Friday, 5 August 2016


Charlie wants me to help him buy a new jacket so I meet him after work and he takes me straight to the Lego store.

He strides directly to the Build-A-Mini Tower and announces "You build me, and I'll build you."

It is as if he has done this before.

There are many, many pieces to choose from; recreating Charlie in Lego form is a significant creative challenge. We work in silence, bar the odd expletive. Glancing up from time to time, I see his face either furrowed in concentration or sparkling with mischief.

After hunting through the bits I fail to find an architect's uniform, so go for something more statement, more essence de Charlie.

"Ready?" says Charlie. "I'll go first. Right, this is you. You have glasses, because you wear glasses. This is your hair because that's exactly what your hair is like. You're wearing a mermaid's top to demonstrate you have big boobies. The trousers are, hmm, kind of like your trousers - they're just trousers. Anyway, you're holding a giant steak and a pint glass because you always feed me."

I'm very touched by this depiction.

"This is you," I reply, brandishing my Lego Charlie. "You're a lascivious sailor fisting a monkey."

Monday, 4 April 2016

My Other Arm Was Attacked By A Toaster

"Oh-my-GOD how did you get that SCRATCH on your ARM?" asks Charlie.

I think back to Saturday afternoon, Penarth marina, strolling in the sun. Two women, walking arm and arm, coming towards me along a narrow footpath. Stepping out of their way; catching my wrist on the rusty edge of a parking sign screwed to a bollard.

I choose my words carefully.

"I was attacked by lesbians."

Truth is boring sometimes.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Gibbon, Gibboff

After four years of working in the library with people more accurately described as 'playmates' than 'colleagues', it's finally happened - I've got a regular shift with a boring bloke.

Try as I might, I can't connect with this guy's fun side. If I make the effort to initiate a conversation, he will chat to me desultorily about music, films, cooking, and then turn back to his screen. He is determined to spend his 4.5 hours checking emails, scouring job adverts, reading the Daily Mail website, and sometimes even doing actual work. It is nothing I've ever encountered before. And it happens on Friday evenings - the slowest night of the week, so there isn't even the distraction of customers to break up the tedium.

I text a friend one night, an ex-colleague whom I shall call Sam because that is his name, when the dull man is away from the desk, complaining of boredom.

Sam texts back with a string of helpful suggestions:

[7.59pm] Call him a perfumed porno-vampire. Tell him he doesn't have to be a prostitute. He can say "no" to being a man-whore, a male gigolo.

[8.00pm] Arrange a twisted nativity scene at the desk for when he gets back. Rope in some patrons if you need to.

[8.01pm] Put a gibbon as wallpaper on his PC.

[8.02pm] Hunt him in the book room. With a big butterfly net.

[8.05pm] Google Nicolas Cage gifs on his PC and leave the windows open. A different window for each Cage gif.

[8.06pm] Study up on Mormonism and try and get him to convert.

[8.07pm] Same thing, but with Satanism.

[8.07pm] Ask him if he can explain wind.

[8.10pm] Engage him in a conversation about soup, but pronounce it "sop". Take it seriously, but don't be confrontational. If he gets wound up, say you should "agree to disagree".

[8.12pm] Feign a really exaggerated facial tic and when he comments on it deny it straight to his face.

 Sam, quite honestly, is no help at all.

EDIT: The dull man has now stopped getting up to go swimming at 6am every morning before his real (day) job, which he does before he comes to this (evening) job, and a transformation has happened: now he moves, he laughs, he speaks! He even makes me cups of tea sometimes. The moral of this story, people, is that exercise is bad for you.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


When I was small, my dad taught me how to make scrambled eggs on toast.

It was a whole-kitchen enterprise, requiring precise execution.

Crack two eggs into a measuring jug, add a dash of milk. About so much milk. Season with salt, and a shake of white pepper. Not too much pepper. Whisk with a fork. A metal fork. The eggs must be frothed. Aerated. No slimy bits. You test this with the metal fork, like so.

Take a pan. Not any kind of pan, THIS pan. Melt a knob of butter. The knob of butter must be thoroughly melted, and distributed evenly across the bottom of the pan. Tilt it back and forth, around and about, to achieve this. The heat must not be too high, so that the butter scorches.

Transfer the egg liquid from the measuring jug to the pan. Stir it. Do not stop stirring all the while it is heating through. Stir it with a wooden spoon: this type of wooden spoon, not that type of wooden spoon. Keep the heat medium-low. Do not allow it to cook too fast.

Meanwhile, light the grill. Allow the grill to warm up. Place the bread beneath (two slices). Keep stirring the eggs. Keep a careful eye on both. Just before the eggs are done, take the pan off the heat, to prevent overcooking. When the toast is done, place it on the breadboard and butter it, to the edges, with this knife, the butter knife.

["But how do you know when it's done?" I'd plead. "How do you know?"

"When it looks done," he'd reply. Knowing when things were done was something I'd have anxiety about for many years.]

Place one piece of toast on a plate (this kind of plate, not that kind of plate). Cut the other piece of toast diagonally and place the triangles on either side of the square piece of toast. Position the eggs carefully on top of the square piece of toast only.

Retire to the dining table and consume while piping hot, leaving the whole-kitchen sprawl for your wife to clean up. Do it this way every single time.

It took me a lifetime to realise you were allowed to crack the eggs straight into the pan (a non-stick frying pan! Imagine.) You could use three eggs if you fancied it. Add a dollop of plain yoghurt instead of milk. Throw in some herbs, black pepper, as much as you liked. Chuck it all in, mix it all up, stir it a bit, it didn't matter. Or microwave it, it made no difference, it's just eggs, heated up. You also didn't need to diagonally slice the second piece of toast, you could leave it whole or slice it rectangular or not even have it at all.

No metal fork scraping sickeningly across the bottom of a pyrex jug. No superfluous apparatus, no excess washing up. No fraught atmosphere mined with terrifying, unspoken pitfalls. Scrambled eggs on toast was so simple. This realisation blew my mind.

It took me a while longer to work out that, if you wanted to, you could just pick the whole thing up and eat it with your fingers.

Sunday, 21 February 2016


Ordered Thomas Styron's Darkness Visible from the local library after someone mentioned it on Twitter or Reddit or BTL on a Graun article, which is how I do most of my reading these days.

It's a slim volume, outlining his descent into and recovery from depression. A measured account, compelling.

A previous reader's pencil marks remained scattered throughout the text. A line there, an asterisk there, the odd question mark - unobtrusive, until I found this on page 47:

"People often write tiny little notes like this in books esp. library books. Or maybe that is where they are seen - can be seen. I would hesitate to write in my own, mainly for fear of what other readers might think."

The book was tremendous but I loved that intriguing comment even more.

Support your local library, yeah?