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.

Nowness: December 2023

December 2023 is almost over and I should be thinking about my end-of-year roundup more than updating the Now page. What can I say? I live in the Now.

My partner and I still live in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m a writer, though much of my work these past few months have been writing-adjacent or administering the necessary business side of writing. I’m fine with that.

Work

From the Sublime… just published a piece I wrote about Pogs and nostalgia in their second issue. It was fun to write about the idiotic cardboard discs and I like the whip-pan “Dudley via Honolulu” structure I came up with.

I’m making a film with Mark Cartwright and Anthony Irvine about the Iceman. We’re basically adapting my book into a documentary. It’s been nothing but fun so far. We’re trying to cover some of our expenses with a Kickstarter so please chip in if you can.

Issue 15 of New Escapologist is out now. It’s been my main workload for at least two months: writing, commissioning, editing, proofing, printing, promotion, shipping. I’m trying to arrange proper distribution for this one too, which I think will happen in January thanks to distributor Ra & Olly.

My first novel, Rub-A-Dub-Dub just scooped a Saltire Award for Best Book Cover. Amazing. September also saw a nice interview about the book with my old friend Reggie Chamberlain-King in Pop Matters.

I’ve almost finished editing John Robinson’s second book about Momus. It’ll be published by P&H in February.

This is a lot of work for me. I’ve loved every minute of it but I’m looking forward to a proper break while the world enjoys Christmas and probably a deceleration in the year of the orangutan.

Reading

I’m currently reading Bore Hole, the memoir of Joe Melen who drilled a hole in his own head. Recommended.

I also recently read Butts by Heather Radke, a cultural history of arses.

Nina Simon’s Gum by Warren Ellis, meanwhile, is the story of how the Dirty fiddler pocketed Dr. Simone’s gobbed-up gum at a concert and what happened next. It’s fab.

Travel

My partner was finally granted citizenship this month. Rejoice! It’s been a long journey. Her passport also arrived today (a separate process, by the way), which means we can leave the UK for periods longer than 180 days if we want to. Ironically, citizenship means the ability to stay without fear of deportation but also the ability to get off this blasted island.

I was in Paris recently, visiting the Asia Now exhibition, dossing in a hostel, and hanging out with Landis who was over from Chicago, signing books and consorting with publishers.

I visited the Netherlands in November ostensibly for a day of Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht but also flaneuring around (and hostelling again) in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Delft. Oh! And Luxembourg, which isn’t even in the Netherlands! It’s hard to convey how much I enjoyed this trip: the freedom of solo travel, all those lovely European trains, a rich variety of experience.

I was filming in Wolverhampton and Birmingham later in the same month with Anthony and Mark, and also meeting the amazing Fliss, Jim, Michael and Arthur.

Time Wasting

Most weeks, we attend a particular Monday night pub quiz. It’s a waste of time, money, and health but we continue to attend for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s because we keep WINNING. Oh yeah.

For TV, my partner and I have been watching Moonlighting (1985-89), which is a lot of fun so far with its fast-talking silliness and two charismatic leads but I worry about all the fourth-wall breaking that’s starting to happen in the second season. On my own, I’ve been watching Season 5 of Fargo, which is awesome. The pared-down minimalist narrative doesn’t get my blood up like Seasons 1-3 but is a welcome reduction after the messy Chris Rock season.

A film I enjoyed recently was Other Music, a documentary about the important record shop in New York City. I also enjoyed Wil Hodgson’s comedy show Barbicidal Tendencies, free to watch on YouTube thanks to GFS.

Here’s my picture of the “month” (this time with Mark and Anthony) so you can continue to monitor my ongoing decay:

You’ve already seen that one? Okay, here’s another:

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.

Nowness: September 2023

September 2023 is breathing provocatively down our necks. My partner and I still live in Glasgow, Scotland. And I’m still, thank fuck, a writer.

Autumn is approaching and I’ve been eating veggies and apples from Alan‘s allotment. Nature’s bounty has NOT given me the squits. In banal news we’ve got a new sofa bed coming tomorrow. We sold the old sofa on Gumtree last week and we’ve been sitting on the floor ever since.

Work

Last month’s Kickstarter to bring back New Escapologist went extremely well. In fact, it outstripped all of my expectations. The first new issue of the magazine is now printed and available and continuing to sell well.

Work has already begun on Issue 15. I’ve been writing, editing, and commissioning like a trooper.

The magazine is available in a handful of shops as of this month too. The ever-supportive Aye-Aye Books in Glasgow has a hefty wodge of copies, while Print Culture and Good Press in Glasgow are stocking it too. Exciting news for Londoners: we’re also stocked in the famous magCulture now. Success!

Also this month I’ve been working hard to promote my first novel, Rub-A-Dub-Dub. This has involved interviews and prize submissions and some chats with booksellers. I’m not sure when this will all start to pay off.

Oh! And I had a piece about the Iceman published in From the Sublime…, the cool new zine from Manchester.

Reading

I’m currently reading Salinger’s Nine Stories. This particular copy was given to me by Martin who found it in a Montreal bin.

I also recently read Claire Dederer’s excellent Monsters, Rodge Glass’s biography of Alasdair Gray, John Robinson’s first of three biographies of Momus (which I enjoyed so much that I uncharacteristically left a review for it at Waterstones), a so-so selection of comic essays by Sloane Crosley called I Was Told There’d Be Cake, and a great comic book called Hell Phone by Benji Nate.

Travel

We’re still waiting on my partner’s citizenship application and trying not to think about it.

This month I was in Wolverhampton to be interviewed for YouTube by Ginger Beard Mark, Hay-on-Wye to see some middlebrow tourist bookshops, and at the Edinburgh Fringe for fun and profit.

I’ll return to Edinburgh this week for some exiting hangouts and to see Simon Munnery’s Fringe show, Jerusalem.

Time Wasting

Most weeks, we attend a particular Monday night pub quiz. It’s a waste of time, money, and health but we continue to attend for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s because we keep WINNING. Oh yeah.

For TV, I’ve been watching Fleishman is in Trouble, which is okay but I don’t particularly recommend it. Danes dains to be great in it. My partner also got us into Gothic Homemaking with Aurelio Voltaire, which is exactly as it sounds.

The main film I can remember watching this month was The Red Shoes, a beautiful 1948 Powell and Pressburger movie. Oh, and Barbie at the GFT, which is a load of old piss really but the atmosphere in the cinema was fun.

Here’s my picture of the month (this time with GBM) so you can continue to monitor my ongoing decay:

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.

Nowness: July 2023

It’s July 2023. My partner and I live in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m a writer.

It’s summer and the sun has been shining. I have a big pile of library books to enjoy. We recently made the switch from crap vegan margarine to real butter from a dairy I used to walk past when employed by Stirling University in 2014: it gives me a pleasant sense of connectedness when I spread it on my toast.

Work

I’m bringing back my small press magazine, New Escapologist and I’ve been working joyfully on the comeback issue. Please back the mag’s return on Kickstarter if you’d like to.

I published my first novel earlier this month. It’s called Rub-A-Dub-Dub.

Go Faster Stripe recently published my book Melt It! (with Anthony Irvine). We had a launch event of sorts at Guggleton Farm Arts in England last week.

Reading

I’ve been reading about early German Romanticism, fungi, Dora Carrington, and Eric Gill. I love public libraries.

Travel

I just got my passport renewed! It took only two weeks.

This month we’re also applying for my partner’s UK citizenship. Wish us luck please.

I spent last week in London, Devon, and Wiltshire. There are photographs in the July section of my Tumblr photoblog.

Time Wasting

Most weeks, we attend a particular Monday night pub quiz. It’s a waste of time, money, and health but we continue to attend for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

For TV, I’ve been watching Jeopardy! Masters, Mr. Inbetween, Cobra Kai, The Bear, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The only film I can remember seeing this month was The Red Shoes, the devastatingly gorgeous 1948 Powell and Pressburger film.

A friend sometimes gives me free tickets to the GFT. The most recent film I saw was Beau is Afraid. It gave me a nightmare.

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.”

Here Come the St00pids

I wonder if Mastermind, the TV quiz, would attract so many contestants if it was called Here Come the St00pids.

There was recently a question on the show along the lines of “rollerball, felt tip, and biro are all types of what?”

They might as well have just asked “What is a pen?,” the answer being “A pen is a pen, Clive.”

I can just imagine the question setter drumming their fingers on their desk, looking around the room for inspiration but too sleepy to open a book.

To be fair to everyone, the contestant answered it correctly.

Renewable Energy

Some insights I recently came across in my reading and jotted into my notebook. I find them relatable.

Here’s Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning (1946):

The attempt to develop a sense of humour and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living.

And here’s Haruki Murakami in Novelist as a Vocation (2022):

Writers who do not rely on weighty material but instead reach inside themselves to tell their tales, by contrast, have an easier time of it. That’s because they can draw on their daily lives — even events routinely taking place around them, the scenes they witness, the people they encounter — and then freely apply their imaginations to that material to construct their own fiction. In short, they use a form of renewable energy.