Bucket

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Beneath my desk as I write this post is a large lidded bucket which is spewing out sufficient CO² to make me personally responsible for the depletion of several feet at least of the Morteratsch glacier and will possibly result in a severe ticking off from Greta Thunberg.  According to everything I read carbon dioxide is an odourless gas, but as whatever is bubbling its way out of my bucket smells like the kind of sock you find at the bottom of a child’s sports bag three months after the end of term, and is covered by the kind of living blanket you find on the elderly jam sandwich tucked away at the back of a bedroom drawer, I have severe doubts.  I am supposed to be brewing beer, but it is obvious to me that something has died in the bucket.  I dare not lift the lid – whatever is growing in there, it is clearly desperate to get out.

My daughter bought me the kit and all associated paraphernalia for Christmas.  She clearly felt that I had time on my hands that needed to be filled.  Like almost everybody of my age, I used to brew most of what I drank back in the day when I had very little money and alcohol cost a lot of it.  I have produced many a glass of wine with a fine, rich and creamy head; many a pint of beer with all the aesthetic appeal of Spring Vegetable Soup, and I’ve drunk them all.  The main difference with the current brew is that I am embracing the challenge, not because I have to, but because I want to.  I have drunk sufficient quantities of ‘craft’ beers over the years to lead me to believe that I can, myself, produce something perfectly acceptable (e.g. not strictly poisonous).  I’ve looked at a lot of paintings over the years and I feel sure that I could do that too, if I just had access to a decent brush.  I’ve read enough awful novels to feel confident in my ability to write one of those.  My head is full of songs that I know would be best-sellers if they ever made it out into the world – or at least into The Eurovision Song Contest (b group).  If other people are able to do things, I find it hard to understand why I can’t do them too.

I’m a believer.  I believed when I started writing this poor benighted blog that I could make a decent fist of it.  I believed that more people would want to read it rather than just tick ‘Like’ and try to sell me vitamins.  I believed that many more would read it than ever did.  It is a crazy affliction: to be fully – and painfully – aware of your own limitations, whilst still believing that you might, somehow, overcome them.  When ‘just about acceptable’ is an aspiration, then not reaching it is painful.  I’m not looking to climb Everest – I get a nose-bleed on a high kerb – but I wouldn’t mind standing atop a knoll for a little while.

I once produced a gooseberry ‘champagne’ of breathtaking beauty, and a greengage chardonnay that could have stripped the enamel off a toilet bowl.  The ingredients were similar, the methodology identical, the results, it would appear, not something over which I had any control.  I don’t recall putting any more effort into one than the other.  Managing ‘effort’, if I’m honest, has never been my greatest forte: generally things either come easily, or they frustrate the hell out of me, and the things that frustrate me the most are the very things that make me resolve even harder to succeed.  It is only after I have discovered that I am unable to do something, that I become really determined to do it.

Consequently, I have spent many, many hours over the last three-and-a-bit years working on this blog.  Hard as it is to imagine, I put a lot of effort into each and every post I make, and the disappointment of the realisation that I have fewer readers than Vladimir Putin has rational brain cells is, at times, crushing.  Whilst I understand and accept that the goal is not to have thousands of readers, well… the thing is that it is really, isn’t it?  The joy may well be in the writing, but the point is in people reading it.  This blog has become the equivalent of playing ‘The Toilet Tent’ at Glastonbury and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.  It is time, I think, to take a bit of a break, to finish The Play, to record some scripts to see how they sound… 

Okay, so I know that I have done this before.  Last year I was writing four posts a week and it was taking over my life.  (You should try walking around Marks & Sparks, looking at the rows of pants and wondering ‘Can I get a post out of this?’  I even considered getting arrested for shop-lifting, just in case I could find something amusing to say about the experience.)  So I stopped, briefly, and then commenced this more manageable two-times-a-week routine.  I can handle this with time to spare each week.  My problem is that, instead of finding something ‘profitable’ to do with my spare time, I simply write more posts.  I can be frighteningly prolific – some form of literary diarrhoea – and I tend to have so many posts ‘in hand’ that I will probably have had a good four weeks off by the time that you loyal two dozen read this, and I will be raring to go again.  I will already have revisited all of the things I have been unable to finish, finding no doubt that those that I can finish are not worth the effort and those that are worth the effort, I am still unable to finish.

I have no doubt whatsoever that I will be back, just as soon as I write something and think ‘that would be ideal for the blog’ but, for now, that is not the plan.  By the time you read this, my beer will be in the bottles.  I may even have sampled some.  I have a second episode of Frankie & Benny (who are an absolute joy to write) with which I will, for now finish, as it seems to me to be as good a way as any of saying ‘adieu’…

Trainspotting

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I did it when I was a child, for the shortest of times – trainspotting.  I had a book I recall, given to me by my parents who thought that ‘getting out there’ might ‘do me good’, printed with rows of numbers which, to the best of my knowledge, I was just meant to tick off every now and then.  You could go on the stations back then – a platform ticket was a penny I think – as long as you didn’t get on the trains.  You could put your tanner in the chocolate machine for excitement.  It never gave you what you wanted.  Mostly it gave you nothing at all.  And you never got your money back – no matter how hard you kicked, you never got your money back.  Better to spend it in the buffet really.  You could get a terminally watered-down orange squash and a penguin biscuit for your sixpence, but not a Fudge bar.  They were only in the chocolate machine and it wasn’t letting them go.

More often than not I spent my money on the ‘I speak your weight’ machine because I was fascinated by it, but I was so thin that it never knew that I was on.  I imagined it tutting at me – but it never gave me my money back.

Whenever a train chugged into the station I marked the number off in my little book, but I felt no excitement: just the slight rancour of a wasted life everytime I realised that it was a train I had already seen.  Sometimes I just marked a different number anyway, and I felt like a real maverick.  I began to mark numbers off at random every time a train pulled up to the platforms.  It got so that I could do a whole days spotting in the bus on the way into town.

I was aware that for most of my fellow social outcasts, Saturday morning trainspotting was a real collective deal.  They gathered in little groups and chatted about what to expect from the day.  “567431 is coming in about ten,” somebody would say and there would be a general murmur of appreciation.  I was never invited into the groups.  I stood on the edge and marked off 567431 as soon as the number was mentioned.  It was as good as.  No point in wasting the whole morning waiting to actually see it.  If it was a diesel train, then I knew what it would look like.  Instead of becoming closer to my fellow hobbyists I was aware that I was growing ever-more distant to them.  There was them and there was me and we had absolutely nothing in common but for our little books of numbers.  They had bright hooded anoraks and nylon over-trosers whilst I had faded loons and a Gratton’s catalogue tank-top.  They had waterproof rucksacks and I had a Tesco carrier bag.  They had tea and cake from the buffet whilst all I had was a sense of loathing for the solid state that wouldn’t give me my money back.  They were interested.  I was not.

I did like it when the occasional steam train thundered through though.  I lived through the very tail of the steam age and it was always a thrill to see them.  They were not the gleaming red and green leviathans of today’s tourist lines, but decaying, smoke-blackened hulks chugging their way to the knacker’s yard.  The best thing in the world was to stand on the bridge as they passed below belching lung-crippling blasts of steam and smoke into the air.  The power was palpable.  It went up through your feet, along your legs and reverberated around your chest like a firework in a can.  The steam trains were always the highlight of any day – they had names rather than numbers – but they became fewer and further between.  Mostly it was just diesels.  Powerful, but clean and bland, and to me, the trainee trainspotter, very boring.

So I began to find other things to do with my time.  I wandered from the station – no point in wasting a perfectly good penny on a platform ticket – to the town, to the castle, to the cathedral…  You could wander on your own then, and mostly I was on my own.  I loved the cold silence of old buildings and I would meander around them endlessly.  There was a little hexagonal stone building in the Cathedral grounds – which I now know is nothing more than an ornamental well-head – where it was rumoured that with the right number of circumnavigations, you could summon up the devil.  I tried every weekend, but he never came.  Shame, I could have done with the company.  Then one last wander back to the sweet shop, or best of all the joke shop, where I spent my precious accumulated 7d before crossing a few random numbers off my book and heading home for dinner. (In my world, ‘dinner’ was always taken about mid-day. Anything after 1pm was ‘tea’ and seldom involved potatoes unless chipped.)

Dinner over and Saturday afternoons throughout autumn, winter and spring were spent in our own little corner of the Sincil Bank stadium watching the Mighty Imps get trounced by whomever it was that was lucky enough to be playing them that day.  It didn’t really matter that they lost so habitually back then, I was part of the crowd and we all wanted the same thing.  The fact that we so seldom got it was of little consequence.  Two hours on the freezing terraces in the company of the same group of people every other week was what weekends were made for: stewed tea out of a steel urn, a slightly faded Garibaldi biscuit out of a crumpled paper bag and a nip from my grandad’s hipflask if I was lucky.  People around me that always seemed happy to see me and all I had to do was sing, cheer and groan as appropriate: one of the gang.  There have been ups and downs for the team in the half century and more since, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed my football more than I did back then.  From the ground at full time, the whole world it seemed traipsed as one over the two railway bridges back to the steaming buses home, and I would often spot a determined little gaggle of weather-proof anoraks on the distant station, waiting still for the 4.45 from Peterborough.  I had no desire to be with them then – even their little tartan vacuum flasks of now lukewarm Bovril were unable to ward off the clawing cold by that time, their fold-away kagoules no match for the stalking wind and biting sleet – but never-the-less, when I got home, I always crossed another number off my little book, just so that I still felt at least a little bit a part of it…

Stream

Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

When you’re growing up and you’re small and you’re ginger, then you try to cope by being funny and you can always gauge the moment when you actually succeed for some, because someone else – normally much bigger than yourself – will be screaming in your face, tight and red and angry, “Yeh, you think you’re so fucking funny, don’t you?” and you have to try really hard to stop yourself from saying, “Well, now you come to mention it…” and that’s when you begin to associate laughter with pain.  As you get older, it stops to be such a problem: you stop trying so hard because nobody ever finds you even remotely funny anyway – at least not fully clothed – and all in all, you are slightly less likely to find yourself grappling around in the mud with somebody twice your size whilst a crowd has gathered around you chanting’ “Scrap, scrap, scrap…” hoping to see blood, hoping to see snot and tears, hoping not to get collared by the dinnerlady.  You may still, occasionally, seek to deliberately amuse, but mostly you just trip over your own feet…

Now, I thought about this whilst I was having a shower and I was adopting the pose that we must all assume, regardless of gender, while rinsing the soap from the undercarriage.  In the shower, there is no other way of achieving this short of standing on your head, and as there is no worse feeling than that of soap lingering around the nethers as the day drags on, it has to be properly rinsed away in the morning.  So, it occurred to me that we must all present this same twisted aspect to the falling water – the intended target being pretty well shaded from downward droplets by head, shoulder, belly and, for some (amongst whom I fear I must now include myself – muscled flesh having long-since morphed into pendulous manboob) – fleshy chest adornments.  It’s a ridiculous, hip thrusty kind of stance, that ensures the descending rivulets have an appropriate route that allows them to wash over the necessary areas, whilst you endeavour not to put your back out and – should you have an un-steamed-up mirror within view – not find yourself laughing at your own reflection.  It is an absurd stance in which, I envisage, we all find ourselves from time to time.  A truly egalitarian posture.  All life should be like it.

I don’t know what it is about a few minutes under the warming spray that brings this habit of maudlin reflection upon me: it’s like feeling sorry for myself, except that, of course, is something that only other people do.  Today I have been reading the latest bestseller by A. Veryfamousperson, thinking to myself “I could write that” and in that moment of indignation I believed that I really could, failing to realise that even if I did, it would make not the slightest difference because, frankly, I am not A. Veryfamousperson and nobody gives a twopenny fig what I have to say.  I could write the Bible and still not find a publisher… 

So, this is the point – wherever I find myself in the day’s downward arc – whether still striking the pose in the shower, sitting on the loo, or attempting to explain to a 6-year old why a laptop keyboard and honey are not compatible, when I realise that it is probably time for me to get a grip and review the current situation:

  • What’s so wrong with a sticky keyboard?  (Well, if you reaaaaaaaaaaally waaaaaaaaaaant to know, eaaaaaaaaaach time you press the letter AAAAAAAAAAA it just keeps on going on aaaaaaaaaaaaand the only thing you caaaaaaaaaaan do is to go through aaaaaaaaaaaaall you haaaaaaaaaave written aaaaaaaaaaaaat aaaaaaaaaaaa laaaaaaaaaaaater time aaaaaaaaaaaaaand baaaaaaaaackspaaaaaaaaaaaace it aaaaaaaaaaaall out.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!)
  • I am alive and, to all intents and purposes, fit and well.
  • I actually quite like playing the clown.
  • Fame and money would only spoil me.
  • I have grown up relatively well-adjusted.  I am blessed with a loving family and far more friends than I actually deserve.

Too many of my best friends have died over the years.  I have lots now, but if I’m honest, few of my own age.  I’m a little scared of making new ones in case I kill them, but I know that I should make the effort.  The problem is, how?  I don’t do many of the things that people of my age are apt to do: I rarely catch the bus; I don’t have an ancient terrier to walk around the block and I don’t even own a cap.  I thought of taking up bowls, but I’m not to be trusted in white clothing.  The problem with almost all suitable hobbies is that they are so much more age appropriate than I am.  I would like to take up fishing, I think.  I would like every single thing about it, except for the catching of fish.  I would be perfectly happy sitting on a riverbank watching the world flow by: the birds, the bees, the fishermen – I often walk along the river banks and despite encountering fishermen all the time, I am not certain that I have ever seen a fisherwoman¹ – the bird-sized dragonflies, the occasional wary rodent, the ducks and the swans.  I would be quite happy eating foil-wrapped sandwiches and drinking over-stewed tea from a flask.  I can talk about the weather with the best of ‘em.  I have a cloth bush-hat that makes me look like one of the Flowerpot Men (I have no idea which one.  There is a link here – you must judge for yourselves).  I am fully qualified in all respects except that of owning a fishing rod: except that of wanting to haul a hapless Piscean from its natural habitat on the end of a nylon line and metal hook… 

I did go fishing quite a bit when I was small, but I never really took to it.  I got bored too easily back then: partly by the inordinate amount of time I had to spend doing so little and partly by having to go home so often to tell my mum that I had fallen in the river again so that she never knew that I had been thrown in by somebody much bigger than me, who clearly didn’t think that I was at all funny.  Fishing trips then, even those in which I managed to remain terrestrial, always seemed to end when the cold had seeped into my bones, and I went home to thaw myself in the few inches of lukewarm water I was allowed.  No showers back then – I don’t ever remember going anywhere with a shower.  Even the kind of hotels we visited on high days and holidays had only a single bath on each landing – so no fear of dislocating a hip whilst rinsing the soap off.  Mind you, being a boy of that age, I didn’t have a particularly close relationship with the soap bar, truth be told.  Infact, the more I think about it, the more I think that might be the real reason that people kept chucking me in the river…

I have developed a stupid habit of leaving things half finished and open on the laptop so that I can return to them when the mood takes me, and thus I have now managed to write and delete today’s post a total of three times.  I have absolutely no idea how this current incarnation compares with its mistakenly expunged counterparts: I remember the first couple of sentences, but I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of what I found to prattle on about thereafter.  It was kind of the idea if I’m honest, but I could certainly have done without the repeats.  If you feel unfulfilled by what you have read above, then I can only seek to assure you that my first three attempts were almost certainly much, much better…

¹I have absolutely no idea why that might be.

Idle Hands

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Surely I should have learned by now that having time on my hands is never a good thing, that idle hours are never well spent.  My own idle hands clicked onto ‘Reader’ and typed ‘Humour’ into the search bar.  It’s been a long time since I found a new blog to follow and my latest crop of followers clearly don’t want me as one of their own, or if they do, they obviously think that I am somebody else: somebody with even the slimmest chance of making an income out of this waffle.  I scanned down the page of the ‘humorous’ blogs on offer and reminded myself that dealing with crushing disappointment is all part of the human condition – at least if you are me.  Firstly, I did not find a single blog that could in any way, be described as humorous, unless my grip on the English language has become even more tenuous than I feared.  As far as I could see, most of them were there because they had the word ‘Humour’ as a tag.  If this is the way that tags work, then I am very tempted to tag my next post ‘Get £1,000,000 of free cash by clicking on this blog.’  I see myself with thousands of new, albeit disappointed, readers.

Secondly – and I must be honest, by far the more distressing aspect of my trawl, this blog hadn’t even made the cut!  Now, I realise I am no Oscar Wilde – I miss that particular qualification on so many counts – but come on, surely I should be able to get myself onto a list that is otherwise filled with ‘What is the basic fundamental of joke construction?’ and not a single ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’  This is a very small pond, belly laugh-wise, and I cannot even get myself hauled out in a very broad net.  I fear my goose – along with all hope of golden eggs – is cooked.  I have ‘Humour’ as a category for God’s sake!  What on earth do I need to do?  (OK, if you’re going to be picky, I concede that including a joke or two might help.)

I have spent my life attempting to wrangle some kind of joy out of words.  Most of the time the words have put up a pretty good fight.  I know from very long experience that on the rare occasion I am truly happy with something I have written, a sober read-through the following day will see it hurtle towards the bin.  Writing alone is the process of making a hundred jokes that nobody else gets whilst completely missing the one that everybody laughs at.  There is nothing more joyful than finding that ‘killer line’ and nothing more soul destroying than seeing it die a death.  There is joy to be found in writing with another discordant soul, laughing at the other person’s jokes and realising that you can add to them.  Joy is in reading through an idea you had and hearing laughter exactly where you thought it might be hiding.  I have laughed so much during long-ago writing sessions with the wonderful Mr Underfelt that I have feared for my health and my sanity – something I have never done in the last thirty or so years of writing alone.  (Laugh, that is.  I fear for my sanity on a daily basis.  If I ever manage to find it, I will give it a very stern talking to.)

Solitary writing is a form of self abuse – although without quite the same sense of guilt or fear of blindness.  It is all about the release.  It is all about the disappointment.  It is all about the ‘I’m not doing that again.’  I never think about writing: I just write.  Like everybody else with an enthusiasm that dwarfs talent, I know that I will get it right one day.  Like everybody else who waits for the day that they will get it right, I wait, and write.

I know that many of you are far more professional in your approach than I.  On the one occasion that I wrote a novel, I meandered through the first half of the book, found the ending, went back to the beginning and then slowly drew the two together.  I never had a plan, it just sort of worked itself out in a way that all of the top publishers of the day described as utter tripe.  Only in sit-com did I ever have a beginning, a middle and an end in mind, because each episode is really just a single joke and the trick is just in holding the attention long enough to get there.  Normally I had given up the ghost myself long before I reached the end.  My dialogue just wouldn’t follow my plot.  The phrase ‘It’s almost there, but…’ is the one I will have chiselled on my tombstone.

For the last three decades I have passed my time banging out this kind of fol-de-rol.  Generally I start with the first line – I know what you’re thinking, but let me explain…  I have a bookful of them.  I write them down constantly.  A million first sentences with absolutely no idea of where they are going.  Often I sit down and leaf through the book until something catches my eye.  Always I will have something on my mind, although I seldom know what it is, and it somehow attaches itself onto what I have written and, hand in hand, the two of them wander off towards the horizon where, if I am lucky, I catch them before they fall over the edge.  Comedy is the gift of a flat earth.  I can agonise all day over a single sentence, or I can find myself with a thousand words on paper and no real idea of how they got there.  Either way, it makes little difference unless I can find a way to search for them that does not include the word ‘humour’.  (Before you suggest it, I have tried prefixing with ‘Vain attempts at’, but I’m still not there.  In fact I have just typed my name into the search bar and I still do not appear to exist.  How closely this blogosphere mirrors life.)

The Devil makes work for idle hands, so the saying goes.  I’ve always thought that the Devil probably had the best jokes.  I wonder where he keeps them…

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.

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.

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

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

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



The Writer’s Circle # – Lingua In Maxillam

An open letter from the absent Deidre to the members of The Writer’s Circle.

Dear Everyone

Just a short note to apologise for my absence from this week’s meeting.  I had truly intended to return to the fold this evening if it were not for the receipt of a far better offer.  I am certain that you are all, by now, aware of the circumstances pertaining to my recent nonattendances – why I have not been there – as I swore Francis to secrecy and, after a week in his company, I know how untrustworthy he really is.  (On a side note, I would say to any of you, that if you are ever in trouble Francis is the man to call – a true rock, a steady head and an unwavering guardian – although you might find it wise to fill the biscuit barrel first.)  I am sure that you all have a certain vision of me: a lonely, ageing spinster – and I cannot deny that, the facts are there.  I have learned a great deal about myself over the past few weeks; most importantly that I do not need to be lonely – I just need to be less picky about the friends I choose.  I would be proud to call any of you ‘friend’ – although I would be grateful if you did not bandy that around in the kind of circles within which I tend to circulate.  (If we’re honest, that’s not entirely likely, is it?)  I must endeavour not to crave the friends that I deserve, but to accept the ones that I have.  Class strictures are not what they once were and I believe that mixing with those from a lower stratum is now probably viewed as a virtue.  (A special nod to Billy: I won’t tell if you don’t!)  I look forward to broadening my horizons in this effect within the next few weeks, although I will draw the line at tripe and cockles, and I refuse to wear any clothing that has not been starched and ironed to within an inch of its life – and yes, Phillip, that does include my underwear.
I know that Francis has given you all my new telephone number and it was a joy to hear from you all – especially since I now know how easy it will be to change the number again in the future.
As you will all be aware, I am not a great one for hiding my light under a bushel – my thanks to Vanessa for enlightening me on the nature of my bushel and for furnishing me with the phone number for Weight Watchers – but my darkest hour has, in fact, been accompanied by a gratifying degree of bushel-illumination, in that this week sees the release of my latest novel – I will allow myself the use of that word, and not the one that Terry suggested as I am sure that they are never released in hardback – and I have made the shortlist for Richard and Judy’s Book of the Month.  Consequently I am currently ensconced within a very swish London hotel awaiting the private car that will whisk me away to my interview at Television Centre and therefore unable to bother myself with you lot.  I have, of course, already loaded my handbag with shower gels, shampoos and conditioners – all, allegedly, smelling of hyacinth – as well as sachets of cheap instant coffee and bags of what PG claims to be tea, as nobody in their right mind ever uses a hotel kettle.  I have not packed the Rich Tea biscuits as not even Francis will eat those.  Nor have I put the complimentary shower cap in my ‘swag-bag’ as it is currently covering the TV remote, so that I don’t have to touch it.  I do not know whether I will be interviewed by Mr Madeley himself, but I have made it quite clear that I will not be examining him for lumps regardless of the circumstances.  I mention this, of course, not only by way of an explanation for my absence from this evening’s meeting, but also to remind you all of how successful I actually am.  Whilst I know that in the future, many of you will achieve similar success, I would like it noted that I was the first!
I would love to read you all a chapter or two of my new book at next week’s meeting, but I am sure that you will have all read it yourselves by then – especially since it is on Special Offer at W H Smiths.  (Although not – yet – in the bargain bin.)  I will return next week, when I will accept your praise and congratulations with my usual degree of grace and humility – as long as nobody overloads with empathy – and I will be happy to autograph anything that is not flesh.  Hopefully, thereafter, following a week of understandable adulation and fawning, we can return to the normal routine of petty squabbling and back-biting, of which we have all grown so fond.  Most importantly, we can once again agree that I am in charge.
I am, yours truly
Deidre
Lingua in maxillamdo what I did, look it up. 

P.S.  If I have learned just one thing from these past few weeks – and only time will tell just how much I have learned – it is that life in general, and I in particular (like the grammar in this sentence) is not to be taken too seriously…

***

N.B. Richard Madeley is a daytime TV ‘star’ in the UK who once famously chaired the first live ‘testicular cancer’ check on UK television – although I should point out that it was not in fact he himself who had his old danglers massaged by the rubber-gloved TV doctor.  Books chosen to appear on Richard and Judy’s (his wife and co-presenter – it was also not her old danglers that were massaged by the rubber-gloved TV doctor) Book Club traditionally benefit from a huge surge in sales and almost automatically become ‘best sellers’.

The Writer’s Circle began with ‘Penny’s Poem’ here.
The Writer’s Circle episode 29 ‘The Missing Deidre’ is here.

The Running Man on ‘Jogging from Memory’

Way, way back in 1980 I bought a book entitled ‘Jogging from Memory’ by Dr Rob Buckman1 who had the rare gift of reducing me to tears of laughter with his prose.  ‘Jogging from Memory’ is a collection of articles he wrote for various publications and it contains the article, also titled ‘Jogging from Memory’, which I now realise is the 1,000 word distillation of everything I have spent the last three years trying to crowbar into my own paean to misplaced youth  – only funnier.  Much, much funnier…

Dr Buckman was twenty-nine years old when he wrote about agreeing to take part in a charity ‘jog’.  Thirty minutes – how hard could that be for a fit young man, finely tuned on bagels and coffee and primed for action – as long as it wasn’t too early?   Sadly the realisation confronted him with a nerve-shredding ‘clang’ as he was ‘lapped by a fell-walker and two marathon runners’ within eleven yards of the start: he was not as young nor as fit as he used to be (nor, he suspected, had ever been).  I could quote a hundred different brilliant lines to you – although not without being sued – but I will not because, frankly, I am not up to that sort of comparison.  I can only urge you to buy the book (I’ve checked, you can still find it) and for goodness sake, sit down before you read it.

I am sixty-two years old as I write this (I think, it’s so hard to remember) and the ‘ageing, crumbling frame’ to which the erstwhile, barely out of his teenage years, Dr Buckman refers has been clinging to my bones for a number of decades now.  Delaying the decline, which was taking me from man to jellyfish, was the main reason I started to run – I love my time with the grandkids and I want it to last as long as possible: they will put up with me smelling faintly of wee and boring them to death with stories from the past only as long as I can still kick a ball and climb a tree.  I have rarely enjoyed running2 but I do enjoy the fact that my physical well-being is much better since I started.  I still feel like an old man – god dammit, I still am an old man – but I am now an old man who can run (in a fashion) without retching before I reach the garden gate; who can keep up with the grandkids when those, much younger, around me falter; who can pull up his own socks without the need for a chiropractor; who can wear a T-shirt without looking like a hippo in a sports bra; who can breathe in deeply without attracting dogs…  I have found that, though running makes me, for the most part, somewhat more miserable than my normal curmudgeonly demeanour would have you believe, overall it makes me happier by allowing me to do more of what I want to do and – who knows – might just buy me a little more time in which to do it.  It also means that I don’t feel quite so bad about the fact that I drink too much, eat too much and, given the option, do far too little – I remain a human slug, but definitely fitter than the slug I used to be.

In fact, what Dr Buckman’s little piece has done is to remind me that, although at certain times in my life I have been very fit, I have never been very fit at everything and most tellingly, when I played football regularly, cycled and circuit-trained (much to the dismay of my fellow work-out’ees, one of whom memorably asked me if I was on some kind of mental welfare scheme3) I was always useless at running, but now it doesn’t matter because I’m better at running than almost everything else I do4.  At my age, it’s the memory that’s the problem: ask me what I was doing in 1965 and I’ll have a pretty good idea.  Ask me what I was doing twenty minutes ago and I’ll have to sit down whilst my head stops spinning.  My problem is not with jogging from memory as much as remembering why – and, in fact if – I was jogging in the first place.  Mind you, if you’d asked me in 1980…

1.  I previously mentioned this book, Dr Buckman and my very tenuous connection to him in a 2020 post entitled ‘Odds & Sods – One of My Socks is Missing’.  (You can read it here if you feel so inclined.)  Dr Buckman died, although possibly to his own surprise, not whilst jogging, in 2011(I include a link to his Wiki page here).  In my post I also mentioned Des O’Connor who has also since sadly passed away.  I would have included a link to his Wiki page, but since it does not mention ‘Dick-A-Dum-Dum’ I have not bothered.

2.  I do actually remember feeling almost deliriously happy running one bright, sunny and warm spring morning during lockdown (I forget which lockdown) but it didn’t last long and I put it down to dodgy ceps.

3.  I am slightly prone to the ‘hyper’ and my mouth can run-on several feet ahead of my brain.

4.  I do, of course, pretty much nothing else.

My Running thoughts diary started with ‘Couch to 5k’ here.
Last week’s entry ‘Listening to my Body’ is here.

The Writer’s Circle #29 – The Missing Deidre

It was unusual for Deidre to be late and it was unheard of for her to be this late.  Gradually, as the evening wore on and the group attempted to conduct normal business without her, distraction set in and all talk within the Circle revolved around her absence.
“Maybe her bus was late,” said Penny.
“She drives in normally,” said Vanessa.  “She’s picked me up occasionally.”
“Well maybe the car has broken down.”
“She’d have rung.”
“Could she have lost her phone?”
Despite all appearances, everyone involved in the group was quietly fond of Deidre and starting to worry.  A number of attempts were made to call her, but her phone was turned off and, despite the determination of the group to carry on as normal, the meeting petered out after the mid-session break and Frankie agreed that, as he lived the closest, he would call round to her house on his way home and speak to her.  After much confusion – during which Phil ‘took charge’ of installing the App onto most of their phones – a WhatsApp group was created so that Frankie could contact them all with ‘the news’ as soon as he had it.  It was doubtful that some of them would know how to open it, but at least it was there.  Deidre, for one, would not approve, but she probably never needed to know.

In the event, Frankie’s message popped up on the group at eleven o’clock that evening.  It was short, only moderately assuring and, for the rest of the group, deeply intriguing: “She’s OK” it said.  “Back next week.”  But as it turned out, she was not, and it was Frankie who took control of the meeting.
“She’s been cuckolded,” he said.
“Cuckolded?” asked Terry.  “What’s that?”
“I think,” said Jane, “that a cuckold is a man whose wife has been unfaithful.”
“OK, not exactly cuckolded,” said Frankie.  “Although I’d argue that in the twenty-first century she could have been.  She’s been scammed, I’m afraid; conned by an online ‘boyfriend’.  She’s mortified.  She can’t face you yet even though, as far as she’s concerned, you don’t know what has happened.  It has really knocked the stuffing out of her – and, as most of you know, she was always choc-full of it.”
“Scammed how?” asked Billy.
“Part romance, part vanity.  She’s just ashamed of herself.”  Frankie dropped his head slightly.  “None of us, and I most certainly include myself in this, gives much thought to Deidre outside of Circle nights.  None of us ever contact her.  She’s lonely…  She was duped by a Romance Scammer who slowly managed to weedle enough information out of her to know how he could really hurt her.  He told her he was involved in a TV production company and he persuaded her that, with just a little capital to ‘grease the wheels’ he would be able to convince them that her first novel would be ideal material for a full-scale series.”
“How much?” asked Vanessa, who like everybody else was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable.
“Twenty grand,” said Frankie.
“Oh God, she didn’t…”
Frankie shook his head.  “She didn’t have it – at least not immediately to hand, which of course was what he wanted.”
An audible sigh of relief crossed the Circle.
“She did have five though…  She sent it to him by money transfer and then, almost immediately realised what she’d done, but she didn’t feel that she had anybody she could tell, so she just turned off her phone, ate cake and sat in the dark feeling stupid.”
“Well, it sounds to me that she’s five thousand pounds wiser now,” said Elizabeth.  “Is there any way that she can get it back?”
“I don’t think so,” said Frankie.  “But at least she hasn’t given him any bank accounts or anything.  I’ve spent the last few days helping her change all of her bank details, her phone number, her email, everything…  The cyber Deidre Desmond of last week no longer exists.”
“So, when is she coming back to the group?”
“Why don’t you ask her?” said Frankie.  “I’ve got her new number here, and I persuaded her to let me put WhatsApp on her new phone.  If you look, you’ll see that she’s been part of the group for a few days now…”
They all looked.  None of them had looked before.
“So, is she ok?”
“She’s still Deidre; your guess is as good as mine.  Her new book is published next week so, if we can manage to get her back, I’m sure she’ll be just as insufferable as ever.”
“Insufferable is a little harsh,” said Penny.  Frankie smiled at her and raised an eyebrow – a trick he had learned from Roger Moore in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – and Penny blushed slightly.
“Alright,” she said to a general murmur of approval around the group.  “I’ll give you slightly insufferable, but I miss her.” 
“Well hopefully you’ll be all be able to persuade her to come back next week then.”
“How?”
“I don’t know.  Tell her you want her to.  Promise never to bother her on WhatsApp again and swear that you’ll never be late to the meetings… but don’t mention that you know about the scam.  She asked me not to tell you.  She’ll know that I have of course, but as long as we never mention it, I think we’ll all survive…”
Penny scanned the phone in her hand.  “Is WhatsApp the blue one, or the green one?” she said…

Episode 1 of The Writer’s Circle ‘Penny’s Poem’ is here.
Episode 28 ‘Jeff Reads to the Room’ is here.