I’m back. But is anyone else still there?

What a half-hour I’ve just had! Wait, allow me to start again — I’ve already gone and irritated myself: what a half an hour I’ve just had. It’s half-an-hour, not half-hour. I’m not American. I’m very much British.

There, I feel much better now.

So, as I said, I’m back. Back with this blog post. Back writing on this blog, and for the first time in 3 years, no less. And it nearly didn’t happen. Why? Because I couldn’t find my bloody freaking password now, could I. Actually, I couldn’t even remember the Username I have for this Blog. In fact, it was only down to my previous self’s total and utter obsession with writing down passwords and saving them on random, un-labelled memory sticks — fantastic habit, that is — that got me out of this hellish debacle. Feels like backwards time-travelling, in a strange sort of way. Obviously I’m better than I think. Clearly, at some point in the past I sensed that my future self would become utterly useless — something that was hardly a surprise, I suppose, given my previous failures. But still, I’m proud of my past more forward-thinking self, even if it was also a bit too negative, almost waiting for me to go and fuck up. And, who knows? Even today I might have done something incredible to future proof another mistake my future self is yet to make. I suppose I’ll find out in time like the rest of us. I just wish I had an inkling of what that mistake might be right now, as I’ve already lost half-an-hour. The way the world’s looking, I may not be able to lose another. There may only be a few hours left…

Got a bit sinister and dark there, didn’t I. It was bound to happen. I mean, Donald Trump? Anyway, enough of that.

The real question is…is anyone else there? Who knows, not me. And do I care? No, not really, not a bit. After all, it wasn’t like this blog and the writing within it ever made me any money and acquired me thousands of readers, was it? (No, no it wasn’t and it didn’t.) Not that money and having shit-loads of readers is important, but, well, you know what I mean, I’m sure.

Still, it’d be nice to know that just someone is out there. Is anyone? You don’t have to answer, don’t worry. Not that you are, or were going to, but, well…

Funny what triggered me writing this blog post and the existential despair of forgetting a long forgotten password, actually. I was just on that strange Twitter thing — also for the first time in absolutely bloody ages, but in a less stressful know-the-password situation — looking about, seeing if I had any Notifications, and then I found myself looking at a nice Tweet that someone called Tommy had sent me (age forces me to think that I must put weird new-fangled words in italics and there seems no way out. I can’t see it getting better. And now those italics have started to manifest in strange facial expression versions of physical italics whenever I’m forced to say a word like Snapchat). Well, sent the world. But primarily me, I think (I really don’t understand all the new technology, balls to it).

Anyway, this bloke, he was called @tommy66788. Tommy Lawn, as a matter of fact. And Tommy, this Tommy Lawn, he’d carefully used his limited number of characters to ask me if I once wrote a blog post about cowboy boots (something that seems to consistently occur every year or so, as it happens). Made me smile, it did. To this I replied that I did indeed write it, and, as is hard to comprehend for someone who still takes at least a day to reply to an email, Tommy wrote back almost immediately, crushing my mental capacity to fathom just how someone can be so incredibly fast and also live any kind of life. I’m not vain enough to repeat what he said here, of course, but it was nice, anyway. Tommy said that he’d bought some cowboy boots from Texas in America and that he liked the article. He also said that he wears his cowboy boots non-stop. Yes Tommy! To Tommy, I salute you. As mentioned in that post about the boots I bought, I find it and have always found it brutally difficult to turn corners while wearing my cowboy boots. Perhaps I have a special sort, I don’t know (or perhaps it’s me who’s special? Seems it’s looking likely). Or perhaps the corners round here are particularly challenging. Either way, I’ve inadvertently gone and said about 5 times more than Tommy did in his one single admirable tweet, and pretty much said almost all of what he said. Maybe it’s time for me to re-think how vain I actually am after all…

It feels pretty damn good, anyway, this writing a new blog post thing. Let me tell you.

Now I think back over the past 3 years, I’m struggling to really work out why I disappeared from this blog altogether. Were myself and my partner dealing with the miracle of bringing up quintuplets while I simultaneously ran a multi-national business? No. Have I found myself too busy to write words on a screen in rapid succession? Occasionally I have, but then again…somehow I’ve found the time to catch up with both Home & Away and Neighbours, usually one after the other on Channel 5. I suppose, then, the biggest thing that’s changed in the last 3 years is my work and the direction of it. I used to be exclusively a freelance copywriter, but nowadays I’m more involved in video and TV production.

One thing that I know has had an effect on my writing is having this massive iMac computer. See, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I needed a 27 inch computer and a ridiculous amount of hard-drive storage. I needed all this stuff to do my video work, you see, that’s why I bought it. You might be sat there thinking How would a great big computer prevent someone from writing? And it’d be a fair question. But here’s the thing, my friends: the moment I got my big computer, something changed. Something got disconnected. Where once I’d been able to sit on the sofa and write my blog posts in leisure, blissfully ignoring all other responsibilities and delighting in musing about all kinds of inane crapola, I now had to sit bolt upright at my desk in a completely new position (my laptop had died by the time I got my new iMac). Gone was the connection I’d had with my laptop. With my laptop, there was something about the proximity of my hands on the keyboard and the small screen that seemed to create a kind of emotional pact between me and the small, uselessly underpowered machine. The new iMac was great for video and graphics work, but it was about as useful as a Ferrari if you wanted to grate some cheese when it came to writing long-form stuff (could you grate cheese on a part of a Ferrari? In hindsight I am sure you can. There’s probably a bit you can have custom adapted specifically for it. I feel ridiculous, in hind-hind-sight-sight, for even bringing it up).

What’s silly, in an even more elongated version of hind-sight, is that I’m writing this on my iMac, and it’s fine. It’s happening. I’m doing it. Clearly I am. But something is definitely missing. So I think a new laptop might be on the horizon. Actually, I think it needs to be. I’ve missed writing this blog too much for it not to be. I love creating videos and I love producing art, but writing…well…there’s just something about writing…and I need a small underpowered machine again. Who knows? Maybe I’m undergoing a kind of rapid backwards evolution of some sort. Maybe in a year or two you’ll find me with a bit of slate and a load of chalk.

3 years, eh? A lot can change in 3 years. Look at the UK! Look at the state of the world! So much has changed that I don’t know where to start. Which suits me well, as a matter of fact. Because I’ve written enough for one night, so I’m not going to bother. Yeah, that’s the spirit.

I am going to bother to write my WordPress Username and password down, however. I realise that it isn’t wise to do that, but then, what is it wise to do? Only last week we were on holiday and there was a really steep slope that wasn’t wise to drive up in a shitty hire car, in the ancient village where we were staying, and I went and did that and got stuck half way to the top, didn’t I? Yes, yes I did. And a whopping great nightmare it was, too. Ah, you have to love an ancient village. We really should have hired a horse instead.

This has been fun. It really has. I forgot how therapeutic writing is, when it’s not the most frustrating thing ever in the history of the world. My goodness writing is so frustrating but also so necessary. What a strange combination. And now I keep thinking Could I ride a horse? Probably not. Definitely not. I don’t know about you but I’m really quite scared of horses.

Channel 4: Live From Space, just for the hell of it

My girlfriend and I ended up watching the first of Channel 4s Live From Space series by total accident. Jen, fuelled by enthusiasm to see first dates flourish and fail miserably, was absolutely certain that everyone’s favourite new dating show First Dates was on Channel 4 at 9pm last night. It wasn’t of course. We were an hour too early. As it was then announced that, instead, the first episode from this new Space series was to begin, both of us sat there a bit pissed off and deflated and wondering what to do next. We had good reason to be annoyed, it’s true. I had my treats ready (one of which was a big fat bar of Dairy Milk) and Jen had her pack of blueberries at the ready (a real bargain at just 34 pence on special offer from our favourite supermarket, The Cooperative). In a very short period of time, we had to decide: do we watch this Live From Space thing or not bother? After a bit of debate, I decided to make an executive decision. We were going to give the show a chance. Probably it was going to be crap, we both thought, but whatever way you looked at it, it would at least be intriguing to see how people do poos safely in space.

But you know how it goes. No sooner had Dermot O’Leary appeared on screen than my phone went off in my pocket. I was tempted to not answer it, as Dermot had just started to speak – there he was, standing in front of Mission Control in Houston, looking happy to be doing something other than X-Factor – but it was our friend’s birthday and we had tried to call him a few minutes before (which, when he failed to pick up, saw Jen and I singing Happy Birthday onto voicemail like a right couple of silly goons). Selfishly, I had thought at the time that the amount of effort we had put into singing that famous song would somehow blow the mind of our friend enough that he would need at least an hour to take in the wonder of it all, thus giving us just enough time to first watch Live From Space episode 1. So as to concentrate fully on the chat with our friend, I turned the channel over. That was when I knew that I was more interested in learning about Space than I had first thought.

I tell you what, I loved learning about Space with Dermot. I really thought it was brilliant. Although it was at no point in time mentioned how astronauts safely do a poo in Space, we did learn plenty of other interesting things. For example, anyone who has often thought What the hell do people actually do in Space? would have been delighted to discover that, mainly, astronauts do bizarre experiments which are recorded in every way imaginable, apparently for the sake of it. Us viewing public witnessed this first-hand as ants were released inside a small container, live from Space. It sounds dull, I’ll admit, but watching the ants attempt to go about their business was strangely mesmerizing. It’s just a shame the ants can’t speak for themselves.

Another high point came when one of the astronauts shared with us a routine daily task that most of us with decent running non-diseased water take for granted: that loveable daily event of washing one’s own face. As Koichi Wakata explained how good it felt to put a warm towel upon his face, I turned to Jen, initially unimpressed and said, “I didn’t start watching this to see astronauts wash their faces!” My initial opinion soon proved to be hasty and wrong, however, as we learned that astronauts don’t have showers or use running water in Space. Knowing this, what we had just witnessed took on a whole new dimension of importance.

As the show went on, my imagination couldn’t help but go into over-drive. I just kept thinking: what experiments would I do if I was spending six months hanging about in Space? I decided these would take priority:

1: technically it’s not an experiment, but it is exciting. I’d go on a bit of a rogue Spacewalk. One day, when everyone else was asleep in their quarters, I’d wake up and go out into Space on my own, like a renegade! Probably I’d try and walk to a star or something daring like that. Forever, scientists and know-it-all people have said without question that stars are light years away from each other, but what if they’re not? What if there really is one just a couple of miles away and we’ve been lied to all along? You’d feel utterly foolish for not trying, wouldn’t you? It would be a great thing to say when you got back from Space, that’s for sure: “it’s not true that stars are light years away from each other. I came across one on a rogue Spacewalk. Beat that.”

I did have a load more ideas – doing falconry in Space, or maybe tricking the other astronauts into thinking that a secret astronaut existed on the Space Station who was hiding away somewhere and hell-bent on sabotaging the mission, etc – but I have decided to not go into detail about these here. On second thoughts, it seems very cruel on birds of prey and possibly a waste, quite literally, of Space.

There is more to be said, so I’ll get on with that.

Do you ever wonder about TV in the future? I do. As a result, I predict – and this is a very serious prediction with absolutely no humour – that the future will see millions of us tuning-in to an X-Factor style TV show where contestants are beamed-up to the ISS for incredible galactic singing competitions. It sounds crazy, but I’ve decided it’s extremely likely (the adverts would probably mention the phrase intergalactic fun at some point, but to me that seems a bit inaccurate, seeing as in Space terms the ISS is barely out of the Earth’s atmosphere. But maybe that’s just me being a bit anal, I don’t know).

There were so many things which amazed me as we watched the programme elapse. One thing which freaked us out all the way through was how the astronauts looked when floating about. They didn’t look normal at all! Instead of stomachs being where they ought to be, they appeared to have floated upwards by several feet. People’s shoulders, for example, were up by their ears, and I’m sure I saw an arse round where their shoulder blades used to be. Everything appeared to have floated upwards. This observation quickly grew into a rapid, escalating fear for the safety and location of the men’s genitals. I just kept imagining myself in Space, going to the toilet, and looking about for my genitals, only to discover them where my nipples used to be, swaying around upon my back.

Then there was the whole thing about what these so-called experiments were really for. Considering the United States’ love for experimenting in secret locations on Earth without telling anyone until caught absolutely red-handed, I struggle to believe that Mission Control are experimenting in purely innocent ways. And let’s face it, if there are places on Earth where rules can be completely ignored, Space is going to be a million times better. I’m not sure I want to know what other experiments they are doing in Space and not telling us about. Then again, I’ve banged on quite a bit about it here, so maybe I am lying. Perhaps I do.

The Spacewalk that Rick and Mike Hopkins had to do was fantastic viewing, though. Widely considered to be the most dangerous thing you can do, this one was to see Rick and Mike Hopkins (they’re not brothers, by the way, I just haven’t bothered to research Rick’s second name) go out to replace a valve on a coolant pump. For me, being asked to do something like this is my absolute worst nightmare, so it’s a good job that you can’t be called to go up into Space like you can be requested to partake in Jury Duty (as of yet, anyway). I bet I’d break something which would inadvertently cause the death of a fellow astronaut. I just know I would. I consider myself to be a good person, but still, I am in no doubt that this would probably result in me going back inside the ISS only to say “guys, Jason sort of fucked up the valve and died…the idiot. I did everything I could but it was too late. I told you you shouldn’t have trusted me too – I did make a very big point of saying that changing valves is not my forte, and you still bloody sent me out there.” I’d love to tell the truth in this situation, but what might happen then? It could be bad. Spending 6 months in Space with just a load of other men must do funny things to you. For mental wellbeing it cannot be great.

Which reminds me…how come we didn’t see any women on board the ISS? Could that be mere coincidence, or is that by design? The more I pondered this question, the more confused I got. In an age of (supposed relative) equality, surely women are just as capable as men when it comes to Space stuff? I concluded in the end that probably it was – is – by design and for safety. While I’m fairly confident that most men would be able to work with a woman in Space for months on end and not violate them in some way, I suppose there is no way of knowing how people will react once they get out there (a bit of research at this link has led to something of an explanation which is worth reading, and which also shows my naivety and lack of knowledge up in quite a dazzling way. It would appear that tradition plays a large part: astronauts were originally fighter-jet pilots, and since the military didn’t used to allow for the consideration of female fighter-jet pilots, the resulting lack of female astronauts – combined with a lack of wanting on the US Government’s part to adapt or change their selection criteria – was the inevitable tragic and downright hideously unfair result).

So there you have it: Space is so much more than just the worst place to get lost (unless you want to get really lost, in which case you couldn’t have been more fortunate). It’s not a place for lazy people, however. Did you know that in Space it’s mandatory to do a couple of hours of intense exercise every single day? You could float about all day in awe of Zero-G and do absolutely nothing but smile, but when your wife asked you to go shopping or even stand up for several seconds when you got back home, you’d wish you hadn’t, because your bones would probably break. A smile wouldn’t be much good then, obviously.

Much as I enjoyed the show, I have decided that I have no ambitions to go to Space any time soon. None whatsoever. Once I’ve finally seen Gravity, I have a feeling that the inclination might be even less, but still, I am willing to remain open-minded.

Susanna’s OK, but what about Susie Fowler-Watt?

Unmistakeably SF-W

Unmistakably SF-W

It’s a good job I’m not the sort of demented determined person who’s good at organising protests, who paints signs and who will think absolutely nothing of dropping everything and marching through the streets and using those same signs to show the world who my favourite flipping newsreader is. That’s right: it’s East Anglia’s favourite presenting superstar, Susie Fowler-Watt. Owner of the finest, silky, multi-coloured satin shirts that the flattest part of our country has ever seen.

And today wasn’t good. Today, all us SF-W lovers suffered what can only be described as a crippling direct hit to everything we hold dear about newsreading. Why? Well, those of you who have been paying any attention to the news in any way whatsoever will have noticed that Susanna Reid has just been named newsreader of the year at the TV and Radio Industries Club awards. Newsreader of the year! Disgusting indeed. Especially when you consider the dynamite duo that is SF-W and SW (also known as Susie Fowler-Watt and much-loved anchorman, the one and only Stewart White).

If awards could be given for defectors, then, no doubt, Susanna Reid would be right up there with the best of them. But when it comes to quality newsreading, anyone who has witnessed Susie Fowler-Watt’s natural smiley banter with Stewart White over the years will surely agree that today’s latest shun to East Anglia is completely unacceptable. Just because our county is flat doesn’t mean that our newsreaders deserve to be more or less constantly walked all over. In this case trampled. Even if they do have haircuts that hark back to the 1980s (something that SF-W pulls off in a way which seems nothing less than impossible, I should add).

The worst part about it, for me, is that I bet Fowler-Watt, with her wonderful supercar like nickname SF-W, took it gracefully and didn’t complain once. I bet she never once looked in the mirror and said “you know what Susanna, I’ll take your bloody head off if you smile like that again!” While Susie’s grace under such pressure is of course noteworthy, it’d be wonderful to see the ever enchanting SF-W lose it just once for a short time (preferably with Stewart by her side, holding her back so as to prevent any GBH which might not be conducive to future newsreading). And why not, when you’re 50% of the greatest newsreading duo that the East Anglian counties has likely ever seen? Surely if anyone has the right, SF-W does?

Then again, it wasn’t just SF-W who painfully lost out in 2014. According to the BBC story which spawned my intense Eastern counties anger, both Lorraine Kelly (Lorraine for goodness sake!) and Fiona Bruce also missed any kind of acknowledgment. Bewildering is the only word.

Susanna may seemingly have hit the jackpot with her move to front ITVs new Daybreak replacement Good Morning Britain, but don’t count SF-W out just yet. I know some people, and they’re damn good at organising protests…they also adore the genre of East Anglian newsreading.

Do the Hawk Walk

Hawk 2

Several years ago, for my birthday, my brother Matthew — we’ve always called him Maff — bought me a truly incredible gift: yes, a voucher for me to go and hang about with a bird of prey for the afternoon, at The Owl Experience Bird Of Prey Centre in Risley, Derbyshire! I grew up absolutely obsessed with fossils, dinosaurs and birds of prey, so I was instantly thrilled by this thoughtful surprise (uncharacteristically thoughtful, if we’re being brutally honest, and hopefully Maff won’t take offense at that). I’m only going to hold a bloody Harris Hawk! I thought. It’ll be just like when I was a boy…

(Except with a beard.)

Anyway, I sort of messed it up to begin with. Really messed it up, actually. In fact, Maff frequently wondered why he’d even bothered getting me the stupid voucher to begin with. As the weeks wore on, I promised myself that I’d soon arrange going to meet this Harris Hawk (he was to be called Steve), but every time I wanted to sort it out, something happened and I failed to arrange the appointment. You know how it is when you’re really busy with life and stuff. This pathetic show of indecisiveness went on for over a year. As you will know if you have also failed to do something for over a year, it’s hard to come up with valid excuses after the year-and-a-half period is up. You just feel like a bit of a wally by then. So it was time to get my act together. To finally go and meet the hawk you see in these dramatic pictures…

Steve, elegant, predatory and clearly not a fan of stereotyping

Steve. Elegant, predatory and clearly not a fan of stereotyping. See below for an explanation of that

When I finally arranged it, the Hawk Walk was amazing, as predicted. Bob Morley was our host for the day. An experienced falconer (what you’d hope for, obviously) and a bit of a character (Bob didn’t mince his words), Bob knows his birds and, for the safety of us and Steve (more us), gave us some helpful advice before we set off. One of Bob’s best pieces of advice was, I thought: “whatever you do, don’t stroke him”. This came at precisely the right moment, just as I was imagining what it would be like to stroke Steve’s soft, feathery head. To rub my face upon his, like I had always wanted to. It’s a good job I didn’t do either of these things. At the end of the Hawk Walk, Bob would go on to tell us a truly grisly story of what had happened when Steve, in a fit of birdy rage, had lashed-out at him one fateful day. The attack had resulted in Steve’s talons going all the way into one of Bob’s thumbs. Right down to the bone. Tough as Bob clearly was, even he said he had been close to crying. And it’s not often you hear a falconer say that. These are folk who are used to being attacked by birds.

I couldn’t look at Steve in the same way again after that. But at least I could look at him, and look in general. I probably wouldn’t be able to look at all if Bob hadn’t given us that advice.

Steve was a reasonably sized male Harris Hawk, renowned for his mischievous attitude and uncanny knack for getting electrocuted by landing on pylons (Bob said this had happened twice over the years, and didn’t rule out it happening again). He was also a big fan of landing on people’s heads (the less hair, the better. He even landed on Bob’s! That was ace because Bob had confidently said a bit earlier that Steve knew not to do that).

For over an hour, Jen and I wandered about through fields, with each of our group getting a chance to have Steve elegantly glide across the countryside and land effortlessly on our special big fat glove (and me ask loads of questions, probably annoying the other people in our group with my child-like fascination that went on without end). My favourite part of the walk was when our falconer host said “Harris Hawks rarely kill other birds”. Hearing this, Steve immediately swooped on a pigeon sitting peacefully in a nearby tree. Within seconds, the rascal had murdered the unfortunate animal and was busy tearing it to pieces in front of a stunned audience (in Steve’s defense, Bob reckoned the pigeon, which hadn’t made any attempt to fly away, had been sick. Or maybe that’s just something they tell us so that us bird of prey beginners can go to sleep at night?).

Thanks for making it memorable, Steve.

The Owl Experience in Risley is thoroughly recommended by this blogger. Just make sure you wear a hat if you’re a bit thin on top, and be prepared for moderate violence. Rated 18 (depending on Steve’s mood, of course).

…Squigglers!

My goodness. The drama and the tragedy. Once you start realising that everyone has comic squiggly lines on their forehead – even those poor people who have spent many years doing their best not to frown or laugh, in an attempt to hold them off until the grave, the poor, stupid, silly, vain, yet admirably patient bastards – you can’t see anything else when you look at them. Nothing else. Once you’ve seen them, there really is no going back. Previously serious-looking people will now look utterly ridiculous, thanks to these devious, indiscriminate, credibility-knackering things. People who you once thought Wow, they look young for their age! I wish I was like them! will now put thoughts into your mind like That’s ridiculous! They look absolutely fucking ancient for anyone’s age! How did I not notice that before!? Not being them is something quite beautiful! Following this realisation, you will then be plagued by a feeling of awkward, uncomfortable concern for the smooth safety of your own special forehead – which is not so special any more. Unless of course you’re old enough to have your own set of well-defined squigglers, that is (squiggli?). In which case, all of this will be old news and frankly you’ll be sick of it. If so, you’re probably hating me right now, or at least resenting me a bit. Which is spectacularly unfair when you think about it, because for one thing it’s not my bloody fault that you didn’t realise you had squigglers until I pointed it out, and for another, how do you know that I, myself, don’t also have a set of insidious squigglers?

That’s right, I have my own gang of squigglers to worry and panic about. They gather and they mock…they congregate on my forehead whenever I dare question someone, or when I try and guess the answer on a game-show and I get it wrong yet again (perhaps the squigglers like to remind me that I am wasting my life?). Sometimes it feels like they come just for the hell of it. Who the hell knows. One moment I’m fine, I’m normal, but the next…Squigglers of massive proportions. Sounds like a playful name for some nasty disease, doesn’t it? Maybe a US created weapon designed to sound fun, but actually it’s lethal. Lethal as the evening TV vortex created by the rather questionable Take Me Out is to your brain.

Squigglers, those doom-mongers, those despicable little shits, appeared on my forehead shortly after my 28th birthday, and I don’t need to be a biologist to know that they are going to stick about. Not just stay…but evolve. This is just the beginning of a routine that’s been practised an infinite number of times before. I’m not an expert or anything, honest, but even I know that there’s about ten more incarnations to go through before they are even close to being finished, and even then they’ll probably do something weird and unexpected that both undermines and celebrates all those previous years of torment. The only question is…what form will they take in the end? Will I end up with lots of little ones, or some of those deep-ingrained whoppers? (I’d rather the latter to be honest. At least then it’ll give my face character). Will they be curved and even or curved and hilariously uneven, as if chucked at my face by someone with their head on wonky and their vision all skewed? What a way to live…what a way to live. Thinking all these bloody things.

Squigglers

The good thing for most people, of course, is that squigglers aren’t there constantly. Up until you’re about 40 or so, they seem to come and go when you laugh or frown, so there is something fair in the world at least. After you pass that point, shit gets real, however. Real and serious. Look at anyone over the age of 40 and see for yourself what a mess they can make. If the subject of your squigglers-inspection doesn’t have even the barest trace of squigglers and yet has managed to reach this grand-old-age, then that’s really something. In fact, why not congratulate them? Why not shake their hand and surprise them.

And watch the squigglers show!

OH NO I JUST HAD A HORRIBLE THOUGHT

Just realised something quite awful which could bring the police and the world’s prosecution services to its/their knees…think of all the people who have witnessed crimes over the years! Think of the effect of squigglers on crime! By now, many millions of people will have thought that they were mugged or burgled by a young person if they’d been mugged or burgled by someone whose squigglers didn’t happen to be on display (or had been carefully taped-down), and all kinds of madness just like that! Or the other possibility, which is equally as sinister…

“What did the suspect look like?” An officer might say. “How old would you say they were, roughly?”

The victim might then reply: “Well, based on their forehead, which seemed to really jump out at me at the time…I’d say about ninety…”

The officer replies: “ninety? Nine zero?”

And the victim says: “yes, ninety…I’m telling you…”

“Well other witnesses say thirty-five…”

“I know what I saw. They had serious squigglers…”

“I am not saying that they did not, madam. But thirty-five and ninety…I see…”

“Good.”

“That’s a contrast we weren’t anticipating. But so be it, we know some pretty dodgy elderly folk around here. We’ll have to arrange a line-up. It’s time the scum paid.”

Oh no.

No more manual toothbrush. It’s time to join the big people’s club

Readers of this blog will likely have come across the odd tooth-related post (such as this one here and this one here). And why not blog about this subject? When you consider the importance and significance of the tooth – or more accurately teeth – in our every day lives, it seems bizarre that everyone isn’t blogging about it/them.

kkksksksksk

Sound advice from Dalai

I often wonder why human teeth exist at all. It is a conundrum. If Evolution is so progressive, then by now you’d have thought they’d be all joined-up together. I can’t stand the fact that so many other animals have undergone intense & impressive evolutionary transformations, losing arms and growing extra ears and getting rid of nobs, and yet, after many millions of years, we’re still stuck with loads of annoying teeth which require constant maintenance. Not the best when you have always favoured the manual toothbrush. It’s not because I’m a Luddite – although I probably am – and it’s not about being deliberately difficult as my dentist would surely insist (although I probably also am). It’s just me being me. I have never liked that weirdo-buzzing feeling of using an electric toothbrush. I don’t care that it’s meant to be easier and I couldn’t give a toss if everyone is doing it. I’ve just never liked the idea. I’ve always preferred my manual one.

In the past-past – by this I mean before the past, which is any time up until a few months ago – I have worried immensely about trips to the dentist’s and hygienist’s. Like anyone would if they never did what the dentist recommended. The days leading up to my appointment(s) comprised of me first pretending that I had done t least some of what I’d been asked to, then realising that lying about it wouldn’t work, again. The final stage was always one of resentment towards my rebellious inner-self. It was only me who had ever messed it up. If I’d have actually bothered, things would have been better. And I would not have got bollocked so much for having bad teeth.

In the most recent past, I wasn’t quite as concerned. I had made more of an effort leading-up to the appointment – I’d become obsessed with using mouthwash and those prohibitively expensive stick things you shove between your teeth, making your mouth bleed on purpose – and I had benefited. I was still a manual toothbrush Luddite, but at least I was changing, or willing to. I was definitely caring more, that much had to be true. So this time, when I arrived at my 6-monthly dentist’s appointment, I felt OK. Not brilliant, obviously, but I did feel like I had done half as much as I could have. This could only be interpreted as progress. It must have had something to do with reading all those Dalai Lama quotes on Facebook.

And the appointment went well. Very well. Alarmingly well, truth be told. At one point, she even said something about me having regularly used my electric toothbrush. My electric toothbrush! I had somehow managed to fool her! There she was, staring directly at my uselessly brushed teeth, and she couldn’t even tell I was a bloody Luddite! This was a shocking thing.

Then she said “Do you use your electric toothbrush once or twice a day?”

I said: “Er…”

It would have been very easy to lie. I should have lied, it would have saved me all kinds of hassle. But the poster on the wall to my right, the one depicting someone’s harrowing tooth-rot, someone like me, someone who’d done nothing to help their teeth for years, got to me. I ended up saying “I’ve actually only got a normal toothbrush. A manual one.”

“A manual one?”

This was a cry for help if ever there was one.

“Manual. No electricity.”

“Oh…I see.”

It could have got very awkward. Me pointing out how she really should have known. Her knowing she should have known and trying to hide it, badly. Yet it didn’t. Instead, almost as if she respected me for so capably pulling the wool over her clearly poor vision, we began a discourse on electric toothbrushes. Well, they began a discourse and I sort of just stood there and nodded. Why hadn’t I ever got into that whole scene? What was it about them that I didn’t like?

“How long have you got?” I said.

“No offense but about thirty seconds.”

“Oh.”

And it all came pouring out in those 30 seconds (once she’d finished calling her numbers out to the dental nurse, and I’d taken a swig of the nasty pink liquid and spat it out, streaming with blood). I decided to give it to her straight. There I stood, calmly explaining that I just had never liked the electric ones. So there, stick that up your bum, I thought but did not say.

Then began the pair of them talking in-depth about electric toothbrushes and all the different kinds there are. Sonic ones and oscillating ones (it is never a dull day when I get to use that word). Which ones they preferred. Ones which cost several hundred pounds (the wrong approach to take with me) and ones which don’t (the right). And all through it I found myself changing…thinking about what could be if I could just allow myself to entertain the idea.

I was to leave with a smile on my face. I’d done it. I wasn’t even out of the room yet and I had already moved beyond that horrible bit when you have to part with loads of money at the Reception desk, and I was now walking out of the surgery with my electric toothbrush. All in my mind. Thanks to my imagination.

Before I could change my mind, I thanked them, walked out of the room for real with the free little tubes of toothpaste which they’d kindly given me – nothing like it for making a person feel special – and picked up the first blue box on the display cabinet to my right. On it were the words Oral-B PROFESSIONAL CARE 1000. Beneath these words were several statements which made me feel instantly at ease. The first promised that it would remove up to twice as much plaque as a regular manual toothbrush. Good because plaque had always been my number 1 enemy. The second assured me that the 1000 was gentle on both teeth and gums. Good because both teeth and gums had been enemies for me at one time or another. Let’s just say they were all number 1.

At the bottom, with black writing on a yellow background, it said

PATIENT STARTER KIT

For dental professionals

And yes, I know what some of you will be thinking: why the hell didn’t you just buy it off ebay? Good question, but you needn’t be so modern about it. Not everything is about saving money, you know. Simple truth is that I wanted the Oral-B PC 1000 there and then. I didn’t want to wait and give my stupid logic a chance to derail what was happening. I wanted that money spent so that I had no choice but to join the new world. So there you have it. With that, so it was done.

An essay on Hope

This post comes with a warning. This post may make you feel uneasy, annoyed or frustrated if you currently hate the world and everything in it. Like if you were expecting a pay-rise from that meeting with the boss, for example, but actually the meeting was about you integrating your job role so that, in actuality, your work-load doubled. So you can’t say that you haven’t been warned now, can you?

Considering a few things that are happening right now in my life which I won’t go in to here, today would seem like a strange day – the word surreal comes to mind – to write about hope. Yet that, conversely, is precisely where hope blossoms (yes. This kind of irritating optimism is why I gave you that warning…). Theoretically, whatever is going on, however difficult things may be, there is always hope. It’s just not always so easy to practice that theory and make choices which allow it to manifest. Especially when life as we know it is more in flux and transient than it ever has been. The Neanderthals dealt with the flux that was basic every-day survival, at a time pre-communication where learned knowledge must, surely, have been something of a mystical affair – something largely unrecorded, maybe even un-thought of. Not surprising when you’ve got bigger fish to fry, like making sure a hungry tiger doesn’t kill every surviving member of your family. Now, we deal with flux while navigating a swarming world of information – that’s without even taking into account misinformation – technological breakthroughs and ever-changing theories. All of which are recorded, argued, challenged and eventually bettered (except for things like the re-imagining of the Lion bar, which transpired to be a toxic, ultimately pointless and humiliating affair for the chocolate bar’s makers). We may lack much in common with our stone-wielding, shit-scared of the unknown buddies of early civilisation, but our challenges never diminish. Crap roads, pot-holes and if we should bother to vote or not. And psychological survival can be as hazardous as anything – just because cave-people never had to deal with the obsessive addictions of 2014, that doesn’t mean that we have it any easier. In particular when all of us outside North Korea are susceptible to unlimited choices that consume our lives, making following – and staying on – any kind of path a momentous achievement in itself. Go this way, you’re in trouble. Don’t go this way and you can always post about it on Facebook, where, if you’re not very careful, you may just find yourself believing all the hype. That everything is shit, from boilers to relationships. That, in fact, all hope is lost, so the best any of us can do is carry on as we are and not really give a shit.

Yet today, I was once again made very aware that there is and continues to be tremendous hope and love in the world. Just last week I, along with thousands of other people, read a story on the guardian which cemented this perception. Six years ago at Waterloo Bridge, a man called Neil Laybourn noticed someone ominously perched on the bad side of the edge. Rather than doing the easy thing, the thing which many would hold characteristic of Londoners who have forgotten what the individual in society actually is, Neil stopped and took direct action, speaking to the man, making a choice which was just as brave as it was stupid – from a wholly selfish point-of-view. The article, if you haven’t seen it, makes for compelling reading, and charts their meeting up recently, enabling the then-victim to convey his heartfelt thanks in person. Until someone stopped to tell him that there was hope and things could change, the guy on the bridge had no idea.

Earlier today I decided to go for a walk in a local nature reserve. And by local I am fortunate enough to be able to say Just down the road – it being a 10 minute walk. It is a true escape, far and yet so close. Upon arriving there, a guy, probably about my age, approached me with his dog and began to ask me if I knew the area very well. We soon got talking about various connected things. The free parking – this he struggled to comprehend – and the impressive and unique geographical features which make the reserve something of an anomaly in our flat landscape. It’s still the barest trace of a hill by any proud northerner’s standards, but when land around you is flat forever, you have to take what you can get.

The way the man approached me made me smile: his lack of reticence about simply striking-up a conversation with a total stranger, and his blatant lack of guard – something I could liken to western tourists we had met in Vietnam last year, who were so happy to be surrounded by others of similar mind-set that the tragic and so-called normal social rules of many large cities went totally out the window.

Walking around the reserve on this cold, very windy day, I thought about a few sporadic, largely unconnected things, in that floaty and relaxed manner that is, much of the time, too interrupted by daily activities to be really sustainable for long. I recalled Russell Brand’s article from the guardian, which I had read and pondered earlier in the morning, in-between client emails and pretending not to have a look at Facebook. Candid as usual and disarmingly honest, Brand’s piece was, in my opinion, more serious and notably more poignant than many that have gone before it. Speaking openly and without seeking approval is, of course, a thing in which he excels. But what I was not prepared for, this time, was the thoughts that would come out of reading the piece. Love him or hate him, the article is a striking piece of writing that, uncomfortably and unapologetically, conveys the grim realities of being held in the hopeless grasp of substance addiction. For me, it displayed tremendous hope. That, even when something as dark and harrowing as substance addiction refuses to let go, there are people and organisations who want to make people feel much better. There is something other, something huge, something worth the fight. Even if it feels like hell. And it takes courage to write like that.

Despite all this, the obvious truth is that I, just like you – just like everyone who has ever lived, I argue – often need to take my own medicine. It’s fine for me to say “We should all be hopeful”, but I am all too aware that throw-away comments like this – or worse, mantras or lectures as some might consider them – can be insulting to those people who are in a desperate situation. A situation which would seem more or less impossible to anyone experiencing it. People who genuinely feel like there is no way out, no way to make a change. At times like this, hope is not easy to come by, and it may not be offered. Particularly when someone exhibits only normal character traits and appears to largely be OK. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good friends that watch out for them. Who email or text or call when life really does feel like total shit. So I am grateful for having that. I have to be. I have friends. I have family. This is a privilege. I am employable and, if I vanished tomorrow, I know that people would question where I had gone, if I was OK, if I was coming back. It does not give me satisfaction to know that this is the case, but it does make me realise how very fortunate I am and how much of life is up to me to affect. To have arrived at this point in time and to know, with conviction, that hope is attainable to me.

On the way back from the nature reserve today I saw two young lovers, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the male awkwardly handing over some kind of badly-wrapped present – I empathized with him. I simply cannot wrap things. All this, viewed in just a second or two and nothing to do with me – a fleeting show of perfection. In a way, it was like a kind of gift. Their whole lives ahead of them, I wondered who they were and what their stories might be. Where they’d go and what they might do and achieve. I wondered if life was actually, for them, as good as their faces and obvious happiness seemed to make out.

There is hope in the world, even if you can’t wrap gifts. Really. There is hope in the world if you are depressed and life, slowly but surely, is becoming too great an ordeal to survive through. But you’re allowed to moan about things, and you must. Moan about things on Facebook or to friends and work them through in your mind – I don’t know any other way, and that’s something I won’t be apologising for. Something I can’t change. Realise the imperfections, and, possibly, the greater advantages of your situation will flourish and become more distinct. So obvious that hope is the only rational by-product. That, with a smile, you can turn someone’s life around or make them think that, actually, life can be good sometimes and is worth living every single day.