by John Morrison


70: Piercing Cries

It's midsummer so there are plenty of visitors mooching around Milltown, looking for something to spend their money on. And our local shopkeepers are doing their very best to ensure that some of it comes their way. Thanks, largely, to Mrs Smallholder's extravagant spending habits, the Twig Shop has opened a new branch. The second-hand bookshop has a real rarity in the window display: one of the very few unsigned copies of Margaret Thatcher's autobiography. Everyone's trying to make an honest dollar, though you wonder just how many passing motorists will squeal to a halt on seeing a newly-erected sign: Last Surgical Supply Shop Before the Motorway.

Down at the Tattoo Parlour there's a 'three for the price of two' offer on nipple piercing this week, though it's conspicuously failed to bring the expected rush of customers. The tourists seem sensibly resistant to the idea of having more holes in their bodies than they had on the day they were born. And the more adventurous locals already sport intriguing collections of piercings - wherever a spare tuck of flesh can be pinched between thumb and fore-finger - and are fast running out of unperforated skin.

Dope Dealer, for example, has rings in his lips, nose, eyebrows and ears; perhaps elsewhere too, who knows? With his inelegantly wasted frame and pierced extremities, he looks like a human piccolo. A light breeze makes him warble disconcertingly, while a strong wind can drive him to distraction and force him indoors. If he were ever to consider getting a proper job (an admittedly unlikely scenario) it would take a lot of work to restore his raddled features to any semblance of normality. At the very least he would need to be sanded down, retouched with Polyfilla and given a coat of primer.

Town Drunk, unwisely venturing into the Tattoo Parlour midway through a three-day bender, needed little persuading to have his foreskin pierced. It means that nobody ever occupies an adjacent urinal in the Grievous Bodily Arms, but, on the brighter side, he's been offered a Saturday job as a lawn sprinkler.

It's not hard to see why the young folk of Milltown are happy to offer their belly buttons for mutilation. There's the undeniable thrill of infuriating strait-laced parents. And a belly button seeping pus for a fortnight can be quite a conversation piece. However, for those past the first flush of youth, or whose parents have become inured to their unusual lifestyle choices, the attractions of body art are less apparent. Having decorated themselves with tattoos, rings, studs and some appealing scar tissue, what else is there to add? Go-faster stripes? Fins? An aerodynamic spoiler?

Town Drunk sways a little at he gazes at the patchwork of notices displayed in the newsagent's window. He's looking for something like 'Attractive lottery winner seeks intoxicated companion', but all he sees are the usual offers to locate his chakras and reawaken his sensuous self through music and movement.

Milltown boasts a bewildering variety of new-age therapists, plying their arcane trades out of rented rooms. A century ago the town rang with industrial noises of a rather more urgent kind: the clattering of looms and shuttles making conversation, on any meaningful level, almost impossible. Today it's all very different. On a quiet stroll around town you can overhear people engaged in less strident pursuits: the whispering of positive affirmations, the quiet repetition of Shamanic mantras ("Om, Shazam, Fandabidozie...") and the soporific tinkling of wind-chimes. Amongst the psycho-babble you'll hear nuggets of sensible advice: "Yes, yes, but perhaps you should consider just drinking your own urine". Entertaining stuff, of course, though it makes conversation, on any meaningful level, almost impossible.

Despite the obvious over-manning - with practitioners outnumbering customers to an almost surreal degree - they all seem to co-exist quite happily. There's no sectarianism here. You won't see the tarot card readers having pitched battles with the past-life regressionists. You don't get the Reichian therapists trying to march down a road occupied by the Zen Buddhists. It's 'live and let live' here in Milltown - except, of course, for the born-again Christians, who see the mere existence of other beliefs as a personal affront. They regard conversion - albeit on a meaningless level - as an ever-present possibility, which is why a smiling zealot can empty any of Milltown's pubs in seconds.

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