I’ve always tried to tell friends if I notice something about them that I like – a new coat or a tendency to be tremendous. But since my book’s been around (I mean the one I care about, rather than the two rubbish ones I was paid to do) I’ve started to tell people who I don’t know when I like their stuff. It means such a lot to me when someone is obviously and genuinely enthusiastic about my book, that I’m now much more motivated to tell other people when I feel that way about their writing, or whatever it is. I’m sure that even successful people don’t get tired of hearing it (except Eminem).

Watch Friday Night Dinner

The last TV series I saw that made me laugh as much as Friday Night Dinner was Arrested Development. It’s on 4OD, but you have to search separately for episodes 5 and 6, for some reason.

Four ages of the beard

My beard began about two and a half years ago, and has passed through four ages, as I believe all beards must.

1. Neglect

Most beards aren’t planned. The man just stops shaving, usually as a result of some crisis. My dad’s beard began when he had chicken pox and couldn’t shave. Mine began in a very cold winter in a very cold flat, when I was writing Perpetual Astonishment and had lost interest in everything else. It was so cold that just getting out of the shower was an ordeal, as the water would instantly turn into a thin coating of ice that I would have to chip off my body. I couldn’t face applying a cold blade to my face, so I didn’t. After a few days of this neglect, people started to say that it suited me.

2. Mime

After perhaps three weeks, when I met people who hadn’t seen me for a while, they would invariably say, “Oh, this is new” and then they would wiggle their fingers in front of their chin. At this stage, people couldn’t bring themselves to call it a beard; they could only refer to it by miming the strands of hair on my chin.

3. Undeniability

After a while, people begin to call the hairs on your face a beard. At this stage, you can’t just say that you haven’t shaved for a while. You have to admit – if only to yourself – that you have deliberately grown a beard because you think it looks better than your face. People will then tell you what you look like. In my case it was Tsar Nicholas II (shy, ineffectual autocrat, murdered) and “someone who’s just got out of the Gulag”. This may not sound great, but it was infinitely better than the people I’d looked like before – Peter Baynham, Ronnie Corbett and Paul Whitehouse.

4. Maturity

I realised that my beard had attained full maturity a couple of weeks ago, when a friend I hadn’t seen for a while said, “Oh, hello Tolstoy”. I very much enjoy the Russian aspect of my beard, and there are a great many other advantages. For one thing, a beard functions as a facial expression in itself, so you don’t have to move your face muscles about so much. For another, you don’t have to deal with it much. If you stop shaving for a week, everyone notices and you can’t go to business meetings. If you stop looking after your beard for a week, it looks pretty much exactly as it did before.

There is a slight prejudice against beards, but I think this is misplaced. The main objection is that men with beards are hiding something. We are: our faces. However, we are completely up-front about this concealment, unlike those devious clean-shaven men, who hide what they are hiding.

Low-key supernatural

Last weekend I was at my friend Francesca’s house. There were four of us there, drinking wine, talking and listening to music on her boyfriend’s iPod, which was on top of the bookshelf. (Incidentally, Francesca is the only person I know who orders her books by colour.)  We were sprawling around on the sofa or the floor, because we are bohemians and the Man ain’t gonna tell us where to sit. On the other side of the room sat a MacBook, slightly open but in sleep mode, the white light on its front breathing peacefully in that way MacBooks have, and which contributes more than it ought to our collective desire for them.

A song came on from one of Johnny Cash’s American albums – maybe American III. I suddenly had a great urge to listen to Hurt from American IV, and I asked Steven if he could put it on. He said that he didn’t have it on his iPod, only on his laptop. And then, suddenly, the untended laptop on the other side of the room roused itself from sleep (but without turning its screen on) and played Hurt. We stopped the music on the iPod and listened to it. When the song finished, the computer resumed its silence, and soon the light on its front was softly breathing again.

This sort of thing occasionally happens to me: an event that is completely inexplicable and very powerful in the moment, but which isn’t verifiable and – crucially – doesn’t make a very impressive story. Nonetheless, this one happened.

Hurt is about a man who has ruined his life with heroin. The bit that affects me most is where he sings, “If I could start again / A million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way”.

When I feel particularly depressed, I sometimes imagine that twenty years in the future I have done something unforgivably terrible and some supernatural agency has given me the chance to put it right, and I’ve been allowed to go back to the part of my life where the trouble began, and start again, put it right.

Surrendering – Japanese vs Cubans

There’s a particularly unlikely true story on Giles Milton’s blog today about a former US gang member who repeatedly went out alone and talked huge numbers of Japanese soldiers into surrendering in World War II. Its theme of a lone man convincing vastly superior enemies to surrender reminded me of this Telegraph obituary of John Pine-Coffin:

In 1963 he was in Nassau when he was ordered to investigate a party of Cuban exiles that had infiltrated Andros Island, part of the Bahamas. His seaplane landed in thick mud and Pine-Coffin decided that his only chance of reaching dry land was to strip off.

On coming ashore, plastered in mud and wearing only a red beret and a pair of flippers, he was confronted by a party of armed Cubans. Mustering as much authority as he could in the circumstances, he informed the group that they were trespassing on British sovereign territory and were surrounded.

The following morning, when the Royal Marines arrived to rescue him they were astonished to find him and his radio operator in a clearing standing guard over the Cubans and a pile of surrendered weapons. He was appointed OBE.

Cuban surrenders are naturally much less impressive than Japanese ones, but the extra elements of nudity and a silly name help to redress the balance.



A late entry

Just when I thought people had stopped searching for “what looks like a bunch of bananas but isn’t”, it happened again. Will this phrase dog me for the rest of my life?


I just wanted to say hello to Norma and Henry, the first subscribers to this blog. I’m too new to this to really understand what a subscriber is, but I’m sure it’s a Good Thing and that Norma and Henry are both splendid coves.

And thank you to the 48 people who have now bought my book. I’m sure I’ll eventually stop checking the sales figures 500 times a day and going on about them here, but not yet.


Numbers update

Twenty-four people have now bought the Kindle version and 15 have bought the paperback. Then there have been 212 downloads of the Kindle version on the two days when I’ve offered it free. Altogether, 258 copies are at large. At least two good bloggers have picked it up and say they plan to review it. It was mentioned on Quirky Girls Read’s first paragraph Tuesday. And there are some exciting things happening behind the scenes, which I don’t want to mention in case they fall through. Oh, and the other good review on Amazon has unaccountably reappeared.

Dream: the uncanny mothmen

I opened the door and there were two men in 40s-style lived-in raincoats, hats and suits. They were in the their fifties. They carried on ringing the bell after I’d opened the door, as though they planned to hold out for someone better. I asked them what they wanted and they said that I should buy a subscription to the NESR. I had to ask them several times what it stood for before the leader of the two, the man with whiter hair and a lighter raincoat, said ‘Novy Ekonomskaya Sozialskaya Revodna’.

‘The New Economic and Social Review’, I said, translating. He nodded.

They were inside by now, though I hadn’t invited them in. They produced a big old black-leather book full of NESR articles, and then the two men suddenly turned into those little polystyrene WWII planes you used to be able to get from newsagents when I was a kid. The planes trailed very thin threads and they flew about while I had a look at the book of articles, which said that they had predicted lots of major events, such as the fall of the Berlin wall.

I looked the company up on the internet. Apparently, they also advised businesses on how to improve, but there were lots of horror stories about how their consultants had forced businesses to get rid of all their desks, or work while standing up to their shoulders in mud or in a tiny, constantly moving caravan, and how it was impossible to get them to leave.

That was when I ran out of patience. I grabbed the gossamer threads being trailed by the model planes and yanked them down to the ground. They turned into the men again. I coldly showed them out and they grudgingly left.

After they had gone, I noticed that there were threads covering one corner of the ceiling, with little black and brown casings in them. At that moment, one of the men knocked at the door again, asking for his book back.

‘Have you pupated in the corner of the room?’ I asked him angrily.

‘Yes. You left us waiting around for long enough, and you didn’t tell us not to. That’s what we do.’

‘Well, for your lack of decency and basic politeness today, I’m not going to subscribe to NESR. It looks like a good magazine, but you’ve let it down.’

I threw the book at him and slammed the door. Then I swept the fibres and pupae into a bag and threw that out of the door too.

A few moments later, I suddenly became afraid of what they might do with the bag – that they could use it in magic spells to influence me, or just nick it, and it’s my laptop bag, which I need – so I went outside, shook it empty and came back in.

Although I was standing up to the men throughout the dream, I felt that there was a huge and uncanny power behind them. There was a sort of lingering horror that I felt most acutely at the end. I wonder what it all means.