Knowing about these books is not enough.

She Wore A Deerstalker And Very Little Else
She always fancied herself as a female version of Sherlock Holmes, not Miss Marple so much as a tall, willowy brunette with jodhpurs, whip and meerschaum pipe. And, of course, deerstalker. Always there even if never there.
That was her self-image, and I dare not describe her for real, in fear of misrepresenting any woman’s shape and size. These days such characteristics are taken as read, inferred not expressed or exposed. Men of all shapes and sizes and degrees of ugliness are fully possible, however. Fiction should be on the side of truth. Reality has no respect for its own repercussions. Fantasy is for fun-lovers who live dangerously.
So, we shall work with her objective image rather any competing subjective one. We shall start with a blank canvas, completely starkers as the day she was born, with every crime scene cleared of people so that nobody could see her nude. Untouched by nerve agent or self-suspicion. And she gathered clues galore and eventually put them together without the need for interviews or even glue to affix modesty feathers, thus producing the perfect solution, with all the plug ugly culprits, as they turned out, condemned to their own self-created abyss of deserved justice.
We shall honour her as the woman who stripped crime to its bottom-bone. The one who trapped evil behind her own sure lock of self. The optimum stalker of all our dear starkers crowning the ugliest of birthday suits ever seen.

Someone offered a prize for solving the mystery of whether unicorns existed, knowing full well that they didn’t. An actual unicorn heard this and offered itself as proof. Except it discovered that when coming into public view, its optimistic, thrusting horn immediately vanished. So it failed to win the prize.

Even Sherlock Holmes failed to solve the mystery. So, the deerstalker was placed discreetly over where the horn should have been poking out.

That made it one all,
Lost its horn but gained a life as a horse,
Making it quite as cool
As a unicorn
If without its horn.
It stared at her,
For her to see it by return,
Eyes each side of the invisible horn,
Its squinting to make its horn return
Or at least appear as a horn to itself
Making it feel less a horse
And more a unicorn of course.
But can a horse hide or condense
A real horn within an invisible one?
Yes, it had to itself not lied,
For there it was, a second horn born.
Making two not one.
One all, one each side
And the prize was surely won.
Not an imaginary hog with twin tusks
But more a real unicorn with no horn,
But two invisible ones each side.
One all, a draw, a drawing of a unicorn.
Its horn not shorn but singled out by double vision,
Less a false horse and more a unicorn
By this version of verse reborn.
Better that than any fabled prize.
Makes her feel not dense but wise,
Not ugly but simply nice.

She took the deerstalker from his horn and smiled. A sleek beautiful male unicorn, after all. Elementary, dear Holmes, give me a kiss, he said. One in the eye for you. That made it one all. And all of us one. The last musketeer.

Trouble in the Backwaters
This was not about the terrible disease from which old men have often suffered. This was the only story where the Famous Five children and those from Swallows and Amazons appeared together and declared war in support of their own author, Enid Blyton children versus Arthur Ransome children, taking place in the ‘secret water’ of Walton on the Naze when the 1950s were truly the 1950s and not an excuse for some monochrome nostalgia about such an era.

Julian, George, Dick and Anne versus Nancy, Bridget, Titty and co., with boats bobbing and weaving between the tall shrimping sheds. But there was very little engagement of forces as each character gradually meandered off to do their own thing, either singly or in pairs. Sometimes cross-booking in weaving cahoots. None of them really caring about the next exciting adventure of smugglers and spies and the even deeper backwaters of their readers’ imagination.

One of them, not sure which one, with a jam jar as vessel to secure for himself (I think it was one of the boys) a tiny stickleback fish to swim around in some of its own surrounding water before it expired a few days later and floated on the oily gritty surface. The boy, if it was a boy, dodged between the shadows, fearing that older boys — some with the beginnings of facial stubble — might follow him for whatever reason, perhaps to entice him into a shrimping shed or to take him on an adventure that was quite beyond his capacity to understand.

He sometimes spotted one or two of the other children from the books; they were floating pieces of wood near a houseboat like would-be Pooh-sticks. One of them suddenly fell in the mud and that was possibly the last thing that the child ever did. And as soon as it grew dark, the boy, if it was a boy, saw a man and a woman singly weaving around the backwaters to see if they could find one of the children they had lost and to bring him back to book. Neither knew whether it was the man’s imagined child or hers.

Instead, the man and woman found each other. And fell in love, and that became more than just everything else concerning the course of what they later wrote, or didn’t write, whichever alternate world happened to prevail. Their lostling child became a changeling, became one of the old men within his own mysterious backwaters. A time and a place too silent and dark even to have trouble in.

That Made It One All
Writing words to mean something or mindlessly drawing them. Read this or view this and see.

‘One all’ is a funny expression, is it not? It might be a score draw, it might be a way of saying you were quits with someone regarding a dispute, it might also be about winning a whole war where if you won one battle you ‘won all’ future such battles that now no longer needed to be fought. I suppose that is what this is all about. Not the score draw where you win one battle each, one goal each, as it were. Not coming to an agreement with someone without any battle at all, where the war did not even begin, as one of you gave in on one crucial point and then the other one of you gave in on a different crucial point, at which moment of agreement you shake hands. Not even a single battle to suffer, because if you do enter battle, one of you risks being defeated and maybe even being killed, or both of you being killed as in a perfect draw of firing guns in a dual deadly duel, where there would have been in hindsight no point in having a battle at all with both of you now lying on the tussocky ground in the steaming heat of summer. Both your brows still frowning with concentration as an imprint of when you originally took aim at each other an instant before being killed. The two barrels smoking like metal cigars.

So, yes, I never thought I would ever be able to say to someone after a duel something like what it says at the head of this page. “That makes it one all.” Nor could I ever imagine listening to someone saying to me : “Well, that made it one all.” One of us at least would be dead. But if one of us were merely wounded, I can conceive of a score of one and a half to a a half. Or a larger or smaller proportion of a whole versus its subtraction from two, but that would be dependent on the severity or not of the wound. But that would never be the end of the story. That would never be the final score.

Of course, and I never thought of it until now, the wound may eventually be a fatal wound, one with a greater or lesser degree of the speed with which it would finish you off, and you would never know the final score unless you believed in Heaven, and depending on the beneficent nature of Heaven, you might consider yourself to have won the match after all by an even greater number than the one you started off with. A margin even greater than that between any possible competing numbers. Not a single battle, not a whole war of battles, not a perfect balanced duel of duality, not even a Holy Trinity beyond anyone’s ambition of unravelling, not this, not that — and because winning and losing are irrelevant in any battle of existence without gods or goals, you wonder why anyone bothered to write on this sheet of paper at all.

Somehow, though, by writing this, I feel I have at least won something. A fraction of self regained. Or merely managed to cover up an emptiness.

My sweating brow is still creased in concentration. Nothing to celebrate, unless, by confirming that you have read this, you will effectively break cover, thus giving me a gun to smoke.

But then, in hindsight, we needed a tie break. The first one of us to draw won all.

The Wonky Eye
The man wearing an eye-patch stared at me.

The white of his single visible eye was strangely clear to see from where I was standing. It was riddled with red wriggling thread-worms. Its pupil seemed to be a grey weeping pustule or the leading edge of something that I imagined to be knotted brain extruding from further back in the skull. The eye was ringed by hardened ridges of blackened flesh which gradually became pinker the further such ridges reached from the eye socket itself. Because of my startlement at this sight of the man’s “good" eye, I was really prevented from noticing much about the rest of him. The distance didn’t help much, either. But I found myself wondering that if this eye was visible and open to sight, what possibly could be concealed under the patch on the other eye and I shuddered inwardly. What did it prevent me from seeing? Indeed, what did it prevent him from seeing with that eye, too?

I was stationed in the posh Lounge of the pub from where I could barely otherwise discern his shape in another Bar, but I did manage now to see the half of bitter he was nursing. It was the Public Saloon viewable through an archway from across the Lounge’s serving counter — so it was astonishing that I could see his eye at all.

I must have been staring at him...

He winked...

Abrupt as that—without warning.

It was not simply a cute quick flash of the single visible eyelid, but more a slow motion retraction of his soul behind the gnarled ribbing of a tiny wing, as if a creature lived in his head, rather than a brain. It was as awful as that, and worse.

The preservation of personal and communal sanity forces me to take half measures. So, no more of the wink.

He beckoned me from the Lounge by slowly bending and unbending his finger. I had never been in the Public, so I expected spit and sawdust on the floor. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ambiance almost bearable But the drinkers themselves were decidedly second-rate, a shaggy collection of human wrecks—derelicts who raised their heads in a desultory fashion as the swing-doors continued to clatter together behind me.

Their faces did have the requisite appendages such as noses, eyes, mouths and so forth, but their utter mindless blankness could not be concealed behind such disguises. One snorted into his tankard, dislodging his flat cap in the process. Another waved imbecilically as if he and I were both long lost bosom pals. A third revealed the ugliest toothless grin I'd ever seen, as if I were the stand-up comic come to entertain them.

The winker with the half-pint, though, did not turn back to see me, having turned away while I was finding my way between bars. He knew that it was necessary for me to approach first. The fact that I had come this far at least told him that.

It was then I noticed that his half-pint had become fuller than before. Surely, he had not had sufficient time to finish the previous beer and order another in the odd few seconds it had taken me to leave the Lounge for the cold street and back into the pub through a different door.

Gingerly, I approached nearer to him, so close I knew he must have been aware of my presence. The floorboards seemed to crunch under my feet.

Even at that late stage, I need not have tapped him on the shoulder.

Surely, I could have slipped out of the Public without further repercussions.

He revolved like a clown's head on a seaside pier with a two-way neck, his wide mouth gaping up and down—for me to toss a ball in—to win a teddy.

The face turned away again without turning back ... too fast even for surprise. I had simply glimpsed a tiny knife-blade sawing from within, as it cut a raw-edged path through the gristle around the eye-socket, that socket which I had already seen from the other bar. Something must have been wielding the tiny knife from inside.

I then watched as he hung his eye-patch from one of the empty tankard hooks above the bar—now looking like a flat spider with its legs all running into one.

The second revolution of the head was slower this time.

Love at first sight.

But that was before he saw my wonky smile. So much worse than his wink.

Sugar With Your Arsenic, Dear?
The West End was teeming with people, some with heads that stood out from the crowd, heads with large defined faces, upon taller bodies than most. The rest faded into their own background, individuals, some so small they must have been infants, others so thin they vanished behind lampposts, some others so fat they were too wide to make out that they were people at all, difficult to differentiate them from the the amorphous masses of their own rain-sodden coats, more like mammoths or whales than people. Yet others indistinguishable from old lace.

Meanwhile, one of those with a big defined face pointed to one of the theatres with which this part of London was crammed side by side, a theatre with signs and colliding lights, showing outside the production being shown inside.

“Look, that’s the one!” said the big defined face. “Sugar with your arsenic, dear? Sort of a spoiler that gives the game away, as it says it is a whodunnit.”

One of the small indefinable objects that walked beside the big defined face piped up: “I don’t want to see that! I don’t want to see that! I want to see something better!”

Before long, even the big defined face merged or faded into a new set of crowds masquerading as masses that had erupted from an opening to the underground. And that’s the last opportunity we had to follow that little story within a story, that domestic little squabble engulfed and subsumed by a swarm of other folk taking over the story and the street.

Many, by now, were edging away into the theatre, as if being slowly sucked through its doors like a flow of molten flesh, a few faces still floating above it, evidently eager to see the play that earlier ones had discarded. “Sugar with your arsenic, dear?” was now all the rage, except for those who had split from the main swirl and passed it by in favour of another theatre that they hadn’t even booked. Some others vanished back into the underground, some wedged between the sliding metal gates... evidently there was an emergency down there and nobody else was allowed to descend, which makes the end of this story even more ironic.

Many were left to mill about on Oxford Street willy nilly, perhaps looking for the HMV shop that they once remembered had been situated there. But that is yet another story.

A seated woman, so still, she could actually be defined as discrete, her face clearly etched with age and stained with pink-tinged tears. Perhaps a bag lady, unless the bags surrounding her were children she once had. If you lowered your big face down towards her to hear what she was saying, words picked out with shrill tones to differentiate themselves from the hubbub, then you might just catch the tail end of what she said. Not too dear a tea, but with two sugar cubes, please. A carton will do. With a visible question mark as a tattoo somewhere on what you assume to to be a cheek. And one of her bags collapsed, fell apart in the rain, becoming soggy between the audible sobs. Until the last sob was heard. But there was nobody there now to hear it, except perhaps whoever writes this about it all. Can’t tell where the writing ends or starts. The street was empty of movement, other than a pair of cheeks, one tattooed, bulging as if they owned a life of their own. Not arsenic, but some Russian agent.

The Wand of Youth
“Do you see that young man again, Wendy?”

“Was he the one who we saw about ten minutes ago? You called him Peter, didn’t you, after the man’s name on this bench? Dead now ten years? See, yes, ten years ago. Rest in Peace: Peter Glidder ... 1961 to 2008. You called him Peter something-else, didn’t you, as the name of that young man who just passed by here. I wonder where he’s going? He looked lost, didn’t he?”

“Too young for the likes of us, Wendy. I reckon he was born at least sixty years after we were.”

“Ooh, I could still do with him in my bed. Tee hee.”

“Oh, you’re awful. By the way, what’s he doing. He’s looking at us in very peculiar way, isn’t he?”

“He’s just put his hand in his pocket. Why is he wearing gloves on such a warm day, I wonder?”

“He’s coming nearer.”

“Ooh, never near enough for me. Tee hee. Perhaps he wants to pick one of us up. Take us for a night on the town, before taking us back to where he lives..... God, what’s that he’s just chucked at us? Making me cough.”

“He’s scooted off now pretty smartish.”

“What a thing to do. It’s like that sparkledust we had at Christmas in the old days. Just as if Tinkerbelle sprinkled it.”

“I wonder which one of us he wanted to make vanish into clouds of lost memory. That’s what my old Dad always said, when he couldn’t find something. Magicked away into lost memory, he said. It was always happening to his spectacles. God rest his soul. Now we still have his spectacles, but he himself has gone forever, beyond even lost memory itself. Ah well. Makes you laugh, somehow, because if you don’t laugh, you cry.”

“Peter’s coming back. Look. We should complain at him throwing dust at us. Is it him? It looks like him? I wonder if it is the ghost of Peter Glidder? And if he’s a ghost, we might see other ghosts, ghosts of people we once loved. Like someone coming back to look for their spectacles. They might need them in Heaven.”

“It’s not him. I am sure Peter had a beard. And this one has a hat. Just as young, though. Just as good in bed. Isn’t that what they say these days? We used to walk out with men in the old days. We went courting. Wooing. Now they do all manner of rude words to each other. But they daren’t touch each other in case they can’t read each other’s signals proper. The signals, you know. The signals are everything. What people intend or do not intend. Otherwise don’t touch, rude word or not.”

“What are you talking about? He’s staring at us, wondering how we are still here after he threw the magic dust at us.”

“He looks older now, but it is him, though, isn’t it?”

“He don’t look so young any more. But it is him.”

“He still seems sixty years younger than us.”

“Got our name on the bench now and different years. Look at its label, Wendy Wandy. Same year of birth for both of us. Good to know at last who we are. Scoop some of that dust up. Throw it back at him.”

“Bet he’s still good in bed. Resting easy in his bed waiting for us. Hope it strengthens him. Gives him pluck to come nearer. I’ll throw the dust from here. Can’t seem to stand up any more. I feel as if I am part of the bench. Or it of me. Let’s hope the dust’ll reach where I throw it. What do you think? Eh, are you there, Wendy? Are you there? You are awful. Indeed, is anyone at all here? Better throw it now, before I can’t even hear myself talk or raise a hand to my burning face. Dust to dust, I say... rest in pieces, tiny tiny pieces. Clap hands and you’ll know someone is watching, and being told about us. Told about us by what we say to each other. But don’t touch anyone, whatever you do, don’t touch.”

Who Won?
The grizzled cove came into town under his chimney hat. In those days, the purveyors of queer medicine rode ramshackle wagons swaying from side to side, ill-balanced between large leaning wheels, hauled by horses as small as mules. Horses that looked like giant rats from certain angles. Even his whip was as untidy as the wagon, its end frayed and with handle wrapped in stale open-pored leathery skin.

He had come to sell you something you ordered via the good offices of Wells Fargo and several telegraph poles ending in his (god)forsaken warebarn near the thistly thirsty canyon. You watched his wagon teeter into view between rocks that looked as if they had been placed there by a secondary scenery crew for a black and white Tex Ritter film.

As he got down from his creaky perch at the front of the wagon, he patted the scrawny beasts in horse-hide. And he waved a garish box in front of him for you to inspect. Up close, breath smelt more between you both than when separate, no doubt.

You do not know what he thought of you, as there was no description in his eyes. Nothing to pick out you and your hovel as backdrop. Nobody was alert enough to see you were almost dead in the sweating sun.

“You wanted this?”he asked with his contorted drawl.

You nodded as best you could. Difficult when you have scabs on the chin and something indescribable where the chin rested.

“Is it easy to win?” you managed to release from between impetigo-glued lips.

Yes, sit down and we shall try it out, you and the cove in the chimney hat with queer medicine to barter. To save one of us from the last gasp saloon.

He opened the box and a spark disrupted your misery for a nonce as you saw it contained hybrid items enough to fit out Snakes & Ladders as well as Ludo and, laughably, for this weather, Draughts. With bright colours and a shaker that rattled like diseased lumps inside a skull. Amid the endless whining of thistles and autonomous thirsts. Hissing snakes and snapping rungs.


“Who won?” you asked the new air between wads of fresh spittle.

But as ever, nobody was there to describe any outcome, sadly, except you. So why ask, you ask, this time silently.

All that you heard were the ghostly echoes of sporadic dice and crepitations of sand scraping across your dead skin.

Then, maybe, the trundle of a wagon sloping off for another game with another poor soul like you.

Then, even you left me. You, too. Left me moving onward within airless horse-hide toward the sickly rocking horizon. The Weirdmonger’s wagon hauled behind me.

Death in the Attic
It was meant to be in the roof, of course. But that was not a given, because there was no easy way to find a door upwards into its cavities. Hey Joe, the latest hit by Jimi Hendrix, was playing on Pick of the Pops when Mrs Omaha again mentioned the status of her home’s attic.

“It’s gone.”

“What’s gone?” I asked, knowing full well the answer to my question. Since she had reached her 70th year, she had specialised in recurrent identical statements, all of them referring to the supposed missing attic.

“Let’s spend the night together.”

That was not Mrs Omaha - or, me, for that matter. It was the next record being played on the wireless. It was considered to be a very naughty record in those days. I need not tell you it was by the Rolling Stones. Or perhaps I do. Matthew and Son was soon to be the next one. And Mrs Omaha’s cat she called Steven wound itself round the chair leg, mewing against the noise. Not very good wireless reception, with there being much static on the medium wave, no doubt caused by someone electric-mowing outside somewhere. The much complained-about neighbour. The static sounded even louder than the mowing.

After a long considered delay, and with brows creased, Mrs Omaha elicited a noise herself. A ptcha or a tut. Not sure which. A cluck of the tongue, at least. That filled in for a thousand words I had heard from her during previous visits. Over cups of tea and choice iced slices.

Steven was now upon my lap - to make a change, I assumed, from curling up like a black rose on hers. Those thousand words, by the way, incorporated references to an attic in this house, one which she once told me when I first visited her she knew as a child, sometimes even as a young woman. Never much beyond that time of her life and never earlier than her third birthday. I guessed that was because memory never existed that far back, never much before the third birthday, and now upon her 70th year, the memory she retained did not seem to last much more than as a moving part of time stretching from twenty years ago to about a week ago.

An attic, she said, that could be reached from one of the landings at the top of the stairs. Full of bric à brac, she said, and old toys she played with from the ground zero of her life. I don’t now remember which of us first used that rather odd expression, but it seemed to suit a certain no man’s land of life before memory was able to begin.

I had gained the impression that the Omaha family had closed up any such attic following a police investigation about an event, deliberate or accidental, that had occurred there. But I never managed to get her to clarify it to my satisfaction. It was something I am sure she ached to tell me - if she could. But I did wonder whether there was a scar left where a door or some other sort of hatch had been sealed up. There were two main landings to consider and I had often, whilst on reliefs, stood at each position staring up at the ceilings and imagined all manner of shapes and sizes of decorative realignment. I had also stood outside staring up at the top of the house to gauge where the attic must have been when it was an attic.

“I am a believer.”

That again was neither of us speaking but just the last record on Pick of the Pops. The number one record that week by the Monkees. (Double e not -ey.)

I heard the loud click as Mrs Omaha switched off the wireless after the record finished. Even so, I tested out the thought as I stood on the optimum landing examining the optimum ceiling, repeating the words of the last title.

Mrs Omaha called up the stairs, asking if I was alright. I did not reply. I had clambered up somewhere she would never find me, as if I wanted to be the last memory she ever had.

The last sound had been just the cluck of a tongue. Oh my, no one ever died in that house. Only memories of them and who they were, or still are.

I crouched up there on the open rafters with Joe. Hopefully, Matthew, too. Maybe others. Surrounded by the purring of Steven. One night all of us together, at least. I shall go eventually even higher towards the roof and change the main title to a new one. It never represented a familiar enough song you could sing, anyway.

The mowing suddenly stopped outside.

Seventy Skeletons
The crew of them came for me. They somehow told me that their on-going job was to cast a net for everyone who was celebrating their 70th Birthday. I looked them straight in the empty eye sockets and asked how they knew I was 70 today? One of them clicked and rattled and shook its jaws like castanets, as if it knew something I didn’t know. A sound and look that patronised me, a supercilious attitude of superiority over a mere human being like me who was still alive, if barely so at my advanced age, an age that had advanced one ratchet of years that very day. Without further delay, the crew gathered around, one of them hauling me up by the armpits upon bony appendages. Another pincered me in my most vulnerable spots with fleshless fingers. Yet another held my head in position with what had once been its own huge yawning mouth that had no jaws left at all. Lifted thus not upon a crew but now a cage of bones, I found myself upon a stretcher or rack of tessellation into the open sky... “Why, oh why?” I shouted. “Because you are seventy,” they answered in unison, despite their apparent lack of lungs or sound-boxes. I then saw God, Himself a giant skeleton, as I was hauled and heaved slowly, ever so slowly, towards His opened bones of arms. “Seventy, Heaventy, Heaventy Poo!” the skeletons sang. This is death, I thought. Until I realised I was dead already and had become part of the interwoven skeletons lifting my body up, lifting me up, as if forever. “Seventy, Heaventy, Heaventy, Poooo!”

Black and Right
Black and Right
Black and right, black and right,
Back to night, back to night,
Empty well on the left, coloured in light.

What did he say? Sounded like lines from nonsense nursery rhyme verse. But does a nursery give out sounds like nonsense? Quite easily, she replied. When a nursery full of toddlers hold sway. A whole sway of tiny human beings learning to speak for the first time, speak if not talk. To talk is to interact. To speak is to hold forth as if to oneself and if anyone speaks back, so much the better. However speech as noise can impart emotions at least, he says, a sort of communication more meaningful and target-seeking than real words. Even music means things. Sheer music with no words.

White and left, white and left,
Hard right then left, stood bereft.

What did she say? Sounds like a couple of lines from a song, a recent one by Scott Walker or by David Bowie from the depths of Heaven, he says. She looks askance. Can Heaven have depths? She stares at him. He stares at her. Silence can hold a wealth of meaning, richer than noise, richer even than targeted meaning itself. We have regressed to nursery school, he with a shyness, she with an arrogant look. We then return to the grown-up world, wondering what was said last and which of us said it.

Empty and middle, empty and middle.
Hard nothing, then a muddle of middle.

We had said it together. He with a swagger of pride, she crestfallen and done. The words matched, but our emotions did not. School sweethearts, now we are old. But who will be the first to go? Who will be the first to never come back?

Back and light, back and light,
Dark is black, sometimes white.

Back where, he asks? She is silent and sad, so silent and utterly sad. He had not spoken at all or she had not heard it.

Black is not black, white is not white,
And wrong the only middle between left and right.

The nursery is empty, the nonsense is dead, and meanings have left the room. Talking is unheard, speaking unspoken, and faces just the ghosts of those we once hoped to be.

I know I’m right, I know I’m right.
Back hard on the left, stood bereft.

Which of us is me? Which of us is either him or her? And who asked you to ask us, anyway? Nonsense is best, after all. That is what we do best, after all. After all is said and done. And what is left is just the music. Sheer music in the middle of muddle.

Neither left or right.
Nothing is black, nothing is white.
Black to write, black to write,
Empty well on the left, coloured in night.
Leave foot forward, left then right.


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