Tag Archives: The Porridge Man

Mechanics

Amy has been reading a novel – in English. She came to me slightly truculently as I sat on a divan at Great Secret Miss, her finger marking a page. I could see that she meant business, so I forestalled her.

I wiped my chin ostentatiously with a paper napkin. It had been provided by the management for that purpose and incongruously enough it bore on it an illustration of a cute Chinese rabbit.

Goodness, I said, this porridge is good. Just the thing now it’s turning cold at last. I do hope that The Porridge Man is not dead but sleeping, but, either way, what a bowl-full!

Amy ignored this, and indicated a page in her novel.

““Good God,” he sighed”, she said. What means ““Good God,” he sighed”? How?

I smiled sweetly.

How what?

How sigh and say ‘Good God’ at one time?

She attempted this feat. She got the sigh perfectly, but, as she suggested, the semantic element was compromised.

It doesn’t mean that. It means, “”Good God,” he said and he sighed” or ““Good God,” he said in a sighing voice.” But I agree. I try never to do it myself. For one thing it breaks number three of Elmore Leonard’s essential ten rules for writing:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Mind you, ““Good God,” he said in a sighing voice” almost breaks rule four:

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely

… “in a sighing voice” being an adverbial phrase.

There are worse examples. I particularly hate ““Good God,” he chuckled”. I’ll be the judge of whether there’s anything funny going on. ““Good God,” he gibbered” or ““Good God?” he asked” ought to be all right, but I wouldn’t use them. As I say, I always try to follow Elmore Leonard’s rules. Most of them.

What you mean, you follow Elmore Leonard’s rules?

Don’t you read my blog, Amy?

She looked embarrassed. She had forgotten.

I catch up every week, every two week. Busy with proper novel.

That hurt – twice. Amy, blackest and biggest in the tag cloud, could not be bothered to read what is in many ways her own blog. And then she compares it unfavourably with what was probably a badly-written self-satisfied great lump of fiction, no doubt with a beginning, a middle, a heart-warming end and the flashbacks that seem to be compulsory these days.

I muttered in Mandarin that I was singing to a cow. Because I was irritated I got the tones wrong and had to repeat it. When she finally understood she said:

Hah!

‘Hah’ is a good English word, but Amy brought to it a Chinese sensibility. As a result it bore no relation at all to the apparently equivalent ‘ah’. In Mandarin there are four tones in which vowels may be expressed, those that I had just muddled in my reference to singing to a cow. ‘Ah’ is delivered, even when one is speaking English, in the level ‘tone one’, but ‘hah’ in the more declamatory falling ‘tone four’.

In Pinyin, the tones would be written āh and hàh respectively.

Having delivered her “Hah!” she flounced off.

No doubt Amy’s so-called novel includes at least once the phrase: Never a dull moment!. I would never write that, because I also try to follow George Orwell’s rules for writing, number one of which is:

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

But Never a dull moment! is what I thought as a stunningly gorgeous transsexual entered Great Secret Miss and walked up to me and in a dark brown voice she said…

…but before she could, I interrupted her:

Lola!

P2 looked slightly crestfallen. I hastened to reassure her.

What a triumph, P2! And what a departure! So much more convincing than the lady in the Ridley Road market.

P2 fingered her crotch, with an air of purpose, but also I thought with an air of slight surprise.

There is not a moment to lose, she said.

It was the cellar room, familiar from so many trips before. The figure had his back to me.

Uncle E, I said.

He turned. It was not my great-uncle Edgerton. It was his brother Winthrop – and he looked grim.

They’ve got him, he said, and you must rescue him. There’s not a moment to lose.

The spine-chilling instructions that Uncle Winthrop then gave me I shall reveal at the appropriate time. Before I knew where I was I was back at Amy’s, on the divan, slightly winded.

I should like to be able to say that I sat there considering the enormity of my task with resolute determination. But you know how at moments of potential greatness irrelevant thoughts buzz round your mind like pernicious flies. So it was with me then. This is what I thought:

First, do I trust Uncle Winthrop? I knew that he lost his wits, but I didn’t know when. Had he lost them already by late 1934?

Secondly, I looked again at the paper napkin. I had used it to wipe The Porridge Man’s porridge from my chin but I had retained it in my hand. It had been to 1934 and back. Something had been nagging at my mind. It was the cute rabbit. The Japanese have cute rabbits but for the Chinese a rabbit is generally something for the hot pot. I looked more closely. Beneath the rabbit in cursive script it read ‘Thumper’. Was the poor lad trying to tell us something?

And lastly I thought, I wish that I understood, like P2, the mechanics of time travel as I try to understand the mechanics of writing.

I could have been a contender.

(Orwell Rule 1).

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Apotheosis Now

I am still rather vague, I said to Amy, about the second half of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

Like all good parties. If you remember it, you not there.

Yes, they said that about the Sixties, but look at all the volumes of reminiscences hitting the bookshops in time for Christmas. And most good parties provide incidents to remember, if not a narrative. I don’t remember much at all. There was the better half leaving with the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached. She told me that they had already drunk the kefir and that they soon peeled off, most of them, some of them taking refuge in late-night bars and others finding benches to sleep on. I remember Parrot’s awful snores: not much more. Did you stay awake?

Oh yes. For a time.

So what else happened?

Tell me first about Thumper.

Ah, Thumper…

We had had a few days of Mariah Carey cover versions: different songs but you know how with Mariah Carey they all sound the same. They were always phoned through early in the morning. The better half was usually still dozing. Never a word introduced them; and no word afterwards: only the snap of Lycra replaced and the quiet breaking of the connection. Then there were a couple of days when there was no call, as if something major was in the offing. I guessed as much, and I told the better half to be prepared to record the next communication when it came.

It was just as well. He performed I Will Always Love You as recorded by Whitney Houston, but with a reckless coloratura that even she would have envied. It must have torn him apart: his anal sphincter if not his whole sensitive being.

I Will Always Love You that song with Harrison Ford as robot? said Amy.

Not Harrison Ford, not robot. He bodyguard, he Kevin Costner. Different film altogether. Harrison Ford robot in Blade Runner. No singing I Will Always Love You in Blade Runner.

In moments of stress I tended to take on her vocal mannerisms.

Ah.

She reflected.

With sax solo?

The lot.

He brave man. He arse bleeding tatters.

And since then nothing, I said. It must have been the climax. But what a song to end on. Eat your heart out Mariah Carey!

Why Mariah Carey eat own heart?

Not really. It’s just a saying.

Not really…

Like ‘Dui niu tan qin’.

Dui niu tan qin’ in Mandarin?

Yes.

Ah.

But maybe it is not the end. Kurd Maverick was round the following evening and I played the better half’s recording to him. He said that he was gob-smacked. Actually, since he has lived in Germany for so long, his adjective was not ‘gob-smacked’ but something teutonically anal: not to be reproduced here but probably appropriate in the circumstances. Anyway, he made his own copy and said that he intended to sample it.

It’s astonishing, he said. That’ll be that. He won’t top it. You’ll hear no more from him.

Chance would be a fine thing, I said.

Of course, said Kurd Maverick, he may have pre-recorded it, stitched it together. But even so. That aching dying fall at the end! How does he do it! What genius! What muscle control!

He ask Dolly Parton permission? said Amy, sticking to the point and now prepared to acknowledge that she was familiar with the song. She write I Will Always Love You, not Whitney Houston.

He’s in touch with Universal Music, the publishers. They will administer the rights.

I wasn’t prepared to put up with Amy’s showing off.

Ah.

(‘Dui niu tan qin’, by the way, literally means ‘to play music to a cow’, which is an expression that Chinese people sometimes use as we might say ‘to cast pearls before swine’. It was probably not an apt comparison but my command of colloquial Mandarin is sketchy at best.)

Anyway, enough of Thumper and his farts; tell me about the second half of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

You seen The Porridge Man since then?

I hadn’t.

I think he gone for good too.

That’s sad. I like The Porridge Man.

Sad and not sad. I like The Porridge Man too. I tell you what happen.

Everyone took the kefir, but The Porridge Man didn’t. He held back. Amy too held back for half an hour, and then took hers. Everyone else dropped off to sleep, and soon to dream.

You dream! You legs twitch like you bloody sick dog on Dornoch bloody Firth!

Dreamily, when everyone else had gone to sleep and Amy was succumbing fast, he helped himself from the bowl. He helped himself liberally. The kefir ran down his ample chin. Contented gurgles came from within him. His face, formerly bland and wheaty, became softer. His voice became creamier. His limbs became indistinct.

I said, You imagined it. You were half asleep and half dreaming.

Possibly I imagine. But when I wake up – and I wake up first – he absolutely gone. Instead, two things. One, many bowls warm creamy porridge, but not sickly rich creamy porridge but sweet and sour creamy porridge, made with kefir. Delicious. Two, address of supply and pro forma order form.

He gave his life…

Maybe, maybe not. The Porridge Man never quite like us.

It’s a great idea: start the day the way you mean to end it.

Pft, said Amy. Anyway, Great Secret Miss now sell The Porridge Man kefir porridge.

And those were the two apotheoses.

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The Great Secret Miss Slumber Party

I miss the Court of Appeal judge, said Amy.

It was a quiet moment at the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party. At least it seemed like a quiet moment at the time, but it got quieter later. A slumber party follows an entirely different arc from a normal party, which starts quietly, gets noisy and finally gets quiet again just before people go home. A slumber party has long stretches when absolutely nothing appears to happen, and those are often the best bits.

Anyway, this was a blip on the early part of the arc of the Great Secret Miss Slumber Party. In general it was still getting noisier but in particular there was a lull, Amy’s attention was not for the time being required elsewhere and there was time for a chat.

So do I, I said, but it was different for me. Our professional relationship as lawyers was inescapable. I had to treat him with a certain deference.

Even at my place?

(The judge had died before it had become known as Great Secret Miss.)

Less than anywhere else at your place, but still a bit. If I met him at a garden party I’d probably call him Sir.

If at garden party he not hanging on my tit, spilling kefir on Garrick tie.

True.

The death and unintended relocation by private plane of the body of the Court of Appeal judge, clad like a modest Muslim woman in a jibjab, to Novosibirsk seemed to have passed off as unobtrusively as could be hoped. There were notices in the broadsheet newspapers which were vague as to the circumstances of his death, a memorial service in the Temple church but no mention of a funeral. The Dawn Chorus of the Unattached had come up with increasingly paranoid and outrageous theories about what had ‘really happened’, but no one took much notice of them at the best of times. Of course I told nothing. Our dear friend P had a theory linking it all personally and malignantly to Mr Putin, but then most of her theories did.

He always want have sex with me, said Amy. I say no: you married people from Hampshire, I married people from Kettering: no sex.

The judge had been devoted to her and had followed her from Mr Lee’s opium den, which, despite all the benefits of kefir, must have been a wrench for him as it certainly had been for Mr Lee and his stakeholders. It may also have been the occasion of opium withdrawal symptoms on the judge’s part and, in consequence, questionable legal reasoning on the Bench.

I recalled as regards the question of sex, the judge and Amy a rare confidence that he had imparted to me once, as we sat on the divan together drinking green tea.

“Little Chinese girl. Got a hand into her knickers. Great success. She shouted, ‘Oh! Excuse me! I come!’”

Maybe he meant one of Amy’s girls rather than Amy herself. Maybe it was a story from his remoter past. Maybe he simply made it up.

I reflected not for the first time on the difficulties consequent on the absence among the Chinese and Russians, and to a large extent the English upper classes, of definite and indefinite articles. If he had said ‘the little Chinese girl’ or ‘a little Chinese girl’ the story would have been clearer even if still untrue. And now we would never know, as I certainly would never ask Amy directly.

Anyway, at that point she was called away. The moment had arrived for the unveiling of the new kefir: that made with The Culture.

I knew that there had been trial runs and that Amy was very excited about them, but this was the first time that the new kefir was to be made available to anyone outside a small circle of intimates, which excluded me.

People gathered round.

A number of familiar faces were there.

The better half was explaining in Russian some of the subtleties to the Dawn Chorus of the Unattached, who were responding with expressions of cynical disbelief.

The son had returned to the South China Sea, daughter one could not have brought my grandchildren and daughter three was in the North, but daughter two was there, Parrot on her shoulder. Parrot was enjoying a succes d’estime. His sampled speech on Kurd Maverick’s latest release Pieces of Eight had attracted the attentions of the music press and his articulations generally, unusual for an otter, particularly when overlying what the son strenuously maintained was semantic bedrock, had attracted the attentions of the scientific press. His photo graced the cover of the latest editions of both Q Magazine and Nature: a first, I believe – certainly for an otter.

Daughter two had become Parrot’s representative with the press and was making the most of it. Kurd Maverick, irritated as a composer that Parrot had stolen his musical thunder – the cries of ‘Pieces of Eight!’ were after all intended as no more than a witty embellishment to the master’s electronic concepts – and infuriated as a lover of dairy products that even Nature referred to the beast as ‘Parrot’ and not as ‘Rick Otter’, was sulking and had returned to Montenegro where he was properly appreciated.

No Kurd, I said to daughter two, stirring it. He would have loved to be at the conclusion of the story of The Culture, in which he played such a part.

Daughter two responded obscenely.

An American graduate had been dispatched, either at the behest or merely with the approval (stories differed) of Professor Chomsky to find out whether Parrot’s little brain was hard-wired with the great man’s Universal Grammar. This person hovered with a tape recorder a step behind daughter two, on whose shoulder Parrot sat looking as pleased with himself as might have been expected.

I caught the eye of Aubergine Small. He had abandoned his habitual disguise as an Edwardian washerwoman and was dressed as a rear admiral. Possibly, on reflection, that was his uniform on The Jolly Thought. He grinned and held up a sign:

KEFIR AT GREAT SECRET MISS: WE NEVER KNOW WHEN WE’RE BEATEN

A new friend was The Porridge Man, who had been introduced to me recently by my friend Céleste. His interest in dairy products was, he frankly admitted, not disinterested. As The Porridge Man, he said, my passion is relationships. Porridge and dairy products. Dairy products and porridge. But I believe, he said, that we’re in for something special today.

Amy uncovered a brimming china bowl and clapped her hands.

I don’t tell you, she said, about Apa’tman, great Golden Age Montenegrin warlord. I don’t tell you about Kurd Maverick, his great voyage and his great rescue by the ketch Scintilla. There are rumours about these. Rumours are best that way. I don’t tell you about this kefir, except one thing. It’s the best. It’s better than Mr Lee opium (and Pft, incidentally, to Mr Lee’s stakeholders). It’s better than chasing best of all possible dragons or sipping tastiest gin and tonic.

It’s even better than green tea.

It’s kefir at Great Secret Miss.

Have some!

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