Posts Tagged ‘life’

I’m in a bit of a… mood... today. Not a bad mood, per se, just a bit off my game, a bit… disconnected.

Not overly suprising, I guess, since, as sunset hit about an hour ago, I’ve just exited a period of Yahrzeit for my late brother.

Long time followers, here and on the blog, know that I put up something every year about Michael’s death – on the date that he died. Here’s what I wrote this year, some eleven months ago.

But the Jewish calendar is a bit different and, every year, I have Yahrzeit for him. (What is Yahrzeit, as someone privately messaged me to ask last year? Well, since you ask, it’s the annual commemoration of a family death, usually observed by the immediate family, on the anniversary per the Jewish calendar. There’s something about it here, from My Jewish Learning, if you want to know more.)

But, as would only be natural at such a time of commemoration, I wonder what my big brother would have thought of the me I am… now? But since I have no real idea what he’d have thought of me now – he died in January 1998, aged 38, after all… who knows what he’d be like as a sixty-two year old man?… I took a look inward at myself.

Hmm. Not the greatest idea I’ve had this year.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most irritating things about myself (irritating to me, anyways; I’m sure others find many, many things irritating about me) is that I have an annoying habit of getting angry, furious, and upset at people for things that are unreservedly, totally, completely, 100%, Not Their Fault. It’s entirely irrational. And equally entirely real.

The upset has, of course, various ‘flavours’… but one irritates me more than any other, and I can feel it creeping up on me in a way that it hasn’t for a while.

I’m single; I’ve said that before. The idea of being ‘in a relationship’ with anyone both repulses me and — semi-jokingly, if that — makes me feel very sorry for the poor woman who would be daft enough to want to be in a relationship with me.

I haven’t wanted to be in a relationship, not anything that anyone sensible would recognise as ‘a relationship’, for a decade and a half. And I don’t see that changing, ever, despite some close friends very sweetly but naively wishing otherwise for me.

But given all of the foregoing,, I’m usually ok with dealing with other people being in loved-up, and happy, relationships. It doesn’t bother me, usually. It’s, I don’t know, like seeing other people interested in sport. I don’t understand it, but I know it’s not for me. I don’t get upset at them for it, nor do I mock them for it. If it works for them, great. It’s just not for me. As I say, I’m usually ok with it.

Usually.

So, why then, when the… loneliness… hits me, do I sometimes actively resent other people being in relationships? It’s entirely irrational, and it speaks nothing good of me.

But I can feel that resentment, that upset, creeping up on me…. And I loathe and detest both that feeling of envy/resentment, and my own irrationality in possessing it.

And let’s be fair: I’m not that big a fan of me at the best of times. You can imagine how I feel about me when this happens.

If I didn’t utterly loath therapy as a concept (for me, I hasten to add… not for other people; if they benefit, they should definitely both actively seek out and have therapy) I’d be seriously considering why it’s hurting so much, and how I address it? But I do loathe therapy as a concept for me, and so I’ll continue being, well, me… with all the flaws and broken bits that make me, well… me.

I may be irrational, but that I know I’m being irrational should count for something, nu? I do hope so.

 

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 less slowly approaching.


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

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

I started last week’s Ten Things, which was entitled Ten Things… about me, with the following:

Usually, these Ten Things posts are of or about things I like.

Here’s something different. Ten things you may or may not know about me, some obvious, some probably less well-known.

Friends will immediately know, appreciate and understand why I caveated the ‘…about things I like’ with ‘usually, but not this time’. No surprise that I’m not a huge fan of, well, me. I don’t like myself very much and it’s a genuine but constant surprise that anyone else does. (Mind you, as I’ve said before, merely not liking something or someone isn’t the same as actively disliking something or someone.)

But, while I was writing it, I realised that while there might have been one or two things about me that most people don’t know, there was nothing in there that was likely to surprise anyone, and for people who know me well, there probably wasn’t anything in there that even provoked a raised eyebrow.


Quick Sidebar: After I finished last week’s blog, I ended it with the words:

A different ‘ten things’ today; ten things about me; mostly things most people know. Next week: ten things most people don’t know.

That evening, a friend who shall remain nameless messaged me: ‘you sneaky bastard, I see what you’ve done there…

And I wish I could say he was wrong, on both points. But he was right, and I told myself that if anyone caught it I’d admit it. So I’m admitting it here.

Because nowhere in those final words did I say that this week’s post would be ‘ten things most people don’t know… about me’, merely that there’ll be ten things most people don’t know.

The only thing my friend was wrong about was that I hadn’t decided – as he thought I had – to deliberately mislead people. I did it to leave the option open. I wanted to leave myself some wriggle room in case I changed my mind.

As it is, I didn’t change my mind.


So here are ten things that most people probably don’t know about me. Some people will know some of them; one or two may know all of them. But most people? I doubt they know many of these.

Anyways, on with the show…

1. I’ve had a couple of stays in secure Mental Health Units
The first of several mental health items, and yeah, although I’ve alluded to mental health issues in the past, I don’t think I’ve ever publicly admitted that before. In 2011, and again in 2012, I spent a couple of weeks on each occasion in Mental Health Units. Both were what’s called ‘voluntary admissions’ but only the second was truly voluntary. The first was a Hobson’s Choice kind of situation: I was given the option of voluntarily going in… or doing in involuntarily. And since the former was likely to be far more pleasant, and lead to a shorter stay, I picked that one.

You can take it from the above that I was very very not well indeed.

The experience I had in the first experience led me to genuinely voluntarily going in for a second stay a year later. The experience I had during the second stay led me to decide never to ever voluntarily go in again.

Both stays were about two weeks in length, though the second stay involved the head of Barnet psych unit intervening to get me the hell out of there, and I went to effectively a half-way house for a further two weeks.
 
 
2. I’ve been sectioned once, for 25 hours
To this day I don’t know whether, looking at it objectively, I should have been detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. It’s more than possible I should have been. It’s also possible that I shouldn’t have been. All such calls are a matter of judgement and given that my brain really wasn’t working well at the time, my views on the matter may carry substantially less weigh than I’d wish.

However, what I do remember from the experience is how often, and easily, I was lied to.

Twenty-five hours in a room, stripped of everything bar my light clothing, with nothing to do, nothing to play, nothing to read, nothing to write with, nothing to… do. It wasn’t fun.

I spent the time doing maths problems in my head. I could joke that maths kept me sane, but to be brutally honest, it wouldn’t be that far from the truth.
 
 
3. I’m a huge advocate for therapy and meds and anything that’ll help, anything at all… for other people.
I’m not a believer in any of that for myself. I’ve never had therapy as such. I’ve had counselling for a couple of things, but that’s a very very different animal. But even so, of the three occasions I’ve had counselling, one of them made no difference whatsoever, one of them incorrectly caused harm to other people, and one actively harmed me.

So, no, not particularly eager to have counselling again were it to be offered for any reason.

As for therapy, this is where my view on maths and numbers and evidence come back to bite me in the ass. “Show me the numbers.” Show me that this therapy or that treatment or this medication or that process will help me and I’ll sign up for it. Reluctantly, because I have no faith that it will, and I’d be delighted to be surprised, but yeah, ok, I’ll give it a ago.

But I’ve no interest in wasting their time or mine with something that might possibly work, but probably won’t, or possibly could, but who the fuck knows?

I’ve genuinely and honestly an antipathy to that.

And given that people say that the most important thing involved is the desire, the wish to be better, to get better, and also that that is wholly, entirely, and completely absent from me, yeah, I’d rather they peddle their wares to people who do want to be/get ‘better’.

(I once said that one of my ‘things’ is that if I truly believe something is impossible to achieve, the desire to achieve it evaporates like the dew on the dawn… Since I don’t believe it’s possible to be ‘well’, you can do the maths yourself.)
 
 
4. I dislike some very popular mental health books with a passion that could melt steel.
While I’ll freely acknowledge that most such books are written in good faith from the very best of motives, I’m reminded of the rejoinder to the line ‘everyone has a novel inside them…‘ of ‘yeah, and with some people, it should stay there.

Look, if those books have helped you, I’m genuinely pleased for you, just as I am if therapy and meds have helped you.

But there’s a certain style of mental health book that sets my teeth on edge and turns my stomach.

It’s the “I am better than I was, and I did [Thing]… so if you do [Thing], you WILL get better, because I did…” The unspoken but clear implication and coda, no matter how ostensibly they protest otherwise, is

‘…and if you don’t get better, well, that’s down to you, you must have done it wrong…and that’s YOUR fault!”

I loathe Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig for those very reasons.

I once described it as The Forest Fallacy:

Three people are dropped in different places in a dark forest, each with only a map & a compass. One makes it out, and can’t understand why the other two haven’t appeared. “I made it out, so they should; they must have done it wrong!

Meanwhile, the bears the first person didn’t encounter eat well that night.

To me, Haig’s book reeks of that. And so do several other highly successful and critically acclaimed books on mental health. Your personal favourite is probably in there somewhere.
 
 
5. There’s a lot more that I’m not comfortable talking about in public.
Notwithstanding my view that a private life is called A Private Life for a very good reason, ie it’s private, I’m in awe, generally and genuinely, at those who are, at those who can be, totally open about their health, physical and mental, and their private stuff.

I don’t have that courage and it’s taken me years even to confirm the stuff above.

I very much doubt you’ll be getting more from me about any of that, for a good while at least.
 
 
6. With the exception of my lad’s mum, my ex-wife, I’ve never been in love with anyone, and I don’t believe for the merest iota of a moment that anyone has ever been in love with me.
Oh, I’ve had crushes on people both before and after Laura; I’ve had the occasional infatuation. And I’m more than willing to stipulate that various women have been daft enough or swept up in it to very briefly fall for me. And neither am I including very close friends where the love between friends is real but not the same thing at all as romantic love.

But that “romantic love”, “being in love”? It’s been so long since I’ve felt it, or thought anyone felt it for me, I truly don’t think I’d recognise it if it occurred in either of us.
 
 
7. I hope I don’t fall in love with anyone and that no one is unluckily enough nor foolish enough to fall in love with me.
All of the above said, and meant… I genuinely, honestly, equally truly, hope love doesn’t come along. In either direction. Because I can imagine fewer things more designed to torture someone than unrequited love. Not unrequited lust, nor unrequited desire, but unrequited LOVE. And I’d rather not be tortured any more than absolutely necessary, thanks.

(And that’s leaving aside there can be few things more pitiful than a 57 year old fella falling in love with someone who probably wouldn’t even notice in the first place.)
 
 
8. I never mind not being able to write the story I want to write, if another story barges its way in.
While I completely agree with those who say, in one way or another, that any fool can start writing a story, but only a writer finishes it…

…I don’t expect what I write to be that important that if something else gets in the way to the extent that it demands to be written, I wouldn’t write the second thing.

I will. I’ll make notes for the first story, bullet points, maybe even odd snippets of text, and I may even mean to go back to it. But I’ll abandon it for the new story that is demanding to be written.

I won’t do it on a whim, I won’t do it merely because I’m finding it hard to write. I’ll do it when the new story demands to be written and the old one no longer does.
 
 
9. The lower my voice goes, the angrier I am.
I don’t tend to shout that much, but if/when I do, I’m doing so very deliberately, to make a point, or to deliberately talk over someone. If I’m angry, however, or lose my temper, the volume of my voice doesn’t go up… it goes down, sometimes way, way, down and I become ultra sensitive to what I’m saying, and how I want it to come over.
Fair to say, however, a friend, some long time ago, said he never listened to the volume of my voice when he thought I might be angry: he looked at my eyes. Because, he said, the flatter they were, the angrier I was… I dunno whether that’s changed over the years.
 
 
10. Three things I don’t know, don’t appreciate or don’t understand
video games. I don’t mean space invaders or computer versions of ‘real life/board’ games. I like playing snooker on my phone, and backgammon, and golf, and patience. I am entirely and utterly lost the moment a ‘proper’ video game, a multi-player, or shoot em up thing. I’m genuinely unsure whether it’s the lack of patience or whether it’s just the ‘I don’t give a shit about the story element’. Either way, it’s something I regret.
the theory of music, including keys. I’ve had them explained to me by expert musicians. It just won’t sink in. Hell it doesn’t even make a dent in my brain, just bounces off entirely.
the self-deprecatory “oh, I’m no good at maths, me”. I genuinely don’t understand how that’s laughed off in a way “Oh, I’m no good at English” or “Oh, I’m no good at history” would never be.

 

OK, well, that’s that done. Again.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others, less ‘about me’ ones which are probably more pleasant to read…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


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

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

Usually, these Ten Things posts are of or about things I like.

Here’s something different. Ten things you may or may not know about me, some obvious, some probably less well-known.

Friends will immediately know, appreciate and understand why I caveated the ‘…about things I like’ with ‘usually, but not this time’. No surprise that I’m not a huge fan of, well, me. I don’t like myself very much and it’s a genuine but constant surprise that anyone else does. (Mind you, as I’ve said before, merely not liking something or someone isn’t the same as actively disliking something or someone.)

Anyways…

1. I’m 57 years old
Yes, a fairly obvious one to start with, given the two earlier blog runs, but let’s get it out of the way first. After I hit my mid-40s, I went through the usual birthday blues as I approached my birthdays, but afterwards, well, I started realising that I am an age that I never really considered before. Oh, I mean, it’s not like I thought that I’d die from natural causes earlier – although my brother died in his 30s, most of my other relatives have lived until at least their late 60s and some much older; my dad died almost a decade ago in his early 80s; my mum’s still alive, in her mid 80s. I just never thought that much about what I’d be like in my late 50s.

And when I did idly consider it, I’m pretty sure that how I am now isn’t what I pictured.

As for being 57, well I long ago resigned myself to the end of the ‘wow, you look much younger than you are‘, but I honestly didn’t expect that at any point in my remaining years… that I’d miss it.

And I do… just a little but definitely yes. Which surprises me, just a little, but definitely yes. Because it’s been a while since anyone’s genuinely (as opposed to being kind or taking the piss) thought I looked younger than I am, and these days I’m kind of grateful if anyone believes I’m my actual age.

For years, I’ve known that the vast majority of the people I hung around with, certainly in comics and comedy, are younger than me, much younger in some cases. But the past two years in particular, it seems in many ways that the gap has widened. I’m not sure if that’s reality or just perception; given the crazy world we all now inhabit, it could easily merely be the latter. But I guess with what’s been going on in my life, either’s possible.

2. I’m a father, with a son named Philip
Yeah, another bit of fairly common knowledge. I call him “Phil” most of the time, much as he calls me ‘dad’. Unless I’m ticked off with him in which case he becomes “Philip” or he wants something… in which case I revert to “Daddyyyyyyyy?”

He’s twenty-six years old, as of a few days ago, and I would say that I love him more with every passing day if I didn’t think that was actually impossible. I’m a very proud father with, to be entirely and unbiasedly honest, a lot to be proud about.

3. I live in London
Again, shouldn’t be a surprise to people that read the blog or follow me on Twitter. Or at least I would have said it shouldn’t be a surprise, until an American friend visited recently and didn’t know where I lived, or whether it was close to central London. Which is fair enough. Even if I knew someone lived in “New York”, I wouldn’t have a clue whether they meant the state or the city and how easy it was to get around.

But yes, I live in London, not far from Abbey Road recording studios; yes, yes, the Beatles, George Martin and all of that. And I like living here; in the area I mean. It’s a short walk into central london; about 45 minutes from me to Oxford Circus, about ⅔ of that to Baker Street. (And no, if you’re curious, there isn’t a 221b Baker Street, at least not a genuine one.)

But it’s a nice area, with decent (no, autocorrect, not ‘decadent’) public transport system and a very large, very nice park that I should visit at some point. Though after almost five years living here, I’d wager it’s unlikely that I’m heading there soon if I haven’t yet.

Yeah, we get tourists looking for the fabled Abbey Road road crossing. And yeah, they’re enthusiastic. My Gods, are they enthusiastic, and excited, and you know what? I quite like that. It adds to the day, somehow; it makes the day… lighter. Which is never a bad thing.

(Though I’m still entirely bemused, I’ll admit, how anyone can find their way more than 5.000 miles across the ocean, and a few dozen miles to outside my flat… and then be unable to travel the ¼ mile to the studio without help.)

4. I write
Not enough, but I write. Prose fiction in the main, but I’ve been known to turn my attention to comics scripts (I won’t bore you with what’s been published, it’s been a very long time since I’ve had anything published, though) and, on rare occasions, doggerell or free format poetry.

I’m least happy with my efforts on the latter as I’m not a natural poet. With prose and other fiction, I can look at something and know whether I’m on the right lines or not. And even with rhyming verse, usually comedic, I can tell. With free verse poetry, I’ve no idea, not a one. I think it’s because, to me at least, it’s less rational and more emotional.

And although I can write emotions well enough in prose, I struggle in verse, because I have fewer narrative tricks I can use. At least that’s my excuse.

You get some ‘fiction from the vaults’ every Tuesday here, and new prose fiction from me every Thursday.

But as I write this, I have seven unfinished long form projects (one graphic novel, one anthology of graphic work, one anthology of short stories, one movie screenplay and one novel… and two I’m not even hinting at in here) in draft that are screaming at me to get back to them. I’m studiously ignoring the screams.

I shouldn’t.

5. I never remember my dreams
Maybe “never” is too strong a word there, but I can’t remember the last time I had a nice dream. It’d be nice to remember a nice dream. I’m sure I have them. But I only remember the nightmares, which are a usually nightly occurrence.

That said, if it was a choice of not remembering any dreams or remembering them all, I’ll take the first option, please. I’d be quite content at that; I’ve no real wish to know what my subconscious is up to, thanks all the same.

6. I sleep on average about six hours a nightspread out over eight or nine hours.
I’m rarely in bed before around half one, and then I read for a while before lights out. I’ll turn those lights out when I’m too tired to stay awake any longer, usually indicated by me not being able to remember what the hell is on the page I’ve just read.

If I go to bed earlier, and just switch off the light, I don’t sleep… I lay there awake. And since I don’t share my bed with anyone, that’s never as pleasant as it sounds.

I take heavy doses of an anti-histamine to help me sleep; to be precise theyr’e supposed to help me stay asleep; they sometimes, occasionally, work..

About once every three months, I’ll crash out early, about eight, and sleep for almost twelve hours.

(One of the underrated benefits of getting older, though: I can have a late afternoon/early evening nap with no guilt whatsoever.)

7. I don’t speak any ‘foreign’ languages… including body language
I understand smatterings of german and yiddish, but body language is definitely a complete mystery. Someone scratches their nose? To me it means they’ve an itchy nose. It does tend to confirm, however, that when it comes to the opposite sex, as I’ve mentioned before, not only would any woman interested in me have to be carrying a plank to smack me around the head, but it would probably require several beatings.

And though I know I can pay women to beat me, while I’ve no moral objection, I’d rather go without the beatings, thanks.

8. I’m far happier talking (or being) one-to-one, and with someone I already know, than in a crowd or meeting ‘new’ people
Of all the things I envy some of my friends for, it’s their ability to walk into a room with fifty people they don’t know, and thirty minutes later, they’ve had conversations with at least a dozen of them and are at ease with every bloody one of them. I’m not like that. I’m neither a naturally sociable person in a crowd, nor a naturally social animal.

Once upon a time, I could have typed something like “I wish I wasn’t as happy in my own company, but I am.” That’s no longer true. I’m not happy in my own company; I’m just unhappier in others’.

9. While not hating my looks, I remain convinced that anyone who says I’m good looking, or some such… is taking the piss.
I spent the vast majority of my growing up suffused with the conviction that I genuinely was the worst looking fella in my town. (It didn’t help matters that my older brother was genuinely very good looking and was surrounded by girls from when he was about 14. I may have loved my brother and put him on a pedestal, but the shadow of that pedestal was a cold place to be at times)

After my marriage ended, and I became, at least in others’ eyes, ‘available’, well, I know I’m not the very worst of the worst out there, but I’m far, far, far from being someone who, when he walks into a room, attracts the eyes of people with an approving “mmmmmm.”

And linking this and the last two together, I’ve never successfully “chatted anyone up”. Ever. Never happened. Never been chatted up, either – or at least if I have been, I’ve never noticed it. To this day, if I did get chatted up while out, I’d assume that it was either a setup, or friends taking the piss.

Because – bonus 9a – I’m a huge advocate of extrapolating from previous experiences, and the only times I’ve recognised I’m being chatted up while out, it’s always without exception, either been a setup, or someone taking the piss.

10. If I hold a grudge, there’s [usually] a damned good reason for it
Once upon a time, it was rare for me to fall out with someone permanently. With the vicissitudes of life being what they are, I took the view that ‘life’s too short’. If you screw up, or offend someone, then unless it’s of crucial importance, or permanently changes your opinion of someone for the worse, it’s just not worth falling out with them forever. (I’m reminded of the comment that “it takes more muscles to frown than to smile… but it’s worth the extra effort.”)

That changed in the past few years. And antisemitism was the cause; either direct or indirect, either the active commission of it, or the excusing of it, or the trivialising of it. Sadly, I fell out with a number of people over it. I say sadly because yeah, it is sad when friends fall out.

That said I don’t regret a single one. And I hope they don’t regret it either.

So, yes, on those occasions where I do fall out with someone, I don’t fall out with them merely for the sake of it; there’s a reason, and usually it’s a damn good one. And yeah, I bear grudges. Hard.
 

OK, well, that’s that done.


If you enjoyed this Ten Things, I’ve done others, less ‘about me’ ones which are probably more pleasant to read…


See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Sixty-one days. Sixty-one posts. One 2022 slowly approaching.


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

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

Hello, people who are following this blog!

Posted: 15 September 2021 in life, stuff
Tags: ,

Hello there.

Just wanted – outside the ’57 plus’ run of blogs – to drop a note to you, people who are actually following this blog, and people who get notifications when I stick up a new entry.

Jon Stewart said he thought of his show as a conversation with his audioence… and one in which he’d shamelessly monopolised the dialogue.

I kind of feel the same way. I know that the days of people commenting on blogs some time ago went the way of the dinosaurs. However, I’ll admit to being a little curious; curious about you, how you found this place, why you followed me, and – the most head-scratching I guess – why you hung around and still do.

So, please, I ask a favour. Drop me a line and let me know, eh?

You can comment in reply to this entry, or if you’d rather drop me a line via email at budgie@hypotheticals.co.uk or DM me @budgie on Twitter.

I’m just curious about you all, and if you’ve your own blogs you’d like me to take a look at…

Anyway, once again, hello!

And see you tomorrow for the usual stuff…

(Yes, that is a confusing photo that accompanies this post. It’s meant to be.)

Certainty, as I wrote, a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know. With people you kind of know but not really. And with celebrities you don’t know, will never meet and who wouldn’t recognise you in a line up considering of two people.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to irritation, frustration, upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And I don’t mind getting pissed off with people (including myself) for stuff that’s definitely their (or my) fault.

It’s a part of the social contract, I guess. I do something that pisses you off, you’re entitled, more than entitled, to be pissed off with me.

And if you do something that pisses me off, I’m equally entitled to be pissed off with you.

Now, at no point do I say, or aver, whether or not the person being pissed off has any objective justification for being pissed off. But objective justification or not, there surely has to be a reason (or reasons) to be pissed off with someone, yes?

And when I say ‘objective justification’, I mean, well, whether or not someone would agree the reason is a sensible, rational, one… Because there has to be… a reason, justifiable or not, shurely?

For example. Let’s say we arrange to meet for coffee. One of us doesn’t show because we’d forgotten about it, or something else comes up and we forgot to let the other know that we could no longer make it. But not turning up, while the other person is waiting – patiently at first, less so as time passes… yeah, I don’t know anyone who’d argue that the person who got stood up isn’t justified in being pissed off at the person who didn’t show. Now you can extend that to a meal, a date, a business meeting.

If you’ve agreed to show up and you don’t, without notice, that’s worthy of a ‘pissed off with you’ reaction.

On the other hand, same hypothetical, We arrange to meet for coffee. One of us turns up ten minutes early. The other turns up on time. It’d be as ludicrous for one to get pissed off at the other for being early as it would be for the other to be pissed off that someone turned up ‘on time’.

Because it’s not – in that second scenario – that there is a reason and all we’re debating is the weight of that position; the reason doesn’t exist, objective or otherwise. Unless one of you decides to get angry and uses that as the excuse.

But then there’s the other thing, the thing that angers me; anger – I hasten to add – that’s aimed squarely at yours truly.

Once in a while, I’ll tweet something like the following; when tweeted, it’s nothing but the unfettered truth, and yes, it speaks nothing well of me.

I wish I knew why I’m like that, why I too often get upset at people for stuff, about stuff, that’s 100%, unreservedly, totally, not the other person’s fault, not anyone’s fault at all, bar possibly mine.

I genuinely wish I knew.

I mean, I have my suspicions. For all my many flaws, I am, I like to think, reasonably self-aware.


Sidebar: It’s a genuine delight when I learn something new about myself, though, whether or not the thing I learn is a ‘nice’ thing or otherwise; knowledge is always valuable. A psych once identified why I did ‘a certain thing’ with such clarity, such simplicity, that it was a pleasure to witness the discovery. It wasn’t, I hasten to add, complimentary about me, but at least ‘something about me’ made sense that really hadn’t before.


There’s stuff, personal stuff, as well as the non-personal, that I long ago accepted would likely , overwhelmingly likely, not be part of ‘my life’. Usually it’s a fairly good natured resignation to it. Sometimes – less rarely as the years pass – I’m bad-naturedly resigned to it, very bad-naturedly.

And sometimes it’s wholly trivial, which almost makes the level of my genuine upset even more ludicrous, even dafter, than it is in and of itself. Which takes it to a whole new premier league of daftness. Kind of an exponential growth in the anger.

Take food, for example. While many of my friends might describe themselves as “foodies”, they’re not expert cooks nor bakers; they’re not epicureans when it comes to food. They just enjoy, genuinely enjoy, cooking or baking… and they definitely take pleasure in consuming good food. They might enjoy it more if they made it, but whether or not they made it, they enjoy good food. And they take equal pleasure in cooking for someone else, and even more enjoyment in that person expressing their pleasure in it.

All of which makes sense to me in a technical, objective, way. And none of which applies to me in any way whatsoever.

For all sorts of reasons, I tend to regard food as.… ‘fuel’. For me, food’s solely there to ease the ache of hunger. I’m – usually – as ok with a couple of slices of buttered toast as I would be with a cheese omelette, or as ok as I would be with a bowl of cereal, or as I would be a posh three course meal. It’s… food.

Sure, there’s food I actively dislike; I have a fairly bland palate, so I dislike spicy food, and strong, overwhelming, smells turn me off any type of food faster than you’d believe.

Mentioning odours, more than one friend has suggested my busted up nose might have something to do with my apathy when it comes to [nice] food, but a) I do have a sense of smell b) I do have my ‘favourite’ smells, and c) my indifference to food long pre-dates my nose being broken.

My mum was for the most part a very plain cook, and made very plain food. My old man liked the food that way. I’d say blame them for my lack if interest in food, bar for two things. First off, my dad really liked his food. He didn’t have a broad range but what he liked, he really liked. And mum encouraged all of us kids to experiment with food, to see what we liked. She was very much not a ‘this is what I’m serving, so this is what you’ll like. Also very much a ‘try it; if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, but try it now…’

So, yeah, food and tastes are not really a thing I do, Honourable exception for coffee, and again for scotch whisky. Not sure why those two in particular, but yeah, I do actually enjoy consuming both. Tea on the other hand, and most cold drinks, are again there solely to slake thirst. I like Oasis Citrus Punch, can drink loads of it, but if they stopped making it tomorrow, wouldn’t bother me in the least; I’m equally as happy drinking still water.

(Which reminds me of one of the sillier gags I like: “Waiter, I’d like some water, please.” “Certainly, sir. Still water?” “Yes, I haven’t changed my mind.”)

But much as it would be ludicrous to be upset at people enjoying a party that I didn’t care about attending, and indeed would have declined an invitation to had I received one (and yes, I’ve done that as well), it would be, and is, nonsensical for me to be upset at people enjoying food I wouldn’t care to eat.

And, yet, there have been times when I’ve felt exactly that.

Utterly daft, isn’t it?

Another example: there are genuine, long standing issues which I care about, politically. And that others might not care as much (as I said last Sunday) is something I’ve long gotten used to, as they have about me not caring as much about issues they put their energy and passion into.

And while there are any number of subjects and topics that I might query the priority someone regards it with, sometimes someone will care, obviously deeply care, about something that I genuinely cannot understand why anyone cares about it. I can’t get arsed about sport 99.999% of the time but I completely accept that makes me an anomaly. And I ‘get’ why it’s important to some. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Neither can I get arsed about where someone’s grandparents came from. Not to any extent beyond mild curiosity and, given the history of so many who died in the holocaust, that. I don’t really care about my own. I mean I know the basics of where my own grandparents came from, but not really much more than that. And I don’t care to learn more.

(Huh, I don’t really care about my family more than a couple of generations back, and I don’t enjoy food. Let me just check in my trousers to confirm I’m still Jewish. Ok, yes. Let’s continue.)

Combining the two above, a teenager named Emma Radacanu won a tennis tournament last night. I can’t say I truly watched it. It’s as on the background while I did other things; it was, for me, wallpaper television, to which I paid attention on occasion: the set points, long rallies, championship points.

From what I witnessed, she’s a fun, clever, teenager with an astonishing talent. The same applies equally to her opponent.

Radacanu is British; born in Canada but she moved to the UK as a toddler. And people have today been talking about where her parents came from, where her grandparents were born, either to proclaim with some sense of triumph that it shows Britain is great, or less pleasantly to cast doubt on her somehow.

I genuinely don’t care where her grandparents came from. Couldn’t give a toss; as far as I’m concerned the only people who should give the slightest damn about it are Ms Radacanu and her family. And it not only puzzles me that anyone else does, it angers me, for no accountable reason. It’s not other peoples’ fault that they’re interested in the cultural heritage and background of the first British woman to win a Grand Slam major in 40 years, and it’s none of my business that they are.

But it irks, to put it mildly. And I have no bloody idea at all why.

Two caveats to the above:

  1. As I was typing the above, something popped up on my twitter feed; ‘one of those exceptions that proves the rule’ things. The Mayor of London celebrated that she’s from London. I perfectly understand why he did it: politics. But I realised I should add a line: I completely understand people’s interest in where she comes from, and even where her parents originated. I am still at a complete loss to understand any interest intake background of her family beyond that.)
  2. Developing 1. above, where people come from, I understand an interest. Indeed, one could not support refugees without it. Where their parents come from, sure. But anything further back from that, I don’t understand. Someone born in the UK, say, today, whose parents immigrated or whose grandparents did, or whose great-grandparents did is exactly as British, no more no less, than someone who can trace the English, say, background to the 1200s. No more, no less.

Ok, now I’m done.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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

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

 I swear, I was 30seconds away from just posting a

This page left intentionally blank

post… but I really didn’t want to.

There’s no excuse for it; I hadn’t written an 1,000 word post that I’d forgotten to save before closing the composer screen. (I’ve done that before.) I just was busy today, doing stuff, and by the time it came to mine writing today’s entry… I realised I actually didn’t want to write the entry I had planned. No spoilers; not because it’s exciting but the exact opposite. But I just want to write it… when I’m in a frame of mind to enjoy doing so.

And I didn’t want to just stick another couple of ‘fiction from the vaults’ thing.

And although it isn’t… it kind of feels like cheating to put up another meme type thing just to take up the space.

So, something a bit different today. Something more along the lines of a ‘going cheep’ entry: I’m just writing and seeing where the words take me. It’ll be a lot shorter than the usual blog entries, but so be it.

(Like any other form of writing, you get used to the format and the lengths you’re accustomed to, so if I’m thinking ‘going cheep’, I automatically think of ‘a couple of hundred words’.)

The past couple of years have been rough on everyone, and there’s been enough bad news about, enough misery and horror around the world.

And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve been as ‘not great’ during the past eighteen months as anyone else.

But it hit me while I was writing the above, and thinking about ‘what is there to celebrate, for me personally?’ – see, I told you this was kind of free association – that I’m coming up on five years as a non-smoker.

And that kind of surprised me. Hell, it flatly astonished me. Not in a ‘don’t you know how the calendar works, budgie?‘ way, but more of a ‘I never expected to be able to write that I’d not smoked a cigarette in five years‘.

I mean, I can’t write that right now, because the anniversary isn’t for another three months. But almost five years, yeah, that I can write.

In that time, I’ve wanted a cigarette twice. On two separate occasions, and on both instances, I was with people who didn’t smoke. So it wasn’t really a case of me resisting temptation. It was more of a “huh, I’m lucky I don’t have to resist temptation, because I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to right now.”

However, it’s now over 1,700 days since I had a cigarette.

I wish I could say that it was hard; it wasn’t. It was – once I found a method that worked for me – almost embarrassingly easy. And I still vape, so it’s not like I’ve avoided the whole nicotine thing.

So, given the foregoing, I’m not entirely sure it’s something to celebrate rather than merely acknowledge. But there’s little enough to celebrate this year, so I’ll take it.

And that’s it. Nothing special, no big ideas. Just that.

 

Anyway, see you tomorrow, with… something else. 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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

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

I long ago got used to other people not thinking that

Thing I Think Is Very Important

is, in fact Very Important, or at least not as important to them, while not exactly liking the idea.

I also, very long ago, became accustomed to me not thinking that

Thing That Other People Think Is Very Important

is, in fact, Very Important. And, at the same time, that they might be over enthusiastic at the concept.

Everyone has their own priorities, everyone has their own Red Buttons, everyone has their own Very Important Things, and a limited time in which to express their support for [Thing] or opposition to [Thing].

Now, let me state up front that I’m not talking about where me and other people take a directly opposite position, where, for example, you think that greyhound racing is an abomination and I think it’s just great. Or where I think that musical comedy is great and you think it’s awful.

No, I’m talking about where you think, say, that greyhound racing is an abomination and I just… don’t care about it that much. Because my priorities are other things, other subjects, other injustices. Or say, I think that musical comedy is great and you don’t really have an opinion; you’re just not enthusiastic about it.

It’s part of the social contract, I guess. You get to decide that something I think is Very Important.… isn’t. And I don’t fall out with you because of it.

And I get to decide that something you think is Very Important… just isn’t… and you don’t fall out with me because of that.

Could be something as trivial (and yes, I know I’m setting myself up here) as to whether Star Trek is better than Star Wars or as serious as considering that one form of bigotry (in a political party) is worth paying in order to remove another party from government.

But there has to be a line, surely? There has to be – and experience shows there is – where someone concluding that something just ain’t that important… bites, and goes over a line into ‘by not thinking it’s that important, you’re in effect supporting its continuance.’

And then we find ourselves in the very nasty area of ‘silence = consent; silence = acquiescence; silence =support‘. I don’t agree with the observation, by the way. I think there can be any number of justifiable reasons for silence, depending on the specific subject, the law, the people involved, and the larger context.

I wrote in 2016 about my contempt, however, for those who do take that argument for matters they care about but then hypocritically claim it doesn’t apply when it’s stuff they don’t care about: 2017 minus 40: Sorry? I can’t hear you…


Sidebar:When I was a financial director, I was at a function and got chatting to some of my contemporaries. The subject of our own individual staff came up and one of my companions said something like:

I don’t pay them to make mistakes.

I have to say I wasn’t the only person to object to his comment. I was just the first one to actively disagree. I think that’s bullshit. Of course you pay people to make mistakes. That’s how they learn not to make them. They make mistakes, you explain what the mistake was; they learn from the experience and don’e make the same mistake again.

Because that’s what you’re paying them for: not to make the same mistake twice.


Same thing applies in a way online. I grew up in the 1970s; attended university in the 1980s. A lot changed – for me and in the UK – between those decades and the pace of change has continued, and increased.

I’m certainly not about to do a ‘some of my best friends are…’ to excuse fuckups I’ve made from ignorance, but I\’ve been incredibly fortunate to have friends that tell me when I’ve fucked up.

Because wvery so often, a friend‘ll send a private message with “thought you should know…” or “just a heads-up, budgie, but…”, letting me know that language I used is offensive or alludes to a trope, or… no, let’s be blunt about it: letting me know I fucked up.

I’ll delete with an apology, and I try to do better in future.

At this point, someone will usually pop up to argue “it’s not your friends’ responsibility to educate you”, a position I ‘heartily agree with. If it was their responsibility, it would be an obligation. This ain’t an obligation; it’s friendship.

So, no, it’s not on my friends to educate me; it’s not their responsibility to correct me. It’s mine, & my fault. But that’s what friends do; they realise it’s a fuck up, not malice.

I’m always very, very grateful to them; their knowledge and experiences are greater than mine and I learn from them. Much the same as, hopefully, they learn from me, when I repay the favour and let them know that a phrase they’ve used in all innocence has an antisemitic origin, or alludes to an age old antisemitic trope.

And, again I’m lucky with my friends, they do the “oh, fuck? I’ve fucked up, habven’t I? Shit. Thanks, mate… I’ll delete. Appreciate the heads up…”

But what happens if they don’t?

It’s no surprise that I loathed Jeremy Corbyn, and concluded, after many months of avoiding it, that he’s both personally and politically antisemitic.

And when it came to the general elections, in 2017, and especially in 2019, I could no longer pretend the line wasn’t there, not for me.

I had to draw the line.

And I lost friends over it. (Or at least, I’d lost people I’d thought of as friends. Whether they were actually friends or not is for the philosophers to argue about.)

I had to draw the line; anyone basically taking the positions of ‘antisemitism is all a smear’ or ‘ accusations of antisemitism are all a fabrication’ or ‘we can deal with the antisemitism later’ (aka ‘it’s a price worth paying’)…? They all crossed That Line I drew. And any relationship we had until that point… ended. Permanently.

For some: their own line is ‘debating their very existence’; I’m not about to tell them their line is anything other than correct. For others it’s ‘supporting political candidates and political positions that harm me and mine’; for still others, the line is drawn very narrowly, for others it’s far broader. And all of their lines are right, all of their lines are correct.

For while, sure, anyone can tell someone else their line is ‘wrong’, you’re a dick if you do so. Because everyone draws a line somewhere, whether or not they admit it.

Remember Laura Pidcock? She gave an interview during which she said that she wouldn’t be friends, wouldn’t go drinking with, Tory MPs who voted for policies that harmed her constituents. I read the interview after people had extrapolated from her words to claim she’d said “she wouldn’t be friends with a Tory”. Except she’d never said that, and indeed she said some of her family voted Tory at the last election.

And on Twitter – of course on Twitter – it morphed into a ‘would you kiss a Tory? Would you fuck a Tory?’ Utterly ludicrous, and yet if someone wants to draw the line their, that’s their choice.

And now back to the ‘staying silent’. While I don’t agree for a moment with the “silence = consent; silence = acquiescence; silence = support”, I will grant that position one thing.

There’s an old Jewish observation about those who do or don’t turn up for a shiva, the days of memorial, usually at the house of a mourner; for a week, peopel come in and out of the house; friends, strangers, people who knew him or her, people who just want to pay their respects.

The observation: you don’t always remember who turned up, but you never forget who didn’t.

Silence has consequences, and if you’re the one who stays silent, you’d better be prepared for them.

I don’t have An Answer; I don’t think there is An Answer, beyond this, and it’s very much not a satisfactory one:

You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror without wincing. Whether it’s while shaving, or putting make-up on, or just washing your face. You’ve got to be able to look without wincing, or without wincing too hard, anyway.

And yes of course, fucking idiots and racists/homophobes/trans phones… they can all do that because a) they’re fucking idiots, and b) they’re often proud of their actions. But I’m talking about those with a moral compass I’d recognise.

Now, can I look in the mirror without wincing? No, not usually, because the face that’s looking back at me is my own and no one should have to look at that ugly mug every day. But other than the whole looks and appearance thing, can I? Mostly, yeah. Not always, and rarely completely. But mostly… yeah.

See you tomorrow, with… something else. 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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

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

#IAmAnIdiot

It’s a useful hashtag, my occasional entirely self-deprecating ‘I is a idiot’ on Twitter notwithstanding. But it can mean so many different things.

Obviously, as with most hashtags, I can’t say that the first time I saw it was the first time it was used, but the first time I saw it used, well, it sticks in the memory.

A British comedian, a fairly well-known, fairly successful one then, a better known, and more successful now, comedian… made an arse of himself.

He credulously repeated an urban myth about Orthodox Jews, apparently in all innocence. To say that it was surprising is to understate it, That he repeated it was jaw-dropping.

His Jewish friends, his more educated non-Jewish friends, pretty much everyone. fell upon him with the weight of several tonnage of bricks.

And he apologised, Instantly. With a full, unreserved, completely and entirely self-excoriating apology. No self-serving ‘if I offended…’, none of the ‘I merely repeated…’

No, this was a full blown “I fucked up, I was gullible, I am an idiot.

It was the last bit that made me remember it so strongly.

I mean, I was asked about it at the time. (I didn’t know the comedian then, personally. New his work, but didn’t know him. I got to know him later, and it was a pleasure to discover that I liked him as well as his material.)

I remember being shocked by the credulity, and impressed by the apology, both its speed and completeness, but especially by the “I am an idiot”. I accepted it as heartfelt and genuine. I’ve never had occasion since to doubt either.

#IAmAnIdiot.


Sidebar: what I’m about to write about isn’t the usually humorous self-deprecation when someone explains something to me that makes perfect sense when it’s explained but that I’d never thought about before.

Example. The rules for election broadcast coverage of elections in the UK. There’s a broadcast rule that, well, as they put it, in 2015:

I knew the rules existed, but I was puzzled as to why it started at midnight-30, not at 12 o’clock precisely.

It was explained to me: it allows the broadcast media to run their midnight news, reporting on the final day of campaigning.

I thanked the person who’d explained it to me and added “I am an idiot”. It was self-deprecating and everyone understood it as that, nothing more.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.


#IAmAnIdiot.

Occasionally, I fuck up online.

No, let me restate that. Occasionally I realise I’ve fucked up, online. No, that’s not it either.

OK, Occasionally both me and the person who tells me I’ve fucked up both agree that I’ve fucked up.

Yeah, that’s better.

Now I’m not talking about being wrong about something. That happens all the time. If you’ve any sense, and any reserves of personal integrity, you correct the record and the matter’s closed.

Here’s one.

I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or read this blog will know that.

But I’ve never understood the need for disprovable, easily or otherwise, by independent third party evidence, allegations. I made a statement about him. I was shown it was incorrect in one aspect: the date I’d said the specific thing happened occurred. I immediately withdrew the tweet, and amended it, correcting the date.

I was wrong. I corrected my error. I wasn’t an idiot. I was just… wrong.

Here’s an entirely harmless but memorable I am an idiot. When I was a young child, our primary school had a local theatre group in to give a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Afterwards, there was a Q&A session. Apparently I asked in all seriousness what the medicine was that they’d given Titania to make her sleep as my kid brother wouldn’t sleep at night.

They kindly explained that it was called acting.

I was an idiot. I was very young. But yeah, I was an idiot.

Here are two more examples where I was an idiot. of what I mean with “I am an idiot”, one long before Twitter existed, one on Twitter; one entirely harmless and silly, one less so.

For a while, that same kid brother lived on Bermuda. He was learning his trade as a hairdresser, and took a job on the island to spread his wings a bit and to hone his skills with different types of hair; he was there for a year or so.

During this self-imposed exile, I visited him and we were hit by a tropical storm. I don’t think there was a causal relationship but who knows?

Anyway, we were hit by a storm. It wasn’t pleasant; it was even a bit scary. The following day, when the storm had passed, we went to the beach to have a look at the damage and enjoy the lack of, y’know, wind and rain. The beaches on Bermuda are gloriously soft, and your feet sink a couple of inches into them. That should have been my first clue in retrospect.

On the beach was a boulder the side of a small car. Not huge enough to be a truck, nor a house… but yeah, the size of a small car. It wasn’t small.

I was flabbergasted. I mean, I knew the winds had been strong but to dump a rock that size on the beach, And I expressed this astonishment to my brother… who started laughing.

I turned around to discover my brother hugging his sides with laughter, trying in vain to restrain tears of laughter.

Yeah, you just got there a second before I did: the winds hadn’t dumped the rock on the beach; the winds had stripped away the sand surrounding the rock.

Again, something I freely admit and have no problem with. I was an idiot.

Here’s one that’s less harmless. Where I was an idiot with what could have had serious consequences. No excuses, no self-serving oops: I was an idiot.

I’m not a fan of the journalist Peter Hitchens. While he’s smart, I wouldn’t deny it, I disagree with almost everything he believes, and promotes. And it would probably be best to leave it there.

Because once I didn’t.

He’d said something online that so angered me that I did something… unwise. What he’d said was so extreme, so anger inducing, that I mischievously wondered to myself whether he’d said something in the past that contradicted it. And, knowing Hitchens’ style, if he’d done so, it wouldn’t be a mild contradiction; it would be full blown.

And, delightfully, I found it. I discovered a piece from him not only directly contradicting himself, but saying that anyone who thought otherwise was an idiot. So I screenshot the contradiction and tweeted it.

Except…

Except that what I’d found was from a parody site. And I made a damn fool of myself. Publicly.

I retracted it, obviously. I apologised to him directly, and apologised in a separate tweet. (Give the man credit; he was graciousness itself when he accepted the apology and said publicly that he considered the mater closed.)

But yeah, that was stupid of me. I was an idiot, and not in a funny way, not in a good way, in a way that could have left me open to defamation proceedings.

OK, so if you’re wrong on Twitter, if you’re an idiot, how do you apologise? How do you set the record straight? I mean, how do you do it right?

There are umpteen ways of doing it badly. Deleting the original tweet, and blocking anyone who raises the subject. seems to be the current favourite. Or there’s hooking your apology on to an entirely irrelevant tweet from the person you’ve fucked over. That way you can claim you’ve apologised but no one ever sees it. Or there’s deleting it, brazening it out and claiming anyone who raises it is ‘weaponising’ the issue.

But how do you do it right? There were, for a long time, three fairly well accepted ways of doing it.

  1. Delete the original tweet, put out a new tweet obliquely referring to it without detail and issuing a form apology.
  1. Delete the original tweet, put out a new tweet retracting what you said and apologising, with an attached screenshot of the original tweet.
  1. Quote tweet the original tweet with an “I was wrong to tweet this; apologies.”

None of these ever seemed to be a good method to me. With option 1, you look like you’re trying to do the very minimum necessary and also like you’re hiding the original offence, pretending you did nothing wrong.

With the final two, you merely encourage (and it often seems this is the reason for it) others to repeat something you know if false. Because with 2., they just grab the screenshot and use that, and with 3., the original tweet continues being retweeted and QT’d, while you can say ‘oh no! Look what is happening! This is a very bad thing…‘ and pretend you’re upset at it.

The solution is pretty obvious, so obvious that one wonders why more don’t do it, and one is further forced to conclude that it’s deliberate.

That solution? Grab a screenshot, and overlay a watermark, like the attached.

That seems to work, and it’s what I’ll do if the situation requires it.


OK, one more thing to end on. One more “I was an idiot” story from my past that’s still relevant, and one more story I genuinely enjoy telling against myself.

OK, no one reading this is unaware I’ve got a fucked-up foot. When it became a fucked-up foot, the doctor prescribed fairly strong painkillers, which I still take. (At some point I’ll need a major op on the foot, but until then, the painkillers do their job, mostly.)

However, when I first started taking them, these powerful opioids, I was… worried, concerned, wary about… no, damit, I was scared shitless that I’d become addicted to them. And, after three months, I was getting more scared.

I spoke to the young lady I was then seeing, who happened to work as a drugs counsellor. She reassured me:

Of course you’ll become addicted to them; they’re addictive.

Ok, maybe ‘reassured me’ wasn’t the right verb. However, she then attempted to reassure me properly, by explaining the difference between being addicted to something and having an actual addition… “problem”.

Look, first off, I’m a drugs worker. I’ll know you’ve got a problem long before you know it…OK, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients: if you’re worried, find a day where you ‘need’ to take all eight tablets and take seven. See if you ‘live’ for the tablet you don’t take.

That made sense to me, and a couple of weeks later, I did exactly that. For three days. My foot was on fire and I took only seven tablets not six. And oh gods did I lived for that other tablet.

So it was with trepidation that I told her what had happened.

And she… laughed at me. Pretty much about as much as my brother had about the rock on the beach.

I wasn’t amused. But then she explained.

I thought you were supposed to be smart, she said. Of course I don’t tell my clients that. I told you that to prove a point. Don’t you get it? If you had a problem, you’d have taken the other pill. You’d have made every excuse to me, to others, to yourself, but you’d have taken the eighth pill. You stuck to seven not eight… merely because a friend told you to.

I was an idiot. In a good way, but yeah I was an idiot.

(Not for nothing, but the fear of losing control of the addiction remains. And years later, still on them, my GP and I discuss the matter three times a year, so that we’re both certain i) I still need the painkillers and ii) I’m not abusing them.)


So what have we learned?

I am an idiot.

No, what have we learned?

That I am an idiot, and that that’s ok… most of the time.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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

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

I’ve done a couple of these already, the

‘nothing much to write about today; yes, there is stuff I want to write about about but I haven’t got my thoughts in order yet, so here’s something about several things…’

posts, and since I’m in that frame of mind today, some thoughts on three things that are in my head right now.

By the way, the things I want to write about? Here’s just a smattering, if nothing else to put them down, so I know I’ve got to write the posts sooner or later

    a review of David Baddiel’s book Jews Don’t Count. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that I thought it was excellent and almost perfect. I’ve a couple of issues with it, which I’ll discuss in the review, which will come at some point
    a look back at two years of Boris Johnson’s two years as Prime Minister. While a huge chunk of that period has covered Brexit and the covid response, he’s fucked up other things as well.
    something about comedy
    something about the comics I’ve been reading
    Something about the comics I’ve been rereading
    …and something about the mouth organ

Anyway, now that those are out of the way… Ah, if only making a to do list was the same as completing the items on a to do list. Something for a future iteration of iOS to fix.

Anyways…

Appearances
I’m not good looking. Let’s get that out of the way straight away. And no, this isn’t fishing for compliments, ok? I’m well resigned to looking… ok.

I mean, I’m not horrible looking; I don’t look like something the love child of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Bill Sienkiewicz would have come up with, but — checks in the mirror — yeah, it’s not great. By which I mean, like the difference between ‘not liking something’ on the one hand, and ‘disliking something’ on the other, I don’t think I’m actively bad looking; I’m just not good looking.

I look… ok. There’s not much I actively like about my appearance. But I’ll openly acknowledge that, the past few decades, with the exception of the colour changing, I’ve quite liked my hair.

Three months’ back, the following tweet went a bit viral.

Lots of people proffered their replies. Now my dad was a hairdresser and I was half way through writing my own response when something hit me about what I was writing.

Because what I was about to write was:

Free haircuts.

But what occurred to me was that the biggest advantage I gained from my dad being a hairdresser wasn’t free haircuts but the absence of something. I gained a far more important perk that was the big one:

I never thought of haircuts as anything to be scared of, or worried about.

And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised how many are scared or worried by them.

And, I guess, because of how I grew up, getting a haircut is just something I do… and – notwithstanding some of the more embarrassing photos from the annual A Life In Pictures – I kind of like how the hair looks.

Of course, drop half a centimetre below the hair – both inside and outside the skull – and it all goes to hell. But there’s not a lot I can do about that, or at least, not a lot I’m prepared to do about that.

(A decade ago, while on holiday I went to a spa, and had massages, a manicure, a pedicure, the works. While you couldn’t pay me to have another massage – I really disliked the experience – I glance down at the mess that is my feet and think I could do with another pedicure…)

Molesworth
As with so many things, I was introduced to St Custards and its most notorious denizen, one Nigel Molesworth, by my brother. It was very much a ‘here, read this, you’ll love it’, and as was so often the case when Michael said that, he was right.

I can’t honestly say that I was first aware of Searle from Moelsworth, though. I had some collections of cartoons as a kid, and I remember seeing his drawings of St Trinians and kids on ponies… but when Mike gave me How To Be Topp, I fell in love with the world created by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. I’ve probably in the intervening years read everything I could about Molesworth, and featuring Molesworth and anything that even barely mentions Molesworth.

Or so I thought.

Until yesterday… when I discovered that Molesworth’s diaries, originally published in Punch, from 1939 – 1942, have been collected and republished as The Lost Diaries. And, writer friends of mine, my heartfelt apologies, but I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was so looking forward to reading anything.

And now I’m going to get the chance.

Oh, and while looking for other Molesworth stuff, I came across this. Hmm. I’m not convinced, but I’m certainly willing to be.

Back to normal…?
Things don’t feel ”back to normal’ yet, not even close, and I wish I knew why. I mean, yes, obviously, covid is still around – yesterday the UK reported over 30,000 new cases, and 133 deaths – but most of the restrictions have lifted, there’s not much I can’t do if I a) want to, and b) can afford to.

But the idea of doing many of them… well, it’s not exactly enthusiasm I’m feeling.

I can now go to the cinema if I want to. I even found myself the other day in a cinema foyer looking at the movies showing, and there were two or three I did in fact want to see. And yet, I turned around and walked out. Something stopped me buying a ticket, and it wasn’t the cost.

I miss live comedy like so many of my friends miss going to see live music. And yet, with one exception when it returns, I’m finding myself reluctant to actually buy a ticket to go and see live comedy. And again, it’s not because I can’t afford the ticket, nor that I hugely enjoy watching comedy on a screen. I want to see live comedy and yet… something stops me going to see it.

I miss seeing friends for coffee and yet I haven’t invited anyone out for coffee since the pandemic hit.

I miss seeing my friends… and yet with the exception of seeing my ex-wife and our son (when he’s home) and visiting my closest friends who were my social bubble when such things existed… I haven’t.

Things aren’t back to normal, not even close. ‘Back to normal’ isn’t even viewable through the Hubble Space Telescope.

And the longer it goes on, the stronger the feeling hits me, and hurts me, that it really, really should be.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven more days. Fifty-seven more posts. One fifty-seventh birthday just had.


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

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

 Well, can’t say that this is the first time its happened this run, but I’m staring at an empty screen and I’ve nothing to write about. Well, nothing that’d take up an entire blog entry. Well, again, nothing that isn’t the post I’ve been putting off finishing and publishing. I’m going back and forth on that one, to be honest. As mentioned previously, it’s a bit ‘personal’ and I’m still not entirely sure I want to put some of it into the public arena.

So instead of driving myself mad (a short drive, I assure you), here’s some stuff on various things I’m thinking about today. All of these could have easily been today’s goingcheep, but they weren’t.

So you get three of them here; aren’t you all lucky?

I wonder when…?
I quit smoking in 2016. I’ve not smoked for over 1,700 days. Every so often, I’ll work out the number of days and it always surprises me. And I never know whether to consider myself a non-smoker or an ex-smoker. I mean, I usually just go with “I don’t smoke… at the moment.” I don’t think I’ll return to lighting up cigarettes. But I’m genuinely scared that all it would take would be one and I’d be back on 20 a day.

I’m on my third… substitute, I guess you’d call it. Or third crutch. I started off my ‘no cigaetters’ phase by using a Curv e-cig, then switched to vaping after about six months, when I was pretty sure I was going to stick at the ‘not smoking’ thing. And about six months after that, I switched to my current method of vaping, an Aspire PockeX.

In over 1,700 days, I’ve wanted to smoke precisely twice. Both times were in the first year, both times I was pissed off and angry and just wanted a cigarette. And, fortunately, both times I was with friends none of whom smoked.

But I can honestly say that since the first anniversary, I’ve not wanted a cigarette, not once. The vaping does me very nicely thank you.

Two rules I set myself when I quit: 1) No evangelising to others; I loathed it when I was a smoker, and I don’t get to tell anyone else that they should give up. Corollary to that: don’t tell anyone else they can’t smoke around me. Again, I’ve given up; they haven’t. My wanting them to not smoke around me, if that were the case, shouldn’t trump their wish to smoke. 2) Just because I found it easy, using the method I did, doesn’t mean that anyone else would.

So what am I wondering? I’m wondering two ‘how long before?’s.

How long before… I stop being scared I’ll start smoking again?

and

How long before… someone will have trouble lighting their cigarette, and I’ll automatically reach for my lighter before remembering I don’t carry one any more?
 
 
A few Ten Things that I either can’t narrow it down to Ten or I couldn’t get to Ten, no matter how I tried.

Some time ago, on the blog, I started doing Ten Things posts. They kind of arose out of John Rentoul’s Top Ten feature in The Independent., wherein he asks for nominations for the Top Ten Returns from political wilderness, or the Top Ten Actors Who Are Younger Than You Think, or even the Top Ten deaths eclipsed by people who died on the same day

I’d never be arrogant enough to pick the Top Ten of anything, nor even usually my favourite ten of anything. But Ten Things I Like, that I can do. And have done. Whether it’s Ten TV Pilots I Like, Ten Comics I Like, Ten Doctor Who Episodes I Like, or even Ten Audiobooks I’ll Listen To Again And Again.

But sometimes, yeah sometimes, I come up with an idea, and I just can’t get it to work, either because I can’t get to ten, or I can’t narrow it down.

Here are a few:

  • Ten sf shows that aren’t Doctor Who that I really like
  • Ten Law & order partnerships I really like
  • Ten Things my brother introduced me to that I still like
  • Ten comics writer-artist teams I like
  • Ten musical comedians I really like
  • Ten pieces of tech that blew me away when I discovered them
  • Ten political pundits always worth reading
  • Ten Sexual positions I like (not really, was just checking you were still reading.)

 
 
Spoilers
Nothing to say on this one other than that I’d seriously consider voting for any political candidate who came up with a decent, sensible, rational and common sense rule that people could agree with… about what period of time is sensible, rational and common sense for people to give away plot points online.
 
 
Lockdown Surprises
Four quick points on this one; things I’ve learned or learned to appreciate over the past 18 months that I’d not have expected beforehand.

1. Video chatting. I always hated it before 2020. Genuinely loathed it. I don’t like how I look onscreen. I mean, I don’t like how I look in photos (not quite true, I’m less repulsed by seeing pics of me than I used to be) but I really don’t like, still don’t like, how I appear onscreen. But I’ve come to appreciate both the necessity and convenience of video chatting it’s enabled me to at least keep ‘in contact’ with people, including Laura and Phil. And while I still hate what I look like onscreen, I kind of like the idea of future doctors’ appointments being on video.

2. People are, for the most part, sensible. Most people have gone along with the necessary restrictions to personal freedom that are, y’know, necessary. And most people, for the most part, don’t confuse ‘disliking the inconvenience’ and ‘refusing to do sensible stuff’. And most people, for the most part, acknowledge that others might find it harder, while not being aggressive to those who do find it harder.

3. There are though a lot of fucking idiots around. Yeah, that ‘for the most part’ means that there are some fucking idiots, doing fucking idiotic things.

4. Getting back ‘to normal’ is going to take a lot, lot longer than I, or anyone, realised. Whether it’s mask wearing, or going to a crowded place, or even going to the theatre or the cinema. It’s going to harder than I thought it would be. Both to feel comfortable doing those things and allowing my desire to do them supersede my fear in doing so.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

Claire Quilty, on Twitter, said a while back that:

That’s relevant to what follows, so remember it; I’ll come back to it later on.

(And no, in case you’re wondering, this post has got nothing to do with antisemitism. Not directly, anyway.)


 

There’s a line that’s been used any number of times on telly, but I first came across it in, of all things, an episode of The Professionals. One of the lead characters is told

You’re not a very ‘civil’ civil servant, are you?

(I’m obliged to Mark Forsyth – who tweets as @inkyfool – for identifying the rhetorical device used therein as an “antanaclasis”.)

The past few years I’ve come to think the same about social media; i.e. it’s not very social a lot of the time, is it?

I’d say that I date the genesis of this observation to 2015 because that’s a convenient date for all sorts of reasons. For one thing…

And, for another…

 

But yeah, that’s why I date it to late 2015, although what I’m about to talk about probably (almost certainly) pre-dates that.

Social media, then.

Thing is… with the obvious exception of Facebook events, Google Hangouts, etc., it’s not very… social, is it?

And that’s leaving aside – ok, it’s not, because I’m about to talk about it… Because I’m no longer sure what qualifies as social media these days. No, not because of covid. Yes, what ‘social’ means changed during the pandemic. Changed irrevocably? I don’t know. I guess we’ll discover that together over the next few years.

But… what does ‘social’ mean?

I’m happy to reach for a dictionary at this point. (First not really about antisemitism bit; it’s my usual response when someone starts off with the ‘ah, but how do you define antisemitism, eh? Eh?’ My usual response is to point them at a reputable dictionary. Oddly, they tend to get very upset.)

But, yes, dictionary definition. Even merely as an adjective, ‘social’ has a fairly long list of definitions.

 

So… is Facebook a ‘social’ app? Sure. Even leaving aside the use of it to arrange drinkups and parties, it’s effectively a huge room, with dozens of people mingling and chatting with each other. Some stick to their own cliques, some do the rounds… and sometimes you get an idiot that no one invited standing on a table and shouting about the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds.

Twitter? Yes, again. Same as Facebook… except that there’s a greater proportion of foulmouthed, drunk, or sleep-deprived, idiots.

Snapchat? And Tik Tok? I’ll take your word for it on both, as I’ve never been on them, and I’m pretty sure I never will be. (Actually, not quite true; I once downloaded Tik Tok, looked around for about ten minutes and speedily deleted the app.) But both are not for me.

But YouTube? How the hell is YouTube ‘social media’? If anything it’s a publishing platform, just as blogging platforms are – to me, at least – not social media.

It’s like those ‘what was the first social media platform you used?’ question that does the rounds every so often. I rarely include blogging or even livejournal/message boards because I don’t think of them as ‘social media’. However, apparently I’m wrong on that… or so I’m told whenever I express this view.

I mean – is this blog social media? (Checks my readership stats. Possibly ‘unsocial media’ would be a better description.)

But what I originally wanted to note that long ago time in the past when I started writing this post was a change in Twitter in recent years; it’s perhaps inevitable since we’ve gone through a shedload of contentious elections and votes and similar, resulting in more than a few populist governments. Add covid and 5G and any number of things tailor made for conspiracies…

At some point in the past few years the way we view ourselves and the way we view others has changed.

(And no, I’m not talking about the way we’ve gone from ‘those I’m politically opposed to are not good people with bad ideas but bad people with worse ideas’, something that’s taken over politcial discourse. Or at least I’m not just talking about that.)

As always, however, nothing is new; neither under the sun, nor on social media.

So, let me start with a friend a couple of decades back whose blog, on Livejournal, morphed over a period of a couple of years from a general ‘slice of life’ with other stuff frequently mentioned, into effectively a campaigning blog, with one sole aim: the abolition of greyhound racing in the UK.

That the sport (for want of a better word, my use of ‘sport’ isn’t meant to sanitise it, I promise) is cruel, wantonly cruel, knowingly cruel, is I think beyond doubt.

My friend, however, truly believed, and campaigned for, its abolition on the grounds that it was unforgivably cruel, irrendemently so.

And this is the change I’ve noticed taking over more and more of social media.

I came to realise then that she, through no overt ‘fault’ of her own, but in part because of her passion and campaigning, thought less of me

Not because I didn’t share her fury, but because I didn’t share her view that this was the most important thing to be angry about. Not the only thing, but certainly the most important thing.

And now we’re getting closer to what I wanted to write about, about social media.

Certainty, as I wrote about a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And while in what we’re pleased to call ‘real life’ there are a variety of things you can do to express your anger, or upset or disappointment, all of them require some effort on your part.

Yes, yes, the last 18 months have shown the falsity of any distinction between ‘online life’ and ‘in person life’, but bear with me, ok?

Let’s say you fall out with a friend; ok, you’ve got to ask yourself what will be the consequences if you cut them out of your life, if you snub them, if you want nothing to do with them. What are you going to do when there’s a party, where mutual friends will want you both there. OK, they’ll want to know neither of you are going to ‘make a scene’, but they pretty reasonably see no reason why they should have to choose sides.

(In my own case, I choose not to attend such parties if someone with whom I’ve fallen out hugely will be there. I make the choice, because it’s better all around. No one feels like they’re walking on eggshells, they have a lovely time in company, and I have an ok time on my own.)

But, to be fair, if you have fallen out with, oh, I dunno, let’s call them Ethelred… it’s unlikely that your friends, even if they remain friends with Ethelred, are likely to tell you what Ethelred thinks about politics or sport or anything really. Your mutual friends may still stay in contact with Ethelred, but unless they’re completely thoughtless idiots, they’re not going to rub your face in it.

And then there’s social media. Where, among other things, they kind of are likely to do that.

Because if you fall out with Ethelred, and merely unfollow them, which is very easy to do – more about that in a moment – if your friends like something that Ethelred said online, they may repost it, retweet it, bring it, unasked, into your timeline.

So you mute them… yeah, that’s not gonna work, in most cases. So you block them.

Yes, you block them. Someone you were on good terms with, you erase them from your timeline, from your online life. (And if Twitetr could

Now unfollowing happens for any number of reasons: to be brutally honest, I usually assume that anyone who unfollows me hasn’t done it because I’ve overtly offended them… it’s because I’ve bored them. It’s a message “I’m no longer interested in anything you have to say”.

It stings if it comes out of the blue, but mostly it doesn’t, not with friends.

But one of the first online lessons you have to learn, and appreciate, is “never ever worry about who follows you, or why, and who doesn’t… and why.” Quickly followed by “learn to read fluent Tyop, and never highlight someone’s typos… unless the typo is very very funny.”

But blocking is something different., It’s final (usually), it’s an overt statement.

Tracy Ann Oberman ran a podcast entitled Trolled, wherein she interviewed celebs who’d been subject to trolling. What I found fascinating was that some, like Luciana Berger, rarely blocked, in part because she didn’t want the trolls to think they’d somehow ‘won’, that they’d upset her. Others like Gary Lineker took another view: they wanted the trolls to know they’d lost access to his feed because of their behaviour; ie that by their behaviour online, they’d forfeited the right to read his feed.

OK, coming back to what I started this blog with; now, I did say that it’d be relevant…

If I mention y = x + 2, does that ring any bells? No? Ah, that’s a pity. Well, it was when I came up with my own law.

I genuinely thought that might be it, that I’d never come up with another law that applied in all circumstances, universally.

And yet, over the past few years, I’ve blocked away racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and the occasional now former friend who stepped over a line I genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I didn’t regret a single one of them.

And I’ve been blocked by racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and by the occasional friend where I stepped over a line they genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I don’t regret a single one of them.

I know some regard blocking or being blocked as ‘a win’, but I never have. I’ve taken pleasure in some, and reluctantly agreed others’ necessity. But there’s not one I regret. Not really.

I wrote a post at the end of 2019 entitled Saying Farewell to 2019, A Good Thing in which I listed some good things that had happened in 2019, in the midst of what I considered a pretty shitty year all around. Among the fifteen items were these two:

So, far too long after I promised it, here’s a new Budgie’s Law:

BUDGIE’S LAW OF SOCIAL MEDIA

All blocks, every single one of them, without reservation, without
exception, for whatever reason, no matter who blocked who…

…are ‘for the best’.

I almost called it Budgie’s Law of Social Media Exclusion, but that could be confused for when social media companies show you the door… which is a whole other post. Maybe.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

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


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

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

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 so will likely be spending Valentine’s Day on her own for the first time in a decade.

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

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

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

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

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

Since then? Since we split in July 2005?

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

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

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

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

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

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 ‘Philip’. 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?