Just one of those days in England

I’ve had my head down writing since early doors and by six o’clock this evening, the last thing I felt like doing, was sitting down to write my blog. After all, it’s just been another normal day in paradise, or rural Essex as it’s known round here. What is there possibly to write about?

I started to think about a few of the things I’d seen in the news at luncthime and on social media as a I cast the odd glance in the direction of Twitter from time to time .

Sometimes you see a name like Judi Dench trending and start panicking. ‘Oh no, please not – she can’t have’, only to find out that she’s been nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film, Belfast.

A couple of other trends have caught my eye over the past few days. One was ‘Kirstie Allsopp’. I had to take a quick look at why she was trending, yesterday. For those who don’t know Kirstie, she is a TV presenter who fronts property shows with such names as Location, Location, Location and Relocation, Relocation, Relocation (yes, really). Well she’s caused a bit of a furore by suggesting that young people could probably afford to buy a property if they cut out their Netflix subscriptions and Gym memberships. I think there was a bit more to her argument, but that’s the gist of it.

It didn’t go down well amongst the Twitterati or much of the press, for that matter, and in part that was due to Kirstie coming from a background that some might say was a tad privileged (her father’s a Baron). “So what?”, you might say. Well we oiks don’t take kindly to being told how we could do much better for ourselves, by someone who started life on a much higher rung of the ladder than the rest of us.

I had a peep on Twitter this morning and the battle was still raging. Apparently Piers Morgan had started on Kirstie and she called him a bully and …. oh enough, enough.

I then saw another hashtag that caught my eye. #KurtZouma. I knew Zouma as a premier league footballer who plays for West Ham, but the reason his name caught my eye was because, well, he’s a pretty average footballer. So, I guessed he’d been a naughty lad and I thought, I’d check out what the fuss was about.

Oh, my!

It ‘s alleged that Mr Zouma decided to kick his cat across the room and then he slapped it. The Daily Express reported that:

“Zouma was captured dropping and kicking, chasing, slapping and throwing a pair of designer shoes at the terrified feline in his £2million mansion.” There is so much wrong with all of those those words.

Anyway how do we know about Mr Zouma’s indiscretions? Well it seems the whole sickening episode was videoed and posted on Snapchat, supposedly by his brother.

The headlines on Sky Sports News this evening were that Zouma had been picked to play for West Ham tonight. He has apologised profusely and said that both family cats are fine. Apparently, “they are loved and cherished by all the family.” That’s ok, then.

West Ham will deal with the matter internally.

I mused on all this, as I threw a few tennis balls around in the garden for the dogs to chase, in the dark.

Then I remembered something else, I’d seen on the news today. A chap called Jacob Rees Mogg, a throwback to the 1700s has been given a new role in the re-shuffled Cabinet, by Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Mogg is to be the Minister for Brexit Opportunities.

Just another normal day? Aye, I suppose so. In England. In 2022.

Gratitude, gratitude, the greatest gift that I possess

Before I got sober, I don’t think I was ever grateful for anything. Not genuinely grateful. Was I grateful for being brought up in a loving family, by parents who devoted their lives to ensuring my sister and I were fed, clothed, housed and educated? Parents who took us on holiday every year, made our home a real castle and ensured we had Christmas presents every year? All of this despite the fact there was little spare money ever around. Love in abundance though.

Fast forward to being married, having a loving wife and two great little lads, a decent house a thriving business and smart cars. Was I grateful then? I’m sure there were times when I had a moment of clarity and thought:

“How the flip did this happen?”

Then I’d quickly get wrapped up in my own self importance and the woes of running a fair size business.

By then though, I was wrapped up in the disease of more – both materially and mentally. Grateful? Nah, not really. Not at all. Look at the responsibilities I have. If you had my responsibilities, you’d drink,

As the disease progressed what gratitude might still have existed on brief occasions soon disappeared altogether and as things started to unravel, self pity increasingly took over.

The alcoholic binges, where I”d take myself off somewhere for days and end up alone in a hotel room. Poor me. poor me. Pour me another drink. No thought for family. No thought for the plight of others. No thought for anyone but moi.

Then the final denouement. Six months of wilderness. The last throes of the chronic alcoholic. Self pity, self loathing and self isolation became default settings. I drank to forget, to anaesthetise and hopefully to die – the final act of utter selfishness. The absolute opposite of gratitude.

I didn’t die. I got sober. Gratitude was there from day one. Being able to put my head down on a pillow, sober and going to sleep without being half cut. Thank you. I am truly grateful.

It was the head clearing. It was waking up sober. It was my family gradually starting to talk to me again. For lets not forget, they suffered more than I. It was gratitude for them and their incredible powers of forgiveness. The gratitude that is still there for my family taking me fully back into there midst. Always will it be there. Thank you, with all my heart.

Gratitude for the wonderful people that make up AA. They don’t just mend cars, they mend broken souls 🙂 Thank you. To my higher power, for keeping me sober on a daily basis. Thank you.

Gratitude to the people who gave me work and allowed me to rebuild self esteem and a career, one that I wouldn’t change for the world. I am grateful.

I could go on ad finitem.

How strange is it that when we have everything it’s so easy not to have any gratitude at all? Hit rock bottom and try to get well, the gratitude for the tiniest things is there in abundance. I guess the difference is spiritual.

It’s over ten years since I last had a drink. Life has got better and better.

I’d love to say that I’m full of gratitude all the time. I’d be lying. However, when my gratitude bank seems to be running low, something usually seems to miraculously replenish it – like wondering what to write about on my blog.

Oh and thanks Mum and Dad. Thanks a million x

Keeping one eye on the chimp

Just before annus horriblis 2020 ended, I made a New Years Resolution for the first time in many a year. I don’t usually stick to them, so I can’t usually be bothered making them anymore. However, after the year it had been, I felt the need to do something positive whilst at the same time attempting to ward off the winter blues, which have proved problematic in the past.

So, I decided to try and run every day of January 2021 and if I succeeded in doing that, I would see if I could go on and run every day for the rest of the year (which funnily enough would turn out globally, and particularly here on Plague Island, to be Annus Horriblis II).

In taking on the challenge of running every day, I was inspired by my fellow Lancastrian, and commonwealth champion marathon runner, the sadly late, Dr Ron Hill, who ran every day for 52 years and 39 days. Ron considered that to qualify as a daily run, he had to cover at least one mile without stopping. Good enough for Ron is good enough for me. So that’s what I did.

I completed 365 consecutive days running in 2021, covering a cumulative total of 1400 miles. For ten months I ran over 100 miles a month but I got plantar fasciitis, a painful foot injury in late October, so had to cut my mileage right down. I got there though and have to say I took great pride in doing so.

Thanks to a very kind client, Shelter will benefit to the tune of a four-figure sum as a result of the challenge having been completed and my effort has been posted on the official Run Streak International website, for posterity.

Taking on the challenge achieved what I’d hoped it would. After a dreary twenty months, it provided something to focus on daily other than trying not to get Covid and trying to forget about this awful government that we’ve somehow ended up with, here in the UK.

Above all the feat gave me a boost, physically and mentally. It really helped my self-esteem. I can still give myself a hard time and the running provided an antidote when it need to.

The run streak is a hard act to follow. If I hadn’t got plantar fasciitis, I’d probably still be doing the streak. Instead, I exercise every day and go to the gym regularly, but it’s not quite the same.

All of this has set me thinking about how I can shake things up a bit this year, without the rigid daily programme of running being an option (at least until this PF has got better).

So, I’ve decided to try and rework life a bit and shed some of the routines that I know I’ve got into and which aren’t amongst the most productive ways of spending time. On the flip side, I’ll look to make some positive additions to what I do on a regular basis.

Making a grand list of what I should and shouldn’t be doing would be a waste of time. I wouldn’t stick to it.

Instead, I plan to shake things up gently and introduce some changes on a piecemeal basis.

The run streak challenge was one of those things that I did because I know running is good for me for all the reasons I’ve stated. However (and here is the addict in me coming out), just because it’s good for me, doesn’t mean I’ll do it. You see, there was always that little chimp on the shoulder telling me why popping out for a run every day was a bad idea: it’s cold out, it’s too wet, it’s too early, it’s too late and so on.

Yet, because last year I’d set myself to go out and run every day, not doing it would have been a big thing and the longer the streak went on, it would have been a very big thing. On the contrary, very quickly slipping my trainers on and heading out, whatever the weather, became what I did, without my having to think about it.

What challenge should I take on now, then? From experience, I know that writing is good for me. I know, I know – I DO write every day. It’s my job, and one I enjoy. Does that not count then?

No, I’m talking about writing for pleasure; about the sheer joy of getting thoughts down on paper, PC, laptop or whatever passes for parchment these days.

I know it’s good for me to write (not perhaps for you, poor soul, to read what I write), but I get a similar buzz from writing a blog to the one I get from running. It’s cathartic too.

Yet still, there is the chimp, or whatever it is, sitting on my shoulder telling me it’s a waste of time, I’m writing to myself and there are better things I could be doing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when the chimp starts piping up, the opposite of what it tells me to do is what I should be doing.

For now, my challenge is to write something on my blog, every day, just for the hell of it. In doing so, I will start from the premise that about as many people who watched me run every day, will want to read my blog. It would be lovely though if you could prove me (and the chimp) wrong.

PS As there’s more than a passing reference to it, I should acknowledge that a chap called Dr Steve Peters invented this idea of there being a chimp that sits on your shoulder and in its naughty moments gives you less than good advice. Steve’s book is called The Chimp Paradox and if you haven’t read it, I can highly recommend it to you.

Return of the Kamikaze Killer Wasps (Marine Brigade)

I’ve needed something to spark me into writing for my personal blog again. This morning, I got the inspiration to write. This is a real-life horror story. It’s Stephen King-esque, minus 594 pages. (I always think Stevie’s books are a tad too long anyway!)

I got up around 7am today, and as per usual decided to start running a bath, before going down to make the first cuppa of the day.

After getting the bath going, I had cause to flush the toilet (not every minute detail required – see Stephen that’s how you cut down on pages).  It didn’t flush so I decided to check if there was water in the cistern. It’s one of the old-fashioned porcelain jobs with a heavy lid. As I carefully removed  said lid, to my absolute horror I saw what I recognised as a herd of Kamikaze Killer Wasps flying around, above the top of the water level in a full (?) cistern. I tried to replace the lid as quickly as possible, but too late. Two of the killer wasps had escaped.

I was now trapped in an increasingly steamy hot bathroom, bath running and two angry killer wasps circling and doing the type of dance they do to confuse their victim, nay, prey, before going in for the final denouement.

Summoning up a courage I didn’t know I possessed, I managed to open the window, but to little avail. It was blowing a gale and pouring down. I wouldn’t have gone out through the window, either.

I wondered if I could safely get to open the door, run down stairs, and get the Killer Wasp spray from the kitchen. I hesitated . My sister recently told me she had stopped killing any living creature (not that she is a serial killer, I hasten to add). No, she doesn’t drown spiders and, she specifically said, “Not even wasps!”

I pondered for a moment on her new-found humaneness.  Then I thought, “Stuff that!” and headed downstairs pronto despite the killer wasps best efforts to stop me.

Returning armed with killer wasp spray, I felt a surge of courage return – until I opened the door. The next few moments were like one of those scenes from a Battle of Britain movie, when they show planes chasing each other around the sky, whilst ( I always think inappropriately) playing classical music.

I have to say I fired off enough fly spray to sink the Graf Spee – I know, mixed metaphors and all that, but you get the picture. Still, they pursued me. I had no alternative other than to withdraw to the relative safety of the landing.

Despondently, I considered the reality of the situation. Potentially, the bathroom on the landing would now be permanently out of bounds as indestructible killer wasps ruled the roost in that room. From there they could re-group in readiness to take the whole of the upstairs of the house (although, I think they would have signed a peace treaty  with the lads not to attack their side of the house  on the grounds no one wants to go into their bedrooms or bathroom).

I thought I’d try one last attack. Opening the bathroom door very gently, I felt my whole body shaking as I readied myself to defensively attack – if that makes sense. There was neither sight nor sound of the killer wasps.

The window remained open. Had they decided that their best option was to escape into the grey rain laden skies? That wouldn’t have befitted kamikaze killer wasps, though, would it?

I decided to go down to the kitchen and make the cup of tea that I was now desperate for. I didn’t feel victorious in victory – partly because it’s not the right way to be, and partly because I thought the little ‘bustards’ might be sniggering behind the sink, waiting for me to get in the bath where I would be easy meat for a killer attack.

I decided to go back and carry out a house-to-house search of the bathroom. Nothing. No sign at all. Then my eyes caught sight of something under the bubbles from the bath foam. It was a killer wasp. I scooped it out in a cupful of water. I examined it as closely as I deemed it safe to do so. I decided I hadn’t got a f’in clue what it was. I thought for a second about sending it off to the lab for tests but then decided to chuck it out of the window. Sure, enough I found the other creature further down the bath, near the taps. I scooped it up and lobbed it in to the dark grey yonder, too.

By now, I’d gone off the idea of a bath or indeed of being in the bathroom, so I went and had a shower instead.

The end.

Epilogue.

More questions than answers remain.

How did killer wasps (now reclassified as ‘creatures unknown’) get into the cistern?

Are there anymore there?

Who is going to be brave enough to check?

Should I refrain from telling the lads and then ask one of them if they can go and check if the cistern is filling up, ok?

Sounds like a plan.

You alright, hun?

You really don’t know how hard this has been. Every time I’ve thought about writing a blog again for the first time since September last year, my brain has frozen over. It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve felt frightened to put pen to paper, or the digital equivalent thereof. I wouldn’t care, but if the blog is read at all, it’s only by two men and a dog (“Hello men, hello dog”).  

Without wanting to go into tons of self-analysis, I can only think it’s something to do with not knowing what’s been going on in my head. I feel as if over the last twenty months or however long it has been, the wiring in my brain has been reconfigured and some of it has been put back into the wrong plug sockets. An alternative reason might be that I’ve become a bit of a lazy so and so.

In reality, it is probably a bit of both.

What the pandemic has forced us into doing, isn’t natural or healthy. Isolation from other human beings generally isn’t good for us ( even though my head is saying, “well what about monks?”. They seem pretty rounded people. Or maybe we just assume they are because after all, they don’t say much, do they?’).

Life for this individual has settled into plenty of work (grateful I’ve got it), running every day, walking the dogs, doing the Guardian crossword with VW at lunchtime, tons of reading (now wading through all the Harry Bosch novels), phone scrolling (a dreadful but addictive habit), watching some cricket on the TV and occasionally one of the lads playing live, and thereafter taking in a few decent Netflix and Amazon dramas.

Add to that my constant moaning about everything this dreadful government is doing; ranting about the state of the nation and why so many people seem to be racist, xenophobic, cold-hearted, hard right-wingers who voted into government some dreadful people who are all incredibly wealthy and elitist and went to the same few, uber elitist schools (odd that) and who are nothing like most of the people who voted for them in any way, shape or form and who don’t give two hoots about them either. A government whose ministers and MPs seem to have a penchant for being economical with the truth and who just want to make the country fit for themselves and their cronies, so they can all make lots of dosh and who when the shit hits the fan, as one expects inevitably it will, are going to run away to their mansions, or second homes in Mustique, Bermuda or Wells next the Sea!

Hmm. If all of this doesn’t sound like the product of a healthy and peaceful mind, it isn’t. In fact, it has all the hallmarks of a head that has had too much time to itself. For this recovering alcoholic, when the mind has too much time to roam of its own device, it will resort to stinking thinking. It’s not that I don’t broadly stand with what I’ve written (or ranted about), but if I was in a healthy headspace, the mind wouldn’t be dwelling on those things. It would be looking for ways to be kind, thoughtful, helpful, and compassionate to others in these difficult times, because if I can’t be those things, why should I expect others to be the same towards me? Be kind, and mean it, and the world is generally kind back.

A healthy head would be telling me there are things I can change and things that I can’t and that I should recognise and focus on what I can change.  I can change the way I perceive the world – after all, there are some really lovely people both nearby and far away (and all places in between) all doing wonderful things. I can work on changing myself – for the better. I can work on thinking of others before myself.

I’m glad that I have broken the habit of not writing blogs. It’s a start. Maybe it’s time to break a few other habits too.

My Primary Purpose

I am a bit like the Queen. I have had two birthdays every year for the past nine years. I have no idea which is her favourite – her official one, or her real one, but I know which is mine. It is the birthday I have today, 29th September. It is my sobriety birthday and this year I am nine. Nine years sober.

I am just going to let that sink in for a moment, if you don’t mind. Nine years without a drop of alcohol. Not a jot. No cheating or hiding bottles, either.

It still seems unreal, when like now, I sit down and think about it, which I don’t do very often. I’m not saying that I take it for granted. I don’t. That would be a killer. It is why I say a little prayer every day. A prayer to stay sober for the day. Just for the day. Then show gratitude. “I’m truly grateful to be sober, thank you.” I am too.

I don’t take time out like I am doing now though, to think about how amazing it is that this hopeless drunk hasn’t drunk booze for so long and, what’s more, how it is that this hopeless drunk has not had the slightest inclination to drink since 29th September 2011. I’m not taking the credit. It’s a miracle, which means I’ve had very little to do with it.

During the last six months of my active alcoholism, I struggled to stay sober for nine minutes. I’m not much kidding about that either. Alone in an apartment in a town in the south of France. Lying on the bed at night, unable to sleep, unable to do anything but listen to the endless whine of French mopeds going past the window all night. Seeing the walls moving when I close my eyes. The shakes. The sweating. The terror.

Then in the morning, crack of dawn and out to the supermarché.  A real effort, in itself. Crawling from bed to bathroom. Throwing t-shirt and shorts on. Splash water on the face and clean the teeth, trying not to retch. Doing my fairly limited best, not to look like death warmed up, but obviously failing. “Make sure you take your money, some carrier bags and your keys. Make sure again.” Hands shaking. Legs like jelly. Call the lift. “I hope there’s no-one in it. Please God, don’t let there be anyone in it.”

There’s no-one in it. Phew. Get outside. The supermarché is only around the back of the flats. Less than a five-minute walk. It feels like it’s five miles away. Concentrate. One foot in front of the other. Is anyone looking? No. Ok. Heart going ten to the dozen. In the store. Get a basket and straight round to the booze aisle. Grab some beer and some wine. Easy does it, don’t drop anything. Everyone is looking. (They’re not).

Finally, the till, the worst bit. I’ve tried to calculate the amount to the exact centime, so I can give the cashier the exact amount. All so I don’t have to wait for change. Avoid an awkward conversation in French.

‘Merci, au revoir.’ That’s fine.

Sigh of relief. I’m off again and with a bit of a spring, if you can call it that, as I’m on the home leg, which takes all of three minutes or so. In the foyer of the apartment block, no one is around and the lift is waiting and free. Up to the 2nd floor. Key shakily in the door and… I’m in. Thank goodness. Thank, goodness.

I take my booty into the lounge. Open a can and ‘glug, glug, glug’. There’s a warm glow as the alcohol hits the back of my throat. Another can and then another. Finally, at last, the state of ‘even keel’ is reached. It’s 9 am.

Eat little, drink, repeat.

Today, I’ve been sober for nine years. This day, my primary purpose in life is not to drink alcohol. Just for today.

7 things I’d tell my younger self

This blog has one of those really cheesy, yucky tiles. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about the past. I don’t know whether other people who’ve got to 60 do the same thing, but I find myself playing ‘what if’ sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my lot. This is not a morbid game of dwelling on regrets. No, it’s a lot more fun.

For example, in my mid-late 20s when I was a single lad, living in a ‘studio’ flat (bedsit) in Didsbury (Fallowfield), Manchester, and a jobbing solicitor in Stockport, I contemplated taking a postal course to qualify as a US Attorney at the Californian Bar (ha, ha, not of the drinking type on this occasion). It may have had something to do with watching a series on the telly in the late 80s called, LA Law. Well, it certainly had a lot to do with it.

I think I probably came up with the idea sitting in the cells at Stockport Magistrates Court on a wet Monday morning whilst on Duty Solicitor duties and listening to some toerag going on about how he didn’t want me to apply for bail, because he wouldn’t get it, on account of the fact that he’d coshed an old lady when he broke into her house, so could I just get the Dibble (police) to give him back his baccy and the dosh they’d taken from him, as it wasn’t proceeds of crime.

You can see why LA was appealing!

Well, of course, I didn’t do it, but what if I had? Would I have gone on to become senior partner of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak? Would I have married Susan Dey? (I hadn’t met VW then, so wasn’t being disloyal !) Would I have lived on the Pacific coastline of Malibu in a 15 bedroomed shack? Would I by now have had a nose job?

The example is, of course, a bit of nonsense. However, it’s a bit ironic that life waits until you’re getting on in years before revealing some of the truths that really would have helped you at the age of 10, 15, 20 and so on. In some ways, it would be good to live life backwards so that by the age of 21, you are one hell of a well adjusted human being. Unless that is, you have just remained stupid all your life, in which case, there’s not much point to this exercise. Think Trump!

You see, when I had this madcap idea of becoming a US Attorney and flying off to LA, my older self could have stepped in and told me to fast forward the video. What it would have shown me was that assuming I had taken the exams and qualified to practice law in the US, and that I got that LA Law job, I’d have got to Manchester Airport, got hopelessly drunk, missed the plane and ended up getting a taxi back to Fallowfield! ‘Don’t do it, Carl.’ Get sober first at least, then have another think!

It would have been great to have my older self around.

So what would I say to my younger self?

Here are 7 basics for starters.

1. Just be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be different. Start off like that and stay like that. As long as you are being true to yourself, and as long as you treat other people the way you’d want to be treated, you can’t really go wrong. Being yourself gives you so much confidence and it means you are more likely to take the path that is right for you, not the one that you feel someone else wants you to take.

2. Bearing in mind that this is me, Carl, telling younger Carl, what he thinks will help him get the most out of his life, probably the most important thing I could say to him is:

‘Don’t drink alcohol, mate. Never’.

There’s nothing killjoy about saying that. It’s just that he (young Carl) and I, were made differently to others. We were born with the ‘ism’ inside us. Mix the ‘ism’ with alcohol and ‘boom’ – lots of crazy, dangerous, painful things will happen and he’ll hurt a lot of people, including himself. He’ll know dark times, the like of which most others would struggle to comprehend. If he’s lucky he may finally come out the other side. Most don’t though. On the other hand, if he heeds the advice, he can achieve anything he sets his mind to.

3. Accept everything – expect nothing. No one gives us a free pass when we are born. Life throws tough things at us all the time. It would be pretty boring if life were a new ‘box of chocolates’ every day. However, that’s what I used to expect – wonderful things to just keep on happening. Surprisingly, that’s not how things always used to turn out. So when they didn’t go according to how I wanted them to, I’d be crushed. Take a drink, most probably, just to anaesthetise the pain of things going wrong or simply not going as I’d planned them to. By just accepting life on life’s terms, everything is so much easier to deal with.

4. Don’t be afraid. I used to be afraid of everything. From a very young age, I’d expect the worst to happen all the time. I had that almost constant sense of foreboding, even if I didn’t know what that meant. It wasn’t usually a fear of anything tangible. It was just that sense that something was just waiting to go wrong. Maybe that was part of my alcoholic thinking, even when I was young. (I believe that I was alcoholic even before I ever drank.) No coincidence, therefore, that since getting into recovery, that sense of irrational non-stop fear has gone, or at least most of the time, it isn’t there anyway. Go on, young Carl. Do it without any fear, because as I’ve since found out, 90 odd per cent of what we fear, never comes to fruition. If it does, you’ll deal with it, because of 5 below.

5. You are stronger than you think. Believe that. Use it to bolster your confidence, because as a young Carl, I know you will be lacking in confidence. Use the knowledge that you are stronger than you think you are, to go out and achieve anything you set your mind to do and deal with anything not so good. That inner strength will get you through anything. It has me. When I didn’t mix it with alcohol.

6. Make sure that you become fluent in at least one other language. At the time of writing, we are living on a small island that’s been taken over by lunatics. Learn another language and go and live and work abroad until the idiots have got bored, gone somewhere else or self combusted.

7. Life is good. If you work at it, it gets even better. Just do the right things and the right things tend to happen. Be kind to others and to yourself. As long as you are doing that you won’t go too far wrong.

Oh and ‘good luck.’ I’ll be looking out for you!

Life after lockdown? The good, the bad and the downright ugly.

No man is an island,
entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.

Excerpt from Meditation XVII of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne

When I set up this blog, I thought I’d be rattling them off at the rate of a least one a day. That’s not been the case, to say the least. It’s not by design, but I believe, in part, because I also write for a living.

During working hours I turn out blogs and articles for lawyers, web pages, content for legal news outlets and legal PR for the regional press.

There’s usually a set structure to that. By that, I mean that I have a steer from my clients on the topic I’ll be writing about and with my long term clients, we work to a plan which dictates what needs to be written.

My own personal blog, on the other hand, is a blank piece of paper, which gives me options. Too many options. Of course, I could write about my beloved Manchester City or Lancashire CCC, or about my love of running, my dogs or family (they’d love that -not). Then again I can bleat on about my recovery from alcoholism as it stands today. For now, though, I’ve written enough on that aspect of my life.

So, left to my own free will, I’ve found it a tad difficult to get writing.

I do wonder whether some of this is partly down to Covid19 and the lockdown. I’ve been trying to go through in my head how the past 104 days have affected me generally and the family too, for that matter. However, I can only speak for myself, not them.

Here are some of the positives

Covid19 scared the pants off me health-wise, when the pandemic first hit, as nothing before has ever done. The first thing it did was make me put out my last cigarette on the 16th March. I have not touched one since. I stopped, by using a patch for one day and since then, nothing. Completely smoke and smoking-substitute free.

I’ve always had a strange relationship with smoking. I’d never smoked a cigarette in my life until I was 39. Then sometime in 1998, after a bad bought of alcoholic bingeing, I was waiting to be carted off to the Priory in Chelmsford. Without a drink, I was pacing around like a caged lion, withdrawing badly and so I took one of VW’s menthol cigarettes. It took the ‘edge off’ sufficiently well that I took up smoking.

Over the following 20 years, I turned into an on and off smoker. I was not habitually, that heavy a one. It was a strange relationship. I ran 5 marathons in 2003/2004 and the first thing I’d do after finishing each one was to light up!

However, it was a bugbear and annoyed me, as much as anything else. Having managed to stay off the booze for now for 8 1/2 years, it bugged me that I couldn’t put down the fags. Well, Covid19 sorted it. Cancer amongst smokers is rampant, but the threat of getting that didn’t make me stop. Enter Covid19 and I threw away my tobacco in a heartbeat.

For me, this whole pandemic lockdown, wearing masks, not taking chances and abiding by the rules and guidance, as pathetic as it has been from our incompetent government, have all been down to a real fear of getting Coronavirus. I’m 60, get mild asthma and hay fever, so have felt pretty sure that I’d struggle if I caught the virus.

This fear was also the driving force behind me ramping up the exercise. When Bojo the Clown advised that we could do one hour a day’s exercise, I took him literally. As a counterbalance to the possibility of COVID striking, I took the view that if I’m as fit as I can be, then I’m giving myself a fighting chance.

I took Johnson’s advice and ran every day. I made a point of running for 58/59 minutes (all a bit pointless as I took the dogs out separately too, on the basis that that was their exercise, not mine!)

Personal fitness then, has been good so far and God willing, may that continue.

Other good things?

Still sober (always the number one priority).

Family not tearing each other’s hair out. Some dodgy moments on that score, but hey, show me a family that won’t have had them.

I’ve been able to work – thank you, my super clients. A new contract that was about to start has been put on hold, but I can’t complain. I do love what I do and if ever an occupation was made for lockdown life, writing for a living, is it.

Dogs have never been fitter.

Life has become simpler in many ways.

Using one bar of the petrol tank’s worth of petrol in 3 months.

I’ve picked up some books I’d probably never have otherwise had to time to read, such as the works of some of the authors considered ‘the angry young men’ of the 50s and 60s (Barstow, Braine, Sillitoe, Waterhouse et al).

…and the negatives?

Most of the negatives have come from outside the home. Turning on the news is necessary to stay informed, but there has been little comfort from any of it.

I couldn’t write an article about COVID without acknowledging the tragic deaths that this pandemic has caused. At the time of writing the UK death toll is just over 44,000 officially but thought to be more realistically around 60,000. It’s over half a million worldwide.

It’s a devastating toll and made all the more so by the government’s handling of the crisis, which has been appalling. I know, I know. It’s a unique set of circumstances that they have faced. What’s the word, unparalleled?

But please, none of this:

‘they’ve done their best, though…”

That’s not good enough. They are the government, not a group of boy scouts doing a charity event.

Hearing about the amazing work of the NHS and other frontline workers has been something of a counterbalance to the misdoings of our so-called leaders. I’m sure that they would prefer a few more quid in their pay packets though, rather than having co-ordinated hand-clapping from Tory politicians and the hypocritical members of the public who voted for the Tories at the last election!

Having the worse government in my lifetime in power at any time was going to be a disaster. Having them in at a time of true national crisis is catastrophic. Led by Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, they are truly the most incompetent, awful bunch of politicians we could ever have had the misfortune of being ‘governed’ by, at any time. In my opinion.

Their lack of ability is self-evident with almost every false step that they make. What else could we really expect, from a Tory party that won the last election on the basis of a right-wing, Brexit driven agenda that has no more substance to it than ensuring that we leave Europe without striking a deal to facilitate our exit?

After dithering, lies, U-turns, false moves from the outset, double standards (witness the Cummings and Jenrick affairs in particular), we are now seeing them ease lockdown to the point of it becoming non-existent. Desperate, it seems, to get to the stage that other countries that locked down hard and before we did are at, they seem to be throwing any pretence of listening to the advice of experts, telling them to slow down, out of the window.

Yesterday saw pubs, cafe’s and hairdressers opening up. This all at the same time as Leicester has had to go back into full lockdown.

I know that people in business all over the country are desperate to get back to work. I get that and my views might sound particularly rich from someone who has still had some work to do. However, I can’t help but think that there is a determination to get things moving too quickly, and at any cost.

I can’t get away from the feeling that this is going to end up with a second wave of coronavirus infections or even an overall spike across the whole of the country. Don’t just take my word for it. I’m only taking my lead from England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries.

If that happens we are in a whole heap more trouble than we already are and have already gone through. Don’t worry though, because Brexit is just around the corner.

In my own bubble, with my family in our Cottage in rural Essex/Herts ( we really are right on the border) all is fine, in day to day respects. In fact more than fine.

As John Donne famously said, though; ‘No man is an Island.’ We are affected by what is going on in the rest of the country, indeed the world. We feel ‘another man’s death.’

How do I feel? That all I can do is live each day as it comes. Do my work, enjoy my free time reading, running, being with the family and staying fit and well.

Hovering over all this though is a constant sense of unease. The government would have us believe that we are off and running again. Maybe they are right, I personally doubt it, but maybe they are right. Perhaps we are off and running and the virus won’t return.

Even then though, where will we be running to? A ‘No Deal Brexit’ on the back of a humongous recession, with the spaffing buffoon and his chums running the show? No reason to be alarmed. No, none at all!

Don’t Get So Close To Me

I very nearly got killed two weeks ago. I was running along the village road, when a car came round a corner at a ridiculous speed. I was running towards the traffic, as is advised. I was on the road because there is no path on the village road, apart from a very short stretch much further down the road than where I was at the time. I was tucked into the kerb.

The road is one (unmarked) lane in each direction but if two cars pass each other there’s not much space on either side of the road. So, if vehicles see me as they approach, they have to slow down if there’s something coming in the opposite direction and then overtake me once the other vehicle has gone past.

It’s an interesting one because quite often you can tell by driver’s faces as they approach that they don’t see why they should slow down for a runner. Some of them just don’t bother even trying, whizzing past, inches from you. It’s incredible how many drivers seem to be oblivious to what I’d have thought was a pretty well-known fact, namely:

‘If you hit a pedestrian (runner) in a car, even at 30 mph, the pedestrian (runner) is likely to be seriously injured or killed.”

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. I’m in a nice rhythm, enjoying my run on a Saturday morning. I’d already done about 4.5 miles, with just under 1.5 to go, to get home. It’s still lockdown during the COVID pandemic, but nevertheless, there were more vehicles evident on our main road through the village, which also just so happens to be a cut through to junction 8 of the M11 Motorway.

The section of road I was on, is a 40 mph zone. All of a sudden, as I approach a slight bend in the road, a sports car comes flying towards me. It was almost bobbing along sideways, it was going so fast round the bend.

Then came one of those strange moments where time stands still. I could see the car was on course to hit me. That is all I can really remember. That and the fact that the driver was an older chap, with slicked-back white hair. I remember that because we got fairly up close and personal to each other.

I also know that I threw myself kerbside even more than I was already (although there were hedges right up to the roadside). He certainly emergency braked and swerved, at the very last minute, as he went past me.

I wasn’t hurt, but my hackles were up. He’d pulled up to halt in his car further back behind me and was hitting his steering wheel, shouting:

“Get off the f*****g road!’

Which kind of made me fairly annoyed. However, as I started to make my over to his vehicle he drove off. Probably good for us both that he did.

Then I carried on with my run.

“Get off the f*****g road!”

It was when I got home that I got really angry. The bloke was absolutely flying along the road. I’m guessing he was doing 60/70. As a runner, you get a sense of whether a motor vehicle is:

  1. Doing less than the speed limit or less – ‘nice one, thank you.’
  2. Over the speed limit a bit – ‘just slow it down a tad please.’
  3. Absolutely flying -‘ What the F***?’

‘Old Slicked Back ‘ was in category 3 and a bit.

What really got to me, was that his first thought wasn’t that he’d nearly brought about my demise, but that he should instead yell at me for being on the road!

I really wanted to tell him, very politely ( whilst pinning him to the floor) that, “I am totally within my rights to run along MY own village road. Where there is no pavement on the particular stretch of road I want to run on, I have to run on the f***ing road itself. Oh and by the way the speed limit is 30 mph and in some stretches 40 mph, and you, old boy, were travelling at almost double the speed limit. It’s you that needs to get off the ‘f*****g road!”

Then I would pick him up off the floor, dust off his dandruff ridden lapels and send him on his way. By bus.

“Irritants, to be buzzed out of the way”

There’s no doubt that there are a great number of motorists – car, van and truck drivers who think that the road belongs to them. Full stop. Studies carried out in recent years seem to confirm this. An article in Forbes magazine in 2018, reported on the results of two such surveys, concluding that:

“Those piloting heavy, fast motor vehicles often use their speed and power to muscle all non-motorised users out of the way, sometimes without knowing they’re doing it. “Vulnerable road users” – such as cyclists and pedestrians – become either invisible or irritants to be buzzed out of the way.”

Motorists are supposed to give cyclists, motorcyclists and by implication also horses, pedestrians and runners a wide berth of at least 1.5 metres when passing them. Indeed since 2019, police forces have been encouraged to find and apply penalty points to the licences of motorists who they are caught passing cyclists without at least 1.5 metres between them.

The reality is that every time I run down the village road to either the end of it that’s 1.7 miles from home or the other end of it which is 1.2 miles away, on average, on each run, I’m passed, by at least two vehicles, that are far too close to me. No police force in the world can enforce that frequency of incidents of seriously poor driving.

Lockdown has been great in the sense that runners and cyclists have been taking to the roads of the country in ever greater numbers. However, even in the heaviest form of lockdown of several weeks ago, it was impossible to be out on the road without encountering many of our four-wheeled friends behaving badly. Fewer cars on the roads admittedly, but the ones that were out and about saw the quieter roads as an excuse to totally ignore the speed limits and rules of safe driving generally. My recent near accident was evidence of that.

I think the situation has got worse and worse over the last 10 years. So much so that having escaped injury by a whisker the other week, I’ve decided that I will stick to trail running across the fields and countryside paths, around where I live. I’m really fortunate that there’s an abundance of those, plus a National Forest when it opens again. The exception to the rule will be where I can run safely on the pavement.

It shouldn’t be so, but I have to accept the things I cannot change and I can’t change other people’s bad driving. Whilst I love my road running it’s not worth dying for.

(I wrote a more detailed blog on the dangers road runners face on a daily basis for Mooneerams solicitors in September 2019. It can be found here.)

On Being 60

“There’s a few bob in your pocket

and you’ve got good friends

and it seems like summer’s never coming to an end.

Young, free and innocent, you haven’t got a care,

apart from decidin’ on the clothes you’re gonna wear.

The street’s turned into paradise,

the radio’s singing dreams,

you’re innocent, immortal, you’re just fifteen.

And who’d dare tell the lambs in Spring,

what fates the later seasons bring?

(From ‘Blood Brothers’ by Willie Russell)

As my 60th birthday in October 2019 was approaching, I thought how good it would feel to be able to write a blog, entitled, ‘On Being 60’. It had a good ring to it. I would write some haughty piece about laughing in the face of my advancing years, how age is just a number, that you’re as young as you feel and a host of other platitudes.

I didn’t get round to it then, but as I’m now over 60 and a half, if I’m going to make use of this literary, luvvy sounding title, I’d better get on with it.

When I was a young lad if you had asked me at what age I thought people could be said to be old, I’d have said that it would be at 50. Very old? 60 onwards.

If you’d asked me the same question in my early 20s, in all honesty, I’d have probably said the same thing – and at 30? The same. You see at all those ages and even at 40, I never thought that I would get old. Yes, I knew that you did in my heart of hearts, but not in that part of the brain called the ‘leave that until another day’ section.

Then suddenly, in the words of the poem written by the old lady who lived in a nursing home (the one that you can read when you visit our downstairs loo, where it hangs on the wall), all of a sudden ‘dark days are upon us.’

I wouldn’t go that far, but it can no longer be denied. Time is at a premium. I’m not young.

So here’s my take on being me at 60.

Let’s be honest, if being 60 didn’t bother me at all, then why am I writing a blog about it?. People don’t tend to write blogs called ‘My life at 21’, although granted footballers have their life stories written at that age. ‘My life in pictures….’

Do I like being 60? I accept it, rather than like it. I see it as a challenge. It’s no coincidence that over the past 16 months or so, I’ve got very fit. I pride myself on being fitter than a lot of men who are much younger than I am. Ego? Pride? Yes, probably.

I’m looking after myself in other ways, rather better than I used to, as well. Part of that has nothing to do with my advancing years. I got sober in 2011 because I was fed up with being an active alcoholic. I’ve stopped smoking. I don’t eat junk.

I still have goals. I want to write a book. I want to travel more. I want to become much more fluent in German and French. I want to become a better freelance writer. I’d like to get more non-work-related stuff, published in the press.

I want to spend more quality time with my wife and even though they are in their twenties now, my boys too. Again, some of that comes from making up for the years when I wasn’t a great family man – when my head was in a bottle or I was pining for a bottle. A lot of it comes too, from the fact that I love all three of them, very much.

Time is precious – partly because I value being sober and I enjoy life now and partly because, well, time is slipping away. (It does go faster as you get older kids – mark my words!)

Undoubtedly what living through this pandemic has brought home ever more, is how fragile life is. Having lost my parents in a car accident in 1999, that is something I am acutely aware of anyway. Life can be gone in a heartbeat. That’s not being morbid. It just means I should get on and live life – and enjoy it.

What don’t I like about being 60 then?

Ok, the trivia first. I don’t like how all the musicians that I grew up listening to, are either dead already or are in their 70s and how if they are alive, they insist on still performing in their 70s. I’d quite like to see Fleetwood Mac, but I want to see Stevie Nicks and Lyndsey Buckingham as mid 20-year-olds, not now they are in their dotage. I was going to go and see Mannfred Mann at the nearby Rhodes Theatre last year until I found out that the ever-youthful Paul Jones was in fact now 75!

I also get angry beyond belief with myself, when I’m just about to go somewhere and I can’t find my car keys…..or my phone….or my wallet…or my specs. When I lose one of these items, I really lose it too. I’ll find it days later resting on the 4th shelf up of one of the myriads of bookcases that line the walls of this house. I get angry beyond angry. I blame it on my disease, my alcoholism, for eradicating mass chunks of my grey cells (which it undoubtedly has) and woe betides anyone who offers this ‘helpful’ piece of advice:

‘Just try and remember where you last had it!’

I’ve also got a related problem in that I can be in full flow in a meeting, telling a story to a friend or giving someone directions on the street, when I just get brain freeze. I simply have a total blank about what I’m talking about and have to say so. ‘Mind’s gone blank, sorry.’ Again as much a problem of having drunk too much rioja and Stella Artois as being 60, I’m guessing

As I write this though, I realise that there isn’t really all that much that bothers me about having reached three score years. That I have my health, is the main reason for that. If I didn’t have that and if any of my family were ill, life would look different. I’m grateful that we are all well and pray that that continues. I have a lovely family and a nice home. I have my dogs, my running and I have some special friends. Today life is good and today is all any of us have.

If anything has happened on turning 60, it’s the final, dawning realisation that youth has gone forever. I say finally, because whilst daft as it might sound, until a few years ago, I honestly did feel that I would be eternally youthful. I do miss that feeling that I used to get as a youngster, of the world being right there at my feet. I was always a dreamer and it was a lovely state of being.

But wait. Why should any of us ever stop dreaming? If we do that aren’t we asking for the carpet slippers and a pipe? Oh. stuff it. I’ll always be a dreamer. A dreamer at 60? Forever young? Why not? Pass the sanatogen wine, Val. Oh, I forgot – best make that a cup of tea!