Posts

Showing posts from October, 2020

Extra Large Turkey

Image
Let's talk about Christmas. Come on. Let's just do it. It's lurking there in our peripheral vision, drooping and thirsty, like an end-of-the-line tree losing all its needles and baubles. I was in an ASDA yesterday for the big shop, and while Halloween was still the headline, Christmas was there in its mass-produced shadow, desperate to burst out and flounce around on centre stage, like it does. There were selection boxes, cut-price mega bottles of spirits, bags of chocolate sprouts. I spotted a couple of reindeer, a few santas, a twinkle of tinsel. And there, in the frozen aisle, the depressing sight of engorged turkey carcasses piled on top of each other, straining against their shrink-wrap. It's beginning to look a lot like the holidays are coming and the weather outside is frightful. The problem is, its not just the weather that looks bad.It's going to be a tough festive season. Tomorrow is Halloween and I've already seen multiple houses in the neighborhood …

Gabriel Hounds

Image
A dearth of animal encounters yesterday, largely because I have started a new job and so am chained to my computer and confined to my study. I considered squeezing out a blog-post about the computer mouse (why is it a mouse? What's up with that?), but I doubt anyone really wanted that, least of all me. So, instead, I used Microsoft Excel to help me generate a random number and turned to page 227 of the Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, as featured in a former post. I landed upon 'Gabriel Hounds', who are deadly cryptids from British mythology who visit the houses of sick people as a sign of imminent death. I therefore present to you this prose-poem thing about the work ethic of these death-beasts and their boss. Views entirely my own.
Gabriel Hounds
They say hell hath truly arrived when the hounds need a spreadsheet. When they lope up to Gabriel, tails between legs, and implore him to download Excel.Hell hath truly arrived when Gabriel, normally so supercilious, concedes to…

The Toad's Leg Will Keep You Safe

Image
A rare outing last night to have a substantial meal with some alcohol and a bit of time among some art. We took ourselves down to HOME, Manchester's latest arts hub success story, the evolution of the legendary Cornerhouse cinema. Usually a place buzzing like the proverbial Manchester bee, now just doing the best it can in spite of everything. They've managed to get their theatre and cinema programmes up and running again, and they have the luxury of a spacious restaurant and bar for their lockdown-approved food provision. We were there, predominantly, to scoot around their art gallery, which has reopened with a new exhibition this weekend. It is a triptych of three solo exhibitions united by their use of illustration and their themes relevant to the current situation: Mike S Redmond and Faye Coral Johnson's Bubbling Pitch - a series of feverish and lively dream-like sketches, Joy Yamusangie's Blue Glass Fortunes - a striking exploration of the Congolese diaspora in mo…

Storytelling Animals

Image
Last night I concluded a series of Creative Writing workshops designed for autistic adults. It's something I had planned to get going in the Spring and was originally supposed to take place at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. I had Funding, I had Plans, I had Dreams. And then, whoops, someone coughed and everyone caught a Pandemic. Such is life. With a PhD to finish, I put the series on the back-burner for a while and then resurrected it online-wise for October. What a total joy it was. I had a contingent of nine participants who threw themselves into the exercises I set with great enthusiasm and focus. I was worried that my instructions would be too confusing or too neurotypical (whatever that means, eh?), but we all seemed to gel really well. I always set aside time at the end of each session for the writers to share what they'd written if they wanted to. MY GOD, they are a talented bunch. I was frequently delighted and astonished at their beautiful words and their p…

Cemetery Squirrels and Graveside Jays

Image
Half an hour's run away from our house lies the UK's largest municipal cemetery, the Southern Cemetery in Chorlton. It is a vast place, with graves and tombs as far as the eye can see, ranging from your fanciest granite obelisks and mausoleums guarded by stone angels, to unmarked paupers plots. There are a few famous folks buried here, including Manchester's favourite artist LS Lowry, Manchester's favourite record producer Tony Wilson, and Manchester's favourite football manager Sir Matt Busby. Basically, anyone who Manchester claims as their own tends to end up in Southern Cemetery and, to be fair, its not a bad place to wait out one's deathly eternity. It is also an excellent spot for an autumnal stroll given the abundance of trees, so we met a friend there yesterday and crunched our way through the carpet of leaves.Hannah and I have a bit of thing for cemeteries. We often include a visit to interesting ones on trips abroad and my desktop background is still …

Afraid of a Rabbit

Image
Frozen, shoulders pressed together, they stared, watching the spot of hillside across the brook where the grass moved, watching something unseen move slowly across the bright green hill, chilling the sunlight and the dancing little brook. "What is it?" Eleanor said in a breath, and Theodora put a strong hand on her wrist."It's gone," Theodora said clearly, and the sun came back and it was warm again. "It was a rabbit," Theodora said.~ The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson, p. 54This is, perhaps, the first apparition in The Haunting of Hill House; a rabbit, according to the rash and bohemian Theodora, although we don't see the creature, just its wake as it moves the grass. The two women shake it off, but the moment lingers, their first taste of the weird thrill-fear that this lopsided house will continue to bring down upon them. I read page 54, and most of the other pages of the novel, in breathless thrill yesterday, while my own rabbit Finch…

Viral Animals

Image
Sometimes I wonder if animals were invented to save us from the Internet. Or, more gloomily, to entice us to stay on the Internet. Because, whatever else this trickster demon of world wide interconnectivity brings us, we'll always have cute pics and vids of creatures to ease the pains. My Twitter feed is a doomscroll of angry political opinions, desperate good-hearted folks raging against various dying lights, men being absolute dicks to women, natural and unnatural disasters, and lots and lots of talented people publishing amazing books while my own effort languishes somewhere in an ambiguous void. But, like jewels, out pop various wholesome images of adorable animals doing adorable things. I added one such to Instagram this morning, catching Marble and Finch in a pleasingly photogenic pose. And on the whole this is amazing and lovely and wonderful, and rarely fails to raise a smile. But sometimes I wonder. What is this abundance of animal cutesyness doing to our psyche in relati…

Daphne: In Memoriam

Image
We lost a guinea pig yesterday. The lovely Daphne, with her flowing white locks and her haughty vibe, like a Greek Goddess. She actually appeared on this blog a few days ago, on the picture for the post about Zoom meetings. She lived here, in my study, alongside the aforementioned Chuzzlewit and his partner Princess Peach. She was not best mates with these two by any means, but she was a good neighbour. She was also one of our more confident guinea pigs who didn't mind being handled or being stroked on the head or cheek.  She'd had a couple of quiet days where she'd nibbled at her food and resisted the arthritis medication that she usually loves, so we took her to the vet who advised us that her time had come. RIP queen Daphne.We've had a large collection of guinea pigs for the best part of a decade now, so we've grown quite used to their deaths. It's never pleasant, of course, but it happens, and we can comfort ourselves with the lives we provide for them and …

Strong Snowy

Image
I'm here with my very best dude, Strong Snowy. He's an albino gorilla with faded sideways eyes, floppy arms and a scrappy flap of a nose. He's got a ridge above his eyes for cheeky monkey expressions and patches of his fur have worn down the cross-stitch. He's about 25 years old now I reckon, and he's spent most of his ridiculous life at my childhood home in Preston, but currently lives with me in Manchester in my study. If memory serves me right, he originally belonged to little brother Rick, but he soon became a firm favourite among all three of us kids. We gave him a voice, a sort of low-pitched nasal cartoony ape voice (not far removed from Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book), and he developed a personality as a lovable fool, a sort of Falstaff among a clan of scruffy teddy bear layabouts. The toy has come back into my life because he's become a major feature of the novel I've been writing for my PhD. He features as a recurring motif throughout the boo…

The Manchester Bee

Image
Bees across the feed, buzzing over the news; Manchester is making its stand again. Yesterday, Hannah and I went on a rare trip to our city centre for a (COVID-safe) visit to the cinema, passing not far from the place where our proud and industrious mayor had just delivered his press conference. Andy Burnham and pals are not happy because, as of Friday, Greater Manchester will be forced into Tier 3 lockdown by Whitehall with a measly £22m to support our most needy. I have a suspicion (and hope) that the negotiations will resume and a better deal will be reached over the next couple of days, but its fair to say, like everything else during this crisis, the government have totally fucked it. Ten days ago, I was unsure as to whether Burnham was doing the right thing - I very much thought a return to full lockdown was the most important and needed thing as the figures of the second peak climbed ever upwards. But you can see the exasperation on Burnham's face, echoed across the faces of…

Horses in Film

Image
Content warning: Frequent mentions of animal harm and death - skip this post if you are sensitive to such issuesWhere are we at with that 'No Animals Were Harmed' disclaimer that we get at the end of film credits? The welfare of animals is one of the things that most lifts me out of the 'suspension of disbelief' when watching a movie or TV programme, as I'm sure is the case for many of us. Who else ends up quickly doing various mental gymnastics to convince yourself that what you just saw was CGI, or very good training, or some kind of hyper-realistic model? It's usually not a problem for your big blockbuster where an expensive bit of invisible CGI is more easily and slickly incorporated, but I do worry about some of these 'artier' lower budget films that lean more towards realism and authenticity. Yesterday I watched the 2017 film The Rider, directed by Chloe Zhao, and it was abundantly clear on multiple occasions that the horses were not having a part…

The Gecko Pose

Image
Right foot forward at the edge of the mat. Both hands to the right of the foot, flat to the mat, arms straight. Left leg stretched back, knee to the floor if you prefer, but if you want an extra challenge, lift the knee. You are now in the gecko pose. Sprawled out like a lizard frozen mid-run. If you want to make the position stronger, try putting your forearms down to the mat. I can't get that far, I don't have the stretchiness in my hamstrings quite yet. Beside me, Hannah has made it into the full pose. Remember to breathe - inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Feel the strength in every muscle, let your body find its natural balance. Then from gecko back to downward dog and later we'll ease into cat, then cow, then butterfly and we might even squeeze in a scorpion. But at least that's the gecko done and out of the way. I've always disliked the gecko.I was a yoga skeptic for many years, put off by the mysticism and all the 'OMMM'ming, and that you apparently h…

Horses in Field

Image
To see the true English countryside, follow a walk from an out-of-print guidebook published in the nineties in a part of the land less visited. We have such a book, bought from some charity shop, centred around the Pendle Hill area of Lancashire. Pendle is a haunted place, the Salem of England, famous for its history of witches. There is a 'Pendle way' signposted by cartoon witch silhouettes and pubs that lean hard into Halloween trade. There are plentiful public footpaths and interesting sights to see, but there is less glamour or preservation here than in the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales. We're north of Burnley, west of Leeds, just shy of the Forest of Bowland, in a curious nook where its easy to sense how a monolithic hill imposed enough psychic force upon locals to convince them of supernatural goings-on. The countryside here feels angry: we remark upon the sheer amount of signs telling us not to do things: no camping, no picnics, no straying off the path, no f…

The Cats and Dogs and Pigs of Zoom

Image
Cats with no concern for cinematography, Dogs, gangly, sprawled, a tangle of limbs and mouths, uncontainable within the frame. A hoisted guinea pig is just a brief white void with eyes. One moggy passes across the foreground of one square just before another trots along the background of another square and we might pretend, for a moment, that it is the same cat performing a merry teleportation trick in an effort to reclaim human attention. An unmuted person offers an opinion which is answered first by the yaps of their dog who believe some sort of conversation has begun. Why would it think otherwise? There's no-one else around. OK, so many of us are quite royally sick of Zoom by now, but we can't deny that it has served us pretty well these past months. And the invasion of our animals into our little mise-en-scenes is never going to not be delightful. Perhaps such small furry moments have helped us paste over some of the cracks of our physical disconnection, and that counts fo…