Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Of one thing it is certain, John Keats, to whom the title of this piece belongs, may well have been many things – great Romantic poet, prolific letter writer and consumptive – but he was most definitely not a gardener.  Had he needed to tend my own humble little patch of England’s Sward, his ‘Ode to Autumn’ would have had a very different feel…

My Dearest Fanny

I have spent the entire morning gently perspiring over my latest ode on account of having to wear thirteen layers of clothing due to the fact that three solid weeks of rain have ensured that I cannot set fire to the kindling in the grate without first dosing it in brandy which, of course, I cannot afford as I am a poor, impoverished poet etc etc and so forth. I am sick of this weather, my shortness of breath and the constant hunger that grips at my very soul. I would sally forth and collect some of the abundance of mother Earth’s autumnal bounty – apples, pears and other assorted seasonal fruits – but due to this incessant bloody fog I keep walking into trees.

Next door’s cat hath not been put off its daily business by the seasonal deluge and has, indeed, left remarkably weather-resistant parcels of the stuff wherever I happen to put my fingers in the flower beds.  Mine fingers are designed for the purposes of creating great art and I should not need to keep scraping under the nails each time I settle to write.  I do not know what they are feeding the bloody thing, but I note that the mangy dog they used to keep chained by the door has disappeared of late.  It is sad, for I oft felt at one with the animal which seemed to be increasingly wearied by its lack of fur, its diet of rat and the fact that it couldn’t raise a paw without wheezing.  Had I, myself, owned more than the clothes I cough up in, I would have offered him some solace.  As it was, I was instead forced to give him a sharp kick every now and then due to his ceaseless night-time barking and his tendency to seep into neighbouring properties..

Unwell as I am, I have been drawn into the garden owing to the fact that the lawn hath taken on the proportions of pampas plains during this month of rain and may well be harbouring herds of large game animals, or moles of similar size.  I tried to mow it but one of the titchy wheels on the mower has seized, so I just went round and round in circles for twenty minutes before falling to the ground, spent and hungry.  I was sorely tempted by some of the berries that hang full, ripe and juicy from the bush near the cess-pit, but I remembered the last time I tried them when I woke up naked in a Mexican barber’s chair, next to a man with half a moustache and decided, instead, to avail myself of the mushrooms that grow so readily around the old oak tree stump.  In the five days that have since disappeared, the lawn has grown longer and something has eaten my trousers.

Around me, everything that was once green and vibrant is now brown and limp – except for the bits that are spiky.  I do not recall it being a feature of my planting scheme that everything within this garden should have such potential to cause harm.  There is nothing I must prune that does not have the capacity to pierce me from at least three feet away.  Besides, the secateurs are rusted solid, having been left under hedgerow last September, and I have been forced to trim such foliage as I am able with the nail scissors.  The rest of it I have taken to battering back with a spade, during the course of which I think I might have located next door’s dog.

My spirits were greatly lifted by a short time spent dead-heading the plants that grow along my garden borders.  The colours – a million luscious shades of dead – are so inspiring.  I will try to write something about it, as soon as I have thought of a rhyme for mildew.  I have attempted to lift a number of precious bulbs and rhizomes that they may be stored safely over the winter, but as most of them have already taken on the appearance and odour of one of the cat’s little piles, I am not holding my breath.  (Not with my chest, I’m not!)  Besides, the shed in which I would normally over-winter them appears to have been partly digested by a rat colony of such size that I was forced to try and drive it out with sulphur candles.  The man next door was most understanding about the consequent conflagration involving his own shed, pig-pen and bedroom and stopped punching me as soon as exhaustion set in.  The rats have now taken up residence in the compost heap which, since the rains, occupies approximately four acres and twenty six kitchens.

As usual at this time of year, my gutters have become blocked with falling leaves and as the woodworm have taken out all but three of the rungs on my ladder I have been forced to stand on an upturned bucket and push the foliage out with a broom handle.  I am sure that, given the state of it, it will soon decompose and stop blocking the downpipe where it is currently stuck.  Mind you, it is at least currently holding the roof tiles up.  I will attempt to mend the wall as soon as I get the splint off my leg.

As I compose this letter the sun has started to set over the bright western horizon and my autumnal garden looks truly wonderful.  The colours are quite staggering – the bright red stain where my head connected with the window sill being particularly vivid – and the smells issuing forth from the flora that surrounds me produces a lump in my throat – which is just as well, because it keeps the content of my stomach down.  I cannot wait for the pitch blackness of autumn night when my garden looks just as good as everybody else’s.

I am yours, as ever

JK

Everything You Never Needed to Know About Inspiration and Where to Find it.

The real secret to finding inspiration, I am told, is to simply look more closely at what surrounds you every day…

Well, I am currently sitting where I always sit, at some stage, almost every day of my life.  Directly behind the laptop screen that I spend a fair chunk of my life staring blankly at, is a cork notice board.  It has photographs of my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my mum and my dad all pinned haphazardly to it in a manner that reminds me uncomfortably of the incident boards in TV detective dramas.  If I had some red string, I could be Vera.  There are no photos of me though.  Nobody is going to be able to think through that.  There is a wooden ruler, a memory stick on a piece of string (I have no idea what is on it – when I plug it in, the lights go out), a gizmo for getting the sim card out of an iphone, and what appears to be a small gobbet of pizza.  I don’t think that it actually is pizza but, if I am honest, I am not inclined to investigate too closely as I’m pretty sure that I didn’t put it there and I have the uneasy suspicion that it is growing a beard.

Along the wall above the cork board are shelves.  This is the only room in the house in which I am allowed to keep ‘my stuff’ and it is consequently choc-full of crap: shells and fossils from trips to the beach, a selection of mugs, a hand-forged nail I found on the floor at my daughter’s wedding, a ukulele, a hand-painted pint glass from my fortieth birthday, my felt fedora, my snakeskin boots, many many books, even more and manyer CD’s, DVD’s, a Melodica, a brass sundial, a selection of Victorian bottles dug from a golf course at the dead of night, a Marmite jar, a porcelain duck whose back lifts off to store God-knows-what, an anxious looking stress ball, a Meccano radio-controlled car, a mini-drone (still boxed, because I know my limitations), a microscope with a plastic penguin where the eyepiece should be, a knitted monkey and dust.  Lots and lots of dust.  Perhaps that is what is clogging my brain.

The books tell a bit of a story, I think*: Alan Coren, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharpe, all of whom, at one time or another, I have aspired to be.  Sherlock Holmes books – which I love for the slyly hidden comedy that runs through them – although, on occasions, I fear only seen by me – Inspector Morse books – which are brilliantly written, but far too complicated for my poor brain to hold together (I read them all many times without ever remembering whodunit, to whom they dunit or why they dunit) – Woody Allen – whose prose leaves me breathless, although I don’t read it so much since the ‘doubts’ set in – and a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings, upon which the dust is very thick indeed.  I have a ‘history’ of over fifty years with that particular trilogy.  It was the ‘must read’ of my sixth form days that I never quite managed to get through.  It left me cold – which wasn’t cool – and although well-meaning friends continue to try and draw me into this Elvin world, I remain defiantly detached from it.  It is part of a literary litany of books that I am not quite bright enough to enjoy (nor, in truth, to ever finish): Ulysses, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, The Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prejudice, anything by Salman Rushdie (even the stuff that hasn’t quite managed to upset half the world) – I do not get lost in these books, I get lost on the way to them.  It is some form of selective dyslexia in which I understand the words, but I have absolutely no comprehension of (nor indeed interest in) what the sentences mean.  Give me Orwell, Bradbury, Stella Gibbons even, and I will read all day; give me Tolkien or Joyce (that’s James Joyce, not my Aunty Joyce, who to the best of my knowledge has never written anything more lurid than a note to the milkman) and I will stare at the pages as the words swim in front of my eyes like Busby Berkeley on acid, whilst my brain drowns behind them.  Inspiration lies in Coren, Milligan, Sharpe, all of whom I strive to emulate, all of whom I am desperate not to copy.  I cannot read Milligan when I am writing as everything emerges in substandard Milliganese.  I cannot read Coren because I am left limp by the knowledge that I cannot come close.  I cannot read Sharpe because I laugh like a drain and my mind becomes full of ever more elaborate plots from which I cannot begin to draw a coherent thread.

Atop the Milligan Shelf is a box of ‘Chinese Puzzles’ – little interlinked bits of fiendishly-shaped wire that you are meant to twist and manipulate in order to separate them.  I can only ‘solve’ them with pliers.  The box has a thick layer of dust on its unopened edges.  I don’t remember who bought it, but if ever I do, I will give it back.  I am also surrounded by musical instruments: the Melodica, the ukulele, a harmonica, two guitars and a box of kazoos.  I cannot play any of them, but I can make a noise.  It helps.

Most of the time, inspiration actually lies for me in three large tubs filled with pens and pencils of all types and hues.  I choose my pen before I write.  My pen decides what I will write and how I will write it.  Today it is green biro, the letters sloping gently forward.  Yesterday (checking back through my feint lined ‘School Essay’ book) it was red roller-ball and it sloped backwards**.  I haven’t yet tried cutting letters out of the newspapers, but it will come.  Meanwhile, I pluck away tunelessly on the red ukulele (which may or may not be in tune – who can tell?) and ponder my inability to get to grips with Hobbits, Irish drunkards and irony.  Most of all, I am left wondering why my green pen has just run out mid-word and pondering whether the time has come to look for a new colour of inspiration.  Anything as long as it is not indelible black…

*Oh come on.  It was there to hit, I couldn’t ignore it.

**Yes, I too have looked this up on Google and I am sure that it is wrong.  I am not mad!  Wibble.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Men, but Were Afraid to Ask

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

Being one myself*, I feel uniquely equipped to answer your questions…

At what age do men reach sexual maturity?

Men do not reach sexual (or indeed any other kind of) maturity.  Men will giggle at the word ‘moist’ until the day they die.  Men will spend hours watching the most dreadful Scandi-detective series if someone at the pub has told them there’s a naked breast in it somewhere.  Take a man into Anne Summers and he will always try the panties on his head.

Why do men insist on wearing clothes that are obviously too tight for them?

Whilst some men believe that by cramming their mid-life bodies into the clothes they wore half a century ago they will look accordingly younger, most simply believe that if they use their bodies to stretch the material, they will no longer have to iron it.

Why don’t men like visiting the doctor?

This is a many-faceted question, which explains why it is not understood by men themselves.  Men perceive illness as weakness.  No man wishes to be seen as weak, unless it is advantageous to be so – eg they are allowed sugar in their tea and a chocolate biscuit to dunk.  Men believe themselves to be immortal: by ignoring illness, they know that it will just go away and they will live forever.  No-one was ever killed by something they did not admit was there.  Well, alright, they were, but they obviously didn’t ignore it hard enough.  Men will happily discuss the state of their bowels with anyone on the bus – but never with a doctor.  Men do not like visiting the doctor because it might involve admitting to an uncomfortable degree of frailty, or possibly the even more uncomfortable exposure of an acreage of flesh that might speak volumes about human decay.  Mostly, men do not like visiting the doctor in case he should turn out to be a she who wants to know something about his sex life.  Men would rather drown than admit to a female doctor that they might have a prostate problem – which is odd, because in most cases, women have much smaller fingers.

Why don’t men like discussing their emotions?

Because, by and large, unless someone drops a peanut in their pint, they don’t have any.

Why are men so regular in their bowel habits?

The daily sojurn behind a locked toilet door is one of life’s few pleasures.  It is something to look forward to, it is healthy and it is sure to get you out of the washing up.  Men with children have been known to read the whole of ‘War and Peace’ at a single sitting if it means not having to go through another game of Hide and Seek.  The simple adage ‘Never get up until you’ve got pins and needles’ is one held dearly by all men.  Generally speaking, men will observe the daily custom of toilet visits whatever the outcome.  Like England batsmen** they do not let failure get in the way of routine.  Given the choice, men would have a more secure lock on the toilet than the front door.

Why are men so bad at keeping secrets?

Secrets require organisation.  Keeping a secret requires a conscious effort that cannot be overridden by the dull ache in a testicle, the desire to poke a hole in the sock with a toe nail or the temptation to wear your wife’s bra as a hat.  Men must be totally focussed in order to keep a secret and will be distracted by uncomfortable underwear, pot noodle or a dog in a hat.  The best way to get a man to keep a secret is to tell them something else.  No man can remember two things at once and so, in an egalitarian frenzy, will forget them both.  

Do men believe in Fairies?

Well, somebody does the cooking and the house work…

Why do men insist on talking all the way through Strictly Come Dancing?

In times of duress – eg whilst watching extremely fit young women in lycra, men in make-up or Tess Daly in something that appears to have been created in order to cover a toilet roll – men are known to gibber.  Although what comes out of the mouth may seen annoyingly coherent – ‘He’ll never get nine if he keeps splaying his feet like that’ or ‘I don’t know how he’s keeping that hat on; it must be nailed to his wig’ – it is actually merely a random string of syllables designed to cover up indifference and the fact that it is him that has just farted and not the dog.

Why do men believe that football is more important than decorating?

Well, it just is, isn’t it?

Why do men insist on meat with every meal?

Man is the hunter.  It is genetically programmed.  Man cannot assert himself by pulling up a carrot.  No man ever felt the adrenalin rush of picking a stick of rhubarb.  No man ever felt empowered by chasing a soft fruit with a sharpened stick.  Ask any man to get the shopping in, adding ‘Get yourself a nice steak while you’re there,’ and he will leave with a spring in his step and an imaginary spear in his hand.  He will return, beaming, some time later with two steaks and no toilet roll.  He will have eaten a pork pie in the car.

Why don’t men like shopping?

Men do like shopping – just not for clothes, things for the house, presents, things that might involve work, furniture or food.  Anything else, no problem.

Do all men become their father?

Yes.  Mostly much sooner than you think.

Why are men so conscious of people watching them eat?

Oh, just me then?  Oh dear…

*A man, that is.

**I use the term advisedly, so that England’s women batters do not get tarred with the same brush.

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)…

The Running Man on Sundays

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

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

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

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

Zoo #52 – My Last Word on the Subject

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

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

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

The zoo is now closed.