A letter to my 17yr old self …

In response to A letter from my 17yr old self.

2016

Dear 17yr old Andy,

Thanks for your letter. Well, here we are. We survived, we are still alive and kicking! The good news is we generally did pretty well. I’m not going to tell you the details as it will spoil it for you, but we get through, so keep on keeping on young man.

What I will say, is that those guilty pleasures of yours – singing in the band, making people laugh – they’re not just lusty and pointless, so don’t keep dismissing them. Those are beacons in the dark, sirens in the quiet still of night. Despite what you might think, they are your soul speaking to you.

I just realised that last sentence might freak you out. Sorry, let me rephrase. Those are the things that make you what you are. Reading your letter brought back many memories for me, how we believed and trusted unerringly in our elders, and by consequence, how we felt anything we experienced that didn’t align with them was somehow incongruous, somewhat deviant and unhealthy.

I remember now, thanks to your letter, how we lived our life by a set of rules devised purely by teachers, parents, lawmakers, guidelines always laid down in tablets of stone. Our success was measured not by happiness, but by how well we stayed on that path of righteousness as prescribed by ‘them’.

If I can offer one piece of advice, it’s to stop always looking to others for guidance – instead start to look inwardly at your self, at our self. You know that ‘gut feel’ you get, but always push back if it doesn’t conform to The Book? Well, stop doing that. Stop it now. Immediately. Listen to the voices inside – I bet that spooks you too? Don’t worry, I am sane of mind, I just see life differently, through a less filtered lens.

I don’t mean to suggest you ignore The Book altogether – there’s a lot of great and sound advice out there, advice that’s built on thousands of years of hard earned experience – but complement it with your own thoughts and beliefs. Believe it or not you (we) are unique, and we do have talents that would horrify you if I were to tell you them now.

And so I won’t tell you, for you must find them on your own, because the journey is the biggest part of any experience, not the destination. That obsession of getting somewhere, stop that too. Retune your beliefs, redefine your passions and act accordingly. Most importantly, stop obsessing with trying to define the end point all the time. Instead set the rules (your rules), and let your own moral compass navigate.

By the way – I still don’t get electricity, it just works, and the sooner you get comfortable with the fact that you don’t need to understand everything, the better it will be.

Forget destinations and just enjoy the journey, young man, just make sure it’s your journey and not anyone elses.

Love,

Me (2016)
x

 

The Versatile Blogger – nominated x 2

versatile-blogger-award

I am flattered and honoured to have received two nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award so a big, big thanks x 2 goes out to mythinkout and also pointless & prosaic who were kind enough to nominate me. As an Englishman this delights me and makes me feel very awkward, in equal measure. I confess I contemplated ignoring the nominations, but that would have been very rude and impolite, so thank you once again from the bottom of my blogging inkwell you two!

So, in accordance with the VBA rules, here are 7 things about me:

  1. I look like the Before photo in every Before/After fitness transformation photograph that was ever photographed.
  2. I’m 51 years old, but I think I’m about 34.
  3. I was born, grew up and still live in England, but have also lived in Munich – Germany (’97-’99) and Virginia – USA (’00-’02)
  4. I have an INFJ personality type which means I’m in the smallest, most select group alongside Gandhi (good), Plato (smart), Wittgenstein (wow, cool), Dostoevsky (get me!), Hitler (awkward), Bin Laden (wtf …?)
  5. I hate mushrooms
  6. The last time I cried was when our family dog died. He was called George. He was ace.
  7. I’m listening to Joni Mitchell as I type this (Court & Spark album)

My nominations are all bloggers who have either 1) blogged about something that made me go “wow”, 2) made me laugh or 3) inspired me to carry on blogging.

In no particular order:

Antondotreks

Emma Fleming

Cars and cooking

fromroad2trail

3389 miles & further

dazz22

Greater than gravity

 

 

The idiocy of being me …

I’ve been set an assignment by my Blogging101 course, to ‘write a blog to my target audience, on any subject, but with an interesting twist’.

I immediately panicked, I don’t have a target audience…

Target audience -> all human beings

That feels a bit vague …

Target audience -> people like me

This is hard, really hard.

The Blogging101 students have a common room, an online chatroom. I’ve already been on there several times and seen that loads of people have already done their homework and this is just like school all over again, all those feelings I used to have, have come flooding back. I’m more obsessed by how far others have got on their assignments than actually doing my own, and the more I procrastinate, the bigger my crisis becomes.

And yet it feels ever so slightly comforting and familiar, like slipping into an old pair of jeans. Part of me likes being told what to do, part of me likes to rebel, I will do my homework assignment but not without a small drama, a quiet rebel yell, a Tim Henman-esque fistpump.

It’s getting late, but here I am, doing my assignment, writing about not doing my assignment. This is like a bloody John Le Carre novel.

And this is a picture of a twisty snake, next to Tim Henman, fist-pumping. Pretty interesting huh? My classmates are gonna love this …

 

twisty snakeHenman

My name is Andy and I’m a blogger …

Of course you knew that, regular readers, but you see I’m doing a ‘Blogging 101’ course through the kind people at WordPress, my blog hosts. I want to try and improve my blogging, and my first assignment is to re-do my introductory blog, to re-visit and re-answer the basic question:

“who I am and why I’m here”

When I first did this at the very beginning of my blog back in 2012, which can be found here, I made up all sorts of excuses about how random and unpredictable my blog would be.  But I was right! It is random, sporadic, unpredictable. My blogs are like London buses, nothing for days and suddenly two come along at once.

So why do I blog? Because I love the edginess of blogging. I could write in a diary or journal, and in fact I used to do that but I found it too easy to become sloppy. I often wrote in shorthand and used bullet points and abbreviations. I scribbled in my already shoddy handwriting. I didn’t have to explain or justify things and it all felt rather staid and loose. Worst of all I wrote about the same things – about how I was feeling, about my likes and dislikes but always in a very insular way, and even I got bored.

With a blog you can at least pretend you have an audience, you can imagine critical eyes being cast over your writing and that demands a certain level of effort. Being accused of being boring is quite an insult for me, and so with a public blog I am forced to try and say something original, something new, something funny or interesting, or at the very least thought provoking.

An analogy would be working from home versus going into an office. When I work from home I can wear a scruffy t-shirt and jeans, I might wash my face but may not shower, I may not brush my teeth until mid-morning. When I go into the office I always wear pants, I will always wash, always brush my teeth, wear sensible shoes and clean clothes and generally make more of an effort.  To me that’s writing a diary/journal versus blogging – one can live a pantless, scruffy, unshaven existence but it’s not very nourishing.

Blogging therefore challenges me more than writing a private journal ever would, and from challenge emanates a degree of personal growth. It enforces a level of discipline on the undisciplined me. Often I get the urge to blog long before I have a subject, and in such situations I just write from a blank page and am constantly amazed at how stuff just appears. It’s not always great, but is forever unexpected.

Sometimes I just have a spark of an idea, and I use the blog to work and expand that idea further. Often I might not have a strong opinion or even a conclusion to my thought, and sometimes through the act of blogging I may even change my original point of view – I thought I believed A but in fact through blogging realise I believed in B, and I love that sense of personal discovery.

I also get a kick out of any blog interaction as few and far between as they may be. Comments from people who have taken the time to read my blog never cease to cheer my wearisome soul. People lead busy lives and there’s a stack of stuff to read and do, and so if through my blog I can solicit a comment, it means I have stirred something in someone else, somehow moved some electrons somewhere else in the universe, and that’s a lovely thought which makes me feel alive, makes me feel connected.

And yes, I have an ego too. I may never be famous, but through my blog may I never be forgotten. Please, not that.

Ch-ch-ch-changes …

I would argue that the most common, most fundamental attribute that underpins life, and society as a whole, is change. George Bernard Shaw said many years ago that “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.  Charles Darwin is quoted as saying “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”, whereas Ghandi (who always seems to have a quote up his raggedy sleeve) said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

These are all very inspirational quotes, designed to fire us up, to spur us on. Such quotes are emblazoned on t-shirts, made into posters, and proudly displayed behind glass frames on the walls of boardrooms of power-hungry CEOs. Even schools and universities use such quotes to inspire students. Life coaches build their businesses around them, and many of us reach for Google in times of need, to find a nourishing quote upon which to feed ourselves, to give us strength whenever we’re feeling weak or vulnerable.

All of which suggests change is good, and embracing change is best of all. But what about those in society who are frightened by change? To some, change paralyses and stifles, and rather than thriving they in fact withdraw. Such people see danger in change, not opportunity. For them, change means uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes fear and foreboding. There are no stylised, inspirational quotes for such people.  You won’t find:
“Change is shit, run away from it”, Socrates – adorning any clothing or hung in any hallway.
“Change sucks, turn your back”, Stephen R Covey” – I don’t think so.
“Resist change! Stay in thy bed!”, Pontius Pilot, Psalm 16 verses 3-4 – hardly.

Regardless of age, gender or social standing, the times they are-a-changing. Political uncertainty, religion, economics, politics, climate change, overpopulation, technology – the reasons are many fold and omnipresent, and whatever life we choose for ourselves, change is difficult to escape.

For Embracers, this is all exciting, this is what makes life worth living. Not knowing what’s around the corner makes such people feel edgy, adrenaline fuelled. They seem to feed on life’s natural uncertainty and thrive, growing stronger, often becoming leaders themselves, further driving through and effecting even more change.

For others, Escapers, they find it all rather daunting and spend much of their time hiding, withdrawing and moving as far away from change as is humanly possible. Unfortunately, change is endemic and stitched into the very fabric of our society, and so whilst hiding and running may bring temporary relief, it usually catches up with us eventually.

Like sexual preference, your default state and tolerance to change, the thing which makes you either an Embracer or an Escaper is, I would argue, in-built, it’s not something you can alter.  As an Escaper, you can work hard at being more Embracing, but you’re always fighting from the position of being an Escaper.  You can wear the t-shirt, rehearse the quotes in a mirror, even preach them from a pedestal, but deep down, you are what you are, facing a constant, daily battle fighting against what comes naturally to you.

And if you’re a natural Embracer? Just be nice and try and find time in your dynamic, ever so busy, thrusting lives to think about those less fortunate.

It’s all about me … (yawn)

Friends of mine will already know I’m a bad sleeper.  It’s one of my favourite dinner party conversations.  All I need is someone to make the first move … “I didn’t get much sleep last night” … and I’m in, like a ferret up a ginnel.  I sometimes talk over them in my enthusiasm to tell them how badly I sleep all the time.  My lack of empathy knows no bounds as I take control of the conversation droning on about how I manage to get off to sleep but then wake up at 3am and can’t get back again.  My routine can be quite funny, I’ve been practicing it for years now.  I explain how I don’t really have much to worry about when I wake, and at this point I look around the dinner table to gauge people’s reactions to this amazing fact.  I’m such an enigma.  I tell anecdotes about how my mind obsesses over trivia, like cutting the grass or shredding paperwork (snigger). As you can imagine it’s quite hilarious, I’m quite hilarious.  Meanwhile the poor sod who first broached the subject about being knackered is consigned to being a spectator, unable to counter my tsunami of funny sleep stories.

I do the same with booze stories. Tell a tale about your hangover in my company, then step aside, because Andy’s in town. You think my sleep disorder stories are funny? Wait until I tell you about the time I shampoo’d the walls at university with Geordie Graham, or that time in the late 90s when I walked home from the Oktoberfest by following the train tracks, walking inside them to keep in a straight line. I did live near the train tracks at the time in Munich, so it wasn’t as stupid as it sounded, although of course it was ridiculously dangerous and very, very funny. At this point I have to resist telling even more anecdotes, for there are many, but I risk falling into the trap about about which I write, my narcissism.

In my defence, I try to be a funny narcissist, and I can be quite entertaining in small doses, but I do tend to overdo it.  I also inherited a gene which means I tend to inflate my tales somewhat, perhaps to heighten the interest, to assuage my guilt at having dominated, nay, stolen, the dinner conversation conch shell from some other poor soul.

My sleep, for example, whilst it has always been poor, had never been a serious problem.  Yes, I had difficulties getting off to sleep, and yes, I had a habit of waking in the early hours and struggled to get back, but generally I muddled through. Just like millions of others, most of whom don’t bore all and sundry with their sorry tales of mild sleeplessness at dinner parties.

This past month has been different.  My sleeplessness has been much more severe, much more prolonged.  Initially this gave me a huge pile of stuff to bang on about.  I had closed my Facebook account so couldn’t post hilarious 3am threads any more (as was my wont), so instead I told my family and friends, even people at work, at every occasion that presented itself, I went on a diatribe relaying my latest poor sleep exploits like a splurge gun.  I was on a roll with all these new tales of woe. “I literally had 2 hours sleep last night” and I would wait for the pitying replies … “Poor you”, “You must be shattered!”, “Take care mate”.  It was comforting, I was struggling, people needed to know, I was like a pig in shit.

The quality of my sleep continued to decline and plumbed depths I have never been before and I went beyond being “knackered” to feeling really quite ill.  I had phantom pains, I was occasionally hallucinating, I could barely string a sentence together.  I ended up at the doctors out of sheer despair.  My work was suffering, and suddenly it wasn’t funny any more, not even to me, the king of sleep comedy.

I am too tired to tell my witty sleep anecdotes any longer, I am sick and tired (very tired) of hearing my own voice bleating on about how bad my plight is.  I now have a proper sleep problem, one which requires medication and scares the shit out of me.  I’m seriously scared that I may never regain the art of sleeping naturally and soundly again, and that’s why I will never hijack dinner parties with my banal sleep stories any more.  Sleep is no longer a comedy routine of mine, it’s a serious, debilitating issue, and so if we do ever meet, over dinner or elsewhere, if you want to talk about your sleep problems, I promise I will keep my mouth shut and just listen.

A new beginning, again …

It’s that time of year, the end of the year, my favourite time of the year.

As a child I always enjoyed moving bedrooms. I can’t remember why we did, but we seemed to do it with some regularity. Not mum and dad, they didn’t, but me and my brother did. It was a 3-bedroomed semi so the choice was simple – he took mine and I took his. The reason I liked it, is that the reasons underlying my motivation to switch rooms, are the same reasons I enjoyed starting a new exercise book at school, the same reasons I like the beginning of the new year – it’s a chance for a new beginning.

I got bored of staring at the walls of my bedroom, bored of the view out of my window, sick of the clutter I had amassed. My old school exercise book was messy, full of untidy scribbles, ink stained, error strewn.

A new bedroom meant starting again, a new exercise book was an opportunity to get it right this time. In hindsight it never worked. My new bedroom became, over time, just like my old bedroom – messy, cluttered, boring. My new exercise book just like the old one – still smudging the ink with my clumsy right fist, still getting answers wrong, still crossing out.

Now I am older, and a parent/adult rather than a child, I tend not to switch bedroom unless we move house, and I don’t use exercise books that much, and so the new year is my outlet, my way of serving this in-built desire for a fresh, clean start.

And yet what is strange, is that the pattern is alarmingly predictable. Every year I make plans, and every Jan 1st my head is buzzing, awash with new goals, targets and objectives for the coming 12 months. The resolutions do vary, a little, but are largely centred around health, family, work and personal development. And every single year I fail, often spectacularly, occasionally moderately, but almost always never reach any of my preset targets.

So why bother? People often ask me that, bemused why I haven’t grown up and out of this silly practice dictated and driven by the turn of a page on a calendar. Such nonsense.

And yet, as I get older, it seems to become even more important. Maybe as time becomes a scarce commodity, which means the future does too, I feel the need more than ever to plan my time properly. I wish I didn’t. I look admiringly at people who seemingly live life with gay abandon, meeting new challenges head on, as and when they occur.

It’s a double edged sword as this annual exercise includes a fair degree of reflection as I look back on the year that was, listing my faults, my mistakes, my failings along the way. That’s not a very uplifting experience and can be quite depressing, but that’s counterbalanced and wiped away by the thought of the new year – when I can start again and put right all those wrongs!!

It’s Dec 31st as I write this, and I am starting to realise I have so much to do in 2014, I just don’t know where to start. I have no list of New Years resolutions prepared and I feel sightly panicked. Tomorrow means I move into my new bedroom, start my new exercise book and start all over again.

But what will the view be out of my new bedroom window? What should I write in my new book?

Happy new year.

Isn’t it ironic …

As I get older, I find it even more frustrating that the precious, and increasingly scarce time I have left on this planet, is taken up being a corporate drone for someone else.

When you break it down to basics, being an employee is basically trading your free time for money.  Here’s how it works – I give you my time 9-5, five days a week, and in return you pay for my house, utility bills and a few treats, deal?  That’s 21.9% of your life incidentally (taking holidays into account).

Except it’s not quite that simple.  I don’t know many people that only work 40 hours a week. Most people in my industry work at least 8-6 (and many work more, but let’s be conservative here), and you can probably add 2 hrs a day commuting to/from work (1hr each way). For many that’s much higher and for some much lower, but let’s stick with the average here again. We are now up to 32.9%.

And if, like me, you worry about work, plan for work, check emails in the evening, send things over the weekend in readiness for the following week etc, let’s assume 1 additional hour a day given over to work and we find ourselves up to 39.8%. That’s over a third of our lives given over to our jobs in reality.

Hopefully you sleep well and get the average 8 hours sleep, but even if you sleep badly you probably at least try to get to sleep, and therefore we all spend somewhere in the region of 8 hours each night sleeping or trying to sleep.  That’s exactly 33.3% of our lives then, bringing the total time dedicated to working and sleeping to around 73%.

So for an average of 40 years, the best, most healthiest, most sociable, most family intensive years of your life, you have around 27% to yourself.  Except it’s not to yourself because much of that 27% is taken up with other jobs that have been neglected during the 73% of stolen time. You still have to clean the house, do the washing, vacuum, wash the dishes, empty the rubbish, inflate car tyres, fix leaky taps, clear up dog shit, etc. So let’s say we spend a very conservative 1.5hrs a day doing all those routine DIY/maintenance things – that’s another 6% stolen, taking our genuine free time down to a rather sorry looking 21%.

But of course for much of that 21% you are tired, or sick, or distracted, largely because of that 39.8% that insidiously creeps into other parts of your life, affecting your health, affecting your sleep (which further affects your health), further affecting your relationships with your spouse, your kids, your friends (how many times have you felt too knackered to go out?), and so that 21% ‘quality time’ is actually pretty poor quality after all.

If you’re like me, genuine free time is so valued that you waste much of it trying to work out what to do with it.  I immediately feel guilty and feel I have to fill it with more of those DIY/maintenance tasks (making that figure of 6% even bigger in truth).  So instead of watching the replay of Match Of The Day on that spare hour on Sunday morning, I do paperwork, bills that need paying usually.  So that 21% is actually less than 15% of genuine quality time.

And after all that, I really want to savour that quality time, and therefore I fill it with treats. I want to drink fine wines, I want expensive foods, I deserve those things after a hectic day don’t I? I want to eat in fancy restaurants on the weekend, I want to holiday with my family in sunnier climes thousands of miles away, flying on a big silver aeroplane to get there really quickly – after all, time is money.

I’m getting really prickly and defensive now. Fcuk you, I deserve it, I work hard. I want gadgets too. I deserve them, they’re my treats and hey I earn the money (said in an increasingly hostile and defensive tone). I’m also going to treat the kids because I feel guilty I haven’t really been there for them. I know, I’ll get them all an iPhone at Xmas too, they’ll be chuffed to bits. I noticed that family over there are going skiing because they just posted on Facebook, bastards, sod it, we’re going skiing too, you only live once! And in the summer I want some bloody sun. I deserve that. Yes, a villa in Spain with a private pool, that sounds awesome. I’ll post my pictures on Facebook so everyone can see how great and happy we are. I’ll upload photos from the airport, and then again when we land, and then again from the villa, and then from the poolside, and then from the restaurant, and then from the beach (remember to wear a t-shirt, do not show your belly and man-boobs, ffs).

Phew, that was good!  Damn, I’m skint, overdrawn again.  Life is such a chore.  I need a better job, one that pays more.  Yes it might mean more hours but think of the upside?  Ok, ok, so my 15% of spare time falls down to 5% because it’s a really stressful job, but what a 5% I will have!

That’s 72 minutes every day.  Awesome.  Now I really must make the most of that ever so increasingly precious time.  I need more treats.  Perhaps I should try drugs, they say the buzz is really quick and truly amazing.

And drugs is where the materialistic avalanche usually ends, for this is where people with too much money, usually the rich and famous, the celebrities to whom we most aspire, the people whose lives fill our TV screens, our magazines, our social media newsfeeds.  These are the people who become immune and hardened to treats, people who raise the stakes to such dangerous levels that it actually kills them.

And what differentiates ‘us’ from ‘them’ is poverty.  Not real poverty, but western poverty.  We have to run the hamster wheel constantly, we can’t stop, whereas they can.  Apparently sharks have to keep moving or else they die, and humans are no different, for when they stop, when there is no chase left, when they have everything, the real irony is that they lose everything.

Only humans could lead such messed up lives.  Kurt Cobain, Keith Moon, Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Jim Morrison, George Best – the list is endless.  Humans with immense, prodigious talent, people who had it all – fame, sex, money, mansions, fast cars, all those things to which we all aspire.

But of course that’s the nub of it all, because as much as we may whinge and moan, as much as we might stare in awe at the rich and famous, it’s the aspiration that keeps us alive, and not the acquisition.

Halloween and dangerous bridges

I realised I haven’t written in my blog for the whole month of October, and it’s now 31st October, so if I don’t write one today, I will have missed a whole calendar month and that’s like stepping on the cracks or walking under ladders or something.

So here I am writing my October blog.  I am feeling quite gloomy today.  Not sure if it’s the weather or because it’s Halloween, or because it’s half term, perhaps it’s all three.

I’m not very good at dealing with half term.  Part of the problem is I work from home.  That is when I’m not travelling, and I have to say that working from home is pretty good most of the time.  A bad daily commute usually amounts to me tripping over the dog who has taken to laying outside the bedroom door.  It’s a dark corridor at the best of times and he’s a black dog, so you can probably imagine the potential hazards I have to face, but I’m really not complaining.  My previous commute was to Slough.

It took 2hrs to Slough, 2hrs each way, a 2 hr white knuckle drive through the back roads of SE England, trying to avoid traffic jams, but regularly bumping into other commuters using the same SatNav program as I.  I feel sorry for villages like Weston Turville that must have been quiet Hamlets back in the day, long before SatNavs told all and sundry that the quickest way from Leighton Buzzard to High Wycombe was to miss out Aylesbury and cut along Broughton Lane, past the inviting Dog House Pub http://www.doghouseinn.co.uk/, and over the narrow humped back bridge, so narrow in fact that there is only room for one car, and on account of the hump you can’t see what’s coming towards you.

I always used to shout “Wooooooahhhhhhhh!!” as I went over that bridge, using my finest rollercoaster voice.  It was an adrenalin fuelled shout if I’m honest.  Dangerous isn’t the word.  Actually dangerous is a very good word for that bridge on Broughton Lane nr the Dog House Pub nr Aylesbury, because you simply can’t see what’s coming towards you on account of the hump.  That wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t single lane.

The best tactic, therefore, one adopted by many seasoned SatNav commuters, is to try and get behind another car along Broughton Lane.  You have to be right up their arse by the time you reach the pub, so that they led the charge over the top and acted like a shield, taking all the impacts from any oncoming collision.

It was akin to Wacky races some days, with a snake of 7 or 8 cars all adopting the same tactic, less than 10mm between each other, all racing towards the bridge, and of course if the first one went for it you simply had to follow.  If you delayed, you risked an oncoming waiting car starting to sneak through and ruining all the good work the car in front had created.  You also incurred the wrath of the cars on your tail for failing to take the charge.  It wasn’t uncommon for commuters who had suffered such a humiliation, to sell their car and get a new one, different colour, different model, on account of the shame and loss of honour from breaking the code.  Woe betide the driver who broke the chain and dared return to Broughton Lane bridge.

The Ying and Yang in all of this though, is that it was rubbish if you were coming the other way and the Wacky Races entourage was coming towards you and had beaten you to the bridge, as you then had to wait ages whilst Penelope Pitstop, Peter Perfect, Professor Pat Pending and the entire Ant Hill Mob snaked their way over the brow, smugly smiling at you as they passed, leaving you helplessly drumming your fingers on the steering wheel, wondering, always wondering, if that was the end of the snake, or whether there was one more to come.  That’s it .. here we go … Wooooooahhhhhhhh!!!!!

I don’t like Halloween either and my family knows it.  They’re quite good, they say I don’t have to go trick-or-treating, but that means I get to stay at home and answer the bloody door all night, having to act all surprised when local kids ring the bell, demanding sweets or they’ll kick the shit out of our house and slash the car tyres.

Of course the house is all decked out as my family like the spectacle of Halloween, so word gets out that No.4 is worth a visit. They think we’re “up for it”, what with all the decorations and all that, and they also expect to be greeted by a jolly ghoul.  Instead they get me, a rather grumpy, middle aged bloke on a Skype call to the USA, answering the door.

“Trick or treeeeaaaat!”
“Oh.  You look nice.  Very scary.  Is that an MK council recycling bin bag you’re wearing? Here, have a sweet.  Just take one FFS!!!!”

Kids grabbing handfuls of bloody sweets that undoubtedly cost me a small fortune.  But the worst kind are the teenagers  – the 15/16/17yrs old in torn clothes.

“Hi, we’re trick or treating”
“Oh. Right.  Here, have a sweetie”

And there I am, all alone, handing sweets to a bunch of 16yr old girls on my own bloody doorstep, girls wearing make-up and a skimpy skirt with torn black stockings and I’m trying to entice them with a Haribo chew from my pumpkin container of condiments.

Now then now then boys and girls, goodness gracious.  As it happens …

 

You’ve got mail …

I find mail stressful, it’s generally bad news, unrelenting demands for money, tax returns, numerous guilt trips that expose my chronic lack of organisational wherewithall.  Paper mail (snail mail) is the worst as it’s harder to ignore than electronic mail.

My pile of unread mail is like a window into my soul.   It’s Dante’s Inferno down there.  It’s a view I try to keep buried deep within, not just from others, but from myself too.  I know I need to do a tax return, I worry about it every night.  I know I need to renew my insurance, I worry about that too, and so these rude, stark reminders in raw print thrust in front of me each morning just raise my levels of anxiety even further.   If I wore a heart rate monitor when I opened mail I am certain I would see a 20% increase in heart rate.  I don’t need to exercise.  No climbing stairs or joining gyms for me, no siree, to raise my heart rate I just need a pile of unopened post and I know I will soon be sweating like a 10K runner crossing the finish line on a hot summer’s day in July.

Sometimes it feels good to at least open the mail, like the act of merely opening the envelope was all I needed to do, and in a genie ‘puff’ of smoke, all my worries will be gone.  The next step is to file the letter, yes that feels good too.  But not file properly, in a ring binder, or scanned electronically into a folder on my laptop which is then backed up every 24hrs to a secure vault in the sky (I’m laughing as I type at just how far I am away from such an organised approach).  No, for me, merely placing the letter on a pile of other letters marked ‘to be filed’ is the best I can ever expect.  The pile isn’t actually marked ‘to be filed’ as that would require some modicum of order and planning, no, mine is just a wobbly pile of papers teetering on the cormer of my desk that is now so high, so tall, so wobbly, that if I were a company I would have been closed down on the grounds of health & safety.

And once the offensive letter is placed atop the Everest pile in my office, I can then go back to ignoring all those unpleasant duties and return to procrastinating my way through life, an art I have honed to perfection over the past 40+ years.

It’s ridiculous, I know that.  I’m a grown man, I am university edukayted for goodness sake, and I know that placing a piece of paper on a pile doesn’t actually do anything – forms still need filling, cheques still need writing, standing orders need setting up and so on and so forth, but it’s enough, just barely enough, to allow me to forget the Devil’s work for a little while longer at least.

That is, until something happens, something like we need to get the car MOT’d, but we can’t get it MOT’d unless we have a valid insurance.  I’m sure I have insurance cover – fcuk – surely – and so I make my way to my wobbly pile of papers, don my crash helmet and safety goggles and rifle through the pile like a cartoon villain, arms whirling like a dervish, A4 paper flying everywhere.  Even the dog hides.

Sometimes I find the insurance and yelp and roar like a US fan at The Ryder Cup after seeing Tiger Woods finally sink a fcuking putt for once, and I am full of goodwill and cheer as I make my way to the car garage proudly waving my insurance vowing NEVER to let this happen again.

But sometimes I’m not so lucky.  I once advised a close friend who had been through difficult times and found themselves on their own after a break-up.  She asked me for advice on home insurance as her partner always dealt with such matters in the past, so I talked her though the process over the phone as she logged on to a well known and immensely annoying comparison website, and after an hour or so she was the proud owner of cheap home insurance.

I was relaying the story to my wife when she said “who is our home insurance with?”.  I think I blushed, went to my office, donned my helmet and goggles and in a Fred Flinstone like manner I scurried my way through my mountainous labyrinthine pile of papers, only to find our policy had expired 10 weeks ago – we had been without home insurance for over 2 months.

So this morning I said to my wife that it’s time to tackle the office paperwork.  One hour later, the pile remains, but at least I have a new blog entry.  And it’s less than 4 hrs until the Ryder Cup starts.