Thursday, June 21, 2012

House Sitting

The house clearly hates me. For whatever reason, it has taken against me, and objects to my presence here. Perhaps it has forgotten me. It has been a while. None of the light switches control the same lights that they used to. The hatch to the attic creaks ominously whenever I walk underneath it. Keys don't open the locks that their keyrings say they should. Nothing quite fits right.  Everything is slightly off; slightly out of tune. 

There’s a menacing crow that sits beneath the bird feeder in the garden, not eating, but staring straight at the kitchen window. Straight at me. I have had experience with a crow like this before, when I worked in the morgue. The morgue was a separate building spereate from the rest of the hospital, down a little road in the woods. Isolated. Silent.  He’d wait outside on the grass, staring in the door at me. I could sense his malevolence. He hated me, because I kept him from the meal he craved. I kept him away from the dead. Could it be the same crow? It's been fifteen years since I worked in that place. I have no idea how long crows live. I thought back then that it was the death that attracted him, but there are no corpses in this house. What does he know that I don't? 

The last time I stayed here, they still had the dog. I miss the dog. The dog was good company. The dog kept the worst of the loneliness at bay. She would be feeling sad and abandoned and would look to me for comfort. I understood; we all feel like that sometimes. If I was on the computer in the spare room, up the far end of the hall where she wasn’t allowed to go, she’d sometimes creep up on her belly as far as she thought she could get away with, and lie there for five or ten minutes, before creeping forward a little more, eventually making it all the way to the spare room. If I spotted her, and called her up to me, because she wasn’t the only one looking for company, she’d bolt back down to the kitchen, because sometimes training wins out over loneliness, and she wanted to be a good dog. Ten minutes later, the game would begin again. She wasn’t a good dog, she was a great dog. But she’s gone. Now it’s just me and my stalker crow, and the light switches that hate me. I may not survive this fortnight…

Thursday, June 14, 2012

At the Indie Disco

I went to one day of a music festival 2 weeks ago. The weather was awful; a wet, cold miserable December's day slammed into the June bank holiday weekend. I'm bad with changeable weather, and  it takes me 3 or 4 days to adapt to the changes. For the first few days of a heat wave, I'll still be wearing 4 layers of jumpers and gloves. I once wore a Hawaiian shirt and shorts in a snow storm, because i got dressed before I looked out the window. I'm always being caught unawares by the weather. i didn't even bring a hoodie to the festival, just a long sleeved tee. I wore Converse in contrast to everyone else's wellingtons. Within ten minutes of arriving, I stepped in three separate puddles. I was praying for my feet to go numb, because at least then i wouldn't feel the cold and pain anymore. The beer was watery piss, and they don't even give you a full pint, the robbing bastards, it’s about four fifths of one in those crappy plastic cups that you can’t hold without squeezing and causing a spill, but I still bought my pints two at a time, because you don't want to be sober, do you, not at a festival, and I'll be damned if I'm spending any more time in the hell scrum of queue than i have to. The cold of the beer chills my hands so they start to feel (or fail to feel) like my feet. Has anyone ever gotten frost bite at a festival? That'd make an interesting story for the grandchildren, how Grandad lost his toe because he wanted to drink in a field listening to music, and wouldn't wear suitable shoes. Everyone wants to go on the chair-o-planes, but i don't trust Carnie folk, not since the carousel in Leisure Land in ‘91. My knee still when it’s cold. My knee aches now.  And anyway, I've just had a hotdog, and already feel ill without being spun through the air with the greatest of ease on a wonderful whirligig death trap. I don't really know many of these bands; they're all a little more ravey than my usual fare. No Neil Hannon here. No whimsical irony masking the soul of a true romantic. Just bleep-ity-bloop-bop. Someone hands me a pill. It's green. I swallow it. You don't want to be not off your tits, do you? Not at a festival! I won't even describe the toilets. I'm not even sure you should be allowed to call those toilets. Surely the UN or the EU or someone has basic standards that must be met before a literal shit hole can be promoted to toilet status. I honestly don't understand how they can be so totally medieval, and yet made entirely of plastic. New Order are the last band. I like New Order, but i wouldn't really describe their music as happy. The green though, the green means I can't stop smiling. And jumping up and down. And hugging people. Smiley jumpy hugs for everyone. People must hate me.  A tiny party of my brain is disgusted at my antics, and wants to feel sad about Blue Monday, but the rest of it is lost in the green. I'm wearing sunglasses, even though it's gone dark, and the sun never broke through the clouds all day. When it's all over, it takes forty five minutes to get out the single gate, and I'm surprised nobody's been crushed it trampled to death, and the security keep shouting at people, as if we're all being a huge crowd just to spite them. I keep losing friends and finding other friends and then losing then and finding the first friends again. It might be a metaphor for life, or it might be the last gasp of the green. The day of misery is over. I even get to sleep in a bed in a house like a human being, instead in a tent, like a less civilised human being. What do cows sleep in? Cowsheds? I bet they’re better than a tent. Music festivals are a grim affair. And yet I'm nigh on compelled to spend money I truly can't afford to go to another festival next week. This one is a camping affair, which means   uncomfortable tents, and bruises from trying to sleep on rocks like daggers. I'll probably go. I'll be sore and cold and wet and constipated from the junk food, and probably catch pneumonia. And I'll fucking love it. I always do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Talk to the hand (I bet no one's made that joke before)

On Sunday night, I watched Her Master’s Voice, a documentary by ventriloquist Nina Conti in which she travels to a ventriloquism convention in Kentucky with the dolls of her deceased mentor Ken Campbell. It was beautiful television, as Conti went on a deeply personal journey to deliver  the goodbye to Campbell that she seemed to feel she’d failed to do while he was alive. As well as this though, it was a fascinating glimpse into just what ventriloquism is all about.

I’ve always been fascinated by ventriloquism. I could never get my head around the idea of being scared of ventriloquists’ dolls.* Most people I know who suffer from Automatonophobia talk about being frightened by the inanimate doll somehow coming to life, but to me, that was clearly never what it was about. The ventriloquist’s doll isn’t an independent entity, it’s an extension of the puppeteer. It’s a literal externalisation of the ventriloquist’s internal dialog. The comedy in ventriloquism generally comes from the fact that the puppet is saying something taboo-busting, that a person wouldn’t get away with saying. Conti’s most famous puppet, a monkey named Monkey, often insults and abuses his handler, especially when her act seems to be going poorly, as he sides with hecklers. But there’s more to this than the juxtaposition of a cute monkey saying horribly mean things, there’s the fact that in reality, it is Conti saying horribly mean things to herself. A ventriloquist act is basically a person stood on stage talking to themself.

Pretty much all of the ventriloquists Conti spoke to in the documentary mentioned being shy children, or even shy adults, and how ventriloquism helped them to say things that they normally wouldn’t feel able to say. The puppet is an outward embodiment of an aspect of the ventriloquist’s personality. But then what is happening when the ventriloquist has multiple puppets? An old childhood favourite of mine, David Strassman, had two puppets (that I remember), Chuck Wood, a dummy who wanted to be a real boy, and Ted E. Bare, a sweet and kind, well, teddy bear, who hated each other. Wood constantly bullied and mistreated Bare and, Wikipedia reminds me, eventually drove him away. What seemed to me as a child to be some fun comedy with puppets was actually a man acting out the war between various parts of his psyche, on television; a war which the cruel and abusive side of his nature apparaently won. That’s hella dark! And in Her Master’s Voice, Conti experiments with several of Campbell’s ‘bereaved’ dolls, attempting to find their voice, including a doll version of Campbell himself. I mean, that’s basically her trying to channel his ghost through her own mind! And it works too, until one of the dolls, Jack, gets all kinds of nasty towards Conti, while she, and I guess he, is drunk. I mean, maybe ventriloquists dolls are scary, after all. Not because they’re going to come to life and stab us in a low quality horror movie or anything, but because while they can unleash parts of our personality which wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day, that might not always be the best idea in the world. Although, maybe externalising that inner conflict is a healthy thing. Perhaps exposing the conflict and self-hatred within one’s soul is a positive way to deal with it. I don’t really know. It tends to make for great laughs though.

*Except for Podge, a doll that appeared on irish TV program The Den. Here, he was controlled by Zag, who was himself a puppet. But then, when everyone was out of the studio, Podge came to life! A puppet, controlled by a puppet, who later came to life (although in reality he was still a puppet being controlled by a person). Man, kids’ tv in the early 90s dealt with some fucking metaphysical shit, right?