The chimpanzee would be a fool, To turn his brain to making tools: To evolve himself to number one, Far better if he made a gun.
I’m always puzzled by why, exactly, we became what we are whilst chimpanzees did not. They have brains, they have opposable thumbs, they are bloody minded and, at times, blood thirsty – why are we the ones with the overdrafts? Why do whales allow themselves to be harpooned, why do dolphins get caught in fishermen’s nets? They must know something we do not – and God help them if we ever find out what it is…
I have just realised that chimpanzees also appeared in week 12 (although a completely different rhyme) of our little glide around the zoo. You know what it’s like, constantly finding yourself back at a cage you’ve already seen…
“This is not just any cold*,” purrs the voice inside my head, “this is a Marks & Spencer’s cold.” This is not just a headache, it is a proper banger. Come on, why would I even want to swallow? Breathing freely is just so overrated. Nothing makes you feel as frail as a cold. To be laid so low by what is the most trivial of diseases leaves you feeling incredibly puny. The problem with this kind of cold is that you cannot disguise it: it’s there, ever-present in your voice, unmistakably lodged in your bright red hooter. Now is the time that the surgical mask is for keeping in rather than keeping out – not so much of a blessing when what it keeps in is a great, snotty sneeze. Nobody likes a shiny moustache. I am currently feeding my cold, although it is almost inevitable that I should actually be starving it. If you know the answer, please keep it to yourself, unless it involves chocolate.
Why is it even called a cold, and given that it is, why isn’t a fever called a hot? It cannot be anything to do with the prevailing weather: in the UK everything we caught would be called cold, wet and miserable. Given that a cold tends to involve head to toe muscle aches, a blinding headache, a throat that’s filled with saw blades and a nose that’s filled with God-knows-what, you’d have thought that somebody would have come up with a better name. Let’s face it, if footrot can muster up tinia pedis, an ice cream headache gets sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia and an ingrowing toenail gets unguis incarnates what has a cold got to do to be given a glamorous name – be adopted by Angelina Jolie?
Apparently (thank you Wikipedia) the common cold – let’s make it sound even more mundane – is caused by a toxic brew of up to two hundred separate virus strains, all with the kind of fancy names we crave (my favourite being acute coryza, because it just sounds suitably miserable) but because it is such a cocktail, none of them appear to have stuck. If it was made of alcohol it would be called ‘Knickers off and soundly spanked on the bottom’ or ‘Sweaty nights between the sheets’ or similar. I wonder what a bartender would make of a two hundred ingredient recipe? (I tried to look-up a fancy name for a cocktail maker, but I couldn’t find one, although someone suggested Alchemist. My experience is that Maker of the Ultimately Disappointing would be much more appropriate.)
One of the main ‘risk factors’ for catching a cold is listed as ‘going to child care facilities’. I do not do that, I am the child care facility: the little blighters bring their bounty to me. Childcare bubbles have so much to answer for. It’s impossible to look after children without being exposed to everything to which they, themselves, have been exposed. Children are super-spreaders of everything (including joy, as it goes) but I’d quite like them to keep some of the more unsavoury stuff to themselves.
What a cold does do is to rob you of concentration. The brain that normally allows thirty-minute slots of application, begins to falter after five. Ideas that are normally hammering to be released have taken to their beds in a darkened room where they are drinking hot toddies and watching 1970’s sitcoms. Consequently I write in short bursts, I drink coffee, I moan interminably and I stop as soon as I’ve had enough…
*Just so that you know, I have to Covid test twice a week and it isn’t that – so you can put your bargepole away now.
N.B. I have today been hit by the glitch that many of you have been suffering for some time. Font size has altered randomly, some has been bold, some has been in italics. I think I have now got it where it should be, but if not, I apologise. Not my fault – obviously.
Charles (Charlie to his friends) Fairford had been a founding member of The Circle, an ever-present until his illness. He had been more of an occasional visitor for a few weeks after his diagnosis, still the same old wryly amusing Charlie, but as the effects of his chemo slowly dragged him down, his visits became increasingly infrequent before, about three months ago, they had stopped altogether. But now, to everybody’s great delight, he was back; his dark hair replaced by a light, downy covering, his face gaunt, but still Charlie looking out from behind perpetually amused eyes. Everybody wanted to know whether he was back for good, but nobody wanted to ask.
Even Deidre could not hide her pleasure when he walked through the door. “Charles,” she had almost sighed. (She considered herself a friend, but would not consider calling him Charlie.) “Phillip, Francis, get Charles a chair. Put it here.” She indicated the space beside her. There was always a space beside Deidre. Phil fetched the chair and held it tightly, as though it might otherwise fall apart, whilst Frankie helped Charlie down into it. “Really, I’m fine,” he said, slightly embarrassed by the fuss, but none-the-less grateful for the help. Everybody came to greet him, to shake his hand, to pat his shoulder, to hug him warmly, before returning to their seats; Vanessa introduced herself and he smiled warmly, it was good to meet new members. Terry did the same and Charlie didn’t seem to mind at all. “So, what’s been going on?” he asked when The Circle at last settled back down. “Well, as you see, we have new members,” said Deidre. “There is so much writing being done. Phillip has abandoned his book and is working on a play; Jane is formulating ideas – have you ever heard of ovinaphobia? – Mr Teasdale has told us a little about himself and William (Billy bridled as she knew he would) has let us in on the start of his new work. You’ve met Vanessa, she’s going to read to us soon, and Francis… Francis still blesses us with his humour from time to time. And Penny has read us some lovely poetry, haven’t you dear?” “And you, Deidre?” Deidre blushed slightly as she was able to do when the situation demanded it. “I’ve seen your latest book advertised in the local press. When are we to hear some of your new one?” “You’re coming back… again I mean. You’re coming back again?” Charlie smiled. “I don’t know what else I’d do with my Thursdays.”
“What about you, Charlie? Have you had time to write? Is it Charlie? Do you prefer Charles? I…” Vanessa had spoken instinctively, feeling that he had a story to tell, but not knowing nearly enough about what that story might be. She regretted it instantly. “Lots of time,” Charlie’s smile was as genuine as it was warm “just not much to say. I kept a diary. I will probably try to do something with that. My fingers are still a little numb at the moment; I struggle to hold a pen, so I’m doing battle with a laptop. Does anybody use a pen these days?” “Just me, I think,” said Frankie. “Of course, Mr Dinosaur,” neither Charlie nor Frankie could hide their happiness at being able to have this conversation. “Now don’t expect me to look surprised,” Charlie continued. “At least, not until I’ve grown my eyebrows back.” A palpable sense of relief flooded the room. It could be spoken about. “How are you Charlie?” “I’m fine. The drugs help of course.” He smiled. “Nobody ever says you’re cured: it can always come back – I push it all to the back of my mind and I live a normal life. From today – everything starts today – each step is back to normality. Speaking of which, do we still have a gin at tea break?” “Are you allowed?” “Deidre, when you have been where I have been, the only thing that keeps you going from time to time is the thought of gin and tonic, probably warm because the landlord has run out of ice again, and almost certainly decorated with a glace cherry because the lemon has turned and the young idiot with the dragon tattoo can never remember what colour an olive is. Not only that,” he patted jacket pocket with a triumphant smile, “I have managed to smuggle my wallet out of the house which means that I can once again start paying for your friendship.” “Well,” said Louise. “I, for one, am prepared to sing ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ if it’s going to get me a dry white.” “Two if you don’t,” said Charlie.
The meeting became a single elongated ‘tea break’ with the whole of The Circle clustered around Charlie, telling him their plans and listening to his stories. As always, Charlie had a thousand stories. They were always amusing. They were never mean. Eventually plans were being made to pick cars up in the morning, taxis were being booked and everybody prepared to go home. Deidre looked at Charlie’s empty glass, not the first of the evening. “Have you driven here, Charles?” she asked. “No, I’m being picked up,” he answered. “I’ll ring them now. They’ll just be a few minutes.” And so, assured that Charlie was settled, one by one the members of The Writer’s Circle said their goodbyes and drifted off home, leaving him alone, awaiting his lift home. Only after the last of his friends had left did the man in the corner take to his feet and wander over to his table. “OK now?” he queried. Charlie nodded and wearily allowed the hospice nurse to help him to his feet. He’d enjoyed his evening. Everyone had seemed so happy to have him back, he didn’t have the heart to tell them that it wouldn’t be for long…
An excess of alcohol and chocolate over the Easter break – please don’t ask me to define ‘excess’: suffice to say that my grandkids are wondering where the eggs have gone and my wife is sure that we had another bottle of gin somewhere – and the return of sub-arctic air have combined to make my first couple of post-holy week treks even more miserable than usual. I drag myself to the door, thrust it open and shrivel away, like a plastic bag near a radiator, at the first blast of wind-borne sleet. Who in their right mind would go out in that – particularly dressed like this? The issue of my running attire presses on me once again after, what I assume must be a recently reconvened, post-covid running group, passed my house yesterday, all neatly ironed, in unstained hi-viz, unwrinkled running tights and not a hairband out of place. They were chatting happily, smiling some of them, and not a single one gasping for breath. They looked as if they had all been waiting for months for this moment: whilst you and I battled house-bound neuroses, they collected lycra. There was a distinct lack of the secondhand about them.
I am reluctant to spend heavily on running gear because I am still unconvinced that I won’t just decide one day that running really is not for me. (Interestingly, it really is not for me, I have decided, although I don’t know what to do about it now.) The course and distance of my thrice-weekly lopes varies enormously, depending on how many other runners I have to avoid along the way. I hate crossing paths with them, as I am so conscious of looking like a convict who has gone on the run without his asthma inhaler; I will not run in front of them because I dread them catching and passing me; I will not run behind them because I fear that passing motorists may think that we’re together and that I just can’t keep up. I would love someone to offer me an explanation as to why, when I stumble into the wake of another runner, I always appear to be running comfortably faster than them, until the very point at which I move up to their shoulder, when I suffer the kind of coughing fit that tells me that I should have followed my first instinct and gone the other way, even if it meant trying to get past the elderly lady on the mobility scooter with the Chihuahua on a ten-foot lead. I cannot run at ‘school time’: whilst I am much too long in the tooth to allow myself to be bullied by gangs of school kids, I am none-the-less haunted by the fear of silent laughter.
Most of my runs take place mid-morning or mid-afternoon, when the rest of the world is either in school, at work or on a Zoom call, in order to minimise my detours, but I continue to zig-zag my way around the empty paths and byways avoiding any kind of interaction the best I can. It’s not that I’m antisocial, it’s just that I’m… Actually, it probably is that I’m antisocial – although if they had a club, I certainly wouldn’t join it.
(First edit red biro, second edit green felt-tip, third edit black Sharpie – a particularly bleak moment – final edit a cross-shredder and a return to what I started with.)
Never wave an ice cream cornet In the presence of a hornet, If they want to taste the thing They possess a fearsome sting.
And, unlike the Bumble Bee, Are very much less mannerly: Always happy to inject Their poison where you least expect.
If you’re walking round the zoo And you somehow find that you Are trapped between the beast and sugar, Swat the stripy little bugger.
So, science tells us that every creature has carved for itself an evolutionary niche: every creature has a role to play. Tell me, please, what is the role of a hornet? Other than being even more belligerent and bloody-minded than a wasp, what does it do? It seems to have developed as a consequence of some entomological arms race: more likely to sting than a bee, more painful than a wasp, bigger than them both; it is the China of the insect world and every bit as unreliable. If you avoid being attacked by it, it will probably find a toddler to attack instead.
PS I do sometimes have readers in China. No more I guess…
Having ‘retired’ at the beginning of the year I, like the majority of our benighted nation, have spent the last few weeks at home, doing things that I have been putting off for months, but in two weeks time I start my new, part-time job and, having worked full-time without a break for the last forty plus years I suddenly find the prospect quite daunting. I was adamant that I was not going to return to ‘pressure’ situations and my new employer assures me that this will not be the case. There will be no pressure in what I do – except that there will be a thousand new things to learn, and it occurs to me that it is a long time since I last did that. Am I still capable of learning, not an odd thing – how to peel an onion without crying, for instance; how to pull my socks up without putting my back out – but many, many new things, all at the same time? I am seriously concerned about it.
Have you ever stopped to think what you have learned recently? ‘Every day’s a schoolday’ is my mantra. I love to learn. I learn new things – all of them useless – every day, but I learn maybe one new thing at a time, not dozens, and I am increasingly aware that my brain is now operating a ‘One in, one out’ policy. Every time I learn how to set an electrical gadget, I forget the name of one of the grandkids. I look at those grandchildren and I realise how much they learn each and every day. They have brains like sponges, I fear mine is probably more like a pickled walnut: the content just as unpalatable. Pickled walnuts are soaked in vinegar, and we all know what that does to conkers. (I have only once eaten a pickled walnut*. It tasted like pickled coke**. I could not think of a single sane reason why I would ever want to repeat the experience.) Will I be capable of learning even the rudimentals – which key goes where, which button rings the till, which button sets the alarm off – let alone the more complicated stuff: whose turn is it to make the tea, who has milk, who has sugar? My brain is very good at what it does – at least that’s what it tells me – but how will it be at doing what, to date, it has not done before?
I wonder if I should somehow test it, maybe force it into doing a Sudoku, learning the chords to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on a ukulele, making sense of the gas bill. I’m good at quizzes, but I always have been, I need a new mental challenge. How much of a stretch would it be for me to sit through an entire episode of ‘Eastenders’ without searching for something more interesting to do, e.g. researching how to pickle a walnut? I can only hope that my need to understand everything that I find puzzling is a good thing, that it shows that I am still curious, and not that I am stupid. Everything is a puzzle to me, but I know that curiosity does not necessarily equate to intelligence – I have looked it up. I am curious about how the universe works, but I do not understand any of the workings of it. Forget The Big Bang, I do not understand how come all of the planets do not just sink down to the bottom. (Also, come to think of it, where is the bottom? If there is no up and down in space, how on earth do you avoid spilling your gin?)
I still find the same things amazing now, as I did as a child: a butterfly, a snowflake, the way that animals find their way home from the other side of the world, the way that paint always drips in exactly the one place you don’t want it to. I have stopped trying to understand politics, but that is only because I have grown to realise that there is nothing to understand. It would all be so much easier if I could choose what to forget every time I manage to remember something new: the name of my next door neighbours, ‘In’ – the atomic weight of plutonium, ‘Out’; the names of the people I will shortly be working with, ‘In’ – the nicknames of the people I went to school with – ‘Out’; anything even vaguely important, ‘In’ – the kind of pedantic crap my mind is full of (‘aitch’ not ‘haitch’, ‘may I’ not ‘can I’, ten thousand incorrect uses for the apostrophe, ‘we were’ not ‘we was’) ‘Out’. It’s the knowing what to let go of, that’s the problem. I‘m sure there’s a place in my brain that is set aside for making such decisions – I’ve just got to clear out the junk so that I can reach it.
*Just for the record, I have never eaten a pickled conker – that way lies madness. **The stuff you put in furnaces, not the stuff that makes your teeth drop out and your manly chest drop to just below waist-level.
“I wrote this for a magazine. I thought it was funny. They returned it to me. They didn’t think it was funny. They thought that it was a GCSE essay that I’d sent to them by mistake. Anyway, as I wrote it, I thought that I might read it to you all before I feed it to the shredder.” Frankie began, solemn-faced, to read from the sheaf of papers he held in his hand.
“‘In common with most nations (and some sunglasses), the UK is seriously polarised. At one end of our society there is a sub-set of the poor and disadvantaged who believe that all of their woes have arisen as a result of the actions (or inactions) of ‘the rich’; at the other end a sub-set of the rich and privileged who really do believe that those without wealth are that way simply because they are workshy; that those without education are that way simply because they are stupid; that those who choose to eat their meals in McDonald’s do so simply because they are too lazy to get the 4×4 out of the garage and nip round to the wine bar. Both views, although palpably flawed, are none-the-less deeply entrenched into the British class psyche. It is an obvious, if not particularly edifying fact, that when things get stacked-up – as societies are apt to do – something always winds up at the bottom – like Grimsby. Whilst the vast majority of us occupy the middle ground between two extremes – ineffectively dangling our balls over either side of the fence, grumbling under our breath like a disenfranchised Social Democrat about the behaviour and attitudes of those both ‘above’ and ‘below’ us – it is the rift between these two ‘poles’ of society that drives all comedy. The stooge in all comedic confrontations will be either an upper-class twit or an ill-educated lout. We feel empowered to laugh at them both because we are neither.
Our comfortable little Larnaca poolside sunbed in the ‘green zone’ between the two sides engaged in the class war is the place from where we can look in any direction and see something ludicrous. We are the sane centre of an insane universe and the idiots either side of us can’t even see it. We see that the rich are wrong to deride the poor and the poor are wrong to censure the rich, but we do not see that the one thing that unites the two is the contempt with which they view those of us in the middle. Neither one nor the other, neither twixt nor tween, neither Abbott nor Costello: we are an homogenous gloop, like vichyssoise, and there’s nothing funny about that.
Comedy is always painful for someone. I have been to many comedy gigs that were excruciating. (The problem with a bad joke is that you don’t know it’s bad until it drops onto your foot.) All jokes are battles: all punchlines are the moment when Indiana Jones shoots the giant swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The skill of the comedian is in telling you something you already know, whilst allowing you to think that they thought of it first. How many times have you watched a mammoth James Bond fight whilst thinking ‘Why doesn’t he just shoot him’? Some degree of foreknowledge from the audience is vital. Imagine a comedian with no audience (perhaps Jimmy Carr). If I fall over in a forest and nobody is there to see it, is it still funny? (Answer: only to my wife.)
In the United Kingdom, we can add to this caustic little brew the fact that the four home nations actually have very little time for one another (we are perpetually either preparing for divorce or engaged in the kind of dalliance that will almost certainly lead to one) and – except for when any one of us has an Olympic champion – we’d actually far sooner be United with anybody else other than our closest neighbours (excluding the French, obviously). All the jokes I knew as a boy featured an Englishman (smart), a Scotsman (tight) and an Irishman (stupid): there was seldom a Welshman in my proto-teenage repertoire as I was not familiar with any comedic Welsh stereotype other than a fat man singing loudly at daffodils. The English man – always a man: misogyny would have been a really good Olympic event for us back then – always top of the pile as far as we were concerned, but bottom for everybody else. For us the stiff upper lip, for everybody else an iron rod up the arse. The characteristics we most valued, being the most reviled by everybody else. Charming eccentricities are all well and good, providing that you don’t expect everybody else to share them. Ok, so we have the best sense of humour in the world, so why does nobody else get it? Perhaps they just need educating. (Many deride the French sense of humour, but they forget Marcel Marceau – or a single word he said – some say the Germans have no sense of humour, but they forget… actually, they don’t forget, perhaps that’s the problem.) Hating the English is the only thing that actually unites the rest of our Queendom (and, at times, the world). English plutocrats, looking down our noses at our feckless Celtic cousins: a class war of nations. We are the butt of their jokes as they are ours. A fun day out at the circular butt-kicking convention.
And God forbid that anyone is knowingly droll or amusing: that is just not how it is done. English characters do not wise-crack, they pratfall. Basil Fawlty was a clown, Del Trotter was a clown, David Brent was a clown: if they’d have been witty, they’d have been smart-arses and we wouldn’t have liked them at all. Funny is accidental, stupid, absent, but never intentional. Witty is annoying. It is difficult to think of a single successful sit-com character who ever ‘made’ jokes, rather than being the butt of them: an unwitting victim of circumstance. Most successful comedians stress their own fallibilities rather than those of others. Frailty becomes their strength. ‘Making fun of’ is seldom funny. Mocking political satire merely turns the ‘enemy’ into the ‘victim’. Even with a target as broad as our own Boris, it is difficult to score points without appearing mean. Nobody likes a bully, and the desire to be liked is the common thread that joins all comedians. The class clown is traditionally the shy boy/girl who has no friends until they discover that putting a drawing pin on the teacher’s chair will buy them a class full of them – as long as they find something equally funny to do the next day. It is like being court jester to a medieval king: ‘make me laugh my head off or I’ll laugh yours off’. ‘You’ve got to give it to him though, that’s a bloody hilarious pig’s bladder he’s waving.’ Has any sane person ever laughed at a circus clown? ‘So, your car fell apart, well so did mine sunshine, and nobody laughed then either.’ The biggest prize for those with no friends is the friendship of those with many. The biggest prize for those with many is the ability to thwart the aspirations of those with none. Money does buy friends, and also the ability to have no need for them. Those that have do not need, and those that need do not have, and whilst we may well be the only ones to see it, the joke, none-the-less, is always on us.’”
“I really have no idea why Woman’s Own would not accept it…”
The actual ‘running part’ of my day takes about forty minutes; the rest of the run takes considerably longer. Firstly, I have to convince myself that I am actually going to do it. This involves first going through all of the reasons why I should not do it: a definite twinge in the middle toe; a parcel delivery expected any time in the next few days; the possibility that it might rain; the possibility that it might not rain; a recently discovered re-run of the Phil Silvers Show on some obscure channel that I may never find again, and the necessity to gauge the current bladder status. It all takes time.
Eventually, decision made, I start to get ready: take a drink; empty bladder; bind up knees; don running tights, vest, shorts, ‘T’ shirt. Empty bladder. Put on running shoes – always double-bowed. Empty bladder. Pop in Bluetooth headphones, grumble on for ten minutes (approx) whilst sorting out ‘connection error’ and set up GPS tracking. Empty bladder. Open door in order to assess need for hat and gloves. Put on hat and gloves in certain knowledge that I will regret it within five minutes. Exit, closing door behind me. Open door. Empty bladder. Exit again. The routine is pretty much invariable, as is the realisation that despite the knowledge that it is all habit, I will regret not visiting the loo one last time at precisely the same time as I begin to regret the woolly head-covering.
I’m told that there is a close link between the pressing need for micturition and running. Why? Well, nobody’s ever told me that. I suppose it is the same link as that which lurks behind the curtain coming up at the theatre or the first chord booming around the concert venue. However recently I last went for a wee, it was always just too long ago. Some years ago, some friends and I went to a concert in a small, ‘intimate’ venue which meant that, for most of the evening, the artist* could see the audience. When the mid-session interval came around, one of my friends who was clearly almost as desperate for ‘the gents’ as he was to escape ridicule, leapt over two tiers of seats and ran down the corridor shouting, ‘Emergency. Emergency. Coming through!’ The already assembled ‘toilet queue’ parted like The Red Sea at the behest of Moses and deferentially let him through. Back then, I collapsed into the kind of laughter that sends well-meaning souls rushing for the defibrillator. Today I feel his pain.
On my eventual return from running I generally have a decision to make over whether it is worth retracing my steps in order to find the glove I have somehow contrived to drop at some point along my journey. Generally I decide that I will find it dangling from somebody’s hedge when I repeat the journey in a couple of days time, so I leave it where it is and, pausing for nothing more than twenty minutes to remove the triple-knot from my trainer laces where the double-bow used to be, head straight to the shower before the flies have the chance to settle. Thus the forty minutes of exercise generally eats about an hour and a half from my day – which is the perfect reason not to run if I’ve only got an hour in which to do it.
*Roy Harper, whose song ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’ is one of my ‘funeral songs’. This may, or may not be relevant.
Today’s episode was brought to you by a break from procrastination and a red Wilco ballpoint pen. Today’s top running tune was ‘There’s No Way Out Of Here’ by David Gilmour. Today’s Thought for the Day: If Einstein was correct, a stitch in time would require a very big bobbin indeed.
Built like tower cranes on feet And rendered pink by what they eat, Thank the lord that politicians Do not provide them with nutrition. (Because nobody wants a shit-coloured flamingo).
Come on, everybody knows the joke about ‘you are what you eat’, but flamingos, at least to some extent, really are. Everybody loves a flamingo don’t they? Well no, not me. Have you seen those beady little eyes? They may be pink – and nothing pink is ever bad – but surely the knowledge that they only get to be pink by eating certain algae and shrimps gives some pause for thought. What colour would they be otherwise? Would they still be cute if they were brown? Why, evolution being what it is, do they not eat stripy algae so that they are disguised in the reeds? There must be some natural advantage to being pink. Maybe it’s a visual warning to all predators: I taste just like one of those god-awful pink wafers that you always get in a biscuit selection, and nobody wants to eat one of those…
If only to illustrate a point made last week (In ‘A Blue Ballpoint Pen’ – here.) I reproduce a piece for you today that was originally written with fountain pen on completely unsuitable paper. I have transcribed it best I can, bearing in mind that one side of the paper appears to be much more absorbent than the other, with the effect that part of the original draft appears as though written on kitchen towel and, whilst I am never completely certain of my intentions in retrospect, it is even more difficult to understand an original document that appears to contain words such as ‘miuct’, ‘fouruain’ and ‘squrrox’, but I’ll give it a go…
…I went for a walk this morning to find that The Gas Board have descended on our street. There are perhaps a dozen white vans parked along the road, each one of them meticulously placed across every driveway that contains a car. Empty driveways are left unmolested. It appears to be a game that all the drivers play. Dropped into this white Transit car park, we also have variously hued diggers, lorries and more lengths of plastic fencing than Aintree racecourse. There is also something hanging around that appears to suck – water, I presume – from the holes that are being excavated at various points along the pathway and it appears to require the attentions of at least eight men to do it. It is either not very good at what it does, or so good that it pulls in an audience. I cannot tell you the answer: the plastic-barrier maze that has been set up to keep the public at sufficient distance to protect them from danger, means that total concentration is required in order to remain upright. An injudicious glance off-piste may well result in a ignominious headlong plummet towards a gasman’s ankles and the possibility of a humiliating struggle back towards the upright via a hand-up from a giggling high-viz workman. I am used to embarrassment, but I have my limits.
Today, my walk took me just around the corner to the post box where I discovered that the little notice on the box states that the collection time is five minutes ago. Always five minutes ago. Ah well, this is Royal Mail: what difference can twenty-four hours make? I posted and walked on.
Spring is in full bloom now: the world is filled with yellow and violet. Blossom is filling the trees and the birds are trapped in the strangely heroic struggle to prioritise mating over feeding. Sparrows fight and blackbirds begin, what for some, will be a very short season of kamikaze diving in front of speeding cars. Cats lurk, permanently mid-prowl, waiting for some errant feathered soul to flutter their way. The animated ‘shooing’ necessary to move them on is tempered by the caution necessary to ensure that they do not flee across the road and into the path of a giant gloop sucker.
People talk in the streets these days. Picking a way through the small knots of socially distanced chatterers is like a slalom ski run. (I think. I have never skied – strange word: never looks right – I have neither the knees nor the balance to do it. I don’t like being cold. I do not enjoy time spent in the company of fiercely middle-class couples bent on making me aware of how difficult it is to employ a decent home-help these days. I do not like gluhwein.) By and large, other than one or two young mums with prams, the talkers are overwhelmingly elderly. Maybe everybody else is working from home, wired into the laptop, the kettle and the Hob-Nobs. They should get out of the house. They need to listen to the birds and see the flowers: they need to meet other people. Homework should come with in-built Not-Spending-the-Entire-Day-Sitting-at-the Kitchen-Table-Staring-Hollow-Eyed-at-the-Laptop breaks.
I have never really had to work from home, although I do an awful lot of working at home. My wife considers it the only really valid reason for my continued existence. I cannot but imagine how difficult it must be to fit in home-working with home working. How do you squeeze ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ into the routine? Do the tea breaks run concurrently? I have always had a job which paid the bills, but I have always written – what I consider my proper work. My weekday routine has been unchanged for years: carry out my day’s employment and then ‘work’ through the hours between eat and sleep. I have worked right through the night many, many times, in the certain knowledge that any ideas that lurk in my head ‘right now’ will have evaporated by the morning, leaving only an uncertain stain where inspiration used to be. I am not Douglas Adams. The ‘wooshing’ noise of a passing deadline is, for me, not one to be enjoyed, but the sound of an opportunity being missed: another clanging ‘Might-Have-Been’ to be added to my CV. The worse thing about my deadlines these days is that they are all self-imposed. Nobody is any longer in any hurry to receive anything from me. I still try to write something worthwhile every day, but I am no longer driven to twelve hour sessions and the brandy bottle when I cannot. And when I just cannot think of the punchline, I take a walk to clear my head – there is joy in having nothing much to think about…