A Mitcham Mint
Abi Frost

Life, she said, is an emptiness, a vacuum riven by emotional tides, a total frustration from beginning to end, a blithering con-trick, nothingness I tell you, the expense of spirit in a waste of shame and bloody expensive too in the other sense while I'm about it, and what is more it's --

What are you on about now, said the cat, how can a vacuum have tides in it?

Oh, I don't know, I'll change it in the second draft or something. Put square brackets round it. What I mean is that life is just so fucking pointless. I can't get any proper work done for one thing. And my telephone -- let me just tell you about my telephone -- but I was talking about LIFE --

If you don't do your work in time it's your own fault. Take today for instance. You got up at -- what was it, twelve? -- and you went and made yourself coffee BEFORE you fed me or turned the heating on so I can sit upstairs by the airduct. Then you pottered around for a bit not doing anything that I could see any sense to. Then you went and rang Roz, and then you went out to the shops for the Observer. Then you read it. Then, christ alone knows why, you crawled under your bed.

I was looking for On Poetry and Poets so I could quote what Eliot says about the notes to The Waste Land. It's for the Fritsch piece. The whole thing revolves round Eliot.

Who would no doubt revolve in his grave if he could see the indignities to which you subject his criticism. You can't justify every half-assed piece of polemic you choose to inflict on the world by picking a random sentence from The Idea of a Christian Society, especially since you're not a Christian and anyway all you have of it is the extract in Kermode. Leave the man alone. He has suffered enough.

No he hasn't. Did you see what he did to Mauberly in the choruses from The Rock lately? Spitting on the Cenotaph. I was talking about my telephone.

I was talking about what you did today, and endeavouring to reach a point where I could suggest a few reasons why you never get any work done. The malfunction of your telephonic apparatus, though admittedly bizarre, is not in the final analysis interesting. All it is is Nye Bevan's revenge on you for buying those bloody shares.

Do you want me to spend my old age in the workhouse which will no doubt have been re-built on the site of Hackney College by then? I see myself as keeping those shares in the hands of the British People, I have sworn never to part with them into the hands of foreign speculators, I am acting as Nye would in the circumstances, it was going to happen no matter what I thought and --

If you aren't going to sell them, how can they keep you from the workhouse?

If I ever need to, I shall sell them to Margaret Welbank. Mind you, don't tell her I bought them.

What you going to say, then, you won them at three-card stud, maybe? TO CONTINUE. After, admittedly, finding and putting a bit of old fag-packet into the book to mark the passage you mentioned, you read the essay entitled What is Minor Poetry? twice, the second time making underlinings in a book you have owned and even kept reasonably clean for twelve years.

Essential research.

Then you went and watched the Everly Brothers Reunion Concert on TV. I FUCKING ASK YOU! The EVERLY Brothers!

Well, yes, it was a pretty rotten concert. But it's no good saying I'd rather get drunk and play Tom Waits, I've finished the wine and my record-player's bust. I'd much rather have played Tom Waits, Tom Waits is triff, Tom Waits sings about LIFE -- bloody horrible disgusting predictable LIFE, dear god is god some kind of obscure Calvinist, I ask you, LIFE --

A small brownish book shuffled with a show of nervousness to the edge of the bookshelf. Life, it said, is not a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged, Life is --

Shut up you over-rated dyke, said the cat. Once you start she'll go and get stuck into The Waves for a week. And then she'll have to read Ulysses so that himself doesn't get jealous in Jesuit hell.

Up yours, carnivorous eunuch, said the book, sometimes you remind me of Lytton.

Stop it, you two, she said, I could have written several sentences of resplendent grace and glittering wit but for your rowing. This is a perfect example of the way I cannot fulfil my true potential because of the ludicrous environmental interference of BLOODY LIFE! Yes, life, made up of cats and common readers --

AH, LIFE, LIFE, LIFE! Real life! Life in the raw, life in the bloody guts, life as she is lived by the REAL PEOPLE in the harsh reality of Mitcham! LIFE! I hate all women novelists, said a small pile of paper which on examination proved to consist of an anorexic fanzine and a large number of identical letters of comment. The cat, having the sense he was born with, went and sat on it, muffling its cries. Where the hell is Mitcham anyway, he said.

I know all about Mitcham, she said. Mitcham is where the Gas Board is. I had a holiday job there in 1971, that's how I earned the money to buy those black boots you so like the smell of. There's also a pub called the Cricketers, but I've never been in it. In my experience, pubs called the Cricketers are always a bit not quite the thing. There was one in Battersea which was a notorious gay pub even when my mother lived there after the war. And there was one in Putney where a school-friend of mine's mother used to work and one of the train robbers used to drink there. And there was another one in --

TRIVIAL ANECDOTE! SIXTIES' NOSTALGIA, screamed the pile of paper from under the cat's arsehole. YET MORE DISPLACEMENT ACTIVITY AND REFUSAL TO FACE FACTS, said the cat. When are you going to do some work?

About five minutes after you stop ganging up on me with any piece of rubbish that gives you an opportunity, she said. A true artist is always at work, all incidents are grist to her mill, whatever an artist does is art, an artist's true work is simply to be --

You really have no principles at ALL, do you? You will happily come out with all that seventies' crap that you KNOW PERFECTLY WELL to be a lie and a disaster and the cause of the appalling state of things which only we and a few others are engaged in correcting. Call yourself a critic? The correct term, madam, is WHORE, said a copy of Art Monthly.

Oh, I say, chaps, that's a bit strong. A girl's got to earn her living.

We would perhaps not mind so much if you were saying all that stuff in the course of earning your living. We have been there too and we know what it's like. If you knew some of the things we have done and said in our time you would have to stuff a pair of socks in your gob to stop laughing. Two pairs even. No, what we find so utterly offensive is the fact that you are happy to deny us and everything we stand for in order to score a debating point off of a CAT.

Oh, Christ, it's not my fault. (Sniff). You just don't KNOW -- I mean I don't think you can have any idea -- no, it's not money, no it's not anything like that it's just it's all so (Weepies) please tell me what to DO!

Oh god. Oh no. Do any of us know what on earth to do when girls CRY? Here, have our hankie -- no not that one it's got something unpleasant on it. One of us will go and get you some bog-roll if you like. Oh dear we're sorry but the one thing we never quite managed to shake off from our rather conventional upbringing is this appalling embarrassment at any overt physical show of emotion. What we mean is we get all upset when girls -- sorry we mean women -- BLUB. We didn't mean to be rude to your cat, honest. Cheer up, please.

One down to you then. I'd be delighted if someone would be rude to him in any way he'd notice. He is altogether too uppity these days. He used to bully his poor sister something chronic. It wasn't anything you said, I keep getting like this all the time. I'm sorry, I ought to go to the doctor about it but he's always closed when I remember to.

No doctor -- especially not that half-witted GP of yours who wears such ridiculous shirts patterned with debased and vulgarly coloured remote descendants of the ancient symbolic patterns of the Mughals -- can cure what is essentially a malaise of modern society. You feel rotten because this is a rotten world. Cruise missiles. Graffiti art. Graffiti art ON Cruise missiles. All you can do is seek consolation in the touchstones of the creative intelligence. There now, dry your eyes. Put some powder on. We say, gosh you're quite pretty really when you aren't blubbing --

HOW IN THE NAME OF GOD, BERENSON AND JOHN FECKING BERGER can she seek consolation in a touchstone? You guys ought to be locked in a small room for six months with nothing to read but the collected essays of Orwell, said the cat. This magazine is up to no good and if you don't go and do some work you will regret it in the morning. Believe me, sweetheart.

REAL LIFE! LIFE! DAVE BRIDGES! PAIN! AGONY! I LOVE IT ALL! cried the pile of paper, liberated by the cat's decision to intervene and consequent movement across the room. Except women novelists, it added crossly.

Who or what is that idiot, asked Art Monthly, why do you tolerate such intrusions into your life? No wonder you can't even finish a review for Crafts. Listen, cat, Orwell's plain man speaking plain language act was a rhetorical trope like any other. You can't bully us into giving up ridiculous dead metaphors. We would get rid of that cat if we were you, dear. He is clearly an incurable kibitzer. And his pretensions are laughable. He is, after all, only an animal, with no sense of what it is to be mortal and therefore no creative impulse. Quite honestly, we'd rather hear your looney friend going on about REAL LIFE all night. But if we really had our druthers --

Yes, cat, you have no sense of REAL LIFE. You heard the magazine. Will you believe it if you won't believe me? Even your friend the pile of paper is nodding. What do you know of life that know not death, eh?

I could reply that one thing I don't know is where my next tin of Whiskas is coming from if you don't stop flirting with that bunch of revisionist crypto-Leavisites and get some work done. But I won't soil myself by so doing. Because how FUCKING DARE you, of all people, lecture me about life and death, eh? What you got to say to that, madam?

Eh? What are you going on about? I don't think I care. I say, chaps, did you know there is actually a magazine called Real Life? All bloody incomprehensible American structuralists. I bought a couple of copies in the sale at the Arts Council shop one time.

We know it well. A loathsome thing of evil intent. Touch pitch and ye shall be defiled. We wonder if you quite realize the dangers that lurk in wait for unspoilt young lady art critics. We think maybe we should protect you a bit. We think maybe you should take us into your bedroom and show us these copies of Real Life and we will destroy them for you. You know it makes sense, really. We can't bear to think of the peril you are in, if you but knew it.

Nobody leaves the room till I say so, said the cat. I am going to have WORDS with you, missus. And any more tricks from you and I'll tear you into little pieces and shit all over you. I've done that to better magazines than you, sunshine. I know what you're after even if she's too daft to.

Stop being boring, cat, she said. The world does not revolve around you even if you think it does. I can make up my own mind better than you can for me.

That's the spirit, lady. Let's get out of here before he gets really boring. Why don't you carry us into your bedroom, put some nice music on the radio and READ US? We could give you a very nice time, we think. We're quite versatile, though we say it ourselves. We've got P Fuller going apeshit about the Turner Prize, and a dynamite thing about the economics of the art market by R Hughes, and A Brighton jumping up and down with excitement about the British Art Now exhibition. Oh, and an article by John Roberts but we can't remember what it's about. You know him -- the Joe Nicholas of art criticism.

No-one ever can. I dunno -- that really would be whoring, going to bed with a John Roberts article. A great deal of work and no chance at all of enjoying it. On the other hand ... well, it's the best offer I've had all week ... GET YOUR CLAWS OUT OF MY STOCKING, cat, and let me go --

Shut up. Stop this nonsense at once. Do not leave the room. I am not going to let you go away and have fun. You have WORK to do -- and YOU LET MY SISTER DIE.

She was ill, cat, she just sort of faded away, it happens to everyone in the end only you don't realize it because --

I am only an animal and I have no sense of what it is to be mortal, eh? Fuck that, what do you know about what I know? You could see how ill she was and you didn't even ring the vet let alone take her. And when she did die what did you do?

I took her into the study and put her in a cardboard box with an old jumper and sat with her while it happened. I told her I was sorry and had a fainting fit.

Yes, but what about ME? Did you let me come and sit with her too, eh? No, you thought I'd annoy her. Did you let me come and sniff her dead body so I could realize what had Happened? No way. What was it, were you afraid I'd EAT her?

Actually I didn't want you to get all her parasites. I had to cover her with insecticide, once she was dead she turned out to be CRAWLING with all sorts of things. Too weak to clean them off I suppose. I'm sorry, really, but ...

Let me go for WEEKS thinking she was hiding somewhere. Her smell gradually fading, and at last the realization that she wasn't there any more. I hate you, Abigail.

THAT'S THE STUFF CAT, sock it to her, said the pile of paper, ANGER, FRUSTRATION, RAGE, let her have it good and proper! RAGE RAGE RAGE RAGE RAGE --

Oh shut up and leave them to it, said Art Monthly. Let's just have a quiet talk here. We remember Mitcham Mints -- you bought them from machines on the tube. Years ago when we were a lad. What do you know about rage, anyway, kid? You ever been done out of a woman's excited caress because of an emotional appeal by a CAT? Oh, well, any port in a storm. Tell us, shy confused young fanzine critic who seeks enlightenment, did you learn anything ELSE from Don West?

To your typewriter, woman, said the cat. And if you do an apazine there'll be trouble.

Too late, said Ms Frost. I've already written it.

FRANK'S APA 16 (February 1985)
See also The End