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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.

Infected?

19 March 2020 | Diary

I haven’t seen a moth in here for a while.

I wonder if Covid-19 has…

Oh.

There’s one.

The Sex Life of H. G. Wells

27 October 2019 | Diary

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.

But no.

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.

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.