Posts Tagged ‘personal’

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.

Something been on my mind a bit since I hit ‘post’ on yesterday’s blog entry.

In the entry, I used the word ‘cunt’, since the news item was about its use. And I gave short shrift to the idea that some might find it offensive, or to be more accurate, I said that if someone was offended by my use of the word, then this probably wasn’t the blog for them, anyway.

It occurred to me some time later yesterday evening that I’d kind of, maybe, not really, I dunno… broken my own unwritten rule for this blog, and its predecessor. The rule I might have broken? “I try to keep the blog suitable for ‘all ages’.”

I mean, sure, the use of that particular obscenity (several times) probably didn’t disturb the ether that much. After all, I doubt I’ve many children reading it, and even if one stumbled across the blog, I further doubt they’d be interested in what one Tory MP said to another to keep reading long enough to come across the word.

BUT… but…

I do try to keep the blog at a level where all ages can read it.

I wish I could say that’s why the blog rarely delves into ‘adult’ material. It’s not.

Before this blog, I had a Livejournal account. I ran that blog from 2002 until 2011. (Huh. it just hit me tyhat I’ve had this blog longer than I ran my Livejournal blog; that’s weird.)

But during those years – 2002 to 2010 – my son aged from six years’ old through fifteen. And he sometimes read the blog. So very personal stuff was out of bounds as was adult material, ie sex.


Sidebar: When I ran the Livejournal blog, I semi-regularly ran something I called ‘Teach Me Something’, asking readers to teach me something from their own jobs, their own skillset. A teacher might tell the secrets of how to immediately identify the different types of kids (troublemaker, class clown, hard worker, etc) in a classroom. A sommelier giving tips on wine, an IT person explaining the real way to solve common IT problems.

Someone replied with ‘to give the perfect blow job…’ and then gave very detailed instructions.

I took the reply out of public view, because of my then young lad.

A few years later, I was telling the story and the following exchange occurred.

I love my son.


But yes, sex, or at least details about my own preferences and experiences, would likely never have appeared on the blog anyway. As I said the other day, there’s a reason my private life is called, well, my Private Life.

Because when I started the blog, I was married. No, wait, let me give that some context. Apart from being a naturally private person, I had another reason to keep that side of things unspoken on the blog.

I’ve always been in awe of people who are open about their personal lives, their sex lives, and are completely open in it. I’ve never been built like that but even had I been, I didn’t have the right to bring someone else’s sex life into the open.

Because when you’re single, and you talk about sex, then it’s fair for readers to assume, – to conclude, rather – that you’re only speaking for yourself. If you state that you’re into this kink or that you like that position, all you’re revealing is that you like it. Yes, it’s fair for your readers to also conclude that your partner for that evening’s entertainment also enjoyed it. But you’re not identifying them, nor taking away their agency.

But if you’re married – or at least if you’re married and you don’t have an open marriage – it’s fair for any reader to conclude that your spouse is into at least some of what you’re into. (To take a fairly obvious example; if you identified your favourite sexual position, it’s fair to assume that your regular partner — your spouse if you’re married, and not playing away — at the very least didn’t dislike it.)

So that’s two reasons my last blog was free from ‘adult’ revelations about me. 1) My son was a kid, and he read the blog sometimes, and 2) I was married.

Well my son is now 26.

And as for being married? Well, my marriage ended in 2005, though thankfully we remained the closest of friends afterwards, a fact for which I never cease to remain grateful.

But yeah, it ended in 2005.

It’s now rapidly approaching the end of 2021.

And with the exception of a couple of short term flings in the years after the marriage ended, I’ve not had a ‘public’ relationship with anyone since, as in ‘everyone knew who I was seeing, when I was seeing them’. Hell, I haven’t had anything anyone sensible would call a relationship, not a romantic one, since 2005….

…and it’s now rapidly approaching the end of 2021.

When the marriage ended, I knew there would be a period of adjustment, and that there’d be – at some point – a time when I was ready for, when I wanted, a long term, full time, emotionally committed, monogamous, ‘proper’ relationship. I also knew that time was so far in the future that I wouldn’t have been able to see it even had I been using the Hubble Space Telescope.

That was sixteen years ago. And I don’t see that changing.

I mentioned in that Ten Things post

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.

After I posted that blog entry, I received some private messages from friends. Not through the comments section of the blog, but via text and WhatsApp and via Twitter Direct Messaging. None of them mentioned the mental health stuff I revealed; to be honest, I suspect it either came as a surprise… or there was just nothing they knew how to say.

No, what the messages were about… was the above excerpt. Adjectives and phrases such as ‘sad’ and ‘lonely’ and ‘very sad’ and ‘seems very wrong’ have been used but no – so far – disagreement nor attempts to persuade me otherwise.

For that at least, I’m grateful.

 

Well, that turned out to be a lot more personal than I expected.

I guess the final ruling is: this blog is all ages… except when it’s not.

 

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.

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 weight 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 indirectly 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 go.

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.

(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.)

Twenty-three years

Posted: 9 January 2021 in family, personal
Tags: , ,

Twenty-three years. And, yes, time for some changes.

It’s twenty-three years since my brother died.

I decided on the twentieth anniversary of his death that I should celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary. And I’ve tried to do that, the past few years, as much as I can.

I mean, on the day itself, I don’t apologise for – nor do I seek forgiveness for – thinking of his death, remembering the awfulness of that day, of losing my big brother. But that wasn’t all there was to having him as a big brother, and maybe it’s unfair to his memory to imply that it was, even on this day.

So while I mark the anniversary, acknowledge it, I was thinking that maybe I should include some more stories about him. Stories I may have told previously on other occasions, in other entries, but stories I should tell again today.

Because he wasn’t just his death. He wasn’t just the day of his death.

So… first some stories about Michael, then…

…what happened twenty-three years ago today.

Yeah, this will be just a bit longer post than has previously been common.

Strap in.


 
Michael Russell Barnett. My big brother. 

Michael would have been 61 last November. He’d likely have been completely white on top by now; his hair was already greying a bit in his mid-30s. Like me, when I started going grey, he pretended it didn’t bother him. Like me, it did, just a bit. He had red lowlights for a short while, but quickly stopped bothering about it. If it bugged him after that, I never knew about it.

(And yes, he once suggested to do the same for me; red highlights. I… declined the offer.)

The increasing grey of my own hair made us look more alike. We never looked that much like each other; we bore just enough of a resemblance, though, that people quickly guessed, accurately surmised, that we were brothers.

But he was far better looking than me.

I don’t say that out of any false modesty, I stress; we three brothers used to joke among ourselves that Mike had the looks, I had the brains, and our younger brother had the practical abilities.

(That wasn’t and isn’t true, of course; my brain was better at numbers, and at poking holes in arguments, but my younger brother had – and has – a brain for how things worked practically that left mine and Mike’s in the stone age. And Mike was no slouch on ripping a lazy argument apart.)

But yeah, he was the good looking one. I can’t even remember a time when Mike didn’t have girlfriends, or when he wasn’t surrounded by a crowd of friends. And he was a great big brother to grow up with: silly when he could be, serious when he had to be, a peacemaker between his younger brothers on so, so many occasions.

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

He played the guitar, with more enthusiasm than talent, but I clearly remember the genuine pleasure Mike took in grabbing the Complete Beatles Songbook and playing the classic songs in his bedroom, while we two younger brothers sang along. (That same book is on ny bookshelves as I speak; it’s a pleasure to look at it and just remember.)

But Mike loved music; I can’t remember a time when his bedroom wasn’t filled with music, either last week’s charts, which he’d taped from Radio 1, or albums he’d bought. Or him just playing for the sheer unadulterated pleasure of doing so.

I’ve said on many occasions that I couldn’t have asked for a better big brother, and it’s true. It’s simply… true.

I stuck him on a pedestal, a dangerous place for any sibling to stand, but he never did anything to forfeit that respect and love. I called him Mike. To most everyone else, he was Michael. He was my big brother and I loved him unquestionably.

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

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

He took me to one side, one Sunday afternoon, prompted by my parents. He gave me a booklet to read and told me that when I’d read it, I’d be even more confused, but to come find him. He was right. After I’d read this booklet – I remember it had a purple cover, with pictorial representations of a naked man and naked woman – my reaction was mainly one of “Wait. I do what with what?”

I found him in his room, he grabbed dad’s car keys, and we went for a drive, to a pub, about ten miles from home. Once there, he got me a soft drink and we repaired to a bench in the beer garden far from anyone else.

“OK, then,” he said. “Ask away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, jump forward to 1981 or 1982; I’m watching television with the family, an episode of Quincy. By then, I’d become used to picking up a doctor’s prescription for Mike for something called “digoxin“. Didn’t have a clue what it was, of course, and since the one time I asked Mike what it was for, I got a genial “mind your own business” and I didn’t have the internet back then… I left it… figuring it wasn’t that important. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

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

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

Wait.

What did he just say?

My head whips ’round to look at Mike, my eyes growing wider with every nanosecond and finding his. He shoots me a look that essentially but emphatically repeats his message from a few months previous: shut up and mind your own business.

And I left it alone. He was my big brother. I trusted him. When he wanted me to know, I’d know.

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

He was in Harefield for a couple of months, and was finally operated on in September 1983; though my parents were allowed to see him almost immediately after the operation, it was a day or two before I was. My big brother was there, unconscious, a yellow tinge to his skin, tubes and drains inserted into various parts of his body, with what looked like a fat, angry, pink-red worm stitched to his chest.

Yeah it wasn’t pleasant.

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

At the wedding, one of Lynne’s customers arrives late, sees me dancing with Lynne and makes an assumption. Later, half cut, and only semi-jokingly, she says to Lynne (out of my hearing) “Ooh, is the brother [she points at Mike] available? He’s much better looking… You should have married him!” Lynne retorted “I did marry him!” And then immediately seeks me out and, with a superlative and not quite malicious joy, gets her own back on me for the ‘Monopoly’ phone call so long ago by telling me…

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

He enjoyed his life. And he enjoyed enjoying his life.

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

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

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

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

I remember being totally calm during the call, then basically falling apart as I hung up the phone.

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

He was doing well, recovering…

And then he wasn’t. Less than a fortnight later he wasn’t.

Less than a fortnight later, he was dead.

And we’ll get back to that in a minute.


 
1975
I started at secondary school, aged 11, what was called ‘senior school’ in my day. I was in the most junior year, obviously; Mike was in the most senior. I’d clearly told Mike, my big brother, that I would walk home by myself; I didn’t need, nor want, to be treated like a baby who needed his hand held.

Some lads from his year, four years older than me, decided to have a bit of fun with the new kid, and, I guess, have a vicarious pop at Mike as well. I remember being genuinely terrified at what these 16 year olds had planned for me when they surrounded me as I came out of the school and found them waiting for me. Whatever it was, it was going to be painful, let’s face it.

I was shaking, almost crying from fear. My nose was running.

There was a loud cough. And they turned to see Mike, never the weightiest of builds, leaning against the wall, apparently completely relaxed. Five lads, all of them his size or bigger facing him.

“On your way…” Mike says, almost bored.

For a moment, I don’t know who he’s talking to, me or them. But then, as I start to move, Mike shoots me a look and barely but definitely moved his head from one side to another. I stay there.

“On your way, lads…”

The bullies look at me, Then at Mike, figuring out their chances.

They fancy their chances, obviously.

“You think you can beat us?”

Mike laughs. “Of course not. There are five of you. I can’t beat you.” He stands up, from the wall, holding half a brick in his hand. “I can just break a nose or two, poke out an eye or two, maybe fracture a kneecap, before I go down, though. Now leave him alone. And fuck off.”

First time I’d ever heard my brother say that.

They swore at him. They shouted at him. They even, if you can believe it, cast doubt on the validity of our parents’ marriage.

But they left.

Mike walked over to me, handed me a tissue, said “wipe your nose, then come on…” And we walked home, me now almost crying, but from relief now. He never mentioned it again, never blamed me for being scared, never criticised me for being tearful, never did anything… other than convince me I’d always be safe while he was around.


 
1982
In 1982, I went to Manchester Polytechnic to study accountancy. I lived in a self-catering hall of residence. The ‘hall of residence’ won’t surprise anyone; the self-catering bit might. But I moved in not because I enjoyed cooking my own food; I didn’t then, and I don’t now. But no, but mainly because I wanted to eat when I wanted to, not when someone else wanted me to. And it was fun; I loved my time away from home. Mike came up for a vist after I’d been there a few months.

I was living, at that time, with 8 other people, from all over the UK. A fella from Derby, a couple from the South Coast, a lad from Northern Ireland, one lass from Leeds. And me. And I never ‘heard’ my accent. I never even really considered I had an accent. I mean, ok, if you’d have pressed me, I guess I’d have reluctantly acknowledged that I must have had an accent, but I never ‘heard’ it. I never thought about it.

Then Mike came to visit. But hearing him talk to my friends, and the contrast between every word that came out of his mouth and theirs, between his accent and everyone else’s… Yes, I heard his accent, but again, not mine, not really.

Until one evening, when we were chatting with friends and one of them commented how similar our accents were, mine and Mike’s, how almost identical they were, in fact.

And then it hit me. Of course I had an accent, and of course it was the same as Mike’s.

And I appeared to be the only one in the room to whom this came as a surprise. Because my brother, my dear sibling, was wholly on my friends’ ‘side’ on the matter. He couldn’t believe I’d been in Manchester, had lived with these people, for months… and the penny hadn’t dropped.

But I had, and eventually… it did.

And there followed, of course, the requisite amount of mockery and silliness.

And at one point, I stopped dead, noticing how Mike had effortlessly fit in with my friends. They were my friends, and that was all he needed to accept them fully, and without reservation.
 


 
1993
I’d felt an itch to write for a while, and was doing something about it. I’d started writing for the BBC, a topical weekly radio comedy show entitled Weekending. My younger brother had no interest, which was cool; he never had much of an interest in current afffairs. My mum was similarly uninterested. I could have told her I was writing Doctor Who, or writing sketches for a student rag. Mum’s reaction would have been the same: ‘that’s nice, dear.” No interest in what I was writing, who it was for, or whether it was any good.

My father had far more interest, and was delighted for me, and even – very occasionally – listened to the show. He was very pleased for me, but had no actual interest in what I wrote.

Mike, on the other hand, was fascinated by every bit of it. He listened every week, if not to the original broadcast, then always the repeat. And he’d call me up to congratulate me, and to guess which bits I wrote, and to ask about how I wrote this sketch or that gag. He never tried to rewrite it or suggest ‘better’ gags; he was always respectful that this was my writing, my gig.

And he eagerly read the prose I wrote, asking me ‘what’s the next thing? What are you writing next?’

He took great pride that his brother, his younger brother, was writing, was creating, and was good at it.
 


 
The bullies were long ago. It’s been a long time since I’ve needed Mike to protect me from them.

The friends from Manchester Poly are similarly long gone; I haven’t spoken to any of them in decades. But the friends I have now? I wish Mike knew them, and I wish they’d have got to know him. Comedians I know, writers… friends…. He’d have liked them, and they’d have liked him.

I still write; I wish he could read what I write. I really, really wish he could.

And I wish I could reminisce with my brother once again.


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


 
If you, or anyone you know, was born in the second half of the twentieth-century, then at some point or another, as a kid or teenager, you calculated how old you’d be in the year 2000… a long time distant, but yeah, it seemed very old.

Until January 1998, I had the same ‘well, I’ll be so old’. Not long after Michael died, however, I found myself working out on exactly what date I’d wake up… and be one day older than my big brother reached. Yeah, that particular day was a very odd 24 hours.

But that day was in 2002.

Mike was thirty-eight when he died; in a couple of years, I’ll be twenty years older than he was when he died.

And that’s a thing you never get used to. Never. You’re always aware, in a kind of low level way, that you’re now older – and as the years pass, you’re substantially older – than someone who once was older than you.

You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, in the back of your mind, is the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to‘. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael. And sometimes… it bites. It bites hard.

Twenty-three years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is me experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older.

Waking up one more year older than he ever reached.

It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age-related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains when you stand up, annual checkups that you get when in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by, and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it… about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know his uncle. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s twenty-five now and Mike should be someone he could call for advice, or to tell him a gag, or just when he’s throughly pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those more than twenty years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger and Neil, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact; most probably at my expense, the way you allow the closest of friends to get away with doing.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Others do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, albeit reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation.

He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said on the twentieth anniversary in 2018 that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

I miss you, Mike, but I did enjoy having you as my big brother. Thank you for that.

So, twenty-three years…

Rest easy, brother.
x


 
A few years ago, after I mentioned losing my brother, on the anniversary of Michael’s death, 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.

But all asked the simple question: What did happen? Here’s what I put up in response.

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked by his widow, by my sister-in-law, to write something about him.

And here’s what I wrote:

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.

Yes, yes, still on a break from the blog. As always, I fully intend to restart the blog, when I’ve got something to blog about.

There’s plenty I could write about, of course, but nothing springs to mind that isn’t already being written about by better writers who’ve got more to say.

So, yes, I’ll be back, at some point.

In the meantime, though, here’s something.

I went for a haircut today.

Under normal circumstances, of course, this would be a regular event.

And I use the word advisedly. I don’t mean ‘frequently’ but regularly, on a schedule. Usually, every couple of months, I’ll book an appointment and have my hair tidied up – and enough taken off – so it’s short enough that I feel comfortable with it.

Once I started going grey, in my early 30s, I had it cut shorter to ‘cut the grey out’. That didn’t last of course, and these days it’s more the case that I have the dark cut out.

I’ve been genuinely lucky enough to find good hairdressers the past few years. Currently, I have my hair cut by a young lady named Taylor, at Rush, Shepherd’s Bush. She’s superbly talented, friendly and genuinely… nice, a hugely underrated quality, I assure you.

But, as no one can be unaware, I – along with the entire population – have been unable to have a haircut for some months.

So, Operation Haircut, as I refer to it, has so rarely needed to be expertly planned, executed, and achieved. Fortunately, as I say, I have Taylor, who managed through her talent to transform me from Before:

   

To After:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to feel this much better afterwards; I did expect it. It’s nice, though, I’ll acknowledge, that the expectation was met so comprehensively.

(And, not for nothing, but it’s odd, knowing – when pics are taken – that they’ll almost certainly make it into this year’s update of A Life In Pictures.)

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.

Twenty-two years

Posted: 9 January 2020 in family, personal
Tags: , ,

Twenty-two years.

It’s twenty-two years since my brother died and, I decided a couple of years back: I should celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary.

Mark it, certainly; acknowledge it, of course; but no mourning.

Once again, I’m not sure this post entirely does that. But I hope this post marks the anniversary in a way that at least acknowledges that I’m missing him rather than grieving or mourning.

Towards the end of 2016, as part of my blogging project that was a seventy-five day countdown to 2017, I wrote about what it had been like to have Michael as a big brother.

And in the countdown that just ended, I wrote something else, with another couple of stories about Michael.

Although I write something every year on the anniversary of his death, I’d not really written about his life, about what it was like to have him as a big brother. So I did so, in those two posts. Spoiler: it was bloody great.

As I wrote in that earlier piece:

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

If you, or anyone you know, was born in the second half of the twentieth-century, then at some point or another, as a kid or teenager, you calculated how old you’d be in the year 2000… a long time distant, but yeah, it seemed very old.

Until January 1998, I had the same ‘well, I’ll be so old’. Not long after Michael died, however, I found myself working out on exactly what date I’d wake up… and be one day older than my big brother reached. Yeah, that particularly day was a very odd 24 hours.

But that day was in 2002.

Mike was 38 years old when he died; in a couple of years, I’ll be twenty years older than he was when he died.

And that’s a thing you never get used to. Never. You’re always aware, in a kind of low level way, that you’re now older – and as the years pass, you’re substantially older – than someone who once was older than you.


You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, in the back of your mind, is the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to‘. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael. And sometimes… it bites. It bites hard.

Twenty-two years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is me experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older.

Waking up one year older than he ever reached.

It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age-related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains when you stand up, annual checkups that you get when in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by, and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it… about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad Phil grow up, and that Phil never got the chance to know his uncle. Not properly, not as a growing child should get to know someone.

Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s 24 now and Mike should be someone he could call for advice, or to tell him a gag, or just when he’s throughly pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those more than twenty years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger, Neil and Amanda, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow the closest of friends to.

Mike was one of the few people in my life who I ‘put on a pedestal’; he never did anything that would have forfeited that place, and I celebrate that fact, while curious whether he’d still be up there, or whether the passage of time would have changed that from ‘love and respect’ to ‘love and proper, sibling, friendship’.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Others do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, albeit reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation.

He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said in 2018 that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

So, twenty-two years…

Thank you, and rest easy, brother.
x


A few years ago, after I mentioned losing my brother, on the anniversary of Michael’s death, 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.

But all asked the simple question: What did happen? Here’s what I put up in response.

Soon after Mike’s death, I was asked to write something about him; And, here’s what I wrote:

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.

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….

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

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

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

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

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

“Events.” Yes, such a small big word.

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

“And what do you most fear?”

with

“Events, my dear boy, events.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A small decision, with large consequences.

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

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

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

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

So we cancelled.

And rearranged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew, eh?

Who knew?
 
 
Something else, tomorrow…


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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really don’t want to write on the election. I mean, I will, next week, but I really don’t want to.

Because this election has, as I predicted a few months back, been horrible, been awful, been dreadful. And I’ll write about some of why next week.

Today, something less awful. Something on memory.

At some point in the past few years, I forgot who I was at school with. Oh, I can remember the odd name here and there; I can remember my close friends from school, and I can remember the names of the bullies. And I can remember my teachers.

But I used to remember the names of kids in my class. And kids I went to VI Form with, and young adults I went to uni with.

Now? No idea. The names just aren’t there. Seeing photos with names on the back… nope, I don’t remember them at all. I’ve got more pics of students with whom I studied at Manchester Poly. I can barely remember any of them. Some of them, obviously close friends from the photos, I have no memory of them at all.

I mean, take my senior – what’s now called secondary school. My school years between the ages of 12 and 16 were spent at Denbigh High School, in Luton. When I went there, there were 8 forms of roughly 30 children per form, over five years.

So 240 kids per year, roughly 1200 children in the school. I can go to virus sites and message boards and look at the names of people listed for my year, children I must have known – and liked or disliked – very well… Last time I checked, there were 177 listed, from the roughly 240 kids in my year. I recognised under 20. And I can picture maybe six of them.

I’d lay even money that ’20’ has shrunk to half a dozen now.

Now, ok, there’s not a one of them with whom I’m in regular contact.

Same applies to my time at Sixth Form College. Looking back at pics and online records of the time. Less than a dozen whose names I remember, and only a handful of mental pictures.

There are days I feel every bloody day of my fifty-five years…

As for uni… well, as I say above, I have more pictures. You’d think it’d make a difference. There’s someone who, from the photos, I was very close to, physically I mean. Nope, I have no idea of her name. There’s a photo of a fella named Paul who I kind of faintly remember being there, But his surname? What he was studying? Our relationship? Not a clue.

I wonder how many of them remember me.

I’m not sure what it says that I hope very few do.

(Of course, the schoolmates wouldn’t have a clue about ‘budgie’, while those at uni would only remember me as ‘budgie’…)

 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Well, two tales today, anyway.

I’ve told the odd – some of them very odd – story from my accountancy career in the past, those that aren’t genuinely covered by an NDA or that it’d be unethical to disclose.

Yes, if you’re new to the blog, you may not know that I used to be an accountant, an audior and in due course, after taking the commercial shilling, a financial director, and then a director of finance.

For the US readers, since I understand ‘financial controller’ is often the person who can add up best,

    UK financial controller – US equivalent: VP Finance
    UK financial director – US equivalent: Chief Financial Officer

But, as mentioned above, most of the really good stories I would tell, I can’t… because of the aforementioned Non-Disclosure Agreements or it would just be plain wrong to do so, ethically.

My first day in accountancy, I started the day with about a dozen others, all fresh and incredibly naive, still of the opinion that there was some fundamental goodness in the careers on which we were about to embark.

Actually, that’s not fair; I still think that, to a large extent, and still believe that the job I did, all the jobs I did, were necessary and important.

But yeah, twelve or so young kids, eager and stupid, or rather ‘pretty ignorant’, about accountancy as it is actually practised.

The staff partner ushered into the board room and gave us the usual spiel about the firm: the different departments, the types of work, the likely career progressions, the study leave… I clearly remember two things he said, even now.

1) If you come back from study leave with a tan, you’d better have a damn good reason

2) You’re going to hear lots of stories about things that have happened to accountants; odd tales, funny stories, just flat out weirdness. Trust me, by the time you’ve been in this game for three years, you’ll have a fund of stories this high… either stories that have happened to you, stories that have happened to colleagues, or stories that are like urban myths. Everyone knows they happened… but no one knows quite who they happened to… or you’ll hear that they happened to six different people. Anyway, let me start you with some of them.

And then he regaled us for two hours, giving us befuddlement with one tale, laughter with another, and jaw dropping exasperation with yet another.

But he was right, as he was in so much else in my two years working at the company. I eventually had my own fund of stories. And, maybe, over the next few weeks, I’ll tell some more.

But for now, for today, two stories; both happened to me, both completely true.

Here’s the first, which I was reminded of earlier today, the time I was called a “corporate whore”. Not in the office, or directly related to the work, but merely when I told someone what my job was.

I was at a party, just before New Year’s. I knew maybe a quarter of the attendees, maybe. But the hosts, while not being close friends of mine, were very close friends of friends of mine, and they’d invited me.

And, as always happens at such things, an hour after getting there, I’m chatting to people I don’t know, one of my friends next to me, Somehow we got onto the subject of people being mistreated by employers. And then someone said something like companies exist to mistreat their employees. And that all employees should revolt against their employers. He didn’t say whether it should include violence, but he didn’t obviously exclude it.

The person who said it was, admittedly, very drunk, and very loud, but not quite very obnoxious. And, as always, everyone grants a kind of amnesty-while-drunk-as-long-as-you-don’t-hit-someone at parties.

And that’s when he started… I’d say arguing, but it wasn’t an argument, it was a flat assertion, said with as much passion as someone now asserting “but we voted to leave!” would express. Yes, that much.

So that’s when he moved onto how companies were inherently ‘evil’, and should be abolished en masse. And who did he attribute blame to this for? Accountants.

Accountants were the spawn of Satan, or something like that. I don’t remember precisely.

My expression was, apparently, not entirely filled with shining admiration at this forensic analysis of companies’ behaviour and accountants. I mentioned, hoping to squash this, that I disagreed, but yeah, some companies didn’t exactly enhance their reputations with their actions.

“Do you work for a company?”

“Yes… I’m a financial director.”

“Oh, right… a corporate whore, then…”

It’d be lovely to say that the room fell silent, that everyone stood there, shocked.

But, no, of course not. There were a dozen or so people in the room, I guess. And only a couple of them heard the comment. But I could feel the small area of the room grow just a bit colder, just a little bit sharper. In a movie, there’d be one of those ‘go into close up on budgie’s face while the rest of the room blurs’ shots.

Before I could say anything, though, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, and another guiding me out of the room, and I left, much in need of a cigarette. Moments later, the host came out, full of apologies. They weren’t necessary, genuinely. I knew they’d’ be horrified, as they were.

But yeah, ‘corporate whore’. That was a new one.

Here’s another one. Again, less to do with the actual work, but absolutely about working in an office, any office.

In that first job, the firm maintained a satellite office at a large client. The client was huge, in corporate size, I mean. One parent company, literally dozens of subsidiaries, and we were the auditors for all of them.

(Smal digression but I genuinely don’t know if that arrangement would be allowed these days; I wonder…)

But it was a small satellite office, a single medium sized room, seven of us in there; the partner, his deputy, two seniors and three juniors, including me.

And there was a window. A lovely window. That opened, and in the heat of a hot day, the breeze through the window made working in the room just a little more pleasant. Especially for the desk that was right by the window, and the chair in front of it. The partner’s deputy sat there.

And then came the first time when the deputy was off for a month or so for some study leave and Tax exams as I recall. And one of the seniors, a cocky lad named Ralph as I recall, baggsied the desk for the month.

Didn’t bother me; I was very low in the hierarchy. Then the deputy returned, and taught all of us, myself included, a lesson in how to handle that situation.

The deputy, whose desk it was, strolled in after the exams… to find Ralph still sitting at the desk.

“You like that chair?”

“Yep.”

“You want to keep that chair, and the desk…?”

“Yep.”

“No problem… no problem at all… just as long as you take the work that goes along with it.

I swear: Ralph turned pale. And vacated the chair so fast it was genuinely surprising.

And Ralph was never quite the same cocky sod again…
 
 

See you tomorrow, with something else, the usual Tuesday ‘something else.

Came across this earlier this week, one of those Q&A things I did a while back.

It was just one of those ‘huh’ moments, but no more than that… until I was talking with a friend earlier, someone who enjoys both making (cooking and baking) food, and enjoys eating it.

And I don’t. Not either, really.

I mean it’s well known, among friends, that I’m no foodie, that I regard food – in the main – as solely ‘fuel’. More than one has asked whether I suffer from anosmia, a lack – or damaged – lack of smell. (Apparently it’s not uncommon, when people have that particular problem, to not enjoy food.) But no I even have favourite non-food related smells: freshly mown grass, oiled leather, sawdust, and yeah, even a food related one… I very much like the smell of citrus fruits.

And I mean, sure, occasionally, I’ll enjoy eating something. I’ll actively, and overtly, enjoy it. And ok there’s always the enjoyment of, y’know, not being hungry any more.

But ‘food’, as A Thing? No; just never been something I’ve enjoyed.

Which reminded me of this. So as on a couple of occasions before, here’re the questions with updated answers. And as before, some of them haven’t changed at all, some have changed hugely.

  1. What’s the last thing you ate? Fish and chips.
  2. What’s your favourite cheese? Extra Mature Cheddar.
  3. What’s your favourite fish? Cod.
  4. What’s your favourite fruit? Banana.
  5. When, if ever, did you start liking olives? Never did.
  6. When, if ever, did you start liking beer? Never have.
  7. When, if ever, did you start liking shellfish? Never have.
  8. What was the best thing your mum/dad/guardian used to make? It may be a cliche, but mum’s chicken soup. It was almost the only thing she actually made that was tasty, apart from a pretty good apple pie.
  9. What’s the native speciality of your home town? We’re talking about Luton, so probably small orphans.
  10. What’s your comfort food? Don’t have one; used to be Walls’ Twisters, but haven’t had them in ages.
  11. What’s your favourite type of chocolate? Cadbury’s Whole Nut.
  12. How do you like your steak? Well done… that way you actually get it at least ‘medium to well done’.
  13. How do you like your burger Medium to Well done.
  14. How do you like your eggs? Preferably out of the chicken, but taking that as a given, omelette. Sometimes scrambled eggs but only firm, never, never ‘runny’.
  15. How do you like your potatoes? Boiled or roast. Either’s good.
  16. How do you take your coffee? Milk, with one sugar.
  17. How do you take your tea? Milk, one sugar.
  18. What’s your favourite mug? Don’t really have one; got a matching crockery set when I moved into the flat; one of those, I guess.
  19. What’s your biscuit or cookie of choice? Fox’s ‘sports biscuits’, which have reappeared on the shelves. When they were around, Ritz Cheese Sandwiches.
  20. What’s your ideal breakfast? Bowl of cereal (Frosties or Shredded Wheat), followed by scrambled eggs on thick buttered toast, followed by fruit, melon maybe. How often do I eat this? About once a year. Usually it’s a cup of tea and a couple of slices of buttered toast.
  21. What’s your ideal sandwich? Cheese and Tomato toasted.
  22. What’s the next thing you’ll eat? Probably a couple of burgers I’ve got in the fridge.
  23. What’s your ideal pie (sweet or savoury)? Piping hot apple pie, with very, very cold ice-cream.
  24. What’s your ideal salad? Silly question – salad? Far too healthy for me.
  25. What food do you always like to have in the fridge? Cheese.
  26. What food do you always like to have in the freezer? Ice-cream. One of the best things about being ‘a grown up’ is being able to have ice cream whenever you want it.
  27. What food do you always like to have in the cupboard? You mean you can keep food other than in the fridge or the freezer? Blimey, the things you learn.
  28. What spices can you not live without? Every bloody one of them. I’m cursed with very bland tastes.
  29. What sauces can you not live without? See above.
  30. Where do you buy most of your food? Supermarkets, one or other of them.
  31. How often do you go food shopping? Whenever I need to.
  32. What’s the most you’ve spent on a single food item? Genuinely no idea. Not a clue.
  33. What’s the most expensive piece of kitchen equipment you own (excluding ‘white goods’)? Again, not a clue. But I’d be astounded if I actually owned an ‘expensive’ piece of kitchen equipment.
  34. What’s the last piece of equipment you bought for your kitchen?
  35. What piece of kitchen equipment could you not live without? See above.
  36. How many times a week/month do you cook from raw ingredients? Congratulations. You’ve just identified that period of time shorter than a femto-second.
  37. What’s the last thing you cooked from raw ingredients? Never have. You’re corresponding with someone who could burn cornflakes. Unless you count an omelette.
  38. What meats have you eaten besides cow, pig and poultry? Lamb. There – satisfied now? What is this, a try out for the Today programme?
  39. What’s the last time you ate something that had fallen on the floor? Honestly can’t remember.
  40. What’s the last time you ate something you’d picked in the wild? No idea; but I’ve eaten food a friend grows from her allotment.
  41. Place in order of preference: Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Sushi, Thai. Italian first. Everything else so far down the list in second place, it’s actually on a different list.
  42. Place in order of preference: Brandy, Gin, Tequila, Dark Rum, Light Rum, Vodka, Whisky. Whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky, whisky.
  43. Place in order of preference: Aniseed, Basil, Caramel, Garlic, Ginger, Lime, Mint. I plead the fifth.
  44. Place in order of preference: Apple, Cherry, Banana, Orange, Pineapple, Strawberry, Watermelon. Finally, one I can answer: Banana, Orange, Pineapple, Strawberry, Apple, Cherry. Mind you, I think it’s unfair using Jelly Belly jelly beans in a question.
  45. Place in order of preference: Fashion, Food, Movies, Music, Sex, Sport, The Internet. Internet, Movies, Music, Food, Sport. Hmm, fashion and sex. I know I’ve heard of those last two, but… no, it escapes me.
  46. Bread and spread: What do you fancy? White Rye bread and nutella.
  47. What’s your fast food restaurant of choice, and what do you usually order? MacDonalds: Plain Quarterpounder and Cheese Meal, Apple Pie for dessert.
  48. Pick a city. What are the three best dining experiences you’ve had in that city? I’ll take the fifth again.
  49. What’s your choice of tipple at the end of a long day? Simgle malt scotch, neat, no ice.
  50. What’s your ideal pizza (topping and base)? Cheese, Tomato, extra cheese, sweetcorn and pineapple. Yes, pineapple. Look, if the stuff above didn’t convince you I’m just weird about food, I figured I’d pull out the heavy stuff.

 
 

See you tomorrow, with something else.

One of the nastiest, though perhaps inevitable, consequences of the past few years is the growth of the binary this/that, one or the other, that we’re obliged to make.

When I say ‘obliged’, of course, I mean, obliged by others, that it’s presented often as a moral choice as much as anything.

If you don’t overtly and actively support [cause A], then you’re, in fact, supporting [cause B]. Doesn’t matter what the causes are, nor the stupidity of the idea that you can reduce everything down to a strict binary choice. It’s both insulting and contemptuous.

I’ve written before that silence never equals consent, and my own contempt for those who use that argument – that if you don’t speak up, then you acquiesce – who also, at best stay silent about antisemitism, at worse regard it as a price worth paying to achieve something else.

And, sure, there are situations that cross lines for people, that mean those people cannot support this cause or that campaign. But not supporting the cause or campaign doesn’t always, inherently, mean you support the opposite.

And yet, today, that’s what we’re told, again and again. If you don’t protest against welfare cuts, you support them. If you don’t support this measure, then you support those who seek to damage it. Unless you vote for this person, you’re really voting for, and support, the other fella. Because it’s always reduced down to that binary choice. One or the other.

There are not just two ‘major’ political parties right now. Depending on where you are in the UK, you can add the SNP or Plaid or several NI parties to Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems. There are the Greens in Local Government, and, heaven help us, The Brexit Party.

Someone choosing not to support one of the parties doesn’t mean, can’t mean, that they inherently, in fact, support one specific other party.

Plenty of Green party members out there; they don’t support Labour or the Tories, but they’re told that if they don’t support Corbyn, they’re actually supporting the Conservatives. Same applies to Lib Dem supporters.

Or those on the right, told that if they don’t support the blonde bullshitter, they’re actually in effect, supporting, Corbyn’s Labour.

The Lib Dems, of course, get it from both, from all, sides. They’re told if they don’t support the Tories, then they’re really supporting Corbyn, and if they don’t support Corbyn, then theyr’e really Tories.

(Small diversion to say that the current leader of the Lib Dems, Jo Swinson, during the leadership contest she won, explicitly said that she wouldn’t support a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party or a Boris Johnson-led Tory Party. I find it both faintly amusing and hugely hypocritical that after years of attacks that ‘you can’t trust a Lib Dem not to break election promises’, so many now apparently want her to do just that.)

Whether it’s Brexit, the likely forthcoming early general election, or internally within parties, it comes down again and again to you’re with us or you’re against us.

In that linked piece. a sentence ago, I wrote that I was dreading the next election, truly dreading it, and that the dread merely grows. I’m ok with acknowledging, with admitting, the dread has grown exponentially since then.

So, rather than leaving both you, dear reader, and me, less than dear writer, completely pissed off with everything, here are three entirely non-political either/or things that I don’t subscribe to.

Tea / Coffee
I like both. There you go. I mean, sure, I used to be a tea drinker only, but that went the way of all things many years ago, to the point that the only true response to ‘how many coffees a day do you drink?’ has been, for years. ‘about half of them’.

If I had a choice for tea, I’ll take Brooke Bond Choicest, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen. that, so it’s usually Twinings English Breakfast. Hey, I like tea.

Coffee? I do like coffee shops, and I drink a lot of coffee, it’s true, but at home? It’s Tesco Finest Sumatra Ground. It’s strong, but not bitter, tasty but not overpowering.

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

Sing / Dance
Oh, this is an easy one; neither. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and can’t dance at all. Small caveat with that last one; I can shuffle my body slightly from side to side,with only a coincidental correlation to the music that’s playing at the time. But I can’t… dance. Several reasons. I don’t understand it, I don’t ‘get’ it at all, and I derive no enjoyment from it as a result. I’m also far too self-conscious. I know people who don’t like to dance figure that everyone’s looking at them. I don’t think that (yes, I do), but I think they’re deservedly looking at me with scorn.

But I never learned to dance, and the foot for once is a useful excuse.

Thing is, no one ever gets upset with me that I like both tea and offer, or chess and backgammon, and don’t like singing or dancing.

I’m not told ‘ah, you don’t like dancing, you MUST LIKE singing. No one says ‘you’re not allowed to like both tea and coffee’.

Lesson learned; I can’t do either because of my foot. I can’t suport either Corbyn or Boris Johnson because of my foot. I can’t support this measure or its opposite, this policy or what I’m told is the opposite… because of my foot.

Yes, I’m sure that’ll work.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Hello there. Welcome to whatever the hell this is.

I doubt I’ve gained many new readers since the last time this was offered, but just in case, here’s how I opened the 55 minus countdown; there’s a pretty good FAQ in there, and of course, you can ask if there’s anything else, either in the comments or here.

Which leaves me with an odd situation. I mean, I said yesterday that I’m doing this, and pretty much why I’m doing this, and a fair bit about how I’m doing this, and what I’ve got in mind for this.

Usually, I’d put up a refreshed FAQ but again, I kind of did that four months ago, and not much has changed since then.

So instead, sparked by a memory of the ‘things you don’t know about me’ threads online, and those ‘here are three/five/ten facts about me; one of them is false’, here are three things about me that you may not know, or that you may know but don’t know much about, or just that are odd things.

I can’t play any musical instruments

I’d say that I’ve never been able to play any musical instruments but that’s not quite true. I mean, ok, I tried the guitar long ago, but gave up because I discovered an allergy to pain. Seriously, people, how on earth do you put up with the initial pain of learning the guitar? OK, I guess the answer is ‘because I want to learn to play the guitar’, but for whatever reason – lack of inclination, lack of effort, lack of actual genuine desire… no, not for me.

The only two and a half musical instruments I leaned to play were:

– the recorder

I went to school at a time when everyone had music lessons, everyone had the opportunity to discover which musical instrument ‘spoke’ to them and which musical instrument they’d enjoy playing. And anyone who was at a complete loss, anyone who didn’t enjoy playing any musical instrument, they were given a recorder to use. id say ‘play’ but that would place an unfair burden on the language that it should never be fairly expected to bear.

I was very bad at using/playing the recorder. No, really, very bad. But – and this is the important bit – I never had any urge to actually get better at it. Not a one.

I was surrounded by music at home; both my old man and my brother played the guitar, and I loved music. But I never felt any urge at all to create any, or play some, myself. It’s a flaw, a big one, that I genuinely regret.

Oh, by the way, just to prove that it’s the performer, not the instrument, that makes the difference:

– a melodica

My parents then, lord knows why, bought me a melodica. I’ve seen more modern ones, melodicas that you lay horizontal and play via a connected tube, the ‘wind’ part of the process being supplied by blowing through it. This wasn’t one of them. You held it like a big thick recorder, and just blew through the mouthpiece, down the instrument, while you played the keyboard on the outside of the device. I remember quite liking it, or at least, not hating it, which for me and music wasn’t easily distinguishable back then.

The difference between this and the recorder was palpable for me. The recorder sounded silly, apart from anything else. And it annoyed people. The melodica on the other hand, had a warm sound, and no one actually got annoyed by it.

I was never any good at it, but I didn’t stink while playing it.

You remember I said two and a half?

Here’s the half.

Yeah, ok it’s a bit daft calling that a musical instrument, as the only thing coming out of it – at least when I used it – was a series of discordant tones, which only by coincidence bore any resemblance to ‘notes’. It really was ‘noise for Dummies’; no question there.

You see the numbers? Below and above what I suppose I should call a ‘keyboard’? The music books you got with it, and could buy, had standard sheets of music, with the notes numbered. It made painting by numbers look intellectual.

(Yes, I enjoyed it, of course I did. No other bugger around me did, though.)

Not that long ago, after I mentioned that I would like to learn to play the mouth organ, Mitch bought me a mouth organ; it’s genuinely a regret that I’ve not thus far learned to use it.

I will. Soon.

(An added advantage of learning to play it would be that I would never be expected to sing, while playing it, but that’s a blog entry for another day.)

I’ve occasionally been on telly

Yes, I’ve every so often mentioned that I was on Mastermind, but usually for fairness, do add that there’s only the first, the specialised knowledge, round clipped… since I died on my arse in the general knowledge round. Just had brain-fart after brain-fart.

But enjoy, at my expense, the ‘rabbit frozen in the headlight’ look of the first round.

But no, I wasn’t referring to that. I’ve been on the occasional studio discussion: one on reform of the electoral system on Newsnight; one, several decades back, about ’empty nest syndrome’ (and how students have little if any sympathy for parents hit by it); and a few years ago, I was on Question Time. Not on the panel, no; in the audience.

Of course, this was back in the days when Question Time had an actual mission of informing, and getting politicians and guests to at least have a genuine stab at answering the question. So, yes, many years ago, obviously.

It was before the 2010 election, and the panelists included George Osborne, Alex Salmond and Charles Kennedy. It came up in conversation the other day, and I was reminded of the biggest shock of the evening; I’d say ‘…of the recording’, but you’ll see what that would be inaccurate.

After the warmup, with audience members playing the panelists, complete with a couple of dummy questions, the real panelists came out, and there’s ten minutes or so while they settled themselves in. During that time, Osborne came over as warm, funny, self deprecating, a very dry sense of humour, very funny, and obviously someone you’d like to know. Genuinely.

There’s another dummy question, then the lights dim very slightly, and David Dimbleby says ‘ok, we’re about to start…’ and a marked change comes over Osborne. He sits up a little straighter, the wide smile on his face metamorphoses into a slight sneer. The voice goes up an octave.

It’s the most remarkable transformation I’ve ever witnessed.

I’m reminded of the line said about Humphrey Bogart: he was fine until nine at night, and then he remembered he was Humphrey Bogart.

Osborne went from someone the audience liked, genuinely liked, to a representative of everything about the Tory Party that the public disliked: smarmy, sneers, cheap gags at others’ expense, unyielding, cruel.

Anyway, so, yeah, I’ve been on telly once or twice.

I’m an idiot

No, really. On stuff I don’t know, I’m usually completely ignorant. There are so many things that it seems everyone else knows – mainly anything to do with ‘current’ culture, reality shows, sports – of which I’m entirely anywhere. Part of it is lack of interest, partly that I have no memory skills for stuff in which I have that lack of interest.

But I’m also in awe of ‘professionals’, peopel who make their living doing something; I tend to often believe that they know what they’re talking about.

Here’s a tale, a quick one, about someone who knows their field, and knows me, all too well.

Not a secret that I have a fucked up foot. Also not a secret that due to the aforementioned fucked-up foot, I take large amounts of painkillers, opioids. And even before the current crisis, I was worried about how many I was taking.

Within weeks of taking them, I suddenly got it into my head that a) I was addicted to them, and b) that was inherently a problem.

At the time, I was… let’s be polite and say ‘seeing’ a young lady in Birmingham who was a drugs worker. I mentioned my concerns to her. Well, let’s be fair; it’s me, after all, so I probably drove her nuts about it.

After patiently explaining to me the difference between

‘being addicted’ (“Of course you’re addicted. You’ve been taking them for weeks now, 1/4 gram of codeine every day. If you came off them cold turkey right now, you’d rattle for a few days’

and

‘having a problem’

And the following conversation ensued:

Her: Why are you worried?
Me: Because if I have a problem, then…
Her: Your doctor will know.
Me: Yeah, but I want to know.
Her: OK, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients. You take 8 a day?
Me: 6 or 8, yeah, depending on how bad the pain is.
Her; OK, pick a day when you need to take 8… and take 7. Don’t replace the other one, the tablet you’re not taking, with anything. Just… don’t take it. See how you get on. See whether you ‘live’ for that tablet.

Made sense to me. So I did precisely that. I waited a few days, then we had a cold snap, as I recall. My foot was on fire; I remember every step I took, because it hurt.

I waited a day, then, took seven instead of eight. I took two when I woke, two around lunchtime, two before bed, but just the one cocodamol tablet in the early evening.

Oh shit. Live for the missing tablet? I wanted to maim someone to get the other tablet. Ad I couldn’t. I mean, it was right there: in my bathroom cabinet.

I really wanted to take it, but resisted… but yeah, I lived for that missing tablet.

I repeated the experiment the following day. Two tablets each at morning, lunch and bed, but just the one early evening… with pretty much the same result.

And again on the third day.

By the late evening of the third day, I’m angry and upset, at me, at my stupidity for following the advice, at her for giving me the advice…

The fourth day, I call her.

Me: Yeah, we need to talk
Her: What’s up?
Me: That test you set me?
Her: Yeah? Oh, you’ve been doing it? I wondered why you were cranky on the phone last night
Me: Yeah, I might have a problem.
Her: Why?

So I told her. I told her what I’d done, told her the effect, told her I’d been living for the missing tablet

And what did this person do? This woman who liked me? Who I trusted?

What did she do?

She laughed down the phone at me. Proper belly laughs.

What the…?

Her: You’re supposed to be smart. You’re an idiot. Don’t you get it? If you had a problem, you’d have taken the other tablet. You’d have made up every excuse, you’d have lied about the excuse, but you’d have taken the other tablet. You’d have lied to me, lied to yourself, you’d have come up with an explanation why you cut the experiment short. You’d have convinced yourself that it was a waste of time. You’d have justified it ten ways to Sunday. But: you would have taken the other tablet. You don’t have a problem. Well, not over this anyway…

And of course, she was right. And I’ve kept a look out for the signs since. Do I take them when they’re not needed? When I’m not in pain? Have I ever increased the dosage, or the number of times I take them (at all, but especially beyond the allowed amounts)

And I haven’t. I’ve taken them for years, and I’ve never abused them.

But yeah, I was an idiot. I still am. But not, at least, I hope about anything important.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

As part of my ‘hey, I finished the #55minus, so I can occasionally just stick something up here for the hell of it’, another set of questions and answers that I answered long ago on LiveJournal but would answer almost entirely differently now…

Here’s some questions and answers, from Eh to Zed…

THE LETTER A:
Are you Available? It depends on what you want. To chat, usually. To meet, occasionally. To vent, mostly. To go out and have a fun time? Rarely.
What is your Age? 55. This should not come as a susprise.
What Annoys you? Intolerance, hypocrisy, me, stupidity, self-delusion, gullibility, lack of intellectual curiousity, lazy thinking, lazy writing… oh, so many, many things.

THE LETTER B:
Do you live in a Big place? Location? Sure. I live in London. Residence? No, I live in a small flat.
When is your Birthday? 17th August. Every year, funnily enough. Well, ok, every year since 1964.
Does Beauty matter? Always; there’s not enough beauty in the world, but it’s there if you look for it.

THE LETTER C:
Which Car would you own, if money was no object? Had to think about this one, because I’ve never really been what you’d call a ‘motorhead’, but then I realised that I’d love to drive any of the following: Aston Martin DBS, Ferrari Dino, Jensen Interceptor, Morgan. Though if money was no object, I’d be quite happy with a little runaround. I miss not having a car, I’ll be honest
Who’s your Crush? No-one that I’d be happy acknowledging, let alone admitting publicly.
When was the last time you Cried? Because I was hurt emotionally? A very long time ago. From sadness, a few months back, watching the news. From pysical pain, last week.

THE LETTER D:
Do you Daydream? Not really, no.
What’s your favourite kind of Dog? A Australian Labradoodle named Rowlf, who belongs to/lives with my closest friends. I’m not really a pet person, until/unless I get to ‘know’ them, and sometimes not even then.
What’s your favourite Day, of the week? Don’t have one, really. Any day I get to see my lad, I guess.

THE LETTER E:
How do you like your Eggs? Scrambled or with cheese in an omelette.
Have you ever been in the Emergency room? Oh yes, most recently within the past month or so.
What’s the Easiest thing ever for you to do? Think. That’s not always a good thing.

THE LETTER F:
Have you ever Flown in a plane? A few times, yes. Not for some years, though. Which reminds me, my passport’s probably up for renewal in the next year or so. For the first time, I’m not entirely sure I’ll renew it. I mean, I should, I might need it, but it’s a cost I could do without.
Friends or Family? With the notable exception of Phil, the latter, every bloody day of the week. I’m not close to my family, the people I grew up with, for various reasons. I don’t wish them ill, genuinely, but everyone’s better off if we do not encounter each other again. Ever.
Have you ever used a Foghorn? No, but there seems something fundamentally wrong in not having done so.

THE LETTER G:
Do you chew Gum? Very, very rarely.
Are you a Giver or a taker? Quite probably.
Do you like Gummy candies? No.

THE LETTER H:
How are you? Irritated at such a stupid question. I’ve never forgotten the definition of a bore as being someone who, when you ask them how they are… tells you.
What’s your Height? Six foot.
What colour is your Hair? Grey/white with the occasional strang of what’s left of my brown hair.

THE LETTER I:
What’s your favourite Ice cream? Banana. (Used to love melon flavour, but haven’t seen it in years.)
Have you ever Ice skated? Once, wrenched my knee and swore never to do it again…
Would you live in an Igloo for a bet? Not even if it would solve world hunger.

THE LETTER J:
What’s your favourite flavour Jelly/Jam? Strawberry. Every time. I had a stay in hospital a few years back. The only edible thing I ate while there was strawberry jam on toast. (Wow, haven’t thought of that in ages…)
Have you ever heard a really hilarious Joke? Yes, several that have had me literally crying with laughter.
Do you wear Jewellery? Yes, a thin gold chain with an equally gold Star of David (a 21st birthday present). I used to wear a wedding ring; every so often, I’ll catch sight of my left hand and it’ll take a second to realise what’s ‘missing’.

THE LETTER K:
Who do you want to Kill? Right now? No-one, but ask me again another time.
Do you want Kids? I’ve got one, thanks: a pretty amazing son named Philip. No intention of ever having another. (It’d be unfair for me – to the mother and child – to have another. Odds are I’d be dead before the kid was out of his or her 20s.)
Where did you have Kindergarten? Nursery? Luton.

THE LETTER L:
Are you Laid back? Sometimes.
Do you Lie? Sometimes. (See immediately above)
Have you ever been to London? It’s been known. Well, that’s obviously silly. So, instead, let’s go with:
Have you ever been to Los Angeles? Yes, spent part of my honeymoon with Laura there. Loved the place.

THE LETTER M:
What’s your favourite Movie? I bloody hate this question… I couldn’t narrow it down to one, so let’s go for one I can watch repeatedly: The Lion In Winter.
Do you still watch Disney Movies? Some of them, sure.
What type of Music you listen to? A very eclectic mix, everything from hard rock to ‘easy listening’, from muscial comedy to Clannad, from Glen Miller to Glenn Frey, from musical soundtracks to Chris De Burgh.

THE LETTER N:
Do you have a Nickname? Heh.
Favourite Number? 1729. For the obvious reason.
Do you prefer Night over day, or day over Night? The former, definitely. Always been more of a night owl.

THE LETTER O:
What’s your One wish? For Philip to be happy.
Are you an Only child? No, I’ve a younger brother, though we’re not in touch, and had an older brother.
Do you wish this was Over? Not particularly. And not as much as anyone reading.

THE LETTER P:
What one fear are you most Paranoid about? I have my fears, but none that I’m paranoid about. My paranoias are old enemies, I’m resigned to them now.
Do you love the colour Pink? No, not at all. My only even faint liking for it was that it occasioned a nice story I wrote for the daughter of close friends; she loved the colour pink, and asked me for a story for her birthday, about the colour pink. So I wrote one for her.
Are you a Perfectionist? When I had a day job, about work, yes. Outside that, not really. By inclination and training, I like accuracy and it’s probably why I have so many problems with those in the real world who treat both accuracy and the correct use of information as disposable when inconvenient.

THE LETTER Q:
Are you Quick to fall in love or lust? ‘Love [or lust] at first sight’ type thing? No. Only ever happened a couple of times, and that immediacy was never a good thing in the long run. For me, or for them.
Do you enjoy pub Quizzes? On occasion, yeah. Not as a regular thing, though.
Have you ever rode a Quad-bike? No, but I think it’d be fun to try.

THE LETTER R:
Do you think you’re always Right? Lord no – I’ve made so many mistakes it’s incredible. But once I’ve made my mind up on something, it takes a lot to change my mind. Unless it’s on a matter of fact. When I’m shown that I had a fact wrong, I’ll hold my hand up to it without protest.
Do you watch Reality TV? I loathe so called reality television with a passion that is terrifying to imagine. It’s the one genre of tv (as opposed to individual shows in a genre) I intensely dislike.
What’s a good Reason to cry? There are very few bad reasons.

LETTER S:
Do you prefer Sun or rain? Light rain.
Do you like Snow? Yes, but I hate slush.
What’s your favourite Season? A cool, but not bitingly cold, spring or autumn.

THE LETTER T:
What Time is it? Oh look at what time it was posted and then knock off a couple of minutes.
What Time did you wake up? Just after half-six this morning.
When was the last time you slept in a Tent? I don’t think I’ve ever slept in a tent.

THE LETTER U:
Do you own an Umbrella? Actually, I don’t think I do, any more. I had one, but lost it in Edinburgh last year, and haven’t replaced it.
Can you ride a Unicycle? No, not at all.
Have you ever said someone was Ugly? Usually the bloke in the mirror.

THE LETTER V:
What’s the worst Veggie? Brussels
Where do you want to go on Vacation? Again, money no object? New York, Bermuda, Antigua, Sydney, Skye, Edinburgh outside the Fringe.
Where was your last family Vacation to? I genuinely can’t remember. Haven’t taken a ‘family holiday’ in the past 20 years, unless you include taking Phil to comic cons, and even that you’re talking almost a decade or so back .

THE LETTER W:
What’s your Worst habit? Way, way too many to mention here.
Where do you live? Abbey Road, about ¼ mile from the studios.
Who’s your hero? I don’t have one.

THE LETTER X:
Have you ever had an X-ray? Lots of them.
How old were you when you first saw an X-rated movie? 15 or 16, I guess? No idea.
Favourite Xenomorph movie? Aliens. Much preferred it to the original, or the other sequels, despite its admitted faults.

THE LETTER Y:
Would you be friends with You? I doubt it, hugely.
What Year would you time travel to if you could? Temporarily? 2044. I think 25 years in the future is near enough that I wouldn’t suffer from much culture shock, but would still have enough of a ‘wow’ factor for me.
What’s advice would you give Younger You? How much younger? Teenage me? You WILL have sex at some point, I promise. Married me? Enjoy being married, while it lasts. Because it won’t. Me of a decade back? It’s ok to lean on others. Plenty of advice I’d give, but younger me would never believe Older me. because I wouldn’t believe Older me if he came back and gave me advice now.

THE LETTER Z:
What’s your Zodiac sign? Leo, but it’s utter bullshit.
Do you believe in the Zodiac? Of course not; it’s utter bullshit.
What’s your favourite Zoo animal? Not a huge fan of zoos.
 
 
OK, something more substantial tomorrow. Probably.

This is being written on Sunday afternoon, and as soon as it’s done, I’ll post it.

I had no plans to write it, but I didn’t want to skip another day, and I’m not feeling that great, so you get this, a more personal thing than I’d usually write, and I may delete it afterwards.
 


 

The following has been quoted any number of times over the years, but there’s a certain fundamental truth to the opening to L P Hartley’s novel The Go Between:
 

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

 
Not only for the obvious reason: different mores, different cultures, different conventions, hell, different laws, but there’s a more personal aspect to it.

There’s also an element of, if I may adapt the lines:
 

The past was a foreign country; we did things differently there.

 
Of course, the reason we did things differently back then is because we were different then. I’ve different tastes now, different experiences; I’ve different ways of looking at the world. In the intervening years, the passing decades, I’ve hopefully matured… without necessarily having ‘grown up’ too much.

I recall being both in general less confident in meeting strangers, but on occasion, in the specifics, more confident. I recall knowing so much less, but thinking I knew so much more.

I remember being struck dumb by some women in my life, utterly thunderstruck, and wholly ‘lost’ in their presence. It’s been a very long time since that’s happened, and I’m genuinely unsure whether that’s a bad thing. Or a good thing. Or whether it means any damn thing at all.

Yes, of course there are some women I know who blow me away with their strength, their personalities. I don’t mean ‘scare’ me with their personalities, although that’s occasionally happened. I mean women who so impress with their personality, their talent, their strength that I’m genuinely in awe of them.

But being ‘lost’ in them… much as I can get ‘lost’ in a gorgeous pair of eyes; no, it’s been a very long time.

Back in the past, I could handle some stuff, some substances, that I know I couldn’t now. (And yes, I know that for a fact; the last time I imbibed something that was, let us say, less than legal, yeah, it didn’t go well. I wasn’t in danger or anything, but yes, I had a bad reaction and there was no reason other than lack of experience, and surfeit of age. My time of smoking anything, let alone that, is now well in the past.)

I’ve mentioned before, well, alluded to anyway, that I’ve had some mental health issues the past few years. It’s impossible, obviously, to know not whether that’s had an effect on the less attractive, the less helpful, facets of how I am now… but how much an effect it’s had. In all honesty, I think it’s probably merely enhanced those facets, stripped away some of the social cover that’s necessary – I use the word advisedly – to operate in any social way.

I mean, a friend more than a decade ago said that I’m ‘dangerously content’ in my own company, and certainly, the past few years, I’d have to be a fool not to acknowledge the central truth of the observation. Most of the time, at least. Occasionally, one in a while, it’s untrue, and it bites, hard. But for most of the time, for almost all of the time, it’s accurate.

Mind you, he could have said it two decades’ ago and it would still have been mostly true, although of course, twenty years’ ago I was married with an infant child.

The marriage ended in fact in 2005, and in name in 2015, four years ago. Laura and I never had a reason to get divorced before then, and we never really had a reason to formalise it then but there was no reason not to, either, our son being over 18 by then.

But since then, I’m always been mostly comfortable in the company of a small group, a very small group, of friends, I’m more comfortable when in the company of no more than four or five people. Any more than that and I start to get itchy, edgy… uncomfortable.

And in a group of a dozen, a couple of dozen? No. I tolerate it about as much as they tolerate me.

(Oddly, and I’ve never figured out why, I’m more ok in a large crowd when I don’t know more than a very few people. In part, I guess, because I can keep myself to myself; I’m not obliged to be social in a way I kind of have to be when it’s two dozen people I know, friends or otherwise. But, hey, pop psychology is stupid at best and dangerous at worst, especially when applied to one’s self, so who the hell knows?)

What’s brought on this less than attractive self-reflection is one of those confluence of events, one of those sets of coincidences that occur every so often: I’ve watched a half dozen tv shows, dramas, this week where one character or another had been undergoing psychiatric care, or rehab, or some form of care anyway, where/because they feel useless or bad, or depressed.

Obviously, it’s television drama, so I’m not expecting there to be documentary levels of veracity and truth and accuracy any more than the movie The Accountant was documentary-like in the skills your average auditor possesses. But in every case, or nearly anyway, the ‘patient’ (for want of a better word) was told ‘you have a right to be happy’ or ‘you deserve to be happy’ or even ‘you should want to be happy’.

And I imagine me being told those, and me not understanding it. At all. And even more, somehow me being at fault for being the one who doesn’t understand.

A right to be happy? Deserve to be happy? I find it impossible to comprehend either as a concept. (Not quite true; I find it easy to imagine in fiction, and impossible in ‘real life’.)

The desire for it, I get, kind of. But not really. I understand the ‘desire’ bit, not the ‘desire to be happy‘ bit, as if it’s something that’s in your control, as if desire = effort = achievement. Or even desire must lead to effort… which must lead to achievement.

Did I understand any of them at some point, though? Back in the past, back when ‘I’ did things differently? I don’t know.

And that’s something I’m once again unsure whether it’d be a good thing to know.
 
 
Something else tomorrow, something hopefully less self-serving, less introspective, and substantially more fun.

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.

[Oh, before I start, I got asked yesterday where I’m getting the photos from that I use for this blog. Other than ones I’ve taken myself, or have express permission to use, they come from an iOS app entitled Unsplash which supplies copyright free photos. Also on: https://Unsplash.com]

Had an entry all ready to finish today – subject matter, bullet pointed out, everything – but got caught up with other stuff that’s pretty much consumed my day.

And to be honest, with something that’s occurring tonight, I’d struggled to get my head ‘in the game’ to write anything serious.

So another entry already part-completed but planned for half way through this run is appearing, oh, a week and a half early.

Ain’t that always the way?

No?

Well then you’re substantially better at keeping to schedules than I am.

But it’s amusing to me how blogging changes. Before Twitter, I’d think nothing of sticking up three or four blog posts a day on Livejournal, containing this link, or that photo. Twitter, instagram, Facebook, Tumblr… they killed that kind of blogging, probably a good thing.

But on Livejournal, sooner or later everyone did one of those “Answer 100 questions with a single word for each” or detailed Q & A’s. They’d be of the

          Ask me five questions and I’ll answer honestly

type.

A couple of dozen people would play, and I’d have 100 or so questions to answer.

And at some point, when I’m doing one of these countdown runs, I’ll grab some of those questions, and answer them with today’s answers. (It’s part amusing, part horrifying, for me, seeing how many of the answers are radically different now, seeing how many are the same.)

So here’s a collection of questions asked of me through the years, from Livejournal, from formspring, from curiouscat with some up to date answers. All of the answers are the truth, and nothing but the truth. As always, however, rarely the whole truth.

Some questions, some answers

What is your middle name? Often surprises people that I don’t have one. Growing up, I wish I did, as I utterly loathed ‘Lee’ as a name. It’s no coincidence I grabbed ‘Budgie’ as soon as I acquired it. And as stated previously, I prefer to be called that now.

Why are you called Lee? I’m not. I’m called ‘budgie’. Ok, since you insist. I’m Jewish; we tend to name children after those who have passed on, who have joined the choir invisible. Who have died. I’m named after my maternal grandmother, Leah.

Where does most of your family live? My ex-wife and our son live in Barnet. I believe my mum is still in Luton, and a brother & his family live in Bushey. But we’re not in contact… which suits all of us just fine, thanks.

When was the last time you visited the street where you first lived? Well, I was born in Luton; very deliberately haven’t been back to the town, let alone the street, in years, other than to the airport.

Most memorable birthday? My 50th, in Edinburgh. Pretty much everything was perfect about the day: surrounded by friends, comedy, alcohol, presents, and much fun and laughter. Also the first few after Phil was born; there are few things as nice in life as your very young child singing Happy Birthday to you, and giving you a card he’s made.

So, what do you want for your birthday this year? Best wishes. That’ll do it, thanks.

Do you make friends easily? No, not easily at all. And I’m a lousy friend to have; fair warning.

But if you were another person, would YOU be friends with you? The temptation is to say “no”, but I don’t have a clue; I’m hopeless at judging myself objectively in any way.

Are you jealous of anyone? Still can’t top a friend’s answer when he answered this more than a decade: The usual raft of envy regarding other people’s good fortune, intelligence, academic prowess, family relations, published writing, and effortless ability to be likeable, but not actively and specifically “jealous”.

Do you vote? In elections, you mean? Every bloody opportunity I can, since 1987. In every election, even those where I’ve intended not to because I was pissed off with all the candidates. Turns out I can’t not vote. I’m a huge believer in, and advocate for, voting. And no vote is a ‘wasted vote’. If it’s for candiate who can’t possibly win, well, your vote might save their deposit. Or give them/their party confidence for next time.

1987? But you were 18 in 1982? Yeah, I didn’t vote in the 1983 general election. Was away studying and didn’t bother to register there.

What characteristic do you despise in people? Gratuitous intolerance. Everything I dislike in people (including, but not limited to, lazy thinking) stems from that.

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge? I stupidly, very stupidly – it’s a flaw, I know – tend to extend a good faith assumption that someone who’s intelligent in one area will be equally intelligent in others. Oh, and I’m unfairly biased in favour of intelligent people with interests beyond who got kicked off of Celebrity Big Brother last night.

Illegal drugs? Not right now, but thanks. But no; while I have in the past, I some time ago realised that I’m too old and my body too broken to tolerate even marijuana these days. The last time I tried… well, it didn’t go well.

Are you photogenic? Lord, no. But better than I used to be.

Do you like having your photograph taken? Generally? No, I really don’t like it. I don’t mind if I know it’s being taken, but I really, really hate and loathe it when I don’t know it’s being taken. The chances I’ll like the pic if I don’t know it’s being taken are miniscule. And if someone takes a candid shot, I’ll often ask them to delete it, or at least not put it on social media.

Is looking good important to you? [looks in a mirror]. Obviously not.

Do looks matter? Other than in “the Kingdom of the Blind?” Yes. Always, always, always, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Do they matter in terms of attracting you? I’ve always thought that looks are what gets you interested in someone, while everything other than looks is what keeps you interested. Well… me, anyway.

Which hurts the most, physical or emotional pain? Physical, every bloody time. I’ve been told “There’s something wrong with you if you don’t choose emotional pain”, a sentiment with which – when it comes to me – I wholeheartedly agree.

What do you think of hot dogs? The owners should be prosecuted for leaving them in the car.

Have you any tattoos? No.

Piercings? Hahaha. No.

Do you trust others easily? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. No.

What subject in school did you find totally useless in later life? Geography. I cannot truly express the heights of my disdain for geography as a subject, or at least how I was taught it. I left school wholly convinced that it was an entire waste of time unless you intended to use it as a future career. I’ve never been completely sure I was wrong.

What kind of hair/eye colour do you like on the opposite sex? No particular preference, but if the eyes are communicative, can send messages? I’m a sucker for that. However, even then, I’m hopeless at interpreting such messages.

What is the most pain you have ever experienced? Breaking my foot – felt like I’d plunged it into molten lava. Since then… still the foot, on a regular basis.

Do you have siblings? One dead, one still alive.

What are your weaknesses? Way, way too many to list here.

If you got to live for a prolonged period of time in any time period, which would it be? I wouldn’t. To visit? Early 1960s, maybe mid 2030s. But to live somewhere? No, I lack too many cultural references and background knowledge, let alone the language and social norms. And going back far enough, I’d likely die from this disease or that one.

First thing you ever got paid for writing? A short sketch on BBC Radio 4’s Weekending. As I recall, it was about Boris Yeltsin. Followed shortly thereafter by one about Michael Heseltine.

Ever have a near-death experience? Yes. Three, in fact.

Name an obvious quality you have. Well, according to several people, a very skewed perception of how I’m regarded by others. That’s their opinion of an “obvious” quality, not necessarily one with which I agree.

What’s the name of the song that’s stuck in your head right now? A Night Like This by Caro Emerald.

Would choose to sing at a karaoke bar? I wouldn’t. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

If you could suddenly get the skill to play any single musical instrument, which would you choose? Mouth organ – that way no one would ever ask me to sing. (Some years ago, friends bought me one. I started to learn, then put it down; I really should get back to learning it. I’d genuinely actually quite like to.)

Do you read your horoscope? No; if I want to read fantasy, there’s plenty of better written stuff out there.

Ever seriously questioned your sanity? Yes, on many occasions, though not for a while.

Have you ever killed your own dinner? Have I ever killed something and then ate it, no. Have I ever destroyed a meal I was making? Hell’s teeth, you’re asking questions of someone who could burn corn flakes. I’m a terrible cook. Abysmal.

What’s the longest time you’ve stayed out of the country/where? 1980, from mid-July to mid-August. On a BBYO/youth group tour of Israel.

And the 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.

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.

Why do you always pretend you don’t know when someone’s interested in you when you obviously do? Erm, we’ve obviously never met. My not realising it has been the source of humour in the past to friends. Nowadays it’s a source of mild irritation, and sometimes not that mild.

Life lessons? Two:

  1. Learn from your mistakes; regret ’em, but don’t brood on them.
  2. Accept completely, and irrevocably, that life is an ongoing and consecutive series of ‘well, it seemed like a good idea at the time’.

Exam lessons? I’ve taken a lot of exams in my life. I learned these four lessons far later than I should have done:

  1. Don’t worry about ‘answering the question’; ensure you ‘get the marks’. The two are often only the same thing by coincidence.
  2. The first half marks in a question are always easier to get than the last half.
  3. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid; don’t assume the marker knows anything
  4. RTFQ: Read the fucking question

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, John Oliver, Samantha Bee… mainly so I can tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their work. And some celebrities, public figures, who have, the past few years, stood up to defend Jews against antisemitism solely because it’s the right thing to do. I’d like to meet them so I can just say ‘thank you’.

Would you ever consider running for political office? Not. A. Fucking. Chance. Ever.

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

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.

What’s your favorite black and white movie? Always have problems with ‘favourite’ questions, because I have different favourites depending on genre. But probably Casablanca as a ‘serious’ movie, and Duck Soup as a comedy. (Definitely not It’s a Wonderful Life. Can’t stand the movie. At all.)

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 Katrina and the Waves always makes me smile when I hear it.

Are you afraid of the dark? It’s never given me a reason to be afraid of it. So far.

What’s your favourite music to dance to? Even when my foot allowed it, I disliked dancing. Hated it. I’m too self-conscious; I cannot get it out of my head that everyone’s looking.

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

Can you recommend a coffee? I always recommend a coffee.

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.

Favorite Number? 1729

Can you speak any languages other than English? The odd word of yiddish, but absolutely fluent rubbish.

Would you rather visit a zoo or an art museum? I’d rather visit neither.

Do you own a knife? Well, does a Swiss Army Knife count? If so, yes.

What did you want to be when you were little? Older… and taller.

Is there any subject that should be off limits for humor? No. None. However, just because a joke can be made about a subject doesn’t mean it should be made, or told.

Are you a hypocrite? Yes. Next question?

Just curious – what’s your type? Arial Rounded MT Bold.

If you were one of The Endless, which one would you be?
As a general rule though, never really feel like a character created by someone else. I’m more of a self-made person who has a healthy disrespect for my creator.

Why did you stop the fast fiction stories? Mainly because I’d written 700+ of them and I didn’t want to write 800. They may return at some point, if there’s a reason the format suits the occasion.


Something else tomorrow, something a bit more serious and a lot more sensible…

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.

I’ve never been stalked in real life; And I’m not for a moment suggesting in the entry that follows that being stalked online comes even close to the horror and fear that accmpanies someone being stalked ‘in real life’, in person, in other words.

But I’ve been stalked online, and received what I considered to be genuine, credible, threats, and it’s not pleasant, to put it mildly.

It’s happened a couple of times – two where I’ve gotten the authorities involved – and in retrospect, what strikes me isn’t how surprising it was that anyone gave a shit about me – which should still be utterly shocking, lets’ face it – but how… genuinely vulnerable it makes you feel.

The following is about one of them, in the early days of my time online.

Back in the day, I helped run a couple of CompuServe’s Forums. One was the UK Current Affairs Forum, prevously the UK Politics Forum. Another was CompuServe’s Jewish Forum. I was a member of half a dozen Forums, but they were the only two where I actively helped run them.

On the whole, my experience in Forums were great ones: I learned a lot, made some good friends, and they were great introductions to the pleasures and pitfalls of putting opinions out there. Some of the friends I made as a result of my presence in CompuServe Forums are friends to this day.

(I recently joined Instagram, which is a flat out weird one for me, and when I went though my contacts, as to who to follow, some of them were people I first met back on CompuServe, some over twenty years ago…)

So, yes, most of my time on CompuServe was fun, and objectively beneficial.

But then there were the less pleasant aspects; take the time we booted someone from the Jewish Forum for persistent breaches of Forum Rules.

Every Forum had its set of rules. Some were simple: don’t abuse, don’t post sexual images, and… that’s about it. Some had long sets of rules, dozens of them, covering everything from “use your REAL name here” to the maximum size of images posted in messages.

The Jewish Forum, for example, didn’t have that many rules. But one of the biggies was no proselytising, no “you’re all wrong and should accept Jesus into your hearts!“. (For the reasons why a Jewish Forum would have that rule, see here and here.)

Now every Forum, every message board, had their idiots, their abusers, their ‘I have my rights!‘ crowd.

The trick was to control the harmless idiots and expel the harmful ones. Most times, I think we got it about right, most of the time. And when you don’t, when you over react, or under react, the lesson you then learn is possibly the most valuable of all.

And to be fair, when you did sling someone out, most of them just licked their wounds and either apologised… or moved on.

With some, who were thrown out of forum after forum, who joined merely to abuse and insult, you soon realised that their etire purpose was to abuse and insult in the hope they’d piss off people enough that they’d get thrown out. It was a wish I was more than willing to grant.

But even among this group, most were sensible enough to know that it was more sensible to try their luck in another venue, rather than try again in one they’d already polluted.

But there were some who would be so offended by our showing that there were consequences to abusing others… that they’d become determined to hit back. They’d be so upset, that their ‘freedom of speech’ to abuse and insult was infringed, that their determination to abuse and insult would be redoubled.

And one chose to make it his business to trash me and attempt to trash my reputation.

Among the more charming messages written to (or about) me on at least six other Forums, using one or more of his 18 separate IDs (!) were:

Alas we meet again.I’M glad YOUR brothers DEAD.Just remember I hate you,brit.

 

We know where you work.where you live.we hired a pi.the games are just starting.its all in good fun.i hope you continue to play along.i will win.you will lose.i’m going to help you lose your job.lets make a bet on it.

 

I hear your mother was a whore and you are really a nazi.i think its time for you to lose your job.lets make a bet that you will be un-employed in one years time. So many people hate that you don’t where or who or what is against you. Your mother is a coward and so are you. We made printouts of your photo and sent them to all kinda intresting places bitch.

 

Can i fuck your wife in the ass ?.your son can watch.

 
And the latest? Oh, this one will cheer all of you out there that read comics…

Why are you into comics ?The word around the office is that you use comic books as bait for meeting minors.

And remember, this was merely beause we threw him out of The Jewish Forum for abusing others, breaking the rules, and, not for nothing, proseltising.

I’ll admit to being slightly amused when he turned up on yet another Forum, with an ID of “GOPSenate” suggesting that I was a danger to American National Security.

As another member, commenting that he didn’t know how much of a danger to National Security I was: “After all,” he continued, “if you can’t trust a guy who shows up out of nowhere with a bagful of incoherent abuse and return address of ‘GOPSenate’, who’s left?”

His final messages before I’d finally had enough suggested that I was a paid up member of a pedophilia advocacy organisation, that I installed spyware on every forum member’s computer, and that the police were investigating taking my son away from me.

I was lucky, I’ll acknowledge. I had the resources, the anger, and the experience to do something about it.

So I did. I downloaded all the archive messages, and did a search for messages he’d posted in other forums…

It didn’t take me long to find the state in which he lived. It took me a bit longer to find, and confirm, the city in which he lived. It took me a lot longer, back then, to narrow it down to the suburb. I already had an idea of his real name. Even back then, once I had his location, it was relatively easy to confirm it.

And that, together with a small payment to their white pages, gave me his work and home addresses.

After that effort, it then took me only about five minutes to find the contact details for the local police department.

Given that the call came out of the blue, and the police detective they put me through was obviously – back then – less than familiar with ‘the internet’, he was great. He listened calmly, took notes, and asked me to fax through the ‘message… board… posts?’

I did, the following day, and that evening got a call back from a more senior detective. I still remember thinking that his voice didn’t so much express anger or upset through words but as an low, very low, but persistent growl. He was not happy. He was very, very not happy.

Not with me, he hastened to assure me, but that a resident of His Town (the capitals were implied) was

1) that abusive
2) that insulting
3) ‘that damned stupid’

The insulting he accepted was unpleasant, but… the nastiness was unpleasant but…

However, the going into the Jewish Forum and proselytising “well, now, that’s just not… that’s… no. Just, no.” And the stuff about children. “Well, now, that needs to… Stop.”

He explained I had two options:

I. I could make a formal complaint, it would go through the usual processes, and if charges followed — he was sure there was some law being broken — I’d likely have to come over to testify if it went any further.

II. I could ‘leave it with’ him, and he personally guaranteed I’d hear no more from the, he hesitated before saying the word, “…the man.”

I chose the latter.

I have no idea what happened next. I have no idea if – or whether – the senior police detective went to visit the resident of his town… no idea whether he put the fear of god into him, no idea whether he threatened him…

But after a year of constantly abusing, constantly insulting, constantly re-appearing and insulting and abusing, he… disappeared. He just stopped.

So, I’ve no idea what happened.

Well, that’s not quite true.

I’ve an idea or two.

See you tomorrow, with something else.

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.

21 years

Posted: 9 January 2019 in family, personal
Tags: , ,

So, it’s 21 years since Mike died, and as I said last time around, it’s time to celebrate his life whenever I think of Michael, not mourn his death on the anniversary.

Im not sure this post entirely does that; it’s still marking his death, after all. But it’s doing so I hope in a way that at least acknowledges that I’m missing him rather than grieving or mourning.

Towards the end of 2016, as part of my blogging project that was a seventy-five day countdown to 2017, I wrote about what it had been like to have Michael as a big brother. Mike’s birthday was 20th November and I realised that although I wrote something every year on the anniversary of his death, I’d not really written about his life. So I did so, there.

As I wrote in that piece:

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

Mike was 38 years old when he died, over fifteen years’ younger than I am now. And that’s a thing you never get used to, never. You’re always aware in a low level way that you’re now older, substantially older, than someone who once was older than you.


You’ll hit a birthday, or attend an anniversary event, and somewhere, back of your mind, is always the thought ‘yeah, another milestone that he or she didn’t get to’. My grandparents died in their 60s, and my father died when he was over 80. So, the only experience I have of that feeling is Michael.

Twenty-one years after his death, though, it’s not even really the birthdays themselves that he never reached that strike home, as much is it is experiencing those birthdays; waking up being one more year older. It’s the experiencing of anniversaries, experiencing the life, the years, the culture and changes that he never got to see.

It’s everything, from the age related stuff that he never had – odd aches and pains, annual checkups that you get in your mid-50s – to those cultural and political changes that he never experienced but that he would have been fascinated by and with.

I wonder what Mike would have thought of the current political situation, which movies he’d have liked, which he’d have been disappointed with, which bands he’d like, which tv shows he’d have absolutely loved.

And the long and enjoyable discussions we’d have had about all of it, about life.

And that’s leaving aside that he lost those years – he lost seeing his children grow up, he lost seeing my lad 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. Phil was barely two years’ old when Mike died. He’s 23 now and Mike should be someone he could call when he’s pissed off with me or his mum. Mike should be someone who’s there for advice, or for a laugh, or just to chat to. And he should be there for Phil to get pissed off with, if his Uncle Michael happened to agree with me or his mum rather than him.

They’ve both missed that.

Then there are the friends I’ve met, friends I’ve made, over those twenty-one years. Friends I have every confidence would have liked Michael, and he’d have liked them. I can easily see Mitch and Clara and Roger, Neil and Amanda, sharing a laugh with Michael; very easily indeed as a matter of fact, probably at my expense, the way you allow of friends and close ones.

Mike was one of the few people in my life I put on a pedestal; he never did anything that would have forfeited that place, and I celebrate that fact, while curious whether he’d still be up there, or whether the passage of time would have changed that from ‘love and respect’ to ‘love and proper, sibling, friendship’.

Some people take the turn of the year to revisit past decisions, to do a mini audit of where their life has taken them. Some Jewish people do it on Yom Kippur. Other folks do it on their birthday. Me? It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I tend to do it today, on the anniversary of Mike’s death.

I can smile, reluctantly at times, at the life experiences and choices I’ve made that would have, at various times, cheered him, made Michael laugh, made him angry, and left him speechless in exasperation. He was my ‘big brother’ and I loved him – what else would you expect?

I said last year that I could almost hear him saying, Twenty years is long enough to mourn me on the day of my death; time to celebrate my life whenever you think of me, Lee. Whenever you think of me.

And that for once, brother, I was listening.

So, twenty-one years…

Thank you, and rest easy, brother.
x


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; And, here’s what I wrote:

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.

2017 minus 42: Mike

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Russell Barnett. My big brother. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK, then,” he said. “Ask away.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait.

What?

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

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

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

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

Yeah it wasn’t pleasant.

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

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

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

He enjoyed his life. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was doing well, recovering…

And then he wasn’t. 

And then he was dead.

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

Or it’ll be his birthday.

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

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

Rest easy, brother. x 


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