The Lockdown Diaries 5: Alphabetical Order


Our post-hospital pastry run has now taken on epic proportions. We have to pass through the scruffy North London neighbourhood of Tufnell Park, which has a run-down little high street inexplicably filled with good independent shops. We return loaded with fresh cinnamon buns, lemon ‘volcanos’ and buttery mini bread puddings, the kind of cakes Alma Sorrowbridge makes. The plan is for me to pile on weight prior to losing it in my war on rogue cells.

The idea of me putting on weight is hilarious. My father used to feed my brother and I Guinness to fatten us up. I’m supposed to be injecting myself into subcutaneous fat but have to stick the needle at an angle to find any, then bruise myself.

We deliver baked goods to our neighbours. I take a plate of carrot cake and cardamon buns to my downstairs neighbour, who opens the door in a tiger skin catsuit looking as if she’s been up since Tuesday.

She casts a bleary eye at the cakes. ‘What?’

‘I thought you’d like these. They’re freshly baked.’

‘Can’t you see I have a fucking hangover.’ She takes the cakes and shuts the door. It’s how we roll in this building. She’s lovely.

Armed with another plate of pastries any dieter would die for, I make my way over to my library – well, bookcases, although there are eight of them and they’re very curated. Having read about the library deep-cleaner who spent the lockdown rearranging all the books according to size, I have tried to understand how I’ve arranged mine. Size (because some shelves are odd heights), themes like film & theatre, history, linguistics, London, noir crime, non-fiction, general fiction, humour, books by friends, weird old comics and my favourite category, books I simply love because no-one else possibly could.

What AP Herbert is doing between Gore Vidal and Ray Bradbury God only knows. I have the complete works of Harlan Ellison with a note from him warning me that he’s watching my career – anyone who knows Harlan does not take that threat lightly, next to a Dennis Wheatley whodunnit full of fag ends, the works of Michael Bywater, possibly the funniest man in Britain, the strange novels of Magnus Mills, the complete works of Margaret Millar and the perpetual wonder that is Joyce Carol Oates. If you’ve never read her shorter fiction you really should.

After talking with my other neighbour, who tells me she’s discovered her inner homebody and may never go out again as she doesn’t really enjoy it, I read that research shows the British don’t really want to go out at all, and am not surprised. We grew up on Mike Leigh films, where everything interesting that happens is ‘indoors’.

I wonder if I’ll ever go to a shop again – and with a jolt I realise I could easily do without 95% of them. Clothes shops are aimed at colourblind 20 year-olds or at taupe-and-black millennials, although I’ll go just to Shazam the music. Only bookshops remain irresistible. Londoners are astonishingly flexible about reinvention, but only the independent stores have proven so in the pandemic; the chains have all failed to cope, and many have signed their death warrants because of it.

With so much forced downtime I’m turning my attention to books bought and not read. I’ve developed the habit of blindly grabbing a book from the shelves and taking it to the sofa without checking the cover. Then I read a page. Today I find myself reading; ‘One Two Three Four’ by Craig Brown, a history of the Beatles that manages to breathe fresh, hilarious life into an oft-told tale by breaking a traditional biography down into linked articles on different aspects of the Beatles, still chronologically arranged.

It’s a brilliant mosaic, especially when the Apple enterprise starts to go off the rails and the ghastly hangers-on surrounding the Fab Four reveal their true colours, from the clueless Greek electrician whose expensive fantasy inventions never work to the arch-charlatan Yoko Ono, revealed here as a talentless rich girl homing in on Lennon like a guided missile to give some veracity to her endlessly reinvented past and delusional ‘talent’. She reminds me of the litigious, destructive Georgina Wheldon, a self-obsessed Victorian nightmare so splendidly resurrected in Brian Thompson’s biography.

The result of this hunt-and-peck reading is that the library is now even more disordered than before. And that suits me just fine.



31 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 5: Alphabetical Order”

  1. Jan says:

    I thought you would be @ UCH Mr. F. Are you in fact attending the Royal Free or the Whittington even?

    No need to reply ‘re location. I just thought they might aim you @ the nearest available place in the present circs.

    Keep talking us through them pastries I am cooking a red pepper in the oven stuffed with 4 day old veg curry. To go with the remainders of yesterday’s salad which I had for my tea plus half a pack of Morrisson’s Value line Golden savoury veg rice. I know all the great dishes were discovered by accident but this is n’t exactly shaping up to be Eton mess or omelettes Arnold Bennett.

  2. Liz Thompson says:

    Alas, yesterday’s meals consisted of, muesli (as usual), a complete pack of Fox’s thick coated chocolate biscuits (more usual than it ought to be), the remains of a large custard tart made by my daughter (delicious. Possibly even nourishing), some cheese nibbles (found in an unopened tin from Christmas), and a glass of jersey full cream milk (Does that even count?).
    Net result, major struggle zipping up my jeans this morning. I suspect this cannot entirely be blamed on yesterday. And is that a bag of crisps I see over there?

  3. Martin Tolley says:

    Three-day-old bread toasted – topped with peanut butter, pickled egg and pilchard. It must be Saturday.

  4. Steven says:

    Dear Christopher –

    Can I ask if Bryant and may books have been optioned for television? Do you have a literary agent to whom I can make that inquiry? I have read all the books so obviously enjoyed them a lot and frankly am a bit surprised that the PCU has not seen the big light of day on the small screen.

    Apparently I don’t have to urge you to keep writing but I will both suggest and request you do so. In your current health circumstance it’s called “distraction therapy” and I have found that it can be positively effective. I should know as I hold an advanced degree from the Google School of Medicine.

    stay safe and be well

  5. admin says:

    Steven, they’ve never been OUT of option. We’ve been through casts, scripts and too many production companies, most of whom tried to turn the books into police procedurals with a bit of whacky dialogue thrown in. Timidity makes everyone rein in the weirder stuff.

  6. Wayne Mook says:

    Bacon butties followed by custard creams and a pot of loose leaf, extra strong MS tea for lunch.

    I miss just being able to meander about, dropping in places that take my fancy. To be honest I’m easy with the current situation, I can quite happily stay in all day even though the waist line is taking a hammering.

    The book shelves need a de-clutter, I’m at the moment of ‘is there a space I can shove this in’ filing.

    On TV people have been doing programmes and interviews from home, so I’ve been trying to see what books they have. I was thinking of getting the MacMafia book and now having seen it on someone’s bookshelf who made a lot of sense I’m probably going to get it.


  7. Peter Dixon says:

    The fact that Greggs is closed is the reason why you can’t get subcutaneous fat. Where I live we’ve got cutaneous, procutaneous, extra-cutaneous and general lard held together by tattoos and leggings.
    As for a library system – I’ve moved house 4 times in the last 12 years, previously I would sort out my books by subject; one complete set of shelves for history, another for crime etc. Now, after the last move, I just have random shelves and work on the ‘where did I last see that?’ method. Surprisingly it works. The only things you can’t ever find are: a ballpoint that works, matches, a bigger elastic band and that recipe you told someone about when you were pissed and they asked for a copy.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    What I ate yesterday was a tin of sardines, put in a pan, with a load of chopped garlic mustard (which grows like mad in my garden), some chopped tomatoes, a bit of Basil, a slosh of Worcester sauce, and a quick glug of rice wine. Heated up, stirred round, and hurled on to hot, buttered toast. Devoured before the cat started bugging me for some. Washed down with a cup of creosote-coloured builder’s tea. Tidy.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    I gave up on Gregg’s. Whenever I tried to go into my local branch, it always seemed to be full of angry, large people, intent on ordering everything. At once. And eating it on the way home, presumably. It’s only a small shop, and I don’t fancy being dragged in by the gravitational field generated by some of these large people, and being forever trapped, like an asteroid that has wandered too close to Saturn, and is now locked in orbit, as a ‘Shepherd Moon’.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    (It’s 3 pm) So far a banana, coffee with cocoa & brown sugar and the last pastry from Cobb’s. Have ingredients together to make apple dumpling monkey bread and thinking about a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich for lunch. Dinner will be ham/pineapple/red pepper over rice.
    My books are fiction in author alpha order and non-fiction in Dewey decimal with a small vertical section for elementary school readers and knitting/crocheting/embroidery/calligraphy books. It sounds very OCD and would be if it weren’t that there is a certain “where can I stuff this” effect going on

  11. Jo W says:

    Good morning,Chris,how’s the cake-hole stuffing going and is there a shop open on a Sunday to fulfil your needs?
    Sorry but I really can’t get a mental picture of you piling on the fat and I hope that Peter isn’t trying to match you cream bun for cream bun and eclair for eclair! Stay strong.

  12. Jan says:

    Here Ian have you got any sort of a recipe for your wild garlic mustard please sir? Where I live (well out in the sticks ) the whole countryside anywhere on the banks of a stream or in lots of shade everywhere is awash with the stuff. The whole place reeks of wild garlic it’s like walking into a French or Italian restaurant almost. No that’s not quite true through because there’s a different element with this garlic sort of a wet soil smell The wild garlic sort of jumps straight in as the bluebells are getting fed up with the place and running on. Everywhere looks fabulous really honestly unbelievably beautiful. i keep finding new walks so close by to where I live I am embarrassed that I have lived here for that long without know them before.

    On Friday I found a very deep stream At the bottom of a real gulley. I have seen when the nearby field has been ploughed and it rains very hard the rain forms channels down through the ploughed soil and runs down into something, somewhere I couldn’t ever see. Well it’s this place and the steep sides of it….. I have never seen so much wild garlic. The place had its own aroma chamber. It’s looked like either really steep bank of this stream had like bridal veils spread down them. Or bright white curtains drawn halfway. Never seen nothing quite like that before.

    At the moment I am just harvesting lots of wild garlic leaves( young uns being the best ) and the white spiky flowers and initially drying them in the oven then turning it up a bit salting them spraying a bit of spiced oil on them and making my own individual amalgam of a sort of crispy sea weed and – (with lots of imagination )green crisps. They do taste alright but if I could move on to mustard I would be very much obliged .

    I know what’s likely to happen here here is Snowy will rock up with some sort of recipe for Wild garlic Mongolian type liqueurs and Mr. F will be doing much eye rolling + sighing thinking they are all talking at the back of the class again but it’s a need to know basis….and I need to 2 know about this mustard….

  13. Roger says:

    My own library arrangement is inspired by Borges’s description of the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which it is written that animals are divided into:

    those that belong to the Emperor,
    embalmed ones,
    those that are trained,
    suckling pigs,
    fabulous ones,
    stray dogs,
    those included in the present classification,
    those that tremble as if they were mad,
    innumerable ones,
    those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
    those that have just broken a flower vase,
    those that from a long way off look like flies.

    except that it’s more disorganised.

  14. snowy says:

    I can give you a recipe for a Mongolian liqueur, but do you have access to a pregnant horse, a milkmaids outfit and a distillary? [Mongol Arkhi]

    [To avoid any possible confusion to other readers it is probably worth highlighting that Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) and Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) are two different plants.]

    What you appear to have found, if I am reading it correctly my be a Land Drain. Be cautious about what you pick from there as it can contain run-off from whatever has been sprayed on the fields, eg. pesticides and herbicides.

    [When I picked Garlic Mustard 2 weeks ago it went into a Saag Aloo, but either plant will do. You can also make pesto, soup, risotto, chickpea mash etc.]

  15. admin says:

    New Readers Please Note:
    You have not wandered into a free-association session for the Maudsley Hospital Mentally Disenfranchised Residents’ Recipe Club but a writer’s blog.

  16. snowy says:

    Morning, I hope you had a nice cooked breakfast.

    [We wouldn’t want Jan to grow an extra head would we? Imagine…]

  17. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    ‘You have not wandered into a free-association session for the Maudsley Hospital Mentally Disenfranchised Residents’ Recipe Club’

    Is that a clue to where Arthur has been?

    Speaking of recipes, cardamom buns sound delicious.

  18. Jan says:

    If it is a land drain (yes and I get you Snows it could well be. Had occurred to me ) ironically it’s only really catching the run off from a uncultivated hill with the remains of a hill fort on top of it and few forlorn looking sheep toddling about @ times. just one field above and one below it – below the road line. I looked for the tell tale different width pipes around the higher reaches of the stream but was pretty much all open. With so much wild garlicage around its difficult to see pipes emerging half way up the steep banks. (It’s all steep hills round this way on.)

    I think the low field nearest to us is planned to have animal feed/ maize in it (for 2nd year on the run which is odd ) not planted in yet even and the upper field above the road line looks like it’s to be double cropped this year. This is where it can get a bit dodgy when they decide to go for an early and a late crop they don’t mess about and stick lots of additives and as you say pesticides into the soil to keep it going.

    The 2nd head would be ok (livable withable) it’ll just be draining on resources what it comes to specs and dentures…..

  19. Denise says:

    Being in lockdown hasn’t made much difference to is just an extension of what I have been doing for the last six months. I had a stroke last year in February , I spent five days in hospital .Had a Transescophegal echocardiogram where was found I had a hole in the heart, a patent foreman Ovale, a large one, so in August I had heart surgery . I was awake the entire time, had a catheter that was put into a vein in groin and was carefully threaded to my heart where it delivered a little umbrella to block the hole .So the first time in my life , my heart is functioning perfectly.
    I have made two sweaters and read as many books as I can lay my hands on. Everything is an adventure for me. I realize how much I gave going to a restaurant and having food cooked and served to me for granted. It has all been a life changer and I value my family and little enjoyments more than I can say.I wish you strength to fight what you are going through, and come out the other side better than you have felt for a long time.

  20. Denise says:

    Ps sorry about the errors, I am re learning everything.

  21. Brooke says:

    @Denise. In awe of your strength and courage. Wishing you continuing good recovery.

  22. Brian Evans says:

    Denise, all the very best. I’m sure you will do well, you seem to have a wonderfully positive attitude.

  23. Denise, all the best.

    I understand that Simon Schama has adopted my book organisation scheme: fit them in where you can and when you can’t stack them on the floor. I don’t know if he also forgets what he has and buys the same book again.

    Thin all your life, now eating pastries and not gaining weight, sounds like a longstanding, undiagnosed coeliac. Have you ever been checked for it, Chris?

  24. Ian Luck says:

    Jan, that’s the name of the plant – Garlic Mustard. It’s slightly bitter, tastes of mustard and garlic. The leaves smell of garlic. I just chop it up small and hurl it in to things – it’s lovely mixed into mashed potato, or mixed into melted butter to put on peas or steaks, etc. It grows like a weed, but at least you can eat it. Just do a search on Wikipedia for it. I love it.

  25. Ian Luck says:

    Further to that, Jan, it looks to me that you’ve been gathering Ramsons – not common in my area. Ramsons are so strong, that, should cows eat them (which they will, if they find any), that day’s milk will be tainted by garlic.

  26. Jan says:

    First to Denise best to you with your recovery Denise.

    Cheers Ian I love this wild garlic not ever heard of it being referred to as Ramsons (- at least it can’t hurt worth the social distancing.) Our sheep eat it. Will look on Wikipedia ‘re garlic mustard

    Loads of the foodie chefs use it down this way on to create a pesto sauce as I don’t have a pestle+ mortar that’s why I decided to start chopping it up. Funnily enough it’s legal to harvest the leaves, stalks and flowers of this plant but illegal to take wild garlic bulbs from the earth.

  27. Jo W says:

    # Denise,
    Best wishes for your continued recovery! Go from strength to strength.

  28. Ian Luck says:

    Jan – you can dig up the roots if you have permission of the landowner. A book that I swear by is ‘Food For Free’, by Richard Mabey. First published in about 1972 – and still in print. A great read, utterly fascinating – and useful.

  29. Wayne Mook says:

    Denise – all the best with your health, glad to heart the heart is working properly. Asa Hartford, Manchester City and Scotland football/soccer player also had a hole in his heart, so don’t let it stop you having a full international sporting career.

    Jan – you can use the butt of a screwdriver or very rounded spoon and a teacup saucer or one of those little rounded bowls used for serving olives (other nibbles are available.) or use the chopping board to crush them on, it’s just a bit messier.

    Chris – you mentioned weird old comics, Bob Monkhouse (yes that one) drew & wrote comics and created The Tornado for Oh Boy comics who fought phallic like fungus. Really. Denis Gifford film critic (I still have a copy of his A Pictorial History of Horror, as well as a critic other media) was a comic book writer and created Streamline with Monkhouse. talk about a small world. Just read a Monster Fun with Tom Thumbscrew the Torturer’s Apprentice! it’s up there with kid’s favourites Jasper the Grasper (comic tales of a Victorian miser by Ken Reid.) and The Astounding Adventures of Charlie Peace, who in real life was a burglar and murderer (He shot and killed a PC Nick Cock in Manchester.) and made the hero of a comic strip that ran for years.


  30. snowy says:

    A small dispatch from the Maudsley Rehabilitation Kitchen – [where they let you play with sharp things provided you promise to behave].

    I have a small batch of Garlic Mustard ‘Horseradish’ on the go. Details to follow…

    Very best wishes Denise, apologies for being so tardy, [no Fruit-Cup for me! Again…]

  31. Ed DesCamp says:

    @ Denise – best wishes for a strong recovery. I was fortunate enough to recover from a small stroke a few years back, and hope you can too.

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