I like the grammar test and I’m not (too) afraid to say it

A well-written and thoughtful piece by one of my early mentors.


I am going to say something controversial now: I like the Year 6 grammar tests. Before you think I’ve lost my mind, let me explain myself. I think having a close look at the nuts and bolts of the English language is no bad thing, as long as it is done in a meaningful way, and that really is the essence of everything I am about to say: that it has to be meaningful.

But how can it be meaningful, to learn about fronted adverbials, the passive voice and the suchlike? What meaning does this have to the typical everyday life? That is an important question to ask, because to question it is to home in on what is being taught to the youth of today and how it is going to benefit them, because surely this is what education is all about: to improve us and enable us. Therefore, it…

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The Cheltenham Parish Discipline Project – by Louis Gilman & James Knight


As the Cheltenham Parish Discipline Project celebrates its 400th year this summer, Cheltenham residents will be flocking to a series of events organised by BBC radio 4 designed to commemorate this ancient institution. I’ve got here with me in the studio the Reverend Peter Summers – member of the Cheltenham Parish council and self-confessed amateur historian. Hello, Peter!

Hi, Susan!

If we could start, Peter, by giving listeners who may not have heard of the Cheltenham Parish Discipline Project, a brief introduction. 

Well! Er … where to start? (laughs) The original project was started here in Cheltenham, some think as early as the middle of the 1450’s and it originally began as a way of re-educating younger, wayward members of the parish. You know, someone would inform the vicar that a son or daughter or friend of the family had ‘strayed from the path’. This would typically be something that we now might consider relatively minor – keeping the company of members of the opposite sex, staying out too late, drinking, etcetera.

The vicar would then set a date and ask members of the parish to herd a group of these wayward children into the church, where they would undergo various forms of correction. This ceremony would have been presided over by a figure known as ‘the goodgrace’. This wasn’t an actual person per se, but more of a title bestowed upon a senior member of the parish who was particularly known for their moral uprightness. This person would then proceed to psychologically unsettle the children who had been gathered by reciting a range of catechistic phrases and by violently hitting together metal objects to produce harsh and discordant sounds.

This was only really the first incarnation of this tradition, wasn’t it?

Oh, yes.  What the Cheltenham Parish Discipline Project eventually became was something quite extraordinary. (Begins to murmur in reverie) Pot in the face… pot in the face…

Right, well, Peter – am I right in saying that arguably the most pivotal point in CPDP history was the advent of clockwork and steam hydraulics?

Actually Susan, though the first signs of what it was to become came in on the back of these breakthroughs, I would say that much more important to its gradual development was Death Metal and House Music in the 80s and 90s, characterised by the project’s unconventional time signatures and quite frankly face-melting tonal sequences. Need I mention the legendary name of the Reverend Archibald Swain?

(Laughs) of course!

You know the more astute among the music community would think it a sin to refer to Grandmaster Flash as the originator of hip-hop sampling. The silverback bellow, the Cheltenham Parish crow loop, the pot-and-pan break – such innovation! And all of Swain’s original analogue recordings can be heard fragmentally in all dance music today. The man invented magnetic tape, for goodness’ sake! Of course, he’d never get officially credited – but we know, the more astute of us…

I’ve heard the John Lennon story.

Yes, yes! Well, I, for one, believe entirely that all of what we know as popular music can be traced right back to the Cheltenham Parish Discipline Project. Essentially, all of music is deeply rooted in punishment and fear.

So the machinery – let’s talk about the development of the machinery. The Goodgrace became what many historians see as the very first automaton, didn’t it?

Absolutely, as early as the late fifteenth century the Goodgrace was a clockwork Vicar. The latest incarnation of the Goodgrace in the 1980s, before animal rights activists finally shut the Cheltenham Parish Discipline Project down, consisted of a tailor’s mannequin, a Japanese theatrical ‘Noh’ mask, and seven astonishingly mobile assault limbs. The pots and pans, of course, were merely decorative by that point – nobody was actually struck in the ceremonial enactments that took place in the eighties; it’s a shame when tradition is bastardised isn’t it?

Hmm, I’m actually not entirely with you there Peter. It is still thought of by many as a damaging remnant of a once-dominant theocracy.

Aw, pish!

(Laughs nervously) Okay, moving on –

Regardless of its chequered history, the Project has been at last recognised internationally for its technological innovation. Really, this was live sampling almost six hundred years before the electronic music revolution of the eighties, wasn’t it? Can you tell us about some of those innovative designs?

Yes. Among the most famous of these sound – ‘installations’ I suppose we would call them nowadays – was the widely recognisable ‘crow loop’, which consisted of a closed system of brightly coloured extendable flags and caches of seeds on the spire of the church, which were controlled from the array that that was put in place on the organists plinth. The ‘mixer’ would have pulled a cord which quickly unfurled these flags, causing the crows to fly from the roof to produce a range of tonal effects in time with the rest of the ensemble.

A second innovation was the use of captive animals – traditionally a Silver-back gorilla and a wolf-hound. The silverback was always housed in a resonant chamber in the crypt, and from the mixer’s control array, they were able to turn on sluice gates that doused the animal in freezing water, causing it to bellow in a deeply unsettling manner, amplified to tens of times it’s normal volume. The wolf-hound was caged in the churchyard, and a flap was opened in the church wall, usually containing a shank of lamb or beef. When the hound saw this, he would howl mournfully, and yet another astonishing tonal effect was produced.

 It was in the eighties that this practice came under scrutiny from animal rights activists, didn’t it?

Yes. The AFL (animal liberation front) was involved in years of bitter legal disputes with the Parish, and actually attempted to gain support for boycotting all popular music that contained Parish samples. Needless to say, the boycott was unrealistic – supporters of the AFL would have had to essentially boycott all current musical genres, but in the legal battle they proved victorious, and the court ruled that some of the Project’s most innovative and traditional structures be disassembled in 1985. The automated incarnation of the Goodgrace was allowed to be kept by the Parish for another ten years, until it came under scrutiny from NSPCC supporters, who deemed the practice ‘morally reprehensible and emotionally damaging’ and it was sadly de-commissioned in 1995.

Even after the demise of the project, it still lingered in the public imagination though, didn’t it?

Absolutely! It became a kind of mecca for electronic artists in the late nineties. Many people visited in order to gain some kind of insight into the techniques and practices that made the project’s distinctive sound so enduring. Its symbolic status as some kind of musical Mecca endured, and indeed grew, long after the project’s termination. We see it referenced time and again in the popular culture of the period – the front cover of an unreleased single by Blur clearly depicts a flight of birds from a church spire, and Paul Simon’s Goodbye, Cheltenham Parish became the anthem of the project’s diehard supporters.

Thank you so much for your time, Peter. We end the program now, with a sound-bite from the 1996 documentary, Cheltenham Parish – the legacy and the controversy.   

Snippet snatched from the jaws of working stupid hours No 1.

I have just started teaching. Any alarming irregularities in the frequency of posts, or the disturbing and moronic babble that issues forth, are purely coincidental.


Two men, or boys, standing on a bridge/overpass, looking out over a road, or a river, or a ditch. One says – mumbles or sings, maybe, to the other, or maybe they’re both talking and/or murmuring. Immediately … or possibly some time later, one man/boy slaps, shoots, kisses the other. Nobody knows why this happens (apart from the majority of people – some/all may have a pretty good idea, or not) but many of a fairly small majority, numbering in their thousands, taken from a very narrow sample, but tested hundreds of times, don’t actually care.

We need to talk about salsa!


You tube has some kind of program, it seems, that attempts to transcribe whatever ramblings that can be heard on a video into text. Needless to say, this technology is still balls. What often comes out therefore, is some high quality, A-grade gibberish. The song in the last post was what was uploaded, and the message came out wildly changed. 

And so it was, that armed with this inane babble, I made this.

It was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Orford conservative working men’s club. It was a day to be remembered by many, and cursed by still more.

The first half of the evening went well enough – they’d hired a master of ceremonies to introduce and seat the members, and had little cards made to mark each person’s place at dinner. The fare had been enjoyable, and they’d had some speciality ales that had satisfied the traditionalists, and one of the club’s founding members, who’d been wheeled out for the occasion, had even gone so far as to get steaming drunk. This was not unusual in itself, but when he swayed up to the podium to read a speech that he’d prepared to mark the anniversary, he began acting very strangely.

He unfolded his papers and his watery eyes darted about the page for a while, then he stared at the speech he’d written as though it were some strange insect before he threw it to the ground with distaste. He began then to pace, his doddery old limbs whirling in demented spirals as he tried to piece together what it was he really wanted to say. After a while he stopped pacing, returned to the podium, took a sip from a glass of water that somebody had put there, and began.

There’s this man, he began hesitantly, trying to hold on to the shape of it in his mind,  of … of infinite mass, and he’s into you. It’s cool.


He raised his wavering voice then, confident that he’d started as he’d meant to.

Don’t you all know, he intoned, about this new … implant? It teaches a man … things.


There were doubtful looks and whispers, but it was no secret that he was old and frail and had likely forgotten himself. The assembled members waited for him to continue. The next words he spoke came out in a great rush.

Man! We’ve got to talk about … about Salsa! Can you please just tell me exactly what is going on? – he paused for effect, the question was clearly rhetorical – So what if our allies are out?


… Haven’t we not got Gold Lingo?


What it was that started out was not God, no! What it is, is actually … Heaven and … and Hell, okay? It’s all there to behold but now, … now I don’t know. It’s, it’s actually now in Maine.


Several members had now had enough. They collected their car keys and wallets from tables and left. But many stayed to listen.

Please! Hear me out! Solaris Linux! … Holding it and staying in’s not allowed!


It’s the words! The words that do all the work, in the ad agency! He was shouting now, and his fervour filled up the end of the common room.

–  It’s all still pending, but I wanted to buy this.


He held up a small rock that he’d taken from his pocket, displaying it to each side of the room in turn.

It was just that I felt that it made … he corrected himself … created, a motion. It jumped outside my heartbreak, alright?


He slammed the rock down on the table, to emphasise his next point, putting emphasis on every word;


– Hollywood’s where it’s at, yeah?

To everyone’s surprise, a faint voice at the other end of the room shouted Yeah!


– The guard moved, and said that Alabama’s mad … all mad and the guard moved. He said Alabama’s mad and that the gold reached all the way down there. Well I had a lot to say about that but I stepped over it to help out sauce salvation.


Stop! Stop and open up the dogs to me on that saint.


At that point, he stood up on a chair, his flapping hair in disarray and tears standing out in his eyes.


-Homebuilders internal team – lead the evening!! He was screaming now.


It wasn’t clear who first stood up, but a small collection of voices were now raised in answer. The founding member’s brows knit together in righteous fury.

– Lead the evening!!


A chorus of answers filled the common room.


– Lead the evening!


Up on his chair, the fever had really taken hold of the founding member now.

– We need … to talk. About. Salsa!!


– Salsa!, the voices answered.

He said to me “where are you, okay?” and immediately it was done!


– Dot org! he screamed as his old arms struggled to lift the weight of the lectern.

-Periodic! Dot org!

With this he raised up the chunk of wood with a cry and sent it crashing through the French windows behind the platform.

Then all hell broke loose.

People stood up, nodding their heads in recognition as they broke up chairs and tables and sent them sprawling across the bar and whooping in their joy as two of the bowls team set the curtains on fire.

– Goldblum! Goldblum!!

The founding member let out a cackling, inhuman cry as he lurched off through the jagged hole left by the lectern and they all followed him out into the night.

Beatles Mahoney – Part 2


The second part of a ridiculous story about a magical hobo. Any similarity to real literature, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

On a broken swively chair, staring at the mouldering brick wall that dominated the view from the window, sat Frank Harris – once successful director and now, due to reduced circumstances, really just a lout with an office. It was in this that he sat, negotiating frantically into the phone, a large curry balanced expertly on the top of his knee.


‘I assure you, Mr. Jenson …!’


His tone was of supplication.


‘Yes, but if you just had a look at the script, I think …’


The curry, maliciously mimicking Frank’s tenuous grip upon the conversation, had begun to slide down his knee and was now threatening his unsuspecting lap with assorted slimy vegetables.


‘I’m aware that you haven’t had much acting experience, but honestly, I think this is the perfect role for you, I really do.’


The flurry of angered babbling that issued forth from the receiver made Frank jerk reflexively away from the source of wrath and as he realised his mistake, the tub of foul ooze inexorably upturned itself onto his toes.


‘Well, I think that you’re being wholly unreasonable, and I say a good day to you, sir!’


With this, Frank slammed down the phone and was left not only with the bitter taste of defeat, but also two fresh chillies nestled symmetrically on both feet.


It had been hard for Frank these days, to negotiate with his reduced circumstances. It seemed like just as he was getting them talking, they’d shoot another hostage. He looked at his answering machine, noting that there were two more messages than he had the fortitude to deal with. The problem was that the sort of person that would leave messages on the answer phone of someone like him was bound to have the word ‘tosser’ carved into their forearms.


Removing the chillies, Frank jabbed mechanically at the play button and braced himself for the grating beep that had long been the accompaniment to his failure. The message began;


– Ello there, sunshine! I’s me! Beatles! Listen, I’ve got sumfing ere for ya that you’re gonna love! I’ve been in a bit of trouble – nufin bad like – but I’ll meet you in the Nag’s bout nine? Sorted.


Sat atop the broken swively chair, spiced grease burning his knees, he counted the bricks he could see through his small window and let his thoughts linger upon the troubling visage of Beatles Mahoney. He groped back, seeking his initial memories of Beatles, and found him in the studio of The Frank Harris Drama School for Wayward Youths, craning his bandy limbs to form the likeness of a tree. He only remembered this first occasion because the general effect created by the oily locks that hung limply from his head had been of a bedraggled and malnourished willow. From the moment that they had met, the youth had idolised his teacher as some kind of master thespian – a player of great truths who would unfold his bounteous knowledge, provided he was showered with the appropriate adulation. He hadn’t the heart to tell Beatles that he had the stage presence of a dead fish. His stomach tensed at the idea, but he would just have to meet with the man and get it over with.


So, later that evening, the odd pair could be seen entering the Nag’s head – the wiry man and his greasy charge out to grace the streets with their custom. As they scouted out a free table, Frank started to feel acutely aware of the effort it took to quell his deepening misgivings. He looked around. The place was mercifully crowded, the cackle of a nearby flock of Essex Girls more than likely to mask their unseemly business. A mounted television in the corner of the room buzzed out the evening’s headlines –

‘Constable Hobbs of the South Woodford police department was attacked at his place of work yesterday evening, and although a medical team could discern no fatal injury, Hobbs was discovered to be blind, the irises entirely removed …’


The following clip showed a policeman being rushed out of the station by a medical team. The best was done to try and hide his face, but the two white discs, round with terror were caught for an instant in the spasmodic flashings of a press camera.    


Frank chose a table in the corner, and gestured Beatles over. As he advanced, Beatles systematically and methodically pocketed half-finished beers and full ashtrays, sliding them off of the tables and into the gaping and indiscriminate recesses of his huge coat pockets before shuffling over and hunching himself into his chair.


-‘allo there, sir!


He grinned at Frank, revealing receding gums and an unholy mass of wrecked and splintered calcium.


-Er, how’ve you been keeping then, Beatles?


Frank decided to keep quiet and let Beatles talk; he didn’t want to unknowingly slip into some kind of verbal contract with this maniac. There had been some unpleasantness a couple of years back with a court order. All blown over now of course, but nobody wanted a repeat incident.


– Can’t complain, ya know, hard life but someone’s got to live it, n’all. But seriously…

I think a lot about the old school, ya know.


He grew sombre, staring past Frank with his eyes clouding over.


– And you helpin’ me an’ that when all the others was just mean. Ya can’t buy those kinda friends an’ that’s the truth.


He started to unbutton his coat. 


– You mean a lot to me, you do Frank. An’ I know we’ve ad our problems in the past, so I’ve got somefin’ ere for you. Make amends sort of fing.


He had been rummaging in his abyssal pockets for something as he spoke, which he then produced with a flourish. Frank tried hard to suppress a convulsion of horror as the thing in Beatles’ hand stirred. It included toes.   


– For Christ sake, Beatles! If you can’t keep it together in here then I’m leaving!


– Ya don’t like it?


The look of despondency on his face only lasted a few seconds. Not to be bested, Beatles stared wildly at Frank from the other side of the sticky table. His eyes looked strange, eyes that flashed improbable colours as they were caught in the glow of the television. Beatles’ mouth flicked into a crooked smile of triumph.


– Ow bout’ these then, Frank?

– … What?

– Whacha fink of me new peepers? They’re luverly, int they?


Beatles got halfway out of his chair and did a jig, accompanying himself vocally.


– Jeepers, creeeepers, where dy’a get them peepers? Ha he he he!


Frank reluctantly forced himself to put two and two together.


– That … that policeman’s eyes? Hobb’s fucking eyes! Beatles? How did you-


Frank had now taken more than he could handle. One sip had not past his lips, and he was being made to dwell upon the impossible. Drink, he surmised, would have been a very good buffer against this, if he’d managed to have any. A bead of sweat trickled itself down the back of his neck and into his collar. He was attracted by the prospect of following it there somehow. How on earth did he do these things?

It didn’t matter. He decided that it was time to get out. Beatles however, hands once again delving into the caves of his pockets, had anticipated Frank’s concern and preceded to emit a trail of curling green smoke from his left nostril as he revealed the next wonder.


-Now this, I know you’re gonna love,

he said hurriedly.


-Fell off the back of a lorry.


He started to produce another … thing.


Frank, through his horror, was aware of a slight vibration in the air.


I looked up. I didn’t know what… but something was horribly wrong. I had the overwhelming sensation that someone somehow was watching me, but from inside my own head. The way I saw had… changed.  I screamed at the filthy man opposite to just stop whatever god awful thing he’d done to me.


“For Christ’s sake!” I sobbed, tears stinging my cheeks.


“just stop this, please!”


Beatles smiled, satisfied.


A buzzing, a dissipation of smoke as Beatles did up his coat pockets, and Frank slumped back into his chair, terrified.


– Pretty bloody weird, eh?


Frank talked in a slow whisper, his eyes wide.


– Don’t you ever do anything like that … again.


He then stood, violently knocking glasses from the table and breathing fast. Beatles’ look was pleading and he made to grasp at the cuff of Frank’s coat but it was jerked away, his hand flailing in the air. Frank turned around and ran from the pub as fast as he could.


– Wait, Frank! WAIT! I GOT SUMFIN! … ‘ERE! … FOR YOU!!

Beatles Mahoney – part 1



A story I wrote at university. It wasn’t very well received. Not everybody likes a magical hobo.

A familiar feeling overcame Beatles Mahoney – failed thespian and professional kleptomaniac – as he clambered with considerable difficulty over an upturned market stall, a live Rainbow Trout flapping in his gnarled grasp: it was the woe of imminent arrest.


The outline of advancing stab jackets and the protrusion of steeply-domed black helmets could be seen by Beatles as he looked back through a mist of sparkling scales and droplets of hobo-sweat, causing him to clamber a little faster. The disturbing signs of trout-related crime were now readily apparent to passers-by up and down the street, so Beatles swerved sharply into an alley and away from the disapproving gaze of polite society.


The hiss and crackle of the police radios that had been advancing upon him all morning now dulled, and the familiar feeling of fear subsided into a low, tense buzz as his feet slapped down amongst the discarded fag packets and broken hubcaps strewn across his path. As the hubbub gradually ceased, his mind relaxed a little and he thought of Frank. He was sure that Frank would be pleased with this new acquisition – it was more than impressively shiny, and it glinted with a thousand subtle shades as Beatles carefully smoothed its ruffled scales. He fondly imagined the man’s smiling face as the trout was presented to him – Beatles was a mind that was quite prepared to retrospectively amend a grimace of horror into a gratified smile.  “My hat goes off to you Beatles!” he’d say “never have I received such a fine gift!” – and his would be the glory of the present well-chosen. He was shaken from his covetous reverie by a breathless shout from the mouth of the alley.


‘Sir! Put the fish down and get your hands on your head!’


His lapse of concentration had lost Beatles the lead, and he cursed as he sped further into the gloom, the angular arrangement of scrabbling limbs that propelled him forth calling to mind those of the spider or the shock victim. With his new prize spitting fourth shards of prism-colour into the muggy gloom, he jerked and scraped forward, all four limbs working in crazed hyper-semaphore as the long legs of the law vaulted over an old trolley, skidded round a ruined dishwasher and steadily closed the gap between them.


But Beatles had spied a low doorway in the wall ahead – escape could be possible, his heart sang. If he could only get out of this alley and to Frank, then his work would be done. But the Policemen were gaining on him, and as he skidded wildly through the opening, he was confronted by a very solid looking brick wall. He emitted a desperate wail as he attempted to claw his way up, but the futile scratchings had only served to alert the advancing authorities of his position. As the agents of the law rounded the last corner, breathless but triumphant, he knew the game was up. Beatles slid sorrowfully back down the wall and was presently arrested for petty theft.




Relieved of his fish, Beatles sat shivering in the cell of Woodford police station, where an officer was attempting to placate his huddled form with a cup of terrible coffee.


‘You could’ve put a bit more in, y’know.’

‘It’s fine.’

‘S’a bit weak.’

‘I know it’s weak, it’s fine.’


Constable Hobbs did not think the prisoner in any position to negotiate, but he put a bit more in anyway and thrust the vessel unceremoniously back through the bars of the cell.

The constable’s expression was one of weary resignation tinged with mild disbelief.


‘How many bloody times, Beatles?’


The owlish eyes stared back at him.


– ‘What was it this time? A fish? … Last week the bloody nose off the statue in the square? Coupla weeks back, after the lads brought you in, they said people ad been complaining to the counsel about subsidence, and when they investigated they found five tons of rubble missing from forty feet underground George lane! Five tons! I mean … ow did you even get down there’s all I wanna know … Havin’ a shitting giggle as far as I’m concerned.’


The eyes closed in fond remembrance.


Officially, Constable Hobbs told Beatles that in light of his kleptomania, he would have the right to a course of government-funded psychiatry sessions on his release, but even as he was saying it, he knew that it would be useless. Kleptomaniacs could be cured, but creatures like Beatles had the word ‘steal’ hard-wired into the matrices of their brains – an ancient, vestigial instinct that predated the human concept of possession by a long shot.


‘Well, I’m gifted, int I?’ Beatles reasoned. ‘No use stealin’ normal fings. Where’s the challenge in it?’


Hobbs gave up on the speech and left the poor creature to his coffee, taking up his usual position at the desk down the corridor. Next week he would see what he could do about going on the beat.


Meanwhile, Beatles, accompanied by his customary collection of blasphemies, had found a loose brick in the wall of his cell and was worrying at it with considerable tenacity. It was a beauty. When he got it out he would give it to Frank. He’d like that.


‘You’d best not be pissing around in there!’


Half-hearted and empty, the threat was drowned out by the gradually increasing scraping sounds coming from the cells. Alarm bells blared in Hobb’s head as he hurried in the direction of the noise, breaking into a run as he neared the source.


‘What the bloody –?’


What he saw was Beatles, crouching furtively against the wall and periodically straining bodily against the sides of a large hole that had appeared in the wall of his cell. From the angular form of the prisoner’s pockets, it was clear to Hobbs where the bricks had gone. As soon as he saw Hobbs, Beatles flung himself back from the opening as if he had been shot, and assumed the Position of Innocence.


‘I weren’t stealin nuffink, was I? Just a present fur a mate, aren’t they?’


He looked guiltily at the pocketed bricks.


‘You’ll put them back or God help me, I’ll put you in cell B. We’ll move cells once your done, understood?’


Beatles had been in cell B, and what it lacked in windows, it certainly made up for in wildlife. He stared balefully at Hobbs for a few moments, as if deciding what to do with him, then he started slowly to put the bricks back.

Halfway through this though, there was a sudden change in his movements, and Hobbs fancied, becoming nervous and fingering the truncheon at his belt, that something seemed to change in the captive.


Quick as lightning, Beatles spun round, and to Hobbs’ complete surprise, eyed him in a predatory fashion.


‘What you got there, Constable?’


‘What are you on about? Come on, get to it, for god’s sake!’


But Beatles did not get to it. He started slowly to stand up, and inch towards the jailer.


‘Nah, nah … I see you – you’ve got something, aven’t you Constable?


‘You sit the hell back down, or Christ help me I’ll …’


Beatles was up and about and was shuffling around him with purpose, now – actually circling him.


‘Do you know, Constable?’ he said as he clamped the wailing Hobbs’ head in place with a hand.


‘you’ve got lovely eyes.’   


The grasping, outstretched hand that rushed to meet him was the last thing that the constable ever saw.

Tough Crowd – Part 2



What happens when a man is trapped in a suit of armour and forced to play the bass?

Maybe this.

Steve’s contribution was going alright; you could sort of understand the gist of what he was hollering about. I gave him a little wink and hoped he was watching, wondering if he could actually see. The crowd were gradually warming to Gaddafi. At least two people had emerged from their cocoon of deadened brain cells and were at least patting their legs in vague rhythm.

Norm, buoyed up by this development, started thrusting at the microphone stand with one leg in the air – Norm was such a bastard sometimes. He thought he was cool, but he just looked vaguely like Mick Jagger – if Jagger had been an absolute idiot. We were all getting quite into it, though, and we really started show-boating. I attempted to play with my teeth, but you can’t really do that with a sitar. Emitting a mental groan I realised Jake had subtly taken out his old man and was proceeding to keep surprisingly good time with it on his home-made bucket drum. We had got about seven people now, but whether out of genuine interest, or a misplaced sympathy, we weren’t to know.


We had got through the first fifteen verses when I had a troubling thought. Steve’s oh yeahs – which had by now become mere parodies of human speech anyway – were getting fairly thin on the ground. As I looked up, it became clear that he had vacated the stage. It wasn’t particularly hard to find him as I followed the deafening holler of a long overdue

thas wa I’m talin bo! –

directed into the weeping face of the badly afraid birthday girl as she frantically tried to shoo him away and pick the cake and errant candles from her hair. There were about five people actually looking at the stage by now, though, and whatever issues Steve was having would have to wait.


We finished to what I decided was applause, and went immediately into a hip-hop-style cover of a B-side called SpiderBong by Hat Bandit and the Incombustibles, which some people knew, and joined in with half-heartedly.


It was all going pretty well, really, considering. Jake did have to put his John Thompson away after a while, as it had started to hurt quite badly, but we all felt that he had lasted a fair old while, but then we had no real yardstick by which to judge his technique.

It was halfway through the searing folk-metal Abbots of Buckfast that we had to end. It was disappointing, but it’s very hard to play over screaming.

We didn’t have to look very long for Steve, for there was a hard and fast line of man-shaped destruction made of broken tables and shell-shocked emo-kids that wound from the stage to the bar.


It was here that Steve sat, steam curling from the gaps between the spauldrons and vambraces of his metal parts, his sweat having evaporated in the super-heated conditions inside. We hurriedly picked our way over the broken glass and dodged appalled drunkards to make our way over to him.


-Steve! Mate! Are you okay?


As we crowded around his hunched form I thought I could hear a quiet sizzling. This was not good.


-Can you hear me, man?


I peered into the hot blackness of the visor.


-Say, something, Steve!


A pause … and then;


-Tha  wam … talli … ba …?


He collapsed, then, and sparks flew out as he struck the iron of the table legs.


Shifting our monolithic friend was going to be nigh on impossible seeing as he had actually cloven the floorboards with his weight and we had nowhere sufficiently nearby for refuge anyway, but Joe the landlord, who had earlier seemed un-phased by armoured Steve, had now apparently had quite enough of this chaos and preceded to holler and scream at us all – he said we weren’t even that good and he’d heard several bands in Cork public houses who captured our sound with much more panache and taste – and, to the great surprise of everyone, smashed a bottle of Famous Grouse over the helm of our half-buried bassist.

He then ordered the resident parrot to peck out our eyes, which, for a second, we all expected to take place – thankfully, the bird just continued to totter around the bar quite calmly. On top of this, we discovered that Jake was not in fact behind us, nor similarly dumbfounded by the raving Irishman’s conduct; he had, in fact, again produced his – surely injured – old man and was waving it about in the icing-smeared face of the birthday girl, who now seemed to have been abandoned by her friends who had so heartily cheered for her transition from nineteen to twenty earlier on – she didn’t look at all appalled by the flailing member, apparently resigned to a particularly rubbish birthday. We all thought it best we left; we just had no idea how we were going to go about such an escape.


Before we even had time to consider yanking on Steve’s legs he began to stir; he laboriously hauled his arms free of the ground and started to drag himself like a steel-clad lizard through the mayhem that was The Fox, renting a welt in the ground and leaving a trail of steamy hell in his wake, on his way to the door. We sheepishly followed, feeling rather like criminals. Look what we had done!

Well, we all felt guilty save Jake, who was relieving himself into a pitcher to the horror of the man whose drink it was, and Norm, who has no concept of guilt.  I wondered how much Jake had actually had to drink and remembered that during our set,someone had handed him a large bottle of some kind of rum which he had emptied into himself within the short space of time we had attempted to sing one verse of a Reggae song called Jah and Only Jah Will Save Us From the Dragons, woven, rather cleverly we all thought, into the middle of Spiderbong.


Outside, after watching Steve somehow clamber to his feet, we faced the problem of what happened now; Steve’s giant form was still wreathed in steam and blood and cake…and … Norm was still singing at the top of his voice and Jake was emptying the contents of his stomach against the window of a blue Ford Fiesta.
–          Bloody…I think he’s really bad, man.

–          He is really bad!

–          Awha…talli bo…talli bo…talli….talli bo…


Steve’s attempts at sticking to his earlier assignment trailed off into indecipherable mumbles and we made a collective decision to call an ambulance; the ambulance team would be surprised by the situation and most probably unsure about what they were to do about getting him into the ambulance but they would have to do their job – they’d be obliged.


The ambulance arrived, sirens blaring; their faces, upon realising what they’d become involved in, resembled those of startled baboons but they quickly set about manoeuvring Steve between the double doors. It was difficult and they, somewhat ironically, probably hurt themselves quite badly in the process, but it happened and soon Steve was whisked away into the night.

Tough Crowd – part 1



This was written with my friend James after a particularly pointless gig in Hackney. Some might say this gibberish is too weird to live, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. This definitely isn’t what happened. 

– It doesn’t really matter, man. Just leave it on, and if anyone sees, we’ll just tell them we’re in, like, a re-enactment society or something.


We staggered out of the flat, holding each arm and someone at his back and all the light of the morning coating Steve’s articulated bulk and leaving traces on the eye. It took nearly an hour to complete the twenty-minute journey to The Fox, and we had to turn him sideways to get him to fit through the door.


Surprisingly few people turned to look at this swaying man in what must have been about a six and a half foot tall suit of full jousting armour, and there was a point at which Steve flailed a lethal arm over the bar, destroying at least four quite full pints.


The barman considered getting angry, but we told him Steve was in there, and he’d always liked Steve.


Steve, in all his glimmering magnificence mumbled a word that sounded like ‘bollocks’, tripping over the noises like wires in his head. We all sighed in unison as a bloke in a shell-suit stifled his giggles as he attempted to feed our baffled friend a half-pint of bitter through his visor. Steve struggled to fend off the attack with his great steel-clad limbs like a beetle trapped in some mischievous little boy’s fingers.


–          Come on then, you metal bastard. ‘Ave a bit of this down ya!

–          Bloody … leave ‘im alone, yeah? You’ll make him drown!


Steve swung his body forward violently, attempting to purge himself of the dangerous reservoir that had built up in his helmet. The bitter was flung out in a great, fanning spray and he leaned, one arm on the bar for support and one gauntleted hand on his knees, retching with the stuff dripping from point of his visor.


–          Are you okay, mate? Just blow it out and don’t pay attention to him. Idiot.


Joe lately, the landlord, silently swung into the room from a point seemingly where there was no actual door. He was a hard man to work out at the best of times. He could tell you, with his dead-pan face and expressionless eyes, that Rizlas didn’t biodegrade for at least a thousand years and you’d never even question it – you couldn’t help but believe him. It didn’t help that you could never really even see his eyes, due to the oversized bowler-hat that he insisted on wearing while at the bar. I suspected that it was for this reason that it was worn.


–          You boys playin a set tonight, then?

–          Yeah, Joe. We thought that we might.

–          Well, it’s your own feckin funeral. It’ll just basically be buskin’ indoors.


It was true. The Fox during the rest of the week was a respectable, bohemian establishment – gloves on the walls, parrot on the shoulder of the barman, a hairy retro dog outside – but The Fox on a Saturday became populated by drinkers who had succeeded in rotting away the aural centers of their brains, never to politely listen to another single note of music in their lives. We would be wasted on them.


Steve uttered a metallic sound which I decided was probably pessimistic resignation, and we all agreed. It was one thing to play fruitlessly to the zombie-drunk, and quite another to offer ourselves over to the violent indignation that would surely result from towing an armour-clad behemoth onto the stage and trying to fit a bass in his hands. People would think we were a novelty act, and that would never do.


–          Ah, but the wonga!

–          The wonga?

–          The wonga!


Norm was a little bit of a creep, but we didn’t mind because he could play the bongos like nobody’s business. If anyone was going to galvanize the lot of us and give us a push onto the stage to blow this mob of dead-eyed drunks away, it would be Norman ‘Bongo-man’ Unclebutton; he insisted on a ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ stage-name, which we resented.


–          Fifty quid’s not bad lads, and if it means rockin’ out to this bunch while they raucously sing happy birthday to the  lady in the corner with the pink eye-shadow and double Ds and present her with a nice little cake, then so be it. I’m game!


None of us believed we would blow them away but we nodded in unison and put our hands, one gauntleted, in.


Eventually we managed, as a team, to balance Steve precariously on a wooden stool which seemed far too fragile indeed to bear twenty-and-a-half stone of knight-in-shining-armour. Once we were all set up with our various other instruments and had evaluated the noisy room with our eyes and our ears – there was much shouting and retching and clinking and clanking and…and – we decided that Steve should sit it out, bass propped up against his knee, and not do too much at all really. Maybe the occasional muffled ‘oh yeah!’ or ‘that’s what I’m talking’ ‘bout!’ – Theoretically, it would be fine.


We launched into Gaddafi Isn’t Very Nice, twice the speed we normally play it at. It’s our political number. I screamed every word like a madman. The girlies were struggling to wail their birthday chant over our noisiness, which was satisfying.

– Ass wha’ am tallin’ bow!