Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

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 ‘Phil’. 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.

As I’ve mentioned before, on occasion, I kind of like that I used to do do these things every so often.

Now, I’ve no illusions that me doing them will restart the trend of others doing them, nor that anyone will find them actively interesting,.

I’m just more than aware that I find it easier to reveal stuff about me when I’m answering questions than by just writing about personal stuff, although I’ve done that a couple of times in this run already. But I’m genuinely fascinated by how I’d answer the questions now, compared to the last time I did it, whether that was a month ago, or ten years ago.

Besides, who knows, you might learn something about me you didn’t before. (I mean, let’s be honest, probably not, but you might.)

So, here’s another set of questions, and answers. All the answers are honest ones; some are less than serious, however. And I’ll try to answer some with more than a single word or line.

OK, so…

Is there someone in your life you know you’d be better off without?
Up until fairly recently, I’d have probably replied “Not that I can think of”. That’s changed, thanks to the past few years in British politis, and especially during #ThisFuckingElection, as I’ve taken to referring to it on Twitter.

So, yes, there are people in my life who not only would I be better off without, but I’m actively doing something about it. There have been plenty where I’ve been saddened by the termination of the friendship, but not one I’ve regretted. I suspect they’d say the same about the latter, while I’ve not the slightest clue about the former.

As to whether anyone is reading this and thinking “actually, I’d be better without budgie in my life…”, well, if so, you know what to do about it, with my blessing.

Do you get criticized because of your body?
Not really, no – my appearance, yes, but not my body. Very few people have, the past few years, seen my body, and those who have haven’t been that repulsed by it. I think.

But my face? How I look, dress, etc. Yeah, I’ve been criticised, with some justification. I’ve never thought of myself as objectively ‘good looking’. I’m… ok, I guess. Nothing special, nothing particularly horrible.

Which is, admittedly, a step forward from thinking I’m a genuinely ugly bugger, which I honestly went through most of my teenage years and adult life thinking.

How much did you weigh when you were born?
7lb 7oz, so I’m told. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention at the time. In fact, given the circumstances, I’m kind of surprised my parents noticed.

Did you kiss the last person you called?
No – the last person I called was a hospital appointment booking line. So… no. It’s been a while since I’ve kissed anyone romantically, though.

When was the last time you danced?
A very long time ago. A very, very long time ago. I really, really didn’t like dancing even before I buggered up the foot. Actually, thinking about it, I genuinely can’t remember the last time I danced. Not really. Would have been more than a decade, probably, though

When was the last time you jumped on a trampoline?
Unless I had a go when Phil – my lad – was learning as a young kid, would have been almost 40 years ago, when I was at Manchester Poly. Again, since the foot became fucked, I doubt it would be a smart thing to try.

Do you keep in mind other people’s feelings?
I try to, but suspect I manage it less than I’d like or than is ideal. But, I’d observe, ‘keeping in mind’ doesn’t mean always being careful not to offend them. There are times that I’m very aware of others’ feelings, but what I have to say, or do, is more important to me than not offending them. I’d say that’s probably the same for most people.

Are any of your friends pregnant?
Not currently, or at least not that I know of. I’ve reached the age now, though.where the question should include the children of friends of mine as well. And the answer to that would be the same right now: not currently, or at least, none that I know of.

If you have a hang nail, do you pull it or clip it?
Pull it, usually. Occasionally, I’ll cut it with the scissors on my pen-knife.

Who or what do you want to forget?
Very little. I’m a huge advocate of the ‘everyone is the sum of their lived experiences’ view; take away my experiences, and I’d no longer be… me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you understand, but at least I – and everyone else – is used to who I am… for good or ill.

Changing that runs the risk of me being someone awful. Or at least someone more awful.

Who was the last person to send you a letter?
Leaving aside the obvious answers like “the bank”, etc., I genuinely can’t remember the last time I received a personal letter. Last time I sent a personal was to a friend who’d specifically asked me to write to her. and the biggest problem I found was… I didn’t know when to end it, how long a personal letter should be. Three pages? Seemed too short? A dozen? Seemed too long.

How much money is in your wallet?
Fifteen pounds.

How far have you gotten with the book you are reading?
Almost finished the book I’m currently reading; have a new book ready to read when I’m done.

Who did you last tell to shut up?
Seriously, as in I meant it? No idea. Not seriously? Probably within the past week.

What’s your favourite book at the moment?
Robin Ince’s I’m A Joke And So Are You. I’ve read it and reread it several times. However, my favourite book of all time remains a novel: The Man, by Irving Wallace.

What’s your favourite cereal?
Winter: Shredded Wheat; any other time: Frosties.

How do you feel when people lead you on, but they don’t even like you?
Furious; I’ve fallen out permanently with people, including friends who’ve made nothing of it, over it. Dishonesty is horrible, yeah, but the calculated dishonesty in this is unforgivable, to me.

Could you live without sunlight?
I could, but I don’t suspect I’d like it very much. Or like me very much.

What’s something you know is bad, but you want to do it anyway?
Define ‘bad’. Criminal? Nothing springs to mind.

Morally? Whose morals?

Do something ‘bad’ to someone? Only if they deserve it, but fuck me, some people deserve it.

What was the last thing you lied about?
When I was nice to someone in person recently just for an easy life, to back out of a conversation that would have turned very nasty for all concerned.

Do you regret anything you’ve done in the past week?
The last week? Oh fuck, yes. The last day? Ditto.

Do you have a common outfit for when you go ‘out’?
I started dressing all in black about 15 years ago; I did it a couple of times and people, friends, were foolish enough to say it suited me. And pure laziness kept me doing it. I feel comfortable in it, and it means I never have to even mildly concern myself with what I’m going to wear.

What is a sport you would like to play?
What would I like to do? Oh, surfing, and basketball; I can, unfortunately, do neither of these either because of physical limitations. Other than that, and they’re easy answers, excuses… I don’t like sport.

At all.

Not only do I not like sport, I’m wholly and genuinely puzzled by people who do, especially those who support a team through thick and thin. I’m mystified by how anyone can claim their team is [always] “the best” when, objectively, they’ve very much… not.

The tribal nature of supporting a team is beyond me.

And that’s leaving aside that I actively dislike participating in sports. I dont think sport is an objective ‘good thing’, not when you’ve experienced the bullying and frankly horrific abuse you get when you’re ‘not good at sports’, like what I was.

When was the last time you felt like crying?
From emotion? No idea – can’t remember.

From frustration? Last week.

From pain? yesterday.

Have you ever wanted to kill someone?
In my life? Twice. Both as adult. I’d be flabbergasted if anyone knew who, however.

What was the last song you listened to that wasn’t sung in English?
A month or so ago, when I did the 30 Songs thing: 99 Luftballons

What did you last draw?
I sketched a Batman a couple of days ago, trying an app and iPad stylus.

What TV show would you like to be on?
“Did I mention Doctor Who?”

If you could choose a Pokemon, who would you pick?
I’d pick one named “KillMeNowPlease”. And then do so. Repeatedly.

What was the last video game you played?
Snooker, on the iPhone, yesterday.

Have you ever been in a musical?
Once, a very, very long time ago. Jesus Christ, Superstar. I was one of Caiaphas’ priests. Never again.

Do you follow your own style or everyone else’s?
Sorry, ‘style’? What is this thing of which you speak?

Do people use you a lot?
Define “a lot”. Am I used? Yeah, sometimes, but probably no more than I use others.

What are you doing two days from now?
Wednesday? Recovering from tomorrow’s Christmas Distraction Club, I’d imagine.

Were there any teachers at your school that disliked you?
I don’t think I went to a single school or college where there wasn’t at least one teacher with whom I fell out. Some didn’t like me because I was, well, me.

On two occasions, they were flat out antisemites, and made it obvious they didn’t like me or the other couple of Jewish kids.

And one sports teacher was a sadistic bastard who got pleasure from bullying physically weak kids. If you’re thinking my dislike of sport comes from this, you may not be wrong. Those memories last.

What turns you on?
Stuff. And more stuff. You don’t really want to know, though, do you? I mean, eugh.

Did you ever believe there were monsters in your closet?
It didn’t even occur to me.

Did you have an autograph book?
Yeah, pretty much every kid had one when I was young. Filled up with celebs I met, and school friends.

Would you adopt a child that had a mental illness?
I don’t intend to have/adopt/be responsible for any other children. It’d be unfair to them would be one reason. It’d be unfair to me is another.

Does thinking about death scare you?
Not at all, neither my own or anyone else’s… with the very, very rare exception. And even then, it’s not being ‘scared’ exactly.

If you died, would you go to Heaven or Hell?
Neither. No idea what happens when you die, and I’m quite ok with that.

Do you care what people say or think about you?
I wish I didn’t. But I stopped worrying about it when I realised that anything they say anything about me that’s ‘bad’, I’d probably agree with.

However, I don’t like being the subject of gossip. When my wife and I separated, it – and the suggested reasons for it – became the subject of some gossip among people I knew. And I hated that.

Have you ever had surgery?
Several times, last time to fix my foot. It didn’t. and I’m likely having a procedure in near future.

Have you ever been threatened?
Many times. But only two death threats that stand out, after one of which I involved the police.

Which side of your family do you get most of your qualities from?
My father, for good or bad. Very little I got from mum; very much I got from dad.

What was the last thing you drank?
Coffee.

Have you ever kept a relationship a secret?
Several, but as above, I’ve not been in a relationship for many years.

How much do you weigh?
Around 13 and a half stone, give or take a pound.

How much do you want to weigh?
Around 12 and a half stone, give or take a pound. But it’s too strong to say I ‘want’ to. It’d be nice, sure, but it doesn’t really bother me that I’m a stone heavier.

What street do you live on?
Not the street where you live.

What is a quote that you love?
“In his ninetieth year, he could afford to be agreeable to everybody, though he tried valiantly to resist the inclination.” — Alistair Cooke, on Frank Lloyd Wright

I genuinely hope someone says that about me one day.

Do you think of pure hate as human created?
Of course. Much as I do ‘pure love’.

When was the last time you wanted to scream?
Wanted to, but didn’t? Nothing springs to mind.

Did so, in pain? Yesterday.

Other than in genuine physical pain? From fury, and contempt? About a week ago.

What are your thoughts on discrimination?
Intolerance, bigotry, prejudice, discrimination? All things that make me think less of humanity as a species.

Would you give a million dollars to charity if you had two million?
No.

Do you see the world in black and white?
More often that I’d like to, or probably is wise.

Do you think cell phones can cause cancer?
Don’t know, don’t care.

Where does the rainbow end?
Midgard.

Do you believe in any religion?
I’m Jewish. My level of observance varies somewhat. I guess I’ve some few but unbreakables but they’re observances, traditions, rather than ‘believing’ per se.

I don’t know what the hell I actually ‘believe’.

What’s your definition of life?
The same as the Oxford English Dictionary’s. Seems to work for me.

Something you never want to do again is what?
Make a damn fool of myself in front of people I respect, or people I care about. The chances of me never doing this again, however, are minuscule.

When was the first time you realized the world was small?
As in “it’s a small world”? When I was very, very young.

Do you spend a lot of time contemplating life’s mysteries?
Hardly any at all. There are some questions I realised some time ago I’m just not smart enough to understand all the arguments, let alone the answers.

If you could create a new law, what would it be?
Any politician who gives out provably false information, knowingly or unknowingly (I truly don’t care if it’s unknowingly – it’s their bloody job to know), in a speech or policy statement is fired from any ministerial position, barred from ministerial office for a period of five years, and is additionally thrown out of their legislative chamber, having to run again in a by-election.

No ifs, no appeals, just… out.

Ever discuss your political beliefs with people?
Before the past few years? Not really. Since then… when asked. But there’s no political party I current agree with even a majority of their platform, and I disagree fundamentally with something in each of their policy manifestos.

Do you care about the environment?
Not as much as many of my friends.

Are you at all racist, sexist, ageist, or homophobic?
I hope to hell not; I try not to be. But I fear that like most people, I betray my prejudices every time I open my bloody mouth.

What’s your motto for life?
Regret, but never brood.

Is progress destroying the beauty of the world?
All of the natural world is temporary on the longer term. Doesn’t matter to me whether a particular view is there or not. Another view will be there instead, and if I don’t like it, so I find a view from a different place. In other words… no.

Do you believe there is life somewhere else in the universe?
Yes.

Sentient life? Still yes. However, I don’t think we’ll ever meet it. I’d say there’s more chance of time travel being invented that us meeting sentient aliens, or vice versa.

Would you like to rule a country?
Absolutely not. Gods, no. Never. Never. Never. I don’t want to even stand for local councillor.

Do you believe everything has a purpose?
Absolutely not.

Do you think animals have real feelings?
Define the term – animals feel pain, for example. If you mean, emotions, possibly. Do you mean emotions they understand? No. But I’m freely willing to accept I’m wrong or all of that; I’ve never owned a pet – though have lived with some – so do not have that experience.

Is war ever for the best?
No, but it may be the least worst solution.

Could you kill anyone?
Depends on the circumstances. To save Phil’s life? I’d kill someone and sleep well afterwards.

Do you believe global warming is really our fault?
Man made? Anthropogenic? Almost certainly.

Does love conquer all?
Not. A. Fucking. Chance.

Is euthanasia morally acceptable?
Voluntary euthanasia? Yes, though I have huge concerns as to the administration were it ever to be made legal.

Is world peace impossible?
Impossible to envision, let alone achieve.

Does prison work?
Depend on what you’re trying to achieve.

Do you trust the media?
Yes, to serve their own agenda, and increase ratings/sales.

Is pride a good or a bad thing?
Again, depends on the circumstances.

What is the purpose of life?
There isn’t one purpose. There might be many, but one? No. Unless you’re going along the ‘the purpose of life is to live’ route.

Do you believe in karma?
No. Not at all. Not in the least.
 
 
OK, something else tomorrow.

I really don’t want to write on the election. I mean, I will, next week, but I really don’t want to.

Because this election has, as I predicted a few months back, been horrible, been awful, been dreadful. And I’ll write about some of why next week.

Today, something less awful. Something on memory.

At some point in the past few years, I forgot who I was at school with. Oh, I can remember the odd name here and there; I can remember my close friends from school, and I can remember the names of the bullies. And I can remember my teachers.

But I used to remember the names of kids in my class. And kids I went to VI Form with, and young adults I went to uni with.

Now? No idea. The names just aren’t there. Seeing photos with names on the back… nope, I don’t remember them at all. I’ve got more pics of students with whom I studied at Manchester Poly. I can barely remember any of them. Some of them, obviously close friends from the photos, I have no memory of them at all.

I mean, take my senior – what’s now called secondary school. My school years between the ages of 12 and 16 were spent at Denbigh High School, in Luton. When I went there, there were 8 forms of roughly 30 children per form, over five years.

So 240 kids per year, roughly 1200 children in the school. I can go to virus sites and message boards and look at the names of people listed for my year, children I must have known – and liked or disliked – very well… Last time I checked, there were 177 listed, from the roughly 240 kids in my year. I recognised under 20. And I can picture maybe six of them.

I’d lay even money that ’20’ has shrunk to half a dozen now.

Now, ok, there’s not a one of them with whom I’m in regular contact.

Same applies to my time at Sixth Form College. Looking back at pics and online records of the time. Less than a dozen whose names I remember, and only a handful of mental pictures.

There are days I feel every bloody day of my fifty-five years…

As for uni… well, as I say above, I have more pictures. You’d think it’d make a difference. There’s someone who, from the photos, I was very close to, physically I mean. Nope, I have no idea of her name. There’s a photo of a fella named Paul who I kind of faintly remember being there, But his surname? What he was studying? Our relationship? Not a clue.

I wonder how many of them remember me.

I’m not sure what it says that I hope very few do.

(Of course, the schoolmates wouldn’t have a clue about ‘budgie’, while those at uni would only remember me as ‘budgie’…)

 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Heh. I did it again.

From the opening to 55 plus 44: [further] Politics ponderings

Small amusement to start today’s entry. One of the things I like about iOS, have liked since the very first iteration of it, is keyboard shortcuts. They’re basically a way of typing a combination of letters which will then automatically resolve into a pre-written word, phrase or sentence. I have a few, but the three I’d always recommend to set up are: your email address, your phone number and… well, I’ll come on to that in a ducking minute, ok?

Being able to type ‘bbbb’ and have ‘budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk’ automagically appear saves so much bloody time, I tell you.

I set up ‘::’ (two colons) as a shortcut for my mobile phone number and ’44:’ as the same number but in ‘international format’. Which is fine and dandy… right up until you need to type “55 plus 44:’ as the title of a blog entry. Heh.

Oh, and the third? Since I rarely need to type the word ‘ducking’, I set it so if I do type the word ‘ducking’, it resolves instantly to ‘fucking’. Which is great until I sent a tweet during a session of Prime Minister’s Questions asserting that ‘David Cameron was fucking the question’. Which may well have equally accurate, now I come to think of it…

And i just did the 44: thing again. And it still amuses me.


I’ve had some entirely unexpected customer service disasters recently, from two companies with which I’ve previously associated only excellent customer support.

It’s been less than delightful.

But rather than whinge about those two companies, here’s some customer service that I didn’t know existed, and which blew me away.

A bit of history first.

Anyone reading this is likely to know or remember that I used to be married to a very lovely lady named Laura.

We’re no longer together, obviously, but it was no-one’s ‘fault’ that we didn’t last. We’re still very close friends, and she is, and remains, one of my favourite people on the planet. And she’s Phil’s mum, a brilliant, superb mum at that.

Now, I’d say this post isn’t about her, but it kind of is, in a way. At least to start with.

When I met Laura – back in the Stone Age, clearly, since our lad is now 24 – there was the initial fun of discovery: of each other, of what interests we shared, which interests we definitely didn’t share, of each other’s families.

And the different things our families did. Not only the obvious – Laura’s family was undoubtedly more religiously observant than mine – but the family traditions each had.

Laura was fairly astonished, for example, that I didn’t own a pen-knife, a Swiss Army knife.

Actually, having written that, I’m not sure “fairly astonished” quite covers it: she was flabbergasted. Mainly, but not solely, because everyone in her family had one. Whether the tiny one she had in her purse, to the absolute monster her late father had owned, everyone had one.

Not me; my dad didn’t like knives, other than for eating food, and although I kind of faintly remembered owning a cheap pen-knife at university, I certainly didn’t have one now. Or rather then, when this tale takes place.

And so Laura bought me a pen-knife. A very nice one. A Swiss Army knife, obviously, The Workchamp.

One of these.

Yeah, it’s a big pen-knife, isn’t it?

Well, no, not really, not when you compare it to, say…

But The Workchamp was certainly big enough for me. Felt lovely in my hand and I ended up using most of the functions at one time or another.

(The Workchamp officially has 21 functions, compared to 82 (!) for the big bugger above.)

Which was fine for years and years… until I pulled it out of my pocket at one point while out at a coffee shop, and a very nice policeman who happened to be at the next table very politely – but firmly – informed me that it was illegal for me to be carrying it in public.

Oops.

No, not the length of the blade, in case you were wondering, but The Workchamp has a lockable big blade. And you’re not allowed to carry a knife with one of those in public.

The police officer realised I genuinely didn’t have a clue, and pulled out an envelope,. He dropped the pen-knife in it, sealed it, signed the back, then returned it to me. Then he said words to the effect of:

“Take that out when you get home, and not before. And don’t ever take it out in public again.”

All of which advice I followed.

However, if I wanted a pen-knife I could carry around, and I’d kind of gotten used to carrying one by then, I needed one I could carry around without running the risk of, y’know, being arrested.

Anyway, cutting a long story short – far, far too late – I picked up one of these:

Not quite as heavy, not quite as many functions, but also, not illegal. Which was nice.

I have no idea when I bought it. (And I’ve replaced it once after I had my bag stolen.) But I’ve had my current pen-knife for years… at least a dozen or so.

And, yeah, it shows its age: the red plastic bits either side are chipped, the spring in the scissors snapped a long time back, and it’s a bit stiff. Still works, but yeah.

Anyway, I was in central London today – following a hospital visit about which I might talk… another time, ok? – and wandered past this place in New Bond Street.

Now I genuinely had no idea how much it would cost to get mine repaired (probably too much, but thought I’d ask anyway…) So wandered in, had a look around, blanched at some of the prices of the luggage, then spoke to a lovely chap named Daniel.

Remember: I have a pen-knife bought years ago. I have no idea from where I bought it. Could be from them direct, could have been on Amazon or ebay, or from another shop.

I show him my pen-knife, fully expecting a wince at this battered old thing, the sort of look you’d get from someone into whose very nice snow-white carpet you’d trodden wet mud.

“Oh, we can certainly service and repair that for you…” says Daniel, with not the slightest wince.

“And how much…?” I ask, preparing my own wince.

“…for free.”

Pardon?

“Oh, we wouldn’t charge for any of the work needed on this,” continues Daniel, and then – after a quick play with the pen-knife, he lists out what needs doing, including replacing the cracked ‘scales’ – the red bits attached to either side of the knife.

It’s not a short list.

“Give me 20 minutes…?” Daniel asks.

Sure, I say, and wander off, wondering what just happened.

Came back half an hour later, and the pen-knife looks like new. All oiled, blades sharpened, scissor spring replaced, brand new ‘scales’ attached.

He recommends some accessories (a small container of oil, a specific blade sharpener) but doesn’t attempt at any point to ‘push’ them to me. Oh, and he mentions “if you lose the toothpick or tweezers, just pop in; we don’t charge for replacing those.”

So, yes. Sometimes, unexpectedly, you get it: fantastic customer service that you didn’t even know you could get.

Huge thanks, and the heartiest of recommendations to Daniel, at

Victorinox
95-96 New Bond St
London
W1S 1DB
 
 

The usual ‘something else on a Tuesday’… tomorrow.

Came across this earlier this week, one of those Q&A things I did a while back.

It was just one of those ‘huh’ moments, but no more than that… until I was talking with a friend earlier, someone who enjoys both making (cooking and baking) food, and enjoys eating it.

And I don’t. Not either, really.

I mean it’s well known, among friends, that I’m no foodie, that I regard food – in the main – as solely ‘fuel’. More than one has asked whether I suffer from anosmia, a lack – or damaged – lack of smell. (Apparently it’s not uncommon, when people have that particular problem, to not enjoy food.) But no I even have favourite non-food related smells: freshly mown grass, oiled leather, sawdust, and yeah, even a food related one… I very much like the smell of citrus fruits.

And I mean, sure, occasionally, I’ll enjoy eating something. I’ll actively, and overtly, enjoy it. And ok there’s always the enjoyment of, y’know, not being hungry any more.

But ‘food’, as A Thing? No; just never been something I’ve enjoyed.

Which reminded me of this. So as on a couple of occasions before, here’re the questions with updated answers. And as before, some of them haven’t changed at all, some have changed hugely.

  1. What’s the last thing you ate? Fish and chips.
  2. What’s your favourite cheese? Extra Mature Cheddar.
  3. What’s your favourite fish? Cod.
  4. What’s your favourite fruit? Banana.
  5. When, if ever, did you start liking olives? Never did.
  6. When, if ever, did you start liking beer? Never have.
  7. When, if ever, did you start liking shellfish? Never have.
  8. What was the best thing your mum/dad/guardian used to make? It may be a cliche, but mum’s chicken soup. It was almost the only thing she actually made that was tasty, apart from a pretty good apple pie.
  9. What’s the native speciality of your home town? We’re talking about Luton, so probably small orphans.
  10. What’s your comfort food? Don’t have one; used to be Walls’ Twisters, but haven’t had them in ages.
  11. What’s your favourite type of chocolate? Cadbury’s Whole Nut.
  12. How do you like your steak? Well done… that way you actually get it at least ‘medium to well done’.
  13. How do you like your burger Medium to Well done.
  14. How do you like your eggs? Preferably out of the chicken, but taking that as a given, omelette. Sometimes scrambled eggs but only firm, never, never ‘runny’.
  15. How do you like your potatoes? Boiled or roast. Either’s good.
  16. How do you take your coffee? Milk, with one sugar.
  17. How do you take your tea? Milk, one sugar.
  18. What’s your favourite mug? Don’t really have one; got a matching crockery set when I moved into the flat; one of those, I guess.
  19. What’s your biscuit or cookie of choice? Fox’s ‘sports biscuits’, which have reappeared on the shelves. When they were around, Ritz Cheese Sandwiches.
  20. What’s your ideal breakfast? Bowl of cereal (Frosties or Shredded Wheat), followed by scrambled eggs on thick buttered toast, followed by fruit, melon maybe. How often do I eat this? About once a year. Usually it’s a cup of tea and a couple of slices of buttered toast.
  21. What’s your ideal sandwich? Cheese and Tomato toasted.
  22. What’s the next thing you’ll eat? Probably a couple of burgers I’ve got in the fridge.
  23. What’s your ideal pie (sweet or savoury)? Piping hot apple pie, with very, very cold ice-cream.
  24. What’s your ideal salad? Silly question – salad? Far too healthy for me.
  25. What food do you always like to have in the fridge? Cheese.
  26. What food do you always like to have in the freezer? Ice-cream. One of the best things about being ‘a grown up’ is being able to have ice cream whenever you want it.
  27. What food do you always like to have in the cupboard? You mean you can keep food other than in the fridge or the freezer? Blimey, the things you learn.
  28. What spices can you not live without? Every bloody one of them. I’m cursed with very bland tastes.
  29. What sauces can you not live without? See above.
  30. Where do you buy most of your food? Supermarkets, one or other of them.
  31. How often do you go food shopping? Whenever I need to.
  32. What’s the most you’ve spent on a single food item? Genuinely no idea. Not a clue.
  33. What’s the most expensive piece of kitchen equipment you own (excluding ‘white goods’)? Again, not a clue. But I’d be astounded if I actually owned an ‘expensive’ piece of kitchen equipment.
  34. What’s the last piece of equipment you bought for your kitchen?
  35. What piece of kitchen equipment could you not live without? See above.
  36. How many times a week/month do you cook from raw ingredients? Congratulations. You’ve just identified that period of time shorter than a femto-second.
  37. What’s the last thing you cooked from raw ingredients? Never have. You’re corresponding with someone who could burn cornflakes. Unless you count an omelette.
  38. What meats have you eaten besides cow, pig and poultry? Lamb. There – satisfied now? What is this, a try out for the Today programme?
  39. What’s the last time you ate something that had fallen on the floor? Honestly can’t remember.
  40. What’s the last time you ate something you’d picked in the wild? No idea; but I’ve eaten food a friend grows from her allotment.
  41. Place in order of preference: Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Sushi, Thai. Italian first. Everything else so far down the list in second place, it’s actually on a different list.
  42. Place in order of preference: Brandy, Gin, Tequila, Dark Rum, Light Rum, Vodka, Whisky. Whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky.
  43. Place in order of preference: Aniseed, Basil, Caramel, Garlic, Ginger, Lime, Mint. I plead the fifth.
  44. Place in order of preference: Apple, Cherry, Banana, Orange, Pineapple, Strawberry, Watermelon. Finally, one I can answer: Banana, Orange, Pineapple, Strawberry, Apple, Cherry. Mind you, I think it’s unfair using Jelly Belly jelly beans in a question.
  45. Place in order of preference: Fashion, Food, Movies, Music, Sex, Sport, The Internet. Internet, Movies, Music, Food, Sport. Hmm, fashion and sex. I know I’ve heard of those last two, but… no, it escapes me.
  46. Bread and spread: What do you fancy? White Rye bread and nutella.
  47. What’s your fast food restaurant of choice, and what do you usually order? MacDonalds: Plain Quarterpounder and Cheese Meal, Apple Pie for dessert.
  48. Pick a city. What are the three best dining experiences you’ve had in that city? I’ll take the fifth again.
  49. What’s your choice of tipple at the end of a long day? Simgle malt scotch, neat, no ice.
  50. What’s your ideal pizza (topping and base)? Cheese, Tomato, extra cheese, sweetcorn and pineapple. Yes, pineapple. Look, if the stuff above didn’t convince you I’m just weird about food, I figured I’d pull out the heavy stuff.

 
 

See you tomorrow, with something else.

One of the nastiest, though perhaps inevitable, consequences of the past few years is the growth of the binary this/that, one or the other, that we’re obliged to make.

When I say ‘obliged’, of course, I mean, obliged by others, that it’s presented often as a moral choice as much as anything.

If you don’t overtly and actively support [cause A], then you’re, in fact, supporting [cause B]. Doesn’t matter what the causes are, nor the stupidity of the idea that you can reduce everything down to a strict binary choice. It’s both insulting and contemptuous.

I’ve written before that silence never equals consent, and my own contempt for those who use that argument – that if you don’t speak up, then you acquiesce – who also, at best stay silent about antisemitism, at worse regard it as a price worth paying to achieve something else.

And, sure, there are situations that cross lines for people, that mean those people cannot support this cause or that campaign. But not supporting the cause or campaign doesn’t always, inherently, mean you support the opposite.

And yet, today, that’s what we’re told, again and again. If you don’t protest against welfare cuts, you support them. If you don’t support this measure, then you support those who seek to damage it. Unless you vote for this person, you’re really voting for, and support, the other fella. Because it’s always reduced down to that binary choice. One or the other.

There are not just two ‘major’ political parties right now. Depending on where you are in the UK, you can add the SNP or Plaid or several NI parties to Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems. There are the Greens in Local Government, and, heaven help us, The Brexit Party.

Someone choosing not to support one of the parties doesn’t mean, can’t mean, that they inherently, in fact, support one specific other party.

Plenty of Green party members out there; they don’t support Labour or the Tories, but they’re told that if they don’t support Corbyn, they’re actually supporting the Conservatives. Same applies to Lib Dem supporters.

Or those on the right, told that if they don’t support the blonde bullshitter, they’re actually in effect, supporting, Corbyn’s Labour.

The Lib Dems, of course, get it from both, from all, sides. They’re told if they don’t support the Tories, then they’re really supporting Corbyn, and if they don’t support Corbyn, then theyr’e really Tories.

(Small diversion to say that the current leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, during the leadership contest she won, explicitly said that she wouldn’t support a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party or a Boris Johnson-led Tory Party. I find it both faintly amusing and hugely hypocritical that after years of attacks that ‘you can’t trust a Lib Dem not to break election promises’, so many now apparently want her to do just that.)

Whether it’s Brexit, the likely forthcoming early general election, or internally within parties, it comes down again and again to you’re with us or you’re against us.

In that linked piece. a sentence ago, I wrote that I was dreading the next election, truly dreading it, and that the dread merely grows. I’m ok with acknowledging, with admitting, the dread has grown exponentially since then.

So, rather than leaving both you, dear reader, and me, less than dear writer, completely pissed off with everything, here are three entirely non-political either/or things that I don’t subscribe to.

Tea / Coffee
I like both. There you go. I mean, sure, I used to be a tea drinker only, but that went the way of all things many years ago, to the point that the only true response to ‘how many coffees a day do you drink?’ has been, for years. ‘about half of them’.

If I had a choice for tea, I’ll take Brooke Bond Choicest, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen. that, so it’s usually Twinings English Breakfast. Hey, I like tea.

Coffee? I do like coffee shops, and I drink a lot of coffee, it’s true, but at home? It’s Tesco Finest Sumatra Ground. It’s strong, but not bitter, tasty but not overpowering.

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.

Sing / Dance
Oh, this is an easy one; neither. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and can’t dance at all. Small caveat with that last one; I can shuffle my body slightly from side to side,with only a coincidental correlation to the music that’s playing at the time. But I can’t… dance. Several reasons. I don’t understand it, I don’t ‘get’ it at all, and I derive no enjoyment from it as a result. I’m also far too self-conscious. I know people who don’t like to dance figure that everyone’s looking at them. I don’t think that (yes, I do), but I think they’re deservedly looking at me with scorn.

But I never learned to dance, and the foot for once is a useful excuse.

Thing is, no one ever gets upset with me that I like both tea and offer, or chess and backgammon, and don’t like singing or dancing.

I’m not told ‘ah, you don’t like dancing, you MUST LIKE singing. No one says ‘you’re not allowed to like both tea and coffee’.

Lesson learned; I can’t do either because of my foot. I can’t suport either Corbyn or Boris Johnson because of my foot. I can’t support this measure or its opposite, this policy or what I’m told is the opposite… because of my foot.

Yes, I’m sure that’ll work.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Hello there. Welcome to whatever the hell this is.

I doubt I’ve gained many new readers since the last time this was offered, but just in case, here’s how I opened the 55 minus countdown; there’s a pretty good FAQ in there, and of course, you can ask if there’s anything else, either in the comments or here.

Which leaves me with an odd situation. I mean, I said yesterday that I’m doing this, and pretty much why I’m doing this, and a fair bit about how I’m doing this, and what I’ve got in mind for this.

Usually, I’d put up a refreshed FAQ but again, I kind of did that four months ago, and not much has changed since then.

So instead, sparked by a memory of the ‘things you don’t know about me’ threads online, and those ‘here are three/five/ten facts about me; one of them is false’, here are three things about me that you may not know, or that you may know but don’t know much about, or just that are odd things.

I can’t play any musical instruments

I’d say that I’ve never been able to play any musical instruments but that’s not quite true. I mean, ok, I tried the guitar long ago, but gave up because I discovered an allergy to pain. Seriously, people, how on earth do you put up with the initial pain of learning the guitar? OK, I guess the answer is ‘because I want to learn to play the guitar’, but for whatever reason – lack of inclination, lack of effort, lack of actual genuine desire… no, not for me.

The only two and a half musical instruments I leaned to play were:

– the recorder

I went to school at a time when everyone had music lessons, everyone had the opportunity to discover which musical instrument ‘spoke’ to them and which musical instrument they’d enjoy playing. And anyone who was at a complete loss, anyone who didn’t enjoy playing any musical instrument, they were given a recorder to use. id say ‘play’ but that would place an unfair burden on the language that it should never be fairly expected to bear.

I was very bad at using/playing the recorder. No, really, very bad. But – and this is the important bit – I never had any urge to actually get better at it. Not a one.

I was surrounded by music at home; both my old man and my brother played the guitar, and I loved music. But I never felt any urge at all to create any, or play some, myself. It’s a flaw, a big one, that I genuinely regret.

Oh, by the way, just to prove that it’s the performer, not the instrument, that makes the difference:

– a melodica

My parents then, lord knows why, bought me a melodica. I’ve seen more modern ones, melodicas that you lay horizontal and play via a connected tube, the ‘wind’ part of the process being supplied by blowing through it. This wasn’t one of them. You held it like a big thick recorder, and just blew through the mouthpiece, down the instrument, while you played the keyboard on the outside of the device. I remember quite liking it, or at least, not hating it, which for me and music wasn’t easily distinguishable back then.

The difference between this and the recorder was palpable for me. The recorder sounded silly, apart from anything else. And it annoyed people. The melodica on the other hand, had a warm sound, and no one actually got annoyed by it.

I was never any good at it, but I didn’t stink while playing it.

You remember I said two and a half?

Here’s the half.

Yeah, ok it’s a bit daft calling that a musical instrument, as the only thing coming out of it – at least when I used it – was a series of discordant tones, which only by coincidence bore any resemblance to ‘notes’. It really was ‘noise for Dummies’; no question there.

You see the numbers? Below and above what I suppose I should call a ‘keyboard’? The music books you got with it, and could buy, had standard sheets of music, with the notes numbered. It made painting by numbers look intellectual.

(Yes, I enjoyed it, of course I did. No other bugger around me did, though.)

Not that long ago, after I mentioned that I would like to learn to play the mouth organ, Mitch bought me a mouth organ; it’s genuinely a regret that I’ve not thus far learned to use it.

I will. Soon.

(An added advantage of learning to play it would be that I would never be expected to sing, while playing it, but that’s a blog entry for another day.)

I’ve occasionally been on telly

Yes, I’ve every so often mentioned that I was on Mastermind, but usually for fairness, do add that there’s only the first, the specialised knowledge, round clipped… since I died on my arse in the general knowledge round. Just had brain-fart after brain-fart.

But enjoy, at my expense, the ‘rabbit frozen in the headlight’ look of the first round.

But no, I wasn’t referring to that. I’ve been on the occasional studio discussion: one on reform of the electoral system on Newsnight; one, several decades back, about ’empty nest syndrome’ (and how students have little if any sympathy for parents hit by it); and a few years ago, I was on Question Time. Not on the panel, no; in the audience.

Of course, this was back in the days when Question Time had an actual mission of informing, and getting politicians and guests to at least have a genuine stab at answering the question. So, yes, many years ago, obviously.

It was before the 2010 election, and the panelists included George Osborne, Alex Salmond and Charles Kennedy. It came up in conversation the other day, and I was reminded of the biggest shock of the evening; I’d say ‘…of the recording’, but you’ll see what that would be inaccurate.

After the warmup, with audience members playing the panelists, complete with a couple of dummy questions, the real panelists came out, and there’s ten minutes or so while they settled themselves in. During that time, Osborne came over as warm, funny, self deprecating, a very dry sense of humour, very funny, and obviously someone you’d like to know. Genuinely.

There’s another dummy question, then the lights dim very slightly, and David Dimbleby says ‘ok, we’re about to start…’ and a marked change comes over Osborne. He sits up a little straighter, the wide smile on his face metamorphoses into a slight sneer. The voice goes up an octave.

It’s the most remarkable transformation I’ve ever witnessed.

I’m reminded of the line said about Humphrey Bogart: he was fine until nine at night, and then he remembered he was Humphrey Bogart.

Osborne went from someone the audience liked, genuinely liked, to a representative of everything about the Tory Party that the public disliked: smarmy, sneers, cheap gags at others’ expense, unyielding, cruel.

Anyway, so, yeah, I’ve been on telly once or twice.

I’m an idiot

No, really. On stuff I don’t know, I’m usually completely ignorant. There are so many things that it seems everyone else knows – mainly anything to do with ‘current’ culture, reality shows, sports – of which I’m entirely anywhere. Part of it is lack of interest, partly that I have no memory skills for stuff in which I have that lack of interest.

But I’m also in awe of ‘professionals’, peopel who make their living doing something; I tend to often believe that they know what they’re talking about.

Here’s a tale, a quick one, about someone who knows their field, and knows me, all too well.

Not a secret that I have a fucked up foot. Also not a secret that due to the aforementioned fucked-up foot, I take large amounts of painkillers, opioids. And even before the current crisis, I was worried about how many I was taking.

Within weeks of taking them, I suddenly got it into my head that a) I was addicted to them, and b) that was inherently a problem.

At the time, I was… let’s be polite and say ‘seeing’ a young lady in Birmingham who was a drugs worker. I mentioned my concerns to her. Well, let’s be fair; it’s me, after all, so I probably drove her nuts about it.

After patiently explaining to me the difference between

‘being addicted’ (“Of course you’re addicted. You’ve been taking them for weeks now, 1/4 gram of codeine every day. If you came off them cold turkey right now, you’d rattle for a few days’

and

‘having a problem’

And the following conversation ensued:

Her: Why are you worried?
Me: Because if I have a problem, then…
Her: Your doctor will know.
Me: Yeah, but I want to know.
Her: OK, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients. You take 8 a day?
Me: 6 or 8, yeah, depending on how bad the pain is.
Her; OK, pick a day when you need to take 8… and take 7. Don’t replace the other one, the tablet you’re not taking, with anything. Just… don’t take it. See how you get on. See whether you ‘live’ for that tablet.

Made sense to me. So I did precisely that. I waited a few days, then we had a cold snap, as I recall. My foot was on fire; I remember every step I took, because it hurt.

I waited a day, then, took seven instead of eight. I took two when I woke, two around lunchtime, two before bed, but just the one cocodamol tablet in the early evening.

Oh shit. Live for the missing tablet? I wanted to maim someone to get the other tablet. Ad I couldn’t. I mean, it was right there: in my bathroom cabinet.

I really wanted to take it, but resisted… but yeah, I lived for that missing tablet.

I repeated the experiment the following day. Two tablets each at morning, lunch and bed, but just the one early evening… with pretty much the same result.

And again on the third day.

By the late evening of the third day, I’m angry and upset, at me, at my stupidity for following the advice, at her for giving me the advice…

The fourth day, I call her.

Me: Yeah, we need to talk
Her: What’s up?
Me: That test you set me?
Her: Yeah? Oh, you’ve been doing it? I wondered why you were cranky on the phone last night
Me: Yeah, I might have a problem.
Her: Why?

So I told her. I told her what I’d done, told her the effect, told her I’d been living for the missing tablet

And what did this person do? This woman who liked me? Who I trusted?

What did she do?

She laughed down the phone at me. Proper belly laughs.

What the…?

Her: You’re supposed to be smart. You’re an idiot. Don’t you get it? If you had a problem, you’d have taken the other tablet. You’d have made up every excuse, you’d have lied about the excuse, but you’d have taken the other tablet. You’d have lied to me, lied to yourself, you’d have come up with an explanation why you cut the experiment short. You’d have convinced yourself that it was a waste of time. You’d have justified it ten ways to Sunday. But: you would have taken the other tablet. You don’t have a problem. Well, not over this anyway…

And of course, she was right. And I’ve kept a look out for the signs since. Do I take them when they’re not needed? When I’m not in pain? Have I ever increased the dosage, or the number of times I take them (at all, but especially beyond the allowed amounts)

And I haven’t. I’ve taken them for years, and I’ve never abused them.

But yeah, I was an idiot. I still am. But not, at least, I hope about anything important.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

As part of my ‘hey, I finished the #55minus, so I can occasionally just stick something up here for the hell of it’, another set of questions and answers that I answered long ago on LiveJournal but would answer almost entirely differently now…

Here’s some questions and answers, from Eh to Zed…

THE LETTER A:
Are you Available? It depends on what you want. To chat, usually. To meet, occasionally. To vent, mostly. To go out and have a fun time? Rarely.
What is your Age? 55. This should not come as a susprise.
What Annoys you? Intolerance, hypocrisy, me, stupidity, self-delusion, gullibility, lack of intellectual curiousity, lazy thinking, lazy writing… oh, so many, many things.

THE LETTER B:
Do you live in a Big place? Location? Sure. I live in London. Residence? No, I live in a small flat.
When is your Birthday? 17th August. Every year, funnily enough. Well, ok, every year since 1964.
Does Beauty matter? Always; there’s not enough beauty in the world, but it’s there if you look for it.

THE LETTER C:
Which Car would you own, if money was no object? Had to think about this one, because I’ve never really been what you’d call a ‘motorhead’, but then I realised that I’d love to drive any of the following: Aston Martin DBS, Ferrari Dino, Jensen Interceptor, Morgan. Though if money was no object, I’d be quite happy with a little runaround. I miss not having a car, I’ll be honest
Who’s your Crush? No-one that I’d be happy acknowledging, let alone admitting publicly.
When was the last time you Cried? Because I was hurt emotionally? A very long time ago. From sadness, a few months back, watching the news. From pysical pain, last week.

THE LETTER D:
Do you Daydream? Not really, no.
What’s your favourite kind of Dog? A Australian Labradoodle named Rowlf, who belongs to/lives with my closest friends. I’m not really a pet person, until/unless I get to ‘know’ them, and sometimes not even then.
What’s your favourite Day, of the week? Don’t have one, really. Any day I get to see my lad, I guess.

THE LETTER E:
How do you like your Eggs? Scrambled or with cheese in an omelette.
Have you ever been in the Emergency room? Oh yes, most recently within the past month or so.
What’s the Easiest thing ever for you to do? Think. That’s not always a good thing.

THE LETTER F:
Have you ever Flown in a plane? A few times, yes. Not for some years, though. Which reminds me, my passport’s probably up for renewal in the next year or so. For the first time, I’m not entirely sure I’ll renew it. I mean, I should, I might need it, but it’s a cost I could do without.
Friends or Family? With the notable exception of Phil, the latter, every bloody day of the week. I’m not close to my family, the people I grew up with, for various reasons. I don’t wish them ill, genuinely, but everyone’s better off if we do not encounter each other again. Ever.
Have you ever used a Foghorn? No, but there seems something fundamentally wrong in not having done so.

THE LETTER G:
Do you chew Gum? Very, very rarely.
Are you a Giver or a taker? Quite probably.
Do you like Gummy candies? No.

THE LETTER H:
How are you? Irritated at such a stupid question. I’ve never forgotten the definition of a bore as being someone who, when you ask them how they are… tells you.
What’s your Height? Six foot.
What colour is your Hair? Grey/white with the occasional strang of what’s left of my brown hair.

THE LETTER I:
What’s your favourite Ice cream? Banana. (Used to love melon flavour, but haven’t seen it in years.)
Have you ever Ice skated? Once, wrenched my knee and swore never to do it again…
Would you live in an Igloo for a bet? Not even if it would solve world hunger.

THE LETTER J:
What’s your favourite flavour Jelly/Jam? Strawberry. Every time. I had a stay in hospital a few years back. The only edible thing I ate while there was strawberry jam on toast. (Wow, haven’t thought of that in ages…)
Have you ever heard a really hilarious Joke? Yes, several that have had me literally crying with laughter.
Do you wear Jewellery? Yes, a thin gold chain with an equally gold Star of David (a 21st birthday present). I used to wear a wedding ring; every so often, I’ll catch sight of my left hand and it’ll take a second to realise what’s ‘missing’.

THE LETTER K:
Who do you want to Kill? Right now? No-one, but ask me again another time.
Do you want Kids? I’ve got one, thanks: a pretty amazing son named Philip. No intention of ever having another. (It’d be unfair for me – to the mother and child – to have another. Odds are I’d be dead before the kid was out of his or her 20s.)
Where did you have Kindergarten? Nursery? Luton.

THE LETTER L:
Are you Laid back? Sometimes.
Do you Lie? Sometimes. (See immediately above)
Have you ever been to London? It’s been known. Well, that’s obviously silly. So, instead, let’s go with:
Have you ever been to Los Angeles? Yes, spent part of my honeymoon with Laura there. Loved the place.

THE LETTER M:
What’s your favourite Movie? I bloody hate this question… I couldn’t narrow it down to one, so let’s go for one I can watch repeatedly: The Lion In Winter.
Do you still watch Disney Movies? Some of them, sure.
What type of Music you listen to? A very eclectic mix, everything from hard rock to ‘easy listening’, from muscial comedy to Clannad, from Glen Miller to Glenn Frey, from musical soundtracks to Chris De Burgh.

THE LETTER N:
Do you have a Nickname? Heh.
Favourite Number? 1729. For the obvious reason.
Do you prefer Night over day, or day over Night? The former, definitely. Always been more of a night owl.

THE LETTER O:
What’s your One wish? For Philip to be happy.
Are you an Only child? No, I’ve a younger brother, though we’re not in touch, and had an older brother.
Do you wish this was Over? Not particularly. And not as much as anyone reading.

THE LETTER P:
What one fear are you most Paranoid about? I have my fears, but none that I’m paranoid about. My paranoias are old enemies, I’m resigned to them now.
Do you love the colour Pink? No, not at all. My only even faint liking for it was that it occasioned a nice story I wrote for the daughter of close friends; she loved the colour pink, and asked me for a story for her birthday, about the colour pink. So I wrote one for her.
Are you a Perfectionist? When I had a day job, about work, yes. Outside that, not really. By inclination and training, I like accuracy and it’s probably why I have so many problems with those in the real world who treat both accuracy and the correct use of information as disposable when inconvenient.

THE LETTER Q:
Are you Quick to fall in love or lust? ‘Love [or lust] at first sight’ type thing? No. Only ever happened a couple of times, and that immediacy was never a good thing in the long run. For me, or for them.
Do you enjoy pub Quizzes? On occasion, yeah. Not as a regular thing, though.
Have you ever rode a Quad-bike? No, but I think it’d be fun to try.

THE LETTER R:
Do you think you’re always Right? Lord no – I’ve made so many mistakes it’s incredible. But once I’ve made my mind up on something, it takes a lot to change my mind. Unless it’s on a matter of fact. When I’m shown that I had a fact wrong, I’ll hold my hand up to it without protest.
Do you watch Reality TV? I loathe so called reality television with a passion that is terrifying to imagine. It’s the one genre of tv (as opposed to individual shows in a genre) I intensely dislike.
What’s a good Reason to cry? There are very few bad reasons.

LETTER S:
Do you prefer Sun or rain? Light rain.
Do you like Snow? Yes, but I hate slush.
What’s your favourite Season? A cool, but not bitingly cold, spring or autumn.

THE LETTER T:
What Time is it? Oh look at what time it was posted and then knock off a couple of minutes.
What Time did you wake up? Just after half-six this morning.
When was the last time you slept in a Tent? I don’t think I’ve ever slept in a tent.

THE LETTER U:
Do you own an Umbrella? Actually, I don’t think I do, any more. I had one, but lost it in Edinburgh last year, and haven’t replaced it.
Can you ride a Unicycle? No, not at all.
Have you ever said someone was Ugly? Usually the bloke in the mirror.

THE LETTER V:
What’s the worst Veggie? Brussels
Where do you want to go on Vacation? Again, money no object? New York, Bermuda, Antigua, Sydney, Skye, Edinburgh outside the Fringe.
Where was your last family Vacation to? I genuinely can’t remember. Haven’t taken a ‘family holiday’ in the past 20 years, unless you include taking Phil to comic cons, and even that you’re talking almost a decade or so back .

THE LETTER W:
What’s your Worst habit? Way, way too many to mention here.
Where do you live? Abbey Road, about ¼ mile from the studios.
Who’s your hero? I don’t have one.

THE LETTER X:
Have you ever had an X-ray? Lots of them.
How old were you when you first saw an X-rated movie? 15 or 16, I guess? No idea.
Favourite Xenomorph movie? Aliens. Much preferred it to the original, or the other sequels, despite its admitted faults.

THE LETTER Y:
Would you be friends with You? I doubt it, hugely.
What Year would you time travel to if you could? Temporarily? 2044. I think 25 years in the future is near enough that I wouldn’t suffer from much culture shock, but would still have enough of a ‘wow’ factor for me.
What’s advice would you give Younger You? How much younger? Teenage me? You WILL have sex at some point, I promise. Married me? Enjoy being married, while it lasts. Because it won’t. Me of a decade back? It’s ok to lean on others. Plenty of advice I’d give, but younger me would never believe Older me. because I wouldn’t believe Older me if he came back and gave me advice now.

THE LETTER Z:
What’s your Zodiac sign? Leo, but it’s utter bullshit.
Do you believe in the Zodiac? Of course not; it’s utter bullshit.
What’s your favourite Zoo animal? Not a huge fan of zoos.
 
 
OK, something more substantial tomorrow. Probably.

This is being written on Sunday afternoon, and as soon as it’s done, I’ll post it.

I had no plans to write it, but I didn’t want to skip another day, and I’m not feeling that great, so you get this, a more personal thing than I’d usually write, and I may delete it afterwards.
 


 

The following has been quoted any number of times over the years, but there’s a certain fundamental truth to the opening to L P Hartley’s novel The Go Between:
 

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

 
Not only for the obvious reason: different mores, different cultures, different conventions, hell, different laws, but there’s a more personal aspect to it.

There’s also an element of, if I may adapt the lines:
 

The past was a foreign country; we did things differently there.

 
Of course, the reason we did things differently back then is because we were different then. I’ve different tastes now, different experiences; I’ve different ways of looking at the world. In the intervening years, the passing decades, I’ve hopefully matured… without necessarily having ‘grown up’ too much.

I recall being both in general less confident in meeting strangers, but on occasion, in the specifics, more confident. I recall knowing so much less, but thinking I knew so much more.

I remember being struck dumb by some women in my life, utterly thunderstruck, and wholly ‘lost’ in their presence. It’s been a very long time since that’s happened, and I’m genuinely unsure whether that’s a bad thing. Or a good thing. Or whether it means any damn thing at all.

Yes, of course there are some women I know who blow me away with their strength, their personalities. I don’t mean ‘scare’ me with their personalities, although that’s occasionally happened. I mean women who so impress with their personality, their talent, their strength that I’m genuinely in awe of them.

But being ‘lost’ in them… much as I can get ‘lost’ in a gorgeous pair of eyes; no, it’s been a very long time.

Back in the past, I could handle some stuff, some substances, that I know I couldn’t now. (And yes, I know that for a fact; the last time I imbibed something that was, let us say, less than legal, yeah, it didn’t go well. I wasn’t in danger or anything, but yes, I had a bad reaction and there was no reason other than lack of experience, and surfeit of age. My time of smoking anything, let alone that, is now well in the past.)

I’ve mentioned before, well, alluded to anyway, that I’ve had some mental health issues the past few years. It’s impossible, obviously, to know not whether that’s had an effect on the less attractive, the less helpful, facets of how I am now… but how much an effect it’s had. In all honesty, I think it’s probably merely enhanced those facets, stripped away some of the social cover that’s necessary – I use the word advisedly – to operate in any social way.

I mean, a friend more than a decade ago said that I’m ‘dangerously content’ in my own company, and certainly, the past few years, I’d have to be a fool not to acknowledge the central truth of the observation. Most of the time, at least. Occasionally, one in a while, it’s untrue, and it bites, hard. But for most of the time, for almost all of the time, it’s accurate.

Mind you, he could have said it two decades’ ago and it would still have been mostly true, although of course, twenty years’ ago I was married with an infant child.

The marriage ended in fact in 2005, and in name in 2015, four years ago. Laura and I never had a reason to get divorced before then, and we never really had a reason to formalise it then but there was no reason not to, either, our son being over 18 by then.

But since then, I’m always been mostly comfortable in the company of a small group, a very small group, of friends, I’m more comfortable when in the company of no more than four or five people. Any more than that and I start to get itchy, edgy… uncomfortable.

And in a group of a dozen, a couple of dozen? No. I tolerate it about as much as they tolerate me.

(Oddly, and I’ve never figured out why, I’m more ok in a large crowd when I don’t know more than a very few people. In part, I guess, because I can keep myself to myself; I’m not obliged to be social in a way I kind of have to be when it’s two dozen people I know, friends or otherwise. But, hey, pop psychology is stupid at best and dangerous at worst, especially when applied to one’s self, so who the hell knows?)

What’s brought on this less than attractive self-reflection is one of those confluence of events, one of those sets of coincidences that occur every so often: I’ve watched a half dozen tv shows, dramas, this week where one character or another had been undergoing psychiatric care, or rehab, or some form of care anyway, where/because they feel useless or bad, or depressed.

Obviously, it’s television drama, so I’m not expecting there to be documentary levels of veracity and truth and accuracy any more than the movie The Accountant was documentary-like in the skills your average auditor possesses. But in every case, or nearly anyway, the ‘patient’ (for want of a better word) was told ‘you have a right to be happy’ or ‘you deserve to be happy’ or even ‘you should want to be happy’.

And I imagine me being told those, and me not understanding it. At all. And even more, somehow me being at fault for being the one who doesn’t understand.

A right to be happy? Deserve to be happy? I find it impossible to comprehend either as a concept. (Not quite true; I find it easy to imagine in fiction, and impossible in ‘real life’.)

The desire for it, I get, kind of. But not really. I understand the ‘desire’ bit, not the ‘desire to be happy‘ bit, as if it’s something that’s in your control, as if desire = effort = achievement. Or even desire must lead to effort… which must lead to achievement.

Did I understand any of them at some point, though? Back in the past, back when ‘I’ did things differently? I don’t know.

And that’s something I’m once again unsure whether it’d be a good thing to know.
 
 
Something else tomorrow, something hopefully less self-serving, less introspective, and substantially more fun.

Regular readers of this countdown blog – and indeed previous countdown runs – will know that by the time I’m a couple of weeks through it, the breakdown has started.

I don’t mean my breakdown – that happened several years ago, and some day I might even feel ok blogging about it – but the pattern of the blog.

We’re now at the stage where readers know what to expect: Tuesday, you’ll get some fiction; Thursday, we’re in the middle of the antisemitic imagery stuff; Friday, a list of content (tv, comics, movies) I enjoy; Saturday, well, we have the Smiles.

Which leaves three days a week when I’ve got to sit down in front of a blank screen and decide on what to write, on which subject to opine.

And, walking to a coffee shop in Kilburn, I was playing with various ideas in my head, wondering whether this subject or that topic, or this item of news, or that piece of tech would be worth a few hundred words.

(Answers: no; yes, but not today; definitely yes at some point; probably not.)

And then I walked into someone in the street. Quite literally. My body collided with theirs.

My fault entirely. I have to stress that, and you have to understand… the lady in question was completely and objectively free from blame and responsibility for the collision.

And yet, when I apologised, she shushed me immediately. No, no, she insisted. It had been her fault. She hadn’t been looking where she was going.

I demurred: it was wholly and solely my fault, I protested.

Nonsense, she continued, my fault entirely.

This continued for about thirty seconds before we grinned at each other, and moved past each other, her to continue into Sainsbury’s, me to head for Costa, and coffee.

I’d never felt more British in my life. Or rather more “English”

Which is weird because I don’t usually ”feel’ English. Not as a thing, an important thing.

John Cecil Rhodes may have once said to Lord Grey:
 

You are an Englishman, and have subsequently drawn the greatest prize in the lottery of life.

 
usually misquoted as
 

To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life. 

 
but Rhodes supported aparthied, and Hitler liked him, so maybe not the best fella to cite if you’re proud of being English.

But it did set me thinking about being English, and British, and European.

I’ve written previously, when the government were considering making public servants – people who work for or are paid by, the state – swear an oath of allegiance to “British values”.

As I and others pointed out at the time, enforcing the swearing of an oath to British values is, in and of itself, pretty self-contradictory to British values. It’s not what we do, it’s not the kind of thing we like. Other countries may insist that their people carry identity papers, and swear loyalty and all that, but our constitution – such as it is – is built around the principle of “we leave you alone and you leave us alone, ok?”

Yes, of course there are oaths sworn in the UK; the military swear oaths, politicians swear oaths, and the general public do so in court. But in the latter case it’s an oath to tell the truth, not to pledge allegiance to a nebulous collection of nonsense called “British values”.

I kind of like the idea that British values aren’t easily codified, and indeed, if you asked ten different people you’d get fifteen different answers. (Not because we like arguing; we’re just useless at maths.)

But with the unavoidable juggernaut of shit that we chose to name “Brexit” rumbles towards us once again, the concept of what it means to be British, or English, or… European, has been asked.

I’m not sure how I identify myself these days, in that respect.

Or rather, I kind of know how I identify myself; I’m just not sure that if I was questioned as to why, I could come up with anything beyond “Because I do” as an answer. And that’s a shitty answer to anything, and should be restricted to those occasions when it’s either said to a toddler, or a toddler’s the one saying it.

Do I feel European? Not really. Not in any meaningful way. I’ve barely travelled to Europe in my life, something I faintly regret but again not in any measurable, meaningful, way. And unlike many of my friends, I don’t speak a European language beyond a paltry smattering of German and the occasional word in French I remember from school.

I don’t speak any languages, really, other than English, although I can get away with fluent Rubbish when called upon to do so. I can understand some written Hebrew and even speak a teeny tiny bit of it… and the occasional Yiddish phrase, in the same way as I know some Latin phrases. Doesn’t make me anywhere close to fluent, and I’m at as much of a loss when listening to people speak fluent Irvrit as I would be hearing someone speak fluent Mandarin.

But do I feel a commonality with the French, or the Dutch, or the Germans? Not really. I’ve not visited any of their countries, and I bet I’d feel like a complete stranger if I did.

I mean, I’ve been to Russia, on work; spent a week there in 2006. I never felt anything other than a stranger there, although I did have the opportunity to feel several strangers while there… but that’s another story for another time.

Don’t get me wrong; I like that the UK is – still is, just – ‘part of Europe’, both politically and geographically. And I certainly voted to Remain in 2016.

But I didn’t vote to remain because I felt a strong link to Europe, nor that I felt everyone in Europe was my brother, or any such nonsense.

I voted Remain for the simplest (some might argue simplistic) of reasons.

If we stayed: we kind of, sort of, maybe, with a tip of the head, and a squint… knew what would happen. OK, we didn’t know everything, and the stuff we did know, we weren’t completely sure of, and the stuff we were sure about, we didn’t like it all. But again, we kind of ‘knew what would happen’.

If Leave won, no one had a fucking clue what would happen.

(One of the single best things during the Scottish Independence Referendum was Andrew Neil’s documentary a couple of weeks earlier, when he asked campaigners for independence what happened if Scotland voted Yes. The overwhelming conclusion was ‘no one has a fucking clue…’ Beyond ‘Scotland would leave the union’, no one had a clue what would happen. Plenty of hopes, plenty of desires, but no one could say THIS would happen or THAT would follow.)

And that was my view on the EU Referendum. All the promises…? None would be kept, none could be kept, because they relied upon other stuff happening… which wouldn’t happen.

So, no, I don’t ‘feel’ European in any meaningful way.

OK, so how about “British”? Do I feel British?

Well, leaving aside my 30 second apologyfest with the lady earlier this afternoon, I’m not entirely sure that I do. Not especially, not particularly. I mean, ok, I am British. But I’m very sure, I’m certain, that other people could identify what about me – beyond my accent – makes me “British” and why I should feel British.

“English”? The same applies. I was born here, and I’ve spent almost every day of my life in England. A few, rare, trips to Wales, and a total of about two months in Scotland. A few trips abroad. So I’ve nothing really to compare it to. I’m British, and I’m English, but I don’t ‘feel’ British nor English. I just feel like… me.

OK, so what about London? Do I feel like a Londoner? I suppose if pushed… I do, in a way. But I wasn’t born here. And yes, I’ve spent most of my adult life here, but I was born in Luton; despite Luton airport’s formal name, it’s not in London. Indeed it wasn’t even called London Luton Airport when I lived there; the name change was in 1990, five years after I left the place.

But again, it’s daft for me to ‘feel’ like a Londoner, because I’ve no idea what that truly means.

Unless it merely means “feels a connection to”.

But it can’t be that.

Surely it can’t just be that.

Because I spent a week in Maui, on my honeymoon. And I still ‘feel a connection’ to it because of that. I spent ten days in Antigua, ten much needed rest and recuperation days, back in 2011 when I was a complete mess, physically and mentally, and the holiday helped, a lot. I’ll always feel a connection to the place in gratitude.

How about, “ah, but are you proud of the place?”

Then… no. Not Antigua, nor Maui. But not Britain nor England, either. Not especially. We’ve done some pretty shifty stuff over the centuries. In fact, given some of the stuff Britain has done over the centuries, I’m not entirely sure anyone should be that proud. But plenty of people are. Just as others are proud of being Australian, or American, who maintain that their country is the greatest country on earth… Really?

New Yorkers are proud of New York, most of them I know, anyway. Plenty of people are proud of their cities. I know people who are proud of Liverpool, and Edinburgh, and Brighton, respectively.

But while I’m proud of London that we, on the whole, welcome visitors and hell, we elected Sadiq Khan, we also as a city elected Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. There’re times I’m proud of London, but not always and as A Thing.

I mean, I lived for four years in Richmond, well in Ham. And I very very much like Richmond Park. Definitely feel a connection to it. But ‘proud’ of it? No.

I’m proud of my son. And I’m proud of the things my friends have achieved, and I’m proud of the strength people I know have shown under incredible pressure and in horrible circumstances.

But that’s in part because he is my son, and they are my friends and they are people I know, like and personally care about.

But the country? Britain? England?

The country’s sportsmen and women… the country’s representatives in any number of fields? Not particularly. Not at all, in fact. Not really.

So yeah, I’m English, I’m British, I’m European.

Why, if I don’t ‘feel’ like any of them, do I claim those identities?

“Because I do.”

Damn. I really need to find a better answer to that.

 
 

See you tomorrow, with the usual Tuesday fare.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh. Weird.

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

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

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

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

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

And here we go…

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

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

I don’t get it.

I mean, leaving aside the economics of it…

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

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

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

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

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

Fashion: I don’t get it. At all.

I honestly wish I did.

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


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

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

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

“My name’s Friday. I carry a badger”.


See you tomorrow, with something more interesting.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

[Oh, before I start, I got asked yesterday where I’m getting the photos from that I use for this blog. Other than ones I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]

Had an entry all ready to finish today – subject matter, bullet pointed out, everything – but got caught up with other stuff that’s pretty much consumed my day.

And to be honest, with something that’s occurring tonight, I’d struggled to get my head ‘in the game’ to write anything serious.

So another entry already part-completed but planned for half way through this run is appearing, oh, a week and a half early.

Ain’t that always the way?

No?

Well then you’re substantially better at keeping to schedules than I am.

But it’s amusing to me how blogging changes. Before Twitter, I’d think nothing of sticking up three or four blog posts a day on Livejournal, containing this link, or that photo. Twitter, instagram, Facebook, Tumblr… they killed that kind of blogging, probably a good thing.

But on Livejournal, sooner or later everyone did one of those “Answer 100 questions with a single word for each” or detailed Q & A’s. They’d be of the

          Ask me five questions and I’ll answer honestly

type.

A couple of dozen people would play, and I’d have 100 or so questions to answer.

And at some point, when I’m doing one of these countdown runs, I’ll grab some of those questions, and answer them with today’s answers. (It’s part amusing, part horrifying, for me, seeing how many of the answers are radically different now, seeing how many are the same.)

So here’s a collection of questions asked of me through the years, from Livejournal, from formspring, from curiouscat with some up to date answers. All of the answers are the truth, and nothing but the truth. As always, however, rarely the whole truth.

Some questions, some answers

What is your middle name? Often surprises people that I don’t have one. Growing up, I wish I did, as I utterly loathed ‘Lee’ as a name. It’s no coincidence I grabbed ‘Budgie’ as soon as I acquired it. And as stated previously, I prefer to be called that now.

Why are you called Lee? I’m not. I’m called ‘budgie’. Ok, since you insist. I’m Jewish; we tend to name children after those who have passed on, who have joined the choir invisible. Who have died. I’m named after my maternal grandmother, Leah.

Where does most of your family live? My ex-wife and our son live in Barnet. I believe my mum is still in Luton, and a brother & his family live in Bushey. But we’re not in contact… which suits all of us just fine, thanks.

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

Most memorable birthday? My 50th, in Edinburgh. Pretty much everything was perfect about the day: surrounded by friends, comedy, alcohol, presents, and much fun and laughter. Also the first few after Phil was born; there are few things as nice in life as your very young child singing Happy Birthday to you, and giving you a card he’s made.

So, what do you want for your birthday this year? Best wishes. That’ll do it, thanks.

Do you make friends easily? No, not easily at all. And I’m a lousy friend to have; fair warning.

But if you were another person, would YOU be friends with you? The temptation is to say “no”, but I don’t have a clue; I’m hopeless at judging myself objectively in any way.

Are you jealous of anyone? Still can’t top a friend’s answer when he answered this more than a decade: The usual raft of envy regarding other people’s good fortune, intelligence, academic prowess, family relations, published writing, and effortless ability to be likeable, but not actively and specifically “jealous”.

Do you vote? In elections, you mean? Every bloody opportunity I can, since 1987. In every election, even those where I’ve intended not to because I was pissed off with all the candidates. Turns out I can’t not vote. I’m a huge believer in, and advocate for, voting. And no vote is a ‘wasted vote’. If it’s for candiate who can’t possibly win, well, your vote might save their deposit. Or give them/their party confidence for next time.

1987? But you were 18 in 1982? Yeah, I didn’t vote in the 1983 general election. Was away studying and didn’t bother to register there.

What characteristic do you despise in people? Gratuitous intolerance. Everything I dislike in people (including, but not limited to, lazy thinking) stems from that.

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge? I stupidly, very stupidly – it’s a flaw, I know – tend to extend a good faith assumption that someone who’s intelligent in one area will be equally intelligent in others. Oh, and I’m unfairly biased in favour of intelligent people with interests beyond who got kicked off of Celebrity Big Brother last night.

Illegal drugs? Not right now, but thanks. But no; while I have in the past, I some time ago realised that I’m too old and my body too broken to tolerate even marijuana these days. The last time I tried… well, it didn’t go well.

Are you photogenic? Lord, no. But better than I used to be.

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 and loathe 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. And if someone takes a candid shot, I’ll often ask them to delete it, or at least not put it on social media.

Is looking good important to you? [looks in a mirror]. Obviously not.

Do looks matter? Other than in “the Kingdom of the Blind?” Yes. Always, always, always, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Do they matter in terms of attracting you? I’ve always thought that looks are what gets you interested in someone, while everything other than looks is what keeps you interested. Well… me, anyway.

Which hurts the most, physical or emotional pain? Physical, every bloody time. I’ve been told “There’s something wrong with you if you don’t choose emotional pain”, a sentiment with which – when it comes to me – I wholeheartedly agree.

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

Have you any tattoos? No.

Piercings? Hahaha. No.

Do you trust others easily? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. No.

What subject in school did you find totally useless in later life? Geography. I cannot truly express the heights of my disdain for geography as a subject, or at least how I was taught it. I left school wholly convinced that it was an entire waste of time unless you intended to use it as a future career. I’ve never been completely sure I was wrong.

What kind of hair/eye colour do you like on the opposite sex? No particular preference, but if the eyes are communicative, can send messages? I’m a sucker for that. However, even then, I’m hopeless at interpreting such messages.

What is the most pain you have ever experienced? Breaking my foot – felt like I’d plunged it into molten lava. Since then… still the foot, on a regular basis.

Do you have siblings? One dead, one still alive.

What are your weaknesses? Way, way too many to list here.

If you got to live for a prolonged period of time in any time period, which would it be? I wouldn’t. To visit? Early 1960s, maybe mid 2030s. But to live somewhere? No, I lack too many cultural references and background knowledge, let alone the language and social norms. And going back far enough, I’d likely die from this disease or that one.

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. Followed shortly thereafter by one about Michael Heseltine.

Ever have a near-death experience? Yes. Three, in fact.

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 Caro Emerald.

Would choose to sing at a karaoke bar? I wouldn’t. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

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. (Some years ago, friends bought me one. I started to learn, then put it down; I really should get back to learning it. I’d genuinely actually quite like to.)

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

Ever seriously questioned your sanity? Yes, on many occasions, though not for a while.

Have you ever killed your own dinner? Have I ever killed something and then ate it, no. 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’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.

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.

Why do you always pretend you don’t know when someone’s interested in you when you obviously do? Erm, we’ve obviously never met. My not realising it has been the source of humour in the past to friends. Nowadays it’s a source of mild irritation, and sometimes not that mild.

Life lessons? Two:

  1. Learn from your mistakes; regret ’em, but don’t brood on them.
  2. Accept completely, and irrevocably, that life is an ongoing and consecutive series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’.

Exam lessons? I’ve taken a lot of exams in my life. I learned these four lessons far later than I should have done:

  1. Don’t worry about ‘answering the question’; ensure you ‘get the marks’. The two are often only the same thing by coincidence.
  2. The first half marks in a question are always easier to get than the last half.
  3. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid; don’t assume the marker knows anything
  4. RTFQ: Read the fucking question

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, John Oliver, Samantha Bee… mainly so I can tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their work. And some celebrities, public figures, who have, the past few years, stood up to defend Jews against antisemitism solely because it’s the right thing to do. I’d like to meet them so I can just say ‘thank you’.

Would you ever consider running for political office? Not. A. Fucking. Chance. Ever.

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

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.

What’s your favorite black and white movie? Always have problems with ‘favourite’ questions, because I have different favourites depending on genre. But probably Casablanca as a ‘serious’ movie, and Duck Soup as a comedy. (Definitely not It’s a Wonderful Life. Can’t stand the movie. 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 Katrina and the Waves always makes me smile when I hear it.

Are you afraid of the dark? 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, I disliked dancing. Hated it. I’m too self-conscious; I cannot get it out of my head that everyone’s looking.

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

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

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

Favorite Number? 1729

Can you speak any languages other than English? The odd word of yiddish, but absolutely fluent rubbish.

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

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

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

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, or 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?
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.

Why did you stop the fast fiction stories? Mainly because I’d written 700+ of them and I didn’t want to write 800. They may return at some point, if there’s a reason the format suits the occasion.


Something else tomorrow, something a bit more serious and a lot more sensible…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

The final blog entry I wrote in the ‘2017 minus’ run was entitled: 2017 minus 01: A green light and dealt with my having quit smoking a month earlier… without telling anyone.

Spoiler: I then told people.

And I continued telling people. Just not here.

Because one of the consequences of not having blogged during the past couple of years is that, er… I haven’t blogged.

And a lot’s happened in the past two years; to me, to everyone, and I haven’t written about any of it.

Oh, I’ve commented about it, on Twitter, sure, but Twitter, even with linked threads, is by nature a concise format.

Some might try to get around that by writing dozens of tweets in a thread, but that’s not my tweeting style; threads on occasion, sure, but not long ones.

So while I a) gave up smoking, b) without telling anyone about it, and wrote about both in the entry mentioned above, I’ve not written anything long form on it.

There were lots of reasons for not telling people the first month, or telling very few anyway. primary reason being that this way there was no outside pressure; also, no ‘inside’ pressure. If I quit quitting… I’d ‘let no one down’. Was for once purely my decision to quit, and would be my decision to quit quitting as well.

But it’s now been more than two and a half years, and though I mention it every few months on Twitter, I’ve not had the opportunity to write about it properly.

So here goes.

When I left you:

  • I’d tried, half-heartedly, to quit before; never lasted. I missed smoking too much.
  • I decided this time… pretty much on a whim
  • Once I’d slept on it, I decided to have a proper go at it
  • I made a detailed plan to go from smoking to non-smoking in about seven weeks, with ‘targets’ along the way.
  • I kept to the plan
  • I’d quit smoking a month earlier, on 30th November 2016.
  • I was now using a Curv ecig

So for the next few months, I continued with the Curv. I quite liked it. It was easy to use, inexpensive compared to smokes, available in loads of places, and about the size of a cigarette, so I never felt like my hands had to learn something new.

I figured that, given the then-cost of starter vape kits (they’ve come down a bit since then) it was more sensible to stick with the Curv for a while; after all, who knew whether I’d stick at it?

For I’d tried before, don’t forget and I’d always missed smoking when I previously attempted to give up.

With the Curv? I… didn’t.

That was the oddest thing: I didn’t miss smoking.

Now, sure, to all intents and purposes, I was still smoking. I was holding something roughly the size of a cigarette, taking in nicotine, inhaling, exhaling with roughly the same amount of ‘smoke’ as I’d do with a cigarette…

And the Curv, while coming in several strengths, only had two ‘flavours’: tobacco and menthol.

So, with the exception of less crap going into my body, there really wasn’t that much difference to smoking. And it was cheaper, a lot cheaper. Not as cheap as vape would be, but well on the way.

Once I’d told people about it, people started saying three things:

  1. “You don’t smell of tobacco any more!”
  2. “Oh, you’ll feel so much healthier, and everything will taste better, oh, and well done!”
  3. “So when are you switching to a vape?”

 
To which I usually responded:

  1. “Thank you…?”
  2. “I don’t, it doesn’t, and thank you…”
  3. “When I’m convinced I’m sticking with it, and I find one that doesn’t look like a sonic screwdriver.”

 
Months passesd, I continued to very much not miss smoking, always faintly surprised at that. And I continued buying the Curv.

Until August 2017.

By then, I’d been saying for a couple of months that if I was still a non-smoker (I always kind of assumed I’d go back to it at some point) than when my birthday rolled around, I’d consider getting a vape kit.

Friends took care of that for me, and for my birthday that year, they bought me an Aspire K2 vape, plus half a dozen differently flavoured liquids.

I was both delighted and worried; delighted both because the startup ‘cost’ of vaping had been very kindly taken care of, and this vape didn’t look enormous, but slender, and easy to use.

Worried because as with any change, as with any jump-on point, there’s always the possibility that I’ll hate the change so much that I’ll just quit the entire enterprise, and jump off.

I didn’t, though. Quickly learned to use it, really liked it. Felt nice in my hand, wasn’t huge, didn’t feel like I was holding a sonic screwdriver, at least not a big one. (The only problem with the K2 was that it kept rolling off the table and falling to the ground. So I ended up buying a new tank every month or so… )

Soon, I was off to Edinburgh for a week at the Fringe… where I expected to have an odd experience; would be the first fringe I’d been to since quitting smoking.

And there was an effect, but not the one I was expecting. No, I didn’t start smoking again; no I didn’t miss it.

But after eight months of not smoking and it not having any deleterious consequence when out… When I was in Edinburgh – where I guess I always associated it with me smoking, and only associated it with me smoking…

every time I left a table, every bloody time, when leaving somewhere, when standing up from a table, I searched for my cigarettes and lighter.

Seriously, every time. The first couple of times were amusing. After three or four days, the amusement paled, and I was genuine annoyed with myself at it.

Hmm. Creature of habit, you see?

And everyhere’s uphill.

As you know, if you’ve been – and as you’ve heard, if you know anyone who has been – to Ediburgh, everywhere is uphill. Somehow, walking to a gig, you’re walking uphill. Walking back from the gig, you should be walking downhill, yes?

No. As Mitch Benn once observed, Edinburgh’s not so much a city as an Escher lithograph.

I was curious before arriving as to whether I’d notice any difference to my health, whether I’d find it easier going up the hills, the long flights of stairs… Sadly, no. No difference. Was just as out of breath in 2017 as I was in 2016.

November 30th 2017: a year as a former smoker.

I was pleased. I was fairly proud. I was, quite frankly, flabbergasted.

A few months after that, I lost my K2 vape. Got another, still Aspire but a PockeX, the one I’m still using now, and for the first time since I stopped smoking, I felt like “yes, this is the kit I want.”

And suddenly it was August again. And Edinburgh again.

And this time, in 2018, I noticed. I noticed the difference.

There’s a set of steps in Edinburgh that, for me, turned out to be quite literally the single best “huh, you are healthier, having quit smoking” measure.

This second pic shows the first half of the steps… there are another four ‘flights’ at the end.

And, for the first time, walking straight up them at decent pace, I ended up not being wholly out of breath at the end.

Huh.

I repeated the experience the following day.

Same result. Out of breath, but not wholly so, not gasping for breath and needing five minutes to recover.

I repeat: huh.

So am I now permanently an ex-smoker?

I don’t know. Genuinely.

I’m not a smoker now. I think that’s all I can say.

I’ve only twice missed smoking, only twice wanted a cigarette, in those two and a half years since I quit. On both occasions, I was surrounded by people who didn’t smoke. Had they smoked, would I have taken a cigarette? I don’t think so. I hope not. But I don’t know, and that scares me more than it probably should.

I should find my personal devotion to ‘habit’ a good thing in the circumstances. I smoked as a habit; I now don’t, as a habit.

But sometimes that’s not necessarily a good thing.

One more story, from a month ago.

Because it’s annoying when you have a flaw – one both you and friends resignedly agree on – confirmed, even if it’s for the most trivial of things. And this is trivial, I promise you.

I said I liked my PockeX, the kit, a lot. And I do: there’s not much vapour, so it does’t fill the room, and I like the taste of the liquids. Again, habit: usually a light lemon flavour. I like citrus flavours and have on the whole stuck to them.

BUT I’d started noticing the liquid was dark, dirty, at the bottom of the PockeX’s tank before I refilled it. I mean, really dirty. It didn’t affect taste but it… irked. It hadn’t been dirty before; it now was. I assumed the kit was faulty, or the I just had a bad batch but… it turned out to be something quite different: I’d been using the ‘wrong’ liquid for a year, the ‘wrong’ VG/PG balance.

The liquid I’d been using was, apparently, too ‘thin’ for the kit/atomiser/coil combination I had. As a result, the nicotine in the lemon-flavoured liquid – a pale yellow liquid – was being heated too high… by my kit.

So I was advised to change the liquid.

So I did.

Sticking with the same brand (well, same manufacturer) I changed to a 50/50 mix, but similar light citrus flavour. (I was warned up front that I’d have to get used to it; it’d take time, after a year of the other liquid.)

So… anyway, I bought three bottles & tried it.

I. Hated. It.

The closest flavours tasted horrible compared to the old liquid. And I really didn’t like anything about it: the feel of it in my mouth, the hit to my throat, not a bloody thing.

Hated it, hated it, hated it.

And the sad thing was that I knew that a part of it – how big a part is up for debate – was because I don’t like change, I don’t like ‘new’.

So, as I used my last bottle of the ‘new’ liquid, I’m was torn between toughing it out…

…or saying ‘fuck it’ and going back to the ‘wrong’ liquid – accepting the genuine annoyance of the dirty bit, and wiping it out – at the end of the tank.

No surprise that after a couple of night’s sleep, I went with the latter.

And yes, like drinking scotch with a mixer, there’s also an element of “I’m paying for the liquids, so I get to have the liquids I like rather than what someone else tells me I should have”.

But, yes, also, there’s a huge part of: ‘you’re a stubborn bastard, budgie; you’ve just decided you like things the way they were.

And when I told close friends about this, especially the ones who started me on this ‘quiting cigs, use a vape’ journey, they very good-naturedly sighed… and nodded. And smiled.


Something else tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He explained I had two options:

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

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

I chose the latter.

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

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

So, I’ve no idea what happened.

Well, that’s not quite true.

I’ve an idea or two.

See you tomorrow, with something else.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

Every so often, I’ll hear a gag at a comedy evening and it’ll strike home for all sorts of reasons; often, just because it’s clever and funny.

I like smart and funny material delivered by funny and smart people. It’s therefore not a coincidence that my favourite kind of stand-up is that which makes me laugh and think… at the same time.

I could easily spend an entire entry writing about a half a dozen of my favourites… so I guess you can now expect that during this run, as well. (Honestly amuses me that every entry so far has had me scribbling notes on something else about which to write.)

But I was talking about specific gags and why they resonate with me. Sometimes it’s something that strikes at the heart of something that I care greatly about… occasionally, it’s just a throwaway line that reveals great truth.

This one, delivered by a comedian named Chris Stokes was the latter. Self-deprecatingly commenting about how socially awkward he is, he went on to explain that’s why he doesn’t like going for a haircut:

“let’s face it, it’s just small talk at sword point.”

It’s a nice gag, but it particularly hit home for me because my family was/is in hairdressing.

A grandparent, a father, an uncle, and two brothers… all worked in hairdressing,

As a result, I grew up surrounded by the culture of hairdressing: the jargon, the personalities, the superstitions, and the war stories. I learned the ‘secrets of the job’ at the same time I was starting school; some of them have even stuck with me.

And I heard about the type of clients that every salon has;:the client who brings in a photo and asks for that haircut, despite having neither the head shape nor hair type on which that haircut would look nice; the client who always complained that the junior never shampooed hard enough so would start washing her own hair…

Also, as a result, I never grew up with a fear of hairdressing, nor of having my hair cut. To me, and my brothers, it was just something that dad – and others – did; they cut hair. People cut hair, and people had their hair cut. Oh, everyone went to the hairdressers on a regular basis to have a haircut.

It was quite a shock, I remember, to discover that some people were scared of getting their hair cut, were genuinely worried every time they went into a hairdressers’.

And as I grew up, even I did a stint, working Saturdays and holidays; shampooing, sweeping up, ‘handing up’ perm curlers and the rest… for my dad and his staff in his salon; until, at 15, I – like many kids working for their parents – wanted to get a Saturday and evening job that wasn’t dependent on me being related to the boss.

I have many natural abilities and learned skills, but having grown up in hairdressing, and being surrounded by it, one thing I knew pretty early on is that it wasn’t for me.

For a start, it’s a damn hard job; I always joked that I took the easy way out by becoming an accountant, but it’s only half a joke.

And yes, there’s also something best illustrated by those two pics, over there, to the right.

Look, if someone had done that to you, you wouldn’t that keen on making it your career either. (Hey, I was a child in the 1970s; I didn’t get to express an opinion on my parents’ choice of haircuts for me in those days.)

And as for the social skills hairdressers possess, making each client feel as if they’re the only person in the world that matters right then… and doing that a dozen or more times a day? No, definitely not something that appealed to me.

But it’s the the small talk element that to this day staggers me. I am genuinely in awe of the ability and skills of a good hairdresser to have the same conversation possibly dozens of times a day, every day, and not show their boredom at the same time as making your client feel good about themselves. And – if it’s a regular client – hearing the same stories, the same personal complaints about the vicissitus of life, from the same client… every bloody time.

I genuinely don’t know how they do it; impressed the hell out of me when I was younger and it still does.

When I moved down to Richmond, it took me a while to find a hairdresser who could do three things:

a) give me a decent haircut
b) make me enjoy the experience
c) be someone I liked, an underrated quality in a hairdresser

Fortunately I found someone; was with her for a few years, and after she left on maternity leave, she recommended a colleague to take over. Knowing well the horror stories from people when a hairdresser they trust has handed over to someone they don’t… it’s a genuine delight to say that my current hairdresser – Taylor – is just as lovely, just as talented and just as able to make even me look good. I’m so pleased with her – and her work, and skill, that despite no longer living in the Richmond area, I stll go back to her, and the salon in which she works, when I get a haircut.

As I did this morning.

Slightly closer cropped than usual, but I like it…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of luck sleeping tonight, folks.

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

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

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

However, that wasn’t the scary part…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, the reason for this post today is threefold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something less serious, hopefully, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

In August, I’ll have been in my current flat (ok, ok, ‘apartment’, for the Americans reading) ‪for two and a half years.

Two and a half years. Yes, that feels about right to me.

Which is… odd, because in the closing days of January, when it occurred to me that I’d been at the flat almost two years, it was quite a surprise to me.

It couldn’t be two years, it just couldn’t be. But it was. That meant two birthdays, two Christmasses, ‬two New Years… and while I knew it intellectually, it sure felt a lot less than two years had gone by since I left Richmond, Well, Ham, actually, but yeah, Richmond.

But now, this… two and a half years feels about right.

‬I’ve lived in London since early 1986, and while I can’t say it’s my favourite place in the UK, let alone the world¹, it’s where I’ve chosen to live since I was in my early 20s.

The UK. Ah, the United Kingdom. Four nations, four countries, yet I still think of it as one ‘place’, and I think of myself as British, not English.

On a related point, I don’t really ‘get’ patriotism, as a concept, I mean.

I can understand immigrants to a country being grateful to a country that takes them in, and ‘loving’ their new country because of it, sure. But loving a country merely because you were born there, thinking it’s the ‘greatest country on earth’, etc. Hmm, no, never understood that.

But I digress. Back to the UK.

While I’ve been to three of the constituent parts of the UK, I’ve never yet managed to make it over to Northern Ireland. I kind of regret that.

Wales I visited a couple of times in my 20s, and I dunno, once or twice a decade since?Scotland, I’ve only visited half a dozen times or so, all in the past decade, but only to the Isle of Skye, and Edinburgh. And my favourite place in the UK, I have to say, is… Edinburgh.

But, I should acknowledge, that opinion comes with so many caveats, I’m not totally sure it’s a fair view to express. For a start, I’ve only been to Edinburgh six times, each visit for roughly a week. In August. During the Edinburgh Festival, or more properly, at the Edinburgh Fringe. So it’s at least arguable that my favourite place isn’t Edinburgh per se, but that weird place named ‘EdinburghDuringFringe’.

Now, I could write several posts’ worth of content on the Edinburgh Fringe… which means, as you no doubt realise, that I probably will. I’ve always been curious whether I’d enjoy Edinburgh as much outside August, when every other door in the city doesn’t lead to a venue, when a walk along a street doesn’t leave you with pockets full of flyers, when the streets aren’t so packed they make London’s Oxford Street on Christmas Eve look empty.

I’m digressing again. Apologies. Back to London for a bit.

When I first moved to London, in 1986, it was to a flat-share near Ilford. Not one of my smarter moves, I never really enjoyed my time there; in part because what was originally just me and the fella who owned the flat quickly – a couple of weeks later – became me, the fella who owned the flat… and his new fiancée, who he proposed to. Two weeks after I moved in. And two weeks before she moved in. The flat was great for two, and awful for three… and after a month of that, I was looking again.

About my only fond memories of the flat are of the fiancée who was very sweetly embarrassed about the whole thing, and a beigel bakery that had just opened nearby.

So I moved into a flat in Highgate. I’d say that the landlady was the typical ‘little old lady’ who had a nice flat but just liked having lodgers but she was anything but typical. Managing Director of a thriving electrical wholesale business – she’d taken over after her husband died – she had a brain like a razor blade, was funny as hell, and… just liked having lodgers. I was there for a few years, and only moved out after she died and her family sold the flat.

I’ve many, many fond memories of the flat and of Highgate itself. Particularly of the people living in Highgate, and of one fella, named D’Arcy – never knew his first name, everyone just called him D’Arcy – who ran a coffee shop in Highgate Village. I’d wander down there at the weekend, and when taking a break while on accountancy study leave. And we’d play chess, and backgammon, and shoot the breeze about anything and everything. Lovely man; funny, a booming voice, and a fund of stories about his background, some of which might even have been true.

A couple of years in North Finchley followed, a house share, the only place I’ve lived in where I was almost ashamed to invite people back to. Awful. Six of us in the house, at any point three of us weren’t talking to another three. But there was a Canadian writer living there, and we hit it off… a playwrite, she was fascinated by British radio comedy…

I can no longer remember whose idea it was to write together, but we submitted some stuff to Radio 4… and soon enough we were both commissioned to write for Weekending. And yet that isn’t the prime memory of my life at the house. Because I’d met Laura… and started going out with Laura, and gotten engaged to Laura…

Oh, and I was still studying to be an accountant, so there was that as well.

The next twelve years was spent living with Laura, at a flat in Barnet, and then a house. They weren’t all fantastic years. But they were great places to live, with Laura and then Phil, when he came along a year or so after we married, and I can barely remember any of the bad times now; on the whole, they were good years.

A flat in Barnet for seven years after we split up; oh, I loved that two bedroom flat; just big enough for me to not feel crowded with all my stuff in it; small enough that it felt like ‘mine’. And Phil was regularly there which made it even better.

Career was going well, social life was great-ish, comics stuff was great, writing stuff was great. Flat was great.

Then…

Yeah… then.

I mentioned yesterday that I’d had some mental health issues, and I wouldn’t yet go into detail. I had, and I won’t. Suffice to say that I had a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown, and leave it there… for the moment. Only reason I’m mentioning it here is to get to what came next: close friends said ‘come and stay with us for a few months… we’d love to have you…’

“A few months.”

Four and a half years. And I loved living there. In Ham, in Richmond. I discovered how much I enjoyed Richmond Park; genuinely never expected that. Until then, friends would good-naturedly rib me at my lack of interest in, let alone affinity for, nature and all things… green. But I loved the place. I rediscovered how much I enjoyed living in what’s effectively a village, but with all the advantages of a large town mere minutes away.

But, in early 2017, it was time to move on, and so I did… to my current place, in Abbey Road; as I said yesterday, very close to Abbey Road Studios.

Every place I’ve lived, I’ve some fond memories. Every place I’ve lived, there’s been oddities and weird quirks. Never expected, however, to find tourists asking me for directions every third day, or traffic being held up as other tourists pose on that bloody crossing… You’d think that’d get tiring, and the latter, yeah it does.

But the former, the asking for directions? Nope. After two and a half years, it’s still cute, and sweet, and genuinely lovely. Their enthusiasm, their ‘we made it half way around the world, but we can’t find something 300m away’? Yeah, honestly, that’s never anything but… nice. And their gratitude is politeness itself.

I’ve lived in London since 1986. Thirty-three years; three-fifths of my life; hell, almost all of my adult life. At some time in the future, no doubt, I’ll start to feel like ‘a Londoner’, to feel that “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ will apply to me. I hope so. Because really, I don’t. I feel like a welcomed guest, someone to who London has said ‘come on in, stay as long as you want, you’re always welcome here’.

And for the past two and a half years, that’s been in Abbey Road.

I wonder what the next two and half will bring.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹ one of the best things about writing a blog is the ‘huh, I should write an entry on that at some point’ thought, so maybe a ‘favourite places around the world’ entry will appear later on in this run. Maybe.