It’s been a weird few days, and my foot is killing me, so after more than a month of daily posts, I’m invoking Blogger’s Prerogative and doing an easy one today, just images from an old favourite…

worldmappers.org

If you’ve not come across the place before, well,

 

Worldmapper is a collection of world maps called cartograms, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest.

 
Here are some odd ones…

Let’s start with home. My home, that is; the United Kingdom. For better or worse, it’s where I live. And it’s where a lot of people live. And where a lot of people live, who used to live somewhere else. And where a lot of people used to live who now live somewhere else.

Migration to the UK 1990 to 2017. (Hello! Welcome!, Grab a chair, I’ll make a cuppa…)

Migration from the UK 1990 to 2017 (We’re sorry, world, honest!)

And one more before we leave old Blighty: [gridded] population distribution.

Going global, here’s the estimated World Population, as of 2020:

One very much for me now. Coffee production, as of 2014. (They don’t show by brand but I’m pretty sure Sumatra is in there somewhere)

Do you enjoy eating plums? Well, here’s plum production (territory in proportion to the plums harvested) as of 2016.

Oh, you prefer Pineapples? Also, as of 2016.

Oh, you don’t like either? Well, you’re not getting away scot free either. Consume anything? Well, here’s an Ecological Footprint of Consumption 2019

Oh, you’d prefer per capita? Coming right up

I quite like this one. Land surface resized by its population overlaid with data about biodiversity hotspot regions.

Earthquakes, 2001 to 2017

Earthquake risk, overlaying population.

The US Presidential election 2020. You remember that, yeah? Well, I’ve seen lots of different visualisations of the results, but I’d never seen one quite like this. I feel like it’s obligatory to cry “Look what four years of the orange poltroon did to you, America!”

Here’s a less odd, but equally fascinating, one: the growth of covid through 2020:

worldmappers.org – Aren’t maps fun?

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Tuesday something else.

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Every so often, online, someone will ask a specific question, a deceptively simple question. ‘Deceptively’ because the honest intention is that people should become comfortable with admitting having being wrong about something.

And that’s not a bad thing to do. Neither the asking of the question, nor the intended consequence.

Though I’ll admit to a prejudice against people who claim they’ve never made a mistake, never fucked up, never come to a wrong conclusion… (with their deliberate implication being ‘I’ve never made a mistake, so I’ll never make one going forward.’) I don’t like it in bosses I’ve worked for, I don’t like it with people I know, and I loathe it in politicians.

Note that when I say “wrong”, or “mistake”, I’m not talking about someone who uses the weasel words of “I reached the best conclusion I had with the information available”. No, I mean “I was wrong about something.”

The question I refer to is:

“Name one thing about which you had your mind changed by a single argument? (Whether that argument was made to you in person, online or through an article or video.)”

After all, a single argument isn’t additional information; it’s a deliberate attempt to change someone’s mind possibly via additional information but certainly by an argument… that the person hadn’t previously encountered.

I mean, I like to think of myself as a not entirely unintelligent person; I’m sure most people like to think of themselves in the same way.

OK, I’m fairly well read (on many things, but certainly not on everything) and it’s rare for me to, these days, encounter an argument, certainly online, that I haven’t come across before. It happens, sometimes, and happened a lot, earlier in life.

But yeah, it still happens occasionally.

Here’s one I’ve mentioned before: the death penalty.

While I spent much of my life… uncomfortable with the practice of the death penalty, I’d not come across ‘a single argument’ against which I had no defence. I’d seen plenty of arguments that made a moral argument against it, but they were always an argument against the death penalty in principle, and I never really had an issue with it in principle, merely in practice. But I was never quite sure why I was so uncomfortable with it in practice.

I’ll get to that argument that convinced me otherwise in a moment, but what I want to stress is that when the argument came, it wasn’t directed at me, specifically. It was made on a CompuServe politics forum a couple of decades ago and the moment, the very moment I read it, my mind was changed.

Again, it wasn’t aimed at me, but it could have been. My closest friends would immediately recognise why it worked with me; indeed, as with most friends – you’ve got friends who would do the same – they know that some arguments just won’t work with me (you) whereas others are so perfect, they’re almost calculated to work on me (again, you.)

Here’s the argument that worked on me for the death penalty. I’ll say it as it was addressed, so the ‘you’ in here is ‘me’, ok?

“If you acknowledge that no justice system is perfect, then, inevitably, there will be miscarriages of justice. Which, equally inevitably, means that someone entirely innocent of the crime will be executed.”

That’s all it took. (I’ve seen it argued that it’s similar to the ‘better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be jailed’ but I don’t think that’s true at all. The ‘better ten’ is an argument for making the system as perfect as you can but not punishing unless you’re very, very sure. The ‘there will be miscarriages’ is an argument against making The Most Serious irrevocable mistake that can be made.)

Now, it took me a bit longer (and I’m not entirely, wholly and completely, there) to acknowledge the wrongness of any state execution in theory, in principle.

But in practice? That single argument forever and irrevocably convinced me of the wrongness of ever executing someone, no matter how convinced a court might be that he or she committed the crime. Because for every time you’re convinced the court reached the right decision, there’s a chance, albeit possibly a small chance… that the court got it wrong.

And that small chance is enough, for me, to wholly invalidate that most serious of penalties.

I’m about to ostensibly change the subject, but I’ll bring it back to some relevance to the above, I promise. Just bear with me, ok?

What’s the matter? Don’t you trust me? No, don’t answer that.

A few years ago, when my marriage ended, when Laura and I split up, I moved into a two-bedroom flat in Barnet; the second room was reserved mostly for my lad Phil when he slept over, but there was a decent-sized living room area, and a similarly decent sized main bedroom.

The flat was exactly the right size for me. (The kitchen was entirely too big for my needs, as any kitchen bigger than a rabbit hutch would be, but other than that, I mean.) Big enough to feel comfortable in, small enough for me to look after, without much effort. But for whatever reason, the light sometimes bugged me. Not the size of the bulbs themselves, but the quality of the light in the place.

I tried brighter bulbs and they helped but not enough. Then I picked up some ‘daylight’ bulbs.


Sidebar: I have to digress slightly here and say that when I asked my usual ‘photo reference library’ – Unsplash – for ‘daylight bulb’, they offered me lots of photos… of plant bulbs in daylight. Lots of daffodils and vegetables and the like. I found, and find, that more amusing than I probably should.


Anyway, as I say, I picked up some ‘daylight’ bulbs. They happened to be the most ‘energy efficient’ available but that wasn’t why I bought them; they just were the best I could find for what I wanted.

And, not quite instantly but pretty soon, I enjoyed the light in the flat. I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) but I definitely enjoyed living at the flat more with the white light bulbs than I’d ever done so previously.

Thing was I happened to mention to a friend of mine who is heavily into environmental campaigns what I’d done. He and his partner, who was similarly hugely into the environment, were delighted. They good-naturedly teased me a bit about ‘going green’, and when I protested, he got very serious for a moment: I don’t care why you’re doing it, beyond me liking my friends to be happy, but whatever the reason, I’m happy you’re being energy efficient.

And then he said something that resonated, that brings me back to the above death penalty thing: if I’d have known that daylight bulbs would make you more energy efficient, I’d have suggested it ages ago.

It’s always stuck with me, that additional observation:

If I’d have known that daylight bulbs would make you more energy efficient, I’d have suggested it ages ago.

Is that the answer? Is that the answer to persuading people to campaigns, important or not, global or not, urgent or not, less to do with the ostensible subject of the campaign, and more about targeting your message. And not to a group — political campaigns have known it for ages, targeting everyone of a specific demography – but finding a way of tailoring your argument to an individual.

(And yes, I’m very aware that Cambridge Analytica targeted political ads to individuals, and very small groups, but given they did it via – together with Facebook – effectively conning millions of people, I’m not entirely convinced they’re the pattern anyone should follow.)

Because, I tell ytou something without fear of contradiction, we’re going to need to find a way of convincing people, one-by-one, of something. We need to find that way now.

Because of the covid vaccine. (Yes, I know there’s more than one vaccine, but I’m sticking to the singular for this, ok?)

Almost (I nearly typed everyone without the qualifier, but of course it’s not everyone) everyone who wants the vaccine, or has been persuaded by a) the government, b) the health department, or c) the scientific community campaigns has either i) already received their first vaccination, or ii) already had an appointment for their first shot.

(Not for nothing, but I’m truly interested in the number of people who received their first shot and chose not to get their second…)

But the vaccination numbers (not the vaccinated numbers) are dropping, and we’re getting to the areas of population, both here and across the Atlantic, where people don’t want the vaccine. (Again, I’m of course excluding those who have been advised by reputable and competent medical professionals not to have it; those people are why it’s so bloody important that everyone else gets it.)

And we know that those people won’t respond favourably (as in ‘yes, now I’ll have the vaccine’) as a group to campaigns and arguments and debates and threats and pleas. Because if they would… they already would have.

So, the governments are forced to either mandate them with the thread of going to jail or losing their jobs, or find some other way of persuading them.

I don’t know the answer. I suspect some computer modelling might be required, and a lot of analysis, in order to find an argument that persuades a very small number, who go on to persuade more.

But we need an answer. Before we go through the alphabet and end up withan Omega Variant that, though the chosen-to-remain-unvaccinated’s selfishness and antipathy, starts killing millions more.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant.

Indeed, as I’ve grown older, if not wiser, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

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

For this run, I’m going to try and find, each week, three archive clips, one example of something that’s just… nice. And then end every week with something from my mate Mitch, who fortunately has continued to provide videos over the past year.

Ok then… let’s start.

 

While this week’s isn’t going to be all medical/covid related, this video definitely gets prime spot this week: Matt Green on A Minister gets pinged

 

The first of two “every so often, I remember that this exists”. I’m a sucker for cover versions, and re-interpretations. This, by The Post-Modern Jukebox does exactly what it says on the tin, with a couple of guest stars at the end to lend their seal of approval: The Evolution of The Friends Theme Song, 1920s to 1990s.

 
 
I’m not sure when I first discovered Rik Mayall; it’s possible, I guess, I’d come across him before what I first remember encountering him for, as Kevin Turvey. but Turvey was the first time I saw him and thought ‘holy hell, this is something special’. Here’s Mayall as Kevin Turvey Investigates… Sex.

  
 
For today’s ‘nice’ smile(s), here’s the second of the “every so often, I remember that this exists”: Emma Stone and Maya Rudolph doing Call Your Girlfriend

  
 
A more recent one from Mitch, this week, about how nice it must be for international get-togethers now that someone isn’t there any more…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else… probably related to the image shown above.

Todays’ post was intended to be a ‘Ten Things‘ post, this time on comics I’d reread during lockdown, but, to be honest, I’m both demob happy because I got out of self-isolation at 11:59pm last night, and really not in the mood because I had an awful, just awful, night’s sleep last night.

And – to be brutally honest – while I was keeping a promise to myself (and one other person, an old friend) to write and publish one new piece of fiction every week, I feel no such obligation to keep to my own wholly arbitrary and invented rules about any ‘Ten Things’ posts that I entirely made up for this countdown run.

So, the entry that was planned for today? You get that next Friday.

Probably.

Instead today, since right now I envy a gnat’s attention span, you get some odds and sods, various things that are on my mind right now before flickering away.

No, this definitely isn’t a multi-part goingcheep, how dare you think that? #WhistlesNotQuiteSoInnocently

Self-isolation – it’s ended!
Well, just after 11:59pm, last night, my NHS Covid app did something weird. I expected to get a notification that my self-isolation had ended, and that I was now free to go out, if I wanted.

I mean, ok, as I said in the entry on Sunday – 57 minus 30: So, I was pinged… – I then discovered from calling 119 that I wasn’t actually, y’know, legally obliged to self-isolate.

I hadn’t been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, I’d been pinged.

And being pinged, if you haven’t tested positive, just means that you’re obliged to consider isolating, although the advice, the very strong advice, is that you definitely, definitely, very definitely, self-isolate.

Now I don’t hold myself out as a paragon of virtue, by any means. And I’m as hypocritical as the next person. (Unless the next person is a British politician, in which case, yes, I’ll acknowledge that I’m not as hypocritical.)

But I do try not to be hypocritical, and given that everyone, including me, benefits from me staying at home and isolating, and no one, including me, is actively harmed by me doing so, it made sense to follow the best advice and self-isolate. And yes, there is a ‘hypocrite’ charge to be levelled at those who tell others they should always self-isolate no matter what when pinged, but who choose (for all sorts of reasons) not to do so themselves.

So, yes, I self-isolated. And it wasn’t pleasant, to be honest. While I’m neither the most social nor sociable of people in general, I loathed being stuck in the flat, not being able to go to the shops, not being able to see my few regular contacts-in-person, and not being able to grab a coffee outside.

But back to the weird thing my app did just after 11:59 last night.

(Oh, and well done, seriously, to whoever designed the bit of the app that ended isolation at 11:59pm rather than at midnight. I’m not even slightly kidding. Had it been at midnight, you’d have had confusion; if your’e informed your isolation ends at Thursday midnight, is that midnight as the day ends, or midnight as the day begins? Someone thought about that, and it shows.)

I didn’t get a notification that my self-isolation had ended. Instead, I got a notification that I had to self-isolate for ten days.

Yeah. As I say, weird.

I hadn’t seen anyone since I’d been pinged, so how could I have a new potential contact? And when I opened the app to check what was going on, there was no ‘you have to isolate for 10 days’ or anything. Just the usual indication that all’s well. Fortunately, in the ‘settings’ part of the app, there’s an opportunity to discover both “date of exposure” and “date of notification”.

Mine showed:

Date of exposure: 12th July 2021 (ie the original contact for which I’d been notified to self-isolate, and was 10 days ago, crucial.)
Date of notification: 23rd July 2021 (this previous showed last Friday, when I was pinged)

So, it was the app resetting itself. OK, but you saw my congratulations earlier about the 11:59pm? Yeah, someone didn’t think about this bit. I’d hate to think how many people panic on seeing that second ‘false’ notification about having to self-isolate again.

Anyway, my enforced stay at chateau budgie ended and… so I went for a wander at midnight to celebrate my own personal Freedom Day. (Sorry, but you knew that was coming, right?)

I won’t lie; I thoroughly enjoyed the wander, more than I think I enjoyed almost anything else in the past week. I was, for once, precisely what my twitter profile says: a wanderer and a wonderer.

I wasn’t, however, accompanied by the usual audiobook nor podcast. I wanted to enjoy the walk, as long as my foot would allow, and so I just let my mind wander, and hoped like hell it would retrun when I arrived back at the flat around 1:10am.

Here’s a couple of things that I was thinking about…
 
 
But he lied!
A Labour MP, Dawn Butler, someone generally I’ve not got a lot of time for, though, vanishingly rarely, she surprises and impresses me – called Boris Johnson a liar in the House of Commons. Now this is a no-no, and she was asked to withdraw the comment as unparliamentary language by the Deputy Speaker, who was in the Chair. Butler refused and was then ordered to leave (‘withdraw from’) the chamber for the rest of the day.

Now there are two entirely valid ways of looking at this. The first is that she knew what she was doing, she’s more than aware of the rules of the Parliament as set out in both Standing Orders and Erskine May. She knew that by accusing the PM of lying (and it’s the accusation towards another MP that really counts, not accusing a minister, since the latter is decided by, erm, the PM) and therefore she deserved everything she got. She’s got nothing to complain about and anyone supporting her is just plain daft; it’s not like she’s a novice who made a mistake. She broke the rules of debate in the chamber, and then refused to obey the Chair. Doesn’t matter which rule was broken, the House of Commons’ rules are set by all MPs, and deliberately breaking them for publicity is puerile and immature.

As I say, that’s one view.

The second, very different, take is that she thinks, as do many, that the rules barring an accusation of lying in the House of Commons are, today, ludicrously anachronistic. That the rules were created in a time when it was genuinely expected that MPs would not lie nor mislead the House; deliberately misleading the House was if not a resigning matter than certainly an incredibly serious offence, one that could end a promising career or certainly pause one for a while. It certainly wasn’t expected that a minister or, heaven forfend, The Prime Minister would mislead the House on a frequent – oh my gods, it’s frequent – basis for no reasons other than political expediency and because he can get away with it. Taking this view, the only way to bring home to the public how ludicrous the rules are, and to get some publicity for the move, is to challenge the PM by name, call him a liar, and take your lumps when the Chair kicks you out. It’s not that serious a punishment, after all. You get kicked out of the chamber for a few hours. So what? You go to your office, answer some constituency email, do some correspondence, and then wait for the news media to ask for interviews.

(Readers who remember my naming Boris Johnson our primus inter mendaces may speculate at this point which view I have more sympathy with. Who knows, you might even be right. Possibly.)

Both of the are valid interpretations, I think. I should say that one journalist I admire hugely for his writing views the allegation of lying as a no no, no matter what. I think he’s wrong when it comes to serial liars, but his view is, apart from anything else, it only and always adds heat to a discussion, and never light; it never accomplishes anything and if anything prevents any possibility of moving forward. It’s abuse, plain and simple. As I say, I disagree with John Rentoul on this.

However, what I struggle to consider as valid view is the professed surprise by so many British people who frequently (frequently? Daily to the extent that it’s rare they talk about anything else) comment on British politics. This is far from the first time this subject has come up, and to pretend that a) Butler didn’t know what she was doing, or b) that the Speaker had any choice in the matter before she threw Butler out, is false ignorance.

The Speaker really didn’t have any choice in the matter. The most liberal interpretation of Erksine May is that accusations of lying are allowed but that the Speaker’s permission must be sought in advance and it should be in the form of a formal motion to the House, a procedure that hasn’t been used in decades.

To pretend the Speaker did have a choice both lowers Butler’s intention, and achievement, and the perceived knowledge and intelligence of the person making the charge.

And just as I was finishing up this entry, I came across the following thread on Twitter, which I heartily recommend to all.

Anyway, moving on to one last thing.
 
 
Something silly
Something very silly to end today on. Not silly, or not silly-in-the-same-way, so that it should be part of a Saturday Smile, but silly nonetheless.

Many years ago – far, far too many years ago – I first heard Alistair Cooke’s tale of when he was told “Cooke, you must learn to murder your darlings.” Cooke said it was said to him by a tutor at Cambridge while the latter was brutally excoriating an essay of Cooke’s which contained, Cooke thought with typical modesty, some superbly excellent writing.

It always reminds me of the no doubt apocryphal tale of Noël Coward, when he was directing a young writer’s play. The play was overrunning, and Coward was cutting bits to bring it within the time allotted for the production. He came to one passage, hesitated for a moment, then with a brisk movement, struck out the line with a thick blue pencil.

The writer had remained silent until now but at this specific line, he could stay silent no more. “But that’s my favourite line!” He protested.

Coward is reputed to have languidly looked at the young writer and reassured him not unkindly. “It’s a lovely line indeed; a beautiful line.” Then: “Use it in another play,”

I’ve remembered both lines and used them on myself occasionally,.

Neil Gaiman was asked last week, as he sometimes is, from where he’d came up with the name Coraline, the eponymous hero of the novel. Neil told the tale that he’d once typed “Coraline” instead of “Caroline” in a letter; hethen thought it would make an excellent name for a character. Larry Niven had written “Treasure your Typos” and he did.

I mean, I’d heard “Treasure Your Typos” before, but this was the first time I knew who said it.

It had two immediate effects.

The first was to remind me when I once did treasure my typo. I’d written a story for a horror anthhology comic called Trailer Park of Terror; the story was called It’s Been Done Before, and was a ‘twist in the tale’ thing.

One panel was the one on the right.

It’s fine, a perfectly serviceable panel. Did the job.

But the letterer had made a small mistake, which fortunately we caught during proofing the story.

He missed out the L in the word PUBLIC.

So the caption read…

I ONLY REMEMBER MEETING THE PUBIC DEFENDER.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

And that little moment of joy gave me the idea for You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly. So that was nice.

But, I hear you ask…

Well

No need to thank me.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else. It’s Saturday tomorrow, so you know what to expect.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before. I came across the following image this afternoon. I liked it, and it sparked an idea.

So here’s the story it inspired.


A Call From Miranda

The call came through just as he was heading for the door, a journey home, and an evening spent regretting too much.

Only one caller used that tone, and it was one every police recognised: it was Miranda.

OK, officially, the name of the caller was The City, but within days of the system going like, some wag in the fifteenth precinct had named the voice Miranda, and it stuck. A year later, they’d made it semi-official.

It was rare that The City called; rare, but not unknown. and he answered the call with no more concern than he would have his long-departed wife. In the days when she called. Come to think of it, he mused as he answered the call, he was probably more concerned by her calls back then, certainly towards the end.

He slowed his walking, just in case. You never knew with Miranda.

“Good evening, detective,” came the latest iteration of a polite voice he’d learned to recognise in his first week of training.

“Evenin’ Miranda,” he replied, wondering just for a moment how The City would have responded had he said another name.

“What can I do for you?” He continued, already half-assuming his evening was blown, but not quite ready to give up on the idea of leaving the precinct.

“There will be a murder in 13 minutes and 9 seconds,” said the voice.

He stopped walking.

“Repeat,” he stabbed out, any pretence at politeness evaporating.

“There will be a murder in 13 minutes and 5 seconds,” said the voice.

“Where?” The question was automatic, he was already thinking about who else would be getting the call, who else would meet him at the scene.

“At your current location.”

OK, that was new.

“At the house?”

“It will not be at your home, detective,” the voice seemed to gently chide him.

“No, no, I meant… forget it.” Sometimes, rarely, Miranda betrayed her ignorance. It was never worth mentioning it. She’d say thank you for new information but unless it was relevant to the case, it would never even be filed. Police slang? The City preferred formality in all things. He was marching back to his squad room, thinking bad thoughts about worse people.

“Who’s the likely victim?”

“Current indications, most likely probabilities, and–”

“Who’s the victim?” He barked out, already back at his desk.

It may have been his imagination, but the reply seemed to contain a trace of irritation at the interruption, but he didn’t care about that just now.

“You are the predicted victim, detective.”

OK, that was uncommon. Rare, even.

Crime prediction had been around for decades; it had a lousy success rate, but politicians liked it, and the public liked it, so The City was allowed to make the predictions.

Serious crimes only, and even they varied with the change in administration, but even then, thousands of hours were wasted every year checking out the warnings. Most times it never panned out, fortunately. But every time a prediction was accurate, or at least could be called accurate, the media went nuts, and the word would come down to treat the forecasts with more respect.

“Time?” He asked,

“The time is now 9:34pm, detective. Would you like to know the weath–”

“No,” he said shortly. “What is the time to the predicted murder?”

“There will be a murder in 11 minutes and 35 seconds.”

“Scenario?” It was odd how the training kicked in. Not “circumstances”, not “parameters”, not “how?”. But “scenario”. That was the word The City responded to best.

“The most likely scenario predicted is that an weapon undetected on arrest will be used by someone to…”

Did he imagine the pause?

“…kill you, detective.”

“Well, that’s not great,” he said aloud.

For a moment, he wondered whether the Miranda was composing a response, then the voice confirmed it.

“Other likely scenarios are available, together with probabilities.”

And then it hit him.

“Why have no other police officers been informed of this?”

“Your question is based on an incorrect assumption, detective. Other police officers have been informed of this likely murder.”

He glanced around the squad room. No one was looking in his direction; some detectives on their phones, but none looking worried or anxious.

“Who’s been informed, Miranda?” He asked.

“Would you like the list in alphabetical order or in order of level of seniority?” The City asked.

“No, I mean…” he paused. “Have any officers in the precinct been… no, strike that. Have any officers inside the precinct station been informed?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It is police department policy not to warn potential criminals that…”

Oh great.

“Ok, I get it.”

“Reminder: There will be a murder in ten minutes exactly.”

He remembered the last time this had happened, the last time a police officer had been warned of their own murder. Three years back; the poor fool had barricaded himself inside a cell. Nothing had happened. But, he’d had an asthma attack while inside and had died before anyone could persuade him to take his medication. And a year before that, a couple of officers on patrol had become so paranoid, they’d almost shot each other before they could be talked down from it.

A thousand thoughts raced through his head, two racing to the fore, however. One was not very nice, the other was just possible, but…

He took a deep breath, and made his decision.

“Thank you for the warning, Miranda. I’m going home.”

“There will be a murder in…”

“Yeah, save it. I’m going home.”

“Warning saved.”

“Good night, Miranda.”

“Good night, detective.”

He ended the call, looked at his desk, looked around the squad room one more time, and walked away from it.

He maintained a blank expression until he got to the car, but as he thumbed the door and it opened, he smiled. It was a nice smile, tinged with appreciation.

It had been the ‘Warning Saved‘ that confirmed it. Miranda may have been literal, but she wasn’t that literal; she knew idioms, analogies and metaphors.

He wondered which of his colleagues was smart enough to have hacked into the phone system and either angry enough at him or annoying enough to have tried to haze him back. Colletti? Could be. He’d never forgiven him for the 37 pizzas. Or Robinson? She’d been livid after he made her call the local zoo and ask for Mr C Lion.

The smile faded as he considered the other possibility, that Miranda now was actually that literal.

He drove home, very slowly, and hoped that he’d still be around tomorrow to find out.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

One of the mainstays of US comedy for the past couple of decades has been The Daily Show. Originally helmed by Craig Kilborn, it only really took off under his successor Jon Stewart. When Stewart retired from the show after 16 years, his successor Trevor Noah- after a fairly ropey start – managed to make the show his own.

It took me a good two years to ‘get’ Noah’s version of the show, though it wasn’t like I watched every episode. I wasn’t waiting for the show to work for me or anything. But I watched every so often, and after about two years, it hit me that the show was clever enough, professional enough, and funny enough for me to think ‘ok, now I want to see what the show does about this and what it says about that.’

Every so often, there’s an attempt to answer the calls and try to make a UK equivalent of The Daily Show.

And it has even been tried a couple of times; arguably. the most successfully (or least unsuccessfully with Trevor McDonald and Marcus Brigstocke. Others might point at 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Carr.

Or, being cruel, maybe that should have been “Others might point at 10 O’Clock Live with Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne… but Jimmy Carr.”

UK versions fail for a variety of reasons, but they always fail.

There are lots of reasons why, each specific to the individual show, but there’s one ever-present reason why all of them fail: UK comedy shows aren’t allowed to use clips from parliament for the purposes of satire, comedy or mockery.

Yeah, I know. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver even makes a thing of it; whenever they show something from Parliament, the UK broadcast has to replace the clips of parliament with something else; Oliver chooses to make it something entirely irrelevant and silly, like Gilbert Gotfried reading TripAdvisor reviews.

But comedy shows aren’t the only time permission or rights refusals have stopped an adaptation of a foreign show working in the UK.

A few years ago, there was a tv panel show called The Bubble; it was a success overseas but never really rose above mediocre when tried in the UK.

And mainly, thought not solely, that was because the main news media refused permission for the programme to mock up news items purporting to be real.

Why would that be needed? Well, the simple but superbly clever concept was this:

The Bubble asks three celebrity contestants to separate true news stories from fakes after spending four days locked away in a country house with no phone, TV or internet access.


The host will present them with a mix of news reports, headlines and images from TV, newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines.

And “all” the contestants have to do is say which stories are true and which have been made up.

The obvious thought is: “ok, some stories are obviously going to be true and some are obviously going to be false, it’s going to be the one that could be true that will be the tough ones…”

But I always think in response “No, it won’t. It’ll be the utterly ludicrous ones…”

Suppose instead of four days, the contestants had been locked away since 31st December 2020.. I’ll exclude celebrity deaths because every year has people die unexpectedly. And I’ll similarly exclude anything to do with the existence of Covid, since we’d had almost a year of it already by the end of last year.

But suppose when exiting, after six months, the contestants are given the following: 

  • An insurrection at the US Capitol with a genuine, armed, attempt to prevent Joe Biden becoming President
  • Elected representatives actively helping said insurrection, and letting rioters in to state legislatures
  • Elected representatives who downplayed the seriousness of the insurrection being proposed to sit on the committee investigating it
  • England reaching the final of Euros 2020… in 2021
  • A Canadian MP was first caught naked in a zoom call with colleagues, then was caught urinating on camera — and he’s NOT related to Doug Ford.
  • The Olympics, a year delayed, going ahead in a country with increasing covid infections, with only 1 in 5 fully vaccinated
  • All Nippon Airways, selling tickets for airline dinners on the runway, never leaving the ground
  • Matt Hancock has to resign after being caught on his own department’s CCTV in an amorous hug with an aide
  • John Bishop crashed his car to avoid “a big chicken”
  • Bibi Netanyahu no longer Israeli PM
  • Someone pays $2.9m so they could say they own a 15 year old tweet
  • Tussaud’s has to put Trump’s waxwork into storage because people kept punching it
  • Scientists officially investigate whether sightings of the Loch Ness Monster could be whale penises.
  • 1500 bottles of vodka made from radioactive apples grown near Chernobyl is prevented at the last minute from being exported to the UK
  • Australian researchers claim short sighted people have worse sleep than those with normal vision
  • In New York, a Catholic priest claims demons have been contacting people by text.

I think more than a few contestants would be repeat-pushing the “Made Up Story” button, don’t you?

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

It’s Tuesday, so a couple of more ‘fiction from the vaults’ posts.

A couple of fast fictions, one from 2005, one from 2009.

Two very different stories, although one could, I suppose. arguably be the sequel to the other. I’d never claim that it is, of course. And I hadn’t even considered it until I saw one after the other. But yes, if it pleases you to think of them as such, feel free to do so.

The 2005 story surprised a few people when I wrote it, since by then they were used to me taking the darker path when offered a title that gave me that opportunity. I took as much pleasure in that as in the story itself.

The 2009 tale, on the other hand garnered the comment ‘Aha, there you are. I knew that more recent charming tale was a blip.‘ I enjoyed that as well.

Something that cheered me as well: despite my joining the platform Racket, I’ve not done anything with it yet. That this tale has the word in the title is a nice bit of synchronicity.

 

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.

Enjoy them…


Title: Dizzy With Wonder
Word: lenient
Challenger: Anja Pirat
Length: 200 words exactly

I’m not sure when the exact moment occurred.

But at one point or another, general chatting had turned to mild flirting, and by the time I realised it had happened, we were already sending messages to each other with our eyes.

We were both attending the same conference, she as a speaker, me as a delegate, and when I’d disproved during the Q&A the old line about there being no such thing as a stupid question, she’d been lenient with me, answering the question in a way that didn’t make me feel a complete idiot.

A partial idiot, for sure, but even that was better than I deserved.

To make amends, I’d invited her for dinner, fully expecting to be turned down. Attending numerous conferences over the years had led me to a convenient pattern: dinner alone, meeting up with others for drinks, and then crawling off to bed, alone, in the smaller hours of the morning.

However, she’d accepted and somewhere between being handed the menus at the start of the dinner, and sitting on the sofas ordering brandies a few hours later… magic had taken place.

I was in love, and I never knew when it happened.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: The Racket They Made
Word: forlorn
Challenger: Ade Brown
Length: 200 words exactly

The sky was incredibly blue. He’d never really noticed it before, but it really was as blue as in the storybooks he remembered reading as a child.

A wisp of whiteness drifted past in what seemed a forlorn attempt to remind him that clouds existed, then the sky was revealed again and he smiled at it.

A lazy smile, not unattractive under normal circumstances. He’d see her soon, and then they could spend some time together.

Laying on the ground, staring straight up at the blue, blue sky, he could hear noise of some sort, but he was entirely apathetic to the sound, concentrating on the now uniform blue that seemed so close. Uniform, but changing nonetheless. It was getting darker, but he didn’t mind, he could see deep into the colour. And he smiled.

He closed his eyes, then opened them again, suddenly remembering the flowers.

He remembered now: he was taking them to her.

And then he remembered crossing the road to the cemetery. And the car. And then flying…?

The sirens were quite loud now, he realised.

But it didn’t matter, for the sky was really, really blue.

And then he closed his eyes again. And smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2009


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately, what with having a fair bit on my hands for most of the next week.

But since I have been thinking about time, I wondered about this blog, and past blogs, and…

…what I’d have been writing about on this day had I been blogging for the past fifteen years.

On some of them I was blogging, of course, because they took place during one of the countdowns I’ve done, or for other reasons. On some 19ths of July, I wasn’t blogging, but odds are I’d have been tweeting.

Slices of time. I’ve no idea why I’m writing this other than that it amuses me, and I’ve genuinely no idea what I was thinking about a year ago, or the year before that, or in 2009, say.

And that’s a good enough reason for me to want to find out.

So let’s take a look at what I was blogging about or tweeting about on this day back through the years.

(Note, if I didn’t actually tweet on the day, I’ll take the closest day I can find, ok? OK.)

 

19th July 2006:

Well, I was still on my former blog back then. And, I was on the second run of fast fiction challenges. My heavens, the second run, that takes me back. It was a story entitled I Have Air Conditioning, and it’s a weird little tale but one I quite like still.

Due to my ‘fiction from the vaults’ posts on Tuesdays, I’ve read a few of the old tales and it’s striking – to me, anyway – how brutal some of the language I used was. Looks like I went through a phase where I used adverbs very sparingly, and adjectives to quickly convey a tone as well as a description. I’m not sure whether I’d write the stories the same way again, but even if they might be a tad more polished now, I do like the rawness of them as originally written.

 

19th July 2007:

Ah, lurkers. Remember them? Livejournal was a great blogging platform, and this was in the days when people did, sometimes, reply to blogs, where there was a genuine interaction on occasion between those writing blogs and those reading them. And lurkers were A Thing, people who you knew read the blog but never ever commented. Which, as I say, occasionally irked. So, yes, this post – Lurkers… Delurk! – was designed, hopefully, to get lurkers to say ‘hello’, to introduce themselves and maybe, just maybe, get them commenting more often.


Sidebar: oops

I hit the wrong link while doing this and came across something I think it’s; worth mentioning.

I was hoping, when I started this, that one of the things this post would reveal to me, and possibly others, was the differences between a) blogging then and blogging now, and b) the different platforms. And this post from August 2007 – Quick favour needed… graphics – is firmly in the first of those. Because it’s a general ‘help?’ post, asking for advice on how to achieve a specific thing I wanted to do graphically.

We used to use blogs (and message boards) for things like this. I can’t imagine using the blog for it it now; I’d ask on Twitter instead. This is one of those things that I tcan honk is very definitely better now than then. On Twitter, you get quick responses, or one at all. And you end up with far more links to step-by-step instructions now as well.

(Looking at the post, and when it was written, just after I’d got my first iPhone, Looks like i was hoping to use the Gibbons designed hypotheticals logo as my iPhone 3G wallpaper. I must have taken the advice, and liked it, because I’m still using the logo as my iPhone 12 Pro wallpaper.)

Looking later, I find the perfect complement to the post immediately above. Remember I said we sometimes used blogs to ask for help? This post from August – Smarter… Better… Gooder… – was a follow up, thanking people for the advice for which I’d asked in an earlier post, this time about a new FTP application to use.

Remember that as well? Thanking people for their advice? Happens less on Twitter, and Twitter is the worse for it.


OK, back to This Day In History

19th July 2008:

This comes up every so often, and it’s worth sticking it in here since it was on the day itself. Worth a mention and then moving on… 13 years ago, I was writing about my fucked-up-foot.

 

19th July 2009:

Around this time, my lad had busted his hand, pretty badly. His tendon had snapped and he required a couple of major operations. Some wonderful artists sent him some wonderful artwork, with characters’s arms in casts or slings, to help him feel a little better. This was one of the posts containing one of the pieces of the art.

 

19th July 2010:

Another fast fiction, since I was then doing a 150 day run of them, this story entitled Sometimes We All Implode, a fun title to play with; a rather less fun story resulted.

 

19th July 2011:

I took a break from blogging during the first three-quarters of 2011; I really wasn’t in a fit state to blog. I was… ill, and a couple of stays in hospitals, including one for mental health. I really wasn’t well at all.

However, in July I was tweeting.

And I tweeted this.

And I was referring of course to this

 

19th July 2012:

So I kicked off this place on 1st October 2011, but I didn’t blog in July 2012, so instead…

Ah, the missions.

I used to hand out missions on Twitter before I went to bed.

I should get back to that at some point, I guess.

 

19th July 2013:

Ah, how nice. A blog post that I not only recognise but one i refer to on a semi-regular basis even to this day.

Budgie’s Law of Popular Television, y = x + 2

It’s my law and I still think it applies. Of course a law only really counts when other people quote it, and I was wholly and unreservedly delighted last year to see it in the wild.

 

19th July 2014:

No blog entry on the 19th in 2014, but a post on the 10th that’s worth highlighting. At the time, the government was saying that trades unions, when consulting their members on possible strike action, should have a minimum turn out for a strike ballot to be valid.

Not only was it incredibly stupid, and self-defeating, it was also woefully hypocritical.

And I said so, and showed why, in this post: Turnout fine again…

 

19th July 2015:

OK, now we’re getting a bit closer to ‘now’. 2015.

In July 2015, the Labour Party were in the middle of a leadership contest in which Jeremy Corbyn was the front runner. Hmm.

I’d already written earlier in July a post expressing my… disquiet on that, and how I was hoping in vain, it turned out – that the winner would be ABC: Anyone but Corbyn.

But the closest to the 19th? That’d be on the 15th, when I wrote about my despair at Labour generally and how it would be nice to actually have an opposition at the time. Opposition? What Opposition?

 

19th July 2016:

We’re back to Twitter for a bit, I’m afraid I didn’t blog in July 2016, and then took 2017, 2018 off before returning in June 2019 for the ’55 minus’ run which ran through the whole of 2019.

You get two tweets because I genuinely couldn’t decide which I liked more.

 

19th July 2017:

How some things never change. I still wonder.

 

19th July 2018:

How some things sadly never, sadly, change.

 

19th July 2019:

A blog entry! We have a blog entry!

I returned to blogging in 2019, with a countdown blog to my 55th birthday. I was about a month through it…

And on 19th July, I wrote one in a series of what later became the Ten Things series. 55 minus 29: One-offs, part 3… pilots Reading it now, it’s a fun piece, I think, and while I’m not sure if I’d include some newer shows now, but yeah, it’s nice that I still agree with myself from two years ago.

 

19th July 2020:

I was really not in the state of mind to write a blog this time last year. I had nothing to write that people weren’t already writing.

But I was tweeting about Wacky Races, apparently.

 

19th July 2021:

Well, there’s this blog entry…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

When I post these blog entries, I have a standard process. I’m sure I could automate it even more, but I kind of like the old-school feeling of doing it manually.

In rough order:

  • Then I copy the text of the tweet, go into my Twitter scheduler – I use Buffer – and set up two delayed tweets: one for the US crowd, to post at 11:30pm for the New York lot and 8:30pm for the West Coast, and another, an In Case You Missed It Yestersay, for 10:30am UK time the following morning.
  • And, finally, I’ll cross-post it to my Tumblr account. Not the goingcheep account, one named, simply enough, budgie’s blatherings. The former, you understand, is reserved for the daily brain dump.

Rarely, however, does any of that go in reverse.

Rarely do I cross-post from Twitter to here, for example. It happens, occasionally, but only very rarely. Rarely, for example, do I cross-post from Tumblr to here. Again, it happens occasionally, but only occasionally, and even then, it’s usually something from the blatherings account.

So, you appreciate, it’s vanishingly rare that I cross-post from goingcheep to here, yes?

OK, so here’s something cross-posted in its entirety from goingcheep yesterday.

Saturday 17th July: Pinged…

Y’know, when I read stories this week about there being so many people ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app, and the then reported suggestion that the government was considering reducing the sensitivity, so that fewer people would be pinged…

…I thought it an unquestionably stupid idea. It sounded almost Trumpian to me; you know, the whole ‘we only have so many people ill because we’re doing so much testing…’ nonsense.

It’s astonishing how a single notification can change one’s mind.

And, as I tweeted Friday night, knowing that yesterday, a Saturday, I’d usually post a set of funny videos.

Now, I was only semi-kidding about both the tumblr entry and the tweet. I was genuinely but entirely unsure how I felt about being pinged, about what it could mean, what it did mean and, well, everything.

So, yes, there was a Saturday Smile yesterday, and yes, it had a very obvious theme.

Which left me another 24 hours to think about being pinged, what it means, and all of it.

And, 24 hours later, I’m still unsure about a lot of things. Some things I’m very much not unsure of, but yeah, some… I’m still very uncertain about.

Let’s start with the obvious.

I dislike being told what to do, even if I know it’s for the best. So, I greeted the lockdown(s) with about as much enthusiasm as you’d expect.

And despite my being neither the most social nor sociable of people, it grated not being able to go out and, y’know, see people.

But at least I knew that ‘everyone else’ was in the same situation. No one was getting away with it. Same with the mask mandates (as our American cousins call it.) While I don’t enjoy wearing a mask, I do so for all the usual reasons, and because, well, because everyone else is doing it.

(While I’m sure there are some abusing the health exemptions, I’m also sure that the number of people doing so are tiny. I think most people are doing what they’re supposed to.)

So, maybe you’d anticipate my reaction to getting ‘pinged’ to be ‘well, I know that half-a million other people have been this week, I’m not alone, so be it…’. It wasn’t. It really wasn’t. I hated the idea of being told I was stuck in the flat for the next week. I loathed the concept of ‘you see those four walls around you in your small flat? Get used to them because that’s all you’re seeing for the next week.’

But ok, I’ve been pinged. I know what that means.

It means… I’m stuck in the flat; I’m legally barred from leaving my flat for the next week.

It means… ordering food online for the next few days. It means I can’t enjoy my #DailyConstitutional like I usually do.

It means… I can’t see Laura (my ex-wife) for coffee and a catch-up. I can’t nip over to Richmond to spend the night with my closest friends, the people who were my social bubble.

It means… I can’t use the communal washing machine, but that’s ok, there’s no reason to actually get dressed for the next week.

It also means, I discovered a couple of hours ago, that I was wrong about much, about most, of that. But more about that in a moment.


Small sidebar: I woke up this morning, and for once, did not open Twitter immediately. For some reason, my devices hadn’t backed up overnight so I set my iPhone and iPad to backup and left them alone for a while.

By the time I got to them, the latest Tory/Government weirdness had broken, and done the rounds, and then been U-turned. I’m glad I only discovered the story after the U-turn had occurred because my reaction earlier might have gotten me barred from Twitter for obscenity.

OK, so yesterday, the news broke that the Health Secretary, one Sajid Javid, had tested positive for covid-19, and would be self-isolating immediately. Exactly the right thing for him to do, of course.

There was some small speculation as to who he’d been meeting and whether any other cabinet ministers would have to similarly self-isolate. By the time I headed for bed, it had come out that two of those were probably The Prime Minister (who had his own covid problems last year) and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.

Now, there’s a pilot scheme at the moment, allowing people who get notified to NOT self-isolate but instead take daily tests, and only isolate if they test positive.

This morning, Robert Jenrick (Housing, Communities and Local Govt Secretary) was on telly defending Johnson’s and Sunak’s taking advantage of the pilot scheme. While he was on air, the PM and Chancellor announced they would not be doing so, and would instead be isolating.

That’s the U-turn I discovered. As always, with this government, it was incompetently done, incompetently managed, and – even when the ‘right thing’ was eventually done – it was accomplished incompetently.


OK, back to the ‘it means…’ and what I was wrong about.

I’ve mentioned my ex-wife Laura before. She’s one of my favourite people on the planet, and fairly drowns in that rarest of commodities: common sense. Even when I disagree with her advice, it’s usually sensible, rational and perfectly justifiable.

Well, she told me to call 119, the national covid helpline and ask them what the rules were if you’ve been pinged.

I’m very glad I followed the advice. Because some of it I was wrong about. And even as someone who pays attention, it’s fair to point out that I didn’t know some of this stuff.

I live in a small flat, in a small block of flats. There’s a communal washing machine/dryer and a communal garden area out back. I assumed that self-isolating meant they were out of bounds for the next week.

Well.

One conversation with a very nice lady at 119 later…

Main thing: If I live alone, am fully vaccinated, am not showing symptoms, and haven’t had a positive test… self-isolation – even from app notification – is “advisory only”. Not legally mandatory.

Now this surprised the hell out of me, I’ll be honest. Genuinely astonished me. Now, of course I am going to self-isolate. I mean, there’s a difference between what’s you’re legally obliged to do, and what you’re supposed to do, what the best advice is.

And I’ll take the latter, especially if it enhances the protection for me and others, every bloody day of the week.
 
 
Secondly, as long as I try to avoid people and don’t go near them (ideally, do it when no one else is present), I can do stuff like ‘go into back garden area of flats’, ‘go down to use communal washing machine’, and ‘throw my rubbish in the bins out back

So I can get some fresh air of an evening, if no one else is around. Which is very nice indeed. The nice weather and the sunset falling quite late? I can sit outside reading or watching some stuff on the iPad.
 
 
Finally, being fully vaccinated, and not showing any symptoms, there’s no real point in ordering any online tests. Given that self-isolation lifts Thursday night, and I can then walk in to get tested, might be worth getting tested afterwards, though, to see if I’ve had it at any point.

So, I don’t get to have my #DailyConstitutional every day, but neither am I locked into the small flat in the heat with no opportunity at all to get some fresh air.

Which is nice.
 
 
See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant.

Indeed, as I’ve grown older, if not wiser, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

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

For this run, I’m going to try and find, each week, three archive clips, one example of something that’s just… nice. And then end every week with something from my mate Mitch, who fortunately has continued to provide videos over the past year.

For this week, however, there’s a theme. You might be able to detect it and wonder why I’ve chosen this theme. A glance to the right should explain why.

Ok, let’s start.

 

Simon Pegg, surgeon, on the phone, from Big Train. We’ve all been there…

 

I never thought that Michael Spicer had nightmares. But when Matt Hancock resigned, and especially WHY he resigned… well, it must have given him night terrors in case he was asked to do a video on all of that… Here’s Michael’s farewell to Hancock, anyway.

 
 
Here’s some more of Johns Bird & Fortune, this time on the NHS.

  
 
This week’s ‘nice’ smile(s): I used to work in telly. I’ve seen a few of these ‘thanks to everyone involved’ videos over the years. I still think this one, from the end of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who is up there with the best, and best natured, of them all.… 

  
 
An older one from Mitch, but given the anti-vaxxers around right NOW, here’s one from the vaults that’s always worth showing to the sun… Vaccinate Your Kids

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else… probably related to the image shown above.

During the last huge blog run, I did a stack of ‘ten things’ I liked: individual episodes of tv shows, individual comic book issues, and pilots, and two on old movies ,then one on old-ish movies, and a couple about podcasts. And I wrote a series of Doctor Who posts, about each incarnation/regeneration, and my sometimes tenuous relationship with the show.

So, I figured I’d do it again in this run. A couple of weeks ago, I did one on things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns, And last week, some shows I’ve been rewatching just to enjoy the rewatch.

However, I got a bit carried away in the writing, so cut it short. This is the second part of it, ok? Good.

As before, there will of course be omissions. Your favourite shows probably won’t be here. And if I have to point you again towards Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2 to explain why, I will…

As always, the usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)
 
 
OK, so last week, we did The West Wing, Doctor Who, Yes, [Prime] Minister, and the Arrowverse Crossovers.… That’s four. Here are the other six.

Moving on…

The Honourable Woman
I tell myself I rewatch this show every so often as much for the story as for the acting. And I’m lying to myself every time,.

Rewatching this is a pure indulgence, because, given the actors involved, I’d rewatch if the entire show was the actors merely reading pages from the phone book, interspersed with their shopping lists.

Every single member of the cast – which includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Lubna Azabal, Stephen Rea, Janet McTeer, Katherine Parkinson, Tobias Menzies and Lindsay Duncan – blow the screen apart every time they appear. I’d say each of them steal every scene they’re in, but they don’t. They steal every bloody line, and then it’s stolen right back by the next person to speak. The entire show is a masterclass of understated acting, every scene a story in its own right, and the passion and anger shown on rare occasions hits you in the gut, then grabs your heart, and refuses to let go.

It’s incredibly good.


 
 
A Touch Of Cloth/Police Squad
A complete change of tone for this one. And I’m putting them together not because I’m cheating or couldn’t decide between the two, perish the thought. No, they’re essentially the same programme, just with different settings, different intentions and different writers, actors and production crew. (Whistles innocently)

But they’re the same. They’re shows where you see the gags coming precisely a fifth of s second before they land, and instead of making you bored by the anticipation, it somehow makes you part of the experience, every bloody time.

I suppose if I were to have to separate out the two, A Touch of Cloth’s target is British police procedurals. Every other gag takes as its target something you don’t even realise is a trope, identifies it, targets it, hits the target spot on, then searches for the next one.

And when I say you didn’t realise it, here’s one example. Those screens that police put photos on, and write on, when making up an incident board. Why are they transparent? So the camera can be placed behind it and you can still see the actors. There’s no other reason why they should be transparent. See what I mean?

Or how an investigating officer, turning up at a crime scene, is greeted by his subordinates not with a “good morning” or similar, but instead by rapid-fire exposition about the victim.

There is a plot to each A Touch Of Cloth (two parts to each story) but even that takes the piss out of standard police drama tropes: the first, the burned out, widowed, misanthropic cop forced to return to work, for example.

The show concentrates more on the situational and visual gags than the verbal gags, but they’re there as well.

Police Squad, on the other hand, while still doing the whole ‘let’s take the piss out of US police dramas’, relegates the plot to solely being in service to the gags. Like Airplane (from where it came) and The Naked Gun which it spawned, it’s sole aim is to throw as many gags, verbal and visual, at the viewer in the hope that some stick. Some of the gags are a straight feed line=>response, some are more complicated. All are gloriously funny to someone, and if you don’t like an individual gag, hang around, there’ll be another one along in a moment.

The State Within
Back to the politcial thriller genre for this one. There’s no reason I should think of The State Within in the same vein as State of Play, but I often do. It can’t be because they both have the word ‘State’ in the title, as does ‘Deep State’, can it? (Spoiler: it almost certainly is). But while State of Play, excellent though it is, isn’t something I regularly rewatch, The State Within very much is. The actors are superb in it, the dialogue crackles, and every character in the show is… believable. I mean, I have no idea whether or not people in positions of power actually behave like this, but I’m quite prepared to believe they do. Besides, Jeremy Isaacs as a British Ambassador, Neil Pearson as his Deputy Head of Mission and Ben Daniels as his ‘counsellor of Extremal Affairs (his MI6 bloke) are superb in the roles they play, perfectly cast.

It starts with a plane exploding as it takes off, and moves through a British soldier on death row, fraud, embezzlement, and a rogue former ambassador who got fed up (if you believe him) with, as they say, the job of being sent abroad to lie for his government.

The plot is clever, the pacing gloriously varied but perfect for each scene, and there’s always a sense of everyone being slightly out of their depth, but always, well almost always, rising to the occasion.

Add in a slowly developing love story in there – which I have no idea how they pull off, but they do – and I really, really like rewatching how the show develops.

After watching it, I’m always torn between the wish for a sequel warring against the the knowledge that none was needed. I always come down on the side of being glad they didn’t make one, with the slightest very tinge of regret.

 
 
The Sandbaggers
OK, full blown for the spy genre for the next two, but while both show complete disdain for the ‘James Bond’ type of spy story, they’re about as different as they can be. Sandbaggers is very much of its time, the mid-to-late 1980s, and the lead protagonist is as ‘anti-Commuiist’ as you’ll find in fiction, but like every character in the show, deeply damaged. As a person, I mean.

(And not for the first time, I wonder why it is that I find seriously damaged characters so interesting, so much more interesting than merely slightly damaged ones. A blog entry for another time, maybe.)

The basic setup is simple: British intelligence, SIS, the secret intelligence service, MI6 as its popularly known. There’s a Chief of Service, a Deputy Chief, Directors of Operations and Intelligence, Station Chiefs, the usual… but within the Director of Operations’ purview is a small group, a three person team, known as Sandbaggers. They do the dirty work, the blackmails, the killings when necessary (and when they can get permission… when they ask for it, that is).

They’re underpaid, they’re at various levels of experience. And, unless they’re very very lucky, they get killed doing their job.

In the twenty-odd episodes, spread over three series, four of them don’t make it out alive and we learn through the series that three were killed before the show started.

What I love about this show is that every – almost every – character evolves during the run. You learn more about most of the characters and it shows how under pressure, high pressure, you can work with people you dislike intensely, with people you show respect only to because of their position. And, crucially, how you can trust people you don’t like, but you can also learn that people you like… can disappoint you, can betray your trust. And yet you still have to work with them, for ‘the greater good’.

This clip is from the end of the first episode, where Neil Burnside, played by Neil Marsden, almost lost two of his agents due to the naïveté and incompetence of his Norwegian opposite number… who tried to con SIS.


 
 
 
 
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
There’s not much to say about this show other than ohnmygodit’sgreatyoushouldwatchitasoftenasyoucan.

So I’ve said it. Now watch it. (It’s on iPlayer right now, and pisses from a great height all over that movie they made.)

OK, a bit more. Every actor acts their socks off, and every character is rounded and human, and just a little bit more dangerous than they at first appear. It’s a show in praise of duty, and of secrets, and of never, ever forgetting who you can, and cannot, trust. And, oddly, about love.

I’m not sure there is an official trailer for the show, but that hasn’t stopped some people making their own. I particularly like these two.


 
  

I had intended to write about House MD or The Blacklist for my final one this week; both great shows and both are strange exceptions to my ‘I won’t rewatch individual episodes of shows which have a multi-season arc’. I’ve enjoyed rewatching individual episodes of both. Despite having to ignore the sub-sub-plot of the seasons-long arc, the main plot and sub-plot from individual episodes of each show are engrossing enough on their own to watch again and again.

But in the end, I couldn’t separate them. So, something entirely different, something that entirely took me by surprise, much as my discovery of Jeopardy took me by surprise when I started enjoying it more more more to my utter astonishment.

My final pick of the ‘stuff I’ve enjoyed rewatching’:

Connections
Not just the show itself, which I’ve enjoyed watching my copies of again, but season 2.

Y”see, season 1 was an hour long show. Ten episodes about that master of explaining science and history and their interaction, James Burke. And Series 3 was similarly, one hour (of US tv, ok) episodes.

For series 2, however, they made twenty half-hour episodes and on previous rewatches, I’ve not enjoyed them as much. For a start, they’re only – shorn of ads – about twenty-minutes’ each. I mean, they’re not bad tv, and the’re chock full of information. And Burke changed the emphasis from the connections of innovations themselves to the connections between the various reasons for the processes of innovation.

But I’ve found myself watching, over the period of eight weeks or so, watching one episode a night before I head bedwards. Not always immediately before aiming head at pillow, but yeah, somewhere around midnight, putting an episode on and watching the twenty-minutes or so.

And I’ve loved it. It’s been very enjoyable, very informative, and the bite-sized chunks have been exactly what I’ve needed before wending my way towards my bed. Huh.

No, don’t worry, I’m not about to make you I watch a whole episode.

Instead, here’s what’s often said to be one of the finest moments of ‘timing your shot’ in television, from the first series. Enjoy.

 
See you tomorrow, with… something else. It’s Saturday tomorrow, so you know what to expect.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories from and by multiple authors.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before. I came across the following image yesterday. I liked it, and it sparked an idea.

So here’s the story it inspired.


One Balmy Night At The Harbour

There were three of them on board. Waiting for the fourth to arrive, they had been trading stories of the long ago and of the more recent past, and correcting the retellings when necessary.

At no point had any of them openly admitted to nervousness, but each could detect it in the others. And, inevitably, each attempted in vain to disguise their own.

The tv mogul, though he preferred to call himself merely an ‘executive’, picked at his teeth, and occasionally muttered obscenities. He knew the former irked one of his companions while the latter annoyed the other. He’d have denied until his dying day that the certain knowledge provided, indeed mandated, the actions. He was an accomplished liar, though.

He waited for the fourth to join them.

The queen spoke eight languages fluently, though only her native tongue with the correct grammar; she knew no one would dare to correct her. She rarely insisted on her honorifics. But sometimes she did, which always provoked a quiet satisfaction as her companions wondered whether she would insist on them today. It was a meaningless pettiness, and so she treasured it all the more. She knew that about herself. She was the youngest there, with the least actual power, and yet she scared the others. And she knew that as well.

She waited, with the experience of a lifetime’s patience, She could have waited for another hour or another week; to her they were the same.

The politician’s voice, when he spoke, would have surprised his voters. It was high pitched, and his speech was peppered with classical allusions and historical parallels. The ‘local good old country boy made good’ cadences and folksy charm in public as much a performance as the denim jeans and plaid shirt. Today he wore a Savile Row suit, perfectly tailored to his sparse frame.

He also waited but for exactly what, he knew not. For he was the newest of the group, recently ex officio the moment he won the election.

There was a quiet splash in the distance and all three looked from the deck, across the water, at the figure approaching.

Royalty and Business glanced at each other briefly, the latter with the smallest of smiles crossing his lips. Without appearing to, they studied their mutual companion’s face. Government’s eyes widened and with an obvious effort, and a studied casualness, he reached for his pipe and cradled it reflexively, an action that like so much else would have astonished his supporters.

Business nodded in acknowledgement at the restraint; it had been decades since someone new had so effectively managed their astonishment.

Now they watched as the fourth of the group grew closer, strolling across the water as if without a care in the world. And if any of the three already present thought to ask ‘which world, though?’ they ultimately thought wiser of it,

As the small splashes grew ever louder and closer, Royalty, Government and Business stood in respect, and welcomed Religion aboard.

Religion looked at the three of them knowing them all well, knowing their forebears, their ancestors.

Silence.

“There are important matters to talk about,” Government said.

“We must discuss demarcation,” came the clear authoritative voice of Royalty.

There was the briefest of pauses, then “I don’t know how this works, what the etiquette is. But may I ask how you are?”

Religion laughed, a large booming laugh that filled the deck, indeed seemed to feel the harbour. “No-one’s ever asked me that before,” I said, as I looked again at my children.

No-one had to tell Government to never, ever, ask it again.

And then we sat, and ate and soon Government was interfering in Business’ affairs, Business was sulking and threatening Government, and Royalty was standing apart. As always.

I’d had better birthday parties, it was true, but then, with a shudder, I knew I’d had worse.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

57 minus 34: Missives

Posted: 14 July 2021 in 57 minus, writing
Tags: , ,

I used to write letters.

I came across a beaten up, scuffed pad of writing paper earlier and it reminded me that… I used to write letters. And then I stopped. And I’m not entirely sure why.

Oh, there were no doubt very good reasons, and after all, in today’s… no, wait. Let me start again.

I used to write letters. No, honestly, I did. And not only way back in history, back in the days before mobile phones, and before emails were a more common way of communicating.

I wrote letters. Personal letters.

So, no I don’t mean the formal letters I’d send to companies, or that – while at work – letters that’d be typed up by the secretary for my department.

But yes, of course, when I wrote those letters, I rarely actually, y’know, wrote them. I’d dictate them instead, and then a secretary would type them up, return them to me to check it said what I’d intended it to say (not necessarily what I’d said on tape) and then I’d sign them before handing them back to someone for sending out. I remember letter folders, like scrap books, each letter on a separate page, no doubt a legacy from the days when everyone used fountain pens and the card would absorb any stray ink from the signature.

But no, I don’t mean those letters, I mean I’d write letters; hand write them.

I started as a kid, of course, with ‘thank you notes’ I was obliged – by my parents – to write. To grandparents, to uncles and aunts. Even on one occasion to my brothers, though I don’t remember why. My bar mitzvah? Possibly. It sounds like the sort of thing my parents would insist upon.

But I’d other letters were written as well. Though no love letters, or none as far as I know. It’s possible that somewhere, there’s a sentimental note pouring out my heart, now stored beneath loads of paperwork in somebody’s shoebox in somebody’s attic, or in somebody’s shed.

Long forgotten about, I’m sure, because I don’t even for an iota of a moment believe that for anyone on the planet, I’m the one who got away. I’ll believe there are lots of people who think lots of things about me, some complementary, some not, but that?

No, I don’t believe that. And even if that were the case, they’d have to think it without any billet doux from me.

But yes, writing letters. I barely, faintly, remember maybe having a pen pal for the briefest moment in time. I now have no idea who it was, not do I even faintly recollect in which country they lived. Possibly France?

This in and of itself should tell you that the experiment in having a pen pal wasn’t… a success.

It was going to Manchester that turned me into a frequent letter writer. Oh, there were many correspondents at the time, the most regular – for once, the word actually applies rather than frequent – was my older brother. A letter would go from one of us to the other every week or so. So we’d end up writing a letter every two or three weeks. Which mean, over three years, we had dozens of letters.

Mike’s letters were packed with silliness, and ‘slice of life’ stuff, and stories about what he and his girlfriend were up to, and then later as he was recovering from his heart surgery, they became whimsical, and full of gentle humour, of rhyming doggerel and wordplay.

I loved receiving his letters, as much as he said he loved getting mine. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed writing letters as much as I did when we exchanged missives.

These days, no doubt, siblings keep in touch by text and WhatsApp and Skype and any number of messaging apps. Then? It was by public phone (which are up my meagre grant) or… by letter. And, obviously, we chose the latter.

Every so often, over the years, I’ve been tempted to write someone a letter, just for the hell of it. But I’ve rarely done so. I’m out of practice, and my hand would ache after writing a page or two, I’m sure.

But the temptation is there. And although I’d need to pick up a new writing pad – the scuffed pad I came across earlier is water damaged and torn and… yeah, no. I’d need a new pad.

And I probably won’t use it more than once or twice, but I’m tempted to pick one up… I really am.

I used to write letters. I should start doing that again.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

And so we’re back to the regular ‘fiction from the vaults’ posts on Tuesdays for the rest of the run.

A couple of fast fictions, one each from the 2007 and 2008 fast fiction runs; two tales with very different stories behind them, these two.

The first was one of those where I’d had the final lines rattling around in the back of my head for a while, and I’d been waiting for the right story in which to use them. Even though this challenge gave me the opportunity, I hesitated at first. Then the rest of the tale hit me almost fully formed and well, you have Worst Date Ever below.

The second one, though? Well, Dan challenged me and also added an additional requirement: less than 100% but more that 50%, of the story had to be in dialogue. (I never objected to additioanl challenges; made me work harder as a writer, and the story always benefited.)

So here’s the tale that resulted: The Sound Of Silence. Thing is, the first story I wrote with that title was a good story but it failed on the dialogue requirement. So I wrote an entirely different second story, with a different premise. And it was better, because of course it was better.
 

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.

Enjoy them…


Title: Worst Date Ever
Word: underpants
Challenger: [Livejournal: mathemavixen]
Length: 200 words exactly

He knew that they were somewhere in the bedroom and he racked his brains while he could hear the running water from the bathroom.

He crouched, looking under the bed, searching for his underwear, while she had her shower.

He’d not expected the night to end the way it had, not at all. Arriving at the restaurant late hadn’t impressed her, nor had his involuntary exclamation of “Holy Hell!” at the prices printed on the menu.

He smiled as he saw one sock, drooping over the edge of the chair.

So, starting out bad, it had rapidly proceeded to get worse as the date had progressed; it hadn’t taken too long at all to reach that stage where the two participants are surreptitiously looking at their watches, wondering at what point it ceases to be embarrassing to call a halt to the proceedings.

The door opened and she came in, still wrapping the towel around her.

His smile faded as he saw through the open door a chart, numbered from one to ten, and his underpants stapled to the wall… next to the number 5. What hurt more were the dozens of others, most of them higher up the chart…

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: Confusion: The Sound of Silence
Word: shout
Challenger: Dan Curtis Johnson
Length: 200 words exactly

“I’m genuinely sorry,” the fat balding man said, with well practiced but fake sincerity. “However, with the lack of collateral you can offer, the financial credit audit committee simply won’t allow me to extend you any…”

He got no further before the younger man stood up. “You don’t understand!” he started, wondering how he could rectify this. “We’re not just talking about a radio station but a community. You’ve seen our audience numbers! This isn’t my job – it’s my life!” His voice rose to a shout and he cut himself short, breathing hard.

The banker opened his mouth, but the customer continued, quieter. “Yes, I know our advertising revenues could be better, but at least they’re not dropping. Please – I just need another six months.” He saw the look of obvious incredulity and quickly amended his words. “Three months. Three months; that’s all we’re asking. Look, we’re surely not the only people who are having a rough time right now.”

“No, you’re not,” the banker said quietly, “that’s why I have to protect the bank,” and leaned over the detailed paperwork, writing.

The sound of silence? The softness of a pen scrawling the word DENIED on a loan extension application…

© Lee Barnett, 2008


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Given my previous post about sport, it would be egregiously hypocritical, not to say massively stupid, to claim that ‘I’m proud of the England team’ for their performance in Euros 2020*. Every bit, in fact, as hypocritical as it would have been were I to assert that I’d have been ashamed had they lost every match in the group stage by seven goals to nil.

(*yeah, 2020; it was postponed from last year, but they kept the year, because… well, because… well, look, they’d printed the merch already, ok?)

So, I genuinely had no intention to comment on last night’s match. And, to be fair, I don’t intend to comment much about the match itself.

I don’t know enough about football to say with any knowledge whether they played well, or played badly, during the match itself.

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that any team that reaches the final of a major tournament has done very well indeed, whether or not it goes to penalties.

But I can’t say much more than that. Not and be able to look at myself in the mirror… without wincing at my pretended knowledge and experience anyway.

I mean, yes, ok, sure, I look in the mirror and wince all the time at what I see, but that’s in response to what I look like, not necessarily because of what I’ve done.

So, no, I can’t and won’t talk about the match itself. I didn’t watch it, I had no interest in it beyond a general but genuine wish that they did well because friends and people I like cared about the result.

And I like my friends to be happy, to have a nice time. I may not understand their passion, but hey, they rarely understand me. That’s fine.

And I can also say that during the tournament, off the pitch, the team and their coach/manager have conducted themselves with dignity, with style and in every way have shown they’re thrillingly proud to play for their country.

But after the match? While I have nothing but praise for how the players and manager conducted themselves, everyone else? People on social media? What came after the match? What inevitably came after…?

Sadly, that I can talk about with some knowledge and experience. For I’ve encountered vile abuse and racist abuse and vile racist abuse on Twitter far too many times to easily count.

But it wasn’t only the racist – or at least the obviously, overt, in your face, racist – stuff that pains me.

Although, for clarity, I should say that it does pain me, disgust me, fill me with fury.

So, Natalie Elphick. She’s a Conservative MP, who was elected to the seat of Dover and Deal, who tweeted last night, after the match that

“They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.”

I mean, there’s so much wrong with that tweet that it’s difficult to know quite where to start: the idea that someone [the ‘who should know better’ is silent] expressing a political opinion is merely ‘playing politics’ is insulting in and of itself. It’s a slam, aimed at a player who has campaigned for free school meals for children. And Elphick thought he was a suitable target for her dismay. I’d say ‘because he missed a penalty’, but that merely provided the excuse for her criticism.

Then there’s the whole ‘taking the knee is playing politics’, implying that rather Rashford (and others) aren’t drawing attention to, and expressing sympathy for, those facing racism. No, the suggestion is that it’s performative, done for publicity. I’d call that, coming from a Tory MP, chutzpah, except that term implies some kind of reluctant admiration for the audacity and there’s nothing about her I admire.


 
Small sidebar: I should be used by now to the venal nature of British politics, how no snide comment is below most politicians, indeed most British politicians, and how hypocrisy often seems inherent in British politics

But even so, even knowing that, I was – and remain – astonished at just how blatant both Boris Johnson and Priti Patel were in their utter, overt hypocrisy. by

  1. slamming the England team, and management for taking the knee, for taking a stand against racism, and then
  2. their eager, anxious ‘but we wuv you really…’, complete with wearing t-shirts, laying an enormous England flag in Downing Street and attempting to associate themselves with the team’s success.

Mitch Benn sums it up, as so often, for me, but if anything, for once he’s too kind.


 
But of course there was another message, a contemptuous one: the old arrogance of incompetents: the suggestion that THEY get to TELL someone ELSE how to prioritise their time.

I’ve seen the occasional defence of ‘well, she’s only asking a question’, which immediately brings to mind two responses.

1, the less serious one: I’d have thought that she was educated enough to actually end a question with a question mark, you know?

  1. The more serious one: I gave up accepting the inherent good faith supposed by “I’m only asking the question” years ago. Decades ago now. After the first time I came across it, used on that occasion as a cover for naked antisemitism.

It was on Compuserve’s UK Politics Forum. A councillor — I don’t think the party is relevant but others seem to; he was a Tory – from St Ives, asked re the Blood Libel “How can we be sure some bizarre sectlet of Jews…”

When pretty much everyone on the Forum exploded in anger, the defence he offered was, of course, “I’m only asking a question…”

So, yeah, she wasn’t just asking a question.

What truly puzzled me, however, were the responses to her follow up.

Because, this morning, presumably after she’d had blowback to the tweet, she deleted it and tweeted the following:

OK, so she tried to get away with just that. Not exactly unusual for a politician, especially an MP.

And that’s still not what surprised me. No, what surprised me were tweets like the following.

So I asked the following…

Which I think is a fair question, and of course, I’m not ‘just asking the question’, as I said in a follow up

But Mason, a journalist whose work I truly enjoy, wasn’t the only one saying she’d apologised. Many others did and though later they quoted her saying she regretted the tweet, and apologising to Rashford, there was no tweet from her containing either the regret or a direct apology.

I’ve written on apologies before, once or twice.

On what might seem – but isn’t, I promise – a tangential point, I thoroughly enjoyed Marvel’s The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. Apart from everything else, though, one snippet of dialogue impressed me hugely, and continues to.

One character, realising he was wrong about something, knows he has to apologise.

“I owe you an apology….” and then “I’m sorry.”

Not ‘I owe you an apology’ instead of “I’m sorry”, not saying “I owe you an apology” and treating saying that as the apology.

No, “I owe you an apology….” as a preface to actually apologising, as mere acknowledgement of “I’m sorry” to come.

Too many do the first bit without the second; too few deliver on the second bit.

You know that line about ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’? And the one about ‘when someone shows you who they are, believe them’?

Natalie Elphick, Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and so, so many others have shown us, and then shown us again and again and again.

Our primus inter mendaces threw in his own tweet today. Because of course he did.

“…should be ashamed of themselves.”

Uh-huh.

Well, among the condemnation, something else is needed.

Because expecting the racists to be ashamed of their racism is like expecting rain to be ashamed of being wet.

But maybe, just maybe, those responsible in politics, sports, campaigns, and political parties, saying racists and bigots shame the very thing they purport to support and represent… that the people in charge are ashamed of, and shamed by, them…. would be a start.

See you tomorrow, with… the usual ‘Turesday’ something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

My lad’s back from Wales for a couple of days, and today I managed to see him in person, for the first time in months.

So you’ll have to forgive me for both a) taking it easy today, and b) using today’s post as one of my occasional

I’ve taken a lot of photographs during the #DailyConstitutional the past few months, noting the weather

posts.

I’ve taken many more photos since May, but I’m particularly pleased with these fifteen shots, and even managed to use the ‘what the hell would I ever need an ultra-wide lens for?’ lens on occasion.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant.

Indeed, as I’ve grown older, if not wiser, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And some thing don’t change. In the year and a half’\s absence from this place, things are still not great for most people. So, after another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a hearty ‘how the fuck should I know?’, here’s some much needed silliness.

For this run, I’m going to try and find, each week, three archive clips, one example of something that’s just… nice. And then end every week with something from my mate Mitch, who fortunately has continued to provide videos over the past year.

Ok, let’s start.

 

You wanted to see Bob Newhart receiving a call from the Colonies, didn’t you? I knew you did.

 

I have very fond memories of the movie Airplane. I saw it the same day I got my O’Level results. The results were ok. The movie was better than ok. Here are some ‘best bits’

 
 
It surprises me to remember, on rewatching this one, just how nuts the reaction was to Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. Not The Nine O’Clock News was having none of it

  
 
This week’s ‘nice’ smile(s): There are two types of people… those who find night shots of small kids getting up to mischief after the lights go out… and those who don’t. If you’re the former, you’ll enjoy these. If not, well, there’s always next week…
 
The first is one that went viral: twin toddlers who really should be going to sleep…
 
The second is what happens when one small child won’t go to sleep and enlists her brother’s aid.

 
 
From the moment Mitch played this one to me, I knew I wanted to see a video of it. Now I’m not saying that’s the reason he made one…. It’s from his most recent Edinburgh show, Ten Songs To Save The World, and it’s a thought I suspect is becoming more serious every day…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

Last week, it was fun to run through the things I’ve been watching during the various lockdowns, So, here are some shows I’ve been rewatching just to enjoy the rewatch.

There will be omissions. Of course there will, but I mean there’ll be omissions of your favourite shows. There’ll be no Breaking Bad, no The Wire, no The Sopranos, no Game of Thrones. Not because I don’t enjoy rewatching them, but because I never enjoyed watching them in the first place.

I’ll take it as read that you think that I’m objectively Wrong On This, say again that I tried each for a episode or two, and then point you towards Budgie’s Law of Popular Television: y = x + 2.

So, the usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)
 
 
The West Wing
Not the hugest surprise, I’ll grant you; in fact, I doubt very many of the things attached will surprise anyone reading this. I liked The West Wing when it was first shown and I’ve continued to enjoy it since.

Yes, it has its faults, yes, sometimes the attempts to address those faults weren’t exactly… successful. And yes, the seven-season show has about a season and a half (from about ⅓ of the way through season five through the first half of season 6) that’s not great.

But man, when it delivered, it delivered. And the first four seasons are fantastic. The show doesn’t really find its long arc until about almost the end of the first season, but it doesn’t matter. The ‘episode of the week’ format serves it perfectly well through most of the show’s run.

None of the characters are free from ghosts, and all of them are people you’d want on your side, but what’s struck me on repeated viewings is that I’m truly unsure I’d like any of them as people, y’know. I mean, I’m sure I’d respect them (most of them, anyway) but like them? I don’t know. I doubt it, to be honest.

The scripts – at least for the first four seasons, and for the final season – are razor sharp, the dialogue is sparkling, and the walk and talks work for the show in a way that no other show, to my mind, with the exception of House MD managed,

Was it ‘realistic’? Probably not. Within its own storyline, sure. But ‘realistic’ in the ‘real world’? I wouldn’t claim that, even in the pre-orange poltroon era.

But if you’ve not seen it, you’re in for a treat.

Usually, I put trailers up for these things, but something a bit different this time. Something from each thatI really like. This is a two-hander bit from near the end of season 2, with Richard Schiff’s character, the White House Communications Director and John Spenser’s, the White House Chief of Staff.


 
 
Doctor Who
I mentioned Doctor Who last week, but only insofar as I’d been watching the recent run, with Jodie Whittaker. But during lockdown, I’ve rewatched pretty much all of what someone named Nu-Who, and quite a lot of the original run. My Doctor is, and will remain, Jon Pertwee, as his was the first Doctor I watched from the first appearance. And, as you know, them’s the rules.

But what I’ve gone back to again and again, is the Ninth Doctor’s run. On rewatching, I’ve come to appreciate more and more Chris Eccleston’s short stay on the show. I must have rewatched his episodes a half dozen times each, and wow they’re good. And they get better on every rewatch.

There wasn’t a wasted line, a wasted glance from him. A deeply damaged character – we’d find out why later, and we’d properly find out why much, much later – full of flaws and fairly burning with anger. Smouldering at times, but often just plain burning with anger, with fury.

And with shame.

The whole thing covered over with silliness, and with clowning, that he barely, just barely, lets slip occasionally, when he’s not paying attention.

There’s a game I play, sometimes. How would each Doctor have dealt with the first episode of another Doctor? How would Tennant’s Doctor have dealt with Patient Zero and the Atraxi? How would Tom Baker’s have dealt with The Sycorax?

There’s not one episode of Eccleston’s run which wouldn’t have been completely, utterly different, often with different resolutions no doubt, had it been any other incarnation. Would Capaldi’s Doctor have been quite so delighted that “this one time, everybody lives?” Would Davison’s Doctor have dealt with Cassandra quite as… forcefully on their first meeting?

It’s powerful acting, and the effortless switch between silliness and serious, between clowns and cold.

Also, I’ve realised, despite the deliberate move from ‘having assistants’ to ‘having companions’, it’s Eccleston’s Doctor that, patronisingly maybe, loves being A Teacher to Rose. He’s not her friend, no matter what she thinks. He enjoys having her around, but he’s letting her travel with him…

Here’s a clip when he encounters something anew, long after he thought he was done with them.


 
 
Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister
Yeah, be honest, you were waiting for me to mention these, weren’t you? Not only the best political comedy around to my mind.

I never really took to either Thick of It or Veep; the former I found too reliant on dialogue and plot at the expense of character or gags, and the latter I just didn’t enjoy at all.

But yeah, Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister. Just about perfect to my mind. Nothing really to say other than of course it wasn’t realistic in the slightest. The ‘four stage processes’ etc., were made up by the writers and though some plots were based on actual events (a dozen or so, over the forty or so episodes, spring to mind without much difficulty) they were of course exaggerated for comedic effects. And even when the show was being made, and broadcast, in the real world, executive agencies had already been created to remove responsibility both from ministers and the civil service.

But while I’m talking about the show, let me address the short reboot the writers did only a few years ago. The original actors of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds were replaced by, respectively, David Haig, Henry Goodman and Chris Larkin.

The reason the revival was horrible, a travesty, wasn’t solely down to the new casting, although that was a large part of it. (Simon Williams had played Sir Humphrey Appleby on stage, and to my mind did a creditable job of it. The same character, no doubt. Possibly slightly more polished, slightly less prickly. But essentially the same character.)

What didn’t work was that the characters in the revival shared the names of the characters from the original and their job titles… and nothing else.

Eddington’s Jim Hacker was a successful politician before he became a cabinet minister and then PM. And over the period of the show, he matured both as a politician and as a manipulator, occasionally triumphing over Sir Humphrey while never maintaining the win. He truly believed in the political process being superior to the governmental.

Appleby was the consummate Perm Sec and then Cabinet Secretary, but never oily, never cowardly. He truly believed, as much as he believed in anything, in the Civil Service as wholly essential, to maintain order in the face of politics’ inherent chaos. In it for service as well as what he could personally gain, the two were, to his mind, inseparable.

And Bernard? Ah, Bernard. Smart, clever, political but he tried to hide it, still learning his trade, quietly ambitious, and with a genuine like and respect for both Appleby and Hacker, though he tried to hide it from each.

They were not the venal, incompetent, stupid, selfish, slapstick… caricatures portrayed in the revival, as much caricatures in flesh as the opening titles portrayed. And bringing the political situation ‘up to date’ via a coalition? A stupid, stupid idea.

And yet, and yet, they could have os easily made it work. With one small change: Make the Perm Sec Bernard Woolley, the Private Sec Humphrey Appleby’s nephew, Hector. And make the politician Jeff Thacker, or even John Hacker, the original’s son who followed his (late) father into politics.

Bah.

Anyways, here’s Humphrey Appleby explaining how you rubbish an official report you don’t like.…


 
And here, as a bonus, because why not, is yours truly, answering some questionss about the show…


 
 
Arrowverse Crossovers
Again, I mentioned last week how I was still watching the Arroverse shows, but I want to write this week about something more specific: the crossovers. They’ve done half a dozen, usually increasing them in size as they’ve added more shows. The first one, for example, just had a crossover between Arrow and The Flash, each show’s characters appearing in the other show for a two-part story.

But there are four I want to talk about, because each was handled differently, and two of them worked for me, while two of them didn’t, and one of them really, really didn’t.

Let’s get that one out of the way first.

The first of those crossovers, 2016’s Invasion! A three parter: Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, with Supergirl from her own show being pulled into the story without in any way featuring it on her own show.

It was a mess. It was one story spread over three shows, with nothing really to spoil the uniqueness of each show. It was a mess, I repeat. Barely any explanation of why each show was involved and each show took an entirely different ‘take’ on it. There was simply no reason for this story to happen other than… someone said ‘why not?’ And it showed. The Legends episode added precisely nothing to the story and could quite easily have been slid into a five minute bit in one of the other episodes. Arrow could have handled it because that story was an extended dream sequence. A mess, I repeat.

Moving on: 2018’s Elseworlds. At least they’d learned from 2017’s crossover (about more of which in a moment) and made it a story that crossed over from one episode to another, one series to another, with Things Actually Happening That Mattered.

The problem was that what mattered? Didn’t really matter for the most part. The purpose of the crossover was to introduce Batwoman and in that the show, and the story, did it, accomplished it, in spades. Superb story introducing her, and the resolution was fun. Loads of Easter Eggs, a call back to a fan-favourite Arrow/Flash moment (ouch, their poor backs), the introduction of the Monitor, and you got to see Superman and Lois. That’s about it.

OK, now we’re on to the two that really worked, that were proper full-blown comics-fans-would-recognise-it-as-a-proper-crossover-event. The last of these was 2019’s Crisis On Infinite Earths. The story itself started big and got bigger with every episode. We got so many cameos I could do a Ten Things about my favourite cameos (I won’t) and another Ten Easter Eggs I loved. Almost every character and actor got to play against type, the story didn’t go where you expected, and the interactions between everyone just… worked. And the story… Mattered. One of the main characters, one of the Big Characters… died. Not a fake, not an imaginary story. They died.

We got to see crossovers from characters that no way should the rights holders have said ‘yes’, but they did. And it was great and fun, and it was superb.

And we got to see the formation, if they want to use it in future, of the Justice League.

Yeah, can’t think of anything better.

Yeah, I can. 2017’s Crisis on Earth-X. The first crossover that the Arrowverse did right and they didn’t miss a trick. The show that each episode was, technically? yeah, didn’t matter. This was a four-part story where it didn’t matter who the stars of each individual shows were. Part one, part two, part three, part four. Each part relied on the part that came before and that came after.

The story? Oh, an Earth where the Nazis won invades our heroes’ world and wants something from them. It’s as simple as that. And it’s fun, and silly and serious and everything works just right. There’s heroism, and sacrifice, and you get to see alternative versions of the people you like and don’t like.

Anyway, here’s the trailer for Earth-X.

Oh gods, I have just seen how very long this entry is, so I’m splitting it; you’ll get the rest next Friday, including The Honourable Woman, The State Within, The Sandbaggers and more. Next week.
 
 
See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

[Oh, before I start, a housekeeping note:, I mention this every so often, just in case anyone is concerned about the photos I’ve used in this blog. As with previous years, other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash, which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]


Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple stories.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before. I came across the following image the other day, while looking for another image entirely. I liked it, and it sparked something.

So here a tale that it inspired.


The Coins and The Man

The room was dark, and dank, which matched his mood, if not his demeanour. There were three men in the room with him, whose had been waiting for him. He liked none of them, he respected only one of them, but he was frightened of all of them.

It was late at night, and he should have been in bed long ago, but his task required a late night rendezvous, and he had no choice. He’d never really had a choice.

The room was silent, as each now waited for someone else to speak again. A single candle burned, and its flickering illumination spread shadows, moving shades that merely heightened both the tension and the silence. A cough came from the far side of the room, followed by a curse word, which would have been laughable in other circumstances.

He’d not enjoyed the task he’d been given, but he’d had no choice in the matter; his conscience, his honour and his need for payment had all made sure of that.

He didn’t even have the luxury of pretending it had been a struggle in his mind. He had known what had to be done, and he’d done it. It was as simple as that.

Except it wasn’t simple; it was anything but. He knew what the item was for, and what the consequences would be of his having completed the… transaction.

And he was scared. He wondered if anyone knew that, then with a mental shrug chastised himself. Of course everyone knew he was scared. For it wasn’t only him. Everyone was scared right now, whether or not they admitted it.

It was a time of being being scared, of change. Outside the room, some distance away, the crowds were gathering. Again. As they had gathered that morning, as they had that afternoon. As they would tomorrow. And the day after. Unless something happened to stop them.

Unless someone did something. And he had done something. Not the only thing that would be done that day, or the next, but he had done something.

Hence the small bag of coinage, sitting there on the roughly hewn wooden chair. The bag was loosely tied and occasionally, as the light would catch it, there was a reflective glint, betraying its contents.

Such a moment occurred as he watched, momentarily transfixed by the sudden brightness.

“You must never speak of this”, the larger man said, choosing his words carefully. “You know that.”

He almost laughed at the naïveté, but such levity at this moment, with these people, would be fatal. He knew that. “Everyone will know anyway,” he replied, resigned to it.

“We won’t tell anyone,” another voice came, from the deep shadows in one corner.

He couldn’t stop himself. “Of course you will. You’ll want everyone to know.”

Except he did stop himself. And merely said “I know.”

“It has to be done, therefore it must be done.” said the first man again, and that was it. The decision was made.

In truth, he knew the decision had been made far earlier, made in rooms in which he did not have the right to be.

“Now, go,” he was told. “It’s late. You shouldn’t be here when he arrives. And well done. We are… pleased.”

He turned to go, paused, then glanced at the silver coinage one more time, before leaving.

As he left the room, he saw the other man, the man from Kerioth, attempting to stealthily approach, on his way to claim the bag. And all it would cost the fool would be the betrayal of his best friend.

He sighed, and realised he’d sighed a lot today. He walked through the back roads, pondering quite the strangest day in his long life. He’d carried the instruction to the treasury, and the note from his employers. The small cloth bag had been sufficient but the thirty coins had been heavier than he’d expected, and he’d had to roll the bag, carrying it under his arm, frightened throughout that he’d be robbed on the way.

He wondered again why the priests had chosen him to carry the funds, why he had been plucked from insignificance to play his small role. He wondered if it was because they trusted him, or whether the true reason was merely that he was eminently disposable.

And he wondered how long it would be before the crowds knew his name and, with a shudder, then how long it would be before either the priests, or the crowds… came for him.

He walked a little faster then, into obscurity.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I know I’m both a brand loyalist and a creature of habit. I like… structure around me. And while that probably means that I miss out on new experiences until I’m forced – for want of a better word – so be it. I’m comfortable with that.

Until I’ve a reason to, I’ll stay with the same suppliers I use. not only to reward good service (though I’m not naïve enough to think they care whether a single customer stays or not) but because it’s… easier. One less thing to have to think about.

And if that’s lazy, well so be it. While I’m no fan of lazy thinking in general, when it comes to me, and the comfort of familiarity, that… works for me, somehow. (And if you’ve any doubt about that, check out the variety of clothing I display in photos in the annual A Life In Pictures post before about 2005, and that afterwards.)

I’ve been with my mobile phone supplier since I first had a mobile phone; they may be (or about to be) ‘Virgin Media O2‘ now, but going back through the decades, they’ve had several names

I’ve been with them since 1999, since they were Cellnet, then part of BT, which was at that time part of the General Post Office.

I joined them because my then-wife worked for BT. And her phone was via them. So…. so was my phone.

And I’ve stuck with them. They’ve not been perfect – which company is? – but whenever they’ve screwed up – and, wow, they’ve screwed up on occasion – they’ve always gone out of their way to ‘make things right’.

And after more than two decades’, yeah, it’d take a lot to make me move.

(It’s part of why I’ve never tried the ‘give me a fantastic deal or I quit and go elsewhere’ bluff when my contract for either iPhone or iPad have been up for renewal; they’d never believe it. After 20+ years, they’d never believe I was serious. The other reason? I’ve never had to. For as far back as I can recall, they’ve always looked at my account, seen how long I’ve been with them, and then offered me fantastic deals, better than advertised.)

Or take my fountain pen. (Please don’t take my fountain pen.)

I started using a fountain pen at aged 16. I’d started at sixth form college with crappy handwriting. Seriously awful. My politics tutor advised me to get a decent fountain pen, and said it would improve my handwriting. I did, and it did.

And I used a Parker fountain pen from then, from the age of 16, through to the age of 50… and the only reason I changed from a Parker was a 50th birthday present from my friend Mitch Benn.

This present:

(Yes, that is an engraving on the cap reading MAKE GOOD ART; Mitch knows me, and Neil, well.)

I still use the pen most days. Not every day, which I should do something about, but most days.

But I like the pen; I really like the pen.

Should I have switched to a Cross earlier, since I like the pen so much?

I don’t know. I do know that part of the reason I like the pen is because of the way it writes, how the right ink with the right paper and hopefully the right content… oh, it’s a pleasure to write with this pen. It really is.

But there’s also a part of the enjoyment that comes with using the pen that relies on it being that 50th birthday present, from being a gift from one of my closest friends who chose the pen for me knowing it was a present that would matter to me. And yes, there’s that exhortion to Make Good Art that I’m always very aware of.

Occasionally, I hand write a story with it; I’ve written fast fictions with it and it’s a wholly different experience.

— make good art —

Which seems appropriate, especially since when I hit an ‘I’m staring at a blank screen, and nothing’s coming…’ it was Neil’s advice to hand write something, ideally what I was trying to type, but to write something by hand. It worked. It’s an entirely different experience, but one I now very deliberately repeat every so often.

I’ve even written the occasional one-off story, as birthday presents requested by either the intended recipient, or the intended gift-giver.

So, yes, I’m very pleased I own this pen. But it doesn’t change in any way my comfort at using a Parker fountain pen for decades beforehand.

After I had the pen for a bit, my ex-wife Laura then bought me – as a complementary gift – the matching ball point:

So, I’ve been with Cross since. And if I decide to extend the range of my writing implements – unlikely, but possible, I guess – I’ll stick with Cross. Because I’m comfortable with the brand now.

So, yes, I stick with products and services I like, as long as there’s no reason to change.

All of the foregoing makes perfect sense, to me at least. And I’d suggest that it’s certainly an arguable, a defensible, position… to stick with what you know, and have experience of.

But then there are the habits that – while their origins make sense – to continue with them is… irrational? Daft? Weird?

I dunno.

There’s an episode of Friends where one of the characters explains why they do a specific thing, and the stated account of it involves something they used to do at a previous home, and they just continued with it in every home since. Like the legend of The Endless Ham (also known as Grandma’s Ham.)

I used to be an accountant.

No big secret there. I’ve mentioned some tales from the trenches before.

What surprises me still, however, is how deeply the lessons I learned in the very early days of that career stick with me.

If I have to tick off a list of things, or compare one list with another, I still use the same audit ticks (marks) as I did then. A column of figures always gets a ^ to mark that I’ve done it. Even a column of notes, gets a ^ underneath it once all the items are completed.

If there’s a row of items I need to deal with for any reasons, completion of it gets a tick, ; completing a task gets a crossed tick. I’ve tried using other symbols over the years, but they all seem… wrong.

Daft, eh?

And while my Moleskine books are usually the common ‘ruled’ pages, if I’m working on a ‘scratch pad’, an A4 pad on which I’m making notes, I prefer to use an 8 column analysis pad.

That’s just weird, even I’ll admit. There’s no reason, most of the time, for there to be columns, no reason for it to have a space for the name of the person who’s preparing the schedules, no reason for it to be a page like this:

But that’s what I prefer to use; that’s what I’m comfortable using.

And so to this blog. Some time ago, WordPress migrated to using what they call ‘blocks’. Each time, each paragraph, or image, or anything that can be separated out, is a ‘block’. I think the idea is that you can easily move stuff around if it’s in blocks.

Me? I like cut and paste to move things around. And I intensely dislike the ‘blocks’ way of doing things. (Not merely, “I don’t like it”; I actively dislike this…)

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to find a workaround. Something I like. Something I’m comfortable with.

Hope you’re comfortable with your own preferred methods, your own way of doing things, your own… stuff.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

And so we’re back to the regular ‘fiction from the vaults’ posts on Tuesdays for the rest of the run.

Today you get a couple of fast fictions from the long ago, from the very long ago again this week; one each from the 2007 and 2008 fast fiction funs. Two very different stories, as always. One of them was written for my then 11 year old lad, and for his wonder and laughter and imagination. The otehr was written shortly after I’d been researching something that had puzzled me for years.

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.

Enjoy them…


Title: The Unusual Place
Word: chair
Challenger: Phil Barnett
Length: 200 words exactly

A marked drop of temperature accompanied him as he moved inside the cave, away from where his family were picnicking in the crisp air of the Norwegian countryside.

He’d noticed the place for the first time the previous evening, walking back with his parents and sister from dinner, a patch of blackness on the side of the hills, darker even than the dusk shadowed surroundings.

He gasped as he saw the object, a simple cane, lying on the floor. Nearby, he could see a sharp edged silhouette that resolved itself as he moved, light sliding past him to illuminate the chair.

Of course! he thought, Odin’s chair, and Thor’s cane!

With a rush, he grabbed for the stick, and slammed it to the ground.

The shock of power knocked him back into the chair and instantly he was aware of everything!

He was All-Powerful – how could he not have known his true identity previously?

He was… hearing his mother calling for him. And suddenly Asgard, home of the gods, was just a cave again. And Thor’s hammer was just a gnarled stick.

He left the cave and went out to join the mortals.

But he took the stick with him.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


Title: Confusion: That Night, 12/6/1986
Word: tablespoon
Challenger: [Livejournal: spangle_kitten]
Length: 200 words exactly

Two hours.

Sat at the table for two hours, shaking silently for the past ten minutes, playing with the tablespoon, holding back tears, staring at the empty chair.

Three years.

Three years ago next Monday when they first met. Waiting by the side of the road for the mechanic. Her third cigarette butt had just hit the ground when instead of the orange and white truck, his electric blue Toyota had pulled up; just a passer-by, concerned about her.

Four weeks.

Thirty days later, she’d moved in to his apartment, enthralled by his loveliness, in love with everything about him. They shared stories about their lives before they met: he revelling in her tales of growing up in Kent, she drowning in his reminiscences of Texan sunsets.

Five minutes.

All it took for their dream to end. The letter informing him that his father was dying. He left, she stayed; contact too painful. The potential meeting, planned for months later to see if love lasted: 12/6/1986.

Six months.

She thought June; he thought December. Of course they did.

A movement caught her eye as he returned to the table and she wiped her eye at what they could have lost…

© Lee Barnett, 2008


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

As with last week’s about medical stuff this post won’t be on the macro stuff, on national policy or anytghing, but how covid has changed what I do, what consequences it’s had for me.

And, maybe, on what it’s going to affect for me during the next couple of months.

So, travel.

Once upon a time, I had a car. I had several cars, but I’m no longer in a position to have one. For a start, I really couldn’t afford to run one. Not only the petrol costs but the ongoing costs that come along with owning and operating a motor vehicle: annual MOTs, maintenance and repairs. So, no.

I gave up the car long before I moved into my current place and have only rarely driven since. It bugs me, nbut not as much as it used to. Because I really liked driving. I enjoyed every bit of it. Even the less pleasant bits of it, like being stuck in a traffic jam weren’t that much of a problem, and even then any irritation I felt wa sbceuase of the circumstances, not the driving itself.

But, as I say, that’s in the past.

But before the pandemic hit, I’d only occasionally walk to the shops, or anywhere really. I’d gotten used to the usually excellent bus services in London. Yes, I live north of the Thames so I can’t really talk about bus services south of the river, but the reason why I know I can rely on the busses is mainly thanks to the Citymapper app. It’s the most accurate (leaves Google’s similar functionality in a hole, in my experience) and far, far better than TfL’s own app. Busses tend to arrive when the app says they will and the journey time is usually pretty much as predicted.

BUT then the pandemic hit and, for a long time, I simply wasn’t allowed to use busses other than for The Very Important Stuff, and even after that restriction eased, I wasn’t that eager to travel by bus while a chunk of the people who went on them insisted on not wearing masks.

But for most of the past year, if I wanted to go anywhere, I had the usual four choices:

  • Walking
  • Bus
  • Tube
  • Bicycle using Santander bikes

(There is an other alternative, the one I use when I visit my social bubble (and my closest friends) in Richmond: the overground train. But that’s maybe once a week and is only very rarely crowded, so any concern I have is… muted.)

Walking
The most obvious, the one that should be the default, and the one that probably would be default… if it wasn’t for the fucked-up foot.

But that fucked-up foot does tend to remind me that it’s fucked-up every so often, sometimes with huge amounts of acute pain.

But when it doesn’t, then I walk. During the ‘you’re not allowed out except for shopping/medical/exercise’ period, I developed the habit of going for a ‘Daily Constitutional’, just an hour of not-very-fast walking, accompanied by a podcast or an audiobook. As I’ve said elsewhere, my only rule was that it could not be a news-based or current affairs podcast; I wanted, needed, a complete break from the news while out.

Of all the decisions I made during pandemic, that was probably the wisest I took. Apart from listening to some great audio – I reacquainted myself with Simon Russell-Beal’s George Smiley and Simon Moffat’s Hercule Poirot, among others – having that break from ‘important stuff’ was essential. I don’t think I realised how essential at the time, but I very much appreciate it now.

I’m lucky to live where, in about eight different directions, there are comfortable, delightful walks, without too much of a steep incline on any of them. Whether I want to head for Kilburn, or Baker Street, or Hampstead, or Swiss Cottage… lovely scenery, wide open spaces, and unless it’s bucketing down, some decent protection from the worst of the rain.

And then there’s Lisson Grove, along side the canals, and various areas of greenery.

The one place I’ve not walked to, sadly, though it’s within easy walking distance, is Regent’s Park. I keep meaning to but it’s just far enough away to walk to and just off the main roads enough…

…that I’m genuinely concerned about my foot twisting and I’ll be far enough away from somewhere to sit and recover, or to grab a bus back… and I’ll have a very, very unpleasant walk back.

So, yes, I’ve been doing a lot, lot more walking since the pandemic hit. Much as when I gave up smoking, I have no doubt I’m actually fitter as a result, even if I don’t actually feel it.

Busses
Yeah, the famous red bus. Once I started re-using them, I noticed I was doing a mental check at every stop; were the number of people now on the bus, or the number not wearing masks, enough to make me uncomfortable. The moment that number tripped over an entirely personal, entirely arbitrary target… I got off the bus and waited for the next one.

It’s been interesting, seeing the % of those wearing masks increase (in the early days) from a novelty to a pleasant sight to the default. But those days when I could with a flair degree of accuracy predict how many people would be wearing masks when I got onto a bus…? They’re gone. They’re long gone.

I have no idea, these days, none at all, when I board a bus, how many people will be wearing masks. Could be almost 100%, could be fewer than half.

And that worries me. Not enough always to not uses busses, especially if it’s back from a big shop, but it’s a constant low level concern when I get onto a bus these days.

There’s another worry that’s constant as well. It’s not something I worried about at all until a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s always there. One of the inevitable consequences of the restrictions has been that on each double seat… you either get a couple. Or one person, sitting alone. That iron rule has started to crumble.

It’s only happened to me twice, where someone has gotten on the bus, and then sat next to me. On both occasions, I immediately stood and moved away, standing the rest of the journey if necessary. The first time, I did it automatically, astonished that anyone would sit next to me. But the next time it was a deliberate act. As it will be, the next time. Until this thing is 100%, totally, and completely over… no, I don’t want to sit next to anyone on the bus. At all.

The Tube
There was a time where I’d use the London Underground on a regular basis. Then covid hit and I think I went a full year without stepping on a tube train. There’s no doubt that it’s faster than the bus. The higher fair doesn’t bother me, not much. What does hugely concern me however are the other people, even less likely (without reminders) to wear masks and far less likely to observe any distancing.

I don’t feel… comfortable on the tube, and more and more will take it only when I have to, when travelling by bus is not a sensible alternative. I’m sorry that’s the case, because I used to quite like the efficiency, speed and availability of the London Underground. I wonder if I’ll ever get that back. I hope so, but I don’t think it’ll be in the near future.

Bicycles
For the first time, during lockdown, I actually envied people who had bicycles. For a short period of time, I kept an eye on freecycle and on second hand sites for anyone getting rid of theirs. That feeling went away but never wholly, I’d quite like a bicylkem but can’t really afford nor the replacement if it’s nicked. Every summer I use the ‘Boris bikes’, the Santander bikes for a few weeks and though they’re not the easiest nor most comfortable of rides, they’re relatively cheep and I do get a bit of decent exercise with fresh air.

I’ll probably start using them again soon for a few weeks again. Maybe.

(As I was typing this, an email arrived selling electric bikes. Out of curiosity, I hit the link. Oh, they’re only two thousand pounds or more each. Erm, no.)
OK, that’s today’s entry. I’m off back to the flat, walking… accompanied by, today, The History of Rome. We’re up to the Second Macedonian War. So that’ll be nice.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’m not the hugest fan of Ian Blackford, the member of parliament for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster. That last title means he’s the person who asked questions in behalf of the party during Prime Minister’s Questions.

No, I’m not about to write about politics, and yes, my statement is still relevant, I promise.

As I say, I’m not his biggest fan. I know that, and appreciate that, every MP has their own style… I just don’t like his.

Not entirely unreleased, he’s also continued the by now well-established tradition of party leaders in the House of Commons being utterly shit at reading scripted gags.

David Cameron was the last party leader to carry it off, and even then not always. But May, Corbyn, Swinson… and Blackford, are bloody awful at it. Moreover, they’re so un-self-aware of the flaw, yet so desperate to use a line they like, that they’ll shoehorn it in to something entirely unrelated rather than save it for a better occasion.

Of course every politician gets it right – as far as scripted gags, anyway – sometimes; Law Of Inevitabilities, and all that.

And Ian Blackford did it the other week. Mentioning the Euros – a football thingy, I;’m led to believe – for which Scotland and England had both qualified, he sent good wishes to both teams and then, referencing the SNP’s longstanding mantra on Brexit, Blackford added: “If I may say so, I do hope we don’t see Scotland being dragged out of the Euros against our wishes.

I wonder who wrote the line. Whoever did so, it landed correctly, appropriately and – to give Blackford credit as well – it was delivered perfectly as well. And it got a decent laugh inside the chamber from political opponents as well as friends.

But if it wasn’t for watching PMQs, and me being online, and of course being a news junkie – where you can’t escape it – I’d have escaped learning about it.

No, not the line, good though it was: the football. And I’d have been quite happy to been in that fortunate position.

(And no, before anyone says anything, or gets much exercise jumping to conclusions, it’s nothing to do with the teams ‘taking the knee’; I’ve no objection to that at all… beyond the very mildest of concerns that it’s setting up a potential problem further down the line, when there’s an equally worthy campaign/symbol that teams decide not to honour. But that’s a discussion for another day, maybe. Possibly. But ‘taking the knee’? I’ve no issue with it, in and of itself, at all.)

However, football, any organised sports, as A Thing… is not for me. I not only ‘don’t like’ sports; this is one where, with rare exceptions, I actively dislike them. I’m not apathetic to them, I’m antipathetic. And I’d be quite happy, genuinely delighted in fact, were I never to have to encounter them again. In any way. At all. Ever.

Now I’ve no problem with other people watching, enjoying, participating and love it sports… or I would have no problem with it if they paid me the same courtesy.

Except they don’t. People who love sport proselytise their love to others. If you don’t like sports, then you’re – according to them – objectively wrong. Sport is ONLY good, NEVER harmful.

(I have less distaste for those who merely recommend exercise, running, or going to the gym, by the way, mainly because when you say ‘I tried it, hated it’ or ‘ please don’t suggest it again’, they usually acquiesce and stop recommending it. Less distaste; not none, however.)

Sports don’t bully children, bullies bully children, you can’t blame sports for that‘, goes the blurb.

Except I do, because as I say, people who love sport do, on the whole, not only recommend it to others – to put it mildly -but slyly suggest at best, and flat out state at worst, that if you don’t like sport, there’s something wrong with you, not the sport.… never the sport.

As you might guess, and as so often when someone says they ‘don’t like’ sports, you can trace my antipathy back to my school days. I mean, that’s not the only reason, but it started there. I’m sure that there are some sports teachers now who aren’t sadists, some who understand that making entirely uncoordinated and physically weak do sports under the same circumstances and under the same physical conditions as kids who are incredibly talented at it, and who love it… is a shitty idea.

I’m sure there are sports teachers who understand that it’s just cruel to make wholly unfit (physically, mentally or emotionally) kids do cross country…

…but either there weren’t when I was a child at school. Or if there were, I never came across them.

I was a physically slight, physically weak, child. And if I had a hate, a loathing, for anything as a child, it was for my sports teachers and for organised sports. I was always the last one to be picked for teams, and deservedly so. Because I was shit at team sports.

I was semi-decent with the foil, and ok with the epee, when I got to VI Form. I could hold my own in basketball, but I absolutely hated playing it. I could hit a ball in tennis, but rarely well enough to win a game. And I was utterly and unremittingly shit at squash when I tried it. Badminton I was ok at, but never actually enjoyed playing it.

Sport was just never for me. And I genuinely hated being made to play it, honestly loathed having to.

And I loathed and detested the teachers. Because they were bullies as well, and they either actively encouraged other kids to bully the weaker ones (waves!), or covertly encouraged it by not doing the slightest thing to stop the bullies.

It took me decades to be able to separate out in my mind ‘professional sports’ from the bullshit I went through at school. I just wish it was easier to do so. Because every so often I’m forced to conflate them.

I long ago learned that the fastest way to get me to exit a pub is for someone to switch the tv to a sporting event involving either England football team or the England rugby team. Walking along the street last week, the day that England were playing at Wembley,, I discovered exactly how much I’d not missed drunken fans, alcohol-filled cans and bottles in their hands, screaming and shouting at the passers by.

And if we demurred from being included in their chants and singing and shouting? Somehow we were at fault.

Maybe it’s the tribal element in professional sports that wholly escapes me. Despite me being Jewish, I don’t tend to do tribes so much. Tribal politics repulses me, tribal sporting loyalty utterly bemuses me. It’s something I not only don’t understand but can’t understand. The thought of following a team because they’re ‘my’ team is an entirely alien way of thinking to me. I don’t understand it at all, nor do I understand how anyone takes pleasure in it.

(I tend to notice, as in ‘did they win? Oh. Did they lose? Oh’ to Luton Town Football Club because it’s my hometown team but that’s it, that’s the level of my… interest. If they win, ok. If they lose, ok. Neither exercises me in the least.)

Used to be a standard line in accountancy that any accountant who could find a way of running an accountancy firm without clients would both be happy and make a fortune. To adapt that, I don’t mind sports as a concept, though it still entirely puzzles me; I’m just not too keen on the people who enthusiastically press, push and insist on pushing their enjoyment into my life.

So, yesterday, when what the tv kept calling “England’s most important match in years” was on, I was elsewhere… in Ikea, buying a replacement electric screwdriver.

If you watched and you’re an England or even a sports fan? I hope you enjoyed it. Honestly I do.

But you know what? I don’t need to know you did. And I won’t understand why you did.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant.

Indeed, as I’ve grown older, if not wiser, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And some thing don’t change. In the year and a half’\s absence from this place, things are still not great for most people. So, after another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a hearty ‘how the fuck should I know?’, here’s some much needed silliness.

For this run, I’m going to try and find, each week, three archive clips, one example of something that’s just… nice. And then end every week with something from my mate Mitch, who fortunately has continued to provide videos over the past year.

Ok, let’s start.

 

Here’s another of Randy Rainbow’s moments of genius: SEDITION!

 

Have some Prime Cracker; Robbie Coltrane and Helen Mirren being very silly.

 
 
A classic: Abbott & Costello with Who’s On First?

  
 
This week’s ‘nice’ smile: This delightfully charming animation of how the vaccine works.

 
 
From 2020, Mitch had some advice during lockdown: Do Fuck All… (yeah, this one’s a bit sweary…)

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, obviously, but last time I did a run, I found myself enjoying the ‘Ten Things…” posts, and from what I recall others apparently liked them as well.

I’m not sure I’ll do podcasts this time around; I don’t think there are ten new ones I’m listening to, and would recommend.

And while I could no doubt come up with more Doctor Who posts, maybe I’ll save them for if the run continues beyond my birthday. Possible, but unlikely, I’d have thought. But I said that last time as well, so who knows?

However, there’ve been some new tv shows I’ve enjoyed, and even some tv shows that started, and were cancelled, and even some non-tv related things I’ve been watching since the last time I blogged. So why not?

A reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things/Subjects I like… at the time of writing. (And why.)

Prodigal Son
Prodigal Son has a great concept: serial killer from high society gets away with it for years; is eventually caught; his son becomes a criminal profiler used by the FBI and then NYPD, but son uses father’s expertise to help catch other killers. Oh, and son is completely and utterly messed up himself, the whole family is broken. Oh, and the son turned the father in. Yeah, there’s that.

Tom Payne is the son, Michael Sheen, very obviously having the time of his life, plays the grizzled but still charmingly psychopathic been-in-the-nut-house-for-years father, and Bellamy Young is brilliant as the mother/ex-wife. Oh, and the supporting cast is great as well. The stories are… so-so, to be honest. There are loads that could easily support a two hour movie of the week and so they feel a bit rushed to fit it in 42 minutes’ of tv. But they’re just there to show off the characters. And the characters are fantastic. Not one of the people on the show is well balanced; all of them have secrets from the others and the drip drip drip as they come out is excruciatingly wonderful to watch.

Sheen and Payne are enormous fun whenever they’re on screen, as are Sheen and Young. I would very, very, very much like to see Sheen and Young do something else in the future; they’re fantastic on screen together.

It’s recently been announced that the show has been cancelled after two seasons; if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it without hesitation. The pilot (for once) is pretty good at setting out what’s going on, and what will be happening.


 
 

Deception
When I first saw the trailer for Deception, I wasn’t that interested, to be honest. Seemed like a knock-off of Jonathan Creek, and if I wanted to watch Jonathan Creek, then I’d watch Jonathan Creek. But I was wrong, and the cancelled-after-one=season show quickly became one of my favourites. OK, the basic idea is the same: magician solves locked-room mysteries and similar impossible crimes. But that’s pretty much all there is that’s even remotely similar.

For a start, there’s the hook. He’s arrested for murder in the opening minutes of the show. Except it’s not him you’re seeing arrested. It’s his twin. For decades, the ‘magician’ has been two people, twins. Those ‘impossible disappear from a box, and appear a mile away’ tricks? A bit easier if there are two of you. So the twin is arrested, but he swears he’s been framed. The twin who hasn’t been arrested starts solving (with his back room team) impossible crimes for the FBI… so he has access to the FBI to – hopefully – clear his brother.

Again, none of these people are particularly well-balanced, but they grow through the show. There’s not one of the main cast who’s the same at the end of this show as at the beginning. And at least two of the characters change a bit, even if just a bit, during each show. Their experiences in the show have consequences; they’re not always pleasant ones. That’s brave to do in a show. The crimes are clever and the solutions equally so. And ‘the big baddie’ is fun, and interesting and you want to know more about them.

There’s a season long arc and the season ends on a great cliffhanger, sadly unresolved.

But yeah, while never the greatest show around, it’s fun, and clever, and I liked the actors and what they did with their roles.

(Quick additional comment here: Instinct started at the same time as Perception and I only mention it, and enjoyed it, for two reasons: 1) it was genuinely unusual but delightful to see the protagonist in a lovely, loving, respectful and silly-at-times gay marriage… and that it was seen and shown as nothing unusual to the other characters. 2) whoever had the idea of making ALAN CUMMINGS play an ex-CIA field agent deserves either firing or a promotion. It’s either a truly awful idea or a genuinely wonderful ones. When I figure out which, I’ll let you know.)


 
 
Arrowverse
While not having anything like the same level of excitement as in the early years, I’ve enjoyed the Arrowverse shows on and off the past couple of years. The final mega-crossover was cleverly done and returned to what made the Earth-X crossover so enjoyable: everyone mixing and matching throughout rather than four different shows each of which play an entirely separate part in the story. That may work when it’s Law & Order/One Chicago but not when it’s in the world where comics crossovers are more common than not, these days.

Of the newer shows, well, I didn’t really enjoy Stargirl (I know it’s not formally part of the Arrowverse but give it time); I just wasn’t the audience for it, and I’m beginning to get the same feeling about Superman & Lois. Black Lightning I loved, every episode and the darker tone to the show rewarded viewers who stuck with it. Supergirl disappeared up its own portal a while back and I have no idea what any character wants at any given time. Which is more the fault of the writers than in should be. I’d say the same about Legends of Tomorrow. Of the newer show, Batwoman continues to be fun, and clever, and I’m enjoying the cast changes there.

Arrow, on the other hand, constantly worked as a show for me. Almost every episode, and particularly the final couple of seasons. And The Flash seems to have finally realised after a season of dread that the show is supposed to be… fun.

Hmm, when I started this bit, I didn’t expect it to end like that. I have liked the Arrowverse, but I’m not entirely sure why, now.


 
 
Fringe
Every so often, as show comes along that I just… miss out on watching at the time of broadcast. And, by the time I notice everyone else is raving about it, it feels too late to catch up.

Well, hello Fringe. At one point, it seemed that everyone I knew was saying very nice things about the show, and recommending it. But every time I felt like maybe watching it, I got the impression that there was just so much continuity bound up in the show that a) I’d have to start watching from the first episode or there’d be no point… and b) I’d be behind everyone else so, and couldn’t participate in the discussion and have to avoid any spoilers, so what would be the the point?

Well, jump forward a few years; the show’s long over. And, during lockdown, I’m looking for something to occupy my time. And I get hold of a copy of the first season of Fringe. I’d forgotten most of what I did know about it, and had this vague idea that it was of the same genre as The X-Files, a show I’d never really enjoyed that much.

I put on the first episode. And before I knew it, I’d watched four episodes and was hooked. Genuinely can’t remember a show where I’d gone from ‘ok, let’s see what this is about’ to ‘I must watch more… more… give me more…’

The very occasional duff episode, and the show definitely rewarded binge-watching; I’m not sure I’d have recalled every dropped loose end that got picked up six episodes later without it. But wow, was this a great show. The multiple earths thing could have been written for me, and the acting just amazed me episode after episode.

By the time I got to the ‘alternate universe’s comic books’, I was already being blown away every episode. I can’t think of another show that packed quite so much into every episode, once it found its feet, other than The Last Ship, which made a point of it, and another show I went from watching the pilot to wanting more, immediately.

The plot was convoluted, the ‘weird stuff’ perfectly reasonable in-universe, and I’m not sure any other show would, twice, blow away, destroy, the entire continuity of the show and rely upon the viewers’ intelligence and loyalty to carry them through the ‘what the fuck is happening now?’ arcs.

An utterly astonishing show that treated its viewers with… respect. And I’m so, so glad I eventually got around to watching.

(Not for nothing, I discovered Jared Harris first when he played George VI in The Crown; it was fun to see him in this as an out and out baddie… a couple of out and out baddies in fact. Watch the show and that will make sense, I promise.)


 
 
Good Omens
Ah, be fair, if there was any individual show you’d have expected me to mention in this Ten Things, it was this one, right? I’ve always enjoyed Good Omens as a novel, and I quite enjoyed the Radio 4 version of it. But it’s never been my favourite novel or anything.

While I enjoy Neil’s writing (yes, fair to mention in a ‘declaration of personal interest’ that Neil’s an old friend), I’ve never been able to get into Discworld. I wish I did; I wish I enjoyed the books as much as everyone seems to, and as much as everyone else seems think I will.

I’ve no idea why I don’t enjoy Discworld; I’ve tried several books, on several occasions, and I just don’t ‘get’ what everyone else does from the stories.

Usual reminder: When I say I ‘don’t enjoy’ something, that doesn’t mean I regard it as ‘no good’, nor that I have no taste (debatable, I guess); merely that it’s not to my taste. And when I say ‘I didn’t like something’, that’s very different from “I disliked it.” The former is a mere absence of enjoyment; the latter is an active antipathy to it.

So, no, I just ‘didn’t enjoy’ Discworld when I tried it. But I’ve always liked the writing on Good Omens. So was delighted when they announced the show. And everything I learned about it, including the superb casting, increased my anticipation.

While the trailer gave me pause, I’ll admit I was wrong to even slightly doubt the show itself.

Watching the trailer, I wasn’t sure David Tennant displayed the oleogenous subtlety I always associated (rightly or wrongly) with Crowley’s more devious nature and actions. But of course, the trailer had to grab your attention. And it did.

And the show, when it was entirely faithful to the novel, and also when it veered away from the source material, grabbed me… and didn’t let go. There was no point at all, while watching it, where I didn’t want to know… what happened next.

And of course, that the show had, on occasion, veered away from the novel, maintained the suspense throughout. I knew where we were going; I was never quite sure I knew how we’d get there.

I hope the writer, actors and crew regard that as a compliment; it’s very much intended that way.

Two final points: 1) The music; My hat, it’s good. Every note spot perfect for the moment, every musical phrase appropriate for the scene. 2) I see it’s been announced that John Finnemore is going to be on board to write season 2 with Neil. John’s one of the smartest comedy writers around, who understands you can’t have comedy without pathos, and also that a laugh can come from the malicious enjoyment of someone else’s misfortune. But John never lazily writes to that end. He’s a very clever man. And he’s one of the nicest people I’ve met in comedy, so there’s that as well.


 
 
Cabin Fever
So, John Finnemore. He’s one of the smartest comed– Oh, I’ve already done that bit, right? Well, one of the things John is famous for is as the writer of one of the smartest, funniest, most enjoyable radio sitcoms in the BBC’s history: Cabin Pressure. Anything I could tell you about it wouldn’t do it justice.

BUT, and here’s why this bit is in here, when lockdown hit, John created a quasi-sequel, with one character – the character he played in the show – also in lockdown. He called it Cabin Fever, and during a time in which nastiness and worry and panic and fear were prevalent, John gave us something that was charming and funny and sweet and lovely.

I’d recommend it without hesitation if you want chunks of funny and sweet and nice in your life


 
 
MrWhoseTheBoss
Another YouTube channel I’ve discovered and started watching the past year or so.

I’m not someone who watches YouTube videos that teach me stuff. Not really, nor that do reviews of tech stuff. Occasionally, if I’m interested in a new piece of tech, I’ll do a search for reviews of that specific tech, but that’s all. I certainly won’t subscribe to the channel or anything, or eagerly wait for the next video to be released.

But this time, I did all of those.

I had the opportunity to upgrade some of my tech. And my iPhone XR’s limitations were beginning, just beginning, to bug me. So I took a look online to see what people were saying about the iPhone 12 range. And I discovered MrWhoseTheBoss or more precisely I discovered the channel, and then the fella who runs it: Arun Maini. And I watched his review. And then watched some more reviews he did. And then checked out his other videos, his playlists of ’10 smartphone failures’ and ’15 tech fails’ and ‘gadgets under $50’ and at some point I subscribed and started looking forward to his explanatory videos, where he talked about what 6G was, and so much more, about scams online and other stuff as well.

He’s engaging, and funny, and self-deprecating and very self-aware of all three.

The best recommendation I can give is that you’ll watch a 15 minute video and wonder where the time went. You’ll think it zoomed by in five or six. He’s good. And he’s fun to watch.

Here’s one of his more recent videos.

 
 
For the final three, I’m breaking the ‘new things I’ve been watching’ idea, but they’re definitely three things that I’ve been watching during lockdown
 
 
Bill Nighy/Johnny Worricker trilogy
Bill Nighy is, I think, incapable of giving a bad performance. Even when he’s been in stuff I’ve not enjoyed, I’ve enjoyed his work in it. He was a delighted us Samwise Gamgee in The Lord Of The Rings and… what, you didn’t know that? Oh yes, oh he very much was, in the BBC Radio 4 version, forty years ago; the same production in which Bilbo was played by John Le Mesurier, Gandalf by Micheal Hordern and Frodo by Ian Holm, yes the same Ian Holm who played Bilbo in those movies you’ve probably seen.

But yes, Bill Nighy. And Johnny Worricker, gentleman (not really) spy (ok, yes). David Hare wrote three movies featuring Worricker — Page Eight, Turks & Caicos, and Salting The Battlefield — and I’d recommend them all, especially all in sequence. They’re only about an hour and a half each and they’re flat out wonderful. The casting is brilliant throughout, including a delightful Christopher Walken in the second, and a very niche British cast…

Bill Nighy – Radio 4′s LOTR
Rachel Weisz – The Mummy
Michael Gambon & Ralph Feinnes – Harry Potter
Alice Krige – Star Trek
Felicity Jones – Rogue One
Saskia Reeves – Dune
Ewen Bremner – Wonder Woman

In fact, I like them so much, here are short trailers for all three. Highest possible recommendation for all three.


 
 
Law & Order
I always kind of liked the show but one of the channels on Freeview has been showing half a dozen episodes a day for tghe past couple of years, and I’ve pretty much gotten hooked on the show. I’m continually fascinated by how such a formulaic show managed to not seem ‘samey’, how it kept fresh. Part of it of course is the regular change of cast. Even the roles played by the two longest-serving cast members – S. Epatha Merkerson and Sam Waterston – were kept fresh because it wasn’t merely their characters that counted, but how they intereacted with other cast members. I find it utterly engrossing how new main characters enter the show and have to find their feet. And how that isn’t always a happy experience. (And no, I’m not talking about shorter lived characters. Milena Govich’s character was deliberately written as having a tough time, and Michael Imerioli’s chatracter was again deliberately short term.)

But sometimes the police characters and the DA’s staff not only don’t get on but positively dislike each other, and even when they do genuinely have affection for each other… (McCoy/Briscoe for example) their aims, wants and and objectives clash. The show doesn’t shy away from that, nor provide easy answers to who’s right when they do clash.

(Small sidebar, your honour: I’ve been surprised how much I enjoyed the Homicide: Life On The Streets crossovers, without at any point wanting to watch the other show’s run.)

And much as I loved Lennie Briscoe, and Angie Harmon’s and Carey Lowell’s… the show needed, and got, a shot in the arm in the final three seasons when Linus Roach, Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson turned up.

There’s not another show I can think of with the exception of Doctor Who where the changes of cast are so inherent to the show that the show would be an entirely differnt, weaker, show without it.
 
 
Doctor Who
And talking of which, Doctor Who. Yeah, I’ve been enjoying the Jodie Whittaker Doctor run far more on rewatches than I did when I watched them at the time they were broadcast. Nothing more to say on that other than here’s some Doctor Who .

And that’s ten. Ten Things I’ve enjoyed watching during Lockdown.

Oh, I guess there’s one more, I suppose.
 


 
 
Oh, I did enjoy watching that. I really did. And the rest of the season’s not been too bad either.

 

As for rewatching, there are some shows I enjoy rewatching but I do it so regularly that it’s daft to include them here. So, they’ll be here next week.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once upon a time, I partook in a project called Elephant Words, where a single image would inspire multiple story.

In honour of that, here’s something new, a story written for this blog that no-one’s ever seen before, which is suitable because it’s about looking for something so far no-one’s seen.

I came across the following image this morning while looking for something else.

This is the story that it inspired.


A Discovery of Ignorance

As the clamps grabbed the floating debris, and brought it into the ship, he hoped that he’d found it, that most elusive of things… something new.

He’d been travelling the space lanes for most of his adult life. A delivery here, a pickup there, occasionally getting involved in something that was by any measure none of his business, but it was always in service to the discovery of something… new.

He’d been bored on his home planet, and, after he’d done his military service, he’d bought an old wreck, spent far too long tuning it up, and then set out to make his mark on the universe. He was still hoping to do that, but while he and the universe were waiting for that to happen, he needed a hobby.

So, he looked for space wrecks, for specific bio-signatures, to disprove a theory he’d developed about the utter self-centredness of life. Life cannot be always selfish, he’d once suggested idly in a bar. The laughter and the mockery had turned what was a trivial utterance into a quest, albeit one that of necessarily was interrupted by him earning.

It was true that he’d by now lost count of the times he’d been disappointed, how many times his hopes had been dashed, how often life demonstrated that it was indeed not only selfish and self-centred, but knowingly so. He didn’t believe it was inherent, though, not to all sentient species.

He’d never found any evidence to justify this hypothesis. Yet.

But maybe this time. Maybe…?

A light lit up, a siren blared. He switched both off. One of these days, he said to himself, he’d disconnect the circuits that triggered them. His mouth creased as he realised he’d said that before. Many times.

The monitors showed the automatic salvage units working away; he’d quite literally picked them up for a song, a bawdy dirge performed to a group of demonic nuns in the far sectors. How they’d ended up with the units was something he’d quickly realised not to ask. Not when he saw the orange ichor he’d had to clean from the units’ insides.

“Come on… come on…” he muttered, impatient for the bioscan to confirm, and then there they were, the five words he’d hoped to see. Plain and simple, and exactly what he was looking for:

LIFE. SENTIENT. SOON TO EXPIRE.

When something was about to die far from home, he’d long ago realised, they had no reason to dissemble, no motive to lie. They’d be at least honest, and – hopefully – demonstrate selflessness.

He activated his personal forcefield. Only a mark VII, but it would suffice against bacteria and viruses. Or at least it had so far. He opened the relevant file to check the field’s acquisition date and winced when he saw his own handwriting saying to get a new one… The note was dated… he did the calculations… and winced again.

OK, next time he passed a traders’ post. Definitely.

In the meantime, there was the soon-to-be dead entity in his hold to examine.

The creature was damaged; he didn’t need equipment to tell him that. The arms – he assumed they were arms, although there were only two of them and he couldn’t see anything suggesting more had been ripped off – were fleshy, and flabby, and partially covered in a browny-red viscous liquid which he guessed passed for this species’ blood.

There were various puncture wounds covering the body and head but, he looked anxiously, yes, the skull looked intact. There were two covered holes on one side; when he lifted the fleshy – why so much flesh, and so little resin, he wondered – there was a ball floating in each; one was still, the other slowly, randomly, moving.

He attached the leads either side of the skull, where the machines told him to. And waited for the machines to dredge the information, translate it as far as it could, and present the information he was looking for: proof that in their last moments, some species, some individual, wasn’t as self-centred as he believed they were, as they had all been.

While he waited, he wondered what he would do if he did find that elusive creature. What would he do? He had ideas of course, but—

The machine bleeped. There was some text on the screen identifying the species, and even the creature’s name and likely home planet.

He ignored it all.

Then the final sentence, in a language he didn’t recognise. He forgot. He always forgot. The final sentence was always in the language of the soon-to-be-deceased, a final mark of respect from the machine’s programmer… a respect he didn’t share one bit.

“Translate from original.” He spat the words out.

Letter by letter, the message became legible. As he read the translated words, his spirts fell. Once again. Once again, all they cared about was themselves. Always the same message. All about the glory they’d soon have, all about how they’d take their discoveries and make themselves rich, and famous.

He swore, left the hold and hit the big button to fry the remains, and expel the dust.

WHY? WHY was the universe and everyone in it so-self-centred?

He went back to the cabin and set the scanners to check for the next sector. All he wanted was to find someone who wasn’t so self-centred. If he did, wow, if he did… why he could take that information and make himself a fortune.

© Lee Barnett, 2021

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

57 minus 48: Common sense(s)?

Posted: 30 June 2021 in 57 minus

John Rentoul, the political editor of The Independent often writes about Zombie Policies: what he describes as undesirable or unworkable ideas that refuse to die.

Occasionally, he highlights some of them in his regular ‘Top Ten’ feature. those political policies that continue to be demanded but which either have never been tried (because people who know about the subjects swear blind they’re unworkable, or have been tried but have never actually, y’know, worked.).

Similarly, there are zombie ‘facts’, which of course are nothing of the sort.

“The human brain uses only 10% of its capacity” is a common one that does the rounds. It’s nonsense, of course, and has been debunked many times.

Or the myth that hair and nails continue to grow for a short time after death. Erm, no they don’t.

And while it’s been long known that there are more than the ‘five senses’ I was taught in school, I continue to find it fasacinaing that it’s those five which for me seem to have strong links to memory.

Hearing
A piece of music can with shocking suddenness bring to mind a memory of which I hadn’t thought in years, sometimes longer. Or perhaps I have and just no longer recall remembering it. But the mere sound of a piece of music can in some, not all, but some circumstances, take me back to the very moment I heard it played. With some, it’s the person I was with. One girlfriend was nuts for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and it’s now impossible for me to hear it without recalling listening to it with her.

Similarly, there are one or two songs that I hear, and immediately remembering my youth, and especially the youth club to which I belonged.

By coincidence – as I was drafting this piece – Jamie McKelvie asked on Twitter which song reminded his followers of Summer; more precisely, he asked which songs marked the start of ‘summer for them.

For Jamie, it’s this one:

For me, however, it’s this:

There was one occasion, when I was my mid-20s, when the sun was shining, the sky the clearest blue, the breeze strong but fresh, and the smell of the sea was incredib– Oh, wait, I forgot to mention I was in Bermuda at the time… The song brings all of that back, as it was playing in the car from the airport. That song means summer to me. And always has since then.

Smell
A scent can, but doesn’t always, do similar for me; the smell of newly mown grass might bring to the fore a recollection of watching cricket with my brother at the ground in Luton. The smell of freshly baked beigels (yes, beigels, not that doughy thing called a ‘bagel’) will always take me back to kosher bakeries, but not necessarily one specific bakery.

Oiled leather, however? Oh, very definitely, a leather goods shop from my childhood. I can still picture it, small – even in my childhood memories – and leather bags, jackets and wallets hanging from the ceiling, attached to the walls and in every available space.

Oh, one additional thing, I guess I should mention. I quit smoking four years ago. I was told that I’d start noticing other, more pleasant smells when my head wasn’t suffused in smoke,

I didn’t. It’s one effect that was supposed to happen that… didn’t. Though the busted up nose (that I mentioned the other day) may play some part in that, I guess.

Taste
The taste of apple pie will almost always remind me of that which my mother made. For some reason – and I have no idea what it is – it’s one of the few foods I remember from childhood with affection. Well, I know why it’s one of few things from my childhood I remember kindly, but not why it’s one of the few foods that does it.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a foodie. To me, with perilously rare exceptions, food is fuel, and not much more. Sure, there are things I prefer, but rarely anything that I prefer to the extent that if I substituted scrambled eggs on toast I wouldn’t feel aggrieved. I have a bland palate, and don’t actually…. enjoy…. food.

More than one friend has speculated whether my busted up nose has something to do with that. I wish I could say definitively one way or the other, but I never remember actually enjoying food. It was always just… food, fuel, something so that I didn’t get, or stay, hungry.p

But no food is one of those things that not only don’t I enjoy (beyond the basic ‘I was hungry I’m no longer hungry’), I genuinely struggle to understand why people do enjoy it… and more, take pleasure in the preparation, and consumption, of lavish meals. Me? If it takes more than 10 minutes to prepare, I’ll (usually) find something else to eat.

Yes, yes, I’m a philistine with no appreciation for the finer things in life., This is new to you? Hello, I’m budgie.

Sight
It would be more understandable, I suppose, that the sight of a logo from a company long since gone would act as a catalyst for a clear remembrance of times similarly past. But for the most part, it doesn’t, Partly of course because company logos change, as do company names, through mergers and acquisitions and going out of business, and partly because I associate logos with advertisements and ad jingles always do it for me long before the logo does.

There’s also, I suppose, that my hearing is pretty good, even ‘for my age’, whereas my eyesight has needed assistance (glasses as a child, and glasses & contact lenses as adult). I’m also colour blind so what you see as a logo might not exactly be what I see in one.

Photographs do take me back; less so in the days of digital photos, and the associated digital manipulation that accompanies it.

I tend to associate memories more with printed photos and analogue videos. I can watch my wedding video, or video from the 1980s and the memories come flooding back. I can see videos of other more recent things and the memories are still there, but nowhere nearly as clear, and nowhere nearly as strong.

Touch
Way back when, it was said – apocryphally – that witnesses to a meeting would be struck across the face; the memory of such an injury would perforce be accompanied by the memories of all else that had occurred at the meeeting they had attended.

I’m less likely to either slap someone or be slapped but various injuries, my foot again, the pain in my upper chest where a traumatised mole was removed, toothache… pain reminds me, if you can count that as touch.

So if there are The Five…?
Far less obvious but equally anticipated might be how seldom a sudden temperature changes brings forward thoughts of times gone by. Nor would momentarily losing your sense of balance immediately necessarily cause one to think of previous occasions.

It can’t simply be because of the frequency of these things, so I wonder what the link is between those and memory?

I’ve probably pondered this before, but if I have… I have no memory of it. Which is entirely appropriate.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

And so we’re back to the regular ‘fiction from the vaults’ posts on Tuesdays for the rest of the run.

I signed up with Racket in May, and, unless I grow up and stop being childishly excited about the idea, you could well get audio readings of the fiction appended to the tales themselves.

Today you get a couple of fast fictions from the long ago, from the very long ago again this week; one each from the 2005 and 2006 fast fiction funs. Two very different stories, one very silly, one very sad. And both I remember writing with great enjoyment. I hope you enjoy reading them as much.

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.

Enjoy them…


Title: Coked To The Gills
Word: armour
Challenger: [Livejournal: elfie_elfie]
Length: 200 words exactly

I can’t remember what inspired me to realise that the fish were really goths, but once the idea set in, the rest was automatic.

The gentle gurgling of the water was simply too peaceful and had to be replaced, so I hooked up a waterproofed speaker and started piping music into the aquarium. Alphabetically, of course.

I started off with All About Eve, and moved on to Bauhaus. By the time I reached Joy Division, I was convinced that the looks on their little faces bore the required level of angst.

I replaced the pirate ship with a dark grey submarine and the golden castle was replaced, once I’d painted it black. It seemed appropriate to have a guard, so I bought a six inch suit of armour and coloured it black with oil paint, so it would last.

I put in lower lights and started adulterating the feed with uppers, downers, anything I could think of. No dope, for obvious reasons.

Finally, the coal went in. Lumps of the black stuff.

Of course the fish were suicidal! They were goths!

I don’t understand why others have problems with that.

And that, my Lord, is the case for the defence…

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: Thursday Morning Coffee
Word: beans
Challenger: [Livejournal: abbie]
Length: 200 words exactly

He stood outside, enjoying the morning breeze. He lifted the large mug to his mouth, sipping the hot black coffee, tasting the slight bitterness. He remembered how she’d loved to make him coffee from Columbian beans. Not this morning though; this was instant – too much to do.

As the sun rose above the horizon, the sky slowly brightened; she’d always loved this shade of colour, and he’d grown in time to similarly take pleasure in it. Ten years to turn him from a ‘city lad’ into someone who took genuine pleasure from the country and now, thirty years of life away from the city.

The job, the excitement, the office politics; all of it seemed so far in the past, before the delight of her.

He drained the cup and walked back inside, remembering the joy of the past three decades with her. He rinsed the cup, knowing she’d have been angry with it left unwashed.

She’d died peacefully, as peacefully as she’d lived her life. Two hours, and it already seemed so long ago.

He felt his stomach cramp, the first sign.

Then he lay on the bed next to his wife, and waited for the poison to work.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

No, this isn’t going to be commentary on the NHS in general, nor a comment on how the government hugely fucked up the covid response, while the NHS and those inside it have done an amazing job on rolling out the vaccines.

I mean, were I to do so, you may be able to guess from the above sentence where I’d stand. Possibly. Maybe.

And who knows, I may do something on both of those, including some very nice words about some very nice people I know who work in the NHS. (Hi Keir, if you’re reading!)

But no, this might be the first in an irregular series of posts during this run on how covid has changed what I do, what consequences it’s had for me.

So, medical stuff.

Oh, not to bury the lede — too late, Budgie — but I haven’t had covid, and at no point have I felt it necessary to get a test. Apart from anything else, unless I have to have one of those tests where you stick the swab so far up your nose you scrap the inside of your skull… I’m not going to.

Because I have a busted up inside-of-my-nose, which you can see in the MRIs immediately below. But there’s no reason for me to detail here how I got the busted up nose, IS THERE, MY BELOVED SON?

So, no, I haven’t had covid. But I know people who’ve had it, and even some who’ve been very ill with it, And I know people who died from it, including a family member. (We hadn’t been close for many years, but it still counts.)

But as far as covid and me, the biggest consequences to me, medically, have been how I’ve interacted with my GP and the hospitals I’ve had to be in contact with over the past year and a half.

Because I’ve had some… medical stuff happening during that time. In no particular order, some mental health stuff which I’m probably not going to talk about today, a couple of skin cancer scares, bleeding from some places that I really shouldn’t be bleeding from, and the usual medical stuff that hits you when you’re in your mid-50s.

On the last of these, I’m reminded that a couple of years ago I mentioned to my ex-wife that I felt like an old person. No, she didn’t reply, ‘I know, but where can you get one this time of night?’

I’d said it while on the phone to her and counting out the different medications I took, morning and night, and how I remembered as a child watching my grandparents doing the same thing.

Laura, very sensibly, asked one question: ‘…and how old were they when you remember them doing this?’

Because, of course, when I worked it out, it turned out… that they were in their late 50s, as I’m about to be, in [checks the title of this post] 50 days’ time.

So, the reason I felt… not young, was of course because I’m not young any more. OK, I may not be “old” but I was – in Emo Philips’ immortal line – born at a more comfortable distance from the apocalypse than most of the people reading this. Not necessarily all of you, but by any measure most of you.

Again, in no particular precedence, I take meds for stomach complaints, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and of course I take statins. I take vitamin supplements and sleep meds. Without the latter, I’m lucky if I sleep an hour without waking up, cursing, eventually sleeping for another hour, waking up, cursing again and then… and then… and then… So I take sleep meds.

Oh, and of course large daily doses of cocodamol 500/30 for the fucked-up foot.

But yeah, keeping in touch with my GP, my doctor, has changed the past year and a half. I’ve not yet had a video appointment with my GP but I’d be more than ok with doing so, and I was pleased to see that the NHS is investigating whether this is something that could be an option when this is over. Pretty much (with rare exceptions) every interaction I’ve had with my GP over the past 18 months has been by telephone.

Now I’m lucky. I have a great GP, someone I like and respect. The latter is more important to me than the former, because I don’t think I could trust a GP I didn’t respect. I could, I guess, though it would be difficult, trust a doctor I didn’t like. But a doctor I didn’t respect? Not a chance. And I do trust my GP.

(A long time ago, when I was a teenager, a family friend told me that there are three professionals you need to trust and tell the truth to: your doctor, your accountant, your lawyer. If you don’t trust them, he said, get another one, and always tell them the unfettered truth… because it’ll cost you a lot more in the end if you mislead them. It’s good advice, and while I’ve never needed my own accountant, for obvious reasons, I’ve used lawyers and doctors and tried at least not to be dishonest with them.)

I’ve had my current GP since I moved into Abbey Road. She’s great. And when we first met, she figured me out pretty quickly. Only twice have I not taken her advice and while one is ongoing re the mental health thing, the other… well, she was right and I was wrong and there’s nothing more to be said about it. Other than that I should have had that colonoscopy long before I had no choice but to have it because I was genuinely scared I was about to die in agony.

So that was nice.

Dealing with my GP has been a delight, because she’s a delight… knowledgeable, professional, friendly… nice; a doctor who tells me what I need to know, not necessarily what I want to know. I like seeing her, but I’m also more than ok with talking to her on the phone most of the time. And I’d be similarly quite happy chatting to her on video as well.

I’d be remiss however, if I didn’t at this stage also thank the other people in the St John’s Wood Medical Practice: the other doctors who’ve spoken to me when my GP has been unavailable, the nurses who’ve done blood tests, and the receptionists, all who have been utterly fantastic. As I said above: I’ve been very lucky.

Dealing with hospitals in the time of covid — particularly regarding the skin cancer scares — was less than pleasant, though. And it’s not their fault; the world went to hell during this pandemic, resources were stretched, and the hospitals were doing their very best just to do what they could, when they could, while they could.

But several successive telephone appointments that ended with “I have no idea why this appointment is being done by telephone; I really need to see you in person“, followed by other telephone appointments that ended with “I have no idea why this appointment is being done by telephone; I really need to see you in person“…

…followed by an in-person telephone appointment that led, 40 minutes later, to a ‘traumatised’ ¼” mole being urgently removed from my chest leaving a 2″ scar…

…yeah. Less than ideal.

(I was about to insert some pics of the mole, and the scar so you could see how horrible the former was and how neat and – frankly – weird the latter is… but I thought better of it. Still, ask if you want to see them; they’re pretty neat.)

Fortunately, the several biopsies and tests I’ve had have all turned out negative, but I’m kind of resigned to the fact that at some point I’ll get a biopsy result that… isn’t so nice. Just as I’m assuming that sooner or later I’ll have a head biopsy, the scars of which necessitate me wearing a hat thereafter. So far I’ve escaped both; I doubt I’ll escape them forever.

But the mess over the hospital appointments weren’t anyone fault. It was just everyone doing the best they could at a time when everyone was just doing the best they could.

But for the future, if I could pick and choose — which of course I can’t — I’d choose telephone/video appointments with my GP (if she’s up for that) for most stuff, and in person appointments at hospital. I kind of figure that if my GP thinks I should be seen by someone at a hospital, I should be seen by someone at a hospital.

One problem, of course, is that much as “the patient is resting comfortably” means something quite, quite different to a) the patient and b) the hospital, so unfortunately does “I need an appointment and it won’t take long…

Oh look, we’ve run out of space and time. No time to tell you about the bleeding from places I shouldn’t be bleeding from.

Well, that’s something to look forward to next¹ time, eh?

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹there won’t be a next time, at least not about medical stuff

Well, a week’s worth of posts – once this one is done – and I”m not entirely sure how I’ve managed it without reaching for one of my pre-prepared ‘in case of emergency, post this’ posts. What I am sure about, however, is that planning it out better than I did probably would have been a good idea.

Because we’re on the first Sunday post of the run… and this is the third attempt at writing it.

Because I really, really don’t want to write about politics, British politics that is, this early in the run.

I want to have a few more posts under my belt, and feel more comfortable writing a few hundred words without feeling like the words are going to dry up any moment. But I know that if I try to express my contempt for, my anger at, and my despair at the state of, and the future of, British politics right now? The words won’t come. Oh, they’ll be there for a hundred well-chosen, probably sweary, words, maybe two hundred even. But after that, there’s nothing I can say or write that others can’t say or write… better. And with more justification.

So, until either I can write a few hundred words without it being a stream of swearing obscenities, or I can write a few hundred words of swearing obscenities and make it good writing, I’ll have to find other subjects about which to opine.

So, instead, today, you’ve got something on teachers, and school.

I was thinking about teachers, earlier today. But in an indication of how my mind… ‘works’ (for lack of a better descriptor)… I got there by thinking about Rachel Maddow, of MSNBC, and how much I enjoy her show.

Because it’s Sunday and Rachel Maddow only does her show Monday to Friday. And so I was regretting that I don’t even have the podcast of her show broadcast last night to listen to. I like listening to Maddow, or even watching the show if I’ve managed to get a copy from, erm, places online.

I realised some time ago that a lot of the reason I enjoy her “let’s reach back in history, give you all a brief summary of something that happened and link it to something that happened today…” style is because it reminds me so much of Alistair Cooke. And thinking of Alistair Cooke inevitably makes me think of his Letter From America. And thinking of Letter From America equally inevitably makes me think of a fella named John Ramm, who was my politics tutor at A-Level, at Luton VI Form College. Tuesday mornings, we had double-politics. And John used to play that week’s Letter From America at the start of the lesson.

While I was kind of mildly interested in politics before I met him, his classes got me very interested, somewhat in politics itself, the ideologies and beliefs therein, but wholly and completely in the processes of, and the operation of, comparative political systems.

Not entirely a surprise, I grant, since the A-Level was entitled “Government and Comparative Political Systems”.

It once again reminded me how lucky I was to have some seriously good teachers during my education and I remember the best of them with heartfelt gratitude. Those subjects for which I had good teachers were those which, in later life, I maintained an interest; mathematics, english language, computers, science…

But those subjects for which I had lousy teachers (not entirely a coincidence that for the most part I didn’t like them and vice versa) almost always were subjects about which I had no interest in the time… and crucially developed no interest in later life.

History was a notable exception; I loathed most of my teachers in the subject, including one who very obviously regard the attempted extermination of Jews by the Nazis as a somewhat minor and unimportant, indeed barely worth mentioning, topic in the larger study of World War II and even within the study and analysis of the Holocaust itself.

Only as an adult did I discover well written, well taught and well described history. And while I never fell in love with the subject, I did at least gain some appreciation for it.

The two that stand out as subjects I disliked (and so, apparently, did my teachers) were Geography and Music. I don’t really care about the former; I’m sure it’s important in general and all that, but I just never saw any use in it as a subject for me. As I alluded the other day, not once have I felt my lack of knowledge a drawback, especially not with Wikipedia and encyclopaedias there if I need a specific fact.

Ah,” I hear you cry, “but without the basic knowledge, you won’t be able to appreciate the context nor to apply it accurately.” To which I respond, “yes, I know, and I’m ok with that.”

But Music? All of the music teachers we had seemed there almost as a punishment to us… and to them. And I genuinely regret that for so many reasons. I have next to no musical skill, and I really wish I did. I enjoy music, but couldn’t tell you why, nor identify the skills necessary to make music. My friend, the musical comedian Mitch Benn, once tried, as others have, to explain musical keys to me. He didn’t quite end up tearing his hair out, but it was close.

(And if you read the above and think you can explain them to me, I beg you not to attempt to do so; it’d be like trying to teach juggling to an arthritic elephant. You won’t succeed and you’ll piss off the elephant while trying.)

Lyrics of songs? Yes, those I can identify with. I appreciate a good lyric as much as any writer; lyrics can make me laugh, and can break my heart, sometimes within the same song. I know the synergy of music and lyrics lift me… but couldn’t for the life of me explain why.

Singing? I can’t carry a tune in a bucket… And various friends who’ve heard me are honest enough to admit that, while being nice enough people to stay friends with me after suffering my… singing.

Despite me apparently having a good voice when I was a child, when my voice broke broke, it didn’t merely break, but rather shatter into a thousand shards…

That’s something else I regret, and it’s entirely non-coincidental that whenever I think that I’d like to learn to play an instrument, it’s always a musical instrument that involves me very much not being able to sing at the same time I play it.

On writing this post, it occurs to me that there are two other things about which I’m apparently unteachable.

Cooking. I’ll include any form of food preparation in here, but yeah, cooking. Anything that takes more than a few minutes, and I’m lost. Truly. An example. I have a microwave that apparently allows convection cooking. I say apparently because I’ve always been too scared to try it out. One of the loveliest people on the planet – my ex-wife Laura – has tried to teach me to use it. We never last more than about three minutes before me and, as I say, one of the loveliest people on the planet, are fiercely arguing. And it ends up with her taking the perfectly reasonable and rational position… that I am an idiot.

Which I wouldn’t disagree with.

There are, maybe, a dozen different things I’m… ‘comfortable’ cooking. And that includes omelettes and toast. And any attempt, self-taught or taught by others, to increase my range… has always ended up with me either furious, upset, or self-loathing. Often all three.

And then there’s… dancing, or really any social situation where it’s even remotely possible that I’ll make a damn fool of myself in public. For that ‘remotely possible’ will morph inside my head within moments to become ‘a raging certainty’. I gave up – yes, I acknowledge fully that it was my decision, made in the service of self-protection – even trying. (And if you think that’s it’s not entirely coincidental that I’ve been single for more than a decade and a half, you may not be wrong.)

Y’know, talking about teaching makes me wonder whether to do another ‘teach me‘ post – about things I don’t know I don’t know, about skills I actually do fancy learning at some point – in this run. Hmm. Something to consider…

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.