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.

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I joined Instagram a couple of months ago.

Unlike most social media platforms, I didn’t join it to grab the name “@budgie”. I’ve done that on more than a few, not knowing whether I’d use the platform, but fairly sure that if I did want to use it at some point, it’d be nice to have @budgie as my account name.

I’ve missed out on a few, obviously. And I used to use budgie_uk, but for the past few years, as with this blog, I’ve preferred budgiehypoth, a concatenation of my name, and, obviously, the hypotheticals panel I ran for a few years with Dave Gibbons.

Hardly anyone remembers hypotheticals any more, true, but I’m sentimental about it.

So, yes, on Instagram, while budgie – and every possible similar short name – was taken years ago, budgiehypoth was available.

I’m still figuring it out; there’s a lot I like¹ about it, a lot I don’t², a lot I understand³ why they do it their own way whether I like it or not, and some I have no idea⁴ at all why they do it the way they do.

¹ It’s easy, quick to use, very user-intuitive for the basic stuff, very little politics on there, and it’s – probably not a coincidence – very friendly

² the ads are intrusive, it’s owned by Facebook, the learning curve for anything beyond the simplest stuff is huge, and fuck me, more than a dozen hashtags per post is too many, shurely?

³ No clickable URL links inside the posts; cuts down on the fake news for a start, and makes it immediately less oppressive.

⁴ Stories. I have no idea what or how stories are, how useful they are for others, or for yourself.

Anyway, what I’ve been using it for, what I’ve been posting every day while I figure out whether Instagram is for me, is weather shots, from an app called WeatherShot amusingly enough. I’ve stuck with the basic default overlay, which I like. But it means that I’ve taken a lot of shots of areas local to me.

So for today’s entry, some pondering and thoughts about the pics I’ve taken, and where I’ve taken them…

Swiss Cottage

Perfectly appropriate that I took a shot in the rain, as it seems whenever I’m walking through Swiss Cottage it rains (a slight exaggeration, but not much) but also because what instantly springs to mind is the local swimming pool which I visit on an occasional basis. I’d probably visit more if I could afford it. It’s a great pool, and I miss swimming more often.

However, I know the prices are an excuse, not a reason. Even if I could visit every day, I probably wouldn’t, due to my buggered up foot. Its funny; whenever I tell someone that, I normally get two responses:

a) Oh, swimming’s very good excercise (which it is)
b) ‘hurts to tread water, I guess’ (it’s not that)

Nope, the reason isn’t me, but other people. If I’m swimming, or the aforementioned treading water, and someone swims swims past, the wake… well, the wake twists my foot in the water, and I go from ‘this is very nice, isn’t it?’ to ‘ohmygod who poured molten lava on my foot?’ in less than a second.

So, swimming in a pool when there’s hardly anyone about? Lovely. Swimming when there are lots of people around? Not a risk worth taking.


Kilburn

I’ve had an odd relationship with Kilburn over the years. A bookkeeping client had an office there – a hemp importer/exporter – and I always enjoyed going to the client. The area? Not so much. Then there was a girlfriend from my single days (my first set of single days, not the past few years) who lived ten minutes’ walk from where this photo was taken. But despite going to her place dozens of times, I can’t remember which street she lived on, let alone the house.

And though I’d driven though it hundreds of times over the decades, until I moved to Abbey Road, I don’t think I’d actually walked through Kilburn – from Brondesbury to Kilburn Park, though Kilburn High Road – more than maybe twenty times?

This pic was taken from outside Kilburn High Road train station. A few minutes’ walk from here is where I buy my vapes – heh, there should probably be a post about that – and one of my favourite coffee shops. Well, it’s a favourite now; had one of the few bad, horrible, genuinely lousy, experineces at a Costa Coffee there.

And it took a while for it to be sorted out… but, give them credit; I’ve never seen a coffee place, hell any business, respond so completely to a customer complaint. Now, I’m not suggesting that they reacted solely to my complaint. But the difference between how the staff acted, the politeness, the friendliness… everything switched from barely tolerable to flat out excellent in a couple of days.


St John’s Wood

This was taken about five minutes’ walk from my flat, on the way to St John’s Wood Tube. I’ve been in this area for coming up on two and a half years, and I love how down every street, every side road, there’s a story waiting to be told. Down this street, there’s a police station; down that road, there’s a ballet school; down that street, there’s a children’s nursery, the air ringing with laughter; down this road, there’s a charming little spot of green, surrounded by, almost covered by trees.

And each of them looks slightly different in bright sunshine than in the shadows of dusk, or with the rain bouncing off the pavement.

This is still London, but it’s not. It’s a little village in the heart of London, which delightfully reminds me in some ways of Ham and Richmond. A decent park being nearby merely highlights the comparison.


West End Lane

Two shots, taken 30 yards apart, taken two minutes apart. Two entirely different shots that sum up West End Green perfectly. A quiet road, and a quiet green, with people just relaxing on it.

Between Abbey Road and Golders Green, it’s a lovely place to spend an hour or two, walking, pondering, and enjoying the quiet. Both are attached to a main road, but you’d rarely know it. The air’s clean, the atmosphere lovely, and… hell, it’s lovely.


Teddington Lock

I’m back in Richmond, in Ham, every week or so, staying with close friends, crashing over the night. This, however, wasn’t a visit for that. I was attending a comedy gig at The Anglers. I’d even already taken my weathershot pic for the day, and had no intention of doing another. But as I walked over Teddington Lock, I glanced up, saw the scene above… and come on, how could I not take a pic of that?

I spent four years in Ham, ten minutes’ walk from the Lock. It remains a huge puzzle to me why I never spent more time taking photos of scenes like that.


Marlborough Place

And this is now about as close to my place as you can get. Have walked down this road any number of times, and it’s only ever a ‘problem’ when my foot is playing up. (there’s a more than slight incline). When it’s hot, there’s almost always a breeze; when it’s raining, no matter how hard, the walls on the road provide a break from the worst of it, and the walk is the perfect length to listen to one of my favourite [short] podcasts.

And I get pics like the one above.

Something different again 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.

Long before I started the countdown blogs, every so often, on a Saturday, I’d put up some YouTube videos or some single panel editorial cartoons, or even some ‘funny newspaper headlines’… some silliness, anyway.

After a week of blogging, I figured everyone, myself included, deserved something trivial and silly on a Saturday.

Note that I don’t say “unimportant”.

Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant. Indeed, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

So… some silliness, from some of my favourite musical comedians.

Obviously Mitch Benn goes right at the top this week, paying ‘tribute’ to those pieces of excrement in human form: the Alternative Right

 

Kirsty Newton is simply one of the loveliest people on the planet; enormously talented, scarily so, here she is being Sinister

 
Ben Champion is clever, talented and gloriously funny. Here he is with a classic: The Auto-Correct Song

 

Carly Smallman is funny, filthy and lovely. Fairly quickly, she found her perfect man. And despite one small awkwardness, she knows they’re Made For Each Other

 

Jay Foreman is funny, has a brain the size of a small planet and likes educating people. But he has a problem with Radio 4, one I would share…

 

I love Kate Lucas’s work; smart, funny, and with an edge. Here’s a song on motherhood: The Baby Song

I’ll return to the usual ‘not solely musical comedians’ for next week’s Saturday Smile but I’ll probably do another one, since there are so bloody many good muscial comedians out there.

If you want to see some of them, and can be in London on the first Tuesday night of the month¹ come along to The Distraction Club. We’ve got lots there…

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.


¹Not the first Tuesday in August; everyone’s up in Edinbugh for the Fringe. But the rest of the year, first Tuesday of every month, we’re at The Phoenix, Cavendish Square, W1. Doors open at 7:30pm

I started this entry as a daily braindump on goingcheep, but quickly realised that it would be more suitable here. And almost as quickly realised that it’s not one blog entry but three. Actually, maybe 3½. We’ll see.

Here’s part one, anyway.

Back in the day, when the UK only had terrestrial television, and three or four channels at that, one of the most common, and regular, complaints in the UK was “too many repeats”.

Just imagine that, those of you born at a less comfortable distance from the apocalypse. Three television channels. Three. And no video on demand, no ‘that’s ok, I’ll record it and watch it later’. If you missed it, that was it… until or unless it was repeated months or years later.

(Channel 4 started in November 1982, and I watched the opening hour or so in the common room of Manchester Polytechnic’s students’ union. First and only time I’ve watched a major channel go live.)

But yeah, repeats. It was such A Thing that listings pages in the newspapers even felt it necessary to denote repeats with (R) after the episode’s information/solicitation.

How things change.

With multi-channel tv, one of the pleasures of watching telly is an old favourite series, or even a favourite episode, appearing on the electronic programme guide, so you can watch, or record, an episode you’ve previously missed, or one you’ve enjoyed.

And considering how many ‘baddie of the week’ shows there are in serialised tv drama, individual episodes shouldn’t ‘matter’ so much. But even in a ‘baddie of the week’ show, an episode will stand out for some reason: the guest star will knock it out of the park, or the writing on that episode will always particularly impress, or the plot will reward rewatching. Could be any number of things.

(The same applies, of course, to long running comic books which, let’s face it, are also serialised drama. I’ll write about them in part 2, next week. Part 3? Part 3½? Well, I’ll let you ponder that for a bit, and you’ll find out what else falls within this entirely made up category in a couple of weeks.)

But when it comes to television, and individual episodes of long running dramas, there are too many, far too many, for me to list all that I’ll almost always make an effort to watch if they’re shown.

But here are ten. (Of course with some series, there are multiple episodes I’m happy to rewatch, but I’ll limit this to one episode per show.)

Fair warning: there are spoilers for the episodes discussed below, and there may be spoilers for the series itself.

CSI New York: “Yahrzeit” (Season 5, Episode 22)
There’s nothing that should make this episode jump out at anyone, but as so often with episodes that do, it’s the little touches, the revelations of main characters’ backgrounds. And as so often, it’s a guest star that lifts the episode into ‘Oh, yeah…’ territory. With this one, it’s Edward Asner as the ostensibly Jewish holocaust survivor who turns out to have been a survivor from the camps… but from the other side of the fence. And there’s a beautifully played coda to the episode that tells you more about Gary Sinese’s character’s family, and what it meant to survive when others didn’t.

New Tricks – “Parts of a Whole” (Season 9, Episode 9)
In many ways, this episode is one of the few in the series to completely subvert the reason for the whole show – the main story has only a faint connection to what the show is about – but it’s an excuse for the actors to have an enormous amount of fun playing against type, while staying true to who they are. Again, you find out some of the background of one of the main characters, and one of the recurring characters. (They met at sandhurst, did something naughty; it comes back to haunt them decades later.) However, as well as all that, and the fact that the actors are obviously having a blast, the writer of the episode is a comics fan, and sprinkles scripts with the names of comics professionals. So there’s a journalist named Greg Rucka who was killed decades ago… It’s just fun and I like the episode a lot.

Law & Order: “Called Home” (Season 18, Episode 1)
This is from very late in the run – the show ended with season 20. Law & Order went through a lot of cast changes in the ensemble through the years. With six main characters, there were half a dozen junior lawyers, and the same number of junior detectives. And while I’ll bow to no-one in my admiration of Jerry Orbach as Lennie Briscoe, I always liked the episodes where new people came in, and no moreso than the start of season 18. On the “Order” side of things, Sam Waterston’s character has been promoted to be the new District Attorney and Linus Roach comes in as the new ‘main’ lawyer. On the “Law” side of the show, Jeremy Sisto comes into the show. And just like that, the show that had been getting a bit stale comes alive again. The new dynamic just works and the new characterisations work as well. Waterston’s character has to mature, and does so, and his reluctance – because he stepped away from the courtroom – to allow his people to do their jobs rings true.

The West Wing: “17 People” (Season 2, Episode 18)
The ‘bottle show’ to end all bottle shows. The season was over budget, and the writers were told to write something that takes place wholly within the existing sets, inside the White House. And in doing so, Aaron Sorkin came up with one of the best scripts of the entire show. Every character rings true, every emotion screams out of the screen, and every actor does their job and then some. Especially, Richard Schiff. It’s his episode from the very opening shots, and he makes the most of it. And the opening is one of the finest pre-credits teaser the show ever had, hell one of the best four minutes’ opening to any show.

 
Doctor Who: “School Reunion” (Season 2¹, Episode 3)
(¹OK, it’s season 2 of NuWho; the season numbering was restarted when the show returned after 19 years in 2005)
It’s the Sarah Jane episode. That’s all that should need to be said. The first time the show explicitly brought back a character from the ‘old’ run of the series into the new run. It addressed old continuity, set up the differences between OldWho and NuWho, showed Rose what it means, what it really means, to travel with an effectively immortal alien, has character growth, has the usual silliness of Tennant’s run, and to top it off, a star turn from Anthony Head as the baddie. Glorious in every way, and not a bad bit in it.

NCIS: “Heartland” (Season 6, Episode 4)
The “Gibbs goes home” episode. After five series, you find out something about who the mainstay of the show is. Ralph Waites is superb in the guest star (which became a recurring) role, but then Waites always was superb in anything he did. It addressed ageing, filled in some holes in Gibbs’ backstory, while setting up a whole set of new questions, and everyone.. has fun. It’s obvious that the scriptwriters had a blast with the episode, and the actors duly ran with the fun created for them, and ran with it. It’s just… fun.

Highlander: “An Eye For An Eye” (Season 2, Episode 5)
From very early on in the tv series, the obvious unanswered question wasn’t ‘what’s it like living forever?’ The movie had dealt with that, and the series tried to address it as well. No, what was missing was ‘what happens when you become immortal?’ Not flashback, not legends, but in real time. And this episode answered that when one of the main characters gets killed (in the previous episode) and then wakes up. And is cocky, and unsure, and confused, and figures he’s gonna be all right… and then discovers very, very quickly that the cockiness is unwarranted, the confusion sure as hell is, and unless he learns how to handle a sword very, very quickly? Well, that ‘gonna be all right’ isn’t going to be true for long. Another immortal comes for him… and he hasn’t a fucking clue how to defend himself. And it takes Macleod some time to realise that it’s his responsibility to teach Richie in a way that works. Not to bully him into it. The training montage is just fun to watch, and when Richie gets his chance to take the baddie’s head… well, it doesn’t go quite how he expects. There are a dozen or so episodes that I’ll watch for pleasure, but this one always gets a rewatch if it’s on.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (Season 3, Episode 15)
I’m a sucker for time travel stories, for alternative universe yarns, for ‘what if…?’ tales. And I like Star Trek. Yeah, was kind of inevitable I’d like this one. But it’s not only all the foregoing. The story’s a cracking one, the acting – given that they’re playing alternative versions of their characters, but not ‘evil mirror’ versions, the same versions in an entirely different situation, at war – is first class, and the production values, though now pretty dated, are excellent for their time. And one character gets the ending her character deserved, rather than the “empty death” she got in the main timeline. It’s beautifully played, and considering how much is done in 45 minutes, the show doesn’t seem rushed at all. A tribute to all concerned.

Bergerac (all the ‘Philippa Vale’ episodes)
OK, I’m cheating with this one. But hey, it’s my list. Liza Goddard appeared as jewel thief Philippa Vale in half a dozen episodes of the 87 episode run. And in every episode that she’s in, she lifts the show from a typical ‘baddie of the week’ police procedural which happens to be set on Jersey into a semi-romantic drama-comedy. The interplay, the flat out flirting, between John Nettles’ (later the star of Midsomer Murders) character and Goddard’s Vale is always a pleasure to watch. She’s like no one he’s ever encountered before, and he’s equally fascinated and attracted to her… while you’re never quite sure whether it’s solely because he’s unattainable that Philippa likes Jim… or whether she thinks a bit of naughtiness would make him more attractive or less.

Well, that was fun.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know what’s coming tomorrow. See you then.

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 a fan of astrology.

My friend Mitch Benn has several routines expressing his mostly gentle contempt for it, and I share his contempt, especially the gentle aspect of it; harmless enough on the whole, but granting astrology any serious consideration? No. Just… no. cf homeopathy, numerology and any number of other -ologies.

And despite my ceasing to actively celebrate my birthdays these days, as opposed to acknowledging them, recognising them, well, that – with rare exceptions – went the way of all things several years back.

I’ll admit the ‘rare exceptions’; as long time readers will recall, I celebrated my 50th birthday in 2014 in Edinburgh, at the Edinburgh Festival. A lovely day, full of fun, laughter, and silliness.

Pretty much perfect all around, to be honest.

Oh, I’m not one of the ‘it’s just another day’ crowd. It’s always been amusing to me that the same people who pull out that excuse to explain their ostensible derision for birthdays never seem to object to attending New Year’s Eve parties. And they rarely – if they’ve any sense – publicly say the same – it’s just another day – about their Wedding Anniversary, say.

It’s just that I’m old enough to note the birthday, without being all ‘whoopee!’ about it. Hell, this year, the main, maybe only, effect of it rapidly approaching had been to trigger this countdown.

However, just because I no longer – subject to caveats above – celebrate my birthday, doesn’t mean that there’s any lack of interest in 17th August as a date. And I welcome cards, and well wishes, and even – from very close friends – small gifts.

Just as long as it’s not a bloody facsimile of a newspaper’s front page from the day of my birth.

Now, this was – some years ago – a common gift to people, especially in the days before half a dozen clicks online can show anyone the events that occurred on the day they arrived on this planet…

And that’s the point, of course; that’s what bugs me about the facsimiles every bloody time; the two things in the previous paragraphs are entirely different. As different as they could possibly be.

Because the newspaper on the day of your birth will show the events that happened the day before the day of your birth.

And why would anyone want that? Why would anyone want to know what happened the day before they were born?

A war ended? Lovely, it had already been over for roughly 24 hours by the time you got here. The pop charts that week? You’ve a one in seven chance (all right, it’s not quite as evenly spread as that, Tuesdays and Thursdays are more ‘popular’ days) that they’re inaccurate and they’re the charts for the week before you were born.

Depending upon your birth date, there could be even greater differences. Born on the day of a general election, then the papers could well have the previous Prime Minister or President in office. I genuinely don’t understand why anyone would want that.

Looking back in history though, taking some satisfaction in learning at what’s changed since you were born, that I understand. Looking at the events that occurred on the exact day or your birth, who was born, who died on that day, yeah, that I appreciate is interesting. Even when the events occurred, or they were born, or died, on the same day in a different year.

That I understand.

So let’s do that.

Obviously what follows is a very short version; I’ve included only those that genuinely interest me, for one reason or another.

Events

Being what was once memorably described as a ‘Red Sea Pedestrian’, I wouldn’t be interested in when a Pope began his term other than that next to Pope Urban, which tickles me, Popes named Leo must have been almost irresistible to the local satirists of the day. How the hell they avoided ‘lion’ caricatures is beyond me. Oh, they’d have been killed for the blatant disrespect? Yeah, ok, that would do it.

I have no idea why this hugely amuses me, that it happened on my birthday… but it does, enormously.

I’m mildly curious about the history of Roanocke, about what happened to them. And every time I read a story that even vaguely alludes to it, my interest goes up a notch. I really should research it properly at some point.

I know this first occurred on my birthday, August 17th, but for some reason I’m always sure, absolutely certain, that it happened in the late 1700s. Always a surprise when I [re-]discover that it was as late as 1836.

  • 1896  Bridget Driscoll became the first recorded case of a pedestrian killed in a collision with a motor car in the United Kingdom

The first of, sadly, so many. Not, however, the first to die as the result of a motor car. That ‘honour’ belongs to Mary Ward, who was thrown from a car in 1869, and fell under the wheels.

Ah, now this one I remember very clearly… watched it live and knew, at that moment, that for the rest of my life, I’d be seeing references to the date whenever a president got involved in a sex scandal, hell, any serious scandal.

Births

Certainly the earliest-in-history person I’ve heard of, and know something about, who was born on 17th August. Plenty of others earlier, but I know bugger all about them. Of course, with Crockett, what I know is almost certainly inaccurate, more legend than fact.

I’ve included Woolley merely because of The Man Who Came To Dinner, one of the very few movies I remember watching with my maternal grandfather… and the pair of us enjoying the experience.

  • 1893 – Mae West, American actress, playwright, and screenwriter (d. 1980)

Ah, how could I not include Ms West… again, a woman whose life was as much myth as truth, and to whom so many quotes are misattributed and misquoted. One of the accurate ones I have always enjoyed though is: She’s the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.

I discovered Watergate when doing my A-Levels (US folks, they’re the exams you take at age 18). I can’t honestly say it was the catalyst for my resulting almost obsessive level of interest in US politics, but I can’t honestly say it’s not. Mark Felt, of course, was Deep Throat, Bob Woodward’s secret informant… his identity was apparently well known long before his death. However, as with all such examples of “everyone knew it”, I’m less than convinced, since so few said it before he died. Some did, but far fewer than the dozens, hundreds, who later claimed they knew… I’m rather pleased for no rational reason that Felt and I shared the same birthday.

  • 1943 – Robert De Niro, American actor, entrepreneur, director, and producer

I’m equally pleased that De Niro and I share 17th August. Again, no reason at all. I just like it a lot. (And not for nothing, I’m very pleased that a new audience have discovered De Nero though his portrayal of Robert Mueller on Saturday Night Live.)

A few years ago, I’d have been equally delight that Humphrys and I also do. Less delighted these days; he should have retired from radio 4’s Today show some years ago. I met Humphrys once, when I did Mastermind. The warm up guy for the show was also named Lee Barnett… Humphrys was very amused.

There are people still wincing at my attempt to once sing Heaven Is A Place On Earth. I’m sorry!

I don’t really know any of them, but they were born on the same day as me, so…

Deaths

Four people who’ve all had some effect upon my life. My father loved Gershwin’s lyrics; I grew up listening to the songs he wrote with his brother George.

Hess? Well, yeah.

Bill Deedes was the first person in the UK to have been both a cabinet minister and the editor of a major newspaper, but he also supposed to be the addressee of Private Eye’s Dear Bill feature (mock drunken letters from Denis Thatcher).

And Yvonne Craig was Batgirl. No more need be said.

Something very different, tomorrow. See you then.

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.

One of the things I’ve learned – or rather, I’ve come to appreciate – over the years is that unless you do a job, you really have no comprehension of what the job involves, or what skills and abilities it requires.

I’m not just talking about the day to day stuff, the jargon, the mini triumphs and disasters, that you come across three times a week, if not more. I mean the specifics of a job.

I have no idea what teaching involves. Oh, I trained staff when I was both a financial controller and a director of finance; it comes with the job, training staff more junior. It’s how I learned to do the job, and it’s how people who worked for me learned their trade. But that’s entirely different from teaching children.

For a start, pretty much everyone who’s undergoing some form of training for a trade or profession actively wants to learn. In many cases, being trained is the only way you’re going to progress in your chosen field.

I came across lots of trainers who patently obviously, didn’t like doing the training. However I came across very few who weren’t good at the job. If they were crap, at least in accountancy, they didn’t tend to last very long.

(That said, my personal philosophy when training others was that it was my responsibility to train them, not theirs to be trained; if I explained something four different ways, and they didn’t get it, it was my job to find a fifth way, and if necessary a sixth way, nor theirs to understand the fourth.)

But no, I’m talking about teaching children. I’ve known a few teachers over the years, who’ve taught children from pre-school up to college years. I don’t have a clue how they do what they do. Not only the skills involved in imparting knowledge to those far younger, many of whom are there not because they want to be there, but because they have to be there. But also the handling a group of 20 or more children, of wholly different abilities and understanding.

Even leaving aside the administration elements of the job, I don’t know, couldn’t possibly truly understand, how they take a child with no interest in a subject, and change them into a child enthusiastic about he subject.

I don’t know what talents – no not talents, they worked to hone their skills and abilities – they possess such that they walk into a room and within seconds know who the troublemakers are, who the lazy kids are, the hard workers, the jokers, the shy ones, the smart arses…

I have not a clue how they know that this moment is the exact instant when the class is fully engaged, or how that moment is the precise second before trouble will erupt.

I don’t know. I wish I did.

But it’s not limited to education. Of course not.

I spent a lot of time as a financial controller, and then director, dealing with lawyers; rarely but occasionally litigators. I am utterly perplexed at the level of skill lawyers bring to their profession, the memory they have, the knowledge of where to find the information they need if they don’t have it to hand. How they can finely judge (rightly or wrongly) the strengths of a case against the strengths of the other parties’ strengths.

(I have a teeny tiny understanding of the latter, but it’s a pebble or two on a mountainside. I don’t appreciate it in any meaningful sense.)

Doctors. Where the hell do I start?

Apart from the skills of diagnoses, and the awesome amount patience they have with every patient, every new appointment. The strength of character necessary to deal with ill children, or people at the end of their lives; the astonishing ability to separate out the illness from the person suffering it, while not neglecting that their patient might be shit scared at what’s happening to them.

I mean… the skills, patience and forebearance most – not all, to be fair – of my doctors over the past 54 years have exhibited and shown towards me for a start should qualify each of them for prizes of some sort.

Architects. I have no idea at all how they can design a building with all the details… right.

Zoo keepers.

Actors.

Continuity Presenters. Civil Engineers. Bricklayers.

Private Investigators. Plumbers.

Detectives.

Politicians. how the hell does anyone do that job? How do you develop the skills and abilities to a) think you can represent thousands of people, including those that not only didn’t vote for you, but never would and b) then do it, and choose to do it again.

Video producers. I worked for a tv company; I watched people put together tv programmes from the raw footage, create an opening titles sequence, and turn it into an interesting, watchable, enjoyable show.

I watched them do it… and still regarded the process and the end result as… some form of magic.

All of the above jobs, I know I can’t appreciate the true nature of the jobs, the genuine vocation so many have for their chosen trades and professions.

I wish, therefore, I understood and appreciated the puzzlement others had for my ow chosen profession for the majority of my adult life.

I once tried to explain my mystified awe to a producer at our shared employer.

He was genuinely amused; he viewed my turning numbers into reports that assisted him run his project, and the fact that his wages got paid into his account every month with equal puzzlement and appreciation. he knew it happened; didn’t have a clue how it happened.

No big ending to this post, no great lesson to learn.

Just something that’s been bothering me recently when I see folks denigrating the skills necessary to do A Job, any Job, and snidely suggesting that anyone could do it…

Something that makes more sense, 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.

After yesterday’s long post about the trials of attending trials, something shorter today, or two somethings shorter, anyway.

I’m off this afternoon doing… stuff, and then attending one of my favourite evenings of the month, at The Distraction Club, so you get this week’s entry of old fiction today, a couple of stories that not many people will have read, and almost certainly, no one who’s started following me in the past decade or so.

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

Anyway, here are two from the vault.


Title: The Racket They Made
Word: forlorn
Challenger: Ade Brown
Length: 200 words exactly

The sky was incredibly blue. He’d never really noticed it before, but it really was as blue as in the storybooks he remembered reading as a child.

A wisp of whiteness drifted past in what seemed a forlorn attempt to remind him that clouds existed, then the sky was revealed again and he smiled at it.

A lazy smile, not unattractive under normal circumstances. He’d see her soon, and then they could spend some time together.

Laying on the ground, staring straight up at the blue, blue sky, he could hear noise of some sort, but he was entirely apathetic to the sound, concentrating on the now uniform blue that seemed so close. Uniform, but changing nonetheless. It was getting darker, but he didn’t mind, he could see deep into the colour. And he smiled.

He closed his eyes, then opened them again, suddenly remembering the flowers.

He remembered now: he was taking them to her.

And then he remembered crossing the road to the cemetery. And the car. And then flying…?

The sirens were quite loud now, he realised.

But t didn’t matter, for the sky was really, really blue.

And then he closed his eyes again. And smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2009


Title: Driving Home
Word: panstick
Challenger: Challenger: Vix
Allchurch
Length: 200 words exactly

The cold night air only had a mild breeze pushing it around, but it seemed harsh in the moonlight as she leaned against the outside wall, her eyes closed. The brickwork against the back of her neck felt rough, and that was good in a way she couldn’t, and didn’t want to, understand.

Keeping her eyes shut though just might protect her from anyone else hurting her tonight.

That would work, she believed – just get through tonight. And tomorrow? She’d worry about tomorrow when the dawn’s light crept into the bedroom, discovering her, laying on the bed, her make-up still on, but panstick smeared onto the pillow, mixed with tears.

Laughter directed at her would have been a blessing, but she’d not been that fortunate. Instead, utter disdain had followed her around the room, clinging to her and increasing with each silent stare from those she had considered her friends. Each look had confirmed her humiliation, and had anyone told her the looks were those of approval, that the silence was that of awed appreciation, it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

A tear ran down her cheek while inside the club, music played and people danced; and life carried on.

© Lee Barnett, 2007


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.