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04 September 2019 | Diary

Yesterday, I took some raisins from the jar in our kitchen. A single raisin fell to floor and, impossibly, has yet to be found.

The same thing happens again this morning. If this continues, we’ll be ankle-deep in raisins and we won’t be able to see any of them.


03 September 2019 | Diary

I spend too much of the day following news of the Benn Bill, the most powerful weapon at the moment in the arsenal against you-know-what.

Rolling news always leaves me feeling slightly demented and incapable of doing anything like work, so I cut my losses and go to the cinema for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:

Pussycat: Obviously, I’m not too young to fuck you. But obviously, you are too old to fuck me.

Cliff Booth: What I’m too old to do is go to jail for poontang. Prison’s trying to get me all my life, they ain’t got me yet. The day it does, it won’t be because of you. No offence.

I mean who talks like that? Poontang. No offence. I sort of love it.

When I return to the news, Caroline Lucas has lambasted Jacob Rees Mogg for lying around on the benches like a Lothario. She never misses a chance to fight evil and she really shows him up. I hope one day to see her drag him by the ear out of the House where the protesters can tear him limb from limb. Actually, that might be the Tarantino talking.

How I Archive My Paperwork

02 September 2019 | Diary

The new Idler magazine is handed to me by Hanson, dutiful postie to our Scottish Belle Ombre.

Hanson’s excited because the chap from Sleaford Mods is on the cover and gurning at us through the cellophane.

Tearing off the wrapper, I turn first, as is human and natural, to my column. It’s probably my worst one yet. It’s all about how I archive my paperwork.

I don’t recall what hurry there was on the day I wrote the piece or in what flavour of spiritual funk I found myself, but in terms of ideas I was clearly running on vapours. I must remember that the column is one of my most consistent and important outputs and I resolve to do better.

Still, there are two lines I’m quietly pleased with:

The idler prevails by putting her feet up and leaving them there.

And, to describe the joy of throwing things away, I describe my paperwork as:

snuggled down warmly in the landfill.

Maybe I’m being paranoid, but these conjoined minuscule moments are probably why I didn’t get fired or spiked.

As it happens, today is filing day for the December issue and I’ve been asked to write about winter clothes. I do have a way to tie this to the column’s “escape” paradigm and I have already sprinkled it with what are hopefully some enjoyable and unpredictable turns of phrase, but I’m still left thinking of Will Self’s term for this sort of thing: “the new glib.”

As I say, I must do better, even if it means defying the idler’s credo of trying harder. And I will!I will!

Some Innocent Blowhole

01 September 2019 | Diary

I go for a lot of walks and, as I do so, I feel a near-constant urge to pick up litter.

I’ve considered buying some gloves and bin bags for just this purpose: so that my walks might be more useful than mere exercises in burning calories, collecting steps, and providing an admittedly-important space for thought.

And yet I resist. As compelling and reasonable as the urge to pick up litter might be, I don’t want to become an unpaid a litter picker. I’m already a barely-paid (but integrity-rich) writer and a (very, very) poor man’s David Sedaris. There’s a point of justice here too: the council should divert funds away from middle management and into picking up litter faster than people can drop it and, of course, people shouldn’t be dropping it in the first place.

So I’ve decided to impose a little rule about picking up some litter: I will pick up plastic take-away forks. Goodness knows there’s enough of them around and they’re often overlooked by the council’s “pro” litter-pickers on account of their being small. That way, I can increase the utility value of my walks without becoming obsessive about it or feeling like a volunteer patsy.

I have a thought about small pieces of plastic litter that go unpicked: they probably end up in the ocean and jammed into some innocent blowhole, don’t they? I mean, Glasgow’s not a coastal town, but these plastic forks and bottle caps and the likes are probably rained along the gutters, washed into the Clyde, swept into the Firth, and onward into the sea. It hardly takes geological time for Senga McWeegie’s absent-minded take-away forkdrop to end up juddering like a schoolboy’s ruler from some sinless Caribbean swim bladder.

So that’s what I’ve started to do. On my walks, I pick up forks and I put them in the bin, working on the assumption that they’ll soon be snuggled down warmly in the landfill (yes, this is a time-travelling hyperlink to the age of the Morlocks) where they can’t be any more trouble. Join me! Pick up some forks! Stoop, I dare you, for the Oceans!

The Doggos

31 August 2019 | Diary

I’ve never been overly fond of dogs but my wife loves them and her enthusiasm is clearly rubbing off on me.

Whenever we see a dog being walked, or sitting in a car, or waiting patiently outside a shop, or miles and miles away from us in the distance, or in a painting, or in a Where’s Wally? book, or in a dream she’s had, my wife says “a doggo!” and I say, “yes, marvellous,” and then life is allowed to continue until the next canine friend comes along.

But now, when I see a dog on my own, my association is no longer of Cujo chewing through the side of that Ford Pinto, but of my happy wife’s glee at their species’ simple existence.

Today, I saw a Golden Retriever on the train home from the wedding and he was being so good that I’m fairly certain the pupils of my eyes turned into love hearts.

The dog was clearly troubled by the motion of the train, but because his man wasn’t scared, the dog followed his lead and retained his cool.

He was such a good boy (a “twelve out of ten good boy,” as I’ve learned to describe it) that I felt in my bones that he should be given a loving pat-pat on the head and also, if at all possible, a biscuit.

That’s proper dog fondness isn’t it? I like dogs! I think to myself. Hooray! I like dogs at last! I’m normal!

Samara looks on with joy in her heart.

Hurrying to our connection at Crewe station, I hear a furious yapping and growling from some dogs around the corner. We soon see that the yappers are a pair of lint-coloured, crooked-fanged gremlins being carted around in a pushchair. They’re going berserk because they’ve spotted another dog from across the concourse.

In what is clearly a test, Samara asks if I still love doggos.

I pick up an imaginary telephone, calmly dial an invisible number, and say coolly, “gas them.”

So am I back to Square One now? Or is it simply that some dogs are 12/10 good boys while others are throttlable bastards?

The Wedding Cake

30 August 2019 | Diary

Today is my sister’s wedding and, in the afternoon, Samara and I find ourselves alone in a room with the wedding cake.

It’s a beautiful, three-tier lemon cake and, so far as I know, none of the other guests has even seen it yet.

The excitement is too much for me and I decide that I want to touch the cake with my finger. Must touch the cake with my finger.

So what? I just want to be able to reminisce about touching the cake with my finger while nobody’s looking. I’m making memories.

“I’m going to poke it,” I say aloud, advancing upon the cake as if under the control of a hypnotist.

“Please don’t do that,” says Samara, but I pretend I haven’t heard her and I continue in my zombie march, my Judderman shadow cast upon said confection, eyes wide and finger extended like a malevolent Aye-Aye.

And I touch the cake with the tip of my finger.

What happens next is a bit of a blur, what with all the screaming devils in my head and all, but who’d have thought a wedding cake would be so soft?

My finger leaves a dimple in the icing.

It’s only slight. A minor imperfection. It’s not like I rammed my whole hand into it.

“Look what you did!” says Samara.

“Fuck,” I say.

The thought flickers across my mind that maybe I can correct it but, fearing a Father Ted-style “tapping out the dent in the car” situation–I throw the thought aside as most people would throw aside the thought of poking an unattended wedding cake, and decide instead to run away quite quickly.

If anyone should ask if I saw who touched the cake, I’ll pretend I’ve never even heard of cake. What is cake?

But, just as I turn on my heels, I find myself eye-to-eye with… some guy. A bloody witness!

A man with wire-rimmed glasses and a soul patch has come in and is staring at me. He’s seen the whole thing.

I consider pulling his trousers off in one sudden tug, but my wife is clearly already appalled enough by my behaviour for one wedding so we just walk past him sheepishly. It takes about an hour.

But whoever that guy was, he’ll always know that the bride’s brother at that wedding in 2019 poked the cake.

If he’s anything like me, the secret will nourish him for years to come. He’ll remember it at random moments–standing in line at the cinema, renting a lilo, repairing a shoe–and he’ll laugh. And people will look at him like he’s mad and this will make him laugh even more.

Or maybe–just maybe–he’s a TELL-TALE TIT.

Finding him and killing him is the only option now isn’t it?

Oh, why did I have to poke that wedding cake? I don’t even know anymore. But I think we can all agree that it was Samara’s fault. Imagine being in her position and not rugby tackling me to the ground. Honestly, you can’t take her anywhere.

The Wretched

29 August 2019 | Diary

On an England-bound train to attend my sister’s wedding, fields of harvested wheat zip by and a young business consultant sits at a table across the aisle.

She has a tattoo of a pineapple on her inner arm, one of a flamingo on her calf muscle, and a large bottle of Birra Moretti–opened but completely untouched–to the side of her laptop.

She’s beavering away at said laptop, or at least was beavering before collapsing suddenly into her own folded arms in the classic stance of white-collar despair.

On her screen is the source of her misery: a SWOT analysis for a gastropub.

Now, it’s not nice to make fun of the baffled or to withhold help from those who won’t help themselves, but bloody hell girl, the answer’s right in front of you! Drink the beer!

First Rule

28 August 2019 | Diary

All of the low-use fabric items in our home (bed linens, winter clothes) are neatly stacked and stored in vacuum-sealed bags, which always amuses any friends who happen to notice. They think I’m an anal-retentive madman.

While I’d be lying if I said the zip-locked order doesn’t appeal to that side of me, it’s really only a measure to thwart our pesky, gourmand house moths. The first rule of pest control, before you get onto exotic poisons and psychic warfare, is to remove their food supplies.

Or maybe the “first rule of pest control” is that we don’t talk about pest control. In which case my frequent blogging of the experience will probably see me barred from the clubhouse. I’ll have to hand in my insecticide-laden badge and moth-hunting gun, a teeny-tiny blunderbuss.

But maybe the first rule of pest control is actually more like a Hippocratic oath: “first do no harm by actively breeding pests, especially radioactive super-pests that will swallow the world.”

That one. I believe in that one.

The Millionth Me

27 August 2019 | Diary

No more! Please, no more!

Alan came over this evening to take some pictures, one of which will become the author photograph for a new book jacket. This meant another session of looking at my own dopey face on a screen for longer than is strictly healthy.

While it doesn’t have to be perfect, I don’t want to look at the book jacket on publication day only to see an entire asparagus hanging from a gap in my teeth or a sinister robed figure reflected in my glasses.

“Bloody Hell,” I’ll say, “This was approved by twelve different people.”

My task was to select three or four options from Alan’s shoot of a hundred. It’s a sort of torture to look at so many samey pictures of yourself. It’s like when you say the same word over and over until it loses all meaning, the worst word to plunge into meaninglessness being your own name. It’s a sort of existential threshing machine. I’m honestly not sure I could tell the difference now between my own long-serving face and, say, a lemon blancmange.

If I look in the mirror tomorrow and there’s an actual, factual lemon blancmange looking back at me, it’ll seem perfectly reasonable.

If you think this is vanity, it really isn’t. I don’t ever want to see the likes of Me again.

An interesting thing, at least, in looking at so many versions of what is essentially the same photograph is how the slightest angle of the head or the merest flicker of a thought on the lips can change a picture’s meaning so drastically. It’s like how the right or wrong choice of word can nail a sentence or leave it feeling too breezy or stilted. Though I don’t remember doing anything drastically different in any of these shots, the mood varies between “candidate for Young Journalist of the Year” and “it’s a good job we caught him when we did, m’lud.”

The Sellafield Special

26 August 2019 | Diary

Look at this brilliant-green spongecake I’m about to eat.

I’m not sure the photograph does justice to how tremblingly, retina-searingly green it is, but if you imagine a plutonium halo around it you’ll get the idea. It looks like it was baked in the reacor core at Sizewell B.

Ah, well. Here goes. Yum-yum-yum.

I’ll report any residual superpowers to the diary tomorrow. On the other hand, if I don’t make an entry, it’s probably because I’m out for a walk on the surface of the sun or something.