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Get It Here

22 August 2020 | Diary

Dash

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.”

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?

Guff

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.

Moments

11 June 2020 | Diary

There’s a small park near to our flat. It contains only four trees, but they’re quite large and their intermingled leaf canopy teems with life. Pausing there today, with no car noise thanks to the lockdown, it feels like being in a real wood.

We hear birds tweeting above us and twigs snap softly underfoot. The sun shines through the branches, casting patterns onto the earth. I feel a brief, welcome connection to nature. I could live in the woods, I think, insanely.

Suddenly a piece of dust violently blows into my eyeball even though there isn’t any wind. As I’m trying to extract it, a sharp piece of tree bark falls from above and hits the back of my neck. “Ow!” I say, when it surprisingly stings.

Nature. They should cordon the whole thing off.

*

Our through-the-wall neighbours, whom we never meet and do not know, are very excitable. They sometimes burst into blissful hysterics that can only be attached to some wonderful near miss. It’s probably a computer game or something, but I like to imagine they’re training a dog to catch treats thrown from zany angles.

*

Samara unintentionally reveals at breakfast that she thinks the song, “Popcorn,” is called “Greensleeves.”

I don’t tease her because I’ve made similar mistakes myself, and to illustrate what “Popcorn” is, I sing it: “pip-pap-pap-pip-pippy-pap / pip-pap-pap-pip-pippy-pap / pip-pap-pip-pop-pipperty, pip-pop-pipperty-pip-pip-pip-pap-pop.”

“Oh,” she says, “What’s Greensleeves then?”

“Does the phrase ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ mean anything to a Canadian?” I ask.

“No,” she says.

“Well,” I say, “it’s like something Tom Hodgkinson would play on a lute. I think it’s Medieval or something. It makes me think of minstrels trying to see who can play it the longest before the king finally snaps and orders their hands lopped off.”

I hum it for her.

“I’ve heard that on Call Waiting,” she says.

“That’s the one.”

*

Culture in lockdown, since the pubs and cafes are still closed, happens in take-out queues. Today I talk to a man two metres away about my renewed enthusiasm for Reggae.

I like how residential areas are more happening places now that everyone stays close to home. A common sight in our neighborhood is that of bare feet sticking out of windows, wriggling in the sun.

*

Our living room is bathed in sunshine in the mornings, while our neighbours across the street get theirs in the late afternoon. Sometimes, I’ll be crashed out on the chaise with a book or something when I get a sense of being watched.

Invariably, it’s Deep Roy, an older woman who lives opposite and makes a point of opening her window to fully bask in this 4pm light. I think it’s her daily mindfulness moment or something.

Her eyes are closed in peaceful contemplation whenever I look, but she faces squarely into our flat and it’s a little disconcerting when you’re concentrating on the fourth level of your precariously-balanced playing card tower or putting some science into getting your porn site search terms just right.

Yes, Deep Roy is my name for her. She’s not a little person in case you’re wondering. She just looks like Deep Roy. What’s wrong with that? I like Deep Roy.

*

On a walk this afternoon, I pass the small local cinema I used to go to pre-lockdown. All closed up now, it was my sometimes treat to attend the £7 matinee of whatever’s on, a great way to avoid doing anything useful.

It’s not a very good cinema. It’s too small to enjoy anything Star Wars-y and once, when I saw It, it smelled like wee.

It crosses my mind today though, that it’s such a small cinema, the bosses might be amenable to my calling up and asking for a private screening. Just me, eating popcorn (not greensleeves), in the centre seat of the otherwise empty auditorium. That wouldn’t contravene lockdown rules, would it?

“What would you like to see, sir?” a solicitous manager would ask on my theatrical fanning out of a hundred quid in notes.

“Just put something violent on and leave me alone,” I’d say.

I do wish I had some money.

*

I read somewhere that a certain sign of dehydration is “if your urine has a bit of colour to it.”

It’s one of those lines that will change a life forever if you’re not careful. I spend the rest of the day systematically drinking water and monitoring the tinge of my whizz.

My urine always “has a bit of colour to it.” Doesn’t everyone’s? That colour is yellow. Everyone knows that urine is yellow. Don’t they? Isn’t it?

Idea for a project. Piss Diary. Or, The Yellow Book.

*

Another life-changing phrase entered my lug hole 242 days ago (you’ll see in a moment how I know this).

It was Laura, in a bar one night, when she bragged about reaching “enlightened” status in the productivity app we both use.

“I am enlightened,” she said, dementedly.

I was impressed. To reach enlightened status–the very last status after passing through the ranks of “guru” and “genius” and so on–she must have completed something like 100,000 tasks.

I hadn’t ever cared about my productivity status but that was because I’d never thought it possible to end it. And here was Laura, claiming to have done so. “I am enlightened.” It wasn’t her fault, but she’d sewn a seed of madness in me.

*

The productivity app allows you to set a goal of a daily number of tasks. I set mine to a modest three tasks, a task being something in the scale of “mention Deep Roy in your blog” or “buy more tea.”

Doing three things of that ilk did not seem to be troublesome or overly ambitious, but I still ended up somewhat in thrall to the streak. Before going to bed each night, if I hadn’t done three proper things, I’d try to remember if I’d done something unscheduled, add it to the app, and cross it off immediately to make up the shortcoming. Occasionally, I’d cheat outright and put “skive” on it and tick that off.

Yesterday, I forgot do a third task and the app was kind enough to point it out to me this morning. “You have completed your goal ZERO days in a row,” it said. “Your longest streak is 241 days: 12 October 2019-June 9 2020.”

The dream is over. It’s like the end of a game of Jenga. I feel oddly at ease.

When I mention this on Twitter, Todd replies that streaks are bad for him and make him anxious.

I realise now that it’s the same for me and that I’d been waiting ages for an accident like yesterday to happen. Free at last.

*

It rained quite heavily last night. We live on the top floor and a drip has made itself known in the spare room.

This is going to be a lockdown saga, of course, but I’m glad the problem is in the spare room and not dripping onto my actual sleeping head like last time.

I email the letting agency for directions and I put a “drip” emoji in the subject line, just to show that I’m a friendly guy and that I’m not angry with them.

No, you’re stir-crazy.