You Cannot Be Serious!

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What you see is what you get.

I have tried, from time to time, to put something ‘out there’ that was altogether more mature than my normal farrago, actually ready to stand on its own two feet, that was not quite so needy, but inevitably what leaves my head as ‘worthy’ hits the page as ‘trite’ and, by and large, any point that I think I might want to make is probably best served by being made by somebody else.  Nobody ever had their viewpoint changed by a sockful of wet fish in the face.  Whoever said that laughter is the best medicine has never had a UTI.  It might be possible to successfully make a point with a joke, but only if you use a feather duster and not a bludgeon and, let’s be honest here, I’m not certain that I am aware of anyone who has actually laughed so much that it has fundamentally changed their point of view.  I don’t think that anybody necessarily likes somebody more because they can make them laugh, although it definitely has the edge over making them feel as though they would like to swallow stones.

Whilst being the butt of a joke is never going to improve anybody’s demeanour, seeing somebody else getting their pants filled with custard may well work a treat.  Nothing is quite as cheering as the misfortune of others.

Extreme emotion is incredibly difficult to channel properly.  Everyone has experienced that moment at the lowest point of a funeral when grief overwhelms the senses and they find themselves giggling.  No?  Only me?  Oh dear…  It is in no way a mark of disrespect, merely a brain that is unable to process what it is feeling and so seeks relief in the first emotion that comes to hand: inevitably the wrong one.  This is no sign of flippancy, but the mark of someone with an emotional compass that has been left too near the microwave.

There are times when I feel that the reality I occupy lies just one millimetre to the side of everybody else’s.  I am the man who set off to explore the Cosmos and wound up in a bar in Kos.  (Or, if my first draft is to be believed, ‘in a bra in Kos’.)  On the whole, my world is split into three sections: 1. the huge things that I have no control over whatsoever – these are usually of incomprehensible magnitude and almost always distressing; 2. the usual day to day annoyances which occupy my brain in fevered worry for 99% of the time; 3. everything else – usually composed of sheer absurdity, frustration and chocolate.  There is seldom anything amusing to be found in category 1, but if I couldn’t find it in 2 and 3 I would almost certainly be found wandering the Brecon Beacons in a woolly hat and loin cloth shouting ‘wibble’ at unicorns.  My default position is always ‘Really?  Are you sure?’ 

Truly you do not have to search to find absurdity, we are surrounded by it, so little of life makes any sense at all, and if you report on it, no matter how microcosmically, you simply cannot be serious…


You know what it’s like, sometimes just getting it off your chest is all that matters.  Having parked my tendency to over-analyze, assess and worry at the last ‘dong’ of 2022 I am beginning to find that the bottomless well* of angst from which I have been able to draw these past few years has started to silt up a little, meaning that the bucket has less distance to fall before it hits paydirt, and when I haul it up, is far more likely to bring with it the kind of flotsam and jetsam to which only a well that is nothing like as deep as once it was is prone to hold.  The crap in my literary pail is both more plentiful and more varied than once it was.

Now, I hear what you are thinking: ‘O.K. we’ve given you a full paragraph leeway now.  You are a good distance into today’s tract and you still haven’t scratched the surface of ‘comprehensible’.  What the hell are you talking about?’  Well, give me a minute.  I’m sure it will come to me…

I have tried very hard to no longer worry about all those poor souls who do not read my blog – some people are beyond help – and concentrate instead on writing anything that piques my fancy and which will in turn, I hope, entertain you discerning few who do.  If things have changed a little of late, that is why.  The sunnier me is looking outward, but what I’m looking out at is not always great and, if I’m honest, I wonder how long Mr Sunny will continue to exist before the pre-Christmas gloomy-pants me reappears.  Real life is already beginning to chip at my cheery façade, pigeons have started to roost in my greying locks and the vein that writhes across my forehead like a lugworm on heat has started to squirm.  It is obvious through the news that the current ‘cost of living crisis’ is having a far greater impact on the population than two world wars, Covid 19 and Krakatoa combined.  If Putin gets his way and World War Three erupts, I will be well cheesed off!

This is the way it works.  We bought a new TV this week having burned a hole in the back of the old one with a lamp that was obviously much hotter than any earthly lamp should be.  (Don’t ask!)  Aware of our duty towards due-diligence, we thoroughly researched, and read reviews until we understood the exact nuances of what pushes a five star rating down into the nether-lands of four and a half.  We were prepared and we thus made the right and proper choice.  The TV arrived and I set aside the usual long weekend to set it up.  Amazingly, all went without hitch.  We turned it on and it was really pants.  We contacted the retailer who said, ‘Are you sure?  It’s a really good TV.  Have you seen the reviews?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘the reviews are indeed superlative.  The TV is not.  I’ve sent you photos.’  They viewed them and agreed that it was, indeed pants, but that the photograph from a position directly in front of the screen was very good.  It was.  Unfortunately, as I showed them, it took no more than half a step in either direction to render the screen unviewable.  So, long story short, they were very good, no complaints at all, I had retained, and used, all the original packing, the TV was picked up and will very shortly be refunded except…  You know the panic that sets in within ten seconds of everything going exactly to plan?  As part of the setup I was encouraged to put in a PIN and I never took it off.  They will want to turn it on, won’t they, to test it.  I presume if they consider it to be the kind of TV that is perfectly saleable to the kind of viewer with a single chair in the middle of the room, they will do so and should he/she decide he wants to change anything…  Oh dear…

Now, I am perfectly aware that such a situation would be of absolutely no concern to 99.999% of the human race, but to a handwringer such as myself, it has the potential to turn my whole life upside down.  I have already considered the probable course of events that will inevitably lead to me being either locked away in Strangeways for Fraud or, should plod not come a-knocking on my door, finding myself nostril-deep in concrete footings as a result of the secondary purchaser of the errant TV being the kind of person with whom you do not mess, particularly if they cannot watch Eastenders at one degree west of ideal.  Do I ring the retailer and give them the new PIN, even though I know that panic will then set in and I will have to reset every other unassociated PIN on everything I know and use – even though I, myself, can’t remember any of them?  At least if GCHQ is planning on looking in on me, there’s a good chance they’ll get somebody else I suppose.

So, that’s how it works.  Trashing a relatively new TV has disturbed my newly found equilibrium barely at all, but putting a random four number sequence into its bastard replacement as I set it up, has every potential of throwing me back down that bloody well which is quite suddenly getting deeper by the second.  I’m sure the bucket will no longer reach…

Ah well, airheads always float I think.  I’ll just bob around here for a while, waiting for New Year’s Day 2024 and another New Rosier Year ahead.  I’ll unburden myself by posting the odd missive, and as for those who don’t want to read them, well, they’ll never know will they, and I’ll be smiling on…

*My depth of ‘subterranean reservoir’ knowledge is not all it might be, but I have a feeling that ‘bottomless well’ may well be a total oxymoron**, as such a hole – like a politician’s excuse – would never hold water.  Oh well, too late now.

**As opposed to ‘total moron’ e.g. me.

Selling Snow to Eskimos

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It was said that Julian could sell snow to the Eskimos and, whilst he had never actually tried it, it was certainly true that he had on occasions managed to sell the actual straw that broke the camel’s back and had misappropriated along the way so many mickles that his muckle* was now the size of a luxury three story bolt-hole on the Algarve, paid for in tight wads of ill-gotten gains.  Thanks to him, Westminster Bridge had more Japanese owners than Sony and The Shard had more stakeholders than it had windows.  He had sold more fragments of The True Cross than four woodyards across the city were able to keep up with and if the slivers of the Elgin Marbles he had allowed Greek Visitors to repatriate over the years (for a small fee, obviously) were gathered together, the British Museum would have to open a new wing.

Julian wasn’t a bad man; anyone that knew him would tell you that.  As a young man he had been a successful Estate Agent, but he could not stand the accusations of falsehood that were continually levelled at him, so he became an even more successful car salesman where the falsehoods were never his own, but the symptoms of a dysfunctional workshop.  Later, after a very short, but extremely lucrative few weeks selling worthless credit-scheme encyclopaedias door-to-door, he felt that he was prepared for a future of living off his own nefarious wits.  He had never married; he had no children and all of his relationships tended to be short-term – not through choice but through necessity.  He could not stay in any place for long, he could never allow his friends to know his next move.  The longest relationship he had ever maintained was over the three years in which he had shared a Strangeways prison cell with ‘Slasher’ Murdoch and his abominable socks.

After his release he had crossed the Channel and armed with nothing more than a smattering of schoolboy French and the ability to talk nonsense in something that sounded vaguely like Italian, managed to make a perfectly decent living selling the Eiffel Tower to Asian tourists, many of whom had only recently availed themselves of an outstanding investment deal for part-ownership of one or another of London’s prime river crossings, but he found that the custodians of French law and order were not as forgiving, nor as amenable, as many members of our own capital’s constabulary, and he was forced to move a little further down the continent, where the police were too busy to waste their time on a sixty-year old chancer, where the suckers were plentiful and the deals were simple, even if the pickings were slimmer.

Still he was happy there.  He was older now; the weather was good, the sun shone most of the time and overheads, in general, were considerably lower than the two capital cities he had worked before.  The natives were easy-going and the tourists as naïve as anywhere else.  The living, although meagre at times, was easy.  The villa was his latest acquisition, his putting down of roots, and it had been such a steal!  Julian’s ‘experts’ had found it oh-so-easy to persuade the yokel owners of the fragility of the foundations; the weakness of the walls; the rude health of the Death Watch beetles in the joists.  The money had, on its way to the seller, found its way through more hands than a Pokeman card in a schoolyard, along a path that was so labyrinthine it probably had a Minotaur as its guardian: it had been laundered more assiduously than his underwear.  His currency was clean, clean, clean, and he was confident that no-one would be able to find fault with any of the paperchain, so it was with some surprise that he found himself being ushered into the office of Mr Ferreira, manager of the bank through which all of his financial transactions had, eventually, progressed. 

The dark wooden room felt like the court rooms with which he was much more familiar.  He felt unusually vulnerable and the discomfort danced around the features of his face.  He did not have to ask the question which was banging around his head – Was there some problem with the deal?  Had someone, somewhere, questioned the source of his capital? – Mr Ferreira read it in his eyes and answered it without hesitation, his whole demeanour signalling a major pothole in the road.  “We have the paperwork for your house, senhor” he said.
“And?… Is there a problem?”  Julian knew he would not be there otherwise.
Mr Ferreira sighed heavily.  “The problem, senhor?  The house, it is not your house.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is not your house because it was not the house of the man to whom you paid your money…”
Julian was aware that he was gaping like a stranded fish.
“…You see senhor, you really should have been more careful,” continued the bank manager.  “The Algarve, it is full of con men…”

*‘Many a mickle makes a muckle.’ a Scottish ode to thrift…

Tales of the Unexpected

Photo by John Michael Thomson on Unsplash

Trawling the kind of television stations, as I do, which have the average daytime viewing figures of three if you include the dog, I stumbled across a barely remembered ITV series from 1979 called ‘Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected’ – later, after Mr Dahl had, presumably run out of unforeseen expositions of his own, just ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ – and it struck me, what would be the point of a ‘Tale of the Expected’?  Surely, in order to tempt the viewer to persevere through the myriad funeral plan adverts and into ‘part two’, there would need to be the expectation of something happening that was at least to some degree not quite as anticipated?  Imagine the pitch: “I like the general concept, so, what happens in the end?”
“Oh you know, the expected.”
“Brilliant!  Here, take this million pounds.  It’s going to be a blockbuster!”

The work of all fiction is surely to take you away from the expected, but the problem with calling something ‘Unexpected’ is that you then know to expect it.  The only way that you would be able to engender shock with the ending of a Tale of the Unexpected would be to make it totally expected, thus, probably putting you on the receiving end of a multi-million pound lawsuit from a group of viewers or readers with nothing better to do.  It is like expecting someone to be shocked when a large brown bear appears in ‘The Tale of the Large Brown Bear’.

Anyway, by way of research, I managed to sit through one or two of the aforementioned tales and I have to report that the makers did pull off quite a clever trick: the ending in each of the episodes I watched could, in no way, be described as unexpected unless you have the imagination of a ball of Edam cheese, (Now don’t get me wrong here; I like Edam, but you have to admit, as far as cheeses go, it is pretty much without imagination isn’t it?  A super-mature Cheddar will tell a tale of derring-do so vivid that it will seep into your dreams for weeks; a liquefying stilton will lull you into a false sense of security before suddenly gripping your chest like a reverse Alien, creating the kind of heartburn that can only be alleviated by the consumption of shed-loads of port, and gout; a lovely crumbly Cheshire will have you falling in love with anyone who provides just the right fruity chutney; an Edam will have you wondering only whether you have cheese-scented soap or soap-textured cheese, although it will allow you to make a passable model rabbit out of the wax.) but more ‘Odd’.  ‘Tales of the Odd’ would have been a much better title and would have encompassed the feeling of ‘Well, I know exactly what he’s going to do, but why in God’s name would he?’ that accompanied every episode I saw.

Because I was expecting the unexpected, then the only way to actually make it unexpected was to allow it to be completely expected but lacking in any logical explanation.  When I was a boy, the ‘Amazing Tales’ and ‘Astounding Stories’ magazines I read delivered exactly what it said on the cover, but the endings were never unexpected.  You always knew that the family next door were actually aliens and that dreams were the actual reality and vice versa: not unexpected, but definitely astounding.  It would be difficult, wouldn’t it, to relate to a story in which the denouement was not, to some degree at least, expected.  Life’s not like that is it?

Well, I know what’s coming next, so that’s my excuse anyway…

Telling Tales

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Having taken some time out from ‘storytelling’ (my own immature over-reaction to the discovery that nobody ever reads my ‘Little Fictions’) I recently decided that the time was ripe to begin again (my angsty response to the realisation that very few people read my anything).  Not on a regular basis, you understand, but on more of a laissez faire footing.  (It’s my blog so I can do what I like etc etc…)

Short stories – as opposed to their more gregarious long-form cousins – appeal to me because I have never been hampered by lack of experience when writing them and, if I’m honest, so much has to be left out of these tales that almost anything can be sidestepped with a little effort.  (One of the reasons I – alone – love Frankie & Benny so much is that I do not have to worry about plot, development or denouement.  I just have to eavesdrop on their conversation.)  What I don’t know, I make up.  Research?  What do I want with research?  I’m not a university post-grad.  I will occasionally check a fact if it is called for, but if it doesn’t exactly tally with what I want from it, I have been known to twist it just a little.  Happily ‘artistic licence’ is equally available to journeymen.

I have been trying for a while now to keep the word-count of each published post down to a level that does not test your patience quite so much as once it did, but the problem with ‘stories’ is that there is so much more to fit in: a beginning, a middle and (occasionally) an end for a start; by the time I have parachuted half a dozen gags in and removed the most tortuous contortions from my syntax I am inevitably left on the border of ‘should I split this into two parts?’ territory.  The answer, for anybody else that might be tempted, is ‘No’.  Half of the people who read part one will decide that there is nothing to gain from reading part two (they have either guessed the ending, misunderstood the beginning, or decided that life is far too short) and nobody ever reads part two when they have not tackled part one.  Reader-wise, part two, even if it culminates in the most cunningly contrived plot twist since Agatha Christie last dipped her nib, will be read by one man and his dog (unless the dog can find a more enticing arse to lick).  It is better to plod on – even in the light of the knowledge that once the word-count pops its nose above the parapet of a thousand words most readers will blow it off – and none-the-less get the saga out there in a single overlong splodge.

So, here’s the strange thing.  Having spent the last few months wheeling out my usual tosh in bright, new 500-600 word segments, I find that, quite unexpectedly, the meandering paths of my most recent fables have resolved themselves into their literary cul-de-sacs in a not dissimilar length of time.  My tales, although no less a waste of words, do actually waste less of them now – they are even shorter stories – which leads me, of course, to worry: are they now too stripped down?  Will even fewer people bother to read them?  (My guess is that unless WordPress introduce negative ‘Views’, the answer will probably be ‘No’.)  And then, inevitably, to ‘does it really matter, I’m not being paid by the word – in fact, I’m not being paid at all’.  In days of yore I had a gift for hitting the editor’s requirements, word-wise, on the very head: not gifting so much as a free sentence to the cause, but now, happily, I don’t have that worry.  I have few (although extremely discerning) readers, no payments and no worries.  And such tales as I now have to tell will take as long as they need to be told.  And when they need to be told, I will tell them…

Frankie & Benny #7 – The Cold

“…How many layers are you wearing under that coat Benny?”
“Four, five?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“You look like somebody’s pumped you up.”
“Well, you’ve got plenty on yourself.”
“Nothing special: vest, shirt, jumper, cardigan and hoodie – the same as I wear about the house.  I just threw a coat on top to come out with you.”
“Your dressing gown belt is hanging below your coat.”
“…And a dressing gown.”
“Well, whatever.  It’s cold, I’ll grant you that, but it’s nice to get a little bit of sun on the face isn’t it.”
“Alright, if it makes you happy, it’s nice to get a little bit of drizzle on the face.  It’s nice not to be looking at the same four walls.”
“Especially with your wallpaper.”
“What’s wrong with my wallpaper?  I put that up myself.”
“How long ago, twenty years?  Thirty?”
“Probably.  About the same time you last bought new trousers.”
“What’s wrong with my trousers?  They’re good trousers.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them Frankie.  I like a good turn-up myself.  And a button fly.  How long does it take you to do that up in the morning?”
“If I’m honest I don’t normally bother unless I know I’ve got to go out.”
“…My wife chose that wallpaper, that’s why I’ve never changed it, since she…  It’s the only time I’ve ever wallpapered.”
“It’s stayed up well, I’ll give you that.  No sign of it peeling or anything.”
“So it should.  It cost me a fortune in Bostick!”
“It was all they had at the corner shop.  Everyone in the block was suffering hallucinations the week I put it up.”
“You made a good job of it though.”
“Until I ran out of paper.”
“Yes, well, always been the elephant in the room that one, hasn’t it.  Couldn’t you have got some more?”
“They wanted me to buy a whole roll and I only needed one length.  I always meant to push that old Tallboy in front of it, but…”
“…It’s hiding where you tried to plaster over the serving hatch.”
“So I’ve never bothered much since…  Do you fancy a pasty?”
“What time is it?”
“Pasty time.”
“Ok then.  We’ll walk through the park shall we, get one from the pub?”
“Why not?  Nothing like a microwaved pasty and a pint of lager for warding off the cold.”
“What about a whisky?”
“Whisky?  Are you paying?”
“Well, I have had a small win on the scratchcards.”
“Really?  How small?”
“Enough for a whisky to accompany our pasties and, but not enough to put the fire on when we get back home.”
“Oh well, an hour in the pub then, and then an afternoon on the seat over the heater on the bus before we head home.”
“Are we at yours or mine tonight?”
“Mine I think – providing you do your buttons up.”
“I’ll probably put my onesie on.”
“You’ve got a onesie?”
“Yes.  Well, it’s more of an overall if I’m honest.  I kept it when I finished work.”
“That was fifteen years ago.”
“I knew it would come in… and since I spilled the tomato soup it matches my slippers.”
“Do you sleep in it?”
“Benny, I’m in my eighties.  I sleep in everything.”
“So do you wear it over your clothes then?”
“Some of them, I mean, I don’t suppose you’ll be putting your heating on will you?”
“It depends on what you class as heating…”
“I’ll bring a blanket then, shall I?”
“A hot water bottle wouldn’t go amiss… and drop a tea bag in it.  It’ll save boiling the kettle later.”
“I’ll bring those squashed Wagon Wheels* I got last week.”
“We’ll put a plastic bag over the smoke alarm and light a candle, that’ll warm things up.”
“I might have to take these plus-fours off though.  I think I could be allergic to tweed and they might be just a bit too much even inside your flat…  Still the bloody drizzle.  I wish I’d put my balaclava on…”

*A chocolate covered marshmallow topped biscuit.  When I was a child the advert used to go, ‘Wagon Wheels are the treat for me.  They’re the biggest biscuit you ever did see.’  They have shrunk.

Should you be at all interested in the previous conversations of these two old friends you can find them here:

Frankie & Benny #1
Frankie & Benny #2 – Goodbyes
Frankie & Benny #3 – The Night Before
Frankie & Benny #4 – The Birthday
Frankie & Benny #5 – Trick or Treat
Frankie & Benny #6 – Christmas


Quote George Orwell

The problem with words is that they do not always say, on paper, what you thought they said when you put them there.  A misplaced comma can turn a plea for peace into a declaration of war; a tribute can become a slight with nothing more than an inopportune underlining.  We are all guilty of ‘scanning’ documents, maybe actually reading just one word in three and assuming we understand the rest.  Perhaps no two readers assume the same.  Words can mean different things depending on the mood of the reader: it is possible to take offence at even the greatest of compliments if you really, really choose to try.  I spend huge chunks of my time excising paragraphs from whatever it may be I am working on because, on reading it back through, I discover that it does not appear to mean anything even remotely like I originally intended it to mean.  If only I could navigate my way around the bits that did not turn out to be funny so easily…

Try as you might, it is so difficult to take credit for a joke: they are never funny until someone has laughed at them and I know plenty of people who would attest that I have never written anything funny in my entire life.  I wrote a book once.  I thought it was very funny until someone who did not know me read it for the first time.  It was intended as a farce (an absurd comic creation) but she read it as a completely different kind of farce (an incredibly badly written attempt at a psychological thriller).  She had much advice on how to make it more ‘thrilling’, but as far as I can remember, had not bumped her head against even the most blunt of jokes on her way through.  Now, I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a long time and I am incredibly inured to both criticism and rejection.  I take them both on a chin that now closely resembles Desperate Dan’s; I try to learn from the critiques, I try not to get too depressed by the rejections.  I eat lots of chocolate.

As well as a number of strangers, I did, of course, give the book to many people I knew, expecting them to be much kinder than they should be, and indeed they were.  They knew me, so they knew that it was intended to be funny and consequently, I suppose, they must have been on the look-out for jokes.  I’m pretty sure that most of them read it (at least one word in three) as they said they had, and I don’t recall any of them telling me how much of a thriller it was.  But one reader, out of many who did not know me, did not find it so; did not see that it was even intended to be so, and it left me facing just three possibilities: 1) they were expecting to read a thriller and so picked out the aspects of the plot (yes, there was one) that did have elements of Ian Rankin about them – they were meant to be absurd, but they were there, or 2) she had absolutely no sense of humour at all, or 3) it was just not funny.  I decided, not unreasonably, that it was the latter: that she was right, and I did no more with it than consign it to a file I keep on my computer that contains more misses than the average convent.  I am used to rewriting (and re-rewriting) but I could not find a way of rewriting a series of jokes that one reader at least deciphered as nothing more than sub-standard Dan Brown (if, indeed, such a thing is possible) so I shelved it and did other things instead (mope mostly).

At the start of this week, finding myself with a little time on my hands, I trawled my way through this ‘Heroic Failures’ file and I read the book again.  I am slightly ashamed to admit that it made me laugh.  It was not the stuff of Booker Prizes, but it never intended to be.  Once I’d started, I wanted to finish and I enjoyed the hours that it swallowed.  I didn’t at any point expect to be thrilled. 

I think, perhaps, I was reading the wrong words…

The Seven Deadly Sins

I imagine that most of us have succumbed to the lure of at least one of the Seven Deadly Sins at some time in our lives, although not, probably, all at once – it would, after all, almost certainly prove fatal at my age.  I could probably just about manage two at a time these days, providing I could do one of them lying down.  I thought that I ought to take the opportunity to consider what I might have been missing…

Pride – I think of this in terms of excessive pride – perhaps what I would call vanity, or what Dante described as ‘love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour’ – because, like every other rational person, I am proud of e.g. my family, but I’m quite happy for everybody else to feel the same about their own.  My mind conjures up only two images when I think of this sin: one is Ernst Blofeld, stroking his cat and smiling crookedly as the sharks devour the barely clothed female unfortunate, and the other a man with the vainest comb-over of all time, a tower named after him and a meglomania that looms above all of it.  Although I have never owned either a cat or a tower, I none-the-less gave up pride with a capital ‘P’ about the time of my second vasectomy (Oh do keep up – I’m not going over all that again!) and I’ve never really picked it back up.  It is such a useless sin.  Unless you want to make a career in politics and die, friendless, hooked up to an intravenous drip of vitriol and an ermine collar, I would seriously recommend that this be the first sin to give up.

Greed – (or avarice).  I suppose we’d all quite like a little bit more.  Wealth is ok – we’d all like a little bit of that – but extreme wealth probably less so.  The mega-rich do seem particularly prone to bad decision making – I mean, if they’re going to give some of it away, there’s a limit to how long I can stand here holding out my mug.  The desire for possession is, unless you have a particularly understanding credit card company, almost directly allied to wealth: it’s ok to want more, but not everything.  And power?  Oh dear, the desire for power is seldom good is it?  It is the result of the complete conviction that you know best and is linked almost symbiotically with the craving for wealth and possession.  It seldom ends well.  Think what we’d all like to happen to Vladimir Putin. 

Gluttony – As above, but with chocolate and wine.  The other sins may well make you very unpopular, but this one will almost certainly kill you.  The fight back has to be gradual: always leave one square of the chocolate bar uneaten; always leave just enough wine in the bottom of the bottle to be able to prove that you didn’t drink it all.  Always go for the pub special offer 2-course instead of the 3-course or, if you do go for the latter, always start with soup – it’s just a drink really, isn’t it?

Lust – almost certainly something I could not manage these days without suffering an attack of the giggles.  Of course, as a teenager I first saw Jenny Agutter (completely shorn of her ‘Railway Children’ red bloomers) in ‘Walkabout’ and later Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Trading Places’ and was aware of the hormones bubbling out of my ears.  These days I live for Reeta Chakrabarti reading the news and Louise Lear telling me which raincoat to wear.  It’s not the same I know, but it means I’m much less likely to spill my tea…

Wrath – This is a hard one when there is so much in this world to get mad about.  I am a black belt in Impotent Rage.  I think of this more in terms of vengeance for wrongdoing, real or perceived.  Wrath is so destructive for everyone that it is really best avoided.  Wrath is best delivered by a higher power – be that God or karma – leaving you free to watch on with a knowing smile on your face.

Envy – Thinking how much you would like something that somebody else has got (usually ice cream in my experience) is ok.  Deciding that you would be perfectly happy to deprive them of it in order to get it, is not.  Aspiration is not a deadly sin.  Envy means that you can never be happy with what you have.  Envy makes nations go to war with nations, it makes Credit Card Companies very busy.  It makes plastic surgeons very rich.

Sloth – Find yourself a photo of a sloth.  Isn’t it the cutest animal in the world?  Who wouldn’t want to be a sloth?  Extreme lethargy and apathy can be caused by many medical conditions – usually a hangover – and can mask all manner of mental issues.  If you find yourself asleep and hanging from the door frame, seek medical help at once.

And we all have our own idea, I think, of what the eighth deadly sin should be.  I think mine would be Not Knowing When to Stop…

Thinking Things Through

You know how it goes: the more you think about a thing, the less likely you are to do it.  The benefits of action are pulped whilst the risks become mountainous.  I have done many, many foolhardy things in my life, but I can’t recall actually preparing for any of them.  Generally I do things ‘now’ or not at all.  It is over half a century since I last clambered into the Boy Scout uniform, but were I to don the woggle today I would almost certainly find myself the proud recipient of the ‘Talking Myself Out of Stuff’ badge.  If consideration is required on any course of action, it is highly probable that nowhere is where it will take me.  I will tackle almost anything if it is just dropped in front of me, but give me the time to ponder the best way to get things done and the solution will almost always be by not starting them.

But – and here’s the rub – I have also begun to realise that it is possible to appear a bigger fool for not trying something, than for trying it and failing – although the physical pain is generally not so great.  I have two daughters who have always known exactly which buttons to press, two son-in-laws who, up to date, have not yet started to treat me with utter disdain, and four grandchildren who still believe that I am capable of absolutely anything.  This is not a faith that it is possible to ignore.  My wife, who has to live with the consequences of damaged back, shredded knees and shattered ego – not to mention the potential for having to scour the neighbourhood for a usable defibrillator – is slightly more circumspect.  Nobody (I think) wants to see me get hurt – at least not seriously – but if they can just laugh at my ineptitude a tiny bit, then everyone is happy..

Anyway, human frailty (physical and mental) being what it is, the risks of personal damage are now beginning to be stacked against the possibility that this might be the last opportunity I ever get and, increasingly often, the chips are falling on the latter.  The thought process goes

  1. I would be stupid to even think about it.
  2. The potential for physical harm is massive.
  3. I might make a total prat of myself.
  4. I might not.
  5. I’ll do it.

I left pride behind me long ago.  It has taken a long holiday in a double bed with my ego.  Looking foolish is not something that has ever gravely bothered me.  I am certain that, in my lifetime, I have from time to time offered temporary shelter to most of the deadly sins – although I would have to look them up to be sure.  I am sure I remain guilty of one or two of them, but they are definitely the ones that I can do without getting out of my chair.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, despite this new insight, I’m not going to rush into things.  The decision to become more spontaneous is not one I intend to take lightly.  I need time to think it over.  We are more than a month into the New Year now and I have yet to undertake anything that I could consider even slightly risky, but I feel the time is coming.  For instance, the next time we’re out and about, I might climb a tree… or at least stand under one… providing none of the branches look loose… and there’s no risk of a thunderstorm… maybe…

I’ll think about it.

The Running Man on Thoughts of a Return (or Why You Can Never Take Too Long in Thinking Things Over)

After too many weeks of illness I am at last approaching normal health – my voice still sounds as though I have been gargling a combination of broken glass, maracas and dog whistles, but otherwise I can almost pass for well – my wife, however, a good week or so behind me in disease progression, remains quite unwell and so occupies a different bed in a different room – although she has yet to decide to leave the house.  She is not sleeping.  She reads, she watches TV, she thinks of all the things I haven’t done.  I know this because I lie awake listening to her.  She is the noisiest non-sleeper I have ever known.  Each time I stumble out of bed, trip over something, turn on the light, walk into the door, flush the toilet, turn off the light, walk into the other side of the door, trip over whatever I failed to pick up when I crossed the landing the first time and huff my way back into bed, I can hear her coughing.

My own cough, save for the obligatory morning hack, is now a thing of the past.  I am quite able to hold a conversation with anybody who is in the least bit interested in talking to me (so I don’t talk much).  I have yet to return to running – to be honest, I have yet to return to any form of exercise that does not involve chocolate or twelve year old malt – but I have begun to consider it.  Currently my mind is telling me that it is a good idea whilst my body is telling me to get a life.  Gulping down enough oxygen to make the end of the street is all that is currently holding me back.

I am left pondering upon a single unknown: have I taken so long to recover because this particular virus is insidious, ever-changing and particularly obstinate, or is it because I am getting old?  I scour the internet for evidence of the former.  I find nothing but proof of the latter.  My contemporaries are dying in their droves.  If you are my age and famous, you might as well hand in your cards: you are going to be on the news really soon.  I wonder if we are a particularly unfit generation.  I eat well (I refuse to believe that chocolate is anything but healthy), I exercise and I follow all of the doctor’s advice (except the bit about alcohol).  I am generally well (except for when I am ill) and I can still do most of what I want to do without stopping for oxygen.  I have four grandchildren and I would like to see them grow, but I want to enjoy them, and me, for as long as I can.  I refuse to wrap myself in cotton wool (knowing my luck, I would be allergic to it anyway).

We all know that for most people the last few years, months or weeks of life are less than ideal, so I figure I need to have some decent memories to cling on to.  If they involve me making a complete prat of myself, well… that’s fine.  It’s kind of what I think I’m here for.

My weight has risen just a little bit (in elephant terms) over this period of illness and inaction, but my blood pressure and my heart rate have stayed pretty constant, so I think a return to the running shoes may be imminent (if I can muster the energy to tackle the laces) and a first run of 2023 could be just around the corner (where, perhaps with any luck, somebody else might live).  Exercise bike first I think, then actual bike before putting in the plodding joyless running miles around the village, wondering when it was, exactly, that I became this stupid – perhaps a return to Couch to 5k might be the way forward.  I’ll give it plenty of thought.

It doesn’t pay to rush things at my age…

Should you wish to know where all this old age exercise nonesense started, you could do worse than look at this post from May 2020.