25th March, 2018
Waiting anxiously for a new catflap to be fitted today, in the hope of achieving some peace in my life. Nobody ever asked “Who let the cats out?” in a song, since the answer’s obvious: the same person who let them back in again two minutes later, then back out again thirty seconds after that.
26th March, 2018
I have made a bold move of late: put a large amount of the books in storage; books I have already read, leaving the shelves in my house filled largely with reference books and all the literature I hope to whizz through when I’m an unrealistically improved human being, with an equally unrealistic amount of time on my hands. This – and organising and unpacking in a small house – has made it all the more clear to me that I probably should stop buying books for a while. With every book I buy I’m building a wall of judgement: all those uncracked spines, looking down disapprovingly at me and making me more aware of what I haven’t read than what I have. I have moved house a lot and something that process will make you very aware of is the burdensome trap that possessions can become. I dragged myself reluctantly but necessarily to Ikea the other day and I find it hard to look at the marketplace area there without seeing it as future landfill, but when it comes to books, and records, I’m an uncompromising materialist. I want them around me. I know I buy far too many books but I like to think that lining my house with them wards off evil in some deeply important way. One day I’ll probably trap myself behind a book wall but at least I’ll be reading as I starve to death.
29th March, 2018
Message from my dad: “WHEN DID YOU MOVE TO NORFOLK?”
Me: “October, 2001.”
Him: “THANKS. I’M TRYING TO PUT A DATE ON ALL MY CLOTHES.”
31st March, 2018
One of the good things about writing a book of ghost stories, as I am – or even sort of ghost stories, which is more what they technically are – is that everyone you tell about it has at least one story of their own, even if they consider themselves a sceptic. Tonight my neighbour Katie’s dad told me about the time he stayed in The Smugglers Haunt hotel in Brixham and woke up in the night to watch his luggage being thrown about by two small girls. Later, not knowing about the incident, his wife found out that the hotel’s famous ghost, Aggie, is a small girl who fell to her death from one of the windows in the 1920s, and now likes to disturb the bedclothes and luggage of the hotel’s guests. As we heard all this, Katie’s pet husky – basically a wolf with a really good stylist – stretched out in front of the wood burner and eyed us balefully, with an apparent abundance of recondite knowledge.
1st April, 2018
Yesterday, for the second time since I first moved to Devon in early 2014, I swerved into one of the many high banks at the side of one of the county’s narrow lanes to avoid an oncoming vehicle and hit a sharp piece of granite, causing my tyre to immediately explode. I managed to drive another mile and a half on my wheel and the scraps of rubber still left attached to it until I found a safe place to abandon the car. It is still very recently that I moved house – in a very big and dramatic way, for the second time in precisely three months – and I am still in a state of relocation aftermath subjectivity. Everything I do has a post-moving context. Normally the idea of abandoning your car and walking, caked in mud, almost two miles home in the dark along dangerous roads with ice rods of rain hitting your head might seem like an unpleasant experience, but I felt kind of ok about it, as it’s better than moving house. This has happened a lot recently. Flood in my kitchen? Well, it’s better than moving house. Broken amplifier? Well, it’s better than moving house. Busted achilles tendon? Well, it’s better than moving house. I was also kind of proud to find out from my local tyre fitting place the following morning that the damage was the worst they’d seen on any tyre, and this is a part of the country whose rural lanes eat tyres for breakfast. I am reminded here of my granddad Ted, who used to love driving his 1950s Wolseley to Devon on holiday. The Wolseley didn’t have a reverse gear so when he encountered an oncoming vehicle on a narrow lane, he would have to get out and jog up to the window of the opposing car to tell the driver about about the Wolseley’s deficiency. This would normally end with him befriending the families in the other cars, quizzing them for tips on good walks and sometimes – if there were no other cars waiting to get past – even sharing bits of picnic with them.
4th April, 2018
I deactivated three of my social media accounts the other day and locked another. This probably won’t be permanent but I think it heralds a quieter way of using the Internet for me. I have fantasised ardently about doing something like, or more extreme than, this for a long time, but delayed it, due to a gratitude towards social media – particularly towards lovely and supportive individuals I’ve encountered through it – for the way it helps me make a living from writing, which is not an easy thing to do, especially when, like me, you choose not to write for mainstream publications. But I feel beaten down by the noise of social media, the conflict, the thin assumptions, the way it reprograms attention spans, the timesuck of replying to messages and the guilt of not replying to others. I am not a socially anxious person; I’m a gregarious type and I enjoy real life, on the whole, so I am not on social media for any reasons of feeling more comfortable in a virtual world; I am on there because I use it as a portal to my work. It is never The Actual Thing for me, only a link to The Actual Thing. When it is mistaken for The Actual Thing, when people try to piece my life together through it and tell me who I am, I tend to despair. I also don’t like self promotion. I don’t think many writers do. Most of us retweet a good review of our work not because we feel comfortable about doing so but because it often makes a genuine difference to how many books we sell and keeps us muddling along. We feel that by not doing this we’d be missing out. But I look at the potential remainder of my time on earth and I feel more and more that I want to live as much as possible away from screens, to write and read what I feel I need to write and read, and I have started to feel that the less I am near social media, the more chance I stand of doing the work I want to do. “I’m going to do a shitload of writing and it might get lost or ignored and if that is the case, then so be it” has finally become a more reassuring thought to me than “I’m doing my best to make sure people know about it, but some stuff I really need to do isn’t getting done.”
5th April, 2018
An aspect of my late granddad Ted’s character that I share with him, besides his passion for country walks, firewood and Devon, is that he was very dozy. On his head Ted had a large wound which he sustained in the Second World War, not from fighting but by absentmindedly walking under the moving propeller of a plane he was about to repair. Today I experienced my most “Ted” moment for many weeks when a horseshoe I’d hung above my front door for luck fell and hit me on the head. I do not believe this provides any concrete proof about whether horseshoes are lucky or unlucky; it just provides concrete proof that I am the kind of idiot who will hang a horseshoe in a precarious place without thinking about the laws of physics. As I wandered up the lane away from my house, feeling blood slowly trickle down my forehead, I thought about the eclectic nature of head injuries: the really dangerous ones, the comical ones, the transiently agonising ones that leave you wanting to beat the shit out of the inanimate object that’s caused them but that seem like ancient history an hour later. There’s one thing you can be sure of in life, if you’re of an absentminded nature: there are always more head injuries coming. This is one of the more benign and comic ones that have happened to me: the impact was loud and the damage a little gory but the rusty metal hit the hardest, most robust bit of my head. I feel pretty good, four hours on. The horseshoe is also unharmed and has reverted to its previous place on my garden bench, where, like before, it will probably be used from time to time as an emergency bottle opener by my tree surgeon landlord, Richard.
I do not live on Dartmoor, but I live close enough to be under its spell and its shadow. Today my blood-smeared head and I timed our walk to the moor – the bit where you can properly feel you’re on it, where the grass gets wirier and the wild ponies appear in their renegade bands – from my front door. It’s 36 minutes, but I have long legs, and people are always telling me I walk too quickly. All this implies I have a back door, and that the walk from there would be different. I don’t, so it isn’t. I tramped along holloways, amazingly quiet due to their habit of leading nowhere in particular, watched a kestrel hover above me, then I climbed my local beacon: a fearsome bad mood summit in rain, 1200 feet above sea level with a long dome peppered with cosmic rocks, but benign today in cold pre-dusk sunlight. I looked back to where I’d come from, thinking about all the new unimaginative developments barging across the lower hills beyond: the streets and houses named after the things they’ve destroyed by people too driven by greed to cotton onto the dark irony of what they’ve done. There would be more, soon. You could bet on it. One day, not all that many years from now, people might look at a photo of a largely green view like this, in this pocket of time, with an even greater sense of loss than we now look at photos of the English countryside as it was in the early 20th Century. I hope that is not the case.
Two visits from neighbouring animals this morning: firstly Falcon, the hen I co-own with my neighbours, to eat the wildflower seeds I’ve scattered, then my landlord’s three-legged terrier, Cookie, for what has become her daily tummy rub. I do not think I have ever met a friendlier or more optimistic dog than Cookie, who, rather than wallowing in her disability, has turned it into a strength, powering herself around the woodland between my house and my landlord’s, in the process beefing up her one front leg and giving it a comical muscularity of such that I suspect she could deck the husky nextdoor with one casual swipe. Apparently my landlord originally wanted to call her Eileen (I lean) before the suggestion was vetoed by his partner and children.