Archive for the ‘2020 plus’ Category

Still on a break

Posted: 23 January 2020 in 2020 plus
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Housekeeping: Yes, I’m still taking a break from blogging for various reasons, but I expect to be back soon. I’ve no intention of the blog remaining on hiatus for months, as I have in the past. I’m just not in the mood for daily, or even regular, updates quite yet.

On a break

Posted: 12 January 2020 in 2020 plus

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

Hopefully it won’t be for long.

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

So, we’ll see.

[More info here.]

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

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

A short post today.

A very short one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And yet… and yet…

We’re weird things, us humans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s John McDonnell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So in recent years, it tended to go:
 

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

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

Today’s had:
 

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

 
Done and dusted in 31 minutes.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

You should definitely be reading books by Kieron Gillen.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2012


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Something else, tomorrow…