October 4, 2009

echocloseJack Tremenyans hates Christmas – with a foul-mouthed passion; Barbara Morethek is only happy when she’s sad; Florence Bray can’t stand her best friend; and Archie thinks all the world has gone to shit. Scratch away the false veneer of chic bistros and trendy surf shacks to enter a Cornwall that few outsiders realise exists.

One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place and other Stories is a collection of eleven short stories by Martin Philp. Largely set in the Cornish communities of Hayle and Penzance, it brings a fresh perspective to small-town lives through characters that never fail to appear extraordinarily vivid.



October 4, 2009


Martin Philp is a highly original writer of great talent. He has qualities that remind me of the best of Arnold Bennett, with a marvellous sympathy for ordinary people. His odd blend of humour and tragedy must be quite unique.COLIN WILSON, author of The Outsider

WITH his first collection of short stories – One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place – Martin Philp stakes his claim as an original and authentic voice and as a Cornish writer of some power. [It is…] likely to be the start of a much wider and deserved recognition for a writer of such exhilarating talent.


Philp conjures a world inhabited by convincing characters. Sad, foul-mouthed and always authentic, his stories invariably possess a great sting in the tail.


Very funny. Read it at your peril and be prepared to laugh a lot.




Town takes its placed in the literary landscape

A Cornish author’s debut collection of short stories is a tour de force, says Des Hannigan

WITH his first collection of short stories – One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place – Martin Philp stakes his claim as an original and authentic voice and as a Cornish writer of some power.

Philp’s stories vibrate with humanity, wit and, at times, a merciless but honest view of the human condition. He says that he discovered his Cornish hometown of Hayle as a rich seedbed for stories after forays into the wider world in search of inspiration. But a universal wisdom illuminates this collection and Philp has made of Hayle, with its no-nonsense rhythms and its rough vitality, a vehicle for a liberating take on life in much the same way as the Canadian broadcaster and writer Garrison Keillor has done for his fictional Lake Wobegon. Martin Philp has secured for Hayle an enduring and colourful place in the literary landscape of Cornwall and beyond.

Eleven stories make up this collection of often ribald, but always humane vignettes. Philp’s style rolls along gently as if the writer is talking directly to his readers at a pub or cafe table; the occasional lapses in syntax and form are manageable and there’s little need of too much background colour or literariness either. These stories are so insightful about the behaviour of ordinary people and their tangled lives that the scenes are set with ease.

Dialogue is a key element in these tales but Philp shows his skill as a writer by avoiding the hit and miss device of trying to replicate dialect. Rendering any dialect convincingly on to the page is rare; in the wrong hands, Cornish dialect especially, can be excruciatingly badly rendered. These stories have no need of such gilding. You hear the rich Cornishness for yourself in the mouths of Philp’s characters and in the nuances of their robust language and the rhythm of their often surreal thoughts.


Such gentle surrealism threads its way throughout the book, not least in the titular story, One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place, about two ordinary souls, Barbara Morethek, trapped in a loveless marriage, and Charles Spycer, fruit and veg man, playing to the crowds with rude wit and lonely cheerfulness until he and Barbara discover their mutual contentment in being miserable.

In the terrific story, Clink Clink Clink, widowed Florence Bray dutifully conforms to the world of local chatter, godliness, envy and narrow-mindedness on bus tours to Cornish resorts. On the harbourside at Fowey, however, Florence has an epiphany and finally dismisses her tormenting “best friend” Marjorie Eddie and throws in her lot with the scatological and liberating philosophy of the ancient Mr Drew.

In The Drunken Sunset, Philp offers a savage, but utterly sane take on the world of painters and art collectors. He takes his hero, the happily conventional artist Ronnie Honeychurch, on a gentle odyssey through his past and through the raw Cornish landscapes that inspired Ronnie’s work as a painter. From this, Ronnie is delivered into happy anonymity by a hilarious final gesture towards artiness and its pretensions.

Most of the stories in One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place are about the redemption and renaissance of ordinary people. There is no romanticism, no sentimentality here, no whimsy or quaintness. Nobody in a Martin Philp story trades windy chatter over wine or escapes to the sun. They transcend their apparently dull, dutiful lives to reach the “much nicer place” that lies within themselves.

Cornwall has seen a blossoming of short story writing talent in recent years, not least through the work of the collective Scavel An Gow, with such fine practitioners as Annamaria Murphy and Mercedes Kemp to the fore. The work of these writers has also had welcome exposure through the literary magazine Scryfa, now sadly reaching the end of its fruitful run. A serious loss to Cornish culture; but in promoting short story writing so generously Scryfa has found a real star in Martin Philp and this first collection is likely to be the start of a much wider and deserved recognition for a writer of such exhilarating talent.

One Big Echo Of A Much Nicer Place by Martin Philp (with a splendid cover painting by Penzance artist Rod Walker) is published by Scryfa at £7.50. It is available from shops, by visiting or by sending £10 (including p&p) to: Jean Philp, 2 Boskennal Drive, Hayle, Cornwall TR27 4QX. For more information about Scryfa’s unique co-operative publishing scheme, visit:


October 4, 2009

Photo 55Martin Philp is a journalist and copywriter from Hayle in Cornwall. Several of his stories have been published in Scryfa, a regular review of new Cornish writing.

One Big Echo of a Much Nicer Place is his first collection. He is currently working on a second.

He lives in Bangalore.

Dandy Allcock

October 4, 2009


Dandy Allcock

Hayle people could tolerate Dandy Allcock in only very small doses. And while he did have something of the down-at-heel gameshow host about him, sweeping through the streets of the town in a flash of yellow teeth and bottlegreen jacket, his trousers brown – corduroy, of course – his eyes darting left and right, as flickering as his grin was steadfast, his arms waving around him so as to encompass the harbour and the vista out to St Ives, as if he were offering them as a prize in a tawdry television show… and while, yes, he did visit confused old dears in old peoples’ homes and puckered his lips into outraged Os at some bit of sauciness from Mrs Clemens, checking his watch with a bent-arm flourish as he waved them goodbye and departed, leaving a sad, silent aura of faded celebrity that competed with the smell of stale urine for sheer afternoon bleakness… and while, also, he rushed through town (no one knew whither) nodding at acquaintances and strangers alike with an air of obligation, for to leave anyone out would create resentment among townsfolk who craved his attention… while Dandy Allcock was this overwhelming montage of irritating traits and more besides, what the people of Hayle did to him on Carnival Day in the summer of 1978 was utterly shameful.
And when it became apparent that Dandy, who had absconded, was never coming back, it was Barbara Morethek who said, ‘It’s different now. Dandy was fun, he was a celebration. Like Christmas. I feel like all the glitter’s gone out of Hayle. Do you know what I mean, Father?’
Father played a mournful bow across his larynx in agreement. And when Barbara, encouraged, repeated this mawkish observation to several acquaintances and it made the rounds of Hayle, heads shook at the thought of Carnival Day and there was a gloopy feeling of repentance in the air.
Until Barbara’s words reached Tommy Wakfer up at the garage.
‘The problem with Christmas,’ said Tommy, ‘is no fucker wants it every day of the year. And that’s the problem with Dandy Allcock. He’s alright about once every 365 days, but more than that and he gets on your tits. He’s like Christmas in July: not right somehow.’
And Tommy’s words did the rounds of Hayle and people tended to agree with his judgement, and the guilt at what happened to Dandy Allcock began to fade. Because words are powerful and Christmas in July seemed somehow to sum up Dandy Allcock perfectly, and made people shift their weight from one foot to the other and suck their teeth at the thought of him. Because he was like Christmas in July. He just didn’t fit in.


The seeds of the Carnival Day incident were sown several months before, when Dandy had a bit of a tiffle with Ron Manor. Dandy was sitting at a table in the White Hart entertaining a couple of young men – tourists from Up Country he’d met at the bar – and telling them some marvellous stories about Hayle in the days of yore. And he was leaning into the table and shaking his G&T in his palm quite skilfully as he talked and – well! – those young men were enchanted to meet a local man who spoke so urbanely; and so he continued on and on, sipping or shaking his drink, introducing cheeky, almost daring, long pauses at richer moments in his monologue that demanded you swirl the facts about a bit before swallowing them.
‘And so you see,’ said Dandy, pointing at the young men, ‘you never can know what to expect from a Hayle woman. Because for seventeen years Jessie Phillips dressed up as a man, left her idle and drunken husband in the house. There’s a few of those in here I can tell you. Only joking. No I’m serious! No really, just joking: they’re a good bunch in here, actually. Anyway, she left him in the house and went out to sea to put food on the family table.’
Dandy slapped his hand on the table, spilling G&T on the cuffs of his beige jumper. And, my goodness, there is something invigorating – it makes one alive! – to entertain and know that people are hanging on one’s words. And Dandy’s eyes glittered like a pair of sequins as the young men waited for more and, flushed with success and one too many G&Ts, he grinned, stood up – revealing a pipe-cleaner gait of long, angular limb, replete with riding shirtcuffs and just-too-short trousers – and clapped his hands very loudly indeed.
Clappety-clappety clap.
Loud, but rhythmic, you see. Nice. But, yes, quite loud, actually.
Because – oh, my giddy aunt – everyone stopped and looked at Dandy and Dandy looked back at all the staring heads and went:
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha !’
Were there a few dour Cornish cynics at the bar? Trouble in the front row? Best way to deal with that is to be really nice.
‘Evening, gentlemen,’ said Dandy, nodding at the assorted beards.
Nothing in reply, of course.
And Dandy, well, he had been full of it but he wished he’d kept quiet now. But there was no going back because they were all looking at him. Waiting.
‘I say,’ said Dandy. ‘I thought it would be rather nice if I introduced these two young gentlemen to all assembled. They’re on holiday, you see. Visiting us from Magdalen College. That’s Oxford to you and me. But particularly to you, Ron.’
A few laughs. And laughter had the most peculiar effect on awkward-limbed Dandy: he loved it more than anything in the whole wide world. It made him grow taller, his skew-whiff limbs straightening out and his head stretching skywards like a flower feeling the warmth of the sun.
The young men shook hands with the beards at the bar and Dandy looked on proudly as his proteges made small talk with his peers.
‘Your round is it, Dandy?’ said Ron Manor, pinging the top of his pint with a chubby finger.
‘My round?’ said Dandy. He frowned at Ron and looked him up and down. ‘My round?’ And Ron frowned at Dandy and Dandy frowned at Ron. And then Dandy’s eyebrows shot up and he went, ‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! My round is it? What are you having, Ron?’
And Ron, a chubby type with that fuzzy growth all over his neck, said, ‘Pint.’ Then he turned back to the bar, and didn’t even acknowledge Dandy’s friendly pat on the back.
And those young men from Magdalen – well! They had quite a way about them and were chatting to everyone and that’s the nice thing about the truly well-educated, isn’t it? Isn’t it though? The way they can talk to anyone. It goes beyond social status with the well-educated, doesn’t it?
And Dandy – no, don’t get Dandy wrong – he could lean on the bar and laugh at other people’s anecdotes like the best of them. And he interjected with a ‘They didn’t?’ and a ‘Did they?’ and several gasps and threw his head back and laughed and swirled his G&T quite loosely at his side. Yes, he could do all that. But Dandy did have a duty to say his piece, and it was beginning to weigh on him now. He had introduced the young men to the beards, you see. He was the compère, if you like. And right now he was in danger of losing control of his acts and his audience.
You could see the concern in Dandy’s gait: he’d gone a bit stiff and his arm, which had been sloshing the G&T at hip level, began to bend and creep up his torso until finally his drink was clutched tight to his chest.
‘Of course,’ said Dandy, seizing on a momentary silence and wedging his body between the beards, ‘Magdalen College was home to a veritable lion of the Victorian literary establishment. We’re talking Wilde, of course.’
Dandy patted Ron Manor on the back. ‘No, not Marty Wilde, Ron. Oscar Wilde.’
A few guffaws, augmented by a volley of ha ha ha ha ha has from Dandy. And Dandy loosened his tie and stretched his neck towards the source of the warmth. It is nice, though, isn’t it? It is nice to be appreciated.
Hey, but hang on one darned second there. Hold your horses! There’s more mileage in this yet. Dandy’s lips began to bubble and his tongue darted in and out of his mouth. ‘He wrote, books, Ron,’ he said as the laughter died away. ‘Yes, books. You know, a bit more robust than a newspaper.’
And bellies swelled as heads rolled back and everyone was laughing and having a lovely time. And Dandy was rattling off his rapid-fire laugh, his face craning left and right on tortoise neck towards the source of the greatest warmth. Scrutinising. Because Dandy watched the beards with beady eyes, studying the laughter, hoarding it away.
It died. And the collective attention focused on the immobile figure sat at the bar. And though there was no face on view, intent observers – and Dandy was always an intent observer – may have noticed a twitching of the neck hair from Ron Manor. And Dandy braced himself for a little repartee with Ron, cocking his chest and throat, ready to pull the trigger on another volley of laughter.
Dandy never understood what followed. Where was the wit in it? Where was the punnery, the inflection, the well-timed pause? There was none. And yet, briefly, it elicited far more laughter from the beards than anything Dandy had said tonight.
Ron Manor twisted the fuzzy neck and turned to face Dandy. And the face: so strikingly pink and gruesome it seemed independent of the body, like a severed pig’s head in a butchers.
‘You?’ he said, a greasy leer spreading over his face. ‘You’re a fucking cunt, you are.’
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!’ said Dandy.
And the beards threw back their heads and laughed. And Dandy continued to laugh, too, launching magazine after magazine, his body convulsing as he lost control. And soon the laughter died among the beards and they watched Dandy’s performance with astonishment as he sprayed his hilarity around the room, his body recoiling with the force of urgent jocularity. And then their laughter started up again and they weren’t laughing at Ron’s putdown anymore, they were laughing at this… this strange, hysterical Dandy.
And Ron Manor looked on with a smudge of a grin on his face and everything seemed to be going his way until one of the young men said, ‘Drink, Dandy?’
And Dandy caught the young man’s eye and held to that gaze for dear life as he rattled out his laughter, swallowing deeper breaths as it began to slow down. Finally – what a relief! – it petered away altogether and Dandy finished off his performance with a bit of flaky coughing.
‘Lovely,’ said Dandy, and he mouthed G&T with a wink. And by the time he was handed his drink he’d regained control and become louder than even before, because he had allies now, friends. It was a remarkable turnaround.
In fact things went very well for Dandy as the evening progressed, though he couldn’t help casting a glance at the cumulus on Ron Manor’s neck – Ron was staring in at the bar again now – and look for some sign of his mood. Because it’s nice for everyone to be included, isn’t it? Isn’t it though? I hate to think of someone not enjoying themselves, or being left out.
But Dandy could gauge nothing from Ron’s neck and instead leaned in to him at the bar and said, ‘I say, Ron. Can I get you another?’
But Ron didn’t look at Dandy. His pig’s head was sweating and he was boring holes into the peanuts and pork scratchings behind the bar. So Dandy left it at that. Though he felt some foreboding at Ron’s silence. And it’s funny to think though, isn’t it, that two peripheral characters in the life of Dandy Allcock, who showed a kindness to him virtually unknown in the wake of the habitual brutality he experienced in the pub, were partly responsible for the terrible revenge Ron Manor was to exact on him? Dandy, who had done nothing more than get the upper hand over Ron in his own small way, who had survived the kind of put down that should have crushed him and then gone on to claim the floor. In a way those two decent lads had helped destroy him.
It is funny though, when you think about it, isn’t it?


And yet there’s something inexplicably sad about carnivals under grey Cornish skies. Something of the echo of fun, the echo of childhood, an experience half realised through the slit-eyed yawn of adulthood. A time when ungainly adults look down at children and feel only sorrow for the poor little bastards swizzled into believing life really was a carnival full of colour and mystery. And while the kids suck on ice creams and make orange moustaches, all the mums and dads see are the spent sticky wrappers hidden at the borders of the recreation ground in clumps of unmowed grass. Everything about Carnival Day summed up in that yellow and pink outpost of joy in the grey void: the ice cream van. And leaning out of the van passing cornets to children, Harry Nuneater – signet ringed and bald as a coot, his white coat stained with Neapolitan; a charming and mysterious presence for mums and dads when they were children: a potential paedophile threat now among those for whom cynicism had become the last refuge of their creativity.
And so on to the floats. All lined up for the judging before the procession. The madcap antics of the lads from the milk factory – dressed, inevitably, as St Trinian’s schoolgirls – waning now, suffering skirt-lifting and bottle-squirting fatigue after an interminable grey-sky hour, several of them sitting, legs open, suspenders showing, and sucking on roll-ups, conserving madcappery for the procession later.
The taxi decorated with a few strings of tinsel, a miserable-looking Noreen Canker inside, infiltrating the carnival for a bit of free advertising. The fat-thighed majorettes goosepimpling in short skirts, the dusty old band with their shiny instruments, the rag-bag collection of oddly dressed residents attired as unnameable and unplaceable characters or types, their identities lost somewhere in that gap between imagination and execution, looking like the mentally deficient left to dress themselves.
Terrible really. Crying children. Awful. Teetering – the whole thing teetering on the edge of some unknowable abyss, the playing field shimmering and becoming transparent and ghostly for moments at a time, as if it might fade and then disappear in one last ghastly echo and then there would be nothing.
And yet it held together. Somehow this event had a meaning, an overriding purpose that transcended the pockets of misty lassitude. And it was because of him over there, over yonder on the platform, that awkward, sparkling figure reading from a sheet of paper, fluffing lines over the Tannoy, full of cheer and authority and for this one day, this one day only, fully appreciated for his familiarity with the coattails of celebrity; because he had that… what is it… that… something… that thing that is so hard to describe but somehow gives an event some external, objective meaning, some association with write-ups in the paper. That’s it: there was a quality in Dandy’s Allcock’s narrative that had the self-assuredness of reflection, of finality before things are finished, of summation before things are summed up; there was a complacency in the tone that said: Yes, this is a carnival – it really is – just like people have all over Cornwall and England and this melancholy grey cast over the scene is nothing at all but a neutral backdrop to show off the glitter and the colours and when we look back at it all we will remember nothing but – ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! – a glorious day out for all.
It was Dandy’s day.
‘Is everyone having a lovely time? You are? Lovely! Won’t be long now, folks, before the committee reaches its decision on the winning float. And hasn’t it been a good year? Hasn’t it, though? And before I forget, Mr Nuneater over at the ice cream van – there he is: give us a wave Mr Nuneater. Lovely! – Mr Nuneater is offering any child in fancy dress two Milky Sticks for the price of one. On account of his freezer breaking down and everything melting. No, seriously folks. Just a joke. His fridges are marvellous. Hey. And moving on from fridges, I wonder which of our ice maidens will be crowned carnival queen this year? What’s that? No, no, that’s true: not ice maidens at all, but perfectly warm and friendly young maidens and I might add, Mrs Dorset, to put your mind at rest, that the word ice was employed only as a link – a segue, if you will – to move seamlessly from Mr Nuneater’s freezers on to the young ladies. And, actually, Mrs Dorset, now I think of it, since I suggested Mr Nuneater’s fridges were defective, I might well have been justified in segueing from Mr Nuneater’s warm fridges to those warm-hearted maidens. No, Mr Nuneater. You misunderstood. I was just explaining to Mrs Dorset… What does it mean, Mrs Dorset? Segue means to proceed without any pause, something along those lines. Anyway, we are getting in a tangle here when the most important thing to ask is this: is everyone having a good time? Not a bad start, but a bit louder. Is everyone having a good time? That’s better and if I’m not mistaken young Mark Drew has the finest set of lungs in the crowd. You beg to differ, Emily Penrose? Then let’s hear it again: is everyone…’
And so on. A magnificent performance by Hayle standards, so that even Dandy Allcock’s detractors – at one time or another, most times in fact, pretty much everyone in Hayle – gave begrudging praise to this Dandy decked out in his special carnival coat with the purple sequins, those glittering jewels that sought out any trace of sun from the torpid sky and flashed and winked at the assembled crowd.
Dandy’s day. A man who spent nearly every hour of his public life trying to understand the meaning of a cryptic code that was decipherable to everyone else in Hayle, who attempted to breeze and bluff his way through a labyrinth of signs and social meanings but inevitably faltered. No faltering today. Today Dandy spoke his own language. And people listened.
The judging went off marvellously, apart from a brief scene involving the St Trinian’s crew when Meatball Simons – in yellow pigtails and black-dot freckles – slammed his waterbottle to the ground at the news that they had been beaten by Gossen Motors and their Little House on the Prairie. The water squirted from his bottle and soaked Superman – young Stevie Tompkin, that is – in the face, the subsequent tears from Stevie suggesting that soapy water now joined Kryptonite and magic in the list of the Man of Steel’s vulnerabilities.
But it was a minor incident and Dandy was well pleased with the day as he stepped down from the podium and mingled with the crowd, nodding and smiling, receiving compliments, his hands behind his back and that untidy mess of limbs nice and straight now as he walked tall.
Lovely. A lovely day had by all and the smell of hot dogs and frying onions and – well, my word – when you thought about it, all false modesty aside, he really had played a significant role in setting the tone for the day, geeing people up a bit, introducing a few jokes, pausing for effect as he announced the winners.
Oh look over there, isn’t that Ron Manor and a few of the beards from the White Hart? Shall I? No, better not, they look quite busy and serious. Best leave the lads to their own… Me? I didn’t know if you were pointing at me or someone behind me? Thanks very much, Ron, it did all go off rather well, didn’t it? Splendid? You really are too kind. Drink? Well, I don’t know really, Ron, it is rather early for me but… yes, I do like a G&T, you’ve noticed have you. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh go on then, in for the proverbial penny as they say. They don’t? They say: In for a penny? Ah, yes I do see your point. But I do have a sneaking suspicion you’re making fun of me. No, not at all. Marvellous in fact. I love a bit of fun. A bit of fun is lovely isn’t it, though? Really very nice indeed!
And so off trudged Dandy to his doom, leading the beards with his long strides towards the Copperhouse. Although indirectly, because Ron insisted that he was buggered if he was going to the Copperhouse without buying Tracy Rosewarne, the Carnival Queen herself, a pint of bitter.
No, no, said Tracy. Oh, alright then. And Dandy insisted on lifting her train for her all the way, because it was rather muddy. Some of the beards, in their good humour, encouraged Dandy to lift it a bit higher so they could get a look at those suspenders. And he did and they were treated to the sheen of stocking and a white, flaccid thigh that threatened to spill like an overflowing head on a beer.
And do you know? Dandy was feeling a bit squiffy after his second G&T. No, honestly, he was. A bit tight, as Mother used to say. But they were all having a marvellous time sitting around the table sharing a few stories.
‘And so Mother took the buns out of the oven,’ said Dandy. ‘And she said to Father, “What on earth?” Like that, very screechy Mother was when she was on her high horse about something. And she said, “Bryan, what on earth is this black stuff all over my buns?” And Father, he looked at Mother’s buns and said, “Just a cursory glance, Mother” – he was a one, Father was – “Just a cursory glance suggests coffee icing to me.” Well, now Mother – dear old Mother – she stared at him something awful, poked her finger at the black stuff on the buns and said, “Father, where are your Wellington boots?” And Father said, “Mother, what on earth has that to do with your buns?” And Mother said, “Father, it has everything to do with my buns”. And swiftly she pulled the oven open to reveal a pair of Wellingtons on the top grill dripping down to the tray below. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Marvellous though, isn’t it? Father loved a drink. Must have come in a bit tight the night before, I should imagine. Not a word of apology to Mother, either. For years afterwards he would say, “Mother, you are a very good cook, that’s indisputable. But I never did take to your rubber buns.”’
And Dandy slapped his G&T on the table and soaked his sequined cuffs and the beards roared with laughter, their heads thrown back; even Ron Manor was roaring away, his head red and sweating. A close-knit group full of jittering beards and perspiring pink skin it was. Really nice. Everyone really enjoying themselves. Marvellous.
But Dandy had to think about moving on because there was the little matter of seeing the floats out in the correct order, and spacing the majorettes and the band out a bit to make sure they didn’t bunch up in a pile of brass and thighs like last year.
‘Fuck that,’ said Ron, grinning at Dandy. ‘If I can’t buy the man who makes Hayle carnival happen another large gin and tonic, I don’t know what the world is coming too.’ Ron turned to Tracy. ‘Another pint for you too, my lover?’
Tracy, who was sweating – she looked a bit put upon by the alcohol – nodded and so there they were, at it again: the tight-knit group getting tighter all the time, faces closer and pinker, pores in skin gaping, the flashing lights of the jukebox throbbing in reds and greens and purples, the ejaculations of laughter, the heads dropping back and the fountains of blue smoke squirting up into the air.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!’ went Dandy. ‘I really must visit the little boy’s room.’
And the beards roared with laughter at that. It was all in the delivery, you see. And Ron Manor explained how he had given up smoking four years ago to the day and Dandy said it was 12 years for him and well that set them off again, beards splitting in two and pink mouths stretched wide in mirth and Tracy just fell off her stool no she’s back up again now and Ron is bringing her another pint and a gin and tonic for Dandy and well you can try and you can try but sometimes things just prick I mean click and Dandy is laughing and laughing and laughing his face bright red and his teeth all yellow in the mirror and for the life of him he can’t remember what he’s laughing at and that makes him cry but he knows he’s crying in happiness and then he’s standing in the corridor by the toilet talking to Ron and Ron has his arm around him and Dandy feels light as a feather and Ron is saying I’ve always liked you to be honest Dandy you’re a decent sort of bloke and I’m glad we’ve had the chance to chat like this and we shall have one more just the one more mind you no don’t be silly you’re fine my handsome just a bit tiddly that’s all and don’t worry about that they’ll clear that up what do you think they’re paid for for Christ’s sake?


Dandy dreamt of gulls. But the gulls had human faces. Rows and rows of human faces passing him by in a procession, smiling, burbling, squawking. It was a long time before Dandy realised he wasn’t dreaming anymore. It was even longer before he realised the faces weren’t part of a procession. He was.
People. Bill Cornish, Richard Pearce, Grace Pellow, Barry Trembath, Maggie Bern and hundreds more, all laughing and pointing at Dandy. Faces Dandy knew and faces he didn’t know. And along with the laughter came the sound of the band parping and clashing just up ahead – parp, clash, parp, clash, parp parp, clash.
Dandy’s head was in a terrible fog, but there was nothing to do but rise to the occasion, so he lifted his arm and began to wave. And, do you know, the laughter got louder as Dandy’s arm swayed back and forth; and he felt his body fill with a vigorous, joyous energy, so he waved all the harder, his limp arm movements giving way to a frenetic wave that was all in the wrist. He craned his head towards the pavement and to the source of the laughter and a smile spread across his face.
Because, for a moment, Dandy felt the hum of his self bursting through the confines of his body, filling out his flesh like it never had before. The laughter was feeding him and he felt not merely among the people of Hayle – a part of Hayle – but greater than the people of Hayle; greater in a way he had never dared imagine before. His body became erect and his chin jutted forth, and his curls all danced together in one motion as he jolted along, like a troop of pouffed up soldiers for a great parade.
For one moment Danny felt this. For one sublime moment.
Then something changed. A low rumble reached him, a sound that hurbled and burbled way beneath the laughter and the shrieks. It had been there all the time, but Dandy only recognised it now as it gained momentum and grew louder; and weren’t some of the faces now turning away from Dandy and sharing their laughter with each other?
The hurble burble and the conspiratorial faces made Dandy self-conscious of his waving hand, which brought his attention to the layers of chiffon – itchy white chiffon – that covered his arms. Dandy followed the chiffon up to his shoulder. Then he looked down his chest at the frills and the trims and the pouffed up layers. He reached a hand instinctively to his head. Yes, it was there, too: itchy, scratchy: a headdress. And that hurble burble, rising and rising in Dandy’s ears, had all the sound of scandal. Dandy looked around him. He was sitting in a bowl, layered with quilts and feathers. And behind him, above him, leaning over him, another bowl. No, not a bowl: a shell. A clam shell. Dandy was a chiffon-clad pearl in a clam shell.
He looked at his arm. It was waving harder than ever. He looked out at the sea of faces.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha!’ went Dandy. Because Dandy loved nothing more than a bit of laughter.
‘Ho ho ho ho ho ho! went the crowd. And, ‘Burble, hurble burble.’
Dandy watched the faces pass by as the procession reached the harbour. People burbled and glanced and spoke to one another with their eyes. And the children pointed at him as they laughed. And Dandy was cornered in a way that few people are ever cornered, and briefly knew himself with a clarity few people suffer. There were no illusions now. People mocked; and Dandy laughed.
Dandy felt a raw sting on his cheek. He clutched his face and looked up. The crowd roared. And there was Tommy Wakfer high above, leaning out of his workshop window smiling down at Dandy. And now Tommy had his pipe to his lips – the copper peashooter that was the scourge of every misfit in Hayle – and was aiming at Dandy again. His cheeks puffed. Nothing. He had missed. But the burbling crowd swelled; then it roared. And Dandy felt a sharp blow to the back of his head that sent him flying into layers of clam shell chiffon. He swung around. There, swaying above him, dressed in Dandy’s trousers and purple-sequined jacket stood deposed carnival queen Tracy Rosewarne, rubbing her sleepy face with her hand and swearing at Dandy silently amid the roar of the crowd. A monster woken by Tommy’s stray putty bullet.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!, went Dandy.
‘You cheeky bastard,’ mouthed Tracy, launching herself at the usurper and ripping his headdress off.
And Dandy and Tracy wrestled in the clam shell as the float approached the viaduct and Foundry Square. Quite enthusiastically they wrestled, too, because soon the upper half of the shell came crashing down on them and as good as closed the clam altogether, but for the odd flailing limb poking through.
And people swore afterwards – though how they could have heard above the laughter, it’s hard to say – that you could still hear Dandy laughing in that shell. A muffled Dandy, but the distinctive sound of Dandy all the same.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!’

© Martin Philp, 2009