Chinese Premier ‘Negligently Emitting Beasts’

Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, was yesterday discovered to be carelessly allowing a host of mythological beasts to escape from his superconscious mind. Ministers close to Mr Keqiang were said to have acted immediately to stem the flow of mountain demons, rain dragons, fox spirits, marauding three-legged cows and the like, but it is feared that the giant monstrous fish form of the Peng bird and at least two of the four fiends — chaos and ignorance — might still be at large.

This Week’s Headlines

Life Not Going Way Man Planned
‘It feels like I’m living a life designed by a imbecile’ opines Norfolk man.

No More Wild Left for Captive Animals to Be Released Into
‘Carparks next logical choice,’ according to sources.

Prince William Reveals Head is Really a Hard-Boiled Egg
And Sajid Javid’s is a kind of satanic malteser.

Waitrose Launch Mildest Ever Cheddar
‘It actually removes cheesiness from your body,’ boasts luxury food spokesman.

‘What’s so bad about The Matrix, The Prisoner and Brave New World?’ ask students
Youth perplexed by so-called ‘dystopian’ fiction —  90% agree that they all ‘seem fine’.

Jesus Returns, Realises Mistake, Leaves Again
‘Bollocks to that,’ says Son of Man.

British Army to Neutralise Enemy with Bored Japanese Housewives
‘Nothing defangs insurgents like unloved Japanese wives’, says U.S. Chief of Staff.

Woman Briefly Loses Sense of Humour
Claims ‘Fine now; all I needed was a bit of affection.’

Gold to be Replaced with Runner Beans
Bank of England backs legume-based demurrage.

Science to Convert to Smell-Based Measurements
‘Precision overrated’ claim clever-clogs.

Potatoes Leave Town
Mass exodus in Blean.

Chronic Schizophrenics to Offer Training Courses Dealing with New Normal
‘We know how to deal with a threatening, fragmented pseudo-reality drained of affect; it’s time you did too.’

Frivolous stuff this? Please don’t forget we at Belly Up! predicted lockdowns in 2017.

Waking Up From Ikea

I once had an Ikeamare in Ikeashwitz. My then girlfriend, Ai-chan (now wife), and I were populating a new flat and on the shuttle bus I broke a basic relationship rule and started talking about an ex-girlfriend, Ariadne, who had given me the secret to mastering Ikea. The mention of the messenger put a wrinkle of irk between Ai and I, which I smoothed by emphasising the message; that only hell demands more peace of mind than Ikea.

The problem of course isn’t so much trying to escape from the maze of the Minotaur while forcing your way upstream against the shuffling armies of the undead. No; its choice – aggravated, in my case, by penury: ‘the tall one or the folding one? well the folding one is cheaper, but it doesn’t look as nice, although, hm, not sure, perhaps the blue one? its not as comfortable, but we can get a better one later, but what if we get the wider one and put a throw over it, unless…’ and on and on and on and and on.

But there was more. As we entered I saw the ‘penang’ armchair, the one I had when I lived in South London. Then I saw the one in my mum’s house. Then I saw the one I had in my flat in Madrid. Then, as we wondered round and round, I began to realise, with a creeping cold sense of dream-dread, that Ikea was, in fact, entirely composed of rooms from places I’d lived.

All of it. There was the futon on which I’d written my first awful novel, there was the sofa my huge friend William had single-handedly carried up eight flights of stairs, there was the bed that Isabel had weirdly freaked out in when we’d made love… and there was Isabel.

She herself was lying on a ‘Malm’ bed in the same bewildered state I remembered from the night I’d brought her back to my place and created a weird psychic sense of sexual distortion between us. My current girlfriend in Japan was trying to work out whether she preferred the beige or the cream Billy, while a girl I’d slept with ten years ago in Spain was here in Osaka, half naked in a showroom bed.

‘Isabel? What are you doing here?’ I approached her, but she paid no attention to me.

‘Darren! I’ve just seen you.’

I turned; Ai-chan was flustered and gesturing.

‘Over there,’ she said, ‘a younger you — you were arguing with a girl. And, yi! there you are again!’

I turned. The me of Madrid was sheepishly approaching Isabel upon the bed of disaster.

‘And again! And again!’

Ikea wasn’t just filled with all my old chairs and tables; it was also filled with all my old mes. Hundreds of me, drifting around hundreds of old domestic situations — along with crowds of ex-girlfriends at various ages, a vast shifting dreamworld of intersecting psyche-phantoms.

Ai, against her will, was fascinated. She didn’t really want to know what I was like before we’d met, or how more or less beautiful / thin / blonde / etc. were my previous loves, but she couldn’t help herself. I tried to restrain her, but was held back by myself.

‘Darren, you’ve got to help me.’ The Madrid me was tugging at my sleeve. I turned and looked at him, remembering when I had been there, so desperate to know what to do about Isabel.

He started to explain but I hushed him with a gesture.

‘What you are doing is against both of your instincts, and you know it, so raise your game and send her home or you’ll both feel squalid and used for weeks.’

That shut me up. I went off to find Ai, but was waylaid by more mes, all with old love-problems. At least my younger selves had the humility to ask my advice, but it was pretty chaotic, so I got them to form a queue down in the market hall, leaving Ai with the ghosts of girlfriends past — and grateful that I’d kept so faithfully to another cardinal relationship rule — of not recycling romantic gestures. In fact, now I think of it, a large part of my ‘relationship ethics’ stemmed from the suspicion that something like this was bound to happen one day.

It was heaving down in the market hall, but all my mes were getting on surprisingly well together and waiting patiently in line. I didn’t want to get into long discussions with my old selves, so I just dealt specifically with the problems they had at the time; ‘You always find her less attractive two days before she ovulates,’ ‘Don’t try and change her bad habits — if you love her enough they’ll either change by themselves or you won’t care,’ ‘She responds to you as life does, and vice versa,’ ‘Write the letter, but for God’s sake don’t send it’ — and so on.

It was all a bit silly. Reminded me a bit of Marlybone Song, the man who knew everything, who sat at the top of the hill and people would come from miles around to ask him their most pressing questions — such as ‘how do I fill in my tax returns?’ and ‘what’s a good chat up line?’ and ‘how do I get past level seventeen on Manic Miner?’ and so forth, and in the end he just invented a search engine and sodded off back to Neptune.

But the last me had a good question, the good question; he was burning with it. His house, as the man says, was on fire.

It was the wordless question — the impossible question — the question that only everything can answer.

He looked at me, saw that I was still asking it, shook my hand and left.

And that was the last I saw of myself.