Spooky action at a distance

Steve Martin Man With Two Brains

Words are the clothes we wear in the virtual world. And in the past year, they’ve helped me make some of my firmest friends

The Shop Around The Corner
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in The Shop Around The Corner (exactly a zillion times better than You’ve Got Mail)

Can you love someone you’ve never met? Search engine says no:

Nevermet

A trawl of the net suggests this is the majority view. Human beings, after all, engage with the world and each other via their senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell (and at least four others, according to my QI Book of General Ignorance). All entail close proximity.

Besides, the internet is groaning with stories of how “I fell in love online but then we met in real life and he turned out to be 90/a ring-tailed lemur/a twat”. Love can only be real if you can be certain that the person is real, right?

Why, then, do literature and film offer so many tales of incorporeal love? Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a series of seductions by letter; ditto Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse. In Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxane is won over by the words of Cyrano (delivered by the oafish mouth of Christian). In Miklós László’s 1937 play Illatszertár – better known to most in the form of the 1940 Sullavan/Stewart romcom The Shop Around The Corner and the DEAR GOD WHY 1998 Hanks/Ryan remake, You’ve Got Mail – George and Amalia, two feuding employees in a Budapest gift shop, are each engaged in a romantic correspondence with a stranger. The twist, of course, is that they’re pen-fucking each other.

Steve Martin lusts after a cerebellum in a jar in The Man With Two Brains. Joaquin Phoenix goes all googly for a virtual assistant in Her (which I don’t quite buy, because while the idea of a woman who obeys your every whim and never complains is vaguely appealing, the idea of a partner who knows everything is not). And Beauty and the Beast and the Frog Prince are just two of countless fairy tales dealing with people falling for the intangible essence of a person rather than their physical self.

These are all fictions, but they are fictions that resonate, because we like to think that, deep down, we’re not shallow, and that we can love a person for their soul rather than their superficial, transient features.

In any case, it’s not as if remote romancin’ is a new phenomenon in the real world. Thanks to the social taboos around spending time alone with unmarried members of the opposite sex, love letters formed the greater part of the courtship process for centuries. Mozart and Constanza Weber, John Keats and Fanny Brawne, and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are just three of the more famous examples of loves forged or fortified in ink.

And because many countries (including the “civilised” western ones) have a long tradition of arranging marriages*, it’s long been common for people to have little direct contact before committing to each other. Here again, correspondence is encouraged: soul 2 soul > hole 2 hole. What’s more, it seems to work: the reported happiness within, and survival rate of, arranged marriages is considerably higher than that in modern “voluntary” ones.

(*As distinct from forcing them, of course.)

People have been holding torches for faraway souls – royalty, soldiers, actors, writers, Tannoy announcers – for as long as they’ve had imaginations, and the absent can get to you just as effectively as the present. This poor woman was so deeply affected by someone she met online that she ended up being prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Ativan.

***

The secret to this spooky action at a distance, of course, is humanity’s tour de force: language. With words, you can create a representation of yourself that is not confined to one point in space or time.

Some scoff at the idea that Russian-sponsored Twitterbots and targeted Facebook ads might have influenced the EU referendum result and Donald Trump’s victory. To them, I mention only that half the human race still allow their every waking moment to be governed by diktats set down in books written 2,000 and 1,400 years ago.

Words are the clothes we wear in unreality. You don’t (often) get to make them, but you get to choose them, and how to combine them, and the “richer” you are, the wider the options open to you. With time, a spellcheck, maybe even a friend’s judicious eye, you can step out into the virtual world as if fresh from a Gok Wan makeover.

As the very existence of the field of forensic linguistics proves, your use of language is as unique to you as your fingerprint (assuming you’re not a copy-and-pasting Brexit fanatic).  Your language reveals everything important about you: your values, your interests, your sense of humour, your level of education, and usually, despite your best efforts at airbrushing, your attitude to the world.

And it was precisely the discovery that others shared my values and humour that, over the last few months, brought together one of the most cherished groups of people I’ve been part of.

Steve Martin Man With Two Brains
Me and ma buds, hangin’

For me, it’s been the sole silver lining to Brexit. After bonding on Twitter over the inanities of the far right, a few of us started a chat with a view to meeting up at the March for Europe in London in March 2017. Only a handful made it, and we didn’t actually hang out for that long, but the chat chuntered on, and slowly, as we found more like-minded souls, we added them. Boys and girls, straight and bi, from Manchester to Bulgaria to Denmark, liberal and anti-fascist, mostly of a similar age (with me as extreme outlier).

There have been six or seven meet-ups now. Drinks on general election night were followed by an Ethiopian meal, then a canalboat cruise, then an eggs benedict sleepover. Geographical distribution means I haven’t met them all yet, but I’ve checked off about half the group in six months.

But like I said, screw the real-world stuff. Mostly we talk shit. We share pictures and jokes and tweets that we love, as most groups do, but we also flirt, sympathise, praise, share intelligence on Nazis, and sometimes get wasted and stay up all night playing Twitter Countdown. Oh, and because we’re all snowflakes that melt at any temperature above -272C, the slightest ill-considered comment can send any of us hurtling out of the group, only to return after three days or so of grovelling and cajoling.

In what’s been an exceptionally difficult year for me, thanks to some serious health problems, the Tits have been an endless source of support, fascination and joy (and grief, but nothing comes without a price). Less spooky action at a distance, more strong nuclear force.

***

The argument that virtual interactions are plainly inferior to real weakens with every passing day. The ability to share pictures, audio and video has already narrowed the perceptual distance between us, and as the functionality of social media is slowly engineered to replicate real-world interaction (Facebook and Twitter likes are nods and smiles; retweets and shares are laughs; gifs, I guess, are goofy facial expressions), so our online and real-world experiences fall into ever closer step.

You can’t entirely trust those visual and auditory signals, of course – catfishing is a real problem – and you still don’t get any hormonal chemistry online, one of the principal components of attraction.

Well, not directly. Recent studies have shown that getting likes and retweets from an online crush can cause a similar spike in the “love hormone” to that caused by physical contact. How fucked up is that? A little character appears on your phone, as a result of someone you’ve never met typing something into their phone a thousand miles away, and causes an actual chemical change in your brain! People can change your mood, and your mind, and your heart, from afar.

Then of course there are the aspects of remote relationships that are superior to their physical equivalents. Objectivity. Disinhibition. Novelty. The thrill of the not-quite-known.

In fact, if I ruled the world, I might insist that all future human relationships be conducted on a virtual basis. Because based on my record, I’m better off keeping the flesh well out of it. I might have a shot at charming your pants off from 500 paces, but move me 499 paces closer and chances are I’ll just soil my own.

People are, after all, just an idea, even when they’re in your arms. Sure, your proximate senses give you a firmer grip on that idea, but ultimately, you have no way of knowing for sure whether they are real, whether the sensations in your fingertips haven’t just been planted there by some malign entity. You might be living in the Matrix.

Meanings change fast. We use the word “virtual” these days in opposition to the word “real”, forgetting that until very recently its only sense was “almost or nearly as described”, ie pretty much as good as the real thing. I’d argue that before long, its semantics might morph again, so that it comes to mean “better than the real thing”.

“Hold up, Bodle!” you cry, smirking. “This is all very well, but you’ve missed out one crucial element. If you never meet someone, you can’t have sex with them.”

Ha, yeah! I used to think that too.

Quantum entanglement

Northern lights

‘What sort of guy do you think you’ll end up with?’ ‘Someone like you.’

Northern lightsI’m an echo. A ghost haunting a dead body.

I’ve hurled myself against the world, and haven’t left a smear. Nothing I do seems to matter.

I’m glad R cancelled our film night. I’d rather drink alone anyway.

It probably means I won’t go for that swim tomorrow, but … What’s the point? The only people who see me naked these days are the guys in the pool changing room.

***

The cold is definitely colder when you’re alone.

***

Shouldn’t have bothered coming to this. I mean, I like the night and I like the people, but B usually ends up making me feel shit about myself and I just end up bitter about all the luminous beings I’m too old and ugly to fuck.

Ha. Bet she’s a handful. Edgy, flirty, naughty. Not my type at all, mind. Bloody cocksure, as well. That would get old really quickly.

She’s quite fun to talk to, though. Anyway, I’d better leave her to her work. She’s –

“No, keep talking to me. I like it.”

That was sweet. And forthright. And a little bit patronising.

And actually, that might not be a terrible bum. Still. Definitely no spark there. Plus, she’s too young. And has tattoos. And lives in a squat.

***

How fucking cool and brave is that, living in a squat? And now that I think about it, the tats kind of suit her.

***

So having cancelled our last meeting at the last minute, P asks me to see an exhibition at the National Gallery with her … and then fails to show up. She “forgot”, her text says. At least she’s honest.

“Don’t take it personally,” people say when these things happen. How else are you supposed to take it exactly?

Thanks to my stupid work hours and my friends all getting married and moving away, I barely get to make plans any more. And when I do, they either pull out at the last minute or fail to show up altogether.

Mind you, what am I missing? I hardly ever enjoy myself anyway. I can barely remember the last time I felt anything approaching joy. I get the occasional kick out of playing Magic; sex is still OK, when it happens; and writing something I’m proud of still feels pretty good.

The solution would be to stay in and write. If the ideas hadn’t gone.

***

So, what do we reckon the chances are of her showing up? 40%? 30%? Yes, she wants me to look at her stuff, but a) any fucker with a basic grasp of English could do that and b) the rules of basic courtesy apparently don’t apply to meetings with me.

Wow, she made it. And on time, more or less. Those leggings are … interesting.

This is more fun than I expected. It’s easy being me when I’m with her. Don’t get that a lot.

But nah. She doesn’t fit the template. She’s no Kath or Elinor or Becky or Charlotte or Kate. And she has a boyfriend. And that’s before we even address the question of whether she’d be remotely interested in me in a million, trillion years.

Wouldn’t mind hanging out with her again, though.

Bless her soul, she has like twenty quid to her name and will not stop offering to pay for things.

***

What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be getting sweaty and dizzy after a short, brisk walk. I’m not tired or out of breath, per se, just … dizzy. Clammy. Fuzzy. And it feels like … there’s a coating on my lungs. If it’s a cold, it’s a persistent bugger. That’s two months now.

***

I killed myself 13 years ago, when I pumped myself full of coke and wine and tobacco and jacked off to porn every weekend for two years in an attempt to block out the pain. I succeeded, but in the process, I blocked out the pleasure, too. Now life just sort of … happens.

Christmas. The latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine. Writing stories, making models, chasing girls, driving fast: everything was just so sharp and bright. What happened?

***

Beer in the afternoon. Before work! Haven’t done this in ages.

She’s so open with me. This is only the second time we’ve met properly and already she’s telling me she’s cheated on her boyfriend. I feel compelled to be open with her, too.

God, that laugh. Somewhere between a purr and a scrappy gear change. I want to make her make that noise all the time.

And apparently, I can.

***

All right, so I fancy her a bit. But it’s not a problem. It doesn’t get in the way. And for fuck’s sake, it’s not as if I’m ever going to act on it.

***

E’s being very chatty and complimentary tonight. Five years I’ve been coming to this pub and she’s always been pleasant, but now she’s … obsequious, almost. Yeah, sure, let’s be Facebook friends.

***

Woah. That’s the third time I’ve woken to a stonking erection in one day. E? The girl in the cafe? Painkillers? Relief at finally finishing last blog post?

I actually want to go for a swim today. That’s five in a fortnight and no massive benders. Might be able to look at myself in the mirror again one day at this rate.

Fuck’s sake. I invite J to the radio recording, get no reply for 3 days, invite W instead, and then 5 minutes after she accepts, J replies in the affirmative. So I uninvite W, and five minutes later, J messages to say, a propos of nothing, that she has a boyfriend.

***

Am I doing the right thing posting this? It’s pretty raw. I can see this losing me friends, and it’s not as if I have them coming out of my ears these days.

But it’s true, and I think there’s some important shit in there that people should be thinking and talking about. (Plus it might go viral and get me a book deal.)

***

Phew, I guess. Just the one friend down. Most people took it as it was intended and responded positively, supportively. And who was the most positive and supportive of all? What a detailed, considered, thoughtful, articulate, honest email. I respect her, and thank her, so much for that.

***

Not sure if it was right to invite her to this. She doesn’t know anyone. It’s cliquy. She’s not a comedy writer. And we’re not even reading out one of my scripts so that she can see how fucking hilarious I am.

But … she’s fitting in all right. And enjoying herself, I think. God, the bitch can literally talk to anyone.

M looked a bit jealous. 🙂

***

Now I know I’m prone to misinterpreting signals from women, but surely this counts as a promising message? “You are really really interesting and funny … Let’s go for coffee.” OK then, E, you’re on.

Ooh. Now it’s beer.

***

“Thank you for helping me, I truly love spending coffee time with you or just exchanging emails, makes me feel nice!”

***

Old Mother Hubbard II
After two weeks of peace, neighbours called the police,
Who broke down the door and discovered
Rex, full of vigour,
And marginally bigger,
And no trace of Old Mother Hubbard.

“Honey, I’m comin’ home!”

I’ll put the kettle on and sacrifice a goat.

“A little boy, please!”

***

So we’re meeting for this beer that E wanted so badly … and she turns up (on time) dressed to kill and kisses me far too close to the lips … and then she sits down and tells me she’s pregnant with her fiance’s child.

Yay. Another friend.

James Thurber’s One Is A Wanderer is basically a portrait of me.

***

Wow, a kiss on the neck? She sure is bold, this one.

and she loves the bikini and she loves the pill in the ring box and ok so the comedy’s a bit shit but basically this is cool

god did i really say that that was actually quite funny well she seems to think so anyway ha

the MC’s just asked if we’re together that’s hilarious how could anyone think we’re together she’s like … loads younger and hot and cool and shall I say we’re together fuck it, yeah I’ll say we’re together GOD NO THAT’S THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER SHE’LL KILL ME – “Yeah, we’re together” –SHIT OH SHIT OH – thank god she’s going with it and no one in the audience has given us a funny look or anything

i guess if we’re together i should probably put my arm round her

and now i guess i should hold her hand because she gets me and i get her and it feels right and it must feel right for her too cos she’s holding it back

don’t go for the kiss though it’s tempting but that’s not what this is about

i don’t think

***

La da dee, la da dow. La da dee, la da dow. La da –

What the fuck? I haven’t sung out loud since 1998.

***

“Smooch … from my scandalous mouth.”

***

“I don’t want to hear about anything to do with other women!”

***

I’m actually having ideas. For things to do. I want to learn the piano, I want to write a screenplay, and I want to go on a cruise and see the Northern Lights.

But I don’t want to go alone. Who …? Yeah. She’s crazy enough. Not crazy. Open. Free.

Fuck it, why shouldn’t I ask her? OK, sure, so she’s taken and she’s poor and she’ll probably run a fucking mile, but … It hardly costs any more for two than it does for one anyway.

And I don’t want to go alone.

***

“I love it!!!

“I’m already so excited I can’t get to sleep!

“I just need a warm jacket and shoes.

“Yes!”

I knew she’d say yes.

***

“Hey, listen, I’m gonna say it because I am thinking about this trip of ours.

“1. I like it. 2. I like you. 3. I understand you like me

“BUT

“I know I am super flirty chatty and open towards you, but whatever we do together or don’t do together I really would like us to be in a friendly relationship which would exclude sex at any point under any influence. Seriously, I like you in my life and you know I’m in a sort of complicated relationship but I would really appreciate if we could have this cleared out and keep it that way.

“Also I would like to be a bit more honest towards my boy and not behave like a bitch as is my usual approach to people in general, even though I like them very much.

“So that’s me … Simply don’t take me for holidays if you want something to happen because i would like to avoid this scenario …

“Uuffff … So serious … Hope you understand this and as ridiculous as it may sound I just wanted to say it.”

This was never about the fucking. I mean, sure, if she held a knife to my balls and demanded that I service her, then maybe I’d consider it. And it would probably be great.

But it’s not IMPORTANT. It’s so far down the list – way below the fun we have together, the quantum entanglement, the spontaneous conversations, the freakish detours … There’s no way I’d jeopardise any of that for the sake of a quick legover. My penis doesn’t get a say in this one. It’s too important.

I will cope just fine with my friend without benefits because the friendship is amazing.

Besides, it’s highly unlikely that I’d be able to keep up with her.

***

“Andy, I don’t think I can go.

“I mean, for a coffee I can, but not on the trip. I’m sorry.

“I hope you understand. I have thought about it a lot and wanted to tell you in person but I realised that its not a good idea. I am with a guy I love and I intend to stay with him. I think I have sumthin to return to you and if you wanna continue being my friend and work together on fun stuff then I’m super happy, but I’m feeling a bit pressured by the way you are towards me. As much as I am warm towards everything and people in general there is a line I don’t want to cross.

“I’m just tellin’ ya how I felt and at these moments I tend to run away, so it’s better to say it, not run, and be mates:)”

I knew she’d say no.

***

Northern lightsYou get me. I get you. That hardly ever happens. I have so enjoyed the things we’ve done together: emails, coffees, writing, drinking. So have you. I’d like to try doing a bunch of other stuff together, because I think we’ll enjoy those too. Comedy. Photo shoots. Holidays. And one day we’ll overstep the boundary and we’ll stop because then we’ll know what the limits of our friendship are, and we’ll have had a shitload of fun finding out.

Regardless of how I feel about you today, regardless of how I feel about you tomorrow, I swear to you that you will always, always be able to trust me, absolutely.

***

“Hey hon,

“Everything you say is right, everything I said was wrong 😉

“Now lets go back to fun!”

***

When you’re young, you have passion and energy to burn, and no technique or wisdom. When old, you have plenty of technique and wisdom, but you’re all out of passion and energy.

Is there any point at which the two phases overlap? If there is, I must have missed it.

***

Weird. You still look like my dad. But you stopped being my dad, what … 20 minutes ago?

I don’t know what you’re supposed to think at this moment.

Yes I do. You worry about Mum. That’s what you’d want, right?

Why am I asking you?

***

I want to talk to someone. Someone who isn’t my mother. I mean, of course I want to talk to my mother, but I have to be strong for her. Just … now, right at this moment, I would like someone to be strong for me.

***

So, we’ll just organise one fuck-off party and then, if one of the guests just happens to be a priest …

“Then we’ll see what happens!”

This marriage joke is getting out of hand. Excellent.

“And I do quite like your surname!”

***

So my mum’s got cancer and my dad’s dead and I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis and my job is driving me insane and my flatmates are a nightmare and my sitcom’s been rejected and my last four dates have all wanted to be friends but what’s the point in more friends when all the ones I have keep letting me down and now this –

This fucking infection. Why won’t it budge? The sweat, the lingering burning smell, the fug. And I keep getting flashes of pins and needles all over my body – especially in my head. Might as well take some of Dad’s antibiotics. He won’t be needing them.

***

“You can be so sweet sometimes.”

***

coffee walk food flirty chat and now we’re having a massage together this is an adventure and oh now she’s in her pants and she’s turning round to show me her tattoo and …

yep

OK

and jesus this masseuse has touched my balls like 48 times in 20 minutes i wonder if hers is touching her up too oh dear lord i might actually be smiling

she’s like the rain on my face

i like her bum but i love her eyes hungry eyes darting flirting daring staring fuck-you fuck-me eyes

***

“Read most of what u sent me, a few things made me laugh out loud, but boy the thing that you got in a few of ’em that you ain’t good enough for the girl, that’s just bollocks!

“Cant wait to read one about me, lol!

“Xxx”

***

Does every pregnancy have to destroy a friendship? First A, then W, then C, then D, now J. Is there some sort of “life for a life” rule I don’t know about? Is this Dunbar’s number in action? Am I the 151st friend? Or do you just have to build a new friendship on new terms? Would it help if I had a child of my own?

***

i feel terrible cos I hardly spoke to her all night because i was working the door and she was with her friend but this is nice now just me and her and her bike walking and smoking and chatting how can someone be relaxing and exciting at the same time

i need a field of corn to run naked through

***

“I do not give a fuck who thinks what. I am more than happy to be there for you. But for fuck’s sake, gimme a bit of breathing space when we are together!

“Or am I such a flirty stupid bitch that I’m asking for this?”

***

Maybe it’s bronchitis. Let’s see … I have half the symptoms, but … no rattle, no cough, no shortness of breath. Diabetes? Immune disorder? I should probably see a doctor. If I really want to get better, that is.

***

this might not work i mean i wanted to come and i wanted to come with someone and there’s no one i’d rather come with than her but im not sure this is her scene

who am i kidding every scene is her scene

its so hard talking to people when its just me but when its me and her were like fucking magnets chocolate-coated diamond-tipped sex magnets

***

you youve bought me an inflatable cactus for my birthday that’s insane and rubbish and thoughtful and dumb and i shall treasure it for ever

so were shopping now were waitrosing this is so fucking easy you should hire yourself out as a personal shopper babe youd make a killing

or a cooking buddy you could be a cooking buddy cos cooking with you is a fucking blast too

we’re in the zone that zone where either of us can say anything and it will be OK so so what kind of guy do you think you will end up with

“Someone like you.”

you amaze appal impress depress confuse abuse and delight me youre the onion to my cheese the burdock to my dandelion

fuck where the fuck are M and M no text no call no nothing I so wanted you guys to meet fuck

hey babe why arent you joining in poker is the whole point of the night talk, baby, shine! fireball, explode!

and now theyve all gone and youre back again and we’re going on another adventure and we’re drinking in a scuzzy pub and oh fuck we’re trying to get into a strip club and oh fuck she just smashed a wine bottle into a scaffolding pole are you all right babe? and I don’t care that you’re being a bit crazy because we’re a fucking team again

this isn’t chemistry chemistry is dry and rulebound and predictable chemistry is formulae on a blackboard and buchner flasks and bunsen burners thisismagic

***

EAT MY WAKE, REASONABLY FIT 40-YEAR-OLD WOMAN!

Fuck yeah. That’s three swims and two long walks this week. And I’ve had loads of ideas for blog posts and language articles and I’ve started to think I can work my sitcom idea into a really good film.

We’re going to read Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time together and go to the Canal Museum and do a bondage shoot and a thousand things I haven’t thought of yet.

Except we’re going to do none of those things, because you’ve cancelled them all.

***

The bronchitis – if that’s what this is – is becoming unmanageable. I can sort of function normally, I have no problems breathing (although my airways are constantly sticky), and I can still do 10 strokes underwater and swim 40 lengths without a rest, but just walking at normal speed gives me the sweats, and at least once a week my heart becomes a nest of vipers, and the pins and needles are nails and bread knives, and now bits of my head are falling off and I look like a police mugshot after a Saturday night brawl in Rotherham.

I don’t think this is going to go away.

***

“I love you too, Andy. I have no fucking clue how you can stand me.”

***

And everything’s OK. One coffee, one shitty Costa coffee, and everything’s OK. Even after two months, and all those awkward emails and protestations and no-shows, the knife just slipped straight back in the sheath. You’re full of plans again and you want me to help and that means the world to me, even though that is actually a shitload of work and i don’t really have the ah what the heck

and now we’re charity shopping i hate shopping i hate shopping alone i hate shopping with mum i hated shopping with k and l and c and I hate charity shopping more than anything but

not with you

***

“Do you think cheating is bad?”

Yes, I do. Well, no. I mean, it depends. If your relationship is up shit creek and it’s about to end anyway and you just haven’t got round to telling him yet and he’ll never, ever find out, then it’s probably not a hanging offence. But if you’re just feeling a bit horny right now and will feel awful in the morning and have a guilty look on your face when you go back to Arhus and he senses something’s up and you end up confessing everything and you ruin what was a perfectly good relationship, then yes, on balance, I’d skip it.

Granted, you have a piercing intellect and a wicked sense of humour and you’re fantastic company and smoking hot and 18 years younger than me and you’ve been the undoubted highlight of this trip and I haven’t been fucked in for ever … But I have no idea what state your relationship is in, and I’m on my seventh double vodka, so I can pretty much promise you that whatever we manage to get up to will not be worth the potential fallout.

So, even though I knew, the second I put my hand on the small of your back to steady you on the boat to Gozo, that this might be on the cards, and even though I’ve spent every waking hour with you since vaguely hoping that this moment might come, yes, I think cheating is a bad idea.

WHY DID YOU JUST SAY THAT, MOUTH? WHY?

***

You told me you weren’t coming to the book launch an hour before it started. Sorry, you said; we’ll go for a swim on Monday instead. On Monday morning, you cancelled the swim. Sorry, you said; now I can only do coffee on Wednesday. So I cancelled lunch with my friend, because it was my last chance to see you for weeks. And now here I am, with my coffee, alone.

I assume you still want me to edit that thing for you.

***

Just the two swims this week, then.

Fucking hell, that’s a lot of blood. How many samples do you need?

***

I’ve been asked to appear on a TV show on behalf of the Remain camp. I’m pretty confident. I know my looks have faded but I know my shit and I’m sharp as tacks. My emphatic victory is bound to win me the adulation of some starstruck little leftie.

Why can’t we start yet? I’m itching to start. Just a couple more hours.

Boris looks glum. But don’t take pity on him. Put the unprincipled motherfucker in his place.

Back to base for final preparations. Who chose a flying suburban house as our HQ? Let’s step outside for a second – that woman out the back wants a chat. No, we’re taking off again.

Last-minute briefing with the campaign director. This group has a creepy, cultish quality, but it feels like family too.

This one seems keen. Sexy, cool, funny, wicked. She’s … familiar. Like you, but not you. Someone to mess around with.

She wants me to kiss her breast. She wants to be my girlfriend even though she has a boyfriend.

“See you around, I guess,” she says.

“See you around, I guess”? That’s no way to say goodbye.

“Er … I love you?”

And then she laughs, and I realise she’s joking. And in that second, I fall in love for the first time.

***

“Slap my ass if it’s too much, not my face please!”

***

So, there’s nothing wrong with me, huh? All the tests came back negative and there’s no rattle on the stethoscope. And yet here I am, slick and trembling after climbing two flights of stairs, head consistent with a journey through a plate glass window, lungs drowning in their own mucus (don’t they say drowning is the best way to go?), Morse code heartbeat, allergic to myself.

I know I’m dying; I just don’t know how fast. Might be tomorrow, might be in 10 years.

Not that I give a shit, really. I’ve done most of what I wanted to do. Sure, it’s a shame that I’ll never cradle my own daughter, that I’ll never write my own book or sitcom, and that I’ll never throw a massive wedding party for all my mates, and it sucks that I’ll probably never see the those unearthly, swirling lights. But I don’t have any dependents, or world-changing plans in train, or unfinished business, and it’s not as if the calendar was brimming with things to look forward to.

The only thing that really bothers me is that, as things stand, my last kiss will have been that fucking awful night at N’s place, when she decided two minutes into our first kiss that our first kiss was going to be our last. My last act of passion denounced as an act of aggression.

I just … I want to know that she knows. I’ve told her, but words are just words. She’ll find out, I guess, how she’s been the single best thing to happen to me in the last five years, maybe ever, how she’s helped me imagine and enjoy and hope again. But what if I don’t wake up tomorrow? She needs to know now. How can I tell her in a way that she can’t fail to understand?

***

Some guys get drunk and send the girl they like a picture of their willy. I got drunk and sent you a picture of my will.

***

“This feels like blackmail.”

I’m so sorry. That’s not what I intended at all. I just wanted you to tell you that you rock my world motherfucker and I don’t know how long I’ve got and I would like to spend as much of that time with you as possible and somehow I haven’t seen my best friend in three months

“Give the motherfuckers who rock your world a bit of time and space and things will fall into place!

“X”

Sure, babe. I’ll make sure my death fits in with your schedule.

***

You’re all take and no give. You’re a vampire. You suck everything of value you can get out of someone, then toss aside the husk.

Hm. Maybe that’s a bit harsh.

Promise me, some day, that you will let someone love you. It doesn’t have to be me. But for your own sake, ask yourself this question: if you run away from everyone who likes you, who are you going to end up with?

And that’s a bit wussy.

***

Erenow you were the universe
A galaxy of blazing suns
And now you’re just like everyone
(Though monumentalised in verse)

The fireball has become a squib
Once capital, now lower case
A plain and half-remembered face
Goodbye, Eve; ahoj, surplus rib.

***

We could have conquered the world, you you you she you you she you she and I. Or at least, for a couple of hours a month, unhappiness. Which is more or less the same thing.

Only one swim this week.

There’s still gas moving through the pipes, but the pilot light’s gone out.

***

It’s turning cold.

***

dandelion and cheese

Northern lights