Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

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.