Revisiting Old Friends

Well, here we are approaching the third anniversary of what started out as a once-weekly method of purging my brain of all of the gibberish that had formerly been paid for by the editors of magazines that, one by one, had ceased to exist.  Humour, it would appear, was no longer a laughing matter – at least if you wanted to pay the bills.  My intention was to fill a little time and continue to write these little nosegays, until such time as fate – preferably in the shape of an astrakhan-collared magazine proprietor with a big, fat wallet – came a-knocking at my door promising a pound a word and a double spread every other Thursday.  It never came.  My brain is a febrile thing: if I do not keep removing the litter between my ears, I run the danger of setting fire to my hat.  One blog a week became two, became three, became four and, for a short while five or more; all of them new, most of them intending to be funny, some of them even succeeding…

Of late, I have found myself struggling for fresh ideas: how to fill my pages four times a week without constant repetition.  In that, I think if I am honest, I may have been failing.  I recognise the signs: this is not so much the black dog of full-blown depression as the slightly gloomy Siberian Hamster of disaffection, but none the less, it leaves me with nothing much to say and no diverting way in which to say it.  I need to find another distraction.  To write, perhaps two blogs a week, maybe even one, but with a quality control department somewhat elevated from the British Leyland department it has become, giving me the chance for my mind to go elsewhere between times.  Perhaps I will re-visit some ‘old friends’ and finish long-abandoned manuscripts: polish and submit the radio series, books, plays I have written with little view to ever pursuing production or publication.  It’s ages since I’ve had a decent rejection slip to brood over…

Meanwhile, I will still be around, but maybe not so frequently.  I hope that you appreciate this once in a lifetime chance to get a little less of me.  Make the most of it before I change my mind (again)…

The Running Man on Sundays

Being ‘a runner’ at last has come as something of a surprise to me: I have always been a runner last of all things.  Covid has changed me and although I do not now, and doubt I ever will, enjoy running, without question I do feel better for doing it and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.  What I will not do, if I can possibly avoid it, is to run on a Sunday, because the paths are thronged with weekend dog-walkers and I spend so much time leaping up and down kerbs in an attempt to give them what they consider to be sufficient space that I might as well stay at home and go up and down the doorstep.  This week, however, for reasons that might provide someone with a decent PHD thesis, I was forced to brave the canine overlords and head out on the Sabbath.  I prepared myself and planned a route that, for the most part, allowed me to stick to the gutter, where most people seem to think that I belong.  What I had not considered is that nobody appears to park their cars on the road any longer.  All cars are parked across the path as close to the hedge/fence/discarded mattresses as it is possible to get without scraping the paint from the wing-mirror.  There is absolutely no way to pass without taking to the centre of the road where you encounter the second Sunday morning issue: all home deliveries, it would seem, are now made on this day.  The whole village is a web of DPD vans, Yodel vans and vans that are obviously recently purchased once-upon-a-time Post Office vans with which ends are being forced to meet.  I am able to run a straighter line after sixteen pints of cider than I am in the streets of this village on a Sunday morning.  Car doors spring open in front of me, drivers leap out on top of me, everybody wants to know why I am not on the path.  I am not on the path because it is full of bloody car!  I am not in the gutter because it too is full of bloody car!  I am in the road because it is not full of bloody car, it is full of Amazon.

Sunday morning is a very social time and, for reasons unknown to non-dog walkers, almost all Sunday morning dog walkers dress as if they are about to run a marathon and they cannot resist the opportunity to gather on street corners to discuss it.  The array of skin-tight, body-shaming, hi-viz elastane on show provides a pallet otherwise seen outside of Salvador Dali on a particularly vivid acid trip.  Not a single molecule of it has ever encountered human sweat*.  Everywhere you look there are small groups of middle-aged, semi-fluorescant lycra-clad dog exercisers chatting the morning away before, presumably, wheezing their way back home to a full roast dinner, a bottle of red and a couple of hours in front of Harry Potter on Netflix.  These tiny gatherings do not move for any reason what-so-ever.  They merely stare disdainfully as you try to navigate a path between them and the adjacent delivery van without falling under the wheels of the four-by-four on its way to pick up the morning papers.  I cannot begin to imagine how upset they would be if I were to be disembowelled by the three-ton school transporter and, in the process, managed to splash brain all over their leisurewear.  I cannot imagine anything would get that out, and blood red clashes so horribly with lime green…

Anyway, having misguidedly sallied forth, I persevered – I had no other way of getting home – but, the morning being warm and my anxiety being heightened, I pretty soon found sweat trickling down every available surface (as well as one or two that really should not have been) and particularly down my brow and into my eyes.  I wear contact lenses to run: I cannot rub my eyes for fear of losing one down a drain, I cannot rub my forehead for fear of stretching the sagging mess of skin that ripples across my brow and popping an earbud out, so I blink a lot and rarely recognise anyone around me.  Strangely, that situation seems to work for everyone, particularly those who studiously avoid looking me in the eye; who choose to deny my entire presence by staring at the ground, scanning the clouds or talking to the lamp-post.  They appear to believe that whatever I have got (and I must have something) it must be infectious and could possibly be contracted by eye contact.  To me, they are an amorphous blob; to them, I am a peripatetic pariah but, to everyone’s relief, our eyes never meet and thus I do not get the opportunity to leach out their very souls from their hooded optic orbs.  Which is just as well, being Sunday and all…

*Other, of course, than the children forced to produce it.

Zoo #52 – My Last Word on the Subject

The beast that shakes the tiger’s cage
And stirs gorillas into rage,
Who loads the straw on camel’s back
And goads the lions to attack.

Who throws the dregs of KFC,
Pulls faces at the chimpanzee
And finds in every petting zoo
The chance to pinch a chick or two.

Who locks away in fenced-in void
The species that it first destroyed.
The beast that
should be in a pen
We call it Homo Sapien…

The zoo is now closed.

Zoo #51 – Monkey

A monkey screamed with righteous rage
At those who locked him in a cage.
So sad for him, he didn’t know,
They’d chopped his home down long ago.

This was one of the very first Zoo Rhymes that I wrote, but it seemed so melancholy that I sat on it until now.  It emanates from the films of the last Orang Utan climbing to the very top of the only tree left standing in the middle of a burned out forest.  The pictures are excruciatingly sad,  particularly as the Orang is pretty much as close as we get to a family in the wild.  The real selfishness of the human race is that it puts its own needs so far above the needs of every other species, whilst it salves its conscience by preserving the last of the line in a zoo…

NB I do know the difference between a monkey and an ape, but it’s just a little rhyme after all, isn’t it…

Shameful bloody humanity…

The Way it Goes (Encounters with the Chaos Theory)

You know the thing whereby a spouse’s lay-in results in expensive orthodontistry…  You don’t?  Well, let me explain…

It starts like this.  Knowing that you are at work the following morning and that your wife is not; you gather together all of your chattels: your keys, your clothes, your shoes, your pocketful of ever-more useless change, and place them carefully in the spare room so that you can shower, dress and leave the house without waking the slumbering beauty.  In the morning, however, you realise that whilst remembering everything else, you have forgotten a belt and, having lost enough weight recently to precipitate an imminent trouser-falling-down scenario without such support, you are forced to slip back into pitch-black bedroom in order to retrieve one.  You creep in, manfully stifling a scream as you stub your toe on a dressing table that has not moved in fifteen years, fall over a wardrobe that most certainly was not there when you left the room and grab the first belt that comes to hand, before exiting with a flesh-coloured bra and something that could just possibly be a pair of leggings wrapped around your ankles.  Thus you end up with a brown belt complete with fancy metal end to wear with grey trousers, grey shirt and black shoes, but, hey-ho, it’s only for work and at least you haven’t woken your wife.

Of course the belt is not only brown and ferric-terminated, it is also too big, which leaves you with a long useless tab that constantly divorces itself from your trousers and hangs, limply useless on your thigh.  (Stop tittering at the back!)  The belt arrangement bothers you all day: it is the wrong colour, it dangles and the metal tip whacks into anything within a three metre radius every time you turn.  You cannot wait to divest yourself of it, especially as it succeeds in constantly wrapping itself around the gear stick on the way home, making the shift from fourth to third particularly uncomfortable.

You arrive home in such a state of high agitation that you really need to take a shower, only to find that your wife – in a fit of super-exuberant cleaning – has managed to wrench the whole thing from the wall.  If turned on now, it would merely clean the ceiling.  You are tempted to ask if she has been cleaning with a sledgehammer, but you think better of it.  A shower is out of the question, but the clamminess of the day persists, so a bath is the only solution.  You can lay back in a bath, relax and ponder the possibility of getting a plumber in any time this side of Christmas.

You do not often take a bath: it is far too time-consuming; it is uncomfortable; it is too hot when you get in and yet too cold within thirty seconds; it is fifteen minutes laying in your own dirty water, and yet, with a sigh, and little alternative save a sponge and a bucket, you start the water running whilst trying to decide whether to put something in it to make the water bubbly.  Without bubbles it is much easier to wash your hair, but you have nothing to hide your middle-aged belly and undercarriage from view.  Nobody wants to ponder their own decline, particularly from such an angle.  It is the only reason for reading in the bath: a good book effectively throws a cover over spreading flesh and ancient appendages.  If you catch a glimpse in an ill-placed bathroom mirror, it is possible to convince yourself that they do not belong to you.  (Although, if that is the case, uncomfortable questions of just exactly who is sharing your bath, persist.)  In the end, bubbles are always the preferred option.

Having taken the bath, you emerge wrinkled, Gollum-like, into the terrestrial world feeling somehow even less clean for it and conscious of the fact that you forgot to take your contact lenses out before getting in.  Not normally a problem, but now every single mirror in the house – possibly the neighbourhood – is steamed-up and unusable.  Oh well, it can wait, the mirrors will clear eventually… except experience has taught you that an eyelash under the lens will not wait; it does not sort itself out, it bores into the brain.  It feels like somebody has been using your iris as a dartboard.  You are, however, painfully aware that any attempt to remove the errant lens without recourse to a mirror will result in an eyeball the size and colour of a baboons bum and the lens itself taking up temporary residence under an eyelid… somewhere.

So, you decide that is wise to get dressed first – the curtains are all open and the cat has that look in its eye.  You are not expecting the vicar to call, but anything is possible – especially with the moon on the crest of Uranus.  The first job is to separate trousers from the belt, but the folded contact lens in your right eye feels like a felled oak and clouds your vision to such an extent that it is like viewing the world through a layer of Vaseline.  You do not notice that the stupid belt has snagged itself on the stupid, stupid belt loop of your stupid, stupid trousers until the stitching gives way and the stupid, stupid, stupid metal terminal of the belt takes out half of your second favourite incisor and, well, that’s the way it happens…

N.B. This piece is written in the third-person, in the hope that I am not alone.

N.B. (2) I am alone, apparently…

The Writer’s Circle #32 – Sex, Greed and Revenge

“Sex,” said Frankie, to the consternation of some of those around the circle, many of whom had not yet had time to let their dinner’s settle.  “Sex, greed and revenge are the only true motives for murder.”
“And love,” suggested Deidre.  “Surely love is the strongest motive of all.”
“Love, sex, what’s the difference?” said Billy.
“Surely love is a deeper, more passionate emotion,” said Deidre who, by her own admission, wouldn’t know.  “Who would consider killing for sex?”
“There are plenty of men right throughout history who’ve killed for sex,” said Vanessa.  “Surely sex is the biggest motive of all.”
“I don’t think that’s quite the case,” said Tom.  “Sex is just the weapon.  Power is the motive.  Men don’t kill for sex, they kill for the power over women…”
“Or other men,” said Jeff.
“…Or other men,” said Tom with a nod of acknowledgement.  “Whatever, power is the real motive.”
“And jealousy,” suggested Elizabeth.  “Surely jealousy has to be in there somewhere.  Unrequited love.”
“Jealousy always sounds rather more like uninvited love to me,” said Vanessa.  “More like unrequited lust than love.”
“Well, a little lust can go a long way,” said Louise.
“And there’s infatuation,” added Penny.  “Unrequited love becomes infatuation, and infatuation is certainly a motive for murder.”
“She’s right,” said Elizabeth.  “I remember being infatuated with a boy at school.  Followed him around like a little dog I did.  Held his books while he played football, gave him half my meat balls at school lunches.  I’d have done anything for him.”
“And what about lust?” asked Louise.
“Hardly.  I was seven and he was eight so I’m taking about anything within reason.  Anyway, he broke my heart when he paid a penny to see Wendy Patterson’s knickers.  I could have killed him!”
“There!” said Frankie.  “Right there; sex as a motive for murder.”
“Not really.  I was most annoyed because it was my penny.  I’d been saving it for a Bazouka Joe and he blew it on Patterson’s scabby knickers.  He could have seen mine for free if he’d wanted – or anybody’s really – we all did PE in the bloody things.  Navy blue serge.  They were like the Mary Whitehouse of sex appeal.  We changed them once a week, less if the weather was wet and they didn’t smell too bad of wee…”
“Why if the weather was wet?”
“They weighed half a ton when they were washed, they took forever to dry, even on a sunny day.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Phil, “we just need to open out our definition of sex to encompass lust, love, infatuation, jealousy… all the affairs of the heart.”
“Is lust really an affair of the heart?” asked Elizabeth.  “I think, perhaps, you are setting your sights a little too high.”
“Always been my problem,” grinned Phil.  “Too high and generally just wide of the mark.”
“Yes well, putting Philips slight paucity of aim to one side for now,” said Elizabeth with a barely concealed, theatrical wink, “surely lust is the last thing you would kill for.”
“Unless it was unfulfilled,” suggested Jane.  “Or if it was for someone else.”
“Someone else?”
“Someone it wasn’t wise to lust over.”
“Ah, I get it,” said Phil.  “A woman scorned.”
“Or man,” said Jeff.
“Or man…” said Phil.

“Sex it is,” said Frankie.  “Lust, infatuation, jealousy, even love; they’re all sex at the end of the day.”
“Only the end of the day darling?” drawled Louise.  “How terribly Puritan.”
Frankie grinned.  “Point is,” he continued, “you can call it what you like, but it’s still the same thing.”
“Oh dear,” she said.  “What a quiet life you must have led.”
“I mean,” he persisted, “it all boils down to the same thing, doesn’t it.  Boys and girls…”  He looked at Jeff.  “…and boys.”
Jeff smiled broadly.  “Love has no boundaries does it?” he said.  “Nobody chooses who to love.  Nobody chooses to have their heart broken, but people do choose how to respond to it.  Some go under, some bounce back up and some… some fulfil Frankie’s criteria and look for somebody to pay the price, but the thing is, if you’re going to write it, can you put yourself in their shoes?  Can you understand their rage?”
“Rage.  That’s the thing, isn’t it?  Rage is about sex, lust, infatuation, jealousy even, but not love; there’s no rage in love.  That’s all hearts and flowers, birds and bees, and ‘I will if you will’, not at all the kind of thing to kill over.”
“Surely in war,” suggested Deidre, “all those young men sent out to kill, they died for love: love of their country.”
“Love of not getting shot as a traitor, most of them,” muttered Frankie.  “How many of them would ever have shot another man, except in abject fear.  Fear never leads to a neat murder, does it?  Too messy, too easy to solve.  Besides, that’s quite a different kind of love, isn’t it?”
“Different from the kind that leads to murder?”
“Different to the kind that leads to sex.”
“What about the love of one’s family; one’s children, one’s parents.  Surely a man (and let’s face facts here, murder is almost exclusively a male failing) could be driven to kill for the love of those towards whom he has no sexual desire.”
“Well, as you put it like that, Deidre…”  Frankie mimicked rising from his seat and approaching Deidre with his arms outstretched and his hands clawed.
“Frankie!” whispered Louise.  “Be careful.”  They were all pleased to have Deidre back in the fold and while she was clearly more than happy to join in the cut and thrust of the standard inconsequential argument, it was generally acknowledged that she was not yet quite ready to accept humorous affronts.
“Right,” said Elizabeth, with a certain finality in her voice, “so I think by now that we’ve probably established that love – in all of its manifold forms – is the very worst of human emotions.  So what do we think about greed and revenge?…”

The Cols in My Education

Photo by S Migaj on

Despite five long, fruitless years spent toiling in order to be ready for long-ago GCSE’s, my geographical knowledge is what is known in educational circles as ‘pants’, my entire world understanding barely scraping above non-existent.  I do not, for instance, believe that I would be able to name any more than a handful of the countries on the African Continent – even if they didn’t keep changing their names annually – and as for where they are – top, bottom, left or right – I would probably stand a better chance of naming the players of the Patagonian baseball team*.  As far as I am concerned, the whole world would be far easier to understand if all the countries within it were square and named alphabetically from left to right.  The boundaries between sovereign states (those that can agree not to fight over them) appear to have been drawn by a myopic chimp after a night on the tiles.  For instance, what kind of country is Chile when it plunges the length of half a continent, yet can be crossed in about three paces?

I know that all things change, but I’m sure that when I was at school there were only five continents and a similar number of oceans (although I’m pretty sure that if you asked my grandchildren, they would guess that there was only one of each: Pangaea and the wet bit).  According to Google, there are now seven of each – although where they have managed to fit the new ones, I cannot imagine.  I don’t recall any gaps that needed filling.  I am not even certain when Australia became a continent instead of ‘the whopping big island on the bottom bit where nobody goes’.  The political map of the world is a very different creature to when I was at school: the U.S.S.R has gone, as has Yugoslavia, and Africa appears to be in such flux that watching the map changes over the last fifty years is like peering down a kaleidoscope.  Yet the world has not really changed.  The high bits, the wet bits, the dry bits, the icy bits, they all remain more or less where they have always been.  The hike from Austria to Switzerland would still be lined with singing nuns, even if Austria and Switzerland did not exist; the people of France would still be setting light to lorry tyres, even if they weren’t the people of France; the people of Britain would still be completely out of place, wherever they were. 

To be honest, all that I can genuinely recall from half a decade of schoolboy research (turning up for lessons and not getting thrown out until at least half way through) is that occluded fronts require both red and blue pens; glacial valleys are ‘U’ shaped and river valleys ‘V’ shaped – although it really doesn’t matter unless you are at the bottom of one and it is raining, and the origin of the ox-bow lake is something that never comes up in a pub quiz.  I understand precipitation, because I am British; I understand erosion (ditto) and I understand the difference between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic – although not the difference between geography and geology it would appear.

I seldom know exactly where I am (both physically and metaphysically) and I that is probably just one reason (or possibly two) why my Sat-Nav has such fun with me.  I am insanely trusting.  If it tells me that I should go to Cleethorpes via the Khardung La, I see no reason to doubt it.  It also knows that I struggle with ‘left’ and ‘right’ so it uses them all the time.  Surely it can find some other way of guiding me around: ‘In three hundred yards, turn in the direction that will get you killed if you don’t stop for the traffic heading towards you’.  It constantly urges me to ‘Follow the road to the left’ when the only alternative is a ploughed field.  Besides, most of the time I don’t need directions.  As soon as I get stuck behind an extra-wide load driving at five miles per hour, I know exactly where we’re both going.  It is, at least, a somewhat more accurate indicator of where we are going than my wife, who, to be honest, is very good at telling me where I should have gone.  I am only happy that when I am driving the car and my wife is navigating, I do not have to follow me.  We once went to Cornwall, via Scotland, only realising that my wife was taking her directions from Charles Atlas’ autobiography when we got there.

I am, by and large, a good man to have on the quiz team.  My head is crammed full of what, in academic circles, is known as ‘junk’, but which almost certainly satisfies the average pub quizmaster’s criteria for ‘knowledge’, however as soon as anything even vaguely geographical is mentioned, a void is all that exists between my lugs.  I can’t do flags, because I can’t remember which country is which, and I can’t do capitals because it would be ridiculous of me to know that the capital of Sierra Leone is Freetown, when I would put it on the wrong continent on a map.  I know what a Col is, but only because it is my name.  If I had been called Nigel, who knows what I would have called the gap between two mountain peaks.  Jeremy, probably.  Anyway, it shouldn’t bother you.  If ever I suggest joining your quiz team, just send the directions in the post – you may never see me again.

*Since I have just read that Patagonia is a region occupying the southernmost parts of both Chile and Argentina and not, as I thought, a part of the former Soviet Union, that is even more doubtful than I believed.

Zoo #50 – Rhinoceros

The short-sighted rhinoceros
Is known to try and charge a bus.
If you were driving, would you dare
To ask a rhino for his fare?

A short nonsense rhyme again this week about a rhinoceros because, well… you see I was watching a television programme about fish.  The fish were blind cave tetra, and they were being introduced into a zoo’s aquarium.  These little chaps wile their lives away in pitch-black caves where eyesight is of no value to them at all, so evolution has equipped them instead, with what is more or less, a highly tuned sonar system and a sense of smell that could detect a Stilton cheese in the Sahara.  In return, it has taken their eyes.  Now, the tank which was to become their new home was nicely dressed, very cave-like, except for one distinctly incongruous feature: in order that the fish were visible to the glass-tapping multitudes, it was very brightly lit (not, of course, that the fish would have known it).  Well, it just occurred to me, if they were kept in such conditions for long enough – year after year, generation after generation, eon after eon – would evolution give them their eyes back?  Is evolution reversible?  Moreover I wondered, if this poor benighted planet of ours should survive long enough with us on it, would evolution start mitigating our effects on other species?  Would it, perhaps, rob the elephant of its tusks given that tuskless elephants were much more likely to survive to old age without becoming part of a piano?  Would it rob the sharks of their fins, because on balance, what was lost in agility might be gained in stealth (eg not being spotted off the beach by troubled town sheriffs) and the liability not to wind up in noodle soup?  Would whales cease to be slaughtered by the Japanese if they could monitor their own stocks?  Could the leopard change its spots?  Would rhinos evolve without horns; shorn of the fearsome ability to charge, but far less likely to be consumed by some ancient idiot with erectile dysfunction?  Could the human race begin to realise that it is merely part of a whole, and not the entire reason for its being?  I’m not sure, but I shall keep a very close eye on the tetra…

A Cynic’s Dictionary – You Too Can Join In

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My dad had a phrase he always used when he thought that we should think things through before reaching what he hoped would then be the right decision, not necessarily in a moral sense but more in the sense of what was likely to land you in the least doo-doo.  Whenever he thought that there was a quicker, easier or more advantageous way of approaching anything, he would always implore us to ‘screw the loaf’.  I have no idea why: no idea what the etymology of this particular phrase could possibly be.  I never heard anybody else use the phrase, but I also never heard anybody question its definition.  However obscure its nascence, its meaning appeared clear.

I have always found it fascinating how words bend to our needs over time.  (Author’s note: if you do not experience such fascination then, in all honesty, I must warn you that you may well find the few hundred words that are to follow deeply boring, if not actively irritating.  It might well prove beneficial for us both if you just decide to hit the ‘Like’ button now and go off instead to trim the hamster’s claws.)  I started this little piece with the intention of casting an eye over some of the many words that had changed meaning quite dramatically during my lifetime.  The obvious first example was the word ‘gay’ which, when I was at school, simply meant ‘happy, bright and carefree’.  Slowly it began to change its meaning towards the one we understand today, but in an abusive way – as it was widely assumed (this being the 1970’s when nobody, it would appear, knew better) that, by and large, being called gay was, in itself offensive.  (It made a change, I suppose, to ‘bummer’ which was, at that time, the most commonly used term of abuse at my school – an all-boys school by the way – which to the best of my knowledge had exactly the same percentage of gay pupils as any other, although they always appeared happier.)  Then, slowly over the next few years, the gay population rightfully re-took ownership of the word and it became, once again, a friendly word.  Today it remains in common usage and is not in any way – unless you are in possession of a pea-brain and an intellect to match – offensive.  ‘Gay’ remains a commonly used word, a good word, but it is rarely, if ever, used in its original meaning.

I racked my brain (not in the Mediaeval sense of stretching, which actually, would probably have been far more beneficial) for further examples: Completion Date, for instance, used to be the date by which a job is to be finished, but now increasingly is used to identify the date by which one has to start explaining why the job isn’t finished.  Mobile Technology, in my youth, would have been a phrase used to describe the most up-to-date caravan available, whereas now it is more likely to be used to describe a mobile telephone that is so advanced, nobody over the age of twelve is able to work it, let alone make a phone call with it.  There was a time when Patriotism merely described the love of one’s own country and not the hatred of everyone else’s, when Peace of Mind was simply a feeling of calm and security and not necessarily the product of a bottle of whisky.  When a Pension was a wage, paid by the government, from retirement age (65) to the day of death (usually 66) and not something you have to start worrying about from birth, contributing to from age 18, and paying into all of your life, so that you can claim it at 80 – if you haven’t died first: when Something for the Weekend was a condom and not cocaine.  All well and good, but the whole enterprise began to feel hopelessly nostalgic.  What I was actually looking for was something rather more pithy*.

Many words have picked up new meanings as we have moved slowly through the twenty-first century.  Most are commonly understood before they make it into the dictionary, tacitly recognised, but never formally documented.  I realised that these were the words I wanted to consider: words that have new meanings; meanings that are completely removed from the definitions of old.  I give you, below, the very few that have fallen instantly to mind.  I see it as a starting point (and not simply an excuse to utilise the half page of ragged notes I have just scribbled down).  I know that you will all have many more (and better) and I look forward to hearing them**: 

Agreement – accord in which one party believes they have got their own way, whilst the other has misheard the question.
Award-winning, super-fast Broadband
– broadband.
Compassion – an emotion felt by the winner.
Child-proof – anything that can only be opened by the under fives.
– things that fall out.
Debate – discussion aimed wholly at getting validation for your own point of view.
Free-From – twice the price, half the ingredients.
Gosh – dyslexic with good sense of humour.
Herd immunity – the theory that when we’ve all been ill enough, for long enough, it won’t matter any more.
– time spent away from home, work and bills.  A period of constant worry about home, work and bills.
Holiday² – time spent away from home.  A period of constant worry about catching something and dying.
Hollow – all victories that do not involve chocolate.
Light Exercise – near-death experience.
Marriage – long, interminable moan, such as that of a dry joint on a long journey.
Music – noise that grates on your partner.
Pure – full of all sorts of stuff that puts the price up.
– things that fall out.
Sense of humour – the real reason why your spouse hates you.
Service is temporarily unavailable – award-winning, super-fast broadband.
– the sound of getting your own way.
Sorry – word used only in the very last resort as a means of eventually getting your own way.
Tantrum – what adults have very, very quietly.
– things that fall out.
Umbrage – what your wife takes.
Unknown – why she takes it.
Vegetable oil – anything in which you can fry a chip, which does not come out of a lorry’s sump.
– noise that grates on your partner.
Weight¹ – what you were before you lost it.
Weight² – what you were before you put it on.
Wrong – whatever it is you have done.

And that’s as far as I have currently got.  A long, long way to go before I can challenge the OED I know, but with your help I very much hope that I can accumulate a repository of word and phrase to which every blogger can refer in the future with a universal understanding of meaning – like ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, but with fewer pictures.  I would be happy to receive all contributions…

*‘Terse and vigorously expressive’ apparently.  British readers should think Princess Anne.

**In my head, I believe that I know exactly what kind of definitions will be produced by each of you: some will be sweet, some will be bitter, some will be clever, some will be perceptive, some will be satirical and some will be plain barmy (I’m sure you all know who you are), but I hope you’ll give it a go.  I know that, together we can produce a new dictionary for the twenty first century.  It is desperately needed: who, for instance, can be happy with the old one when it tells us that promises are meant to be kept and that hell is somewhere that the bad people die to and not somewhere in which the innocent can be forced to live their whole lives… 

I look forward to being roundly cheered up.

The Writer’s Circle #31 – Dinah and Shaw (Slight Return)

“I’ve been toying with these two characters for months,” said Phil.  “I would like to give them a story of their own, a book perhaps, but I still don’t quite know where they’re going…”  The gathered members of the Circle, including the prodigal Deidre, shuffled themselves comfortable on the hard, moulded plastic chairs, and Phil retrieved a sheaf of papers from his pocket…

“…Shaw laid his knife and fork down neatly on his plate.  It was clean, except for a small, tidy pile of sweetcorn kernels and two slowly leaching slices of crinkle-cut pickled beetroot which were actively turning the corn a florid hue of gentian violet as he looked on.  ‘Serves them right,’ he thought.  ‘Who puts sweetcorn in a pork pie salad anyway?’  A motorway service centre was the answer and, if he’d bothered to ask the hair-netted man behind the counter, he would have also discovered that it wasn’t actually pork pie in the first place, it was Gala Pie: hadn’t he even noticed the boiled egg in it?  To which Shaw would have answered, ‘No, I bloody well did not.  The pastry was like a rock.  As soon as I tried to cut it with the cheap plastic utensils you gave me, the inside shot out like a bullet and landed under the table near the ‘gents’.  It could have had a golden snitch in it for all I knew.  I wasn’t crawling around under the tables to find out.’  He contemplated the beetroot with a shudder, it reminded him of school dinners.  No sweetcorn for it to leach into when he was at school of course – far too decadent – just a lukewarm mound of half-mashed potato, half a dozen shrivelled-up peas that always brought to mind a leprechaun’s testicles, and something that may once have been some manner of dead fish.  He shuddered again at the memory.  It was at school that he had first developed the habit of eating only when he felt that he really had to.  Dinah was just the latest in a long line of women who tried to impress upon him the need to put a little meat on his bones and he had to admit that, on the rare occasions he considered his reflection in the mirror, he did look rather like a skeleton wrapped in Clingfilm – only by and large, he was forced to concede, less healthy.

Mind you, Dinah was, he was happy to admit, rather different to the other women in his life.  She wasn’t a blood relative for a start.  Shaw’s whole life had been shaped by female relatives.  His mother, his ‘real’ aunties, his ‘assumed’ aunties and, it always seemed to him, any ancient woman who happened to sit next to him on the bus.  They all had a view on what he should be doing.  They all knew that he didn’t eat enough.  Dinah, to be fair, never actually pestered him to eat.  She just let him know that he was not comfortable to be around.  ‘Angular and pointy,’ she said.  ‘Devoid of all padding.’  And, if he was honest, that was why he’d ordered the apple crumble and custard that was now congealing on the plate in front of him.  He wanted to eat it, but it would have taken far more strength than he could ever have mustered to drag the skin off it.  So, instead, he just stared at it, hoping that he could absorb some calories by osmosis.

He was, he knew, in the process of being thoroughly beaten down by his current ‘case’.  He was growing tired of looking for someone for whom he had no name and no photograph.  He was growing evermore weary of the constant trudge of trying to find somewhere to search.  He stared hard at the scrap of paper on which he had written down the details of the case and the client’s name but, as on each of the previous occasions on which he had attempted to make head or tails of it, he could not.  He had started off confident enough, he hung around the places where enlightenment usually found him, believing that, sooner or later, he would discover what he was meant to be doing.  But he hadn’t.  And he was running out of places.  Why, in God’s name, had he sent Dinah off to find somebody’s cat again: she’d have known his client’s name, who he was searching for, why…  And she hated the cat cases.

He must never let her know that he was out of his depth, of course, that his usual methods were not getting results.  He was getting distracted.  He needed to focus.  Perhaps if he just stared at the paper for a little while longer… 

Dinah regarded herself critically in the mirror.  She wanted to see a detective looking back at her.  She wanted to sense a steely intellect and a clear understanding shining through from her reflection.  What she actually saw was a mad woman who couldn’t find a bloody lost cat.  She had done the normal stuff: schlepped around the neighbourhood with a fuzzy, out of focus photograph; called in at all the police stations, vets and strange spinster’s bungalows she could find; stood on a thousand street corners shouting the bloody thing’s name.  Who calls a cat Pickles anyway?  Perhaps what she really needed to do was to reappraise her current situation.  She had a job that wasn’t a job and which, by and large, involved the search for ‘lost’ felines, most of whom she sensed really did not want to go back from whence they came.  She sensed that she was becoming a little closer to Shaw than was healthy for either of them, but exactly which of them was most reliant upon the other, she had no idea.  It was like a symbiosis: she was the apple tree, Shaw was the mistletoe – even if the most unromantic parasite she had ever encountered.  She was tied to him because he relied on her.  Sometimes, she thought, he would struggle to get dressed without her.  (Actually, when she stopped to give that a little thought, she knew that he would struggle to get dressed without her.)  But he had gentle – albeit perennially confused – eyes, and he made her laugh, although seldom when he meant to…

Dinah left the ‘ladies’ with one last glance in the mirror – ‘It’s not much, but it’ll do’ she thought – and returned to her seat at the table.  She smiled at the man sitting beside her.  ‘You’re not leaving that beetroot are you?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll have it…’”

I’d quite forgotten how much I like writing these two.  At first I thought that it must tell me something about myself that I had chosen to give them to Phil, but of course it doesn’t.  I could have given them to any other member of the Circle: they are all me, they all wish that they were not…

Dinah and Shaw have appeared in this blog a number of times before – although this is their first outing as part of The Writer’s Circle.  If you should wish to find out more about them, you will find their previous appearances listed below:
Episode 1 – Excerpt from Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 2 – Return to Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 3 – Another Return
Episode 4 – Morning is Broken
Episode 5 – Train of Thought
Episode 6 – The Morning After
Episode 7 – Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt
Episode 8 – Searching for the Spirit of Christmas