Mad Scientist Journal interview

If you didn’t see my post on facebook or twitter, Dawn Vogel interviewed me for Mad Scientist Journal about my story Ludwig, which is forthcoming in the MSJ anthology I Didn’t Break The Lamp. I talk about felt presence, synaesthesia, and — of course! — imaginary friends.

Thanks to Dawn and Jeremy Zimmerman for letting me ramble on at length about some of my favourite topics.

Losing the plot, and finding it again

As you may know, I have hypergraphia. As far as I can tell, I’ve always had it. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t driven to write. I have never been diagnosed with any of the frequently associated conditions.

While I will write on anything, if there is no other option, the relief valve only really opens properly if I’m able to use a very specific combination of pen and paper. What that combination is has changed over the years. The earliest preference I can remember was for wide ruled A4, and some sort of 0.5mm fibre tip. Years later, my preference moved onto a specific weight of narrow-ruled feint and margin A4, and a Bic cristal grip biro. I still have a stash of thirty or so of these pens in a ziplock bag, and find them in random places around the house, even though my preference had changed before we moved here. For a number of years I was using these biros with a black, hardcover Moleskine, and then I obsessed over a Platinum Carbon pen along with the carbon black ink, or a Noodler’s Bulletproof, also in black. Eventually, Moleskin changed the paper they use, and I rekindled my love for different fountain pens and ink. So many inks! ALL THE INK. ALL OF IT.

Frood had to make me some shelves for it all.

I switched allegiance to Lechtturm maybe a couple of years ago, and since then have been filling out page after page of these wonderful notebooks using a variety of fountain pens and inks. I have a taste for sheen but also like a fine line, because I write small. It helps to have pen friends, with whom I can use Tomoe River Paper and broad nibs, and indulge my love of the sheen monster.

My most recent notebook (not to be confused with my commonplace, which is also a Lechtturm, but dotted; or my work notebook, which remains a Moleskine) is a ruled Lechtturm Medium with a delicious metallic copper cover, the first time I’ve used anything other than a black notebook. I carry it with me everywhere, along with about four or five other notebooks of varying purpose. It is a comfort blanket, and a retreat. If I feel that oncoming surge of being overwhelmed, I can dig it out, and just knowing it’s there can be enough to let me continue pretending to be typical. If it’s presence is not enough, then I can allow myself ten minutes to write, and that, along with isolating headphones and a sign on my chair that asks people to leave me alone unless it’s an emergency, usually does the trick.

It’s important, this book. It’s like having a therapist on speed dial. Often, when we’re driving to work, I’ll keep it in my hand instead of packing it in my bag. Like a comfort blanket.

Which brings me to this morning. I had an early meeting, and things to organise, and was on early Floof duty, so things were a bit hectic. We were about to sit down in the car to go, when I realised I’d forgotten my coffee. I dumped my stuff in the back seat, put my notebook on the roof, and dashed back into the house to grab it.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

Yes, dear reader, I forgot it. We got about halfway to work when I realised. At this point I thought maybe it was in the car somewhere, maybe under the seat, or I’d left it in the kitchen; but I was still sitting on a big bubble of panic. Imagine leaving your wallet somewhere and not having the option of cancelling your cards, and all the money you had left for the rest of the month was in it with no way to get more. That kind of panic.

When I got home, I shoved Floof in the kitchen, didn’t even feed her (sorry Floof!) and went back out in the car to look for it. Having driven round the furthest I think we could have got without it already having dropped off, unsuccessfully, I returned home and fed the dog. Then I went back out on the bike. It’s slower and has the advantage of height.

I found my notebook. It was in the long grass, about a mile from our door.

A car has driven over it. More than one, probably. Maybe a tractor. I was lucky that we didn’t have any rain today; it has survived remarkably well, although I doubt I’ll be writing any more in this one. I’ll have to cut out the filled-in pages and tuck them in the pocket at the back of the replacement I ordered this morning before I even knew for sure if I’d lost this one.

Another Lechtturm, again in delicious copper. This one will not be permitted any free-range activities. They clearly have the same traffic sense as Floof.

Anchor away

Two months ago, we adopted a five-and-a-half year-old Siberian Husky/Alaskan Malamute cross. We’d been looking for a dog for almost two years at that point, and had been unsuccessful in persuading the Rescue Centres that the dogs we liked were suitable for us, and us for them.

But that was fine. We weren’t interested in any particular dog, we were interested in the right dog. We were about to register interest in yet another collie, only to be pipped at the last minute. I found out when I opened the website to show a work colleague who had also recently embarked on the dog ownership adventure.

Although disappointed that our pick had gone, I spotted a dog that hadn’t been there even that morning. After a quick check with Frood, I filled out the form, and after that it all happened very quickly.

Squinting

Floof at the Beach

They asked us if we were prepared for the settling in period. She may go off her food, or have digestive upsets. She might chew. The very nice woman who did the home check told us her most recent adoption ate her husband’s wallet and mobile phone, as if this were the naughtiest thing imaginable.

Our sofa was inexpensive. Wallets and phones are replaceable.

As it turned out, she had none of those problems. A little unsettled the first weekend, but she made herself right at home, aided no doubt by suddenly going from half an hour of walking a day to between one and three, with trips to the beach and expeditions into the forest.

She has been a sweet, friendly, happy and yet still independent addition to our small family, and I love her to bits.

This morning we had our first dog-related breakage.

A broken mug.

Yes, it’s a mug. It’s a 1991 Nexus Design Celtic Knotwork bone china mug, and you can find one on Ebay for less than a tenner (not counting the nearly 25 quid postage from the States, which renders it unjustifiable).

It’s not Ming. It’s not even Royal Doulton.

It’s only a mug.

But I bought that mug from a shop in Tobermory in 1992, still dressed in a wetsuit from diving the Hispania that morning. I’d sat in a bathtub at a depth of 30m while my Dad watched and my Uncle Bill operated our RIB up top. That evening, we went to get air from the self-operated machines at Loch Aline, humping the tanks up the hill on foot. Afterwards, we went to the pub, and Uncle Bill bought me pints of 80 Shilling until I was drunk, and Dad gave me a fistful of coins so I could call Frood on the pub phone and play “No, YOU hang up!”

It was the only time I’d been on a trip with my Dad and Uncle Bill and not had the rest of the family along. It was special, and the memory is precious, because I didn’t get to spend enough time with my Dad. I was sent to school in England at the age of 15 and didn’t come back to stay a significant amount of time for another 20 years. On the rare occasion I was back home, Mum and Dad were usually busy, and the motor racing and the business and the foreign trips took up so much time I hardly got to speak to either of them, never mind hang out the way I did with Dad that long weekend.

It wasn’t Ming, it wasn’t even Royal Doulton.

But it was far more than a mug.

It was my fault; I should have been more careful. I should not have started playing with the dog before making sure this memory anchor was safely out of reach.

If it were easy to get, I’d buy another in a heartbeat. Not the same mug, no, not the one I handed over cash for while dripping on the floor of the gift shop and explaining that a cold wetsuit is a horrible thing and we were diving again that afternoon (we did, and I had a close encounter with a friendly seal who nibbled my fin).

But near enough to cradle and remember a time when Dad and I were close.