As I mentioned last week:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.



This year, the restaurant was in London. Had you asked passers by how long it had been there, of the many answers you would have received, none would have been remotely accurate, whether weeks or years.

But, as the door opened and the demon stepped in, he reflected that for a place that had only been in existence for moments, it looked well-used. He closed the door and shivered briefly at the sudden drop in temperature, then stood straight. The grime on the windows looked ancient, and indeed it was, having been borrowed for the occasion from a run-down eighteenth century home in one of New York’s less-wealthy boroughs. The legs of the six small tables, on the other hand, were brightly polished and showed that their owner cared about such things. The demon idly wondered from where they had come, but the interior was not his responsibility. The demon did not smile, but there was a liveliness in his eyes that sat well among the pleasant features he displayed. His look around the interior was deceptively casual, but then much that the demon did was deceptive.

He sat at one of the tables, pleased that the rules forbid the manifestation of any form of wing. Though not, he thought to himself, as appreciative as his dining companion would be. He did not bother to look at the watch adorning his wrist; it did not function, any more than the spectacles that were tucked in the breast pocket of his tailored suit. Both had come from a lawyer condemned to a lower level of hell who no longer required them. But they were appropriate for this annual meeting and the demon was very particular about being appropriate.

The door opened again, and the demon shaded his eyes from the bright light that suddenly illuminated the room. Then it faded as the angel shut the door behind him. The angel moved across the restaurant and sat in the chair opposite the demon. No greetings were exchanged beyond a sharp nod from each of them; every possible variant had been exhausted during the thousands of similar past meetings and served only to annoy the demon and irritate the angel.

As soon as the angel sat, they both were aware of a third presence as a waiter strode up to the table and dropped two menus on the table before waiting, a pen in one misshapen hand, a small notepad in his other. The demon ordered first, as was the custom; the angel winced at the order, as was also the tradition before ordering himself, after which the demon laughed, a surprisingly low pitched contemptuous laugh. But this was also convention and ignored by the angel.

The waiter turned away from the diners and then completed his rotation, by which time both pen and pad had gone, replaced by two plates, with an identical pinkish substance on each which the waiter gently placed before the angel and the demon, flavoured individually for the diners: dover soul for the demon, prayer in brandy for the angel.

Then the waiter vanished as if he had never been there, and neither the angel nor the demon gave voice to wondering if he ever truly had. Over dinner, they discussed many things they had individually been assigned to discover, and several things they had not. At one point, the angel asked after his previous employer and the demon answered with great delight about the suffering He endured, but the angel understood that the demon was lying. Later, as they were finishing, the demon reciprocated and asked after Lucifer. The angel did not answer, which was understood as an answer in and of itself.

As they finished, the demon handed over a list of names to the angel, requests for clemency. It was a long list and the angel’s countenance grew grim as he read it.

They stood up together, and the angel offered to settle the bill. The demon then shook his head, almost amused, and pulled out of thin air three essences of individual damned souls. He threw them gently to the table and they vanished, silently screaming. Paid in full, the demon said. There was a moment’s silence before the angel nodded, sadly, and a small ball of purest white appeared between them. The tip, the angel said, and it too was pulled into the table.

Then they left through the same door, the demon turning left, the angel leaving in the opposite direction.

And from behind a screen, the owner of the restaurant smiled at one more year of peace treaty between heaven and hell, moved forward in time one year and re-opened for business in Delhi. And waited for the door to open once again.

© Lee Barnett

See you tomorrow, with – finally – some thoughts at last on the US Presidential Debates; I should have calmed down enough by then.

There’s a bit at the end of an early West Wing episode:

Bartlet walks out to the portico. Josh tries to run and catch up with him.
JOSH   Mr. President?
BARTLET [looks back] Yeah?
JOSH   We talk about enemies more than we used to.
JOSH   We talk about enemies more than we used to... I wanted to mention that.

Well, I’m not sure about the United States*, but there never was a Golden Age of British politics when people with differing politics were only ever seen as opponents not enemies.

(*I’ve been told I should start using that instead of The Colonies. I dunno, political correctness gone mad, but ok.)

How could there have been? In a two party system (which the UK has been for the main part) elections are a zero sum game. If the other lot get in, not only does your party not get to do what you want them to, the other lot – with ideas entirely just wrong, as far as you’re concerned – get to do what they want.

For every person that has regarded people of different political persuasions as good people with bad ideas, there has always another, sometimes many more, who regarded them as scum, as vermin, and as parasites. 

The insults thrown at political opponents back in this non-existent “opponents not enemies” time were in fact as nasty, as vicious, as personal, as anything said today and it’s sheer naïveté or conceit to pretend otherwise. And for all the erudite and clever political put downs inside and outside parliament, there was:

Lloyd George on Churchill: “He would make a drum out of the skin of his own mother in order to sound his own praises.”

Andrew Faulds on his own party’s then Shadow Foreign Secretary John Davies: “A fat arsed twit”. 

Harold Wilson on Tony Benn: “…the only man I know who immatures with age”.

And in return, Denis Healey on Wilson: “He did not have political principle . . . he had short-term opportunism allied with a capacity for self-delusion which made Walter Mitty appear unimaginative.”

And again, Wilson on Ted Heath: “A shiver looking for a spine to run up.”

So, no. And neither was there ever a mythical uplands where British politicians were held in great esteem by the general public and/or by the media. Any ostensible respect or deference offered was enforced by social peers and a class structure that drummed it into some that everyone was better than them. 

I was struck a couple of years ago, during the MPs expenses scandals, and the criticism of MPs having the gall to complain about their remuneration and expenses, that way back in the 1950s, Jennie Lee – the widow of the great Aneurin Bevan – was complaining about… the same thing.

That said, and without taking any of it back, the polarisation and the personalisation of argument in politics today is something I’ve never seen before. Not at this level, not to this extent, nor as widespread. And it’s not limited to social media by any means, although that’s where it’s often at its most egregious. Rallies have come back into fashion, both for Corbyn and for the populist. The speeches made at Corbyn events, at Trump events, at some of the Sanders events earlier in the year, were as polarising and personalised as I’ve seen in many a year, And those at the Conservative Party conference could have been written by software entitled The Polariser 5000, if Andy Zaltzman hadn’t probably used that gag already.

There have been half a dozen or so major political events that have directly affected me or mattered to me – and friends of mine – in the last year or so, two of them repeating but long enough apart to be worth separating. They are not linked – other than all taking place – and I’m not suggesting any causation nor correlation. I feel shitty that I have to say that, but after the past year? Yeah, I do. 

In rough order of chronology:

  1. The Syrian refugee crisis
  2. Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader of the Labour Party
  3. The US Presidential primaries 
  4. Brexit
  5. Jeremy Corbyn being re-elected leader of the Labour Party after a year
  6. The US presidential election

Every one of those things has to my certain knowledge fractured friendships, destroyed them in some cases. 

For it’s all very well protesting “you should be able to have political discussions without it getting personal” but it’s a tad harder to do when you’re being called racist if you support leaving the EU or an apologist for antisemitism if you support Jeremy Corbyn. It’s hard to keep it entirely impersonal when by supporting Clinton over Sanders, you’re called a warmonger. Or when, by supporting a Republican candidate who hasn’t disowned trump,  you’re accused of enabling racism. Or when, because you query the levels of immigration, you’re called a racist, but if you support immigration, you’re said to be a traitor to the UK.

There were and remain many sensible, logical reasons why one might want the UK to leave the EU, advantages and detriments considered. There are, similarly, lots of equally cogent well-reasoned arguments against it. But even on the very few occasions those coherent informed arguments were made, those making the arguments were accused in the former case of being shortsighted idiots and in the latter case of mendacity and talking the UK down.  

And, faced with those insults, what are you supposed to do? Accept those slams at you without hitting back? Turning the otehr cheek may be fine, but in political discourse, it as often as not solves nothing. Sure, responding in the same vein may bring more heat than light to an argument but ignoring personal slights brings neither heat nor light.

And while I’d be the first to recommend making your case and defending it with calm logic, sensible debate, when you receive a slam back, it’s obvious the one thing they’re not interested in is calm debate. Nor logic. nor dance. Nor reason. And as my friend Mitch Benn is wont to say: “it’s impossible to reason someone out of an argument they’ve not been reasoned into.”

So how do you keep it from being personal? You can’t. Oh, you can try to prevent it descending into personal, sure, and you’ll sometimes succeed, but for those other themes? Once you realise that for your correspondent, ad hominem attacks are their first option rather than their last resort? Walk away. Don’t run, but walk. Hurriedly.

But are they always at fault? No, not always. But you’re not going to know which is which. And if it’s a stranger, really, really, it’s not worth the hurt and upset and sheer bloody anger you’ll experience while trying to find out which.

But what do I mean when I say they’re not always at fault? Well, let’s gp back to that “trying to keep it not personal”.As hard as it is to not make it personal if you’re accused of racism and an apologist for antisemitism, it’s also and equally hard to prevent it being personal when you see people being racist and being apologists for antisemitism. Again, what? You’re supposed to let people, even friends, say and do things you find loathsome, and expect the friendship to remain unaffected?

And if not, if you accept there are some things up with which you will not put, then where do you draw the line?

Is a little racism ok, but not a lot? Is it ok if you’re accused of a little racism? No? 

If you let [what you consider] their racism affect your friendship, then why not also voting for a party you think wants to gut the welfare state, or that you think wants to give away sovereignty, or… or… or…

Again, without saying that accusations of racism are as bad as racism – again, I’m most assuredly not saying that – I can see the difficulty in keeping it ‘not personal’ for both the accusations, and the protestation.

And as I say above, one problem with ‘making it personal’ (which is a nonsense phrase; all you’re doing is acknowledging the personal, not creating it) is that it will, it has to, it must, fracture friendships.

I know friends that fell out over the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 that are still not back on speaking terms, not so much for the two opposing positions but because the other didn’t condemn the excesses of each campaign. Similarly, I know people who were fast friends, and are now barely speaking because of the EU referendum campaign. If only the lesson required was “ban referendums”; I know people in the US who have family members or friends who fell out during the Republican and Denocratic Parties’ primaries and also some that have changed their opinions – for the worse – of celebrities and creators because of their political affiliations. 

And then there’s me.


I have many friends who are Labour Party supporters; either those who are in fact members or who regularly and almost invariably vote for the party whenever they’re able. So far (about which more in a moment) that’s not been a problem. 

What has been a problem for me – I’ll leave it up to you to judge whether it’s been a problem for them, I suspect not – has been Mr Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader, his term in office,  and his recent re-election. 

Look, I’ve never hidden my views on Corbyn. Before he was elected in 2015, I wrote a piece entitled “ABC: Anyone But Corbyn“, and the day he was elected, I wrote another entitled “congratulations, Mr Corbyn… and goodbye“. 

I wrote the first to bring to anyone’s attention – anyone who was previously unaware of it – Corbyn’s determined,  and history of, indifference to other people’s antisemitism. I wrote the second after I’d resigned from the Labour Party over that issue. I could not, and would not, remain in a party headed by a man for whom someone else’s antisemitism was not only unimportant but utterly irrelevant. 

(And yes, he’s criticised “antisemitism” repeatedly, though only really since 2015. But only ever in the abstract, and never identified acts as antisemitic without great reluctance. Hell, his admitting that Hamas want to kill jews had to be dragged out of him. And as always, I welcome any examples of him criticising anyone for their antisemitism. Especially since that long and distinguished career of fighting racism. Of fighting racism that isn’t antisemitism that is.)  

I wrote in that second piece above that i didn’t think he was antisemitic, merely that he didn’t care if anyone else was. Later I changed my mind to my current position: I’m not convinced he is* an antisemite; I’m just no longer convinced he isn’t. 

(*he’s certainly indulged in more than a few antisemitic tropes, and publicity agreed when others make claims antisemitism claims just to prevent criticism of Israel.)

My views on this matter – and Corbyn – have caused me to fall out with more than one friend; it’s damaged friendships; it’s fractured them and in at least two cases, completely destroyed them. 

For of course this is what I wrote about up there, earlier in the piece. 

From my side, for someone, anyone, to support and defend Corbyn is to excuse indifference to antisemitism. For someone to regard accusations of antisemitism by labour people – for which as leader Corbyn just take some (not all) responsibility – as all “smears” is saying to me, to Jews, “you don’t matter. Antisemitic attacks, use of antisemitic tropes, criticism of  Jews for being Jews… don’t matter.” And there’s a word for that. 

Similarly, those who defend Jeremy Corbyn, who support him, view me and others as ‘weaponising antisemitism’, of making false claims of antisemitism because Corbyn doesn’t like Israel. They regard those attacks as mendacious, and malicious. 

Well, if I’m being mendacious and malicious, don’t let me stop you no longer regarding me as a friend. 

Seriously. Off you go…

See what I mean about it not being so easy to keep the personal out of it?

Diane Abbott has come in for an enormous amount of criticism recently. It is beyond doubt that some of it was racist in nature, other was sexist, much was both. (Again, it shouldn’t need to be said but I utterly and unreservedly condemn it and anyone who levelled such loathsome attacks at her.)

Yeah, you can see the “but” coming, can’t you? While I don’t resile from the previous paragraph whatsoever, I don’t believe either that every attack on her was racist or sexist or both; neither do I accept that the only reason she has been criticised, or the only reason she has received so much criticism, is because she’s a woman of colour; i.e. that the motivation for every attack was racism, sexism, or both. 

My position above, however, was enough for another woman of colour – a woman whose work I admired – to deride me, and ask me never to contact her again. 

She – I’m guessing because I accepted her request and we’ve not spoken since – views my position as indifferent to the racist attacks Abbott received and my purpose was to minimise their seriousness and widespread nature. 

Pretty much the same thing I accused Abbott and others of doing where antisemitism is concerned. 

So, where does that leave us?

Whether you hit back is a personal decision, of course. So is what you find personal. 

But fore you criticise someone for taking something personally, I’d just ask: do you have a ‘line; that you won’t allow others to cross because then you’ll take it personally? If someone called you a racist, would you take it personally? If someone said you were being homophobic, would you take it personally? If. you saw someone being racist or homophobic or sexist or ableist to you, would you take it personally?

If you would, then what right have you to criticise others for doing the same?

Thirty some years ago, I knew when the end of the uni term/semester was approaching. I don’t mean I knew by the calendar; like most students, I knew when the term would be ending from the day it started. No, I’m talking about knowing it, feeling it approaching, knowing inside that I had only a couple of weeks until a break arrived.

For my first two years in Manchester, the first indication was always a specific odour: the smell of omelettes and scrambled eggs. I lived in a self-catering hall of residence and those were the quickest, cheapest, easiest to make and most fulfilling meals. So when the place started smelling like cooked eggs every night? You could lay good money that a holiday was near.

But the real sign? That was when I started counting down how many ‘sleeps’ I had left in that bed before I’d be back home in Luton, when I’d think: less than 20 sleeps left before I’ll be on the train, or in the car, back to my parents’, and decent food, a decent bed, seeing old friends.

It’s been a while since I’ve counted sleeps to an event, but I wonder if Secretary Hillary Clinton and PieceOfShit Donald Trump are at the stage, fifteen days before the election, where they’re counting the sleeps. I kid, of course; in the former’s case, she’s almost certainly counting down the hours. In his case, he’s merely counting the characters left in his latest abusive tweet. SAD!

But in fifteen days, it’ll [almost certainly] be over. The caveat is there for a reason. Well, several reasons. Trump might not accept the result – he’s keeping us in suspense, remember? Actually, one of the few pleasures of this election has been the mental image of him on January 21st, trying to gain access to the White House and the secret service dragging his orange excuse for a skinsuit away from the front gates, his ‘hair’ blowing in the winter breeze… But there’s another reason: if, heaven forfend, there’s a suit, and it goes to the still 8 member Supreme Court of the United States, who deadlock, and send it back to a lower court to decide something-or-other…

As it is, I don’t think either of those things will occur; I think Clinton will win; how much she wins by is anyone’s guess, although I hope it’s by a fucking landslide. It’s not enough that she wins; whatever her faults as a nominee for President, it’s important that Trump and his entire attitude, political (for want of a better word) outlook, and supporters are routed, are absolutely shellacked, to use one of Rachel Maddow’s favourite term. I don’t want him just to ‘lose’. I want him to be beaten out of sight.

And, were it possible, I’d want all those in the GOP who’ve supported him, who’ve excused, justified, trivialised and minimised his racism, his sexism, his behaviour, his sexual assaults, his mocking of disabilities, his lies and his… his… being him… beaten, trounced, decried, and similarly routed.   

Four months ago, after Trump said… something or other – there’s been so many, I forget which one this was –  I tweeted the following: 

I wish I could say that I was wrong, that it was solely a joke. But I was pretty sure that it was – and would continue to be – the actual unwritten, unspoken, policy of the Republican Party. And so it’s proved. The list of those (and their supporters) who trashed Trump during the primary season and who later did a 180 would be far too long to list here. Hell, I could probably name one an hour and I’d not be done by election day. “But budgie,” you say, “that’s what happens during primary season; look at Sanders and Clinton…” Indeed, look at them… Sanders has at no point ever said that Clinton is unfit to be President; he merely said that he thinks he’d be a better President and that there’s some stuff she’d do that he couldn’t support. Contrast that with the long line of Republican Primary candidates who flat out said that Trump wasn’t fit to be President… and then changed what they’re pleased to call their minds.

Of course, if you’re going to say that, then you’ve got to exclude Lindsay Graham. (I mean, there’s Jeb Bush as well, but let’s stick to Graham for a minute.) Graham never hid his views about Cruz or Trump; while he said the latter wasn’t fit to br President for any number of reasons, he just does not like Cruz… in any way whatsoever. I’m sure, had he lasted longer, he’d have parodied Cruz’s Dr Seuss filibuster. Maybe:

I will not back him on the stump

He’s just as bad as Donald Trump

Not even in a voting booth

I will not vote for that Ted Cruz.

Maybe not.

But that brings up a fascinating question in respect of the US and the UK systems, since they’re the only ones I’ve any familiarity with.

OK, your party does… something. In the US, currently, let’s say they nominate a racist, fascistic, ableist, lying, cheating, far right pandering utter shit. To take an example out of the air. Or over here, the government votes for a vile, horrible law.

How should we treat the ‘rebels’? Seriously.

I asked this on Twitter. The results so far, as I type this are over there on the side. Because that’s a thing that genuinely interests me. 

Don’t get me wrong; I dislike almost everything this Tory government are doing, and I disliked a hell of a lot the last government did. And thsoe that rebel on a specific issue are still Conservative members of Parliament. They have voted for other particularly shitty stuff. And they no doubt will vote for for other particularly shitty stuff in the weeks, months and years to come. So, why ‘reward’ them for ‘doing the right thing’ this time?

Two answers to that, both meaning the same thing effectively. If they are condemned for the policy/law just as much as those who voted FOR the proposal, then what was the point for them in voting the way they did? In other words, why shouldn’t they think “might as well get hanged for a sheep as for a lamb”? Why should i piss off my party whips, my party leadership, possibly my constituency party, exercising mt conscience on an issue if by exercising it, poeple aren’t going to bother distinguishing between my vote of conscience, and that of ol’ Charlie Farnesbarnes who spoke in favour of it…?

Similarly, while I loathe pretty much everything Lindsay Graham stands for, surely he should be congratulated and celebrated for not falling in line with the other GOP cowards and fuckwits. 

Or, and this is a counter argument, are we in the situation that Bobby Jones, the golfer, found himself when he admitted to a foul stroke (when no one had seen him make it). When praised for his honesty (the resulting two stroke penalty cost him the championship) he was dismissive; “you might as well have complimented me on  not robbing a bank”.

Is that where we are? I don’t know.

I have more to say on the US election, but as I said above, fifteen days to go; there will be plenty of occasions before Trumpocalypse Day.

I’ve been for a wander in Central London this afternoon. 

One of the reasons I love London, particularly Central London, is that it’s never the same place from month to month, from season to season. Oh, sure, the geography is ostensibly the same – though even that’s not always guaranteed –  but the ‘feeling’ you get walking around London in June is very different from that in March. 

London in January, in the depths of winter, is an entirely different place to London in the Spring, and it’s different again to London a couple of months before Christmas. 

Only the last of these, though, is when London is just flat out weird. I’m used to London – the London that I know, anyway; I’ve been living in and around London for thirty-odd – some of them very odd – years. But I’ll never get used to this time of year, especially walking along Oxford Street, around Soho, and Kensington, in late October.

It’s when “the shops”* want you to think Christmas is around the corner, instead of some sixty plus days away. 

(*Every so often it occurs to me to wonder again at British idioms and metonymy vs those of America. I’m guessing the appropriate American equivalents would be “the stores”?)

Never would I believe that shops feel guilty about trying to see you stuff, at their attempts to get you to buy things now rather than later, but now – right now – is the time that I start to wonder. 

It’s that time of the year when some shops have swallowed the Christmas kool-aid and are in full blown festive frenzy, yet others appear to be entirely unaware that Christmas even exists. The battle between the two attitudes for the passers’-by soul, and their wallet, has not yet entered Defcon 1, but Defcon 5 was months ago, if it ever existed. Somewhere, in a boardroom, people have met and decided that today is not yet the time to roll out the bunting and the christmas songs and the paraphenalia that they think people expect. While in another similarly sized room, similarly attired people came to a different decision.

And I’m seeing the results of those decisions today.

So, anyway, I wandered, and wondered. 

I wondered what London would be like if Christmas truly came earlier every year, if it wasn’t limited to 25th December, and then I realised that I didn’t have to wonder too much, because several years ago, as part of that year’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, I answered the question. (No, you’re not getting Twelve Days of Fast Fiction this year, so I’d click on that link if you want to read one. Or this link if you want to read more thank one.)

So I continued wandering and wondering. 

I wondered what the residents of London past would think of the shops today; would they even be recognisable as shops to them? Would things we take for granted nowadays – neon signs, sliding doors, no-smoking insignia – be recognisable as ‘the current standard of the day for retailers’? Or would they look at all of them and ask themselves when speciality stores became the norm? Would shoppers from 100 years ago see the fashion hoardings outside Miss Selfridge and think the shop must be a sex-shop? Or a gadget shop and think it was a magic ship for children? 

What would they think of a Disney shop? Coffee shops every hundred yards or so?

Or am I being horribly parochial, and they’d adjust quicker than I give them credit for? 

I don’t know. I am struck by, as I’ve mentioned before, London being filled with the ghosts of memories, with spectres of recollection. I wonder whether I’d even recognise the person I was that walked around London thirty years ago.

Maybe it’s me that would have more trouble adjusting than them?

And, wondering that, I continue wandering.

Something different tomorrow… See you then.

I used to do this fairly regularly; after a week of blogging, just put something trivial up here. And after the year we’ve all had, I think no-one would really object to a moment, or a few minutes anyway, of light relief. 

And if they did object, to be honest, they’re less than likely to be reading this thing anyway.

When I started typing the words above, there was an element of artifice. I knew when I set up this run of seventy-five entries counting down to 2017 that it would include a set of Saturday Smiles but also know the words above are nothing but the truth. It’s been a shitty year so far. Some occasional moments of light relief, some moments of genuine enjoyment, but on the whole, no, not a good year.

And then I heard, while I was typing the above, that Steve Dillon had died. 

I almost cancelled the blog for today but here’s some stuff that – if you want or need a smile – is just for you.

One of my favourite ever animations: Pigeon Impossible

Followed by one of my favourite ever BBC promos: Generations

Two more, I think…

I’m hoping this is an unreleased scene from the cantina scene in , but probably not.

There are openings to movies… and then there’s this, from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Comedy tonight? Something else, tomorrow.

No, I can’t do it.

I started to write a piece about the final Presidential Debate, and Trump’s behaviour then and later, and… and… and… no. Not today. Oh, I don’t think I’d have any problem writing about it; but I try to keep this place relatively all-ages and I found it impossible to do that. I’ll take another run at it after the weekend. 

If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely familiar with Douglas Adams’ rules of tech:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

While I’d argue against both the age limits, and these days limit it to applications and software rather than ‘kit’, I don’t think the sentiment is far off. 

I have an iPhone 6S and an iPad Air, and carry both around with me most of the time. Or to repeat myself, I carry around two computers. 

Because that’s what they are. To misquote a line from an old advert about the Victoria and Albert museum’s café, the smaller device is a phone with quite a nice computer attached.

That’s the thing: as a mobile phone, the 6S is all right, I guess. It does the job, but I so rarely talk on the phone these days (maybe one call a day, if that); it’s primary purpose is of a small computer that allows me to listen to the radio, or music, check social media, read the news, occasionally write on (though I tend to use the bigger device for that). But a mobile phone?

I’ve had an iPhone since 2008 came out and it’s fair to say that once the App Store was created and I began to get used to “everything in the world” (as David Gorman once described the Internet) being on my phone, or at least available to it, the “phone” bit of “iPhone” became less important to me, and to most people.

Before that? I went through loads of mobile phones, about one every year or 18 months; mainly Nokia, with a few Samsung slide-phones, all of which I enjoyed using, although my favourite was still the Nokia 5210, a rubber encased thing that was just sheer fun to use.

The only phone I got that I disliked instantly and in fact returned was something called the O2 Cocoon, genuinely the only ‘bad’ tech I think I’ve ever owned. A horrible, horrible piece of shit that I genuinely cannot understand anyone thinking that it wasn’t a horrible horrible pieve of shit

But it could at least be argued that mobile phones were around before I was 35, and so Douglas’ second rule applies. And iPads are merely computers with a different input method.  

In fact, almost all tech, almost every piece of equipment I can think of… it’s been around in some form or another for a very very long time. Sure it can do more, sure it’s lighter, but… but… but… how far should I take that. Is a motorbike essentially the same as a bicycle? Is a car just a cart without a horse?

As I suggested earlier, it’s in the realm of software and applications that I find myself agreeing with Douglas Adams more and more. 

One could argue that blogging is just an evolution of the diary, and that I – as a child of the 1960s and 1970s – surely kept a diary as a young lad. And one would be utterly, completely wrong. Not about me keeping a diary, but because I did so, I know that a blog is nothing like a diary

With the rare exceptions of politicians and actors who might, in the back of their heads, think they might one day publish it, a diary was never meant to be read by anyone other than the author. If I’d thought that anyone would read my Letts’ Diaries (complete with ‘history of the world’ section), I’d never have written even half of what I wrote in it. There are women now in their 50s -classmates – who would be traumatised to know I had  crushes on them back then, for a start.

(Odd tangential thought: I wonder if people mentioned in diaries of famous people ever see references to themselves and think ‘huh, I never knew they fancied me’.)

When I started work, and was using the newer software the companies had: WordPerfect, Lotus 123 and the rest, I was always mildly amused at the older members of staff who were very happy thank you but they’ll stick with the software they knew. I’m less amused now that I find myself doing the same thing. 
I’ve forced myself to use Pages and Numbers (but still think of them as Apple’s versions of Word and Excel) on the iPad – and on iPhone when I have to – but I still miss the Excel in particular. 

I use WhatsApp and Skype occasionally, mainly – but not exclusively – for people outside the UK. But it’s still text messaging/iMessage for folks inside the UK.

Snapchat? No, really ‘not my thing’. And nor are almost all of the ‘new’ apps that are social media based. And I have no idea whether it’s the ‘new’ or the ‘social’ aspects that put me off. 


Looking through the apps I constantly use, with the exception of games that interest me briefly and then I delete them (I can’t remember the last time I found a ‘new’ game that I liked to the point of keeping it on the phone for more than a few weeks), they’re all either research tools or things to make day. to day life easier. Nothing there that’s ‘new’ or ‘exciting’.

Emoji. I’m sure they’re fun and all but… no. I don’t know what most of them mean, and they pop up in tweets and texts too ‘small’ for me to instantly understand them. I can cope with the ‘smiley’ and the occasional acronym – I still instinctively think <s> and <g> not 🙂 – but then I discovered those when I got online… when I was 31.

When I was 31.

“Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary”

Huh, what do you know? Douglas Adams was right all the time.

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.



The room was empty now, other than the three of them: the detective, his companion and the policeman.

The exhibits of the museum’s grand hall surrounding them, they stared at each other in silence until, eventually, the Chief Inspector coughed. “I’d best be on my way then. Nice job,” he said, nodding at the detective, then turning on his heels and striding for the exit.

He had almost reached the large double doors when a softly spoken “Oh, Chief Inspector?” brought him up short. He turned and saw the detective and his companion staring at him, the former wearing a look of mocking contempt as he so often did.

“Did you really think that was it?” the detective asked.

“Well, of course,” was the expected reply, and came it did.

In long strides, the detective covered the ground between them, stopping about four paces away, in front of the armour imported from the Czech Republic, and on special display.

“You really believed that nonsense about Johnson being the murderer? Of course you didn’t, so it occurs to me to ask why you pretend to believe it.”

There was a muffled exclamation from the companion behind him. “What? But you laid it out so perfectly, and…”

The detective barely glanced back at his friend, but glance he did. And his companion fell silent.

“I know who the real murderer is. You know that don’t you?” the detective asked, and the Chief Inspector nodded, slowly.

And together, as if rehearsed, they said simultaneously, with sadness, “it’s you.”

There was a moment’s silence, before they repeated the words, first with determination, and then again in confusion.

Then, again in sync, “No, it’s you. It’s not me! It’s you!”

Then voices were raised. And guns were drawn. And shots were fired. And bodies hit the ground.

And that, sergeant, is how they both died. No, I don’t know what they were talking about. Of course, I’ll be around if you have any questions. Good night.

                — Excerpted witness statement from XX (identity preserved for this record), previously best known as the companion to the detective, read out at the inquest after witness had left the country, having suddenly inherited a fortune from a previously unknown aunt.

© Lee Barnett

See you tomorrow, with some thoughts on last night’s final Presidential Debate, when I’ve calmed down; that way it’s likely to be less sweary.