Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Leaving aside the whole ‘How can it be the end of 2021? We’re still in March 2020?‘ thing, it does kind of feel like at least eighteen months since I updated this annual post.

And given the lack of opportunities for new photos – I’ve probably been ‘out’ (as in out in company) less this year than I have any other year, ever, including 2020 – I’m almost surprised I’ve got any new shots to include.

But unlike last year, I never really considered skipping it this year. Hey, we survive by our traditions, and after this long – my gods, we’re slowly approaching two decades of this silliness – that its appearance won’t, or shouldn’t, surprise anyone.

As I stress every year, this whole thing only started as a bit of a giggle in 2004, something to amuse and horrify in equal measure; I never intended at the time to do it again… and again… and again.

But, somehow, it evolved into an annual tradition for me. (As well as for others, given the usual responses of “awwww” at the admittedly cute pics of me as a small child.)

I’m occasionally asked Why do you do it? I mean, it’s not as if I think I look great as a teenager, or at any point since then, really, although I’ll readily acknowledge that I looked at least passable once I got married. But a) I’ve been about as embarrassed as I’m ever going to get by the pictures, and b) people who haven’t previously seen them get the unfettered joy and silliness of joining in the mockery…

And this year more than most, people can do with something silly to enjoy, and something enjoyable to be silly about.

So… preamble over, it’s The 2021 update to A Life In Pictures.

As always, I’ve removed just a few shots from those that were in previous years’ posts, and added some new ones from this year. And, as in recent years, there are some new ‘old’ pics – newly digitised pics from my past – that appear in this post for the first time thanks to the usual technical wizardry.

So, without any further ado… in chronological order…


Those are the earliest photos I’ve got of me… looks like they were taken the same day; my older brother is in the background.


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4

 


Not exactly sure when this one was taken but might have been the same day…


I’m five, I think, here in this shot and the next one.


It was 1972, ok? And I was at my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was eight.


I knew that I broke my arm around now, and I knew that I went on holiday with it in a cast; wasn’t sure I had any photos, though. Well…


My son takes great delight in this shot – I think I was 10 at the time.


Me at age 11. I still remember the wallpaper; very, very odd gold pattern to it.


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


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.


A year or so later, at home for Easter…


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, more than thirty years ago. Shocking.


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 – A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…

I love that I found this next pic. Laura’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. And this is another great pic of us on our wedding day. And yes, ahhh I had dark hair back then…

This next one’s an odd one for lots of reasons; first off, it’s obviously my BBC pass from when I was writing for WeekEnding on Radio 4; secondly, when I visited New York just after 9/11, it was better as ID for getting me into buildings, places, meetings than my actual passport… even though it had expired six years’ earlier…


The earliest pic I have of my lad Phil (excluding ‘scans’). Me, a new dad, aged 31. And so, so tired.


Me holding my son… he’s 18 days’ old here.


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


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. Three generations of Barnetts.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


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…


April 2006, at the flat.


Again, mid-2006.


Me in December 2006… looking slightly more relaxed.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning… very relaxed… aided by what Alistair Cooke used to call ‘The wine of Scotland’.


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


November 2008 – formal pic for Phil’s barmitzvah.


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


November 2009 – Me and Phil at a friend’s son’s barmitzvah.


July 2010, on Mastermind. No, not an illusion; you’re not allowed to wear black for the show…


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.


December 2010, after the office party


October 2011, trying out a beard… not quite yet… but give it a year…


Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

Sequence of shots, demonstrating Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)

This final one attracted the title “… and all the woodland creatures gathered around, for they had never seen a creature such as this in the forest.”


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…

The delightful Clara Benn proved that I’m tiny when sitting next to Mitch Benn…

Isn’t perspective fun?


Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…

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

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…

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. One of my favourite photos, entitled Two beards (old friends attached).

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 and still am very happy with how it turned out.

Some time ago, remember, the delightful Clara Benn had taken a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in comparison, in fact. November 2015, she proved it again…

Once again: isn’t perspective wonderful?

Never liked the next shot in colour, I do, however, really like it in black and white. From mid-2016.

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And in December 2017, this one of the new[er], short[er] haircut.

In August 2018, my lad Phil was in town for a few days. We realised it had been a while since we’d had pics taken of the pair of us. So here are two.

And, of course since we had that pic, and I had a similar one from almost exactly ten years’ earlier, I was kind of obliged to put the two together. I really like this image.

In October, I attended a protest march for a People’s Vote. It ended up with 700,000 people… plus me. No idea why my hair looks so… flat in this one, almost skullcap-like, in this shot, but I really like how it looks. Oh, yes, of course, that’s Mitch as well.

And so to 2019…

It’s rare there’s a pic of me that even I will reluctantly admit is a good shot, especially if it’s a selfie, but you know what? I really really like this one…

Of course, that was after a haircut.

I look decidedly less good immediately before a haircut…

(2020 edit: When I took, and stuck up, the above shot, as always it was just for a giggle. It genuinely didn’t occur to me that in 2020, there’d be pics that made the above ‘before’ shot look coiffured.)

I just wish any pics from Edinburgh didn’t look like I’d photoshopped me into previously taken shots…

Oh yeah, I was in hospital in Edinburgh. I wasn’t impressed…

Here’s another post haircut pic…

And so, to 2020… with everything that you’d expect: ie very little happened that involved taking photos.

Although, Mitch’s 50th birthday in January was one such event. I mean, I could have put a dozen shots up from it, but here’s just one, with Phil:

Operation Haircut performed in March; quite like this ‘portrait’ shot.

March 2020: Who knew it was to be the last haircut for a while…? OK, I was one of the lucky ones; I had a haircut just a couple of weeks before lockdown. But lockdown then came, along with this fun prezzie/mask from Phil:

Lockdown lifted in July 2020, but it was possible – if another lockdown came, to be quite some time before I had another haircut, so I went short this time.

One more mask shot. You know, had you asked me before this year whether I’d look worse in a hat or a mask, I think I’d have said a mask. Now? I’m genuinely unsure.

US Election night; November 2020; me and the Benn’s labradoodle Merry.

 

And so to 2021, another ‘hardly any reasons to have photos of me’ year; I mean, Mitch didn’t have another 50th birthday party. (Though I think he should have, you know?)

So, let’s just jump to the first ‘odd’ pic of 2021. In March I had a hospital appointment which there and then (as in ‘don’t go anywhere, we’re doing this now…’) led to a small mole removal. Well, the mole was small; the removal, not so much.

(And yes, I try to keep this an all ages blog, but I mean, dammit, that’s going to leave a weird scar.)

To be honest, any other pics of it just show it healing. And yes, it healed with a very weird scar.

After that for 2021, I’m afraid we’re back to the ‘oh, good god, how the hell did you walk around with hair like that? In public!’ shots.

And even a ‘you used to all around like that, with your son? And he still talks to you?’

And even

Before I managed to get a long awaited even-shorter-than-usual haircut…

Fortunately I got to get another pic with my lad after I’d had a haircut…

Equally fortunately, haircuts as a thing returned to at least a semi-regular occurrence

And towards the end of the year, I even managed to get my ex-wife Laura to appear in a pic; I mean, I do tell people we do regular coffee and catchups and that she’s, one of my favourite people on the planet.

Remember Merry, the Benns’ labradoodle? Complete photoslut, I assure you.

 

 

But to end this year’s shots, bringing this completely up to date… this was from the other night. I include it here now merely to wish you and yours a happy new year, one as full of love, joy, health, and silliness as you can fit in. And the fervent hope that the year to come will be better for us all.

 

And now the traditional invocation:

Mocking may now commence.


(Oh, since I’m regularly asked: the iPhone app I’ve used in recent years to digitise printed old snaps and photos from old photo albums, so that they’re effectively high resolution scans, is a free Google app called Photoscan. I genuinely can’t recommend it highly enough. IOS version; | Google Play version)

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.

9,497 days

Posted: 2 November 2021 in 2022 minus, birthday, family, life, phil
Tags: , , ,

Twenty-six.

It’s an important number, you know.

It’s the atomic number of iron for one thing, and where would Tony Stark be without knowing th– what’s that you say? It’s not made of iron? Well, why the hell is he call… no, forget it. I digress.

Well, 26 is also the only integer that is one greater than a square (5² + 1) and one less than a cube (3³ − 1). Did you know that? Moreover, while a 3 × 3 × 3 cube is made of 27 unit cubes, only 26 of them are viewable as the exterior layer.

Oh, and in base ten, 26 is the smallest number that is not a palindrome to have a square (26² = 676) that is a palindrome.

None of which is particularly important or relevant today, or at least they’re of far less importance and relevance than the fact that today is my son’s twenty-sixth birthday.

Yeah, I know. Twenty-six.

Wow.

I’m not as surprised as I was when he hit 25, to be honest, but I’ll let those of you who’ve known him for some years, especially those of you who met him when he was ten years old, attending his first comics con, take a second or two to do a mental brain-flip while you accept it.

Because Phil is now older than some of my friends – noted comics pros – were when I met them.

Philip Samuel Barnett – known to almost everyone bar his mum as ‘Phil’ – was born on 2nd November 1995, at half past nine in the evening. In 1995, he was 8lb 3oz, and 21½” long. He’s a wee bit heavier than that now, and a whole lot taller.

Twenty-six years old.

I’ve said many times – and it remains as true today as it was the day he was born and every day since – that being a father is the most fun thing I’ve ever done, bar none. Nothing else comes even close to the pleasure, the joy, and the sheer fun of being a father, of being his father.

Now let’s get the obvious one out of the way: anyone who says being a parent is easy is either ignorant, lying or a masochist. It’s not easy, far from it. Responsibilities are not meant to be easy, but this one is a responsibility that I love performing and undertaking, and the reason for that is simple: it’s solely because it’s Philip who’s my son.

As I’ve witnessed, helped (and hopefully not hindered too much) his progress through life, from baby to toddler, from toddler to child, from child to young adult, from young adult to a grown man…

Alongside wonder, my emotions have been, and continue to be, those of pride and pleasure in the man he’s turned into. The credit for an incredible amount of that must go to my ex-wife Laura; she’s a wonderful mother. And I’m constantly filled with justifiable hope and confidence for the adult he’s become, and the life he’ll experince in the next few years to come.

He’s currently living in Cardiff, and I don’t get to see him in person nearly as much as I’d like. But one of the very few silver linings in the aburdity of the past couple of years has been the weekly Zoom chats he, and his mother, and me, have shared and enjoyed. It’s been a continuing surprise to me just how much I’ve liked them, how important they’ve become, and have been, to my week, that I get to see them both, and especially Phil, on a screen.

And to chat, and laugh, and spend time – virtually, I acknowledge – in his company.

As always, however, I have no idea how he went from:

to

to

to

to

to

to

in what as always seems like an astonishingly short space of time.

Appy birthday, Phil. I love you, son. I hope the year to come is one full of fun, and joy, and wonder, and loveliness.

Dad
x

[Feel free to add your birthday greetings and wishes here, or tweet him at @phik_vicious…]


This post is very much not part of the series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. But you can see them by clicking here.

Hello, people who are following this blog!

Posted: 15 September 2021 in life, stuff
Tags: ,

Hello there.

Just wanted – outside the ’57 plus’ run of blogs – to drop a note to you, people who are actually following this blog, and people who get notifications when I stick up a new entry.

Jon Stewart said he thought of his show as a conversation with his audioence… and one in which he’d shamelessly monopolised the dialogue.

I kind of feel the same way. I know that the days of people commenting on blogs some time ago went the way of the dinosaurs. However, I’ll admit to being a little curious; curious about you, how you found this place, why you followed me, and – the most head-scratching I guess – why you hung around and still do.

So, please, I ask a favour. Drop me a line and let me know, eh?

You can comment in reply to this entry, or if you’d rather drop me a line via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk or DM me @budgie on Twitter.

I’m just curious about you all, and if you’ve your own blogs you’d like me to take a look at…

Anyway, once again, hello!

And see you tomorrow for the usual stuff…

(Yes, that is a confusing photo that accompanies this post. It’s meant to be.)

Certainty, as I wrote, a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know. With people you kind of know but not really. And with celebrities you don’t know, will never meet and who wouldn’t recognise you in a line up considering of two people.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to irritation, frustration, upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And I don’t mind getting pissed off with people (including myself) for stuff that’s definitely their (or my) fault.

It’s a part of the social contract, I guess. I do something that pisses you off, you’re entitled, more than entitled, to be pissed off with me.

And if you do something that pisses me off, I’m equally entitled to be pissed off with you.

Now, at no point do I say, or aver, whether or not the person being pissed off has any objective justification for being pissed off. But objective justification or not, there surely has to be a reason (or reasons) to be pissed off with someone, yes?

And when I say ‘objective justification’, I mean, well, whether or not someone would agree the reason is a sensible, rational, one… Because there has to be… a reason, justifiable or not, shurely?

For example. Let’s say we arrange to meet for coffee. One of us doesn’t show because we’d forgotten about it, or something else comes up and we forgot to let the other know that we could no longer make it. But not turning up, while the other person is waiting – patiently at first, less so as time passes… yeah, I don’t know anyone who’d argue that the person who got stood up isn’t justified in being pissed off at the person who didn’t show. Now you can extend that to a meal, a date, a business meeting.

If you’ve agreed to show up and you don’t, without notice, that’s worthy of a ‘pissed off with you’ reaction.

On the other hand, same hypothetical, We arrange to meet for coffee. One of us turns up ten minutes early. The other turns up on time. It’d be as ludicrous for one to get pissed off at the other for being early as it would be for the other to be pissed off that someone turned up ‘on time’.

Because it’s not – in that second scenario – that there is a reason and all we’re debating is the weight of that position; the reason doesn’t exist, objective or otherwise. Unless one of you decides to get angry and uses that as the excuse.

But then there’s the other thing, the thing that angers me; anger – I hasten to add – that’s aimed squarely at yours truly.

Once in a while, I’ll tweet something like the following; when tweeted, it’s nothing but the unfettered truth, and yes, it speaks nothing well of me.

I wish I knew why I’m like that, why I too often get upset at people for stuff, about stuff, that’s 100%, unreservedly, totally, not the other person’s fault, not anyone’s fault at all, bar possibly mine.

I genuinely wish I knew.

I mean, I have my suspicions. For all my many flaws, I am, I like to think, reasonably self-aware.


Sidebar: It’s a genuine delight when I learn something new about myself, though, whether or not the thing I learn is a ‘nice’ thing or otherwise; knowledge is always valuable. A psych once identified why I did ‘a certain thing’ with such clarity, such simplicity, that it was a pleasure to witness the discovery. It wasn’t, I hasten to add, complimentary about me, but at least ‘something about me’ made sense that really hadn’t before.


There’s stuff, personal stuff, as well as the non-personal, that I long ago accepted would likely , overwhelmingly likely, not be part of ‘my life’. Usually it’s a fairly good natured resignation to it. Sometimes – less rarely as the years pass – I’m bad-naturedly resigned to it, very bad-naturedly.

And sometimes it’s wholly trivial, which almost makes the level of my genuine upset even more ludicrous, even dafter, than it is in and of itself. Which takes it to a whole new premier league of daftness. Kind of an exponential growth in the anger.

Take food, for example. While many of my friends might describe themselves as “foodies”, they’re not expert cooks nor bakers; they’re not epicureans when it comes to food. They just enjoy, genuinely enjoy, cooking or baking… and they definitely take pleasure in consuming good food. They might enjoy it more if they made it, but whether or not they made it, they enjoy good food. And they take equal pleasure in cooking for someone else, and even more enjoyment in that person expressing their pleasure in it.

All of which makes sense to me in a technical, objective, way. And none of which applies to me in any way whatsoever.

For all sorts of reasons, I tend to regard food as.… ‘fuel’. For me, food’s solely there to ease the ache of hunger. I’m – usually – as ok with a couple of slices of buttered toast as I would be with a cheese omelette, or as ok as I would be with a bowl of cereal, or as I would be a posh three course meal. It’s… food.

Sure, there’s food I actively dislike; I have a fairly bland palate, so I dislike spicy food, and strong, overwhelming, smells turn me off any type of food faster than you’d believe.

Mentioning odours, more than one friend has suggested my busted up nose might have something to do with my apathy when it comes to [nice] food, but a) I do have a sense of smell b) I do have my ‘favourite’ smells, and c) my indifference to food long pre-dates my nose being broken.

My mum was for the most part a very plain cook, and made very plain food. My old man liked the food that way. I’d say blame them for my lack if interest in food, bar for two things. First off, my dad really liked his food. He didn’t have a broad range but what he liked, he really liked. And mum encouraged all of us kids to experiment with food, to see what we liked. She was very much not a ‘this is what I’m serving, so this is what you’ll like. Also very much a ‘try it; if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, but try it now…’

So, yeah, food and tastes are not really a thing I do, Honourable exception for coffee, and again for scotch whisky. Not sure why those two in particular, but yeah, I do actually enjoy consuming both. Tea on the other hand, and most cold drinks, are again there solely to slake thirst. I like Oasis Citrus Punch, can drink loads of it, but if they stopped making it tomorrow, wouldn’t bother me in the least; I’m equally as happy drinking still water.

(Which reminds me of one of the sillier gags I like: “Waiter, I’d like some water, please.” “Certainly, sir. Still water?” “Yes, I haven’t changed my mind.”)

But much as it would be ludicrous to be upset at people enjoying a party that I didn’t care about attending, and indeed would have declined an invitation to had I received one (and yes, I’ve done that as well), it would be, and is, nonsensical for me to be upset at people enjoying food I wouldn’t care to eat.

And, yet, there have been times when I’ve felt exactly that.

Utterly daft, isn’t it?

Another example: there are genuine, long standing issues which I care about, politically. And that others might not care as much (as I said last Sunday) is something I’ve long gotten used to, as they have about me not caring as much about issues they put their energy and passion into.

And while there are any number of subjects and topics that I might query the priority someone regards it with, sometimes someone will care, obviously deeply care, about something that I genuinely cannot understand why anyone cares about it. I can’t get arsed about sport 99.999% of the time but I completely accept that makes me an anomaly. And I ‘get’ why it’s important to some. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Neither can I get arsed about where someone’s grandparents came from. Not to any extent beyond mild curiosity and, given the history of so many who died in the holocaust, that. I don’t really care about my own. I mean I know the basics of where my own grandparents came from, but not really much more than that. And I don’t care to learn more.

(Huh, I don’t really care about my family more than a couple of generations back, and I don’t enjoy food. Let me just check in my trousers to confirm I’m still Jewish. Ok, yes. Let’s continue.)

Combining the two above, a teenager named Emma Radacanu won a tennis tournament last night. I can’t say I truly watched it. It’s as on the background while I did other things; it was, for me, wallpaper television, to which I paid attention on occasion: the set points, long rallies, championship points.

From what I witnessed, she’s a fun, clever, teenager with an astonishing talent. The same applies equally to her opponent.

Radacanu is British; born in Canada but she moved to the UK as a toddler. And people have today been talking about where her parents came from, where her grandparents were born, either to proclaim with some sense of triumph that it shows Britain is great, or less pleasantly to cast doubt on her somehow.

I genuinely don’t care where her grandparents came from. Couldn’t give a toss; as far as I’m concerned the only people who should give the slightest damn about it are Ms Radacanu and her family. And it not only puzzles me that anyone else does, it angers me, for no accountable reason. It’s not other peoples’ fault that they’re interested in the cultural heritage and background of the first British woman to win a Grand Slam major in 40 years, and it’s none of my business that they are.

But it irks, to put it mildly. And I have no bloody idea at all why.

Two caveats to the above:

  1. As I was typing the above, something popped up on my twitter feed; ‘one of those exceptions that proves the rule’ things. The Mayor of London celebrated that she’s from London. I perfectly understand why he did it: politics. But I realised I should add a line: I completely understand people’s interest in where she comes from, and even where her parents originated. I am still at a complete loss to understand any interest intake background of her family beyond that.)
  2. Developing 1. above, where people come from, I understand an interest. Indeed, one could not support refugees without it. Where their parents come from, sure. But anything further back from that, I don’t understand. Someone born in the UK, say, today, whose parents immigrated or whose grandparents did, or whose great-grandparents did is exactly as British, no more no less, than someone who can trace the English, say, background to the 1200s. No more, no less.

Ok, now I’m done.

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.)

 Well, can’t say that this is the first time its happened this run, but I’m staring at an empty screen and I’ve nothing to write about. Well, nothing that’d take up an entire blog entry. Well, again, nothing that isn’t the post I’ve been putting off finishing and publishing. I’m going back and forth on that one, to be honest. As mentioned previously, it’s a bit ‘personal’ and I’m still not entirely sure I want to put some of it into the public arena.

So instead of driving myself mad (a short drive, I assure you), here’s some stuff on various things I’m thinking about today. All of these could have easily been today’s goingcheep, but they weren’t.

So you get three of them here; aren’t you all lucky?

I wonder when…?
I quit smoking in 2016. I’ve not smoked for over 1,700 days. Every so often, I’ll work out the number of days and it always surprises me. And I never know whether to consider myself a non-smoker or an ex-smoker. I mean, I usually just go with “I don’t smoke… at the moment.” I don’t think I’ll return to lighting up cigarettes. But I’m genuinely scared that all it would take would be one and I’d be back on 20 a day.

I’m on my third… substitute, I guess you’d call it. Or third crutch. I started off my ‘no cigaetters’ phase by using a Curv e-cig, then switched to vaping after about six months, when I was pretty sure I was going to stick at the ‘not smoking’ thing. And about six months after that, I switched to my current method of vaping, an Aspire PockeX.

In over 1,700 days, I’ve wanted to smoke precisely twice. Both times were in the first year, both times I was pissed off and angry and just wanted a cigarette. And, fortunately, both times I was with friends none of whom smoked.

But I can honestly say that since the first anniversary, I’ve not wanted a cigarette, not once. The vaping does me very nicely thank you.

Two rules I set myself when I quit: 1) No evangelising to others; I loathed it when I was a smoker, and I don’t get to tell anyone else that they should give up. Corollary to that: don’t tell anyone else they can’t smoke around me. Again, I’ve given up; they haven’t. My wanting them to not smoke around me, if that were the case, shouldn’t trump their wish to smoke. 2) Just because I found it easy, using the method I did, doesn’t mean that anyone else would.

So what am I wondering? I’m wondering two ‘how long before?’s.

How long before… I stop being scared I’ll start smoking again?

and

How long before… someone will have trouble lighting their cigarette, and I’ll automatically reach for my lighter before remembering I don’t carry one any more?
 
 
A few Ten Things that I either can’t narrow it down to Ten or I couldn’t get to Ten, no matter how I tried.

Some time ago, on the blog, I started doing Ten Things posts. They kind of arose out of John Rentoul’s Top Ten feature in The Independent., wherein he asks for nominations for the Top Ten Returns from political wilderness, or the Top Ten Actors Who Are Younger Than You Think, or even the Top Ten deaths eclipsed by people who died on the same day

I’d never be arrogant enough to pick the Top Ten of anything, nor even usually my favourite ten of anything. But Ten Things I Like, that I can do. And have done. Whether it’s Ten TV Pilots I Like, Ten Comics I Like, Ten Doctor Who Episodes I Like, or even Ten Audiobooks I’ll Listen To Again And Again.

But sometimes, yeah sometimes, I come up with an idea, and I just can’t get it to work, either because I can’t get to ten, or I can’t narrow it down.

Here are a few:

  • Ten sf shows that aren’t Doctor Who that I really like
  • Ten Law & order partnerships I really like
  • Ten Things my brother introduced me to that I still like
  • Ten comics writer-artist teams I like
  • Ten musical comedians I really like
  • Ten pieces of tech that blew me away when I discovered them
  • Ten political pundits always worth reading
  • Ten Sexual positions I like (not really, was just checking you were still reading.)

 
 
Spoilers
Nothing to say on this one other than that I’d seriously consider voting for any political candidate who came up with a decent, sensible, rational and common sense rule that people could agree with… about what period of time is sensible, rational and common sense for people to give away plot points online.
 
 
Lockdown Surprises
Four quick points on this one; things I’ve learned or learned to appreciate over the past 18 months that I’d not have expected beforehand.

1. Video chatting. I always hated it before 2020. Genuinely loathed it. I don’t like how I look onscreen. I mean, I don’t like how I look in photos (not quite true, I’m less repulsed by seeing pics of me than I used to be) but I really don’t like, still don’t like, how I appear onscreen. But I’ve come to appreciate both the necessity and convenience of video chatting it’s enabled me to at least keep ‘in contact’ with people, including Laura and Phil. And while I still hate what I look like onscreen, I kind of like the idea of future doctors’ appointments being on video.

2. People are, for the most part, sensible. Most people have gone along with the necessary restrictions to personal freedom that are, y’know, necessary. And most people, for the most part, don’t confuse ‘disliking the inconvenience’ and ‘refusing to do sensible stuff’. And most people, for the most part, acknowledge that others might find it harder, while not being aggressive to those who do find it harder.

3. There are though a lot of fucking idiots around. Yeah, that ‘for the most part’ means that there are some fucking idiots, doing fucking idiotic things.

4. Getting back ‘to normal’ is going to take a lot, lot longer than I, or anyone, realised. Whether it’s mask wearing, or going to a crowded place, or even going to the theatre or the cinema. It’s going to harder than I thought it would be. Both to feel comfortable doing those things and allowing my desire to do them supersede my fear in doing so.

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.

Claire Quilty, on Twitter, said a while back that:

That’s relevant to what follows, so remember it; I’ll come back to it later on.

(And no, in case you’re wondering, this post has got nothing to do with antisemitism. Not directly, anyway.)


 

There’s a line that’s been used any number of times on telly, but I first came across it in, of all things, an episode of The Professionals. One of the lead characters is told

You’re not a very ‘civil’ civil servant, are you?

(I’m obliged to Mark Forsyth – who tweets as @inkyfool – for identifying the rhetorical device used therein as an “antanaclasis”.)

The past few years I’ve come to think the same about social media; i.e. it’s not very social a lot of the time, is it?

I’d say that I date the genesis of this observation to 2015 because that’s a convenient date for all sorts of reasons. For one thing…

And, for another…

 

But yeah, that’s why I date it to late 2015, although what I’m about to talk about probably (almost certainly) pre-dates that.

Social media, then.

Thing is… with the obvious exception of Facebook events, Google Hangouts, etc., it’s not very… social, is it?

And that’s leaving aside – ok, it’s not, because I’m about to talk about it… Because I’m no longer sure what qualifies as social media these days. No, not because of covid. Yes, what ‘social’ means changed during the pandemic. Changed irrevocably? I don’t know. I guess we’ll discover that together over the next few years.

But… what does ‘social’ mean?

I’m happy to reach for a dictionary at this point. (First not really about antisemitism bit; it’s my usual response when someone starts off with the ‘ah, but how do you define antisemitism, eh? Eh?’ My usual response is to point them at a reputable dictionary. Oddly, they tend to get very upset.)

But, yes, dictionary definition. Even merely as an adjective, ‘social’ has a fairly long list of definitions.

 

So… is Facebook a ‘social’ app? Sure. Even leaving aside the use of it to arrange drinkups and parties, it’s effectively a huge room, with dozens of people mingling and chatting with each other. Some stick to their own cliques, some do the rounds… and sometimes you get an idiot that no one invited standing on a table and shouting about the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds.

Twitter? Yes, again. Same as Facebook… except that there’s a greater proportion of foulmouthed, drunk, or sleep-deprived, idiots.

Snapchat? And Tik Tok? I’ll take your word for it on both, as I’ve never been on them, and I’m pretty sure I never will be. (Actually, not quite true; I once downloaded Tik Tok, looked around for about ten minutes and speedily deleted the app.) But both are not for me.

But YouTube? How the hell is YouTube ‘social media’? If anything it’s a publishing platform, just as blogging platforms are – to me, at least – not social media.

It’s like those ‘what was the first social media platform you used?’ question that does the rounds every so often. I rarely include blogging or even livejournal/message boards because I don’t think of them as ‘social media’. However, apparently I’m wrong on that… or so I’m told whenever I express this view.

I mean – is this blog social media? (Checks my readership stats. Possibly ‘unsocial media’ would be a better description.)

But what I originally wanted to note that long ago time in the past when I started writing this post was a change in Twitter in recent years; it’s perhaps inevitable since we’ve gone through a shedload of contentious elections and votes and similar, resulting in more than a few populist governments. Add covid and 5G and any number of things tailor made for conspiracies…

At some point in the past few years the way we view ourselves and the way we view others has changed.

(And no, I’m not talking about the way we’ve gone from ‘those I’m politically opposed to are not good people with bad ideas but bad people with worse ideas’, something that’s taken over politcial discourse. Or at least I’m not just talking about that.)

As always, however, nothing is new; neither under the sun, nor on social media.

So, let me start with a friend a couple of decades back whose blog, on Livejournal, morphed over a period of a couple of years from a general ‘slice of life’ with other stuff frequently mentioned, into effectively a campaigning blog, with one sole aim: the abolition of greyhound racing in the UK.

That the sport (for want of a better word, my use of ‘sport’ isn’t meant to sanitise it, I promise) is cruel, wantonly cruel, knowingly cruel, is I think beyond doubt.

My friend, however, truly believed, and campaigned for, its abolition on the grounds that it was unforgivably cruel, irrendemently so.

And this is the change I’ve noticed taking over more and more of social media.

I came to realise then that she, through no overt ‘fault’ of her own, but in part because of her passion and campaigning, thought less of me

Not because I didn’t share her fury, but because I didn’t share her view that this was the most important thing to be angry about. Not the only thing, but certainly the most important thing.

And now we’re getting closer to what I wanted to write about, about social media.

Certainty, as I wrote about a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And while in what we’re pleased to call ‘real life’ there are a variety of things you can do to express your anger, or upset or disappointment, all of them require some effort on your part.

Yes, yes, the last 18 months have shown the falsity of any distinction between ‘online life’ and ‘in person life’, but bear with me, ok?

Let’s say you fall out with a friend; ok, you’ve got to ask yourself what will be the consequences if you cut them out of your life, if you snub them, if you want nothing to do with them. What are you going to do when there’s a party, where mutual friends will want you both there. OK, they’ll want to know neither of you are going to ‘make a scene’, but they pretty reasonably see no reason why they should have to choose sides.

(In my own case, I choose not to attend such parties if someone with whom I’ve fallen out hugely will be there. I make the choice, because it’s better all around. No one feels like they’re walking on eggshells, they have a lovely time in company, and I have an ok time on my own.)

But, to be fair, if you have fallen out with, oh, I dunno, let’s call them Ethelred… it’s unlikely that your friends, even if they remain friends with Ethelred, are likely to tell you what Ethelred thinks about politics or sport or anything really. Your mutual friends may still stay in contact with Ethelred, but unless they’re completely thoughtless idiots, they’re not going to rub your face in it.

And then there’s social media. Where, among other things, they kind of are likely to do that.

Because if you fall out with Ethelred, and merely unfollow them, which is very easy to do – more about that in a moment – if your friends like something that Ethelred said online, they may repost it, retweet it, bring it, unasked, into your timeline.

So you mute them… yeah, that’s not gonna work, in most cases. So you block them.

Yes, you block them. Someone you were on good terms with, you erase them from your timeline, from your online life. (And if Twitetr could

Now unfollowing happens for any number of reasons: to be brutally honest, I usually assume that anyone who unfollows me hasn’t done it because I’ve overtly offended them… it’s because I’ve bored them. It’s a message “I’m no longer interested in anything you have to say”.

It stings if it comes out of the blue, but mostly it doesn’t, not with friends.

But one of the first online lessons you have to learn, and appreciate, is “never ever worry about who follows you, or why, and who doesn’t… and why.” Quickly followed by “learn to read fluent Tyop, and never highlight someone’s typos… unless the typo is very very funny.”

But blocking is something different., It’s final (usually), it’s an overt statement.

Tracy Ann Oberman ran a podcast entitled Trolled, wherein she interviewed celebs who’d been subject to trolling. What I found fascinating was that some, like Luciana Berger, rarely blocked, in part because she didn’t want the trolls to think they’d somehow ‘won’, that they’d upset her. Others like Gary Lineker took another view: they wanted the trolls to know they’d lost access to his feed because of their behaviour; ie that by their behaviour online, they’d forfeited the right to read his feed.

OK, coming back to what I started this blog with; now, I did say that it’d be relevant…

If I mention y = x + 2, does that ring any bells? No? Ah, that’s a pity. Well, it was when I came up with my own law.

I genuinely thought that might be it, that I’d never come up with another law that applied in all circumstances, universally.

And yet, over the past few years, I’ve blocked away racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and the occasional now former friend who stepped over a line I genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I didn’t regret a single one of them.

And I’ve been blocked by racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and by the occasional friend where I stepped over a line they genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I don’t regret a single one of them.

I know some regard blocking or being blocked as ‘a win’, but I never have. I’ve taken pleasure in some, and reluctantly agreed others’ necessity. But there’s not one I regret. Not really.

I wrote a post at the end of 2019 entitled Saying Farewell to 2019, A Good Thing in which I listed some good things that had happened in 2019, in the midst of what I considered a pretty shitty year all around. Among the fifteen items were these two:

So, far too long after I promised it, here’s a new Budgie’s Law:

BUDGIE’S LAW OF SOCIAL MEDIA

All blocks, every single one of them, without reservation, without
exception, for whatever reason, no matter who blocked who…

…are ‘for the best’.

I almost called it Budgie’s Law of Social Media Exclusion, but that could be confused for when social media companies show you the door… which is a whole other post. Maybe.

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.

Occasionally, a tweet from somoene I follow will set off a train of thought.

More rarely, it won’t set off a thought, but, well, this’ll happen…

And this tweet was from someone I follow who doesn’t follow me, doesn’t really know who I am, and who will once in a blue moon will respond to a reply. She tweeted something that… hit home.

(The original tweet contained some personal information, so you’ll have to forgive my summarising it rather than reproducing the actual tweet.)

She lost her father a couple of years ago, and mentioned that she’ll still, every so often, miss something he did or said, or hear a piece of music and think that he’d have liked that. And she rhetorically wondered if that would ever end.

Although most responses were of the negative, ‘no that won’t ever end’, they weren’t unkind, but even within that, the immediate reactions fell into three types:

i) The “No, but would you ever want it to? While you remember him, he’s not really gone” reaction

I understand both the intention and sentiment behind such a response; of course they don’t mean that whoever died didn’t really die. But even so, it’s an position that I really have no time for.

And, in some ways, doing the whole ‘they’re not really gone’ can be cruel, Memories inevitably fade, both in strength and in detail: that is the way of memories. And if you do sign up to the whole ‘while you remember them’ thing, then as the memories fade, there’s gonna be some [undeserved, unjustified] guilt. Because some people are going to believe that it’s their responsibility to continue to remember their departed relative or friend, in order to ‘keep them alive’. And that by not being able to remember them quite as clearly, or in such detail, they’re somehow letting the deceased down. But they’re not.

I’m reminded of a rabbi of my acquaintance who – while they struggled with the reasons for this rule ot that law – very much liked the idea of the Jewish stonesetting. When Jewish people are buried, the headstone isn’t erected at the same time. It goes up later, usually around 11 months later but I’ve known shorter and longer periods. My rabbi friend said there was a reason for it, far beyond the strict religious justification; social ‘life goes on’ reason of which he very much approved.

For those who had not moved on, who were still grieving rather than mourning, the stone setting was a concrete (sorry) reminder, a reminder and an admonition to them: they died, you didn’t.

And for those who might have moved on a bit speedily, it was an equally strong reminder, an equally stern admonition: Hey! Someone you cared about died, you know!

I’m not entirely sure I go along with all of that, but I do very much believe that once someone has gone, you need to genuinely accept it, in all the ways that matter, and know that the memories aren’t an unbiased representation of the person who died; not really. Because they couldn’t be. They’re your memories; filtered, sorted, and sometimes censored, but they’re your memories of them, which might not be strictly accurate.And that’s how it should be; they’re what comes next.

ii) The “No, but what triggers it will change over the years” reaction

Oh, I have a lot of time for this one. Very definitely. It only makes sense to me, because as memories fade, they also fade in different ways. I can no longer truly remember how my brother sounded in normal speech. I mean, ok, it’s been 23 years, and I have very little of his recorded voice. I have one snippet, from my wedding, during which he was making a toast, so it’s not exactly his ‘normal speaking voice’.

So the ‘hearing someone that sounds like him’ trigger evaporated long ago,. I have no idea what music he would have liked now, though occasionally I’ll hear music we both liked at the time.

For the first few years after Mike died, it was most often personal news that I wanted to tell him about, jokes I heard that I wanted to tell him, or even jokes I heard that I knew – I absolutely knew – that he’d have told me first.

Now? Well, I’ll get onto that in more detail in a moment, but it’s often stuff about which we wouldn’t have necessarily talked about then but would now…. Confusing, I know, but bear with me.

iii) The “no, it won’t change, but how you react to it will”

And this one hit home.

Harder than I expected it to when I read the comments saying this, and the feeling grew over the rest of the day.

I’m a huge believer in people being the sum of their own experiences, and I guess memories play into that. How I react to something, anything, now isn’t how I’d have reacted a decade ago, or two decades ago… or 23 years ago. Because I’m a different person now. I’ve a decade’s, or two decades’, or 23 years’, worth of experiences and memories that have changed me.

I don’t know what I’d be like had my brother not died in January 1998, but I’m damn sure I would have been… different in some ways, probably in many ways.

I’ve heard it said that ‘time heals all wounds’. Metaphorically of course, because I can look at my foot with a two-decades’ old three inch scar on it, or my upper chest with a three month old two inch scar on it. They healed over time, of course, but left obvious, blatant, physical marks.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, or at least not without leaving scars, physical or otherwise.

What time does do, I’ve come to realise and appreciate, is that with every passing month, every passing day, rather than healing all wounds, the passing of time merely lessens the temptation to pick at the scab.

Because what happened at some point, and I’m damned if I could identify exactly when, was that my reaction on hearing a joke, or reading a story, or listening to the radio, or watching television, stopped being “Oh, I wish I could tell Mike this…” and instead became, “Oh, Michael would have really liked that…

It happens a lot in Edinburgh (and I think that he’d have really enjoyed me getting up there, would have enjoyed my getting to write with Mitch for the radio and for Edinburgh) but not only then.

It happened a lot during the past 18 months, especially whenever I watched Michael Spicer’s marvellous “The Room Next Door” pieces. Not once was there a “Oh,I wish I could call Mike to tell him about this”; it was always “man, Michael would have loved this…”

It’s happened with tech a few times as well. I’ll think, while being amazed at some piece of tech or another, particularly my iPad, and what it can do, how much Mick would have enjoyed having a play with it.

It happened not that long ago. I was walking back to the flat from Central London. It’s not that long a walk – well under an hour – and if the foot is behaving, and the weather is nice, then sometimes I’ll walk back.

And it happened indirectly because I cleared out a load of stuff I had on my computer. I needed to clear some room on my hard drive and came across a load of ancient radio recordings, some of them from A Week In Westminster, Westminster Hour, and similar type programmes.

I deleted loads, but came across something called “Tales from the Cutting Room” by the journalist Michael Cockerell. I kind of faintly remembered enjoying it, but didn’t recall it clearly.

Now, when I started what I refer to online as the #DailyConstitutional, my daily hour or more’s walk, my rule was: no current affairs, no current news, no recent politics news, for reasons previously mentioned.

But this wasn’t modern, this wasn’t recent. It wasn’t even recent when it was broadcast; Cockerell was talking about his decades’ long career as a political journalist, and interviews he’d conducted, and especially what got cut in the edit. So there were clips from interviews that had never seen the light of day.

This clip was about Jim Callaghan, British Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979, and the only person to have held all four great offices of state: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary.

As the programme closed, Cockerell related a conversation he’d once had with Roy Jenkins, wherein Jenkins said [about Callaghan, who hadn’t gone to university] that he’d never before come across such a powerful personality linked with such a lack of intellect.

Jenkins, of course, was one of four university educated men that Callaghan had beaten to the Labour Leadership, and to the office of Prime Minister, when he went for it in 1976. When Cockerell then quoted Jenkins to Callaghan, and said that the view was shared by others, Callaghan had laughed, and then he came out with one of the greatest political quotes I’ve ever heard:

“It’s true, although I think I was probably cleverer then they thought I was. Yes, I haven’t got a huge intellect. But then again, I became Prime Minister… and they didn’t.”

And that’s when I laughed and thought… “yeah, Michael would have liked that; he’d really really have liked that”.

I don’t think of my brother every day; I’d be lying if I said I did. But when I think of him, there’s not been a single time I’ve not missed him.

And I kind of think he’d have liked that as well.

 

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.

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

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

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

Probably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. As I say, weird.

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

Mine showed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I say, that’s one view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had two immediate effects.

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

One panel was the one on the right.

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

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

He missed out the L in the word PUBLIC.

So the caption read…

I ONLY REMEMBER MEETING THE PUBIC DEFENDER.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

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

But, I hear you ask…

Well

No need to thank me.

 

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

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This present:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— make good art —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I dunno.

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

I used to be an accountant.

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

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

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

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

Daft, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

“Bios”

No, not BIOS, that’s firmware used to perform hardware initialization during the a computer’s booting up.

Bios, as in social media platforms, the few words you have to describe yourself.

They’re a weird summary of everything you want people to know about you… in a couple of hundred characters. And while, yes, you can use one link, maybe two, to give more information, each link takes up a chunk of those very same available characters and spaces.

Oh, and if you want to explain what each link is, oops, there go another couple of dozen characters.

So, you’re (or at least I am) stuck with several one or two word descriptions, separated by, erm, separators.


I mean, here’s the one I’m currently using for Twitter. It’s my main online presence, since I’m not on Facebook, and tend to use Instagram merely for weather shots.

Wanderer and Wonderer. Seems a fairly good, and nicely succinct, summary of who I am, or at least who I want to be. Or, perhaps more accurately, who I want people to think of me as.

I’ve never enjoyed physical exercise, and the fucked up foot¹ makes running a non-starter even if my admittedly jaundiced view of it were otherwise. But I have enjoyed walking, especially in cities.

You might well ask “wanderer and wonderer? Well, budgie, where do you wander about what do you wonder?

You might well ask that indeed.

Well? Go on, then. ASK ME THAT.

It’s your own time you’re wasting, you know.

Oh, you asked!

You know, I’m rarely asked those questions.

So let’s answer them.

Wandering

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve lived in Abbey Road now for a little over four years, about ¼ mile from Abbey Road recording studios. I’m sorry, that should be ‘…from the world famous Abbey Road recording studios.’ (I think I’m legally obliged to refer to them as such.)

And I like living here.

For the four years before I moved in, I was in Ham, between Richmond and Kingston, and if you wanted to have somewhere to wander from, with nice places in which to wander in every direction…

…you have to go some way to find anywhere better than Ham. Within about 20-30 minutes’ walk, you have Richmond in one direction, Kingston in the opposite direction. You have Richmond Park, truly one of the glories of the area, no matter what season, though I have a fondness for Richmond Park in the springtime. A short (really short) ferry ride away, even if you ignore Ham House and grounds, you have Twickenham and St Mary’s.

You have a lot of… green… surrounding you. Reminded me in some ways of growing up in Luton, and bicycling to ‘the country’. Luton in those days – in the 1970s – was less… urban than it’s become, and it’d take a mere half hour bike ride to find yourself surrounded by farmland and green and… well, more green to be honest.

Abbey Road is a bit different to all of that, to be honest, to be fair.

I’m not quite sure whether it would qualify as urban or suburban. (I never quite know which box to tick when I’m asked on surveys, in much the same way as a Jewish fella, I’ve been bemused when offered ‘white British’ or ‘white otther’ or just ‘other’ when offered the options.)

Either way, Abbey Road very definitely isn’t ‘green’. Oh, there’s Regents Park about 25 minutes’ walk away, and plenty of little gardens and mini-parks you can wander about in. There’s Lisson Grove, with the canals, much as there’s Little Venice a bit further away. There is green… but you do have to look for it.

I live in London, almost in the heart of London. Half an hour’s walk and I’m on Euston Road, by Baker Street. A short walk further, and I’m on Oxford Street. You can’t really describe living a short distance from Oxford Street as anything less than ‘the heart of the city’ to be honest.

And yet, despite my enjoyment of Richmond Park and its… greenness, it’s where I am now that really speaks to me.

I’ve mentioned before on previous blog runs how much I like living in London and walking around it. It’s a city where I run into memories around every corner and encounter ghosts – both mine and London’s – at every crossing.

Not all of the memories, or ghosts, are pleasant ones. But they’re what makes me… me. And I wouldn’t change them. Good or bad, they’re true.

And while I try to vary the precise route (to alleviate boredom, I’m not trying to avoid spies following me or anything… or am I? No, I’m not.) I’ve half a dozen routes I like to wander along, aimlessly, taking up time, while I wonder about… no, more about that in a moment.

(And of course, it’d be remiss not to mention that during the absurdity and craziness we’ve all just experienced, having a walk was one of the few reasons you were allowed to leave your home. It’s dry nice, I’ll admit, to once again be able to walk… somewhere, then stop and grab a coffee before heading back, rather than just walking somewhere, turning around and having nothing to do other than walk back to the flat.)

But yes. If I’m after a shortish walk, then there’s Euston Road in one direction, Kilburn in another, West Hampstead in a third, and always St John’s Wood area, Lord’s Cricket Grou\

nd and Lisson Grove in yet another.

If I want a longer walk, and the foot will allow it, then a walk up to Brondesbury or West End Green, to Golders Green, or even Oxford Circus.

So, yes, that’s where I wander… while wondering.

Wondering

Yes, well. What do I ponder while walking?

Well, it depends. And yes, I know that’s a cheat of an answer, but it does have the virtue of being the truth.

I’m a news junkie, have been for decades, but one of the unexpected pleasures of doing what I refer to on Twitter as the #DailyConstitutional is that I disconnect entirely from the news. Whatever else I listen to, whatever else I ponder, it ain’t the news. Of all the decisions I made last year, that’s turned out to be one of the smarter ones.

Sometimes, I’m not idly wondering, of course. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m wandering to walk off the anger, the upset, the sheer bloody fury, about something or someone. (And sometimes the subjects of my upset might even deserve my ire. Not always, but quite often.)

It’s not uncommon, far more common than I’ll admit to on Twitter, for me to walk… harder… than intended. On such occasions, yeah, I’ll pay for it later. While the foot puts up with a lot, on occasion it lets me know it’s had enough.

Walking while angry is not a good thing while it’s happening, nor while I’m recovering from it. But it does, usually, exhaust my volcanically bad temper. So, I guess, on those occasions… it’s worth it?

But… they’re the rarity. Usually, when I’m a’wondering, it’s about a story idea, or a problem I have to solve, or even a friend’s problem they’ve shared and asked my help in arriving at a possible solution.

I can’t wander, nor wonder, in silence, however.

So, often, what I’m wondering about is… related to whatever I’m listening to on a podcast or radio show.

I’m wondering about The History Of Rome, and how a city became a republic which became an empire, and how so many things went wrong for so many people, while they went very right for others… before going wrong. As in more modern days, rare is the power that ends at the time, and in the manner of, the wielder’s choosing.

Or I’m wondering about how the murderer could have done it in a whodunnit, and the craft shown of how the detective worked it out.

Or I’m wondering, indeed pondering, the various Connections that James Burke demonstrates: how a shortage of ivory led to me enjoying movies in the cinema, how a war led to the divorce rate increasing, and how Mozart led to the helicopter.

I’m wondering why more people of the younger generations aren’t aware just how good a raconteur Peter Ustinov was.

And I wonder about myself.

Only the last tends to irritate me and exasperate me in equal measure. Still, at least for once I share something with my friends. That’s something I don’t have to wonder about.

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.


¹that’s the technical, medical term, you understand.

You know, after sixteen years, I was going to skip this annual update.

Genuinely, and seriously. For various reasons, I just wasn’t going to bother this year. Half a dozen messages over the past 36 hours asking me if I was doing it – and if so, when – changed my mind.

Kind of surprised me. After all, as I stress every year, this whole thing only started as a bit of a giggle in 2004, something to amuse and horrify in equal measure; I never intended to do it again… and again… and again.

And yet, somehow, it’s evolved into an annual tradition for me. (As well as for others, given the usual responses of “awwww” at the admittedly cute pics of me as a small child.)

On the other hand, I’m occasionally asked Why do you do it? My usual cheat of an answer is simply: Oh, why the hell not?

I mean, it’s not as if I think I look great as a teenager, or at any point since then, really, although I’ll acknowledge that I looked at least passable once I got married. And I’ve been about as embarrassed as I’m ever going to get by the pictures.

Another common answer to the question: people who haven’t previously seen them get the unfettered joy and silliness of joining in the mockery… And while that’s true, and honest, it’s probably not the whole truth.

But it’s as close as you’ll get. And this year more than most, people can do with something to be silly about.

So… preamble over, it’s the 2020 update to A Life In Pictures. The 2020 mockery and silliness should naturally follow.

As always, I’ve removed a couple of shots from previous years, and added some new ones. Unlike 2019, for pretty obvious reasons, there aren’t that many shots from 2020. However, as with the last couple of years, thanks to some technical wizardry, there are some new ‘old’ pics – newly digitised pics from my past – that appear in this post for the first time.

So, ok, without any further ado… in chronological order…


Those are the earliest photos I’ve got of me… looks like they were taken the same day; my older brother is in the background.


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here in this shot and the next one.


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. I still remember the wallpaper; very, very odd gold pattern to it.


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


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, more than thirty years ago. Shocking.


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 – A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…

I love that I found this next pic. Laura’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. And this is another great pic of us on our wedding day. And yes, ahhh I had dark hair back then…

This next one’s an odd one for lots of reasons; first off, it’s obviously my BBC pass from when I was writing for WeekEnding on Radio 4; secondly, when I visited New York just after 9/11, it was better as ID for getting me into buildings, places, meetings than my actual passport… even though it had expired six years’ earlier…


The earliest pic I have of my lad Phil (excluding ‘scans’). Me, a new dad, aged 31. And so, so tired.


Me holding my son… he’s 18 days’ old here.


Yeah, another ‘Budgie plus baby’ pic, this time he’s three months old…


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. Three generations of Barnetts.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


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.


Me in mid-2006, looking very serious for one reason or another.


Again, mid-2006.


Me in December 2006… looking slightly more relaxed.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning… very relaxed… aided by what Alistair Cooke used to call ‘The wine of Scotland’.


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


November 2008 – formal pic for Phil’s barmitzvah.


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


November 2009 – Me and Phil at a friend’s son’s barmitzvah.


July 2010, on Mastermind. No, not an illusion; you’re not allowed to wear black for the show…


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.


December 2010, after the office party


October 2011, trying out a beard… not quite yet… but give it a year…


Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

Sequence of shots, demonstrating Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)

This final one attracted the title “… and all the woodland creatures gathered around, for they had never seen a creature such as this in the forest.”


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…

The delightful Clara Benn proved that I’m tiny when sitting next to Mitch Benn…

Isn’t perspective fun?


Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…

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

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…

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. One of my favourite photos, entitled Two beards (old friends attached).

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 and still am very happy with how it turned out.

Some time ago, remember, the delightful Clara Benn had taken a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in comparison, in fact. November 2015, she proved it again…

Once again: isn’t perspective wonderful?

Never liked the next shot in colour, I do, however, really like it in black and white. From mid-2016.

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And in December 2017, this one of the new[er], short[er] haircut.

In August 2018, my lad Phil was in town for a few days. We realised it had been a while since we’d had pics taken of the pair of us. So here are two.

And, of course since we had that pic, and I had a similar one from almost exactly ten years’ earlier, I was kind of obliged to put the two together. I really like this image.

In October, I attended the Brexit march for a People’s Vote. It ended up with 700,000 people… plus me.

Same march, with Mitch… No idea why my hair looks so… flat, almost skullcap-like, in this shot, but I really like how it looks.

And so to 2019…

It’s rare there’s a pic of me that even I will reluctantly admit is a good shot, especially if it’s a selfie, but you know what? I really really like this one…

Of course, that was after a haircut.

I look decidedly less good immediately before a haircut…

(2020 edit: When I took, and stuck up, the above shot, as always it was just for a giggle. It genuinely didn’t occur to me that in 2020, there’d be pics that made the above ‘before’ shot look coiffured.)

I just wish any pics from Edinburgh didn’t look like I’d photoshopped me into previously taken shots…

Oh yeah, I was in hospital in Edinburgh. I wasn’t impressed…

Here’s another post haircut pic…

And so, to 2020… with everything that you’d expect: ie very little happened that involved taking photos.

Although, Mitch’s 50th birthday in January was one such event. I mean, I could have put a dozen shots up from it, but here’s just one, with Phil:

Operation Haircut performed in March; quite like this ‘portrait’ shot.

March 2020: Who knew it was to be the last haircut for a while…? OK, I was one of the lucky ones; I had a haircut just a couple of weeks before lockdown. But lockdown then came, along with this fun prezzie/mask from Phil:

Lockdown lifted in July 2020, but it was possible – if another liockdown came, to be quite some time before I had another haircut, so I went short this time.

One more mask shot. You know, had you asked me before this year whether I’d look worse in a hat or a mask, I think I’d have said a mask. Now? I’m genuinely unsure.

US Election night; November 2020; me and the Benn’s labradoodle Merry.

And, to end, the by now common answer to ‘what did you do over the Christmas break, budgie?’ (Amusingly – well, I find it amusing, anyway – this donation was the slowest ever’; took ages to get the blood out of me. I’m guessing that even my blood was lazy and fed up of 2020 by now.)

OK, that’s your lot for this update.

And, as I wish everyone a happy new year, one full of love, joy, and health and much silliness, the traditional benediction:

Mocking may now commence.


(Oh, since I’m regularly asked: the iPhone app I’ve used in recent years to digitise snaps so they’re effectively high resolution scans is a free Google app called Photoscan. I genuinely can’t recommend it highly enough. IOS version; | Google Play version)

Yes, STILL away…

Posted: 11 February 2020 in going cheep, life

Yes, this place is still on a break, or more accurately I’m still on a break from this place.

I’ve every intention of returning to it soon, but as they say, the best laid plans… except that’s not fair as I dont have a plan at the moment, merely a vague intention.

Partly it’s health reasons, both physical and otherwise; partly, it’s because I’m just too weary, and haven’t got much to say. Not that everyone else hasn’t said better and less pissed off than I would say it, anyways.

I am keeping up – mostly – with a daily brain dump at goingcheep, so if you’re missing seeing something from me every day, it’s worth checking there to see what I blurt out.

Unlike here, where I at least try to entertain or inform, goingcheep is more just a couple of hundred words on whatever is in my mind when I start typing. So, bear that in mind, eh?

OK, hope you’re all¹ well, and maybe see you soon…


¹ok, the seven of you who actually read this thing.

My mate Mitch

Posted: 20 January 2020 in family, life, personal
Tags: , , , ,

It’s Mitch Benn’s 50th birthday, today. Happy birthday, Mitch.

No one reading this is going to be unaware that we’re close friends. That we’ve only known each other since 2010, however, does seem to surprise; most people assume we’ve been friends for a lot longer.

Even yesterday, at Mitch’s birthday bash, a couple of people expressed their astonishment that we only met a decade or so back.

But that’s perfectly fair; it still sometimes takes me aback, and saddens me, that Mitch never knew Mike, and never knew me when Phil was bar mitzvah’d. Would have been lovely to have him there for both.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Most Saturdays, since I restarted the blog in June last year, I’ve done a set of what I call Saturday Smiles; commonly, I’ll put up half a dozen funny or amusing videos just to lighten the mood, to give readers of the blog a smile or six after another week of ‘oh, what the hell has the world done now?’ I’ve done it off and on since I started blogging here in 2011.

And when I restarted them seven months ago, I made the decision to always include a song from Mitch. There’ve been some personal favourites in there, sure, but there’s always been something, if for no other reason that I like his work and I think more people should be exposed to it.

Because I do like Mitch’s work, his songs, his comedy. It’s why it was a joy to discover that I liked Mitch as well as his work when I met him.

And his 50th birthday seems as good a time as any – ten years after we met, and nine years since we became friends – to write something about my mate Mitch, and our friendship.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t like Mitch the moment we met, but that was under fairly frantic and pressured circumstances, and…

No. Wait. Allow me to go back a bit further. Pre-blog. Pre-Mitch.


I can’t remember when I first became a fan of musical comedy and of comedy songs. As early as I can recall, there were funny songs I recall learning the words of: playground songs, songs my dad sang, songs from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again on radio, and comedy albums… everything from Alan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (properly entitled Camp Grenada) to Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West; Benny Hill’s comedy songs are great, by the way.

I’d happily sit and watch Victor Borge on the tv at my grandparents. Hell, I’d watch anyone who made me laugh, while singing a song or playing an instrument, or both.

One year, I remember I was bought an album of comedy songs for a birthday or Chanukah; one of my favourite presents as a child, ever. I played it over and over, driving my parents, and my brothers, loopy. And my older brother – who I’ve mentioned before played the guitar with perhaps more enthusiasm than talent – did the whole ‘funny lyrics to existing tunes’, which I joined in with, with equal… enthusiasm.

And then there was Richard Stilgoe, and The Goodies, and Phil Pope, and Victoria Wood, and Not The Nine O’Clock News and Monty Python, and Who Dares Wins

But I’ve always loved radio comedy. My old man introduced me to The Goon Show (which had musical interludes but they weren’t comedy songs as such) and then… and then… Well, I’d been a fan of Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis through their work on The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Jasper Carrott’s shows.

So when they helmed a new topical radio show entitled The Now Show, I listened to it.

Well, ok, yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that; I used to write for a Radio 4 topical comedy show entitled Weekending; a few years after I stopped writing for them, it came off air… to be replaced by a new show entitled The Now Show.

It ‘starred’ Punt and Dennis, along with Marcus Brigstocke, Jon Holmes, Laura Shavin, and this fella named Mitch Benn who did the funny songs.

And they were funny; clever ideas, fantastic wordplay, glorious rhymes – which I later learned Mitch refers to as ‘stunt rhyming’ – and superb homages/parodies of music styles, and of specific artists.

Mitch let us into his life just a bit on the show. I learned he was married, that in 2005, almost exactly ten years after my lad was born, he and his missus had their first child. He was a huge Doctor Who fan. As was I. And a comics fan. Well, obviously. And loved sf as much as I did. And when he occasionally let his anger show in a song, it was never gratuitous, but always razor sharp, and he hit his targets. I liked his humour, and I liked the show.

I went to see a couple of the Now Show recordings in 2008 & 2009. And yeah, the personalities on stage were about what I expected: funny, silly and the cast obviously liked each other enormously.

I started using Twitter properly in early 2008, having signed up a year earlier. It didn’t take too long before I discovered Mitch on there. And his missus. And for the next couple of years, it was fun, whenever the show was on, seeing Clara nag Mitch – who’d be playing hashtag games on a Wednesday night when he was supposed to be writing his Now Show songs. The fun they obviously had, teasing each other online… well, they always lightened a Wednesday night.

I chatted to both of them, very occasionally, but no more than they chatted to other people, I guess. I remembered that Mitch had played at the Eagle awards one year at Comic Expo in Bristol while I was in the bar… but we never met.

And – it turned out – that had happened a couple of times; we’d been at the same place at the same time, but just never got around to meeting. It happens.

I knew Mitch and I had a mutual friend, but I’ve always been a bit wary of asking mutual friends for an introduction, not when they’re both celebrities in their own rights.

So, we just never met.


Several hundred words through this, we come to late September 2010. Work was hard, and I was putting in long hours, working six day weeks and most Sundays. Twitter was my… break from mundanity, I guess? Back then it was silly, and fun, and I dunno; maybe the memory plays tricks but it was… fun.

Mitch had written a song entitled (I’m) Proud of the BBC, and was doing a video for it; he invited his Twitter followers, if they were available, to come down and take part in the filming.

My office in Newman Street was about ten minutes’ walk from where they were recording part of the video, outside the BBC. I was going to be working on the Sunday of the recording – near where I’m currently typing this, as it happens – so I dropped them a message and said I might turn up.

Mitch and Clara’s reaction was – in part, I’m sure because they wanted to have a decent turn out – an enthusiastic “Yes! Come along!”

I duly ‘came along’, and ended up appearing for about a second and a half in the video, before I – having met Mitch, Clara and the kids, and liked them all – returned to the office and the month end accounts, and the three year budget, and the financial modelling, all of which I was then simultaneously wrangling.

And that was that; that could have been that. I’d met them, I’d had fun, and who knows, maybe I’d meet them again at some point?

It could have been no more than that.

And my life would have been very different, substantially worse, than it turned out.

Because when I mentioned to our mutual friend how much I’d enjoyed meeting Mitch et famile, his reaction was immediate, along the lines of: “How do you both not know each other? You two should definitely know each other. You’ll like each other.

Shortly thereafter I received an invitation to pop round to the house one day and meet them properly. As memory serves, and memories of that time are, I’ll acknowledge, a bit blurry at times, I was in the office on another Sunday, taking a break, and they said if I finished early enough, to drive around to them, to meet them properly. So I drove over to their place. Had a lovely evening, full of laughter and silliness and fun.

And then ‘popping round to see them’ after work became a regular thing, an oasis from work, and a welcome chat and time of relaxation.

I’d never ‘done’ Christmas really. I’m Jewish for a start, but it had never been my thing, and – after my marriage ended – I tended to go into work on Christmas Day itself. I’d clear the backlog of correspondence and work in the blessed silence of no telephones ringing, no emails disturbing me, no one popping by my office to ask me stuff. (For various reasons, I’d pretty much cut ties with my parents and remaining sibling by then.) So, yeah, I had every intention of working that particular Christmas Day until late in the evening.

Neither Clara nor Mitch particularly liked that idea, and they… well, I’d say they invited, but that’s not strong enough. They pretty much insisted that I join their family for their Christmas.

And I did. In both meanings.

Mitch and Clara invited me to join their family in oh, so many ways. Not just for Christmas, but to always be welcome at and in their house, to view their place as somewhere safe… another home.

They became my closest friends in an astonishingly short period of time.

And I needed friends.

I needed somewhere else I could think of as home, somewhere where I would be… ok, or as ok as I got back then.

Because I was in the process of cracking up.

And not in a ‘cracking up with laughter’ way; cracking up as in a ‘falling apart’ way.

I didn’t know it at that time, but I was. I mean, ok, everyone else – especially those at Chez Benn – knew it, or at least strongly suspected it, but me? Not so much. It’s easiest to describe what happened as a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown. There’s more to it than that, but that’ll do for the moment.

And when I lost where I was living, Mitch and Clara invited – again, that’s so little a word to describe it – me to take over the spare room at their place, and to live with them, as part of their family. Partly to look after me, to care for, and about, me. Partly to allow me the time to get through the crisis that was… me being me.


I met Mitch in 2010; we became friends in 2011, and there’s not been a day since when I haven’t learned something from him. Stuff about life, about family, about comedy. About friendship.

(Oh, and a lot about Doctor Who. No, I meant it: a lot about Doctor Who. Seriously, so much about Doctor Who.)

One of the things Mitch and I discovered fairly early on was that we both knew an awful lot about the same subjects, and interests. But there was shed loads he knew that I didn’t, and vice versa. In ten years, there’s not been a single conversation we’ve had where he’s not surprised me with some nugget of relevant information, or shown me a side of an argument I’d not considered. Doesn’t mean we always agree; hell, as often as not, our conversations are attempts to persuade the other that we’re right and the other is… well, if not wrong, then not wholly right.

I can’t begin to list all the things I owe him, for which he deserves – but won’t ever accept – my thanks.

But here are a couple.

Mitch knew of my comedy writing career (such as it was) and when he was snowed under with work – The Now Show, appearing as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the stage tour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, writing a novel – but had been asked to do some Radio 4 shows, he asked me if I wanted to help write them.

Whether I wanted to? Of course I wanted to. Took me about ¾ of a second to say yes. And ½ a second of that was me going ‘wha–?’

And the past four years, it’s been enormous fun, and incredibly satisfying, to work on his Edinburgh shows, to see him craft an idea, then a routine, then a show; to watch at close hand why this gag works, but this one doesn’t quite; to see why this word caps the routine, but that word would drain the energy from it; to watch an audience being taken along the journey that is an Edinburgh show.

I have no musical ability at all; I can just about pick out a tune on a keyboard, but not so as anyone would, y’know, recognise the tune. It’s a delight to see someone who knows what they’re doing… create musical comedy, and… make people laugh while they’re doing it.

Writing with Mitch has been the hardest, and yet the most fun, writing I’ve ever done. And enormously, wonderfully, fantastic.

Writing something else in the same room as Mitch, on the other hand? That’s just plain weird.

January 2013: Mitch has been away, doing a gig; I pick him up from the airport. We’re driving back, and he mentions he’s doing something for Radio 3, for Comic Relief, something with Simon Russell Beale.

Mitch adds that he quite fancies doing something else as well. Maybe… creating a muscial comedy album from scratch in 24 hours, with – we’re just chatting, you understand – maybe the song titles being chosen by the Now Show audience, curated by the Now Show cast?

The idea’s a fun one, and we bat it back and forth for a bit before I say something like ‘huh… you know, whenever I’ve done the fast fictions, I’ve done loads of extra challenges within it, but I’ve never done a timed challenge. Heh. Can you imagine? Me writing 24 stories in 24 hours?’

It sounds harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?

And yes, you can see where this is heading.

I mean, I’d said it merely as a ‘Huh… here’s a daft idea.’

But by the end of the car journey, Mitch is already working out where we could do this thing together; him writing, performing and releasing, a comedy album in 24 hours, me writing 24 stories in 24 hours, my challenges coming from celebrities, both raising money for Comic Relief.

By then, I’d lived with the Benns for six months or so. I stayed for another four years, before moving out in February 2017. I doubt there’s been more than a couple of days since when we’ve not exchanged messages, or chatted, or… something.


Mitch has no time for the sentiment: ‘never meet your heroes’; his view tends towards “get better heroes”.

Mitch isn’t my hero but he’s my friend, one of my closest friends. And I’m hugely, wonderfully, phenomenally, grateful for that.

I was a fan of his work before I met him and it was, and remains a delight to me that our friendship quickly developed to cover so much more.

Happy birthday, Mitch.

And thanks for being… well… you.

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

A short post today.

A very short one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since then? Since we split in July 2005?

Ah, well, since then… I’ve never been romantically involved, (to put it formally), or ‘seeing anyone’ (to put it casually), on the day itself.

And although I’ve no doubt I’ve been in company on various 14th Februaries over the past decade and a half, I’ve neither sent nor received cards, nor bought roses nor chocolates for anyone on Valentine’s Day since at least… ooh, February 2006.

Indeed, I’ve neither been romantically involved, nor ‘seen anyone’ at all, for… well, trust me, you don’t want to know how long it’s been. You’d be surprised. (People always think I’m exaggerating when I say that. I’m not. It’s been a very long time.)

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

I mean, it sometimes does. Sometimes it bites, hard. But not always, not even the majority of the time. And I’m sure that should probably bother me as well.

Well now.

Fifteen years.

Yep. Fifteen years.

I checked earlier and yes, it’s true – this thing has been running in various forms, on two different blogs for fifteen years.

It only started as a bit of a giggle.

On Livejournal, back in the dim distant days of 2004, someone started a ‘hey, post some photos of you when you were younger!”

I put up a dozen or so, from the single baby photo I had scanned in, and then one from every five years or so up until the most recent pic I had of myself.

At the end of the year, I did it properly, putting loads of photos up, and since then, I’ve continued to update it every year with more recent pics, and have managed to scan in or otherwise digitise other photos I’ve found.

Why do I do it? Oh, why not? And, besides, people who haven’t seen them before get the unfettered joy of joining in the mockery…

So, time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2019 update to A Life In Pictures.

Now… about the pics you’re going to see below: as you’d expect, 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.

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2019. As always, I’ve removed a couple of shots from previous years, and added some new ones. For once, I’ve more than a few to pick from this year – a rarity for me – but as with the last couple of years, thanks to some newly discovered photos and some technical wizardry, there are some surprises awaiting you below.

(Oh, since I was asked last year, the wonderful iPhone app I’ve used in recent years to digitise snaps so they’re effectively high resolution scans is a free Google app called Photoscan. I genuinely can’t recommend it highly enough. IOS version; | Google Play version)

OK, without any further ado… in chronological order…


Those are the earliest photos I’ve got of me… looks like they were taken the same day; my older brother is in the background.


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here in this shot and the next one.


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. I still remember the wallpaper; very, very odd gold pattern to it.


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


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 thirty years ago?


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 – A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…

I love that I found this next pic. Laura’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. And this is another great pic of us on our wedding day. And yes, ahhh I had dark hair back then…

This next one’s an odd one for lots of reasons; first off, it’s obviously my BBC pass from when I was writing for WeekEnding on Radio 4; secondly, when I visited New York just after 9/11, it was better as ID for getting me into buildings, places, meetings than my actual passport… even though it had expired six years’ earlier…


The earliest pic I have of my lad Phil (excluding ‘scans’). Me, a new dad, aged 31. And so, so tired.


Me holding my son… he’s 18 days’ old here.


Yeah, another ‘Budgie plus baby’ pic, this time he’s three months old…


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. Three generations of Barnetts.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


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.


Me in mid-2006, looking very serious for one reason or another.


Again, mid-2006.


Me in December 2006… looking slightly more relaxed.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning… very relaxed… aided by what Alistair Cooke used to call ‘The wine of Scotland’.


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


November 2008 – formal pic for Phil’s barmitzvah.


May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


November 2009 – Me and Phil at a friend’s son’s barmitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind. No, not an illusion; you’re not allowed to wear black for the show…


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


October 2011, trying out a beard… not quite yet… but give it a year…


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

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

Sequence of shots, demonstrating Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)

This final one attracted the title “… and all the woodland creatures gathered around, for they had never seen a creature such as this in the forest.”


Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…

The delightful Clara Benn proved that I’m tiny when sitting next to Mitch Benn…

Isn’t perspective fun?


Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…


Yeah, I broke my foot…

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…

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.

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 and still am very happy with how it turned out.

Some time ago, remember, the delightful Clara Benn had taken a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in comparison, in fact. November 2015, she proved it again…

Isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…

Never liked the next shot in colour, I do, however, really like it in black and white.

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…


Me and my lad, outside Distraction Club, December 2016

And in December 2017, this one of the new[er], short[er] haircut.

In June 2018, I got to see Pippa Evans; this is me waiting to go in…

In August 2018, my lad Phil was in town for a few days. We realised it had been a while since we’d had pics taken of the pair of us. So here are two.

And, of course since we had that pic, and I had a similar one from almost exactly ten years’ earlier, I was kind of obliged to put the two together. I really like this image.

In October, I attended the Brexit march for a People’s Vote. It ended up with 700,000 people… plus me.

Same march, with Mitch… No idea why, but I really like how my hair looks in this shot.

And the final shot from 2018 answered the question “so, what did you do immediately after Christmas 2018, budgie?”

And so to 2019…

It’s rare there’s a pic of me that even I will reluctantly admit is a good shot, especially if it’s a selfie, but you know what? I really like this one…

Of course, that was after a haircut.

I look decidedly less good immediately before a haircut…

I just wish any pics from Edinburgh didn’t look like I’d photoshopped me into previously taken shots…

Oh yeah, I was in hospital in Edinburgh. I wasn’t impressed…

Here’s another post haircut pic…

I think that should do you. And, as I wish everyone a happy new year, one full of love, joy, and silliness, the traditional benediction:

Mocking may now commence.

One of the inevitable consequences, an entirely expected consequence, of my blogging on a pretty much daily basis since June was that I knew that sooner or later I’d likely run out of things to write.

Oh, there’s been the blog entries where I’ve ducked out of the day’s posting, putting up just a

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And a full week of feeling like crap illness where I just put up extra ‘fiction from the vaults’. No one seemed to mind.

But, sometimes, there are unexpected consequences of things happening. Not merely unexpected consequences of decisions you take; the one certainty is that every decision has unexpected consequences, and the best you can hope for is to mitigate for the deleterious consequences that you can foresee.

But I find myself, this afternoon, with a coffee by my side, sitting in front of the iPad screen, thinking about the viccitudes of life; pondering how unanticipated events can throw out of planned complacency not only a day, but a life.

“Events.” Yes, such a small big word.

It was Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, who was reputed to have answered (although he probably never did) the question

“And what do you most fear?”

with

“Events, my dear boy, events.”

But ‘events’ is as good a word as any for those unforecast, unanticipated things that happen which cause all your assumptions to evaporate, change your paradigm, and throw every one of your plans into disarray.

At one end, the huge, massive events – whether on the political stage, or the personal – an unexpected death would do the trick. No matter whether it’s assassination, or accident, or even the final act of a long life, a death changes everything. Not only for those left behind who loved and cared, but others, far beyond the immediate circle.

Take John Smith, the Labour Leader for a short time in the mid-1990s. Had he not died, although I don’t agree he would have won the 1997 election with anywhere close to Tony Blair’s victory, the first Labour government would have been hugely different from that of Blair’s. Different priorities, different policies, different people doing different government jobs.

Take my brother’s death in 1998 – undoubtedly life would have been different had he lived for his family. And, yes, for me.

Or take something far more objectively trivial but subjectively hurts like hell: your car is stolen. Fewer changes in the long term, surely, but think of everything that would happen, that would have to happen, in the next 24 hours, the ensuing week, that’s different just because of that small, little, change in your life and circumstances.

Or your house is broken into; because of that single event, one member of the family has such a reaction that you move home to get away from the scene of the crime. And so many consequences arise from the decision of that burglar on that night on that street.

Or take my then best friend’s wedding, in 1992, and my decision that since I was Best Man at the wedding and likely to be busy all day and evening, and I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, anyway… to attend said celebrations without a date.

A small decision, with large consequences.

During one dance, (yes, I danced, don’t make a big thing of it) with the bride’s aunt, she mentioned that she’d have to, just have to, set me up on a blind date. She viewed it as fundamentally wrong, almost offencive, that I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and so she took it upon herself to remedy that.

Usually, as friends will confirm, I regard – have always regarded – anyone attempting to meddle in my private life with unadorned scorn and dislike¹. On that evening, suffused with enjoyment for my friends, or because I was enjoying it anyway… For whatever reason, possibly because I thought she was joking, I said ‘yes’… instead of running away from the idea as fast as my then-undamaged feet would carry me.

OK, the first blind date was a disaster. No, seriously, a disaster; the sort of date where, after twenty minutes, you’re both sneaking looks at your watches wondering at what point it’d cease to be an embarrassment to call the evening to a halt. When we did eventually bring an end to the torture, the relief on both our faces as I dropped her back at home – and didn’t go in for the perfunctorily invited coffee – was plainly obvious for the other to see.

And that was supposed to be it; I’d had a blind date, it hadn’t worked out. Except that the lady in question – Marsha – came up with another name and another potential blind date for me. And again, I said yes. And as if the fates were conspiring against me, after we’d arranged it, Marsha’s husband died and the shiva dates covered the proposed meeting.

So we cancelled.

And rearranged.

And, a few days after the date had originally been planned, a week or so after we’d spoken first on the phone, I turned up, knocked on a door, and the woman who I’d only agreed to meet at all because I’d not taken a date to my best friend’s wedding opened the door to me.

Of course it was Laura, the lady who, a couple of years later, did me the singular honour of marrying me.

And because of that small decision (the non-date at Ian’s wedding, not the marrying me), so much has happened to me and in my life.

Obviously, there’s Laura herself, and though we’re no longer a couple, she’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. One of my closest friends, and partly but not wholly because of the life we shared, one of the people who knows me best.

And of course, there’s our son, Philip, now 24 years old.

I can’t imagine having the success I did have in my former life as an accountant, financial controller and financial director without Laura in my life. I can’t imagine my life would have been remotely similar to how it’s turned out. So many unanticipated consequences of a single decision.

And to think, I remember, at one point, early on in the proceedings at Ian’s wedding, thinking “I wish I’d brought a date.”

Who knew, eh?

Who knew?
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…


¹That hasn’t changed, by the way; nor has my ‘single’ status; I’ve been effectively and actually single for most of the fifteen years since the marriage ended, and wholly and completely single for the past decade or so. Not strictly relevant, but it’s nice to ensure there’s no-one thinking they should do something about it.

Two weeks left.

Well, a little under two weeks, I guess.

A little under two weeks.

And then 2019 will finally be over.

Done. Dusted. We can put it to bed. Gently rest its head on a pillow. Cover it with a blanket. Then take another pillow, and carefully, deliberately, smother it. Put it out of its pain and misery. I don’t even think it’ll protest. It’ll welcome that longest sleep, and succumb quickly.

But it’ll be dead.

Except it won’t. Not really.

For the consequences of decisions taken in 2019, and of events that have occurred this year, will linger not only into 2020 but far, far beyond.

The obvious, I guess, since it’s the most recent in pain, hurt and time is the 2019 election we’ve all just… enjoyed. The consequences of that election, both direct and indirect, will affect us throughout 2020, and into 2021 and longer.

In 2015, as part of this blog, I wrote a countdown blog to the election and wrote more than forty entries about the election. I took almost all of 2017 off from blogging, and so didn’t write about that year’s general election. And I hardly wrote anything about this one; the occasional piece, sure. But not a full blown ‘ok, let’s take a look at what the fuck is happening’ series of entries.

Partly because I had nothing to add, partly because what I saw, what I witnessed, was too painful. Partly because I knew I was going to lose friends over the campaign period, and didn’t wish to gratuitously, needlessly, lose more.

Because the campaigns were poisonous on all sides, and the poison infected everyone. I’ve long bemoaned the political climate of ‘our opponents are not merely good people with bad ideas, but bad people with worse ideas’ but it reached its zenith in November and December. Or at least I pray it did. For if it’s going to get even more apparent and greater in scope, then that’s not a country and not a world I’m entirely sure I can handle.

The fallouts from that election on a national, and on a personal, level are still painful. And for once that’s not a netaphor, nor a conceit; it fucking hurts, inside.

And I am so fucking tired.

I shouldn’t have to wonder, every time someone I know, like and respect makes a ‘dodgy’ crack; I shouldn’t have to ask myself every fucking time: “do they realise what they’re saying, how it’s coming across? or did they just go for the quick joke and it’s essentially ignorance, not malice”.

Never before has ‘no candidate/party is perfect, so you vote for the least imperfect‘ clashed so obviously, so blatantly, with the ‘there are lines I cannot and will not cross‘.

So, yeah, I very deliberately didn’t write much about the 2019 election.

Which means, at least, unlike in 2015, I don’t have to write a mea culpa post afterwards about everything I got wrong.

And now we approach 2020.

On a personal level, the start of any new year is always overshadowed by an anniversary that takes place a week and a bit into that new year: the anniversary of my brother’s death in 1998. As I’ve written before, and no doubt will again, the advent of 1998 was the last time, the final time, I greeted 1st January with “well, whatever happens this year, it can’t be worse than this last year.”

Who knew?

But even leaving aside that intensely personal reason for not greeting each new year with unalloyed joy, four weeks into 2020 the UK will leave the European Union. Oh, there’ll be a transition period of almost a year, during which most stuff will stay the same. But unless an extension is sought by July, no extension is gonna happen at the end of 2020.

So there’s every possibility, probability even, that at the end of 2020, the UK is out without a trade deal… after which the brown stuff truly will hit the spinning round whirly thing.

I read today that after 31st January, official British government policy will be to stop using the term ‘Brexit’, presumably so Boris Johnson can claim that ‘Brexit’ was… done.

Our primus inter mendaces knows it’s not true. As does his entire government, his entire party. And saying it, and believing it’s true because it was said, is more often associated with the orange poltroon in the big round room across the Atlantic. But Johnson is banking on enough in the country being gullible enough to believe it. And, given the past few years, who can unreservedly claim that he’s incorrect in that calculation?

All the parties in the recent election, every one of them, relied on a certain amount of gullibility from the people from whom they were seeking votes; all that differed was how much.

Talking of America, and the orange poltroon, we get to see the trial of President Trump at some point. I’ve no idea whether or not the trial will happen in January. And right now, no other bugger does wither. Pelosi seems to want to not send the articles of impeachment the House voted to approve to the Senate until she gets a cast iron guarantee of how the trial will be conducted.

Which, given Mitch McConnell’s fundamental untrustworthiness, may take until after the 2020 Presidential election.

Oh yeah, we’ve got that next year as well. Which will once again show the world’s countries how – whatever their own fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems – America really doesn’t like being second place in the table of countries with fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems.

Just as it’s irresistible to look at the results of a horrible car crash while you’re driving past it, there’ll be an overwhelming desire to watch both the trial and the election, to witness history in the making.

Because, like it or not, both will be history in the making. They’ll be events that will make pundits and public alike look at, years later, and.. and what? Shudder at? Cry at? Wince at? Who knows.

But history in the making? Certainly.

But then there’s always history in the making.

I was born in mid-August 1964, a few months before America decisively rejected Barry Goldwater’s offer to the American people, and almost exactly nine months after JFK was assassinated and after the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast.

In the now over 55 years I’ve been in this planet, I missed some history being made, sure; I wasn’t even aware of anything outside what directly affected me and mine for the first, what half a dozen or so years of my life, and for the next half a dozen, didn’t care about them. So, President Nixon resigned in 1974, week or so before my 10th birthday.

At ten years of age, I’m not entirely sure I even knew it at the time. It’s possible my father might have mentioned it, and I heard it, but no, I have n memory of it. (I do remember the Beatles breaking up, six years earlier, but only because my aforementioned big brother was terribly upset.)

I honestly don’t know how much I’d have been aware of, though had social media and ubiquitous connection to the internet had been around in the 1970s…

But even if you say from the age of 13 – in mid-1977 – in my life, I’ve witnessed history being made dozens of times. Just off the top of my head, without thinking about it, in my teenage years, Elvis died, as did John Lennon. We had the first woman British Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter the miner’s strike. Soon thereafter, Labour showed how you catastrophically lose a general election, a lesson that took almost forty years to be forgotten enough… to do it again.

In my mid-20s, the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR started to collapse, and Nelson Mandela walked to freedom… and and and…

History is made all the time, and occasionally you realise it at the time, but almost never does it happen in such a way that instantly you know what the consequences will be.

You can guess whether they’ll be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but not much more than that.

And 2020 will bring more deaths; that’s inevitable. There’ll be much loved celebrities who die at the end of a ‘natural’ life span’, and some that go too soon; some that go far, far too soon.

Though, to be fair, there’ll be some who’ll die and my reaction will be… that I’m surprised they were still alive, either because of advancing age or, let’s say if Keith Richards dies, that they managed to last as long as they did.

My mother used to say that things came in threes… and if another thing happened, it wasn’t that things happened in fours, but that it was the start of a whole new series of three.

But you know, you already know, that when something – I don’t know what – but something will happen in the early says of 2020 – happens, plenty of people will cry in protest: “Oh fuck; I was hoping 2019 had ended…”

It did.

It will have.

This will just be the long, lingering smell of shit, like someone dumped a huge barrel of turds across the world in 2019.

Which, I suppose, in every important way… they did.
 
 
Something else, something happier, or at least smilier… tomorrow. And next week? Something on good stuff that happened in 2019, both personal and beyond.

Someone asked, on Twitter, the other day which celebrity death had most affected people who read it.

While there were the usual people offered, and as expected, some interpreted ‘celebrity’ to mean ‘anyone famous’ which wasn’t the original intention, I suspect… what struck me was that almost no-one I saw mentioned anyone from this year.

I mean, plenty of famous people have died this year. Just from my own quick trek through the memories of 2019, the following people all died in the past 12 months:

  • Albert Finney
  • Doris Day
  • Mark Hollis
  • Andre Previn
  • Rutger Hauer
  • Toni Morrison
  • Ian Cognito

But even excluding the people who mentioned the half a century departed Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr (yes, I saw a couple of mentions for both), it wasn’t this year that people mentioned.

It was 2016, particularly the early part of it when it seemed like every other day bought the news of someone famous dying, that brought forth the most common responses I saw. (Which might, I’ll admit, say more about who I follow on Twitter than anything else.)

Because the same two names kept coming up:

David Bowie

and

Prince

Bowie died in January 2016, and Prince three months later.

Now I was upset when Bowie died, mainly but not exclusively because his music had always been a part of my life. But I wasn’t devastated.

I’d always been aware of Bowie’s music and – with rare exceptions – I’d always liked it. but it was never the most important music in my life, nor even a very important part of it. But it was there. And I enjoyed watching him perform. Never saw him live, but always liked his stage performances that I saw on tv, and I’d watch if I noticed a show was on while channel flipping.

Prince, on the other hand? Well, I’d liked some of what he’d done, but not that much. I liked some of his music, but I wasn’t a fan of his work in any way. The occasional song, yes. But not much more than that.

But between them, the day before Prince died, that was the celebrity death that affected me the most. And still does when I think of it.

Because the day before Prince died… Victoria Wood died, and that one hurt. That one hurt so bloody much.

That death broke me. Far more than Bowie’s. Far more than Prince’s. Far more than Robin Williams’ did eighteen months earlier.

I utterly and unreservedly loved Victoria Wood’s work. Not only her musical comedy – though I’ll acknowledge that was the primary source of my enjoyment. But her standup, her writing, her sketch shows with Julie Walters, with Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie and Susie Blake. Damn she was talented, and funny, and clever as hell.

Yeah, that one still hurts.

I’ve no idea whether or not she was on social media, but I don’t think she wasn’t aware of how many people enjoyed her work. Y’see, one of the consequences of social media recording and of distributing public eulogies and thoughts on the departed is the often stated common phrases

“I hope they knew how much they were loved”

and

“I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

Some of this is self-deluding; I don’t for a moment believe that big stars, very famous people, are unaware how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told as much by many. Not these days. (Whether they believe it is an entirely different mater, but they have been told.)

Because famous people are told that. (As much as they’re – unfortunately – faced with the trolls, the bastards and the shit-stirrers that they’re horrible people.)

There are other deaths that hurt even more, of course: family, friends, family friends. One day they’re there, then suddenly, shockingly suddenly sometimes, they’re not.

And they often don’t know how much they matter, how much they matter to you.

So take a good look at the people you like, the people you love, the people you admire.

In years to come, some of them won’t be there. Some of them, it’s true, will still be around, or at least alive, but you’ll no longer like, love nor admire them; they won’t be part of your life any more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes the best thing for all concerned is to walk away, with as little bitterness, as little anger, as little regret, as possible. But to walk away.

But some of them? Some of them will have died. Some will have died from old age (unless you’re very uncommon, some of the people you like, love and admire are getting on in years…); some will have fatal accidents, some from illness, some from choice. (And when I say ‘choice’, I’m a firm believer that voluntary euthanasia will be made legal in many countries in the next decade or so; whether you support it or not, what illnesses it includes or not; I think it’s coming.)

And while telling someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you is often as much for your sake as it is for theirs, so what? Tell them anyway; in the same way as the old line about “no one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is at least in part true, no one should ever die thinking thinking that they didn’t matter: family, friends, people who liked them, people who loved them, admirers alike.

Tell them.

Something else tomorrow; maybe another Ten Things.

After the past few days when you’ve had nothing from me.

Well, naybe not ‘nothing’ as in I skipped the days, but nothing containing any real content.

I’m at least feeling more like ‘me’ now, having thrown off all the reactions from the sedative, and I had – for the first time in several days – a decent night’s kip overnight.

Probably more than a decent night’s kip; I woke up this morning feeling like I’d caught up on about a week’s sleep.

So I wanted to give you… something today, something you’d not read before, not a piece of old fiction, say. I prevail upon your good graces quite enough every Tuesday, so nothing of that today.

And I did not want to present another Q&A Livejournal type meme. Oh, the temptation was there, I assure you, but I’ve resisted it. That’s ok, you can thank me another time.

Instead, here’s something about names, specifically mine.

If you were to refer to me while talking to a mutual acquaintance, how would you refer to me? Most people, undoubtedly, would say ‘budgie’. A few would say ‘Lee’. One person or another would say ‘Barnett’. And there’s probably a few, I’ve no doubt, who would insert an obscenity before any of those. And there’s one person who uses a name that – as far as I know – no one else can, or does, use.

Y’see, I’ve been known by several names over my life, in different circumstances.

(And no, I exclude the less flattering epithets used by people who are, justifiably or not, less than delighted with me…)

Those names?

Lee

Yes, obviously, my given name. The name fewer and fewer people call me with each passing year, which is how I like it. But more about that in a moment. In Jewish tradition, well, Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, you name after the deceased. In my case, I was named after my maternal great-grandmother, Leah. My mum’s mum’s mum.

I don’t know much about her, to be honest. To be equally honest, I’ve never been that curious to know, either. Three of my four grandparents came to the UK as toddlers, in the early part of the last century, as their parents escaped from pogroms or state sanctioned antisemitism in the countries in which they were born.

Leah and her family, though? No. Her family had been in the UK for generations. I don’t remember my mum talking about her grandparents that much; maybe she did and I just wasn’t paying attention. More than possible, but I dunno. And since I’ve not been in contact with her or my surviving brother for some years – my choice, I stress – I’m not likely to discover which it is now.

But I never liked ‘Lee’ as a first name. I’d have switched to using a middle name years ago, decades ago… had I the option, but my parents didn’t give either me or my younger brother middle names. I joke that “I don’t have an middle name; my parents couldn’t afford one” but again I’ve no real idea why my older brother got a middle name and I didn’t.

So I was stuck with ‘Lee’. And in the 1970s, for every kid that knew of the actor Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man, there was some wag who knew of the actress Lee Remick.

I’m sure it didn’t occur to my parents the hassle they were landing their kid with, giving him an androgynous name. But I soon learned to dislike the name immensely. I’m not sure that quite captures the dislike, but yeah, it was intense.

Things weren’t improved when I was 12 and received through the post a complimentary package of items that might have been of great help had I been a 12 year old girl and of no use whatsoever to a 12 year old boy. I recall my mother seeing first my excitement at getting a letter addressed to me (it was rare in those days) then my puzzlement at its contents, then my genuine upset at realising what it contained…

…and her then taking the package away, saying something like “its ok, it was obviously a mistake…”

And I soon learned to put a smile on my face every time I received a letter addressed to Miss L Barnett.

So, yeah, I wasn’t sorry when I gained a nickname. Or two.

When I went to Manchester Polytechnic, I genuinely considered just ‘changing my name’, introducing myself with a self-chosen different name, or creating an invented nickname, but I was too nervous to do so, assuming it would merely lead to more mockery when my ‘real’ name was discovered. Fortunately, time took care of the former without leading to the latter. But again, more about that in a moment.

These days, very few people call me “Lee” to my face. My ex-wife, people who live in the same block of flats. Oh, and people who can’t stand nicknames, which I don’t really understand, unless they call our former Prime Ministers James Brown (Gordon’s real first name) and Anthony Blair… what is ‘Tony’ if not a nickname of his choice?

The only advantage my ‘given name’, complete with no middle name, has granted me is… it’s really fast to fill in forms when they ask for your full name. Ten characters, and I’m done.

L E E    B A R N E T T

Which brings me on to…

Barnett

Yeah, my surname. Now, I’m not including anyone who calls me Mr Barnett, like the bank etc., That’s not calling me by that name as much as it is using the standard courteous salutation.

I’m talking of people who called me just… “Barnett”. Since I’ve never been in the armed forces, and I was fortunate enough never to have worked for a company where the standard was surnames only, the only people who’ve called me by my surname were my teachers.

Not all of them, by any means, but some of them yeah. Oddly, I never objected to it, because it was never personal. They were older teachers in the main who called lads by their surnames and girls by “Miss…” followed by their surname.

But yeah, its been more than forty years or so since anyone’s done that.

It won’t surprise anyone with even the faintest knowledge of immigration to this country that the family surname wasn’t originally Barnett. I’m not about to say what it was – apart from anything else, it looks like the final line of an eye chart when typed out – but my paternal great-grandfather chose to change it when he brought his family here; Barnett was apparently the Polish first name of a friend of his from ‘the old country’.

Three more.

The obvious one: Budgie

OK, getting it out of the way immediately: if you don’t know where the name came from, best to read this first and then come back.

That’s ok, honestly.

We’ll wait for you.

Ok, everyone up to speed? Good.

Yeah, no surprise that I prefer this as my name, and indeed, if anyone asks how they should introduce me to new people, I always – well, nearly always – prefer and pick this one.

I guess to a large extent, it’s because not only do I think of myself as Budgie rather than as Lee, but Budgie‘s someone I created. Not the first time, maybe, but I chose to use the name from the mid-90s, and he’s a much more relaxed person in company than Lee ever was.

And as for the ubiquity of its use, while I was used to people having me in their phone’s contact app as ‘Lee (budgie) Barnett‘, I was delighted some time ago to discover that more than a few have me in there as ‘Budgie (Lee) Barnett‘. I much prefer that.

So, yes, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you want to call me ‘Lee’, go ahead, I’m not going to correct you. But if you want to be courteous and bear my own wishes in mind, I’d prefer ‘budgie’, every time. Thanks.

Yehuda ben Abram Shmuel

OK, one you’re probably not used to seeing, and that might need a bit of explanation. If you’re Jewish, you have a hebrew name as well as an ‘English’ one. Unless you use the former as the latter. But your hebrew name is of the format ‘[child’s name] son/daughter of [parent’s name]’

It’s used for religious purposes; when you’re called up in synagogue, for your bar or bat mitzvah. It’s used when you’re married, or divorced. Or on your headstone when you’re buried.

And, often though not always, that’s also the ‘named after the departed’ bit.

In my case, my parents chose Lee as the ‘naming after’ bit for me, not the ‘Yehudah’ bit. (My late older brother, though, was named Michael and Meyer, after our dad’s dad, who himself was Michael and Meyer.) My father’s forenames were Arnold Sidney, the Hebrew was Avram Shmuel, hence my own name being my own forename [son of] his forenames.

Very logical language, Hebrew.

OK, the last one. And there’s only one person on the planet who uses it. By now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Dad

I’ve only one child, a 24 year old son named Philip, who I’ve called Phil from the day he was born. (I instantly knew he was a ‘Phil’ rather than the formal ‘Philip’. How I knew that? I have no idea. But I did. At once.).

He’s great. No, seriously, nothing I could say about him that would add to that. He’s lovely. OK, maybe one or two things. But he is. And after the usual ‘Daddy’ stage, he’s been calling me ‘Dad’ since then. (And of course, as parents throughout history have discovered, when they revert to a multi-syllable ‘Daddeeeeeeee?’ at the start of a phone all, it’s usually because they ‘want something’.)

I kind of like being called Dad.

(His girlfriends have never quite known whether to go with ‘Lee’ or ‘Budgie’ when talking to or about me. It’s more amusing to me than it probably should be that they go back and forth on which to use.)

Anyway, names… now you know mine.

The usual Tuesday ‘something else’ tomorrow.

One guaranted reaction these days to someone tweeting or blogging, or even putting on Facebook, something they overheard is the inevitable
 

“it didnt happen!”

 
or
 

never happened!

 
There are twitter accounts devoted to claims that this thing being reported, or that anecdote, didn’t happen, never happened, that it was being tweeted for the retweets, or to get notoriety, or just to get some exposure.

Now I’m sure that some of them didn’t happen. Let’s get that out there.

I mean, whenever I see someone report something that, purely by coincidence I’m sure was entirely a justification for, or an example of, a previously expressed political view, I’m… sceptical, I’ll acknowledge.

Say… someone who loves the idea of Brexit, and has frequently complained that it’s taking too long…. says they overheard someone complaining that ‘they just won’t let it happen, the politicians should just get on with it! It’s taking too long’?

Yeah, I’m not wholly and immediately convinced that the report is strictly accurate.

Or, say, someone who loathes the current benefits system excitedly tweeting that they “heard people on the train saying how horrible it is…

Again, not necessarily true. Could be. Might be. Might not be.

Or, say, something even less… heartwarming.

Say someone thinks all the reports of antisemitism inside Labour are smears, reporting they heard people at a coffee shop saying exactly the same thing. Or someone who thinks it doesn’t matter that Boris Johnson lies as easy as he breathes, saying that in the street they hear loads of people saying exactly the same.

Somehow, I’m able to withhold my immediate and complete acceptance that they’re repeating nothing but the unfettered truth.

Someone exaggerating on Twitter? Perish the very thought.

But all of these types of reportage are trying to suggest, are extrapolating to propose, that ‘the public’ think the same as they do. That the conversation they overheard was representative of a vast swell of public opinion.

That’s not what I want to write about today. Hell, that’s not what I want to write about any day.

No, what bugs me is the pissing all over the other type of ‘overheard…’

The silly. The funny. The odd. The bizarre.

Because what I don’t understand is people claiming ‘it didn’t happen’ when it’s not political, it’s just… odd, or funny. Or silly.

Because people, individually and in small groups, are odd and funny and silly.

And if you spend a lot of time in coffee shops, as I have, you do overhear people, as they tend to forget that others in the place can hear them.

And occasionally I, like others, will tweet an overheard bit that’s weird, silly, or just funny out of context. Not a whole conversation; a line or two. Because it’s fun. Not identifying the people in any way, not livetweeting an entire conversation, or the break up of couple. The odd line.

Taking a quick look through my blogs and tweets, here are some of my favourites.

I’ll put it in the diary
Just popped down to the car and overheard the following from two people walking past:
Person 1: You’re not serious?
Person 2: What? I’m just saying if Jesus was born on Christmas Day and died at Easter, then Christmas should come at the start of the year and Easter should come at the end…


 
Yes, that’ll work
On the Picadilly Line
“OK, but if anyone asks what you’re doing with a body, tell them you’re making a movie…”


 
Wait, what?
A selection of comments overheard from a group of what I presumed were either PR people or party organisers, sorting out a new Year’s Eve Party for a client.

“OK, well New Year’s Eve, we’ve got the fetish party thing. Who’s arranging for the cleaning afterwards?”

“Well, if we kill the project, do we have to kill the project originator as well?”

“Yes, I know sex sells, but who’d buy her?”

“Do we have to use green jelly? Can’t we use red for a change?”

“What do they mean when they say they weren’t happy with the ‘yuk factor’? Do they want more or less?”

And my favourite from that session:

“Well, tell her to go fuck herself. Oh, no you can’t, can you? She’s your mother…”


 
Mothers
Two weeks later; same coffee shop. Sitting on the next table to me were three people: a grandmother, mother and daughter, given the frequent exasperated mutters of “mother!” coming from the three of them, anyway.

Then the youngest fairly shouts out “I don’t believe it! I swear, it’s like living in a bloody soap opera being related to you two! I need a cigarette…”

And she walks towards the door very huffily.

And the two older women look very sheepish before the presumed mother says to her mother, “You just had to tell her, didn’t you?” only to get a ‘hard stare’ in return…


 
Einsteinian
Overheard on bus:
Person 1: …and that’s why time is relative.
Person 2: Yeah but the bus was late.


 
Always tell the truth
At the next table outside a coffee shop, young mum with small children.
Small boy: you’re lying!
Small girl: No, I’m not!
Boy: You’re lying!
Mum: Don’t accuse your sister of lying…
Girl: There was a dinosaur in the road


 
Coffee!
Again, outside a coffee shop, young mum with young child
Child: You can have coffee, why can’t I? Why? Why?
Parent: Yes, because right now, I need you more excitable.
Child. Yes! You do!


 
But this, this is probably my all time favourite:

Two women sitting on the table next to me:
Woman 1: I’m really sorry about last night.
Woman 2: That’s ok.
Woman 1: I just didn’t realise how late it was.
Woman 2: I told you, it’s ok.
Woman 1: But if I’d have known you were in bed with him, I wouldn’t have phoned.
Woman 2: Seriously, we didn’t mind.
Woman 1: Are you sure?
Woman 2: Yes. If anyone can call him late at night, it’s you. I mean, he is your husband…

erm, yes.

The ‘didn’t happen’ lot lead very anodyne lives, ignorant of silliness. And that’s very, very sad.
 
 
Anyway, something else tomorrow.

Yes, yes, I know, it’s been a long time since I updated the blog – almost a year – but you didn’t think you were getting away without an update, did you? Really?

No, I thought not.

So, time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2018 update to A Life In Pictures.

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 with more recent pics. And people who haven’t seen them before get the unfettered joy of joining in the mockery…

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2018. As always, I’ve removed a couple of shots from previous years, and added some new ones. There weren’t a lot of new pics taken in 2018, but as with last year, thanks to some newly discovered photos and some technical wizardry, there are some surprises awaiting below, like for example a new shot from my wedding, a shot of me holding my almost newborn son, and an extra pic of the two of us from his barmitzvah.

So, in rough order of age…


Those are the earliest photos I’ve got of me… looks like they were taken the same day; my older brother is in the background.


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here in this shot and the next one.


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. I still remember the wallpaper; very, very odd gold pattern to it.


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


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 thirty years ago?


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 – A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…

I love that I found this next pic. Laura’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. And this is another great pic of us on our wedding day. And yes, ahhh I had dark hair back then…

This next one’s an odd one for lots of reasons; first off, it’s obviously my BBC pass from when I was writing for WeekEnding on Radio 4; secondly, when I visited New York just after 9/11, it was better as ID for getting me into buildings, places, meetings than my actual passport… even though it had expired six years’ earlier…


The earliest pic I have of my lad Phil (excluding ‘scans’). Me, a new dad, aged 31. And so, so tired.


Me holding my son… he’s 18 days’ old here.


Yeah, another ‘Budgie plus baby’ pic, this time he’s three months old…


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. Three generations of Barnetts.


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


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.


Me in mid-2006, looking very serious for one reason or another.


Again, mid-2006.


Me in December 2006… looking slightly more relaxed.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning… very relaxed… aided by what Alistair Cooke used to call ‘The wine of Scotland’.


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


November 2008 – formal pic for Phil’s barmitzvah.


May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)


July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)


November 2009 – Me and Phil at a friend’s son’s barmitzvah.


April 2010, in Luton


July 2010, on Mastermind. No, not an illusion; you’re not allowed to wear black for the show…


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


October 2011, trying out a beard… not quite yet… but give it a year…


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

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

Sequence of shots, demonstrating Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)

This final one attracted the title “… and all the woodland creatures gathered around, for they had never seen a creature such as this in the forest.”


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…

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…

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.


From late 2015. I think it was me trying out the new phone’s camera. It’s an odd pose, but as the foregoing shots more than amply demonstrate, that’s not a reason to exclude it.

Some time ago, the delightful Clara Benn took a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in fact in comparison. November 2015, she proved it again…


isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…

Never liked the next shot incolour, I do like it in black and white.

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…


Me and my lad, outside Distraction Club, December 2016

And in December 2017, this one of the new[er], short[er] haircut.

In June 2018, I got to see Pippa Evans; this is me waiting to go in…

In August 2018, my lad Phil was in town for a few days. We realised it had been a while since we’d had pics taken of the pair of us. So here are two.

And, of course since we had that pic, and I had a similar one from almost exactly ten years’ earlier, I was kind of obliged to put the two together. I really like this image.

In October, I attended the Brexit march for a People’s Vote. It ended up with 700,000 people… plus me.

Same march, with Mitch… No idea why, but I really like how my hair looks in this shot.

And the final shot from this year which answers the question “so, what did you do immediately after Christmas 2018, budgie?”

And, as I wish everyone a happy new year, the traditional benediction: Mocking may now commence.

2017 minus 01: A green light

Posted: 31 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal
Tags:

As I write this, it’s about eight hours until 1st January 2017. And, right about now, people are either making or reviewing lists of potential new year resolutions, and then removing items until they’re left with a couple they think they can keep.

I’ve never gone in for the whole ‘new year resolutions’ thing; I’m not sure why, especially since I spent a chunk of my life making To Do lists at work and taking inordinate joy in crossing off the items one by one. 

But new year resolutions? No. Not since I was a kid and maybe not even then; the memories blur with some things until I’m not sure what actually happened, and what I think might have happened.

(And no, it’s not the “it’s just an arbitrary noting of the calendar, and even the calendar is arbitrary” concept that stops me. Oddly, I’ve noticed that people who do say that seem to have no problem accepting birthday presents. And for my mind, you don’t get to celebrate your birthday, or someone else’s birthday, or even the annual commemoration of a death but then also moan about other people making a fuss about one specific day like New Year or Christmas. Not without being even more a hypocrite than we all are in our daily lives.)

I think with me it’s more that while I’m ok with self-imposed deadlines and time pressures, I am – these days – less eager to subject myself voluntarily to other people’s deadlines.

But people make all sorts of new year resolutions. Like saying they’re giving up drinking alcohol. Or that they’re going to lose weight.

Or that they’re going to stop smoking. 

As long as anyone I’m still in contact with has known me, I’ve been a smoker. I started around age 18 and notwithstanding a couple of half-hearted attempts, I’ve smoked pretty much ever since. And, given the above, it won’t surprise you in the least that I’m not about to give up smoking in about 8 hours.

To be honest, there’d not be much of point since I stopped smoking about a month ago, on 1st December 2016. Well, half an hour before 1st December 2016 to be precise. But the decision was made even longer ago, about six weeks before that.

In early October. While in Liverpool.

As I say, I’ve tried giving up smoking before; the last semi-serious attempt was about four years ago. I went ‘cold turkey’ with an e-cig… for a few weeks, and I hated every minute of it. I told everyone at the time that I was stopping, announced it on social media , made a big fuss of it; I thought that peer pressure would help me if I wavered, would keep me off the smokes and oh, I pretended I was ok with it, but close friends knew I loathed giving them up and it didn’t surprise anyone when I returned to the Silk Cut. For whatever reason*, it didn’t work. 

(*Qute possibly, it was that I didn’t actually want to stop smoking.)

OK, skip forward to early October 2016; I was travelling to Liverpool for the funeral of a close friend’s father. I picked up an e-Lites Curv, more out of curiosity than anything else (though I’m open to the argument that I’m post-event rationalising a desire to give up.)  I thought I’d try it out for 24 hours and see. Within 24 hours, I’d come up with a plan that I hoped would work. It was basically this: figure out what didn’t work last time and don’t do that.

So, for once, I was sensible, and set myself weekly targets: I’d continue to smoke, just cutting down the amount of time every day I smoked cigarettes and slowly, day by day, increase the amount of time I used the ecig. The aim was to cease smoking around the house – not in it but even around it – by November 11th, and to stop smoking, to smoke my last cigarette… the night of 30th November 2016.

And so it was.

And so it turned out to be.

Around 11:20pm on 30th November, I walked back to the house, lit my last cigarette, smoked it, stubbed it out as I got near rhe house… and haven’t smoked a cigarette since. A few people knew, and I told a few more over the past month, but I didn’t make A Thing of it for several reasons:

  • Who knew if I’d manage a few days, let alone longer?
  • I didn’t want to tell anyone until I’d gotten over the cravings for a cigarette
  • If I did ‘fall off the wagon’, I could easily self-excuse it if no-one knew, and I could restart the following day, if I wanted.

Well, now it’s been a month, pretty much, and not once during that time have I missed smoking. Not once.

Oh, I’ve missed some of the habits around smoking. Over the years, friends who’ve given up have told me they miss putting the cigarette out. With me, it’s been the opposite: I’ve missed lighting a cigarette. Well, I’ve missed lighting lots of them, but that’s starting to fade now, I’ll admit, as I’ve delevoped new habits, like changing the battery and swapping over a new ‘butt’. And checking the green glow to see if it’s blinking and if the battery needs changing…

Am I an ex-smoker? I honestly don’t know. I don’t feel like an ex-smoker, to be honest. I still feel like I’m taking a break, and merely waiting for the inevitable craving to hit me; there’s a part of me that is convinced I’ll succumb to the temptation. 

But I’ve been waiting for the craving to hit me and it hasn’t. At all.

But yeah, I’m not smoking at the moment, and haven’t been for a month… haven’t been for almost half the time I’ve been writing this series of ‘countdown to 2017’ entries.

So, that’s something.


Thanks for sticking with me throughout this countdown to 2017. I hope I’ve not bored you too much. Not sure if there’ll be an entry tomorrow but there’ll probably be something new on the 2nd.

Happy new year, people, however you celebrate it.

2017 minus 11: Things past

Posted: 21 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, politics
Tags:

While jumpstarting my brain writing today’s going cheep, a few things jumped into what I’m pleased to call my mind: things that were so obviously part of my if-not-daily-then-definitely-weekly life that no longer even peripherally impact me.This isn’t going to be a ‘things were better in the old days’; most often, they weren’t, and besides that’s the second most boring of these type of posts. (The most boring, of course, is that things are always better now‘.)

So, here are three…

Screen Savers Whenever happened to screen savers? Yes, I know they’re no longer ‘necessary’, but they persisted for quite some time after they ceased to be necessary. Then, in a quite astonishingly short space of time, they just stopped being a thing. Screen savers, for those younger readers, were A Thing. Not only A Thing, but A Thing about which you had to think quite seriously about. When someone saw your computer (never as many people as you thought might see it, by the way, sorry to demolish your ego), it was important for some reason or other that you had the right screen saver. Whether it was the flying toasters, or the never ending pipe work, or just a star field, you’d spend minutes – when it should have been seconds – choosing which of the screen savers you’d have on your screen. And – and this is true, I swear – if you were limited in the number of choices, I knew people who’d spend time figuring out how to get around the limitations… just so you’d have something on your screen that a) marked the computer as yours, and b) made you smile or at least didn’t piss you off.

One might suggest that it was solely the advent, and ubiquity, of flatscreen technology, and particularly the end of the cathode ray tube screens that ended the screen saver thing. I don’t agree. I instead wonder if what killed screen savers in the end was two things: firstly the rise of the laptop computer, and especially the immediate nature of the sleep/awake functionality. Suddenly, it didn’t take a minute or so to shut down your laptop, and another minute or so to start up, to resume, again. It was pretty much instant. So no need to leave the screen live; you could just shut the laptop and open it when you needed it. Secondly, and more importantly, the use of smartphones, and especially tablets. When batter power suddenly became the most important thing and genuinely instant access to a working screen/CPU meant that screens were never left on for more than a couple of minutes. 

Online psych tests Back in the days of Livejournal, it was a rare week when one of the memes doing the rounds wasn’t a psych test. You’d click on a link, answer anywhere between 30 and 100 questions and you’d receive an instant diagnosis of your mental state. No one took it particularly seriously, and as a consequence, people openly showed their results… because they were treated as a trivial thing, nothing more nor less important, nor more nor less accurate, than the “which Lord of the Rings character are you?” type things. Even if a result showed that someone was seriously ill and in need of medical attention, therapy and/or medications, readers of the results would usually assume that the result was flawed, or that the person doing the test had fucked around with the answers. 

Maybe it’s the lessening of stigma that has allowed people to be genuine about this kind of thing, and as a consequence, online tests seem to be ‘cheapening’ the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists? I don’t know; I do know that I’m pleased it’s happened; the reaction in their presence, I mean, not the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. (For my my own personal issues with them, they do an important job, and I know many who’ve been=gutted from them.)

The Big Beasts of UK Politics At some point during my adult lifetime, UK politics ceased to have ‘current’ big beasts. Back in the days of Wilson, and Callaghan and even Thatcher, those who sat around the Cabinet table, and those who faced them across the House of Commons chamber, were acknowledged at the time they were doing it as ‘big beasts’, the powerbrokers in the parties, and in the country; people who through either force of personality or of accomplishment deserved to be regarded as such. At some point during Tony Blair’s premiership, that changed. Blair and Brown remained the big beasts but everyone else was a lesser species of politician. The Torres didn’t help matters in that respect by again seeming to reduce anyone who wasn’t leader – and in IDS’s case even then – to some lesser respected and lesser able category of politician. (I almost typed ‘some lesser kind of politician’ but that’s a bit too on the nose where Tory politicians are concerned.)

While this demotion almost certainly helps the leaders of the party, it does nothing beneficial for the country and indeed arguably damages it. While no one wants a cabinet or shadow cabinet riven with disagreement, torn apart by plots for the succession, by allowing the leadership to be seen as the only grown up around the table, it pretty much buggers the succession for years to come. And in the case of Labour now, the only big beast worthy of the name is probably the Shadow Chancellor. Certainly the leader doesn’t deserve the appellation, though he might do in a year’s time. But not yet.

Three things that it always used to be an article of faith that they’d be there. 

Today was “Things past”. Tomorrow “Things present”. You can try and guess what Friday’s will be…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

James Burke makes the point, fairly regularly, that the biggest crises happen when something that people are so used to relying upon that they don’t even think about it… stops working. Also, that when things do stop working, the assumption is that it will, soon enough, start working again. There’s irritation, not worry, nor panic. It’s irritation rather than panic because there’s a temporary inconvenience, not a permanent end to it.

Similarly, I think that the biggest non-recognised events come when people begin to not think how amazing something is, and start to accept something as part of everyday life. 

I used my contactless card to pay for coffee today. OK, yes, I’m still old fashioned enough that I prefer to pay for small items in cash, but that’s slowly changing. But, as I was queuing up, I saw people pay by four different methods:  one person paid by cash, another used NFC via Apple Pay on their iPhone, someone else used their ‘contactless’ bank card, and yet another used Chip and PIN. And as new methods come into play, older ones vanish. While cash remains a useful method of payment*, use of personal cheques in retail shops has plummeted. 

(*worth pointing out that intent out that in London at least, you can no longer use cash to pay for busses; it’s contactless or tfl’s Oyster card.)

But whereas even I thought it was ‘wow’ to use contactless when it started, now it’s just ‘how I sometimes pay for stuff’. It’s not even fair to describe my attitude as blasé, because if I did think about it, I’d probably still be a bit ‘wow’ over it. But I don’t. I don’t think about it, any more than I think about the genuinely modern miracle of constant access to… well, to everything, via the wonder of constant internet access. As Chris Addison puts it: it takes roughly thirty seconds for the modern miracle of the Internet to become, if it’s ‘down’, a basic human right. 

There’s so much I use and experience every day, from my iPhone and my iPad to my bluetooth keyboard, from text messaging to the large digital displays by the bus stop, to the fact that the London Underground keeps running, somehow. 

That’s something else I’m used to and don’t think about that often, if at all: the systems that keep working. Whether it’s the National Health Service (no matter how bad, I know I can turn up at Acciednt and Emergency and I will, eventually, be seen) or the street lights or – as I say above – the London Underground.

Those trains, hundreds of them, running roughly to timetable, thousands of drivers and staff just keeping them moving. And, when there is a problem, (the Piccadilly Line has severe problems at the moment… and will do so for some weeks to come) somehow, the system copes, manages. Except it’s not just the system itself; it’s the people who work there, working harder than anyone realises, but that’s the truth of most jobs: no one realises how hard any job is unless they’ve done it.

It’d blow my mind if I actually thought deeply on what it takes to keep the major infrastructure systems running.

But I don’t think about it.

I probably should.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 49: London Zoo

Posted: 13 November 2016 in 2017 minus, life, London
Tags: ,

When I started this blog, I’d intended to write some entries about the city in which I live. Yeah, things kind of got away from me, what with the… now, how does John Oliver put it? Oh yes…

That said, this afternoon I got to spend some time with birthday girl Greta Benn and family at London Zoo. I should say upfront that I’ve no strong views either pro- or anti- zoos, but that if you’re very anti- them, then this entry is probably not for you, and you should probably stop reading at this point.

Similarly, if you’ve a problem with looking at spiders, then, yeah… probably best you skip this entry and come back tomorrow.

While you’re deciding, here’s a nice video I took of a long necked turtle.


OK, still here? Good.

So, yeah, Greta, her sister Astrid and friends, together with us adults went off to London Zoo today. Was a fun afternoon, looking at various animals, learning a lot in my case. Seriously. Those little information signs outside the cages or glass fronts? I learned stuff I didn’t know.

I didn’t know, for example, that a rattlesnake’s ‘rattle’ grows with each shed of skin, and that baby rattlesnakes are silent, until their first shed. I didn’t know that London Zoo have a gorilla named after one of our parrots at home. (Yeah, yeah, you can say that it’s just a coincidence, but I know better.) 

I also didn’t know that the Slender Loris is one of the cutest animals on the planet. (It was too dark to get a shot of own, but this is a Slender Loris. Tell me it’s not cute; go on, I dare you.)


I also discovered that I’m surprisingly all right around big spiders, including a tarantula. I should note that friends took great delight in introducing me to this young lady, a bird eating spider…

Here, have some monkeys.

And a gorilla, a new daddy apparently. We could just about see the baby gorilla…

To show my expert zoological knowledge, I confidently identify the following as a bird.

Whereas, again showing off my knowledge of the animal kingdom, this one is… a bird.

This one is definitely not a bird. I’m fairly sure of that.

I’m equally sure that the smaller ones are recently born cubs. (Or midget tigers. I’m not entirely sure.)

Here, have some monkeys.

Yeah, here come the spiders…

I’m 90% sure this isn’t a spider.

I’m not convinced about this one, though.

And this one…. yeah, this one’s a snake. A big snake. A REALLY BIG snake. No, I’m not kidding, how fucking big is this snake? Run, for fuck’s sake run…

Huh. I was going to write more about the zoo, but you know what? You’ve got pictures.

More on… something else, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Twenty-one.

It’s an important number, you know.

For example, you may or may not know that twenty-one is a semiprime number. Also that it’s a Fibonacci number. But were you aware that it’s the sum of the first six natural numbers (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 = 21), making it a triangular number?

It also has an important role in Blackjack.

None of which is particularly important today, or at least they’re of far less importance than the fact that today is my son’s twenty-first birthday.

Yeah, I know. Twenty-one. I’m having some problems processing that fact myself, and I’ll let those of you who’ve known him for some years take a second or two to do a mental brain-flip while you accept it.

Philip Samuel Barnett – known to almost everyone bar his mum as ‘Phil’ – was born on 2nd November 1995; at half past nine in the evening if you’re curious. And today, it’s 2nd November 2016.

In 1995, he was 8lb 3oz, and 21½” long. He’s a bit heavier than that now, and a whole lot taller.

Twenty-one years old. And engaged to his girlf-, no, his fiancée, Rhiannon, who – in one of those sparks of synchronicity that makes you wonder – is twenty-one herself, tomorrow.

Twenty-one years old. Wow.

I’ve said many times – and it remains as true today as it was the day he was born – that being a father is the most fun thing I’ve ever done, bar none.

Now let’s get it straight: anyone who says being a parent is easy is either ignorant, lying or a masochist. It’s not easy, far from it. It’s not meant to be easy, but it is a responsibility that I love performing and undertaking, and the reason for that is simple: it’s solely because it’s Philip who’s my son.

As I’ve witnessed, helped (and hopefully not hindered too much) his progress through life, from baby to toddler, from toddler to child, from child to young adult, alongside wonder, my emotions have been, and continue to be, those of pride and pleasure in the young man he’s turned into. The credit for an incredible amount of that must go to Laura; she’s a wonderful mother. And I’m constantly filled with justifiable hope and confidence for the adult he’s become, and the adult he will become in the next few years.

He’s currently studying at Aberystwyth University with Rhee, and I don’t get to see him nearly as much as I’d like. But fortunately, I got to spend last night with them both at The Distraction Club – which I’m going to write about more in a later blog entry – and it’s time I wouldn’t swap for anything… 

As always, however, I have no idea how he went from:

to

to

to

to

to

to

in what seems like an astonishingly short space of time.

‘Appy birthday, Phil. I love you, son.

Dad
x

[Feel free to add your birthday greetings and wishes here, or tweet him at @phik_vicious…]

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 65: Q&A

Posted: 28 October 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal
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Haven’t done this for a lonnng time; I guess you could say it’s a thematic sequel though to “Who…?” from last week.

Here’s one of those Q & A ‘memes’, questions I’ve been asked over the years, with today’s answers.

OK.

Alcoholic drink of choice?
Single malt whiskey, neat. I can’t really afford that regularly, so a decent blended will do.

First thing you ever got paid for writing?
A short sketch on BBC Radio 4’s Weekending. As I recall, it was about Boris Yeltsin.

Ever have a near-death experience?
Yes.

Name an obvious quality you have.
Well, according to several people, a very skewed perception of how I’m regarded by others. That’s their opinion of an “obvious” quality, not necessarily one with which I agree.

What’s the name of the song that’s stuck in your head right now?
A Night Like This by Carl Emerald

Favourite toy as a child?
Lego; boring, but true.  

When was the last time you visited the street where you first lived?
Well, I was born in Luton; haven’t been back to the town, let alone the street, in years.

Do you read your horoscope?
No; if I want to read fantasy, there’s plenty of better written stuff out there.

When was the last time you googled your own name?
Can’t remember; I set up a couple of google alerts way back when I had a reason to check; I get a digest every so often.

Do you like having your photograph taken?
Generally? No, I really don’t like it. I don’t mind if I know it’s being taken, but I really, really hate it when I don’t know it’s being taken. The chances I’ll like the pic if I don’t know it’s being taken are miniscule.

What time were you born?
11:10 pm

Ever seriously questioned your sanity?
Yes.

How many phone numbers do you have remembered and can say off the top of your head?
Over my lifetime? Many, many. How many could I remember now? Half a dozen, possibly.

Have you ever killed your own dinner?
If you mean, have I ever killed something and then ate it, the answer’s no. If you mean, have I ever destroyed a meal I was making, hell’s teeth, you’re asking questions of someone who could burn corn flakes. I’m a terrible cook. Abysmal.

What phobias do you have?
Bees and wasps; spiders that are bigger than they should be. And to save you asking, spiders shouldn’t be any bigger than a quarter of an inch diameter.

What’s your ideal breakfast?
I rarely if ever have breakfast.

What book or movie title best summarises your personality?
What is the Name of This Book? by Raymond Smullyan

If you could suddenly get the skill to play any single musical instrument, which would you choose?
Mouth organ – that way no one would ever ask me to sing. (A couple of years ago, friends bought me one. I started to learn, then put down; I really should get back to learning it. I’d actually quite like to.)

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?
I tend to assume that someone who’s intelligent in one area will be equally intelligent in others, and I’m biased in favour of intelligent people.

What’s the longest time you’ve stayed out of the country/where?
1980, from mid-July to mid-August. On a BBYO/youth group tour of Israel.

And the furthest you’ve ever been from where you were born?
Singapore. Flew there, stayed six hours, flew back. Long story. Not as long as the flight, though.

If you were another person, would you be friends with you?
The temptation is to say no, but I honestly don’t know.

Why do you write?
Either because I have a story I want to tell, or to meet a challenge, (self-imposed or external), or something occurs to me that I have to get down… in order for it to make sense to me. And sometimes, the format itself gets in the way. A story won’t work in prose, but it will as poetry, or only as a scrupt.

Why are you such a grouch?
It’s obligatory. Comes with my membership of the Curmudgeonly Club.

Why do you pretend you don’t know when someone’s interested in you when you obviously do?
Erm, we’ve obviously never met.

Do you think of yourself as “Budgie” or “Lee”?
These days? Always the former.

If you could change one thing about yourself whether it be physical or not, what would it be?
Physically? Full body transplant.
Mentally? An injection of “grow up” serum.

What is your favourite word?
Poltroon.

Which writers do you find inspiring and / or influential?
I can’t think of any writers I’ve found inspiring as in emotionally inspiring, but ‘inspiring me to write’? Warren Ellis, Peter David, David Morrell, Irving Wallace. ‘Nagging me to write more’? Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn.

Influential? Oh, a bit from everyone above, I think.

Please pass on an important piece of advice about life.
Two pieces of advice: (1) Learn from your mistakes; regret ’em, but don’t brood on them. (2) Accept completely and utterly that life is an ongoing series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’,

Who would you most like to meet?
There are any number of people with whom I’ve corresponded online that I’d like to meet, including some that have become friends. Celebrities? Stephen Fry, Peter David, Jon Stewart, Jeremy Paxman, in the main so I can tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their work.

Would you ever consider running for political office?
Absolutely NOT!

What is the first thing you notice about people?
Their face. I’d like to say their eyes, but it’s their entire face. It’s their eyes that ‘get’ me though; I’m a sucker for communicative eyes.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Nope, not at all. I think that those people who do are… misguided.

Which is your favourite song that you would choose to sing at a karaoke bar?
I wouldn’t. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

If you were to be famous, what would you like to be known for?
As the disreputable and slightly embarrassing father of a very talented son.

Pretend you live in a world where everyone wears real, physical masks all the time. Halloween masks, masquerade masks, and so on. What would your favorite mask look like?
Completely blank, like that of THE QUESTION.

What do you do if you forget the name of someone you’ve just been introduced to?
I’ll usually apologise and admit it…

Tell me: One strength. One shortcoming. One plan of action. One goal. One fear.
One strength: determination, not stubbornness.
One shortcoming: stubbornness, not determination.
One plan of action: under no circumstances ever say ‘next year has to be better than this year’; I’ve been burned before on that.
One goal: make it through this series of blog entries relatively unscathed.
One fear: the confirmation of other fears.

What’s your favorite black and white movie?
Always have problems with favourite movies, because I have different favourites depending on genre. So I’ll say probably Casablanca as a ‘serious’ movie, and Duck Soup as a comedy. (And as we’re less than. two months from Christmas season, and as an aside, I’ll add that I can’t stand It’s a Wonderful Life. At all.)

What do you wear to bed to sleep?
A duvet.

What song always makes you happy when you hear it?
Not sure about ‘happy’, but Walking on Sunshine by Katriona and the Waves always makes me smile when I hear it.

Are you afraid of the dark?
Not at all, but then it’s never given me a reason to be afraid of it. So far.

What’s your favourite music to dance to?
Even when my foot allowed it (long story), I loathed dancing. Hated it. Not only cannot I not dance, I’m far too self-conscious – I cannot get it out of my head that everyone’s looking.

Do you think writers are too in love with themselves?
Oh hell, no. I think many writers don’t like themselves very much at all.

Can you recommend a coffee?
I always recommend a coffee.

Who is the strongest person you know?
Couldn’t narrow it down to one person; so many people I know have triumphed – or are struggling to do so – against horrible things that have happened to them, that I couldn’t narrow it down to one person.

Favorite Number?
1729

Can you speak any languages other than English?
A smattering of yiddish, and absolutely fluent rubbish.

If you could live in any past time period, which would it be?
If I had to pick, 1960s, but I’d probably be enirely useless living there. I’d miss too many of today’s comforts, and tech, and the social norms? No, I don’t think I’d get on well, living in the past.

Do you dream in color or black and white?
Honestly, I’ve never noticed. Is that a thing?

Are you tolerant of other people’s beliefs?
I’d like to respond “as long as they’re tolerant of mine”, but honestly? Depends on the beliefs.

Have you ridden in a hot air balloon?
No, and I’m in no hurry to do so.

Which hurts the most, physical or emotional pain?
For me? Physical.

Would you rather visit a zoo or an art museum? I’d rather visit neither.

Do you have a middle name?
No, my parents couldn’t afford one

What medications do you take?
Anything that I need to. Other than that, nothing

Have you ever ‘done drugs’? Yes; smoked dope occasionally, never anything stronger, though I’ve been offered on many occaisons. Just not my thing.

What do you think of hot dogs?
I think it’s cruel, and the owners should be prosecuted for not leaving the car windows open.

Do you own a knife? Well, does a Swiss Army Knife count? If so, yes.

What characteristics do you despise?
Intolerance and arrogance.

Where in the world on vacation, where would you go?
Toss up between Bermuda, Antigua and New York

What did you want to be when you were little?
Older… and taller.

79. Favourite Candy Bar? Don’t have one.

Would most people say you look older than you are, younger or approximately the ‘correct’ age?
Younger, usually, which still always surprises the hell out of me.

What is your hidden talent?
I’m genuinely unsure whether I have one. I’m not usually one to hide any talents I have…

Is there any subject that should be off limits for humor?
No. None. However, just because a joke can be made about a subject doesn’t mean it should be made. Context is also important – where and when the joke is told.

Are you a hypocrite?
Yes. Next question?

Just curious – what’s your type?
Arial Rounded MT Bold.

If you were one of the Endless, which one would you be?
I think like most people, I feel like different Endless at different times… As a general rule though, never really feel like a character created by someone else. I’m more of a self-made person who has a healthy disrespect for my creator.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 74: Who…? 

Posted: 19 October 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal
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Some housekeeping and information before today’s entry. 

There are 74 of these entries to go and even I – who am not short of a few words on most subjects – would probably find writing 1000 or more words a day for this place a stretch; moreover, no doubt you’d like a bit of novelty in format, and subject matter. 

So, this is what I’m planning. To make it easier for me – and you –  of the seven posts a week, four will be brand new prose material, my thoughts on a subject or news event, or even some ‘slice of life’ stuff. One post – on Saturdays – will be deliberately lighter in tone, what I used to call “Saturday Smiles”. And since the name isn’t being used at the moment, I might as well do so.

Fiction for the two remaining days: one brand new story, one I’m pulling from the archives, from when I wrote for Elephant Words. I’ve linked to them in the past, but they’ve never appeared on the blog and since I have about three dozen to choose from, that most have never seen, I’ll put some of them up here. That ok with you? Good.


How do you answer the question “who are you?”

I’ve been watching the first few episodes of HBO’s Westworld and – no, don’t worry, I’m not about to spoil it for you, nor predict what’s going on. I wouldn’t do that without very heavy warnings.

But the question “who are you?” and its associated question “what do you do?” have always fascinated me. I mean, they’re not as daft as “how are you?” which, unless it’s a doctor asking you the question, is universally understood as requiring “fine, thanks” as an answer.

But “who are you?” 

It’s not a question that in and of itself informs you of the answer required. Instead, the circumstances in which it’s asked shape the answer required. At various times, I’ve been “Lee”, “Lee Barnett”, “Mr Barnett”, “Laura’s husband”, “Laura’s ex-husband” and, of course, most of the time over the past twenty or more years, “budgie”. And that’s ignoring the responses that cover “what do you do” equally well: “I’m the writer”, “I’m the financial director”, “I’m the lodger”, etc.   

But none of those are themselves good answers. They just give the person asking something to call me, something by which to refer to me. Fantastic tales notwithstanding, knowing someone’s name isn’t necessarily (I’ll grant you that caveat) giving you power over them. 

Who am I? I’m the result of millions of life experiences. I’m a firm believer in people being the sums of their own life experiences. (Also that life is a consecutive series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…’, but that’s a diferent blog entry.) Change the experiences and you change the person. I lost a brother at 38. Had he been around for another ten years or more, my life experiences would be different, so I’d be a different person. Had I not married when I did, or had the marriage lasted shorter or longer than it did, I’d be a different person now. Better? Worse? No idea, but I’d be a different person for sure.

Who am I? I’m someone equally interested in the process by which a decision is reached as the decision itself. I like to know why things happen as much as how they happen. I’ve no interest in pretending they didn’t happen though.

Who am I? I’m a 52 year old man, who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, using slang and colloquialisms that I now detest, cracking gags at school of which I’m now ashamed. That they were “of that time” might explain the causal misogyny, racism and homophobic attitudes, but it doesn’t excuse them. I have no distinct memories of me being racist or homophobic, but I can’t in all honesty pretend it’s not likely I was. And yet, those childhood experiences made me – in part – the person I am today. Change them, and you change who I am. 

Who am I? I’m a Jew who has faced antisemitism, has been called jewboy, kike and hebe, who has been described as vermin and as an infestation. 

Who am I? I’m the boy who was a coward at school, who was regularly beaten up by bullies, and didn’t believe the “they respect you when you stand up to them” then, and I’m none too convinced now. What stopped me being bullied at school was a combination of a) me growing six inches in height in my fifth year at secondary school, b) getting some upper body strength, and c) hitting back and knocking down a bully, the last of which surprised both of us equally. It stopped almost overnight. It was the combination that stopped it, not just the last.

Who am I? I’m someone who I hope has learned from my own experiences and from those of others. I’m someone who tries to think before they speak, listen before I interrupt, and acknowledge that others’ experiences are often not only more relevant than my own but carry more weight.

Who am I? I’m a former accountant who still thinks that that’s a worthy profession, that business is not inherently immoral, and that neither is that business making a profit.  

Who am I? I’m a physical coward who somehow got used to ongoing pain from a foot with a couple of bones dying inside it.

Who am I? I’m someone with friends who forgive me when I fuck up, and understand me better than I sometimes appreciate. 

Who am I? I’m someone who enjoys history but dislikes museums; who enjoys music but can’t play an instrument; who enjoys rhetoric, but loathes demagoguery; who doesn’t enjoy sport on the whole, but quite enjoys others’ enjoyment of it.

Who am I? I’m someone who’ll happily accept a compliment for what I do, but almost never for who I am.

Who am I? I’m someone.

So… who am I?

I’m me. 

Who are you?


See you tomorrow. With either some views on the US election and the debate, or an odd tale or two. We’ll see.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.