Unnaturally Birds

I remember when we were driving / In the summer of seventy-three, / We were talking, but of nothing, / That’s the way it would always be; / And how much I longed to touch you / And to say I understood. / But I never did, my dearest / And like you, I never could.

For months it had rained on England, / There was green in every tree, / And we flew along those country roads / Beneath the canopy, / In our second skin of metal / And our third skin of words, / Pretending to be human, / Unnaturally birds.

I wonder when you die, my dear, / Will I see you as you are, / Or will you drift away again / To perch on a different star?



Do you ever get those nights when your head is too full of ideas to let you sleep? Nights in pink neon. And it doesn’t help to have cats warring over your supine body.

I want her pillow.

No ‘smine. You can have the feet.


Like most writers I keep a notebook by the bed, but the more you write things down the more things seem to need to be written down. Each time I heave myself upright, displacing a cat or two, grope for the light, then the pencil falls on the floor…

Last night was one of those. It seemed to be a night for inventions. I don’t normally think of myself as an inventor, not like that woman who invented the rubber suction gadget for sticking on your kitchen wall and pushing your tea-towel into. Whatever happened to those? I suppose they went the way of the lava lamp, the knitting-machine and the pressure-cooker. My mother had a knitting-machine: you couldn’t hear the TV over it. Bloke down the road from me’s still got a lava lamp, and one of those lit-up waterfall pictures, and year-round fairy lights, and a karaoke machine. I had a pressure-cooker, once. I forgot to add water and it kind of went booooom and became like a football. The makers wouldn’t replace it. I hated it anyway. Wedding present.

But – all those ideas.

Well the first one was inspired by that message I saw in the rear windscreen of the giant tattooed man’s car yesterday. Why not, I thought, have a pink neon strip built into the rear windscreen of cars, so that digital letters could move along…and along…and along…like on the trains . That way you could do so much more than signalling to the driver behind you.

You could be terse and to the point:


You could be flirty:

Hi there, big guy! 

Hi there, sweetie pie!!

You could even be intellectual:

…that BEHIND a VITAL religious life for the WEST there has be FAITH which is not expressed in things to which one CLINGS…

But it would need to be voice-activated; you couldn’t be tapping stuff in at the same time as driving. And it probably wouldn’t work that well if you were English:

I say, er, excuse me. Sorry to interrupt. Lovely day. Might get some rain later. Would you mind awfully, that is to say – just a smidge too close to the bumper. Hope you don’t mind my pointing this out, but…

Then you’d need a catchy name. Rear-speak? Window-witter? Glass-blast?

Still on a transport theme, what about lorries with their blind-spots lit up in red? There’s a really big area to the front, sides and indeed the rear of a lorry where it’s terribly dangerous for a cyclist or pedestrian to be. Well, if those areas were lit up in red – or any colour really – if you were a cyclist or pedestrian you’d know not to go into them. Or at least you wouldn’t be surprised when you got mangled.

Then babies. Supposing you could turn them down a bit? Something like a remote control for times when they were screaming, in restaurants, while you and a friend you hadn’t seen for three weeks were trying to catch up on the gossip and you were both a bit deaf. But how could that be achieved? You’d have to have some sort of electronic baby.

And then it occurred to me that you could have a kind of inflatable life jacket for books. You’d read the book in the bath in the jacket. The moment you lost your grip on the book and gravity was inexorably drawing it down towards the soapy water beneath, motion sensors would pull some kind of rip cord and the jacket would inflate around the book, thus saving it from a watery fate and three days of attempting to dry itself out in the airing cupboard, telling itself that as soon as it was dry it was going to look as good as new.

And then I thought. Maybe if I go downstairs, microwave a mug of milk, lie on the sofa and watch low-volume repeats of River Cottage, programmes about the secret life of dogs and how tornadoes happen. That usually works.



‘smy turn for that pillow!

Where have the feet gone?

Heaven won’t have me and hell’s afraid I’ll take over

Today I found myself stopped at a red light behind one of those in-your-face shiny black cars – very high off the ground so that the driver can look down on the likes of you and me, costing at least three years of the likes of your or my wages and never taking up less than one and a half parking spaces. And I don’t know why – I was musing, about meeting my friends for coffee later, then going to Tesco to buy more yoghurts because I had run out and I did like a nice yoghurt with a spoonful of honey for my tea – and I suppose it could have been a senior moment – but I was looking up at this in-your-face shiny black car and I thought:

That’s a very big man! Gosh, he’s taking up both of the front seats.

It was an easy mistake to make. Anyone could have made it. Out of the near-side window dangled a meaty left arm, heavily and colourfully-tattooed. Between the first two fingers of the hand was a newly-lit cigarette. Out of the driver’s-side window dangled a meaty right arm, also heavily and colourfully-tattooed, and also with a newly-lit cigarette. From inside the car came metallic, head-banging, in-your-face music. Smoke drifted back to me, raw and summery, reminding me of college campuses and lazing around on grassy banks on blazing hot afternoons instead of going to lectures…

Wow! I thought – still with half a mind on other things: the red light about to turn green; the traffic sliding to a stop in several parallel lanes; the traffic facing us, also raring to go.

He must some kind of fitness instructor! Or a cage-wrestler!

Two entire seats!

And at no point did it occur to me to wonder how this spectacular specimen was able to change gear and operate the hand-brake, since his massive, muscular hindquarters would be covering both gear stick and brake. Neither did it occur to me that even if he had invented an ingenious method of doing so, he couldn’t have. Not with a lighted cigarette in either hand.

Xindi nanobots had invaded my brain and were scrambling my neural circuits… And then – maybe I shook my head or something, meaning they cascaded out of my ears, those little metal perishers –

Ah – two seats – two men – one arm per man – one cigarette per arm – ah!

They were some way down the road and I was turning right before I recalled something else: that long message-strip in the rear view window, spookily highlighted by the red rear light:

Heaven Won’t Have Me and Hell’s Afraid I’ll Take Over

In which case, if there were two separate men, to be totally accurate the strip should have read:

Heaven Won’t Have Us and Hell’s Afraid We’ll Take Over…

No wonder I got it wrong.