Poster Boy

My Glasgow show poster is all over town and it looks great.

I especially like this one at the Super Barrio retrogaming joint in the City Centre. I’m squished in between posters for David Suchet and Jerry Sadowitz. What a lineup!

Meanwhile, in the venue itself (Drygate Brewery, East End) you can see my poster on this respectable notice board in the brasserie:

As well as upstairs by the bogs:

There’s a nice leaflet version here and there:

And this one is at the Sparkle Horse pub in the West End:

There’s also one in our kitchen, to scare myself when I’m getting a snack:

Nutcrackerish

This photograph is from maybe 2018, sent to us just now by Alan.

Ever since mother snapped me from the side while horsing a Swiss roll, I’ve been a bit self-conscious of my nutcrackerish profile.

But look at it. Bottom right. I’m beautiful!

RIP, those glasses btw. The hat is Dimmick’s.

A Muppet Misquote

I got the Muppet Show theme lyrics wrong towards the end of that little essay.

I said, “It’s time to put on makeup, it’s time to light the lights!”

But the actual lyrics are:

It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights.

and later:

It’s time to put on makeup, it’s time to dress up right.

So I conflated two verses.

I should correct it but I don’t wanna. The conflation suits my purposes.

Making Fun, or, The Front Foot.

What is the point in writing light or funny stuff when the world is so darn horrid? And not just funny stuff, why write anything? Or create anything? Or do anything not germane to The Struggle.

Well, here’s the thing. There’s always a struggle. We have two major wars raging right now, affecting everyone’s mood and sanity and the lives and deaths of thousands. We have the climate crisis. We have a cost of living crisis. We have a totalitarian attack on trans people and other increasingly at-threat minorities, the fallout of which impacts every last one of us, not merely the targets of the fascists’ ire. We have deep attacks on quality of life. Already the media eye has glumly moved on from the crises of Brexit and the Trump years, few of which are satisfactorily resolved and remain smouldering like that Springfield tyre fire. Permacrisis Naomi Klein and others have called it since last year. Or to quote what Stewart Lee believes is the first joke, “the poor will always be with us.” Jesus, the lad himself, was ordering one last fling to celebrate his pending crucifixion when a do-gooder apostle suggested they donate the shindig money instead to the poor. “The poor,” Jesus quipped, “will always be with us.” As well as being an early joke, it’s an early identification of permacrisis.

The trouble, as the King of Kings apparently had the foresight to know, of acting against permacrisis is that you’re always on the back foot. I salute the work of those in Greenpeace who go out in dinghies to jimmy the system. I applaud the work of angels who, also afloat, pluck refugees from the soup. I’m grateful for those in Israel who devote their privilege to the tireless campaign for peace and an end to the madness. They’re doing what they have to do and they’re doing the right thing. They’re heroes. But they’re also in a state of unending triage. They’re a kind of casualty themselves. Imagine what those people could do if there was no malevolent pollutant to protest, no desperate to save, no bombs and rape in the war zone. Imagine what could be done with that energy and goodwill and brainpower in a time of lasting peace. Imagine what could be done if, instead of having to take out the Space Invaders one by one, we could find a space behind one of those oh-so-fragile little bunkers to create. Imagine what we could do if those noble jimmiers and campaigners and rescuers could afford to be on the front foot instead of the back. Think of the pleasures they could enjoy for themselves and create for others. Think of what they might build.

“But I get tremendous satisfaction from my job as a nurse,” you might protest. Yes, yes. And I’m grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But I don’t think you’re saying that viruses and injury and abuse and infirmity are good things because they allow you to Do Good. Are you? Of course you’re not. I’m just asking that we don’t stop thinking of a world beyond chaos and death and hunger. And that we–some of us, those who are free and able to do so–get on with making that world.

When I see injustice, I’m always tempted to write about it. That’s honestly my first instinct. I want to write a column, fire off a tweet, write a letter to my MP. The idea is to appeal for sanity in the world, to join the chorus instead of vanish into silence, to help prevent further mistakes, to draw attention to systemic injustice instead of personal vendetta. Sometimes the lure is so hard to resist that I actually do these things. But imagine if I didn’t have to. Imagine if I could put that mental energy and time and finger wrigglings into writing a novel instead or a funny column or a sitcom or a film. Something of less consequence. Something about nothing. That’s what we should all be free to do. The world would be better off for it, not in the “we stopped a bad thing” way but in a “we created a good thing” way. The real victory in Europe wasn’t in wrestling Germany to its knees but in creating the post-War welfare state and the wave of midcentury art that would result from it all. This should be the aim of any socialism: not to pick up after totalitarianism or capitalism or even to stop them per se, but to create and live out the alternatives in real time. It should also be the aim of any society: not to wage exhausting battle with our idiot governments but to build the alternatives, right now, in the streets, in the fields, in workshops, in homes, in art, in people.

At the risk of sounding paranoid, I suspect (though I do not know) that our leaders are aware of this. While we’re picking up after their corrupt and incompetent mess making, we’re not doing anything outrageous that might lead to–or, better, is an example of–true emancipation. When we’re not making art–a good thing to do inherently but also in terms of exponential increase of joy it can bring in the long term–we’re not a problem to them. It’s better in their view to keep us struggling, better to keep us grappling with impossible paperwork and asking for medicine for a third time and demanding that the libraries we paid for aren’t shuttered and closed. While we’re talking about Brexit, we’re not campaigning for socialism. (Brexit killed Corbyn. Admittedly, it killed a bunch of their guys too, but they have veritable factories devoted to the production their guys while we only had the ball for a brief and shining moment.) And we’re not beautifying our world instead of working for them.

So that’s what permacrisis is. Or at least what it has done. Whether by design or by happenstance, it has gubbed up the channels. It has a way of making sure We The People never accomplish anything worthwhile. It’s all about the back foot.

The only way to combat this–in my opinion and don’t mind me–is to stay on the front foot for as long as you can. Instead of despairing and reducing your lot in life to picking up after the malevolent cretins in industry and in our governments (now practically one and the same) by dwelling on what seems immediately “relevant,” create art. Create, if you must, through despair and guilt and shellshock, art that strikes at the heart of these crises. But the greatest thing to do (IMHO!) is to create art that is nothing to do with crisis at all.

Create witty, funny, joyful, pretty, beautiful, happy art. Instead of reacting eternally to the Bad, push onwards into the Good. So few people are doing it, fewer still with the knowledge of its importance. Push on, on, on. Wear bright colours in times of darkness. Make sweet music, paint the ceiling. Truly, it’s time to put on makeup, it’s time to light the lights. To create something other than a response to crisis is not to support crisis or to ignore it. There’s no contradiction in hating the Bad while putting your energy into creating the Good. Why piss around with pawns and defence when you can get your bishops and knights out into the endgame? The endgame, it’s easy to forget, is a world of peace and freedom and flourishing. Make it.

Soan

I often find myself thinking of Martin Soan. I think of him when I hear the phrase “my giddy aunt” or see some meerkats in a zoo.

Most often though, I think of him when I clean the gunk out of the hair trap in our shower drain.

Martin has a bit where he comes on stage to Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime, while “erotically” tugging some grotty-looking wool out of a section of drain pipe.

The music scratches to a halt and he says “Cor, I love doing that.”

I probably think of that every single morning.

Airport Bus 2: Redux

Coming home from a trip to the impossibly well-organised and lovely Netherlands, I’m immediately irritated by everything I see in the UK.

Seeking out the correct bus stop at the airport, a man in a high-vis gilet is standing in front of the time tables. “Can I help you sir?”

“Home to Glasgow,” I say, “I just want to know the time.”

He checks his watch and tells me the time.

“No,” I say, “the time the bus arrives.”

He moves aside and jabs at a filthy laminated notice. “55 and 25 past the hour.”

“Thanks,” I say, though all he’d done was get in the way of this information.

There’s ten minutes to wait, so I nip into the M&S for a sandwich. There are no self-service machines so I stand behind an older woman talking to the only server. She’s taking ages because buying a sandwich with a contactless card in an airport terminal requires plenty of chat. Another server walks purposely to a second cash desk, looks directly at me and nods. I go up to her and she says “I can’t serve you at this one because blah-blah-bloopty-bloop” so I turn on my heels and rejoin the “queue,” mindful of the time. She eventually calls me to a third cash desk. She can tell I’m irritated and we conduct the transaction in silence until I break it with a “thank you” she doesn’t respond to.

I eat my sandwich while waiting for the bus but have to leave the queue to bin the packaging. Why is there no bin near to the stance?

A sign at the stance says almost boastfully that the journey will cost £13, which seems expensive. For £24 this week, I travelled by rail for six hours and crossed three international borders from Rotterdam to Luxembourg.

I board, pay, sit and watch the other passengers, many of them tourists or new arrivals, boarding. A young Black guy comes along with his small wheeled case and his phone out.

“Come forward with the bag sir,” says the gilet officiously, indicating the luggage hold. “Put the phone down and bring the luggage forward.”

Put the phone down? I’d have shoved it up his arse. Gammon fuck.

The passenger politely asks about the ticket on his phone. “Ask the driver,” says the gilet, hefting the luggage into the hold even though the passenger doesn’t yet know if his ticket’s good for this bus.

The next passenger is a white Scottish woman who has a ticket, she says, for the Megabus (which isn’t this service and could have cost as little as £4) and the driver lets her board.

A digital screen in front of me reads “please take care on the stairs.” But anyone who can read the message has already passed the stairs.

I glance at the receipt the driver gave me and it says “£14.80,” even more than advertised.

We cruise home through the rain, the driver simultaneously playing loud local pop radio and whistling. Not to the melody but to the lyrics.

Anyone got an EU residency permit they’re not using?

Togs

I’m doing some filming on the weekend for a documentary and I’m trying to decide what to wear.

I want to look good for it but it’s important not to steal the scene. Here’s some inspiration:

Funny It Aint

Look! I finally got a review for my novel! From Goodreads.

Funny it ain’t. Or, at least it’s not my idea of funny. I don’t find indignities of waged labor or alcoholic overweight body or borderline psychotic in any way humorous. What somewhat redeemed the novel for me are references to other books, the books Mister Bob reads and some fine literature is that. Additional half-star is for the mention of French phenomenology. However, the novel could’ve done much better with it, especially in regards to the body, instead of unstably jiggling on the edge of farcical. Such as it is, I barely see the point of it all.

If that’s whet your appetite, Rub-A-Dub-Dub is available in paperback and digital formats from P&H Books.

Notes on Voice

Two questions concerning the narrative voice in Rub-A-Dub-Dub.

The first comes from Reggie Chamberlain-King in an interview (yet to be published) we did together. He asks:

I was interested in the perspective of the narrator. It’s a close third person perspective – not omnipresent, more reporting from Mister Bob’s shoulder; judgmental, insulting, but ultimately sympathetic. What is the relationship between Mister Bob and the narrator?

Thank you for saying that. That’s literally how I envision the narrator: a glowing orb just above and behind his shoulder. This narrator has access to his thoughts and personality as well as what the character sees, so she/he/it can report both. I suppose that’s omnipresence really but some of Mister Bob’s personality is in the narrator too. They’re conjoined. I like that very much but I think it confuses some people, which isn’t something I wanted to do. Some said it was too close to him, especially when it sounded judgemental of him: “Mister Bob was fat. And he had gingivitis.” Lines like that are supposed to be second-hand thoughts originating with Mister Bob but reported by the narrator. I don’t think this idea for a narrative voice is iconoclastic; I’m certain I’ve read this sort of voice before. But it’s good that it’s catching people’s interest.

The second question comes by email from reader Scott:

I’m well into Rub-A-Dub-Dub. Just finished Part Three. I loved Mister Bob standing up to Mrs. Cuntapples! Tell me about your voice for this novel. I know you pretty well by now and this is not the Robert Wringham I thought I knew. Very short, repetitive sentences. For example you said “premium strength lager” many, many times and no doubt on purpose. Why not beer, brew, or even bottom-fermented grains? You must have had a reason. And “Mister Bob” is literally uncountable. Why not a pronoun or two? Please let me know as I’m thoroughly enjoying your first novel but trying to unlock the idiosyncratic writing style.

The Robert Wringham name is on the cover but the narrator is not Robert Wringham, so it’s a different voice to anything you’ve read of mine before. The repetition is indeed deliberate and for two main reasons.

The first is that the narrator mocks Mister Bob and his gritty predicaments with an almost sing-song or storybook tone: “Mister Bob fell in a hole. Oh dear,” etc. It’s supposed to offer a sort of juxtaposition or tortuous understatement that makes light of the post-Brexit, pre-pandemic UK hellscape in which he has found himself, a world where systems seem to be winding down and ceasing to work smoothly.

The second reason is an investigation into quiddity: certain things in a repetitive or cyclical life gain thingness as we go around and around. A fire hydrant we see every day becomes not a fire hydrant but the fire hydrant. I applied this theory to significant objects in Mister Bob’s world: the premium strength lager, the polyether railway company uniform, the buffet car, David McManaman’s “head in the shape of a triangle,” the word “reek,” certain placenames. There are others. The phrasing is always the same because his (and, increasingly, our) familiarity with those objects is at optimal thingness, no further familiarity could possibly be layered onto them.

This is the level of thought that has gone into my novel, people! It’s intended to look lightweight and silly but the engineering beneath the page is secretly significant.

*

Rub-A-Dub-Dub is my first novel. Here’s where you can get it in print or as a digital download.

Stock

I dropped off some fresh book stock off at Aye-Aye Books, the indie bookshop at Glasgow’s CCA, this week.

They look great on the shelves. But don’t let that put you off buying them.

I Am French

I’m in London for the week and having a great time. It’s busy though and there are always moments in this city when I feel like a rube.

Shortly after arriving at Euston, a woman approached me on the street. I’m good at letting people down when they’re asking for money by giving them a friendly smile and a “sorry” but there was something a bit different about this person’s energy.

“I am French,” she explained, “No one believes me but my wallet has been stolen.”

She was holding her handbag open as if to reveal no wallet.

Looking back, I think she was probably a scammer but I half-believed her at the time and I still worry that I failed to help someone who was in a rare pickle.

She didn’t look like the typical scammer. I think she really was French and, while the bulging Marty Feldman eyes made her look slightly odd, she seemed to be middle-class and uncomfortable about asking for help.

“What do you need?” I asked, thinking I could perhaps call someone for her.

“Six pounds,” she said, for a train back to somewhere.

“I don’t carry cash,” I said truthfully, “maybe if you go back to the station and speak to the ticket sellers they might be able to help you,” and I walked away.

When I peeked back, she wasn’t flicking me the V’s or routinely hassling a next person; in fact she seemed a bit deflated. It was true that I had no cash but I suppose I could have gone to a cash machine if I only had been more certain she was for real.

I’m 50-60% sure it was a scam and I’m sure some of you worldly Londoners will confirm if this is a common wheeze, but she seemed more plausible than our Glasgow scammers and I worry that I sent a nice woman back to the continent angry about her time on Brexit Island. She’d been mugged and then not helped by anyone. You know, unless this was all a bollocks.

Too Soon

There’s Halloween stuff in the shops already. Can’t we just enjoy 9/11 first?

Hole in Two

Question: Hey Rob, do you play golf?

Answer: No.

Question: Why not?

Answer: Because it just about qualifies as a sport.

Kids

In a couple of days I’ll be meeting my four-year-old niece for the first time. Kids still like nostril hair and pub quiz anecdotes, right?

Airport Bus!

When will I learn? Never ever rely on a bus.

I want to believe in the project to nudge people towards public transport and I dearly want to believe in this city I chose to live in, but today’s attempt to take a bus to the airport was a disaster.

We walked in the rain for ten minutes to our nearest stop only to find it out of service. A sign with a hand-drawn arrow pointed us in the wrong direction so we ended up soaked to the skin and taking a taxi for £29.

“That’s reasonable!” I wanted to say to the driver, “It’s a fifteen-minute drive so you absolutely deserve my weekly grocery budget. Call it a hundred!” It would almost be worth the life threatening beating that would ensue.

It was the worst of all potentialities. If we’d gone directly to the taxi rank we’d have been rinsed but dry.

A system is only as strong as its weakest link and if you’ve got even one bus stop out of service with no way of passengers finding out in advance then your system isn’t trustworthy and is therefore broken.

I threw my lot in with the bus against my better judgement because I want to believe and because the bus company app suggested swishness. You can summon the timetable and track the progress of your actual bus with GPS. You can pay in advance now or by contactless so the nightmare of somehow knowing the price or having exact change is a thing of the past. There’s even a feature where you can see how busy your next bus is going to be, presumably using live data as passengers tap in and tap out. That’s great!

But none of that is worth a damn if we can’t trust the system.

This isn’t an isolated instance of bus bullshit. Things like this happen all the time and I’m sick of it. In this case my £29 is now in car infrastructure instead of my £6 being in public transport infrastructure. And I’m soaking wet and stressed out before an international flight. Sort it out! Rar!

I’m now at the airport, an hour too early and unable even to check in. All I can think to do is vent some impotent rage into my blog. Sorry about that.

Charismatically Uncharismatic

Try as I might, I can’t stop thinking about Adrian Chiles’ urinal. This man had a urinal (like, a urinal from the men’s room in a pub) installed in his flat.

Why can’t I rid myself of this brain worm? Well, as revelations go, it’s pleasingly Partridge. But, more specifically, it suits Chiles’ personality so perfectly that I can’t stop admiring it. It’s so charismatically uncharismatic.

I’d say it would be like learning that Adrian Chiles eats corned beef sandwiches for every single meal or that he prefers to eat them off a saw horse, but I can’t think of a joke example as unpredictable or as note-perfect as the reality.

A year after learning about this, the idea of installing a urinal in your flat has come to strike me as (and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this) a good idea.

None will be as surprised as I am about this. I dislike pub urinals for starters. I’m very much a cubicle user wherever possible and have long advocated for people with penises sitting to pee.

But my problem with urinals is not innate to the hardware but with what we might call the social element: I struggle to pee with an interested party standing next to me. I’m not ashamed to admit to shy bladder syndrome (SBS). I can’t understand how anyone might not have it. It’s the year of the iPhone 14 yet men are still expected to piss, shoulder to shoulder, into horse troughs.

Perhaps more importantly, my more general objection to the standing pee is, well, the spatter issue. Spend a day wearing short shorts and you’ll be surprised by how much human wazz fails to reach its intended target.

The spatter problem, I have only come to realise in this Chilesean age of urinary thought, is that I’m tall. The wee has a long way to go. What I need, if I’m to pee with minimal diversion, is a lavatory pan at wash basin height.

I’m not going to piss in the sink but, as luck would have it, someone has already invented a technology that could easily be installed at wash basin height. It’s called a urinal.

Chiles. Is. Right.

🧻

Another weird thing concerning bathrooms and being tall: I shaved kneeling down the other day.

The bathroom mirror was all steamed up from a shower. The steam had begun to clear but only a foot or so from the bottom so (instead of wiping the eye-level condensation away with a towel, which always leaves a mark on the mirror) I decided to kneel down.

At first it felt silly. Then it felt humbling, almost devotional. But once I’d got over this cocktail of emotions (and put a towel beneath my throbbing knees) the experience was a big improvement on what I now will call “a standing shave.”

Specifically, the improvement was that the sink was at the right height for me. I didn’t have to keep stooping down to rinse my blade.

While I might conceivably install a urinal (or a “Chiles pan” as we should call it in respect for the great innovator) I can’t very well install a five foot high wash basin. It would be impractical for the shorter person I live with and any number of Oompa Loompa friends who might pay me a visit, but also because I don’t think such hardware exists.

So: just as I might advocate for sitting down to pee, I now advocate for kneeling to shave. Which is a weird position to be in, really.

Love

Today I asked my life partner what my Care Bear tummy symbol would be. She said “a crudely-drawn cock.”

Italics

Every novelist should typeset one of their own books. I’m learning the hard way not to depend so much on italics to convey, well, anything really.

CW

The streaming service content warning at the start of The X-Files is “tobacco use.”

Posh

Samara says: “In Britain, ‘posh’ can mean anything from ‘actual member of the royal family’ to ‘willing to eat pesto’.”

How’s it Going?

When I ask Friend J how it’s going, he says: “I’m physically, emotionally, spiritually, morally, and financially bankrupt.”