If I wanted to talk about it I wouldn’t have written it down.

An audio version of this post is available here.

London is the love of my life.

I have said this elsewhere, in other words in other years: I meant it.

I cannot imagine loving a human being in the same ‘no feet on the floor’ way that I love London. The tide and change of it, the bones of it, the flow, the light and grime and shine and profligacy, the ancient silver ache of it, the black toothed kiss. I cannot love it more. I need it.

Does it love me? I don’t know. I love it so much it doesn’t matter.

I am leaving it. I am leaving you. London. And unless I win the lottery I will never be able to return to you again, other than as a visitor, an ex standing awkwardly in the hall that used to be home, unsure what to do with my hands, noticing the new wallpaper, waiting for the kids to get their coats on. The idea is too large to be grasped as a whole. I catch the hem of it sometimes and panic, all the air goes out of me. It is exhilarating because it hurts. Because it is a mad, cold act of vandalism. It is the first feeling I have had for a long time. You stay alive by making decisions.

You stay alive by making decisions.

No point making small ones. And look, look how alive I am now. Do you see the words on this page? After all this silence. All the still; today I ran through the bones of you, London. You smell better than anything. I will visit you. You will go on without me. I will go on without you.

I am as calm as licked fur, all of me combed in one direction: towards the unlikely, the difficult, the irrevocable. How unnerving and bright and thrilling life is, once more.

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The Wonky Allotment

An audio version of this piece is available here.

A few years ago I took an allotment. It was always a wildly ambitious –  perhaps even foolish – thing to do, given my health, but if there’s one thing I have learned with MECFS, it’s that almost anything can be achieved if you are left alone to peck at it. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there. A week off. A month off, peck peck peck, and provided there is no deadline, you will eventually get any job done.  Accordingly, I had soon put up a polytunnel and bit by bit the beds were conquered and dug and weeded.  Things were planted, and they grew.

My site is not a council site and as such has a gloriously laissez-faire approach to plot management. I know a couple of plots where the owner turns up one day a year, digs the whole lot over in a fit of furious endeavour, then buggers off for 11 months and grows nary a carrot for his labour.  Well, generally speaking, I went every day I could walk. Quite often the only thing I set out to achieve was a bit of watering, and weeding with a hooked knife on a 6′ pole, which is surprisingly easy to do (and you can use it as a walking stick when you go a bit wobbly). Once you’ve got a bit of ground tilled over and properly weeded, the maintenance isn’t challenging. And when I took a dive and couldn’t go for a month, well, so be it.  The sad consequence of the latter is that I don’t recall ever getting a tomato from my plot (though I grew plenty). But I did get rhubarb, asparagus, broccoli, cabbages, raspberries, squash, and a terrific sense that I still had some sort of meaningful existence in the world.

I would typically be very nervous before going to the plot: elated when I got there (a feat in itself, given my balance, and one which usually required the aid of a walking stick, or a strategically carried tool that could be used as one); and super-elated on my way home after achieving something, however small.  Even just ambling around and looking at things counted. It wasn’t the sofa.

And then, about two years ago, I became a lot more ill than I had been. This was ungood: I was in such a lamentable state to begin with that “more ill” confined me to the sofa almost permanently. My usual spring surge – a few weeks in April or May where I feel almost well again, albeit weak from lack of use – failed to materialise.  My regular little walks stopped.  My already sporadic socialising disappeared entirely. I couldn’t go to the plot. Every now and then I’d have a run of a few decent days, and down I’d go: turn over a couple of yards, stick in some garlic or sow a few seeds into it. But it was wildly insufficient, and bit by bit the plot was reclaimed by couch grass, convolvulus, and feral strawberries.  And then I got too ill to even manage the extremely treacherous path to my plot. And that was that.  I had a series of falls – at home mostly – which damaged the rotator cuff muscles on one shoulder so badly I couldn’t use a dinner fork.  I wasn’t getting better.  While all this was going on, my GP noticed that my inflammation markers were way up and sent me to be tested for kidney or bladder cancer, which was … well, basically that used up any tiny dregs of energy I had. Happily (and unsurprisingly), after a full battery of tests I got a clean bill of health. My kidneys just don’t work very well, and my immune system is inflamed.  Cause unknown.

By last Christmas I knew I would have no alternative this March, when rent became due, but to give up my beloved plot.

In January I noticed that I felt less ill, and started to take a few walks. The minute you feel less ill with MECFS, you want to get up and do.  So I did.  At first, just a few hundred yards. Then a quarter mile, then a half mile. Then a mile. Then throw in a little hill.  Hills are bastards. I can’t breathe going up them and my chest and arms feel laced with tight, red-hot wires.  I can’t describe it adequately.  But it’s human nature to persevere, so I persevered.  I was exercising that damaged arm as much as I could, to restore movement.  When I say “as much as I could”, I mean about 30 seconds to a minute of gently moving my arms about, per day. But it made a difference.  My range of movement improved, then some strength returned and at least I could use my stick again, which reduced the likelihood of more falls.

Having established that I could not afford help, I decided to take on the back garden.  Out I went with my loppers and some woefully inadequate gloves, and one stem at a time I hacked my way through what had become, over the two preceding years, a Sleeping Beauty tangle of bramble. Peck, peck, peck. Ten minutes out there, and a week lying on the sofa in agony.  Ten minutes out there, and five days on the sofa in agony.  Ten minutes out there and THREE days on the sofa in agony. I was getting stronger. Now I could use the fork for a few minutes. Half dig out one bramble, spend a few days recovering, then come back and have another go. And fuck you, nature, fuck you, fuck you.

March came.  I became so anxious about the email demanding plot rent, that I started to avoid my inbox.  I say “started to”, I avoided it entirely. It was by pure coincidence that I ran into a fellow plot-holder on the street during one of my sweaty and painful walks.  I casually dropped in a question about the rents, and she said there had been no request for them, yet.


The request finally came at the end of April. Rent due at the gate.

The day before it was due I took a stroll to Little Tesco, more for the walk than to buy anything.  It’s uphill.  I was breathing OK, and by now  I could do half an hour in the garden, on a good day.  They have a cash machine.  I took out enough to cover the rent, mindlessly.  No thought behind it, because if I stopped to think it through I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t.  Oh, but it’s too late now, I have.

The following morning I pulled on some clothes and a hat, grabbed my stick, and went to the gate. I think they were fairly amazed to see me, but nobody actually threw any rocks, which I took to be a good sign.  I paid up, and walked to my plot to see what had become of it.

A meadow, almost lovely.

The bones of my carefully created beds were buried somewhere. The raspberries had taken full advantage of my absence and staged a green coup at the western end.  Some sort of leafy chinese thing I’d planted halfway up the plot had gone full triffid.  Oh, what have I done, paying the rent on this?

Further up the plot I reached my orchard.  Two, maybe three years ago I put in a set of six embarrassing little twigs that I was assured would eventually turn into fruit trees. And now here they were, and they are fruit trees. Taller than me. Covered in blossom.  Two cherries, two apples, a pear, an apricot. I put my hand out and felt a branch of one of the cherries, cool and fat with sap and life.

I can do this.  I can do this.

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Perfect though

A few days ago, I woke up
with a different head. It was not
the one I’d gone to bed

My old head wanted
you (nonspecific
you, you in general, you singular or plural,
to notice me and approve.
Old head did so many things to gain your attention,
each one pulled as tight and perfect
as the rigging on a tall ship in some draconian navy,
always tacking hard into the shoulder of a strong wind
seeking conquest,
pennants and gold leaf,
pennants and gold leaf.
Oh look, look, look, I have brought you
a dead mouse
a pie
a painting look
I made you this
I wrote a book
here is my heart.

My new head waved its hands at that and laughed. It spoke,
for the first time in my voice,
to my surprise,
was birds it was blossom and the kindness of my mother. It was the cat and kettle, it was the imperfect mitten, knitted and given.

It said
you are as lovely as a flower
do you see? And
I said

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Time to live.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.”



“I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.”

Rutger, calm your tits mate. I’ve just been for a walk in Catford in November.


I’ve resisted temptations you can only imagine.


Stared at London Plane bark until it became nebulae.


I don’t think you understand, Rutty old feller.


I don’t think you grasp how amazing a little life is.

Time to live.

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He says: “Write! You must write and you aren’t writing. It’s because you’re worried it won’t be good enough…”
And “No,” I interrupt. “It isn’t that. It isn’t that.” I know I’m good.

There is no ear to whisper into.

This is the problem. I have always written. Since early childhood, every day, every hour, words, and the need to be heard, the powerful need to record, to make sense of this overwhelming planet. And it’s still there, that need at least to send out a little blip into the universe: “I am here! Where are you?” or I wouldn’t tweet, although I tweet personal stuff less and less, my tweets have less emotional content. I think of stopping daily, but I am aware that that, (seemingly a healthy move, or so all the sensible people with actual lives would tell you), would not free me up to knock out another book or a bunch of short stories or some poems. It would just represent total silence from me. On all fronts.

Since last June I’ve been very ill. I’ve hardly seen anyone (and I’m hermitty at the best of times); but that in itself isn’t a big issue.  Some people do well alone, I am one (as long as I know someone exists that I wouldn’t mind not being alone with). I’ve been too unwell to keep up with my allotment, which I must now give up. And that was my last thread to having regular (ish) contact with other humans. *snip* and it is over. And then what?

Writing has always been weirdly linked to love, for me. A petrol engine needs gas to run. I run on love, on being in love. Yet not only do I have a health condition that prevents me from meeting anyone, the last time I met a partner who actually treated me like a human being was in 2007. And that was the first since 2003. All the intervening ones were exactly as awful and damaging as these things ever CAN be. And now I feel so alienated from … (I’m going to say “humans” because I no longer feel I am one) humans, that I cannot fall in love with one. They want things I don’t want. They need things I can’t give. They don’t care about the things I care about. They take things I can’t live without. They don’t see the things I see. I become exhausted explaining myself to them or pretending to be something they can understand. They frighten and repel me and I can’t get past it. I am the stars and the space between the stars. I am a spring flower. I am too simple for this.

I have no memory of most of my life. I only remember and repeat the stories I have told people. I know where I said I was and what I said I did. I no longer remember being there. And that is part of why I wrote, part of why I took photographs, part of why I kept every message. To remember. So when I found you I could say: I don’t remember how I got here, but here, here is the story, here is the map. Here are the things I saw and felt. Add them up, and you can understand me.

But there is nothing TO remember, now. Even the seasons are barely ajar to me. I walk to Tesco and smell the coal smoke on the air at the corner, the house with the parrot. And so I know it is no longer summer, that the fire is on, that the air is still and falling.  I walk back. And there is no ear to whisper these things into. 

I let go of the stories, too tired to hold them any more, and now most of them are gone. I don’t have a map of myself any more, there is just this moment. I exist, persistently. I enjoy the small experiences I have, but I have nothing to say about them. They are the same as the ones I had last year and the year before, but smaller and smaller. The ones I wrote down at the time make better reading than anything I could write now, because when I wrote them I believed you would read them one day.

I thought that there would be someone here like me. But there is not, just an endless sea of modern humans thinking of baked beans, and remembering – with perfect facility – what happened five years ago, and recognising faces, and talking of who is having sex with whom, telephone bills, and never noticing that the air is still and falling, full of the invisible burnt black heart of the earth, nor what that means.

And I no longer believe you exist, or that I can find you if you do. I searched the world when I could, but I failed, and so what is there. Some days hurt, some don’t. I don’t remember the days so it doesn’t matter. My life, minute to minute, is content, is contentless.  I enjoy the moment. Fur, clean sheets, cold water, the tick and hum of the dryer, the rain, the unmown lawn battered down silver green, the glass that separates me from it, the days when I can walk, the days when I can’t. But there is no gap in the puzzle-earth for this jigsaw piece, there is nothing to say, no ear to whisper nothing into.

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Drawing Henrijk

How does it work, this ART thing? How does it pop into being?

For me, it starts with a little detail. I was staring at Henrijk the cat from above, and the X in the middle of the bridge of his nose struck me, as if often does. It’s formed purely by the fur changing direction.  So I drew the X. And the soft losenge shape that fills the bottom part of his nose. And then I drew his nose. And then I put his eyes in, just to see if I could figure out where they need to be on the X. And then I drew his muzzle, just to see if I could. You know: could I make it look like a cat, and more importantly, could I make it look like Henrijk the cat?


Yeah. Turns out I can. So then I was a bit pleased with this, so I drew in his markings.


And then I was even more pleased with it so I did some flood fill. And that looked ok so I sort of accidentally started working on his fur.


And I thought, well, I can’t leave him with eyes like that. So…


And then I filled the background in, worked rest of his fur in… and made his eyes look real.


And then I realised I’d given him a weirdly massive chin. And a strange left nostril. And the image needed a crop. So I fixed that.


And then I signed it.

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I’ll tell you one thing if you like
(What’s that?)
I’ll always be hott
If I’m thin, if I’m fat,
If I’m he or I’m she
Or I’m nonbinary,
If I’m young or I’m old
Or sick or healthy,
If I’m a toff or a nobody,
If I’m sane or I’m mad,
If I’m chained or free,
If I’m angry or loving,
If I’m sad or hap
I’ll always be hott
Coz I’ll always be me.

I’ll tell you another if you like
That’s true:
You’ll always be hott
If you keep being you.

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