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25 August 2019 | Diary

On that train last night, Laura and I spent some time discussing whether I’m “a neurotic, a pervert, or a psychotic.”

I’m sorry to say this wasn’t idle flirting. Laura is an expert in Lacanian analysis and those are the three personality types Lacan describes. She sees herself as a neurotic and believes that I’m one too.

She’s probably right but I try to convince her I’m a pervert anyway, since this is surely the best of those three things.

“You used to collect stamps,” she says.

“But for pleasure,” I say, “for pleasure.”

It’s the latest instalment, I fear, in trying to convince the world (and myself) that I’m more Muskrat than Hemulen. (These are the Jansson personality types I’m into.)

Passenger Announcement at Croy

24 August 2019 | Diary

On the way home from Edinburgh, the train is frighteningly full and some drunk boys are “tanning” their Buckfast. They shout “Fuck the passengers!” and “Fuck yer Festival!”

It’s not even the last train home. We’d torn ourselves away early in the hopes of avoiding this all-too-predictable Hell. Thankfully, nimble Laura runs ahead and snags a four-seat table for our party. This is more than just a miracle: I never assume sitting will be possible on a festival train. My habit is to stand in the vestibule, cling onto a pole with my bum cheeks, and to hope against hope that there aren’t so many passengers that my face ends up squashed against the glass.

The relief of being able to sit under these conditions–and with friends instead of strangers!–is more blissful than I can describe. I cannot believe our luck and I barely notice when we pull out of Waverley ten minutes late.

Even so, the hot train is rammed with human meat. The standees puff and blow and roll their eyes. It’s awful. The train even feels heavy and I imagine the back bumper screeching against the rails and leaving sparks in our wake.

There’s a passenger announcement at Croy (a station whose name I always think sounds like a small tinned fish), to apologise for the delay. Astonishingly, it explains that the train managers had wilfully departed late to “let as many passengers board as possible.” What?


23 August 2019 | Diary

There’s a chap wearing a kilt at a train platform this morning, and Samara’s delighted when he produces a mobile phone from his sporran.

Life in Modern Scotland!

“Maybe it’s an Aye Phone?” I offer.

She stares silently at my face all the way to Edinburgh.

Twilight of the Word

22 August 2019 | Diary

I’m reading the Edgeworks edition of The Harlan Ellison Hornbook.

It probably has more front matter (introductions, dedications, author’s notes, copyright declarations, etc.) than any book I’ve ever seen. That’s if we don’t consider Tristram Shandy to be an entire novel of front matter or indeed The Book of Prefaces to be, well, a book of prefaces.

Anyway, after a page of gorgeous five-inch-long, hoary old URLs to Ellison-related websites, there’s this:

Was he right? My gut says “yes” but my head cranks out a ticker tape of hyper-rational excuses and exceptions.

I’m enjoying the book, by the way; it was in the batch I borrowed from Unclef. I’m forming an opinion that Ellison was more “alive” than anyone currently living can claim to be alive, “all this electronic crap” likely being part of the reason for this clear and sudden loss of gross global consciousness.

Too Many Oranges

21 August 2019 | Diary

There was some sort of mix-up with our weekly grocery order and this morning’s delivery includes forty easy-peel oranges.

I’m not sure what to do with them all. Email me if you want an orange and I’ll send you one.


20 August 2019 | Diary

Today I made a one-minute video to represent my book at the publisher’s sales conference. It’s one of those things that shouldn’t–mustn’t!–take much time but inevitably does.

No matter how strict you are when going into the job–“I will not spend more than two hours on this”–it was always bound to devour the whole day.

It starts with the discovery that you’re out of practice at speaking to a camera or ad-libbing at all and so it takes you about thirty takes to get it right, even though all you’re doing is saying “Hi, it’s me, and here’s what my latest book is about.” Why is that so difficult? It wouldn’t be hard if you were explaining it to someone in the pub, so why is it such a rotten thing to get right when you’re on your own in a room with a recording device?

A good recording is ruined because you realise there’s a moth on your glasses or that a lamp in another room casts a weird glow against a wall and onto your face, making you look like you’re telling a campfire ghost story. Oh, and the Swiss cheese plant you’ve been using for background colour seems uncannily to be doing the bunny-ears thing behind your head.

After three or four hours, you finally have some serviceable footage. But then you need to edit it for time and quality. You cut the “ums” and “erms” and a bit where you nervously swallow, giving the game away that you’re not a professional speaker at all but some sort of carbon-based creature susceptible to peristalsis who probably even has an entire digestive system and lives with all the disgraces such a thing would suggest.

Somehow, all of your pruning and worrying makes things worse and your image on the screen begins to look like a glitching Max Headroom and you just have to start again.

After a while, you’re so tired of looking at your own mouth that it’s giving you the creeps. Is that even a mouth? Is that what people look at when you’re facing them? It’s not so much the kissing and pontificating vehicle you’d always imagined was on the front of your head but some sort of fissure, like the kind of thing you’d see on a fluke worm or a nematode.

The moon is rising but you press on regardless and emails are coming in to ask where the heck your video is and you idly consider attending the the sales conference in person so that you could just explain yourself.

Finally — finally! — you get something together that looks like a passable sales video. It’s twenty seconds too long but sod it you’re only human and your dinner’s going cold.

You set the thing to export in the highest available resolution, not because you’re mad for resolution or anything but because you imagine that’s what a professional video spod would do. In truth, you don’t know what “resolution” even is aside from that a high one is how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is presented and so that’s probably what people expect to see, right?

While you’re eating dinner, you’re wondering all the while if the export has finished yet and also how you’ll beam such a monstrously large file into a conference room in Munich anyway.

You go and check on it–tentatively tapping the track-pad to wake the screen up without accidentally erasing everything–and then, when the video masterpiece fades into life, you see it:

The basket of laundry in the background.

Fuck. Everything.

The Survivor

19 August 2019 | Diary

As I opened my umbrella this morning, a moth flew out of it.

Snob Moths

18 August 2019 | Diary

My trousers, dear diary, have fallen.

To moths I mean.

And not just any trousers. These were the long-loved, Italian wool Cad & The Dandy trousers. They were something of a souvenir of the days when I could afford such things. I’d had them for over ten years and I’d been planning to pass them down to my children or, failing that, to someone else’s. Or maybe to the Robert Wringham Memorial Library and Museum.

But now, all is lost. They’re in the outside bin now, riddled with minibeasts, and waiting for Stinky (our local tramp and victim of nominative determinism) to dig out.

Clearly, our moths are snob moths, for they have not touched any of our other clothes. Only the finest dining will satisfy this winged Hun.

Well, I hope you are satisfied, moths, because this means War. Capital “W” and everything.

I claimed upwards of thirty of their number today, just stopping short at mounting their heads on teeny-tiny pikes.

I vacuumed the floorboards–thoroughly–to rattle their cage a bit. Then I squashed any that happened to flutter up into the room. Then I set the pheromone trap, which has so far claimed five. Then, after thoroughly checking for other damage, I zip-locked anything that might constitute a food supply. Then I raided the DMZ (by which I mean the hall closet, which I thought the moths mutually understood to be neutral territory). Raiding that closet, where so many of them hang like bats during daylight hours, was like that bit in John Carpenter’s Vampires where they tear the walls off the undead’s dosshouse to bring them screaming into the sunlight.

As night falls, I find myself bare-chested and bellowing into the stars, face smeared red with the blood of my enemies. Or, as the case may be, slightly dusty with their wing powder.


17 August 2019 | Diary

Once, in London, I stopped to briefly look at the houses of parliament. An American tourist was squinting up at the clock tower with a strange look on his face so I asked him what he thought of it. “It’s not very big,” he said.

I’d never thought of “bigness” as a quality the clock tower was supposed to possess, but later it occurred to me that “Big Ben” might in fact promise bigness.

It left me wondering if tourists come from all over the world to visit what I see as a symbol of democracy or Imperialism, expecting to see “a big clock.”

I’m working on a travel book at the moment, part of which involves transcribing and learning from the travel journals of a friend, Wentworth, who has been to all manner of places including Myanmar, Iran, and North Korea. From Washington DC he writes:

I have read complaints that the White House is underwhelmingly small but I found it to be a rare example of restraint in the USA.

There it is again! The tourist expectation of bigness. I now wonder if an assumption of bigness comes from a reverence for powerful institutions (since my sample concerns only UK and US government buildings) or if a sense of awe comes, like an optical illusion, from sheer distance or the promise of pilgrimage.

Answers on a postcard.

A Memorable Sandwich

16 August 2019 | Diary

Side by side this evening, Samara reads Samuel Pepys while I read Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso.


To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget. A memorable sandwich, an unmemorable flight of stairs. A memorable bit of conversation surrounded by chatter that no one records.

Pepys, meanwhile, has noticed that wigs are in vogue and he instructs a barber to shave his head so that he can then (get this) go around London wearing a wig made from his own hair. Pepys tells his diary how delighted he is that nobody can tell, so authentic is his wig. I’m not sure why covert wig-wearing is his response to fashionable, conspicuous wig-wearing.

When my wife points out that she’s reading a diary at the very same time that I’m reading a book about a diary, we pause so I can write my diary for yesterday to complete the cycle: writing, reading, analysing. When I post, Samara checks to see how it looks on her phone. “It’s real!” she says.

I think the current diary mania in our house began when Peter asked a few months ago why I like diaries so much. I hadn’t noticed (but he had) that I read a lot of diaries. Since I hadn’t noticed, I couldn’t answer but I have been thinking about it since. This evening, Manguso’s book comes close to hitting on an answer I can identify with:

I often prefer writers’ diaries to their work written intentionally for publication. It’s as if I want the information without the obstacles of style or form. But of course all writing possesses style and form, and in good writing they aren’t obstacles.

Another friend said, I want to write sentences that seem as if no one wrote them. The goal being the creation of a pure delivery system, without the distraction of a style. The goal being a form no one notices, the creation of what seems like pure feeling, not of what seems like a vehicle for a feeling. Language as pure experience, pure memory. I too wanted to achieve that impossible effect.