Though we tried so hard to hide her, Tried our very best to guide her, To a space that’s open wider, Still she looked around and spied a Teeny weeny little spider – Sad to say it terrified her.
A true story. We were on holiday in Northern Cyprus. The apartments were new and recently opened. On the second night I was cleaning my teeth when my wife screamed. I ran through into the bedroom as she was running out. When I finally calmed her down with the application of gin and pretzels, she told me that there was a mouse in our bed, under the pillow. I went through and, sure enough, there was a little tail peeping out. I went into the kitchen to grab a pan and returned to catch it. I lifted the pillow and discovered that the ‘tail’ was, in fact, the leg of a tarantula! Panic set in as I did not want to try and catch it, only to let it escape under the bed, so I went for help. The man at the reception followed me back to the room, his eyes full of ‘Oh you English’ amusement when I tried to explain how big this spider was. I showed him into the bedroom, lifted the pillow and he flipped. When I eventually calmed him down – I had to buy more gin the next day – we carried the pillow outside together and shook the giant spider off. It wandered away un-phased and the man from the reception tried to climb the wall. The following day men in full protective suits arrived and sprayed the undergrowth all around our apartment. A week later, as we packed to go home, we found the spider’s spouse behind the curtain…
Like ourselves, I’m sure you will not believe that there are tarantula’s in Cyprus. Look it up, you’ll find that there are.
Now, you’d think, wouldn’t you, that such an experience would ensure that my wife was in no way scared of the tiny little fellas that we get scuttling around our house in the UK? Well, you’d be wrong…
The immediate problem that presented itself to me upon waking was how to remove the spider from my nostril. That, in the cold light of consciousness, there was no such arachnid resident lodged in my proboscis was of little consequence, as my attempts to remove the phantom araneae – the trumpet-call of my nose blowing – did all that it could to attract the attention of every elephant in the neighbourhood. (How many? I live on the East coast of England: guess.) Until I found something else to worry about, my conviction remained completely undimmed by obvious fact. I could feel it moving. Possibly building a tiny nasal web for its many octopedal offspring. Anyway, having woken with the conviction that I had become some kind of creepy-crawly condominium overnight, nothing short of a tiny eight-legged corpse was going to convince me otherwise. Nor was I pacified by the almost certain knowledge that, in this particular scenario, I could more or less be assured that I would never be troubled by intra-nare bluebottles. It is a very dark cloud indeed, that has such a silver lining.
I seldom awake with a coherent overview of my dreams, but I do often carry little bits of them with me into the day: a sudden and irrational fear of aubergine; the conviction that Piers Morgan is a Cyborg*, the certain knowledge that I have woken up with somebody else’s legs. It is disconcerting: like the moment you try to analyze the way that you walk, and you realise that you can no longer do it. How can thinking about something make it unattainable? I’ve tried to recall what circumstance contrived to deposit the imaginary tiny tarantula up my somnambulant snitch, but to no avail.
I won’t lie to you. My nose is definitely big enough to house a spider. There’s quite a bit of room up there. A little bit damp for my taste, but it could, for all I know, equate to spider heaven. Anyway, although I seldom recall them in detail, I know what dreams are like. It could just as well have been an octopus I was trying to dislodge. Where nasal residences are concerned, size is not of the essence. Threading a camel through the eye of a needle is perfectly feasible, dependent on the size of the camel, the size of the needle and the nature of what you had to eat before you went to sleep.
Are dreams really just life with the brakes off: reality without reason, or are they simply the synapses enjoying playtime? Maybe reality is just a dream with a cold – all sensation wrapped in cotton wool, all possibilities snot-bound. Life in the waking hours is certainly more dull, more predictable than that which we experience during sleep. Definitely less precarious. How often is it possible to be chased by a masked pursuer, to fall off a cliff, to find oneself stark naked in a public place, without suffering serious harm or humiliation? The logic of progression is scattered in dreams, but never questioned. Nobody ever queries the fact that they are falling from a tall building again, when only a millisec earlier they were eluding capture by a long-extinct raptor in the humid, but definitely low-rise, setting of a Jurassic forest.
Yet, all of this could be endured so much more comfortably if the borders between these two conflicting states of consciousness were not quite so porous: if it was not so easy to carry pieces out from the twilight dreamworld and into this new normal nightmare world of non-contact and distanced communication that we now inhabit, where the fear of death is greater than the threat of loneliness, where the logic of action and reaction bears no level of scrutiny, where a paper mask worn to protect others becomes a threat to personal liberty, where wealth is counted in toilet rolls and gin is turned into sanitizer (although I still get told off for drinking it).
One day we will return to a world where wakefulness is not more confusing than dreams and a spider up the nose really is the worst of my problems – well, that and the elephant in the room, which is answering, presumably, my trumpet call…
*Actually, that is probably true.
‘…no longer afraid of the dark or midday shadows nothing so ridiculously teenage and desperate nothing so childish at a better pace slower and more calculated no chance of escape now self-employed concerned (but powerless)…’ ‘Fitter, happier, more productive.’ Radiohead.
Don’t always listen to the loudest voice. It probably just comes from the biggest mouth. Me.
Well, it has been interesting (for me at least) this trawl through my archives. I have been made aware of many things. I feel certain that I will return to some of the themes I have discovered here, but most of what I wrote way back then, will remain where it is. It’s not that it is necessarily bad, nor even particularly dated – some of the very worst things have good moments whilst, unfortunately, most of the best are still not good enough – but the archive file is just where they belong. Reading through it now, a lot of what I wrote years ago appears new to me, like it was written by somebody else, and I find myself laughing at my own, long-forgotten jokes. This I find very disturbing. It puts me in mind of those who cannot stop admiring themselves in the mirror – of someone who considers them self to be so entertaining that there is little point in listening to anybody else. I do not want to be a politician. I do not want to be a social-media ‘influencer’ – what is a social-media ‘influencer’? My only excuse is that this was all written long, long ago and at least, in most part, is something of which I am not actually ashamed. As I read through the reams of pages I have written, I have discovered that whilst the ideas remain fresh and many of the jokes still work (as much as they ever did) the style – particularly obvious in some TV and radio scripts – is often wildly out-of-date: welded to the moment in which it was written. Humour, it seems, is not transient, but the rules under which it is delivered are.
Throughout my formative years, as the desire to write coalesced within me, ‘silly’ ruled the world. Inspiration was easy to find – Spike Milligan’s Q series’, The Goodies, Monty Python’s flying Circus… (For the most inspired piece of Monty Python silliness ever, just click here.) I love silly. Silly has no agenda, no axe to grind, no victim. I love all comedy, but I am particularly fond of it when it is not used as a weapon. Silly is funny simply because it is funny. If it makes you laugh then that is its complete justification. In the UK we had comedians who touched genius with silly – who were funny simply because they were: Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe and, latterly, Billy Connolly… I can think of no ‘modern’ equivalent. I’m sure that all countries have these ‘natural clowns’ – although the American comedians I recall from my youth were always much more polished, more slick, altogether more cerebral. In today’s world, in order to be funny, it is now a requirement that you have something clever to say. It puts those of us who are not brainy enough to be sharp at a distinct disadvantage. Nobody shouts ‘smart-arse’ quite as loudly as me trying to be clever. (Well, except, perhaps, for Russell Howard.)
Writing ‘with an agenda’ is all well and good. Causing people to think is always a good thing. Making them laugh and think at the same time is a difficult trick to perfect. The main problem with the ‘agenda’ is that it is fixed in time. It doesn’t matter how witty it felt when you wrote it, as soon as it stops being relevant, it stops being funny. In comedy terms, I guess you really did have to be there.
I vaguely remember the man who wrote these far-away pieces. He was brighter than me, better company without doubt. He embraced the silly, held hands with the nonsensical and kissed ridiculous flat on the lips. He worried some times, but not all the time. He wore better clothes, although he still looked like a bag of shit tied up with string*. He drank less and ate less and ached less. He did not fear for the future because he knew he was going to ‘make it’; it was just a matter of time. He was optimistic – pessimists should never have children. (Children are ‘hope’ in human form – even if it is loud and annoying and full of snot at times.) This was a man for whom introspection meant worrying about whether the second donut was wise. All in all, a bit of a prat – although he had many more friends than me.
I wonder whatever became of him?
*An observation of my dad, who sought to advise me against wasting too much money on clothes.
As this piece is somewhat inward looking, (and especially since I still have a couple of bits from the Odds & Sods file left to use) I will agonise over whether it is worth publishing. I will spend some time trying to find jokes to lighten it and, finally, in a panic for some reason or another, I will publish it anyway and then worry about it for hours – until I realise that it’s either this or the piece about my cousin’s stamp collection…
Anyway, just so that you know, I have scheduled it and, as I do not have the faintest of ideas of how to cancel a scheduled post, it will appear on Thursday at 7 pm. A decision I am already regretting. Come on, everyone loves a stamp…
Today’s embarrassing background tune: Silly Love – 10CC
The whole world has become one, single Zoom generation. Old talk to young – well, as long as the young set it up – and we have all learned to chat with an inbuilt response delay. We have all grown used to the ‘You’re breaking up. No, I said breaking up. You’re… Oh, she’s gone. I can still see her. Has she muted? Have you muted? I said… Oh, she’s gone altogether now…’ conversations. We have all grown used to having the quality of our internet connection questioned. We have all grown used to having an in-depth conversation with a family member’s crotch; to being invited to view the contents of their nose whilst they try to sort it out.
This is the New Normal of only one strand of a conversation at a time; of waiting your turn; of finding that the relevance of what you had to say disappeared whilst Aunty Norma described the shattered condition of her bowels; of finding that your killer punch-line has just lost its feed. It is also the time of seeing yourself as everybody else sees you: of hearing your own voice and realising quite how like an exceedingly camp country bumpkin you sound (although, maybe that’s just me). Nobody wants to see themselves talking – it’s just not natural is it? If God had wanted us to enjoy seeing ourselves talking, he wouldn’t have invented Michael McIntyre. (I’m not entirely certain what I mean by that.)
Zoom has also become the go-to family quiz medium and, as a nation, perhaps as a planet, we have never needed to know what the Patagonian flag looks like as much as we have over the last few months. Zoom has become the medium by which the Family Smart-Arse has been uncovered and reviled. If you are that person – and you will know if you are – don’t think you can mend the damage you wreaked by accusing grandma of cheating and having the Reader’s Digest Compendium at her side, by deliberately getting the Rick Astley question wrong. You cannot. Being the last to close down the connection will not stop everyone talking about you.
Zoom also means that you cannot disguise the fact that you haven’t crawled out of your pyjamas all day and that you really are eating cornflakes out of Aunty Doreen’s Royal Dalton wedding present. ‘What are you eating?’ is the general starting point of every conversation, followed by the more detailed inquisition of whether they deliver, do they charge for prawn crackers and is the batter gluten-free? Such Zoom conversations often take wings, drifting off into questions as diverse as, ‘What did you eat yesterday?’ and ‘What are you eating tomorrow?’ It is never long before all involved are comparing gin and tonics.
The nuclear family has been dissipated and our current travails have, in some ways, dragged us back together. Our own family Zoom evenings have resulted in gatherings of such number that the lights dim all over the village. We get together weekly in numbers that we would have formerly gathered together only on Christmas Day – and nobody is stressed over the bread sauce, the dishwasher has not coughed thirty litres of sludge over the kitchen floor, and little Billy has not swallowed the plastic toy out of Uncle Norman’s un-pulled cracker.
It is very odd how a pandemic, bent on driving us further apart, has actually pulled us closer together. How we have all discovered that we can easily manage a couple of hours with the in-laws when we don’t have to actually share the same room. How we have discovered that the grandkids understand the limitations of the internet even less than we do. How we have all discovered that we can detect the ‘beep’ of somebody else’s dishwasher through the hubbub of twenty consecutive conversations, three different channels on the TV and the stutter of somebody’s connection as they simultaneously try to stream Game of Thrones and Love Island Revisited*. A zoom lens makes things appear to be much closer than they actually are. For a short time, a Zoom conversation, brings us spiritually closer. It is the only silver lining I can find in our current cloud, but it is one we wouldn’t have had twenty years ago…
*I think I just made that up. Unless anyone can prove otherwise, please consider it copyright.
Oh, and just to prove to James that I actually have no musical taste whatsoever, the music playing in the background as I finish this piece is Zoom by the Electric light Orchestra, and I’m not even going to apologise for it…
Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I had not a single view. I did not publish anything, but they are quite often my best days. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Oh well, I suppose I’ll have to keep on prattling after all…
This is a true tale from my school days. For all manner of reasons I have changed names, but the facts remain… largely factual, as it were, to the very best of my recollection – which, you may well know, is not entirely reliable. The spirit of the recollection is entirely correct, even if the specifics are not. It does not put any of us in a good light, but it was a salutary lesson. It started, as most things did at school, with an argument…
One boy, a fisherman, we’ll call him Jeremy, had brought in a tin of maggots with the intention of using them during an illicit fishing trip, scheduled to occur whilst the rest of us were finding all manner of other methods with which to avoid the cross country run. He flicked the lid open and we all looked in on the squirming technicolour mass within. There was a general feeling of slight nausea at the nature of Jeremy’s bait, that he was prepared to carry it in his pocket all day, and most of all, that he kept it ‘fresh’ in the fridge at home. None-the-less, interest was beginning to wane and the lid was, quite literally, being closed on the subject when Marvin piped up. ‘Why are they all different colours?’ ‘They’re dyed. To make them more appetising to the fish.’ Marvin eyed them doubtfully. ‘Appetising?’ he said at last. ‘They’re bloody disgusting. How does dyeing them make them any more appetising?’ ‘I could eat them…’
The voice from the back of the throng. Norman was the class ‘quiet kid’: not bright, not academic, definitely not in any way disruptive. Just quiet. We all liked Norman. The stunned silence that followed his atypical interjection was eventually broken by Marvin. ‘You wouldn’t eat one of those!’ ‘I would!’ There was an unexpected defiance in Norman’s voice. ‘Bet you a quid.’ ‘Make it ten,’ said the now assertive Norman. ‘Alright, but you’ve got to eat twenty – and proper chew ‘em mind. No swallowing whole.’ ‘Deal.’ They shook hands. No turning back for either of them. Norman looked almost sanguine, confident in his gustatory ambitions; Marvin less so. ‘Have you got a tenner?’ I asked him. ‘I’ll get it.’ ‘How?’ ‘We’ll sell tickets,’ he said. ‘Fifty pence a go. We’ll easily sell twenty.’ I looked at him doubtfully. ‘I’ll have one,’ said Paul. ‘Me too,’ said Phil. The process had begun…
The gladiatorial arena – boy versus larvae – was set: a small, seldom used classroom, as far away from staff intervention as possible; a single desk at its centre with all other furniture pushed back against the walls. Standing room only.
The rules were agreed:
The maggots must be eaten, and swallowed, individually.
Each maggot was to be chewed and evidence of this presented.
Water was available for drinking, but not for swilling.
The crowd began to assemble. A total sell-out. Thirty quid! After a period of intense negotiation, it was agreed that, in view of the unforeseen demand, Norman’s share would be raised to fifteen pounds, the rest to be shared amongst the committee – set aside, if my memory serves me, for transmutation into Strongbow Cider and Park Drive filter-tipped.
Norman entered the room to muted applause – nobody wanted to attract adult attention – like a boxer, draped in his school blazer and a tea towel, just in case. He took his seat and, with minimal fanfare, set about his quest at once. The maggots were consumed one at a time, each demonstrably masticated, as per. The tension that accompanied his first tiny mouthful quickly dissipated and by the time he was about half way through, the audience had started to wander off, but Norman soldiered on. Eventually he popped the last wriggling morsel into his mouth and chomped his last chomp as Mrs Sextant, one of the less liberal of our teachers entered the room with all nostrils flaring. She looked around in disgust. She did not need to be appraised of the situation, we had been grassed up – presumably by some disaffected punter who had expected greater jeopardy for his cash. We were marched off to the headmaster’s office – with just a short pause for Norman to be sick – and chastised soundly with the threat of letters to parents.
And the salutary lesson? Well, the full thirty pounds was confiscated, to be donated, we were told, to some unspecified charity (Save the Embryonic Fly, perhaps) but its exact destination was never revealed to us – although the teachers did appear to be eating particularly luxurious biscuits on the day of our Saturday morning detention later that week…
Since writing down this little incident I have been wracking my brain to try and recall actual details: the real name of the maggot eater, I cannot with any clarity recall. The actual monetary amounts involved, ditto. The teacher who spoiled the day, ditto. The exact punishment for our misdemeanours, also ditto. Even my own specific role in proceedings remains unremembered. As for the bit with the teacher’s biscuits, I’m pretty sure I made that up – poetic licence if any of them are reading… Total fabrication, if they are just about to call a lawyer.
If you have been in any way affected by any of the events depicted in this short article, I’m terribly sorry, I don’t know what to do about it. I do not have a Helpline. The ‘boy’ suffered no long-term health effects. The maggots were less fortunate…
Oh tell me lowly little flea* Why did you have to pick on me?
Long, long ago, when I was younger and much more nimble of mind, I had a party trick in which I asked people to give me an animal and I would immediately give them a short comic verse about said beast. (Doesn’t sound much, does it, but I could not sing, I could not juggle and the only thing I ever pulled out of a hat was my head.) During the course of this game, people would start to name ever more exotic animals in the hope of tripping me up, but as long as I knew what they were, that was actually ok. What would have defeated me was if they had all given me the same animal. (Try making up, for instance, ten different verses about a cat. I know T. S. Eliot did a book full, but he had ages and he wasn’t drunk at the time.) Anyway, I thought that I’d test myself: could I still do it? Well, in a word, no – everything takes a little longer these days – but I can still produce a little nonsense rhyme if you give me a couple of minutes. I like animals, so I thought I might give you a zoo on a ‘blank’ day for a little while – although like all things zoological, it will almost certainly evolve into something else along the way. I’m not sure how long it will maintain my interest. It might be a very small zoo, a zoo-ette perhaps, we’ll just have to see how it goes.
I won’t go for alphabetical order (although I am starting – below – with a double A), because I’m bound to think of something else after the letter has gone, so they will appear more or less as they occur to me. They will usually be very short, way below tea and biscuit length, so don’t expect a huge diversion. I have written about a dozen today, so we have a week or two in the bag, although I will, without doubt, have lost faith in many of them and hit ‘DELETE’ long before they get published. They are all strangely, childishly, innocent, but currently, I rather like them for that…
AARDVARK Aardvark have such funny noses, Look like hairy, wrinkled hoses. Why they have them, goodness knowses, They must need them, I supposes.
*Not strictly an animal, I know, nor strictly a verse. I feel that it is probably a stretch to even call it a couplet, but it makes me smile and, let’s face it, the zoo must be full of them. For years I have had this in my files, convinced that it was written by somebody else, but I have searched and searched, and it was not. It is a small thing, but all my own…
I wear contact lenses, largely due to the nature of my work. They are, at times, a total pain, but they do come along with a number of distinct advantages over glasses. They mean that I can hold my head up in society at large: when it rains, I can walk without staring down at my feet in order to keep the rain off my spectacle lenses. I can enter a building without steaming up. I can play sport; I can play with my grandkids without having to constantly reach for the superglue. When I emerge from the horror of the Public Swimming Baths changing rooms, I can see more than a Technicolor swirl of unidentified flesh and ill-advised costume. I do not need my family to come and find me and lead me, like some grotesque bespectacled walrus, towards the chlorine/urine cocktail of the pool. I even swim in my contacts. I know that I shouldn’t, but it does mean that I do not spend my whole time in the water apologising for swimming into people.
Lenses are not without drawbacks: especially after a long night, when I can’t get them in, or after a long day, when I can’t get them out, but the modern soft toric lenses do not come close to the tiny slivers of glass I used to insert into my eyes in days of yore. Each pair lasted a year, so losing one on the bus was a nightmare – but not as much as losing one in your own eye. The increasingly desperate attempts to locate, and subsequently extract, the errant lens often left one eye looking like, as my friend described it, a bulldog’s bollock (or bullock as my spellcheck is desperate to persuade me). From that I could only assume that he had some intimate knowledge of the aforementioned canine’s testes, and that they were, indeed, red, swollen and angry-looking. I never asked. Stray over your maximum twelve hours of wear in those miniscule head-lamps and you felt like someone had sandpapered your eyeball. Whatever vision remained was shrouded in the kind of fog that would have stopped the London buses.
I have spent my whole life battling with the right/left conundrum: never quite certain of which is which. Consequently, my morning contact lens routine can be a little fraught. For a start, my lenses may not be in the correct sides of the case from the evening before. If they are, they may not go into the correct eye in the morning. (One of the rare occasions where two wrongs really do make a right.) For thirty years or more I have tried to help myself by singing my own version of the bloody awful ‘(B)right eye(s)’every time I remove/insert what just might, possibly, be the right contact lens. It serves no-one – least of all Art Garfunkel – well.
These days, as my vision, like my common sense, fades into oblivion, I wear varifocal glasses when I do not have lenses in. These little miracles mean that I can see the world in general with a certain clarity whilst still being able to read books, signs and mobile phones, without having to have a second pair of specs suspended around my neck on a spangly little chain. The great skill being in locating the sweet spot on the lens that allows me to see in close enough detail to do things without rendering myself blind to the on-coming lorry.
The somewhat unique shape of my eyeballs, following a pre-full face helmet motorbike accident in my feckless youth, means that I cannot wear varifocal contact lenses – please don’t ask why, I don’t know – so I have, in one eye a lens that allows me to read and, in the other, a lens that allows me to see. My brain, apparently, sorts it all out. I don’t know how when it constantly loses track of the plot in Vera. Until the point of that particular teenage impact my vision was fine – although not good enough, you might quite fairly point out, to see the tree – and I found out that I would need to wear glasses after leaving hospital. I remember, so vividly, wearing them for the first time and realising that trees still had leaves, but being incredibly confused by the fact that they all appeared to be falling over. It would have been very useful if the tree I had hit on my bike had done so. I like to think that the slight asymmetry I now have makes my face more interesting, although, in honesty, I think that lop-sided is probably nearer the truth.
Possibly because of that, I have grown to like the look of my face better in lenses than in glasses which never quite seem to be on straight, but I’m guessing it’s only because I can’t see it as well. Although, rather like a woman with a bra, my lenses are the first thing I want to get out of when I get home in the evening. They become more uncomfortable as the day drags on; they seem to serve less purpose as soon as I get behind my own front door; it feels good to let my eyeballs resume their normal shape and to give them a little air at the end of the day.
Now, during the course of my daily toils I currently wear a mask all day and I spend that time with people who are also wearing masks, and more often than not, the eyes alone do not give me nearly enough information for the rest of me to have the faintest idea of who I am talking to*. My facial recognition is notoriously bad, but robbed of three-quarters of the relevant information, it just gives up and goes home and, in this respect, unusual spectacles are a godsend. The more Elton John, the better. (I’ll be honest here, E.J. wasn’t the first person that popped into my head, but I thought that there was a better chance of my international readers knowing who Elton was, rather than Timmy Mallett.) In these days of severely limited contact and muffled voices hidden away amongst lips and nostrils, these tiny plastic windows on the world are often all I have to go on when I try to identify a face that I vaguely recollect. If it is you, and if you decide by any chance that you too want to be able to see in the rain, I, for one, will no longer have any idea of who you are…
*…to whom I am talking. For Mr Wells-Cole, to prove that I did, indeed, learn something at school…
In accordance with the general navel-gazing nature of this little thread, today has been one of those days when I find myself with nothing much to say, and that has forced me to look back on what I have written over the past few weeks and acknowledge the fact that I have been studiously avoiding any mention of the elephant in the room* – Covid19. Whilst this dratted virus has been shaping everything I do and the way in which I am forced to do it, I have assiduously endeavoured to keep it out of these pages – not, I will admit, with total success. Why? Well, it’s not funny, is it? During lockdown I was more than happy to write about my own reactions to the situation, my own way of dealing with the threat, but never to directly address the viral cause of the particular set of obtuse behavioural peccadilloes that saw me through that time of rationed loo roll and pasta shortages. My default position in dealing with an absurd situation – even a threatening one – is to laugh at it. It’s not much, but it’s all I have.
I am fully aware that this approach offers an almost infinite variety of ways in which I can annoy people. I am conscious of my unrivalled ability to thoroughly piss people off at the best of times, but there seems to be so little I can do about it. It’s a natural aptitude. The gift that just keeps giving.
Any-old-how, to get to the point, which was… erh… oh yes, we spent a few hours on Sunday, Mrs Mc and myself, with our elder daughter and her family at their home. They live a two hour journey away from us and who can tell when the door may be closed on further visits? The grandkids like having me around – they don’t have a trampoline – and we get to feel useful by doing a few jobs around the place. I think that we are all aware that this inter-household mixing – even within families – is likely to be stopped soon, so we take what chance we can. On the drive home – in the very early evening – darkness closed in around us with startling rapidity and I realised that this is shaping up to be a very long winter indeed. One in which this virus is bound to loom large – even amongst those of us who will do all that we can to ignore it.
You have been warned!
*My grandma, queen of the mixed metaphor (although probably, in this particular case, the mixed idiom – who knows?) would always say that there was a white elephant in the room:
White Elephant – Something useless or troublesome – particularly if expensive to maintain or difficult to get rid of.
Elephant in the room – Something that everybody knows is there, but nobody chooses to mention.
Perhaps my grandma was much wiser than we ever realised…
The briefest pause for thought: the moment when you go for a midnight wee and you don’t even remember eating asparagus.
So, I filled in all the online forms – there were many – and I certified that I am showing no Covid Symptoms and I have not been in any contact with anybody who is showing Covid symptoms. All was well. I got up early this morning after a sleepless night (I am terrified of the dentist) and showered etc in preparation. According to the blurb they sent me, the door would be locked when I arrived for my appointment and I had to ring them to let them know that I was standing outside in the rain – this despite the fact that on the several times that I have tried to get hold of them over the past few weeks I have often been kept hanging on for hours – at which point they would let me in, ask me to sanitize, check that I was wearing a mask for the journey along the corridor, and ‘kindly do not touch walls, doors, furniture etc and please refrain from using the toilet’.
OK, I was ready.
I skipped breakfast and I skipped coffee and I was brushing my teeth for the third time when the phone rang…
It will come as no surprise to anybody even vaguely familiar with this country to know that my appointment has been cancelled again. It would appear that my dentist was not able to fill in her online form as smugly as I. She is currently unwell, displaying some Covid-like symptoms. (Let’s be honest here – all symptoms are Covid-like if you put your mind to it.) It could, of course, have been worse: she could have started displaying the symptoms tomorrow.
I am now booked in (again) in two weeks time. My dentist will by then (I fervently hope) be well and free of all symptoms – unless, of course, she’s got some new ones. I will have to fill in all of the online forms again – I tried to explain that whilst the future was unknown, it was not possible for my medical history to have changed, that I would always be a male and that there was, to the best of my knowledge, no means of me being anything other than 61 years of age, but to no avail. If I want to see the dentist, I must fill in the forms again. All of them.
Anyway, we’ve all seen the graphs, two weeks is a very long time. Plenty of time, in fact, for my hitherto benign demi-tooth to start pounding and certainly more than enough to ensure that my appointment is once again cancelled due to a further tightening of Covid restrictions.
If you are in any way interested (and, for the record, even if you’re not) I will keep you updated. Once again, the clock is ticking…
For anyone who remains even remotely interested, I am still running at least three times a week. Usually I do two runs of 4k and one of 5k. Some days – mostly when I have other things I really should be doing instead – I run much further. Sadly, the shit is still there on my return. Some days, when the weather is bad, I don’t run as far, but I run faster – always taking great care not to trip over my own halo. I don’t actually enjoy the running any more than I ever did, but I do now go out secure in the knowledge that short of any mishap, I will finish the run and the chances are fairly good that I will not die on the way.
Sadly, I have now developed a routine associated with run days which, if I am honest, is starting to border on ritual. I wear the same things, I follow the same route, I listen to the same songs. I really must shake it up. I am beginning to annoy myself and normally, of course, I find myself the very best of company. If anyone has a life available, I should probably get one – but I shan’t be looking today, because just at the moment I have deeper concerns.
You see, since finishing the Couch to 5k programme, I have tried, as best I am able, to stick to the routine which, in addition to running three times a week, dictates that I leave a gap of at least forty-eight hours between runs. I run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so what do I do on the days in between? Well, drink whisky and eat peanuts, if I’m honest. When I decided that I needed an alternative, I tried gin and chocolate, but even I realised that that wasn’t really what it meant, and so I looked for a healthy alternative, preferably one that did not involve hummus. What I discovered was my daughter’s discarded exercise bike and my old redundant laptop. So, I have taken to climbing aboard the exercise bike on these non-running days, whilst watching Old Grey Whistle Test DVD’s: an ancient fat man amongst the decaying clutter of his garage, pedalling for all he is worth and getting nowhere fast. My whole life has become metaphor.
Consider my garage. It is chock-full of junk. If I manage to cram something new into one end of it, it is highly likely that something else, completely unconnected, will pop out at the other. Whatever does make it in, is inevitably lost within hours, never to be found again until I trip over it some years later whilst searching for something else entirely. Occasionally I will find a space in there, but I will have no idea of what used to fill it. If I fill the gap, I knock over and break something else in the process. When I do, eventually, find what has gone missing, it will no longer fit back in. At the risk of labouring the point, my garage in no way now fulfils its primary purpose of storing a car: it is full of general rammel, little of which belongs there, but all of which stops it being used for what it was designed for.
Consider my exercise bike. It is not, as I have mentioned, actually my own. It requires a lot of effort to get it going and, when I do, it goes nowhere. It is noisy, unsightly and boring. When I have nowhere to run, I pedal to the same place and when I get there, I’ve got nowhere to go but back. I think that in future I should mount the static velocipede only when it is not safe for me to run e.g. when there is weather outside. (My wife lives in constant fear of me falling over. I haven’t done so yet, but when I do, she will have earned the right to be there at my side, with a nicely supportive ‘I told you so.’) Worse, I’ve just caught sight of myself in the mirror. I look pretty much the same as I did six months ago, and I feel pretty much the same, so where does all of this pain and anguish leave me anyway? Well, I certainly have a very fit pair of legs – they have to be, they carry about my lard-arse top half, which currently gets no exercise at all outside of lifting food to my mouth, so perhaps I need to buy some weights: dumbbells, or a heavier TV remote…
Actually, I think I’ve changed my mind. Has anybody seen a life around here that I can have after all?