21 Jan

The Long Take (Robin Robertson)

This is an unusual book that feels like it shouldn’t be unusual. A long poem or verse novel set in the post-WWII USA, The Long Take is accessible enough that I can easily imagine a world in which it kicked off a popular interest in its form. Perhaps if it had won the 2018 Booker, for which it was shortlisted, this wouldn’t feel like the kind of thing only bookish weirdos with English degrees read, novels-in-verse would be less of a rarity, and I wouldn’t have found this one in a remaindered book shop at a knock-down price.

Then again, The Long Take does suggest some reasons for the cynical to doubt it ever had a chance at mainstream popularity. Its cinematic motifs trigger the thought that poetry is not a form amenable to lucrative film or TV adaptations. (2018, incidentally, was the first year a graphic novel was longlisted for the Booker; I understand that form has had some success in the world of moving pictures.) The poem also puts across quite strongly the idea that human people might be more important to our cities than cars and car parks, a position this country is deeply suspicious of.1

I’d like to live in a world where there were more books like this on the shelves, but so far I have made no effort to seek them out for my own shelves, so I can’t really complain. Perhaps there are loads of recent verse novels out there waiting for me. If so, I’m grateful to The Long Take for prompting me to look for them; if not, I’m just grateful to have chanced across this one.

But I’ve seen what happens to people who seem unsympathetic to car parks on the internet, so to placate the most tedious 🤣-posters on Facebook, I award The Long Take no stars. ☆☆☆☆☆

  1. It’s not that hot on other ideas expressed herein, like ‘war is bad’ or ‘poor and disabled people count as people’, but it at least knows it ought to pretend sometimes. 

10 Jan

The City and the City (China Miéville)

I’m always delighted to approach books (and other works) with as little knowledge about them as reasonably possible. (If you’re the same, and you haven’t read The City and the City, then please forgo reading this post, which contains conceptual spoilers if not plot ones.) This novel, which sat vaguely on my reading list for some time until I received it as a Christmas present, occupied a middle ground: I vaguely knew the central conceit of its setting, but nothing beyond that.

How delightful, then, to discover that my understanding was wrong. I had The City and the City categorised as sci-fi; I thought its twin cities Besźel and Ul Qoma occupied the same physical space through some quirk of physics or magic. The novel doesn’t outright contradict this, but it certainly doesn’t require it: the two cities, and the skin between them, are seemingly constructed entirely in the minds of their citizens. The City and the City isn’t sci-fi: it’s polsci-fi.

And the real trick is that these two strange cities aren’t really all that strange. Detectives’ frustrations over jurisdictional issues are familiar from a thousand more conventional police procedurals. Citizens mark their belonging by dress and manner, as they do everywhere else on Earth. Their borders are imagined; so are ours. The difference is merely topological, but it is a difference that provides a valuable lens through which to view borders and nationality and citizenship. (And perhaps the topology isn’t so strange after all: the UK’s hostile environment shows us all too clearly that borders don’t stop at the border.)

The blurb of my copy tells the reader that the protagonist ‘must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other’. That’s the promise that gets the novel off the shelf: what makes it great is that the promise is a lie.

For misleading me in this way, I award The City and the City no stars. ☆☆☆☆☆

06 Jan 11:05
The most annoying thing about the unending BBC News notifications about the royal family is that I can’t even reasonably claim it’s an inappropriate thing for the national broadcaster to consider important.
05 Jan 19:02
Delighted by my son’s Duplo Jurassic World magazine, in which a successful dinosaur zoo ticks along nicely with only very mild incidents and nobody gets hurt.
31 Dec 22:06
Bored of the annual ‘Maybe 2023 is going to be less of a chaotic mess!’ dance, I’m just going to start calling every year Year One like in The Left Hand of Darkness.
31 Dec

My 2022 New Year’s Resolutions In Review

Last year, I asked one of the various large language model AIs that people were dicking around with to generate me a list of new year’s resolutions. The year is about to turn, so it’s time to see how I did.

The list starts at 2, for some reason.

2. No more drinking

I stopped drinking a few years ago, so this wasn’t much of a change, but I did toast with a few sips of champagne at a wedding. A fail, if we’re being picky.

4. Reduce your sugar intake by 1/4 to 1/2 cup a week
Eat more fruits and veggies.

That sounds like quite a lot of sugar? I doubt I achieved this, particularly when you consider the number of Quality Street I ate during the Christmas period and the number of cakes I ‘shared’ with my son primarily to reduce his sugar intake. I think I probably ate about the same amount of fruit and veggies. So a fail.

4. Quit smoking

I do not smoke, and didn’t want to start smoking just so I could quit for the sake of this resolution. Fail.

(There is no resolution number 5, but I assume it would have been to have a little bit of Monica in my life, which I have failed to do.)

6. Use a water based artificial pancreas.

Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to acquire a water-based artificial pancreas, let alone use one. To be honest, it sounds like an impractical approach to the problem. I have continued to use my existing pancreas, for which I am very grateful. A fail.

8. Stop drinking soda and coffee

This is probably my biggest fail of the year; I have, if anything, drunk substantially more soda and coffee

10. Cut your diabetes intake from 20 to 12

I don’t know what this means but I’m pretty sure I failed at it.

12. Stop smoking from a doctor’s office

See 4, with the added note that I would never smoke from a doctor’s office.

14. Eat fewer carbs

Almost certainly a fail. Carbs are great.

16. Eat more fruits and vegetables

See 4. The other 4. Why are there two 4s?

18. Stop smoking.

I suppose there’s still time to start.

20. Don’t drink too much alcohol.

At last, a success!

22. Stop playing the role of “mysterious drinker”

I would love to have achieved this, if only because it would mean I was cool enough to play the role of ‘mysterious drinker’. Sadly, I have failed.

24. Drink less alcohol

A success: last year, I drank the entire glass of champagne with the wedding toasts.

Where is resolution 25?

26. Get a tattoo

I failed this one despite Melanie Phillips giving me extra motivation early in the year. Poor work.

28. Stop smoking.

I’m not sure where I can buy tobacco at this time on New Year’s Eve. I think I have to accept that this is a fail.

29. Be self-conscious about your sexual preferences.

A piece of cake: I am deeply self-conscious about all my preferences. Success.

31. Drink more juice.

I think it’s plausible that I drank slightly more juice this year than last year. I need more successes, so I’m going to give myself this one.

33. Stop taking prescription drugs.

I am pretty confident that going off my medication on the word of a large language model would run counter to the next resolution. Fail.

35. Stay healthy.

I’m reasonably healthy, but I did get covid, which seems like a misstep. Overall I’m going to call this a success.

37. Keep your weight down.

A definite fail: my weight has gone up and down more often than this list has told me to quit smoking.

39. Stop using alcohol and sugar in your diet.

The biggest alcohol fail yet: I have cooked with it several times this year.

41. Get plenty of sleep.

I showed this list to my son but he can’t yet read well enough to understand how he is undermining me. A fail.

43. Try to avoid caffeine.

I did this once. Does that count? Probably not. Fail.

23 ‘You’re the man in the hood’,

I’m the man in the hood! A success.

24 ‘You can’t be a bad guy!’ – but what do you think of the video?

I have not been a bad guy and I quite liked the video. Success.

25 No more drinking

Here is resolution 25! Given the next resolution I can only assume this refers to all liquids. A definite fail.

27 No more alcohol

See above.

28 No more sugar!

See above.

29 No more dairy products

An unbelievably boring resolution to close out the list on, and one I have failed at entirely.

So, my successes for the year: I didn’t drink too much alcohol, I’m reasonably healthy, I’m self-conscious about my sexual preferences, I’m the man in the hood, and I’m an OK guy who liked the video. All in all, things could be going a lot worse.

Have a wonderful new year, and may 2023 bring us all the water-based artificial pancreases we need.

27 Dec


In our house, we each wrap up our right foot on Christmas Eve and unwrap it on Christmas morning. It’s odd, I know, but it’s because a few years ago my sister hurt her foot very badly. It was bandaged up for months, and she couldn’t walk on it. But on Christmas Day she unwrapped the bandage to change it, and she thought it looked well enough to leave the dressing off. She managed to get herself around on both her feet that year, and even to take a few steps out into the crisp winter air. She said it was the best present she ever got. So the next year we all wrapped our feet up, as a joke, but when we unwrapped them we felt genuinely grateful. For our bodies, for our health. We’ve kept it up ever since.


In our house, we wrap up our right feet on Christmas Eve and unwrap them on Christmas morning. It’s something my mum used to do, and my dad thought it was weird but he went along with it because he wanted to impress her. She says it’s all about feeling grateful for what we’ve got, even if it’s just our feet, but I’ve always just liked the fun of crunching about with wrapping paper on my foot. If you can’t be silly at Christmas, when can you?


In our family, we wrap up our feet on Christmas Eve and unwrap them on Christmas morning. My auntie goes all the way, with fancy paper and ribbons and bows; visitors sometimes compliment her on her Christmas slippers. Nobody compliments me, partly because I do my best not to meet strangers between the twenty-fourth and the twenty-seventh, but mostly because I just use brown paper bags, tied up at the top. It’s a lot easier.


Round here, we have special socks we put on on Christmas Eve and take off on Christmas morning. Warm feet mean you sleep well so you don’t wake up for Santa. Some people like to go out and run down the street in their bare feet first thing on Christmas day, especially if it’s been snowing: a little bit of discomfort to make the cosiness of Christmas all the better. I’ve heard that’s where the whole thing comes from. But it doesn’t snow as often at Christmas these days, so mostly we just have the socks. I’ve had mine since I was ten, the same pair. They don’t wear out when you only wear them in bed once a year, and mum bought them a few sizes up so I could keep them. They’ve got reindeer on. I hated them when I got them, but now it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.


In my country we give each other socks on Christmas Eve. Some people wear their new socks to bed. Some lay them out at the foot of the bed for Christmas morning. Sometimes, especially if you’re a kid (and you’ve been good, of course), the socks you laid out on Christmas Eve will be full of little presents by the time you wake up. So of course the kids all hope to get the biggest socks they can. Those long ones for wearing under your wellies. Some of the shops have even started selling these novelty oversized socks, just for putting presents in. Which seems like missing the point to me. I suppose you can’t expect kids to care about traditions more than they care about presents, but you’d hope their parents would.


Socks in my stocking again this year. Boring.