L.B.M. part two

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

Well, I am sure that it will come as no surprise to you to discover that L.B.M. (Life Before Mobiles) part two, is no longer about life without mobiles, but actually about life with them. (Part one, by the way, is here.)  Furthermore, I now realise that a large number of my readers will have no idea whatsoever of what I mean by ‘Mobile’ and I, therefore, regret the original title anyway.  For many of you, what I mean is cell-phone.  I could, I suppose, change the title to L.B.C-P part two, but it sounds unwieldy and, anyway, if we’re going to be pedantic here, it should by now be ‘Life With Cell-Phones’ and therefore no longer ‘part two’ anyway.  Too confusing.  Please accept that like all self-respecting sequels, this follow-up has little to do with its predecessor and serves simply to deliver us at the foothills of part three.  I hope you understand.  You don’t?  No, me neither…

So, having established in ‘part one’ that my mobile phone has all manner of features that a telephone box does not, I will take a little peek at what I can find on my own home screen to try and describe what some of them are.  This will not take long because I have an iPhone and it is only a matter of minutes before the battery runs out…

I have BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, More4, YouTube, Netflix and all manner of other pieces of technological wizardry that allow me to watch TV and film on demand.  Except that I don’t, because I can’t see them.  When my wife and I got married, we had a fourteen inch Black & White TV and 20/20 vision.  Being a get-up-and-go, aspirational couple, we bought a colour TV when we moved into our first house – it was also a fourteen inch – and we quite happily watched that little box until our children wanted us to have something that they weren’t ashamed of.  Since then, the size of our TV has grown as our eyesight has failed.  We are currently on forty-three inches of LCD, whatever that is*, which is where we have been forced to stop as the space between wall and fireplace will not accommodate anything bigger unless we extend the house, so our chairs are getting closer.  The chances of me being able to follow anything on the tiny screen of my phone are miniscule (as, indeed, are the tiny ant-figures that lurch hither and thither across it).  I have the normal ‘old person’ failing of not being able to see anything that is dark – when the screen is also little more than the size of a decent biscuit, I am lost.  I do not know what is going on most of the time when I am watching a film on the giant screen at a cinema: on a postage stamp I have no chance.

I also have the Kindle app which allows me access to all of the books that I have on my Kindle proper but, crucially, smaller.  It gives me options: I can view a page of Lilliputian dimensions, readable only with one of those full-page magnifying glasses that my grandma used to have for reading Woman’s Own; or I can have a readable font size that means there are about six words to a page and none of them forming a recognisable sentence.  I read text messages on my phone and WhatsApp missives, but nothing that is supposed to make sense.

As far as I can see, I don’t appear to have Facebook, Instagram or Twitter on my phone.  At least, if I do, I have no idea how to find them.  I do not really have a Social Media presence, although I am a regular user of the family WhatsApp group, if only to see what the grandkids are still prepared to allow me a little window into their lives.  I know that, sooner or later, they will start to keep me at arms length, so as long as they want to spend time with me – even virtually – I embrace the chance with every fibre of my will.  And we Facetime – as long as they call me – and when they’ve gone I experience the sensation of feeling hollow yet full at the same time: like looking at a croissant on the morning of the night after the bottle of scotch before.

It will all make sense when we get to part three – I think.  I cannot promise, because I haven’t finished it yet, having only just decided that part two finishes here… 

*It used to be a cheap supermarket watch that failed to work as soon as you pushed the little button on the side for the first time and from that point onwards continually blinked ’88:88’ until you hit it with something hard.

L.B.M. (Life Before Mobiles) part one

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

I started this post, as usual, with no idea of where it was going and, before I knew it, I discovered that it was going to run far, far too long for a single post and I still had no idea where it was going.  As I type this, it is heading towards a full week’s worth of words.  I have no idea how it will eventually split into three, where it will split into three, and into which three, exactly, it will eventually split.  Hopefully, by the time I post it, it will have miraculously fallen into place.  If it hasn’t – I’m sorry.  If it has – I’m still sorry…

Do you remember life before mobile phones?  Do you remember the thrill of being uncontactable?  Do you remember searching for a working phone box that had not previously been used as a toilet, only to discover that you didn’t have the correct change with which to make the call anyhow?  Do you remember breaking down in the car (because it was raining/too hot/too cold/there was a lump of dust the size of Venus in the carburettor) and having absolutely no idea whatsoever of how you were going to summon help?  Do you remember the sudden, desperate need to know which TV programme some actor or another used to be in, with no possible way of finding out without a free fortnight and ten years worth of back copies of the Radio Times?

We all take our little pocket devices, and the ability they have to make the sum total of all world knowledge available to us at the whim of a thumb, completely for granted now.  How quickly we have forgotten how life used to be.  I have written before (here) about how different pre-mobile telephone communication was, but there is so much more to it: our modern mobiles are so much more than phones.  Picture life without a satnav when you fancy a curry in a strange town.  Consider life without the ability to take a photograph of every meal you have ever eaten and send it instantly to everyone you have ever known?  Imagine not knowing how many steps you have taken in a day – what kind of life is that?

I feel that the time is right to take a little peek at what my own mobile has brought to my everyday life.  If the order is somewhat random, it is because I am simply looking at the screen of my phone as I type and trying to decipher what each little icon stands for; what it is supposed to do, and, finally, what I actually do with it.  There are apps that I have never opened; there are apps that provoke a panic attack simply because they look like something that I will not be able to work, and there are apps that, by some miracle, I have both understood and mastered – it is to these beacons of hope that I now refer.

When I was twenty years old, Sony introduced the Walkman – the first proper progression from the ‘portable’ cassette players of my youth (the size and weight of two house bricks).  The Walkman was a quarter of the size and a quarter of the weight and came with ‘miniature headphones’ which meant that the rest of the bus didn’t have to listen to what you were playing or threaten to ‘stuff that bloody contraption right up your bloody arse if you don’t turn the bloody racket down’.  Progress, being what it is, the cassette tape of the Walkman was soon replaced by the Compact Disc, and the Walkman with the Discman, which added the capacity for the music to ‘skip’ like a vertiginous ice skater at the slightest of movements to the range of listening pleasures.  Choosing the ten CD’s you wished to take on holiday, to be safely sheathed within the Discman’s case, was one of the joys of preparation – taking several weeks to perfect.  The fun kind of went from that with the arrival of iPod, and the ability to take enough music with you to power a pirate radio station, in a single piece of apparatus that was just exactly the perfect size to be lost on the transfer bus.  These days, when I run (You didn’t know I ran?  I must tell you about it some time) I take my phone with me because, quite frankly, I feel as if I have to have it in case I ever have to make that ‘last call’ – secure in the knowledge that my GPS signal and What3Words app will have the emergency services at my side quicker than you can say ‘No Network’.   With my phone comes access to the entire library of all of the world’s music ever, which I listen to through a pair of Bluetooth headphones that fall out and drop down a drain hardly ever. 

This is true progress…

…and a convenient place to finish.  Part two awaits you tomorrow and, by the time we get there, I promise that it is almost certain to make sense.

Odds and Sods – The Smallest Room Monologues (part two)

If you missed part one of this little monologue and you have even the slightest interest in reading it, it is here.

…Take Benjamin Franklin, was his name Benjamin or was it William?  William Franklin?  Frank?  I don’t know.  One of the brothers anyway, one of the brothers, let’s say Benjamin.  Benjamin Franklin could never have invented electricity unless someone before him had invented the kite.  That being, I think I’m right in saying, that being the Chinese.  Chinese people being, of course, several thousand years ahead of us at that time, in the invention of things like kites… and ancient paper folding… and opium burners…  Things happen in order, don’t they?  You can’t get to C, if nobody’s bothered to invent A and B first…

Except, except that I’ve just thought about the electric toothbrush.  I don’t know why I never thought of it earlier.  The electric toothbrush.  Obviously… obviously an instance where the toothpaste we use now was actually invented for a non-electric toothbrush – a manual toothbrush you might say –  and so, in that way, the toothpaste actually came before the toothbrush we now use to apply it.  And you know, I’m sure, I’m sure that many people still use the conventional, manually-operated toothbrush, as it were, especially when they go away on holiday, or away for a night, I mean, perhaps staying at another persons house, with permission of course… nothing untoward… but, essentially, the toothpaste, having been invented for the manual toothbrush came along before the electric toothbrush ever had its first chance to flick it in your eye and was therefore backwards… the invention was backwards…  It’s a bit like the chicken and egg situation: which came first – the electric kettle or the pot noodle?  The electric toaster or the square-shaped crumpet?  The freeze-chilled, calorie-counted slimmer’s meal or the flip-top bin?  And wouldn’t it be nice if we could un-invent some things: the nuclear bomb, for instance; obscenely loud in-car stereo systems; Piers Morgan…

F.X.           AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH IS TURNED OFF

…It’s strange actually how much it sounds like, the electric toothbrush, how much it sounds like the hygenic nasal hair remover, because it would explain why I did, on one occasion, having not turned on the bathroom light, so as not to wake my sleeping wife and children, actually manage to apply toothpaste to the end of my nasal clippers and, in fact, severely damage my front teeth whilst attempting to clean them with it.  Also slightly damaging the blade so that it does have a tendency to leave a slight sore patch to the left hand side of my nostril when I use it.  I would imagine, also, that most of us now have an electric razor, to save the inconvenience of shaving with a conventional blade.  I, myself, continue to shave in the traditional manner, with a safety razor, because my electric razor never seems to do anything much but graze my skin, it sort of leaves the stubble where it is whilst removing the top layer of skin around it, so I do, as I say, carry on in the traditional manner, using the cream and the razor blade and, of course, the toilet roll to staunch the bleeding.  That is, of course, when there is a toilet roll actually hanging on the dispenser.  Having a family: my wife, myself and my two children, I tend to find that mostly, when I’m… not always, but mostly… when I’m in need of using the toilet roll, that I find there isn’t actually anything there.  This tends to happen at a fairly… inconvenient time… and when it does, generally I have to call upon someone to fetch one for me or, if there’s no-one else at home, I shuffle along to the cupboard where they are kept.  I obviously understand the inconvenience it causes, finding oneself in this situation, so I always endeavour to then put the roll onto the dispenser.  For easy use of the next person and to facilitate them knowing whether or not the toilet roll does need changing immediately they get there.  I like to have the leading edge of the paper hanging to the front of the roll and so, of course, that’s the way I tend to hang it.  My wife, however, prefers to have the leading edge hanging to the rear of the roll and is therefore constantly taking them off after I’ve put them on and turning them around so that they hang to suit her preferences.  Sometimes I wonder, is there, in fact, a correct way of hanging a toilet roll?  Does etiquette, protocol perhaps, dictate that the sheets hang to the front or rear of the toilet roll?  Should there be the merest edge of the front sheet in evidence, or should it hang one or perhaps two full sheets below the roll?  I wouldn’t honestly know where to look for guidance on this, presumably there must be correct form, as it were, for instance in the royal household I’m sure toilet rolls have to be hung in a specific manner.  A sort of Royal Decree perhaps.  Maybe that’s a way I could look into it.  Is there perhaps, in Buckingham Palace, a Master of the Queen’s Toilet Roll.  A sort of toilet roll pursuivant, who ensures that every toilet is, at all times, equipped with a full toilet roll and not just the cardboard tube from the centre, which one is, of course, forced to use, from time to time, in extremis…  I must admit, I’ve never seen such a job advertised.  Perhaps it’s one of those jobs that one can only get by appointment.  Perhaps you cannot apply to be the royal toilet roll changer, you have to be appointed to the job, perhaps being promoted from some more menial task around the palace like… like royal lint remover, perhaps… or the man who disposes of the royal cotton-buds for instance.  Perhaps this task forms only part of the duties of a job with much wider scope.  Perhaps the person responsible for this task is also resposible for ensuring that the royal soap-on-the-rope does in fact stay, as intended, on the rope and not down in the bath where it forms a sort of semi-coagulated mess that blocks the plug-hole.  The same person may well be responsible for placing the little blue block into the lavatory cistern.  And, of course, the very same person could very well be responsible for removing screw-top shower gel bottles from the royal bathroom, putting them instead in the staff showers, for instance, for members of the household who are probably far more manually dextrous than the Queen and Prince Phillip, and replacing them with what I think we have now established are the far more convenient and stylish hook-on-the-rail, flip-top bottles.  By Appointment to The Master of the Queens Own Andrex I shouldn’t wonder…

F.X.           TOILET FLUSHES.

N.B. This piece was written pre-beard when I undertook the daily, painful routine of scraping off my stubble along with the top layer of epidermis.  I have pale skin and have always struggled with shaving.  From the dawn of my facial hair to my mid-fifties I had a beautifully smooth, but sore face.  I now have a permanently grizzled, but comfortable face in which to live. 

Odds and Sods – The Smallest Room Monologues (part one)

I found this in my Odds and Sods file simply labelled ‘1’.  There is a ‘2’ and a ‘3’ as well.  The title tells you all of what it was intended to be.  To get the full effect, you should read it out aloud.  Try it – you will be so grateful for social distancing.  This is the first half of episode 1.  I will publish part two in a later edition of Odds and Sods – unless somebody sends lots of money to stop me…

A SHOWER IS TURNED OFF

…Why do they put shower gel in screw-top bottles?  I mean, you pour the shower gel into your hand and by the time you’ve screwed the top back on, it’s all washed away and dribbled on your foot.  You get clean feet, but I can never understand it…  I always buy the bottles with the little hook on top, you know, you hang them over the rail on your shower and they have a little flip-top that you flip down and get the shower gel directly into your eye…  Whenever people buy shower gel for me, and people do, a lot… I seem to get an awful lot of shower gel for birthdays, Christmas, father’s day… very… very thoughtful… it’s very thoughtful…  it’s a very thoughtful thing to buy isn’t it, shower gel, very thoughtful…  but whenever people buy it for me, it always seems to come in screw top bottles.  And it always has the word ‘Sport’ in the name of it somewhere.  ‘Sport’ like if the shower gel is ‘Sport’ shower gel, it comes in a screw top bottle.  Perhaps if you’re a sportsman you can get the lid on quick enough, you know, so that it doesn’t wash away and dribble down your leg…

It’s a funny thing, shower gel, it’s not something we used to have you know, when I was a kid.  We had soap.  And no shower, come to think of it.  We had a bath… once a week as I recall… with soap, but no shower gel, we never had shower gel…

I wonder who actually invented shower gel?  I can’t imagine it was one of those Eureka! moments, you know, like, ‘Hey, look at me, I’ve invented shower gel, now, does anybody round here have a shower?’  I think probably more like ‘Oh dear, I’ve just spilled the shampoo… perhaps I’d better rinse it off before it goes sticky… Oh hang on, just look at that…’  I don’t know what the difference is, really; between shower gel and shampoo.  I remember my dad always used to say, when we’d run out of shampoo, ‘It’s only detergent,’ he would say.  ‘It’s just detergent with a few additives.  You might just as well use washing-up liquid.  If it leaves hands that do dishes as soft as your face, then it’s bound to do a decent job on your hair.’  So we did, use washing-up liquid that is, and I just can’t help wondering how different that is from shower gel.  I suppose it’s possible that somebody spilled washing-up liquid down themselves and went to wash it off in the shower…  although that would mean that they’d been washing the pots in the nude, not completely impossible, but not entirely hygienic I would imagine, not the normal thing, unless, of course, you are a middle-aged German…

I imagine most inventions must come about by accident, really… you know, like blue water in the toilet… I can’t imagine anyone would have said ‘I know, I think I’ll invent coloured water for the toilet.’  No, they must have sort of… I don’t know… accidentally dropped ink perhaps, ink, yes, ink perhaps… or a felt pen, a blue felt pen perhaps… into the lavatory bowl and the water turned blue, and they thought ‘Oh, that’s very nice.  That looks very nice.  Now, how can I make it do that all the time?  I suppose the disinfectant came later… You know, they thought ‘That water’s nice blue, but, well, if we put some disinfectant in it then there’d be no stains around the toilet to spoil the overall… blueness.  The blueness of the water.  That would be right, I think.

Accident see, it’s the way things come about.  I mean, who would have thought that for want of finding somewhere for an astronaut to fry an egg, we’d have all ended up with Teflon frying pans?  It’s amazing.  Amazing.  I suppose, to be fair, they must have had fairly explicit instructions you know, like, ‘Look, you’re going to need breakfast up there and it’s not going to be easy to… to wash a frying pan, you know to wash out bits of stuck-on fried eggs from a frying pan in the weightless conditions of space, I mean, as you scrape the bits off the pan they’d go flying around the spacecraft and I don’t suppose the computers can deal with that… I don’t suppose they can deal with that at all.  So, I think perhaps in that case, I’m wrong, yes I’m wrong and it was, in that case, deliberate… a deliberate invention and in that respect of course, quite unlike the blue water in the lavatory…

I remember when they first came out, you know, non-stick frying pans and my mum she just… she wouldn’t have one, she wouldn’t have one in the house.  She said, ‘Son, nothing works as well at not sticking as a good old-fashioned metal frying pan absolutely full of lard and I suppose in that respect she was… she was quite right of course, because nothing ever did stick in the frying pan.  Well, well at least not until she set fire to it of course and then the sausages took a little bit of shifting, but, of course… yes…  The point I’m trying to make, I think, is that new inventions are not necessarily an improvement on the tried and tested.  I mean, does a… does a self-erecting, telescopic umbrella for instance, keep you any drier than an old fashioned one.  The sort that you have to raise, manually as it were.  I mean, if there’s a broken strut in the umbrella, for instance, and it sort of dangles down and drips the water down your neck then a fully-functional umbrella is obviously better.  But, that can happen with one that puts itself up of course… a gust of wind, you know, catching on a tree, in somebody’s ear which… which, strangely, is exactly what happened to mine and these things can have an effect, but the modern-ness, the cutting-edge, of the invention doesn’t really seem to affect this… I mean, in my case… certainly… the problem may actually have been exacerbated by the umbrella actually erecting itself, as it were, because, because… well, it happened in a lift and, well, the problem could have got seriously out of hand… which, of course, it actually did…

Not that I’m in any way against progress of course.  Some modern inventions are absolutely fine.  You’ve only got to take into consideration that great boon to twenty first century living, the micro-chip.  I mean, it may sound obvious… it may sound obvious to you, I don’t know, but the micro-chip would never have been invented but for the earlier invention of the micro-wave.  I mean, without the microwave, you would have nothing to cook your micro-chips in.  And of course, we now have the micro-pie to go with them.  One thing must lead onto another.  Nobody, for instance, is going to say, ‘Look!  Look everybody, I’ve invented the micro-chip!’ and leave themselves open for somebody saying, ‘Well that’s very nice, but what exactly are you going to cook them in?’

Odds and Sods – Piggy Beetle

I have a file of poems that I wrote specifically for reading out aloud, but other than for an audience of one (and he being in the mirror) I have never done so.  One or two of them have appeared on these pages before.  I quite like the ebb and flow of this one.  Try reading it out for yourself, but make sure there’s no-one listening when you do…

Every day, when I sit down with my morning cup of tea
And a chocolate hob-nob biscuit a-balanced on my knee
I grab the book I’m reading and open up the page
Then something always happens that fills my heart with rage…

I see you in the corner of my eye
A-scuttling on my floor.
A little piggy beetle
A-heading for the door.

Oh tell me where you come from
I hoovered yesterday
In edges and in corners
How did you get away?

I know you have a right to live
Like every free wood-louse
But we’d both be much more happy
If you chose another house.

I grab you in my fingers
And take you to the door.
I throw you in the garden
Where there’s wood for you to gnaw.

Then sit back down to drink my tea
But it’s cold – I’ll make another
I go off to the kitchen
And it’s there I see your brother.

It seems to me a tragedy
You drive me mad this way –
Your whole extended family
Is in my underlay.

Oh crusty-backed menagerie of mini-armadillos
Though just insects, I should respect your little peccadilloes.
Perhaps I’d find it easier if you didn’t scuttle out
Every time I have my friends and family about.

So if you want to live a long and healthy insect life
Free of all your insect worries and all your insect strife.
If you don’t want me to blast you with this tin of spray I’ve bought
Then it’s only fair to tell you that I really think you ought
Take my recommendation:
Find alternative accommodation…

My eldest daughter told me
At the school gate, in a shout
That the baby doesn’t like pig beetles,
She always spits them out…

…And the incident in the envoi was a true one!

NB – I apologise for the formatting. This lovely block editor does something (I don’t know what) to pasted-in poems that puts them in a different (as far as I can see unalterable) font and puts each individual line in a separate block. Infuriating!

Odds and Sods – The End of the World

It’s quite a while since I’ve published ‘poetry’, and I feel that I need to give a little context to this particular piece.  I was reading a poem by James (James Proclaims) the other day and the style of it encouraged me to look back on something of my own from long, long ago.  Many many years ago I started a book which, much like a lot of what I have done since, I didn’t finish.  It was called ‘The Six Days’ and it was about the end of the world.  There have been many such books and films both before and since – at least one of which, I note, has utilised the same premise and exactly the same time scale as my own.  My book was actually a collection of short stories, vignettes and poems telling the story of how little the forthcoming Armageddon actually impacted on everyday life for most of my cast of misfits.  It stalled about half way through.  I wasn’t old enough to write it, and before I was, somebody else had done it.  Not as I wanted to do it, but close enough to make me look like the sub-plagiarist if I persisted – so I didn’t.  In my head, the book I intended to write was like a ‘concept album’ and this was the title track.  I have played with it from time to time ever since.  This will help me to leave it alone…

The End of the World
Bloody ‘fridge has packed in again.
A pool of water spilled onto the floor
Where the cat sleeps.
Froze as solid as a rock, it did;
Had to ease him out with warm spoons
And that’s no joke.

I think it must be the warmest place in the house –
Except, maybe, for the freezer
Which stopped freezing almost a month ago –
The milk has turned to cheese,
The cheese has turned to mould
And the little light doesn’t come on anymore
When you open the door.

Still,
At least the walls are thin –
We can hear them rowing next-door.
Screaming and swearing because the dog has lost control
On the Shepherds pie
And the central heating has developed a mind of its own:
Equatorial temperatures killing off the house plants;
Giving the children heat bumps;
Melting his favourite nylon vest…

It seems that Jim at number three
Arose the worse for wear;
Fell down the stairs
And cut his head on the ornamental pig by the door.
Yelled the house down.
Woke the whole bloody street.
Such a fuss!
Went to hospital on his motorbike.
Strewth! What a noise it makes,
Set the baby off
Screaming…

I wonder if she knows
About the end of the world?

And now the power’s gone.
The government says we could grind to a halt unless we tighten our belts,
Pull together
And get back on our feet.
But nobody cares about inflation, taxation, education, or unemployment;
About food rotting on the supermarket shelves
And children screaming into the emptiness of dark
Because there’s no time left to die
And life is still the toy of the few who can play:
A gift for those who know
That food is power among the starving,
God is strength among the poor
And death is the only truth they’ll know
About the end of the world.

You see, it’s about the end of the world and yet it still sounds, to me, unduly bleak.  The rest of the book was more uplifting I suppose; funny in parts, sentimental, but not bleak.  This frontispiece was just not right, and I couldn’t make it so, so I stopped trying and now, I hope, it has gone.

I would hope to be able to wait for the final curtain on a grassy hillside somewhere, with my family, a picnic and a bottle of wine, playing football and toasting marshmallows on the bonfire – it has to be the way to go, doesn’t it?

“The year 1999, seventh month, from the sky will come a great King of Terror: to bring back to life the great King of the Mongols, before and after Mars to reign by good luck. The present time together with the past will be judged by the great Joker: the world too late will be tired of him, and through the clergy oath-taker disloyal. The year of the great seventh number accomplished, it will appear at the time of the games of slaughter: not far from the great millennial age, when the buried will go out from their tombs.” – NOSTRADAMUS (The Prophecies of Nostradamus) – Is it wrong to suggest that he might have been twenty one years adrift?

PS The new photo has nothing to do with the end of the world, it’s just that I thought I probably needed to update it, to prove that I am not a bot (whatever they are). As far as I can see, the only thing that has changed is the specs. I still look like a dork – and I still have to look at my hand when I’m trying to take a selfie…

A Little Fiction – Super-Nigel and A Covid Adventure

Who needs an excuse to use this wonderful Hunt Emerson cartoon for ‘The Globe-Trotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt’ one more time?

For crispinunderfelt.

These characters were all created by myself and my great buddy, Chris (the afore-mentioned Mr Underfelt – his own blog is here) for a long, long ago radio series called The Globetrotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt (which I have written about previously here and, at the end of which, you may notice, I promised to never mention again).  In keeping with the ethos of this blog, I felt that it was high time that I looked in on them to see how they are all coping with advancing years in this age of ‘New Normal’ – in short, how they are getting on.  This is what I found…

Super-Nigel Tritt tucked himself tightly within the folds of his tartan ‘Slanket’, becoming increasingly agitated as he fiddled with the buttons of the TV remote.  ‘Corinth, Corinth!’ he called, ‘Can you do something with this TV?  The remote is not working and all the programs seem to be in Bulgarian.’

Corinth walked into the room.  She still held the pneumatic promise of a twenty-something, although it did appear to be deflating in places.  ‘That’s the telephone’, she said, taking it from his hand.  ‘The TV remote is on the coffee table next to your glasses and your pills, which you haven’t taken as usual.  The man on the TV is Danny Dyer – he always sounds like that.’

Nigel shifted uncomfortably in his chair: his leotard was giving him merry hell.  ‘I don’t suppose you could just…?’

‘Again?’  asked Corinth, ‘I don’t know why you insist on wearing that thing these days.  Just wait a minute whilst I go and get a couple of spoons.’

‘Remember to warm the cream,’ Nigel yelled at her retreating back.  ‘You know what the cold stuff did to me last time.’

‘How could I forget,’ Corinth mumbled, with an involuntary shudder.

Covid isolation had proved to be particularly difficult for the retired Super-hero.  Granted, his globe-trotting adventures had become increasingly rare in recent years – particularly since he now found it difficult to dodge anything more lethal than a speeding marshmallow – but this enforced isolation from his friends, How, the Professor and Freddie the Spy had left him low.  They had tried Zoom calling on a number of occasions, but never with great success.  The Doctor, as How preferred to be known, was struggling with his electric wheelchair – assembled from the bottom half of a Dalek – which had developed an alarming tendency to do exactly as it pleased.  He suspected tampering by Davros, or possibly Huawei, but whatever the reason, he was seldom able to be at his laptop when the call came through – especially since his ‘assistant’ kept leaving it upstairs.

The Professor, the most technically gifted of the team, had become deeply suspicious of any post-millennial technology, believing that it was responsible not only for Covid, but also for the financial crash of 2008, the ceaseless seep of the gourmet coffee shop and a particularly persistent carbuncle with which he had been engaged in battle since 2013.  Frankly, when they did manage a virtual ‘get-together’, his extreme moodiness ensured that he was never the best of company.  Like Nigel, he desperately wanted to get back out into his world of do-gooding, but he had become, of late, concerned about How’s ability to pilot his time craft in anything approaching an acceptable manner; indeed, their most recent adventure, back at the dawn of time, was a perfect example.  If Corinth had not somehow managed to bang two stray atoms together, Lord knows what might have happened.  Besides, the on-board toilet arrangements were appalling and in no way equal to the requirements of four men with failing prostates and a woman whose pelvic floor was practically subterranean.  In the Professor’s mind, it would be no bad thing if Nigel were to hang up his super-leotard for good.

The one member of the team who could always be relied upon to be present for their on-line chats was Freddy, although his paranoia had blossomed to such an extent that his many layers of auto-encryption meant that, in practice, it was almost impossible to see him unless you viewed the screen through a colander, and his voice emerged sounding something like a man-sized cockroach, which did rather set the teeth on edge.

Corinth herself, determined to confound her air-headed reputation of old, had studied every scientific home course available.  As a result, she was perfectly capable of constructing a working nuclear reactor out of two kitchen spatulas and a selection of cutlery – although her efforts to work out what day it was still left much to be desired. 

Even Nigel’s leotard, the seat of all his super-powers, had been less effective since Corinth had attempted to remove ‘certain stains’ by popping it into a boil wash, and it was only by dint of the ancient elastic going that he was able to struggle into its shrivelled remains at all.  Yet despite its tendency to bring on the worst of his rashes, Nigel still liked to feel cocooned within its sagging mesh during times of stress – and times seldom came more stressful than these.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said to Corinth as she re-entered the room.

‘Oh gawd,’ she muttered.

‘We need to get the team back together.  I have a plan to defeat this viral scourge.’

Corinth gazed into his glaucous eyes, for once sparkling again with a hero’s zeal.

‘Well?’ she said.

‘Well,’ he queried.  ‘Well what?’

‘You just said about getting the team back together.’

‘Did I?  I wonder why?’ he stroked his chin and small flakes of yesterday’s boiled egg fluttered down onto his lap.  ‘Oh yes, my plan!’ he said at last.  ‘My plan to save the world from Coronavirus.  It is, I believe, infallible.’

‘I’ll make the call,’ Corinth stammered with genuine pride.  ‘I always knew you’d come up with a plan…  What is it by the way?’

‘What?’

‘The plan.’

‘Plan?  What plan?’

‘To defeat Covid.  You said you had a plan to defeat Covid.’

‘Oh that,’ he said.  ‘Didn’t I tell you?’

‘No,’ she said, feeling the optimism drain from her like water down a dentist’s sink.

‘Oh bugger,’ he said… 

I haven’t met these people in many years, but it took me no time to become familiar with them again. I enjoyed the catch up.  I hope that I was faithful to their spirit.

Yet More Random Running Thoughts – Odds and Sods…

My Cat, Lawrence.*

My cat Lawrence, he’ll never let you down.
My cat Lawrence, keeps his feet on the ground.
With my cat Lawrence, you know just where you are.
Since my Auntie Florence, ran him over in her car…

I have discovered that when running, by a method I cannot discern, my phone always plays David Bowie’s Heroes (the album version, not the dreadful ‘single edit’) at the very second I decide that I have had enough.  Well, you can’t stop then, can you?

Not for the first time I find myself thinking about Thursdays.

When I first added Thursdays to my blog rota it was with the aim of using a few stray poems which I ran as Haphazardly Poetical, because that’s what they were.  I planned for them to be a regular thing, but they arrived sporadically and could, only in the very broadest of senses, properly be labelled as poetry – however, as, broadly speaking, I have no sense, thus labelled they were.  For reasons I have never been able to fathom, they quickly proved to be my most popular of posts, but because I am pathetically and slavishly bound by rhyme and scan, I found them difficult to write with any regularity or quality, and when I set my mind to producing them, everything else went out of the window.  Consequently, Thursdays also became home for a pastiche or two (Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Winnie-the-Pooh, that sort of thing) which I rather liked, although I was in a definite minority.  From time to time I wrote longer pieces which ran better over two days, so Thursdays became a day of all manner of poems, part twos and bits and bobs and, quite frankly, I began to find them a bit of a trial.

For a while I used Thursdays to republish some old, seldom read posts, which I thought merited a second chance (although, in the main, you begged to differ) and then came Covid, and Thursday became the day of The Plague Diaries, which took me right through Lockdown towards the New Normal, during which time I began to run.  I have no idea why.  My ‘Couch to 5k’ diary filled the next few months, and then the problem of what to do with Thursdays returned anew.

I write masses of ‘stuff’ that, for one reason or another (usually another) never gets expanded upon and, as Thursday blogs are, by and large, shorter and looser than other days, it struck me that Thursday could well become a day for some of these pieces.  Some days I write pure nonsense (some?), snippets of rhyme (see top and bottom of this post), bits of script, random conversations – all of which go into a folder labelled Odds and Sods, which I have just renamed Thursday.  You get my drift…

Eventually, another sparkly something will attract my attention and a new theme will, turd-like, bob to the Thursday surface, but until then you have Odds and Sods, and I, like a pioneering prospector armed only with a broken sieve, the wrong shovel and access to quite the wrong river, will pan away, searching for nuggets of gold that I might be able to fruitfully lay before you and, who knows, something that might, one day, lead somewhere else completely…

I wish us all good luck…

A Small Deception at the Vasectomy Clinic**

He smiled at me, lain on the table
And said, “Now this won’t hurt at all.”
Then rammed over 6 foot of needle
Right down my wherewithal

*I heard somebody shouting out for Lawrence from their doorstep late one night.  They could, I suppose have been calling for a stray dog or husband, but something told me it was probably a cat.  I started to think about how much easier cats would be to find, if they didn’t move around so much…

**Personal experience – I can say no more except to add that on the day of my ‘op’ I was prepared and splayed on the table when the surgeon and his (female) assistant entered the room, and the assistant took one look at me and said, ‘Colin?  It is Colin isn’t it?  I haven’t seen you in ages…’  The conversation from that point might be best described as strained and I cannot remember a time of greater relief than when I was able to gather myself together and limp, manfully from the room…

Getting Older

We all know what it feels like to grow old, don’t we?  The slow, but inevitable diminution of mental acuity and physical attributes: the deadening of the senses – sight, hearing, smell and taste, above all taste; the tendency to bruise like an over-ripe peach; to smell like an over-ripe banana; all part of the gradual, but inescapable descent into dampened gibbering.  Except that it’s not really like that at all – at least not yet.  I am ‘of an age’, but what lies between my ears is of quite a different age.  Although I now do have a tendency to ache quite a lot, I’m not entirely certain that it isn’t just something of which I have just recently become more aware.  That is, I have always ached – I just haven’t had the time to obsess about it before.  Nor have I previously worried about why I am aching.  These days I have to analyze everything.  Everything could be a sign of something else.  As long as I continue to do well on Pointless, I have always believed that I could accept my absent-mindedness as a minor peccadillo, but now I worry constantly that it might just be a sign of something altogether more sinister.  Each forgotten bin day is another step down the path towards senility; each empty baked bean can in the fridge another lurch towards the vacant let.  And I do get tired now – each thirty minutes beyond News at Ten, is another day spent trying to remember where I left my keys.

I feel that I am still capable of doing pretty much what I have always done, but now I anticipate the consequences, which definitely slows me down.  I still feel instinctively that my grandchildren will always be safe as long as I am there, but if I stop to think about it, I now realise that it is not necessarily true, that it never was.  I do know, though, that I would die trying to protect them – and that has to count for something.  I would do the same for my children, of course, but they are mech stronger and fitter than me and would probably tell me to act my age.

Of course, acting your age is the first thing you stop doing as you get older.  In any case, who really knows how a person of your age is supposed to act?  I have friends who have acted like sixty year olds since their tenth birthdays.  I also have friends who still act like they’re ten.  Whatever your age, who can resist a playground swing; rolling down a grassy bank; splashing in puddles?  Who can resist fishing in a seaside rock pool, or digging for buried treasure?  That is acting your age.

And, as you get older, life does try to compensate by handing you some new attributes in place of the good stuff you have misplaced along the way.  In place of good looks, an athletic physique, suppleness and stamina, you get the ability to understand that Midsomer Murders is not meant to be Shakespeare, and the strength to occasionally sit through a full episode without falling asleep and drooling on your slippers.  You begin to realise that it really doesn’t matter if you left your mobile phone on the kitchen table in the morning, because the only people who ever contact you are trying to interest you in a discount at the crematorium.  Old age is when you start to realise that, in order to set all of his fiendish traps, Dick Dastardly has to be miles ahead of the field – and you can’t help but wonder why he just doesn’t keep going…  I can no longer climb a rope, but hey, I have learned not to question why I would ever want to.  I have learned that dining out in a white shirt is never a good idea, unless I am going to be eating exclusively white marshmallows.

And – now I realise what age has really brought to me – suddenly I have no idea what I had on my mind as I started this piece.  It is a balmy evening.  I have drunk a nice bottle of red and the birds are singing (at least, I think they are, it could always be tinnitus) and the sky is the kind of blue that makes me think that if this is the best that the world has to offer then it really is more than enough.  I do not know how getting older feels when you start to feel older, but I know that, at the moment, it feels like I could drink in every moment of it – with every ailing sense and physical attribute – and, if I could live forever, then I certainly would.

Unfortunately, that is the one thing that getting older teaches you will never come to pass…

Unusually, for me, this post was written in ‘one take’ and on the evening of publication – and so I ask you to please accept my abject apologies for any grammatical and syntax aberrations.  This piece has festered in my head all day.  This evening I typed it up with atypical speed and prepared to publish – before having my attention taken by my second ever post (‘Getting On’ from November 2018) – at which point I realised how little actually changes and, yes, that this is what it is all about…

“I have also begun to understand that advancing age is not to be feared, it is to be embraced. Embraced for its ability to allow me clearer vision than sight. Embraced for its ability to grant me the realisation that what is right for me, may not be right for anybody else, but quite frankly, that I care even less than they do. Embraced for the realisation that my appreciation of the world around me is linked, incrementally, with the paucity of time that I have left to enjoy it. Embraced because I have no choice. Embraced because it makes me happy.”  Colin McQueen – Getting On

Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!*

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

In my last blog (Working Title) I attempted to answer the questions posed by Petra in her Writing Questions for YOU post.  Not unusually for me, a few dozen words became a few hundred and I ended my own post having answered (in a peculiarly roundabout way, I admit) only one of her questions.  I promised (threatened) to answer the others and, unfortunately, this is the best I have yet managed.  The questions seemed to me, serious ones, so I have given them some consideration and answered them as honestly as I can.  This is not my strength, so please forgive me if I meander… 

The first question asked whether dreams have ever provided inspiration for stories and, if so, how?  I have two main problems with dreams as inspiration:

  1. In general, I do not remember them, and
  2. I am never totally convinced that everything is not a dream: that my entire life is not merely a figment of somebody else’s fevered nocturnal machinations, in which case it is just possible that my dreams are reality and the reason I don’t remember them is because they are incredibly tedious.

I don’t believe that I have ever knowingly written anything based on a dream, but I have written about dreams in a post, way back in November 2019 (All You Ever Wanted to Know About Dreams, But Were Afraid to Ask), so if you truly seek the answers, they just might be there.

The next can of worms (I’m sorry, ‘question’) involved writing about other races and genders. Well, I truly have never questioned the ethnicity of any of my characters. (Does that make me racist?) They just are. I cannot claim to be content with that, but in my small world, everybody is the same under the skin, and skin is just that – something to keep the rain off. I am perfectly happy to talk about racism; it is inherently, futilely evil and pernicious, but writing about it within the kind of posts that I write would simply trivialise it, and I have no desire to do that. There are many who are perfectly capable of articulating the sheer iniquity of it, but I am not one of them. Most of my characters, at heart, are me and they are whatever colour, whatever diaspora you choose for them. I very much hope that you like them when they are likeable and dislike them when they are not.

As for gender, well, I have to admit that the gender of my characters often changes during writing.  If you have ever read any of the Dinah and Shaw Little Fictions, you should know that Dinah is almost certainly me, but then again, so is Shaw…  I think in most respects we are similar – we laugh at the same things, get mad at the same things, cry at the same things regardless of reproductive arrangements.  In a few respects however, we are completely different and that has to be celebrated.  If you can consider those differences in a way that both sexes find amusing, well, that’s comedy gold isn’t it?  If you ever find a way of doing it, please let me know.  (The late, great Victoria Wood handled it effortlessly.  Unfortunately few of us, if any, will ever possess such talent.)

I am a passionate believer that, fundamentally, we are all the same and that we should, therefore, all be afforded exactly the same opportunities in life – which we patently are not.  I have no idea how we can put that right.  Antagonising a certain type of person will just entrench their views; preaching only ever appeals to the already converted.  If I can make somebody think by making them smile well, at least it’s a start isn’t it?  I’m not keen on confrontation and I would never seek to deliberately offend (although I have no doubt that I may have inadvertently done so a thousand times) and I think that seriously limits me, but it does mean that I have never published anything that I truly regret.  I regret having published things that I now realise were just not good enough, but that’s a whole different bucket of frogs. I’m annoyed that I can’t do better, but ashamed?  I don’t think so.  There’s always time though…

One thing I seldom, if ever, stick my nose into is religion.  As far as I can see, there is more than enough room in this world for anyone to believe whatever they choose to believe.  I completely understand why religion is so emotive, I understand the passion.  What I don’t understand is why the passion so readily becomes violence.  I cannot believe that hatred of ‘others’ is a true tenet of any religion.  You may say that I’m a dreamer etc etc.

Finally (at last!) the question of style. Do I Work on Style? Well, patently not. Take a read through my ‘back catalogue’ and you will be absolutely assured of my lack of it. I fear that ‘This Man Had No Style’ may well be my epitaph. As for genre, well, other than the constant attempt to grapple a little humour from everything I write, I don’t really think I work within one. I hope that, other than being filed under ‘drivel’, I am not that easy to categorise.

So, that’s it.  I have tried to answer the questions honestly.  I hope you will forgive me if I promise not to do it again.

When you know the answers, I think, perhaps, you keep them to yourself…

*Focus (1972)