When pizza calls

MmmmmIf on arrival late from toil,
you find a pot still clean to boil,
but glancing in the fridge recoil
at all the store left there to spoil.

Your stomach roars for just a crumb,
what once was bread has turned to scum!
So dashing through the door you’ve come
to get some pizza Mmmm…

Looking at your phone you fret
the closing time will soon be met
a shattered dream, a losing bet
a cheesy meal you’ll never get.

But as you slide around the bend
a light there yonder bucks the trend
you make it just before the end
“One large pizza!” Mmmm…

The forest escalator

The forest escalator

Delphine looked down at her feet. Her blue, glossy gumboots, her favourite gumboots that she had bought two years ago at a flea market, were speckled with mud. There was a cricket in front of her that was struggling around the edges of a puddle, spinning and bouncing as if it didn’t know which direction it had to take to save itself. Good luck. Delphine stepped carefully over him with her right foot. Without looking up she leant forwards to find that her left foot had followed her right, then came her right, then her left again and soon she had built up a washing rhythm. Patch! Patch! Patch! Patch!

The path was covered in wet palm fronds, decaying branches –  oh look, there’s a feather! – greyish streaks of clay and smooth rocks, possibly from that stream she could hear but not see. The light dimmed and she felt the rain again on the back of her neck, a single drop took the trail down her spine and made it halfway down her back until it soaked into the fabric of her shirt. They had told her to go to the forest, that there she would discover the path, the forest escalator. This was no myth they had assured her, Ol’ Dang Dang had found it while on a mushroom tour, he didn’t dare set himself on it of course but ran home without his mushrooms and shut himself inside for a week. A rolling monster of a thing, he had said, moving upwards like a lumber mill, sending wood chips flying into the canopy above. “Why don’t you go in and see for yourself?” They roared in chorus. Delphine had wanted to kill them where they stood, smash their woolen caps into their custard faces, but she didn’t. After all the cyclical arguments, the spitting, avoidance and blackballing she’d learned that it was not worth pushing back. So she slammed her glass on the bar and left without saying goodbye, without pausing to consider where in the forest she should start looking.

Heavy rain. The type of rain that sounds like the applause after the end of an orchestral movement. The trees stood staid looking down upon the girl as she stumbled along the thinning path.

“Another one?” the tall mossy tree asked. “Why, it was not last week that one of them came through.”

“I didn’t see nuttin’,” said the old gray tree.

“You ‘didn’t see nuttin’?”

“Nope. Not a single scrap of ’em.”

“I hope at least one of them makes it this time. The forest needs more of their kind, not like the insipid blunderers that live in that colony nearby. They’ll burn us down before they take the escalator.”

“I sure hope they don’t do that,” said old gray.

Delphine was so deep in the forest now that her boots no longer appeared blue, but a dark purple, which made her feel nervous. The colours of nature were turning on her, consuming and making her a part of her surroundings. She had reached the end of the visible path and there was no indication which direction she should take, nor could she take orientation from the seething thrum of insects; there were only the trees, like bands of tar stretched from the ground that seemed to be herding her to the left. But in the distance there was something: something moving silently upwards in a steady rhythm, green phosphorus lineaments spaced evenly apart.

The escalator!

She noticed that she had started to run and, contrary to what she had expected, the escalator did not remain hanging on a point in her vision like some mirage but was approaching, accelerating in fact towards her, and in a few minutes she was standing before its glowing form. I’m going to take this ride, take it all the way.

There were stairs of deep red wood, streaked with rays of light and they were genuinely rising upwards to a point that Delphine could not see.

“Well, she done and come this far,” said the gray tree. “Why don’t she just climb up the thing?”

“I don’t believe it’s as simple as that,” the tall tree said. “At least not for them. They have to have the choice to do it and, at the same time, to know that they have no choice but to have the choice to do it. Nothing to do with moral compunction, you see? Going up that path for them means releasing the payload of one’s understanding, it sounds rather frightening. Do you follow me?”

“No.”

The mossy tree shook his leaves and sighed. “It doesn’t matter.”

The moment the gumboot set on the wooden step the thing began to roll faster. Delphine felt her other foot being lifted from the ground. Too late! She lunged for a railing but could not find one, instead her hand hit a slippery invisible barrier, as if the escalator was encased in an invisible tunnel that was now snaking through the trees. But this was not like any airport travelator she had taken: there was no apparent end to it, no signals or signs of the origins of its design, yet it propelled its cargo with some muted purpose. She thought of her brother, how his broken body lay on the grass, how his mother had retreated in shock. She spoke her father’s name, the ‘Reverend’ who had defined a hell on Earth for them that made the wicked place of his sermons seem like a place of relief. She thought about all of this, but did not cover her face this time or shut her eyes, she laid no blame on invisible dictators or on he books that were thrown at her nor did she find herself clenching her fists to her lap in shame; the escalator was bringing her beyond all these feelings and the higher it took her, the brighter and lighter she felt. It was an alien sensation, but it was the truth, that much she was sure of and regardless of whether there was an edge to this procession, a chasm of white or a drop to her demise, she couldn’t wait to return and do it again.

Achtung! Imprint does not mean Impressum

Impressum is a fabulous German word that appears in the footer of most websites in the .de domain, the loose translation of which is a combination of  ‘legal notice‘ and ‘site information‘. Its literal twin in English is ‘imprint‘, which of course means ‘a mark made by pressure’.

Now, comrades, we all know that translating literally from one language to another is dangerous and can cause everything from mild embarrassment to the cataclysmic destruction of the known universe – that’s pretty much why we who work with funny foreign words tend to avoid it. Idioms are of course the easiest to make fun of. Take for example the following:

Es fällt mir nichts ein.

This literally means ‘nothing falls into me’ and represents the idea that you cannot think of anything or nothing occurs to you. Perhaps this example reveals too much of my personality, but it illustrates a point – the same people who would have us place ‘Imprint‘ at the end of the English version of a website , when what they really mean is ‘Impressum‘, would also insist on the absence of things falling into them, when they really can’t think of anything at all! “The more meaningless it is to a native speaker of the target language the better!” they exclaim and busy themselves with other solipsismal nonsense. Confused? You wouldn’t be if everyone translated words into intelligible sentences.

Have your cake and eat it… thermometer

When a word is used out of context or just plain incorrectly, it grabs the reader’s attention. The reader thinks: “Hey, that doesn’t belong there. What could the writer possibly mean?” This tool can be effectively used in fiction:

Terence reached into his tackle box and clawed through the tangled mass of old sinkers and wire. He was looking for strawberries.

Nevertheless, inserting ‘Imprint‘ at the bottom of your website, when you really mean something else (and legally have to), is a clear case of stupid laziness, of which the only consequence is to generate confusion in and mockery of you by every native speaker of English who happens to land on your Webseite. We know it, even the Germans know it, so why does it persist?

Frodo you twat!

You pine for mounds of green that stew in friendly morning mists,
the furrows worried frantic turn asunder with the twists,
and turns of dodging trolls and dousing dange’rous breakfast coals,
your furry foot does blight you as another mountain calls.

Scurry down and up and round in asperous, aqueous loops,
chased by beasts with blackened blood (or other ethnic groups),
you spout reproof and peck under the gentle gardner’s wing,
dimiss him with the claim that you’re a captive to the ring.

You’ve friends from many worlds and say you speak the elven tongue,
and at climactic intervals been stabbed and bit and strung,
Yet o’er and o’er again a sceptic mind must call it quits,
‘Cause in all of Middle Earth are you the whiniest of shits.

The Convenient Dog

The convenient dogIt was one of those summer days during which the heat pushed and spread and swarmed across the land. Serghei Patrescu and his cousin Corneliu were returning to camp after a taxing day spent crawling up and down rows of fruit bushes in the fields. They had consumed the larger part of an unlabelled bottle of vodka and were about to open their second when Corneliu fell into a terrible state of agitation.

“Tell me I am a fool!”

“You’re a fool, Corneliu Patrescu, but you don’t need me to tell you that. What is it this time?”

“I have fallen in love.”

“Again? What about that doctor from Budapest?”

“And what a stuck up one she was!”

“She helped you through a panic attack because you missed your station.”

“A false diagnosis! I had merely eaten too many cabbage rolls; you know how sensitive my organs are. No, this time it is different. I am in love with the category of female that comes but once in a generation. She is called Nella and she is the prettiest, most intelligent creature ever to know and say my name. All I can do is think of her face, her chocolate hair and her eyes, which are like the darkest of cherries-”

“And don’t forget her skin, which looks like whipped cream!” Serghei laughed. “Tell me more, I’m getting hungry.”

“If you were to see her, cousin, you would understand,” Corneliu said. “I say this in all seriousness, she is nothing other than gorgeous and unique and sincere combined in way that arrests your heart and mind, certainly not shaped from the same mold as the women we are used to.”

“Have you told her of your love?”

“Well, no, not exactly. I have tried to reveal my feelings, but on each occasion my attempts were thwarted by an insufferable dog. Can you believe it? I wish to kill it and hang its matted hide over the front of my van.”

“You mean she’s got a guard dog?”

“Impossible! No sane person would keep such a monster. He is the ghastliest kind of mongrel you have ever seen with fangs like rusted nails and a growl like it is gargling gravel. No, his sole purpose is to torment me it seems. It all started last week during afternoon rest; Nella was at the water, standing before me, barefoot and arched over the tap like a stem that could not bear the weight of a magnificent flower. She was drinking and cleaning her feet and I watched her as the wet hem of her crimson dress stuck to her calves. I stood paralysed. I am fortunate that she did not witness my abject leering, for my tongue was without doubt waving about loosely over my jaw. And then, just at that moment, as she rose to face me, the sun came out and shone down on us.”

“A sign from heaven.”

“Exactly!”

“And what about these wet calves?”

“I told her my name and she told me hers. She asked me why I wasn’t in the field with the others and I told her I had taken ill, that the weather in this country does not agree with me so. Well, she placed her hand on my stomach and gave me a look that sent the acids frothing in my gut. I had a septic case of gastritis she said, and a tonic of cardamon and peppermint would help, if only I would come back with her to her caravan, she had plenty in supply.”

“Tell me you didn’t go with her!”

“I said yes and do not dare call it ungentlemanly and say that you would not.”

“But Corneliu,” Serghei cocked his head. “I would’ve at least asked the price beforehand.”

“Oh, how clever of you. This is not a woman who needs to sell herself, and indeed not to people of your portly composition, for there is no price which can be set on her except love. I agreed and without a lewd thought in my mind. We were leaving when the beast came careening out from behind a bush and drove a hairy wedge between us. Nella screamed and fled towards the camp. I undertook to pursue her, to protect her from this evil thing, but I fell and found myself right under his nose. It still makes me nauseous to think of the foulness of his breath. Be gone! I shouted, but he moved not a whit and held me there for what seemed like an hour, staring at me with those yellowed, dog eyes. I was too petrified to move.”

“What did it want from you? A kiss?”

“How should I know? The devil didn’t reveal his plot to me. He must have decided eventually that I was no sport as he removed his paw from my breast and trotted off back from where he came. I was too traumatised to give chase. After work I looked for Nella everywhere, asked the Romani and even bothered the poor Bulgarians with the search, without result. I started to wonder if she did in fact exist, or if she was part of some dream. But the feeling was real: I was left with an emptiness I’d never experienced before, like someone had cut a piece of me and stolen away with it.”

“Perhaps the dog took a piece of your brain without you noticing, cousin.”

Corneliu didn’t reply. They reached the tent and dropped their gear. Serghei kicked an overturned trolley that had served as their barbecue and, satisfied that it was still full of burning coals, began collecting leaves and sticks to build a fire. Seeing that his cousin had more to recount, he prompted: “But it was real or you wouldn’t have seen them again, the girl and her pet.”

“Oh yes, she is real and so is the beast, unfortunately. A day later I woke earlier than usual and went to the Romani camp to look for her. I waited under a tree, pretending to repair my boots – but I was really inspecting the women who were already awake. They were hanging out washing and filling up water bottles, as they do at that hour. But none of them was my Nella. The men woke shortly after and there was much commotion around the camp. Still, no one noticed me sitting there with my head down. Eventually they all filed out into the fields. I too was about to leave when suddenly I heard the singing of bells. A caravan door opened and-”

“There she was, like an angel floating out of the clouds. Am I right?”

“I am beginning to think that you are not taking me seriously.”

“That statement is not wholly right, cousin. It’s true that I’m not taking you seriously but I wouldn’t say that you have at all begun to think.” Corneliu lit a cigarette and handed it to Serghei. “Those our last?” Serghei asked. Corneliu nodded and continued:

“She came forth from the red vardo. You have probably seen it already – it is an exquisite house with modern accessories and truly the only caravan in the whole camp fitting for Nella. She was wearing a creme skirt and t-shirt, which was so tight around her chest I almost tripped over. She was weighed down by a load of laundry, so I ran to help her and we set it on the line together. We talked and talked. I told her how we were stopped at the border, that they found the three cartons of cigarettes under the seat but not those down your pants. Oh, how she laughed! I discovered she is from a place not too far from our village, but that she was taken to the capital when she was very young. She wanted to know how I was after the incident with the dog and was very sorry for having ran away. When I recounted to her how the beast had attacked me, she dropped everything, touched me gently on the shoulder and thanked me. You should have seen her eyes, cousin – so full of concern and gratefulness.”

“I’m not surprised. You beat the creature back with your bare fists, practically saving her life.”

“Yes, but poor Nella received a far greater fright than I. Oh, how I wanted to comfort and protect her. I would have stood guard by her door every day should she have wished it. But I thought that offer too advancing.”

“That is one word-”

“Instead I asked her if she cared to share dinner with us. But no sooner had the question left my lips than we were struck in the face by a shower of mud. It landed over the white sheets and all over Nella’s t-shirt. It was that blasted dog again. He had obviously been at the lake and had come to dry himself right where we were standing. Nella squealed and I threw a sheet over the brute’s head hoping he would become confused and retreat. But it charged through the camp wrenching one of her clean sheets with it. Nella was beside herself. I ran after the mutt in an effort to retrieve the linen. I chased it through the camp, under cars and over ropes; the sheet meanwhile had coiled itself around the dog’s black fur and had become horribly stained. He was fast I tell you – big and fast and he sped ahead of me like a comet. I kept him in my sight though and chased him to the lake, where he launched himself from the bank and into the water. There was an enormous splash and the sheet flew free. The dog had gone but I managed to collect the sheet from the water and ran back to the camp, but Nella too had disappeared. Curse my luck! I knocked on her door, waited a while but to no avail. What an infernal animal to have come between us again.”

“But it wasn’t all a waste. You know where she lives and can pester her for the rest of the season if you want.”

“That was exactly my intention, although not to pester her of course, but to be close to her, to reveal my feelings. That evening before anyone had returned from the fields I returned to give her a kilo of berries that I had picked for her.They were the biggest and juiciest you have ever seen and cost me at least half a day of work. I even wrapped them in the silver paper that Domnul Petru had given me and rested the parcel on the front step of the vardo with a note attached, inviting her to meet me later by the lake for a picnic. For humour I added that if she would like to eat meat, I would also bring a hunting knife should our friend the dog turn up. Well, that I had that knife right there and then as I had not walked ten metres when the loathsome thing skipped out from under the caravan, ripped open the package with its claws and proceeded to eat the contents, note and all. I was livid and cried after him, stomping and rushing to scare him off but do you think he paid any interest to my protests?”

“Does anyone?”

“He didn’t growl at me and not once did he look up from the berries before he had taken his fill. Then he regarded me once more as if to report on the mediocrity of the meal and vanished. I left the camp and have not returned since, nor have I seen poor Nella. I wonder if the beast will ever leave us in peace.”

While Serghei prepared minced pork for the fire, massaging salt into the meat and shaping it into long batons, Corneliu opened a second bottle and they each drew a long dose.

“Maybe it’s destiny telling you that you and the girl are not meant to be,” Serghei said. “What a shame! This Nella lives in the best caravan in the entire camp, she’s probably rich and, stranger still, might even be interested in you.”

“I didn’t take you for a fatalist, cousin. You know it yourself, love in itself is no miracle, it is merely a signal – like the call of a trumpet that we have to follow until we find from where the music has come. Whether we follow it is up to us. A stray dog may have foiled me but it will not outsmart me.” Corneliu wiped his chin. Then a thought stirred him and he leapt to his feet. “Perhaps I shall go right there now and tell her plainly in front of everyone how she has stolen my heart!”

“Wait until we finish eating, that’s something that I don’t want to miss.”

The two men fried their meat in silence and then sat in the grass to dine. As they were finishing off a dessert of stale bread and berries, a man paced towards them from the direction of the camp. He was a large man with thick legs compacted into grey trousers and tattooed fists each as big as melons, which swung low as he walked.

“Cousin! Is that Domnul Nica?” Corneliu whispered when he saw the man.

“I think it is.”

“What is he doing here?”

“I don’t know. Do you owe money?”

“Of course not. Quiet! Here he comes.”

“Domnul Nica,” Serghei said and stood up. “Come, share a drink with us.”

Domnul Nica’s bald head and dark eyes gyrated for several seconds, taking in the men’s camp, examining their clothes, their torn sneakers hanging from ropes, and ripped newspapers that served as the threshold to their tents. “I have not come to drink. I have come about my wife.”

“Your wife?” Serghei asked looking at Corneliu. “I didn’t know you were married, Domnul Nica.”

“A Buzescu girl. I’ve heard that your cousin here has become acquainted with her.”

Serghei’s shoulders fell and he started blinking as if some bug had flown into his eye. “What is it, Domnul Nica? Has something happened?”

Domnul Nica lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “Yes, something has happened,” the giant man said and reached around his back and withdrew an object from his pocket which he threw at Corneliu. Corneliu held his arms over his head as if to prevent an attack, however the defence proved ineffective as the carton of cigarettes hit him in the face and bounced off his knee.

“Nella was attacked by a rabid dog, ” Domnul Nica said. “And she tells me that you fought it off so that she could escape. The cigarettes are for your trouble. Much better than the cheap stuff you people smuggle in.”

“Thank you, Domnul Nica,” Serghei sighed and smiled at Corneliu who was in shock. “But there’s no need for such generosity. Both I and Corneliu would’ve done it for anyone.”

“I am not anyone. I found the dog and killed it with a shovel. Thank you and goodbye.” Domnul Nica turned and left. As he strode away, Serghei and Corneliu caught a glimpse of a tattoo on his back of  a woman holding a rose with the words ‘Love is fear’ written in cursive underneath.

“Goodbye, Domnul Nica! You can get up from the ground now, cousin. He’s gone.”

“Oh, Serghei! I was sure he had come to break all of my fingers, tear off my legs and bite my ears. And if he had hurt you as a result of my imprudence… but how could I know?”

Serghei closed his eyes and drew the palms of his hands to his face. “Corneliu, you wanted to know if you were a fool, well here is your confirmation. If I ever find the carcass of that blessed animal I will kiss it ten times and then force you to take it home and place it in the garden a reminder of your derangement.”

“I’m sorry, cousin. But now you believe me, don’t you. Now you believe that my love for her was real.”

Serghei paused and looked into the distance. “Give me a cigarette,” he said.

The two men unwrapped the carton and shared the cigarettes equally between them. It wasn’t such a bad life, each of them thought, not knowing tha the other was thinking the same. Not a bad life at all, they thought as they sat in the grass and smoked and watched the sky turn from light to dark.

Trout the existence of cod

A man enters the only restaurant in town on a Sunday evening.  It is not a fine restaurant, the varnish on the chairs and tables is faded and the menus are covered in plastic film, but he finds the atmosphere congenial and the food accessible. As he takes his regular seat in the corner, underneath the print of The Siesta, the waiter approaches him.

“Good evening, sir. Would sir like to see the specials this evening?”

“No, thank you. I’ll have the usual please, a half-litre of merlot and the cod.”

“I’m afraid there is no cod.”

“Since when? I ate here, why, last week on Tuesday. There was cod then. And the week before. And the week before that.”

“The chef, you see, has taken rather a sudden aversion to the whole idea of cod and only yesterday struck it from the menu. Here, you can see the red ink, right through ‘Fried cod and potatoes’.”

“An aversion to cod? Who ever heard of such a thing? Why, this is a cod-loving town, has been for ages. Don’t tell me he’s suddenly become one of those meat-dodging salad grazers, has he? Every time I turn my head, there seems to be someone preaching on high from a crate of bean sprouts the evils of flesh and how our digestive systems are in some way so fragile that we can’t even so much as touch a pork sausage without causing intestinal cancer.”

“Yes, sir. He was unfortunately rather adamant about it.”

“Eh? And what , pray, is his reasoning? Why did he feel it necessary and appropriate to change the menu in such a radical fashion?”

“He says that cod has had its run and that it is time for something new. We have a new fish-based dish however, fresh trout from the river. It looks delicious, I must say. The chef says he has never seen such a good and healthy eating fish; that it’s beyond.”

“Beyond what?”

“Beyond trout, of course.”

“That’s the most ridiculous statement I think I’ve ever heard. Here we are in cod country, we are cod people! What makes him think that cod is suddenly out of fashion?”

“I really don’t know, sir, I’m just the waiter.”

“Well you should know if you’re serving it! Or not serving it in this case. He probably heard it somewhere in the city. Ha! You know, this town is full of fine-upstanding citizens who run about, doing their upstanding business, contributing to our town’s well-being and what happens at the end of a hard day, just when a serving of cod would be most pleasing and adequate? They’re told to forget it because some city folk say it’s no longer in fashion! That … that … that only the sublimely ignorant and clay-eating peasants have any need for cod in their pathetic lives. Now it’s all about having some healthy trout!”

“Well it has been catching on, sir. It’s quite popular with those who have already tried it.”

“And what next? If someone in the city suddenly declares, say, milk to be the new evil, what then? Would we immediately ban the intake of whipped cream and start burning dairy cows in the fields? Oh, here: take this delicious tofu, it’s the latest thing, tastes fantastic and you will soon learn to love it as much as you loved all those cheeses! I mean, lactose intolerance is one thing, but this!”

“Would you like to order the trout then, sir?”

“I most certainly would not like to order the trout! If cod’s not on the menu then I will just have to starve to death!”

“And the half-litre of wine?”

“Oh go on. And bring me a loaf of bread too while you’re at it.”

 

Down and up in Brighton

Sounds
of Brighton
lure me with romances
sand down my apprehensions where it counts
inhales me into its belly like a whale does a plankton.
Air rots my throat, I wait for open sun
with open umbrella,
why am I
here?
A
man finds me
listless, down at a pub
along the Ship Street. Shakes my hand and smiles
his eyes and I smuggle hushed stories, of truth in beer and tea
he leans across the bar and points a while, nods as he orders my favourite whisky.