The Sleeping Pods

I went to Shetland this week, first taking a train to Aberdeen and then an overnight ferry out to the islands. It was a grand adventure.

I’d originally decided to rough it on the ferry by sleeping not in a cabin or even one of the poorly reviewed “sleeping pods,” essentially a reclining Marty Crane-style barcalounger with blinkers, but in one of the standard airline-style seats. In the end, I crumpled and paid a little extra for a sleeping pod. It took away my twin concerns of how I’d charge my phone (because the pods have built-in USB chargers) and that I might end up sitting with a drunken Shinty team who wanted to party all night long in plastic Viking helmets. That’s the kind of luck I have when travelling sometimes.

In the end there were no party people, but I was happy to have made the minor upgrade nonetheless. Those roughing it in the standard seats didn’t look wholly uncomfortable but they were certainly crammed together and they were at the mercy of the sunrise. No place for vampires. Conversely, the sleeping pod room had dipped lights and was practically silent. There was hardly anyone in the room, which suited me just fine.

One thing struck me as potentially imperfect, however, and it was that the pod chairs came in twos. There had been an assumption in the design process that most people would travel with a partner. A solo traveller, I felt glad that the room was so empty and that I wouldn’t have to sleep next to a stranger. The armrest dividing the two recliners was slight. It would be practically like sharing a bed with them. How could anyone cope with that?

Maybe you’d get lucky and end up with a good-looking partner and you could lie there feeling titillated. I can’t speak for everyone but this would make me feel like a terrible creep and I wouldn’t like it at all. But wouldn’t that be better than being paired with a snoring, farting walrus of a travelling salesman? Or an angry mohawked punk rocker who liked to play with knives? I’m actually not sure which scenario would be worse.

These were the thoughts that went through my mind, stopping me from sleeping, for much of the crossing. I spent my two Shetland days in a near-shamanic state, dream-walking through columns of ancient stone.

On the return journey, I boarded the ferry and once again went straight to my sleeping pod. This time, my pod was in a slightly different sort of room. The lights were not dipped and one bulkhead was lined with bright, sunny windows.

Hmm, I thought. Okay. I can handle this. So long as I’m not given a neighbour, that is! Even as the thought took shape, I knew in my heart I’d be given a neighbour. This ferry seemed busier than the last one; I’d queued for slightly longer while boarding. Urgh. As well as my terror of having to essentially sleep with a stranger to secure cheap passage back to Aberdeen, mine was a window seat which meant I’d have to bother them whenever I wanted the toilet or simply to exercise my freedom by going for a walk around the deck.

The neighbour came up and said, “have I understood properly that this is Seat 10?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I think we’re going to be neighbours.”

He seemed friendly and almost apologetic, but there was something offputtingly zany about him too. He wore an ironical smile and a pair of patched, multi-coloured trousers like something a trainee juggler might wear. He was perhaps 20 and reminded me of the Little Prince. I couldn’t sleep next to the Little Prince. I just couldn’t. Not tonight, not ever. I’d feel like a nonce. Maybe it would turn me into one. Aren’t you one? said something evil in my brain. NO I AM NOT said another bit of my brain. It’s difficult being insane.

“Oh that’s just perfect,” I said, unable to hide my distaste.

The lad looked crestfallen. I hadn’t meant to be unfriendly but the lack of sleep had clearly made me incapable of disguising my thoughts. Obviously, few people would really want a neighbour in these situations but there was something in the way I’d said “Oh that’s just perfect” that sounded personal, that I’d judged him by his age or possibly his trousers and I might not have rejected someone else.

“Let’s see how things go,” I said, trying to sound more friendly, “and one of us can move later if there are still spare seats. Then we’ll both have plenty of room.”

“It looks like a busy crossing,” he said. Did he want to sleep next to me? Why? I’m almost 40 and I hadn’t showered in three days if you didn’t count the rain shower I’d endured at the Broch of Clickimin. My beard and hair were long and Jesussy and I looked like someone who’d been on a vision quest, which I sort of had.

He left his rucksack on the seat next to mine and went out to the bar. I spotted him later when I went for a walk, reading a magazine with his headphones in and still wearing that same ironical smile. We avoided each other’s gaze.

When I saw an attendant, I asked if I could switch to another sleeping pod room and he asked why. “The, um, Little Prince,” I said, gesturing toward the bar with my thumb as if he’d immediately see my position.

“I’m sorry?” said the attendant and, trying a different tack, I explained that the window seat made me feel claustrophobic.

“The window seat makes you feel claustrophobic?” he asked, presumably contemplating the wide, even desirable, vistas across the sea.

I explained that I prefer the aisle and that was that. He said I should come back and ask again in half an hour when the Captain had emailed the full manifest and he’d know where to reseat me. I enjoyed this minor insight into how the ferry was organised.

I went back to my sleeping pod with the intention of waiting out the half-hour for the Captain to send his email and then fell asleep at the window while watching our gentle passage through the sea.

When I woke briefly in the night and looked around in mild disorientation, I saw that the Little Prince had silently collected his rucksack while I drooled unconsciously at the window. I felt terrible.

Toothbrush Blues

I can never find quite the right toothbrush for me.

Well, actually, the ones sold by Muji come pretty close but this is where it gets complicated. First, they’re made of plastic and I’d really like to start using those bamboo ones that take less of a toll on the environment, so when I buy my Muji toothbrush it’s always with a slight sense of failure and a vow to do better next time.

I’ve been using a Muji toothbrush now, as usual, for about a year, which is far too long. The bristles have started to come out and they’re probably so raddled with mouth bacteria by now that not brushing my teeth is probably healthier than brushing them at this point. So, today, I finally went to an organic grocery store to check out their line in wham-bam-boo.

The trouble with bamboo brushes is that the head is always absurdly large. I can’t get over it. Who needs such a big head on their toothbrush? You can’t get into the grooves between indivudual teeth with such a big head and whenever I scrub the roof of my mouth with it, the wooden backside of the head feels like a veritable expanse and it makes me choke. It’s not ideal.

The naughty Muji ones meanwhile look so good in the glass on the side of the wash basin. They feel nice in the hand, nice in the mouth, and they have the perfect head size. Even accounting for the twice-daily pinch of plastic guilt, I’ve just never been able to do better than the ones at Muji.

I don’t like to order Muji toothbrushes online because the shipping is expensive and, actually, I like to go to Muji just to look around every so often, so the need for a toothbrush is always a good reason to visit a branch if I find myself in London or Paris or some other city blessed with a Muji.

I suppose I could buy a clutch of Muji toothbrushes whenever I’m in a Muji so that I don’t end up using one for a whole year but I never do this. In part it’s because I’m a cheapskate but it’s also because I vow, every time I buy a new Muji toothbrush, that this will be the last time because I really should be using bamboo anyway.

So I’m in the organic grocery store, looking at the toothbrushes. They’re all sealed into little carboard packets which look difficult to open with tearing them and, you know, you probably shouldn’t be opening sealed toothbrushes and putting them back on the shelf anyway. But then I noticed that they sell a kid’s version so, thinking a kid’s version would surely have a smaller head, I bought one.

On getting it home and opening the packet, I find that the head is still absurdly huge. The concession for children is that the handle is small. So now, as well as having an inch-long head that fills half of my mouth with zero precision, I have to daintilly use the child-size handle. It’s so small that I worry about losing it in there.

If you’re reading this and there’s a chance that you’ll cross paths with me at some point, please, in the meantime, look out for the perfect bamboo toothbrush with a small head and a handle designed for adults. I want as many eyes on this search as possible. Or, you know, if you live in a Muji-blessed city, please just bring me a good one from there. Help me to end the madness. Thank you.


I just closed a browser tab containing a Radio 3 interview with composer Janet Beat.

I’d been at concert that involved some of her work on the weekend and thought “I’d like to learn more about her, how interesting!”

But today, when opening my laptop to do a bit of writing, I callously swiped it away as if dramatically clearing a table of clutter to make sweet lurve on it, sending cutlery clattering to the tiles and apples bouncing away down the lane.

“It is Wednesday,” I thought, “the weekend was ages ago. Snap out of it, buster.”

This is something I’ve noticed about getting a little bit older. Impatience. I’ve found myself thinking “come on, come on, come on” while waiting for train doors to open.

Closing that tab today was an act of slightly manic prioritising. Prioritising used to be about doing my best now and later. Now, it comes from a sense of low-level background terror that maybe there really isn’t enough time left to do everything.

Christ, I’m only 39!

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.

Yeeeaaaaaarghh! etc.


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.”

Tomato Plant

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?

Pandemic Moments

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.

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.

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.


If you enjoyed this story, (a) shame on you, and (b) please consider buying my books A Loose Egg and Stern Plastic Owl for countless other flights of fancy.

Good Morning

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.”




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

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.

Parasitic Wasps

Friend Kristin has read my moth diary and she’s keen to tell me about a “natural” solution involving parasitic wasps.

Apparently you release the wasps at home and then seek out any unhatched moth eggs, feasting on them as the world’s grossest caviar.

Unleashing some wasps is immensely appealing, but I can’t help wonder if the situation wouldn’t get out of control. What, prey tell, will eat the wasps? Before you know it, you’ve entered an “old woman who swallowed a fly” situation and you now have a rather impractical horse infestation and you’re spending your evenings filling out the import forms on various apex predators. Your little West End flat becomes known as the spot where passersby are routinely plucked off the street by tentacles. We’d never get post again.

As it happens, the pheromone trap is doing rather well, our ten-moths-a-day murder count now reduced to one or even fewer. The trap now resembles a luscious moth-wing carpet, which I now plan to use to repair the various holes they’ve made in an act of mortal irony.

You Come Home From Work

You come home from work and you turn the television on. Something’s wrong. Inspector Morse is on every single channel.

You thump the top of the set in a caveman bid to escape John Thaw’s stern face but your hand passes through the set with a sickening tear. The television set is made of paper!

The knobs and dials are paper, the remote control is paper, the set-top aerial is a triangle made from paper.

And that’s how you discover YOU’RE IN THE ARMANDO IANNUCCI SHOW. It’s 2001 again and you’ll have to come home the long way.

You’re On Holiday

You’re on holiday in California, admiring the view at Big Sur, when you approach a local to ask for directions.

The man panics. “It’s no good!” he shrieks, looking around helplessly, “I can’t do it!” and then he leaps into the canyon.

Only the canyon’s not a canyon. The Californian passes through it with a sickening tear and runs on and on into an impossible white distance.

And that’s how you discover YOU’RE IN THE TRUMAN SHOW. It is Season 3 and the ratings are in the toilet.

After the Storm

It’s been an atypically social week, something friendly lined for every single night and three of the days.

So many pint glasses and ticket stubs has meant putting my Street Fighter health bar into the red and storming the treasury in a way not strictly compatible with the lifestyle of a twenty-first-century person of letters.

My idle self feels happy to have blown a week off so decadently, but as I look at the week’s spoils, it’s hard not to feel a pinch of dismay. Was fun had? Yes. Was your heart or mind opened even a crack? Oh yes. How’s your manuscript coming along? Quiet, you.

Climate Change Does Not Spark Joy

To the Glasgow contingent of the International Climate Strike where I march with thousands of truant schoolchildren, shouting “Fuck You, Boris Johnson!”

Look, they started it.

Among their midget ranks I loom like a benevolent periscope, admiring the sights from high above their heads and providing a convenient landmark for other marchers to orientate themselves. “Yes, Mum, I’m between the green flag and the geek.”

There are loads of great placards including “Earth is More Important Than Homework” and “Too Cool for School? Not In This Climate.”

The best one though (or at least the cutest) is a placard that shows Marie Kondo saying “Climate Change Does Not Spark Joy.”

This One’s Fine

I am afraid of spiders but delighted by ants. I always want to know more about ants–about their culture, the ways they communicate, what sort of music they’re into–but I don’t want to know anything about spiders. Even a picture of a spider lifts my intestines up into my chest as if I am in free-fall.

One day, in Montreal, Samara comes with me to the Bibliothèque Nationales, so that she can vet a big photographic book of ants for me in case there are any pictures of spiders.

I hide behind my hands and listen to her turning the pages one by one.

“That one’s fine,” she says, “that one’s fine, this one’s fine, oh this one’s adorable.

“Thank you for doing this, honey,” I say, still hiding, and I wonder if she finds this charming or if it’s finally dawning on her what she’s got herself into.

“This one’s fine,” she says, “this one’s fine, this one’s… oh my GOD.”

“A spider?” I ask.


“Are they eating it?”

“They’re eating parts of it,” she says, “And parts of it are eating them.”

“I don’t want to see it!,” I say, tightening the gaps in my fingers, “And I don’t want to hear any more about it!”

“Shh!” someone says, “Tabarwet…

I listen to Samara close the book and put it back on the shelf. I hear it slide tightly and firmly, safe between the other entomological quartos.

Sometimes, at night, I think of that book and the horror I know it contains, on the other side of the ocean, existing.


Samara asks what a tiny home ghost story would be like.

Smol,” I say.

Once l’esprit de l’escalier has kicked in, I realise that, since the story would be set in a converted shipping container, it would have to be about the ghost of a stevedore stranded deep inland with a couple of earnest hipsters.

The ghost and the hipsters would have different points of view on, like, everything.

Jingle Jangle

Ellison mentions a book called the Jingle Jangle Tales. I don’t know what it is and I don’t care but it makes me imagine Crump-esque novel based on real and imaginary Jimmy Savile crimes, “Jingle Jangle” being one of his puerile catchphrases. It really could work. Jingle Jangle Tales: What Jim’ll Did Next.


There’s a big black tomcat who sits in the window of a flat downstairs. All he ever does it sit there on the back of a couch, watching people come and go with his big, golden eyes.

We call him Owly because (a) he looks a bit like an owl, and (b) we’re a pair of knuckle-heads.

Anyway, I’ve not seen him for a while. I hope he hasn’t died or run away. But why would he run away when there’s so much owling to be done?

That’s what we say he does, owling. He’s owling out into the street, burning holes into walls and through hedges with his piercing golden gaze.

“I saw Owly,” Samara might say when she comes in from work.

“Was he owling?” I’ll ask.

“Yes,” she might say, “Almost took my eye out.”

I hope he’s alright because who would do the owling? I don’t want to get roped into it.

Shadows on the Wall

To an arts centre (let’s not name it because I’m about to be a swine to it) for nine experimental short films from Japan, circa 1981.

In the event it’s only five films but that’s okay because I’m not sure how much longer we’d have been able to take it. And it’s not just our party of misery guts; half the audience is restless and squirming and quick to whisper to their neighbour about, tee-hee, maybe being the first ones to stand up and leave.

The problem is not that the films are naff (though they are naff, the point of screening not being to applaud their brilliance but to glimpse some creative acts whose points of origin happen to be a long time ago in a far-flung land) but that the screening room is so impossibly uncomfortable.

It’s hot and so poorly ventilated that we must all breathe air that has passed through the lungs of sixty other open-minded cinemagoers first, the oxygen value rapidly diminishing with every shallow gasp. I’ve suffered through many a Fringe sauna and leaky poetry tent in the name of ART but this screening room took the absolute cake.

Something does strike me about the films though and that is how pure and playful they are. They’re such small deals. Many short films now, though perhaps critically “better” than these five, exist either to launch careers or to show how sporting some famous director is to slum it in the upstart world of shorts.

But these are mere capsules of honest fun, almost like home movies. They are minor acts of affecting change in the world, like using your hands to cast animal shadows on the wall when there just happens to be a lamp at an obliging angle. Like my diary, I think. No biggie. Just shadows on the wall.

Why Did I Look?

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

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…”


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: