A Little Fiction – Frankie & Benny #3 – The Night Before

“You, my friend, were drunk.”
“I was not drunk, Frankie.  I have not been drunk in many years.”
“You were slurring your words.  Were you having a stroke?”
“Then you were drunk.”
“Nobody else said that I was slurring my words.”
“Well, they wouldn’t would they?  They wouldn’t want to upset you, in case you were having a stroke.”
“I was as sober as a Methodist christening.  I was not slurring my words.  I was not drunk.”
“You were most definitely not sober.  I walked the several miles home with you.”
“Several miles?  We were only across the road.  Eight hundred yards at the most”
“As the crow flies, Benny, I’ll give you that.  Eight hundred yards in a straight line, but you were not walking in a straight line.  You, Benny my friend, walked as far backwards as you did forwards, and twice as far to the side.  You were bouncing off parked cars and garden fences like a pinball.  You were singing to the lamp-posts.”
“You’re exaggerating again.  I know what you’re doing.  Alright, I had drunk a little – as had you – but I was not drunk.”
“Ah well, ok, have it your own way.  Have you checked your coat pocket, by the way?”
“My coat pocket?  What for?”
“Why don’t you go and check?”
“…A mushroom vol-au-vent.  What does that prove?  Everybody sneaks food away from a buffet.  It’s expected.”
“We weren’t at a buffet, Benny.  You went through the baker’s bin on the way home.  Check your other pocket.”
“…What the?…”
“Chicken Chow Mien, I believe.”
“I don’t even like Chicken Chow Mien.”
“I know.  You kept bothering a young couple at the bus stop, telling them your life story and eventually they offered you some of their food to go away.  You said that you didn’t actually like the fore-mentioned concoction – I seem to remember you showed them how the noodles get under your dentures – but that you’d take some home for the dog.”
“I don’t have a dog.”
“Indeed you do not.  Nor do you have a parrot, but you also took their prawn crackers.”
“Oh dear.  I must admit, I do have a bit of a fuzzy head this morning, but I don’t remember any of this.  Are you sure you’re not winding me up here?”
“No.  No, not at all…  Well ok, maybe just a little bit.  The landlord brought out the vol-au-vents after the quiz, that’s where you got that from.”
“And the Chow Mien?”
“That was from the couple at the bus stop.”
“Oh God…  What were we even doing at a quiz, we’re both thick aren’t we?”
“I believe that is indeed what our teachers told us Frankie.  A verdict I have never felt equipped to contradict.”
“So why were we doing a quiz?”
“There was a prize.”
“A bottle of whisky.”
“And did we win it?”
“No, but we did drink one.”
“I think I’ll put the kettle on.  Do you want a tea?”
“I wouldn’t say no.  If I’m honest I feel a little out of sorts myself.”
“Do you want a biscuit?”
“Yes, and a couple of aspirin if you’ve got them.”
“…Why do we do it?”
“Drink too much.  At our age, why do we do it?”
“Well, I think that if we were sober, Benjamin my friend, we would not do it, but as soon as we get drunk, then we start to drink too much.”
“So you’re saying that if we didn’t start to drink at all, then we wouldn’t drink too much?”
“Well, that’s cleared that up for me then.  Here, have a biscuit.  I’ve only got Rich Tea I’m afraid.”
“Rich Tea?  What happened to the Hobnobs?”
“I don’t have any.”
“You do, I was with you when you bought them yesterday.”
“I ate them.”
“Last night when we got back from the pub.  I also appear to have eaten several slices of toast and fried my last two eggs.”
“You ate your last two eggs?”
“You should listen to what I say Francis, perhaps clear some of that wax from your ears.  I did not say that I ate my last two eggs, I said that I fried them.”
“So what did you do with them then?”
“Well, one of them I appear to have put in the fridge with a beer mat and a half-eaten spring roll.”
“And the other?”
“I have just found in my slipper…”
“So are you not going to wash your foot then?”
“I think I’ll just sit a minute first.  Drink my tea…  I might need to take a minute or two before…  The yolk, you know…  So how many of us did this quiz thing then?  I mean, how many were in our team?”
“Just you and me old chum.  Just you and me.”
“So we came last then?”
“Oh yes we did indeed.  Very.  But we did win a prize.”
“Really, what?”
“A tiny cup.  Very nice.  I’ll keep it in my trophy cabinet with all the others.  What does it say on it?”
“Oh classy.  Charming that.  Quite a wag, that landlord, isn’t he?”
“He did apologize.  He said that if he’d known we were going to take part, he would have had our names engraved on the loser’s trophy in advance.”
“Oh well, fair enough.”
“Yes, fair do’s, he could have insisted that the losers at least scored some points.”
“Did we not score any?”
“We never answered any, Benny.  We spent the whole night arguing over our team name.  I wanted to call us ‘Frankie and Benny’ – everyone knows who we are anyway – but you said it should be something clever and witty.”
“We couldn’t think of anything…  How’s your head now?”
“Not so bad.  I’m starving mind, how about you?”
“I could certainly go a fry-up.”
“Come on, I’ll just get this yolk off my sock and we’ll go and get one.”
“Ok.  I fancy the whole works: fried bread, black pudding, mushrooms…  That’ll sort me out.”
“Mind you, we did spend quite a lot at the pub last night.  If you want, I could warm us something up here instead.”
“Oh yes, and what have you got?”
“How do you fancy Chicken Chow Mien?”

These chaps are currently my favourite characters. You can find their previous appearances here and here.

Growing Older, Growing Wiser, Growing Ears and Growing Nose

Apparently there are only two things that continue to grow, no matter how old a man gets, and these are his ears and his nose.  This morning I looked in the mirror and contemplated life as Dumbo.  Why does nature arrange for the two things of which I am already most conscious, to become an ever greater feature of my ebbing life (and, as it happens, face)?  I suppose if things continue to develop as predicted, I might be able to wrap my ears around my face like a scarf and thus hide my giant conk.  Why does age do these wild things to the body?  I already have a prostate the size of a football and a bladder the size of a peanut: my brain has more holes than a Boris Johnson alibi.  I don’t think that I am losing my memory yet.  I don’t think that I am losing my memory yet, but I am acutely aware that my marbles stock is not what it was. 

I have developed an alarming tendency to take myself very much more seriously than it is sane to do, so I have resolved to give myself a metaphysical slap around the face whilst I slip a virtual whoopee cushion under my ever-expanding arse.  I try very hard to pop my own balloons.  My mantra since returning to this bloggy fold has been to lighten up.  I’m sixty three years of age, if I had anything of importance to say, I’m sure I would have said it by now.  I have a head full of mulch, and if I’m going to start taking that seriously then I fear that an odd loose slate may well prove to be the least of my problems.  This little blog of mine has always been about the vagaries of growing old.  I write it, and I am getting old.  It is a sad fact that, at its heart, it has always been all about me.  (When I see that written down, it seems far more vain than it feels.  It’s never been intended as a ‘Look at me’ kind of thing.  It’s about me casting myself as some kind of ‘everyman’, imagining that if it happens to me, it must happen to everybody else and…  Yes, ok, now I’ve read that out aloud it does seem even more vain now than it did a sentence ago…)  As a man who is growing old, I feel uniquely qualified to write about what it feels like to be a man who is growing old – and mostly, it feels like this…

Age brings a two-pronged attack with both the brain and the body taking direct hits.  Everything I once knew, I still know as well as I ever did – although it often takes a little longer to locate.  I can work things out and I can think things through, but I’m sadly aware that the bit of the brain that learns ‘new stuff’ has, of late, developed a tendency to let its attention wander a bit.  It doesn’t always remain present for the whole tutorial.  It doesn’t necessarily put its hand up when it doesn’t understand what the flip is going on.  It might, in fact, be wondering how long it can decently leave it before asking for a toilet break, instead of concentrating on left clicks and right clicks and how to stop taking selfies of its own ears.

I have a laptop at home and I’ve been bound to the countless variations of Windows for many, many years.  I use an Apple computer at work and, despite it being for all intents and purposes merely a bigger version of the phone I have had for many years, it confuses the hell out of me.  Why does it not do the same things, in the ways that I am used to?  It would appear that I can cope perfectly well with the ‘new’ as long as it works exactly the same as the ‘old’.  I am not one of life’s great adapters.  Nature has not designed me to bend easily to the unfamiliar as I get older.  I wonder, in fact, whether it actually intended me to do anything past the age of sixty.  As far as life is concerned, I think my work is probably done.  We are placed on this earth to have and to raise kids.  Many of us have done that now and, with some element of relief, left it all behind us.  We are now contributing to the nurture of our grandchildren: other people’s children / other people’s rules.  I do not recall that being in the manual when I first became a parent.  Grandparent Rules are different to Parent Rules.  Who knew that they shouldn’t have chocolate if they don’t eat their greens?  Who knew that ice cream and a ghost story is not the right way to tackle sleeplessness?  Who knew that we were meant to say ‘No’ so often?  As an old man I am well-versed in the absurdities of life: if I can teach my grandchildren to laugh at them, surely that must count for something.

As for the body, well, each successive blow does tend to knock the wind out of me just a little bit more.  I can still run and chase well enough to tire out the kids, but I bet that they don’t need a hoist to get them out of bed in the morning.  A single head-over-heels does not leave them needing traction.  I am of an age when mutating cells conspire to overwhelm me and I would be lying if I said that in the quiet moments the prospect didn’t terrify me, but nobody wants a bedtime story from a fearful old man, so I become the me who is not concerned and therefore, by extension, not old.  Growing old is just what happens.  As the strap to this blog says, whatever its drawbacks, growing old is better than all the other available options.  Life is not a battle: it is all we have got.  It is full of love and laughter as well as an occasional pain in the back and a strange tic in the eyelid. 

So we do what we do: we ease our conscience by buying a funeral plan – because we always wanted a free Parker pen – and in all other respects we completely ignore the specifics of what lies ahead.  We learn to live for the day, and even with the realisation that ears the size of satellite dishes do not allow us to hear the television without cranking the volume up to eleven, we laugh about the fact that everybody mumbles these days.  Surely a nose of this size (and growing) should mean that quite shortly I will not snore anything like so loudly during the Antiques Roadshow.

And if I’m honest, I’m not exactly certain how much bigger my lugs and hooter can get before I start to get blown over by the wind, but as long as I can still find a pinch of salt to take with my life, I think I’ll just about get by…

Fact is Fact and Truth is I’m Not Sure…

My head tells me many, many things that reality is unable to confirm.  It has, fortunately, given up on trying to convince me that I am a handsome, six foot Adonis – that is six feet tall, obviously, and not a particularly good looking ant – but it does, unfortunately, continue to blithely disregard even the slightest fragment of reality in many other areas of my existence.  I believe myself to be moderately intelligent, even though I have no physical evidence to back this up.  I believe in the goodness of humankind.  I know that there are bad people, but I believe that the only way in which they succeed and thrive is by pulling the wool over the eyes of all the good people.  Bad people are able to do that, but not forever.  They will get found out eventually and the good will succeed.  I truly believe that, and it probably explains my peculiar attachment to rom-com.  I know that the world is up to its neck in ordure at the moment, but I know that before the final titles it will come up smelling of roses.  (Although my dad used to grow roses and, thanks to the local totter’s horse, they always smelled of shit.)

It is so hard to be certain that what you believe to be true is actually true.  History is written by the victors.  Scientific fact changes by the generation and, given that time is a man-made construct, what are we all messing about at?  Everything I know about the Universe is so patently untrue.  None of it makes sense, but the brains that tell me it does are so immense that I have to submit to them.  They tell me that light travels at 299,792 kilometres per second – although I’m not certain who had the stopwatch when they measured it – and that nothing can exceed this speed.  But what if Scotty managed to get his hands on some extra dilithium crystals?  What if somebody actually found a way of speeding it up?  The Earth wouldn’t orbit the Sun any faster, would it?  (Would it?  Blimey, I’m starting to worry about all those mirrors my wife has had me dot around the garden now.)  The edge of the Universe (If Infinity can have an edge – discuss.) would still be just as far away.  Wile E Coyote would still be just as far behind Roadrunner.  Although you’d never be able to work out how far away a thunderstorm was.

Now, if I’m honest here, I think that I might be confusing Truth and Fact which, according to the Internet are not at all the same thing – although I have no idea how they differ.  If something is true, is it not per se a fact?  “I have no idea” is definitely both.  Maybe a truth can be universally acknowledged, but not necessarily proven and, therefore, not fact.  In fact, if truth isn’t provable then it isn’t true is it?  And if truth isn’t true, then false may possibly not be untrue.  Maybe Bill Clinton did ‘not have sex with that woman’.  Who can prove that the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, Leprechauns, a barber who does not leave me looking like I’ve just been on a date with a Fly-Mo, do not exist?  Just because they’ve never been seen, does not mean that they do not exist.  Perhaps like Fairies, truth exists as long as people believe in it.

But fact is fact, isn’t it?  It can be proved.  Except… what if the methods we use to prove facts are faulty?  What if we just don’t understand?  What of all the times we’ve shaped the evidence to fit the facts?  We all know that it takes more evidence to make us believe something we do not want to.  We all know that crime is getting worse and no amount of contrary facts will change our opinion.  Motivated Reasoning it is called: the tendency to give credence only to evidence that proves the facts we want to believe.  The simple equation F=BSxDT² (where F = Fact, BS = Bullshit and DT = Donald Trump) applies.  Blurry mobile phone footage of lights in the sky may prove the existence of extra-terrestrial beings to some, whilst to others it proves only the existence of magic mushrooms.  I believe in Father Christmas: he is wholly good, so why would I possibly believe otherwise.  There is no proof that he does not exist.  Therefore he exists.

…And England will win the World Cup again before I die…

Perhaps fact is simply what we have seen with our own eyes.  If we haven’t seen it (or evidence of it) then it isn’t true.  I struggle with the concept of religion, not because I see any problem with the concept of good and bad – in my head neither can exist without the other – but because so few of the evil are allowed to do so very much harm to so very many of the good.  All Gods are Just Gods, but I can’t help but think that if they held any proper sway at all, they would surely tilt the balance just a little bit the other way.  And I in no way mean any disrespect to those who do have faith – quite the contrary – I just can’t find it in myself whilst the world is so full of shit.  I would love to have belief – although I’m not at all convinced that belief wants me.

And now I have reached an age where my brain is actively trying to deceive me.  It spends it’s time telling me ‘You can do that.  You could do it fifty years ago, why on earth would you not be able to do it now?’  I recently asked my grandson if I could have a go on his skateboard.  My brain told me what an excellent plan that would be, but my grandson was not so easily deceived.  He said ‘No grandad, you might break.’  He is much wiser than I.

My brain can persuade me of many things, but it will never convince me that I am not an idiot.

The Running Man – The State of Play

However much of a surprise it is to you to find that I am still running, it is a bigger one to me.  Like banging my head on a wall, I am sure that I will enjoy it when I stop, but none-the-less, I keep banging on.  I still look like the World’s Worst Dressed every time I set out, in a collection of ‘gear’ that can only be described – at least with my limited vocabulary – as ‘motley’.  I watch other runners as they trot by in their neon yellow vests, lycra shorts and trainers that cost more than my car: they do not sweat, they do not pant, they do not look as if somebody has just had a paint-stripper to their face.  I do.  In my slightly holey T-shirt, baggy shorts and trainers that I borrowed from my brother and never returned, I still look like I spend my time testing fan ovens from the inside.  I want to feel better when I am running, but no matter how often I do it, I never do.  I always think that I feel worse.  I don’t of course.  That would not be possible.  But, and here is the crucial point, when I don’t run, I definitely do feel worse.  Each time I take a break, I feel the pressing need to run again and every time I run again, I definitely feel much worse than I did before it.  Each time I sit at home with a pint of beer, a vegan pastie and nine series of Still Game on iPlayer I feel great, but guilty.  I’m not good with guilt.  Each time I set out, guilt-free and bereft of all pastry I feel as though I should feel great, but I don’t.  I feel great when I set off – sometimes for seconds.  I feel great about running, but I feel terrible doing it.

I have recently returned to the jogging throng after recovering from a chest virus and a bad back – neither of which, I suspect, would have dragged me so far down ten years ago.  Throw in a holiday and I missed running for six weeks in all.  I put weight on much quicker than I could ever lose it.  I would have drunk much more, but I got out of breath pulling the corks.  And all the time I wasn’t running I was wishing that I was.  And as soon as I was, I was wishing that I wasn’t.  It has become habit.  It’s a strange fact of life (well, mine at least) that I only ever really want to do something when there is a perfectly valid reason why I cannot.  It is another strange quirk of existence that whenever I really don’t want to do something, I can never find a suitable impediment.

So, after a fitful return to the regular routine, I am fully back on it.  I run because I know that I will feel worse about not doing it than I do whilst doing it.  It’s like voting.  I know that I must either waste my vote by gifting it to somebody who has absolutely no prospect of success, or I use it to elect somebody who I know will disappoint me.  I would like not to vote, but it might allow somebody of whom I do not approve (anybody vain enough to stand for election) to sneak into power.  So I vote, in the certain knowledge that I will regret it before the envelope hits the bottom of the post box.  I haven’t been to a polling station in years.  I don’t like the false good-humour and the forced formality of it all.  I particularly don’t like standing behind a partially drawn curtain, staring at an ill-printed scrap of destiny, desperate to do the right thing, but certain that it will be wrong.

I have had similar problems in returning to this little routine.  Unusually, for me, I was laid as low in spirit as I was in health and I decided that I should pour such energy as I could muster into a long-form piece of tom foolery through which, for better or for worse, I breezed.  I had four characters – all of them me – who I knew and understood.  I had a plot (I am perhaps stretching things a little by using the word ‘plot’, but I knew what had to happen and, even though it was precious little, it did) and my characters just found their own way to the end.  I enjoyed picking up threads.  Each evening’s finish provided the following morning’s start and nothing more taxing than, ‘now, where was I?’  When my characters wandered off-piste, I didn’t have to worry about them.  I just let the others take the strain whilst I waited for them to find their own way back.  When it was done, I read it through.  It made sense – at least to me it did – and it made me laugh (although I’m not certain that it is good form to admit that).  It was one of those diversions where you discover a beautiful country church that you never knew existed, in the garden of a pub, that sells ice cream…

I have found my return to the short-form to be slightly more problematic.  I want to do it, I love to do it, but somehow I have just not found the groove yet.  I don’t want to keep on doing the same old thing, but then I remember that this little column is my life, and my life, pretty much, is the same old thing.  It works only as long as I don’t over-think it.  Someone else can do the thinking: somebody who is good at it.  I should do what I am good at – and I will, just as soon as I find out what it is.  Whatever it is, I’m pretty certain it will not involve too much in the way of cogitation and, if I’m honest, only a very limited amount of actual doing.  It might involve thinking about doing – just as long as I don’t have to explain it to anybody else.

So anyway, there you have it, the current state of play as I ease myself back into routine – still running, still writing, still no idea why the Earth orbits the sun, why cake goes hard and biscuits go soft, why I am happy to think of myself as a running man, but most definitely not a runner.  Why I fear I will forever be a man who writes, but never a writer…

A Little Fiction – Conversations with a Bearded Man (part 7) – Helpline

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

For Ellie (Mrs Underfelt) – who said she liked this character.

“…I knew it would be you as soon as I dialled. How do you do it?”
The voice at the other end of the phone was exactly as I had grown to know, except for an air of confusion with which I was not familiar but, never being one to let doubt get in the way of indignation, I pressed on none-the-less. “Your card in the newsagent’s: how did you know that I would see it? How did you know that I would call?”
I quoted directly from the card that I had removed from the shop window. “‘Tired? Lonely? Need to hear a friendly voice? Just ring,’ and then it’s got your phone number.”
“My number? Are you sure?”
“It’s the number I just dialled.”
“But I don’t have a card in the newsagent’s.”
“Yeh, right.” I said, regretting my tone instantly. “So how come I just got you?”
“You must have mis-dialled.”
“That really is…” I wanted to say preposterous, but the notion was simply so far-fetched that I was already checking the number on the card against the number I had dialled. It was, of course, one digit different. That single digit had connected me with the man I know as Lorelei. But how? How is it even possible to dial what now amounts to a virtually random phone number, and get him. It must be some kind of trick – a mind-game or something. Maybe I was having some kind of psychotic episode. Perhaps I’d been brainwashed, or hypnotised, or… I have no idea what… I would wake up soon and find that this was all a dream.
“So, are you?” His voice pricked into my brain like defeat into an ego.
“Am I what?”
“Tired? Lonely?”
I wanted to say ‘no’, but I knew that he would see right through that. Why had I rung the number in that case? I really didn’t want this man to think that I might have been trying to contact the kind of person who routinely displays their phone number in the newsagent’s window. “Well, I’m tired of how things are. Does that make sense?”
“I don’t know. What sort of things?”
“I thought I was making progress. I thought that she might have been ready to change her mind, but instead she just told me that she was getting married again and…”
“Ah, this will be your ex-wife.”
“The new man is called Duncan. Bloody Duncan! He sounds like a Blue Peter presenter.”
“I thought you had put that particular situation behind you. I thought you said you were moving on.”
“Duncan has a sports car. Duncan has his own house. Duncan, apparently, wears clean socks every day and doesn’t behave like a three year old when things don’t go his way.”
“Ah, so you’ve not moved on quite so far as you might have hoped then?”
“The thing is, I’ve done everything she asked.”
“Have you?”
“Well, I listened.” Even through the mobile phone I could sense his eyebrows arching. “There was a lot to take in,” I explained. “She had a lot to say. It appears that I have quite a lot of faults.”
“I don’t suppose you can remember what any of them are?”
“Not really – she might have a point with the not listening thing I suppose – but the other stuff… I’m willing to try.”
“She doesn’t want you to though, does she?”
“Not now she’s got Duncan. Good old Dunc’…”
“She was alone too, just like you, although without the six foot pile of takeaway containers in the kitchen and a mound of dirty socks in the bidet, obviously.”
“She left me. She started the divorce. She said we were both unhappy.”
“…It’s bloody infuriating.”
“She doesn’t want you to be lonely.”
“She wants me to meet somebody. To ease her conscience.”
He sighed the kind of sigh that, even over the phone, comes accompanied with a world-weary roll of the eyes. “Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m in the park,” I answered. “It’s the nearest thing I get to excitement these days. Can I get home without treading in dog shit? Can I sit on a bench without having my hat stolen by a gang of feral kids?”
“You’re not even wearing a hat.”
“How can you possibly know that? I…” I looked at my phone only briefly before ending the call. “Don’t tell me,” I said, turning to face the man who I knew I would find standing beside me, “you just happened to be in the park as well.”
“I like to walk,” he said. “I like to meet people. It’s a good way to meet people, don’t you think?”
“I’m not really lonely you know,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “Let’s have an ice cream.” We joined the short queue to the kiosk. “And we’ll see where life takes us.”
“Beautiful day,” said the woman in front of us, trying to defy gravity by remaining upright with a bouncing toddler dangling erratically from her arm. She smiled apologetically as a whirling hand caught me a glancing blow a-midriff and gently eased the child out of range. “I brought my nephew to play. An ice cream is a small price to pay, don’t you think? It’s so nice not to be staring at the walls.”
I waited for Lorelei to fill the void, but he was silent; smiling benignly at me, the woman and the world in general. He had a look of contentment that, as ever, I found impossible to understand. I tried to grin my way out of the situation, but the silence was becoming increasingly awkward.
“Do they still do 99’s?” I asked nobody in particular.
“I hope so,” said the woman. “Otherwise I’ll have to get a Flake from the newsagents on the way home. I’ll be particularly unhappy if they don’t do sprinkles.” She smiled. Quite a nice smile, in its own way. “Sara,” she said. “My name is Sara.”
“Jim,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you. And this is?…” I looked down at the child clinging to Sara’s hand.
“Oh this,” she said. “I’ve really no idea. He’s not my nephew really, I just picked him up at the playground. It’s so much easier to talk to people if you’ve got a child with you, don’t you think?” I could feel my mouth dropping open. “It’s a joke,” she grinned. “Of course I know his name… It’s written in the back of his coat.” The smile again. “This is Tom. Say hello Tom.”
“Aunty Sara’s going to buy me an ice cream,” said Tom clinging tightly to her hand. “We’re both having sprinkles.”
Lorelei coughed quietly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve just…” He turned to the woman in the queue. “I’m sorry Sara – I hope it’s ok for me to call you Sara – I hope you don’t think me terribly rude, but I have to go. It’s been good to meet you. I hope you enjoy your ice cream.”
“We will,” I replied in perfect harmony with Sara and Tom as Lorelei turned and wandered quietly away.
“And don’t be lonely,” he said. “I’m just a call away…”
“I know,” said Sara…

The first conversation with the bearded man is here
The sixth conversation with the bearded man is here

Back on the Bike

Photo by Cristiana Raluca on Pexels.com

Life is a lesson which, much like nuclear physics, it is almost impossible to learn.

I felt that I needed a break, and now I have taken it.  I have done something else and now I am back, doing what I feel – although I am pretty sure that few will agree – I I am probably best at.  When I was at school – back in the days of six of the best, free warm milk andReligious Education classes that studied nothing more exotic than Catholicism – it was called Creative Writing or, as I now prefer to call it, writing.  If I have a skill – a point, so moot that I do not think it is even open to debate – it lies in my ability to drop words onto a page in a creative way.  Not meaningful, not logical and, if I’m honest, seldom entertaining, but definitely creative.  For me, spelling is a doddle, syntax is now what syntax has always been, but oh my word, grammar gives me so much trouble.  I just love a comma.  If there is even the slightest possibility of a pause, I bung one in, I mean, how wrong can it be?  In truth, it bothers me that, although I have the warped intelligence to understand almost all of this year’s offside rules, I still can’t figure out a semi-colon.  Anyway, the first thing I have learned whilst I have been away is that it really doesn’t matter: a fairy does not die every time I wrongly use a parenthesis (which I do quite often).  It might not be right, but as long as the majority of readers can understand it, well, it’s almost fifty years since I stumbled to an almost acceptable ‘O’ level grade, and most of those who told me that I’d never amount to anything are too dead to gloat.  If you struggle with my ‘style’ – a definition so loosely applied that its trousers will almost certainly fall down – I apologise.  I do try my best.  I will try to improve, but I dare not promise. 

During the last few weeks I have also learned that nobody wants to listen to me moaning all the time.  The more I moan, the less I live, and the less I live, the more I moan.  I have grown to realise that nobody cares: they’ve all got quite enough problems of their own.  It is ok to wryly raise an eyebrow to the vagaries of life, but only if you’re happy with people pointing at you and calling you a pompous prat.  With the possible exception of Roger Moore, nothing good ever came from a raised eyebrow.  Sharing a point of view is perfectly valid, as long as you do not believe that it is necessarily the right one.  However many people agree with you, there will almost always be more who disagree.  Everybody is entitled to an opinion.  Everybody else is entitled to oppose it.  In the UK we have a specific breed of person* who believes that, as it is their legal right to air their views no matter how caustic they are, they should take every opportunity to do so.  They justify this by claiming that they are ‘merely saying what everybody else is thinking’.  If they are right, then I think I’d like to move.  Probably to another universe.

I have begun to understand that my readers (God bless you!) want absolutely nothing from me but five minutes of entertainment: I do not need to score points or change opinions.  Every time I get a comment saying that something I have written has raised a smile, I walk a little taller for the rest of the day.

In the past I have occasionally tried to bring some continuity into my writing with ‘The Writer’s Circle’ and, more recently ‘The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion’, but I realised that in this way, I can only ever lose readers: nobody ever starts to read from the middle.  I toyed with writing an ‘instant novel’ this time around – a single, one-thousand word chapter, once a week for a year and voila! the book is done  – until it struck me that at my normal rate of attrition, I would be out of readers by chapter seven, and probably being sued by WordPress for misuse of its platform by week thirteen.  Certain characters have reappeared quite successfully in the past (Dinah & Shaw, The Bearded Man, The Men in the Pub and more recently Frankie & Benny) and will continue to do so.  They are the kind of characters that I like to write, so they will be back.  These random snatches of conversation with no beginning and no end are a joy to write and fit beautifully into my newly found ethos: I like it, I’ll do it, it’s fine.

I live a life that is thankfully devoid of great drama.  I’m happy with that.  I have no desire to report from my own experience on anything that would cause Huw Edwards to further curl his lip.  I do not wish to appear, scowling, on the front page of the local newspaper.  Equally, I am more than happy to be able to report on a split fingernail, my confusion with the universe in general, or the thing that I have just found at the back of the sock drawer.  Providing I can eke out a thousand words and a joke or two, my life is ripe for the reporting.  I have no axe to grind, which is just as well as the last time I actually attempted to use one, I managed to smack myself on the forehead (fortunately with the blunt end) and catapult the piece of wood at which I was aiming, through the greenhouse roof.

Anyway, I’ve taken my break and I am about to return – like Rickets apparently – and all that I am saying, I think – although I can never be sure – is that what you are likely to get from now on, following this brief tarriance and reappraisal of my life is… well, exactly the same as you got before, If I’m honest.

I thought it only fair to warn you.

*The male of this peculiar, preening species is known as ‘Piers Morgan’ and the female as ‘Katie Hopkins’.  As I wrote this piece I found that the erstwhile Ms Hopkins’ name was eluding me.  I found it by Googling ‘obnoxious opinionated woman’.  I’m pretty certain if I tried to, I could bring up Mr Morgan’s name with a single word enquiry.  (Actually, I must admit that I have just tried it and it doesn’t work.  It does, however, pull up many images that could lead to me losing my seat in parliament.)

The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion (Diatribe to Dynamite)

DIATRIBE           A bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.  Known in subversive circles as ‘conversation’.  There is little point in speaking about anyone at all except in derogatory terms.  All subversives are bitter about something, be it the blatant oppression of the working classes by the ruling elite; the exploitation of minority groups in our supposedly egalitarian society, or the price of deodorised socks at the Co-op, and will waste no time in denouncing¹ any or all of them.

1. The most important thing to remember about the act of denunciation is that it does not encumber the denouncer with any responsibility, e.g. suggesting a solution to the problem.  This is the job of politicians – who really should know better.

DICTATOR         (See Despot – above)  Charlie Chaplin played The Great Dictator in a film, only to find that a Mr A Hitler subsequently plagiarised his creation and went on to achieve worldwide notoriety without having to eat liquorice boots.  Many historians have considered how the impact of the Second World War might have been lessened had Mr Hitler been as funny as Mr Chaplin, but on closer examination of the latter’s films, most are forced to agree that he was.

DIM                   Rather stupid.  It is impossible to underestimate the importance of dim people to your organisation.  With proper persuasion, they will do all the things that you are far too scared to do.  Also, when captured by the authorities, they will waste no time in admitting to anything at all, as long as the policeman offers to share his Smarties.

DIGESTIVE          A medicine which aids digestion.  More importantly, a biscuit.  Should you ever find yourself in gainful employment, always strive to assume control of the staff tea fund.  Once in this lofty position of power, replace the digestives with Rich Tea and watch the fun begin¹.  Remember that, whatever is claimed to the contrary, the tea fund never did stretch to Custard Creams and always offer to reinstate the Digestives in return for an increase of the weekly subs.  Be prepared to deny emphatically that the quality of the tea has fallen during your time in charge and also that the tea money has, in any way, contributed towards your new Rolex watch, whilst pointing out the importance of proper timekeeping in the delivery of the tea.  Always keep a separate stash of Supermarket Own-Brand Rich Tea, which can be passed off as ‘low-sugar’ or ‘gluten-free’ as required and a small pack of Jammie Dodgers for the exclusive consumption of the person in charge of the photocopier and the recently divorced hottie in accounts.

1. It is a universally acknowledged truth that absolutely nobody likes Rich Tea biscuits – with the possible exception of vicars’ wives, who do so solely on a cost basis, and Supermodels, for whom a single biscuit provides a)100% of their daily nutritional requirements. b) A convenient ashtray. c) A nice shiny surface from which to snort their actual daily nutritional requirements.

DISMEMBER        To sever limb from limb.  Probably not the best course of action for the do-it-yourselfer.  To be efficient at this you need a sharp knife and a strong stomach.  It does make a dreadful mess in the bathroom and, unless you feel you really have to make a point, I recommend you dismember something with far less blood, gristle and sinew than the average human being.  Try a chocolate digestive biscuit, a plastic duck or Donald Trump (please).

DISSENT             To disagree with the methods, goals, etc., of a political party or government; take an opposing view.  Does this make you a subversive?  No, this makes you normal.  Governments in general serve only one rational function, that of being the focus of dissent.  It is perfectly logical to hold in contempt anyone who always knows what is best for you.  Government is full of them¹.  It is also full of people who know that what is good for you isn’t necessarily good for them.

1. Politics is the only profession for which being called a ‘sanctimonious prig’ is considered a good thing.

DODGE              To evade by sudden shift of place.  What one does with all responsibility.

DOMESDAY        Archaic word meaning ‘The day of Judgement’. Generally associated with the Domesday Book, an early census, ordered by William the Conqueror, who wanted to know exactly how much he could screw out of whom.  Think combined Census and Tax Return with the implicit threat of disembowelment for non-payment.            

DOOMSDAY       The Day of Judgement.  Your afternoon in Magistrates Court – £25 fine and bound over for two weeks.  Also, excluded from all branches of McDonalds until April.

DOWNHILL         Into a worse or inferior condition.  The direction in which your life is heading.  Generally, unless you are wearing skis, it is not considered ‘a good thing’ to reach the bottom first.  Even in Downhill Skiing, one is expected to reach the nadir with some form and grace; not with one shoe missing, a fat lip and a tampon up one nostril.  Also, remember that not even Franz Klammer was able to walk back up the mountain, no matter how quickly or elegantly he got down it.  A couple of paper cupfuls of gluhwein down at the bottom end and you’re staying there baby.

DUEL                  A prearranged combat between two persons, fought with deadly weapons according to an accepted code of procedure, esp. to settle a private quarrel.  Once an invitation to duel has been accepted, it is considered extremely bad form to hide behind one’s girlfriend pretending to be a non-English speaking Lithuanian with a dodgy leg.  You will be considered a complete cad if you do not go ahead with the duel and die with honour.  Duels are traditionally fought at dawn, with either swords or pistols.  (If you are offered the choice of weapons, go for celery.  Contempt is much easier to handle than fatal wounding.)

DUET                 A piece of music for two performers.  What you thought you’d read when you accepted the invitation to a duel.

DUODENUM       The first portion of the small intestine, from the stomach to the jejunum¹.  The first indicator that you are actually properly scared.

1. The section of the small intestine between the duodenum and the ileum – and you think your job, stacking supermarket shelves, is grim.

DYNAMITE         High explosive.  Much like next-door’s glue-sniffing son, this is never to be approached with an open flame.  Much like next-door’s glue-sniffing son, dynamite can have a devastating effect on the neighbourhood.  Unlike next-door’s glue-sniffing son, dynamite is very rarely sick on your rhododendrons.


                          Place a soft-boiled egg up a politician’s exhaust (or that of his car).

© Colin McQueen 2022

The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion Index is here

Just because it is already written, and as a prelude to beginning to post properly again, please accept my apologies for…


The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion (DDT to Devil)

DDT                   Hydrocarbon compound, an effective insecticide.  Many of the people you will encounter in the pursuit of your subversive activities would benefit greatly from a spray down with this.  Pay special attention to all warm, moist areas: The Amazonian Rain Forest, North West India, all regions generally covered by underwear.

DAMAGE            To injure or impair.  It is a legitimate course of action to cause damage to those who themselves cause damage on a much greater scale.  There are those who would damage our communities, our countries, our planet and, were they to be given the opportunity, probably several others across the universe.  Now is the time to rise up and damage their cause.  It is impossible for even the seasoned subversive not to take sides.  Sit on the fence and you will get your balls creosoted.  Think of your children.  If you don’t have children, think of somebody else’s children.  If you don’t like children, think of yourself.

DANGER            Exposure to injury; jeopardy; risk.  Oh, dear me, no!  No, no, no, no, no!  Exposure to injury is to be avoided at all cost.  Besides serving no useful purpose whatsoever, injury is in itself a foreign word to the subversive.  It translates as ‘Pain’.  Pain is exclusively reserved for the benefit of others.  Pain is to be inflicted.  Pain is most certainly not to be endured.  Some people thrive on danger.  To the brave, it is like a drug.  To the subversive it is like a laxative.  It is best never to get involved in anything that could, in anyway, be considered dangerous.

DEATH               Extinction of life.  Death is not a skeletal figure dressed in black, carrying a scythe¹.  Death is an insurance salesman.  Death is called Nigel.  Death works at a call centre in Mumbai.  He got your phone number from the HMRC website.

1. An agricultural hand-tool for mowing grass or reaping crops.  How it became associated with Death, I am not certain.  A scythe is used in the reaping of crops and Death is, of course, The Grim Reaper.  I Googled ‘Grim Reaper’ and got a short piece about a heavy metal band from Droitwich.  I also accidentally Googled ‘Grim Reeperbahn’, which I do not recommend as a course of action, and I would like to make it known, here and now, that I have never met the lady.

DEBACLE            A confused rout.  Now here is a word I know all about.  My whole life is confusion – at least I think it is, I’m not sure.  A rout is any overwhelming defeat, which just goes to prove that my wife is completely correct when she describes my entire life as a debacle.

DEBATE              Contention in words or arguments; discussion; controversy.  To dispute; to deliberate.  Forget it.  Politicians do it all the time – and look at them.  The gentle art of persuasion is best served with a baseball bat.  Do not deliberate – it merely postpones the painful realisation that you haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.  Debate requires at least two parties and has three rules:    

  1. Don’t get involved.
  2. If you do get involved, always stand by an open door.
  3. Write down very clearly the points you wish to make and, in an emergency, use the list to set fire to the other person’s trousers.

DEBAUCH          To corrupt; to pervert; to riot; to revel.  Excess in eating or drinking; lewdness.  This sounds like so much fun, the government will almost certainly tax it in the next budget.

DEFEAT              Frustration; overthrow; loss of battle.  Try to avoid all possibility of defeat by never openly being drawn into battle.  If you should become embroiled in a literary battle, use a pen-name and, if possible, somebody else’s typewriter or cut letters out of the newspaper.  If you are drawn into a verbal battle, remember always to speak slowly and quietly.  Very quietly if your opponent is bigger than yourself.  Keep calm when stating your own arguments and listen carefully and patiently to those of your adversary before destroying them with your incisive wit and perception. It is also a good tactic to stand behind them and pull faces.  Should you get drawn into a physical battle you have two basic choices: flight or fight.  Of course, one of them is right and the other one is fight.  If all possible escape routes are blocked, and a physical confrontation becomes inevitable, you must immediately adopt the correct stance.  This is best known as the foetal position.  Roll up in a ball, as tightly as you can, and whimper softly¹. 

Never worry about losing face – it does not hurt as much as getting beaten up.

1. Foam at the mouth if at all possible: your opponent will a) believe that you are in need of medical attention and will not want to get involved in all the questions that are associated with a 999 call (the answers to which are all ‘I don’t know’) b) will not want to get sputum all over his brand new linen trousers and c) will have just the vaguest suspicion that you might have rabies and/or a trapped fish bone – the consequences of either being far more messy than they would want to risk.

DESPERADO       Desperate fellow; reckless ruffian.  A media word for subversive.  If you like the sound of this title, do not wash or change your underwear for a week.

DESPOT             (See Dictator – below)  A king or other ruler with absolute, unlimited power; autocrat; any tyrant or oppressor.  Everything that you most revile.  Everything that you’d most like to be.  You could buy a dog, but remember that even the dimmest of canines might be inclined to answer back now and again – also it is not easy to remain imperious with dog crap on your slippers. 

DEVASTATE       To lay waste; render desolate.  The effect that the dedicated subversive can have on an ‘All U Can Eat Oriental Buffet’ during its £4.95 Afternoon Special session.  Also the effect that certain prawn dishes in the above may have on the hungry subversive after they have sat in lukewarm water for four and a half hours under a dodgy heat lamp.  (You know that I meant the prawns and not the subversives.)

DEVIL (1)            The supreme spirit of evil.  I drank some of this on holiday in Bulgaria and spoke Swahili for three days afterwards.

DEVIL (2)            An atrociously wicked, cruel, or ill-tempered person.  You will meet a lot of these.  Tell them that you have wandered into the Job Centre by mistake and, anyway, you can’t attend a job interview right now because you have a bunion.

DEVIL (3)            A person who is very clever, energetic, reckless, or mischievous.  Exactly the kind of person that you do not want in your band of desperadoes, but will almost certainly be first in the queue to join you.  Allow them to become a member at your peril.  Finding your shoes super-glued to the pub floor is all well and good the first time it happens, but can become seriously annoying, particularly when you are trying to evade the landlord.

DEVIL (4)            (Cookery) a grill with Cayenne pepper.  Something that you do with kidneys – although God knows why.  As far as I am aware, kidneys serve only one purpose in the culinary world, e.g. something to pick out of steak and kidney pie.

© Colin McQueen 2022

The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion Index is here

If the Shirt Fits…

I sit down this evening with not a single idea in my head of what I want to say, nor how to say it.  I’d love to be able to claim that this is an unusual scenario, but I cannot.  It is my normal practice.  It is how I travel through life.  Or wander.  ‘Travel’ sounds premeditated.  It indicates that I have a destination in mind; a route planned.  I do not.  In reality, I ping around like a ball-bearing in a bagatelle.  Each time I sit down to write, I have five or six what-I-can-only-loosely-describe-as ‘ideas’ kicking about between my ears, but no concept of the A to Z of them.  I decide which I am going to work on (by a process known as ‘see what appears on the page first’) with no idea of where it is going to lead me, but with the fairly certain knowledge that everything else that is washing about in my cranium will end up dripping in there at some stage.  The denouement, such as it is, comes as it comes, generally at the end, and I stop as soon as I reach it.  That’s how it works.  Or, on days like today, doesn’t.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t, on occasion, hit the page with something specific to say.  I’m like everybody else: I do have opinions that I believe everybody else should share.  They just tend to get drowned in the inconsequential.  Nothing is quite as beguiling as the trivial.  Ok, I might hit the top of the page full of my intention to expose the lunatic Putin, but I all too soon get distracted by his wallpaper, the fact that he always likes to sit on a throne and wear shirts that are patently too tight.  He’s as rich as Croesus, surely he could persuade somebody to make him a collar that doesn’t look like it is slowly removing his ever-ballooning bean.  And that, of course, leads me on to the state of my own fat head.

I am an anti-tie wearer, because to do so leaves me in a quandary with only two wholly unsatisfactory solutions:
a) Wear a shirt of the correct size, but with a collar that does not come within two inches of fastening, or
b) Wear a shirt that has a collar of sufficient size to encircle my obviously massively engorged neck, which means that the rest of me is draped inside something that could easily accommodate a family of four on a camping trip to the Algarve.  Do I want to look deformed or disrespectful?  (Generally I opt for ‘disrespectful’ because anyone that knows me, knows that I am not.)  I might be ploughing a lone furrow here, but I cannot for the life of me see what purpose is served by a necktie: so few appear comfortable in them.  Most carry the facial expression of interrupted strangulation.  Why is it necessary to attend an interview, for instance, looking like your head does not belong to your body: like it has been surgically removed and replaced onto the wrong shoulders by a dyspraxic chimp?  Does the job go to the person who looks least like he has been decapitated?

I am equally uneasy, though, with the ‘casual wear only’ instruction.  You see it all the time on funeral arrangements: ‘Bright colours only please’.  Some people never wear bright colours (other than on the golf course): they look uncomfortable and unhappy in them.  They would be comfortable in a black suit and tie, so why dictate otherwise?  My own funeral guidance, should I have any input into it, will read ‘Wear whatever you like.  I don’t care.  Thank you for coming.’

…And then my attention is caught by something I wrote at the head of the previous paragraph.  Why, I wonder, do people who spend their whole life in ‘appropriate clothing’ – suit for work, polo shirt (neutral colour) for impromptu barbecue, and expensively-labelled T-shirt and over-ironed jeans for the weekend – let it all go in an explosion of non-matching pastel on the golf course?  Is it because these links are the exclusive domain of the privileged and, therefore, appearances do not have to be kept up?*  ‘I can wear peach-coloured chinos and a duck blue shirt because everybody knows that I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t afford a Saville Row suit and hand-made brogues.  They can tell from my bag of sticks that I’m loaded.’  I have, myself, attempted to play golf on odd occasions and I have never been anything like as embarrassed by my own incompetence as by my complete lack of checked knitwear.

All sporting activities, of course, offer the unbridled opportunity to make a complete tit of oneself.  I remember, with some discomfort, a long-ago attempt to play bowls on a seaside visit.  (The white coat and flat-cap kind of bowling – not the cool Fonz game.)  Having hired our balls (or ‘woods’ as we were instructed to call them) we set out onto an empty green and wizzed the jack off, diagonally and at speed across the sward.  The be-tweeded reprimand was swift and decisive.  We learned very quickly that we were expected to stick to our own ‘rink’ so as not to interfere with the other players (of which there were none).  Well, rules are rules and, having been made aware of them, we adhered to them.  The incident has stuck with me because the lady bowler was so patient in her explanation of what we were doing incorrectly, but also very obviously at a complete loss as to how we could not have known the proper ‘form’ in the first place.

It’s about doing things properly, isn’t it?  It’s about thinking things through.  If you’re going to play a game, you learn the rules.  If you’re going to invade a peace-loving country, killing thousands and displacing millions, you have to follow the correct protocol.  You have to have at least some modicum of rational justification.  You have to have the courage to allow your own people to see the atrocities you are committing in their name.  You have, at the very least, to find a way to avoid being guilty of genocide simply because you imagine that the rest of the world doesn’t take you seriously enough. 

Even the vainest of gangsters can’t necessarily buy a shirt that fits properly.

*The answer is ‘Yes’ – obviously.

Below are five quotes by Josef Stalin (the well known and moderate Russian leader)…
“Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach”
“Do you remember the Tsar?  Well I’m like a Tsar”
“The only real power comes out of a long rifle”
“When there’s a person, there’s a problem.  When there’s no person, there’s no problem”
“People who cast votes decide nothing.  The people who count votes decide everything”
…Nice man.  Thank goodness we’ve no-one like him now…

A Little Fiction – Goodbyes (Frankie & Benny #2)

“Well Francis my friend, that was a pleasant kind of morning, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes, certainly.  You can’t beat a good funeral, can you?”
“No, you can’t.  Indeed you can’t.  Providing, of course, that it’s done right.”
“Oh yes, has to be done right.”
“Proper mourning.  None of that happy-clappy nonsense.  Proper solemn hymns.  I like a good hymn.”
“Traditional, yes.  A good traditional hymn, where the words don’t fit the tune properly and the verses don’t rhyme unless you pronounce them wrong.”
“Yes, nothing worse than being asked to sing something that sounds like it might have been written by Gary bloody Barlow.  I am at a funeral, not a Take That concert.  I do not wish to clap along.  I do not wish to shake my hips.  I do not want my vicar to wear a kaftan.”
“And I don’t want to celebrate the life of the dearly departed either: he was a miserable bugger anyway.  Wouldn’t have appreciated a good joke at his own expense when he was alive, let alone now he’s in a box.”
“You knew him then?”
“The fella in the box.”
“No, no… not at all.  I was just generalising.  I didn’t recognise a soul.  I thought the widow was very dignified though.”
“Even when they had to lower her down into the grave to get her bracelet out.”
“Always a perilous business, chucking soil down into a hole.  Fraught with danger…”
“Nice to get out in the fresh air though.  Get a bit of sunshine.”
“Definitely, beats a cremation.  Who wants to sit indoors for twenty minutes just to see the curtain come around and knock the flowers over?  Who wants to listen to the corpse’s favourite song when you could be on your feet banging out ‘Jerusalem’?”
“…Did I see you putting money in the collection, by the way?”
“Changing really.  Couple of those coins in there that you can sell on Ebay, so I swapped them for a couple of bog-standard.  Nobody loses out and possibly I might make a bob or two.  Silver linings and all that.”
“Do you know how to put them on Ebay?”
“Not a clue, but still, better in my pocket than the vicar’s.”
“Have you ever considered your own funeral, my friend?”
“How so?”
“Well, what hymns you would have, what prayers… who would read your eulogy?”
“I don’t suppose it will be you: you’re three years older than me.”
“Fitter mind.”
“Do you reckon?”
“I traipse half way across the estate and up the stairs to your flat every day.  All you ever manage is a stroll to the pub.”
“I walk a lot faster than you.  You dawdle.  Dawdle, dawdle, dawdle, like you’ve not a care in the world… Mind you, there’s no doubt why you want me to get to the bar before you, is there?”
“Nor why you never decide to have a pie until the second pint.  ‘Oh look, it’s Benny’s round.  I think I quite fancy a chomp on a chicken & mushroom.’”
“…I’ve written it all down, you know.”
“My funeral wishes.”
“What on Earth for?  What does it matter?  You won’t be there, will you?  Listening, I mean, or watching.  Well, you’ll be there of course… unless you’ve been lost at sea or something.  Unless you’ve just wandered off.  ‘Police are making enquiries about the whereabouts of Francis Collins – known to his friends as ‘Tight Bastard’ – who they believe was trying to walk his way out of buying peanuts…’ but you won’t know what’s going on, will you?  They could be singing a selection from Abba for all you’ll care.”
“No, no.  I want it to be right, you know.  I expect all of my friends will be dead by then – you’ll be long gone – and I want to make sure that I don’t repeat mistakes, you know.”
“Well, look at that funeral we went to last week.”
“The one at the chapel?”
“Yes, the one with the paste-table for an altar.”
“It wasn’t a paste-table Frank.”
“It was made of hardboard!”
“It was not.  Granted, it was sagging a little bit in the middle, but a paste-table it was not.  Have you any idea how heavy all that silver is?”
“Well, no.  Now that you mention it, Frankie, I do not.  I have never lifted any.  Tell me old friend, have you and, if so, when?  Perhaps you could fill me in on the circumstances.”
“I have seen it being lifted on the Antiques Roadshow.  Comment is often passed viz-a-viz the weight.  ‘A fine example,’ they say.  ‘Full of… decoration… and… very heavy.’”
“Yes, well whatever, the service was much too long and I didn’t know a single word of any of the hymns.”
“Nor the tunes.”
“Nor the tunes indeed my friend.”
“Lovely wake though.  Corned beef sandwiches and pickled onions.  Trifle.  Lovely.”
“Yes, nice food, I’ll give you that.  Good spread.”
“No free bar though.”
“No, shame that.  Fortunate you had your hip flask.”
“Indeed.  My many years of Dib-Dib-Dobbing not entirely wasted Frankie my boy.  Always prepared.”
“So, don’t you have any last wishes then?”
“Well, nothing special.  I want to be buried, not burned: the surgeon told me that this new hip will last a hundred years – I wouldn’t want that to go up in flames, now would I?  …And I don’t want a photograph of me looking startled on the front of the Order of Service.  Why do people always pick ‘amusing’ photos?  I want a picture of me looking serious, sombre like, you know.”
“When did you last have your photograph taken, Benny?”
“Well, I don’t know.  I had a passport back in the day.  I must have had a photograph then.”
“Your passport ran out in the eighties.  Have you not had a photograph taken since then?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, what on earth are they going to put on your pamphlet then?  A drawing?  A photo-fit?”
“Well, I don’t know.  I always thought they might take one after I… After, you know.”
“Oh yes, that’ll be nice won’t it.  ‘Ah look at him on that photo.  He looks really… dead.’  Classy.  ‘You can see where the cat chewed the end of his nose off.’”
“Are you suggesting that I should have my photograph taken now, in case I die suddenly?”
“Well, it would save a lot of bother, wouldn’t it?  Tell you what, I could do it on my phone I think.”
“Could you?  Do you know how?”
“Well no, but how difficult can it be?  Look, there’s a little picture of a camera there.”
“Well, press that then.”
“Alright, alright, I will.  There…  Oh look, it’s me!”
“You need to turn it round.”
“Now I can’t see the screen.”
“I can.”
“Oh, shall I press the button then?”
“Right… Which one?”
“I don’t know.  Let me see.  What about this one?  Oh… That’s your ear.  That won’t do.  We’ll need to practice a bit, don’t you think?  I don’t want to be buried with everybody thinking that I looked like your left ear.”
“Yes, you’re right.  It’s not urgent anyway.” 
“No, I’m not ready to say my ‘goodbyes’ just yet.  It can wait.”
“Shall we just take a little stroll down to the pub?”
“Yes, a fine idea my friend.  Lead on MacDuff, lead on…”

Frankie & Benny first appeared here.

This was written and scheduled in late March (since which time I have barely been around, even for reading your wonderful blogs, for which I sincerely apologise) and somehow – through a process known to WordPress alone – sneaked out to some of you at the time. If you have read this before, I can only apologise. Frankie & Benny (names have been altered etc etc) have gone on to become half a play since I wrote this, whether they will ever become a full one, only time will tell. I feel sure that I will be back with you fairly soon (please don’t report me for threatening behaviour) when I have got whatever-it-is out of my system. Thanks everyone!