Thursday, April 27, 2023

Butt Soup


Sleeping so much. Easily for 9-10 hours per night. Tossing and turning for hours. A terrier yaps in the garden below. It must be Stanley, but I then realise I’m in Wells and it’s the neighbour’s dogs.

Every morning I awake not knowing where I am, around about 9.30am.

Wells is lovely and quiet but nothing much happens here, apart from the odd murder. Lots of heroin too if that’s your thing. And arts and culture and god-stuff with that Cathedral and all.

It’s funny when you see a place change over 50-odd years. The awful new houses - little boxes cheek-by-jowl, no new services; schools, doctors’ surgeries and sewage pipes all overflowing

I’ve considered moving back here for the first time in 30 years but I’ve concluded that even as I am it would be a retrograde step for me - just as it was in my 20s.

Failures #23

Whilst I was here at my parents’ (now in its 10th day) I was supposed to read and prĂ©cis a ton of first edition Dungeons and Dragons adventures, make them meals every day and clean for them.

I read the adventures several times but failed to make much more than introductory notes. I read some of my other books. I read The Times most days but far more selectively these days, rather than just cover-to-cover.

I listen to Podcasts.

I watch Anthony Newley. 

That’s it. I made 3 meals my parents were rather indifferent about, did no cleaning apart from the dishes and my own laundry.

Social life - I go out for lunch every day so I get out of the house.  I see my sister, I’ve met up with old friends Tanith, Paula, Clare, Franca, Stuart and Mark. But I had 2 nights of back-to-back heavy drinking and still haven’t recovered 48 hours later! #middleage

More Memories of Martin

My reminiscences of the enigma who was Martin Duncan-Jones went down very well with those who knew him. More anecdotes…

“An architect is an artist whose pallet is your wallet.” This was Martin’s view on the fact that architects get paid a percentage of the cost of a build, so it’s in their interest to not save you money.

He once accused me of being Rupert Murdoch when I was trying to get a website together where we could all publicise our work.

“I’m keeping my head below the parapet.” This was his stock phrase when people were trying to ‘make him do things’ in his words. What that translated as was ignoring phone calls from his one client (The Diocese of Westminster) offering him work.

On rave culture: “If those were factory conditions people would complain.”

“Er, no.” His response to anything I said whenever I was out of favour. Mary Mary…

He had great anecdotes. One of the things he was very proud of was never having bought rubble bags but using the empty sand bags instead and these were to be reused as well. “Ollie once…ripped…a bag. I remember it well…” and on and on about some great transgression when Ollie had cost Martin by ripping a plastic bag.

He also had the worst vans in Britain. He had an old Citroen van for years that bled brake fluid. He had to stop every 40 miles to put break fluid in but he’d worked out it was cheaper than getting it fixed.

One of the last jobs we did I would start at 8 and then go to pick him up at 9.30am from the station (he would be up till the early hours fighting online with people on blogs and comments sections) and he was reading a book in ancient Greek “Dual text dear boy, but it’s all coming back.”

I could go on but will stop there.

The Disney Democratic Republic

The supermarket at the end of the road. It was all in Disney colours. I went in with the intention of buying a special chocolate biscuit. I knew I was being monitored by an unseen entity. The last of these biscuits were on the shelf. They were intended for consumption by infants, but they were so good I just had to have one. 

This was strictly forbidden behaviour.

So I took it. I realised then that the die had been cast. I needed to get out of there. The entity was intent on my capture.

I went through colourful yellow and red doors onto a platform where I took a very new yellow and red train which hurtled along and ended up in a huge colourful resort with around 12-15 other people. 

Our hair was all silvery grey. We knew the entity or entities were in another metaverse to our own and they were looking at us. Trying to grab at us through the phlogiston. I suggested we all stick together but some people didn’t. One woman went outside and started cleaning - sweeping the floor. But the entity came and touched her. You could see she had been affected as her hair had turned from silvery grey to silvery purple and she could no longer see or hear you. 

Others went out to save her but one by one they went to their doom, mindlessly cleaning as automatons, with their newly purple hair. Then it got me.

That was a dream by the way.


Friday, April 21, 2023

Mid-Somerset Ramble

BBC Rare Dementia Podcasts 

Firstly, the Radio 4 series on rare dementias what J and I were interviewed for back in whenever it was, was aired last week. People have been very positive about them. I thought Jo, the novelist with Semantic Dementia was the best programme of the lot.

Really worth listening to as a window into the different dementias. I hope this opens the door or rather plants the seeds for more programmes and education on rarer dementias.

Here’s a shortcut to my one with a totally fucking awful photo of yours truly:

Time Stop

I’m in my childhood bedroom typing this. On this desk I did my homework and I wrote some of the most illogical yet super-creative Dungeons and Dragons adventures of all time. Amazing how many teenagers would fit in here back in the day.

(Sounds a bit weird saying that now.)

Teenagers under cultural circumstances

I’m hoping some of the creativity lives on as a morphic field, bound to the desk, and that I will be able to successfully convert a 42 year old first edition Descent into The Depths of The Earth to a 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure for a party of 4 14th level adventurers. 

It’s a big ask, I’m sure you’ll agree. 

It’s taken me days just to read through the bafflingly Joycean prose of the original in the full awfulness of its tiny sans-serif justified type. As a friend said, early D&D was written by computer-programmers: it needs translating to human before digestion.

Is it a cold or hay fever? I’ll take an antihistamine (thank you spell-check) and find out.

Surrounding me are photos, books on golden ages of Welsh rugby, Ben’s Star Wars lego; outside old  neighbours who’ve been here nearly as long as my parents, multiple Ford Foci, and acres of regularly mown lawn. 

TIDY! As they say in Glamorgan. 

Here’s a word in Welsh: Hiraeth. No wonder we have King Arthur. 

I was always nostalgic. MAGA - is that an ugly version of Hiraeth? Something intangible that never was.

Properly rambling now.

Why I’m here

I’ve been asked to bugger off for a couple of weeks from Kingston, very nicely it must be said, and I was also willing. So I’m visiting my parents who are kindly eschewing Cash in The Attic on my my behalf due to my incapacity for noise. I’ve cooked for them a few times the wonderful food J cooks for me. 

‘Interesting’ was Dad’s verdict on the Butter Chicken and Black Dhal I cooked last night. That usually means ‘shite’ as far as I’m aware. He ate it all anyway. Mum’s off her food and found the tender-stem broccoli anything but.

Jesus - I could be a food writer. How difficult is this? Just wasn’t born a Coren or a Gill.

Meeting old friends

Met up with Franca, Tanith and Clare. It was nice to see them all. I have good chats with people but I’m also aware that I shouldn’t bug people like the saddo I really am. So keeping it to once a week while I’m down here, per person. 

Nice to chew the cud and have a laugh at other people’s expense. Visiting certain people is like meeting Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch. I’m getting the low-down from the street, baby.

John Hannam opposite asked where my van was. I told him about my dementia and that I’d had to give up. Mum and Dad haven’t told people obviously. I don’t blame them. Gossipy little place this. It’s enough for them to have to live with it without being constantly reminded of it by busy-bodies and the well-meaning.

Nerys has been busy with everything this week so I’ve seen very little of her, and Mark will be down to look after his mother from next Wednesday.

At least being Jonny-no-mates is a good incentive to sit down and write.

I miss the dogs and am starting to miss the female humans.

Atypical Dementia

It’s odd having an atypical of an atypical dementia diagnosis. When you’ve got it you don’t know what will happen next. What will be the next part of my self to go downhill. Being part of various support groups, I can see and hear people’s prose or speech degrade, to the point where they make less and less sense.

Mine is behavioural so I am just increasingly inappropriate. But, I’m not aware a lot of the time how. I have a little rule that I often - in the moment - fail to follow, and that is, if I think of something hilariously funny I should probably best not say it.

Many of the things I post now are quite outrageous I hear. I think they’re funny. 

But then again I’m a bit demented.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Russell Group Wonk

‘I knew this country had had it. I was 9 years old.’

 I was always rather in awe of people who’d been to Oxbridge and other universities, and indeed, many of the cleverest people in the country go there. However, while there are obviously brilliant people who emerge from University, there are also a significant amount of also-rans who ended up at the top universities through an accident of birth by being born into wealthy families who can afford fees for the best public schools (an oxymoron to anyone outside of the UK), getting all the qualifications and all the confidence (not to mention the social networks) yet accruing none of the abilities a truly useful human should possess.

I’ll come to those later.

The cleverest person I’ve known was my friend Martin. Martin had got a scholarship to Oxford to do law. It wasn’t the course he wanted to do but he said having the scholarship took any choice away from him.

So Martin was at Oxford, and what did it for him was land law - apparently it does it for a lot of law students, as it’s tedious and boring. He failed his exams and they threw him out. They then asked him back in and kicked him out again. 

To his knowledge he was the only person ever to get kicked out of Oxford twice, which was a sort of badge of honour for him.

He bummed around for awhile, getting a job as a hospital porter and travelling to Italy. Then he became a stonemason which is how I know him, as he was my first employer.

Martin was incredibly eccentric. My first experience of him on site was he would pull the Times out of his bag only to discover (to his anger) that his mother (who he lived with) had already completed the crossword that morning. This happened everyday.

Martin started lots of projects around his house and never completed any of them. I went to his house once as I was in Leytonstone. I thought I’d pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. He met me at the door, looking slightly shell-shocked. He told me I couldn’t come in as it was ‘ghastly’ in there. As though some horrible crime had been committed in there and it was too shocking to see. We ended up chatting on his doorstep.

He lost a load of tools I’d sold him then found them a few years later down the back of his sofa.

Things I remember he told me:

“When I was a little boy I was playing with my toy soldiers in the lounge. I think I was recreating the Battle of Ypres. The television was on and it was 1963. The Rolling Stones were on, and I looked at these Herberts jigging about and I knew then this country had had it. I was 9 years old.”

“When I was 9 I realised I needed to get to Oxford University. In order to do that I needed to learn Ancient Greek. In order to do that I needed to go to Newcastle Grammar School.”

Martin Duncan-Jones

He was wonderful and exasperating at the same time. I fell out of favour with him several times and then fell back in favour too.

If you’d read a book you wished to tell him about he’d read it too and knew it better than you. It wasn’t to better you (although he was highly competitive intellectually) - it was because he never seemed to forget anything he’d read.

I remember one example of his intellectual pugilism when we were up a scaffold in Haverstock Hill and him having a polite conversation with a guy in his back garden. It was perfectly innocent until Napoleon was mentioned. Then Martin flexed his muscles and had a book-off with the poor guy. Have you read such and such? Yes. Have you read this? And on it went until the guy in the garden said er, no. 

“Ah. Ah. Wonderful book. If you had read that you would know that blahh and blah and you would also know that….” and Martin proceeded to rub the poor bloke’s face in it. 

Like some of the cleverest people I know, Martin was a drop out. The education system was just too small and constraining for his particular intellect. He told me later that he should have followed his heart and gone to Cambridge to do Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse, as he had a huge love for the Viking Sagas. 

I miss him very much.

Television People

Some of the most underwhelming people I’ve met have been some of the best qualified. People with so much to prove as well. My experience in television was a great eye-opener about social disparity and what really constitutes intelligence, or rather the different types of intelligence there are.

We have an education system that seems to grind out the creativity of a child and puts them through a sausage machine where the child becomes a facsimile of their parent, ready to go into the city or slot into whatever grey part of society is required. 

Is this what we’ve come to?

“Don’t think of them as children, think of them as economic units.” Kenneth Baker (important historical figure).

So what did I experience in TV? Well, I worked in the London BBC so I am only referencing that rather than the whole of the corporation. I experienced a culture of snobbery; people who’d been to minor public schools desperate to be further up the chain than their contemporaries “Oh she’s jealous of me because I’m posher than she is.” Baffling to this comprehensive school kid.

First thing I was asked to do at Home Front was to draw 16 equidistant circles on a square wall - a circular mirror was provided, and nobody there could work out how to do it. These were people who’d been to serious universities. So I did it and people were amazed. This was stuff an 11 year old could work out.

Another thing I realised was these people talked about themselves and what they got up to with their mates over and above everything else. They didn’t talk about art or literature or politics or ideas, just how hilarious and great they and their chums were.

You've probably been on a train or in a restaurant and table of 20-something 'professionals' are shouting about how hilarious they are, to the annoyance of everyone else. 

Yes, that's them.

None of them had any practical skills but they made up for it with a rather ruthless Machiavellian streak of ambition. 

At another place I worked as a PA to a rather difficult man who was an Executive Producer for dramas. He was really talented and clever, and unusually for an EP he was great at the creative development of the script but also the business side of the production. However, this grammar school boy had a total inferiority complex and was unbelievably and unnecessarily rude to everyone he could be rude to - this is another media trope that your importance is demonstrated by your rudeness to your subordinates.

The guy in the next office was seriously as thick as a brick. But he’d been born in Malaysia to a very wealthy family, gone to boarding school and then a Russell-Group uni, and knew he had a divine right to tell everybody else what to do. His emails were hilarious David-Brent affairs. They were composed of management-speak and no substance whatsoever. And he got away with it too.

This is one of the things about the UK. Public schools give kids a huge amount of confidence - they know when they leave school they’re going to be running this, telling these people what to do, heading up this public body and so on. Meanwhile the kids in the comprehensive are told you’re going to be working for them, you’re going to be under this manager, don’t get your hopes up, people like you don’t get to do this and so forth.

Just think of all those people with huge talent who missed out over the centuries because they were the wrong sex, wrong colour, wrong social caste.  

What bollocks.

Rant over.