I genuinely had a special post planned for today. Honest.

But a couple of things have happened in the past 24 hours and that special post will just have to wait until another occasion.

Because I want to write about those two things. Only two of them, but yeah.

First off, because it would just seem wrong not to put him at the top of the post, Neil Innes died.

Apparently he died yesterday from ‘natural causes’ (from which I take to mean that he died in his sleep), but this one hurts.

It does.

(A couple of weeks ago, I did a post on celebrity deaths and said Victoria Wood’s hurt. So does this one for both similar, and entirely different reasons.)

I didn’t know Neil Innes other than to say ‘hello’ to and occasionally chat to. I’d only met him at The Distraction Club when he played there, but I was fortunate enough to be able to chat to him then, whenever he played the club.

I can’t remember when I first heard an Innes song. I’d imagine it was I’m the Urban Spaceman track that I remember hearing first on the radio, and then when my older brother played it again and again. (Mike was a huge fan, about more of which in a moment.)

But yes, Neil Innes was the songwriter behind The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

of The Rutles,

And of course, via the Rutles, the writer of the best Beatles songs you never heard….

That last video, of course, at The Distraction Club, where I finally, after years of being a fan, managed to say thank you to him and explain just why I’d enjoyed the previous half hour so bloody much.

My brother Mike, as I’ve said before, played the guitar. With more enthusiasm than talent, I’ll be the first to admit, but he played, and entertained his younger brothers with classic songs, and comedy songs, and sometimes new-words-to-classic-tunes. But it was possibly his enthusiastic performance of the Rutles songs and of the Bonzo’s songs that sealed my love as a child of musical comedy.

And, in 2012, after Neil Innes came off stage, me having sung along quietly to every one of the songs he played…

…I got to tell Neil Innes that, as much as the performance itself, as much as the superb entertainment he’d given a packed club, that for a few moments – just for a few – I’d been swamped, drowned in memories of Michael bashing out his songs.

For just a short while, I was utterly consumed by the recollections of my brother.

Friends know that I’m not really one for showing my emotions, especially not to relative strangers. But there I was, struggling to explain just what he’d done, how grateful I was… with burgeoning tears in my eyes.

Neil stood there, listening, and when I’d stumbled through my explanation, he said the best thing he could possibly have said: “Thank you. Thank you for telling me that.”

I wiped a bit of moisture away, and smiled like a fool… and then we talked comedy for another ten minutes before he got called away for someone else to say thank you to him.

I got to chat to him the next time he played the club as headliner, and he remembered, and we chatted some more about comedy, and musical comedy.

A lovely, lovely, funny, clever, warm man.

There are too many people who die not knowing how well or how much enjoyment their work gave to their fans. I’m glad I got to tell Neil Innes how much it and he had given me.

Also, not for nothing, but I’ve seen Mitch Benn onstage, playing, with umpteen headliners at Distraction Club. I’ve never seen my friend so happy doing so, so filled with unremitting glee throughout, as when he played Rutles songs with Neil Innes.

So, thank you Mr Innes. Thank you for all of the above and thank you for

“I’ve suffered for my art; now, it’s your turn.”

The sad news of Neil Innes didn’t exactly break me today, truth be told.

I was broken much earlier; not by any news item but because, man, did I have a crap night’s sleep last night. I’m probably flattering it to call it a ‘night’s’ sleep, because it wasn’t. By my calculations it was about four hours’ sleep, spread over about seven hours in bed.

As previously mentioned in this venue, I often (usually?) watch an hour or two’s MSNBC before heading to bed, and I’ll often (again, usually?) climb into bed around half-one or close to two am. I’ll read for a bit, eventually yawn, then flick on the audiobook, flick off the light, and place my head on the pillow.

I rarely have problems falling asleep, but the Phenergan I’ve taken for some years will often keep me asleep, for a few hours, at least.

Occasionally, they won’t do the job, and I’ll wake up from a nightmare and…

Oh, yeah, the nightmares. They’ve been going on for years, and it’s only with the help of something¹ to keep me doped up that I don’t – as I used to – wake up every hour or so, then fall asleep, then wake up an hour later, then wash, rinse. repeat.

It’s been some years since I shared a bed with anyone even semi-frequently, but I was informed at the time that it’s almost comically ‘someone having a nightmare on a daytime soap opera‘ when I’m having a bad nightmare. It’s not uncommon I’ll wake with a start, barely remembering the bad dream, just knowing that I had one.

It’s rare, however, that I wake up covered in sweat, heart pounding, and remember every bit, every second, of the nightmare. It’s even rarer that it’ll happen again the same night.

Yeah, you can see where this is going, right?

So I headed for bed last night somewhere around half one. I read for a bit; I’m rereading The Brethren, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong’s book about The US Supreme Court. After a bit, I started to yawn, and felt shattered. So I turned on the audiobook for 30 minutes, turned off the light, and quickly fell asleep… around 2:15, I think.

Next thing I know, I’m sitting bolt upright; duvet’s in a mess, my heart pounding like a trip-hammer. I’m soaked through with sweat, the sheet’s damp, if not wet, from it; my foot’s killing me, and I can clearly remember it.

I can remember with crystal clarity being in a courtroom, bound to a stretcher, while my foot is being slowly sawn off; friends were in the gallery, cheering on the surgeon (who’s dressed in lime green scrubs) and there’s a loud grandfather clock in the background…

And now I’m shivering. No idea why, but I am.

I peel myself from the sheet, go and wash my face and towel myself down. Oh, it’s just before 4am, by the way. No point in trying to get straight back to sleep; I mean I need to change the bedding, if nothing else. So I make myself a cuppa, take some painkillers for the foot, watch some telly for 20 minutes, then change the bedding, after which I’m tired again, and try again.

6:20 am. Suddenly I’m awake, face down on the bed, no pillows in sight. Sweaty again, new sheet damp again, heart pounding away. This time it was wild animals (complete with friends’ pets) biting chunks out of me while I’m paralysed, before someone tipped me into a grave and started shovelling earth over me while I was struggling to breathe.

So that was nice.

Why yes, I do sleep alone; why do you ask?

So, yeah, another cuppa, this time a shower rather than a wash, and a second change of bedding; the ‘reserve stuff that’s not as comfortable but there for an emergency’ set.

Eventually I get back to sleep for an hour or so before I wake, feeling like I’ve not slept at all, but not wanting any more sleep.

So, yeah, 2019? Fuck off, will you? Please? Just depart, leave, disappear, go forth and scram. Fuck right off.

Something else… in fact two something elses… tomorrow.


¹for a while it was quetiapine, but docs didn’t want to keep me on it, and eventually we found that 75mg of phenergan does the job, usually.

Housekeeping: Well, we’re really coming to the end of the year and the countdown now, aren’t we?

And, after a couple of years of not blogging, I’m still pretty astonished that I managed to put something up pretty much every day – with only a few ‘days off’ – since 23rd June 2019, when I kicked off my “55 minus…” countdown to my 55th birthday in August.

There were a few mini-runs during the past six months, a couple on Doctor Who, one on antisemitism. Oh, there were a few different ones.

But now we’re at the end. Well, almost.

After today, I’ve two special posts left for the run: one tomorrow, one on Tuesday.

Well, actually, there are two posts coming on Tuesday, but one of them isn’t going to be part of the run, so to speak.

It’ll be this year’s update to the annual A Life In Pictures, and – unusually for me; no idea why – this year I seem to have plenty of pics to me to choose from. Usually, I might have three or four to pick from; this time? A couple of dozen.

Ah well, you’ll see in a couple of days which I choose for the post.


OK, so today. What do you have today?

Well, since Tuesday will be taken up with the aforementioned ‘special’ posts, and tomorrow, I have something equally special but entirely unrelated to Tuesday’s stuff, one more set of Christmas related fast fictions, I think, once again from two friends who always supply much needed help when I want it, but much needed advice when I need it:


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.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years; maybe next year?

For the very final selection from Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, two very different stories, one a bit of fun, one that I didn’t have any idea I was writing until the first words hit the page, and then I knew it intimately; it’s one of the easiest stories I’ve ever written, and yet I never saw it coming .

My thanks once again to Jason and Jamie for the challenges, and the enormous fun I had writing the tales.
 


 

I can’t remember how I first met Jason Arnopp or first discovered his writing; I suspect it had something to do with his career in the SAS psy-warfare division. He’ll deny that, but then of course he would.

I know that he’s a very nice man, with an infectious laugh, who writes stories that will have you curled up behind the sofa, calling for your mummy.
 
 
Title: Hell Comes To Greenland
Word: excruciating
Challenger: Jason Arnopp
Length: 200 words exactly

The rooms were all freshly vacuumed
Fresh flowers on a new silver tray.
After all, one does not skimp on details
When the Devil comes to visit or stay.

Santa had been fretting for hours
Putting all of them under huge strain.
The elves and the reindeer were trying to help
Obeying the commands as they came.

“Paint the staterooms a darker vermillion…
And the paintings should be far more lewd.
And the heating is nowhere near hot enough –
He’ll wonder if we’re being rude.”

And then they all smelled the sulphurous stench
As the carriage appeared right outside;
An excruciating clamour of commotion and noise,
As Satan stepped down from his ride.

They bowed at each other, as custom demanded,
And each smiled three times, as myths do.
Then Santa motioned Satan into his home,
Bade him welcome, whether or not it was true.

The Devil retired early that night,
A night-cap most politely declined.
And the demons and elves and reindeers alike
Spent the evening with each of their kind.

They met again the following morn
Two Nicks: Old and Saint, but it’s moot;
For as always when Santa and Satan confer
It’s regarding a demarcation dispute.

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 

Jamie McKelvie is unfairly talented. No, I mean that; it’s genuinely unfair that someone is so talented, and also so nice.

I was fortunate enough that he drew an illustration for You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly. And while I’d never be lucky enough to have a story drawn by him, if I ever get to write another published comics story again, the best present anyone could give me would be the words “Oh, Jamie McKelvie said he’d do a cover…”

Jamie’s lovely.

You should all read anything he’s drawn.
 
 
Title: The Christmas That Wasn’t
Word: plinth
Challenger: Jamie McKelvie
Length: 200 words exactly

The walk to the front door seemed longer than usual. I stifled a yawn as I pulled out the keys, half blinded by bright August sunlight.

A weariness beyond anything I’d known had come over me, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy. Not for me. Not for her, either. She was still in the car; we didn’t have anything to say to each other now – we’d exhausted all possible conversations over the past hour.

I glanced through the front room’s windows; it was all there. His toys, the letter from the hospital, a small statue of Peter Pan upon a plinth, and the Christmas decorations.

We’d known it was the only way he’d see another Christmas, so we’d planned a party for him. In August.

We’d never hold that party now.

We’d been honest from the start. For a lad not yet eight, he understood what cancer was, what it meant.

A sob caught in my throat as I turned the key. I had to pack it all away now.

A protesting yell from the car. I smiled.

He understood what cancer meant. I wasn’t sure about remission. Maybe I’d buy him a dictionary. In December.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


Something else, something different… 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 after yet another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a groan, a shrug, and a wince, here’s some much needed silliness.

Something a bit different this week; no videos; a couple of other things instead.

Starting with something I came across years ago and – at one point – I had it printed out in Olde English above my desk.

It’s fairly self-explanatory, and I suspect will spark some recognition among anyone who like me thinks one of the essential skills you learn online is to read fluent tyop.

An Owed to the Spelling Checker
I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when aye rime.
Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Be four a veiling checkers
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if were lacks or have a laps,
We wood be maid to wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know faults with in my cite,
Of non am eye a wear.
Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped words fare as hear.
To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud.
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaws are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas.
And why I brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.
—– anon.

And for those who prefer something about pronunciation?

I used to know this by heart, but it’s been a long time since then. Again, it’s anonymous, as far as I know, but worth sticking it here:

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead; it’s said like bed, not bead
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear;
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up – and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!
—– anon.

(Feel free to leave a comment below when your tongue has removed itself from the roof of your mouth and unknotted itself.)
 

This next bit has always amused me; as someone who’s met thorugh their career of friends more than a few ‘household names’, this rang so true. If you ignore the names of those in the piece below (an small piece in the Readers’ Questions and Answers slot in The Times), you could be reading about any two people…

Did Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington ever meet?

The fact that they met probably won’t surprise anyone. How they met and what happened might…

Nelson met the future Duke of Wellington in a room of the Colonial Office, where they were both waiting to see Lord Castlereagh. Nelson had no idea that he was talking with somebody of any reputation or importance, although Wellington recognised Nelson. According to Wellington: “He [Nelson] entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side and all about himself and, in reality, a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me.”

Nelson then left the room for a moment, apparently to find out who exactly he had been speaking with. When he came back, his manner was totally different. Wellington continued: “His charlatan style had quite vanished . . . and certainly for the last half or three quarters of an hour, I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden or complete metamorphosis I never saw.”

And that’s it. No videos this week.

OK, one video, since the latest Star Wars has just been released.

One very silly video.

Enjoy.

‪Darth Vader Feels Blue

See you tomorrow, as we approach the final days of this year, and the final days of this countdown.

When my lad Philip was very young, he enjoyed the animated Spider-Man tv series. Fair enough, lots of people did. But as a young child he had the choice of more than one Spider-Man animated series; he had several.

There was the original 1960s version; also, the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar) one, and – of course – the version that was aimed at him and his generation. However, and the same applies to many who watch Doctor Who, again like many children he had ‘his’ version and the others were… lesser somehow. I mean, he didn’t actively dislike the other versions, but they were definitely not enjoyed anywhere nearly as much. Indeed, they were somehow… wrong.

Flip forward a couple of years to 2004, and the live action Thunderbirds film. I take him to see it, more than aware of his preference for the original. I’m eager to reassure him that even if he doesn’t like the movie… the puppet show is still there for him, he still has them. They’re still there for him.

A couple of hours later, we leave the cinema and sure enough, the words “it doesn’t matter, the puppet show is still there for you…” are spoken.

But it’s Phil saying the words to me.

He’s reassuring me.

Yeah, you can take it that I was less than impressed by the movie. Well, you can take it as soon as you stop mocking me for the above.

Oh, and Phil thoroughly enjoyed the movie, by the way.

I thought of the above both last night, and again today, when watching Evil Under The Sun, in which Peter Ustinov played Hercule Poirot in the classic Agatha Christie story.

I’ve warmed to Ustinov as Poirot over the years. At one point, I wasn’t a fan; while he got the arrogance and self-belief of the character, I couldn’t get past his undoubted lack of physical resemblance to Poirot as very clearly laid out in the books.

But yeah, I’ve mellowed towards the half a dozen movies in which Ustinov portrayed Poirot. They’re fun movies; Ustinov is having a blast playing them, as are the guest stars. I’ve yet to see a better Lady Edgware than Faye Dunaway, and with all due respect to Martin Shaw in Three Act Murder, Tony Curtis gets the role in a way Shaw never quite did. (Arguably, though, Shaw is the only weakness in the Suchet/Poirot Three Act Murder.)

Oh, before I forget, the reason I thought of the ‘multiple versions’ thing yesterday; Brian Blessed came up in conversation, and I remembered his beautiful performance as Augustus in I, CLAVDIVS. The BBC television series is rightly regarded as one of the best things the BBC has ever made, but I also really, really, like the Radio 4 version in which Harriet Walter is at least as good a Livia – perhaps better – as the wonderful Sian Philips is in the tv series. And Jacobi in the role of Augustus is almost as good as Blessed, while playing the role quite, quite differently.

Multiple versions.

Sometimes it’s merely the right actor for the right time. I enjoy Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, more than any other version of the character, but there’s no denying it’s a very different character from how the character was originally written. And thats” very deliberate. Enough of the character to be recognisable, but dispensing with the rest.

For many, Jeremy Brett’s is the best ‘classic’ Sherlock Holmes there’s ever been, and I’d hesitate before ever suggesting that anyone else comes close. However, I’d not hesitate too long, because I think both Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing were superb in the role, and I dearly wish I’d seen some of Vasily Livanov’s Holmes, as I’ve been reliably informed that it rivals Brett’s work in the role.

When it comes to Poirot and Miss Marple, David Suchet and Joan Hickson stand tall for me as the very best, in my opinion… but for their entire work, not for individual episodes.

I’ve seen several versions of Murder On The Orient Express, but Suchet’s version is far, far from the best. I mean, it’s not the worst; Alfred Molina’s ‘brought up to date’ version takes that less than wanted prize. And wow, it’s not only not even close, the rest are on a different continent, if not planet. It’s an abysmal movie.

I haven’t seen the Kenneth Branagh version but I understand it’s… ok.

But the 1974 Albert Finney version? Ah, that’s a masterclass in how to do the story, and it’s almost unique in that while the towering vanity of Poirot is there (most versions include that), the fact that he’s not someone you’d like is to the fore. No, really; often in the Christie stories, someone makes reference to his oddness, and how there’s something offputing about him. Suchet’s version plays that for mild humour quite regularly. Ustinov’s appearances show it as his vanity being… impolite. But Finney’s Poirot lets you into the secret: Poirot may be a superb investigator, but unless you’re a personal friend… you wouldn’t like him in person, not at all. And maybe even if you are a personal friend as well.

Similarly, I’ve seen and heard (on the radio) several versions of A Caribbean Mystery, the Miss Marple story, and with due respect to Joan Hickson and Julia McKenzie, as an enjoyable murder mystery, I much prefer the Helen Hayes version, despite its faults. Hayes made two television movies as Miss Marple and I dearly wish she’d have made more. (Sometimes the common wisdom is best, by the way; Joan Hickson’s The Mirror Crack’d is so superior to any other versions, including the Angela Lansbury version, that no other versions should even be made.)

It’s perfectly proper that classic tales, or just very good stories, are remade, are reinterpreted, for a different time, for a different generation, for a different style or storytelling.

And sometimes, just telling the story in a different way changes the quality of the tale’s telling. I’ve never read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, but I quite liked the movie with Sean Connery and Christian Slater. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent tv series with John Turturro in the role taken by Connery in the movie. The extra length of the miniseries gave the story space to breathe, and any doubts I had… evaporated by the start of episode 5, and disappeared entirely by the end of that episode.

And for every remake that exceeds the original (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is far superior to Bedtime Story, no matter how good the latter was) you have an Alfred Molina Murder On The Orient Express.

Disclaimer at this point: I watched all of the recent War Of The Worlds on the BBC. Hmmm. I didn’t make that mistake with this week’s A Christmas Carol. Which is fine; not every adaptation is for everyone. Both of those, most definitely, were not [made] for me. Maybe I’m too set in my ways, maybe it’s just that they changed too much. Either way, I have my own preferred versions of the stories, and although I’m open to versions I’ve not seen… (I recently saw the 1935 version of A Christmas Carol for the first time, and despite its faults, thoroughly enjoyed it)… no, there are some versions that… that… that… well, they’re not for me.

Huh… maybe this should have been a Ten Things, post… Ten remakes I really like, Ten remakes I really didn’t.

I’ll have a ponder…

Something else tomorrow… the final Saturday Smile of the year.

There are plenty of stories about how Boxing Day got its name. And, as whenever there are conflicting stories and there no one, generally agreed origin, my advice is pick the one you like and stick to it.

And, you know what? Even when there is an agreed tradition, folk etymology takes over as often as not.

Sirloin steak got its name from the French, because the cut of meat is sûr – on top of – the loin. Still, plenty of people prefer the legend that King Henry The Eighth enjoyed his meal so much, he jokingly knighted it.

My favourite one about names of things and reasons for them: almost the only things people know about Jewish weddings are
they take place under a canopy, and
the wedding ceremony ends when a glass is broken by the groom stamping on it, to cries of mazeltov from everyone.

Where did that tradition come from?

The official reason is to remember the destruction of The Temple, so that even in the midst of joy, you remember.

The unofficial reason is that you drink a wedding toast out of the glass, and then destroy the glass so no lesser toast can be drunk from it.

The entirely unofficial reason is that it marks the last time the groom gets to put his foot down over anything.

I like the second one, even though I know it’s not the ‘real’ reason.

Whatever your preferred story for how things happened, why traditions started, enjoy them.

See you tomorrow with, hopefully, something more substantial.

Merry wotsit, everyone.

Whether or not you celebrate, I hope that today has given you a day of peace and some respite from the general not-niceness that’s tended to suffuse this year.

I never really did Christmas; growing up in a Jewish family, it’s really not our thing, and no, since you ask, Chanukah is not “the Jewish Christmas.”

But I was fortunate enough to become friends with Mitch Benn et sa famille and they long ago brought me into their family.

Including Christmas.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys Christmas – all the traditions, the atmosphere, the whole thing – more than Mitch, and over the years – without even trying to – he managed to somehow get me to enjoy it.

I might write more about that at some point, but for the moment, let it suffice that I spent my usual lovely day with them today.

My friends know me well.

And Mitch knows me very well…

See you tomorrow…

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years; maybe next year?

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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.

For the final selection from Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, two stories written for children. Oh, the challenge came from their parents, but each had small children and the stories were written for them.

I don’t often write for children, especially since if I’m going to try, I want the adults reading the stories to their children to enjoy the experience as well.

So, to Henry Leo and Dylan, these were and are for you.

My thanks once again to Matt and Bevis for the challenges, and the enormous fun I had writing the tales.
 


 

Matt Fraction is another friend who I’ve not yet met in person; the curse of only ‘meeting’ people online. I’d love to do so, in part to thank him for the many, many clever, insightful and just plain superb stories of his I’ve enjoyed over the years. Also, of course, to congratulate him on his two wonderful children, for whom this story was really written.

Every person should have several Matt Fraction books on their shelves. Judge your friends harshly if they don’t.

Title: The Wrong Christmas Cookies
Word: apocalypse
Challenger: Matt Fraction
Length: 200 words exactly

Sir Percival Prignose, Baker Supreme
Believed every recipe should contain cream.
He considered his judgement much better than others’.
(So no-one really liked him, not even his brothers.)

In his kitchen itself, he was the leader!
(Do you know how bad he was, dearest reader?)
He’d yell at his colleagues, he’d never stop shouting!
An apocalypse of anger, followed by pouting!

And despite protestations from those far and near,
Who’d brandish complaints at him, he’d merely sneer
And continue his baking as he liked to do;
His cakes always yellow, his tarts always blue

One day Sir Percy was laying about,
Recovering from a very long and loud shout.
When he thought of a new thing that he could now bake –
Something he never had thought he should make.

He wondered and pondered: should he really risk it?
He was thinking of baking… a new Christmas biscuit!
He pondered and wondered, and pondered some more,
He’d never done anything like this before.

However, the insistence of the baker Supreme,
Meant that the cookies contained far too much cream…
So if you ever meet Sir Percy, never mention what happened
(Oh go on then, mention them, and hope you’re not flattened!)

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 

Bevis Musson is a comic book artist and writer whose work just gets better and better. His Dead Queen Detectives is laugh out loud funny, and for once, it’s a reflection of the creator, as his mind conjures ludicrous scenarios for DQD that make perfect sense once you read them. He’s also one of the kindest, gentlest people I know. He and his husband Chris have two delightful boys, Callum and Dylan. (Dylan suggested the title, so this is really written for him. Shhh, don’t tell Bevis.)

Title: Father Christmas Got Stuck
Word: contemplation
Challenger: Bevis Musson
Length: 200 words exactly

The elves were all ready and waiting;
So far, they’d all had good luck.
But none of that mattered, when they started to laugh
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

He’d been practising going down chimneys,
Getting dirty from soot and from muck.
He called out for help, but help came there none…
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The reindeers were there in their manger,
When suddenly they were all struck
By the noise and the row and shouting for “Help!”
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The panic! You wouldn’t believe it.
Everyone running amuck.
Plans were created, then honed and refined
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

His beard was the problem, suggested one elf
If only the hair could be plucked
But that was a rubbish idea, all agreed
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

A heavy weight dropped would just do the trick;
A big elf was ready to chuck!
But Santa would be hurt and it might not work
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

Thinking and contemplation solved the day
They pulled him out using a truck.
But the elves kept on laughing and laughing some more
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Next Tuesday is New Year’s Eve, so not sure whetehr you’ll get fiction or something else.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Christmas… no idea whether I’ll post something or not.

[Oh, before I start, just a reminder about the photos I’ve used in this blog this year. Other than shots I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]

You’d think the subject of this post would have occurred to me during the amount of time I’ve spent on Twitter but no; the rising to the fore of this particular irritation was occasioned by me spending half an hour trying to wrangle a sentence, a bit of dialogue in a short story, into doing what I wanted.

Which it stubbornly refused to do.

For British readers, you have to remember in the next sentence that Americans call them lightning bugs, not – as we sensible Brits call them – fireflies. But Mark Twain once observed that for a writer

“The difference between ‘the right word’ and ‘the wrong word’ is the difference bewteen the lightning and the lightning bug.”

And while any writing I do is attempting to use the lightning rather than the firefly, I’ve spent part of today trying to use exactly the right word. And thinking about the vagaries of language.

For example, why do we listen to something, but merely read something. When I visit my friend’s place off Mainland Scotland, am I in Skye, or ‘on’ the Isle of Skye?

You know what irregular verbs are, right?

They’re when you say something like:

I’m single-minded
You’re determined, whereas
He’s an awkward bastard

Or, to steal from Yes, Prime Minister

I’ve just given an unofficial briefing
You’ve just leaked some information, and
He’s just been charged under section 2(a) of the Official Secrets Act.

What made me think of the above was when I wondered this morning, what’s the difference between “defending your actions” and “being defensive”? Or between “doing yourself down” on the one hand and “being realistic” on the other?

Where is the line between cockiness and arrogance? Or between modesty and faux-modesty. Or, I guess these days, between the brag and the humblebrag?

While some might justifiably argue that cynicism is very different to scepticism, does it matter when the two are [incorrecly] so often used as synonyms of each other?

Is gullibility merely an extreme form of open mindedness? Or are they fundamentally different?

If one is cruel when being scathing, are the two inherently linked? Can one be scathing without being cruel?

And then there’s ‘passionate’. I’ve come to intensively dislike the word, as it’s so often used as an excuse; he didn’t mean to be offensive, he’s just passionate about [insert subject matter], as if that excuses it. of ‘He got carried away and stepped over a line.… but it’s because he’s so passionate.’ Again, offered only ever as an excuse.

Or, of course the biggie… when is ‘it’ a lie?

You might think that everyone agrees: it’s when someone knowingly tells, propagates or invents an untruth, something that is, let’s face it, untrue; a falsehood.

But it’s the ‘knowingly’ that catches you out.

Can you ever know, know for a fact that there was an intention to deceive on the part of the politician you dislike? One might argue that if they’ve been corrected but continue to spread the misinformation, the incorrect statistic, the untrue information, that then they knowingly lie.

But not necessarily. They could disbelief the ‘correct’ information or could believe that the information itself is a lie. They could be fucking stupid. Any or all could happen.

In which case are they still lying?

I don’t know.

I think all you can do is form your own judgment and then act on it.

And for as much as I rail against the horror that is “…and you know it…” in a disagreeable social media post or tweet, I’ve as much faith that it’ll continue as I have in the sun coming up tomorrow.

At some point we need to start talking about how we find sources of information, fact checkers, that everyone can rely on, and everyone can cite, rather than assuming bias because we don’t like them telling us we’re wrong.
 
 
Something else tomorrow…

One of the inevitable consequences, an entirely expected consequence, of my blogging on a pretty much daily basis since June was that I knew that sooner or later I’d likely run out of things to write.

Oh, there’s been the blog entries where I’ve ducked out of the day’s posting, putting up just a

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And a full week of feeling like crap illness where I just put up extra ‘fiction from the vaults’. No one seemed to mind.

But, sometimes, there are unexpected consequences of things happening. Not merely unexpected consequences of decisions you take; the one certainty is that every decision has unexpected consequences, and the best you can hope for is to mitigate for the deleterious consequences that you can foresee.

But I find myself, this afternoon, with a coffee by my side, sitting in front of the iPad screen, thinking about the viccitudes of life; pondering how unanticipated events can throw out of planned complacency not only a day, but a life.

“Events.” Yes, such a small big word.

It was Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, who was reputed to have answered (although he probably never did) the question

“And what do you most fear?”

with

“Events, my dear boy, events.”

But ‘events’ is as good a word as any for those unforecast, unanticipated things that happen which cause all your assumptions to evaporate, change your paradigm, and throw every one of your plans into disarray.

At one end, the huge, massive events – whether on the political stage, or the personal – an unexpected death would do the trick. No matter whether it’s assassination, or accident, or even the final act of a long life, a death changes everything. Not only for those left behind who loved and cared, but others, far beyond the immediate circle.

Take John Smith, the Labour Leader for a short time in the mid-1990s. Had he not died, although I don’t agree he would have won the 1997 election with anywhere close to Tony Blair’s victory, the first Labour government would have been hugely different from that of Blair’s. Different priorities, different policies, different people doing different government jobs.

Take my brother’s death in 1998 – undoubtedly life would have been different had he lived for his family. And, yes, for me.

Or take something far more objectively trivial but subjectively hurts like hell: your car is stolen. Fewer changes in the long term, surely, but think of everything that would happen, that would have to happen, in the next 24 hours, the ensuing week, that’s different just because of that small, little, change in your life and circumstances.

Or your house is broken into; because of that single event, one member of the family has such a reaction that you move home to get away from the scene of the crime. And so many consequences arise from the decision of that burglar on that night on that street.

Or take my then best friend’s wedding, in 1992, and my decision that since I was Best Man at the wedding and likely to be busy all day and evening, and I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time, anyway… to attend said celebrations without a date.

A small decision, with large consequences.

During one dance, (yes, I danced, don’t make a big thing of it) with the bride’s aunt, she mentioned that she’d have to, just have to, set me up on a blind date. She viewed it as fundamentally wrong, almost offencive, that I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and so she took it upon herself to remedy that.

Usually, as friends will confirm, I regard – have always regarded – anyone attempting to meddle in my private life with unadorned scorn and dislike¹. On that evening, suffused with enjoyment for my friends, or because I was enjoying it anyway… For whatever reason, possibly because I thought she was joking, I said ‘yes’… instead of running away from the idea as fast as my then-undamaged feet would carry me.

OK, the first blind date was a disaster. No, seriously, a disaster; the sort of date where, after twenty minutes, you’re both sneaking looks at your watches wondering at what point it’d cease to be an embarrassment to call the evening to a halt. When we did eventually bring an end to the torture, the relief on both our faces as I dropped her back at home – and didn’t go in for the perfunctorily invited coffee – was plainly obvious for the other to see.

And that was supposed to be it; I’d had a blind date, it hadn’t worked out. Except that the lady in question – Marsha – came up with another name and another potential blind date for me. And again, I said yes. And as if the fates were conspiring against me, after we’d arranged it, Marsha’s husband died and the shiva dates covered the proposed meeting.

So we cancelled.

And rearranged.

And, a few days after the date had originally been planned, a week or so after we’d spoken first on the phone, I turned up, knocked on a door, and the woman who I’d only agreed to meet at all because I’d not taken a date to my best friend’s wedding opened the door to me.

Of course it was Laura, the lady who, a couple of years later, did me the singular honour of marrying me.

And because of that small decision (the non-date at Ian’s wedding, not the marrying me), so much has happened to me and in my life.

Obviously, there’s Laura herself, and though we’re no longer a couple, she’s still one of my favourite people on the planet. One of my closest friends, and partly but not wholly because of the life we shared, one of the people who knows me best.

And of course, there’s our son, Philip, now 24 years old.

I can’t imagine having the success I did have in my former life as an accountant, financial controller and financial director without Laura in my life. I can’t imagine my life would have been remotely similar to how it’s turned out. So many unanticipated consequences of a single decision.

And to think, I remember, at one point, early on in the proceedings at Ian’s wedding, thinking “I wish I’d brought a date.”

Who knew, eh?

Who knew?
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…


¹That hasn’t changed, by the way; nor has my ‘single’ status; I’ve been effectively and actually single for most of the fifteen years since the marriage ended, and wholly and completely single for the past decade or so. Not strictly relevant, but it’s nice to ensure there’s no-one thinking they should do something about it.

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 after yet another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a groan, a shrug, and a wince, here’s some much needed silliness.

 

Let’s start this week, with some more Road Runner. Enjoy.

 
 
Have some Gary Delaney, because… well, just because.

 
 
if you’ve not seen this before, from Duck Soup, or even if you have…

 
 
Ronnie Barker, with a poor… thingummy.

 
 
Johns Bird and Fortune; the Investment Banker interview

 
 
Mitch Benn has a message for those of you who, at this time of year, drink at the Bar Humbug…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.,

Two weeks left.

Well, a little under two weeks, I guess.

A little under two weeks.

And then 2019 will finally be over.

Done. Dusted. We can put it to bed. Gently rest its head on a pillow. Cover it with a blanket. Then take another pillow, and carefully, deliberately, smother it. Put it out of its pain and misery. I don’t even think it’ll protest. It’ll welcome that longest sleep, and succumb quickly.

But it’ll be dead.

Except it won’t. Not really.

For the consequences of decisions taken in 2019, and of events that have occurred this year, will linger not only into 2020 but far, far beyond.

The obvious, I guess, since it’s the most recent in pain, hurt and time is the 2019 election we’ve all just… enjoyed. The consequences of that election, both direct and indirect, will affect us throughout 2020, and into 2021 and longer.

In 2015, as part of this blog, I wrote a countdown blog to the election and wrote more than forty entries about the election. I took almost all of 2017 off from blogging, and so didn’t write about that year’s general election. And I hardly wrote anything about this one; the occasional piece, sure. But not a full blown ‘ok, let’s take a look at what the fuck is happening’ series of entries.

Partly because I had nothing to add, partly because what I saw, what I witnessed, was too painful. Partly because I knew I was going to lose friends over the campaign period, and didn’t wish to gratuitously, needlessly, lose more.

Because the campaigns were poisonous on all sides, and the poison infected everyone. I’ve long bemoaned the political climate of ‘our opponents are not merely good people with bad ideas, but bad people with worse ideas’ but it reached its zenith in November and December. Or at least I pray it did. For if it’s going to get even more apparent and greater in scope, then that’s not a country and not a world I’m entirely sure I can handle.

The fallouts from that election on a national, and on a personal, level are still painful. And for once that’s not a netaphor, nor a conceit; it fucking hurts, inside.

And I am so fucking tired.

I shouldn’t have to wonder, every time someone I know, like and respect makes a ‘dodgy’ crack; I shouldn’t have to ask myself every fucking time: “do they realise what they’re saying, how it’s coming across? or did they just go for the quick joke and it’s essentially ignorance, not malice”.

Never before has ‘no candidate/party is perfect, so you vote for the least imperfect‘ clashed so obviously, so blatantly, with the ‘there are lines I cannot and will not cross‘.

So, yeah, I very deliberately didn’t write much about the 2019 election.

Which means, at least, unlike in 2015, I don’t have to write a mea culpa post afterwards about everything I got wrong.

And now we approach 2020.

On a personal level, the start of any new year is always overshadowed by an anniversary that takes place a week and a bit into that new year: the anniversary of my brother’s death in 1998. As I’ve written before, and no doubt will again, the advent of 1998 was the last time, the final time, I greeted 1st January with “well, whatever happens this year, it can’t be worse than this last year.”

Who knew?

But even leaving aside that intensely personal reason for not greeting each new year with unalloyed joy, four weeks into 2020 the UK will leave the European Union. Oh, there’ll be a transition period of almost a year, during which most stuff will stay the same. But unless an extension is sought by July, no extension is gonna happen at the end of 2020.

So there’s every possibility, probability even, that at the end of 2020, the UK is out without a trade deal… after which the brown stuff truly will hit the spinning round whirly thing.

I read today that after 31st January, official British government policy will be to stop using the term ‘Brexit’, presumably so Boris Johnson can claim that ‘Brexit’ was… done.

Our primus inter mendaces knows it’s not true. As does his entire government, his entire party. And saying it, and believing it’s true because it was said, is more often associated with the orange poltroon in the big round room across the Atlantic. But Johnson is banking on enough in the country being gullible enough to believe it. And, given the past few years, who can unreservedly claim that he’s incorrect in that calculation?

All the parties in the recent election, every one of them, relied on a certain amount of gullibility from the people from whom they were seeking votes; all that differed was how much.

Talking of America, and the orange poltroon, we get to see the trial of President Trump at some point. I’ve no idea whether or not the trial will happen in January. And right now, no other bugger does wither. Pelosi seems to want to not send the articles of impeachment the House voted to approve to the Senate until she gets a cast iron guarantee of how the trial will be conducted.

Which, given Mitch McConnell’s fundamental untrustworthiness, may take until after the 2020 Presidential election.

Oh yeah, we’ve got that next year as well. Which will once again show the world’s countries how – whatever their own fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems – America really doesn’t like being second place in the table of countries with fucked up politics and fucked up electoral systems.

Just as it’s irresistible to look at the results of a horrible car crash while you’re driving past it, there’ll be an overwhelming desire to watch both the trial and the election, to witness history in the making.

Because, like it or not, both will be history in the making. They’ll be events that will make pundits and public alike look at, years later, and.. and what? Shudder at? Cry at? Wince at? Who knows.

But history in the making? Certainly.

But then there’s always history in the making.

I was born in mid-August 1964, a few months before America decisively rejected Barry Goldwater’s offer to the American people, and almost exactly nine months after JFK was assassinated and after the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast.

In the now over 55 years I’ve been in this planet, I missed some history being made, sure; I wasn’t even aware of anything outside what directly affected me and mine for the first, what half a dozen or so years of my life, and for the next half a dozen, didn’t care about them. So, President Nixon resigned in 1974, week or so before my 10th birthday.

At ten years of age, I’m not entirely sure I even knew it at the time. It’s possible my father might have mentioned it, and I heard it, but no, I have n memory of it. (I do remember the Beatles breaking up, six years earlier, but only because my aforementioned big brother was terribly upset.)

I honestly don’t know how much I’d have been aware of, though had social media and ubiquitous connection to the internet had been around in the 1970s…

But even if you say from the age of 13 – in mid-1977 – in my life, I’ve witnessed history being made dozens of times. Just off the top of my head, without thinking about it, in my teenage years, Elvis died, as did John Lennon. We had the first woman British Prime Minister, and shortly thereafter the miner’s strike. Soon thereafter, Labour showed how you catastrophically lose a general election, a lesson that took almost forty years to be forgotten enough… to do it again.

In my mid-20s, the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR started to collapse, and Nelson Mandela walked to freedom… and and and…

History is made all the time, and occasionally you realise it at the time, but almost never does it happen in such a way that instantly you know what the consequences will be.

You can guess whether they’ll be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but not much more than that.

And 2020 will bring more deaths; that’s inevitable. There’ll be much loved celebrities who die at the end of a ‘natural’ life span’, and some that go too soon; some that go far, far too soon.

Though, to be fair, there’ll be some who’ll die and my reaction will be… that I’m surprised they were still alive, either because of advancing age or, let’s say if Keith Richards dies, that they managed to last as long as they did.

My mother used to say that things came in threes… and if another thing happened, it wasn’t that things happened in fours, but that it was the start of a whole new series of three.

But you know, you already know, that when something – I don’t know what – but something will happen in the early says of 2020 – happens, plenty of people will cry in protest: “Oh fuck; I was hoping 2019 had ended…”

It did.

It will have.

This will just be the long, lingering smell of shit, like someone dumped a huge barrel of turds across the world in 2019.

Which, I suppose, in every important way… they did.
 
 
Something else, something happier, or at least smilier… tomorrow. And next week? Something on good stuff that happened in 2019, both personal and beyond.

Someone asked, on Twitter, the other day which celebrity death had most affected people who read it.

While there were the usual people offered, and as expected, some interpreted ‘celebrity’ to mean ‘anyone famous’ which wasn’t the original intention, I suspect… what struck me was that almost no-one I saw mentioned anyone from this year.

I mean, plenty of famous people have died this year. Just from my own quick trek through the memories of 2019, the following people all died in the past 12 months:

  • Albert Finney
  • Doris Day
  • Mark Hollis
  • Andre Previn
  • Rutger Hauer
  • Toni Morrison
  • Ian Cognito

But even excluding the people who mentioned the half a century departed Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr (yes, I saw a couple of mentions for both), it wasn’t this year that people mentioned.

It was 2016, particularly the early part of it when it seemed like every other day bought the news of someone famous dying, that brought forth the most common responses I saw. (Which might, I’ll admit, say more about who I follow on Twitter than anything else.)

Because the same two names kept coming up:

David Bowie

and

Prince

Bowie died in January 2016, and Prince three months later.

Now I was upset when Bowie died, mainly but not exclusively because his music had always been a part of my life. But I wasn’t devastated.

I’d always been aware of Bowie’s music and – with rare exceptions – I’d always liked it. but it was never the most important music in my life, nor even a very important part of it. But it was there. And I enjoyed watching him perform. Never saw him live, but always liked his stage performances that I saw on tv, and I’d watch if I noticed a show was on while channel flipping.

Prince, on the other hand? Well, I’d liked some of what he’d done, but not that much. I liked some of his music, but I wasn’t a fan of his work in any way. The occasional song, yes. But not much more than that.

But between them, the day before Prince died, that was the celebrity death that affected me the most. And still does when I think of it.

Because the day before Prince died… Victoria Wood died, and that one hurt. That one hurt so bloody much.

That death broke me. Far more than Bowie’s. Far more than Prince’s. Far more than Robin Williams’ did eighteen months earlier.

I utterly and unreservedly loved Victoria Wood’s work. Not only her musical comedy – though I’ll acknowledge that was the primary source of my enjoyment. But her standup, her writing, her sketch shows with Julie Walters, with Duncan Preston and Celia Imrie and Susie Blake. Damn she was talented, and funny, and clever as hell.

Yeah, that one still hurts.

I’ve no idea whether or not she was on social media, but I don’t think she wasn’t aware of how many people enjoyed her work. Y’see, one of the consequences of social media recording and of distributing public eulogies and thoughts on the departed is the often stated common phrases

“I hope they knew how much they were loved”

and

“I wish I could have told them how much they mattered to me”.

Some of this is self-deluding; I don’t for a moment believe that big stars, very famous people, are unaware how much their work has mattered to people, nor that they haven’t been told as much by many. Not these days. (Whether they believe it is an entirely different mater, but they have been told.)

Because famous people are told that. (As much as they’re – unfortunately – faced with the trolls, the bastards and the shit-stirrers that they’re horrible people.)

There are other deaths that hurt even more, of course: family, friends, family friends. One day they’re there, then suddenly, shockingly suddenly sometimes, they’re not.

And they often don’t know how much they matter, how much they matter to you.

So take a good look at the people you like, the people you love, the people you admire.

In years to come, some of them won’t be there. Some of them, it’s true, will still be around, or at least alive, but you’ll no longer like, love nor admire them; they won’t be part of your life any more, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes the best thing for all concerned is to walk away, with as little bitterness, as little anger, as little regret, as possible. But to walk away.

But some of them? Some of them will have died. Some will have died from old age (unless you’re very uncommon, some of the people you like, love and admire are getting on in years…); some will have fatal accidents, some from illness, some from choice. (And when I say ‘choice’, I’m a firm believer that voluntary euthanasia will be made legal in many countries in the next decade or so; whether you support it or not, what illnesses it includes or not; I think it’s coming.)

And while telling someone how much they – or their achievements – have mattered to you is often as much for your sake as it is for theirs, so what? Tell them anyway; in the same way as the old line about “no one ever dies regretting they didn’t spend more time at work” is at least in part true, no one should ever die thinking thinking that they didn’t matter: family, friends, people who liked them, people who loved them, admirers alike.

Tell them.

Something else tomorrow; maybe another Ten Things.

I’m a huge fan of the Periodic Table.

I’m sure that’s a great comfort to it, as it just celebrated its 150th birthday.

But yes; both in terms of design and functionality, I like it. Its easy to understand, easy to refer to, and just looks… right. And very time I see a notebook with a copy of the table on the cover, just for a moment, just for a moment, I’m tempted to buy it.

I’m sure I knew about its creation when I studied chemistry at O-level (back in the Stone Age, you understand, when GCSEs were called O-levels) but I only really started t appreciate its history and creation when first I came across Bill Bryson’s A Short History Of Nearly Everything, and then a number of BBC FOUR programmes delving into the elements and the table itself.

It’s a fascinating story… which I’m not about to relate to you today. Go look up the astonishing story of Dmitri Mendeleev, and wonder.

You know what I’m talking about, though, yes?

This.

At its simplest:

A more detailed, and more useful, version would be something like…

And something inbetween, which is what I suspect most people think of when they think of the Periodic Table, is something like:

I stress that: what most people think of.

Because – and I have no idea for how long this has been occurring, but for as long as I’ve been online certainly, some people don’t think of the Periodic Table as being for elements. Or at least not only for elements.

Here for example, created by Emil Johansson is the The Periodic Table of Middle Earth Characters

Here, by James Harris is The Periodic Table of Storytelling (Click on the link for a fully linked table)

From Phil Huber (Chief Investment Officer for Huber Financial Advisors) comes The Period Table of Investments

This next one genuinely amuses me, I’ll admit. From Never Settle, The Periodic Table of Dating

Then there are the… ‘let’s jump on the bandwagon’ type. That’s not meant as pejoratively as it sounds. It’s just they’re… I dunno. They don’t work quite as well for me.

Like this one: The Periodic Table of iPad Apps.

OK, to end today with, you knew it was coming. Come on, you knew it, didn’t you?

To start with… yes, to start with.

Tom Lehrer. Told you that you knew it was coming, didn’t I?

Of course, there have been new elements discovered since then… so here’s Helen Arney with an update.

Oh, and just to reward you for sticking with it, here’s Daniel Radcliffe. Yes, that Daniel Radcliffe.

There are some very good apps about the Periodic Table, in various app stores., both free and expensive. On iOS, for basic information and such, I quite like the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Periodic Table app. But the best around, though it’s expensive, is the latest version of Elements by Theodore Gray. Glorious multi-media app, but it’s almost a tenner. I had an earlier version and loved it.
 
 
See you tomorrow with something… else.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years; maybe next year?

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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 stories written for friends from the third Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, in 2014.

Two of my very favourite Christmas stories I wrote. Both very deliberately written for the people who challenged me. Had someone else issued the same challenge, there’s no way I would have written the same story.

The story written for Nick Doody did, I hope, appeal to his wondrous sense of the darkly absurd. And the tale for Antony Johnston… well, he has the glorious and pleasing imagination I gave the curator.

My thanks once again to Nick and Antony for the challenges, and the fun I had writing the tales.
 


 
Nick Doody is one of my favourite writers and stand-up comedians. He’s also – no coincidence – one of the smartest comedians on the circuit. His very intelligent, very funny material makes you think long after you’ve left his shows and he never plays to the lowest common denominator. Nick seems to suggest ‘you’re not as stupid as the politicians try to pretend, so let’s not pretend it either, eh?’.

His Edinburgh shows are always hour long pieces of wonder, and his writing on Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish is part of what made that show so utterly splendid. If you get the opportunity, go see him perform; you won’t be disappointed.

Few people know that Nick Doody hunts the Snark on alternate Fridays, but the Boojum only once a quarter.
 
 
Title: Weaving With Angels’ Hair
Word: frenulum
Challenger: Nick Doody
Length: 200 words exactly

Once, the sight of the three heavenly beings would have caused tears of joy. Were anyone human to see what was left of them, however, weeping of a different sort would commence from hearts broken in sorrow and condolence. The remains of the angels were not pretty to look at, their once proud wings shredded and torn away, heads that had once been covered in glister now ravaged and torn, with dried puddles of ichor in place of coruscation.

Lucifer looked upon the works of his lesser demons and winced; there was no care taken here, no professionalism, just savage butchery.

“Have you anything to say in your wretched defence?” he asked in a deceptively silken tone.

The demons shuffled upon immortal coils, and one held forth a soggy mess of what had once been golden locks, the hair now dull and lifeless. Its fellow incubi and succubi looked on as it presented Lucifer with what appeared to to be a woven basket of some sort, angel feathers protruding at obscene angles, and a dripping frenulum or six.

“Happy Christmas…?” it managed.

Lucifer sighed loudly and with great care; it was going to be a long holiday season this year…

© Lee Barnett, 2014
 


 
Antony Johnston is an intelligent writer, by which I mean that you become more intelligent by reading his books. His works always make you think, and re-readings of his superb opus Wasteland and his sf comic The Fuse make you think even more. His book with Sam Hart – The Coldest City – was adapted into Atomic Blonde for the cinema.

And his graphic novel take on Julius Caesar – Julius – is flat out the best adaptation of the tale I’ve ever read, bar none.

I’ve known Antony for close to two decades now and I don’t think I’ve ever not been impressed by the way his mind works, and how that mind executes the ideas he has.

Antony has seven plans to escape the forthcoming apocalypse, but he only ever talks about three of them.
 
 
Title: This Lion Of Winter
Word: astrolabe
Challenger: Antony Johnston
Length: 200 words exactly

The scotch had barely been poured when the telephone rang, and the curator of the museum smiled and walked briskly to his desk, the heavy glass in his hand. He thumbed the appropriate button and softly asked “Yes?”

“It’s gone, sir. Again!” The distorted, exasperated but anxious voice of his security chief filled the room, and again, the curator smiled. He didn’t need to ask what had gone; indeed, had this particular theft not occurred, it was he who would have felt anxiety.

“OK, George,” he replied. “Same report as usual.”

Minutes later, scotch warming the curator’s chest, the head of security strode in, a large buff file in his outstretched hand.

The astrolabe was old, at least a thousand years old, and every year, every December, it vanished, returning the following day, polished and gleaming. Who would need an astrolabe for twelve hours, everyone asked. Who would even know how to use it properly? No-one admitted what they suspected, or at least hoped.

The curator picked up the photograph and shook his head in admiration. Navigating via astrolabe; that took style.

He raised his glass to the window. “Be safe tonight; happy travels.”

Then he drank, and smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Some more Christmas fiction next week…

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

After the past few days when you’ve had nothing from me.

Well, naybe not ‘nothing’ as in I skipped the days, but nothing containing any real content.

I’m at least feeling more like ‘me’ now, having thrown off all the reactions from the sedative, and I had – for the first time in several days – a decent night’s kip overnight.

Probably more than a decent night’s kip; I woke up this morning feeling like I’d caught up on about a week’s sleep.

So I wanted to give you… something today, something you’d not read before, not a piece of old fiction, say. I prevail upon your good graces quite enough every Tuesday, so nothing of that today.

And I did not want to present another Q&A Livejournal type meme. Oh, the temptation was there, I assure you, but I’ve resisted it. That’s ok, you can thank me another time.

Instead, here’s something about names, specifically mine.

If you were to refer to me while talking to a mutual acquaintance, how would you refer to me? Most people, undoubtedly, would say ‘budgie’. A few would say ‘Lee’. One person or another would say ‘Barnett’. And there’s probably a few, I’ve no doubt, who would insert an obscenity before any of those. And there’s one person who uses a name that – as far as I know – no one else can, or does, use.

Y’see, I’ve been known by several names over my life, in different circumstances.

(And no, I exclude the less flattering epithets used by people who are, justifiably or not, less than delighted with me…)

Those names?

Lee

Yes, obviously, my given name. The name fewer and fewer people call me with each passing year, which is how I like it. But more about that in a moment. In Jewish tradition, well, Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, you name after the deceased. In my case, I was named after my maternal great-grandmother, Leah. My mum’s mum’s mum.

I don’t know much about her, to be honest. To be equally honest, I’ve never been that curious to know, either. Three of my four grandparents came to the UK as toddlers, in the early part of the last century, as their parents escaped from pogroms or state sanctioned antisemitism in the countries in which they were born.

Leah and her family, though? No. Her family had been in the UK for generations. I don’t remember my mum talking about her grandparents that much; maybe she did and I just wasn’t paying attention. More than possible, but I dunno. And since I’ve not been in contact with her or my surviving brother for some years – my choice, I stress – I’m not likely to discover which it is now.

But I never liked ‘Lee’ as a first name. I’d have switched to using a middle name years ago, decades ago… had I the option, but my parents didn’t give either me or my younger brother middle names. I joke that “I don’t have an middle name; my parents couldn’t afford one” but again I’ve no real idea why my older brother got a middle name and I didn’t.

So I was stuck with ‘Lee’. And in the 1970s, for every kid that knew of the actor Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man, there was some wag who knew of the actress Lee Remick.

I’m sure it didn’t occur to my parents the hassle they were landing their kid with, giving him an androgynous name. But I soon learned to dislike the name immensely. I’m not sure that quite captures the dislike, but yeah, it was intense.

Things weren’t improved when I was 12 and received through the post a complimentary package of items that might have been of great help had I been a 12 year old girl and of no use whatsoever to a 12 year old boy. I recall my mother seeing first my excitement at getting a letter addressed to me (it was rare in those days) then my puzzlement at its contents, then my genuine upset at realising what it contained…

…and her then taking the package away, saying something like “its ok, it was obviously a mistake…”

And I soon learned to put a smile on my face every time I received a letter addressed to Miss L Barnett.

So, yeah, I wasn’t sorry when I gained a nickname. Or two.

When I went to Manchester Polytechnic, I genuinely considered just ‘changing my name’, introducing myself with a self-chosen different name, or creating an invented nickname, but I was too nervous to do so, assuming it would merely lead to more mockery when my ‘real’ name was discovered. Fortunately, time took care of the former without leading to the latter. But again, more about that in a moment.

These days, very few people call me “Lee” to my face. My ex-wife, people who live in the same block of flats. Oh, and people who can’t stand nicknames, which I don’t really understand, unless they call our former Prime Ministers James Brown (Gordon’s real first name) and Anthony Blair… what is ‘Tony’ if not a nickname of his choice?

The only advantage my ‘given name’, complete with no middle name, has granted me is… it’s really fast to fill in forms when they ask for your full name. Ten characters, and I’m done.

L E E    B A R N E T T

Which brings me on to…

Barnett

Yeah, my surname. Now, I’m not including anyone who calls me Mr Barnett, like the bank etc., That’s not calling me by that name as much as it is using the standard courteous salutation.

I’m talking of people who called me just… “Barnett”. Since I’ve never been in the armed forces, and I was fortunate enough never to have worked for a company where the standard was surnames only, the only people who’ve called me by my surname were my teachers.

Not all of them, by any means, but some of them yeah. Oddly, I never objected to it, because it was never personal. They were older teachers in the main who called lads by their surnames and girls by “Miss…” followed by their surname.

But yeah, its been more than forty years or so since anyone’s done that.

It won’t surprise anyone with even the faintest knowledge of immigration to this country that the family surname wasn’t originally Barnett. I’m not about to say what it was – apart from anything else, it looks like the final line of an eye chart when typed out – but my paternal great-grandfather chose to change it when he brought his family here; Barnett was apparently the Polish first name of a friend of his from ‘the old country’.

Three more.

The obvious one: Budgie

OK, getting it out of the way immediately: if you don’t know where the name came from, best to read this first and then come back.

That’s ok, honestly.

We’ll wait for you.

Ok, everyone up to speed? Good.

Yeah, no surprise that I prefer this as my name, and indeed, if anyone asks how they should introduce me to new people, I always – well, nearly always – prefer and pick this one.

I guess to a large extent, it’s because not only do I think of myself as Budgie rather than as Lee, but Budgie‘s someone I created. Not the first time, maybe, but I chose to use the name from the mid-90s, and he’s a much more relaxed person in company than Lee ever was.

And as for the ubiquity of its use, while I was used to people having me in their phone’s contact app as ‘Lee (budgie) Barnett‘, I was delighted some time ago to discover that more than a few have me in there as ‘Budgie (Lee) Barnett‘. I much prefer that.

So, yes, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you want to call me ‘Lee’, go ahead, I’m not going to correct you. But if you want to be courteous and bear my own wishes in mind, I’d prefer ‘budgie’, every time. Thanks.

Yehuda ben Abram Shmuel

OK, one you’re probably not used to seeing, and that might need a bit of explanation. If you’re Jewish, you have a hebrew name as well as an ‘English’ one. Unless you use the former as the latter. But your hebrew name is of the format ‘[child’s name] son/daughter of [parent’s name]’

It’s used for religious purposes; when you’re called up in synagogue, for your bar or bat mitzvah. It’s used when you’re married, or divorced. Or on your headstone when you’re buried.

And, often though not always, that’s also the ‘named after the departed’ bit.

In my case, my parents chose Lee as the ‘naming after’ bit for me, not the ‘Yehudah’ bit. (My late older brother, though, was named Michael and Meyer, after our dad’s dad, who himself was Michael and Meyer.) My father’s forenames were Arnold Sidney, the Hebrew was Avram Shmuel, hence my own name being my own forename [son of] his forenames.

Very logical language, Hebrew.

OK, the last one. And there’s only one person on the planet who uses it. By now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Dad

I’ve only one child, a 24 year old son named Philip, who I’ve called Phil from the day he was born. (I instantly knew he was a ‘Phil’ rather than the formal ‘Phil’. How I knew that? I have no idea. But I did. At once.).

He’s great. No, seriously, nothing I could say about him that would add to that. He’s lovely. OK, maybe one or two things. But he is. And after the usual ‘Daddy’ stage, he’s been calling me ‘Dad’ since then. (And of course, as parents throughout history have discovered, when they revert to a multi-syllable ‘Daddeeeeeeee?’ at the start of a phone all, it’s usually because they ‘want something’.)

I kind of like being called Dad.

(His girlfriends have never quite known whether to go with ‘Lee’ or ‘Budgie’ when talking to or about me. It’s more amusing to me than it probably should be that they go back and forth on which to use.)

Anyway, names… now you know mine.
 
 
The usual Tuesday ‘something else’ tomorrow.

2020 minus 17: …

Posted: 15 December 2019 in 2020 minus

After the past few days, both because of the election – and its aftermath – and because of my unavailability yesterday, I wish I had something substantial for you today.

But… I don’t. Not really.

I’m still recovering from yesterday, from the past few days. I’m still trying to understand what happened on Thursday, beyond the blatantly obvious.

I’ll probably write on both before the week is out, by the way.

See you then.

No need for anyone to worry, but I’m unavailable today, having a small rather unpleasant procedure in hospital.

Should be back tomorrow.

2020 minus 19: I [still] got nothing

Posted: 13 December 2019 in 2020 minus
Tags:

Yeah…

I mean…

What…?

I wish I could blame my lack of anything sensible to write and/or say on purely the election results. As I said yesterday, I’ll probably have something to write on it after the weekend.

But I can’t. Well, not entirely. Thanks to an early present from someone who knows me very well, I cracked open a bottle of single malt at 10pm as the exit poll was released and drank steadily through until I fell asleep about 4:15 this morning.

And I was up at half-seven. So I’m tired. And irritable.

I stayed off Twitter last night; well, stayed off tweeting at least, merely reading the takes from people, and answering a couple of direct questions. But other than that, no.

So between the lack of sleep, last night’s scotch and just feeling so, so pissed off…

…I still got nothing.

So, here are some more cute videos.

[There should be a Saturday Smile tomorrow but fair warning, there might not be. Theres a good possibility I’ll be… unavailable… to blog anything tomorrow, so if there’s nothing, ah well, I think is the only appropriate response.]

Here are some cute kittens

Don’t like kittens? Here are some cute puppies

No? How about a baby echidna?

Still no?

OK, here’s a baby laughing at ripping paper.

See you tomorrow, maybe.

2020 minus 20: I got nothing

Posted: 12 December 2019 in 2020 minus
Tags:

No idea what to write today.

Genuinely.

No point blogging about the election today; I won’t change anyone’s mind now. And it’s too early to write anything about the campaign.

I mean, I try to keep this blog mainly all-ages, but I can’t think of a way to write anything else about the campaigns without using not only my monthly quota of swear words in one post, but everyone else’s as well.

Maybe I’ll write something on the election after it’s over. In fact, I’d say it’s probably a certainly that I’ll write something about both the election, the campaigns, and the aftermath… at some point. Maybe next week.

Maybe I’ll write about the joy of being Jewish and being told to vote for a party and a Prime Minister that 87% of us consider antisemitic. Maybe I’ll write something about being told that even IF I myself think a party is antisemitic, being told by someone who knows I think that that I should vote for them.

Maybe.

Today, though? I’ve got nothing.

Fuck it. Here’s a cute video of babies laughing.

Something else tomorrow… probably.

 
 
 
 

Exactly 20 years ago today, I was looking forward to a holiday, a special one.

I’d recently started working at the company I was to spend the next twelve years working for, was enjoying it hugely, but we hadn’t been ‘away’ as a family for a proper holiday for some years, and I was very much looking forward to it.

My then-, but now ex-, wife Laura and I were taking our then four year old son to Anaheim, to Disneyland, immediately after Christmas.

And I’m thinking of that holiday today. Specifically, I’m thinking of a few minutes before midnight, before 1st January 2000. Just a few minutes before, you understand, and you’ll appreciate why in just a minute or two.

So, 31st December 1999.

As I say, we were in Anaheim. We’d already been to the park earlier in the week but we’d been told that greeting the new year in Disneyland was something special. We’d also been advised to get to the park early that morning, as it would be jam packed most of the day, and especially by the evening; indeed, it was.

We spent the day doing rides, walking around, enjoying our son’s sheer unfettered delight at the park; repeated rides on things like It’s A Small World, trying to capture forever the joy on his face at the prospect of doing this, then that, then this, than that… then that again, and this again… It was lovely, genuinely.

I can’t swear that Disneyland is always, as the slogan has it, The Happiest Place On Earth, but for our lad, that day? Yeah, it applied.

Utterly exhausted, Phil fell asleep in the stroller around half-past seven, and slept for most of the next four hours.

By half-ten at night, the darkness lit only by the million lights or so of the park, we were in our final positions, a good view of the fireworks to come.

And we were just waiting… waiting… waiting.

An hour later, with thirty minutes to go before everything went nuts, we miraculously saw people we knew, people staying at the same hotel as us, and we caught up with them. 

Packed like sardines, the warmth of the crowd uncomfortably increasing, seeing the forced smiles of Disney people slipping momentarily before being plastered back on, the time clicked away. Phil was awake by now, surprised by the crowds, wanting to be lifted up. The adults? We were tired.

Sure, we were excited about the forthcoming celebrations, the fireworks that we knew would be spectacular, the start of the year 2000, the fact that we were there, five and a half thousand miles from home… but we were tired, hot, crowded…

About ten minutes before midnight, I remember saying to one of my companions, “Thirty minutes to go… Thirty minutes to go…” 

Puzzled, he glanced up at the giant clock, then looked back at me. “Thirty minutes?”

“Thirty minutes…” I repeated, “…until we can get out of here…”

I’ve been feeling the same about this general election for the past couple of days.

I almost entitled titled this blog post “#ThisFuckingElection“, the hashtag I’ve used more than once on Twitter.

No one is, can be, unaware of my views on the leaders of the two main parties standing for election tomorrow. I’ve written of my views on Corbyn more than once, and named Johnson primus inter mendaces when he became Tory leader and Prime Minister. Neither of them are fit for the office they’re likely to have after tomorrow. Neither of them are fit to be leaders of great parties, let alone Prime Minister.

Now during the election campaign, everyone’s had to draw their own ‘lines’. And no matter where they’ve drawn that line, they’ve received grief for it, justified grief or not,

(‘Justified’ in my own opinion, of course.)

Before the election campaigns started, I wrote in a post:
 

It’s a mug’s game making predictions about elections. Only a fool would do it. And only an idiot would make predictions this early.

Let’s make some predictions this early.

 
And, surprisingly to me, only one of those predictions (including the final, ‘extra’, one) didn’t pan out, hasn’t come true.

This one:
 

Prediction Eight: I’m going to miss a typo at sometime in the next six weeks and I’ll type “I’m really not looking forward to the result of this erection.”

 
So, yeah, if one was going to be wrong, I’m content it was that one.

However, as I say, everyone’s drawn their own lines. And everyone’s had to judge for themselves when those lines have been crossed. I predicted in 2017 that I was likely to lose friends during that year’s election campaign. As it was, I didn’t. I’m not quite sure how, but I didn’t.

This time, I made the same prediction, with a very different result. I’ve lost friends, I’ve terminated friendships, during this fucking election and the campaigns leading up to it. And when I say the friendships have been ended, I should have added the word ‘irrevocably’.

I wish I felt worse about it. I wish I felt sad about it. Because I don’t. I don’t feel bad about those – some of them decades’ long – friendships ending. At all.

Everyone’s had to draw their own lines.

Still at least it’ll all be over tomorrow at 10pm.

I’ve loathed this election more than any other, unlike any other, in my lifetime. I’ve detested the campaigns, on all sides, and those who’ve supported various positions, parties and policies, while ignoring… certain other matters.

I wish, however, that what I wrote above was accurate: that it’ll be over in approximately 30 hours.

Because it won’t be. That’s the final gift this election, and the associated campaigns, have for us. And what a shitty gift it is.

Because whereas this election and its campaigns have made me look at some people differently, people I’ll never look at the same way again, will never fully trust, not when it comes to my safety….

…those same people will never look the same way at me again, will never truly trust me.

And whatever happens tomorrow, whoever manages to form a government, that’ll continue. That’s the legacy of this fucking election.

If Corbyn loses, the blame game will commence five minutes’ later and leaving aside the ever-present excuse of ‘Labour lost because they weren’t left wing enough’ (which is always offered), there’ll be plenty who will blame Teh Jooz. Oh, they might say ‘zionists’, but they mean Jooz.

There’ll be plenty of others they’ll blame as well: the media, ‘centrists’, Blairites, and any candidate who wasn’t labour. Oh, and the voters.

But yeah, Teh Jooz will be blamed for Corbyn losing. I won’t say ‘their fair share of blame’ even for flowing language, because it won’t be ‘fair’. Antisemitism never is fair.

It’s why I’ve been saying that I’ve been looking forward to 19th December. Not the 13th, the day after the election, but the 19th. Because, hopefully, if we’re lucky, the worst of the ‘blame Teh Jooz’ will have died down by then.

If we’re lucky.

Yeah, but how lucky have we been so far the past few years, eh?

No matter who you’re voting for tomorrow, vote. I think it’s important to vote, and you’ll get no ‘[my side] voters vote tomorrow; [the other lot] voters vote on Friday’. It’s tiresome and annoying. And never funny.

Vote tomorrow.

Something less hurty tomorrow.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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 stories written for friends from the second Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

Two very different stories await you; two very different stories for two very different writers. One of the stories below is quite absurd, one quite sad. I leave it to you to decide which is which. My thanks once again to Sarah and Simon for the challenges and the fun I had writing the tales.


The past few years have been fun for the many fans of Sarah Pinborough’s writing, including me. Glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let go until you’ve found out… what happens next. And her tales stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly.

I like her (and her writing) a lot.

It is not well known that Sarah once solved 16 Soduko puzzles simultaneously while blindfolded.

Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, It fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Si Spurrier is a writer of extraordinary talent with a viciously funny talent for plotting stories and then executing those plots. I use ‘executing’ advisedly, as his writing identifies any sacred cows you might have, then takes them out back and uses a bolt gun on them. And smiles while doing so.

I’ve known the man for more than a decade and I never cease to be grateful for it.

It’s a little known fact, by the way, that Si is short for Sin Wave.

Title: Every Word Is Wrong
Word: except
Challenger: Si Spurrier
Length: 200 words exactly

Once a year, Santa rises from a months’ long sleep, and walks to an desk that was ancient when he first commenced his duties. He sits at the desk, then dips a plain quill pen formed from the feather of a long extinct species of hen into a bottle of pure raven ink.

And then Santa writes a letter. And into that letter, the legendary jolly good-natured fellow pours out venom and bile, anger and bitterness, begging to be released from his responsibilities, analysing in forensic detail why he should not be obliged to continue his rounds across the planet known as Earth.

When he has finished, he places the letter face down and leaves the room, returning immediately. And always, always, there remains only a white card, upon which is the single word CONTINUE.

Santa Clause never swears. Never. Ever. Except when he reads the card.

Then Santa launches his sleigh over a world covered in white, a uniformity blanketing continents, what were once countries, and the blistered remains of cities.

Santa spends the day in his craft, his tears freezing against his thick beard, listening to the sound of radiation laden winds, desperate once again for sleep.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

About ten years ago, there was a big fuss about MPs’ expenses.

You may have read about it.

At the time, while there was righteous fury at the dishonesty and flagrancy of many expense claims, no one was arguing – well, no one other than the MPs who were caught making absolutely ludicrous expense claims – that MPs should receive no expenses.

Or if they were, they were idiots.

Oh, before I go on with this, I’m not talking about claimimg 50p for a pencil, say. Or a pound for a padlock, to take another example. Both of which I recall people throwing up their hands in horror at.

The size of the individual expense is, to a large extent, irrelevant as to its necessity or otherwise, both cheap and expensive. If they’re justified expenses, being exclusively and necessary to do the job, they’re justified.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a pound spent or a hundred pounds. And anyone who says “oh, they shouldn’t claim for anything less than a pound”, then all that would guarantee is more expensive alternatives being bought instead.

Anyway, back to the concept of expenses. Those arguing for a ‘no expenses; a flat salary, end of story’ regime are equally daft. It would have immediate and deleterious consequences for MPs representing constituencies outside London. It would penalise an MP with a constituency in, say, Glasgow.

Easy to say an MP who lives in London shouldn’t get travel expenses… in most of London, there’s a decent tube system and decent bus service, but an MP from Aberdeen? Or from Cardiff? Or even from Manchester?

They’re supposed to pay for travel to and from Westminster out of the same salary that a London MP gets?

No, of course not; they should get essential travel expenses paid for as part of the job.

Similarly, since the only non-government MP who gets more money is the Leader of The Opposition, it’s a bit daft to say that no MPs should get expenses to pay for staff.

Or, again, consider the difference between that MP from Glasgow and an MP from Camden. Perfectly reasonable to say to the latter ‘you don’t need accommodation paid by the state… you either rent or own your property in London already…’

Not so sensible to say that to the Glasgow MP. Much fairer to provide accommodation for MPs than expect them to commute shlap back and forth every day.

That said… that said…

Note what I said: “Much fairer to provide accommodation

There are 650 MPs. Knock off the half a dozen or so who get grace and favour accommodation provided. PM, Chancellor, Foreign Sec, Speaker…

But yeah, 650, say.

So, rather than MPs getting to pick their accommodation, and furniture and fittings, etc., and then bilk bill the taxpayer, why not provide accommodation?

Seriously… why doesn’t the state provide accommodation for MPs?

Either buy or build a few blocks of flats, totalling roughly 650 flats. Pretty basic three bedroom flats. (Otherwise it’s unfair to MPs with kids.) Nice flats, not crappy ones, but standard, basic, all pretty much the same. And all within walking distance to the Palace of Westminster.

Obviously, the buildings and all flats therein to be wheelchair accessible; completely accessible for disabled MPs, come to that.

And then each flat belongs to ‘the MP for [constituency]’. Start by drawing lots to determine which constituency gets which flat (otherwise, you’d end up, no doubt, with mates of the leaders getting ‘the best’ flats). But once drawn… that’s it.

You’re the MP for Luton South? OK, you’re in flat 23. You’re the MP for Glasgow East? Cool; you’re in flat 287. You’re the MP for Cardiff? You’re in flat 49.

The flats provided to MPs will be furnished with – again good, but not top of the range – furniture and fittings, computers, etc.

The only exception I’d make for ‘top of the range’ would be broadband; I do think it’s fair that our elected representatives get better than decent internet.

Anything more that they want, though… they pay for.

If they want to upgrade the furniture, or other tech, they pay for it themselves. And pay for the storage for the stuff they’re not going to use. And they’re billed to put the stuff back in the flat when they leave, whether from choice or because they lose at an election.

Security would be provided throughout; again, I think that’s [sadly] sensible, these days.

But yeah, MPs need somewhere to live in London; I just don’t see why they get to choose where while they do the job… and why if they do, we have to fund it.

If they want us to pay for it, then we get to pick it.
 


 
I’ve deliberately not mentioned thus far what you do with MPs who already own property in London, whether or not they’re MPs who represent London constituencies. Well, they can either hand it over to a property agent to manage while they live in the flat provided… or they can live at their own property, and choose to merely use the flat as a place to crash after a late night in Parliament, or a place to hold meetings in, if they want. Either’s good by me.

But we don’t pay for their mortgage on their home. If they want to be MPs, they can pay for their personal mortgage out of their MPs pay, or from the rentals.

 
 
The usual Tuesday ‘something else’ tomorrow.

Couple of months ago, I wrote in a post:

Chess / Backgammon
For the past few years, it’s been backgammon every time. I do prefer it as a game, and I’ve enjoyed Chess less over the years but that’s wholly laziness on my part. I haven’t played chess regularly for years, and when I do play, I don’t treat it with the seriousness in which the game should be played. It’s been far too long since I knew he was I was doing on a chess board. I play it with a ‘well, let’s see’ attitude which always seems disrespectful to the game, somehow.

 
I used to play chess, though; a lot.

Never competitively, you understand. Not in formal competitions; I was never on the chess club’s team.

I was never on any team repressing the school at anything. Though I was on the fencing team at Sixth Form, which still surprises the hell out of me, and everyone else, decades later.

But even when I played in the school’s chess club, I was never that good at it. I could play, and play well enough, but not that well enough. I was good enough to win more games than I lost playing my brothers, and my father. But Dad played chess, and enjoyed it, only as a way to pass the time.

I’d say that he enjoyed playing chess in the same way as others might enjoy reading a book, though since he was a voracious reader as well, that’s maybe not the best analogy.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to write that he enjoyed chess the same way as someone else might enjoy taking a long walk on a spring day. One of those days where the sun’s shining, and there’s just enough of a breeze to blow across your face… when you take a walk for the sheer pleasure of doing so, with no real aim in mind. I mean, I’m sure he actually enjoyed winning at chess on occasion, but that was never his real aim when he played. It was a way of passing time until he did something else.

And, when he played with his sons, a way of spending time with his children, playing chess, solving the problems of the world, including several problems the world didn’t know it had.

Maybe that attitude, growing up seeing that attitude to chess, didn’t exactly help my own game. I know I should have found chess more interesting, but I never¹ really did. I mean, I wanted to win, sure, but losing never¹ bothered me that much, and I never¹ found how I lost to be of that much interest.

(¹not entirely fair to say ‘never’; I remember a short period in my very early teens when I was utterly and completely fascinated by it all. It didn’t last.)

Whereas pretty much every chess player I know, who enjoys, who really enjoys, chess,… they’re fascinated by every part of it, not only who wins, but how they win, how they set up the win, how – if they lose – how they lost, what mistakes they made, how – eight moves before, they made an error which gave their opponent the game.

I sometimes wish I cared as much about it as they do.

But the rot set in for me when I discovered backgammon.

My uncle, my mum’s brother, played it, played it for money, and introduced my older brother and I to the game. Though, I hasten to add, he stressed never to play for money unless you were sure you knew what you were doing. To be fair to my uncle, he held that view about all gambling: not that he was against it – he was an inveterate gambler on horse racing – but that far too many people gambled from ignorance, both of their own abilities, and those of others.

I’m not sure what about backgammon attracted me, but there’s no doubt that I enjoyed it from the very first time I played, and that’s an enjoyment that’s lasted forty-odd years (ok, forty very odd years) since then.

And although I’ve always had both wooden chess and backgammon sets wherever I’ve lived, it’s the backgammon I’ve played more the past couple of decades.

In fact, thinking about it, the only time I’ve played chess since probably… 2000?… has been when children of friends have been learning and have asked me to play, when they’ve discovered the game.

In full disclosure, in the interests of transparency, I should acknowledge that it’s not actually that difficult to beat most pre-teenage kids when they’re new to the game. And with equally full disclosure, the pleasure they get from winning – even if you ‘let them win’ – hugely dwarfs any discomfort at being beaten by a 10 year old.

But backgammon? Ah, that I can play for pleasure, for money, or play as a way of passing the time, or even merely to teach someone to play.

I’ve heard it said that chess is an easy game to play, and a difficult game to play well. The same applies to backgammon, though it’s less said of it.

And, yes, while I know few people who play chess for money, I’ve known several who play backgammon for stakes, and only play it for money.

I’ve only rarely done so, and only then for pennies. Although, since ‘doubling’ can take a game to 64 times the original stake, pennies is as far as I’m ever willing to play for.

At one time, back in the days of day jobs, I carried a small backgammon set in my bag, and I offered to teach anyone who wanted to learn. A couple for friends took me up on it, and I’d meet them for lunch every few days: teach them the first hour, refresh on the second… and thereafter we’d play a couple of games whenever we met for lunch.

It’s been a while since I’ve played regularly, and for no obvious reason, I’ve started wanting to play again.

There are, of course, some decent back gain apps; I’ve got one on the iPad and iPhone, but it’s never the same. Unless you’re learning, and don’t mind being beaten again and again while you try to improve your play.

But backgammon should always be played with friends, or played for enjoyment, whether or not there are stakes, whether or not you’re in a pub, or a home, or a casino.

It’s a game, and that should be remembered.

Something else tomorrow. Something on politics; no not about the election, though I may write something about that on Wednesday. But something about being an MP that should change. And change soon.

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 after yet another week when the only sensible reaction to the news is to answer Twitter’s ‘What’s happening?‘ with a groan, a shrug, and a wince, here’s some much needed silliness.

 

Let’s start this week, with the glory that is What’s Opera, Doc? If you haven’t seen this, you’re in for a treat. If you have, then you know what a treat it is. Enjoy.

 
 
Have some Stewart Francis being daft, just because why not…?

 
 
And here’s some Milton Jones, at the same veune

 
 
Ever ordered a large round of drinks? Yeah, me as well. Ronnie Barker shows us how it’s done.

 
 
Sir Humphrey explains to his minister The Five Standard Excuses in Yes, Minsitsr

 
 
Mitch Benn lays out the rules about celebrating Christmas before December.

 
 
But it is December now…

 
 
See you tomorrow, with something else.,

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a Ten Things, and it’s been a very weird week, for lots of reasons, so here’s a Ten Things.

And again, same caveat as always: I’m not sayin these are the best ever musicals. They’re not even necessarily my favourote ever musicals all the time, just ten that immediately sprang to mind when starting this post. They’re just ten musicals I enjoy seeing on stage, and watching and rewatching

Oh, and I can guarantee you’ll disagree. There are a couple of musicals you’ll ask yourselves ‘how the hell could he not include this one, or that one?’

Answer’s simple: either I don’t enjoy it, or I didn’t think of it.

But, for example, no West Side Story. That’s not in the list because I don’t like the musical. Nor’s Grease, though I quite like it. But I’ve seen it so many times, yeah, quite happy not to see it again for a very long time. And no Iesus Christ, Superstar, even though I like the musical a lot. I was in the show at school, and yes I was that bad. But it just didnt make the cut

Oh, and as always, no particular order.

And there’s one at the end you’d be astonished if it wasn’t there… thing is, I’ve never considered it a ‘musical’ as such. But I couldn’t leave it out. Apart from anything else, Mitch Benn would never forgive me.


OK, time to start.

Fiddler On The Roof
OK, a small lie to start with. This was obviously always going to be first. It’s the first one I think of whenever I think of a musical I enjoy. Lord knows how many times I’ve seen this on stage or watched the movie. And there’s an additional reason why it’s special to me.

When Laura and I were married, on a Sunday, we didn’t actually fly off on honeymoon until the Tuesday, so on the Monday, we took our parents to see Fiddler On The Roof at the London Palladium. Topol was Tevye, and it was fun, and funny, and wonderful, as you’d expect, but after the show, I’d arranged for our parents to meet him. And I’ve never seen my mum or Laura’s so completely star struck. So, yeah.

But apart from that, it’s a fantastic musical strong story, great acting in the movie, wonderfully catchy songs, and yeah, the subject material may be a bit rough at times, but yeah, love the show and I’ve rarely seen a bad version of it.

(The stories the musical was based on also reminds me of the only time my father ever warned me off a book. ‘You’re too young’, he warned me when I, as a teenager, wanted to read it. I ignored him and read some English translations since the originals were written in Yiddish. I couldn’t understand why everyone enjoyed them. Where was the fun? The cleverness. The sly observations of everyday life? A few decades later I reread them and then I understood. I had been too young, too immature, to appreciate the writings. Now, I enjoyed them, now I had a bit of life experience.)

 


 
Oliver!
I’m sure there’s someone British over the age of 30 who hasn’t seen this, but I struggle to understand how. For years, it was a staple of the Christmas and Easter tv schedule. And it’s a great muscial; classic tale, amended more than a bit from the original novel. What? You thought Ron Moody’s Fagin was a clever rogue in the book? Boy, have you got a surprise coming. But spot perfect casting, glorious songs, and the enthusiasm of the performances always make this worth a viewing.


 


 
Guys and Dolls
Years ago, I finally managed to get ahold of the Damon Runyon tales that the musical is based on. And they’re fantastic. But you have to work at them, to understand the dialects and characters. The stage musical and movie of Guys and Dolls goes out of its way to make the story and the characters more accessible but somehow doesn’t lose the zest, the excitement and the fact that these are not, for the most part, very nice people. But they are people of their time, and the muscial captures that time and place beautifully. And, as with other songs on the list, they’re catchy, smart, with wonderfully clever lyrics. If you can get past Brando’s ‘singing’, the movie’s ok. My personal favourite cast however was the 1980s London cast: Bob Hoskins, Julie Covington, Julia MacKenzie and Ian Charleson as a superb Sky Masterson.

It’s a tale of gamblers in New York in the 1950s, the women they love, and who love them.


 


 
Singin’ In The Rain
You know, if I hadn’t watched this really recently, I’m not sure I’d have remembered how much I enjoy this musical. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, accompanied by the wonderful, the sheer delight that is Jean Hagan turn this fault light tale of Hollywood moving from silent movies to talkies into a gem with extraordinary set pieces.

I watched it a few months back with the children of friends of mine who’d never seen it. And then I watched it again a month later just for the pleasure of doing so.

I recommend it without hesitation.

And how Donald O’Connor wasnt given a special one time Oscar for this scene alone is beyond me…


 


 
Les Miserables
Yeah, ok, some musicals should definitely stay on the stage because you’re always going to fuck up something when you film them. This is a prime example. I’ve never managed to make it through the movie all the way through. But the stage musical? My heavens it’s wonderful. And sweeps you away for a few hours. The lyrics are great, yeah, but it’s the music that completely grabs you, holds you, hugs you close and envelops you.

It’s glorious. How good an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel it is, I don’t have a clue. Never read the book. But as a piece of theatre? Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.


 


 
My Fair Lady
My heavens, they hit paydirt with this one. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn are magnificent as the leads, although Marnie Nixon does Hepburn’s singing. And then secondary leads are spectacular as well, particularly Wilfred Hyde-White and especially Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s father.

Have to say though, that I for a long time agrees with those who’ve said they ruined the ending when they filmed it, and should have left it with the same ending the play it’s based on – Pygmalion – used. I’m less sure of that now, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate both endings.

Genuinely could have used any of half a dozen different songs for the video for this one, and in fact did swap in and our three or four before landing on this one for its cleverness and just how it’s shot.


 


Blood Brothers
Willy Russell’s only musical, and damn it’s a good one. It’s never been made into a movie, as far as I know, which is a pity because with the right cast, it’d be magnificent. But I’ve seen it several times on stage, and maybe I’ve just been lucky but I’ve never seen a bad cast do it.

The idea? Two children separated at birth have very different lives, meet up as school children, then again as teenagers, and as adults. It’s a story of sacrifice, what parents sacrifice for children, the story of the two children, and of the girl who loves them.

Not a laugh a minute – though there are laughs a plenty, and extraordinarily catchy tunes. And you’ll not be able to think of the name Marilyn Monroe or Miss Jones the same way again.


 


 
The Rocky Horror [Picture] Show
There aren’t that many musicals where watching the stage show is unquestionably a different experience, a qualitatively different experience, to watching the movie.

Now, yes, ok, I’ll acknowledge that sitting in a theatre for a live performance is always a qualitatively different experience to watching a movie. But that’s not what I mean. Rewatching Rocky Horror as a movie, you know exactly what’s going to happen. Second by second, line by line, beat by beat.

That’s never, as in not ever, the case when you see it live. Oh, the songs will be the same, the lines as well. But there’s something extra, something special about seeing it live.

And yes, there’s audience participation in the movie. There is. Trust me on that one. But even that is prepared. Most, if not all, of the audience knows what’s happening every step of the way, and have prepared for it.

Again, not the case when you’re seeing it live. Because you have no idea what the actors will get the audience to do. And you’ve no real idea what you’ll do, when carried away by the energy, the fun, the sheer joy in the room.

But the movie’s pretty great anyway. You should watch that. But go see Rocky Horror live if you ever get the opportunity.


 


OK, we’re up to eight.

Two more.

One that you’ve probably never heard of but is one of my all time favourite musicals.

The other, if you’ve not heard of it, you don’t know me.

So…

A Slice of Saturday Night
Yeah, this is the one you’ve probably never heard of. I discovered it almost by accident about thirty years ago and I absolutely love it.

Set in the 1960s, at a dance club, the cast are seven 17 years olds out for a Saturday night, and the club owner. That’s it.

What’s it about? Best way to sum it up is: it’s about falling in love on Saturday night… every Saturday night.

Almost all the songs are homages to classic 1960s hits; close enough so you know the song they’re homaging, far away enough from the original that the songs work in and of themselves.

It’s glorious. Clever lyrics, wonderful tunes, and with the right cast, it’s an evening of sheer joy.

Yeah, with the right cast.

A long time ago, while in a discussion about ‘end of life’, I was asked if I’d ever seen anyone die. My reply was “Yes, Dennis Waterman in A Slice of Saturday Night”. It wasn’t only his fault. The show needs to be in a small theatre. It’s an intimate piece. Seeing it with 800 others, the show lost its charm, and its cleverness.

But yes, if you ever get the chance to see A Slice Of Saturday Night in a small-ish theatre, go and have fun.

Been unable to find a decent video from the show, but here’s a song from the London cast that I saw… on Saturday chat….


 


 
OK, the one that Mitch would never forgive me if I left off, and I wouldnt recognise me had I done so.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds
Oh, come on, not a surprise surely…?

It’s a musical that needs no introduction, so it’s not getting one. Just enjoy.

What?

Oh, ok, then…


 
See you for the usual tomorrow.

One guaranted reaction these days to someone tweeting or blogging, or even putting on Facebook, something they overheard is the inevitable
 

“it didnt happen!”

 
or
 

never happened!

 
There are twitter accounts devoted to claims that this thing being reported, or that anecdote, didn’t happen, never happened, that it was being tweeted for the retweets, or to get notoriety, or just to get some exposure.

Now I’m sure that some of them didn’t happen. Let’s get that out there.

I mean, whenever I see someone report something that, purely by coincidence I’m sure was entirely a justification for, or an example of, a previously expressed political view, I’m… sceptical, I’ll acknowledge.

Say… someone who loves the idea of Brexit, and has frequently complained that it’s taking too long…. says they overheard someone complaining that ‘they just won’t let it happen, the politicians should just get on with it! It’s taking too long’?

Yeah, I’m not wholly and immediately convinced that the report is strictly accurate.

Or, say, someone who loathes the current benefits system excitedly tweeting that they “heard people on the train saying how horrible it is…

Again, not necessarily true. Could be. Might be. Might not be.

Or, say, something even less… heartwarming.

Say someone thinks all the reports of antisemitism inside Labour are smears, reporting they heard people at a coffee shop saying exactly the same thing. Or someone who thinks it doesn’t matter that Boris Johnson lies as easy as he breathes, saying that in the street they hear loads of people saying exactly the same.

Somehow, I’m able to withhold my immediate and complete acceptance that they’re repeating nothing but the unfettered truth.

Someone exaggerating on Twitter? Perish the very thought.

But all of these types of reportage are trying to suggest, are extrapolating to propose, that ‘the public’ think the same as they do. That the conversation they overheard was representative of a vast swell of public opinion.

That’s not what I want to write about today. Hell, that’s not what I want to write about any day.

No, what bugs me is the pissing all over the other type of ‘overheard…’

The silly. The funny. The odd. The bizarre.

Because what I don’t understand is people claiming ‘it didn’t happen’ when it’s not political, it’s just… odd, or funny. Or silly.

Because people, individually and in small groups, are odd and funny and silly.

And if you spend a lot of time in coffee shops, as I have, you do overhear people, as they tend to forget that others in the place can hear them.

And occasionally I, like others, will tweet an overheard bit that’s weird, silly, or just funny out of context. Not a whole conversation; a line or two. Because it’s fun. Not identifying the people in any way, not livetweeting an entire conversation, or the break up of couple. The odd line.

Taking a quick look through my blogs and tweets, here are some of my favourites.

I’ll put it in the diary
Just popped down to the car and overheard the following from two people walking past:
Person 1: You’re not serious?
Person 2: What? I’m just saying if Jesus was born on Christmas Day and died at Easter, then Christmas should come at the start of the year and Easter should come at the end…


 
Yes, that’ll work
On the Picadilly Line
“OK, but if anyone asks what you’re doing with a body, tell them you’re making a movie…”


 
Wait, what?
A selection of comments overheard from a group of what I presumed were either PR people or party organisers, sorting out a new Year’s Eve Party for a client.

“OK, well New Year’s Eve, we’ve got the fetish party thing. Who’s arranging for the cleaning afterwards?”

“Well, if we kill the project, do we have to kill the project originator as well?”

“Yes, I know sex sells, but who’d buy her?”

“Do we have to use green jelly? Can’t we use red for a change?”

“What do they mean when they say they weren’t happy with the ‘yuk factor’? Do they want more or less?”

And my favourite from that session:

“Well, tell her to go fuck herself. Oh, no you can’t, can you? She’s your mother…”


 
Mothers
Two weeks later; same coffee shop. Sitting on the next table to me were three people: a grandmother, mother and daughter, given the frequent exasperated mutters of “mother!” coming from the three of them, anyway.

Then the youngest fairly shouts out “I don’t believe it! I swear, it’s like living in a bloody soap opera being related to you two! I need a cigarette…”

And she walks towards the door very huffily.

And the two older women look very sheepish before the presumed mother says to her mother, “You just had to tell her, didn’t you?” only to get a ‘hard stare’ in return…


 
Einsteinian
Overheard on bus:
Person 1: …and that’s why time is relative.
Person 2: Yeah but the bus was late.


 
Always tell the truth
At the next table outside a coffee shop, young mum with small children.
Small boy: you’re lying!
Small girl: No, I’m not!
Boy: You’re lying!
Mum: Don’t accuse your sister of lying…
Girl: There was a dinosaur in the road


 
Coffee!
Again, outside a coffee shop, young mum with young child
Child: You can have coffee, why can’t I? Why? Why?
Parent: Yes, because right now, I need you more excitable.
Child. Yes! You do!


 
But this, this is probably my all time favourite:

Two women sitting on the table next to me:
Woman 1: I’m really sorry about last night.
Woman 2: That’s ok.
Woman 1: I just didn’t realise how late it was.
Woman 2: I told you, it’s ok.
Woman 1: But if I’d have known you were in bed with him, I wouldn’t have phoned.
Woman 2: Seriously, we didn’t mind.
Woman 1: Are you sure?
Woman 2: Yes. If anyone can call him late at night, it’s you. I mean, he is your husband…

erm, yes.

The ‘didn’t happen’ lot lead very anodyne lives, ignorant of silliness. And that’s very, very sad.
 
 
Anyway, something else tomorrow.

Of course, that title should continue “…a Londoner.” And, in a post I wrote in June, it did end that way. Kind of.

Short entry today; just some thoughts on London. Noodling, as James Burke calls it.

Because I’m not one, not a native Londoner, I mean. I wasn’t born in London.

I was born in Luton, Bedfordshire. Born in the Luton & Dunstable Hospital, so I’m told. But as you’d expect, I don’t remember much about the experience. Luton, as they say, might be a great pace to come from, but my experience is that it’s a lousy place to go back to.

Both parents were Londoners, though; my mum was born in Stoke Newington, and my father was a cockney. A proper one, ‘born within the the sound of Bow Bells’, and all that.

And yes there were some phrases my old man used that were straight out of a ‘how to talk like a cockney‘ handbook.

I grew up hearing something that wasn’t quite the done thing described as ‘bang out of order’ and hearing a suit described as a ‘whistle’¹, and feet as ‘plates’².

¹ whistle and flute = suit
² plates of meat = feet

That wasn’t the language and dialect my parents used when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were saying, by the way. My parents and grandparents – my mum’s parents anyway; never knew my father’s – used Yiddish. Not a lot, but enough so we didn’t know what they were talking about.

And, before they realised I could spell, they spelled out words. A family story is that at one point, they wanted me to go to bed before a specific television programme was on. And my mother spelled it out… only for me to vigorously protest because I wanted to watch that programme.

After that, though, it was Yiddish all the way when they didn’t want one of us kids knowing…

But I’ve lived in London since I was 21; in Barnet for most of it, in Richmond – well, Ham, really – for four years, and, for the past almost three years, in Abbey Road.

I like the Abbey Road area. It’s close enough to.… well, pretty much everything I want. Fifteen minutes from central london by bus, half an hour if I walk. And, despite the foot, I do often walk. Similarly, ten minutes from Kilburn by bus, half an hour from Golders Green, or Brent Cross; a bit longer to North Finchley, where I usually meet up with my ex-wife for a coffee and catchup.

But as I’ve mentioned before, central London is a place I really like walking around. Every street has ghosts, both the impersonal – events that happened at this place or not, in a long and not always distinguished history – and the personal; places I worked, places I met people, places that remind me of people I loved, and people I cared for, and people I disliked intensely.

And places at which I spent evenings drinking with all three of them.

I walk past coffee shops at which I spent what seems now an incredible amount of time; one shop was my regular ‘have a coffee before work’ for the best part of 12 years. Another was the coffee shop that everyone knew and so we met there for a coffee.

Yet another was down a little alleyway around the corner from work, and no one from work knew about it so if I wanted to guarantee I’d never see anyone I knew…

Nowadays, I have different coffee shops I go to; it’s not the same. I’ve changed, the times of the day I visit are different, and there’s nowhere I go frequently enough where I could ask ‘the usual, please’

London’s a great place to get lost in. And I don’t mean geographically, Well, not solely, anyway.

I read something a while back about the difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve rarely read anything on the difference with which I agreed. (Notable exception for Stephen’s Fry’s masterly piece on the difference.) But this one stressedthe differences, and I agreed with them.

Because I’m both, on occasion, but prefer the former to the latter.

I live alone, and I spend most of my time alone, in my own company. It’s rare that I like spending time in others’ company, or subjecting others to my company, and even rarer for me for actively welcome it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

But then I realise, as I realised long ago: it’s not other people who are the issue, but other people who I know. Lots of other people who I don’t know? That’s different. and with vanishingly small exceptions, that’s what I find preferable.

And other than perhaps at 4 in the morning, when you might be the only person, or only one or two, in the all night place, in London, with its coffee shops, cafes, anywhere… you’re not going to be alone. Not quite.

You’ll be, or at least I will be, surrounded by people, none of who give the faintest toss about me, my problems, my company. And it’s reciprocated; trust me, it is.

I saw, online a couple of weeks ago, a suggestion to approach people sitting alone, and strike up a conversation. I’m not sure what it says that I greeted the idea, the very concept with unremitting and unending horror.

London’s a great place to get lost. It’s equally good as somewhere where you can lose yourself, if you want to.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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.

Two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

It’s hard writing a story for a writer. It’s hard writing stories for friends. Imagine how much harder it was for me to write stories for Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn. Both writers. Both friends.

Here are the results.
 


 
Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.
 
 
Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

 
Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.
 
 

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost twenty years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for a decade or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.
 
 
Title: The Impossible Box
Word: saturnalia
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

 
The sun had set on Christmas Day hours ago, but she had merely noted it as a sign that her time was running out. Later, her brain had filled with plans, schemes and plots. And an hour after that, they’d all evaporated into the what might have been.

She’d been walking for hours, consciously blocking out the sounds of revelry from every house she’d passed, each one a veritable saturnalia of festivities and laughter.

At midnight, she opened the door to her apartment, and poured two stiff drinks, set out a mince pie. He liked traditions.

And then he was there, holding out The Box to her.

She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but then she always did.

Once it had been too difficult for her. Once she’d had no support, no relief.

And then he’d offered: one day a year without it. One day a year of freedom. His Christmas present to someone who once had been a very naughty girl. “Professional courtesy,” he’d called it.

Now, with a tender kiss on her cheek, he was gone.

Pandora lifted The Box, determined not to cry.

And she didn’t. Not straight away. She didn’t start weeping until February.
 
 
© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.
 
 
Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

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

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

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

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

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

OK, so…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much money is in your wallet?
Fifteen pounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morally? Whose morals?

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

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

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

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

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

At all.

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

The tribal nature of supporting a team is beyond me.

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

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

From frustration? Last week.

From pain? yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the last thing you drank?
Coffee.

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

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

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

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

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

I genuinely hope someone says that about me one day.

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

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

Did so, in pain? Yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

Where does the rainbow end?
Midgard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No ifs, no appeals, just… out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe everything has a purpose?
Absolutely not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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