The Country Hello

Walkies is always intoned as a question (walking around a field or two is a collaborative endeavour, after all – a joint decision even if a predictable one); the response comes always via immediately expressive eyeballs (she would fold her arms at a policeman if she could, to show willingness) and, today, came accompanied by a sneeze and a lightning-quick circle on the spot. I needed a walk as much as she did; if indoors is deadlines and computers, stress and anxiety, outdoors is space and wind, trees and open sky. So off we went. I carried her over the initial muddy bit (she is too small, too pristine and too fair to want to wade through it, though she probably would have, with raised eyebrows as a challenge [it’s I who’d have had to bathe her], if I’d not intervened) and plonked her down again for her parade.

Walking my dog is often a sort of parade; she is a bit of a princess, even while sniffing and widdling all over the place, and is met with admiration and ecstasy wherever she goes, mostly because she looks like a cross between a small piglet and a fairy. She is a long-haired chihuahua, built for seasonal jumpers and a penchant for puppy food (by which I mean she refuses all else). When I occasionally mention her on dates (looking after her is an excellent excuse for leaving one early, if necessary), I am on the alert for any judgement; it is an interesting thing that dog breeds can be gendered (as baffling, really, as the fact that colours so often are); I admire a man who can admire a chihuahua and not have to check he’s still got a willy. Continue reading


We were backpacking. Always backpacking – or often. We had no bags with us but were in transit; I know this. Sometimes I wake up remembering how we were, him sitting behind me in a bus, not quite there, not quite not there; me unwinding earphones. This time, we were moving through some station or other, bagless again, not noticeably so, just factually so; except the station wasn’t making much sense – there were trains, I was certain, but also planes and buses and, perhaps, boats. And the central part of it was sunken like the centre of an amphitheatre, its low, vast base a stage, covered with bright green lawn and families picnic-ing. It was some kind of open-air stadium; some foreign, metropolitan quirk; amusing to us that that a station would be so multi-purpose like this; so shaped like a giant amphitheatre; like some great festival we were swinging our way around in this country I don’t know what. We were in the thick of the space, wandering, moving, winding between, wasting time in the midst of dotted groups and families. He was behind me, dawdling, pointing things out and I turned to smile, to say something, or to hear him say something, perhaps wondering if we should find which train or a boat or a plane to catch; perhaps about to suggest we go up the steps to the real part of the station, when, 100 metres behind his shoulders I saw a thing (some temporary thing; maybe a food van) explode. Bang, and the world was a heady, cosmic mess. Continue reading

Can testing cosmetics on animals ever be a sign of sanity? Lab-life with Harvey (6′ 3.5″)

While developing the first products for my natural skincare range, Leafology, I learned that, here in the EU, we are not technically allowed to label our cosmetic products as being ‘not tested on animals’. Unofficially, it’s because we ought not imply that other products are testing on animals, since to do so is illegal; officially, we can’t cite that claim with ultimate confidence since, sadly, the reality is that most if not all of the component parts of a lip balm, cream, gel or lotion will have been tested on animals at some point in history. Therefore, to say that a product has not been tested on animals is misleading in the sense that it can’t always be entirely true, or at least, not if a product is considered the sum of its parts. However, it is at least true that the final product will not have been tested on animals and this can be claimed (thankfully) with absolute certainty; no one will have smeared my body balm behind the ears of a rabbit before it was approved for the market. Sadly, in some countries (notably China), the opposite is true; a product not only can be tested on animals before it ends up in the shops; it must be.

We can allude on our packaging that we are against animal testing (and I allude to such with the use of my hand-drawn effort, below).


The notion of testing on animals is representative of a wide beam of ludicrosity which spans the repulsively cruel (I won’t go into this here because I think it’s needless, and horrific, and obvious) to the plain daft. Daft because the effect of certain cosmetic ingredients on the skin or hair of an animal simply doesn’t enlighten us much about the possible effect on the human equivalent (since they are just so different). The acceptable levels of allergens and sensitisers can’t necessarily be assumed as equal; our human skin varies even between sex (men’s skin is thicker than women’s; the composition of products must be assessed under separate guidelines because of this), so imagine how much it can differ between species. Testing shampoo (etc.) on animals is pure nonsense both practically and poetically. Continue reading

The Others in our Heads

At a writing event the other day, someone read something out during which the main character licks their third left molar ‘and does all the other things we do when we’re uncomfortable’. As the rest of the paragraph washed over me, I automatically licked my own (having calculated at lightning speed which molar the author meant; third from left, third from right?) and observed several others around me discreetly trying the same. Yes, we all agreed in silence while not meeting each others’ eyes; this is what we do when we’re uncomfortable. We lick our third left molar.

Details make for good writing, which is all about truth, whichever brand of truth particularly on offer.

I looked up a book today after a personal recommendation (a book recommendation is a sort of gift; it should never be fobbed off lightly) and read some online reviews. The book had been shortlisted for a massive international prize. ‘Boring boring boring’ said one dissatisfied customer under a 1-star review (zero isn’t an option, as another reviewer noted) entitled ‘Stupefyingly boring’; she went on to announce that she ‘will never again buy novels about men living inside their own heads’. At this point, and after some other reviews (some adoring, some more mixed) mentioning themes of displacement and genre-defiance, I was positively salivating and I couldn’t order it fast enough. Continue reading


You are a man-animal when you sleep. Your breath rustles past airways I would leap through; want to lie beside. You are heavy. Barely awake, but an instinctive arm over and around the shape of me, nustling me in. I can do all the things I always do, forget nothing, explore every side of myself, onward, onward, and something lets me breathe more deeply than ever I have; lets me submit; lets me choose to, only because of you. You ache inside with all the things you understand, and I have seen the same things, and made light of them; I widen a single eye and you release, curling up your mouth, finally understood. Didn’t you build your empire, row by row? Didn’t you burn paper money to find something more real? I was waiting, all that time, and lighting matches, too. Continue reading

All’s well

Whenever an individual, company or organisation sends me an email which starts with ‘I hope your well’, I can’t help but have a pleasing flash of a particular image in my mind before continuing with the missive.

How kind (I think, picturing my well – a deep, narrow drop I imagine in my back garden, quietly existing on its own, darkly and damply) of them to express their concern and interest. It’s lovely to think that complete strangers have high hopes (or hopes of any kind at all) for my well. It’s sweet of them to enquire about it so urgently as to put it at the very top of the email (‘How’s your family? How’s work? Hope your well’)… But I am always left imagining what was meant to come next – what exactly is the nature/content of these hopes – since no one ever finishes the sentence. ‘I hope your well…. isn’t too cold and lonely’? ‘… isn’t too full of stones or sticks or scared of its own darkness’? ‘I hope your well is a source of nutritious, clean water that brings pride and good health to you and all who know you’?

I don’t mind that they get distracted halfway through the sentence and cut straight to a new one; I know the thought is there, of whatever type, and I appreciate it. Thanks.

wellWell’s well.


My windowsill has been quite educational recently; every autumn and winter, colonies of ladybirds gather (I would be a very niche Cinderella, and sadly they don’t chirup at me like the birds, who echo her every intonation before riffing off her suggestions) and huddle. I hadn’t realised ladybirds hibernate, but for the last few years they’ve obviously been sending each other memos – maybe in morse code via the vibrations of their tiny feet – spreading the word that the corners of the windowframe in particular are where the party is happening.  Continue reading