Friday, January 31, 2014


I don't even know about today. It's like the inside of a damp concrete box with a square hole in it leaking light wrung out three times from a dishcloth someone far away used to wipe out the fridge. I'm prickled with sleeplessness and undirected anxiety and old, old botherations, the sheets of the world all rucked up around my toes.  

First new moon of the year. Year of the horse. Dark of the moon, dark clouds, dark collars up around everyone's throats, just plain dark.

Last night I went out to dinner with a friend of mine and drank soup made from things which grow under the ground, dark ocean things, whiskey afterwards furling black peat smoke. A sudden clout of winter, my ears roundly boxed. Things that have already happened reappear around corners and wait to be counted. 

Shadows abroad. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dark water

Mij pictured in Ring of Bright Water

Today I have been rereading Ring of Bright Water, because it is another one of those mid-century animal books that I read when I was small that wrote itself into my abstract, fiction-inflected grip on the natural world.  

It is a book that makes me feel crumpled and jarred now, two hundred pages of the author's nakedly self-obsessed pursuit of a pet worthy of his attentions, his loves and bereavements, the writing festooned with sexual projection and strange category struggles about the edges of personhood, neatly couched in stories about how otters are wont to get your furniture wet. Sadness and emptiness and loss and anxiety drive huge troughs through everything; Mij is missing, Mij's harness mercifully holds, it breaks, he is missing, he is found! he eats so ravenously he might choke, he is missing, he is found! he is missing, he is waiting for me in the kitchen ... 

About halfway through the book Mij is killed by a roadman with a pick-head. 
I could have killed him then as instinctively and with as little forethought as he had killed the creature I had brought so many thousands of miles, killed him quickly and treacherously, when he was expecting it no more than Mij had, so that the punishment would fit the crime.
An astonishing moral collision of Mij's death being all about Maxwell, all about instinct, and all about Mij's expectations, which are just Maxwell's all over again. An instinct that was crime. 

In his grief he first acquires a ring-tailed lemur called Kiko, but she is too murderous. Then a bush-baby who is too boring, and moreover masturbates all the time. Then 'a baker's dozen of small, briliant tropical birds' to which he grudges the merit of being less insanitary than Kiko.   

Eventually he goes back to Camusfeárna and the thought comes 'clear and undisguised' that the place is incomplete without an otter. His house, that is. He has to have an otter for the house. So he writes to a friend in Basra to have the Maʻdān get him an otter cub. With brutal offhandedness he tells us that all of 'a succession' of cubs brought to his friend die in the first few days, 'three of which'---all that are enumerated for they are all that matter---'were Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli'. 

Finally one lives, but wouldn't you know it, he never gets the cub to England because revolution comes to Iraq before she can be put on a plane. Domage, lonely fellow lovers of adorably playful wildlife stolen-to-order to sleep in your bed. He never hears from his friend in Basra again because he was one of the tyrant's personal entourage.  

So much else. I have written pages and pages of notes on things which have nothing to do with the things I thought I went to the book to find out. 

It is no longer a book about otters for me. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Nick Diamond vs. Zatar the Alien

Some things are bothering me. A mood came over me before Christmas and I bought myself a book about how to deal with the issues that you have about money. Because you have issues about money, right? Yeah. Later we can play Celebrity Deathmatch with your issues and mine.  

As it turns out the deathmatch was Xtin vs This Fucking Book. A book which purports to be so up-to-the-minute that the frontmatter lists the at-time-of-press exchange rate between Australian dollars and sterling. Every succeeding page holds up the writings and lives of dead white men, slave owners, pictures of privileged-class refinement from the eighteenth century and ancient Rome, as models of how to think more clearly about money. It is so class-blind, gender-blind, history-blind, fucking blind, that I threw it away. I mean I actually put it into the garbage, a thing I have never in my life done with a book before. 

I could write a critical piece about how angry I am that it is out there, and how mindlessly it reifies shitty, shitty politics without a split-second of reflection. I should write it, because throwing the damn thing away is surely not enough.  I should put my hand through its skull and pull out its brains like Zatar the Alien.

There is also a continuing debate that I've been watching unfold on Twitter about the etiquette associated with tweeting or retweeting praise of oneself (or one's writing, usually). There is lots of all-capsitude and pearl-clutching and people cringing privately to one another about how this is making one or other writer or critic look. 

This has exercised me a lot. I'd like to know a lot more about what the fuck the problem is with saying "here is a good thing about me"! I don't know anyone -- literally anyone -- who doesn't share some species of this intuition. There is more slang to describe this sort of bad behaviour and those who perpetrate it than for all the sets of genitalia there are. But it's a dogma, and people are busily policing the edges of their own intuitions about what crosses the line without wondering what offence the line-crossing really perpetrates. This is not to say that there's nothing there, but that we might like to see what is there. There's precious little actual analysis that goes beyond pointing at examples and going SEE? AWFUL. What little there is is typically something about it being better for social cohesion, or something. That might be true. But that's an empirical claim, and no-one's that concerned to defend it. And it seems to me much more like it is better for the enforcement of structural power relations. Certainly you're pricelessly stupid if you do not notice that the way the edges of self-praise are policed are different (like, are-you-kidding-me different) depending on whether you're a woman, or a person of colour, or a person with not very much money at all. 

In short, I've got some thoughts, some of which would be quite strongly worded if I wanted to write them.  But I don't want to write them. 

I'm very good at analysis like this. (Yep, invoke your preferred pejorative vernacular now. Personally I think we should revive gasconade). I've many years of training, and also the kind of temperamental suitability that is often called 'natural talent' but which doesn't really have anything to do with talent. I could destroy the terrible money book, carefully and in a way that makes sense to people who might otherwise find its toxic privilege palatable. I could give an illuminating conceptual analysis of our norms of social capital like recognition and commendation. Sometimes if I am in the right mood I can write this sort of thing with a proper, witty dose of snarky appeal. Maybe lots of people would read it.  

But I don't want to do it. I want to think more about how to describe how the red dicky on the robin looked when it was bathing in the guttering this morning -- like a little brown-and-white bird was wearing a bedraggled rusty red Santa beard, or something. It is not quite right. I need to look at it in my mind some more.

This seems to me immoral. It seems to me, clearly and presently and dangerously, that there are finer ends to which I could turn my mind. To which I should turn it. I should tear down the bad and build strength into the good. I should do the thing which people with analytical skills have to offer, which is maps to the destruction of the Death Star, ways of revealing the two-meter thermal exhaust port of terrible, toxic, people-hating, stupidity-rewarding arguments, being the one who can find the thing that is small and hard to hit but nonetheless leads straight to the reactor core. 

But instead I want to think about robins and why the experiences of my life have hinged so much on the naming of things, like Ged and the Master Namer, far to the north of Roke in the Isolate Tower.

I have no idea what to do about this. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Odd one out

Hot Australian summer, 2009. Thirty kilos of luggage in my mother's living room and the rest in a storage container in Sawston, six hundred million miles from the blast zone under my feet.

My brother's house. Guitars and keyboards and laptops and magnets on the fridge and crayons and felt-tips and little school satchel and photographs and paper and a big bowl of garlic prawns and salad. So nuclear it is nuclear, pyrocumulus unrolling its cap under the ceiling of everything.

My smallest niece was small. I held her on my lap and we looked at pictures of things. She pointed with a miniature hand, landed with certainty like a pale pink gecko and some van der Waals. Bird! Book! Pineapple! Car! Truck!  

She smelled like a small ripe fruit grown somewhere hot and rainy. Sheep! Cow! She turned my brother's brown eyes on me, planted inside her wee shortbread biscuit of a face. She knew I knew it. The naming of things! Her nose crinkled. I put my finger to the tip. Abbie, I said. And then we laughed together until our tummies hurt because we are not like these things, these sheep and cars and strawberries, but we have names too.  

Monday, January 27, 2014


Parasol mushrooms at Thetford

There have been some good storms. Some hail and bluster and whistling winds and the kind of rain that isn't called raindrops. But the weather has been pranksterishly mild. On the telly is America buried under a snowdrift, and out the window it is steely grey and seems to lick its frozen chops with relish but you get outside in your layers and your coat and your scarf and your serious Nanny Ogg socks and find that you are too hot. Everything in the garden should be frost-dead, but stands resolutely green if a little slug-munched. The marguerites under the front window are still flowering. 

It is soul-sappingly drab. My really warm hats are still in the drawer. No glittering snow, no breath curling Jack-Frost in the air, no perennials sleeping under the soil. No mood of crackling fires and hot drinks and curling up. Not a chance to stamp your feet and say brrrr. Unforgivably insipid. 

In September we were walking in Thetford forest, a gilt-resinous flood of Indian summer the brighter for being sure that any day now I'd be inside against the cold. Parasol mushrooms in astonishingly gluttonous, buttery-on-toast clusters. Small coppers, bright like bits of sky from somewhere less bleached and chalked. I lifted one on a blade of grass to my nose. Tiny furry alien face like something out of a comic. Yarrow flowers, bugloss. Slippery jacks, tiny pufballs puffing at the boot-edges. The golden, crumpling thaumaturgy of autumn, always and ever my favourite.  

But now from this chilly, dishwatery nothing I long for the simple, melodious magic of spring already, months away although heaven only knows what crazy-ass stuff this weather will bring. There are already bunches of British daffodils for sale in black buckets in Tesco, a burst of the sunshine that is not even nearly here wrapped up neatly in the papery green hat it wears until it opens. I'm sure that it has a name, the paper daffodil hat, tapering away like piped choux. 

Sometimes I feel like the names I know are the desperate handhold I have on a single glittering, slippery scale between the shoulderblades of a dragon twice the size of understanding. Don't let go. You will never see it again.


Sunday, January 26, 2014


Well, crap. I called my mother before I wrote on my blog. There's just no way now. I'm trapped inside a Skype box like Zod's crew in the Phantom Zone effect in Superman II.

Oh well. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


England once had OMO too. It's lucky I didn't know that. 

When I was small, the blue powder that stood on the washing machine in a box with a big white starburst was called Omo. 

Which, come on, is the best laundry detergent name ever. It is the laundry detergent name you come up with for your graphic novel. Its palindromic meaninglessness has everything: brevity, symmetry, slight tang of post-atomic science-fiction. Because your laundry powder should always be a bit Jetsons. Whiter-than-white, nuclear-powered. 

Omo was the middle of the road, along with Cold Power which was Unbeatable In Cold. The woman on the ad lied to her mum. Got my powder? Yes mum. Water hot? Yes mum. She clicked cold. This was so thrillingly subversive I almost wished it was our family's brand.

There was also Surf. Surf came in an enormous box and was advertised on cents-per-wash, a pile of folded towels stretching to infinity and a matter-of-fact woman with a laundry basket in her arms. Then there was johnny-come-lately Dynamo, which was the avant garde laundry liquid. A third of a cup on the stain, and the rest in the wash. The Dynamo ads had a man in a suit and tie, because science.

When I was an undergraduate the kids who couldn't hold their drink were called Cadburys. A glass and a half. But if you really couldn't hold it, you were a Dynamo. Third of a cup.

Laundry-detergent semiotics. And so here's me a few ahem years later standing in front of the selection at Sainsbury's.  I've been in England maybe a week. It's cold and Cambridge looks like something out of a sword-and-sorcery flick and man, there are a lot of cobbles and bicycles and iron fences with pointy bits on the top and the heating runs in copper pipes and I've been blinking at it all as if dropped through the looking glass. It is not real. It is not real like the beaches of a faraway resort are not real, and soon you're going to be back at the corner shop buying some milk and regretting that wrap-braid. 

This, however, is a supermarket. Its comfortingly familiar fluorescent strip lighting and neatly stacked primary-coloured packaging are delivering my very first proper experience of alienation. I don't know which detergent to buy. I haven't thought about laundry detergent in I can't remember. Boxes and bottles and colours and starbursts and babies and fluffy towels and it's like someone's punched me on the ear. You just sort of know which detergent is the right one. The good one. The one that makes the sheets wave gently and pristinely on the line in the garden you don't have. Right?    

Ariel? Like Shakespeare's sprite? How is that laundryish? No. Lenor. Sounds like a porn star. Wait ... oh, fabric softener. No. Daz? You mean short for Darren? I don't think so. What about this one. This one is called Bold. Bold like ... the brightness of your brights? The whiteness of your whites? OK. We'll call that a possible. Fairy. Fairy? I ... what?  

Persil. This is more like it. Space-ageish. Not in The Tempest. Also it's blue. And it smells mostly how laundry is supposed to smell. Persil. 

I took a box of Persil liquitabs home with me that day and for the first time in my life I wasn't sure my laundry detergent would work.  

Friday, January 24, 2014


I was at the hospital too early. I walked back down the wide linoleum corridor, past the bad photo essay framed on the walls that wished it was Humans of New York but instead wasn't. Two folding chairs. Dawn breaking out the window. It's pristine and quiet and sad and I don't know. It's a hospital.

Twenty minutes to. The kind of people who arrive for work early appear, lanyards and backpacks, ID cards bouncing, small white boats on the chop of their chests. 

A young woman in a tweed blazer, gathering her very clean hair into a ponytail as she walks. Soft, puposeful stride, like everyone. Backpack, like everyone.

A surgeon walks by in scrubs with her hair escaping around the edges of the hat. Does the hat have a name? Surgeon's hat. With the tie in the back. Hers a pert bow like a bit of Hello Kitty on a some precision rugged tech or other.  

A pair of women. A cotton carrybag with a camel on it. Hennatastic! it says. Co-workers greet one another with cop-show precinct familiarity. Polish maintenance guys laughing together over something.  

Trolleys and carts. This one white with zigzag metal slots marked 'Archive 2'. It is empty. Next a flecked gunmetal hand trolley bearing a single snap-lock case, like a camera box or bit of band kit. Another trolley just like it, with seven cases. Little plaques on them: Package Type A. 

Eight o'clock. Shifts end. Blue-green scrubs in untalkative collections with eyelids at 0.5 time concentrating on the distance between here and sleep. I am so tired. But not so tired as they.

It was as still and alive as a meadow. No it wasn't. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Here is a picture of a book I wanted today.
This one is on my friend Dr E's bookshelf.

OK, so. Today I have put out the recycling, and raked up a bunch of rotting maple leaves. Carefully, in case there was a hedgehog in the piles. There wasn't a hedgehog in the piles. I have taped my right pinkie to my right ring finger in an attempt to sort out my wrist and shoulder issues. It's not a very good job. I've learned that the webbing between those two fingers is much more sensitive than I'd have expected. I don't want to do the taping over again, but I probably will. The surgical tape I've got is stickier than it ought to be because I think I might have bought it in like 2005. Did I get it for the ferret-related injury?

I have bought some lamb chops, and later I will have them with a warm potato salad with a dressing involving cornichons and capers. Sour-things yen, apparently. I've looked in my photos to find one to put here. I take a lot of pictures of food.  

I have murdered other people's children in my head, and deposed Putin. I've speculated about cannibal rats and fast-setting concrete in signalling rooms. I've wanted parsley. But there isn't any.

I've googled symptoms of things, because my body is being a dick. I've been terrified by the batshit crazy, superstitious-paranoid, crunchy-granola-pathological ways people talk about their bodies on the internet. I've looked at bus timetables for tomorrow because I am going to the hospital for people to look at possible sources of the dickishness. I've thought I love the NHS. I've crinkled my nose happily at John de Lancie's villainously scenery-chewing guest turn on CSI.  I've emailed the property manager because the drainage pipe seal in the bathroom has failed again.   

I've tracked mud into the house. I've reminded myself to remember not to have a cup of coffee in the morning, even though in the morning I can't remember anything except to have a cup of coffee. 

I've put away some laundry but not all of it, which is a fucking irritating habit. I've arranged my dunnock skull on a pebble. I couldn't get the mandible to line up right and I wished I had tiny tiny tiny gauge wire and the needliest needlenose tweezers and those super magnifying specs with scopes on the lenses like my dad had in the surgery.

I haven't washed my hair yet. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


My first German supermarket was a Rewe. (My last German supermarket was a Kaiser. Which, I mean. There's kind of nowhere to go with that).

Rewe's tagline was Jeden Tag ein bisschen besser. Its own-brand products were called Ja! It was a supermarket with a positive attitude, basically. While you shopped there was Radio Rewe and you got to listen to a lot of Britney and A-ha.

Sometimes there was a guy with a little cart and an implausible hat selling speciality German charcuterie which has spent three hundred years attuning itself to jangling your bacon-ganglions.

Sometimes there was another guy with a cart, stripy umbrella this time, selling German cheese. German cheese is what happened when the committee was all, dudes, our sausages are serious. Our bread is even more serious. We need some weak-ass cheese to even things out a bit. All the Prenzlauerbergers raised snotty hipster eyebrows at the cheese guy. They bought French cheese, because the Wall came down for a damn reason.

At the Rewe you could also buy Häagen-Dazs macadamia nut brittle ice-cream.

There were days when Häagen-Dazs macadamia nut brittle and bootleg episodes of NCIS were all that was getting me to tomorrow. Along with my Rewe carrybag with Jeden Tag ein bisschen besser on it. You had fucking better be right, I'd say to it.  

You can't buy macadamia-nut brittle Häagen-Dasz here.

What even? What the hell is the point of the EU, I ask you?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Poppyseeds for remembrance

I made a poppyseed roll today, like the ones I used to get from the Bäckerei around the corner from my flat in Berlin. The woman behind the counter wore a square cap that tied in the back and a matching apron and wouldn't give me my baked goods until I'd pronounced their names to her satisfaction.

There was one tray-sized table with aluminium chairs and a couple in their eighties would come down every morning and drink coffee and eat horseshoe-shaped almond pastries. She had perfectly braided silver hair and smelled very faintly of aniseed. They didn't talk, but they didn't read the papers either. They sat together and ate their pastries and drank their coffee like it was holding hands.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Not 100 things

Apparently, a few years back when I was living in Germany I decided to write an update to 100 things, although I don't have the slightest recollection of it. Xtin-can't-remember is like some kind of theme around here. 

Peering at the contextual clues I must have written this late in the summer of 2010. There are a few stories. Suffice to say it was not a time of rainbow unicorns. A lot of what happened back then is boxed up in my head in a way that makes it very hard to get out again. I don't even know where all the photographs have gone. After ransacking my laptop for half an hour I found this one for you of my red Berlin kitchen. I loved that kitchen. It might have saved my life, or some other slightly less hyperbolic thing. (Fuck you, nature cure). Where are all the other pictures? I know I took them. And didn't I have some notebooks, too? With my spidery pencil-scrawl inside, which might remind me what the really-not-rainbow-unicorn times were like?

The head-boxes are like the goddamn Stasi and I am like those people in Zindorf who sit in rooms all day painstakingly reassembling shredded Stasi files from the big black garbage bags that the Stasi put them in after they ran out of time to incinerate everything. 

No, really. People are actually doing that. Fifteen thousand sacks of shredded files and torn photographs and unwound tape. Australian journalist Anna Funder writes about it in her eye-bleedingly brilliant Stasiland. A man called Herr Raillard runs a group of 18 women and 13 men called the Stasi File Authority. Herr Raillard showed Funder around the facility. As she left he passed her a copy of a memo that he wrote estimating that at their current rates, reconstructing all the material recovered from Normannenstrasse in January 1990 would take forty workers three hundred and seventy-five years. 

Three hundred and seventy-five years. 

He is telling me, in his quiet way, that ... [w]hat he is running here is an almost entirely symbolic act.

I only made it to number 40.

100 more things

1. I am profoundly hearthbound.
2. I have lived in three countries.
3. This is kind of a mystery.
4. I still talk very fast.
5. But not very much.
6. Because now I live somewhere I don't speak the language.
6. This is even more of a mystery.
7. My heart did break when I left England.
8. And then again.
9. It's OK.
10. Predictably.
11. I have a red kitchen.
12. I've lived out of a suitcase for almost a year.
13.  I'm writing more than I thought I would.
14. I'm not writing about the things I thought I would.
15. I'm scared to say 'I'm writing'.
16. I miss my KitchenAid stand mixer.
17. I have six bank accounts.
18. I'm annoyed to have discovered that partnership is important to me.
19. I really love TV.
20. In lots of complex and culturally informed ways.
20. And also in an embarrassingly unreconstructed way.
20. Telly theme tunes remind me of the passing of time.
21. I have no idea what that's about.
22. I miss the smart people.
23. But not the metric assloads of insecurity.
24. Especially mine.
25. Didn't quite leave that behind.
26. My passport is battered and full of visas and history.
27. It is epically cool, is what I am saying.
28. Cooler than yours.
28. In Germany I have discovered a new fondness for all things pumpkin.
29. I broke my nose walking into a glass door.
31. Germans recycle everything.
33. How good is that?
34. I have a PhD.
35. This is very much more surprising that you'd think.
36.  I get a disproportionate amount of satisfaction from generating very strong passwords.
37. I like Scrabble.
39. Which is the world's least distinguishing characteristic.
40. Oh well.

tl;dr Go get a copy of Stasiland. Because really.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


In 1992 when I was a second-year undergraduate I'd gotten out of the shoebox I'd endured as a fresher and had a human-sized room in a building called Jeopardy. Actually it was called the War Memorial Building but the warden had made a crack decades before about lazy-ass students finding their places in jeopardy and if there's anything we know about the fifties it's apparently that no Anglophone undergraduate ever resisted a chance at terrible wordplay. It had big sliding windows and a tree outside where a pair of crimson rosellas lived. I kept salami and seaweed crackers in a cupboard and broke Tetris for Windows 3.0 several times. 

There's a library there now. 

A friend of mine had just discovered that her long vision was screwy and she had new spectacles. We ate toast from the contraband toaster in her room while she tried to absorb the appalling sharpness of the world. She pointed out the window. Do you see those leaves? Yes, I said. I didn't, she said. It used to be this beautiful green and yellow and white blur that moved in the wind. It's so ... realistic now.

She hadn't realised that her vision needed correcting until she learned to drive.

There must have been a time when TinyXtin came to understand that some of the book-places and telly-places and cinema-places were real places where real people lived. I don't remember that. I wish I did -- how does that work? I don't remember a time I didn't understand that the fictional world contained fictional things -- that is why things are different there, and full of things I'd never seen like wizards and trees with tiny apothecaries inside and intergalactic warfare and fairies and armoured bears, but also snow and badgers and grizzly bears and cactuses and enormous houses in the countryside with walled gardens. But by magic it turns out that some of these things aren't invention. They are just very far away, where things are different.

It must have crept up on me, this dim understanding that some unseen things were not make-believe. An odd phrase, no? Make-believe? Beliefs made and unmade and made back part of the way. Sometimes whatever clues TinyXtin used were not there and the real never emerged from the story. Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising was one of the books of my small life that forms the pillars at the end of the world. I read it when I was 12, in early 1985. Loop-the-looped with Arthurian romance, iron sun-crosses in little boy's pockets, absolutely black horses, absolutely white horses, lodestone pebbles, Wren Day. Herne. Merlin. It is set in the Thames Valley. It is as riveting and soul-tearing an evocation of a winter English landscape as has ever been committed to the page.

I thought it was all pretend.

TinyXtin sang in a choir. At the end of the year there was the Big School carol service at St Paul's Cathedral on the corner of Swanston Street in Melbourne, just across from the iconic clocks at Flinders Street Station. The clocks were part of that disappearing family of collisions between place and object that helped things get organised before mobile phones. I'll meet you under the clocks. TinyXtin Choir sang one carol during the service, because we were the adorable tinies, and then Big School choir sang the rest in ten-part Latin and did that thing that King's does every year with Once In Royal David's City and blew my mind in that way that complexity which turns to simplicity can amaze small people. 

One year we tinies learned an Australian carol for the cathedral: Christmas Day (The North Wind), by the Australian pianist William G James. James was from Ballarat in the heart of the Victorian goldfields 100 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, home of the Eureka Stockade and crucible of Australian democracy. He trained in London and Brussels and became the first Director of Music at the ABC. The lyrics were by John Wheeler, who was an ABC staff writer at the time:

The north wind is tossing the leaves.
The red dust is over the town;
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing,
To the Christ-child the heavenly King.

The Australian north wind is not the one in books. Not like the pictures of a frozen, pinched-faced Zeus-type with icicles for eyebrows, Aesop's north wind gusting at the man wrapping his coat around himself tighter and tighter and losing to the sun.  The Australian north wind is hot. Straight off the desert, dry and bone-parching. A northerly again tomorrow, wilted Australians say to one another tiredly.     

I knew it was a peculiar beast, this strange black-sheep carol which described a hot Christmas like all the ones I'd ever celebrated. Red dust caking all the school windows after the dust storm in 1983 when 1000 tonnes of Mallee soil were dumped on Melbourne. It had the sparrows in it, even, the very ones in my very life, hot-weather-sleeked brown-and-brown like collections of winged toast crumbs in small flocks anywhere shady, listening to the rhythmic treble white noise of cicadas screaming. 

It was a joyous, leaping carol and I delighted in its warmth and rhythms. But I hoped I'd never have to sing it again. It was mutant, somehow, part of the mythological menagerie of chimerical animals, and it made me feel strange. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two towels

There were two towels in my kitchen -- a red one and a grey one. Towels, I know. But they were just the right towels. 

I bought them in Germany from Ikea Berlin Tempelhof, halfway round the S-Bahn from my flat. I'd go there just to wander around on the days that were too grey. Or the days when choosing a new spatula fixes everything. 

People would carry all their flatpack home on the train, Billy and laundry-airers and oversize posters and duvets packed like aerosol into polypropylene as if a duvet in a bag can ever be convenient. 

I can't find them in England. It's a continental size of towel, or something. I've a matching one from Ikea Milton Keynes. Same towel, wrong size. It's too big. It sits on the hook like an abandoned superhero cape. I dry my hands on it faintly resentfully and it hangs there unwieldily, like it knows it wasn't what I wanted.   

They're both gone now, the towels. The grey one disappeared over the summer, something to do with my fortieth. I had the red one left though, a soft, right-sized memory of my warm, glossy red kitchen on Gaudystrasse that coincidentally fit exactly on the grill door handle of the pocket-sized Tricity Bendix in the little house. But I burned it tonight. I made soup and left it accidentally on a hot element. I have it here on my desk, exhaling the caramelised sugar smell of scorched cotton.

The soup was OK. But it wasn't worth it.       

Friday, January 17, 2014


An entirely unrelated shot of Pluvialis admiring Lincoln Cathedral columns.
Because I like it.
I am tired today; the kind of creeping, grey tiredness that doesn't come from any honourable exertion but seeps coldly in around the edges of the windows and climbs inside your socks and crawls around your thoughts smudging up anything that looks a little too crisp. Eventually it gives way to a damp, limp rage at all of the ridiculous weak-tea tiresomes, the online bank transfer, the just-out-of-milk, the emotional strain of things that are not about you, the emotional strain of reminding yourself that they are not about you, the scratchy label in the back of your shirt, the tax thing you managed, the other tax thing you put off, the pile of paper, my god, how is there another fucking pile of paper?

I made a cake out of walnuts and hazelnuts for a friend. I put it in a slightly smaller tin because I thought perhaps the cake needed to be a little deeper but on consideration think I will go back to the 28cm Dr Oetker. The cake is good with red wine, which is one of those characteristics of baked goods to which people need to pay more attention.

Because cake and red wine.   

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Art tart

I went to the London Art Fair today, a serried chaos of wonders brightly arrayed inside the old Royal Agricultural Hall which is now called the Business Design Centre, because sure.

Art dealers in designer spectacles perched on Aerons and Phillipe Starck Ghost chairs and elm ladderback antiques. 500gsm business cards and an iPad. Art students with huge-lensed DSLRs and chic silver-haired women in fitted puffer coats and understated sterling Jensen. A woman on a mobility scooter with a utilitarian haircut and a purple turtleneck with a brooch at the throat hums from one booth to the next. She is Someone -- the dealers' eyebrows leap like acrylic caterpillars on a string and then smooth into nonchalance while she looks at what they have.    

Paintings, paintings, paintings, copper-plated concrete, a stuffed magpie very well-done, pity about the pocket-watch in its beak. A vitrine with bees hanging on fishing line. Things painted on aluminium. That's painted on aluminium, people say to one another. Floppy-haired Oxbridge boys selling Pasmore to men in waxed coats with their heads to one side, exquisite double-handful of Moore bronze with a red dot over the year's salary on the little white label. 

Neon billboard canvases like the side of a tent, massive mega-meta 3D photographs of Hirst's shark which move as you walk past, like the bookmarks with lion cubs on them at the tills in bookshops. Eardley Townhead portraits to fit in a shoebox with the ransom money. Coffee and a portuguese custard tart.    

I come home with an oil on board of a jug and a glass, alive alive-o as though it knows things about the lives of a jug. She paints behind a curtain in a corner of her house in Bath, the dealer tells me. I believe it. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


M is for Milkbar from John Brennan's
A is for Australia: a photographic alphabet for children (1984)

When I was in Melbourne at the end of 2009 after I'd been thrown out of England I was housesitting for a friend of mine. There was a great cafe just around the corner. It had once been a milkbar, which is what people from my bit of Australia call corner shops. Outside there were warped, sun-bleached tables and upside-down milk-crates to sit on. It had been coming up for winter when I'd left Cambridge but here it was 40 degrees and I was watering tomato plants naked in my friend's tiny courtyard garden, fruit bulging among the last of the exhausted leaves. 

I don't remember what the cafe was called. Something that recalled its milk-bar past. I used to go down there every day and once I got over the tear-jerking euphoria that comes in your cup of Melburnian coffee, I'd chat to the baristas and the guy out the back who did the eggs. We'd laugh about the weather and Britney Spears and discuss each other's hair, because one of the baristas had fantastic blue hair in a tight, structured cut and tattoos to match. She was wildly beautiful and while we talk about hair I could look at her as much as I liked. 

It is so easy and ordinary and mine, this place. Brutally uninterrogated. The belonging right through the door. They look like me, talk like me, laugh like me. Their conventions are my conventions and irony hatches from the same scrambled subversions. No-one asks me where I am from. 

Some days it makes me feel light-headed and I am struck by the fact that it seems unearned somehow. Which it is, of course, these simplest and most transparent primer-coats of privilege. I wonder suddenly if my bright, tight, leathery feelings of home in England are just an artifact of being much harder-won than these that fray so neatly into the seams of the cushion on this milk-crate in a Melbourne summer. 

After a year in Berlin I will not wonder about this any more. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I came to England and suddenly it was all about the birds. 

That can't be all, surely? That can't be everything there is to say about that? What happened? Was it the breakfasting thrush? Maybe I was just lonely and far from home and people were scary and had closed faces and walked purposively up and down streets I kept getting lost on. Maybe the birds were alive and warm and near and comprehensible and everything else was far and cold and obscure and spoke RP. Or maybe it was that through-the-looking-glass thing. English birds were all story-told, imaginary creatures, except they weren't. Nightingales. Barn owls. Kingfishers. Woodpeckers, like in the cartoons, everywhere except where I lived. Ducks that actually looked like the decoys. Robins, like on Christmas cards! What if I could find a robin! They lived here. 

I met a vet at one of those hellacious cocktail mixer type events for the torture of graduate students. And undergraduates too, for that matter, but I'd never been to one back then because I was studying in my hometown and didn't need some orientation dude in a bulk-printed t-shirt and oversize nametag to tell me about the good places to get a cheap plate of pasta on a Wednesday night.

But now I was at one, because I'd had to write nil in the next-of-kin box on the yellow form for the college nurse. Her name was Leslie Crisp, in case I didn't feel sufficiently as though my life had been wallpapered with pages of Dickens and Carroll. 

Anyway the vet was astonished to discover I'd never seen a robin and promised she would take me out to see one. We walked over one of the commons north of Cambridge. It was winter 2001 and clattering, amoebing murmurations of starlings realised and derealised over our heads. I would never see such huge flocks so near the centre of town again, but at the time it was just a thing that always happened, as anything that was happening then might have been a thing that always happened. I learned that the flock all shat together, hammering the riverside pavement with chalk-white scato-pointilism. 

We didn't find a robin that day, to the vet's disappointment. I'd never really believed we could find one at all, these clever, teddy-eyed, bauble-shaped puffs of feathers with red dickies that stood on snowy festive fence-posts and showed Mary the key to the secret garden.  

Sometime before Christmas on the way to Boots I came across one sorting thoughtfully through the leaf-litter in the gutter outside John's master's lodge. There it was. It didn't even fly away, like any self-respecting mythological creature ought. It let me look at it. 

It looked just like a robin. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Gumbles 2

I keep trying to tell you about gumbles, but I am stymied. I don't have a good picture, and the pictures are so important, their little big-nosed faces and square tuftiness, like when I was small and had those cotton sleeping bags which were rectangles with a hood and I put my feet and hands in the corners and walked around. Line drawings, which was also important; perfect, effortless economy of expression, tricks and emotions and the kernel of the action, the very smell of a place captured in a flash, pen and ink at a guess, but I didn't know any of this.   

I don't have the books any more. I haven't read them since I was small. I should read them again but I want to tell you about them before BigXtin eyes make me forget how TinyXtin felt about them. I'm stymied because they matter so much and I have no idea how to make that seem true. I am frightened that I will write about them and nothing that I say will draw the right lines around the reasons.    

Gumbles live in the Australian bush, in a little gumble ensemble. Fixingumble fixes things and builds things and Happigumble is a worrier and Willigumble is the take-no-prisoners tiniest gumble and Tinkingumble has ideas. When he has an idea, he goes <tink>. The other gumbles call his ideas 'tinks', for no gumble would bother with a distinction between the thought and the sound it makes. 

Tinkingumble was my favourite, of course. He hatches wild plots and gets the gumbles out of scrapes with his gumblebrain and my delight at an audible manifestation of a thought never grew old. And of course, by perfect gumble logic, the tink got louder the better the idea. There's one story where the gumbles are hiding and desperately egging Tinkingumble on to mastermind their escape and Tinkingumble's tinks both risk their exposure and save the day. Because of course they do. Ideas are dangerous.

The gumble-nemeses were the bottersnikes: scaly bunyippy things with draggle-ended tails. They'd trap the gumbles and squash them into jam tins, because if you squash a gumble very hard he cannot unsquash himself. Bottersnikes eat old mattress stuffing. When they get angry, their ears glow red-hot at the tips, and they can start fires. 

There was very little Australia in the books on TinyXtin's shelf. Mostly an imagined Australia, especially in the interwar colonial classics Snugglepot & Cuddlepie and Blinky Bill, talking koalas and goannas and seahorses like animated natural history illustrations, japes and pranks and dances and frogs having diving competitions and peach-cheeked blue-eyed bush fairies trying on tiny eucalyptus leaves in tiny fairy dress shops, as far from a sense of real place as one might hope to dream up, neatly garnished with a few sentimental morals about Humans being kind to Bush creatures.  

The gumbles are imagined, but not so much their Australian bush. Hot and dusty, trees and lakes. Eucalyptus and tea-tree, thorn bushes. Birds and animals that do bird and animal things. Abandoned mattresses, jam tins and bottle tops, burnt-out cars, corrugated iron. A jam tin is what a billy is made of, if you ever wondered. Sheep. Flies. Ants. And the casual threat of fire. 

Not a big, dramatic, foreboding evil. Not being orphaned, or war, or the Dark Lord, or kidnapping or blackmail or murder or abandonment. Not these, but the everyday, throwaway, match-astray disaster of fire. 

On Ash Wednesday 1983, when I was nearly ten, more than two thousand square kilometres of my home state Victoria was on fire. I opened the front door of our house that night and I could smell Mount Macedon burning 60 kilometres to the north-west. Soot was floating in the air. Eucalyptus barbeque. On the news people were standing on their roofs hosing down their houses, praying no ill-blown spark would catch against their veranda. Later my brother and I would give all our Lego to the children who had lost everything. TODAY IS A DAY OF TOTAL FIRE BAN, sang all the summers of my childhood. Public service advertisements, people clearing everything not rooted to the ground in twenty-meter fire-protection zones around their houses.  

Bottersnikes shrink if you get water on them. You have to hang them out to dry. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gumbles: false start

I promised I'd tell you about gumbles today. Actually I have lots of things to tell you about gumbles, but I was looking for a picture of a gumble to show you all and this led me to discover that:

(1) the urban dictionary has an entry for "gumble". About which: not that kind of gumble.

(2) apparently there is a particular model horse paint-your-own mould called "Gumble" made by a model horse company called Julip, which makes 1:12 horses.

Ten minutes of research into (2) has freaked me out considerably more than (1), which I just didn't know had a name.

The gumbles I want to tell you about are giggly, squashy, word-playing fantasy creatures of the Australian bush, but I can't tell you about that right now because I'm having issues with Joe's nikes.

Tomorrow: gumbles. Also Tinkingumble.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I spend most of the day inexplicably upset, prowling the boundaries of the house, dragging the things I need to do through the bars of the cage with a kind of outraged resolve.

It is dark by the time I realise that I am hopelessly starved for greenness, for trees and leaf litter, spiderwebs and nettles banking the edges of everything, boot prints and hoof prints and puddles floated with a feather. Robins and tits and chaffinches and wood pigeons casting off from a tree like they might be something more interesting.

I should have put aside everything I did today and put mine among the other bootprints. But instead there is clean laundry and some handled email and two paragraphs about gumbles.

I shall tell you all about gumbles tomorrow.

Friday, January 10, 2014


There's a tiny green digger at the construction site out the back, turning pocket circles in the yeti-footprints of the yellow digger. I could park it in a corner of my garden and play Scoop the Gravel. The crew is building walls now, handsful of square-edged baked clay one on top of the other while the cement mixer turns white-noisily.

I don't remember my thoughts. I move things around the house and try to imagine where another bookcase could go. I go to the stationer's and buy little boxes to keep the medicine-cabinet things in, because I don't have a medicine cabinet. Pay a bill. I talk to Pluvialis, who is spinning lines of silk between a thousand things which she sometimes thinks are ferrets. I clip bookmarks together and eat leftovers and make piles of books I'll have to move later and make notes on some things, colonial collections, Australian folk stories, Man from Snowy River, cockatoos, invisible possums, ghost gum, bunyips, Tiddalik the frog who wouldn't laugh.

I find my hairbrush and the thermometer in another bag of paper. I don't have a fever. I brush my hair. I pick up things and put them down. Sometimes somewhere else. Sometimes not, and I put them down again. It is chaos, but the little house doesn't mind. It knows that sometimes it is a soft-shelled crab.

Thursday, January 09, 2014


I have a low-grade fever today. Or at least I feel like I do. I can't find the thermometer I bought to settle these matters during the pre-Christmas Tummy Incident, now Tummy Mystery 2014. I took it to Lincoln when Pluvialis and I went to see Paul McGann do Q&A in a frozen theatre and watch Withnail and I projected onto a sheet. I don't remember unpacking when I got back.

I can't find my hairbrush, either.

I went to bed this afternoon and dreamed those glossy dreams with melty edges you dream when you are not quite well. I dreamed about my mother's wedding dress and I was in my grandparents' house all alone, climbing the curving pale-blue carpeted staircase and there was a plane involved because the dress had been found across the world in a Caribbean restaurant and had been rescued by this pilot and the smell of avgas was on it and I was trying it on in front of the mirror when I remembered that my grandparents were both dead so it seemed strange that I could be in the house.

Maybe I left the thermometer behind and somewhere at the Holiday Inn Express it is saying that the temperature is normal.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

No such zone

Salty, limescaled dusk. The robin has started in the maple, quivering with the effort of projecting his dulcet tags onto the walls of the next hood. Tit flocks pass in and out, and the yellow digger today has a forklift on its nose, lifting giant cubes of glasswool insulation and Thermalite blocks over the hi-vis heads of the construction crew.

I've a mustard-yellow scarf on that Vicar Librettist crocheted for me. I futz with the settings of my new Twitter client. I order coffee for the machine. I wonder what I did with the small, neat pile of Amnesty bookmarks that the twinkly man at the bookshop gave to me last year.  

The postman brings a Christmas card that has been returned -- the same one as last year. It is a mistake, same as last year. It is for someone in Australia, but it has never left the country. I found last year's one on the weekend, in the paper pile. I don't know what I had planned to do with it, but something or other. I put them both sadly on the little heap of my Christmas cards bound for the recycling, like spring green storm-wind casualties on a drift of autumn colours.

The digger puts the digging-bucket back on his nose and returns to the ordering of dirt. A little cement mixer turns. The crew talk, pointing and shaping things in the air with their grippy red gloves. My next-door neighbour seventeen-point-turns her blue Audi into her driveway. She brushes leaves off the bonnet on the way into the house.

Soon it will be dark. I think I might go to the cinema again.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Team Smaug

I went to see The Hobbit: The Middle Bit this afternoon, because Benedict Cumberbatch is a dragon. Come on.

It's one hundred and sixty-one minutes long, because reasons.

Orlando Bloom is back as Legolas. They have neoprened his face with CGI, because (1) crazy-ass Elven lifespans (2) dude, this is set like sixty Middle Earth years (or something) before The Fellowship of the Ring, which was shot in 2000 when Bloom was twenty-three years old in actual Earth years.

Holy crap, tell me that is not just the worst kind of existential nightmare you ever heard of, not even counting the mind-bendingly weird CG-Bloomface we have to watch for [161 minutes minus Bloomfree minutes].

The inexorable advance of your vector through space-time is distressing enough without these shenanigans, no?

"So, you wanna reprise Legolas? I know it's been a while. This one is set when he's younger than the one you shot 13 years ago. Plus you know, ethereal immortal elf beauty, et cetera. Don't worry! We'll sort it all in post-production!"  

Seriously. A moment of silence in appreciation for the fact that this is not our job.

Monday, January 06, 2014

20/60 hindsight

The days are so alike, no? It is weird to try and write something in each of them, noting wryly that today you are still eating the walnut cake that made you feel better yesterday, still wrangling the vestiges of the paper chaos that you talked about Saturday and the household bits and pieces you talked about Sunday.

Still, the words behave most nicely for me when they are about today, about whatever happened just now. There are so many things I want to write about that happened some time in the Ago, but somehow the past turns immediately to a few coloured streaks and a footprint that you don't know is yours. 

Many things happened before and some are very good stories. There was the time with the white phone, and that robin one, and the one with the bubblewrap up to the ceiling and the time me and a Berlin cab driver had a handwriting competition, and the hedgehog, and the grass snake in the wild garlic and the time I thought a blue tit was a ringed plover, and the one with the otters and the fisherman, and the police station and those shoes that made my feet bleed and the time the coasting barn owl at Welney turned its head and looked us right in the eye. Also there's the one about the priest, and the one with the Satanic horseradish gelatine roundels, and the time the cheetah bit my wellie. 

It is hard to tell these stories. They look pretty in the jars but when I try to get them out they are all powdery and full of weevils.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

There was cake

Too much paper yesterday and my poor scared lizard brain is awakened, up half the night because I'm surely destined for destitution, eating cold beans out of a tin, cold and lonely with fingerless gloves, the works. Perhaps I'll be extradited for non-payment of something or other. 

I get up and the world is as round and spiked as a rolled hedgehog and much less charming. I lose my keys, rub my mascara into my eyes, wear one sock and a slipper because the other one is somewhere. I'm sure I had a fresh cup of coffee. 

Pluvialis arrives and I cry into the space she brought from outside, where there is nothing of mine already. She uses some paper and the new fox pen that my mother sent for Christmas to cheer me. She goes to work a bit in the cafe down the lane while I put away the laundry and set the table and grate my fingertips into the parmesan. Lady Language arrives and we eat pasta and drink primitivo that I splash into the decanter like it's a watering can. Melody Gardot plays. The Christmas little house smiles in its last night of seasonal regalia. We talk about books and Jennifer Lawrence and jetlag and make lists of cover-puffers for Pluvialis' book and also Wes Anderson and Sword in the Stone and there's a strange moment when I do a Billy-Crystal-as-Harry impression, pecan pie, pecan piIIIEEEEee which makes Language crinkle up into frothy tinsel giggle bits and we eat a vast amount of walnut cake that I had to use a palette knife to pry off the Dr Oetker springform that Pluvialis brought back from Germany for me years ago and the candles burn down and slowly I feel better.  

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Paper pile

Today, borne aloft on some species of new-year's fugue state, I went through the Terrifying Box of Terminally Ignored Paper. Which is supposed to be my actual inbox, for actual paper, about which L to the LOL, if you feel me.

I found out some things.

99% of all Xtinpaper is lists on the back of manuscript pages of books I've edited. My lists say 'Berocca' and 'milk' on them a lot. I spend a lot of time designing invitations and food for my parties. I keep everyone's cards and letters. I have an entirely useless $3,518.67 in a university-based pension account which I earned nearly 20 years ago when I was working for the press. I can get access to it when I'm 65 in 2038 (holy crap) and use it to buy a LRB and a milky way, or something. I have cards from bars I went to in Australia in 2009 which are inexplicably in the folds of the energy bills I keep because for some bugfuck reason they're still the only way there is to prove your address in this world. Estate agents send you a lot of paper and it's always something you have to keep. I pick up too many free postcards. Supermarket receipts get everywhere, like my hair. Sometimes the pile of paper has a skincare sample in it.

I don't have a good pair of scissors in the office, because I tried to cut net curtain wire with them in 2010. I'm never going to use that notepad with the apple on the front which has rolled over into every Terrible Paper Pile in living memory. My mother is the only person who still sends me physical photographs. I get too many paper catalogues. I keep them for nonsensical lengths of time because they have pretty pictures inside.

There was a weird bit where the paper went straight from being about self-assessment tax returns to my 39th birthday and then I remembered that the Terrifying Box had overflowed and I'd dumped a paper billabong into Adjunct Terrifying Tesco Bag-for-Life which was in the bottom of the wardrobe. Terrifying Tesco Bag contained Auxiliary Heffers Bag, for the love of god.

I got to the bottom. I think I haven't committed any felonies or gone on any bailiff-watchlists. This is a picture of everything that's left. The Pile of Proper Sorting-Out. An Aladdin DVD is on top. Long story.    

Friday, January 03, 2014


Andreas Trepte

My first home in England was a room on the lower-ground floor of a bay-fronted Victorian on the north side of Cambridge, furiously and multiplicitously painted magnolia over woodchip wallpaper upstairs, but downstairs a curiously aquatic pale green which added a Verne-ish vibe to my subterranean bolthole. Damp crawled the walls along with copper heating pipes and outside the crumbly bay window on the mossy wet steps I sometimes found a toad, slick-nubbly and step-coloured, serenely gulping air once a minute.

One early, early morning when my boxes were still unpacked I was startled awake by someone tapping at the window. I gathered the delightfully vile rosebud-trellis printed curtain aside. A flash of something, but nothing. No-one there. I blinked at the tangle of ferny, mossy, vine-draped things planted outside the window and yawned. 

The next morning, someone was tapping at the window again. I had new blue sheets from M&S, because it was the first shop I'd found on the first day, gritty with fatigue and a kind of dumbfounded existential drunkenness from finding that I had actually moved myself to the other side of the world. And I needed sheets. 

I pulled my new sheets up to my chin and lay in bed listening to the tapping. Tap, tap, TAP. Tap tap tap. TAPTAPTAP. A silence. TAP. I curled an eye around the edge of the curtain. A bird. A double-handful of straciatella alertness, ripple-barred underneath like a blue whale, with the round bright brown eye of the teddy bear that stares at you in the dark. A snail is on her nose. She brings it down sharply on a cracked concrete tile among the ferns, a foot or so from my face. TAP. She lays it carefully on the tile and removes bits of shell until her breakfast is ready. One gulp. Two hops as one might pat one's tummy, and she is gone. It is a song thrush, but I don't know that.

I don't know any of the names of the laundry detergent in the supermarket when I go shopping.  It is cold, and I eat a lot of toast.

After that I watch the thrush have breakfast every morning from a crack in the curtain. She knows what she is doing. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

From the notebooks: visa

Snowdrops at Chippenham Park

Monday, February 25, 2013

The postie comes past my house sometime through the second cup of coffee, usually, an awkward squawk and clank as he mangles the letters past the sclerotic springs purporting to keep the cold on the right side of the mail flap. But I'm waiting for him to knock. The parcel-knock, the something-special-from-Mum knock, the online-shopping knock. The registered-letter knock. 

Today he knocks. I put down my coffee. My nose crinkles, folding up hopefulness and don't-get-your-hopes-up. A knock last week, my coat back from being rewaxed, neat and disappointing in a polythene bag.

But not today. I stand in the doorway, the postie perched on my three feet of wet crazy-paved pocket-path to the absurd picket gate that I could hold in my hands like a broadsheet. I have something recorded, he says, and I know this is it. Here it is. There it is. Right here, right now, the present, a cascading pointer pile of what-is indexicality dashing Indiana-Jones flooding-mine style all over the what-might-be. Almost, almost, almost all of me is sure the visa is inside, sure that the news is good, sure that the wait is over, sure that life can go back to being life and not the impossible fluid dynamics on the face of a shoaling wave but I have learned that my confidence is suspect, knit of privilege and luck and your-ma-is-good-looking and I am cut in half.   

I sign, a garble-glyph on the blast-proof lcd-touchscreen device. That's all for today, he says. That's all? I think. I shut the door and my hands are shaking. My nose crinkles again, wryly. It's too cinematic for words. I can feel my passports in the base of the envelope. I think about sitting down and having a glass of scotch but reptile brain has torn the envelope open and directed my eyes at the page. Words. Words words words thank you for your application, which has now been approved. 

Thank you for your application, which has now been approved. Thank you for your application, which has now been approved. Thank you for your application ...

I lay my forehead on the smooth, cheap paper against the table. Oh, Jesus god, thank god, thank god, oh my god. I press my palms to the table, a battered, delightful burled veneer I bought from Sally Ann's Salvation Army charity shop on Mill Road and brought home in a taxi the October before last. A roar in my ears like the sea without a sound. It is 10.45, and so quiet. A magpie clattering matches in its matchbox throat. Goldfinches jumping from tree to tree down the back lane. Adrenaline crushes everything into tiny spaces inside me like down coats into brightly coloured stuff sacks. I laugh out loud. Just a damn piece of paper, the paper that ties together the impossible ineffable like tufts of wool stolen from barbed wire for a bird's nest. I turn my head and see my bowls and cups on the shelves and am struck astonished by how much I have been planning them away, planning them temporary, planning them into boxes, into storage, into transit, away. I pick up a red-and-white one I bought in San Francisco. It is cool. My hands are dry and hot like leaves in the sun and I run up and down the stairs, up and down, up and down, with relief streaming out of me, adrenaline storm, tingling fingers and toes, tugging at my earlobes. An hour later I have forgotten and with a start find myself still inside the uncertainty, so used to the everyday instability that I have forgotten how to let it go. 

It is weeks and weeks before I stop packing up the house in my mind. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Sometimes the thing I want most is to be left alone forever, a life so quiet I'd be awakened by blue-tit feet twig Pak saltoing the better for a bug. A house on spindly stilts carved into a mountainside with seventy-foot eucalypts washing everything's sinuses when it rained. A hut on a lake with a dinghy roped to a handful of jetty, a battered kettle, a gas-ring, pencils and paper, wine stacked under the bed and a hook hung with beads for when the water told me to look pretty. 

Sometimes I want most to know all the names of things, the crunchy ontological pith and gleeful arbitrariness of the world made language, woodwork and architecture, birds, sedges, grass, fungi, fabric and stitches, pipes and gears, yeast breads and flat breads, string, leaves, stones, feathers, bones, the pieces of an architrave. As many facets as can be polished into the loamy, windy, whirring, fleeting, squalling, glittering furl of how things seem.    

Sometimes I don't want to talk about it. Words seem appalling though the words are beautiful, awful blunt imprisoning tools of death or mediocrity or stupidity or negligent, wanton, oblivious privilege or vagueness or ambiguity or pathological clarity and ersatz definitiveness or lovely, lovely lies. 

Sometimes I want most, most I want most, to want one thing, oh, the one! The lone voice of bewitching singularity that propels all the stories, the couldn't-but-do-as-I-do, both hands wrapped around it and eyes slitted against all weathers, everything ahead knapped like flint with the right name attached: sculptor, neurosurgeon, glass-blower, biologist, cabinet-maker, writer, writer, writer. But instead I am made like a bright pile of discarded sweet wrappers, colourful and crumpled, blown into shapes by the static, television, needle calluses in my fingerpads, Stevie Nicks covers, the alchemy of eggs and butter, the dusty magicks of keeping house, cups of coffee, robins fighting, geraniums in pots.  

Sometimes I don't want anything and I watch the pigeons flirting and curl the ends of my scarf around where the wind is getting in and think about how Ishiguro wrote the lyrics for some jazz songs.