Everyone gets their Nonsense Neck



t began with Pascal Givens.

“Check it out, lads,” he said, hands planted upon his hips, face lifting so we could see.  He spoke in clipped, smug sentences, each cherryed by a pouting sneer. “Shop in Drumcondra. €40 a pop. My Uncle Trevor got it for me.” And biting his lip he waggled his neck.

We crowded round— a dozen of us behind the Water Tower where the lawn sloped down to the Main Road, where the teachers couldn’t see. And we stared— out the front of Pascal Givens’ neck a long black length of pliant rubber protruded, held by a leather strap. It curved, ever so slightly, the end angling higher than the base and when he talked it wobbled— when he plucked the rounded end it gently slapped against his chin.

He pulled the strap so tight it left a long blue-yellow bruise— “I’ve to chew a thousand times before I swallow.” He pouted, smugly, eyes half-lidded. “Whatcha think of that?”

What did I think of that?

Head bowed surreptitious, I peered at the other boys, saw looks of big-eyed admiration pass between them— tentative, then strengthening, and so I contorted my face to share their wonderment, their delight, their envy.

We murmured our approval, that’s grand, that’s lovely, I’d love one of them meself as Pascal Givens pulled upon his ornament and blaarted like a fingered goat.

“Does it hurt?” whispered Brennis Gorevan.

“Only as much as I let it,” sneered Pascal, and that didn’t even make sense, but the boys laughed and shared their winks and knowing looks and I laughed along and winked as well.

As he turned to show us the big bright buckle at the back, the bell rang for class. “Okay boys,” he purred, clicking his fingers and turning them into angled guns, “Show’s ovahhh. Later on lads, I’ll let you have another look.”

The boys slunk along the rosebushes to the Fifth Class door. Softly they chatted while over their shoulders they shot furtive glances at Pascal’s jugular ornamentation…

Pascal dawdled, tightening up his strap, and seeing that we’d been left alone for the moment at least, I chanced my arm.

I sidled up to him. Pascal Givens was tall and thin and virtually chinless, his hair a mop of mouse-brown curls, his skin pale, lightly freckled. His colourless eyes leaked condescension from every look, from every imperious nostril flare and eyebrow arch.

“Pascal,” I said, “Pascal, could I have a go?”

“Have a go?” he said, eyebrows and nostrils sweeping in a sneer, and I could feel his sharp italics, “On what?”

Wordlessly I reached up and…


…The end of his ornament.

Instantly he slapped my hand away, abject disgust wrinkling his features. “What the…?” came as a spluttery eruption.

“Can I have a go?” I repeated.

“No, you can’t,” he hissed, pulling his ornament out of my reach, “It’s mine.” He stared down at me, his voice a cruel coolness. “You’ll probably break it. Stretch it out of shape.” Protective fingers ran along the rubber length.

“I wouldn’t,” I said in a small voice, “I’d be real careful.”

Pascal looked at me as if were a gollie on his sole and spat “Get your own!” He swept away. Left me standing on the path.

And I thought: I’ll get one. I’ll be the next to get one.

I didn’t know all the boys were thinking the same thing…

That was how it began.

The fad…







hree days later.

We turned in our seats, trying to see where that noise was coming from.

Through the door came Gobdaw Lawns, his face split in a huge and earnest monkey-grin, and we saw what had him beaming. His voice was slow and thick: “Da took me into town on the bus. And we got off in Drumcondra. And I got this.”

He bent his rubber with a thumb and his had a red stripe up the side, emblazoned with lightning letters that spelled the word Jazz-ay.

It made Pascal Givens’ look like shit.

Givens sat at the back of the classroom, arms across his chest, thunderous revulsion on his face. Of all people to usurp him… Gobdaw Lawns? The plasterer’s son—thick as shit and twice as fragrant.

But the next day Pascal was waiting, his arms behind his head, feet crossed upon his desk to show his dirty soles. The paragon of nonchalance.

We all saw it— an inch-and-a-half longer and stiffer than the one before. “It’s the latest,” he said as we stooped, “Lim-ah-ted edition. €70. Titanium slush core. Raffia strap.”

Our impressed breaths whistled and just like that we forgot Gobdaw Lawns, the red stripe, the Jazz-ay.

But the next morning, little Tommy Sweetnam appeared at the school gates, hands clasped over his throat, the smallest smile on his chubby face. On the steps, he opened his hands and showed us. “Satin finish,” he whispered and he let all of us cooing boys touch his yellow strut. (Tommy Sweetnam was good like that.)

Pascal Givens was incandescent, Gobdaw Lawns lost and confused— how fleeting their time in the limelight had been! As both looked on we carried Tommy Sweetnam on our shoulders around the yard and he was king, king of the ornaments!

And the next day Barry Lawlor and Connor Moynalty both came wearing ornaments on their necks, and Barry’s was made of polished brass and Connor’s whistled softly when you squeezed.

That was the escalation.

It was exponential now…

When the weekend came you’d see the boys at the bus stop, studiously not meeting each other’s eye, and those who couldn’t afford a new ornament spent every minute polishing the ones they had, sprucing it up, trying new attachments and finishes— making the most of what they had.

But I had nothing…

One afternoon I tried to explain it to Mother.

“You wear it on your neck,” I said, pointing.

“I get that,” she replied rinsing a cup under the tap, “but what’s it for?”

“What’s it for,” I said, incredulous, “what’s it for? It’s… It’s…” My hands made futile contortions as I tried to explain— I gave up. “Maaam, all the boys are wearing them!” She made her lips very thin and going for broke I cried “‘Badger’ Gambol hung a bell from his, Ma! A bell!”

I let that hanging in the air.

Wet plates rang as she slotted them into the rack to dry.

“If you want to save and buy one yourself,” she said, “I won’t stop you. But honey, we haven’t got that kind of money to waste.”

Unslithering from a plastic glove she held my chin with a clammy hand.

“You understand, don’t you?”

I nodded stiffly, shiny-eyed.

(I hated her.)

One lonely lunchtime by the Water Tower, I heard two boys whispering. Inching round the corner I saw Oscar Shorthall and Gobdaw Lawns, hands upon each other’s ornament. Oscar’s was small and fat and purple and he kinked his head to one side to let Gobdaw tie a green ribbon around the plastic stem.

“Not that far up,” said Oscar softly, “Tie it lower down.”

Slowly turning to slink away, my runners scraped on gravel— the boys spun round at the sudden rasp, faces frozen, ornaments quivering—

Shock melted into rage when they saw it was me. “Fuck off,” snapped Oscar Shorthall, tightening his ribbon, “Get your own fucking ornament,” and Gobdaw opened his mouth, cowishly staring.

My ears burning, I turned and left them to it.

I saved every penny, worked every odd job I could find—washing Dr. Proutfot’s car, sweeping the path outside Whimpers, bringing shopping home for Mrs Delaney.

But whenever I thought I’d saved enough and went to Drumcondra with pockets full of change, other boys would’ve bought them all, or demand had forced the prices up.

Always I returned empty-handed, with the breeze upon my bare throat.

It seemed like everyone had their ornament— long and short and rubber and wood and chrome and glass and see-through and every colour under the sun.

True, they made fun of Jobbee Coby because his was second-hand and soft and swung to the left but at least he had one. He could hold his head up high.

Not me.

I was the boy with the naked neck.

And I asked myself: When would I get mine?

When would I get my ornament?




nd then, inevitably, the only boy without an ornament…

Was me.

On that final day Pascal Givens returned to school bearing the most elaborate, most expensive jugular furniture yet. Gold it was, and crystal tipped, ribbed in alabaster struts, elk-skin strap curving round the jaw, in lariats looping around his ears, dropping a fringe of leather tassels topped with pearls.

He grimaced with the weight; wincing, straining to keep it straight and stumbling. But the crown was finally, irrevocably, his— he was the best and had the neck to prove it.

All the boys gathered to offer their obsequiance, but I slunk away along the rosebushes, bowed and scuttling— the bare-necked pariah.

I wasn’t fast enough.

Pascal shouted and I heard the thump of feet but before I could make it through the door, the laughing boys were on me.

They encircled me, rubbing their ornaments, making them wiggle, laughing at me, pointing at my bare neck, darting forth to slap my throat.

Someone, I never found out who, hustled up behind me and pulled my trousers down, revealing my white legs, my white underwear.

The howls of the laughing boys, their leering faces, their neck-bulbs pawed with hungry hands and Pascal Givens, standing on the wall, his golden rod arcing into sunlight like some living god…

Something in me snapped.

Connor Moynalty was the closest—I yanked the ornament from his throat—the strap held for two tugs then gave and I slapped him in the face with the red and rubber length–.

“Oh!” he squeaked, lips all wet and womanish.

I swung, and Oscar Shorthall got it in the eye and tumbled backwards. “C’mon!” I screamed, jabbing with the ornament, “Who’s next? Who’s next?”

The circle round me widened— I was watched with wary eyes and Pascal Givens’ lips twisted in a sneer.

With trousers round my ankles I shrieked “You’re all idiots!” I held the severed ornament above my head. “Why can’t you see? They’re dicks! You’re all wearing dicks on your necks!”

I flung the rubber to the ground— it sprang back up— the boys recoiled— and then it lay there— a lopped limb.

Words; sharpened by tears, “You don’t look cool. You don’t look fashionable—you look like a— like a— like a bunch of pricks!”

The shrill words hung in the air. The silence was a shameful thing, like a small, sudden erection.

“I sold my bike for this,” gasped Fergal Rooney, and he fumbled the ornament from his neck, “I never liked this thing in the first place…” He started crying, horribly, and the other boys just looked at him.

“It hurts…” whispered Tommy Sweetnam, “It hurts…” and when he unclipped his ornament we saw the livid wound it left.

Still Pascal Givens was a preening thing, rolling his eyes and pouting and running a thumb along the ridgeline of his length. Nothing we had said affected him.

With the anger in me, I pushed my way through silent boys and stood under his gaze. I pointed my finger up at him.

“Don’t you be looking smug, Pascal,” I roared, “You’re the worst! Everyone knows your Uncle Trevor is a paedophile—”

Pascal staggered as if he’d been hit.

“Take that back!” he gasped, his ornament wilting. “He was cleared of all—!”

“It’s the truth!” I screamed, “That’s why he bought you that ornament, that’s why he got you to wear it!”

“Lies,” said Pascal, “Lies,” but around us more and more ornaments were being unstrapped, were being tossed to the ground.

“We’re not playing anymore, Pascal,” said Tommy Sweetnam. “It’s stupid.”

“But I was the best,” said Pascal in a pale, defeated voice. “I won… I won!”

Tommy put his arm round Feargal Rooney. Others helped the half-blind Oscar Shorthall to find the nurse. The crowd broke up.

I stood there, even when the bell sounded; stood there watching Pascal Givens, his hands upon his ornament, tears streaking his face. “But I won,” he repeated. “I won.” No longer the king; just a skinny, frail child with a dick sticking out of his neck.

The first to wear one, Pascal was the last to lose it. For weeks he bore their taunts and jeers until one cold November morning, he appeared, neck scarred but naked. We met him by St. Barnabus’ Hall.

“I lost it,” he said, “Me and a girl from Trim,”—and he stared, defying anyone to question her existence— “Well, it came off. We looked but we couldn’t find it.” He sniffed. “I’ll just buy a new one next week.”

But he didn’t.

He didn’t.

The fad had run its course.



other looked up as I came in the back door.

She was smiling.

And I knew before she said anything…

It was in a shoe box wrapped in pink tissue…

“I couldn’t let you go without,” Mother said as she hugged me.

“I love you, Mammy,” I whispered.


Wait until the boys see me.

I’ll be the greatest.

My turn to be the greatest.


* * * * *

Graham Tugwell is a writer and performer of Irish distraction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, his work has appeared in over thirty journals, including Anobium, The Quotable, Pyrta, THIS Literary Magazine and L’Allure Des Mots. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. He loves it with a very special kind of hate. His website is grahamtugwell.com. He has previously published here on http://www.snakeoilcure.com.


He sits me across the table, has me fold my hands in my lap. “You can look but you can’t touch,” and slides a box between us. It sits open, unclasped, and he pushes it pushes it towards me. “This,” he says, “is how you write a poem.”

(lately, we’ve been having a problem
and all these people are turning up dead.
tides are washing ashore and pulling back sand
and in between far-off blades of grass
we’ve found bodies.
with nowhere to lay them
we bring them to the beach.)

I lean over and peer into the box. There isn’t much inside, but, it seems infinite. Dirty coils of spring and watchpieces, old stamps and ice cream napkins. Everything anyone has ever lost, ever touched, ever experienced, tucked away in a jumble, lost in a black laquer box.

(there is something about the faces of people we’ve never met
but now,
know so much about.
their family, the children they left behind.
what happens when we all start to dream
of places we’ve once been and only find wreckage?
what happens when we are left to stack bodies atop bodies,
lives on top of lives?
what happens when we can no longer see the ocean?)

I look up from the box and into his eyes. He stares me down for a long while. “When you sit to write a poem, you reach into that box and time flows fowards, flows backwards. You pull out what you need and tell a story.” He pauses. “A poem is a story told in parts, in moments, in scraps. Reach in. Dig deep.”

(all the rest of us can only hold hands
and keep our chests steady against the sobs inside.
standing together on tippy-toes,
straining against what we see, what we know.
lately it has been
one after the other,
one after the other,
one after the other
and we wipe our tears away
with the bloody rags they leave behind.)

“Can I now?” I ask and he nods. I dip my hand into the box that seems so shallow but goes on forever and when I pull my closed fist back up. All that is in my palm is sand.

Impression № 030: Ragnhild Bollaeren and Family

Ragnhild Bollaeren and Family (Oil on Canvas)

Artist Annika Finne describes the feeling of looking at photographs of dead ancestors as strange and paralyzing. She uses portraiture as a way to capture and process that feeling.

The Literaryum

The Literaryum was originally designed as a special inspirational functional art space, in which to read and/or write. Of course it can also be used as a place in which to be creatively inspired in many other ways. The structure is formed into an eight foot cube made of steel and aluminum. The cube can be made larger, and/or it can be clustered together in multiples to form larger spaces. Five sides of the cube are fitted with aluminum panels, perforated with inspirational text chosen by the owner of the Literaryum. The letters of the text are cut out of the aluminum sheets that clad the surface of the cube, leaving a lacy semi transparent screen. The letters are cut from the aluminum  so they can be read from the inside of the structure; this means that they are reversed from the outside. These aluminum panels hinge open or closed over four eight foot sliding glass doors and the glass ceiling, so the text can be seen in every direction except through the floor.

A view of the Literaryum at night, with the interior light shining through the word-perforated aluminum panels.

Many accessories are available including, solar powered heating and cooling, interior privacy shades, interior custom night lighting fixtures, and a selection of interior custom designed furniture. The basic eight foot cube is prefabricated and can be delivered to nearly any site without special preparations and/or building permits.

The outer, word-perforated shell of the Literaryum opened for access through one of the four eight-foot, sliding glass doors.

Conceptually, the idea is to create a magical place made of inspired words, which surround the person inside, in hopes that this immersive environment will help the occupant in their own quest for creative inspiration.

An interior view of the Literaryum with three of the four sliding glass doors and one inspired occupant.

A detailed view of the word-perforated aluminum panels, with text from "Alice in Wonderland".

Exposure № 042: Poster

We love the layers and the crack in the veneer of this photo by Edi Weitz.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest: Week 29

This week saw posts by regulars and newbies, with one of our favourite new pieces being a collaboration between previous Snake-Oiler artist Vladimir Stankovic, and writer Danica Jovanovic. It’s a modern fairytale, and we encourage you all to check it out: “Underneath the reflection”, linked below.

We also had more Smithsonian goodies from JW Rogers, art from E. Knox, Snake-Oil regular Laura Manfre’s awesome portraits, and photography from Josh Thornton. Sandy Day, another previous contributor, also brought us some moving poetry in advance of her first book publication, “Chatterbox”.





More coming up next week from Oilers old and new, plus some exciting announcements!

Exposure № 041: Colourblind

From top to bottom, “Colourblind”, “Lola Montez IV”, and “Betwixt the Saddle and the Ground”

Photographer Josh Thornton tells us about his multi-layered, ghostly-real, multiple exposures:

The process involved in these works is designed to try and record an impression of my daily perception.  I shoot using a Smena camera (a vintage Russian camera which has a fully manual wind and shutter release mechanism) which allows me to shoot at very short intervals across the film by winding the crank a fraction of an inch each time, which layers to create the density evident in most of these shots.  A single 36 exposure film is exposed closer to 500 times, all from eye level, in an attempt to mimic the process of recording memories.  I started doing this over journeys I would regularly take, like the walk from my house to the train station before and after work, and then expanded this to pretty much every journey I make on public transport.  It’s a lengthy process to expose a film this heavily, typically taking a week of repeated journeys, firing shots off a few seconds apart, but I really enjoy the results.

Stay tuned for more from Josh Thornton over the coming weeks.

Impression № 029: Chicken, Key West, 2010

Artist E. Knox tells us: “Chickens are not usually associated with grace, except perhaps the type said before they are eaten.” This graceful fowl is acrylic on board, and rather balletic.

Underneath the reflection


he magic of the north is hidden in the dazzling night light, which mysteriously adorns the sky, shattering the darkness away. Sometime ago, for some unknown reason, it has stopped visiting the northern sky. Now many people are looking for that mystical, fast moving appearance, staring at the sky at night and hoping they will be the ones to see the sparkling aurora in all its brilliance and beauty.

Two little dreamers, a girl and a boy, decided to go in search of the northern light. Every evening they were wandering around, holding each other’s hands and seeking aurora. One very special night, while walking through the forest, a strange sight appeared in front of their eyes: a flying blue reindeer was pulling a silver sleigh with a baby inside. At the same time, both the reindeer and the baby turned their heads towards the little couple and said: “The reflection is underneath!” Right after these words, in a blink of an eye, they disappeared without a trace. The girl and the boy hugged each other and started to run, trembling with fear.  After a while they were not sure if that happened for real as they were not prepared to encounter something so marvelous and frightening.


hey did not want to give up their quest, so they decided to look for aurora the next night even though they were overwhelmed with inner fear and insecurity. “I don’t want to go to the forest again. Let’s go somewhere where it’s not dark’’, said the girl. The boy wanted to obey the little girl’s wish, but he heard a voice from within which was telling him that they should go to the forest. He started to persuade the girl to run through the forest as fast as they could because that was the shortcut to the frozen lake where people claimed to have seen aurora the last time before it vanished. The girl unwillingly agreed to go there; her eyes were wide open and her hands cold and sweaty from anxiety. They started to walk through the same wood where the strange encounter happened the night before. Everything looked quiet for a while; they were looking at the sky, expecting to see the light, but the night was clear and aurora was not there. They were at the end of the forest when the wind started to whirl around them, and the reindeer appeared once again, spreading its wings and pulling the sleigh. This time, long silver hair waved from the sleigh. Suddenly the head from the sleigh rose up, and the children saw a face of an old woman, who slowly started to open her mouth. At the same moment, the reindeer turned its head towards the children and together with the old woman mumbled: “The reflection is underneath!” And with the speed of light, they disappeared.  This time they started to ask themselves what the message meant and why this strange sight appeared twice.

The children got out of the woods and decided to continue walking towards the lake. For a moment they completely forgot about aurora and its disappearance, but shortly after, they remembered what they should have been searching for, and started to stare at the sky again. When they came closer to the lake, something quietly started to crackle, but they stayed fearless. They knew that if they wanted to discover something, they would have to be brave.

Finally, the frozen lake was in front of the children. It was a little bit foggy and quiet, but, after a while, they spotted something moving on the lake. It slowly started to move towards them faster and faster, and it was becoming bigger and bigger until they could finally see what it was: the blue reindeer with an empty sleigh. The children froze completely, but they did not try to escape; this time they were prepared for this odd encounter. The reindeer stopped its sleigh in front of them, waiting for the children to enter. But they decided not to. Then, the reindeer turned its empty sleigh and started to skate on the ice of the lake, and the children started to chase it. They were following the reindeer through two forests, crossed five roads and then approached the biggest lake they had ever seen. When they stepped on the frozen lake, the reindeer spread its fluorescent wings and blasted off high in the sky. Suddenly, from within the sleigh jumped out the baby and the long-haired old woman, and followed by the strong rustling of the wind, they landed on the ice right in front of the amazed shivering couple.

At the moment when they touched the ice, their swaying wings started to grow and when they grew really big, they wrapped and totally covered the bodies of the baby and the old woman. Right then and there, the sky started to change its color, and the magnificent dazzling aurora appeared, shining so strongly that it blinded the children for a moment. All of a sudden, under their feet they noticed an enchanting kingdom of all sorts of creatures, colored with the same hues and intensity as aurora. They were all dancing and swirling in their magical world under the ice of the frozen lake.

In the moment of the glaring light, the children closed their eyes and when they opened them, they found themselves in front of their home, surrounded only by the whispering silence of the night.

Illustrations by the great Vladimir Stankovic

Impression № 028: Untitled

Laura Manfre shares another fabulous drawing with us.