Johnny Borrell, the rakish front-man of noughties rock band, Razorlight, has been squatting impatiently in abandoned Mayfair flats, whimsically hoping for the day the vapid decade is reminisced as: ‘not as shit as we thought whilst living in it.’
‘Look what happened with the eighties,’ he told us, speaking from a yellowed mattress and surrounded by empty Pringles tubes. ‘And now the nineties. That decade was just as shit as the two-thousands. Now even Texas are making a comeback. Texas!’
‘We’re just waiting for nostalgia to kick in so people in their mid-thirties forget whether they liked us or not in the first place. We’ve started a Facebook page with The Kooks called, “I heart the 00’s”, but ‘heart’ is written as an emoticon, like a cartoon drawing of a heart, you know?’
‘The day Urban Outfitters stock Von Dutch caps will be our Bat Signal. Then we’ll know… we’re back in business boys.’
I awoke with renewed clarity, owing to a rare Saturday-night free from binge-drinking. Eight hours of undisturbed sleep had ordained me with new abilities and confidence. I was ready to tackle a task which had previously seemed impossible.
I padded out of the bedroom, being careful not to wake Nicola, and opened the cupboard under the stairs. Inside, the route to my target was blocked by a thicket of mop handles, hoover shafts and ironing boards. On another day, this would have sent me retreating back to my warm bed. But not today. I parted the Forrest of Domesticity and launched an arm towards the shadowy whereabouts of the neglected object. I had it. I pulled sharply, bringing the surrounding brooms and buckets careering out of the cupboard. My bare feet took some blows, but I was not deterred. The tool-box was out.
My ‘tool-box’ was actually just a plastic storage container that had been reassigned to house ad-hoc instruments I had collected over the years. Rather than being stored in neat compartments, as with a traditional tool-box, the items formed organic layers, like a sedimentary cross-section in a geography textbook. At the top were larger, bulkier items, such as a power drill which had been passed on to me by a friend who had mistaken me for a ‘real man’, and an electric screwdriver whose maiden voyage could yet prove to be its last. Underneath this solid outer crust you will find a hammer, wrench, miniature saw and Stanley knife, untidily arranged like torturer’s bedside table. At the bottom of these layers, the smaller items rattled around — nails, screws, nuts and bolts of all varieties, never to be touched again by human hands. It was too dangerous to try and save them. If I ever required the use of these items in the future, I would need to buy new ones and then empty the surplus into the tool-box, letting them slip through the porous cracks to find their resting place amongst their long-lost brothers.
Like a surgeon intent on not slicing his own hands and livelihood, I removed the instruments I needed with great care. In this case: some miniaturised screwdrivers which specialised in ‘precision’, for this was a job which required a deft touch. I rustled into a plastic Wilko’s bag for the subject of this delicate procedure: a ‘dimmer switch’.
The recently updated lighting in the kitchen was powerful enough to illuminate the pitch at Wembley Stadium on a dark January night. Filth and muck stood out like acne under the unforgiving LED spotlights and should a guest enter the room and switch on the beams unsuspectingly, we could well be liable for irreversible retina damage. Worst of all, the fearsome light made everyone look revolting and our friendships would likely suffer as a consequence. Something had to be done.
I glanced over the dimmer’s instructions as a courtesy — someone had gone to the trouble of putting the thing together — and began unscrewing the current switch (merely capable of ‘on’ and ‘off’ functions). I decided to turn off the power at the mains. This seemed a sensible reaction to the revelation of the nest of wires behind the switch’s casing, one of which was red and looked angry at being exposed to the world without warning.
I had assumed this would be an operation akin to removing and inserting a Game Boy cartridge, but with the discovery of the wires, a more challenging puzzle had presented itself. However, my confidence had not waned and I felt reassured by a faint memory of an episode of The Crystal Maze, where the contestant had to connect an over-sized battery to an oversized-door bell. I could not recall if they were successful in obtaining the crystal.
I ploughed on, reassured by the safety precautions I had now put in place.
It was time to perform the keyhole surgery required to remove the minuscule screws from the back of the dimmer switch. I shed the packaging from the precision screwdrivers and using nothing but my naked eye, selected the tool for the job. On realising it was too large for the job, I picked another tool with a slightly smaller head.
I engaged the screw and felt some resistance. I began to turn the corrugated metal grip of the screwdriver.
‘What’s all that swearing about?’ Something had stirred Nicola from her Sunday lie-in. Some of us had things to do around here, you know?
I used all the force I could muster, but there was no give. I went to the fridge for a hit of orange juice to lift my spirit so I could tackle it again.
I hardened my grip around the narrow neck of the screwdirver, digging the grooved grip deep into the pad of my thumb. I pushed the instrument into the screw head and turned with all the power that Florida oranges instilled in me.
This was simply a hurdle I could not overcome. The tip of my thumb had blistered into a plasma dome the size of an M&M (normal variety, not peanut).
I gathered the tools, packaging and light-switch confectionary and dumped it all back into the tool-box, letting nature organise them into the correct layers.
Dejected, I climbed back into bed and inspected my throbbing thumb. I poked and pinched it. The thick skin showed no signs of rupture, so I continued to prod and twist. It was a satisfying distraction from my reaffirmed failings as a handyman.
An epiphany: Had I been turning the screw the wrong way?
The blister broke, spotting the duvet in an impressive amount serum. I turned over and went to back sleep.
Pollen scented halos
float on tin music
played from under
against dark clouds
blotting the horizon).
Light dims and glares
as the sun plays peek-a-boo
with infants running
to no end.
the territories of the
green and daisy-dotted land.
Balls thumped with bass notes
in wrong directions;
Dads run after toe-poked
spheres into the road.
Trees watch from the edges;
a shallow forest leading
to suburbia, where the balls,
gazebos, children are stored.
Dogs. Oh, the dogs.
This is their land, of course.
They make the rules
and pull their clothed
owners like staggering drunks
into the deep of the park.
A man jogs past.
A bike rings it’s bell.
A laugh wins the
battle of decibels.
A plastic bag rustles
in the exhaling wind.
The daisies vibrate
and reach to leave their
But they are part of the park.
May they never leave.
May England remain this
way in memories forever.
“The Panda had a tendency to go berserk,” the newspaper said. And I couldn’t deny it. My unpredictable behaviour was a great inconvenience to friends, who often had to prise me off fellow binge-drinkers, or talk me down from gastropub tables, or apologise to bar managers for damage to windows or furniture or structural beams. ‘The Panda’s lost-it, again’, they would declare, before wading in to prevent injury to regretful drunks who had caused me offence.
Anyone who knows me well, calls me, ‘The Panda’, or ‘Panda’, or ‘Pand’, depending on the formality of the situation. For example, when I was in school it was, ‘Pand, wake up! It’s home time.’ But in court, it was, ‘Could The Panda please rise?’
I’d like to say my nickname was coined by close friends, drawing affectionate comparisons based on my size (overweight and cuddly), demeanour (lethargic and docile) and parentage (black and white). But no, the moniker was conjured by the wasted wit of a bully. A hateful, ugly little worm, who put all of my traits into his mixing-bowl of inner torment and parental neglect, to serve up a fitting and painful insult —‘The fat panda’. I was able to have the ‘fat’ prefix dropped after I finally erupted and beat the boy into unrecognisable shapes.
‘The Panda’ stuck though, and I came to like it. So much so, I changed my name by deed poll in the midst of a week-long bender. Hence, when in court, the judge was obliged to ask, ‘How does The Panda plead?’ This was headline manna for the red-top newspapers, which devoted spreads to the story, with side-by-side pictorials of me (‘The Panda’) and a real-life panda (‘The accused’). And if the readership felt inclined to scrutinise the small print, they would learn that during a run-of-the-mill bar scuffle, I had allegedly crushed a young man’s head like an overripe melon.
My barrister refused to accept that the compliant man he saw before him could have committed such a brutal crime. ‘I think we need to get you on the stand,’ he said. ‘No jury will believe that such a softly spoken gentleman would do that to another human being.’
‘But, sir…I did do it. And I’m afraid, if I go on the stand, I might explode and smash the courtroom to smithereens’.
‘Ok, maybe let’s not do that then.’ He backed away and loosened his tie. He was a smart lawyer.
I don’t drink any more. I couldn’t if I wanted to in here. Alcohol was the worst thing in the world for me to discover. I dare say, that young lad would still be alive had I never been introduced to drink.
They still call me, ‘The Panda’, in prison. I hear the inmates whisper it to each other. No one really speaks to me, though. I suppose some people must have read about me in those red-top newspapers. And gossip spreads through prison faster than a fresh carton of cigarettes. I’m a nice guy, really. For now though, I tend to agree with the judge; ‘The safest place for The Panda, is in captivity’.
With the demise of free plastic bags, a new menace has taken its place; bags for life. However, whereas plastic bags merely polluted the earth, bags for life have given rise to a more severe issue; the pollution of our homes.
Nancy, from Isleworth told us, “Look, I’m all for protecting the planet and that, but we’ve just replaced one problem with a much worse problem. Every time I open the cupboard under the sink, a flock of bags lunge out, covering the kitchen in hemp. Ever taken a hemp bag in the face? It’s shit.”
Billy, a resident of Guildford, said, “I enjoyed tutting and shaking my head at the old plastic bag problem, safe in the knowledge it will never really be my problem. But now I’m fucking drowning in bags for life. The dolphins are fine, but I’m fucking drowning. Where’s the logic there?”
News broke this week that the ‘bag for life’ population in your cupboard has increased by 85% since you started reading this sentence.
A man from London has been locked inside a padded room after boasting he is still proud to call himself ‘English’.
Paul Hill, from south London, was heard by members of the public speaking in tongues and babbling things like, “We’ve still got a lot going for us. The tennis is on, which means we can drink Pimm’s and eat strawberries. The parks of London are beautiful at this time of year. Our music is the envy of the world. Shakespeare is from England, you know? Things aren’t so bad.”
Dr. Stephens, who is overseeing the care of Mr. Hill told us, “National pride is now considered a mental illness. Patients presenting these symptoms are clearly delusional and suffering chronic denial.”
Paul is being kept under 24hr surveillance at South London Mental Hospital. Reports from staff claim that Paul remains stoic, with his chest puffed out, sometimes bursting into powerful renditions of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.