24 June 2000
Plastic David Beckham and the Fish Robot.

Plastic David Beckham

Last night Claire left her husband, James. James is a recruitment consultant in the city and has a large collection of hardcore trance CDs. He loves his widescreen TV, his Nintendo and his friend Chris.

Claire and James and Chris share a rented flat in Croydon. Each morning, before they leave for work, James and Chris stand in front of the bathroom mirror and simultaneously gel their hair. They have it down to a fine art: squeeze blob of gel into palm of left hand: dip thumb and first 2 fingers of right hand into product: slide strands of hair through product-coated fingers. The style James and Chris like best is crispy spikes.

When James and Chris watch football (they support Manchester United) they have a routine. They put on their Manchester United football outfits and line up their full set of plastic replicas of the team players. The replicas are all 3 inches high, except Roy Keane, who is the size of a Barbie doll. The replicas must stand in a special order.

Once, a plastic player was knocked down and put back wrong. Manchester United lost that game. James and Chris wondered why the team had played so badly. When they looked down, they realised that the plastic David Beckham was facing the wrong way.

When James told Claire about this, she left.

Station Wagon

Biana and Joe were how I imagined Americans would be. Joe had Morrissey glasses and a round face and reminded me a bit of Daffy Duck. He was cute, but loud. Bianca was so thin, I knew I could pick her up easily. She was thinner than my thinnest friend. So thin you wondered what she looked like naked, not with pleasure but more like pity, imagining her hipbones sticking out like doorknobs. She wore a white plastic mac with blue polka dots on it and had to keep rolling up the sleeves because they were too long for her arms.

Bianca was obsessed with cats. She had one hulking great cat called Whiskas, who would stick out her tongue and wiggle it if you rubbed her just above her tail. Whiskas was going to be in a film because it looked like she was talking when she did it.

Bianca fed 15 strays. There was a huge flat roof out the window, above the launderette, and the cats would scamper around there. She named them all. One of them looked like Joe, she said. Bianca used a thriftstore bedspread as a curtain. It had a picture of a thousand cats on it. She had 4 sad-eyed-cats- peering-
out-of-trashcans paintings on the wall, and a long Hello Kitty pennant by the staircase.

She worked in the advertising department of an internet company, counting click-throughs. Joe didn't do anything. Just picked her up from work in a battered old station wagon.

Not Her Speciality

Karen has a phobia about hair.
Karen wraps her hairballs in tissue before she throws them in the bin. She clears her hairbrush at least 3 times whenever she brushes her hair. Once, Karen was cleaning her teeth when, mid-rinse, she noticed that someone had washed their hair in the sink and not cleared the plug after. She threw up in the toilet.

Karen hasn't been to the pub since one night last winter. The pub was warm and her pint glass wet with condensation. She had just put the drink to her lips when she realised that one of the barmaid's long hairs was stuck to the glass. She spit into the ashtray.

KarenŐs best friend is called Anna. To annoy Karen, Anna sometimes jams a tendril of her (Anna's) hair in the gap between her (Anna's) front teeth. Karen gags, and Anna laughs, the curl of hair shaking like a branch in the wind. Sometimes, Anna reminds Karen of her brother.

When Karen was little, her brother chucked a handful of grass at her. It went into her mouth and down her throat. Now, she lives in fear of getting hair in her mouth. Providing oral sex is not one of Karen's sexual specialities. Karen hasn't had a boyfriend in a while.

Fish Robot

They took a lamprey and wired it up to a robot. Not all the lamprey, mind - just the brain stem and part of the spinal column. They took some of its big nerve cells, called Muller cells, (like the yoghurt brand) and stuck electrodes on them. The Muller cells control the fish's motor functions: they help it to orientate itself. Then they wired the brain tissue up to a small robot: about the size of a Jaffa cake, with 2 wheels stuck on. When they shone lights at the robot, the lamprey's brain cells made the robot move in response. The robot went towards the light, away from the light, towards the light, away from the light, round and round in circles.


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