My mother didn’t ever tell us an awful lot about how her young life was, before we all came along. 

Scraps of information or stories were tossed out here and there. How Grandad would chase Dad away when he came calling for Mum. How she would row the boat when Dad was fishing. She was a Mum-Mum, petite and ladylike, but I once saw her wrestle with our German Shepherd in the back garden when he was sick and had a fit and tangled himself up in some rope. She dived right in and untangled the poor boy, right in the middle of his attack. The dog was fine after but it afforded a glimpse of someone who could be far tougher than we generally required her to be.

Something reminded me today of a tiny story of Mum’s and I thought I should set it down. It probably won’t make for the most riveting blog post ever but that hasn’t been the point of this place for the longest time now. Entertaining the masses is not the priority. I love it when you come and read but I don’t ever mind if you don’t. That’s the current policy in this neck of the woods.

So, anyway, here it is.

One thing that Mum told me many times, not without some hint of pride, was that she was apparently born with a caul. A caul is a piece of membrane that can cover a newborn's head and face. The caul is harmless and is immediately removed by the attending midwife upon birth of the child. This didn’t mean much to me, as a young man. I would nod a bit and made some appreciative noises but that was about it. 

Once or twice, she would enlarge on the story by telling how a knock had come to her door once upon a time, when she was young, and a foreign sailor man was stood there on her front step. He had come in on a ship that was docked in the harbour below her parent’s house and he had heard in a pub that a lady lived here who had been born with a caul and who still had it. He wanted to buy it from her.

He was subscribing to a belief that was shared by my mother to at least a certain degree. That the possession of a caul was a protection against death by drowning. The presence of a caul on this man’s ship would prevent it from sinking.

Mum didn’t have her caul but she probably wouldn’t have sold it if she had. She, too, spent time on water and she too had no desire to drown. This is an indication of the curious line Mum trod between being a Devout Christian as well as being a person who was brought up among strong local superstitions.

Reading up about Cauls a bit, I find myself a little more impressed than I was back when Mum first told me about hers, all those years ago. If the Internet can be trusted, (hint – it can’t) only one in 80,000 births involve a caul. In literature and such, David Copperfield was born with one and it sold for fifteen guineas. Danny Torrance had one too, in The Shining, and look how that turned out. Sigmund Freud, George Formby and Johnny Giles were also members of the club. So there.

That’s all I’ve got. Short and sweet, this week. Just worth jotting down, I think. The story that Mum can no longer tell, I can tell for her here. I hope her young life was full, fun, and satisfying; I think it probably was.

I also hope the exotic sailor on Mum’s doorstep sailed out of Sligo Harbour on his timber boat and lived a long and fruitful life out there on the high seas.

Say Something Funny

I met my pal Donna for a coffee and a sandwich on The Mall this week. Donna is a regular reader. Hi, Donna. It was a nice day, though we sat in the shade of a big tree so it got chilly after a while and we had to move to a newly vacated bench out in the sun. Some schoolkids had left the change from their shop-bought lunch on the side of the bench. We left it there too. Maybe they came back to get it. It wasn’t much, so maybe not.

One of things Donna said to me was that I should write something funny on the blog this week. “Write something funny,” she said.

Donna has directed quite a number of my plays, so she has this place in my head where stuff she suggests has sometimes turned into plays and such. So, when she suggested I write something funny, it stuck a bit. It’s still stuck.

Sitting here at my desk, listening to Paul Simon’s new album, I’m a bit like Hooper near the end of Jaws. He’s getting ready to go down in his steel cage to try to kill the shark, and he’s got his diving mask in his hands.

“Ain’t got no spit,” he says.

I’m here in my blog cage, my blog mask around my neck, and I ain’t got no spit either… I ain’t got no spit.

I used to be funnier, that’s for sure. In company, back in the London Days, and even in my teens, I had a bit of a reputation as a funny guy. Kind of sharp and kind of fast. I think it’s still in there a bit, maybe not quite as sharp and quick-on-the-draw. I think the thing is that I don’t end up in company too much these days. Plus, the people who I do see know me really well. So they kind-of know my moves.

So, yeah, I can be funny… sometimes, but I don’t seem to be able to summon it up as readily as I used to. I don’t think it’s any reflection on my life or how I feel about it. Everything is dandy and a good laugh is always welcome. I really think it’s just that I’m not required to be funny so much these days. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps it means I am more contented and less insecure in myself. Less inclined to define myself by a joke or a gag.

Which is all very well but it doesn’t help me at all with ‘being funny’ this morning, when the birds are singing in the garden and the cat’s asleep in the hall and everything is pretty all right with the world… except… except… I ain’t got no funny.

In my experience, when you find yourself in a situation like this, it’s best to just tell a joke and go. Here’s a ‘theatrical’ joke that I’ve told many times before, possibly even in the pages of this blog somewhere. I harvested it from William Goldman’s novel ‘Marathon Man’ and it always makes me smile.


This guy is offered a part in a Broadway play. One night only. He’s never acted but has often said how he’d like to give it a try. His friend puts him on to the gig.

“The guy who normally does the play is sick. You only have to say one line; ‘Hark, I hear a cannon’s roar,’ and then you’re done, straight on then straight off again.

One line? He could do that, sure. All day he runs the line, over and over, ‘‘Hark, I hear a cannon’s roar.’ ‘Hark, I hear a cannon’s roar.’ He heads for the theatre nice and early. But his taxi gets stuck in traffic and he arrives late, terribly late. They quickly dress him in a soldier’s uniform and they push him out onto the stage.

“Remember the line, they say, ‘Hark, I hear a cannon’s roar.’”

The guy finds himself at the centre of a stage, in front of an audience of hundreds of people. Expectant faces all stare up at him.

“Remember the line, remember the li- “

An enormous bang goes off on the stage, right behind him. The guy jumps up in the air, turns, and shouts, “What the Fuck was That?”

Thank you and good night. Try the veal. Maybe I’ll be funny next time, even though you mightn't want me to be.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Empty Nest Programming

Although I see old people going about their business every day, I don’t get much of a picture of what I will be like when I’m genuinely old. One of the few predictions I might make is that I will probably move quite slowly.

This thought was prompted by seeing an older guy making his way across the car park to Tesco, on Friday, just as I was coming out. He had a stick and he was moving at snail’s pace. It reminded me of when I was very very young and visiting my Granny’s house. The man next door, who was very old, used to walk to the end of his back garden and back on a little path that was carved out of the grass there. He moved exceedingly slowly and, to my five year old eyes, this seemed like the very worst thing in the entire world. At that age, I raced around everywhere that I went and the idea of the end of the back garden being the border of my world was a scary one. Now, though, on the threshold of sixty, the old man at Tesco holds less fear for me. Yes, he’s moving slowly but, hey, he’s getting there and why would he rush anyway? It’s not ideal, obviously, but it’s perhaps not too bad either.

The only other projection I might make about my impending old life, should I be lucky enough to get there, relates to my Sky box or whatever piece of kit will provide my TV entertainment in those slow, slow days ahead.

My Sky box will, almost certainly, be replete with certain programming. This, I feel, will definitely be the case. Here’s why.

We have an empty nest now, Patricia and I, and, with all respect to everybody, it’s rather nice. Yesterday was ideal. A sunny Saturday, doors and windows open, a bit of gardening (well… weeding), a nice G&T with some good quality T. Home made pizzas and baked potatoes, Eurovision, midnight playing-with-the-cat in the back garden and bed. Our empty nest, with our two guys off living their best lives, is A-OK.

But we miss them a bit too and it’s always fun when they come home, either individually or together. It's always a blast.

So... all good. You can tell, can’t you?

The only thing is there’s a small part of my brain that doesn't seem to have fully grasped the concept of my children having gone to live somewhere else. As a result, I keep saving TV programmes on the Sky box for us to watch together some time soon. I have quite a lot of these programmes. They sit there, a bit like a reprimand from a Harry Chapin song.

The programmes I might watch with the two guys are interchangeable, they both will watch the same things, but each also has his own programmes which seem more applicable to them than to the other. For John, it’s the quizzes. University Challenge and Only Connect. We both enjoyed a brace of these at any time. Sam would be firmly in on these sessions too, effortlessly batting away the bulk of music-based questioning. Back in the day, these quiz shows were the cornerstone of any Monday night viewing. Taskmaster is also a firm favourite. Patricia likes Taskmaster too and University Challenge, but Only Connect rather gives her the ick. She tends to come in magically just as the wall part is starting and is okay with it from there on.

For Sam, it would be gigs and concerts and Jools Holland in particular. Jools’ effortless eclecticism meant that there was always something worth seeing on there and Sam and I would enjoy the laid back musicality of it all. As for concerts, David Byrne’s American Utopia sat on the Sky Box for well over a year before we found a quiet couple of hours to enjoy it. The new David Bowie documentary will similarly linger on Netflix until such time as we get our act together once again.

These types of shows all used to be avidly watched by us as soon as they came out. Now they linger on the Sky box, amassing numbers, and waiting for the faithful day when we will all watch them together.

The boys (men) are up and down to us occasionally. They come and go intermittently. And when they’re here, we catch up on some of the old programmes. The final Paxman season of University Challenge still has lots of shows to go and Jools is still deep in lockdown days at his piano. We get a few in when one or the other of the guys show up for a weekend but it’s clear that’s we’ll never again fully catch up.

Why don’t I watch these programmes myself and with Patricia? On the surface, they’re just more fun when watched with Patricia and the guys, the quizzes in particular. It’s nicer to have a full house when you get some obscure question right or miss out on one by a whisker. On a deeper level, perhaps there’s a bit of nostalgia there. The shows sit there, not in the vain hope that they will all be viewed again one day. That would be a backward step and not something to be lightly wished for. Perhaps they sit there as a tribute to the good times, in youth and also in lockdown, when we would convene of an evening for a quiz, a Taskmaster, or a Jools, drink some tea, and have a biccie.

So the empty nest is great. It’s where we want to be now. The Sky box is nothing more than a gentle reminder of how a certain thing used to be and will be again… but only very occasionally.

And this is all I can see of old age for now. A slow walk back from the end of the garden, to make sure that all the favourite shows are still intact on my recording device.

Waiting to be enjoyed.