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Archive for June, 2012

Smashing Winter

This collection has been another slow accumulation over the past month. A pathetic excuse it may be, but with the colder weather I’ve felt less inclined to prowl about the streets taking photographs. I say pathetic for the weather has been excellent lately – a typical Sydney winter of cool, crisp, clear days, interspersed with the occasional keen downpour. Perhaps I should blame the shorter days, and a lack of time in the afternoons and evenings.

I’m still carrying the camera with me everywhere I go – usually armed with the 18-55 mm lens. Not having been so inclined, however, to whip it out and stalk the city’s many and varied denizens, I’ve done my photography in more deliberate bursts – taking the long lens on outings to capture things with the finer glass. The switch to long-range shooting has suited me better, as lately I’ve felt more self conscious about photographing people at closer range. I’m not sure why this is, though perhaps it is a lack of vulturous practice. The “sniping” or “perving” lens allows sufficient distance and anonymity and it also takes better photographs. And on that note, here is some recent work, which I hope you will enjoy.

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I put the shirt back on the rack and gave it a last look of farewell. It was a tad loose around the middle and, being very picky about the cut and fit of a shirt, it hadn’t quite made the grade. Still, it was a Diesel shirt with a nice collar and cuffs and an arrangement of blue and maroon stripes on white which I rather liked. I decided to let it go.

I looked at the other shirt I was still holding. It was a perfectly respectable, blue, white and black striped business shirt – ideal for day to day use when teaching – the sort of boring, unadventurous, yet reassuringly generic shirt that allowed me to remain both anonymous and blandly appealing.

For years I’ve been trying to blend back into the modern world, after a long Indian summer of youth in which I rejected everything mainstream and uniform.

When, now more than a decade ago, it dawned on me just how unindividual self-professed individuals were – who proved, more often than not, to be far more image conscious than the cattle they derided – I came to understand that anonymity was, in everyday life, a blessing.

I put the second shirt back on the rack. After all, it was practically identical to another one I had at home, if slightly less attractive in its colouring and thickness of stripe. It did fit me perfectly, however – so well that my girlfriend, V, who was busily prowling through Vinnies with me, had remarked at its figure-hugging qualities when I emerged from the change rooms. I had gone in there with five shirts, hoping no one would be officious about the three-items only rule. The other three shirts occupied the same end of the spectrum as the two I’d ultimately selected, then rejected, and consequently they were now all reunited on the colour-coded rack.

I lingered a moment, asking myself once more whether I wanted these two shirts. Second hand, the two were a mere thirty dollars, yet without any urgent need, the purchase seemed frivolous unless I was utterly sold on the style and cut.

Vinnies, it is worth mentioning, is a chain of charity stores who recently rebranded themselves from St Vincent De Paul. It is also one of the greatest places to shop in the known universe. There are stores everywhere in Sydney and around Australia and their range of offerings is quite formidable. Some of the larger places do furniture, household goods and kitchenware, though many only have room for clothing, books, CDs, records and the like. What makes Vinnies so attractive is the sheer amount of stuff they sell. Inevitably, anything cool and retro gets picked out pretty swiftly by hipsters, nostalgics and various other subaltern fashionistas, but there is still plenty to choose from and every so often one gets extremely lucky.

Vinnies is especially good for business shirts, trousers and suit jackets. There are quite simply so many thousands of business shirts worn and tossed aside in the world that the average Vinnies store will have upwards of three or four-hundred to choose from. Many are at the extremes of size, and many are so awfully tasteless as to garner no consideration whatsoever. Yet somewhere in that horde there is usually a very fine garment or two waiting to be snapped up. One of my favourite places to shop is the Paddington store on Oxford Street. Owing to the very wealthy and decadent nature of the locals, this outlet regularly has high quality items on its racks. I recently purchased a fine blue and white striped Van Heusen business shirt – now a teaching staple – for a mere twelve dollars. When I got it home I noticed that it had a recent dry-cleaning tag on it. Only in Paddington would someone have a shirt dry-cleaned before donating it to the local charity shop.

Another great thing about shopping at Vinnies is the complete lack of attention from staff. They are certainly helpful when approached, but otherwise they leave you alone. As there is no hope of asking “do you have this in a different size?” or “will you be getting any more of these in?” it makes for a wonderfully free and aloof shopping experience. Another great plus is that Vinnies only sells second-hand goods, which is marvellous for the environment in a world which produces far too much of everything, irrespective of demand. This knowledge, however, is tempered by the sorry fact that people actually wore some of the dreadful things on the racks in the first place.

So, having rejected both shirts, I walked back to the counter where V. was purchasing a woollen jumper.

“I decided not to get the shirts,” I said.

“Oh, why? They seemed fine.”

“Yeah, I dunno. Just not sure I really need them.”

“But they looked very good on you.”

“Did they? Oh, thanks.”

“Yes, you looked good in them. You know, handsome and respectable.”

“Oh. Yes, but – ”

I hovered a moment at the counter. Thirty dollars was hardly a big ask, and it would add flexibility to my relatively limited wardrobe. As a clothing minimalist, I usually maintain no more than about four or five outfits – combinations to which I regularly return for their comfort, style, casualness, formality or climatic-suitability. I suppose at the very least, more shirts would add a little lee-way to the wash cycle.

“Okay, fuck it. I think I’ll get them.”

Sure enough, I walked back to the rack and collected both of the shirts.

Later that day, back at home, I noticed a small stain on the arm of the Diesel shirt I had purchased. My current fad is to soak everything in Napisan for twenty-four hours to remove the inevitable yellowing around the collar and armpits. Napisan works wonders, it must be said, and my shirts have never looked cleaner. I filled up a bucket with hot water, stirred in a capful of Napisan as directed, then preceded to soak the two shirts.

The following day, having put the shirts through the wash, then ironed them and hung them up to dry, getting ready to go to work, I took the Diesel shirt off the hanger and attempted to put it on. That something had gone horribly wrong was immediately apparent, for I could barely get my arms through the sleeves at all. What had, in the shop, been a size too large for me – a little ballooning around the middle, which I thought would be countered by wearing my favourite vest over the top – was now about three sizes too small. I managed to get my arm through one sleeve; pulled it around and forced my other arm through, but the tightness across the shoulders and chest were such that I could not do up the buttons!

I tugged and stretched the fabric as best as possible, yet it was quite firmly stuck in its new size and didn’t seem inclined to expand at all. I flexed, I pulled, I wrestled with this straight-jacket, and finally, after much effort, managed to do up the buttons. I knew already that I could not wear the shirt out, but hoped that if I wore it and flexed and moved about a whole lot, it might, given time, regain some of its former size. After all, it would ultimately be advantageous if the shirt finished up a little tighter than when I had originally tried it on.

I wore a different shirt to work that evening, and when I returned home after work, put the tight shirt back on and wore it round the house. I flexed, I stretched, I pulled, I bent, but to no avail. Not only was it uncomfortable, but it looked bloody ridiculous. And, I’m afraid to say, it still does.

The buttons strain across the chest, the sleeves hug my arms like a leotard, and whenever I move it rides high, popping open at the chest and sending the collar skywards like the headdress of the flying nun. Still, having spent so long deliberating over this purchase, having invested in it in this manner and feeling a certain fatefulness about the decision, I am determined to get the damned thing back to a wearable state. And so, for the last week, I have adopted it as my home shirt, to be worn as often as possible in the hope of loosening things up a little. It’s slow going, though I’m hoping ultimately to make some progress.

Having mentioned the saga of this shirt on Facebook, I’ve had a few tips as to what I might try. One friend, Sarah, suggested I go running in it. On Saturday evening, I did this – looking very silly indeed as I pounded around the streets of Glebe, my chest ready to burst out and my arms swinging robotically in the tight sleeves. On returning home, I took a long, cold shower, despite the winter weather, and stretched and flexed the fabric as much as possible. Having since hung it up to dry and attempted to wear it again, I found my efforts have made little difference in making this shirt wearable in public. Still, I hold out hope, and will continue to wear the shirt around the house. We’ll see who cracks first.

And so, by way of conclusion, I say to you people out there, check the washing instructions before stupidly assuming, as I did, that any shirt can be happily soaked in boiling Napisan. That is all.

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This is a rather ribald and naughty short story I wrote in 2006, shortly after moving back to Cambridge. The title is a play on the famous post-coital quote from Balzac “There goes another novel”, indicative of how sexual satisfaction can sap creative energy. It contains adult themes and sexual references, so you have been warned. I’ve edited and re-edited this over the years, including just now, but its length has been prohibitive in submitting it to journals which almost universally have a 5000 word cap on short fiction. It is deliberately “overwritten” in deference to the style of the Baroque Minstrel, a nickname I acquired on account of my excitable and exclamatory conversational style. Having said that, this is merely a lurid fantasy, and not to be considered autobiographical!

A note for non-Australian readers:

Root (noun) (verb,  transitive / intransitive) – A synonym for “fuck” in almost all its uses. “Did you root her?”; “This thing is rooted.”; “I need a root.” and so on…

 

Here Comes Another Novel…

My thoughts had long been emerging stillborn. I couldn’t shake the tendency towards irony, which is really a despicable tone in which to write. It was nothing less than a thin disguise for a bitter indictment of the human condition. I was, admittedly, appalled by the state of affairs around me and had good reason to distrust my fellow men and women, yet the results were more the bile of perforated arrogance than the sweet renderings of the high and mighty distaste I longed to cultivate.

And then, after months in the doldrums, wondering what on earth should be the subject of my next novel, I started having all my best ideas during sex.

The recovery began one autumn Tuesday. I attended an exhibition opening in Paddington in the hope of free booze and totty. The theme was the Romanian harvest and the paintings were so surprisingly good that I was swept into a mood of delicious exposition. I clung to the few people I recognised and smoked everything they had on them; snaking glass after glass of wine and sinking against the wall with milky eyes. Outside was a long, lurid sunset, deepening to royal blue. Honestly, the last thing I expected was to strike it lucky.

I was riding a conversation about Harry Tangiers’ latest stage incarnation as a highwayman when this cracking girl called Charlotte joined in. She had long, wavy, dark brown hair, fine full eyes, pale skin and thin lips. She struck me somehow as Czech. So far as looks were concerned, there were few boxes left un-ticked, so I did what I always did on such occasions – raised my voice slightly and tried to sound more emphatically intelligent.

The conversation wended its way down a jauntily colourful path; art, books, politics, booze, the need to engineer a virus that killed only fuckwits, and slowly but surely the comings and goings saw Charlotte standing next to me. Being close to the wall and awfully drunk, I leaned back and propped myself up, hoping to draw her in with a relentless stream of words. When the rest of the talkers began to drift off, probably sick of the sound of my voice, I at last secured her exclusive attention.

“Goodness,” I said, after trying in fifteen minutes to divulge all my positives without looking like the incurable egotist I know myself to be, “everyone’s gone.”

“They are closing now,” she said, peering inside the gallery. “Looks like it’s all over.”

“No more booze then.” I moaned.

“I guess not.”

“Dear, oh dear.”

“You may not be aware of this,” she said, “but there are places called pubs and bars where they sell drinks. You have to pay, but they rarely ever run out.”

“Crikey, you must be an angel.”

It seemed we’d tacitly turned this into a date. I found the prospect both brilliant and terrifying for I could not bear the thought of letting her get away, but to go further into the night and maintain the energy required to charm and woo seemed such a challenge that I longed to be cowardly. The uncertainty of it all, the hoping against all the doubts and questions, the looming and potentially devastating revelation of her marital status… I was still hanging in there with a bawdy, roiling wit, but on the brink of uncontrollable sloppiness.

Fortunately the alcohol had not only robbed me of patience, it had also left me disinhibited. Before I could believe I was doing it and reel myself in, I took the bold step of seeking certain assurances.

“If we do go for a drink,” I said, pressing keenly against the wall to sustain my leaky stance. “What are my chances?”

Charlotte smirked and raised a hand to her mouth. She laughed with her eyes and exhaled through her nose. Her fringe fell crossways and blinked away an eye, and then she laughed out loud.

“Excuse me?” she said. “What exactly are you implying?” It was playful and uncompromised, though her tone betrayed at least a hint of shock.

“I mean,” I said, “that it’s been a long day.”

“Cryptic.”

“And if I’m going to spend my precious inner reserves of will to power another drinking session, I’d like to know now, for instance, that you don’t have a boyfriend and you’re not a lesbian and you don’t have children. Because, if we do keep drinking I’ll just get to like you more than I do already and then it’ll be a blow to me when I find out the truth.”

I struggle to make eye contact at the best of times, so I followed her mouth instead as it poised and twitched, curled and pursed, decoding my words for any measure of insult. I was pushing my luck, but you don’t get a damned thing if you don’t ask for it. Or worse, you get everything you never wanted, twenty-four seven.

“You’re very calculating,” she said. “Christ, and I thought Romance was dead.”

“Romance doesn’t have to be subtle. It’s the stuff of foundations, the root of myth, the mythology of rooting, if you will.”

I was pleased when she laughed at this, and I even laughed myself. It was a while since I had felt so lyrically lucid and I could see this Charlotte might just be the muse for whom I’d been searching.

“There’s no reason why a drunken lurch cannot be construed as romantic,” I added.

“Do you mean by way of a lunge? And what if you were to miss?”

“Or, if the target fended me off with what they call, in Rugby League speak, a ‘don’t argue’? Well, even then the humbling failure might become the keystone of a later, ennobling victory.”

She put her hands on her hips and frowned and smiled.

“So, then, are you going to make a lunge or not?”

“Are you going to fend me off?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“Hang about,” I said. But I didn’t hang about. Courage comes rarely and hence I’ve learned not to forsake it. I was on a slope, steep if short, and to lean away from the wall was a significant risk after all the wines and joints. Still, her words were the nearest thing I’d had to an invitation in a while and I longed to sink my hands into her hair.

Off I went. I launched myself with searching hands, hoping by a combination of balance and weighting to step neatly into her space. Her curls hung heavy and rich, tumbling down upon breasts so pert that they seemed to be craning upwards. I tilted towards this vision of loveliness, leaning across the chasm with the grace of a leading man; natural, gliding, firm and sure, and for about three eighths of a second I was on track. Feeling ahead with my right foot, however, committed to the step that would bring me into her ambit, I came down hard on the edge of the narrow, back-lane pavement and went shooting off sideways in a ghastly flail of word and limb.

“Fuck me dead!” I cried, striking the bitumen hard.

In she came, after me like a comet tail; long legs folding, calves tucking, heels pointing and hair spilling as her white blouse erupted with taut frontage.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“No,” I answered. “That really fucking hurt.”

“Here, let me help you,” she said.

And thus, as I had so unwittingly predicted, did the mythology of our rooting begin.

______________________________________

 

Three weeks is a very long time when starting anew. It is also the best of times; fulfilment has not yet compromised the sweetness of desire and many questions remain unanswered. It took a week for our sexual rhythms to synch and after three weeks we were both champions of each other’s pleasure. Our conversations rushed with agreement, our passions found their fellows, and in each other’s space we became completely comfortable. Were I younger and more foolish I might have declared myself to be in love, but I have long since learned to wait and see. Love, lust, in love and loving – who can fathom these subtleties when they are completely and utterly cunt-struck?

And, sure enough, after three weeks, I was cunt-struck. Charlotte was marvellous – she had a high school debating prize, she wrote film reviews and book reviews, she’d studied fine arts and knew her way around an auction house – and she’d even read my first novel. I was enchanted and flattered, fulfilled and yet craving more and more. Best of all, however, my mood was lifting and the barriers were falling away – I could feel another novel coming on.

I once used to prefer to have people come to my place to be in control of the environment, the music, the atmosphere. As I got older I came to realise that it was better to pay visits in order to be in control of the coming and going. I also wanted to get out of my Glebe flat, which was beginning to feel tired, as was Glebe, and Charlotte had a wonderful, run down old art deco apartment in Kings Cross. The whole area was a thrill to walk through. I like to be titillated; hookers, lingerie, dance-clubs, tough guys and junkies; neon, trash, vomit and class. Walking past the pros and cons was a buzz.

Charlotte and I soon fell into a routine of spending time at hers. This way we both had the upper hand we liked best. Our shared vices ensured all was well; good wines, good food, marijuana, films, occasional cigarettes, coffee and of course, plenty of generous sexual intercourse.

So, one Saturday night, about three and a half weeks in, when our sexual familiarity had shifted up another gear, on the wings of two bottles of wine, having just finished a savage joint, we fell to dizzy fondling. I felt sloppy and submissive and was positively aching for a noisome wallow.

“Bedroom,” said Charlotte in caveman-like contrast to her recent discourse on Scandinavian cinema.

“Get yer kit off,” I said, standing from the couch like Superman in a mobile strip.

We made straight for the bed and feasted on what was revealed. My head was spinning in the wake of the last few tokes, yet salvation came in the form of utter commitment to pleasure, freeing my mind from all fear of nausea.

Ten minutes later I was on my knees, thrusting like a demon. Charlotte’s hair clung sticky to her back and I watched closely as the skin slid palely across her bone and muscle. Her shoulders were hypnotic; thin yet unyielding, feminine but by no means frail. The narrow isthmus from her hips to her ribs became the playground for my hungry eyes. There was grunting and sighing and no hint of holding back. I was thrilling now in all forms of sensual pleasure; muscles and joints, warm with exercise, hard as a rock, and shoulders prickling with sweat. The droplets gathered on my forehead and chest and my hands became slippery with rivulets of humidity.

Then, it happened.

I began lifting from the scene, entranced by the rhythm. The more I shovelled, the more I sweated, the more I became detached from what I was doing. My brain had been running with a sexual discourse – give it to her, thrust you ape, you barbarian, you baboon, shove and push and yes, that’s the way – the dirty talk of the lustful mind on the job in a post-porn world; only now a new voice began to emerge as I forgot somehow what I was doing and focussed instead on the motion alone in which I was caught. Soon, through its aerobic continuity, through its meditative intensity, through the driving, cardiovascular mesmerism, I lifted away altogether and began giggling inaudibly. A gate had opened and in rushed a thousand thoughts.

Fast upon the heels of a blinding flash of butterscotch came a Shakespearian figure gesticulating wildly, like a man in a blender trying to get out. Now he was happy and declaiming how so. He was chuckling and robust; a young and trim Falstaff in belching pantaloons; poignard and rapier slung from his gyrating hips. About him cowered all the trivialities; sun and moon and stars, diminished by his cheerful bombast; about his feet, the faces of a sunken audience; admiring, worshipping. As musical notes flowed physical from his lips, it soon became clear that these were the hopeful delusions of the man himself. Yet, who was he?

Before me the isthmus, the skin sliding upon bone and meat and cartilage; the silk screen for these vibrant scenes. And in my mind still far from the geography before me, this Bardic gent stood proffering his baroque exhortations and entertainments. Now he was on a street corner, unleashing his smiling rhetoric against some wrong-doers in a window opposite above a convenience store; making bold and heroic a petty disagreement. Now he was on the steps of the town hall, addressing a protest, rousing a hundred thousand cries against injustice.

Who was this jester, this troubadour, this raconteur? Who was this thespian, this demagogue, this chanteur? Who was this baroque minstrel?

I pondered these matters; thrusting, dripping, adjusting my grip; smirking, then broadly smiling. I began to giggle again, only this time there was no restraint. My amusement had been steadily growing and now ripened with hilarity. Who was this baroque minstrel? A vision of him quaffing a tankard and leering through a hundred songs of mirth destroyed my equilibrium. I erupted with laughter, spittle flying towards the wall, slumping forward, arms weakening, staggered in rhythm, divorced from sensuality by this intense distraction from what had begun as engulfing indulgence.

“What?” said Charlotte, turning in an attempt to look at me.

“Sorry, sorry,” I gasped, out of breath.

The beat was lost, but so used to the motion had I become that I did not stop altogether.

I laughed again.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Nothing, honestly. I was just enjoying myself so much it seemed almost ridiculous.”

I let my weight go fully forward and kissed her perspiring shoulders. We collapsed loosely to the mattress. I still did not wish to stop and continued with a few slow pushes. Charlotte pressed against me eagerly, yet we had come down several gears.

“Go on, then, what were you laughing at?” she asked.

“I don’t even know, honestly. It was just random. This pot is quite out there, I have to say. Maybe that was it. Either way, sorry. I felt so good it made me laugh.”

“It’s just a bit disconcerting when the person rogering you starts laughing to themselves behind your back,” she said.

“Sure, sure, I can imagine,” I said, still slowly grinding away. “I know it’s a bit ludicrous. But it had nothing to do with you.”

“Well I hope no one else was involved.”

“Ha! Touché. No, no, there was no one else involved.”

“Just a few clowns by the sound of it… Good then,” she added. “Just keep your mind on the job in future, eh?”

I smiled at her playful reproach and picked up the pace again; needing to prove now that I was serious about the task at hand. And believe me I was, for sex with Charlotte was no mere thrust and bust fest, but rather a sensual hip-dance of a thoughtful and measured nature. It was energetic, but delicately nuanced; total, but not undiscriminating. We were, after all, just getting started.

That said, despite my genuine enthusiasm, after being so merrily off with the planets I had to find my way back to Charlotte through concentrated effort. I was afraid of laughing again. For all my off-hand dismissiveness, it had been deeply embarrassing. What was foremost on my mind, however, was the revelation of this new character and a new novel. Already I could see how to use him, and already I could see the title that would focus my mental keywords.

The Baroque Minstrel!

A Novel by

The Baroque Minstrel!

I needed to come quickly so I could go and make some notes.

______________________________________

 

The following day I was home by eleven and writing like a king. My mind felt slow and cloudy, yet a clear stream ran through to my fingers. I was banging out chapter one of The Baroque Minstrel! by The Baroque Minstrel!

It was a struggle at first to recall all my ideas and shape the burgeoning outline, but once underway I was mapping like Mercator.

It was Sunday and I had nothing to do other than my own work until Wednesday. So, when five o’clock came around and I had three thousand words and a brutaliste chapter outline, I phoned Charlotte to confirm prior plans for me to visit.

I bought the wine and while Charlotte cooked I rambled for an hour about The Baroque Minstrel. We talked over character, plot, subplot, voice, length, structure. My excitement had me on my feet the whole time, pacing the kitchen, waving my hands about in a manner not entirely unlike that of the Baroque Minstrel himself.

“If you want to make him a boastful, but lovably misunderstood genius, caught up in violent times,” said Charlotte, “Benvenuto Cellini is the first thing that comes to mind. Why not model him on that?”

“Zounds!” I cried, in the idiom of my new-found late Renaissance / early Baroque mindset. “What a brilliant idea.”

And it was a brilliant idea. I had spotted Charlotte for a potential muse the moment we first began talking, which had encouraged my initially outrageous boldness. Now I could see how it was paying off.

I took her hips in my hands and kissed her neck.

“You know you are truly wonderful, don’t you?” I said.

“Of course.”

An hour after dinner, we were in bed. We’d smoked a joint with dessert and had both been in the thick of it for some time, lacking any narrative cohesion. Yet, by the time we hit the sack, things were clearing up a tad.

As was the case the night before, we soon slid into the rhythms of pleasure and found a narrative in its vital, instinctive continuity. We flicked between foreplay and fullplay, our bodies soon wriggling with the grace of well-lubricated machines, and sure enough, as had happened the night previous, my mind set off elsewhere, beckoned by a certain antique proponent of unabashed minstrelsy.

The timing was very different. I was going down on Charlotte and working busily away. I’d learned by now that despite my every trick it took at least seven minutes to get her there, and after the first few minutes, when my tongue hit autopilot and my ears became focussed utterly on the notes of her breathing, hot blood pooling in my head, it was then that I entered the realm of the baroque.

Was this wrong, I wondered, to be off away with these thoughts? Why should I not combine work with pleasure? I had not slipped a moment in doing what I loved so much to do; playing her sighs like a bagpipe. This moment really is for her gratification, more so than mine, so why should my mind not be free to outline and to plot?

Having decided that The Baroque Minstrel was to be a retro-futuristic tragi-comedy with a touch of steam-punk, I needed to make people laugh as well as cry, and that meant conjuring funny scenes, a risky prospect considering my recent misdemeanour. Already, were they not otherwise engaged, there would have been a smile on my lips. So enamoured was I with my new creation that the very thought of the Baroque Minstrel tickled my fancy.

Just don’t laugh, I told myself, recalling those high school moments of being disciplined by a teacher and, in a fit of nervous panic, pissing myself to the worst possible effect.

And then, without any warning, I was off. I choked, I spluttered, and I came up laughing aloud. Straightaway the music died.

“Oh, Christ,” said Charlotte. “I was so fucking close!”

She sounded more exasperated than angry.

“Sorry, sorry,” I said.

“Why are you fucking laughing?”

“God knows, I just-”

“What’s with all the laughing all of a sudden?” She was up on her elbows, staring at me through a tangle.

“Hell knows. Perhaps it’s the pot. I dunno. I just started laughing.”

“You must have some idea why.”

“Not really,” I lied. “Maybe it’s just being down there, you know, there’s something intrinsically funny about it all.”

“Gee, that’s a relief. I thought it was pretty serious business myself. Next you’ll be telling me there’s something fishy going on.”

This really had me in stitches and I had to sit up fully to let the laughs out. Charlotte started chuckling too and then we both had a good old belly laugh at her prime piece of wit.

Yet, the interruption had occurred all the same, and when we finally got back to things I had to finish her off with my fingers, biting the pillow.

If only these thoughts would come to me in the daytime! I’d rarely had such clarity in conjuring scenes and characters. There sure was something fishy going on, but it was proving damned profitable for my work. The Baroque Minstrel’s revelations might be ill-timed, but they were pure gold. The major concern was of course, that if it went on much longer, it was going to throw a bloody great spanner into our love life.

______________________________________

 

By Tuesday I’d hit the wall with Chapter four and wondered where to go next. Nothing was coming and I needed my muse. Charlotte was busy with work and parental catch ups and I would not be able to see her until the following night. I wanted to run a few things by her and get her opinions, but it had to wait. Plus I hoped that if the circumstances were right, the Baroque Minstrel would reveal more of his secrets.

When Wednesday came around I was feeling desperate and dry. Nothing I wrote had any merit whatsoever and when I looked at the unfinished paragraph in front of me, it was lifeless and bloated; effete and unworthy. The motor was starting to stutter…

Come Wednesday evening I was over at her place in a flash. It was my turn to cook dinner and as we chopped and boiled and fried and drank in the kitchen, I let Charlotte in on my concerns about the overall structure. I didn’t want to get too far into the novel before realising I had to rework everything. Reworking was inevitable, but it would be nice to avoid a complete overhaul.

“I’m not sure what you should do,” said Charlotte. “Perhaps you should start with his childhood after all. Or, maybe with him looking back. With the final scene.”

“Mmmm, you see how I’m torn? It’s supposed to be an autobiography, but that would bug me since he’s going to die at the end. I need to know what I’m working towards.”

“I’m sure something will come to you.”

“I hope so. It’s stopped me dead in my tracks.”

Yet, as I had so slyly hoped, salvation was just around the corner. Sure enough, with uncanny timing, after dinner, going vigorously at it, the Baroque Minstrel appeared to me as we approached a much needed mutual climax.

This time, however, there was a different interruption.

“You’re not about to start laughing again, are you?” breathed Charlotte.

“No, no,” I pushed. “Not this time.”

Though my train of thought was broken, it proved a timely intervention. She had brought me back from an epic poem of the worst kind, which was just about to get uproariously funny. It was the way the Baroque Minstrel bunched up his cheeks and broadened his smile as he geared for his whimsical punchlines. I might well have laughed my guts out, but instead I drove on. My questions about the Baroque Minstrel had been answered, and I had gotten away with it.

For the rest of the week I was writing like a madman; five chapters, six chapters… Two weeks later I was pushing on into chapter nine.

It seemed I had mustered sufficient self control to stop myself laughing and was able now to enjoy the fruits of my labours. And there was a great abundance, let me tell you. The best ideas were bursting forth during our hypnotic couplings. It was a mantra, a meditation, freeing the mind from the present by making the present so heavenly it was not to be believed. Out it all came: plot, structure, dialogue, nuances, idioms, colours, tones…

Then one evening, four weeks after I’d first erupted with baroque chortling, with my head tipped back and my hands on Charlotte’s hips, working away like a piston as the Baroque Minstrel wound up a ribald song about politicians in the context of a Milesian farce, Charlotte caught my distant eye and her features grew perplexed.

She turned back to the bed-head and we pressed on regardless, yet I feared that questions were waiting the other side of climax.

Sure enough, returning from the bathroom and standing in the doorway with a cigarette, Charlotte turned serious.

“You seem very detached of late whenever we make love. Just before, when I looked at you, it seemed as if you were elsewhere.”

“Perhaps I was in Nirvana.”

I smiled with innocent mischief.

“Yes, well you didn’t seem to be in this room, that’s for sure.”

“Well then, I demand to know the name of that man you were just fucking.”

“Ha ha, very funny. No, I mean your face. You just looked… not vacant, but somewhere else.”

“God, I hate to think what sort of face I wear when I’m going hard at it.”

“You looked like you were engaged in some private joke. I thought you were going to burst out laughing again.”

“No, no. None of that.”

It was then that I made what was likely a dreadful mistake. Feeling relaxed and tired in the aftermath, I had dropped my guard and was not forecasting; not thinking six moves ahead.

“Actually, truth be told,” I said. “I was thinking about my novel.”

“Oh, were you just?”

“Yes. I often think about it during sex.”

God knows what was going through my mind, but in that moment of light-hearted naivety it struck me that sharing my secret might somehow alleviate the nagging guilt I felt at rejoicing so often in my mind’s absence from our copulation.

“How much? Like what sort of things?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes I just solve problems. I used to do it when I went running.”

She stood naked and beautifully sinuous; one arm folded across her breast, resting in the elbow of her smoking hand.

“When you went running? So hang on, remind me what we were just doing again? This isn’t Fitness First, you know.”

I laughed to bring things back to levity. I was too tired for an argument and wanted to avoid lengthy explanations at all costs.

“No, obviously, it’s different. But sometimes I guess I think about other things. Because it’s so pleasurable, I think.”

“That doesn’t make sense.’

“Doesn’t it? Crap.”

“But what sorts of things? I mean, god, are you thinking about… I don’t even know where to start.”

“No, it’s often surreal things, like images, broader ideas, funny things.”

“Why aren’t you thinking about me?”

“Of course I’m thinking about you, my lovely. You know how much I like you. But we all multitask these days. Give me a cigarette and come here for a cuddle.”

I managed to wriggle away from these questions by trivialising their import; but Charlotte was too prone to analysis to let it go altogether. We lay and smoked and I asked her about her work in more detail to keep the subject elsewhere.

The following evening, however, with her on top of me, she held down my shoulders, paused and asked me what I was thinking.

“I was thinking about you, and how attractive you are.”

“Good answer, but way too crawly to be true.”

She narrowed her eyes.

“What else were you thinking about? Mmm? Were you multitasking?”

“Umm, no, not at all.”

“Yes you were. I can just tell by the way your eyes were halfway between me and the ceiling.”

“Oh that’s just because I always stare over people’s shoulders during sex to avoid feeling self-conscious.”

She giggled at this.

“You’re so full of shit. Go on then, tell me what you were thinking or I’m going on strike.”

“Oh, god. Okay, I was, admittedly, also thinking about my novel. But it’s like that with novels. You could work on them twenty-four hours a day so you always feel like you should be writing them. Sometimes, you end up working all day, without even being near the computer.”

“Well, at least that’s closer to the truth. So tell me what you were thinking about. Exactly, I’m curious.”

Then she added hastily, “I promise I won’t be cross.”

“And then can we go back to fucking?”

“You mean, then can you go back to work? I suppose so.”

So I told her, what the hell, I told her every stupid thing that had been going through my head for the first hundred and one thrusts…

I finished up and we got back into the swing of it, but my concentration was broken on both things. I had to change position to avoid her gaze. I felt I had revealed too much.

For weeks I had been slipping away after sex to the bathroom, taking notes on the sly as I sat waiting to urinate, jotting down the ideas that had come to mind in hasty keywords on a notepad I would stash upon arrival behind the cistern.

This time, however, I gave up on any pretence of secrecy, took my notebook from the bathroom, lay down on the bed and began to take notes. I felt curiously annoyed at her inquisition. What did it matter if sometimes my mind was elsewhere? Was I not allowed to think freely? I didn’t ask her what she was thinking. Didn’t everyone’s mind wander during sex? I was annoyed because I loved her so much. That was it. It was only six weeks in, but we’d seen each other practically every day and there was no doubting the strength of feeling. This was the only thing so far that had caused me any annoyance, and it wasn’t even really her doing. Perhaps it was for that reason that I was so annoyed.

As I sat jotting down my notes, she looked at me with unsettling blankness. She was difficult to read, which made her so much more interesting. But right now I would have given everything to know what she was thinking, only, it seemed somehow rude to ask.

______________________________________

 

Oddly enough, thus began a brief period of bliss. Charlotte’s curiosity was engaged and there were no longer any secrets. She wanted me to share my thoughts with her – she wanted to be there, riding the wave I was on, hearing about the Sun Machine and the Purple Band, the Garfish, the Golden Pantaloons and the “Magic Poignard”, the forming of the Order of the Quills, the ghastly elephantiasis afflicting his noble sidekick…

It was a time of rare glory, which, like all golden ages, seems to last forever, but is over in a flash. I’d be giving it my all, really giving her one, and then I’d hit what I’d begun to consider the creative equivalent of “the pump” – an appropriately named phenomenon experienced by body-builders which is akin to an adrenaline and endorphin orgasm – and I’d start calling out the visions like a greyhound commentator.

“I can see the Baroque Minstrel! He’s in a hot air balloon with some minor royalty. He’s dumping sandbags, but instead of just chucking them, he’s upending them, full of lollies and cash! Now he’s holding a scroll, a tapering scroll unfurling as he embarks upon another epic!”

My eyes would roam all about, up and down her spine, focussing at length on her buttocks, drifting out the window to the red Cadillac which never moved, across the harbour where at dawn the haze of gold dust hung across the echoing quiet.

Then it just became too damned strange. I felt weird and, I can assure you, Charlotte felt even weirder. The increasing need for sensationalism was undermining the clarity of my vision and preventing me from working through the more mundane problems. My writing was becoming more colourful than I wanted. Tangents were creeping in and bloating the text. Unnecessary layers were thickening the book and for all its growing scope, it began to feel claustrophobic. It also irked me that I was dominating our encounters and the only fair response would have been to allow Charlotte equal scope for fantasy. Yet where would that leave the Baroque Minstrel? I wanted to keep the product of “the pump” all to myself.

So, after a couple of weeks I brought these baroque declamations to an abrupt halt. I pared back the story, scrapped a nascent subplot, cut out a few all too keen passages and more or less got back to basics. I hoped our fucking would somehow become less complicated as well, but in the weeks that followed, there came a new snag. Charlotte began to be suspicious of what was going through my mind. Why exactly was I now disguising my thoughts? Had they become unsavoury or in some way disloyal?

I decided then and there to play a wholly new card. I lied blatantly and told her that I had stopped thinking about the novel altogether during sex; that instead I was again relishing her pert bosom as it skipped around her ribs and glorying once more in moulding her buttocks with my greedy, grasping hands.

She wasn’t convinced by this explanation and began to press me in our extra-coital conversations with questions about the novel, just to see if she could in some way catch me out. In order to up the ante and prove I was back on track, I took a new approach and began muttering long streams of dirty thoughts. Out came all the porn monologues that had once flowed so freely through my rutting mind.

Under such circumstances I was hard pressed to retain my focus. I began to anticipate my looming expressions of detachment whenever a good idea was forming fully and to head it off with showpiece passion and theatrical grunting, culminating in an endless torrent of filth. It was cogitus interruptus of the worst kind. I was making no headway and found myself choking when I sat down to write. The ideas were forming on the crest of “the pump” but they nosedived into a sandbar of porn. I needed to find a solution.

I tried everything that came to mind. I began fantasising about other women in the hope that the synchronicity between act and fantasy would link the two more firmly so I might go back to fantasising about other things without looking as if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. It was perverse logic, but I was desperate to make progress.

I conjured up old favourites; a girl I’d worked with twelve years ago in a deli, who one day had a tandoori handprint on her backside where she’d wiped herself on her white smock; a girl called Lauren in the first jazz mag I’d ever bought, pouting all frisky and Germanic; a woman I met at a bus-stop once who had liked the hat I was wearing. I fucked them all about town, no holes barred.

For a brief while I relished this wicked indulgence. Yet, apart from the crippling fact that I was still making no headway, I felt like a cheat. It was playing havoc with my conscience. I might look alright on the surface, but I was dirty inside. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just focus on Charlotte. Christ, I loved her, and god, was she ever tasty, but it had all become so complicated.

So my novel hit the wall and my agent was pissed. Charlotte was pissed because of the doubts underlying our sex-life; it had come to act misleadingly as a metaphor for our entire relationship. It might well seem as though our sexual relations were out of proportion to everything else, and they were, though they need not have been. I’m thirty seven and these days the sex usually just falls away in most relationships until it reaches an unexceptional frequency. As much as I love it, I can get by without it – without good conversation, the sex is never enough. The problem with Charlotte and I was that our sex had acquired baggage it should never have acquired; it had become a cause for suspicion and distrust. What seemed most ironic was that it was the best sex I’d had in a good many years – so good in fact that it induced hallucinations – whereas previously it had only been an issue when it was either alarmingly poor or bafflingly rare. In this case I both loved the sex and needed it for my work. I also felt an increasing need to make love to Charlotte as much as possible to prove to her that my mind was not elsewhere, all the while hoping I could get away with my mind being elsewhere. Dilemma, dilemma, dilemma. It was all the fault of the fucking Baroque Minstrel. No wonder he was laughing so much, he had the best view in the house. I looked eagerly forward to his demise.

______________________________________

 

“I’m sorry,” said Charlotte. “I just can’t. It might be ridiculous but that’s how it is.”

She wouldn’t look at me. She lay with her arms folded staring straight ahead.

“Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it is fucking ridiculous.”

I got out of bed and stormed off to the kitchen. It was fucking ridiculous, even though I was acutely aware of exactly how much it was my fault.

This time it started with nothing. Or was it with everything? We were in good moods, Charlotte was tickling my cheek with her shrimp-sifting, platypus kisses and rodentine nibbles and things were about to get underway.

“So, another threesome then?” she asked.

“Hmmm?” I inquired, not entirely paying attention.

“Is the Baroque Minstrel coming as well?”

“Oh, I suspect so,” I said, with a jolt to my heart. It had become such dangerous territory.

“You know, you could bring someone else along,” I said.

“Oh, really? Male or female.”

“Well, it’s really up to you.”

“Should I be alarmed at your not being discriminating in this matter?”

“I don’t see why.”

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk to you for the last few days. I’ve had an idea for a novel that I wanted to run by you.”

“Oh, really? Do tell.”

“Well, maybe not now. But, you see, believe it or not, I started writing a novel last year and then put it aside. Since then I’ve felt sort of awkward about it – I guess because you’re a writer and if I was crap then it might make things difficult.”

“Maybe it’d actually be worse if it was really good. I don’t know if I could handle the competition.” I tickled her as I said this to indicate I wasn’t serious, though perhaps on a certain level I was.

“What do you mean?” she said, sounding fierce. “You’d prefer it if I was crap so you could feel superior all the time? Why does that not surprise me?”

“No, no, really I was just kidding.”

“No you weren’t. All your jokes are just thinly disguised criticisms. It’s when you’re so-called joking that I take you most seriously…”

Thus began the new ice age a few fringe scientists had so long been predicting. It was one of those terrible times in relationships when sourness colours everything rightly or wrongly. Charlotte’s criticisms were genuine and based to some degree in truth, while my defensive barbs were equally well founded. Yet, whereas we might well have joked about our differences or our areas of selfishness, few though they were, and gotten on with celebrating the many more things we had in common, indeed the many things which had caused us to declare at last that we were in love, these few negatives had blown clean out of proportion and come to dominate everything. Charlotte was overreacting, yet at the same time I kept saying things that could be construed as provocative; misconstrued, in my mind.

I went into enforced hibernation as the winter crept dryly in. We avoided all dialogue about the state of affairs and this allowed things to proceed with civility and tact at the very least. Yet, it appeared as though the damage might well be permanent and I despaired to think that a relationship, which, I hoped, had the potential for permanence, might collapse after only six months. I needed to clear my head and think more carefully about everything that had passed between us. Without wishing to ask for or genuinely believing in the benefits of a negotiated period of separation, I pleaded the encroaching end of the Baroque Minstrel and the need to knuckle down in order to buy some time.

On the subject of the Baroque Minstrel, fortunately, the rotten mongrel bastard was about to be polished off. For, despite all the mental anguish, mind games and fantasies, I had at last seen my way clear to the end of the novel.

Charlotte seemed happy to have some space as well. I hardly saw her for the last two weeks of May during which time I cancelled everything else and wrote all day. My discipline was back and I locked out the booze and the smoke to maintain my terminal charge.

And then, one Tuesday afternoon in early June, I put the Baroque Minstrel out of his misery. Down he went, fleeing from overwhelming numbers, caught by a backstab in a final drunken hoorah with neither his ego nor chivalrous bravery diminished one wit. The last sound to echo from the pages was the resonant clatter and hum of his lute as it banged to a wooden floor.

I phoned Charlotte immediately and told her that the Baroque Minstrel was done for. She sounded much more pleased to hear from me than she had when we spoke two nights previous. I was overjoyed at her cheery tone. I went straight over and she met me in the doorway in a shift. She looked as languid and sexy as ever; physically at ease and without the underlying tenseness of our last few encounters.

“I’m so happy for you,” she said, kissing me and making me so pleased that I blushed. “It’s been a lot of hard work.”

“It sure has.”

“I’ve been working on my own novel as well, you know, these last few days.”

“That’s marvellous!” I said. And so it was.

We moved inside and did not fuck around. We smoked a fat joint, went straight to bed and got right into things.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with the way things were turning out. Everything seemed just as it was at the start; both of us hungry and shameless. It had been at the back of my mind that completing my novel might bring about a change, but this was far better than I had hoped; with the Baroque Minstrel wrapped up, all the baggage was falling away. It made me realise just how insidious was his presence in Charlotte’s mind; having come to symbolise all her misplaced feelings of jealousy or inadequacy, just as he had come to embody my frustration and selfishness. I believed it was now possible for a full love renaissance to bloom; stripped of the distrust that had plagued us.

My eyes roved across the sheer delight of Charlotte. Not only did I love her, but I was free, at least for the moment, from the pressing worry about work. Our nascent romance had spawned the Baroque Minstrel and then been inextricably caught up with him. At last, cut loose, it was ecstatic in its own right.

I stepped up the pace and clutched the bed-head for extra strength and depth. Charlotte urged me on and my face stretched into a rictus of pleasure. I ploughed on; pelvis arching and sinking; my left hand clasping and my right propping her legs apart, her left leg hanging like a coat across my forearm. It was a magic fuck, hitting its strides and both of us gulping for breath.

Then, sweating and relishing the clench and strain in my tummy, my body turned liquid as I burst into “the pump”. My eyes were closed and our stomachs slid smoothly through our sweat, I was locked into the pace now, thrusting like a hydraulic engine, rocking back and forth like a feeding pigeon, and yet, as had happened so often in the past during “the pump”, my concentration was suddenly broken. For, with no apparent provocation, Charlotte began to giggle.

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Firstly, the title. I’ve spent the last month working with my good friend developing the season outline for a television series – about which I must remain zipped. Anyways, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog, on account of our different approaches to plot developments and scenes, we have given ourselves the nicknames Dr Fantasy and Mr Plausibility. He’s Doctor Fantasy, and I’m mister Plausibility, despite, I might add, the fact that I have a PhD and he doesn’t. Anyways, we were recently moot on the idea that we ought to form a more permanent collaboration and register as Plausible Fantasy Productions. Whether or not this whole idea is fantastic or at all plausible is the real question. Anyways, there you go.

Below is a collection of recent and not so recent photos – more vignettes than stunners on this occasion, but I like them all the same.

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