The Bibliophile’s Day Out

This story was inspired by one strange facebook conversation I had with Simone Chalkley long ago, we were discussing the tactile/sensual aspects of “old-skool” books. At the time we were both regulars at Fay Roberts Allographic spoken word events, which is where I first performed The Bibliophile’s Day Out. I was delighted that Simone was in the audience that Sunday evening.

So, I have been performing this story for a good few years now, but I realised today that I have never posted it on the website. Here goes…

The Bibliophile’s Day Out

The curtain closed with a swish, making the cramped changing room cubicle even more claustrophobic. I hung the random clothes on the hook, plonked my rucksack on the chair in the corner and turned my back against the mirror. It was bad enough doing this, I didn’t want to watch myself doing it. Greedily, I delved into the dark depths of the rucksack. The mixed odours rising from the bag were heady with promise, I’d been looking for the privacy to do this all day. I felt light headed as I drew out a thick Victorian binding, it’s leather-bound case positively encrusted with ornate blocking.  I quivered slightly as the unmistakeable smell of academics smoke-filled study clagged in my nostrils – the definite fruity tang of pungent nicotinicity. I smiled, though I wasn’t yet sated. I allowed my sensual ecstasy to mingle with my unerring booksellers instinct and I knew the smell of  erudite  content. Probably the  unloved cast-off of some Cambridge Librarian Lothario.

I heard a vague harrumphing the other side of the curtain. I could sense the waiting woman’s presence without even registering it.  I was onto my second book. A slim pocket book sized Ayurvedic sex manual. The aroma of incense-laden temple, with notes of satanic doom played through my cavities. Invariably, the smell of cloistered hermitage denotes books that are long out of print. Highly collectible, in my Dealers Hat.  The woman waiting outside clattered her plastic dress hangers together and tutted. I could hear her looking at her watch. But it was water off a duck’s back to me. A boutique changing room was pure luxury for your average booksniffer, I’ve made do with a cubicle in a public lavatory – not an olfactory nirvana, you know. The bleach played havoc with my nasal consciousness. In any case, I was about to do number three, a large format hardback, desperately signed by the author, never even opened. The sickening musty whiff of the remaindered warehouse, a foul but vividly unforgettable reek. The stench of the over-priced. Known in the book trade as “a dog”. Suddenly “Are you going to be in there long?” Jolted back to reality my breath solidified in my lungs. Fighting the shame of discovery, my “Sorry!” burst through my paralysis with a rush of out breath. Snarking, waiting woman said “You’ve been twenty minutes already” Then wheedling “Only I’ve got to be some where at two”. I had to get out of here. In a panicked flurry I grasped at my books, stuffing them hurriedly into the rucksack. “What the hell are you doing in there?” the alarm in her voice peaking with my own. And then I touched the last book in the hoard.

My fingers slipped wantonly over the tomes Yapp binding in naked vellum, curving  pale flaps around thick sections of handmade deckle-edge paper. The Kelmscott colophon laid across it, a Morris font  entwined around with curling, twirling botanic forms of erotic intensity. Probing the books flexible spine with my nose I breathed in a perfume of pure unadulterated First Edition, a tabla rasa of a book. The abandoned scent of forgotten storage in a dry secure garage. A book dealers dream. The most expensive book smell of all. The cubicle curtain was suddenly wrenched aside “A Booksniffer!” screamed the waiting woman. “No” I pleaded “I’m a Bookseller, a binder, no really” I stumbled. Crashing into clothes racks, running for the door. “A Booksniffer!” she fainted. A Security Guard, as thick as a bear,  ambled behind me. His pungent aftershave , like a disinfectant smudge stick, cleansed and sterilised the book-heavy air.

Bella Basura 2022

Strawberry Fair Armpit Hair 13 years on…

 

Bella Basura Still Showing her Armpit Hair to Strawberry Fair. Scarecrow Corner 2019. Photo by Del Blyben

Bella Basura Still Showing her Armpit Hair to Strawberry Fair. Scarecrow Corner 2019. Photo by Del Blyben

 

In the 1990s one of my favourite small press publications was the seminal  Unlimited Dream Company series – Towards 2012 – it’s editor – Gyrus – produced a stable of beautifully themed cutting edge factual anthologies at the end of the twentieth century.

In 2006 Gyrus started a new journal – Dreamflesh, which he subtitled “A Journal of  Body, Psyche, Ecological Crisis and Archaeologies of Consciousness”. The list of contributors was an impressive roll call of writers working in marginal spiritual and philosophical paradigm, the whole was a smorgasbord of the strange and the alluring.

Dreamflesh Journal cover art by Amodali

Dreamflesh Journal cover art by Amodali

This month (August 2017) Gyrus has been posting the whole journal online, reprinting the articles and drawing out ideas that have persisted and flourished in the intervening 11 years.

In the web reprise  Gyrus summarises the  project: “Dreamflesh Journal documented an eclectic range of ideas, investigations and experiments informed by this complex ecopsychological framework. Essays, interviews and art ranged over many facets of human and non-human life that seem to be important to this transition: dreams, altered states, visionary media, occultism, sexuality & gender, animism, collective intelligences, psychosomatic healing, bodily symbolism, cognitive linguistics, new materialism, creatively disciplined prehistorical and anthropological studies, images & spirit (iconoclasm, idolatry, anthropomorphism, fetishism), death & dying, depth psychology, ecology… to name a few.”

Back in 2005, when I first heard that Gyrus was planning to edit a new journal I wrote a piece specially, my concern was female facial and body hair and I enjoyed myself writing a selected history of hirsute women. Then I sent in off to Gyrus.

A few months later  I heard it had been accepted. I was delighted to have my piece included in Dreamflesh, it  gave me the biggest readership I had ever had, I felt like I’d arrived, more than this, I felt I’d  been accepted into a publication so inspiring that it left me in awe. And the Journal was certainly well-received, The Guardian called it “a bastion of the esoteric”, and not long after the Journal was released it was reviewed in Fortean Times “There is a dimension way, way out where flesh and dream coalesce, explored by people with names such as Orryelle Defenstrate-Bascule, Gyrus, Bella Basura, Pablo Amaringo and Lars Holger Holm, not to mention the formidible Dave Lee”. And that wasn’t all, wonderfully, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the transgender founder of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, wrote of Dreamflesh “I felt EXCITED as I read. No mean feat. I truly was inspired”.

In the original introduction to the Journal Gyrus evaluated the role of traditional publishing in an increasingly digitized world, “The existence of the web can goad us into a sharper awareness of how print media impact the environment, in turn encouraging us all — in both writing and reading — to try to make every piece of paper and every drop of ink count. ”

Read Strawberry fair Armpit Hair

Dreamflesh online Journal

Performance Photographs

 

A revised Strawberry Fair Armpit Hair was reprinted in March 2016 Novelty Online Magazine in their Under The Skin issue, the magazine website now seems to be down, but they still have a facebook presence.

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Mosaicked with Swimming Horses

One-off performance in the Cambridge festival of Ideas
of Mosaicked with Swimming Horses
19th October, Upstairs at Waterstones Sidney Street

Click here for more details and to book tickets
and to view the 2018 Cambridge festival of Ideas Programme

 

 


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Bella Basura at Scarecrow Corner

 

This Saturday is Strawberry Fair, the longest running free festival in Britain.
Many years ago Scarecrow Corner used to be called The Green Area, but had to change it’s name in 2012 when the whole fair went green. it’s still over in the far left corner by the river and aside from some hippy trappings – The Peace Labyrinth, Body-Art Mike’s tipi and The Tree Circle – it’s now a writhing mass of Cambridge’s finest Punk offerings. I am on at 2pm, just a short 15 minute set of classic Basura-isms.

Hope to see you there!

Up The Punx!

 

 

Clutches of Love

By Dave Challis March 2017Clutches of Love is a new chapbook of my flash fiction that I am preparing for early next year, I thought I’d give you a taster with this brand new story below

Go Suck Lemons!
You sit there with the spilling pint tippling, dribbling down your trouser leg, and slurring you moan “Oh poor me. My life is so terrible. So traumatic. I’m so destroyed”. I pity you, so say something reassuring, something cheering, a glass half-full in the early afternoon, some everyday shaft of sunlight through the dust in the gloom of an unloved room.
You slam your half-empty beer on the bar and snarl personal insults at me, digging deep for intimate confidences, laying bare my private nightmares to the glare of the public bar, “And you don’t no nuffink” growled. I want to cry, your mates laugh, you plough on with this character assassination monologue.
Until I say “Go suck lemons!” and walk away.
And you shrink back , like a slug from a flame, and slurring you moan “Oh poor me. My life is so terrible. So traumatic. I’m so destroyed”.

Bella Basura December 2017

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The Skull Collection

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The Short Answer Chapbook for sale here

 

A Menopause Monologue

“A cyclical shape/structure ( as opposed to linear Aristotelian male orgasm shape/structure) is a female shape/structure, like the Wheel of The Year, like the cyclical menstrual cycle.

What else?

This circular repetitive structure is ubiquitous in paganism – Wicca etc. Like the Maiden Mother Crone cycle, like the Wheel of The year. Paganism perceives life as cyclic, circular, repetitive, coming around again. Connecting with menstruation, and  menopause is the ending of that cyclic life structure.

Do you remember your last period?

Menopause is something that you only become aware of after it has happened.

Do you remember your last period?

Panos by Carina Úbeda

Panos by Carina Úbeda

Our culture makes menstruating women invisible – tampons conceal the blood, sanitize and…what is the word? …Sanitize and deny the existence of menstruation. So that when it ends nobody’s any the wiser.

During the last 3 or 4 years of my periods I consciously chose to use reusable sanitary towels which had to be washed and dried and folded between uses. There was a kind of flappy thing with press studs that popped into my knickers and the clean towel was tucked into this sling. I had to change the towels every time I bled – like every little flow or drop stained the towel. In order to cut down the mess and to stay hygienic  each towel  had to be soaked in water immediately after removing it – or they became permanently stained. They were made in a fluffy kind of brushed cotton, and off-white – they stained easily.

Because the towels had to be changed and soaked at every drop and drip it was difficult to leave the house, a job of work was impossible. I managed a bookshop at the time – a front-facing customer service role – and I couldn’t have just left the floor, gone to the loo, put the soiled towel into a bucket of salt water and left it in the staff toilet, so I arranged to stay home during my periods, I used my holiday allowance visiting ‘auntie’. This made it important, it made my periods  important, it made me aware of them , to respect the blood flow. I felt I got to know my body more in those few years, how my cycles and needs shifted, than at any other time. It was very empowering, very empowering. I made my cycle visible, acknowledged, not denied, not hidden.

Do you remember your last period?

What else?

Invisibility. Invisible if you’re pregnant, invisible if you’re a mother, invisible if you’re childless.

This is all fitting together. Invisibility, invisibility of periods, cyclic periods, cyclic structure, cyclic time, cyclic pagan-time, cyclic pagan-year.

Do you remember your last period?

Is Paganism feminist? It can be goddess-oriented, but I’m not sure it’s Feminist. Is goddess-worship the same as Feminist? Pagan feminists? Feminist pagans? I don’t know. Just because my Paganism is green, feminist, goddess, earth, animal welfare oriented, I don’t think most Pagans are. In fact, the vast majority of Pagans are…I don’t like this train of thought. Think something else.

What else?

Maiden Mother Crone

(chants) We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return, like a drop of rain falling to the ocean. Hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all that dies shall be reborn. Corn and grain, corn and grain, all that falls shall rise again.

Cyclic.

We are a circle within a circle, with no beginning and never-ending.

Starhawk, obviously, Spiral Dance. Feminist Pagan Eco-Warrior, par for the course.

What else?

What else?

I remember my last period.

It was Lammas sunset seven years ago. I hadn’t had a period for over six months.

I was at a Pagan Ritual Camp with 200 or 300 other Pagans. It was the last night  of the camp and we had built the Wickerman , processed him through the fields and were taking him to the fire-pit to be burned and I remember passing the Priestess, Carol, skyclad under an Oak, welcoming the procession into the field and I felt SO happy, So fucking happy, so completely at one  with it all, In that place, in that ritual, in that time.

We were casting the circle, and they lit the Wickerman, and suddenly  I burst into tears, I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop. I had to leave the ritual circle and go cry in my tent. I cried hard night long.  I cried a cosmic grief in the pain of the childless mother.

Next morning I woke up and there was blood in my knickers and I thought “Oh wow! That’s what that was all about”.

Lammas is the harvest  ritual, is about reaping what you sow, is about reward.

My reward that year was infertility, barrenness, I don’t like those words – I wish there were more positive words for childlessness.

What else?

Is it over yet?

Has time run out for this monologue?

Or is it just my time that has run.”

This piece was originally written during a week of theatre workshops with RashDash physical theatre group, and was subsequently performed with Scramble Ensemble -women’s theatre collective, on 6th September 2017 at J2 The Cambridge Junction.
The image is of Panos by Carina Úbeda, a chilean artist who created an installation with used cloth sanitary towels mounted in embroidery hoops, embroidered with solgans.

Bella Basura 2017

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Jean Dark

The Short Answer Chapbook for sale here 

Thee Telepaths

Thee telepaths logoWhen I was a child I dreamt of running away with the circus, but now I’ve seen Thee Telepaths I want to run away with a psych rock band. Last Friday they played at The Cat Basket Psychedelic Delights  event at The Blue Moon in Cambridge, alongside local stalwarts Psychic Lemon and Warning Shadows. As I was  to compere the event I spent all week  listening to their Neon Spiral EP online, but hearing them perform War In My Head left me gasping “Oh, its just like Sister Ray said!”. Needless to say, they credit The Velvets  as influences, alongside  The Stooges, The MC5, Black Sabbath, Suicide, The Modern Lovers, Can, Neu!, Billy Childish, Loop, Mudhoney, Spacemen 3, The 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind, all these distinctive sounds smear through their music.

Seeing them live I was swept up in their raucous energy, and I was reminded most that they name-check Nuggets and Pebbles ’60s Garage Band compilations on their Facebook page.

Added to this Thee Telepaths have a heart-lurching stage presence that gleamed in the backroom gloom of The Blue Moon. A Wilko Johnsonesque wide-spread low-slung sprawl from bassist Tim often overspilled the space, at times he straddled the stage and dancefloor, so wide did he spread his lean thighs. Singer Dean seemed lost in possession, veering around the tiny stage like Ian Curtis on acid. Clasping his head in the crook of his elbow, grimacing, gurning, jerking a hand-jive that shook his whole body, crouching on the ground, staccato movements that wouldn’t look out of place at a Voodoo ritual. The Singer Loa-ridden called forth Papa Legba, and Baron Samedi on keyboard at his side. Tom, on keyboards, guitar and effects, was strutting confidence, spinning  on the spot, manipulating piano keys, effects pedals and guitar strings with assured dexterity. The drummer, Vincent, an eight-armed Hindu god blurred in motion, beat out insistent in the gloaming upstage.

The whole a heavy writhing spellbound pandemonium, while pinprick coloured lights swept across my eyes and the ceiling.

Thee Telepaths are clearly a band with social media savvy, they are visible on Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Youtube, but as they are touring  right now, you would be doing yourself a big favour to catch them live.thee telepaths poster

 

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Bella Basura Live in March

Two performances for Bella Basura coming up this month…

Scarecrow Corner Springtime Benefit Gig, Cambridge
At The Devonshire Arms, 19th MarchScarecrow Corner S[ringtime Benefit Gig

Poetic Springs Bury St Edmunds

Poetic Springs, Bury St Edmunds
Anselm Community Centre, 23rd March

Limited copies of The Short Answer chapbook will be on sale at both events.