The Portswick Imp – Michael W. Thomas



My reviews of this author’s VALIANT RAZALIA here:

In due course, I intend to read this book of stories and show my thoughts about it in the comment stream below…

22 thoughts on “The Portswick Imp – Michael W. Thomas


    “One of those memory stickies swung permanently from her flawless neck.”

    A meticulously honed hilarity, with frustration empathy on the part of some readers, no doubt, as we enter the minds of women teachers on the stage in a girl’s school assembly end of term speech day and the visualised concupiscent affairs, licit and illicit, amid other addictive frailties and too-sharp a view of others and of the back of their necks, and their foibles. I feel like they enter the summer break with a Gestalt of mixed feelings. Meanwhile, with my own step forward, I relish the prospect of fully entering this book, based on previous experience of this author’s work, entering it with trepidation at the treats in store. To be eked out and savoured. Hip-flask, ready.


    “God, the way they think of this country now, all we’ll get are Dignitas kits.”

    A perfectly wonderful portrait of our nation in inexplicable decline, if it were not already! This is a hauntingly believable, if absurdist, tale of our post-self-harming-event society, where either by wireless or wifi we hear old steam radio programmes like twoway family favourites and clitheroe kid, with previous civilisation centres like shops and medical surgeries now called hubs, plus emergency and oblique deadpan scavenging, and a no doubt Razalian brooch found in a post-nobility hub “tuned to the last signal from a long-dead star,” to outshine the candles that at night will light it, and Martin, upon whose family the tale centres, his son hopefully making good elsewhere other than here. Touching and quaint, but frightening, too, and preternaturally tuned to ‘This Wounded Island’ that I happen already to be simultaneously reviewing here.


    “Fog tried a sparkle: ‘I shan’t skip the country.’
    The man cocked his head: ‘But you did. All day. So to speak.’”

    In a similar world to that of the girls’ school in the first story – together with the unique MWT obliquity and constructively clipped, sometimes staccato fogginess of poetic understatement of the second story about this our wounded island – we go now, not to an island, but the whole world of countries with pedestrian bridges to be skipped between within the ‘SheerGlobe’ theme park. A school outing for the girls of the upper fifth, including the eponymous Phyll, a rotter of a girl whom I can visualise well, too well! – and Fog, the nickname for a teacher who befogs her pupils as well as herself. Including a brochure for the theme park that talks to Fog from some sort of inbuilt mishearing component. A sort of Picnic at Hanging Rock scenario. Which mist and mystery still surround. My review of the Lindsay book here.


    “Like an assiduous dresser, she’d spent her life clothing abstractions in their proper fit and style.”

    The garb of age and youth. A wonderful Razalian theme and variations on a human woman’s propensity to see the garb of things like days of the week or her parents’ earlier displeasure at her diffidence at school, as part of this book’s girls’ school syndrome, her absence from her own life. And the school-gate chat of mothers she sees as animals with coloured voices. And the garb of religion as visible or visionary things, too, especially the Holy Ghost as an indivisible constituent of the Trinity, or an amorphous figure at the end of a tunnel. There is more to this story than meets the eye.

    “She would walk through some open space and feel it pitch and lunge, a mothership riding the atmosphere of a new planet like a feather on a breeze.”


    There is something delightfully this-story-eponymous and self-disarming about its Alan Bennett-like Talking Head narrator, as he, here from Grenada, mentions old-fashioned kindnesses in the past, including ones concerning chocolate-coloured remainders at Cadbury’s during or after 1950s ration restrictions in Britain. Just noticed that the contents list at the front of this book contains itself (Contents) and shows that it can be found on page v, which is the page I am looking at when discovering it there! Seems appropriate I should do that just before reading this story. We are all in our indicated place, after lowering ourselves down in older age, into our rightful position, with demonstrable naive obviousness, puffing and blowing at the simple strain of sitting down with faithful sticks into a chair, and then making friends with any younger stranger – such as the narrator – who shows a modicum of kindness, especially when he has negotiated difficult streets to deliver a misdelivered parcel that tells by implication of an ancient friend’s disarming death, along with summoned memories of the old days, old wars, old ministries of work, and other misshapes. A perfectly shaped story. Followed by a funeral.


    “…propped against a strip of willow.”

    Much Black Wolverhamptonese surrounds this next captivating Talking Head, to replace that woman with voffings and sticks in the previous story, as we are now in the vicinity of an audible music pub (can you hear it?), having forgotten our wallet in our car to pay for our group’s due round of drinks… Meeting an oldster like a kaleidoscopic stone outside the pub reminiscing about the old times when Laurel and Hardy were playing Britain (judging by the new film with Steve Coogan I recently watched) and when this oldster actually met the eponymous Locke, unlocking all manner of spoken memories that we listen to. A-Ha! That’s his wife coming!

  7. 1F2B14EF-28BF-44DB-B8D5-3AF606E167C4ONE IS ONE

    “The animals are doing all right.”

    I read and reviewed this story here, in February 2015, as follows:


    One Is One by Michael Wyndham Thomas
    “It happens: you think you see what you want to see.”
    Thoughtful soliloquy on reverse-rapture of dystopia overdose. And cars auditioning, I guess, for Godard’s Weekend? This is what happens after the above world finally implodes and becomes preteritely preinternet again: survivalism, seeing what you want to see, the odd bird that can still fly, and the odd thought predictive of a Lawrencian world without people. tqf50Engaging zoo without people. It needs only one-is-one human survivor, however, for that survivor’s memories to become retrocausally physical again…? And that maybe is the Wattsonian trophy or torus of post-internet madness after all? Or Cordone’s House?


    And having just reread this classic Dystopian story, as it surely is, I am struck by how the photo — that I took this morning shown at the top above, taken before I reread this story and before I even knew it was republished here — now seems highly appropriate to it. And it is also in tune with Catching the Light and Come, Holy Ghost in this book.

    “Since I see so few physical reminders of back then, memories have become almost physical themselves.”


    “…pedalling, legs out in a V if I wanted.”

    Having loved the previous works, it must be sod’s law that I am having trouble with the title story itself, the longest so far. Nevertheless, it is engaging in a stream of consciousness sort of way, with all manner of bike and old banger car references throughout a family history, where the quirky narrator reminds me of a book cover artwork I happened to put up very recently to review here, as if by serendipity or synchronicity. And there is also a beautiful passage about the point one notices when the point is about to arrive when everything ceases to be alright. And the eponymous imp was created out of two chance words heard on the news.


    “He was a pilgrim in fog, he imagined, a space buccaneer just landed on a planet whose shapes and colours he didn’t recognise.”

    I didn’t recognise this story, at first, but I knew I had encountered the smelly tartan scarf belonging to one of Paul’s schoolmates, a touching relationship between Paul and someone everyone disliked as a gypsy, but one with magic conkers. Also I noticed there is wordplay here like that of ‘Portswick’ within Paul’s imaginary world of aircraft and rockets and a planet called Jacaranda, if not Razalia. I eventually fitted today into this story as into a slightly younger glove, and I originally reviewed it here: as cut and pasted below….


    Give You a Game? by Michael Wyndham Thomas

    “Only Paul was left, looking down at his shoes and the small ridges in the concrete road, wondering if the press of his feet had made the road go like that.”

    On all the evidence, this enticingly evocative semi-poetic internal monologue as a narrative boy called Paul takes place in the mid 1960s of not-my-place, judging by the yeah yeah yeah earworm. Mine was the 1950s. A Davy Crockett hat not a space helmet.

    “Adult things.”

    We follow Paul through the gaps in his eyes, the dangers, the pleasures, too, and the mysteries for kids. Dan Dare as Space Buccaneer, a valiant razalia of the spirit foreseen as an adult thing. A tree with supporting roots visible, as his base on Earth. But go through one of those gaps to be throttled by a tartan scarf or choked by a magic conker? In those days, you were safe from gaps while in one’s own house. But now the gaps come through machines like the one I’m typing on, even at home?

    “Je touche le tableau noir. The picture he’d conjured now seemed as mystifying as that. The butterflies were a snow-storm.”

    “Under the lid, the scarf. Sometimes ya gotta. Good out of bad. By doing? Letting?”

    A letting tree, if not a yielding one. Or at least a telling one.



    “Or so it seemed to a seven-, eight-, nine-year-old with his head full of space travel and jungle adventures, the stuff of comics and films in the early Sixties.”

    I was slightly older then, but this work is full of nostalgia for me, as the boy protagonist mixes two pigs that lived nearby in someone’s slurry into his waking dreams and imaginative play. I, too, remember being put to bed “at an irrational hour.” I, too, remember the ‘smoke-language’ of Kensitas following me to bed. I recall my grandmother collecting gifts that came with these cigarettes, if you collected enough vouchers. I was one such gift. Or she was mine.


    “a Majorcan ashtray”, too.
    A powerful blend of the MWT richly clipped style and the darkness in the past’s innuendo. Here our boy hero (now a man) and remembering his mother’s tales (in her words) of being a district nurse and the cruelties and madnesses she faced. Particularly Major (real forename) Crowley and his own mother, and who of them finally went up to Shropshire (Much Wenlock) rather than up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire, to Beds. or death. And who had a box at the Wolves. And so much more in so much little space. My mother was major, too. Still is, wherever still is. And I have just discovered that I had a story published in the last century called Dark House Lane:


    A man sometimes called ‘Cautious-bones’, seems however to have the uncautious flair, even when driving on the motorway, of squeezing his eyes to make things look double, or at least one and a half. Done this since school. This book has many things that start off at school. He puts strokes through his sevens, too. Does that half them or double them, or just make them better distinct from 1. We look though his eyes, ourselves, in a pub, with a salad bar to choose salads from, and the story’s eponymous man who wields Mr Cautious-bones’ folder that may or may not have been considered duly. I feel business deals are ever made of such precariousness. As is one’s family left at home. All morphed by memory in different ways. (Did I spot Trump squeezing his eyes at Kim Jong Un?)


    “From somewhere in the dusk came the last glint of pure sun.”

    In the slickly moving and intriguing context of this inferred Italy-atmospheric Mafia conspiration of a story — with two tourists from Staffordshire, Neil and Stephanie as they keep ‘gawping’ at the same two women when on various tours, women identified by their hair, accompanied by their characterful Labrador dog, and the incidence with two men whom are christened after Danny DeVito and George Clooney — I glimpsed ‘glint’ in that sentence and immediately misread ‘sun’ as ‘gun’. All to the sound of frogs.

    “Look, how do you know they’re from Paris?”


    “He felt like an actor newly arrived in a soap opera, handed episode ten without a clue about the previous nine.”

    And that gives you no clue on Desmond Tutu nor about the whereabouts of Des Moines, unless you are clever enough to know already. The wild in jokes and clipped stream of consciousness of or about young Richard as he travels to Eire via Swansea port (another portswick imp?) on hols with his family, parents, Aunt and a returned nun after shame. And the names and ricochets, as some go off, others house sit. Richard fulfils the story title. Hope that is not a spoiler. You have to be clever to appreciate this story. Thankfully, I am a Desmond who got a two one. Not a two two.

  15. Then his Dad slipped away, too? Hope that is not another spoiler.


    “Now and then, as I got older, I made cack-handed attempts to keep the peace. I’d often ferret around in his workshop, fascinated by its intimations of wizardry, by tools whose purposes remained mysterious, even after all of his explanations.”

    Son about his father, son is father of the son, child is father of the mother, or whatever, I forget. Intimations of my own mortality, no doubt. Or is that immortality? Words always confuse me. This stuff, meanwhile, is brilliant. Too much to cover. The son looking for his Dad’s cap led by the latter’s spider writing, leading to a neatly pen-composed writing as a deadly marital pause for brusque naivety of closure, there being a fancy woman or not, Delfigo exotic or Steelyard working-class English. But both are each? This is a cross between homely Alan Bennett and less homely Harold Pinter, but with the unique wizardry of MWT. And three women known by their hair at some non-existent Birthday Party beyond this son’s caretakership of his Dad. There are no stranger places in the far universe than in 1960s/70s habits of honest MWTesque talking heads. Found the cap, beyond a hinterland of a sailor’s girl in every Port(swick). And with electric wiring male-female between the lines.

    This whole book is too good for most readers. You can quote that as a blurb! They only want to go back to the children’s rooms in old pubs, I guess, and read Westerns and other wild fictions in space. Well, if you did, you’ll probably love MWT. Most people don’t read at all these days, though. But if you do read anything, this is possibly the only good enough book for you.

  16. Pingback: Sing Ho! Stout Cortez by Michael W. Thomas | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s