The Texts That Put My Teeth on Edge

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Photo by Yingpis Kalayom on Unsplash

So, I started my day be receiving the most terrifying of all texts. No, not the one telling me that my bank account is being plundered and the only way to stop it is to follow the link below NOW! Not the one telling me that I had accidentally left my data roaming turned on whilst in Dubai and, consequently, run up a bill of £7,369 by monitoring the bus timetables in Beunos Aires. Nor the one telling me that my emails have just been accessed by a Colombian poppy salesman who is asking permission to transfer £3million pounds per week into my bank account for safe keeping. No, this was the one from my dentist, telling me not to forget my appointment next week. This is the text that reduces me to a gibbering wreck. This is the text that forces my blood pressure medication into overtime. This is the text that sends my wife off to hide everything sharp.

It brings with it the certain knowledge that some things will, for no apparent reason, begin to happen over the ensuing days:
• My gums will start to bleed when I brush my teeth, which, admittedly, I do much more assiduously in the run-up to a check-up: unfortunately closing the stable door after the double espresso has bolted.
• My fillings (my mouth is approximately 98% dental amalgam) will start to hurt when called upon to chew.
• My teeth will start to wobble.

I will spend so much time ‘checking my breath’ that people will assume that I have accidentally super-glued my hands to my face. I will find grit in every single spoonful of muesli.

My days of toffee éclairs and granola are lost on teeth that require a week’s notice before tackling a piece of toast. Such teeth as I have are my own (I stopped myself from saying all my own there, remembering how many of them are, in fact, largely lead-coloured) but the gap to tooth ratio has shifted substantially over the last few years. What molars remain are as islands in a sea of gum. Sometimes, when I have my mouth open and the dentist is speaking, I swear I can hear an echo.

When my children were young, we would have a family appointment. Whilst I was there, ostensibly, to hold their hands, they, in reality, were there to keep me calm. It is important to never show fear in front of your children – it merely gives them another weapon to use against you.

I was unaware that I was a particularly nervous patient (it had always been my belief that everybody falls apart at the dentist’s) until I realised that my dentist had, in the absence of my children, taken to holding my hand as she spoke to me, before delving into my mouth. My new dentist does not hold my hand, but I notice that she, personally, comes to escort me from the waiting room, instead of sending the nurse, which is what normally seems to happen. I’m guessing they have something written on my notes along the lines of, ‘Calm him down before you get him in the chair. May spontaneously combust.’ I may even qualify for one of those acronyms that the ‘professions’ are so fond of: SOS (Soft Old Sod) maybe, or MC (May Cry).

When I was younger, the quiet brusque efficiency of my elderly male dentist was appreciated; with very little conversation and never the invitation to speak with my mouth full of fingers. It always seemed that speed was the order of the day and, providing his basic ‘ticking off’ of teeth and associated additions was all that was required, his back-turned, ‘That’s fine. Pay on your way out,’ was music to my ears. These days, I cannot tell you how much I value the calming smile, a sense of empathy and care for the elderly. I no longer view the dentist with total fear – I just wish she’d stop sending me these threatening texts…

 

The Gentle Art of Subversion (part 2)

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I urge you, now, before it is too late, to consider what it is that has drawn you to this subversive path. Perhaps you have always harboured an urge to behave subversively. Perhaps only now, after (comfortably) more than half a century of life’s travails, have you built up sufficient resentment to act. Remember: into every life a little rain must fall. There’s always sunshine after the rain etc. etc. Except that there’s not, is there? After rain, there’s normally even more rain, followed by fog on high ground and flooding in low-lying areas. Subversion comes in many guises: think Guy Fawkes attempting to blow up the house of commons; think ringing a call centre and leaving your phone off the hook; think taking an unfeasibly long time to read all of the myriad delights laid out before you on the Starbucks menu before asking the extensively over-qualified barista, ‘do you do Nescafé?’.

Whatever subversive action you decide to take, even if it is just sticking your tongue out at someone when they’re not looking, somebody is almost bound to take exception to it. If they react badly, you will find yourself in ‘a situation’. At this point adrenalin will kick in. You are unlikely to experience the fight or flight dilemma as you will be too busy running away. Whatever you do, always make certain that you have a suitable means of escape. Bicycles are excellent, but only if you are heading downhill. If you plan to escape by public transport, always ensure that you know the location of the easy access stops.

Broadly speaking, subversives fall into two categories: a) those who consider themselves torchbearers for the right and good – enemies of injustice and inequality – warriors for a righteous cause and b) those who would really quite like to get their name into the newspaper. Many of those who fall into category a) will enter into politics, whilst many of those who fall into category b) will also enter into politics. The Houses of Parliament are the subversive equivalent of the elephant’s graveyard. Politics is the domain of those who have lost all conviction – or at least home to those who have sued the press for releasing details of their convictions. Subversion is simultaneously the enemy and the father of politics – whilst politicians are often simultaneously the father and employer of any number of tax-deductable children. Winston Churchill remained subversive throughout his political career but then, so did Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner and look where it got them. For most, subversion and political success are mutually exclusive – in much the same way as hand-knitted cardigans and sexual excess. Indeed, for the majority of subversives, subversion and normal social intercourse are also mutually exclusive. Show me a subversive with friends and I will show you a liar. Subversion, like golf, is a group activity in which no member trusts any other member; consequently, most D.I.Y subversives also become solo subversives. After all, what is the point of other opinions if they do not agree with your own?

Somebody once said that 99% of all subversive activity takes place between the ears. They obviously associated with different subversives to me. 99% of what goes on between the ears of the subversives I have met is… well, zilch, quite honestly …and the other 1% involves sexual exploits – 99% of which are fictitious.

Remember, subversion is not all glamour. Che Guevara was indeed glamorous, but not until after he was dead. If you want glamour, you are reading the wrong blog – look elsewhere – there must be one somewhere about existing purely on the calories extracted from cigarettes and cocaine.

I do not seek to persuade anyone that committing subversive deeds could in any way be seen as a desirable course of action. Indeed, I consider it imperative to advise against any activity that may, in any way, be associated with terrorism or extremism and which might, ultimately, lead to the suspicion that it was me who placed the fake dog-dirt in the butcher’s doorway. Amateur subversion seldom involves killing your enemy – although it may necessitate tying his shoelaces together. If you are happy living your life as a friendless bozo, perpetrating small acts of subversion whenever and wherever the opportunity arises, distil from this such succour as you are able – then, for God’s sake, go out and get yourself a life…

The Gentle Art of Subversion (part 1)

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This is not a terrorist handbook. If you are scanning this page at random whilst pretending to peruse some far more worthy thread, you need not be concerned – it is highly unlikely that you will receive a knock on the door from a shady-looking character with a rolled-up umbrella and a GCHQ security pass hanging from a purple lanyard around his neck. You can read on in relative safety. You are unlikely to find yourself on the receiving end of a polonium enema just yet.

Perhaps we should begin with a definition. My hastily Googled enquiry offered this – Subversion: the undermining of the power and authority of an established system or institution. I see it more as the art of being a bloody nuisance. Like stretching Clingfilm over the toilet bowl, it seldom ends well. I tend to think that the aim of undermining the entire established system might be a slightly ambitious one for a long-in-the-tooth loner such as you. I am happy to discuss subversion in all of its forms, from hacking the Pentagon computers to leaving a drawing pin on the Bowl’s Club Secretary’s chair, but I urge you to consider – those on the receiving end of acts of subversion do not necessarily share your healthy regard for democratic rights and may just call the police if you continue to shout rude words through their letterbox – worse, they might just open the door and chase you.

Subversion is a gift for life. The desire to subvert is there from birth. Any parent will recognise the look on a baby’s face as it widdles on the changing mat or poos in a freshly changed nappy. The urge to subvert grows with the child. School brings unrivalled opportunities: bird whistles behind a raised desk lid; innocently made smart-arse remarks during class discussions; getting lost on the way to classes; falling to sleep during them… all of the things that teachers love. In adulthood, the opportunities to act subversively occur daily. I am not talking about the kind of actions that could cause physical harm; I’m talking about the slight discomfort of a rubber band on the back of the neck, a dried pea in a brogue, an unpicked seam in the underwear… And I’m not necessarily thinking about actual physical irritation, I’m thinking mental too. I’m thinking about moving the most expensive suit you can find onto the Bargain Rail at Next; I’m thinking about casually pretending to pick up a loose bolt from the floor near the railings at the top of the Eiffel Tower or producing your own bottle of tomato ketchup at an oyster bar. It might sound like little more than a practical joke, but it will put a bat up the nightie of a) the multi-nationals, b) the French and c) people who insist on eating raw molluscs in public.

Subversion that results in violence is often linked with religion. Religion is, in my opinion, not something with which the subversive should become involved. Too often, the incorporation of subversion and religion can lead to shed-loads of anguish and not a little bloodshed – just think back to the Sunday school outings of your youth. If you are decided upon a career in religious subversion, there are other websites out there for you, although I would not necessarily recommend accessing them on your mother-in-law’s laptop.

I am no connoisseur of violence – I haven’t queued for a bus in years – but I am aware that some factions quite like it. I am a firm believer that blood is designed to remain within the body. As far as I am concerned, a pool of red liquid around a person’s feet can only spell trouble – unless it is being lapped up by the cat, in which case it probably spells strawberry sauce. I would certainly never encourage risky behaviour: life and limb are not designed to be exposed to danger. Extreme pain is nature’s way of telling you to stop whatever it is you are currently doing, even if it is just sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor. The only advice I can offer is that violence is seldom the answer (unless, ironically, the question is ‘what is seldom the answer?’).

The Haphazardly Poetical – The Many Sayings of Millie’s Mum

Poetry
Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

I always wrote poetry for my children and now I’m doing the same for my grandchildren. This is a favourite. I’m not sure how this fits in here, but I like it – so you get it…

THE MANY SAYINGS OF MILLIE’S MUM.

Millie, are you getting dressed?
Please don’t make a dreadful mess.
I cleaned your room out yesterday
And tidied all your toys away.

Millie, have you made your bed?
Please just say, don’t shake your head.
Run a hairbrush through your hair
And Millie, please don’t put that there.

Millie, have you cleaned your teeth?
Please remember those beneath
The gaps where other teeth have gone…..
And put the toothpaste lid back on.

Millie, will you wear your hat?
Please don’t look at me like that.
Don’t get jam all down your clothes
And Millie – please don’t pick your nose.

Millie, must you play the fool?
Please don’t make us late for school.
I’m sure you haven’t lost your book…..
It’s on the floor. Why don’t you look?

Millie, must you always be
The last to leave at half past three?
I’m sure your teacher didn’t seek
To see the bruise you got last week.

Millie, is it only you
Who has to look the way you do?
Your socks are down; your blouse askance;
Your dress is tucked up in your pants.

Millie, will you eat your tea?
Please don’t pull that face at me.
If the wind should start to blow
It will stay like that, you know.

Millie, have you had a bath?
Please don’t make your sister laugh,
She’s eating beans – oh, look at that;
She’s coughed them all up on the cat.

Millie, are you in your bed
Or are you in the loo instead?
It’s very strange why this should be
The time you always need a wee.

Millie, will you go to sleep?
Please don’t make a single peep
And don’t get up at crack of dawn.
I need my sleep, I’m feeling drawn.

Millie, are you sleeping yet?
I didn’t mean to wake you, pet.
When you’re asleep, I feel ignored.
So come and talk to me….. I’m bored.

© C McQueen 2019

Something About Growing Old

Queen

Devoid of ideas for today’s blether, I turned to my wife for inspiration.
‘Why don’t you write something about growing old?’ she said. I explained that growing old is what this blog is all about. Three times a week; week in, week out, I write something about growing old.
‘Sounds boring,’ she said.
‘Well, you’d know – if you bothered to read it,’ I said, just this side of petulance.
‘So, why don’t you write something about hobbies?’
‘I do,’ I said.
‘You said that it’s all about getting old.’
‘I am getting old,’ I said, ‘therefore, whatever I do, somebody old is doing it.’
‘Still sounds boring,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you review a book that you’ve read, or a film that you’ve seen?’
I thought about it for a nano-second. Other people do it so much better than I ever could.
‘Well,’ she continued, ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you write about the last time you went to the theatre?’

So I have…

We Will Rock You – Nottingham – November 27th 2019

We went to see the touring production of We Will Rock You. We had seen the West End production some years ago, so I presumed (rightly as it turned out) that the show would be somehow smaller, less bombastic, perhaps less of a spectacle, but that the band and the music would be pretty much the same. I am a fan of Queen, but having got into them many, many years ago, with their first eponymous album, I tend to prefer the early music to the later anthems, but, hey ho, that’s not to say that I don’t love the later stuff. Anyway, I jump on…

Our daughter bought us tickets for the matinee, so that we could catch the train into the city, see the show and get home before dark, without having to stay over. (We’re old; she doesn’t like to think of us being out at night.) We rolled up at the theatre for what turned out to be a completely sold out performance and joined a milling throng of grey hair and bald heads. I have never been in the company of so many old people. I found myself in company that considered any beard shorter than ‘full’ as simply ‘unshaven’. I seriously believe that I was the only male present who did not have Velcro fastenings on his shoes.

We ascended the stairs to our seating level at a pace that could only have become slower by going backwards. It struck me that, should the theatre ever need to be evacuated, they would need several days notice to get everybody out. Once inside the main auditorium, the reason for the standstill was easily divined: with hundreds of people raking through handbags and pockets, in still darkened photo-chromic lenses, searching for reading glasses with which to find their seats and face the very unhappy ‘tutting’ of those who got there first. All around me hung the heavy odour of age: the fragrant collation of damp sheepskin boots, cough candy and Vick’s VapoRub. Without the need for a PA announcement, mobile phones were not only turned off, but securely stowed away in their little padded pouches, at the bottom of handbags and rucksacks. To one side of us, in the midst of a geriatric sea, was a puddle of school children who must have wondered what kind of a nightmare they had been transported into. This is your future, boys and girls, this is your future. Outside, in the atrium, the bars were empty, but the queues for the toilets were massive.

The We Will Rock You audience reminds me greatly of a Rocky Horror audience, but without the dressing up (leather trousers can be incredibly unforgiving in the event of minor leakage) although I suspect that underneath the thick, brushed cotton shirts and jeans lurked many a crisp white singlet and skinny-legged Long Johns. Everyone seemed to know exactly what was coming next and were out of their seats clapping in anticipation. I managed, as ever, to find myself sitting alongside a couple who carried out their own version of Audio Description throughout the show. I so appreciated the detailed explanation of every joke, particularly when delivered at a volume that made it audible on stage.

Right, so, the show. The band were great, although they did replace one of the great rock guitar intros (I Want It All) with keyboards for some reason that I cannot begin to fathom. Vocals were mostly good, but the lead role, on the day, was played by the stand-in who clearly had an earpiece to help him with the unfamiliar dialogue (although he could, conceivably, have been getting his prompts from the couple at my side) which seemed to unsettle everyone else when he was on stage. His voice, at times, managed to soar to the majestic heights and swoop down to the powerful low rumble register of Freddie Mercury, but never quite where it was supposed to. Cues and lines were missed with an unsettling regularity.

The scenery – most of which was projected onto the moving backcloths – worked really well, but what really emerged was a local amateur pantomime, fuelled by Ben Elton’s strangely dated love of the ‘saucy’ pun, full of great songs played really well and accompanied by a troupe of dancers that looked as if they were straight out of Junior Showtime: with all the latent sexuality of an end-of-the-pier, end-of-the-season revue.

The show itself had a mid-session interval, and I will never forget the sound of so many people simultaneously sucking the nuts from their Hazelnut Magnums.

The encore was Bohemian Rhapsody – impossibly daunting for a stand-in – which, sadly, was not great, BUT, the audience was on its feet, cheering and clapping for all they were worth. They had clearly loved the show. Well worth missing Countdown for. Owing to the difficulty experienced by many of the audience in getting to their feet at the end, the standing ovation rumbled on for several minutes.

Eventually the lights came up; coats, scarves, gloves and caps were doffed, and the whole phalanx of geriatrica shuffled, en masse, towards the exits, via the toilets. I have never descended a staircase so slowly in my entire life. The strange sensation of walking out of a cinema or theatre into daylight is as unexpectedly disorientating as waking up on a bus that has already gone past your stop.

The show had overrun somewhat and, having descended the stairs at a pace designed to engender rigor mortis, we had to run to the train in the pouring rain (well, part-run, part-hobble, if I’m honest – with the emphasis on hobble) which we caught by the skin of our teeth, and made it home in time for cocoa and half an hour in slippers before bedtime. Had I enjoyed the show? Well, yes, to tell the truth, far more than I should have. I love a pantomime. I love Queen. How could I possibly not.

So, there we are, I tried my best and, in deference to my wife, I tried to write something about the last time I went to the theatre, but somehow, I just ended up writing something about growing old again.

It is where I always go.

It is what I always am…

A Little Fiction – The Gold Coin

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Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

The old man placed the single gold coin onto the scales and peered myopically at the needle in the centre of the balance. ‘Doesn’t weigh enough,’ he said, glancing down over the rim of his glasses. ‘It’s not heavy enough for a sovereign.’
‘It’s not a sovereign,’ replied the man on the other side of the meshed metal grille.
‘I know that,’ said the old man. ‘I told you, it doesn’t weigh enough… and it weighs too much for a half sovereign.’
‘It’s not one of those either.’
‘I know that,’ sighed the old man, pushing the wire frame of his glasses back along the bridge of his nose. ‘I told you, it weighs too much.’ The old man shifted slightly in his seat and studied the man who had presented him with the unfamiliar gold coin. He was small. He was fidgety, nervous thought the old man. Better watch him.
The small man removed his hat and scratched his head. He was even smaller without the head gear. ‘Well,’ he asked, staring up, his eye line below the height of the counter. ‘Will you buy it?’
‘I don’t know. What is it?’
‘It’s a punt Éireannach.’
‘A what? A punt? They never made gold punts.’
The little man stared down at the floor, grappling with his thoughts. After a few moments he looked straight up at the man with the scales. He sighed deeply. ‘Leprechaun gold,’ he said. ‘It’s Leprechaun gold. From the end of a rainbow.’
The pawn broker readjusted his glasses and carefully studied the elvin man on the other side of the screen. He was even smaller than a more casual glance had led him to believe. Child sized. But he had a beard and long grey hair. He looked like an ageing cherub in a green twill suit. The uncle spoke slowly, as if to a child. ‘Leprechaun gold you say? From the end of a rainbow, you say?’
‘You musta seen it,’ said the little fellow. ‘The rainbow. You musta seen it yesterday.’
‘I saw the rainbow,’ replied the shopkeeper. ‘You’re saying that this gold coin came from the end of it?’
The dwarf nodded so violently that his hat flew from his head. He picked it up, dusted it and wedged it back in place, pulling it down firmly to his ears.
‘So, it is actually yours?’ asked the pawn broker.
‘I told you, it’s Leprechaun gold.’
‘And?’
‘And I’m a Leprechaun, hence it is mine.’
‘Is it not,’ enquired the dealer, leaning forward slightly in order to more closely observe the lovat Lillipution on the other side of the counter. ‘Is it not the property of whomever finds the end of the rainbow. Is that not what it is there for?’
‘Human myth,’ said the homoncule. ‘Leprechaun gold belongs to Leprechauns.’
‘So how come you’ve only got one coin? If it’s gold from the rainbow’s end, it comes in pots, doesn’t it?’
‘It was a small rainbow. I’m a lone worker. Don’t have the resources to deal with the big jobs. Have to leave those to the big boys – as it were…’
‘So you’re telling me that Leprechauns don’t put the gold at the end of the rainbows?’
The Leprechaun answered with nothing more than a derisive snort.
‘So who does put the gold there then?’
‘Ah,’ said the Leprechaun. ‘That’s the mystery, isn’t it?’
‘You don’t know?’
‘Well of course not. Nobody knows.’
‘So you can’t possibly know who it actually belongs to.’
‘Well I found it.’
‘I went to London,’ said the old man in the chair. ‘And I found Buckingham Palace. Doesn’t mean I own it.’
The Leprechaun looked at him long and hard. Tension pulled so tight on the muscles of his forehead that his hat fell down over his eyes. ‘Ah feckit,’ he said. ‘D’youse want to buy it or not?’
‘I’ll give you fifty Euro,’ said the man.
‘Fifty Euro,’ spluttered the pygmy. ‘Fifty feckin’ Euro? It’s worth twice that.’
‘Take it or leave it.’
‘Fifty Euros? You’d rob a feckin’ Leprechaun.’
‘But you’re not actually a Leprechaun at all, are you?’
The little man pulled himself up to his full height, which allowed him to see just over the counter top. He seethed with impotent rage. ‘I want cash mind,’ he said at last.
The man counted out the notes and slid them under the grille, from where the emerald-hued elf snatched them and stashed them under his hat. ‘Not a feckin’ Leprechaun,’ he said, turning to leave. ‘I wish you good day sir.’ And with a ‘Pop!’ he disappeared. As did the coin in the pawnbroker’s scales…

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

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Photo by Christian Mackie on Unsplash

There are two mirrors in my bathroom. In one of the mirrors I am fat. In the other mirror I am not fat – in that mirror I am old. Now, in reality, I am both fat and old, so I have become intrigued by the selective world-views of what are, in essence, two identical reflective surfaces. What prompts them to throw back at me two such startlingly different visions of my own visage? More to the point, which opinion should I trust? For opinion it must surely be. I realise that they may be lit slightly differently, but the job of a mirror, surely, is merely to bounce back (with the merest of delays whilst it transposes left and right) whatever hits it and what hits both of these two is the same face. Why, I wonder, would one of them take a look at me and think ‘fat’ whilst the other thinks ‘old’? However I light the bathroom, in daylight or in LED glow, what bounces back out of the glass surfaces remains unaltered. According to these reflectors, I am fat or old, but never both.

I do wonder why neither of them ever takes it upon themselves to make me look slim or young, but I’m guessing that’s a bridge too far – for a mirror.

I think it probably important to mention here that, as far as I can see, both of these mirrors are flat and unblemished. When I was a boy, no fairground was complete without a Hall of Mirrors. These mirrors curved and bowed and were meant to reflect images that were either short and fat or tall and slim. As I was, at that time, short, but exceedingly skinny, the results for me were less than impressive – making me look either of normal stature, but so thin that I barely registered, or of normal weight, having spent the last six months having carried a 10cwt anvil on my head. In achieving these contortions the mirrors were usually variously bowed to such an extent that the reflections were often doubled and unfocussed. By positioning oneself at a certain level, it was possible to achieve the vision of a huge, fat head leering out atop a normal sized, slightly retroussé body. One of my bathroom mirrors has got the hang of that one.

Obviously, I would like to check out my suspicions with somebody else, but the only other person available to me is my wife and I think that if I asked her whether she thought that the bathroom mirrors had developed an attitude, she would be on the phone to the crisis team quicker than you could say ‘stark staring mad’. So, I have only my own experience to fall back on. I have tried to trick the mirrors. I have jumped in front of them in an attempt to take them by surprise. I have sucked in my cheeks before looking in the ‘fat’ one. I have taken a ‘selfie’ of myself looking into the ‘old’ one. All to no avail. The ‘fat’ one makes me look fat and the ‘old’ one makes me look old. In each case a mere fifty percent of what I actually am.

There is, I must admit, a recently arrived alternative at my disposal. It is a back-lit, magnifying, make-up mirror that my wife has placed on the widow-sill. In that, I look fat, old and seriously mis-shapen. Occasionally I use it to put my contact lenses in. It appears that I am plopping a Pyrex bowl over some kind of jelly fish and I don’t like it.
So, for now, I will stick with the two mirrors I have. Whilst they both give me half-truths, I suppose that two half truths are better than one fat lie…

Mirror in the bathroom, please talk free
The door is locked – just you and me…
Mirror in the Bathroom – The Beat

How to look twenty years younger instantly: stand further away. Jeff Green

The People We All Went to School With

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I guess, fundamentally, we all went to school with the same people: the girl who was brighter than everybody else; the boy who was not; the girl who was always in the threadbare hand-me-downs; the boy with designer socks; the girl who would show you hers for a penny; the boy who ate his own bogeys. The classroom is where we were all introduced to the rich steaming variety that is life. Where we began to understand that we have to rub along with a whole host of other people; help those we can; accept help when we need it, in order to survive. The classroom is where we learned that everybody has a value that should be respected; that everybody has a place.

In my school it was also where we were introduced to head lice and threadworm; conkers and alleys; bruises and grazes; going home in somebody else’s vest after P.E. As a boy, there were other things to learn, chief amongst them the hierarchy of strength. At the summit, the boy who would fight anyone, anytime, whether or not they wanted to fight back. The boy who, it was rumoured, would even take on boys from the year above.

Without doubt, the worst single moment of my primary school life involved a fight in which I did not want to become embroiled. I was goaded into it by a boy whom I suspect was himself being goaded into goading me (a whole lot of goading going on). For whatever reason, he would not let it go, he wouldn’t let me past. I was not then, nor am I now, a fighter. I really do not want to hit anyone. We were surrounded and I couldn’t retreat, so I just tried to walk past. He threw a punch which I ducked and instinctively I hit out, hitting his shoulder. He just cried. He crumpled and I was devastated. I have never felt worse in my life. I see the moment with crystal clarity more than fifty years later and the vision haunts me.

In addition to ‘scrapping’, the milling throng of mini-humanity trapped within that tarmac playground also played football and marbles, skipped and clapped, chased and tagged, screamed and laughed and cried and shouted and ran and ran and ran. Boys and girls seldom played together except for the sporadic, dreaded bouts of kiss chase. Such decisions to make: who do I run away from; how fast do I run; when it becomes my turn, how hard do I chase; who do I chase? I’m guessing it’s not allowed now. I’m sure that the trauma of participating may well live with some until they are old enough to sue. Anyway, if the media is to be believed, most of our children are now too massively bloated to take part unless ferried around by fork-lift. They would only kiss someone if they were controlled by joystick and had just found an Uzi sub-machine gun under a purple rock. They would never interact with anyone face-to-face unless they had a happy meal to share.

I often see the kids trooping off to school in our village. They look much the same as we did. Better dressed perhaps, less scabbed-over, but the same hurriedly clothed look in the morning and the same ‘Oh my God, what happened to you?’ look in the afternoon. Most of them are being chided for running too fast, running too far, not looking where they are going. I know when school has chucked out because of the noise. I don’t see the overweight sloths they show on TV. I don’t see them being pushed home in a wheelbarrow whilst their doting parents feed them pizza and pour Coke down their throats with a funnel.

Meeting the kids from school was always the best of times for me. I learned so much on that ten-minute trek. The opportunity to let them tell you all about their day without having to ask them – by which time they would have forgotten anyway. Priceless moments to lock safely away.

Our kids become what we make them: parents, teachers and society, but they are not a void into which we can pour all of our own hopes, aspirations and prejudices. They are not born with original sin, they are born with original everything. They are our hopes and our aspirations, and fundamentally, they go to school with exactly the same people as we did.

After school is over you’re playing in the park
Don’t be out too late, don’t let it get too dark
They tell you not to hang about and learn what life’s about
And grow up just like them – won’t let you work it out – and you’re full of doubt…
‘School’ – Supertramp (Davies, Hodgson)

The Great Abstainer

sherbert fountain

I should, perhaps, begin by telling you that I have an addictive personality and, as I am fully aware of that particular personality flaw, apart from alcohol and (briefly) tobacco, I have never allowed myself to partake in any non-prescribed substance stronger than aspirin. I do not smoke cannabis because I do not smoke. It makes me cough. A drag on a Christmas cigar makes me light-headed enough these days. Despite the glamour associated with some of those who have succumbed to it, I have always viewed Heroin as a rather sordid habit, much like picking toe-nails, and so it holds no fascination for me. Intrigued as I am by LSD, I am also aware of Peter Green and I carry with me the knowledge that if I was to lose thirty years, I would have nothing left. My greatest concern in trying anything is that I will enjoy it, because I am fully aware how quickly, for me, a pleasant diversion can become a necessary staple. Ask the man that sells me my chocolate.

I keep reading about an ‘epidemic’ of cocaine use in the middle-class over 50’s, and this knowledge has thrown up a thousand questions in my mind that these articles do not themselves seem to address. I will consider some of them here – if you have the answers, please feel free to let me know.

I had to have a camera down my throat some years ago. To get down there, it first went up my nose (I have no idea why). Before spraying the anaesthetic up my proboscis the doctor asked me which side I breathed through. I had no idea. Surely both. He sighed and blocked each nostril in turn. When he blocked the left side I was fine, when he blocked the right, I turned blue. I had no idea that, given the option of using two perfectly good nostrils, my body elected to use only one at once. Even more bafflingly, the doctor told me that it occasionally changed its mind and used the other one instead. Why, he did not say – he was too busy feeding his Leica up my snout.

Anyway, my point is this: should I attempt to snort coke up the non-functional side of my nose, I would do nothing other than make one end of the rolled up twenty slightly soggy. Any light-headedness would be due to lack of oxygen. Worse, if this happened, my reflex would be to breathe through the mouth. My initial inhalation would be half a face away from the unmolested line and, thus, it would be unaffected, but my subsequent exhalation would almost certainly redistribute it over every available surface in the vicinity.

If, by some mischance, I stuffed the tubular currency up the functioning nostril and inhaled, I would sneeze – loud and snotty – probably pebble-dashing the mirror with a viscous form of cocaine that not even the hardiest of recreational users would want to touch.

Is there, I wondered, some kind of technique, other than thrusting a finger up it, for working out which half of the conk is in working order and, thereafter (post-snort), how does one stop the sinuses from responding to the biological imperative to expel unexpected items from the bagging area and into the nearest available tissue?
I am puzzled by where these mid-life ‘professionals’ meet their dealers: the golf club, the Masonic lodge, the W.I.? I’m taking it that these deals no longer go down on drizzly street corners and dingy doorways, but take place in bistro, wine bar or tasting-menu eatery. I also understand that the product itself is getting cheaper – I’m not sure why, but I’m not inclined to research too deeply in case Big Brother decrees my interest to be unhealthy and sends the boys round. Really, all I want to know is how, gram for gram, it compares for price with a Sherbet Fountain. More to the point, given the cashlessness of the economically endowed these days, how do they pay? Bank Transfer?

Thankfully, curiosity is all that troubles me these days, the age of the need to experience has happily slipped by me. The vices I have now are the vices I had thirty years ago and will be the vices with which I die, and, in the meantime, the only thing I will be shoving up my hooter will be a digit-full of Vick’s when my body decides to close down both nostrils at once…

Three quotes today, all by Robin Williams, two because they are about cocaine and one because it is just great:

“Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you are making too much money.”

“I couldn’t imagine living the way I used to live. Now people come up to me from the drug days and go, ‘Hi, remember me?’ And I’m going, ‘No, did I have sex with you? Did I take a dump in your toolbox?”

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

Making Lists

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Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

If I was asked to chronicle the principal achievements of mankind, ranked from 1 to 10 as they affect my own life, then number one would be list-making. Without a list to compile, my entire existence is a hollow sham. I have physical lists and I have mental lists, the former hitting the shredder more often than the gas bill and the latter evolving and mutating, like the flu’ bug.

Favourite Song is a list that swirls and contorts itself inside my head, metamorphosing with every other record I hear on the radio. With a, ‘Oh yes, that is the best song ever’ the list rearranges and reorders. Some songs never leave, but rise and fall like the Sale posters at a furniture store. To accommodate the many hundreds of songs that now constitute my top ten, I have had to devise sub-divisions – some of them so niche that they have disappeared up their own crannies before being fully formulated.

I am the same with films. I don’t really do proper grown-up films. Concentration is an issue. My mind skits around like a drunken baby on ice: Animation (‘Up’ or ‘Toy Story’?) Rom-com (‘Love Actually’ or ‘Notting Hill’?) ‘British’ Comedy (‘Full Monty’ or ‘Brassed Off’?) Sci-Fi (‘E.T.’ or ‘Close Encounters…’?) Adventure (‘Star Wars’ or ‘Indiana Jones’?) and Supernatural (‘Omen’ or ‘Exorcist’?). I am not a huge fan of ‘gore’, so my favourite horror films tend to be those in which, for the most part, insides remain there –  preferably, they feature Abbot and Costello. There is, of course, a separate category for Monty Python. In a rare nod towards the kind of films that are watched by normal, rational adults, I would like to find a category for ‘Shadowlands’ which presented itself to me as a kind of film-acting masterclass, but it is impossible to have a list of one, so it will just have to accept the ‘lifetime achievement’ award instead (And yes, I have realised that these films are all very old.)

I am even worse with TV, with each genre having a thousand subtle sub-divisions, allowing my current favourite to be my all-time favourite without displacing my previous all-time favourite, which falls into a slightly different sub-category because the titular detective does not have personal issues and there is no internal conflict within the team. I cannot begin to bore you with the sub-divisions involved in my comedy lists – except to say that no comedy this year (or possibly forever) has affected me as much as ‘Mum’.

My friend Lizzie at school had a constantly evolving ‘P.I.H’ list which intrigued me. I kept asking her what it was, but she would never tell me, other than I wasn’t on it, ‘however, if I kept on pestering her about it…’

I would love to be a classical music lover, simply so that I could have a Liszt List – or even a lover of French beds, so that I could have a Lits List…

I do not have a ‘bucket list’ because, quite frankly, devising a list of things that I wish to do before I die forces me to face up to the inevitability of death and I’d sooner ignore that for as long as I possibly can really.  Anyway, who needs more than one bucket?

Which (eventually – I’m sorry) brings me round to the kind of list that first set me off along this mental mystery tour: the ‘To-Do List’. I have just realised that whenever I go anywhere, I always start a ‘To-Do List’, and that list always begins ‘pants and socks’ – like I’m going to go anywhere without them.

Whatever flashes into my mind has to be written down immediately – the alternative being several hours wasted further down the line attempting all manner of mental yoga designed to help me remember what it was I meant to write down and why I didn’t do it. It is why I still have a calendar hanging over my desk. I could enter my ‘To-Do’ items onto my phone, but, by the time I had worked out how to do it, I would have forgotten what it was I wanted to do. By the time I managed to retrieve them, the day would have passed. Paper and pen are much safer for me.

Ah yes, ‘writing’, there’s an item for my ‘principal achievements’ list… and I suppose, if I think it through, it has to come before ‘making lists’ itself.  But which came first, I wonder, the paper or the ink?

The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists – H. Allen Smith

I’m very much into making lists and breaking things apart into categories – David Byrne

We like lists because we don’t want to die – Umberto Eco