Posts Tagged ‘personal’

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.