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?
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.
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.
I haven’t seen a moth in here for a while.
I wonder if Covid-19 has…
The Sex Life of H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells was a very sexual being. He wanted you to know this.
“Let’s get it on,” he would say, “and this time let’s put some stank on it.”
Yes, H. G. Wells–professorial chubbychops, writer of Mr. Britling Sees It Through, and all-round Proper Old Chap–secretly wrote a book, which I am reading, about his career as “the Don Juan of the intelligentsia,” or, to update the parlance, his life as an absolute shagger.
Wells sealed the manuscript into a box, using goodness knows what adhesive, leaving stern instructions for it to be published only after his death, when he could be fairly sure they couldn’t catch him.
Don’t worry, I’m not here to gleefully reveal H. G. Wells as problemattic–“Not Wells!”–but rather the contrary. I’m actually a bit miffed at the book’s lack of sauce. I’m afraid I made up the line about putting some stank on it.
I’d been hoping for descriptions of a frisky H. G. Wells squirming among the velour cushions of his ornate and brass-knobbed time machine, plucking a candlestick telephone receiver from the gilded dash and bellowing into it, “get the poppers out, Maura, IT’S NAUGHTY TIME,” before zipping promptly home to put some hot breath on a butt plug.
“Maura, I have returned and I’m partial for it!” I hoped he’d call up the stairs, before compressing an unlikely wall panel to reveal a hidden doorway, a golden glow cast upon him from the brassy domes of The Latest Devices within.
“The steam-driven rump padeller,” I wanted him to say, his eyes twinkling over a cityscape of potential intrusions, “the gentleman’s personal gentleman… and, ah yes… Mrs. Beaton’s Christmas Special.”
And then Maura would appear, dressed as an Eloi.
And then an Eloi would appear, dressed as Maura.
I am, I should say, only half way through the book, so there’s still hope we’ll be treated to such beautiful scenes, but there’s been an unexpected lack of imaginative rumpy-pumpy so far.
He never propositioned a chimneysweep, never asked for time alone with the Mechanical Turk, never ordered a zoo animal to his rooms under the pretense of science, never telegraphed Houdini in a state of panic (“MY DEAR DISCRETE ERIC. STOP. REQUIRE KEY FOR A SCOTLAND YARD STANDARD ISSUE BRACELET No. 12. STOP. ASKING FOR A FRIEND. STOP.”), and never bored a hole in a melon.
“I have never,” Wells implies with his silence on the matter, “taken a neckful of hot Victorian chod.”
Look. I’m not saying people should try such things if they’re not completely into them, but he describes himself over and over in this here book as a libertine. It’s libertine this and libertine that, but so far as I’m able to tell, he only has about six notches in his bedpost and it never once crossed his mind that he could lower himself onto it.
And that’s fine! But it’s normal, not libertine. It’s like saying, “I’m mad for ice-cream, me” and confessing you’ve only ever tried strawberry. One word, H. G.: Choconut.
One might almost say his life was chaste when you remember he was a celebrity, loved by all. In fact, it was probably the law in 1910 that anyone crossing paths with “The Marvellous Mr. Wells” must take their trousers off and await his instructions.
“Tell us a story about your day, Grandpapa.”
“Ee, well, it were a right honor to be asked to serve as an on-street toast rack to the great futurist, Mr. H. G. Wells…”
I realise it’s a bit strange that I’m getting bent out of shape about things that didn’t happen a hundred years ago. I just think it’s a shame is all. Entering that mouth, I’m sure you’ll agree, would have been like going through a car wash, sudsy bristles rubbing along the roof. And all the while, you’d be thinking, “I can’t believe it. The tip of my dingus is but inches from the brain that gave us Kipps!. Two inches, now three inches, two inches, three inches…”
Still, despite his dissapointing lack of imagination in the bonking department, he was no stuffed shirt and it’s nice to think of an elderly H. G. Wells finishing a bowl of soup and then harumphing off to write his sex memoir.
Fine. I accept it. H. G. Wells was a sexual fellow. Vanilla perhaps, but sexual.
And now at least we know where the inspiration came from for those tripods.
This short piece of writing is called a feuilleton. You can read about my adoption of the format here.