Silliness, even in the roughest of times, the worst of days, is never unimportant.

Indeed, as I’ve grown older, if not wiser, I’ve come to appreciate silliness as one of the best, the most superlative, things about humanity.

And some thing don’t change. In the year and a half’\s absence from this place, things are still not great for most people. So, after another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a hearty ‘how the fuck should I know?’, here’s some much needed silliness.

For this run, I’m going to try and find, each week, three archive clips, one example of something that’s just… nice. And then end every week with something from my mate Mitch, who fortunately has continued to provide videos over the past year.

Ok, let’s start.

 

One of the joys of the past year has been discovering Randy Rainbow’s glorious parodies. They’re [almost] all fantastic, but there are a few I’ve got a specific love for. This is one of them.

 
 
Funny and relevant. Sadly, always relevant. The ‘Are we the baddies?‘ `sketch from Mitchell and Webb.

 
 
Peter Ustinov explains Post-Keynesian economics… to Fozzie Bear. Because of course he does.

  
 
This week’s ‘nice’ smile: The BBC reminding those of us born… at a more comfortable distance from tne apocalypse… what childrens’ tv used to be like, in a promo entitled Small People

 
 
After the news broke that Dolly Parton had financed vaccine research, and some discovered just how much she’s ploughed into provid8ng books for young children, Mitch Benn had a suggestion…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

Housekeeping note: I feel like I need to apologise upfront for this one. I’ve found it a tad harder than I expected to keep on topic as I’ve restarted blogging. I’ll try to do better in future. Sorry.

 

Writings about Journalism sometimes say that reporters (and yes, I know that reporters and journalists are different jobs, but give me that one, ok? I didn’t didn’t want to write journalism &journalists in the same sentence and now I’ve done it and I hate myself and I hate all of you for making me write this explanation.)

Where was I?

Oh yes, writings about journalism sometimes say that… sigh… journalists… ask The Five Questions when investigating and writing a story: Who, Where, What, When, Why? There’s a reason, however, this post is titled differently.

This one will be about Who and How.

Why?

OK, who and how and why.

It’s always dangerous to make a prediction. Whether it’s about a general election or even about how long a post on this thing will be, it’s a mug’s game. That doesn’t stop me making guesses, of course, nor even writing posts about predictions… and I’ve even written after an election about some of what I got wrong in those predictions. Not everything of course; I didn’t want it to be a thirty-seven part opus.

So, yes, predicting stuff is always leaving yourself I open to make a fool of yourself, so it’s not hugely encouraged.

James Burke, that wonderful explainer of connections in the past, has said on several occasions that he’s often asked why he, given his appreciation of how thinks connect together, doesn’t make predictions about the future. He usually gives two answers. First, his belief that while some discoveries were always likely to happen – if this person hadn’t discovered This Thing, someone else probably would have, sooner or later – many discoveries or scientific theories very much aren’t.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, for example. Many were working on similar things, and it’s likely that sooner or later, someone would have come up with it. His General Theory, however, with its suggested consequences and relevant proposals? It’s a toss up whether it would ever had been discovered. Some discoveries and inventions are serendipitous, and rarely is anything inevitable.

Burke’s second reason is more blunt, and likely more honest: he likes to be right, and he doesn’t like to be wrong. He’s rarely extrapolated and predicted. I mean, they’re always fascinating when he does predict, but the predictions themselves have to be taken with every caveat known to mind and a few that you have to invent especially for the purpose.

So, again, predicting is a mug’s game, a fool’s endeavour, an idiot’s quest.

Except in one circumstance. There’s one situation where a prediction is overtly expected, actively anticipated… in fact, it’s positively encouraged.

Whodunnits.

Murder mysteries. Private eye tales, detective stories.

You watch, or read, a murder mystery. And, in the absence of a Columbo-type story format¹, the author, the tv director, wants you to play along, to try to guess who committed the murder, who kidnapped the victim.

Note to self: do a ‘Ten Columbo episodes Budgie likes’ at some point during this run.)

Oh, and whether the baddie will be found guilty or not if your’e watching a drama about a criminal trial. I’ll add that because I’ve kind of gotten hooked on re-runs of Law & Order² during the last year’s various lockdowns.

Note to self: also do a couple of ‘Ten Law & Order episodes & working partnerships Budgie likes’ at some point during this run.)

Unlike lots of genres, I can’t remember when I started liking whodunnits, or what the first whodunnit was that I enjoyed, nor even what hooked me on that type of mystery. Whereas I know when I got into sf, and which western I enjoyed as a kid, and even why I enjoyed Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo but never really took to Flipper, I don’t have clue when it comes to whodunnits and crime.

But whodunnits have always been around in my life. I recall enjoying watching them with my older brother, and usually getting the answer wrong. I’d miss clues and never correctly guess who the villain was. But that was ok, I discovered. There was no harm, no foul in getting the answer wrong. In later years, I started to appreciate that it was kind of a compliment to the writer, not being able to guess the murderer. It meant they’d done their job as far as I was concerned. They set up red herrings and other possible baddies and I wasn’t smart enough to detect who the real one was.

But I loved whodunnits. I loved discovering these detectives, usually people I’d want to solve murders but also people in whose company I’d never want to spend time. I mean, how the hell could you remain friends with Nero Wolfe? Mike Hammer would dislike me intensely, I always suspected. And Lord Peter Wimsey wouldn’t think that much of me either. I wasn’t even sure I’d like Watson as a person, let alone Holmes. But was pretty sure neither of them would be eager to spend time in my company.

But I remember discovering Poirot, and Perry Mason, and Phillip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. And I devoured their tales. But at no point do I recall them being the first of the genre I’d encountered.

And on tv, a slew of private eye shows, and police detective dramas and defence lawyer shows where they’d always show (or attempt to) that their client was innocent.

Yeah, that always slightly bugged me. I realised early on that ‘not guilty’ didn’t mean ‘innocent’. And I occasionally wonder how much of an influence legal dramas had upon vast swathes of the viewing public, teaching them – incorrectly – that ‘not guilty’ means ‘they didn’t do it’ instead of the more accurate ‘the prosecution couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did’. A US lawyer friend occasionally rails against the media reporting that someone ‘got away with it on a technicality’. He maintains there’s no such thing. If someone, under the law as it stands, can’t be, or isn’t, found guilty, then he didn’t do the crime.

(Sidebar: the lawyer David Allen Green once took time out of his valuable day to talk me through, step-by-step, how ‘doing something’ and ‘bring criminally liable for that thing’ are two very different things. I was, and remain, very grateful to him.)

But yeah, most often, lawyers on tv prove their client didn’t do the crime; that they were framed, or unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being prosecuted because ‘they got away with it earlier’.

Sorry, again this has gotten away from me again.

(Wow, it is taking me some time to get back into blogging again, and in doing so, sticking to the bloody subject, isn’t it?)

As I got older, I found myself gravitating to shows that subverted the format; Petrocelli did it by always showing that someone else other than his client could have done the crime. The show never went with the “my client didn’t do it” but instead “with the evidence presented, someone else could have… so reasonable doubt, yeah?” There’s a John Larroquette show, McBride, that did something similar.

My preference for less obvious mysteries deepened, and my love of Columbo increased.

It was almost inevitable I guess that I’d end up focussing my actual excitement for ‘impossible’ crimes, for the locked room mysteries and for the ‘how did they do it?’

Who did it? How did they do it? How were they found out? And – in more than one medical mystery – what did it?

And we’ll return to all of that after the weekend. Along with a weird whodunnit panel show that never quite worked.

See you tomorrow, with… something else. And if you’ve been following this blog for a while, a reminder that tomorrow is Saturday, so you’ll know what that ‘something’ else is.

 

 

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


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

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

As I said the other day, I’ll be returning to the ‘fiction from the vaults’ posts on a Tuesday for the rest of the run, with, as currently planned out, Thursday reserved for new fiction.

Yes, you’re getting new fiction.

And you’re also, after this week, going to maybe getting something a little extra with each story.

I signed up with Racket in May, and, unless I grow up and stop being childishly excited about the idea, you could well get audio readings of the fiction appended to the tales themselves.

As I say, this is early days but I want to at least try and give you something new. We’ll see.

But yes, archive fiction today, since I wanted to get a couple of new entries out of the way first. Today you get a couple of fast fictions from the long ago, from the very long ago this week; one each from the 2005 and 2006 fast fiction funs. Two very different stories, both of which tell you more about the human condition that at first might be apparent.

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.

Enjoy them…


Title: A Reason For Living
Word: askance
Challenger: Sarah Houlton
Length: 200 words exactly

The hero sat on the rooftop and wept.

His associates stayed clear of him, and spent their evening making sure he wasn’t disturbed.

He was, for example, entirely unaware of the bank robbery that was taking place only two blocks away, equally unaware of the semi-spherical construct formed to hide the sound of the criminals’ capture.

Those of a more urban bent kept the streets safe that night. They’d all been told to do so, but had not been told why. They’d looked askance at the appeal, and had then realised it had not been a request.

The hero considered his long years on the planet. And wept.

He thought of his adopted parents, now long dead. They’d taught him so much, made him effectively human, though he knew he’d never truly be one of them.

He thought of his first wife, buried centuries ago. And the others, so many of them.

He thought of them all. And wept.

He thought of those who wished him harm, and of what he’d done merely to survive, let alone prosper.

And then he heard again the cry of his child. His first child, born less than an hour ago.

And he wept.

© Lee Barnett, 2006


Title: World Warp III
Word: waqf
Challenger: Bob Ingersoll
Length: 200 words exactly

The news media were waiting when the alien exited the waqf in the late twilight.

As it had when it had left in turn the Vatican, a synagogue and the cathedral, the only public comments it would make in its strangely accented voice were “very interesting” and “My people are always interested in others’ beliefs”.

A bright glow surrounded it and with a bow, and a sudden heat from the exothermic reaction of the alien’s teleportation device, it left.

Four hundred miles straight up, the alien materialised and gave a creditable impersonation of a sigh, a habit it had picked up while surveying the planet. It set the star drive and, deliberately apathetic of the effect of the gravity warping effects of the drive on the system, it left the system with speed, uncaring of the splintering of moons in its wake.

Passing over the sensor plate, it gestured and the chair rose slowly from the floor. Sinking into it, the alien made its report to its employers, full of regret: the inhabitants of the planet were wilful, spiteful and could not be left unsupervised. The employer’s children, the alien reported, would have to look elsewhere for pets this year.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

“Bios”

No, not BIOS, that’s firmware used to perform hardware initialization during the a computer’s booting up.

Bios, as in social media platforms, the few words you have to describe yourself.

They’re a weird summary of everything you want people to know about you… in a couple of hundred characters. And while, yes, you can use one link, maybe two, to give more information, each link takes up a chunk of those very same available characters and spaces.

Oh, and if you want to explain what each link is, oops, there go another couple of dozen characters.

So, you’re (or at least I am) stuck with several one or two word descriptions, separated by, erm, separators.


I mean, here’s the one I’m currently using for Twitter. It’s my main online presence, since I’m not on Facebook, and tend to use Instagram merely for weather shots.

Wanderer and Wonderer. Seems a fairly good, and nicely succinct, summary of who I am, or at least who I want to be. Or, perhaps more accurately, who I want people to think of me as.

I’ve never enjoyed physical exercise, and the fucked up foot¹ makes running a non-starter even if my admittedly jaundiced view of it were otherwise. But I have enjoyed walking, especially in cities.

You might well ask “wanderer and wonderer? Well, budgie, where do you wander about what do you wonder?

You might well ask that indeed.

Well? Go on, then. ASK ME THAT.

It’s your own time you’re wasting, you know.

Oh, you asked!

You know, I’m rarely asked those questions.

So let’s answer them.

Wandering

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve lived in Abbey Road now for a little over four years, about ¼ mile from Abbey Road recording studios. I’m sorry, that should be ‘…from the world famous Abbey Road recording studios.’ (I think I’m legally obliged to refer to them as such.)

And I like living here.

For the four years before I moved in, I was in Ham, between Richmond and Kingston, and if you wanted to have somewhere to wander from, with nice places in which to wander in every direction…

…you have to go some way to find anywhere better than Ham. Within about 20-30 minutes’ walk, you have Richmond in one direction, Kingston in the opposite direction. You have Richmond Park, truly one of the glories of the area, no matter what season, though I have a fondness for Richmond Park in the springtime. A short (really short) ferry ride away, even if you ignore Ham House and grounds, you have Twickenham and St Mary’s.

You have a lot of… green… surrounding you. Reminded me in some ways of growing up in Luton, and bicycling to ‘the country’. Luton in those days – in the 1970s – was less… urban than it’s become, and it’d take a mere half hour bike ride to find yourself surrounded by farmland and green and… well, more green to be honest.

Abbey Road is a bit different to all of that, to be honest, to be fair.

I’m not quite sure whether it would qualify as urban or suburban. (I never quite know which box to tick when I’m asked on surveys, in much the same way as a Jewish fella, I’ve been bemused when offered ‘white British’ or ‘white otther’ or just ‘other’ when offered the options.)

Either way, Abbey Road very definitely isn’t ‘green’. Oh, there’s Regents Park about 25 minutes’ walk away, and plenty of little gardens and mini-parks you can wander about in. There’s Lisson Grove, with the canals, much as there’s Little Venice a bit further away. There is green… but you do have to look for it.

I live in London, almost in the heart of London. Half an hour’s walk and I’m on Euston Road, by Baker Street. A short walk further, and I’m on Oxford Street. You can’t really describe living a short distance from Oxford Street as anything less than ‘the heart of the city’ to be honest.

And yet, despite my enjoyment of Richmond Park and its… greenness, it’s where I am now that really speaks to me.

I’ve mentioned before on previous blog runs how much I like living in London and walking around it. It’s a city where I run into memories around every corner and encounter ghosts – both mine and London’s – at every crossing.

Not all of the memories, or ghosts, are pleasant ones. But they’re what makes me… me. And I wouldn’t change them. Good or bad, they’re true.

And while I try to vary the precise route (to alleviate boredom, I’m not trying to avoid spies following me or anything… or am I? No, I’m not.) I’ve half a dozen routes I like to wander along, aimlessly, taking up time, while I wonder about… no, more about that in a moment.

(And of course, it’d be remiss not to mention that during the absurdity and craziness we’ve all just experienced, having a walk was one of the few reasons you were allowed to leave your home. It’s dry nice, I’ll admit, to once again be able to walk… somewhere, then stop and grab a coffee before heading back, rather than just walking somewhere, turning around and having nothing to do other than walk back to the flat.)

But yes. If I’m after a shortish walk, then there’s Euston Road in one direction, Kilburn in another, West Hampstead in a third, and always St John’s Wood area, Lord’s Cricket Grou\

nd and Lisson Grove in yet another.

If I want a longer walk, and the foot will allow it, then a walk up to Brondesbury or West End Green, to Golders Green, or even Oxford Circus.

So, yes, that’s where I wander… while wondering.

Wondering

Yes, well. What do I ponder while walking?

Well, it depends. And yes, I know that’s a cheat of an answer, but it does have the virtue of being the truth.

I’m a news junkie, have been for decades, but one of the unexpected pleasures of doing what I refer to on Twitter as the #DailyConstitutional is that I disconnect entirely from the news. Whatever else I listen to, whatever else I ponder, it ain’t the news. Of all the decisions I made last year, that’s turned out to be one of the smarter ones.

Sometimes, I’m not idly wondering, of course. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I’m wandering to walk off the anger, the upset, the sheer bloody fury, about something or someone. (And sometimes the subjects of my upset might even deserve my ire. Not always, but quite often.)

It’s not uncommon, far more common than I’ll admit to on Twitter, for me to walk… harder… than intended. On such occasions, yeah, I’ll pay for it later. While the foot puts up with a lot, on occasion it lets me know it’s had enough.

Walking while angry is not a good thing while it’s happening, nor while I’m recovering from it. But it does, usually, exhaust my volcanically bad temper. So, I guess, on those occasions… it’s worth it?

But… they’re the rarity. Usually, when I’m a’wondering, it’s about a story idea, or a problem I have to solve, or even a friend’s problem they’ve shared and asked my help in arriving at a possible solution.

I can’t wander, nor wonder, in silence, however.

So, often, what I’m wondering about is… related to whatever I’m listening to on a podcast or radio show.

I’m wondering about The History Of Rome, and how a city became a republic which became an empire, and how so many things went wrong for so many people, while they went very right for others… before going wrong. As in more modern days, rare is the power that ends at the time, and in the manner of, the wielder’s choosing.

Or I’m wondering about how the murderer could have done it in a whodunnit, and the craft shown of how the detective worked it out.

Or I’m wondering, indeed pondering, the various Connections that James Burke demonstrates: how a shortage of ivory led to me enjoying movies in the cinema, how a war led to the divorce rate increasing, and how Mozart led to the helicopter.

I’m wondering why more people of the younger generations aren’t aware just how good a raconteur Peter Ustinov was.

And I wonder about myself.

Only the last tends to irritate me and exasperate me in equal measure. Still, at least for once I share something with my friends. That’s something I don’t have to wonder about.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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


¹that’s the technical, medical term, you understand.

Housekeeping Note: This entry kind of got away from me a bit, and didn’t end up going where I thought it would. As I get back into the blogging habit, that’ll happen less often. Or, at least, I’ll admit it less often.


I fully appreciate that with a title like that, those who’ve encountered this blog before might be forgiven for expecting a posts from me containing two fast fictions from the long ago: one of them using the word “technology”, the other ‘inventory’. But no. For once, a post title is exactly what it appears to be.

Have no fear, or – if more appropriate – have every fear: the entirely non-random archive fast fictions will return, probably on Thursday this week, and thence every Tuesday thereafter.

I just wanted to get a couple of original entries out of the way first, so no one felt… cheated.

So, yes, a technology inventory.

This is the second blog I’ve run; the first was on Livejournal and the technology and the software I’ve used has, understandably, changed as the years have passed..

I came to blogging relatively late in life; I started on Livejournal, back when you needed an invitation to join the platform, in August 2002. I was already in my late 30s. I can’t remember why I started blogging to be honest (more than a few people have wondered that over the years, I’ll be fair) but I suspect that like most things, I did it because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

(As a slight sidebar, whenever I’m asked online to give ‘a lesson for life’, I always have two I offer.’Regret your mistakes but never brood on them’ and ‘Life is a succession of well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.‘)

Back to the Livejournal blogging. I enjoyed it, it was easy to update, and – since it was half a decade before I joined Twitter came along – I used it for what I would later use Twitter: comments on comics, opinions about something in the news, links to other stories with a pithy observation, and occasionally something original. I often posted to it several times a day. And fiction.

Long form pieces from me on Livejournal were the rarity, and more than 500 or 600 words? Almost unheard of.

That was then. This is now.

How and why I blog have inevitably changed as other outlets became available. Goingcheep became my daily brain dump. Twitter became the place for concise observations (I’ve never gone in for the 30- or 40-tweet threads.)

But certainly, the tech and the software has changed beyond almost all recognition.

Along my life having changed fairly hugely in the past 19 years, the technology I use on a daily basis has changed almost beyond recognition since then as well.

This was, don’t forget, half a decade before the iPhone, almost a decade before the iPad, when laptops were more accurately described as ‘luggables’ rather than ‘portables’.

Now, before I go any further, I’m not talking about things like better screens and more storage. Were I to do that, it’d be ridiculous not to go back further and then we’d be in a whole

‘oh, when I were a lad…’

and

‘luxury! sheer luxury! we used to chisel our blogs onto slate, and then we’d be beaten to death by actual trolls… if we were lucky!!!’

thing, and writing about the first computer I used, the first mobile phone I owned, the first desktop I used…

(For the record, in order: a DEC PDP 11/40 at school, a Nokia 5140, and a Commodore PET.)

And so to the current tech I use, in no particular order, to write [other things as well, but yes] this thing, edit it, research for it, grab pics for it, etc.

An iPhone 12 Pro

I like iPhones. I didn’t get the first one released, but I did pick up the second model, a smartphone phone so delighted with itself that it used 3G that it made 3G part of the model’s name. I’d never had a smartphone previously, and I was so I impressed that despite not previously being a Samsung loyalist before then, I’ve stuck with iPhones since. I’m not sure how many I’ve had, but O2 were nice enough to give me a very nice deal to upgrade from my XR to a 12 Pro earlier this year.

I’ve been amused by one specific thing with the 12 Pro, I’ll admit, but again, to understand why I’m so amused by it, we have to go back a few years. No, further back than that. Even further. Back to before I even had a Livejournal blog. A friend of mine had an iPod. I genuinely couldn’t see the reason why on earth I should get one.

I remember saying something like “10,000 songs? Why on earth would anyone need 10,000 songs on tap? And why on earth would I need even 1,000 songs immediately available?”

It’s rare, you know, that someone will say something that so fits a gap in my thinking that the change is instant, with immediate effect.

Because what Al said was “Don’t think of it as 1,000 songs. Think of it as 4,000 minutes of sound.”

Because he knew me well.

Because he knew that I’d realise that meant I could have dozens of comedy shows immediately on tap, that I could have The Goon Show, and I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, and Round The Horne, and… and… and…

Exactly. So I got myself an iPod mini, the one with the anodised metal case. And, as I suspect was always Al’s plan, having the kit led to me rediscovering a love of music. And now, on my phone, I do have more than 1,000 songs. Heh.

But that’s not what I’m referring to when I say I’m amused by something on the 12 Pro. In the same way as I got the iPod for one thing and rediscovered my enjoyment of something else, with the 12 Pro, I wanted the phone for the increased RAM and faster operation. What I got, what I re-discovered, was an enjoyment of photography. Playing with the various camera lenses, seeing what the phone can do. I never expected that. It’s nice that still happens.

And the slab of glass and plastic and metal I use every day. Every so often I look at it, remember what my tech was like pre-smartphone, and just… flat out wonder at it.

iPad Air (2019)

And talking of wonder…

Unlike the iPhone, as above, I fell in love with the iPad from the moment it was introduced and got the first one a week or so after it was released in 2010. And I’ve replaced it with updated models and I quickly – thanks to Tony Lee’s recommendation – got an external keyboard. I genuinely can’t remember which of us said it first – ‘For 200 words, you can use the virtual keyboard; for 2,000, you need a keyboard’ – but it remains as true today as it was then.

I suspect Tony doesn’t realise how close I came to grabbing his keyboard, after he let me try it out, and just running away with it. I mean, ok, he was fitter than me, and stronger than me, and I had a bum foot even then, but it was closer than I’d like.

These days, I’m using an iPad Air 2019; it does what I want, when I want, how I want, with very few ‘this isn’t great’ elements. (For some reason, its memory management ain’t great, and flushing the RAM is regularly required but it’s a small drawback and a price well worth paying.).

I’ve an Apple Smart Keyboard I picked up earlier this year, to replace my 3rd party Bluetooth that died on me. Amazon, at the time almost gave away Apple pencils when you bought an Apple keyboard from them, so I grabbed one at a very heavily discounted price.

I’ve been using Windows laptops for a few decades in preference to desktops. But these days, it’s more for the smaller physical footprint and greater portability inside my flat than any other reason. The iPad has been my ‘laptop’ for a long time.

Again, when I consider what I can, and do, do with it, its capabilities still seem like science fiction to me half the time.

For all the “it’s 2021, where’s my fucking jet pack?” whinging I’ll happily propagate, my iPhone and iPad are gadgets and tech that I wouldn’t have thought I’d have a decade, two decades, ago. I almost typed “I wouldn’t have imagined a couple of decades ago” but the thing is… I could easily imagine them. I just never thought they’d turn from imagination to reality so quickly.

A lighter, smoother, faster, better laptop? Sure. I’ve used laptops way back to the gas plasma burn-your-hand-if-you-touch-them screens of the 1990s.

But iPads? A slate of glass, less than a cm thick that’s a video player, a word processor, a spreadsheet, a browser, an email device… that handles messages, games… a research tool… and something I can easily blog from? yeah, I didn’t see that coming in the first decade of the 21st century. Not from a decade before that, I didn’t.

Laptop

Yeah, ok, I have one of them as well, but as above, I hardly use it, and only really then if there’s a Wndows application without an iPad equivalent…

OK, somehow I’ve written far more than 1,000 words and I really wasn’t intending to.

I’m going to pause it here, and in a future instalment, I’ll write about some software. Gosh, won’t that be exciting?

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

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

We’re back.

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

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

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

Welcome to my blog.

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

So, a quick Q&A setting the scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which doesn’t exactly explain anything, does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

It’s worth reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else? Odds and sods

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, and see you tomorrow when there’ll be something probably much less about me and more about… something else.

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


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

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

Oh good, you’re sticking around long enough to read this post. I did wonder for a bit.

OK, so I mentioned the other day that I’m about to kick off a blog run, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday. Following the habit of previous runs, they’ll all be categorised and tagged with a 57minus reference.

But I finished the aforementioned entry with

What’ll be in it? Here are seven things… number five will shock y—

Well, no, I’m not that click-baity and nor is this blog.

So, on Monday, we’ll start.

I’ll start writing it, and, hopefully, you’ll start reading it.

But what’ll be in it?

To start with, a brief re-introduction to who I am, for readers old and new. I mean, it’s been a year and a half; March 2020 alone lasted about 200 days by reckoning. But yeah, a brief-ish reintroduction.

Then, over the next eight weeks or so, lots of different things, but some regular (in the proper sense, as in there’ll probably be one a week or so) things:

  • some slice of life pieces
  • some thoughts on current UK and US politics
  • some pieces on the city, and country, in which I live
  • Some thoughts on birth, death, and that messy but in between
  • some personal stuff (given my usual reticence on such matters, it always surprises how personal and open these entries end up.)
  • some old fiction, some new fiction,
  • comedy and comic books, and their similarities, and differences
  • Something on sleeping and dreaming, and when it’s time for bed
  • the return of the Saturday Smiles; oh, I’m sure there’s some more I can find.
  • …and probably some thoughts on those for whom 2020 or 2021 was their last year on this planet.

As for how detailed the plan is right now… well, it’s not. It’s not even as detailed as, for example 2017’s was when I started planning it out.

These are snaps of the plan I had for that run.

I’m amused that, looking at some of those initials and references, I truly have no idea to what they referred. Some, yes. “WHTN?” was a ref to a monthly comedy night (‘What Has The News Ever Done For Me?’, run by the wonderful Gráinne Maguire); “S/Smile” is an obvious reference to the Saturday Smiles, and “R/Park” was a reference to the by-election taking place in Richmond Park parliamentary constituency, where I lived.

But “NG/DG”? “2G”? I’ve genuinely no idea.

I guess I’ll find new initials and acronyms for this run over the weekend.

Oh, and by the way, I’m restarting goingcheep at the same time. Just to get the writing muscles – physical and notional – started.

Which brings me on to timings. Obviously, any plan I have as to when to post the entries lasts about a week before something comes up and blows it out of the water so I end up posting an entry or two after the sun has gone down, but the general plan is 3:30pm. Going cheep around half two, the blog post goes live about an hour or so later.

I’d be astonished if – in 2019 – more than 10% of the posts followed the timings plan, but more than you’d expect came in within an hour or so.

There may be one more blog post before the countdown blog commences on Monday. But if not…see you on Monday.

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


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

I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

Oh, hello!

Posted: 16 June 2021 in 57 minus, going cheep, social media
Tags:

It’s been over a year since I’ve blogged properly, or regularly. Or even frequently, which of course isn’t the same thing at all as regularly.

Whichever you prefer, I haven’t been blogging. Thank you; I’m sure you’ve all missed me a great deal.

In fact, other than 2020’s annual update of A Life In Pictures, and the equally annual post, commemorating the anniversary of my late brother’s death, I’ve not really blogged since the end of the run I did in 2019.

That run started with a countdown blog running up to my 55th birthday, then continued for another 55 days for symmetry… and then they were followed by a 75 day countdown to 2020.

And, yes, I ran it a few days into 2020 but then took a few days off… which turned into a few months, and then I wasn’t in a good place anyway, mentally, to blog.

So I didn’t.

So, what have I missed? It’s not like anything big happened or anything, did it?

Well, quite.

The past year and a half has been… weird. For all sorts of reasons, only one of which was the Covid pandemic. But yeah, it was weird.

Odd. Strange.

Weird.

In the past few months alone, I’ve hit four years in the flat, and four and a half years as a non-smoker. I never really expected either of them, even though my lad often reminds me with a sigh “but that’s how time works, dad!”

It’s definitely been a weird time for almost everyone I know, again not limited to solely Covid. One thing we haven’t had is a general election which after 2015’s, 2017’s and 2019’s was… nice. Well, we haven’t had one over here, anyway, but of course there have been elections around the world and it won’t surprise anyone that I’ve been following politics here and abroad.

More than a few friends have had weird stuff going on in their personal lives, and work lives…

Yeah, it’s been a weird period of time.

So, it’s not like there’s been a shortage of things about which to blog, but I’ve reserved my outpourings and blathering to Twitter, for the most part.

I haven’t even kept up to date with goingcheep, which is supposed to be my daily (hah!) brain dump, something to kickstart the writing muscles .

Part of the reason I’ve not blogged, I acknowledge, is because I’d have found it impossible to do so without at least commenting upon, and probably forcefully expressing my opinion upon, the shitshow otherwise known as ‘British politics’. And I lost enough friends during the 2019 run to be eager to repeat that.

Partly it’s been because I’ve had nothing to say that hasn’t been said or written by others, other people smarter than me, or better writers than me, or just with the same take as anything I’d write.

But… I’ve been feeling the itch again, that impossible-to-scratch-any-other-way itch. The itch to blog again.

Long time followers of this blog, and of me on Twitter, will know that I’ve done several daily countdown blogs over the past few years.

A fifty day countdown to 2014 was the first. And as I type that, I realise that 2013 was almost eight years ago, and that’s genuinely scary.

Then a few months later I did a fifty day countdown to my fiftieth birthday. A fifty day countdown blog to 2015 followed, then a fifty day countdown – mainly but not exclusively on politics – to the 2015 UK General Election, and a 75 day countdown to 2017.

And then I took a short break… which ended up being two and half years before I did the aforementioned 2019 six month run.

You can see where this is going, right?

We’re currently at just over 60 days until my fifty-seventh birthday.

So… a fifty-seven day countdown seems appropriate. Starting next Monday.

Why not?

Why not indeed?

What’ll be in it? Well, here are seven things… number five will shock y—

Well, no, I’m not that click-baity and nor is this blog.

So, come back in a couple of days and I’ll let you know what the rough plan is… though longer term readers won’t be that surprised at what the plan is, I suspect.

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


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


Some more details at the end of the week…

Twenty-three years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So… first some stories about Michael, then…

…what happened twenty-three years ago today.

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

Strap in.


 
Michael Russell Barnett. My big brother. 

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

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

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

But he was far better looking than me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK, then,” he said. “Ask away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait.

What did he just say?

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

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

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

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

Yeah it wasn’t pleasant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was doing well, recovering…

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

Less than a fortnight later, he was dead.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“On your way, lads…”

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

They fancy their chances, obviously.

“You think you can beat us?”

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

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

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

But they left.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

But I had, and eventually… it did.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

But that day was in 2002.

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

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

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

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

Waking up one more year older than he ever reached.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’ve both missed that.

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

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

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

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

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

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

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

So, twenty-three years…

Rest easy, brother.
x


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

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

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

And here’s what I wrote:

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

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

You know, after sixteen years, I was going to skip this annual update.

Genuinely, and seriously. For various reasons, I just wasn’t going to bother this year. Half a dozen messages over the past 36 hours asking me if I was doing it – and if so, when – changed my mind.

Kind of surprised me. After all, as I stress every year, this whole thing only started as a bit of a giggle in 2004, something to amuse and horrify in equal measure; I never intended to do it again… and again… and again.

And yet, somehow, it’s evolved into an annual tradition for me. (As well as for others, given the usual responses of “awwww” at the admittedly cute pics of me as a small child.)

On the other hand, I’m occasionally asked Why do you do it? My usual cheat of an answer is simply: Oh, why the hell not?

I mean, it’s not as if I think I look great as a teenager, or at any point since then, really, although I’ll acknowledge that I looked at least passable once I got married. And I’ve been about as embarrassed as I’m ever going to get by the pictures.

Another common answer to the question: people who haven’t previously seen them get the unfettered joy and silliness of joining in the mockery… And while that’s true, and honest, it’s probably not the whole truth.

But it’s as close as you’ll get. And this year more than most, people can do with something to be silly about.

So… preamble over, it’s the 2020 update to A Life In Pictures. The 2020 mockery and silliness should naturally follow.

As always, I’ve removed a couple of shots from previous years, and added some new ones. Unlike 2019, for pretty obvious reasons, there aren’t that many shots from 2020. However, as with the last couple of years, thanks to some technical wizardry, there are some new ‘old’ pics – newly digitised pics from my past – that appear in this post for the first time.

So, ok, without any further ado… in chronological order…


Those are the earliest photos I’ve got of me… looks like they were taken the same day; my older brother is in the background.


3 years old


Three brothers – must be around 1967 or 1968, so I’d be around 3½ years of age?


Aged 4


I’m five, I think, here in this shot and the next one.


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


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


Me at age 11. I still remember the wallpaper; very, very odd gold pattern to it.


The main ‘man’ – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Three brothers – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Starting the dancing – my barmitzvah, August 1977


Just after my 15th birthday


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


November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly


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


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


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


At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25, more than thirty years ago. Shocking.


Three brothers – 1991, I believe


1994 – A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30


A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…

I love that I found this next pic. Laura’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. And this is another great pic of us on our wedding day. And yes, ahhh I had dark hair back then…

This next one’s an odd one for lots of reasons; first off, it’s obviously my BBC pass from when I was writing for WeekEnding on Radio 4; secondly, when I visited New York just after 9/11, it was better as ID for getting me into buildings, places, meetings than my actual passport… even though it had expired six years’ earlier…


The earliest pic I have of my lad Phil (excluding ‘scans’). Me, a new dad, aged 31. And so, so tired.


Me holding my son… he’s 18 days’ old here.


Yeah, another ‘Budgie plus baby’ pic, this time he’s three months old…


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


Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999


June 1999 – my spiritual home


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


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


May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie


mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday


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


July 2004 – working at the office


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


Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…


August 2005 – at Brighton. First picture for ages that I’m genuinely happy with.


September 2005, last picture of the Nissan before I crashed it…


October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…


April 2006, at the flat.


Me in mid-2006, looking very serious for one reason or another.


Again, mid-2006.


Me in December 2006… looking slightly more relaxed.


May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning… very relaxed… aided by what Alistair Cooke used to call ‘The wine of Scotland’.


May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo


May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo


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


November 2008 – formal pic for Phil’s barmitzvah.


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


November 2009 – Me and Phil at a friend’s son’s barmitzvah.


July 2010, on Mastermind. No, not an illusion; you’re not allowed to wear black for the show…


August 2010, at Laura’s


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


December 2010, after the office party


October 2011, trying out a beard… not quite yet… but give it a year…


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

And then I had my hair cut…

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

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

This final one attracted the title “… and all the woodland creatures gathered around, for they had never seen a creature such as this in the forest.”


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

The delightful Clara Benn proved that I’m tiny when sitting next to Mitch Benn…

Isn’t perspective fun?


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

And so to 2013…

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


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

Phil turned up to support us…

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

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

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

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

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. One of my favourite photos, entitled Two beards (old friends attached).

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

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

Once again: isn’t perspective wonderful?

Never liked the next shot in colour, I do, however, really like it in black and white. From mid-2016.

Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the 2016, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.


And this is the shot, at the end of 2016, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And in December 2017, this one of the new[er], short[er] haircut.

In August 2018, my lad Phil was in town for a few days. We realised it had been a while since we’d had pics taken of the pair of us. So here are two.

And, of course since we had that pic, and I had a similar one from almost exactly ten years’ earlier, I was kind of obliged to put the two together. I really like this image.

In October, I attended the Brexit march for a People’s Vote. It ended up with 700,000 people… plus me.

Same march, with Mitch… No idea why my hair looks so… flat, almost skullcap-like, in this shot, but I really like how it looks.

And so to 2019…

It’s rare there’s a pic of me that even I will reluctantly admit is a good shot, especially if it’s a selfie, but you know what? I really really like this one…

Of course, that was after a haircut.

I look decidedly less good immediately before a haircut…

(2020 edit: When I took, and stuck up, the above shot, as always it was just for a giggle. It genuinely didn’t occur to me that in 2020, there’d be pics that made the above ‘before’ shot look coiffured.)

I just wish any pics from Edinburgh didn’t look like I’d photoshopped me into previously taken shots…

Oh yeah, I was in hospital in Edinburgh. I wasn’t impressed…

Here’s another post haircut pic…

And so, to 2020… with everything that you’d expect: ie very little happened that involved taking photos.

Although, Mitch’s 50th birthday in January was one such event. I mean, I could have put a dozen shots up from it, but here’s just one, with Phil:

Operation Haircut performed in March; quite like this ‘portrait’ shot.

March 2020: Who knew it was to be the last haircut for a while…? OK, I was one of the lucky ones; I had a haircut just a couple of weeks before lockdown. But lockdown then came, along with this fun prezzie/mask from Phil:

Lockdown lifted in July 2020, but it was possible – if another liockdown came, to be quite some time before I had another haircut, so I went short this time.

One more mask shot. You know, had you asked me before this year whether I’d look worse in a hat or a mask, I think I’d have said a mask. Now? I’m genuinely unsure.

US Election night; November 2020; me and the Benn’s labradoodle Merry.

And, to end, the by now common answer to ‘what did you do over the Christmas break, budgie?’ (Amusingly – well, I find it amusing, anyway – this donation was the slowest ever’; took ages to get the blood out of me. I’m guessing that even my blood was lazy and fed up of 2020 by now.)

OK, that’s your lot for this update.

And, as I wish everyone a happy new year, one full of love, joy, and health and much silliness, the traditional benediction:

Mocking may now commence.


(Oh, since I’m regularly asked: the iPhone app I’ve used in recent years to digitise snaps so they’re effectively high resolution scans is a free Google app called Photoscan. I genuinely can’t recommend it highly enough. IOS version; | Google Play version)

I put something up on Tumblr – not on goingcheep , but on the rarely used but still extant budgie’s blatherings – , but figured I might as well record it for posterity here as well…

As I write this, I’m looking at my phone with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and mild irritation.

I just had my Twitter account locked, because I told someone who defended a tweet egregiously and knowingly falsely calling the jewish journalist David Aaronovitch antisemitic… to combine sex and travel, ie to fuck off.

David A had described the person behind an organisation as a shyster.

The organisation pretended – against every etymological sense – that this epithet was linked to Shakespeare’s Shylock, and was therefore exclusively antisemitic.

Of course it’s not. It’s not exclusively antisemitic. It’s not antisemitic at all.

And it never was.

But someone defended the tweet attacking David A as antisemitic. And once I said that it was bullshit – inaccurate, etymological nonsense and flat wrong – and they then continued to defend the original tweet calling David A antisemitic… I invited them to fuck off.

And every time he replied, defending his actions and comments, I repeated the invitation.

And – while leaving abusive comments on my blog; using different names, but all with the exact same IP address – he reported my tweets as targeted harrassment.

(Note for blog: all effectively anonymous comments are moderated, so they never went live, but I have them all saved in my ‘deleted’ folder should I later… ‘require’ them. Amusingly, they took me 1/2 a second to delete when they must have taken him several minutes to do each one.)

So Twitter has locked the account until I delete the tweets.

I’ve appealed, but we’ll see. I mean, I’m usually not that appealing in the first place, so it’s a tossup whether they agree or not.

In the meantime… ah well, such is life and all that.

EDIT TO ADD: Notwithstanding the tweets where I did, indeed, tell him to fuck off, I’m honestly bemused at these two prima facie judgments…

I’ll update this with the resolution, whatever the hell happens.

UPDATE: Twitter sided with the fuckwit. The same fuckwit who continues to leave abusive messages on here and on Twitter. Now, of course, with Twitter’s approval.

Oh, and I woke this morning to discover this:

Which, some might argue, is kind of libel-y; y’know, what with the reference to drug and alcohol abuse.

And Twitter saw no problem with it at all.

Oh. Fucking. Joy.

(There was, of course, no such apology. Like everything else from the fuckwit, that was unreserved, unmitigated, bullshit.)

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

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

So, yes, I’ll be back, at some point.

In the meantime, though, here’s something.

I went for a haircut today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

To After:

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

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

“Nu?”

Posted: 20 May 2020 in housekeeping, stuff
Tags: ,

I’ve received a couple of messages asking why I suddenly stopped blogging in April, shortly after briefly restarting, and whether I’m planning on restarting any time soon?

Well, quick answers are

    Because it was becoming a chore

and

    I wouldn’t call it a plan; more of a hope

In January, I took a couple of months off after six months of daily bloggin. At that time, I fully intended to get back to the daily blogging, but it turned out when I restarted… I wasn’t enjoying doing so at all.

One of the rules I set myself when I restarted in 2019, after a couple of years off was not to check the blog stats, the readership.

Other than under very odd circumstances, when someone promotes an entry or something¹, I never expect a big readership. And the idea of receiving comments on individual entires – which several years ago was entirely expected – now seems to have fallen out of fashion, at least in this place.

Which is fine. But it means that I’m writing primarily for me, not for anyone else. And writing for me…? Well, I don’t need to publish anything on here to achieve that.

So, yeah, when I started again in April… I found that I really didn’t enjoy the experience of blogging and it astonishingly rapidly became a chore, something I did out of an imagined obligation.

So, yeah, I stopped.

And yes, I do intend to return… at some point, or at least I hope to. When I’ve got something to write about that a) I enjoy writing, b) I enjoy publishing, and c) I think other people will enjoy reading.

Until then, I’m slinging something up on goingcheep most days.

I hope all of you and yours are well, and that this nuttiness, this absurdity, in which we find ourselves, is soon over.


¹ Oh, by the way, for some reason I’ve been mystified by, one entry from November – this one – has had more than 10k hits since March… Someone put it up on Pinterest and it’s taken off. Weirdness writ large.

“How are you?’

“Hope you’re well…”

Two platitudes, two phrases – ok, one question, one wish – which have taken on a whole new level of seriousness and importance the past month or so.

I’m far from the first person to realise that, but it’s something that’s now pretty much universally accepted that there’s every possibility that the response to both might well not be what you were expecting to hear.

And that’s far from the only change in communications that’s arisen.

A telephone voicemail with merely “Hey, it’s [me/your brother/mother/dad]” and “call me” might previously have been just to save time.

Now it leaves, as a friend mentioned today on Twitter, an impression of trouble; you could be calling to let them know that someone’s ill, or that someone’s died.

Things that didn’t previously need to be said… now need to be said. Both to avoid confusion and to remove ambiguity… and also to reassure the other person that you are ok, that you aren’t unwell, that you don’t have bad news to communicate.

But that “how are you?” question. It’s being asked not only out of genuine worry and honest enquiry, but because most people don’t want to worry their family and friends, so unless they’re asked, they won’t say that yes, in fact, they’re feeling ill, or even, that they’re not doing so great, they’re struggling at the moment.

While we’re all still getting used to this new world in which physical presence is not only not recommended, it’s pretty impossible… we’re also having to get used to the poor substitute of video calls. Of Zoom and FaceTiming and WhatsApp and Skype and Hangouts… and any others of the dozen or so common video calling apps.

Now I’m not… old. For all my joking about feeling ancient, I’m 55. (That shouldn’t exactly be a surprise) But it does mean that I come from a generation to which video calling for the most part is not how we learned to communicate.

My son is 24. He’s been video calling his girlfriends almost since he had girlfriends. But, with a couple of rare prior exceptions, it’s only since the lockdown that he’s videocalled with his mother and me. We’ve had a couple of Zoom conversations, the three of us involved: him in Wales, my ex-wife in Barnet, and me in the flat in Abbey Road. They’ve been nice, exactly what they should be. But they’re still kind of new to me and his mum. (Less so to his mum, to be fair, since she’s been using Zoom for work.)

And despite the enjoyment we had in the chats, despite the similar enjoyment I had when FaceTiming with friends the other evening… I’m still not sure that I’m… ok with it.

Partly, of course, this is due to me being… well, me. I’m not a fan of me being on video. It’s even worse than having a photo taken.

Because, despite the annual A Life In Pictures post, I loathe having my photo taken… or at least I loathe having it taken where I don’t get to control what happens to the photo after it’s taken. There are lots of photos of me in that post. Not one of them is a photo that I do not want others to see.

I mean, I joke every year that I’ve been about as embarrassed over the decades’ old photos as I’m ever going to be, but let’s be honest: if I didn’t want the photos in the post, they wouldn’t be there.

And with maybe half a dozen exceptions, I knew each photo was being taken at the time What I detest is so called ‘candid’ photos. Because I don’t like how I look in them, although I’m frankly astonished if I come out looking anything other than horrible. Hell, I don’t like how I look anyway, but I definitely don’t like how I look in candid shots.

So you can imagine how much I ‘enjoy’ being on video when my face, with all its faults, is on display.

Shudder.

But much as the walk is worth the foot pain it’s going to cost me, so far – so far at least, being able to see friends and family is worth the dislike of being on video.

So far.

It’s good to see them, it’s good to see that they’re well. To know that when I ask “how are you?” I can see the evidence that they’re ok.

To anyone reading this, I hope that you’re well… and that you stay so.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…

As I suggested when I restarted the blog, I’m going to continue with the “Oh, it’s Tuesday? Here are a couple of fast fictions from the vaults..”


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.

Here are two very different early tales; I was still discovering how many different genres I could [try to] write.

I have no idea why the first tale went so dark; I remember seeing the word offered (‘zeitgeist’) and thinking I’d write something lighter. As so often, however, the story didn’t end up that way. It was also the first time I got a response of “your mind scares me at times”… which became one of my favourite observations of these stories; it may be a been the first time I received that response… it certainly wasn’t the last.

The second story on the other hand was one that I pretty knew everything about the story the moment I saw the combination of title and word. One o the easier stores to write, but – I recall – one of the harder to edit; a story that definitely took time to get just right.

I hope you enjoy both of them…


Title: My Only Tendency
Word: zeitgeist
Challenger: Dave Bushe
Length: 200 words exactly

I have a quirk. An eccentricity, an idiosyncrasy.

A quirk.

Sure it’s strange, but who’s to say that my habits are any less peculiar than your own?

Oh, you’re going to say that, are you?

Well… to be fair, you’re probably right.

After all, how many other people do you know who collect zeitgeist writers?

I don’t mean writings about the era in which the writer lived: the summing up of a culture, together with its mores and social, political or even occasional legal forays into self-absorption. Neither do I refer to the writings of someone who is generally regarded as the spirit of the age.

No, I mean that I collect the writers themselves. I kidnap them. I stick a needle in their arms and their marvellously clever brain shuts down long enough for me to ‘help’ them into the van.

It’s not been easy, but the cellar at the back of the house has borne witness to many of them over the years.

Every one of them looked upon as the spirit of their generation. And every last one of them writing as their final words their name, scratched on a concrete wall, with their broken… bloody… fingernails.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Title: My Dead Skin
Word: osmosis
Challenger: Dan Schaffer
Length: 200 words exactly

You’d think it wouldn’t be that often that you got to see your own body on a mortuary slab.

You’d be surprised.

I just about recognised the thing laying on the perspex; it looked like it had been crushed. No bones left at all; just the surprisingly thick epidermis.

I felt a cold sweat as if I’d absorbed the inherent damp of the morgue by osmosis.

“How many more of me are still out there?” I asked my sweaty hirsute companion, hating the question, knowing its necessity.

He looked pale. “Well, the cloning process is inherently unstable, so…”

“You said that three years ago,” I reminded him, “and that they’d all be dead by now.”

“Well, almost all the original clones are deceased,” he said with a squeak, since my hand was by now around his throat. “And the rate of asexual reproduction is diminishing with each generation. The radioactive tags are still there, so at least we can tell when they’ve died.”

I needed them all dead. All of them.

And then finally I could get on with living my own life.

Then I could stop living on borrowed time.

Then I’d finally know that I was the original.

© Lee Barnett, 2005


Something else tomorrow…

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as I know, anyway.

That’s not going to last.

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

Yeah, they were right, I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Struggling”. Yeah, that’s the word.

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

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

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

I’ve been better.


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

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

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.

And especially right now, we can do with silliness. Fuck me, can we do with some silliness. So, while not all of the videos below are of the ‘stay the hell at home’, some…? Yeah, some are.

 

I’ve got to start with the obvious this week: Mitch Benn’s exhortation to do right now what the government tells us to in his usual subtle way.

 
 
And following Mitch Benn, here’s Samuel L Jackson (and how often do you get to say that?) with essentially the same message.

 
 
And here’s Smon Pegg and Nick Frost, redoing that scene from Shawn of the Dead

 
 
Plenty of people are doing silly videos. I did like this one…

 
 
And since The Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled this year, this is what you’d be missing….

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.

I’d planned to restart the Ten Things today, but to be honest, I’m not in the mood. And I’m not entirely sure what do a Ten Things about anyway. I’ll have a ponder and hope to return to them next Friday. Besides, which I’m still getting used to this blogging thing again.

And anyway, as has been mentioned the past couple of days, my foot’s bloody killing me.

So, instead, one more post about London in Lockdown, to do with health. My health.

My physical health, anyways. I may write at some point on how I’m ‘dealing’ with lockdown and social distancing and stuff. Summing it up, the post would be ‘not that well’. But no, I’m not writing that post today. (Edit to add: It might, however, go some way to explaining why this is a shorter entry than you might reasonably expect from me.)

I’m fifty five years old. I take a few medications every day, including drugs or cholesterol and high blood pressure. (Although to be fair, the latter is a very small dose, and both my GP and I were fairly astonished that it had such a huge effect, returning my at times stratospheric blood pressure to a ‘normal’ measurement almost immediately.)

But like everyone else, in every area of my life, things have changed.

Ordering a repeat prescription is as easy, as convenient as ever, using the online website. Going to pick up the prescription, however? Well, yeah, that’s a different experience right now. Along with the pharmacists wearing face masks that look like they’re from a science fiction movie, those same pharmacists look… weary. Not just tired, but bone weary, utterly and completely shattered.

The queue outside the pharmacists was one of the smaller ones I saw… only about a dozen and a half people, and in substantially less good humour than the shopping queues. These were – some of them – people in pain, people who shared their pharmacists’ weariness. And people who just wanted to get their medications and return home.

Let’s put it this way: I was one of the more cheerful people.

Two quick other points; a hospital follow up appointment is now going to be by phone… to be honest, I’m surprised and impressed they didn’t cancel it completely. And I’m due to donate blood (after not being able to donate for 14 weeks after a procedure) in mid-April. I’m still planning on donating.

Sorry; I’ve nothing else to say today.

Hopefully, something more cheerful and light tomorrow.

I’m an idiot.

I know, this doesn’t surprise anyone reading this. But I am.

I mentioned on Twitter a couple of weeks ago pre-lockdown that were I still to be living in my last place, in Ham, between Richmond and Kingston, I’d almost certainly have thought at some point during the weekend: you know what? It’s a nice day, I can go outside as long as I don’t go near anyone else… you know what? I think I’ll go for a wander in Richmond Park.

This was the weekend when videos of crowds of people in Richmond Park appeared on the news and online. This was the weekend when the temporary (?) idiocy of the British public was shown to the world. This was the weekend when I realised that I’m a fucking idiot.

Because of course everyone else would have thought the same. Because of course me staying the hell away from everyone else is no bloody use whatsoever… if other people won’t stay the hell away from me.

Now I didn’t go to Richmond Park that weekend, because I don’t live in Ham any more. I didn’t go to Regents Park, because although it’s doable for me to get there without much difficulty… it’s still far enough to make it have to be a deliberate decision, not something that happens on a whim. I’ve lived here three years and only walked there twice.

But I was reminded of my own idiocy today when I went shopping. The restrictions have slowly increased, the queues have slowly grown, fair enough. And it’s not like the shops instantly went from ‘everyone? Come in the shop, no distancing necessary’ to ‘full social distancing, and we’re limiting the number in the shop at any one time’.

But today was the first time it really sank in. When I walked to Kilburn from me, about a mile or so from the flat, it was to discover that every ‘decent sized food shop – Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Marks and Spencer – had a queue measured in the dozens, and in one case, there were over 50 people in the queue, all about six feet apart from each other.

And I’ve noticed that the shops have cut down the number allowed into their premises almost day by day. Shops that last week let 20 people in… are now letting in 5. Pharmacies are letting one person in at a time, if they’re letting anyone in.

That said, the politeness in the queues and the understanding that for once, we are ‘all in it together’ is a but heartwarming. What’s interesting to me, however, is how the rules of courtesy have changed.

Someone a bit older drops something out of their shopping basket, and two or three people near them go to pick it up… then stop… and merely point towards it, gesture towards it. Where once they’d have picked up the item and returned it to the older person… now the courteous thing is not to do that.

People working in shops are being thanked more than ever before (cf the busses post from yesterday), as are the people standing by the doors letting one person at a time out… and in.

What I definitely noticed today were the people with huge shops offering those picking up only one, two or three items their place in the queue. OK, that happens sometimes in normal times, but now? Happens a lot.

There are a lot of things changing, in the day to day stuff, the little things that matter… that I wonder – I truly wonder – how they’ll change back… or if they won’t, afterwards.
 
 
See you tomorrow with something else.

OK, after a couple of days of housekeeping, I now find myself with a blank screen.

And after writing, and deleting, three different posts for today, with each of which I ran out of words after about 100 of the damn things, let’s hope that this one at least gets written.

I’d intended to write something personal about how I’m dealing with the lockdown. I really did. But everything I wrote seemed, on review, to be a little more ‘personal’ than I’m comfortable being. I mean, sure, there’ll be something on that – spoiler: I’m not doing brilliantly right now, I’ll acknowledge – but I’m apparently not quite ready to write that post.

Instead, you get something about London In Lockdown, or rather: my London In Lockdown. I suspect you’ll get more in future instalments but you get something today about what’s changed.

For example: busses. Now yes I know that we should all avoid taking public transport unless absolutely necessary. I do know that. And, for the most part, when I’m just going for a walk, I do.

I took the opportunity the first few days to find three different routes to walk, all of which have the two things necessary for me to enjoy a walk: no even slightly steep inclines either direction, and some pleasant scenery along the way. So, I don’t get bored either with the route or the scenery.

But yeah, busses. Because sometimes I need to take busses. The combination of a fucked up foot (a purely technically medical description, you understand, about more of which in a second) and where I live means that although there are a couple of shops within easy walking distance and a decent size Sainsbury’s within… an ‘ok’ walking distance, if I want to go to A Big Supermarket, then it’s a bus. And to be honest, the past week or so, even if I want to go to the decent size Sainsbury’s, it’s a bus.

Why? Well, for whatever reason, my foot has been bad the past week, seriously bad. Whether that’s because it’s actually playing up more than usual, or possibly after years of putting it off, something serious is going on inside the thing at the end of my left leg… or whether it’s psychosomatic, or I’ve just stressed it more than usual with the hour’s walking…. or whether it’s a combination of all of the foregoing… I have no idea.

But it hurts like hell at the moment.

I’m usually very grateful anyway to whoever the hell it was who first had the idea of combining codeine in a decent amount with paracetamol and gave me the wonderful ‘take the edge of the pain’ medication known as cocodamol. OK, I’m also very grateful to the doctors I’ve had over the years who’ve checked me out, seen the MRI and then gone “yep, repeat prescription”. But I’m particularly grateful to both the past week.

As a result of their efforts, I can at least go for my government allowed hour of exercise outside the flat every day. OK, I say ‘exercise’; what I mean is that hour’s walk in what passes for fresh air in London.

The foot + cocodamol combination has meant that I can, for the most part, go out and have a wander for an hour, and then there are the busses for the other occasions.

I’ve noticed several things about taking a bus now that didn’t apply before ‘all of this’.

(As a side note, I wonder when this global crisis will get a proper ‘name’. Whether it’ll be described as “the Event” or “The Incident”… you know, as such things are always described in sf comics, novels, tv shows and movies.)

Sorry, back to the busses.

I’m not sure when ‘oh, most of the other passengers wearing a face mask’ became what I expected to see, instead of merely unsurprising, let alone the anomaly.

I’m equally unsure when seeing people sitting together was the exception rather than the rule; it’s as usual now as it is for children of any age to be well behaved. I can’t remember the last time I saw a child even boisterous, let alone misbehaving, on the bus.

Similarly, almost every time someone gets off the bus, there’s a ‘thank you’ or ‘thank you, driver’, called out. Again, the rarity is someone not saying it rather than it being said.

Finally… many busses have taped off the seats nearest to the exit doors. I’m not wholly sure of the reasons for that one, but I’d imagine it’s to do with reducing the chance of anyone standing by the doors coming anywhere near anyone sitting in these seats.

So, yeah, taking a bus these days is a very different experience to before all this kicked off. (Mind you, I could do without the dirty looks from anyone in the street when I exit the bus.)
 
 
Apologies to all, kind of. This blog entry has been a bit of a mess. It’ll get better.

See you tomorrow…

Another housekeeping post, since I’m properly kicking the blog off tomorrow…

And, you can equally probably ignore this post, unless you’re interested in my using today’s post purely as a ‘thinking aloud’ entry.

What’s worked for me the past few runs of blogging have been three things, I think:

  • A countdown
  • A plan – and sticking to it
  • Dumping the plan, temporarily, when it’s been necessary, important or, hell, just convenient
  • Regular weekly posts

OK, so in order.

I’m not sure a countdown idea works for the next run of posts. I’ll have a ponder about whether to do a countdown to my birthday again, but if I do the usual [xx minus xx] countdown, I’d be starting with “56 minus 56”. And that, by an elegant inevitability, would require me starting the countdown – the actual 56 minus 56 entry – on Monday 22nd June 2020.

And that’s 83 days from today’s date.

Hmm.

So, no, I don’t think I’ll do a countdown between now and then. But given the success (as I measure it, not how anyone else might) of the blog when I’ve done a countdown… will it work without one? No bloody idea at all, but it’ll interesting to see. I think.

But why does a countdown work for me? I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons, and not all of them saying nice things about me, but having a countdown, having to refer to it every day… means that I do refer to it every day. It means that it has to be something bloody serious – illness of one sort or another – for me to skip a day. It means that missing a day almost physically hurts. So, yeah, there’s a part of me that is scared that without the requirement to fulfil every day’s post, I’ll just get lazy and skip a few days here and there not for genuine reasons, but just because I feel like doing so.

Yeah, it’s not an easy decision. Not at all.

It should be. But it’s not. Again, not entirely sure that speaks well of me.

OK, next: a plan. Well, that kind of goes with the countdown; I mean, let’s face it, there’s no point in landing yourself with a three month daily run, or longer, without having the slightest idea what you’re going to write…

So, no matter what happens, I’m going to give myself an ‘out’; I’m going to go with the same kind of plan I ran with last time.

So, you’ll get some fiction from the archives, some new fiction (if I can write something I feel appropriate for the blog), some commentary on British politics, some commentary on US politics as well; if I can find enough new material, there’ll be more Saturday Smiles; I also want to write some more about London. I like living in London; I like the city and even in the current circumstances, when we’re allowed out merely to walk or to go shopping, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to come upo with something or other to day about the experiences.

Personal stuff? Well, we’ll see. It’s been observed more than once that I avoid the personal, anything about me that only my closest friends know. Well, there’s usually a reason for that. But again, we’ll see.

Dumping the plan? Sure, not as an excuse to write something else, but as a consequence of doing so. Macmillan’s ‘events, dear boy… events’ (though he probably never said it) apply. Sometimes, something happens, in the news, or in my life, that fairly demands writing about there and then. It’s a toss up whether what I planned to originally write will even in fact then be written. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends.

Weekly posts. Yeah, already covered that above, really. Tuesdays I’ll plan to put up some fiction. Wednesday or Thursday will have some politics stuff, Fridays will, probably, see the return of Ten Things, and Saturday… well, you should know by now. I’ll fit in the rest around that.

So, anyways, that’s the pla– erm, that’s what I’m thinking of doing.

We’ll see if it works or not when it kicks off tomorrow.

See you then…

Well, hello again…

Posted: 30 March 2020 in housekeeping
Tags: , ,

Yes, yes, it’s been three months, more or less, and I’ve taken a much needed – seriously, you have no idea how much it was needed – break from the daily blogging, but I’m, and it’s, back in a couple of days’ time.

There’ve been few times in my life when I could look at current events and say a) ‘the world has changed‘ and/or b) ‘whatever happens next, when it’s over, the world will no longer be the same‘.

The one that jumps to mind, of course, is 9/11. For a period of time, there was Before-9/11 and After 9/11, and no one, not really, would pretend that the before and after were the same thing.

Dan Hodges asked a couple of weeks ago what news stories there’d been where the whole world was talking about One Story. 9/11? Of course. JFK assassination? Quite possibly.

And now we have Coronavirus, Covid 19. Or Covid-19. Or #Covid19. Whichever you prefer.

But whatever you call it, it definitely qualifies as ‘the world has changed‘ and ‘whatever happens next, the world will no longer be the same when it’s over.’

As I write this, it’s a couple of days before the end of March, and it’s not unfair to say that pretty much every sphere of human activity, every function of government, everything that makes us – wherever you are, wherever you’re reading this – a society… has changed.

Or at least the things that haven’t changed? Well, we’re all doing them very differently than how we did them even a month ago.

I mentioned on Twitter that a phrase I think we’re all going to have to get used to, pretty damn quickly, is “Well, last week, I never thought that…

Everything from the major to the trivial, from the global to the local, from the governmental to the entire personal… has changed.

And since I have fuck all influence on, or authority in, the major, the global and the governmental, I better concentrate on the trivial, the local and the personal.

Well, maybe not the latter, maybe. Not quite yet.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve always been a bit wary and careful about how personal I am in these things.

When I am very personal, it almost always comes as a surprise to me, and it’s rarely intended. Not consciously at least. It’s at least arguable, I suppose, that I’ve been more personal than I’ve consciously intended and exactly as personal as I subconsciously intended. I dunno.

Anyway.

The blog is back. I’ll write some more tomorrow on how I see the blog progressing for the next few months.

But I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I say that there will be at least some personal stuff, a lot of minor stuff and an awful lot of trivial stuff involved.

(And yes, there’ll be the return of the ‘fast fictions from the archives’, possibly tyhe return of the Saturday Smile in some form (though I’m going back and forth on that one), possibly some new fiction, and some thoughts. Many thoughts.
 
 
See you tomorrow…

Back… soon. Probably.

Posted: 17 March 2020 in housekeeping
Tags:

OK, after taking a couple of months off, but keeping goingcheep running, I’m just now, starting – starting, mind you – to get that itch to blog again.

Still need to figure out what I’m going to write about, and how I’m going to do it.

As has been made more than clear to me over the past few years, I’m a lazy bugger when it comes to blogging. And a countdown… helps. Or a count-up. Either. But they genuinely do.

Problem is that I’ve no settled idea what I’ll be counting down to, however; my birthday isn’t until August, and even if I wanted to do a 100 day countdown – which would test everyone else’s patience, let alone my own – that wouldn’t kick off until around 9th May.

(To be honest. though, other than the fast fiction challenge in 2010, when I wrote 150 stories in 150 days, experience teaches me that 75 days is about the maximum countdown I’m comfortable with…)

If I were to start on 1st April, however… oh, well then there are plenty of month-long challenges I could.. adapt. So, at the moment, that’s as far as I’ve pencilled in: to grab one of the very many 30 day challenges around and adapt that for the blog.

If that does happen, I imagine you’ll hear about it at the end of March, somewhere around the 30th, I’d guess.

After that, if it happens? Well, as always, the answer is: we’ll see…

Yes, STILL away…

Posted: 11 February 2020 in going cheep, life

Yes, this place is still on a break, or more accurately I’m still on a break from this place.

I’ve every intention of returning to it soon, but as they say, the best laid plans… except that’s not fair as I dont have a plan at the moment, merely a vague intention.

Partly it’s health reasons, both physical and otherwise; partly, it’s because I’m just too weary, and haven’t got much to say. Not that everyone else hasn’t said better and less pissed off than I would say it, anyways.

I am keeping up – mostly – with a daily brain dump at goingcheep, so if you’re missing seeing something from me every day, it’s worth checking there to see what I blurt out.

Unlike here, where I at least try to entertain or inform, goingcheep is more just a couple of hundred words on whatever is in my mind when I start typing. So, bear that in mind, eh?

OK, hope you’re all¹ well, and maybe see you soon…


¹ok, the seven of you who actually read this thing.

Still on a break

Posted: 23 January 2020 in 2020 plus
Tags:

Housekeeping: Yes, I’m still taking a break from blogging for various reasons, but I expect to be back soon. I’ve no intention of the blog remaining on hiatus for months, as I have in the past. I’m just not in the mood for daily, or even regular, updates quite yet.

My mate Mitch

Posted: 20 January 2020 in family, life, personal
Tags: , , , ,

It’s Mitch Benn’s 50th birthday, today. Happy birthday, Mitch.

No one reading this is going to be unaware that we’re close friends. That we’ve only known each other since 2010, however, does seem to surprise; most people assume we’ve been friends for a lot longer.

Even yesterday, at Mitch’s birthday bash, a couple of people expressed their astonishment that we only met a decade or so back.

But that’s perfectly fair; it still sometimes takes me aback, and saddens me, that Mitch never knew Mike, and never knew me when Phil was bar mitzvah’d. Would have been lovely to have him there for both.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Most Saturdays, since I restarted the blog in June last year, I’ve done a set of what I call Saturday Smiles; commonly, I’ll put up half a dozen funny or amusing videos just to lighten the mood, to give readers of the blog a smile or six after another week of ‘oh, what the hell has the world done now?’ I’ve done it off and on since I started blogging here in 2011.

And when I restarted them seven months ago, I made the decision to always include a song from Mitch. There’ve been some personal favourites in there, sure, but there’s always been something, if for no other reason that I like his work and I think more people should be exposed to it.

Because I do like Mitch’s work, his songs, his comedy. It’s why it was a joy to discover that I liked Mitch as well as his work when I met him.

And his 50th birthday seems as good a time as any – ten years after we met, and nine years since we became friends – to write something about my mate Mitch, and our friendship.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t like Mitch the moment we met, but that was under fairly frantic and pressured circumstances, and…

No. Wait. Allow me to go back a bit further. Pre-blog. Pre-Mitch.


I can’t remember when I first became a fan of musical comedy and of comedy songs. As early as I can recall, there were funny songs I recall learning the words of: playground songs, songs my dad sang, songs from I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again on radio, and comedy albums… everything from Alan Sherman’s Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (properly entitled Camp Grenada) to Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West; Benny Hill’s comedy songs are great, by the way.

I’d happily sit and watch Victor Borge on the tv at my grandparents. Hell, I’d watch anyone who made me laugh, while singing a song or playing an instrument, or both.

One year, I remember I was bought an album of comedy songs for a birthday or Chanukah; one of my favourite presents as a child, ever. I played it over and over, driving my parents, and my brothers, loopy. And my older brother – who I’ve mentioned before played the guitar with perhaps more enthusiasm than talent – did the whole ‘funny lyrics to existing tunes’, which I joined in with, with equal… enthusiasm.

And then there was Richard Stilgoe, and The Goodies, and Phil Pope, and Victoria Wood, and Not The Nine O’Clock News and Monty Python, and Who Dares Wins

But I’ve always loved radio comedy. My old man introduced me to The Goon Show (which had musical interludes but they weren’t comedy songs as such) and then… and then… Well, I’d been a fan of Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis through their work on The Mary Whitehouse Experience and Jasper Carrott’s shows.

So when they helmed a new topical radio show entitled The Now Show, I listened to it.

Well, ok, yes, it’s a bit more complicated than that; I used to write for a Radio 4 topical comedy show entitled Weekending; a few years after I stopped writing for them, it came off air… to be replaced by a new show entitled The Now Show.

It ‘starred’ Punt and Dennis, along with Marcus Brigstocke, Jon Holmes, Laura Shavin, and this fella named Mitch Benn who did the funny songs.

And they were funny; clever ideas, fantastic wordplay, glorious rhymes – which I later learned Mitch refers to as ‘stunt rhyming’ – and superb homages/parodies of music styles, and of specific artists.

Mitch let us into his life just a bit on the show. I learned he was married, that in 2005, almost exactly ten years after my lad was born, he and his missus had their first child. He was a huge Doctor Who fan. As was I. And a comics fan. Well, obviously. And loved sf as much as I did. And when he occasionally let his anger show in a song, it was never gratuitous, but always razor sharp, and he hit his targets. I liked his humour, and I liked the show.

I went to see a couple of the Now Show recordings in 2008 & 2009. And yeah, the personalities on stage were about what I expected: funny, silly and the cast obviously liked each other enormously.

I started using Twitter properly in early 2008, having signed up a year earlier. It didn’t take too long before I discovered Mitch on there. And his missus. And for the next couple of years, it was fun, whenever the show was on, seeing Clara nag Mitch – who’d be playing hashtag games on a Wednesday night when he was supposed to be writing his Now Show songs. The fun they obviously had, teasing each other online… well, they always lightened a Wednesday night.

I chatted to both of them, very occasionally, but no more than they chatted to other people, I guess. I remembered that Mitch had played at the Eagle awards one year at Comic Expo in Bristol while I was in the bar… but we never met.

And – it turned out – that had happened a couple of times; we’d been at the same place at the same time, but just never got around to meeting. It happens.

I knew Mitch and I had a mutual friend, but I’ve always been a bit wary of asking mutual friends for an introduction, not when they’re both celebrities in their own rights.

So, we just never met.


Several hundred words through this, we come to late September 2010. Work was hard, and I was putting in long hours, working six day weeks and most Sundays. Twitter was my… break from mundanity, I guess? Back then it was silly, and fun, and I dunno; maybe the memory plays tricks but it was… fun.

Mitch had written a song entitled (I’m) Proud of the BBC, and was doing a video for it; he invited his Twitter followers, if they were available, to come down and take part in the filming.

My office in Newman Street was about ten minutes’ walk from where they were recording part of the video, outside the BBC. I was going to be working on the Sunday of the recording – near where I’m currently typing this, as it happens – so I dropped them a message and said I might turn up.

Mitch and Clara’s reaction was – in part, I’m sure because they wanted to have a decent turn out – an enthusiastic “Yes! Come along!”

I duly ‘came along’, and ended up appearing for about a second and a half in the video, before I – having met Mitch, Clara and the kids, and liked them all – returned to the office and the month end accounts, and the three year budget, and the financial modelling, all of which I was then simultaneously wrangling.

And that was that; that could have been that. I’d met them, I’d had fun, and who knows, maybe I’d meet them again at some point?

It could have been no more than that.

And my life would have been very different, substantially worse, than it turned out.

Because when I mentioned to our mutual friend how much I’d enjoyed meeting Mitch et famile, his reaction was immediate, along the lines of: “How do you both not know each other? You two should definitely know each other. You’ll like each other.

Shortly thereafter I received an invitation to pop round to the house one day and meet them properly. As memory serves, and memories of that time are, I’ll acknowledge, a bit blurry at times, I was in the office on another Sunday, taking a break, and they said if I finished early enough, to drive around to them, to meet them properly. So I drove over to their place. Had a lovely evening, full of laughter and silliness and fun.

And then ‘popping round to see them’ after work became a regular thing, an oasis from work, and a welcome chat and time of relaxation.

I’d never ‘done’ Christmas really. I’m Jewish for a start, but it had never been my thing, and – after my marriage ended – I tended to go into work on Christmas Day itself. I’d clear the backlog of correspondence and work in the blessed silence of no telephones ringing, no emails disturbing me, no one popping by my office to ask me stuff. (For various reasons, I’d pretty much cut ties with my parents and remaining sibling by then.) So, yeah, I had every intention of working that particular Christmas Day until late in the evening.

Neither Clara nor Mitch particularly liked that idea, and they… well, I’d say they invited, but that’s not strong enough. They pretty much insisted that I join their family for their Christmas.

And I did. In both meanings.

Mitch and Clara invited me to join their family in oh, so many ways. Not just for Christmas, but to always be welcome at and in their house, to view their place as somewhere safe… another home.

They became my closest friends in an astonishingly short period of time.

And I needed friends.

I needed somewhere else I could think of as home, somewhere where I would be… ok, or as ok as I got back then.

Because I was in the process of cracking up.

And not in a ‘cracking up with laughter’ way; cracking up as in a ‘falling apart’ way.

I didn’t know it at that time, but I was. I mean, ok, everyone else – especially those at Chez Benn – knew it, or at least strongly suspected it, but me? Not so much. It’s easiest to describe what happened as a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown. There’s more to it than that, but that’ll do for the moment.

And when I lost where I was living, Mitch and Clara invited – again, that’s so little a word to describe it – me to take over the spare room at their place, and to live with them, as part of their family. Partly to look after me, to care for, and about, me. Partly to allow me the time to get through the crisis that was… me being me.


I met Mitch in 2010; we became friends in 2011, and there’s not been a day since when I haven’t learned something from him. Stuff about life, about family, about comedy. About friendship.

(Oh, and a lot about Doctor Who. No, I meant it: a lot about Doctor Who. Seriously, so much about Doctor Who.)

One of the things Mitch and I discovered fairly early on was that we both knew an awful lot about the same subjects, and interests. But there was shed loads he knew that I didn’t, and vice versa. In ten years, there’s not been a single conversation we’ve had where he’s not surprised me with some nugget of relevant information, or shown me a side of an argument I’d not considered. Doesn’t mean we always agree; hell, as often as not, our conversations are attempts to persuade the other that we’re right and the other is… well, if not wrong, then not wholly right.

I can’t begin to list all the things I owe him, for which he deserves – but won’t ever accept – my thanks.

But here are a couple.

Mitch knew of my comedy writing career (such as it was) and when he was snowed under with work – The Now Show, appearing as Zaphod Beeblebrox in the stage tour of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, writing a novel – but had been asked to do some Radio 4 shows, he asked me if I wanted to help write them.

Whether I wanted to? Of course I wanted to. Took me about ¾ of a second to say yes. And ½ a second of that was me going ‘wha–?’

And the past four years, it’s been enormous fun, and incredibly satisfying, to work on his Edinburgh shows, to see him craft an idea, then a routine, then a show; to watch at close hand why this gag works, but this one doesn’t quite; to see why this word caps the routine, but that word would drain the energy from it; to watch an audience being taken along the journey that is an Edinburgh show.

I have no musical ability at all; I can just about pick out a tune on a keyboard, but not so as anyone would, y’know, recognise the tune. It’s a delight to see someone who knows what they’re doing… create musical comedy, and… make people laugh while they’re doing it.

Writing with Mitch has been the hardest, and yet the most fun, writing I’ve ever done. And enormously, wonderfully, fantastic.

Writing something else in the same room as Mitch, on the other hand? That’s just plain weird.

January 2013: Mitch has been away, doing a gig; I pick him up from the airport. We’re driving back, and he mentions he’s doing something for Radio 3, for Comic Relief, something with Simon Russell Beale.

Mitch adds that he quite fancies doing something else as well. Maybe… creating a muscial comedy album from scratch in 24 hours, with – we’re just chatting, you understand – maybe the song titles being chosen by the Now Show audience, curated by the Now Show cast?

The idea’s a fun one, and we bat it back and forth for a bit before I say something like ‘huh… you know, whenever I’ve done the fast fictions, I’ve done loads of extra challenges within it, but I’ve never done a timed challenge. Heh. Can you imagine? Me writing 24 stories in 24 hours?’

It sounds harmless if you say it fast enough, doesn’t it?

And yes, you can see where this is heading.

I mean, I’d said it merely as a ‘Huh… here’s a daft idea.’

But by the end of the car journey, Mitch is already working out where we could do this thing together; him writing, performing and releasing, a comedy album in 24 hours, me writing 24 stories in 24 hours, my challenges coming from celebrities, both raising money for Comic Relief.

By then, I’d lived with the Benns for six months or so. I stayed for another four years, before moving out in February 2017. I doubt there’s been more than a couple of days since when we’ve not exchanged messages, or chatted, or… something.


Mitch has no time for the sentiment: ‘never meet your heroes’; his view tends towards “get better heroes”.

Mitch isn’t my hero but he’s my friend, one of my closest friends. And I’m hugely, wonderfully, phenomenally, grateful for that.

I was a fan of his work before I met him and it was, and remains a delight to me that our friendship quickly developed to cover so much more.

Happy birthday, Mitch.

And thanks for being… well… you.

On a break

Posted: 12 January 2020 in 2020 plus

I’ve been ill this weekend, and I’m still feeling pretty lousy, so I’m taking a break from the daily blogging. After six months of it, I figure no one’s going to miss me that much.

Hopefully it won’t be for long.

Of course, last time I took a ‘short break’ after a prolonged stint of blogging every day, it was two and a half years before I returned.

So, we’ll see.

[More info here.]

Unable to post today… for reasons.
 
 
Something, hopefully, tomorrow.

No, you didn’t misread that, and no, you haven’t skipped five weeks into the future.

A short post today.

A very short one.

I almost took today off blogging in fact. But something occurred which had me opening up the app and typing something.

I’ve seen four references to Valentine’s Day today: two people talking about its approach, two people promoting their gigs (which happen to be taking place on that day), and one person lamenting that she’d just broken with her girlfriend and so will likely be spending Valentine’s Day on her own for the first time in a decade.

Which is odd, as a concept to me. No, not the idea of spending Valentine’s Day alone… the concept of not doing so.

I’d say I can’t remember the last time I spent Valentine’s Day with anyone, in a romantic sense, but that’d be a slight exaggeration.

I proposed to my ex-wife on Valentine’s Day 1993. For a naturally unromantic fella like me, I guess that for once I wanted to do it ‘properly’: on bended knee, with a single red rose, and a poem.

Yes, I wrote the lady I hoped would do me the honour of becoming my wife – ok, fiancée, to start with – a poem.

And, while we were married, I think we spent most 14th February evenings together, unless I was working that night.

Since then? Since we split in July 2005?

Ah, well, since then… I’ve never been romantically involved, (to put it formally), or ‘seeing anyone’ (to put it casually), on the day itself.

And although I’ve no doubt I’ve been in company on various 14th Februaries over the past decade and a half, I’ve neither sent nor received cards, nor bought roses nor chocolates for anyone on Valentine’s Day since at least… ooh, February 2006.

Indeed, I’ve neither been romantically involved, nor ‘seen anyone’ at all, for… well, trust me, you don’t want to know how long it’s been. You’d be surprised. (People always think I’m exaggerating when I say that. I’m not. It’s been a very long time.)

I’m sure that should probably bother me tonight more than it does.

I mean, it sometimes does. Sometimes it bites, hard. But not always, not even the majority of the time. And I’m sure that should probably bother me as well.

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


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

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

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

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

And yet… and yet…

We’re weird things, us humans.

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

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

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

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

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

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