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The Raft of the Medusa – Sodomy and the Lash

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’

Théodore Géricault - Le Radeau de la Méduse

It is possible for life to be a bowl of shit. Or it can be a much smaller saucer of shit. Conventional wisdom holds the latter to have the edge over the former, less shit being deemed by definition preferable to more. But I’m not convinced. See, the constant, the common denominator, is still shit. Perhaps apologists for the shit saucer school of thought are working from a theory that if you only have a saucerful, then there must be space at the table for other crockery, presumably full of things other than shit. You can turn away from the shit for a bit and stick a spoon in something else. Gazpacho, for instance. But what if there’s only a saucer? What if there’s nothing else on the table? What if there’s no fucking table? What if there’s just a standard-size saucer, brim-full to the meniscus with shit, hurtling through an otherwise barren and sterile universe? Maybe then it would be better to have a whole bowl, right? If only for the sake of variety? I mean, if the choice was shit of a single feather or a shit potpourri, perhaps the latter would hold more possibilities?  More to ponder. More to learn from. Not to mention the vagaries of texture and discovery: the bowl might feasibly offer more than the saucer’s single skinny nugget of half-digested corn and lone parasitic nematode thinly versed in Keith Jarrett’s Köln Konzert or elementary string theory (or at least capable of waxing bollocks about it until three in the morning whilst sucking down one’s unsuspecting nutrients).

The occupants of the Raft of the Medusa understood this. Having begun their voyage in June 1816 aboard a great big galleon of shit (the Medusa itself) out of Rochefort for Senegal under the command of the serially inept Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys, they soon found themselves a hundred miles off course and snagged rotten on a sandbank somewhere off Mauritania. Anyone familiar with the animated segment from The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle for the song Friggin’ in the Riggin’ will have a pretty clear idea of how this must have looked at ground zero; including (but not limited to) some gallic Steve Jones, lurching from the crow’s nest, hammered on Pernod, belting out:

‘The second mate was Andy
By Christ, he had a dandy
Till they crushed his cock with a jagged rock
For coming in the brandy’

(‘Le deuxième compagnon était Andy
Par le Christ, il a eu un dandy
Jusqu’à ce qu’ils aient écrasé son robinet avec un déchiqueté basculez
Pour venir dans l’eau-de-vie fine’)

(Apologies for poor scansion in line three, the French are buggers with the trochaic trimeter.)

Trailways Station, New Paltz - Henrik Knudsen

As their lumbering Bateau de Merde became wedged deeper into the Arguin Bank by the tides, so its 400 increasingly miserable occupants were presented with a conundrum; to sit tight, neck deep in shit (but still breathing) and await rescue, or to aggregate themselves onto an armada of smaller Canots de Merde and row the sixty long miles to the African coast. The pitch turned out to be fatally queered though; absence of foresight had allowed for only 253 bottom-spaces on the sturdy benches of les Canots. Which left 146 men and a lone woman (total fucking bummer for her, you’d think) to hastily fashion a raft of their own salvation (un Radeau de Merde) from hunks of the ailing Bateau itself, along with items of luggage, pots, pans, bed-sheets. The plan was to toss this ramshackle affair into the ocean, load it up with the 147 unfortunates and tow it behind the flotilla of Canots to terra firma and a warm welcome from cheerful negroes with enormous holes in their earlobes and plates in their lower lips. At first things appeared not all that bad; the raft floated, roughly. But as as the passengers began to pile on, so it began abruptly to sink. And here we have the watershed moment; the fulcrum shit bowl > shit saucer event. Our heroes had gambled what appeared to be a great big bowl of shit – albeit one with a kind of steady shitty equilibrium (and the hope of eventual extrication) – against a truly shitty little saucer of shit, rapidly disintegrating and barreling downhill. The only food on board was a single bag of biscuits, devoured within minutes. The last two barrels of water went straight overboard, casualties of early squabbling: the single cask of wine was consumed exclusively by Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Furthermore, towing the hapless raft proved more than les Canots could handle, so it was cut adrift with cheerful au revoirs! and promises of future salvation somewhere down the line.

And then what happens in any given Raft of the Medusa situation, happened. Internecine bickering broke out amongst the inhabitants; allegiances were formed and broken; duplicity, morbid self-pity and back-stabbing became the order of the day. Passengers imprudent enough to attempt sleep were booted into the sea without ceremony. Others, despairing of isolation and the worthlessness of their fellow man, hurled themselves off the raft to certain death rather than endure yet another encounter with some goitred eunuch pontificating dully on the seamlessness of misery, the absence of a God and self-proclaimed talent overlooked. As numbers dwindled, so the survivors clung together, only to find themselves throttled by the ceaseless neediness of their neighbours. Febrile madness took hold; those callow enough to assign decency where there was none quickly paid the price. Cannibalism followed hard upon murder, broad bedimpled buttocks and man-breasts being the snacks of choice. The viscous shit in the saucer festered, condensed, became thickened and crusted at the centre, liquefied at the rim.

When, thirteen days later, The Raft of the Medusa was ultimately chanced upon by The Argus (ironically sent out to search for a cargo of gold assumed to be still in the belly of the broken Medusa itself), only 15 of the original 146 men aboard remained, all in an advanced state of lunacy and sepsis. The woman was long gone, presumably defiled and whittled into jerky.

Such was the scene of french national shame depicted in oils by Théodore Géricault in 1818-1819.  Interestingly, at the time the artist commenced work on the painting, he was a mere 27 years old and had been forced to break off a nine year affair with his somewhat older Aunt Alexandrine, his unflinching patron, flinching bedfellow and surrogate mother since the death of his actual mum in 1808. In late 1817 she had become rather awkwardly pregnant with what would naturally turn out to be both Géricault’s nephew and his son. Freaked out by the near-Oedipal shame of his situation, he retired to his studio, shaved his head and – deprived for the first time of an indulgent mother-figure – pursued a monastic existence with only his teenage assistant Louis-Alexis Jamar (they slept together in an adjacent lavatory) for company. He immersed himself in his depiction of The Raft of the Medusa, presumably finding a certain consonance in its themes of incestuousness, abandonment, lost hope and all-round shit-saucery. And yearning, of course. He painted from life, employing the naked Jamar for many of the characters (including the supine figure with shriveled genitals in the foreground), as well as three survivors of the actual shipwreck, Messrs Corréard, Lavillette and Savigny, whose lurid tales imbued Géricault with an additional reservoir of romantic horror, evident in the final work. According to the the art historian Georges-Antoine Borias, throughout the eighteen months it took to complete the painting “Géricault … began a mournful descent. Behind locked doors he threw himself into his work. Nothing repulsed him. He was dreaded and avoided”.  Sadly, it seems this lifelong capacity to inspire avoidance never left him. Following a brief sojourn in London, he returned to Paris in 1821 and proceeded to hurt himself rather badly by falling off a horse, an injury exacerbated by his being stomped in the chest by a goat at a petting zoo in Amiens a year later. He died three years after this from complications of tuberculosis, the fall and ensuing cloven-hoof-stomping, and is buried in Père Lachaise, alongside the tragic lovers Abélard and Héloïse (the former sans génitales through eternity) and the novelist Honoré de Balzac, whose talents were more than commensurate with his, but whose name is much funnier.

Le Radeau de la Méduse - Henrik Knudsen

Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa has fascinated, held and horrified generations of observers since it was first exhibited at the 1819 Paris Salon. The novelist Julian Barnes devoted an entire chapter of his A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters to Géricault’s magnum opus (and magnum it is, weighing in at 16 feet tall, 23 feet wide). In summary, he made the following observation:

‘All that straining – to what end? There is no formal response to the painting’s main surge, just as there is no response to most human feelings. Not merely hope, but any burdensome yearning: ambition, hatred, love (especially love) – how rarely do our emotions meet the object they seem to deserve? How hopelessly we signal; how dark the sky; how big the waves. We are all lost at sea, washed between hope and despair, hailing something that may never come to rescue us.’

His sentiment echoes Stevie Smith’s Not Waving But Drowning:

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Despair squats where the present is mired in the participle. It’s not that ‘Shit Happens (to others)’. It’s that ‘Shit is Happening (to me)’. Géricault knew this; the slogan ‘La Merde se Produit’ was splattered on his studio wall in bitumen. His initial sketches for The Raft of the Medusa include a clear depiction of The Argus in the near background, offering rescue, representing salvation. Subsequent renditions moved the ship further and further into the distance. In the finished painting it is no more than a futile speck on the horizon. The passengers of The Raft of the Medusa marooned on a seamless ocean, slowly eating each other, knew it too. And so too do the passengers of every other lost and lonely Raft of the Medusa floundering upon its tawdry, parochial puddle of history. From Milan to Yucatan. Every woman, every man.

Notionally Colonnic – New Web Presence, Eels, Asses

We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.


It has been an embarrassing eternity since we were here.  So many best laid plans laid waste over the last four months as the acute need to float a revitalized web presence took precedence over matters more engaging. We’d confidently predicted a broadside from Oxford, for instance, beneath who’s dreaming spires we whiled away an early quarter of February; a worthy meditation on New College choirboys, the treble voice and tent-assembly beneath a starchy surplice. Salty ruminations on wife-swapping in small Shropshire towns, on lard as a leitmotif in Norfolk pig porn and a whole novella devoted to the Chinese man who perished after his friends stuck a hungry marsh eel up his bottom as a drunken prank. But every time we pulled the articulated monitor arm over the barcalounger and hooked up the catheter to the paddling-pool, the mean voice of conscience inserted itself between us and our pleasure, cajoling, imploring us to ‘please get rid of that fucking Italian-Teutonic brown piece of shit you think is so clever and entertaining (but is actually nothing short of incomprehensible, unnavigable and wholly irritating) and replace it with something that shows pictures and tells us how the fuck we can find you. You’re an agent, you asshole. You’re not fucking Oscar Wilde, no matter how much you flounce about in a dressing gown, twisting a camelia. You’re flogging pictures to poisoners. Wake up. You think some bladder of drivel about vestal vaginas in middle-eastern churches is going to pay your photographers’ mortgages? Or interviewing a complete idiot with a Jacobean name who appears to be little more than a flaccid pornographer, specializing in sparrowy women, poorly groomed, skinny as whippets? Nobody has read a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins in the best part of a century, dude, your portentous analogies to the photographer/agent relationship are falling on deaf ears. And who gives a dog’s cock whether or not you’re enjoying yourself? In case you haven’t noticed, your website is the colour of faeces. You left boarding school nearly thirty years ago, isn’t it about time you made an effort to elevate the discourse beyond naughty tittering in the dorm after lights-out? If rather than squandering midnight hours recomposing ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ into an unfathomable reverie on erectile dysfunction, you’d instead left the Beefeater on the nightstand, signed on to Agency Access and sent clear and informative emails about your photographers’ work to every creative in Christendom … maybe you would have landed that Third Wellfleet Bank of Priapus library of images from The Buttock Alliance in Des Moines.  Or are you still operating under the misguided assumption that paid work is the product of fostering a chimera of wit and intelligence, rather than dogged legwork, cold-calling, portfolio breakfasts and attendance at LeBook Connections in every city between here and Kathmandu? You may scoff at a trayful of Dunkin’ Donuts in a windowless conference-room; you may sneer at a dousing of Eau Savage and some bewitching techniques of fanning promotional cards on Formica; but then I guess you’ll be the smugly penniless one working from a semen-encrusted storage space in Canarsie while the big boys with the freshly enameled bridgework, the portraits of themselves above their desks and their initials etched into frosted glass cubicle dividers are coining the Caspian Trousers dollars from Fystme Corky Allbright & Sweetling.

Humbled and browbeaten by the angry voices in our head, we traded the quill and parchment for the trusty plastic stylus, heaved our suety saddlebags to the side and mounted the Wacom. In allotments and bathhouses from Berlin to Bushwick, iPhones buzzed, Blackberrys beeped as the clarion call for assistance was picked up by loyal lieutenants in faraway locations: Lucas Mulder and Mark Ohe, the former for his Q like understanding of web architecture, the latter for his Wiccan familiarity with the lost art of album design.  The agency houseboy, Emiliano, in tube top and Buena Vista shorty-shorts was commanded to fire up the jets in Julian’s heart-shaped, fibreglass thinktank. Santa Maria Novella ‘Angels of Florence’ bubble bath was decanted. And in sashayed the boys.

Three months and several cases of Asti Spumante later, a new website is birthed.  And Josef Albers spins in his grave. The Grand School of Holy Julian has been hounded into retirement, along with its dysenteric interface and widget translations. No longer will anyone gaze at a picture of an office in Beijing and ponder the profound meaning of ‘a turtle eats a thing of the Ass of Man’ or ‘large blacks! To the inside or the outside’.  No more calls to Kit from concerned patrons informing us that our website has been hijacked by the Children of the New Wehrmacht. Winston Churchill girding the loins of a nation? Gone. Micheal Caine’s Italian Job roll-call over the roar of original Mini Coopers? Mothballed. Never again will the thoughtful viewer peruse Dean Kaufman’s airy interiors to the accompaniment of Adolf Hitler proclaiming of the annexation of the Sudetenland. We have bent to the tired chorus of criticism and exasperation and embraced Dwell-like simplicity. White. Helvetica Neue. More white. Titles. Thumbnails. Pictures. The new site is so straightforward it could be navigated by a dachshund.

Which begs the question … why the fuck are people still confused?

Jerusalem Offertory: Nor Shall his Pork Sword Sleep in his Hand

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

Jerusalem Old City from the roof of the Austrian Hospice

Jerusalem Old City from the roof of the Austrian Hospice

November 13th – shuffled sheepishly through Israeli immigration, enduring a 30-second staring down by an oddly Aryan young woman in army fatigues. Last time an attractive girl looked at me like that I was wrapped in duct-tape and breathing through a piece of conduit. Why do I already feel like an imposter on this journey, that at any moment somebody will point and bellow ‘What’s HE doing here?’ and the grim crowd will turn …? Last night’s El Al adventure was disconcerting, as if I had boarded the wrong plane; that the one in which people watched movies, slept and read books had departed from a different gate and I had stumbled onto the one where everybody got tarted up in Nativity Play costumes, strapped boxes to the tops of their heads and disappeared under sheets to nod and mumble like citizens of Bedlam. No sign of my special-order bacon-wrapped-scallops and only a sad shake of the stewardess’s head when I inquired about the absence of Lexi Luvavich’s She Fiddled Me On The Roof on the in-flight entertainment menu. What has First Class come to? Grey beef like a poached hand, spheroid potatoes scalded into floury eyeballs, ashen green beans that dissolve on the tongue. Syrupy wine redolent of prunes. Almost made me feel guilty for having coerced 200,000 frequent flyer miles out of Micheal McLaughlin, spinning a fable of mercy-missions to sick godchildren in Tegucigalpa orphanages sporting polyform cleft palates and unholy hybrids of pig, bird and ass flu. He would be disappointed with these beanstalk-seeds, bartered for so many hard-won points, accustomed as he is to the pan-seared Bengal Tiger steaks and complimentary analingus of China Air’s Tycoon Class. Minibus to Jerusalem was little better, squeezed almost into the wheel-well by a gentleman whose panoply of loin-fat threatened to overwhelm the entire van, passengers and all: I swear if the journey had been longer I would have been absorbed by digestive juices into its food vacuole. Staggered free a half mile short of the Old City, wandered timidly around what gradually revealed itself to be Palestinian East Jerusalem, grimacing, frantically waving off assistance lest my chickeny chassis be blown to smithereens before I’d even squeezed my buttocks through The Damascus Gate. Eventually found rest at the Austrian Hospice, funereal guesthouse-come-convent with Berchtesgaden undertones, scampering nuns and a drizzle of pallid Christian pilgrims in teal fleece. Appealing floppy-haired boy at the desk – clearly straight off the cable-car from Innsbruck – with missionary zeal in his eyes; might have tried to unholster the old 5D but I suspect the Lord would have come between me and his coveted weisswürst, staying my trigger finger in much the same way as in the Abraham myth. And anyway, wasn’t that ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me!’ I heard him humming as he photocopied my passport? Second floor chamber looking out onto a wall. Bed, upright chair, 60-watt bulb. Larkin would grin; though not at the bible, squatting there like a toad. Succumbed to godless and lamentably sober exhaustion.

Micheal McLaughlin (Christian)

Micheal McLaughlin (Catholic/lapsed)

5.30 amWhat in the Aching Arse of Allah is that!?! Black as pitch outside and in. The crepuscular silence is shattered by a sudden but sustained metallic wail, not unlike John Lydon in his Flowers of Romance phase. But very much louder. And more enduring. Did I change my iPhone alarm to Muezzin Cry last night and accidentally stuff it in my ear? Listening more carefully I begin to discern the presence of a second, similar wail, more distant, then another … and another. I lie on my single bed in the dark, picking out each wail as it undulates in-and-out of the whole; breaking, recovering in a kind of soaring, plaintive harmony. It is part lament, part din, part incantation. I’m getting a dose of the Paul Bowles Arabian Magic here, I want to hubble and to bubble, to ride camels across dunes with Debra Winger in nothing but a winding-sheet of diaphanous muslin. This is Jerusalem. Alone in a Christian Sanctuary built on Jewish bedrock listening to the Muslim call to prayer. Then just as the voices had staggered one-by-one into being, so they cease; the song quieting by degrees to silence. The first blush of dawn rinses the walls of my cell, and I ooze backwards into the ragged embrace of jet-lag.

Dean Kaufman (Reform Jew)

Dean Kaufman (Reform Jew)

Late Morning – Totter shabbily down the steps of the Hospice and almost derail a caravan of pilgrims advancing in an imperious pavane down the Via Dolorosa. These are resolutely not the pilgrims of yore, clad in plain religious attire or sackcloth-and-ashes; these are Americans in cargo shorts and XXL Sweatshirts that proclaim ‘Jesus Died for MySpace in Heaven’ and ‘iGod – Who Are You Listening To?’. Their taxonomy divides neatly between the pink/porcine and the sallow/bespectacled/studded-with-acne. They are united by the omnipresent fanny-pack and that shade of raised-nosed sanctimoniousness culled from The Evangelist Handbook on How to Look Pious. At the head of the group is a particularly buttery fatso wielding a mighty, modern cross, doubtless a talisman for warding off unclean Arab traders who line the route trying to flog pairs of plastic praying hands to the suety flock. If there was an inter-faith stylathon played out on the streets of Jerusalem the Christian Evangelists wouldn’t lumber over the first hurdle. Those willowy, fast-moving Hasidic boys in their sharp frockcoats and fedoras leave these asthmatic manatees jiggling in their wake.

Sarah Wilmer (Pagan/Burning Man)

Sarah Wilmer (Pagan/Burning Man)

The Fourth Station of the Cross, where Jesus purportedly bumped into his Mum (an encounter sadly absent from the Bible) is conveniently situated opposite the front door of my hostel allowing me to watch the burlesque whilst munching on the back end of a croissant. A puddingy hermaphrodite with a ginger comb-over edges to the front of the group and falls to his/her knees, blubbering “We adore you O Christ and we praise you!” over-and-over whilst attendant freaks nod in agreement and massage his shoulders as if commiserating with him over a lost pencil. This behaviour is neither alarming nor distressing, merely morbidly embarrassing. Regathering his sullen composure, he is assisted to his feet with grimaces of sympathy and treacly mutterings of “bless you, bless you”. It is the kind of infantile exhibitionism that causes one’s innards to spontaneously jellify. I find myself trying to make eye-contact with nearby Arabs to apologise with my eyebrows for Christianity; but they seem unperturbed. They have seen such idiocy before and are impervious to it. I fall into line as the lardy procession trundles up the street to Station Five (the otherwise unheard-of Simon of Cyrene asks Jesus “Can I give you a hand with that ?”), Station Six (Jesus asks Veronica for a turkey sandwich) and Seven (Simon the Lisper reveals the sandwich-maker hath no turkey, will corned beef do?). The whole thing is, naturally, a complete fiasco. There’s as much chance that Jesus plodded down this mediæval alleyway with or without half a tree on his back as there is of Golda Meir being retroactively elected Pope. But the theatre is delightful and the trinkets are going like hot cakes! I disembark the Ship of Fools and head straight to Station Ten which naturally – it’s where Jesus had his underpants pulled down – turns out to be in a Catholic Chapel within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself. To get to this point one is forced to dodge gaggles of peroxided Russian women hurling themselves on all fours and snogging the Stone of Unction, an unctuous slab of hanky-panky set in place a full 1800 years after the Good Shepherd was purportedly oiled-up.

Noah Sheldon (Reform Jew)

Noah Sheldon (Another Reform Jew)

If the fictional melodramas of the Via Dolorosa seem a bit bananas, the constellation of fairytales that litter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre render them bastions of Kantian Reason. It’s a complete, wonderful fucking madhouse, my dears. Cave upon cave of sanctified fabulism and goggle-eyed voodoo. We have yer actual Rock of Golgotha, fingerable through a greasy hole in the glass: we have a hunk of yer authentic True Cross, now under lock-and-key since the ever-kissing pilgrims starting nibbling off pieces to take home with them. For those leery of ecclesiastical herpes we have yer verifiable Adam’s Tomb, yes madam that Adam, handily situated directly beneath the spot where Our Lord was crucified, and if you look carefully through that little window there you’ll see the crack made by the earthquake that spontaneously erupted at the moment of his passing. There’s even a spooky Treasure Room, not in this instance filled with gold doubloons and a parrot squawking “Pieces of Eight”, but sweetmeats less lurid; St Agatha’s toenails, the tongue of the infant St Barnabus, John the Baptist’s loincloth, that kind of thing. It is nothing less than a phantasmagorical Mediæval Christian theme park, complete with creaking sound-effects, annual pyrotechnics and splendidly costumed and bearded attendants. One almost expects to ride the water-flume into an underground depiction of the Immaculate Uterus. Furthermore, it suppurates and crumbles under the weight of centuries of neglect and internecine rancour. Each pocket of the rotten old Christmas cake is under the rabid protectorate of a different orthodoxy and is jealously coveted by all the others. The Greeks loathe the Armenians who scowl at the Franciscans who kick the Coptics who piss in the chalices of the Syrians. The poor fucking Ethiopians have been exiled to the roof, where they subsist in a couple of lean-to’s. I swear as I passed through their diminutive chapel I heard a monk whisper “you wan’ buy ganja, man?”. The Copts have set up what appears to be a fleamarket booth, glued to the rump of the Holy Edicule, seemingly fashioned from wrought-iron gates, brocade curtains and plastic sheeting. It groans with liturgical tchotchke, manual typewriter bodies, Home Pong consoles and those rubber shower attachments that fit onto hot-and-cold faucets. Inside sits an ornery old witch, hacking and passing gas. One false move by any of the bewildering array of combatants and all hell breaks loose. As recently as 2008 the Greeks and Armenians went at it in full vestments over the issue of a monk loitering in a funny way. In 2004 the Greeks and Russians tag-teamed the Franciscans because somebody left a door open. Both cases involved the exchange of ecclesiastical kicks and punches, throwing of artifacts, blood-letting and police intervention. Most wonderfully, in a 2002 reinterpretation of the Christian precept Do As Thou Wouldst Be Done By, the Ethiopians opened a can of whoop-ass with the Egyptian Coptics on the church’s roof after a monk moved his chair into the shade on a sunny day. Iron bars and paving stones were put to good canonical use, resulting in several hospitalizations. In the run up to the 1989 Feast of the Holy Cross it was rumoured the Armenians had engaged the services of the WWE’s Jim (The Anvil) Neidhart in false beard and cassock to man the dodgy corner by the stairs to Calvary.

Alex Tehrani (God Only Knows)

Alex Tehrani (God Only Knows)

All the competing attractions within the Church, however, pale into insignificance in the face of the eponymous Holy Sepulchre itself. TripAdvisor gives it four-and-a-half thumbs. At the core of a peculiar, dusky, public lavatory-sized crypt, not unlike a rococo rendering of Doctor Who’s Tardis, held together by metal girders stamped Bombay Metal Company and isolated at the centre of a chasmal rotunda, lurks Jesus of Nazareth’s one-and-only, honest-to-God tomb (not to be confused with the other one-and-only, honest-to-God one, half a mile away, imagined into being by General Gordon (of Khartoum fame) whilst sipping Singapore Slings at the American Colony in 1883). Within its marble confines, Gentle Pilgrim, beyond its Hobbity doorway, lies the final resting place of the Lamb of God. Well, that’s not strictly true, what with him hopping that moonbeam to Heaven and all … but still … the ultimate, sacred repository of his corporeal being. Christianity’s innermost sanctum. Having diddled the Rock, licked the walls, made out with the floor and sniffed St Sebastian’s leathery foreskin I’ll be damned if I’m leaving without a trip inside Christ’s Big Kahuna.

And so I fall in line behind a beautiful girl and await my turn for rapture. As the queue shuffles forward I cannot help but cast repeated sidelong glances at her. She really is beautiful: clear, unpretentiously elegant, radiating calm and poise, her hair pulled back from her face and tucked sweetly into a headscarf. Albanian? Azerbaijani? I’m already envisioning under-the-table no panty shots when I am struck by a dreadful realisation: that isn’t a headscarf. It’s a wimple. She’s a nun. I’m about to duck into Christianity’s Holiest of Holies and all I can think about is a nun’s vagina? As I crouch to pass through the doorway, she turns, smiles and places her palm on my head, shielding it from glancing contact with the stone lintel. And I want to weep. I’m inside the Holy Edicule with an actual Saint and my mind is just one, vast stinking reservoir of turd. I’m sure they can smell it in Tel Aviv. I want to beg her forgiveness and retreat from the crypt, but the space is miniscule, she’s facing away from me now and there’s a leopard-printed Ukranian woman pressed against my buttocks trying to get her camera-phone to work in the funereal gloom. A couple of seconds and we are propelled forward through the low gap in the antechamber wall … and we’re in the tiny, candlelit Sepulchre itself, three of us squeezed together like pilchards. My heart is pounding: this is all wrong. And she’s down. Down at my shins. Crumpled, on her knees, her cheek on the small, smooth slab, her hand tenderly stroking the stone, eyes closed, lips mouthing little supplications; pure, transparent, radiant ecstasy. A hundred-thousand secular, snorting mockeries evaporate in an instant. And I am an enormous, hapless Stinkosaurus, annihilated in the presence of such Love.

Hopenhagen to Smelsinki: Piracy on the High Seas of Hoopla

It is a rare morning in the lifecycle of the agency that dawns with cause to be proud. Ordinarily it’s a matter of prying open encrusted eyelids to find oneself slumped in the wrinkly palm of last night’s barcalounger, empty bottles of King Shag Sauvignon Blanc scattered like bowling pins across the deep pile, fag-ends drowned in glasses, the record player still bumping the shoulder of Fleetwood Mac Rumours, the Kleenex flowers of onanism crumpled moistly in the crevices. It can take a solid hour and an all-orifice Listerine douching for the phoenix of Julian Richards to rise from the ashes of his Keithly namesake.

So imagine blinking, yellow-eyed into the hangover glare of the Macbook Pro, expecting to encounter the usual cartel of child-poisoners, vivisectionists and knee-dandlers, only to find a clean, bright body of worthiness staring back at us, crunching with good health and Utopian zeal: HOPENHAGEN. Pro-bono, climate-controlled, unapologetically UPPERCASE, backed by the United Nations, sprung from the creative loins of our good friends at Ogilvy: and shot all over the planet by an elite cadre of above-the-line photographers including John Clang, Stefan Ruiz and Joachim Ladefoged not to mention our own Alex Tehrani and Henrik Knudsen. Three cheers for Tom Godici, Greg Ketchum, Michael Paterson, Greg Gershner, Justin Walsh, Leslie D’Acri and Cindy Rivet for bringing us on board and making us feel like we’ve eaten a fistful of alfafa in our otherwise seamless diet of snout, tail and grisly bits.

Alex Tehrani for Ogilvy

Alex Tehrani for Ogilvy

Henrik Knudsen for Ogilvy

Henrik Knudsen for Ogilvy

But wait. Lest we forget our grist is ground in the scallywag mill of global advertising; no sooner had we heaved our bedimpled buttocks out of the Herman Miller in order to polish our newly-minted conscience with a teatowel (and find the corkscrew while we’re at it) than reports began to surface of vagabond plagiarists on the loose. Bamboozlers and swindlers from cities planet-wide, each with their own summit, treaty, conference and clambake to ballyhoo. Finding themselves bereft of even the crumb of an original idea, they nibble like vermin at the edges of someone else’s, biting out chunks and running off to masticate them into something worthy of a paycheck. Hopenhagen? What the fuck, I mean, our city has a name too! Maybe we can lose the first letter, replace it with a different one, make a cool word … and Bob’s your Uncle, right? Right, Hans?

Right, Helmut.

The shameless ripoff is hardly a new arrow in the quiver of contemporary advertising. Those of us who are in regular receipt of layouts and concepts will be familiar with the guilty gulp of estimating against someone else’s (aptly titled) swipe. We wonder how the likes of Phillip (Mr Peanut) Toledano sleep at night, their brainchildren kidnapped and molested each time they leave the room long enough to take a poo: the past few months alone have seen Phil’s offspring unceremoniously diddled by Sony PS3 and by McCann Milan, probably others too. Perhaps it is an indication of our own originality barometer being stuck on rain that we have seldom been at the butt-end of such outrages. Until now, that is. Until Hopenhagen. It is almost as if, having undergone creative hymenoplasty after a decade-and-a-half of hopping on anything vaguely zucchini-shaped, the Gods are sending us a message regarding our affectations of virginity: that a whore is a whore, regardless of any monkeying with the introitus.

First up (barely a week after Hopenhagen broke) from Rotterdam, the city that brought us such originals as Rem Koolhaas, Willem de Kooning and the 1970 Holland Pop Festival (featuring Canned Heat and Jefferson Airplane) we have a decidedly unoriginal campaign for what appears to be a Festival of Ass Glorification: Botterdam. Yes, you heard it right. The organizers allegation that horsing about with your undercarriage can help expedite World Peace cannot be easily verified, but it does seem plausible:

Zachte Haan Vennoten, Amsterdam

Zachte Haan Vennoten, Amsterdam

Hot on the heels of the cheesy Flatlanders (thanks to our friends at Pilfered for spotting it) comes what we assume to be the deep irony of the Bushveld, as the City of Johannesburg endeavours to position itself as the place to toddle off to if you’re in the mood for a septic orgy. What this campaign lacks in nuance it amply makes up for in candour:

Voortrekker Botha Boer

Voortrekker Botha, Cape Town

Persisting with a theme (and slithering still further down the pole of depravity), as the fulcrum of the Eastern European sex industry slowly dribbles south from Prague, Bratislava Slovakia appears to be setting up road-blocks in its path. Evidence; this uncompromising campaign (seemingly for some kind of Reality TV show?) from young-gun British agency Corky Albright Fystme Sweetling. Despite the breathless Hopenhagen appropriation, it is a laudable effort from a city which has otherwise brought us fuck all really:

Corky Albright Fystme Sweetling/London

Corky Albright Fystme Sweetling, London

The prize for the most overtly nose-crinkling counterfeit must surely go to Copenhagen’s Scandinavian counterpart (who should probably know better), Helsinki. Other than Hanoi Rocks (2nd to Marillion in the 1984 Sounds Magazine Band of the Year Reader Poll), the only thing of note to have emerged from the frigid Finnish capitol were the 1952 Olympic Games, in which (as we all know) Emil Zátopek won three gold medals: the 5000m, 10000m and the Marathon (which, curiously, he had never run before). Likely feeling in need of a home-run after half a century in the wilderness, they are seeking to establish themselves as the City of Reasonable Doubt in the climate control debate, with the forthcoming Smelskinki! Summit (note the exclamation point). A cursory glance at the small print suggests that the main attraction of this event is an effort to break the world record for contiguous human methane production, which basically translates as making the world’s biggest fart:

Länsiväylä, 33/Finland

Länsiväylä 33, Finland

And bringing up the rear in every way possible, from the sultry seat of Turkey, Ankara (14th in the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest with Didai Didai Dai) we are blessed with the following crusade for an apparent summit on the manifold delights of masturbation. We are currently on hold with Atatürk Air frequent flyer desk:

Tünel + Tünel/Istanbul

Tünel + Tünel, Istanbul

Gerard Hopkins: The Manley Burden of Responsibility

‘Enough: corruption was the world’s first woe.
What need I strain my heart beyond my ken?
O but I bear my burning witness though
Against the wild and wanton work of men.’

Sarah Wilmer

Sarah Wilmer

Minutes from the Annual General Meeting of Julian Richards’ shareholders, backstage at their old haunt, the Gaiety in Times Square; it’s now an American Eagle Outfitters, but if you gather on the second floor in the corner by Men’s Hoodies you can still breathe in the ejaculate. Following collective back-and-bottom slapping over this year’s cheerfully burgeoning workload, the primary issue on the agenda seems to have been the benefits reaped – and pitfalls encountered – by the birthing of this very organ, the one you, Dear Reader, have inadvertently stumbled upon whilst searching for ‘A-Rod wanking technique with eggplant’ (welcome back, by the way). Beginning at a low rumble, voices were soon raised to a degree that we were required to stop and pretend to be browsing the ‘Peace on Earth’ Graphic T’s. Sentiments to the effect of ‘Nobody gives a shit about Keats, dude, can you score me a fucking Nike campaign?’ along with ‘Everybody’s gonna think we’re a bunch of queers, sorry Deano, no offence man’ and ‘Perkin’s vaginas are freaking out the Pottery Barn people’ all expressed in strangulated whispers so as not to arouse the suspicions of a densely pancaked shopgirl from Secaucus. Which all begs the question: how does one pin down the shifting battle-lines that govern the artist/agent relationship? Where does one thing end and another begin? Is collaboration just another word for nobody’s called about your shit in two months? For those who are churning through the industry like paddle-steamers on Lake George it’s something of a moot point: in such cases the approach is essentially to keep doing what one is doing, with the addition of alluring elements of upkeep, renewal and the plucking of dead leaves (all made much easier by the heady presence of money). But what of the at-any-given-time-unannointed? How does one alchemize interest out of its exact opposite? From the photographer’s point-of-view is it perhaps ‘look, I’ve given you loads of great shit, I gave it to you more than half a decade ago, now go knock on more doors. Or take them up some fucking Krispy Kremes for breakfast or whatever it is’?  One is tempted to quote Withnail in the Cumbrian telephone booth:

‘Well, lick ten percent of the arses for me then!  Hello?  Hello?  How dare you!  Fuck you!’

Withnail

Withnail

Whereas from the agent’s perspective, it might be more along the lines of ‘If I try to show people the same fucking thing for the three-hundredth time, rudely wiped, reshuffled, the spine patched, with your name in a different font, not only are they going to make a note explicitly never to use you ever at all for anything, but they’ll probably start to wonder whether any word I say about anybody anywhere is actually true. And before you say it, three 8 by 10′s of your next-door-neighbour’s cat don’t constitute a new body of work’.

Contemplating this riddle whilst browsing the thumbnails of Jacquie et Michel, Amatrices Françaises at three in the morning, I was struck by an analogous situation described in a letter I had read in last month’s Ecumenical Spanker pertaining to that most stygian of the Victorian Vicar Poets, the Undisputed Nonpareil of Sprung Rhythm, the Jumpin’ Jesuit himself … Reverend Gerard Manley Hopkins. Now boys, boys … you’re not going to tell me everybody isn’t frothing at the bit for a dose of G-Hop the Manley? C’mon now, he wrote the poem That Nature Is A Heraclitean Fire!  It has the word clit in it! He didn’t have the easiest time of it, Gerard. Deeply religious from an early age, he was somewhat disconcerted upon his arrival at Balliol, Oxford, to discover himself pining for the seventeen year-old buttocks of the handsomely monikered Digby Mackworth Dolben. His not inconsiderable consternation was only marginally relieved by old Diggers drowning in the River Welland whilst frolicking with the ten year-old son of his tutor, Reverend CE Pritchard (who may or may not have been watching from the bushes).

The Drowning - Sarah Wilmer

The Drowning - Sarah Wilmer

Hopkins understandable reaction was to swear an oath of celibacy, convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism (they know on which side an altar boy’s bottom is buttered) and enter the Priesthood. He also took to recording his sins in a diary, which I believe can be reverentially beaten-off to in the Bodleian every Tuesday afternoon in January. Oddly, he also suffered from lifelong diahorreah – which had to be a bit tiresome – and the poor bastard lived in Dublin. I’m not making this up. His poetry was both his solace and his torment, passing largely unnoticed in his lifetime despite the attentions of his friend (and soon-to-be Poet Laureate) Robert Bridges. Hopkins viewed Bridges, with his wealth of contacts in London poetry circles, as a kind of advocate for him; almost (dare I say it) … his agent. He wrote long letters to Bridges, imploring him to push some poem or other under the noses of Newman or Tennyson or even Charles Darwin, whose only recorded contribution to the canon of world poetry is a scatalogical limerick about a gibbon. Bridges would write back unfailingly, always attentive and encouraging even in the face of his contemporaries’ seamless indifference to Hopkins’ work. The following is a letter dated September 1881, from Bridges to Hopkins. It follows a period of intense frustration on the part of the poet. He felt he had written some excellent poems over the years and yet scant interest could be engendered in them from anybody who might have the wherewithal to help him pay the rent. To some extent he seems to be holding Bridges culpable for this failure: the latter wasn’t getting his material to the right people, wasn’t pushing hard enough, had become bored and complacent, focussed on other poets or his home in the provinces. Had he considered doing a Sonnet Breakfast, for instance? Taking along some Butterscotch Bulls Eyes and a flagon or two of mead to some secretaries in a tall building? The poet had gone so far as to remove himself from Bridges’ patronage and place himself under the wing of one Seamus Baggage, hawker of minstrels, who had once carried Wordsworth’s watercolour easel up Helvellyn. What follows is Bridges’ response to his denunciation at the hands of an old friend. I think it draws an interesting parallel.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday September 29, The Knotty Pines, Lickham Bottom

My Dear Gerard

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the return of that small stock of pamphlets held in my office for clients to retain after discussion of your work. I find myself saddened by the idea of you taking these items (which, as you know, bear my name and address) gluing a label over said information and replacing it with that of Messrs. Baggage & Baggage. Does this not seem a tad shoddy in your estimation? An item made to my own specifications, to which I was comprehensively a contributor, hastily pasted over and attributed to another? If some person brought such an item to me I am afraid I would reject it out of hand, precisely because it would be so clearly associated with my hypothetical predecessor. Really, my dear Hopkins, it is a trifle tawdry. I would rather, in all honesty, you began afresh; the Baggages are going to need at least that from you – a wholly different approach and plan of attack – if they are going to make headway where I have not been able. You could with certainty have new pamphlets printed in little more than a fortnight, it is a remarkably straightforward affair: and if these pieces are to serve simply as a reminder to their recipients of your talent and earnestness, a keep-sake of sorts, then you will surely need but few; truthfully such items are seldom retained unless they constitute a published volume of some measure. That said, I see no reason as to why you should not produce such a formidable volume for yourself; a remarkable piece, cut and bound in Morocco, something to surprise and elate the viewer and stir him from his erstwhile complacency. It would certainly require earnest investment on your part; which is the reason I have always shied from broaching the matter with you. But in the prevailing climate of difficulty, and bearing in mind that you are already a known (though frequently passed-over) quantity, I do not see that you are presented with an alternative. Baggage’s sphere of influence – along with his reservoir of goodwill -  is demonstrably no greater than anyone else. If he plies the same narrative he will reap the same rewards; which should be your greatest fear, because the truth I’m afraid is that he has precisely no magic at his fingertips whatsoever, none: but, my dear Hopkins, you do. You have your works and your passion. It is you that will make this happen, not he. All the paths he treads have been trodden before him (even though it seems it is this very point that you dispute).

‘The Windhover’ has been ever an exemplary piece and I am most gratified that you have finally decided to forge it into the cornerstone of a book; but I am compelled to point out that this is a matter we spoke about at some length several years ago, and on which I was most pressing and encouraging; but which you nonetheless neglected. Not to mention several other ideas and fancies set out in your correspondence. If I display an air of astonishment at any of this, you should understand that it emanates entirely from the feeling of having myself tried to wake these concepts in you on so many occasions, knowing that only a fresh approach could garner the interest of the people to whom I was referring your work; and that I arrived nowhere with my pressing. No new volume from you. Rarely new material of any sort, and then merely a line here, line there, nothing of breadth or of substance. Now you have decided to gather your belongings and move on, to try the same hand elsewhere; and it is the inspirational figure of Baggage that you have alighted upon to parlay this into commercial success. Please don’t misunderstand me; I cannot say I am displeased to see you go. The relief from guilt, from the inability to speak honestly about these matters, from not being free to express myself with candour about certain bodies of work, from having to display implied support for your actions even when I did not believe my own words; my Friend, this is consummate relief indeed. Such an epiphany is troubling only inasmuch as it has caused me to consider other relationships in this light and wonder whether a more joyous life, one less sullied by inner vexation, would be within reach if matters in general were more steeped in honesty. Yet this is likely impossible. Such, I fear, is the lot of an advocate.

What, my dear Gerard, of Baggage? Perhaps my sentiment is best echoed by Cordelia’s aside to her sisters regarding the welfare of her father:

‘But yet, alas, stood I within his grace,
I would prefer him to a better place!’

I might have wished your apparent awakening had alighted upon a more worthy recipient. It is not that he is perfectly vulgar and dreadful; but he is by no means deserving, not in the manner of say Miss Nellie Kagan or Mr Ronald Magenta, these being good people with the gall to apply themselves to the development of talent in its nascent form. The Baggages have ever advocated for doggerel. Now it appears they are poaching established (but underachieving) artists in an effort to embroider their gaudy ranks with a veneer of sophistication. But respect is not won through plundering the decade-long endeavours of others; neither by preying upon an artist’s sense of vulnerability during times of trouble. Finding patrons for artists is important, but so too is integrity; and I suspect that ultimately one does not come without the other. Having said that, my desire to see cynicism fail does not extend to you; above all I wish you the success your work deserves. I have invested too much heart and soul to wish it any other way.

I am compelled, however, to address a particular point expressed in your letter. You said your commercial career had dwindled at a time when you felt it should have flourished. This bewildered me, as it bewilders me with other artists; because more often than not I am at a loss to understand what it is they believe they have been doing, in practical, game-changing terms to engender such an anticipated flourishing. Some novel, entertaining, exhilarating body of material, beautifully formulated, fastidiously distributed, augmented by a refreshed, challenging portfolio of works? A renewed passion for lasting, productive working relationships with appropriate luminaries in the field? I can say with due humility that I am able to wrangle a certain quantity of patronage from the community each year by my direct recommendation alone, trusting that the client in question will, when all is said and done, be delighted with the result of placing his trust in me. This has been true for the lion’s share of this year’s successes. Unfortunately you were not able to partake of this, your style and approach being too remote to fit the work at hand. I would have seemed a liar and a scoundrel had I recommended you for work for which you were not suited; and I would in the process have risked killing the Golden Eggéd Goose of Trust. But for the remainder, all an advocate can effectively do is prepare the way for the artist, open the door. It is the artist himself; his work, his personality, his desire, ideas, charms, passions, work ethic, intellect and humour; these are the elements that must combine to bring the matter to fruition. An advocate can almost pretend to be the artist, to create a chimera of enthusiasm and passion which is ultimately attributed to the artist himself. An advocate can fill the gaps, explain away the contradictions, excuse the missteps; but there is a moment at which his influence ceases and the artist must step up, take the baton and sprint to the finish. This is not to say that I am seldom confronted by this vexing enigma. Quite the contrary, it occurs with remarkable frequency. When I ask the artist what it is he has actually done to deserve the spoils he so ardently desires, what more than the scores of other artists who are working so diligently, he will usually respond in the manner of “Because I am good!”.  As if what is required to drink from the Ambrosial Cup is that an artist be ‘good’. That they deserve it all because they are a ‘good artist’ perhaps even more naturally gifted than some of their contemporaries, who have slaved like Hercules to do what is required to win the prize. But believe me, Dear Hopkins, when I state that if an artist could spend but a few weeks in the place of his advocate observing what is required to garner the spoils of victory in the face of such competition; then they would swallow the words ‘because I am good’ before they dribbled out. Few are rewarded with rooms of gold for simply being there and making pleasing work; and rightly so. The artist who truly understands what is needed goes diligently about his business untroubled by the howling and moaning of his contemporaries who sit upon the shoddy laurels of self-proclaimed talent.

I have come to believe that I have on occasion been too close to some of my artists. I have invested emotionally in them as friends and been culpable in fostering the delusion that they were doing what it takes to be successful, when I should surely have been reporting the truth of what I was seeing; namely that they were off the back of the pack and falling farther behind by the day. Perhaps in a small number of cases I should have stepped forward and brought matters to a close, spent my hours and my concern (every hour of the day, though you may doubt it) on subjects more likely to respond with vigour. But I confess to being lily-liver’d in these matters. No decent person enjoys being the bearer of bad news. Instead I have endeavored to enthuse over any grain of possibility the artist produces, even amidst a wilderness of indifference. And after that, embarrassed silence. But it might actually have been kinder (and less cowardly) to tell the truth. Less wasteful too. With less sting when the whole affair culminated in an ironic charade.

I remain, as ever, your friend and firm adherent,

Robert Bridges

Noah Sheldon: Nameneko is the New Bukkake

Our hunting fathers told the story
Of the sadness of the creatures,
Pitied the limits and the lack
Set in their finished features;
Saw in the lion’s intolerant look,
Behind the quarry’s dying glare,
Love raging for, the personal glory
That reason’s gift would add’

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

Noah Sheldon for United Bamboo

What an unnerving and enchanting experience to come round of a morning still strung in the harness, peel off the duct tape, spit out the plastic ball and discover a member of one’s own flock spattered across the style sections of Huffington Post, New York Magazine, Cute OverloadLA Times and People, not to mention a thousand dank and fungal corners of Faecesbook and indeed the Dome of the Rock itself, The Daily Show. Not since Dean Kaufman hijacked Yancey Richardson with his Organic Genital Sun Prints have we experienced such an ejaculation of unsolicited publicity. The long-and-the-short of it seems to be that young Noah Sheldon – he who we dandled on our knee to engorging effect almost a decade ago, but who has been a fully-fledged congregant for barely half a year – has recently undertaken a project with Miho Aoki and Thuy Pham of United Bamboo, whereby their Spring 2010 collection was manufactured both for the usual etiolated, underfed caste of childwomen, but also for litter-footed, Sheba-glutted felines (and photographed accordingly).  So successful was this enterprise – conducted as a kind of grassroots hipster Williamsburg Idol Kitty Slam, with Facebook friends of the designers and photographer lined up outside the studio nervously clutching their aspiring moggies, drilling them on their audition pieces, soothing agitated catbowels – it was decreed that the feline end of the equation would be crafted into a beautiful, limited edition calendar geared toward the burgeoning fashion/pussy crossover demographic.  No sooner had the images gamboled along Sheldon’s firewire than the phones began ringing: proof positive that if the sleepy old chestnuts of Universal Healthcare and War in Asia truly want to penetrate the national consciousness, they might consider taking a leaf from the book of cute animals dressed in human clothing.

Whilst on the subject of agency Wünderkinder … Noah was welcomed into the fold in January with the confident expectation that his first year aboard would garner the usual patronage of Modern Menopause, Men’s Breath and Hangglider Quarterly. Imagine our surprise to find that within a few weeks he was beavering away on a significant, multi-part project for our champion client, Apple, followed by features for Popular Mechanics, Details and FSB, before stone-stepping onto a Bank of America campaign shot double-barreled for Hill Holliday alongside our very own hemi-Persian Alex Tehrani. Barely pausing beside the bidet, we shunted him off to Europe for our Applish colleagues once more and thence to several domestic fleshpots for the very same Applefolk, twin 5D’s blazing in both palms, stills and video mix’d, reason in madness. Whilst lingering beside public lavatories, bars in bowling alleys and at Drive Thru Fatburgers across the nation, Sheldon was simultaneously able to foster a burgeoning art career, participating in an exhibition in a place called Mount Tremper (my rallying cry in the Fourth Form Dormitory c. ’78) and in New York City at D’Amelio Terras where his light shone beneath the triumvirate buttock-bushel of Kiki Smith, Matthew Barney and Robert Gober. I’m starting to wonder whether I’m making this up. Still not content to rest upon his chapped and empimpled laurels, he concocted a show of his very own at Yautepec in Mexico City, behaviour so popular it is rumoured to be reprised in Miami and Tokyo. Back on the hump of the commercial camel, his caravan weaved through the notoriously barren Desert of the Periodical, picking up projects for the last remaining Condé Nast magazine, Wired, before basking at the sweet-watered oasis of Hewlett Packard awhile. And as if this wasn’t enough, as if it wasn’t time to detour to Tangiers for some respite at the Souq of the Boys with the Almond Eyes … up he pops with United Bamboo and their coven of chic kitties (which, by the way, we have just been informed now constitute the backdrop for a Yale University School of Art webpage … encouraging to see that the virus has spread even to the dreaming spires of academia. Here’s hoping the Department of Homeland Security adopt them as their official logo).

And bugger me if we don’t find ourselves having to stop the press for Sheldon’s solo show at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles, November 7th through December 12th. Okay, that’s quite enough. I feel soiled and sticky and in need of a facecloth.

Biosphere 2 - Noah Sheldon

Biosphere 2 - Noah Sheldon

Love Again: Wanking at Ten Past Three – The Lovely Rambles

(cont’d from ‘Unsheathed, Perkin Lovely was a Ronnie Corbett Sausage’)

‘More likely they are his-and-hers avalanches of mouldering dumpling
mix, with dentures from Minsk, matching unisex carrier-bag breasts
and stained, swampy genitals. They’ll greet you at the front door of a
tract house in Teaneck wearing each other’s underwear, their rabbi in
the background humping an aging golden retriever.’

Perkin Lovely, meditating skeptically upon the gaping maw that customarily squats between dream and reality. Having singularly failed to eke any photography-related insight out of him in our phone interview (unless Shanks up the Keister are items one orders from Adorama) we girded our loins and greyhounded over to the Federal Sneezer in Terre Haute, having secured special permission for a rare same-sex conjugal visit. Warden Parsons is reportedly an avid fan and camping buddy of Sian Kennedy (Perkin’s collaborator and sex-addiction sponsor), having shared a caravan in the Poconos with him on several occasions.

Sian Kennedy for Details

Sian Kennedy for Details

Unfortunately much of the interview was conducted at close-quarters on low thread-count polyester, a couple of feet above a 350 pound gentleman called Tyrone having teardrops inked onto his trout-like beef-whistle with a darning needle. Our narrative was punctuated by the kind of tear-drenched exclamations that would ordinarily have drowned out conversation had we not snuggled up like puppies and pressed my dictaphone ever closer to Perkin’s mouth. And whilst we were unable to touch on a wide range of topics, we managed to cover a very narrow-range of Proustian ones quite exhaustively.

Woo Sung - Perkin Lovely

Woo Sung - Perkin Lovely

H: You’ve been quoted as stating that every photograph you have ever taken was inspired by the urge to impress girls.

PL: As well as every word spoken, deed done, breakfast eaten. It may not always be as direct as that statement suggests, sometimes the route is eccentric and round-the-houses in a way that even I don’t understand. But ultimately, yes, that’s the core impulse.

H: Never boys?

PL: It’s difficult enough to know what to do with one penis.

H: Is your approach ever counter-productive?

PL: Nearly always. But from the very start I think I understood that love and loathe overlap. Given my meager assembly of talents, I really had no choice.

H: From the very start?

PL: A collective blind date with the girl’s of St Mary’s Convent in Folkestone. We walked on different sides of the street throughout: little heifers of St Mary’s over there, Earl of Salisbury’s spotty bullocks over here. Not sure I even knew who was supposed to be mine, but I’m fairly certain she was mortified by the idea of being paired with a leering, shrunken Ronnie Corbett in full Angus Young attire. Actually, now I’m scraping the scale from my memory, I recall her name was Brenda. I like to think she was the elfin one with the pageboy bob: but she could equally have been the myopic walrus sprung from the pages of Where the Wild Things Are. The climax of the event (running against the clock of a potential gating) was when the two columns crossed, sniffing and snorting in the Old Spice mist. This was where I first experienced the heady aroma of teenage girl and life took a left turn. Until then it has been roughly okay to be Ronnie Corbett. Suddenly it was a grotesque handicap, akin to having a drooling arse in the middle of one’s forehead. The genesis of my Richard the Third complex. There were no further dates with Brenda.

H: Who conceived the idea of group cross-pollination?

PL: Oh, my dear, there was no pollination going on. My stamen was little more than a damp straw mushroom and I didn’t get my fingers on a pistil until almost a decade later. I think there was a letter-writing campaign undertaken between the girls in the Convent and the boys on the Hill. Burmese political prisoners exchanging pleasantries with hostages in Iraq. About The Rollers. ‘I (heart) Stuart, who do you (heart)?’. I was issued a letter from the stack. She wrote in plump, loopy cursive on lavender paper spritzed with Anais Anais. I think I replied in Hochdeutsch Gothic painstakingly counterfeited from the Deep Purple ‘Stormbringer’ cover, embalmed in Hai Karate. Probably looked like a declaration of war from the Kaiser. A date was subsequently set for the first massed skirmish.

H: Did you bring a gift?

PL: The gift of a camel-toothed, bespectacled Ronnie Corbett visage plastered upon a medicine-ball cranium. What more could she want?

H: What did you do?

PL: Ambled aimlessly with my friends on the opposite side of the road to the girls. Pointed at them and laughed conspiratorially. Kicked stuff. Smoked fags. It was pretty great.

H: Have you ever fallen in love on a first date?

PL: No, always before.

H: What did this first encounter teach you?

PL: It distilled my technique, the one I’ve been using ever since. Identify the target of your love. Move directly to the furthest point away from her in the room. Scowl. Malinger. Make occasional forays to check if she is still there, looking as poisonous as possible at all times; but be prepared to scuttle away at speed if spotted. If by some chance she happens to engage you in conversation, insult her.

H: Do you think you paid a price for these formative encounters?

PL: Yes. The price of ten Embassy Regal and a box of matches, requiring the surrender of that particular week’s Curlywurly and/or Lord Toffingham. It left me bereft in front of Saturday’s episode of Cannon but with a firm grip on the concept of sacrifice.

Sun Hee Park - Perkin Lovely

Sun Hee Park - Perkin Lovely

H: Photographic sessions with strangers are in some ways redolent of first dates, don’t you think?

PL: Unquestionably. Almost identical.

H: Which, given the visceral aspect of your work, begs the question … would you sleep with someone on a first date?

PL: A somewhat ironic inquiry given the current whereabouts of your genitals. No, it really wasn’t happening. Firstly it would have required crossing the street. And my Government Orphanage issue Tom & Jerry pyjamas were unlikely to arouse anything much more than muffled giggles, especially with Ronnie Corbett floundering in the creases. No, better to limit oneself to not knowing which of the cackling coven across Churchill Crescent is supposed to be yours.

H: Is chivalry important at all?

PL: Chivalrous sneering from afar definitely has its place. Along with the bravura demonstration of how far one can gob a loogie.

H:  Is anything else important?

PL: Possession of a febrile imagination.

H: Is there anything you unfailingly do on a first encounter?

PL: Spontaneously contract an extraordinary flora of pustular acne.

H: And anything you never do?

PL: Speak.

H: What about preparation?

PL: I think the process benefits from an exacting regimen: triple-wash and blow-dry my gossamer bangs into a frogmarched centre-parting with ancillary whitecaps of feathering racing across the rooftops of the ears. Ronnie Corbett with gullwing Barry Gibb accents. This gravity-defying cavalcade would collapse into a lank mediæval skullcap within ten minutes. Spend half-an-hour transforming honest pimples into throbbing, boiling carbuncles with a finger-nail and the arm of my glasses, douche the entire battleground with a fiery, blistering three-quarter pint of Blue Stratos, rendering everything the shade of a freshly-painted telephone box. Clamber into illegal charcoal Oxford Bags (24″ diameter bellbottoms) indistinguishable from my mother’s Palazzo Pants, sneakily undo the button beneath my fist-fat double-Windsor: Schoolboy Corbett with Blackadder do, face like a cobbled wound and a bouquet that could strip paint at fifty paces. Primed for conquest.

H: What would be the measure of a successful encounter?

PL: Somebody laughing at a funny face I pulled on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Short of that, being ignored.

H: And an unsuccessful one?

PL: Anything to the left of being ignored. Examples might include: watching my prospective partner’s face curl into a tragedy mask of disgust upon my arrival; having somebody punch me and break my glasses while my partner looks on, giggling; overhearing the words ‘but he looks like Ronnie fucking Corbett!’ from the knot of girls by the toilets; being ganged up on and bogwashed for the entertainment of the crowd and/or having my trousers and underpants pulled down, inspected for skid-marks and tossed from hand to hand whilst I scuttle around at a crouch attempting to shield my barely pubescent penis from view, all the while repeating the mantra ‘C’mon you lot, this isn’t funny’.

H: What’s the most extreme measure you have ever taken to secure an encounter with someone?

PL: Killing them and propping them up every night at the table in a ball-gown and several strings of pearls in front of a candlelit champagne dinner, before carrying them off to bed in my arms and fornicating with their dead body. Melting my penis with a bunsen-burner and remoulding it into a statuette of a Robertson’s Marmalade Golliwog. Placing myself in the expensive front row of an awful Victorian drama they were appearing in for three nights in a row in fucking Greenwich, London, which is several lightyears from anywhere, going completely unnoticed on all three occasions before skulking off anonymously to discover the Cortina’s alternator had failed, necessitating me rolling the car around the parking lot late into the night attempting a fruitless one-man bump-start. Giving up and sleeping in the trunk. Flying a thousand miles to another city, checking into a hotel, driving up and down outside the coffee shop they worked at only to drive away in panicked horror when they came out. Flying home. Renting a car in a state of bankruptcy, allowing them to drive uninsured, unlicensed and inebriated to the coast, springing for an exorbitant dinner and hotel (separate beds). Next day being dragged around endless suburban childhood haunts, grimacing though an encyclopedia of family anecdote before finally collapsing onto the beach, where it took me four hours to summon courage enough to hold their hand, a gesture they misinterpreted as me reaching for the water which they handed to me before suggesting that maybe we should call it a day and head back now. Plying the dog with Percocet then staring at its inert body wondering whether or not to go through with it.

H: Any particular ice-breakers you’ve found to be effective?

PL: “Actually I fucking hated that film” always garners a response. Also:

“I haven’t changed my underpants in a fortnight”
“Do you drink your own piss ever?”
“Do you ever come when you’re doing this to people?”
“I thought you said I get three songs.”

H: Ever been stood up?

PL: Up no. On yes. The road is usually fairly featureless until people clap eyes on me. I have returned from the lavatory to find my date had upped and made a run for it. I have seen a girl wince involuntarily, as if stabbed, when I was pointed out across a room. The first breast I was ever permitted to gingerly brush with my fingers was already being kneaded like bialy-dough by someone else. I have had a rendezvous which consisted of little more than holding a girl’s head above a pool of her own vomit whilst reassuring passers-by that “she’s okay, she just had a bit too much to drink”

H: Were you ever rejected for someone else?

PL: Frequently. In fact, unfailingly. Karys Adams, Dirty Doyenne of the Lower Sixth, having viscerally experienced the palms and digits of the entire Class of ’81, was left with the choice of me, an acne ravaged Chinese kid even shorter than me, a kid in polio calipers, a kid with chronic glandular obesity and a cleft-palate kid with Thalidomide flippers. She chose me for a fortnight, but after repeatedly bashing her teeth into my equine pearlies and snagging her hair in the joint of my glasses, she left me for Flipperboy. I wrote her epic poems in tripping dactyls and a song fashioned in the style of Nights in White Satin, all of which she spurned like cat diarrhoea, compounding the humiliation by broadcasting my manifold shortcomings the length and breadth of South East Kent. I made up a joke with the punchline ‘it’s the Last Mango in Karys’ but nobody laughed as loud as they were laughing at me.

H: Have you ever rejected anyone?

PL: Amazingly, there was a girl named Kat; a music student who my friend Barry had dallied with briefly (while I was in the same room, actually, with the lights out, trying to wrestle a manatee from Cleethorpes into an unclean half-nelson). She was about twenty, all flopsy-bright and Beatrix Pottery, from Garstang in Lancashire, so she gonged her all her g’s. Song(uh), bong(uh), tong(uh), dong(uh). Music students are all confirmed retards, having been strapped to an oboe by Korean parents when they should have been building forts or exposing their vaginas to me after PE. She would spontaneously erupt into operatic arias in full warbling vibrato, chin down, eyes bulging, trembling arm thrust out like a panhandler with Parkinson’s. Her passably ordinary appearance would balloon in my imagination into a hornéd-hatted Brünnhilde in frame-tent kaftan, gargling pebbles deafeningly. She was also gifted with a kind of rampaging psoriasis which required her to lather mittenfuls of some metallic-smelling petroleum extract onto her entire body twice a day. Like she’d gone down in a Spitfire over the South Downs. Not great. She would trowel on the Swarfega, then hop bunnily into bed and tiptoe her fingers up the leg of my boxer-shorts; a saintlike act of charity I would ordinarily have received as blesséd unction … but from an oily, radioactive green Jessye Norman smelling like a dismantled gearbox? She liked dried flower arrangements, gingham and wanted to meet my family. I don’t believe we ever touched significantly. I suspected it would feel like I was calibrating her.

Christmas - Perkin Lovely

Christmas - Perkin Lovely

H: Any blind dates?

PL: I have often wished my dates were blind, as have they.

H: Have you ever used any kind of agency or service to set up encounters?

PL: I’ve fantasized in that direction, having watched the likes of Katy Grannan post ads in the Poughkeepsie Sentinel or whatever and be swept out of her tikki hut by a tsunami of lonelyhearts eager to be free of all their togs. And the internet seems to suggest there are itinerant flocks of people out there interested in peeling off their dungarees and rubbing, scratching and oozing on a not-for-profit basis. They will pull up at your doorstep with a winnebago of vegetables and their boyfriend Helmut. They’ll fuck you, your wife, your vacuum-cleaner and your parakeet, then sashay cheerfully out of your life. They’ll greet you and your muculent other half at the door of a crowded SoHo loft wearing only a glittery cat mask on a stick and a moist Hitler moustache of pubes. Maybe. More likely they are his-and-hers avalanches of mouldering dumpling mix, with dentures from Minsk, matching unisex carrier-bag breasts and stained, swampy genitals. They’ll greet you at the front door of a tract house in Teaneck wearing each other’s underwear, their rabbi in the background humping an aging golden retriever.

H: Have you ever been proposed to?

PL: Once, by a Thai girl, Minh, who was unusually blessed with two breasts and a penis.

H: How much time would have to pass before you’d consider yourself to be in a relationship?

PL: Once the Rohypnol has kicked in and she’s bound with gaffer tape in the basement, we’re officially a unit.

An Interviewer - Sian Kennedy

An Interviewer - Sian Kennedy

(Bell rings loudly)

H: Ah, I think our time is up. Perkin Lovely, thankyou.

PL: Most welcome. If you could pop that film canister back up before you leave I’d be most grateful.

Unsheathed: Perkin Lovely was a Ronnie Corbett Sausage

‘ … was once fat, with great swathes of cellulite, folds in thighs and arms,
blubbery, utterly hairless, cross-eyed with a massive hydrocephalic cranium,
no teeth, nonexistent chin, lathered in spit-up and drool, an extremely small
penis, no balls at all, pants full of wet yellow shit. Things have improved
marginally since. Now have hair.’

A ruminative Perkin Lovely struggles (at Homily’s request) to join the formative dots of his unlikely career as a photographer, writer and fisher of men. It’s one of the many astute insights he offered when I spoke to him several weeks ago on the phone from a corridor at the medium security detention centre in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he has been given the opportunity to reflect on the trajectory of a life immersed in photography, as well as a plum job in the laundry. Perkin is one of our all time favourite photographers. We worked with him several times swabbing the 4 and 5 train platforms of Atlantic Avenue station on community service, and once forking plastic bottles from the verges of the Pallisades Parkway. The most exciting part of the process is when he beckons you over with an urgent nod (and that peculiar hissing sound he makes with tongue and incisors) and shows you the heavily thumbed sachet of personal snaps he keeps tucked in the lining of his boxer-briefs, because it feels like a Prison Christmas when you open it. There are the smartly executed pictures that he emailed you about before the police broke in and then there are always new surprises, images and ideas you would never have imagined unless you’d had a recent stint as a veterinarian technician.

Korea '09 - Perkin Lovely

Jeju - Perkin Lovely

We consider Perkin to be one of the most peculiar and stunted photographers of our generation; he also cares very deeply about a hard-drive he misplaced in a motel on the outskirts of Tulsa and was very generous with his time for this interview. The wide-ranging topics discussed were only slightly curtailed by his access to a supply of quarters, the faint awareness of third-party shallow breathing on the line and his religious reluctance to wax imperious about photography. Here is a portion of our conversation, a latterday homage to A Photo Editor’s seminal series of perspicacious interviews with luminaries of the photography industry.

~ • ~

H: You’re on your 20th week inside, right?

PL: Yeah, couple more days and it’ll be an end to shanks up the Keister.

H: ‘Scuse me?

PL: Sorry, old boy. It’s the chameleon in me. I once participated in a project to celebrate the 1996 Guatemalan Peace Accord called Thongs of the Maya. Two days soaking in an indigenous temazcal hut composing amorous limericks in kaqchikel. Back in the 80′s when I was in Bethnal Green on the Genitals of the Pearly Kings & Queens project for UNESCO, I became spontaneously fluent in cockney rhyming slang. To this day I know a complete James Blunt when I see one.

H: For the readers who, unlike myself,  have not had the benefit of participating in one of your iChat ‘Beggar My Neighbour’ cyberthons, could you describe your current condition?

PL: Furtive, metamorphic.

H: As in …?

PL: Over the years there have been several maggoty pupa, chrysalis, grub and inchworm phases. Beards, peculiar glasses, hair here, hair there. Like Carlos the Jackal. But never as yet the exulted butterfly. I’m skeptical about the veracity of the life-cycle as taught in third-form biology. Why do you ask?

H: Somehow I hoped that it would speak to the broader picture, if you know what I mean. A mutual friend of ours (was it Michael Kaye?) once described you as ‘a frowning, runty neanderthal’, which I thought was an interesting take.

PL: Well, there’s unquestionably an elemental runtish caveman theme; peering out from beneath a shelf-like brow, scuttling across the periphery of your vision, doing something dreadful with his gopher-skin loincloth. Simian, I suppose. But not in the cute banded-lemur kind of way. More in the PG Tips ‘avez-vous cuppa?’ line, an ornery stage-chimp goosing the female extras with leathery fingers and proffering a leprous bite when reprimanded.

H: You consider yourself to possess a dangerous bite?

PL: No, no, of course not. Just the snarl of one. Much more likely to retreat behind the scenery and shit my pants.

H: You sound relatively content with your condition though …

PL: Content? As if I’ve got it under control and am primed to add a few more features? A turgid bulge in the bow of my underpants that might just be deftly balled socks? Malodorus red-arsed baboon, absent-mindedly palming a tuberous phallus? No, no. Not content. Resigned. When you’ve looked in the mirror and been confronted by a verbatim facsimile of the Wikipedia image entry for Satyr, you learn to shrug and move on.

Jeju '09 - Perkin Lovely

Choi Sung - Perkin Lovely

H: Is there anything in particular that you think distinguishes you from your peers?

PL: I have a dreadful scar running like an enormous and thickly segmented worm across my abdomen. It used to be bulging and tumescent, puckered with Halloween stitch-holes, but since I’ve contracted middle-aged bloat it is now more of a long, unsightly slit, a perspiring cleft tugging unevenly at its fatty envelope like the bald, nightmarish vagina of a really fat woman. Except that it crouches where no vagina should be. I also have the glassy, semi-blind eyes of a nematode, lurking microscopically behind jam-jar glasses. Did I mention the thin skein of weasel fur that carpets my buttocks? The nails on my blunt and nubbish fingers are bitten bloody, cuticles swollen into the sore sucker pads of an Amazonian tree frog. I have the soft, prim feet of a Japanese girl, so small I can still buy shoes with flashing lights and compasses in the soles. My teeth, Arthurian shields ground down to squarish slabs: snorting mule teeth, splayed, rearing forward and outward as if to rob you of your carrots. The overall effect is of a human facsimile forged from the mangled remnants of a suicide bombing.

H: You’re a photographer – are you really semi-blind?

PL: I have the kind of morbid short-sightedness that calls for the deployment of spectacles so architecturally monolithic that they can only be held in place by an arcane system of pulleys and cantilevers. The lenses were ground from the same glass as the Hubble Telescope and have the effect of rendering my eyes no larger than summit points on a topographical map and my head several feet thinner than it actually is: entire cities can be concealed within their microscopy, whole colonies of ants lazily incinerated on camping trips. I actually have a complete canon of disabilities, most of which are psychological. But to speak of those we would need immunity from prosecution.

H: How do you cope with your disabilities?

PL: By inflicting bitterness and recrimination upon others.

H: Given the opportunity, would you make any fundamental changes in your life?

PL: Any change would likely result in the wholsesale collapse of the loosely strung third-world bamboo refugee camp. It’s effort enough to remember not to wipe one’s bottom with one’s facecloth. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind having my foreskin back, the one Judaeo-Christian dogma hacked off in the name of cleanliness (but we all know better). With that in place I’d be a third of the way to an obedient and elegently statuesque pepper-grinder.

H: In the nature/narture debate, where do you stand?

PL: I follow the maternal line, which I’m sure ignites a supernova of hellish possibility in the mind of the viewer. Common decency demands I don’t elaborate. That generation upon generation of slowly mutating genetic material can have led to this is a sad vilification of Darwin. Then again, it’s hardly an argument for intelligent design either.

Patchouli - Perkin Lovely

Patchouli - Perkin Lovely

H: Do you think you’ve changed much, over the years?

PL: I was once fat, with great swathes of cellulite, folds in thighs and arms, blubbery, utterly hairless, cross-eyed with a massive hydrocephalic cranium, no teeth, nonexistent chin, lathered in spit-up and drool, an extremely small penis, no balls at all, pants full of wet, yellow shit. Things have improved marginally since. I now have hair. But as one’s friends and colleagues slowly implode into hoary gargoyles, the journey downwards becomes less solitary. You see the palsied shock on erstwhile handsome faces as they pass you on the waterflume to hideousness. Complexions become scribble, teeth nubs, chins goitre into horseshoe airline neck-pillows, eyes like Jean-Paul Sartre’s, scalps are arid blizzards, skin suet, guts migrate south in search of rest, eclipsing pendulous, tortoisy genitals. Contemporaries – the ones who used to get the girls – appear to have run both laps of the Grand National. And the objects of their departed affections, the girls in question also look to have gone through Becher’s Brook instead of over it; now they limp on, anusmouthed, Tiresian-breasted, turkeywattle-loined.

H: Wow. Where does it go from there?

PL: Tutankhamen.

H: Or surgery, I suppose. Have you ever considered having an elective procedure?

PL: Beheading.

H: At what age do you think you were at your best?

PL: In utero.

H: And worst?

PL: Oh, nine to thirteen. I was an adult Ronnie Corbett compressed and stuffed into a prepubescent skin. A Ronnie Corbett sausage. The Ronnie Corbett version of the kid in The Tin Drum. A 50-year old bowling-ball Ronnie Corbett head slackly bobbing on the apex of a little boy’s body. People would visibly recoil when I turned around, like the dwarf from Don’t Look Now. And furthermore, I went to Military School. So there’s this shrunken Ronnie Corbett bobble-headed bantam in full parade blues marching to Sambre et Meuse, arms half-cartwheeling, fay little hands fluttering about like moths, head choked fatly into a beret. Like a terrible Photoshop South Park disaster. Really, I should have been culled with a club or left in a bag under a warped sheet of plywood.

(Cont’d at ‘Love Again: Wanking at Ten Past Three – The Lovely Rambles’)

Song of the Best Western (III of III)

(cont’d from ‘Song of the Best Western (I of III)’ and ‘Song of the Best Western (II of III)’)

She thought she hadn’t slept, but she was disoriented and vaguely aware of lightning. She squinted at a point of red light in the deep dark. What was it? She could hear him breathing, Philip, half-snoring. But at an odd distance, off and below her, on a flat rock perhaps. Car headlights smeared themselves vaguely across thick curtains, then a rush of fear as memory pulsed and fractured into half-consciousness. Not Philip. Martin. And the yellow light on porcelain, herself in a mirror, heart racing. Then the slow, deliberate lifting up, her elbows crooked, the cotton dry and bunched in her fists; now pendent in the thin air, motionless, bared; and the bold, broad stripe of vertical darkness a few feet away, so wide now, so much wider than she had thought when she’d committed herself to it. And the pin-bright sound of his activity just beyond. And then the end of his sound; the knowing; the shocking, high-frequency silence of collusion. Without breath, suspended over a tear in the silk of time, holding it, she held it, as the light browned and granulated and parched air crackled from her throat.
She jolted, spasmed, a dry gargle in her open mouth, its echo hanging in the blackness. Then his clotted breathing again, out there; and the tiny, red point of light. She wrestled the panic, fighting herself back down, down, blood humming in her ears. She lay still, her eyes set on the opaque smudge of the ceiling, a vivid pulse in her neck. She focused everything on his breathing; thick and long. But authentic. She was sure.
She pushed back the covers, quietly edging them off the bed, wriggled easily out of her nightgown, placed it by her side and laid back down. She gazed up, still, open on the wide plane of the sheet, sensing the coolish air breaking across her, pooling warmer along her neck and the flurry of her pubic hair. Time passed, punctuated only by the distant tide of his breathing. She sat up and eased her legs over the edge of the bed. Her eyes adjusted to his form across the room; an indistinct hump, clumsy, littered with scraps of clothing. His breathing rolled on in waves, oblivious. She lifted her hand and lightly touched the skin beneath her collarbone, her fingertips poised over the slight swell. She eased her fingers apart until gooseflesh rippled down her side and she tasted metal. She stood up, swallowed lightly and walked to him, slowing past the foetal curve of his legs and body, stopping beside his head. His breathing snagged momentarily and resumed, blank and even. She edged her feet slightly apart and looked down at him along the flat plane of her body, burnished monochrome in the darkness. If he began to wake now she might make it to the bathroom without him comprehending. She sank into a squat, her knees parting evenly, the curve beneath her belly close to his face. She could feel his steady breath there. His glasses were folded and set carefully above his head. She gently picked them up, unfolded them and drew her fingers back steadily on one of the frail wire arms until it snapped. And then the other. She leaned both arms over him and put back the pieces.

Perkin Lovely/The Lovely Brothers

Perkin Lovely/The Lovely Brothers

**

He was instantly aware of a presence. Instinct brought him from deep sleep to acute awareness with barely a catch in his breathing, the circumference of information sluicing him to attention, leaving his external self untouched. Right beside him and above, quite still. He focused hard on the silent hum of the air. And then feet gently parting, definitely, inches in front of him, the tiny hiss of carpet. His pulse thudded in his temples. He heard the supple click of joints and suddenly she was near, very near, sultry air pocketed on his face, fecund, unmistakable, refracting his breath. A leaning motion, the soft tang of sweat, and more, close, and the click of his glasses. He could hear her blood. A small tension above his cheek, finally giving, thin wire snapping. Once. Twice. The leaning disturbance of air again and an organic stillness.

“Abi.” he said.

Song of the Best Western (II of III)

(cont’d from ‘Song of the Best Western (I of III)’)

“Done. He’s off.” She held up the match-head. “Want to see him?”
He peered along his chest at the tiny blackened raisin, his face still slung in a protracted grimace.
“Did you get the head out?”
“Probably. You’ll be fine anyway.”
She eased herself to her feet, officially bringing all ministrations to a close, leaving him supine and glum on the bed.
“They carry Lyme disease,” he said through a double chin.
“Most don’t.”
“Which means some do.”
“Not the big ones.” She arched her back in a stretch. “Think I’m ready for bed.”
“We haven’t had dinner”
“I had some trail-mix stuff at the bar. I’m fine. Tired”
She yawned and leaned over him, pulling her suitcase to the floor. It was as casually familiar as she had been, the front of her dress relaxing imperceptibly towards his face, perhaps a foot away. The lingering atmosphere of ersatz family clinic and his guttered status as hurt child neutralized the proximity, rendering it harmless.
“Off,” she said, continuing her sisterly cheerfulness.
“Huh?”
“Off. I want to go to bed.”
She pulled back the bedspread and tossed a pillow onto the floor.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“I dunno. Go down to the bar, get something to eat.”
He was silent. She looked at him evenly.
“Sit in a chair, read a book. You can keep a lamp on. C’mon, Mart, get up.”
She moved away towards the bathroom, kicking off her sandals. He sat up slowly, pausing to survey his whereabouts before rising to his feet. He was right, there was nowhere to go. The room smelled of sulphur and burnt hair. He could hear her brushing her teeth.
“Guess I’ll go to bed too,” he said to nobody in particular.

Sarah Wilmer

Sarah Wilmer

She emerged from the bathroom and knelt for a moment by her suitcase, pulling out a cotton nightgown.
“Think I’m going to turn in too. Long day,” he said.
“Suit yourself. You might want to put it over there.”
“What?”
“Your sleeping bag. There’s more room in front of the closet.”
His eyes followed the trajectory of her pointed finger, alighting on a blank patch of carpet by the door. He snorted and looked at his feet.
“What?’ she said.
“Abi.”
“What?”
He was quiet.
“No, what, Martin?  Huh?  You’re suggesting you sleep in my bed?”
He felt a tug in his groin. Odd that she chose to put it that way.
“Not your bed. The bed. The one king-size bed in the room. We’re both grown-ups.”
“No, Martin. You sleep in your sleeping bag. That’s why you brought it. For situations like this.”
“Okay listen, Abi. We both need to sleep or we’ll be useless. That’s a bloody big bed. You’d barely know …”
“No.  No, Martin.  Really.”
“Abi, if Mum and Dad had …”
“Martin, it’s the floor or nothing. Stop, okay?”
She gathered up her nightgown and went into the bathroom. He looked at the space where she’d stood. There was a picture above the bed. The Lady of Chaillot in the bow of a rowing boat looking deranged. He loitered towards the bathroom, squatted beside the half-open door and unclipped the straps of his backpack. He heard a rustle of clothing and a cough from inside, close by. After a moment he felt her immediate presence in the doorway and he half stood, anticipating her being there. But she wasn’t. From where he was crouched he could see a corner of the bath and, a few feet distant, the bulge of the toilet bowl, her underwear discarded on the floor in front. He caught his breath as her feet, ankles and the long hem of her nightgown moved into his frame of vision, turned and paused by the bowl. He saw the hem rise, the lengthening blur of a leg as she sat down, her upper body obscured by the shower stall. He listened to the clear, bright tinkle of her urine chiming through the silence; saw the profile of a calf, a thigh and hands knotted lightly in her lap. The sound abated, gently. He heard the shuffle of the toilet roll, saw her edge forward and upward on the seat.  He felt the seeds of panic burst as, in a single, extrapolated motion the dislocated legs straightened at the knee, shifting out of profile, easing out from behind the barrier of the shower stall and turning toward him, the hem of the gown drawn up unnaturally high, clear, far above the thin skein of fur, utterly still.  Nothing moved. His pulse thumped hard in his ears. Time and fear and distant comprehension collided, fragmented, and he broke away clumsily toward the desk, the folders and brochures, tripping heavily on his backpack and causing it to slump forward with a thud. She emerged, smoothing the long cotton nightgown at her hips.
“So?” she said.
“What?” He looked up from the folders with the smile of the Madwoman.
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh.  Go to bed.  On the floor over there.”
She looked at the backpack marooned on its belly, its guts visible.
“Okay. You can have a couple of pillows off the bed.”
“Thanks, that’d be great.”
She took two pillows, fluffing them unconsciously, and put them on the floor before slipping under the covers and clicking off the light, leaving him pooled at the desk.
“Night,” she said, muffled.
A febrile silence hung across the room.
“Abi?”
Quietly, “Uh-hu?”
He paused.
“Can I turn the AC down?”
She lifted her head a fraction. “What?”
“I think I forgot my bag. But I can sleep under a coat. It’s just with the AC it’d be a bit cold.
“You don’t have a coat.”
“Well, some shirts and stuff.”
“Sure, turn it down. Turn it off if you like.”
“Thanks. G’night”
“Night.”

(cont’d – ‘Song of the Best Western (III of III)’)