Lost and Found

Photo by Soumen Maity on Pexels.com

I have been waiting for a while now to get my mojo back and, with no sightings of the perishing thing anywhere, I decided that I ought to try and check out what it is, exactly, that I have been looking for…

Well, as ever, my first recall is to Google, from which I discover that mojo is ‘a magic charm, talisman or spell’, ‘influence, especially magic power’ and a bar in Nottingham.  As I have never before had any of the above, I doubt that I stand much chance of getting them back, so I think I probably need to look for something else.

Firstly, I have to ask myself, what is it that I hope to find?  What is it that I think I have lost?  When did I last have it?  And was it insured?  If so, is its loss through Act of God (not covered), political unrest (also not covered) or personal incompetence (also not covered when I finally get down to checking the small print)?  I think that what I am seeking is some kind of spark, some whatever-it-is that makes my fractured and uncertain prose something over which you might choose to linger.  Something that marks me out from all of the other navel-gazers that inhabit this platform: something that, like a useless metal strip along the wing of a car, marks me out as ‘special’.  Sadly, I fear, that I am destined merely to skulk in the shadows, unremarkable, un-noticed, like a Romanian spy with a loaded umbrella and only the vaguest idea of whose ankle to prod.  What formerly stopped me blending into the background?  What was it that I once had?  If, indeed, I ever did – have it, that is.  Maybe this absent mojo is nothing more than a fantasy, a distant aspiration: something that I saw in me that was not seen by anybody else.  Like the feeling that people are happy to spend time with me, when really they just don’t have the bus fare home.  Perhaps my mojo exists only in my mind – or out of it even.  What, exactly is my mojo, if nothing more than vanity?  Surely a man with my talents cannot be so vain*.

Of course, like everybody else, I can’t help but think how much easier it would be if I could just contact Mr Bezos and have one – albeit of the wrong size – delivered to the wrong house three days after it was due, in a box that could easily contain a cathedral.  Sadly, life is not so easy.  You cannot buy an off-the-peg mojo – they do not come w ith one sleeve longer than the other, a zip where there should be a button, unrequested turn-ups.  Nor is there any point in taking a trip into town to find one: most of that has passed away under a layer of whitewash and blockboard during the pandemic and, anyway, I do not suspect that I’d be able to pick up a single mojo at Wilkinson’s: they will all be blister-packed in threes, and I don’t have room to store the other two in the garage.  It’s doubtful that Poundland will have recently received a batch of slightly shop-soiled models, so I would probably be forced to rake through the boxes in the charity shops, and I’m pretty unlikely to find anything to lift the spirits there – unless, of course, it’s a tenner in a £2 pair of jeans.

Ideally, I would persuade somebody to search with me, but it’s not that easy when you don’t know exactly what it is that you are looking for: ‘It’s my essential spark, I think.  It might be quite small.  It used to flicker – a bit – now and then, but I suspect it might have gone out now…’  Not easy to admit that even if you find it, it might not be up to much.  Like the little toy in a Kinder Egg, it is likely to take an unreasonably long time to put together, only to be, ultimately, deeply disappointing – but without the chocolate.

I am told that I shouldn’t worry about it; that like the family cat, it will come back to me when it is ready.  Providing, of course, that it doesn’t find somebody that feeds it better: possibly still twitching, none of that tinned rubbish.  And, anyway will it come back the same as it left?  Will it return with a world-weary shrug; disappointed that it was not able to do better for itself; tired, flabby and lethargic, like the sales assistant at the health food store in a motorway service station?  I’m not entirely certain that I even want it back if it’s going to smell of mung beans.

Maybe I should just give up searching myself and place an advert in the local paper shop instead: ‘Lost, one mojo.  If found, please return to Colin McQueen.  There is absolutely no reward for its safe return.’  After all, I can’t think why anybody else might want it and anyway, if nothing else, the phone calls are sure to pep me up…

*If I was writing this in a text, I would include a little emoji here to indicate that I am joking and not actually that vain.  After all, what narcissist would use an emoji, right?

The Constructive Utilization of Time Gained

Having granted myself some extra ‘spare time’* by posting less often on my blog, I am now faced with the quandary of how to profitably deal with all of those vacant hours.  In the certain knowledge that I will return to the fruitless pounding of computer keyboard in the very near future, I am loathe to stumble down the primrose path to pastimes anew – I have thought about fishing, but the only thing that really appeals is the sitting on the riverbank doing nothing for hours on end.  I would be most put out if anything decided to take my bait, particularly if it meant that I had to remove something slimy and sentient from a hook.  I fantasise about picking up the paint brush, but each time I do, my wife say, ‘Brilliant, you can start with the kitchen.’  In my mind I am sure that my current mental inertia is even more time-limited than my ability to carry the grandkids around on my shoulders all day, so what I need is something to fill the empty hours that is not too onerous, not too taxing, not too expensive and doesn’t involve me in any kind of physical activity that just might mean that my enhanced access to free time actually merely adds up to an end to it.  I am, in short, watching an awful lot of daytime TV.

Daytime TV, it appears to me, exists for only one reason: to prepare you for death.  Nothing intensifies the experience of passing years and increased decrepitude like a couple of hours spent in front of some half-remembered detective yarn from the 1960’s, a 1970’s sitcom in which the ‘isms are so often displayed that it makes your brain hurt, or a coven of middle aged misandrists who believe that all manner of noisome wrongs can be righted by simply shouting louder.  Nothing, that is, except the adverts that punctuate the effluvial flow at five-minute intervals, at a volume that all but ensures injury in the dash for the remote control.

If you have never craved a stairlift, you will almost certainly do so after you are shown how simple they are to fit to almost any staircase and how transformative they can be.  How easy it is to glide sedately heavenward at a speed that will almost certainly ensure you have forgotten why you were going by the time you get there.  Such is the allure of the slow-motion ascent that I envision millions of ageing bungalow-dwellers trading in their single-level abodes for an upper-story simply so that they can avail themselves of Messrs Stanna’s finest and cruise upwards with cup of tea, linen, or a bouquet of cut flowers at a pace befitting their age and the elasticity of time.

That is if they have not already released the equity in their home, of course.  The knowledge that the equity release company’s representatives – whose sole task it is to sell you their product – will ‘even tell you if it is not right for you’, is comforting indeed.  Everyone loves the warm embrace of a commissioned salesperson.

Of course, you might not be tempted to sell your home for half of its value if you have previously fitted a stair lift with, at the top of its stately rise, a doody little bath with a door in it.  Strip off, step in, sit down and wait to be enveloped by the gently rising waters – as long as you don’t succumb to hypothermia in the meantime.  In a world of fuel-poverty, there can be few better ideas than encouraging those of advancing years to sit naked in the bathroom, waiting for the water to rise to waist-level and, having bathed, wet and naked whilst it drains.  Clean in both life and death, it is win/win, as long, of course, as the deceased has taken out a Funeral Insurance Plan.

And who could resist the lure of happy, smiling septuagenarian friends discussing how much better their lives have become since ensuring their relatives will have no expensive funeral bills to face?  Filling in the form is clearly great fun – I suppose that compared to the alternative of Classic Emmerdale, it might well be – as they laugh a lot, especially when one of them admits to having a over-abundance of parsnips this year.  The insurance company will even send you one of those new-fangled ballpoint pens just for enquiring.  You can bin the quill.  Send them your bank details and you will have a friend for life.

That is not, though, to say that the daytime advertisers expect all of their viewers to be housebound.  Despite our reputation for impulse-buying everything we could ever need from QVC, they realise that we, the ancient ones, may still have to venture out from time to time: perhaps to have the Velcro renewed on our shoes or to loudly discuss with the doctor’s receptionist which slot we should put the sample in.  Indeed, they are very keen that we should get out and about.  So keen, in fact, that they have created a myriad ways in which we can do so: three-wheeled, four-wheeled, five-wheeled, collapsible and de-luxe versions that remotely load themselves into the boot of your car providing it is the size of a bus and has a similar amount of free space for the ramp (not included) behind it.  As a species, it would seem, we are not designed to walk past retirement.  We are designed to weave manically through a peripatetic maze of pedestrian and on-coming vehicle whilst grappling with the calculation of multi-driveway power loss viz the possibility of getting back home without having to be dragged there by the AA or the surly offspring of the next door neighbour who has nothing better to do since he lost his balaclava.  The information that a battery is available that will get you to the shop and back, but is of such a size that you will need a second vehicle to carry it, is always in the smallprint, which, of course, you will not be able to read unless you have just ordered your new on-line varifocals with guaranteed comfort fit and a fully recyclable cleaning cloth at no extra charge.

Myself, I now get all my exercise via the little vibrating footpad advertised and, I am certain, regularly utilised by Sir Ian Botham.  It does make the TV picture a little blurry, but when you’re watching episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook that are older than you are, it barely matters and, if you keep on watching, they are almost certain to come up with a product to rectify it sooner or later…

*There is, of course, no real way to increase the time available to you – other than a deal with the Devil – if it was possible to buy extra time by doing nothing, I would probably live forever.

A Little Past Before the Present Kicks In

Having been absent for a little while I thought I would ease myself back into the swing of things by doing a little reading. Amongst the pieces I first read was Milkshake Footbaths by the wonderful Dumbestblogger (who is anything but) and it led me to read both this piece from my own past archive and the piece it refers to in the first paragraph. I repost here simply because I plan to get back into the saddle soon and just reading these through has made me recall that I shouldn’t really worry too much about what I am going to write about as nothing much makes sense these days and what I have to say, even less so. Gibberish is the New Philosophy. So I’ll see you soon, refreshed and maladjusted as ever, and in the meantime I wish you sweet dreams one and all…

Although At First Vicious, Viffers Do Not Contain Any Calories

I am used to waking with some weirdly disassociated phrase or sentence banging about at the forefront of my cerebellum, desperate to get out before wakefulness blocks any means of escape.  (I have written about this before in a short piece from June 2019, There Is No Means of Testing This Hypothesis, but the Fact Remains That the Dog Has Three Ears, which you can read here and from which I nicked the photo at the top of this post)  These little phrases, fleetingly available to me only in the very moments of waking, trapped, like Steve McQueen was not, on the barbed-wire fences that separate conscious from unconscious, disappear from view as the morning’s more immediate uncertainties kick in: ‘What day is it?’, ‘What time is it?’, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What on earth has died in my mouth overnight?’  This morning the little nosegay documented atop this post clattered through into my conscious mind, refusing, like a spoonful of yesterday’s cold mashed potato congealed in the bottom of a bowl, to be dissipated by the cold-water swirl of dawn, and hammered around until I wrote it down.  It did not need to be so conscientious; I could not shake it off now even if I wanted to.  It is stark and it is precise: I remember it word for word.  It has somehow imprinted itself onto some neuron or other (Do I mean neuron?  Is it synapse?  I can never remember.) that has strayed off into some darkened recess within my cranium, where it should not be; taking up the private parking space, no doubt, of the whatever-it-is that should be remembering the PIN number for my credit card.  It has become impossible to forget.  It is still pinging around the cortices of my brain like the little ‘table tennis ball’ in the video games of my youth.

I remember the phrase, I hear it still, but I do not recall the context and, because of that I have no idea of what I was banging on about at the point that daylight punctured my nocturnal bubble.  I presume that the words are meant to be reassuring: ‘Don’t worry, Viffers are safe to eat,’ but I can’t be sure.  Is it, perhaps, a warning: ‘They have no calories and are, therefore, of no dietary value’?  Well that really rather depends on where you stand on celery, doesn’t it?  Does food without calories serve any purpose other than to make you crave food with lots of them?  Perhaps I am mistaking lack of calories for something else – like lard – and lack of calories may not mean that foodstuffs are deficient in dietary value – just taste.

Initially I thought that I understood what I meant by ‘vicious’ – fiery, as in chilli, or Gordon Ramsay when yelling at the powerless – but now I’m not so sure.  What if I meant feisty – as in something alive – if it continued to be vicious, it would have to be alive wouldn’t it – which carries quite a different meaning.  Who eats living beasts?  Well, pretty much every carnivore except humans if you think about it.  Was the sentence spoken by an animal?  If so, who gave it rational thought and, more to the point, have I been sleep-anthropomorphising again?  Slightly difficult to imagine a weasel, for instance, issuing such a warning to its offspring (although I can, for some reason, imagine a cat doing so).  Besides, if it was about to be eaten, it would have every reason to be a little spiky wouldn’t it?  Anyway, if it was a living thing, it would contain calories surely.  Am I wrong in thinking that anything that consumes calories must, itself, contain them: that a miniscule part of everything you consume becomes a constituent part of you?  That when all is done and I am being loaded onto the little steel trolley that will wheel me along to my fiery goodbye, they will find me to be sixty percent chocolate, thirty-nine percent alcohol and one percent cauliflower?

Perhaps it is a good thing.  Perhaps whatever-it-is is being encouraged to eat whatever-it-is by whatever-it-is because it has no calories.  Perhaps obesity is a growing problem in the weasel world.

But if I was right in the first place, it would be a warning wouldn’t it: a little voice saying, ‘Don’t eat that chilli: it’s volcanically hot.  By the time you’ve quenched the fire in your mouth you will already be dreading the consequences elsewhere.’  Or what, after half a dozen pints, most men would consider a dare.  As my dad would say, ‘I think they put something in it up the brewery.’  The consumption of beer makes men uniquely susceptible to autosuggestion: ‘You would never be stupid enough to do that.’  ‘Oh yes I would!’  Let’s face it; no Indian Restaurant has ever sold a Phaal to anybody sober.  It is on the menu merely to allow the waiters to get their revenge on Stag Parties – and quite bloody right too.

On balance, I am most inclined to adhere to my warning theory.  I like a nice moral ending to my dreams.  But then, I know, as usual, that you were there way before me, we are still left with one unknown.  That this has not occurred to me until now as even being an unknown, may tell you a little of how my brain works – or fails to do at times.  Anyway, what I have to consider now is what, exactly, is a Viffer?  It is not a mispronunciation of something else, of that I am certain.  The word was very definite.  I was clear on it when I wrote it down, I am clear about it now.  Something tells me that I knew what a Viffer was when I wrote it down, but it is equally adamant that I will never know it again.  Unless, perhaps, the Buddhists are right and after a dotage spent chomping celery, I am one day reincarnated as a weasel.

The Joy of Floorboards

I did not intend to take a break from my sojourn quite so soon, but there are some calls that must be answered, and for now, it is strictly temporary.  This is for Yetismith, who inadvertently set the challenge, and for everybody else that reads this tosh and makes it all worthwhile …

Early floors were nothing more than patches of dried, compressed earth covered in a layer of straw and excrement which set like concrete, but smelled like the back end of a cow.  It was not unusual for European homes to be shared with animals and I think we are probably all aware of the skill with which some of them can hide their toothsome little gobbets behind curtains and doors, where they cannot be reached without moving the furniture and dislocating a sizeable length of vertebrae into the bargain.  Generally the little jobbies which were deposited in the more frequently transited sections of the floor were merely ‘trodden in’ to the existing surface, eventually forming a waterproof and durable surface – although not one that you’d want the baby to eat off.  It is believed that mint was actually introduced into Europe as a kind of ‘Shake ‘n’ Vac’ deodorizer: the leaves being scattered onto the hardened effluvia and trampled throughout the house, releasing their scent and lightening the atmosphere considerably – although almost certainly contributing to a certain sphincter-loosening sense of foreboding amongst the sheep in the scullery.  A similar effect is often reproduced in UK public houses with the liberal addition of Zoflora to the gentle collation of sawdust, blood, spit, vomit, pork scratchings and whatever-it-is that constantly seeps out from under the door of the gents.  This has a mildly hypnotic and aphrodisiac effect on hen and stag parties after thirteen bottles of Becks and a Vindaloo, resulting in a flood of tears, snot and recriminations the next morning, although seldom ritual whipping (except in certain Home Counties postcodes).

Early America settlers often covered their floors with sand which could be easily swept through the door with accumulated straw and dung and deposited against next-door’s fence.  Ancient Egyptians used stone and brick to decorate floors and add to the durability of surfaces from which the consumed whatever-it-was that made them presume that seeing giant cats with human heads was in any way normal.  Romans used tiny ceramic tiles to create mosaic floors of stunning complexity which slowly degraded leaving a surface not unlike a box of Lego on the kitchen tiles and is possibly why Italians have a tendency to wear sandals indoors to this day.

The earliest wooden floors were seen in the Middle Ages and were initially nothing more than wooden planks laid across the floor.  As houses became more sophisticated, this principle was adopted for ‘upstairs floors’ where it became an increasingly important way of stopping people falling straight back down after they reached the top of the stairs.  These ‘floorboards’ allowed upper floors to be traversed without the use of rope and pulley and meant that it became very much less tricky to chase the cat out of the bedroom at midnight.  Initially boards were hand sawn, split or axed and were consequently of differing sizes and thicknesses, resulting in a surface that can only otherwise be reproduced by allowing me to fit your kitchen laminate.

The invention of the steam engine led to new mechanical cutting methods and it became possible to produce planks of consistent and uniform size – ideal for the builder to hack about after you have reminded him that he has forgotten to allow space for the inglenook fireplace.  Tongue and grooved planks resulted in floors that were not only elegant and flat, but which no longer had gaps down which buttons or coins – or, in some of the hotels I have stayed in, children – could be lost.  This superb, flat surface has incredible durability and may last for decades, or until you have a leaking pipe, whichever comes first, because once lifted, tongue and groove boards never refit properly, although the consequent ‘creaking’ sections are known to enhance home security immensely.  A midnight trek across my own landing to the bathroom results in an under-carpet rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in creaks at a volume that would probably have woken the deaf old composer himself.

In the years following the Second World War, fitted carpets became increasingly popular and floorboards were generally hidden beneath acres of wall-to-wall florid nylonette shagpile.  Consequently the appearance of the wooden floor became less and less aesthetically important and large panels of chipboard began to replace the elegant wafers of oak and elm.  Such sawdust slabs had a super-flat, creak-free surface that dissolved like dampened rice-paper at the first childhood leakage and bowed alarmingly as it dried, often pinning the wardrobe up against the wall and ensuring that the doors could not be opened without a rubber mallet.

Good quality, original floorboards are now sanded, polished and left bare as a much treasured feature of period houses, yet by far the most interesting thing I can find about these architectural gems is what they occasionally have concealed below them: plumbing, wiring, proceeds of crime, bed bugs, builder’s fag packets, ‘Daz 4 Eva’, long deceased hamsters, grandad’s stash of porn, illicit love letters, priest holes, secret passages, witch marks, Aunty Hilda’s long-lost ‘friend’, grandma’s stash of porn… the greatest joy of floorboards is found in ripping them up in order to see what’s beneath – in the case of my own home, mostly woodworm, which I believe hardly ever bother burrowing into hardened straw and shit.  Just goes to show that progress is not always what it’s cracked up to be, doesn’t it?

NB – some of the above ‘facts’ were liberated from ‘A not-so-boring’ history of flooring’ by Sharon J. Huntington, who really should be rather more careful about what she says: the Trade Description people are very keen these days and ‘not-so-boring’ is a very subjective term…

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)…

A Cynic’s Dictionary – You Too Can Join In

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

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.
Children
– 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.
Holiday¹
– 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.
Relatives
– things that fall out.
Sense of humour – the real reason why your spouse hates you.
Service is temporarily unavailable – award-winning, super-fast broadband.
Silence
– 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.
Teeth
– 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.
Voice
– 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.

All the Fun of the Affair

I have this love affair with words.  I can do what I like with them (mis-spell, mis-use, incorrectly hyphenate…) and they seldom object.  (And when they do it is generally through this whatever-it-is that is embedded in Microsoft Word with the specific purpose of driving me half crazy: I know it’s a f*cking fragment, it’s how I write and no, I wouldn’t consider changing it!)  I’m actually pretty nailed on with spelling (although restaurant is, for some reason, always problematic for me) and my apostrophe use is definitely superior to whomsoever (whosoever, apparently) wrote the algorithm for Microsoft.  I love a bit of anthimeria – which the algorithm obviously believes is a word I have just invented – or possibly anthimeriaing.  Shakespeare, apparently, was a great verber, and if he never considered using Gerund as a character name, well, he dashed well should have (or, as everybody says around here, ‘should of’).  I will freely admit, I do like making up the odd word here and there: if it suits what I have to say, and it says it, then I use it.  If it doesn’t appear in the dictionary, well, perhaps it’s not just me who needs to get his act together. I am not alone.  Lewis Carroll, for instance, was a great maker-upper of words – although, strangely, I have just looked up paedophile and it wasn’t one of his. 

Grammar, unfortunately, is an entirely different kettle of frogs.  My use of grammar could best be described as ‘instinctive’ (as was the reaction of many of my English Tutors over the years): I tend to read things out aloud and if I pause, I stick a comma in.  If I stop, I stick in a full stop.  If I pause, just a little longer than a comma’s-worth, but don’t quite stop, then it is a semi-colon.  A colon, in my head, is simply an abbreviation for ‘such as’ or ‘such that’.  And parentheses (surely not parenthesises) I just drop in wherever I might have an extra idea to plop into a sentence, which is not catered for within my aforementioned basic grammatical rulebook.  I understand ‘verb’, ‘adverb’, ‘noun’, ‘pronoun’, ‘adjective’ and a little bit about ‘prepositions’, unlike ‘conjunctions’, and interjections which are well hard!  Beyond that, anything that requires more than a single word descriptor completely passes me by.  I don’t remember ever being taught these things.  I suppose I must have been, although I am certain that I have never known them.  Appositive phrases are completely out of reach to me.

I had an English teacher at school who dedicated his entire life (or so it seemed to me at the time – I’m sure he must have done other things) to chopping my long and florid sentences down into tiny, grammatically correct chunks with his own, equally florid, green ink revisions (although I still think that Word would call the resulting pithy blocks ‘fragments’) and all of my all-of-a-suddens into suddenlys (neither of which, apparently, can be pluralised).  His accuracy with the blackboard rubber is the main reason that I still, to this day, duck instinctively every time I am tempted to make a smartarse remark.  Consequently, my writing tends to veer wildly between the clipped and economical style that he tried to pound into my head and the convoluted mess that is more true to my nature and bloody-mindedness.  What’s the point in a sentence that you can read without having to think about it?  To get through many of mine, you might need a map.  If you reach the end of a sentence I have written with no idea of what I was trying to say at the start of it, it is probably because I have forgotten.

Also, for reasons that only a psychologist could explain, I do not like words such as learnt and dreamt, using learned and dreamed instead, both of which, I realise, are quite wrong, but sound much less ugly.  You may have noticed, I also use the ‘ise’ suffix in preference to the ‘ize’ espoused by the OED, apparently putting me at odds with Shakespeare and Tolkien, which I am sure will really bother them.  In ‘real life’, I am an inveterate and accomplished swearer, but I seldom swear in print because it looks so bloody unsightly.  I wrote a novel once in which every character was deeply flawed and ultimately unpleasant.  The worst of them swore as much on the page as I do in real life.  He was an ugly person and his dialogue disfigured the text to such an extent that I had to find something really unpleasant to do to him.  Oddly, I read it through a week or two ago and, with an appropriate distance between then and now, it actually made me laugh.  I believe that I have read many worse novels – although I could, as always, be very wrong about this – and I wish that I had pursued my search for a publisher rather more assiduously than I did, but I didn’t.  Even today I wish that I had the patience to pursue it, but I don’t (I am allergic to rejection: it brings me out in self-pity and I can’t afford the whisky).  I do wonder if my tortuous syntax might not be an impediment to literary success.  I’m not sure that this can be the whole reason for my stratospheric level of failure, as I have read many a best seller that has, in my opinion, needed some kind of preface from Bletchley Park in order to make it coherent and, unless I am particularly stupid*, there are many ‘great books’ out there that would have not made it beyond my own ‘could I read this in a deckchair’ test.  I am unable to tackle a single sentence in Ulysses without a pencil and notepad.

Anyway, I appear to have drifted somewhat from my charted journey here; the point is – or was, it seems so long since I started this – that I love words (even if my method of linking them together leaves much to be desired) and I love using them (my latest dreadful habit: using italics for expression) and that is the main reason why I continue to write this blog after all this time.  I hope you understand and can forgive…

*Author’s Note: I am particularly stupid.

Oblivion and all that

It came to me in a flash that when I die, the whole world will come to an end; not just for me, but for everyone in it, as far as I’m concerned.  Now, I’m not a great one for philosophical thinking: existentialism, for me, might as well not… er, well… exist, but I do find it slightly comforting to know that the whole universe can only exist for as long as I am in it.  When I cease to be, everything ceases to be.  Unfortunately, from the same view point, it will never have been in the first placeso, not much point in keeping backups of everything on the computer is there?

If this all seems uncomfortably close to the I can’t see you, therefore you can’t see me view of a child playing Hide and Seek, well, that is entirely consistent with everything that constitutes me and my life.  I presume it is part of the human condition that we all feel the need to make plans for when we are no longer here, but I think that I might just have found a way out of it.  Planning has never been a strong point for me.  I tend to either plan every last ounce of enjoyment out of an enterprise or get the day wrong and find myself on a bus load of pensioners heading to Cleethorpes in the rain.  The lure of there being no point to it is quite a strong one.  I have, in the past, started to make all kinds of elaborate plans for my funeral, but now I realise that there is no reason to do so, because it will never happen!  (The italics are my own.)  I will not be able to hear ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ therefore it is not playing; never has and never will exist.  I might as well choose ‘Bye Bye Baby’ by the Bay City Rollers, which, when I do cease to exist, will provide a bonus for all of us.

Actually, thinking of all the things I will take with me: pain, starvation, the Taliban, Okra, is quite comforting.  Imagine a world with no Chicken McNuggets.  It will come, but I will not be able to imagine it.  As I look out of my office window I see a giant buddleia at the end of the garden and it is absolutely covered in butterflies.  Imagine a life without that.  Imagine a life without anything, including life.  Quite disturbing isn’t it?  Occasionally my mind digs itself such a trough and it can be difficult to get out of.  I do so now by thinking of my kids and my grandkids, and by remembering that for them life will go on long after I am no more (selfish buggers!)  Each of my grandchildren will carry something of me into the future: for one it is ginger hair, for one it is a fearsome curiosity, for one it is legs that would look more at home on a carthorse.  Maybe they will remember me, maybe they will not.  If they do, I hope it is with fondness and not every time they catch a whiff of urine.

Not that I am planning on going anywhere just yet – I must make that quite clear.  Whatever I may have lingering in the future that is waiting to pull the trigger, I am blissfully unaware of it at the moment.  I feel like one of those posh fridges that monitors everything you put into it, but has no idea that you dropped a rogue brussel sprout in December 2012: it knows that the milk has only a day or two left, that the salad tray is devoid of all except a multi-pack of Mars Bars, that you really should have put a lid on the tin of tuna you opened last Wednesday, but it does not have a clue about the lump of green goo that is slowly spreading through the drain plug.  If it did, it could tell you why you can never open the fridge without setting off the smoke alarm and why everything you ever eat tastes of mouldy brassica, but it wouldn’t have a clue of what to do about it.  I doubt that, ‘Get yourself some long plastic forceps and a pipette for sucking up goo’ is part of its vocabulary.  To be honest, as my only real experience of AI is through the Terminator films, I suspect that it is far more likely to disguise itself as a central heating boiler, seduce my wife and take up arms against me.  Perhaps there are some parts of the future that I will be happy to miss.

There are two main reasons why I am currently involved in this navel-gazing.  The first, and most obvious, is that I have just caught sight of the bloody thing in the bathroom mirror.  I’m sure it didn’t used to look like that!  It used to lay in the midst of an area of toned muscle and taut skin.  It now looks like a sink hole in the middle of a pink blancmange.  I would like to do something about it, but I fear that it might involve sit-ups and I cannot live with the sound that my back makes when I try to do that.  I’m pretty good at sit-downs, but not so good at getting-back-up-agains, unless I have something to hold onto.  I will just have to wear a vest and whitewash the mirror.  The second reason for the navel gazing?  Well, I have just spent a couple of days in the company of my grandkids and they are so full of life (an absolutely infuriating amount of it) that I have started to realise that I am not. I am left with a sense of inadequacy that I only otherwise feel when watching ‘Only Connect’.  Whatever I had that formerly passed for get-up-and-go, has pissed off with the au pair and left me with a mortgage I can no longer afford and a dog that farts whenever it moves.  I am not what I once was – although I’m not sure that I ever was – and I am not entirely happy with what I fear I might become, so the best thing I can do is to just be what I am now.  It’s not much, but when the lights go out, it won’t matter.  Meantime, I get the popcorn in, fuel up on the kind of fizzy drink that will bubble out of my ears if I run, laugh at the absurdity of it all and try not to worry.  There’s almost certainly nothing I can do about it now anyway…

The Death of Routine #1

I hadn’t really seen the routine: I had simply become fixated with what came next.  I had given up fretting over what to write, becoming more absorbed in how to write it.  Whatever was occupying my mind was squashed back into its box until I had finished what I needed to do.  When I came to let it out, it merely dangled to the floor like a Jack-in-the-Box with a spring made of liquorice lace.

Tuesday was always my wild-card.  On occasions*, after a long weekend, it involved delving into my many files of unfinished bits and bobs and pulling out something that I thought I might be able to bring to an acceptable conclusion, when what I really should have been doing was looking for a way to humanely put it down.  I was fully aware that, whilst some of these pieces had originally been abandoned simply because I had run out of both time and steam, or because I had been distracted by something new and shiny, many of them had been discarded simply because they were not good enough, and no amount of tinkering  was ever going to make them so.  You can put a new door on a derelict house, but the roof still lets the rain in.  I am capable of dropping jokes into just about anything, but it doesn’t necessarily make it funny, anymore than dropping a truffle into a dog-turd would  make it edible.  My laptop is so full of dog-turd it should really be emptied once a week by the council.  It doesn’t matter how much you love your baby, what’s inside the nappy is still shit to everybody else.  I really must try to stop myself from revisiting things that did not work the first time.  I cannot make them work: at best they still do not work, just in a different way.  Backwards is never the way forwards.

Wednesday became Zoo Rhyme day.  I enjoyed the zoo rhymes.  They appealed to the child in me, but after a year of at least one a week, the child has often proved a little too difficult to find.  I really like most of these rhymes, but they have gradually become a little too knowing: the humour a little too dressed-up.  I will see them through to week 52 (I hope – I haven’t written the final four yet) and then, perhaps stop posting on a Wednesday all together, despite it being, by far, my most popular post of the week (largely I suspect, because there is far less of me to go around in a little verse).  Three posts a week is a much more manageable number for a blog that was originally intended to support only one.

Thursday was the day for the Running Diary, which will undoubtedly continue to pop up occasionally for as long as I continue to run, but week in, week out, it has become more of a drudge than the actual running.  I can’t keep putting you through that.  So whilst I continue to run three times a week, you will begin to hear about it far more irregularly, and we must all be grateful for that.

And then to Saturday and the Writer’s Circle day, which was originally intended to be just a hook on which I could hang a series of short stories, but somehow it started to become a single entity.  In my head, I suspect, it became a book and each successive chapter began to depend on at least some knowledge of what had gone before.  A sure-fire way to lose readers, as it turns out.  The law of diminishing returns.  By the time I had trudged on to episode 30 the ‘cost’ to the reader was obviously far greater than the reward.  I think that with a little work I could (although I won’t) work it up into a reasonable book, but it clearly makes a lousy serial.

So now I return to what I was always meant to be doing: rambling.  Whittering away about growing old**.  On and on, like a firework display with nothing left but half a dozen dampened Roman Candles and a rocket that has lost its stick.  I have insufficient gunpowder, these days, to blow my own hat off.  What you will get on Thursday and Saturday this week I have not yet even thought about.  We’ll see what happens (if, indeed, anything does: I am, after all the living embodiment of indolence – I am Slothman.)  I fear that over-thinking – like silk boxer shorts – leads only to disappointment and, despite the fact that this whole blog is built on disappointment, I just feel that it needs to lose a little bit of the routine that it has lately developed.  I need a little bit of surprise in what I write, because that is what always leads me onto what I write next – not the agenda that I have spent most of my life trying to wriggle out of.  From now on, Tuesday is just the start of a new day – and the rest of the week will have to fend for itself.  At my age, it might not quite stretch as far as anarchy, but disorganised is a definite ambition…

*Admittedly more regular of late.
**I’m not sure why it is always ‘growing’ old, when ‘growing’ hints at development – at getting better – whilst ‘old’ points more accurately towards failing joints and bladder, general decrepitude and death. 

N.B. Obviously, The Death of Routine #2 cannot happen.

Easylife

My wife brought home a free copy of some scurrilous rag or another from the supermarket yesterday and I was just about to head towards the bin with what I believed contained nothing of any value to me, when I discovered how wrong I can be*.  As I lifted the recycle bin lid, what should flutter to the ground but the ‘easylife’ brochure; a full colour extravaganza filled with everything you had absolutely no idea you always needed.  Let me guide you through a little…

My attention was first drawn to a pomegranate concoction accompanied by the most startling diagram of male genitalia I have ever seen.  If mine looked like that, I don’t think that even I would want to touch it, even though, as the ‘blurb’ accompanying it claims, it could lead me to ‘a regained sex life’.  Looking again at the illustration, that would almost certainly not be with another human being.  Apparently ‘a number of men’ have already been helped by it.  Sadly, I will retain my un-enhanced life for now as well as bits and bobs that do not look as if they’ve been run over by an articulated truck.

I could not resist the lure of life enhancement for long, however, when on the very next page I encounter the buckle-less belts that will not only revolutionise my trouser wearing, but also lead to a ‘slimmer, trimmer silhouette into the bargain’.  I could not be more excited if they promised to keep my trousers up too.  Also, on the adjacent page I find an amazing device that will cut out 98% of the sun’s harmful UV rays and ‘protects your hair and its colour from fading’.  It looks a great deal like an umbrella and, as a special bonus, I find that it is indeed rain-proof and able to ‘shrug off summer showers’.  I can’t help but wonder why nobody has thought of it before.

The same must be said for the aerosol spray on the next page that will, it says, repair leaks and make watertight within seconds.  It is, according to the magazine, ‘endorsed by DIY enthusiasts’ and will, in addition to pipes, windows and gutters, also repair roofs and windows: I am surprised that tradespeople across the country have not fought to keep this stuff off the market. 

A scant turn of the page onwards and I encounter ‘the instant portable fence’ – a section of expanding trellis on legs.  It can, it says, be used to keep pets in their place – although it does not say what stops them merely knocking it over or walking around it – and, even better, it can be used indoors or out and, let’s face it, who doesn’t want a section of trellis fence in the house.  Even better, you would be able to position the fence whilst wearing the ‘shoes so comfortable they could be slippers’ which are also suitable for indoor and outdoor wear and are, as far as I can tell, velour slippers.  Be careful though, even in your sturdy, water-repellent soles, that you do not encounter the Stayaway Spike Repellent which promises to humanely keep your pets away from precious plants with ‘hundreds’ of 2cm spikes (the product description helpfully comes with a photograph of a dog staring forlornly at some distant plants) although not, I fear, the vet.

There are bras with front fastening, criss-cross fastening and no fastening; more therapeutic copper than you can shake a stick at, and more miracle ingredients than you’d find in an apothecary’s weekend bag.  There is also a vacuum cleaner for removing the wax from your ears, plasters for skin-tags and a pair of gloves that, as far as I can make out, cure hand pain and fatigue by warming them up and, best of all, we have a ‘glowing solar owl’ that makes your garden a no-go area for pests, as it is a well known fact that all pests are afraid of owl-shaped light-bulbs.

I have barely scratched the surface of everything that is contained within here: I have not, for instance, even mentioned the professional way to clean you dentures, the portable door step, the diabetic socks, nor the self-cleaning toilet brush.  Nor, indeed, the fact that, thank goodness, it is all printed on fully recyclable paper…

*I once believed that no president of the United States of America could possibly be insane.  That’s how wrong I can be.

N.B. I have taken a short break from the Running Diary and The Writer’s Circle, both of which will return when I have regrouped.