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The Oldest of Old Flames

The sky is blue, the Black Dog is in his kennel and this week I spent a precious day with the Oldest of Old Flames, aka OOOF.

I’m not a bloke usually found whistling first thing in the morning, being more of a night howl.

But at circa 7am this week as I stood there watching the kettle not boil, I began whistling away like Roger bloody Whittaker calling after his dogs.

If you must know, it was Hotel California by The Eagles (1977).

I nearly dropped a scalding kettle over my toes at the sudden shock of it all.

I don’t know why I was whistling and I can’t remember the last time I heard that song.

More importantly of all, I can’t really remember whistling in the morning for years, not having had a great deal to whistle about.

So in that idle moment this week, it really felt like something had changed.

That, perhaps, the world looked a few shades brighter for the first time in years.

The sky is blue, the Black Dog is in his kennel, and all I can blame this outbreak of howling on is that this week I spent a day with the Oldest of Old Flames, aka OOOF.

And an OOOF day it turned out to be too.

Regular unlikers of this column will know that I finally tracked her down in April.

We hadn’t seen each other this century and I think we last spoke on the phone around the turn of the Millennium, circa 1998.

We first got together at 14 which is 36 years ago, and were last a fully-fledged item back in 1994 when we were both 22.

We went our separate ways that summer as we wanted very different things from life. I basically wanted her to be more fully in mine and she didn’t.

I had the career tied to one place, and as an international jet-setter from Spain, she understandably had other places to go.

Yet here we are again in 2022, both aged 50, both single, both in Cumbria.

And as I got off the train on Wednesday afternoon and threw my arms around her, all the old fireworks started to go off.

It was like being reunited with a missing piece of myself. Like in Terminator 2 where that fella’s limbs grow back.

Except for me it was a bit of old broken heart.

Being a cool, independent lone wolf, I decided against an on-the-spot proposal of marriage until after lunch.

Sitting there in a distant pub with warm sun streaking through the windows and OOOF chattering away and stroking every pet in the place, the decades melted away.

It could have been 1993 all over again.

I’d forgotten quite how dark brown her eyes are and how much I enjoy looking in them.

Even one of the late mother’s favourite songs randomly chunked on to the old jukebox like a karmic ghost was playing DJ.

Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) – which I last heard at her funeral.

OOOF’s cats curled endlessly around my legs and purred, and her pet parrot wasn’t sick all over me.

I can’t put my finger on what it all means. Is it chemistry, coincidence, kismet, or lager carbohydrates?

We have both stood on our own two feet but it was very special to roll back the years and be a couple again. Me agreeing with everything I disagree with!

The train had barely left the station before I got a text telling me the day was PRECIOUS! (Her capitals).

If you and a significant ex ever find yourself in the position to mend burned bridges, I would recommend you try it.

It does wonders for the state of mind and you might find yourself whistling Hotel California near a hot kettle in an open dressing gown.

As for OOOF and I, there are large, personal, hurdles.

And typically, on my long and contemplative train journey home, I saw that blasted single Magpie who seems to follow me around all the time.

I saluted it with both fingers and started to whistle the tune to Graceland.

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Dr No Offence

What on earth will the next generation of Bond films be called? Licence To Dull? Octofussy? Diamonds Are Culturally Appropriated?

I have £10 lodged with my bookmaker on the next James Bond being played by Regè Jean-Page.

When I placed the bet last year, the odds were a lot more distant than they are today.

This morning Regè is the 9/4 favourite with Tom Hardy now a distant 8-1.

To be honest I couldn’t care less who the next James Bond is or isn’t, as I won’t be watching.

Not having a television connected to the outside world, I have never seen Regè Jean-Page in anything.

Regular ignorers of this column – 100 views last week and five likes – will know that I have started mixing up my words which is a time of the signs, I suppose.

This week, I managed to say ‘Bames Bond,’ although it may be an unintentional Freudian slip given the currant climate.

I won’t be watching any of the next James Bond films. In Daniel Craig’s entire five film output, I’ve watched about 20 minutes and turned off.

By the time he came around, I was bored of the genre.

I was also immediately turned off by him turning up on a speedboat for the Press launch wearing a life jacket.

That told me all I needed to know about British society and burst the Bond bubble for me, as impressive as Daniel Craig rocks a pair of budgie smugglers.

I never really warmed to his stoney-faced Bond either. With his steely-eyed, pouty profile, I always wondered whether he was secretly sucking on a Murray Mint.

His cold-hearted assassin depiction was truer to Ian Fleming’s original literary character but it didn’t leap out of the screen for me, and he played it too cold.

I never liked Pierce Brosnan as Bond either. He always came across a little out of his depth for the role and played it too Transatlantic.

A bit Remington Steele. A bit Dynasty.

The awful truth is I haven’t really enjoyed a James Bond film since A View To A Kill (1985) starring Roger Moore, then 58.

Sadly, I think 1985 was probably the last time I was young enough to suspend disbelief for a full 90 minutes.

It makes me a terrible old cynic, resigned to watching the Roger era, particularly The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), my favourite Bond.

If it’s anything to go by, I do see a lot of Daniel Craig Bond films in the DVD sections of charity shops, which is more evidence it isn’t a classic?

At least I knew Roger was hamming it up and had one eye firmly on the fourth wall and not taking himself too seriously.

I also liked the fact that he needed a girdle in the later Bonds and enjoyed the dry delivery of his clever one-liners: “I’m now aiming precisely at your groin, so speak or forever hold your peace.”

A View To A Kill wasn’t the best Roger or Bond film, but it had a lot going for it.

Duran Duran poking fun at themselves in the title track. The mesmerising Christopher Walken playing an electric-haired Soviet industrialist.

The legendary Grace Jones as a flat-topped paragliding assassin, and Liverpool-born David Yip in a supporting role as a CIA agent.

Readers of a certain vintage will remember him as The Chinese Detective (1981), which I liked as a little boy.

Connery was also good but was never my generation’s Bond. I suppose your favourite Bond is often the one you grow up with.

But what on earth will the next generation of Bond films be called in these hysterical times?

They will be under tremendous pressure not to exclude or upset anybody, and the next generation of Bond will need to be as inclusive as possible.

The Spy Who Bored Me? Octofussy? Licence to Dull? Dr No Offence? Diamonds Are Culturally Appropriated? The Trans With The Golden Gun? Live and Let LGBTQ+? A View To An Equitable Outcome For All?

May I suggest A Quantum of Bollocks?

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Bad Friday

The Oldest of Old Flames and I, spoke for six solid hours on the telephone and I could tell neither of us really wanted to be the first to hang up.

Regular readers of this column will know that the Butchelor Pad commands stunning views over next door’s wheelie bins and a neighbouring car park.

I roost high up among 23 telephone wires, several old-fashioned chimney stacks, two plastic owl decoys (not mine) and a visiting house sparrow.

It likes to arrive as early as it can every morning and sit as near to my boudoir as possible – just in case I’m getting too much sleep, especially at weekends.

Having lived here for four months now, I now have a new understanding of that estate agent euphemism ‘convenient to local facilities’.

What it actually means in practice is that I can hear every late-night mating call of every passing troop of howler monkeys swinging from pub to pub.

I can also hear every unnecessary door slam of those rocking up at takeaways to collect their grub.

And given the ease with which we can now instantly and silently communicate via mobile phones, I will never understand the need at 3am for some people to shout across the street at the top of their voices.

For a generation which usually considers their phone on a par with a major organ equivalent to the brain, heart and lungs – why do they feel the need to bellow at their mates when the rest of us are trying to get some shut eye, instead of messaging them?

I don’t generally mind these signs of life, but what I cannot abide is tolerating them during the week only then being woken up at the weekend by a tourist’s car alarm.

An alarm apparently so highly sensitive that it goes off at the slightest cough or passing fart and doesn’t stop blaring until they return from a day’s hiking up Helvellyn?

And why would a carpet shop need a burglar alarm? Is there a dark web for stolen Axminister?

Do shadowy rug pushers heave rolls of shag pile between pubs?

I haven’t slept very well for years now anyway, and all this noise nuisance isn’t helping.

Around these parts, I’ve also become aware of a regular late-night drag racer who clearly fancies himself as an F1 driver and the town centre as his race track.

He treats the chicanes and mini roundabouts round here with the contempt Senna did of La Rascasse in Monaco.

I have become highly attuned to his approaching exhaust and increasingly violent accelerations.

My hope is that one of these nights he meets a lamp-post in the middle of his path and not an elderly pedestrian, and that he ends up in that great scrapyard of the sky.

Stupid, show off drivers being the absolute pinnacle of knobheadery in my book.

Yet somehow I don’t really mind any of it and have laughed at it this week.

I have found myself falling for the Oldest of Old Flames, the first girl I loved when I was 14.

On Wednesday night, OOOF and I, spoke for six solid hours on the telephone and I could tell neither of us really wanted to be first to hang up.

Instead of 30 years ago, it felt like ten flaming minutes and it was nice that she is no longer the Coldest of Old Flames.

But I was badly burned at 22 and yet here I find myself again at 50, with no oven gloves and a pigheaded unwillingness to face facts that it will go down in flames.

There’s no fool like an old fool, I suppose, but what a brain she has and I could listen to her for hours, which is handy when it takes 20 minutes to get a word in.

I find myself bounding out of bed again with a rare zeal, when I really should be acting all urbane and aloof and independent.

At my time of strife, I can do without all this kind of nonsense. We’ve tried domesticity before and if memory serves, it was like keeping a Golden Eagle in a budgie cage.

Capturing me was about as easy as trapping a blind duck with an old crust.

The madness of it is that among my belongings, I recently located an old diary entry from Easter 1986 when we first met as young teenagers.

I read it out to her and it records how she pointed out in the night sky that Venus, the auspicious planet of love, was visible.

As was the Big Dipper.

In spite of all my adult instincts, I fear I am about to have one last go on the roller coaster again.

Heart says: ‘Tunnel of Love,’ head screams ‘Ghost Train.’

My face will go through all the emotions Bob Hoskins manages at the end of The Long Good Friday, (1979) which I always make a point of watching over Easter.

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The (Not So) Grand National

Well I picked the runner-up in this weekend’s Grand National with Any Second Now which would usually be a cause for a rare outbreak of Asti Spumante – had I not backed it to win

Well I picked the runner-up in this weekend’s Grand National with Any Second Now (10-1) which would usually be a cause for a rare outbreak of Asti Spumante – had I not backed it to win.

With a name like Any Second Now staring me in the face, I will be left to rue the day why I didn’t have it each way when its name was such a giveaway.

My other runner, Eclair Surf at 14-1, fell at the third and was the third horse to fall. Not easy to say without your teeth in.

I heard the commentator say it had crashed out at The Ditch, which is about right, given that I’ve always feared I might be heading for one when this writing game runs out.

Sadly, I read today that the eight-year-old Eclair Surf has died overnight having sustained a massive head injury.

It certainly puts any monetary loss of mine into focus, and the story gets sadder.

Eclair Surf was a third reserve to run in the National and would not have been taking part had it not been for the withdrawal of Battleoverdoyen and Court Maid.

The ultimate kiss of death of course was for Butcher – the ultimate harbinger of impending doom – to roll up late in the day and lay out a fiver on it to finish in the top six – each way naturally.

It has all left me in a mood to jack in this horse racing malarkey.

Every passing national finds me further and further at the back of the field from those glory days where I only had to glance at a horse in The Racing Post to win.

The one that stands out most is a £250 triumph on Amberleigh House (2004).

I was somewhat ‘over refreshed’ when I scribbled out the slip at Chas Kendall in Ulverston.

I contrived to both back it to win and finish each way – so double booty – as John McCririck might say, if he wasn’t dead.

2012 was also a good year with Neptune Collognes when the then five-year-old daughter sweetly picked its colours out of the paper and it went on to win, with me hoisting her high onto my shoulders and galloping her round and round the back garden like a crazy horse.

And then there was that year that I lost all my bets but then recovered my losses having won the office sweepstake on One For Arthur (2017).

The Oldest of Old Flames (OOOF) – who I have been frantically corresponding with this week for the first time in circa 15 years- confirmed my memory that her granddad used to enjoy a flutter on the gee gees.

In fact, the Bee Gee Gees would be a good name for a race horse, as would be Stayin Alive if you could guarantee it did, or Tragedy if it didn’t.

If I owned a race horse I would be inclined to call it Neigh Chance and I’d back it at ten to one and it would come in at quarter to four, as Tommy Cooper used to say.

Anyway, ‘OOOF‘ was always devastatingly right on and painfully unconventional long before it became a badge of honour.

But I always respected her opinions and our arguments three long decades ago were rare but of spectacularly high quality.

Now living on a houseboat with a clutter of cats and a murder of crows, she texted to tell me that she regards horse racing as, and I quote, ‘horrendous animal abuse,’ – accompanied by three exclamation marks.

I better not then tell her about switching hobbies to seal clubbing.

I don’t have the energy or the inclination here to get into the whys and the wherefores of horse racing.

The Ell and Back blog doesn’t seek to become a polarising force in the world in order to rack up fake internet likes – there’s far too much of that, thank you.

Suffice to say that a horse bred from a long line of animals trained to run and jump over things which then doesn’t like it, is a bit like finding a fish that doesn’t like water. Or swimming.

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… _ _ _ …

The cooker clock in the Butchelor Pad refuses to conform to British Summer Time and I will now have to look at the bastard every morning until late October and deduct an hour.

The weather here has been so bloody awful it’s felt like I’ve turned the clock back to autumn not spring.

The cooker clock in the Butchelor Pad refuses to conform to British Summer Time and I will now have to look at the bastard every morning until late October and deduct an hour.

Why do they make the clocks on domestic ovens harder to crack than the bank safe in the Italian Job?

Outside the daffodils are all dead from the cold so all I’ve really done is stay in, cosy up on the sofa and watch early episodes of Inspector Morse back-to-back.

Bought from a charity shop and watching on DVD, I adore the old 4:3 television ratio showing grainy images of Oxford’s dreaming spires as they were back in 1987.

Red telephone boxes, smoking in pubs, dimpled pint glasses, Cinzano and sodas, jam-sandwich Ford Granada police cars, flowery skirts and green eye shadow.

Most importantly of all – not a single wretched mobile phone in sight in the Oxford Randolph Hotel – still going, by the way.

Not a single soul hiding behind a bloody device on so-called social media. A generation which now refuses to speak to anyone else in a pub because all their mates are in their pockets.

For reasons inexplicable to me, I find the Inspector Morse theme tune strangely relaxing.

This is going to sound strange, but when I watch TV shows from the past I am reassured that people from my life were still alive when they were being filmed.

I enjoy being able to sit here in a cold spring of 2022 and speculate on what they were doing when the cameras rolled back in 1987.

To know the type of sky and world they were looking at?

This week, I also jumped onto Google Maps to plod the streets of the old home town from years back – wondering if a passing Google van had caught sight of the old mum alive and shuffling up the road with her plastic bags clinking from the off-licence?

I didn’t spot her, but work that one out, Freud, because I don’t know what it all means.

On Monday, the strapping nephew and I moved the new/old sofa in to the Butchelor Pad.

It brought to mind Laurel and Hardy trying to get a piano up a flight of stairs.

Sadly, in this little scenario, I am no longer ‘the thin one’ of the duo.

As I stood there, rolling my tie and sweating cobs – (I assume cobs represents the web-like underarm patches) – my mind cast back to the spring of 1993.

Back then, I single-handedly carried a washing machine – complete with concrete breeze block inside – up four flights of stairs above Beddall’s newsagents, as me and the Oldest of Old Flames started a fire and moved into a flat together.

I was 21 then and showing off. At 21 you’d do anything to prove your virility.

These days, I could barely carry a box of washing powder up four flights of stairs without getting out of breath.

But back to my new/old sofa.

It has been kindly donated to me by the big sister.

She is gutting her house of possessions ahead of her moonlit flit to Spain and is giving everything away and I have first dibs.

She keeps inviting me round to take the last of this and the last of that which has felt like picking out trophies at the home of a dead relative.

I can barely stay in her increasingly echoey house for five minutes before I have to leave and put a brake on my tears.

Anyway, to take my mind off it all I am treating myself to a slap-up mixed grill this Easter weekend.

Mushrooms, a fried egg, onion rings and sirloin steak the size of a dinosaur leg.

It’s steak Diane for me, but who’s Diane and why are we grilling her?

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Spring Backwards

I bought a very good film on DVD from a charity shop this week as I put the clocks back in the Butchelor Pad to the 1980s.

I bought a very good film on DVD from a charity shop this week as I put the clocks back in the Butchelor Pad to the 1980s.

As I placed it down on the counter, the young shop assistant looked me over and with all seriousness said: ‘Now, I must check that you are over 18,’ before she burst into a snort that made both her nostrils flare excitedly.

Ever so slightly,‘ I replied with Bond-like neutrality, while not finding it at all charitable.

But I admire a bit of sass in young people and taking the piss used to be an art form in this country before everyone got too scared of being tasered in the goolies and hauled off to Strasbourg.

When she totted everything up, she told me: ‘That’s £7.67 for you today.’

I thought I’d return fire.

‘What will it be for me tomorrow, £7.68?’

(Time for my nostrils to flare, Shergar!)

She gave not a flinch in reply but silently popped the DVD in the bag and I quietly left the shop.

Apparently, staff at a certain supermarket are ordered to start chats with customers in case it’s the only conversation their shoppers have that day.

I hope this advice reaches Aldi, where my shopping is thrown at me like a snowball fight.

It also reminded me of the Fast Show sketch by Caroline Aherne playing an unfiltered checkout girl who remarks that Parmesan cheese smells like an ‘old tramp’s crotch.’

The finest response I’ve heard to someone being pulled up about their age is the pensioner on the sidelines of a football match who vocally contested an offside.

The young player responsible told him: ‘Get back on your allotment, grandad,’ to which our spectator cut him dead.

I’ll plant you in a minute.’

But back to our young snort assistant.

Surely a DVD in a charity shop isn’t prone to market forces like Brent crude oil or gold bullions?

There is no need to emphasise the price today unless it changes daily like stocks and shares.

Anyway, the DVD I bought was White Mischief (1987).

It’s one of those true-life, low-budget, low-interest dramas that I never used to have any time for, and now have all the time in the world for.

It stars the dashing Charles Dance and lingers explicitly on every luscious inch of Greta Scacchi. (My eyes are not as poor as I feared and popped out on stalks).

White Mischief also has a relaxing period soundtrack by George Fenton which I played all week, including Cocktails at the Grave.

Based on actual events, White Mischief is a champagne-swilling, pink gin slinging tale of dinner jacket and pearls debauchery, combining alcohol, altitude and adultery.

It centres on the scandalous aristocratic ‘Happy Valley set’ in 1940s colonial Kenya which culminated in a love triangle and the brutal murder of the 22nd Earl of Erroll, the so-called Playboy of the Aberdares.

It also stars Joss Ackland who is still with us at 94 and whose voice I could listen to for hours. He also narrates a 1993 documentary about the scandal, and in the film steals the show with this withering put down of banking:

‘When the sun is shining they can’t wait to lend you an umbrella, yet as soon as it starts raining they want it back.

Sarah Miles also plays the boozy, woozy, mentally fragile Alice de Janze. In real life, the countess shot and killed her boyfriend in Paris and then turned the gun on herself, but survived and was pardoned.

In one scene, she greets another blistering East African sunrise with the weary assessment: ‘Oh god, not another f****g beautiful day.’

I know the feeling. Out of my window I can see blossom budding and a cloudless blue sky over the bins.

As the clocks spring forward, I am thankful Mother’s Day has one less hour in it for those of us who have too many of them to remember our own.

In other news, I’ve been tripping up over my words this week. I’ve said humble bee, aerotrain and eco-worrier.

I also misread Cornish Nationalist Party as the Cornish Nationalist Pasty. They should throw some at Gordon Ramsay.

But we have survived another winter and I have swatted my first flies of 2022.

The newspaper I used was the one which informed me that a red flag for Alzheimer’s disease is daytime napping.

I’m glad that sort of thing never happenzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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The Eyes Have (Had) It

It is plain for all to see that my short-sightedness is now so appalling that it has seriously inhibited my ability to play pool. In that regard, this weekend proved a real eye-opener.

It is plain for all to see that my short sightedness is now so appalling that it has seriously inhibited my ability to play pool.

In that regard, this weekend proved a real eye-opener. I haven’t played pool in years and it was driven home to embarrassing effect when I naively agreed to a game of doubles – feeling chuffed to even be asked.

Wearing distance glasses, I could see the pocket down the table. Yet when I lined up to take the shot, the white ball was too blurry which meant I hit it wrongly.

I didn’t down a single ball – apart from the white.

Typically, we were trounced by a pair of over confident young lads, who insisted on recording all of their stunning flukes on their bloody phones and yakking away to people not even in the room.

Judging by the crestfallen expression of my fellow partner who had to do all the work – I expect to be blackballed in future.

There will be no ‘cue’ of players wanting me to make up a four. So as one social door opens, the bugger swings shut in my face.

Ever since, I have been embarrassed by my performance and as my wrist again fizzes with pain from RSI, it rather feels like important bits are starting to fail.

I had recently been telling myself I should start playing snooker and pool again, maybe even join a league as something new to do in the summer.

Time can pass slowly in the Butchelor Pad. Especially when the mind invariably turns to what my daughters might be doing with my replacement now that the light nights and blue skies are back.

I’ve recently had to retire the traditional typewriter. The jolt of hitting the keys is unbearable on the wrist. So that’s no more letter writing for the foreseeable either.

Writing a letter on a device just isn’t the same. As I look at my typewriter in its case I wonder whether it will end up in the corner of a second hand shop unsold.

Now, as I sit here sipping cold Earl Grey tea from my chipped It Is What It Is Mug, perhaps the solution to my eyesight is to confront the fact that I might now need to upgrade to bifocals.

I know that when I wear them, I will end up looking perpetually surprised and down my nose at everyone, which isn’t a good look to be taking into the over-50s singles market.

At least the gods have a comic sense of timing. I received a £65 rebate from the tax office this week which was a real sight for sore eyes.

In the same delivery, a letter from my doctors informed me that my blood pressure is such that I statistically have a 20 per cent chance of a heart attack.

I plan to cash the cheque before I cash my cheque, so to speak.

To cheer myself up, I have been watching gentle, harmless sitcoms that the BBC used to churn out when I was a little boy.

It has been like sitting in front of a real fire instead of a cold radiator.

I can almost see mum sewing and dad reading his newspaper, while the big sister pulls the head off her Tiny Tears, whose face I drew on with a felt tip pen as revenge for some sleight.

Quite by accident, I started watching The Bounder (1982) starring Peter Bowles, who I had forgotten about. Spookily, two days later I read that his death had been announced.

A part of me wishes it was 1982 again and not 2022. Not as much as Peter Bowles, mind.

Just to go back 40 years. When shows like Pot Black were free on TV, and the lyrical nonsense of Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf sent me running off to school thinking of being all grown-up and going off to exotic places and chasing glamorous women.

Either that or playing snooker at The Crucible one day.

Back then, all this ageing and reality was far off in the future on a horizon I could never see – not even with the most powerful pair of distance glasses.

Hey ho, onwards and downwards, as I’m inclined to say.

It’s off to the opticians for me – if I can find the bugger and get there without having a heart attack, that is.

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Left Hand Man

The last blog attracted the grand total of about 30 readers and five likes. So instead of fighting through the pain barrier of a knackered typing hand to pour my soul into a 600-word column, I’d have been better off packing it in petits pois and posting photos of what I’m having for me tea.

The last blog attracted the grand total of about 30 readers and about five likes.

So instead of fighting through the pain barrier of a knackered typing hand last week to pour my soul into a 600-word column, I’d have been better off packing it in petits pois and posting photos of what I’m having for me tea.

It’s a ‘sigh’ of the times, you could say, and it occurred to me this week that in the golden days of film cameras, be it a 36 exposure or a 24-shot, you’d never have done that.

Taking a photograph of what you were eating for tea on a film camera would have struck most people as a bit odd.

Especially if you then went round all your friends and relatives’ houses to show them it in the hope of winning their approval.

This week I bought a new wrist support for the RSI-mangled right hand. All I need now is a neck support and I could double for Avid Merrion.

The pain in my right hand has made me realise just how underemployed my left hand has been all these years.

This week I’ve tried to get the lazy so-and-so off the dole.

I’ve noticed it’s willing to help out with typing, shoelaces, buttons and ties, but does very little else.

It never shakes hands with anyone, never makes a cup of tea, and never holds a pen or a telephone.

It can’t cut a loaf of bread, refuses to use scissors, won’t clean my teeth, catch a ball, throw a dart or hold a snooker cue.

In short, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand’s doing.

I must say that the left hand does help out typing on the lap top and given that our entire lives are dominated by the internet, that can’t be underestimated.

As I read this week, we are all ‘Netizens’ now. That’s one of those vomit-rising post-Millennial portmanteaus which makes me want to reach for the sick bucket, as is referring to unsolicited junk mail as ‘spam,’ which doesn’t.

Spam is an underrated cheap tin of chopped pork and ham, and to prove it I’m going to have some for my tea and take a photograph of it to get my hits up.

And speaking of Netizens, I heard on the radio that the television show Neighbours has come off the air after 37 years.

Probably because in many places, people no longer give a stuff who their neighbours are anymore.

The concept of a soap opera, where different busy bodies from next door come in and out of your life all day, probably doesn’t carry much traction in a time when all of our friends and relatives live in our phones.

If it was in my gift, they should take the Neighbours theme tune to Russia and mount giant speakers in Red Square – play it endlessly until Putin is pushed into that final game of Russian roulette with himself.

In other news, it has become clear I am now a paid-up member of the Divorced Dad’s Club.

Shite Club, as I’m inclined to call it. The first rule of Shite Club is: you do not talk about your ex.

Which is just as well given that the committee rules of the membership-only social club I have joined are very explicit about bad language.

Invariably in our late Forties and Fifties, we compare one-bedroom flats, show each other photographs of our kids and talk about them while trying not to choke up, and rue those days we worked so hard only to sign it all away.

We hold spontaneous, unorganised meetings on random days like Monday or Wednesday nights, when the married men are not allowed out to play and are at home fulfilling unnecessary DIY jobs having been set arbitrary deadlines.

It occurs to me, as I look at another empty glass and hear another Weekend Dad talking about missing his kids, that if I’d spent less time enjoying myself reading books about politics and literature, and more time reading up on domesticated subjects such as how to put up a shelf, I might not have been left on one.

Bugger that for a massive game of.

I’d rather be a Lone Ranger and listen to Bob Dylan’s It Aint Me Babe (1964)… as I try to open a tin of Spam with a work shy left hand.

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Dream Lover

No pets are allowed in the Butchelor Pad which is just as well because the old Black Dog slipped in a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had just about enough of him. Or should I really be calling him her?

No pets are allowed in the Butchelor Pad which is just as well because the old Black Dog slipped in a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had just about enough of him. Or should I really be calling him her?

When I’ve not been distracted by the day job, I have had to resort to watching her digging up graves, eating old bones from skeletons in the closet and constantly slipping the lead to tear off down memory lane.

When I do get her back on the lead, she will be taken to the vets with her tail between her legs and put down.

To cap it all off my right wrist and fist now regularly keep locking up due to years of pounding keyboards. It is very painful while typing – hence the late blog.

If I can’t write, I can’t earn and I daren’t contemplate what that might mean.

So I have locked my front door, turned off my mobile, taken the home phone off the hook and shut myself away for the week.

Socially speaking, Facebook has locked me out of my account several times this week too. It doesn’t believe who I am and has been unable to verify my identity.

I have some sympathy with that because there’s plenty of times these days that I don’t know who I am either.

I have binge-watched old comedies like Blackadder looking for laughs, and as Edmund might say, ‘I’m in the stickiest situation, Baldrick, since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck on a sticky bun.’

Last weekend I met someone new in a nightclub and it became very serious, very suddenly. There was very little required in that getting to know you phase.

We got on like a house on fire – not that a burning building should ever be a benchmark for a healthy relationship, although god knows I’ve had more than my fair share of infernos.

While I have my reservations, she made it plain to me that she is very serious and I must say, just the short time I spent in her company managed to penetrate any gloom I may have about financial and foreign affairs.

It only hit me the morning after when I woke up and remembered our wonderful meeting and her dazzling smile.

I lay there alone in my cold little room, yawned, rubbed my eyes and everything in the world suddenly seemed right and brand new again.

I heard the distant sound of church bells (could they be wedding?) and jumped out of bed with a new spring in my step to throw open the curtains.

For once, the sun had got his hat on and had indeed come out to play as March arrived, which means winter is now giving way to spring.

All the daffodils seemed to have bloomed overnight and I spotted a couple of bees buzzing from one flower to the other.

I could even make out a little wiggly worm passing the time of day with my old friend Mister Magpie like they were the best of buddies.

And a little voice inside me spoke up and said: ‘Butcher – you’ve been dreaming.’

And I had been. A dream lover, you might say.

It was all a bloody dream, Baldrick, but better than the nightmare of waking up to the Today programme.

Worryingly, it appears Joe Biden too must have been sleepwalking through his State of the Union address.

As Vladimir continues ‘Putin on the Blitz,’ the world’s most powerless man told us that Russian forces had been met by a ‘mall of strength’ in Ukraine, before correcting himself to ‘wall’.

And I gather that no mightier political powerhouse than Maggie-wannabe Liz Truss has marched off to the Baltic States to provide reassurance.

That will no doubt mean cheesy photo-opportunities of pointing at tanks, wearing fur coats and having her staffers write strident pledges into the Twittersphere.

It’s about as reassuring as turning up at Hurricane Katrina with a mop and bucket.

Then in a radio discussion about the cost of living crisis, another interviewee told us that many people out there ‘don’t have enough money to eat’.

Snacking on £10 pound notes has never really struck me as a sensible hors’ d’oeuvres, but you’ll have to excuse my cynicism as I am in a mood for splitting hairs.

I have been on a new fasting diet which involves not being bothered to cook anything for 16 hours of the day. Hungry like the wolf, you could say.

The big sister lovingly left my tea on my doorstep the other night as I try to shake myself out of a new malaise.

In a supermarket cafe this week, trying to get a hot meal inside me, I had the temerity to politely interrupt one of the table cleaners to ask where the condiments were.

Not saying a word, she sloped off, dragging her feet all the way. The next thing I was aware of was four packets of sugar crash-landing on my saucer.

Shane Warne (52 and out) would have been proud of her accuracy. I’ve heard of throwing salt over your left shoulder to avoid bad luck, but I wonder what sugar being thrown at you over it might mean?

I think the old trout needs sweetening up but perhaps she was having the sort of week I was.

Still, the children will be here to stay again in a fortnight’s time, and until then I will endeavour to keep the Black Dog firmly in the dog house.

Land Down Under by Men at Work (1980).

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Nana Nana 19

This week I broke off from not writing the novel of the year and got chatting to a chap in his 70’s who used to ride very high-powered motorcycles all over Cumbria.

This week I broke off from not writing the novel of the year and got chatting to a chap in his 70’s who used to ride very high-powered motorcycles all over Cumbria.

One summer in the 1980s, in a foolhardy attempt to impress a new love interest, he took her out for a quiet Sunday run.

Hitting a personal best of 135 mph on one stretch of road, when they stopped, his pillion passenger got off the back and said: ‘I don’t know whether I’ve just wet myself or had a multiple orgasm.’

It’s not a complaint I’ve ever heard on a first date.

The fastest motorcycle I’ve ever ridden was a rent-a-hairdryer on the Greek island of Crete.

On our first holiday abroad without parents, myself and a friend hired scooters and fearlessly flogged them up and down the stunning E75 coastal road.

That was 31 years ago now, but rave on Ag Nik 91.

We never gave much thought to helmets and while my memory is hazy, I recall that every mosquito-infested taverna we passed along the shady portside bars of Aghios Nikolaos seemed to be stomping to the Euro Discopop of Heavy D’s Now That We Found Love.

I never found love as I was 19-years-old and more interested in finding an air-conditioned room for the night, ideally with a young woman in it.

Looking back, we were just fortunate to find Greece.

Due to a pile-up on the M6, we missed the plane out of Manchester Airport which incurred the wrath of the big sister who was working out of Ag Nik as a holiday rep and had expected us off the flight and had held the coach transfer for us – much to the ire of her passengers.

We consoled ourselves sitting on our cases in Manchester, swigging Duty Free Bacardi before catching a late-night flight to Athens where we arrived in the early hours.

There, my cousin negotiated an internal transfer flight out to Crete’s Heraklion airport, where we chinked glasses of Bucks Fizz at dawn as sunlight filled the cabin.

Having landed, we then lost a Drachma argument with a rip-off taxi driver and finally staggered into our blistering resort 19 and half hours late – half broke, hungry and hungover – to be met by the Mother of all Bollockings.

The big sister was only 24 herself and she spent the rest of the fortnight openly and loudly introducing us to all her friends as: ‘The Malakas’ before ordering us to down terribly tall glasses of straight Ouzo by way of recompense for frying her nerves.

I’ve hated Ouzo ever since.

But back to my old biker friend. As he told me his tale of his long-gone pillion passenger, the bright headlights of the past appeared briefly in his eyes before they quickly dimmed again.

All I could wonder was what became of his female pillion passenger?

Did she go on to settle down with a reliable Mr Right? The kind of sensible upright fella who obeyed all his speed limits and spent his Sundays revving nothing more powerful than a lawnmower?

Sadly, dear reader, we shall never know, but the story of a lost love, and the horrific news and scenes out of Ukraine this week, brought to mind two songs by Elvis Costello.

Oliver’s Army (1979), followed later by A Good Year For The Roses (1981).

Back in 1984, there was a large anti-Trident demonstration in Barrow-in-Furness which featured a mass die-in on Michaelson Road Bridge.

The late Mam dragged the 12-year-old me along.

After it was over, a rumour went round that Elvis Costello was heading to Barrovia to put on a benefit gig and there was a mass exodus to a local club where his songs were played on repeat.

As the parents swilled cold lagers and limes all afternoon, me and a gang of other urchins kicked a popped football around Forshaw Street to act as lookouts.

Not only did Elvis never leave the building, he never entered it.

Why doesn’t the pop world still produce musicians who write profound and popular anti-war songs? Where’s a Paul Hardcastle when you need one?

Are they all too busy counting their followers, updating their Instagrams and cultivating their best duck face?

I suppose the bean counters in charge of creative output can’t be certain there’s enough moolah in it.

A good anti-war song that takes hold can be as effective as any missile in winning hearts and minds in the propaganda war.

But we will need a lot more than music in our locker to stop ‘Sadimir’ than cancelling his pin numbers or locking him out of internet banking.

What’s next, a mass bombardment of MI5 stinger pronouns? Powerless to do anything, I shall be imposing my own humble economic sanction of boycotting Smirnoff.

And please God, can I be 19 again.

Ideally driving a moped around the cicada-chirping countryside of Crete, blissfully oblivious to everything save the next girl walking by in a spaghetti string bikini.

*RIP to Gary Brooker of Procul Harum.

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My Bloody Valentine

To the doctors then this week for an ‘MOT’ and judging by my blood pressure this 50-year-old banger shouldn’t be undertaking any sudden long journeys.

To the doctors then this week for an ‘MOT’ and judging by my blood pressure this 50-year-old banger shouldn’t be undertaking any sudden long journeys.

The very nice nurse suggested that I make more of what she kept calling ‘healthy choices’.

Reading between the lines, this seems to involve cutting out all the things that make life worth living and doing more of those that make it worth not.

Cutting back on fine wine and good food shouldn’t be too difficult – given that I have no money to pay for any.

As I limped away, the overall message seems to be ‘live longer, less enjoyably’.

And how crushingly familiar it felt to have this advice imparted to me by a member of the fairer sex.

I know in my heart of (irregular) heartbeats she is right, but her ticker would be playing up too if she’d seen my annual pension statement.

Another factor she could never understand is that this old reporter has spent far too long in the fast lane of too many newspapers, when really I should have spent more time idling in the features section having my tyres pumped up and an oil change.

The paper trade comes with a heavy toll on mind, body, wallet and women, and there’s no rest for us double divorcees at weekends either.

Last Sunday, as I woke up on the morning after the fright before, the base of my skull genuinely felt like I had been hit from behind with a snow shovel.

This wasn’t entirely unfeasible given that I vaguely remember a young half-cut Everton supporter at the bar being of a mind to duff this old Liverpool one up.

Thankfully, Saint George the Barman stepped in and refused to serve him any more drink.

But on Sunday the pain in my skull and neck was so intense that I couldn’t move my head left at all.

I had to place a bag of frozen petits pois on my carotid artery and I spent the day wondering if I had been brain poisoned by the big sister’s cinnamon-spiced Tennessee Fire by Jack Daniels.

She is rehoming her entire drinks cabinet before the move to Spain and passed a bottle off as a present on my 50th birthday last month.

I have been avoiding it ever since, given that cinnamon should only ever be used on mince pies or egg custards.

When I got in last Saturday, I foolishly decided it might make a cosy nightcap.

But by Monday, the pain in my neck was so sore I was still unable to turn my head left at all.

The only way I could do so was by adopting a complete swivel of the upper body from the hips – like how Robocop walks.

I spent the day hunched up like Gladstone Small – not what I had in mind for Valentine’s Day.

Then at the end of the day I walked home – taking my regular shortcut through the pleasant churchyard – only to have a single bloody magpie bound eagerly towards me like a puppy returning a stick to its owner.

So, in the interests of superstition and living a long and tedious life, I have resisted all pressure to socialise and stayed alone in the Butchelor Pad.

Watching old episodes of Hammer House of Horror – which is a damn sight better than being married to one – and shivering by a cold radiator with nowt stronger than tea in my It Is What It Is mug.

The only other voices in the flat come from my wireless – the self-satisfied interviewees who now entirely dominate BBC Radio Four.

They included professional tennis bore Novak Djokevic who droned on interminably about what he was and wasn’t prepared to put into his magnificent body.

It appears that everything which passes his lips has to be researched, measured, quantified and then approved by committee.

Only this can give him the greatest chance of elite athletic performance. While his record shows it has worked, it must be tedious living in a test tube.

For some reason, Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins sprang to mind.

A boyhood hero of mine when the world of snooker seemed full of characters – Alex was the hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-everything People’s Champion.

I looked up Alex on YouTube and had forgotten how great it was to watch him whizz around a 12ft Riley – with his twitches, vulnerability and logic-defying long pots and five cushion rebounds.

I’d much rather be rooting for an entertaining underdog like Alex than the tedious professional who takes himself and his balls far too seriously.

The trouble is that the Novaks all prevail now. None of them look like they enjoy it.

Still, the two cards I received for Valentine’s Day this week has proved that somebody out there must know my new address.

I received two from the same person and the prime suspect is Strong Independent Woman, although she informs me a ‘lady would never tell’.

It makes me wonder if there is still enough life left in the heart for a few more laps?

Maybe, providing I pass the MOT and keep swerving that bloody magpie.

PS: If any of my three readers would like a free bottle of cinnamon-spiced Jack Daniels, please get in touch.

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Moonlight Shadow

To be honest, I would rather not write anything this week and there are a hundred places I would rather be than my own skin.

To be honest, I would rather not write anything this week and there are a hundred places I would rather be than my own skin.

I think my eyesight is on the way out. At silly o’clock yesterday morning, I was hoovering in preparation for a flying visit from the kids.

I spent a good minute on a mysterious dark patch that had suddenly appeared on the living room floor, yet it was only when I got on my hands and knees that I realised it was my own shadow.

I had a good laugh at that one and so did Henry the Hoover. I sometimes look across the room at little Henry’s annoying grin.

It reminds me of that film, Castaway, with Tom Hanks, where all he has to keep him company on a desert island is a volleyball called Wilson.

But while the Butchelor Pad may indeed be deserted, this is no desert island.

I have both lukewarm and cold running water.

To prove it I got a massive water bill through the letterbox this week which made the old eyes water.

Then Vodafone texted with a grossly offensive bill from last month – three times my usual amount.

Readers will remember that when I moved in here, I racked up hours on hold to the various utility companies – burning through my monthly data allowance.

The irony of getting a massive bill from the water company for telling them I exist and a massive bill from the telephone company for doing so, made my neck twitch.

I had to sit down for a while with a stiff eye-opener having felt another stabbing pain in the chest (pocket).

I’m glad to report though that the big sister is back – safe, sound and bronzed from a week in balmy Madeira.

Despite me having taken charge of all three of her delinquent dogs, there has been no phone call from her to ‘touch base’.

Like many now, she communicates entirely via Facebook where I notice she apparently went on a Jeep Safari.

I’m just relieved nobody shot her – easy as she is to mistake for a Gazelle.

I also read this week that Liam Gallagher from Oasis has packed in the drink and the smokes – yet still manages to sing like he is shouting up a drainpipe.

And on YouTube, I saw a clip of Bez from the Happy Mondays who has been ruining a ruined reputation by taking the shilling from dancing on ice.

Even the hell-raisers of my youth are handing over their badges and guns, and it pains me to watch.

Apparently, it is the winter Olympics somewhere in the world and given how cold the Butchelor Pad has been, I know how the competitors feel.

So I was dutybound to pull on my winter coat and go in search of a real roaring fire.

I met a young man at a bar who told me he peels potatoes for a living – starting at 6am, finishing at 2pm.

He philosophically shrugged it off as “a job’s a job at the end of the day,” and when I looked, it was a relief to see no chips on his shoulders.

At another establishment, I heard someone else say the exact same expression as they bemoaned their own nine to five.

But what about the start of the day? Or is making money to meet the bills all we are here for?

On my travels, I got talking to a bar maid who was telling me in vivid detail where she plans to put everything in her new house.

She was very excited and I suppose saying it aloud helps her visualise where things might go.

But by the time she finished, I felt like I personally had moved in every stick of furniture and put up every shelf, which was quite exhausting.

It has been quiet this week on the old music front, and I could bore you with Luke Kelly of The Dubliners and a song called the Bonny Shoals of Herring.

It reminds me of going off shore with a rum bunch of fishermen from Maryport for a feature I wrote for a magazine a lifetime ago.

It’s probably better you watch it yourself and make your own mind up.

Having just waved both girls off on the night train, I have returned to the chiller to find a half-nibbled chocolate heart lolly that I bought one of them for Valentine’s Day.

It breaks mine to even contemplate throwing it away.

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Febrrruary

I took a lump of butter out of the fridge to soften it this week, but it has been so cold in the Butchelor Pad it has frozen solid.

I took a lump of butter out of the fridge to soften it this week, but it has been so cold in the Butchelor Pad it has frozen solid.

February has brought with it cold weather and a rising panic about the cost of living crisis.

I’ve turned all the heating down to Dennis Nielsen levels and sit here typing in a flat colder than the South Pole branch of Iceland.

If this carries on, I might have to stand around a candle to get some warmth. On the upside, at least the ice in my glass is lasting longer but it’s playing merry hell with my carpal tunnel syndrome.

This week it even crossed my mind to go to bed wearing oven gloves, not that I get much sleep when I get there.

It would be nice to have a Carol Kirkwood figure as a hot water bottle as I could do with a warm front moving in until spring.

It might help me move on or live more in the moment, which keeps being suggested to me.

This usually comes from happily married couples with dual incomes, who see their children every day and have both parents still alive.

I moved back to the past four years ago and like it there where everyone who meant anything is still with me.

Having slaved relentlessly over a hot keyboard for 33 years in a trade which requires you to relentlessly looking forward, it’s comforting to look back.

It’s certainly better than living in the moment which seems to involve me ruminating on how I might put bread (and frozen butter) on the table.

Not just my own table but the kids, hers and now technically ‘his’ as well.

A good distraction from the buzz of the fridge and the drip of the tap of the single 50-year-old is watching old television series like Tales of The Unexpected, and The Onedin Line.

The theme tunes alone whisk me back to being a happy little boy; sitting by a (warm) fire in brown paisley pyjamas watching a black and white portable in the 70s.

How simple and easy life was then too.

February 2 also marked an anniversary of having lost nana Butcher. Her house was also a bit of lighthouse to us all and it’s hard to think two years have gone already.

I can still see her watering the hydrangeas as granddad tried to feed me radishes.

At least I hope it was that way round.

And this week two white feathers spiralled out of the sky again and landed directly at my feet, which makes a change from the usual bird s**t.

And in another example of life’s impeccable timing, nana Butcher’s funeral service took place on Valentine’s Day 2020, which is another milestone to get past.

On the plus side, Strong Independent Woman has been in touch to apologise for not sending a card on my 50th. On the downside I have told her she is now on a final written warning for February 14.

I must say the big sister also possesses an uncanny nose for incoming cold weather. Last weekend she jetted off on a pre-booked trip to balmy Madeira.

Right now, she’ll probably be sipping cocktails on a sunbed as mozzies buzz round her backside.

I waved her off last Sunday in gales and drizzle and as her car disappeared around the corner it suddenly hit my unstiff upper lip.

This is the dress rehearsal for that awful occasion in five months time when she emigrates for good, so I walked home in the rain trying not to think about it.

Who will I have to breathlessly regale me of stories about rushing to order three cut-price bikinis online before the holiday – only to get them and discover the reason they were so cheap was because they were child sizes.

So, as I dwell on the cost of living, remember Chris Rea’s take on money: ‘It’s all just bits of paper flying away from you.’ (The Road to Hell) (1989).

And when I think of Nana Butcher’s hydrangeas, it has to be that devastating line about flowers in Nothing Compares 2 You (1990).

The next flowers to die in the back yard will be the big sister’s when she says adios, so I’ll have to make sure she cultivates an orange tree for all our Tequila Sunrises.

So if you’re in the market for career advice it might be better to find a job in high finance like she did, than one in the words business like me.

It’s surely better to be under a sunbrella in Madeira dropping Jagar Bombs than fighting an actual umbrella and worrying about Putin dropping his.

If it comes to World War Three, at least I have a hard pound of butter and a heavy typewriter to throw at them.

But tonight is still young, even if I’m not.

It’s high time I ignored the cost of living crisis, pulled on my winter coat and went in search of living in the moment.

I’m not going to find a Carol Kirkwood water bottle moping around this bloody flat, am I.

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So Far, So Bad

The week started off well enough but as is so often the case it went downhill the longer it went on.

The week started off well enough but as is so often the case it went downhill the longer it went on.

Last Sunday on my 50th birthday, I was enjoying a lie-in on the morning after a very big night before.

I haven’t slept very well these past couple of years so when I heard a knock at the door I was in no mood for leaping out of bed.

The letterbox slapped and there was the distinctive rustle of post landing on my doormat.

I dwelt on this and then the penny dropped – it must be a last-minute birthday card and hand-delivered no less.

Maybe it was a make-up card from a long-forgotten old flame? I have been thinking about her recently. Surely 30-odd years should be plenty of time for her to realise the error of her ways.

And who else would be shoving post through my door on the morning of my 50th? It must be a birthday card from someone significant…

When you’re old, free and vulnerable – you get in to silly thinking patterns like this.

Full of intrigue and possibility, I bounded down all 13 stairs and picked up the post to tear it open.

It was a flyer from the local Green Party candidate and I must say, I haven’t been that disappointed since the release of Be Here Now (25 years ago).

I trudged back upstairs, put the kettle on and adjourned to the fire escape to enjoy yet another Hamlet cigar moment.

The humourless so-and-so’s stopped doing the adverts in 1991.

Not that I could watch them now even if they still made them.

The Butchelor Pad is a TV-free zone so during bouts of insomnia I play music and obsess over clever lyrics.

The oldest of old flames liked Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger (1982) which still sounds fresh 40 years on, and, of course, the late Meatloaf, Two out of Three Ain’t Bad (1978).

Meatloaf was the nearest music got to a one-man rock opera. I always felt some of his stuff went on a bit too long.

I was also stumped by a recent quiz question asking me to name a more successful female-male duo than Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart?

But I did at least get a genuine laugh from my sister’s birthday card.

‘Brother. You are an example to us all*

*Not a good example. More a not what to do!

I was also very moved by all the birthday messages and feedback to my last column.

The day after my 50th, I received an email from my sister recommending a firm to sort out my will, which means she won’t now be getting my record collection. That was followed by a text message from the doctor’s inviting me in for a blood pressure check.

How do they know I’ve just received my new council tax demand?

And the landlady at the local pub pulled me to one side and cautioned me against sitting where I have. Apparently I have chosen the ‘Stool of Death’.

The last four fellas who have sat there have all died within two years,’ she warned. I asked had they been waiting to get served, but I’m not sure she heard.

My attention was then drawn to a framed photograph on the pub wall that I had never noticed before.

It shows a full-sized model skeleton sitting at the same stool with a pint.

It does explain why that spot has never been taken every time I’ve called in.

Yet all it does is make me doubly determined to prove the superstitions wrong.

It’s true that black cats scarper from me whenever I cross their paths and lone magpies have been known to salute me as I drive by.

But given that I now have to park my car 1.7 miles away from the Butchelor Pad due to a lack of spaces, all this extra walking should do me no harm.

So imagine my surprise on Tuesday morning when I opened the front door to go to work and found myself under a ladder -propped directly over my threshold.

The man at the top shouted down that he was painting the front of the building.

I joked that he might give the windows a clean while he was up there, but it was not taken in the spirit intended.

I was lucky not to get a bucket of emulsion over my head.

I read this week that the link between walking under a ladder and bad luck dates back to the gallows – so expect to read next week about me having crashed into a shop selling mirrors.

But this week I also found a single white feather stuck in a cobweb on the fire escape and defying the wind.

I have also spotted clumps of purple crocus poking up through the turf in a sure sign that we got through January and spring is coming.

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Big Five Oh

I am beginning to worry about my inability to recall the phonetic alphabet.

I am beginning to worry about my inability to recall the phonetic alphabet.

On the telephone to someone this week I stuttered: ‘Tee for Tommy, P for perky and W for, er, whatever.’

But it is only to be expected as I crash land into my 50th birthday this weekend.

And with all this moving into the new Butchelor Pad, my knees feel like I have done a round of parachute jumps with all that upstairs and downstairs.

A good friend warned me that his knees were the ‘first to go’ as soon as the clock struck one minute past midnight on his 50th.

First to go with me are my memory banks and I only need look at the older sister for genetic evidence of that.

When we briefly lived together recently, she would give strange instructions for package deliveries.

‘When the thing comes can you remember to put it in the thingy,’ she would tell me on her way out of the door.

This week she messaged to say she could not find her sugar bowl and asked if I had absent-mindedly pinched it during my move.

I hadn’t, but I do wonder now whether it might have run off with my eggcup. Such has been her generosity in giving me things for the new flat, she joked this week that she is moving in by stealth.

One thing my memory won’t forget though is that I found ‘Are Mam’ dead on my birthday four years back.

I must say, I’ve had better surprises on the big day and this time of the year is a rotten one for anniversaries.

A step-dad in 2011, Nana Butcher (early next month) and with perfect timing, the doctor from Orkney confirmed this week that the old man has indeed had a stroke after all.

They don’t know when, but he is ok and bullish about it now; wondering what all the fuss is about.

As I sip cold black coffee from my sister’s mug, which bears the slogan “It Is What It Is,” it all strikes me as life’s way of reminding me that we reach an age where you’re more likely to be lighting a candle for someone than looking forward to blowing the buggers out.

I remind myself I am not the first to have lost a mother and on balance, mine (72), had a good innings compared to some.

Sadly for me, the record shows she was bowled out more times than she hit sixes and frequently turned the bat on her own stumps.

I also wish I knew then what I know now, so as the anniversary rolls around again, I do wish I could take back a few of the harsh assessments I made down the years.

It doesn’t put me in much of a mood for party poppers or paper kazoos but I will go out anyway, pull on an imaginary black armband, find a cold drink and play the music she used to.

There may not have been much money in the house growing up, but we were rich in music. In fact a friend of hers told me a story how she would turn up at her doorstep when things were grim in the Eighties and announce: ‘I’ve got a tenner, who’s coming to the pub?’

This week I played George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (1970) which I recall was in my car on the day I found her and was a great comfort to me.

But if you call it up on You Tube, please be aware you have to sit through that insufferable ‘the funeral industry has been ripping us off’ ad man.

And on my local pub jukebox I have recently found a song by Roy Orbison who she often played.

The more I learn the more I realise why she adored his tragic backstory.

The so-called “saddest man in rock,” hid his shyness and stage fright behind thick prescription sunglasses. He lost two sons in a house fire and having reunited with his first wife after a divorce, he then saw her killed in a car crash.

I read this week that he sang about loneliness and emotion in a time when men didn’t, although I think Elvis Presley might have had something to say about that.

Intriguingly, on Orbison’s first tour in Britain as an understudy to an up-and-coming new band, he went down such a storm that he had to be held back from going on for a 15th encore by a certain Lennon and McCartney who were waiting to play next.

But the Big O also endured massive career lows as the charts moved away from his style.

Just as he embarked on a final comeback, he dropped dead from a heart attack aged just 52 in 1988.

So in a reappraisal of the Big O, a collection of his classics is now in the post, as is his last televised star-studded concert Black & White Night (1987).

A new chum – Tel Boy, I’ll call him – also helped lift the spirits last weekend with his quickfire wit and resourcefulness.

Legend has it that he once spent 3,000 hours on an online game without blinking, which amounts to 125 days, although my recollection of our conversation may not be entirely reliable, but I think that was the gist.

Last weekend Tel Boy introduced me to a single Pretty Woman, and can you imagine the gates of hell that would open if that song was released today?

We spent an hour in deep conversation at the bar before she abruptly disappeared.

Unbeknown to me, she had gone to see her ex who had been stood in the other end all the time – watching us get on like a house on fire.

I decided it was time for a sharp exit and Tel Boy agreed, although we were subsequently turned away from the doors of a club.

It’s a boring story of NHS password fails, or aka ‘Cozzer Covid’.

So my birthday day will be a much quieter affair down the local and I will put some money in the jukebox to play Roy Orbison: In Dreams (1963).

After all, O stands for Orbison in my new phonetic alphabet.

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Great Eggscape

Well it hasn’t taken long for the honeymoon period to wear off and I’ve never been a fan of that unfortunate turn of phrase…

Well it hasn’t taken long for the honeymoon period to wear off and I’ve never been a fan of that unfortunate turn of phrase.

I write having wasted an entire day of my holiday entitlement on hold trying to get the Butchelor Pad hooked up to the utilities and burning up my monthly mobile data allowance in the process.

At the time of writing, my radiators blaze away all day when I’m out at work while my temporary BT Wifi drops out every time I dare look away from my keyboard.

Why is it that customer services advisers paid to answer telephones ask if I have visited their websites or downloaded their apps? Do they not realise they are talking themselves out of their own jobs?

Needless to say, if I ever see that little 8-bit T-Rex dinosaur figure signalling lost connection again, I might turn into Captain Caveman if I can lay my hands on a decent club.

And don’t get me started on the seemingly simple task of taking the meter readings.

The meter is so small it wouldn’t have been out of place in a doll’s house. You also need fingers as tiny as those of a garden gnome to work its illogical keypad and the eyesight of Superman to see it.

I’ve never had much energy, patience or inclination for all this stuff and after two days of it I felt like putting my head in the oven (not that I could get it to work, you understand).

I somehow contrived to programme my washing on a nine-hour spin cycle and one week on my packing is unfinished. On one day this week, I had to suffer the ignominy of eating my breakfast boiled egg out of a shot glass.

I know I unpacked my egg cup but like everything else in my universe, it seems to either go missing when I need it most, die on me when I least expect it, or sprout a pair of legs and walk out.

But worst of all, in my impatience to get signed up to the utilities I may now have mistakenly cancelled the electricity and gas supply to the shop downstairs who are registered to the same address.

Any day now, I’ve been told the post man will deliver them a “final invoice” which I’m sure will endear me to the new neighbour no end.

When I finally got through to speak to E.ON (so-called because it takes an aeon to reach a human?) – they were very helpful and promised to sort it out.

But then I got an automated text contradicting all previous conversations, so god knows where we are in the process.

At least I could rely on the big sister to come to the rescue and she managed at least to get the uneccessarily complicated oven working.

And with the impeccable timing that only a woman can possess she immediately identified my biggest problem of all.

“Your cushions don’t match your curtains,” she said. (They do now thanks to her and her endless generosity).

Praise this week must also go to my malnourished nephew Tom. He who once ate three selection boxes in a night burnt off several calories with his impressive heavy lifting. Rapidly shuttling three boxes up the stairs at a time and declaring everything in the new flat as “decent”.

And I suppose it is, although I’m acutely aware that this must be what happens to men of a certain vintage when they are released back into the wild.

So after all this dreadful Orwellian online misery and pop-up chat bots, I was forced to drop into the new local for a pint – just to speak to a real person.

The landlady was typically charming although the hours beyond that first drink remain a bit of fog.

I do have a vague recollection of playing a good game which involved flipping 20p coins across the bar to try and land them in a charity pot.

I also ended up in another pub with two very witty ex-forces guys who helped put a smile back on Butcher’s chops.

That is until they challenged me to an arm-wrestle. It was all my fault, of course, having stupidly announced that I had once “arm-wrestled professionally” as part of a feature I was writing for a newspaper 20 years ago.

I was convincingly stuffed by the one eight years my senior who had biceps like polished teak. His friend, 12 years my junior, also had a vice-like grip and chuckled in my face as he crushed all my typing fingers.

Then the week ended with a breathless phone call from the lovely nurses in NHS Scotland suggesting my Dad might have had another stroke. He’s had a scan, hasn’t had a stroke and is ok, but it certainly put my lost egg cup in its place.

There’s not been much on the music front this week but the first CD played in the flat was from 1986 – Queen’s A Kind of Magic

Chris Rea – another favourite of mine – did the finger clicks at the start.

Then in my new loft I spookily found somebody else’s cassette tapes. They included Jesus Christ: Superstar which I swerved, and 1988’s The Living Years by Mike & The Mechanics, which got me thinking of my old man in the Orkneys. Then Auberge, also by Chris Rea, which I played to death last summer.

Well I’m 50 next week, so onwards and downwards as they say. A fella in the local told me that when the careers officer came round school and asked him what he wanted to be, the fella said he looked him dead in the eye and said: “Not a careers officer, that’s for sure.”

Harsh but true.

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Butchelor Pad

After all that snivelling on New Tears Day things seem to be looking up because as you read this I am now the proud new renter of a one-bed “Butchelor” pad.

After all that snivelling on New Tears Day things seem to be looking up because as you read this I am now the proud new renter of a one-bed “Butchelor” pad.

It is accessed up a very steep flight of 13 steps and yet the nearest pub is only 20 from my front door so what could possibly go wrong?

There’s a Chinese takeaway only a short “wok” away and my lofty perch at the rear commands stunning views over next door’s wheelie bins and a frozen car park.

To toast my good fortune, I called in at my new local and a sign on the wall immediately caught my eye.

“If you didn’t drink, how would you let people know you love them at 2am?”

And do you know that within seconds of my sitting down by the blazing fire with a cold one, a bloke got up and put the following three songs on the jukebox.

Rod Stewart’s 1972 You Wear It Well – a personal favourite – followed by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel’s Come Up & See Me (Make Me Smile) (1975).

A former editor of mine was a massive Steve Harley fan and I have always found that Come Up and See Me goes down well with pints of bitter.

Last of the three plays for £1 on the jukebox by our hero was Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds (1965).

It was the curtain-closer at are mam’s cremation three years ago this month, except her version was Bob Dylan’s. We carried her in on Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) and she departed to Dylan.

And I was reminded this week that she always had a thing about coming back as a robin, because on three consecutive days a big fat one hopped to within six feet of me in the sister’s backyard to size me up.

I’ve offered bread but it didn’t seem bothered. Maybe it wants a light?

This string of coincidences all struck me as very positive omens and even if they aren’t, I have to say that finding a jukebox these days with those three songs still on it, has to be as good a way of spending a quid that I can think of in 2022.

You see, most modern music leaves me cold and I wouldn’t walk to the end of next door’s wheelie bins to see most of them.

Those marvellous musical eccentrics that made the UK charts so varied and interesting all seem to have disappeared now.

Renee and Renato – 40-years ago this year – wouldn’t happen now – although that’s not entirely a loss, but nor would Captain Sensible, Bad Manners or Toyah.

Earlier this week, I had to break the news to the big sister that I was moving out. I interrupted her as she was playing Trivial Pursuit with my malnourished nephew, Tom, aged 20.

Tom set a personal best this Christmas by eating three whole selection boxes in one sitting. Until he materialised mid-afternoon and confessed, her three semi-feral hounds had all been in the dog house.

But three selection boxes is still some way short of the record set by his older brother Jack.

Legend has it that Jack polished off five chicken breasts in one night and left the family without a meal, and in my book that’s the kill-rate of a werewolf.

And speaking of all things lunar, I arrived back at the big sister’s to break the news – just as she asked the question: “Where did the Great Fire of London start?”

“London,” I said, closing the front door.

On hearing I was off, I could tell she was privately devastated but putting on a brave face as she choked on her warm tears.

Why else would she demand I open a long-chilled magnum of Asti Spumante and then personally embark on an enthusiastic start of all my packing?

And speaking of the Great Fire of London, did you know that axes were used to help put it out?

It’s true.

It wouldn’t be the first thing I would grab in an inferno but I suppose a lot of the buildings were wooden in 1666.

But I have nothing to fear from fires because the big sis also then did a Tarot card reading for me and the gods are saying that financial success and romance are all on the cards for me this year, she insists.

Emboldened by my rare turn of luck, I dropped a line to a female friend of old who regularly enjoys telling me that she is a Strong Independent Woman.

Given the angle of my new staircase, I could do with a Strong Independent Woman to help with all those boxes, so I suggested that she start 2022 by downsizing to a Weak Co-Dependent Man.

Strong Independent Woman has been down in the dumps recently so to cheer her up I thought about buying her a big bunch of flowers.

But then that got me thinking about that old advert for Impulse bodyspray.

When a man you’ve never met before suddenly gives you flowers, isn’t it time to reach for the CS gas and then report it as a non-crime hate incident?

So as you read this, you find me up to my neck in cardboard boxes.

Failing that at weekends I will be in my new local with pound coins burning a hole in my pocket.

That is until the Strong Independent Woman decides to come up and see me and make me smile.

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Happy New Tear

I spent a good 20 minutes of New Year’s Day bawling my eyes out and the December credit card bill hasn’t even arrived yet.

I spent a good 20 minutes of New Year’s Day bawling my eyes out and the December credit card bill hasn’t even arrived yet.

It was nothing specific, just my usual gremlins, and for me the clock always ticks loudest at this time of the year.

You may as well start 2022 as you mean to go on, I quipped, blowing my nose.

And as people are inclined to advise: “crying’s healthy.”

Not when you’re doing it while driving up the pitch black M6 in biblical rain, it isn’t, having said goodbye to the kids for another fortnight.

I blame the new CD in the car that I picked up on a flying visit to Morecambe – Tony Christie’s Definitive Collection (£1.65) -from Cancer Research UK.

After Vegas floor-fillers like Amarillo and I Did What I Did For Maria, it’s downhill all the way.

Solitaire, Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast, Most Beautiful Girl and So Deep The Night would bring tears to a glass eye.

The television on the countdown to New Year was reliably awful. Jools Holland still doing his stuff on one side and some nobody on the other, so we played Trivial Pursuit.

I could have cried when the eldest was asked to name which cricket ground in London – home to Test cricket – is named after a shape.

“The Circle?” came the answer.

A refresher course in the nation’s sporting grounds could well be going on her New Year’s resolutions, which the sister comically dismisses as a “to-do list for the first week of January.”

Another good Trivial Pursuit question which taxed the mind was: “Barry Manilow got to number 1 in 1976 with the song I Write The Songs Which Make The Whole World Sing – but did he write it?”

My biggest personal resolution is to abandon all hope of ever writing a book. It is the only achievement I’ve effortlessly maintained for 30 years, so this blog may have to do instead.

And it must be knocking on 30 years since I last watched the film Alive: The Miracle of the Andes (1993).

I was very impressionable back then and I remember hoping that one day in the future I might blossom in to the kind of man shown by Nando Parrado. He bravely led the 10-day climb out of the mountains to get help after the 1972 plane crash.

Then it dawned on me that I had barely been able to get my sister’s impossible gas fire going while she was away visiting friends in Covid capital.

(She is back today and was positive she was negative, which she was.)

And with my 50th birthday now howling at the door this month, I recognised to my horror that the type of bloke I have grown in to is probably more accurately reflected in Alive in the on-screen portrayal of Bobby Francois.

Bobby pretty much spends the entire disaster sitting on his arse chain-smoking outside the devastated fuselage.

Breaking his silence only to interject with some unhelpful truths about their probable fate and the futility of it all.

I’m not sure if it’s a faithful representation of him, but when they wish “Happy New Year,” I’m inclined to reply: “Says who?”

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Cozzer Covid

It was all going swimmingly until December 29 when the offer of a temporary bed that I was supposed to be laying in was suddenly withdrawn late in the day – “cozzer Covid”.

IT has been a peaceful Christmas week and I have stuck to my usual monk-like discipline of total abstinence and only light wafer-based snacks.

It was all going swimmingly until December 29 when the offer of a temporary bed that I was supposed to be laying in was suddenly withdrawn late in the day – “cozzer Covid”.

So I did what any self-respecting credit card holder does and took myself off for a night in the Lake District – booking last minute into a palace in the middle of nowhere for drinks by the holly-lined fireside and a slap-up beef dinner for one.

I’ve never dined in a draughty aircraft hangar before, but can now summon up a fairly reliable image of what it must be like. The very attentive member of waiting staff explained that they had been required to extend the chairs and tables into the conference centre/function room, cozzer Covid.

The plates were the size of chargers and the starter was with me before I had unfolded my napkin. The main course included huge soft cuts of beef, the creamiest mashed potatoes, sprouts you could actually taste and gravy you could drink by the pint.

I distantly mingled with some hardy pensioners from Wigan who had spent the day staring at the drizzle from the windows of a fogged-up coach trip which, of course, had very nearly been cancelled at the last minute because five of the party pulled out cozzer you know what.

“Not that they had it, but that they were scared of getting it,” said my informant.

“The company had thought about cancelling but if they had done, there would have been absolute uproar.

“We only come away the three of us – me and me Mam and me Dad because we haven’t seen them the same this year, cozzer Covid,” she sighed as the rain hosed the windows and Let It Snow played over the speakers.

I noticed the background music in the hotel was about four fractions too low on the volume for me; although like I said to her: “My hearing aid isn’t what it once was.”

“It’s been a dead day today because there’s nothing to do around here,” she added dismissively. (The hotel being somewhat socially distanced from civilisation).

At the bar, there was quite the socially-distanced queue for drinks too because a couple of staff had managed to socially distance themselves from going to work, presumably because of you know what.

So it was left to the blue-arsed ones to wait on, clear up, serve on, check people in and remain patient and smiling throughout, having festooned the room with lovely Christmas trees.

The music was marred for me when I detected this joyful little trio of upbeat numbers Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce Springsteen; Phil Collins’ I Wish It Would Rain Down and These Are The Days Of Our Lives by Queen.

I spent far too much time contemplating whether Phil Collins had ever been to the Lake District. Probably not on the evidence of this weather.

Still, like I always say, you’ve always got to look on the dull side of life.

And spare a thought for the geriatric cat of a friend of a friend of a friend.

Its thoughtful owner had decided that after one last Christmas together it would have to go for one last visit to the vets this week. Its explosive bowels and poor bladder control have added a new dimension to the term kitty litter.

But in an 11th hour day of drama, reported to me by the Non Practising Buddhist Big Sister, the latest word is that the owner has now tested positive for Covid and must self-isolate, so Kitty gets a stay of execution for another week.

All because of Covid.