Having a baby is like agreeing to live under a Dictator.

Having a baby is like agreeing to live under a Dictator.
One you could easily overthrow but somehow you daren’t.
The Dictatorship should last 18 years, but some take 40 to fully dismantle.
We’re 8.5 months in…

What follows are entries from the Baby Diary I’ve kept since my daughter turned 3 months old.

Before then was The Dark Era when each day lasted a decade and the Dictator left no time for independent thought…

PregnoBlog 1

We are having a baby.

Very soon.

I will try to fill you in with what’s happened so far…

Weeks 1-12

Welcome to the First Trimester:

Esther: I don’t want a baby/I’m going to kill myself & the baby.

Me: So, if you could go back in time to the night of conception and not say ‘Oh, go on then,’ would you?

Esther: Hmm. Probably, but then I’d be sad.

Me: Well then.

Week 12-18

Esther (giggling): We’re having a baby!

The hormones have arrived!

Weeks 18-21

I have decided that the one thing I need in the world is a mint green, button-down Polo Ralph Lauren shirt.

Esther notices me frowning at the laptop screen.

“Are you looking for baby stuff?”

Silence is the best policy.

“You’re not are you? What are you looking at?”

I take a deep breath.

“Ralph Lauren shirts.”

“For god’s sake! Stop it and look for baby stuff!”


She wakes the next morning and turns over to find me already up, staring at the screen. For a while, she watches me scrolling down an endless list of Ralph Lauren shirts.

“What’s wrong with you? Have you gone insane?!”


Week 21

“I’ve found an app that shows us what your baby will look like,” says Esther. “I’ve got a photo of me, now I just need-”

She angles the camera at my sleepy face.

“No, wait, I’m not-”

Click. I turn away too late.

“There, now let’s see.”

She frowns and giggles explosively.


“Um…” She faces the phone towards me.

There’s a beautiful baby smiling back.

Only trouble is, it’s black.

Week 22

We send our first baby scan to my Grandad, signing it from Me (Me) & Me (Esther) & Little Me (Baby).

He rings me up and at the end of the phonecall, he says “Bye bye to Little Wee.” His eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s created a nickname that we can’t help but use. Baby is now Little Wee.

Our fridge has been consumed by Esther’s 1st craving:


Week 23

This week, Esther can’t stand Purdeys. She now ‘needs’ semi-skimmed UHT milk. She drinks it like water.

I still drink soya milk in my tea & on my cereal.

“I’m making a cup of tea,” I ask. “Do you want your milk?”

A look of horror passes over her face and she cups her breasts protectively.

“You leave them alone!”

I’m not sure I want tea anymore.

In other news, Esther can’t stop drooling. She’s having to sleep with cotton wool stuffed into her mouth to soak up the saliva.

Now, she snores even louder than the cat.

Week 24

We go to my bank to see if we can save money by transferring our mortgage there. In the mortgage adviser’s office, there’s a poster of a dad being pestered for money by his 7-year-old mercenary of a daughter. My eyes well up and I have to turn away.

Our application is declined.

Latest craving: We’re in Waitrose and Esther suddenly lurches across the aisle towards the milkshakes. She grabs a bottle of banana milk and cradles it like Gollum:

“Baby needs it.”

Week 25

On the dog walk, I pass a father walking his daughter home from school. The daughter is explaining in a loud voice what she learned today and what her homework is.

When I get home, I gush to Esther: “I can’t wait till she wants me to help her with her homework.”

Week 26

Lisa is broody.

Exhibit A: She has become obsessed with looking at websites for rescue dogs.


Exhibit B: Her kitchen window ledge is suddenly swamped with plants.

“Whenever I get herbs,” she moans, “they turn into weak-looking flowers.”

“Well, at least you’re making them want to reproduce,” Esther soothes.

Reasons Esther hasn’t slept at night:

  1. Running through the alphabet thinking of baby names.
  2. Redesigning the bedroom in her head.
  3. Baby is jumping up & down on the bed. Through her belly.
  4. Baby is headbutting her bladder.

Week 27

Still thinking of baby names.

I find an amazing source of names: the dodgy sex emails in my spam box.


I read them out to Esther.

“They’re good,” she says, “which baby site are you looking at?”

“You won’t have heard of it.”

Week 28

I’ve become obsessed with doing surveys to earn vouchers. It’s a way of not panicking.

Some surveys ask very strange questions:


I spend 10 hours completing one after another after another, giddy with greed, until I finally cash in my rewards. I get an email:

“Your £5 amazon voucher will be processed in the next 7-10 days.”

Weeks 28-33

A blast from the past, as Esther waddles around in the heat of summer, thighs chafing and feet aching:

“I don’t want a baby anymore.”


“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

The midwife has told Esther that she shouldn’t be sitting on the sofa anymore. No, she needs to be tilted forward. She needs to buy a ‘pregnancy ball’.

I show her a picture of one on Amazon.

“I’m never ever sitting on anything like that.”

Instead, she tries sitting backwards on a chair. And then laid half across the coffee table, with her head laid on one side.

“Is that better?”


The midwife has made her paranoid about where the baby is all the time.

“I feel like I’m tipping her into the sink when I stand up,” Esther says, “I can feel her gushing forwards into the front of my belly.”

She brings all 6 pillows down form our bed and constructs a kind of fortress. She squats on top like a sulky princess.

“Is that better?”


Week 34


Esther has had two vaccines that have limited her arm movements to those of a T Rex. She can no longer reach for the chocolate in the cupboard. I am getting drunk on my power.


(Courtesy of Hugh Murphy)

Week 35

I never noticed other new parents much before we became pregnant. Now, I compare myself constantly to them on the street. How do I match up to the faddy-daddies? Some still have hair!

The hardest part of premature balding is the lack of role-models. I’m the odd man out among my friends. In movies, baldies are either impossibly butch heroes or nefarious subhumans.

On Tuesday, I finally find who I want to look like.

Esther: What are you looking at so much?

Me: He’s the new American Apparel model. He’s got a shaved bit on top and long bits on the sides. And a nice little hat. Maybe I could have my hair like that.

She peers over my shoulder.

Esther: I didn’t think I’d ever have to say this, but I’m sorry darling, you’re never going to be a Hasidic jew.


Maybe if I just buy the hat…?


To Be Continued…


On Being an Asshole

Esther & Lisa have become obsessed with a self help guru who looks like an evil albino magician. I came back from work the other day to find them mumbling his mantra over and over again:

“I am independent of the opinions, either good or bad, of others…”

Bit of a complex sentence, I thought, bit of a clumsy clause in the middle there. It’ll never take off.

evil albino magician

Evil Albino Magician


‘Does this coat look alright?’ I ask Esther the next morning as I get ready for work.

‘You are independent of the opinions, either good or bad, other others,’ she says.

‘Ok,’ I say, ‘But just for this moment I choose to listen to your opinion.’

‘That’s not how it works,’ says Esther, ‘The only thing that matters is what you think.’

Which is why I spent a day in the wrong coat. What a horrible day.

I get back from work to find Esther & Lisa in deep discussion.

‘It’s so hard to be an asshole,’ Esther is saying, ‘I need to try harder.’

Lisa guffaws.

‘I can’t believe you just said that. You are an asshole,’ Lisa says, ‘It comes naturally to you.’

‘What’s going on?’ I ask, ‘Why are we talking in American?’

‘We’re People-Pleasers,’ says Esther, ‘We have to learn how to be Assholes.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Well the video says you have to go into Starbucks and take ages choosing your coffee until a big queue has formed behind you. Really make everyone wait and don’t act apologetic at all.’

‘God that is asshole behaviour,’ I say, ‘I don’t like that at all.’

‘That’s why we’ve got to do it,’ Esther says, ‘We need to care less what people think.’


The following morning, I was so stressed, I thought my head was going to explode Scanners-style. I’d changed what I was wearing for the fifth time (independence of the opinions of others sucks) and then ran to the busstop. As the bus was about to deposit me at City campus ON TIME, I happened to check my diary FOR THE FIRST TIME to find it was a 9am start at THE OTHER CAMPUS.

I legged it across town to the busstop for buses going back the same way. As the bus crawled along, and I watched the seconds tick past 9am, my head began to feel like it was popping. I need something soothing I thought, something lovely and calm.

Q: What’s the most relaxing music in the whole wide world?

And so I googled ‘that music from the Shipping Forecast’ and binged on Ronald Binge’s Sailing By, eyes closed. The trouble with that is that Esther & I had a spate of using the Shipping Forecast to send us to sleep, Sailing By being the lullaby that one of us had to turn off, finally drowsy and heavy-armed, at the end. (Clue: It was always me.)

Dragging myself out of the departure lounge of snoozeland was enough to make me really grumpy and so I ran to the other campus full of the joys of hell.

‘I’m getting a damn coffee,’ I told myself, ‘nobody can stop me.’

It was ten past 9 as I ran up the back stairs, taking huge John Cleese strides and gurning in frustration. As I rounded the corner flailing and gnashing, I realised there was a man sat at the top, watching me.

‘Just getting my legs to work’ I said and then laughed enough for the both of us.

Of course, what I was really doing was Being An Asshole.



As I wait for my bus to work, an old lady hobbles along towards the busstop and I see a bus heading our way, a bus I don’t want but she might.

Oh no, I think, she can’t walk and look round at the same time cos she’s old, I bet she will be really sad when the bus goes past her.

“Do you want this one?” I say at her face, pointing over her shoulder.

She blinks her watery eyes, smiles.

“Do you want this one?” I say again, my voice rising in pitch because there are precious few seconds left to hail it.

She stops, flinches at my jabbing hand, her smile tightening. It’s almost too late, what the hell is wrong with her?

“DOYOUWANTHISONE?……Bus. Is. Coming. Do. You. Want. It?”

“Oh no, love,” she says with relief, “I don’t want the bus.” And she hurries on past.

A minute later, my bus arrives and I overtake her, replaying the conversation and thinking how maybe it sounded a little too much like a schizophrenic whose dominant personality was baying for blood, and whose submissive one was desperately pointing out possible victims: Do you want that one?

The following morning I’m on the bus again, late for work again, and watching an ambulance overtake us. They command such respect, making even lorries and white vans scurry meekly out of their way.

Sadly as a Study Skills Tutor, I am only the 315th Emergency Service, behind Dog Counsellors and even Pupa Unpickers in the pecking order (in fact, although technically my inferiors at 333rd, the Beak/Bill Brigade enjoy a rep I can only dream of – ‘My wife wants to divorce me, says I have a bill not a beak’. ‘Better call the B/BB!’ Those guys provide a vital service).



No, I simply stand no chance of getting anywhere any faster than anybody else. One day when essays are a finally recognised as a matter of life and death, I’ll flip on my sirens and shame these fuckers into the central reservation.

Perhaps if ITV’s The Bill had been called The Beak, it would still be on our screens and in our hearts. Sadly, it is relegated to a laughable memory of how naive we all were. We watch True Detective now, don’t you know. Even crime drama from the early Noughties is ridiculously outdated.

Take Murder in Mind, starring David Suchet as a married Headmaster who goes to the park and hooks up with a rent boy, played by James McAvoy with a truly bizarre West Country accent. Try keeping a straight face during this proposition:

It lead to this week’s in-joke in our house:

“It’s 30 for a bill,” I keep saying to Esther in Cornish, “100 quid and you get the full beak.”

“Can I try before I buy?” She replies.

“Peck it in,” I say.

"Tha's a beak man, I can tell"

“Tha’s clearly a beak man, I can tell”


the first bad man and the tiny gold penis

So I’ve been trying to write a little something every day, even if its just a line or a paragraph of gobbledook hot from the stickier bits of my brain. I try not to care what I’m writing about (yeah like that ever happens) – the point is to do something. It’s about tricking my brain with a kind of procrastination (from writing my novel) that is accidentally also action. And it’s all saved in this mammoth document I call morningcrapski which tells you when I do it and what happens when I do. Over the course of a year I’ve amassed 30,000 words in there, most of them stupid or annoying or whatever but words nevertheless (or is it nonetheless? I digress).

I googled morningcrapski and this came up. Me neither.

I googled morningcrapski and this came up. Me neither.

So I thought I’d start using these words somewhere or else they’ll stay stuck in their tarpit forever. Here we go, a micro-story that emerged whole out of my cranial cesspit (ok I made it make sense a little teeny tiny bit more than it did):


I make bangles for passing tourists, which I sell from the pavement in front of my parent’s house. I always include a tiny gold penis in the design just to amuse myself. I tiny gold one, hidden among the reptiles and prehistoric fauna that I was obsessed with at the time, and which twisted from left to right across the endless plastic surface. I made them by laying out strips of perspex I found at school in the sun all day, then grappling with them on a vice I got out of grandma’s shed – to find it I had to push through the hanging shears (which she used to cut Freddie’s hair every summer), and past the table where she laid out the dead frogs after grandpa had mown the lawn. It was caked on, the stuff that came out of them, a sludgy sort of green, and she said eventually she would have enough. We never knew what for, and I hope I never do. Slippery and deceitful, adults, they stand so solid but it’s all a mirage. I get tangled in their roots every day even when I’m ten feet away from them.

Every day that Summer, I sat there and sold my profane trash and under the fold-up table I counted up on one hand my coins and on the other I added up all those sexy glances from tourists and passersby that lifted me out of my seat and threw me against the garage door. I sat there and counted them all and once in a while I’d confetti the whole lot across the lawn just so I could start again.

Important moment: the sun was going down and stretched out a leery hand to my bandaged ankle that I got from falling in the river near where the big rocks grow, and I heard a sound more machine than animal and it sort of went ‘gnner-gnerrr’ and then stopped and when I looked round to see where it came from there was a man leaning there against the neighbour’s pebble dash with no smile, no nothing for me except an attache case in his hand that I didn’t much care for. Before I had time to get scared, I chased him away with my bare hands.

Three nights later he crept back. I hadn’t expected to fit in his attache case and in all truth I didn’t, except taken apart and put back together in odd ways. And so that was that and I lost my bangle business forever.


As you can tell, when I say to myself ‘write something proper’, I seem to have it got into my head that cutesy mid-western americana is the way to go. So far, so Vernon God Little.

Since my last post, I have started an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University because (a) it’s free to staff and (b) therefore it’s free to me and a distant (c) by the end of it you have to have produced an ENTIRE novel of some 80,000 words or they don’t let you out of the building and you have to clean the toilets, one cubicle per word you haven’t written.

I was worried that my writing would be too far out for tutor Jane Rogers, whose serious but sex-filled book was made into a TV programme in the 90s that I remember squirming on my seat to as I watched with my parents. Luckily, the Young Conservative beat me to it last week and submitted a novel extract that was so un-PC PVC sex, drugs and depravity filled I couldn’t and shan’t compete.

A pictorial illustration of the story

A pictorial illustration of his story

I’ve also been reading nonstop as I read somewhere that all writers have to read at least as much as they write (I am cheating on the last part). I was sent a review copy of In Real Life by Chris Killen last month; the press release came with a pack of sweets attached (which I still haven’t eaten). There’s no getting round it; it’s a disgustingly hipster thing to do. My review of the book is here.

But not the first black book

But not the first black book


Talking of disgusting hipsters, I’m currently reading The First Bad Man the novel by Miranda July. I didn’t want or expect to like it because her work up till now as a filmmaker-artist-yada-yada epitomises that ethereal hipster aesthetic that unless you’re immersed in catches at the back of your throat like someone’s gone mad with an atomiser.

And yet… The First Bad Man is


Do I really mean this? I…think…so. Erm. So far.

My kindle tells me I have 2 or so hours left in its world and so far it is the silliest, saddest and most (and I want to puke as I write this) heartwarming (bleeeeuuuuuurrrrgh) piece of fiction I’ve ever passed my eye across. What kind of freak wants their heart warming anyway? Turns out it’s actually quite pleasant.

The protag Cheryl is a brilliant anti-vanity project for the porcelain skinned hipster-queen author: a middle-aged frump with some undisclosed but brilliantly awk empathy-disability (mild Aspergers?), who’s in unrequited love with one of her bosses at work. She gets lumbered with the daughter of another boss, a young buxom bully called Clee who comes to stay and instantly dominates Cheryl’s house. But then something happens; Cheryl borrows some naff self-defence videos from work and begins to rehearse the victim roles. One day, she comes back to find Clee has been watching too…. The messy role play that happens next and keeps on happening made me laugh so much that I had to stop reading it in bed while Esther is asleep.

July is touring the book in America before popping over to the Southbank Centre in London in two week’s time. I’m considering getting the train down there to see her – it’s that good!

I will leave you with one of the last things I found in morningcrapski (I’m making it sound like one of those found-footage horrors, which it kind of is). It’s a disturbing email from some oik in my head:

Dear Vienna Famous,

I want to buy your name. I must have it, all of it, immediately (well, I’ll give you a week seeing as I don’t know how often you check your emails. Yes, I think a week’s more than fair). I am offering £60. Can you really say no to that?

If you insist, you can have mine at a discount. Let’s say £40.

So by my reckoning, that’ll be £20 for a fair and legal swap.

Warm Regards,

Douglas Feminine (for now)



Fielding comebacks from Noel

“That’s a very Georgian beard,” a drunken artist said to me recently, and then when I looked like I might be about to thank him, he clarified; “That means weak.”

It’s a ruff not a beard, dumbass

I went away and thought about what I should have said. A few suggestions came to mind in the first 10 minutes:

“You, sir, are drunk and fat, and I shall be-” this is where I would falter and look at the floor – “weak bearded in the morning.”

No, Churchill couldn’t help me. What about:

“It’s not a beard, it’s pubes,” and as this sunk in, I’d add; “So, what you think is my body is actually my penis.”

That was too scary an image even for me. A month later, it came to me as I was having a shower:

“You, sir, have a Tudor physique.” And as he worked through his monarchical history, I’d save him the trouble: “That means morbidly obese.”

It’s so-so, I know. The best comeback I ever came back with was effectively handed to me on a plate. I’d bought some Prince-style high heel ankle boots from an ebay shop that catered to women with really big feet (men) and had just managed to make it to the bank machine in Spar before my night out.

“I like your shoes, mate,” came a voice from behind me and I turned to see a ten-headed man-pack. “My mum would like them,” Head No. 1 added, “I’ll give you her number.”

His face fell as he said the last bit, the words drifting over the cold tiled floor towards me like balloons towards a birthday boy.

“Thanks,” I said genuinely. “But I’ve already got it.”

Game Over. He didn’t even pretend he was going to beat me up, he/they just nodded and left.

All Hail the Winner!

Mostly though, while everybody else is on twitter-time, bouncing ideas around as fast as they can think them, I’m still posting my ideas by pigeon mail. Only the other day I was trying to sing a love song to Esther but I couldn’t remember the words:

Me: ♬ You’re the something something something of the something something, oh baby, oh baby… ♬

Esther: I like that, is it Steve Martin?

Me: No, it’s Stevie Wonder, I just can’t sing.

I’m well jel of the way stand up comedians can riff endlessly on the spot like action figures with longer than normal pull strings on their backs. Noel Fielding is a prime example. The other week I asked if I could interview Noel as he was passing through Sheffield on his solo tour. His PR asked me for my number and told me he’d be ringing me at midday on a Thursday for a 15 minute interview. Ringing me! Unfortunately, I had lots of students booked in that day, so I swiftly told them all to jog on so I could have a 2 hour gap just in case, you know, we became BFFs. Finally, at 5 minutes to 12, after having emptied my bowels and bought a cappuccino to sip as I was talking to him – no biggie my casual slurps would say – I received a text: ‘Really sorry but Noel has cancelled all interviews today’. Arsecockles! Three hours later, I got another text saying he could ring me at 6 if still convenient. Well, I’m still not going to say no, am I? The next half an hour was a frantic scrabble to keep up with someone who’s mind is a rhinestone-studded random idea generator, where every other line is a comeback to himself: Noel: Hello, is that Sheffield? Me: Hi Noel…I mean, is that London calling? Noel: (giggling) Yes, this is London calling.

Me: Do you mind if I record this? Noel: What, for training purposes?

Me: Ha, no I’m not a very fast writer…

Noel: Is it so you can touch yourself listening to me later?

Me: Haha, (silence as I actually consider it) erm, can I then?

Noel: Ooh I just dropped my contact lens and it killed a passing flying ant… Me: Oh (taking it half seriously) – you’d better pick it up. Noel: No, it was actually a bottle lid, it landed on a small boy’s face… Me: (Giggling) erm… I guess with celebs the smooth stone of their personas is created by the social encounters that flow over and round them every moment of their waking lives. I guess once you give up the idea that you’re ever going to be left alone, you can start having some fun… Or as Johnny Rotten put it when I asked if it was him:

It’s Farrrrrquharrrrr Farrrrrtybottom. I’m here, I’m ready, I’m free!

One day I’ll think of the perfect comebacks and I’ll ring the buggers up to tell them…

Me: You know that time you said that thing…

Them: No. Who are you?

Me: Well what you said was…Hello? Are you there? Come back, I know what to say now!

It seems I’m the Prince Regent of Comebacks.

So on second thoughts, I’ll take Tay’s advice and shake it off! 


Esther’s been going to counselling near a swimming baths, so this week I packed my trunks and towel for a swim; at least then our eyes will be equally red when I go and collect her afterwards. It’s about a decade since I last went swimming, but I’m feeling positive.

There’s an old man on crutches near the changing rooms, and he directs me to the reception to pay. I thank him as I pass on my way to the lockers, and see him watching as I put all my stuff in and close the door before getting it out again so I can get changed first. Then he watches as I put all my stuff back in and wander around looking for the pool. “Over there, mate” he says with a grin.

The pool is tiny, filled with the only people with white haired people. All but one lane is taken so I ease myself in and start off with an improv butterfly (AKA Dyspraxic Flail). My muscles are already aching by the time I finish one lap, and on my return journey I notice that the OAPs are easily overtaking me on all sides. Then the man who was on crutches flops into the water and proceeds to swim past me on lap 3. On lap 5, my muscles give in and I start to drown in 2 feet of water; as I sink melodramatically, my knees hit the bottom so I simply stand up and walk out.

Getting changed again is torture because everything aches, and I’m completely red when I look in the mirror. The pool is in the same building as the library and as I walk out I see a copy of Animals on the reserved shelf. I really want to read it so I start where I’m stood but it’s 5 minutes till Esther comes out so put it back and walk over to the Continental Supermarket for a drink where they sell Rubicon in glass bottles. “Can you open it?” I say pathetically, barely able to lift the bottle onto the counter. The shop assistant looks at my red face and watery eyes and nods.

I nearly have to crawl up the hill to meet Esther.

“What’s happened to you?” she says when she sees me, trying not to laugh.

“Oh, the usual,” I say, “getting humiliated by retirees and men on crutches.”

That was a month ago; those aches lasted a full week, and now I have the flu aches but at least in the meantime I’ve finally got my own copy of Animals and I’m reading it quick smart because I’m interviewing the author next week. On Friday, I went to Canongate’s Manchester Literature Festival night to see her & Zoe Pilger read out bits of their books; these are the authors condescendingly called ‘bad girls’ by the media, clickbait for voyeuristic moral panickers.

I’d been feeling ill with a sore throat all week; now the virus had noticed it was nearly the weekend and decided to go postal. So I dosed myself up on paracetamol and ibuprofen, the dynamic duo, and managed to got to the the train station 10 minutes early. I got myself a ticket and decided I needed a coffee to keep me focused. I really wanted a gingerbread latte but it isn’t on the list so I get a caramel one and wait round the side of the counter for it.

It’s at this point that I notice it is 5 minutes to my train and instead of saying anything about that I notice that a man in the queue is buying a gingerbread latte and so I lean across and say “Is it too late to change to gingerbread?” and the woman looks at the caramel syrup she’s just poured into my cup and instead of saying “Do you think I want to serve people coffee and act all accommodating about their piggy little whims?” she says “no” and gets another cup. Now it’s 3 minutes to my train and the grounds have to be taken out and new coffee beans put in and the milk frothed up and if I’d stuck with caramel I’d already be there by now. I reach desperately for the cup as she slowly squirts cream on top; now I’m running up the stairs to the furthest platform.

"My whole family was liquidised for your drink"

“My whole family was liquidised for your delectation”

The train’s not even arrived yet; I even get time to slurp my un-asked for squirty cream before it appears. Two carriages for what must be 50+ people – this is the kind of injustice that makes me want to do something and then realise that I don’t know what to do. The waiting people form bottlenecks and paw the ground waiting for the last person to alight and I manage to slip on in their slipstream and because I have no conscience or qualms, I nab a seat next to a suitcase man-mountain and the tiny student he has brought on as hand luggage. I fit myself around the cargo and zone out, reading more of Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, who’s talking tonight, but it’s hard to concentrate because the crush has sent some people insane. I can hear a low level argument between a man and woman and then a different woman starts up.

“Excuse me?” she says.


“Excuse me?”


Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me?”

I never find out who or what it’s addressed to and it only stops because I get off at Oxford Road. The Anthony Burgess Foundation is easy to find with my iPhone map held in front of me tourist-style (I’m running too late for shame). I’m wearing a nice shirt and my grandad’s fur-collared car coat and reckon I could pass as hipster-smart but not soiree-smart.

I’m probably too ill to drink but under the influence of Animals I think What Would Tyler Do (WWTD?) and get a bottle of beer and sit next to three women with sequins and lacquered manes. As I’m looking around the room I feel an odd sensation and look down to see that the beer has frothed over and covered my crotch in a pool of white foam. Acting like it’s no biggie, I pull a wad of snot filled tissues from my back pocket and daub at it.

Zoe Pilger reads first, selecting the terrifying bit from Eat My Heart Out where Ann Marie is locked in a recording studio by deranged second-wave feminist Stephanie and forced to sing the top 3 songs on her iTunes playlist until it hurts. It’s bloody funny and bloody petrifying too. It’s been my favourite book for some time and I’m a bit starstruck. Read out loud, the prose is perfectly pitched between clever, arty, and funny. It seems what feminism has always failed at was a sense of humour; now in all it’s post-ironic OTT glory it’s a weapon to be reckoned with. Pilger’s confident enough to even do a passable American accent. If I ever get into this position I think I’ll even struggle with an English one.

Next up is Anneliese Mackintosh who reads a poem from Any Other Mouth. (When I’m queueing for my next drink I run my mind over those words ANY-OTHER-MOUTH and realise I haven’t got a clue what it means, before settling on ‘probably vagina’). I’m not a fan of poetry slams and get ready to disapprove as her words come out pre-cut into verse but the effect is cumulative and I end up being carried along by how her soft speaking and simple language falls away suddenly into the blackest pits of humour.

After the intermission, Emma Jane Unsworth is up and the audience has loosened up, guffawing more for this local talent. I forget which bit she reads out, but they’re all equally good; unexpected veins of insight visible through the laddered tights of too many good nights.

"Finishing School for Bad Girls: Final Exam - Kill Your Teachers"

“Finishing School for Bad Girls: Final Exam – Kill Your Teachers”

Finally, singer-songwriter Karima Francis. There’s only one thing I hate more than live poetry – acoustic singer-songwriters. My ironic core squirms in discomfit as the tiny female Marc Bolan takes the stage. I thought it was the artifice of being laid bare that I resented the most- the more earnest you are, the more you fetishise what appears to be real. But as she sings and I see an upper- middle-class woman a few rows ahead wipe away unselfconscious tears, I realise that I’m scared of the absence of artifice because it is the furthest from being funny you can get, and if you know me at all, you’ll know I always like things to be funny.

I didn’t sign up for this, I think, as my eyes glisten too; I want my honesty in the sugar pill of farce and fart jokes please. It’s like ‘the feelings’ in Animals that Laura and Tyler try to avoid – those unwanted emotions that come flooding in after a night out. You can see them coming and what they’re going to do to you but you can’t stop them. If I was someone else with a less well-developed metaphor palate, I’d say that feelings are the children from our relationships with others and seeing as how I can stage-manage my encounters with the exes that I conceived them with, I want to restrict seeing these kids to every other weekend. Or something.

It’s the end of the night. I interviewed Zoe Pilger last week and now I really want to introduce myself, but my mind has gone blank, so I go to the toilet to give myself time to think of something to say. Oh yes, I forget to tell her I actually liked her book last time, I’ll do that now. I join the lane system that leads to the signing table and as Zoe looks up all I can do is mutter, a mutter she must recognise as she says “Alex, from last week?”

“Yes, ” I say. “I thought of a question I wanted to ask you after we spoke. Your PhD was about the possibility of Romantic Love…?”

“Sort of,” she says.

“What was your conclusion? Is it possible?”

I realise this sounds like a terrible pick-up line.

“I don’t think a PhD can tell you,” she says.

Phew, she didn’t slap me.

“So, onto a Post-Doc then?” I joke tipsily.

“No,” she says “I think only real life can tell you. But I’m onto the second novel now…”

As I talked to her, I had absentmindedly been pushing my copy of Eat My Heart Out towards her, confusingly playing the role of both critic and fan, and now she takes it and signs it.

As I thank her and retreat, I realise she still doesn’t know that I bloody love her book.

I speed walk back across a city brimming with girls and boys falling in and out of meaning, embarrassed of myself as aways but also a little confused. This bad girl stuff is great, but does it offer more than simply doing it like dudes? I mean I’ve learned to diss blokes on TV for being ugly just like we’re taught to judge the women up there, to condemn everyone by equally harsh standards, but what then? Surely everyone loses in that game? Should feminism ask more of its members than mere mimicry?

I’m distracted from this by seeing a mammoth queue snaking its way from under Piccadilly Station. Teenagers in 90s clothes, four deep, hundreds long. “What’s going on?” I ask a tout. “It’s a rave, mate” he says and I grin, for this is the scene I always imagined as a Mixmag reader growing up in Macclesfield, my imagination shucking off its environs to envisage a fluorescent smear of fun across the City that points the way to possibility. It’s so utopian, even the police seem to be having fun:

Friendly local bobby looking benevolently on as the warehouse project gobbles up an entire generation. Bless.

Friendly local bobby looking benevolently on as the warehouse project gobbles up an entire generation. Bless.

And now of course I really am ill and I sit here in my sweaty, snot-smeared bed and think when am I going to stop reading other people’s novel and write my own?

Sometimes I wonder if I ran away for a while whether someone could piece together several novels from all the nonsense I’ve written. I could come back just as they’ve finished and pat them on the back because it’s something I sure as hell can’t do by myself.

Oh yes, I remember now, those people do exist don’t they?

It looks like I need a live-in ghost writer who’ll work for free.

Any takers?

Infinite Joust

Me & Esther & I sat down and thrashed out a plot for my novel this morning across over-buttered scotch pancakes nearly black on one side.

Basically, there’s a main character who’s an insecure, narcissistic weirdo type, who falls in love with a doomed social phobic who thinks about death way too much. I don’t know where I get my ideas from sometimes.

It seemed obvious to me why the protagonist would fancy such an ascerbic, anti-everything person because like well, you always want what you aren’t just as long as it’s pitch black and taboo-trashing. But then I really couldn’t think what was in it for her.

Me: What does ‘Esther’ see in the main character?

Esther: [Thinks] You’re not going to like this…it’s a Goldilocks situation. [Sees my worried face]. Oh, I don’t mean penis size…though yours is just right.

Me: Shh! [I point to our open back door, and a little to the left to the neighbour’s permanently open back door. No entendres intended.]. Go on then, tell me more.

Esther: Well, I calculated exactly what type of boyfriend I should have based on all my previous ones, so I could get the one in the middle who was just right.

Me: I feel like a lab rabbit in love with the scientist. I don’t want to know any more. Tell me the criteria.

Esther: Well…

  1. Parents still together
  2. Have a long-hair face even if he didn’t have long hair
  3. Not a short arse
  4. Always surrounded by girls so you knew he was fanciable
  5. A wounded animal
  6. Elusive.

Me: 1-3 I get, but who the heck is 4-6?

Esther: Well I used to go out with boys who were messed up and then I saw you with your arm in a sling…And you used to hang out with that busty blonde. Oh and you would always appear out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly.

Me: Well, that’s the one time ever I broke anything. She was my ex’s best friend so I was being a creep. And I usually got scared when I went out so ran away if I could.

Esther: Yeah, I realised all that when it was too late.


So, after we’d sorted that out, I went for a walk round the charity shops to ‘clear my head’.

I found myself poised over a copy of Ulysses in Oxfam, flicking through and thinking ‘Come on Jimmy, throw me a frickin’ bone here!’. And the words floated up and over my eyes like I was watching the weather, and even though I read whole pages they were gone as soon as I closed the book and so I put it back where I found it like you do with all scary, dangerous, or boring objects. Ulysses? TL;DR

"Oi Marilyn, you may be able to finish it, but at least I'm not dead"

“Oi Marilyn, you may be able to finish it, but at least I’m not dead”

This is a vast improvement on last weekend, when I obsessively read every scary story I could find on reddit. I trawled the crawlspace between the creepy and Nosleep threads until I gave myself a week long crick in the neck and a pathological fear of going to the toilet. I did, however, learn several important life lessons:

  1. Never, ever take a solo selfie on a phone with face recognition software
  2. Don’t scream in a graveyard
  3. Don’t read texts or tweets after midnight

In other news, the random objects in my bag formed a convincing replica of a medieval jousting lance, made from the applicator nozzle of my haemorrhoid cream (unused) and a coffee stirrer (also unused). Here it is, with the book I keep in there in case anyone asks what I’m reading right now.

"...and the agony of constipation"

“…and the agony of constipation”

Love is…a pair of opposable thumbs

How to hide six photocopies of my fists from a work colleague who thought I nipped out of our meeting to use the loo?

That was this week’s dilemma.

I have an idea for an art project you see, and when the impulse comes I can’t help myself, so I went and pressed my fists to the glass of the copier and tried out different positions. It was at this point that I realised how long it’s been since I was in a fight, and couldn’t remember what to do with my thumbs. Then I went to reception and asked for an A4 envelope and put the copies in there.

“Sorry,” I said back in the meeting, “I had to pick up an important letter from reception.”
“No worries”, she said, “Hope it’s nothing bad?”
“Oh no,” I replied, “just some info that should come in pretty handy.”


Knuckle Club Sandwich

Knuckle Club Sandwich

Lisa admitted this week that’s she’s considering cutting her thumbs off. “I can’t let them touch my hand,” she says, “I have to sleep very carefully with the duvet keeping them apart. Then I wake up and they’re touching again.”

I for one am glad of my thumbs; I need them to be special at sport. I’ll explain. There’s a river at the end of the garden and on the opposite side it looks like someone has dug a pond out of the riverbed, with an edge made of big flat rocks. At around 5pm every day, the sun filters into it and leaves the rest of the river in shadow. For about a day, we had a baby trout in there, and held our breath waiting for it to dart our from under the rim.

Anyway, for the past decade, every time I have visited my grandad he’s given me a Nescafe jar full of coppers he’s collected in between visits. I’ve lugged this growing treasure trove between 3 or 4 house in that time. I’ve never been quite poor enough to bother cashing them in (the thought of how my fingers would smell after counting them out makes me feel sick). About a week after we moved in, Esther decided to use the pond as a wishing well. Before long Esther, me, Dom & Lisa were all tossing tuppences into the water, most of them missing. Was this ASBO-worthy littering or the birth of a new hipster hobby?

Being an only child, I had to throw differently to everyone else, by flicking them up and across with my poorly trimmed thumbnail. Anyway, now coins line the riverbed with twinkles of worthless gold. The failure rate for my technique was satisfyingly high, and I realised that my endeavours have to be impossible to be worth doing – if I can do it, surely it can’t be worth doing? This is a variation on the ‘I would never belong to a club that would admit me as a member.” And my latest run-in with a comedy compere:

I was forced to sit right under the microphone and so hid in the shadow of my porkpie hat, knowing full well there was no escape.

“Are you a hipster,” the Irish warm-up man asked, pointing rudely at my hat.

“I wouldn’t be a hipster if I was,” I said, feeling sick with my own logic.

He left me alone after that.


I thought it was the people on stage who were meant to get heckled by the audience, not the other way around. Just as they build up a battery of retorts, I will to. Here’s my latest put down, handily written on a table of my local pub when I found some chalk lying around:


Last night, I was trapped on the sofa by a sleeping Esther, next to a snoring cat. I couldn’t reach the remote and so was forced to watch Metallica at Glastonbury. Being made to endure a band I don’t like while twisted into a painful pose so as not to wake the critters I love is a very strange kind of happiness.

Love is…filling the negative space of your lover(s)

Love is…a beautiful still life made out of ugly objects

Love is…a story about characters who should never have met in real life

"Getti' smelly with Peter Petrelli"

“Gettin’ smelly with Peter Petrelli?”

Peace Out, Grayson Perry

So after my successful pursuit of Mr Cocker, I turned my attention on Greyson Perry, articulate arch-lord of the freaks and frock-wearers of the world. But it never happened. “Grayson isn’t taking any press until Autumn” came the definitive response from his PR. I couldn’t find the emoji for ‘Ooh, Get You’ and so didn’t bother replying.

Which is why when I bumped into him on Saturday morning at Sheffield Doc/Fest, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. If you don’t enlist me as a journo, you’re lumbered with me as a fan, which is never a pretty sight.

“Greyson!” I call as he glides by in his pyjama-like civvies.

“Yes?” He squints at my face, and shakes my hand when I offer it.

Why does he look so confused? Oh, yeah.

“Oh, you don’t know me. I just love your work.”

He pulls his hand away.

“Oh. Haha.”

Then he breezes off into the distance.

I realise afterwards that he only offered 2 words during our exchange while I emptied my mouth like a handbag and 11 fell out. He saw my dirty tissues & screwed up receipts and everything.

I imagine only a select few get to see inside Grayson’s handbag:

"Pull the other one, it's got bells on it."

“Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.”

Talking of scraps of paper, Grayson’s talk made me feel much better. There were far worse freaks than me abroad tonight, especially the first person who stood up to the mic for the Q&A, who waffled on about making a piece of origami for Grayson and held aloft the smallest piece of paper I’ve ever seen.

“Yes, but have you got a question?” Grayson asked impatiently.

“Err, no, I just want to give you my origami.”

After an uncomfortable silence, he shuffled back to his seat, probably discovering that screwing up origami in shame just makes it into even smaller origami.

"Hello Grayson, I made this so you can talk to me whenever you want."

“Hello Grayson, I made this so you can talk to me whenever you want.”

Last week, they cleared the dead man’s house next door. We knew this because we were woken up to the sound of objects being lobbed lovelessly into a big open top van by two men. Thud, thump, and crunch they went, all bleeding morning.

“It’s like each thud is a lump of his flesh” said Esther.

My hoarding instincts told me to run round and grab armfuls of the stuff. My OCD warned me that each item would be smeared with the anti-vandal paint of death, visible only under moonlight. My OCD won.

It was the degree show this week. If I see something I like, I tell myself, I’ll buy it. In my head I’m a slimmer Saatchi, a Serota capable of smiling. Luckily for me, being penniless, there was nothing worth buying this year. Degree Shows can be summed up as:

  1. installations about childhood
  2. pornographic self portraits
  3. knitted vaginas

It’s always the same every year because self-absorption clings to the same reference points like cat hair to tights. In fact, the only good thing I can remember seeing was last year’s show, where someone paid a bouncer-cum-invigilator to stand in the way of their painting and block any attempts to see it, thus rendering it the only thing worth seeing and the only thing no-one saw  #wishidthoughtofthat

It reminds me of the greatest example of people going to see nothing I’ve ever heard. No, not Olly Murs, but the Mona Lisa after it was stolen:

When the Mona Lisa was stolen, people queued to see the empty space. Idiots.

More people queued to see the empty space than had for the painting. Idiots.

In other news, I found a lifesize dog teddybear in St Luke’s charity shop yesterday. It did something funny to me, lobotomised my adult bits for a minute. I’ve made up a new collective noun for this sort of feeling: An intervention of soft toys.

"Giant rabbit as border control"

“Giant rabbit as border control”

If I’d had a spare cuddly toy, I’d have probably offered it to the busdriver on Friday. Getting off last means that everyone before you has gone through the full vocabulary of gratitude:

thank you/thanks



nice one fella (for students who haven’t had their Southernness beaten out of them yet)

I can offer nothing more and so walk past him mutely. Of course, I realise now that mute people aren’t universally known for being rude, they can say thanks in their own way. Unfortunately though, the sign language for thanks looks like you’re blowing a kiss.

Next time, I think I’ll just do a peace sign.

"Ta, duckie"

“Ta, duckie”