The Diary: Nicola Barker

I keep explaining to my mother that it’s not the fact that the squirrels are stealing nuts from my bird feeders that’s bothering me, so much as the fact that, after they’ve stolen the nuts, they then take active pleasure in destroying the feeder itself. When the feeder is dismantled, nobody eats: not the squirrel, not the bird.

If the squirrels merely took the nuts, I would be fine with it. I love squirrels. As a girl my mother would often bring home orphaned animals and birds and nurse them back to good health. At one stage we had a squirrel who would hang high up on the walls by his back claws (we had hessian wallpaper), make ominous noises and then copiously urinate. We loved him.

I have recently become one of those people who searches for “indestructible” (ha!) bird feeders on Amazon and then leaves detailed comments on exactly how my squirrels have gone about dismantling them. I take a kind of pride in it. Of course, once a person has attained this semi-farcical level of Victor Meldrew-ish obsessiveness in regard to their local squirrel population, the only sensible course of action is to admit that, ahem, “the squirrels have won” and invest £16.99 in a squirrel feeder.

The squirrel feeder is not the most attractive of objects – a large, unvarnished box with a Perspex front, little perch and screwed-on, flip-top lid. A note comes with it saying how it “might take a while” for your squirrels to understand precisely how it functions. Not a whit of it! Within minutes of the feeder being installed on my balcony the squirrels had worked out exactly what it was, what it contained, and how best to gain access.

After a week they had decided that the flip-top was a drag (too much work!) and had started to unscrew the lid for better ease of access. After eight days I found the lid on the floor. The nuts in the feeder were open to the elements. “But the lid keeps the nuts fresh, you hairy little vandals!” I yelled.

After 10 days the squirrels had not only unscrewed the lid (again) but they had also removed the Perspex front.

On Friday, I went to replenish my bird feeders (which the – now porcine – squirrels are using for surplus nuts). With a small measure of satisfaction, I filled one with nuts and hung it above my head in the tree. Two seconds later, the plastic bottom of the feeder gave way – the squirrels had chewed through the supports – and a tiny avalanche of nuts silently cascaded down the front of my jumper.

I’m up for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award. Again. I’m starting to see myself as the Beryl Bainbridge of the enterprise.

I guess there must be something about my writing that really rubs these people up the wrong way. This naturally delights me, and, in so far as I can be bothered (which isn’t very far, I’ll admit), I have three main beefs: a) Why isn’t there a decent cash prize? If there were, I might consider attending the ceremony. b) What do the judges consider good sex writing? If they informed us (a small booklet, an educational blog), then maybe serial offenders such as me might be able to ascertain their bona fides. c) Do these people even like sex, I wonder – and good writing, for that matter – or are they just a bunch of uptight former public schoolboys who want to celebrate it simply by ... uh ... deriding it?

That seems so sad. And so English. And so, well, uptight. The award (the spiel goes) is given for a “gratuitous” sex scene. In The Yips, the sex scene is critical: the book’s main character – a profoundly decent man – compromises his life by indulging in explosive sex with someone who is patently emotionally damaged. The whole plot is hinged on this single, unguarded act. It’s crazy, and, I hope, beautiful and erotic.

I suppose the main problem here (we could even call it a cultural difference) is that, unlike the Bad Sex Award people, I think sex is fundamentally good – not intrinsically dirty or weird or funny or wrong but just another part of life – and I enjoy writing about it. Case closed! No anonymous cabal of sniggering naysayers from an obscure literary magazine will stop me from doing that.

Is it humanly possible for anyone (OK, Lewis Hamilton aside) to be as infatuated with Nicole Scherzinger as I am? Before I’d seen her as a judge and mentor on The X Factor, I could take or leave the former Pussycat Doll but over the past few months I’ve come to view her as the pinnacle of perfect womanhood. She’s beautiful (inside and out), glamorous, clever, funny, wicked, spontaneous, inquisitive and immaculately droll. She’s brave and irrepressible and utterly loyal. Not only that, but she’s mentoring James Arthur, who I’m supporting all the way in The X Factor. What a double act they are! Arthur’s so intense and soulful. He’s wonderful – an absolute delight – although, when push comes to shove, there’s simply no beating Nicole.

Nicola Barker’s latest novel is ‘The Yips’ (Fourth Estate)

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