A lot of my wardrobe is what you might call double-old: it was purchased in the mid-to-late 1990s, when you could still inexpensively buy used clothes from the 1960s and 70s that were made to fit people of a relatively common body shape. This shirt is not the double-old item of clothing that I have owned for the longest time – that honour falls to a ‘Nashville: Music City’ t-shirt I purchased in Sheffield in 1994 and which I refuse to give up on, even after a negligently tended garden bonfire burned a large hole in it during 2012 – nor is it my favourite, but it is arguably the item that’s aged least perceptibly. It still looks as pristine as it did in 1997, when I bought it from a shop on London’s Portobello Road for £11. The comedian Chris Morris was in the shop at the same time, browsing bomber jackets, and I remember thinking his hair was a lot curlier than it looked on TV and that a bomber jacket was an unlikely choice for him. I tend to wear the shirt unbuttoned with a t-shirt underneath, as it’s quite big. One time I did fasten it was prior to the prizegiving of an amateur golf tournament in Buckinghamshire in 2005. The actor Damian Lewis played in the golf tournament as well and made a beeline for me at the prizegiving, pointed at the shirt, winked and said “Nice shirt”, causing me to feel briefly like a love interest in a future James Bond film and laugh more girlishly than at probably any other time in my life before or since.
My nan lived in a tiny house on a tiny pension and did not have many possessions. When she died in 2009 her kettle was one of the few items I inherited from her. It’s a bottom-of-the-range Russell Hobbs from Britpop’s heyday, not as pleased with itself as some kettles I’ve owned previously, but it boils pretty swiftly and has served me more faithfully than any of its predecessors. I have only had to descale it once in the nearly three years I’ve lived in Devon, an area with very soft water. This is in sharp contrast to when I lived in Norfolk, an area whose water is so hard it is virtually aroused. One of the reasons houses remain cheaper in Norfolk than in most of the rest of the bottom half of the UK is to allow for the large amount of money people who live there spend on descaler.
Writers are supposed to prize moleskine notebooks above all other types. I don’t. I prefer the thick A5 ones with the floral or swirly bendy card covers, of the type you get from Paperchase. The problem is Paperchase’s floral or swirly designs aren’t anywhere near as nice as they were about eight years ago, but that’s ok, because I bought so many notebooks from Paperchase eight years ago that I’m still working my way through them. I will always buy too many notebooks because, no matter what experience tells me, I am always convinced that the next notebook will be The One. As someone who is both massively anti-wasting paper and massively pro beginning fresh notebooks, I can often lead a very conflicted life. I am getting quite excited as I have almost finished this notebook, which I began on June 15th last year with a doodle of a badger that looks more like an anteater who’s just had some terrible news about his family. If I stick to my planned schedule I will probably finish the notebook a couple of weeks before I finish my new book and there is some honest debate going on in my mind as to which will be the bigger achievement.
The cat is called Shipley. He is 15 and a half now but I still think of him as a young upstart, largely owing to the fact that one of my other cats is about a hundred and sixty. Shipley has the foulest mouth of any cat I’ve ever met but, like the friend who has trouble expressing normal emotion and communicates his affection for the people of the same sex who mean the most to him through mild acts of physical assault, his intentions are good. Shipley is interested in everything new that arrives in my house and, within seconds of it coming through the door, will sit on top of it, swearing. Stuff Shipley has sat on top of swearing in the last fortnight includes a big fuck off logpile, a four pack of recycled kitchen roll and the 1970 debut album by the unjustly forgotten and surprisingly heavy British country rock band, Bronco. If Shipley is outside and he hears me arrive through my garden gate, he will run down the path to greet me, swearing, then trot back up the path behind me, still swearing. “Eat my furry fuck trousers, you wolf’s flange!” Shipley will shout in cat language as he jogs in my wake, or “Big white palace of twats!” Sometimes Shipley’s swearing can get a bit much, especially if I’m trying to work, but I know that all I have to do to disable his machine gun profanity mode is pick him up and turn him on his back, at which point he will start purring and padding the air in ecstasy. Cynical people who don’t truly understand cats will tell you that cats live solely for food but that’s untrue. Some cats live solely to stand on top of objects that hold no obvious interest to them and swear then get turned on their back, and Shipley is very much one of them.
This is the third wi-fi router I have possessed since living in my current house. The first stopped working due to generic wi-fi router fatigue. The second was fried during a violent electrical storm earlier this year. I thought this was a freak occurrence but in the twenty four hours following the frying of the router I spoke to two other people in my area whose routers had been fried during the same storm. There’s no 4G or 3G at my house nor in a lot of the places in Devon where I go for walks so during the longer than hoped for gap until I received my replacement router I was without Internet. At the time I was also going through a phase of eating several apples a day. This small period felt like a very tiny insight into what it might be like to live as a horse.
My favourite books, like my favourite records, change on a week-by-week basis, depending on my mood, but I will often state that Ulverton by Adam Thorpe is one of them. Actually, while you are reading Ulverton, there is a very strong sense that it is not written by Adam Thorpe at all, more that Thorpe is a vessel being used for the voices of the long dead, as they tell the story of a West Country village and its abiding witchy legend. This is a measure of how accomplished a writer Thorpe is. Yet Ulverton still remains bafflingly undervalued in the canon of British literature, especially as a book that predates David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in its sparkling ventriloquism and neat knack of using a deft echoing background theme as a way to transform a collection of short stories into a novel of lofty ideas. The only thing I don’t like about Ulverton is that the fact of it already existing means I’m not allowed to write it myself. I was recommending it to my friend Becky the other day and told her that I’d first started to read it in a field in Norfolk in 2001, after breaking down and needing to kill some time. I should have been a bit clearer in my description as, later, when we came back to the subject, Becky said: “Oh, your car broke down! I thought you meant you had a nervous breakdown in a field.” This is how misunderstandings happen and get passed on until they solidify into “fact”, and it’s why you should question everything you’re told about any other human being at every point in your life. It’s also perhaps one reason why Ulverton, a work of fiction, is no less real than a lot of what we call “history”.
POSTER IN A BROKEN FRAME
My parents got a cheap job lot of old posters for art exhibitions at a sale at a gallery in Nottingham during the early 1980s. These hung in their house when I was a kid and had a lasting effect on my subconcious. When my mum and dad redecorated their house a few years ago and were proposing to store the posters in the loft, I kindly offered to look after them. Actually, that’s not true. What I said was: “For fuck’s sake! Don’t put them in the loft! Let me have them.” The most dark and biblical of the bunch – a poster for an exhibition of work by the 16th Century Dutch printmaker Hieronymus Cock at the Westfälisches Landesmuseum in Münster in the spring of 1976, with a frame damaged in its move from my mum and dad’s house to mine – now hangs above my toilet. This means that when men hold their cocks and piss in my toilet, the words “Hieronymus Cock” are directly in their eyeline: a scenario that I did not plan but have not gone out of my way to alter. “Who is Hieronymus Cock?” men will often ask me in the immediate aftermath of their maiden journey to piss in my toilet. “He was a 16th Century Dutch printmaker who resided in Rome from 1546 to 1548,” I will reply. Female visitors to my house, whose gaze will generally be directed at a spider plant and a jar of toothpicks while pissing in my toilet, never ask me who Hieronymus Cock is.
BIG FUCK OFF LOGPILE
I often get logs from my dad, who has an “arrangement” with his local farmer regarding loose wood, but this latest batch were delivered by a huge bearded man called Dan from Dartmoor, who is exactly the kind of soft-spoken giant you hope to find living and working in a forest. What you can see in the photo is around half of them. They took me almost five hours to get from the lane near my house up the hill to my porch, where, after Shipley had sat on top of them swearing, I enjoyed stacking them, to the extent that I feel a crushing melancholy each time I subtract a log from the pile and begin to decimate what might be my life’s grandest work of sculpture. They are a mixture of birch, beech and oak and burn far, far better than any logs I’ve purchased before, especially the ones from my local petrol station, which give off as much efficient warmth as a bag of fifteen lemon drizzle cakes. This is, of course, nothing unique for petrol station logs. In fact, there’s something almost impressive about how uniformly and monumentally shit all firewood from petrol stations turns out to be.
The message on this fridge magnet – “We’ll Always Have Bristol” – suggests there might be some story behind my choice to purchase it: a thwarted love affair beside the Avon, perhaps, that still haunts me to this day. There isn’t. I just really really like Bristol. I got the Fridge Magnet from the Clifton Suspension Bridge Museum, which is free, and well worth a visit, not least for the photo of the grinning Bristol-born Cary Grant next to the bridge and a drawing of a horse being bafflingly suspended over a river on an early version of a suspension bridge, as if in punishment for being poorly behaved.
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You can read more about Shipley in my latest book, or the one before it. The latest one has also just been published in the US and Canada.
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20 thoughts on “NINE OF THE THINGS THAT ARE INSIDE MY HOUSE”
Hugely enjoyable, thank you!
Think I know the gallery the print came from. Was it down Hockley? I got three art exhibition posters from a gallery shop down thee on early 80s too. One for some German artist, one I can't remember and one that was an almost entirely golden mandala. Wish I'd had a frame from it,then mine might have survived too.
I love these kinds of posts. All about different things going on in your life. I hope you have enough wood to keep you and the cats toasty all winter.
I have the same notebook problem! I could dive into a pool of my unused notebooks like Scrooge McDuck!
"This small period felt like a very tiny insight into what it might be like to live as a horse." one of the funniest lines I've read in a while!
Enjoyable as always. I like being heavily impressed by someone's writing, laughing out loud from its wit, and also, occasionally, having to look up a word (flange, in this case).
I never realised Shipley was a cat of mature years.
There is a young* writer named Tom
Whose articles go down a bomb.
He makes us all laugh
And his writing's not naff:
In fact he's a scribe with aplomb.
* Poetic licence
"badger that looks more like an anteater who’s just had some terrible news about his family."
I would love to see that! Just the line made me laugh out loud!
Brilliant writing as always!!
Thank you for brightening up what was threatening to become a sombre Saturday morning, Tom. Swearing Shipley has now taken up residence in my head for the day and I will have the joy of laughter. Your notebook scenario is very familiar. I have a whole boxful of beautiful notebooks awaiting my attention. My trouble is I can't pass a tempting notebook without buying it and also think 'Yes! This is The One!' Sadly the journey of thoughts from my head to the notebook never gets made and so they lie languishing, doomed to keep their pristine beauty forever but never finding their true purpose in life…rather like me. 🙂 xx
Another cracker Tom. I had to resist wanting to add an 's' to Ulverton to make it 'Ulverston', a small town in Cumbria. Harder to resist nipping to the library to see if they have a copy of Ulverton though.
Just the thing to warm my spirits on a chilly Saturday morning!
Another very enjoyable blog, I really enjoy all your stories, especially the great descriptions of your cats! When is your next book out?
Always a pleasure to read your writing. I had no idea that Shipley was 15 1/2. He certainly doesn't look or act like it. I hope he doesn't swear at you b/c you outed him on being a giant mush who likes to lie on his back and be petted.
I strangely love being a voyeur into another persons world however mundane, where you take on a obsessive unhealthy fascination to know more. Like all good books.
Fabulous. I love posts like this. Love the woodpile too. Impressive.
I have a boxful of old shirts from many moons ago. To keep me from going upstairs and falling down them I'll talk about a top-favorite. Sarah's graduation at Antioch College Sitting on the grass, waiting for As You Like It. no stage visible.
Until: a scramble over old fence and the thespians played us all to pieces. I bought the shirt(1995 }and still wear it.
Just bought that very edition of Ulverton from a local charity shop. Read it years and years ago when I had to borrow books from the library and want to see what I think now. Log pile photo has induced major episode of fuel envy and has made my log store think it is most inadequate. And notebooks! I used to use those Paperchase ones for work and loved the way you could bend the covers without the pages falling out. For anyone without a stationery gene I feel sorry that you will never participate in 'the quest for the perfect notebook'. For fellow addicts out there, the Muji ones are my new budget favourites. Please swear at Shipley for me. Love the way his bottom teeth look all vampirey.
Great read! Is there an art to breaking into a new notebook? Only at the last count I had 14 unused but frequently stroked and admired ones just waiting! Not including my pocket notebooks which I have no problem with!
I just love this. That is all. Thank you.