Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

2017 minus 01: A green light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or that they’re going to stop smoking. 

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

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

In early October. While in Liverpool.

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

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

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

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

And so it was.

And so it turned out to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, that’s something.

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

Happy new year, people, however you celebrate it.


Time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2016 update to A Life In Pictures.

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

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

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2016. Not a lot of additions this year.But since this has now become a tradition as we approach the end of the year, and I’ve a few more people following me on Twitter and this blog, why not?

Why not indeed…

So, in rough order of age…

Probably the earliest photo I’ve got of me…

3 years old

Aged 4

I’m five, I think, here.

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

Another – newly discovered – shot from Mike’s bar mitzvah. 

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

Me at age 11

Just after my 15th birthday

August 1980, I’m 16 – yes, that is a curly perm. Shut up.

November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly

1983 – me at the PULP office, 2nd year at Manchester Poly.

Age 21, at a work leaving do, having left Manchester Poly a month or so earlier..

1985, at my brother’s wedding… at which I was best man. Yeah, 21 again.

At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25. Blimey, was that really almost thirty years ago?

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…


September 1997, at UKCAC

Me in New York, January 1998, just after we lost Mike

Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999

June 1999 – my spiritual home

August 2000; taken by Phil – he was five years old at the time

October 2001; New York, six weeks after 9/11; visiting Ian

May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie

mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday

Bristol, 2003. You can see the greying hair now…

July 2004 – working at the office

December 2004 – at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. See? I scrub up nicely occasionally.

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.

May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning.

December 2007 – at the office party, with my ‘secret santa’ gift. No, the book.

May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo

May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo

October 2008 – Me and Phil, studio shot for the bar mitzvah

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

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

October 2009 – In New York, with my cousin Nikki.

November 2009 – Me and Phil at Ian’s son’s bar mitzvah.

April 2010, in Luton

July 2010, on Mastermind

August 2010, at Laura’s

October 2010, from Phil Tanner’s Photos – Mitch Benn ‘Proud of the BBC’ video shoot) The actual video’s here.

October 2010, again: at MCM

December 2010, after the office party

January 2011, at Tony and Tracy Lee’s wedding.

October 2011.

Yeah, I grew a beard in October, then shaved it off…

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

And then I had my hair cut…

No idea why I took this one, but it has me without a beard, anyway… August 2012

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

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

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

Yeah, I broke my foot…

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

And so to 2013…

Well, in March, I did a charity event where I wrote twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief.

That’s Mitch Benn in the background, writing his comedy album, which he did also within twenty-four hours.

Phil turned up to support us…

And I got progressively more tired, and more silly, as the hours passed…

A small accident with the beard trimmer led me to shave off the beard I’d had for roughly a year…

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

Later in the year, finally managed to get a photo with two of my closest friends. There’s been any number of pictures of two of the three of us, but rarely any shots of all three… until now.

Not the best pic, I have to admit, but rather pleased we managed it at all!

However, another photo was taken that night which continues to amuse me no end.

You don’t think I’m in it? Really? Look to the right. Yes, just there… that blurred shock of grey/white hair? Yeah, afraid so…

Towards the end of the year, there was something new… a mini-me. Or to be precise, I was scanned for a 3D printing of myself. Very strange to see myself post-scanning on a screen…

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

Here’s another shot of the 3D model, this one with Mitch (who was similarly scanned.)

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. I like this photo, entitled Two beards (old friends attached), a lot.

Here’s the difference a haircut, a beard trim and sticking my contact lenses in makes… from September 2014.

Around the same time, I wrote a post on the rising tide of overt anti-semitism in the UK, and that I’d personally faced. I used the following shot to illustrate it. I was very happy with how it turned out.

Now, this blog post, indeed this blog, is pretty much all ages, and I’ve hesitated before sticking this shot up. Not sure I’ll keep it here, but since this is supposed to be a record of me through the years… I shattered the end of my collarbone in a fall in September. A week or so later, the bruising was well and truly showing, so here it is.

And onto this year.

This was March 2015. I have no idea where or why.

In September, was fortunate enough to catch up with Amanda Palmer after her gig. It had been much, much too long since we’d seen each other. Much and many things were said, but never enough.

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

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

isn’t perspective wonderful?

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

Something a bit novel for this year’s blog post; I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘filters’ on pics, whether it’s the ‘pup yourself’ Snapchat type thing, or the Prizma neon type things. But I may be changing my mind. Here’s a selfie I took for submitting with something.

The shot’s fine, as it is. Nothing great about it, nothing horrendous. But in black and white, it’s quite a nice shot, I’d say…

But when it’s thrown through the pencil/shading filter, I really like it. Weird…


Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the year, 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, last week, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And, to round off this year’s lot, and to officially mark the moment at which mocking may commence, this is me, as of yesterday, post-haircut:

I’ve not written for a bit about the shitstorm hitting the US at the moment; in some ways it’s felt like I would be intruding on private grief. But something happened at the weekend, and the coverage of it yesterday and today, and the reaction to that coverage, has been bugging me all day. And I’ve been getting angrier about it.

OK, so last weekend, a large group of neo-nazi/nazi/white nationalist/white supremacist/alt-right* (*delete as appropriate, no wait, actually, don’t; all of them apply) folks got together for a convention in Washington DC. You might have seen it reported here and here and here and here and here and here and here. As well as a few other places.

While those and other reports refer to the Nazi salutes, the odious and racist comments from the self-styled leader of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, I want to concentrate on one specific thing, and why the reaction to it – or non-reaction from some – is bugging me so much.

Over the weekend, Spencer, president of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute, said he thinks Jews control the media to protect their personal interests, and said “One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem.”

OK, white supremacist says antisemitic statement. Not exactly news. It is news that a President was elected with this man’s support. It is news that he was elected with the vigorous support of the Ku Klux Klan, with the overt and eager support of racists, white supremacists, antisemites, and that said President-elect has gone out of his way not to directly criticise them… but it’s hardly news that these people don’t like Jews.

CNN then did a segment on the statement and the reactions to the statement. I’m not entirely convinced the question “Should President-elect Trump condemn and denounce the remarks?” needed to be asked, but apparently so because they had a fucking discussion on the subject.  Screencaps from the segment then did the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, along with the hashtag #AreJewsPeople. Really, folks? Really? You didn’t for one moment think that might be incredibly offensive to Jews reading that? You didn’t think that every time a Jew read that, there would be an instant of “ok, now I’ve got to find out whether the person thinks ‘no'” before they read the tweet? 

But, anyway, those screencaps. It’s important to note that none of the people on screen below are the people who made the comments about Jews. 

(As I was writing this, CNN issued an apology for the crawl at the bottom of the screen.)

Now, being fair, plenty of people have criticised the comments. It’d be nice if more did, but yeah, I’m not denying that the comments have been condemned and denounced by many, criticised and decried. Not by Trump, though, nor by any of his senior people. But yes, condemnation by lots and lots of people. (Edit to add: it’s now being reported that Trump has condemned the gathering.)

Not by enough though. Not by nearly enough. Or not by some people I would hope would condemn. I’d expect them to condemn not because it’s the right thing to do – although surely it is – but because by not condemning they’re revealing their own hypocrisy. 

And here’s what’s bugging me. I dredge the following example up every so often, so you’ll forgive me if I resurrect it one more time.

A meme did the rounds some time ago, viz:

“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?” – Ernest Gaines. We would like to know who really believes in gay rights on Livejournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you truly believe in gay rights, then repost this and title the post “gay rights.” If you don’t believe in gay rights, then just ignore this. Thanks.

Simple, easy to do, so you should do it, right?

No. It’s trite, insulting, patronising emotional guilt-tripping. And it’s wrong.


Well, suppose the message was this:

We would like to know who isn’t antisemitic on LiveJournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you’re NOT antisemitic, then repost this and title the post as “I hate antisemitism”. If you are antisemitic, then just ignore this. Thanks

I’m supposed to then, presumably, believe that anyone who doesn’t post the comment in their own blog is antisemitic?

Utter nonsense.

Silence doesn’t indicate consent. Not in law, not ethically, not in practice. Everyone has their own ‘red buttons’ that can be pressed and the mere absence of condemnation of something is not in any way indicative of agreement with, nor support for, the thing you or I would like condemned.

While I support the aims and sentiments of Black Lives Matter as a movement, I’ve not marched on their behalf, and I’ve not blogged about it. And yes, while I think the UK government’s welfare benefits cuts have been wrong, cruel and dismissive of the consequences, I’ve rarely blogged about it. My non-blogging or non-tweeting about the coming cut in Employment Support Allowance doesn’t mean I support it.


Oh, come on, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming… BUT if you are someone who protests that silence is consent, if you are someone who says that silence means acquiescence or support for something…

People of colour who’ve been saying that silence means you don’t really support Black Lives Matter? LBGTQI folks saying silence means you effectively support homophobic/transphobic acts and laws? Benefits campaigners saying silence means you don’t care… Anti-austerity campaigners protesting that silence means acquiescence to austerity… Where’s your outrage over #AreJewsPeople? Where are your blogs and your tweets and your condemnation?

Because that’s what you’ve said. You’ve said silence means consent. You’ve said silence means acquiescence, that silence means apathy, that silence means support for the other side.

Again, this isn’t aimed at anyone who hasn’t used that argument, but those of you who have previously said “Silence means…” but have not condemned the rampant antisemitism of the alt-right, the overt antisemitism of “Are Jews People?”, the clear and present antisemitism that’s taking place…  

Which is it? Is it consent, or acquiescence, or apathy, or support? Do you agree with the statement or do you just not care about it? Or it is just that you’re hypocrites, claiming silence means consent when it suits you but never when it’s your silence?

You know what? Fuck you with your “silence means…”

2017 minus 42: Mike

Posted: 20 November 2016 in 2017 minus, family, personal
Tags: , ,

Anyone who’s followed my blog for some time – either this one or the one that preceded it – knows that January 9th is a bad day for me. It’s not as bad as it used to be, back when everyone would stay the hell away from me on the day, and I’d answer queries and comments with monosyllabic grunts, but not good, no.

Almost 19 years ago, I lost my big brother at the horribly young age of 38. And every year, on the anniversary of his death, I put something up about him. This, for example, is what I wrote about him this year. 

Occurs to me though that I’ve rarely written about his life, and what it was like to have him as a big brother.

And, since he was born on 20th November 1959, today seems as good a time as any to do so. Warning: this post will probably skip around a bit in terms of tone and times, and for fairly obvious reasons, it’s about Mike and me. Just a heads-up.

Michael Russell Barnett. My big brother. 

He’d have been 57 today. He’d likely have been completely grey/white – 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. 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. 

The greying made us look more alike. We never looked that much like each other; we bore just enough of a resemblance though that folks quickly guessed we were brothers. But he was far better looking than me. I don’t say that out of any false modesty; we used to joke among us three brothers 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 figuring out things, but my younger brother had – and has – a brain for how things worked practically that left mine and Mike’s in the stone age.) 

I can’t remember at time when Mike didn’t have girlfriends, or when he wasn’t surrounded by a mob of friends. 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 more occasions than I can think of.

He enjoyed school, both the social aspect and the academic side of it… in theory anyway. He’d have beeen 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. 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. He 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.

I’ve said before I couldn’t have asked for a better big brother, and it’s true. I stuck him on a pedestal, a dangerous place for any sibling to stand, but he never let me down. 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 “I do what with what?” So, 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 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 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’. 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…) 

OK, now I’m 16 or 17 and I’m watching television with the family, an episode of Quincy*. Long before then, I’d become used to picking up a doctor’s prescription for Mike for something called “digoxinDidn’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.

*I’d pay so much money to read a Quincy comic book written by Warren Ellis.

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…



My head whips ’round to look at my big brother, my eyes growing wider with every nanosecond. He shot me a look that repeated his message from a few months previous… And I left it alone. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

Another year goes past. 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 operated on in September 1983; in one of those odd moments of synchronicity, the operation took place on Yom Kippur, during which there’s a bit recited about those who’ll die in the next year. I remember thinking “gee, thanks…” 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 in 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 of that 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 superlative joy, gets her own back on me for the phone call 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 enjoyed 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 afterwards.

He 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 joy Phil’s expressing.

He was doing well, recovering…

And then he wasn’t. 

And then he was dead.

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.

Or it’ll be his birthday.

And I’ll miss him. I’ll miss him so hard it hurts.

Tonight, I’ll pour myself a drink, wander outside for a moment, raise the glass to the heavens, and thank him for being my brother for 33 years.

Rest easy, brother. x 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

Why not indeed…

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

So, a quick non-Frequently Asked Questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 minus 65: Q&A

Posted: 28 October 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal

Haven’t done this for a lonnng time; I guess you could say it’s a thematic sequel though to “Who…?” from last week.

Here’s one of those Q & A ‘memes’, questions I’ve been asked over the years, with today’s answers.


Alcoholic drink of choice?
Single malt whiskey, neat. I can’t really afford that regularly, so a decent blended will do.

First thing you ever got paid for writing?
A short sketch on BBC Radio 4’s Weekending. As I recall, it was about Boris Yeltsin.

Ever have a near-death experience?

Name an obvious quality you have.
Well, according to several people, a very skewed perception of how I’m regarded by others. That’s their opinion of an “obvious” quality, not necessarily one with which I agree.

What’s the name of the song that’s stuck in your head right now?
A Night Like This by Carl Emerald

Favourite toy as a child?
Lego; boring, but true.  

When was the last time you visited the street where you first lived?
Well, I was born in Luton; haven’t been back to the town, let alone the street, in years.

Do you read your horoscope?
No; if I want to read fantasy, there’s plenty of better written stuff out there.

When was the last time you googled your own name?
Can’t remember; I set up a couple of google alerts way back when I had a reason to check; I get a digest every so often.

Do you like having your photograph taken?
Generally? No, I really don’t like it. I don’t mind if I know it’s being taken, but I really, really hate it when I don’t know it’s being taken. The chances I’ll like the pic if I don’t know it’s being taken are miniscule.

What time were you born?
11:10 pm

Ever seriously questioned your sanity?

How many phone numbers do you have remembered and can say off the top of your head?
Over my lifetime? Many, many. How many could I remember now? Half a dozen, possibly.

Have you ever killed your own dinner?
If you mean, have I ever killed something and then ate it, the answer’s no. If you mean, have I ever destroyed a meal I was making, hell’s teeth, you’re asking questions of someone who could burn corn flakes. I’m a terrible cook. Abysmal.

What phobias do you have?
Bees and wasps; spiders that are bigger than they should be. And to save you asking, spiders shouldn’t be any bigger than a quarter of an inch diameter.

What’s your ideal breakfast?
I rarely if ever have breakfast.

What book or movie title best summarises your personality?
What is the Name of This Book? by Raymond Smullyan

If you could suddenly get the skill to play any single musical instrument, which would you choose?
Mouth organ – that way no one would ever ask me to sing. (A couple of years ago, friends bought me one. I started to learn, then put down; I really should get back to learning it. I’d actually quite like to.)

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?
I tend to assume that someone who’s intelligent in one area will be equally intelligent in others, and I’m biased in favour of intelligent people.

What’s the longest time you’ve stayed out of the country/where?
1980, from mid-July to mid-August. On a BBYO/youth group tour of Israel.

And the furthest you’ve ever been from where you were born?
Singapore. Flew there, stayed six hours, flew back. Long story. Not as long as the flight, though.

If you were another person, would you be friends with you?
The temptation is to say no, but I honestly don’t know.

Why do you write?
Either because I have a story I want to tell, or to meet a challenge, (self-imposed or external), or something occurs to me that I have to get down… in order for it to make sense to me. And sometimes, the format itself gets in the way. A story won’t work in prose, but it will as poetry, or only as a scrupt.

Why are you such a grouch?
It’s obligatory. Comes with my membership of the Curmudgeonly Club.

Why do you pretend you don’t know when someone’s interested in you when you obviously do?
Erm, we’ve obviously never met.

Do you think of yourself as “Budgie” or “Lee”?
These days? Always the former.

If you could change one thing about yourself whether it be physical or not, what would it be?
Physically? Full body transplant.
Mentally? An injection of “grow up” serum.

What is your favourite word?

Which writers do you find inspiring and / or influential?
I can’t think of any writers I’ve found inspiring as in emotionally inspiring, but ‘inspiring me to write’? Warren Ellis, Peter David, David Morrell, Irving Wallace. ‘Nagging me to write more’? Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn.

Influential? Oh, a bit from everyone above, I think.

Please pass on an important piece of advice about life.
Two pieces of advice: (1) Learn from your mistakes; regret ’em, but don’t brood on them. (2) Accept completely and utterly that life is an ongoing series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’,

Who would you most like to meet?
There are any number of people with whom I’ve corresponded online that I’d like to meet, including some that have become friends. Celebrities? Stephen Fry, Peter David, Jon Stewart, Jeremy Paxman, in the main so I can tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their work.

Would you ever consider running for political office?
Absolutely NOT!

What is the first thing you notice about people?
Their face. I’d like to say their eyes, but it’s their entire face. It’s their eyes that ‘get’ me though; I’m a sucker for communicative eyes.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Nope, not at all. I think that those people who do are… misguided.

Which is your favourite song that you would choose to sing at a karaoke bar?
I wouldn’t. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

If you were to be famous, what would you like to be known for?
As the disreputable and slightly embarrassing father of a very talented son.

Pretend you live in a world where everyone wears real, physical masks all the time. Halloween masks, masquerade masks, and so on. What would your favorite mask look like?
Completely blank, like that of THE QUESTION.

What do you do if you forget the name of someone you’ve just been introduced to?
I’ll usually apologise and admit it…

Tell me: One strength. One shortcoming. One plan of action. One goal. One fear.
One strength: determination, not stubbornness.
One shortcoming: stubbornness, not determination.
One plan of action: under no circumstances ever say ‘next year has to be better than this year’; I’ve been burned before on that.
One goal: make it through this series of blog entries relatively unscathed.
One fear: the confirmation of other fears.

What’s your favorite black and white movie?
Always have problems with favourite movies, because I have different favourites depending on genre. So I’ll say probably Casablanca as a ‘serious’ movie, and Duck Soup as a comedy. (And as we’re less than. two months from Christmas season, and as an aside, I’ll add that I can’t stand It’s a Wonderful Life. At all.)

What do you wear to bed to sleep?
A duvet.

What song always makes you happy when you hear it?
Not sure about ‘happy’, but Walking on Sunshine by Katriona and the Waves always makes me smile when I hear it.

Are you afraid of the dark?
Not at all, but then it’s never given me a reason to be afraid of it. So far.

What’s your favourite music to dance to?
Even when my foot allowed it (long story), I loathed dancing. Hated it. Not only cannot I not dance, I’m far too self-conscious – I cannot get it out of my head that everyone’s looking.

Do you think writers are too in love with themselves?
Oh hell, no. I think many writers don’t like themselves very much at all.

Can you recommend a coffee?
I always recommend a coffee.

Who is the strongest person you know?
Couldn’t narrow it down to one person; so many people I know have triumphed – or are struggling to do so – against horrible things that have happened to them, that I couldn’t narrow it down to one person.

Favorite Number?

Can you speak any languages other than English?
A smattering of yiddish, and absolutely fluent rubbish.

If you could live in any past time period, which would it be?
If I had to pick, 1960s, but I’d probably be enirely useless living there. I’d miss too many of today’s comforts, and tech, and the social norms? No, I don’t think I’d get on well, living in the past.

Do you dream in color or black and white?
Honestly, I’ve never noticed. Is that a thing?

Are you tolerant of other people’s beliefs?
I’d like to respond “as long as they’re tolerant of mine”, but honestly? Depends on the beliefs.

Have you ridden in a hot air balloon?
No, and I’m in no hurry to do so.

Which hurts the most, physical or emotional pain?
For me? Physical.

Would you rather visit a zoo or an art museum? I’d rather visit neither.

Do you have a middle name?
No, my parents couldn’t afford one

What medications do you take?
Anything that I need to. Other than that, nothing

Have you ever ‘done drugs’? Yes; smoked dope occasionally, never anything stronger, though I’ve been offered on many occaisons. Just not my thing.

What do you think of hot dogs?
I think it’s cruel, and the owners should be prosecuted for not leaving the car windows open.

Do you own a knife? Well, does a Swiss Army Knife count? If so, yes.

What characteristics do you despise?
Intolerance and arrogance.

Where in the world on vacation, where would you go?
Toss up between Bermuda, Antigua and New York

What did you want to be when you were little?
Older… and taller.

79. Favourite Candy Bar? Don’t have one.

Would most people say you look older than you are, younger or approximately the ‘correct’ age?
Younger, usually, which still always surprises the hell out of me.

What is your hidden talent?
I’m genuinely unsure whether I have one. I’m not usually one to hide any talents I have…

Is there any subject that should be off limits for humor?
No. None. However, just because a joke can be made about a subject doesn’t mean it should be made. Context is also important – where and when the joke is told.

Are you a hypocrite?
Yes. Next question?

Just curious – what’s your type?
Arial Rounded MT Bold.

If you were one of the Endless, which one would you be?
I think like most people, I feel like different Endless at different times… As a general rule though, never really feel like a character created by someone else. I’m more of a self-made person who has a healthy disrespect for my creator.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 74: Who…? 

Posted: 19 October 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal

Some housekeeping and information before today’s entry. 

There are 74 of these entries to go and even I – who am not short of a few words on most subjects – would probably find writing 1000 or more words a day for this place a stretch; moreover, no doubt you’d like a bit of novelty in format, and subject matter. 

So, this is what I’m planning. To make it easier for me – and you –  of the seven posts a week, four will be brand new prose material, my thoughts on a subject or news event, or even some ‘slice of life’ stuff. One post – on Saturdays – will be deliberately lighter in tone, what I used to call “Saturday Smiles”. And since the name isn’t being used at the moment, I might as well do so.

Fiction for the two remaining days: one brand new story, one I’m pulling from the archives, from when I wrote for Elephant Words. I’ve linked to them in the past, but they’ve never appeared on the blog and since I have about three dozen to choose from, that most have never seen, I’ll put some of them up here. That ok with you? Good.

How do you answer the question “who are you?”

I’ve been watching the first few episodes of HBO’s Westworld and – no, don’t worry, I’m not about to spoil it for you, nor predict what’s going on. I wouldn’t do that without very heavy warnings.

But the question “who are you?” and its associated question “what do you do?” have always fascinated me. I mean, they’re not as daft as “how are you?” which, unless it’s a doctor asking you the question, is universally understood as requiring “fine, thanks” as an answer.

But “who are you?” 

It’s not a question that in and of itself informs you of the answer required. Instead, the circumstances in which it’s asked shape the answer required. At various times, I’ve been “Lee”, “Lee Barnett”, “Mr Barnett”, “Laura’s husband”, “Laura’s ex-husband” and, of course, most of the time over the past twenty or more years, “budgie”. And that’s ignoring the responses that cover “what do you do” equally well: “I’m the writer”, “I’m the financial director”, “I’m the lodger”, etc.   

But none of those are themselves good answers. They just give the person asking something to call me, something by which to refer to me. Fantastic tales notwithstanding, knowing someone’s name isn’t necessarily (I’ll grant you that caveat) giving you power over them. 

Who am I? I’m the result of millions of life experiences. I’m a firm believer in people being the sums of their own life experiences. (Also that life is a consecutive series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…’, but that’s a diferent blog entry.) Change the experiences and you change the person. I lost a brother at 38. Had he been around for another ten years or more, my life experiences would be different, so I’d be a different person. Had I not married when I did, or had the marriage lasted shorter or longer than it did, I’d be a different person now. Better? Worse? No idea, but I’d be a different person for sure.

Who am I? I’m someone equally interested in the process by which a decision is reached as the decision itself. I like to know why things happen as much as how they happen. I’ve no interest in pretending they didn’t happen though.

Who am I? I’m a 52 year old man, who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, using slang and colloquialisms that I now detest, cracking gags at school of which I’m now ashamed. That they were “of that time” might explain the causal misogyny, racism and homophobic attitudes, but it doesn’t excuse them. I have no distinct memories of me being racist or homophobic, but I can’t in all honesty pretend it’s not likely I was. And yet, those childhood experiences made me – in part – the person I am today. Change them, and you change who I am. 

Who am I? I’m a Jew who has faced antisemitism, has been called jewboy, kike and hebe, who has been described as vermin and as an infestation. 

Who am I? I’m the boy who was a coward at school, who was regularly beaten up by bullies, and didn’t believe the “they respect you when you stand up to them” then, and I’m none too convinced now. What stopped me being bullied at school was a combination of a) me growing six inches in height in my fifth year at secondary school, b) getting some upper body strength, and c) hitting back and knocking down a bully, the last of which surprised both of us equally. It stopped almost overnight. It was the combination that stopped it, not just the last.

Who am I? I’m someone who I hope has learned from my own experiences and from those of others. I’m someone who tries to think before they speak, listen before I interrupt, and acknowledge that others’ experiences are often not only more relevant than my own but carry more weight.

Who am I? I’m a former accountant who still thinks that that’s a worthy profession, that business is not inherently immoral, and that neither is that business making a profit.  

Who am I? I’m a physical coward who somehow got used to ongoing pain from a foot with a couple of bones dying inside it.

Who am I? I’m someone with friends who forgive me when I fuck up, and understand me better than I sometimes appreciate. 

Who am I? I’m someone who enjoys history but dislikes museums; who enjoys music but can’t play an instrument; who enjoys rhetoric, but loathes demagoguery; who doesn’t enjoy sport on the whole, but quite enjoys others’ enjoyment of it.

Who am I? I’m someone who’ll happily accept a compliment for what I do, but almost never for who I am.

Who am I? I’m someone.

So… who am I?

I’m me. 

Who are you?

See you tomorrow. With either some views on the US election and the debate, or an odd tale or two. We’ll see.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.