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Good Morning

29 September 2019 | Diary

Oh my God, what a night.

I woke at 4:30 from a terrifying dream. It was just like in the films. I sat bolt upright, panting and confused, not entirely certain of where I was.

As I tried to shrug it off and go back to sleep, I found myself sliding into the clutches of the nightmare again (oh no!) so I decided to rinse my brain by putting a podcast on.

Adam Buxton was interviewing Charlotte Gainsbourg and, for several minutes, all was right with the world again.

Just I was drifting off, the podcast was interrupted by an unfamiliar twinkly-bleepy noise. I ignored it because, although I’d not heard such a thing before, we do have slightly spotty Internet that occasionally interrupts streaming videos and the likes. Besides, I was already falling asleep.

The podcast returned. And then failed again. Returned and failed again. I was in the process of sleepily concluding that I should pluck the bud from my ear and ignore whatever technological shenanigans were going on, but I’m extremely glad I didn’t because of what would happen next.

“I’m a comedy writer,” said Charlotte Gainsbourg, “but I don’t just go for the lols.”

What? Even in my state of half-sleep, I realised that the voice in my ear had ceased to be Charlotte Gainsbourg and that the phone must have inexplicably skipped to a different interview.

Then the the twinkly-bleepy noise happened again, followed by a robot voice saying “this selection is unavailable.”

But!, my sleepy brain struggled to object, I’m not trying to select anything. What is at work here? Did that Thing escape from my dream?

The twinkly-bleepy happened again and then the robot voice said, “Now Calling… Wentworth.”

What?

Beat.

Beat.

Oh my God!

I scrambled for the handset and, sure enough, “WENTWORTH. CALLING….” was displayed on the screen and I was thankfully able to think quickly enough through the sleepfug to terminate the call before connection.

What the fuck was going on? Why was my phone trying to call my friend at 4:30 in the morning without my say-so?

It was a crazily narrow escape. It would have been embarrassing to have to explain to my older, wiser pal that I’d had a scary dream and that my phone was acting independently and I was not yet certain if the two things were related.

If I’d have plucked the ear bud–or already fallen fast asleep–and not heard the “Now calling…” warning, the call would have connected. And if the ghost in the machine hadn’t chosen Wentworth, it could even have dialled the number of, say, my agent or a publisher or a local news station.

I still don’t really know what happened but, short of paranormal phenomena, I’m guessing this has something to do with the pound-shop hands-free kit I’ve been using to listen to podcasts.

There’s a microphone on it, so perhaps it interpreted my senseless nocturnal mouth noises as “skip” and “call Wentworth.”

Which is crazy. I don’t, to my knowledge, have a voice activation system installed. Can this have happened? Is it possible? Am I a clueless grandpa now, completely alienated by technology? Are ghosts real? And if they are, why are they fucking with my smartphone? And who am I talking to right now? Are you real? Am I?

You know, I think I’ll go back to bed for a bit.

Apologies in advance if I call you.

Coin Slot

26 September 2019 | Diary

A cut passage (a murdered darling) from my manuscript:

I put my palm on the trepanned head of a plastic guide dog to steady myself. As I regarded its coin slot, it seemed to sing that I should pop my door key inside it.

It had to go because it required too much explanation. Not everyone, especially overseas, knows what these guide dogs are, and to explain it would kill it.

I’m also not sure how recognisable these mad thoughts are to normies the hinged.

Parasitic Wasps

25 September 2019 | Diary

Friend Kristin has read my moth diary and she’s keen to tell me about a “natural” solution involving parasitic wasps.

Apparently you release the wasps at home and then seek out any unhatched moth eggs, feasting on them as the world’s grossest caviar.

Unleashing some wasps is immensely appealing, but I can’t help wonder if the situation wouldn’t get out of control. What, prey tell, will eat the wasps? Before you know it, you’ve entered an “old woman who swallowed a fly” situation and you now have a rather impractical horse infestation and you’re spending your evenings filling out the import forms on various apex predators. Your little West End flat becomes known as the spot where passersby are routinely plucked off the street by tentacles. We’d never get post again.

As it happens, the pheromone trap is doing rather well, our ten-moths-a-day murder count now reduced to one or even fewer. The trap now resembles a luscious moth-wing carpet, which I now plan to use to repair the various holes they’ve made in an act of mortal irony.

You Come Home From Work

24 September 2019 | Diary

You come home from work and you turn the television on. Something’s wrong. Inspector Morse is on every single channel.

You thump the top of the set in a caveman bid to escape John Thaw’s stern face but your hand passes through the set with a sickening tear. The television set is made of paper!

The knobs and dials are paper, the remote control is paper, the set-top aerial is a triangle made from paper.

And that’s how you discover YOU’RE IN THE ARMANDO IANNUCCI SHOW. It’s 2001 again and you’ll have to come home the long way.

You’re On Holiday

23 September 2019 | Diary

You’re on holiday in California, admiring the view at Big Sur, when you approach a local to ask for directions.

The man panics. “It’s no good!” he shrieks, looking around helplessly, “I can’t do it!” and then he leaps into the canyon.

Only the canyon’s not a canyon. The Californian passes through it with a sickening tear and runs on and on into an impossible white distance.

And that’s how you discover YOU’RE IN THE TRUMAN SHOW. It is Season 3 and the ratings are in the toilet.

After the Storm

22 September 2019 | Diary

It’s been an atypically social week, something friendly lined for every single night and three of the days.

So many pint glasses and ticket stubs has meant putting my Street Fighter health bar into the red and storming the treasury in a way not strictly compatible with the lifestyle of a twenty-first-century person of letters.

My idle self feels happy to have blown a week off so decadently, but as I look at the week’s spoils, it’s hard not to feel a pinch of dismay. Was fun had? Yes. Was your heart or mind opened even a crack? Oh yes. How’s your manuscript coming along? Quiet, you.

Vasculum

21 September 2019 | Diary

To the Botanical Gardens to volunteer as a guide for Doors Open Day.

I show thirty lusty octogenarians (and my pal Graeme) around the botanical library, a place I know well having catalogued the entire collection as a side-project. Hypocrite idler, I know.

The visitors are fresh from a tour of the fern house, so there are books about ferns on display as well as a vasculum (collecting box) of the sort used during the Victorian fern Craze.

I show a few other highlights including an encyclopedia of exotics, an 1860 book about agricultural pests in which all of the critters are drawn to scale, and, my favourite, an 1853 volume of pressed seaweeds.

No your hobby is boring.

Towards the end, Graeme picks up a book about mushrooms. Apparently it “just fell open” on a chapter about magic ones.

Climate Change Does Not Spark Joy

20 September 2019 | Diary

To the Glasgow contingent of the International Climate Strike where I march with thousands of truant schoolchildren, shouting “Fuck You, Boris Johnson!”

Look, they started it.

Among their midget ranks I loom like a benevolent periscope, admiring the sights from high above their heads and providing a convenient landmark for other marchers to orientate themselves. “Yes, Mum, I’m between the green flag and the geek.”

There are loads of great placards including “Earth is More Important Than Homework” and “Too Cool for School? Not In This Climate.”

The best one though (or at least the cutest) is a placard that shows Marie Kondo saying “Climate Change Does Not Spark Joy.”

This One’s Fine

19 September 2019 | Diary

I am afraid of spiders but delighted by ants. I always want to know more about ants–about their culture, the ways they communicate, what sort of music they’re into–but I don’t want to know anything about spiders. Even a picture of a spider lifts my intestines up into my chest as if I am in free-fall.

One day, in Montreal, Samara comes with me to the Bibliothèque Nationales, so that she can vet a big photographic book of ants for me in case there are any pictures of spiders.

I hide behind my hands and listen to her turning the pages one by one.

“That one’s fine,” she says, “that one’s fine, this one’s fine, oh this one’s adorable.

“Thank you for doing this, honey,” I say, still hiding, and I wonder if she finds this charming or if it’s finally dawning on her what she’s got herself into.

“This one’s fine,” she says, “this one’s fine, this one’s… oh my GOD.”

“A spider?” I ask.

“Yuh-huh.”

“Are they eating it?”

“They’re eating parts of it,” she says, “And parts of it are eating them.”

“I don’t want to see it!,” I say, tightening the gaps in my fingers, “And I don’t want to hear any more about it!”

“Shh!” someone says, “Tabarwet…

I listen to Samara close the book and put it back on the shelf. I hear it slide tightly and firmly, safe between the other entomological quartos.

Sometimes, at night, I think of that book and the horror I know it contains, on the other side of the ocean, existing.

Stevedor

18 September 2019 | Diary

Samara asks what a tiny home ghost story would be like.

Smol,” I say.

Once l’esprit de l’escalier has kicked in, I realise that, since the story would be set in a converted shipping container, it would have to be about the ghost of a stevedore stranded deep inland with a couple of earnest hipsters.

The ghost and the hipsters would have different points of view on, like, everything.