I put something up on Tumblr – not on goingcheep , but on the rarely used but still extant budgie’s blatherings – , but figured I might as well record it for posterity here as well…

As I write this, I’m looking at my phone with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and mild irritation.

I just had my Twitter account locked, because I told someone who defended a tweet egregiously and knowingly falsely calling the jewish journalist David Aaronovitch antisemitic… to combine sex and travel, ie to fuck off.

David A had described the person behind an organisation as a shyster.

The organisation pretended – against every etymological sense – that this epithet was linked to Shakespeare’s Shylock, and was therefore exclusively antisemitic.

Of course it’s not. It’s not exclusively antisemitic. It’s not antisemitic at all.

And it never was.

But someone defended the tweet attacking David A as antisemitic. And once I said that it was bullshit – inaccurate, etymological nonsense and flat wrong – and they then continued to defend the original tweet calling David A antisemitic… I invited them to fuck off.

And every time he replied, defending his actions and comments, I repeated the invitation.

And – while leaving abusive comments on my blog; using different names, but all with the exact same IP address – he reported my tweets as targeted harrassment.

(Note for blog: all effectively anonymous comments are moderated, so they never went live, but I have them all saved in my ‘deleted’ folder should I later… ‘require’ them. Amusingly, they took me 1/2 a second to delete when they must have taken him several minutes to do each one.)

So Twitter has locked the account until I delete the tweets.

I’ve appealed, but we’ll see. I mean, I’m usually not that appealing in the first place, so it’s a tossup whether they agree or not.

In the meantime… ah well, such is life and all that.

EDIT TO ADD: Notwithstanding the tweets where I did, indeed, tell him to fuck off, I’m honestly bemused at these two prima facie judgments…

I’ll update this with the resolution, whatever the hell happens.

UPDATE: Twitter sided with the fuckwit. The same fuckwit who continues to leave abusive messages on here and on Twitter. Now, of course, with Twitter’s approval.

Oh, and I woke this morning to discover this:

Which, some might argue, is kind of libel-y; y’know, what with the reference to drug and alcohol abuse.

And Twitter saw no problem with it at all.

Oh. Fucking. Joy.

(There was, of course, no such apology. Like everything else from the fuckwit, that was unreserved, unmitigated, bullshit.)

Yes, yes, still on a break from the blog. As always, I fully intend to restart the blog, when I’ve got something to blog about.

There’s plenty I could write about, of course, but nothing springs to mind that isn’t already being written about by better writers who’ve got more to say.

So, yes, I’ll be back, at some point.

In the meantime, though, here’s something.

I went for a haircut today.

Under normal circumstances, of course, this would be a regular event.

And I use the word advisedly. I don’t mean ‘frequently’ but regularly, on a schedule. Usually, every couple of months, I’ll book an appointment and have my hair tidied up – and enough taken off – so it’s short enough that I feel comfortable with it.

Once I started going grey, in my early 30s, I had it cut shorter to ‘cut the grey out’. That didn’t last of course, and these days it’s more the case that I have the dark cut out.

I’ve been genuinely lucky enough to find good hairdressers the past few years. Currently, I have my hair cut by a young lady named Taylor, at Rush, Shepherd’s Bush. She’s superbly talented, friendly and genuinely… nice, a hugely underrated quality, I assure you.

But, as no one can be unaware, I – along with the entire population – have been unable to have a haircut for some months.

So, Operation Haircut, as I refer to it, has so rarely needed to be expertly planned, executed, and achieved. Fortunately, as I say, I have Taylor, who managed through her talent to transform me from Before:

   

To After:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to feel this much better afterwards; I did expect it. It’s nice, though, I’ll acknowledge, that the expectation was met so comprehensively.

(And, not for nothing, but it’s odd, knowing – when pics are taken – that they’ll almost certainly make it into this year’s update of A Life In Pictures.)

“Nu?”

Posted: 20 May 2020 in housekeeping, stuff
Tags: ,

I’ve received a couple of messages asking why I suddenly stopped blogging in April, shortly after briefly restarting, and whether I’m planning on restarting any time soon?

Well, quick answers are

    Because it was becoming a chore

and

    I wouldn’t call it a plan; more of a hope

In January, I took a couple of months off after six months of daily bloggin. At that time, I fully intended to get back to the daily blogging, but it turned out when I restarted… I wasn’t enjoying doing so at all.

One of the rules I set myself when I restarted in 2019, after a couple of years off was not to check the blog stats, the readership.

Other than under very odd circumstances, when someone promotes an entry or something¹, I never expect a big readership. And the idea of receiving comments on individual entires – which several years ago was entirely expected – now seems to have fallen out of fashion, at least in this place.

Which is fine. But it means that I’m writing primarily for me, not for anyone else. And writing for me…? Well, I don’t need to publish anything on here to achieve that.

So, yeah, when I started again in April… I found that I really didn’t enjoy the experience of blogging and it astonishingly rapidly became a chore, something I did out of an imagined obligation.

So, yeah, I stopped.

And yes, I do intend to return… at some point, or at least I hope to. When I’ve got something to write about that a) I enjoy writing, b) I enjoy publishing, and c) I think other people will enjoy reading.

Until then, I’m slinging something up on goingcheep most days.

I hope all of you and yours are well, and that this nuttiness, this absurdity, in which we find ourselves, is soon over.


¹ Oh, by the way, for some reason I’ve been mystified by, one entry from November – this one – has had more than 10k hits since March… Someone put it up on Pinterest and it’s taken off. Weirdness writ large.

“How are you?’

“Hope you’re well…”

Two platitudes, two phrases – ok, one question, one wish – which have taken on a whole new level of seriousness and importance the past month or so.

I’m far from the first person to realise that, but it’s something that’s now pretty much universally accepted that there’s every possibility that the response to both might well not be what you were expecting to hear.

And that’s far from the only change in communications that’s arisen.

A telephone voicemail with merely “Hey, it’s [me/your brother/mother/dad]” and “call me” might previously have been just to save time.

Now it leaves, as a friend mentioned today on Twitter, an impression of trouble; you could be calling to let them know that someone’s ill, or that someone’s died.

Things that didn’t previously need to be said… now need to be said. Both to avoid confusion and to remove ambiguity… and also to reassure the other person that you are ok, that you aren’t unwell, that you don’t have bad news to communicate.

But that “how are you?” question. It’s being asked not only out of genuine worry and honest enquiry, but because most people don’t want to worry their family and friends, so unless they’re asked, they won’t say that yes, in fact, they’re feeling ill, or even, that they’re not doing so great, they’re struggling at the moment.

While we’re all still getting used to this new world in which physical presence is not only not recommended, it’s pretty impossible… we’re also having to get used to the poor substitute of video calls. Of Zoom and FaceTiming and WhatsApp and Skype and Hangouts… and any others of the dozen or so common video calling apps.

Now I’m not… old. For all my joking about feeling ancient, I’m 55. (That shouldn’t exactly be a surprise) But it does mean that I come from a generation to which video calling for the most part is not how we learned to communicate.

My son is 24. He’s been video calling his girlfriends almost since he had girlfriends. But, with a couple of rare prior exceptions, it’s only since the lockdown that he’s videocalled with his mother and me. We’ve had a couple of Zoom conversations, the three of us involved: him in Wales, my ex-wife in Barnet, and me in the flat in Abbey Road. They’ve been nice, exactly what they should be. But they’re still kind of new to me and his mum. (Less so to his mum, to be fair, since she’s been using Zoom for work.)

And despite the enjoyment we had in the chats, despite the similar enjoyment I had when FaceTiming with friends the other evening… I’m still not sure that I’m… ok with it.

Partly, of course, this is due to me being… well, me. I’m not a fan of me being on video. It’s even worse than having a photo taken.

Because, despite the annual A Life In Pictures post, I loathe having my photo taken… or at least I loathe having it taken where I don’t get to control what happens to the photo after it’s taken. There are lots of photos of me in that post. Not one of them is a photo that I do not want others to see.

I mean, I joke every year that I’ve been about as embarrassed over the decades’ old photos as I’m ever going to be, but let’s be honest: if I didn’t want the photos in the post, they wouldn’t be there.

And with maybe half a dozen exceptions, I knew each photo was being taken at the time What I detest is so called ‘candid’ photos. Because I don’t like how I look in them, although I’m frankly astonished if I come out looking anything other than horrible. Hell, I don’t like how I look anyway, but I definitely don’t like how I look in candid shots.

So you can imagine how much I ‘enjoy’ being on video when my face, with all its faults, is on display.

Shudder.

But much as the walk is worth the foot pain it’s going to cost me, so far – so far at least, being able to see friends and family is worth the dislike of being on video.

So far.

It’s good to see them, it’s good to see that they’re well. To know that when I ask “how are you?” I can see the evidence that they’re ok.

To anyone reading this, I hope that you’re well… and that you stay so.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

As I suggested when I restarted the blog, I’m going to continue with the “Oh, it’s Tuesday? Here are a couple of fast fictions from the vaults..”


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Here are two very different early tales; I was still discovering how many different genres I could [try to] write.

I have no idea why the first tale went so dark; I remember seeing the word offered (‘zeitgeist’) and thinking I’d write something lighter. As so often, however, the story didn’t end up that way. It was also the first time I got a response of “your mind scares me at times”… which became one of my favourite observations of these stories; it may be a been the first time I received that response… it certainly wasn’t the last.

The second story on the other hand was one that I pretty knew everything about the story the moment I saw the combination of title and word. One o the easier stores to write, but – I recall – one of the harder to edit; a story that definitely took time to get just right.

I hope you enjoy both of them…


Title: My Only Tendency
Word: zeitgeist
Challenger: Dave Bushe
Length: 200 words exactly

I have a quirk. An eccentricity, an idiosyncrasy.

A quirk.

Sure it’s strange, but who’s to say that my habits are any less peculiar than your own?

Oh, you’re going to say that, are you?

Well… to be fair, you’re probably right.

After all, how many other people do you know who collect zeitgeist writers?

I don’t mean writings about the era in which the writer lived: the summing up of a culture, together with its mores and social, political or even occasional legal forays into self-absorption. Neither do I refer to the writings of someone who is generally regarded as the spirit of the age.

No, I mean that I collect the writers themselves. I kidnap them. I stick a needle in their arms and their marvellously clever brain shuts down long enough for me to ‘help’ them into the van.

It’s not been easy, but the cellar at the back of the house has borne witness to many of them over the years.

Every one of them looked upon as the spirit of their generation. And every last one of them writing as their final words their name, scratched on a concrete wall, with their broken… bloody… fingernails.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: My Dead Skin
Word: osmosis
Challenger: Dan Schaffer
Length: 200 words exactly

You’d think it wouldn’t be that often that you got to see your own body on a mortuary slab.

You’d be surprised.

I just about recognised the thing laying on the perspex; it looked like it had been crushed. No bones left at all; just the surprisingly thick epidermis.

I felt a cold sweat as if I’d absorbed the inherent damp of the morgue by osmosis.

“How many more of me are still out there?” I asked my sweaty hirsute companion, hating the question, knowing its necessity.

He looked pale. “Well, the cloning process is inherently unstable, so…”

“You said that three years ago,” I reminded him, “and that they’d all be dead by now.”

“Well, almost all the original clones are deceased,” he said with a squeak, since my hand was by now around his throat. “And the rate of asexual reproduction is diminishing with each generation. The radioactive tags are still there, so at least we can tell when they’ve died.”

I needed them all dead. All of them.

And then finally I could get on with living my own life.

Then I could stop living on borrowed time.

Then I’d finally know that I was the original.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

Sorry about skipping yesterday; I really wasn’t in the mood to write anything, let alone a blog.

I’m not wholly convinced I’m in that much less of a bad, melancholy, mood today, but after yet another crap night’s sleep, I kind of feel that if I don’t write something today, the blog will lapse into disuse again. One day off I can allow myself. More than that? No.

Because the past week hasn’t exactly been great for a lot of people, and that includes me.

Oh, that sleep reference? Well, this is what I wrote around 5 am this morning.

As for the rest, well, I can’t say that it suddenly hit me, the full absurdity of nuttiness in which we find ourselves; it’s not been sudden at all. It’s been growing day by day since before the harsh ‘lockdown’, but the last week has been rough.

And I’m one of the luckier ones. I mean, though I know people who’ve got coronavirus, I don’t personally know anyone who’s died. I know people who have lost people, and know of some others, but those who’ve died? No, I didn’t know any of them personally.

As far as I know, anyway.

That’s not going to last.

Six weeks ago, more or less, a friend predicted that in the very near future, we’d all know someone who’d died of this bastard virus.. I can’t honestly say that I decried the idea, nor that I swallowed it unquestionably. But yeah, I was foolish enough to not wholly agree at the time.

Yeah, they were right, I believe.

And given the increases we’re now seeing – a reminder, those who are dying now, picked up the infection before the lockdown started – I suspect that horrible moment is going to come a lot sooner than even they feared.

Another friend of mine said, ages ago, that I’m ‘dangerously’ content in my own company. I’m not sure I’d agree with the adjective, but content in my own company? Oh, definitely. I’ve been very determinedly single for many years, and I haven’t been either the most social or sociable of people for more than a decade. I wish I could blame that on the mental health issues that became apparent almost ten years ago. I really wish I could do that, but it’d be cheap and nasty and self-serving to do so.

The truth is that I was never the most social nor sociable of people before that; the problems I had may have exacerbated it, but no more than that.

(Oh, by the way, you wouldn’t believe how pissed off I am whenever I see someone online suggesting that that those who live on their own and aren’t very social are handling it better… because I’m not. At all.)

What I have had over the past few years, though, to help me in my mostly solitary life, are a set of ‘safety nets’ .

One of them was grabbing coffee and having a regular catchup with my ex-wife, my lad’s mother. Laura’s lovely, and as I wrote at the end of last year:

Laura’s one of my favourite people on the planet. As well as being Phil’s mum, she’s been a part of my life for coming up on thirty years. We catch up for coffee every week or so, and if for some reason we can’t, there feels something fundamentally wrong with the world.

She’s a lovely lady; smart and funny. And I like her enormously. I’m very pleased she entered my life in 1992; that she’s still in it is A Good Thing.

I wouldn’t change a word of that. But who knew that when I wrote it, that the “and if for some reason we can’t, there feels something fundamentally wrong with the world” would come to seem so prescient?

So, yes, Laura’s one of my safety nets.

Another is the Family Benn. I wrote about them as well in that post. But not being able to see them every week, to see Clara and Roger and the kids, to see Mitch… hurts. And I hate it. I truly hate that I can’t see my closest friends, and can’t share laughter and silliness and physical presence, let alone physical contact.

The other ‘safety net’ is one I’ve been well aware of for a very long time: being surrounded by people, usually at a coffee shop, who don’t know me and don’t give a damn about me (and it’s reciprocated in full, I assure you)… but it is being surrounded by… people. It eases the ‘yeah, I’m on my own’ just a bit. and highlights the difference between being on my own… and being lonely.

As I say, I’ve been single for a long time. And usually, mostly, almost exclusively, I like it. Or at least I’m fairly good-naturedly resigned to it. With occasional phases of being very bad-naturedly resigned to it, admittedly.

But never have I loathed it like I have the past couple of weeks. Never have I utterly detested my own company so frequently, so hugely, and so definitely.

Now, I shouldn’t need to say the following, but since every day there’s more evidence to justify the old saw”nothing is ever ‘needless to say’…”, of course I’m following the government guidelines/rules.

I’m only leaving my small flat for exercise (an hour’s walk), to go shopping, and occasionally for medical reasons, to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy or – as I’ll do in about two weeks – to donate blood. And when I return, I’m washing my hands. As I’m doing on a regular basis anyway.

(Not for nothing, but while I have no idea which songs you’re using to mark the ’20 seconds’ you’re supposed to wash your hands to, I’m using the first chorus of of (I’m) Reviewing The Situation from Oliver! That takes a little over 20 seconds.)

Other than that, I’m staying inside, I’m reading, watching tv… and struggling to do either for more than about 20 minutes at a go. I’m writing, a bit.

I’m going out for a walk… when the foot allows, and even sometimes if it doesn’t, knowing that getting out for a walk is – just about – worth the pain the walk will reward me with later that evening. I’m struggling with that balance as well.

“Struggling”. Yeah, that’s the word.

Especially since, yeah, as I mentioned above, I don’t really have anything to complain about… compared to many, many others. Others have people ill in their families, others have friends and relatives who’ve died. Others go into work in the NHS, working in horribly stressful conditions and, while protecting themselves as much as possible, look after patients seriously ill with this bugger of a virus. Others have lost their jobs, their income has collapsed, or they’ve physical problems that make my fucked up foot look in perfect health by comparison.

Me? I’m stuck on my own, and keeping myself to myself… which is what I’ve been doing for the most part for the past few years anyway.

So, yeah, you can add ‘feeling guilty about feeling shit’ to the mix.

I’ve been better.


Before I close this entry: a note of thanks, to everyone who’s currently using their time, either through their work or while they’re staying home, who are… making life better for someone else. Whether it’s singers and artists bringing enjoyment to others, comedians lightening the mood even if just temporarily, or those sharing their lives with others, letting them know they’re not alone, that everyone is finding it tough right now. Thank you. Thank you so much.

And, of course, thank you to everyone in the NHS, from the doctors and nurses on the front line, to receptionists, to those maintaining the equipment, to those managing the organisations… to everyone. Thank you…
 
 
Something a bit more cheerful, or at least less melancholy, tomorrow.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And especially right now, we can do with silliness. Fuck me, can we do with some silliness. So, while not all of the videos below are of the ‘stay the hell at home’, some…? Yeah, some are.

 

I’ve got to start with the obvious this week: Mitch Benn’s exhortation to do right now what the government tells us to in his usual subtle way.

 
 
And following Mitch Benn, here’s Samuel L Jackson (and how often do you get to say that?) with essentially the same message.

 
 
And here’s Smon Pegg and Nick Frost, redoing that scene from Shawn of the Dead

 
 
Plenty of people are doing silly videos. I did like this one…

 
 
And since The Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled this year, this is what you’d be missing….

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

I’d planned to restart the Ten Things today, but to be honest, I’m not in the mood. And I’m not entirely sure what do a Ten Things about anyway. I’ll have a ponder and hope to return to them next Friday. Besides, which I’m still getting used to this blogging thing again.

And anyway, as has been mentioned the past couple of days, my foot’s bloody killing me.

So, instead, one more post about London in Lockdown, to do with health. My health.

My physical health, anyways. I may write at some point on how I’m ‘dealing’ with lockdown and social distancing and stuff. Summing it up, the post would be ‘not that well’. But no, I’m not writing that post today. (Edit to add: It might, however, go some way to explaining why this is a shorter entry than you might reasonably expect from me.)

I’m fifty five years old. I take a few medications every day, including drugs or cholesterol and high blood pressure. (Although to be fair, the latter is a very small dose, and both my GP and I were fairly astonished that it had such a huge effect, returning my at times stratospheric blood pressure to a ‘normal’ measurement almost immediately.)

But like everyone else, in every area of my life, things have changed.

Ordering a repeat prescription is as easy, as convenient as ever, using the online website. Going to pick up the prescription, however? Well, yeah, that’s a different experience right now. Along with the pharmacists wearing face masks that look like they’re from a science fiction movie, those same pharmacists look… weary. Not just tired, but bone weary, utterly and completely shattered.

The queue outside the pharmacists was one of the smaller ones I saw… only about a dozen and a half people, and in substantially less good humour than the shopping queues. These were – some of them – people in pain, people who shared their pharmacists’ weariness. And people who just wanted to get their medications and return home.

Let’s put it this way: I was one of the more cheerful people.

Two quick other points; a hospital follow up appointment is now going to be by phone… to be honest, I’m surprised and impressed they didn’t cancel it completely. And I’m due to donate blood (after not being able to donate for 14 weeks after a procedure) in mid-April. I’m still planning on donating.

Sorry; I’ve nothing else to say today.

Hopefully, something more cheerful and light tomorrow.

I’m an idiot.

I know, this doesn’t surprise anyone reading this. But I am.

I mentioned on Twitter a couple of weeks ago pre-lockdown that were I still to be living in my last place, in Ham, between Richmond and Kingston, I’d almost certainly have thought at some point during the weekend: you know what? It’s a nice day, I can go outside as long as I don’t go near anyone else… you know what? I think I’ll go for a wander in Richmond Park.

This was the weekend when videos of crowds of people in Richmond Park appeared on the news and online. This was the weekend when the temporary (?) idiocy of the British public was shown to the world. This was the weekend when I realised that I’m a fucking idiot.

Because of course everyone else would have thought the same. Because of course me staying the hell away from everyone else is no bloody use whatsoever… if other people won’t stay the hell away from me.

Now I didn’t go to Richmond Park that weekend, because I don’t live in Ham any more. I didn’t go to Regents Park, because although it’s doable for me to get there without much difficulty… it’s still far enough to make it have to be a deliberate decision, not something that happens on a whim. I’ve lived here three years and only walked there twice.

But I was reminded of my own idiocy today when I went shopping. The restrictions have slowly increased, the queues have slowly grown, fair enough. And it’s not like the shops instantly went from ‘everyone? Come in the shop, no distancing necessary’ to ‘full social distancing, and we’re limiting the number in the shop at any one time’.

But today was the first time it really sank in. When I walked to Kilburn from me, about a mile or so from the flat, it was to discover that every ‘decent sized food shop – Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Marks and Spencer – had a queue measured in the dozens, and in one case, there were over 50 people in the queue, all about six feet apart from each other.

And I’ve noticed that the shops have cut down the number allowed into their premises almost day by day. Shops that last week let 20 people in… are now letting in 5. Pharmacies are letting one person in at a time, if they’re letting anyone in.

That said, the politeness in the queues and the understanding that for once, we are ‘all in it together’ is a but heartwarming. What’s interesting to me, however, is how the rules of courtesy have changed.

Someone a bit older drops something out of their shopping basket, and two or three people near them go to pick it up… then stop… and merely point towards it, gesture towards it. Where once they’d have picked up the item and returned it to the older person… now the courteous thing is not to do that.

People working in shops are being thanked more than ever before (cf the busses post from yesterday), as are the people standing by the doors letting one person at a time out… and in.

What I definitely noticed today were the people with huge shops offering those picking up only one, two or three items their place in the queue. OK, that happens sometimes in normal times, but now? Happens a lot.

There are a lot of things changing, in the day to day stuff, the little things that matter… that I wonder – I truly wonder – how they’ll change back… or if they won’t, afterwards.
 
 
See you tomorrow with something else.

OK, after a couple of days of housekeeping, I now find myself with a blank screen.

And after writing, and deleting, three different posts for today, with each of which I ran out of words after about 100 of the damn things, let’s hope that this one at least gets written.

I’d intended to write something personal about how I’m dealing with the lockdown. I really did. But everything I wrote seemed, on review, to be a little more ‘personal’ than I’m comfortable being. I mean, sure, there’ll be something on that – spoiler: I’m not doing brilliantly right now, I’ll acknowledge – but I’m apparently not quite ready to write that post.

Instead, you get something about London In Lockdown, or rather: my London In Lockdown. I suspect you’ll get more in future instalments but you get something today about what’s changed.

For example: busses. Now yes I know that we should all avoid taking public transport unless absolutely necessary. I do know that. And, for the most part, when I’m just going for a walk, I do.

I took the opportunity the first few days to find three different routes to walk, all of which have the two things necessary for me to enjoy a walk: no even slightly steep inclines either direction, and some pleasant scenery along the way. So, I don’t get bored either with the route or the scenery.

But yeah, busses. Because sometimes I need to take busses. The combination of a fucked up foot (a purely technically medical description, you understand, about more of which in a second) and where I live means that although there are a couple of shops within easy walking distance and a decent size Sainsbury’s within… an ‘ok’ walking distance, if I want to go to A Big Supermarket, then it’s a bus. And to be honest, the past week or so, even if I want to go to the decent size Sainsbury’s, it’s a bus.

Why? Well, for whatever reason, my foot has been bad the past week, seriously bad. Whether that’s because it’s actually playing up more than usual, or possibly after years of putting it off, something serious is going on inside the thing at the end of my left leg… or whether it’s psychosomatic, or I’ve just stressed it more than usual with the hour’s walking…. or whether it’s a combination of all of the foregoing… I have no idea.

But it hurts like hell at the moment.

I’m usually very grateful anyway to whoever the hell it was who first had the idea of combining codeine in a decent amount with paracetamol and gave me the wonderful ‘take the edge of the pain’ medication known as cocodamol. OK, I’m also very grateful to the doctors I’ve had over the years who’ve checked me out, seen the MRI and then gone “yep, repeat prescription”. But I’m particularly grateful to both the past week.

As a result of their efforts, I can at least go for my government allowed hour of exercise outside the flat every day. OK, I say ‘exercise’; what I mean is that hour’s walk in what passes for fresh air in London.

The foot + cocodamol combination has meant that I can, for the most part, go out and have a wander for an hour, and then there are the busses for the other occasions.

I’ve noticed several things about taking a bus now that didn’t apply before ‘all of this’.

(As a side note, I wonder when this global crisis will get a proper ‘name’. Whether it’ll be described as “the Event” or “The Incident”… you know, as such things are always described in sf comics, novels, tv shows and movies.)

Sorry, back to the busses.

I’m not sure when ‘oh, most of the other passengers wearing a face mask’ became what I expected to see, instead of merely unsurprising, let alone the anomaly.

I’m equally unsure when seeing people sitting together was the exception rather than the rule; it’s as usual now as it is for children of any age to be well behaved. I can’t remember the last time I saw a child even boisterous, let alone misbehaving, on the bus.

Similarly, almost every time someone gets off the bus, there’s a ‘thank you’ or ‘thank you, driver’, called out. Again, the rarity is someone not saying it rather than it being said.

Finally… many busses have taped off the seats nearest to the exit doors. I’m not wholly sure of the reasons for that one, but I’d imagine it’s to do with reducing the chance of anyone standing by the doors coming anywhere near anyone sitting in these seats.

So, yeah, taking a bus these days is a very different experience to before all this kicked off. (Mind you, I could do without the dirty looks from anyone in the street when I exit the bus.)
 
 
Apologies to all, kind of. This blog entry has been a bit of a mess. It’ll get better.

See you tomorrow…

Another housekeeping post, since I’m properly kicking the blog off tomorrow…

And, you can equally probably ignore this post, unless you’re interested in my using today’s post purely as a ‘thinking aloud’ entry.

What’s worked for me the past few runs of blogging have been three things, I think:

  • A countdown
  • A plan – and sticking to it
  • Dumping the plan, temporarily, when it’s been necessary, important or, hell, just convenient
  • Regular weekly posts

OK, so in order.

I’m not sure a countdown idea works for the next run of posts. I’ll have a ponder about whether to do a countdown to my birthday again, but if I do the usual [xx minus xx] countdown, I’d be starting with “56 minus 56”. And that, by an elegant inevitability, would require me starting the countdown – the actual 56 minus 56 entry – on Monday 22nd June 2020.

And that’s 83 days from today’s date.

Hmm.

So, no, I don’t think I’ll do a countdown between now and then. But given the success (as I measure it, not how anyone else might) of the blog when I’ve done a countdown… will it work without one? No bloody idea at all, but it’ll interesting to see. I think.

But why does a countdown work for me? I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons, and not all of them saying nice things about me, but having a countdown, having to refer to it every day… means that I do refer to it every day. It means that it has to be something bloody serious – illness of one sort or another – for me to skip a day. It means that missing a day almost physically hurts. So, yeah, there’s a part of me that is scared that without the requirement to fulfil every day’s post, I’ll just get lazy and skip a few days here and there not for genuine reasons, but just because I feel like doing so.

Yeah, it’s not an easy decision. Not at all.

It should be. But it’s not. Again, not entirely sure that speaks well of me.

OK, next: a plan. Well, that kind of goes with the countdown; I mean, let’s face it, there’s no point in landing yourself with a three month daily run, or longer, without having the slightest idea what you’re going to write…

So, no matter what happens, I’m going to give myself an ‘out’; I’m going to go with the same kind of plan I ran with last time.

So, you’ll get some fiction from the archives, some new fiction (if I can write something I feel appropriate for the blog), some commentary on British politics, some commentary on US politics as well; if I can find enough new material, there’ll be more Saturday Smiles; I also want to write some more about London. I like living in London; I like the city and even in the current circumstances, when we’re allowed out merely to walk or to go shopping, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to come upo with something or other to day about the experiences.

Personal stuff? Well, we’ll see. It’s been observed more than once that I avoid the personal, anything about me that only my closest friends know. Well, there’s usually a reason for that. But again, we’ll see.

Dumping the plan? Sure, not as an excuse to write something else, but as a consequence of doing so. Macmillan’s ‘events, dear boy… events’ (though he probably never said it) apply. Sometimes, something happens, in the news, or in my life, that fairly demands writing about there and then. It’s a toss up whether what I planned to originally write will even in fact then be written. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends.

Weekly posts. Yeah, already covered that above, really. Tuesdays I’ll plan to put up some fiction. Wednesday or Thursday will have some politics stuff, Fridays will, probably, see the return of Ten Things, and Saturday… well, you should know by now. I’ll fit in the rest around that.

So, anyways, that’s the pla– erm, that’s what I’m thinking of doing.

We’ll see if it works or not when it kicks off tomorrow.

See you then…

Well, hello again…

Posted: 30 March 2020 in housekeeping
Tags: , ,

Yes, yes, it’s been three months, more or less, and I’ve taken a much needed – seriously, you have no idea how much it was needed – break from the daily blogging, but I’m, and it’s, back in a couple of days’ time.

There’ve been few times in my life when I could look at current events and say a) ‘the world has changed‘ and/or b) ‘whatever happens next, when it’s over, the world will no longer be the same‘.

The one that jumps to mind, of course, is 9/11. For a period of time, there was Before-9/11 and After 9/11, and no one, not really, would pretend that the before and after were the same thing.

Dan Hodges asked a couple of weeks ago what news stories there’d been where the whole world was talking about One Story. 9/11? Of course. JFK assassination? Quite possibly.

And now we have Coronavirus, Covid 19. Or Covid-19. Or #Covid19. Whichever you prefer.

But whatever you call it, it definitely qualifies as ‘the world has changed‘ and ‘whatever happens next, the world will no longer be the same when it’s over.’

As I write this, it’s a couple of days before the end of March, and it’s not unfair to say that pretty much every sphere of human activity, every function of government, everything that makes us – wherever you are, wherever you’re reading this – a society… has changed.

Or at least the things that haven’t changed? Well, we’re all doing them very differently than how we did them even a month ago.

I mentioned on Twitter that a phrase I think we’re all going to have to get used to, pretty damn quickly, is “Well, last week, I never thought that…

Everything from the major to the trivial, from the global to the local, from the governmental to the entire personal… has changed.

And since I have fuck all influence on, or authority in, the major, the global and the governmental, I better concentrate on the trivial, the local and the personal.

Well, maybe not the latter, maybe. Not quite yet.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve always been a bit wary and careful about how personal I am in these things.

When I am very personal, it almost always comes as a surprise to me, and it’s rarely intended. Not consciously at least. It’s at least arguable, I suppose, that I’ve been more personal than I’ve consciously intended and exactly as personal as I subconsciously intended. I dunno.

Anyway.

The blog is back. I’ll write some more tomorrow on how I see the blog progressing for the next few months.

But I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I say that there will be at least some personal stuff, a lot of minor stuff and an awful lot of trivial stuff involved.

(And yes, there’ll be the return of the ‘fast fictions from the archives’, possibly tyhe return of the Saturday Smile in some form (though I’m going back and forth on that one), possibly some new fiction, and some thoughts. Many thoughts.
 
 
See you tomorrow…

Back… soon. Probably.

Posted: 17 March 2020 in housekeeping
Tags:

OK, after taking a couple of months off, but keeping goingcheep running, I’m just now, starting – starting, mind you – to get that itch to blog again.

Still need to figure out what I’m going to write about, and how I’m going to do it.

As has been made more than clear to me over the past few years, I’m a lazy bugger when it comes to blogging. And a countdown… helps. Or a count-up. Either. But they genuinely do.

Problem is that I’ve no settled idea what I’ll be counting down to, however; my birthday isn’t until August, and even if I wanted to do a 100 day countdown – which would test everyone else’s patience, let alone my own – that wouldn’t kick off until around 9th May.

(To be honest. though, other than the fast fiction challenge in 2010, when I wrote 150 stories in 150 days, experience teaches me that 75 days is about the maximum countdown I’m comfortable with…)

If I were to start on 1st April, however… oh, well then there are plenty of month-long challenges I could.. adapt. So, at the moment, that’s as far as I’ve pencilled in: to grab one of the very many 30 day challenges around and adapt that for the blog.

If that does happen, I imagine you’ll hear about it at the end of March, somewhere around the 30th, I’d guess.

After that, if it happens? Well, as always, the answer is: we’ll see…

Yes, STILL away…

Posted: 11 February 2020 in going cheep, life

Yes, this place is still on a break, or more accurately I’m still on a break from this place.

I’ve every intention of returning to it soon, but as they say, the best laid plans… except that’s not fair as I dont have a plan at the moment, merely a vague intention.

Partly it’s health reasons, both physical and otherwise; partly, it’s because I’m just too weary, and haven’t got much to say. Not that everyone else hasn’t said better and less pissed off than I would say it, anyways.

I am keeping up – mostly – with a daily brain dump at goingcheep, so if you’re missing seeing something from me every day, it’s worth checking there to see what I blurt out.

Unlike here, where I at least try to entertain or inform, goingcheep is more just a couple of hundred words on whatever is in my mind when I start typing. So, bear that in mind, eh?

OK, hope you’re all¹ well, and maybe see you soon…


¹ok, the seven of you who actually read this thing.

Still on a break

Posted: 23 January 2020 in 2020 plus
Tags:

Housekeeping: Yes, I’m still taking a break from blogging for various reasons, but I expect to be back soon. I’ve no intention of the blog remaining on hiatus for months, as I have in the past. I’m just not in the mood for daily, or even regular, updates quite yet.

My mate Mitch

Posted: 20 January 2020 in family, life, personal
Tags: , , , ,

It’s Mitch Benn’s 50th birthday, today. Happy birthday, Mitch.

No one reading this is going to be unaware that we’re close friends. That we’ve only known each other since 2010, however, does seem to surprise; most people assume we’ve been friends for a lot longer.

Even yesterday, at Mitch’s birthday bash, a couple of people expressed their astonishment that we only met a decade or so back.

But that’s perfectly fair; it still sometimes takes me aback, and saddens me, that Mitch never knew Mike, and never knew me when Phil was bar mitzvah’d. Would have been lovely to have him there for both.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Most Saturdays, since I restarted the blog in June last year, I’ve done a set of what I call Saturday Smiles; commonly, I’ll put up half a dozen funny or amusing videos just to lighten the mood, to give readers of the blog a smile or six after another week of ‘oh, what the hell has the world done now?’ I’ve done it off and on since I started blogging here in 2011.

And when I restarted them seven months ago, I made the decision to always include a song from Mitch. There’ve been some personal favourites in there, sure, but there’s always been something, if for no other reason that I like his work and I think more people should be exposed to it.

Because I do like Mitch’s work, his songs, his comedy. It’s why it was a joy to discover that I liked Mitch as well as his work when I met him.

And his 50th birthday seems as good a time as any – ten years after we met, and nine years since we became friends – to write something about my mate Mitch, and our friendship.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t like Mitch the moment we met, but that was under fairly frantic and pressured circumstances, and…

No. Wait. Allow me to go back a bit further. Pre-blog. Pre-Mitch.


I can’t remember when I first became a fan of musical comedy and of comedy songs. As early as I can recall, there were funny songs I recall learning the words of: playground songs, songs my dad sang, songs from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again on radio, and comedy albums… everything from Alan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (properly entitled Camp Grenada) to Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West; Benny Hill’s comedy songs are great, by the way.

I’d happily sit and watch Victor Borge on the tv at my grandparents. Hell, I’d watch anyone who made me laugh, while singing a song or playing an instrument, or both.

One year, I remember I was bought an album of comedy songs for a birthday or Chanukah; one of my favourite presents as a child, ever. I played it over and over, driving my parents, and my brothers, loopy. And my older brother – who I’ve mentioned before played the guitar with perhaps more enthusiasm than talent – did the whole ‘funny lyrics to existing tunes’, which I joined in with, with equal… enthusiasm.

And then there was Richard Stilgoe, and The Goodies, and Phil Pope, and Victoria Wood, and Not The Nine O’Clock News and Monty Python, and Who Dares Wins

But I’ve always loved radio comedy. My old man introduced me to The Goon Show (which had musical interludes but they weren’t comedy songs as such) and then… and then… Well, I’d been a fan of Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis through their work on The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Jasper Carrott’s shows.

So when they helmed a new topical radio show entitled The Now Show, I listened to it.

Well, ok, yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that; I used to write for a Radio 4 topical comedy show entitled Weekending; a few years after I stopped writing for them, it came off air… to be replaced by a new show entitled The Now Show.

It ‘starred’ Punt and Dennis, along with Marcus Brigstocke, Jon Holmes, Laura Shavin, and this fella named Mitch Benn who did the funny songs.

And they were funny; clever ideas, fantastic wordplay, glorious rhymes – which I later learned Mitch refers to as ‘stunt rhyming’ – and superb homages/parodies of music styles, and of specific artists.

Mitch let us into his life just a bit on the show. I learned he was married, that in 2005, almost exactly ten years after my lad was born, he and his missus had their first child. He was a huge Doctor Who fan. As was I. And a comics fan. Well, obviously. And loved sf as much as I did. And when he occasionally let his anger show in a song, it was never gratuitous, but always razor sharp, and he hit his targets. I liked his humour, and I liked the show.

I went to see a couple of the Now Show recordings in 2008 & 2009. And yeah, the personalities on stage were about what I expected: funny, silly and the cast obviously liked each other enormously.

I started using Twitter properly in early 2008, having signed up a year earlier. It didn’t take too long before I discovered Mitch on there. And his missus. And for the next couple of years, it was fun, whenever the show was on, seeing Clara nag Mitch – who’d be playing hashtag games on a Wednesday night when he was supposed to be writing his Now Show songs. The fun they obviously had, teasing each other online… well, they always lightened a Wednesday night.

I chatted to both of them, very occasionally, but no more than they chatted to other people, I guess. I remembered that Mitch had played at the Eagle awards one year at Comic Expo in Bristol while I was in the bar… but we never met.

And – it turned out – that had happened a couple of times; we’d been at the same place at the same time, but just never got around to meeting. It happens.

I knew Mitch and I had a mutual friend, but I’ve always been a bit wary of asking mutual friends for an introduction, not when they’re both celebrities in their own rights.

So, we just never met.


Several hundred words through this, we come to late September 2010. Work was hard, and I was putting in long hours, working six day weeks and most Sundays. Twitter was my… break from mundanity, I guess? Back then it was silly, and fun, and I dunno; maybe the memory plays tricks but it was… fun.

Mitch had written a song entitled (I’m) Proud of the BBC, and was doing a video for it; he invited his Twitter followers, if they were available, to come down and take part in the filming.

My office in Newman Street was about ten minutes’ walk from where they were recording part of the video, outside the BBC. I was going to be working on the Sunday of the recording – near where I’m currently typing this, as it happens – so I dropped them a message and said I might turn up.

Mitch and Clara’s reaction was – in part, I’m sure because they wanted to have a decent turn out – an enthusiastic “Yes! Come along!”

I duly ‘came along’, and ended up appearing for about a second and a half in the video, before I – having met Mitch, Clara and the kids, and liked them all – returned to the office and the month end accounts, and the three year budget, and the financial modelling, all of which I was then simultaneously wrangling.

And that was that; that could have been that. I’d met them, I’d had fun, and who knows, maybe I’d meet them again at some point?

It could have been no more than that.

And my life would have been very different, substantially worse, than it turned out.

Because when I mentioned to our mutual friend how much I’d enjoyed meeting Mitch et famile, his reaction was immediate, along the lines of: “How do you both not know each other? You two should definitely know each other. You’ll like each other.

Shortly thereafter I received an invitation to pop round to the house one day and meet them properly. As memory serves, and memories of that time are, I’ll acknowledge, a bit blurry at times, I was in the office on another Sunday, taking a break, and they said if I finished early enough, to drive around to them, to meet them properly. So I drove over to their place. Had a lovely evening, full of laughter and silliness and fun.

And then ‘popping round to see them’ after work became a regular thing, an oasis from work, and a welcome chat and time of relaxation.

I’d never ‘done’ Christmas really. I’m Jewish for a start, but it had never been my thing, and – after my marriage ended – I tended to go into work on Christmas Day itself. I’d clear the backlog of correspondence and work in the blessed silence of no telephones ringing, no emails disturbing me, no one popping by my office to ask me stuff. (For various reasons, I’d pretty much cut ties with my parents and remaining sibling by then.) So, yeah, I had every intention of working that particular Christmas Day until late in the evening.

Neither Clara nor Mitch particularly liked that idea, and they… well, I’d say they invited, but that’s not strong enough. They pretty much insisted that I join their family for their Christmas.

And I did. In both meanings.

Mitch and Clara invited me to join their family in oh, so many ways. Not just for Christmas, but to always be welcome at and in their house, to view their place as somewhere safe… another home.

They became my closest friends in an astonishingly short period of time.

And I needed friends.

I needed somewhere else I could think of as home, somewhere where I would be… ok, or as ok as I got back then.

Because I was in the process of cracking up.

And not in a ‘cracking up with laughter’ way; cracking up as in a ‘falling apart’ way.

I didn’t know it at that time, but I was. I mean, ok, everyone else – especially those at Chez Benn – knew it, or at least strongly suspected it, but me? Not so much. It’s easiest to describe what happened as a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown. There’s more to it than that, but that’ll do for the moment.

And when I lost where I was living, Mitch and Clara invited – again, that’s so little a word to describe it – me to take over the spare room at their place, and to live with them, as part of their family. Partly to look after me, to care for, and about, me. Partly to allow me the time to get through the crisis that was… me being me.


I met Mitch in 2010; we became friends in 2011, and there’s not been a day since when I haven’t learned something from him. Stuff about life, about family, about comedy. About friendship.

(Oh, and a lot about Doctor Who. No, I meant it: a lot about Doctor Who. Seriously, so much about Doctor Who.)

One of the things Mitch and I discovered fairly early on was that we both knew an awful lot about the same subjects, and interests. But there was shed loads he knew that I didn’t, and vice versa. In ten years, there’s not been a single conversation we’ve had where he’s not surprised me with some nugget of relevant information, or shown me a side of an argument I’d not considered. Doesn’t mean we always agree; hell, as often as not, our conversations are attempts to persuade the other that we’re right and the other is… well, if not wrong, then not wholly right.

I can’t begin to list all the things I owe him, for which he deserves – but won’t ever accept – my thanks.

But here are a couple.

Mitch knew of my comedy writing career (such as it was) and when he was snowed under with work – The Now Show, appearing as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the stage tour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, writing a novel – but had been asked to do some Radio 4 shows, he asked me if I wanted to help write them.

Whether I wanted to? Of course I wanted to. Took me about ¾ of a second to say yes. And ½ a second of that was me going ‘wha–?’

And the past four years, it’s been enormous fun, and incredibly satisfying, to work on his Edinburgh shows, to see him craft an idea, then a routine, then a show; to watch at close hand why this gag works, but this one doesn’t quite; to see why this word caps the routine, but that word would drain the energy from it; to watch an audience being taken along the journey that is an Edinburgh show.

I have no musical ability at all; I can just about pick out a tune on a keyboard, but not so as anyone would, y’know, recognise the tune. It’s a delight to see someone who knows what they’re doing… create musical comedy, and… make people laugh while they’re doing it.

Writing with Mitch has been the hardest, and yet the most fun, writing I’ve ever done. And enormously, wonderfully, fantastic.

Writing something else in the same room as Mitch, on the other hand? That’s just plain weird.

January 2013: Mitch has been away, doing a gig; I pick him up from the airport. We’re driving back, and he mentions he’s doing something for Radio 3, for Comic Relief, something with Simon Russell Beale.

Mitch adds that he quite fancies doing something else as well. Maybe… creating a muscial comedy album from scratch in 24 hours, with – we’re just chatting, you understand – maybe the song titles being chosen by the Now Show audience, curated by the Now Show cast?

The idea’s a fun one, and we bat it back and forth for a bit before I say something like ‘huh… you know, whenever I’ve done the fast fictions, I’ve done loads of extra challenges within it, but I’ve never done a timed challenge. Heh. Can you imagine? Me writing 24 stories in 24 hours?’

It sounds harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?

And yes, you can see where this is heading.

I mean, I’d said it merely as a ‘Huh… here’s a daft idea.’

But by the end of the car journey, Mitch is already working out where we could do this thing together; him writing, performing and releasing, a comedy album in 24 hours, me writing 24 stories in 24 hours, my challenges coming from celebrities, both raising money for Comic Relief.

By then, I’d lived with the Benns for six months or so. I stayed for another four years, before moving out in February 2017. I doubt there’s been more than a couple of days since when we’ve not exchanged messages, or chatted, or… something.


Mitch has no time for the sentiment: ‘never meet your heroes’; his view tends towards “get better heroes”.

Mitch isn’t my hero but he’s my friend, one of my closest friends. And I’m hugely, wonderfully, phenomenally, grateful for that.

I was a fan of his work before I met him and it was, and remains a delight to me that our friendship quickly developed to cover so much more.

Happy birthday, Mitch.

And thanks for being… well… you.

On a break

Posted: 12 January 2020 in 2020 plus

I’ve been ill this weekend, and I’m still feeling pretty lousy, so I’m taking a break from the daily blogging. After six months of it, I figure no one’s going to miss me that much.

Hopefully it won’t be for long.

Of course, last time I took a ‘short break’ after a prolonged stint of blogging every day, it was two and a half years before I returned.

So, we’ll see.

[More info here.]

Unable to post today… for reasons.
 
 
Something, hopefully, tomorrow.

No, you didn’t misread that, and no, you haven’t skipped five weeks into the future.

A short post today.

A very short one.

I almost took today off blogging in fact. But something occurred which had me opening up the app and typing something.

I’ve seen four references to Valentine’s Day today: two people talking about its approach, two people promoting their gigs (which happen to be taking place on that day), and one person lamenting that she’d just broken with her girlfriend and will likely be spending Valentine’s Day on her own for the first time in a decade.

Which is odd, as a concept to me. No, not the ideas of spending Valentine’s Day alone… the concept of not doing so.

I’d say I can’t remember the last time I spent Valentine’s Day with anyone, in a romantic sense, but that’d be a slight exaggeration.

I proposed to my ex-wife on Valentine’s Day 1993. For such a naturally unromantic fella like me, for once I did it ‘properly’: on bended knee, with a single red rose, and a poem.

Yes, I wrote the lady I hoped would do me the honour of becoming my wofe – ok, fiancée, to start with- a poem.

And while we were married, I think we spent most 14th February evenings together, unless I was working that night.

Since then? Since we split in July 2005? Ah, well, since then… I’ve never been romantically involved, (to put it formally), or ‘seeing anyone’ (to put it casually), on the day.

And although I’ve no doubt I’ve been in company on various 14th Februaries over the past decade and a half, I haven’t sent nor received cards, nor bought roses nor chocolates for anyone on Valentine’s Day since at least February 2006.

Indeed, I’ve neither been romantically involved, nor ‘seen anyone’ at all, for… well, trust me, you don’t want to know how long it’s been.

I’m sure that should probably bother me tonight more than it does.

Housekeeping: I put up a post earlier; deliberately didn’t include it as part of the ‘2020 plus’ run, for what might seem obvious reasons, but I’d welcome you reading it anyway. Thanks.


Not a surprise that I’ve been thinking about ‘those left behind’ today, of those who have to, in the old phrase, keep buggering on after someone had died.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking of humour. And not only of laughing in the depths of despair and depression, but of finding things funny, whether in the ‘funny ha ha’ sense or the ‘ouch, I mean, funny, but ouch’ sense.

We sat shiva, in the Jewish tradition, when Mike died. We’d just lost a young man aged 38, and there wasn’t much to do other than just sit there, drinking tea and coffee, hoping for the day, and the shiva, to end.

You’d not think there was much we could laugh about.

And yet… and yet…

We’re weird things, us humans.

There were the cringingly awkward things said to us, as a family and individually, and laughing broke the tension.

There were the inappropriate comments when someone said something without thinking – someone saw my then two year old lad Phil walking around the house looking for Michael and they commented that at least it’d keep him busy – and the sheer absurdity of it cracked us up.

There were overheard comments and sotto voce observations that one or other of us heard. And there were children, far too young to understand, or at least fully appreciate, what had happened and they were just being… children. They were silly and wonderful and wanted hugs and tickles and to be played with.

And there were reminiscences, both sad and, yes, funny. There was the time when Mike did [funny story] or when he said [funny thing] or even, do you remember when he [did something very silly that reduced us all to tears of laugher]?

I’m not sure whether laughter in such circumstances is a safety-valve or whether it’s just… people being people.

I do know, however, that any guilt at laughing while in the depths of mourning was ameliorated – in part or in full, depending on the individual circumstances – by the knowledge that Michael, while wanting us to mourn him… would have enjoyed the laughter as well.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Twenty-two years

Posted: 9 January 2020 in family, personal
Tags: , ,

Twenty-two years.

It’s twenty-two years since my brother died and, I decided a couple of years back: I should celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary.

Mark it, certainly; acknowledge it, of course; but no mourning.

Once again, I’m not sure this post entirely does that. But I hope this post marks the anniversary in a way that at least acknowledges that I’m missing him rather than grieving or mourning.

Towards the end of 2016, as part of my blogging project that was a seventy-five day countdown to 2017, I wrote about what it had been like to have Michael as a big brother.

And in the countdown that just ended, I wrote something else, with another couple of stories about Michael.

Although I write something every year on the anniversary of his death, I’d not really written about his life, about what it was like to have him as a big brother. So I did so, in those two posts. Spoiler: it was bloody great.

As I wrote in that earlier piece:

I’d be lying if I said that I still think of Mike every day. I don’t. But every couple of days, something will happen and I’ll think of him. Someone will say something and I’ll remember my brother.

If you, or anyone you know, was born in the second half of the twentieth-century, then at some point or another, as a kid or teenager, you calculated how old you’d be in the year 2000… a long time distant, but yeah, it seemed very old.

Until January 1998, I had the same ‘well, I’ll be so old’. Not long after Michael died, however, I found myself working out on exactly what date I’d wake up… and be one day older than my big brother reached. Yeah, that particularly day was a very odd 24 hours.

But that day was in 2002.

Mike was 38 years old when he died; in a couple of years, I’ll be twenty years older than he was when he died.

And that’s a thing you never get used to. Never. You’re always aware, in a kind of low level way, that you’re now older – and as the years pass, you’re substantially older – than someone who once was older than you.


You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, in the back of your mind, is the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to‘. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael. And sometimes… it bites. It bites hard.

Twenty-two years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is me experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older.

Waking up one year older than he ever reached.

It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age-related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains when you stand up, annual checkups that you get when in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by, and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it… about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know his uncle. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s 24 now and Mike should be someone he could call for advice, or to tell him a gag, or just when he’s throughly pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those more than twenty years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger, Neil and Amanda, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow the closest of friends to.

Mike was one of the few people in my life who I ‘put on a pedestal’; he never did anything that would have forfeited that place, and I celebrate that fact, while curious whether he’d still be up there, or whether the passage of time would have changed that from ‘love and respect’ to ‘love and proper, sibling, friendship’.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Others do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, albeit reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation.

He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said in 2018 that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

So, twenty-two years…

Thank you, and rest easy, brother.
x


A few years ago, after I mentioned losing my brother, on the anniversary of Michael’s death, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened.

But all asked the simple question: What did happen? Here’s what I put up in response.

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; And, here’s what I wrote:

Michael Russell Barnett
20th November 1959 to 9th January 1998

“On Thursday, Mum took me shopping. It sounds
harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?”

– o –

When I was at Manchester Polytechnic, ostensibly studying for a degree, one of the highlights of my time there was getting a letter from Michael. Full of gentle humour, the letters showed a literary side to Michael that can still reduce me to laughter 15 years later. The above line was written as he was recovering from his first heart operation.

Reading through the letters recently, what surprised me wasn’t so much the realisation that Michael was only 23 or 24 when the letters were written, but how much of my own writings have been influenced by Michael’s style.

Michael taught me so much, from how to play backgammon to the skills necessary to cheat at cards better than our younger brother; from how to scan a line when writing a lyric or poem to the proper glass out of which to drink scotch – “one with a hole at one end and no hole at the other.”

I’ve often said that Mike was my hero. And he was. The courage he showed throughout his illnesses and operations, the way he dealt with people and the way he supported me in all I did was everything I could have wished from a brother. We shared a particularly dry sense of humour and it was rare that a few days went by without one of us calling the other to share a joke or to tell the other a particularly funny story or a funny event that had happened to us.

Yet of all the memories that spring to mind about Michael in the 33 years I was privileged to have him as my ‘big bruvver’, four stand out as clear as day…

– o –

“Dear Lee, How are you? I hope you’re getting down
to it. And getting some studying in as well.”

– o –

August 1983
I’d driven up to Harefield to visit Michael before his first op. He was in the ward and when he saw me, he grabbed his dressing gown and we headed for the café. As we were leaving the ward, a nurse rushed past us and went to the bed next to Michael’s. We didn’t think anything of it until another nurse, then a doctor, then another nurse, pushing a trolley pushed past us. Naturally concerned, we headed back into the ward to see them crowding around the bed next to Mike’s. The curtains were quickly drawn and Michael suggested we leave. At that moment, we realised we’d left Michael’s cassette recorder playing.

In the sort of accident of timing that only happens in real life, Michael reached out to turn the cassette recorder off just as the next track started. The song was by a band called Dollar.

The title of the song? “Give Me Back My Heart”

We barely made it out of the ward before doubling up…

– o –

“I’m looking forward to our engagement party. My only problem
is how to ask Jeff for a day off on a Saturday. I suppose on
my knees with my hands clasped together as if in prayer…”

– o –

Wednesday 9th October 1985
Lynne and Michael’s Wedding Day. As their Best Man, I’m theoretically responsible for getting Michael to the shul shaved, showered and sober. Failing that, it’s my job to just get him there. Anyway, Mike has a few things to sort out at their new home, so I tag along and we spend a few hours together. Precious hours that I wouldn’t swap for anything. We tell jokes and pass the time, two brothers out together letting the rest of the world go by.

We get to the shul and get changed into the penguin suits. Flip forward a couple of hours and Lynne and Michael are now married. Mazeltovs still ringing in everyone’s ears, the line-up has ended and we poor fools still in morning suits go to the changing room to, well, to get changed – into evening suit. For whatever reason, Mike and I take the longest to get changed and we’re left alone for five minutes together after everyone else has left.

As a throwaway line, just to ease our nervousness for the forthcoming speeches, I make a comment that I’m sure glad I’ve got everything with me: “Suit, shirt, shoes, speech…” Mike grins and repeats the mantra. “Suit, shirt, shoes…” There’s a horrible pause followed by a word beginning with ‘s’. But it’s not “speech”, it’s a shorter word.

Mike looks at me in horror, and I’m beginning to realise what’s going through his mind. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost your speech,” I tell him.

“I know exactly where it is,” he says, making me very relieved for a moment, before continuing, “it’s in my wardrobe at home.”

After another split-second when we struggled not to crease up at the ridiculousness of the situation, Mike took control in that calm way that he had. He borrowed a pen off of me – the pen that he and Lynne had given me as a thank you for being Best Man – instructed me to get a menu and then stand outside the door and leave him for twenty minutes…

An hour or so later, after I had given my speech, Michael stood up to make his. He started off with a line that fans of Rowan Atkinson would recognise in a moment : “When I left home this morning, I said to myself ‘you know, the very last thing you must do is leave my speech at home’. So sure enough, when I left home this morning, the very last thing I did was… to leave my speech at home.”

As I say, it was a familiar opening to fans of Rowan Atkinson. To everyone else, it was merely a clever start to a speech. To everyone else that is, except our mother. Mum, you see, knew exactly how the speech should have started and there was a classic moment – thankfully caught by the photographer – when she realised that he wasn’t joking – he really had forgotten the speech…

– o –

“Last week I graduated to hair-CUTTING. Next week, if
I’m lucky it’ll be cutting the hair on someone’s head…”

– o –

July 1997
After Mike’s second heart operation, Laura and I took our then 20 month old son to see him. Michael had often told me that being a parent was a mixture of joy and heartache but that he was absolutely revelling in being an uncle. When we got there, he insisted on going outside with us, for Philip’s sake, he said, but I suspect that he wanted to go outside as well, ‘breaking parole’ if you will. He took Philip by the hand and went for a small walk with him.

Looking back, watching Mike and Philip walking together, and a little later, Michael holding Philip on his lap, I remain convinced that it was at that moment that Philip started his adoration of Michael, a feeling that lasted after Michael’s death.

– o –

“Did you go to shul in Manchester. Hmm – is a shul in
Manchester called Manchester United?”

– o –

December 1997
The last big family occasion was on Boxing Day 1997. It had long been a family tradition that the family got together at Lynne and Michael’s on Boxing Day and this year was no different. The last photo I have of my brother is of Michael lifting Philip to the sky, the pair of them laughing out loud.

He looked so well, having regained all the weight that he’d lost through his illness, still with a very slight tan from the holiday he, Lynne and the boys had taken in late 1997.

That’s how I’ll remember my brother, full of life, laughing and surrounded by his family.

Prime Minister’s Questions. I’ve written on them before, so no need to go into the whole history of them, their basic usual pantomime level of Punch and Judy politics, but…

But there were three items of interest in today’s session that I think are worthy of commenting upon, or at least noting that they occured.

Because, to me at least, they were genuinely interesting, and two of them at least were – again, to me – unexpected:

Let’s get the expected one out of the way; Jeremy Corbyn looked tired. For once the subject matter of his questions was in his area of preference: foreign affairs. But where I might have in the past expected fire and brimstone from him on it, it just wasn’t there. As I say, not a huge surprise given the election result, and the past three weeks.

(Though the lack of passion and fiery rhetoric just might have been to do with the next ‘interesting thing’…)

But it was painfully obvious that he knows he’s on his way out. He seemed… less, somehow. Which didn’t exactly hurt Johnson’s ability to blather his way out of pretty much anything Corbyn asked.

But since Corbyn is on his way out, a comment or two about his performance in general in Prime Minister’s Questions. I make, and indeed have made, no secret of the fact that I think Corbyn is pretty useless at PMQs.

Now, I hasten to add, that’s entirely unrelated to what I think of him politically, or as a person. I mean, there are plenty of politicians I hugely disagree with but who I’ll quite happily acknowledge their skill in the House of Commons; when they’re at the dispatch box, asking or answering questions.

There’s very little I agree with Michael Gove about, say, but he is pretty good in the chamber, while maintaining a… flexible and malleable attitude with accuracy.

I quite liked Paddy Ashdown but – in part because the House was rarely kind to him when he was on his feet – he was never someone who commanded the attention of the House when he asked questions as Lib Dem leader.

And then there’s John McDonnell.

When Corbyn appointed McDonnell Shadow Chancellor, neither Corbyn nor he had ever been on the front bench, asking questions on behalf of the opposition or answering them on behalf of the government.

Both were – I think it’s fair to say – utterly, unreservedly useless.

Difference between them soon became obvious though. Both were, they must have been, told by people around them ‘you’re fucking useless; my gods, that was embarrassing.you really need to step up your game‘.

That difference became strikingly obvious, though, when McDonnell clearly listened, practiced – I’m genuinely curious who trained him, I’ll admit – and… upped his game. In well under a year, he’d gone from cringingly embarrassing to not that bad at all; six months later he was getting quite good. Six months after that he was very good.

He’s now one of the best Labour has at commanding the attention of the House, asking questions, and making hard, very hard indeed, speeches.

Whereas Corbyn? well, Corbyn is better than he once was. The ‘I’ve had an email from a Miss Trellis of North Wales’ idea was a clever one but Corbyn being Corbyn overdid it to the point of absurdity. He eventually found his way to the apparently entirely foreign to him concept of… asking a follow up question, and even later seemed to almost stumble over the essential Leader of the Opposition skill of

  • asking the PM a question you already know the answer to
  • Getting a non-answer from the PM, then
  • starting the next question with ‘The PM didn’t answer my question; the answer in fact is… [embarrassing answer for the government]’; now let me ask him…’
  • And then doing it again.

However, he’s been Leader of the Opposition for four and a half years and it’s only the past two, I’d say, where he wasn’t flat out lousy at PMQs. And it’s fortunate indeed for him that he faced Theresa May for most of it; anyone else and he’d have been crushed every bloody session.

(One thing May and Corbyn shared, and it’s an odd thing for an experienced politician, of any stripe: they’re both abysmal at reading out scripted gags. Both can be, rarely but it happened, pretty good at ad libs, even if they’d been prepared ages ago and the opportunity to use it just now occurred. But scripted jokes? No, both terrible at delivering them. I don’t however wholly blame them; their speech writers should have written gags that at least sounded like their bosses’ words; they never bloody did.)
 


 
Second point of interest: it looks as if the days of 45 minute PMQs sessions are gone. Speaker John Bercow slowly but surely allowed the length of PMQs to extend until they rarely finished before about 12:45pm and occasionally ran even longer.

Back in the day, by which I mean way, way back in the 1990s, the format was that a backbencher would open the session by asking the PM for their engagements for the day. The PM would answer with something like

“Mr Speaker, This morning I had several meetings with colleagues and others. Later today, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings.”

The backbencher then asked another question, the important¹ question they’d always intended to ask.

Other MPs would follow the same format of questions. They’d first ask for the engagements, the PM would say “I refer the hon member to the reply I gave some moments ago”, then the MP would ask their proper question as what was known as a ‘supplementary question’. The idea was to prevent the PM knowing what was coming.

This all changed in the 1990s, when such ‘closed questions’ were for the most part abolished. They still occasionally happen, but only once in a blue moon. Now, an MP puts their name on the order paper without the question, to preserve the ‘the PM doesn’t know what’s coming.’

Bercow tended to allow two backbencher’s questions – one from Labour, one from the Tories – before calling the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition to ask his six questions.

So in recent years, it tended to go:
 

  1. a couple of backbenchers’ questions, then
  1. Leader of the Opposition/Prime Minister, 6 questions, anything up to 15 – 20 minutes… long questions, long answers, then
  1. 3rd party leader/Prime Minister, 2 questions, 7 or 8 minutes, then
  1. Backbenchers’ questions, 20 or 25 minutes…

 
Not under Speaker Hoyle. Looks like we’re back to ‘the old days’ at least about timings.

Today’s had:
 

  1. single backbencher’s questions, then
  1. Leader of the Opposition/Prime Minister, 6 questions, 10 minutes… short questions, short answers, then
  1. 3rd party leader/Prime Minister, 2 questions, 5 minutes, then
  1. Backbenchers’ questions, 15 minutes…

 
Done and dusted in 31 minutes.

It’ll be very interesting to see if this continues and whether we’re really back to half hour #PMQ sessions all the time or whether – as with Bercow – it… stretches. I suspect the former, with rare examples of the latter. But we’ll see.


 
Third point of interest: the very final question in the session.

Karl Turner, a Labour MP, asked the following question:

I’d recommend you watch it to get the full impact.

In case you haven’t time, Turner asked about a constituent – someone serving life – who’d saved lives on London Bridge by tackling a knife-wielding terrorist risking his own life to do so, and asking the PM to pay tribute to his constituent’s bravery.

I have no idea what reply he was expecting from Johnson, but the Prime Minister’s professed admiration for the man’s bravery and hope that it be recognised in due course was probably² more than Turner expected.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.


¹ I say ‘important’; I jest. There are and were so many planted questions of the ‘does the PM agree he’s just lovely?’ that the important questions are sadly the rarity

² It’s more than possible that the PM got a heads-up that the question was coming and that Turner had a pretty good idea what the response would be.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years; maybe next year?

But, the first year I did it, in 2012, some of the stories were not Christmas related. They were just… stories I wanted to tell. Here are two of them.


A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Here are two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, in 2012; two stories that came to me because of who issued the challenges, not because it was Christmas, and the tales show that, I think.

The story written for Kieron Gillen gave me the opportunity to show some affection for Ernest Hemingway’s writing; as Alistair Cooke once said, Hemingways writing has all the leisure of a ticking bomb. And the tale for Amanda… well, it just seemed appropriate for her.

My thanks once again to them both for the challenges, and the fun I had writing the tales.


Kieron Gillen writes beautiful comics; his scripts are glorious things to read, and I love what he does with dialogue.

Absolutely no point in mentioning any – The Wicked and The Divine – specific titles – Phonogram – because they’re all – DIE

You should definitely be reading books by Kieron Gillen.

I first met Kieron Gillen at a comics drinkup, many years ago. That seems oddly appropriate for this tale.

 

Title: Typos and Typography
Word: Hemingway
Challenger: Kieron Gillen
Length: 200 words exactly

There were the three of them waiting when he walked into the room. The table they sat at was long, wide and wood, as tables were meant to be.

Each of them reminded him of his youth, back in the shadows of his past, where the sun shone brightly, the sky was clear, the waters were blue, and hamburgers tasted like they ought to, slabs of meat, on grease covered lumps of dough.

He threw the papers onto the table, and watched the sheets scatter like the bulls in Spain, together but each scouring their own path. The woman leaned forward, gathering the manuscript, pulling it together.

“Anything else?” he asked, expecting nothing in reply. One of them slid a glass full of brandy across the table.

He accepted the invitation to sit while they read, and he drank. Then another. And another. They were pleased, with the drinking and taciturnity if not the writing. They were correcting the work in front of him, the bastards. He took another swallow.

Later, when he sobered up, vomited and vomited again, he hated that he couldn’t hold his drink.

It was hard to be an Enid Blyton when they all wanted Hemingway.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


It’s hard to describe Amanda Palmer without listing all her achievements. But whether you discovered her through her music, her life, her writings, her blog, her kickstarter campaign or just as a friend, she’s worth knowing, following and having around. Her music will make you laugh, cry, get angry and break your heart, sometimes all of those in the same song.

I first met her when I stayed with her and her husband in Edinburgh in 2011. It’s fitting that my first sight of her was while she was playing the piano.

 

Title: Frederick The Unopened Package
Word: realignment
Challenger: Amanda Palmer
Length: 200 words exactly

The chair was hard, its back rigid, as she stared across the small distance.

The baby lay on the bed, making small soft sounds. Was he asleep? She stood, slowly, and looked closely at the child.

The baby’s eyes were closed, and his body still but then he moved his small pink lips, only slightly but it was enough.

She turned away and then stopped as she saw herself in the mirror – the scars had healed, those on the outside, anyway; the surgeons had done their jobs well, the realignment of her jaw and facial features almost perfect.

She looked at the baby’s reflection and wondered who he’d be when he grew up; what he’d see, touch, taste… who he’d love, and who would in turn love him.

Her nostrils flared, and she smelled the acrid tobacco on his clothes and hair before he entered the room. He didn’t need to say anything; his hands had done too much to her already.

She tried not to wince as she picked up her bag, but she couldn’t prevent a gasp of heartfelt pain, a gutteral moan for a life wasted.

Her doctor held her as, together, they left the empty room.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Something else, tomorrow…

Woke up feeling particularly grim today; not unwell, but absolutely shattered. And it’s remained throughout the passing hours.

So, I’m exercising author’s privilege and taking today off.

See you tomorrow with, hopefully… something, at least.

2020 plus 05: Anniversaries

Posted: 5 January 2020 in 2020 plus

I’m coming up on a couple of anniversaries, one of twenty-two years, one of three years.

As long time readers will know, my brother died in January 1998, and I’ll put something up on the 9th, the day of his death. I made a decision two years ago not to mourn on the day; twenty years of locking myself away from everyone and reliving it was.… ‘enough’; from then on I celebrate his life whenever I think of him; whenever I think of him.

And that includes the anniversary of the day he died.

So, while acknowledging the day as I always do, I’ll write something about him, not just about his death.

There’s another anniversary I’m approaching, though, in about four weeks. And I’m writing this now because I genuinely have no idea whether I’ll still be writing the blog come February.

I mean, I never expected to still be posting something every day when I approached the end of ’55 minus’. So no idea right now whether I’ll still be – after seven months of daily blogging – posting, or whether I’ll take a break, and if I do so, whether it’ll be a short break, or a longer one.

(As mentioned before, I took a short break after the 75 day countdown to 2017… and that break ended up lasting two and a half years. So, y’know…

But yeah, that second anniversary; I moved into the flat in February 2017.. After just over four years living in Ham, in Richmond, come 1st February, I’ll have been at the flat three years. Which is astounding to me.

And, now, I can already hear my son, among others, expressing puzzlement and frustration: How can it be astounding to you? You know how the calendar works.…

To which I respond: Yes, yes, of course I do, and that’s not what I mean, and you know it. So, shhh.

In February 2017, I moved into my current place, in Abbey Road, about 1/4 mile from Abbey Road Studios.

There’s lots to get used to, when you live close to a place tourists want to visit. I mean, sure, every place I’ve lived, there have been been oddities and weird quirks. Maybe I was foolish though in not expecting to find tourists asking me for directions every third day as I leave my flat. Maybe I was silly, not fully anticipating traffic being held up as other tourists pose on that bloody crossing…

Thing is, you’d expect that both of those would get exhausting, and tiring, and irritating. Infuriating, even, as the months and years pass.

And yes, the being held up while just one more group rushes to pose, with faux-sincere apologies to the traffic being held up, is annoying, I wont deny.

But the ‘asking for directions’ thing? Not in the least. After three years, it’s still cute, and sweet, and genuinely not the slightest problem for me.

I’ve been waiting for it to stop being delightful, and it’s just not happened. Their enthusiasm, their ‘we made it half way around the world, but we can’t find something 300m away’?

Yeah, being totally honest and genuine: that’s never anything but… nice.

And their obvious and heartfelt gratitude is equally lovely to experience.

A while back, the Studios stuck a webcam outside the building. So if you do visit, you can wait 24 hours, then go to https://www.abbeyroad.com/crossing and see yourself on The Crossing.

A lot’s changed in the world in the past three years. A lot has changed, in some ways, in my own life, in the past three years; far more – especially in my ‘personal life’ – hasn’t, though. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

As a general rule of thumb, however, while I’m a huge advocate of ‘everyone is the sum of their own life experiences’, I’m an equally huge advocate of reviewing those experiences without regretting them. Or at least not brooding on them. Because they’re what made me… me.

Change the experiences, you change the person. And whether or not I like the person I am now, I am that person.

Some might argue that’s a recipe for stagnation, not growth. To which I’d respond: “Yes. And…?”

I view the twenty-two years sine Michael’s death in much the same way. I’ve no doubt that my life would have been different – how different, I have no idea, but different – had Mike not died. But he did.

So, yeah, I’ll mark the anniversaries, but more as a ”huh, another year’s passed’ than for any other reason.


As well as those two very personal anniversaries coming up, there are some more pleasant approaching anniversaries, anniversaries of birth… or birthdays as they’re more commonly known. Two of my closest friends, two of my very favourite people on the planet are celebrating their birthdays in the next couple of weeks.

Now, about them, I can honestly say that my life would be very different indeed, to the point where I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not met them and become close.

I met them in 2010, but became friends with them both in early 2011. And both are anniversaries I’ll note with genuine pleasure.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Housekeeping:: Yeah, I genuinely went back and forth as to whether to retire the Saturday Smiles for 2020. For one thing, it’s getting harder to find videos or clips or even funny stuff that I haven’t used at least once before. And while some of them are definitely worth a re-airing, it’s not fair nor sensible to keep pulling out stuff I’ve put up in this slot before.

On the other hand – ah, Tevye, thank you – on the other hand, the central message of these posts is still relevant, perhaps more relevant than ever.

So for the moment at least, they’ll continue.


Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And after yet another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a ‘how the hell should I know?’, here’s some much needed silliness.

 

I’m always had a soft spot for Marvin The Martian. Here’s some of his history.

 
 
Rachel Parris shows you how to deliver a public apology

 
 
Here’s Laurel and Hardy. What else do you need to know?

 
 
While I loved the clever and satirical congs of Flanders and Swann, sometimes you just need some silliness from them.

 
 
Johns Bird and Fortune, as ever being wonderful; This time, George Parr is a senior diplomat at the British Embassy in Washington during the time of George W Bush…

 
 
OK, one of my favourites from Mitch Benn, this time, about a certain song that’s hard to track down…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

A short one today, for the best of reasons as I’m mostly spending today split between researching something for a possible writing thing, and also actually doing some writing.

I’m tempted, since I nicked the idea for goingcheep from Warren Ellis, who used the idea of a daily brain dump first for morning.computer, to follow him and start labelling my planned writing projects with cryptic names. But fortunately, I have so far resisted the temptation.

So, something quick today. Not ‘quick and dirty’… I’m not that much like Warren.

A while back, when commenting online that I’m really not a foodie, that food – for the most, though not exclusive, part – is just ‘fuel’ to me, a friend asked whether I had a damaged sense of smell.

(Apparently, that’s a fairly well known possible consequence of anosmia: reduction of enjoyment in food.)

But no; despite having my nose broken twice in sex weeks when younger, no, I have a sense of smell. In fact, I have four ‘favourite smells’, and today, over the space of a couple of hours, I smelled all four.

While on the bus, another passenger started eating an orange. That was the first. Citrus. I love the sharp smell of oranges, lemons and limes. There’s a ‘clean’ quality to the smell that I appreciate. I’d be surrounded by the smell of citrus if I could; I’ve never been to a citrus grove so don’t spoil the image for me if you can’t actually strongly smell the citrus while you’re there.

But yeah; no idea why I like the smell so much, but very very definitely… yes.

There’s a leather shop just by the bus stop, and usually I can’t smell it, but today, just as I passed it, someone opened the door and exited… and that clear, deep smell of polished leather wafted out. Glorious.

The third smell is one that I smell every day I walk in Kilburn or Golders Green, and walk past a bakery: the heavy smell of freshly made bread. Wonderful.

I’m not used to smelling the fourth. Not in town, not in Central London, not any more. But as I turned the corner into the street where I was planning on grabbing a coffee… a lorry, laden down with heavy newly cut turf, drove by, and for a moment, the peaty smell of newly cut turf was almost like being in a garden just after the rain when grass has been cut…

As I said, a short one today; something else tomorrow. After I decide whether or not to continue the Saturday Smiles into 2020.

2020 plus 02: Demographics

Posted: 2 January 2020 in 2020 plus

When I started the ‘2017 minus‘ countdown, three years ago, I drafted a plan; one post for every day of the 75 day countdown. And I pretty much kept to it, give or take.

I did the same for the recent ‘2020 minus‘ and… well, ‘events, dear boy, events’. (As MacMillan apparently didn’t say.)

A few posts I had planned at various points never made it into the run. Some were never written because I was ill when I planned to write them, and they were time specific, as in to note a specific day or date.

Some weren’t written simply because while they were great ideas at the time I wrote the plan… when I came to write the posts themselves, the words just weren’t there.

Two got dropped because I ran out of something to say on each subject after about 150 words. Always bugs me when that happens; it’s never the subject’s fault, and always mine as a writer. So yeah, it bugs the hell out of me when that happens.

And some were never written merely because I couldn’t remember what the hell the abbreviation in the plan referred to. For example, I have no idea at all what ‘FQS/DC/Parl” might refer to. And if you can work out what on earth Greg Rucka has to do with the 3 of hearts and batteries, well, let me know, eh? (Seriously, the reference I have is “GregR/3♥︎/batt?“)

And then there were the election posts that I planned and never wrote; mainly, I’ll be honest, because I was too angry.

And unlike Twitter, where I can write a tweet, expressing all my anger, upset and venom onto the screen, and then hit ‘save to draft’, only to delete it later… anything I wrote on the blog that showed that kind of blatant and obvious anger got deleted rather than saved.

For one thing, I lost enough friends during that period that I wasn’t actively going around looking to lose the rest.

And for another, as I once wrote, anger breeds certainty, a certainty however that’s rarely justified:

Anger makes it easy to be certain. Anger makes it too easy to be certain. Certain that you’re in the right, for you would not be this angry if you were wrong, would you? Your fury is righteous, for you are a rational, sensible person, so it’s got to be the thing that made you angry that’s ‘wrong’.

But one thing I never wrote about did leave a small but genuine sense of regret: demographies.

I’ve always been fascinated by the assumption by many that people who support a party, or a politician, or even a policy, are a homogenous bunch, or that various populations within the larger group represent that larger group (even allowing for the specific distinctions that mark them out as a smaller population).

For example, if you separate out Labour voters into age bands, then you can automatically exclude age as a ‘similar’ thing.

But without splitting into age bands, then the difference becomes clear.

Average age of Tory party members? Last time I checked: 57. Average age of Conservative party voter? Well under 57…

Average age of Labour Party member? (This surprised me, though it shouldn’t have.) Last time I checked: 52, five years younger than the Tories, but still higher than the average Labour voter.

And as MPs of all parties have noted many times over the years, sometimes despairingly, the average party activist is someone prepared to go out on a cold rainy night once a month to a drafty hall to talk about party policy, and then to exhort others to do the same, and then to take the time to actively campaign for their local candidate.

Now how typical of the voters do you think that is?

It’s as daft as assuming people who go to Star Trek conventions are representative of those who enjoy watching the shows.

But after seeing someone doing something on Twitter, asking their followers whether they think they’re to the left, politically, to the right, or about the same as the person asking, I did the same.

Now usually, when I ask my followers something, then I’m either surprised or unsurprised by the answers. It’s pretty binary. Rarely am I entirely flummoxed by the answers.

Here are three from 2017, 2018 and two from 2019.

I don’t know what to make of them. I honestly don’t.

I mean, I long ago gave up being surprised at what people think my politics are. I’ve been accused on Twitter of being a right wing Tory, of being a socialist, of being a typical Lib Dem, and – my personal favourite, I have to admit, “a ranting leftie”.

But having done the above, I was quite curious about the demographics of those who – mad fools that they are, choose to follow my witterings online.

I won’t do the whole fifteen questions I asked, but here were some highlights with the odd comment from me. Obviously the % is of just those who responded, an entirely self-selecting sample.

Over 90% are younger than me; no surprise there. Most however are only a few years’ younger than me.

Almost half have been following me for ‘god knows, ages and ages…’. Again, makes sense. I rarely pick up loads of followers in one go. Hasn’t happened for ages; I’m more of the ‘net followers outweigh net unfollowers by a couple a day…’ type.

This one surprised me: roughly a third of those following me… follow under 500 others. Huh. I always assume I’m the only one who doesn’t follow 000s of accounts.

Most people followed me because of something I’d tweeted; either a RT or a Quote-tweet. It’s the latter I always feel sorry for; someone RTs or QTs me and people like it enough to take a look at the feed, follow me… and are then subjected to the rest of my feed. Yes. Feel sorry for them, folks. I do.

Why do they stuck around? Well, 68% have been using the same personal email address for more than 20 years, 78% have been using the same mobile phone number for more than 10 years. And ⅓ have been using the same twitter handle for more than than a decade, with half using it for more than than 5.

These are not people who easily decide to change something once they’ve decided they like it.

Most live in the UK; no surprise there at all. I was surprised that 6% are outside UK/EU/US/Canada. Just under half live in a city. I’m surprised at that as well.

I asked an entirely unfair question at the end.

In an emergency, absent social media (so… no email, Twitter DMs etc)… if you NEEDED to contact me, would you know how to?

I offered the following four choices:

a) Yes, I have Budgie’s phone/address
b) My friend has Budgie’s details
c) I would ask Budgie’s friends…
d) No, I wouldn’t have a clue

The final option got 67% of the vote.

Yeah, that one astonished me, I’ll be honest. And still does.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

2020 plus 01: Happy New Year!

Posted: 1 January 2020 in 2020 plus
Tags: ,

Happy New Year.

That’s all I can wish you, really; oh, I can use other words. I could go on, as I did for 2017, about how and what I wish you in detail.

I still think all applies, after all. (Scroll within the window to read them all…)

But at the end, all I can wish you, and wish all of you reading this, is that you have a good, happy, rewarding year.

Here, have some ‘2020 around the world’ fireworks and stuff.

Well now.

Fifteen years.

Yep. Fifteen years.

I checked earlier and yes, it’s true – this thing has been running in various forms, on two different blogs for fifteen years.

It only started as a bit of a giggle.

On Livejournal, back in the dim distant days of 2004, someone started a ‘hey, post some photos of you when you were younger!”

I put up a dozen or so, from the single baby photo I had scanned in, and then one from every five years or so up until the most recent pic I had of myself.

At the end of the year, I did it properly, putting loads of photos up, and since then, I’ve continued to update it every year with more recent pics, and have managed to scan in or otherwise digitise other photos I’ve found.

Why do I do it? Oh, why not? And, besides, people who haven’t seen them before get the unfettered joy of joining in the mockery…

So, time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2019 update to A Life In Pictures.

Now… about the pics you’re going to see below: as you’d expect, I’ve already been about as embarrassed at the shots as I’m ever likely to be, but yes, if you feel the need to go “awwww” at the cute pics of me as a youngster, or mock the pictures of me during the decade(s) that fashion forgot, feel free to do so.

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2019. As always, I’ve removed a couple of shots from previous years, and added some new ones. For once, I’ve more than a few to pick from this year – a rarity for me – but as with the last couple of years, thanks to some newly discovered photos and some technical wizardry, there are some surprises awaiting you below.

(Oh, since I was asked last year, the wonderful iPhone app I’ve used in recent years to digitise snaps so they’re effectively high resolution scans is a free Google app called Photoscan. I genuinely can’t recommend it highly enough. IOS version; | Google Play version)

OK, without any further ado… in chronological order…


Those are the earliest photos I’ve got of me… looks like they were taken the same day; my older brother is in the background.


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here in this shot and the next one.


It was 1972, ok? And I was at my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was eight.


My son takes great delight in this shot – I think I was 10 at the time.


Me at age 11. I still remember the wallpaper; very, very odd gold pattern to it.


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Just after my 15th birthday


August 1980, I’m 16 – yes, that is a curly perm. Shut up.


November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly


1983 – me at the PULP office, 2nd year at Manchester Poly.


Age 21, at a work leaving do, having left Manchester Poly a month or so earlier.


1985, at my brother’s wedding… at which I was best man. Yeah, 21 again.


At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25. Blimey, was that really almost thirty years ago?


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 – A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…

I love that I found this next pic. Laura’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. And this is another great pic of us on our wedding day. And yes, ahhh I had dark hair back then…

This next one’s an odd one for lots of reasons; first off, it’s obviously my BBC pass from when I was writing for WeekEnding on Radio 4; secondly, when I visited New York just after 9/11, it was better as ID for getting me into buildings, places, meetings than my actual passport… even though it had expired six years’ earlier…


The earliest pic I have of my lad Phil (excluding ‘scans’). Me, a new dad, aged 31. And so, so tired.


Me holding my son… he’s 18 days’ old here.


Yeah, another ‘Budgie plus baby’ pic, this time he’s three months old…


Me in New York, January 1998, just after we lost Mike


Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999


June 1999 – my spiritual home


August 2000; taken by Phil – he was five years old at the time


October 2001; New York, six weeks after 9/11; visiting Ian


May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie


mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday


Bristol, 2003. You can see the greying hair now…


July 2004 – working at the office


December 2004 – at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. See? I scrub up nicely occasionally. Three generations of Barnetts.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


August 2005 – at Brighton. First picture for ages that I’m genuinely happy with.


September 2005, last picture of the Nissan before I crashed it…


October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…


April 2006, at the flat.


Me in mid-2006, looking very serious for one reason or another.


Again, mid-2006.


Me in December 2006… looking slightly more relaxed.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning… very relaxed… aided by what Alistair Cooke used to call ‘The wine of Scotland’.


May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo


May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo


October 2008 – Me and Phil, studio shot for the bar mitzvah


November 2008 – formal pic for Phil’s barmitzvah.


May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


November 2009 – Me and Phil at a friend’s son’s barmitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind. No, not an illusion; you’re not allowed to wear black for the show…


August 2010, at Laura’s


October 2010, from Phil Tanner’s Photos – Mitch Benn ‘Proud of the BBC’ video shoot) The actual video’s here.


October 2010, again: at MCM


December 2010, after the office party


October 2011, trying out a beard… not quite yet… but give it a year…


Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…


No idea why I took this one, but it has me without a beard, anyway… August 2012

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

Sequence of shots, demonstrating Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)

This final one attracted the title “… and all the woodland creatures gathered around, for they had never seen a creature such as this in the forest.”


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…

The delightful Clara Benn proved that I’m tiny when sitting next to Mitch Benn…

Isn’t perspective fun?


Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…


Yeah, I broke my foot…

And so to 2013…

Well, in March, I did a charity event where I wrote twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief.


That’s Mitch Benn in the background, writing his comedy album, which he did also within twenty-four hours.

Phil turned up to support us…

And I got progressively more tired, and more silly, as the hours passed…

A small accident with the beard trimmer led me to shave off the beard I’d had for roughly a year…

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

Later in the year, finally managed to get a photo with two of my closest friends. There’s been any number of pictures of two of the three of us, but rarely any shots of all three… until now.

Not the best pic, I have to admit, but rather pleased we managed it at all!

However, another photo was taken that night which continues to amuse me no end.

You don’t think I’m in it? Really? Look to the right. Yes, just there… that blurred shock of grey/white hair? Yeah, afraid so…

Towards the end of the year, there was something new… a mini-me. Or to be precise, I was scanned for a 3D printing of myself. Very strange to see myself post-scanning on a screen…

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. I like this photo, entitled Two beards (old friends attached), a lot.

Around the same time, I wrote a post on the rising tide of overt anti-semitism in the UK, and that I’d personally faced. I used the following shot to illustrate it. I was and still am very happy with how it turned out.

Some time ago, remember, the delightful Clara Benn had taken a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in comparison, in fact. November 2015, she proved it again…

Isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…

Never liked the next shot in colour, I do, however, really like it in black and white.

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…


Me and my lad, outside Distraction Club, December 2016

And in December 2017, this one of the new[er], short[er] haircut.

In June 2018, I got to see Pippa Evans; this is me waiting to go in…

In August 2018, my lad Phil was in town for a few days. We realised it had been a while since we’d had pics taken of the pair of us. So here are two.

And, of course since we had that pic, and I had a similar one from almost exactly ten years’ earlier, I was kind of obliged to put the two together. I really like this image.

In October, I attended the Brexit march for a People’s Vote. It ended up with 700,000 people… plus me.

Same march, with Mitch… No idea why, but I really like how my hair looks in this shot.

And the final shot from 2018 answered the question “so, what did you do immediately after Christmas 2018, budgie?”

And so to 2019…

It’s rare there’s a pic of me that even I will reluctantly admit is a good shot, especially if it’s a selfie, but you know what? I really like this one…

Of course, that was after a haircut.

I look decidedly less good immediately before a haircut…

I just wish any pics from Edinburgh didn’t look like I’d photoshopped me into previously taken shots…

Oh yeah, I was in hospital in Edinburgh. I wasn’t impressed…

Here’s another post haircut pic…

I think that should do you. And, as I wish everyone a happy new year, one full of love, joy, and silliness, the traditional benediction:

Mocking may now commence.