cathedral,’ offered Frederick Toady with such lucidity it would have made him the laughingstock of the Foreign Office, whereat his job now clung by the slenderest thread based entirely upon the even slenderer possibility of his current assignment's successfulness.

‘I see,’ said the Bishop, who once again didn’t. ‘And who is he again?’

‘My husband,’ offered Trudy Carlisle, unhelpfully.

‘Our friend,’ offered Marlak, on behalf of the others, who nodded in agreement, although his offer also provided little or no help.

‘A police constable who died while on duty in this town,’ offered Frederick Toady, which entirely helpful input unintentionally threw the Bishop for a loop (or was it two?).

Still, at this news, he only nodded; of course, it was a better reaction than he’d given to anything else that had been said so far, which was a hopeful sign for all concerned. ‘And where is this Gary Carlisle now?’ he enquired yet again.

At which point came a shrill scream and sickening thump from his outer office, wherewithout his secretary had - intending to clean up the pile of towels left there earlier by what she perceived were a crowd of entirely slovenly aliens - discovered it to contain an entirely dead, if beautifully scented, corpse. She then shrieked as previously elucidated before doing what she least wanted to do in the world and fainted right on top of its cadaverous lumpenality. ‘He’s out there,’ offered Marlak, somewhat needlessly if entirely helpfully, as Lililili and Croupf went to Miss Reed’s aid and/or comfort.

‘Well, I see no reason - ’ the Bishop started to say when he was interrupted by Felicia Fripp.

‘If you see no reason then I most certainly do,’ she said, reflexively clutching Vickers’ hand before realizing what she’d done (not to mention where she’d done it, although - after the afternoon they'd passed - grateful it was only his hand she’d clutched) and releasing it.

‘Mrs Fripp,’ the Bishop turned to her intending to sound avuncular and soothing (as per the terribly useful self-help book The Idiot’s Guide to Being A Bishop resting well-thumbedly upon an Ottoman, that is to say, a hassock, in his study at home - fat lot of good it did him there) but instead sounding strident and patronising (something he must have picked up at a Tory party conference in the Eighties). ‘When you are Bishop of Barington you may make the decisions regarding this see. In the meantime, I think we’ll leave them to me, hm?’

He looked at her some more, as did the entire group, at which attention she rather unusually slunk down in her chair and held her mouth closed by covering it with her hand. Satisfied that this particular member of his flock was finally ready to leave her flocking mouth shut at last, the Bishop tried to resume his former line of questioning. ‘Now, you say he died in the line of duty?’

‘Well...’ said Trudy Carlisle, with a wince and a shrug.

It took an act of patience worthy of Job not to shout at her, but looking across the desk at the lushness of her form and the pinkness of her skin (each of which made her so unlike the salty pillar his wife had become) ensured that where she was concerned patience was one virtue he was only too willing to demonstrate in exchange for the one vice she inspired in him in spades. All of which roiling emotions and hormonal disturbance he perfectly encapsulated with a sweet grin and a benign turn of phrase: ‘Well what, Mrs Carlisle?’

Still shrugging, she sheepishly said, ‘It was technically during his tea break.’

‘I see. And what was it he was doing again when he died?’ Here the memory of it evoked a greater sense of embarrassment than grief in her, and she blushed. ‘Mrs Carlisle, I understand what you’re going through but you’re among - ’ He cut himself off before he could say ‘friends’, especially given the dirty looks being thrown at her through him by Mrs Fripp and the vicar, despite their backs being turned. ‘Ah, it’s all right to tell me.’

‘He... He...’


‘He was performing the Andromedan national anthem,’ she said, letting all the words at last tumble out of her like commuters off a Tube train, and at the utterance of which the aliens all seemed to puff up with pride, but which rather sort of embarrassed her - as it did them, since nothing shamed an Andromedan like pride - or indeed made them swell with pride like being deflated with shame.

‘I see. And is such a thing normally as hazardous as, say, removing an ASBO from a red zone?’

‘Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t know about that, Your Bishopness, since Barington has none of either,’ she said. ‘Besides which I’m not a police officer, my husband is. Was. But just the sound of him performing it did make me quite nauseous, so who knows what actually performing it might have done to him.’

‘Mm-hm.’ At this the Bishop took a discreet sip of his drink in order to work up the courage to look at Marlak. When he finally did, he asked, ‘Perhaps if you five could, uh, favour us with a few bars?’

The alien sat stock still and Stephens thought he saw a glimmer of consternation there - although that could have been the Scotch, which hadn't been offered around - and when he finally nodded his fellows followed suit, and with alarmingly similar nods too. In fact what he’d seen was pride, which to an Andromedan is the same thing as consternation, as well as embarassment, shame. In fact, the Andromedans' greatest expression of pride was not unlike the kind of shivering revulsion that accompanies the memory of a really incomprehensible drunk-dial about three days after the fact.

Here Trudy Carlisle couldn’t help but speak up. ‘It might be better if they went in the other room and we stayed in here and listened through the door.’



‘Alright then, erm, Marlak... Will you take your... Uh, your compatriots outside and sing - ’ here Trudy Carlisle made what might have been a maddeningly indeterminate gesture but one which was nevertheless perfectly clear to the Bishop ‘ - uh, perform us a bit of your national anthem.’

With a discreet nod from each of them, the aliens each in their own inimitable way rose and turned fluidly and/or jerkily and left the Bishop’s office, so honoured stroke ashamed were they to be performing their national anthem in such a holy place as this.

Meanwhile Felicia and the vicar remained seated, their faces rather like carved masks of skepticism, as the Bishop rose and crossed the room with Trudy Carlisle, and Frederick Toady. Here he closed his office door, then called out for them to begin; Trudy covered her ears, and motioned to Toady and the Bishop to do the same...

At once the outer (and indeed the inner) office was filled by what sounded like a calliope underwater, or a dozen bagpipers drowning in a car wash - perhaps, even more grotesquely than that, Lady Thatcher singing a medley of Girls Aloud hits in the shower - followed almost immediately by the horrifying shriek which was as much a part of her as her lank hair and her heavy thighs, accompanied by the most awful - even Dickensian - retching sounds which, the way his luck was going today, also belonged to the suddenly hapless Miss Reed.

The performing stopped and the bishop flang the door to his outer office to discover his secretary once again passed out, her hair and clothing utterly disarranged and her body in a kind of position every yoga instructor and Pilates teacher in Knightsbridge would have given their well-developed abdominal muscles to achieve, a vast pool of fresh vomit gradually seeping into the old, if not exactly antique, wall-to-wall carpeting on the floor of the waiting room beneath her.

‘You’ve got a deal,’ said the bishop, who returned to his desk to ring 999 while the aliens, Trudy, and Toady rejoiced at the news and Felicia and the vicar stormed angrily out, potential imprecations seeming to rise in cartoon-like wisps of steam from their heads...


share on: facebook

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Twenty

Years before Felicia Fripp's reign of terror began there was Mary Whitehouse, a bitter old crank who thought she knew well enough what everyone needed to entitle her to decide for them; ultimately, like all censorious God-botherers, she succeeded only in publicizing that which she sought to ban and died - although the two events may not be connected. Since her death in November 2001, though, Mrs. Whitehouse has become the subject of a biopic entitled Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story, in which she's played by the incredible Julie Walters; it is the sincere hope of the Pop Culture Institute that some day Mrs. Fripp will be played in a similar manner by the gifted comedienne Ronni Ancona. ~ MSM


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

* [14] *
[15] * [16] * [17] * [18] * [19]

It seems that after Trudy Carlisle had gone between the Foreign Office and the aliens in her first ever go as Foreign Office go-between, things had all gone according to plan, or anyway fallen neatly into place. As the aliens, their new best friend, and her new boss had emerged from the nave of Barington Cathedral with her late husband currently luxuriating in (although not enjoying) hundreds of pounds worth of aromatherapy, they were met at the entrance by none other than Felicia Fripp and her vicar, Victor Vickers.

‘That’s them,’ Mrs Fripp pointed, pointlessly. ‘That’s the aliens!’

At this bit of obviosity Vickers rolled his eyes and sighed, although when he did he was careful not to let her see or hear him do it; instead, he said: ‘Really?’ Seeing his actions the aliens themselves all sighed heavily and rolled their eyes. They were glad to see at least one of them had come in peace; Mrs Fripp, on the other hand, looked like she’d just got off her Panzer and was ready to annex the Sudetenland.

While their two groups had been approaching each other determinedly yet warily until they’d first noticed each other, upon that occurrence they began to stop, and by the time they’d got close enough to converse had completely stopped and all. The sight of Felicia Fripp’s furiously knotted brow (which looked to Trudy Carlisle like the kind of macrame made in the most secure wing of a maximum security lockup) made Frederick Toady perspire profusely; even Trudy Carlisle felt the temperature go up a few degrees from the fire in the other woman’s eyes. It was the alien who, oddly enough, broke the ice.

‘How nice to see you again, neighbour’ he said, extending his hand, with its long shapely fingers and elegant wrist seemingly sculpted by DaVinci himself.

‘Don’t you touch me,’ she said, crossing her arms across where her matronly bosom would have gone, had she not been naturally ropey. The alien, still stinging from the skillet and covered all over with crucifix bites, noted the woman’s hypocrisy but said nothing of it. Just to be neighbourly, is all.

‘What’s the meaning of all this?’ piped up Vickers, even going so far as to remove the pipe from his mouth to do it.

When next he spoke, Frederick Toady was the epitome of suave, an occurrence which startled even him, except he was currently too suave to let it show. ‘My name is Frederick Toady, and I’m with the Foreign Office.’ At the sound of his unexpectedly posh voice, so like the vicar’s own, both he and his companion seemed to rest easy. ‘This is Mrs Trudy Carlisle, who is acting as our go-between.’

‘Yes...’ Mrs Fripp said, uncertain of whether or not to let him continue, but seemingly helpless under the aliens’ thrall to do anything but. Plus she couldn’t help but stare at his heavy-lidded grey eyes, in the same way the eyeball in his pendant couldn’t take its self off of her.

‘Do you know each other?’

The fact is, any of the humans could have said this to any of the other humans, referring obviously to the aliens; in this case, though, it was Frederick Toady who’d said it to Felicia Fripp.

‘Did you not just hear him - it - that call me neighbour?’ Her initial fury had fled her face, replacing itself with an entirely different kind almost simultaneously. ‘He and his coven or cult or clan or whatever they are moved into the house next to mine on Juniper Mews yesterday morning.’

Here Frederick Toady found himself rather on the horns of a dilemna, whereupon he turned to Trudy Carlisle who found herself similarly, uh, horny - not to mention dilemna-nated. In all the kerfuffle, he’d neglected to ask any of them their names, which was very near the top of page one in the Foreign Office training manual. The idea that he’d probably get sacked for such a breach of protocol, normally a comforting sensation owing to the number of times he’d felt it, failed to come, which needless to say somewhat discomfited him. Although, as has been previously said, he was being well suave and didn't let it show.

Sensing the mutual and widespread animosity between the four humans, the alien stepped forward. ‘I am Marlak of the planet Andromeda, of the star system Andromeda, conveniently located just 2.5 million light years away within the Andromedan nebula.’ By way of clarification, another of the aliens peered over Marlak’s shoulder and pointed at a spot in the sky behind and at approximately 26.35 degrees above the horizon between Mrs Fripp and her vicar, who now both turned to look. Once they’d turned back, he continued. ‘This - ’ and here he indicated the alien who’d pointed ‘ - is Grimmnha.’ Stepping aside, he pointed out the other three, naming them as he did: ‘This is Lakh, whom we call Bisree for no particular reason. This is Croupf - ’ here Croupf gave a cheeky little wave and an equally cheeky grin, because that’s the sort of Andromedan he was ‘ - and this is Lililili.’

That formality - despite its having needed to be done - accomplished nothing short of increasing everyone’s confusion, which invariably happens when one has to remember a lot of foreign names in awkward social situations. Sensing the social awkwardness like the good Briton she was, Trudy Carlisle broke the silence that had descended upon them by saying, ‘We were just off to visit the Bishop.’ To which sentiment both Felicia Fripp and Victor Vickers gave their whole-hearted assent - the first, and what Trudy felt was surely the last, time such a thing would happen.

share on: facebook

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Last Train To London" by Electric Light Orchestra

In what may be the flimsiest pretext for a video posting in the history of the Pop Culture Institute, it's Electric Light Orchestra's Last Train to London (released as a double A-side with Confusion), from their 1979 album Discovery (better known in some circles as 'Disco? Very!').

I posted it because a) it happens to appear in yesterday's playlist, and b) it's vaguely transport related; besides which, it's possible travelers arriving late at Heathrow's new Terminal 5 may have to hurry to catch or may indeed miss said train. Hey, I said it was a flimsy pretext...
share on: facebook

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday Watchlist - March 13th

James Blunt - You're Beautiful
Tom Waits - Come On Up To The House
The King's Singers - Four arms, two necks, one wreathing
Dolly Parton - Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You
Frankie Avalon - Beauty School Drop-Out
Beastie Boys - Paul Revere
Indigo Girls - Ghost
Electric Light Orchestra - Last Train To London
Pet Shop Boys - I Want To Wake Up
King Crimson - In The Wake Of Poseidon
Cyndi Lauper - Same Old Fucking Story
Holly Cole Trio - Cry (If You Want To)
Jane Siberry - One More Colour
The Kinks - Wicked Annabella
Kool & The Gang - Celebration
Pansy Division - Kissed
Queen Latifah - Baby Get Lost
Jan and Dean - Surf City
The Dears - Heartless Romantic
Oumou Sangare - Fantan Ni Mone (The Suffering of the Poor)
Eartha Kitt - I Want To Be Evil
Great Big Sea - Donkey Riding
Royal Crown Revue - Walking Blues
Charlene - I've Never Been To Me
David Bowie - Absolute Beginners

share on: facebook

Monday, March 09, 2009

Queen's Message To The Commonwealth, 2009


This year the Commonwealth commemorates its foundation sixty years ago. The London Declaration of 1949 was the start of a new era in which our member countries committed themselves to work together, in partnership and as equals, towards a shared future.

We can rightly celebrate the fact that the founding members’ vision of the future has become a reality. The Commonwealth has evolved out of all recognition from its beginning. It has helped give birth to modern nations, and the eight original countries have become fifty-three. We are now home to nearly two billion people, a third of the world’s population. Across continents and oceans, we have come to represent all the rich diversity of humankind.

Yet despite its size and scale, the Commonwealth to me has been sustained during all this change by the continuity of our mutual values and goals. Our beliefs in freedom, democracy and human rights; development and prosperity mean as much today as they did more than half a century ago.

These values come from a common responsibility exercised by our governments and peoples. It is this which makes the Commonwealth a family of nations and peoples, at ease with being together. As a result, I believe we are inspired to do our best to meet people’s most pressing needs, and to develop a truly global perspective. That is why the modern Commonwealth has stood the test of time.

But as we reflect upon our long association, we should recognize the challenges that lie ahead. Nearly one billion people of today’s Commonwealth are under 25 years of age. These are the people that this association must continue to serve in the future. It is they who can help shape the Commonwealth of today, and whose children will inherit the Commonwealth of tomorrow.

To help them make the best of their opportunities, our young men and women therefore need the opportunity to become active and responsible members of the communities in which they live. I am pleased that the Commonwealth recognizes this, and is determined to continue to put young people at its centre.

The call that brought the Commonwealth together in 1949 remains the same today. Then we joined together in a collective spirit – built on lasting principles, wisdom, energy and creativity – to meet the great tasks of our times. As the Commonwealth celebrates its sixtieth birthday, its governments, communities and we as individuals should welcome that achievement. Together, we should continue to work hard to deal with today’s challenges so that the young people of today’s Commonwealth can realize their aspirations. In that way, we can look to the future with confidence.

share on: facebook

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Nineteen

Pointlessly futile, boring for spectators, and a waste of a perfectly good Sunday morning besides... It's too bad there aren't more similarities between religion and golf or it might make for a smashing metaphor - if only I had the time to think of one with this recalcitrant excerpt and its lugubrious syntax slurping at my suddenly liquefied brain. ~ MSM


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

* [14] *
[15] * [16] * [17] * [18]

The Bishop of Barington - whose name was Robert Stephens - had not been having a good day...

However, in this case for once his day wasn't halfway down the pan already at halfway past two in the afternoon on account of the ever-inventive moral morasses into which his parishioners were continually (as well as willingly, adventurously, and he suspected altogether on-purposely) flinging themselves. It wasn't because divorces were up, or because attendance was down, nor even because in either instance ever-growing hordes of queers clamoured at his office door daily, demanding to be allowed to openly engage in both.

That it was happening on the premises of the already crumbling austere dreck he’d been sworn to oversee - which overseers' duties had once involved keeping anything like queers well away, at least until it was time for choir practice - today bothered him not one whit, and anyway even on a bad day would have bothered him far less than the fact that he was being encouraged to condone it all with a sincere smile and open arms - and it wasn't even that development peeving him today. Not was it in consideration of the cuddly-wuddly new pro-diversity Anglicanism which had appeared seemingly overnight - replacing the one that once condoned cardigans rather than condoms to protect people from the ravages of sex, and compelled its prelates and laymen alike to encourage the utmost conformity with a menacingly arched eyebrow and that variety of supercilious classism which thrives best in a bloodless rut of bake sales, garden fetes, and strawberry teas.

It wasn't even because the world he’d once known - the selfsame world he’d been repeatedly assured as a boy would last forever - had gone up the spout seemingly all of a sudden and forgotten to take him with it, leaving him stranded here with the flotsam - or was he jetsam? - as if by some great cosmic hosepipe ban. No, for the first time in a long time it wasn't any part of his vocation giving his cassock a discomfiting twist, but rather his avocation...

You see, owing to a flare-up of the gout he’d suffered during his lunch he'd not only failed to appreciate a rather fine toad-in-the-hole - made with fried bread and chased with a rather finer half pint of port - he'd shot seven over par and in doing so lost fifty quid to Rabbi Cohen on the back nine of the Barington Country Club.

Yet only a quarter of a century earlier such a thing would have been impossible; not because the Bishop had been a better golfer then, but because the Rabbi wouldn’t have been allowed on the property to play, thanks to the abundance of Christian sentiment then afoot in the country (and especially in its clubhouses) towards those Hebraically inclined, melanin-gifted, light in the loafers, or otherwise disquieting enough to the Establishment (of which he was a proud and dutiful member) to be discouraged from participating in society in the strongest possible terms.

Returning to his office that afternoon - to a job which had once seemed like a calling, but which lately seemed more like it was yelling at him - Stephens saw one of his most plodding vicars (whose name he could never make himself remember) seated in the outer office next to a pretty if plump bit of nice he was sure he’d never seen before (since he’d have remembered her if he'd had, his taste rather running to pretty if plump, despite his coarse if brittle wife). Another woman - a shrill, rather nattering, Women's Institute type whose name he’d never bothered to learn to save himself the trouble of forgetting it, although she was one of his wife's best friends - sat across from the vicar (what was his bloody name?) looking about four times better and five years younger than the last time he’d seen her, six days ago in church.

Another man sat next to her, intently picking pills of lint from a wool blazer which disconcertingly seemed to be made entirely of that fluffy mouse-gray stuff he’d often seen in the wastepaper basket next to his fishing gear, which itself was kept next to the clothes drying whatsit of which his wife seemed so inordinately proud, so much time did she spend with it.

Evidently, according to their various body languages - in and of themselves a veritable United Nations of postures and poses, communicating as readily as the expression on his secretary’s face that it hadn’t exactly been a friendly one before he’d gotten there - the bishop’s arrival had cut short a conversation, one whose mood wasn't likely to improve with his cooperation either. In fact, no one’s face wore a ‘glad to see you’ look this afternoon, including his own, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the conversation - or his day - at all.

‘I’ll be with you in a moment,’ he mumbled in what he hoped was a friendly, though not overly friendly, way - a technique he’d picked up in the several years he served as a vicar in Epsom, which had been a punishment for something he’d done in Kew, which had nevertheless been so memorable it would have been worth several years in Hackney. Shifting his golf bag from his arthritic right shoulder to his ‘never quite right since he separated it thirty years ago in the National Service’ left shoulder, no sooner had his hand groped at the comforting brass door knob than Miss Reed’s voice bagpiped up.

‘I dinna think ye’ll be wanting to go in there, sir,’ she said, her every syllable seemingly as freighted with meaning as it was drenched in brogue; it was the kind of voice that put him in mind of his other avocation - a decanter of which was waiting in his desk on the other side of this door. And truth be told, he didn’t want to go in there either, except in pursuit of that decanter (or, more accurately, its contents); on a day like this - when the sun was high in the sky and the air was warm and sweet as a lassie's breath on his neck - he’d rather be anywhere than going in there, but since in there was the nearest mouthful (or five) of Scotch he did, in fact, want to go in there just for a moment, and said so, rather too emphatically.

Actually, all he said was ‘Nonsense’. Still, his ‘nonsense’ carried more weight than Dara O’Briain combined, especially where Miss Reed was concerned. Without any further consideration he gave the knob the kind of good Tory twist any knob deserved (or indeed, was capable of) opened the door, and went into his office anyway; for emphasis, after he'd transited it, he even gave the door a wee slam.

Once on its other side - its cool, dark, friendly side - he grumbled a few indistinct curses before (or perhaps in anticipation of) slinging the golf bag off his shoulder and onto the floor, where it landed with a gratifying clatter, which clatter mainly gratified him because he knew Miss Reed had heard it, and was now eagerly perched on the edge of her ergonomic chair, fairly tingling to come in after him and pick it up. He rested a moment with his sun-scorched forehead against the cool maple veneer of his office door before lumbering across the gloomy room to the armoire wherein was stocked gin, vodka, and rum (both light and dark), in addition to brandy, port, claret, sherry, and the current object of his affections - an artisanal Scotch he’d picked up on his last trip to St. Andrew’s.

Pouring four fingers of the coppery liquor into a heavy tumbler he briefly considered putting the glassful back in the cabinet and taking the bottle to his desk; unlike a Cabinet minister, though, he was able to restrain himself and therefore swallowed the contents of the glass whole before replicating it and crossing to his desk. There he removed his jacket and shoes, taking little sips as he did, more like kisses than sips; then he swung his tired legs up onto the desk and reclined back into the comforting embrace of his leather wingback swivel chair, hoping to rest for a moment before the hullabaloo - which was once again heating up in his outer office - went supernova in here as well. It was through half-closed eyes - through the Scottish liquid and the Irish glass which contained it and past his own English feet - that he then noticed five tall blue men seated on the sofa opposite him.

‘Sweet Jesus,’ he said.

To which one of the aliens replied (utterly without cheek): ‘That’s what we’ve been led to believe.' He raised a paperback novel, flipped a few pages then scanned a few lines, and read: 'I believe it's called 'intercession'...' Here he lowered his book jerkily while raising his face fluidly, and aimed his grey eyes lambently, even limpidly, at the still-startled cleric. 'We were hoping you could speak to him for us. Put in a good word, y’know?’ All of it impeccably posh, save for the final word, which had a dangerously American ring to it.

Not bothering to take another sip but rather setting the glass down, he likewise lowered his feet until they came to rest on the thick Turkey rug spread beneath his desk; then he pressed the button on his phone that he well knew connected it to a similar one on his secretary’s desk. ‘I guess you can send everyone in now,’ is all he said before his face sank into his hands and his two handsful of face sank onto a desktop blotter stained with what anyone but him would have admitted was tears.

share on: facebook

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Watchlist - March 6th

Don't Fish In My Sea - Gertrude "Ma" Rainey
Carnavalito Boliviano - Yma Sumac
Christopher Robin - Gracie Fields
Let There Be Rock - Drive-By Truckers
Early Morning Rain - Bob Dylan
Muddy Water (A Mississippi Moan) - Bessie Smith
Back In The Day (Puff) - Erykah Badu
When You're Good To Mama - Queen Latifah
Beat It - Michael Jackson
The Whistle Song - Frankie Knuckles
Rock Lobster - The B-52s
Fairies Wear Boots - Black Sabbath
Locomotive - Guns N Roses
When Tomorrow Comes - Eurythmics
Hit The Road To Dreamland - Betty Hutton
Cemet'ry Gates - The Smiths
Sea of Love - The Platters
Mother's Chair - Isla Grant
Walking Blues - Robert Johnson
Still I Rise - Maya Angelou
More Than A Feeling - Boston
The Logical Song - Supertramp

share on: facebook

Sunday, March 01, 2009

POPnews Screen Test #1

Here then is the first glimpse at the potential video format POPnews will soon be taking on.

Admittedly, it's a rough glimpse, and not all the elements are in place; then again, it's not set to debut until September either, so you will undoubtedly be given a number of other glimpses into the process of developing the Pop Culture Institute's second series* before we begin coating the entire Internet in a thin goo of snarky revisionist history and supercilious puppetry.

So at least you have that to look forward to...

*The first being Vancouver Views, which is set to make its re-debut in Spring 2009!

share on: facebook

The Barington Encounter: Part Eighteen

About the only original part of Barington Cathedral to survive the various waves of destruction and disrespect which have occasionally (okay - often) visited themselves upon its architecture is the catacombs, wherein lay in their eternal slumber the saintly Sybarite herself and a reputed certain royal personage, two entirely special Baringtonianites who may soon enough be joined by the very ordinary PC Gary Carlisle... ~ MSM


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

* [14] *
[15] * [16] * [17]

Entering the church, even given the dullness of the day outside, momentarily rendered Trudy Carlisle sightless. Against this occurrence she squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a few seconds, during which time she could hear nothing but the echoing sound of a few espresso machines; not that this startled her as such, since the inside of Barington Cathedral was probably the last place in the village not served by an adjacent Starbucks. Only after repeatedly sniffing the air - with conkful after conkful utterly bereft of the heaven-scent of latte - did she dare to open her eyes...

Now she was pleased to discover she could see better, which ought to have consoled her in many ways yet didn’t, not in the least; in fact, here she closed her eyes again, tighter than ever, since the first thing she’d seen after opening them was one of the aliens doing an uncanny impression of an espresso machine while reading aloud from a paperback novel as the other four performed some arcane interstellar ritual resembling a hand jive over a pile of towels which could only be described as resembling her husband’s dead body. That they’d been doing just that since approximately five the previous evening didn’t seem to bother them in the least, even though she’d been here herself less than a minute and only watching at that and already it bothered her no end.

Which is why - as has been recently established in as straightforward a manner as possible, given the author - she'd suddenly become so thoroughly comforted by the reassuring sight of the insides of her own eyelids....

Centimetring blindly forward, through what she'd recently seen to be gloom and could still hear were shushing reverberations - and with her shoes (or was that her heartbeat?) seeming to clatter like jackhammers in the mostly deserted church - she made her way forward, continuing until one such sound alerted one such alien to her presence; at which point all sound suddenly stopped and at which point her poor eyelids - which already were not having the best of days - flew apart in a manner suggesting they’d never be together again.

In that way they had that was simultaneously fluid and jerky the other four aliens turned to face her, fixing her with their luminous eyes which filled - to her delight, not to mention relief - with warmth and recognition. (Rather than, say, hunger, or the desire to conduct any sort of probe, internal or otherwise.) In fact, when the one nearest - the one we call Grimmnha - approached her and took her arm she let him, even though they'd never been formally introduced. ‘Welcome, wife of friend,’ he said to her, and something about the plummy sound of his voice removed all her reticence, which it oughtn't've done but there you have it. The others began hushing her name madrigally - ‘Trudy, Trudy, Trudy’ - until she could no longer hear her own familiar polysyllabic nomenclature in the sound being made with it...

Not that she had any idea what to say, let alone what she was expected to say; those protocols were tucked safely away in a folder all-too auspicious to be moved from Frederick Toady’s utterly inauspicious desk in its moldy old corner of the Foreign Office basement. Fat lot of good they (or it) did her there... In the meantime she bought time by listening to her name as though it were being sung by a waterfall; not next to, but actually by, mind you - as though the waterfall itself were singing.

‘You can’t bury him here,’ she said, once she'd started to feel the urge for a piddle so badly she'd need a paddle to get out of the puddle it made; whatever else she'd hope to accomplish by speaking, it made the sound of running water stop at least, and with it her various tensions receded both blissfully and better yet pisslessly from whence they'd come. She eyed them skeptically as they eyed her back noncommittally, and for a moment she was unsure if they would understand her, even though they sounded dead posh, or perhaps because of it; in all her admittedly limited experience - most of it as a shopgirl - dealing with posh people (and especially people who pretended to be posh, but really weren’t, which type these five still might turn out to be) the one consistent thing she’d learned was how much they hated being told they couldn’t do something.

‘Really,’ said the one who’d had her by the arm. It wasn’t a question, nor was it spoken with surprise; whereas it could have been uttered with sarcasm or offense, wistfulness or even charm - any of a dozen different ways really, this being England and all, and therefore the birthplace of verbal passive-aggression - it was in this case spoken with an annoying lack of intonation of any kind. Which was itself a kind of worst-case scenario, diplomacy-wise. Thinking Gary used to do the same thing, and it drove me round the twist pushed a single diamond-like tear past the blood that memory had put in her eye, magically washing it away; peeved as she had been, peeved was she no more...

By now she and the alien had reached the others, and she snuck a furtive glance at the pile of towels, just to ensure that it was, in fact, Gary. It was, or must have been; though it entirely resembled a pile of towels she recognized in its heapedness the swell of his belly and even though what remained of his remains was recumbent she could still make out the stoop of his shoulders, as surely as she’d have recognized them beneath the duvet on their bed. She gave a shudder, but one given out of obligation rather than reflex, which distinction was not lost on her. ‘This church is for kings and nobles and politicians - even artists,’ she said. ‘Very important people.’

‘Wasn’t Gary important?’ asked another alien, the one second-closest to her, whom we've heard called Lililili.

‘Only to me,’ she said, and where she normally would have been suddenly awash with grief she felt instead the way she used to when visiting her Gran’s house in the 1970s - simultaneously safe and comfortable within the memory.

‘And to us,’ said the third, Marlak, lowering the book from which he’d been reading aloud. This little bit of sentiment almost got to her, but some reserve of inner strength or other just kept it from jettisoning the sluices in her eyes...

‘You have to bury him somewhere else,’ she said, trying not to think about what she was saying or, more specifically, about whom she was saying it. To her surprise, her composure not only held but seemed to be growing.

‘He must have an important burial,’ they said in unison, and here is where Trudy became the most stymied she’d ever been. Without a word her face registered such a complex panoply of emotions that its expression could have auditioned for the Cirque du Soleil as a contortionist, with a lucrative sideline writing Cabinet despatches. All of which the aliens registered and understood without letting on, their appreciation for the complexity of female emotion being based on its lack of cohesion, which was so nearly equivalent to their own.

The tall one raised the book again and flipped backwards through it some number of pages. ‘From the section entitled Britain: A Country and Its Customs, the Encyclopedia Earthica has this to say: ‘In Britain every man is a King, and his home is his castle’.’ The alien lowered the book and raised his eyes simultaneously.

‘That’s a metaphor,’ she said.

The aliens all looked at her, then at Marlak their leader, who himself looked distinctly put out at being looked at in such a way - since he was a high-church Andromedarian, and therefore didn’t believe in leaders - even as the four of them looked imploringly back at him wishing he'd just get over himself, identity politics being a capital crime on Andromeda yet for some bizarre reason the opposite on Earth.

‘A figure of speech,’ she said, by way of further explanation. As expressions of awareness blossomed on their otherwise serene faces, three of them nodded while two of them shook their heads. Several long (what seemed like Andromedanite) seconds had passed when they all said ‘Ah!’ in unison, as though in unison they’d just been the recipients of some ancient pearl of wisdom. Which, then again, just maybe they had.

The leader said: ‘We’d been wondering. We’ve been here for 37 hours and twelve minutes and we’ve hardly seen any castles but we’ve seen lots of what we assumed were men.’

'If you weren't sure if they were men or not they probably were,' she said, and despite herself she laughed. ‘Besides which, that sentiment is well out of date. In fact, if it was ever really held at all it was only by men themselves and extremely gullible women - or else very cunning women, trying to have their way with men gullible enough to believe their own lies.’ Having said such a thing she felt she should be shocked by herself, but wasn’t, which was the really shocking thing, even though it shocked her not in the least.

The five of them seemed to think about what she’d said for awhile, during which two of them (the two who’d first shaken their heads then later nodded) seemed to grow perceptibly smaller.

‘And you are not gullible?’, the un-leader asked.

‘No mate,’ she said with a smirk, a smirk which the alien returned. ‘Anyway, Gary was opposed to human burial.’

Of all the things they’d seen or heard on Earth thus far, this notion seemed to startle them the most, and the moment she'd said it they became as agitated as chickens downwind from a KFC. ‘What did he want done with his remains in that instance,’ the one with the book asked. The Encyclopedia Earthica may have had an extensive section on Death, but it had nothing to say about the disposal of corpses that didn’t involve a shovel, and precious little about the making of them via any other means either.

‘I believe he wanted to be cremated.’ And she believed it because she’d heard him say it often enough, though he’d never been thoughtful or thorough enough in his maddeningly constablish way to ever explain why.

The one with the book raised it and leafed back a few more pages; his enormous eyes widened even further as he scanned a few lines of text, at which point he began to shake his head and mumble, ‘No, no, no,’ which activity his companions soon joined him in, filling the cavernous room with hundreds of the little words, each intoned slightly differently.

‘It’s a very commonplace practice here. On this planet. I assure you.’

Five identical blue heads cocked in five identical manners, assuming five quizzical expressions which, it scarcely needs to be said but will be anyway, were identical.

She forged on... ‘The Vikings used to send their dead in boats, floated upon the outgoing tide and filled with pitch, then set them alight from the shore by shooting flaming arrows at them. In India they put the dead on a pyre as well, before floating the whole lot down the Ganges,’ she said, suddenly an expert at things she’d previously forgotten she'd ever known.

The alien flipped through the book, pausing after a few pages. ‘Building A Viking Longboat - ’ he began to read, until she stopped him.

‘My heavens no, we don’t do it that way here. Not anymore. We send them to the crematorium.’

The five of them mulled the word ‘crematorium’ for awhile, trying to come to terms with its meaning, then trying to come to terms with it without laughing awkwardly, which was the Andromedan word for 'not bloody likely'. ‘But where, then, does one visit when one is lonely for him?’

‘Well,’ she started to say, measuring her words but scarcely needing to anymore, ‘Either we keep them in an urn on the mantel or we can scatter them at a place he liked to visit.’

There was a long pause as the aliens impassively translated this veritable rock and hard place amongst themselves. ‘Was Gary in possession of any such locale?’ Again there was a pause in the conversation because here there was a pause in Trudy Carlisle’s brain, as she translated from proper English to the estuarian patois she heard all day; they couldn’t very well scatter a man’s ashes in the car park of the DIYnot? - not that anyone would notice if they did - and (as she understood from Gary's endless blabbing on about it) Lord’s Cricket Ground already had plenty of ashes, which only left...

An image flashing across her otherwise empty mind, like the flickering beam from a film projector aimed through a smoky, black-and-white room. It was an image of...

‘King Canute,’ she said, her tone bordering on the triumphant, not a name and a tone of voice often intertwined, even when old Canute was still around. The one with the lowered book raised it again and, smiling faintly, began thumbing through its pages. Though it had been nearly twenty years ago she’d earned it, and more than nineteen years had passed since she’d last used it, Trudy Carlisle not only suddenly remembered she had an A level in history but seemed to recall every word of it that she’d ever learned, down to the casual conversations before, during, and after.

‘Once the King of this place,’ said the alien, not looking up from his book - more for the benefit of the others, or possibly to make himself seem smarter; after all, despite not wanting to be leader, he didn't mind people considering him a swot, since to be one was still a compliment on Andromeda.

‘That’s right.’ The facts came flooding back. ‘While most people say he was buried at Winchester, my university lecturer Dr. Daftford had a theory he was actually buried inside Barington Cathedral, or at least somewhere beneath it,’ she told them, and they found it fascinating, they really did, which only served to prove that they were foreigners, since none of the locals or anyway too few gave much of a toss what happened a year ago let alone a thousand or more. ‘Maybe you could technically bury Gary like a king here after all.’

‘Did Gary like it here?’

Here she bit her lip to keep it from trembling, and told a tiny fib in the cause of a greater good. ‘He loved it here.’

In truth, he only went to church when she dragged him there - Christmas or Easter every second or third year but never both in the same year; but one of the last times she'd managed it, as they were strolling up the aisle over the medieval brasses embedded in the flagstone which were some of the only above-ground remnants of the old church to survive the fire, he’d said: ‘Some way to be remembered.’ In this place, at this time, given extenuating circumstances and her desire to please her new boss on her first day of work, that would have to be good enough for all concerned.

There was a brief conference between the five of them, which to her sounded like five frogs in five blenders being blended at five different speeds. ‘When can we begin,’ asked the tallest one, tucking the book away in one of the pockets in his overalls. By her demeanour she indicated she didn’t know, and was about to say so when from behind her she heard the sound of a throat clearing. Looking from alien to alien to assure herself that the sound wasn’t one of them saying something she heard it again, only this time she’d distinctly (and indeed acoustically) heard the 'ahem' coming from behind her. She turned on her heel to face Frederick Toady, doing what can only be described as a combination of lingering and lurking in the doorway; her turn startled him visibly, although thankfully not audibly.

She approached him as cautiously as ever, before whispering: ‘They want to bury him here.’
He looked at her and blinked, then looked at them and gulped, before looking at her again and gulping and looking at them again and blinking. ‘I - I - I -’ he said, needlessly adding stammering to his repertoire of social ineptitude as the tallest, thinnest, bluest alien approached them with what seemed like a glide.

‘Problem?’ Marlak enquired of Frederick Toady.

At this point Frederick Toady felt what felt like a shower of warm liquid light wash over him. Suddenly he felt peaceful, contented, serene, and confused - mainly because he’d never felt peaceful, contented, and serene before, and definitely not all at the same time. Just as suddenly, as though a PowerPoint presentation had switched on inside his head, all he could see in his mind’s eyes were six words, which he then spoke with such decisive force it made a part of Trudy Carlisle stir, then shake, a part of her - it scarcely needed to be said - that had neither been shaken nor stirred in a very long time and was like a martini only in that it could now be lapped up in order to keep a tongue moist.

He said: ‘We’ll have to ask the bishop.’

All five nodded solemnly before lifting the pile of towels Trudy Carlisle had almost forgotten was her dead husband and repairing for the bishop’s office...

share on: facebook