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Why Did I Look?

14 September 2019 | Diary

I peep onto Twitter because some people have messaged with regards to the record player query.

I haven’t looked at Twitter for a while and I quickly regret it. It’s full of people talking absolute whazz in a deplorable tone. They’re not deplorable people (many of whom I know in real life and would gladly kiss on the mouth) but there’s something about social media that pumps up the blood pressure and the only way to stop it from bursting through the top of the cartoon thermometer is to tap out something horrible to the world and then to click “tweet.”

In response to my record player question, someone has said something like “fine, be a hipster if you like” and I see where he’s coming from but it’s the tone. Nobody has ever spoken to me like that at this blog or by email. I remember Tom Hodgkinson saying something about how newspapers with social media or comment sections have a responsibility to act as pub landlords, the publican being able to curate their clientele by barring the trouble-makers and designing a place that doesn’t actively attract unpleasantness. That’s ultimately what I’ve been trying to do with this website and New Escapologist.

Tomorrow I’ll send the newsletter version of this diary to 150 people, a microscopic number of eyeballs in Internet terms, but, thanks to today’s Twitter “experience”–if that doesn’t degrade the meaning of the word–I’ll be extra glad to do it. I think of Jaron Lanier saying “what if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?”

I suggest on Twitter that maybe it would be a safer and happier platform if people could opt out of the likes system. Those choosing to opt out would never again court popularity over quality, nor would they be made to feel inferior for not winning “enough” likes. Naturally, nobody likes or RTs or probably even notices my tweet, lost as it immediately is in the maelstrom.

When I’m done dirtying myself on Twitter (some of the tweets are perfectly helpful and friendly), I go for a walk. I notice that someone has moved the bricks, not out of the bin shed but at least into a position where some of the higgledy-piggledy bins can fit more properly into their nooks. More info when I have it, bin shed fans.

Wasp Fancy

13 September 2019 | Diary

You’re holding a beer mat to the mouth of a pint glass with a wasp trapped in it when the voice says, “give me your wallet and phone.”

“Okay,” you say, “but there’s something you ought to know…”

Postbag

12 September 2019 | Diary

Reader Eric emails:

I’m enjoying your recent content, even the posts about your moth problem.

Even? Let’s assume he means “especially.”

My mother-in-law emails from Canada with reference to the wedding cake incident:

I agree, she should have tackled you! It is her fault. Love, Mamen.

And yet an apology from my wife does not seem to be forthcoming.

After some thoughts about the size of things, Reggie comments:

In real life, that chap is no doubt the same size all Hollywood actors: smaller.

Invisible to the naked eye, sometimes.

With reference to my slamming of Stranger Things 3 and its looking like a Laser Quest, Neil asks:

Fancy a game of laser quest?

I do not!

And finally, Neil shares with us his Touching the Void-like first-person account of his stairwell nightmare:

At this point I was pretty sure that I was going to be spending the night in a stair well.

His whole account is here:

Thousands of Tiny Perforations

11 September 2019 | Diary

To a pub quiz with our usual team but in a different pub. We’ve been wanting a change of scene–but not so big a change that would see us doing anything together other than answering general knowledge questions. That way madness lies.

Neil arrives a little flustered. He’s been trapped in a stairwell. He tells us how the emergency exits were all locked and how various alarm buttons did nothing. He was even shouting “Help!” through a tiny window. It’s a thrilling and hilarious tale that ends with our brave friend somehow escaping into a car park and climbing over a locked gate to the street.

If that had been me, it’s safe to say that my wife would now be going back and forth on whether Futura is a good font for a MISSING poster.

Tonight’s quiz is run by a softly-spoken Canadian and the questions are just right. A good quiz question is ideally a catalyst for conversation, more like a riddle to be chewed over together than just something a person will immediately know.

This said, we’re happy to advance a few places in the table when Samara correctly answers nine out of ten questions in a round about murder and death. Who have I married?

I remember that we have in fact quizzed in this pub before. It was about four years ago and we were asked “which product was invented by Richard Gatling?” We began to discuss whether, it being such an obvious answer, “the Gatling gun” could be a red herring and that something like “semi-automatic weapon” would be more strictly correct. Laura, however, was very insistent that Richard Gatling invented the teabag.

“What?”

“The teabag. Honestly. I know this.”

“Are you sure?”

“YES,” she’d said, “I. Am. Positive.”

She was so adamant that Richard Gatling had invented the teabag that we played this as our answer, leading to various jokes about thousands of tiny perforations.

Since then, of course, we’ve all had a Gatling Moment. Mine was to insist with religious fervour on a belief-based-on-nothing that a Scottish boy had once sold the world’s most expensive egg to the queen (rather than, more reasonably, a stamp). And Fergus once insisted with much thumping of the table and resisting all attempts by our negotiators to talk him down from his bell tower, that a tennis ball is bigger than than a baseball.

The bricks are back

10 September 2019 | Diary

Good Lord, the bricks are back. Someone must have seen them blocking the entrance a little and moved them. But instead of thinking “let’s get these out of our lives” and moving them to the bulk uplift area on the street, they’ve returned them to their previous place in the bin shed. They must have thought, “hey, that industrial rubble isn’t where it normally sits!”

Duffest

09 September 2019 | Diary

We’ve been watching Stranger Things 3 on Netflix. Or, rather, I’ve been watching it. Samara, being less in denial about mortality than I am, gave up after three episodes.

It’s utterly hopeless. The makers must have forgotten that being cute, funny, and spooky was not only their strong suit but also the whole point.

This year is all about CGI monsters and people running breathlessly around in featureless corridors shouting things like “shut up and run!” and “I’m taking this car!” and “stop talking!”

A Terminator-like super-soldier has just turned up to whet nobody’s appetite. And why does the Mayor look exactly like one of the journalists? I honestly can’t tell which one is which.

The whole thing utterly incomprehensible and feels like watching some people you don’t know playing Laser Quest. Duffer Brothers? Duffest Brothers more like. Am I right? (Yes, I am right).

The Bricks

08 September 2019 | Diary

I decide this morning that I will move the bricks.

Yes, “the bricks.”

For some time, there’s been a pile of bricks in the bin shed we share with neighbours. In fact, it’s five bricks cemented together to form a single chunk of hard-to-move brickwork.

In case you’re interested–and why wouldn’t you be?–this hunk of orphan masonry is a leftover from the fire last year that resulted in a wall falling down.

The bricks just sit there, taking up space and preventing our full complement (fleet?) of wheelie bins from fitting into the shed properly. This routinely means bins sitting in front of other bins, making it hard for our less agile and less determined neighbours to reach the ones on the back row. In turn this means bags of unprotected garbage piling up and various rancid messes.

But today I decide to act!

By hook or by crook, I think, I’ll move the bricks out of the bin shed so that the bins can fit properly at last. No more rubbish will pile up and everyone in our building will be safer and happier. Soon there will be a chain reaction of goodwill leading all the way, I daresay, to the revocation of Article 50.

All I have to do is move these bricks.

Lifting them is out of the question but I brace myself, marshal my energies, and I drag them out of their smelly nook and most of the way out of the bin shed. I pause when I meet the little slope that leads up to the street.

I wheel the excess bins to their rightful spots, mission somewhat accomplished.

As I ready myself again to drag the bricks up the final furlong, something has changed.

I realise that I have successfully pulled, not only these heavy old bricks, but also the muscles in my forearms. They have turned into useless jelly.

Worse, the bricks in their new position partially obscure the entrance to the bin shed. I wonder if there’s even room for the refuse collectors to get through when they turn up on Tuesday.

I’m uncertain what to do at first, but the correct course of action soon becomes clear.

I run away.

Tonight, I look down from our bedroom window at the bricks–still there, silent and brick-like in the night–and I wonder if my arms will recover before bin day in time for a second drag.

Oh, why did I have to intervene? Why did I drag the bricks? Why does the fate of the whole world have to rest with meeeeeee?

Miro Cat Flap

07 September 2019 | Diary

To a local bar whose arty backers recently pulled out. If the bar survives at all, it will not be as the moody cool spot it’s been these past few years.

Tonight, the main floor jumps with noisy and excitable teens while a handful of existentialists huddle on the mezzanine.

We have an enjoyable night in our corner and everyone’s on good form.

Laura mentions visiting a money-to-burn artist couple who have given a whole apartment over to their pet cats. It’s decorated, she says, with works by Alexander Calder and Joan Miró.

“There’s no way they have a Miro cat flap,” says Neil, “that’s a classic screen memory.”

“Cat flat,” says Laura over the noise.

“I mean it’s hilarious that they dote on their cats like that but there’s no way there’s a Miro on a cat flap.”

“Cat flat,” says Laura again, “flat.

“What’s a cat flat?” says Neil.

“A flat for their cats. There are Miros in the cat flat, not on a cat flap,” says Laura.

“Oh!” says Neil, “cat flap, yes.”

I’m not sure what my face is doing at this moment, but it clearly betrays my thoughts:

“Well,” says Neil, “at least that’s tomorrow’s blog sorted.”

The Muting of Internal Racket

06 September 2019 | Diary

In the cinema the other day, I found that I was still thinking about my projects for the first half-hour of the action.

This is unusual. I normally find that sitting in the darkness with nothing but the film in front of me is a surefire way to mute the internal racket.

So today, drastic action clearly required, I sit down with notebook and pencil.

I empty my thoughts onto the verso and then form a mid-term plan on the recto. I then smash said plan into reasonable, doable tasks for ToDoist to gobble up and for me to forget about.

And now I know where I stand. It’s like a reset button.

This seems to be something I just have to do once every few months. I think it’s because, when all’s said and done, I’m actually a bit thick and need to think things through very carefully if I’m to understand them on a level visceral enough to do any good.

Whatever the reason, I now feel like I’ve been through whatever the opposite of a threshing machine is.

And now… back to the hard drinking.

Peninsula

05 September 2019 | Diary

To Cove Park, an artist-run centre on the rural west coast. We reach it by train and by ferry.

We’re the ferry’s only passengers and the boatmen have to extend the ramp just for us. We’re a minute late and the boatmen have already begun to unmoor. This makes them us hate us a bit, presumably because they’re now no longer able to take off their trousers for the return journey (or whatever it is they like to do when they have an empty).

It’s temping to keep saying things like “yo-ho-me-hearties” to annoy them even more but I manage to restrain myself. I think I’d have ended up being quietly plopped over the side and into the Firth, my final thought being oh look, a plastic fork.

At Cove Park, we rendezvous with Alan who shows us the grass-roofed pods and shipping container residencies, and then off we go for a day of the sillies around the peninsula.

We drop into Helensburgh, visit Ross at his house (where we eat soup with an original Soup Dragon), and drive past Faslane where Alan forbids me from bouncing pennies off The Bomb.

Finally, we head to Hill House to marvel at “the box,” the impressive cage now surrounding the house to help thwart its ongoing fall to rising damp. The official website has a quote from the President of the NT who says the house is “dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water.” You’ve got to give him points for, well, not poetry exactly, but at least for not putting on the middle-manager claptrap voice when he stepped up to the mic that day.

In said box, we walk up and along some catwalks around the outside of the house. I don’t quite make it to the highest point, which would have afforded me a view over the rooftop, because when I make the mistake of looking down through the steel-mesh gantry, my stomach uncharacteristically tries to escape my body.

Still, I now have a good idea of what a Mackintosh Masterpiece looks like when it’s spinning, which is a nice thing to strike from my bucket list.

Home again only to lose another raisin.