Category: Travelling

I imagine a canvas about A3 size, arranged landscape.

In the centre are three magnificent buildings: on the left is the pale marvel of Udaipur City Palace.  On the right is the golden fortress of Jaisalmer.  And in the centre, a gleaming pearl, is the Taj Mahal.  These are large and form the focal point of the painting.

To the left of these is Lisa’s face.  She is wearing brown sunglasses with large lenses, and she is smiling.  The brown lenses reflect the Taj Mahal and a flare of light.

Around her head, like petals on a flower, are several distinct items of clothing.  These will include but aren’t limited to: voluminous yellow trousers; a long purple top; a pink sari.  Woven around these items are splashes of liquid colour that run up and down the canvas.  The splashes have the vague suggestion of flowers or fireworks, which fills the top-left-hand corner of the canvas.

To the right of the three buildings is an auto-rickshaw with a green roof.  It could be leaping out of the page.  Its driver is a scrawny man of indeterminate age.  There may or may not be people in the passenger seats behind.  The vehicle bursts out of another splash of colour, this like an explosion of festival powder, which contains long streaks of Arabesque curls and stripes.  Beneath this are the words TUK TUK.

Above and to the right of the rickshaw, in the top-right corner, is a male Indian face looking outward.  He has a black sweep of hair, thick lips, wide eyes.  Shadows on his features make him appear menacing.  Above him is a street sign that reads: Tourist Information Centre.  These words appear to be enclosed in an elongated sun, but this is actually a speech bubble with twenty spikes, each denoting one of twenty voices.

In the centre of the canvas, at the bottom below the three buildings, is a cow.  She isn’t interested in looking at the viewer.  In her mouth is a bright gajra, the garland of marigolds that can be found in every shop and dwelling during festival time.  Flowers and petals are littered around her front hoofs.  The trail leads ahead, to the bottom-left corner of the canvas, by which point they have merged indistinctly with the currents of a long river: the mother Ganges.

Tiny floating candles glow amidst the currents.  Above the river float several tiny but distinct Hindu gods, in the Indian “miniature painting” style.  Amongst them are recognizably a praying Shiva, a seated Ganesh, Hanuman leaping with a mountain in one hand and his mace in the other, and the dancing Kali.

The cow is not alone.  Standing at her side, almost obscuring her, is a black water buffalo.  His head is picking up grass or garlands from the ground by his front right hoof, displaying his heavy horns.  His sharp hip bones protrude from his flanks.

Behind the cow and buffalo is a longer trail of flowers, which surround a circular fountain in the bottom-right corner of the canvas.  The base of the fountain is decorated with stone birds.  Water sprays upward, glistening.  It almost touches the front wheel of the auto-rickshaw above.

Rising from the flowers by the fountain is a green topiary elephant.  The leaves are painted in minute, exquisite detail.  It is rising up on its rear legs.  Behind this, almost like a shadow, is a realistic depiction of a real elephant.  We see the flaps of its ears; its domed head; the long curve of its trunk; and its tusks.  This is all.

Move across the canvas, past the cow and buffalo and the river, to the blank space that is to the left of Lisa’s face.  A woman is painted here in ochre hues.  She looks from under her orange hood to the left, away from the centrepiece.  Her bangled arm is stretched out; she is begging.  The woman is not too old or gaunt.  Beside her, clutching her skirts, is a young boy or girl.  The child is looking directly at the viewer.  Behind the child may be an emaciated street dog with patchy fur, at the very edge of the canvas.

The remaining blank space is above the centrepiece of forts.  Here in large letters of appropriate font and colour is the world INDIA.  Beneath this in small letters reads: a portrait.  More colour explodes from behind the words.  To the left of the giant “I” are the blue-green feathers of a peacock, the country’s national bird.  To the right of the giant “A” is a faithful reproduction of a kingfisher, exactly how it appears on the label of the eponymous beer.

Where there are small gaps between all these images, the space can be filled with chunky lettering saying one of three phrases: “Tuk-tuk?” – “Hello come inside” – “Namaste”.



Hello everyone.

If it seems like a long time, then obviously you haven’t been following the adventures of Lisa and I on our travel blog.  Head on over there now to catch up on our escapades through India and Asia.  Thanks to everyone who’s been making us smile by liking and commenting on our posts.

It’s time to wake up Spinning Lizard once again with some updates.

Firstly, that’s right – I’ve been seeing the world.  Expect a couple of travel-related posts including the odd photo gallery in the near future.

“What’s happening with your writing?” I hear you ask (or not).  The answer is, not much: I’ve spent a few spare minutes these last four months editing and reworking my novels and stories for publication.  Efforts to find and agent for “Faith in Chrome last year were fruitless, so I’m working on getting my other piece of speculation ready for putting out there.  You can read a little more about “SubStantial” here.

I’ll also be writing – get this – a Western very soon, along with an exciting piece of Young Adult fiction.  I expect to have plenty of time this current year to bang uot some first drafts.

Did you find the time to read any Journal RSR, the alternate-reality journal I kept over 2011-12?  If you missed it, you’ll find it starting afresh on the more appropriate Wattpad.   It’s now under the name Reks: A Journal and not only will it soon get up to speed with at least one update a week, it will also continue Reks’ journey through the mysterious brooding world of Treen from the point I left off.

In the meantime, if you’re coming over through Google or via Overunderpants, stay in touch via my Twitter or Facebook profiles.

Thanks for reading.


The 2-Step Kerfuffle

People moan about moving house, as though it’s some huge terrible chore something like a nightmare.

I don’t know why.  I think moving house is great.  And although I’ve only ever had a flat’s worth of stuff, rather than a massive semi-detached-plus-garage’s worth, it’s still pretty easily distilled into two steps.

1) Find a new place to live.

2) Get all your stuff from your old place to your new place.


But seriously, I like all the endless searching (don’t you always see places of your hometown you never knew existed), the awkward meet-your-neighbouring (I found out that I live opposite novelist Marina Lewycka the other day) and those first few days sitting on your new settee, eating takeaway food surrounded by higgle-piggle towers of cardboard boxes.

Although my new place currently has a notable cat deficiency, I’ve still enjoyed warming it up and getting things straight.

Mainly this is because it appeals to my OCD side.

Naturally the following will probably be offensive to those with actual OCD, so to keep those guys distracted I’ll just say this: how people people used your bar of soap BEFORE YOU DID this morning!?

Whilst they’re hyperventilating somewhere, I can explain that what I have isn’t a disorder, obviously – It’s just nerdism.  I like to organise things.  I like to arrange them in ways that please some weird, weird part of me.

Books.  People who know me know that I have a lot of books.  I require a large amount of bookcases to house them and unloading boxes of books onto said bookcases makes me stupidly happy.  I organise them into a way that makes regulated sense out of the chaos of size, shape and colour that a bookcase may potentially be.  By author: naturally.  But what about the large editions of new books?  THEY STICK UP COMPARED TO THE OTHER ONES.  I don’t like this.  What about the hardbacks?  They’re deeper than the mass-market paperback ones!  THEY STICK OUT OVER THE EDGE!  I don’t like this.  The stygian interplay of shadow and perspective.  The SHEER UNTIDINESS OF IT.

So tall ones go together.  Short ones go together.  Deep ones go together.  What if this separates some books by a particular author from his others?  THIS CANNOT BE.  So I have to be inventive.  Okay, maybe they won’t run in chronological publishing order from left to right.  But at least the tall deep ones are at the left and the little ones are in the middle.  Then someone else can fill up the other side in a symmetrical, mathematical pattern that calms the nagging neatfreak within me.

This is a particular problem with some authors, say P. K. Dick, whose fiction is slowly going out of print and whose old third-hand Amazon editions are notoriously difficult to collate into a reasonable approximation of order.

Colour is important.  I don’t want my shelf to go black-orange-white-pink-blue-green-black-brown-white-white-grey.  I want it to go pink-white-white-white-grey-blue-green-brown-black.  A smooth Crayola regulation. It just makes sense.

I also don’t want my trashy Stephen Kings in with my literary J G Ballards.  So they are separated, thank-you both, and rearranged thematically so at least the China Mievilles and Jeff Vandermeers go together, and the Frank Herberts and Isaac Asimovs have a shelf of their own.  Woe betide the popular Richard & Judy bookclub trash that weedles its way inbetween the poets and the best of the non-fiction.  BE GONE WITH YOU, resigned to the narrow shelf two up from bottom, which is practically invisible when you look down at it from a lofty, judgemental 5-foot-11.

Why do I let myself do this?  Because I enjoy it.  Do I like it when somebody picks up a book, takes a look at it, and then puts it back on the shelf SIDEWAYS ON TOP OF THE OTHER BOOKS?  Not really.  I’ll put it in its proper place when they leave, or when they recover from that mysterious and sudden blunt-force head trauma.

People like to call these little quirks of theirs OCD, like organising your DVDs by director – but it isn’t.  It’s just basic nerdiness and those people should just admit it and embrace it.

It feels good.  Mmm.  Like warm PJs fresh from the drier.

So anyway.  This is one of the reasons why I like moving house.

— db

Through the mists that move in slow tides around the mountains, the Nian descends upon the village.

This is ancient China.  The village is small, bordered by rice paddies and low fences that encapsulate the slow-grazing herds upon which the villagers rely.

The Nian is a horned beast, nubs of smooth bone protruding from a shaggy knotted mane.  Its teeth and tusks are striated yellow; its breath reeks of the furnace in its belly where a cocktail of acids has been eroding its stomach walls.  It is ravenous.

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We step out of the hotel room onto rain-browned pavements.  Umbrellas bob up and down behind rows of parked cars or crawling buses.  We head up Portland Street, then turn down Princess Street towards the town hall.

This is modern Manchester: cosmopolitan, restless, crowded.  It is January 6th 2011, the first Sunday after the Chinese New Year.  It is the day of the festival.

At first the crowds are thin – normal weekend crowds.  But from this direction the square in front of the town hall is hidden by the city library; turning the corner, we see dense groups of people, young and old, piled against the barriers erected in front of the hall’s entrance, around another specially-prepared stage, and clotted in front of the row of stalls selling steaming food and nick-nacks.

The air smells like spring onions.  In another direction, the wind erases all scents and the air is only cold, but clear.  Lanterns, in red, are strung above our heads.

Everyone awaits the dragon.

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*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

This is ancient China, the stalking ground of the Nian.  It is not the colourful creature of today’s parades; it is an animal, thick with the stink of matted belly hair and claws sheathed in ages-old dried blood.

It strikes down like lightning, taking up a goat, scattering chickens.  Feathers only partly muffle the strangled bleating.  Wooden doors slam open against huts as the villagers become aware of the beast’s resurgence.  They can smell its arrival in the still, damp air.  Its low growl turns over in the mist like a thunderhead, rolls away, rolls away.

There are children planting rice in the waterlogged fields.  The dead goat lies uneaten in the muddy thoroughfare.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

This is modern Manchester, where the rampage of a 175-foot dragon is curbed by the use of a hypnotic sceptre.  It is hard for us to see the dozens of men and women supporting the undulating body of the grinning dragon, but we can spot the tag-team method they use to replace tired puppeteers with eager, rested ones.

A gong beats rhythmically amongst the booming of drums.  There is no melody, only rhythm.

To the pulse of the drums the dragon is lured away, out of the fenced arena, out of the square, to shimmer down street after crowded street with its entourage of costumed associates.

In its wake, dancing lions make a cheerful chase in front of the crowd, ringing bells and shaking their ribbons, blinking lazily like idiot courtiers.

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This is ancient China, where the Nian steals away a screaming child, screaming child, silent child, and distantly a family mourns.

The village, through experience, has grown used to the Springtime visits of the monster – here the Springtime comes in the first month of the year.  But there is sometimes no stopping its vengeful, hunger-driven attacks on the children of the village.

Night falls.  The villagers await its return, but they are prepared.  When next it arrives, galloping down the slopes of the mountain under a milky moon, they have made it small in their minds and hearts.

Through the sudden application of gong and firecracker, they drive the beast back.  It is also, they have discovered, afraid of the colour red.  The hue of blood ripples in the cool night-wind, a wave farewell to the fearful thing.  But even as it bellows and lurches away, they toss food to pacify it.

They know that it will be back next year.

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We are moving towards the narrow grid of streets that is Modern Manchester’s China Town, proudly organised behind its impressive Ming-style arch in concentric squares around its open centre.

It has growing dark.  It’s too easy to get crushed in the barely-moving crowds.  Pressed in on all sides, we try to glimpse the wares in each of the stalls that line every street: red lanterns, red ribbons, lucky coins strung together with red, red, red.  One of us buys a charm, the other a painted gourd.  We both have tiny paper dragons.

Where the congestion is worst, we see signs of activity and good humour.  Two figures in rounded demon heads are running in and out of doorways; they dance within the restaurants and shops of China Town until they are pelted with bits of cabbage or beans.  The two Nians twist away, perturbed but bobbing smoothly in the doorways, and find another place to invade.

This is the evolution of the legend.  It is believed, I’m told, that the Nians still exist.  Unseen by man (the firecrackers, the gongs, the colour red were all too successful in driving it into hiding), they prowl the fog-laced mountains.  Some live under the sea, water-dragons subsisting on fish or clumps of seaweed.

Above China Town, the sky explodes with light and colour.

This is a new year.

— db