In my Secret Book of Wonders I keep my pictures of groups of strangers. My favourites are the ones on which a single face has been circled. I keep my collections in there, my lists of curious British place-names like Catbrain, Netherthong and Pity Me, the best of all the facts I know, delicious words and revolting recipes. I draw troupes of small cavorting dogs in the margins and perfume the pages with cinnamon and sweat. My secrets I write in green ink. It is a textbook of all the things I want to know. It is my exo-brain and I keep it in the drawer of my bedside table, with my boxes of moths and embroidery silks.
I hoard things like I hoard words and I know that, were it not for Snout, I would end my days in a bedsit packed floor to ceiling with dense strata of stuff; yellow newspapers and label-less cans, crusted crockery and broken electricals, shoes and gloves and babies’ dummies that I had found on the street, the neighbours’ rubbish decanted from the bins in the dead of night, an enormous amount of cat food but no visible cat, road signs and traffic cones and eventually my own dead body, crushed while trying to worm my way through the filth. This is a thought I use to comfort myself. If everything goes wrong and I somehow lose my Snout, I can at least be assured of a happy dotage.
The collection of Things I Have Found on the Floor is already well underway. I am good at finding treasure. I have found forty pounds in notes of varying size, and ten pounds of Marks & Spencer’s vouchers. I found a bag of weed on the bus. Even better, I once found a silver goblet in a car park, and in the same place a few weeks later a pair of golden slippers. I have found false teeth and tiny plastic kangaroos and a china doll in a wedding dress that I took home and put on a shelf until I realised its bloomers were infested with beetles. One thing I won’t be bringing home is the very large, very open hedgehog that is very dead on the road outside my house. Its innards now spread far and wide, it has been there for days. I have been listening to the squeals of the passers-by as they all stop to have a good look. I wouldn’t be surprised if the responsible party turned out to be that cat with the human face.