The Thread

You might just possibly have noticed it: during the course of each post I write, something suggests itself to me as a possible topic for the next one.  It would be stretching it to claim that there was some kind of logical progression, but there is, I think, a common thread that somehow, through means known only to itself, binds this whole thing together; that meanders on from small aside to main theme along a passage all of its own making.  Mostly, it is not a conscious thing, generally I see it only when I bulk-edit at the end of a week, and I do not want to try to deceive you into thinking that it is always easy to spot.  I am notoriously easy to distract.  My head is full of crazy paving, the next slab could take me in any direction.  There are times when my imagination is tethered to the rational by a bungee rope.  The bridges that exist in my brain are often unsuitable for heavy traffic.  The building blocks are all in place, but the infrastructure has been designed by a three year old.

Nor, if I’m honest, is what occurs to me during the course of writing one piece necessarily anything to do with what is being written about.  My brain is seldom in one place at any one time.  What links one thing to another could be a delivery driver dragging me away from the keyboard, a news item enticing me away from ‘research’, a digger in the building site behind me that looks exactly like a praying mantis, ‘why is a bulldozer a bulldozer?’, ‘why do dragonflies suddenly appear to be the size of birds?’   Oh look, a squirrel… 

Almost inevitably, when I go into a piece with something to say, it is that which is edited out in the end.  This is intended to be a lightweight distraction, not a political or social tract, and I don’t do opinion very well.  It is actually very straightforward: it is not about growing old but how the world looks to someone who is growing old.  It is intended to raise a brief smile for those dozen or so brave souls who take the time to read it with any regularity.  As the world grows increasingly bleak, I feel ever more conscious that, both for my own health and for the integrity of a blog that claims to be ‘humour’, I need to ignore this grinding reality.  If you want news, you have The BBC; if you want gossip, you have social media*; and if you want to know why everything about the modern world is so shit, you have The Daily Mail.  So if you wonder why, as the world is falling down, I am discussing my aching knees or questioning why my ever growing ears should be getting incrementally less effective (and, incidentally, more hairy), that’s probably why.  And if you find yourself thinking ‘hasn’t he said that before?’ then the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’ and if I haven’t, well, you’ve got a lot of reading to do to prove me wrong.

As an old person you cease to expect anything new to happen to you, and when it does it will almost always require a scan.  I no longer embrace the new, I reluctantly adapt to it – like a new pair of pants.  I find that life enhancing gadgets are almost always far too confusing to use and, in any case, almost certainly promise to enhance something that I was, heretofore, unconscious of even possessing.  I suppose, in the fullness of time, I will let the fridge take over the food ordering, I will allow my car to drive me around and the banes of my life will become those of somebody else.  What will I write about then?  Doubtless a fridge full of pickled beetroot, waking up in County Durham when I was meant to be sleeping my way to the Co-op, the fact that inconti-pants are not what they used to be and whoever put my shirt on put the buttons at the back.  I will give up trying to make a point, satisfied merely that I can finish a sentence without forgetting why I started it.

Does it bother me?  Not really, because by the time it does, it won’t, and as long as nobody decides to delete my own last paragraph**, I’ll be happy…

*Whatever that is.

**In case you’re lost – and for that nobody would blame you – you could read ‘Lost in the Edit’ – it might explain, although somehow I doubt it…

Lost in the Edit

I have noticed in myself, of late, a dreadful tendency to take my own views very much too seriously.  It is becoming an all too common practice for me to truncate a post by cutting out the entire final – and unbearably preachy – paragraph because I am aware of how easily the written word can be misinterpreted – especially with my own dreadful standard of grammar.  A single comma in the wrong place can make the difference between irony and deep offence.  I am constantly teetering just a semi-colon away from a series of ‘isms’ so grievous that some of them may well not have been invented yet – except, of course, by the lawyers, who will be primed to suck the life out of both sides at a moment’s notice.  Whatever was in my head as these closing statements were written, had obviously vacated it by the time the words hit the paper and I am forced to burst my own self-important bubble by hitting the ‘Delete’ button on the final caffeine-drenched sentences for fear of finding myself (unfairly, I must stress) in the dock with Katy Hopkins and Piers Morgan.  How can a single paragraph written to, for instance, express my utter loathing of, let’s say racism, sound like something that was summarily cut from Mein Kampf on the grounds of extremism a mere twenty-four hours after it was written?

I am mono-lingual, but it has become apparent to me that my grip on the one language in which I am capable of writing, is tenuous at best.  The only blessing is that most of the time, I do manage to spot it before I publish.  What leaves my head as a simple truth, an undeniable fact, could hit WordPress as an incoherent, pompous rant were it not for my gift with the Delete button and the foresight to never presume that saying what I really think will ever sound like what I really think.  There are so many evils I would like to address, but I am painfully aware that I could only do so by sounding unbelievably pretentious or unforgivably glib.  Occasionally a joke can make a point, but only if somebody else is willing to see it.

Somehow this only ever really occurs in the final, concluding few sentences and almost always I can get by perfectly well by just cutting them out.  Reading my output commonly requires a kind of leap of faith that makes compensating for a missing paragraph an absolute doddle.  I am certain that many of you will have spotted this before now: a penultimate passage pointing unequivocally towards a point being made, but, in practice, finding itself merely abutting the final weak joke that was originally intended to make it clear that I realised that, although well-meaning, I was perfectly aware of the fact that I was talking tripe.

Except that I don’t think I am.  I think I am speaking the truth.  I am just expressing it very badly – and that is what I will tell the judge..

Anyway, I just felt that you should know, that if you feel a piece ends unduly abruptly or (heaven forfend) in a sentence that appears to have little to associate it with all that went before, that is probably why.  Embrace the fact that I have expunged it – not just from your copy, but also from mine – and it will never be spoken of again.  My views will not have changed (if ever you want to know, just ask) but I may well have just grown up enough to know that they are mine alone and that nobody else is in the least bit interested.

And when it all winds up without a joke?  Well I might have had to cut that too…

Carbuncles and Constipation

As a child, my mum taught me how important it is not to hate: to appreciate people simply because they are people, and that is how I have tried to build my life.  I try very hard not to be blind to colour, to race, to religion or sexuality, but to see them all and celebrate them equally.  Life is beautiful because of, and not despite its infinite variety.  Blindness to variety robs us of its beauty.  And yet I constantly fail my mum because I cannot completely turn my back on hate, and what I seem to hate the most is people who cannot turn their back on hate.  I am a twenty-first century man (admittedly in twentieth century clothes) and I hate the ‘isms’ and the idiots that perpetuate them, the hurters, the abusers, the exploiters and then, because hate is a very broad church, there is okra, pickled beetroot, people who stop unexpectedly just inside a shop doorway, people who walk slowly and diagonally in front of me when I am in a hurry, good chocolate abused by the infusion of orange, the mis-use of language, ‘peated’ whisky, litterers, loiterers, those who say ‘it is not my fault’, my inability to eat a Curly Wurly without losing teeth and many more:

  • a stone in my sock
  • the person ahead of me in the queue taking all three remaining doughnuts
  • internet banking
  • everybody in the Post Office queue
  • the itch that always develops in the arch of my foot at the start of a long car journey
  • the pronunciation of the letter ‘aitch’ with an ‘aitch’ at the start of it
  • ‘it was before my time…’
  • parents swearing at children
  • my mobile phone
  • my laptop
  • my inability to say ‘No’
  • my inability to say ‘Yes’
  • young, fit people who walk inexplicably slowly
  • the intolerance of others
  • life as a mirror
  • grit in my muesli
  • muesli in my teeth
  • brown teeth caused by black coffee
  • milk in my coffee
  • the knowledge that we are unconscious for one third of our lives – which keeps me awake at night
  • hiccups
  • I will forget what I want to say before I get the chance to say it
  • nobody cares about what I have to say

You are rational people.  I know that you will argue that the items listed above cannot be compared with one another, and I will wholeheartedly agree.  I must admit that I have a tendency to concentrate on the smaller scale hatreds, but I think that might even be my point: the scattergun nature of hate is as likely to take out an elephant as a mouse – and you would have to ask a mouse spouse which matters most.  There is no difference between the word to express extreme dislike of a vegetable and 50% of the human race.

I know, we all know for we are privileged and educated, that there are many words to describe types of hatred, but in the end it is still hatred, and it is still something we have to fight against.  Right, so you’re old, you’re feeling shit for any one of a million legitimate reasons, yet you have to watch a group of people being overtly young and happy: don’t you hate them?  Don’t you want to kick their shins?  Suck it in!  What you really want is to be them.  Embrace their joy.  Remember that you used to feel it too, before your hair fell out, before your tits fell below your knees and your prostate turned you into a gibbering slave.  Before you started calling the morning television presenters by their first names; before you started talking to the Sat-Nav; before you gave the Hoover a name.  If you can let it in, joy will easily overwhelm backache and dodgy knees.

Of course, there are those whom it is impossible to love and, for the majority of us who are less than holy, impossible not to hate.  I could give you a list, but you all know who I mean.  I am happy to feel this hate because, to tell the truth, I have no desire to be good enough to not feel it.  I need to believe that there are some people who can never be forgiven.  It is why we invented Hell (and it must be a human invention as an all-forgiving God would have no possible use for it) because we have to believe that, for some, there can only be eternal damnation and a Forever filled with carbuncles and constipation.

Sorry mum…

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Photo by Christian Mackie on Unsplash

There are two mirrors in my bathroom. In one of the mirrors I am fat. In the other mirror I am not fat – in that mirror I am old. Now, in reality, I am both fat and old, so I have become intrigued by the selective world-views of what are, in essence, two identical reflective surfaces. What prompts them to throw back at me two such startlingly different visions of my own visage? More to the point, which opinion should I trust? For opinion it must surely be. I realise that they may be lit slightly differently, but the job of a mirror, surely, is merely to bounce back (with the merest of delays whilst it transposes left and right) whatever hits it and what hits both of these two is the same face. Why, I wonder, would one of them take a look at me and think ‘fat’ whilst the other thinks ‘old’? However I light the bathroom, in daylight or in LED glow, what bounces back out of the glass surfaces remains unaltered. According to these reflectors, I am fat or old, but never both.

I do wonder why neither of them ever takes it upon themselves to make me look slim or young, but I’m guessing that’s a bridge too far – for a mirror.

I think it probably important to mention here that, as far as I can see, both of these mirrors are flat and unblemished. When I was a boy, no fairground was complete without a Hall of Mirrors. These mirrors curved and bowed and were meant to reflect images that were either short and fat or tall and slim. As I was, at that time, short, but exceedingly skinny, the results for me were less than impressive – making me look either of normal stature, but so thin that I barely registered, or of normal weight, having spent the last six months having carried a 10cwt anvil on my head. In achieving these contortions the mirrors were usually variously bowed to such an extent that the reflections were often doubled and unfocussed. By positioning oneself at a certain level, it was possible to achieve the vision of a huge, fat head leering out atop a normal sized, slightly retroussé body. One of my bathroom mirrors has got the hang of that one.

Obviously, I would like to check out my suspicions with somebody else, but the only other person available to me is my wife and I think that if I asked her whether she thought that the bathroom mirrors had developed an attitude, she would be on the phone to the crisis team quicker than you could say ‘stark staring mad’. So, I have only my own experience to fall back on. I have tried to trick the mirrors. I have jumped in front of them in an attempt to take them by surprise. I have sucked in my cheeks before looking in the ‘fat’ one. I have taken a ‘selfie’ of myself looking into the ‘old’ one. All to no avail. The ‘fat’ one makes me look fat and the ‘old’ one makes me look old. In each case a mere fifty percent of what I actually am.

There is, I must admit, a recently arrived alternative at my disposal. It is a back-lit, magnifying, make-up mirror that my wife has placed on the widow-sill. In that, I look fat, old and seriously mis-shapen. Occasionally I use it to put my contact lenses in. It appears that I am plopping a Pyrex bowl over some kind of jelly fish and I don’t like it.
So, for now, I will stick with the two mirrors I have. Whilst they both give me half-truths, I suppose that two half truths are better than one fat lie…

Mirror in the bathroom, please talk free
The door is locked – just you and me…
Mirror in the Bathroom – The Beat

How to look twenty years younger instantly: stand further away. Jeff Green

Hello, I am in here, where are you?


So this week, it seemed like a good idea for me to look in from out for a change, but, to tell the truth, now that I’ve set about it I am more than a little concerned that it might start to look like some kind of virtual mental breakdown. It’s not of course. It’s more of a cerebral self-help manual. It’s more a map that I haven’t drawn yet, of a place I’ve never seen, even though I’ve lived there all my life. You know the feeling you get sometimes; that if you could just explain to somebody else how something works, you might better understand it yourself? Well, this is me trying that and, if it’s anything like my last attempt, the tumble dryer may never work again.

I am the prisoner of a brain that can talk me into worry, but never out of it; that can talk me into rationality and then out of it using the same argument; that can talk me into panic in an instant, without ever once offering me a paper bag to breath in to. A brain that just goes its own way. Attempting to impose order and form onto it is about as fruitful as attempting to predict the future of some poor, benighted creature from the distribution of its gizzards across the eastbound lane of the dual carriageway. Except in the form of crow food, it doesn’t have one; any future it may once have been anticipating has been snuffed out by a speeding crossply. This is a brain for which the storage of trivia ranks higher than that of useful information; for which the ability to recall a face it saw just ten minutes ago must be sacrificed for the ability to remember who co-wrote the theme tune for some godawful 1970’s sit-com that was cancelled after the first series produced viewing figures that plunged deeper than the Titanic’s pianist. My memory isn’t bad, but like the timer on my central heating, it is eccentric.

I see my brain as an intricate maze: a labyrinth with a dunderhead Minotaur at its centre and a memory of some kind or other locked away in each lacklustre cul-de-sac. When I want to remember something, I have to navigate a path to find it, pick it up and find my way back without losing it on the way (or swapping it for a bag of magic beans) until I find somewhere where I can make use of it. It’s very easy to find the wrong dead-end, pick up entirely the wrong memory and, having latched onto that, find that I can no longer find my way back with it. Nor can I put it down. Like one of those little plastic toys you sometimes get in a Christmas cracker, my head is a network of dead ends and my thoughts are ball-bearings that are hell-bent on falling down the wrong hole in the wrong place. No matter how far I tilt my head, I still cannot find the right way through.

There are times when I am certain that my mind does not belong to me; when my brain makes decisions that I would never make. I am forever engaged in a battle with my own head, trying to persuade myself against whatever it is I am actually trying to persuade myself to do. If I desperately do not want to do something (visit the toilet on a train is the obvious ‘something’ that no-one in their right mind would ever want to do) my brain ensures that not only do I actually want to do it, I have to do it. Desperately. Sadly, whatever hoops my brain then throws itself through, it cannot persuade me that it has made a mistake. It cannot persuade me that I do not urgently need to do what sanity tells me I do not want to do, simply because I cannot do it. Like the atomic bomb in a James Bond movie, once the digital timer is set, it cannot be unset. Worse, the more I try and point the neurons in one direction, the more determined they become to grab their beach towels and head off in the other, dragging my body along for the ride.

There are some redeeming features to my neurological eccentricities. I can, for instance, read a book a million times and still enjoy it like the first time. It is not that I do not absorb as I read. It is not even that I forget what I have read previously. It is just that, along the way, different ball-bearings fall into different little holes and the same memories are triggered in different ways. I know what is coming, where I am going, but the journey remains just as interesting each time I take it. What I actually think each time I pick up a familiar book is ‘Oh yes, I am going to enjoy this.’ And I do. If required to, I could recall exactly what happened in pretty much every book I have ever read (with the possible exception of The Da Vinci Code, which, more than forging an indelible blank in my memory actually created a black hole the size of Westminster Abbey) but, for some reason I am unable to fathom, I have to coerce various synapses into allowing the information through by sheer force of will and bribery. I am the same with TV and film: knowing that a film is scary does not stop it scaring me; knowing that a joke is coming does not stop it making me laugh. It’s really not so weird, is it? I’ve eaten carrot cake a million times (you only have to look at me to know that that is true) and yet I always know exactly how much I am going to enjoy the next slice – even if it winds up being Tiramisu…