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.

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.