The Siege of Pugglemunt Pt 2 (turning into more of a novel but whatever)

Right, now draw five little stars in a row to show that time has passed. Five– yes, stars. Stars. No that’s too big! What?! Are you out of your mind? When have you ever seen a piece of writing with five gargantuan stars all over it, you buffoon. I said little stars. You have to do them very small in the middle of the– oh for goodness sake give me the quill, I’ll do it.

* * * * * *

Bugger I did six. Alright alright, it’s harder than it looks. Take the damn quill.

Now in our narrative we find ourselves in the War Chamber. After my hair cut (which I really liked, actually – Lorian, the Royal Scissorman, really knows how to give my hair an extra bounce. He uses this oil which you can’t find anywhere outside his shop; he makes it himself out of tea tree oil and venom wrung out of frogs from the Hell-Bogs just outside Goom. It gives my hair just the loveliest shine, but – crucially – it doesn’t make it greasy, and you know what it’s like trying to find a decent conditioner these days) – erm? Ah yes. I went into the War Chamber to find my ten best knights assembled and waiting.

They were standing around a big map. I may as well describe the War Chamber for a bit now because it’s not like any of you – gentle readers, pungent Pugglemuntians – are ever going to see it. So you can at least have a little imaginary wander around.

Let’s see. So when you go into the War Chamber you have to open a big heavy door with two guards standing outside it. Their names are Wayne and Richard and I hired them a few years ago because dogs kept getting into the War Chamber and defecating on everything. They stand there all day with their spears crossed (the guards, not the dogs), not letting anyone in unless they’re Very Important and say a special password (I am extraordinarily important so I don’t need to say a password, I just say ‘good morning chaps’ or sometimes if I’m in a bad mood I say ‘get out of my way or I’ll clatter you together’, or something along those lines).

If you tried to get into the War Chamber, Richard and Wayne would uncross their spears and stab you. I’ve told them they have special permission to do this: I wrote it on a piece of paper which they have framed and nailed to the wall beside them – Wayne likes to tap this sign ominously when anybody gets too close. They’ve only had to perform two stabbings in their careers as door-guards so far: the first time was when a palace tourist, a guest from the Kingdom of Shugg, got lost on his way to the bathroom during one of my infamous palace soirees in which I invariably get drunker than anyone and end up nude and howling (I am allowed to do this, I am the King). The second time was later that same evening when I also got lost on the way to the bathroom. I was stark naked, wearing nothing but one of those sexy masquerade masks, and I sprinted towards them in the dark, a-hooting and a-hollering. They gave me a warning shank, just the once, in my torso, but when my mask fell off as I doubled over wheezing, they realised what they’d done and said sorry. It wasn’t really their fault of course. I had them pelted with tomatoes the following Monday and we called it even.

Now – let’s step inside the War Chamber. Close your eyes and imagine. Except don’t actually close your eyes because then you won’t be able to read what I’m saying. Close them but keep them open. Maybe just close one. Or squint.

The map table is my favourite bit of the War Chamber: it’s really big, like a full-size billiards table (so glad we invented those last summer), and it has six sturdy legs, like one of the Spook Lizards that live in the cliff-caves on the outskirts of Slit. Now, because war mongering is all about Clever Ideas and you can’t have Clever Ideas without inspiration, the walls of my War Chamber are decorated with lots of tapestries showing people getting absolutely battered. I commissioned them to be knitted last year because I was running dry on creative war ideas. They’re quite beautiful: my favourite among them is the one that details the legendary Battle of Bustard Meadow, in which everybody was riding ostriches during that brief but memorable period in the last century when all the horses in the realm were sick with Swell-snout.

There are some suits of armour too, of course. The best one (in my opinion, which is the only correct opinion because I am The King) is the Golden Suit. It’s very ornate: it has a lot of spindly bits and little curly details. My great-uncle Aesteron actually died in it while riding at the head of his army at the Skirmish of Tosser Hill eighty-six years ago. You can still see the dent where the club of the mighty ogress warlord ‘Sarah’ thwacked him into the distance like a golf ball (thrilled we invented that, too).

There are a couple of weapon racks too. I collect weapons: it’s one of my many hobbies. You can have a lot of hobbies as King, you see, because nobody ever tells you not to do anything in case their gall sends you into a frenzy. I usually collect my weapons from people I and/or my army have slain, but every now and then I just find one by the roadside and pick it up. So far my collection includes:

The War Club of Sarah (she got arrowed to bits shortly after she gave my great-uncle his Final Clubbing)

The Jewelled Axe of Hampton Climax (a legendary warrior who sent me a letter challenging me to a duel. I accepted and immediately shot him with a cannon from a distance of eighteen miles because he was better than me at fighting and I’m not an idiot)

The Flail of Irony (a cursed weapon that I haven’t figured out how to use yet, every time I try I just end up whipping my own legs)

Seven ninja stars (an assassin flung them at me last year)

The Eldritch Apple (bought it off a witch. If you eat it you go mental. I know I shouldn’t eat it but Gods it’s tempting on those boring afternoons.)

Godfrey’s Fist (a fist that I hacked off my old nemesis Godfrey because he wouldn’t shut up while I was trying to make a toast at a palace banquet. Not really a weapon but I don’t know where else to put it)

The Spear of Pestering (exceedingly very long, not very sharp)

Burton Ginger’s Trident (I hate Burton Ginger and I stole his trident to make him angry so I’d have an excuse to shoot him with a crossbow)

Burton Ginger’s Crossbow (he shouldn’t have left it lying around if he didn’t want to get shot with it)

St Ethel’s Minge (just a sword I found in a barrel. The name’s etched into the hilt. I’ve no idea who decided to call it that)

There are plenty more besides, but those are my favourites. In pride of place, however, is my own sword: the Sword of Bellows. It was my father’s sword, and his mother’s before him. It was just a normal sword originally – albeit a very pretty one, naturally – but it got hit with a stray hex during an engagement with a warlock pirate ship just off the Gulf of Chagrin and now every time I swing it it does a little scream that sounds a bit like the noise somebody makes when they do a karate chop. It’s a shrill sort of ‘hi-YA’ sound and once you get used to it, it really lends your swings some extra welly.

Anyway, that’s my War Chamber. Now let’s get to the good stuff. Air quotes. AIR QUOTES. PAY ATTENTION. We’re back to the dialogue now.

“Now let’s get to the good stuff,” I said, standing before my sparkly knights with my hands on my hips. “Thou all knowest for why we are here. Peril is afoot and fell deeds await. I want all your ideas for how we can defend Pugglemunt from old Bloodfoot or whatever the hell his name is.”

On My Love/Hate Relationships With Linen, Graham Greene, And My Own Eyes

Bought a bonsai tree. My flatmates keep telling me to name it but I’ve resisted their advice; I don’t want to anthropomorphise it. I’m not sure why. My friends have suggested it’s to maintain a certain emotional distance between my bonsai and I, lest it die in my arms just as my previous bonsai tree, Bruce, did back in 2015. But mostly I think I just don’t like being told what to do.

My tree sits on my desk looking wise and ancient. It reminds me of Japan. It would probably remind me of Korea too if I’d been there, but I’ve not. I’m thinking of taking a holiday to Laos this year. Or Cambodia, maybe. I dunno. I’m enjoying my life a lot these days, but the wanderlust I thought had left me forever after my graceless nose-dive return from Colombia is once again creeping in. I don’t think I’ve got another gigantic stint in me – certainly not for another year or two – but I do quite fancy a holiday somewhere humid and alien. Somewhere that smells like palm leaves and motor oil – somewhere I can sit with bare feet on a balcony at 2am and drink a beer and smoke and not give a fuck about anything beyond how good the warm night air feels on my skin. Cicadas chirping. Tropical sheet lightning out at sea. That’d be nice. I miss feeling like a pirate.

My London bedroom is slowly transforming into a sort of cowboy wizard’s barn-tower. Aside from my tree I have my skull, my shells, my volcano rock, and now a quite-large clay octopus and a very small wooden cow. Loads and loads of books too – they’re everywhere. And there’s not really any theme to them. I have Macbeth sitting on top of Holes and Harry Potter a l’ecole des sorciers resting two up from Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diary. I read Strangeland by Tracey Emin recently, but I didn’t really enjoy the experience – sometimes I read things because I feel I might learn something valuable, rather than because they’re enjoyable. And sometimes, as with Strangeland, this makes for an actively bad time. It reminded me of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock: bleak, desolate and windswept, like an English coastal town (and I suppose it’s no coincidence that’s where they’re both set). Brighton Rock took me ages to get through; I was repelled by every page. I remember one scene where the gangsters are eating sausage rolls in their hideout. The author describes how there are crumbs everywhere and plates left out. Something about that always struck me as unforgivably gross. What’s the point of a life of crime if it’s so powerfully shit? If you’re going to get Greggs dust all over your evil lair you might as well just pack it in and get a normal job like the rest of us. Imagine getting murdered by a man with steak bake crumbs on his lapels. I’d be so upset.

*****

I went mad two weeks ago and bought several linen shirts and some linen trousers. I don’t know why. When I wear it all together I look like one of the forlorn Mexican villagers from The Magnificent Seven. I quite like it though; wearing trackie bottoms around the house makes me feel slovenly. Nobody looks good in trackie bottoms – I mean not really. Trackies can look cool if you’ve just bought them and they’re jet black and immaculate and you’ve got clean trainers and a fresh haircut, but other than that they just make everyone look like Niko Bellic. Better to just wear jeans. Or better yet – as I’ve now discovered – linen trousers. They are, unbelievably, miles comfier than trackie bottoms, and what’s more, they make you look deliberate and statesmanlike; casual yet, I dunno, ready to purchase an island and open a dinosaur park on it. I mean, they do also make you look like a bit of a Tory knobhead, and of course I’d never dare actually leave the house in them for fear of getting folded up and shoved into a dustbin like a pizza box, but whatever: they’re nice to wear around the house.

One thing linen clothes certainly don’t do, however, is keep out water. I’ve been spilling quite a lot of boiling liquids on myself recently. You know how it is. I got freshly boiled coffee all over my linen-clad groin last week, mid-lesson with a student. The linen did nothing; I may as well have been naked. It was a major spill too: I didn’t just tip my cup a little too eagerly, I fully whacked it and upended the whole thing over myself. Searing heat, instantly. Of course, my student saw none of this because my laptop camera only ever shows me from the chest up, and so she continued chatting amiably. Not wanting to interrupt her, I had to just squint and nod considerately, fingers steepled, while the steam rising from my scalded genitals wafted faintly up past my increasingly pink face.

Oh, and I went blind last week too, for a while. It was really weird – I’d gone home to Leeds for a week for my mum’s birthday celebrations, working from there instead of London (love being my own boss), and on Wednesday afternoon, while teaching a relatively new student, my vision started to go funny. It had been totally fine at the beginning of the hour; in fact, I was pretty satisfied that I’d given a really useful, professional lesson. There was 20 minutes to go and we were reading a book together: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. And then I just… fucking went blind?

At first I thought I’d just been gazing into the sun in a daydream or something and had given myself those little blinky-black sunspots you get, the ones haloed in orange like cigarette burns on camera film. Only it wasn’t that – it didn’t fade. And it wasn’t a black-ish splodge, it was white, with a rainbow haze to it. As my student was reading the book, I nodded along, listening and helping her pronunciation of key words, while simultaneously closing one eye, then the other, then massaging both of them and blinking furiously, trying to figure out why I couldn’t see anything. The white smudge in the centre of my vision remained no matter which I closed, which told me that it was more of a brain-induced blindness than an eyeball issue. This, of course, wasn’t particularly comforting.

While my mouth continued its usual job, saying to my student things like ‘so what do you think this paragraph is about?’, my fingers opened a new tab to Google ‘sudden vision loss reasons’. The splodge of blindness was about the size of a basketball held at arm’s length, and it moved with my eyes, like an irritating sibling leaping into your field of vision wherever you turn your head. I looked in the mirror and saw that I could make out barely half of my face. The other half… it’s hard to describe. It wasn’t simply white, because if it’d been a solid mass I might have been able to focus on it. It was as if my brain was simply telling me that there was nothing there at all – a rainbow-glowing void in reality.

Naturally, Google told me I was having an aneurysm and had moments to live. I nodded to myself. Thought as much. Unable to read or see my student’s face – but otherwise still completely compos mentis and oddly calm – I chatted through the last 15 minutes. As we talked, I noticed the little void slowly moving up my field of view, out of the ‘focus’ zone and into my peripheral vision. Ten minutes later it was gone, drifting vertically out of frame like an alien spaceship in a 1950s B-movie. Goodbye little splodge. What the fuck.

I finished the lesson, shut the blinds, climbed into bed and text my mum. She came upstairs to find me lying beneath my duvet in the dark.

“Migraine,” she said, as soon as I said the word ‘blind’. “Little watery line? Moves across your vision slowly? Half blind? It’s a migraine.”

Well shit me, never in thirty years. I took two paracetamol for the headache and got back to work, substantially wearier and more annoyed than I have been some twenty-five minutes earlier. There are lots of things I’m really enjoying about getting older: relative maturity, more self-control, a dramatically decreased care for the opinions of strangers. What is a little disconcerting, however, is my body’s increasing propensity to do mad shit without warning. What an adventure; what an honour.

See you next week, when my testicles will simply implode while I’m walking to Lidl.