Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bad Weather and the Terrible Questions it Inspires

Grim and stoic are the clouds of London. With growing concerns about my vitamin D intake did I regard the unmoving, grey ceiling of the heavens from my little window in Leytonstone. Is it in the shadows of these bulbous cherubim that I must tread for the rest of my voyage through these streets, I asked myself? No! Well, yes. Upon reflection I was forced to admit that I was utterly impotent as far as the clouds and their divine movements were concerned. Was this, then, my lot? A long fall towards depression and rickets?
In desperation did I turn to the good people of London for inspiration. “Oy dung Noh lih’ul pup it” said one spotty fellow with a ring through his nose. I edged away from him with speed. “Oh, a serpentine, furred horror” said a man with a bowler hat.  “Kurva Lalek!” exclaimed a dark-haired lady with loud cheek bones.
Ah, but such is the cacophony of London! A thousand tongues, mated with a thousand manners, to produce a thousand songs, and not a single one of them on key.

And still the clouds were fixed and firm above me. With a wary slither did I cross the historic Tower Bridge. How many existences have tumbled off into the belching embrace of the Thames from beneath those unseemly spires! There was a faint tickle at the back of my brain at the thought – perhaps I…? But no. First of all the Thames is undoubtedly cold and secondly – well, who has the energy for that sort of thing these days?
It was then that a djinni descended from behind one of the towers. He was a flurry of metal wings that spun like a turbine, releasing sparks and flourishes of golden ether. Two shining purple eyes stared at me fixedly from within that maelstrom with coy invitation, and with a hiss the whirl of magic and will settled on the pavement beside me.
“Oh djinni!” I shouted, “Oh symbol of a lost age! Tell me where I might find succour amidst this modern ennui!”
“Fancy a copy of the Star?” the djinni asked, shoving a fistful of finely decorated pulp under my nose, “Only a pound. Wait till you see our page three girl – she’s from SCOTLAND!”
It began to rain, and I hurried on.
On, London, London! I reflected on the history of this old and blasted place. How many wars you have endured! How many waves of immigration have rushed down your streets! How much construction, reconstruction, Roman conquest and Capital invest has stained, tarred and burned the stones at that surround me! How much culture, art, literature have gestated in your belly! How much wonder and terror has poured forth from your bowels, generation after generation, to scar and enliven this spinning ball of hope, of excrement! What muse, what deity, what fecund LIFE is it that sits in the heart of you to create such a wash of the incredible?

A sea serpent was stuck on a buoy just a few hundred yards from the south bank. It was a fat, green amphibian as long as a bus. A red crown of bulbous flesh pulsed steadily behind its jaws, and its smooth, oily skin shone dimly in the pale light of the afternoon. Several barges were navigating around it, prodding it, attempting to roll it off its perch.
“So sorry,” it muttered, not looking at anyone, “So sorry, dreadfully sorry, oh this is so embarrassing.”
A middle aged, round MP with a thick grey moustache starred at the serpent and the barges for a moment, and nodded. “Hmm Hmm,” he said with an approving nod, “Mmmurh,” and set off to towards Parliament.
And the rain was a drizzle now, and I had forgotten my raincoat. My fur was soaked to the skin, and it was a feeling of utter dejection that a sat upon a stone bench outside the national theatre, to watch the crowds pass before me. ‘In London,’ I thought, ‘humanity is a river,’ and it was with distracted pleasure that I watched them. There, the new family: tense father, desperate mother and child arms spread and smile golden. There, the lonely old man: back bent, cap stuck on tight and quietly aghast at the frank reality that life was a disappointment. There, the young lovers: hand in hand and lips nuzzling necks, clinging to each other for they know the currents are strong.
And there – but what is this? Two middle aged men, gaunt and trim and proper in spectacles, their shirtsleeves folded back over their elbows, faces frowning in concentration; these two men are putting on a puppet show.

But such puppets! At the end of each puppeteer’s arms there is a construction of cane, wood, fabric that resembles a crippled man at the end of a long life. With arthritic slowness these objects stumble about their apartment; with pained slowness do they admonish each other for their forgetfulness; with the practice of decades do they express their love.
And all of them wood! Wood! Wood! Ah, to make the dead dance, to make the inanimate shiver for cold! Too often do I neglect my faithful puppeteer whatzizname, my dear biped, and grant him little enough credit for his work to me. Without him, how would I ever reach my wheaties?
After their show, I crawled up to the puppeteers to offer my congragulations. They were sweaty, tired and goofily happy creatures. Their puppets and I exchanged respectful nods – we puppets, outside of our professional lives, rarely have time for each other.
It was then that I noticed thin tubes connected to the puppets’ necks, leading into bandages strapped around the puppeteers’ upper arms. A dark, pulsing liquid seemed to move from through these opaque pipes – heavens! Was it blood?
“Yah,” nodded the puppeteer with the close-cropped hair and the easy smile. “About a half a pint a day. We picked up on this trick about a year ago. We’re not sure why – and it’s not like the puppets ask for it – but it improves the performance.”

His partner, thin and serious, watched us intently, “Yah,” he said, “Now they move as if they were alive. It hurts a little, well, sometimes a lot. But,” and he looked thoughtful for a moment, “Not too much. Nah, it’s not too bad. And the audience loves it.”
I left them to the sound of coin tinkling in their hat, and wandered a while longer without thought, and with me went the immortal clouds of London.


Good day, respected and responsible peers. 
It is my duty to inform you that the puppet company referred
to above in Mister Verg's typically circuitous mannner
may in fact be "Handspring Puppet Company".
You may view their work on the interconnection network here:
Thank you. Please continue to read Russian Literature.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


   "Go to the South Bank!" they said, smiles on their faces, "What a fine and lovely place!" Being carved from trusting material, I agreed.
   The South Bank. What is the South Bank? Well, there is the river Thames, bowels of the city and home to gaunt, muttering fish. It wriggles its way between glass towers, bloated museums and overpriced Italian joints, tirelessly carrying the offal of the world capitol off, off into the sea which waits, patiently, somewhere. Millions have trod over it, pissed and spat into its waves. It bisects London neatly in half and for generations things were nice and simple - North of the Thames was the place to be, South was not.
   Then, in a mad rush of Mongol conquest, that changed.

   The south bank was colonized by a race of clean cobblestones, trees arranged by geometric logic and bridges bred from ivory serpents. The drug dealers and cockney gangsters who had dwelt there sputtered in rage for a while and then followed the Neanderthal down the lonely roads of history. Overnight the South Bank swelled with the sound of pitter-pattering hordes, as Londoners, tourists and all manner of creatures in-between made the South Bank their Roman Highway. This was the scene of the Great March that leads not to Rome or the Vatican, but to plastic Big Ben replicas and a Ferris Wheel that costs you £20.
   And me? I slithered along with the best of them. There's all sorts of neat places like the National Theatre and, um, the Globe is there as well. In between that big silver snake bridge thing and that really expensive Ferris Wheel is the field where they've stored all the street performers. They've even allowed them to perform there, at least until the trucks come.
   The day was not bright, and sure the clouds were fat and angry and you could even see the rain down the river to the east, but being England such was to be expected. I was impressed with the sheer volume of families, fat men and stunned would be hippies calling the stones their own, and while I did not precisely feel welcome no one was threatening immolation. I leaned against the cold walls that overlook the eternal Thames, and prepared for a session of intense, serious-looking introspection.
   I heard something smacking its lips, once then twice, wetly.

   I looked about. Nothing but Frenchmen eating ice cream, but not THAT loudly. Could it have been the water lapping some five meters below me?
   I heard it again. Smack smack. Where was it coming from?
   It was then that I noticed the lamp posts. They were placed at regular intervals along the Thames wall, high things of wrought metal that just oozed Victorian elegance. The daylight, faint as it was, gave their dark hides a glistening, unhealthy sheen. It was not yet evening, and the lamps that blossomed above were dead.
   The base of these lamps was a fascinating design: two vast, scaled creatures with their heavy chins dripping over the wall, tails raised up and intertwined till finally their fins formed the cradle the lamp itself called home. What remarkable things! Their lips were heavy, their mouths agape in an expression not unlike a silent scream. Their eyes were unfocused, staring haphazardly into the passing crowd, devoid of expression and desire.

   I was amazed that I hadn't seen these things before! How many, I thought, passed by this incredible bit of urban sculpture without a glance, eyes only for the flashy and new? What a sad comment on this age, on this zeitgeist! I could barely restrain a grin - finding these statues would be a private gloat for me. For me alone would they reveal their aesthetic pleasures! Oh rapture! A closer examination was needed. The only thing spoiling the sight was a baby pacifier that some thoughtless suburban mom and left within the mouth of the statue, dangling, looking a little wet. I stood up from the wall, and prepared to step closer.
   In the corner of my eye I saw a woman standing next to the statue. She had been examining a map, her free hand placed idly on the baby carriage before her. Her brow furrowed. She leaned over. "Sam?" she cried, thinly. The carriage with empty.
   Indifferent, I turned back to the statue. I saw a red tongue sneak from its lips and haul the pacifier back into its gullet. It took only a moment. Not another inch of the thing had moved. The mother started to make a dry, retching noise.
   That night for dinner I had pasta and some toast with honey.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hell on Earth is the London Underground

SO me and the Biped (aka. the Biped and I) were at Bond station, a relatively minor intersection in those great artificial bowel system commonly called the tube. Things were proceeding at a dull pace. It was half past five, the great filthy heart of rush hour. 
We were surrounded by all sides by the human tide that floods these tunnels every two to three minutes (the lost souls given the task of cleaning the tunnels say that sometimes, between the rushes, they can hear the ocean). All sorts. Bankers, with their carefully trimmed morning shadow; would be artists, desperate to preserve some sense of uniqueness amidst the insistent crush; the young things, focused upon their ipods and assorted private universes...so on and so on, trump trump trump. 

Then suddenly there he was - the man. The Man in Grey. He wore an Underground officer uniform, and his hands were waving. Hello, I said, but he couldn't hear me. He stared ahead, his mouth moving slowly, intoning. He pointed to the passage behind him.
It was closed off. He was diverting two human rivers into one. 
Allright, we thought, we ca handle this. We squeezed together, flashed the cocky smile. One fellow lifted up his briefcase over his head, to make more room. There was very little fuss. The pace was far slower, as too many forced their way into too tight a space. Stairs appeared, and the danger of a human avalanche. Eyes were averted downwards to mind the mini precipices. It's ok, we thought. There's always another train. Trump trump. A good thing we left early, says the old man in the cardigan. Trump Trump. His wife smiles. Trump.
We stop moving.

The hubbub of the crowd diminishes immediately to a stunned silence. There is no movement whatsoever. There simply is nowhere to go. Peering over the ring of heads we can see down into the tunnel, and all there is to see are scalps and shoulders and hoodies. It is a sea of brunettes, blondes and premature baldness. The heads turn left, then right. A few more stand on tip toe to check out the scene before them. Then they turn around.
Behind us, the tide continues, only to stop short against our backs. At the rate of a dozen in a heartbeat, more human beings are rushed into our gathering legion. They meet us, glance quickly into our eyes, peer around, then like us they look back - and see the same truth we are are realizing.
There is no way out. 
A few voices are heard calling for the Grey Man - the Underground officer. But he is too far behind, and even if he were not what could he do? By now there are hundreds of us, in five minutes there may be over a thousand. The ceilings suddenly contract around us, and we see that they are so very low. Shoulders begin to jostle, one young lady leaps up and down a few times ahead for no apparent reason or benefit - her red hair a dash of the harlequin amidst the tightening panic. We experience the abrupt and stunning fact of group think, for every one of us, we know, we know, is considering a scream. One woman bites her lower lip. There is an exclamation in German.
A face looms out of the crowd, wrinkled and grinning, bright blue eyes with a twinkle. A London face, inescapably English. "I love the underground," he says, in a voice brimming with cockney mischief. And quite suddenly, the is a ripple of laughter moving out from us. The crowd visibly sags at the released tension. Yeah, one voice says in response. A girl is heard giggling down the stairs. An African baritone takes up the call in a roaring laugh. The cockney nods, and that incredibly English patience moves through us, and is this not just a long cue? We see the bright, perfect smile of a young girl within a crevasse of throats and hair. A nod with the cockney, and, for a brief moment, we remember the meaning of companionship. We stare ahead, brave sheep, and check our texts.
The lights go out.


Ladies and Gentlemen, a few words about the above account. After a fierce cross-examination,
I wrought from Mr. Verg the fact that, while all else is perfectly true, the final
sentence of the story you just read was a gross example of hyperbole.
The Lights merely flickered, to the accompaniment of some screams.
Remember, I always have your best interests at heart.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

London has Many Tall Buildings and Smells Funny

You know what's the best thing about being a puppet?
All of your days off spent in a sack!
You know what's the second best thing?
There is no second best thing, but on a completely tangential note I am in London!

It's true. After years of success, improvising song on the streets of Toronto, dancing energetically to the 'tinkle tinkle' tune of consistently undervalued Canadian currency and indulging in sweet hybridized West Indian Curry, it's all over. I was hastily bundled into my sack by my boss (henceforth to be known as 'The Biped' or 'He Who Knows Not The Purpose of Soap'), spent 8 hours listening to what vaguely sounded like Iron Man 2 on a distant PA system, and finally emerged into a strange country in which the people say Guhvnor a lot.

My initial impressions of this Town called London are sketchy.

I was most astounded by the sense of POWER here. I mean, gosh. Look at all those buildings, so ancient and old! So elegant, yet so dark in colour scheme! Centuries of soot and exhaust have settled and bit into that stone, yet they remain firm and sort of unsullied. And how? Generations of wage slaves willing to clean it, that's how! I mean, keeping a place this mad relatively tidy necessitates ridiculous amounts of power! And money! I'm sure there's some of that around here somewhere, too.

It's an odd place though. I feel as if London is a town haunted by its own obsolete history. The faces are fresh, tough, sterilized, and moving fast...and the old towers look down upon them longingly. Spare a glance?, they seem to say. Some consideration? But nestled at the feet of these lonely edifices there's a whole garden of plastic and neon fungus, swallowing attention with greed and rabidity, and the great tumult marches on into the gullet of modernity. Woosh!

The Biped is apparently attending a Theatre/er school, so I expect to be dragged to many performances and what not, and I will keep you (whoever YOU are) updated. Otherwise I shall be exploring this Metropolis with my comrades in arms (or on arms, as the case may be), and mayhaps one day London too shall ring with the silver bells of Improv Song.

Adieu for now! I go now to explore the internet, which, as many have told me, is the key to this Great Luminous Age - but so far all I've found are boobies.


Mr. Verg