How to become “quite a character”?
Hello, good to meet you.
Quandary Corner’s grand Mission is to help my readers solve some of life’s age-old questions.
When I say ‘age-old’, I mean those big questions that keep us – well, people like me – awake in the middle of the afternoon.
So, where shall we start?
One day, I promise I’ll get around to the Meaning of Life. But meanwhile …
Here is today’s question: (roll of drums)
Why is it that some senior people, like me, are apparently ‘stubborn, cantankerous old ***ts’, while others, same age, just as opinionated, grumpy and forgetful, are ‘lovely old souls’ or, even worse, ‘quite a character’.
What I’m asking is – why them and not me? What, in the name of St Marcus Trescothick, have they done to deserve this? And most importantly, how do I qualify?
I study people, you see. Where I live, we’ve got the lot. Like the Local Yokels – you know them, cloth cap, lived here since the Great Flood, their own stool, beer mug and pulpit at the bar, not great at punctuation but world-class experts on everything from quantum mechanics to dry roasted peanuts. Heaven help their wives, say I.
Then there’s what I call the ‘Arty Dodgers’: the arty-crafty types, of all genders, most of whom, I’m fairly certain, are hiding away down here in ‘idyllic Somerset’ for fear of being identified. Who’s after them, I wonder? They say it’s either the taxman or those Novichok boys from Salisbury. They’re still around, I hear. My aunt Glad says she can’t find her perfume bottle and someone’s sure it was them in the shop at Nearly Crumpet asking for a litre of cider – I ask you. Gallon or pint, my lover?
Truth is, I find the Arty-farties (‘scuse me) a lot of fun – chatty, slightly the worse for drink, all wearing last year’s Nearly New sale, or so my wife Gert says. Her real name is Kath but she’s a big girl so everyone calls her Gert.
Anyway, back to today’s question: how can the likes of me, or you for that matter, transition (that’s posh for change, don’t laugh) from a pain-in-the-wobblies to a welcome-in-most-circles?
I’ve tried a few things – had a shave, changed my socks, even cleaned my teeth. One night, I even offered to buy a round – well a couple of lemonades. No joy.
One of these days, I’ll introduce you to some other village folk, like bloody Jocelyn – “I like to think of myself as a farmer and have you met my blonde, much younger wife?”, Harry “I only take cash”, Wing Commander ‘Biggles’ Buttox-Green, for starters.
Good Lord, is that the time?
Bye for now.
Hi, I’m the man in the photograph, taken shortly before I retired from earning a proper living, to ramble around Somerset UK masquerading as a writer, novelist, semi-political exposer of the pompous and general all-round old good egg.
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I am the Inch-man.
Back when Britannia ruled the waves and most of the bits above the waves too, we British felt entitled to invent everything.
To be fair, we did fail to persuade the whole world to drive on the left but, on the other hand, we came up with some darn good stuff like parliament, half-crowns, queuing, pubs, cuppas, law courts, gallons, cricket, crumpets, conkers, miles, pounds and ounces – each of which was a major contribution to humanity, as I’m sure you would agree.
But then what happened? From nowhere, some wise guy – I’ll bet he was French – got clever and came up with an entirely uncalled-for new set of stuff and called it metric. No apology, of course – bloody typical. However, rather than telling him, in true British tradition, to pick up his garlic and shove off, what did we do? We caved in!
Suddenly, we were told we all had to learn a whole new vocabulary – Franglais words like centimetres, millilitres (millipedes, I call them), grams, 1p’s (what was wrong with pennies?), centigrade. Out with good old British tradition, in with pesky cross-Channel bossiness.
Myself, I’m what’s called an unrepentant inch-man. The temperature on my dashboard is defiantly in Fahrenheit. My kids – one of mine is nearly 50 – laugh when I ask questions such as,
“13 degrees? 1 metre 45? What’s that in old money?”
“Get a life, Dad,” the say.
“Where did I leave my Meccano?” is my witty reply. That stumps them.
To make matters worse, when we Brits do decide to stand up for ourselves, we pick the wrong fights. For example – why do we make ourselves look even sillier by refusing to carry proof of our identity?
Why are we alone in the world? Good show chaps, everyone out of step except dear old Blighty.
So, whenever someone in a peaked cap, quite justifiably, asks us to prove who we are, we proudly excuse ourselves and trot away back home to scan our last gas bill or (overdue) tax demand. Wasting our time, their time, slowing everything down and adding zillions to their admin costs which we, in the end, pay for. This is Bonkers, my friends, quite Bonkers.
What is our problem? Everything there is to know about you, down to your grandfather’s inside leg measurement, already sits on hundreds of databases, registers and files. Nothing is secret anymore. So please don’t complain to me about state surveillance; we also turn up on dozens of CCTV recordings every day; even your supermarket knows exactly which kind of sticky bun you craftily nibble when you are alone, so they can send you a coupon for the next one.
I’ll tell you something, when we lived in France, we felt far safer, armed with our ubiquitous Carte d’Identité. Everyone has one, it’s in your wallet, saves time, cuts crime. Believe me, it works.
Let’s wake up, let’s do it and get on with life.
I’m off to the pub, which is half a mile down the road, for a pint, a plate of faggots and peas, a bag of pork scratchings and a hand of darts.
Then again, I’m told my ancestors came over here with the Norman Conquest. Weren’t they kind of French?
Who said, “You want it perfect? Give me a break.”
Forgive me if I repeat myself, but some people really do get up my nose. Readers’ nominations would be most welcome. When I write up a summary of your suggestions for Mid Somerset Echo, we can all go into hiding until the noise dies down. OK? Over to you, my friends.
This week’s blackened banana is awarded, as I speak, to the Perfectionists.
Who are these people? What’s their problem? Why can’t they settle for OK or Acceptable or Fine or even That will do nicely?
But no, these people are never satisfied until every dot, comma, every speck of dust, every wrinkle, every blade of grass has been eradicated, amended, redesigned.
Why can’t they accept that every great artist, me included, is on a different planet, with a grand vision, our gift to humanity, our glorious masterpiece? And we couldn’t give a monkey’s for the petty minutiae?
Where was I?
Think about this for a moment – I call God as my witness.
Genesis 1.31. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Remember that this was the end of the sixth day of a week to end all weeks. The old boy (or woman, depending on your preference) was knackered. All he/she wanted to do was down tools, relax in a hot bath (had baths been invented?) with a large Ambrosia on crushed ice and one of the world’s first cherries, and check out what those ultra-clever legless people he’d created earlier on a planet whose name he still hadn’t decided, were broadcasting on his favourite holo-channel.
He knew Saturdays were not up to much – mostly game shows and talent contests. Oh, for a decent gardening programme.
And right then, up pops the nit-picker. Not you again. Her name was Lucy, by the way. Nice looking, quite tempting in a naughty sort of way, especially the forked tongue.
“Sorry to bother you, Lord, but I couldn’t help noticing …” God’s heart sinks.
“What is it this time?”
“I’ve been checking the master plan, and those elephants should be turquoise.”
Now I know that God is supposed to be all-forgiving but there comes a point. Have you read somewhere about the wrath of God?
“Now look here, Lucy. It’s my Earth and I think it’s very good. I would have written it all down, but I haven’t created writing yet. If you think you can do better, go ahead, it’s all yours.” (This could have been something of a turning point in history – Ed)
“No, no,” Lucy protested. “I’m just a bit short of the readies this week and I was wondering whether you could use an extra pair of wings …”
“Ah, you want to do something useful, eh? Tell you what, I’ve just invented fire. You’ll find it over there, turn left then down a few floors. Take a look. I’m hellish busy but if you can make something out of it, I promise I’ll make nit-picking a sin. That should keep the funds rolling in your direction.”
And that, my friends, is how it all began. Let this be a lesson.
PS And the answer is Yes, Lucifer is female.
I am conducting a survey. Not any old survey – this one will be a major contribution to science and to our understanding of humanity.
I have named the project:
‘Pants – What the world needs to know’
which I thought was quite catchy.
In proper research, you always have to set objectives. These are mine:
- By comparing and contrasting those who, when donning their trousers, put their right leg in first and those who start with their left leg, to establish a pattern.
- To further analyse these results by those who are left-handed vis-à-vis the right-handed, those with a (suspected) criminal record, 4×4 drivers, and people who dye their hair green.
- To extend our knowledge by asking – What happens when you start with the other leg? I fell flat on my bum.
- To submit the findings to the world-famous Society of Deep Interspatial Thinkers (SODIT) for gratification.
Proper researchers always test their questions on a small sample of typical people, representative of the population as a whole.
Unfortunately, my small sample of typical people told me to shove off – they were far too busy eating and drinking and/or playing darts and/or going outside for a drag to talk to scruffy old men.
So, I thought about this and finally took the strategic decision to test it out on my neighbours instead. The results were fascinating.
As I may have mentioned, or perhaps I didn’t, the residents of Lower Midriff include what Mr Bassett used to call All-sorts, some of whom have kindly consented to allow me to show you their responses.
The questionnaire covers both legs, both hands, age, gender (don’t get me started), sexual preferences (where applicable), habits (both varieties), height, weight and Bumps-a-Daisy, and was delivered, by hand, to every house in the village. A hundred and five of them, not counting that house on the corner because they are all a bit weird in there.
Lower Midriff proved to be a minefield (do I mean minefield?) of information, anecdotes, and downright baloney. Allow me to demonstrate.
- Harry ‘Just call me Harry, I only take cash’ replied: “All depends how quick I need to escape – sorry, I mean leave the premises. I do remember one time, mind, must have been 1967, or was it 68 . . .” At which point, I lost the will to live.
- Julian ‘These new Hunter wellies, my feet keep slipping off the Aston’s pedals, but they do make me look like a farmer, don’t you think?’ told me: “My biggest problem, actually, is getting these wretched skin tight leathers off, actually. Oh dear, you will have to excuse me, the wife appears to have had another wardrobe malfunction.”
- Annabel ‘I dabble in watercolours and Giles dabbles in anything he can get his hands on. He’s such a hoot’ was very forthcoming: “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” she said as she hand-delivered her response in her own special way.
- Dear Felicity Fairweather says, “Real women would never be seen dead in trousers. What’s wrong with a good sturdy tweed skirt, eh??”
- Bareknuckle Jonny, on the other hand, was quite direct: “What’s your game? Eh? Eh? Bugger off, can’t you see I’m busy?” and carried on with his knitting.
- As for Wing Commander Algernon ‘Biggles’ Buttox-Green DFC, ASBO and bar (no, that really is his name), all I could decipher was, “Alamein… Howitzer… enemy in sight… nice bottom… don’t mind if I do.”
So, there you have it, a thoroughly successful test market. All I need now is a little sponsorship money. A few thousand should do it.
Copies of the questionnaire are available, price thirty-bob. Clean copies a fiver.
All together now.
You need to mind your P’s
Now here’s a test for you: can youname an English word that, at a stroke, turns normally calm, rational people into angry, argumentative fiends?
Go on, think about it. By the way, we are going to exclude four-letter words, just this once, please.
How are you doing? Given up already?
Right, I’ll tell you my favourite – it’s POLITICS – and its evil blood brothers, POLITICAL and POLITICIANS.
Interesting because, if you look up the definition, they are as innocent as a baby’s bath-water –
“POLITICS is the way that people living in groups make decisions. Politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups such as tribes, cities, or countries. …”
Now, I ask you, what could more harmless than that? And yet, as soon as the dreaded word is introduced into an otherwise perfectly civilised conversation, what happens? – Boom! All hell breaks loose.
“You’re playing politics.” (What does that mean, please?)
“That’s a political decision.” (Pardon?)
“Of course, you have to remember, he/she is a politician.” (Meaning, I suppose, you can’t trust a word they say.)
Now, would somebody please tell me why if, heaven help you all, I decide to stand for election to the Lower Midriff parish council, I would immediately cease to be that ‘cantankerous old buffer’? No, my friends, I would be that ‘political animal’ from that day forward.
And, if I had the cheek to mention in my election pamphlet that I’m a volunteer with the Lower Midriff Underwater Snooker Society, why I’d be accused of ‘political grandstanding’ – exploiting voluntary work for political gain?
Now surely, we can all agree that this is utter cobblers. Parish councillors are volunteers, just like the rest of us. They don’t do it for the power but, allow me to impolitely remind you, to help their community, just like you do. They care and they do their best, just like you.
This is not Westminster; this is little old, gentle, peaceful mid-Somerset for crying out loud! Calm down, everyone. NOW.
Actually, the real villain of the piece is not Politics but PARTY POLITICS. They used to say it was religion that started most wars. Well, I’m going to place PARTY POLITICS right up there at joint number one.
Taking sides, us against them, block-voting, 3-line whips, point-scoring, winning, victory, power.
Dangerous, destructive, completely unnecessary. Pathetic.
OK, if you want to join a national party, please go ahead but don’t you dare bring all that partisan stuff, that yah-boo-sucks, into my backyard, even worse into my town hall.
Seriously though , we have to keep party politics out of parish councils. No, I’ll go further, we need to kick it out. All together, now. Kick.
People not politics! People not politics!
Just before I leave, here’s another big P to think about. It’s called PROPORTIONALITY. All that stuff about sledgehammers and nuts, remember?
I’m off to hammer my sledge before I go nuts.
Was it something I said?
A funny thing happened to me last week. Funny-peculiar rather than funny-ha-ha. So funny-peculiar, in fact that, by late evening, I knew I had to write about it.
The story goes like this.
I had been granted an hour’s pub release by her indoors. To be fair, granted is not quite the right word, but never mind.
“Why don’t you go for a pint before supper?” was the actual phrase used. As the old saying goes, mine is not to reason why, so I duly obeyed.
The George is my local, a proper pub, one of the few with no blaring TV or music.
As I feasted my gaze on my foaming ‘pint of the usual’, I heard a voice to my right,
“Is that Simon?”.
I turned and saw a vaguely familiar but completely nameless face.
“It is Simon, isn’t it?”
“It’s great to see you again. It must be twenty years ago.”
It turned out that, when he was a student, this man had grilled me for information about something I was doing at the time.
Whatever I said helped him achieve a really good grade, so he said.
And yet, twenty years later, I had absolutely no memory of either him or our chat.
Which set me off wondering – how many others out there owe us a vote of thanks for something we had clean forgotten about.
On the other hand, how many folks out there are cursing us for the odd throwaway line that scuppered their self-confidence or made them miss a career bus.
None of us will ever know and we can not erase the past. What’s done is done.
But we can do something about it once we recognise what a massive force for good a quiet word here or there or a small gesture can turn out to be. You won’t remember it five minutes later, but you could have changed a life.
What a destructive power we also have; what potential to wreck, or at best delay, the life-chances of another human being.
OK, so I exaggerate to make my point. But I recently discovered that what kids are being taught in school is so important and just as relevant later in life.
This poster is, I understand, regularly used in personal development sessions. When I first saw it, I thought the same as you. Rather childish, simplistic, yes?
But think again, because it actually contains some fundamental truths that, in the hurly-burly of life, are so easily overlooked. I have certainly overlooked each one of them and probably left a trail of destruction in my wake. Come on, admit it, so have you.
As far as we know, the human brain is still the most complex, unpredictable organ on the planet. And, while 90+% of human behaviour has remained unchanged for centuries, those other 1%’s are forever learning new skills, following new trends, rebelling against new ideas.
The chances of getting everything right are next to zero. But with a dash of patience, a bit more consideration, we can not only move forward faster, but we can also cut the bad effect of the Law of Unintended Consequences to a minimum.
Mm. Did I say that right?
For a man of your age? Excuse me!
“For a man of your age” … Excuse me?
Tell me, are there certain phrases that set your blood boiling?
Here’s one that gets right up my nose –
For a man of your age.
What’s age got to do with it? As far as I can tell, everything’s still in working order. A bit creaky some days but our generation was built to last, not like these young wimps. Molly-coddled, that’s what they are. Laptops, tablets, phones – whatever happened to climbing trees, playing football in the street, conkers?
We could teach them a thing or two, except during the afternoon between two and four-thirty, when we’re having a little beauty sleep, of course.
A week or so back, I succeeded in getting a – wait for it – a face-to-face appointment with my GP! An interesting chap, improbably named Dr Archibald Jabber, a patch over one eye, a red wig, and a rather pronounced twitch. Perfectly normal for mid-Somerset.
Anyway, I explained why I had asked to see him, and without a moment’s pause, he told me to drop them and lie down on the couch. Fortunately, I was wearing those boxer shorts my grandson gave me for my birthday, with ‘Who’s a naughty boy?’ written on the back.
After a cursory inspection and a few prods, the good doctor pronounced his verdict:
“I can find nothing unusual,” he said. “In fact, I would say that, for a man of your age, it appears to be in very good shape, except for a minor thinning of the meniscus.”
“For a man of my age?’ I thought.I wassorely offended. “What exactly are you implying, doctor? There’s many a man of my age running the world, let me remind you. Take that American President Bidet, for one. And I’ll tell you something, young man – a man of my age is certainly not going to allow a thinning of the – what did you say? – my meniscus – hold me back. No. You mark my words.”
(I didn’t actually say any of that, to be honest.)
By this time, I was almost fully dressed, apart from getting my shirt tail jammed in the zip, yet again.
The doc, who obviously hadn’t taken a blind bit of notice of what I hadn’t had the guts to say, sat calmly scribbling something on his pad.
“Here you are, that should do the trick,” he said, tearing off the note and handing it to me.
On the way down the hill, I decided to read what he’d written. Which was when the shades fell from my eyes. I thought he was talking about my thingy that was thinning, but no, it was a bit of my left knee!
And I never did get round to asking him about ‘The Old Problem’ which had flared up again, so much so that last Sunday, I was politely asked to leave the parish church at Wobbling-under-Water. Apparently, I was interrupting the sermon with my rendition of the Trumpet Involuntary.