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Spokey Dokeys

30 March 2019 | Diary

Our final morning in London.

We’d been staying with my friend Wentworth and his wife Amelia. We don’t know Amelia all that well, so it was extremely kind of her, I felt, to let her husband’s layabout friends sleep in her house.

My alarm went off at 10:37 so we could begin our dash to Euston at the absolute last possible second, as is customary. On my way to the bathroom, I had pass Wentworth and Amelia’s bedroom door. It was open and I could see a humanoid shape on one side of the bed.

I had sleepily heard the front door being softly closed shut at about 7:30, which I’d taken to be Wentworth going off to work. I didn’t know Amelia’s schedule, but I’d imagined that she’d have gone to work by now too. If she was still in bed so late, I reasoned, perhaps she was ill.

It struck me as a bit strange that Wentworth should have left the bedroom door open on his sleeping wife, especially when there were guests in the house, but maybe she was hot with fever and had left it open. Who knows, I thought, It’s Amelia’s house and she can sleep with the bedroom door open if she wants to.

I tip-toed back into the guest room to warn Samara to be quiet.

“Psst,” I said.

“Mmm,” she said in the darkness.

“Amelia’s still in bed,” I whispered, “You’d best be quiet when you get up.”

“Okay,” she said, and I stealthed off like a silent puma.

I really didn’t want to wake Amelia. If she was ill or had not slept well or something, I didn’t want to further ruin her day, especially as she’s so nice to let us stay at all. More selfishly, I knew we had to get a move on to catch that train and, while we’d left just enough time to get ready and reach the station, we hadn’t banked on being sucked into conversation with someone just to be polite.

I tip-toed along the hallway in stocking feet, eyes darting left and right for potential noise-making disasters like something from Tremors.

A creaky floorboard, a motion-activated gizmo, or a precariously-stacked tower of musical instruments could be the end of it. Thankfully, there seemed to be nothing like this around. (I had no reason to think there would be a precariously-stacked tower of musical instruments, you understand, but it would be just my luck for such a thing to come clattering and jingling and honking to the ground if I failed to hold my face in the right position while passing it, a high-hat cymbal rolling speedily and inevitably into Amelia’s room. And exploding.)

As I passed Amelia’s bedroom this time, I switched to breathing through my mouth instead of my perpetually-stuffed-up, whistling nose. I risked another glimpse at the sleeping form, hoping that any squeaking noise my eyeball should make in rolling to the left would not be loud enough to disturb.

Bathroom. Made it. Phew. I decided against locking the door in case the clunk of the lock should reverberate around the house.

I brushed my teeth as quietly as possible with the tap turned on to an absolute minimum. Shhh!

When washing my face, I used water from only the cold tap in case the hot one should activate a noisy boiler somewhere. For all I knew, the boiler cupboard may even have been in Amelia’s bedroom. Or even right in her bed. As I say, we don’t really know her very well and it takes all sorts.

When balling up a Kleenex tissue and putting it in the bathroom bin, I carefully replaced the metal bin lid having noticed on previous occasions that it has a tendency to clang.

I even ran the (cold) tap while having a poo. The tap may have been a source of noise, but it’s arguably nicer to be woken by the sound of clean running water than the sound of a stranger having a big, messy shit. Arguably.

I exercised skilled anus control so that my poo would be lowered slowly into the toilet water in a single unbroken string like that of a goldfish. If it plopped, all was lost.

When I flushed, I compressed the handle softly so that the internal mechanism wouldn’t clank.

I made mental notes of all of this as I went along so that I could explain these little noise-cancelling techniques to Samara so that she too could maintain a silence on a par with the vacuum of space.

“BIG! LOUD! NOISE!” said Samara, bursting in.

“Shhhhhh!” I said, not quite knowing what to do with myself, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

“Why are you hopping on the spot?” she said.

“Because…” I said, “and…,” I said, “…what the fuck?”

“It’s just a cushion,” said the absolute apple of my eye and utter bastard, “Amelia left for work ages ago. Her bike’s gone.”

Once all of my blood had trickled back to its usual storage spaces and I understood that I wasn’t having a heart attack, it all made sense.

Of course! The bike. Amelia’s Brompton had been propped up in the hallway and ready to go the night before.

I’d even stopped to admire her glow-in-the-dark spokey dokeys.

And now, as Samara had correctly observed, it was gone.

Jesus.

We spent the rest of our getting-ready time singing our favourite operas at top volume before heading off to the station.

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The Painting

23 March 2019 | Diary

In London for a few days, we go for a saunter in the National Gallery.

Mummy,” says a restless little girl, “why are they doing that?”

The child’s complaint, for once, was not directed at us but merely near us. She was asking about a painting we were looking at.

“It was the War,” said the mother, pulling the child along.

Brace yourself, folks.

It was a picture of Perseus with Medusa’s head.

The War

Here are some other artistic depictions of the War we saw on our trip.

The Western Front (1942)
Yes! we have no bananas (1939)
Brothers (1940)

The diary’s back, folks! Tune in next weekend for your finer feuilleton.

Actual Brexit Nightmare

13 October 2018 | Diary

After today’s entry, I’m taking a break from the diary for a few months. Deadline looming, my new book needs to take priority for a while. Exciting! Unless the mood strikes and I simply must recount something in an act of feverish bloggery, I will see you all again in February. Thank you for following me this year. Join the mailing list if you’d like to, and please have a lovely, lovely winter. x

I think I just woke from a satirical dream.

Many of the events I document in these pages are given a matte glaze of fiction to protect the innocent and to elevate the material ever-so-slightly from the fully quotidian (you’re welcome) but the dream that ran through my snoozing head like video tape this morning happened precisely as I’m about to tell it. Except for the part with the OXO cube. Watch out for that OXO cube for it is a lie.

I was trying to buy a bottle of wine to take to a party, an errand that ended empty-handed and took me through three different off-licenses.

The first off-licence looked just like the SAQ we used to frequent in Montreal though it was supposedly here in Glasgow, but that’s dreams for you. There was no wine to be found on the shelves, only cans of uninspiring beer, and there were few customers. The person behind the counter was a big sweaty man with a once-white vest with stains around the armpits and a sea captain’s hat on his greasy head.

The man looked at me with disgust and ridicule when I asked somewhat incredulously where all the wine had gone. It was as if he didn’t know what wine even was, though I was certain this was the place I’d normally come to buy it. “Just a bottle of red,” I said, “something for about ten pounds.”

I then noticed a door into the back of the shop, through which I saw multiple crates of wine being packed onto pallets and loaded onto a forklift truck as if to be sent back to the supplier. “This is because of Brexit isn’t it?” I said.

Yes, the stupid, not-yet-in-the-dictionary word “Brexit” actually issued forth from my dream mouth, the dominion of the shit-stirring media finally complete with the violation of my usually-lovely dreams. Vest man looked shifty as if he were part of some great conspiracy to banish all continental goodness from our island even though his own business depended on it.

When I pointed this out he shrugged disinterestedly and finally, with a sigh that could have sunk ships, took a single greasy bottle down from a shelf and told me it would cost £73. “Seventy-three pounds?” I asked, but he didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at. “Doesn’t it bother you that it’s over seven times the budget I came in with?” He looked at me pathetically like I was being a square or a pedant and that he’d never seen penny-pinching of this magnitude.

The second off-license was ever-so-slightly chichi with a bar and fittings made from highly-lacquered, nice dark wood. There was, once again, no wine on the shelves, only gift sets of largely inedible seasonal products like biscotti and panettone (which I realise are products of Europe and slightly complicate the message of this satire but, never mind). The servers at this off-license were two rather silly women who wouldn’t stop laughing when, proffering my useless tenner, I asked where the wine had all gone.

“Oh no!” they mockingly lamented, “where is the wine!?” as if I’d asked expressed outrage at not being able to buy lark tongues or snaffles mousse. I struggled to compute the disparity between the luscious shop fittings designed to attract middle-class custom and the way the young servers mocked me for being a hoity-toity, wine-demanding posho. They had no personal stake in their employer’s business, I suppose, and I left feeling embarrassed and pompous.

The third off-license had an all-chrome interior; I think my dreaming brain had attempted to create an American-style milk bar, but it looked more like an Airstream trailer schematically exploded and turned inside out. Needless to say, there was no wine to be found here either and when I asked what was going on, the helpful young man at the counter furrowed his brow as if trying to remember for £250,000 where chicory comes from, declared that I should “fear not” and that he’d “mix something up” for me. I watched, intrigued, as he mixed gin with rosewater, crunched an OXO cube into it, and presented it to me as “the next best thing to a French red wine.” It was £73 again.

This all, I swear, happened to me in a dream, right down to the number of pounds being asked for. But the three-act structure of the Brexiteer, the lackies, and the philistine combine to create a surprisingly cogent story for a dream don’t they? So weird.

Why was that guy wearing a sea captain’s hat and a dirty vest?

If there happens to be a psychoanalyst reading this or indeed anyone else who thinks they know about dreams, please let me know if this one indicates anything other than my being a perpetually-disappointed alcoholic remoaner with multiple class-based neuroses. Ta.

The Ticket Barrier

06 October 2018 | Diary

At one of the train stations I regularly use, there are four automated ticket barriers.

I tend to use the barrier on the left (let’s go wild and call it Automated Ticket Barrier 1) simply because it’s the first one you come to when you walk onto the concourse.

I suspect that almost everyone uses this particular ticket barrier, save perhaps during rush hour when lots of people need to get through and are forced to walk ever-so-slightly farther along to Barriers 2, 3 or 4, or are jostled in their direction by the crush.

But what might be the implications of Automated Ticket Barrier 1’s popularity in automated ticket barrier society?

Is Automated Ticket Barrier 1 their equivalent of a billionaire oligarch who slurps up more tickets than the other barriers purely due to the accident of being installed in a location slightly closer to the station door? The lucky, lucky bastard.

Or is ticket collecting actually seen as hard and undignified work in automated ticket barrier society and, in fact, Ticket Barrier 1 is some sort of ghastly pleb who, through same accident of installation, is cursed to stand there like a dumbass, taking tickets all day long while the others are living their best life and saying “gee, aren’t we a lucky lot. Shame about Automated Ticket Barrier 1, but what can you do?”

Maybe the others admire the hard work and the spiritual sacrifice of Automated Ticket Barrier 1 and they look to it as a Mother Theresa-like example of selflessness. Maybe they all pay their somber respects in some sort of Remembrance Day- or State Funeral-like ritual whenever the biped in the high-vis jacket comes along to relieve Automated Ticket Barrier 1 of its heavy accumulation of magnified cardboard slips at the end of a day’s work.

I should mention that the fourth barrier along is intended for wheelchair users and, as such, isn’t anywhere near as utilized as Automated Ticket Barrier 1 (or even 2 or 3), so I once decided to walk all the way along to give this underused barrier some action. If tickets are desirable currency, then I would provide Automated Ticket Barrier 4 with some much-needed business and attention. On the other hand, if tickets are some sort of terrible carcinogen in their world, then at least I’d be spreading the pain and giving the other barriers a well-earned break.

On the day I decided to use Automated Ticket Barrier 4, my ticket was rejected. The fourth barrier just didn’t want to take it. My ticket kept getting sucked in, seemingly chewed over for a while, and spat back out again even though it was as valid as ever. It’s almost as if the fourth machine was saying “Who do you think I am? Automated Ticket Barrier 1? Get ye downwind to the narrower gates.”

Perhaps Automated Ticket Barrier 1 is seen by its peers as a scandalous tart and the others look on with a mixture of moral indignation, disgust and a wistful fear of missing out. “Look at her,” they would say to each other with a nudge, and “yesterday, the biped had to come three times to empty her bin.”

But it all depends on ticket barrier society’s attitudes to sex doesn’t it? Maybe the others look upon Automated Ticket Barrier 1’s shagging about with open envy and in fact aspire to one day being pulled together enough — maybe even facing the necessary mechanical upgrades — to be so decadent as to slurp up so many tickets.

Whatever tickets mean to them, maybe Barriers 2, 3 and 4 are superbly envious and don’t understand how Barrier 1 can be so successful in its automated ticket gobbling. Perhaps in their world, Barrier 1 appears on the covers of magazines and has a lucrative sideline in producing books and videos about How You Too Can Make A Rip-Roaring Success of Noshing The Tickets of Perfectly Unremarkable Passengers Some Of Whom Have Glasses.

Anyway, long story short, I finally decided to ask. According to the station manager, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference which barrier one goes through and, actually, I should sling my fucking hook.

The Red Kidney Beans

29 September 2018 | Diary

I spent most of today walking around with a can of red kidney beans. They’re sitting on the desk as I write this.

This came to pass because I’d known since last night that I’d be making a vegan chili for dinner this evening but that I was lacking one all-important ingredient.

Yes. The red kidney beans.

You might think it is suspiciously well-organised for a young man to know what he’s going to be eating for dinner almost 24 hours in advance, but I say no! it’s practically brinkmanship.

You see, when I order my groceries online I usually have a ten-day cycle in mind and while I don’t eat my ten dinners in any particular order, the vegan chili is usually the last thing I decide to cook. I don’t know why but that’s the way it tends to go. And tonight, being Day 10, is chili night.

So you see, I am no Nostradamus, nor are my culinary habits regimented to the point of total predictability. That is, if you don’t count the unbreakable appointment with destiny that is eating a vegan chili every tenth evening.

Three-times-a-month Vegan Chili Boy, they’ll call me. This is mildly preferable to Mr. Tunafish.

Anyway, I knew that the only shops I’d be passing on my journey today would be around 11am when I’d be passing through trendy Finnieston. The rest of my day would be spent at home and on trains and on Concrete Island (the name I give to an office complex in a wasteland near the motorway where Nothing Shall Growe).

So I bought the can of Red Kidney Beans at 11am in full knowledge that I’d be walking around with them for the next seven or eight hours.

People kept giving me strange looks. “Hark,” their glance said, “at that man with his red kidney beans,” and “what’s a lad like that doing with a can of red kidney beans? This ain’t no Mexican chili cook-off. Unless it is of course. Is this a Mexican chili cook-off? I hope it is. But I bet it isn’t. My hopes are routinely dashed.”

At first I didn’t understand their problem. What is wrong with carrying a can of red kidney beans around. Is it so strange and improbable?

But after a while, it began to occur to me that in the sorts of places I was spending time today — a library, Concrete Island, some commuter trains — there could never be call for cans of red kidney beans. The can wasn’t stashed away in a grocery bag or anything, I was just carrying it around as if I had something in mind for them –something relatively imminent and, given the lack of cooking equipment in the vicinity, something out of the ordinary. Did they think I was going to crack it open and start eating the beans with my hands?

I was also wearing a three-piece suit as usual, which admittedly isn’t the typical outfit of someone who is about to do anything reasonable with a can of red kidney beans. They probably wondered if the can of red kidney beans were my pet or something. Maybe they thought that the can of beans was my friend.

I began to feel a bit silly.

“I see you’ve noticed my beans,” I began say to people when they gave me a particularly funny look, and then I would find myself going into a defensive ramble about the workings of my ten-day grocery cycle and how I wouldn’t be going near any shops today aside from the ones I’d be passing around 11am and that I had little choice but to carry them around all day.

But then people really started giving me even stranger looks, as if I were some sort of kidney bean pervert.

Eventually, I decided to embrace the eccentricity that apparently comes with innocently carrying around a can of red kidney beans all day long by getting in before people had a chance to find it strange. “I don’t think you’ve noticed my red kidney beans,” I said to a passerby, “What do you think?”

“Thank for seeing me today,” I said to someone I’d been meeting, “I’d like to introduce my can of red kidney beans.”

I am home now and thinking about preparing that chili. It feels a shame to eat them now really. Maybe I’ll take my beans out to a restaurant.

Where Books Go

15 September 2018 | Diary

Friend Matt emails to say that he found (and seemingly bought) a copy of my book, A Loose Egg, in a Welsh charity shop.

I have decided to take this as an indicator that I have finally made it as a writer.

A pessimist such as yourself, madam, might point out that my book must have been purchased by someone who didn’t enjoy it enough to keep it on their bookcase.

Or even that they’d been bought the book as a gift and didn’t read it even once (it does look relatively unthumbed in the photograph doesn’t it?) before handing it over to Chaz.

As much as I might like a reader to treasure my books and to give them pride of place on their own personal “faves” shelf along with their Great Works of the Philosophers and their Viz annuals and whatnot, I’m more inclined to say “NO, STUPIDHEAD,” they clearly thought it was good enough to donate to charity rather than to simply lower quietly into the bin. That is a good thing.

I’ve also been a champion of minimalism for a long time and I understand that ridding yourself of a book (or a DVD or a baby or whatever) is to liberate it. Information wants to be free. Look, that’s my bubble of delusion and I’d like to stay in it if that’s okay by you?

But it really does feel satisfying to know that my work has gone right through the system now. It has gone from being written with my keyboard-tapping fingers at home, through the various distribution systems afforded to books, through the eyes and brain of the person who originally bought it and, finally, out of the other side.

I find that genuinely pleasing. It feels like I’ve shouted loudly enough out of my window to startle the dozing crows from a tree on the other side of the planet.

I feel proud in a way that a plastics manufacturer must feel when their work shows up in the stomach of an autopsied seabird.

How can something from your own little factory floor have traveled so far and established so many relationships with other people and systems and things? It’s miraculous. It blows my mind to remember that there’s something in the region of 20,000 books with my silly name on the cover moving around the surface of the Earth as we speak — like so many slow-moving cruise ships or migratory beetles — some of them now in people’s hands, others in boxes and on shelves, others next to beds and toilets.

People sometimes send me pictures of themselves reading Escape Everything! on a beach or in some tropical location, which I always enjoy and is very much in the spirit of the book.

I wonder, though, where the most strangely located Wringham books might be? Could there be one in space yet? Buried with someone in a grave, either by request or in error? I understand from Worldcat that there’s a copy held by a school library in an American town called “Normal,” which is pretty cool.

In the case of Loose Eggs that end up in charity shops or in the bin, I suspect the person who bought it had enjoyed New Escapologist and Escape Everything! and had anticipated more of the same. It’s like when Queen Victoria, impressed by Alice, had insisted that Lewis Carroll send her a dedicated copy of his next book. When it turned out to be a mathematical thesis she was not amused. I am the Lewis Carroll to Welsh Escapologists. At last!

Exact Change

01 September 2018 | Diary

For a long time now, the bus has been my absolute last choice of transport. Before resorting to a bus, I’ll find a complex way of getting there by multiple rail connections or else I’ll walk for miles and miles in impractical shoes. Anything but the bus.

This week though, I had a tricky journey to make for which the bus was the only reasonable option. It was that or learn to swim or hang onto a car as it enters the Clyde Tunnel and hope for the best.

And you know what? It was fun. It was an adventure. I sat on the top deck, rattling and clanking along like an eerily tall Bash Street Kid, looking down at all the bald spots.

It was nostalgic. For instance, I’d completely forgotten about the experience of tree branches coming at your face to make you flinch and then dragging their claws, screeching, along all the side windows. It was ace.

What was not to like? Why had I avoided the bus for so long?

I suppose I’ve had the same negative experiences of buses as everyone else: mad people refusing to talk to you (hah!), glimpses of backseat boys stroking their nun-chucks, schoolchildren mocking your cravat. But you get all of that on trains and it doesn’t put you off.

Moreover, I’ve had some extremely positive experiences on buses. Growing up in Dudley, there were few places a young rascal could be intimate with his girlfriends so we used to just ride around together on top decks for hours on end. In hindsight this is probably how I lost my fingerprints.

No, what makes buses so awful and why I stopped using them a decade ago is the need for exact change coupled with not knowing how much it’s supposed to cost.

I mean, that’s quite a big ask isn’t it? Unless you’re a regular bus traveller and subscribe to all the latest bus literature, how are you supposed to know? And where are we supposed to get all of this change? From the excellent coin-dispensing ATMs we’ve always had? Or are we supposed to line up in a bank to ask a cashier for £1.80? And if so, how are we suppose to get there? By bus I suppose?

Are we supposed to say “don’t worry, have a fiver!” and squash the note down into the change-receiving receptacle with a ruler?

Let’s say you’ve consulted the oracle (by which I mean the designed-by-a-maniac bus company website) and used a map and some long division to work out the exact fare, the driver will probably have a different opinion. And the driver, of course, is the one you have to impress or you won’t be going anywhere. When he says “two pound twenty” and you were expecting to pay £1.80, you can’t very well say “I beg to differ, darling.”

No. What we’re supposed to do is bring along a pouch of mixed doubloons and to count out exactly whatever sum the driver feels like requesting that day.

You stand at the front of the bus, hurriedly counting out a palmful of little coins and you’re praying that you don’t drop them all over the floor because the driver has already started to roll. This while the already-seated passengers — the successful applicants — scowl at you in disdain. There might well be a queue behind you too. How could anyone cope with that, especially at 8 in the morning when your mouth tastes of hurried shreddies and you just want to be dead?

But today I learned that buses have contactless payments now. Whoa. How long has this been a thing?

This is a game changer. One might say it’s the “exact change” we’ve been looking for. Ho-ho. It could be the smartest application of modern technology since Grindr. It takes away an awful lot of pressure and the world becomes your hot, salty oyster.

The ability to touch your debit card to a pad and be on your way? Holy actual Christ. How did it us take so long to get here? (I realise “How did it us take so long to get here?” is #1 on any bus company’s FAQ, but I mean it differently.)

Did you know there was no such thing as a suitcase on wheels until 1987, before which time we all just got along perfectly well with curvature of the spine?

Anyway. The bus. Finally usable for the first time since conductors went extinct.

Post-it Note King Tut Beard (Pass it On)

18 August 2018 | Diary

At a co-working space this week, I found myself sitting on the end of a row of desks in a pod of eight.

I don’t usually like a co-working space but for various, complex reasons I was in one now, blearily squinting in the fluorescent light and wondering what happens next. Someone get me an Alka-Selzer.

The desk I was using normally belonged to someone else and the space before me was littered with her bits and bobs. Key among them was a small, plastic post-it note dispenser.

Don’t go thinking it dispensed full-size post-it notes please. I want you to picture the right thing and if you think of something large enough to dispense full-size post-its, then you’re thinking of the wrong thing all together.

No. It dispensed miniature post-it notes like the sort you use to mark a line in a book and you want to scare everyone else into thinking you’ve got your shit together.

And don’t go thinking they were made of paper like your typical post-it note either. These ones were made of plastic.

It’s not important what sort of plastic it was, madam, but if I had to guess as you seem to be implying I’d guess it was acetate. Okay? Or maybe a biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate known for high tensile strength, transparency, and chemico-dimensional stability. I don’t know. I’m not a plastics expert and neither are you, so please calm down.

Anyway, I had an urge to pull one of these little post-it jobs out of its dispenser and to stick it on my chin like a little King Tut beard.

At first it wouldn’t stick because of my stubble so I had to get up and go to the bathroom and shave. I used the travel shaver I carry with me for all such non-adhesive chin crises.

By the time I’d come back to the desk, the urge to stick a post-it note to my chin had gone. It was one of those small tragedies of life.

Even so, I wanted to honor the original urge, so I did it anyway. This is just a little thing I like to call “commitment to a bit.”

I stuck the post-it note, as promised, to my chin like a King Tut beard but, since the mood had passed, the gesture didn’t feel adequately mischievous and I certainly didn’t feel anything like King Tut. I just felt like a bored man with some plastic on his face. Weird, I know.

I made a few King Tut-style gestures to try and get into character. It didn’t help.

My next plan was to get the attention of the person sitting next to me, point at the beard and make her laugh. But that felt a bit hack. I was my own audience, remember, and I knew this wouldn’t impress me.

Instead, I tapped her on the shoulder and held out the dispenser as if offering a stick of gum. I didn’t say anything or draw attention to the beard. I just offered it with slightly raised eyebrows, as if in reference to a common understanding that nobody’s really comfortable without a little King Tut beard so, here, have one of mine.

My absolute Dream Hope was for the podmate to take one gratefully and to stick it on. When she moved to hand the dispenser back to me, I’d make a generous “pass it on” gesture so that she could offer a beard to the next person along. Let’s see, I thought, if we can get all eight people to Go Tut.

“Hey look!” someone in another pod would say after cottoning on, ideally a few hours of silent beard-wearing later, “the people in that pod are doing a thing!”

And we’d all laugh and pat ourselves on the backs for being the fun ones.

Tragically, my dream was never realised. The first girl didn’t take a post-it note from me. She just gave me a pitying frown as I was the lunatic and “got on with her work.”

From now on, I will stay at home where I can stick whatever I like to my face and make whatever “gestures of the boy pharaoh” I feel like making.

Christ, I’ve got to get on with this book, haven’t I?

Collapsible Podium

28 July 2018 | Diary

This morning I found myself looking through the Fringe Programme for shows to watch this year without being sick.

Many of this year’s acts look too young to be out on their own let alone performing professionally. They don’t look ready.

It gave me a chill to consider how I’d have handled the stress of a full Edinburgh run at the age of 18. After four days of not turning up to my venue, they’d have found me rocking back and forth in the Edinburgh Zoo penguin enclosure, murmuring “the show’s free, boys, but I’ll pass the hat around”.

Even some of the more seasoned performers look like they don’t have much of a show in mind. This is because the production of the Fringe Programme requires you to submit a show synopsis five months ahead of your first date, when you’re still suffering the hangover from your last one.

My mind, anxious on their behalf, began to drift in the direction of what I’d do if I had to cobble together an hour-long show to be performed next week. Would would I do?

This happens to me a lot, by the way. It’s an empathy surplus or something. I always wonder how I’d cope with something even if the circumstances are unlikely to ever happen to me. I remember sitting in a cinema, watching Tom Cruise scale a cliff face and thinking “I’m not sure I could handle that.”

Anyway, the obvious way I’d pull a show out of nowhere would be to read from one of my books. Naturally, the book I’d choose would be A Loose Egg, since the stories in it are funny and short.

In fact, a stage version of A Loose Egg is something I’ve wanted to do for a while and I have various thoughts on how to present it, none of which I’m totally convinced by.

What puts me off doing it is, in my heart of hearts, I’m not sure how to stage a book. I don’t like it when authors just go up to a lectern and read from the book. It’s not enough. This is okay at a book launch or for a one-off book festival show, but for a proper one-person show that people have paid to see, you need a little more: some sort of dramatization or slideshow or puppetry or something clever with music.

What’s more, my tendency to end a story abruptly with little to no conclusion risks enraging a live audience. On the page (I think) the abrupt ending is funny. It’s like a projector suddenly running out of film. I like that. But, in the room, the silence that would happen as people wait for closure could be gruesome.

“Maybe I’m overthinking things,” I thought. (Which is weird really. Do other people think about their thoughts or is that just me as well?)

So maybe I am overthinking things. There’s many a popular author who tours a show with nothing but the book in hand. In many cases, the audience are already familiar with that very book, so they’re essentially just showing up to re-read it in a different accent.

The author just rocks up to the podium and…

Of course! The podium! That’s what they have and I don’t! I don’t have a podium!

Well, that can be corrected with a single trip to Staples can’t it?

Yes! It turns out you can get a perfectly good collapsible podium — ideal for when I take the show, which is definitely happening, on its forty-date national tour — for less than £30.

I’d only have to sell one ticket to break even. Easy.

If anyone objects to a lack of preparation in my show or asks for their money back, I can point to the podium and say “really? You’re asking for refunds in the presence of a podium? What more do you want? Talent?! In this century? Dream on.”

I could read my stories from the podium obviously, but the podium itself could provide at least ten minutes of material. I can talk about why I chose this particular podium, remind them of how they might have played the recorder in primary school at a podium like this one, the semiotics of the various podia I rejected for the show, the reason why I insist on calling it a “podium” and not a “lectern.”

etc.

The show would write itself. Which is lucky really.

I envision now a show called “Robert Wringham: Podium” or “Robert Wringham and his Amazing Collapsible Podium” or, simply, “Robert Wringham: equipped.”

(“Robert Wringham: upstaged”?)

If you want me to perform next week, just drop me an email. I’m ready!

It’s Picasso!

21 July 2018 | Diary

Everyone loves to spot a celebrity in the wild. Until a couple of weeks ago, my top three celebrity sightings were probably:

3. Scroobius Pip buying a twix,
2. JK Rowling cutting a queue,
1. Peter Davidson doing a wee in the next urinal along.

I’ve also seen Walter Koenig using a payphone, but that was at a science fiction convention so it doesn’t qualify. A celebrity sighting has to happen in your world, not theirs. You can’t very well, for example, get a job as an extra on Coronation Street, perch yourself on a bar stool in the Rovers and sit there stroking your chin saying, “blimey, that’s Rita from Coronation Street.”

Also inadmissible are celebrity sightings that took place through a celebrity’s bedroom window or at the bottom of a pit you dug.

Anyway, we enjoyed an excellent sighting recently — one that shits all over Peter Davidson — at the Picasso Museum in Malaga.

I gave Samara a little nudge and said, “Look who it is!”

Yes, it was the lad himself.

Even if it doesn’t fully qualify as “in the wild,” the ultimate celebrity sighting is the sighting of a celebrity thought to be 40 years dead.

Somehow I found the strength not to leap all over Picasso and shout “Busted!”

The skeptical among you are probably thinking that the person we saw was merely someone who looked like Picasso and that, after all, there are many bald, Spanish men in the world with a certain portly charisma.

But, ladies, he happened to be dressed exactly like Picasso too. He had the horizonal stripes, the adorable little Daisy Dukes, and the jaunty hat. I could have eaten him up.

Just another old fellow on his holidays? Possibly. Samara admitted the similarity but, like you, wasn’t completely satisfied that the man in our sights was The Master, so she tried to explain it away as “Picasso cosplay.”

As fond as I am of the idea of a sixty-year-old man getting out of bed, excited to slip into his Picasso outfit for his trip to the museum, (“Today’s the day, Margaret!”) I’m still not dissuaded. It strikes me as a bit of a “weather balloon” explanation. I know who I saw that day, dammit, and he was alive and well and looking at his own paintings.

As a final piece of evidence, I offer that the man we saw was also there with his wife, a very graceful and stately-looking woman, who with hindsight was obviously Jacqueline Roque. Top that.

I followed him around the museum a little bit, peeking at him over the top of my floor plan, looking for additional clues. I suppose I was hoping to catch him appraising one of the works with pride or (the holy grail) a hint of regret that he painted those women in such a silly way.

But above all, I did not want to let him know that I’d seen him. He was clearly here, of all places, in the hopes of being recognised and I didn’t want to contribute any further to his obviously staggering vanity.

If there can be any lingering doubt as to my claim that we saw Pablo Picasso on our holidays, I can also bring in some evidence from Clive Bell who writes in his book, Old Friends, that when in Paris Mr. and Mrs. Picasso seldom socialised with the Bohemians and instead “lived apart” in bourgeois surroundings — and where, I ask you, could be more bourgeois than the tourist trap Museo Picasso Málaga?

Check mate.

Anyway, we’re off to the Sherlock Holmes museum next month. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

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