In Lieu of Nothing in Particular

So, I wrote a piece yesterday, that I intended to publish today, but I really didn’t like it. I had taken time over it. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, and it was about as appealing as a Channel Four documentary about Mick Hucknall, featuring interviews with Mick Hucknall, conducted by Mick Hucknall and, consequently, it has been deleted.

I now have to think about starting again with nothing much to say (I know, it has never stopped me before).

Hunt Emerson Super Nigel Best print
The reason for all of this: Hunt Emerson’s cartoon for ‘The Globe-Trotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt’

There are two positive aspects to this current state of affairs. First and foremost, it has given me an excuse to use this wonderful and recently re-discovered (in a box in the attic) cartoon by Hunt Emerson. I found it as I was completing my office ‘restructure’ and it has been sitting in front of me ever since, shouting, ‘Use me!’ It was originally published in The Radio Times almost forty years ago, to announce the arrival of a new radio serial which I co-wrote and appeared in. (The first thing I wrote that was ever properly used.)  I do not know who wrote the attached caption, but I presume that he/she went on to a long career in conveyancing*. I had considered it long-lost and as it does at least tie in nicely with the previous couple of posts, I could not resist the opportunity to share it. As it originally appeared in a mass-consumption magazine, a copy of which I purchased, I hope this will not see me visited by the Copyright Police. I do not know who owns it, but for the record, this cartoon was drawn by Hunt Emerson and it is brilliant!

And the second positive? Well, to be honest, I haven’t thought of one just yet, but bear with me, I will.

You see, I am not, by nature, one of life’s great gardeners – my wife keeps me on the books simply for my capacity to lug heavy stuff about – but today I have been emptying the compost bin which, coincidentally, requires the shifting of much heavy stuff before I can get at it. It is the perfect garden pastime for me. It requires no skill whatsoever and obliges me to be up to my elbows in something that looks a lot like horse shit for prolonged periods of time. It could be a metaphor for my life. It is, however, a peaceful job – except for when I drop something on my shin or pierce myself with something unseen – and I get to listen to the birds singing in the field and the rustle of God-knows-what in the leaves. I am at peace with the world – at least I was, until the bumble bee, whose nest I appear to have disturbed, took a particular interest in my ear and I was forced to withdraw for a while.

It was during this short hiatus that I made the not terribly difficult decision to bin my pre-written article and plan what I would do in its place…

Part one went very nicely. I find great joy in junking something that I know is just not good enough. I have written plenty of it. I think that the thrill of trepidation in the micro-second before I press the button is good for my heart. The knowledge that all but the final page of an unfinished play has accidentally been cast into the ether is guaranteed to exercise these old, furred-up arteries, particularly when I can’t find the back-up which, I have a sneaking suspicion, I may have over-written with the recipe for carrot cake anyway. A quick check however reveals that Mick Hucknall has gone. The play has not. In relief I read a few pages of the stageplay and contemplate the possibility that I might just have decided to delete completely the wrong thing anyway…

Part two is proving an altogether more thorny issue. I thought that, as I had already decided to use the cartoon, I might write about the radio series, or at least the writing of it, but it seemed like such a vanity project that I couldn’t bring myself to it. (At least, not until I have been able to get my hair done.) I have ‘done’ gardening posts before and, in the time that has subsequently passed, my agricultural aptitude has not changed. On a scale of one to ten it is Norman Lamont. Tomorrow, I have been told, I will be pruning a large green bush (that has exhausted my horticultural knowledge) that is starting to engulf the weeping cherry tree. The loppers have been sharpened. Like the moment in the film when the single teenager sets off with a torch to find out why the lights have gone off – you know this is not going to end well. I feel that it is only fair to warn the paramedics…

Now, at the beginning of this ramble, I mentioned that there were two positive aspects to finding myself with nothing to write about today and, I must admit, that ever since then I have been trying to decide what the second might be. Well, firstly, I realise that in my last post I claimed to have ‘re-found my mojo’ and, having read through the crap I wrote immediately following that, I am pleased to announce that I may have lost it again. And secondly, I have just realised that the word count has drifted comfortably past 900 – and there’s only so much nothing you can write about…

*All careers in conveyancing feel long.

All of the Things That I Am Not Very Good At…

blood pressure
Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

I have not, despite the fact that we are at times close companions, become fully reconciled to failure. I would still really rather like to succeed from time to time. I try to succeed; I always try to succeed, but more often than not, the avoidance of utter disaster is as close as I get. I aim to do things right and I aim to do them well, but in reality I seldom do either – certainly not to my own satisfaction. When I began this thing, I wanted each piece to have a beginning, a middle and an end; for each piece to have a point, and I think that by and large I have succeeded in that. But I aimed for something approaching Stephen Leacock, Alan Coren or Alan Bennett, and what I ended up with, more often than not, was Orville the Duck.

Making the effort is the big thing of course, trying to do the best you can. The only problem is, when you have tried really hard to get things right, the dog’s dinner that you end up with is doubly troubling. Having a unicorn in your head is all well and good, but when the result is a carthorse on the paper, it is wildly frustrating.

I have recently, much against my better judgement, embarked on a number of DIY projects: flooring, joinery, general decorating, with results that can be best described as variable. (Some are bad, some are worse.) I managed to electrocute myself last week via the simple process of catching a wire whilst screwing the top back on a socket, but I have baulked at plumbing. I have no desire to drown.

On occasions I have watched skilled craftsmen going about their work and I am always struck by the serenity. There is none of the all-out panic that I experience during the course of a simple task. Picture a headless chicken in possession of an electric drill and Stanley Knife and you’ll get the drift…

I can imagine that the more charitable amongst you are thinking, ‘Now come on, there must be something that you’re good at,’ so I’ve given it a little thought, and the answer is ‘No.’ I have never found myself involved in anything that I did not feel somebody else could not have done much better. I have never looked at something that somebody else has done properly and thought, ‘I could do that better.’ I have looked at things that have been done by somebody even more incompetent than myself and wondered if I couldn’t have done it slightly less badly. There are even times when I do things to an altogether reasonable standard. It’s just that it all takes so bloody long.

Many many moons ago I wrote, with my very good friend Chris, a series for the local BBC radio station, which we also recorded and performed. We were inordinately proud of it. I loved the whole process and I loved our little series, as did the commissioning producer, the radio station and even The Radio Times who chose to plug it with its very own cartoon in the radio listings. When it was broadcast, NOBODY listened. The first series also became the last and the whole enterprise was quietly put to bed. At the time I blamed everything – it was broadcast at a stupid time, it was on the wrong show, Saturn was rising in Uranus – but what I never considered was the possibility that it (or more likely, my own contribution to it) was actually just not good enough.

I feel that I have something to say, but unfortunately nobody seems to want to hear it. Which brings me back to the beginning: not my tendency towards the frighteningly inept, but my inability to fully reconcile myself to it.

Today I went for my annual MOT at the doctor’s. My blood pressure was, as usual and despite medication, on a par with that to be found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The nurse asked me if I had been doing anything particularly stressful and I said, ‘Breathing.’
‘Well, I would consider packing it in then,’ she said. I think she was joking.

The point is that I have decided that stress is the enemy of age, and it’s worth side-stepping it whenever you can. Refusing to worry about all these things that you are not very good at is a good place to start. Especially when that is pretty much everything…