Category Archives: Literature

What happens when you ask people you have never met to make up memories?

My bedcover: it seems relevant

My bedcover at night somehow seems relevant

I like the English language. Even – or perhaps especially – when it approaches the abstract.

Yesterday, there was a message meandering around Facebook which people were re-posting and which said:

If you’re reading this, even if we barely talk, comment with a memory you have of us. After you’re done, post this on your wall. You’d be surprised with what people remember about you.

It seemed fairly pointless, so I posted a version which said:

If you’re reading this, especially if we have never met, comment with a completely fictional memory you have of us. You will be visited by angels and small woodland creatures wearing corduroy culottes.

Below is the result: a series of unconnected, often surreal, almost abstract thoughts which I find strangely comforting and mesmerising.

I have partially anonymised the respondents, all of whom are highly admirable people. A few of them I have actually met, but they have not let that get in the way of their literally fantastic free-flowing thoughts…


MIKE: We met when I caught you giving my unicorn a hand job. Things went steadily downhill from there.

PAUL: Fight Club.

DARREN: You looked better dressed as Mary Poppins than I did as Batman.

ALEX: You used to steal my tuck shop money at school. You also taught me Geography.

ANIL: Remember when we got really pissed and killed that copper?

KEARA: I am so happy about that time I never slept with you. I will treasure that moment forever. Thanks for the memory.

ROBERT: Do you remember that time we got stuck on the train outside Bognor Regis? They wouldn’t open the doors until the engineer came and everyone sat around singing Abba songs. I think your dancing went a bit far, mind you.

ALI: We had booked you for the wedding reception but you were not what was expected. Tracey thought it was Bob Fleming from The Fast Show. We are indeed divorced just as you predicted.

STEPHEN: Imagine my surprise, when but a small orphaned boy in Calcutta, your family would take me in and bring me up as one of their own. I didn’t mind sleeping in the wardrobe and was an honour to polish your shoes. I even came to enjoy the beatings. The handcuffs didn’t chafe much at all.

PETER: I lent you £7,075. Are you ready to pay it back yet?

ANDREW: Our eyes met… what the rest of me was doing I don’t recall.

KERRY: I was the getaway driver when you and Jeremy Paxman robbed that Kardashian bint. I was dressed as a badger and you wore black… Ah yes, I remember it well.

LINDA: Auditioning for Girls Aloud. You joined the Spice Girls. I joined Take That.

RODERICK: Meeting you in person.

DOIREANN: I was an unwitting and rather stupid rodent stuck down a well and you fished me out and gave me some food. I briefly acknowledged your help then ran away and continued my stupid rodent life. Sorry about that. I developed a sense of remorse, uncharacteristic of rodents, so that may be my comeuppance!

STEFANIA: I still have your corduroy culottes….

MARTIN: It wasn’t my only homosexual experience, but it was my last.

ALEXIS: Why don’t we see culottes anymore?

JONNY: We had a Star Wars themed wedding, I was the butch, you were the bitch and Mr and Mrs John Fleming lived happily ever after in a galaxy far far away.

TRIONA: I remember the teeth.

KATE: Don’t beat me again with your meatstick, daddy!! Sorry, just had a bit of a flashback there…

A.J.: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; we were fighting a battle for good against evil. On the Sega Mega Drive in 1992.

IAN: …and then you brought out the handcuffs and I said: “Unless you’re a cop you can forget it.”

ALIAS: Remember that time in the late nineties when we were testing out those prototype virtual reality goggles and we got trapped inside the elk hunting simulation after the computer became self aware? Good times.

ANDY: As my slightly older alter ego YOU need to post the fiction stuff as you only exist as my plausible deniability.

ROSIE: When Barbra Streisand didn’t know when to go home.

KENNY: I did actually meet you once, but you were too busy filling Les Dennis’ trousers with Marmite in the lobby of Yorkshire Television.

JANE: Crikey, I remember that time in Goa when we trod on a snoozing python… but it didn’t seem to mind it was so doped, thankfully.

EVELYN: So glad you told me there was loo roll flowing from my skirt tail. Complete gentleman. Thank you.

SIMON: You went all improv. We had to leave the scenes on the cutting room floor. Shame, as I thought that your SpiderBat look was something the audience of today would want to see.

COLIN: ‘Nam ’67.

JEZEBEL: We’ll always have Paris. One day, we may be forced to take it back.

JAMES: You were an extremely tender lover and taught me so much. I’d certainly never considered doing THAT with THOSE before.

KEV: I was the one who nudged your petri dish and helped you discover penicillin.

HENRIK: It was in an earlier life. You were one of Napoleon’s generals, I was a bumblebee who just happened to fly by.

GEOFF: There was that time in Bogota when some local dropped mescaline into our drinks and we lost a weekend in dreams.

DONNA: Now I just want a cute woodland creature!

JACKIE: I taught you the meaning of the word respect, then I barked like a dog…

ALASTAIR: We were both competing at the Annual Cherry Pit-Spitting Championships. There was a lot of phlegm flying about!! (I give Ariane Sherine some credit for that – not the flying phlegm, I mean me getting this idea – I remember her calling you John Phlegming in one of her Adventures Of A Stand-up Comic.)

ZHURONG: I only added you because I thought you wrote James Bond.

NOEL: That time we used to run guns for the Zapatistas into Chiapas. Crazy times!

ZUMA: That time you gave birth to a creepy baby and said: “It’s not mine”. Hah so funny!

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The final paragraph of the last story

James Joyce in Zurich, 1914

James Joyce photographed in Zurich, 1915

As this is the last of my daily blogs, I can indulge myself…

…and print what I think is the best-written paragraph I have ever read.

It is the final paragraph in the final story of James Joyce’s book of short stories: Dubliners.

It was published in 1914.

You have to read the whole story to get the full effect.

But here are the last four paragraphs of that final story: The Dead


The title page of the first edition in 1914 of Dubliners.

The title page of the first edition in 1914

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.


So it goes…

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From Berlin: “the surreal, strange and amazing and weird and wonderful…”

Polly Trope’s selfie of herself in a mirror

Polly Trope’s selfie of herself reflected in a mirror in 2014

A week ago, I blogged about Polly Trope, who was organising a book fair in a bar in Berlin, which included the idea of a Literophone – a small furry booth where guests could call up writers and get words read to them down the phone.

I was supposed to be on the end of a phone in London yesterday, ready to read out a blog to unsuspecting German lovers of words. But I got tickets for a play in London’s West End instead. My Facebook Friends may have read my sort-of review of Mr Foote’s Other Leg.

So, this afternoon, I Skyped Polly Trope to find out how the Berlin event had gone yesterday.

“Really well,” Polly told me. “Everyone had a good time. About a hundred people came. It was more a social affair than a book fair – networking. We had two rooms: one for chatting and drinking and one for doing readings.”

“How did the Literophone go?” I asked.

“Really well. I think for both the people phoning and the people reading it was a very strange experience. A certain kind of person was interested in phoning.”

“What type of person?”

Polly Trope on a special horse near Great Yarmouth (Photograph by Clifford Slapper)

Polly Trope near Great Yarmouth (Photograph by Clifford Slapper)

“People who have a love for the surreal, the strange and amazing and weird and wonderful. Not everyone is into that. Some people phoned all the poets and all the flash fiction writers.”

“What,” I asked, “was surreal, strange and amazing – the readings or the fluffy booth itself?”

“I think it was the fact the readings were on the phone and you could not know in advance what you were going to get and you weren’t sure how to react. People came out saying: Ooh! that was really weird and intense.”

“In the tiny little fluffy booth?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What was the highlight for you outside in the bar itself?”

“Jonathan Lyon’s reading.”

(Jonathan Lyon has been described as a fur-donning Adonis writing a novel via Instagram about his drug habits while at Oxford.)

“Why?” I asked.

“I just think he’s a wonderful writer. He read a piece about kind-of-like-a horror film taking place within his own skull and he climbs into his skull and finds another skull and then there’s a little door and slides down and it just gets really intricate.”

“It sounds,” I said, “ideal for a bar where everyone is drinking.”

“Yes. The bar is named after the dog.”

“The dog?” I asked.

“The bar is called the Posh Teckel.”

“Teckel?” I asked.

“I think it’s a word to say dachshund. They have a dog called Ella in the bar.”

“Stuffed?” I asked.

“No. Alive.”

“Sausages are usually stuffed,” I said.

Ella in the fluffy booth with a telephone

Ella in the fluffy booth with a telephone

“As soon as I made the fluffy booth,” Polly told me, “Ella went into it, thinking Ooh! this is nice and fluffy. I’m going in.”

“Ella is the dog?” I asked,.

“Yes. She left when people started to come in, “said Polly. “She doesn’t like crowds.”

“Are you going to do it again?” I asked.

“Yeah. We’re hoping next time we can get someone to sponsor us. It would be nice to have funding.”

“It is always nice to have funding,” I said, “… or so people tell me.”

“I don’t know when the next one will be,” Polly told me, “but the Literophone is possibly going to be happening in London as a little Christmas celebration. I’m quite keen to do the experience again for more people in more places.”

“Anything else you want to say?” I asked. “Do you want to sing?”

“I can’t sing,” said Polly.

“You can,” I told her. “I’ve heard you sing. You did a black and white music video.”

“You liked that?”

“It was like Berlin between the Wars,” I said, “which is rather worrying as it means there’s another war coming along.”

“Yeah,” said Polly, “but it was filmed in Florida.”

“You can still be German there,” I said. “Just because you are in Florida doesn’t mean you have to be a cartoon mouse. You can still be German.”

“I just took some video by the pool,” Polly told me. “At a really creepy motel. I liked the fact it was creepy.”

“Why was it creepy?” I asked. “Did it feel like Psycho?”

“No. It was a bit like a set of council blocks and, in the middle, was a swimming pool which never had anyone in it. So I swam in it.”

Polly’s song is still on YouTube:

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The best-written paragraph in English was written by a shortsighted Irishman

James Joyce in 1915

James Joyce, shortsighted man, in 1915, the year after Dubliners was published

When I was young, I wanted to be a writer.

I took my early jobs because they would make me write a lot, on the principle that quantity might make me able to write as well as George Orwell and I might be able to write in any style on demand.

George Orwell was not a great novelist, but he was a brilliant communicator of ideas.

I would like to have thought I could write a book as well as George Eliot but, like several others, once I read Middlemarch, I knew this was not even a  distant possibility.

As for style, when I was young, I might even have hoped that one day I could write something as perfect as the final paragraph of The Dead, the last story in James Joyce’s book Dubliners. It is arguably the most perfectly-written paragraph in English literature… written, as it happens, by an Irishman.

The final paragraph always reminds me of Christmas. These are the final three paragraphs of The Dead:

_____________________________________________________________

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

_____________________________________________________________

So it goes.

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