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.
No More Moths
I know that some of you are interested in hearing an end to the Moth Man Chronicles.
To those not in the know, we had a moth problem here at Castle Wringham, which led to trousers falling and eyeballs being attacked as well as just a ticklish feeling of being outnumbered. I once opened an umbrella only to have a moth flutter out of it. And on another occasion, a moth flew out of my wallet as I went to pay for some drinks, prompting the bartender to say not “hey big spender” like you might imagine but rather “I’ve never seen that happen in real life before.”
In the end, we did the only thing we could. We moved house.
Without us being there to constantly squish them, the old place must be triumphant with moths now and they probably think they won. Which I suppose they did. It’s probably VM Day back there now, the air alive with the beating of wings and a million tiny larvae rejoicing (“hooray! hooray!”) between dusty floorboards. If you walk past there at night, I bet you can hear this music playing.
As we unpacked our things in the new place, I remained vigilant. After barely escaping with our sanity, it wouldn’t do to have brought the fuckers with us. But more than anything, I was being vigilant purely because I have become vigilant. The war (yes, the war) has turned me into a flinching flibbertigibbet forever ready to strike. People talking to me are probably aware that one of my eyes forever roves like that of a chameleon, searching the room for silk-munching bastards.
As each of our possessions came out of its box, I checked it over thoroughly and sometimes actually found a moth. A lethargic one had hitched a ride in the tread of a shoe and another, improbably, was inside my satchel. We placed as many woolen items as possible in the freezer for a couple of weeks to destroy any eggs, right there next to the calippos.
Three months later, my eye no longer roves but we have still seen the very occasional moth. We have seen perhaps fifteen moths in this time, but in the old place we used to see fifteen a day. Even so, it’s troubling to spot even one of their number because, while it may just be that they are native to our town generally, the thought that we might have brought them with us from the old place like something from an Alien sequel, essentially taking us from modest horror story to an unending and unasked-for saga, gives me a shudder.
Will my teddy bear ever be able to take off his hazmat suit? Will I ever be able, truly, to relax and no longer to feel as if I have moths tickling the underside of my eyelids or running up and down my spinal cord to the sound of a xylophone?
Today, I found a likely source of the few moths we had seen. One of the sealed storage bags in which we keep spare bed linen had been breached. It was as maggotty as the People’s Princess.
Without unsealing it, I dumped the atrocity into a neighbour’s wheelie bin faster than an unexpected father’s day card. I then pored over the remaining bed linens for further mothy evidence. There was none. I carefully vacuumed the shelves of the storage closet with the attentiveness of a serial killer whose name we’ll never learn, emptying the dust bag a mile from home, returning only to sanctify the area with enough essence-of-cloves to crumble a vampire who just happened to be passing by and minding his own business. Folks… I think we might be good.
It makes sense that the maggotty bag was the source of the occasional moth we had seen. So, say it quietly, the saga is over. I no longer feel like I’m subletting from Buffalo Bill.
What, you think there should be one final “jump scare” with a winged monster bursting out of my rib cage? Grow up.
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
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?