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?

When Harry met Vienna



It’s monthly Visit Grandad day.

It ‘s so warm in his house, I feel faint, and he plies me with rich tea cream biscuits and twixes.

Deal or No Deal comes on. I’ve never watched this before. There’s a long haired man who is trying to win some money, but I don’t understand the rules. Grandad complains;

“He needs a haircut!”

I laugh at him not with him, but the irony is lost somewhere down the back of the sofa.
The man pulls out a wedding photo and says something about having to move his big day forwards because his wife was in a hospice and wasn’t going to make it that far.
I have to fight the urge to sob, and grandad says;

“Looks like a blummin’ social worker!”

I gulp down my tears and laugh at grandad again, the silly lovable bigot.


Get a call from mum,

“Harry Hill is showing people round David Shrigley’s exhibition tomorrow, got you a ticket, do you want it?”

I actually said “I’ll call you back.”

I am a fool.

"Bang the gong of stupidity"

“Bang the gong of stupidity”


On the way to the station, I ‘pop’ into work to send an email. Even though my train is due in 10 minutes and I haven’t got a ticket yet.

As I walk through the entrance at work, I hear a woman yell;

“Vienna! Oi! Come back here now!”

I swivel on my heels. Was that my conscience calling?

Nope. It’s just some woman summoning her libellously named child. Ha!

5 more paces inside and she’s at it again;

“I said NOW! Get here RIGHT now!”

I forged on ahead. How right she was. I didn’t send the email and got locked in at work and had to jump the station queue and finally made the train as the doors closed behind me.

But enough of that, all you really want to know about is Harry Hill. He is EXACTLY how he looks on TV. Big collar, NHS glasses, ageless face.

"Are these my feet?"

“Are these my feet?”

He took an overexcited group of 20 of us round David Shrigley’s show. They’re friends apparently.

He made fun of us at every available opportunity. And he had a doll called Jan Van Der Werk.

We wrote our names down on a flipboard, and he went through them like a surreal schoolteacher.

"very disappointing"

“very disappointing”


Someone had written “misunderstood” and “happy.”

“That’s very disappointing,” he said, “so early on in the tour. We’ve got another 40 minutes to go. Who’s next? Billy, who’s that?”

“That’s me.”

“Short for?”


“Short for?”

“And Vienna?”

“Here” I say.

He just looks at me, one eyebrow raised. I start to blush.

A bald man with glasses asks for a photo with Harry and a woman says “I think it’s because he looks like you”, to which Harry replies, “In what way does he look like me? He’s completely bald. And he has silly glasses!”

"Roll on Easter"

“Roll on Easter”

“How did you start to notice that you were losing your hair?” he says to the man, “Was it like me, it started to take longer and longer to wash your face? Some people suit no hair. Roll on Easter, that’s all I can say.”

One of the funniest things about it was the infectious giggling of curator, Mike Chavez-Dawson. It was like the best canned laughter in the world.

After the endless japes, it was good to sit down and have some lunch with my dad. Quality patricidal time. No that’s not right. Paternal time. We were downstairs in the 8th Day, chatting over vegan soup when we overheard a bizarre phone conversation:

“What’s happened?


Listen, don’t touch the paintings!

Don’t touch the paintings!

Listen to me, Jan, don’t touch them, leave them alone!

No, don’t even look at them, Jan.


They’re not ruined.

Remember things aren’t always as they seem.

Listen to me, sit down, don’t touch them, I’ll be there in 20 minutes…”

Then he took off like a bat out of hell.

Was he on the phone to Harry’s doll, Jan? What had he done to David’s work with his tiny hands?

"Z list meets A list. Celebrity A-Z"

“Z list meets A list. Celebrity A-Z”


I am the God of Hellfire and I bring you…Puns

Fri 10th Jan

Just attempted to sing Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown to my iphone to see if Shazam recognized it.


“SHHH! What the hell are you doing?” Esther shouted over me.

Not wanting to interrupt my perfect rendition, I continued.

“Doo-Doo Do Do Do Do Doo-Doo Do Do Do Do Do Doo-Doo”

“Just seeing if it recognizes the song” I explain.

“You’re not even singing the tune!” she says and stomps off to let the pets out. Song Not Recognized comes the damning reply.

I think the thing that really got her goat however was my hysterical laughing at Police Academy, especially the bits that aren’t funny. The angrier she gets, the closer I get to hysteria. But then I have a revelation that shocks me to my core-

Steve Guttenburg is really good looking! We’re talking painful to watch his beauty good looks…he spends the movie running around in a sleeveless crop top and denim hot pants, and it only serves to enhance his masculinity, and at one point, Esther cries out-

“Whoah! Look at that package!”

Short cute guys have all the fun. Us giants over 5’6 lumber around like drunken zombies while these fresh faced whippersnappers nip in and out getting all the girls. Sigh.

Sat 11th Jan

What better way to spend a Saturday than with my brainbox mother, who has booked us in to a writing workshop in Hipsville, Manchester. After a word-association game, we have this list of words:

  1. Ireland
  2. Moscow
  3. Show
  4. Hare
  5. Folly
  6. Chi
  7. Gong
  8. Mandolin
  9. Moccasins
  10. Beer Tent
  11. Hebrew
  12. Beard
  13. Forecast
  14. Cabbages
  15. Shoe Laces
  16. Polyhedron
  17. Ampersand
  18. Colt
  19. Domino
  20. Macerate
  21. Hydrating
  22. Loblolly (my mum’s suggestion… “I don’t know what it means though”)
  23. Dormouse
  24. Parrot

And the task is to make a story using them all. Unable to think of anything but puns, here’s my story;

Polly H. looked anxiously at the latest deals on Ireland offered  a green, Guinness land where colts ran below like unravelling shoelaces or the stubbed toe-ends of a Hare Krishna’s moccasins. Moscow meanwhile was her loblolly- the one place she could see her mother-in-law (founder of the Hadron collider, hence her full name- Polly Hadron) refusing to visit. Entering her card details, she grinned like a snow hare.

Arthur Rank winced as the check-in lady read his name out, waiting for the inevitable gong joke, which never came. He was fluent in Mandolin, but marred by dyslexia. The beer tent where he had picked up his Hebrew (the barmaid’s Aramaic was a little rusty) had been his greatest folly- he’d dribbled his Chi away make no mistake; and the chance of rehydrating was as slim as a parrot forecast of a dormouse apocalypse.

Suddenly, his pants fell like dominoes- the nervous twitch in his left hand had finally macerated his eco-friendly cabbage belt. Turning in horror, he found himself face to face with the girl of his dreams- well, last night’s anyway.

“It’s you!” he said incredulously

“Yes” she retorted, “And?”

“Huh?” he mumbled in confusion

She breathed on his glasses and etched out an ampersand in the condensation.

“That’s not what you’re meant to say” he replied wistfully

“It is in my dream” she replied, flicking her floppy mane so it enmeshed itself velcro-style in his beard….

Sun 12th Jan

“Apparently Whitney Houston is dead…” I say gingerly. Esther is a child of the 80s like me, and I’m not sure how sad she will be.

“Good!” Esther retorts in an instant and rolls over in bed.

Esther meets Bjork. Bjork melts Esther

"Before performing, Bjork will only eat 80s cassette tapes"

Last night, my parents treated us to tickets to see Bjork play in Manchester. Esther had jumped at the chance when it was offered a couple of weeks ago, but now it was the actual day and she was starting to panic.

“Maybe your parents won’t mind if I don’t come” she says hopefully while we get ready.

I refuse to even grunt my disapproval. She isn’t getting out of it that easy.

I realise I must be getting anxious too, because nothing I try on looks normal. How could I not have noticed that I am a pot-bellied pinhead with a whole wardrobe specially designed to accentuate these flaws?

I finally have to put on the least wrong outfit, and we set off; only for Esther to fall flat on her arse at the bottom of the road.

“Ow” she moans, holding her ankle, “maybe I can’t go now?”

After a brief moment of sympathy, I realise it’s a trap.

“You’ll be fine” I say.

The rest of the journey passes without too much moaning. Apart from me panicking about spending an hour on the train with nothing to read. Esther goes for a fag and re-appears with a Heat magazine.

‘The new one’s out tomorrow’ I thought, ‘this is old news’. But I just smiled and said thankyou.  A treat from Esther is a not to be sneered at.

We waited for half an hour in the sticky gloom of some warehouse in the backstreets of Manchester. The bar ran out of lager twice while I was waiting in the queue. Then came a big ‘oooh’ and 20 or so people took to the stage. Which one was she?

“Lots of Bjorks” someone muttered behind me. I pointed out a funny one with a giant ginger afro. After some shuffling about, it turned out that was her. She had a drawn on chinstrap too, and a glittery a-line dress that made her look like a space mermaid.

"Bjork's bro in a 'fro"

“I love you B”

said an overfamiliar bloke, and the crowd guffawed. She ignored it.

Bjork’s first song was called Thunderbolt. A big Faraday cage came down from the ceiling and massive lightning bolts shot across it to add hellish percussion to the music.

Esther clung onto my arm in fear.

“My dad would shit himself if he was here” she said.

Well my dad’s tougher than your dad- he was here and loving it! Bjork’s throng turned out to be a choir of Aryan beauties who wailed like it was the end of the world, and shuffled like an apocalyptic chaingang.

"Frying tonight!"

Up above, there was a circle of projection screens showing squids filling each other’s multiple orifices with multiple tentacles, mushrooms growing, dnas dangling and moons waxing and waning. The main theme seemed to be sex: things going in holes and things fusing and growing.It was like all the mating bits from nature documentaries segued together and set to volcano-pop.

After about 30 mins of this, I felt a feeble hand plucking at my t shirt.

“I’m too hot” moaned Esther looking like her petite frame had melted into a 2-dimensional placard of herself, “I have to go outside”.

Well, she had done well so far.

The rest of the concert (do people still say that anymore?) was good, but I couldn’t shake the worry that Esther had passed out in the heat or was quivering in the shadows as her social phobia took the reigns. Luckily, I found her outside, smiling and having blown herself back up again to 3D.

A fun day out was had by all.

I Love Capitalism

Saturday was spent with my rabble-rousing blud, Hunter. We wiled away the afternoon by chasing the ghost of student protests. On the way to join the anti-capitalist march, we stopped off at Topman so Hunter could try on a snazzy skinny fit suit. He was keeping pace with the students on Twitter

“They’ve smashed up Vodaphone” he said with glee. “And they hassled Topshop.”

I bet Gap and Starbucks are really happy now that shouting about foreign problems has become passe.

The closest we got to disorder was a hen night shrieking on Deansgate.

Here’s what we missed:

I love the ‘Down with Stuff’ sentiment. Nice and vague.

I’m actually more gutted that we missed Bryan Ferry in Selfridges:

How bored does he look? I would have cheered him up by saying stupid jokes like “Do they sell fridges in Selfridges?”

fast forward a few hours, and me and Hunter start to drink. Things are a little hazy after this point, but I remember calling a chav girl a C*^* and then working really hard to convince her that it was term of endearment. She believed me too, the fool!

I also remember 2 house parties and the next thing I know, I wake up in Hunter’s mum’s bed.

Thankfully for all concerned, she wasn’t there. It took me several vacant moments to figure out where in the world I was.

The next surprise was that I had lost all of these things:

  1. Coat
  2. Shirt
  3. Scarf
  4. Railcard
  5. Bag including ipod, shortcake biscuits and jelly babies AND midget gems (because I forgot about the jelly babies), phone charger and diary with all my work appointments which exist NOWHERE else.

This really is a record for me. A new stupidity high. So now I had to make my way home like one of those people you hope don’t sit next to you on the train; the smelly, red eyed, muttering figure who breaks social codes with every frazzled second of public appearance. This walk of shame lasted 2 hours and took in the ‘I’m so perfect’ hills of the Peak District (meh) , Carphone Warehouse (what is a car phone?) and McDonald’s. A chavtastic end to a lost weekend.

"Here's to many future toe-curlings"