Posts Tagged ‘life’

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

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

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

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

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

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

As far as I know, anyway.

That’s not going to last.

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

Yeah, they were right, I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Struggling”. Yeah, that’s the word.

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

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

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

I’ve been better.


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

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

My mate Mitch

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we just never met.


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

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

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

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

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

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

It could have been no more than that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I did. In both meanings.

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

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

And I needed friends.

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

Because I was in the process of cracking up.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

But here are a couple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, you can see where this is heading.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Happy birthday, Mitch.

And thanks for being… well… you.

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

A short post today.

A very short one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since then? Since we split in July 2005? Ah, well, since then… I’ve never been romantically involved, (to put it formally), or ‘seeing anyone’ (to put it casually), on the day.

And although I’ve no doubt I’ve been in company on various 14th Februaries over the past decade and a half, I haven’t sent nor received cards, nor bought roses nor chocolates for anyone on Valentine’s Day since at least February 2006.

Indeed, I’ve neither been romantically involved, nor ‘seen anyone’ at all, for… well, trust me, you don’t want to know how long it’s been.

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

And so we’re on the final day of 2019. And the final post of this countdown.

But yeah, the final day of 2019; as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, few will be sorry to see it depart.

But as with any year, even the worst, it hasn’t been totally, unreservedly, full of shit. There have been good things, objectively good things. Even in 2019, there have been things that have made me smile, made me laugh, made me forget the shittiness… just for a bit.

And that’s true both on the entirely personal, and in the larger sphere, in the world.

So, since there’s been some more personal entries this time around, here’s some personal stuff that under any parameters, under any objective look, must be filed under the ‘good’ category.

These are in no particular order, I hasten to add… not chronologically nor in personal importance.

So… Good stuff – Personal

Edinburgh

Not just the place, not even just The Edinburgh Fringe, but that I got to spend – for the first time in five years, my birthday in Edinburgh during The Fringe.

Yes, Edinburgh this year wasn’t exactly empty of drama, and yes, I spent one night in agony and in hospital.

But getting to Edinburgh every year (ok, seven years of the past nine, and every year since 2014) is unquestionably good for me. Not only does everyone else notice it, and tell me, but more astonishingly, I know it. None of this ‘well, I guess so’. No, I know that I return from Edinburgh somehow… better.

Of course after a few months, that knowledge tends to fade a bit. The importance, I mean. Because while I always kind-of-remember that I kind-of-like the place… it’s not until I get up there that it hits me once again with full force… that in fact I truly love the place, love every bit of it.

Yep. I love every bit of the fringe, and love seeing friends and acts I know, and discovering new acts… and I get to have coffee in one of my favourite places to have coffee.

And I get to see a lot of comedy, a lot of new comedy; new acts, new material, new shows.

This year was particularly good, both because I got to spend my birthday up there and also because of the quality of the shows I saw.

Yeah, this was, no matter what else happened while I was up there this year… A Good Thing.

Writing

So, I’ve done more writing this year than I have in ages. Both on here (about more of which in a moment) and elsewhere. I’ve written scripts; I’ve written some short stories that I’m still pondering what to do with; I’ve helped write a comedy show; I’ve plotted out an anthology of short stories with a single theme. I’ve pulled a couple of stories ‘out of the drawer’ and have started working on those as well.

More importantly, arguably, I’ve remembered how much I enjoy… making words do what I want them to, and when they won’t do what I want them to, I’ve enjoyed the ‘figuring out what’s wrong, and how to fix the problem’ as well.

So, yeah, I’ve been writing again; again, I’d assert, in fact I do assert: A Good Thing.

Blogging

Yeah, this place. For the first time since the end of 2016, I’ve been blogging this year, I started off, after two and a half years away from the blog, in late June, hoping to make it to my birthday.

Y’see, I’d started to get the itch a month or so earlier, but it really bit when I realised that I was coming up on fifty-five days before my fifty-fifth birthday. And I can’t resist a countdown, as long time readers will know.

And having learned from previous experiences that a countdown of some kind actively helped me in daily blogging, I started the 55 minus countdown which led up to my birthday in mid-August.

And then I… continued the daily blogging, with the 55 plus run, which ran for fifty-five days after my birthday…

…which finished just before the coincidental date on which I’d need to start if I wanted to repeat 2016’s year-end countdown. So I… just carried on blogging with the countdown that’s ending today: 2020 minus.

(No idea what happens next; I guess we’ll discover that together.)

Now, whether anyone else thinks me blogging is a good thing, I don’t know, and to a large extend I don’t care. (I’ve deliberately not kept an eye on the readership numbers; that in and of itself is probably A Good Thing,) But for me, personally, writing stuff again, putting stuff out there? Yeah, A Good Thing.

Merry

You don’t know who or what Merry is, or to what I’m referring. That’s cool. But friends of mine who have had an Australian labradoodle (best and most accurately described by one of them as a Special Needs Wookiee) got another puppy this year. She’s another labradoodle, but this time part-miniature poodle.

And she’s named Merry.

I can’t ever remember taking to a dog so quickly, but yeah, she’s adorable and fun, and she’s lovely. And she’s made things a bit better when I’ve visited or stayed over.

Now if she can just stop dividing the world into a) ‘things I can eat’, b) ‘things I can’t eat but am going to anyway’, and c) ‘people’s body parts I can lick’, that would be even better A Good Thing.

Phil back in London

My lad Philip, now 24, has been back in London for most of 2019; it’s been a genuine pleasure that he’s been local once again, that I can see him whenever we want, that he can come up to the flat to visit his old man to chat, to pass the time, to play backgammon, to watch some telly… just to hang out.

It’s been lovely, and unreservedly A Good Thing that happened in 2019.

The friends who are still friends

This year’s been rough for everyone, myself included, and it’s been good that there have been friends who have been there, who have been there at the end of the phone, or online, or who I’ve visited, or who’ve visited me, just for the pleasure – and sometimes relief from the world’s shittiness – of spending time in each others’ company.

Help when we’ve wanted it, advice when we’ve needed it, having each others’ back when needed. A Good Thing.

The friends who are no longer friends

Odd that I’d label this as A Good Thing, nu?

No, not at all. Because people I’ve fallen out with, this year, I don’t regret for a moment that we did so. Some were decades’ long friendships that ended over politics, or the election, or merely because it was time, long past time, that the polite fiction of our friendship that we maintained for far too long… ended.

If we fell out over politics, or antisemitism, or even just ‘stuff that happened’ this year, then I genuinely hope you don’t regret it, or wish it hadn’t happened. Because I sure as hell don’t.

Some truly excellent television

Yes, seriously. Some wonderful new tv series that I watched and enjoyed and that made life just a little bit better while I was watching; tv that I’m glad is in the world, and glad that I watched it. (Yes, of course there were new seasons of old shows that I enjoyed but I’m sticking to brand new shows just for a moment.)

Good Omens, Watchmen, Treadstone, Prodigal Son: All new, all flat out excellent, all led in unexpected directions, all must-see television.

But despite my previous comments about new shows… I’d be remiss if I didn’t give an especially huge nod and tip of the hat to Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal whose sheer wonder has given me hours of enjoyment and laughter. And with all the shit this year’s handed all of us, that laughter and enjoyment was dearly & desperately needed & appreciated.

All Good Things, indeed.

The Distraction Club

I’ve written about The Distraction Club loads of times in the blog but I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated, ever needed, it as much as I did this year.

I’ve been a fan of muscial comedy for as long as I can recall. Whether it was Richard Stilgoe crafting exquisitely perfect comedy songs on the radio, or watching Victor Borge at my grandparents’ (My grandmother would be reduced to tears of laughter watching him) or all who came later, or indeed before but that I discovered later…

…the first Tuesday in every month brings The Distraction Club, downstairs at The Phoenix in Cavendish Square.

Usually five acts including a headliner, and – I’ll be fair – as often as not, there’s one act I don’t enjoy. But that means there are three or four I do plus Mitch and the band, and that makes it more than worth it.

So many acts I’ve seen there, so many I now know to talk to, to chat with.

This is unquestionably A Good Thing, and 2019’s run of shows have been among the very best.

Radio 4

Not just Radio 4 as a whole, but two specific voices on Radio 4. Corrie Corfield and Carolyn Quinn, two voices whose appearance on the radio always… helps.

Two ultimately professional radio people, there have been times in the past few years, and especially this year, when hearing their calm, measured tones – Corrie’s a continuity announcer and news reader, Carolyn presents The Westminster Hour among other political shows – have… helped.

That’s all.

They’ve… helped. And that’s, I’d suggest, A Good Thing.

Rachel Maddow, Steve Kornacki & Ann Telnaes

Three from across the pond. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for The Rachel Maddow Show. It’s exactly the sort of detailed news/politics show that I love; the style, in some ways, echoes the great Alistair Cooke’s linking of ‘what is happening today’ to ‘what happened before’ and why it matters.

When I can watch, I do so; when I can’t watch, I’ll listen to the audio podcast the following day. She’s smart, funny, and incisive. And my favourite ‘explainer of what the hell just happened’.

Steve Kornacki is the single ‘elections explainer’ – on either side of the Atlantic – I’ll go out of my way to watch. He makes Peter Snow (who some of you will remember) look positively unenthusiastic about elections and his explanations of the quirks, anomalies and expectations make the ludicrous seem… well, if not less ludicrous, then at least understandable why they’re important ludicrosities.

Ann Telnaes is my favourite US cartoonist and caricaturist, bar none. I said a while back that her style is one of scathing whimsy and that’s all you should need to know about why I adore her work so much.

Three Americans whose work I’m very glad I got the opportunity to see this year. And I regard the work of all three, individually and collectiively, as A Good Thing in 2019.

Neil Gaiman

I got to catch up with Neil a few times this year while he was over, and talked to him more often than for a while. I’ve known Neil for more than 20 years and there’s no one on the planet better at guilt tripping me into writing more, into opening the ipad, opening a writing app… and just… writing, putting one word after another. And then doing it again. And again.

He also understands where I’m coming from re various stuff in a way that many don’t. And I’m always and neverendingly grateful for the Good Thing that is his friendship.

Mitch Benn

I honesty don’t know where to start with how much I owe my mate Mitch.

I’d been a fan of his work for years before we finally met, and when we did meet, it was when he was fairly busy, recording the video for (I’m) Proud Of The BBC. So we only got to briefly chat on that occasion.

Long story short, we became friends and it’s something I never cease to be grateful for. Later, he invited me to helped write his Radio 4 shows on Bowie, Dylan and Elvis, and that he trusts me to help with his Edinburgh shows is an annual Good Thing that always flatters and honours me.

But that’s not why I’m listing our friendship in 2019 as A Good Thing. He’s a nice man, a good man, and I don’t think there’s been a single conversation we’ve had this year (any year, come to that) where I haven’t come away from the chat having learned something.

Our interests, our experiences in life, are wholly different, and yet, somehow we managed to have shared interests to the point where he knows shedloads about a subject that I don’t know, even though I know shedloads about the same subject that he doesn’t.

(Honourable exceptions for ‘keys’ in music which I still don’t understand – don’t try to explain it, you’ll end up wanting to thump me – and balance sheets which I’m not entirely convinced he does. Oddly though, ‘substance over form’ is something from accountancy that Mitch does understand, though I’m not entirely sure he knows he does.)

Mitch; his music, his judgement, his advice, his intelligence, and his friendship. All, unreservedly, without mitigation, Good Things.

Clara, Roger, Micah and Astrid

Clara is Mitch’s ex, (and if you’re looking for ‘people who split up but remain the closest of friends‘, since you don’t know me and Laura, I’ll just point you at them.)

Roger’s Clara’s fella. Micah and Astrid are Clara and Mitch’s kids. And they’re who I spend a night a week, or so, with.

I won’t say I wouldn’t have survived 2019 without them, but their home, their friendship, their love and them being… them, has certainly made 2019 easier. I’ve laughed and smiled and reminisced and been silly and been drunk on single malt more in Clara and Roger’s company than in anyone else’s the past few years and it’s always been from a spirit of comfort and friendship.

Their friendship and love is always and forever A Good Thing.

My ex-wife, Laura

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

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


OK, that’s the A Good Thing stuff done for my personal stuff.

Now onto the A Good Thing for the non-personal, for the world at large stuff.

Hmm.

Er…

Well now.

I’m joking, of course. For all the shit that’s around, some things have got better.

Take a look at this, for example.

Britain went two weeks without using coal. First time ever.

And over the past few years…?

I wish everyone a good, happy, rewarding 2020.

See you on the other side of the year-end….

Two weeks left.

Well, a little under two weeks, I guess.

A little under two weeks.

And then 2019 will finally be over.

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

But it’ll be dead.

Except it won’t. Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I am so fucking tired.

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

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

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

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

And now we approach 2020.

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

Who knew?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But history in the making? Certainly.

But then there’s always history in the making.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did.

It will have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because the same two names kept coming up:

David Bowie

and

Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that one still hurts.

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

“I hope they knew how much they were loved”

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell them.

Something else tomorrow; maybe another Ten Things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those names?

Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L E E    B A R N E T T

Which brings me on to…

Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

Three more.

The obvious one: Budgie

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

That’s ok, honestly.

We’ll wait for you.

Ok, everyone up to speed? Good.

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

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

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

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

Yehuda ben Abram Shmuel

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

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

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

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

Very logical language, Hebrew.

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

Dad

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

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

I kind of like being called Dad.

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

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

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

“it didnt happen!”

 
or
 

never happened!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, say, something even less… heartwarming.

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

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

Someone exaggerating on Twitter? Perish the very thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

And my favourite from that session:

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


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

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

And she walks towards the door very huffily.

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


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


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


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


 
But this, this is probably my all time favourite:

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

erm, yes.

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

Earlier on in this run, I wrote about skillsets some have for their careers that I don’t have, and that I wish I genuinely understood inside and out.

But of course there are other things – not limited to skillsets – that I either don’t understand and wish I did understand, or don’t understand and don’t really care that I don’t understand…

And then there are the subject matters about which people care hugely; they’re important to them in a way that not only are they not to me, but I don’t even understand why they are to people. On an individual sense, I mean.

Like fashion, say, but we’ll come back to that.

No matter what the industry, I’ll acknowledge immediately that they’re important to people who work in the industry. I couldn’t give a damn about the design of mass produced greetings cards, say. Not really. One’s the same as another in most cases, as far as I see. Except the ones you see, look again in disbelief, and then are terrified that someone actually got paid to design it.

But for those who work in the greetings cards industries, I quite understand why it’s important to them; to the government who collects taxation from the companies, the payroll taxes, the corporation taxes, etc. To those whose livelihood depends on that industry, yes, I get all of that.

That caveat needs to be up front and centre. Any industry is important to those working in it.

Like fashion, say. But we’ll come back to that.

Small – but relevant to what follows – diversion: this isn’t fishing for compliments, but I’ve never thought of myself as ‘good looking’. OK, I’ll admit that I’m better looking than I used to be (as the annually updated A Life In Pictures post proves) but… objectively ‘good looking’?

No.

Not at all.

I’m… ok, I guess. On a good day, I might qualify for a bit better than ‘plain’. Again – not fishing for compliments here.

But I say all that I have above in order to now recognise that even I, looking like I do, am vain enough to not like it if I have a crappy haircut, or have a spot appear on my face.

I stress the above to acknowledge that there’s some, small, vanity, on minor things before going on to say that in a major way, vanity has affected my choice in clothes.

I’m not sure who first observed that clothes form an inherent part of your identity. But of course they’re correct, both in how others see you and how you see yourself. But despite the above, I’ve never much cared about how people see me, only about what they thought of me, and even then only with some people.

Going back a few decades, I don’t really remember choosing clothes to ‘look good’ before I got married. (Yes, yes, that annual post proves it. I know.)

I wore what was ‘appropriate’ for the setting (work, synagogue, pub), and b) what I felt comfortable wearing… but not really more than that.

Wasn’t fashionable usually, if ever. Yeah, fashion. We’re getting there, I promise.

Then I met the lady who became my wife. Yeah, a lot of stories start like that.

Laura had, has, far better taste than me in clothes, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to surprise me with a top, or a shirt or a jacket… In all the time we were together, maybe twice, maybe three times, I didn’t like her voice. Every other time, it was great; it suited me; I liked it.

When we split up, I dressed all-in-black for something… and for the first time – genuinely, the first time ever – pretty much everyone complimented me on how I looked. (To the point that I briefly but genuinely wondered whether they’d gotten together to take the piss.)

But no. I dressed all-in-black at work; got compliments. Dressed all-in-black for a social occasion… same result.

Huh. Weird.

I’ve said before those who are good looking, have always been told they’re good looking, genuinely don’t have a clue what it’s like to not receive those life long compliments. No more than those of us who didn’t get them have the slightest comprehension what it’s like to get those compliments through your life.

So me getting compliments all the time for how ‘all-in-black’ suited me, how much better I looked, astonished me.

Even weirder was how I felt about dressing all in black: very, very comfortable, very… ‘me’.

Yes, there was good natured mockery, the ‘goth’ comments, the “DarkBudgie” silliness. (Remember: I’m a huge fan of silliness.)

So, lots of reasons for me to continue: I liked it, it was easy, people seemed to think I looked good in it, and I felt comfortable as hell wearing it.

And here we go…

At no point was I wearing black because, say, it was the ‘in’ thing to wear; at no point was I wearing it because ‘everyone I knew and mixed with was wearing it’; at no point was I wearing it to ‘make a statement’, or to ‘make a point’.

Which brings me to fashion. Both as a concept, and an industry.

I don’t get it.

I mean, leaving aside the economics of it…

  • dresses that cost more to deliver than to purchase
  • wages paid to those who make the clothes that make people blush
  • built in short term obsolescence

…the very idea of social acceptance or otherwise thought wearing what has been decided is this year’s Thing… I’m utterly mystified by the idea.

It’s not just the actual clothes in the fashion industry, of course, that mystify and puzzle me. The ‘you can’t wear the same this year/season as last’. I don’t get it. The ‘you must buy new and newer and different.

I don’t have many pairs of shoes; a pair of trainers, a decent pair of brogues, a pair of plain formal shoes. and I’ve pretty much replaced them with identical pairs. (OK, I could excuse that because I’ve a fucked up foot.) But that wouldn’t explain why I also have lots of identical shirts, and identical pairs of plain trousers.

Having multiple outfits for multiple occasions, mixing and matching – and purchasing stuff in order to do so… not being able to, nor wanting, to wear the same clothes repeatedly.

Fashion: I don’t get it. At all.

I honestly wish I did.

Yeah, this didn’t start out as a whinge. I’m sorry it turned into one…


Well, that didn’t exactly turn out as planned. To reward you for slogging through it, I’ll let you know about the single best mass-produced greetings card I’ve ever seen, in Bermuda, in the mid-1990s. Die cut, so the front of the card was slightly smaller than the back of the card. The front of the card had a typical 1950s detective or PI. Low slung hat, raincoat.

The front of the card read: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. Somewhere, someone’s in trouble. Somewhere, someone needs to stroke a small animal. That’s where I come in.”

When you opened the card, you saw the same defective, his raincoat now open with:

“My name’s Friday. I carry a badger”.


See you tomorrow, with something more interesting.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

In August, I’ll have been in my current flat (ok, ok, ‘apartment’, for the Americans reading) ‪for two and a half years.

Two and a half years. Yes, that feels about right to me.

Which is… odd, because in the closing days of January, when it occurred to me that I’d been at the flat almost two years, it was quite a surprise to me.

It couldn’t be two years, it just couldn’t be. But it was. That meant two birthdays, two Christmasses, ‬two New Years… and while I knew it intellectually, it sure felt a lot less than two years had gone by since I left Richmond, Well, Ham, actually, but yeah, Richmond.

But now, this… two and a half years feels about right.

‬I’ve lived in London since early 1986, and while I can’t say it’s my favourite place in the UK, let alone the world¹, it’s where I’ve chosen to live since I was in my early 20s.

The UK. Ah, the United Kingdom. Four nations, four countries, yet I still think of it as one ‘place’, and I think of myself as British, not English.

On a related point, I don’t really ‘get’ patriotism, as a concept, I mean.

I can understand immigrants to a country being grateful to a country that takes them in, and ‘loving’ their new country because of it, sure. But loving a country merely because you were born there, thinking it’s the ‘greatest country on earth’, etc. Hmm, no, never understood that.

But I digress. Back to the UK.

While I’ve been to three of the constituent parts of the UK, I’ve never yet managed to make it over to Northern Ireland. I kind of regret that.

Wales I visited a couple of times in my 20s, and I dunno, once or twice a decade since?Scotland, I’ve only visited half a dozen times or so, all in the past decade, but only to the Isle of Skye, and Edinburgh. And my favourite place in the UK, I have to say, is… Edinburgh.

But, I should acknowledge, that opinion comes with so many caveats, I’m not totally sure it’s a fair view to express. For a start, I’ve only been to Edinburgh six times, each visit for roughly a week. In August. During the Edinburgh Festival, or more properly, at the Edinburgh Fringe. So it’s at least arguable that my favourite place isn’t Edinburgh per se, but that weird place named ‘EdinburghDuringFringe’.

Now, I could write several posts’ worth of content on the Edinburgh Fringe… which means, as you no doubt realise, that I probably will. I’ve always been curious whether I’d enjoy Edinburgh as much outside August, when every other door in the city doesn’t lead to a venue, when a walk along a street doesn’t leave you with pockets full of flyers, when the streets aren’t so packed they make London’s Oxford Street on Christmas Eve look empty.

I’m digressing again. Apologies. Back to London for a bit.

When I first moved to London, in 1986, it was to a flat-share near Ilford. Not one of my smarter moves, I never really enjoyed my time there; in part because what was originally just me and the fella who owned the flat quickly – a couple of weeks later – became me, the fella who owned the flat… and his new fiancée, who he proposed to. Two weeks after I moved in. And two weeks before she moved in. The flat was great for two, and awful for three… and after a month of that, I was looking again.

About my only fond memories of the flat are of the fiancée who was very sweetly embarrassed about the whole thing, and a beigel bakery that had just opened nearby.

So I moved into a flat in Highgate. I’d say that the landlady was the typical ‘little old lady’ who had a nice flat but just liked having lodgers but she was anything but typical. Managing Director of a thriving electrical wholesale business – she’d taken over after her husband died – she had a brain like a razor blade, was funny as hell, and… just liked having lodgers. I was there for a few years, and only moved out after she died and her family sold the flat.

I’ve many, many fond memories of the flat and of Highgate itself. Particularly of the people living in Highgate, and of one fella, named D’Arcy – never knew his first name, everyone just called him D’Arcy – who ran a coffee shop in Highgate Village. I’d wander down there at the weekend, and when taking a break while on accountancy study leave. And we’d play chess, and backgammon, and shoot the breeze about anything and everything. Lovely man; funny, a booming voice, and a fund of stories about his background, some of which might even have been true.

A couple of years in North Finchley followed, a house share, the only place I’ve lived in where I was almost ashamed to invite people back to. Awful. Six of us in the house, at any point three of us weren’t talking to another three. But there was a Canadian writer living there, and we hit it off… a playwrite, she was fascinated by British radio comedy…

I can no longer remember whose idea it was to write together, but we submitted some stuff to Radio 4… and soon enough we were both commissioned to write for Weekending. And yet that isn’t the prime memory of my life at the house. Because I’d met Laura… and started going out with Laura, and gotten engaged to Laura…

Oh, and I was still studying to be an accountant, so there was that as well.

The next twelve years was spent living with Laura, at a flat in Barnet, and then a house. They weren’t all fantastic years. But they were great places to live, with Laura and then Phil, when he came along a year or so after we married, and I can barely remember any of the bad times now; on the whole, they were good years.

A flat in Barnet for seven years after we split up; oh, I loved that two bedroom flat; just big enough for me to not feel crowded with all my stuff in it; small enough that it felt like ‘mine’. And Phil was regularly there which made it even better.

Career was going well, social life was great-ish, comics stuff was great, writing stuff was great. Flat was great.

Then…

Yeah… then.

I mentioned yesterday that I’d had some mental health issues, and I wouldn’t yet go into detail. I had, and I won’t. Suffice to say that I had a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown, and leave it there… for the moment. Only reason I’m mentioning it here is to get to what came next: close friends said ‘come and stay with us for a few months… we’d love to have you…’

“A few months.”

Four and a half years. And I loved living there. In Ham, in Richmond. I discovered how much I enjoyed Richmond Park; genuinely never expected that. Until then, friends would good-naturedly rib me at my lack of interest in, let alone affinity for, nature and all things… green. But I loved the place. I rediscovered how much I enjoyed living in what’s effectively a village, but with all the advantages of a large town mere minutes away.

But, in early 2017, it was time to move on, and so I did… to my current place, in Abbey Road; as I said yesterday, very close to Abbey Road Studios.

Every place I’ve lived, I’ve some fond memories. Every place I’ve lived, there’s been oddities and weird quirks. Never expected, however, to find tourists asking me for directions every third day, or traffic being held up as other tourists pose on that bloody crossing… You’d think that’d get tiring, and the latter, yeah it does.

But the former, the asking for directions? Nope. After two and a half years, it’s still cute, and sweet, and genuinely lovely. Their enthusiasm, their ‘we made it half way around the world, but we can’t find something 300m away’? Yeah, honestly, that’s never anything but… nice. And their gratitude is politeness itself.

I’ve lived in London since 1986. Thirty-three years; three-fifths of my life; hell, almost all of my adult life. At some time in the future, no doubt, I’ll start to feel like ‘a Londoner’, to feel that “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ will apply to me. I hope so. Because really, I don’t. I feel like a welcomed guest, someone to who London has said ‘come on in, stay as long as you want, you’re always welcome here’.

And for the past two and a half years, that’s been in Abbey Road.

I wonder what the next two and half will bring.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹ one of the best things about writing a blog is the ‘huh, I should write an entry on that at some point’ thought, so maybe a ‘favourite places around the world’ entry will appear later on in this run. Maybe.

Eighteen Years

Posted: 9 January 2016 in family, life
Tags: ,

Eighteen years. Almost two decades. Or to be more precise, eighteen years and four and a half or so hours since my brother died.

And yes, I rewrite this every year. I stick up something about Mike annually on this day with not a smidgen of guilt nor concern; Michael deserves a public remembrance from me every year.

9th January 1998. I’d gotten into work early and, having dropped my bag at the office, was having a coffee across the road at my then favoured café. Thirty minutes or so after sitting down, around five-past eight, someone else who’d been in early came to get me; a call from Laura. I know, this was long enough ago that I didn’t possess a mobile phone. I went back to the office with a growing sense of dread; a call from my wife, mentioning my brother didn’t sound like good news. It wasn’t; a call to the hospital led to a growing suspicion from the immediately understandable reticence of the doctor to tell me anything over the phone… and then the knowledge – the horrible, horrible knowledge – that my brother had died.

Not a good morning.

Mike was 38 years old, over a decade younger than I am now. And that’s a thing you never get used to – that you’re now older than someone who was older than you. It’s a genuinely strange feeling, realising that; knowing that you’re seeing birthdays that he never reached, experiencing birthdays, anniversaries, life, that he never got to have.

And that’s leaving to one side the fact that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost the chance to see Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know Mike. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

I’ve got friends who I’ve met over the past few years who I absolutely know Michael would have liked to have met, and they’d have liked to have known him. I can easily see Mitch and Clara sharing a laugh with Mike; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow friends and close ones to do that. I can also smile, reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have at various times, cheered him, made him laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation. He was my brother and I loved him – what else would you expect?

Where the hell have those eighteen years gone? Eighteen years… Of course, I know the answer to that: I look at my son, and know the final family photo taken of Mike was with Philip, when the latter was a little over two years old. And Phil’s now twenty, an adult, and he’s studying at Aberystwyth with his fiancée, far more interested in spending time there with her than with his old man. And I don’t – and won’t – blame him for that.

Still and all, where have the years gone?

Eighteen Years.

I’ve said before – and I maintain – that it’s utter nonsense to say that ‘time heals every wound’. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close. What it does do, I’ve discovered – and I rediscover with every passing year – is lessen the temptation to pick at the scab.

So with every year that passes, it hurts a little less… most of the time.

Every so often, of course, it bites; it hurts terribly, and I miss him so fucking much; his wry humour, the love of comedy we shared, the cool way he’d examine a problem from every side, then laugh and say “fuck it, go for it…”

Michael Russell Barnett wasn’t perfect, far from it. He loved puns, just didn’t ‘get’ comics at all, had problems carrying a tune in a bucket, and his enthusiasm for playing the guitar wasn’t in any way matched by ability.

Still, as a brother, Mike was as good as they get and if I’d have gone to Brothers ‘R’ Us, I couldn’t have picked better. He taught me so much, and I hope he knew how much I respected him as a person, not just as a brother. I was best man at his wedding to Lynne, and that he trusted me (at the age of 21) with that responsibility honoured me then, and it still does. I’ve still many wonderful memories of Michael, but those few hours on the morning of his wedding when it was just me and him… ah, they’re memories I wouldn’t trade for anything.

He died eighteen years ago today and I miss him dreadfully, especially today. I miss him always, but today, it’s a bugger.

Rest easy, brother.


A few years ago, after I posted something similar to the above, I got several emails and messages from people who either didn’t know I’d had a brother, or didn’t know what had happened. Both asked what had happened. Here’s what I put up in response..

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; I’ve linked to it before, but figured it was about time I put it on this blog as well. So, here it is:

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

 

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

– o –

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

– o –

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

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

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

I’m a huge fan of the work of the late Alistair Cooke; it’s rare that a month will go by when I don’t load up the iPhone with some Letters from America and listen to them while out on a wander. Though I’d been listening to his work – and reading his writings – for some twenty years before he died, I was never under the impression that I ‘knew’ him, nor that I would ever be fortunate enough to meet him. I would have liked to discuss politics with him, and the media, and the colours of the trees in the Fall. I suspect, however, that we would not have personally liked each other that much. Biographies of the man, and articles written about his after his death show a man utterly dedicated to his work, and a warm, wry companion, but someone without that big a sense of humour about the work. 

It may be a fault of mine, but I find it hard to genuinely like people who don’t have a sense of humour about their work. That’s not to say that such people work any harder or less hard at their chosen trade or profession than those who can tell the best jokes about their jobs. And of course, I’m excluding those who are having a rough time of it at their work, or who are doing a job they really don’t like, which can happen for any number of reasons.

One of the primary requirements for someone being invited onto the panel for hypotheticals, the panel which Dave Gibbons and I ran at the main British comics convention for over a decade was to have that sense of humour, an innate sense of the ridiculous about what they did and do for a living. And I don’t think it a coincidence that the most successful panellists were those who exhibited that during the panel.

About two-thirds of the way through the run, a very famous writer was supposed to be attending the con. This man, a very famous writer, I remind you, looked to be the perfect person to invite onto the panel; he’d written a critically acclaimed and popular SF series, and had written some well received comic books. I didn’t know this man, but in the old phrase, I knew a man who did. So I dropped my acquaintance – another comics writer, also very well known – an email. They knew all about hypotheticals, and in fact had an open invitation to appear any time they were over. My contact didn’t exactly warn me off inviting the very famous writer onto the panel but did earnestly the recommend I read some interviews with the writer. I did do and quickly realised that although the writer had a warm sense of humour about many things, he did not seem to have one about either his writing or the craft of writing itself. I never invited him onto the panel (and as it turned out, he didn’t show at the con either; personal circumstances got in the way.)

For most of my adult life, I worked either as an accountant in the entertainment industry, either as a practicing accountant doing other people’s books, or on the commercial side in a finance department. I’ careful to say that I was an entertainment accountant, not an entertaining accountant; there are many of the former and precious few of the latter. To my constant delight, I found that almost all of the ‘talent’ I encountered was genuinely as nice in person as they appeared on screen, often nicer. However, there were always the exceptions, as there are in every field of human endeavour. There are lots of people supremely gifted at what they do, who are absolute shits as human beings, whether that’s because they hold and express racist, sexist or homophobic options, are quick to anger and use their fists, hold political opinions that are – to be kind – less than progressive, or are just very unpleasant people.

It’s in politics and sports however, that it strikes me as most jarring. I follow the first with great interest and the second hardly at all. (Although I have a fond feeling for ‘my’ football team, it goes no further than being pleased when they win and displeased when they lose. I’ve seen only a handful of matches in my life and have no great wish to see any more.) But it’s within those two spheres it seems where the tribal nature of ‘fandom’ and support coincide to allow people to ‘excuse’ the personal behaviour of the ‘stars’. 

If the lead striker of, say, Manchester Athletic (yes, I know they don’t exist, I’m just using an example) a footballer of astonishing talent, came out with a comment that was at least arguably racist, many fans of the team would excuse the comment or seek to lessen its impact merely because the man is good at scoring goals. If he said something homophobic, fans would say he’d been misinterpreted at best, or agree with him at worst. If he commented on the Middle East, no matter what he said, no matter how well sourced and intelligent or ignorant and naive, fans would excuse him merely because the man is good at scoring goals. I believe this firmly, because when a footballer made a symbol widely associated with anti-semitism, the fans did excuse the footballer in question, saying he’d been misinterpreted, saying he didn’t mean it, excusing his actions.

A boxer, a man who to be honest, I’d never heard of before last week (told you I don’t follow sports) made homophobic statements. His name is Tyson Fury, and yes, that’s his real name. He’s not denied making the comments but insists their neither sexist nor homophobic. (They are.) It may be that he genuinely believes they’re not. (They are.)  It could be that he’s genuinely so unintelligent that he doesn’t realise they are. (They are.)

And his fans excuse him. His fans say he’s being treated unfairly. His fans say everyone’s overreacting. 

It reminds me of nothing so much as the excuses offered by supporters when politicians from the right, from the Conservative Party, from UKIP, from the BNP, make racist statements or by their actions attempt to reduce the severity of racist behaviour. (Yes, as I’ve mentioned previously, there’s a fair amount of anti-semitism on the left, but the home of anti-semitism, of racism, of homophobia, and of sexism, is on the hard right.) Whether it’s a UKIP MEP saying he wanted to join an EY committee on Women because “they don’t clean properly”, or another UKIP politician saying floods are attacks by God because of legalisation of equal marriage, or many, many other examples, Conservative MPs delighting in stopping Private Members’ Bills to make life better for less fortunate poeple (so many examples)… Tyson Fury is merely the latest example of a person very good at what they do, who’s also apparently a horrible, horrible person. 

I once queued up to get something signed by one of my favourite comic book artists; despite my fairly immediate discovery that he was an arrogant self-entitled shit, that doesn’t stop my admiration of his work. It certainly put me off him as a person though. 

No one is obliged to be a nice person. It’s better if they are, but no one is obliged to. No one is obliged to agree with all of my positions on anything (though I do wish they’d do so on some of them) but I’m always disappointed when someone whose work I enjoy is not a nice person. 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate that in comics, however, almost every talented person I’ve met – almost – is an equally nice person. I don’t know many politicians, and I don’t know any sportspeople. I hope I could say the same about them, but I’m less convinced than ever that’d be the case. 

I know, I know – I’d planned what I was going to write for today’s entry; I even hinted at it yesterday, but no. Not today. I need to do some more careful thinking on it. And yes, I know that me thinking carefully about things is not always the best plan, but hey, I should at least try it on occasion, nu?

So, instead of that, this… something else for a Sunday evening. A while back, in another place (Livejournal, I used to do Q&As fairly often. For whatever reason – in part because the fashion for them has thankfully if not died, then at least suffered a setback – I’ve rarely done them here. But why not, for a change? Why not indeed. So below are a number of question asked of me over the years, and my current answer were they to be asked of me now. Fair enough?

OK… let’s see how this goes. 

Call me curious. Why do you write?
Either because I have a story I want to tell, or to meet a challenge, (self-imposed or external), or something occurs to me that I have to get down… in order for it to make sense to me. And sometimes, the format itself gets in the way. A story won’t work in prose, but it will as poetry, or only as a scrupt.

Who will play you in the film about your life?
No one would be daft enough to take on such a career-ending role.

Why are you called ‘budgie’?
A long story that you used to have to get me very drunk to tell, but now…? The full story’s here.

Why are you such a grouch?
It’s obligatory. Comes with my membership of the Curmudgeonly Club.

Furthest you’ve ever been from where you were born?
Singapore. Flew there, stayed six hours, flew back. Long story. Not as long as the flight, though.

Biggest regret of 2015?
Having low expectations, and failing even to live up to them.

Where did the idea for the Fast Fiction Challenge come from?
I hadn’t written anything for a while, and I was chatting with a well-known writer friend, saying I needed something to get me “hungry” about writing again… I came up with the idea for the fast fiction challenge and he said it would certainly get me writing… but I’d hate myself after about twenty… but I’d still write them. Well, I didn’t quite HATE myself but after about 100 I wondered whether I’d burn out. 700 of the buggers later, I’m still wondering.

Why do you pretend you don’t know when someone’s interested in you when you obviously do?
Erm, we’ve obviously never met.

Do you think of yourself as “Budgie” or “Lee”?
Oh, good question… Depends on the circumstances; with comics people, or people who I’ve met via online contacts, almost always as “Budgie”. At work, it was “Lee” or occasionally “Mr Barnett”, which I loathed. I’ve never really liked “Lee” as a name; as an androgynous name, I occasionally got letters addressed to “Miss Barnett”. Amusing as an adult, painfully embarassing as a teenager.

If you could change one thing about yourself whether it be physical or not, what would it be?
Physically? Full body transplant.
Mentally? An injection of “grow up” serum.

What is your favourite word?
Poltroon.

Which writers do you find inspiring and / or influential?
I can’t think of any writers I’ve found inspiring as in emotionally inspiring, but inspiring me to write? Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Peter David, David Morrell, Irving Wallace. Influential? Oh, a bit from everyone, though something longform I wrote was described by a friend as being heavily influenced by Douglas Adams’ style.

Please pass on an important piece of advice about life.
Two pieces of advice: (1) Learn from your mistakes; regret ’em, but don’t brood on them. (2) Accept that life is an ongoing series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’,

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge?
I tend to assume that someone who’s intelligent in one area will be equally intelligent in others. And I become unfairly (and obviously) disappointed when it proves not to be the case.

Who would you most like to meet?
There are any number of people with whom I’ve corresponded online that I’d like to meet, including some that have become friends. Celebrities? Stephen Fry, Peter David, Jon Stewart, Jeremy Paxman, in the main so I can tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their work.

Would you ever consider running for political office?
Absolutely NOT!

What is the first thing you notice about people?
Their face. I’d like to say their eyes, but it’s their entire face.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Nope, not at all. I think that those people who do are… misguided.

Which is your favourite song that you would choose to sing at a karaoke bar?
I wouldn’t. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

If you were to be famous, what would you like to be known for?
As the disreputable and slightly embarrassing father of a very talented son.

Have you ever had cosmetic surgery?
Heh, no. You think I’d choose to look like this?

Pretend you live in a world where everyone wears real, physical masks all the time. Halloween masks, masquerade masks, and so on. What would your favorite mask look like?
Completely blank, like that of THE QUESTION.

What do you do if you forget the name of someone you’ve just been introduced to?
I’ll usually apologise and admit it…

What is your favorite pizza topping(s)?
Sweetcorn, Pineapple, Extra Cheese.

Tell me: One strength. One shortcoming. One plan of action. One goal. One fear.
One strength: determination, not stubbornness.
One shortcoming: stubbornness, not determination.
One plan of action: under no circumstances ever say ‘next year has to be better than this year’; I’ve been burned before on that.
One goal: make it through this year relatively unscathed.
One fear: the confirmation of other fears.

What’s your favorite black and white movie?
Always have problems with favourite movies, because I have different favourites depending on genre. So I’ll say probably Casablanca as a serious movie, and Duck Soup as a comedy. (As it’s the Christmas season, and as an aside, can’t stand It’s a Wonderful Life. At all.)

What was your favorite TV show when you were growing up?
Had loads – I was a telly addict growing up; ’twas a family joke. But my earliest memories of ‘must-watch’ tv were Doctor Who, Magpie (a kids’ magazine programme), The Banana Splits, Thunderbirds and H R Puffnstuff.

What do you wear to bed to sleep?
A duvet.

What song always makes you happy when you hear it?
Not sure about ‘happy’, but Walking on Sunshine by Katriona and the Waves always makes me smiled when I hear it.

Are you afraid of the dark?
Not at all, but then it’s never given me a reason to be afraid of it. So far.

Have you ever used a gun?
A ‘real’ one? No, and no eagerness to do so.

What three television characters do you wish were real so you could hang out?
The characters I most like on tv are almost without exception characters that I’d really not like to spend that much time with in real life, and I’m pretty sure they’d not want to spend time with me either…

Name three things you hate doing.
Rarely ‘hate’ doing anything, but I’m a lazy sod – hate doing anything the “hard way” if there’s an easy way of doing it…

But, as a general rule of thumb?

(1) Even when my foot allowed it (long story), I loathed dancing. Hated it. Not only cannot I not dance, I’m far too self-conscious – I cannot get it out of my head that everyone’s looking.

(2) I hate seeing photographs of me, or to be precise, I actually don’t mind it when I’m posing for a photo, but I detest being photographed when I’m not expecting it or when I don’t know about it. I think that in my adult life there’s maybe, MAYBE, been four ‘candid’ photos taken of me where I look anything approaching ‘ok’. The rest? I’d rather they never existed.

(3) I hate having to be polite on occasions when I know I should be polite but I really don’t want to have to be, including when I receive a compliment that I either know or suspect is ‘fake’.

Can a man and a woman who find each other attractive (physically, intellectually…), be just friends and stay friends?
Yes, they can. Finding someone attractive, mentally and/or physically does not mean you desire them sexually. I’ve several female friends I think are incredibly attractive, intellectually and/or physically; that doesn’t mean I want to take them to bed. There are all sorts of entirely valid reasons why even if people do find each other attractive, the relationship will stay “friends only” or “just good friends”, or however you want to describe it: one or both people being attached, being separated by distance, etc. (Of course there’s always the possibility/probability/likelihood* that while they both find each other attractive, one or both won’t have a clue the other DOES find them attractive.)

[*delete as appropriate]

And also on that note: is it possible to be friends with someone you’ve got a crush on?
Yes, as long as they don’t have a clue you’re crushing on them. If they know? No, I don’t think it’s possible, or at least advisable, at least not for me. There’s a BUT coming. And here it is: BUT I’ve always considered “crushing” as unrequited. The moment it becomes reciprocated, that’s not crushing… that’s fancying each other, and you’re foolish if you don’t do something about it, circumstances allowing. But unrequited crushing? If someone wants to let me know they’ve crushed on me, fine… I won’t stop them, but me? No, I’d never let someone know.

What’s the favourite fast fiction you’ve written
It changes every time I think about it

Do you think writers are too in love with themselves?
Oh hell, no. I think most writers don’t like themselves very much at all.

Do you like being your age or would you rather be a different age? Why?
I don’t mind being my age; I just don’t like FEELING my age.

What would you like to see written on your gravestone?
Seriously? Merely my name and the dates of my birth and death.

Jokingly? “To Be Continued…”

Do you have a partner/significant other? Does s/he support your writing?
No, I don’t. I’ve been single for some years; many, many years in fact. Many, many, many… you get the point, I hope.

Can you recommend a coffee?
I always recommend a coffee. It’s a rule.

Would you like to know what your future holds or would you rather wait and see what happens ?
There are times I’d like the former, but on the whole, overwhelmingly the latter.

Can’t see the point in knowing what’s going to happen; either you give up the concept of TRYING at that point, of effort itself, OR if you genuinely saw the ultimate consequences of every action you took, you’d go insane… OR you’d constantly seek to change the future.

I think either way, you’d go nuts pretty quickly, in one way or another.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever traveled?
Travelled for work to Singapore… was there six hours and flew back again. It’s… a complicated story.

This is a question from my 3 year old: Can dogs fly? I’m guessing his next question will be: Why not?
It depends how hard you throw them.

If you could write any comics character (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, etc.) which one would it be?
This is the genuinely the first answer where I didn’t recognise the person who wrote the answer last time around. My answer now (‘about bloody time,’ I can hear a Mr Ellis of Southend growl) would be my own characters. That’s who I’d like to write. There’s one graphic novel adaptation I’m working on which is someone else’s character and it’s enormous fun. But yes, my own characters please.

Are you a good friend?
I suspect not, but you’d have to ask my friends about that.

If I lived in the UK would you date me?
I’ll even date you if you’re not in the UK. Neolithic? How close am I?

What is your idea of a truly romantic evening?
I’m not a romantic person. Really.

Which Doctor is “your” Doctor, and do you think the ‘new’ Doctors live up to their predecessors?
“My” Doctor is the Third Doctor. I barely remember the Second Doctor; it’s John Pertwee’s Doctor who was the first I watched properly and yeah, he’s “my” Doctor. I think all of the ‘new’ Doctors have lived up to their predecessors and then some. Mind you, I’d had loved to have seen the earlier Doctors with the production values they have now. Wow.

If you had another child, what would you name him/her?
No idea – I don’t intend to have any more children. By the time I’d want any more, I think I’ll be “too old”, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s fair to children if the parents are too old; you’re increasing the odds massively that you won’t be around when the child is still relatively young. However, had I had another child, a boy would have been named after my late brother, Michael.

Who is the strongest person you know?
Couldn’t narrow it down to one person; so many people I know have triumphed – or are struggling to do so – against horrible things that have happened to them, that I couldn’t narrow it down to one person.

What song do you want played at your funeral?
I’ll likely have a traditional Jewish funeral. At those, at least in the UK, there’s no music played.

Who’s your favorite Star Trek Captain?
MacKenzie Calhoun

What are you reading at the moment?
THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp and TRIGGER WARNING by Neil Gaiman.

Would you ever do a bungee jump?
Not even if world peace depended upon it. I have a distinct fear of, you know, dying. As Jack Dee said, there’s no ‘grey’ in bungee jumping if it goes wrong… just a big red smear.

Favorite Number? Season? Jewish Festival? Day of the week? Month?
Number: 1729
Season; Spring
Jewish Festival: Probably Chanukah, but no real favourite.
Day of the week: don’t really have one
Month: November, because it contains my son’s birthday.

Do you like your handwriting?
Depends which handwriting you’re talking about. When I deliberately write neatly, yeah, I quite like it. The rest of the time it’s a scrawl that I’m faintly embarrassed about.

Atheism is becoming more acceptable. If God doesn’t exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal?
Well, while not entirely accepting the premise of God not existing, but for the sake of argument: because early man needed SOMETHING to explain why the sun came up and what the lights in the sky were.

Well, that was nice.

Human beings are, at their hearts, creatures of habit. And this is shown in no way more often than someone’s favourite phrases to use, an instinctive reaction to a feed line, a family phrase that gets trotted out on every appropriate occasion.

And I am as bad as anyone else in this respect, maybe worse. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that when an old bug-bear of mine raised its head this week, I reacted. I’d love to say that it was in an entirely unexpected way but everyone has their ‘buttons’ that can be pushed and this is, unfortunately, one of mine.

The situation that provoked my Pavlovian response was the reference to the gift of a facsimile of a newspaper’s front page from the day of their birth. Now, this was – some years ago – a common gift to people, especially in the days before half a dozen clicks online can show anyone the events that occurred on the day they arrived.

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

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

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

A war ended? Lovely, it had already been over for 24 hours by the time you got here. The pop charts that week? You’ve a one in seven chance (all right, it’s not quite as evenly spread as that, Tuesdays and Thursdays are more ‘popular’ days) that they’re inaccurate and they’re the charts for the week before you were born. Depending upon your birth date, there could be even greater differences. Born on the day of a general election, then the papers could well have the previous Prime Minister or President in office. I genuinely don’t understand it.

Looking back in history though, taking some satisfaction in learning at what’s changed since you were born, that I understand.

It was reported in the news this week that “Britain’s oldest person” had died. Grace Jones, who lived in Bermondsey, South London was 113 years old at the time of her death.

Much was made about the changes and advances she’d seen in her life; the lady was born in December 1899.

113 years – a hell of a long time. She was already retired by the time I was born. And that started me thinking about the changes in life, the changes in politics, both domestic and world, just in the time I’ve been on this planet, and more importantly, that I can remember. Because, let’s face it, any changes that occurred while I was alive but before I was paying attention might as well have happened before I arrived.

In 1968, for example, both Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Yes, I was alive. But I was wasn’t even four years old at the time (King was killed in April, Kennedy in June – my birthday was in August.)

Now while my parents may have been shocked at the news (I don’t know, I don’t ever recall talking about the killings to either of them) I can say without fear of contradiction that I wouldn’t have cared at all – in fact I’m pretty sure at three years old I wouldn’t have cared if anyone outside my immediate family had been killed.

And while some other contemporaries (Warren Ellis, for example) have their first major memory of the time being the moon landing, I’m genuinely sorry that I don’t remember it. My older brother would have been thrilled by it, but me? Nope, don’t remember a thing about it; pretty sure my parents shuffled me off to bed.

So, let’s move forward a bit. February1972, I’m seven years old. Undoubtedly, at the time, I’d have insisted on “seven and a half”, but hey, I was seven. Or seven and a half.

But anyway, yes, probably the first major event I remember: power cuts. There was a miners’ dispute with the government at the time and power cuts were the tactic of choice for the unions. I hugely supported their struggle. Yes, at that tender age I was a huge supporter of the miners’ union’s method of protest. Because it had two major effects upon my life: (a) I got to go home early from school, and (b) my dad was home from work.

At that age, I didn’t care that him being home from work meant that his business wasn’t able to operate; I didn’t care that my schooling was being interupted. I cared that I didn’t have to go to school and my dad could spend more time with us. (I do have a faint memory of being puzzled at why my parents and teachers didn’t seem to be as happy as us children, but no more than that.)

OK, skipping forward quite some time, let’s say to 15 years of age. 1979.

The Prime Minister (the fourth I could remember) was Margaret Thatcher, just starting her first term of office; ahead of her were the almost total destruction of Britain’s manufacturing industry and coal mines, the attempted gutting of the welfare state, the Falkland War, the poll tax… and her son going missing for six days during a desert rally. The President of the United States, only the third I could remember by then, was Jimmy Carter, and at 15, all I knew about him was that he had a strange accent, was supposed to be the antidote to “Watergate” and liked jogging.

Although I became fascinated with American politics within the next couple of years (almost entirely thanks to a politics lecturer at Sixth Form College named John Ramm), I was far more ignorant at 15 years of age than my son was as a pre-teenager. How things change.

Over the past thirty years alone, we’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the destruction of the apartheid state of South Africa, ongoing periods of war punctuated by periods of peace in the Middle East, the shifting of the ‘centre ground’ of both British and American politics both left and right, the democratisation of online access and the creation and invention of technologies that I would have thought science fiction as a child.

I’ve watched politics become more cynical, and have seen the observance of it become similarly so. I’ve witnessed feats of philanthropy that I would not have believed possible, and cruelty by individuals and governments that more properly belong to the darker regions of fiction.

In the 17,987 days I’ve been on this planet, I’ve done much to be proud of, and done much of which I’m ashamed. And I have no idea at all what advice I would give to the newborn that appeared on 17th August 1964, or in the few years following that date. However, his response to any advice I could have possibly offered, which would almost certainly have been to gurgle, close his eyes and fill his nappy, would probably have been appropriate.

I always forget that there are people on Facebook, Twitter, etc. who don’t know how – or from where – I got the nickname budgie.

I mean to say, I’ve had the nickname for over thirty years now, and far more people know me as ‘budgie’ than know me as “Lee”, “Mr Barnett”, or in one case, “Dad”.

But, every so often, I get a number of messages asking for the derivation of the name. And since, in the words of a friend of mine, it’s a story that “bears retelling”, here it is… with apologies if you’ve read this before.

Now what you first have to remember is that when I signed up online, with CompuServe, back in the mid 1990s, it was for fun. This wasn’t work; this was entertainment, this was escapism, this was – in short – fun.

So, when I visited my first online Forum, the Comics and Animation Forum, and saw people not only using handles, but being positively encouraged to use ’em, I ‘reactivated’ the nickname I’d picked up at college but which I had only used for passwords etc. for a few years.

Of course, naïve fool that I was, it didn’t occur to me that people might be curious about the derivation of the nickname. But they were. They most definitely were.

So, in a fit of madness, I said “ok, if anyone wants to know, ask”. Within a couple of days, I had something like 75 requests.

So, I threw it out as a contest: guess the derivation.

I let it run for a week, and then posted something along the lines of the following:

I’ve had suggestions that it’s due to my looks, my liking for an old British television programme starring Adam Faith, my eating habits, my collections, my possible fan-worship of the Duchess of York, possibly being a window-cleaner, being “Bald and Pudgie”, or that I do lots of budgets, being an accountant. [sigh]

And no-one, but no-one, guessed that I was kidnapped as a baby and brought up in the wild by friendly budgerigars.

OK, here’s the true story:

In 1982, I went up to Manchester (North West England) to go to college at Manchester Polytechnic.

I was doing a BA (Hons) in Accounting and Finance, the results of that course I’m sure you’re too polite to ask about.

Anyway, after a couple of months, I was dragged along to a “hypnotists evening” by some friends on my course, who thought it would be a bit of a laugh. And so it proved to be.. (And no, before you ask, I was not hypnotised into thinking I was a budgerigar. It’s more fun than that… for the other people, anyway…)

By the end of the evening, a fun time had been had by all, watching various friends fall asleep, others regress by only a couple of years down to a mental age of three, and generally being sarcastic and silly about the whole thing.

Of course, inevitably, just as I was about to leave, someone suggested that the hypnotist have a crack at “doing Lee”.

As one who was at that time ‘game for a laugh’ – my, how that’s changed – I said OK, and the very next thing I remember was everyone laughing their socks off.

Apparently…

…and here it comes, folks, this is what you’ve been waiting for.

Apparently, I had been hypnotised into believing that I had a small budgie in my pocket. I had taken it out, watched it fly around the room, put it into one pocket and taken it out of another – that sort of thing.

As far as I was concerned, that would have been it. One more evening that you look back at and cringe. Except that when I walked into lectures the following morning, Dave Rothburn (one of the cronies I hung around with) yelled out in front of 120 students (and the lecturer) in his best impersonation of that bloke on Carson’s Show, “He-e-e-e-r-r-r-e’s Budgie!

The name stuck.

Not only did the name stick, but I was, by the end of three years at college, far better known as Budgie than as Lee.

It gets worse. About five years after leaving college, I bumped into someone at a function that I’d been at college with, had been quite good friends with, but hadn’t been in contact with since we both left college. We were, understandably enough, delighted to see each other. She introduced me to her husband with the immortal line :

“John, this is…erm..erm. oh, hell, this is Budgie – I’m ever so sorry, I’ve forgotten…erm, I only ever knew you as Budgie!”

So that’s it – I hope the story was worth it….

Now it’s your turn – nickname and derivation please, the more embarrassing for both, the better.

Whenever I refer to my foot, and the problems with it, I always forget that there are some people who have joined this blog in the past year (or have recently followed me on Twitter) so only know that I do have a problem with it.

So here’s a quick primer:

A little over ten years ago, I fell over and snapped the fifth metatarsal (that’s the long bone that runs from your little toe down the side of your foot) on my left foot. That wasn’t so serious, but I also dislocated the bones in my foot and an ‘extra’ navicular bone popped out. I had to have that removed, and the result was that my foot never fully healed from the op. As a result, I could walk – after some time – for about an hour and a half before the foot started hurting, and after two hours, I’d need an icepack on it. Running was out. Forever. As was playing football, or any serious strain on it.

OK, leap – if you’ll forgive the word – forward to 2007. The middle of the same foot had started hurting… badly. To the extent that I was, once again, limping all the time, and walking for more than a few minutes felt like I had a knitting needle rammed up the middle bones in my foot.

So I went to the same fella who’d operated on my five years previously and… turned out (with no link to the previous problems) I’d developed something called Freiberg’s, where the blood supply is disrupted to the second and third metatarsals.

So, the pain I had in my foot was the ends of my second and third metatarsals dying. As they die, the ends of the bones collapse in on themselves and flatten, and since you’ve then effectively got a square peg in a round hole, they rub away and destroy the cartilage/material between the metatarsals and the Proximal Phalanges (the toe bones furthest away from the toenails). And if you’re really unlucky… like me, the damage affects the shafts of the bones as well.

Eventually, I’ll need an op on the foot, but it’s a particularly gory procedure (details on request, if you’re of that mind) and the recovery is a bastard, with six weeks in plaster, another six to eight on crutches and then six months learning to walk again. So yeah, I’m putting that off as long as I can.

Thing is: the operation will only return my foot to how it was a year or so ago; it will not heal my foot per se.

That’s not going to happen.

Ever.

But until I need the op, I’m taking lots of painkiller meds (many, many 30/500 Cocodamol, if you’re curious.)

The bits on the MRI above that look like Tippex has been spilled all over the film are where’s there’s… let’s call it “damage”. In other words, that’s where the bones are dying.

Any questions?