Friday, March 28, 2014


I'm sorry for my silence. I'm working on Something. I'm not talking about it here, not because it's a big secret or anything, but because talking about things that I am doing and pretending that is the same as actually doing them is the number-one most-fucking-annoying character trait I have to endure in myself.

Yesterday I sat at my desk trying to think about The Something in the broadest way I've so far managed, stepped-back and fact-matterish, not matter-of-factish, and paper and books and fragments of envelope and plates with toast crumbs and parts of maps and photographs pooled outward, ripple ripple like one of those cheesy hotel posters with the high-speed photograph of the droplet hitting the water. I spread things out on the floor. Piles accumulated around the edges of my postage-stamp desk, seaweed on the tideline, until they got dumped off the edges and replaced by new piles. I shoved at the things that had come off the desk to get at the first-generation things on the floor until I was shoving at the tenth-generation seaweed to get at the fourth-generation stuff from ten minutes ago and also where the hell is my pencil no not that one the other one and then it hit me that I needed A Wall.

You know The Wall. Like Sherlock has, or like all the cop shows have, or like any conspiracy theorist or obsessed my-parents/wife/children-were-murdered shut-in ever committed to film ever, with index cards and mugshots and photographs and newspaper clippings and maps and pins and notes on yellow legal pad paper and red felt-tip circles around things or possibly faces in photographs with big black Xs on them and some important question marks on sticky notes and the all-important pink string connecting all the dots.

I want one of those walls. I need one. It shall be mine. The living room wall has a date with destiny.

I have a shopping list. Rolls of poster paper. Pastel index cards. String. Postcards with the right pictures on them. Eight kinds of washi tape with stripes and spots, because reasons.

I possibly need a mugshot for texture. Also, I found out that there is a tumblr for the crazy wall. Because of course there is. Good job, internet.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Seven years ago today, Pluvialis' father died. I wrote this.

In the summer, that wriggling, nipping, supernaturally alert handful of puppies in her mind is made a book.

You have no idea how lucky you all are. But you will.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Sometimes the trouble is that the words don't come, or they stand wide-eyed in the headlights of intention as though they might be run over if they dare to express something. Sometimes you sit and you sit and you sit and the words look at you complacently from under the couch. Sometimes words pour out of you like a little lion-faced fountain with a circulating pump and later you look at them and go buh?

But actually that's not the problem right now. Or it might be, if I bothered to find out, and I could wear the weary-but-charming face of The Writer Who Cannot but instead I am throwing a tantrum of world-crushing proportions. STOMP STOMP STOMP, XtinKaiju.

The One True Tantrum. The koan of I-don't-wanna. The laser-beam eyes of fuck-you that you turn on the unopened mail, the unanswered text, the dinner that's supposed to be organised by now, the trip that's powering anxiety nightmares that awaken you with the taste of metal behind your teeth.

I thumb the pages of my passport, dog-eared in spite of itself, with a kink in the top where I clip the UK residence permit to the back cover. There is a slightly glittery smudge on it from some eyeshadow it got tangled with once in my handbag in Germany. A photo of me from nearly ten years ago. A teeny-tiny rendition of my signature. I turn it over in my hands and try to make it into the small booklet of micro-printed paper that it really is. But no. I cannot defeat it, gently thrumming emblem of my elsewhereness. I put it back where it goes.

I had meant to tell you about my walk to Logan's Meadow on Saturday, a scant muddy handful of nature reserve on the Cam riverbank, opposite the Cambridge Museum of Technology, which used to be Cambridge's sewage pumping station. There's a flat grassy bit with joggers and this bonkers swift nesting tower which is inspired by the African sun. The Ombre Roundel. I made that up. Not the part about the African sun. That part is totally true. Anyway, behind the featureless jogger-dog-turdy bit, there is a wonderful tangle of dead trees and ponds and birches and small soft new cow parsley at your ankles like salad leaves and baby nettles and celandine and its greeny-grey hearts creeping about the twiggy bits and and moor hens skrawking in the mud and an enormous, lusty choir of tits and robins and chaffinches, nonchalant city ones, not like the shy rustics at Bradfield Wood who followed us like an FBI tail, covert and yelling alarm calls into their cuffs. Three robins are singing for their invisible fences, throats as wide as if to swallow their opponents whole, ear-splitting riffs right into my face, for heaven knows, perhaps I've designs on this tree too. Blue tits bounce in the still-bare trees, tee-CHAR, spare me half a glance, perhaps the slightest tilt of the cap. Squashed catkins in the paths like discarded bits of Nutkin.

Two boys drink and bicker on the farthest fishing platform, knees crooked proprietorially over their fallen cycles as if they might rope them like calves at a rodeo. Well, that's what you said to me, says the one in the yellow hoodie with matching baseball cap, lacing everything with eighteen more inflections than seems possible. Eyeroll, says the one in red with the matching baseball cap. They are like cards lost from a UNO deck. I don't suppose either of them have ever seen a UNO deck.

I walk home by the riverside path with mud on my boots and my binoculars magnifying the lint in my pocket, past the runners and the buggies and the families wearing ironed shirts, past the postbox wearing a spiked hat like a bit of iron-maiden salvage, past the toddlers feeding swans and the narrow boats with for sale signs and the crackle of coxboxes, past the picnics on the common. Back at the little house there is bread for toast.


Friday, March 14, 2014


Rollinus, 1756

Oh, man. These last few days I have felt so revoltingly embodied. This weird you live in. This bewilderingly armed sine qua non with legs. Squishy shapes that you have to clothe and corral with tools only approximately fit for purpose. Things that hurt. Hormones. Brain. Glitchy, dickish, anxiety-riven brain. Unpredictable insides that might bork out and kill you at any moment. And still with the blood. Seems like it was only last month that ... oh. 

A doctor said to me while he palpated my upper left quadrant, 'I'm so grateful I'm a man'. 

Because blood doesn't exit your uterus? Inter motherfucking alia, Dr Douchecopter. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Bradfield wood, eight hundred years of coppicing, mud and tyre tracks, spring spilling over the footprint-edges, wild strawberries and garlic, blackthorn exploded snow, coal tit, shy woodland robins fleet into the undergrowth, oak and birch, great and blue tits cosseted by long winter ash-and-hazel silence shouting grumpily from everywhere-eyeshot,  two voles I don't see, a dog. Another dog, a man in a green fleece, stacks of fireword, pea-sticks, wattle-and-daub sticks, hedge-stakes neatly pointed like so many oversize Buffy props, humming with massed-wood magicks, the bare ash overhead rattle together. Like rigging, says Pluvialis. The good ship, nuthatch piping from the tops'l.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Not that kind

Sometimes you look up words because you think there might be good stories in their etymology and there often are but sometimes the dictionary doesn't know anything about that.

Today jizz, which is the flash of collected things that makes you able to identify something in the field, because there is a thing I need to tell you about the sparrows and dunnocks in my apple tree and how once I knew how to tell them apart from the dunnocks' pretty slate heads and tiny watchmaker beaks but now I know them backlit at three times the distance just because they are dunnocks and sparrows. 

Actually there are a million things I need to tell you about watching and seeing and getting the jizz and what happens to you when there comes to be a flitting, fleeting, glimpsed constellation of things alive in the world which you once succeeded in identifying with the glee of being at the foot of the Master Namer and now they are simply there, themselves, perfectly themselves, arisen in a blink with their names duly attached and eventually you draw a blank in the place where once you could describe how you know them. Passer domesticus. House sparrow. Passer, sparrow. Domesticus, house, the most deeply implausible transparency in a Latin name ever to never happen again. 

The dictionary lives forever with the Master Namer and reminds you that what things mean can be taken apart, until they can't. After a while its efforts are too much and its orderly pretendings that the tacit is audible too sad, and you lay your cheek on the cool pages and listen to the words whispering syntax, nonsense, syntax, nonsense like crystals forming and dissolving on the edge of solute saturation.

Sideways from my Vol A--M perch I watch very early pigeon fledglings in the maple. There are white doves at Kings and a wonderful wee gang of town-pigeon-dove mashup chicks have washed up in the little garden, two thoroughly splattered with white dove-emulsion and the other wearing only the most ordinary pigeon livery with a neat white superhero hat. 

A blackbird alarm call. Capped pigeon launches and reveals a spray of pure white primaries. For what is a superhero without her cape? 

Friday, March 07, 2014

Note from home

Not my actual feet.

Do you know what Pluvialis said today? You have done some big thinkings. No more thinking today. You should have a hot bath and read a trashy novel.

This was shameless enabling, because she knows I'm tired and scared.  She also knows that you have to do it in spite of being tired and scared because otherwise you'll die of old age before anything happens, but enabling is for too many donuts and expensive handbags and ill-advised romantic hookups and hot baths when you should really be getting your goddamned shit together.

That's the whole point.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lost in space

Throwback Thursday, bitches. The birdoole and I played with Lego today, from a box I found in a box in storage. Box in a box in a box.

These are two astronauts from Lego's classic Space range, from TinyXtin's own collection. I think they might even be the vestiges of the vast agglomeration that lived inside drawstring denim Lego playmats at TinyXtinHouse before 1983, especially the one battered one with a gimpy eye missing a hand. There are old-school wheels and computer screens and radar dishes and a tiny, perfect Lego letter which you can mail into a hinged box with a slot in it.

But perhaps these came after. I don't know. A little box of strangely mixed Lego bricks from history.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Is it today already? Seems like yesterday that it was yesterday.

The blackbird hen is nest-building, curving past the study window in the sunshine with a face full of tufty moustache. The afternoons warm the bricks on the new houses out at Construction Site where the birdoole watches the Hi-Vis Hard-Hats appear and disappear above the scaffolding parapets with squeaks of delight.

I buy smoked trout and more milk and the parrot and I share a head of broccoli and some cashews and a mini Magnum, after which he naps in the sock drawer. I pull at my hair and look at things I wrote a long time ago that have gone flat and dirty and crackly like many-varnished paintings and I wonder if I can only write things that are brought alive right now, and all these notes to future-me-which-is-now-me are as hands closing on air, things in the night-sky glimpsed only if you look a little to the left.

I plan to go for a walk, but don't. Perhaps tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I set out this afternoon in the looming grey weather to see Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. Tom Hiddleston! Tilda Swinton! Vampires! What could go wrong?

Someone was sitting between me and the aisle, so I saw the end.

I suppose I could say something about the cinematography and art direction and the way the shots were collected together like a storyboard, like the establishing parts of a graphic novel without the novel. But I'm too overwhelmed with delight to be out of there. It was like an interminable, awful date with a twenty-something white dude who wears a black leather duster and vintage concert t-shirts and has just read Shakespeare and Wilde and Infinite Jest, who first wants to show you his guitar collection with bonus details about how Pete Townshend's rig was modified. Then he pours you a drink and tells you at length about his contemptuous exhaustion with the world because we are all such zombies and we never realise how much we are fucking things up until it is too late oh and also thank all the small gods, his spare time involves way too much wikipedia and xkcd and vinyl message boards and so his agonisingly sophomoric trials-of-existence monologues are fascinatingly larded with Facts about fungi and electricity and Tesla and physics and old 45s and Jesus Christ on a dial please, please just kill me.

I haven't even told you about the mind-numbing nihilism-fetish night-tours of broken-down Detroit where Hiddleston actually has to utter lines like ' ... and now, it's a car park'.

There's a scene late in the movie where Hiddleston and Swinton are standing over the deathbed of John Hurt, who's playing a vampire who really penned the works of Shakespeare (yes. Don't even). Hurt's deathbed is in out the back of a shisha bar in Tangiers, shot like there is tea over the lens, because of fucking course. Anyway Hurt, because there can be no limit to the excruciation, has to say 'What a piece of work is a man!' when he sees The Hiddleston. Jesus wept.

But then they shoot up at Hiddles from Hurt's perspective, with shadows in his eyes and the tea-colours arcing off his cheekbones and his round, broken jasperware eyes and he says, perfectly, softly and crisply and sadly, everything about him suddenly borne aloft of the shitty, excessive, self-satisfied screenplay like crackling ice on a puddle of mud, 'And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?'

It's just about possible that Tom Hiddleston's line-reading from Act 2, Scene 2 is worth the price of admission.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Test tea

Oh, the making of words today is impossible, grotesque, line-and-arc sigils made of points of light that pretend to be bits of the world other than themselves.

I've been reading Constance Spry's 1961 Hostess today, which is, natürlich, entirely and unmitigatedly fabulous and like Liza Minnelli in her royal blue silk pyjamas at the Oscars last night made into a book. Though I'm perfectly certain Spry would have thought that look de trop. But on the other hand, the woman invented Coronation Chicken.

Hostess, which existed only in a draft when Spry died, is set in the aspic of wry wistfulness for how things were once. But she is Constance, and neither sentimental nor reactionary. Cream isn't served with tea as it once was, but no matter. We have milk, darlings.

She holds, nothing if not particular, that if the milk is added to the tea in the cup ...
... you can get 'a 'raw' taste rather difficult to describe; if you put it into the cup first the scalding tea poured on to it gives a mellower taste.
The milk-or-tea-first debate is a classic, burnished around the corners and comfy to sit on like a club fender. In 1919 a scientist called Muriel Bristol was working at the Rothamsted Experimental Station. The famous statistician R.A. Fisher, who also worked there, heard that Muriel claimed to be able to tell the difference between milk-first and tea-first cups.

Fisher tested Muriel's claim with a statistical significance test that came to be called Fisher's exact test, which has its own controversies, but was hugely influential and still bites the ass of research students today.

She passed.

Sunday, March 02, 2014


I have been writing some other things, difficult things, intransigent things, things that give me the eye. No, that's not quite right. It's not the things. It's that I'm trying to stuff them into a certain kind of box, make them into a very particular kind of thing, and they don't like it, or they don't like me, or they don't like my weird, exogenous, interloping story about how they're supposed to be moulded into The Literary and they have been giving me the big fuck-you.

But also while you are writing things they accidentally fall into wheel-ruts in the dirt that you didn't know were there and off they go around the corner and you've had another, related thought but it doesn't go now because you're already around the corner and looking into the hazel bush for the black cap instead of the wheat field you thought you were talking about.

Sometimes that is all right but sometimes you are trying so hard to say a thing, a particular thing --- suck it, whatever's-round-the-corner --- and it's like spinning your little cart-wheels desperately in the mud because today I want to talk about my affair of the heart with a country.  Or perhaps not a country, really, but somewhere that I imagine exists where the country really is. How do I tell the story of falling in love with England, which later turned out to be something more like sort-of-England, and all the messy, bonkers, perfect, perfectly shit things that happened because of it?  How do you even start to tackle the imaginings and the thousand, thousand reimaginings over the long sticky forever between your doe-eyed fetish for a place you have come to visit and the battered, patinated love for where you choose to stay?

There is a lot of English nature writing. It's a thing. Some of it is as beautiful and provocative and truthy as anything people can do with words. But often I am desperate with the sense that they are not talking to me, the one without the front-door key. They are not talking about the hedges I look into, the ones I wasn't hidden in as a child, didn't climb over on a stile, the ones with nothing in them that I know, and then the one thing I know, and then the few, and then suddenly but not really suddenly many, many things as I walk past marking out the edges of the hawthorn and the hazel, blackthorn and beech. They are not talking about the grass snake that eyed me from the wild garlic at Greywell, its smooth head neatly angled like something off Cleopatra's forehead, as thrilling as anything I saw in the wood that day because while we observe each other I taste bright-white metal from old, quick, spectacularly rational snake-adrenaline, transfixed by the possibility of even standing near.

They are not talking about the things in my maple, for they have no idea that the blue-tit upside-down brings a passport in his foot.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Xtin in Manhattan

In the early afternoon yesterday I really wanted an extremely stiff drink. I counted the minutes to cocktail hour, but fell asleep on the sofa just past five and by the time I woke with cricks in my jack-knifed knees the moment had passed.

I awoke this morning with a slitty-eyed determination. A Manhattan would be mine as the almost-spring parma-violet sunset dusted itself liberally over the roofs and the birdoole chipped frilly fragments of post-it off the mothernote.

Cocktail glass into the fridge, along with the cocktail shaker that Opera Singer gave me in Berlin because he and his husband had three. Four Roses, Angostura and the bottle of Byrrh that The Poet and The Novelist gave me for my birthday. On the card The Poet noted that it made a superb negroni. Its application to Canadian bourbon was thusly inevitable, like dinosaur erotica.

I watch back-episodes of Hannibal, because for some reason I didn't tune in when the season opened last year. It is squickily, moodily, gravely comically superb, and Mads Mikkelsen may yet carve out the C-bouts of the most riveting Lecter ever.

Six bells, cocktail-hour klaxon, Melody Gardot pegged up three notches. Out comes the chilled glass. Cocktail shaker on the bench with the jar of Xtin's Own Homemade Maraschino Cherries with Actual Luxardo and None of That Red Shite. Also, the twisty liquorice-strip of a cocktail spoon that the bartender at The Vaults gave me in 2008 because I liked to watch him mix drinks. But maybe also because I was unnecessarily opinionated about my Perfect Manhattan. He had a jar of his homemade cherries in the fridge. He taught me how to make my own.

For the love of god! There is no ice!

I stare into my ridiculous little drop-front shoebox of a not-at-all-deep freezer like a pithed rabbit. This cannot be happening. I have tweaked and replaced and substituted and hacked lo, so many things I have poured into a glass or a baking dish or a muffin tin but a room-temperature Manhattan is not to be contemplated.  

Forlorn Xtin-gaze lights on the frozen peas. Tink! Well, if they're good enough for a black eye. Swishy slish, klish klish as the frost appears on the shaker. Glip, glip, two cherries and a sativamous fragment or three. Cold as the grave and perfect as eternity.

I ate the peas later.