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.