Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Excellent Portents

 I'm still in New Zealand, and life is weird but good. 

Amanda and I are raising our small boy, and I love being swept along in his enthusiasms. Zombies was mostly replaced by Star Wars while I was away. Since I've been back, Star Wars has mostly been replaced by Tintin and Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters, and Tintin and Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters appear to be slowly transmuting into Greek Mythology and Asterix and Obelix. This morning he ate breakfast in character as Obelix, complaining about the lack of Roast Boar, and then lecturing me on all the Greek Heroes who battled monsters (his list consisted of Theseus, Perseus and Herakles. He got very excited when I told him about Odysseus.)

Hair prior to recent haircut. I look like a bush.

Hair after haircut. I look less like a bush. Ash and I are poring over The Seven Crystal Balls. Photo by Amanda

I've done one public event since I've been here -- the Auckland Writers Festival. Here's the video of the first event, in which Lucy Lawless interviewed me and Amanda.

I did another talk -- just me -- and a six hour long signing the following day. It was wonderful to meet the people, but I'm definitely out of practice at doing marathon signings. I kept thinking about the nine months I spent on Skye, during which time I probably interacted with a dozen people who were there, and that includes trips to the little shop in Uig and socially distanced walks with archaeologists on the hills. New Zealand has definitely done right by its people, and that just makes the losses around the world even harder.

Amanda's already vaccinated. I'm due to get vaccinated in a couple of weeks.

The Netflix Sandman is taking up a lot of my time right now.  (Today I received a first cut of episode 9, and a finished-except for music and VFX cut of episode 4 to watch.)

Here's the Sandman First Look Behind the Scenes release from Netflix. 

(I saw an earlier version of this in which I could be seen marvelling at a copy of The Sun newspaper with the headline TUG OF LOVE BABY EATEN BY COWS, because the determination of the team to make it Sandman is astonishing -- to the point where I sent an email to Allan Heinberg, showrunning, last week, while I was watching the Dailies, and I told him of an error I'd spotted. He pointed out right back that the error was in the panel in Sandman 10 they'd used as their reference. I told them not to fix it. That kind of fidelity can only be applauded.)

And in the meantime, all of the writing time, and a lot of the meeting time (because the people I am meeting are in countries on the other side of the world it's either early in my morning or very late at night), has been taken up by two other projects I haven't talked about yet, although they've been 90% of what I've been doing for the last 18 months. But let's leave them for the next blog entry. It'll give me an incentive to write one.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Reunited (and it feels so good)


It took a lot of work, but I'm happy to say that, after 9 months of missing each other, Ash and I are reunited. Lots of happy tears. I'm humbled and grateful to be here.  Photo by Amanda Palmer

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

A New Year's Thoughts, and the old ones gathered.

It's 2021 in some places already, creeping around the planet. Pretty soon it will have reached Hawaii, and it'll be 2021 everywhere, and 2020 will be done.

Well, that was a year. Kind of a year, anyway.

When my Cousin Helen and her two sisters reached a displaced persons camp at the end of WW2, having survived the Holocaust by luck and bravery and the skin of their teeth, they had no documents, and the people who gave them their papers suggested to them that they put down their ages as five years younger than they were, because the Nazis had stolen five years from them, and this was their only chance to take it back. They didn't count the war years as part of their life.

I could almost do that with 2020. Just not count it as one of the years of my life. But I'd hate to throw the magic out with the bathwater: there were good things, some of them amazing, in with the awful.

The hardest moments, in retrospect, were the deaths, of friends or of family, because they simply happened. I'd hear about them, by text or by phone, and then they'd be in the past. Funerals I would have flown a long way to be at didn't happen and nobody went anywhere: the goodbyes and the mutual support,  the hugs and the tears and the trading stories about the deceased, none of that occurred.

The hardest moments personally were walking further into the darkness than I'd ever walked before, and knowing that I was alone, and that I had no option but to get through it all, a day at a time, or an hour at a time, or a minute at a time.

The best moments were moments of friendship, most of them from very far away, and a slow appreciation of land and sky and space and time. In February 2020 I'd been regretting that I knew where I would be and what I would be doing every day for the next three years. Now I'd been forced to embrace chaos and unpredictability, while at the same time, learning to appreciate the slow day to day transition that happens when you stay in the same place as the seasons change. I was seeing a different sunset every night.  I hadn't managed to be in the same place, or even the same country, for nine months since... well, probably when I was writing American Gods in 2000. And now I was, most definitely, in one place.

I had conversations with people I treasure. Some of them were over Zoom and were recorded. Here are the two conversations that I felt I learned the most from, and I put them up here because they may also teach you something or give you comfort. The first is a conversation with Nuclear Physicist and author Carlo Rovelli, moderated by Erica Wagner, about art and science, literature and life and death:

The second was organised by the University of Kent. It's called Contemporary Portraiture and the Medieval Imagination: An Artist in Conversation with Her Sitters, and it's about art, I think, but it's a conversation between former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and artist Lorna May Wadsworth and me, moderated by Dr Emily Guerry, that goes to so many places. I think it's a conversation about portraits, but it feels like it addresses so much along the way.

Each of the conversations is about an hour long, and, as I say, I learned so much from both of them.

At the end of April, on Skye, I had ordered a telescope, and then discovered that "astronomical twilight" -- when it's dark enough to see stars -- wasn't due until the end of July. The sun didn't set until ten or ten thirty.  And even once the sun had set, it didn't get dark. It would be late August before I saw a sky filled with stars.

My daughter Maddy came to stay with me for November, and was amused by my reaction to the things that now fascinated me: stones, especially ones that people had moved hundred or thousands of years ago, skies and clouds, and, finally in the long, cold Skye Winter nights, I had the stars I had missed in the summer. There's no streetlights where I live, no lights for many miles. It can get as dark in the winter as it was light all night in the summer. But then you look up...

(All these photos were taken on a Pixel 5 phone in Astrophotography mode. It knew what it was doing.)

I wouldn't want to give back the stars, or the sunsets, or the stones, in order not to count 2020 as a real year. I wouldn't give back the deaths, either: each life was precious, and every friend or family member lost diminishes us all. But each of the deaths made me realise how much I cared for someone, how interconnected our lives are. Each of the deaths made me grieve, and I knew that I was joined in my grieving by so many other humans, people I knew and people I didn't, who had lost someone they cared about. 

I'd swap out the walk into the dark, but then, there's nobody in 2020 who hasn't been hurt by something in it. Our stories may be unique to us, but none of us is unique in our misery or our pain. 

If there was a lesson that I took from 2020, it's that this whole thing -- civilisation, people, the world -- is even more fragile than I had dreamed. And that each of us is going to get through it by being part of something bigger than we are. We're part of humanity. We've been around for a few million years -- our particular species has been here for at least two hundred thousand years. We're really smart, and capable of getting ourselves out of trouble. And we're really thoughtless and able to get ourselves into trouble that we may not be able to get ourselves out of. We can tease out patterns from huge complicated pictures, and we can imagine patterns where there is only randomness and accident.

And here, let's gather together all the New Year's Messages I've ever written on this site:

This is from 2014:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

...I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

And for this year, my wish for each of us is small and very simple.

And it's this.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

And here, from 2012 the last wish I posted, terrified but trying to be brave, from backstage at a concert:

It's a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world. 

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we're faking them. 

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it's joy we're looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation. 

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.


Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. 

Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It's too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. 

Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.

Last year, sick and alone on a New Year's Eve in Melbourne, I wrote:

I hope in the year to come you won't burn. And I hope you won't freeze. I hope you and your family will be safe, and walk freely in the world and that the place you live, if you have one, will  be there when you get back. I hope that, for all of us, in the year ahead, kindness will prevail and that gentleness and humanity and forgiveness will be there for us if and when we need them.

And may your New Year be happy, and may you be happy in it.

I hope you make something in the year to come you've always dreamed of making, and didn't know if you could or not. But I bet you can. And I'm sure you will.


For this year... I hope we all get to walk freely in the world once more. To see our loved ones, and hold them once again.

I hope the year ahead is kind to us, and that we will be kind to each other, even if the year isn't. 

Small acts of generosity, of speech, of reaching out, can mean more to those receiving them than the people doing them can ever know. Do what you can. Receive the kindnesses of others with grace.

Hold on. Hang on, by the skin of your teeth if you have to. Make art -- or whatever you make -- if you can make it. But if all you can manage is to get out of bed in the morning, then do that and be proud of what you've managed, not frustrated by what you haven't.

Remember, you aren't alone, no matter how much it feels like it some times.

And never forget that, sometimes, it's only when it gets really dark that we can see the stars.


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Sunday, October 18, 2020

Two New Books and a tawny owl in a pear tree

 It's a beautiful day in mid-Autumn on Skye and I'm not sure where the year went. This house came with an enormous walled meadow, which my neighbours use to keep their sheep in, and an ancient orchard. About seven years ago the orchard was flooded, and we lost all the redcurrants and gooseberries and rhubarb and such, but most of the trees survived, and there are apples and plums and pears still growing on them.

I'm very aware that on Skye, beautiful weather can be replaced by weeks of rain and gale-force winds, so I went down to the orchard and clambered up a ladder, and picked all the pears I could reach, disturbing a tawny owl, who flapped off somewhere it wouldn't bothered by people randomly climbing its trees.

And now I'm sitting and writing this outside. It's too chilly really to write outside, but it's possible, and it won't be possible soon, and that means a lot.

There are two new books out -- one came out last week, one comes out this week.

PIRATE STEW was published first, illustrated by the genius Chris Riddell. Here's me reading the opening and talking about how the book came into existence...

It's only published in the UK and UK-related territories (like Australia and New Zealand) right now. (It comes out in the US in December. This is, oddly enough, because of Covid.)

This is Amanda with Pirate Ash (she read Pirate Stew to his school for today's Dress Like a Pirate Day). After many months of trying to be able to return, it's looking like I'm going to be able to get back to New Zealand to be with them. If it happens, it's still many weeks away. Fingers and everything crossed.

And the other book (to published on Tuesday) is:

And this

The UK edition is the blue one, the US is the grey one. Both are beautiful books, and otherwise the same.

The nights are getting longer, here on Skye, and the sun sets noticeably earlier, week to week. I've been here since April, and things are finally looking hopeful for getting back to my family (Amanda and Ash are still in New Zealand. I wasn't able to get back to them, as only New Zealanders are allowed in. That's loosening up, and the New Zealand Immigration authorities are starting to permit families to reunite.)

It was a friend's birthday the other day, and I asked what they wanted, and was told, a voice message about "Something that makes you feel better when you're down".

And after I sent it I thought, well, there are a lot of us who need cheering up right now, so, with their permission, I'm putting it up here too. 

This may work, although I'm still blogging with Blogger, which these days is a lot like blogging with a charred stick and a hank of bearskin, for all the functionality it gives one, so it may not.

(Lots of behind the scenes jiggery-pokery happens that only sort-of works. Eventually I give up and go over to Soundcloud files, and attempt to embed them.)

(These are audio files.  Play them both, one after the other, and perhaps they'll cheer you up too...)

   This was the first that I recorded...

And when I'd recorded that, I went outside and recorded this:

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Susan Ellison - RIP and love

I met Harlan Ellison the day before his wife, Susan, met him, in 1985, in Glasgow. I interviewed him.  I didn't get to meet Susan until 1989, when I went to see Harlan in LA. She and I became friends incredibly fast. She was the most direct person I knew. Our first actual conversation, while Harlan was answering a phone, began with her saying, "So. I know you're a writer. I don't know anything else about you. Gay or straight? Married or unmarried? Children or no children? Who are you?" and so I told her everything I could think of, and I kept answering her questions for the next 31 years.

We were the same age. We did the thing of being two English People In America together. She would Big Sister me whenever I would go over there, and was one of the few people I'd allow to boss me around for my own good, mostly because I had no other choice.

And now Susan's dead. 

I'm not processing that properly. I'm writing this blog to try and get my head around it, because I don't believe it. I just opened my email, and read her email from a week ago.  It's variations on a theme: how are you? How can I help? Anything you need, I will help.

In 2016 I went to see Harlan and Susan. He was at his lowest ebb after the stroke. I gave him a photo of my new son Ash, and he just stared at it for half an hour. Patton Oswalt came by to see how Harlan was doing. Harlan began an anecdote about the Marx Brothers but got confused and couldn't finish it.  I'd never seen him like that.

This is the photo of me and Susan taken immediately after that. She is indomitably holding it together, and I'm so sad.

We last spoke a month ago. She was worried about me, and I told her I would make it through it all just fine and promised her that when the world was less crazy, and travel was a thing again, I'd come to Sherman Oaks and we'd finally have the dinner we had promised each other that we would have ever since Harlan died, and we'd talk about Harlan and life and we'd set the world to rights.

I'm still in shock. 

This is the announcement from the Harlan Ellison Books website, with the story Harlan wrote for her. It's a beautiful story. Go and read it.

I didn't reply to her very last email, which wasn't the  "The message is ANYTHING YOU NEED I WILL HELP. " one.  I replied to that.  But her last email of all.

It said,
Fair sized earthquake (I thought) this morning.  4.2., but everyone breezed about it.  I'm in the middle of Coy Drive shouting ARMAGEDDON.  30 seconds later...perhaps not.  It was an 8 toy event.  This is how I measure, the relationship of the shaking to how many toys fall over.  Everyone else on the block slept through it.  

Yours in cowardly fear.--Susan  
Which made me smile when I got it, and makes me smile now, because Susan was braver than lions.  She made it through so much.


(Cat Mihos took the photo above, and also told me that Susan was gone. Cat runs my film and TV world, the Blank Corporation, but for the last four or five years she also had an extra job, which was to go and see Susan, and take her out for food if she'd go, because I wasn't there. It was an actual job only because it was something she would have done anyway, and that way I hoped they were letting me pay for the lunches. Thank you, Cat.)


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sandman Audio Day

Today is the day that the first adaptation of Sandman is released. 

It's the first three graphic novels, PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, THE DOLL'S HOUSE and DREAM COUNTRY, released, as  full-cast audio drama, on Audible. The adaptation was written and directed by audio genius Dirk Maggs, and only it's taken 28 years to happen -- since Dirk first pitched Sandman to BBC Radio 4 in 1992. (They said no.)

For years, blind and partially sighted people, or people who for whatever reason couldn't read comics but wanted to still get access to the stories, have asked me if there would ever be an audiobook of the Sandman books. It took a long time, but this is the closest we could come to giving the world the original graphic novels, bumps and all. You don't have the art, alas, but I hope that the performances and the music give you something that translates it to another place.

It should be out now on all the English-language versions of Audible. There should be versions in other languages coming relatively soon.

(It will be out in a few months on CD --  -- and I like that they begin their entry: This content is not for kids. It is for mature audiences only. Just like the original graphic novels, this audio adaptation contains explicit language and graphic violence, as well as strong sexual content and themes. Discretion is advised.

Sandman was always "For Mature Readers" and this is no different.

Here's an interview with me (and an extract from "The Sound of Her Wings") at the EW site:

So many talented actors and voices are involved. 

I'm the narrator -- often reading descriptions of places or characters I wrote in the original scripts long ago for artists to draw, which Dirk has cunningly snuck into the script.

There are hundreds of characters in these eleven hours, brought to you by 68 actors (well, 67 actors and me):

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Monday, July 06, 2020

Sandman Audio Adaptation

In 9 days, on the 15th of July, Audible will release the first of the SANDMAN audio adaptations. These are, well, full cast audiobooks of the first three SANDMAN graphic novels: Dirk Maggs gave me the role of the narrator, and I gave him the original scripts, so often what I'm saying as narrator is what I asked the artists to draw, over thirty years ago.

These are very straightforward adaptations. For the upcoming Netflix TV series, we're starting from now, and doing it as if it was being written, for the first time, in 2020. The audio adaptations are much closer to the original graphic novels, each episode being a comic in the original. Eleven hours of drama. The cast is amazing. The production and the music are glorious. I'm not sure about the narrator, but everything else is sparkling and exciting. I hope you all enjoy it...

For people who need it in a more tangible form, it will also be for sale as CDs.

Click on this, and you will hear James McAvoy as Morpheus...


Saturday, July 04, 2020

Remembering Earl Cameron (1917-2020)

I'm taking a Social Media Holiday right now. It seems to be helping. But I couldn't let this pass...

In 1996 we filmed the original Neverwhere television series (which I wrote for Lenny Henry's company Crucial Films who made it for the BBC). One of the most inspiring moments for me was when Earl Cameron came in and auditioned to play the Abbot of the Black Friars. He was a legend back then, 25 years ago. Watching him audition at an age when most people were already long into retirement was an honour and a treat. He got the part, not because he was a legend, not because he was an icon, but because he was so good, and his interpretation of the character became, for me, definitive. It was the one I put into the novel.

Earl had been a trailblazer as a performer on film and on television in the 1950s and 1960s. He had come to the UK from Bermuda during the Second World War, as a sailor, and had stayed, and become an actor. He was one of the first UK actors to "break the colour bar", one of the first black actors in Doctor Who, a mainstay of cinema and television, always acting with grace and moral authority. Now we were fortunate enough to have him and his compassion and his gentle humour, acting away in monkish robes in muddy cellars, chilly vaults, and deserted churches, all over London.

In 2017, BBC Radio 4 (in the shape of Dirk Maggs and Heather Larmour) did a glorious audio adaptation of Anansi Boys, and it did my heart so much good to see Earl Cameron over 20 years on, and to catch up and to reminisce about the Neverwhere cold and the mud. He played a dragon in Anansi Boys. He was 100 years old then. (That's us, in the studio hallway, in the photo above. It was taken by Dirk.)

He died, yesterday, aged 102, nearly 103. The world is a lesser place without him in it. 

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Sunday, May 31, 2020

An Acceptance, in rough times

Last night, starting at at 1:00 in the morning, my time, was the Nebula Awards ceremony, held by the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The first award they gave out was the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and it meant the world that it went to episode 3 of Good Omens, "Hard Times".

Exactly one year ago, Good Omens was released to the world, on Amazon's Prime Video service. Thirty years ago this month, Good Omens was published as a novel. It seems amazing that it still has so much life, and still feels so relevant to people's own lives. Especially now.

Here's the complete list of all the nominees and of the awards given out at the Nebulas last night. Congratulations to everyone nominated!

The entire proceedings existed in virtual space, via the magic of Zoom and other technological things.
This is what it looked like on my screen, just before we went live...

Here is the speech I gave. I wore a hat, because, even though Terry Pratchett loved pointing out that he was a hat person and I wasn't, not really, I thought it would have amused him.

I didn't intend to write the television adaptation of Good Omens. I did it because as he knew his own immeasurable light was dimming, Terry Pratchett wrote to me, telling me I had to do it. That no-one else had the passion for the “old girl” that the two of us had. And I was the one of us who had to make it happen, so he could see it before the lights went out.

I'm used to dealing with the problems of fictional people.  Now I found myself dealing with much harder problems, of real people and immutable budgets.  But I was even more determined to make something Terry would have been proud of. And I was part of an amazing team – Douglas Mackinnon, our director, Rob Wilkins, Chris Sussman and Simon Winstone and the folk from BBC Studios, the Amazon Studios team, and above us all the cast and the crew, who united and went over and above what anyone asked of them to tell, together, a kind of love story about protecting the world, about an angel who isn't as angelic as he ought to be, and a demon who likes people. And for them, I want to thank Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

Terry and I had written a book about averting the end of the world, about the power of not going to war, about an armageddon that didn't have to happen.

When I was a boy, I was told that there was a curse, “May you live in interesting times”. And that made me sad, because I wanted to live in interesting times. I thought I did.

And now, we are all of us living in Interesting Times. The Horsepeople are riding out, as they have ridden so many times before, and the world still needs saving – from plague, from racism, from foolishness and selfishness and pain. It says in Good Omens that we have to save ourselves, because nobody else is going to sort it out for us. And we do. 

It feels almost indecent to be accepting an award while so many people are hurting, but thank you, from me and from Douglas, who took the words and made them so brilliantly come to life. This is for Terry Pratchett.

You can watch the whole ceremony at: 

or at this YouTube link:

(The Good Omens bit starts around 22:30)

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Monday, May 18, 2020

An extremely apologetic post

So. I did something stupid. I'm really sorry. 

The last blog I wrote, about how I had been here for almost three weeks, turned into news - and not in a good way. Man Flies 12000 Miles to Defy Lockdown sort of news. And I've managed to mess things up in Skye, which is the place I love most in the world.

So, to answer the questions I'm being asked most often right now:

What were you thinking? Why come back to the UK?

Because like so many other people, my homelife and work had been turned upside-down by the COVID-19 lockdowns. I was panicked, more than a little overwhelmed and stuck in New Zealand. I went to the UK government website (, trying to figure out what to do, and read:
I've been living in the UK since 2017, and all of my upcoming work is here - so 'you are strongly advised to return now' looked like the most important message. I waited until New Zealand was done with its strict lockdown, and took the first flight out. (And yes, the flights and airports were socially distanced, and, for the most part, deserted.)

Why go to Skye? Why not go somewhere else?

When I landed the whole of the UK was under lockdown rules.  I drove directly to my home in the UK, which is on Skye. I came straight here, and I've been in isolation here ever since.

What were you THINKING?

I wasn't, not clearly. I just wanted to go home.

Would you leave New Zealand again, knowing what you know now?

I got to chat to some local police officers yesterday, who said all things considered I should have stayed where I was safe in New Zealand, and I agreed that yes, all things considered, I should. Mostly they wanted to be sure I was all right, and had been isolating, and that I would keep isolating here until the lockdown ends, and to make sure I knew the rules. Like all the locals who have reached out to me, they've been astonishingly kind.

Since I got here Skye has had its own tragic COVID outbreak – ten deaths in a local care home. It's not set up to handle things like this, and all the local resources are needed to look after the local community. So, yes. I made a mistake. Don't do what I did. Don't come to the Highlands and Islands unless you have to.

I want to apologize to everyone on the island for creating such a fuss. I also want to thank and apologise to the local police, who had better things to do than check up on me. I'm sure I've done sillier things in my life, but this is the most foolish thing I've done in quite a while.