Today I disappeared into a lightless, windowless, soundproofed room, four or five feet square, with nothing but myself and a book for company for three days. This would be a lifetime’s ambition fulfilled were it not for the fact the book is one I wrote and I am in this foam-lined oubliette in order to read it aloud while a man in the next room along records it for publishing-in-audiobook-form purposes.
And so, rather than a lifetime’s ambition, it is more of a nightmare realised. No writer wants to hear their own words out loud. The inner critic does not need such abundant fodder. The inner critic gorges and then vomits in your soul for days, weeks and months thereafter.
And no one on Earth, apart from sociopaths, fools and children, wants to hear their own voices played back to them (which happens on the many, many occasions when you make a mistake and have to rewind and patch it in a way that matches the pitch at which you were originally speaking).
It’s my first novel (Are We Having Fun Yet?, out 14 October, I’m told) and reading out things you’ve made up is, interestingly, even more humiliating than articulating facts. I suppose the burden of responsibility is heavier.
Still, a windowless, soundproofed box of one’s introverted own doesn’t come along very often, so I will try to enjoy as much of it as I can while I can.
I emerged from my cell today to read that Edinburgh Castle had been seized. “Oh no!” I thought, aghast. “What base treachery has occurred?” But not for long, as I basically knew something completely stupid must be going on.
And so it turned out. Twenty protesters had – is the word “stormed”? No, it’s not. Twenty protesters had entered the castle without paying for tickets and started yelling about the castle belonging to the people, taking their power back and restoring the rule of law. “We can’t sit back and let everyone perish under the stupid legislation and fraudulent government tyranny,” said one ticketless Braveheart. They were seizing it under section 61 of Magna Carta, they shouted.
It is a favourite section of Magna Carta for a certain type of activist (generally anti-lockdown, anti-vax and so on) because it granted powers to “assail” the monarch and “seek redress” and because they ignore the fact that such powers were only ever granted to 25 barons (to enforce the charter), were removed within a year and were never incorporated into English law. The Edinburgh protesters might also have paused to consider that no section at all of Magna Carta has ever applied to Scotland because King John signed it in 1215, before the Act of Union. Maybe next time they can get together with the idiots who picketed the BBC a few weeks ago outside a building the corporation sold in 2013 and hire a factchecker for an hour before they head off. Even the best-laid plans gang aft agley, after all.
Scientists have succeeded for the first time in breeding from pluripotent human stem cells brain organoids that spontaneously developed bilaterally symmetrical, fully integrated optic cups that respond to light. In layperson’s terms – the clever people have managed to grow little brains from stem cells that then went on to develop little eyes, for the first time. It is a breakthrough that will allow better research into embryo development, congenital eye disorders, tailored drugs and transplantation therapies.
It’s a piece of good news, in other words. Especially, as the stories mount of Dominic Raab and his £40,000 holiday in Crete while Kabul fell and during which he was “too busy” to make a call likely to secure the safety of Afghan interpreters who had worked for the British military and were now in particular danger from the Taliban, as it suggests we already have a number of possible replacements for the foreign secretary lined up in the lab. Every one probably possessed of greater intelligence and vision than the incumbent.
A new study reveals that men become a third less fertile after the age of 50. It is another finding to add to the growing pile of evidence that – Charlie Chaplin and Mick Jagger notwithstanding – the irreducible power of men’s reproductive capabilities over time is a myth.
I look forward to the next few days, as I do whenever there is any kind of challenge to The Peen. I enjoy the bat signal that goes out (not in the shape of a bat) to all male writers of a certain type and vintage and the desperate articles and assertions that the study is flawed, the subjects unlucky, or that all the sperm samples were handled by a feminist and thus killed stone dead. All with the steady drumbeat underneath of “Not me! My mighty beast is still full of gametes that could swim the Manchester Ship Canal and still knock twins into you at the end! Not me!” It is my most reliable and fun source of entertainment, and I thank scientists once again for doing us so much good.
Mum is heading up to Preston – or “home” as she still calls it, after living and rearing a family in the capital for the last six decades – for a week to see her brothers and sister (or “real family” as I suspect she thinks of it).
She packs the house into two small bags and instructs me and my sister to “look after your father”.
How? He won’t let us stay with him. “What if you fall, Dad?” “Then I’ll get up.” “What if you fall and you can’t get up?” “I’ll replay Tom Finney’s goals in my head until the paperboy comes.”
He’s a better cook than either of us, so we’re no use there. There’s no tidying to be done because he doesn’t move enough to make a mess. There’s no cleaning because it is only a week and Mum’s trained him over half a century of marriage to use the loo without apparently using the loo (and yes, once I extract this knowledge from her, I shall publish in a small hardback for women everywhere whose partners believe it is the Toilet Fairy who chips their leftovers off the bowl, like some kind of faecal stonemason. It will be the ultimate loo book).
“Shall we just leave you alone, Dad?” I say in the end.
“Would you?” he says gratefully. “That would be lovely.” I might get him three days in a soundproof cell for Christmas.