55 minus 53: Places

Posted: 25 June 2019 in 55 minus

When I started this blog, I very much had a plan, when I’d write this piece or that entry.

I’m mildly but genuinely amused that it’s taken only three entries for the plan to be… amended. Which is a polite way of saying “it’s only take three entries for me to throw away the plan and write something today merely because it occurred to me… today.”

And while this blog will not turn into something solely about places that matter to me, this entry – like yesterday’s – kind of is. And kind of isn’t.

And what makes it especially amusing to me – if no one else – was that today’s entry was supposed to be about how I’m approaching this countdown, why I’m doing it, and some more details about what’s likely to appear.

But as McMillan was [almost certainly inaccurately] reputed to have replied when asked what what most likely to blow a government off course: “Events, dear boy, events.”

I was watching the news earlier; they were covering the testimony of a producer of The Jeremy Kyle Show to a House of Commons Select Committee. It reminded me of the rare, few occasions on which I’ve appeared on television. They are few, and very rare; I’ve asked questions on BBC’s Question Time; I’ve been vox pop‘d once or twice for the news; in much younger days I even appeared on a daytime ‘subject of the day’ discussion on students away from home and ’empty nest syndrome’.

And, as you’ll see with a mere click of the video below, I was on Mastermind. I’ll save you asking the question as to why it’s only the specialised subject round: I died on my arse in the general knowledge.

I was so nervous… no, I wasn’t nervous, I was shit scared, and it got the better of me. Mastermind is a stalwart of British tv. It’s been running since 1972, almost 50 years. And I’m far from the only contestant who lost it…

But it occurred to me that the older I get, the more I appreciate those institutions, those buildings, that reek of history, that give you a direct link to past events.

I know that every time I walk down Oxford Street in London, literally millions of people have done the same before me, that I’m placing my feet exactly where people from dozens of years ago, hundreds of years ago did the same.

But streets aren’t the same, not really. Unless the street or road actually leads to a historic building, it’s just not the same. OK, caveat for a specific spot on which something historical happened. “Oh! I’m standing exactly where they filmed this bit in a 1930s film I really like” or “Wow! I’m standing in the exactl spot where they arrested this bad guy!”

But buildings… buildings have that ineradicable link to the past I like…

Even ignoring my trips abroad, to Bermuda where some buildings go back to the 1600s, and a trip as a teenager to Israel where I stood at the Western Wall… just in the past few years, I’ve been to buildings that… resonate; I’ve stood where thousands, tens of thousands, millions have stood before… and I’ve been very aware of it.

I’ve stood in the Palace of Westminster, and known that MPs, Cabinet Members and Prime Ministers have stood exactly where I’m standing. And they all did something that mattered. But I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong there. I’ve grabbed coffee with people in newspaper offices, and always felt comfortable in buildings where reportage and journalism have made a difference.

I’ve walked through the Royal Courts of Justice, almost drowning in the history of the place, knowing that hundreds and thousands of lawyers have stood there, and that dozens of important and precedent making cases have been decided there.

And I liked the feeling.

I’ve appeared on panels at comics cons, and twice in Edinburgh, and never felt like I didn’t belong. I was there in part to entertain, I knew what I was doing, and enjoyed the experience, in the main. But I never felt out of place; I never felt what isn’t exactly ‘imposter syndrome’ but isn’t that far from it, I guess.

I felt comfortable there, in all those places.

But, occasionally, very occasionally I’ve stood on stage at a comedy evening or event – on well-known stages, and on small stages downstairs in pubs. I’ve always been there for one specific one-off reason or another, an announcement, an introduction, a quick reminder to people… but they’ve been stages with history, stages with in some cases decades, or more, of history…

And I’ve known beyond peradventure that I don’t really belong there, that this feeling and this view is for others, for actors and comedians who

a) know what they’re doing, and
b) actively welcome both the feeling and the view.

Given my love of comedy, and of the history of comedy, and my respect for those who deliver it to an audience rather than merely write it ‘like what I have done’¹ sometimes, I’ve never been quite sure whether it’s that respect for the comedians…. or just sheer cowardice on my part.

And I wonder if it matters, anyway.

Something else, tomorrow. Maybe even something that I’ve planned.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

¹ courtesy of one Eddie Braben

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