Monday, 12 August 2013

Amoeba Dick; or, a Tale of a Tub - ch's 1-2.

Amoeba Dick is a work-in-progress - 25,000 words written of an envisaged 100,000. As its title suggests, this novel is a parody of Moby Dick. Like the original, it relates the story of a proud but misguided man seeking vengeance against the non-sentient being held responsible for his mutilation. Specifically, Herod, the manager of Pex 'n' Quads gym, hires a number of hot tub engineers in order to eradicate from the gym hot tub the colony of bacteria (Aeromonas hydrophila) responsible for his unmanning by genital necrotising fasciitis. As an emblem of his quest, he takes to wearing a huge strap-on white dildo, called the White Willy.

The novel comes with extensive footnotes and a bibliography, which I reckon helps me play around with notions of narratorial reliability and authority. The first two chapters are presented here ... read on!

Amoeba Dick;


a Tale of a Tub

a novel


Richard Craven

Copyright © Richard Craven 2013

The right of Richard Craven to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

For Sophie and Joe

List of Chapters

1. The Well of Loneliness.

2. Aliter Assecurationem Subnervat.

3. Organizational Atrophy, Rude Mechanicals, and Rumour Painted Full of Tongues.

4. The descent from High Kingsdown into the Vale of Hinnom.

5. The Fisher King Cycle, Except with Some Ghastly Little Gigolo or Catamite.

6. Cassandra, the Prophetess.

7. A Piece of Cod, Which Passeth All Understanding.

8. The Revolt by the Jews Against the Depredations of the Procurator Florus.

9. The Several Agues of Charybdis.

10. Roman Roulette, and Showers of the Ilk.

11. There are Tiers of Administration, and the Burdens of Mortality Touch the Heart.

12. The Old England & Bristol Sikhs Gimp, in the Shed, Vapourising.

The Well of Loneliness

“Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity.”

[Seamus Heaney. Personal Helicon.]


I changed my name. Titus now. Everyone has been very kind, but I still feel like a leper.

Quite a long time ago, the medical profession graced me with a slightly glum prognosis about my longterm health, and so I became in short order the habitué of a certain rather soigné gym. It behoves me to say a little bit about this establishment, since it is integral to much of the history to be chronicled in these pages.

Pex 'n' Quads - yes, I shudder at this too - occupied four floors of glass and steel on the road out to Hotwells. A wedge-shaped edifice, which lent it an unintentionally maritime aspect. Indeed, the tarmac outside flowed by on both sides of the hull, like so much wine-dark water. Moreover, the team sports salon on the top floor had something of the feel of a top deck. Footballers swarmed across it just like any passel of briny swabs, betimes badminton players piratically parried across nets, at other hours earmiked martinets were to be found parading squads of ladies in lycra. Coiled elliptically around this arrangement, a narrow mezzanine served as a running track. In the building's bowels, yet visible from the pavement to those prepared to squat and stare, steroidal silverbacks and chimpanzees grunted and swore and bench-pressed bar bells, and might very well have been stokers in a boiler room. Screened off behind this arrangement, as I later discovered, an indoor pool, the repository of numberless toenails and pubic hairs, filled the role of the bilge. A drawbridge or gangplank over a long thin dirty basement yard admitted you to ground level: a reception area of low-slung pvc furnishings, choc-vending machines, and backlit racks of rehydration drinks. Here, behind a desk, a brace of fat old ladies, Peggy and Billy, these the vestals or gatekeepers or beadles or guardbitches for whatever presently unknowable inner sanctum or holy of holies lurked behind all the grey walling and brown doorage.[1] The first floor - the mid-deck in my strained analogy - was divided into four areas: a large cardio salon, where hamsters on treadmills charged eternally at their own reflections, a narrow galley in which a line of rowers rowed and rowing gawped at the yob-whisperer Jeremy thing; a stretching area, where enthusiasts performed alarmingly frank yoga, again in front of wall-to-ceiling mirrors; and a clothing-optional spa, featuring sauna, steam, treatment rooms and a jacuzzi.

Jacuzzi culture always exerted a peculiar fascination upon me, seeming to be comprised of the interactions and relations between certain definably distinct types. Our first exhibit, the nymph Hermaphrodite,[2] having been massaged by the gods, and quite done with posing and preening and strutting and stretching before the ubiquity of mirrors, languorously unfurls a set of svelte limbs, and rises and pads like the ‘pard towards the spa’s metamorphosis suite,[3] there divesting self of lycra impediments and pretensions to modesty. Nudity achieved, the hot tub will be approached just as Narcissus approaches the Erythromycin pool or something, whereupon the aforementioned limbs are lowered gracefully into the moiling turbidity. Now Narcissus the prototype starved to death contemplating his own reflection in the pool. Echo homey! Things run differently with the nymphs of the hot tub. For herein the waters are perturbed by jets, and reflection correspondingly distorted. And yet, the nymph is ineluctably the nymph’s own study. Kismet: it is their fate.

Would that this were so for Psorietes the satyr and self-hater, who often finds himself sharing tubspace with these sexpots. He is usually quite old, Psorietes, or fat at least, and dermatologically speaking something of a ship of Theseus,[4] [5] being as flakes of his weeping hide are wont to detach themselves from his person and cavort willy-nilly round the pool, at the behest of the notoriously fiendish dynamics of flow. Psorietes is painfully aware of this process, viewing it quite reasonably as a progressive loss of self. And yet still he is drawn here, to this well of loneliness, this maiouma[6] of personal disintegration, to slump and brood.

The idyll is frequently disrupted by the presence of some sort of Caliban or Alph the unsacred, usually an unnaturally muscled lout from the basement, connoisseur of synthetic hormones, and Hermaphrodite’s nauseatingly over-confident swain. He is the living breathing anathema to all that is decent, and is widely and rightly reviled.

It is at root a profoundly sad business. I too partook of these longueurs. I too have bathed with Jordan, flexed limbs and stared at bubbles, scowled alike at the skin conditions of some and the burgeoning lusts of others, even as I scratched myself and not so subtly joyed my own wingwang, on occasions discreetly ejaculated, foam unto foam each time a little death, all the while keening silent lamentations for the loss of self. Oh Thanatos, Thanatos, how do we long for your deadening caress! Alas, we are fated to endure as we can this vale of tears.

Aliter Assecurationem Subnervat

And he strong with the blood, said then: ‘Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions’."


Over the gangplank, through the glass doorway, into Reception. From hinderdesk, Peggy (marginally the fatter of the two Cerberae ad portas) intimated to me that the hot tub was being serviced.
            - … ‘kay …
Eyes, redolent of porcine cunning, rolled, seemingly to convey some kind of lewd conspiratorial winkywank,
            - Flushing the pipes me babber. Oy knows it’s wrong wotwiv everyfing, but oy just foynds it so bloody funny.
Billy regarded her colleague through basilisk eyes. A puff adder couchant. Jabba the Hut. Peggy began to laugh quite abruptly, presumably for want of any conversation-based trope.
            - Tao, said Billy, cutting across Peggy’s mirthless cackle, and jerked a thumb at a pile of folded towels teetering vertically over one of the pvc chairs, and spake anew:
            - £ coin for ver locka.
            - Sorry, said Peggy, sometimes oy just can’t help missen.

I took my towel and my obol, and I displayed to the Cerberidae[7] the token of my identity, and I went down into Hades, with a sort of blushing neck-nape awareness of the hostilities breaking out behind me. Σκύλα antagonizing  παλιοθήλικο. The changing room: low lighting, a row of mirrors, under which: taps and basins. Into one of the latter I debouched a gobful of electrolyte rebalancing fluid, remembering to mutter ‘jeesfukinell’ and sundry other propitiations. Shades of the dead loitered here. Assholes out of Erebus. Some flitted into cubicles to micturate, others passed skyclad under the ritual showers, where old men of mysterious provenance stood for an eternity sacredly washing their shrunken nethers. There I saw one I knew, and stopped him crying
            - Strapon! You who have been my accountant for these several years! Bodies still ok beneath the patio? Or did the Vat-man sniff them out again?[8]
But Strapon was evidently the sort of chap to be discombobolated by such an eruption of the professional into a context of social Balzac maintenance,[9] and gibbered and squeaked and feigned not to know me, and sought by flapping flabby white arms to ward me off.[10]
            - Not here! Not here! It isn’t nice.

Here in this anteroom, in this limbo even as the beancounter made merry, a hand was laid upon my arm and a voice murmured in my ear.
            -  Induction?
I turned. Mid-twenties. Stupid haircut like something you see on a nature documentary about oddly-coloured monkeys,[11] company polo shirt in some colour or pattern, tracky-bums ‘n’ trainers, bleached gnashers. Eyes which were windows on a terrible, yawning void.[12] A plastic nametag affixed to his breast announced him as John Virgil, Marketing ‘n’ Placemaking. And a smell came off him, of the yobspray – Jason, I think they call it – with which they anoint themselves for to mask the malodorous enchantments of the witch Perspira.
            - The place aforesaid by Circe?
He didn’t miss a beat.
            - Yeah it will of been in the like contract that was sent out to you. 15 quid. It’s like health ‘n’ safety for like cardiovascular apparatus ‘n’ freeweights.
            - Oh really! I snorted, is this necessary? I been lifting barbells and rowing the Nautilus[13] these twenty years.
            - Otherwise it invalidates the insurance.

I followed Virgil my guide, my morally-blind Teiresias, as he led me through the basement – a bestiary of squatting criminals and steroidal door security, but curiously no popes[14] – to a windowless office at the back.
            - Or, he said shutting the door behind us, we can just like say you had your induction. Like I can’t be arsed with it either. Still gotta cough up 15 quid though.
            - You beat people up in here don’t you, I said.
            - I never do, he said evenly as he flourished from nowhere a mound of paperwork, sign like here, here, here, like here, here, sign and like date here and here, also here and here like and here, initials here, initials like here, here, initials here, and the hot tub is like out of order, 15 quid please thanks, ok you’re free to like use the facilities. ‘Cept for like the hot tub of course.
With these words trousering the tribute, he gestured me most punctiliously towards the door.
            - Wait a minute, I said a bit hotly, I was expecting the oracle? I performed the appropriate obsequies.
            -  Like I really apologize for what you was expecting, he said, you can’t use the hot tub due to like health ‘n’ safety reasons. There was someone what got like …
He cleared his throat quietly, and shrugged and said again:
            - Otherwise it invalidates the insurance.

Just then, a series of loud thumps upon the door. Virgil winced.
            - Wot.
The door swung open to disclose Peggy plenitudinously occupying the lintel, and brandishing like a shield a gigantic Get Well Soon card.
            - Fort you moyt loyk to royt summat for his nibs. In his hour of extremity, if you see what oy mean haha.
            - Not here ‘n’ not now, said Virgil glancing quickly at me, I’m like with a client?
Peggy favoured me with the inanest of grins.
            - Oooooh sorry me luvver, was you feeling left out, you can sign it too.
            - Dunno really, I said, who’s it for, suffer me to peruse the heraldic devices.
            - Look, said Virgil, interposing himself and squeezing Peggy like a zit back through the doorway, can you just like …
Pressing the door firmly shut behind her, he turned to me with an insincere sort of a smile.
            - I do apolod-jize, he said, like shares in like the holding company. Why we keep her on. We wouldn’t otherwise.
            - In another gym, this does not happen.
            - Yeah, like Quads ‘n’ Pex down Easton[15] has a simplified management structure. Maybe. But in all seriousness, they isn’t like got our facilities.
            - Or unique ambience, I said rather idly.
Virgil looked at me, shining with sincerity.
            - Yeah, no, yeah, most partickly not the unique ambience.


[1] Although, deep down, you intimated what went on back there: hypos, blister-packs, exposed glutes; conference calls, VAT fraud, and protein shakes - all in all, a grisly and vicious business. Also, as I am to relate, Captain’s Quarters, where a proud man brooded over his unmanning.
[2]  By which is meant of course some combination of the androgynous and the gamine
[3] … which is to say, changing room.
[4]The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.” [Plutarch c75bc]
[5] It has been argued that the Ship of Theseus Paradox should be subsumed as the identity-specific case of the Sorites or Heap Paradox. The Sorites Paradox raises the question, how an individual can acquire/lose a property given that this cannot come about by small incremental changes in the individual; e.g. a bald man does not become hirsute by acquiring one extra hair [although q.v. Williamson 1994]. The consequence of such a presupposition – what gives it its paradoxical savour – is that bald men must be hirsute, and hirsute men must be bald. Analogously, construing self-identity as a property like any other, the thought would be that the Ship of Theseus does not lose its self-identity merely by the replacement of a single plank. In this case, the savoury paradoxical consequence is of course that the original ship comes to be viewed as identical to a ship composed of entirely distinct parts.
[6] A night festival of the Antiochenes, criticized for its frivolity [Julian the Apostate 362ad], and eventually prohibited by law in 399ad: “illud vero, quod sibi nomen procax licentia vindicavit, maioumam, foedum atque indecorum spectaculum, denegamus
[7] Note that the present usage of “Cerberidae” deviates from standard usage, sc. the denotation of microscopic flaura, as in e.g. “Les mêmes constatations ont été renouvelées peu de temps après pour les microcerberidae …” [Delambre Debouteville & Paulian 1954 p78]
[8] Compare Eliot [1922 §1 69-76]
[9] Really, who knew?
[10] Compare “Odio profanum vulgus et arceo” [Horace 23bc iii.1.1.]
[11] Baboons’ bums will never not be funny.
[12] … quod natura abhorret a vacuo. The notion of vacuum remained controversial until the 17th century. See e.g. Casati [1649]
[13] Presumably, something along the lines of In fact, Nautilus is a fitness equipment company, but actually not renowned for rowing machines.
[14] Compare Dante’s Inferno.
[15] One of Bristol’s proliferating and variegating bohemian quarters (see f.n. below), Easton specializes in radical and Idiot Left politics, and is notorious for having hosted a riot in April 2013, following the death of Lady Thatcher.

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