Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Way

I think this song sums up my father’s life as well as any other; with the exception of the “I travelled each and every highway” line, which, in Dad’s case, needs “within a strict twenty-mile radius” to be tagged on at the end.

Whenever I tell people that Dad didn’t even attend his own son’s wedding, they conclude that Dad was selfish, strange, silly, stupid, sad… – all those s-words, basically – and they are of course right to a certain extent. But that was Dad: he did things “his way”. I have never known a more stubborn person; nor will I, I suspect.

Dad suffered terribly for his obstinacy, knowing as he did that his irrational refusal to attend any family occasion beyond that 20-mile radius was thoroughly inexcusable. As for those of us who loved him dearly despite all his misgivings, well, we forgave him, of course, didn’t we? And I’d like to think that he won’t be suffering too much this Friday on the occasion of his own funeral. At least, the crematorium and church are just down the road from his beloved Penlan:

So much for Dad’s qualities. What about his weak points? Something’s gone wrong here, but let’s plough on, anyway… OK, Dad was a superb communicator – when he wanted to be; a great listener – unless he had no time for you; and a fearless opponent – if you upset him, for example, by picking on some poor defenceless soul.  Dad also had the most eclectic collection of CDs in the world: there was absolutely nothing he would not listen to; nor label.

Fortunately, I visited Mum and Dad at the beginning of April, never imagining of course that this would be the last time. While poor Mum tried, in vain, to get a word in edgeways, Dad rattled on about every subject under the sun:  his health, my kids, Radio 4, the state of British cricket, the upcoming Kate Bush tour, his health, my wife, The Archers, Just William, A History of the World in 100 Objects, ELO, his health, my health, Mum’s health, the new minister, the old minister, the neighbours opposite, the neighbours down the road, the stairlift, the gazebo, his health, Today in Parliament, Desert Island Discs, Songs of Praise

How I wish I had inherited that ability to rabbit on and on and on without losing your listener. Indeed, anybody who dropped off was soon roused back to attention as Dad launched onto the next topic: 'What shall we talk about now? Beethoven, British Rail or Lucky Dip?'

Love you, Dad, and miss you terribly. Rest in peace, but drop me a line occasionally if you get the chance, OK? xxx

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Where Do The Children Play?

Well, not here, anyway. This is where I've spent most of my lunchtimes this week, enjoying the beautiful sun in an anything-but-beautiful square, which, for the record, is in fact a triangle:

So I find my bench... close my eyes... and start thinking... about life and death... lunches and dinners... love and disdain... leftovers and dustbins... And then I ask myself... But where do the children play?


            Amanda’s Essential Life And Death Skills Seminars were the highlight of Colin’s day. Of everybody’s day. They were everything a good class should be: practical, professional and popular; in brief, everything Colin’s classes were not. Colin had a quick glance at this term’s programme:

            1. How to Turn Lights On and Off
            Aimed at people who have problems remembering to turn lights off (or on)

            2. How to Wax Your Legs Effortlessly
            Aimed at people who don’t like shaving, and leg lovers in general

            3. How to Peel an Apple in One
            Aimed at people who enjoy challenges involving knives (and apples)

            4. How to Park Without Getting Blocked In
            Aimed at people who drive but don’t like getting blocked in

            5. How to Take the Rubbish Out
            Aimed at people with kitchens, and people who’d like to help out occasionally

            6. How to Shave Without Bleeding to Death
            Aimed at people who treat their face as if it were a loaf of bread

            7. How, When and Why to Flush a Toilet
            Aimed at people who use toilets on a regular basis

            8. How to Bite Your Toenails Discreetly
            Aimed at people who enjoy challenges involving feet (and teeth)

            9. How to Use a DVD Recorder to Record the Channel You Want
            Aimed at people who have problems distinguishing one button from another

            And, last but not least, today’s session:

            10. How to Open and Close Doors Quietly
            Aimed at people who are noisy inconsiderate bastards at the best of times

            Huh?, Chapter 2, “Golden Touch”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mind Games

I haven’t played a serious game of chess for years – ever, would say those who played against me. That said, I still enjoy solving the chess puzzle in the newspaper if it’s still in a readable condition by the time I get home from work. The incredible thing is nine times out of ten I can see the solution immediately. No, hang on a minute, that’s not the incredible thing... No, the truly incredible thing is, if I had had the exact same position in an actual match, nine times out of ten I would almost certainly have missed the winning move. Being told, ‘Look, stupid! Can’t you see it?’ makes all the difference; and not just when it comes to the trivial matter of solving chess puzzles, I suspect.

Occasionally, the solution seems so obvious, the mind boggles as to how the puzzle ever made it to print in the first place…

Black to play and win! Well, Queen takes rook, checkmate looks like a pretty strong move, don’t you agree? Even my wife would have found that one, and she can’t even play chess! Precisely. And this is the moment when your mind really goes into overdrive… Perhaps there’s a piece missing? Maybe one of White’s pieces should be on a different square? Which lucky moron actually gets paid for producing crap puzzles like these, anyway? And, oh my goodness, what’s that smell?

So, anyway, an angry grandmaster, hungry home and charred chicken later, this particular puzzle ended up in my CSI folder on the top bookshelf in my bedroom, where it lay, dead as a parrot, for many years… until the other evening when I stumbled upon it while trying to find a spare lightbulb for the bathroom. I never did find that lightbulb – such is life – but I did have a truly brilliant idea: ‘Let’s google the blighter!’

And here’s what I found...

White to play and win! Corrected by hand and lovingly scanned. Further investigation revealed that the original puzzle had appeared in Ocho x Ocho (Year IV, Issue 39), a popular Spanish chess magazine in the 80s, and doubtless still the source for my newspaper’s lazy chess correspondent.

[Just in case you’re remotely interested or still puzzled, the winning move is Queen to d2! followed by Queen takes bishop, check! and Rook to e7, mate.]

Detective Chief Superintendent Raphead stood in the foyer, pondering his next move.

              Knight takes queen, checkmate. Piece of piss.

            Failing to see that Knight takes queen, “checkmate” lost immediately to Rook takes said knight, and this time it really is checkmate, mate, Raphead put the paper down to focus on the matter in hand. His men were out there, combing the land; and he was in here, combing his hair. A young man’s life, the future of mankind, his promotion to Assistant Chief Constable... everything hinged on his cracking this case. It was a terrifying thought. Who would want to have “Ass. Chief. Con. C.Raphead” on their calling card?

                Huh?, Chapter 40, “Fountain Of Sorrow”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Simple Man

I’ll start with the good news, shall I? The good news is, wait for it… I finally bought a new laptop! And the bad news? That’s right, I finally bought a new laptop…

Having sworn never to buy another Acer Aspire in Media Markt after my dismal experience with the previous one (a long story), I found myself buying yet another Acer Aspire in Media Markt. The salesman told me it was the best laptop in the world, a bargain at ten times the price, and ideal for busy no-nonsense professionals like myself. He also wondered whether I might be interested in an extended guarantee for just 80 euros, and could I sign here, please?

Put simply, insofar as anything to do with computers can ever be simple, buying a new laptop means having to perform the following tasks before you can actually do anything with it:

1. Install all the useful programs that you will need for the next five years or so.
2. Uninstall all the useless programs, accessories, icons, links and games that came preinstalled with the laptop, and which nobody in their right mind would ever dream of using unless they were seriously bored.

Number 1 is a piece of cake:

Number 2, however, is, to use the technical term, “a right bugger”. That said, I got there eventually once I discovered a wonderful right-button “Delete this crap?” option:

Much better, don’t you think? But then the real fun and games begin…

Just  because you appear to have successfully uninstalled, eliminated, erased, deleted, wiped and hidden all those useless b—, er, bells and whistles, that doesn’t necessarily mean your computer will let you forget your crimes…

- What did you do to your desktop?!
- I deleted all the useless stuff.
- Don’t you want to know what the temperature is in Moscow?
- No.
- And what about Miley Cyrus’ tweets?
- Who?
- Philistine!
- I’ll live with it…

- Would you like to create a back-up of all your files before you lose everything?
- Oh yes please. Thank you very much.
- Please follow the onscreen instructions to register your software.
- Come again?
- Are you deaf? Look, do you want to save your life’s work or don’t you?
- I’ll think about it, ok?
- Suit yourself…

- Welcome to Acer! The most exciting online club in the world!
- Wow!
- Yeah, that’s what we say. Wow!
- Well, if you’ll excuse me, I just want to check my mail.
- Would you like to receive exciting offers from us every three minutes?
- I’ll give it a miss if it’s all the same to you.
- You’ll regret this.
- I don’t doubt it…

On the plus side, thanks to the wonders of Windows 8.1, my laptop now only takes about 30 seconds to boot up, as opposed to all my previous computers which clocked in at nearer 30 minutes. Alas, on the negative side, and there is always a negative side when a computer is involved, the ‘critical’ system updates continue to prostitute themselves at every street corner and window:

And here’s a rough translation:

"We’re about to install 39,000 useless files disguised as 'critical updates', ha ha!, and there’s not much you can do about it, sunshine. We suggest you go put the kettle on… Oh, hang on a minute, you don’t have kettles in Spain, do you? Well, whatever, go and find something more useful to do than reading this codswallop, ok?"

Why is life so complicated?!

Colin looked around the staffroom. One of his considerate colleagues had turned off all the computers. The general rule of thumb was very simple: “On leaving the staffroom, please switch off all the PCs if you know that Colleague X will be needing one. By the same token, if you know that Colleague X will not be needing a PC, please leave them all on – or switch them all on again just for the hell of it – so that Colleague X has to switch them all off again; where Colleague X equals Colin.” Colin was always Colleague X; today he needed a PC; someone had therefore switched them all off. ABC. Always Bugger Colin.

                Huh?, Chapter 33, “Kill The Director”
Mick pressed the dreaded button and braced himself. What delights would his beloved PC hold in store for him today? A prompt to install Service Pack 21? An invitation to upgrade to Media Player 49? A reminder that his yearly anti-virus subscription would expire in 11 months’ time?
He knew the routine well by now for, regardless of  program, the procedure was always the same:
Install? OK – Leave for later.
Leave for later.
Leave for later? Yes – No.
Yes, install or Yes, leave for later? Accept – Cancel.
Proceed with installation? OK – Leave for later.
You heard me! I want to speak to the Manager!
That usually fixed it, and Mick was now ready to do battle with “The Beast”. Whilst no two mornings were ever the same – perish the thought that he should be in control of his life – today’s inbox was fairly representative of his daily challenges. Namely:
  • ten mails asking after a critical report;
  • seven messages to ring Mr. Jones urgently;
  • four requests to hold a team meeting immediately;
  • and one silly story about a man who hated computers.

The reports, calls and meetings could wait. This one was vital.
 fifty shades of Spain, 7, "Start Me Up"

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tears And Rain

How I wish I could surrender my soul,
Shed the clothes that become my skin,
See the liar that burns within my needing.
How I wish I'd chosen darkness from cold.
How I wish I had screamed out loud,
Instead I've found no meaning.

I guess it's time I run far, far away; find comfort in pain,
All pleasure's the same, it just keeps me from trouble.
Hides my true shape, like Dorian Gray.
I've heard what they say, but I'm not here for trouble.
It's more than just words, it's just tears and rain.

How I wish I could walk through the doors of my mind,
Hold memory close at hand,
Help me understand the years.
How I wish I could choose between Heaven and Hell.
How I wish I would save my soul.
I'm so cold from fear.

I guess it's time I run far, far away; find comfort in pain,
All pleasure's the same, it just keeps me from trouble.
Hides my true shape, like Dorian Gray.
I've heard what they say, but I'm not here for trouble.
Far, far away, find comfort in pain.
All pleasure's the same, it just keeps me from trouble.
It's more than just words: it's just tears and rain...

I know it's not cool to like James Blunt, and I guess that's why I love him so much. And how I wish I could write lines like, "How I wish I could walk through the doors of my mind".

Wow! That was an easy blog post, wasn't it!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Englishman in New York

We spent Christmas and the New Year in New York. Everything was pretty much as I had expected it to be: terribly noisy, extremely cold, awfully crowded... and frightfully expensive. I'm too embarrassed to say how much we paid for our hotel room, but let's just say I've stayed in far smarter places in Spain for less than a quarter of the price. Indeed, there were taxes and taxis everywhere. The famous "yellow taxis", incidentally, are in fact orange:

George Bernard Shaw famously said that Britain and the US were "two nations divided by a common language", and I have to say that my experience bore this out. The most repeated conversation I had with my wife was:

'What did they say?'
'I have no idea. Something about (supply intelligent guess), I think.' 

Sometimes it was the flat or non-existent intonation; other times it was the vocabulary or turn of phrase; occasionally it was a culture clash; and, more often than not, a combination of all three:

'Can I have names for these?' the Starbucks guy asked me, holding up two empty coffee cups.
'Er, Tom and Jerry?'
'I mean, What's your name?'
'Oh, sorry. Mike.'

No wonder my books sell so badly in the States! And while we're on the topic of language, I must say I was very hurt that not a single New Yorker complimented me on my beautiful sweet-talking English accent, which would appear to have been contaminated by my lengthy stay in the Basque Country.

While every exchange was agony for her proud English-teaching husband, my wife breezed through every situation unscathed:

'Would you like to contribute to the Saint Joseph's Hospital fund?' the cashier asked hopefully.
'No,' she replied honestly.

If that had been me, I would most likely have answered, 'Er, not just now, only we're in rather a hurry. I'm really sorry. Maybe another time, OK?' and then spent the rest of the day tormenting myself for being such a heartless beast.

The highlight of our stay was on the last night when we finally found a good-for-value restaurant just a stone's throw away from our hotel, depending of course on size of stone, strength of thrower, accuracy of launch, wind speed... Er, where was I? Ah yes, I can thoroughly recommend the garlic bread and fettuccini gamberi at Grotta Azzurra, a delightfully friendly and cosy restaurant in Little Italy, New York:

Our waiter was called Sergei. He spoke English far better than anybody else in New York, so I took an immediate liking to him. Besides, I thought it was pretty cool for a Basque/Brit couple to be dining in an Italian restaurant in America, while served by a Russian.

Happy New Year!
 ‘Traffic light,’ said Mal, pointing to a traffic light, because that’s what it was.
 ‘But it’s green.’
 ‘Well spotted.’
 ‘But green means, “Go”.’
 ‘Not here it doesn’t.’
 ‘So what does it—’


A huge boulder came flying out of nowhere and landed just a couple of yards in front of the milk float.

 ‘Bloody hell!’
 ‘Mind your language.’
 ‘Sorry. I wasn’t expecting that.’

The light changed to red, and Mal started up again.

 ‘Green means, “Beware of falling rocks”.’
 ‘And red means, “Proceed with caution”, I suppose?’


 ‘Red means, “Get a move on. Another rock is on its way”,’ said Mal as boulder number two crashed into the spot where they had pulled up only a moment earlier. ‘Any more questions?’
 ‘What about the middle light?’
 ‘The orange one that flashes at random?’
 ‘Yeah, that one. The yellow one.’
 ‘It means, “Testing, testing”. Just ignore it. Everybody else does.’

            Huh?, Chapter 42, “The Passenger”

Friday, November 8, 2013


Nothing like an excuse to post a link to one of my favourite Tom Waits songs: November. So, anyway, do you remember what was happening in your life five years ago to this day? No, of course you don’t, because November 8th 2008 was, more than likely, “just another day” for you, wasn’t it? For me, on the other hand, 08-11-08 – “Eight, Eleven, Eight” – was a very special date for very different reasons...

For a start, it’s the date Mike’s Milestones was born - basically because I preferred that title to Writer’s Crap Diary Notes. Here’s how my entry began that day:

Decide to write novel
Choose title: dayrealing (small case)
Prefer simple “-ing” titles, like Trainspotting or Nightswimming
Want sth. memorable, easy to say, suggestive & original
Buy notebooks & pens
Start planning contents:
Teacher (Colin) whose life is a disaster, etc. (semi-autobiographical)...

And it goes on in a similarly exciting vein for several lines. My narcissistic self reasoned that if I was going to write a bestseller, get rich and famous and so on, then sooner or later my adoring fans – ha ha! – would want to know how it all started, read all those soulless rejection letters, empathise with me and my excruciating pain, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Amazingly, I did write that book! It took me about a year to write and involved getting up every day at 3 a.m. At weekends, I had a lie-in and started at 4 a.m. Yes, it absolutely killed me. How I suffered for my art! Even more amazingly, after about 40 rejection letters or so, I found a wonderful publisher with two screws missing who was happy to put his name to my rubbish.

So now, five years on, it seemed like a good moment to take stock, to see how my life has been transformed since that momentous day in history. Except it hasn’t, of course, has it? Basically, here’s the sequence of events since dayrealing hit the market:

  • 6 kind friends wrote glowing five-star reviews.
  • 5 thousand people downloaded free copies to their Kindle.
  • 4 strangers actually read the book.
  • 3 years later, we tried changing the cover and title to Huh?

  • 2 heartless bastards delightful ladies laid into me over on Goodreads:

  •  1 discerning dude defended me on Amazon: 

I love Darren! I think his review absolutely nails it, don’t you?

In the meantime, my wife keeps telling me to pull myself together and “write a proper book”. I will one day, if I can only find the time, energy and something actually worth writing about.  

08-11-08 is also the day I received a call out of the blue from my little sister:

Receive call from Sue: expecting twins for late May / early June 2009

Beautiful boys, aren’t they! And notice how my sister always manages to take photos of her boys with photos of her boys in the background at the same time.

So, anyway, I decided to mark these milestones by getting up this morning at 3 a.m., writing this blog entry, and adding this simple entry to Mike's Milestones:

Mike's Milestones celebrates its 5th anniversary

Thanks for reading!

            Choosing a title was the next battle. Sir Colin? Lord Raphead? Colin had noticed that people were suckers for one highly unoriginal formula in particular: The X (who / with / in . . . ): The Book Thief; The Time Traveler’s Wife; The Woman Who Walked into Doors; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas . . . The list was endless. The formula was a doddle, and Colin had no problems generating candidates for his forthcoming blockbuster: The Dyslexic Director of Studies . . . The Twit Who Thought He Could Teach . . . The Man with the Battered Briefcase . . . The Really Old Student in the Bright Pink Stockings . . .  The Silly Sod Who Wrote a Load of Bollocks and Got Away with It (and Them) . . .
            Whilst it was reassuring to know that he had a guaranteed best-seller formula to fall back on, Colin would have preferred something simpler and snappier if only because it would look better on the spine (of the book; not his own). Whether it be the title of a book, film, song or whatever, Colin soon realised – and don’t ask why – that he had a penchant for three-syllable activities ending in “–ing”. Why? He just did, OK? Ice Skating, Home Shopping, Name Dropping . . . Admittedly, those were pretty naff titles, but the quirkier the activity, the better the resulting title seemed to be; to Colin’s ears at least. And if you could combine the two words into one, you were definitely on to a winner in Colin’s book. Sleepwalking, Trainspotting, Nightswimming . . . they could hardly fail, could they?
            Thus was born dayrealing; a bloody stupid name for a book if ever there were one.

            Huh?, Chapter 45, “Wonderful Life”