Another Dose of the ‘B’ Word


My wife will always give me a straight answer to a straight question – although not necessarily to the question I have actually asked:
‘What time are we due at your sister’s?’
‘I have to go to the supermarket to buy some nail scissors.’
Clearly the answer to a question. Obviously I have just asked the wrong one. Although my wife is the complete antithesis of a political animal, this is truly politics in action.

It strikes me that every time I see a politician on TV, they are very keen to answer all questions fully and honestly – just not the questions they are being asked. They enter the interview with a shiny set of answers that they are determined to deliver and they crowbar them in however they can. How often do you hear, ‘With great respect* I think you’re actually asking the wrong question here. What you should really be asking is the question to which I have already prepared an answer.’?

Now, if we’re honest, we all go into conversations from time to time with a predetermined schedule of what we want to say. Often the twists and turns of dialogue can rob us of the opportunity to get our point across and we are faced with the decision to ‘sheath the knife’ and sit on our opinions for a while or to steer the discussion, by hook or by crook, back along the path into which we can throw in our own two penn’orth. The sensible thing is to let the conversation meander on wherever it will; to be swept along by it; to be absorbed by the sinuous inanity of inconsequentiality and to bask in the glow of going precisely nowhere, although by the most decorous of routes. Rational argument is so overrated. No-one will be persuaded to abandon their own point of view anymore than you will be persuaded to abandon yours. Argument, although occasionally fun, is generally fruitless.

Time is what makes the difference. Time is what gives us the space to reflect upon own mistakes, and it is this reflection that leads to new realisations and possibly allows a change of mind – especially if nobody else can remember what you said in the first place.

I would refer you to my article Brexit (November 2018) as an example of how it is possible to be simultaneously so wrong about so many things on so many levels.

We have all realised by now that all arguments about Brexit are spurious: that in Brexit we have actually created a sentient beast. Brexit is no longer a means to an end: it is itself both means and end. We can only look on, confounded, as it goes on its merry way. Arguing ourselves around corners will get us nowhere. That horse has bolted. Its stable door cannot be closed – it has been made into a fashionable table-top for someone who has become tired of eating from glass and chrome and is in need of something so impractical that it just oozes wealth. It is impossible to make sense of something that can make none. I now realise that Brexit is like all other mythical beasts – everyone knows what it looks like, but in no two imaginations does it look the same. Like the legend of Dracula, we all vaguely believe in it, even though we know that it is utter nonsense. The rules that make its existence a possibility do not themselves exist. In centuries to come it will be viewed alongside witches, mermaids and unicorns. Like Brigadoon it will rear its ugly little head every hundred years or so, unchanged and unfulfilled, before disappearing once again, taking everyone that gives a monkey’s with it.

Anyway, the reason that this has all come to mind is because of the sheer volume of ‘Brexit Interviews’ I am currently being force-fed in which the interviewee will answer any question put to them, provided it is the one for which they have prepared the answer. And, since nobody truly has the answers to any of the questions we all actually want to ask, what is being replayed a thousand times a day, is a series of interviews in which the interviewer and interviewee do not actually need to be sharing the same planet, let alone the same studio, so disassociated is the input of one from the other.

And for those of you who do not live in the UK I can only say ‘yes, it clearly is some form of mass-hysteria and, in answer to your question, the nail scissors are in the tin on the garage windowsill…’

* To be precise, with absolutely none at all, obviously…

Hello, I am from Britain, you know, the one that got tricked by a bus – Ahir Shah

The Issue of My Splitting Finger-Nail (make of it what you will)

finger nail
This is not my nail. It belongs to a much slimmer finger. But you get the idea…

I have this finger-nail (right hand, middle finger, since you ask) and it has the ongoing habit of splitting from centre tip to centre quick (and, again, since you ask, yes it is both bloody painful and bloody annoying). It has been maintained during the last two or three years with the regular application of superglue and micropore but, in this way, I am merely able to cover, not mend, the crack. Very occasionally, the split grows out and when I trim the nail it comes off in one piece instead of two. For a short while it then looks like any other nail on any other hand – except that it still has a thin white line that spreads from top to bottom, along which it almost inevitably, re-splits.

It is my very own Catch 22: it splits because I catch it and I catch it because it splits. I suppose this tendency must have always been there, but lately it seems that repairs to the existing fabric have become increasingly futile.

So, it occurred to me that the answer might be to have the nail removed, with, I must admit, no real idea of how I might go about getting it done, and with an unpalatably high level of uncertainty as to what might be the eventual consequence of such an action. Jumping into anything with no real idea of how it might be achieved, nor what will be the eventual outcome, is never bright, is it? So, I should, of course, attempt to canvas opinion. But what if the general consensus is that complete removal would be the preferred option, even though nobody can explain to me how I might go about getting such a procedure performed, nor where this action may eventually take me finger-nail wise? Would my currently normally keratined hand become:
• Eternally four-nailed
• Eventually five-nailed – with four ‘normal’ and one malformed
• Eventually five-nailed – with four ‘normal’ and one that is, in some ill-defined sort of way, ‘different’
• Eventually five-nailed – with five ‘normal’ but with one of them still continually prone to splitting?

I must admit that, having spoken to others, I have been surprised by the passions stirred by the fate of my splitting nail and even more by how quickly concerns move on from my simple finger-nail dilemma to all manner of associated keratinous anxieties. Arguments have raged in various increments of rancour, from finger-nail splits, through general finger-nail woes, to common toe-nail maladies, on to all manner of podiatric ailments and eventually, through some unknown conduit, onto ringworm. Every possible variantial hypothesis has been pondered whilst the original nub has become side-lined and ignored. The question of the split in my finger-nail and the possibility of its imminent removal from its integral digit, it seems, can only be resolved consequent upon detailed discussion of the advisability of treating Dhobi’s Itch with Tea Tree Oil.

Meanwhile, the split continues to develop. I fear that, even when the ongoing finger-nail situation is resolved (by summary removal; by considered expurgation after firm assurances of satisfactory re-growth or by the miraculous discovery and application of some alternative remedy that negates the need for removal and reverses the division with no adverse reactions vis-à-vis the rest of the hand) I will never feel the same again about my middle finger. It will be somehow different to the rest of my digits, but no longer in a way that might be celebrated. Having flagged it’s disaffection to the other fingers, it will be forever treated with indifference by Peter Pointer, Pinkie and Index Finger: everlastingly reminded it of its own tendency to general flakiness – well, that’s the way it works in my mind anyway.

So, if I possibly can, I’d really like to keep my nail. I’d like to keep my hand pretty much as it is today. I’d like all of my fingers to work together without the fear that one of them might start to react differently when faced with the prospect of being e.g. trapped in a kitchen drawer. That getting cold or getting hot will not provoke it to down tools and consequently drop the whisky tumbler. I can’t continue glueing over the crack, but I also would not consider extraction without at least some assurance that it is all going to work out well in the long run. In any case, I need to do something soon. It’s been dragging on for so long now. The days of twiddling my thumbs must soon come to an end.

If ANYONE has a solution at their fingertips, I would be thrilled to hear it.

A Wingful of Eyes*

wingful of eyes

It’s amazing how often you have to go back to the beginning in order to find the end.

More often than not I begin to write with no clear concept of where I’m going. About half way through I begin to get some kind of clue of what I am trying to say and, by the time I begin to understand the point towards which I am painfully inching, I find that it has been there right from the start.

When you write, whatever you write, there are only three places you can be: the past, the present or the future. The past is ok, but it requires such a lot of research. Everything is checkable. Everything is verifiable. Everything is refutable. Even if the past is only used as a backcloth, it has to be correct. There will always be someone to tell you if it is not. The way I write, I tend to focus whatever concentration I can muster onto the voices rattling around inside my head. These internal conversations lead to everything else and when they take wing, it is a little too easy for me to take my eye off the factual ball. I don’t want to know that he couldn’t have switched the kettle on as electric kettles had not been invented at that date or she couldn’t have hidden the samovar in her knickers as no-one wore them then: the concentration necessary to get the background right would mean that I would have no chance of keeping up with the narrative popping around inside my skull. I would become the poor man’s AJP Taylor – and, for my money, one of those is quite enough. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If you want to read what can be done by gloriously mixing together fact and fiction (both your own and that of others) have a gander at ‘W.G.Grace’s Last Case’ by the magnificent William Rushton and understand why I avoid even the slimmest chance of comparison with him like the plague.

The present, I find, is such a difficult tense to write in. The grammatical hoops through which one has to jump, chew you up (I know, I know, but these hoops can chew) and spit you out. Most fiction written in the here-and-now is actually written in the past tense (as, intriguingly is most fiction set in the future) because it makes things so much easier. The present is, however, a great place to write because it needs relatively little research – unless the taxman is reading, when it needs loads. I know what happens if I switch the kettle on – it blows the fuse because I never remember to put any water in it; I know what happens if I get on the number 9 bus – I arrive two hours later than planned, on the other side of town to my destination, with a fungal infection I most certainly did not have on departure. There are few constraints to setting your work in the present, for a start, most of us have absolutely no idea of what is actually going on, so we have no factual basis for saying ‘Hang on a minute, that would never happen’, and therefore opportunities to tamper with reality (or something similar to it) are almost limitless. You cannot deny that Donald trump is currently President of the United States of America, but I defy you to find any good, solid proof that he is not an alien lizard.

Push hard enough against the present and you will fetch up against the future. It waits in store for all of us: we are all heading towards the self-same exit door, but we will not all reach it at the same time. But (and this, I have just decided, is my point) what we do all gain with age is the belief that we can see how things are going – that having seen where they have been, we are somehow more able to understand what lies ahead. In that, we are, most of us, sadly deluded. Just take a glance at Brexit (sorry): whichever way it ends up going, whatever the eventual outcome, vast swathes of us will have been proven wrong in our prophecies of doom or in our visions of a golden tomorrow. That’s just the way it is. Few of us can assemble our experiences of today and somehow use them to accurately predict the shape of tomorrow. There are, of course, exceptions. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ for instance, was written in the past, predicting a future that, for much of the world is now the present. The world is full of Big Brothers, China alone (it would seem) has a million Room 101’s. However, for every prediction of thoughtcrime we have one of a world ruled by mutant frogs. The thing about the future, it seems to me, is that it is actually just the past dressed up in a different way. The uniform has altered, but the righteousness of incontestable ‘truth’ remains unhindered. There will always be those that ‘do’; there will always be those who control those that ‘do’, and there will always be those that ‘do’ those that control those that ‘do’.

Maybe the ability to predict the future relies simply on the ability to observe the past and to understand just how, exactly, it evolved into the present. Change the names, throw in a pacifying drug, a constantly wittering radio companion, an overarching discipline, a war-mongering despot, a gullible proletariat, a never-ending war, a totalitarian regime and Presto! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the future. As I say, it’s amazing how often you have to go back to the beginning in order to find the end.

There is a feeling we all know
Something happened long ago
When you remember who you were
Makes you what you are today
*‘Wingful Of Eyes’ – Gong (M. Howlett)

Waiting for the Gas Man


close up photography of brass hot faucet

…So, the clocks have gone forward and, true to form, the boiler has seized the opportunity to cease to function. I am sitting, swaddled in woollen cardigan, whilst the ensuing privations plunge me back into an ocean of golden-hued rememberings of austere youth. You see, the gas boiler provides all of the hot water in our house and, until the man appears to fix it, all showers and baths (unless you fancy a cold one) are out of the question. It will soon be 24 hours since I showered and I am beginning to feel it. We have had no visitors today, not even the post lady, and I am beginning to wonder whether somebody has daubed ‘unclean’ on the front door. I find myself thrown back to the Saturday afternoon football matches of my youth. I can still remember the smell of the buses on the way home: a gentle collation of cigarette smoke, beer and, most of all, sweat. I remember the smell of sweat. Like an olfactory scent-track, it is the remembered aroma of sweat, somehow devoid of the acrid tang of body odour, that casts me back to childhood.

…Sunday night was bath night in our house. This meant that even in the summer, the fire was banked up and the ‘damper’ turned so that, by some process unfathomable to the six year old brain, hot water was produced. My brother and I shared a bath, a plastic bath rack across the middle to stop squabbling. A quick once over with Wright’s Coal-Tar Soap* and Vosene Shampoo before a towel-wrapped dash down the stairs to be dried in front of the coal fire. And no shower. The nearest we ever got to a shower was one of those rubber hose things; a sprinkler rose on one end and two connectors on the other that slipped over the taps. It took a good five minutes to adjust the taps, getting the water temperature just right before you turned the spray onto your hair, accidentally pulling the rubber connector from the cold tap – scalding your scalp whilst simultaneously flooding the bath with freezing water.

And the cold… I can feel the cold today. No central heating. In winter, save for the isolated pools of heat around the fire, most of the house was barely warmer than outside. Colder, sometimes, if linoleum* floors were involved. Who can forget the sensation of waking in a freezing bedroom; frost on the inside of the windows; crushed by the weight of the woollen blankets that separated you from the seeping hoar. And on top of it all, the Candlewick bedspread*. Always a candlewick bedspread: wherever you went, wherever you slept, always a candlewick bedspread. A bit like Rubik’s cube, one day everybody had one, the following day they were gone. Where did they all go? They died under the unremitting advance of the ‘Continental Quilt’. Perhaps they will return after Brexit…

Coldest of all was the trek to the toilet: through the quarry-tiled kitchen, out of the back door, along an unlit outside corridor, past the coalhouse and into the barely lit sanctuary of the privy. Why it wasn’t moved into the upstairs bathroom I do not know. This was the early 60’s. A toilet inside the house was still considered slightly outré and quite possibly not something that the powers-that-be considered desirable for council house tenants. I remember my parents being quite proud of the fact that it wasn’t quite outdoors. If it was raining, you didn’t actually get wet reaching it. It was to daddy-long-legs what the Serengeti was to wildebeest. It was patrolled by spiders of a size that would have troubled cats. It was also very cold and in the winter the water in the bowl did have a tendency to freeze, potentially leading to all manner of untoward morning incident.

Between the coal house and the toilet was a whitewashed windowless room that my mum referred to as the scullery. In it stood a tall propane container attached to a circular gas burner that sat beneath a copper barrel in which clothes were boiled. I remember the washing was taken out of the boiling tub and squeezed through the old wooden mangle before being hung out to dry; outside in the summer and in the scullery in the winter. I recall that the scullery always smelled of wet laundry and that my clothes always smelled of wet scullery. Most of all, I recollect the look of pride on my mum’s face when she left the ‘copper’ behind and invited the neighbours around to introduce them to the new Hoovermatic twin-tub washing machine that was housed in the kitchen. She demonstrated how clothes were washed in one side of the machine before being lifted out of the scalding water with a pair of wooden tongs and dropped into the spinner, where they were spun to within an inch of their life. Meanwhile the washing machine bucked and rhumba’d around the kitchen taking chunks out of the plaster, the furniture and the back of your head if you weren’t on your toes; slopping boiling water all over the floor because no-one had remembered to drain it by dropping the little hooked pipe over the side of the sink and pumping out the water prior to the spin.

Now, I realise that I am beginning to sound like one of Monty Python’s Four Yorkshiremen, but it just occurred to me how bereft I feel for the lack of something that my parents never for one second felt the lack of. Hot water at the turn of the tap, every time, with no prior groundwork; a winter home that inside is actually not colder than the outside; inside loos, automatic washing machines, dishwashers and a million other things I haven’t even thought of yet, none of which we need, all of which we feel keenly when we don’t have. And what really bothers me is that it only feels like yesterday that we didn’t have them, didn’t need them, didn’t necessarily even consider them desirable. It makes me realise that yesterday wasn’t necessarily better than today: that the here and now has much to commend it. Unless, of course, today you’re still waiting for the gas man…

*If you’re unsure, ask somebody, anybody, over the age of 60. They’ll explain.



I know that some of you will feel that this is a very serious subject and that it is wrong to make jokes about it.  You’re right, of course.  I would normally avoid publishing something that I know is going to put some backs up, but it’s there isn’t it: the elephant in the room, and I feel I have to tackle it.  It’s not going away.  If you feel strongly about it, I can only ask that you pass me by this week and come back to me next week, when normal service will be resumed…

I re-wrote this yesterday; I re-wrote it twice again today.  Tomorrow it will be completely out of date.  How is it that something that has dragged on for so long keeps changing so quickly?  It’s like watching a very long chess match without noticing that they keep changing to Frustration (with only the clatter of the Pop-o-Matic dice to give the game away).  It’s hard to keep up.  There’s no point in watching the news: they’re more confused than I am.  Please don’t judge me until you’ve checked the publication date – then just shake your head and sadly say ‘If only he knew…’ because clearly, I didn’t.  I realise that this rather sad and watered-down little polemic is somewhat outside of my self-proclaimed remit, but, as it is impossible to ignore Brexit here, I thought I might as well chip in with my own two penn’orth…


So, at the risk of alienating in excess of fifty percent of you, I am going to come clean.  I voted Remain.  I believed then, as I believe now, that it was the correct decision.  However, I also believe that I live in a democracy and that within a democracy I was outvoted, so there we are.  I am a married man – I am used to it.  Like getting older, Brexit is not something that I particularly want, but it is something that I will learn to live with, picking out such good bits as I can.  Like rummaging through a bag of Revels and hoping to get the Malteaser.

Right, so having got that off my chest, I can move on more or less unburdened, to consider what Brexit might actually mean for you and me.  As a person who knows absolutely nothing about the complexities of the whole process, I feel that I am uniquely qualified to do this.  Anybody that understands it, will try to find sense in it and, let’s face it, there is none.  Now, before we begin, I must admit that almost all of my statistical facts come from the BBC News website which, according to your standpoint, makes this short farrago either exceedingly biased or completely neutral.  Furthermore, given that my fact-checking can be a little remiss and that I do have a disturbing tendency to believe anything I am told as complete truth, my capacity for the asinine is comprehensive. On a scale that runs from ‘Incontrovertible Truth’ to ‘Downright Lie’, I guess that the veracity of my statements must be rated somewhere in the region of ‘Wikipedia’: possibly – just possibly – within touching distance of truth, but not something that you would want to cling on to when the good ship Certainty starts to go down.  Which it clearly has.  Nor can I truly be so vain as to claim all of my opinions as strictly my own.  My brain is a sponge.  Frequently, what I espouse as my very own honestly-held opinion, turns out to be, unknown to me, a throw-away comment made by Paul Merton and shown in a compilation of all the bits from Have I Got News For You that weren’t funny enough for the original broadcast even when they were topical, some six months ago.

So, let’s fly into this head-on then.  Short of having another referendum, which is actually gaining currency as I write (but with no apparent regard for whether the EU would now want us back) it appears that, like it or not, Brexit will probably happen, as it would take an Act of Parliament to stop it – and I can’t see them agreeing on that either.  So, as you were…  Perhaps we should begin then by looking at what I believe are our two possible modes of exit from the EU.  As far as I understand it, what we are seeking is a deal that would ensure that we retain all the benefits of being an EU member, whilst incurring none of the costs – not entirely likely in all honesty – especially given that our Franco/German cousins fervently believe that they already fund all the good bits whilst we eat all the glacé cherries off the top.  Anyhow, this pie-in-the-sky option is known as ‘Soft Brexit’ and is every bit as likely as Donald Trump nominating someone for high office who has not been accused of sexual impropriety. 

The alternative mode of exit, as you might expect, is known as ‘Hard Brexit’.  This would entail the UK leaving the EU without any sort of deal to ensure that we maintain a close working and trading relationship with the rest of Europe. This situation is considered the ideal by some and a disaster by others.  Now, I remember the predicted ‘disaster’ that was the Millennium Bug: a year 2000 computer glitch that was going to plunge the whole world into darkness, bring aeroplanes crashing down from the sky and generally send the human race spiralling back into the Stone Age.  I had my candles, my bottled water, my toasting fork and my thick sliced bread ready, but it didn’t happen.  Nothing happened.  Stuff just trundled on as it had before, civilization did not collapse, Ryanair continued to disgorge passengers at airports that were at least approximately on the same continent as the advertised destination, computers stuttered on as ever before, opening the wrong thing at the wrong time and deleting entire documents at the merest touch of the Return Key, and the prophets of doom were all left feeling just a little bit sheepish (except, it has to be said, for those who had bought one of those very expensive ‘perpetual calendar’ watches, only to discover that, thanks to unforeseen millennial circumstances, they would not be correct again until 3036, which, incidentally, would be around the time that they could expect to find the setting instructions, in the bread bin, under a vacuum-packed Naan Bread).  I suspect following Brexit things will continue in much the same way as they did before it.  We will see neither great loss nor great gain.  We will do as we have always done: keep calm, put the kettle on and pretend that there was nothing scary in the first place.  All will be well as long as it is still possible to buy fresh Greek olives, a nice wedge of Brie and a bottle of Rioja from the local supermarket.  I wonder if, post-Brexit, we would be able to persuade the good vintners of Champany to market their product as ‘Fizzy French Wine’ in the UK.  I’m really not certain that the possibility of a wine war is something I am prepared to lose sleep over.  Honestly, if you really want something to be frightened of, please allow me to suggest that the idiot in the White House might just be a better place to start.

Let’s suppose that we decide upon a Hard Brexit; what would we do then?  Would we pull up the drawbridge, suspend the ferries and brick up the Channel Tunnel?  Would we refuse to eat anything that had not been boiled for weeks?  Would we stop playing boules and return to ‘chucking little metal balls around on the beach’?  We have to be honest with ourselves, what we really want is, one by one, the other twenty-seven member states to come to us, cap in hand, asking to join the UK. 

I realise that the absence of a trade deal might mean that goods coming into the UK could become more expensive.  Presumably goods leaving the UK similarly so.  That being the case, so the argument goes, we may no longer be able to sell our goods in Europe at all.  So why can’t we sell them here – in place of all the stuff from over there that we can no longer afford?  I know, I know, it’s not that easy.  I know.  I just don’t know why.  Anyway, I saw ‘The Bus’ during the referendum campaign and, let’s face it, we’re all going to be really rich after Brexit aren’t we…

What the fevered political hacks seem to forget is that the average human being is a fairly resourceful cove.  One thing you can rely on with a human is that when an obstacle is placed in front of him/her, he/she will very quickly find a way around it.  You see, now, as in 2000, I think that we will actually notice very little day-to-day difference in our lives.  The government may change, but then it does that from time to time anyhow and, honestly, how much do most of us actually notice?  Different faces, same lies.  The TV and the newspapers will have to find other things to obsess about, and the world will continue to turn as it does today; the sun will still rise in the morning and we will continue to regret every decision we ever make almost as soon as we make it – whatever that decision may be. There is neither right nor wrong, merely the commitment to get on with things as best we can and hope that, in the long run, things will turn out for the better.  It doesn’t help, I think, that the media continually refers to the whole process as a divorce, which implies, in my own very limited experience, that we will wind up not talking to one another and communicating through a third party whenever it’s our turn to have the kids for the weekend.

Now, I will admit that there has been turmoil already, but it is political turmoil, not proper strife.  Politicians jostling for position, attempting to prove themselves vital to their own domestic audience – it’s not real trouble is it?  Theatrical posturing and opportunistic point scoring: what politician could resist the opportunity to air his/her views on TV without being forced to defend his/herself against accusations of disgraceful behaviour towards some closet-bound skeleton of thirty years ago?  And anyhow, has any of this actually affected your day-to-day life in any way, other than leaving you with the vague, uneasy feeling that you have become an audience member at some time-warp Coliseum, waiting to see which bloody gladiator will be the last man standing?  (No female Gladiators: less enlightened times.)   You see, all that I know about negotiation is that it requires compromise and that neither side ends up with everything they originally wanted.  There can be no negotiating position from which you cannot move – that is not negotiating.  Neither side is ever 100% happy with the result of a negotiated deal, but, usually, both sides are 100% happy that they have got one.  How can it be possible to negotiate any deal when 50% are pre-determined to vote it down because it goes too far, whilst the other 50% are pre-determined to vote it down because it does not go far enough?  Surely there comes a time when ‘possible’ trumps ‘desirable’.  It is not possible to go in two directions at the same time (I know this having once been caught equidistantly between the chip shop and the pub).

One of the oddest things to have emerged over the period of the negotiations is that whilst many in the UK voted Leave on the understanding that we would be able to attain greater control over our borders and thus reduce immigration, we are now persuaded that the biggest concern we will have post-Brexit, is that we will not have enough immigrant workers in order for the economy to function. Who will work in shops, restaurants, hotels, care homes?  Who will pick the fruit and veg?  Who picks the fruit and veg where the migrants come from?  Who used to pick it here?  Who looks after their elderly and infirm?  (Their family and friends?  How very primitive.)  I’m not certain the EU was ever actually intended to be the cheap labour equivalent of the Tesco Clubcard in the first place.  Perhaps if we inhibit the activities of ‘foreign’ fruit-pickers in the UK (meaning that we would all be unable to afford our 5-a-day, consequent upon having to pay our own fruit-pickers something approaching the minimum wage) they will presumably, in turn, ban all of our students from picking their grapes and getting pissed on the proceeds.

And that’s another thing; will we even be able to visit Europe in the future?  Apparently, European travel may become more difficult following Brexit.  Really?  When I leave the country now, I still require my passport to get wherever I am going and, ultimately, to get back again.  Unless there is some sort of special provision for me alone, then I presume that the same applies to everybody else.  Currently you cannot get into or out of the UK without a valid passport and that’s not going to change once we leave the EU and our passports become a different colour.  (Can I make a plea here that, when we start to get our new passports, they get rid of the biometric bit – gaffer tape over it or something – as it never works for me anyway and I always end up back-pedalling out of the little electric gate thing so that I can visit the rather stern looking lady in the slightly above eye level booth at the end of the room instead.)  I am fairly confident that the good people of Europe will continue to accept our freshly printed Euros in exchange for all manner of freshly minted goods and services. People used to travel quite successfully around Europe before we joined the ‘Common Market’.  We all know that as human beings, when we are thrown together by circumstance, by and large we get on.  We have shared experiences regardless of race and culture.  When we struggle to communicate we mime and we laugh at our mutual inability to make ourselves understood.  We share our sweets, show one another photo’s of our grandchildren and grimace together at our world leaders whenever they appear on the TV.  One way or another, we will continue to go there and attempt to ‘educate them’ about why our way of doing things is (obviously) better, whilst ‘they’ will continue to come here to eat fish and chips, have their photo’s taken in the bucketing rain and put the jam and the cream on their scones in completely the wrong order.

In short, whether you voted Leave or you voted Remain and whatever the conclusion of the negotiations about the manner of our withdrawal, I believe that for you and I things will barely change.  Our cousins across the channel will continue to be as baffled by us as we are by them and, despite the wedge that will inevitably be driven between us, we will forever be the closest of neighbours and, as long as we can speak to them very loudly and very slowly, the best of friends.


As ever, I find the greatest ‘gift’ that old age has actually brought to me is uncertainty: am I right? Will things really be ok?  Well, I certainly hope so because there is one group of people whose tomorrows will be forever affected by our ham-fisted tinkerings of today, and they are the people who did not get the opportunity to vote at all when we exercised our great democratic right to determine the future. They are the people who will have to live that future: the young.  Our young.  Our future.


…it has just occurred to me that you may be reading this anywhere in the world and that you may not have the faintest idea of what Brexit is all about. Don’t worry, neither do we.  I would also like to apologise to anyone I may have offended this week – except for Mr Trump, who definitely needs a bee up the bustle if you ask me…


Although I expect it is almost impossible to get hold of it now, I cannot recommend highly enough a book called ‘The Reluctant Euro – Rushton Versus Europe’ by the late, great William Rushton.  Written after the 1975 referendum (in which we voted Remain incidentally) it is wildly out-of-date, wildly non-pc and yet still very, very funny.  If you can get hold of a copy (it is full of wonderful illustrations so an e-reader won’t cut it, it has to be an old-fashioned paper book I’m afraid) I can only implore you to do so.



I have a bike.  It is not a super-lightweight racing machine with slick tyres the thickness of knife-blades. It is a cheap, heavy mountain bike with tyres like a tractor. It has, of course, never been anywhere near a mountain. It has generally been pushed, not ridden, up the gentlest of inclines by its shagged-out rider.  It has never, to my knowledge, borne a thin, lycra-clad athlete. It carries a fat man in jeans. The fat man is me and it is an immutable fact that whatever I may do, I am a fat man doing it.  We are irrevocably conjoined by some weird symbiosis of thought, my weight and I: Colin McQueen/Fat, like Nelson Mandela/Hope, Usain Bolt/Fast, Idris Elba/James Bond, James Blunt/Turn That Bloody Racket Off!  I know I should take more exercise.  I know I should lose some weight.  Every expert on every TV program tells me so.  Every expert on TV makes me feel bad about myself.  I’ve got to be honest; the fact that the government tells me that I need to cut down on sugar, fat and alcohol is unlikely to sway me. This is the same government that tells me the health service is not in crisis, schools are better than ever before and that Brexit really does mean Brexit – whatever it is that Brexit means… 

I have calculated my BMI – 25.6, which means that I am overweight. Now, I put most of this down to my height.  If I was taller I wouldn’t be overweight.  I have considered hanging from a doorway in order to decrease my BMI. Frighteningly, I appear to have actually shrunk by an inch over the last twenty years, although I prefer to think that my tape measure may have stretched.  In fact, I still reach the same point on the garage wall – but I put that down to subsidence.  I eat less than I once did and I exercise more, but I still put on weight.  I don’t believe that any of this can be blamed upon a somnambulant thyroid (although, having said that, like an idiot I have just looked up the symptoms of an under-active thyroid, and I discover that I have them all).  For the time being, until I can get an appointment at the doctor’s (I’m free in March if she is) I am perfectly happy to lay the blame at the door of Messrs. Cake, Gin and Chocolate.  The answer is, I know, to exercise even more and eat even less.  Perhaps if I exercise enough, I won’t have time to eat.  Like most overweight people, I would like to lose a bit.  Like most overweight people, I know that the only way to do so is to ‘do’ more and to consume less.  Like most overweight people, I choose to do neither.  I’m not obscenely fat, but I am of a build that allows me two choices when buying a ‘T’ shirt: something that resembles a Bedouin tent or something that looks like it has been spray-painted onto a lifebuoy. My weight dictates my behaviour: I dare not enter a swimming pool without first checking for Ahab.

You see, I have reached the age when I look at the obituaries and think, “My goodness, that’s no age,” when I used to think “Oh well, he/she had a good innings.”  And I’m tired of hearing about people who were the “healthiest person I have ever met” just one day before they dropped down dead.  I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t take up any new form of exercise once you’ve passed 50 years of age.  Problem is, what do you do if your last real exercise was kiss-chase in the school playground?   The real challenge when commencing a new exercise regime at my age is finishing it conscious.  Like some of the medications I now take daily, one of the less desirable side-effects of exercise is death.

My mum couldn’t cook; she could burn water.  Combining the correct quantities of cornflakes and milk in a bowl was, for her, a culinary triumph.  But she loved a diet; the faffier and faddier the better.  Meals that had to be meticulously weighed and prepared really appealed – but not for long.  Unusual ingredients were always a bonus – particularly if she couldn’t find them anywhere.  “I looked everywhere, but nobody had Patagonian cumquats, so I bought a pie.” I remember her doing a diet in which she ate nothing but grapefruit.  Presumably you lose weight because the only thing you are allowed to eat is completely inedible.  One of the true benefits of taking statins is that I no longer even have to contemplate a glass of grapefruit juice with my holiday breakfast.  Scales were pounded weekly, daily, hourly and if there was no loss, exercise might be taken – normally a stroll around the block or, on Fridays, to the chip shop.  For my mum, a diet began on a Monday and ended on a doughnut.

My own approach to dieting is equally haphazard: I try to eat less, I try to drink less and I try to eat only at meal times.  And I eat fruit.  Tons of fruit, which my largely fruitless upbringing led me to believe was good for me, but which the experts now tell me is too high in sugar.  What happened to “an apple a day” and all that? I’m waiting for the for the catchy couscous or bulgar wheat epigrams, but they don’t appear to be forthcoming. No “do’s” only “don’ts”. Can you imagine your mum telling you forty years ago that drinking a litre of green slime a day would be good for you?  The nearest we got to a ‘Supergreen Smoothie’ was a pot of mushy peas.  And yet, as kids, we were all so skinny.  The only child in our class who carried above average ‘timber’ was known as ‘fatty’ for the rest of his life.  He was revered by all because he learned to sweat before the rest of us.  I was like a walking X-Ray: a badly assembled jumble of skin and bone.  I looked like somebody had tried to get me onto a Ryan Air flight as hand luggage by turning me inside out and emptying me.  My grandma, a Manchester woman who did not consider food to be of any value at all unless it “gave you a lining” had a mission in life to “put some meat” on me.  Sadly she didn’t see it, but in the long term, she succeeded…