The Running Man on a Return to Couch to 5k

I went for a slightly ‘troubled’ run at the end of last week whence I discovered that my lungs have not yet quite worked themselves back up to absorbing oxygen in the required manner and my hips are in desperate need of WD40, so it was decided that I need to reintroduce myself to the thrice weekly slog a little more gently.  Consequently I reset ‘Couch to 5k’ and I intend to ‘redo’ the last few weeks of the regime until I get back up to speed.  I have removed the ever-soothing tones of Jo Whiley and replaced them with the slightly more chiding contributions of Sarah Millican.  The short ‘walking’ interludes (I have started at week 5 which sees me ending the week with a twenty minute run) are a little embarrassing, and always coincide with encounters with other runners, but do give me the opportunity to whip my ailing alveoli into accepting some suitable level of oxygen exchange before I lurch on again.

I have always ‘suffered with my chest’ but this is the first time I have really noticed how long it takes to build back up to normal function after it has divested itself of whatever it is it stores in there – although to be honest I have never been one to push my ability to breathe further than has seemed natural.  In forty years of playing football, I seldom moved beyond canter, even at my fittest.  I always managed to position myself alongside ‘willing runners’, affording myself the maximum opportunity to kick the opposition without having to chase them around too much first.  I figured that, as breathing was the only thing actually keeping me alive, being out of breath was unlikely to ever be a good thing.

My legs, I have mentioned before, have something of the ‘tree trunk’ about them.  They are ‘sturdy’ in the extreme and, I fear, not ideally suited to running – probably more designed for holding up a motorway bridge.  My calf muscles alone must consume about fifty percent of the oxygen that I do manage to take on board.  Moreover, when given the opportunity to utilise an amount of oxygen, they generally seem to enjoy it to such an extent that they continue to flap around all night.  It is incredibly annoying (possibly more for my wife than myself) when my legs are still pounding the streets whilst the rest of me searches for sleep.  I have tried so many ways of combating this: hot baths, cold baths, super-hydration (leading to super-micturition), standing, sitting, heating, cooling, beating with birch twigs, giving a stern talking-to, but to little avail.  My legs have no speed control and whilst they are unhappy to lumber up to a pace that is anything in excess of brisk stroll, they are, having done so, generally unwilling to return to anything resembling inertia.  If I do manage to tie the damn things down overnight, they repay me by aching and, occasionally, cramping up in such a manner that a blacksmith could use them as an anvil.

My hips are relative newcomers to this circle of pain, but boy are they making up for it now.  I have developed a hip-flexing and stretching exercise routine which fits between my runs and my hips have been much better, but whilst I was not running, I was also not doing the in-between stuff.  Hence my hips have become like rusted gate hinges and they make a similar noise when I walk.  I desperately need to get them back into some kind of order so that I can get out of the car without groaning; so that I can bend over without next door’s cat thinking that somebody is shooting at it.

I’m hoping that my second lope through the latter stages of Couch to 5k will be somewhat easier than my first: I am somewhat more adjusted to the levels of discomfort and boredom, having developed the distraction techniques needed to cancel out both.  I may stumble on through the schedule, to the end of week nine, or I may find that I am back up to speed (relative term*) before then and decide to drop back into the old routine.  Either way, I am actually feeling keen to get back to my established routine of runs and exercise before winter descends.

Who’d have thought it?

*VERY relative term.

‘Couch to 5k’, started my running saga here.
Last week’s running diary ‘on Being Grandad’ is here.

Zoo #43 – Ptarmigan

A ptarmigan is a bigger partridge
(Though hunters use the same size cartridge)
A little larger than a grouse,
Substantially smaller than a house.
Its fate is often Christmas fare –
It tastes a little like a hare.
Ptarmigans come with a silent ‘P’,
Like toddlers swimming in the sea.

The Ptarmigan is classed as a ‘game bird’ e.g. it has obviously been placed on earth with the simple function of giving the ruling classes something to point their guns at when they’re not starting wars.  It is the ultimate arrogance of man that everything else on this planet has been placed here solely for our benefit and such things that clearly do not fit this criteria, probably need to be eradicated.  Weirdly, the creatures we protect the best are those that we eat.

N.B. the bird was originally known by its Gaelic name ‘Tàrmachan’ until a man called Robert Sibbald (Psibbald?) thought that it would look far more classy if it appeared to have a genus name of Greek origin, so he stuck a silent ‘p’ at the front.  I’ve always been intrigued by silent letters.  How did they get there?  I know (that is, I have been told, and I am trusting enough to believe) that some of them were originally pronounced – e.g. both the ‘k’ and the ‘g’ in the word ‘knight’ were originally spoken – but I cannot begin to imagine how ‘igh’ ended up in so many words.  Some kind of lexicographical aberration.  I’m sure the Greeks would have a word for it…

My One and Only Piece about the Euros

You have to be honest: it is the grinding inevitability that is so galling.  Our position as world-class gallant losers cemented once again.  Oh well, if it’s going to take another fifty-five years until we do this all again, at least I won’t be here for it – although, if I am, I will just about have recovered.  As a life-long football fan and lover of my country (although not always my countrymen) I should by now have grown used to this torture: that everything ends in disappointment sooner or later.  Let’s be honest: we all knew that Italy were the better team, but we believed, really believed, that it didn’t matter.  We had destiny on our side (not to mention Baddiel, Skinner and Neil Diamond).  In actual fact, even if they’d have given additional marks for ‘Anthem Singing’ we’d have lost.  Watching the Italian team sing their anthem is joyful.  We Brits feel obliged to sing the anthem solemnly – loudly – but reverentially.  Gusto is, I believe, an Italian word…

It has become a national trait: play brilliantly, get ahead, freeze with the realisation of what we have just done, die a little.  Somehow English teams, in all sports, are viewed as arrogant, when what we are is, in fact, fragile.  People of my age might remember the ‘mantles’ that used to be a necessary component of gas lights in caravans: they gave out a brilliant white light, until you touched them when they collapsed as though made out of talcum powder.  English confidence is a brittle beast.  It can’t help that we live on a tiny island of three nations, of which the other two despise us.  Ask most Scots who they would want to win and they would answer ABE (Anyone But England).  On Sunday, Scotland was populated by 5.5 million Italians.  Our Welsh neighbours are similarly disposed towards us.  The answers, I suppose, must lie in our history – shared, presumably with France, Germany and Ireland amongst a plethora of others – who would support the Invading Hordes of Betelgeuse if they were playing England.  I’m sure we had a few of our American chums supporting us – although how many chose to watch a European competition shown, presumably (and if at all) in the middle of the night I cannot imagine.  Also, I seem to remember reading that there are more Irish people in the US than in Ireland and those of Italian descent not far behind, so I’m guessing we probably didn’t feel the waves of support washing across the ocean anyway.

The problem is, we have a ‘history’ – seldom a good one – with most of the rest of the world, and history, it appears, is not easily forgiven.  Imagine being beaten up in the school playground because of something your great, great, great, grandfather once did.  Try to imagine how much weight an apology would carry: I apologise for the actions of all of my countrymen between 1558 and 1980.  Here, have my Snickers Bar as reparation is not going to cut it, is it?  It is a burden that all English people carry, and one that we cannot shed.

…And then I read that a number of the England players (You can guess which ones.  I’ll give you a clue: they are not white-skinned.) have been subjected to all sorts of abhorrent abuse on social media since our loss – presumably from the people who are currently doing for the Flag of St George what they previously did for the Union Jack e.g. making it reviled throughout the world – and I think, you know what, I now get what the rest of the world sees in us.  You’ve all seen these ‘people’ when they get caught (not often) and they appear gloating on the TV News: the boo’ers of ‘taking the knee’; the jeerers of other National Anthems; the denouncers of different; the haters; the flower of English manhood (and they always are men) huh?  And I realise that this young, diverse and focussed group of football players, who made it all the way to the final and played brilliantly along the way, is something to really celebrate.  They represent the England I want to be part of, and bugger the penalties… 

The Writer’s Circle #26 – The New Skirt

Penny smoothed down the perceived creases in her neatly pleated skirt.  She was certain that nobody had noticed, but it was new and just a very few centimetres shorter in length than those she habitually wore.  She felt somehow empowered by it.  She had caught a sideways glimpse of herself in the mirror in the Ladies and she thought that her legs were actually nothing like as ‘stringy’ as her mother always told her.  She had seen worse, much worse, and although the skirt gave her a little difficulty in keeping her knees covered when she sat down, she was happy with the way she looked.  She felt suddenly hot and thought about opening the top button on her blouse.  Just briefly.  Steady now Penny, just one step at a time…

Shyly she looked around the Circle (all of whom had noted the new skirt) and almost sat straight down, but she caught sight of Deidre who was clearly ready to speak, and decided to press on.  “I drew,” she said, “Family Saga, and I would be lying if I said that I really knew what that meant.  First I thought ‘Gone with the Wind’ and then I thought of ‘The Waltons’, but I knew that I was only going to write a few hundred words, and ‘Saga’ didn’t really seem to apply.  So, I hope that nobody minds, but I intend to take a bit of a liberty and take myself even further out of my comfort zone…”
“Oh God,” muttered Deidre, “What is it, a poem about cats?”
“…by writing this.  I think you will all agree that it is not what I’m used to doing, but I listened to Frankie and he said that I needed to ‘lighten up’.”  She looked to Frankie for support and he smiled warmly and nodded his approval.  “I know what everybody thinks of me and, frankly, you’re not really wrong, so I tried to remember how I used to be; what I used to like and, somehow, for some reason, I came up with this and… well, Phil has agreed to help me ‘act’ it.  I hope nobody minds…”  She smiled at Phil who took his cue to stand, grasping a sheaf of papers in his hand.  “We grabbed a few minutes ‘rehearsal’ before you all got here.  I don’t know about Phil, but I have never acted before – not even in the school nativity – so please be patient.  I will have to set the scene.  It is an old-fashioned bookshop.  Phil is the owner and I am the customer.  I hope you will bear with me; I’m no actor and this is… well, I hope you will bear with me.”  She and Phil moved into position, each grasping their script and a book in a bag.

PHIL                            Ah good morning madam.  May I be of service?
PENNY                        Yes, it’s about this vegetarian cook book you sold me yesterday.
PHIL                            Yes madam.                       
PENNY REMOVES A VERY DOG-EARED COOK BOOK FROM THE BAG.  PHIL LOOKS AT THE BOOK AND THEN ENQUIRINGLY PENNY.
PENNY                        It’s an ordinary cookbook with all the meat recipes torn out.
PHIL                            Your point being…?
PENNY                        Well, it’s not the same as a vegetarian cook book, is it?
PHIL                            I’m afraid you’ll have to help me there.
PENNY                        Well, a vegetarian cook book is a carefully selected and varied collection of non-meat recipes, whilst this…
PHIL                            Yes madam?
PENNY                        … this is a carnivorous jamboree with everything but the lentils ripped out of it.
PHIL                           (Under his breath)  Not unlike the average vegetarian fruitcake’s diet, I’d say.  Perhaps, madam, you could tell me exactly what it is you were expecting.
PENNY                        Well, I wanted a book of recipe ideas, especially designed for vegetarian consumption, which I could cook for my son’s non-meat eating girlfriend when she comes to stay at the weekend…
PHIL LOOKS POINTEDLY AT THE BOOK.
PENNY (cont)              … that doesn’t say ‘100 favourite meat recipes’ on the cover.  I don’t think I’m going to get very far with a recipe for Steak & Kidney Pie with ‘Steak & Kidney’ Tipp-Exed out and the words ‘Some Vegetarian Rubbish’ written over it in biro.  Nor, I think, will she find (SHE TURNS THE PAGE) and I quote ‘Beef Stroganoff with all the good bits picked out’ particularly to her taste.
PHIL                           Right, well, I’ll just throw this one away then shall I?
MELODRAMATICALLY, HE THROWS THE BOOK INTO THE BIN.
PHIL (cont)                  Another week’s profit down the drain.
PENNY                        Oh come on.  It’s not the first time you’ve tried it on with me, is it?
PHIL                           What do you mean?
PENNY                        The whodunnit you sold me last week…
PHIL                           Yes?
PENNY                        2019’s ‘Wisden’ with the last page torn out… And what about the ‘Da Vinci Code’?  Did you really think that I wouldn’t realise that it was just a remaindered travel book about Venice with half the words cut out and stuck back in at random?
PHIL                           Alright, what do you want?
PENNY                        Have you got the latest Jeffrey Archer?
PHIL REACHES INTO HIS BAG AND PULLS OUT A PRISTINE PAPERBACK.
PENNY                        Can you cut all the crap out for me?
WITH A WEARY SIGH PHIL TEARS OFF THE FRONT COVER AND PUTS JUST THAT IN THE BAG, WHICH HE HANDS TO PENNY.  HE THROWS THE REST INTO THE BIN.
PENNY                        Thanks
SHE ‘EXITS’.

In the ensuing silence, both Phil and Penny retook their chairs.  Penny looked down at her exposed knees and Phil cast his eyes slowly around the Circle.  Frankie clapped.  “Bravo,” he said, and he stood.  Phil joined him, clapping loudly.  One by one the rest of the Circle stood and joined in the applause with even the reluctant Deidre belatedly joining in.  Penny, with half a smile, took a deep inward breath and slowly pulled down the hem on her skirt…

N.B. I’m sure that Crispin Underfelt has mentioned before the difficulty of getting sketches to format for WordPress.  This is the best that I can muster.  I hope that it is, at least, understandable.

The Writer’s Circle began here with ‘Penny’s Poem’.
Last week’s episode ‘Redemption (part two)’ is here.

A Time Limited Sketch – A Different Reason: A Friday Introduction

SCENE: INT. THE BANK. TWO RAIDERS CHARGE IN WAVING SHOTGUNS AROUND AND THREATENING THE STAFF, DEMANDING MONEY. UNFLUSTERED, THE CASHIER FINISHES HER COUNTING BEFORE LOOKING UP AT THE MEN. SLOWLY AND DELIBERATELY SHE TURNS HER EYES TOWARDS THE COVID NOTICE ON THE WALL STATING THAT MASKS MUST BE WORN. THE MEN SLOWLY FOLLOW HER STARE AND THEN, APOLOGISING PROFUSELY, SEARCH THROUGH THEIR POCKETS AND PULL BALAKLAVAS OVER THEIR HEADS. WITH A NOD OF THANKS THE CASHIER STARTS HANDING OVER THE CASH.

This sketch is something in the way of an excuse. It is obviously very close to its sell-by date, but I have to shamefacedly admit that I only thought of it today.

Anyway, what I really want to do is to introduce any of you who don’t know it to the blog ‘A Badly Chewed Pencil’ written by my very good friend, Mr Crispin Underfelt. Chris and I have a lifetime’s history. He makes me laugh all the time. I really think that more people should read his blog. If you like silly poems with a slightly dark edge, he is your man. If you want a comic saga, then ‘Thompson’s Lost Plimsoll’ is without peer. If you want a song lyric that you can hum your own tune to, Chris is unbeatable. If you want money, he’s not so good. I hope that this might take you back to his very first post – a perfect place to start – try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Pies – A Badly Chewed Pencil (wordpress.com)

The Running Man on Being Grandad

Wednesday was to be my first proper running day since I was first unwell – except it wasn’t.  I have had a few sessions on the exercise bike and I no longer get out of breath hoisting myself into the saddle so the time felt right, but it is not.  When I run, I run alone.  I avoid other people as far as I possibly can and it has lately occurred to me that, should I keel over, I am many lifetimes away from a defibrillator.  I am fully aware that the benefits of running far outweigh the risks, but you have to be honest, the benefits are not quite so… terminal.  The pay-off of keeping fit may, if I am lucky, stretch twenty years into the future; the perils, if I am not, may stretch six feet into a box.

Exercise so far this week has consisted of being grandad.  Of being used as a trampoline by two three-year olds and football/tennis/cricket opponent by a six year-old.  I haven’t counted the baby, although God knows, the amount of walking up and down the room I do whilst holding her must count for something.  Being grandad is much more fun than running, but twice as tiring.  I have a ‘babysitting’ mode on my Fitbit that just says ‘Go and have a lie down’ every thirty minutes.  I would like to introduce the physicist, searching for the secret to perpetual motion, to my grandson.  Even when his body is stationary, his mind is moving at a frightening pace.  He is capable of the kind of leaps of logic that would make Einstein blanch.  You want to witness something moving faster than the speed of light, look inside his head whilst he’s sleeping.  While the world slumbers, he hatches plans for rocket-powered shoes, upscaled building projects based on super-sized Lego and the possibility of growing chocolate from Smarties.  An hour in his company is both life-enhancing and draining beyond belief.  My spirits soar whilst my head throbs and my limbs ache.

I will not have run today either because I will have been at work and a day at work starts and ends with a long walk.  When the sun shines, the morning walk is a golden thirty minutes, when it rains it is filled with the misery of knowing that I am going to be damp for the rest of the day.  There is something about the water that runs down your back and into your pants that means that it can never dry – like badly stirred gloss paint on a plastic door.  The journey back to the car on such a day, wet-panted, is never pleasant even if the sun shines.  Steaming underwear is never comfortable.

Tomorrow, however, I am not at work.  Tomorrow I will run.  Next week’s running diary may well not be about running, but it will at least have its seeds in a run, and whether my pants are wet or dry and as long as I make it to the end without the attentions of the paramedics, you will hear all about it.

Ain’t life grand?

In an attempt to ‘glam up’ my content, I thought I’d try to post this piece with an intriguing title.  I toyed with ‘Quantum Fluctuations of Time within the Somnambulant Cerebral Cortex’ but I was worried that someone might ask me to explain.  I considered ‘The Mortal Coil: How to Shuffle Off – the Facts’ but I was held back by the fact that, by and large, these blogs are not, in fact, fact-heavy, but rather more fact-less.  I then took a leaf from Bryntin’s book and went for ‘Easy Blogging Tips for Successful Lifestyle Investments’ but I feared litigation, so I went for the ‘what it says on the tin’ approach, which means that we can keep it to ourselves.  Just the two of us…

The first running diary, ‘Couch to 5k’ is here.
Last week’s running diary ‘On What to Remember’ is here
The next Running Man post, ‘On a Return to Couch to 5k’ is here.

It’s the Not Knowing that Kills You

Photo by Thiébaud Faix on Unsplash

Last week was a particularly disappointing one for my blog1 with views well below even my own normal paltry highs.  I would like to understand why this might have been because, quite frankly, I would like to try to do something about it.  I have read through the week’s posts (and I can only apologise) but I can’t honestly find any particular reason for such a drop-off in readership: everything chugged along just as aimlessly as ever it did.  Tuesday followed its normal eclectic2 path and last week I published a short sketch.  In days of yore I wrote sketches by the dozen.  There was a time when it appeared that people might be interested in them.  Sketch comedy, it seems, no longer exists anywhere other than between my ears, but I like it, so you may get more.  It doesn’t really matter; very few people read the blog on Tuesday.  It is the only day that I currently approach with no semblance of a plan.  Tuesday is me – a decrepit old mirrorball with half of the mirrors hanging off and a troubling amount of smoke coming from the motor that is supposed to make the whole thing turn – so that probably explains a lot.

Wednesday, as has become normal, was a little, nonsensical, vaguely zoological rhyme.  I started these nine months ago and I decided that I could keep them going for a year without quite realising how long that year could be.  Poetry is normally a ‘banker’ for WordPress views.  Mostly it does very well, but not last week.  Was it particularly poor?  Well, it depends upon what you compare it with.  Compared with anything that could even vaguely be described as ‘acceptable’, yes, it is poor, but compared with the rest of my own poetic output it ranks somewhere in the territory of not particularly worse than any of the rest of it, so again I am left without an explanation.  Perhaps it was a little sombre for a nonsense rhyme…  except, except, except, to know that, you’d have had to have read it and hardly anybody did.  Perhaps, dear reader, you have just become bored of the whole concept.  Maybe a year is just too big a stretch.  I haven’t yet given a moment’s thought to what will come on Wednesday this week, but it will be a ‘zoo’ poem.  Beyond that I’m not sure.  I will see out the year because that is what I set out to do.  After that I might bail out of Wednesdays altogether – so book your holidays now.

Thursday has become a regular ‘running diary’ although it is seldom, if ever, about actual running.  It is about… well, if I’m honest, I don’t know what it is about, but whatever it is, it normally occurs to me whilst I am running.  Now I haven’t been well for a week or two, so no running has taken place and perhaps the running diary has, consequently, lost a little relevance3.  I hope to be back running this week and whining about it by Thursday.  I cannot understand how my grindingly lachrymose recollections of a gasping trot through the village could possibly be anything less than entertaining.

And then comes Saturday and The Writer’s Circle.  I really don’t know what I am going to do about Saturday.  Last week’s little episode staggered through the weekend thumbing its nose at a readership that stubbornly remained in single figures.  It is not entirely unusual for these little stories.  Last week’s was a part two and as with all part two’s (except, perhaps, for Toy Story, Star Wars [although that, obviously, was actually part V] and The Godfather) it paid the price, but I have to recognise, I think, that I have created a bunch of people here – rather like the Shadow Cabinet – that absolutely nobody cares about.  I think I might have been mixing up ‘interesting’ with ‘amusing’ and winding up with something that is neither one nor th’other: clearly interusing does not buy me readers.

I feel that I might have to find a way of giving myself a kick up the butt without falling flat on my arse4.  It may not be quick and it may not be pretty, but I will try to find a way5.  Until then, I can only ask you to bear with me and, if possible, try to read everything twice, just in case it should ever improve. 

After all, you never know6

1 I realise that for those of you who habitually read this nonsense, disappointment is a stalker: if you cannot get an injunction, you will find it an ever-present nuisance.
2 Tuesday does what it does.  I have no explanation for it.
3 I am uncertain as to what the loosest possible definition of the word ‘relevance’ is called, but this is undoubtedly an example of it.  Originally I used the word ‘urgency’ but I had to change it after I realised that I haven’t even approached any degree of urgency since puberty.
4 © MixedMetaphors.com
5 Although, for now, all that I really have to offer is a navel that has been gazed at so often it has just got itself an agent.  If only I was somebody else, what fun I could have writing about me.
6 At least, I never do, although, truth be told, I never did.

As ever, answers (in not more than your own words) on a postcard (or a stuck-down envelope) please…

An abject apology

I haven’t been out to run today. I haven’t really stopped to do anything that I want to do – and that includes writing this blog. I am sorry.

I will try very hard to write something tomorrow because I don’t like to see untidy gaps. Not, unfortunately, that I am seeing untidy anything at the moment because I am in receipt of a new pair of specs and, truth be told, something is definitely not where it should be. I can, with a little difficulty, arrange them in such a way that vision is available, but unfortunately when I look in a mirror I then find that my glasses sit at a forty-five degree angle across my face. Now, I know that my ears are not symmetrical and my nose is a little eccentric in its positioning but, none-the-less, this is really not working for me and I’m beginning to get a bit of neck ache. It is a situation I will have to address just as soon as I can be bothered.

Nor is this a valid reason for a) not writing a blog and b) not running, because I tend to do both in contact lenses and I have my old glasses anyway. Somehow the day has just disappeared into a miasmic haze of grandchildren, double-glazing salesmen and plumbers and I can’t seem to pick up the threads. Three consecutive nights of lying awake reading whatever came to hand (last night ‘Adrian Mole – the cappuccino years’*) listening to cats prowling (yes, you can hear that) foxes yowling and homeward bound couples bickering have taken their toll. My whole being is teetering on the brink of a sleep that will, somehow, never come. I have tried no nightcaps, I have tried one nightcap, I have tried two nightcaps; this evening will probably involve a whole bottle full. I feel like many years ago when I sat through the film ‘Ghandi’ wondering ‘why have I chosen to do this with my life? I could have stayed outside, in the sunshine, counting my toes.’

Anyway, tonight I will go to bed with a pad and paper and tomorrow I will run. One way or another you should get something that, although a day late, will fit the criteria. In the meantime, please accept my apology. As always in my life, the circumstances are beyond my control…

*Probably tells you more than you ever need to know about me that these books still make me cry with laughter at times.

Well, this is Awkward…

This is, I believe, my 417th post.  I have been blogging since November 2018 and this is, to the best of my memory, the first time I have arrived at a blank screen with only one hour to publication and not the faintest idea of what I am going to say.  I am aware that, in general, what I write looks like it has just been made up on the spot, as the clock ticks round to zero, but that is really not the case.  Normally I have a few pieces in the bank and often on a Monday I schedule the posts for the whole week.  Now I have nothing, not just for today, but forever going forward.  As my great friend Mr Underfelt will, I am sure, be happy to confirm, I am a little obsessive about what I have to say: I will strangle myself over the right word for the occasion and, given the chance, I will tinker with a piece until its time has long passed it by and it has hairs sprouting out of its ears.  Today, I have nothing to fret over – unless you count the fact that I actually have nothing at all.  Whatever I might find to say had better soon make itself known to me because I have no idea what I am going to prattle on about on Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday either.  Wednesday’s poem will come, they are often late arrivers, and I have to run this evening, so those thirty minutes of empty drudgery have the potential to allow me the time to find something to whinge about on Thursday, but Saturday is an altogether knottier problem.  My normal process involves me writing at least one piece that ends up in the bin before I start to find my feet for The Circle.  Generally speaking the Saturday post falls into place at the last minute but, crucially, that last minute is in reality a full week before the actual last minute or else I would never sleep.  Thankfully, the Circle has a couple of new members that we haven’t properly heard from yet.  I’ll think of something.

In fact, this whole milieu (or do I mean quiescence – I am too troubled to know) has made me (again, I know, I’m sorry) think a little too carefully about the way I write and, having written his WordPress name above, about my friend Crispin (not his real name – obviously) who has had to put up with my creative peccadilloes for more years than, I am sure, he would care to admit.  I have a mind that is capable only (and at times barely) of operating on a single level at any one time.  I get a solitary idea and I nag it to death until it cannot give me any more.  I take a single thread and I shred it.  Crispin takes a single yarn and knits a pullover.  Whilst I pull a single twine into a thousand pieces, he weaves a tapestry.  He bubbles with a thousand ideas whilst I try to decide whether ‘Garibaldi’ or ‘Ginger Nuts’ are the funnier; whilst I try to decide whether my character would eat Rich Tea or Custard Creams, he is baking a Teatime Assortment complete, I must admit, with a layer or two of those godawful pink wafers, but also with more Chocolate Hobnobs than you can shake a stick at.  I work on a single idea whilst he has a thousand more.  By the time I have found the punchline, he has delivered a thousand more feeds.  Chris is the stray match launched indiscriminately into the box of Brock’s*, whilst I am the Catherine Wheel that does not spin but splutters for a while before, to everyone’s relief, it goes out.  I am certain to glitter, dully and briefly, whilst he will either go out altogether or produce a blast that will blow his own wig off.  I tell you this for only two reasons:

  1. Not nearly enough people read his blog.
  2. At times like this I wish I had as many ideas as he**.  Don’t get me wrong here – I would drive myself barmy.  I would never keep up with me.  I find the few that I do have quite distracting enough.  I am not as young as I was, my mind is not as agile.  But I would have something up the barrel that I could play with this evening.  The process of writing is my friend.  I have not been able to sit down properly to write in over a week.  Such ‘jokes***’ as I can manage drop into my head from somewhere I do not know, but always as I write, never in advance.  A good line in a thousand words might not seem much, but it is, in my opinion, more than Ted Rogers**** ever mustered and it is, anyway, as good as I get.

Anyway, there it is; my brain does not buzz with ideas and, when it does, I cannot concentrate on any single one sufficiently to get it to work for me, but today the shelves are empty.  I am the campsite grocers on a Saturday night: my bread is mouldy, the eggs are cracked and the firelighters are damp.  I will not be able to stock up until Monday on account of the fact that the wholesalers is shut over the weekend and anyway, the damp has got into his distributor and his van won’t start.  But at least I’m open…

*Brock’s were a second division firework brand when I was a child.  The more well-off had Standard Fireworks.  They were, indeed, very standard, but not quite as much so as Brock’s.  I believe the phrase ‘damp squib’ was invented to describe a Brock’s Roman Candle.

**Whenever we meet up Chris has a whole new slew of ideas under his hat.  It doesn’t matter that some of them may never work, he is so enthused by them that you cannot help but get sucked in.  And anyway, if they come to nothing, he has a thousand more to fall back on.

***I crave your indulgence on this matter.  Think not of Laurel and Hardy trying to get a piano up a staircase, but Donald Trump trying to keep control of his combover as he gets out of a helicopter: it’s not clever but, well, you’ve got to smile haven’t you?

****Ted Rogers was an English comedian who told political and topical jokes that nobody ever understood.  He hosted a TV quiz show in which he was the second funniest person.  The funniest was an anthropomorphic dustbin.

P.S. Can anybody explain to me, please, why I am no longer able to add new posts through Microsoft Edge? Firefox takes an age and I am now using Google Chrome for this one thing.

The Heart Grown Fonder

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

The pen is mightier than the sword, said someone who had clearly never been faced by a rapier-bearing maniac whilst brandishing only a Bic rollerball, but I get the drift.  A few well-chosen words can change the course of history providing, of course, that you don’t get skewered before you can write them.  There are times when an épée with ink might come in handy.  When words fail you, silence can be the most potent weapon of all.  We all understand the power of the non-speaking partner – especially after a night out.  When you feel so passionate about something that you lose control of your tongue, the best advice is to hold it.  If you say nothing in the heat of the moment, you seldom live to regret it later.  (Unless, of course, it was not telling Aunty Thelma that there was a runaway bus heading towards her.)  There are times when you have nothing to say; when you are literally unable to add anything to the conversation.  I find myself out of my depth more often than a toddler in the deep end of a swimming pool, but in my case any willing hands that may appear are more likely to try to push me under than haul me out.  Why do people react so badly to ‘I don’t know’?  Whenever I am asked a question to which I do not have the answer, I say ‘I don’t know’ and it enrages people.  They believe that I am either disinterested or that I am fence-sitting.  Frankly, there are times when the fence is the only safe place to be; when you can see both sides of the argument whilst the protagonists can see nothing of value on the other side.  The grass might grow greener, but if you can’t see it, it doesn’t matter.  What is the point of a point-of-view if you can’t make everybody else accept it as the one absolute truth?

Every now and then I feel the desire to stop writing, but I never do: it just gives me something else to harp on about in the end.  What I should do at such times is stop, put down the pen (or sabre, depending upon company) and pick up a book.  I love to read, but seldom do.  My wife has an unrivalled range of ‘Have you really got nothing better to do?’ looks for such occasions.  In truth, other than checking the unrolled cardboard tubes from toilet rolls for secret messages from zombie workers and my wife’s magazines for grammatical errors*, I have read very little of late, although by next week I could well find myself unable to get my nose out of a book – the penalty for letting the grandkids loose with the superglue.

Anyway, most of the time I write: it is a constant thing for me and you’d think that after all these years I’d start to show some improvement.  I have a very tenuous grip on grammar and I have never lost the tendency to prattle on for far too long.  It takes as long as it takes for me to tell a story.  Jeffrey Archer does it in about two hundred and fifty thousand words (or perhaps it just seems that long), whilst I tend to stall at about a thousand.  Language is a precious gift; it seems a shame to be cavalier with it.  And yet I have the ‘gift’ of couching a six word story in multiple layers of marshmallow.  I should be concise, but that would involve me in the kind of methodical thinking of which I am totally incapable**  My style (forgive me, I still work on the assumption that I have one) is conversational and my humour (forgive me, I still work on the assumption that I have some) lies in the minutiae, so it is natural for me to waffle on far too long about things that do not matter; that reside in Cul de sacs and back alleys away from the paths that I should be following, covered in broken fencing and bicycle parts.  I may be going from A to B, but sometimes I find the diversion around the hidden ‘T’ junction beguiling.  I constantly promise myself that in the future I will try to be more succinct.  I strive to be very careful with words: I always try to make proper use of them, but maybe I should, like George Orwell, remove a whole raft of them from my dictionary or adopt a more economical style, reminiscent of Orwell himself, or Hemingway.  (Although the result is likely to be that I will simply end up sounding like a local politician, with the vocabulary of a two year old and the narrative thrust of Roger Hargreaves.)  Introspection is all very well when you’ve got something to look in on, but most of my time is just spent staring into the vacuum between my ears and wondering why fat-free mayonnaise leaves a greasy stain on everything it touches.

Anyway, this started out as a means of explaining my absence from the platform today – the lack of anything to say – but as soon as I started to write it down I realised that I never have anything to say, but that never actually stops me from saying it.  And if you want to know why, I don’t know…

*I pass many a happy hour in this fashion, such magazines as currently survive are apparently put together by monkeys who failed to produce Shakespeare when given typewriters and are therefore very cheap to employ.

**If I’m honest, in most of what I write it is not even necessary to read the words in the right order.