Having tired myself in the effort to find a reason not to do so, I eventually went for a run. I had procrastinated for an hour and dawdled through sixty minutes more, but somewhat against my fondest hopes, everything eventually fell into place and I made it through the door – only to return immediately in order to don cap, sunglasses and Factor 30, owing to the fact that the sun had crept higher into the sky during my protracted preparations raising the temperature from balmy to totally unsuitable for an ageing carrot-top to run in, however, my will had now been sapped to such an extent that I could not bear to back out completely. If it meant that I did not have to relive the previous two hours of angst, then sunstroke was an acceptable price to pay.
I am not certain where time goes when I am getting ready to run: one minute I am trying to decide what shirt I need to wear, the next minute, it is an hour later and I’m wandering around the house in my pants, trying to remember where I left my shorts. By the time I have got myself together, my running shoes are often in another time zone. A half hour run requires a preparation time of at least an hour. If I ever run a marathon I will have to book a week off work. Although if I ever was to run a marathon, the hours before the run would have little to compare with those that follow which, I fear, would seem very much longer to those that had to live with me. Not that there is much chance of that – marathon-wise I already have all of my excuse-ducks in a row:
Although history has shown that I am technically not too old to run a marathon, common sense decrees that I am far too old to run a first marathon.
My attention span is (at best) about ninety minutes. As a marathon would take me somewhere around the seven hour mark, there is every chance that I would forget what I was doing and stop for a pie and a pint along the way.
Given my aptitude for falling over, I would almost certainly over the twenty six miles distance find more than ample opportunity to come a proper cropper – and tarmac roads are very hard.
I live in morbid fear of the kind of shame that would accompany a three kilometre capitulation.
If I should, by some miracle, make it beyond the half way mark, it would be in a time that would ensure that all the paramedics had given up and gone home before I needed them.
So, my current timetable is unlikely to vary: 30 minutes or so to run the 5km that constitutes my regular hobble, Lord alone knows how long getting ready for it, twenty minutes to shower afterwards and ten minutes for a recuperative ice cream before I am sufficiently revived to turn the coffee machine on.
As usual, the Writer’s Circle Games Night had descended into chaos, aided on this occasion by Kenny’s decision to list the evening as a charity event (‘They’re all bloody charity cases, if you ask me.’) and thus allow alcoholic beverages to be drunk, although not purchased upstairs. (‘There’s only one of me you know and you’ll find me downstairs with the pumps and the till, not running up and down the stairs at the whim of a group of losers.’) The search for the missing Scrabble letter ‘X’ had been a long and (by Writer’s Circle standards) uproarious one, driven on by Deidre who had ‘E’, ‘N’, ‘N’ and ‘O’ and was determined to stand a chance, at least, of banging ‘XENON’ down on a triple word score. Her natural irritability was not exactly eased by Phil and Elizabeth who inexplicably suffered a serious attack of ‘the giggles’ when Elizabeth accidentally knocked a box of dominoes from the shelf and found, in amongst the widely distributed dominoes, a Scrabble ‘T’ which, as far as anyone could see, wasn’t actually missing in the first place. “Here,” said Phil, holding out the tile to Deidre, ‘You might as well take this. You could at least get ‘TENON’.” “Or ‘NONET’ said Elizabeth. “Is that a real word?’ asked Phil. Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply. “You shouldn’t have been looking at my tiles,” snapped Deidre. “Oh come on, Deidre,” said Phil. “I couldn’t miss them; you left them on the table. Besides, even if we do find the ‘X’, you’ll have to get hold of it before Elizabeth, otherwise she’s going to get ‘SPANX’.” Elizabeth took a playful swipe at Phil who ducked and, much to the amusement of both of them, dislodged the ‘X’ tile from the folds of his sweater. Deidre stared coldly at the two of them, giggling like teenagers. “Well, I think we’d better start all over again, don’t you?” she said, beckoning Frankie to rejoin them at the table.
Frankie had, in fact, played no part in the search for the missing ‘X’ as he had found himself at the next table, alongside Billy and Terry who were staring blankly at a chess board. “You’re telling me that you having decided to play chess, you discover that neither of you have ever played before?” He looked from Billy to Terry incredulously. “… Never?” He sighed, took a seat between them and, after a deep breath, attempted to introduce them to the simplest rudiments of the game. Both men nodded sagely as Frankie explained, “The game is all about protecting your King: it’s an old game – I’m surprised that both Kings are not white really – and the Queen is your most powerful piece, she can go any distance across the board, in any direction, straight or diagonally, but she can’t go through or over other pieces. If she reaches your own piece, she stops, if she reaches your opponent’s, she takes it off the board. The Knight is the only piece that can go over or round other pieces. It moves like this… or this… or this… or this…”
Penny stared at her opponents – Vanessa, Tom, Louise, Jeff and Jane – across the Cluedo board and tried to decide where her main competition was going to come from. She was, for once, pleased to find that Phil – the detective writer – was otherwise engaged, but thought that Louise and Jane could both offer stiff competition. Vanessa appeared confident (but was actually just confused) whilst Tom and Jeff – who was laughing so heartily at something (Not even he appeared to know what.) that he was slowly dripping a puddle of gin and tonic into his crotch – simply seemed pleased to be involved. The initial barrier to starting the game had still to be crossed: the positioning of the six ‘weapons’ on the board. Jane was insistent that they should start in ‘appropriate’ rooms: “Knife in the Kitchen, Candlestick in the Ballroom, it’s obvious.” “Spanner in the Garage, Pistol in the Shooting Gallery…” said Tom. “Lead Pipe?” asked Jeff. “Outside Toilet,” said Tom, which amused them both. “Yes, well, I think it would make more sense if they went into rooms that actually exist on the board,” said Jane. “Can we all agree, at least, that the Candlestick belongs in the Ballroom?” They couldn’t. Tom wanted it in the Library and Louise in the Lounge. “My mother,” she said, “Always kept the best silver in the lounge… and the knife has to be in the Dining Room.” “Maybe we could start with the rope,” said Vanessa. “Any suggestions?” “I don’t know,” said Louise. “Who even has a rope in the house? I can never even find string. And how long is that rope, even to scale? It would never go round somebody’s neck…” Eventually they all agreed to pick a murder weapon each, at random, and they placed them in a room of their choice, which resulted in the Candlestick being in the ballroom ‘Because that’s where the piano is’; the Revolver in the Study ‘Because it’s always in a desk drawer on the telly’; the Lead Pipe in the Cellar where it had ‘Fallen from the old boiler when they fitted a new one’; the Dagger was in the Dining Room because Tom had drawn it and he wasn’t about to change his mind; the Rope in the Library ‘Having fallen off the bell-pull’, and the Spanner in the Billiard Room ‘In case the table’s legs needed adjustment’. “OK, so who’s got the dice?” asked Jane. Accusing glances passed around the group. “Anyone?”
Billy and Terry both grinned nervously as Frankie drove on. “The Bishop moves diagonally, the Rook or Castle in a straight line.” They cupped their chins and stared intently at the board, occasionally reaching out and moving the pieces along the lines of the instructions…
A thorough search of the Cluedo box revealed a single die trapped within its cardboard tomb. “Can we play with just one?” asked Jeff. “It will take an awful long time to get around,” said Tom. “Perhaps we could each roll it twice,” suggested Vanessa. “Brilliant!” said Tom, who was now in full-on ‘charm’ mode. “So, who wants to be Colonel Mustard?”
Eventually, at the insistent beckoning of Deidre, Frankie left Billy and Terry to their game. “Do you think you will, at least, be able to give it a bit of a go?” he asked. Billy and Terry nodded in unison. Slowly they placed all of the pieces onto the board and, thrilled with their accomplishment, shook hands before commencing a simple game of draughts. “What will we do if one of the pieces is crowned?” asked Billy. “We’ll swap it for a King or a Queen,” said Terry. “But they’re already crowned.” “You’re right,” said Terry. “We’ll promote a Knight. A Bishop wouldn’t be ruthless enough and a Pawn would be unseemly…” They both grinned agreement and began sliding pieces around the board in a random fashion. “Do they go on black or white?” asked Billy. “Yes,” said Terry. “Black or white, definitely…”
At the Scrabble board, Deidre had once again taken control. “Right,” she said. “I think it is you to start, Francis. What have you got?” Frankie looked at his tiles: ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘K’, ‘L’, ‘L’ ‘U’. “Fuck all,” he said.
…Downstairs, Kenny was playing darts with a man in a tired business suit, who was asking a lot of questions about somebody who sounded a lot like Tom. Fortunately, as Kenny was able to assure the man, he’d never been seen in his pub. “Sounds like a bit of a loser, anyway,” he said…
I think many of my readers will know Draughts as Checkers and Cluedo as Clue – and if you have one, I’d be pleased to know about it
I went for a slightly ‘troubled’ run at the end of last week whence I discovered that my lungs have not yet quite worked themselves back up to absorbing oxygen in the required manner and my hips are in desperate need of WD40, so it was decided that I need to reintroduce myself to the thrice weekly slog a little more gently. Consequently I reset ‘Couch to 5k’ and I intend to ‘redo’ the last few weeks of the regime until I get back up to speed. I have removed the ever-soothing tones of Jo Whiley and replaced them with the slightly more chiding contributions of Sarah Millican. The short ‘walking’ interludes (I have started at week 5 which sees me ending the week with a twenty minute run) are a little embarrassing, and always coincide with encounters with other runners, but do give me the opportunity to whip my ailing alveoli into accepting some suitable level of oxygen exchange before I lurch on again.
I have always ‘suffered with my chest’ but this is the first time I have really noticed how long it takes to build back up to normal function after it has divested itself of whatever it is it stores in there – although to be honest I have never been one to push my ability to breathe further than has seemed natural. In forty years of playing football, I seldom moved beyond canter, even at my fittest. I always managed to position myself alongside ‘willing runners’, affording myself the maximum opportunity to kick the opposition without having to chase them around too much first. I figured that, as breathing was the only thing actually keeping me alive, being out of breath was unlikely to ever be a good thing.
My legs, I have mentioned before, have something of the ‘tree trunk’ about them. They are ‘sturdy’ in the extreme and, I fear, not ideally suited to running – probably more designed for holding up a motorway bridge. My calf muscles alone must consume about fifty percent of the oxygen that I do manage to take on board. Moreover, when given the opportunity to utilise an amount of oxygen, they generally seem to enjoy it to such an extent that they continue to flap around all night. It is incredibly annoying (possibly more for my wife than myself) when my legs are still pounding the streets whilst the rest of me searches for sleep. I have tried so many ways of combating this: hot baths, cold baths, super-hydration (leading to super-micturition), standing, sitting, heating, cooling, beating with birch twigs, giving a stern talking-to, but to little avail. My legs have no speed control and whilst they are unhappy to lumber up to a pace that is anything in excess of brisk stroll, they are, having done so, generally unwilling to return to anything resembling inertia. If I do manage to tie the damn things down overnight, they repay me by aching and, occasionally, cramping up in such a manner that a blacksmith could use them as an anvil.
My hips are relative newcomers to this circle of pain, but boy are they making up for it now. I have developed a hip-flexing and stretching exercise routine which fits between my runs and my hips have been much better, but whilst I was not running, I was also not doing the in-between stuff. Hence my hips have become like rusted gate hinges and they make a similar noise when I walk. I desperately need to get them back into some kind of order so that I can get out of the car without groaning; so that I can bend over without next door’s cat thinking that somebody is shooting at it.
I’m hoping that my second lope through the latter stages of Couch to 5k will be somewhat easier than my first: I am somewhat more adjusted to the levels of discomfort and boredom, having developed the distraction techniques needed to cancel out both. I may stumble on through the schedule, to the end of week nine, or I may find that I am back up to speed (relative term*) before then and decide to drop back into the old routine. Either way, I am actually feeling keen to get back to my established routine of runs and exercise before winter descends.
Penny smoothed down the perceived creases in her neatly pleated skirt. She was certain that nobody had noticed, but it was new and just a very few centimetres shorter in length than those she habitually wore. She felt somehow empowered by it. She had caught a sideways glimpse of herself in the mirror in the Ladies and she thought that her legs were actually nothing like as ‘stringy’ as her mother always told her. She had seen worse, much worse, and although the skirt gave her a little difficulty in keeping her knees covered when she sat down, she was happy with the way she looked. She felt suddenly hot and thought about opening the top button on her blouse. Just briefly. Steady now Penny, just one step at a time…
Shyly she looked around the Circle (all of whom had noted the new skirt) and almost sat straight down, but she caught sight of Deidre who was clearly ready to speak, and decided to press on. “I drew,” she said, “Family Saga, and I would be lying if I said that I really knew what that meant. First I thought ‘Gone with the Wind’ and then I thought of ‘The Waltons’, but I knew that I was only going to write a few hundred words, and ‘Saga’ didn’t really seem to apply. So, I hope that nobody minds, but I intend to take a bit of a liberty and take myself even further out of my comfort zone…” “Oh God,” muttered Deidre, “What is it, a poem about cats?” “…by writing this. I think you will all agree that it is not what I’m used to doing, but I listened to Frankie and he said that I needed to ‘lighten up’.” She looked to Frankie for support and he smiled warmly and nodded his approval. “I know what everybody thinks of me and, frankly, you’re not really wrong, so I tried to remember how I used to be; what I used to like and, somehow, for some reason, I came up with this and… well, Phil has agreed to help me ‘act’ it. I hope nobody minds…” She smiled at Phil who took his cue to stand, grasping a sheaf of papers in his hand. “We grabbed a few minutes ‘rehearsal’ before you all got here. I don’t know about Phil, but I have never acted before – not even in the school nativity – so please be patient. I will have to set the scene. It is an old-fashioned bookshop. Phil is the owner and I am the customer. I hope you will bear with me; I’m no actor and this is… well, I hope you will bear with me.” She and Phil moved into position, each grasping their script and a book in a bag.
PHIL Ah good morning madam. May I be of service? PENNY Yes, it’s about this vegetarian cook book you sold me yesterday. PHIL Yes madam. PENNY REMOVES A VERY DOG-EARED COOK BOOK FROM THE BAG. PHIL LOOKS AT THE BOOK AND THEN ENQUIRINGLY PENNY. PENNY It’s an ordinary cookbook with all the meat recipes torn out. PHIL Your point being…? PENNY Well, it’s not the same as a vegetarian cook book, is it? PHIL I’m afraid you’ll have to help me there. PENNY Well, a vegetarian cook book is a carefully selected and varied collection of non-meat recipes, whilst this… PHIL Yes madam? PENNY … this is a carnivorous jamboree with everything but the lentils ripped out of it. PHIL (Under his breath) Not unlike the average vegetarian fruitcake’s diet, I’d say. Perhaps, madam, you could tell me exactly what it is you were expecting. PENNY Well, I wanted a book of recipe ideas, especially designed for vegetarian consumption, which I could cook for my son’s non-meat eating girlfriend when she comes to stay at the weekend… PHIL LOOKS POINTEDLY AT THE BOOK. PENNY (cont) … that doesn’t say ‘100 favourite meat recipes’ on the cover. I don’t think I’m going to get very far with a recipe for Steak & Kidney Pie with ‘Steak & Kidney’ Tipp-Exed out and the words ‘Some Vegetarian Rubbish’ written over it in biro. Nor, I think, will she find (SHE TURNS THE PAGE) and I quote ‘Beef Stroganoff with all the good bits picked out’ particularly to her taste. PHIL Right, well, I’ll just throw this one away then shall I? MELODRAMATICALLY, HE THROWS THE BOOK INTO THE BIN. PHIL (cont) Another week’s profit down the drain. PENNY Oh come on. It’s not the first time you’ve tried it on with me, is it? PHIL What do you mean? PENNY The whodunnit you sold me last week… PHIL Yes? PENNY 2019’s ‘Wisden’ with the last page torn out… And what about the ‘Da Vinci Code’? Did you really think that I wouldn’t realise that it was just a remaindered travel book about Venice with half the words cut out and stuck back in at random? PHIL Alright, what do you want? PENNY Have you got the latest Jeffrey Archer? PHIL REACHES INTO HIS BAG AND PULLS OUT A PRISTINE PAPERBACK. PENNY Can you cut all the crap out for me? WITH A WEARY SIGH PHIL TEARS OFF THE FRONT COVER AND PUTS JUST THAT IN THE BAG, WHICH HE HANDS TO PENNY. HE THROWS THE REST INTO THE BIN. PENNY Thanks SHE ‘EXITS’.
In the ensuing silence, both Phil and Penny retook their chairs. Penny looked down at her exposed knees and Phil cast his eyes slowly around the Circle. Frankie clapped. “Bravo,” he said, and he stood. Phil joined him, clapping loudly. One by one the rest of the Circle stood and joined in the applause with even the reluctant Deidre belatedly joining in. Penny, with half a smile, took a deep inward breath and slowly pulled down the hem on her skirt…
N.B. I’m sure that Crispin Underfelt has mentioned before the difficulty of getting sketches to format for WordPress. This is the best that I can muster. I hope that it is, at least, understandable.
Wednesday was to be my first proper running day since I was first unwell – except it wasn’t. I have had a few sessions on the exercise bike and I no longer get out of breath hoisting myself into the saddle so the time felt right, but it is not. When I run, I run alone. I avoid other people as far as I possibly can and it has lately occurred to me that, should I keel over, I am many lifetimes away from a defibrillator. I am fully aware that the benefits of running far outweigh the risks, but you have to be honest, the benefits are not quite so… terminal. The pay-off of keeping fit may, if I am lucky, stretch twenty years into the future; the perils, if I am not, may stretch six feet into a box.
Exercise so far this week has consisted of being grandad. Of being used as a trampoline by two three-year olds and football/tennis/cricket opponent by a six year-old. I haven’t counted the baby, although God knows, the amount of walking up and down the room I do whilst holding her must count for something. Being grandad is much more fun than running, but twice as tiring. I have a ‘babysitting’ mode on my Fitbit that just says ‘Go and have a lie down’ every thirty minutes. I would like to introduce the physicist, searching for the secret to perpetual motion, to my grandson. Even when his body is stationary, his mind is moving at a frightening pace. He is capable of the kind of leaps of logic that would make Einstein blanch. You want to witness something moving faster than the speed of light, look inside his head whilst he’s sleeping. While the world slumbers, he hatches plans for rocket-powered shoes, upscaled building projects based on super-sized Lego and the possibility of growing chocolate from Smarties. An hour in his company is both life-enhancing and draining beyond belief. My spirits soar whilst my head throbs and my limbs ache.
I will not have run today either because I will have been at work and a day at work starts and ends with a long walk. When the sun shines, the morning walk is a golden thirty minutes, when it rains it is filled with the misery of knowing that I am going to be damp for the rest of the day. There is something about the water that runs down your back and into your pants that means that it can never dry – like badly stirred gloss paint on a plastic door. The journey back to the car on such a day, wet-panted, is never pleasant even if the sun shines. Steaming underwear is never comfortable.
Tomorrow, however, I am not at work. Tomorrow I will run. Next week’s running diary may well not be about running, but it will at least have its seeds in a run, and whether my pants are wet or dry and as long as I make it to the end without the attentions of the paramedics, you will hear all about it.
Ain’t life grand?
In an attempt to ‘glam up’ my content, I thought I’d try to post this piece with an intriguing title. I toyed with ‘Quantum Fluctuations of Time within the Somnambulant Cerebral Cortex’ but I was worried that someone might ask me to explain. I considered ‘The Mortal Coil: How to Shuffle Off – the Facts’ but I was held back by the fact that, by and large, these blogs are not, in fact, fact-heavy, but rather more fact-less. I then took a leaf from Bryntin’s book and went for ‘Easy Blogging Tips for Successful Lifestyle Investments’ but I feared litigation, so I went for the ‘what it says on the tin’ approach, which means that we can keep it to ourselves. Just the two of us…
The poison dart frog has a many-hued coat That you really wouldn’t want to have stuck in your throat
It has always puzzled me why a tiny little frog should contain enough poison to kill ten fully grown adult humans. What on earth is nature trying to protect them against? A dinner party? Ten French people willing to munch five to a leg? I understand in nature that bright colours warn of toxicity, so why aren’t butterflies weaponised? Why do Black Widow Spiders carry enough venom to kill a human, when all they need to see off is a fly? What’s more, if you’re a spider a spider who has just killed a fly with sufficient venom to bring down a human, how do you then eat it without suffering the consequences? How did nature choose the venomous? Why did she miss politicians? Thank God she did…
BTW in case you ever wondered, a frog in the throat is a simple literal allusion to the fact that you sound croaky.
P.S. I do understand the difference between poisonous and venomous – although I’m not convinced that the frog does.
The most important thing I have to remember when I run is that I have to think about something – anything – else. Absolutely the worst thing I can do is to think about running. If I do, it takes only a couple of hundred yards before I become conscious of my knees – was that a twinge? Are they getting ready to collapse? – and by the time I reach the top corner my mind has moved onto my breathing – is it laboured? Is that my chest or has somebody just driven past me in a van with no exhaust? – half a kilometre thinking about running and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest like a clog dancer with no sense of rhythm.
Now, I am of an age – my body has been ravaged more often than Moll Flanders – and I see myself as the kind of bike that I used to ride as a youth: held together with string and sticky tape, and I am never certain which part is going to let me down first. It is only if I allow myself to become confident that a wheel falls off. The more I think about it, the closer disaster moves.
My mind tells me that I will not fall to pieces as long as I don’t think about falling to pieces, so I think about something else: how big are Bruce Banner’s pants that he can still wear them after he has become The Hulk? And why are they so tatty? The last time my pants looked like that I was sixteen and had just spent two weeks camping in the Lake District with all my worldly possessions in a plastic carrier bag. I used them for a bonfire on my last night and they burned for three weeks. It is not a good train of thought because it always leads to my current under-trolley arrangements and I become aware of the current direction of travel. Thinking about underwear is never a good idea whilst running and will always lead to discomfort. (And, by the way, as you get older you will begin to realise that shorts with ‘built in support’ are never up to the job*.) Far better to concentrate on the outer attire of other runners: those who have only recently decided to start running and have consequently thrown the cheque book at the local sports outfitters and those who have been running for years and realise that the tatty green number is by far the most comfortable top they have, that nothing chafes quite like an embroidered trade mark. There are those who perpetually run in sunglasses (I have worn sunglasses myself and it is only when the sun disappears that you realise that you have nowhere to put the bloody things) those who wear a cap to fasten down unruly hair and those who wear a cap to disguise the fact that the days of unruly hair are long behind them. Those who, like me, trudge along, elastic dressing on every conceivable joint, carrying the weight of the world on emaciated shoulders, and those who bound along like a youthful Bambi, full of the joys of Spring, unburdened by a care in the world but, I am sure, fully aware of my loathing as they wave a cheery greeting. There are those who acknowledge me and those who fear it might be catching. I think of them all and, before I know it, the run is over and I haven’t even noticed I’ve done it. All I have to work out then is how come I have arrived home such a breathless, sweating wreck…
*No matter how unpalatable, facts are facts: you may not wish to know them, but they are still facts…
Since the departure of Dick Hart, Terry Teasdale was perfectly aware that he stood alone as the least liked member of the Circle: not so much its bête noire as its own black dog. It was not a position that he had chosen to inhabit and he had been working slowly, but determinedly to become, if not exactly liked, then at least accepted by the other members. He had not missed a meeting in six months and those around him had slowly grown used to him being there: like a wart on the nose, he was not something with which one necessarily wished to be associated, but the truth was that the more often one looked into the mirror, the less jarring was the realisation that it was there. The transition from excrescence to birthmark was, never-the-less, not without its difficulties. He was trying to change his life – at least the parts of it that others might see. He began to recognise his own sharp corners, and he worked at chipping them away. He had attempted in his own way to soften his image, joining in conversations, being self-effacing, smiling in a way that he was aware did his face no favours. He tried to joke, although with the kind of success that was normally reserved for ‘bottom of the bill’ in an autumn end of the pier review. He wanted to become a bona fide member of the club. He wanted the others to miss him when he was not there. He had even started to write.
Phil’s ‘reverse genre’ game had given him his opportunity. They would all expect him to be inept, writing in a style to which he was not used. That he was not actually used to writing in any style would not occur to anyone. At first he thought that he might be able to ‘borrow’ the prose of others, but he knew it would be spotted: Deidre, Phil, Frankie, Louise, they were all plagiarism Ninjas. They could spot a misappropriated sentence at a thousand paces. He had, at least, the self-awareness to understand that if he chose a battle there he was destined to lose. And he didn’t want a battle. He’d had many. He’d lost them all.
The story he had told them when he had first joined the group had been the truth, but he had couched it in a hard-hearted manner that he believed would be comical. He believed that they would see it as some kind of grotesque ‘Carry On’, but what they saw in it was actually nearer to the truth than he would care to admit. If he had bridges to build, they were bridges that he had himself first burned. In fact, his much vaunted exposé had never made the papers. Any interest in the story he had to tell was lost when those much closer to the editors decided to spill the beans on Devine before Terry had even got his ghost writers into line. Devine’s goose was cooked and Terry had not even had time to put on his toque. It had proved to be a turning point. Terry Tease was no more, Devine had put paid to his career, although not in the way that he had intended. The intense heat of tabloid investigation had burned all of those who were in any way associated with the main target: those deemed to be ‘worth the effort’ were shamed and vilified; Terry was ignored and abandoned. There is no point in harbouring dreams of revenge, when it has already been wreaked by others. In the short time in which he had been a member of the Circle, Terry Tease had to all intents and purposes, ceased to be, and Terry Teasdale was just beginning to re-emerge, a semi-likeable never-was from the sloughed skin of a detestable has-been.
He had no need to work. If nothing else, Terry Tease had provided for his retirement. He was by no means rich, but he had plenty with which to retain his new-found anonymity. The man who used to be the warm-up man for a discredited star was recognised by no-one. The only time he was ever approached in public was by people who knew, but could not quite place, his face. They invariably believed they knew him from school and he was happy to let them. The person they did recognise had gone; he would rather be the person they thought they recognised.
He no longer craved fame or even notoriety; all that he desired was the acceptance of those with whom he now chose to share his life. He had taken his time; he had worked and re-worked his little story. He had honed it into a lean, professional-sounding piece of writing and then slowly, carefully, he had dissembled it; made it less of what he strove to be and more of what he wanted to be: imperfect but meliorated. What he really wanted to be was part of something. Not the Sun, not the Earth, not even the moon: he would be happy to be Pluto (the planet, rather than the Disney dog) even if it was no longer accepted as a full-blown planet – as long as they did nothing to actually kick it out of orbit, he would be happy. So he patiently waited his turn and he was ready to face the Circle, accepting that many of them were not yet ready to hear from him again; hoping that he could soften the reaction when they did. He rose to his feet as the eyes of all assembled fell upon him. He sensed that he might just have seen a fleeting smile of encouragement from Penny, but he couldn’t be sure: if such a thing had crossed her lips, it had done so swiftly and had long since departed. He was, none-the-less buoyed by the fact that nobody looked actively hostile towards him. Antipathy had, in the main, made way for apathy and that, for Terry Teasdale, was progress of a sort. And progress he could work with…
These were the kind of discussion days that Deidre loathed: talking about how you wrote rather than what you wrote – she lost her edge in such conversations. Everybody knew that she was the Circle’s only properly published author, so she could speak about what she wrote with some kind of authority – and she did like authority – but how one goes about the task of writing, the fundamentals of putting words down onto paper, well, no two authors are the same and that meant that everybody else’s opinion became just as valid as her own. Not a situation she relished. “I just think,” she said, “that as long as you have the idea: as long as you know where you are and where you’re going, then everything will fall into place.” “And when you don’t have the ideas?” asked Phil. “Then perhaps you shouldn’t be writing,” said Deidre. “Steve Martin said that Writer’s Block is ‘a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol,’” said Frankie. “It always works for me.” “Sometimes it’s not even the ideas,” said Phil. “It’s the words. I can spend days just beating myself up over words. Which to use, which to avoid, which words at least sound as if I haven’t had to wring them out of the dictionary with my bare hands?” “I find that a cup of tea normally hits the button,” said Elizabeth. “It’s not the tea; it’s the making of it, that’s the key. Making the decision that I’m wasting my time just staring at the computer: the thought that at least making tea is achieving something. It’s the routine of it. I leave my desk, I make my tea and I return to my desk with it. If I can’t write then, I just watch cats on YouTube.” “Sometimes,” said Billy, “It’s a physical pain. Like you have to drag the words out your guts.” “Have you ever had a proper job?” asked Frankie. “Sometimes I find it helps to write down a list of what I want to say,” said Penny. “I always know what I want to say,” said Jane. “It’s just… how do I want to say it.” “It’s sometimes about finding just the right word,” agreed Penny. “Especially when it has to rhyme with ‘goldfinch’,” muttered Deidre. “Sometimes,” said Louise, “I go back to what I wrote the day before and I just write it all out again in the hope that when I reach the end of it I will just keep going.” “And does that work?” asked Jane. “No,” said Louise. “If I’m honest. More often than not I read what I wrote the day before and realise what a load of tripe it is. Makes me realise that not being able to write might not be such a bad thing.” Jeff shuffled a little uncomfortably in his chair aware that he almost certainly had little to contribute, but decided, none-the-less, to join in the conversation. “When I can’t think of what to write, I just write about nothing. I can write about nothing for days.” “Frankie’s done that for years,” said Phil with a laugh. “I wish I could argue,” said Frankie. “It’s a gift; like being pitch perfect. Some people never have to wonder whether they’re in tune when they sing. Me, I can write meaningless drivel without even thinking about it. I’m Jeffrey Archer without the bank balance. What about you Tom, what do you do when you can’t write?” “I’m like Jeff, I think; I just write anyway, to spite it. When I was in… When I first started to write I always had set ideas of what I wanted to say, but it didn’t take long for me to realise how lifeless it all was. Mostly now, when I can’t write, I just read. It’s something I have always had lots of time for.” “You make it sound like a prison sentence,” said Vanessa, unaware of the fleeting look of unease that flitted across Tom’s features. “Nobody makes us write, any of us. We write because we want to. We write because we think we have something to say. We write because, secretly, we would all very much like to be ‘the next big thing’. All you have to do when you can’t say what you want to say is to find another way of saying it. More often than not, I have too many ideas. I just can’t line them up. They’re like kids: I can’t get them all to sit down at the same time. I can never make them all face in the same direction. If I had just one – I’d pick the best one, of course – it would be no problem. It would follow me around, do whatever I asked of it, but as soon as I have two ideas, they start chatting amongst themselves, playing games, and I can never get them to do what I want them to do. Sometimes my head is buzzing with ideas and the only thing I can do is to find a way of getting rid of most of them. I can’t drink tea – it makes my tongue fur – so I usually drink coffee and that’s the worst thing I can do. I’ve never seen the attraction of water. Why would you deliberately consume something that has absolutely no taste? It would be like going to a Roy Chubby Brown concert on your wedding night. So I bake scones. They’re not good scones; most of the time they’re very bad scones, but the process occupies my mind. You can’t worry about who is going to say what when you’ve got scones in the oven.” “When I don’t know what to say,” said Terry, “I just employ another ghost writer.” “Right, well, that’s all very useful I’m sure,” cut in Deidre with an audible sigh. “So, has anybody actually written anything at all to read to us tonight?”
Last night, deflated by missing a post and unable, once again, to sleep I happened to stumble across a BBC web page which said that the symptoms associated with the new ‘Delta’ variation of Covid-19 are those of the Common Cold, and it struck me then that, quite frankly, the cold is not quite so common anymore is it?
You know the way things go.
Mask wearing, socially distancing, hand-washing humans, it appears, are not nearly as susceptible to colds as in the past. I know exactly where I got my last cold from: from the same place as all grandparents catch their colds. Grandchilden: the ultimate Super-spreaders. No evil power ever has to devise a missile with which to deliver the agents of biological warfare; just load up a grandchild. When they’re out for a cuddle, the presence of a three inch snot-trail across their face is not going to stop them from giving you one. I believe that it is probably in the small print of Domestos: ‘Kills 99.9% of all known germs, unless they are associated with a weeping child’. Whatever it was that Tony Blair and George W. were hoping to find in Iraq, they were looking in the wrong place.
The Common Cold is not a serious complaint (unless you are a man) and its effects are not too bad – I find that breathing is probably overrated anyway – but by and large I could manage perfectly well without them, thank you very much. The snotty, runny-nosed sneezing phase is one upon which I normally only embark on the morning of an interview. Crispin Underfelt will recall that when we first gathered together for the recording of our radio series- so many moons ago that Apple was just the label used by the Beatles and a laptop was something you rested your dinner plate on – I was mucus-filled and consequently sounded just like every other adenoidal local radio broadcaster on the tapes. If my cold had not cleared up by the second recording session, I think I might have been offered a job.
And I cannot consider running with a cold. I get out of breath just thinking about it and my throat is so sore that I dare not suck air through it except in the minimal amounts called for by total slothfulness. The combination of blocked-up nasal passages and sore throat means that breathing is accompanied by what I can only describe as a death rattle. My hooter** will become bright red and sore, my limbs will feel like they belong to somebody else and I will not run even if the rain has stopped – especially if the flashing lights are no longer in the sky, but behind my eyes and the rumble is not of thunder, but of my chest trying to do something, anything, with the meagre amount of oxygen it is receiving. If (by dint of some miraculous tear in the space/time continuum) I saw me running towards me with a cold, I would immediately be looking for the man with the scythe chasing on behind. I sound like a man who is far too ill to be in the mortuary, let alone running around the village streets in a pair of baggy shorts and a T shirt clearly made to fit somebody else.
The Cold will return when Covid restrictions get lifted and will, doubtless, make a real nuisance of itself in the absence of recently modified antibodies. Surely Science is missing a trick by searching for cures for specific diseases, when what it really needs to do is to come up with a multi-purpose antibody, perhaps a miniature Batman equipped with a utility belt or a midget Iron Man with a medical A-Z. Like a biological McAffe, but without the tendency to make everything else crash around it.
Anyway, in place of the Cold, everybody seems to have hay fever at the moment. However, the rain has now arrived, the pollen has all washed away, the air is clearer and, despite my increasing slothfulness, I will be able to run today after all. Unless, of course, I catch a cold in the meantime.
You know the way things go.
*Acute Coryza is one of the many scientific names used for The Common Cold. It is seldom used by doctors as such a diagnosis is always followed by the patient saying “Why thank you doctor, I think yours is very cute too.”
**Nose – usually when of the size and shape of W.C. Fields proboscis.