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Dwarfism in plants

“Wanted beautiful women with personality, acting abilities, nice skin for their age with positive wrinkles.”

– Angel Stages casting website, Garnier Face Care campaign


I so sometimes feel my wrinkles are lacking in positivity. Don’t you?

You glance at yourself warily in the mirror while you’re strimming those fashionably empty bits in and around your beard, and gradually they make their unwelcome presence felt: those drooping, half-formed so-called ‘laughter lines’ set in a purulent, greenery-yallery zone around the eyes, pungent with blackheads; lines that deepen in a sinister way when you grimace; the hastily packed eye-luggage; that annoying, asymmetrical half-wrinkle on one side of your expanding brow, that you got from raising one querulous eyebrow too many times over the years, and you wish your wrinkles could be more articulate, more persuasive – reassuringly assertive – brisker and more businesslike.

You’d like a perfect set of wrinkles, wouldn’t you, that would bowl any casting director over, and instead age has given you this negative assortment of vaguely displeasing, ill-matched tracks and traces, blurred borderlines betraying a lifetime’s thoughtless and selfish overindulgence in poor skincare, coffee and late nights with red wine in front of a screen radiant with negative ions.

You perhaps feel that your wrinkles are writing a story about someone whose life has not brought them much success, family, happiness and modest prosperity; someone without gracious good manners, unwholesome indeed, who doesn’t put their best face forward, but who retreats from healthy relationships and social interaction; someone who seldom entertains or has a presence on social media. The first person you’d automatically think of to make redundant when business times are hard. Someone down-in-the-mouth, a verbal opportunist who has experienced none of those courageous exploits of derring-do, that come to etch some lucky people’s faces with a permanent portrait of heroic survival against the odds.

Someone whose brow lacks nobility.

Someone not virtuous or deserving enough to be a fit role model for Laboratoires Garnier in their crusade against negative wrinkles.

I’ve only recently acquired these uninspiring crevices myself, mainly as a result of obtaining new glasses that enable me to see better close-up. The trouble is, I’m so physically superhuman, so well-endowed genetically, that opticians tell me my deteriorating eyesight – I’m practically blind by my standards – is still better than most people’s.

Oh, I can pick a target off a hilltop three miles away and count the bars on a fence, the crows on a wire, the sheep in a field. I can read the bottom line, with effort, and the 2-point print paragraph on the card is eventually hauled into focus under the brightest of lights. I can even just about see to drive. But it’s no use if you don’t know what you are looking at.

You see, you don’t have to have bad eyesight to be blind, you just need the disconnect between the seeing eye and the brain’s ability to make sense of anything. The older I get, the less involved I appear to be in what I’m seeing.

I’ve seen it all before. And I still don’t recognise it.

And now I’ve got breakfast marmalade all over the keys, and my swollen, red eyes (there’s a thing going around, apparently)  are watering so copiously I can’t see what I’m typing, and I can feel more wrinkles appearing, especially where you get that wattled turkey-skin around your armpits, on your upper arms where formerly was smooth muscle, when you lean forward – surely the most disturbing sign of physical degeneracy I’ve noticed since my manboobs passed the pencil test.

It’s all falling apart, drawing to an unsatisfactory close; an inconclusion. The memory is going, the male function flagging. I feel old, M. Garnier, and believe me, it’s got nothing to do with the wrinkles. It’s nothing you can fix with a fancy jar of overpriced emulsion. These are the wrinkles of a man prone to too much self-loathing and wastage, too addicted to failure and rejection letters – too cowardly to let go of what’s around him.

Positively wrinkled, in fact.


This world is your world

Hey everybody, I’ve just had an email alert to a job opening at my local university.

It’s for a security guard.

Or, as they are henceforth to be known, ‘Campus Life Manager’.

Beam me up, Scotty.


Dwarfism in plants

Fatsia fatshedera ‘Japonica’.

It’s one of those scientific nomenclatures I’ll always remember, whatever else I forget.

Like ‘Chronic Ossifying Pachymeningitis’, from which Chloe, our German Shepherd suffered in the 1970s and had to be put to sleep.

And the similarly degenerative ‘Chronic Ankylosing Spondylitis’ which is slowly and painfully crippling my 90-year-old mother, who can’t be put to sleep.

Or ‘Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia’, which means my prostate gland is the size of an orange, I’m to all intents and purposes impotent and I sometimes piss my pants while trying in vain to find a convenient bush or latrine. That’s if I can go at all.

Why I can remember these and other obscure Latinate technical terms from years gone by and not your name for five minutes, I have no idea. I forget.

Anyway, we’ll just call them Fatsias for now. And I’ve got two of them, and they’ve turned out to be self-dwarfing, which is quite interesting, no?

Let’s expand on that.

You’ll remember, I expect, from Posts passim, that I used to be the old Caretaker (and everything) of a dilapidated ‘stately home’ in the Welsh countryside, which the owner, an accountant by religion, could not resist demanding (he didn’t have to live there) that I run singlehandedly as an appalling ‘guest house’ for people just dying to sleep for £100 a night with the bed bugs on a semen-stained and lumpy vintage mattress.

At some stage, a statutory notice from the Environment Agency to stop flushing the toilets was affecting our weddings business, such as it was. So the owner agreed with a heavy heart to spend £60,000 on having the whole place dug up to lay new sewage pipes and install two huge concrete tanks under the lawn, to process the ordure.

The bidding contractor was an affable individual colloquially known as ‘Barry the Shit’.

As part of the eventual restitution of the overturned areas around the house, I persuaded Barry at modest cost to pave the access behind the kitchen, so that suppliers would no longer have to force their way through the dense thicket of briers growing out of the muck and detritus of decades of neglect, to deliver their comestibles via the tradesmen’s entrance.

I also thought it might be nice to have it as recreational space for catering staff to go out and smoke their cigarettes, rather than continue to run the risk of setting light to the important Grade One-listed building, described with ghoulish relish by local fire-station chief officer Evans as ‘a death-trap’ into which the law of corporate manslaughter would not allow him to send rescuers in the event of the inevitable, virtually instanteous conflagration.

Anyway, to enhance the standing-out smoking experience I acquired two Fatsia plants, potentially large architectural shrubs which I potted on into 10-inch pots and set out nicely next to the oil tank, hoping it would eventually be obscured, at least in part, by the characteristically large and shiny, palmate leaves of the Fatsia.

Not to be confused with fatwas, Fatsias are most common in London basement gardens, as they tolerate poor, shady conditions. Few places were shadier than the courtyard behind the kitchen, where the sun never penetrated owing to the steep and overgrown high bank into which the house had been thrust at the back. They are really quite boring plants, but have the advantage of being relatively cheap to buy. And every so often, probably imagining they are dying, they put out large panicles of dreary-looking white flowers, that turn to alien seed pods in the Autumn.

Anyway, during my last three years in that place the premises were increasingly occupied by building subcontractors employed in restoring the house, in the crudest possible sense (‘blitzing’ is the more appropriate word), uprating all the services whose glaring inadequacies had focussed my life for so long. (Can you imagine, a 14-room hotel with only two working telephones, one of them reserved for the owners who didn’t live there? ADSL download speeds measured in single kilobytes? Too little water pressure to work the showers?)

So, as they churned and ground and hammered and wrenched and sawed and chiselled their way through the protected historic architecture, somewhere had to be found to process all the offensive old junk-store furniture and worm-eaten skirting-boards and rotten window-frames and 1940s brickwork and pipes and plasterboard and gash timber and obsolete bathroom fittings, the dangerous electric wiring and semen-stained mattresses that were being ripped out wholesale to make way for a fully Health and Safety certified, Laura-Ashleyfied pastiche of a dreary 1970s provincial hotel, on an urgent time-based contract.

So for want of anywhere more accessible, they chucked it all outside on the paved recreational area I had insisted we create, beside the oil tank behind the kitchen, as no-one had the time to collect it and take it to the municipal dump, and the place was anyway no longer in use, except by me, and being only the old Caretaker I didn’t count.

On top of the two Fatsias.

So, before leaving forever I dug by hand through the pile of rubble, as if in the aftermath of an earthquake or nuclear strike, and rescued them only barely alive, and brought them over to the tiny cottage that had miraculously been acquired for me by my Committee of Discarnate Entities on a thundering main road in the outskirts of a humdrum provincial town, shortly before I was declared redundant as regards fulfilling any further useful purpose and thereby lost at one stroke, both my living and my home for the past nearly seven years.

But the tiny gardens had been landscaped by the previous owner, and her contractor had filled the raised brick beds and neatly covered them with a rubberised membrane with three inches of gravel on top, to suppress all but the weeds now growing vigorously there. So the Fatsia twins remained in their pots as there was nowhere deep enough to plant them out. In the Eternal sunshine of the south-facing front garden.

And there they have stayed for four years; until I noticed that, instead of adopting a flourishing, not to say exuberant habit of huge, shiny palmate foliage, they have retreated to the tops of their long, ghost-grey stems and are just barely keeping going with this coronet of tiny, pleading fingers; miniaturised versions of the real thing.

Faced with frequent drought conditions, in too-small pots and in full sunlight, which they hate, they have adopted a self-dwarfing habit.

And I know exactly how they feel.


Oh no, you can’t possibly have that here

Two weeks ago my energy level was high.

As was my optimism that the Universe could at last deliver the home of my dreams.

A home fully furnished with a coffee table, and a cooker.

Obviously, although I often dream about houses I have lived in before, but subtly altered and with extensive gardens, or facing the full fury of the ocean, I would never in my life have actually dreamed of living in a tiny cottage on a thundering main road in the outskirts of a humdrum provincial town in a glorious part of the country inhabited by misanthropic, pugnacious trolls (as the great Jeremy Claxon once so memorably described the natives here) who have made it their life’s mission to turn the historic chips on their shoulders into soap-boxes, from upon which to berate the English invader with moral instruction concerning their behavioural rectitude.

No, I’m talking about the inside, fools!

I have spent hours, nights even, trawling the internet hopefully for likely candidates to complete my wish-list of new stuff. The principle that ‘books do furnish a room’ is, of course, old hat; virtual emporia being more the thing nowadays. You can get anything online, so they say.

At long last, two weeks ago I bookmarked an attractive and practical-looking, under-counter double-oven made by the slightly prestigious Stoves company,  on John Lewis dot co. Priced at £458, in Stainless Steel, it was £40 cheaper than anywhere else, clean-lined and sculpturally attractive. It was all budgeted for, but the matching hob was not quite right… so I determined to keep looking for a better hob, and that created a delay into which doubt crept.

Something else was preventing me from pushing the Checkout button, a nagging sense that while my old cooker still bore any signs of life beneath its inch-thick coating of grease, sliding like a Greenland glacier at 5 km a year onto my newly tiled floor, I should stay my hand and microwave as often as possible.

So then, as I have bogld already, it became evident that the empty space between my new Poppy-red sofa that is due for delivery next week and the far wall ought, in some fidgety, dissatisfied sense, to contain… a coffee table.

This would be a lesser, more immediately affordable and rapidly deliverable purchase, I reasoned, that would nevertheless meet my pressing need to spend the budget on something.

The lack of a coffee table, I had begun to fear, might well influence the next generation of prospective purchaser of my tiny cottage; as previously had my telling lack of a sofa. Who, I asked myself, does not nowadays own a High-Street imitation Italian designer sofa, who does not also own a complementary conversation piece, perhaps a low and unusually shaped table on which a coffee cup might be placed next to an outsized book about Mondrian, that would otherwise have to rest on top of a handy loudspeaker cabinet?

Flicking night after night through hundreds of designs ranging from a plank on three sticks to a curvaceous post-modernist masterpiece worthy of the drawing-board of the late Dame Zaha Hadid, and priced accordingly, I began to despair. Although I had begun to narrow it down, nothing seemed to fit the bill: the right colour, shape, material, texture, dimensionality, period-style and ‘statement-feel’ to suit both my tiny sitting-room and my boundless imagination seemed not to exist.

And then last night, dear Spammers, I saw it!

With a thrill of recognition, I saw my new coffee table in a thumbnail vignette, one of the ‘if you like that you might like one of these’ suggestions you find at the bottom of the page, and immediately clicked to bring it into full view. It was perfect! And at only £299.99, under three hundred pounds!

Unfortunately, it had a notice next to it: ‘Out of stock’. But encouragingly, another note gave the 8th of June as the date by which new stock might well be forthcoming, and invited me to register an interest, which I gladly did: six weeks away, the wait seemed a price worth paying to get just the perfect coffee table my room, my sofa, my dream-house, my personality craved.

It more than made up for the notice I had found earlier in the evening on the page of the John Lewis website I had bookmarked, regretting that the Stoves under-counter double-oven cooker I had so nearly bought was already and would henceforth forever be discontinued. Rotten luck.

But you can imagine my shock this morning when, on opening my emails, I found a message from the other retailer, Messrs Wayfair dot co, informing me that my perfect coffee table was and would be no longer available either, and perhaps I would like to consider one of these appallingly ugly alternatives for my purchasing pleasure?

It was probably just as well, since my ‘budget’ lay now in ruins.

In the intervening days, an urgent demand had arrived from a debt recovery service located at some uninspiring address on a trackless northern  industrial estate (you have to feel sorry for them), in pursuit of a large sum of money which the Inland Revenue, they said, had told them I owe.

For the past nine years, the Tax Credits office had been persistently refusing to consider the evidence I sent them regarding the many egregious errors in their calculation of a massive overpayment for which they have already accepted blame, on the facetious grounds that it was too late to appeal; to which my answer was, well, ‘it would be, wouldn’t it?’.

Now, faced with a desperate scramble to plug the embarrassing gulf in the Chancellor’s fiscal ambitions, unable to prise loose the tenacious grip on their untaxed trillion-dollar profits notoriously exerted by global US technology corporations, it seems the men and women (not forgetting transgenders) of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are coming after the Little Guys: underperforming, reclusive style-mavens like me, cutting their losses and selling our aged debts on to the highest bidder.

There was an option on offer to pay the repo men a fiver a month or something, but I had become so outraged at the injustice of the case, and am so prone to cutting off my own nose to spite somebody else’s face, that I furiously scribbled a cheque for the full amount without thinking it through, and sent it forthwith by recorded delivery, leaving myself twelve-hundred quids’ worth of amusing ’50s retro-style furnishings short of a dream home.

It’s one thing to refuse for nine years to pay Her Majesty money you don’t owe her, another entirely to ignore a rapacious debt-ogre who might shortly send burly mesomorphs over to distrain your new sofa, that hasn’t yet been delivered (but for which you have already bought the matching cushions); your personal coffee table, your pristine under-counter cooker, that will now never arrive.

It’s just damned bad luck, really. Bubbles always burst.

I can see I’m going to have to sell the car, again.



But no! Look! I’ve been allowed to find my coffee table elsewhere. It’s in stock! You really can buy anything online after all!

So I’ve gone ahead and ordered it. And it’s only £30.01 more expensive!

But taking the online survey with its Prize Draw will surely save me £100, I feel so lucky today.


Until the next day, that is, when I learn the table is also out of stock at the next store- after I have paid for it – and, indeed, everywhere else you look it is there only in virtuality. The small rural Welsh manufacturer, I discover, is promising to resupply all the stores simultaneously on 8th June.

I don’t think so, somehow.

Two breezeblocks and a bit of chipboard should do it.










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