Lesser people often ask me how I come up with my ideas. I don't. I come down with them. They are like diseases that infect me on a frequent basis, and my artwork and verses are the manifestations of my symptoms.
These ailments enter my carnal being through its pores (or should that be paws?), transforming it into that of a wild animal (albeit one with opposable thumbs enabling the connection between pen and paper), which is instinctively compelled to publish its light-hearted and yet erudite commentaries on the follies and foibles of modern life; short, succinct and to the point in their construction.
My inspirations are lain all around, throughout my daily routine; a stray comment here, an eccentric gesture there can lay claim to many of my creations. As a teacher of Mathematics my classroom is a source for much inspiration. When I am not teaching it is often host to English lessons, and frequently the work of pupils is left behind, allowing for wanton and undetectable plagiarism.
Stepping through that door into the classroom can be akin to stepping through a portal, into a land where veneered desks and polyprop chairs spring forth from the mineral rich soil fertilised by the processed brains of angst-ridden adolescents. On one occasion I did actually step through a portal into such a place, whereupon I encountered immediately a dwarveless leper, woeful of his unenviable condition.
Apparently it used to be the case that almost all lepers were accompanied by at least two dwarves (or, if you will, midgets). When body parts fell from the lepers (I hear that's what happens to them), the midgets did not have far to stoop to pick them up again. However, in these politically correct times, this comic coupling is deemed less acceptable, and these curious troupes are becoming less commonplace, much like the Black and White Minstrels of old.
Bates, he said his name was. Funny thing was, despite his lack of vertically challenged aides, he didn't look any worse off than your average leper. If there was such a thing. I reasoned at the time that this whole scenario was most likely a construct of my subconscious anyway, and as I knew nothing about either lepers or midgets, I was in no position to comment on what might be a typical specimen.
"Bates," he said, sat on a polyprop chair, laying his head on a veneered desk in his despair. Thinking at first that he meant me, I was poised to correct him. "Bates needs friend's help," he added. I realised then that he was actually referring to himself, but in the third person. This was one of my favourite drinking games. I immediately opened the large bottle of gin I had been keeping in my left shoe.
I don't know how long we took to polish off the gin, but when I awoke I had been robbed. They had even taken Bates, the bastards. All except, that is, all except his glass eye. I vowed then and there that I would find him, that I would be the friend to help him. But I wouldn't be returning his eye. It looked a bit slimy and quite frankly unhygienic.
I pondered my next move. I had no clue except for the direction in which the eye was pointing. I set off the same way, towards a town seemingly constructed entirely from roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Beyond this hamlet (if that is the correct name for such a settlement) I could see endlessly hills, where fair maidens romped wantonly in the meadows.
Before the first two hundred yards, however, I had stopped and turned my tail. My true path would lie amid the dark dying woods in the opposite direction, where I would not feel constantly watched.
I walked for days.
The ground beneath my feet became dry, cracked and barren, yet the forest seemed to loom no nearer. Classroom furniture became a rarer commodity, and by the third day the few polyprop chairs I encountered were vandalised with images of the male genitalia, not to mention ridden with old chewing gum. There were no whiteboards, let alone overhead projectors, with which to explain mathematical concepts, and no pupils to explain them to.
A week and a half passed before the trees became lost in the haze on the horizon and I came across a small leafy twig floating in a solitary puddle.
"Oh, get out of my light will you?" it murmured. "I'm sunbathing."
"Sorry," said I.
It sat up and turned to face me. At least I believed it to be facing me. "Oh," it said. "It's you."
"Me?" queried I.
"Yes, you. Don't you know who you are?"
"No," replied I, unsure of what it meant by the question.
"Well, that's no excuse," replied the twig, rather impetuously for my liking. "Not for all the trouble you've caused. It wasn't so bad at first. I got all the sunlight I wanted, but I wasn't totally cut off socially like I am now. Thankfully I've lasted this long, but it's only down to my supply of bottled Evian water buried over there."
He (I shall use the term "he") pointed over towards a small patch of unsettled soil a few yards away. A spade lay atop it.
"I've lost that now though," he continued. "The ground's too hard to dig it up again. I'm not happy with you, you know. Scaring them all off like that."
"Scaring who off?" enquired I, beginning to feel like I was destined to speak entirely in question form.
"Oh come on, Bates! The Dark Dying Woods, of course. You've come to fulfil the prophecy."
"I'm not Bates," said I. "I'm looking for him, though."
"What do you mean, you're not Bates?!" came the incredulous reply from the twig (who by now, I had decided, was called Sedgewick). "You mean I've stayed here to catch some rays and doom myself to an early death for nothing? At least all the rest of the trees were dying anyway.
"I'm in the prime of my life, me, so did I bother running like the others? Oh no, I thought it would be a good idea to catch some rays, seeing as I was about to perish anyway. Might as well enjoy it, I thought. Bloody prophecies. You do realise that because of you scaring them off they are now going to die horribly in some other place instead? And that if they'd stayed they probably would have survived after all? That's the trouble with prophecies. Things happen."
I decided then that the right thing to do would be to take Sedgewick with me. He clearly blamed me in some small way for his predicament. I picked him up, broke him into pieces and wove him into the fabric of my t-shirt to spell the words I'M NOT BATES across my chest. That way, I figured, I might stand a chance of finding and helping the poor leper. These trees seemed to know an awful lot about him, and if I could just talk to them I might have a lead to follow. I just hoped they could read.
Sadly, I don't believe that Sedgewick either had forgiven me my involvement in the mistaken identity, or was entirely in agreement with my plan. Despite his having been so vocal previously, I would never hear him speak again.
To be continued...