Archive for the ‘life, don’t talk to me about life’ Category

I’m in a bit of a… mood... today. Not a bad mood, per se, just a bit off my game, a bit… disconnected.

Not overly suprising, I guess, since, as sunset hit about an hour ago, I’ve just exited a period of Yahrzeit for my late brother.

Long time followers, here and on the blog, know that I put up something every year about Michael’s death – on the date that he died. Here’s what I wrote this year, some eleven months ago.

But the Jewish calendar is a bit different and, every year, I have Yahrzeit for him. (What is Yahrzeit, as someone privately messaged me to ask last year? Well, since you ask, it’s the annual commemoration of a family death, usually observed by the immediate family, on the anniversary per the Jewish calendar. There’s something about it here, from My Jewish Learning, if you want to know more.)

But, as would only be natural at such a time of commemoration, I wonder what my big brother would have thought of the me I am… now? But since I have no real idea what he’d have thought of me now – he died in January 1998, aged 38, after all… who knows what he’d be like as a sixty-two year old man?… I took a look inward at myself.

Hmm. Not the greatest idea I’ve had this year.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most irritating things about myself (irritating to me, anyways; I’m sure others find many, many things irritating about me) is that I have an annoying habit of getting angry, furious, and upset at people for things that are unreservedly, totally, completely, 100%, Not Their Fault. It’s entirely irrational. And equally entirely real.

The upset has, of course, various ‘flavours’… but one irritates me more than any other, and I can feel it creeping up on me in a way that it hasn’t for a while.

I’m single; I’ve said that before. The idea of being ‘in a relationship’ with anyone both repulses me and — semi-jokingly, if that — makes me feel very sorry for the poor woman who would be daft enough to want to be in a relationship with me.

I haven’t wanted to be in a relationship, not anything that anyone sensible would recognise as ‘a relationship’, for a decade and a half. And I don’t see that changing, ever, despite some close friends very sweetly but naively wishing otherwise for me.

But given all of the foregoing,, I’m usually ok with dealing with other people being in loved-up, and happy, relationships. It doesn’t bother me, usually. It’s, I don’t know, like seeing other people interested in sport. I don’t understand it, but I know it’s not for me. I don’t get upset at them for it, nor do I mock them for it. If it works for them, great. It’s just not for me. As I say, I’m usually ok with it.

Usually.

So, why then, when the… loneliness… hits me, do I sometimes actively resent other people being in relationships? It’s entirely irrational, and it speaks nothing good of me.

But I can feel that resentment, that upset, creeping up on me…. And I loathe and detest both that feeling of envy/resentment, and my own irrationality in possessing it.

And let’s be fair: I’m not that big a fan of me at the best of times. You can imagine how I feel about me when this happens.

If I didn’t utterly loath therapy as a concept (for me, I hasten to add… not for other people; if they benefit, they should definitely both actively seek out and have therapy) I’d be seriously considering why it’s hurting so much, and how I address it? But I do loathe therapy as a concept for me, and so I’ll continue being, well, me… with all the flaws and broken bits that make me, well… me.

I may be irrational, but that I know I’m being irrational should count for something, nu? I do hope so.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 less slowly approaching.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid 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 the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Something been on my mind a bit since I hit ‘post’ on yesterday’s blog entry.

In the entry, I used the word ‘cunt’, since the news item was about its use. And I gave short shrift to the idea that some might find it offensive, or to be more accurate, I said that if someone was offended by my use of the word, then this probably wasn’t the blog for them, anyway.

It occurred to me some time later yesterday evening that I’d kind of, maybe, not really, I dunno… broken my own unwritten rule for this blog, and its predecessor. The rule I might have broken? “I try to keep the blog suitable for ‘all ages’.”

I mean, sure, the use of that particular obscenity (several times) probably didn’t disturb the ether that much. After all, I doubt I’ve many children reading it, and even if one stumbled across the blog, I further doubt they’d be interested in what one Tory MP said to another to keep reading long enough to come across the word.

BUT… but…

I do try to keep the blog at a level where all ages can read it.

I wish I could say that’s why the blog rarely delves into ‘adult’ material. It’s not.

Before this blog, I had a Livejournal account. I ran that blog from 2002 until 2011. (Huh. it just hit me tyhat I’ve had this blog longer than I ran my Livejournal blog; that’s weird.)

But during those years – 2002 to 2010 – my son aged from six years’ old through fifteen. And he sometimes read the blog. So very personal stuff was out of bounds as was adult material, ie sex.


Sidebar: When I ran the Livejournal blog, I semi-regularly ran something I called ‘Teach Me Something’, asking readers to teach me something from their own jobs, their own skillset. A teacher might tell the secrets of how to immediately identify the different types of kids (troublemaker, class clown, hard worker, etc) in a classroom. A sommelier giving tips on wine, an IT person explaining the real way to solve common IT problems.

Someone replied with ‘to give the perfect blow job…’ and then gave very detailed instructions.

I took the reply out of public view, because of my then young lad.

A few years later, I was telling the story and the following exchange occurred.

I love my son.


But yes, sex, or at least details about my own preferences and experiences, would likely never have appeared on the blog anyway. As I said the other day, there’s a reason my private life is called, well, my Private Life.

Because when I started the blog, I was married. No, wait, let me give that some context. Apart from being a naturally private person, I had another reason to keep that side of things unspoken on the blog.

I’ve always been in awe of people who are open about their personal lives, their sex lives, and are completely open in it. I’ve never been built like that but even had I been, I didn’t have the right to bring someone else’s sex life into the open.

Because when you’re single, and you talk about sex, then it’s fair for readers to assume, – to conclude, rather – that you’re only speaking for yourself. If you state that you’re into this kink or that you like that position, all you’re revealing is that you like it. Yes, it’s fair for your readers to also conclude that your partner for that evening’s entertainment also enjoyed it. But you’re not identifying them, nor taking away their agency.

But if you’re married – or at least if you’re married and you don’t have an open marriage – it’s fair for any reader to conclude that your spouse is into at least some of what you’re into. (To take a fairly obvious example; if you identified your favourite sexual position, it’s fair to assume that your regular partner — your spouse if you’re married, and not playing away — at the very least didn’t dislike it.)

So that’s two reasons my last blog was free from ‘adult’ revelations about me. 1) My son was a kid, and he read the blog sometimes, and 2) I was married.

Well my son is now 26.

And as for being married? Well, my marriage ended in 2005, though thankfully we remained the closest of friends afterwards, a fact for which I never cease to remain grateful.

But yeah, it ended in 2005.

It’s now rapidly approaching the end of 2021.

And with the exception of a couple of short term flings in the years after the marriage ended, I’ve not had a ‘public’ relationship with anyone since, as in ‘everyone knew who I was seeing, when I was seeing them’. Hell, I haven’t had anything anyone sensible would call a relationship, not a romantic one, since 2005….

…and it’s now rapidly approaching the end of 2021.

When the marriage ended, I knew there would be a period of adjustment, and that there’d be – at some point – a time when I was ready for, when I wanted, a long term, full time, emotionally committed, monogamous, ‘proper’ relationship. I also knew that time was so far in the future that I wouldn’t have been able to see it even had I been using the Hubble Space Telescope.

That was sixteen years ago. And I don’t see that changing.

I mentioned in that Ten Things post

7. I hope I don’t fall in love with anyone and that no one is unluckily enough nor foolish enough to fall in love with me.
All of the above said, and meant… I genuinely, honestly, equally truly, hope love doesn’t come along. In either direction. Because I can imagine fewer things more designed to torture someone than unrequited love. Not unrequited lust, nor unrequited desire, but unrequited LOVE. And I’d rather not be tortured any more than absolutely necessary, thanks.

After I posted that blog entry, I received some private messages from friends. Not through the comments section of the blog, but via text and WhatsApp and via Twitter Direct Messaging. None of them mentioned the mental health stuff I revealed; to be honest, I suspect it either came as a surprise… or there was just nothing they knew how to say.

No, what the messages were about… was the above excerpt. Adjectives and phrases such as ‘sad’ and ‘lonely’ and ‘very sad’ and ‘seems very wrong’ have been used but no – so far – disagreement nor attempts to persuade me otherwise.

For that at least, I’m grateful.

 

Well, that turned out to be a lot more personal than I expected.

I guess the final ruling is: this blog is all ages… except when it’s not.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid 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 the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I started last week’s Ten Things, which was entitled Ten Things… about me, with the following:

Usually, these Ten Things posts are of or about things I like.

Here’s something different. Ten things you may or may not know about me, some obvious, some probably less well-known.

Friends will immediately know, appreciate and understand why I caveated the ‘…about things I like’ with ‘usually, but not this time’. No surprise that I’m not a huge fan of, well, me. I don’t like myself very much and it’s a genuine but constant surprise that anyone else does. (Mind you, as I’ve said before, merely not liking something or someone isn’t the same as actively disliking something or someone.)

But, while I was writing it, I realised that while there might have been one or two things about me that most people don’t know, there was nothing in there that was likely to surprise anyone, and for people who know me well, there probably wasn’t anything in there that even provoked a raised eyebrow.


Quick Sidebar: After I finished last week’s blog, I ended it with the words:

A different ‘ten things’ today; ten things about me; mostly things most people know. Next week: ten things most people don’t know.

That evening, a friend who shall remain nameless messaged me: ‘you sneaky bastard, I see what you’ve done there…

And I wish I could say he was wrong, on both points. But he was right, and I told myself that if anyone caught it I’d admit it. So I’m admitting it here.

Because nowhere in those final words did I say that this week’s post would be ‘ten things most people don’t know… about me’, merely that there’ll be ten things most people don’t know.

The only thing my friend was wrong about was that I hadn’t decided – as he thought I had – to deliberately mislead people. I did it to leave the option open. I wanted to leave myself some wriggle room in case I changed my mind.

As it is, I didn’t change my mind.


So here are ten things that most people probably don’t know about me. Some people will know some of them; one or two may know all of them. But most people? I doubt they know many of these.

Anyways, on with the show…

1. I’ve had a couple of stays in secure Mental Health Units
The first of several mental health items, and yeah, although I’ve alluded to mental health issues in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever publicly admitted that before. In 2011, and again in 2012, I spent a couple of weeks on each occasion in Mental Health Units. Both were what’s called ‘voluntary admissions’ but only the second was truly voluntary. The first was a Hobson’s Choice kind of situation: I was given the option of voluntarily going in… or doing in involuntarily. And since the former was likely to be far more pleasant, and lead to a shorter stay, I picked that one.

You can take it from the above that I was very very not well indeed.

The experience I had in the first experience led me to genuinely voluntarily going in for a second stay a year later. The experience I had during the second stay led me to decide never to ever voluntarily go in again.

Both stays were about two weeks in length, though the second stay involved the head of Barnet psych unit intervening to get me the hell out of there, and I went to effectively a half-way house for a further two weeks.
 
 
2. I’ve been sectioned once, for 25 hours
To this day I don’t know whether, looking at it objectively, I should have been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. It’s more than possible I should have been. It’s also possible that I shouldn’t have been. All such calls are a matter of judgement and given that my brain really wasn’t working well at the time, my views on the matter may carry substantially less weight than I’d wish.

However, what I do remember from the experience is how often, and easily, I was lied to.

Twenty-five hours in a room, stripped of everything bar my light clothing, with nothing to do, nothing to play, nothing to read, nothing to write with, nothing to… do. It wasn’t fun.

I spent the time doing maths problems in my head. I could joke that maths kept me sane, but to be brutally honest, it wouldn’t be that far from the truth.
 
 
3. I’m a huge advocate for therapy and meds and anything that’ll help, anything at all… for other people.
I’m not a believer in any of that for myself. I’ve never had therapy as such. I’ve had counselling for a couple of things, but that’s a very very different animal. But even so, of the three occasions I’ve had counselling, one of them made no difference whatsoever, one of them indirectly caused harm to other people, and one actively harmed me.

So, no, not particularly eager to have counselling again were it to be offered for any reason.

As for therapy, this is where my view on maths and numbers and evidence come back to bite me in the ass. “Show me the numbers.” Show me that this therapy or that treatment or this medication or that process will help me and I’ll sign up for it. Reluctantly, because I have no faith that it will, and I’d be delighted to be surprised, but yeah, ok, I’ll give it a go.

But I’ve no interest in wasting their time or mine with something that might possibly work, but probably won’t, or possibly could, but who the fuck knows?

I’ve genuinely and honestly an antipathy to that.

And given that people say that the most important thing involved is the desire, the wish to be better, to get better, and also that that is wholly, entirely, and completely absent from me, yeah, I’d rather they peddle their wares to people who do want to be/get ‘better’.

(I once said that one of my ‘things’ is that if I truly believe something is impossible to achieve, the desire to achieve it evaporates like the dew on the dawn… Since I don’t believe it’s possible to be ‘well’, you can do the maths yourself.)
 
 
4. I dislike some very popular mental health books with a passion that could melt steel.
While I’ll freely acknowledge that most such books are written in good faith from the very best of motives, I’m reminded of the rejoinder to the line ‘everyone has a novel inside them…‘ of ‘yeah, and with some people, it should stay there.

Look, if those books have helped you, I’m genuinely pleased for you, just as I am if therapy and meds have helped you.

But there’s a certain style of mental health book that sets my teeth on edge and turns my stomach.

It’s the “I am better than I was, and I did [Thing]… so if you do [Thing], you WILL get better, because I did…” The unspoken but clear implication and coda, no matter how ostensibly they protest otherwise, is

‘…and if you don’t get better, well, that’s down to you, you must have done it wrong…and that’s YOUR fault!”

I loathe Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig for those very reasons.

I once described it as The Forest Fallacy:

Three people are dropped in different places in a dark forest, each with only a map & a compass. One makes it out, and can’t understand why the other two haven’t appeared. “I made it out, so they should; they must have done it wrong!

Meanwhile, the bears the first person didn’t encounter eat well that night.

To me, Haig’s book reeks of that. And so do several other highly successful and critically acclaimed books on mental health. Your personal favourite is probably in there somewhere.
 
 
5. There’s a lot more that I’m not comfortable talking about in public.
Notwithstanding my view that a private life is called A Private Life for a very good reason, ie it’s private, I’m in awe, generally and genuinely, at those who are, at those who can be, totally open about their health, physical and mental, and their private stuff.

I don’t have that courage and it’s taken me years even to confirm the stuff above.

I very much doubt you’ll be getting more from me about any of that, for a good while at least.
 
 
6. With the exception of my lad’s mum, my ex-wife, I’ve never been in love with anyone, and I don’t believe for the merest iota of a moment that anyone has ever been in love with me.
Oh, I’ve had crushes on people both before and after Laura; I’ve had the occasional infatuation. And I’m more than willing to stipulate that various women have been daft enough or swept up in it to very briefly fall for me. And neither am I including very close friends where the love between friends is real but not the same thing at all as romantic love.

But that “romantic love”, “being in love”? It’s been so long since I’ve felt it, or thought anyone felt it for me, I truly don’t think I’d recognise it if it occurred in either of us.
 
 
7. I hope I don’t fall in love with anyone and that no one is unluckily enough nor foolish enough to fall in love with me.
All of the above said, and meant… I genuinely, honestly, equally truly, hope love doesn’t come along. In either direction. Because I can imagine fewer things more designed to torture someone than unrequited love. Not unrequited lust, nor unrequited desire, but unrequited LOVE. And I’d rather not be tortured any more than absolutely necessary, thanks.

(And that’s leaving aside there can be few things more pitiful than a 57 year old fella falling in love with someone who probably wouldn’t even notice in the first place.)
 
 
8. I never mind not being able to write the story I want to write, if another story barges its way in.
While I completely agree with those who say, in one way or another, that any fool can start writing a story, but only a writer finishes it…

…I don’t expect what I write to be that important that if something else gets in the way to the extent that it demands to be written, I wouldn’t write the second thing.

I will. I’ll make notes for the first story, bullet points, maybe even odd snippets of text, and I may even mean to go back to it. But I’ll abandon it for the new story that is demanding to be written.

I won’t do it on a whim, I won’t do it merely because I’m finding it hard to write. I’ll do it when the new story demands to be written and the old one no longer does.
 
 
9. The lower my voice goes, the angrier I am.
I don’t tend to shout that much, but if/when I do, I’m doing so very deliberately, to make a point, or to deliberately talk over someone. If I’m angry, however, or lose my temper, the volume of my voice doesn’t go up… it goes down, sometimes way, way, down and I become ultra sensitive to what I’m saying, and how I want it to come over.

Fair to say, however, a friend, some long time ago, said he never listened to the volume of my voice when he thought I might be angry: he looked at my eyes. Because, he said, the flatter they were, the angrier I was… I dunno whether that’s changed over the years.
 
 
10. Three things I don’t know, don’t appreciate or don’t understand
video games. I don’t mean space invaders or computer versions of ‘real life/board’ games. I like playing snooker on my phone, and backgammon, and golf, and patience. I am entirely and utterly lost the moment a ‘proper’ video game, a multi-player, or shoot em up thing. I’m genuinely unsure whether it’s the lack of patience or whether it’s just the ‘I don’t give a shit about the story element’. Either way, it’s something I regret.
the theory of music, including keys. I’ve had them explained to me by expert musicians. It just won’t sink in. Hell it doesn’t even make a dent in my brain, just bounces off entirely.
the self-deprecatory “oh, I’m no good at maths, me”. I genuinely don’t understand how that’s laughed off in a way “Oh, I’m no good at English” or “Oh, I’m no good at history” would never be.

 

OK, well, that’s that done. Again.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others, less ‘about me’ ones which are probably more pleasant to read…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid 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 the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Usually, these Ten Things posts are of or about things I like.

Here’s something different. Ten things you may or may not know about me, some obvious, some probably less well-known.

Friends will immediately know, appreciate and understand why I caveated the ‘…about things I like’ with ‘usually, but not this time’. No surprise that I’m not a huge fan of, well, me. I don’t like myself very much and it’s a genuine but constant surprise that anyone else does. (Mind you, as I’ve said before, merely not liking something or someone isn’t the same as actively disliking something or someone.)

Anyways…

1. I’m 57 years old
Yes, a fairly obvious one to start with, given the two earlier blog runs, but let’s get it out of the way first. After I hit my mid-40s, I went through the usual birthday blues as I approached my birthdays, but afterwards, well, I started realising that I am an age that I never really considered before. Oh, I mean, it’s not like I thought that I’d die from natural causes earlier – although my brother died in his 30s, most of my other relatives have lived until at least their late 60s and some much older; my dad died almost a decade ago in his early 80s; my mum’s still alive, in her mid 80s. I just never thought that much about what I’d be like in my late 50s.

And when I did idly consider it, I’m pretty sure that how I am now isn’t what I pictured.

As for being 57, well I long ago resigned myself to the end of the ‘wow, you look much younger than you are‘, but I honestly didn’t expect that at any point in my remaining years… that I’d miss it.

And I do… just a little but definitely yes. Which surprises me, just a little, but definitely yes. Because it’s been a while since anyone’s genuinely (as opposed to being kind or taking the piss) thought I looked younger than I am, and these days I’m kind of grateful if anyone believes I’m my actual age.

For years, I’ve known that the vast majority of the people I hung around with, certainly in comics and comedy, are younger than me, much younger in some cases. But the past two years in particular, it seems in many ways that the gap has widened. I’m not sure if that’s reality or just perception; given the crazy world we all now inhabit, it could easily merely be the latter. But I guess with what’s been going on in my life, either’s possible.

2. I’m a father, with a son named Philip
Yeah, another bit of fairly common knowledge. I call him “Phil” most of the time, much as he calls me ‘dad’. Unless I’m ticked off with him in which case he becomes “Philip” or he wants something… in which case I revert to “Daddyyyyyyyy?”

He’s twenty-six years old, as of a few days ago, and I would say that I love him more with every passing day if I didn’t think that was actually impossible. I’m a very proud father with, to be entirely and unbiasedly honest, a lot to be proud about.

3. I live in London
Again, shouldn’t be a surprise to people that read the blog or follow me on Twitter. Or at least I would have said it shouldn’t be a surprise, until an American friend visited recently and didn’t know where I lived, or whether it was close to central London. Which is fair enough. Even if I knew someone lived in “New York”, I wouldn’t have a clue whether they meant the state or the city and how easy it was to get around.

But yes, I live in London, not far from Abbey Road recording studios; yes, yes, the Beatles, George Martin and all of that. And I like living here; in the area I mean. It’s a short walk into central london; about 45 minutes from me to Oxford Circus, about ⅔ of that to Baker Street. (And no, if you’re curious, there isn’t a 221b Baker Street, at least not a genuine one.)

But it’s a nice area, with decent (no, autocorrect, not ‘decadent’) public transport system and a very large, very nice park that I should visit at some point. Though after almost five years living here, I’d wager it’s unlikely that I’m heading there soon if I haven’t yet.

Yeah, we get tourists looking for the fabled Abbey Road road crossing. And yeah, they’re enthusiastic. My Gods, are they enthusiastic, and excited, and you know what? I quite like that. It adds to the day, somehow; it makes the day… lighter. Which is never a bad thing.

(Though I’m still entirely bemused, I’ll admit, how anyone can find their way more than 5.000 miles across the ocean, and a few dozen miles to outside my flat… and then be unable to travel the ¼ mile to the studio without help.)

4. I write
Not enough, but I write. Prose fiction in the main, but I’ve been known to turn my attention to comics scripts (I won’t bore you with what’s been published, it’s been a very long time since I’ve had anything published, though) and, on rare occasions, doggerell or free format poetry.

I’m least happy with my efforts on the latter as I’m not a natural poet. With prose and other fiction, I can look at something and know whether I’m on the right lines or not. And even with rhyming verse, usually comedic, I can tell. With free verse poetry, I’ve no idea, not a one. I think it’s because, to me at least, it’s less rational and more emotional.

And although I can write emotions well enough in prose, I struggle in verse, because I have fewer narrative tricks I can use. At least that’s my excuse.

You get some ‘fiction from the vaults’ every Tuesday here, and new prose fiction from me every Thursday.

But as I write this, I have seven unfinished long form projects (one graphic novel, one anthology of graphic work, one anthology of short stories, one movie screenplay and one novel… and two I’m not even hinting at in here) in draft that are screaming at me to get back to them. I’m studiously ignoring the screams.

I shouldn’t.

5. I never remember my dreams
Maybe “never” is too strong a word there, but I can’t remember the last time I had a nice dream. It’d be nice to remember a nice dream. I’m sure I have them. But I only remember the nightmares, which are a usually nightly occurrence.

That said, if it was a choice of not remembering any dreams or remembering them all, I’ll take the first option, please. I’d be quite content at that; I’ve no real wish to know what my subconscious is up to, thanks all the same.

6. I sleep on average about six hours a nightspread out over eight or nine hours.
I’m rarely in bed before around half one, and then I read for a while before lights out. I’ll turn those lights out when I’m too tired to stay awake any longer, usually indicated by me not being able to remember what the hell is on the page I’ve just read.

If I go to bed earlier, and just switch off the light, I don’t sleep… I lay there awake. And since I don’t share my bed with anyone, that’s never as pleasant as it sounds.

I take heavy doses of an anti-histamine to help me sleep; to be precise theyr’e supposed to help me stay asleep; they sometimes, occasionally, work..

About once every three months, I’ll crash out early, about eight, and sleep for almost twelve hours.

(One of the underrated benefits of getting older, though: I can have a late afternoon/early evening nap with no guilt whatsoever.)

7. I don’t speak any ‘foreign’ languages… including body language
I understand smatterings of german and yiddish, but body language is definitely a complete mystery. Someone scratches their nose? To me it means they’ve an itchy nose. It does tend to confirm, however, that when it comes to the opposite sex, as I’ve mentioned before, not only would any woman interested in me have to be carrying a plank to smack me around the head, but it would probably require several beatings.

And though I know I can pay women to beat me, while I’ve no moral objection, I’d rather go without the beatings, thanks.

8. I’m far happier talking (or being) one-to-one, and with someone I already know, than in a crowd or meeting ‘new’ people
Of all the things I envy some of my friends for, it’s their ability to walk into a room with fifty people they don’t know, and thirty minutes later, they’ve had conversations with at least a dozen of them and are at ease with every bloody one of them. I’m not like that. I’m neither a naturally sociable person in a crowd, nor a naturally social animal.

Once upon a time, I could have typed something like “I wish I wasn’t as happy in my own company, but I am.” That’s no longer true. I’m not happy in my own company; I’m just unhappier in others’.

9. While not hating my looks, I remain convinced that anyone who says I’m good looking, or some such… is taking the piss.
I spent the vast majority of my growing up suffused with the conviction that I genuinely was the worst looking fella in my town. (It didn’t help matters that my older brother was genuinely very good looking and was surrounded by girls from when he was about 14. I may have loved my brother and put him on a pedestal, but the shadow of that pedestal was a cold place to be at times)

After my marriage ended, and I became, at least in others’ eyes, ‘available’, well, I know I’m not the very worst of the worst out there, but I’m far, far, far from being someone who, when he walks into a room, attracts the eyes of people with an approving “mmmmmm.”

And linking this and the last two together, I’ve never successfully “chatted anyone up”. Ever. Never happened. Never been chatted up, either – or at least if I have been, I’ve never noticed it. To this day, if I did get chatted up while out, I’d assume that it was either a setup, or friends taking the piss.

Because – bonus 9a – I’m a huge advocate of extrapolating from previous experiences, and the only times I’ve recognised I’m being chatted up while out, it’s always without exception, either been a setup, or someone taking the piss.

10. If I hold a grudge, there’s [usually] a damned good reason for it
Once upon a time, it was rare for me to fall out with someone permanently. With the vicissitudes of life being what they are, I took the view that ‘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 just 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.”)

That changed in the past few years. And antisemitism was the cause; either direct or indirect, either the active commission of it, or the excusing of it, or the trivialising of it. Sadly, I fell out with a number of people over it. I say sadly because yeah, it is sad when friends fall out.

That said I don’t regret a single one. And I hope they don’t regret it either.

So, yes, on those occasions where I do fall out with someone, I don’t fall out with them merely for the sake of it; there’s a reason, and usually it’s a damn good one. And yeah, I bear grudges. Hard.
 

OK, well, that’s that done.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others, less ‘about me’ ones which are probably more pleasant to read…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of quid 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 the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

 I swear, I was 30seconds away from just posting a

This page left intentionally blank

post… but I really didn’t want to.

There’s no excuse for it; I hadn’t written an 1,000 word post that I’d forgotten to save before closing the composer screen. (I’ve done that before.) I just was busy today, doing stuff, and by the time it came to mine writing today’s entry… I realised I actually didn’t want to write the entry I had planned. No spoilers; not because it’s exciting but the exact opposite. But I just want to write it… when I’m in a frame of mind to enjoy doing so.

And I didn’t want to just stick another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ thing.

And although it isn’t… it kind of feels like cheating to put up another meme type thing just to take up the space.

So, something a bit different today. Something more along the lines of a ‘going cheep’ entry: I’m just writing and seeing where the words take me. It’ll be a lot shorter than the usual blog entries, but so be it.

(Like any other form of writing, you get used to the format and the lengths you’re accustomed to, so if I’m thinking ‘going cheep’, I automatically think of ‘a couple of hundred words’.)

The past couple of years have been rough on everyone, and there’s been enough bad news about, enough misery and horror around the world.

And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve been as ‘not great’ during the past eighteen months as anyone else.

But it hit me while I was writing the above, and thinking about ‘what is there to celebrate, for me personally?’ – see, I told you this was kind of free association – that I’m coming up on five years as a non-smoker.

And that kind of surprised me. Hell, it flatly astonished me. Not in a ‘don’t you know how the calendar works, budgie?‘ way, but more of a ‘I never expected to be able to write that I’d not smoked a cigarette in five years‘.

I mean, I can’t write that right now, because the anniversary isn’t for another three months. But almost five years, yeah, that I can write.

In that time, I’ve wanted a cigarette twice. On two separate occasions, and on both instances, I was with people who didn’t smoke. So it wasn’t really a case of me resisting temptation. It was more of a “huh, I’m lucky I don’t have to resist temptation, because I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to right now.”

However, it’s now over 1,700 days since I had a cigarette.

I wish I could say that it was hard; it wasn’t. It was – once I found a method that worked for me – almost embarrassingly easy. And I still vape, so it’s not like I’ve avoided the whole nicotine thing.

So, given the foregoing, I’m not entirely sure it’s something to celebrate rather than merely acknowledge. But there’s little enough to celebrate this year, so I’ll take it.

And that’s it. Nothing special, no big ideas. Just that.

 

Anyway, see you tomorrow, with… something else. 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

I long ago got used to other people not thinking that

Thing I Think Is Very Important

is, in fact Very Important, or at least not as important to them, while not exactly liking the idea.

I also, very long ago, became accustomed to me not thinking that

Thing That Other People Think Is Very Important

is, in fact, Very Important. And, at the same time, that they might be over enthusiastic at the concept.

Everyone has their own priorities, everyone has their own Red Buttons, everyone has their own Very Important Things, and a limited time in which to express their support for [Thing] or opposition to [Thing].

Now, let me state up front that I’m not talking about where me and other people take a directly opposite position, where, for example, you think that greyhound racing is an abomination and I think it’s just great. Or where I think that musical comedy is great and you think it’s awful.

No, I’m talking about where you think, say, that greyhound racing is an abomination and I just… don’t care about it that much. Because my priorities are other things, other subjects, other injustices. Or say, I think that musical comedy is great and you don’t really have an opinion; you’re just not enthusiastic about it.

It’s part of the social contract, I guess. You get to decide that something I think is Very Important.… isn’t. And I don’t fall out with you because of it.

And I get to decide that something you think is Very Important… just isn’t… and you don’t fall out with me because of that.

Could be something as trivial (and yes, I know I’m setting myself up here) as to whether Star Trek is better than Star Wars or as serious as considering that one form of bigotry (in a political party) is worth paying in order to remove another party from government.

But there has to be a line, surely? There has to be – and experience shows there is – where someone concluding that something just ain’t that important… bites, and goes over a line into ‘by not thinking it’s that important, you’re in effect supporting its continuance.’

And then we find ourselves in the very nasty area of ‘silence = consent; silence = acquiescence; silence =support‘. I don’t agree with the observation, by the way. I think there can be any number of justifiable reasons for silence, depending on the specific subject, the law, the people involved, and the larger context.

I wrote in 2016 about my contempt, however, for those who do take that argument for matters they care about but then hypocritically claim it doesn’t apply when it’s stuff they don’t care about: 2017 minus 40: Sorry? I can’t hear you…


Sidebar:When I was a financial director, I was at a function and got chatting to some of my contemporaries. The subject of our own individual staff came up and one of my companions said something like:

I don’t pay them to make mistakes.

I have to say I wasn’t the only person to object to his comment. I was just the first one to actively disagree. I think that’s bullshit. Of course you pay people to make mistakes. That’s how they learn not to make them. They make mistakes, you explain what the mistake was; they learn from the experience and don’e make the same mistake again.

Because that’s what you’re paying them for: not to make the same mistake twice.


Same thing applies in a way online. I grew up in the 1970s; attended university in the 1980s. A lot changed – for me and in the UK – between those decades and the pace of change has continued, and increased.

I’m certainly not about to do a ‘some of my best friends are…’ to excuse fuckups I’ve made from ignorance, but I\’ve been incredibly fortunate to have friends that tell me when I’ve fucked up.

Because wvery so often, a friend‘ll send a private message with “thought you should know…” or “just a heads-up, budgie, but…”, letting me know that language I used is offensive or alludes to a trope, or… no, let’s be blunt about it: letting me know I fucked up.

I’ll delete with an apology, and I try to do better in future.

At this point, someone will usually pop up to argue “it’s not your friends’ responsibility to educate you”, a position I ‘heartily agree with. If it was their responsibility, it would be an obligation. This ain’t an obligation; it’s friendship.

So, no, it’s not on my friends to educate me; it’s not their responsibility to correct me. It’s mine, & my fault. But that’s what friends do; they realise it’s a fuck up, not malice.

I’m always very, very grateful to them; their knowledge and experiences are greater than mine and I learn from them. Much the same as, hopefully, they learn from me, when I repay the favour and let them know that a phrase they’ve used in all innocence has an antisemitic origin, or alludes to an age old antisemitic trope.

And, again I’m lucky with my friends, they do the “oh, fuck? I’ve fucked up, habven’t I? Shit. Thanks, mate… I’ll delete. Appreciate the heads up…”

But what happens if they don’t?

It’s no surprise that I loathed Jeremy Corbyn, and concluded, after many months of avoiding it, that he’s both personally and politically antisemitic.

And when it came to the general elections, in 2017, and especially in 2019, I could no longer pretend the line wasn’t there, not for me.

I had to draw the line.

And I lost friends over it. (Or at least, I’d lost people I’d thought of as friends. Whether they were actually friends or not is for the philosophers to argue about.)

I had to draw the line; anyone basically taking the positions of ‘antisemitism is all a smear’ or ‘ accusations of antisemitism are all a fabrication’ or ‘we can deal with the antisemitism later’ (aka ‘it’s a price worth paying’)…? They all crossed That Line I drew. And any relationship we had until that point… ended. Permanently.

For some: their own line is ‘debating their very existence’; I’m not about to tell them their line is anything other than correct. For others it’s ‘supporting political candidates and political positions that harm me and mine’; for still others, the line is drawn very narrowly, for others it’s far broader. And all of their lines are right, all of their lines are correct.

For while, sure, anyone can tell someone else their line is ‘wrong’, you’re a dick if you do so. Because everyone draws a line somewhere, whether or not they admit it.

Remember Laura Pidcock? She gave an interview during which she said that she wouldn’t be friends, wouldn’t go drinking with, Tory MPs who voted for policies that harmed her constituents. I read the interview after people had extrapolated from her words to claim she’d said “she wouldn’t be friends with a Tory”. Except she’d never said that, and indeed she said some of her family voted Tory at the last election.

And on Twitter – of course on Twitter – it morphed into a ‘would you kiss a Tory? Would you fuck a Tory?’ Utterly ludicrous, and yet if someone wants to draw the line their, that’s their choice.

And now back to the ‘staying silent’. While I don’t agree for a moment with the “silence = consent; silence = acquiescence; silence = support”, I will grant that position one thing.

There’s an old Jewish observation about those who do or don’t turn up for a shiva, the days of memorial, usually at the house of a mourner; for a week, peopel come in and out of the house; friends, strangers, people who knew him or her, people who just want to pay their respects.

The observation: you don’t always remember who turned up, but you never forget who didn’t.

Silence has consequences, and if you’re the one who stays silent, you’d better be prepared for them.

I don’t have An Answer; I don’t think there is An Answer, beyond this, and it’s very much not a satisfactory one:

You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror without wincing. Whether it’s while shaving, or putting make-up on, or just washing your face. You’ve got to be able to look without wincing, or without wincing too hard, anyway.

And yes of course, fucking idiots and racists/homophobes/trans phones… they can all do that because a) they’re fucking idiots, and b) they’re often proud of their actions. But I’m talking about those with a moral compass I’d recognise.

Now, can I look in the mirror without wincing? No, not usually, because the face that’s looking back at me is my own and no one should have to look at that ugly mug every day. But other than the whole looks and appearance thing, can I? Mostly, yeah. Not always, and rarely completely. But mostly… yeah.

See you tomorrow, with… something else. 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

#IAmAnIdiot

It’s a useful hashtag, my occasional entirely self-deprecating ‘I is a idiot’ on Twitter notwithstanding. But it can mean so many different things.

Obviously, as with most hashtags, I can’t say that the first time I saw it was the first time it was used, but the first time I saw it used, well, it sticks in the memory.

A British comedian, a fairly well-known, fairly successful one then, a better known, and more successful now, comedian… made an arse of himself.

He credulously repeated an urban myth about Orthodox Jews, apparently in all innocence. To say that it was surprising is to understate it, That he repeated it was jaw-dropping.

His Jewish friends, his more educated non-Jewish friends, pretty much everyone. fell upon him with the weight of several tonnage of bricks.

And he apologised, Instantly. With a full, unreserved, completely and entirely self-excoriating apology. No self-serving ‘if I offended…’, none of the ‘I merely repeated…’

No, this was a full blown “I fucked up, I was gullible, I am an idiot.

It was the last bit that made me remember it so strongly.

I mean, I was asked about it at the time. (I didn’t know the comedian then, personally. New his work, but didn’t know him. I got to know him later, and it was a pleasure to discover that I liked him as well as his material.)

I remember being shocked by the credulity, and impressed by the apology, both its speed and completeness, but especially by the “I am an idiot”. I accepted it as heartfelt and genuine. I’ve never had occasion since to doubt either.

#IAmAnIdiot.


Sidebar: what I’m about to write about isn’t the usually humorous self-deprecation when someone explains something to me that makes perfect sense when it’s explained but that I’d never thought about before.

Example. The rules for election broadcast coverage of elections in the UK. There’s a broadcast rule that, well, as they put it, in 2015:

I knew the rules existed, but I was puzzled as to why it started at midnight-30, not at 12 o’clock precisely.

It was explained to me: it allows the broadcast media to run their midnight news, reporting on the final day of campaigning.

I thanked the person who’d explained it to me and added “I am an idiot”. It was self-deprecating and everyone understood it as that, nothing more.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.


#IAmAnIdiot.

Occasionally, I fuck up online.

No, let me restate that. Occasionally I realise I’ve fucked up, online. No, that’s not it either.

OK, Occasionally both me and the person who tells me I’ve fucked up both agree that I’ve fucked up.

Yeah, that’s better.

Now I’m not talking about being wrong about something. That happens all the time. If you’ve any sense, and any reserves of personal integrity, you correct the record and the matter’s closed.

Here’s one.

I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or read this blog will know that.

But I’ve never understood the need for disprovable, easily or otherwise, by independent third party evidence, allegations. I made a statement about him. I was shown it was incorrect in one aspect: the date I’d said the specific thing happened occurred. I immediately withdrew the tweet, and amended it, correcting the date.

I was wrong. I corrected my error. I wasn’t an idiot. I was just… wrong.

Here’s an entirely harmless but memorable I am an idiot. When I was a young child, our primary school had a local theatre group in to give a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Afterwards, there was a Q&A session. Apparently I asked in all seriousness what the medicine was that they’d given Titania to make her sleep as my kid brother wouldn’t sleep at night.

They kindly explained that it was called acting.

I was an idiot. I was very young. But yeah, I was an idiot.

Here are two more examples where I was an idiot. of what I mean with “I am an idiot”, one long before Twitter existed, one on Twitter; one entirely harmless and silly, one less so.

For a while, that same kid brother lived on Bermuda. He was learning his trade as a hairdresser, and took a job on the island to spread his wings a bit and to hone his skills with different types of hair; he was there for a year or so.

During this self-imposed exile, I visited him and we were hit by a tropical storm. I don’t think there was a causal relationship but who knows?

Anyway, we were hit by a storm. It wasn’t pleasant; it was even a bit scary. The following day, when the storm had passed, we went to the beach to have a look at the damage and enjoy the lack of, y’know, wind and rain. The beaches on Bermuda are gloriously soft, and your feet sink a couple of inches into them. That should have been my first clue in retrospect.

On the beach was a boulder the side of a small car. Not huge enough to be a truck, nor a house… but yeah, the size of a small car. It wasn’t small.

I was flabbergasted. I mean, I knew the winds had been strong but to dump a rock that size on the beach, And I expressed this astonishment to my brother… who started laughing.

I turned around to discover my brother hugging his sides with laughter, trying in vain to restrain tears of laughter.

Yeah, you just got there a second before I did: the winds hadn’t dumped the rock on the beach; the winds had stripped away the sand surrounding the rock.

Again, something I freely admit and have no problem with. I was an idiot.

Here’s one that’s less harmless. Where I was an idiot with what could have had serious consequences. No excuses, no self-serving oops: I was an idiot.

I’m not a fan of the journalist Peter Hitchens. While he’s smart, I wouldn’t deny it, I disagree with almost everything he believes, and promotes. And it would probably be best to leave it there.

Because once I didn’t.

He’d said something online that so angered me that I did something… unwise. What he’d said was so extreme, so anger inducing, that I mischievously wondered to myself whether he’d said something in the past that contradicted it. And, knowing Hitchens’ style, if he’d done so, it wouldn’t be a mild contradiction; it would be full blown.

And, delightfully, I found it. I discovered a piece from him not only directly contradicting himself, but saying that anyone who thought otherwise was an idiot. So I screenshot the contradiction and tweeted it.

Except…

Except that what I’d found was from a parody site. And I made a damn fool of myself. Publicly.

I retracted it, obviously. I apologised to him directly, and apologised in a separate tweet. (Give the man credit; he was graciousness itself when he accepted the apology and said publicly that he considered the mater closed.)

But yeah, that was stupid of me. I was an idiot, and not in a funny way, not in a good way, in a way that could have left me open to defamation proceedings.

OK, so if you’re wrong on Twitter, if you’re an idiot, how do you apologise? How do you set the record straight? I mean, how do you do it right?

There are umpteen ways of doing it badly. Deleting the original tweet, and blocking anyone who raises the subject. seems to be the current favourite. Or there’s hooking your apology on to an entirely irrelevant tweet from the person you’ve fucked over. That way you can claim you’ve apologised but no one ever sees it. Or there’s deleting it, brazening it out and claiming anyone who raises it is ‘weaponising’ the issue.

But how do you do it right? There were, for a long time, three fairly well accepted ways of doing it.

  1. Delete the original tweet, put out a new tweet obliquely referring to it without detail and issuing a form apology.
  1. Delete the original tweet, put out a new tweet retracting what you said and apologising, with an attached screenshot of the original tweet.
  1. Quote tweet the original tweet with an “I was wrong to tweet this; apologies.”

None of these ever seemed to be a good method to me. With option 1, you look like you’re trying to do the very minimum necessary and also like you’re hiding the original offence, pretending you did nothing wrong.

With the final two, you merely encourage (and it often seems this is the reason for it) others to repeat something you know if false. Because with 2., they just grab the screenshot and use that, and with 3., the original tweet continues being retweeted and QT’d, while you can say ‘oh no! Look what is happening! This is a very bad thing…‘ and pretend you’re upset at it.

The solution is pretty obvious, so obvious that one wonders why more don’t do it, and one is further forced to conclude that it’s deliberate.

That solution? Grab a screenshot, and overlay a watermark, like the attached.

That seems to work, and it’s what I’ll do if the situation requires it.


OK, one more thing to end on. One more “I was an idiot” story from my past that’s still relevant, and one more story I genuinely enjoy telling against myself.

OK, no one reading this is unaware I’ve got a fucked-up foot. When it became a fucked-up foot, the doctor prescribed fairly strong painkillers, which I still take. (At some point I’ll need a major op on the foot, but until then, the painkillers do their job, mostly.)

However, when I first started taking them, these powerful opioids, I was… worried, concerned, wary about… no, damit, I was scared shitless that I’d become addicted to them. And, after three months, I was getting more scared.

I spoke to the young lady I was then seeing, who happened to work as a drugs counsellor. She reassured me:

Of course you’ll become addicted to them; they’re addictive.

Ok, maybe ‘reassured me’ wasn’t the right verb. However, she then attempted to reassure me properly, by explaining the difference between being addicted to something and having an actual addition… “problem”.

Look, first off, I’m a drugs worker. I’ll know you’ve got a problem long before you know it…OK, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients: if you’re worried, find a day where you ‘need’ to take all eight tablets and take seven. See if you ‘live’ for the tablet you don’t take.

That made sense to me, and a couple of weeks later, I did exactly that. For three days. My foot was on fire and I took only seven tablets not six. And oh gods did I lived for that other tablet.

So it was with trepidation that I told her what had happened.

And she… laughed at me. Pretty much about as much as my brother had about the rock on the beach.

I wasn’t amused. But then she explained.

I thought you were supposed to be smart, she said. Of course I don’t tell my clients that. I told you that to prove a point. Don’t you get it? If you had a problem, you’d have taken the other pill. You’d have made every excuse to me, to others, to yourself, but you’d have taken the eighth pill. You stuck to seven not eight… merely because a friend told you to.

I was an idiot. In a good way, but yeah I was an idiot.

(Not for nothing, but the fear of losing control of the addiction remains. And years later, still on them, my GP and I discuss the matter three times a year, so that we’re both certain i) I still need the painkillers and ii) I’m not abusing them.)


So what have we learned?

I am an idiot.

No, what have we learned?

That I am an idiot, and that that’s ok… most of the time.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

I’ve done a couple of these already, the

‘nothing much to write about today; yes, there is stuff I want to write about about but I haven’t got my thoughts in order yet, so here’s something about several things…’

posts, and since I’m in that frame of mind today, some thoughts on three things that are in my head right now.

By the way, the things I want to write about? Here’s just a smattering, if nothing else to put them down, so I know I’ve got to write the posts sooner or later

    a review of David Baddiel’s book Jews Don’t Count. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that I thought it was excellent and almost perfect. I’ve a couple of issues with it, which I’ll discuss in the review, which will come at some point
    a look back at two years of Boris Johnson’s two years as Prime Minister. While a huge chunk of that period has covered Brexit and the covid response, he’s fucked up other things as well.
    something about comedy
    something about the comics I’ve been reading
    Something about the comics I’ve been rereading
    …and something about the mouth organ

Anyway, now that those are out of the way… Ah, if only making a to do list was the same as completing the items on a to do list. Something for a future iteration of iOS to fix.

Anyways…

Appearances
I’m not good looking. Let’s get that out of the way straight away. And no, this isn’t fishing for compliments, ok? I’m well resigned to looking… ok.

I mean, I’m not horrible looking; I don’t look like something the love child of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Bill Sienkiewicz would have come up with, but — checks in the mirror — yeah, it’s not great. By which I mean, like the difference between ‘not liking something’ on the one hand, and ‘disliking something’ on the other, I don’t think I’m actively bad looking; I’m just not good looking.

I look… ok. There’s not much I actively like about my appearance. But I’ll openly acknowledge that, the past few decades, with the exception of the colour changing, I’ve quite liked my hair.

Three months’ back, the following tweet went a bit viral.

Lots of people proffered their replies. Now my dad was a hairdresser and I was half way through writing my own response when something hit me about what I was writing.

Because what I was about to write was:

Free haircuts.

But what occurred to me was that the biggest advantage I gained from my dad being a hairdresser wasn’t free haircuts but the absence of something. I gained a far more important perk that was the big one:

I never thought of haircuts as anything to be scared of, or worried about.

And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised how many are scared or worried by them.

And, I guess, because of how I grew up, getting a haircut is just something I do… and – notwithstanding some of the more embarrassing photos from the annual A Life In Pictures – I kind of like how the hair looks.

Of course, drop half a centimetre below the hair – both inside and outside the skull – and it all goes to hell. But there’s not a lot I can do about that, or at least, not a lot I’m prepared to do about that.

(A decade ago, while on holiday I went to a spa, and had massages, a manicure, a pedicure, the works. While you couldn’t pay me to have another massage – I really disliked the experience – I glance down at the mess that is my feet and think I could do with another pedicure…)

Molesworth
As with so many things, I was introduced to St Custards and its most notorious denizen, one Nigel Molesworth, by my brother. It was very much a ‘here, read this, you’ll love it’, and as was so often the case when Michael said that, he was right.

I can’t honestly say that I was first aware of Searle from Moelsworth, though. I had some collections of cartoons as a kid, and I remember seeing his drawings of St Trinians and kids on ponies… but when Mike gave me How To Be Topp, I fell in love with the world created by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. I’ve probably in the intervening years read everything I could about Molesworth, and featuring Molesworth and anything that even barely mentions Molesworth.

Or so I thought.

Until yesterday… when I discovered that Molesworth’s diaries, originally published in Punch, from 1939 – 1942, have been collected and republished as The Lost Diaries. And, writer friends of mine, my heartfelt apologies, but I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was so looking forward to reading anything.

And now I’m going to get the chance.

Oh, and while looking for other Molesworth stuff, I came across this. Hmm. I’m not convinced, but I’m certainly willing to be.

Back to normal…?
Things don’t feel ”back to normal’ yet, not even close, and I wish I knew why. I mean, yes, obviously, covid is still around – yesterday the UK reported over 30,000 new cases, and 133 deaths – but most of the restrictions have lifted, there’s not much I can’t do if I a) want to, and b) can afford to.

But the idea of doing many of them… well, it’s not exactly enthusiasm I’m feeling.

I can now go to the cinema if I want to. I even found myself the other day in a cinema foyer looking at the movies showing, and there were two or three I did in fact want to see. And yet, I turned around and walked out. Something stopped me buying a ticket, and it wasn’t the cost.

I miss live comedy like so many of my friends miss going to see live music. And yet, with one exception when it returns, I’m finding myself reluctant to actually buy a ticket to go and see live comedy. And again, it’s not because I can’t afford the ticket, nor that I hugely enjoy watching comedy on a screen. I want to see live comedy and yet… something stops me going to see it.

I miss seeing friends for coffee and yet I haven’t invited anyone out for coffee since the pandemic hit.

I miss seeing my friends… and yet with the exception of seeing my ex-wife and our son (when he’s home) and visiting my closest friends who were my social bubble when such things existed… I haven’t.

Things aren’t back to normal, not even close. ‘Back to normal’ isn’t even viewable through the Hubble Space Telescope.

And the longer it goes on, the stronger the feeling hits me, and hurts me, that it really, really should be.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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 up from my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here. (And you can see the posts in the run counting down to the birthday here.)

Housekeeping note: Between yesterday’s ‘excitement’ (middle of the night walk, fire engines in early morning), and a lousy night’s kip, my foot punishing me for the longer than usual walks, and feeling ratty as hell today, I’m pushing off the very personal post I’m writing until later in the week.


I like quotes, and I don’t mean the “blimey, that’s going to cost me a lot less than I expected” from the plumber.

No, I like quotations from people. I don’t particularly care who they’re from, although it’s not unusual that poeple noted for their wit or excellence in language often come up with observations I like.

So, here are some quotes I like. Nothing more than that. I just like them.

Let’s start with two of my all time favourite quotes. They’re both lines I wish I could use every day of my life, I like them that much. Sadly, I can’t…

 
“I feel that events have forced us to become enemies. What a pity we couldn’t have got to know each other under happier circumstances. Then we could have become enemies of our own free will.”
   — David Nobbs, from A Bit of a Do

“In his ninetieth year, he could afford to be agreeable to everybody, though he tried valiantly to resist the inclination.”
   — Alistair Cooke on Frank Lloyd Wright.


 
OK…. moving on.

Given my oft commented upon trouble sleeping, and less often mentioned trouble staying asleep, let’s start with some about sleep, or bed…

“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.”
   — Ralph Waldorf Emerson

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
   — Ernest Hemingway

“I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.”
   — Eleanor Roosevelt

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
   — Bob Dylan

“My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”
   — Cary Grant

It’s funny; those two aren’t as contradictory as I one thought, you know…

And, one more… dedicated to so many of my friends… and to me.

“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spent the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”
   — Ray Bradbury


 
Now some quotes I like just because I like them.

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion of one writer to alter another’s draft.”
   — H G Wells

“A man you’d follow anywhere, if only out of curiosity.”
   — Alan Coren on Boris Johnson

“A hard man to dislike, but it’s worth the effort.”
   — I first heard this from Barry Cryer, about journalist turned British politician Robert Kilroy-Silk, but I’ve since heard it from others, about others, said earlier.

“When children have their noses in books while the Universe is telling them to come out and play, we know something is going badly wrong.”
   — journalist Sue Nelson’s comment about a teacher who wasn’t allowed to take his class outside to witness an annular eclipse. I love this quote so much. “…when the Universe is telling them to come out and play.” The Universe; we live in it. We could all do with remembering what that means a bit more often.

“The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move eyeballs again… His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”
   — Kingsley Amis on hangovers (in Lucky Jim). It’s been a while since I’ve had a bad hangover, but once experienced, never forgotten. Amis got it about right.

“Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.”
   — H L Mencken. I mean, I could do a whole blog post on Mencken’s observations, but this one suffices for now.

“I must confess, I was born at an early age.”
   — Groucho Marx. Most of Marx’s best lines are, obviously gags. Occasionally, however, I like to think of him throwing one out merely to befuddle someone he’s grown tired of.

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”
   — Alistair Cooke. Another from Cooke, and one that’s informed and educated me.,

“I must’ve seen it in a USENET posting”; that’s sort of like hearsay evidence from Richard Nixon.”
   — Blair Houghton. I truly wonder what the equivalent would be from the orange poltroon, given how often he excused his falsehoods with ‘I don’t know, I just saw it on the internet…”

“Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.”
   — A. S. Neill

“A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.”
   — Robert Frost. And it’s impossible to mention this one without quoting from Ambrose Bierce’s definition of a jury The Devil’s Dictionary”: “A number of persons appointed by a court to assist the attorneys in preventing law from degenerating into justice.

I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.”
   — Mark Twain


 
And finally, three to end with, about what “literature” is.

The purpose of literature is to effect social change.
   — John Mortimer (as Rumpole)

Literature is news that stays news.
   — Ezra Pound


 
“Literature is something you want to read again.”
   — Budgie

 

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Tueaday 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.

Usually, before I head bedwards, I’ll watch some news, then head to bed to read. I’m usually asleep by 2am-ish. I no longer – not for some years – go out wandering the streets at 1am, say.

(I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d been pinged, and that I self-isolated. Well, yes, of course, I went for a wander at midnight the day my isolation ended.)

But the past two nights, I did it again, one leaving the flat for a wander at 11pm-ish… and last night where I went out at 1am and got home around 4am. I genuinely hope this isn’t the start of a habit.

I guess I’ll discover that in the next couple of nights. 

 

You can see above what time I took the pics on Euston Road and Oxford Street, about a third of the way through the wander.

Now, fair enough, getting home at 4am isn’t the worst thing, even though my advancing age doesn’t encourage it. but fair enough, a cuppa, then bed, and a decent kip will sort me out and–

Yeah, the fire alarm went off before 9 this morning. By the time I awoke, shrugged some clothes on, and left the building, I was greeted by the below.

 

 

Nothing to worry about; someone burned some toast and the alarms were set off. And we could go back into the flats in about half an hour.

All of immediate preface is to say… yeah, I’m very very tired.

And since one post I’m writing is a very discursive, personal, one, more personal in fact than I’d intended when I started writing it, and includes some stuff I need to think carefully about before I post publicly, that post ain’t going to be today’s.

Instead something else.

On occasion, I’ve lamented – not really, but kind of – that blogging has changed since my days on Livejournal, where sooner or later everyone did one of those “Answer 100 questions with a single word for each” or even detailed Q&A’s, where followers would submit five questions to be answered.

And I’ve equally occasionally done one here, both in ‘remembrance of blogs past‘ and because – for whatever reason – I want to stick one up.

They were usually on Livejournal referred to as ‘memes’, although they weren’t really. Seriously, they weren’t.

Although, I guess, if a word becomes used often enough to mean something unintended, more and more people will come to believe it’s a valid definition. See the ongoing argument between rebut and refute; they really don’t mean the same thing.

But as for the Q&As, they were just something people… did, and other people thought a) they were kind of a neat idea, b) they were a pleasant-ish way to pass half an hour completing, and c) that their friends might enjoy reading… and definitely might equally enjoy mocking the answers therein.

Some bloggers treated them with the utmost seriousness, answering every question honestly and without any deviation or guile.

Others would treat them as opportunities just to crack gags, and smart arse replies.

I’d guess, looking back, that I fell somewhere inbetween, where all of the answers were “the truth, and nothing but the truth”, but rarely – as a set – the whole truth.

And any questions I didn’t want to answer, or felt uncomfortable answering, I’d answer with the aforementioned gags or smart arse replies.

I haven’t done one this run, but for the reasons above, I’m very definitely doing one today.

It’s always amusing, well amusing and horrifying in equal part, for me to grab the questions from a decade old post, and see, as I delete them, which answers would remain the same as those I wrote so very long ago (am I that boring? that unchanging?), which answers are going to change, and which previous answers from back then are incomprehensible to me. How could I have done this, felt that, thought the other?

Still, those previous answers are for my own private pondering. You just get the current ones.

Time to answer some general questions…

100 questions, 100 answers
1. Full Name: Lee Barnett. No middle name, despite some people thinking that “Budgie” really is my middle name. And, as I’ve previously mentioned, I much prefer ‘budgie’ to my given name, and if you’ve ever any doubt which you should use, please, I implore you, use budgie. And, as also previously mentioned, if your response is ‘I don’t like using nicknames’, then I invite you to always refer to our previous Prime Ministers as ‘Anthony Blair’ and ‘James Brown’, and American presidents ‘William Clinton’ and ‘James Carter’.

2. Were you named after anyone? Yes, for my mum’s maternal grandmother, Leah. In Judaism, you tend to name after those who have died. I know nothing about her at all. And, as sometimes surprises people, I’ve no interest, not even a mild curiosity, in knowing about her, either.

3. Where did your nickname/handle come from? It’s a constant surprise to me that people who’ve known me for more than a month don’t know the story. A friend named Dave Rothburn came up with ‘budgie’, at Manchester Poly, coming up on 40 years ago. Full story’s here.

4. Are you superstitious? No, not at all. And have never really understood those who are. There are some remnants of my Jewish knowledge that I observe, but that’s more in memory of those who’ve died. And there’s some Jewish dietary stuff that I have no idea why I observe but I do. But no, I don’t ‘touch wood’ (wrong religion anyway), avoid cracks in the pavement, nor throw salt over my shoulder.

5. When did you last cry? From physical pain? Last week. My foot was bad. Otherwise, I had a mini-meltdown a couple of months ago, and at one point cried from pure and utter frustration.

6. Do you like your handwriting? ‘Bestest’ handwriting (i.e. when I’m handwriting something for someone else to read or because I want it to be ‘nice’) isn’t that bad – thank a previous boss for that – but my normal scrawl is horrible, full of personal abbreviations, and often indecipherable to me later.

7. What is your birth date? 17th August 1964, which this blog run should have made obvious. Yes, that means I’m officially “old”, well at least almost certainly older than you. Not necessarily, but I’d say the odds heavily favour it.

8. What is your most embarrassing CD? Currently? Probably the CD that came with my printer when I bought it. I don’t think I own any other CDs. If you mean albums, I gave up worrying about being embarrassed by my music tastes long ago.

9. If you were another person, would YOU be friends with you? Highly unlikely. To be fair, I think I’d probably be hugely surprised (both good and bad) if I knew how people honestly thought of me, let alone what I’d think of me – I suspect there’d be bits of me I’d like, and bits I’d be bored by, and very very certainly bits I’d detest. But no, I don’t think I’d be friends with me; almost certainly not. I’m not an easy person to be friends with, at all.

10. Are you a daredevil? In no way whatsoever. I rarely take risks, definitely not physically, and on the vanishingly rare times I do, I’ve analysed (over-analysed?) them to the nth degree.

11. Have you ever told a secret you swore not to tell? Yes, but (a) only back in the days when I was a financial director, when ethically, I had no choice in the matter, and (b) I chose to break a confidence in order to correct a seriously wrong (and potentially dangerous) impression person A had of person B.

12. Do looks matter? No… in the kingdom of the blind. In any other sphere, of course they do! I can’t understand anyone who thinks that looks don’t matter. I know that some disagree with this, but I think looks are what gets you interested in someone you don’t know… and everything other than looks keeps you interested. Other than romantically… the answer’s the same. In politics, in fashion, in every sphere of human endeavour, looks matter. I wish they didn’t – man, do I wish they didn’t, he says looking in the mirror – but they do.

13. How do you release anger? ‘Writing it out’… or ‘bunkering down’ for a while have both been known. If I’m furious, really furious, then ‘writing it out’, pouring the venom onto the page… then deleting it… had helped more than once. Hell, more than once a month, often.

14. Where is your second home? My closest friends, in Ham. They were my ‘social bubble’ during lockdown and after my son and ex-wife, they’re my family.

15. Do you trust others easily? Most people? No. It takes a long time for people to earn my trust. There are (and have been) exceptions, of course. That said, I don’t expect anyone to trust me, until I’ve earned their trust.

16. What was your favourite toy as a child? Lego. No question. I had other toys and games, but it always came back to Lego.

17. What class in school do think is totally useless? Geography. Never saw the bloody point of it. If you’re going to need it in your later life, or you’re going to make it your career, great, I’m pleased for you. You can learn it at GCSE and save the rest of us having to know it. I can’t think of a single thing I learned in the subject that’s been any use whatsoever in my life post-school. (I’m well aware that what I learned in ‘Geography’ at school is not what’s taught in the subject now. Cool, I’m very pleased for them. My answer remains the same.)

18. Do you keep a handwritten journal? No, I always have a notebook on me in which I scribble down thoughts and ideas, but it’s not a diary nor journal.

19. Do you use sarcasm a lot? A lot? No. Sometimes, yeah, when I think it’s necessary… or occasionally funny. Actually, strike that. I use sarcasm like I do any other rhetorical device: when I think it’s necessary and appropriate.

20. Have you ever been in a mosh pit? No. No no no no. No.

21. Favourite movie? Couldn’t narrow it down to just one, even if you paid me. A dozen, ok. Half a dozen, maybe. One? Not a chance.

25. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? There are people who don’t?

26. What’s your favourite ice cream? Carte D’Or Banana. That they no longer make it is irrelevant. The best ice cream I’ve ever had, however, was melon flavour. Only had it once, in Israel in 1980, but the memory lasts…

27. What’s your shoe size? 11. My foot size varies, it feels like anyway, depending upon how bad the pain is. My usual foot ware is Karrimor Summit trainers. They’re great, and almost the only things my foot feels ‘solid’ in.

28. What are your favourite colours? Black and red. Look I had to give two, so I added red.

29. What is your least favourite thing about yourself? See the answer to question 21 above.

30. Who do you miss most? Michael, my late brother… more recently, for various reasons.

32. Are you patriotic? Not in the least. I don’t feel any pride about being British, nor any specific link to Britain in general. I quite like living in London, but if i had to move elsewhere in the UK, wouldn’t really bother me other than missing friends. The same answer applies were I to have to move abroad.

33. What are you listening to right now? A playlist called Walkin’. Currently the Theme from Shaft.

34. When was the last time you ate chocolate? Yesterday; a bar of Whole Nut.

35. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be? Don’t have a bloody clue, and suspect I wouldn’t care less about it..

36. What is the weather like right now?

Like this:

37. Last person you talked to on phone? My ex-wife, Laura, checking what time we’re doing the weekly Zoom session with our son, Phil, who lives in Wales.

38. The first thing you notice about the opposite sex? Depends on how far away they are. If they’re close, eyes. But in general, their face. (See answer 12. above.) But eyes? And eye makeup? I’m a sucker for gorgeous eyes.

40. How are you today? Tired, in a bit of pain, irritable.

41. Favourite non-alcoholic drink? Coffee. Or still water.

42. Favourite sport? Don’t have one. I’m not a sports person. Games? Sure. Snooker. Sports? No.

43. Your hair colour? Heading rapidly towards full white, with the occasional bit of steel grey.

44. Eye colour? Brown. And staying that way, thankfully.

45. Do you wear contacts? Yeah, for most of the the week. One or two days a week, I’ll skip them. Some friends have, I suspect, never seen me wearing spectacles.

46. Favourite month? November, no question. (See answer 49. below)

47. Favourite food? Don’t really have one. If I like it, then I like it as much or as little as anything else I like. I’m really not a food person. At all.

48. Last movie you watched? In a cinema? No idea. Can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema. On telly, a rerun of Air Force One, the other evening.

49. Favourite day of the year? 2nd November, my son’s birthday.

50. Scary movies or happy endings? Happy endings, every time. I don’t enjoy scary movies, generally at least. I have enjoyed the occasional one. I still think the original The Omen is one of the best movies for so many reasons, but I’d prefer a happy ending most times. The question’s unfair, though – nothing says you can’t have a scary movie with a happy ending, is there?

51. Summer or winter? I always used to prefer Summer, but I’m unsure these days…

52. Hugs or kisses? Depends on the person I’m with… or want to be with.

53. Do you smoke? Currently? No. I quit in November 2016, and after a brief ecig phase have vaped ever since. But I’m very aware that despite never wanting a cigarettes in the past three or more years, all it would take is one bad day.

54. What is your favourite dessert? Banoffee Pie.

57. Living arrangements? I live alone, in a small flat, in Abbey Road. Yes, that Abbey Road. Can’t ever see the former bit changing, though of course the latter might.

58. What are you currently reading? Prose – a non-fiction book about US Constitutional Law; comics – rereading Sandman.

59. Do you have any kids or do you want to have kids? Yes, one twenty-five year old son, the Phil mentioned above. I don’t want any more; very happy with the one I have, thanks.

60. What’s the first thing that the opposite sex notice about you? No idea, but I’d guess the hair.

61. Have you ever fired a gun? No. Strangely enough, I don’t feel as if I’ve missed out any. I’m mildly curious as to what it would be like to shoot one, and to see the effect of me pulling the trigger, but only mildly curious. It’s a curiosity (like parachuting and bungee jumping) that I’m more than content to leave unsatisfied.

62. Favourite games? Backgammon in ‘real life’; snooker on the iPhone.

63. What did you watch on tv last night? Lots, but I’m a news junkie so always safe to say “news” and MSNBC before bed.

64. Favourite smells? Citrus, leather, freshly mown grass and freshly baked bread.

65. What is the first thing you think when you wake up? “Ugh.”

66. How tall are you? Six feet exactly

61. What photo’s on your screen lock? I don’t have a photo; a digital image of the hypotheticals logo .

68. Ever been in rehab? No, but have been in a mental health unit, both voluntarily and otherwise.

69. Have you ever killed an animal? Other than insects, spiders, wasps, etc.? No. And wasps deserve it, the little buggers. In fact I think that great effort should be made by various people to make animal experimentation compulsory for wasps.

70. What do you think of hot dogs? The owners should be prosecuted for leaving them in the car.

71. What’s your favourite Christmas song? Probably this one.

72. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Coffee. Strong coffee. Very strong coffee.

73. Do you do push ups? No, I don’t do any form of formal exercise other than walking, when the foot is up to it.

74. Have you ever been hospitalized? Yes, many times. Most recently was a year or so back.

75. Do you like painkillers? When I need them, I take them like sweeties.

76. What’s your secret weapon to attract the opposite sex? Hahahahahahaha. If anything, I have a not so secret weapon to repulse them; it’s called ‘being me’.

77. Do you own a knife? Yes, two Swiss Army knives, one that never leaves the flat as it turns out it’s illegal to carry in the street (due to it having a lockable blade.)

My main one is this one, the Deluxe Tinker.

78. Do you have ADHD? No, or not that I’m aware of.

79. Have you any tattoos? No. I’m allergic to pain.

80. Have you any piercings? No. (gosh that was an easy set of three to answer.)

81. Name three drinks you regularly drink: water, coffee and single malt scotch whisky; Jura 10 yr old as the usual, The Balvenie 12 yr old Doublewood on special occaisons.

82. When did you last get lost? Last week; was on a wander, thinking about stuff, looked up and realised I had absolutely no idea where I was. I’d turned off the main road and was in a cul-de-sac.

83. What’s under your bed? Nothing but carpet.

84. What time did you wake up today? 9:00 am (see preface above)

85. Current haircut? See answer to 43 above.

86. Current worry? See answer to 21 above.

87. If you could play any musical instrument? Mouth Organ. Usually popular, and no one ever asks you to sing. I have one. I should learn to play it.

88. What was your first paid employment? Other than working for my father in the hair salon? Supermarket (Sainsbury’s) shelf stacking and on the checkout.

89. What was the last CD you bought? Again, I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD. Last music I bought was a Dolly Parton collection.

90. Do you have a motor vehicle (car, bike)? No; even if I could afford one these days, I’m not entirely sure I’d get one.

91. Who’s the one person from your past you wish you could speak with one more time? My late brother. No surprise there.

92. Where do you want to live? Quite happy in London, thanks.

93. Number of pillows you sleep with? Two on each side of the double bed.

94. Are you paranoid? Why do you want to know? Why? Why?

95. Latest crush? Latest? I don’t remember the last one I had. I guess I sometimes get them, but fortunately, for both people involved, they fade fast.

96. Last thing you ate? Toast, with a couple of slices of cheddar.

97. What’s in your pockets right now? Money, keys, iPhone, vape liquid.

98. Are you single? Well, I appreciate the interest, but you’re probably not my type, and I’m definitely not yours. Whatever your type is, trust me, I’m not it.

99. Have you ever won any awards: Yes.

100. Who do you tell your dreams to? I rarely remember dreams, and those that I do are always nightmares and I really wish I didn’t.

  

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.

Well, despite the two previous prefacing posts, this is it, I suppose.

We’re back.

Well, I’m back anyway, and, hopefully, a few of you are back with me. Strapping in for the next eight weeks or so, as we count down to my fifty-seventh birthday which is now heading my way.

Now to be fair, it’s been heading my way for… well, for fifty- seven years or so, but you know what I mean. (Hopefully. I’m never quite convinced that you all do know what I mean.)

So, anyway… welcome to new readers, and welcome back to old ones.

Welcome to my blog.

As mentioned in the aforementioned posts,, I’ve done a few of these countdowns and while I once just leaped straight into them, it’s been a while since I’ve regularly blogged, so, a reintroduction probably ain’t the worst idea in the world.

So, a quick Q&A setting the scene.

OK, so who the hell are you, anyway?
I’m budgie. Hello.

No surprise to anyone that my parents didn’t name me ‘budgie’; they may have been odd in some ways, but they weren’t that odd, I assure you.

No, my given name, the name on my passport, is “Lee Barnett”, but I much prefer ‘budgie‘ – you’ll learn why in a short while. No middle name – I used to joke that we couldn’t afford one, but to be brutally honest, I’ve no idea why they didn’t give me a middle name. My older brother had one, but neither I nor my younger brother were given them.

To be equally honest, if they had given me a middle name, I’d probably have started using it when I was at university. I never liked ‘Lee’ as a name; for every Lee Majors reference when I was a kid, there was a Lee Remick reference. It’s an androgynous name, which I grew up disliking intensely.

(In fact, when I was about 12, I received a package addressed to me that would have been very useful had I been a girl. It was less useful as a boy; highly embarrassing, an embarrassment that still stings. It might explain why I was so pleased when I picked up ‘budgie’ as a nickname. But again, more about that in a moment.)

I live in London, a mile or two just north of central London, very near Abbey Road Studios. Yes, that Abbey Road Studios; Beatles, that album cover, that zebra crossing. Yes, that one.

How near? Well, as I tell American friends – whenever anything notable happens in London – if the news story doesn’t begin with the words ‘Less than half a mile from the world famous…‘ it happened nowhere near me.

After growing up in Luton – a great place to come from, but a lousy place to go back to – I’ve spent most of my life living in various parts of London: Ilford, Finchley, a couple of decades in Barnet, four years in Richmond… and, for a little over four years, since early 2017, just north of the Euston Road.

I’m divorced, from a very nice lady named Laura, and together we have a son, Phil, who’s now twenty-five. That’s us over there, on the left, in a pic taken this year when I desperately needed a haircut after about five months without one…

He’s a lovely lad, and I’m incredibly privileged that he’s my son. Of course like any father and son, we share some interests, (comics, comedy, a sense of humour – most of the time), but most decidedly do not share others. I remain entirely puzzled as to his fascination with video games, professional wrestling, Formula 1, and various bands.

And he remains utterly mystified by me, on a daily basis. As he should do.

As for Laura, well, we may be divorced but she’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. Her advice, continuing friendship, and common sense, are all things I remain constantly grateful for.

I’m a writer; there’s more about the writing in a moment, but yeah, that’s how I spend most of my days.

But I used to be an accountant, and in that profession, went from junior auditor, to senior auditor, to audit manager – there were a lot of audits – then took the commercial shilling when offered and via a couple of financial controller roles (US people: think ‘VP Finance’) ended up as a financial director (US: CFO) of a tv channel, one of those you scroll past on your tv’s programme guide.

While I rarely discuss specifics, mainly due to NDAs and professional confidentiality, my old profession may come up occasionally over the next few weeks, so… fair to put it out there.

I haven’t been an accountant/financial director for a decade, though. The tales remain… timeless, though. At least that’s what I tell myself and it’s my blog, so there.

A writer friend of mine once introduced me as “This is budgie; he used to be a very good accountant; now he’s a very good writer. The world has enough very good accountants and not enough very good writers’. As compliments go, that’s one I’ll take.

budgie’s perch?
Yeah, suppose I’d better deal with this fairly early on. The blog’s called ‘budgie’s perch’ because it seemed an appropriate title for a blog run by a fella whose nickname is ‘budgie’.

Which doesn’t exactly explain anything, does it?

‘Budgie’ is a nickname I’ve had for – blimey – coming up on forty years, now. Almost forty years. I’d ask ‘how the hell did that happen?’ But I can already hear my lad responding ‘because that’s the way the calendar works, dad‘.

But why ‘budgie‘? Well, the full story’s here, but if you want the ‘long-story-short’ version? What now, sigh, would no doubt be called the ‘tl;dr’ version?

I acquired the nickname when I was studying at Manchester Poly, and the name stuck. And though I stopped using it when I left Manchester, it recommenced when I got online in 1995…

And now? Well, far more people know me as – and think of me as – budgie than as Lee.

And I much prefer that, to be honest; as mentioned above, I never particularly liked my ‘first name’, and ‘budgie’ feels more like me these days. Maybe because I created ‘budgie’ and owned the name, rather than growing into it? I dunno. Either way, I prefer it.

The full detailed story involves – in no particular order – copious amounts of alcohol, freshers, a hypnotist’s evening, and an accountancy lecture.

Yeah.

It’s worth reading.

OK, but budgiehypoth?
For twelve years, over ten British comic book conventions, comics legend Dave Gibbons and I ran a panel entitled hypotheticals. It was fairly popular, and when I was looking for a new URL for this blog, seemed a good concatenation to use.

You can see the logo we used for the panel (over there, to the side) bears a strong resemblance to the icon I use for myself online, and for this blog; Dave designed the original, and he did a ‘budgie’ version as a parting gift when we wound up the panel in 2011.

But, hey, for twelve years, I got to say I wrote scripts for Dave Gibbons. You can’t beat that. Well, I can’t.

It’s probably the writing for/with someone else of which I’m second proudest. Proudest of all would be… well, take a read here and you’ll encounter that.

But still… budgie’s perch?
Be grateful; the braindump I use to kickstart the writing muscles every day is named Going Cheep.

writings
Everything from being commissioned comedy for BBC Radio 4, the occasional bit for TV, a few comics stories (including writing an X-Men story) a novel entitled You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly and publishing two collections of very, very short stories in The Fast Fiction Challenge:

Both books are also available via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. e-Versions (for Kindle, Sony reader, iBooks, etc.) can be obtained – email me and I’ll supply the ebook(s) in either .epub or .mobi version on request… Volume 1 (180 stories) is £4.00, or equivalent in local currency; volume 2 (200 stories) is £5.00

I also wrote three radio shows with Mitch Benn for Radio 4, and helped out with his past few Edinburgh shows. (And that’s the writing for/with someone else of which I’m probably most proud.)

What else? Odds and sods

  • erm… My alcohol of choice is single malt whiskey, neat: Jura for ‘the usual’ or The Balvenie for ‘best’. Never developed a taste for beer or lager.
  • Oh, I’m Jewish; it’ll probably come up over the next few weeks at some point. I’ve never quite sorted out my relationship with my religion; I’m still figuring that one out, and have been for, oh, 40 years or so. That caveat aired, on most things, I at least try to be rational, I try to be a sceptic, to withhold belief in something until there’s evidence. I don’t always succeed.
  • That said, when it comes to my being Jewish, and given that this blog will comment upon current UK politics, it’s more than possible that Israel might come up in discussion. Just a heads up: if you’re looking to have some fun telling me that Israel has no right to even exist, you might as well quit reading now, and go off and do something we’ll both enjoy a lot more.
  • I’m in my mid-50s, so under the laws of blogging, my physical health will probably come up at some point. Other than my fucked up foot (about more of which here), it’ll likely just the usual health comments, scares and moaning. Oh, and the occasional skin cancer scare; I’ve had a few of those the past few years, complete with biopsies. Fortunately all negative, but… well, yeah.
  • Hmmm. Health. OK, I’ve had some mental health… ‘issues’, I believe they’re sometimes called. I have absolutely no intention right now to go into detail, publicly. That may change as the next eight weeks goes by. Let’s see how scared I am by the prospect.
  • Oh, and since I mentioned fear… I’ve a few phobias. Or do I? Phobias are irrational fears and I happen to think my fear of being stung by wasps or bees is entirely rational. But spiders bigger than teeny tiny in size? Yeah, ok that might be one of the tad irrational ones.

Finally in this list of stuff you didn’t need to know about me: there are things I genuinely regret not doing. Rarely, however, are they The Big Things that people are supposed to regret: lost loves, lost opportunities in life, that one person you passed in the street, never spoke to, but have thought about every day for years…

Mine are less grand. I wish I’d learned to use a slide rule; somehow never got around to it. I wish I’d paid attention during history classes at school, but then I’d have missed the joy in later life of discovering how much fun history can be. I wish I’d never had to study geogarphy at any point in my schooling; I consider it time entirely wasted. Not once in my adult life have I been asked what an isthmus is. I have a mouth organ, purchased by friends of mine after I said I’d like to learn to play it. I never have learned to play it, and I really should do something about that.

I think that’s about it for now. Anything else, ask away…

And that’s a serious invitation, by the way. Ask away, either in the comments section below or – if you’d rather not ask publicly – you can either DM me on twitter (@budgie) or email me.

Oh, and see you tomorrow when there’ll be something probably much less about me and more about… something else. Though probably not about learning to play the mouth organ. Not yet, anyways.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as I know, anyway.

That’s not going to last.

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

Yeah, they were right, I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Struggling”. Yeah, that’s the word.

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

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

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

I’ve been better.


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

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

Possibly more of a goingcheep, this one, as it’s a short one, but it’s something that occurred to me just as I opened the app, so it”s going in here.

One of the things i enjoyed about the Brian Bendis/Mike Oeming series Powers was how it handled the effective immortality of one of its lead protagonists.

The character is thousands of years old, but can’t remember clearly more than a few decades of his life. Flashes of faint recollections, sure, odd out of context memories, but nothing clearly.

I’m 55 years old. And I can’t remember more than one or two names of children I was at primary (what we then called ‘junior’) school with. I can remember maybe half a dozen kids I was at senior/secondary school with. Maybe another half a dozen other people in my accountancy lectures, at Manchester Polytechnic.

Of the people I met in Manchester? Probably a couple of dozen I remember clearly. Maybe. More names, sure, and some faces, and with the aid of the photos I took while there, yes, some more spring to mind.

Childhood friends? Again, maybe half a dozen… (Of course, I didn’t have that many childhood friends. So maybe it’s not my memory that’s failing there.)

But thinking about school, I can remember events clearly, but not necessarily who took part in them other than me; I remember taking part – in the chorus – in a school production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, and I remember the teacher (one of the first I ever had a crush on, and yes, I remember one very embarrassing moment)… but can’t for the life of me tell you who played any of the other parts in the show.

And of course, the reverse applies: I wonder how many kids at Bushmead Infant and Junior schools (1970 – 1976), Denbigh High School (1976 – 1980), Luton VI Form College (1980 – 1982) or Manchester Poly (1982 1985) remember… me. Not that many, I’d wager.

(One thing that never ceases to amuse, however: not one of my schoolmates would have the faintest clue who ‘budgie’ is, while those who were friends at college would only remember me as ‘budgie’…)

I’ve said before that I’m a huge advocate of the position that everyone is the sum of their own experiences; I’ve heard it said before that everyone’s the sum of their own memories. If the latter is true, I’m not sure what that says when the memories fade.

Hmm. Something else tomorrow, I think.

We’re going to start today with a meme, talk about the young, then the dead.

So that’ll be fun.

Every so often, something will do the rounds of Twitter and other social media, ostensibly just a ‘huh, kids, eh?’ But something that strikes me – on the umpteenth repetition, anyways – as something a bit… snotty. A bit condescending and inherently unpleasant.

It’ll be something like: Our children will never know the connection between these two things!

The answer, of course is usually in the replies, sometimes blatant, sometimes allowing onlookers [‘the kids’] to have an ‘ohhhhhh’ moment as the penny drops.

I’m not entirely sure when these kind of digs – for that’s how I take them – at those younger started to really bug me; I only know that they did.

The at times seemingly ever-present ‘our experiences meant more’ digs, the ‘kids have it easier these days’ nonsense, the ‘we had [xxxx], kids have [yyyy] and [xxxx] is inherently better/more valid because we had it’ rubbish. But it’s replicated in everything from politicians with their ‘we survived the war, we can survive Brexit’ bullshit, to sidebars and cheap gags at their expense online.

As for when it did start to bug me, I suspect it was after listening to a topical comedy show wherein a couple of comedians were discussing a newspaper piece about how ‘kids today’ don’t understand pre-decimalisation currency, or something similar.

The comedians made the valid point ‘why the hell should they?’

I mean, ok, if the younger read novels set in, or non-fiction about, time periods before 1971, then it might help to appreciate the terms used for the British currency of the time.

But any author now writing about that period knows most people won’t have strong memories, beyond the very personal, of pounds, shillings and pence, and will account for that. And any books of the time are… of the time. They were written during that time. And there are more than a few things that’ve changed since the 19th century; currency is one of the lesser ones.

And of course, occasionally, authors will sometimes acknowledge that readers might not be familiar with pre-decimalisation and provide… help.

(The above from Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)

In one of the later Letters from America, Alistair Cooke mentioned that it came as quite a surprise – a much needed corrective, he acknowledged – when some friends of his grandchildren didn’t know the details of Watergate. He then realised that it fell, for them, into that period of time between

  • what you live(d) through, and
  • what’s in the history books.

I was born in 1964. My first memories start in the very late 1960s, early 1970s. The history books I read at school pretty much stopped at the end of the Second World War, perhaps a couple of years later.

Anything that occurred from, say 1950 through 1968… well, that falls into that gap identified by Cooke. Much as the Boer war fell into that gap for him. He was born in 1908. The Boer War ended in 1902. It was current memory for adults when he was born, but not yet into the history books for the children as he grew older.

For me? Well… even if American history was in my school history books (I honestly don’t know) I certainly don’t recall reading anything in detail about McCarthyism until I’d left school and was actually studying US politics.

I remember reading about President Roosevelt and his successor, President Truman… but not about Eisenhower. And all I knew about JFK was that he’d been shot by someone who shared my first name, spelled the same way as well! (When I was growing up, my first name was as often spelled – for boys and girls – ‘Leigh’ as it was ‘Lee’.)

Sorry, this has drifted a bit.

But why should kids know that a pencil and a cassette tape should provoke memories of inserting the pencil, rotating it, correcting the twisted magnetic tape…? It’s not in their personal experience.

Any more than it’s in mine how to powder a wig. Or to make a crystal radio set (my dad did it when he was a kid) Or how to jive? (My mum used to dance when she was younger… a lot.) Or how to balance a budget with a ration card – my grandparents, during and after WWII. None in my personal experience. And something that was in previous generations’.

But if there’s anything that truly – to me – does raise the ‘they do it different these days’ in a way that doesn’t piss me off, but does make me wonder what the future brings… it’s people, contact with them, how they’re regarded by others, and how they’re appreciated… while they’re alive, and after they’ve died.

Or not, as the case may be.

I’m unconvinced that any generation views other people, and especially the departed, in the same way as either the previous generation or the next generation does.

A couple of generations before mine… adults were fighting in wars, different cultures, different backgrounds, different experiences, thrown together in military service. I’m certainly not suggesting it as a objectively ‘good’ thing – as a general rule of thumb, I’m against war – but it unquestionably changed how those in the forces regarded those they’d never have come into contact with otherwise. And how they regarded death at a young age.

Let’s leave death for a paragraph or two, and just stick to people.

I grew up in the 1970s; playing in the street with other kids, cycling off to the woods and hills near Luton, playing with kids you’d just met… and if you were an hour or two late back, and they couldn’t contact you – no mobile phones – the main consequence was that your mum gave you a telling off and punished you. It wasn’t called ‘grounding’ in the UK, but that was the usual punishment.

The idea that you might have gone missing if you were an hour or more late back was just never A Thing. That I’d not called them was just… naughty. But wasn’t expected, not really. And, I mean, still before the days of mobile phones, but when I went to uni, I called my parents once or twice a week.

My lad speaks to his mum almost every day; most people, most adults, I know speak to their parents very often. They speak to friends less often, but are in contact much more often, online. By text. On messaging apps.

Despite the stories of ‘everyone knew each other, everyone knew how everyone was’ back in the day, these days, people are in contact in one form or another far more often… with people they care about, and people they want to stay in contact with.

And then there’s what happens when people die.

I remember back when my brother died. After the burial, the shiva… my sister-in-law certainly had people contacting her all the time.

But my late brother himself… I have no idea how often people thought of him. Nor, on the whole, what people thought of him while he was alive. Not truly. I know what people said afterwards but it’s easy to say nice things afterwards.

At least with Mike, there was a book after his death containing tributes, what friends and family thought of him. I’ve genuinely no idea at all whether he knew it, appreciated it, before he died, though. [I’ve no doubt, by the way, that he knew how much I loved him as a brother; I’m fortunate in that at least.]

But a book about a departed one is, was, unusual. Mike’s widow wanted to do it for a specific reason.

These days? There’d be – if the family wanted – a preserved Facebook page, a tribute for people to leave online messages. People would write on their own facebooks, and tumblrs and twitter feeds that they missed him.

(And, yes, idiots would chime in with their own unwanted, unwarranted, idiocy about how they never liked him anyway.)

But that’s something that’s changed, and will change more in the future. Whenever someone dies, people say “I hope they knew how much they were loved” or “I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

(Caveat for famous people, big stars; I don’t believe for a moment that they are – completely at least – unaware of how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told so by many, many people.)

Flip side of all of this – and a nicer consequence of the changing ‘openness’ in society; it’s far easier, far more acceptable, to tell someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you.

Sure, that’s as much for you as it is for them, but I like that people tell them, anyway.

“No one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is a trite remark, and in part – but only in part – true. I’m sure there are people who die regretting that.

But no one should ever die thinking that they didn’t matter. They should know – before they die – that they, that their work, mattered; to family, to friends, to people who liked them, to people who loved them. To admirers and critics alike.

So tell them.

Something else a bit more together, and a whole lot more serious, tomorrow…

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.

Earlier on in this run, I wrote about skillsets some have for their careers that I don’t have, and that I wish I genuinely understood inside and out.

But of course there are other things – not limited to skillsets – that I either don’t understand and wish I did understand, or don’t understand and don’t really care that I don’t understand…

And then there are the subject matters about which people care hugely; they’re important to them in a way that not only are they not to me, but I don’t even understand why they are to people. On an individual sense, I mean.

Like fashion, say, but we’ll come back to that.

No matter what the industry, I’ll acknowledge immediately that they’re important to people who work in the industry. I couldn’t give a damn about the design of mass produced greetings cards, say. Not really. One’s the same as another in most cases, as far as I see. Except the ones you see, look again in disbelief, and then are terrified that someone actually got paid to design it.

But for those who work in the greetings cards industries, I quite understand why it’s important to them; to the government who collects taxation from the companies, the payroll taxes, the corporation taxes, etc. To those whose livelihood depends on that industry, yes, I get all of that.

That caveat needs to be up front and centre. Any industry is important to those working in it.

Like fashion, say. But we’ll come back to that.

Small – but relevant to what follows – diversion: this isn’t fishing for compliments, but I’ve never thought of myself as ‘good looking’. OK, I’ll admit that I’m better looking than I used to be (as the annually updated A Life In Pictures post proves) but… objectively ‘good looking’?

No.

Not at all.

I’m… ok, I guess. On a good day, I might qualify for a bit better than ‘plain’. Again – not fishing for compliments here.

But I say all that I have above in order to now recognise that even I, looking like I do, am vain enough to not like it if I have a crappy haircut, or have a spot appear on my face.

I stress the above to acknowledge that there’s some, small, vanity, on minor things before going on to say that in a major way, vanity has affected my choice in clothes.

I’m not sure who first observed that clothes form an inherent part of your identity. But of course they’re correct, both in how others see you and how you see yourself. But despite the above, I’ve never much cared about how people see me, only about what they thought of me, and even then only with some people.

Going back a few decades, I don’t really remember choosing clothes to ‘look good’ before I got married. (Yes, yes, that annual post proves it. I know.)

I wore what was ‘appropriate’ for the setting (work, synagogue, pub), and b) what I felt comfortable wearing… but not really more than that.

Wasn’t fashionable usually, if ever. Yeah, fashion. We’re getting there, I promise.

Then I met the lady who became my wife. Yeah, a lot of stories start like that.

Laura had, has, far better taste than me in clothes, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to surprise me with a top, or a shirt or a jacket… In all the time we were together, maybe twice, maybe three times, I didn’t like her voice. Every other time, it was great; it suited me; I liked it.

When we split up, I dressed all-in-black for something… and for the first time – genuinely, the first time ever – pretty much everyone complimented me on how I looked. (To the point that I briefly but genuinely wondered whether they’d gotten together to take the piss.)

But no. I dressed all-in-black at work; got compliments. Dressed all-in-black for a social occasion… same result.

Huh. Weird.

I’ve said before those who are good looking, have always been told they’re good looking, genuinely don’t have a clue what it’s like to not receive those life long compliments. No more than those of us who didn’t get them have the slightest comprehension what it’s like to get those compliments through your life.

So me getting compliments all the time for how ‘all-in-black’ suited me, how much better I looked, astonished me.

Even weirder was how I felt about dressing all in black: very, very comfortable, very… ‘me’.

Yes, there was good natured mockery, the ‘goth’ comments, the “DarkBudgie” silliness. (Remember: I’m a huge fan of silliness.)

So, lots of reasons for me to continue: I liked it, it was easy, people seemed to think I looked good in it, and I felt comfortable as hell wearing it.

And here we go…

At no point was I wearing black because, say, it was the ‘in’ thing to wear; at no point was I wearing it because ‘everyone I knew and mixed with was wearing it’; at no point was I wearing it to ‘make a statement’, or to ‘make a point’.

Which brings me to fashion. Both as a concept, and an industry.

I don’t get it.

I mean, leaving aside the economics of it…

  • dresses that cost more to deliver than to purchase
  • wages paid to those who make the clothes that make people blush
  • built in short term obsolescence

…the very idea of social acceptance or otherwise thought wearing what has been decided is this year’s Thing… I’m utterly mystified by the idea.

It’s not just the actual clothes in the fashion industry, of course, that mystify and puzzle me. The ‘you can’t wear the same this year/season as last’. I don’t get it. The ‘you must buy new and newer and different.

I don’t have many pairs of shoes; a pair of trainers, a decent pair of brogues, a pair of plain formal shoes. and I’ve pretty much replaced them with identical pairs. (OK, I could excuse that because I’ve a fucked up foot.) But that wouldn’t explain why I also have lots of identical shirts, and identical pairs of plain trousers.

Having multiple outfits for multiple occasions, mixing and matching – and purchasing stuff in order to do so… not being able to, nor wanting, to wear the same clothes repeatedly.

Fashion: I don’t get it. At all.

I honestly wish I did.

Yeah, this didn’t start out as a whinge. I’m sorry it turned into one…


Well, that didn’t exactly turn out as planned. To reward you for slogging through it, I’ll let you know about the single best mass-produced greetings card I’ve ever seen, in Bermuda, in the mid-1990s. Die cut, so the front of the card was slightly smaller than the back of the card. The front of the card had a typical 1950s detective or PI. Low slung hat, raincoat.

The front of the card read: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. Somewhere, someone’s in trouble. Somewhere, someone needs to stroke a small animal. That’s where I come in.”

When you opened the card, you saw the same defective, his raincoat now open with:

“My name’s Friday. I carry a badger”.


See you tomorrow, with something more interesting.

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.

I’ve never been stalked in real life; And I’m not for a moment suggesting in the entry that follows that being stalked online comes even close to the horror and fear that accmpanies someone being stalked ‘in real life’, in person, in other words.

But I’ve been stalked online, and received what I considered to be genuine, credible, threats, and it’s not pleasant, to put it mildly.

It’s happened a couple of times – two where I’ve gotten the authorities involved – and in retrospect, what strikes me isn’t how surprising it was that anyone gave a shit about me – which should still be utterly shocking, lets’ face it – but how… genuinely vulnerable it makes you feel.

The following is about one of them, in the early days of my time online.

Back in the day, I helped run a couple of CompuServe’s Forums. One was the UK Current Affairs Forum, prevously the UK Politics Forum. Another was CompuServe’s Jewish Forum. I was a member of half a dozen Forums, but they were the only two where I actively helped run them.

On the whole, my experience in Forums were great ones: I learned a lot, made some good friends, and they were great introductions to the pleasures and pitfalls of putting opinions out there. Some of the friends I made as a result of my presence in CompuServe Forums are friends to this day.

(I recently joined Instagram, which is a flat out weird one for me, and when I went though my contacts, as to who to follow, some of them were people I first met back on CompuServe, some over twenty years ago…)

So, yes, most of my time on CompuServe was fun, and objectively beneficial.

But then there were the less pleasant aspects; take the time we booted someone from the Jewish Forum for persistent breaches of Forum Rules.

Every Forum had its set of rules. Some were simple: don’t abuse, don’t post sexual images, and… that’s about it. Some had long sets of rules, dozens of them, covering everything from “use your REAL name here” to the maximum size of images posted in messages.

The Jewish Forum, for example, didn’t have that many rules. But one of the biggies was no proselytising, no “you’re all wrong and should accept Jesus into your hearts!“. (For the reasons why a Jewish Forum would have that rule, see here and here.)

Now every Forum, every message board, had their idiots, their abusers, their ‘I have my rights!‘ crowd.

The trick was to control the harmless idiots and expel the harmful ones. Most times, I think we got it about right, most of the time. And when you don’t, when you over react, or under react, the lesson you then learn is possibly the most valuable of all.

And to be fair, when you did sling someone out, most of them just licked their wounds and either apologised… or moved on.

With some, who were thrown out of forum after forum, who joined merely to abuse and insult, you soon realised that their etire purpose was to abuse and insult in the hope they’d piss off people enough that they’d get thrown out. It was a wish I was more than willing to grant.

But even among this group, most were sensible enough to know that it was more sensible to try their luck in another venue, rather than try again in one they’d already polluted.

But there were some who would be so offended by our showing that there were consequences to abusing others… that they’d become determined to hit back. They’d be so upset, that their ‘freedom of speech’ to abuse and insult was infringed, that their determination to abuse and insult would be redoubled.

And one chose to make it his business to trash me and attempt to trash my reputation.

Among the more charming messages written to (or about) me on at least six other Forums, using one or more of his 18 separate IDs (!) were:

Alas we meet again.I’M glad YOUR brothers DEAD.Just remember I hate you,brit.

 

We know where you work.where you live.we hired a pi.the games are just starting.its all in good fun.i hope you continue to play along.i will win.you will lose.i’m going to help you lose your job.lets make a bet on it.

 

I hear your mother was a whore and you are really a nazi.i think its time for you to lose your job.lets make a bet that you will be un-employed in one years time. So many people hate that you don’t where or who or what is against you. Your mother is a coward and so are you. We made printouts of your photo and sent them to all kinda intresting places bitch.

 

Can i fuck your wife in the ass ?.your son can watch.

 
And the latest? Oh, this one will cheer all of you out there that read comics…

Why are you into comics ?The word around the office is that you use comic books as bait for meeting minors.

And remember, this was merely beause we threw him out of The Jewish Forum for abusing others, breaking the rules, and, not for nothing, proseltising.

I’ll admit to being slightly amused when he turned up on yet another Forum, with an ID of “GOPSenate” suggesting that I was a danger to American National Security.

As another member, commenting that he didn’t know how much of a danger to National Security I was: “After all,” he continued, “if you can’t trust a guy who shows up out of nowhere with a bagful of incoherent abuse and return address of ‘GOPSenate’, who’s left?”

His final messages before I’d finally had enough suggested that I was a paid up member of a pedophilia advocacy organisation, that I installed spyware on every forum member’s computer, and that the police were investigating taking my son away from me.

I was lucky, I’ll acknowledge. I had the resources, the anger, and the experience to do something about it.

So I did. I downloaded all the archive messages, and did a search for messages he’d posted in other forums…

It didn’t take me long to find the state in which he lived. It took me a bit longer to find, and confirm, the city in which he lived. It took me a lot longer, back then, to narrow it down to the suburb. I already had an idea of his real name. Even back then, once I had his location, it was relatively easy to confirm it.

And that, together with a small payment to their white pages, gave me his work and home addresses.

After that effort, it then took me only about five minutes to find the contact details for the local police department.

Given that the call came out of the blue, and the police detective they put me through was obviously – back then – less than familiar with ‘the internet’, he was great. He listened calmly, took notes, and asked me to fax through the ‘message… board… posts?’

I did, the following day, and that evening got a call back from a more senior detective. I still remember thinking that his voice didn’t so much express anger or upset through words but as an low, very low, but persistent growl. He was not happy. He was very, very not happy.

Not with me, he hastened to assure me, but that a resident of His Town (the capitals were implied) was

1) that abusive
2) that insulting
3) ‘that damned stupid’

The insulting he accepted was unpleasant, but… the nastiness was unpleasant but…

However, the going into the Jewish Forum and proselytising “well, now, that’s just not… that’s… no. Just, no.” And the stuff about children. “Well, now, that needs to… Stop.”

He explained I had two options:

I. I could make a formal complaint, it would go through the usual processes, and if charges followed — he was sure there was some law being broken — I’d likely have to come over to testify if it went any further.

II. I could ‘leave it with’ him, and he personally guaranteed I’d hear no more from the, he hesitated before saying the word, “…the man.”

I chose the latter.

I have no idea what happened next. I have no idea if – or whether – the senior police detective went to visit the resident of his town… no idea whether he put the fear of god into him, no idea whether he threatened him…

But after a year of constantly abusing, constantly insulting, constantly re-appearing and insulting and abusing, he… disappeared. He just stopped.

So, I’ve no idea what happened.

Well, that’s not quite true.

I’ve an idea or two.

See you tomorrow, with something else.

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.

The last time I had a surgical procedure, the last time a doctor took some kind of medical implement, inserted it into my body, and removed something, was more than a decade ago, when I had a navicular bone removed from my foot, about which I’ve written before.

And long time followers (and what a weird concept that is) on Twitter and other social media will know that I sometimes link to the post above, a post entitled Trouble afoot, in which I detail why I’ve got a fucked up foot, and why I whinge about it when it hurts like hell. Which it does, on a regular basis.

So, congratulations to anyone with an inkling of how my mind works for guessing that this post, with its title, is about the opposite end of my body.

And now, you see, I have a problem, the ever present problem for a writer of both trying to be honest – or at least not dishonest – but also attempting to maintain a certain level of suspense that accompanies the telling of a story.

Because I’ve already lied to you: the most recent time I had a surgical procedure wasn’t “more than a decade ago”; it was last year, when I had a couple of scalp biopsies to check whether I had basal cell carcinoma; skin cancer. On my scalp.

But, not to bury the lede – too late, I fear – the tests were negative. So, no, I don’t have skin cancer. But for a while, both the medical profession and I… thought I probably did.

This wasn’t the first time in recent memory that I’d had to have skin biopsies, either. Towards the back end of 2017, I had a couple – one just below my temple, a mole removed from my upper back – that turned out to be nothing, or nothing malignant, anyways. Both my GP and the dermatological team made it clear at the time that those biopsies were really ‘just in case’; sure, they could have been something nasty… but odds were they weren’t.

One turned out to be just… a mole that kept bleeding; the other was a patch of discolouration on my left temple that several friends had noticed was growing. Well, after surgery it was about a quarter of the size it was previously. So that was nice. And when they removed the mole, it stopped bleeding. Well, it may have. I mean, if it did, it’s in some laboratory somewhere, being examined by very puzzled lab techs, I’d imagine, while it metamorphises into something with… plans.

Best of luck sleeping tonight, folks.

But anyway, as I say, the first couple were merely to confirm that they weren’t anything nasty.

The second time, last year, no such comfort was offered. The consultant was “highly suspicious” that the spots… ok, lesions… that hadn’t healed since before August 2017 were carcinomas, and the doc who took the biopsies said she was ‘fairly confident’ they were as well.

And I appreciate that they were merely trying to prepare me for the worst, but… yeah.

However, that wasn’t the scary part…

The really scary bit about the procedure was when the doc told me “yeah, they tick almost all the boxes for basal cell carcinoma, let’s do the biopsies…” dig… “oh [beat] ok, there are the other two boxes ticked.”

So the procedure wasn’t so much ‘just in case…’ as they were ‘let’s just confirm…’

And then they were confirmed… as benign in one case, and just a massive infection in the other. But excising both seemed to do the job.

I guess, I suppose, that scraping a chunk of my scalp removed any of the infected tissue, because both scars healed very nicely, thank you, with no lasting ill effects, and not even a bald patch.

So I haven’t even got that excuse; any patches I have, or will get, on my scalp will be due to me just getting, y’know, older.

Now I want to be clear: if you’re going to get skin cancer, a basal cell carcinoma is the best one to get.

And that isn’t a joke, or a bit of self-deprecating relief. It’s so much better than the other kinds of skin cancer, it’s not even an exaggeration to say you’re lucky to get one of those.

The recovery rate is very high, especially at my then-age, and though there’s a decent risk of recurrence, at least none of them were near my eyes, nor my mouth. They were all on my scalp, the latter two on the crown, separated by about an inch and a half.

And this was last year, so why write about them today?

Well, the reason for this post today is threefold.

One: I’ve not blogged since the surgeries and I wanted to write something on it

Two: To relate what happened and how un-scary the whole procedure was, on the whole.

Three: To recommend that if you’ve any doubt, any doubt at all, about that spot that just won’t heal… go see your doctor.

OK, now since I’ve already dealt with One, by writing the entry, let’s move on to number Two.

I went to St Mary’s for the initial checkup and surgeries. They couldn’t have been more professional, more courteous more reassuring. Every one of the medical staff, the doctors and nurses, were professional, courteous, friendly and ‘judged’ the situation perfectly.

At no point whatsoever did I feel that they were over-egging the situation, nor trivialising it. They knew I was scared; they knew I was worriedand so they explained everything in plain English, in simple language. Jargon was used only once or twice and they explained to me its meaning so if I heard something during the procedure, I’d know what the hell they were talking about.

Their entire motivation, it seemed, was to ensure that I a) understood what was going on and what was going to happen during the surgery, b) understood why they were concerned, and c) was fully consenting to what was going to happen.

(On a lighter note, I’m 54 years old, have had lots of local anaesthetic over my life and have always, always, been told this will feel like a sharp scratch. My thanks to the anaesthetists on both sets of procedures because the injections administrated for my biopsies were the only times in my life, literally the only times, when the injection of local anaesthetic has indeed felt like a sharp scratch. Which was a pleasant surprise.)

I had punch biopsies, which… I have no idea whether that’s always the procedure or just what was appropriate for my procedure. I felt pressure, but was completely numbed… to the point where the only reason I realised I was bleeding was when I saw a drop of blood… drop.

The stitches pulled, afterwards, but even when they were removed, the entire process was – all things considered – pretty pain free. (Oh, that was one of the signs they didn’t like before, by the way… that the spots, ok lesions, were entirely pain free, even when a bit yucky and ‘nasty’…)

So, yeah, all things considered, I was pretty lucky.

But I might not have been. I could have had skin cancer. And even with a basal cell carcinoma, the high rebate of recovery from it, the easy removal, kind of depends on the doctors being, y’know, aware of them.

So, to number Three above: do yourself a favour. If you’ve any doubt, any doubt at all, if your friends have noticed that mole’s grown a lot, or it’s constantly bleeding, or you’ve a wound that just won’t heal… go see your doctor.

Yes, it’s probably nothing to worry about, but since they’re the doctor and you’re not, let them confirm it with the benefit of their professional knowledge, rathe than your usual ‘ah, I’m sure it’ll be fine.’

Something less serious, hopefully, tomorrow.

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.

Blog post titles are an odd thing. I mean, I ask ‘how are you?’ up there but, let’s be fair, there’s no way for you to respond before I continue, so it’s entirely self-serving and unnecessary.

Welcome to my blog.

As mentioned the other day, I’ve done a few of these countdowns and usually I just leap straight into them, but it’s been over two years since I’ve regularly blogged, so, a reintroduction probably isn’t the worst idea.

OK, so who the hell are you, anyway?
I’m budgie. Hello.

All right, my parents didn’t name me ‘budgie’; they may have been odd in some ways, but they weren’t that odd.

My given name, the name on my passport, is “Lee Barnett”, but I much prefer ‘budgie‘ – you’ll learn why in a moment.

I live in London, very near Abbey Road Studios. Yes, that Abbey Road Studios; Beatles, that album cover, that zebra crossing.

How near? Well, as I tell friends – whenever anything notable happens in London – if the news story doesn’t start with the words ‘Less than half a mile from the world famous…’ it happened nowhere near me.

After growing up in Luton – a great place to come from, but a lousy place to go back to – I’ve spent most of my life living in various parts of London: Ilford, Finchley, a couple of decades in Barnet, four years in Richmond… and now, since early 2017, a couple of miles’ north of Oxford Street, Central London.


I’m divorced, from a very nice lady named Laura, and together we have a son, Phil, who’s now twenty-three. That’s us over there, on the right.

He’s a lovely lad, and I’m incredibly lucky that he’s my son. Of course like any father and son, we share some interests, (comics, comedy, a sense of humour – most of the time), but most decidedly do not share others. I remain entirely puzzled as to his fascination with video games, professional wrestling, and various bands. And he remains utterly mystified by me, on a daily basis.

I’m a writer; there’s more about the writing in a moment, but yeah, that’s how I spend most of my days.

But I used to be an accountant, and in that profession, went from junior auditor, to senior auditor, to audit manager – there were a lot of audits – then grabbed the commercial shilling and ended up as a financial director of a tv channel, one of those you scroll past on your tv’s programme guide. While I rarely discuss specifics, my old profession may come up occasionally over the next few weeks, so… fair to put it out there.

I haven’t been an accountant/financial director for the best part of a decade, though.

A writer friend of mine once introduced me as “This is budgie; he used to be a very good accountant; now he’s a very good writer. The world has enough very good accountants and not enough very good writers’. As compliments go, that’s one I’ll take.

budgie’s perch?
Yeah, suppose I’d better deal with this fairly early on. The blog’s called ‘budgie’s perch’ because it seemed an appropriate title for a blog run by a fella whose nickname is ‘budgie’.

Which doesn’t exactly explain anything, does it?

‘Budgie’ is a nickname I’ve had for – blimey – over thirty-five years, now. Over thirty-five years. I’d ask ‘how the hell did that happen?’ But I can already hear Phil responding ‘that’s the way the calendar works, dad’.

But why ‘budgie‘? Well, the full story’s here, but if you want the ‘long-story-short’ version? What now, sigh, would be called the ‘tl;dr’ version?

I acquired the nickname when I was studying at Manchester Poly, and the name stuck. And though I stopped using it when I left Manchester, it recommenced when I got online in 1995…

And now? Well, far more people know me as – and think of me as – budgie than as Lee. And I much prefer that, to be honest; never particularly liked my ‘first name’, and ‘budgie’ feels more like me these days.

The full detailed story involves – in no particular order – copious amounts of alcohol, freshers, a hypnotist’s evening, and an accountancy lecture.

Yeah.

It’s worth reading.

OK, but budgiehypoth?
For twelve years, over ten British comic book conventions, comics legend Dave Gibbons and I ran a panel entitled hypotheticals. It was fairly popular, and when I was looking for a new URL for this blog, seemed a good concatenation to use.

You can see the logo we used for the panel (over there, to the side) bears a strong resemblance to the icon I use for myself online, and for this blog; Dave designed the original, and he did a ‘budgie’ version as a parting gift when we wound up the panel in 2011.

But, hey, for twelve years, I got to say I wrote scripts for Dave Gibbons. You can’t beat that.

But still… budgie’s perch?
Be grateful; the braindump I use to kickstart the writing muscles every day is named Going Cheep.

writings
Everything from being commissioned comedy for BBC Radio 4, the occasional bit for TV, a few comics stories (including writing an X-Men story) a novel entitled You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly and publishing two collections of very, very short stories in The Fast Fiction Challenge:

Both books are also available via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. e-Versions (for Kindle, Sony reader, iBooks, etc.) can be obtained – email me and I’ll supply the ebook(s) in either .epub or .mobi version on request… Volume 1 (180 stories) is £4.00, or equivalent in local currency; volume 2 (200 stories) is £5.00

I also wrote three radio shows with Mitch Benn for Radio 4, and helped out with his past few Edinburgh shows.

What else?

  • erm… My alcohol of choice is single malt whiskey, neat: Jura or The Balvenie, or occasionally Glenfiddich. I can’t really afford that regularly, so a decent blended will do; never really got a taste for beer.
  • Oh, I’m Jewish; it’ll probably come up over the next few weeks at some point. I’ve never quite sorted out my relationship with my religion; I’m still figuring that one out, and have been for, oh, 40 years or so. That caveat aired, on most things, I at least try to be rational, I try to be a sceptic, to withhold belief in something until there’s evidence. I don’t always succeed.
  • That said, when it comes to my being Jewish, and given that this blog will comment upon current UK politics, it’s more than possible that Israel might come up in discussion. Just a heads up: if you’re looking to have some fun telling me that Israel has no right to even exist, you might as well quit reading now, and go off and do something we’ll both enjoy a lot more.
  • I’m in my mid-50s, so under the laws of blogging, my physical health will probably come up at some point. Other than my fucked up foot (about more of which here), it’ll likely just the usual health comments, scares and moaning.
  • Hmmm. Health. OK, I’ve had some mental health… ‘issues’, I believe they’re sometimes called. I have no intention right now to go into detail, publicly. That may change as the next eight weeks goes by. Let’s see how scared I am by the prospect.
  • Oh, and since I mentioned fear… I’ve a few phobias. Or do I? Phobias are irrational fears and I happen to think my fear of being stung by wasps or bees is entirely rational. But spiders bigger than teeny tiny in size? Yeah, ok that might be one of the tad irrational ones.

Finally in this list of stuff you didn’t need to know about me: there are things I genuinely regret not doing. Rarely, however, are they The Big Things that people are supposed to regret: lost loves, lost opportunities in life, that one person you passed in the street, never spoke to, but have thought about every day for years…

Mine are less grand. I wish I’d learned to use a slide rule; somehow never got around to it. I wish I’d paid attention during history classes at school, but then I’d have missed the joy in later life of discovering how much fun history can be. I have a mouth organ, purchased by friends of mine after I said I’d like to learn to play. I never have learned to play it, and I really should do something about that.

I think that’s about it for now. Anything else, ask away…

Oh, and see you tomorrow when there’ll be something much less about me and more about… something else.

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.

I know most people reading this already know who I am, and all, so you can skip the rest of this post if you’d like. But what with the re-emergence of this blog for the seventy-five day countdown to 1st January 2017, I seem to have attracted a few recent new visitors to this blog and to Twitter.

Been a while since I’ve done this, so why not update it?

Why not indeed…

Something specifically for Twitter followers… It’s been a while since I’ve done this, so it’s probably worth doing if only for future reference.

So, a quick non-Frequently Asked Questions.


So you’ve decided to follow me on Twitter or read the blog. Thank you! I’ll try to make the experience an enjoyable one.

So, don’t take this the wrong way, but who are you? I just added you because [other Twitter user] suggested it
I’m Lee “Budgie” Barnett; I’m British; I live in Ham, near Richmond. I used to be involved in the most peripheral of ways in comics, and ran a successful panel at UK comics conventions with Dave Gibbons entitled hypotheticals. Ask your parents about it; they may distantly remember it.

I write. I’ve written for radio, tv, the occasional comic book, an online novella, and several hundred 200 word slices of fiction as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge, including 150 stories written in 150 days during one stint. For a few years, I did The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, you can read them in the link you just skipped past. Similarly, in 2013, I wrote twenty-four of them in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief. You can read all about them here.

Many of these stories have been collected, and several collections have been published so far; you’ll see me promote t hem every so often when I want some cash to expose new relders to them. Volume 1 of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 tales, was published in 2009. Volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing another 200 stories, was published in late 2010.

There’s also the ebook of You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, available at all good email addresses, i.e. mine

“Budgie”? Why “Budgie”?
It’s a story you used to have to get me very drunk to tell… but after too many tellings, I stuck up the story here.

You use your name as your icon. That’s a bit weird.
I know. It is, isn’t it? David Gibbons designed the icon when we wrapped up hypotheticals. I started using it then and never really had a reason to change.

You’re hiding what you look like! Are you one of these anonymous trolls I’ve heard about?
Naah, not really. But it’s a perfectly understandable assumption. Here, this is what I look like: A Life In Pictures – December 2015 update. I update it at the close of the year.  

Anything else?
Yes, I have a son; he’s 21. (I know, I don’t look old enough, you’re too kind.) His name’s Phil, but for some reason his mother insists on calling him ‘Philip’. He gets mentioned every so often, usually complete with some indication of the pride and love I feel for him. He’s studying at Aberystwyth University right now, and probably in lectures. Or shooting music and gig videos with his fiancée, Rheannon. 

His mum’s name’s Laura; she’s one of my favourite people on the planet. We got divorced last year though we’d been apart since 2005.

What kinds of things do you blog about?
A mixture of fiction, my thoughts on various matters important and unimportant, occasional links to other people’s blogs or news reports, photos, videos… oh the usual. There are some standards, however; a Saturday Smile post, occasionally some politics, very occasionally a rant about something that’s pissed me off. And I’ll post something on 9th January every year in memorial for my late brother who died at 38.

You lost your brother? Shit, man, I’m so sorry.
That’s ok; you didn’t know. Here’s what I wrote about him this year.

You said you write about silly things as well though, yes?
Oh yeah. Here’s something about The History of the World. You’ll like it.

What kinds of things do you tweet about?
A mixture of utter nonsense, references to interesting posts – either on Twitter or their blogs – that other people have made, replies to questions, and occasional bursts of frustration.

You’re not going to overload me with your tweets, are you?
Oh, I hope not. Many of my tweets are replies to other people, so if you don’t follow them as well, you’re fine.

That’s not all of them, though, right?
Well, no.

So you’re going to follow me back, right?
Not always, no. I tend to follow people that I know for the most part. But engage me in conversation, comment on the blog, and it’s quite probable that I’ll add you. I’ll usually take a look at your recent tweets though, and may not… If so, sorry in advance, no offence intended.

You’re not going to get pissed off if I unfollow you, are you?
I’ll be furious and… no, of course not. Plenty of reasons why people unfollow me: I tweet on stuff they’re not interested in, or they followed me out of curiosity and that curiosity has been well and truly assuaged. Mostly, though, people unfollow me because they’re bored by my feed. That’s ok. Welcome to Twitter. 

I’m new to this Twitter thing. What do you use to tweet from? Come to that, how do you blog?
 Come to that, Almost without exception, I’m tweeting from either my iPhone or my iPad. If so, it’s usually from the Tweetbot app. I prefer it for all sorts of reasons to Twitter’s own app, but on the rare occasions I tweet a poll, it’ll be from the Twitter app. For blogging, I use the WordPress app.

Are you anywhere else online?
Other than here? Yes, I do a daily braindump – a couple of hundred words or so on whatever strikes me – on a tumblr entitled going cheep. NoI’m not on Facebook.

So what’s your Twitter account again?
I’m on @budgie

I’ve been thinking.

I know, I know – I’ve been warned against it in the past but what can you do?

I’m a time travel junkie. Not that I actually travel in time, you understand, other than one second at a time, the way that you do as well. But I’m a time travel science-fiction junkie. Any science fiction story that involves changes to history and the effects thereto will have me cutting the story a break even before I’ve picked it up to read. The story itself may be crap – it often is – but I’ll try it out. I’m not quite the Doctor Who addict that Mitch Benn is but I’m close. (One of my favourite Mitch observations is that he was a Who fan back in the 1980s when it was crap so you can imagine how made up he is now that it’s actually good!) Yeah, I kind of dropped out during Colin Baker’s run, and didn’t really come back until Chris Eccleston. I missed McCory’s run entirely. And I treated the Paul McCann telemovie as a curiosity, no more. Still do. (I felt the six minute Night Of The Doctor was more Who than the entire movie, but hey ho.)

So, yeah, I love time travel science fiction. Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol short stories? Yeah, I’m there. Give me a collection of time travel short stories and ignore me for a while; I’ll be busy absorbing them.

And, yeah, every so often, like any fan of time travel fiction, I wonder: where would I go? I’ve no one answer; to be honest, I’m in all likelihood to come up with a different answer every time I’m asked. An historical event? I’m not so sure. Certainly not one that has happened since the advent of television. One of the weirder things I’ve come to realise is that those watching often have a better view than those there. Think of any televised gig; yeah, there’s a lot to be said for being there, but as for a view, you’d get a better one sitting at home. Mission Control, July 21st 1969? What the fuck would I do other than get in the way? Anthing prior to about 50 years ago, I’d be completely lost anyway; slang, clothing, haircuts for heaven’s sake, reliance on tech? All completely foreign.

Murder Hitler? How do I know what and who would replace Hitler wouldn’t be worse? I’ve read enough alternative history to know the only thing you know is you can’t know for certain.

But then another question occurs: what if I could go back and change some major event in my life that I regretted? Would I do it?

The answer, to my partial surprise, is always a firm “no”.

The obvious example, to my mind, isn’t spending more time with my late brother before his death. I’m pretty sure that no matter how much additional time I’d have spent with him, I’d still end up regretting that I didn’t spend more.

No, the one pivotal event in my life that I could have done something about, undoubtedly, was my degree.

Because I failed it. No, I didn’t merely fail it. I failed it as bad as if I’d have gone out of my way deliberately to screw it up. My first year at polytechnic, I did well; the second year wasn’t too bad either, though with exam results not quite as good as the first year.

Then, as my father later put it, “I forgot I was there to do a degree”. I had a great time in my final year, a really good time, but ended up throwing the degree away. (I was offered resits but due to a bad case of glandular fever, I was unable to take them up on the offer).

That was 30 years ago, and there’s no doubt that had I passed the degree, my professional life at least would have been very, very different. For a start, I would have been on the road to qualification a lot earlier; even assuming retakes, the odds are that I would have qualified a good five years earlier than I did, with the consequent affects upon my career, my remuneration, my prospects. (For years, the first major question I’d get asked in an interview would be ‘how come you failed your degree?’)

But…

But…

The odds are also that, for various reasons in part to do with the fact that I wasn’t qualified at the time, I would never have met Laura, the lady who became my wife in 1994, was my wife for a very long time afterwards, and who tolerated my enjoyment of online life, comics, hypotheticals, and writing. We separated in 2005 and finally divorced this year.

Not knowing Laura? That alone would put a negative answer in the frame. But no Laura equals no Philip as well. And that’s just unacceptable.

If someone offered me the chance to go back and guarantee that I’d pass my degree? I’d say “thanks, but no thanks”.

But that bit about “spending more time with Mike?” That’d be tempting, you know.

Up until the early 20th Century, you could actually sue someone for breach of promise, which was a common law tort. Now to be fair, it was pretty much limited to the breaking of an engagement by a man, an engagement and promise to marry then being a legally binding and enforceable, though in practice rarely actually enforced, contract. (In Jewish Law, the marriage still is a contract, by the way…)

I think they should bring back “breach of promise” as a legally enforceable concept; not in respect of promises to marry, and not for everything, but for one specific thing: any recommendation online or by email, or any plea by those methods, that has anything like:

“watch this show/play this clip… you’ll love it, I promise!”

I wouldn’t like to think how many times I’ve read such an exhortation and guarantee, and you know what? I don’t love it most of the time. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I groan, but most often, my reaction is “well, that’s two/five/ten minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.”

So, a new proposal, I think anyone who recommends something with that level of certitude ought to set aside a small sum, say a couple of hundred punds (or equivalent in local currency) that those who rely upon such a promise may claim against if indeed they don’t “love it”.

As a side effect, I suspect that it would rather speedily reduce such recommendations to things that are genuinely good, rather than 95% of the things I currently get recommended which I don’t find funny, or even amusing.

(Of course, one problem with the above is that to sue, you have to prove financial loss. How to prove that, or even measure it. I suppose you could use your salary as a guide, but then – if you’ve done it during the working day, your employers would want the cash… hmm, in the words of Fagin via Lionel Bart, “I think I’d better think it out again…”)

We could then go further; “10 things you didn’t know about [insert subject matter]!” Well, what if I do know some, indeed, most of the items in that list? “You’ll be surprised about…[insert subject matter]!” Well, what if I’m not only unsurprised (look up the definition of surprise, folks) but entirely unastonished?

Clickbait is an abuse of the entirely natural human phenomenon called curiosity and the entirely modern phenomenon of “what am I missing? What does everyone else know that I don’t?”

Modern etiquette has evolved right along the ubiquity of online life, and has only accelerated with the growth of social media.  I should be able to claim. I’d phone to complain but then what happens if I lose the signal?

Which leads me onto a second complaint about modern etiquette which perplexes me. Whose responsibility is it to call back when a phone conversation is interrupted by a lost signal? 

For once, the other day, I was using my mobile phone as a phone (it’s notable that I rarely do this; it’s far more often used as a mobile computer or camera than a telephone). I was chatting away when the signal was lost. Don’t know if it was ‘my’ signal or theirs that was lost; it doesn’t really matter, and unless it was due to one of us going into a tunnel or a lift, unlikely that we’d ever know. But anyway, I called her back and got her voicemail. And it occurred to me, as it usually does in such circumstances: what if it’s going to voicemail because she’s calling me back?

So, I think there should be a new rule: if you lose the signal while talking to someon, the person who originally made the call… calls again. Simple solution. Also takes account of what happens when you call someone who’s got not credit left on their phone – if you lose the signal, you know that you’ve got to call them again, and if they’ve got no credit, then they know you’ll be calling them back.

Done.

Next problem?

Seventeen years. Over decade and a half. Or to be more precise, seventeen years and three and and a half or so hours since my brother died.

And yes, I rewrite this every year. I stick up something about Mike annually on this day with not a smidgen of guilt nor concern; Michael deserves a public remembrance from me every year.

9th January 1998. I’d gotten into work early and, having dropped my bag at the office, was having a coffee across the road at my then favoured café. Thirty minutes or so after sitting down, around five-past eight, someone else who’d been in early came to get me; a call from Laura. I know, this was long enough ago that I didn’t possess a mobile phone. I went back to the office with a growing sense of dread; a call from my wife, mentioning my brother didn’t sound like good news. It wasn’t; a call to the hospital led to a growing suspicion from the immediately understandable reticence of the doctor to tell me anything over the phone… and then the knowledge – the horrible, horrible knowledge – that my brother had died.

Not a good morning.

Mike was 38 years old, over a decade younger than I am now. And that’s a thing you never get used to – that you’re now older than someone who was older than you. It’s a genuinely strange feeling, realising that; knowing that you’re seeing birthdays that he never reached, experiencing birthdays, anniversaries, life, that he never got to have.

And that’s leaving to one side the fact that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost the chance to see Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know Mike. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

I’ve got friends who I’ve met over the past few years who I absolutely know Michael would have liked to have met, and they’d have liked to have known him. I can easily see Mitch and Clara sharing a laugh with Mike; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow friends and close ones to do that. I can also smile, reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have at various times, cheered him, made him laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation. He was my brother and I loved him – what else would you expect?

Where the hell have those seventeen years gone? Seventeen years… Of course, I know the answer to that: I look at my son, and know the final family photo taken of Mike was with Philip, when the latter was a little over two years old. And Phil’s now nineteen, an adult, and he prefers to spend his time with friends, and college mates, and with his fiancée, far than with his old man. And I can’t – and won’t – blame him for that.

Still and all, where have the years gone?

Seventeen Years.

I’ve said before – and I maintain – that it’s utter nonsense to say that ‘time heals every wound’. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close. What it does do, I’ve discovered – and I rediscover with every passing year – is lessen the temptation to pick at the scab.

So with every year that passes, it hurts a little less… most of the time.

Every so often, of course, it bites; it hurts terribly, and I miss him so fucking much; his wry humour, the love of comedy we shared, the cool way he’d examine a problem from every side, then laugh and say “fuck it, go for it…”

Michael Russell Barnett wasn’t perfect, far from it. He loved puns, just didn’t ‘get’ comics at all, had problems carrying a tune in a bucket, and his enthusiasm for playing the guitar wasn’t in any way matched by ability.

Still, as a brother, Mike was as good as they get and if I’d have gone to Brothers ‘R’ Us, I couldn’t have picked better. He taught me so much, and I hope he knew how much I respected him as a person, not just as a brother. I was best man at his wedding to Lynne, and that he trusted me (at the age of 21) with that responsibility honoured me then, and it still does. I’ve still many wonderful memories of Michael, but those few hours on the morning of his wedding when it was just me and him… ah, they’re memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

He died seventeen years ago today and I miss him dreadfully, especially today. I miss him always, but today, it’s a bugger.

Rest easy, brother.


A few years ago, after I posted something similar to the above, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened. Both asked what had happened. Here’s what I put up in response..

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; I’ve linked to it before, but figured it was about time I put it on this blog as well. So, here it is:

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

 

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

Well, it’s mid-December, so time for the annual update.

And best to get it out of the way before The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction kicks off, I think.

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

Look, the whole thing started in 2004 when there was a meme going around about putting up photos of yourself when you were younger. I did it… and then continued to update it every year or so for more recent pics…

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2014. Precious few additions this year, but that’s – I suspect – mainly because I took loads of photos of other people and things and places, and fewer people took photos of me. Also, during 2013, I did Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction for comic relief and there were more than a few photos coming out of that. But since this has now become a tradition as we approach the end of the year, and I’ve a few more people following me on Twitter and this blog, why not?

Why not indeed…

So, in rough order of age…


Probably the earliest photo I’ve got of me…


3 years old


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here.


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


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


Me at age 11


Just after my 15th birthday


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


November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly


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


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


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


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


1994 – Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


1996


September 1997, at UKCAC


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


Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999


June 1999 – my spiritual home


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


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


May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie


mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday


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


July 2004 – working at the office


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


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


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


October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…


April 2006, at the flat.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning.


December 2007 – at the office party, with my ‘secret santa’ gift. No, the book.


May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo


May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo


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


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


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


October 2009 – In New York, with my cousin Nikki.


November 2009 – Me and Phil at Ian’s son’s bar mitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind


August 2010, at Laura’s


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


October 2010, again: at MCM


December 2010, after the office party


January 2011, at Tony and Tracy Lee’s wedding.


October 2011.


Yeah, I grew a beard in October, then shaved it off…


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

And then I had my hair cut…


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

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


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



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


Yeah, I broke my foot…

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

And so to 2013…

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


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

Phil turned up to support us…

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

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

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

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

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

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

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

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

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

Here’s another shot of the 3D model, this one with Mitch (who was similarly scanned.)

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

Here’s the difference a haircut, a beard trim and sticking my contact lenses in makes… from September 2014.

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

Now, this blog post, indeed this blog, is pretty much all ages, and I’ve hesitated before sticking this shot up. Not sure I’ll keep it here, but since this is supposed to be a record of me through the years… I shattered the end of my collarbone in a fall in September. A week or so later, the bruising was well and truly showing, so here it is.

Aaaand, I think that’s about it for this update.

Haven’t done one of these personal ones in a long time, but for various reasons, I’ve been thinking about me today.

I think it might have been sparked by a number of tweetes, blogs and other writings on the propensity of people while at Edinburgh to retweet praise about themselves. Now, I’m fairly ok with that when people retweet praise about their work.

Robin Ince, in a piece yesterday, wrote:

I am not as zealous as Michael Legge in my loathing of compliments retweeted, though I worry for our sanity when authors and performers retweet someone saying that they seemed quite nice. I can understand the retweeting of a review when hawking wares, but RTing any semblance of a complimentary comment troubles me.

And that’s exactly what I’ve said before; that I have no problem when people compliment me on something I’ve written, something I’ve done, but have huge problems in accepting compliments for who I am.

(He finished off that paragraph, by the way, with

I am easily troubled, a perplexed scowl is my face at rest

But that’s just Robin being… just wonderful as always.)

And then Shappi Khorsandi, one of my favourite comedians – note that, ignorant people who say women comedians aren’t funny: not one of my “favourite female comedians”, one of my “favourite comedians” – tweeted the following:

imageI’m a huge believer in everyone being the sum of their own experiences; change the experiences, change the person. Had I never met Laura, I have no idea what my life would now be like, but it’d be very, very different. (To be honest, I’m struggling to imagine any scenario where it could have been possibly ‘better’ had Laura not been in my life.) But had I not gone to Manchester polytechnic, but instead gone to Birmingham, odds are I’d never have gotten the nickname ‘budgie’. And my life would have been very, very different.

So if ‘people’ are the sum of their own experiences, are ‘other people’ the sum of what they’ve done, and of which the observer is aware?

Hmm.

Anyway, given the above, it’s common for me to say what I’ve done, but less so – particularly in this iteration of the blog – for me to say who I am. Time to remedy that, if only a bit.

BACKGROUND
Full name: Lee Barnett. No, despite rumours to the contrary, my parents didn’t name me ‘budgie’. They may have been strange, but they weren’t that strange.
Nickname: budgie, and I’ve related the tale of how I got the name too many times. But if anyone reading is unaware of it, the story’s here.
Birthplace: Luton, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom
Heritage: There’s Polish and Russian a couple of generations back; three of my four grandparents were immigrants to the United Kingdom as children.
Places you’ve lived: Luton, Manchester, London and surrounding areas
First language spoken: Gibberish.
Last school attended: I guess Manchester Polytechnic.
First real job: define ‘real’. You mean full time, as opposed to summer vacation work? Working in a firm of accountants in London.
First relationship: daft question. what kind or relationship?
Parents’ current jobs: Mum works at an electrical retailers as a saleswoman; dad’s retired.

PERSONALITY
Right or left-brained?: Tch, if only you’d asked top-brained or bottom-brained.
How talkative/social?: Depends on the company and on how comfortable I am. If it’s people I know, I’m happy to chat away like a loon (and often do). If I don’t know the people or am uncomfortable, you won’t hear much out of me.
Introvert or extrovert? I always say I’m “introvert”… and then have to wait for the laughter to subside. Let’s just say that I’m not extrovert and leave it there.
Most common mood: Pissing others off.
What happens when you’re angry?: I get angry. What else?
Habits: Whinging.
Quirks: …genuinely not a clue what to write in response to this.

DESCRIBE
Your handwriting: When I’m writing something for others to read, neat and very legible. When it’s notes for myself, it looks like a spider on a bad dose of acid.
Your voice: Once described by an American friend as sounding like “Michael Caine on an off-day”.
Your speech/dialect: I don’t have a dialect. It’s everyone else that does. I do and say nothing that could identify where I come from, neither do I use any words specific to London. No, I don’t.
Your sense of humour: …yes, I have one.
Your room: Smaller than its been for the past eleven years.
Your friends: I have friends.
Yourself in two words: No. No.

LIKES
Name 3 songs you really like:
* Time In A Bottle – Jim Croce
* Piano Man – Billy Joel
* Monster Mash -Bobby Picket
Name 3 books you like: The Man, Imzadi, All The President’s Men
Name 3 movies you like: Cast A Giant Shadow, A Few Good Men, In The Line of Fire
Where are you most-often found?: At work or at S/Mimms.
Your perfect environment: Bright hot sunny day, with a fast cool breeze
Your perfect significant-other: Yeah, I’ll take the fifth on this one…
Your dream career: dreaming
Favourite way of travelling: Car, as long as I’m driving.
Favourite source for conversing [best way of talking to people]: depends on the person, but face to face speech takes some beating
If you could be physically attractive, what would you change?: the possibility of an entire body transplant.

DISLIKES
Most annoying sound: “I know I promised you that you’d have this by Monday, but…”
Least-favourite place: I don’t have least favourite places, I have least favourite things that happen at places, which tarnish my views of those places.
Worst habits in a significant-other: Again, for what I hope are obvious reasons, I’ll take the fifth.
Makes you feel uncomfortable: someone who obviously wants to tell me something, but isn’t sure how to.
Will make you go into a raging fit: being thought stupid.
Will make you hate yourself: my own cowardice.

THOUGHTS
On life: I’m waiting for the book to come out.
On humanity: It would be a good idea for most people to get some.
On sex: what is this “sex” of which you speak?
On gender roles and sexual orientations: I’m reminded of the comedian who suggested that it would be a great idea if homosexuality could be ‘cured’, because that would imply that anyone could ‘catch‘ it at any time as well… including bigots and prejudiced bastards who one day would be walking along the street, see a hunky male walk past, look at his backside and go “mmmmm… nice…”
On education: a great idea in principal.
On war: Should be respelled “whoooooar!” As in, “we’re declaring whoooooar”! No one would ever take the word seriously again.
On death: When your number’s up, your number’s up.

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: (uh-oh)
Describe your body type: tall, slim to medium build.
Your hair: medium-brow, greying at the sides all over the bloody place, kept relatively short, it curls slightly when it’s longer.
Eyes: brown, decidedly non-greying.
Nails: Twenty of them.
Most often wearing: clothes.

RANDOM:
Current location: Work
Currently listening to: My tapping at the keyboard and the air-con which is making strange noises.
Last phone call: To one of my staff, asking them to bring some papers in to me for signing.
Any last words?:: “What bus…?”

Since I’ve just got back to Edinburgh after a lovely few days in (or is it ‘on’?) Skye, I’ve been thinking of satire. It’s difficult not to think of it in general, to be honest, having several stand up comedians as friends; not all of them would describe themselves as satirists by any means, but enough do.

Long time readers of this blog, and its predecessor, will know that in the dim and distant past, I used to write for – at that time – BBC Radio 4’s main weekly satirical show, WEEKENDING. Did I consider myself a satirist at the time? I’m not entirely sure I did; I just thought of it as a writing job, where part of the commission was to make a satirical point, and another perhaps larger part of the job was to make people laugh. Because that’s the difference between satire and comedy.

My favourite observation on the subject of satire remains that of the late Peter Cook, who said that:

“the purpose of satire isn’t to make the audience laugh; it’s to make them uncomfortable.”

which is very similar to what’s been said by others, about both satire and journalism: that its purpose is to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

(On a tangent, it’s always struck me as similar to what Warren Ellis said about horror: not a direct quote, but something along the lines of great horror doesn’t scare you, but it makes you feel as uncomfortable as hell… Anyway, tangent over. Back to satire.)

During the London run of Beyond The Fringe, it was reported at the time that portions of the audiences walked out at two points; the first won’t surprise you, the second may well do.

One sketch dealt with the futility of war and the necessity, it was felt at one point, for a meaningless sacrifice. Given the relative nearness of the Second World War, it’s perhaps no surprise that some felt angry and upset. However, another sketch poked fun at then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. In a memorable line, Cook-as-Macmillan, said “I have been around the world on your behalf… and at your expense.” And some of the audience got up in disgust at the very idea that it was acceptable to have a pop at the Prime Minister.

However, despite the success of satire, Cook was sanguine about its long term consequences, and satire’s ability to influence politics. When he opened The Establishment in London, he was asked whether he thought it would have an effect on the politics of the day. His reply?

Oh, I think it will have as great an effect as the Kit Kat Club did in preventing the rise to power of The Nazi party.

I think that everyone agrees that good satire, like good comedy, punches up. Punching down, taking a pop at those who are already disadvantaged in and by society, and at those who are already the targets of the ignorant, the stupid and the malicious, is seen – quite correctly – as lazy.

When I write “lazy”, I’m not necessarily talking about “playing to the crowd” nor being a “crowd pleaser”. It always puzzles me when comedians are thought of as less valid because their style is popular and when “crowd pleaser” becomes a perjorative criticism. As I wrote above, I’m fortunate enough to know a number of professional stand up comedians. Pleasing a crowd is hard work and if anyone thinks otherwise, they’re welcome to prove to me how easy it is.

But if you agree that satire should always punch up, then how do you decide what constitutes “up”? And who should be entrusted with that decision? There’s the one-size-fits-all description I used a moment ago:

those who are already disadvantaged in and by society, and at those who are already the targets of the ignorant, the stupid and the malicious

However, what about someone in a position of privilege who is unable to punch back? One can argue, for example, that politicians are always fair game; indeed, if you take a look at James Gillray’s cartoons and caricatures from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, they’re at least as vicious and just plain nasty as anything Spitting Image ever produced. And his weren’t the only ones…

Take a look at this cartoon. The subject? Our first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.

And this, from the time of William Pitt the Younger, about the Bank of England policy to do with the bank only circulating paper notes from then on, instead of honouring amounts in gold coinage. Rumors circulated that the Bank’s coin was merely being held in reserve to send to the Continent in support of and to finance the war.

The bank, portrayed as an elderly virgin, says:

‘Murder! Murder! Rape! Murder! O you villain! What, have I kept my honour so long to have it broke up by you at last? O murder! Rape! Ravishment! Ruin! Ruin! Ruin!!!’

Where did you think the nickname of the Bank of England of The ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ came from?

So, politicians are fair game, and banks and bankers always have been. Each of those, and individual examples of those, can hit back, of course. It wasn’t unusual, in the times of Spitting Image, for the politicians to comment that the puppets of course, of course, were wonderful, but the scripts were peurile and just flatly inaccurate. Such responses were always common when Yes, Minister and its sequel were broadcast. Politicians always said that the series got the civil service spot on but were unfair to politicians. And those civil servants who would comment, usually off the record, of course said the reverse, that Yes, Minister got the politicians exactly right, but were woefully inaccurate about the civil service. The same comments once again came to the fore when The Thick Of It was on television.

So, what about the Royal Family? They are surely fair game; exemplars of privilege, the epitome of inherited privilege in fact. And from the eighteenth century onwards (maybe before) satirists have been taking a pop at them. But is it punching up to do so… when they can’t hit back? Constitutionally, I suppose, there’s nothing actually stopping them doing so, but they don’t. They can’t. They just… can’t. And on the rare occasions when it’s let slip that a cartoon or a piece has been received with great hurt, there’s something faintly icky about both the piece and the reaction.

Once again, who decides what punching up actually constitutes? Would satire written by someone with fewer advantages in life be inherently more satirical than something written by someone from a solidly-middle class background? Are there targets that would be considered ‘punching up’ by some but not ‘punching up’ if someone from another background wrote exactly the same piece?

Because that would imply, horribly, that there’s a class structure to satire beyond the targets themselves; that the quality of satire depends upon the origins and lack of privilege of the satirist. And that’s something I suspect Peter Cook would have had problems with… and not for the first time, I’d be in complete agreement with him.

I’m driving up to Skye shortly, to stay at an old friend’s house. And apart from walking around doing some aimless wandering and driving to the more distant parts of the Isles to do some aimless wondering, I’m going to be chained to my bluetooth keyboard. I’ve got a shedload of writing that I need to do, and there’s nowhere better to write than where I’m going to be, for lots of reasons.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s rare that I write about politics, and even then it tends to be more about the political process than my own politics and beliefs. But eight months out from the next election, I find I’m getting angrier and angrier about one thing in particular. Not the bedroom tax1, nor the tax avoiders2, not even the rank hypocrisy3 from all sides.

But since I’ve mentioned those three, let’s get them out of the way before moving on.

image1The bedroom tax
Yes, it’s a misnomer; it’s not a tax. If anything, the actual sickening nomenclature by which it’s referred to by the government is more accurate. Or at least it would be if it was an extra amount paid to those on housing benefit who live in social housing, what used to be known as council houses. But it’s not an extra amount. Neither, though, is it a tax; it’s a reduction in the benefit paid. But I guess that’s not snappy enough for a title.

Thing is, I don’t see anything wrong with the measure in principle. The government’s argument makes perfect sense. Now, before you jump down my throat or spit at the screen, I’m talking about the basic principle of the tax/subsidy/reduction in benefit, not how in practice it’s being implemented. Of course there should be exemptions for those who need a room solely for medical equipment; of course there should be exemptions for disabled people with carers; of course there should be exemptions for temporary situations. And, quite important this, OF BLOODY COURSE it shouldn’t apply in any situation where nowhere for the family to move to! It would be a controversial (though, as I’ve said, certainly arguably justifiable) if there was spare capacity in the [public or privately owned] housing market. But when there’s no spare capacity? It’s illogical, foolish, unfair and morally indefensible.

2Tax avoiders
Before I write anything else, let’s get it straight, there’s a world of difference between individuals and companies when it comes to tax avoidance. And even once those have been discussed (as I’m about to) I’ve changed my mind on whether or not tax avoidance is a good thing or bad. More about that in a moment.

imageOh, and if the government outlaws “aggressive tax avoidance” and makes it illegal, it’s no longer tax avoidance in any way that counts. At that point, it’s just “tax evasion”. It’s a simple rule: tax avoidance is legal, tax evasion is illegal. You can’t have illegal tax avoidance; it’s an oxymoron. (As opposed to just “a moron”, which describes quite accurately those who write about it from a wilfully ill-informed position.)

OK, individuals. First off, a famous law case, many years ago, is often said to be what kicked off tax avoidance as an industry. How long ago? How about 1934, when Judge Learned Hand wrote in a judgement:

“Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”

However, one could argue that there is a moral duty, that it’s part of the civil contract, that people pay their taxes and that they do so in acknowledgement of what Elizabeth Warren, the junior Senator from Massachusetts, said when elected:

imageThere is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

None of which I’d disagree with. Because people have moral codes by which they live. Some may be immoral, some amoral, but there are morals the effect of which everyone lives under, through and with.

Now we come to Companies. I’ve found it almost amusing how the very people who loathe and detest the idea that companies could be people (see recent Supreme Court decisions, particularly the Hobby Lobby decision) are the very same people who say that Companies should have morals and should pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes. (More about that term in a moment.)

First off, companies don’t have morals, don’t operate under a moral code, and can’t possibly do so. Because it’s illegal for them to do so. Companies, depending upon in which jurisdiction they operate, are bound by territorially-specific legislation and company founding documents to act for the benefit of… who?

The government? No.
Their employees? No.
Their directors, then? No.

Their shareholders. Not individual shareholders, of course, but as a body. That’s it – that’s in whose benefit the company is obliged (note that, obliged) to act. It’s very possible, in fact I’d say certain, that if a company paid more tax than it was legally obliged to do, the shareholders could sue the company’s board of directors for giving away money that is properly theirs, as the owners of the company. After all, that money could have been used to pay out dividends to those very same owners of the company or could have been reinvested to increase the value of the business, and thereby the wealth of the owners.

image“Fair share”. Oh yeah, I said I’d get back to this. UKUncut among others have said that companies should pay their ‘fair share’ of taxes. I’ve always been irritated and puzzled in equal measure by the use of this phrase. Could someone please define it? And not by offering synonyms, but by actually explaining what they mean. Because it seems to me that it’s great as a slogan and utterly useless as a policy suggestion. Do they mean the company shouldn’t take advantage of reliefs specifically offered to companies to invest in certain industries? Do they mean that companies shouldn’t get a tax break on the money spent to research and develop medicines, or new technology? Do they mean that companies shouldn’t be able to write off assets over a period of time? Or do they mean that companies simply shouldn’t be able to… to…

No, what they mean is that companies should pay more tax. That’s it. That’s all. No sensible, practical suggestions how this should occur without overwriting company legislation and centuries of case law. Just that companies should pay more tax. Still it’s always easier to slogan paint than solve problems, eh?

I mentioned that I’d changed my mind on something to do with tax avoidance. And I have. For many years, certainly for all the years I was in the business of accountancy and then as a financial director, my view was that if it was legal, it was fine for a company to take advantage of reliefs and tax breaks offered. No matter how convoluted, if it was legal, it was ok.

I’ve amended my view on this for one simple reason: I realised that tax avoidance schemes fall into two simple categories: call them ‘considered’ and ‘cockup’.

Considered tax avoidance is, let’s agree, where a government has fully intended and deliberately put into legislation a tax break or a tax relief that they fully desire companies to take advantage of. An obvious example would be film production. Movie companies can choose to film in any number of countries. If a film is being made in a country, however, they’ll employ a number of people – cast, crew, etc. – and these people will spend money in the country; there’ll be payroll taxes paid to the revenue service. And all the associated benefits that come along with a production, direct and indirect benefits. So a government will often offer tax breaks to film companies in order to induce them to film in their country. I see nothing wrong with this in principle. As I say, the government fully expects the benefits to outweigh the money they’re voluntarily (and again, I stress this, deliberately) forsaking.

Cockups on the other hand are precisely that; a mistake in the drafting of the legislation that leaves it open for a smart accountant to take advantage of a gap in tax law just to save their client from having to pay their full amount of taxes. It could be a mistyped sentence, or an entire passage in the law. Or it could be that most horrible yet inevitable law: The Law Of Unintended Consequences. Either way, anyway, it’s an error, a blunder, a cockup. And no company, no individual should have the right to unfairly benefit from a mistake of government, just as no individual or company should be unfairly punished for a mistake of government.

If only there was a way to know what a government intended when they introduced legislation.

Oh wait. There is. In the UK, it’s Hansard; in the US, I believe it’s called the Congressional Record? And there are briefing documents by the truckload issued by government departments. It’s not difficult to discover what the intentions of government were.

So here’s where I stand at the moment. And I remind you that ‘illegal tax avoidance’ doesn’t exist; it’s legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion.

Considered tax avoidance is tax avoidance; perfectly legal, perfectly justified in my view. Cockups are tax evasion from the moment it’s discovered it was a cockup. I’m not sure – I’m willing to be persuaded on this one – that someone taking advantage of a cockup should be retrospectively punished; mere payment of the tax avoided (avoided, yes) should be sufficient, and the loophole closed. Future attempts to use any ‘closed’ cockup are flat out evasion and should be punished to the full extent of the law.

3Rank hypocrisy
Yeah, I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. Not about to repeat myself, so you can read my views on it here.

So, if you remember way back when, I said I’m angry. If it’s not about the above, what am I angry about? Well, it would be nice if the official opposition was making those arguments, and holding the government to account for once. The more I consider the current state of the Labour Party as our official opposition, the angrier I get.

imageI’ve no brief for Labour – I find many, but not all by any means, of the policies they espouse to be ones with which I fervently disagree. But then I could honestly say that about any and all of the major political parties in the United Kingdom. No, what pisses me off is that for all my faults, I tend to believe in the value of a strong opposition. Not “to keep this Government honest”; I think that it would require several torture chambers, daily enemas and being hooked up to portable lie detectors to achieve that, same as with any government.

But a more than halfway decent opposition is important to ensure that the public knows at least some of what the Government is up to. It’s been some time since a Government has treated the House of Commons with any respect, as anything other than a necessary duty. But successive executives have so emasculated Parliament (with their fawning acquiescence) that unless and until there is serious Parliamentary reform, nothing will change. The current Speaker has gone some way, some little way, to helping MPs in the chamber of the House of Commons at least try to do this, but it’s very little, very late.

It was no different almost fifty years ago when Richard Crossman wrote in his diary:

Cabinet. The Prime Minister had decided to take my procedure package of parliamentary reform. Actually it took nearly two hours and was a ghastly discussion. How ghastly you certainly wouldn’t get an idea from the Cabinet minutes . . . The moment I’d finished George Brown said, “Well, it’s asking a terrible lot of us, Prime Minister. We’re busy men.” . . . He was followed by Minister after Minister round the table simply saying how busy they were, how they were harassed by all these Cabinet Committees and how they simply couldn’t be burdened with any more work by the House of Commons.

imageMost of these Ministers were individually as well as collectively committed to parliamentary reform. Yet, after two years they’ve become Whitehall figures who’ve lost contact with Parliament. And of course what they’re saying is pure nonsense. The Executive rides supreme in Britain and has minimum trouble from the legislature. Perhaps it’s because Parliament is so entirely subordinate to the Executive that my colleagues were saying, “We can’t allow this Parliamentary Party to bother us.”

And what, after four years in power during which a coalition Government has enacted legislation from a cobbled together coalition agreement instead of a manifesto with a mandate, does the Official Opposition party spend the majority of their time doing?

Well, it seems to me to be an even split between defending their leader to those who dislike him intensely, and briefing the media against that very same leader.

This should be the time when the official opposition should be challenging the government every bloody day. And they’re not. At all. They should – less than a year out from the next general election – be ripping the Government a new hole daily.

Do I want a Labour party in power? I don’t know – show me their next manifesto and I’ll tell you.

Until then, I’d be content with them proving they actually bloody want the job.

Well, I’m 50.

To be precise, I was 50 yesterday and those of you who’ve been following the countdown on this blog may – with some justification – have expected a blog post from me before lights out last night. And, to be fair to myself, I’d actively and positively intended to post something before I crawled into bed and pushed the light switch into the off position.

Ah, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley, especially when numerous examples of what Alistair Cooke used to call the wine of Scotland are involved.

I mean, it’s not even as if I’d planned planned on coming up to Edinburgh this year; like the past few birthdays, I fully expected to spend the day on my own and just wandering as on any other Sunday. However, the opportunity to (a) come up to Edinburgh for a few days during the Festival, and then (b) to travel onwards for another few days to stay at an old friend’s house on the Isle of Skye was too good to pass up.

So, I arrived Saturday morning in Edinburgh after a couple of hours driving; I’d come up with Clara Benn and the girls but once I’d fallen asleep after the first stint, surrendering the driving to Clara. She very foolishly kindly let me sleep and drove the rest of the journey.

A nice pleasant, relaxing Saturday afternoon followed before we headed into town for my first Fringe experience of 2014, seeing the most excellent Nick Doody in his show: Nick Doody vs The Debonair Assassin. Nick’s a funny, clever man with a clever, funny show in part discussing the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Brilliantly incisive and superbly funny. Highly recommended. No, sod that; I’m telling you to go see him.

Although we got out early enough to see another show if we fancied, to be honest, I was enjoying just soaking up the atmosphere of the Fringe; Nick, Clara and I then visited several bars and caught up with other comedians, most of whom I knew and chatted away, passing the hours in a very pleasant manner.

At one point, we found ourselves at the abattoir bar, with an amusingly appropriate wifi password, and although the place was packed with comedians, and there’s no way whatsoever that I should have felt comfortable – since I’m obviously not in the business – I didn’t. It took me about ten minutes to realise why: the atnmosphere, sounds, and sights were almost exactly the same as that at a comics convention (comics in the meaning of comic books) after the punters have gone home and it’s just the pros and hangers-on* remaining.

*(e.g. me.)

The same tone of stories were being told, the same age range was there, the same relaxed comfortable nature of professionals catching up in a social environment with other professionals in the same industry.

It’s funny – I’ve always thought that it’s amusing that comics can be taken as meaning comic books and comedians, especially since the bile thrown at women in both industries is distressingly similar: the vile insinuations as to how they got their break, the ludicrous assertions that there’s something inherently and qualitatively better about the work of men, and the flatly outrageous sexism online.

Somewhere in the very wee hours, my phone buzzing with texts, emails and twitter notifications wishing me happy birthday, we headed back to the house in which we’re all staying, old friends of Mitch Benn and Clara.

And so to bed.

Woke up mid-morning and then quickly into the city centre to meet up with Emma Vieceli and her husband Pud for lunch. Emma’s up here in Parade; I’m hoping to see it when I get back from Skye; you should see it now if you can. Lovely to see Emma and Pud; they’re always great company, and Emma genuinely is one of the nicest people in comics, as well as a fascinatingly wonderful artist. You should be reading Breaks by her for a start…

After lunch – delicious! – headed off to The Stand 3 to see Mitch Benn Is The 37th Beatle; although I’ve seen several versions of this show, this was a new one to me, as although it’s returned to the hour length of last year’s Fringe version, there’s at least one new song (from the 80 minute touring version), and a few minor differences and new jokes I couldn’t recall hearing before. Lovely show, as always though; it’s my favourite of Mitch’s recent shows, but of course, I haven’t seen this year’s show yet…

Bumped into Andy Salzman as I was leaving Mitch’s venue; Andy’s a lovely bloke, and he very kindly supplied a challenge for last year’s Comic Relief 24 Hours of Fast Fiction, this one. Confirmed with him when his shows are this year, Satirist For Hire in the afternoon, Political Animal at night. I’ve plans to see both if I can. You may know Andy from The Bugle podcast, or from Radio Five Live’s 7 Day Saturday. Or you may not have heard of him at all; if it’s the latter, I highly recommend you remedy this loss in your satirical needs.

Thinking of Andy reminds me of John Oliver (Andy’s partner on The Bugle) and his new venture, Last Week Tonight. Anyone who saw him sub for Jon Stewart on the Daily Show knew that John was ready for his own show, and I’m more pleased than I can say that not only has Last Week Tonight been a roaring success so quickly, but also that it’s established with astonishing rapidity its own, very different, identity from that which most people thought it might be, i.e. The Daily Show on Sundays. That the show has managed to do that is fantastic for all involved but especially for its audience which if there is any justice in television is sky rocketing week after week.

Anyway, back to me. When you left me… (ok, ok, that was a long digression, I know), I had just left Mitch’s gig and was on my way to The Pear Tree wherein I intended to reside for the rest of the day, enjoying friends, acquaintances and possibly one or two people I didn’t know, stopping by to help me celebrate my 50th birthday with chat, stories and alcohol.

Now I don’t want to spoil the story but… that’s pretty much exactly how it worked out. Too many people to list everyone but it was so bloody lovely to see Carly Smallman, if only briefly, as well as Kirsty Newton and Nick Doody; Jay Foreman dropped by, which is always a pleasure, as did Tiernan Douieb and Matt Blair. And the gorgeous Pippa Evans popped by as well… (Loretta Maine promised to come, but strangely couldn’t make it.)

Can’t thank Mitch and Clara enough for organising it; was a lovely day, and a lovely evening.

Managed to get to see Al Kennedy and his missus Cariie, as well as their six-week old daughter, who was cuter than any child has any right to be. Despite me merely wanting people’s presence, rather than presents, I must mention two presents I got.

I already mentioned Clara buying me a first edition of my favourite novel, The Man by Irving Wallace.

Al and Carrie’s present was a tad more recent, but it involved one of my favourite writers and one of my favourite artists, Kurt Busiek and Stu Immonen respectively. Somehow, somehow, I’ve never reasd ShockRockets, their 2000 book.

So, I was particularly delighted to receive a hardback collection of the entire series. Really looking forward to reading this.

When I returned home, suitably relaxed, suitably chilled, and not shaken at all, let alone stirred, Mitch presented me with the following:

As the more sharp-eyed of you will see, the pen has the words MAKE GOOD ART engraved upon it, a worthy sentiment most often expressed by our mutual friend Neil Gaiman, but one which I commend to everyone reading this.

And that was my birthday, leaving out the hour or so during the evening when Clara and I nipped out for a bite to eat, which I didn’t quite realise I needed as much as I did until the first bit of food hit my stomach….

It almost feels like cheating to talk about today, but since it’s got a link to the above, why not? It was Kirsty Newton’s dad’s birthday today (as well, coincidentally hers as well) and she’d organised a ‘flash mob’ to sing Happy Birthday to him at half-three this afternoon. Since she wanted unique things to happen for and to him today I offered to write him a short story, an offer which she accepted. So, this morning, I typed out a short story written specifically for him. And then… I hand-wrote the story, using the my new fountain pen, onto Basildon Bond paper, sealed it in an envelope and presented it to him this afternoon, a story no-one else will ever read unless he chooses to let them read it.

I think it’s nice and appropriate that the first thing I wrote with a pen engraved with MAKE GOOD ART was a story written specifically for one person.

As for the next thirty-six hours (I’m leaving for Skye on Wednesday morning), I’ve plans to see Salzman, and tonight, Jess Robinson in her four and five star reviewed Mighty Voice. As for the rest, I’ll see what occurs… it’s not as if I’m short of choices, is it?

If you read super-hero comics, sooner or later, in a day-dream or seven, you’ll wonder what super-powers you’d like to have.

The best answer to this, of course, is “America”, but leaving aside the political satire for once, what super-power would I actually want?

Well, I’ve an extra bone in my foot … at least I did have until I had it removed some years ago, and its removal and a few other problems with it have been well documented here and elsewhere.

So, no adamantium feet for me, dammit. But if you do wonder what powers you’d like to posess, even if you’ve only a semi-decent knowledge of super-hero comics over the past few years, you’ve a few hundred powers to choose from.

Running down the most obvious:

Flight: This is the power that most egregiously springs to mind. The power to lift off, fly anywhere you want to and, presumably land safely, although I suspect that landing is probably far more difficult than it looks. Getting up in the air is one thing, but landing? As David Gunson said in his incredibly funny What Goes Up Might Come Down, A good landing is defined as one after which you walk away….

Add to that problem the small but inconvenient fact that I have no sense of direction and would just as likely go in the wrong direction to my destination. Furthermore, given the current state of the world’s media, and the ghoulish fascination the public has for anything different, I suspect that this power would be one which would be difficult to keep to yourself. And what’s the point of a super power that you never get to use, eh? So, flying’s out.

Telepathy: Sorry, you couldn’t pay me enough to have this power. I know my own limitations and I don’t think I’ve got the willpower to be able to only read in people’s minds what I want to discover. I suspect that if telepathy genuinely existed, i.e. the power to ‘read people’s minds’, anyone with such a power would be quickly driven insane. No, not from the ever present background psychic buzz that would be around, but from the overload of trivial information that would of necessity be attached to the important information. Say I want to discover whether or not I’m getting a pay rise, so I take a peek inside my boss’s noggin. And, immediately, I’ve faced with the knowledge that he needs to get the car fixed at the weekend, because there’s a nasty knocking sound under the bonnet and he really hates the latest song released by that band that he loved when no one knew them but they’ve sold out and does his daughter really have to eat in the car and leave the wrappings on the backseat and who’s been smoking in the back room and now that the election’s been called he really should decide who to vote for and… and… and…

You see the problem?

So telepathy is out, unless it’s a very defined and refined telepathy, about which more in a minute…

Next up?

Well, Invisibility is tempting, I’ve got to say. The knowledge that I could discover what’s going on around me when no one knows I’m there. Probably the best way of living up to Robert Burns’

O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!

But you know what? I’m not so sure I’d want to know that necessarily. Surely there are times when ignorance is bliss. No, despite the obvious temptations, I think I’ll pass on this one as well.

Super-speed is another one that I don’t think I’d really like, to be brutally honest. So I could run fast? Who needs that? I’ve a car when I want to get somewhere beyond walking distance, and anyway, from what I’ve seen from Flash or Quicksilver, it’s only objective time that’s affected. Subjective time isn’t affected at all. Peter David nailed the problems of speedsters for me in an issue of X-Factor when he had Doc Samson interview the team members and the following dialogue ensued:

QUICKSILVER: Tell me doctor… Have you ever stood in line at a banking machine behind a person who didn’t know how to use it? Or wanted to buy stamps at the post office, and the fellow in front of you wants to know every single way he can ship his package to Istanbul? Or gotten some counter idiot at Burger King who can’t comprehend “Whopper, No Pickles?”

DOC SAMSON: Well… yes… I suppose…

QUICKSILVER: And how do you feel on those occasions?

DOC SAMSON: Impatient. Irritated. A little angry sometimes.

QUICKSILVER: Precisely. Because your life is being slowed to a crawl by the inabilities or the inconvenient behavior of others. It’s not a rational or considerate attitude to have, but there it is. Now, Imagine, Doctor, that everyone you work with, everywhere you go your entire world is filled with people who can’t work cash machines.

OK, so if I’m dumping super-speed, how about super-strength?

Well, to be honest, I can’t imagine a more useless power to have… unless you’re fighting super villains. Seriously, so I’m incredibly strong? What can I actually use it for? Opening tough pickle jars? Finally managing to tear open the wrapping on a blank video cassette? Nope, I can’t think of a single solitary use of super-strength, beyond possibly feeling comfortable holding The Complete Bone at arms’ length; and since I don’t like Bone, that’s probably where I’d put it – at arms’ length.

Magneto’s powers? The power to control metals? I take it back, there is a more useless power than super-strength.

Thinking further, the number of super-powers that exist in the world of comic books that appear only to exist so that they’re there to use to fight super-powered beings of another persuasion are legion. John Byrne, in a column in John Byrne’s Next Men freely admitted that when he created Alpha Flight, the primary consideration as to what powers they had was that they group had to be able to be convincingly hold their own against the then group make-up of the X-Men.

And yet… and yet… after due consideration, I keep coming back to the one super-power I’d really want, and it comes from a character in an X-Men story, or to be more precise, in X-Men vs. The Avengers.

The series, written by Roger Stern and drawn by Mark Silvestri (apart from the final issue which was credited to Tom DeFalco/Jim Shooter as writers and Keith Pollard/Joe Rubinstein as pencillers), saw print in 1987 and featured a character that I don’t think ever appeared again. A pity, since the power The Light had was simple, discreet, and just about perfect.

He had the power to instantly know whether or not someone was telling the truth.

Simple as that.

And you know what, that’s a power I’d like to have.

It’d made dealing with some submissions editors a whole lot easier for a start…

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about comic books. Let’s address that now.

I was rereading Watchmen recently. It’s one of my favourite standby hardback collections, i.e. a book that if I want to read something, I know I won’t be disappointed. Every time I read it, I’m rewarded by spotting something new, some element of the structure or story that I hadn’t noticed previously. I suspect that’s as much to do with the changes that I’ve gone through over the years I’ve owned the book as it is to do with having missed something in the past.

(I certainly remember, when first reading it, finding the ‘backmatter’ prose in each issue tough going, as I did the ‘pirate’ story within a story; now, I’m old enough, possibly mature enough, to appreciate their inherent worth.)

Now, despite my reservations about the whole “this is how super-heroes would really act” ( I kind of agree with Peter David’s take on the ending – the world wouldn’t come together in response to the attack; they didn’t after 9/11, after all), I noticed something that has been poking into my consciousness whenever I read any number of super-hero comic books or almost any comic books, really.

And that is that there’s no realistic connection to, or association, with the day-to-day successes in their “real lives”. I’m not even talking about the monumental things like weddings and funerals, but more mundane things.

To show what I mean, let’s take an example from real life, all the more relevant since many super-heroes, even those in teams, have ‘day jobs’.

I used to have a day job; I was Director of Finance and Administration of a company; when I was promoted to that role, I was overwhelmed by the number of emails and invitations out to the pub to celebrate my success. And, sharing my success with those people just added to the enjoyment I was experiencing.

Aaron Sorkin summed it up beautifully in a relatively early episode of The West Wing, in which Josh Lyman says to the President and a colleague:

I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy. And I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph.

That’s it summed up right there: tragedy and triumph.

The tragedy angle is more than taken care of in comics. I can recall, without really trying all that hard, many occasions where death or personal disaster have struck denizens of Marvel or DC and other characters are quickly there with sympathy, help, advice. The sort of thing that would and does happen in what we laughingly refer to as ‘real life’. Jason Todd is killed by The Joker, and Dick Grayson is shown being consoled by his girlfriend. And then there was Identity Crisis, during which various spouses (and ex-spouses) went not so gently into the night; sympathy exuded from the page in bucketloads.

But what about the triumphs, eh? What about them?

Where, for example, were Bobby Drake’s friends when he qualified as a CPA?

The man had, after all, just spent several years studying for it, and he got it.
And who did he tell? Well, we don’t know that. But who was there at the pub to wish him congratulations? No-one.

Matt Murdock, Daredevil. In all the years we’ve seen him in action as a lawyer, he must have won some decent cases. You don’t get the reputation that he apparently has as a lawyer without winning big a few times. And who of the people that are supposed to be his friends ever calls him up to say “Hey, Matt – nice win!”? Exactly.

Reed Richards, inventor extraordinaire. You’d think that if he came up with a great invention, then Tony Stark would telephone to say “well done”, wouldn’t you? But, no.

And it’s not just Marvel. Clark Kent may not be the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist he once was – blame Nu52 for that – but he was still one of the best writers the Daily Planet had before he jumped ship. So why don’t those in the Justice League who know that he’s Superman (damn, I haven’t spoiled anything for anyone there, have I?) make a comment or two about a story he’s written that they really enjoyed?

Barry Allen aka the Flash is a CSI; given his resources, it would be perfectly believable for him to have come up with a new technique. And to be congratulated for it by his colleagues and friends.

It’s not even limited to the adults. DC’s Teen Titans book is full of teenagers; you’d expect that they’d be pleased for each other when they’ve had a good test result at school, or won a personal victory of some sort, or even got a smile from someone they had a crush on. Well, wouldn’t you?

But, no, because that’s not the way that it happens in comic books.

Comic books have their own set of rules and conventions, and it appears that one of them is that the little daily triumphs escape unacknowledged.

Of course, it’s not only the little ones that go unnoticed.

Wouldn’t it be cool if just once, after [insert your favourite hero] defeats the world- or city-endangering plans of [insert your favourite hero’s arch enemy], there was some acknowledgement that they’d done well from their peers?

But it’s a serious question. We all know that a friend in need is a damn pest, but don’t you like to celebrate friends’ triumphs? So what makes the super-heroes any different?

One answer could be the old standard about “there are 20 pages a month, twelve months a year; you don’t see what they get up to the rest of the time.” This is what I refer to as “The Wolverine Excuse”, since it explains how he can be in seventeen books in one month. OK, I exaggerate, but not by much. That explanation works, but only to a limited extent. All the emotional support, cheering and celebrating? Happens off panel, my friend. Well, that would be ok if it was the occasional celebration that we miss. But it’s not – celebrations, because they’re so rare , becomes conspicuous by their presence.

Another explanation could be called the “Live Fast, Die Young” excuse; i.e. because their lives are lived at such a pace, what us normal people would consider worthy of celebration is merely the flannel and froth of life to them. They’d no more celebrate things outside their costumed identities than we’d celebrate getting the right change when we buy a newspaper. The problem is that this excuse works no better for me than the first, since it’s perfectly natural to want to share your friends’ triumphs. no matter how great or petty. And it leaves out the fact that even celebrations by non-powered characters are rare.

Finally, one could argue that the reason we don’t see it is a matter of choice because when people are celebrating, there’s no conflict. And without conflict, there’s no drama. As I say, an arguable case.

It’s not, however, an argument you’d win.

No drama, no conflict during celebrations? Even leaving aside the tensions that run riot at a family get together, all you have to do is look around at any ‘formal’ party and there are stories beneath the surface. Even in the midst of celebration there can be dramatic tension.

Of course, there is something to be said for the current attitude. If every time work colleagues get together this happens, it’s worth keeping everyone apart and non-communicative:

A friend mentioned Livejournal and ‘dead but not deleted’ blogs today. Probably not the biggest surprise to anyone who reads this thing that I used to blog on Livejournal. It’s still there, a zombie blog.

I keep it as a zombie blog for several reasons; sometimes just to look back at what I wrote, say, five years ago today; also, it’s useful to have it there for reference. Sometimes, something comes up and I know I wrote about it previously. But that’s for when I’m out and about. I’ve also got the blog archived and searchable on my local hard drive.

One of the drawbacks, however, is coming across old ‘memes’/questionnaires I completed and either (a) wondering where the hell my mind was when I wrote it, since there’s no way I’d write that now, or (b) being faintly depressed that I’m so ‘stuck in my ways’ that lots of answers would be pretty much identical.

Amusing and worrying (for the same reasons above) though, is reading old memes where I asked those reading the blog to describe me in one word, or to say something about me. Some of the compliments that I remember being genuinely flattered (and sometimes surprised) by are things that, arrogantly I guess, I can still imagine people – though not necessarily the same people – using about me now. Some of them though, honestly? I can’t see being used about me other than in jest. It could be, of course, that they were used in jest back then, but I don’t remember them being so.

One set of answers in particular have amused and worried me in equal proportion today when I came across them again; it’s a set of comments wherein people posted anonymously. Even if I knew – or guessed – who posted the comments back then, there’re literally only a couple that I remember now. Most of the comments below, I genuinely don’t have a clue who posted them, and no, this isn’t a shout out to people to reveal themselves.

Quotes like:
– “You look much better now than you did in the early 80s”
– “You seem like a nice chap… but appearances can be deceiving.”
– “You’re an excellent father, and not just to your son.”
– “Sometimes you are like a dog that barks at phantasms and snaps at those who’d reassure you.”
– “You’re one of the kindest people I know.”
– “Sometimes you are a little self-obsessed.”

None of which I think I can dispute that much.

And that leads me nicely onto writing once again – I wrote about it on the old blog but apparently I’ve never done so on this one – about compliments, and my view that if they come from a stranger, or at least someone with no ulterior motive, they can probably be trusted. You might disagree with them, but they’re unlikely to be taking the piss or even taking pity on you.

(For example, and this may qualify as a #humblebrag, I once received an email out of the blue from someone at NASA, commenting upon the columns I was then writing, and saying how much everyone in his team enjoyed them. So, that was nice…)

So, that’s compliments from strangers. However, if it’s a friend… whoa, do the “rules” change. At least in my view.

There’s a school of thought that argues that if they’re your friend then they’ve no need to flatter you. They like you, and you presumably like them – as the saying goes – “with warts and all”. You may think one of your friends is ugly as sin… but you like them for who they are, not what they look like, and you certainly wouldn’t say to them that they’re the hottest thing in the room, let alone in town. No need to make them feel better – they know what they look like.

I think this is utter, complete crap. People who like other people want to make them feel better if they’re down. Perfectly normal reaction… that ends up pissing the other one off.

Why? Well, this is why, at least in my opinion. When it comes to friends, the only compliments that you can trust, in my opinion, are those where you didn’t need the affirmation in the first place.

If you know you’re good at your job then it’s nice to get the backslapping from a friend, but it’s not necessary. If you know you’re hot, then a friend confirming it merely makes you feel even better than you did.

But if it’s a compliment about something that the other person don’t believe deserves a compliment… then at best they’ll consider it insincere, and at worst a mark of pity.

Hence my view that when it comes to friends, you may trust them absolutely… and you may be right to do so… about everything… except when it comes to compliments about things you genuinely don’t believe deserve compliments. Because there will always be that suspicion (sometimes more) that it’s insincere or said out of pity. If you’re convinced that you can’t write well, or aren’t good looking, or have the grace of a pregnant rhinoceros on heat… then compliments from a friend regarding, respectively, your writing, your looks or your grace are difficult to trust.

There are things that I’ll accept compliments on in good grace… because I believe I deserve complimenting, or at least I’ve an open mind on it being a matter of opinion. I think I’m a better than ok prose writer, but no better than ok as a comics scripter. (And according to at least one ex-Marvel assistant editor, not even that.) If someone, even a friend, says they enjoyed a script I wrote, of course I’ll accept it as genuine. If someone says it’s the best script they’ve read in ages, or it’s as good as professional comics writers, no of course I wouldn’t believe them, strangers or not.

So, some things I’ll accept compliments about.

Other things though… well, I’m less likely to take them in good grace if I think they’re either taking the piss, taking pity or just plain insincere.

Some time ago, I told a friend that whereas I’ll take compliments for something I do, I’m far less able to accept them as well meaning when they’re about who I am.

I suspect that remains the case.