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The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice


Sex Objects

I learned from a friend’s porno mag that men
can buy the better class of plastic doll
(posh ones are hard and unyielding, not the
pneumatic sort that fly from windows when
they’re pricked), in slow instalments, torso first.

Well-qualified in wanking, Mark saves up
his pennies till they grow to pounds and then
invests in Ingrid, just the body, for
his carnal press-ups – a bit too flesh-pink
for human, and she sports a ridgy seam
where back meets front. Mark humanises her –
steals her a black lace bra that doesn’t fit
(he’s not that used to seeing naked tits),
and puts a cover of a Cosmo girl
up on the pillow where his doll’s neck ends.

Six months on, tired of screwing her pink trunk,
he spends his pocket-money on a head
(a bald one comes by post), mouth a red O.
He buys his girl a man-made fibre wig,
and, graduating to fellation, talks
about her to his friends.

He gets the arms for Christmas and soon gives
his doll a voice – a steamy tape: he’s good
at it by now, he thinks, and she should tell
him so. The tape’s a great success at first,
until he starts to get the timing wrong,
and Ingrid, moaning, says, ‘It’s wonderful’
after he’s gone.

Mark’s not a legs-man, so these limbs come last:
a duty – something to hook round his back.
He’s shocked when they arrive – one black, one white.
The firm’s in liquidation and could just
supply him with the halves of two whole pairs.
(The black’s from ‘Sonia’, another doll.)

That limb cures his Pygmalionitis quite.
He starts to look for human girls to fuck,
but finds they usually need persuasion first,
their fannies aren’t so neatly set in front
and, unlike Ingrid, they can criticise.

Old Extras

Old extras never die or get the sack,
they simply go on file for horror films –
or so I was told in all seriousness
by a woman on Tale of Two Cities,
part of the Old Bailey mob, or, as one
assistant phrased it (fearing the union),
‘Gallery personnel’.

As we sat in waist-crushing, hessian skirts,
hair under foul mobcaps, she told us how
she’d been put on that file ‘just by mistake’,
and gone to Central Casting, hair fresh-dyed,
proffering new photos, begging: ‘Take me off.’

It worked. Now she was saving all the cash
for a good facelift – one thousand pounds.
She looked all right to me, no real wrinkles
at forty-odd, the only obvious flaw –
the ripple of a lousy nose-job.

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