Diary – the Monarchy, Murder, Mountains and Spies

Team GB they said. Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the relay. Personally, I am happy enough with ‘Britain’. I am not sure why ‘United Kingdom’ is a moniker unuttered in athletics, but it is a position I wholly support. I would rather not have my state defined wholly by its state of unity under the Queen. In fact, I feel quite alienated by this monarchical imposition, reigning down from high. So I have decided to try not to use the term. Take that, Elizabeth Windsor!

As if to foment distaste at the Same-Coburg Gotha dynasty, Princess Diana made a series of videotapes more than twenty years ago, and Channel 4 broadcast them on television the other week. I am obviously not in to the monarchy, but I decided to take part in this in case it turned out to be a ‘cultural event’. It did not. But it put me in the mood to rewatch House of Cards (Francis Urqhuart version) and for this I can only commend all those involved in the assassination of Princess Diana, whose murderous plot let directly to me enjoying this masterpiece of irony for the third time.

Since I last diarized I have been doing all sorts of salubrious things, such as taking a short holiday with friends in Perthshire. We climbed mountains, including the esteemed and iconic Schiehallion, from which comes the invention of contour lines, which were created in order to determine the mountain’s weigh, which was necessary for an experiment to calculate the mass of Planet Earth. It has also loaned its name to a great many pubs and alcoholic fluids. After our day’s walking, we drank a great deal of Prosecco in the hot tub, and saw several bats. I foresee this being a repeated holiday.

I have also done less healthy things, such as drinking and eating with friends. I had taken recently to boring my company with a story about my mobile telephone spying on me. I had been chatting with Steph one evening and I said, I thought apropos of nothing, ‘why don’t we hire an RV and drive around Europe next summer?’ Then the next day, I was on Facebook and I was delivered an advert relating to camper-van holidays in Italy. I had heard people talk of eavesdropping telephones before. I had read a few blogs about this. But now I had first hand proof! I had never googled this or anything. The bastards were listening to me!

But then I told this story to my friend Dave, and he basically poured cold water over it. Surely, it was just a coincidence? How many adverts do I see in a day? It was bound to be the case that eventually one random advert would coincide with some pish I had talked, considering the amount of it I put about.

And then I had an even scarier though. What if I had the whole thing the wrong way round? Maybe I see this advert all the time. So many times that it planted the idea in my head. What if my phone has no need to spy on me because it is brainwashing me? As Woody from Toy Story always says, life is bullshit.

In cultural news, I have mainly been listening to Lana Del Rey, and am going to see her on Wednesday at the Hydro. Her new album is brilliant. My favourite song is ‘Heroin’, which includes the suggestion that it is hot ‘even for February’. Over the whole album the music is excellent and the lyrics are as batshit crazy as ever. ‘My boyfriend’s back and he’s cooler than ever—no more dark nights, blue skies forever,’ is a particularly magnificent example. I also got tickets to see Vitalic at the Kelvingrove art gallery next month, which was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

This month I read His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, which was enthralling. The account of the murders was quite hard going, although not so difficult as Native Son. I watched Fargo and The Handmaid’s Tale and both were excellent. I have started reading Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, which I haven’t really got in to yet, although I am, at least theoretically, enjoying all the monastical homicides and homosexual intrigues. My main reading time has been devoted to Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which is a work of immense beauty, although sadly it has featured no murders. Unless you count hangings.

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Diary – Kraftwerk, Legal Doping, Speed

It has been well over a month, but I won’t apologize. Weekly entries: were an aspiration. Not, dear diary, a promise.

The election was now almost two months ago, and I only mention it so as to maintain a complete record of the times in which I live. Theresa May went to the country and asked for a mandate for the harshest Brexit feasible, and was, generously, allowed a majority of ten or so, including a handful of bribe-by-ballot Irish terrorism-apologists. It seems unlikely that this unpopular front can continue in office for a full five year term, but what worth are predictions in the times in which we live?

Jeremy Corbyn defied almost everyone by polling over 40% and coming a close second, and calls for his resignation have been few and quiet. How times have changed. Yet, he and his team still lack credibility on the details. But, given the choice between mediocre socialists and mediocre capitalists, this diarist found it not just easy but enjoyable to vote for the Labour Party this year. I still lost though, and this maintained my 100% record in elections and referendums since I turned 18 in 2002.

I have just finished watching the Tour de France. I also recently saw Kraftwerk at the Royal Concert Hall. These two things have inspired me to improve my cycling abilities. So I made up a few new cycling training programmes for my turbo trainer. I made a vague training plan.

Dear diary, I did not manage to keep to the plan. I have prioritized sleep when I should have been doing hard sessions at threshold power. I have opted for ‘recovery’ rides when I was meant to be working on low-cadence high-torque drills to build leg strength. I have even went hillwalking on days when I could have cycled long routes into the hills.

So I had no option. It was clear that honest training would not work. So I have invested in shortcuts. I have:

  • purchased a power meter (to help pace my efforts better)
  • taken to drinking beetroot juice shots before rides (which apparently increases nitrogen oxide levels in one’s blood and improve performance during endurance efforts)
  • increased my intake of BCAA (branched chain amino acids) to 10g a day, in powder form
  • been taking 2g a day of l-carnitine, because I read that Mo Farah’s coach had been drugging his athletes with it (it is legal in this dosage, but banned in higher dosages)
  • and last weekend I even shaved my legs with Steph’s razor (who knew they got stubbly so fast)

I got a new fastest time on the short hill past Bonnyton Golf Club, so clearly the drugs and technology are finally working.

The next step in my grand plan is coffee. Coffee has always been part of my fitness regime, but just today I acquired an Italian stove top espresso maker. I figure that by taking my pre-exercise coffee in espresso format, I will be able to dramatically increase the amount of caffeine I consume.

Chris Froome says that at the age of 32 he still has up to five years of grand touring in him. At 33, but with much fresher legs, I can only believe that I have a genuine shot at winning in 2020.

In the rest of my life, I have recently read The Establishment by Owen Jones, which I enjoyed—I imagine as a nun may enjoy a mass on a Sunday. I am presently reading His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet and In the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I am also watching Fargo, The Handmaid’s Tale, Love, and Master of None.

Since I last wrote, I have finished watching Six Feet Under. The final episode, which I remembered as being very powerful, felt different this time. But still sad. Because death is sad, mainly. Overall, the series didn’t live up to my expectations. I spent too much time being annoyed that the characters consistent refused to ever behave like normal people. But maybe normal people do just behave irrationally. I mean, obviously they do (see: Brexit). It was alright, but not the top-tier drama that I hoped it would be.

I also watched Speed, starring Keanu Reeves, which surpassed itself:

  • it was dumber than I could feasibly imagine any movie could be
  • Keanu Reeves is a terrible actor
  • like, seriously, the train track hasn’t been finished and you are going to speed up and try and jump the tracks… wasn’t that the plot line that happened just fifteen minutes ago?
  • it was still pretty good and I watched right to the end

 

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Holiday Diary – Rome, Part 2 (incorporeal) – Iglesias, Tartt, Wright, McCullers

So, as promised, I am now going to deal with matters incorporeal arising from spending two weeks in Rome. Being without access to decent speakers, not a great deal of music was listened to. However, four songs quickly established an unquestioned entitlement to be heard via Spotify on the laptop:

In joint first place, largely because I can only differentiate between them by listening to them one after the other, were We No Speak Americano and Far l’Amore. The sound is a mixture between the Flat Eric song that was on that Levi’s advert almost twenty years ago, and some jazzy Italian singing. Both songs have the effect of making one leap up to dance, and then almost immediately cease due to the clumsily high tempo.

In a high-scoring second place, we have Italy’s 2017 Eurovision entry, Occedentali’s Karma by Francesco Gabbani. I ended up voting for this, as well as Belgium and whoever had the funny leg dance, as well as another one. But this is the one that truly stuck with me. I am still listening to it a lot. It’s a grower. Trust me, honestly, you’ll like this:

Finally, in a very high-scoring last place, the classic Bailando by Enrique Iglesias. This is just our holiday song wherever we go. It has been drummed into us as it is apparently the only song that is ever on the radio in Miami. I always smile when I hear the hyper-Mexican accented guy at the start say, ‘je je je je je—Enrique Iglesias!’

My holiday reading was as thus:

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

This is set in a mill town in a southern state in the USA during the great depression. Carson Mcullers only 23 when this was published. Things like this always make me feel jealous and inadequate, but she is long dead so I guess I can just be happy for her. This is the story of a deaf man, Singer, whose deaf-mute companion is sent to an isnane asylum. It is not plot driven; it builds characters and describes a few events.

After singer’s friend is removed, he changes his lodgings and then builds a series of relationships. These are one sided: he doesn’t talk. He occassionally writes notes, but by and large he just listens. He does not offer good advice, or appear to be particularly wise, but the people who speak to him all seem to see qualities in him that they can’t truly evidence. Based on their prejudices, they assume properties in the him—a black doctor takes the man to be Jewish, because the Jews too have faced persecution. A trade union activist takes him to be a European socialist. A young girl, bizarrely, assumes he understands music theory.

It is only when the man visits his friend in the asylum that we learn what he thinks of them: they are all mad. But the relationship he has with his friend mirrors that his new friends have with him: Singer signs incessantly to his friend; but his friend rarely responds. Singer isn’t even sure that his friend knows sign language, other than for the swear words.

This is a masterpiece. It deals movingly with subjects such as alienation and isolation, and it gives it characters, all of them flawed and lost, dignity and depth.

Native Son by Richard Wright

This is another depression era novel, this time set in Chicago. The first third contained some of the hardest reading i’ve ever done: repulsive and compelling. The actual acts of violence are unforgivably cruel, and the tension at all other times is almost unbearable. Yet, this is a great novel. it presents us with one of the most unlikeable protaganists imaginable in Bigger Thomas. Then it shows us the world that created him: where a celebrated philanthropist, who takes a special interet in the education of ‘negros’, makes his wealth by renting out uninhabitable apartments at exorbitant rents in the black part of town, and refuses to rent to black people elsewhere. Where even well wishing white people lapse into asking him the kind of food ‘his people’ eat.

This is a world where Bigger is supposed to be grateful for whatever crumbs he gets, and you can’t really blame him for not feeling grateful when he gets a cushy job as a chauffeur for a rich white family. You can even almost feel sorry for him when he accidentally kills their daughter (if he ran I wouldn’t have blamed him); but the course of action he sets out on is so morally repugnant that by the end of the novel I thought the death sentence was fairly reasonable.

The prose is unflashy—in fact, it is disconcertingly direct. The writer consciously avoids euphemism as his protagonist places the corpse of his well-meaning, young, female victim into the coal fired toilet, and decapitates her with his switch knife on finder her body too long to fit into the furnace.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I feel I did well to stick this out; I read it on the basis of its reputation. My only previous encounter with Tartt was via the unreadable Goldfinch, which I, a man with a quotidian familiarity with Great Britain’s thousands of pages of tax legislation, could not bear to finish reading. This is better, but overlong, and usually at least a bit boring. We know from the start that Bunny is to be killed, and thank fuck for that as otherwise I would have spent the first half of the book thinking, ‘Why won’t someone just kill this annoying prick,’ rather than, ‘when will they kill this prick?’—a protest that at least contains hope within.

But after they kill Bunny they book gets no better. All that seems to happen is people get drunk and knock on each other’s doors. Tartt must have written the words ‘lighted another cigarette’ more than any other person in all history. Any why must everyone do everything brusquely? Why can’t they be, at least occasionally, curt with one another? Or, and this would be really revolutionary, why not just not have the characters all meet each other and kill Bunny in the first place? It also featured the classic pish literary fiction trope of containing an incestuous relationship. YAWN. I give this two stars out of a million.

Okay, that’s the holiday blog over. Tune in next week for coverage of, what by then will be, last month’s general election.

 

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Holiday Diary – Rome, Part 1 (Corporeal)

I make no apology for my absence; I spent a fortnight in Rome on holiday. And I decided to make the holiday fundamental: I wrote not a word, other than for a few I wrote on a postcard. But a postcard can only be written on holiday, so this was not a breach of my mantra.

Almost immediately (five days) after returning from the holiday I started writing this entry, but it became so unwieldy that I had to take two weeks to reflect and to purchase new cycling equipment. After reflection and cycling I have returned to this unwiedly diary with a plan to split it into three. 1: Rome (corporeal), 2. Rome (incorporeal), and 3. Other (etc.) So, me being, generally, a chronological person, this is Part 1.

The first thing that you will notice when you descend upon Rome from the air is that it has a nice terracotta appearance. The first thing you notice when your boots are upon the ground is that there are armed soldiers and police positioned all over the place. Anywhere there is a grand doorway, regardless of what is behind it, you will find two armed humans. It is surprising how quickly you get used to this.

There are many other things to look at in Rome. You can stroll aimlessly and around almost every corner you will find an ancient and wonderful construction. Some of the best things we saw were the Trevi fountain (we stayed nearby and walked past, I think, five times—it really is a thing to behold), Gianicolo hill, from which you can enjoy incredible views over Rome and to the surrounding mountains, the highest of which is about 1200 metres—almost as high a Ben Nevis. Piazza Navone was the best piazza, although the surrounding bars and restaurants gave off all the scent of being shady tourist traps. I believe this piazza used to be a chariot racing stadium.  The Colosseum obviously has to be seen due to its great fame—it is very interesting, and the fact it has been semi rebuilt at least three times makes it quite strange to look at. The Pantheon was incredible. I feel that everyone should visit this; one of the greatest works of ancient engineering that exist, surely. Along with the pyramids I guess. Hands up, I know fuck all about ancient engineering and I strongly suggest any students of ancient engineering do not include this blog in a footnote in their dissertations.

Before I went on holiday I shaved my head for the first time in probably a decade. I also took to wearing stubble. My new look is unbelievably low maintenance. I don’t know if I can ever go back. I was pleased to note that many Italian men opt for the same haircut and beard. Alongside Steph, my Latin American girlfriend, many people assumed we were Italian and asked us directions. At least, I assume that is what they were asking for.

Indeed, all this being spoken to in an unintelligible language put me in the mind of Steph’s father, who is forever slapping me on the back while speaking Spanish over my shoulder and laughing. “I’m going to own your house one day,” is what I am going to say, quickly in my most Glaswegian accent, the next time he does this, I decided. I told Steph this, and then I encouraged her not to throw her wine over me. I was, and remain, most grateful for her rare display of discretion.

In all honesty, despite not having the language, I feel very much an Italian. It took a few days to get the ropes, but once you have the hang of it, it is really quite fantastic. When you wake in the morning, what you do is you nip into a tabaccheria and enjoy a cornetto (I prefer crema, but the nutella is also good) and a cappuccino, at a cost of around (like, genuinely) £1.50. And, obviously, this shit blows Starbucks away in terms of quality. It goes without saying, the Italians know how to do coffee. I also know how to do coffee. A hint: there should never be a whole pint of milk in a coffee.

In the afternoon, as a temporary Italian, I liked to lunch on a pizza slice and an enormous bottle of Moretti or Peroni. One of the great things about Rome is that drinking beer is not thought of as a sordid activity, and you are very welcome to drink your beer and eat your pizza slice in the piazza, perhaps on the steps surrounding an ancient fountain or statue. On one particularly good day, we had Moretti and ciabattini in the botanic gardens in Trastevere. Despite being a gloriously sunny day, there were no drink fuelled riots such as would have been expected on a similar day in the parks of Glasgow.

After lying in the sun by the pool for a few hours, or perhaps watching Giro d’Italia in our quarters, with perhaps another humungous Moretti, we would eventually venture out for dinner at 8 or 9. Almost every restaurant we visited was excellent. The main exception was the first restaurant we visited. We had got lost in the shopping area and didn’t see a single restaurant for half an hour, by which time we were starved. We foolishly went into the first place we saw, and were ripped off abysmally. It was 22 E for the wine, about 18 E for each dish, and they whacked on a 17% service charge. And the food was bad. Basically, we were idiots. After leaving, we strolled past about a thousand attractive eateries during the five minutes or so that it took to walk to the Spanish Steps.

It is very easy to eat well in Rome for not a lot of cash. You can easily find a litre of wine for between 8 and 12 euros. Not quite fine wine, but when you are eating out every day for two weeks, thoroughly adequate. Start with an antipasto—salami, cheeses and olives will set you back 8-15 euros for two (and you may be too full to eat your main course). For the main course you have to sample all of the Roman pasta staples: amatriciana (tomato, pancetta, pecorino and chilli), carbonara, cacao e pepe (cheese and pepper) and polpette (meatballs). All of these can be had for 8 – 12 E. If you want to spend more, veal is also readily available. We often found our diet to be lacking in vegetables, so if you want to eat these you are best to order a side salad or some roasted vegetables.

Other things that I liked about Rome included:

  1. cigarettes can still be viewed in tobacconists, and they are still sold in branded packets
  2. you can see the Pope every Sunday and Wednesday; he appears at a distant window in the Vatican and can be heard to say ‘particulare’ (and a lot more if you understand Italiano)
  3. there was an exceptional row in the hotel room next to us one night. It was so good that I couldn’t help but find myself holding a glass to the wall, which I must have seen in a spy movie. I can report that this doesn’t work as well as all that. The next day we got a decent eavesdrop on the aftermath, which played itself out in the corridor aside hotel staff with walky talkies. We listened with glee as the man cheerily told the women that she was a real bitch to him the night before and he was happy to pay for the extra room and it was over and no, nothing was okay. I considered opening the door in my dressing gown to have a look but could think of no sensible excuse, and I also didn’t have a dressing gown.

All in all, I can’t recommend Rome highly enough.

 

 

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Diary – Vuvuzelas, LinkedIn, Heartbeats, Lightning Seeds

‘You are easily annoyed,’ I said. ‘An irritable person generally; very quick to take offence when clearly none is intended.’

‘No, you are annoying,’ Steph insisted.

I had her know that, in actuality, I won the prize for being the least annoying person at my high school. ‘It was a vuvuzela,’ I said.

‘What?’

‘The prize for not being annoying was a vuvuzela. I used to play the Camptown Races on it all the time. Bzz zz zz zz zz zz-zz-zz zu-za, zu-za.

Bzz zz zz zz zz zz-zz-zz zu zz-zz za ze (and onwards ad infinitum)

‘That’s really annoying,’ she said.

I said it was actually funny, and I would prove this by writing about it in my diary. I showed her!

Then I checked my phone and saw that six people had liked my two year work anniversary on LinkenIn, and I wondered: are they taking the piss out of me, or out of LinkenIn, or out of the concept of employment in general? I decided it was one or both of the latter options, as this option was most compatible with my preferred worldview, whereby I am normal and everyone more or less conforms to the way I feel about things. I considered deleting LinkedIn, but I decided not to because I experience ASRM whenever I get a personalized message from a recruiter that I have no intention of replying to. I suppose that is why everyone uses it.

Later that day, just as I was about to drift off to sleep, I had a eureka moment. I woke Steph up to tell her.

‘I’ve had an idea for an app.’

‘What?’ she said, after I had gently-ish shook her a few times.

‘It’s an app that goes through all of your online accounts and changes the passwords to ones that are impossible to remember, then deletes them all before you can memorize them.’

‘Stop annoying me,’ she said.

Then I, for the second time that day, told her the story about the time I won a vuvuzela.

Other than that, this week I thought a lot about music. Robert Miles died, so I listened to Children, and I felt quite sad. I think that sad techno music is an excellent genre. Perfect for listening to while walking to work, doing dishes, taking the bins out, or thinking about past achievements, like the time I won a vuvuzela.

Naturally, this song led to a series of others, including Killer by Adamski feat. Seal and Remember Me by The Blueboy, which is mainly famous because Moby heard it and ripped it off 32 times over two albums and was finally able to afford the cocaine habit he had long denied himself.

Feeling that my blog was on the tipping point of escalating me to household infamy, I felt it wise to start work on my Desert Island Discs. Dear reader, this is a difficult task. You must not make the mistake of picking only after you have been invited! Don’t be the idiot who choses S Club 7 because of the wild night where you did a karaoke of it and you vomited but it was okay as it tasted like black sambuca! I think I would like Heartbeat by Annie and maybe With Every Heartbeat by Robyn, because it would be good to have two Scandinavian solo artists with song titles using the letters H-E-A-R-T-B-E-A-T in the same order. Also, banging tunes with nice synth sounds.

Then, for the exact same reasons, I guess I’d have to have Heartbeats by The Knife. It would be literally impossible to pick just one song from the sub-genre of Scandinavian dance music with the word H-E-A-R-T-B-E-A-T in it. So that only leaves four songs to cover hip-hop, britpop, national anthems, non-Scandinavian dance music and jazz. If only there was a remix of Three Lions by the Lightning Seeds that had  a saxophone solo and a verse by Snoop Dogg in it.

Which brings me to Wednesday, which was actually the day that nearly all that is above happened, but we are heading back in time to 1pm, when I met Steph for lunch at the Big Slope. We were eating our lunches, enjoying the unusual occasion of getting to eat lunch together as our offices are not near (she was at a conference near my office that day) when an unwashed couple came in with a humungous black St Bernard and sat right next to us. There was plenty of free seats, so we moved to one of them. When I went back to collect my jacket, the women was apparently offended. I explained, matter-of-factly, that their dog was a bit smelly. For some reason, she remonstrated. I, commendably, didn’t tell her that the reason she thought it didn’t smell was because she smelled also and her house smelled too. I am not per se opposed to dogs in pubs, but I MEAN COME ON LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT THING IT’S DISGUSTING. The food remained delicious outwith the odorous boundary.

After work, I played football for the first time in about seven years and I think I almost crippled Chris. I write this blog laid up on the couch two days later, still barely able to walk, having come off the better. I do not think I will play again until after I return from holidaying in Italy in three weeks.

Furthermore, if I was to have a Lighting Seeds songs in my Desert Island Discs, which I wouldn’t, it would be Marvellous—the album version which is 5 minutes 33 seconds long, although the song doesn’t actually start until exactly two minutes in, being preceded by two full minutes of ambient noise. Needless to say, the single version was 3 minutes 33 seconds long. I often wonder if the only reason for the two minute introduction was so that one day I would write an aside at the end of a blog about it solely to get my word count up to exactly 1000.

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Diary – Excess, Elections, Extinct Poets

I am onto my second day of penance—I am recently returned from London, where, my temporal corpus would contend, I misbehaved. I spent seven days behaving as if consequences didn’t exist—and suffering from consequences. The last week went as thus: on Thursday I had a pub dinner (after the gym at least), on Friday spaghetti for lunch before being fed constant sandwiches and gin and tonics on business class with British Airways, before drinking beer til 4AM. On Saturday I managed a run, before a day of chocolate croissants, pizza, then drinking until even later than 4AM, then on Sunday I somehow managed to go out for a burger and then out for Tacos and then to the pub – although I was home for bed by about midnight. On Monday I managed another burger and a couple of pints before flying back home to eat Chinese takeaway. The plan was to become healthy again on Tuesday, but returning to work was too brutal so I scrubbed the gym and went out for pizza.

Somewhere in the midst of all of the above I had an interesting conversation about pornography and prostitution with one of my hosts in Brixton. I tend towards the idea that we should maximize liberty, and hence the state should not make things illegal unless they cause manifest harm to people that are not involved in the acts themselves (i.e. everyone should be free to harm themselves and consenting partners). Particularly in things like prostitution and drug use, where it is clear that prohibition does not stop the offensive behaviour. My host argued passionately and convincingly that the people involved in these activities are, often, being abused, and are not truly consenting partners. I have continued to think about this since leaving London. I’m not really sure what the answer is though; I don’t think increasing restrictions or illegalization will make things any safer. But I am willing to accept that this is an area the state should maybe be more involved in, in order to protect potential victims, to insure that people in these industries have other options, and that abusers are punished.

Today, the local elections results have been dripping in like Chinese water torture. Corbyn has been very quiet all day, but I don’t think he is going to resign. At least there can no longer be any doubt whatsoever that the polls are broadly accurate. Nothing, however, prepared me for the the Tories winning a seat in Shettleston. What a time to be alive!

Theresa May has, absurdly, accused the EU is interfering in her election. How has this hyper-aggressive, charmless person became the stuck on favourite to win? She opposed Brexit, and now she is the champion of the hardest Brexit imaginable, which even UKIP formerly claimed not to advocate. Her only other policy seems to be the reintroduction of grammar schools, which were removed many years ago as a result of how unpopular they were with the middle classes (do you think the people who support them now will still like them when little Joshua fails the 11-plus?) I must stop thinking about politics or the melancholy of it all will kill me the fuck dead.

(I take a deep breath at this point)

Yesterday, after a relaxing sauna, I read a little John Keats. I’m not a big poetry fan but something chimes with me about Keats. It isn’t really the poetry that I enjoy, I just like to think about this short-lived poet. This young man, who, and at the age of 23, would see a nice day out his window and feel obliged to write a few pages of flowery verse to commemorate it. I imagine him being preposterously sentimental, which apparently was also the opinion of many of his peers. His death at 26 was hastened by a bad review in an Edinburgh literary magazine. I don’t read a lot of poetry. I read in a rush usually, frantically getting information into my head, stopping to chew on an occasional spot of irony, or a poetic line or two. But poetry is all poetic lines, so I find myself unable to read it comfortably. I’m sure I’ll grow into it, but, in the meantime, I suggest the poets should write popular music lyrics (for they clearly don’t presently.)

I heard a song at the gym the other day about visiting the doctor. Part of it was just a list of medical procedures and terminology. The tune was horrendous, but the lyrics were at least interesting in a weird way. It was as if the poet had just watched an episode of casualty and had felt an unusual tug of inspiration on his humerus. I wonder if Keats wrote anything similar during his final months as his tuberculosis slowly suffocated him.

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Diary – Tory determinism, Erotic arts

It has been hard to write the diary this week. The week has not been good and I have sought to absence myself from it. I have distanced myself from it by hiding in books, or in the gym. I have even resorted to housework in the evening, a trait unseen since my last set of exams. But now I must face the week.

My desire is to pin down and shout at all the Tories: why? Why would you want this to happen? Why do you want to brexit? Why do you want to defund our society?

But then I remind myself: it’s not really their fault. Just as you should take care not to be too proud of your liberal tendencies, they should not be blamed for their reactionary wonts—for  we are products of our genetics and our upbringings; we are slaves to our unchosen proclivities.

It was obvious I would be a left liberal. I was a born rebel with issues with authority, with trade unionist parents, and a snobbish streak. I read more than average, and have drank and used similar substances more than average; both I think in part due to my inherent shyness. I could become a conservative no more than Marine le Pen could become a liberal.

But, you might say, people can change. This is not likely. Changes have causes, and if people are not exposed to such causes, such as, say, studying politics and philosophy, which I did, then what will change them? We are a world split by education—the strongest indicator on whether you supported or rejected brexit was level of education.

But anyone can go to university! Well, no, they can’t. Technically anyone could; you need not be particularly clever to achieve this. But to do so without encouragement and expectation requires a significant amount of motivation. Friends: you either have it or you don’t. It is not your fault if you don’t. For the avoidance of doubt, I really believe that.

There have been times in the past year, moments of extreme upset, when I have thought: let the bastards all vote Tory. These morons deserve all they get. Maybe I’ll just join the Tories myself and devote the rest of my life to enriching myself. That’ll show them. And I think a lot of people make this mistake of logic. But it is abysmal logic, for, one, as discussed above, these people do not deserve the thing they are going to vote for, because no human deserves to be impoverished, homeless, or reliant on food banks. But further, the Tories make us all poorer. Sure, the richest may pay less tax. But they will still live in a miserable world, and when they go to town they will see homeless people sleeping outside the House of Fraser and they will experience the bitter animosity of a society divided between the wealthy and the worthless.

So I am saddened by the state of the world, and I feel powerless. I will vote Labour, and I encourage everyone to do the same, in the knowledge that I will convince nobody.

This week, I started reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which I have been enjoying—infinitely more so than I liked The Goldfinch. I also finished reading Decline and Fall and started watching the television adaption. I have found the adaption disappointing. I don’t find Jack Whitehall as Pennyfeather. I also didn’t find Grimes to look anything like the image I had of him, nor the headmaster. I was disappointed that the funnier things that the German architect said where removed, as was a particularly funny (offensive, racist) monologue about the Welsh. The writer’s introductions to the story—such as the unhilarious ‘modern’ piano scene—do not compare with the author’s ideas.

I also saw The Handmaiden, which was excellent. I also read two stories from Between The Sheets, by Ian McEwan. So far, the erotic content of the Ian McEwan book has been thousands of percent less enjoyable than that of The Handmaiden. There was even a point where an usher entered the theatre and shone a torch around, no doubt to discourage clandestine onanists.

Like everyone, I spent a curious hour playing with FaceApp. I discovered that, if I live to be old, I am going to look pretty much exactly like my dad. This weekend I’m going to London.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, Uncategorized

Monsters

I hesitated for a second, then I took off my gold Rolex and tossed it in my drawer beside my keys, my wallet, my phone, my cigarettes and the rest of my pocket litter. I didn’t bother logging out of the computer; there was a half-written email on the screen, which tailed off mid-sentence, mid-word even. I got up, put my jacket on, and walked out the office without saying anything. Nobody looked up.

I walked down Elmwood Terrace and looked in the windows of the townhouses. I don’t know what I hoped to see, but I didn’t see it. I watched a lawyer dictate something; I wondered how he did it—how he kept going to the office every day, with his name in the papers, with the officers going through his shredding, just waiting for the inevitable indictment, for it all to be taken away. Purgatory, it seems to me, is the worst of all possibilities. There is certainty in fire.

I walked through the entrance to the park and took the middle of the three paths, towards the fountain, which was not turned on. Its basin was a tenth filled with rainwater and bored students sat on its parapet, reading electronic messages on their devices. As I walked past, my legs became heavy and I was momentarily dizzy. The legs had always been unreliable, sports-day refuseniks. It occurred to me that they had always let me down; how many times had they wobbled me when I knew I was being watched? I thought mainly of the high school catwalk. My face was traitorous too, always blushing when I had nothing to apologize for. Long forgotten memories, but it was as good a time as any for them to reassert themselves.

I slowed down and walked on a bit to the slope, where I lay down on the grass, which was a little damp—I presumed with unevaporated morning dew. I had nothing, so put nothing between the wool of my suit and the earth. It made me feel instantly ten degrees colder. It wasn’t a cold day, it was grey and mild with a little breeze. Good walking weather.

I watched people without particular interest, without moving my head around to track them. They came into my line of sight and then left. I concentrated on my breathing; I wanted to use breathing techniques to control my body temperature, but I was unable to do this. I quickly lost track of the time; with every breath, every ten breaths, every hundred, the vagueness of the hour increased. The gulf between the possible early and possible late time grew. This was all meaningless to me, and I thought about it only as I could not succeed in thinking of nothing. I tried to think about my breathing and nothing else, but this inevitably led to thoughts of other things.

At some point it started to drizzle. The dew had already started to draw its way up my suit, so this didn’t constitute any additional hardship, but I did start to attract attention from the dog walkers, who now universally rushed, just slightly, to remove themselves from the rain. An older man in a North Face jacket with a farmdog asked me if I was alright and I pulled a noncommittal face in the direction I was already facing, which seemed to satisfy him.

The park emptied as the rain increased. My hair was sodden, my fringe glued wet to my forehead, my shirt was translucent, and I began to shiver. A few people rushed by, presumably it was about five PM, when the working day ceased, but they had tunnel vision, or perhaps they were just unsettled by me. A woman did speak to me, I think, but did not approach. I think she asked me something as she walked by on the path, but I wasn’t paying attention so can’t be sure.

The rain let up at dusk, and dissipated entirely by nightfall. There was no real relief, as the temperature dropped so that I was shivering quite violently. The park was empty other than for foxes and squirrels, which kept their distance from me. The patrol came through at some point, but were undisciplined, chatting and smoking and spitting, and did not see me, although I made no effort to hide from them.

Perhaps the breathing technique had started to work, as I seemed to become insensible to the pain of exposure. I should have been uncomfortable, but I had a feeling of leaving my body behind me. I was relieved to feel that my identity was fading from me. It had, in a way, been fading for a long time. It was hard to be an individual; it had been this way since I first sought employment. I feel that even a child must struggle to own its personality now.

I was physically fit, intellectually torpid, and ruthlessly specialized. I took my place proudly in the division of labour. I worked accounts like an ancestor may have worked sheet metal; that same car door, over and over, the same shape, same curvature. To fail to conform is to fail; the door must conform, the accounts must conform, and I must conform.

We must not drink too much, we must not smoke, we must eat an omnivorous diet while professing a wish that we ate less meat—that we had less of an impact on our environment. We must disdain fast food, as a rule, but indulge when we deserve it: when we have had a hard week of labour. If we work ten hours of overtime in a week, it is okay to eat a cheeseburger. You can say that you did this, you can regale your company at a dinner party, and everyone will understand. We all understood that.

We try to reuse packaging; we complain that the supermarket over-packages things. We say: why does the avocado need a polystyrene tray? But we still buy the avocado, which was flown here from South America, and we profess we wished we made less impact on the world.

I seldom drank anymore, and only rarely smoked since leaving university, although I kept this a secret from colleagues and I never bought them from my local store. I had abandoned a decade of vegetarianism as it was a dangerous sign of radicalism. I wished I ate fewer creatures as I believed that I may have empathized with them; although I am not sure if that is true. I find animals to be a disgusting form of monster. This doesn’t preclude empathy. I also feel bad about the carbon emissions as I want to reduce my impact on the world.

I was never very interested in politics, but now I made an effort to avoid it. I had been unnerved by the plebiscites, the binary choices; yes or no. It seemed to be an outrageous con, a passing of buck, an illusion of simplicity. It created fanatics, and spurred talk of traitors and accusations of duplicity. I had taken my choices, plumped for yes or no, and always, always, lost. I never tried to persuade, and was never persuaded by others. I no longer tried to persuade even myself.

And everywhere the talk was of sovereigns, of sovereignty, as if it was a thing, and not a relict from the time of kings. I preferred not to think in terms of sovereigns, but in terms of monsters. The people wanted smaller, simpler monsters. Who would be its head? Its heart? Its conscience? I preferred a complicated monster, many headed, self-replenishing, moving in all directions and none, without purpose; benign. I preferred a monster so ludicrous, so futile, its monstrosity could barely be understood. All parts in deadlock as legs moved east and arms moved west. New heads popping up above abdomens and kneecaps. Ugly; without symmetry. Unaddressable, for what part would you address? But the trend was for smaller, simpler monsters: human shaped, with human desires. I was scared of all monsters, but scared most of these.

I supposed I was vegetarian again; I noted that I had failed to think of nothing. It was, and remains, my aim. To be, and nothing more. A tree or a flower, turning air from one form to the other.

At dawn the patrol came back around; they asked me who I was, but I did not know and so could not tell them. I had decided that their language was foreign, for I had no language. They took me and I did not resist.

After brief conference, they took me to a hospital. Nurses and doctors spoke to me; they cleaned me; they tried to feed me, but I did not eat. The doctors were keen to come to a diagnosis, although I think they suspected the truth, which was that there was nothing wrong with me, other than being a tad hypothermic.

They asked me some questions, showed me some cards, and they took blood from me. I disinterestedly allowed this to happen. I think they found my uncooperation frustrating, for they soon bored trying to communicate with me. I can only imagine that the results of the inkblot card tests were inconclusive.

A few days later, when they tried to force a feeding tube down my throat, I raised my hands in surrender. I had not at first noticed the pain of hunger, but now that I was warm and comfortable and fussed over, it had become unignorable. It was a relief to eat, and it did not feel like a compromise.

Around this time, I received my first visitors. My erstwhile parents, my erstwhile partner, and my erstwhile child. I was surprised to see them; they being firmly part of my previous, discontinued, existence. They used familiar but expired terms with me; labels that I no longer recognized. They seemed sad and anxious, but I felt that they understood, though they could not bring themselves to say it. Their language was no longer my own; their meanings were not mine. All was just noise, and to be caressed by them was just to feel the softest form of agony.

I had never wanted a child, and it had disgusted me from first sight. Rather than it looking like me or my wife, I found that over time my wife’s features were morphing into a monstrous version of the child’s. Looking at them, I felt faintly sick, and I yearned for them to leave and never return. I expressed this by turning my head the other way on my pillow, or by simply closing my eyes.

One day I was resting in my hospital bed, as was my wont, when I was overcome with silent panic. It occurred to me that I was full of shit. All was not noises; this was the woman I hitherto had loved, or believed I loved, and what really was the difference? She was there with me, rambling, stroking my hand. I snuck a glance at her eye, something I had meticulously avoided with all humans since my transition, and I could see pain in it, and I knew I had caused it. I listened to what she was saying; it was nonsense, semi-delirious, but I understood her; her language was my language. I was tempted to speak to her, to tell her I was okay, not to worry. But I couldn’t explain myself. It seemed like too grand a task. I told myself that I might do it the next time, when I’d had a chance to get my story straight.

From then on, every day, every moment I was awake, I was tempted to abandon the effort. My protest was futile. I was perched, ready to make my morbid confession. The ones my actions hurt were the ones who loved me. But I couldn’t admit there was nothing wrong with me. I had to pursue my course. In any case, the idea of going back—to the child, to my wife, to my job—seemed inconvenient and boring. If I could have just said, ‘I’m okay,’ and then they would have gone away, I would have done it.

They kept coming back for a while; my erstwhile family; and their faces all merged into one repulsive, identical sameness. They were as the politicians were: killing me with kindness; looking after me when I wanted to be left to thrive alone. They attempted to manage me, always seeming to give when really they were taking, taking everything I had. By now, I hated them. The old thought of confession was eradicated; I would speak only if I could formulate the perfect sentence of vengeance. But whenever I tried this, in my head, I only came across as bitter, or disturbed, or angry, or small, or pathetic; so I kept my words to myself.

Eventually I was taken to another place, where I saw a new doctor. It was only after I saw her the second time that I realized I had a doctor. I noted the flurry of faces that had surrounded me in the old place; so varied they were, so fleeting were our relationships. She spoke to me as though she expected me to reply; she made small talk, and told me about her day. The nurses spoke to me too sometimes, but mostly they spoke among themselves as if I wasn’t there. Sometimes nurses would say peculiarly private things to me, as if I couldn’t understand. It was an effort not to smile or laugh.

I was victim to a series of tests, which soured my good first impressions of my new staff. They hooked wires to me and showed me films of various genres; educational, pornographic, violent, sports. They observed me almost always. They put me in the MRI machine, stuck things in my ears, up my nose, down my throat, up my arse. I found it awfully embarrassing; I had a feeling of being somewhat in too deep. But, being in too deep, there was nothing for it but to endure it.

Nobody visited me anymore. I don’t know if they were prevented from doing so or if they had finally given up on me, or if they had sensed my increasing hostility.

One day, the doctor told me that I wasn’t ill and I was to be discharged immediately. I felt suddenly disconsolate; I wanted to tell her I loved her, I think. But I said nothing. They sent me to an apartment in a town I hadn’t been to before. They sat me down on an old brown couch opposite a big square television, turned it on and left. I saw the lawyer, he was outside a police station. But he still wasn’t under arrest; he was speaking on behalf of his client, the superintendent.

This was a day or two ago. Today, I received my first mail, a court summons. I have been charged with fraud for obtaining state benefits by deception; I am further charged with workshyness. I understand that these crimes are very serious, moreso now than even before my transition. I am relieved that they now agree that I am not mad, but I have no desire to speak with them. I feel that jail will be an appropriate place for me.

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Posted in short story

Diary – Submissions, Elections, Misery, Despair

This week, I wrote a story to submit to Gutter and then I forgot to submit it. I am clearly getting a little bit sloppy. Quite appropriately (see below) the themes of this story,  called Monsters, are alienation and losing control. I had still not heard back from New Writing Scotland, so I chased them today and they helpfully and swiftly responded to say I had not made the cut. So you won’t be seeing any of my stories in print any time soon! You must be very glad I have this blog.

I had a good bank holiday, which partly explains my forgetting to submit my story – I had pizza and beer with friends from law school on Friday night, a walk in the park on Saturday, a sauna on Sunday, and a 125 km cycle on Monday, following by late lunch with mum and dad at Stereo.

So I started the working week on Tuesday feeling fresh; then the election was called. Dread. Tories so far ahead of Labour in the polls that I feel nauseated. This is a horrendous opportunity for May to cement her power, to create a ‘mandate’ for the foulest of authoritarian Brexits. Despite my regular warning on this blog, the people appear to be unconvinced that we are currently under the yoke of a government that will be remembered as among the worst in history.

I yearned for a progressive alliance. I felt it was the only hope. Labour, Liberals, Green, even the SNP, should have allied to end the hard Brexit, and to introduce voting reform. The Tories must never again be allowed to seize control off the back of less than 40% of the popular vote! So I was sad to see Vince Cable has ruled this out, saying that the idea of Corbyn as PM was so remote as to not be worth thinking about. Then Tim Farron stood in the house and said he might even go into coalition with the Tories. And let’s not even get into his views on abortion.

So, should Labour replace Corbyn? It would have to be done very soon, and it isn’t looking likely. Losses in local elections could justify his resignation, but any leadership contest would need to be quick. I think it could only happen if there was agreement between Corbyn and the rest of the party for someone, perhaps Clive Lewis or Yvette Cooper, to take over uncontested and then see where the pieces land on 9 June. If it can happen, it probably should. There is too much at stake, and Corbyn is too far behind in the polls. It saddens me, but a Labour majority under Corbyn would probably be a plot twist too far for the structure of reality to continue to be.

Should Labour have vetoed the election? Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, they had that power (to a degree). Given May’s inexplicable lead in the polls, this is something I would have given serious consideration to, had I been Labour leader. Interestingly, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act can be overturned on a simple majority vote. Simply passing an act allowing for a new election would amount to an implicit repeal of the FTP Act, due to the unique way in which our constitution barely works.

I feel that this entry has focused too much on problems with the Labour party. I should make clear that these are problems of perception; Labour’s ten pledges are excellent, and I expect the manifesto will be excellent too. But will anybody care?

For further balance, I would like to say some negative things about Theresa May: first, she is clearly  deeply uncomfortable committing herself to anything—note her tepid support for the remain campaign, which she must be very happy that the right wing media has airbrushed from history. So far, in this day old campaign, she won’t tell us any detail about Brexit, she refuses to appear on the TV debate, and she promises a ‘slimmed down manifesto’. To me this suggests she has a lot to hide. I think she knows that this is her last chance to capitalize on phantom popularity that will evaporate.

Under the Tories homelessness goes up and people eat from food banks. I had never even heard of a food bank before the Tories won office. The 40-odd per cent of people who think the Tories are doing a good job need their heads examined. Surely they can’t all just be nasty, selfish bastards? I understand that some people buy into the ‘economic competence’ argument. To them, after a decade of zero growth, with inequality rising, with everyone but the richest now poorer than they were a decade ago, with levels of investment abysmally low, with cracks in the pavements, queues in the hospitals, with university fees of £9,000 per annum, with houses unaffordable for those on the median wage, I have to ask: why would you believe that the Tories are economically competent? They haven’t even managed to eradicate the deficit, which they were going to do by 2015.

In other news, I have started reading Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan and I am going to see the new erotic lesbian movie tomorrow, so expect a sexier read next week!

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Posted in diary, Politics and philosophy

Diary – University Challenge, Mediocrity, Decline and Fall

Like everyone, I believe that I have all the answers to life and that anyone who doesn’t behave exactly as I would in a situation has failed to understand the situation. This is despite having failed to accomplish my dreams; being an unpublished writer; having an unplanned career; being always slightly less muscular than I planned on being; being useless at having conversations with strangers; and having never won University Challenge.

So it was with ambivalence that I watched on as Goldman felled Monkman in the University Challenge final. My only glimmers of hope were the two occasions when Monkman interrupted questions prematurely, in one case answering vaguely and apologetically, ‘Italy?’ when of course the answer was, specifically, Monza.

It is a fact that no matter how good anyone is at anything, there will be a legion of people better at it than you. Even Monkman turned out not to be the best at University Challenging. In the list of the best diarists in the world, I rank poorly in: longevity, significance, global reach, and relevance generally. As a reader, I am daily confronted with people who are better than me at novel writing. As a short story writer, I am rejected in favour of other writers on a regular basis. As a cyclist, I do not stand up to comparison with the professionals, considering how often non-professionals cycle right by me when I’m on my weekend spin.

Sometimes I wonder, how does one come to terms with mediocrity? But then I suppose: we have no choice but to be it, whether we are on terms or otherwise. But I dare to dream: I hope to, one day, be remembered as a competent novelist and diarist. And maybe if I achieve this within my lifetime, I will have the opportunity to win Celebrity University Challenge; bearing in mind that the ‘fame’ bar is not set overly high—Kezia Dugdale, for example, was on the 2016 series. Perhaps not as prestigious as the regular season, but I would be proud nonetheless.

In my real life, being that which has recently been, I spent the weekend cycling at an average pace. Fergus and I went to Gourock, travelled by ferry to Kilcreggan, then looped past various nuclear weapons facilities around the Helensburgh area, before heading back to Glasgow via Loch Lomond. Immediately on arriving home, I showered, drained a can of lager, and fell asleep on the couch for three hours prior to attending a barbecue with friends in the suburbs. Sunday was spent making holiday arrangements; a torturous process. However, as a pleasant effect of said torturous day, Steph and I now have firm plans to fly to Rome for a fortnight next month, as well as places to sleep while we’re there.

During the week I made the mistake of reading an article about pensions. I was left feeling great dread for the future, noting my savings to be completely inadequate. The dread, of course, was not so great as to dissuade me from planning a holiday. I note mixed messages: pension fear, and fear of robots and automation, in some quarters. But others, perhaps optimists, write of automation bringing freedom from work—and the universal income! What is clear is that something must be done, as many millions have not the money to live today, never mind to save for forty years hence. I am inclined to like the idea of the universal citizens’ income. I am inclined to like the idea of reducing the working week. Why is capitalism so stubbornly popular when it afflicts us with the horror of the forty hour working week on an almost weekly basis? What a terrible use of time; in the future we will look back upon it as a great crime. Why oh why did we allow an economic system to rob us daily of our most productive hours!

In cultural news, I finished reading Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man. In some ways I preferred it to White Teeth, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did NW. It grew on me, and I liked the Kitty Alexander character immensely. The ending, however, didn’t do anything for me; I think I may have missed something important. Smith’s prose was excellent, and she has a good sense of humour.

I also finished The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I think this started very well, but the standard wasn’t maintained. The writing, as always, was excellent; the problem was the plot. McEwan’s plots are often his weak point—see, for example, the supreme silliness of the euthanasia plot in Amsterdam, or the odd written-for-cinema feel to the gun-wielding ending of Enduring Love. In this case, I just got a bit bored of the Jehovah’s Witness kid with Leukaemia. I was more interested in the relationship between Fiona and her husband.

I am now reading Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, which I started ages ago, but did not finish for some reason. The first four chapters have been hilarious. This week’s plan is to arrange a cheap hill-walking holiday for mid-July.

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Posted in diary, Literary criticism, Politics and philosophy