The Diary: Nicola Barker
So the door finally fell off the oven in my London flat a few days before Christmas (I cook a huge amount and have been using a small stepladder to keep it wedged shut for several years now). The Bosch expert who came to look at it (for the princely sum of £99) declared that he had never before encountered an oven of such great vintage (it was the Bob Hope of ovens) and that he could not fix it.
My other half, Ben, a ghostwriter (who is under pressure to finish one book before starting another book that is already late, and therefore has no time for domestic concerns), said we should just get a new cooker. I told him that we couldn’t get a new cooker because the old cooker had been installed next to the fridge (horribly unenvironmental!) and we would therefore need to move the fridge first.
Ben suggested we move the fridge to where the broken washing machine currently sits. But the fridge is ancient and the glass base is gone (replaced by something ill-fitting I foraged from a skip), plus the icebox door is broken, plus I have had to create a compartment for the milk with green wire. And anyway the fridge is way too small (in winter I often store refrigerated goods in the boot of our car, which, at that exact moment, was off at the mechanics being repaired for a sum of money amounting to several hundred pounds more than its total worth). I need a bigger fridge, I said, but to fit it into our minute kitchen we would have to remove a significant chunk of the very ancient hand-painted formerly white Formica 1980s work surface and then the entire tiny fitted kitchen would doubtless fall apart.
So we need a new kitchen, Ben said. But if we get a new kitchen, I explained, we would (a) risk the badly plastered kitchen ceilings falling down (again) during installation and (b) need to replace the floor, which sags worryingly in the middle. Then let’s do that, Ben said. But if we replace the floor, I continued, we will need to replace the disgusting old living-room carpet that borders on to the old kitchen lino, but this would mean moving all of the shelving out of the living room. And this might bring down the living-room ceiling (again).
Let’s sort this out when we get back after Christmas, Ben suggested, in the new year. Great idea, I nodded.
It is now the new year and I am only able to cook on the hob. But one of the front rings has just broken. I idly wonder (a) if my make-do-and-mend philosophy is actually a heroic stand against modern consumerism or (b) whether my entire life is falling apart (very slowly, piece by piece) and I am emotionally incapable of doing anything about it. As I type this, I hear Ben in the bathroom trying and failing to flush the toilet, then the sound of the ancient plumbing protesting as he fills an enamel bucket with water in the bath to flush it through manually and thereby compensate for the chronically inadequate cistern which we really, seriously need to replace. At some point. Very soon.
Last weekend saw Chinese president Xi Jinping unexpectedly turn up in a Beijing bun shop without his characteristic security, take his place in the queue and order a Rmb21 (£2.10) lunch. In India, that same morning, Arvind Kejriwal took the busy subway to be sworn in as the chief minister of Delhi. These two pieces of behaviour were reported on the same BBC World Service news broadcast just a couple of weeks after Pope Francis was named as Time magazine’s man of the year. Coinky-dink? I think not.
In the course of just a few months, Pope Francis has completely revolutionised ideas of dignity and statesmanship by being the personification of cheerful unpretentiousness. Can it be any accident that in the final few months of last year sportsmen and pop stars alike were falling over each other to describe themselves as feeling/being “so humbled”. This trope was started by David Beckham, who has always played the “humble” card with great finesse. But what differentiates the pop stars from the Pope is that Francis is modest AND humble. It’s those canny politicians who have finally cottoned on to the fact that sometimes actions speak louder than words.
After a few months of being on Twitter it has finally dawned on me that I’m not an especially big fan of words. When I’m working on a novel, my engagement with language is all-consuming, but when I’m not working I’m basically like an idiotic toddler who just wants to waddle about the place, look at things and then point, mutely. This means that I generally use Twitter as a conceptual Instagram (I photograph my French bulldogs or random padlocks or interesting holes), which I suppose must rather infuriate those people who are good enough to follow me in the hope that my output might express what I do rather than who I am.
Instagram itself has faults (I’m as prone as anyone to “envy spirals”) but I find the higher status of pictures over words a great boon. And while I may only have a small group of followers, those I do have are generally complete strangers of every age range and from all over the globe. Today I was followed by a Russian punk. Yesterday a young African who likes to take pictures of himself standing by cars. What a delight it is to pick up my phone, peek straight into their lives, and thereby unwittingly celebrate a curiously intimate yet innocent-seeming internationalism, a strange egalitarianism, which is all about the joy of seeing rather than the sometimes careerist parochialism of saying.
Last year’s best reality modelling show, The Face, has earned itself another American series, which is great news for all fans of Naomi Campbell, whose extraordinary outbursts and Machiavellian scheming made the British edition such a hoot. After some consideration I have come to the conclusion that Naomi isn’t actually a person (no, nor a tabloid cartoon, nor simply even “a brand”), Naomi is actually a weather system. A crazy, wild, incomprehensible storm system. And surely there’s nothing more extraordinary and thrilling than watching lightning fill a lowering sky – just so long as you’re very confident that it’s not liable to strike you any time soon.
Nicola Barker’s next novel, ‘In The Approaches’, will be published by 4th Estate in the summer