Archive for the ‘personal’ 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)

This is effectively part three of this mini-run; part one’s here; part two’s here.]

I have a bookcase. It looks like this.

Now, the eagle eyed among you will spot that there are little rectangular cells in which there are lots of books.

And… no, wait.

Since you’re unlikely to be reading this third part without knowing what I’m doing, I’m going to skip most of the introduction and just get down to it. (The introduction in full is in both the previous parts one and two.)

The two rules before we start.

  1. I own many, many more books and comics’ trades than are shown on these two shelves. They’re just what I have up now. The rest are in various boxes, and indeed there are two piles of books you can’t see, some of which are books I’ve read and just haven’t replaced on the shelves, and some of which are my ‘still to be read at some point…’
  2. The usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things I like… at the time of writing, or in this case ten books I’ve picked. Another week could be ten others, and in fact will be.

Oh, and 3. (Yeah, I know but it’s not a rule as such: I’m going to be bouncing around the shelves.)

Oh, and 4… (yes, yes) I’m breaking my own rules here since it’s the third part, and doing more than one book in three cases below, for what will be obvious reasons.

The Time Patrol – Poul Anderson

If there’s a better writer for clever, deceptively simple, time travel stories than Poul Anderson, I don’t know who he or she is. I’m a sucker for time travel stories, the paradoxes, the chance to draw your protagonists, your antagonists and your supporting cast from the whole of history… and even the whole ‘let’s fix what has gone wrong’. And Anderson is just so damn good at it. In There Will Be Time, another of his time travel books, he focuses in on two characters: one who travels and one who doesn’t.

Here he expands that, and while you have one main character, pretty much everyone involved is a time traveller of some sort, most belonging to the titular Time Patrol, founded by a less than altruistic group who set it up to ensure that the timeline that leads to them is the one that survives. Yet good can be done, and is done, by those who patrol the timelines, ensuring that gratuitous wars, deaths don’t occur but making sure the ones that did happen, erm, do. I kind of wish there were in real life the grammatical tenses developed so time travellers can talk to each other and still make sense.

This is a collection of short stories and they’re the very exemplar of how time travel stories should be written.
 
 

The Sandman – Neil Gaiman


The first of my ‘cheats’, as I’m including an entire run here – Neil’s astonishing run on The Sandman. (Oh, I do have the ‘missing volumes’ above, by the way; they’re just in a pile for me to reread.)

I’m not sure what I can say about The Sandman that hasn’t been said by wiser and smarter people who are better at wurds than me. It rewards rereading; there’s never something new I don’t get from it, but that’s not the sole reason I reread it. I enjoy knowing the characters I read will change as I read the full run, even those who won’t want to. And it’s fascinating every time, reading that change. And I can’t say better than that.
 
 

The Compleet Molesworth – Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle

I read the original four books contained in this collection – Down with Skool!, How to be Topp, Whizz for Atomms, Back in the Jug Agane – and yes I’m including both the writer and the artist since I find it impossible to think of Molesworth without picturing him (and his schoolmates and teachers). And you can thank Ronald Searle for that. (Oddly, I think I came across Searle first in sketches of young girls on ponies he did for a magazine. I digress.)

The conceit used in the books is glorious: a pre-teen – when it starts – kid at a minor public school, St Custards, writing about school, and suggesting how to succeed in life., The books are full of [deliberate] misspellings and are pure acnarchic nonsense. Wonderfully funny, clever as hell and just a pure wonder from start to finish. I can’t ever imagine having a bookshelf without Molesworth being there somewhere.

(They recently republished the long out of print origins of Molesworth, a series of pieces written during WWII. Less polished than the version that appears in the books, they’re still pretty wonderful. I recommend them for any Molesworth fan.)
 
 

The Fuse – Anthony Johnston and Justin Greenwood

Another cheat since I picked up the final trade only a month ago. Anthony’s fantastic, sf wonder, about police on a space station, where things aren’t as simple as they appear (of course) people have hidden agendas and the only thing you can trust is the information you’ve gleaned yourself, and the only person you can trust completely is yourself. And not always then.
 
 

Various kids’ books about Judiasm

I’m putting these in here just to prove that a) I am very old and b) I was a very studious child, a bit of a Jewish swot. These were prizes at cheder, Sunday School.

Oh, and one final amusing bit. The cover of the first book above, looks like this. I was genuinely pleased to have to do a double take when I started reading The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

I wonder why…


 
 

Anyway… moving on…

The Beatles Complete – The Beatles

I have no musical talent. None. I can pick out a tune on a keyboard and am intending, in the near future to learn to play the mouth organ. Which will be a test for both me and whoever’s the poor fool I take lessons from.

But this isn’t there for me to appreciate the music. Not really. It’s there because my late brother loved this book to play to, and to learn from. He did, as I’ve mentioned previously, play the guitar… with admittedly more enthusiasm than genuine talent. But he would crack this open fairly regularly, and pencil in the chords. And when he died and his widow asked me if I wanted anything from his shelves, this was one of the books I took to always remember him by.

 
 

Yossel, April 19, 1943 – Joe Kubert

Yossel is one of the odder comic books I own. Most comic books are printed on Matt or glossy paper. This is printed on thick paper that’s almost cardlike. Most comics are pencilled, then inked, then coloured. This is pencils only. And it’s incredible. It’s kind of a ‘What if…?’ written and drawn by Joe Kubert… as a ‘what if my parents hadn’t gotten out? What if I’d not gotten out?’

Out from what? Well…


Well, do I need to say more? 

Just buy it; although it’s only indirectly linked, I can’t imagine it not being next to The Plot (mentioned previously in this run) on my shelves.
 

The Political Animal – Jeremy Paxman

Paxman’s best book, by far, in my opinion. It’s a study not of British politics, but of British politicians: what makes them tick? Are there any similarities between politicians of wildly opposing viewpoints? Are there surprising similarities? How can politicians who believe such wildly different things be genuine friends? How does one become the sort of person who regards politics as a worthwhile endeavour. Many many perceptive observations are made, many compromises are identified, and many hypocrisies speared.

One lesson I’ve taken from it, when Paxman observes that only in politics and religion is it held and seen as a positive virtue to hold the same, unchanging, opinion for 20 or more years. And Paxman believes it’s for the same reason in both.
 
 

The Prize – Irving Wallace

It’s kind of tailor made for Wallace, this subject matter; a dozen people are awarded that year’s Nobel Prizes; most of them deserve them. But who they are and what they’ve done to justify their awards are very different creatures. Politics, personalities and people: all grist to Wallace’s clever plot. (They made a Paul Newman movie of the novel. It’s not a good movie. This is a very good book.)
 
 

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, Or, 2000 Years of Upper-class Idiots in Charge – John O’Farrell

Some years ago, I spent 27½ hours on an airplane, flying to Singapore, staying in the airport 6 hours and then flying back again. At the airport, I picked up a couple of books to read on the flight. This was one of them, and I laughed all the way through it. It’s a history book of Britain, from 55BC through 1945. O’Farrell goes for laughs throughout but never skimping on the basic facts. In some cases, far deeper than the mere basic facts. You’ll learn stuff from reading it, and the pen portraits he creates of the monarchs, the prime ministers and those surrounding both, are much fun. But mainly I remember it for the gags. There are many, many gags; I struggle to remember a book that made me laugh out loud so often while reading it.

Well, that was fun. Thirty Books in three Fridays. I may do it again next year. We’ll see.

See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday’s something else.

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 now more rapidly approaching.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usually.

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

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

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

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

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

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

This is effectively part two of this mini-run; part one’s here.

I have a bookcase. It looks like this.

Now, the eagle eyed among you will spot that there are little rectangular cells in which there are lots of books.

There are fifteen or eighteen of them, depending on how you measure them. (The book case/shelves are actually two, screwed. together. But yeah, that’s what gives the ‘middle’ bit its own cells.)

You can see even from a brief look that the bottom half has mostly comics.

But yeah, there are various ‘cells’ of books. Some of them are even put together; the middle cell, the one with the white book just poking out is full of Irving Wallace novels and David Morrell novels; two of my favourite authors.

But yeah. There are my books. And, just for the hell of it and for no better reason than why the hell not?, I’m going to take the next three Fridays, identify thirty books on my shelves, ten books ten ‘cells’, each week. There will obviously be more than one book from several ‘cells’ by the end, but hey my bookshelves are chaotic, why shouldn’t this be equally so?

(I’m limiting it to three weeks before Christmas, since the fourth week in December will be Christmas Eve, and I have a plan for that day. There’ll be more about what’s happening to the blog in 2022 soon enough.)

Now, since comics collected in trade paperbacks are, obviously a lot thinner in the main than hardbacks or paperback novels or non-fiction, that may be a bit unfair to the comics. So, if I think that is the case, after three weeks, I’ll do another ten trades afterwards. We’ll see,

Two rules before we start.

  1. I own many, many more books and comics’ trades than are shown on these two shelves. They’re just what I have up now. The rest are in various boxes, and indeed there are two piles of books you can’t see, some of which are books I’ve read and just haven’t replaced on the shelves, and some of which are my ‘still to be read at some point…’
  2. The usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things I like… at the time of writing, or in this case ten books I’ve picked. Another week could be ten others, and in fact will be.

Oh, and 3. (Yeah, I know but it’s not a rule as such: I’m going to be bouncing around the shelves.)

Let’s start with the ‘Jewish’ cell and get it out of the way.

The Complete Artscroll Machzor

 
Yeah, I’m not going to go for the ‘who wrote this’ gag with this. Mainly I’ve included it today because I’m tired and nothing says ‘Yom Kippur’ to me like the memories of falling asleep in synagogue during the long afternoon session, when the end of the fast isn’t close enough to look forward to, but the novelty of being in shul has long ago worn off. You’ll see that I have books from various publishers, and they each have their charms and each have their drawbacks. The Artscroll ‘commentaries in English’ are – to my mind – a lot better written, and the Hebrew is typeset in a more modern, and easier to read, font. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
 
 

The Word – Irving Wallace

 
I went through a phase a long time back when Wallace was my favourite author; I’m got pretty much all of his novels, and you’re going to see another one in a minute. I picked this one though because although it’s fairly typical Wallace – an involved plot, half a dozen main characters all of which are ‘real’ people to the reader with all their wonders and flaws, and an involved plot with great, realistic, dialogue… this novel contains what must be the most pedestrian written sex scene he ever wrote.

I mean, he’s had sex scenes in other novels, and I guess they’re ok – none stand out as particularly memorably good nor bad – but this one? THIS ONE reads like he submitted the novel, then the agent and publishers read it, then they all looked at each other and said, ‘you know what it needs? A sex scene… right…. here.‘ So he wrote one, right there. In the room. In front of them.

It doesn’t ruin the book but it’s the only passage in any of his books that when I come to it (no pun intended) I skip three or four pages and pick up the story again when they’re laying in bed afterwards.

Anyway, the story itself is about an PR exec who gets a chance to be publicist for a new edition of the bible… including a newly discovered gospel. Except it’s not that simple, is it? No, of course not. They made an eight hour miniseries of it in 1978 with David Janssen and Ron Moody. and it wasn’t half bad. Not great, but not half bad.
 
 

The Man – Irving Wallace

 
And here it is: my favourite novel, bar none.

I’ve lots of novels I like, and lots of novels I’m happy to reread. You can see in the photo the name of another favourite novelist. But yeah, The Man is a novel I’ve loved from the moment I picked it up.

Set in the late 1960s (the novel was written in 1969), the Vice-President of the United States is dead by a heart attack as the novel starts. No big deal, the US has been without a VP at several times in its history. Then the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives die in an accident. (A building in post-war Berlin collapses during a summit.) The President pro-tem of the Senate, a man only given the mostly nondescript (as far as the populace is concerned) position to appease a section of the electorate, is catapulted into the White House. The kicker comes at the end of the first chapter as the Chief Justice wishes him well “as the first Negro President of the United States of America.” And all hell breaks loose.

The novel was written, as I say, in 1969, and end up with him being impeached and being tried on the impeachment articles… three of which are or could be seen as racially motivated and one which is most definitely an attack on the Presidency itself.

There’s an interesting apocryphal story (the truth or not of which I have no idea) that in winter 1973/spring 1974 sales of the book skyrocketed… because staffers in Washington were buying the book because it laid out in forensic detail exactly how you impeach a President… the prior example (referred to in the book a lot) was, after all, 100 years earlier…
 
 

I, Claudius – Robert Graves


 
Like many who’ve read the book, I first came across the story of Claudius watching the BBC adaptation starring Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Brian Blessed (Augustus), Sian Williams (Livia) and John Hurt (Caligula).

In fact I so loved the show that whenever I refer to it on Twitter, it’s usually as I, CLAVDIVS, as that’s how the opening titles looked to me as a kid.

The book is an odd beast to read afterwards, to be honest. It’s a thick tome; some 800+ pages. It’s actually two novels: I, Claudius and Claudius The God, and the execution of the prose never quite matches the glory of the plot, which is – put simply – the life of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known to history as The Emperor Claudius. It starts not long before he was born and continues (briefly) after his death. The books’ conceit is that they’re his autobiography, which he writes and hides to be discovered a millennium later.

And dammit, the conceit works; while the various adaptations are of necessity presented as third person (with first person narration), this works best as first person.

Talking of adaptations, by the way, as well as the BBC tv adaptation, there’s a BBC Radio 4 adaptation with Tom Goodman Hill (Claudius), Derek Jacobi, yes, Derek Jacobi (Augustus) and Harriet Walter (Livia) and the latter in particular is as good as the tv adaptation.

There was intended to be a 1937 movie adaptation with Charles Laughton (Claudius) and Merle Oberon, Flora Robson, Emlyn Williams andRobert Newton. It never happened but the documentary about why and the aborted movie it is amazing: The Epic That Never Was.

But yeah, the book is one of those you get sucked into, and damn, the plot makes the Corleones and Sopranos like the picture of good family health.
 
 

The Long Johns – John Bird and John Fortune


 
If you’ve seen my Saturday Smiles, you’ll be used to seeing The Two Johns, two middle-aged fellas conducting mock interviews, one of them usually as “George Parr”, who takes every role necessary from Admiral of the Fleet to Head of The Post Office to a policy advisor in Number Ten Downing Street. When broadcast, they were originally around 6 or 7 minutes long. But the original scripts were about 12 minutes’ long. And these are those scripts.

It’s a crying shame that in the early days they were edited down for broadcast. As their popularity grew, the producers were smart enough to leave more and more in. The final few years, they were broadcast in their entirety and were much the better for it.

Fortune and Bird were satirists of the highest calibre and show it time and time again in these scripts. There’s sweat in every line, not a word is wasted. Every line makes a point. Yes, they’re funny as hell, but that’s not the point: it’s satire, pointing out truths with a rapier.

(There’s also a bit about how they wrote them, which as a writer I found entirely believable and sympathised greatly.) 
 

The side of a book – ???


 
Yeah, ok, that’s a bit unfair. It’s this book:

Three Fingers – Rich Koslowski


 
Every so often, somoene will ask on Twitter “what book do you have on your bookshelves that no-one else you know has?”

The answers are always distinguished by disagreement. Because of course if you’ve got a book on your bookshelf, odds are someone else you know also has it.

And the same applies to comic books.Many of the comic books I have on my shelves are also on the shelves of other people. I don’t know about this one though; I suspect very few have this one.

I came across it purely by chance; someone I know read it and told me, instructed me almost, to buy it, with the assurance that if I didn’t like it, they’d reimburse me for the purchase.

I started reading and thought, after a few pages, ‘yeah, I’m going to be asking for…’

Half a dozen pages later, I’d changed my mind. A few pages after that and I started thinking who I should recommend the book and make the same offer to.

Yes. It’s that good.

It’s a documentary. Kind of. It’s a documentary of an alternate world where cartoons exist as real ‘people’ and it’s about a secret ritual they have to undergo. Started by a Walt Disney analogue, who founded an entertainment empire based in the success of one “Ricky Rat”, his story and that of the ritual is told via interviews with “Buggy Bunny” and “Sly Vester Jr.” while others, including celebs, speak out against the rituals or even deny its very existence, with threats of litigation.

It’s clever, funny, sad, brutal, satirical… and you’ve never read anything like it.
 
 

The End Of The Party – Andrew Rawnsley


 
In the pic where I’ve highlighted The Long Johns, you’ll see a book on the right co-written by John Rentoul on the history of New Labour, written almost from a historical angle. (I picked it up after a Q&A about the tv series based on it.).

This book, written by one of the finest politics commentators of the past couple of decades, was published in 2010 and covers much of the same ground, as it’s about New Labour from Tony Blair’s second election win in 2001 through most of Gordon Brown’s tenure as PM. But it was being written during that period, by someone who knew everyone involved well.

It’s a detailed book and the prose is engaging. It’s not quite as taut as I’d like; at times Rawnsley’s insistence on the reader knowing every detail slows the momentum. But for those of us who lived through the time, it’s plot keeps you reading, desperate to see what happened next, and how. And knowing it in advance doesn’t hurt that process. Not at all.

One thing that both books (and the tv show) do: it surprises me again and again how my memories of the time were almost, but not quite, right. For example, I remember this thing happening at the same time as that thing, but they actually happened weeks apart. Or I remember this event happening after that event but the latter was a day or two before the former.
 

The Brethren – Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong


 
When I was studying the US political system at college, while I was interested in the Presidency and curious about Congress, it was the Supreme Court Of The United States that utterly fascinated me. (Again, in the Long Johns pic above, you can see a book entitled ‘Constitutional Law’, and it’s a text book about that subject, mainly about Supreme Court decisions.) The history and practices of both SCOTUS and its members are a rich tapestry with the more than occasional ‘knot’ to fuck everything up.

The Brethren covers the 1969-1976 terms of SCOTUS; a new Chief Justice replacing the giant that was Earl Warren, and several new Associate Justices appointed by Nixon and Ford. You get oral arguments, discussion between justices and the details of the compromises ordered and made in order to get a majority on the court. Andthe occasional stinging dissent. Cases covered in detail include Ali’s Vietnam case, the whole range of Watergate, and Roe v Wade. Yeah, it was a pretty momentous period.

The book uses the same process as previous Woodward books, with most things gleaned from public records and off the record briefings. After he died, Woodward and Armstrong confirmed that Justice Potter Stewart was their primary source inside the court.

It’s both a surprise and not, at the same time; Stewart doesn’t come out of many episodes covered with glory and more than a few times, his vanity and obstinacy speak nothing good of him.

If you’re even mildly interested in that period of history or SCOTUS in general, it’s definitely, very definitely, worth reading.
 
 

Marvel 1602 – Neil Gaiman


 
This is a fun, clever, take on Marvel’s characters… where you need to know almost nothing going in… but if you have a detailed knowledge of the history of the charge trust, you’ll have more fun.

It’s basically an eight issue What If..? What if… Marvel’s characters (at least those published before 1969, a personal choice by the author) were around in 1602, and mainly in England? The artwork is glorious, the story clever and Trent whole thing is more fun than it has any right to be.

I mean, Sir Nicholas Fury instead of Sir Francis Walsingham, Steven Strange instead of John Dee?

It’s fun.
 
 

The Griffin – Dan Vado


 
It’s unfair to describe this as “The Last Starfighter done right” but it’s also kind of accurate. Selfish, arrogant, teenage kid, acting up, storms out of his house, encounters an alien space craft looking for youngsters to fight in a war. They promise him glory and rewards. And superpowers. He goes for it, and goes with them.

Twenty years later he comes back for the ostensibly most perfectly understandable of reasons: he’s homesick. So he deserts. Twenty years of war has made him grown up a lot. But is it enough? He’s accompanied by his best friend, an alien. His family, everyone who knew him, thought he was dead. He has a new little brother who wasn’t born when he left.

His commanding officers are not happy. They come to get him.

Several questions are asked and answered: how will his family react? Does he still think of himself as human? And oh yeah, what makes him think he was the first human they recruited? Or the first human who deserted?

Definitely a story worth reading, and then rereading to see what you missed first time around.
 
 
Well, that was fun. See you next Friday for one last set of ten more.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others


See you tomorrow, with… the usual Saturday’s something else.

 

 

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


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I have a bookcase. It looks like this.

Now, the eagle eyed among you will spot that there are little rectangular cells in which there are lots of books.

There are fifteen, or eighteen of them… depending on how you count them. (The book case/shelves are actually two, screwed. together. But yeah, that’s what gives the ‘middle’ bit its own cells.)

You can see even from a brief look that the bottom half has mostly comics.

But yeah, there are various ‘cells’ of books. Some of them are even put together; the middle cell, the one with the white book just poking out is full of Irving Wallace novels and David Morrell novels; two of my favourite authors.

But yeah. There are my books. And, just for the hell of it and for no better reason than why the hell not?, I’m going to take the next three Fridays, identify thirty books on my shelves, ten books ten ‘cells’, each week. There will obviously be more than one book from several ‘cells’ by the end, but hey my bookshelves are chaotic, why shouldn’t this be equally so

Now, since comics collected in trade paperbacks are, obviously a lot thinner in the main than hardbacks or paperback novels or non-fiction, that may be a bit unfair to the comics. So, if I think that is the case, after three weeks, I’ll do another ten trades afterwards. We’ll see,

Two rules before we start.

  1. I own many, many more books and comics’ trades than are shown on these two shelves. They’re just what I have up now. The rest are in various boxes, and indeed there are two piles of books you can’t see, some of which are books I’ve read andf just haven’t replaced on the shelves and some of which are my ‘still to be read at some point…’

  2. The usual reminder for all of these Ten Things… they’re not the best, nor necessarily my favourites. They’re just Ten Things I like… at the time of writing, or in this case ten books I’ve picked. Another week could be ten others, and in fact will be.

Oh, and 3. (Yeah, I know but it’s not a rule as such: I’m going to be bouncing around the shelves.)

Oh, and just for fun, I’ll tell you the othere book I almost wrote about this week from that cell.

Let’s start with a goodie.

All I Ever Wrote – Ronnie Barker


 
There may be finer comedy writers in the field of sketch comedy than Ronnie Barker; I mean, I wouldn’t disagree if you offered John Finnemore as the finest sketch writer working today. And, let’s face it, Victoria Wood was about as good as they come. Further, there may have been comedy writers who lasted longer, or hit bigger audiences.

But for my mind, as a comedy writer up there with the very very best, for sketch writing, monologues and silent comedy, there’s no one to touch Ronnie Barker (or Gerald Wiley as he sometimes went by) at his peak. So much of The Two Ronnies greatest sketches were down to him. Four Candles alone puts him up there. The book should be just one to dip in and out of. It’s not. If I pick it up, I’m not putting it down for an hour. At least. Glorious, clever, funny comedy. No wonder I like it do much.
 
 

Thank You For Your Support (I’ll Wear It Always) – So many people


 
This is an odd one. After my brother died, his widow asked friends and family for reminiscences, for funny stories, for sad stories, about him. For tales about what it was like to know my brother Michael. And she then put them together in a book, which she offered for sale to benefit the Jewish Bereavement Service, who’d helped her so much in the aftermath of Mike’s tragic death. It’s a wonderful book but it’s one I can’t easily read, for obvious reasons. But it’s on my shelf (twice as it happens). It’ll never not be there.
 
 

Blackadder Scripts – Richard Curtis


 
Another book of scripts – you’ll see there are several.

I’m not the hugest fan of the first series of Blackadder, and I always thought it was becaiuse of the scripts and plots. Until I read the scripts, together with the other series’ scripts. The first series is just as as strong, just as clever, and in some ways actually cleverer comedy than the later shows, when they beacame reliant (overly reliant?) on catchphrases and self-referential gags. The first series is raw, unquestionably, but it’s truer to the oriugional idea, and the characters are not as set as they later became. And the first series – at least in script form – is all the better for it.

Which means, I guess, that it’s either the direction or the acting that hurts the first series. I dunno. But it’s probably the first time I read scripts and got a completely different take on something, that made me appreciate it more, than from watching it.
 
 

The Plot – Will Eisner


 
Will Eisner was the master of graphic storytelling, with a style that was entirely his own, that no one’s come close to topping. And while his earlier works — this was his last published work — are fantastic, it’s this book that for me hits home the hardest.

A matderly examination of, and destruction of, the myth, the hoax, the scam, that was the Protocols of the Lerarned Elders of Zion. Eisner shows, from and by his research, how they were created for reasons of politcial bullshit, how the bullshit was promoted, and how the bullshit was defended, and how it was shown to be unfettered, unresereved, unmitigated bullshit. And then how the bullshit goes on. And on. And on.

Superb and I’d recommend it to all without a moment’s hesitation.
 
 

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman


 
It’s hard to pick a favourite from these, especially since there’s my favourite ever novel there on the far right, and the wonderful whimsical satire of Alan Coren up there as well, but it comes down to Neverwhere; it always comes down to Neverwhere.

Let’s be fair, there’s never going to be a bookshelf of mine without a selection of Nei;’s writings. (I’ve always considered it incredibly fortunate that I discovered Neil’s writings, and discovered my enjoyment of them, before he became a friend.)

But yeah, Neverwhere. It’s my favourite of Neil’s novels, and while there’s very little he’s written I’ve not liked (reminder: not liking something isn’t the same as disliking), there is some, occasionally, Neverwhere soars above everything else for me. And I love this edition with Chris Riddell’s glorious art.

I remain very grateful that Neil’s never put me into that world, as a completely stoned budgerigar, referred to all in London Below by the name High Barnet(t).
 
 

Sandman Overture – Neil Gaiman


 
I didn’t mean to do this, honest — the order of the ‘cells’ was chosen randomly — but yeah, another of Neil’s. I love Sandman as a series, and it’d be tough to pick a favourite story arc; I’ve two or three definites that’d fight it out. But I’m picking Overture for three simple reasons.

  1. After so long away from the characters, it remains a delight to me that the characters managed to evolve while Neil was telling a story of the past.
  2. I was fortunate enough to read the first issue before it was published and I suspect my reaction of “AND…? What happens NEXT?” was exactly what Neil wanted.
  3. The book itself was a gift from my ex-wife who saw it, bought it for me out of sheer wonderful friendship, and because she knew I’d like it. I’m sure that somewhere in Sandman there’s a lesson to be learned about valuing the people you care about and who care about you. (Maybe in A Game of You?) I’m very grateful that Laura and I remain friends, and the closest of friends at that.

No surprise that future ‘ten books’ will always include something by Neil…
 
 

Chumash – Well, I don’t know


 
Well, who the hell would you say wrote it, be fair? The “Jewish’ shelf. The cell that conatins not all but most of the jewish texts I have, as well as my tallit and a coupel of kippahs. Not a lot to say about this cell other than my god, the memories… the memories.
 
 

Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud


 
Many years ago, there was a series of “The Bluffer’s Guide to…” Ostensibly writen for the uninformed, on a variety of subjects, the unspoken secret of the books’ success was that they were actually written for people who knew the subject matter very well indeed; I remember doubling over with laughter at the gags in the accountancy one.

This isn’t one of those books. It’s written for both the comics insider and the comics outsider, for those who write, draw and prodiuce comics… and for those who’ve barely even seen a comic in 20 years.

Writing the history of comics and an instruction manual that doesn’t feel like an instruction manial, and a text book that doesn’t feel like a textbook, and a slew of examples that actually move a story forward should have been an impossible task. McCloud manages it in style and I’d recomend this for anyone with even the faintest curiosity about or interest in comics.
 
 

Jews Don’t Count – David Baddiel


 
What the hell can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said better and by more distinguished people? It’s been described as a polemic but I don’t think that’s true. Not really. To me, that implies ranting and there’s none here. There’s a very, sure. And upset. And irritation and frustration in equal measure. But this is calmly angry, a cold burning at the injustice revealed.

(There’ll be a full review of this before the year end but I need to reread it a couple of times before that).

David takes as his basis for the book the idea, the well-proven and eqaully well evidenced concept, that prejudice against one minority, against jews, that anti-Jewish bigotry, that antisemitism, seems to be left out of the ‘oh, I’m an anti-racist, me‘ area of progressive politics. Casual antisemitism continues to infect the public arena and antisemites are welcomed by people into that sphere, into that sphere, as if their antisemitism is less disqualifying than bad breath or acne. People accept, and indeed have no problem with, antisemitic discourse and overt (as well as covert) antisemitism as either unimportant or, perhaps equally insidiously, as ‘a price worth paying’ in a way that other racism simply would not be accepted.

It’s a clever, suprisingly funy given the subject material, devastating book that everyone should read. Everyone… especially those who hold themselves out as part of that progressive politics strain but who think jews just make too much a fuss, y’know…?
 
 

The Brotherhood of the Rose – David Morrell


 
While my favourite novel remains The Man by Irving Wallace — there’s a hardback first edition 50th birthday present elsewhere on the shelves — this novel, by David Morrell is simply wonderful and is almost falling apart from having been reread so many times . The first of a trilogy, it was the first time I’d come across the combination of intelligent spy noivel and action thriller. Most spy novels have one or the other. This one had both. And I was hooked instantly.
 
 
Well, that was fun. See you next Friday for ten more.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

BUT… but…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I love my son.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Well my son is now 26.

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

But yeah, it ended in 2005.

It’s now rapidly approaching the end of 2021.

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

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

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

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

I mentioned in that Ten Things post

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

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

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

For that at least, I’m grateful.

 

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

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

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

As it is, I didn’t change my mind.


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

Anyways, on with the show…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve genuinely and honestly an antipathy to that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I once described it as The Forest Fallacy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

OK, well, that’s that done. Again.


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


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

Anyways…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shouldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. If I hold a grudge, there’s [usually] a damned good reason for it
Once upon a time, it was rare for me to fall out with someone permanently. With the vicissitudes of life being what they are, I took the view that ‘life’s too short’. If you screw up, or offend someone, then unless it’s of crucial importance, or permanently changes your opinion of someone for the worse, it’s just not worth falling out with them forever. (I’m reminded of the comment that “it takes more muscles to frown than to smile… but it’s worth the extra effort.”)

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

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

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

OK, well, that’s that done.


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


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to the new year. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

This page left intentionally blank

post… but I really didn’t want to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anyway, see you tomorrow, with… something else. 

 

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


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

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

I long ago got used to other people not thinking that

Thing I Think Is Very Important

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

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

Thing That Other People Think Is Very Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I don’t pay them to make mistakes.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what happens if they don’t?

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

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

I had to draw the line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you tomorrow, with… something else. 

 

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


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

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

#IAmAnIdiot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#IAmAnIdiot.


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

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

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

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

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

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


#IAmAnIdiot.

Occasionally, I fuck up online.

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

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

Yeah, that’s better.

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

Here’s one.

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

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

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

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

They kindly explained that it was called acting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because once I didn’t.

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

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

Except…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t amused. But then she explained.

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

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

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


So what have we learned?

I am an idiot.

No, what have we learned?

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

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

I’ve done a couple of these already, the

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

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

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

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

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

Anyways…

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

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

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

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

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

Because what I was about to write was:

Free haircuts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

And now I’m going to get the chance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Instead something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to answer some general questions…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

36. What is the weather like right now?

Like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

54. What is your favourite dessert? Banoffee Pie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

66. How tall are you? Six feet exactly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My main one is this one, the Deluxe Tinker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

85. Current haircut? See answer to 43 above.

86. Current worry? See answer to 21 above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

99. Have you ever won any awards: Yes.

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

  

See you tomorrow, with something else… 

 

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


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

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

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

We’re back.

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

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

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

Welcome to my blog.

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

So, a quick Q&A setting the scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which doesn’t exactly explain anything, does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

It’s worth reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else? Odds and sods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Twenty-three years

Posted: 9 January 2021 in family, personal
Tags: , ,

Twenty-three years. And, yes, time for some changes.

It’s twenty-three years since my brother died.

I decided on the twentieth anniversary of his death that I should celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary. And I’ve tried to do that, the past few years, as much as I can.

I mean, on the day itself, I don’t apologise for – nor do I seek forgiveness for – thinking of his death, remembering the awfulness of that day, of losing my big brother. But that wasn’t all there was to having him as a big brother, and maybe it’s unfair to his memory to imply that it was, even on this day.

So while I mark the anniversary, acknowledge it, I was thinking that maybe I should include some more stories about him. Stories I may have told previously on other occasions, in other entries, but stories I should tell again today.

Because he wasn’t just his death. He wasn’t just the day of his death.

So… first some stories about Michael, then…

…what happened twenty-three years ago today.

Yeah, this will be just a bit longer post than has previously been common.

Strap in.


 
Michael Russell Barnett. My big brother. 

Michael would have been 61 last November. He’d likely have been completely white on top by now; his hair was already greying a bit in his mid-30s. Like me, when I started going grey, he pretended it didn’t bother him. Like me, it did, just a bit. He had red lowlights for a short while, but quickly stopped bothering about it. If it bugged him after that, I never knew about it.

(And yes, he once suggested to do the same for me; red highlights. I… declined the offer.)

The increasing grey of my own hair made us look more alike. We never looked that much like each other; we bore just enough of a resemblance, though, that people quickly guessed, accurately surmised, that we were brothers.

But he was far better looking than me.

I don’t say that out of any false modesty, I stress; we three brothers used to joke among ourselves that Mike had the looks, I had the brains, and our younger brother had the practical abilities.

(That wasn’t and isn’t true, of course; my brain was better at numbers, and at poking holes in arguments, but my younger brother had – and has – a brain for how things worked practically that left mine and Mike’s in the stone age. And Mike was no slouch on ripping a lazy argument apart.)

But yeah, he was the good looking one. I can’t even remember a time when Mike didn’t have girlfriends, or when he wasn’t surrounded by a crowd of friends. And he was a great big brother to grow up with: silly when he could be, serious when he had to be, a peacemaker between his younger brothers on so, so many occasions.

He enjoyed school, both the social aspect and the academic side of it… in theory anyway. He’d have been the first to admit that he wasn’t the most diligent of students; he always did enough to get by. He got good grades, but never spectacular ones. He was fit – up ’till his early 20s anyway; more about that in a moment. He played squash at school and sixth form college, and was pretty good from all accounts, until he started getting suspiciously short of breath while playing. Again, more about that down the page.

He played the guitar, with more enthusiasm than talent, but I clearly remember the genuine pleasure Mike took in grabbing the Complete Beatles Songbook and playing the classic songs in his bedroom, while we two younger brothers sang along. (That same book is on ny bookshelves as I speak; it’s a pleasure to look at it and just remember.)

But Mike loved music; I can’t remember a time when his bedroom wasn’t filled with music, either last week’s charts, which he’d taped from Radio 1, or albums he’d bought. Or him just playing for the sheer unadulterated pleasure of doing so.

I’ve said on many occasions that I couldn’t have asked for a better big brother, and it’s true. It’s simply… true.

I stuck him on a pedestal, a dangerous place for any sibling to stand, but he never did anything to forfeit that respect and love. I called him Mike. To most everyone else, he was Michael. He was my big brother and I loved him unquestionably.

I remember when I was about 13, maybe 14? Either way, was around my bar mitzvah, 1977/78-ish. I had – understandably – began to notice things about my body, and that of the girls that surrounded me. This was in the days when sex education in British schools mainly consisted of the single word “Don’t“.

I was terribly shy, terribly confused, terribly nervous. But I was fortunate. I was lucky. I had Mike. (Yes, I was a late developer; Mike was anything but. As I say, he’d had girlfriends from when he was an early teenager.)

He took me to one side, one Sunday afternoon, prompted by my parents. He gave me a booklet to read and told me that when I’d read it, I’d be even more confused, but to come find him. He was right. After I’d read this booklet – I remember it had a purple cover, with pictorial representations of a naked man and naked woman – my reaction was mainly one of “Wait. I do what with what?”

I found him in his room, he grabbed dad’s car keys, and we went for a drive, to a pub, about ten miles from home. Once there, he got me a soft drink and we repaired to a bench in the beer garden far from anyone else.

“OK, then,” he said. “Ask away.”

Just that. No “I know you’re nervous.” Just a matter-of-fact “ask away”. He knew I trusted him.

Looking back, he could have had so much fun with me, told me any urban myth, and stuff and nonsense, and I’d probably have believed him. He was my big brother, after all, and I trusted him.

Instead, he told me the truth, to anything I asked. Some stuff he blushed when telling me, but he told me what it was like the first time he’d had sex. He told me how shit scared he’d been, how convinced he’d be that he’d ‘get it wrong’. He said he’d had a number of girlfriends – which I knew – but that afternoon I was to assume that he’d had one, “Miss Ermintrude Abernathy” he called her, and that anything he told me about anything… it was Ermie.

He kept adding biographical details to Ermintrude’s life as we spoke, and after the serious stuff was over, that continued; by the end of it, we were crying with laughter about how he’d abandoned her to a life of misery in the grinding poverty and chalk-mines of Luton, Bedfordshire.

Skip forward a couple of years to the first of the ‘being mistaken for each other’. Our parents were out, and Mike was looking after me and my younger brother; we were playing Monopoly. His girlfriend Lynne (later his fiancée, still later his wife) calls on the house phone (no mobiles back then). Mike talks to her for a few minutes, then – without warning – hands the phone to me with a grin. I ‘get’ it immediately and for a minute or so just go “uh-huh” and “really?” to Lynne, then hand the phone back to Mike once he’s played his move. 

He carries on the conversation for a couple of minutes then hands the phone back to me while he shakes the dice and moves his piece. This continues for about ten minutes before we’re obviously – and audibly – failing to hide the by now no longer stifled laughter. He makes an excuse then finishes the call…

(Lynne never discovered this until just before they were married. She… wasn’t pleased, though mainly because she panicked that she’d said something entirely inappropriate to me… she hadn’t.)

OK, jump forward to 1981 or 1982; I’m watching television with the family, an episode of Quincy. By then, I’d become used to picking up a doctor’s prescription for Mike for something called “digoxin“. Didn’t have a clue what it was, of course, and since the one time I asked Mike what it was for, I got a genial “mind your own business” and I didn’t have the internet back then… I left it… figuring it wasn’t that important. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

So, we’re watching Quincy and after autopsying a body, Quincy just comes out with the following line:

“OK, we found digoxin, so we know he had heart problems…”

Wait.

What did he just say?

My head whips ’round to look at Mike, my eyes growing wider with every nanosecond and finding his. He shoots me a look that essentially but emphatically repeats his message from a few months previous: shut up and mind your own business.

And I left it alone. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

Another year or so goes past. It’s June. Mike had been ill, very ill, off work for a while, no energy, in bed all day. Our parents had, reluctantly, gone on the holiday they’d booked months earlier. Our local doctor came – yeah, they did house calls back then – and the next thing, an ambulance is called, Mike’s in the local hospital and they’re talking about transferring him to Harefield. And that’s when I found out my brother needed a heart valve transplant at 23 years of age.

He was in Harefield for a couple of months, and was finally operated on in September 1983; though my parents were allowed to see him almost immediately after the operation, it was a day or two before I was. My big brother was there, unconscious, a yellow tinge to his skin, tubes and drains inserted into various parts of his body, with what looked like a fat, angry, pink-red worm stitched to his chest.

Yeah it wasn’t pleasant.

Lynne and Mike had split up by then, but they got back together during his recovery and in 1985, they married. Mike asked me to be best man; I didn’t realise at the time how much of an honour that was, for him to choose me. He had any number of friends he could have asked, any of whom could have done the job, but he chose me. To this day, the thought chokes me up.

At the wedding, one of Lynne’s customers arrives late, sees me dancing with Lynne and makes an assumption. Later, half cut, and only semi-jokingly, she says to Lynne (out of my hearing) “Ooh, is the brother [she points at Mike] available? He’s much better looking… You should have married him!” Lynne retorted “I did marry him!” And then immediately seeks me out and, with a superlative and not quite malicious joy, gets her own back on me for the ‘Monopoly’ phone call so long ago by telling me…

By then, Mike had left a potential career in accountancy (he never enjoyed it) and joined the family hairdressing business. He was good at it. Lynne and he had a couple of boys, and he was happy. He loved his wife, he loved his kids. He was happy.

He enjoyed his life. And he enjoyed enjoying his life.

He liked Laura immediately when I started going out with her and took immense joy in both my getting married and in us having our own child, Philip, in 1995.

Mike loved being an uncle. He told/warned me more than once that being a parent is a mixture of joy and heartache, that especially: when your child has a temperature, you’re the one who sweats… But he absolutely revelled in being an uncle. And he took immense pride in Laura and me asking him to give Phil his first haircut.

I bitterly regret that my lad never got to know his uncle. Mike died when Phil was two years old.

He called me about 14 years after his first operation, June 1997. We’d been joking for months that if his valve transplant lasted 15 years, he’d throw it a party. The call was to tell me that we wouldn’t be having the party. The valve wasn’t going to last 15 years. It wasn’t going to make it to 14. He was going in for a double valve transplant the following week. He hadn’t wanted to worry me before then, but now I had to know.

I remember being totally calm during the call, then basically falling apart as I hung up the phone.

Mike had the operation, and was doing well, recovering… He went on holiday with his family in the October; had a great time. We had Christmas at his place and the last picture I have of him is holding his nephew up, smiling with pleasure at the sheer joy Phil’s expressing.

He was doing well, recovering…

And then he wasn’t. Less than a fortnight later he wasn’t.

Less than a fortnight later, he was dead.

And we’ll get back to that in a minute.


 
1975
I started at secondary school, aged 11, what was called ‘senior school’ in my day. I was in the most junior year, obviously; Mike was in the most senior. I’d clearly told Mike, my big brother, that I would walk home by myself; I didn’t need, nor want, to be treated like a baby who needed his hand held.

Some lads from his year, four years older than me, decided to have a bit of fun with the new kid, and, I guess, have a vicarious pop at Mike as well. I remember being genuinely terrified at what these 16 year olds had planned for me when they surrounded me as I came out of the school and found them waiting for me. Whatever it was, it was going to be painful, let’s face it.

I was shaking, almost crying from fear. My nose was running.

There was a loud cough. And they turned to see Mike, never the weightiest of builds, leaning against the wall, apparently completely relaxed. Five lads, all of them his size or bigger facing him.

“On your way…” Mike says, almost bored.

For a moment, I don’t know who he’s talking to, me or them. But then, as I start to move, Mike shoots me a look and barely but definitely moved his head from one side to another. I stay there.

“On your way, lads…”

The bullies look at me, Then at Mike, figuring out their chances.

They fancy their chances, obviously.

“You think you can beat us?”

Mike laughs. “Of course not. There are five of you. I can’t beat you.” He stands up, from the wall, holding half a brick in his hand. “I can just break a nose or two, poke out an eye or two, maybe fracture a kneecap, before I go down, though. Now leave him alone. And fuck off.”

First time I’d ever heard my brother say that.

They swore at him. They shouted at him. They even, if you can believe it, cast doubt on the validity of our parents’ marriage.

But they left.

Mike walked over to me, handed me a tissue, said “wipe your nose, then come on…” And we walked home, me now almost crying, but from relief now. He never mentioned it again, never blamed me for being scared, never criticised me for being tearful, never did anything… other than convince me I’d always be safe while he was around.


 
1982
In 1982, I went to Manchester Polytechnic to study accountancy. I lived in a self-catering hall of residence. The ‘hall of residence’ won’t surprise anyone; the self-catering bit might. But I moved in not because I enjoyed cooking my own food; I didn’t then, and I don’t now. But no, but mainly because I wanted to eat when I wanted to, not when someone else wanted me to. And it was fun; I loved my time away from home. Mike came up for a vist after I’d been there a few months.

I was living, at that time, with 8 other people, from all over the UK. A fella from Derby, a couple from the South Coast, a lad from Northern Ireland, one lass from Leeds. And me. And I never ‘heard’ my accent. I never even really considered I had an accent. I mean, ok, if you’d have pressed me, I guess I’d have reluctantly acknowledged that I must have had an accent, but I never ‘heard’ it. I never thought about it.

Then Mike came to visit. But hearing him talk to my friends, and the contrast between every word that came out of his mouth and theirs, between his accent and everyone else’s… Yes, I heard his accent, but again, not mine, not really.

Until one evening, when we were chatting with friends and one of them commented how similar our accents were, mine and Mike’s, how almost identical they were, in fact.

And then it hit me. Of course I had an accent, and of course it was the same as Mike’s.

And I appeared to be the only one in the room to whom this came as a surprise. Because my brother, my dear sibling, was wholly on my friends’ ‘side’ on the matter. He couldn’t believe I’d been in Manchester, had lived with these people, for months… and the penny hadn’t dropped.

But I had, and eventually… it did.

And there followed, of course, the requisite amount of mockery and silliness.

And at one point, I stopped dead, noticing how Mike had effortlessly fit in with my friends. They were my friends, and that was all he needed to accept them fully, and without reservation.
 


 
1993
I’d felt an itch to write for a while, and was doing something about it. I’d started writing for the BBC, a topical weekly radio comedy show entitled Weekending. My younger brother had no interest, which was cool; he never had much of an interest in current afffairs. My mum was similarly uninterested. I could have told her I was writing Doctor Who, or writing sketches for a student rag. Mum’s reaction would have been the same: ‘that’s nice, dear.” No interest in what I was writing, who it was for, or whether it was any good.

My father had far more interest, and was delighted for me, and even – very occasionally – listened to the show. He was very pleased for me, but had no actual interest in what I wrote.

Mike, on the other hand, was fascinated by every bit of it. He listened every week, if not to the original broadcast, then always the repeat. And he’d call me up to congratulate me, and to guess which bits I wrote, and to ask about how I wrote this sketch or that gag. He never tried to rewrite it or suggest ‘better’ gags; he was always respectful that this was my writing, my gig.

And he eagerly read the prose I wrote, asking me ‘what’s the next thing? What are you writing next?’

He took great pride that his brother, his younger brother, was writing, was creating, and was good at it.
 


 
The bullies were long ago. It’s been a long time since I’ve needed Mike to protect me from them.

The friends from Manchester Poly are similarly long gone; I haven’t spoken to any of them in decades. But the friends I have now? I wish Mike knew them, and I wish they’d have got to know him. Comedians I know, writers… friends…. He’d have liked them, and they’d have liked him.

I still write; I wish he could read what I write. I really, really wish he could.

And I wish I could reminisce with my brother once again.


 
I’d be lying if I said that I still think of Mike every day. I don’t. But every couple of days, something will happen and I’ll think of him. Someone will say something and I’ll remember my brother. And miss him again.


 
If you, or anyone you know, was born in the second half of the twentieth-century, then at some point or another, as a kid or teenager, you calculated how old you’d be in the year 2000… a long time distant, but yeah, it seemed very old.

Until January 1998, I had the same ‘well, I’ll be so old’. Not long after Michael died, however, I found myself working out on exactly what date I’d wake up… and be one day older than my big brother reached. Yeah, that particular day was a very odd 24 hours.

But that day was in 2002.

Mike was thirty-eight when he died; in a couple of years, I’ll be twenty years older than he was when he died.

And that’s a thing you never get used to. Never. You’re always aware, in a kind of low level way, that you’re now older – and as the years pass, you’re substantially older – than someone who once was older than you.

You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, in the back of your mind, is the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to‘. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael. And sometimes… it bites. It bites hard.

Twenty-three years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is me experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older.

Waking up one more year older than he ever reached.

It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age-related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains when you stand up, annual checkups that you get when in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by, and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it… about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know his uncle. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s twenty-five now and Mike should be someone he could call for advice, or to tell him a gag, or just when he’s throughly pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those more than twenty years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger and Neil, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact; most probably at my expense, the way you allow the closest of friends to get away with doing.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Others do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, albeit reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation.

He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said on the twentieth anniversary in 2018 that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

I miss you, Mike, but I did enjoy having you as my big brother. Thank you for that.

So, twenty-three years…

Rest easy, brother.
x


 
A few years ago, after I mentioned losing my brother, on the anniversary of Michael’s death, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened.

But all asked the simple question: What did happen? Here’s what I put up in response.

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked by his widow, by my sister-in-law, to write something about him.

And here’s what I wrote:

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

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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, yes, still on a break from the blog. As always, I fully intend to restart the blog, when I’ve got something to blog about.

There’s plenty I could write about, of course, but nothing springs to mind that isn’t already being written about by better writers who’ve got more to say.

So, yes, I’ll be back, at some point.

In the meantime, though, here’s something.

I went for a haircut today.

Under normal circumstances, of course, this would be a regular event.

And I use the word advisedly. I don’t mean ‘frequently’ but regularly, on a schedule. Usually, every couple of months, I’ll book an appointment and have my hair tidied up – and enough taken off – so it’s short enough that I feel comfortable with it.

Once I started going grey, in my early 30s, I had it cut shorter to ‘cut the grey out’. That didn’t last of course, and these days it’s more the case that I have the dark cut out.

I’ve been genuinely lucky enough to find good hairdressers the past few years. Currently, I have my hair cut by a young lady named Taylor, at Rush, Shepherd’s Bush. She’s superbly talented, friendly and genuinely… nice, a hugely underrated quality, I assure you.

But, as no one can be unaware, I – along with the entire population – have been unable to have a haircut for some months.

So, Operation Haircut, as I refer to it, has so rarely needed to be expertly planned, executed, and achieved. Fortunately, as I say, I have Taylor, who managed through her talent to transform me from Before:

   

To After:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to feel this much better afterwards; I did expect it. It’s nice, though, I’ll acknowledge, that the expectation was met so comprehensively.

(And, not for nothing, but it’s odd, knowing – when pics are taken – that they’ll almost certainly make it into this year’s update of A Life In Pictures.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as I know, anyway.

That’s not going to last.

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

Yeah, they were right, I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Struggling”. Yeah, that’s the word.

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

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

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

I’ve been better.


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

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

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.

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


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

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

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

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

And yet… and yet…

We’re weird things, us humans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty-two years

Posted: 9 January 2020 in family, personal
Tags: , ,

Twenty-two years.

It’s twenty-two years since my brother died and, I decided a couple of years back: I should celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary.

Mark it, certainly; acknowledge it, of course; but no mourning.

Once again, I’m not sure this post entirely does that. But I hope this post marks the anniversary in a way that at least acknowledges that I’m missing him rather than grieving or mourning.

Towards the end of 2016, as part of my blogging project that was a seventy-five day countdown to 2017, I wrote about what it had been like to have Michael as a big brother.

And in the countdown that just ended, I wrote something else, with another couple of stories about Michael.

Although I write something every year on the anniversary of his death, I’d not really written about his life, about what it was like to have him as a big brother. So I did so, in those two posts. Spoiler: it was bloody great.

As I wrote in that earlier piece:

I’d be lying if I said that I still think of Mike every day. I don’t. But every couple of days, something will happen and I’ll think of him. Someone will say something and I’ll remember my brother.

If you, or anyone you know, was born in the second half of the twentieth-century, then at some point or another, as a kid or teenager, you calculated how old you’d be in the year 2000… a long time distant, but yeah, it seemed very old.

Until January 1998, I had the same ‘well, I’ll be so old’. Not long after Michael died, however, I found myself working out on exactly what date I’d wake up… and be one day older than my big brother reached. Yeah, that particularly day was a very odd 24 hours.

But that day was in 2002.

Mike was 38 years old when he died; in a couple of years, I’ll be twenty years older than he was when he died.

And that’s a thing you never get used to. Never. You’re always aware, in a kind of low level way, that you’re now older – and as the years pass, you’re substantially older – than someone who once was older than you.


You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, in the back of your mind, is the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to‘. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael. And sometimes… it bites. It bites hard.

Twenty-two years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is me experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older.

Waking up one year older than he ever reached.

It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age-related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains when you stand up, annual checkups that you get when in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by, and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it… about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know his uncle. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s 24 now and Mike should be someone he could call for advice, or to tell him a gag, or just when he’s throughly pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those more than twenty years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger, Neil and Amanda, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow the closest of friends to.

Mike was one of the few people in my life who I ‘put on a pedestal’; he never did anything that would have forfeited that place, and I celebrate that fact, while curious whether he’d still be up there, or whether the passage of time would have changed that from ‘love and respect’ to ‘love and proper, sibling, friendship’.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Others do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, albeit reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation.

He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said in 2018 that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

So, twenty-two years…

Thank you, and rest easy, brother.
x


A few years ago, after I mentioned losing my brother, on the anniversary of Michael’s death, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened.

But all asked the simple question: What did happen? Here’s what I put up in response.

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; And, here’s what I wrote:

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

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

A short one today, for the best of reasons as I’m mostly spending today split between researching something for a possible writing thing, and also actually doing some writing.

I’m tempted, since I nicked the idea for goingcheep from Warren Ellis, who used the idea of a daily brain dump first for morning.computer, to follow him and start labelling my planned writing projects with cryptic names. But fortunately, I have so far resisted the temptation.

So, something quick today. Not ‘quick and dirty’… I’m not that much like Warren.

A while back, when commenting online that I’m really not a foodie, that food – for the most, though not exclusive, part – is just ‘fuel’ to me, a friend asked whether I had a damaged sense of smell.

(Apparently, that’s a fairly well known possible consequence of anosmia: reduction of enjoyment in food.)

But no; despite having my nose broken twice in sex weeks when younger, no, I have a sense of smell. In fact, I have four ‘favourite smells’, and today, over the space of a couple of hours, I smelled all four.

While on the bus, another passenger started eating an orange. That was the first. Citrus. I love the sharp smell of oranges, lemons and limes. There’s a ‘clean’ quality to the smell that I appreciate. I’d be surrounded by the smell of citrus if I could; I’ve never been to a citrus grove so don’t spoil the image for me if you can’t actually strongly smell the citrus while you’re there.

But yeah; no idea why I like the smell so much, but very very definitely… yes.

There’s a leather shop just by the bus stop, and usually I can’t smell it, but today, just as I passed it, someone opened the door and exited… and that clear, deep smell of polished leather wafted out. Glorious.

The third smell is one that I smell every day I walk in Kilburn or Golders Green, and walk past a bakery: the heavy smell of freshly made bread. Wonderful.

I’m not used to smelling the fourth. Not in town, not in Central London, not any more. But as I turned the corner into the street where I was planning on grabbing a coffee… a lorry, laden down with heavy newly cut turf, drove by, and for a moment, the peaty smell of newly cut turf was almost like being in a garden just after the rain when grass has been cut…

As I said, a short one today; something else tomorrow. After I decide whether or not to continue the Saturday Smiles into 2020.

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.

And so we’re on the final day of 2019. And the final post of this countdown.

But yeah, the final day of 2019; as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, few will be sorry to see it depart.

But as with any year, even the worst, it hasn’t been totally, unreservedly, full of shit. There have been good things, objectively good things. Even in 2019, there have been things that have made me smile, made me laugh, made me forget the shittiness… just for a bit.

And that’s true both on the entirely personal, and in the larger sphere, in the world.

So, since there’s been some more personal entries this time around, here’s some personal stuff that under any parameters, under any objective look, must be filed under the ‘good’ category.

These are in no particular order, I hasten to add… not chronologically nor in personal importance.

So… Good stuff – Personal

Edinburgh

Not just the place, not even just The Edinburgh Fringe, but that I got to spend – for the first time in five years, my birthday in Edinburgh during The Fringe.

Yes, Edinburgh this year wasn’t exactly empty of drama, and yes, I spent one night in agony and in hospital.

But getting to Edinburgh every year (ok, seven years of the past nine, and every year since 2014) is unquestionably good for me. Not only does everyone else notice it, and tell me, but more astonishingly, I know it. None of this ‘well, I guess so’. No, I know that I return from Edinburgh somehow… better.

Of course after a few months, that knowledge tends to fade a bit. The importance, I mean. Because while I always kind-of-remember that I kind-of-like the place… it’s not until I get up there that it hits me once again with full force… that in fact I truly love the place, love every bit of it.

Yep. I love every bit of the fringe, and love seeing friends and acts I know, and discovering new acts… and I get to have coffee in one of my favourite places to have coffee.

And I get to see a lot of comedy, a lot of new comedy; new acts, new material, new shows.

This year was particularly good, both because I got to spend my birthday up there and also because of the quality of the shows I saw.

Yeah, this was, no matter what else happened while I was up there this year… A Good Thing.

Writing

So, I’ve done more writing this year than I have in ages. Both on here (about more of which in a moment) and elsewhere. I’ve written scripts; I’ve written some short stories that I’m still pondering what to do with; I’ve helped write a comedy show; I’ve plotted out an anthology of short stories with a single theme. I’ve pulled a couple of stories ‘out of the drawer’ and have started working on those as well.

More importantly, arguably, I’ve remembered how much I enjoy… making words do what I want them to, and when they won’t do what I want them to, I’ve enjoyed the ‘figuring out what’s wrong, and how to fix the problem’ as well.

So, yeah, I’ve been writing again; again, I’d assert, in fact I do assert: A Good Thing.

Blogging

Yeah, this place. For the first time since the end of 2016, I’ve been blogging this year, I started off, after two and a half years away from the blog, in late June, hoping to make it to my birthday.

Y’see, I’d started to get the itch a month or so earlier, but it really bit when I realised that I was coming up on fifty-five days before my fifty-fifth birthday. And I can’t resist a countdown, as long time readers will know.

And having learned from previous experiences that a countdown of some kind actively helped me in daily blogging, I started the 55 minus countdown which led up to my birthday in mid-August.

And then I… continued the daily blogging, with the 55 plus run, which ran for fifty-five days after my birthday…

…which finished just before the coincidental date on which I’d need to start if I wanted to repeat 2016’s year-end countdown. So I… just carried on blogging with the countdown that’s ending today: 2020 minus.

(No idea what happens next; I guess we’ll discover that together.)

Now, whether anyone else thinks me blogging is a good thing, I don’t know, and to a large extend I don’t care. (I’ve deliberately not kept an eye on the readership numbers; that in and of itself is probably A Good Thing,) But for me, personally, writing stuff again, putting stuff out there? Yeah, A Good Thing.

Merry

You don’t know who or what Merry is, or to what I’m referring. That’s cool. But friends of mine who have had an Australian labradoodle (best and most accurately described by one of them as a Special Needs Wookiee) got another puppy this year. She’s another labradoodle, but this time part-miniature poodle.

And she’s named Merry.

I can’t ever remember taking to a dog so quickly, but yeah, she’s adorable and fun, and she’s lovely. And she’s made things a bit better when I’ve visited or stayed over.

Now if she can just stop dividing the world into a) ‘things I can eat’, b) ‘things I can’t eat but am going to anyway’, and c) ‘people’s body parts I can lick’, that would be even better A Good Thing.

Phil back in London

My lad Philip, now 24, has been back in London for most of 2019; it’s been a genuine pleasure that he’s been local once again, that I can see him whenever we want, that he can come up to the flat to visit his old man to chat, to pass the time, to play backgammon, to watch some telly… just to hang out.

It’s been lovely, and unreservedly A Good Thing that happened in 2019.

The friends who are still friends

This year’s been rough for everyone, myself included, and it’s been good that there have been friends who have been there, who have been there at the end of the phone, or online, or who I’ve visited, or who’ve visited me, just for the pleasure – and sometimes relief from the world’s shittiness – of spending time in each others’ company.

Help when we’ve wanted it, advice when we’ve needed it, having each others’ back when needed. A Good Thing.

The friends who are no longer friends

Odd that I’d label this as A Good Thing, nu?

No, not at all. Because people I’ve fallen out with, this year, I don’t regret for a moment that we did so. Some were decades’ long friendships that ended over politics, or the election, or merely because it was time, long past time, that the polite fiction of our friendship that we maintained for far too long… ended.

If we fell out over politics, or antisemitism, or even just ‘stuff that happened’ this year, then I genuinely hope you don’t regret it, or wish it hadn’t happened. Because I sure as hell don’t.

Some truly excellent television

Yes, seriously. Some wonderful new tv series that I watched and enjoyed and that made life just a little bit better while I was watching; tv that I’m glad is in the world, and glad that I watched it. (Yes, of course there were new seasons of old shows that I enjoyed but I’m sticking to brand new shows just for a moment.)

Good Omens, Watchmen, Treadstone, Prodigal Son: All new, all flat out excellent, all led in unexpected directions, all must-see television.

But despite my previous comments about new shows… I’d be remiss if I didn’t give an especially huge nod and tip of the hat to Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal whose sheer wonder has given me hours of enjoyment and laughter. And with all the shit this year’s handed all of us, that laughter and enjoyment was dearly & desperately needed & appreciated.

All Good Things, indeed.

The Distraction Club

I’ve written about The Distraction Club loads of times in the blog but I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated, ever needed, it as much as I did this year.

I’ve been a fan of muscial comedy for as long as I can recall. Whether it was Richard Stilgoe crafting exquisitely perfect comedy songs on the radio, or watching Victor Borge at my grandparents’ (My grandmother would be reduced to tears of laughter watching him) or all who came later, or indeed before but that I discovered later…

…the first Tuesday in every month brings The Distraction Club, downstairs at The Phoenix in Cavendish Square.

Usually five acts including a headliner, and – I’ll be fair – as often as not, there’s one act I don’t enjoy. But that means there are three or four I do plus Mitch and the band, and that makes it more than worth it.

So many acts I’ve seen there, so many I now know to talk to, to chat with.

This is unquestionably A Good Thing, and 2019’s run of shows have been among the very best.

Radio 4

Not just Radio 4 as a whole, but two specific voices on Radio 4. Corrie Corfield and Carolyn Quinn, two voices whose appearance on the radio always… helps.

Two ultimately professional radio people, there have been times in the past few years, and especially this year, when hearing their calm, measured tones – Corrie’s a continuity announcer and news reader, Carolyn presents The Westminster Hour among other political shows – have… helped.

That’s all.

They’ve… helped. And that’s, I’d suggest, A Good Thing.

Rachel Maddow, Steve Kornacki & Ann Telnaes

Three from across the pond. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for The Rachel Maddow Show. It’s exactly the sort of detailed news/politics show that I love; the style, in some ways, echoes the great Alistair Cooke’s linking of ‘what is happening today’ to ‘what happened before’ and why it matters.

When I can watch, I do so; when I can’t watch, I’ll listen to the audio podcast the following day. She’s smart, funny, and incisive. And my favourite ‘explainer of what the hell just happened’.

Steve Kornacki is the single ‘elections explainer’ – on either side of the Atlantic – I’ll go out of my way to watch. He makes Peter Snow (who some of you will remember) look positively unenthusiastic about elections and his explanations of the quirks, anomalies and expectations make the ludicrous seem… well, if not less ludicrous, then at least understandable why they’re important ludicrosities.

Ann Telnaes is my favourite US cartoonist and caricaturist, bar none. I said a while back that her style is one of scathing whimsy and that’s all you should need to know about why I adore her work so much.

Three Americans whose work I’m very glad I got the opportunity to see this year. And I regard the work of all three, individually and collectiively, as A Good Thing in 2019.

Neil Gaiman

I got to catch up with Neil a few times this year while he was over, and talked to him more often than for a while. I’ve known Neil for more than 20 years and there’s no one on the planet better at guilt tripping me into writing more, into opening the ipad, opening a writing app… and just… writing, putting one word after another. And then doing it again. And again.

He also understands where I’m coming from re various stuff in a way that many don’t. And I’m always and neverendingly grateful for the Good Thing that is his friendship.

Mitch Benn

I honesty don’t know where to start with how much I owe my mate Mitch.

I’d been a fan of his work for years before we finally met, and when we did meet, it was when he was fairly busy, recording the video for (I’m) Proud Of The BBC. So we only got to briefly chat on that occasion.

Long story short, we became friends and it’s something I never cease to be grateful for. Later, he invited me to helped write his Radio 4 shows on Bowie, Dylan and Elvis, and that he trusts me to help with his Edinburgh shows is an annual Good Thing that always flatters and honours me.

But that’s not why I’m listing our friendship in 2019 as A Good Thing. He’s a nice man, a good man, and I don’t think there’s been a single conversation we’ve had this year (any year, come to that) where I haven’t come away from the chat having learned something.

Our interests, our experiences in life, are wholly different, and yet, somehow we managed to have shared interests to the point where he knows shedloads about a subject that I don’t know, even though I know shedloads about the same subject that he doesn’t.

(Honourable exceptions for ‘keys’ in music which I still don’t understand – don’t try to explain it, you’ll end up wanting to thump me – and balance sheets which I’m not entirely convinced he does. Oddly though, ‘substance over form’ is something from accountancy that Mitch does understand, though I’m not entirely sure he knows he does.)

Mitch; his music, his judgement, his advice, his intelligence, and his friendship. All, unreservedly, without mitigation, Good Things.

Clara, Roger, Micah and Astrid

Clara is Mitch’s ex, (and if you’re looking for ‘people who split up but remain the closest of friends‘, since you don’t know me and Laura, I’ll just point you at them.)

Roger’s Clara’s fella. Micah and Astrid are Clara and Mitch’s kids. And they’re who I spend a night a week, or so, with.

I won’t say I wouldn’t have survived 2019 without them, but their home, their friendship, their love and them being… them, has certainly made 2019 easier. I’ve laughed and smiled and reminisced and been silly and been drunk on single malt more in Clara and Roger’s company than in anyone else’s the past few years and it’s always been from a spirit of comfort and friendship.

Their friendship and love is always and forever A Good Thing.

My ex-wife, Laura

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

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


OK, that’s the A Good Thing stuff done for my personal stuff.

Now onto the A Good Thing for the non-personal, for the world at large stuff.

Hmm.

Er…

Well now.

I’m joking, of course. For all the shit that’s around, some things have got better.

Take a look at this, for example.

Britain went two weeks without using coal. First time ever.

And over the past few years…?

I wish everyone a good, happy, rewarding 2020.

See you on the other side of the year-end….

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.

Couple of months ago, I wrote in a post:

Chess / Backgammon
For the past few years, it’s been backgammon every time. I do prefer it as a game, and I’ve enjoyed Chess less over the years but that’s wholly laziness on my part. I haven’t played chess regularly for years, and when I do play, I don’t treat it with the seriousness in which the game should be played. It’s been far too long since I knew he was I was doing on a chess board. I play it with a ‘well, let’s see’ attitude which always seems disrespectful to the game, somehow.

 
I used to play chess, though; a lot.

Never competitively, you understand. Not in formal competitions; I was never on the chess club’s team.

I was never on any team repressing the school at anything. Though I was on the fencing team at Sixth Form, which still surprises the hell out of me, and everyone else, decades later.

But even when I played in the school’s chess club, I was never that good at it. I could play, and play well enough, but not that well enough. I was good enough to win more games than I lost playing my brothers, and my father. But Dad played chess, and enjoyed it, only as a way to pass the time.

I’d say that he enjoyed playing chess in the same way as others might enjoy reading a book, though since he was a voracious reader as well, that’s maybe not the best analogy.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to write that he enjoyed chess the same way as someone else might enjoy taking a long walk on a spring day. One of those days where the sun’s shining, and there’s just enough of a breeze to blow across your face… when you take a walk for the sheer pleasure of doing so, with no real aim in mind. I mean, I’m sure he actually enjoyed winning at chess on occasion, but that was never his real aim when he played. It was a way of passing time until he did something else.

And, when he played with his sons, a way of spending time with his children, playing chess, solving the problems of the world, including several problems the world didn’t know it had.

Maybe that attitude, growing up seeing that attitude to chess, didn’t exactly help my own game. I know I should have found chess more interesting, but I never¹ really did. I mean, I wanted to win, sure, but losing never¹ bothered me that much, and I never¹ found how I lost to be of that much interest.

(¹not entirely fair to say ‘never’; I remember a short period in my very early teens when I was utterly and completely fascinated by it all. It didn’t last.)

Whereas pretty much every chess player I know, who enjoys, who really enjoys, chess,… they’re fascinated by every part of it, not only who wins, but how they win, how they set up the win, how – if they lose – how they lost, what mistakes they made, how – eight moves before, they made an error which gave their opponent the game.

I sometimes wish I cared as much about it as they do.

But the rot set in for me when I discovered backgammon.

My uncle, my mum’s brother, played it, played it for money, and introduced my older brother and I to the game. Though, I hasten to add, he stressed never to play for money unless you were sure you knew what you were doing. To be fair to my uncle, he held that view about all gambling: not that he was against it – he was an inveterate gambler on horse racing – but that far too many people gambled from ignorance, both of their own abilities, and those of others.

I’m not sure what about backgammon attracted me, but there’s no doubt that I enjoyed it from the very first time I played, and that’s an enjoyment that’s lasted forty-odd years (ok, forty very odd years) since then.

And although I’ve always had both wooden chess and backgammon sets wherever I’ve lived, it’s the backgammon I’ve played more the past couple of decades.

In fact, thinking about it, the only time I’ve played chess since probably… 2000?… has been when children of friends have been learning and have asked me to play, when they’ve discovered the game.

In full disclosure, in the interests of transparency, I should acknowledge that it’s not actually that difficult to beat most pre-teenage kids when they’re new to the game. And with equally full disclosure, the pleasure they get from winning – even if you ‘let them win’ – hugely dwarfs any discomfort at being beaten by a 10 year old.

But backgammon? Ah, that I can play for pleasure, for money, or play as a way of passing the time, or even merely to teach someone to play.

I’ve heard it said that chess is an easy game to play, and a difficult game to play well. The same applies to backgammon, though it’s less said of it.

And, yes, while I know few people who play chess for money, I’ve known several who play backgammon for stakes, and only play it for money.

I’ve only rarely done so, and only then for pennies. Although, since ‘doubling’ can take a game to 64 times the original stake, pennies is as far as I’m ever willing to play for.

At one time, back in the days of day jobs, I carried a small backgammon set in my bag, and I offered to teach anyone who wanted to learn. A couple for friends took me up on it, and I’d meet them for lunch every few days: teach them the first hour, refresh on the second… and thereafter we’d play a couple of games whenever we met for lunch.

It’s been a while since I’ve played regularly, and for no obvious reason, I’ve started wanting to play again.

There are, of course, some decent back gain apps; I’ve got one on the iPad and iPhone, but it’s never the same. Unless you’re learning, and don’t mind being beaten again and again while you try to improve your play.

But backgammon should always be played with friends, or played for enjoyment, whether or not there are stakes, whether or not you’re in a pub, or a home, or a casino.

It’s a game, and that should be remembered.

Something else tomorrow. Something on politics; no not about the election, though I may write something about that on Wednesday. But something about being an MP that should change. And change soon.

Of course, that title should continue “…a Londoner.” And, in a post I wrote in June, it did end that way. Kind of.

Short entry today; just some thoughts on London. Noodling, as James Burke calls it.

Because I’m not one, not a native Londoner, I mean. I wasn’t born in London.

I was born in Luton, Bedfordshire. Born in the Luton & Dunstable Hospital, so I’m told. But as you’d expect, I don’t remember much about the experience. Luton, as they say, might be a great pace to come from, but my experience is that it’s a lousy place to go back to.

Both parents were Londoners, though; my mum was born in Stoke Newington, and my father was a cockney. A proper one, ‘born within the the sound of Bow Bells’, and all that.

And yes there were some phrases my old man used that were straight out of a ‘how to talk like a cockney‘ handbook.

I grew up hearing something that wasn’t quite the done thing described as ‘bang out of order’ and hearing a suit described as a ‘whistle’¹, and feet as ‘plates’².

¹ whistle and flute = suit
² plates of meat = feet

That wasn’t the language and dialect my parents used when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were saying, by the way. My parents and grandparents – my mum’s parents anyway; never knew my father’s – used Yiddish. Not a lot, but enough so we didn’t know what they were talking about.

And, before they realised I could spell, they spelled out words. A family story is that at one point, they wanted me to go to bed before a specific television programme was on. And my mother spelled it out… only for me to vigorously protest because I wanted to watch that programme.

After that, though, it was Yiddish all the way when they didn’t want one of us kids knowing…

But I’ve lived in London since I was 21; in Barnet for most of it, in Richmond – well, Ham, really – for four years, and, for the past almost three years, in Abbey Road.

I like the Abbey Road area. It’s close enough to.… well, pretty much everything I want. Fifteen minutes from central london by bus, half an hour if I walk. And, despite the foot, I do often walk. Similarly, ten minutes from Kilburn by bus, half an hour from Golders Green, or Brent Cross; a bit longer to North Finchley, where I usually meet up with my ex-wife for a coffee and catchup.

But as I’ve mentioned before, central London is a place I really like walking around. Every street has ghosts, both the impersonal – events that happened at this place or not, in a long and not always distinguished history – and the personal; places I worked, places I met people, places that remind me of people I loved, and people I cared for, and people I disliked intensely.

And places at which I spent evenings drinking with all three of them.

I walk past coffee shops at which I spent what seems now an incredible amount of time; one shop was my regular ‘have a coffee before work’ for the best part of 12 years. Another was the coffee shop that everyone knew and so we met there for a coffee.

Yet another was down a little alleyway around the corner from work, and no one from work knew about it so if I wanted to guarantee I’d never see anyone I knew…

Nowadays, I have different coffee shops I go to; it’s not the same. I’ve changed, the times of the day I visit are different, and there’s nowhere I go frequently enough where I could ask ‘the usual, please’

London’s a great place to get lost in. And I don’t mean geographically, Well, not solely, anyway.

I read something a while back about the difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve rarely read anything on the difference with which I agreed. (Notable exception for Stephen’s Fry’s masterly piece on the difference.) But this one stressedthe differences, and I agreed with them.

Because I’m both, on occasion, but prefer the former to the latter.

I live alone, and I spend most of my time alone, in my own company. It’s rare that I like spending time in others’ company, or subjecting others to my company, and even rarer for me for actively welcome it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

But then I realise, as I realised long ago: it’s not other people who are the issue, but other people who I know. Lots of other people who I don’t know? That’s different. and with vanishingly small exceptions, that’s what I find preferable.

And other than perhaps at 4 in the morning, when you might be the only person, or only one or two, in the all night place, in London, with its coffee shops, cafes, anywhere… you’re not going to be alone. Not quite.

You’ll be, or at least I will be, surrounded by people, none of who give the faintest toss about me, my problems, my company. And it’s reciprocated; trust me, it is.

I saw, online a couple of weeks ago, a suggestion to approach people sitting alone, and strike up a conversation. I’m not sure what it says that I greeted the idea, the very concept with unremitting and unending horror.

London’s a great place to get lost. It’s equally good as somewhere where you can lose yourself, if you want to.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.