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Coming Attractions

04 March 2021 | Diary

I’m working on two new books: a second miscellany and a first novel. Their titles are Stern Plastic Owl and Rub-a-Dub-Dub.

Update: Stern Plastic Owl has landed. Rub-a-Dub-Dub is still in the works.


10 November 2020 | Diary

I dashed down the street as fast as my Jack Skellington legs could carry me. Why had I left it so late? It was almost 11am. Tricky things to get out of, beds.

I was going to the library to borrow a book about mushrooms.

Honestly, Rob, you’re turning into a real Spengler, said a little voice in my head, Nobody else cares about the book about mushrooms. There’s no hurry.

But it’s not just any old book about mushrooms. This one looks really good and it’s brand new. I wanted to beat the rush.

It would be just my luck to reach the library at 11:05, only to be confronted by an even more Spenglerish bloke in the act of borrowing it. He’d be doing it in a smug way, probably. And wearing a hat with “I love mushrooms” sewn across it.

“Oh Sid,” the librarian would be saying with fluttering eyelashes, “You and your fungus.”

“Nice hat,” I’d say, grouchily.

“It’s a cap, actually,” he’d say. “Think about it.”*

(*Mushrooms have caps).

Well, how dare he? I surged at the thought of such a character pipping me to the good-looking mushroom book. And remember that none of this had even happened. There was no such person so far as I knew and I wasn’t even at the library yet. Maybe spending so much of the pandemic indoors was starting to affect me.

I stepped it out, faster, faster, determined to be the first person through the library door, perhaps sliding along the freshly-mopped floor of the tiled entryway for extra speed, beneath the granite gaze of the statue of the patron saint of shushing.

I zoomed around the other pavement hogs, passing each one like a pedestrian Ayrton Senna, wondering if they would have been the one to beat me to the book and, if so, should I flip them the bird? No. That would risk giving the game away.

I scanned each face in an act of wholly uncertified drive-by physiognomy for signs of mycophilia. Could she be one? How about her? That one? No.

Nobody’s interested, Rob, said the little voice again, it’s a book about mushrooms for goodness sake. It’s the moss incident all over again. You didn’t have to stay up so late that night. Nobody else was going to bid on it.

“Shut up!” I said out loud, much to the consternation of an old man walking a greyhound. I zipped around them. Yes, I overtook even a greyhound, the fastest hound in all of science, so intense was my need for speed.

I wondered what I would do if a friend saw me and came over for a chat. There was no time for such fripperies. I had to beat the “I love mushrooms” man, even if he was imaginary. But what would I say to them? Could I say “can’t stop! COVID!” and point to my mask?

But if we’re going that far, why not go all the way? “Can’t stop! AIDS!” People are a bit sensitive these days though, so it’s probably time I retired that particular Get Out of Jail Free card. Goodbye, old friend.

Zoom, zoom, zoom. Stride, stride, stride. Step, step, step. I must have that book. Must, must, must. (That’s what mushrooms like, by the way. The must.).

Soon, the library hove into view. Yes. Hove! Like Brighton but less so.

I dashed up to the gate. Gate? I’d never noticed a gate here before. Or a padlock for that matter. Locked. Closed? Closed.

The library was closed. PLEASE NOTE OUR NEW OPENING HOURS. TUE: 2pm-7pm.

The whole world was laughing at me and not in a good way. Well, maybe not the whole world. But two punters on a stopped bus had seen the less-than-casual way I’d goggled at that padlock. “Ho,” I could tell they were saying, “He probably wants that mushroom book.”

I slouched home, out of breath and vowing to get more exercise so that I wouldn’t feel so knackered next time a new mushroom/moss/spores/mildew book came into the library.

And then it happened. As I gnashed my teeth, there formed the most Spenglerish thought of all:

“Bloody library. Don’t think my blog won’t hear about this.”

Get It Here

22 August 2020 | Diary

Tomato Plant

16 July 2020 | Diary

We were visiting Alan at his allotment a couple of weeks ago and he asked if we’d like to take a tomato plant from his greenhouse.

I don’t remember saying yes but I was carrying a tomato plant in my hands as we walked home, so I suppose I must have.

A few days later, Samara suggested that we replant it into a bigger pot.

“Do we have to?” I protested. I wasn’t sure the effort was necessary. It was fine as it was. I called Alan to find out.

“Oh yes,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “it will need repotting.”

“How will I do that?” I asked, and I could hear him thinking me an idiot down the line.

We live in a city, miles away from anything like a garden centre, not that I’d be seen dead in one anyway. Plant pots and soil just aren’t a part of my life.

The last time I needed a plant pot for something, I had to buy it on Amazon. It had cost £3 and took three days to arrive and two entirely different “I’m sorry you were out” cards. I didn’t want to go through all that again.

“Come back to the allotment,” he said, “and I’ll find you a pot.”

“Okay,” I said, “Tuesday?”

“Tuesday,” he said.

On Tuesday, Alan called to tell me to meet him at his lock-up instead of his allotment. “Sure,” I said. I didn’t mind because the lock-up is closer to my flat than the allotment. Unfortunately, some heavy rain the night before meant that the lane in which the lock-up lives was a brown river of mud.

“Why did you wear those shoes?” asked Alan, looking at my mud-engulfed brogues.

“Well, it was these or my slippers.”

“Don’t you have any Wellies?”

“No,” I said. I thought of that bit in Seinfeld when Kramer asks Jerry if he’s got any black paint. Jerry says, “Yeah, in my toolshed, next to the riding mower.”

As we stood in the rain, up to our ankles in mud, we chatted about this and that and finally, he pulled two plant pots from his car’s back seat.

“Two?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “One for now and another for in a couple of weeks.”

I hadn’t thought this was going to be such a project. I hadn’t consented, so far as I could remember, to any of it. And now there was mud in my shoes and rainwater in my socks and I was being handed two plant pots, some instructions for the future, and apparently a need get some serious outdoor boots if I wanted to get ahead in life.

“Okay,” I said in a sort of coma.

A rat the size of a guinea pig but as fast as a cat suddenly struck out into the lane. I decided to go home.

“Don’t forget your pots,” said Alan.

I did not forget my pots.

We repotted the tomato plant. When Alan came over tonight, he saw how much the tomato plant had grown and how healthy-looking, and he seemed to be impressed. Maybe even surprised. He nodded approvingly.

As he was leaving, I asked if he’d take the third pot back with him. “It’s really too big,” I said, “I don’t want such a big bucket of soil in my living room.”

“Just keep it for now,” he said.

He was going home on his bike and the pot would be too big to carry.

“And it’s up to you,” he said, “but you’ll need a bigger pot if you want to get any tomatoes.”

And then he was gone.

If I want to get any tomatoes? I had never considered that any of this had been about the tomatoes. I suppose I thought it was about the extra greenery or something.

Do I want to harvest my own tomatoes? Not especially. So long as civilisation stands, I am content to buy my tomatoes in the shops, rarely, on a whim, for 40p. And after civilisation, I probably won’t be worried about tomatoes. Wellington boots maybe.

How long do I have to keep this plant alive for? I suppose I’d been carrying a general assumption around that tomato plants die in the autumn. But what do I know? Do I need to update my will?

Tomatoes. Why would anyone want to grow tomatoes?


15 July 2020 | Diary

A friend asked about our ongoing visa woes and I mentioned my concern about how Covid-19 might impact on it all.

There’s already a processing backlog and there could be any number of other problems, especially if a second peak shuts everything down again. We could be looking at an extension.

“I just want it all to be over and done with,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the friend, “there will be lots of people in the same situation.”

And the conversation moved on.

I thought about this as I brushed my teeth this morning. I have no idea what he was talking about.

What does lots of other people being in the same situation have to do with anything?

It’s interesting, the way other people see things.