Space vegetable purgatory.

Everyone’s got an opinion, but I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: in the developed parts of the world where cultural conditioning forces us to prioritize checking our very important emails before making sure we’re not about to be run over as we cross the road, things can be a bit messed up. Our so-called modern, sophisticated world, is one in which we live in a time of enormous political and social unrest, change and unnecessary, futuristic weirdness that we could all do without. It’s a simplification to say this, of course, but everywhere you look, things seem either overwhelmingly terrible, bizarrely horrific or needlessly progressive.

Watching the news, seeing the huge double-loaded boats full of migrants fleeing Libya, is truly awful to witness. There’s nothing I can do and the whole thing is such a shocking and depressing waste of life and it really does make you stop and think about how we came to such a crisis point. Then there are the bizarrely horrific things. For example, this morning I woke up and read a story about a young couple in which the female had shot and accidentally killed her partner, following a social media stunt which went more than a bit wrong. Then there was this: the other day, I tried to buy an apple at a supermarket using one of those self-service till things that usually don’t work, inevitably resulting in a disgruntled human member of staff needing to be called over, all blank face and could-not-give-a-shit. Just an apple, that’s all. All I wanted to purchase at that particular moment in time was a simple apple. But…I couldn’t find the apple anywhere in the fruit and veg section of the touch-screen menu, and the more I searched, the more I panicked, the more I began to think Is an apple fruit? Is an apple…fruit? Then followed a nightmarish day-dream scenario that must have only lasted the briefest time. In it, I was watching The One Show and Professor Brian Cox was sitting there all nonchalant as he does, smiling and lecturing in that endearing way of his, about how most people think that apples are a fruit but actually they’re neither fruit or vegetable, but actually a bizarre kind of space vegetable that isn’t really a vegetable at all. The presenters laughed heartily a—

“Scan it,” said a voice, snapping me back to the precariousness of modern life, and it wasn’t Professor Brian Cox, nor was it smiling. It definitely didn’t give a shit, however.

“What?” I paused. “…How…”

Just that familiar blank expression, like bloody always. I tried to engage with the face, doing anything I could, within my limited range of facial movements, to show that I didn’t understand. I really did not understand.

“…?”

“Scan it the apple,” said the cashier (what do you call them…the people who work the tills at supermarkets? Cashier feels too old-school, somehow.) “Apple scan it.”

I looked at the apple, turning it around in my hand, scared that I would find nothing and that, just maybe, I would always be standing there, just turning the apple, stuck in space vegetable purgatory.

And then I found it.

Turned out I didn’t need to find it in the menu, did I: the apple had its own personal bar-code, and it did not share it with anyone.

Fucking fruit.

Anyway, last night, my girlfriend and I discussed how we’d reached saturation point with watching the news on TV. We love watching the news and have a huge interest in current affairs, but recently it has felt like it’s all getting too much to take in. I’m not sure if things have genuinely changed as much as we decided they have done, but recently it seems like there’s been an enormous collision of old awful news reaching horrible conclusions and new sickening incidents occurring more rapidly than ever before, unravelling at frightening speed. For me, and many others, I suppose the really scary thing is seeing how the conclusions of the old awful news show a catalogue of problems, mistakes and human error which could surely have been avoided, and how the new news seems to be picking up exactly where the old awful news started, all those years ago. Time and time again, people speak about learning valuable lessons, and how this must never happen again. Then, as the next story about new news quickly develops, we’re treated to fresh mistakes and terrible speculation which suggests that nobody has learned anything at all whatsoever. In fact, of anything, it appears that the people in power have found even more new and innovative ways to fuck things up. And there it is, there you have it: the whole damn thing, tragic and horrible and damaging, starts all over again…

Aside from a love of observation and a hard-to-articulate desire to write successive sentences down, I think it is because of a need to emotionally deal with these things that I feel compelled to write creatively. I’m sure it’s a processing thing, like how some people have suggested that dreaming is our way of making sense of the stimuli we absorb in our waking lives. Or, maybe the answer is buried deep in our evolutionary code and consciousness: a need to record things in full, to keep ourselves immortal, to never be forgotten, to pass on our knowledge via the arrangement of data. Now I stop and think about that for a moment, it seems to compound an incredible sense of pointlessness and vanity. Thousands of news reports, literature, newspapers, books and video reports have already covered these subjects in immensely more detail. Why, then, do I feel the need to add to the mountain?

Why do any of us, in fact?

I can only speak for myself, but I suppose that the bad things also act as a trigger for me to write about the good things and the things that amuse me. Writing about silly things, and writing things in a silly way, is equally important. It brings a sense of lightness and allows one to escape. Aside from that, of course, it’s also a lot of fun to do. Wherever I am in the world and whatever I am doing, and no matter what is happening, I’m observing and documenting things in my mind, whether consciously or not. Making up stories, making mental notes, writing…in a strange sort of way. Most of the time these musings are fragments of full thoughts, fitted in and tucked neatly between the varying tasks that I do day-to-day. Some are echoes of memories, manipulated into stories that feel like I have written them. Some get skewered by a question at work, or toppled and erased by something more important. However the thoughts occur, there’s something really quite emancipating about just writing within the confines of one’s own mind, without a need or option to go back and edit what you’ve thought, knowing that it won’t and can’t be judged, that the thoughts remain free to roam, grow and evolve. I find that if I do this enough, I retain the thought patterns and can build on past writings, recalling or adapting them when necessary — or deleting them altogether, resurrecting them later or reusing them as I please. This, probably, is why I feel like I’ve been writing lots even when I haven’t actually been committing words to screen or paper. The fact that nobody else can experience those writings is not important — at least not to me. I think writing is about more than just the physical act of recording words. To me, it’s about documenting thoughts for a second or forever, not necessarily being able to pass those words on to anyone else.

I can remember a conversation with a good friend, had some time after writing and publishing my novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book, a few years ago. He was a good friend and someone I hadn’t seen in years, and he was chuffed for me about the realisation of my book. One thing he said to me has stayed with me ever since, and every now and again I go over what he said, coming to a slightly different conclusion each time. And what he said was this: “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I always felt like it was too self-absorbing and vain. I just couldn’t justify it”. I can remember at the time thinking Self absorbing and vain? Spending hundreds of hours with one’s own thoughts? What the hell is self absorbing and vain about that? Looking back at the odd collision of those mini-thoughts that made up the main thought, I still find myself perplexed and amused. It’s worth noting that my friend and I had that kind of special say-anything-it’s-fine relationship, and that bar a small moment of total disgust on my part which was over before I even registered it being there, in the moments immediately following the comment, there was no awkwardness, and no change in the tone of our conversation. No noticeable change in the atmosphere. I remember being confused, but beguiled by the confusion and wanting to understand more. It was all positive, and sent us headlong into one of those deep conversations which you find yourself getting lost in, losing track of time, exchanging words, clarifying things, laughing, finding out as much about the other as your own thoughts that spring up out of nowhere. I just wanted to understand and appreciate why he felt like that and why the contrast between our two world views was so staggeringly different. I also recall that I didn’t come to any kind of confusion about this, either while we were chatting or in the time well after. Because the writing of the novel was so fresh in my mind, I suppose the impact of his words was greater than it would have been if we’d met just a few weeks or months later. I took it very personally, but in the best possible way.

Analysing what he said, as I write this, forces the invitation of a range of new mental findings: I wonder if he realised, as he said those words, that everything we do in life is, to a degree, very self-absorbed. It’s the nature of being human, isn’t it? I wonder if the thought he’d had was one he’d been pondering for years, or if it was something that had just cropped up without much prior consideration. I suppose the answer to that would potentially change my perspective. But either way, I guess what he was saying was that writing a book often doesn’t involve anyone else — at least, at the initial creation stage — and means thinking a lot on one’s own, without anyone else’s opinion. That the fact that it doesn’t is somehow bad and too lonely, somehow. And I can see his point there, obviously, because writing and isolation go hand in hand. From that perspective, if I’m representing it correctly, writing is incredibly vain: you’re in your own little world, not seeking approval, forging your own opinions and not asking for any kind of validation for those opinions, and you’re expecting other people — assuming you want the work to be read — to enjoy reading this and give you compliments. What if your opinions are misguided, formed in the wake or flow of a bad mood, or just plain wrong altogether? What if you can’t write well? What if your thoughts are attacking someone else, are biased, or loaded with a violence which is the reaction to something that was, at the time, unfair? However you justify it, writing, at the creation stage, is always one person and one person’s opinions, against the world. Or at least aiming towards it, squarely, taking aim, not apologising. Writing is a mental war.

It’s no wonder, then, that when someone reads your work and you receive criticism or feedback for the first time, it really fucking hurts. Wow, does it sting. It’s hard to explain how painful it can be to receive harsh criticism for the first time or even within the first few years of writing. Within it there is so much…else. You attack yourself for being crap and you berate your attacker, judging them for the opinions they have formed, asking them what right they have to criticise you, but trying to be polite and not be irrational. But that’s the thing that all new writers — and a lot of people who have been writing a long time, too — have to learn in order to move forward. We write and we put stuff out there, and it is the reader’s duty to form their own opinion and give you brutal, honest feedback, however it may come. Look at it from a reader’s perspective: why should they be nice about it? They’ve just read something which they potentially disagree with, and they feel like they have been in some way attacked. When they’re writing their criticism, they’re not thinking about all the time that you laboured over your masterpiece, and why should they do so? Within them, if they strongly disagree, is the weight of a life lived in, perhaps, direct proximity to the weight of your comments. If people don’t like your writing then, sadly, it is just tough shit and nothing else. It hurts me as much as the next person when I hear back from someone and they didn’t like what I wrote, but it is something that we, as writers, simply must learn to deal with. Because, in truth, negative reactions to your writing can only serve you for the better in the long run. And besides all these things, we did decide to send them out into the world now, didn’t we?

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you should listen to all negative criticism and immediately initiate an attack on yourself. I don’t think that is how it should work (I am also not suggesting that it’s OK for someone to tear someone else’s work apart for fun, just because a writer has decided to push their work into the pubic domain). If you spend some time processing the comments and find yourself in agreement of any kind, then that is something different. But very often, it is just a case of you cannot please everyone all the time. I’ve sent writing to multiple people — like when people read drafts of my novel to test read it as I was making changes — and occasionally received completely polarizing responses. This is probably one of the most confusing situations that can occur, as the horrible truth dawns on you that you will make some people happy and others very angry, often for what feels like no particular reason. In some writing personalities — and I’m sure in almost all, to some degree — it can create a perfect fusion of alarm, confusion and immense insecurity that goes far beyond just a small dilemma of conscience and self-esteem. You sit there, broken, wondering how the fuck you can please everyone, sure that the most popular and successful of writers have mysteriously found a way. The reality, of course, is that they have not, and have always struggled with the same identical problems as the rest of us. The only thing successful writers have done differently — other than the success, obviously — is learn to process the feedback and continue in the face of all of it. And, when you pause and really confront what they must have faced, it’s really quite impressive, isn’t it? They’ve literally received dozens or hundreds of personal insults, intended, it would seem, to stop them from committing any more words to paper or screen. Some people, like Stephen King, have received many thousands of very personal attacks, been vilified by the press, have been harassed in the street and have even received death threats. Death threats. All because of words. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how they managed to continue? Can you imagine going to your full-time job and then, on the walk home, being subjected to horrendous insults and death threats, just because you mis-spelt someone’s name incorrectly, or forgot to fill out a piece of fairly inconsequential admin? I admit that I’m being slightly facetious there, but you get my point, hopefully. It takes guts and sheer dogged determination to keep writing when people say that your writing is terrible, offensive, pointless or just a massive waste of time. It can feel like the attack is not just an attack on your ability to configure sentences and paragraphs: it can also feel like a direct attack on your perception and how you see the world…an attack on your identity and personality and in every way personal. In some ways, it seems to be saying “you don’t see the world in a worthy way”, and that can be horribly damaging to an individual.

I like to think that now, after a decade as a professional writer — I began working as a freelance copywriter in 2007 and have written in excess of over 3,000 blog posts in that time, only slowing down in the last few years — I know what I’m doing. Well, enough to get by. I can process and I can handle. That’s what I tell myself. But the truth is that I am still learning, and will likely always be.

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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.