The neighbour’s triplets have been awfully quiet today. For a while I had even assumed that they weren’t in the house at all. 

I briefly looked out the window to see what the weather was like and caught a glimpse of Arsehole standing motionless in front of the lovely blossoming geraniums.

I paused to ponder why Arsehole was being so… subdued.

 After a few minutes he turned around, deathly silent. In his right hand he held a tube of red lipstick, clearly belonging to Mum. In his left, he held a tampon.

The child was eating the lipstick. The entire tube of lipstick.

Deciding that I would not be the one to deal with this I settled back down to work and waited with baited breath for Mum to notice Arsehole in the garden.

Bad Email Habits

It is often protocol in my workplace to compare your email inbox. Academics for some reason take a great deal of perverse pleasure in trying to outbid colleagues for the title of “experiencing the most misery”.

“I’ve got more than 2,000 unread emails in my inbox!”

“Really? Well I received 1,500 in the past hour, 300 of which are urgent!”

“You guys haven’t seen anything yet, one of my postdoc’s gave my email address out to the entire faculty’s undergraduate mailing list!”

Just fuck off already. You’re doing email wrong.

I have a very different relationship with my work email. I receive maybe 3 or 4 email a day. At least two of those will be bollocks (the virtual kind, not the NSFW kind). The others are probably not worth my reading. As such I’ve developed a rather bad habit where I skim-read the subject line, or first sentence of content, and then reflexively delete it. Like a cat, twisting in mid air to always land on its feet. It’s instinctive and I feel like it preserves my life and/or sanity in some way. There are however three exceptions to my “flight” email reflex.

  1. The “follow-up” email.

When these pop up I feel like there’s been a glitch in the Matrix: I’m like 67% sure I saw something pretty similar to this before… Only it didn’t use bold, or red text… And there wasn’t an explicit line directed at me strongly implying that I should, for the love of god, respond like some sort of functioning adult…

  1. The “amusing” email.

Primarily, emails from Vasile Zhang appear in this category.

Vasile used to work in my faculty many moons ago. Once he completed his PhD he set up a journal and appointed himself editor and chief. This meant that whenever he sneezed out a thought onto a conveniently located piece of paper he could submit it to the journal, approve it more or less without peer review, and publish it into the wider academic world. The University caught onto this pretty quickly and stopped him spam-mailing the shit out of the faculty and advertising to naive students with captivating lines such as “ You should publish with Chang’s journal as it would be good practise before submitting to a good journal”. Rather hilariously, he still somehow manages to email the entire faculty, and it amuses me no end when my email client automatically pops up with “You seem to get a lot of these… would you like to block them?”

  1. The “accidental praise” email.

These tend to  happen when I review conference or journal papers where the organisation in question will send out a pre-set email which automatically states “Dear Professor ‘X’”, or “Dr ‘X’, we require your expert knowledge in this area”.

You and I both know that half of your review force are PhD students: I weep over my data one tear at a time, just like everyone else.

But, it still makes you feel sort of good. Like if you were to wander around in the research community introducing yourself as one of the illustrious email titles, then chances are that no one would challenge you about it. As such, these emails stay. Firstly, it’s a weird bonding habit you form with your fellow PhD colleagues, waiting with baited breath to see who gets a “promotion” first, like the world’s shittiest job-centre bingo.

And secondly, you like to think that maybe, just maybe, 20 or 30 years down the line you might actually fill those boots, and one night you’ll wistfully be going through old email and you’ll stumble across some terrible, long-forgotten institution who in some strange way cultivated the little flame in your academic heart.
And you’ll read it, and think about it for a little while.

You’ll ponder over just how long it it has taken you to get to this point… and then you’ll delete it because fuck it, you employ postdoc’s to deal with that shit now.


Screamer – one of the neighbour’s triplets – has been sat outside for a solid 7 minutes today without crying.

I’m fairly sure that this is some kind of record. It has probably been made possible only by the small jigsaw puzzle holing its piscine-like attention. The puzzle isn’t particularly hard, even for a three year old, which is probably one of the reasons it has been frustrating for me to observe.

I mean, its 8 pieces. I’m fairly sure a team of amoeba with good teamwork skills and coordination could complete it.

In the background Arsehole has been observing Screamer’s progress. Occasionally it looked around as if it were expecting there to be more noise or shoving going on, but there wasn’t, which has caused it to remain motionless for some time. Feeling a sense of serenity spreading over the garden, Arsehole has decided that this will not do, and clearly has a plan. First thing’s first, it needs to take it’s shoes off: that is the first step in pissing Mum off. Secondly, it calls out to Thrasher to come into the garden. This sounded much like:

‘AAAAAAAaaahhhhaHAhHHHHaA….AAAAAaaaaahhhh….GAaaaarden’. (Apparently we have all been communicating with three year olds incorrectly, because for some reason this worked with immediate effect).

Thrasher observed the scene. It observed the toy motorbike to the left of Screamer. It paused to put two and two together, and then looked at Arsehole. Thus ensued the shittiest 10-metre dash I have ever witnessed. Each child held on to the other’s clothes as if it would somehow stop their limbs from moving. The strength of their pulling dragged them both to the floor in front of the toy motorbike, wailing and unable to stand-up, which gave Screamer enough time to work out what was happening.

Unfortunately, this was not enough time to hide the puzzle.

True to his name, Thrasher managed to flail his way free from his stalemate and straddle the motorbike. With purpose he rode over the puzzle, disconnecting the only two pieces that were attached. The rest of the pieces scattered, and the two hellspawn who were not on the motorbike began to wail in unison.

After half an hour of crying at Mum, Screamer has taken precautionary steps to avoid the puzzle being destroyed in the near future. The misguided child has stuffed all of the pieces into the nearest pot-plant (a lovely geranium in mid-spring flower) who was apparently idle and represented the best choice for a secure stash.

The newly adorned geranium sits in all its glory, with bits and pieces of a Spongebob Square Pants puzzle sticking out at jaunty angles amongst bright flowers. Nature is so beautiful.


It is fucking windy today.

Seemingly upon seeing this exciting environmental development the neighbours have bought Thrasher, Screamer and Arsehole giant space hoppers. The space hoppers are bigger than their three-year old torso’s, and probably weigh more than their body weight combined.

Thus, my afternoon has consisted of watching the wind buffeting three helpless children around their garden, screaming and crying, as their fuck-off big space hoppers slam into them unsuspectingly like ricocheting cannon balls.

Occasionally, witnessing a fellow offspring being knocked over makes the others laugh, before they are themselves face-planting a giant plastic ball, wiped-out and miserable.

I can’t tell if this is an improvement or not from their usual loud behaviour, but it sure is dramatic to witness and makes me wonder why they don’t just go inside.


During the Easter holidays I have been working from home.

I tend to do this over the holidays because working on campus becomes an exercise in misery: undergraduate students litter any available space in their maniacal campaign to learn all of the things before their exams begin in the upcoming weeks. This often includes sleeping on desks in the library (despite being a queue of some several hundred wandering, sleep-deprived fellow students waiting for them), and defending any free computer they have found with the intensity of a feral wolverine.

During the holiday I have put forward a theory on the systematic crying syndrome of the neighbour’s triplets. Testing this hypothesis was remarkably easy because the subjects are continuously loud, thus making them very, very observable at all times. Also it’s not actually science, so whatever, I’ll do what I want. During this process I have proved that one will cry every 18 minutes, a tantrum happens one every 45 minutes, and a three way tantrum happens twice a day in which they wail in unison.

All of this occurs for little to absolutely no reason, but today the most pointless of them all has occurred: for once in their stupid little angry and ungrateful lives Thrasher gave Arsehole some chocolate.

Arsehole had a tantrum because Thrasher was nice.

Screamer got on board with this, suddenly tearful and outraged at Thrasher’s generosity.

Thrasher, almost certainly regretting his choice, began wailing and shouting at mum ‘I did nice mum, I did nice’ over and over. Eventually they all joined in with this until, like a hysterical mob, one threw the chocolate on the ground and they congregated around it and cried even harder.

Mum was confused. They were confused. But one thing is for sure, they did not stop crying.


Thrasher, Screamer and Arsehole – the neighbour’s triplets – have returned back from holiday.

As I heard their van pull up after several weeks of zen-like bliss my heart sank. It would appear that they have been to France, which is evident through Arsehole’s new vocal tendencies: instead of shouting ‘MUUUMMM’, he now bellows ‘BONJOORRRR’. It is a simple, but mightily effective translation, conveying in absolutely no way what he wants or needs.

But I suppose that’s OK because he never did that in the first place.

As the parents drove to France their van is now stacked with every single item that they own. Consequently, some frail grandparents have had to be drafted in to keep an eye on the hell-spawn while the parents unpack. The adults have formed a plan, and have been fully briefed on each step.

Firstly, Dad has erected a security perimeter around the garden. The parents were fairly used to this as Thrasher has a tendency to go for the gate if it sees an opening to the outside world (the kid has big dreams). So far so good.

Secondly, a ‘sentry’ grandparent was sworn into duty by the gate, primed to take down any child that made a break for it while the parents were moving inflatable giraffe’s, or whatever the fuck a family brings on holiday, back into the house.

Thirdly, the other grandparent was elected ‘grand overseer’ – a particularly challenging role charged with the task of keeping the triplet’s irrational, infuriating and vexatious three-year-old concentration.

Once again I would like to leave you with only a description of the final scene.

Arsehole is in the driveway shouting ‘BONJORRRR’ at a rosemary bush,hitting it when it doesn’t respond to the greeting.

Thrasher, who followed it’s sibling’s lead into the outside world is being ruthlessly pursued like an escaped velociraptor (tranquilizer gun and acute sense of fear on standby) by a tired and mightily pissed-off Mum holding an inflatable giraffe.

Screamer is shouting at Arsehole from the other side of the garden wall whilst sentry grandparent is pinning it down. In all honesty sentry grandparent may actually be sat on the child, it’s pretty hard to tell. Sentry grandparent has the same pained expression of someone who clearly started out with compassion and love, but has had to become cold and brutal in the hard post-apocalyptic wasteland of suburban Southampton.

I have decided not to work from home today.

Water Fight

I’m working from home today. I had primarily woken up early in order to get as much work done as possible before the midday heat as I’m someone who deals with heat as well as a fucking ice sculpture of myself. Over the couple of weeks since I began working from home I had ascertained through trial and error roughly what time the neighbour’s triplets – Thrasher, Screamer, and Arsehole – emerged from their lair.

This is entirely dependent on the weather.

I found myself enjoying days when it rained: they were not trusted to be outside when it was wet thanks to the plastic slide incident of May, 2015.

If the weather was usual or good they tended to emerge between 9–10am. Beginning work early, then, was secondarily a means to getting as much done before needing to shut my windows. This resulted in my simultaneously becoming hotter and angrier until I would need to take myself out for ice-cream in order to resume normal bodily functions. Unfortunately for me by 7am the weather was glorious. By 9am the Hellspawn had emerged, and had begun going about their daily business.

By 9:07am Thrasher, Screamer and Arsehole had begun campaigning for water.

No, not because they are neglected in any way: they wanted water to throw at one another. After several hours of gibbering at mum like a pack of hyenas she finally relented and put a heavy duty plastic bucket in the garden to facilitate their stupid three-year-old whimsical, illogical, and ill-fated demands.

After a very steep learning curve they realised that splashing water into one another’s faces led almost exclusively to someone being punched in the face by a wet hand. A three-way tantrum ensued and they were ushered inside to learn how to not punch one another. It turns out that this is probably a valuable life lesson, even if it doesn’t feel like at the time.

Upon their re-release into the wild the triplets were bestowed plastic cups to scoop up some water, and then throw it nicely. Mum was clearly disillusioned by TV adverts of kids playing and having fun with water guns, because no sane adult could see this ever being better than wet hands alone.

After nearly an hour of “water fun”, the neighbour’s garden could have been mistaken for the ending scenes from Saving Private Ryan.

Arsehole has knocked over a flowerpot and is covered from head to toe in a muddy water-soil sludge. He threw his cup at the cat in order to, and quote ‘STAHHP THE CAAAAT’ from getting it. Sound logic.

Thrasher, living up to his name, lobbed his cup during the fray and is now flailing against the window to be let indoors. He is only wearing a pair of Spiderman pants.

Screamer is stood in the middle of the garden grasping a crumpled water cup for dear life, howling to the sky, probably to invoke some sort of divine intervention from a vengeful Norse God.
Mum has declared that “water fun” time is officially over.