50 minus 1: Q and A

Posted: 16 August 2014 in personal
Tags: ,

It’s about time I did something like this on this version of my blog; in the last blog I had (from 2002 through to 2010) I did it fairly regularly.

Tomorrow, the countdown reaches zero – and if you haven’t noticed the countdown, you really haven’t been paying attention.

But anyway, every so often on LiveJournal, I asked folks to ask me questions. Not the ‘coffee or tea?’ or ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ type questions but a tad more personal and hopefully more interesting. Well, there’s been a lot of changes in the past few years, and I was reasonably curious as to what my answers would be now to questions I was asked the best part of six or more years ago.

So, preface over, here are some questions and answers:

What was your favourite toy as a child?
No contest: Lego. Loved playing with it, and there were apparently tantrums when a single brick was taken away, whether or not I was using it.

If you could choose your neighbours (on either side of your imaginary house on the imaginary street), who would they be and why?
I’d have empty houses either side. I don’t think (other than when I was a kid, and on one other occasion) I’ve ever actually got on that well with neighbours. Quite happy not to have any. When I lived in the flat in Barnet, I had four sets of neighbours in seven years and I don’t think I exchanged more than a few words with any bar one set. I’m quite happy, once the door shuts, for it just to be me and to shut the rest of the world out, Internet notwithstanding.

What’s your favourite swear/curse word?
Bugger. The softer I say it, the more serious the occasion.

Do you like to dance? Can you dance?
No, and no. Even when I was physically able to dance, I loathed it, hated it with a passion; I’m way too self-conscious to be able to “lose myself” in the music. These days, of course, about the only silver lining in the cloud of the buggered up foot is that I’m not ‘expected’ to dance. I seriously don’t like it, although as a general rule, I quite enjoy watching other people dance.

If you could have your own restaurant, what would it serve and what would be your signature dish (and why)?
Health foods… as healthy and nutritious as possible. I’d find it amusing to be running a successful restaurant that only serves healthy, nutritious food… while I’m stuffing myself with cheeseburgers.

How do you feel when street beggars ask you for money?
Uncomfortable that we have a society that forces people to beg.

What are you reading at the moment?
Star Trek: New Frontier | Restoration by Peter David. I’ve a dozen or so books lined up to read after that, though, two in particular I’m very much looking forward to. One I’ve been recommended by several people: 5 Days in May by Andrew Adonis, a recounting of the negotiations that led to the UK getting a coalition government after the 2010 general election.

Are there any books you want to read but suspect you never will?
Oh, several; War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago and the original Count of Monte Christo among others.

Favourite prose book?
No contest; it’s been my favourite novel since I first read it in 1982: The Man by Irving Wallace. Set in the late 1960s, the Vice-President of the United States is dead by a heart attack as the novel starts. No big deal, the US has been without a VP at several times in its history. Then the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives die in an accident. (A building in post-war Berlin collapses during a summit.) The President pro-tem of the Senate, a man only given the mostly nondescript (as far as the populace is concerned) position as a sop to appease a section of the electorate, is catapulted into the White House. The kicker comes at the end of the first chapter as the Chief Justice wishes him well “as the first Negro President of the United States of America.” And all hell breaks loose.

The novel was written in 1964, and end up with him being impeached and being tried on the impeachment articles… three of which are or could be seen as racially motivated and one which is most definitely an attack on the Presidency itself.

And this is the ‘not a birthday present; just pure coincidence I’m giving it to you within a week or so of your 50th birthday’ present I just got from Clara Benn: a first edition of the book itself.

Isn’t that nice…?

How do you feel when strangers, someone next to you on the train or bus etc., start talking to you?
An urgent need to move away or change seats. I’m not the most social or sociable of people in general but definitely (but not exclusively) with people I don’t already know or haven’t been introduced to.

What’s your favourite smell?
Will have to give several: citrus (particularly lime), that “new leather” smell, freshly baked bread and freshly cut grass.

What’s your favourite of the fast fictions you’ve written?
Honestly couldn’t say; I’ve some I like more than others, but that’s usually because there was a specific thing I was trying to achieve with the story and in that case, I felt I’d done so. I’ll always have find memories of the one I wrote in iambic pentameter, as I will for the one that was entirely alliterative. Then again, I always enjoy writing stories for friends. And the twenty-four I wrote in twenty-four hours raised about two thousand pounds for charity, so those are very special to me.

Which would you rather: a country where it never got dark, or a country where it was dark all the time?
The former; I can always close the curtains and recreate dark; switching the light on isn’t the same as daylight. And I like light, a lot of it.

What did you watch on TV when you were a child?
According to my family, ANYTHING. I was a tv addict, watching everything I could from a very early age. But stuff I remember liking? Thunderbirds, H R Puffnstuff, Doctor Who, The Tomorrow People, Catweazle, The Freewheelers, §, Ace of Wands and Magpie all spring to mind… Re that last: I was never a Blue Peter kid; much preferred Magpie.

If you were to choose a religion to practice, based entirely on entertainment value / general interest (basically, anything but actual belief), which would you choose, and why?
I honestly don’t think I’d choose to follow any religion if it wasn’t for faith; can’t really see the point.

What, if anything, do you collect?
Well, it used to be comics… could still be, I guess, but more in trade paperbacks than the monthly comics. These days? I collect painkillers on an ongoing basis.

Did you ever consider becoming a hairdresser instead?
No. I did work in my dad’s salon on Saturdays and during summer holidays, but permanently? Not a chance; I fairly quickly learned I didn’t have the skills, the temperament nor the artistic appreciation. A good hairdresser can teach anyone how to cut hair; that won’t turn the student into a hairdresser. In the same way that I can teach anyone to keep a set of books; that won’t turn them into an accountant. Although, I’ll admit to enjoying the atmosphere of a hairdressers. I did then, and I do now.

What’s the weirdest/most uncharacteristic song you like?
I’m not sure what would qualify as weirdest, although I’ve a fond affection for many pop songs, the lyrics of which I learned in childhood.

In which newspaper (or associated site) do you put the most faith for lack of bias/find yourself agreeing with the bias of the most?
Probably The Grauniad these days. I used to be a faithful reader of The Times, but simply got bored by the writing in the end. And to my genuine surprise, I found myself agreeing more and more with the slant taken by The Guardian. And despite many people thinking the BBC is biased, I don’t.

Marvel Comics comes to you and says you can write any one character in the Marvel Universe; who do you pick?
Although my heart says Union Jack, simply because I think he’s been wasted as a character, my brain says a bigger name. I’d like to write a Kitty Pryde mini-series. She’s a character that’s met most of the Big Names in the Marvel Universe and has rarely (certainly the past few years) come away fazed by the experience. I’d love to write something where she needs a team… not physically there, but to solve a mystery or to save a life, she has to call in favours from people she’s saved or worked with over the years. Most of the names would have cameo parts or small guest roles; the focus would be on her. In some ways, she’s my generation’s Rick Jones, in that she’s worked with loads of people and very, very few of them actively dislike her.

DC Comics comes to you and says you can write any one character in the Marvel Universe; who do you pick?
Well, I said recently why they’d never let me write Superman… so he’s out. I’d like to write a series for them that dealt with the consequences of being close to a super-hero; say Alfred Pennyworth teaming up with Lois Lane,

However, in answer to both of the above questions, what I’d really like to write is my own characters, thanks. It took me a long time to realise that, probably longer than it should have done.

Have you ever done anything that you still feel embarrassed about even to this day?
Oh, Lord yes, so many times, work related, personal and to do with comics. Some funny, some just embarrassing and some just purely unprofessional. Tell you what, just because I’m being brutally honest today, you get one from each.

Work related: I once took a major client’s VAT Records home to work on… and left them on the tube. These weren’t copies – these were the originals. And, as I changed tubes at Camden Town, I just got off the tube train… and left them there. I realised about ten minutes later and had the next two hours from hell as I tried beyond hope to get them back. With an incredible amount of luck, as I was heading back to the office (my boss was pulling an all nighter) to offer my resignation, I stopped off at Euston and asked… and they’d been handed in at Hampstead. I picked them up an hour later. Yes, I told my boss, and asked him whether he’d have accepted the resignation. He grinned and said, “Luckily, you’ll never have to know.”

Personal: Years ago, a friend asked me to look after her younger sister when she came to London to study, just take her out and show her around; that kind of thing. Rarely for me, she didn’t need a plank for me to realise that she made several passes at me. And, despite the fact that it was the younger sister of a good friend, I eventually thought “Oh, hell, why not?”. Except of course, I’d entirely misread the situation – a pass, let alone several, had not been made. It took years for me to even look at her without blushing, and even today, were I to see her (she’s married now) I’d cringe with embarrassment.

Comics: Yeah, this is one where I acted like an idiot, and the person concerned still thinks I am one, and that’s putting it kindly. When I was first attempting to break into Marvel, Dave Gibbons put me in touch with an artist in a similar position and he pencilled five pages of a script. He sent me the original pages and I got them photocopied to submit them. I submitted them, and it went nowhere… The ‘idiot’ thing was that despite promising to return the pencils on several occasions, I somehow never quite got around to it. Almost a year later, at the first Bristol (maybe the second), I gave them back to him, with profuse apologies that were – understandably – less than convincingly accepted. If we see each other these days, we nod politely to each other, but inside, even now, my insides turn to water.

If you were an alien visiting Earth today what would you do?
Leave. Hurriedly.

Do you think people going to look back on Tony Blair as a great PM who made some bad decisions/policy choices (as with Maggie) or as a bad PM who made some appalling decisions/policy choices?
Somewhere inbetween. He was never going to be a great PM, but following Maggie and Major, I think he hoped that he’d be grouped with them as Blair | Maggie | Major, the fabled The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But saying that he was better than them is a bit like saying that I’d be a better violinist than Abu Hamza. True, but not something upon which to build a legacy. Blair made some good decisions, and some bad ones, but he’ll be remembered most, I suspect, for wasted opportunities.

What’s your favourite film?
I don’t actually have a favourite film. So I’ll pick one that I like, one I can quite happily rewatch again and again: Fiddler On The Roof.

What are your middle name(s)?
Despite many people thinking ‘budgie’ is my middle name, in all seriousness, I don’t have any. My older brother did, but my parents decided against it for me and my younger brother. I do wish I had had a middle name; I’d have stopped using Lee years ago.

What aspects of Judaism do you practice?
Fewer and fewer as time goes by. I kept the flat relatively kosher (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) because Phil lives with Laura most of the time, and I promised her I’d do so at the flat. I rarely go to synagogue, only for Yizkor (A memorial prayer for my brother). I don’t and won’t eat pig or shellfish, but almost everything else is open to option… or it would be if I actually, you know, ate occasionally. This is a question that’s far easier answered with a “do you do… this?” yes/no type response.

What’s the best story you’ve ever written/the one you’re most proud of?
The best individual thing? You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly. The one I’m most proud of? Last of The Midnight Screamers. The first you can buy, the latter you’ll have to ask for…

5) What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Apparently, roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour., or 8.8 meters per second, or 20 miles per hour.

How old do you wish you were?
I’m actually content with the ancient age I’ve so far reached, or will have done tomorrow, anyway.

If you were to get a tattoo, where and what would it be?
I wouldn’t. And ‘having’ to get a tattoo makes me think of stuff I’d rather not…

Do you follow your horoscope?
Not at all. I think that along with numerology, fortune telling and palmistry, it’s utter, wholly unmitigated, nonsense. There’s one more but I can’t think of it…

What are your phobias?
Bees, wasps… dentists.

How do you feel about interracial couples?
Nothing different to what I feel about non-interracial couples.

What’s your life motto?
“Life is a series of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’ ”

What’s your main ringtone on your mobile?
Theme to Catweazel.

What is your secret weapon to lure in the opposite sex?
People have secret weapons? Damn, why was I not told this? Because they’re secret? Damn.

Worst injury you’ve ever had?
Busted foot, never fully healed.

If you could go anywhere in the world for a holiday, somewhere you’ve never visited before, where would it be?
Probably Sidney, Australia.

What do you consider to be your best quality?
Oh, hell, I dunno – I always find it incredibly hard to answer that one, since I think that it’s very tough to answer it without sounding arrogant, especially since I don’t think I have that many wonderful qualities from which to choose a ‘best’. I guess “determination” would be one answer, though others might inaccurately call it stubbornness.

How long do you bear a grudge?
If I hold a grudge, there’s a damned good reason for it; iIt’s rare for me to fall out with someone permanently. With the vicissitudes of life being what they are, life’s too short. If you screw up, or offend someone, then unless it’s of crucial importance, or permanently changes your opinion of someone for the worse, it’s not worth falling out with them forever. (I’m reminded of the comment that “it takes more muscles to frown than to smile… but it’s worth the extra effort.”) However, on those rare occasions, I don’t fall out with someone for the sake of it. And yeah, I bear grudges. Hard.

If you had to choose between being Lee or being Budgie, forever and retroactively, which would it be?
A very difficult question, because most people who know me as “Lee” don’t ever think of me in any way as Budgie and vice versa. I guess, if I had to choose, I’d take “Lee” if only because having “Budgie” up on my office door above the words “Director of Finance” would have been just silly.

Given the time and resources to become the world’s leading authority on any subject, what subject would you choose?
Again, a difficult question, because I can’t think of anything off the top of my head in which I’d be that interested in being the world’s leading authority. Oh I dunno – “the world’s leading expert on not turning up for drinks.” How’s that?

Have you ever considered running/standing for public office?
No, and I wouldn’t. I value my privacy too much. And yes, that is the main reason.

What is your favourite word and why?
My favourite word is poltroon. It just trips off the tongue and conveys so much.

What’s the craziest word you have ever heard?
I remember being thrown the first time I heard the word Triskaidekaphobia.

Will science solve every problem?
I tend to agree with Laurence J Peter who said:

“Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them.”

If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
Carpe diem, every bloody diem.

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