Posts Tagged ‘2017 minus’

2017 minus 01: A green light

Posted: 31 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, personal
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As I write this, it’s about eight hours until 1st January 2017. And, right about now, people are either making or reviewing lists of potential new year resolutions, and then removing items until they’re left with a couple they think they can keep.

I’ve never gone in for the whole ‘new year resolutions’ thing; I’m not sure why, especially since I spent a chunk of my life making To Do lists at work and taking inordinate joy in crossing off the items one by one. 

But new year resolutions? No. Not since I was a kid and maybe not even then; the memories blur with some things until I’m not sure what actually happened, and what I think might have happened.

(And no, it’s not the “it’s just an arbitrary noting of the calendar, and even the calendar is arbitrary” concept that stops me. Oddly, I’ve noticed that people who do say that seem to have no problem accepting birthday presents. And for my mind, you don’t get to celebrate your birthday, or someone else’s birthday, or even the annual commemoration of a death but then also moan about other people making a fuss about one specific day like New Year or Christmas. Not without being even more a hypocrite than we all are in our daily lives.)

I think with me it’s more that while I’m ok with self-imposed deadlines and time pressures, I am – these days – less eager to subject myself voluntarily to other people’s deadlines.

But people make all sorts of new year resolutions. Like saying they’re giving up drinking alcohol. Or that they’re going to lose weight.

Or that they’re going to stop smoking. 

As long as anyone I’m still in contact with has known me, I’ve been a smoker. I started around age 18 and notwithstanding a couple of half-hearted attempts, I’ve smoked pretty much ever since. And, given the above, it won’t surprise you in the least that I’m not about to give up smoking in about 8 hours.

To be honest, there’d not be much of point since I stopped smoking about a month ago, on 1st December 2016. Well, half an hour before 1st December 2016 to be precise. But the decision was made even longer ago, about six weeks before that.

In early October. While in Liverpool.

As I say, I’ve tried giving up smoking before; the last semi-serious attempt was about four years ago. I went ‘cold turkey’ with an e-cig… for a few weeks, and I hated every minute of it. I told everyone at the time that I was stopping, announced it on social media , made a big fuss of it; I thought that peer pressure would help me if I wavered, would keep me off the smokes and oh, I pretended I was ok with it, but close friends knew I loathed giving them up and it didn’t surprise anyone when I returned to the Silk Cut. For whatever reason*, it didn’t work. 

(*Qute possibly, it was that I didn’t actually want to stop smoking.)

OK, skip forward to early October 2016; I was travelling to Liverpool for the funeral of a close friend’s father. I picked up an e-Lites Curv, more out of curiosity than anything else (though I’m open to the argument that I’m post-event rationalising a desire to give up.)  I thought I’d try it out for 24 hours and see. Within 24 hours, I’d come up with a plan that I hoped would work. It was basically this: figure out what didn’t work last time and don’t do that.

So, for once, I was sensible, and set myself weekly targets: I’d continue to smoke, just cutting down the amount of time every day I smoked cigarettes and slowly, day by day, increase the amount of time I used the ecig. The aim was to cease smoking around the house – not in it but even around it – by November 11th, and to stop smoking, to smoke my last cigarette… the night of 30th November 2016.

And so it was.

And so it turned out to be.

Around 11:20pm on 30th November, I walked back to the house, lit my last cigarette, smoked it, stubbed it out as I got near rhe house… and haven’t smoked a cigarette since. A few people knew, and I told a few more over the past month, but I didn’t make A Thing of it for several reasons:

  • Who knew if I’d manage a few days, let alone longer?
  • I didn’t want to tell anyone until I’d gotten over the cravings for a cigarette
  • If I did ‘fall off the wagon’, I could easily self-excuse it if no-one knew, and I could restart the following day, if I wanted.

Well, now it’s been a month, pretty much, and not once during that time have I missed smoking. Not once.

Oh, I’ve missed some of the habits around smoking. Over the years, friends who’ve given up have told me they miss putting the cigarette out. With me, it’s been the opposite: I’ve missed lighting a cigarette. Well, I’ve missed lighting lots of them, but that’s starting to fade now, I’ll admit, as I’ve delevoped new habits, like changing the battery and swapping over a new ‘butt’. And checking the green glow to see if it’s blinking and if the battery needs changing…

Am I an ex-smoker? I honestly don’t know. I don’t feel like an ex-smoker, to be honest. I still feel like I’m taking a break, and merely waiting for the inevitable craving to hit me; there’s a part of me that is convinced I’ll succumb to the temptation. 

But I’ve been waiting for the craving to hit me and it hasn’t. At all.

But yeah, I’m not smoking at the moment, and haven’t been for a month… haven’t been for almost half the time I’ve been writing this series of ‘countdown to 2017’ entries.

So, that’s something.


Thanks for sticking with me throughout this countdown to 2017. I hope I’ve not bored you too much. Not sure if there’ll be an entry tomorrow but there’ll probably be something new on the 2nd.

Happy new year, people, however you celebrate it.

Originally, when starting this run of blog entries, I intended this entry – what’s turned out to today’s anyway – to be the last one in the series. 

For two reasons, that’s not the case. 

Firstly, and most importantly: as plans stand, I’m going to do what I did after the 2015 general election countdown: keep it going for a bit after the event has ended. I’m not sure for how long I’m going to continue daily blogging, although for various reasons, none of which I’m going to go into here, I think it’s been good for me to get back into the habit of writing something for public consumption on a more or less daily basis. (I say ‘more or less’ because of course, I’ve cheated throughout this run; there’ve been old fiction, and the Saturday Smile entries to give me a break every few days.)

Secondly, and less importantly when it comes to why I’m writing this entry today not tomorrow, on the last of the “2017 minus…” entries, tomorrow’s being saved for something special, something I’ve been hinting at on my Twitter feed occasionally…

and

…and which only a few people know about so far. So, that’ll give you something to look forward to, nu?

What else is there for today?

Well, some more about what’s planned for this place once the close turns midnight in about fifteen hours. 

For the first ten days or so, I’ll probably use the “2017 Day xx” format; seems sensible given the previous few dozen entries and it’ll keep me posting daily. Having that daily countdown, or at least a numerical reminder, was a definite aide to ensuring I posted something every day. I’ve no real plans on what to write about in 2017; if anything springs to mind, let me know? 

There’s nothing I can add regarding 2016 now that others haven’t written about with more skill and knowledge. Maybe later, maybe in 2017 when I can look back and say “that’s when it happened, that’s the important moment above all.” Thing is, at the moment, I don’t think that can be said. We can’t even say what was the point at which the Brexit vote was lost (or won, depending on your view). Nor is there any agreement regarding what was the crucial element was that lost former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the White House. I mean, I don’t think any other democrat would have done better; come to that, I don’t think Bernie Sanders (only nominally a Demcorat at best) would have come close. But no, even there, there’s no broad agreement what single cost her the election.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the lesson of 2016: things aren’t simple, things aren’t one thing or the other. Everything, everything, is a confluence of multiple events. There’s no single reason why anything happens. Everything has to be placed in context, and nothing and no-one exists in a vacuum, shorn of other people and events.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc rarely applies in life, at least that’s not the only reason. But if we greet 2017 in any way, it should be that, Ockham’s Razor notwithstanding, simple answers are not inherently good because of their simplicity; they’re just simple. And complex problems require complex solutions. There’s no shame in admitting “I don’t know”; I’d be grateful if politcians and leaders admitted “I don’t know…” a bit more often… as long as it’s followed, of course, with “…but I’m going to learn.”

Thanks for sticking with me thus far.

See you tomorrow, for that announcement. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

The more I think about the Voter ID laws proposed for the UK, the angrier I get.

I use the word “angrier” quite deliberately. This isn’t something that ‘upsets’ me, nor that ‘disappoints’ me. No, it angers me. It angers for me for several reasons that I’ll get to in a moment after a nauseatingly sweet story from more than a decade ago, from April 2004 to be precise, that I related once upon a time in another blog when it happened, but it’s too good not to repeat now.

So, April 2004, I’m reading The Times, and Philip – not even 9 years of age – is reading the headlines, getting me to help him with any hard words. Back then, I was determined that he’d have a decent vocabulary growing up, so we’d regularly read the front page of The Times together. On this particular occasion, he picks up on the story that the then Home Secretary was trying to get ID cards introduced, at first on a voluntary basis, but to be made compulsory in the next ten years or so. 

He’s mildly interested in this story even at 8 years old because he’s just got his first formal ID card: a library ticket with his name and his signature on it (!) He’s very proud of that, and I am as well.

So Philip asks a couple of intelligent questions about why ID is needed at all, and then we play a game about what ID he knows I already have. And then, after having examined my driving licence, he asks why it has a photograph on it. The following conversation takes place:

Philip: But even if you have a photograph, someone can still pretend to be you.
Me: Yes, but a photograph makes it more difficult.
Philip: But if someone really really wanted to, they could still pretend to be you, even with a photograph.
Me: You mean, someone would choose to be as ugly as me?

There’s a slight pause before:

Philip: Yes, you’re right Dad. No one would choose to look like you.

At which point I’m coming to the conclusion that they made a mistake when they stopped us parents sending them up chimneys.

But back to the government’s proposal, which have garnered some publicity the past couple of days since they announced them. Basically, what they’re planning is to trial the Voter ID system for the 2018 council elections (at the 18 councils identified as most open to electoral fraud), and then – if all goes well – introduce it nationwide for the 2020 general election. The piece in that link makes it clear that it’s already been introduced in Northern Ireland and it would be remiss of me not to say that a) I was entirely unaware of that and b) I had no idea how it’s working in practice.

That said, Stephen Bush of The New Statesman has written a piece on Facebook giving his views, and I’m struggling to find anything to object to in it; I’d go further: I don’t disagree with a word of it. If it was on the NS‘s site, I’d just link but since it’s Facebook, here’s the entire piece. It’s short, but worth reading.

The government’s plan to pilot the use of photo ID to cut down on electoral fraud has many on the left worried that the proposal is actually a ruse to decrease the number of Labour voters who are eligible to vote. Are they right?
The first thing to note is that while there is a very small number of electoral malpractice cases – fewer than 100 – some of which count as an electoral fraud, they involve matters unrelated to the wrong people voting at polling stations. The most frequent crime is putting false signatures on nomination papers, after that breaking expenses rules, and lastly making false claims about other candidates.

The most recent high-profile cases of electoral fraud involved false claims about a candidate (Labour’s Phil Woolas against his Liberal Democrat opponent in 2010), postal vote fraud (Birmingham, 2004) and bribery and spiritual influence (Lutfur Rahman, 2014).

In none of the cases would a stronger ID requirement have detected or prevented the crime.
Of course, some people will say “but what about the criminals we don’t catch?” The difficulty there is it is hard to see where this fraud is taking place. In all those cases, the result itself was a sign something was up. If someone is rigging results, they are doing so in a way that produces outcomes entirely in keeping with national swing and demographic behaviour. Other than the thrill of the chase, it’s not clear why someone would do this.

What we do know from the one part of the United Kingdom that has voter registration – Northern Ireland – is that it makes it harder for poorer people to vote as they are less likely to have the required ID. That’s why after their pilot (back in 2002) they introduced a free ID card.

There is, however, a strong argument that elections need to command a high level of public legitimacy, making the case for ID stronger. But there is a wide suite of measures the government could bring in alongside this change that would achieve that while lessening the impact of having an ID. They could, for instance, make it so you are automatically enrolled when you pay council tax, a water bill, a heating bill or any other charge that comes with a fixed abode. They could roll out a free photo ID for elections.

But as they are doing neither, it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

As I say, I can’t find anything to disagree with in there. The main point – that this is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist – is made. But the final bit is what makes me angry though, takes me from upset to anger: it feels fair to say that at best the government is relaxed about making it harder for supporters of its opponents to vote and at worst is actively seeking to do so.

It does feel fair to say that; in fact, it feels unfair to look at it any other way. The government has seen how Voter ID laws have been used in the US, to restrict poorer voters from going to the polls and have thought “ooh, that’s a good idea, let’s try that here…”

Two things jump out at me regarding the proposal; well, one thing jumps out and then a consequence that I think is inevitable. But first let me say that I, as an individual, don’t have any huge problem with carrying identification. I already carry around several pieces of ID from choice, from my bank cards, to various forms of ID, including my driving license. And on occasion, when it’s been required, I’ve been more than ok with showing my passport as identification. That’s me. And if it was a purely voluntary identification scheme, with a guarantee that it wouldn’t be made compulsory, I’d sign up for a Voter ID in a heartbeat, as I would with any identification scheme.

But that’s the problem: it wouldn’t remain voluntary. For a start, any compulsory identification scheme should be free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage. If the government wants voters to have identification, it should, amend must, supply that identifation, free of charge. (Yes, I know it’s not ‘free of charge’; taxpayers pay for it, but I’m quite ok with that. That’s why I said “free of charge to the user at the time of issue and usage”.)

Not only would it not remain free to the user – no government is going to pass up the opportunity to charge cardholders for it, and even the cost of a tenner would raise several hundred million pounds – but the UK government – every UK government – has wanted to introduce ID cards for decades. This would be the first step into making identification cards compulsory for everything; it’s a very short walk from voter ID to prescriptions to claiming benefits to… what? You’d have to show your ID when applying for jobs? For exchanging properties? For renting? 

I’m often disappointed in the UK’s government actions; more often I’m upset by them. This proposal angers and disgusts me. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

The last bit of fiction for you in this run…

As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


EMPTY CHAIRS AT EMPTY PLACES

“Epsilon Theta Radiation.”

The words hung in the air for a long moment before the short, squat man sat at the desk swore, eloquently but softly. The captain rubbed his hand over his face. He was tired, too tired, but he lifted his eyes from the image on his desk to the man wearing the lieutenant’s uniform.

“How bad?” he asked the slim man, standing to attention before his desk.

“Bad enough to affect the best camera we had on board,” the lieutenant replied. “We tried scanning with different filters but there’s so many different strains in the air that… Well, that’s the best we could do.”

The captain glanced at the ship’s chronometer. The dial was orange. The poison even reached out into space, edging its way through the ships protection. An hour and the colour would be pink, and they’d have to leave. Three hours after that and it’d turn red. And they’d all be dead, whether they knew it or not.

“No survivors?” he asked, disappointed at himself for asking the question. If there had been, his crew would have told him.

“None,” the lieutenant confirmed. The captain listened for any contempt in the younger man’s voice and was mildly surprised to find none.

“What did you do with the bodies?”

“There weren’t any,” came the reply from the third man in the room, a lean saturnine faced man, sitting on a chair to the side, and suddenly the captain was wide awake. He stood and came around from behind the desk, staring down at his subordinate.

“Say that again, Commander,” he demanded, then repeated it before the other man could say a word.

“There weren’t any bodies, captain,” the man said, allowing just a trace of excitement into his voice. “Not just there, but anywhere. Not a single body on the planet.”

The captain turned and gripped his lieutenant’s arm. “Are you sure, man? Are you absolutely sure?”

The lieutenant struggled to keep his face impassive, somehow won the battle, and with a voice of stone, reported that his team had scanned, scoured and searched for eighty-six hours and they had detected not a single sentient life form on the planet.

The captain returned to his seat, and fell into it, his brow suddenly covered in sweat.

“They did it”, he whispered. “They finally did it. Those bastards in the science department finally came up with the perfect weapon – to eliminate all life forms, all traces of life forms and yet leave infrastructure untouched.”

He wiped his brow.

“How long before we can scrub the radiation and the planet can support life?”

“With the new anti-rad treatments?” the commander spoke aloud, leaning forward, his face crumpled in thought. “About fifty years.”

“Acceptable,” rapped out the captain, now all business. “Convey my compliments to the science department, Commander. Let Fleet Command know of the success and start transmitting the paperwork around the other ships.”

He smiled for the first time in months, and took another look at the static image on his desk.

Blue water, eh? He wondered briefly whether that was an effect of the radiation bombardment and whether the indigenous population had also been blue; he’d not bothered to check them out before ordering the attack.

He dismissed the other two officers and leaned back in his chair, his eyes straying again to the out of focus image.

Fifty years? Hell, maybe he’d retire here; it looked like such a nice place, after all.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow… 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 07: Christmas Day

Posted: 25 December 2016 in 2017 minus
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Well, yes, it’s Christmas Day, and while I’ve deliberately not kept an eye on the stats for this seventy-five day countdown thing I’ve been running, I’m pretty sure that this entry will be among the lowest read. Quite understandable, of course; anyone likely to be reading this is almost certainly doing other things for most of the day: they’ll be with family, or out, or at friends, or on their own… point is that whatever they’re doing, catching up with this blog isn’t likely to be foremost on their minds.

Which means I can do anything. I can write anything, knowing that it’s not likely to be read.

Hmm.

Thing is, I have that freedom anyway. Not – I hope – for the same reasons as just stated, but because it’s my blog. I can write fiction, or express ideas, or just fill an day’s entry with repetitions of ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY, if I didn’t mind stealing from a Mr Torrance of the Overlook Hotel. 

But since you’ve been so nice and stuck with me so far…






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Merry Christmas, everyone…

And here we are. One day before Christmas, eight days before the end of the year…

So something special today, as it’s Christmas Eve.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – in six parts. The original, never bettered.





Jean Luc Picard gets into the holiday spirit

Most people have a classic as their first single ever bought. Mine? It was RentaSanta by Chris Hill.

And, finally, Tom Lehrer’s A Christmas Carol
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Tomorrow is Christmas; enjoy it as much as you can. There’ll be something here if you’re interested, but no worries if you’re not. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 11: Things past

Posted: 21 December 2016 in 2017 minus, life, politics
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While jumpstarting my brain writing today’s going cheep, a few things jumped into what I’m pleased to call my mind: things that were so obviously part of my if-not-daily-then-definitely-weekly life that no longer even peripherally impact me.This isn’t going to be a ‘things were better in the old days’; most often, they weren’t, and besides that’s the second most boring of these type of posts. (The most boring, of course, is that things are always better now‘.)

So, here are three…

Screen Savers Whenever happened to screen savers? Yes, I know they’re no longer ‘necessary’, but they persisted for quite some time after they ceased to be necessary. Then, in a quite astonishingly short space of time, they just stopped being a thing. Screen savers, for those younger readers, were A Thing. Not only A Thing, but A Thing about which you had to think quite seriously about. When someone saw your computer (never as many people as you thought might see it, by the way, sorry to demolish your ego), it was important for some reason or other that you had the right screen saver. Whether it was the flying toasters, or the never ending pipe work, or just a star field, you’d spend minutes – when it should have been seconds – choosing which of the screen savers you’d have on your screen. And – and this is true, I swear – if you were limited in the number of choices, I knew people who’d spend time figuring out how to get around the limitations… just so you’d have something on your screen that a) marked the computer as yours, and b) made you smile or at least didn’t piss you off.

One might suggest that it was solely the advent, and ubiquity, of flatscreen technology, and particularly the end of the cathode ray tube screens that ended the screen saver thing. I don’t agree. I instead wonder if what killed screen savers in the end was two things: firstly the rise of the laptop computer, and especially the immediate nature of the sleep/awake functionality. Suddenly, it didn’t take a minute or so to shut down your laptop, and another minute or so to start up, to resume, again. It was pretty much instant. So no need to leave the screen live; you could just shut the laptop and open it when you needed it. Secondly, and more importantly, the use of smartphones, and especially tablets. When batter power suddenly became the most important thing and genuinely instant access to a working screen/CPU meant that screens were never left on for more than a couple of minutes. 

Online psych tests Back in the days of Livejournal, it was a rare week when one of the memes doing the rounds wasn’t a psych test. You’d click on a link, answer anywhere between 30 and 100 questions and you’d receive an instant diagnosis of your mental state. No one took it particularly seriously, and as a consequence, people openly showed their results… because they were treated as a trivial thing, nothing more nor less important, nor more nor less accurate, than the “which Lord of the Rings character are you?” type things. Even if a result showed that someone was seriously ill and in need of medical attention, therapy and/or medications, readers of the results would usually assume that the result was flawed, or that the person doing the test had fucked around with the answers. 

Maybe it’s the lessening of stigma that has allowed people to be genuine about this kind of thing, and as a consequence, online tests seem to be ‘cheapening’ the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists? I don’t know; I do know that I’m pleased it’s happened; the reaction in their presence, I mean, not the work of therapists and psychologists and psychiatrists. (For my my own personal issues with them, they do an important job, and I know many who’ve been=gutted from them.)

The Big Beasts of UK Politics At some point during my adult lifetime, UK politics ceased to have ‘current’ big beasts. Back in the days of Wilson, and Callaghan and even Thatcher, those who sat around the Cabinet table, and those who faced them across the House of Commons chamber, were acknowledged at the time they were doing it as ‘big beasts’, the powerbrokers in the parties, and in the country; people who through either force of personality or of accomplishment deserved to be regarded as such. At some point during Tony Blair’s premiership, that changed. Blair and Brown remained the big beasts but everyone else was a lesser species of politician. The Torres didn’t help matters in that respect by again seeming to reduce anyone who wasn’t leader – and in IDS’s case even then – to some lesser respected and lesser able category of politician. (I almost typed ‘some lesser kind of politician’ but that’s a bit too on the nose where Tory politicians are concerned.)

While this demotion almost certainly helps the leaders of the party, it does nothing beneficial for the country and indeed arguably damages it. While no one wants a cabinet or shadow cabinet riven with disagreement, torn apart by plots for the succession, by allowing the leadership to be seen as the only grown up around the table, it pretty much buggers the succession for years to come. And in the case of Labour now, the only big beast worthy of the name is probably the Shadow Chancellor. Certainly the leader doesn’t deserve the appellation, though he might do in a year’s time. But not yet.

Three things that it always used to be an article of faith that they’d be there. 

Today was “Things past”. Tomorrow “Things present”. You can try and guess what Friday’s will be…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 12: Proud? Not really…

Posted: 20 December 2016 in 2017 minus
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Earlier today, I uploaded this year’s update for A Life In Pictures. It’s a by now annual tradition and I’d like to keep it going as long as I can. However, it’s not part of this countdown blog, and I wouldn’t want it to be, if only because if/when I refer anyone to it at a later point, I’d like it to stand on its own, apart from anything else. I genuinely hadn’t thought of it like that until I started the update but that does of course mean that I have a blog post today that I didn’t anticipate having to write.

Oops.

So, a quick blog post now on something that I’ve been thinking about a lot this year, something which got back into the news this week with the announcement that the government is considering making public servants – people who work for or are paid by, the state swear an oath of allegiance to “British values”.

As many have pointed out, swearing an oath is kind of self-contradictory to British values; we don’t make people carry identity papers, and our constitution such as it is is built around the principle of ‘we leave you alone and you leave us alone, ok?” (Obviously this doresn’t apply to the government itself nor the armed services, but then they already swear an oath of allegiance; we’re talking about non-government.)

I kind of like the idea that British values aren’t easily codified, and indeed, if you asked ten different people you’d get fifteen different answers. (Not because we like arguing; we’re just useless at maths.)

But the American election revealed once again that the biggest insult you can throw at an opponent isn’t that they’re a criminal, but that they’re not patriotic, that they’re unAmerican.

I’ve written before that I don’t really get patriotism? I mean, sure I understand it in principle, but then I undersatand in principle how hair is cut, and how. to faulty a plane; I wouldn’t recommend you asking me to do either. And while I kind of understand the theory of patriotism, I utterly fail to see why anyone would be patriotic per se. Now, unquestionably, I prefer the British society to say, that in Russia, or Saudi Arabia. I prefer it to how Israel runs their society but that’s not being patriotic; that’s just liking – on the whole, not wholly though – how things are run here rather how other societies run stuff. I don’t think “my country right or wrong, but my country” and I’m kind of puzzled by people who do think that way. 

I don’t feel any special connection to the UK, nor am I particularly proud of being British; given some of the stuff the UK has done over the centuries, I’m not entirely sure anyone should be. But plenty of people are. Just as others are proud of being Australian, or American, who maintain that their country is the greatest country on earth… Really?

I’m proud of my son. And I’m proud of the things my friends have achieved, and I’m proud of the strength people I know have shown under incredible pressure and in horrible circumstances. 

But that’s in part because he is my son, and they are my friends and they are people I know, like and personally care about. 

But the country? The country’s sportsmen and women… the country’s representatives in any number of fields? Not particularly. Not at all, in fact. Not really.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Something very silly, inspired by writer and friend Tony Lee.

TEN LITTLE ACCOUNTANTS

Ten Little Accountants
Trying to file on time.
One missed the tax man’s filing date
And then there were nine.

Nine Little Accountants
Their client, a cheapskate.
One raised the Work In Progress
And then there were eight.

Eight Little Accountants
A tax bill trying to lessen.
One made a claim for school fees
And then there were seven.

Seven Little Accountants
And office politics.
One offended the MD’s wife
And then there were six.

Six Little Accountants
Off work and trying to skive.
One caught on camera at Wimbeldon
And then there were five.

Five Little Accountants
Presenting to the board.
One told only truth to them
And then there were four.

Four Little Accountants
Presenting the audit fee.
One pushed his luck a bit too far
And then there were three.

Three Little Accountants
Telling the partner what they knew.
One suggested covering up fraud
And then there were two.

Two Little Accountants
Think the accounts are done.
One missed a Trial Balance error
And then there was one.

One Little Accountant
Writing silly rhymes for fun
He timesheeted it to the client.
And then there were none.

© Lee Barnett


Something more serious tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 19: Nathaniel Spong

Posted: 13 December 2016 in 2017 minus, fiction
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Couple of housekeeping announcements, mainly to get them out of the way.

For the past few years, either ‘yesterday’ or ‘today’, I’ve used this blog to announce the start of Twelve Days Of Fast Fiction. Not this year. For various reasons, including that oflack of interest from others, I’m not running them. this year. They may return in a future format – Comic Relief 2017 is in a few months, after all – but I’m taking a break from doing them. Besides, I wrote over 50 of them, over a five year period, and they’re here on the blog any time anyone wants to read them.

Secondly, it hit me earlier that we’re in new territory here; while I’ve done several countdowns to major events: my birthday, a general election, end of the year etc., they’ve always been 50 day countdowns. This is a 75 day countdown and we’re already past 50 entries.

Still, that means you only have another 19 entries to read. Unless i keep it going into January for a few days… which I might do. I’m not sure but I may do it.

One last thing. I hope you’re enjoying the entries. I mean to say, I’m not writing them so you won’t enjoy them, but I’m deliberately not looking at the ‘stats’ page, so I’ve genuinely no idea how many people are reading this. It could be a dozen people, it could be 100. Or more. I’ll just say ‘thank you for stopping by’ if you are reading them, and hope you’re having a good close to the year.

OK, right, moving on…


Something I wrote a long time ago, but I want it part of this run, and most people haven’t read it… so

The Tale Of Nathaniel Spong

This is the tale of Nathaniel Spong
Whose resolution was to do no wrong.
For one whole year, decided Nat.
Now, what could possibly go wrong with that?

So come the new year, our Mr Spong
Commenced the plan he’d decided upon
And made a list of things to do
Which took him up until January 2.

And all at once, he realised an error
And felt himself fill with terror –
How could he handle the year to come
When he’d forgotten to call his Dad and his Mum?

A phone call was made and later on
He realised at once what he’d done wrong;
He hadn’t listed enough parameters!
What else could happen? Something calamitous?

He lengthened his list, writing more and more
And before he knew it, it was January 4.
The list kept growing, day and night
Until there was no more left to write.

And then Nathaniel thought to relax,
He’d protected himself against attacks:
Of guilt, or worry, of doing wrong.
Oh, pity the fate of Nathaniel Spong.

For little did he know that bright winter’s day
What was about to happen would lead him astray
To the extent that his plan would fall to dust
And all because of the sin of lust.

For there was a lady, a lovely gel
Whose very presence made hearts swell
With love and sweetness and kindness and how
(A pity then that she was a right cow!)

Young Susan Smythe was by nature a user;
Who’d ensure that each beau was really a loser.
But hopefully wealthy, indeed even rich.
A 100% total right b…

At a party they met, set up by a mate
Of Nathaniel’s who’d wanted to do a blind date
For his pal, who he knew had no social life
But discovered she wanted to be his wife.

She courted Nathaniel, did our young Sue
And suddenly Nat found the number grew
Of things that earlier had seemed so wrong
When that list had been so big, so long.

With Susan, all was right for Spong,
Or so he thought, but ere very long
Nat had reason to check his banking arrangements
To see whether he could afford this sudden engagement.

To his horror he found when he looked at his balance
That Susan had made the most of her talents
And milked the account for all she was worth
So that Mr Spong had not a penny on earth.

She vanished the next day when her crimes had appeared.
And look though he could, she had disappeared
Along with his spondooliks, his money, his cash
And though his friends cautioned him, he did something rash.

And restarted the list, by the light of the moon
After all, it was only the seventh of June.
Plenty of time to put his new plan into play
To take over the world by New Year’s Day.

The list of what wouldn’t now be allowed
Extended beyond Nat, to the increasing crowd
Of people who supported Spong’s Plan for the planet
And affected those who ostensibly ran it.

Governments around the world
Heard of this plan and began to yield
To the ever increasing clamour for change
For something new, no matter how strange.

A week before New Year’s and Nathaniel Spong
Had overthrown all that was wrong
Countries now answered to his every whim.
Who decided everything? Well, he did – yes, him.

The drawback of this imaginative plan
Struck him as he was deciding who can
Run the bus route between one street and another
And which of two women was really the mother.

Solomon’s idea was to split the child
A barbaric plan, Nat declared in a lilt.
He granted custody to both women forever
And insisted that they bring up the child together.

The list of what he decided increased
Until he was deciding the very least
Decision: whether the walls should be blue or pink.
“Can’t any of you people for yourselves think?”

Bored by this in 48 hours
Nathaniel returned the levers of powers
To those who’d been democratically elected
And he dissolved the power structures erected.

This took a couple of frustrating days, during
Which the world returned to its pre-Spong days
Leaving Nathaniel Spong at the New Year’s chimes
Living, as they say, in “Interesting Times”…

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


 

PERMANENT MARKER

The restraints were the first thing he noticed when consciousness returned; thick leather pressed into his forehead and he wondered whether it would leave a mark. The thought seemed puzzlingly amusing, but his body was lethargic and he couldn’t have laughed even had he wanted to.

A groan started somewhere deep in his chest but barely made it out of his throat as a long sigh as his eyelids flickered and his vision, blurry at first, focused upon the lilac glove in front of his face.

“I wouldn’t bother,” a strong confident voice said, not unkindly. “Really,” the voice continued, “you’ve got enough drugs in you to stop any strong attempt, and any weaker effort will just make it worse. Trust me, I know.” And that was when the view in front of him snapped into focus, and for the first time he was genuinely scared.

“Ah, you’re waking up properly,” the voice said, seemingly pleased. The man in the chair looked at the tattooist. He knew what was about to happen and he tried to make his limbs work, but they resisted every entreaty from his brain; the signals just wouldn’t get through. The tattooist moved his facial muscles and with sudden insight, the man realised the figure holding the tattoo needle was smiling; it was an odd smile, as if the person making it had once been told how to smile and was attempting to exactly follow the instructions.

There was no further noise for a moment, and then the needle buzzed twice. The tattooist looked away, and there was a sharp short nod of the head and an equally short sharp exhalation, as if confirmation had been sought and obtained. “Just a bit of business to get out of the way first,” the man with the needle said, then pressed a button and the needle buzzed again, louder now as it approached the restrained man.

“You have been found guilty of…” another look away, then back, “well, no need for the full list; suffice to say that you have been a naughty boy, haven’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer; he knew none would be forthcoming. “And your sentence? Harsh, but that’s the law for you, I’m afraid,” he sighed, as if reluctant to continue.

There was a quick movement of the hand and the needle buzzed; the man felt the briefest pressure on his cheek and then the tattooist leaned back.

Was that it, the man in the chair wondered. Was that what all the fuss was about? His eyes widened and the tattooist laughed. “Oh, no…” he continued, “that was just me signing my work. Always nice to get it out of the way, at the start; it’s messier afterwards. The drugs you’ve been given will stop you protesting, but will, of course, intensify the pain. All part of the sentence, I’m afraid.”

The man tried to struggle, but his limbs remained as still as if he was consciously remaining as still as possible.

“Now, you’re to be tattooed inside your eyes and your mouth, your Adam’s apple and soles of your feet, as per your sentence. Solid areas of ink, as coarse as possible.”

There was a sharp exclamation as the tattooist put down the needle, and then shook his head. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said, “I always forget this part.” Then he lifted a bottle of single malt scotch and drank it down in nine large swallows. Then he placed the bottle down, lifted another full bottle, and the man saw the amber liquid swallowed. “I’m supposed to be dead drunk,” the tattooist said, then he burped twice, and shakily lifted the needle. “That’s better.” Another belch.

“Open wide,” he said. And smiled again.

And then lilac glove and needle both grew large in the restrained man’s vision as the tattooist leaned forward and commenced work, humming quietly to himself as he administered the latest sentence passed under The Restorative Justice Act 2037.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Three weeks to go.

Three weeks.

And then 2016 will be over.

Except it won’t be. Not really. The consequences of decisions taken in 2016, and of events that have occurred in 2016, will linger not only into 2017 but far beyond. The two most obvious, of course, being Brexit and President Donald Trump. The former may or may not happen in the end, though the odds heavily fancy of some kind of Brexit. The latter? Well, I’ll get on to that in a moment.

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 the death of my brother in 1998. As I’ve written before, and no dount 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 treating each new year with unalloyed joy, three weeks into 2017, we get to witness the inauguration of President Trump. And though there’s a part of me that wants to ignore the inauraration, to stay away from all news that day, take the day off twitter and social media… I’m not sure I’m strong enough, or together enough, to be able to do that.

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, to witness history in the making. Because, like it or not, it will be history in the making. It’ll be one of those events that will make a single momen in the history of the planet pundits and punlic alike will look back at 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 52 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 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 thirty years to be forgotten, and one they’re relearning now. 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, but rarely 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. 

Trump’s inauguration will be one of the exceptions. OK, we won’t know all the consequences for some time to come, but that they’ll be ‘bad’ is beyond question; it’s just a mater of how bad. 

And 2017 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 there’ll be some that 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 once three things had happened, another one happened, it wasn’t that things happened in fours, but that it was the start of a whole new series of three. 2016 ends in theory in three weeks. There’ll be plenty of people saying in the opening weeks of 2017 “I was hoping 2016 ended…” 

It did. 

This will just be a long, lingering smell of shit, like someone dumped a huge turd across the world. 

Which, I suppose, in every important way… they did.

Once again – as it has been for a few weeks – it’s been a shitty week in a shitty year. 

So, once again, here’s some odds and ends to hopefully lighten your load… 

I’ve always enjoyed those Top/”Best Movie [insert thing of choice]’ things… a mixture of nostalgia, fond memories and disagreements… So here are some for you to enjoy as well.

One Hundred Iconic Movie Quotes 

One Hundred Movie Insults

Top 10 Movie swordfights

50 Great movie themes

And to end, something entirely different I came across; the evolution of warp speed depiction in Star Trek

See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Watching the shitstorm covering the United States at the moment, it occurs to me that for anyone under 30, who’s only experienced Dick Cheney and Joe Biden as their Vice Presidents, is in for a hell of a culture shock when Donald Trump is inaugurated. And the only prediction that has any weight to it, as to what kind of VP Pence will be, is – as is so often the case with this President-elect, no one has a fucking clue.

Cheney was probably the most influential VP in my adult lifetime. He gave the lie to all the views of the VP expressed by pundits, politicians and former Vice-Presidents in that he genuinely was involved in many high level decisions and wasn’t merely sent out to do the President’s bidding by promoting his policies, and representing the US at funerals. Cheney never looked like he enjoyed being VP though; he always came over – to me anyway – as someone for whom the VP position was just a job in which he could do stuff. For sheer enjoyment of the role of VP, you have to put Joe Biden at the top of the pile. Never have I seen a person more obviously enjoy not only being VP but everything that a VP does. Damn, I’m going to miss him, almost as much as I’m going to miss President Obama.

The VP has precisely two constitutional duties: to break the tie of the Senate is deadlocked, and to step in if the President is incapable of performing his duties. (Yeah, yeah,  you can make your own jokes up about the fella who’s about to be sworn in.) But that’s it. Some VPs have been more of use to their President than others. Some have regarded it as just a PR role, some have bitterly grown to regret accepting the job. 

Not for nothing did John Nance Gardner (FDR’s VP) describe the job as “not worth a pitcher of warm piss”. (Mind you, I also like his other quote of “You have to do a little bragging on yourself even to your relatives; man doesn’t get anywhere without advertising.”)

Other quotes about this oh so powerful office?

“[The Vice Presidency] is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
–John Adams, 1st Vice President

“”Look at all the Vice Presidents in history. Where are they? They were about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”
– Harry S. Truman

“I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead.”
– Daniel Webster, on not accepting the Vice Presidency

That said, there’ve been a number of VPs who’ve died in office, and I’m glad as hell that VP Biden is making it out alive, and well.

All the foregoing being acknowledged, I still think one of the best lines about the Vice Presidency was spoken by the sage of Baltimore, one H L Mencken with his observation that “A vice-president is one who sits in the outer office of the president hoping to hear him sneeze”.

That, as well as other comments about the Vice Presidency comes from Alistair Cooke’s masterful Letter From America on Vice-presidential responsibilites from October 1996… Read and enjoy.

And so, in a few short weeks, we’ll find out what Vice President Mike Pence will be like. Whether he acts as a restraining influence on Trump, or encourages him, or – as Keith Olbermann wants – desposes him via section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment… either way, looks like we’re cursed to live in interesting times. As, it turns out, is Pence.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 24: Short memories

Posted: 8 December 2016 in 2017 minus, politics
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Maybe it’s a combination of both the ever-present news cycle and because so much has happened this year, but I’m starting to wonder whether we’re reaching the end of that time when certain events in a country’s history seem to linger, and take a place in the “group memory” of the population of that country.

Maybe it’s been happening for a long time, that reduction in ‘group memory’; maybe there’s just fewer ‘I’ll always remember what I was doing when I heard about [insert event of choice]”. While Donald Trump’s winning the election is, without doubt, one of the biggest events to happen in the past few decades of American politics – as huge I’d argue as Barack Obama’s first election, but for very different reasons – both pale compared to 9/11 and that day’s attacks on American. Maybe it’s because Obama’s election, while breaking rules of American politics to that point, was still part of the electoral process Americans had been having every four years. Same as Trump; while the shock of his election is still there and raw, it was part of an election, not an armed coup. But 9/11 was different. And it’s still raw, still visceral for some.

For some reason, the 1960s, in the UK at least, is usually held up as the time in history that, well, ‘lingers’ I guess is the word. Whether it’s The Great Train Robbery, or The Moors Murders, or The Profumo Affair, I wonder what events that have taken place within the United Kingdom, say, since 1st January 2000, will still be remembered as landmark events, in fifty years or so.

The obvious pre-2016 examples are, I’d suggest, the London bombings of 7th July 2005 and the London Olympics & Paralympics of 2012. Will they still be remembered and talked about in fifty years? Horrible to say, but no, I don’t think so. In the first, because there were no more and worse ones (in which case they’d have been remembered as ‘the first’) they’ll be a footnote, remembered by those who were in London at the time, something to bore the grandchildren about, but no more.

And as for the Olympics, like any sporting event, they’ll be remembered by some, but for most, they’ll fade to the point hat in thirty years, most will struggle to remember even in what year they took place.

So what will be remembered?

The EU Referendum campaign. Brexit. For good or ill, whatever happens in 2017-2019, the Brexit vote will be remembered. Whether anyone will remember the campaigns is a whole otehr issue; I kind of doubt that they will. I suspect that in a couple fo decades, the lies, the batting, the dog whistles, will have been relegated to faint “oh yesssss” recollections when folks are reminded of them but not until then. But the vite itslef will remain, the scars to the public discourse will linger, the damage will be long lasting.

The date of the vote – June 23rd –  won’t be remembered any more than the date of its predecessor is clearly remembered. No, not the vote on the EC in 1975, but the immediate predecessor: only the second UK-wide  referendum. The one on replacing the electoral system. You remember, the one on Thursday 4th May 2011. The one you’ve thought about so little since then that you missed just now that it didn’t take place on 4th May but in fact on 5th May. 

So, what will be remembered, and in how much detail?


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 26: Numbers

Posted: 6 December 2016 in 2017 minus
Tags: ,

One of the questions I used to ask, when I was intereviewing people for the finance department I used to run, was… “why finance? Why accountancy?”

There were plenty of ‘good’ answers – this wasn’t one of those ‘impossible to answer’ questions, nor a ‘there’s onl one right answer’ question. Genuinely, there were loads of good answers and I got some of them when I asked it. Some were the kind of answers you’d expect, some… not so much.

I think my favourite was the young lady who said she entered the profession to spite an ex-boyfriend who’d constantly belittled her and – when they split up – had mocked her for an opportunity she’d had at her company: to cover for someone in her company’s finance department on maternity leave. She took the proffered opportunity, and found she loved the work. 

Then there was the interviewee who told me he’d chosen accountancy because he’d fancied the woman who’d come to his careers day at school, had temped during the summer at an accountancy firm, and again, found he enjoyed the work.

The best answer, though, the one that pleased me most, was when someone said they’d always felt comfortable with numbers. I could teach them the methodologies of accountancy and the rules and regs, but yeah, they had to feel supremely comfortable with numbers. (Much as my younger brother used to say, he could teach anyone to cut a head of hair, but only someone who felt very comfortable with the idea of changing someone’s appearance stood a chance of success as a hairdresser.)

I said above there’s no ‘right answer’ to the question. You might have inferred from that that ‘there’s no or wriog answer to the question’. But you’d have been wrong. Oh boy were there some wrong answers and I heard all of them. But The Wrong Answer was, and remained throughout my career, “I was always good at maths”.

It was a bad answer for so, so many reasons. For a start, they never meant they were good at maths; they meant they were good at arithmetic. To say they’re the same is like claiming that speaking is the same as making a speech. Or being able to write is the same as being a writer. Sure, the latter involve the former, but it’s a small part.

Besides which, I had a calculator and a spreadsheet to be good at arithmetic. (Never forget that a computer is just a pocket calculator with a jumped up attitude.)

But, I hear you cry, when they said they were good at maths, they meant they felt comfortable with numbers. Really? Then why didn’t they say that? No, what they usually – almost invariably – meant by “I’m good at maths” is that they got good exam results on their maths exams. 

Every person I took on to work for me either in an accountancy practice or in a finance department who’d said they ‘were comfortable with numbers’, or who’d said ‘numbers always made sense to me’ turned out to be a good hire. 

Me? I’ve been out of accountancy now for some time. I still like numbers. I still like playing games with numbers, solving number problems often, though not always, logic problems involving numbers, sometimes just solving those “Are you smarter than an [insert age] year old?” online puzzles. 

Long time ago, I posted here about arithmetic, specifically How to tell if a number is divisible by any number between 2 and 12.

But here’s some odd things involving numbers you might not have known:

  • A pizza that has radius “z” and height “a” has volume Pi × z × z × a.
  • In a room of just 23 people there’s a 50% chance that two people have the same birthday. It’s called The Birthday Problem, presumably because you now have to buy birthday presents you didn’t previously realise you had to.
  • a) Choose a four digit number (the only condition is that it has at least two different digits)  b) Arrange the digits of the four digit number in descending then ascending order  c) Subtract the smaller number from the bigger one d) Repeat. Do it enough times you always end up with 6174, Kaprekar’s Constant.
  • Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.

Look, numbers are just weird. Well, some of them are, anyway.

And finally, random numbers aren’t that random. For various reasons, they tend to follow the distribution as below. It’s the first thing auditors look for when they think expenses have been faked. The tax man, and the SEC are also very aware of it… In a given list of numbers representing anything from stock prices to city populations to the heights of buildings to the lengths of rivers, about 30 percent of the numbers will begin with the digit 1. Less of them will begin with 2, even less with 3, and so on, until only one number in twenty will begin with a 9. The bigger the data set, and the more orders of magnitude it spans, the more strongly this pattern emerges.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

James Burke makes the point, fairly regularly, that the biggest crises happen when something that people are so used to relying upon that they don’t even think about it… stops working. Also, that when things do stop working, the assumption is that it will, soon enough, start working again. There’s irritation, not worry, nor panic. It’s irritation rather than panic because there’s a temporary inconvenience, not a permanent end to it.

Similarly, I think that the biggest non-recognised events come when people begin to not think how amazing something is, and start to accept something as part of everyday life. 

I used my contactless card to pay for coffee today. OK, yes, I’m still old fashioned enough that I prefer to pay for small items in cash, but that’s slowly changing. But, as I was queuing up, I saw people pay by four different methods:  one person paid by cash, another used NFC via Apple Pay on their iPhone, someone else used their ‘contactless’ bank card, and yet another used Chip and PIN. And as new methods come into play, older ones vanish. While cash remains a useful method of payment*, use of personal cheques in retail shops has plummeted. 

(*worth pointing out that intent out that in London at least, you can no longer use cash to pay for busses; it’s contactless or tfl’s Oyster card.)

But whereas even I thought it was ‘wow’ to use contactless when it started, now it’s just ‘how I sometimes pay for stuff’. It’s not even fair to describe my attitude as blasé, because if I did think about it, I’d probably still be a bit ‘wow’ over it. But I don’t. I don’t think about it, any more than I think about the genuinely modern miracle of constant access to… well, to everything, via the wonder of constant internet access. As Chris Addison puts it: it takes roughly thirty seconds for the modern miracle of the Internet to become, if it’s ‘down’, a basic human right. 

There’s so much I use and experience every day, from my iPhone and my iPad to my bluetooth keyboard, from text messaging to the large digital displays by the bus stop, to the fact that the London Underground keeps running, somehow. 

That’s something else I’m used to and don’t think about that often, if at all: the systems that keep working. Whether it’s the National Health Service (no matter how bad, I know I can turn up at Acciednt and Emergency and I will, eventually, be seen) or the street lights or – as I say above – the London Underground.

Those trains, hundreds of them, running roughly to timetable, thousands of drivers and staff just keeping them moving. And, when there is a problem, (the Piccadilly Line has severe problems at the moment… and will do so for some weeks to come) somehow, the system copes, manages. Except it’s not just the system itself; it’s the people who work there, working harder than anyone realises, but that’s the truth of most jobs: no one realises how hard any job is unless they’ve done it.

It’d blow my mind if I actually thought deeply on what it takes to keep the major infrastructure systems running.

But I don’t think about it.

I probably should.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


 

THAT MORNING

The fat old man sat at the table, idly watching the patrons of the small coffee shop as they entered, ordered, consumed their fare, and exited.
He was a regular patron, always arriving around ten in the morning; always staying about ninety minutes. The waitresses – for it was a coffee shop that held to the old traditions, despite only having been in business for twenty years – liked the old man. He tipped well, for one thing. And given their location, and the type of clientele that frequented that area of the city, he was polite. Never obsequious nor affected; merely… polite.

He washed as well.

This set him apart from many of the other customers, some of whom seemed to view personal hygiene as an optional extra during this portion of their lives. Not the old man, though. Every morning, he’d… arrive. None of the waitresses, had they thought about it, ever remembered him walking into the coffee shop. Nor, had they been asked, and correctly recalled, had any of them seen him leave. Oh, they could remember him pushing his chair back, recall him patting his right trouser pocket and the brief smile every day as he discovered enough change to pay for the toasted rye bread and the cups of tea he’d ordered and duly consumed. They would enjoy the moment as he found he had just enough change to leave a generous, though not overgenerous, gratuity. He always had just enough change. And as they moved towards the counter to pick up one of the pink and grey towels to clean the table, they would ask themselves why every customer wasn’t like the fat old man.

That morning, the fat old man had been sat at his table (he always thought of it as his table) for a little over an hour, enjoying the flow of people. Business had been slow in the coffee shop, but in the primary reason for his being there, the red painted wooden fronted store with the garish yellow sign across the road, trade was brisk. And with every purchase made, the old man shuddered almost invisibly. As every patron entered, he smiled. As every customer left, he smiled. Not quite as widely. But he smiled nonetheless.

The door to the coffee shop opened and a shadow fell over the old man and his table. He knew who had entered without looking up. And he frowned. No one could have detected the frown, but then he had perfected the art of invisible expression when he had been young, when none of those present (apart from the newcomer) had known him. And even had they known him, it was unlikely that they would have recognised him in the dowdy suit that had seen better days, and the faded brown overcoat.

Then the shadows moved, and the newcomer followed them. A large man, in that way that mountains have of being large, walked to the old man’s table and without waiting to be asked, sat.

They smiled, genuinely pleased to see each other again, though equally concerned at what point the other might lift a weapon or in some other way indicate unhappiness.

It could be argued that gods rarely spend time in coffee shops; it is an argument one would lose. And whether that is because of the nature of gods or the nature of coffee shops is a hypothesis best not considered.

But as the patrons filed in and out of both the coffee shop and the sex shop, the Greek god of pleasure and the Roman god of war discussed demarcation.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

These appear to be going down quite well, so here’s another set of things to ease your load at the end of yet another ugh week in this ugh of a year. 
Marcus Brigstocke delivers a masterpiece on the three Abrahamic religions…

In case you thought that there are things you can’t make jokes about…

Not The Nine O’Clock News, Gerald The Gorilla

Robin WIlliams does SET LIST

Sir Humphrey Appleby explains to Jim Hacker the Five Standard Excuses. I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide if theyr’e still being used today

In Space, no one can…?

Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

As I write this, it’s the afternoon of 1st December. This means we’re now a few hours short of exactly one month to 2017… just short of one month until we can say farewell to this arsewipe of a year, just short of one month until we all can say farewell to “2017 minus…” blogs. And let’s be fair: that is the most important things, after all. 

But not yet, folks. Not quite yet.

Onwards.

Of the hundreds of fast fictions I’ve written, there are few I remember writing the opening line of, stopping, rereading it, and then going “oh yes”. 

One of them, written almost exactly ten years ago, though… well, the opening line always stuck with me:

Ever since armies had been embedded with news organisation rather than the reverse, the reporters had been waiting for the first attempted coup.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

There’s not much I’ve found ‘interesting’ about US politics during the past three weeks. There’s been lots that’s scared me, plenty that’s worried me, some stuff that’s concerned me, but very little that I’ve found merely ‘interesting’. 

One of the few things that I guess would have to be included in that category would be the historical precedents. No, that’s not exactly right because there have been precious few precedents for anything that’s happened since November 8th. What I’ve found interesting has been the contrasts to precedents, and because of those precedents, I’ve been relearning and rediscovering a lot of history; the history of how things are usually done.

I’ve learned more about ‘transition’ and how it normally operates. I knew quite a bit, to be honest; US politics and Presidential politics has been a hobby horse of mine ever since my sixth form lecturer John ramm introduced me to the subject. But in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of much, and learned even more. I’ve learned what the traditional methods, ways of doing things, are… and have discovered how they have been tweaked previously for specific presidential transitions. 

As I say, much of it I knew before, kind of, but I’m not sure I realised how this bit connects to that bit, how the fact that this thing occurred meant that that thing happened next time. From the huge to the middling. I relearned how and why the inauguration was changed from March to January, and how and why Ronald Reagan was the first to have the inauguration on the West Front of the United States Capitol Building, rather than the East).

I’ve learned how and when security briefings started for a President-elect. I’ve learned about post-election press conferences. I’ve learned about the creation of the National Security Council, and that of the position of National Security Advisor. 

I’ve learned about the negotiations that take place when appointing a cabinet, and how traditionally, people don’t publicly lobby for a specific job. I’ve learned and discovered and relearned and rediscovered the traditional way of doing things.

All of this because pundits and commentators have fallen over themselves to stress that the traditional way of doing things is most definitely not what President-elect Trump is interested in.

Doing something merely ‘because that’s the way things are done’ is never a good reason for doing it. Doing it because it’s a time tested, sensible, rational way of doing things and that doing it another way causes problems all around? Yeah, that’s a better reason. 

In some ways, Trump is of course entirely traditional. He lied to his base in order to get elected for a start. That’s hardly groundbreaking in US politics. OK, the way he lied, the brazen nature and astonishing frequency of his lies may have been, but that he lied is not that unusual, let’s be fair. He’s appointed people to his team, either senior White House aides or cabinet nominees people

  • he owes favours to, or 
  • he thinks – for whatever reason – can do the job, or 
  • entirely traditional right wing

What’s struck me – and others – is how many of the appointees/nominees are or have been correspondents or pundits or have presented shows on Fox News. At least two nominees for cabinet secretaries, his pick for deputy national Security Advisor and others. It’s the Fox Newsification of the Executive Branch.

My friend Mitch Benn years ago said that instead of Fox News being the public arm of the republican Party (as had been the case for years),the Republican Party slowly became the political arm of Fox News.

And now you see the relevance of the quite at the start of this piece:

Ever since armies had been embedded with news organisation rather than the reverse, the reporters had been waiting for the first attempted coup.

Fox News has been embedded within the Republican Party for more than two decades; a little over ten year ago, the Republicans in Congress became actually, if not formally, embedded within Fox News. And now it looks like so is the Presidency.

I wonder when the first coup will occur.


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Well, this seemed to go down the first couple of times I did this (Part 1 here; Part 2 here), so let’s do another one. As I’ve said, while I occasionally mention “tv shows I don’t like that everyone else does” I rarely tell you what I do like watching.

So, continuing in no particular order, what tv am I enjoying right now?

Blindspot
Another one mainly known for “this is A Clever Idea; let’s see what we can do with it”. An amnesiac woman is discovered in Times Square, covered in newly applied tattoos, one of them the name of an FBI agent. Turns out the tattoos are all clues to crimes that have taken place, or – more intriguingly – are about to take place. The first season ran with this and it was a clever conceit: an overarching storyline, combined with the mystery of who she is/was, the connection to the lead FBI agent and of course the ‘puzzle/bad guy of the week’, something serial cop show storytelling kind of relies upon. The clues were clever but not deviously so, and there were a few ‘Oh come on‘ moments, but in the whole, enough of a mystery, solidly told, slowly revealed, to keep me coming back. 

And then in season 2, almost all of the charm of the series, almost everything that made it unlike anything else so far… kind of melted away? The overarching storyline for season 2 became the important thing, sub-plots made little or any sense, a mole in the team that made no sense (I haven’t yet seen the in-story reveal, though it’s obvious who it is). Hmm. Though the acting of the leads is still fun to watch, the dialogue is less smart, and more clanky. I’ll stick with this until the end of season 2, but unless the quality moves up, I’ll probably duck out at that point. 

When I cease to care about what happens to the majority of characters in a show, better to not waste my time watching. I’m hoping, though, that the quality will return to that of the first season.

NCIS
Now on its fourteenth season, I watch this for the same reason I enjoy the same seat and the same table at my local coffee shop: it’s comfortable, I know what I’m getting, it rarely disappoints and sometimes, just sometimes, it suprises me with how fun it is. While earlier seasons of the show contained genuine surprises and shocks, and there was a tension between some of the characters that lasted more than just-under-42-minutes-and-wasn’t-sorted-inside-a-single-episode, that time is long past. 

Yeah, sure, this show probably should have ended when ‘Tony’ left, but it’s an enjoyable enough way of spending ¾ of an hour. It’s neither particuarly smart, nor particularly funny, nor particularly… anything really. But I enjoy the show anyway. (I tried the spin offs, but never really took to them. NCIS: Los Angeles seemed to be trying too hard to be… I don’t know what, but just never seemed to know itself. And NCIS: New Orleans seemed to me to jump straight to stating ‘you’ll like these characters’ without at any point trying to justify the statement.)

Dark Matter
Based on a comic book that I didn’t enjoy, this series – currently between seasons -I most definitely did. Six characters wake up on a spaceship, no idea who they are. They discover who they are – or are supposed to be, anyway – and then discover they don’t really like who they are. What I really like about this show is that it addresses one of my personal beliefs: everyone is the sum of their own experiences; if you change the experiences, you change the person. But what if there are no experiences? Who are you then? This show constantly addresses that question and makes the case – and it’s a good one – that having to answer for experiences you no longer rememebr gives you multiple choices: embrace them, run from them, or deal with the dichotomy. Clever writing, a universe with structural integrity and smart plotting, this is a must see show for me whenever it’s on. The guest stars are always fun to see, and like earlier shows in this rundown, every one of them seems to be having a blast playing less than honourable people. That’s a nothing this this show looks at: what is honour? What is loyalty, and when you have conflicting loyalties, which do ou choose to honour… and why?

Lethal Weapon
While I’m mostly ok with separating out the artist from the art, the actor from the roles they play, I’ll admit to having a problem with enjoying Mel Gibson movies since his antisemitic rant a few years ago, and other examples of his misogyny and antisemitism that have since come to light. Which is a pity, because I quite enjoyed the first to Lethal Weapon movies. I didn’t enjoy the third and I don’t think I ever saw the fourth. But the first two I enjoyed, for very different reasons. So I was hoping I’d enjoy the series ‘inspired by’ the movies. And you know what? I do. I read a couple of previews suggesting that Clayne Crawford’s performance as Martin Riggs would make you forget about Gibson’s portrayal of the same character and dammit they were right. Everything about his portrayal just… works. And while to all intents and purposes Damon Wayans is playing a quite different character to Danny Glover’s character (younger, more affable, more self-deprecating), his version of Roger Murtagh is a much better fit for the tv series Riggs. I really, really like this show. The developing friendship of the partnership was a bit forced in earlier episodes, but by the fourth or fifth, it’s settled down and is written cleverly as hell. Riggs’ backstory informs his whole character, but never overwhelms it. It’s a fun show, and I like it. 

Lucifer
Yeah, yeah, it’s based on the comic book, but it’s better to say it’s inspred by. It takes a couple of the bits the producer liked from the book, and builds on them a whole new world. I shouldn’t like the show. There’s not a lot in there that attracts me to it. But you know what? I do like it. After a couple fo meh episodes in season 1, it returned to clever writing, good acting and smart storytelling towards the end of the season and constinued that in season 2. “The devil takes a vacation from ruling Hell to run a nightclub in LA”. Clever hook, and they run with it. Nothing earthshaking but always fun, and with enough of a reminder every episode that you’re rooting for a character that has a bad reputation, most of which he deserves. Clever supporting cast, who act their socks off…  which makes up for the oddly unconvincing female lead actor. 

OK, so that’s another few shows I like. To end with again, here’s a new show this season that I tried, but gave up on.

Bull
Michael Weatherly is usually a fun actor to watch… which is why I’m genuinely disappointed with the show he helms, after leaving NCIS. Bull is a ‘case of the week’ thing; concept being that jury trials can be rigged if you know jury science. Sometimes he works for the prosecution, sometimes for the defence, but he’ll deliver the verdict you want… most of the time; no one has a 100% record, after all. But it’s… boring. I watched the first three and realised I didn’t care about the characters, the cases, the acting, the writing or the show itself. I understand many others disagree, and that’s cool. This is one show though where I not only disagree, I genuinely don’t understand what they see in it.


Someting else tomorrow… I return to the scoured wasteland that is US politics, post-election…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


 


CONTINUITY OF POWER

As the Prime Minister left the chamber, he smiled. His final appearance at the dispatch box had gone precisely as he’d hoped it would, neither a complete triumph nor a total disaster. He knew what the members of his Cabinet would say to each other after he left. They’d say he’d done “all right”. He knew the opinions that would be expressed by his backbenchers, when they gravitated towards one of the many bars in the House of Commons. They’d agree that he’d done “all right”. And he knew what the press would print. Again, they’d be unanimous in their view that he’d done “all right”.

“All right.” Those two words had followed him throughout his political career like a persistent smell. He chuckled to himself; so many people thought he was annoyed at the phrase, but in contrast to how many of his predecessors had left office to approbrium, he knew beyond peradventure that he was leaving at his own accord, on his own timetable. And that, too, was “all right”.

And now he walked. He glanced at his wristwatch, pleased that he’d timed his exit so well. He had another fifteen minutes yet before his final meeting of the day, the final meeting of his premiership in fact. He intended to enjoy every moment of it. And so he walked, a gentle stroll, unaccompanied except for the large man with the padded jacket who walked a few paces ahead of him, his eyes constantly moving.

He walked past members of parliament, some of whom nodded politely in his direction; others smiled, while the rest just scowled. But that was expected as well. He walked through the corridors, enjoying the musty scent of history. He nodded at a particular portrait on the wall, a short sharp movement of his head, a personal quirk he’d picked up twenty years ago when first elected. He’d been told that the subject had allowed principle to supersede policy. And so he nodded, which was so much more polite than laughing at the stupidity of this long dead politician.

He continued to walk, surrounded by memories of times gone past, of years spent in obscurity before the sudden rise to power. He’d never liked opposition, but had barely liked ministerial portfolios any better; responsible for everything and affecting nothing was how a colleague had put it, and the Prime Minister had thought the same before his appointment to the highest office.

His watch vibrated twice, and he sighed. No more wanderings, no more power. He smiled, memories of what he’d done while in office, the sheer fun of patronage, the delight he’d taken in reshuffling his oponents to meaningless ministries: Minister of Sport (with special responsibility for droughts and floods) had been a favourite.

He paused outside his private office. His final meeting, his final minutes as Prime Minister.

“I won’t be long,” he said to his bodyguard, who duly planted himself outside as he walked into the room. The room was empty when he walked in, but by the time he’d closed the door, the demon had appeared and was leaning on the large desk, picking his long shiny teeth with what appeared to be a sharpened bit of bone.

“Ready?” the demon asked, although it knew the answer. The man had been ready for over a year. For one year, one month, one day, one hour, and one minute to be exact. It knew the man currently inhabiting the body of the Prime Minister was done. The demon watched the man fall to the ground as a purple mist surrounded the body. Then the fog evaporated and the man stood, and stretched his arms and legs, enjoying his new body. In the chamber of the House of Commons, the sitting was suspended as for the fifth year in succession as yet another member of parliament succumbed to a fatal heart attack.

The Prime Minister blinked twice, and smiled at the demon. “See you next year,” he said jauntily and left the room, heading towards his first meeting of the day.

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

Once again, entirely unexpectedly, it’s Saturday. 

Entirely expectedly, here’s another Saturday Smile post. 

It’s been an odd seven days, so here are some videos to lighten the end of your week. 

Monty Python on the universe …

For those of us for whom Pluto was always a planet… Mitch Benn has your back.

Shakespeare as it is properly dun

Every Doctor Who televised story… to date.

Sir Humphrey Appleby explains to Jim Hacker the British view of the EEC

Oh, and it’s probably worth pointing out that Mitch Benn Nevr Went Through A Smiths Phase

Something else tomorrow…

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

While I’m scared of wasps and bees, I apparently don’t have a phobia.

To my delight, I discovered a while back that a phobia is an irrational fear, and since wasp and bee stings hurt, what I have isn’t a phobia but good old fashioned rational fear of being stung, and the associated pain therefrom.

Fortunately for this post, neither do I have an irrational fear of heights. Good thing too, as in my time I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in some very tall buildings: the BT Tower, the Gherkin (officially ’30 St Mary Axe’ but everyone calls it The Gherkin) and others.

Less than a decade ago, I was in New York for a bar mitzvah. I’d already been told that while the Empire State Building deserved its iconic status and indeed, I’d been up there years earlier, if I truly wanted some great views, I should go to The Top of The Rock, otherwise known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Once I got up there, I saw what everyone meant. While the Empire State is slightly taller, the view back then was, maybe still is, obstructed by vertical railings. Spectacular views… but not exactly designed as a place from which to take photos.

Top of the Rock on the other hand? Well now. Instead of the railings, plates of thick glass, with a few inches gap between each one. Not only was the glass clear enough to shoot pictures through, but the gaps were more than wide enough to do the same.

And the views? 

Occasionally, I get to do the same in London.

Like this morning, when I managed to get – after some time – tickets to The Sky Garden in Fenchurch Street.

I’ll shut up for a moment and just let you see the photos.

Well now.

The weather was pretty much perfect; enough sunlight, possibly a tad too bright, but no clouds and you could see for tens of miles… Glorious.

For all that I love walking around London, for all that I can happily lose myself in the world of London Below, I forget sometimes just how great, how wonderfully great, London is from above.

As for walking around London, it appears that Christmas is approaching…

These are the Christmas lights in Regent Street…


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’m a sucker for political dramas, and even more so for political dramas based on real events. I’ve mentioned serial drama before, and I’m covering some shows elsewhere, but I’m concentrating today on one-offs today, movies and televised single dramas. 

I’m not sure which were the first I remember watching, but by the time I was a teenager, I was hooked on them. Reconstructions, or biopics*, or just plain drama. I sucked them up, absorbed them and loved them. I prefered the ‘based on a true story’ types to the obviously fictional, but yeah, any political drama, particularly about American politics, I’d watch. I loved Seven Days In May, I adored All The President’s Men. I must have watched Fail Safe a dozen times by my mid-20s. 

(*biopics is one of those words I came across in print long before I heard the word. For years I pronounced it “bye-opics” rather than as bio-pics. I’m still not convinced I was entirely wrong to do do.)

But never have I mistaken fiction for reality. I’ve always understood that even the best, most faithful recreation of events are nudged to be more dramatic. As many have mentioned in biographies and memoirs, most governing is hard, boring work; the genuine drama is the exception not the rule. And as for portrayals of that, no matter how good the portrayal, I know the actor is the actor and not the politician, not the reporter, not the political operative.

I’ve seen Recount, the movie about the 2000 US Presidential election, more than a few times and the performances of the actors never fail to amaze me. The cast is stellar, the writing spectacular and the performances from Kevin Spacey, from Laura Dern, Bruce McGill, from Denis Leary… stunning. 

I’ve no idea how true to life the portrayals are, of course, although various sources online suggest that not everyone was delighted with how they appeared on screen. In particular, both James Brady and Warren Christopher have suggested that the latter is portrayed as too conciliatory, that Christopher knew it would be a down and dirty fight from the off. AndMichael  Whouley is insistent that he didn’t swear quite as much as Denis Leary’s performance as him suggests. By the way, I do hope that in 2020, some producer has the nous to get as many of the people concerned in a room and discuss the battle, two decades on.

Part of the reason I like Recount so much is because it shows just enough of the ‘person’ to make the ‘operative’ seem… real. But Recount has another reason for mention today, now that the 2016 Presidential election is over, and it’s nothing to do with the result, nor the surprise of it. It’s about one of the characters portrayed in the movie, an important one, but not one of the leads.

Thing is, I’ve watched lots of these things, ‘based on true events’ reconstructions. The Deal by Peter Morgan, starring Michael Sheen (for the first time) as Tony Blair and David Morrison as Gordon Brown, is excellent, and to an outsider perfectly captures Labour politics in the aftermath of John Smith’s death. But at no point do I now see Blair and think “huh, he doesn’t look enough like Michael Sheen”. While Helen Mirren is superb as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen, also written by Morgan, I don’t see QEII and think “she’s not enough like Mirren.”  Nor did I see Maggie Thatcher at any point and think “She’s not actually like Patricia Hodge’s performance in the Falklands Play”. 

I never do that. Now, fair enough, almost certainly that’s because I’ve seen the ‘real’ people so often I ‘know’ it’s just a portrayal.

But no. I saw plenty of other, minor characters, played by actors in all of the above, and when I saw the real person, I was never thinking “they don’t look like… and they should do.” So why with Recount, with that one character? I don’t know.

It’s not with every portrayal. In fact with every performance bar the exception, I don’t do it. I see James Baker on something and don’t think “huh, he looks wrong; he should look like Tom Wilkinson did in Recount“. 

There’s one character I definitely do that with though. And I’ve no idea why.

The political operative and lawyer Ben Ginsburg has been a fixture of Republican politics for more than a few years. He served as counsel to the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. And in 2000 and 2004, he was national counsel to the Bush/Cheney presidential campaigns. And in 2008 and 2012, he served in the same role for Mitt Romney’s campaigns.

On the left is what he looks like, and on the right, his portrayal by Bob Balaban.

For the past few years, he’s been an MSNBC political pundit and during the election, he appeared on a few shows, well more than a few shows. At one point, it seemed he was on every other day. Ginsberg that is, not Balaban. And every time – every time – he appears on screen, I am disappointed. “But he should look like Bob Balaban. He doesn’t look like Bob Balaban.” Every bloody time. 

I wish I knew why.

Ginsberg’s take on the movie is here, by the way. It’s an entertaining read. I just wish I didn’t imagine Bob Balaban wrote it.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’ve not written for a bit about the shitstorm hitting the US at the moment; in some ways it’s felt like I would be intruding on private grief. But something happened at the weekend, and the coverage of it yesterday and today, and the reaction to that coverage, has been bugging me all day. And I’ve been getting angrier about it.

OK, so last weekend, a large group of neo-nazi/nazi/white nationalist/white supremacist/alt-right* (*delete as appropriate, no wait, actually, don’t; all of them apply) folks got together for a convention in Washington DC. You might have seen it reported here and here and here and here and here and here and here. As well as a few other places.

While those and other reports refer to the Nazi salutes, the odious and racist comments from the self-styled leader of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, I want to concentrate on one specific thing, and why the reaction to it – or non-reaction from some – is bugging me so much.

Over the weekend, Spencer, president of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute, said he thinks Jews control the media to protect their personal interests, and said “One wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem.”

OK, white supremacist says antisemitic statement. Not exactly news. It is news that a President was elected with this man’s support. It is news that he was elected with the vigorous support of the Ku Klux Klan, with the overt and eager support of racists, white supremacists, antisemites, and that said President-elect has gone out of his way not to directly criticise them… but it’s hardly news that these people don’t like Jews.

CNN then did a segment on the statement and the reactions to the statement. I’m not entirely convinced the question “Should President-elect Trump condemn and denounce the remarks?” needed to be asked, but apparently so because they had a fucking discussion on the subject.  Screencaps from the segment then did the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, along with the hashtag #AreJewsPeople. Really, folks? Really? You didn’t for one moment think that might be incredibly offensive to Jews reading that? You didn’t think that every time a Jew read that, there would be an instant of “ok, now I’ve got to find out whether the person thinks ‘no'” before they read the tweet?

But, anyway, those screencaps. It’s important to note that none of the people on screen below are the people who made the comments about Jews.

(As I was writing this, CNN issued an apology for the crawl at the bottom of the screen.)

Now, being fair, plenty of people have criticised the comments. It’d be nice if more did, but yeah, I’m not denying that the comments have been condemned and denounced by many, criticised and decried. Not by Trump, though, nor by any of his senior people. But yes, condemnation by lots and lots of people. (Edit to add: it’s now being reported that Trump has condemned the gathering.)

Not by enough though. Not by nearly enough. Or not by some people I would hope would condemn. I’d expect them to condemn not because it’s the right thing to do – although surely it is – but because by not condemning they’re revealing their own hypocrisy.

And here’s what’s bugging me. I dredge the following example up every so often, so you’ll forgive me if I resurrect it one more time.

A meme did the rounds some time ago, viz:

“Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands?” – Ernest Gaines. We would like to know who really believes in gay rights on Livejournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you truly believe in gay rights, then repost this and title the post “gay rights.” If you don’t believe in gay rights, then just ignore this. Thanks.

Simple, easy to do, so you should do it, right?

No. It’s trite, insulting, patronising emotional guilt-tripping. And it’s wrong.

Why?

Well, suppose the message was this:

We would like to know who isn’t antisemitic on LiveJournal. There is no bribe of a miracle or anything like that. If you’re NOT antisemitic, then repost this and title the post as “I hate antisemitism”. If you are antisemitic, then just ignore this. Thanks

I’m supposed to then, presumably, believe that anyone who doesn’t post the comment in their own blog is antisemitic?

Utter nonsense.

Silence doesn’t indicate consent. Not in law, not ethically, not in practice. Everyone has their own ‘red buttons’ that can be pressed and the mere absence of condemnation of something is not in any way indicative of agreement with, nor support for, the thing you or I would like condemned.

While I support the aims and sentiments of Black Lives Matter as a movement, I’ve not marched on their behalf, and I’ve not blogged about it. And yes, while I think the UK government’s welfare benefits cuts have been wrong, cruel and dismissive of the consequences, I’ve rarely blogged about it. My non-blogging or non-tweeting about the coming cut in Employment Support Allowance doesn’t mean I support it.

BUT…

Oh, come on, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming… BUT if you ARE someone who protests that silence is consent… if you ARE someone who says that silence means acquiescence or support for something…

People of colour who’ve been saying that silence means you don’t really support Black Lives Matter? LBGTQI folks saying silence means you effectively support homophobic/transphobic acts and laws? Benefits campaigners saying silence means you don’t care… Anti-austerity campaigners protesting that silence means acquiescence to austerity… Where’s your outrage over #AreJewsPeople? Where are your blogs and your tweets and your condemnation?

Because that’s what you’ve said.

You’ve said silence means consent.

You’ve said silence means acquiescence, that silence means apathy, that silence means support for the other side.

Again, this isn’t aimed at anyone who hasn’t used that argument, but those of you who have previously said “Silence means…” but have not condemned the rampant antisemitism of the alt-right, the overt antisemitism of “Are Jews People?”, the clear and present antisemitism that’s taking place…

Which is it? Is it consent, or acquiescence, or apathy, or support? Do you agree with the statement or do you just not care about it? Or it is just that you’re hypocrites, claiming silence means consent when it suits you but never when it’s your silence?

You know what? Fuck you with your “silence means…”

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


 

POINTED CONVERSATION

Long after the last visitors had left for the day, in those hours after dusk fell but before night commenced, they summoned him. He entered the big room, wiping the sweat from his forehead and cursing. They ignored the former, and didn’t care about the latter. As long as he came when they called, that was all that counted. He was taller than many, this man who constantly sweated and swore, but all of them gathered could remember taller, though none less diligent. He had inherited his role, as had his father before him, and that man’s father before him, and so on going back as long as there had been plants here, long before Kew Gardens existed.

The man took off his coat and casually dropped it carelessly upon the path. All present noted, however, that no part of the coat covered anything green; the man would not make that mistake again. Not after the first and last time. He stepped over one of the short runs of chicken wire and prepared to lay upon the cacti. This was a part the man disliked intensely, yet those present cared little for his preferences, and to be truthful, even the man knew the discomfort was as nothing compared to the unpleasantness of the communication.

As the thousands of pinpricks entered his skin, the plants around him moved; ferns covered his extremities and the man felt a rush of warm air as the door to the carnivorous plants was pushed open. He could smell the unpleasant odour but he knew they were merely there as guards, protectors for the president of the gardens. He looked up as the stag fern stretched out to him, covered his face and received his report, then gave him further instructions. No, the triffids had not been found yet; yes, there were some plants not native to the UK intended for bedding shortly; no, the amount they paid him was not enough, but would have to suffice.

Later, when the man had gone, once again the old arguments commenced, but as always the president had the final word. The private investigator of the plant world would continue his duties, and the plants would endure.

Soon the lights would come, and the water, and the plants – even the carnivores – would be happy.

Until they were not…

© Lee Barnett


See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 42: Mike

Posted: 20 November 2016 in 2017 minus, family, personal
Tags: , ,

Anyone who’s followed my blog for some time – either this one or the one that preceded it – knows that January 9th is a bad day for me. It’s not as bad as it used to be, back when everyone would stay the hell away from me on the day, and I’d answer queries and comments with monosyllabic grunts, but not good, no.

Almost 19 years ago, I lost my big brother at the horribly young age of 38. And every year, on the anniversary of his death, I put something up about him. This, for example, is what I wrote about him this year. 

Occurs to me though that I’ve rarely written about his life, and what it was like to have him as a big brother.

And, since he was born on 20th November 1959, today seems as good a time as any to do so. Warning: this post will probably skip around a bit in terms of tone and times, and for fairly obvious reasons, it’s about Mike and me. Just a heads-up.

Michael Russell Barnett. My big brother. 

He’d have been 57 today. He’d likely have been completely grey/white – his hair was already greying a bit in his mid-30s. Like me, when I started going grey, he pretended it didn’t bother him. Like me, it did. He had red lowlights for a short while, but quickly stopped bothering about it. If it bugged him after that, I never knew about it. 

The greying made us look more alike. We never looked that much like each other; we bore just enough of a resemblance though that folks quickly guessed we were brothers. But he was far better looking than me. I don’t say that out of any false modesty; we used to joke among us three brothers that Mike had the looks, I had the brains, and our younger brother had the practical abilities.

(That wasn’t and isn’t true, of course; my brain was better at numbers and figuring out things, but my younger brother had – and has – a brain for how things worked practically that left mine and Mike’s in the stone age.) 

I can’t remember at time when Mike didn’t have girlfriends, or when he wasn’t surrounded by a mob of friends. He was a great big brother to grow up with: silly when he could be, serious when he had to be, a peacemaker between his younger brothers on more occasions than I can think of.

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

He played the guitar, with more enthusiasm than talent, but I clearly remember the genuine pleasure Mike took in grabbing the Complete Beatles Songbook and playing the classic songs in his bedroom, while we two younger brothers sang along. He loved music; I can’t remember a time when his bedroom wasn’t filled with music, either last week’s charts, which he’d taped from Radio 1, or albums he’d bought.

I’ve said before I couldn’t have asked for a better big brother, and it’s true. I stuck him on a pedestal, a dangerous place for any sibling to stand, but he never let me down. I called him Mike. To most everyone else, he was Michael. He was my big brother and I loved him unquestionably. 

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

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

He took me to one side, one Sunday afternoon, prompted by my parents. He gave me a booklet to read and told me that when I’d read it, I’d be even more confused, but to come find him. He was right. After I’d read this booklet – I remember it had a purple cover, with pictorial representations of a naked man and naked woman – my reaction was mainly one of “I do what with what?” So, I found him in his room, he grabbed dad’s car keys, and we went for a drive, to a pub, about ten miles from home. Once there, he got me a soft drink and we repaired to a bench in the beer garden far from anyone else.

“OK, then,” he said. “Ask away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, now I’m 16 or 17 and I’m watching television with the family, an episode of Quincy*. Long before then, I’d become used to picking up a doctor’s prescription for Mike for something called “digoxinDidn’t have a clue what it was, of course, and since the one time I asked Mike what it was for, I got a genial “mind your own business” and I didn’t have the internet back then… I left it… figuring it wasn’t that important. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

*I’d pay so much money to read a Quincy comic book written by Warren Ellis.

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

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

Wait.

What?

My head whips ’round to look at my big brother, my eyes growing wider with every nanosecond. He shot me a look that repeated his message from a few months previous… And I left it alone. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

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

He was operated on in September 1983; in one of those odd moments of synchronicity, the operation took place on Yom Kippur, during which there’s a bit recited about those who’ll die in the next year. I remember thinking “gee, thanks…” Though my parents were allowed to see him almost immediately after the operation, it was a day or two before I was. 

My big brother was there, unconscious, a yellow tinge to his skin, tubes in various parts of his body, with what looked like a fat, angry, pink-red worm stitched to his chest. 

Yeah it wasn’t pleasant.

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

At the wedding, one of Lynne’s customers arrives late, sees me dancing with Lynne and makes an assumption. Later, half cut, and only semi-jokingly, she says to Lynne (out of my hearing) “Ooh, is the brother [she points at Mike] available? He’s much better looking… You should have married him!” Lynne retorted “I did marry him!” And then immediately seeks me out and, with superlative joy, gets her own back on me for the phone call by telling me… 

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

He enjoyed his life. 

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

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

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

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

I remember being totally calm during the call, then basically falling apart afterwards.

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

He was doing well, recovering…

And then he wasn’t. 

And then he was dead.

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

Or it’ll be his birthday.

And I’ll miss him. I’ll miss him so hard it hurts.

Tonight, I’ll pour myself a drink, wander outside for a moment, raise the glass to the heavens, and thank him for being my brother for 33 years.

Rest easy, brother. x 


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any reviews or thought on television. I occasionally mention “tv shows I don’t like that everyone else does” and I’m duly mocked by those who consider that I have no taste (arguable) or no sense (more arguable). Usually, though, like any form of entertainment I don’t enjoy, my response is not that the show/comedian/movie is no good, nor that I have no taste… it’s just that it’s not to my taste.

But it occurs to me that I hardly ever tell you what I do enjoy watching. I started this post intending to write about comedy, but for various reasons, that’s going to be tomorrow.

So, in no particular order, what tv am I enjoying right now? (This turned out to be a long one, so I’m going to do it as multi-parts, one part very Wednesday. Won’t that be something too look forward to? Yes. Yes, it will. Won’t it?)

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
I’m tickled that Last Week Tonight abbreviates to LWT. There’s no reason why I should find it so amusing, and indeed, odds are that if you’re reading this, you don’t find it amusing at all. In fact, you probably don’t know what LWT is, and was, to a whoe generation of British people. LWT was London Weekend Television, and was for me ‘the weekend’. From early Friday Evening until Sunday night, my ‘local’ telly station was LWT. The logo is over there, by the side. 

Er-hem. Moving on.

Last Week Tonight, as everyone knows, is John Oliver’s show, the show he created for HBO about a year after his just wonderful three month stint sitting in for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, while Stewart was directing  a movie. It took three shows, just three, for Oliver to stop all the “It’s The Daily Show but on Sundays” criticism levelled at the new show. I say ‘criticism’, but that’s too harsh. It was an observation, a wrong one as it happens, as Oliver quickly made LWT into its very own beast. 

I’m not sure what makes me love the show so much. That’s not true: I do know, but I don’t know what single element makes me love it. Because for once a show has the perfect synergy of clever writing,  fantastic helming by Oliver, understanding of social media and its power, smart graphics, intelligent and detailed research, superbly judged guest cameos, and fact checking like you wouldn’t believe. The format allows Oliver to get genuinely angry about things, and the show gives him the  freedom to express that anger. With other ‘adult’ shows, I sometimes get the feeling of “ooh, it’s adult, we can say the word ‘fuck'” naughtiness. Not with LWT, or at least only ever very rarely. Every swear word, every bit of anger shown is – I have no doubt – genuine.

I’ve never met John Oliver, though we have mutual friends. He was a middlingly successful standup comedian over here in the UK before he joined The Daily Show and he occasionally did The Now Show, and Have I Got News For You. I’m genuinely delighted for his success and for the success of the show. He’s just done the last show of his current run of Last Week Tonight, and I’m already missing the show. My week won’t be the same without it.

Once Upon A Time
I’m a sucker for retellings of fairy tales. Whether it’s in prose (Snow Glass Apples by Neil Gaiman and the trilogy Poison, Chase, and Beauty by Sarah Pinborough stand out), in comics (you have read Fables by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham, yes?) or on television, I love seeing how clever writing can make classic tales new. And Once Upon A Time does just that. It had a dip in quality in season 3 that actually led me to drop watching, but out of curiosity, I went back at the start of season 4 and was hooked (you’ll forgive the word, if you’ve seen the series) again. Not every episode f strong, not every performance is wonderful, not every storyline is clever. But enough are, and there’s more than enough plotting and sub-plotting, throughout every show that I keep coming back one more week.

Quantico
One of the cleverest hooks for a show I can recall: in present day, New York suffers a terrorist attack. A newly qualified FBI agent at the scene is told that her organisation believes one of her classmates from a year earlier was involved. And the show then splits into two timelines, one showing her training and the people she trained with… and the other showing the current investigation as well as what happened to all those bright young recruits. The only fault with the show – and it’s one that has continued into the second season – is that sometimes, just sometimes, the flashback/current day synchronicity is a bit… clunky. A lesson learned back then will resonate just a bit too clunkily with a problem to be solved in present day. The acting is great, especially since the actors have to essentially play two roles, one the green recruit, one a  qualified agent. And in one case, the actor has to play four roles. Trust me, it works.

The Arrowverse

Yeah, was kind of obvious, nu? So let’s get them out of the way now. And yes, they’re grouped together because of the four shows, two were direct spin-offs of The Arrow and the fourth, while not originally part of the family of shows, as of this year… is.

The Flash
Let’s get this one out of the way first, as – sadly – it’s my least favourite. And it shouldn’t be. The first season was really good: clever, funny, full of joy… did I mention funny? Later seasons, and we’re a third of the way through season 3 now, lost that. The first season, while having loads of dark moments and clever plotting, was about the joy of discovering what it’s like to be ‘the fastest man alive’. We discovered the sheer fun of being really fast through the eyes of Barry Allen. Then… no. I mean, I really wish I liked this show more than I do. But whatever it had in the early days, it’s lost. I only watch it now for the same reason I read crossover issues of comics I’m not keen on. Just in case I miss something important. Meh.

Legends of Tomorrow
Take a group of diverse characters from the Arrowverse, con them into thinking they’re really important to history, and get them to help you save your son from dying in the future. And since you’re a time traveller, they’ll believe the ‘really important’ bit. Clever set up, but a one episode gag, right? No. Wrong. Flat wrong. This is the show that Flash was in the first season. Clever, funny, smart and dark when necessary. The diversity of the characters, morally as well as otherwise, is fun to watch, and the different time zones allow the characters’ different facets to shine through. At one point in history, knowing how to make a fire is more important than knowing how to fix an engine. At another, knowing how to fight a staged battle was more important than anything. At another, diplomacy was as deadly as a ray gun. Like Once Upon A Time, not every story is a winner, but the hit rate is good enough to keep me watching.

Supergirl
Not quite my favourite of the lot, but damn this show is fun. Perfect casting, great performances, and a Supergirl who can kick butt with the best of them. Other than that, I have no reason why I enjoy the show. The plotting isn’t the best, the episodic nature works agains the show, and the pacing isn’t quite there. But you know what, I don’t care, I just don’t. For once, I just enjoy watching a superhero done right.

Arrow
The daddy of them group. Considering how much I lament the lack of humour, or wonder, in other shows, doesbn’t bother me at all here. This is a show that doesn’t pretend that the characters aren’t hugely damaged: seriously, there’s nt one of the main cast, or even the supporting cast, that isn’t hugely, hugely damaged. And seeing in flashback how one of them became that way, while watching in ‘present day’ the others become that way? It’s grisly and somehow compelling. Do I believe that an of the Arrowverse heroes/vigilantes could occur in ‘real life’? Naah. But if any did, it’d be The Hood.

See you tomorrow, with something about comedy, and who to blame if your favourite comedian doesn’t play your local theatre.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

So, it was the letter.

That, at least according to a leaked email from the post-election Clinton campaign, was the reason former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election.

Of course, that’s not the sole reason, and there are as many proposed suggestions and theories as there are pundits proposing the suggestions and theories. And no, I’m not about to stick in my twopennyworth today. Maybe on another occasions, but not today.

I’ve been amused though that the email has been described as a memo. Not because of the description but because it reminded me of my own memo faux-pas from many, many years ago… Not the only thing I did in my career that positively endangered that career, but probably the first.

So, find a seat, and enjoy…

As people say: “picture the scene: London, 1986…”

I’d been working for my first employers for about eight months. Let’s call them Smith Jones. That wasn’t their name, but I’m not about to reveal it here; they’re still around, last time I looked, and they don’t deserve to be tarnished by this story. Me on the other hand? You’re about to discover that for yourself.  Smith Jones were a firm of London accountants, situated in Central London, near Regent Street, not far in fact from where I’ll often grab a coffee these days if I’m in town. Smith Jones had eight partners, including a new partner who’d been promoted from the ranks about three months earlier.

At the time, I spent almost all my time at a major client, not far from where Forbidden Planet is these days. The client was huge with multiple companies and – like painting the legendary bridge – as soon as that year’s audit for the last company was completed, you started with the following year’s audit for the first company… There were a lot of companies.

At this company was a secretary named, oh, let’s call her Cheryl. Again, not her real name. Cheryl was nice, I got on with her fine. I liked her, we shared jokes when I was in the office and… all right, I fancied her, ok? You dragged it out of me.

(My son, if he’s read this far, is shuddering at the thought that I was about his age when this took place, and urgh – my dad fancied someone…)

Thing was, Cheryl didn’t like working late; it wasn’t the work she didn’t like, but the walk home late at night. She didn’t like walking to the tube station late at night, and really didn’t like walking home from the tube station the other end. 

One evening she had to work late – finishing off something or another – and I offered to hang around and walk her to the tube station and thence home. (It wasn’t a huge imposition, she didn’t live far from me.) But whether I’d have stayed late if I didn’t “like” her? Who knows…?

Now, as I say, my work was mainly at the client, and she was working at the main office… where I didn’t have any work to do. This was 1986, remember? No mobile phone, no laptop computer. In fact, as far as I remember, no networked system. She was typing stuff up on an electric typewriter.

So I had a couple of hours to kill.

Yeah, danger signals should be blaring right about now.

For a laugh, I grabbed a typewriter and over the next hour or so, I typed up a document entitled: Working at Smith Jones: an employees’ guide.

I threw every old gag I could think of into the document, including: 

  • Q: How do I stand for getting time off? A: You don’t; you get on your knees and beg like everyone else; and
  • Q: Fastest way of getting news around the organisation? Q: Tell [another secretary’s name] and ask her to keep it quiet.

Three mistakes I made:

  1. Writing the damn thing in the first place
  2. Not destroying it.
  3. Giving a copy the following morning to a friend who also worked there.

He of course gave it to another colleague who gave it to someone else who…

Well, a couple of days later, I got a call from the senior partner’s secretary asking me to come into the office as soon as I could. I didn’t have a clue what it was about but such a request from a partner wasn’t unusual because I worked for several partners on various audits, and I had a decent rep already as someone who was good at jumping in to half-finished work, and completing it.

I walked into the office; before I should see anyone, a friend grabbed me and took to one side…

Someone – and I instantly knew who it was – had got hold of a copy, had photocopied about a hundred versions and the following morning, everyone at the office had come in to find a copy on their desk. My name wasn’t on it, but even back then, my style of writing, and sense of humour, was fairly recognisable.

Long story short – too late, methinks – I got the bollocking of a lifetime and had to deliver hand written letters of apology to each of the partners together with an assurance that such behaviour would never be repeated.

To be fair to the company, it was never referred to again, and if it in any way affected the remainder of my time at the company, I’m entirely unaware of it; I enjoyed working for them enormously. 

Maybe the generally affectionate tone of the piece – on the whole, it wasn’t nasty, just gossipy and gently mocking – led them to treat me leniently.

There’ve been occasions since then where I’ve written something “silly” to get the silliness out of the way before writing something serious. And similarly, times I’ve written something to get the venom out, so I can write something calmly.

Anyway, memos, huh? 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.