Dear John

As I sit here, a couple of days before we say our final goodbyes, I wanted to let you know the things I’ll miss about you:

I’ll miss the hearty greetings, such as “Richard! How are you my friend?” (Actually, I might steal that one);

I’ll miss your great response to every enquiry about you, “All the better now that I’ve seen you” (Hmmm, I might steal that one as well);

I’ll miss the G&Ts that you couldn’t drink, so subconsciously compensated for by pouring your share of the gin into the other person’s glass – or, at least, I’m sure that’s why my drinks were always about 90% alcohol;

I’ll miss having someone to turn to whenever I needed a medical issue explaining;

I’ll miss having someone who was prepared to argue that I’m not colour blind and merely colour defective!

I’ll miss having someone who was always willing to be my golfing partner, even though you were a superb player and I’m the worst the planet has ever seen;

I’ll miss being spontaneously offered ice cream in the middle of the afternoon, even in the middle of December;

I’ll miss a man who could walk into a room full of strangers and walk out of a room full of friends;

I’ll miss a man whose first concern was always for others and who even to the end was asking what he could do for me;

Above all, though, I’ll just miss you being you. On Christmas Eve 2013, the world became a poorer place – and I’m already missing hearing you disagree with that opinion!

Your loving son-in-law


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This might be the hardest post I have had to write

This might be the hardest post I have had to write.

A few years ago, a very strange advert appeared in the Law Society Gazette. It is the free magazine sent to all solicitors every week, whether they want it or not, and pretty staid to say the least. Adverts in there tend to be of the ‘we are specialists in claims against donkeys, please send us all of your claims against donkeys’ or ‘Wanted! Lawyer to specialise in pseudopod claims’ type. Finding one that is even in colour is rare.

But there is was, a bright yellow ad, asking for nothing more than collaboration on a script. Of course I had to answer it.

An exchange of emails followed. The advertiser sent me his ideas for a script. I sent him some ideas of my own and some suggested changes. He responded. I responded. He suggested we meet.

We met. He told me that I was his preferred writing partner. Apparently, out of all of the replies he received – including some from overseas – I was the only one who suggested changes to his ideas. That baffled me. Who wouldn’t want to input some of their own ideas?
And so we began work. I provided the legal input and some of the jokes. He, as a former producer of Eastenders should, provided the rest. I got to grips with screenwriting software, he got to understand about the legal profession.

We never really had a difference of opinion. He wanted the lead character to be a Billie Holiday aficionado, I wanted them to play Los Campesinos! songs. He bought a Los Campesinos! CD, I bought him a book on Billie Holiday. We agreed that both would work.

Along the way, we encountered the odd problem. Rejections from agents were commonplace. Some thought we had left too little room for improvisation. Others thought there were too few jokes. So we changed things. Suddenly, a minor character became a major one, some things became non-essential, we felt we were getting somewhere. So we took a few months off to think things through and enable him to do certain things in his personal life. When we last spoke, everything was coming together for him and we were going to start work again. But…

Mike died a fortnight ago. He went into hospital for an operation, there was a problem and he never came around again.

Rest in peace, my friend. Thank you for all that you taught me. All the plans we had, all the ideas we never had a chance to work on, insofar as it is in my power to do so, I’ll see them through. I’ll be seeing you.

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The television news service Ceefax came to an end this week, the arrival of nationwide digital television having brought about the end of the analogue service on which it ran. In truth, I haven’t used it for years and it would be hypocritical of me to say that I will miss it any more than I miss VHS cassettes* or a dial-up internet connection.**

In fact, it must be a good seven or eight years since I last even thought of Ceefax. That would have been when I was looking for traffic alerts before going on a journey. All of the other things I used it to check – cricket scores, flight arrivals, the weather – had long since been much easier and quicker to find on the internet.

Back in 1994, when I was living in a grotty shared house in Reading for four months, I did become addicted to the two daily quizzes which they ran on there. There was no prize, just the satisfaction of knowing that you had done well. It was pretty time consuming, though. With one question per page, and the pages remaining on screen for around 20 seconds each, it took a good 15 minutes to get through both quizzes.

Or it would have done for normal people. I had to do each quiz until I had got all of the answers right. Curiously, this was easier on the general knowledge quiz – presented by Bamber Boozler (‘bamboozle’, geddit?) – because on the communal television there was a way to get the screen to reveal the correct answer if you pressed a certain combination of buttons fast enough.

Fortunately, when I moved out and into my own place that trick didn’t work on my own television and my interest in the game died a death. From then on I rarely used the service and indeed my most recent memories of it are of sitting in my former in-laws’ living room*** in Coventry watching the football scores scroll over and over whilst everyone in the house took an afternoon nap.

*Although at least with these you could fast forward through the annoying adverts
**I admit that there was a certain strange sense of anticipation in listening to the dial-up tone and wondering if you’d ever be connected
***Steve, my former brother-in-law, used to refer to the service as ‘Gagfax’, though I never found out why
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Ms Jackson

This isn’t really a ‘musical memory’ post as such. I was listening to The Music Machine on Friday night and they played this song.

That is, as the caption says, Australian band The Vines covering Outkast’s song Ms Jackson. Hearing it immediately sent me spiralling back in time to 2001 when, after a long period of buying it only three times a year*, I began subscribing to the music magazine NME again. I can’t now remember what the catalyst for this was, but I do remember that The Vines were one of their favourite bands at around that time.

In fact, I almost cancelled my subscription after a few months, because it was clear that their then-editor had sickeningly decided that Vines frontman Craig Nicholls was a prime candidate to be the next great rock’n’roll suicide, a worthy successor to Kurt Cobain. It was horrible to behold, even if Nicholls’ violent outbursts and obsessive behaviour did cause concern (he was later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome). Here was a magazine which was actively wishing someone else dead and I am still not sure why I didn’t pull the plug on them at that point.

That little train of thought led me to a happier place, though.

For some reason, that song always reminds me of sitting in a local Chinese takeaway, waiting for an order and watching that video on Top of the Pops. Helen and I were regular customers there and at this time I was going through a really disgusting phase where my regular order would be Singapore rice noodles and the house special curry, the latter to be poured over the former. In fact, I rarely order either nowadays, as having to make the choice between the two is far too complicated for my little brain.

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A Small Achievement

If there is one thing that my family is not very outspoken about – and believe me, we are very outspoken about a lot of things (usually each other) when we want to be – it is individual achievements. We were all brought up not to boast or brag about things, not just within my immediate family but across wider generations, too. I think it has made us all more rounded people as a result and I would absolutely not have had things another way.

As an example, at the same time as I finally qualified as a solicitor after almost nine years of (slightly intermittent) study, my parents asked Helen and I to join them and the rest of my siblings in Ludlow for a meal at one of the posh restaurants which at the time littered the town.

I made the mistake of thinking that the two events were in some way connected. Of course, they were not and I should’ve known better. At the time, I was very disappointed but I should’ve known better.

Eighteen months later I had changed law firms and been made a partner in the new one. The family got together at my sister Karen’s house for Boxing Day. Helen urged me to make some sort of announcement. I was still in a sort of fug over the qualification thing and told her that I wasn’t going to tell anyone. Which meant that by being grumpy, even though I was the one in the wrong, I ended up doing the right thing!*

Which is why it is sometimes hard to write these tales, because it does sound like I am bragging, if not actively boasting. It goes against the way that I was brought up, and I’ve never had cause to question the correctness of anything I was brought up to be.

It, hopefully, also explains why I have to ask your forgiveness for the first ever commercial plug on this site. You see, my first book is being published on November 1st. It is aimed at children in the 3-7 year old range, but adults will hopefully love some of the jokes, too. You can pre-order it here. I hope you will – and that you’ll let me know what you think of it.


*Helen still told them. We came home to a host of congratulatory messages on the answerphone
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Heroes and Villains

One of the ways that the internet has revolutionised communication, perhaps more than is generally realised, is the way that it allows people to find an audience for their opinions. Now, sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it is a bad one, and sometimes it just leads to fools wibbling on about their life story into the deep echoing void of cyberspace. However, before the internet, whether you got a wider audience for what you wanted to say very much depended upon the whim of an editor somewhere, who controlled access to the letters pages and comment columns (at least so far as the written media was concerned).

It was, in part, this lack of voice which gave rise to the football fanzine. At the end of the 1980s there was a sudden upsurge in the authorship of such things, borne perhaps of a desire by fans to resist the attempts of the Thatcher government to bring in identity cards for football supporters, but also as a way of expressing frustration at the running of their favourite club side.

In a gradual way I became sucked into this. Distribution was usually by way of selling outside football grounds on match days, and I never have been one for going to several matches a year. The leading publication, When Saturday Comes, was not then available in newsagents, therefore there were really only two ways I could get hold of anything that I wanted to read.

One of these was by mail order, but as a poor student I wasn’t willing to make that sort of financial committment. The other was to visit the legendary Sportspages bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, which stocked a phenomenal number of such publications, from the big and well known to those specific to individual teams to the obscure and esoteric.

Fortunately, at the same time that all of this happened I was looking for a job for when I graduated and so spent a fair amount of time down in London. When I was there I would visit Sportspages, pick up whichever fanzines took my fancy, and read them on the train back to Staffordshire.

In this way I came to be a regular reader of Heroes & Villains, a fanzine for Aston Villa supporters such as myself. It was so well put together and such a fun and interesting read that I continued reading it for many years, becoming a subscriber almost as soon as I had a job.

Many years later, in around 1995, I decided to send them something I had written, entirely speculatively. It was a series of spoof predictions for the coming year and much to my surprise and delight was published in the first issue of 1996. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of that, as it was the first article I ever had published (and was probably totally meaningless to a non-Villa fan!).

Emboldened, I submitted a further piece. I can’t remember what that was about, possibly my first visit to Villa Park, but it was enough to earn me a phone call of thanks from the legendary editor Dave Woodhall (I say legendary because he is still there, on an almost Ingram-esque mission to never retire from the magazine he founded).

For some reason I stopped contributing after that. I’ve no idea why. I suspect I felt I had nothing more to add. Eventually my subscription lapsed and I never renewed it. I don’t remember why that happened, either. The magazine’s still going, though, and I love the way their website maintains the slightly amateurish look that the original fanzines had. I’ll certainly never forget the first place that published my work, all of those years ago.

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Lettered Times

It may or may not surprise you to know that I have on occasion written to magazines and newspapers other than Smash Hits.

I am probably proudest of having had a letter accidentally published in Private Eye. It was only meant to be a note to correct an error in a piece about the festering pusball of over-rated mediocrity that is Pete Doherty, but they published it anyway. My only slight regret is that it was actually slightly defensive of the worthless pustule, as they had confused him with an equally moronic member of his band.

The first such letter, though, was sent to The Times, albeit the sports pages. A journalist named Peter Barnard had criticised the England rugby team’s performance the previous weekend in a spoof Biblical piece (again, rather like something out of Private Eye). It was, I felt, rather misdirected, so I wrote a letter in similar terms to tell him so. It was slightly startling to find it the lead item on the next weekend’s letters page.

I wrote to The Times a few more times after that. Two of those letters (one concerneing my most-hated phrase, ‘we enclose herewith’, the other about the ill-fated Beagle 2 expedition to Mars) even made it into a book of that year’s missives. Another led to a very nice letter from one of my former university lecturers. One was even partly responsible for a change to the format of a popular sitcom. One day I’ll find the cuttings, and a scanner*, and post them here.

I stopped writing letters (and emails) to newspapers long ago. I didn’t want to turn into the mad bloke who for months sent me a weekly ridiculous religious ‘quote’ after The Times published my address. Now I just write blogs…

*I know, I keep promising the scanner thing. One day, one day…
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Being Published

On a couple of occasions recently I have been asked what the first thing I ever had published was. This is a difficult question to answer, because I never know at what level the questioner expects me to begin.

For example, the very first thing was probably a comic tale about my classmates which I had published in the school magazine – ‘The Bin’ – when I was about 18. It was kind of cruel as it lampooned one or two people rather thoroughly, but at the same time there’s always a certain element of cruelty in comedy and at that time I was less inclined to shy away from it than I am now.

However, it may be that this was preceded by me having a letter published in Smash Hits magazine. As I have alluded to before, this was the premier music magazine of the time, bigger even than the New Musical Express (which at the time had lapsed into a kind of pretentious, navel-gazing, doldrums). It had never occurred to me to write in before, but for some reason I was inspired to put pen to paper after an innocuous comment by Robert Smith of The Cure to one of their journalists provoked a batch of unfriendly replies from readers.

Regular readers will remember that The Cure are my favourite band ever, bar none. In my volatile teenage years any criticism of them provoked a bad reaction from me, but this time I don’t think I went over the top. I do however have to qualify that, because I can’t actually remember what I wrote! I know that the comment that Robert made was that the cover photo on one of their albums* was supposed to show the three band members as the deceased body of Marilyn Monroe.

Now, of course, I can understand why people were not very happy about this. Monroe to many is an icon (even though she’s vastly over-rated in my view) and they were not to know that, at the time, Smith was going through a phase of telling whopping lies** to music journalists. If truth be told I was surprised that my letter was published, but I wore the small badge which I was sent with pride – right up until the time I lost it a few weeks later.

I am not sure which of these events came first, because I didn’t keep copies of either of them. It took me a long time to learn that I should do that.

*I’m not mentioning the name because it will stop this post getting past ‘naughty word’ checkers, but it is a 1982 album, the only one with three band members on the front and…well, if you need more clues I doubt you will get it anyway.

*I am not sure if this actually was a lie, but it came at the around the same time he claimed to have recorded a record of Frank Sinatra covers and to take a lamb on tour with him, so it quite possibly was.

Posted in Happy Things, Music, School | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

We’ve Got A Little Sister!

I’ve always been greatly amused by the stories of women who give birth in inconvenient places – the changing rooms of clothes shops, the office, Reading County Court, that sort of thing – and then claim that they didn’t know they were pregnant. To my mind, that must take a spectacular combination of stupidity, mathematical illiteracy and salad-dodging.

Now, I will confess to having at least two of those problems myself (though I only dodge undressed salad nowadays, and lettuce is lovely when stir fried). Even so, imagine my shock a couple of days ago when I found out that The Memory Blog has a little sister*.

The South African Memory Blog is the work of my lovely friend Sarah Jane and although a very tiny infant is still well worth a read.

Personally, I am very much looking forward to seeing the parallels between Sarah Jane’s life and mine, seeing as she is a decade younger than me, grew up on a different continent and had the misfortune to be born a girl. I hope that you’ll enjoy the contrast, too, and from time to time I’ll pick up on something she’s said and give you my own take on it, just so that you can see the difference.

*Little sisters are fun. It takes them a long time to realise how gullible they are. Which is why on at least one occasion Karen ended up standing naked in the field behind our house whilst Roland Pettifer and I ran away with her clothes.

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I Never Play Basketball Now

I have always had a slightly ambivalent attitude to basketball. Most people, when describing me, usually mention that I am a bit on the tall side. However, by the standards of basketball players, I am definitely a shorty. And that strikes me as wrong. How can someone who is taller than 95% of the general population – so tall, in fact, that people taller than me scare me – be too short to play a game that is worth billions?

My indifference towards the game was probably not helped when, in the PE lesson where we were taught the rudiments of the game, I was roundly ridiculed for passing the ball back into my own half from the opposing team’s. You’re not allowed to do that and I just hadn’t listened when that particular rule was mentioned.

From this you will gather that my complaints about the heightist nature of the game are ill-founded, because I was never good enough to play for the school team, let alone have a career that might earn me a slice of those billions.

I was just about good enough to play for my form side. That’s not saying a lot in one respect, because you need at least five to make up a team and there were less than fifteen boys in my class and my selection for the side was based largely upon being the second tallest in that class rather on being any good.

Despite my presence, we actually had the best team in my school year. The other members of the side were pretty proficient (one of them did play for the school side for many years) whilst I drew a remarkable number of fouls simply by being so gangly it was hard to get the ball from me and so skinny that I was easy to knock over. When we won the game which gave us the nominal title of champions of our year, two of the opposing class’ best players ‘fouled out’ of the game, most of their fouls called for running into me as I blindly ran about not having a clue what I was doing.

In the following years, there were no inter-form tournaments due to, variously, teachers’ strikes or exams, so my basketball career, very minor though it was, at least ended on a high.

All of which gives me a good excuse to play this, one of my favourite songs from my school years and one which I never quite managed to squeeze into the Monday Morning Musical Memory series:

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