Hitting myself with a rat

From infectious hotels to her favourite power tools - Scottish writer and comedian AL Kennedy's bril

Since winning the Costa Prize for my last novel, Day (which I’m assuming was a nice thing) my life has turned into shrapnel and I spend most of my days replying to emails from strangers who want something, slinging huge amounts of snailmail into the recycling bin and running up and down my nearest high street in flight from more of the same.

The only thing working efficiently is my paper shredder. Faced with a choice of researching a novel, adding to a collection of short stories, or hitting wheezy scripts with a stick until they squeak, I have only managed to buy a box set of James Mason DVD’s and make a few quarts of cullen skink.

All my activities are of the displacement variety. Having adjusted to being in my own flat for more than seven days in a row, I have cleaned the house to within an inch of its mortar and it now looks enough like a hotel for me to feel at home. (The room service is, of course, terrible but this is balanced by the presence of many ornaments and items of clothing that I seem to recognise from long ago and far away.) I have also been able to catch up with friends. Two of them have developed a whole extra child of considerable size since I saw them last – a healthy, square-headed chap - my current schedule means he’ll be going through his second divorce before I see him again.

But I am in work – quite possibly more work than I can do. And numbers of the courteous public continue to attend readings. So I can have that kind of fun.

My plan for this week was actually to get all caffeined-up and fly at a new story, having recovered from a) the coldest and smallest hotel room in London – I was, very literally, huddled up and yet this provided no warmth at all - followed swiftly by b) a tangibly infectious hotel in Wolverhampton with a bathroom like a mad fishmonger’s storage area and c) another London hotel erected between two bypasses and equipped with clog-dancing and mysteriously rapping neighbours and a number of electrical devices which proved to be entirely beyond me, tired and tearful as I was.

Technology and I have compatibility issues – my computers toy with me, mangle files, crash whenever they can and force me to wander the globe laden with memory sticks and paper copies of anything that might conceivably become important. Meanwhile, I travel in constant fear that Something Vital will arrive for me on my mobile phone (which loses messages) or by email (almost entirely inaccessible while on the road) and I will miss that key opportunity to discuss my favourite power tools on Radio Five, or hit myself with a rat for six weeks while a Swedish man films it for an art installation. These things being rumoured to aid sales. Sadly, six nights with no sleep at all and a number of train journeys spent typing furiously to avoid contemplating how little time I have to type furiously left me with no more than a deep desire to lapse into unconsciousness for – say – a year and a half.

Next week involves three comedy gigs in Scotland (cue much pacing up and down my living room carpet while talking to people who aren’t there) followed by another dash South of the Border to present an hour of comedy about writing to an assembly of students at Warwick. Then it’s back to Glasgow for more of the same. Dear Godhelpus.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.