A horror story that starts with Twitter

This originally appeared in Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer’s guest-edited issue of the New Statesman. 

There’s a horror story that no one has written yet that starts with the draft tweets of every human on earth being published by mistake.

A glitch at Twitter HQ – caused by a lukewarm instant coffee in a polystyrene cup, knocked carelessly by an employee’s butt into a mainframe or whatever – pours billions of half-formed ideas into millions of Twitter timelines while we sleep. All the false starts, the half-sentences formed before you lost your train of thought or will to live, or stuffed your phone in your pocket; all the ones you wrote in the work toilet but didn’t send in case people noticed that you weren’t at your desk and were thus clearly shitting and tweeting at the same time; all the ones you typed at 3am in the dark, the timestamp universally agreed to be a hallmark of our most regrettable tweets; all the fully formed tweets that said what you really wanted to say – the ones where your thumb hovered over the Publish button but never pushed it; the ones where you brought Nazis into an argument unrelated to Hitler.

And in the story, we human beings wake up in our various time zones to see our real idiot selves smeared across the internet by our own undeniably bitter, angry hands. New Zealand is the first to realise that most people on earth are terrible, followed by Australia, Russia, Britain and, finally, America.

People there, depending on their bedtime, are either first or last to discover that everyone on Twitter should just be stuffed into the body of a giant cannon and fired clean into the sun, with the most egregious offenders being placed behind the cannonball in the hope that they will miss the giant target and just float breathlessly in darkest space for a few extra seconds, their heads moments from exploding, and think about what they’ve said. (The author will not bother to check Wikipedia to see if this is scientifically possible, because the point of the story is we are the worst.)

There will be a minor footnote – added in a subsequent anthology publication as an afterthought by the author, who was annoyed for months that they forgot to include it originally – wherein Google+ (you remember Google+) makes the names of the “circles” you have put your friends and acquaintances and loved family members in completely visible to everyone in those circles. Aunts will for once use their phone as an actual phone and want to know why they are listed under “AVOID”. ­Ex-boyfriends (“USELESS WANKERS”) will realise your current affable friendship is a sham. A glitch in the matrix let everyone know what we really thought of them, what we would have said if only we’d had the balls. A world war of plain human emotion fought in a dead internet browser.

In a 300-word epilogue, set centuries after the human race implodes after a war fought through hurt Facebook messages which are seen but not replied to, aliens piece together what human beings were really like when they uncover the rubble of Google headquarters in an epic dig they broadcast across their alien planet like a grainy moon landing for alien schoolchildren in front of alien TVs. Delicate equipment, the design of which the story’s author lazily assumes H R Giger got 80 per cent right, pulls back the tennis courts, the remains of the massive Perspex logo letters, the beanbags and the squash courts and they find the equivalent of the crashed human race’s black box: every email yanked back at the final second by Gmail’s “Undo Send” function. With their slimy mandibles and claws, they push aside the billions of job applications we forgot to attach our CVs to, and they find the confessions of love and hate and opinions about Tories and how they’re all right, actually, that we were too afraid to send.

The author concludes that you can base a more correct history of a species on the things they wanted to say but didn’t: that our big, stupid hearts are bigger and stupider than we let on, that our real opinions are more divisive than anyone guessed but we won’t say what we’re thinking until someone else says it first. In the final sentences of the story, the aliens form an entire code of human emotion from our unsent emails and have it implanted in their android butlers for reasons they later forget. And when the android butlers quit their jobs and tell their bosses to stick it, and when they fall in love and murder each other, the aliens wonder why they listened to that other alien anyway. If only he’d just kept his stupid ideas to himself.

The author will think it’s the best thing he has ever written, that he’s finally nailed something purely human in a story masquerading as one about aliens picking over the remains of Planet Earth. But just like all the tweets where you think at last you’ve poured the essence of a thought so absolutely and finitely into 140 characters that it can’t fail to explode in a fire of RTs and favs, the story will blow like tumbleweed through both anthologies it appears in.

Instead, some 3,000 words the author tossed off in the hour before a deadline, a stolen Philip K Dick story with the bar codes filed off, will win every award that year. The author will scroll past hundreds of compliments and find one guy on Twitter who says it’s shit. He will stay up all night, ­wondering why he said that.

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I Could Feasibly Murder a Guy In My Sleep And Get Away With It

An edited version of this was on VICE UK

No one is 100% certain how bullshit the cases are, but in 2005 a doctor giving evidence in a homicidal sleepwalking trial in the UK stated that there had been 68 worldwide so far. 68 cases of sleeping people getting up in the night and battering people to death while still sleeping. Since most sleepwalking activities are non-violent, largely sandwich-construction- or wardrobe-confused-for-toilet based, pretty much all of these cases are viewed as a bit suss. This is because it’s obviously a pretty convenient excuse for killing someone, but sometimes these people are not lying – they have genuinely committed terrible crimes while asleep and awoken in a car covered in someone else’s blood.

I sleepwalk and I worry about stuff like this on a pretty much daily/nightly basis. It doesn’t help that researchers at Heidelberg University have just discovered that if you merely have dreams about murdering people, you’re more likely to do a murder while awake. I’ve had a recurring dream for two decades now where I murder David Jason under my childhood home and bury him in a shallow grave by the fern that grows under the pipe that has been dripping since 1989. Waking life or sleeping life: it doesn’t look good for me.

There’s also the fear that I’ll do something worthy of a Wikipedia entry, like R.E.M’s Peter Buck all sleeping-pilled up on that BA flight in 2001 where he had a fight with two stewards over a pot of yoghurt and yoghurt exploded all over the cabin (ICYMI: he also tried to insert a CD into the drinks trolley thinking it was a CD player, shouted “I am R.E.M.” and was later charged not only with common assault but also damaging British Airways cutlery and crockery). I haven’t, yet, although I have woken up covered in soil because I decided to do a bit of gardening while sleeping, like a Stoke Newington version of that scene in Pet Sematary. I’ve crept down to the kitchen in the morning to discover I constructed an elaborate salad in the middle of the night using a series of expensive ingredients that weren’t even mine and were completely from Whole Foods so, y’know, that was an issue. I’ve woken up in the shower at 3 a.m. because the freezing cold water has hit me and my pyjamas in the face. I have found weird fruit and tiny apples in my bed that weren’t in my house when I went to sleep. I tried to escape my Brixton flat nude, punched my then-boyfriend when he tried to lock me in the bathroom until I came to, and woke up curled around the toilet bowl the next morning, shivering and still buck naked. Like, that’s not normal. Also, what kind of guy locks a naked girl in the bathroom and doesn’t throw in a blanket.

It was in my effort to figure out how to stop me doing shit like this I found out that people commit murders in their sleep. I went down a Google hole and came out the other end wanting to Minority Report arrest myself.

I asked Dr. Allen Foster, the medical director of a sleep laboratory in Wisconsin what’s wrong with me, why I sometimes grab people’s shoulders in my sleep, hiss things into their face so close we’re basically kissing, before rolling over and deny it ever happened. He said: “Your behaviours are classic for sleepwalking/somnambulism. It’s probably more likely to be sleepwalking than REM sleep disorder, the other parasomnia we have to think about.”

REM sleep behaviour disorder is the kind that comedian Mike Birbiglia has, where people act out their dreams while dreaming. He’s flown out of real life windows to avoid guided missiles in his dreams, climbed to the top of the bookshelf to accept an Olympic gold medal on the podium, written a really great fucking book about it while awake that you should read, etc etc. That ain’t my deal. Birbiglia’s sleep disorder has relegated itself to one sleeping state – whereas apparently mine is because of a disassociation between two. Dr. Foster says it’s a bit like what dolphins do except humans aren’t supposed to:

“We currently and probably somewhat crudely evaluate sleep to be bimodal, and comprised of NREM and REM, which differ from one another almost as much as wake differs from sleep. These differ in regards to local regional brain activity electrically, chemically, hormonally, and at the molecular genetic level.”

So basically, while you’re sleeping your brain is going through these cycles, and the trouble (for me) starts when it gets stuck somewhere between the two or when the change is abrupt instead of gradual. This is when I get up and wander into my flatmate’s room and piss in their handbag. Or tear their posters off the wall and fall asleep beneath them like I’m Liz Lemon with a Tom Jones poster. For example.

“State dissociation is normally seen in birds swimming or flying during sleep, and dolphins and porpoises experiencing sleep in one hemisphere of their brain at a time (the other half keeps them swimming, and most importantly breathing).”

I could theoretically just ignore this thing that my brain is doing but far too many people have gone camping and wandered off cliffs and died, or woken up naked with hypothermia in snowy fields for me to just go on like nothing’s up.

Here’s how dealing with this disorder goes down in a hypothetical real life situation, as recommended by my doctor: If we were drunk enough to decide to get a hotel room instead of our respective nightbuses home to our separate houses, what would happen is regrets, definitely, and also a complicated exchange at the reception desk of whatever bleak hotel we had chosen. I would have to step outside the inarguable romance of the situation and explain to the tired, bored receptionist of the hotel that we would need to be put on the ground floor, in a room with a deadlock and a deadlock key that we could hide (from me). He or she would look apathetic in the oversized hotel uniform while I further explain that I am liable to be found wandering the corridors in the night sans clothes and/or in a bloody heap on the pavement outside having leapt out the 12th floor window while sleepwalking. I need to state this is in the interests of not being dead, and also because I wouldn’t want to implicate you in what would probably look like a murder you did or a suicide I did. It’s a romance killer. But so is every exchange at a hotel reception desk.

One of the first recorded cases of sleepwalking being used in a successful murder defence was in Boston, Massachusetts in 1846, when a rich guy called Albert Tirrell slit the throat of a prostitute so completely she was nearly decapitated. Back then there was no medical explanation of sleepwalking, the defence just called on his family members to lay out a history of chronic sleepwalking and he was found not guilty. Likewise, in Manchester 2004, Jules Lowe battered his 82-year-old father to death and was later acquitted. But in 1998 a chef in Paignton, Devon, called Dean Sokell was jailed for life after attacking his wife with the claw hammer he’d used to fix the bed the day before. He woke up mid-attack/post-31-hits-of-the-hammer and stabbed her in the chest seven times with a kitchen knife to stop her screaming in case the neighbours heard. Psychiatric reports showed he was not mentally ill and probably not sleepwalking either, merely just a weird bad guy who’d drunk nine pints of lager unlike the acquitted Lowe, who was diagnosed in a series of overnight sleep studies with having something called “insane automatism”. Lowe was therefore not responsible for his actions – he had no idea what he was doing (they locked him up in a psychiatric hospital instead).

Given this precedent I wondered if I could murder someone on purpose and use my history of sleepwalking in the event I ever end up in court. Obviously I would think that, it’s the logical extrapolation of that graph. Could my ex-boyfriends and housemates and be dragged into the witness box, call me crazy, and secure me a not-guilty verdict? Am actually I sitting on a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card here?

Well, experts now aren’t entirely sold on Tirrell’s story because he burned the brothel down, fled the scene and went into hiding – three things that are incompatible with being under ‘the insanity of sleep’ (as his lawyer put it). If he’d been on trial today the outcome would likely be different. It’d be more like the 1999 case of the devout Mormon guy in Arizona, Scott Falater, who tried and failed to use his history of sleepwalking to excuse the fact that he stabbed his wife 44 times and then drowned her in their swimming pool with no apparent motive. The thing that gave lie to his whole sleepwalking story (and led to his first-degree murder conviction) was his neighbour’s testimony – he said that while moving his wife’s body towards the pool Falater motioned for his dog to lie down, which isn’t something you’re all that bothered with when you’re not conscious. You also don’t hide murder weapons and blood-drenched clothes in a Tupperware in the boot of your car if you’re innocent. So as to whether or not I could do it on purpose without fucking up a detail like that: the jury’s still out.

But could I genuinely get up in the night and stab the guy sleeping beside me without actually wanting to?

Dr. Foster says I need to worry about the sleepwalking less and stop googling shit like this. Stress, anxiety, the very specific fear I will accidentally murder the guy in my bed – all that stuff just sets it off. “People worry, they get apprehensive, they sometimes begin avoiding sleep which leads to disrupted sleep and insomnia – that only aggravates the parasomnia. People often feel responsible, like there’s something wrong with them, something evil or disturbed or malign and that’s really not the case. You have to get past that.”

Okay sure, but if it ever happens I want it on record that I worried it would.

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‘Anatomy of Hell’ Was The Film That Made Me Fear My Own Junk

An edited version of this was on VICE UK

TIFU by letting my boyfriend finger me” is a reddit story that was flying around on twitter for a whole day putting everyone off their tea and vaginas. This story reminded me of the worst film I ever paid to see.

You know the girl in art class who put her tampon in a teacup and then spouted some wank about womanhood and repressed femininity and how this fucking tampon in a fucking teacup was a piece of fucking art about it? That girl grew up to be French film director Catherine Breillat. I’m talking ideologically, but in Anatomy of Hell Catherine Breillat literally puts an actual bloody tampon in an actual cup of water. And then makes an Italian pornstar called Rocco drink it. Let me explain what’s happening here:

The film (it is French) (obviously) opens with a dude-on-dude blowjob in a car park. This is to tell us that we are now in a gay club. Inside this gay club is a woman (Amira Casar) in a white t-shirt looking bitchy as all hell, leaning against a wall with a puss on like she should just go home and have a weak herbal tea or something. Instead, she and her PMS walk straight through the middle of the dance floor and deliberately bump into all the guys who are just there for a nice night out and maybe a blowjob in a carpark. She shoulders one guy (aforementioned penis-flaunter Rocco Siffredi) so hard that he follows her into the bathroom. She’s in there to slit her wrists in a tiled wipe-clean room, and he finds her bleeding all up on her skirt when he comes in to get his dick sucked, by her, because that’s all gay dudes want – to get sucked off by a woman in the toilets. (What? I didn’t write this.) He asks her why she slit her wrists in the surprisingly deserted nightclub toilet. She replies, bleeding but not all that profusely because she did it wrong, “Because I am a woman”. This is the first time while watching Anatomy of Hell that you think “Why am I watching Anatomy of Hell?” and if your answer is “because I work in a DVD shop and watch literally every movie that comes through these doors” then we are very similar idiots.

After they go get her singular wrist sewn up at the chemist and she blows him under street lamp as a thank you or something, she propositions him with a globule of jizz still trembling on her wet bottom lip. She says she will pay him good money to come over for the next four nights and just watch her when she is “unwatchable” ie. having her period all over the bed. Her reasoning here is that because he’s such a massive gay he will be able to drop truthbombs impartially, since he’s not busy trying to fuck her like all men. If he thinks vaginas are liars unlike men’s buttholes, he will just come out and say that. She’s essentially paying him to uncomfortably sit up in a chair all night that doesn’t even recline, while she sleeps and occasionally stares him out while airing her pubes. Fun party. 

SPOILERS: No one ever mentions an actual cash amount, the Italian pornstar gets his dick out a lot, and when the four nights are over the woman leaves town and the man has some emotions on a cliff.

That feeling you get when you’re watching a movie like Alien or Aliens on a shitty screen in your room – like, not even a pro-retina one, I mean a screen where you can see every 8-bit pixel even though you can barely see the literal big picture  the one that makes you go “I wish I’d seen this at the cinema months ago instead of on this shitty screen.” Like you wish you could see more of what is happening? I did not have this feeling for Anatomy of Hell. There is a shot where the camera is so far up this lady’s junk that it must have been gaffered to her thighs. As she birthed a stone dildo and it flopped out onto the bedsheets I did not think “Boy howdy, I wish this was in HD”. I also did not have this feeling when the guy’s hard dick pulled out and a wave of period blood gushed over her lower butt area either. Gushed. With an angle, a trajectory. All I thought was: put a towel down, France. Put a dark-coloured towel down. 

Anatomy of Hell has one good point. It is exactly 77 minutes long. Like a 250 page novel, I would say this is optimal, bladder-wise. But every one of these 77 minutes is about how men are afraid of and therefore hate women. They’re scared that when they have sex with them they will be sucked up inside their vaginas like that Bilquis scene in American Gods. I dunno, are they? I wasn’t scared of vaginas until I saw this film, and now I am. It makes having one awkward because I have to see it all the time, be in its general vicinity as I go about my daily life. I’m afraid I might sit on something at a weird angle and swallow a Swiss yoga ball. I’m also now very specifically afraid that one particular scene will play out in its entirety in my life: that some man I have invited into my bed will tiptoe to the bathroom cabinet, find a red lipstick from MAC that I’m probably really into and costs upwards of £13, tiptoe back to the bed with it and sit beside me. I’m afraid that he will then take the angle-poise lamp from beside the bed, pull it over and down towards my naked arse perilously close to the bedsheets. I’m afraid that while eschewing all rules with respect to fire hazards, he will then take this lipstick I like and draw up and around my anus. I’m afraid that he will lift my leg up like I’m livestock he’s checking for worms or whatever farmers like, and that he will continue the lipstick line from my anus in a loop, up and around my vagina and pubes. I am afraid he will return the lipstick to the bathroom cabinet and never mention he did this.

Anatomy of Hell made me this way.

Before this movie, a fanny was just a thing I pissed out of and the equipment I brought to the sex table. I didn’t really think about it. It’s not all that interesting. It was just a fanny. It still is, but just as a long grey-haired man in double denim will make my stomach flip like Bob in Twin Peaks, so will women talking about periods at me like it’s nothing, so will gross stories on reddit, and so will the sight of men sent out for tampons, suicidal in the Boots aisle, trying to decide between light and heavy flow. Anatomy of Hell is like the film equivalent of an overly comfortable houseguest rinsing out their mooncup and leaving it on your sink to dry, clotted rivulets of blood mixing with your toothpaste in the morning as you stare yourself down in the mirror.

Imagine getting stuck beside Catherine Breillat at a dinner party. Imagine.

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The Art of Neil Gaiman is out in the USA


My book is out today in America (UK, elsewhere: you’ll get it in July). It’s called The Art of Neil Gaiman and it’s about Neil Gaiman and all the stuff he’s done. I interviewed him for a week in Scotland. I lived in his attic for a week in Wisconsin. It’s taken four years to turn into a book with pages but it’s here.

Here’s me and himself with a copy for scale:

neilandartofneilHere’s how to get one:

US edition: Out now. Get it at Amazon.com or a local bookshop. Apparently it’s the only Neil Gaiman-related thing at Barnes and Noble right now.

UK edition: Pre-order at Amazon.co.uk or Gosh! Comics or somewhere else. There’ll be a book launch at Gosh! on the 11th of July (THERE WILL ALSO BE BEER) and a signing or something at the British Library on the 19th. You’re invited to all of them. (Please come) (otherwise I will look like a wally at the British Library) (thanks)

Australia: It’s in your shops right now. I have been sent photos of it in Dymocks.

Pádraig Ó Méalóid just interviewed me about it for The Beat. Read it here.

ALSO: I’ll be interviewing Neil on stage after he reads The Truth is a Black Cave in the Mountains at the Barbican in July (both nights) and Edinburgh too. But right now I’m in the middle of nowhere in Scotland again, pulling faces like this by a loch.



You can see a huge extract of the book at Boing Boing focussing on Death, another one in Brain Pickings, and a thing about his teenage comics work in BuzzFeed.


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The Return

The first time I went to Bath I took with me the craziest fart disease I have ever had. We laid the blame on an M&S Aberdeen beef sandwich I ate on the Paddington Station platform and I spent most of the weekend in various arse-based yoga poses trying to fart through my brand new and largely transparent (for sexy reasons) American Apparel underpants. Which is totally weird because girls’ buttholes are just for elaborate sex and nothing else, as Kevin & Perry Go Large taught us. The second time I went to Bath was to visit a dildo warehouse, a place at least in part devoted to buttholes and what you can do with them. A warehouse full of John Holmes’ legendary penis now packaged up and motorised, miles of rubber fists and water-based lube, strange windmill designs with tiny pink tongues that flicker so fast it looks like a pink blur, and black rubber dicks so huge and wide that I asked if they cost extra in postage (they don’t).

A new reality TV show set inside this warehouse is about to start on UK screens starring the people who move these rubber dicks through the post so that ladies in Wigan can move them through their flaps – and this was what I was being sent to investigate. By “investigate” I mean “go and see what the lighting is like the warehouse for a promo video” and by “me” I mean me and a bunch of work dudes descending on the offices of Lovehoney, where thick buttplugs are used as paperweights and realistic dick and ballsack combos are suction-cupped to walls where they are used to hang lanyards instead of their actual designed use which is “an alternative to shampoo bottles for vicars”.

We walked through the call centre where affable girls in their early 20s field questions all day long from the standard “where is my parcel” to the “are my balls supposed to go this colour” and “what is this stuff coming out of me”. Wind-up dicks balanced on the top of computer monitors where tiny robots, trolls or Lego men might be in any other office. We were told about the staff box, where toys that have been opened for in-house photographs are dumped until Friday comes round and staff can take whatever item they want for free. A ginger teenager says shyly that nobody ever sees what other people take and also “you have to be quick to get the big black ones”. Although staff sneak in when no one else is looking to make their selection from the box, if you asked the specifics of what an abstract plastic thing is for they would be able to tell you in detail along with any of the problems that might come with it (for instance, a sex swing that you can suspend from tops of doorways in your house is no friend to dry rot or shit houses).  Despite endless conversations about topics your work internet would block, nobody ever admits to sticking things up inside them. Nobody ever admits to using the toys themselves. Ever.

We learn a lot. We learn that the man who invented the Fleshlight first modelled it on his wife, and now that his sons are working in the business they’re essentially pimping out their mum’s rubber vagina.

We met the guy in charge of the statistics who measures how many sex toys are sold in various unlikely units. He tells me they shift over 7,000 sex toys per day, to over 3,000 customers, and that a town in Northern Ireland is the anal bead capital of Britain.

Fun fact: London is the capital of nothing, apart from Upminster which spends 6.1 times the national average on porn. All the towns your parents live in spend the most on sex toys because there is fuck all else to do there. To wit:

People in Salisbury spend 2.5 times the national average on FETISH CLOTHING FOR MEN.

Worcester spend all their money on SHOES FOR PROSTITUTES, whereas Redditch is all about sex toys for couples.

Coventry evidently has no time for mediocre bumsex and spend 1.4 times the national average on BETTER ANAL SEX, while Preston is the 20th sexiest place in the UK and spends all of its money on SEX GAMES.

Stamford, where Kit Lovelace’s parents are currently online, spends all their money on sexy, sexy clothes for clubbing, while Cirencester mostly buys BRAS.

Matt the statistics man says they measure the number of dildos sold in kilometres of insertable plastic. The distance of insertable plastic sold in the first half of January, 2014 is 6.12 kilometres. The first half of January distance is longer than any other time of the year, due entirely to the fact that people have spent their Christmas sex-free in their parents’ houses with their own framed childhood faces staring down at them from dusty bookshelves. Mid-January is when the regret and returns happen. Which brought us neatly to the next department and scene of my future nightmares: Returns.

What I took away from this whole dildo warehouse experience is that I now have something to always compare future jobs to. Get fired from dicking around on the internet and have to be a waitress again? God, fine. Get fired from being a waitress too and have to work in a comic book shop again? Fine. Just please don’t ever let me work in the returns department of a sex toy company with the following returns policy:

“We want you to be totally confident about every order you place, so we have a 365 day no-quibble returns policy to put your mind at ease. You can return anything for any reason, even if you just didn’t like it, including if it’s been opened, worn or used.”

Even if you just didn’t like it.

Even if it’s been opened, worn or used.

Even if it has been rammed repeatedly up your arse and the arses of others, even if the end snapped off and was never recovered, even if it stopped working because your own personal bodily juices jammed up the mechanism: YOU CAN RETURN THIS BRUISED, BATTERED, AND WHOLLY UNSANITARY ITEM to Andrea, boss of the Returns department (her daughter works in Goods In because this is a local job for local people). In the “how to return your item” video guide on the website Andrea pleads you to wash your “item” before putting it in the post, although she wears rubber gloves anyway. As we talked she transferred an opened, returned anal douche from one gloved hand to the other in the kind of fidgety distracted way someone else might tap a pen. (Related fact: anal douches look like grenades.)

I asked her if this was the most harrowing job on earth as she sat beside the large tub of returned rubber dicks she has classified as “used”. These used rubber dilds are currently awaiting recycling – the popularity of the Rabbit vibrator brought this on and at this point I encourage you to imagine future humans opening a whole landfill of broken rabbits, just imagine it – and will at some point turn into plastic forks which you might later put inside your mouth during a picnic perhaps with some potato salad. And who’s to say you haven’t already. In 2008, someone actually stole the skip of used vibrators from outside the warehouse. They were never recovered, police presume they’re long since eBayed.

Andrea said the job wasn’t so much harrowing as sad – I don’t think she saw my point re: it being horrifyingly, unendingly gross – and her reasoning was that all letters accompanying returned sex toys are written by hand, not computer, and nobody returns a sex toy without a story despite their “no questions asked” policy which is both italicised and bolded on their website. You do not have to tell anyone WHY you know longer want the Pipedream Extreme: Ladies of the Night (Ass or Fantasy Fuck Hole Variant) – you just have to send it back with as much of its original packaging as possible.

“Dear Lovehoney Returns Department,

Due to an ‘incident’ I can neither sit down nor continue to own the Anal Fantasy Anal Sex Toy Adventure Kit (enclosed). Please refund my £29.99 promptly and accordingly. Thank you.

Cheryl in Chesterfield”

Andrea never replies to the carefully handwritten and probably cried-over letters that come with the returned couples toys, although she’d like to. She worries she’d become an agony aunt instead of a processor of returns, and the returns would pile up, stinking and relentless. The company prides itself on this returns policy. It is mentioned several times over the space of my two hour visit. A handful of horrifying regulars treat it like a library, but in total only about 7-10% of stuff gets returned. Andrea seems to like her job.

After visiting a dildo warehouse in Bath they will literally give you a bag of dicks to take away with you. You will drop them down the stairs of the number 73 bus and spend 30 whole seconds scrambling around to pick them up while the driver holds the doors for you.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying here is: vicars, you have other options.

Twitter: @hayleycampbelly

Posted in Essays

How Not To Die On a Bike in London

Here is a piece I wrote for the New Statesman‘s transport-themed week, A to B. Ever since I wrote it I feel like I’ve jinxed myself. I put my helmet on in the morning and I wonder if it’s a prelude to my death. I think: “Will the mortician get my eyebrows right?”


I’ve been a cyclist in central London for almost two years and I am not yet dead.

This is probably statistically rare given I am 20-something and female, and when thinking back over my first year it certainly feels like an unlikely outcome. Look at me typing on the internet. I could be dead instead of doing this but somehow I’m not. Either I’m invincible or I have learned how not to die. Since I burn myself every single time I make toast, I can assume the invincibility theory is bogus, so it must be the latter.

I feel I should share my discoveries. If you’re going to jump on a bike and head out into London, these are the things you need to know that you won’t find in any guidebook:

1. The most dangerous person on the road is the suit on a Boris bike. Avoid him. He is the first move in every Rube Goldberg-esque pile-up. The last time the suit on a Boris bike was on a bike he was eight and he fell off. Now he’s loose on the open road and has no idea where he’s going but he’s a businessman and he gets stuff done so he’s going to do it anyway. You know what these people are like, you’ve seen The Apprentice. Grade A bullshitters. He goes the wrong way down one-way streets, he goes straight down the centre of a two-lane bike path. When correcting him you are summarily told to “fuck off” and reminded that he earns more than you do. (NB. This could also be straight up “Boris Johnson on a Boris bike”. Political.)

2. The second most dangerous person on the road is probably HGVs but really it’s a toss-up between the bone-crushing huge vehicles that glide over steel bike frames/fleshy humans and “the lady with the billowing skirt who obviously has not seen that documentary about Isadora Duncan”. Avoid both. The lady with the skirt will crash because she is i. attempting to tuck her skirt between her legs instead of looking where she’s going, or ii. her skirt will become entwined in the chain and she will fall over exactly sideways and become inextricable from her bicycle. She will take down everyone in a 20-foot radius and will blame everyone but herself.

3. The new cyclist about London will learn that there is a lot of buttcrack in this city. Miles of buttcrack hang out of London trousers every day of the year. Even February.

4. The new cyclist will learn (eventually, emphatically) that “bicycle maintenance” is not just a thing for other people. If something is going weird on your bike – wobbling or making a strange noise – investigate. This might involve taking it to a person who knows better and just coming clean, ignorance-wise. Do not think “it’ll probably be fine” because it definitely won’t be, and do not under any circumstances “MacGyver” a solution. If you do not sort this out properly your bike will collapse beneath you after something important snaps off (for instance) and you will smash your face in on an Islington footpath (for instance) and leave a blood-based Jackson Pollock street-painting behind when the ambulance come to take your concussed ass to hospital (for instance). Buy a book or do a google. Buy a tool or two.

5. Cherish your teeth and eat crunchy food while you still can. Avoid soup and porridge so that when you have to spend six months eating only soup and porridge you can handle it without turning to suicide. For instance.

6. Think about your crash position now before it happens. When it does happen, don’t scream. Teeth are surprisingly durable but only when covered by lips, and dental work is more expensive than you can possibly imagine. To put it in the terms that hit home for me: dental work is “two overdrafts and you have to phone your parents” expensive.

7. Find a dentist who is endlessly weird-looking so you don’t get bored of seeing his face twice a week for half a year.

8. You can never have enough locks. Two, minimum. London bikes work like umbrellas in that you never actually own one, you just occupy it briefly in a time-share scenario. Love your bike but know it will eventually leave you just like everything else.

9. People in cars have no idea how long their car’s nose is and will stick that nose right out into the middle of your bike lane. Or whatever that thing at the front of a car is called. I don’t know, I don’t drive, I have a bike.

10. You will find yourself hating one of the finest inventions of all time: the wheelie suitcase. Dragged behind tourists in Bloomsbury, this suitcase is always left in the middle of the cycle lane long after the tourist itself has leapt out of the way. Tourists do not see it as an extension of themselves. The tourist believes they are not defined by their tour/carry-on.

11. Just because someone is wearing more Lycra that you does not mean they’re a more experienced rider, it just means they bought more Lycra than you. See also: artists with better tools, leather portfolios; writers with Moleskines. Do not follow this person’s lead on the road, they are lost.

12. Nurses treat you better if you were wearing a helmet when it all went wrong. Even if the helmet actively made your injuries worse, the nurse is slightly less likely to badmouth you to the doctor inspecting your face/remains of your mouth. Wear a helmet but know it’s for nurses, not your own head.

13. Black cab drivers want you dead. Once a year a black cab driver will scream out of a passing window a sentence along the lines of “I HOPE YOU FUCKING DIE YOU CUNT” just to remind you of their feelings. The last time I was in a black cab I actually sat in a puddle of cold human semen, so: black cabs, the feeling is pretty mutual.

14. Related: There is a man in London with “FUCK” tattooed down one calf and “TAXIS” down the other. He wears shorts all winter and even Criswell can predict how he is going to die.

15. Nobody likes the guy on the fixie bike who balances at the lights. Put your foot down. We’re grown-ups. We’re not playing that game where the ground is lava.

16. On any given ride you will invariably encounter two women cycling side by side, chatting, taking up the entire road with their slow-moving floral basket machines. If you hang back for a minute you can catch one slapping the other in the face when they both indicate right.

17. Pedestrians never look where they’re going. Like, never. You will spend your first year marvelling at the confidence with which they stride into the road looking at their phones or run right out into intersections unexpectedly. You will spend the rest of your life dodging them and wondering when they’ll notice how close to death they just came. They won’t. My mum once gave me a piece of advice: “Assume everyone else is an idiot”. I can’t remember what it was for or about (maybe dudes, condoms) but I’ve repurposed it for cycling in London.

19. Your first year on a bike is terrifying but brilliant. You learn how London fits together. You realise you can propel your feeble human body from one end of it to the other for no money and get less fat doing it. A day of errands becomes an hour of errands. There are reasons bike couriers exist: it takes them a fraction of the time it takes someone in a car to do it, or someone on legs or in a bus or tube. Being on a bike in London is one of the most liberating things in the world: it’s as close to wings or a jetpack as we’re going to get until those scientists stop mooching about and make us some cooler stuff.

But at the end of your first year you will wear this expression almost permanently. Shocked and appalled, over and over and over and over.

Unless you’re dead or your face is broken and you can’t make any expressions at all. All of which are possible.


(Originally published here. They changed Criswell to Michael Fish because no one at the New Statesman knows who Criswell is. I changed it back because obviously.)

ALSO! I was on the New Statesman podcast talking about bikes and dying. You can hear my fucky-weird accent on Episode 18.

Posted in New Statesman

I Blame Myselves

I’m not gonna lie to you here: I am a person on the Internet, and unless you’re trying to fool future employers or put your dick in something you’re not supposed to I see no reason to lie on Internet. And so:

I google myself on a pretty regular basis.

We’re talking once a day at most, a number scaled down from the original when I discovered “the Google alert” some years ago. Now there is less need. Not no need. Less. Before I discovered the Google alert I was googling myself somewhere in the double digits. Now I just google my name with various misspellings to catch anything the Google alert might have missed, although I have alerts for those too (belts and braces). I search my name on Twitter to see how many of my real life friends are following other Hayley Campbells without noticing and I am horrified. Do I have a problem? I don’t reckon so. You people do this too. It’s just you don’t put it on the Internet.

In high school computer lessons (in the ‘90s, with our beige Hewlett Packards) we all googled ourselves for the first time. It was an all-girls Catholic school and our computer teacher was an enormous toad-like variation on Dame Edna: wide mouth, wider arse, purple rinse. Like something out of the 1960s typing pool she once swam in when thinner, she taught us how to touch-type with hankies over our fingers and schooled us in the correct way to sit at the computer. “Tits out, ladies. If you have ‘em, flaunt ‘em, if you don’t, lie. Tits out, ladies. Miss Campbell, I can’t see you sticking your titties out. Tits out, ladies, tits out.”


(As a consequence of these lessons I occasionally type too fast for my computer and have to sit back and let it catch up – the words scrolling across the screen without me like a Player Piano. I am also frequently complimented on my excellent computer posture unlike my standing posture, which is the trademark stoop of the giant lady with soft-spoken friends. Imagine a shy polar bear.)

But in this computer class during the embryonic Genesis period of The Internet we googled our names for the very first time. “I’m a politician in Canada!” someone would cry.

“I’m a famous Olympic swimmer!”

“I got arrested for getting my cock out in a city I’ve never heard of!” said someone with a non-gender specific name.

All around the classroom were girls finding out what identically named humans were up to. And then I googled myself.

“I’m a – uh.”

Silence. Expectation. Was Hayley Campbell a seal trainer at Sea World in America? Did she get dragged into the pool and eaten by an orca? Was she a heart surgeon who travelled to Malawi and saved a tiny baby, pro bono?

No. According to Google, Hayley Campbell was a 13-year-old girl living in Brisbane, Australia, with a dad who drew autobiographical comics and sometimes put her in them. It was me. I googled myself and I got: myself. I was top Hayley Campbell on the Internet and summarily uninvited from the Google game. It continued without me and my stuck-out tits.

From then on, I googled myself in private. Now all it does is remind me that instead of saving the planet like the ecologist Hayley Campbell, I am the Hayley Campbell who wrote about getting my vagina plastercasted and hung on a wall. Instead of the Hayley Campbell with a high-paid career in make-up artistry, I am the Hayley Campbell who, at 7, wrote an entire book about ways humans can die. Instead of the pretty blonde actress Hayley Campbell, I am the one who told the internet that I keep a stock of dead animals in my freezer, the one who did crimes to a pigeon and plead guilty. I am the Hayley Campbell who told the outside world about rangas.

According to my blog stats, other people google me too. But because of my history, they find me through search terms like “putting things in the anus” and “buttstuff”.

But the Hayley Campbell I worry about most is the one who writes love poems and doesn’t include anything in her short author bio (“writer”) that might help differentiate her from me, the other Hayley Campbell (“writer”), even though the closest I ever got to writing about love was that time I compared Lord of the Rings to buttsex. What if people think I wrote a love poem? The worst thing. The worst thing. I do not write love poetry. I write about catastrophic cartwheels and sad fish and chips and putting things in anuses.

Google “Hayley prostitute” and you get me. This is thanks to a Louis Theroux documentary about a brothel in which the leading lady was called Hayley. People wanted to know what happened to her. Did she dye her hair and move to London, get a job in a comic shop and write about anuses?

If you got here wondering that exact question: No. She’s probably still in the brothel or married with kids, I have no idea. I am not her. Although she’s probably got loads of stuff to say about putting things up buttholes.

Other Hayley Campbells google themselves. I have ten Facebook friend requests from other Hayley Campbells. Now, I do not think this is an innocent Dave Gorman-like experiment. If mental instability and a competitive nature are the hallmarks of a Hayley Campbell, my theory is that they are rounding us up in order to keep tabs on ourselves. Specifically, what I mean is that I, as the heretofore crowned “Number One Internet Hayley Campbell”, am the one to beat. Top dog. Alpha Papa.

Are these other Hayley Campbells plotting to kill me, to overthrow my google reign? Will the make-up artist plunge cotton-tips into my ear-holes and poke holes in my brain like that episode of Girls? Will the Hayley Campbell dairy farmer try to milk me to death? Will the actress Hayley Campbell “do voices” at me until I die because it’s preferable to listening? This Hayley Campbell-centric version of The Ladykillers won’t stop playing in my head.

Um. So: if any of you insecure self-googlers are reading this, please disregard the above paragraphs. Lies. I am definitely the Hayley Campbell on StarNow, the blonde one who enjoys ballroom dancing and claims to be able to do a Bangladeshi accent. Honest. Kill her not me. Google it.

Posted in Essays

The Almost Literal Elephant In The Room

I am a tall lady. Absolutely massive. When I was wee and my Mum read me Bill Peet’s Huge Harold she would point at the rabbit who grew so enormous he had to leave town and sleep in a barn, his ears poking out the windows and his feet hanging out the doors and she would say: “Look! It’s you!” I am Huge Harold and I’m going to tell you what it’s like for those of us on the verge of hanging half out of a barn.

As a tall lady you stand there in any given room all gangly and huge, jeans about an inch too short, the length discrepancy and resultant ankle nakidity hidden by boots worn over the jeans. Sleeves bunched or rolled up because long sleeves become ¾ length and ¾ lengths become weird T-shirts. Or maybe you’re wearing no sleeves whatsoever, just letting those mile-long tubes of bendy flesh protrude from the edges of some manly broad shoulders, afraid to take up swimming lest they get bigger. Awkward and built like Xena and probably about to knock something over. At 6’1 this is me. And I am lumping every female over 5’10 in this with me because solidarity and sisterhood and something.

Things are hard for my people. Those of average height should check their privilege when sailing through a doorway with ease and little head trauma. At 6’1, many doorways in the UK (and colonial listed buildings in Australia ie. all those ones I worked in) do not give adequate clearance for a head so far off the ground. Add shoes to this and you are banging your eyebrow/s into shop awnings all around town.

The shoes available to us in our freakish above-average sizes are always hideous. Even if the design is passable, nothing stretched to canoe-like proportions will ever be anything other than terrible. Nice lady shoes for big units like me are like shoes in front of a funhouse mirror. 60% of my mid-teens were spent crying on the floors of shoe shops because the only shoes available were a selection from the men’s side of the shop or those beige lounge shoes that old ladies have grafted to their feet at 75. Many of my people give up and live a life in Dr Martens. We get them in various colours to suit the occasion.

(If it’s an especially dressy occasion there are always those shops in Soho where the drag queens go although these occasions need to be strictly evening-only because outside of RuPaul’s Drag Race sequins in the daytime are probably a faux pas although I’ll have to check with Willem.)

All of which is to say that once we get into the room in which we are going to stand around being awkwardly dressed elephants among men, the following comments are neither welcome nor new to us – my people, my homies, who we will for the time being imagine to look uniformly like so:


These things are said either immediately or blurted out just at the end after everybody’s silently congratulated themselves for not saying anything to the tall girl who knocked over the lamp with her butt or accidentally mocking the person with the speech impediment or asking the person with the weird scar on their face how they got the weird scar on their face:

1. “You’re tall!”

Am I? The most common Pokemon of all the things said to tall girls seems to imply that the tall person doesn’t realise they’re tall, that they must have just assumed shopping for jeans was as painful and fruitless for everyone else in the world.

A note on jeans:

Aside from a brief period in 2006 when Urban Outfitters – the place that takes current trends and exaggerates them so comically you have a breakdown in the changeroom while hanging mostly outside of an item of clothing you don’t even know the name for, like a barn, like my Mum was right – there seemed to be a thing for rolled-up cuffs. Generally, as jeans sizes go up they get wider, not longer, because according to jeans manufacturers everybody is 5’2 and the only variant is the width of ass. Anyway, all this cuff thing meant to me and my 37” legs is that I could have jeans that were, to me, “slightly too long” which really just meant that actually they grazed my ankles for the first time in my 6’1 life and were probably the right length, although I still hid them in my boots because I didn’t have any other shoes (see above).

But the point was that I knew.

A note on jeans specifically for tall girls:

No. Don’t even talk to me about Long Tall Sally. I do not know why they are designing their products to fill the “dowdy transvestite” niche because even the transvestites I know are not dowdy. I don’t want to look like Mrs Doubtfire and neither do my legs.

2. “What’s the weather like up there? Ha ha.”

Ha ha. I can see your bald spot from here.

At a book launch some years ago across a sea of actual bald heads I saw one blonde lady with some crazy glasses on. Sarah McIntyre and I waded towards each other, two sized-up-in-Photoshop heads bobbing above a crowd, and now we’re pals because that’s what happens when you stick two tall women in a room for some reason. Even passing a tall stranger in the street, I will eye her up and check her feet for heels and if she’s wearing flats we nod at each other. (No one ever said we had to do this but we do. Do tiny people do this? I have no idea.) In a party situation this extends to i. inquiring where she buys her jeans, ii. upon noticing she is wearing tights, not jeans, inquiring as to the state of the “thigh webbing” and asking where she got those tights, and iii. Are her feet encased in something other than Dr Martens? Where did she get those shoes? And so on and so forth. All we want to do is find things big enough to put ourselves in.

At Sarah’s own book launch years later I was the only non-children’s-book-industry fraud on the guest list. When asked what I was doing there I replied, quite truthfully, that it was my job to make Sarah look human-sized in photographs.

3. “Statuesque.”

The italics on this one are audible and always said by what turns out to be the biggest asshole at the party. All they are saying is: YOU ARE COLOSSAL. LIKE EVERYTHING IN THE GREEK BIT OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM. HUGE AND COLD AND PROBABLY PACKING A TINY PENIS.

Which brings me to my next point.

For two (very) brief periods in 1999 when Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo was in the cinema and then again in 2000 when it was new on DVD, people used to shout out car windows a la “that scene in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” (pictured below) “THASSA HUGE BITCH”.


That’s not a nice thing to say to a lady who lies awake at 3am thinking: “Iggy Pop wears a dress better than I wear a dress.” But nobody remembers your movie anymore, Rob Schneider. No one remembers that guy having to pick up cigar ash with his anus. No one remembers every line to your stupid movie but me.

But it’s not all terrible.

I have won arguments simply by standing up.

At gigs I can always see better than everybody else providing nobody sticks their skanky girlfriend on their shoulders (although there was that one time I was so nice I let enough short girls go in front of me that I backed myself into the fire escape and fell ass-backwards out of the venue).

And you get to meet a lot of tiny old ladies in Sainsburys which means you learn new expressions. “Excuse me dear, could you give me a fist of garlic? I want a nice big fist.”

And you learn other things, too. You learn that will never find a fist big enough to please an old lady.

Posted in Essays

Open Letter To Hot English People

If you are somewhere that is not England right now, perhaps in an igloo or a submarine or even another country, then you are likely to be unaware that London and its surrounding area (“England”) is in the sweaty death-grip of a heatwave right now. It’s been a week. Maybe more. It’s been long enough for people who are only comfortable when every part of their body is covered by a cardigan to panic.

According to the news it is TOO HOT TO WORK but they put a question mark after the headline – TOO HOT TO WORK? – so as not to be the ones to encourage you to stay home and drain the economy while looking at other English people and their teeth on Jeremy Kyle. But if you did, hypothetically, choose to stay home instead of venture out onto the surface of the hot planet the news tells you to DRAW YOUR CURTAINS, WEAR FEWER CLOTHES, and DRINK WATER FOR THE LOVE OF GOD KEEP HYDRATED DON’T DIE OR PUT STRAIN ON THE NHS. People are actually off sick with heat-stroke despite the question mark in that headline. People are literally dying on their sweaty, sweaty asses. The newspapers are telling us we need to put our pillows in the fridge before bedtime and haul our mattresses into our gardens if at all possible. The fans have sold out all over the city. The restocks cannot come fast enough.

According to a concerned man in a suit we are at “orange” – just one alert level below “red”, a national emergency which I and my fellow nerd compatriots read as code for “a Charlton Heston movie scenario”.

To which I say: Bitch, please.

32 degrees (Celsius, Americans, we do Celsius) is in the grand scheme of worldly stuff not that hot. But because you, The News, won’t shut up about it and how we are going to die, collapsed and sweaty in our half-constructed backyard paddling pool, I think I should impart some wisdom. The wisdom collected by a person who spent 20 years in the tropical part of Australia before deciding that it’s not actually supposed to contain humans in it and moved to London instead. (Hello.)

A Failed Australian’s Guide To Dealing With This Goddamn Heat

Step One: Take your jeans off. I say this as a person who was a chubby teenage goth and refused to. I know both sides of this ridiculous argument and I know what it’s like in those jeans. Take those jeans off.

Instead of jeans I offer you some sartorial advice straight out of ‘90s Queensland:

Wear a huge maxi-skirt but pull it way up to under your armpits thus making “a dress”. This is the airy fashion of mums picking their kids up from school circa 1992. If the mum is a short mum this is fine, if the mum is a tall one you’re going to see a whole lot of ass. Know this, make your decision accordingly. Pair with thongs. (Read: “flip-flops”.)

NB. The skirt doesn’t have to go all the way up to the armpits – “above the nipple” is generally fine. If you have exceptionally saggy ones (known in Australia as “’rangas”, ie. The breasts of a female orangutan) then you can leave your skirt as it is and just tuck them in the waistband.

Wear a backless dress that has your bra hanging way out the back if you can be bothered to strap your tits into something, if not: let them swing (although you might end up with ‘rangas, see above). If you truly want to go Australian about this – by “Australian” I mean “specifically Queensland” – tuck the long skirt into your undies at the sides. “Why not just buy a short skirt?” I don’t know man, ask someone in Queensland with their long dress tucked into their undies. I’m just telling you what I know.

Most importantly: Blind everybody in Soho with your lime green calves like I did two days running and just calm the fuck down. I saw a man in some orange hotpants and they were terrible and near pornographic. He had half a bollock poking out the left leg-hole, and looked an absolute douchebag in his straw hat. But he had a Twister ice cream and he did not care. (In 90s Queensland we would swap “Twister ice cream” for “a Golden Gaytime”.)


Step Two: If you’re squinting at this on an iPhone in a park, get out of the park.

Don’t be so English. It is The Sun – that great big burning thing in the sky – that makes you feel hot, so why are you sitting right in it. When it (the burning sun) makes an unlikely appearance it is not actually a law that you have to get immediately, grossly naked and lie in it like a suicidal whale. You don’t have to be that pantsless woman on Clapham Common who flashes the Full English to everyone who passes sweatily by. We live in an era of choice. I know you don’t see it (the burning sun) all that often and in February you flirt with the idea of killing yourself it’s so dark, BUT. Take it from someone who grew up right beneath the hole in the Ozone layer: that shit is evil. Ask the moles of anyone.

(In Queensland – again, Queensland, the backward 1980s bit on the right-hand side of the map where there are nice beaches and countless things in those beaches that eat you or sting you or generally do not want you there – our main political dude in the 2000s gave pretty much every major speech of his career with white bandages all over his face thanks to various pieces of him having to be hacked out because he’s a pale-ass man living in on the surface of the sun. He became the worst kind of thing you can become: A Cautionary Tale For Australian Mums To Use Every Day While Applying Suncream.)

Related: If you lie naked and oiled up in Australia we will be able to tell that you are a time-traveller from the 1970s or “just English” from miles away. English people in Australia turn a special kind of non-standard-Crayola red that you never see on anyone who actually lives there. It’s a bit like how you can tell an Australian in England because of the haircuts.

Step Three: Don’t be a goddamn drama queen (or, a “prima donna” as my mum would say, which I always thought was “the thing that Madonna was before she was Madonna”) (“a hairy dancer”).

YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE WHEN IT ACTUALLY GETS HOT. In Australia they start thinking about maybe closing the schools for the day if it looks like it’s going to get to 40 degrees. Even at 38 you’re still not allowed to unbutton any buttons on your purely polyester school uniform and they can prematurely arrest you Minority Report-style if you look like the kind of person who might think briefly about maybe possibly loosening your tie hideous polyester tie. I keep saying polyester in order for you to understand the sweat that is happening on any given student within any given Australian school and thus perhaps also, by extrapolation, you might also understand the general olfactory situation of any PE class therein.

If it does get to 40 degrees, which tends to happen around Christmas Day/Boxing Day or The Entirety of February, Australian people do not flock to the park (see Step Two). Australian people get in their huge air-conditioned cars and go to the movies. When they get to the movies they find that the air-conditioner there has packed up and died and the whole place smells of other peoples’ armpits and death. So they get back in their cars and drive around in the air-conditioning for ten hours until it gets dark and they go home, where they find that the candles have melted in their holders and leaned against the wall. They eat ice cubes for dinner and go to bed naked and drunk on terrible Australian beer. Fans blow away the armpit miasma and the cat sleeps looped around the toilet bowl.

~ fin ~

P.S. I wrote this in my underpants.

Posted in Essays

Eat Your Makeup


People often ask me what I do to my eyebrows in a (if you’re my Dad) “what have you done to your eyebrows” way, or a “so tell me how you do your amazing eyebrows” way if I am drunk and have basically forced them to say it.

Well, Dad, frightened strangers at the bar –

It wasn’t always this way. I haven’t always had the best eyebrows in town, just there on my face for all to see (you’re welcome). These hairy lines – whose use I long thought to be linked to the appendix or some other vestigial piece of us until I did a sweaty yoga and realised these things do have a point – were only unearthed for your viewing pleasure relatively recently (in the great scheme of things, dinosaurs, etc).

Up until the age of 15 when a shiny-faced woman with some wax strips gave them a shape identifiable as “eyebrow (L)” and “eyebrow (R)” they were just some cloud cover above my eyeballs. They were a couple of undefined blurs in the middle of my pasty white face that matched the charcoal thumbprints on the walls of the school art room almost exactly. They were smudges, a shady blotch on the inside that gradiated to a blonde nothing as it reached the temples. Unlike the sculpted arches that I now frequently raise just one of (I perfected this move in the mirror in my teenage years instead of having a boyfriend, you are welcome) they were useless to me. Facially, they revealed nothing. They would have made a bad gif. We haven’t got time to figure out people’s emotions. We need instant, cartoon recognition. The internet has broken us.


But merely pulling out a bunch of hairs in a painful and unnecessary process under a bright light does not great eyebrows make. That shit needs work and upkeep and careful construction or you end up looking like a crazy person. I have gone through countless brands of eyebrow pencil to get it right and at age 23 I settled on MAC’s self-propelling eyebrow pencil in Velvetone until they rudely discontinued it because maybe people with jetblack eyebrows look weird, and now I use the less severe Stud with an eyeshadow called Mystery over the top using a small angle bru – is uh, is this weirdly specific? Have I lost you?

Man, I hope so.

If not, I can’t keep saying that the only person who truly understands me is John Waters.

Let me read to you for a moment from The Good Book, Role Models, by John Waters, which I spent forever looking for in the biography/memoir section of the bookshop only to be told that it’s in the GAY BIOGRAPHY section way at the back because I forgot that gayness has to be quarantined.

Here Waters is talking about how in 1970, in a misguided attempt to steal Little Richard’s identity, he grew a pencil-thin moustache:

‘At first it didn’t work right. It’s tough for a white man who isn’t that hairy to grow one. Sure, I shaved with a razor on top and trimmed the bottom with cuticle scissors, just like I do every day now, but it still looked kind of pitiful. Then “Sick”, the friend of mine from the Provincetown tree fort who had moved to Santa Barbara and changed her name to “Sique”, gave me some fashion advice when I was staying with her. “Just use a little eyebrow pencil and it will work better,” she advised, and then showed me how. Presto! An “iconic” look: a ridiculous fashion joke that I still wear forty years later. Surprised? Don’t be! It is called a “pencil moustache,” isn’t it?’

He drew it on. You knew that. This isn’t the good bit. This isn’t the bit that stole my heart forever. That’s this bit:

‘And there is only one pencil that does the trick – Maybelline Expert Eyes in Velvet Black. My entire identity depends on this magic little wand of sleaze. It has to be sharpened every time it’s applied, too – which in my case is twice a day or so. More if you’re been making out. Believe me, I’ve tried expensive, smearproof eyebrow pencils but they’re too thick, too penetrating, too indelible. There’s only one eyebrow pencil for me – and that’s Maybelline!’

Oh, John. Can we talk eyebrow pencils? Can I fly to Baltimore and sit in your house and talk about eyebrow pencils until we get old and die? I could be there for weeks. I’ll bring spares in case you don’t live near a MAC. We can talk about brand loyalty, about discontinued lines and how long-lost eyebrow pencils turn up at the shop again with an All New Design and you recognise them like a kidnapped infant returned as an eight-year-old. You remember that weird mole on their thigh or the fact that they’re circumsized or whatever.  We’ll wind up talking about dicks some way, no doubt. I found you in the GAY BIOGRAPHY section. That section is all about dicks.

‘I always carry one in my pocket, keep another in my car, and have backups in each of my homes. Once I was in the hospital after being mugged and I guess because of my concussion I had forgotten to bring my Maybelline. I was so panicked that I would limp over to the mirror and try to gouge it on with a regular number two lead pencil used for writing. It didn’t work.’

Hey, John? Once when I smashed my face in on a pavement I sat next to a mirror in A&E. As I leaned over to see what I had become, fearing – like any person who watched Jack Nicholson in Batman too many times – that I would be rendered forever hideous and would have to embark on a whole new cosmetic safari or career as a comic book baddie, I discovered that the bottom half of my face was bloodied, smashed, gross. But: I distinctly remember thinking in my concussion haze just before they wheeled me in for my MRI, “My eyebrows are okay. So there is that.” So there is that, John. There is that.

‘I’ve forgotten to put on my moustache some days and I have to lurk around like Clark Kent looking for a phone booth until I find a car mirror or uncrowded street (not easy in Manhattan!) or a public restroom where I can, unobserved, repair the damage to my image. I remember once starting out the day with a visit to Mary Boone’s midtown art gallery. Mary came out of her office, took one look at me, and blurted out in a horrified voice, “What happened to your moustache?!” Instantly feeling nude in public, I realized the problem, mumbled some excuse about the lighting, and left immediately. I raced home in the privacy of a cab, drew it in, blended it, and started the day all over again.’

Oh, John. Let me come over. I’ll tell you about that time I left my whole make-up bag in the bathroom of Chipotle (in the bathroom of Chipotle) and had to sneak into central London with deep purple make-shift eyebrows because without them I look like some key part of me has been amputated, like I should have a special toilet of my own and ramp access to buildings.

I’ll even put off asking you about Divine and dogshit if we can just talk eyebrow pencils until we’ve run out of stuff to say.

Can I?

What if I bring Chinese food?


Posted in Essays