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Mucky Pups

Upwards and Onwards

Peter Miller
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Mungo had undergone loads of tests to find out what his mystery illness was, and where the Dickens it had come from. Legions of doctors from all over the west of Scotland had ummed and ahhed and eventually come to the conclusion that they didn’t really know what it was but it’s got a name.

Give me an “M”!

“M!” shout a thousand playground bound children, grinning full tilt at the camera and throwing their hands in the air.

Give me an “E”!

“E!” scream the packed terraces of Firhill stadium on a Wednesday night, frantically waving their inflatable bananas at the myopic referee.

What have you got?

“M.E.!” yell the poolside spectators as Ron Pickering gets the disabled nautical ball chucking race under way in the 1974 final of “We Are the Champions!”.

Otherwise known as Myalgic Encephalomyeltis, quite a mouthful. Sometimes known as Yuppie Flu to the uninitiated. Yuppie? Mungo? Young? Well, yes, just about. Certainly not old. Twenty-three to be precise. Upwardly mobile? Depends. Up the creek, perhaps, but certainly not up the career ladder. He was firmly lodged on the bottom rung, the wind whipping around his flares like the billowing sails of a distressed tea clipper rounding Cape Horn. Professional? Professional!? Are you joking? Not unless a grubby roll of fivers every Saturday night constitutes professional activity. Bobby Coil was a professional disc jockey, Dave Lee Travis was a professional disc jockey. But not Mungo.

All Mungo did was put on a load of records in a dining hall with all the tables and chairs stacked in the corridor. Pudding basin haircuts, nuclear make-up accidents and mushroom topped beanpoles came to shuffle around the makeshift dancefloor, taking care not to slip and take a tumble in the puddles of snakebite. Of course, it had its bright moments. Girls, some of them unbearably pretty, would come up and ask for their favourite records. Sometimes Mungo got a quick glimpse down the front of their floral print dresses and crimpelene blouses, all bought from second-hand shops in crumbling arcades or post-war prefabs in puddle-filled back alleyways.

He never refused a request, no matter who it was from. A skinhead in a skintight “White Power” vest came up to the DJ booth (really a table on top of makeshift stage) quite early one Saturday night. He smiled and raised his eyebrows at Mitch, who was acting as Mungo’s lovely assistant that evening. Mitch just looked back at him straight-faced, but didn’t move. How the hell had he got in? Someone must have signed him in. How did he feel about buying his lager in the Winnie Mandela bar? The skinhead looked totally oblivious to the reactions his choice of clothing was provoking. He finally caught Mungo’s eye, who had no choice but to talk to the skinhead. Either that or start a fight he was sure to lose. The skinhead asked for, of all things, The Specials. Cool as a lettuce leaf, Mungo said, “You’d better fuckin’ dance, man!” And the skinhead did indeed dance, clearing the dancefloor with a fabulously energetic version of the Longshot Kickybucket. Fascist thug or not, he certainly enjoyed a good jig about. Like a muscular new-born giraffe, gyrating and thrusting for three minutes and then back to his seat, glowing with childlike happiness. He left soon after, to the relief of the sprinkling of Asian geeks who felt right at home sherbet shuffling to psychedelic swirls and ballistic pop hacked out on cheap guitars.

In America they call the mysterious lack of well-being Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS. Sounds like an emerging nation in the former Soviet Union. ME is the best name.

ME makes you think a lot about who you are, who you want to be, who you can’t be, at least for the time being. About who your friends are, and what will they think when you can’t get up anymore. Or get the old Lance Corporal (trouser division) to stand to attention anymore. Will they abandon you for being useless? Would you desert yourself if you had half a chance? What about family? Will they think you’re just being a lazy bastard? After all, in the history of the world, no-one has ever worked as hard as your dad. And your mum has to go out to work all day and when she gets home has to start all over again, washing, ironing, cooking your dad’s tea, while you sit on your fat arse watching John Craven’s Newsround and Grange Hill, even though you’re well past twenty years old. They’ve every right to think you’re having them on, this ME business is just an amplified widescreen flowering of your normal self. Your sister always said you were lazy! Why can’t you be like her, eh? Ever since you dropped out of the university you’ve done nothing, NOTHING about getting a proper job! All you do is sit around all day listening to bloody records and reading bloody books about poofters and... and... and ponces! For God’s sake, the doors in the house won’t shut! There’s so many records in the loft that the doorframes have gone and warped! Thin Lizzy? Thin Lizzy? What in God’s name is Thin bloody Lizzy? A BUNCH OF BLEEDING NANCY BOYS, that’s what! Where did we go wrong? Eh? Where did we go wrong? Can somebody please tell me where we went wrong? ’Cos I’m buggered if I know!

And so on...

The diagnosis of ME is a tricky business. The befuddled doctors have to patiently twiddle their facial hair for six months before so much as contemplating the possibility of ME. After six months of “self-reported persistent or relapsing fatigue” it is possible to clinically evaluate the presence of chronic fatigue. It’s a bit like being unemployed—you have to sit around for six months before you qualify for the dubious honour of attending the Jobclub every day, or getting on a course to sharpen your pre-decimalization skills, or reinvent yourself so that you’re not just an ugly obsolescence in the modern day job market.

Of course, there’s every chance that the doctors will tell you to piss off and take an aspirin. It happens all the time.

So that’s step one. Clinically evaluated unexplained persistent or relapsing chronic fatigue that is of new or definite onset (so no hiding your lazyitis behind the convenient tag of ME. It’s a mystery all right, but not that much of a mystery); is not the result of ongoing exertion (most people are shagged out after running for the bus); is not substantially relieved by a good sit down; and results in substantial reduction in former levels of work, learning, social or personal activities, such as drinking huge amounts of alcohol and snogging any birds daft enough to let you get your grubby mits on them behind the corporation bus depot. Or blokes if you’re a bird. Or gay.

Other possible signs of the presence of ME include:

—self-reported inability to remember things over a short time, or trouble concentrating properly, again, bad enough to bugger up what little work or social life you might have;

—sore throat;

—tender cervical or axillary lymph nodes (your GP will inform you of the whereabouts of these little known body parts);

—muscle pain, unrelieved by typically excessive use of Ralgex;

—knees and elbows hurt but they don’t swell up or go red;

—rotten bloody headaches of previously unknown ferocity;

—wake up just as knackered as when you went to bed (without having been knowingly tandem shagged in your sleep by Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone at the same time);

—and post exertional discomfort lasting more than 24 hours...

So when Mungo found himself afflicted by several of the above symptoms, off he stumbled to the local surgery. Thus began his own little medical odyssey, passed from doctor to doctor like a Chippendale chair going from one ecstatic bespectacled antiques dealer to another, all the while increasing in value, all the while being lovingly caressed by strange pairs of hands. After months and months of pinching, prodding, blood tests and urine tests, Mungo was still steadily heading down to the bottom of the barrel. The West of Scotland’s finest medical minds and herbalist gurus were stumped, like a donkey cart in a monsoon mudbath. When everything else had failed, the bearded medicine men decided to investigate the possibility of some kind of mental irregularity being the cause of Mungo’s lengthy dumpdown residence. He was shipped to a mental hospital on some cliffs looking out over the sea. Gulls wheeled and screamed, the wind rattled the window panes at night. The predominant colours were white and a sickly pale green. Fuck it.

Part of his treatment involved being kept in solitary confinement for days at a stretch. The rest of the time he was free to mingle with the fearsome flock of lost lambs who shuffled about the wards in their slippers, looking like Bernard Bresslaw before an operation. There were those who sat staring out of the window, moving their lips in silent prayer, the tumbling gulls and silently shifting seaweed below. The less afflicted played Trivial Pursuits with staff and relentlessly cheerful volunteers who came out from the village every afternoon to save themselves from going mad with unemployment and TV. The highlight for Mungo was when his entire ward all sat down together to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The hysterical laughter it brought to the patients seemed to buoy the whole hospital up on a tide of happiness for a day or two. Then a twenty year old depression patient was sent home, a hastily contrived reward for his rapid improvement. The next day his mother found him dead in the garden. His wrists had been hacked to pieces with the top of a Heinz baked bean tin that had been fished out of the pedal bin under the sink.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis has a series of nasty surprises in store for every convert it collects. All around the globe, there are thousands of individual stories to tell, all with physical discomfort and mental anguish as the common denominator. In Mungo’s case, the trap it had laid for him was an unavoidable booby device. Mungo loved music, the louder the better. He was always up to something music-related. Apart from DJing he had spent time in other activities, all of which were putting his health in unsteady orbit like the troubled space shuttle losing its protective tiles.

The Seizures were a rock band. Their fresh-faced singer was Mungo Musgrave, an unlikely rocker zipped up in ill-fitting leather clothes. All the members of the group looked as if they were dangerously familiar with the Sinclair Spectrum and the inner workings of the game of chess. After fiddling about with their knobs and dials and shuffling around nervously for a few minutes, they adjusted their steel-rimmed spectacles and leapt into their musical maelstrom. The pub they were playing in Troon was packed to the horse brasses with rowdy kids anxious for a bit of diversion and novelty. As Mungo flourished his tambourine and jigged about from one foot to the other, it slowly dawned on the crowd that they were listening to the theme tune from children’s puppett programme Joe 90, a recent semi-hit for Thee Milkshakes and dozens of other psychobilly bands. The majority of the kids looked at each other in disbelief and sniggered, before deciding to make the most of a bad job and dance about a bit. The lone psychobilly, easily spotted because of his huge protruding quiff and sleeveless lumberjack shirt, heard the call of the wild in the music. He started to thrust out his arms, pummelling anyone in the way, and whirled, Tasmanian Devil style, to the middle of the crowd. This was perfectly normal behaviour at Psychobilly nights, but it snookered the mixture of scruffs, left over New Romantics, and football trendies who made up the best part of the crowd. Paul, a lifelong friend of Mungo’s, who used to be a computer spoff but had just come back from two months in America with long hair and a keen interest in funny fags and cosmic pronouncements, suddenly struck upon the bright idea of showering the band with the bottle of beer that he had been holding in stoned bemusement for an hour and a half. He clambered up onto a chair near the raised corner that served as a makeshift stage and started to shake his beer and spray it all over the oddly twitching band members. He had hoped for a Grand Prix style foaming arc, but was flummoxed by a piddling little trickle. He scratched his head and quickly decided that it would be better just to waggle the bottle vigourously in a stageward direction. The result was less impressive but just as effective. Mungo’s hair and jacket were sopping wet, but on he jangled, beating his tambourine with renewed fury and determination. The crowd were by now screaming in heathen ecstasy. Even the psychobilly had stopped his ritual wardance to see what was going on. As the band seamlessly segued into Another Girl, Another Planet, he let out a primeval roar and leapt off in the direction of the bar, where the landlord was already hovering near the telephone. A continual stream of beer now slopped through the air, before splashing against the musicians or their expensive instruments, Christmas presents from parents anxious about their offspring’s excessive hours in front of the bloody computer. The whirling psychobilly dervish was back, freshly armed with two bottles of Grolsch. The first he slipped the tricky top off, only to find that its precision engineering impeded the horizontal flow of band directed beer. He solved the problem by swinging it around his head like a maniac, showering band members’ glasses and hysterically laughing tough schoolgirls and grinning boys, pogoing like it was going out of fashion, in spite of it already having gone out of fashion at around about the time they had started a rough passage through the local school system. The psychobilly decided to drink the second bottle, downing it in one go, an oasis of calm as the pogoing masses surged and swayed about him. When he had finished, he tossed the empty bottle looping through the salty air towards the stage where the hapless band were now ricocheting their frenetic way through a cover of a Ramones song. The bottle spun downwards, followed by many pairs of anxious eyes. It just missed the drummer, but knocked his high-hat out of alignment. From there on in the concert descended into a alcohol fuelled playground riot, quickly extinguished by the timely arrival of Ayrshire Constabulary’s finest.

The Seizures’ career didn’t end there, but they never did get to play their carefully chosen encore, a power pop cover version of Norman Wisdom’s Don’t Laugh at Me ’Cause I’m a Fool.

After the demise of The Seizures, and the slightly more serious collapse of his dreams of a university degree in astronomy, Mungo drifted in and out of half-baked scheme after half-baked scheme. He never really contemplated the idea of a proper job. He considered it tantamount to living like an underemployed zombie. Instead, he concocted ways of making ends meet, at times holding up to three jobs at once. But Mungo always suffered badly from an excess of free time, the monstrous mixed blessing of the machine age.

DJing for grubby fivers on Saturday and Thursday nights, Mungo also spent long days and nights humping hefty amplifiers up and down awkward ramps as a hairy arsed roadie and security clown at a variety of Glasgow haunts for students, many of whom went to great lengths to look like Scott Walker or Sterling Morrison, only to end up resembling Ichabod Crane in need of Sanatogen vitamin pills. Mungo was never asked to perform these duties at non-student venues because the Glasgow punters were unrepentently violent, breeding equally violent bar staff and security. Spazzy students, like Mitch and to a lesser extent Stewpot, just jumped about like electrocuted ferrets. Sometimes they banged their heads together and gave each other nosebleeds. There was the occasional fisticuffs, but never anything Gerry and the guys couldn’t cope with.

The worst night was Suicidal Tendencies at the Art School, a world famous architectural gem. Mungo and the others received a special commendation from the promoter after repelling wave after wave of psychotically determined would-be stage divers. Mungo likened it to a computer game, “like Space Invaders,” as he sipped his morning tea in the kitchen that he shared with Mitch that year. He said that he hadn’t felt so rough since his first and last boxing bout three years earlier. He had arrived home bruised and out of sorts, but nothing compared to the puffy eyed stomping headache that he woke up to the next day. It took him two weeks to recover. Jogging became his sporting tipple from then on, until his illness disabled him too much to get up the stairs after a quick half hour trot. The old man from the upstairs flat had been very worried, but Mungo managed to wheeze out a few brief reassurances. The old man had only ever grunted an abrupt greeting from time to time before then, but afterwards he was like a concerned grandfather. He ended up knowing more about Mungo’s illness than Mitch, who was supposed to be a good friend as well as an untidy flatmate. Mungo had quietly reprimanded him one day for coughing up phlegm into the sink. Such was the viscosity of the phlegm that it mingled with the onion skins and other food remnants to form a plughole blockage that could only be removed with nimble fingers. It was this task that had persuaded Mungo to finally mention the matter to Mitch. He was intentionally gentle about it, but Mitch was inwardly mortified, despite his attempt to be nonchalant. “Sorry,” he mumbled, looking through the kitchen window, where a crow was perched on top of the clothes prop.

Roadying held its attractions, in spite of the long hours and shit money. Mungo had seen green uniformed Catholic girls hanging their golden delicious hair out of the tall windows of the neighbouring school, trying to hear The Sugarcubes, a group from Norway or somewhere like that, soundchecking at the Art School. Later on a teacher came round and, with bespectacled politeness, asked them to keep the noise down. A teacher asked a professional pop group on the verge of international stardom to keep the noise down! As soon as he had gone, everyone—band, roadies, Mungo, a journalist from the Melody Maker—all fell about laughing. It lightened the atmosphere after the terrible trouble they’d had setting the massive sound system up.

That night Mungo had a prime security position in the pit between the band and the hectic crowd. He could see right up the singer’s skirt. She had on green knickers under her red dress. She even smiled at him once, the bloody nutter.

Mungo had spoken to lots of his musical heroes. He’d even smuggled Mitch and Stewpot into the dressing room once, so that they could meet Edwyn Collins, one of Stewpot’s all-time favourites. He had all his records, right back to the Postcard days with Orange Juice. His heart had caved in like a mining disaster, and there was Edwyn to keep him company. In short, it meant quite a lot to Stewpot to meet Edwyn Collins. It didn’t go according to plan. Stewpot and Mitch’s only exchange of words with the foppish songsmith with a fringe like Roger McGuinn’s went like this:

EDWYN COLLINS. Is there any lager left? (on his knees, rooting around under the chairs that Mitch and Stewpot had clumsily sat on)

MITCH. I think it’s all gone... (sheepishly cradling his freshly opened can of Red Stripe that he had fished out from under the chair ten minutes earlier)

STEWPOT. You can have mine if you want (holding out his can as if he really expected Edwyn to take it).

The singer raised his eyebrows, but, with faultless courtesy, said, “No thanks, it’s all right,” and lolloped off, ambling his six foot frame over to where his well-preserved mother was sitting quietly glowing with pride. Having watched a couple of thousand kids and Bobby Bluebell go potty watching her son perform songs and tell jokes, she had every right to be radiant.

Mungo surprised many a lower rung popster by demonstrating a knowledge of their work. Most roadies only listen to ZZ Top and Lynard Skynard, so Mungo was a curiosity and a bit of light relief for them. Consequently they tended to pamper him. Robert, the Berniece-Bobs-Her-Hair three chord psychedelic star with Loop, was so impressed by Mungo’s affability and efficiency that he rewarded him with an XL t-shirt with a cosmic eye design printed on the front, and the Loop logo on the back. Unfortunately, Mungo had already swiped a t-shirt exactly the same when no-one was looking. He had stashed it down the back of one of the beer soaked comfy chairs that lined three walls of the hall where the concert had taken place. He was later to be seen out jogging around the west end of Glasgow wearing the abrasively psychedelic garment, weaving his way in and out of grannies laden with shopping and first year students learning the endless variety of ways to waste time in bars and shops.

On the surface, Mungo’s road crew antics didn’t do him any harm. He got to sit on the stage and hang around with the groups. It was hard work, but good fun. The worst thing that happenend to him was getting the piss taken mercilessly for buying a Swatch watch with a black face, black hands and no numerals. He claimed that you could see it perfectly if you held it at the correct angle, but the other roadies had a field day. A black watch, ideal for working in the dark. He also had to watch The Wonder Stuff doing stunts on a kiddie’s scooter. A bit harsh on the sensibilities, but nothing serious.

His third “job” was enough to make even the most stoical of survivors feel a bit ill. Mungo worked part time in a record shop down near the River Clyde. It occupied what used to be storage space or a workshop underneath the rumbling railway arches. Now it was one of a series of shops selling new age trinkets, secondhand clothes and hippie paraphenalia. The zone was frequented by people that security guards tend to follow around Top Shop and Marks and Spencer. Not because they’re shoplifters, but because they lower the tone with their scruffy clothes, smelly hair and broken glasses. Marks and Sparks and their customers refuse to accept the self-evident truth that if you don’t wash your hair, its natural oils will do the job for you. (Provided the scalp weavils don’t get there first and eat all the dirt and turn it into fresh fertiliser, thus enabling mushrooms to take root in the pores vacated by falling strands of lank streaks of greasy piss flop hair.) Mungo had always been impeccably clean apart from the odd unavoidable skidmark in his underpants, but now he went into cleanliness warp drive, scrubbing every nook and cranny obsessively, just to differentiate himself from his surroundings. To be fair, appearances were often misleading. Most customers didn’t smell at all, unless you count patchouli oil, and a surprising number of clients were impeccably turned out executives with prestigious multinational companies. To the untrained eye, they seemed out of place, but they moved through the labyrinth of alternative culture with all the ease of a tree-hopping lemur on heat.

The record shop was run by two brothers, Maxwell and Bernard Campbell, who had matching bald spots hovering spookily above shoulder length shards of lank black hair. Their facial expressions vacillated between that of a concerned scientist investigating a new and deadly strain of some tropical disease, and that of a two year old child watching a rainbow butterfly cavorting around a parked pushchair. Their faces were connected. Even when they were involved in entirely separate tasks, Mungo noticed that each one always wore the same expression of gormless concern or delight as the other. Mungo spent long hours contemplating this phenomenon, eventually deciding that he was working for robots, planted by the Soviet Union to bring down western civilisation with a bloated diet of mail order prog-rock.

The name of the shop was Yeti Records. Their slogan, which adorned their cosmic carrier bags, was “ABOMINABLE SOUNDS AT AFFORDABLE PRICES”. The Campbell brothers were world authorities in the field of Krautrock, and frighteningly well-informed when it came to other obscure slabs of musical monstrosity from the early seventies. Mungo felt like a prisoner in an inter-galactic jail cell, floating through the ether from one end of the galaxy to the other, and then back again in slow motion. All to the constant accompaniment of wurp-wurp-wurp-wurp kosmische music. Wurp-wurp-wurp.

Despite mail order customers from around the world, the Campbell brothers found themselves financially obliged to sell less obscure music as well. They refused to soil themselves by physically touching such spiritually vacuous products. Which is where Mungo came in. He was placed in charge of the indie and alternative department, which in reality was a dingy cubby-hole at the back of the shop. Stewpot and Mitch often dropped by, but Stewpot objected, with a ferocity reserved exclusively for record shop owners, when Maxwell and Bernard stopped giving him twenty-five pence discounts. Stewpot was not tight-fisted, but he was capable of smuggling a can of Irn Bru into a pub to avoid paying for a drink. This was a source of great discomfort to Mitch, who prided himself on behaving like his dad in pubs. He was also convinced that he could get served quicker than anyone else, but had to accept defeat on innumerable occasions when the bar staff ignored him completely. Obviously they hadn’t been informed of his special “getting the drinks in” powers, the posh bastards.

Such was Mungo’s boredom in the shop that he took to promoting concerts. They were small scale activities, but the money involved was always upwards of a hundred pounds for the bands, plus rental on an assortment of dingy venues that made Yeti records look like the Katherine Hammet shop that had recently opened in a new shopping centre in town—glass and steel economy and elegance with twenty-first century prices. While Maxwell and Bernard Campbell discussed the merits of the first album by Amon Dl II and the lack of meat in the Leek and Ham Big Soup that Maxwell had bought in Safeways, Mungo plotted his latest subterranean extravaganza. Only once did he make a profit, which he gave to the scummy support band, a troupe of hardcore fiends from East Kilbride.

The car hiccoughed along the seafront, Flopsy slowing down and speeding up as the mood took her. She pipped her hooter at a bearded man out walking his dog. The dog took more notice than the man, and Mister Billington Fox expressed a keen interest in the dog. Flopsy tooted again at a long-haired young lad standing with a group of mates on the windswept grassy area between the sea and the road. He put up his hand in a joyful gesture of greeting, before collapsing in laughter with his tittering pals.

“Who’s that?” enquired Stewpot.

“Latest conquest,” replied Flopsy.

“Bit young, isn’t he?” added Mitch, his voice an octave higher than usual.

“So would you be!” snapped Flopsy, giving Mitch a blushing fit and triggering a blast of rough laughter from Stewpot.

The King Neptune Sports Centre loomed up before them. Built in the late sixties, the mammoth building boasted a distinctive mural showing all manner of marine life, real and imaginary, in colours dulled by decades of sea air. Presiding over the watery kingdom was a ruddy-cheeked King Neptune, the underwater currents conspiring to wrap his long white beard around his bejewelled trident. Two small sky blue fish peeped out from his shaggy sixties hippy hair. A purple octopus clung doggedly to an outcrop of his golden rocky throne. Light filtered down in clearly defined shafts, illuminating glitter-clad coral formations and flickering seahorses. King Neptune looked anything but happy towering above the coming and going of Troon’s wheezing and spluttering sports heroes.

As the car swung violently into the carpark, a grinning figure leapt out of the doors, swinging a primary school P.E. bag like a cowboy’s lasso. Mungo skipped towards the car like a demented TV scarecrow, his disconcerted hair playing kiss-chase in the wind.

“All right, you wankers?” he chirped, divebombing into the back seat next to Mitch.

“Your sister’s been having it off with schoolkids,” stated Stewpot bluntly, “ and she pips her hooter at them.”

“Mucky cow! I bet he pipped her hooter as well, eh Flops?”

“Piss off, pipsqueak tosspot!”

Mungo looked at Mitch with his eyebrows reaching for the sky and his mouth a perfect circle. He looked like a human exclamation mark. Mitch sniggered, which in turn made Flopsy crack up laughing.

“I didn’t really shag him, just had a bit of a snog. I was drunk. I like men with long straggly hair. I just failed to notice that he was about fourteen. well, seventeen to be exact.”

“Is that what he told you?” guffawed Mungo incredulously. “You’d believe anything, you would! I’m telling mum.”

“You tell mum and I’ll break your fucking legs, you grassing little bastard!”

“There’s nothing quite like a nice family atmosphere, is there?” prodded Mitch.

“Marvellous,” agreed Stewpot, “just like Little House on the Prairie.”

“Goodnight Jimbob, goodnight Mary Ellen...” growled Mungo in his best Virginia accent.

“That’s the fucking Waltons, you twat!” came Flopsy’s fruity reply.

“The best episode of The Waltons is the one where Johnboy’s a reporter and sees the first Led Zeppelin crash and go up in flames.”

“Mungo, you twat! It’s a zeppelin, not a Led Zeppelin! Led Zeppelin’s a pop group!” screeched Flopsy.

“Rock group, twat!” retorted Mungo.

“Don’t say ‘twat’, you twats,” said Mitch, beginning to breathe a little faster than usual. Stewpot knew that his voice was about to shift up an octave, and he knew why.

“How many other schoolkids have you shagged, Flopsy?” he asked politely.

“More than you can shake a stick at” said Flopsy in a low mumble as she scraped the car into gear and set off with a lurch. A group of pensioners were showered in gravel, pebble dashed building style, as they headed for the sports centre doors. It was Senior Citizens’ Sporting Challenge Day. Every week, the sturdier elderly residents of the town descended upon King Neptune’s to flounce wildly from one side of the pool to the other, or to play slow motion badminton. Slow motion all except the shuttlecock, that is. The Red Cross were on hand in case of muscular injuries or surprise cardiac maladies. The gravel assaulted grannies scowled with all the indignation that two world wars can engender as Flopsy sent the car squealing back along the seafront, barely missing a stray football that had been booted onto the road by the bashful seventeen year-old snogger.

Murray Musgrave gazed out of the kitchen window, a frown playing on his white-capped forehead. He’d been retired for just over a year and never tired of saying that he was bloody glad to see the back of those damn boats. He had skippered passenger cruises up and down the west coast of Scotland for longer than he cared to remember. Definitely since before he and his wife, Millie, had started to breed. Flopsy had come first, a good, strong little girl. The neighbours called her robust, back when they lived further down the hill, when money was much harder to come by. Next, Mungo made his entrance, bawling like a Red Indian doing the Richard Harris nipple-piercing test from day one, and only stopping to eat and drink until he was about three years old. Then he started to show a keen interest in the mechanisms of household objects. At the age of four, Murray found him clambering up a recklessly constructed pile of chairs in the bathroom. The little boy had wanted to see what was inside the cistern, and why.

“How the bloody hell should I know?” snapped his father, troubled by visions of taking his little boy to hospital with blood gushing out of a toilet-induced head wound. Whenever Mungo fell quiet, his parents knew he was either taking a radio to pieces, examining the lock mechanism on the vacuum cleaner, or attempting to work out some other pseudo-scientific problem.

Then one day Mungo simply dropped all interest in such matters and began to devote himself almost exclusively to reading books. He had made a bright start in school, and his reading age was four years higher than his real age. Quite an achievement until you realise that half the population of Britain was well ahead of the laughable standards set by the government inspectors. Mungo devoured every printed thing in the house, supplemented by the weekly visit of the mobile library van. Mungo reserved for the huge white lorry the kind of welcome other children gave the tumbling bells of the ice-cream van on Sunday afternoon. Mungo didn’t much care for ice cream, but he knew how it was made. It had nothing to do with ice or cream.

Mungo’s younger brother, Calvin, wandered around with a plaster over one eye, getting into scraps and learning how to swear. This would stand him in good stead at a later date when he joined the Merchant Navy. That was after an extremely promising start as an apprentice in the Clyde shipyards. His job went, along with everybody else’s, when the yards finally closed down after decades of agonising over the future. The Clyde could begin the slow and arduous task of cleaning itself, and Calvin settled for a life on the ocean wave. He discovered that his unwillingness to get out of bed when one of his string of girlfriends phoned was not due to laziness. Everyone thought he was lazy and pig-ignorant, but deep down inside he preferred boys in bed. He was happy in the navy. Travel the world and bum the bloke in the bottom bunk. What more could he wish for? Good job his dad didn’t know.

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Copyright ©Peter Miller, 2001
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Date of publicationSeptember 2001
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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    To tag photos you must be a member of Flickr (don’t worry, the basic service is free).

    Choose photos taken by yourself or from The Commons. You may need special privileges to tag photos if they are not your own. If the photo wasn’t taken by you and it is not from The Commons, please ask permission to the author or check that the license authorizes this use.

  2. Once tagged, check that the new tag is publicly available (it may take some minutes) clicking the following link till your photo is shown: show photos ...

  3. Once your photo is shown, you can add it to this page:

Even though does not display the identity of the person who added a photo, this action is not anonymous (tags are linked to the user who added them at Flickr). reserves the right to remove inappropriate photos. If you find a photo that does not really illustrate the work or whose license does not allow its use, let us know.

If you added a photo (for example, testing this service) that is not really related with this work, you can remove it deleting the machine tag at Flickr (step 1). Verify that the removal is already public (step 2) and then press the button at step 3 to update this page. shows 10 photos per work maximum. Idea, design & development: Xavier Badosa (1995–2018)