Short Story: Toupie (2022)


You can thank Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film, Freaks, for what follows, which is certainly one of the most vivid circus-centric narratives I know. The important thing about Browning’s unfairly maligned movie is where the director puts our sympathies – we are never in any doubt – and likewise the age-old question it asks as to the difference between men and ‘monsters’. I’m not going to say much more about the short story that follows, except to say it was written for The Kick-About No.53, and inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a clown performing with his black pig, and also this: The Greatest Showman it is not.


You can find a PDF version here


The Kick-About / A Second Year Later


I’m not above admitting that, just sometimes, I’ve thought to myself, “Not another Kick-About?”

Sometimes, it has felt as if my brain is too old or too stupid or simply too preoccupied with other more important things to even think about undertaking another creative brief ‘for the sake of it’. If I’m thinking this, the guy who sets the Kick-About prompts each fortnight, I’m pretty sure some of the regular kick-abouters have thought it too. Lives get busy. Lives get glum. Interest and energy wanes. The mood passes. Art is fart.

And yet, all that being true, now I’ve gathered here together a year’s worth of new work in a single place, I am reminded of the intrinsic value of ‘making stuff’ and of the power of community. There is little doubt, were it not for the examples set by all the other artists in The Kick-About, I wouldn’t have followed through on these various creative enquiries of my own. It’s quite unlikely I would have started them, and I certainly wouldn’t have finished them, finding a bunch of reasonable excuses to get on with more pressing stuff, or stuff I didn’t need to think about quite as much, or the stuff of watching television and eating bars of cheap chocolate on the sofa. But as it happens, I’ve inflated latex gloves with water to produce wobbling horrors, made moonscapes out of bags of flour, photographed tin-toy chickens obsessively, made short films, written a story about a woman with nasturtium seed for a head, encased a bunch of stuff in ice, and the list goes on – and largely because I wasn’t alone in my endeavours. Somewhere in New York, Kerfe was suspending paper fish inside a litter bin, and somewhere out in Brisbane, James was populating a primordial forest with bare chested brutes; meanwhile, Charly was crocheting a hat of fantastical proportions, Tom was configuring Saul Bass-inspired spirals out of code in Yokohama, and Gary was fashioning a Christmas tree out of hand-foraged willow and meticulous strips of calligraphic paper!

What I particularly enjoy, it seems, is the license to shape-shift in terms of creative work; the Kick-About encourages me to diversify, to jump about a bit. That said, there are obvious preoccupations – a love of in-camera transformations, what we might call ‘analogue magic’, and a preoccupation with the darker side of the human imagination. I blame the Pan Book of Horror and all those brave, strange, mean films of the 1970s.

‘Jumping about a bit’ can be confusing, so I decided to get my ‘art-house’ in order a bit by re-organising my personal website. It might not make a scrap of sense thematically, but at least it’s nice and tidy, right?

Thanks again to all the Kick-Abouters: we’ve been living through some strange rootless times, and your company and creativity has done much to keep my feet on the ground and my imagination a good deal higher up! Onwards…




You can read a PDF version here


Nasturtiums – Read by Catherine Bradley

You’ll find a PDF version here


You can find a PDF version here


Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #16

Phil CooperPneumo, acrylics on paper, 40 x 40 cm

“‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’ the flamingo announced quite suddenly.”

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 20 – The Flamingo & The Dummy


“In the previous chapter we were immersed in scenes of devastation and horror, but things take a surprising turn in Chapter 20. We encounter a couple of the strangest characters in the book and we’re treated to some of the worst jokes ever heard. It’s quite a contrast! As many of the scenes in Chimera have been quite dark in many respects, I’ve taken the opportunity to illustrate something lighter in tone. It’s not often I get the chance to paint a blow-up flamingo, and I wasn’t going to let the chance pass me by. There’s a tube of bubblegum-pink that’s been gathering dust in my paintbox for years, but it’s time has come!” Phil Cooper, Spring 2022


Phil Cooper’s Pneumo painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, Spring 2022




Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 20 – The Flamingo & The Dummy


It’s here, the penultimate episode of Chimera Book 1! I anticipate anyone who has listened to the last 19 chapters may be in urgent need of a recap. For others unfamiliar with my continuing collaboration with Dan Snelgrove to turn the first of my children’s adventures into an audio book, it might be a case of ‘Chimera what now?!’ Short version is Dan and I embarked on this project all the way back in October 2020, and with but one more episode to produce to complete Kyp Finnegan’s first adventure in the strange and dangerous realm of lost properties, we’re nearly there! If you go here, you can begin at the beginning, and if you go here, you can catch up on the events of the last chapter; and for a quick recap of the final moments of Chapter 19, see below.


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

After sneaking through streets piled high with detritums, Sir Regulus led Kyp and Jamie to a large crossroads.

‘This is where we must part company too,’ he said. ‘Beyond the city’s borders lie the swamps of Rising Damp. After the swamps lie the Badlands. Jamie and I will follow the route of the Cavalcade.’

Be careful,’ said Kyp, glancing around nervously.

You too.’

‘Don’t do it, Kyp,’ said Jamie. He sounded helpless, even angry. ‘Please, Kyp. I don’t want you putting yourself in danger for me. It’s not right.’

‘Are you quite sure about this, Kyp?’ asked Sir Regulus. ‘Going on alone?’

Kyp looked at them both. He didn’t feel afraid. He didn’t feel anything much. He thought about his mum and dad. He reminded himself they were gone. He thought about Sprat. She was gone too. He thought about Atticus, who was dead.

‘I’m fine,’ he said, and then it was time to say goodbye.

Chapter 20 – The Flamingo & The Dummy

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1

Coming soon to Red’s Kingdom, the final instalment of Chimera Book 1: Chapter 21 – The Sin King



Throwback Friday #96 Little Things (2004?)


For this week’s rummage through the archives of ‘stuff wot I’ve done’, it’s an airing for another of those sad little songs written all the way back in the early-mid 2000s, when I was licking wounds of one sort or another. I can just about recall the melody for the chorus (a few lines of it anyway), but other than that, only the words remain, and also the feelings that gave rise to them.


little things

1

I admit I’ve got some cheek and I admit I’ve got some nerve
now wanting your attention after so successful a body-swerve
after insisting it was over. after insisting on meaning it
after announcing plain and simple, our so called-love, I’m leaving it
and it’s not that I regret one word or would reverse the hands of time
or contest my intuition or that common sense of mine
but there’s something gone awry in our story, though still true
details inadmissable because I needed to hate you
so forgive me this confession. I’m not re-attaching strings
when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things

chorus

‘cos you were also a warmth, you were a sound in my head
and you were the way particular words got said
you were the smell of the soap on the palms of my hands
that bemused concentration whenever I told you my plans
you were pub-smoke, you were cinnamon on our one christmas eve
that distraught little boy when I said I would leave
you were the hand leaving mine, you put these breaks in my heart
our sum sure wasn’t great, but I still love you in parts

2

I won’t come knocking on your door, won’t be waking you from sleep
won’t be finding how to justify now some ill-advised repeat
won’t make believe I was passing or stand before you wet from the rain
won’t forget the whys and the reasons, won’t waste more breath trying to explain
and it’s not that I’m not torn or sometimes mourn those days with you
but how to even tell you and keep my promise true?
I know I’m better off this way because I’m stronger now and free
how I had to hurt you back this once to finally stop us from hurting me
so forgive me my confusion and any grief it welcomes in
when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things

chorus

3

the point on me is lost of my simultaneous default
of now confessing joy when it’s not a ploy and i’m content with our result
when the way things are still suits me and I’m as pleased as punch I had my say
I lie awake less, my bed emptied, no longer rueing our worst of days
but it’s not that i’m at rest, I am, at best, a man who knows
a little less now about love-stories, about the way they’re supposed to go
but I do know you deserve somehow more now than what got said
neither crumbs or guilty gifts but the truth of it instead
so understand me, this annotation, around you i’m not running rings
when I tell you like a thirst, I just miss the little things

chorus


Short Story: The Night Before (2021)


On Christmas Eve in our house, there was always a tradition of telling ghost stories just before bed, often with a flickering candle for a bit of Dickensian ambience.

Sometimes the stories were read from a book, but often they were created by the family itself, each of us taking it in turns to make up a new bit of the story, before letting the next person continue it, cliff-hanger by cliff-hanger. Mostly, these descended into fits of giggles, as my brother and I failed to resist the temptation to slip rude words into our respective sections, and by ‘rude’, I mean words like ‘bum’, and ‘knickers’.

*Snicker.*

Christmas Eve has always had this touch of spook about it, and I think my sensitivity for this peculiar atmosphere predates any knowledge of Scrooge and his ghosts. It was just a night with an imminence like no other. The prompt for The Kick-About No. 43, Arthur Rackham’s 1931 illustration for The Night Before Christmas, depicting three little boys heading up to bed, captures this feeling very precisely. It’s there in the contrast between their cherubic faces and what is not so angelic about the rendering of their shadows on the wall behind them. I thought this a perfect opportunity to revisit that childhood tradition of a Christmas ghost story, while also exploring a few other ideas too.


You can find a PDF version here


‘Bird Eyes View’ / Fundus in Tangible Territory Journal Vol 1. Issue 3


Artist Tereza Stehlikova’s Tangible Territory is ‘a platform that offers a space for various voices to meet and discuss themes relating to the role of the body, the importance of place and embodied experience, in giving meaning to our every day experience of life and art. By extension, it also reflects on some of the transformations initiated by technology, globalisation and now also the pandemic and to it related questions of embodiment versus disembodiment, being simultaneously here and elsewhere, present and absent in our bodies and our surroundings.’ The Tangible Territory Journal is a ‘celebration of power of creative process and as such, is an ongoing project of collective learning and improving, of sharing, collaboration, curiosity and open mindedness.’

Tereza Stehlikova works as ‘an artist, filmmaker and a senior lecturer. She holds a PhD from the Royal College of Art, where she researched the tactile language of moving image. She is currently engaged in a cross-disciplinary research, investigating how moving image can be used to communicate embodied experience. Stehlikova is a senior lecturer in still and moving image theory and practice, at the University of Westminster and also supervises PhD students at the Royal College of Art. She is a founder of Sensory Sites, an international collective based in London, generating collaborative exhibitions, installations and research projects that explore multi-sensory perception and bodily experience. She also co-founded Artesian, a journal for committed creativity, featuring the writings of John Berger, Don DeLillo amongst many others. Stehlikova has presented her research at a number of international conferences and her films and performances have been shown at a variety of film and music festivals around the world. More about her projects here: cinestheticfeasts.com‘.


Responding to Tereza’s call for submissions for the third edition of her Tangible Territory Journal, I shared Fundus, the short film made in response to The Kick-About No.30, and likewise wrote a short accompanying piece about lock-down, The Kick-About and of ‘making directly’ and ‘doing quickly:

“A few weeks back, the prompt for the Kick-About was ‘Fundus Photography’, with fundus pertaining to categories of retinal photography.  Challenged to respond to imagery that was both ‘of the human body’, but also suggestive of more galaxial realms, I set about inflating a latex glove with water and floating it in a goldfish bowl filled with water coloured with some old black ink cartridges I found at the back of a drawer.  As I was assembling these ad-hoc components (only let’s call it ‘playing’, for that is what it was), I had no idea I would soon be making a short experimental film in collaboration with another artist, Deanna Crisbacher.  As I was holding the latex glove under the tap, I had no guarantee (or indeed much hope), that my idea would come to anything at all.  Importantly, I suppose, I didn’t care.  I didn’t know then, as I turned the water black with squirrelled ink, that I was in the early stages of making a strange little film offering up expansive, cosmic impressions born from a combination of domestic objects.   I didn’t know then I might be writing about this project, even going as far as drawing out from it some final conclusion about the transformative and transportive power of creativity, of making directly, of doing quickly, and the value of community.”  

You can read the complete article here and explore a whole host of other fascinating responses on a theme of creativity-under-lock-down in Tereza’s Tangible Territory Journal No. 3.



Short Story: Nasturtiums (2021)


Taking Sheila Legge’s image and Kafka’s Gregor Samsa as equal parts inspiration, I arrived at this short story as my response to The Kick-About No.36. There’s a bit of horticultural knowledge in there too, a thing about nasturtiums thriving in the poorest conditions, and likewise, the situation unfolding in Afghanistan for women and girls. Despite the story’s seemingly outlandish premise – a woman waking one morning to find her own head transformed into a vegetal ‘lump’ – it wove itself together with surprising ease, proving once again, to me at least, how genre is placed perfectly to tell the truth.


You’ll find a PDF version here.


Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 19 – Thingopolis Under Attack!


Good things come to those who wait… and I’m very happy to announce the latest chapter of Chimera Book 1 is here! With only two more instalments to go, Kyp’s adventures in the fantastical realm of lost properties continue apace. Huge thanks, as always, to Dan Snelgrove for finding the time, energy and vocal dexterity to bring another chapter so fulsomely to life – enjoy! It’s been a while, so you maybe in need of a refresher: you can listen again to Chapter 18 here.


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

Kyp and Jamie approached and placed their palms lightly on Circinus’s mane.  

She closed her eyes and began again to talk.

Whirlitzer and I tried to live happily in Thingopolis.  We tried to make a home for ourselves.  We struggled to embrace our new lives here. We missed the children, the embrace of their arms about our necks as we spun them in circles. We grieved for our purpose. One day, Whirlitzer and I galloped far from the safety of the city. Neither of us admitted our intention.  Madame Chartreuse put us to work dragging the Tealeaf’s fodder-wagons.  We were so ashamed.’

As if unable to bear the weight of their fingers, Circinus shook her mane, forcing Kyp and Jamie to withdraw.

‘We slipped our harnesses while the Tealeaf slept. We gave ourselves up to the Oligarchy.  Whirlitzer had prepared a speech to be heard at our trial.  He planned to implore them to take steps against Madame Chartreuse.  He believed with the Oblivion Three vanquished, we might come to value this world as our own, seeing it as a place in which to belong contentedly, a world of which we could be proud.  They sentenced us immediately without petition or plea.  Sir Regulus saved us.  He brought us to Flotsam Pothole, took care of us.  We quickly became inseparable.  We made plans, devised strategies.  We would tell each other stories from our pasts, drawing strength from our memories. We vowed we would make Chimera a safe place.  We could never again return to the Elsewhere World, but we would ensure others could without fear or injury.’

‘We decided to leave Flotsam Pothole,’ continued Sir Regulus, ‘to escape Oddznbodz.  We made it as far as the tunnels, then the shovelisks attacked. It all happened so fast.’  Sir Regulus was talking directly to Circinus now. ‘I tried to get you out. I tried to open its jaws.  It took my arm.’ 

I’m so sorry,’ said Circinus.

I’m the one who should be apologising! I could have tried harder, thought of something, done something. When Whirlitzer saw you were gone, he tried giving himself to the shovelisk too. He said he couldn’t bear to be parted from you but I couldn’t let him.  Flotsam Pothole needed him, someone to inspire them.  Whirlitzer accused me of betraying him – and of killing you.  He swore no one else would ever be lost to the Abattoir.’

A siren sounded.

‘We have to get you out of there,’ Sir Regulus told Circinus, pulling away the sheets of metal covering her. 

‘I can’t leave,’ she said.

Of course you can,’ said Bertram. ‘We’ll all help.’ 

‘Yes,’ agreed Kyp, dragging more of the corrugated sheets to the floor. 

‘You don’t understand.  I can’t leave,’ and now Kyp, and everyone else, saw why.

The hindquarters of the carousel horse were gone.

Chapter 19 – Thingopolis Under Attack!

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1

Coming Soon to Red’s Kingdom: Chapter 20 – The Flamingo & The Dummy



When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach @ Nature & Culture – Poetry Film Festival 2021


A bit of good news re. the Kick-About-inspired short film, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach; it has just made the official selection for the Nature & Culture – Poetry Film Festival 2021, which means it will be screened in Copenhagen on the 21st and 28th of November at Kulturhuset Islands Brygge and added to The Poetic Phonotheque archive.