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I bought All Day Long when it was published in 2015; I distinctly remember ordering it online with great enthusiasm following a recommendation from somewhere. As with all parcels, I waited impatiently for its arrival. I then put it on a shelf, where it sat patiently for eight years while I never quite felt in the mood to read it.

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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.

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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…

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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 weekEat 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…

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How I Wonder

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Lying on my son’s bed as he fell asleep, I couldn’t believe quite how much the glow-in-the-dark star stickers on his ceiling resembled the real thing. Even so close, they evade your focus as a real star does from inconceivable distance. As the fovea dances around them and the eye’s blind spot flicks across the imaginary sky, they even seem to twinkle. At the edge, where the landing light spilled through the crack between door and doorframe, there was the last hint of sunset. He snorted, fidgeted, turned around to me and asked: ‘Daddy, what happens if you have a boiled egg?’ I gazed into the infinite blackness between the stars and answered him as best I could, and we drifted together, reassured.

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I write regularly as part of Stories of our Lives, a community writing and storytelling project based in Chorlton in Manchester. Sometimes I’m telling my own story; sometimes someone else’s; sometimes it’s something completely different. You can read my writing on toys, springtime, silver linings and more, along with lots more writing from the community, on the Stories of our Lives website. You can also support the project with a donation or by buying a copy of our first book.

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Go throw yourself into the sea

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A few days ago, when the sun was out, I was walking back from the park, hat on head, sunglasses on face, engulfed in sunblock fumes and feeling just a little bit like I was on holiday, which is a treat of a feeling at the moment. As I got to the corner of our road and stepped into the full sun, tipping over instantly from a little warm to overheating, sweaty mess, a voice in my Henry Hoover screamed loud enough to make actual noise: ‘I WANT TO GO AND JUMP IN THE SEA’. As someone whose default setting is to stay home, the basic fact of lockdown hasn’t been much hardship to me: less an oppressive restriction, more an unhealthy indulgence of my instincts. But suddenly I was absolutely screaming sick of it, selfishly furious that the tiny round bastard was stopping me from jumping in the sea….

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I have now meditated at least once a day for 134 consecutive days. This is no kind of milestone. I know it isn’t, because I understand numbers, but also because my meditation app has not sent me a little notification and is still telling me that my next milestone is in 7 days. It also tells me that I have, so far, reached seventeen milestones, which it helpfully lists as: 10 consecutive days; 10 consecutive days (again); 20 consecutive days; 30 consecutive days; 40 consecutive days; 50 consecutive days; 60 consecutive days; 70 consecutive days; 80 consecutive days; 90 consecutive days; 100 consecutive days; 110 consecutive days; 120 consecutive days; 130 consecutive days; 50 days with a meditation; 100 days with a meditation; and 150 days with a meditation. It is partly to spite my meditation app that I am writing this on a day with so little numerical significance….

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