Let Us Bite, Bite, Bite

As ever: forgive me, it’s been some time since my last blog.

Yesterday evening, I travelled over too Cardiff to install another Vermin poem in Tactile Bosch. The show is called ‘Tenure’ and the piece fits in well with that idea. The poem itself is written in red, on a duvet hanging from the ceiling, and the title, containing speakers which play the poem like a menacing phone call, are just above it. The publicity image is above, though I ended up using a pizza wheel/knife (with the word ‘pizza’ in it) as the cutlery to go either side of the participant’s head…

Instructions:

Place your head to the pillow. Take a moment to rest. Feast your ears on what the bed
is saying. Read the small print under the duvet. Acknowledge you accept the Terms and
Conditions of your nap by writing your name on the front of the duvet. Just sign. Sweet
Dreams. Let us bite.

This piece invites you to be the guest of honour at a feast in New York. With vampires
everywhere in pop culture, the resurgence of one infestation in NYC presented delicious
potential to combine contracts and coercion, gangsters and gluttony.

Vermin takes as its starting point those species humanity has deemed ‘ excessive’ , pairing them with human excess: vengeful seagulls (Vermin I: Cull (After Hitchcock)), avaricious ants (Vermin II: Super.Organism), lusty pigeons (To His Coy Hen or, The Closest to the Dodo) and vain rats (Vermin IV: An Exact Science – previously installed at Tactile Bosch).

Here’s what you hear through the pillow:

http://www.youtube.com/get_player

I’m planning to finish the last two Vermin pieces over the next two months and hoping to collaborate with an artist friend to illustrate them, in a set of little Beatrix-Potter-gone-wrong books…

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Poo-tee-weet? Life doesn’t have to be ugly.

Once again, I have ventured forth into the realms of participatory arts…

This time, for a night at the Cube Cinema in Bristol called Beacons, Icons and Dykons, in honour of John Waters this time. The night consisted of various performances, some music and then a screening of ‘Pink Flamingoes’, Waters’ proto-gross-out disgusting-fest starring the inimitable Divine.

The equally inimitable performance artist Paul Hurley (as my partner I would call him that, wouldn’t I?) performed an epic cross-stage-licking piece inspired by this scene from the film:

Suffice to say there was no kissing until a significant amount of tooth-brushing and drinking had washed away the stage-residue.

For my part, I carried out a sound piece called ‘Poo-tee-weet?/Life Doesn’t Have To Be Ugly’ where I asked people to emulate Kathleen Turner ‘Serial Mom’ demonstrating her innocence to the visiting police officers by calling to the birds outside the window…

‘Officers, life doesn’t have to be ugly: just listening to the birds out there…’

It reminded me of the last moments of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, in which a bird calls ‘Poo-tee-weet?’ in the wreckage of Dresden after the Allied bombing there.

Even though they are a mating call, a territorial cry, we see bird song as somehow innocent, free of mankind’s apparent urge to destroy one another. So I thought it would be fun (well – interesting) to get people to emulate the bird song of the person who came before them and create a ‘dawn chorus’ of human birds to play in the foyer of the cinema. I’ll aim to put up the results, perhaps with Serial Mom at the beginnning, once I get the technology sorted.

CycloGeographic, Caerphilly

CycloGeographic, Caerphilly, Wales

Last Sunday 5th September, Paul Hurley, Arabella Butler and I  set off to Caerphilly, to set up our participatory cycling arts event for SusTrans’ MicroFest event. Posing as our alter-egos, The Explorer (Paul), The Ringmaster (Me) and Lady Bee (Arabella), we invited the public to explore their surroundings in new, creative ways, either on foot or by bike.

 

Part treasure hunt, part discovery game, Cyclo-Geographic was commissioned by SusTrans as a cycle-based arts event for adventurers of all ages. With a selection of things to do, make or find, adventurers will set off from the Castle to explore, on foot or by bicycle, the National Cycle Network in and around Caerphilly.

We invited Explorers to spin the ‘Bike Wheel of Fortune’ to decide on their tasks, based on different skills/areas, a la Trivial Pursuit: Nature, Creativity, History etc. They were then given ‘luggage tags’ with ‘Invitations’ for games and exercises to do.

Our amazing artist friend, H Ren, painted a gorgeous map of the site and the National Cycle Network area, so when people returned from their explorations, they were asked to ‘map’ where they had done them. Thus, an alternative map was created which represented people’s creative experiences of the area:

H Ren's beautiful alternative map of Caerphilly, with people's experiences pinned to it. This is now with Caerphilly library.

In our bright red tent, we had prepared various bike-based artefacts from surplus bike parts from the Bristol Bike Project. Here’s the Cyclo Geo sign, made entirely of bike parts! I was quite proud of it…

CycloGeo bike part sign

CycloGeo bike part sign

Paul and I are keen cyclists – and I’m passionate about how important it is for more people to get cycling – so it was a great pleasure to do an interactive event which was so cycle-centric. This is something we could very easily adapt to other localities and events, so if you want to talk about us doing it at an event then please get in touch.

Spand Grectacular!

I read one of the Stitches in Time stories last night – ‘Spand Grectacular or, Pedal-Powered Pavement-Printing Velocipede!’ Featuring the fudge-obsessed and overworked printer, Imogen Clacker.

Being as one or two people said they’d enjoyed it, and may be foolish enough to Google me, then here’s the story:

Spand Gractacular! or,

Pedal-Powered Pavement-Printing Velocipede!

Within her shop

On Scansion Way,

Imogen Clacker pedals away:

She pedals all night

And most of the day

Nobody thinks

She’ll ever stop.

But in-between

The words she prints

And in-between

The treadle’s groan

Something on

The paper hints,

Something stirs

Around her bones.

The more the st-ords

Come out so w-rangely

The more the mages

Puddle themselves,

Imogen Clacker

Sees the matter

Building on her

Cast-off shelves.

There is a problem, with the machines, in Clacker’s Printworks. Some might say a bad workman – or person – blames their tools, but Imogen doesn’t stand by this. Her face is smeared and smudgy with ink, but her printing has always been as crisp as her frosty little mind.

It can’t be my fault

Her thoughts are a-clatter,

I tend these machines –

Every nut, screw and bolt –

Something else

Must be the matter.

Imogen seeks comfort in a box of confectionery by her seat. Since it arrived in the city, quite recently, she has taken up eating fudge whenever anything troubles her. As a result, her teeth are not her best feature – although, it is hard to say what is her best feature. Fudge is not good for the waistline, either. My printing machines, she thinks, are my best feature. Indeed, Imogen often has so much sugar in her system, she pedals and pedals her printing machines while at the same time eating more and more fudge, until she just can’t sleep – and works long into the night. But mistakes are creeping in, and becoming ever more common in her work. People are starting to notice. She considers her most recent misspelling of an important legal document and thinks:

How can it be that

With all of my pedd’ling,

All my hard work

And machinery-meddling

There are these constant

Printing quirks?

Perhaps my machinery

Is going berserk?

But once my new

Scheme has begun

Business will really

Start to run.

Imogen’s thoughts here refer to a very special new machine she took delivery of yesterday, all the way from Paris, which she thinks will be excellent for business. The machine will be able to print advertisements directly onto the ground – she will make special rubber tyres with letters around them and pedal along making the road’s surface itself a billboard. No other printer in the city has such a vehicle and she’s sure it will catch on. It is sitting under a piece of cloth in the corner of the shop – underneath her shelves of misspelled or faulty prints – awaiting the first customer she can unveil it to…

On the street outside, the gas lamps are being lit and occasionally one of the city’s trams – with huge decoy horse heads on the front of them – gallops by on its noisy rails, shrouding the frontage of Clacker’s Printworks in steam. Seeing them, Imogen pedals a little harder at her latest job and thinks:

Steam? Steam!

Who needs steam?!

My pedal, treadle-

Powered machines

Are more than a match

For their foggy screams.

As she glares out of the window through the steam, a man emerges suddenly from it and pushes the door with some force and grandeur.

‘Good day, Miss Clacker!’ his booming bass voice fills the room.

‘Mr Falbust,’ Imogen stops pedalling and stands up, wiping a mixture of fudge and black ink across her nose – she was halfway through a mouthful, ‘I wasn’t expecting you just yet, the programmes won’t be ready until tomorrow.’

‘That is fine, Clacker – I wish to up my order. We will need some bill-posters for the production too – and quite a few of them.’

‘Of course, Mr Falbust – how many?’

‘One hundred, by the day after tomorrow.’

‘The day after tomorrow?’

‘Is that a problem, Clacker?’

‘Of course not, Mr Falbust – and not only that, but might I…make a suggestion?’

‘What kind of suggestion?’

‘About the production – and your advertising?’

‘Go on…’

Imogen scuttles toward the veiled machine in the corner, twitching with excitement. She takes the corner of the cloth in her hand and – like a game-show assistant gone very, very wrong – in one movement unveils it. As she does, she declares:

‘The Pedal-Powered Pavement Printing Velocipede!’

‘It’s a bit of a mouthful.’

‘Yes.’

‘Well – what is it?’

‘As the name suggests, Mr Falbust, this is a machine for printing directly on to the roads and pavements. The city itself will be your billboard! As your prospective audience are trotting along in their carriages or whizzing by on the wretched tram, they will see the advertisement spelt out before them. And you, Mr Falbust, will be the first to advertise to them in this way!’

‘The first?’

‘The first!’

‘Here, or anywhere?’

‘Well – the first here.’

And how much will it cost me?’

‘A shilling a yard for the first ten yards and a half-shilling thereafter.’

‘Expensive!’

‘Innovative!’

‘Will it work?’

‘Or your money back!’

Falbust puffs himself out to his fullest width – which is very wide – and like a great warbling red-breasted bird says:

‘Very well. Take this down: GRAND SPECTACULAR! With entirely New Scenery, New and Magnificent Dresses and Properties, Stage Band &c., &c. – Artemis Theatre, Hatchet Square.’

Frantically, Imogen runs to her machinery and takes down his words on her typewriter – a half-ball shaped device from which all the letters of the alphabet protrude – from which a piece of paper emerges.

‘And where would you like the text, Mr Falbust?’

‘This is the main shopping street, so the full length of Scansion Way. And across the Hybridge too, there’s a lot of traffic there.’

‘Of course, Mr Falbust – I’ll let you know how many yards once it’s done. By tomorrow?’

‘Tomorrow it is!’

‘Splendid, Mr Falbust.’

‘You’ll be getting one of your staff to do it, I suppose?’

‘Yes, one of my staff. That’s right.’

‘Well send them my thanks – I hope to see a full house every night. Must be off, the dress rehearsal is about to begin.’

‘Break a leg, Mr Falbust?’

‘Yes! Let’s hope you don’t, with all this pedalling – eh?’ he guffaws.

‘Yes Mr Falbust, let’s hope not!’

As he leaves the shop, Imogen waves him off and thinks:

Staff? STAFF?!

He’s having a laugh,

It’s only me

Who’ll make this budge,

Who’ll spell it out

Without a smudge –

Me and my

Beloved fudge.

She opens another box and sits back down at her machinery to finish the theatre programmes. It is going to be a long night.

***

Imogen awakes with a start in her bed out the back of the shop. Last night was something of a blur, as if she’d dreamt all the pedalling to finish the programmes and the first outing of her new Pedal-Powered Pavement Printing Velocipede to advertise Kester Falbust’s new production. She must only have fallen asleep a few hours ago once she’d printing the length of the Hybridge (having had to wait for a ship to pass through) and then the full length, both directions, of Scansion Way.

She leaps from her bed and rushes to the front door, excited to see the results. Sure enough, there are the messages printed at regular spaces all along the road, past the turn off to Redolent Road and all the way up to the junction with Indolent Avenue. It’s like the street is a giant piece of paper and Imogen has written neatly all over it.

But then – she looks closer. Although the letters themselves are perfect and crisp, on closer inspection, the message on the road reads:

‘SPAND GRECTACULAR – With Scew Nenery, Drew and Nagnificent Messes and Boperty Prand, Stage &c &c Artemis Hatchet, Theatre Square.’

Imogen is horrified –

How can it be

That my murds

Are so wuddled?

Is my sense of spelling

So befuddled?

Truly, this a

Mectacular spess

And cannot be construed

As anything less.

She barely notices that even her thoughts are starting to get confused, too…She glances up at the clock and sees it is 6am. The sun is only just peeking up through the dawn and only the odd shopkeeper is stirring along Scansion Way. Perhaps Falbust won’t have seen it yet? Imogen resolves to rectify her mistake before he can. But she must work fast. Soon, the trams would start running and the whole city would wake up…

First, she looks at the wheels of the Velocipede, hastily removes the rubber tyres, made up of individual letters, and rearranges them so the message is now spelled out correctly. Re-attaching the wheels, she pushes the velocipede out of the front door and hops on. In order to correct her mistake, she will have to erase the first set and then print them again with the proper message. She switches the machine from ‘Print’ to ‘Brush’ mode and starts to retrace her route – to the Hybridge first then back to correct the street outside her shop.

By 7.15, she has managed to erase the messages in both directions of traffic on the Hybridge. As far as she knows, Kester Falbust would have to make his way across the bridge to get to the theatre, so now she just had to get back to Scansion Way before Falbust came to check on his posters, programmes and street printing. Imogen is frantic:

I must correct

This silly error

Or my rep

Will be in tatters

When Mr Falbust

Comes to find us

The perfect print

Is all that matters!

She pedals furiously back towards Scansion Way, her stout legs straining, and takes another mouthful of fudge to keep her going. At the end of the street, Imogen is feeling distinctly worse for wear. Her eyes are barely open and her legs feel as though they are made of lead.

At some point, everything goes dark. Imogen is suddenly aware she is tiny, riding upon a Velocipede a little like her Pavement Printing machine – only enormous. She clambers up to look at the printing wheels, and sees they are made not of rubber letters, but of fudge cut into hieroglyphs, strange symbols she cannot understand. She looks down at the pedals and realises they are powering themselves – or rather, they are being powered by a steam engine just under Imogen’s feet. And it is hot. Her feet are starting to burn – and steam from pipes stretching up either side of the Velocipede right up into the sky – she can’t even see their end. As she attempts to stop her feet catching fire, she begins to breathe heavily and panic. What is happening? Imogen becomes aware that her breathing is not her own, there is a rhythmic sound, coming from behind her. She is asleep and dreaming! Her eyes spring open and she turns to look behind her. Looming from the fog is one of the city’s trams, the horse-shaped front end is rearing up not twenty yards away, belching steam towards her!

Imogen puts her feet to the pedals and tries to push, but something is stopping her. Her heart races as the tram races toward her little velocipede and she reaches down to the pedals – feeling around them, a box of fudge is wedged beneath the right one. Wrenching it out, she presses with all her might and the velocipede lurches forward, just at the second the giant red tram roars by – clipping the edge of the wheel. She squeals as it does so – eek! – and then all is quiet as the tram clangs off on its rails.

Pushing the velocipede back to the shop, Imogen looks down the street – which she must have managed to erase the misspelled advertisements before falling asleep, which was something. The corrected street-writing would have to wait until she’d fixed the Velocipede.

Pushing through a pile of cast-off prints – she must have knocked them off in her hurry – and falling back into her chair, Imogen thinks:

I could rather do

With a day off or two –

And in fact, more than that,

Someone to point the finger at

When everything’s too much for one

And all the work has not been done.

This morning has surely

Been portentous…

As Imogen finishes this last thought, a young woman walked into her shop and says:

‘I wonder – might you need an apprentice?’

No-one had ever rhymed with her thought before, except herself. This, she thinks, is a sign.

‘Funnily enough,’ says Imogen, ‘I am. And you can start with these posters…I need to fix my velocipede.’

And so, Clacker’s Printworks became Clacker and Associate. It transpired too that her new worker had something of a dislike for fudge – and after that day, so did Imogen.

Powder-Monkey

I read at a Pride fundraiser last night – a lovely event where various intrepid writers went off for twenty minutes to create pieces based around words shouted out by the audience. The quality of what they managed to make was really impressive and highly entertaining.

It fell to me to amuse those remaining for the intervening twenty minutes…And the second piece I performed contained the following villanelle, based around the terms ‘Monkey Hangers’ (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_hanger ) and ‘Powder Monkey’ (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powder_monkey ).

Here’s the poem:

Powder-Monkey

My hands and their eyes turned the pitchest of black
The sea waves the same to a creature or boy
So they’ll say that a monkey hangs over the deck.

For the days and leagues before we were wracked
The Captain’s tide turned; there were no ships ahoy,
My hands and their eyes turned thepitchest of black.

With Napoleon’s garb buttoned up to my neck
In my tiny cockade, a mechanical toy:
So they say that a monkey hangs over the deck.

When the gulls formed an Empire and started to peck,
The crew’s tattered bodies became Trompe-l’œil:
My hands and their eyes turned the pitchest of black.

When our enemy’s land became more than a speck
Sail-wrapped and mast-snapped, too numb to feel joy
They’ll say that a monkey hangs over the deck.

I wanted to plead but my salty tongue cracked,
The court on the sand didn’t know the word ‘boy’:
My hands and their eyes went the pitchest of black
As they cheer that a monkey hangs over the deck.

I also read a story, which I’ll pop up on my Skylab Stories blog, as it’s more of the psychadelic Victoriana…

Edging

My, what a busy week for storytelling.

Tonight, I’ll be performing a story of neighbourly suspicion and summer garden gothic intrigue among late-middle-aged widowers (or are they?) entitled ‘Edging or, Two Birds. One Stone. No Alibi.’  This will be at Folk Tales, The Scout Hut, near the water and opposite Severn Shed.

Then on Sunday, I’ll be at the Central Library for Skylab Stories Sunday Adventure Club to read another story from the raft of characters emerging from my novel, ‘The Stitches in Time’. This time, it’s Jack and Stella Hammerton-Stanhope, precocious (and spoilt) children of Lady Hammerton-Stanhope, who can’t help but competing in who knows more about the world and its history…Nazcans! Aztecs! Messopotatomians!

2pm at the Central Library on Sunday 4th July.

An artists representation of some Victorian children.