All of the Things That I Am Not Very Good At…

blood pressure
Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

I have not, despite the fact that we are at times close companions, become fully reconciled to failure. I would still really rather like to succeed from time to time. I try to succeed; I always try to succeed, but more often than not, the avoidance of utter disaster is as close as I get. I aim to do things right and I aim to do them well, but in reality I seldom do either – certainly not to my own satisfaction. When I began this thing, I wanted each piece to have a beginning, a middle and an end; for each piece to have a point, and I think that by and large I have succeeded in that. But I aimed for something approaching Stephen Leacock, Alan Coren or Alan Bennett, and what I ended up with, more often than not, was Orville the Duck.

Making the effort is the big thing of course, trying to do the best you can. The only problem is, when you have tried really hard to get things right, the dog’s dinner that you end up with is doubly troubling. Having a unicorn in your head is all well and good, but when the result is a carthorse on the paper, it is wildly frustrating.

I have recently, much against my better judgement, embarked on a number of DIY projects: flooring, joinery, general decorating, with results that can be best described as variable. (Some are bad, some are worse.) I managed to electrocute myself last week via the simple process of catching a wire whilst screwing the top back on a socket, but I have baulked at plumbing. I have no desire to drown.

On occasions I have watched skilled craftsmen going about their work and I am always struck by the serenity. There is none of the all-out panic that I experience during the course of a simple task. Picture a headless chicken in possession of an electric drill and Stanley Knife and you’ll get the drift…

I can imagine that the more charitable amongst you are thinking, ‘Now come on, there must be something that you’re good at,’ so I’ve given it a little thought, and the answer is ‘No.’ I have never found myself involved in anything that I did not feel somebody else could not have done much better. I have never looked at something that somebody else has done properly and thought, ‘I could do that better.’ I have looked at things that have been done by somebody even more incompetent than myself and wondered if I couldn’t have done it slightly less badly. There are even times when I do things to an altogether reasonable standard. It’s just that it all takes so bloody long.

Many many moons ago I wrote, with my very good friend Chris, a series for the local BBC radio station, which we also recorded and performed. We were inordinately proud of it. I loved the whole process and I loved our little series, as did the commissioning producer, the radio station and even The Radio Times who chose to plug it with its very own cartoon in the radio listings. When it was broadcast, NOBODY listened. The first series also became the last and the whole enterprise was quietly put to bed. At the time I blamed everything – it was broadcast at a stupid time, it was on the wrong show, Saturn was rising in Uranus – but what I never considered was the possibility that it (or more likely, my own contribution to it) was actually just not good enough.

I feel that I have something to say, but unfortunately nobody seems to want to hear it. Which brings me back to the beginning: not my tendency towards the frighteningly inept, but my inability to fully reconcile myself to it.

Today I went for my annual MOT at the doctor’s. My blood pressure was, as usual and despite medication, on a par with that to be found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The nurse asked me if I had been doing anything particularly stressful and I said, ‘Breathing.’
‘Well, I would consider packing it in then,’ she said. I think she was joking.

The point is that I have decided that stress is the enemy of age, and it’s worth side-stepping it whenever you can. Refusing to worry about all these things that you are not very good at is a good place to start. Especially when that is pretty much everything…

A Skegness State of Mind

skeggy

I’m sure you know how it goes. The brain needs a holiday. Two weeks on a tropical beach: hot sun, good book, favourite music, rum cocktails – you know the kind of thing… This is how brains operate isn’t it? They go on for so long and then phut! – nothing but moaning about getting time off. ‘Why no overtime for dreaming? Why no pay rise for over-vivid imagination? I need a break. I need a sun bed, a palm-frond shade, ridiculous Bermuda Shorts and a leather necklace.’ Telling them that you already give them all the blood supply and oxygen you can spare just doesn’t cut it. Brains need leisure time apparently. They need to sit back and watch the old, fat man struggle with the deck chair whilst his wife struggles with the ill-advised thong. Brains need to be under a cloudless blue sky. They need to switch off.

My brain is agitating for a break. It is tired of pondering the imponderable. It no longer wishes to consider how, if the cream always floats to the top, we have Trump and Putin; how does a fly land on the ceiling; why does a cat have nine lives when a child – equally reckless – has only one? It is tired of ‘What if…’ It is weary of spending so much time looking in on itself. But this is my brain: it is not thinking about white sand and cocktails, it is thinking about interminable drizzle, cold chips, warm beer, ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ from a broken transistor radio, rolled up trouser legs and a paddle in the sludge-brown surf. My brain is thinking of somewhere it can blend in and conform to the norm: slap on a Kiss-Me-Kwik hat and folded paper nose guard, nick the jokes off seaside postcards and sell them to Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown…

The crinkly grey matter that occupies my skull spends its life on edge. It seldom finds the space to switch off – at least not when it is acceptable for it to do so. It does, on occasion manage a quick snooze in the middle of a wifely lecture, a 0-0 draw in the rain, or any part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. My brain works like an actor in Casualty – if there’s a kerb to trip up, it will break its leg in a storm drain. Most of the time, when it’s important that it maintains focus, it does alright – as long as it doesn’t get mesmerised by the windscreen wipers – it generally delivers me to the appropriate location at the scheduled hour, it’s the finer details it tends to let slip as it gets jaded. Minor issues, like remembering keys, wallet, shoes, have a tendency to slip from its grip. It is not always totally rational in its decisions about where to send instructions. Put my fatigued brain in charge of a nail gun and see where it gets you.

Right now it needs, I feel, a few days by the coast to unwind. I will struggle on without it: I am fairly used to just getting on with things whilst it is off somewhere else on some flight of fancy or another. After a few days in an East Coast B&B (cold water only in rooms, toilet facilities on alternate floors, no special dietary requirements catered for) it will return to me before the sheets need burning and we will decide together where to go from there. I think I might suggest that it takes me off for a week in the sun…

…It wasn’t until I read this through that I realised how many references there are that will only make sense to UK residents. I will try to explain the most glaring below, please let me know if I can help you with any others:
• Skegness is an English East Coast Seaside Resort (EECSR). It is never known by its Sunday name, but is always called Skeggy.  EECSR’s are usually cold. They are usually wet. In the balmy summer days of sand, sea and sleet, the plucky holiday maker can get a surprising variety of ‘novelty’ genitalia-themed inflatables, chips, all manner of penis-shaped confectionary and, the last time I was there, dysentery.
• Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown is an English comedian, much loved by people who really should know better.
• Casualty is a hospital-based TV soap. Everything that can be fallen off or walked into is duly fallen off and walked into, leaving the hospital staff to deal with the aftermath, generally just before the bomb goes off.
• Seaside B&B’s are best visited early in the season whilst the sheets are still clean… I must be honest here, my own experience of seaside B&B’s, although plentiful, is also some 50 years behind me. I am certain that they are much more comfortable, friendly and sanitary by now. I do not know whether it is still customary for a gong to be sounded on the landing when breakfast is ready, whether it is still normal to be locked out straight after breakfast and not allowed in again until after dark, nor whether the single occupiers are still forbidden from having another person in their room – even if that were possible, given that the average single room is a former broom cupboard in either roof or cellar and, generally speaking, not of adequate proportions to entertain a gyrating feline.
• Skegness has a clock tower, a crazy golf, a fun fair, approximately 3,768 fish & chip shops, a model village and a tide that never quite comes in or goes out – and I love it. Like Blackpool it has ‘illuminations’ – although they are called traffic lights.

Plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les mêmes (the more things change, the more they stay the same)

Covid 19
Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

I am conscious that whilst we are all ensconced within our siege-homes, counting out frozen peas and rationing the loo roll, what I write might just turn into a bit of a plague diary. I don’t intend it to – although I have just been out in the back garden to bury some Parmesan. My life is mundane enough, without the added constraint of being held captive within these four square walls (if only they were – I’ve spoken to the builder). Looking out of the window is pretty much all that is left for me… so, y’know…

What is going on out of the window as far as I can see is almost exclusively dog walking and jogging. I do not have a dog. I always thought that I would like a dog, but I’m not over-keen on shit, so I’m not convinced that it would work out well. Responsible is my middle name (it isn’t really: my real middle name is far worse) so I would always clean up after the pooch, but I’m pretty sure that I would begin to resent it sooner or later. Unequal partnerships trouble me. Would the dog clean up after me in similar circumstances? Also, there would always be the nagging suspicion that the dog deliberately chose the most embarrassing time/place to start its scrunched up shuffle before delivering its little gift on the policeman’s shiny toecap… Owning a dog would allow me to walk though. It is permissible to walk a dog. If I had one, I would probably hire it out. I have toyed with wandering out with a joke shop dog poo in a bag, so that if I was stopped by the police, I could just claim that my canine best friend had wandered off whilst I cleaned up after it and thus avoid the fine for walking without purpose. Although I would then have to go into an over-elaborate search for my non-existent pooch, possibly resulting in a fine for not keeping the bloody thing under control. Also, I would have to give it a name. Kevin probably… Most likely I would claim to be deaf and defy the policeman to get close enough for me to hear him. ‘I can mostly hear people at about one metre away…’

We are, apparently, allowed one short exercise stroll per day, always retaining the two metre distance from fellow amblers. Problem is, when I tried it, in order to maintain the exclusion zone, my route became so erratic that I was exhausted before I had travelled more than two hundred metres and I had to return home for a cup of tea. Ah, tea! Did I mention that I am having to drink tea? And instant coffee? Man, in whose world does that taste like coffee? I hope the run to the off-licence can be classed as vital. Which brings me to the joggers. I could always, I am told, go out for a socially distant jog. Are they kidding? With my nipples? I might be able to see the attraction of jogging if only those people doing it didn’t always look so bloody miserable. When did you last see a happy jogger? Why do these lithe and lycra-clad super-specimens always look so shagged-out? Nobody likes a mouth-breather!

For my part, after a day of gardening, I wobbled off around the block on my bike. The health benefits of such actions are enormous:
1. I didn’t die – so I feel really good about myself.
2. I can legitimately treat myself to a large one this evening because… well, just because.
3. There is no number 2, so I will have to repeat number 3.
So, thus finishes my first day in lockdown. Three weeks to go before Boris decides whether I can go back to work. I should be fit as a flea by then, although I may have to beat my liver down with a broom.

On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders! Samuel Pepys, London 1664

The Indefinable Strength of the Collective

team
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Like every separate little fibre that constitutes a weightlifter’s bicep, individually we may be frail, but together we are strong. I was always good – never great – in team sports: football, rugby, cricket for school and house, I did ok. If winning mattered to the rest of my team-mates, then it mattered to me. I have always been a team player. When I tried, I really tried and, somehow I seldom passed up the opportunity to get injured. I was, I think, uniquely gifted in the art of self-immolation. I was a regular at A&E where all the nurses knew me as ‘Oh, it’s you again’. Yet, whilst I would give my all for my team, I totally lacked the ‘killer instinct’ required in the dog-eat-dog scenario of individual ‘combat’ – I would have made a terrible (dead) gladiator. Unless I was representing something (the school, a club, the disenfranchised ginger minority), where I still felt part of a team – I backed off if I felt that winning was more important to my opponent than myself. No point in him being pissed when it didn’t bother me. I always wanted to excel, irrespective of how inept I was, unless doing so impacted negatively on my opponent, when all desire to grind them into the dust dissipated instantly. Like a politician’s promise when faced with the truth. Unfortunately, I was seldom afforded such leeway when I was being crap at stuff (and there was much such stuff) but somehow, it never really concerned me. I didn’t mind losing, as long as I felt confident that I could win if I really wanted to. It was often only when I was floundering badly, that I really wanted to win.
Now, I realise that this makes me sound incredibly weak, but I have to point out that such decisions were never consciously taken. I was aware only of the very vague notion that I probably couldn’t be bothered anymore, but that was it really, unless I was actually losing, in which case I tried really hard. If there was competition, I was fiercely competitive. One thing I have discovered is that age drives all competitiveness out of you – unless it is who will live the longest, I don’t want to know. Mind you, if the rules for competitive chocolate eating were ever to be formalised, I suggest the organisers give me a call…
People talk of being ‘a small cog’ in a larger machine, but I’ve never thought of myself in that way. Generally, if a cog, however small, fails, so does the machine – try taking one out of a clock. There are no irrelevant cogs. Real life is not like that, is it? Be truthful with yourself: if you didn’t turn up for work because, say, your bunion was giving you gyp, would everybody else just down tools saying, ‘Well, it’s just not worth going on, is it?’ and go home to watch Bargain Hunt with a cup of tea and a Hobnob? No. Without you, the team may well be weakened, but it would still be a team. It would still go on exactly as before – although the biscuits might last longer. This is the strength of the collective: not that it fails without one, but that it continues, only just short of its potential. And yet, in order to be fully effective, it requires all of its functioning members to play their part. In that respect, the weakest member of a team is just as important as the strongest. All successful teams have the cherry on the cake – the star performer – that makes them special. All successful teams have the, what do they actually bring to the party? member, that the rest of the team knows are absolutely vital for some indefinable reason that even they cannot quantify: Ringo Starr, Posh Spice, The non-drinker on a stag night. The kind of person that neither captain wants in their team but, never-the-less is never the last to be chosen.
In life, like sport, there are times, when all that you want is a little support, and when it doesn’t come your way, it hurts far more than it probably should. It is like being thrown off the team because you are crap. You are Ringo Starr. Your sole contribution is to be Octopus’s Garden. Perhaps you need to find yourself another team. Maybe in a team full of misfits, the outsiders can conform and, together, the weak can be strong and the meek could just possibly inherit the Earth – if only the big boys would put it down.

Vitamins A to K and My Life Without Style

assortment backgrounds baking birthday
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Whilst I have been playing out my blogged life these past eighteen months to a congregation that would normally fit comfortably inside a back-garden gazebo, I have also looked on whilst others have rocked a virtual Wembley Stadiumful. Why, I ask myself, are these blogs so much more successful than my own? Leaving aside the obvious (if unpalatable) truth that they are simply just better, and having carried out extensive research (half an hour on the bus to work) I have concluded that the main difference between my one-way ramble to a couple of dozen friends, and the mass-market consumption of the mega-blogs is lifestyle; or, more precisely, my lack of it. I have, over the course of the past year and a half, spoken only fleetingly of diet, even less of exercise and, to my shame, not at all about well-being (this, I assure you, due only to my complete ignorance). I am the architect of my own shortfall. I need, it would seem, to stop considering my life and instead take a cold, hard look at my complete lack of style.

Now, amongst my roster of readers, I do appear to have an unfeasibly high number with the word ‘Vitamin’ attached to their names. I do not know why. I hope, because they like what they read and not because they can sense my need for vitamins oozing out of every word. Many of their blogs expound the associated benefits of a whole alphabet of vitamin supplements – many of which, I am assured, will restore me to the kind of youthful vigour which, to my memory, was nothing but trouble in the first place – and all of them have a readership far, far in excess of my own. It would appear that my lack of knowledge is not only unsociable, it smacks of the kind of unawareness that nobody wants to read about in case it rubs off. And don’t get me wrong here: don’t think for a second that I do not realise that I am the one who is out of step: that I am the only person to clap halfway through the song. I know that I am the ill-informed. I realise that I could become much more aware and healthy by delving further into these blogs, but it is just so daunting. Where do I start? Anyway, in deference to all of those people who have taken the time to follow me, I have decided to make this short investigation into the world of vitamins my first step towards the goal of introducing a little style into my life (I will return to other aspects of lifestyle, such as exercise, as soon as I can get my arse out of bed).

I take vitamin D because I have ginger hair and I generally approach the colour of an over-ripe raspberry before I can absorb enough of the stuff from source. For all other additional sources of vitamins I rely on Marmite and Weetabix. I live on trust: I have never had scurvy, so I trust that I am getting sufficient vitamin C from somewhere – I’m presuming that Terry’s Chocolate Orange must be packed with it. I am not Vegan, but I do not eat meat and, it seems to me, that alone makes me extraordinarily deficient vitamin-wise. All I know is that, in order to make up for my lack of carnivorous goodness, I am expected to eat the kind of quantity of beans and pulses that, when digested, puts the ozone layer at risk. I am pretty certain that I need to take vitamin B12, but I just keep forgetting. (Does that make me an anaemiac?) Perhaps there is a specific vitamin associated with memory loss – I meant to look it up but… you got there before me.

So, first thing to do is to check out the range of good things of which I am almost certainly deficient. Vitamins, apparently come in A, B, C, D, E and K varieties (I’m presuming the K stands for Kellogg’s). I do not know what has happened to vitamins F, G, H, I and J – perhaps they failed their exams, fell to sleep on the job, or turned to the dark side. Vitamin B actually encompasses a whole range of vitamins numbered variously 1,2,3,5,6,7,9 and 12 (What happened to 4,8,10 and 11 I have no idea. Perhaps they eloped with F,G,H,I and J and opened a B&B in Cleethorpes.) all of which were collectively known as ‘iron’ and tasted of yeast when I was a child. The names of the B group vitamins sound very much like the contents of the Chemistry Sets that the better-off children used to get for Christmas, where you mixed together variously coloured powders with water and waited for crystals to grow that would eventually turn your fingernails yellow and strip the surface from the worktops. Brewer’s yeast is a good source of vitamin B and therefore, so is beer. That is my kind of vitamin.

Vitamin A is important for growth and the proper maintenance of the immune system – so important that it was allowed to be A. (I can only presume that if it also made you irresistible to the gender of choice it would probably have been allowed to call itself A*.)

I cannot fully discover what vitamin B does, but I’ve just seen a list of symptoms associated with its deficiency and I will, henceforth, ensure that I get plenty of it. Unfortunately, the main sources appear to be in various portions of dead animal, so I will have to fall back on industrial-scale Marmite and Cabbage consumption. I’ll learn to live without friends.

Pirates always seemed to be short of vitamin C and therefore suffered from scurvy. In order to avoid scurvy, eat oranges and do not become a pirate.

Vitamin D is absorbed directly from sunshine and will, therefore, kill you. It is important for the health of bones and will, I believe, stop you getting rickets. I do not know what rickets is, but I don’t want it.

Vitamin E protects the body’s cells from damage by Free Radicals. I do not know what Free Radicals are, but I believe they had a hit with You Get What You Give in 1998.

Vitamin K is responsible for good bone health and wound healing, especially blood-clotting. It is found in green, leafy vegetables and so, it is likely that almost all under-tens are seriously deficient. As this is the age group most likely to break bones and suffer cuts and grazes, I recommend that somebody puts it in chicken nuggets instead.

 

A Little Fiction – Another Grim Fairy Tale

rapunzel
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

…The poor couple thought that they would never be blessed with a child, but presently, about six weeks after the handsome travelling salesman had passed through town, the woman found herself piling on the pounds and developing a strange aversion to coffee. The couple were delighted and set about cleaning and decorating their modest house with the many, many brushes and cleaning products that the woman had stockpiled over the previous few weeks. At the back of their house, over a neat little barbed wire fence, was a tidy little garden full of beautiful flowers and vegetables. Loveliest of all were the rampions that grew fresh and green. One day the woman beckoned the man to her and said, “I have a real craving for rampions. Will you get me some, my love?”
“What the hell are rampions?” he asked.
“There, in next door’s garden,” said the woman. “Those little green jobbies: they’re rampions. If you were any sort of a man you would get some for your poor pregnant wife.”
Eventually, having phoned every supermarket he could think of, none of whom had even heard of rampions, he decided that the only way he would be able to satisfy his wife was by stealing some from over the garden fence, but, alas, he was caught in the act by the householder, who was almost certainly a witch (or at least elderly). “I’ve had enough of this,” she said. “People fancy a nice bit of rampion, they just nip over the fence and nick it. I’m phoning plod.”
“No,” said the man hastily. “Don’t do that. I am known to them. I have a checkered past. I had an impoverished upbringing. We were a one TV family. I did not have my own smart phone until well after I could walk. They will lock me up. They will throw away the key. They will make me share a cell with a fraudster called Kevin. Tell you what, you can have the baby when it’s born. I wasn’t much looking forward to all the fuss anyhow.”
“Fine,” said the old woman. “But I want it done properly. I want all the paperwork.”
“Paperwork?” said the man.
“Sorry,” she said. “I usually take cars. Will this baby hold its value?”
“It’ll be fine,” said the man. “Now, can I just take my wife some rampions to calm her?”
“Take all you like,” said the woman. “I’ve no idea how they got there. I thought they were weeds. They taste disgusting.”
Some months later, as good as his word, the man handed the child over to the old woman, having told his wife that she had been repossessed by Mothercare in lieu of unpaid cradle instalments. “What will you call her?” he asked.
“Rapunzel,” said the old woman. It means rampion. It has a ring to it, don’t you think? I was going to go for Shirley, but the woman down the road has a cousin called Shirley and I wanted something different.”
“Will we be able to visit her now and then, like father’s day and that sort of thing?” he asked.
“Nah,” she said. “I’m going to lock her away at the top of a tall tower with no door and no stairway.”
“How you going to get her up there?” he asked.
“Blimey, grow up,” she said. “This is a fairy story. What do children know about logic? I’m a witch remember. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
The man was sad to see his child go, but he thought of all the holidays they could have instead and pacified his weeping wife with gin.
Rapunzel grew into a great beauty with long golden hair. Each night the witch appeared at the base of her tower and called up to her “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down thine hair,” upon which Rapunzel, muttering darkly about wanting to be known as Shirley, would throw her golden tresses through the upper casement. The witch then tied a small basket containing the day’s groceries to her locks and Rapunzel hauled them back up, hoping that the basket wasn’t full of bloody rampions again.
Some time later, having heard of Rapunzel’s great beauty (come on now, this is a children’s story) a prince came to visit her. Quietly he hid behind a large beanstalk, which had fallen out of somebody else’s story, whilst the witch called up to Rapunzel. When the witch left, the handsome prince crept out from behind the beanstalk and himself called up to Rapunzel who let down her hair. Unfortunately after twenty years unwashed and unbrushed it smelled like a skunk had died in it and was so greasy that he couldn’t get a grip on it, so he went down to the pub instead where the girls were generally of less exhaulted beauty, but were very much more hygienic.
By and by the witch died and so, subsequently, did Rapunzel who, if she had half a brain, would have saved herself by climbing down from the tower on her own hair. Rapunzel’s birth parents, who had had no further children owing to the fact that he was allergic to shaving and she was allergic to beards, never knew of Rapunzel’s fate as, quite frankly he was the kind of father who would sell his own first-born and she was the kind of mother who was prepared to believe any old tosh as long as he kept her topped up with gin. They buried the witch in the old well and sold her property using forged documents the following week. When the prospective buyer enquired about the tower with no door, Rapunzel’s father had said “No idea, to tell the truth, but at least you won’t be able to accidentally lock yourself in, eh? The smell? No idea. Rampions maybe…”

Preparing for Lockdown – Kinda…

white toilet paper

Rather like James (James Proclaims), I am doing my bit whilst working from work during the crisis, but, unlike James (and I seriously believe that all teachers are superheroes), there is no worthy motive to my sacrifice.  I can find no excuse for donning leotard and tights.  (I’m not certain that came out right – sorry James.)  Unless Marvel introduce a character called SuperSchlep, I can have no pretentions.  I wait in vain for Super Waste-of-Time Man to meander onto the scene.  I read the other day, that they are now considering the possibility that Covid-19 originated with Pangolins: Pangolin Man does sound pretty cool, although I’m not at all certain what his super power would be. Not terribly effective, whatever it is, if he can’t save himself from being sliced up on some Chinese market stall.  Mind you, he who laughs last and all that…

I have been at home today, but only because it is my day off.  Tomorrow I will be back at the coal-face, smiling benignly, whilst each happy shopper berates the government for not imposing lockdown sooner, but, ‘Hey!  As long as they haven’t, I’m perfectly at liberty to come in here and give you everything I’ve got – by the way, have you got somewhere to put this tissue?’  It is an unwritten rule that every sick person must tell the shop assistant, at great length, how ill they are, whilst coughing copiously on their fringe.

Ok, so I realise that I have started to sound bitter, but truly, I am not.  These are extraordinary times and, somehow, we just have to find a way through them.  Of course we will, but just at the minute I’m wondering, can anybody actually see the end game?  Is it eighteen months and a vaccine away, or is it three months, when most of us have caught it?  If it’s the former, I most certainly am gonna need a whole heap more loo roll, although judging by the TV reports, I might settle for slicing up newspapers instead, whilst those with the time can fight over the last Andrex in the city.  I will grow lettuce in my back garden – something with a nice, soft leaf – and perhaps turn my greenhouse over to Durum Wheat….

Incidentally, throughout my various tasks today, I have been playing the new Wishbone Ash album (Yes, there really is one) in the background, whilst it has slowly eroded my doubts and gradually enticed me into bouncing around the house playing twin-air-guitars.  I also took five minutes with a cup of coffee watching a BEAUTIFUL song thrush search my lawn for food – for those scant few minutes (except for the odd worm or snail) the world was at peace.  In the end, normal service will be resumed…

But I don’t suppose anybody really cares, there’s too many people
nowadays just want to wipe their ass of the whole affair  – ‘Bog Roll Blues’ – Groundhogs (Tony T.S. McPhee)

Nylon Socks, Brocks and A Bolly As Big As A Ball

static electricity
Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

I have never experienced childbirth, but I have lived with pain. I was a child of the sixties. I had nylon underwear and nylon pyjamas. After a night in a bed with fitted nylon sheets the adults simply wired me into the National Grid in the morning and watched me discharge. An inadvertent touch of a doorknob produced a lightning bolt that blew fuses for blocks around. My hair stood on end until at least mid-morning. Passing a comb through it produced the kind of crackle and sparks normally associated with an unintentional fag-end dropped into a box of Brocks*. There were no nits in our house – they were all fried alive.

In order, I presume, to keep me ‘topped up’, in common with many of my friends, I was deposited into a nylon shirt for the duration of my day at school. If things got too racy during the morning playtime ‘kiss chase’ session, you could find yourselves stuck together for the rest of the day.

I’m not certain what happened to nylon – one day it was there, the next it was gone – but I’m pretty sure that if we put our children back into it, within a couple of days we would have more renewable energy than you could shake a stick at. I remember my early school days as a time of perpetual motion, but I couldn’t honestly tell you what I was doing, or why, only that I was always moving. Junior school is one giant memory, like the ocean, with little island peaks sticking through that I can grasp hold of: like bottles of warm milk in the summer and the smell of pilchard salad; like glasses of warm water on the dinner table that contained more submarine fragments by the end of the meal than spring vegetable soup; like stalking the corridors, a caged animal on a rainy playtime, while the dinner ladies guarded the doors, preventing our exit into a fantasy world of puddles and mud.

Whilst the finer detail of much of what occurred during my infant schooldays has been swallowed up by the haze of age, certain incidents do stand out with an amazing clarity. I remember finding what I thought was a huge ball-bearing during one evening’s foray onto the ‘big school’s’ sports field. It turned out to be a ‘junior’ shot putt, about the size of a tennis ball and, to my memory, as heavy as a bag of cement, which I thought would make me unbeatable at marbles. I remember rolling it the full length of the playground only to see some oik mistake it for an actual tennis ball and kick it with all of his might. His toes yielded. The bolly did not. I remember his scream of agony and the look on his face that attempted to come to grips with how a tennis ball could possibly do that to him. He was taken to hospital and I had my prize alley confiscated. Although I had not broken any rules – there was no ‘Thou shalt not bring giant metal orbs into the school playground’ edict – so I wasn’t in big trouble, I didn’t get my marble back. Not only that, but the oik got several days off school owing to an inability to walk and a tendency to whimper. That time was rightfully mine.

I remember once being taken to hospital with a playground cut (I can show you the scar today, if you would care to look) in an ambulance full of war veterans who ‘kept my chin up’ by removing their prosthetic limbs to show me that things were not so bad after all. I remember the absolute horror of entering the classroom of the teacher for whom I had been sent around to take a leaving collection. To her credit, she did make a contribution and, whilst I can never be sure of whether she told the other teachers what I had done, I do know that she always gave me a conspiratorial wink every time she saw me from then on. And I remember the feeling of being as one with my classmates – a closeness of disparate souls, the like of which I do not think that I have experienced since.

And then I remember what brought me here. A jumper that crackled as I pulled it over my head; that made my hair stand on end. I decided to research whether it was still possible to buy nylon clothing and what popped up was ‘Nylon Spandex’ and, specifically, whether it was safe to wear Spandex underwear all the time. The answer is ‘no’, because it will turn you into a human Van de Graaff generator, which switched on the memories of nylon socks crossing nylon carpets and the kind of electrical sparks that could light a theatre. As I said, I have never experienced childbirth, but I have lived with pain…

*Brocks – a brand of 1960’s fireworks that went off with all of the pyrotechnic power of an unexpected sneeze at the cinema.

…Lend Me Your Ears

Ears
Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

I retired to my bed last night happily replete with a full complement of senses, but awoke this morning to find myself decidedly monaural. Overnight, somebody had filled my ear canal with something that ‘swishes’ a lot as I move my head, before bricking it over. Consequently, I am totally deaf on one side and my whole head is filled with porridge.

The sensation of receiving all aural input from only one side is jarring enough, but to find, as I have, that such sound as you do receive is somehow amplified by a tinny megaphone inside the other side, is truly alarming. If I cover my good ear, I discover that I am, for all practical purposes, totally deaf. Yesterday I could hear a pin drop; today I would struggle with a nuclear bomb.

I felt myself gripped by panic: how could this happen so suddenly, without even the slightest indication of its imminence? Bizarrely, the sensation of deafness is not so disturbing as that of having a head full of blancmange, nor the sounds it makes as I move my head. Most puzzling of all is the discovery that the best way of masking the sensation that my ear has been stuffed with cotton-wool, is to actually stuff it with cotton-wool. (Please don’t linger here waiting for an explanation – I do not have one.) In the shower this morning, I had to cover my non-hearing tab, otherwise I felt like I was drowning.

Such was my otic disorientation that I was forced to visit the doctor’s surgery. This is not an action that I undertake lightly: in my experience it is only usually safe to do so when you are in the very rudest of health. During my walk to the health centre, I discovered a most unsettling aspect of the hearing impairment. I could hear cars on the road, but I had absolutely no idea from which direction they were heading. This made me feel very vulnerable. I am told that over time, the brain adapts. I very much hope that my own ears will not be out of service long enough to call upon my brain to adjust, but for now, I will have not the faintest idea of where the cry of ‘Look Out!’ is coming from. ‘Open Surgery’ unlocks its doors at 8am; appointments start at 8.30, on a first come, first served basis, to a maximum of fifty patients in total for the four doctors on duty. I arrived at 7.50 and found myself about sixtieth in the queue. Fortunately, there were some couples (it is a small village – there is little in the way of entertainment) so I managed to squeeze in and, having been ‘screened’ I was invited to sit in the waiting room until called.

I found a seat and prepared myself for the long wait, surreptitiously attempting to establish my position in the order of appointments. I was confident that I would be a couple of hours. Around me, most sat in silence, staring vacantly at the subtitles on the muted BBC News Channel, some whispered, a few chatted noisily, one or two compared their symptoms with those of a friend. It struck me that nobody looked particularly ill, faces were not drawn in pain, although laughter was, understandably, in short supply.

After half an hour of silent staring a door opened at the end of the room and a doctor appeared, shouting out a name. Behind me, somebody rose and was escorted to the consulting room. I was relieved to find that the surgery had begun. The relief was not to last. The next doctor to appear was a lady, by appearance some one hundred years older than myself. Her grey hair was scraped into a bun; she wore a high ruff-necked blouse, a tweed skirt and button-up ankle boots. Her lips moved, but I heard no sound. Behind me, somebody stirred and walked towards her. Obviously they had heard the beckoning voice. Once again I was gripped by panic. What if, on a subsequent visit to the waiting room, she was to call out my name? I would never know. She would curse me as a time-wasting burden on the Health Service and call out the next person on her list instead. I would remain, forlornly seated until the staff had all gone home.

Perhaps, I thought, I could read her lips. Metaphorically I slapped my own face. I had been semi-deaf for less than two hours; did I really expect myself to be able to build up a proficiency – even if only to spot my own name – in that time? I focussed on the TV and tried to read the lips of the newscaster. I was even less adept than the person doing the subtitles – although, to give myself some credit, I did at least divine that the newscaster had not actually greeted his first guest by saying ‘Good horn pig’. A fevered hour passed before I was eventually summoned by a male GP with a high-pitched voice that was mystifyingly audible through both my lugs. I thought I might go out and search for bats.

I am not good with doctors; when asked to explain my symptoms, I usually gibber. Sometimes I think I would find it easier to communicate through the medium of interpretive dance. Anyway, eventually we got there and he peered into my ear with his little torch.
‘Does it hurt?’ he asked.
‘Not at all.’
‘Strange,’ he said, ‘it’s very inflamed.’ I experienced the pain immediately.

I am fairly certain that you will not want all the grisly details, but just in case, the inflammation has blocked my ear and caused a slight perforation in my eardrum. It should, I am assured, clear in a couple of weeks and I will be able to hear again.

To be honest, the deficiency in my ability to hear, now that I know it to be temporary, is not as irksome as is the sensation of possessing an ear that does not quite belong to me. Not that I’d be without it, you understand. So thrown out was I by the unexpected turn of events this morning, that I forgot to put my contact lenses in. Fortunately I found an old pair of glasses in my bag and even more fortunately, although temporarily somewhat short of full fettle, I still have two ears to perch them on.

I took a physical for some life insurance.  All they could give me was fire and theft.  Milton Berle

A Little Fiction – OldenEye (A Slight Return)

OldenEye
Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

…I walked, crabwise, towards the supermarket checkout, aware that not even M could provide me with a trolley that would go where I wanted it to.  The western world would be able to sleep soundly in the knowledge that I, at least, had enough toilet roll, hand sanitizer and pot-noodle to see me through a nuclear winter.  I pulled up smoothly at the till and quickly emptied my booty onto the conveyor with barely a pause to wheeze.  ‘That’ll be £48 pounds love,’ purred the vixen behind the counter as I flapped impotently at my pockets, searching for a wallet I had left on the kitchen table at home.  ‘Unless you want this week’s edition of ‘The Oldie’, you being, you know, old and all…’  I stared, open-mouthed, at the proffered magazine with its photograph of Sean Connery as Bond and the tag-line ‘Growing Old Disgracefully Special’, and recalled that I published the following skit on March 4th last year

OldenEye

…007 sat back in the deep, yielding burgundy leatherette swivel chair, his chin resting on the pyramid of his fingertips. His once-steely eyes were focussed glaucously on the minister, he could see his lips moving – just – but he did not hear a word he said. His mind was preoccupied with thoughts of how he would get out of the recliner without putting his back out. Again. The minister smiled benignly at the supposed indifference of his senior spy and flipped open the lid of an exquisitely inlaid wooden box. Involuntarily, Bond’s body tensed and he was again thankful for the ‘special’ pants in which his house-keeper had dressed him.

“Cigar, James?”

With an almost deft flick of his finely manicured hand, the super-spy fiddled at his ear, knocking the miniature hearing aid to the floor, where it whistled irritably. Bond struggled to his feet and reinserted the apparatus, back to front, so that it echoed eerily around the office. The minister smiled again. Obviously a little piece of Q’s genius, cunningly designed to foil concealed electronic bugs or somesuch. “Cigar, James?” he repeated.

“No thank you,” said Bond, who had decided not to try the swivel chair again, but was standing at the corner of the minister’s desk, resting his weight on a red telephone and wheezing gently. Having reinserted his hearing aid, Bond was able to hear the minister, whom he was saddened to hear was suffering from some sort of adenoidal problem. “I am very aware of my responsibilities as a role model for the young.” Advancing years had made Bond ever-more conscious of the debt he owed to the planet that he, in his prime, had saved on many occasions from nuclear destruction with little, if any, consideration to the biodegradability of the apparatus he employed. “Now,” he said. “What can I do for my country?”

The minister explained in great detail the nature of the latest threat posed to the free world by Ernst Blofeld and he was almost sure, at times, that Bond understood a little of what he said. Satisfied that he had his most senior agent on the job, the minister waved him away airily and 007 left the room, finding the correct door at only the third attempt.
In the stores, Q issued the special equipment.

“Of course,” he said. “We’ve had to garage the Aston Martin, James. The emissions were simply unacceptable.” Bond nodded his understanding. He had a similar problem. “But we’ve beefed up this electric trike for you. Push this red button here and the booster cuts in giving you a top speed of anything up to eight miles an hour, depending on the wind; three-wheel drive will enable you to continue pursuit across all terrain – providing of course that it’s flat and surfaced; there’s an in-built MP3 player, pre-loaded with Coldplay’s greatest hits and concealed behind the seat here is one of those clever little adapters that allows you to plug your vehicle in anywhere in the world.”
Bond grinned. “And the range?”

“Twenty miles,” said Q. “Fifteen if you use the booster. Should be plenty to get you to the bus stop…”

Bond signed out an e-cigarette that concealed a radio transmitter, a comb that concealed a powerful magnet, and a tube of ointment that concealed the worst of his rash, all of which he stashed away under the cleverly designed hinged seat of the trike. And so, as evening drew into night, James Bond trundled off into the enfolding darkness, unconcerned by the danger that lay ahead and untroubled by the gangs of youths that garlanded his route – mostly because his glasses were steamed up so that he couldn’t see them, and his hearing aid had fallen out in Penge.

…“A virgin martini please, shaken, not stirred…” The barman looked quizzically at Bond, who would have raised an eyebrow in reply, but he was wearing contact lenses and he didn’t have any spares. He moved his face very close to the barman. “Tonic water,” he whispered. “Slimline if possible, with ice and a slice… oh, and put one of those little umbrellas in it will you?” He began to rifle through his purse, searching for the correct change, when a female voice behind him said “Put that on my bill, would you?” The barman nodded and handed Bond his drink. The woman joined Bond at the bar, hoisting herself effortlessly onto the stool. Bond recalled his own battle to mount it with distaste. He could still feel the bruise swelling on his shin. The woman reached out an elegant hand. “008,” she said. “Pleased to meet you Mr Bond.”
“Likewise, I’m sure,” said Bond.
“Won’t you join me for dinner?” she smiled.

The meal was acceptable, although Bond would have preferred something a little more… fried, but the company was scintillating. Memories of conquests-past flooded Bond’s mind and he found himself, almost subconsciously, taking a little pill with his dessert. He knew that he could trust a Rennie to ensure a good night’s sleep. 008 sparkled. Her conversation was engaging, witty, seductive. She laughed and her laughter was like a summer breeze; bright and joyous. He laughed and coughed up a piece of carrot the size of Sheffield. A bubble of sauce escaped his nose. She spoke of life and love in a way that Bond had never considered. She spoke of Keats, Shelley and Chaucer almost as if she actually enjoyed them. In the past, of course, he would have seduced her, but something told him that, delightful though she was, it was just conceivable that she would not welcome the amorous advances of a sexagenarian lothario with sauce down his chin and a full floret of broccoli wedged under his dentures. Besides, she was probably more than capable of rendering him unconscious with a single chop to the throat.

Bond slept peacefully. He knew that 008 had been sent along to shadow him in his pursuit of Blofeld, but he realised immediately that she stood a much better chance of success alone. She was smart, she was beautiful, she was ruthless and, unlike him, she had never once mistaken the hotel ice machine for the urinal…