10 Reasons Why I Think I’m A Clapped Out Has Been And 10 Reasons Why I Think I’m Not.

(Suggested by Hg; seconded by dg)

Now fully updated.

Oh Gawd, me aching head. So much for yesterday’s “midnight curfew and don’t let me go to the club“…

…which became an “OK, 1am curfew, and how often am I in town on a Friday night anyway, I DESERVE a little fun in my life”…

…which became an “OK, I’ll just wait until they play the Scissor Sisters, because IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO MY PERSONAL GROWTH AS AN INDIVIDUAL THAT I DANCE TO THIS SONG IN PUBLIC AT LEAST ONCE IN MY LIFE”…

…which, and why did I ever pretend to myself that it would ever be otherwise, became a stupid o’clock stop-out…

(…and they never even played the Scissor Sisters, curses curses, what sort of a gay club are they anyway…)

…which would have been fine, except that I’ve been providing weekend cover for work since 9:00 this morning, as previously arranged…

…so, yeah. What an incredibly daunting list of suggestions this looked like this morning. But I shall go with the “list” option. When the going gets tough, etc.

Still. TEN reasons apiece, you say? Making TWENTY reasons in all? Well, now that my professional labours are done for the day, I shall give it my best shot.

10 Reasons Why I Think I’m A Clapped Out Has Been.

Coming soon, after a shower, a train journey to Derby, a lift to the cottage, and lunch. And a nice sit down with a cup of tea and the papers. And a little lie-down. And a little snooze. And, um, nearly two hours’ sleep. And a pub supper.

And a nice relaxing morning reading the papers in bed with a cup of tea. And, um, oh I know, let’s watch last night’s X-Factor while K’s out entertaining une grande fromage from Les États-Unis. And… oh bugger, this isn’t going away, is it? Right then: sleeves rolled up, palms spat into, let’s do it.

1. After a big night out, it takes me more than 24 hours to recover coherent thought patterns.

(“Recover coherent thought patterns?” Hmm. Well, let it stand.)

2. As Leonard Cohen once said, with an admirable economy of expression: I ache in the places where I used to play.

3. The blight of middle-aged Man Hair has descended: ears, nostrils, and yucky sproutings of pube-like growth on my formerly baby-smooth chest. As a long-time staunch opponent of chest-shaving, having to run a Philshave round me nips kills me, man.

4. Running with this theme: ten years ago, I wouldn’t have had the slightest compunction about entering myself as a contestant at the White Swan’s Amateur Strip Nite (my regular Wednesday night haunt during the spring and early summer). Hell, it would have been only right and proper to “give something back” to my community. Because – and my heterosexual readers will simply have to take this on trust – it’s really not that big a deal, and un-erotic almost to the point of wholesomeness. In any case, it’s not as if I haven’t been naked in public before: in German parks, Ibiza beaches, and… oh, all manner of places really (ahum). At the end of the day, it’s just a willy. Nothing that we haven’t seen before, many, many times.

However, and pushing the willy to one side for a moment: to expose my flubbering baps to all and sundry at this time of life, whilst arguably “liberating” in certain respects, would really be too cruel an imposition upon the good folks of Limehouse. Why, I haven’t even danced with my shirt off in over four years. There comes a time, doesn’t there?

5. I am now of the firm opinion that Top 40 chart music will never again regain the standard of excellence that was set during its golden period: namely, from January 1979 to June 1984. In particular, 90% of all commercial hip-hop, and an increasingly large proportion of contemporary R&B – two genres which I used to love – leaves me stone cold at best. As for current trends in dance music – a genre in which I used to be an expert – I haven’t got the faintest inkling of a clue. I’ve become the guy who only dances when they play something massive like the Scissor Sisters (if they play the Scissor Sisters – see above), reserving my longer workouts strictly for wedding receptions.

6. My grip on celebrity culture is rapidly fading. I have no idea what Lindsay Lohan looks like; I would struggle to recognise Jessica Simpson; and when Orlando Bloom appeared on Ricky Gervais’s occasionally brilliant but worryingly patchy Extras a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t realise he was the celebrity cameo until someone mentioned his name. Hell, I couldn’t even name any of the members of Westlife – and they’ve had twelve Number One singles, for crying out loud.

7. In blogging terms, I’m strictly ancien régime – and my site layout is now so old that I have to apply for planning permission in order to make even the slightest change. (That recent upgrade of the RSS feed logo? Months of paperwork. Months.) As today’s bright young things whizz past – sometimes pausing to pay their respects, en route to the studio – I am left with readership figures which have remained more or less static since the first half of 2004. I’m like the local government middle manager who has been promoted just above his natural level of competence, while his former graduate trainees have all landed sexy positions in the private sector.

8. After twenty-one years in IT, I’m still making my living from IBM mainframes – occasionally dipping into something really daring and modern like creating an XML file, so that the cool web kids can snatch it off me, run away with it, and make it look all sleek and gorgeous on a browser. Object-oriented programming? It gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. Look, it’s quite simple. Data consists of fields, held on records, stored in files, and accessed via index keys. End of!

9. A lot of my “best” clothes are over three years old, if not five. (My best shoes are a whopping six years old.) I’ve stopped putting my lenses in every time I go out for the evening, and have become so lackadaisical about trying to look hot and shaggable that I even go to gay bars with my specs on. (Or “cruise shields”, as I used to call them in the 1980s.)

10. I am automatically suspicious about every new technological advancement, partly on the grounds that “we didn’t need that sort of thing in my day”, and partly because new functionality scares me. (My upgraded phone handset has been sitting unused in the bottom of my satchel for the past two months, while I muddle along with my decrepit old black-and-white Nokia.) I’m going to become one of those impossible old people, who resist all attempts from well-meaning younger relatives to make their lives easier. (“Remote control? Very kind of you dear, but I like the exercise…”)

…And 10 Reasons Why I Think I’m Not.

1. Although it might take over 24 hours to recover from them, at least I still have big nights out from time to time. In the past year alone, I’ve partied in London, Manchester, Athens, Hangzhou… and I’ve stopped in the village pub until nearly midnight on, ooh, at least a couple of occasions. Ever the circuit boy, me. Buxton, Bakewell, Ashbourne… you name it.

2. I still get to play in the aforementioned achy places, even if it’s more crown green bowling than snooker these days. From “potting the pink” to… oh, I can’t be arsed. I’m sure you’re all more than capable of making up your own ball-based double entendres. Do I have to do all the work around here?

3. There might be unsightly pube-like sproutings on my chest, but at least they’re not compensating for any thinning on top. My grandfather on my mother’s side retained a more or less full head of hair into his nineties, so there are grounds for hope. Not that I have any aesthetic objection to hair loss, when neatly groomed (quite the reverse, in fact – grrr!), but I’ve got the wrong shaped head for a zero crop. Honestly, it would look awful.

4. The baps may be flubbering, but the abdominal jut has been arrested and the arse is still firm and pert. (Did I ever tell you that my bare arse once ended up advertising a safer sex awareness campaign? Ooh, there’s a story for you. I shall add it to the list.)

5. The singles charts may be in irreversible decline, but my enthusiasm for new music is undimmed, and I can still get all worked up over a good gig by a hot new band in a small venue. Now, some people might say that this was arrested development, or an attempt to cling onto my lost youth – but I simply don’t see why one has to subscribe to a youthful lifestyle in order to enjoy youthful music. In fact, I positively thrive on the contradictions.

6. Who needs an externally imposed celebrity culture anyway, now that we are all self-created micro-celebs in our own nano-universes? The spirit of punk lives on! This is an HTML tag, this is another, this is a third. Now form a weblog!

7. Once a highly respected and influential destination blogger, always a highly influential and respected destination blogger. That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change.

8. Having “heritage” IT skills is actually rather retro-chic. After all, nothing dates as quickly as the currently fashionable. “Push” technology, anyone?

9. Lackadaisical about hotness and shaggability I may have become – but then, people are so much more attractive when they stop trying so hard. As I was reminded on… well, never you mind.

10. At least I know the names of most of the scary new technological widgets, even if I run a mile from actually using them. How many of the rest of you got to fondle a pre-release Nano, huh? Huh?

Nearly there now. But first, a competition…

As tomorrow marks the last instalment of the “One Post Per Day, Or Else I Turn Into A Clapped Out Has Been” project, I’d like to make it extra-special in some way. Therefore, I have decided to solicit ideas from you lot, in yet another of the interactive “community-building” stunts which have made this blog what it is today.

In the comments box, please suggest a title for tomorrow’s post. I will then select the title which appeals to me most, and will endeavour to construct some relevant words to match it.

One title per person only, please. Look, I know how over-excited some of you can get. So don’t go rushing into anything, OK?

The deadline for suggestions is tomorrow (Saturday) at 13:00 (UK time).

HANDY HINT: To save any wasted effort on your part, here are some examples of what not to suggest.

  • “Are those curtains machine-washable?” – my most embarrassing sexual experience.
  • “Shit for brains!” – the 10 most useless prats that I have ever worked with.
  • “Automatics or gearboxes?” – a comparative study.
  • “Man of the match!” – my greatest sporting achievement.
  • “How did you get that texture into your dumplings?” – my most memorable culinary triumph.

Got the idea? OK, pitch!

When the going gets tough, the blogger makes a list.

1. That Charlotte Church EXCLUSIVE that I linked to a few hours ago? ‘Twas an ingenious hoax, apparently. All credit to PB Curtis for stirring just the right amount of plausibility into the brew.

2. I’m a bit flat and miserable today, so thanks to Cliff of This Is This for making me laugh out loud with two consecutive posts: Just A Cup (an anti-saucer rant), and Just A Coffee (an anti-milky coffee rant).

3. Cliff (eek, I just realised) and Olga aren’t their real names, you know. I mean, come on, really.

4. OK, a bit more detail, now that things are calming down a bit. My friend and colleague JP was hit by a bus, just outside the office in Hangzhou where I worked for three weeks last Christmas. He sustained head injuries, but following a series of CT scans, an operation has not been deemed necessary. His partner has flown out to join him, and they’re being transferred by air ambulance to a super-duper private hospital in Hong Kong on Saturday. dB in the Hangzhou office has been supplying me with regular updates on his condition, and has been doing a fantastic job all round. Alan at Reluctant Nomad has more details.

5. I’m doing mad amounts of music writing this week. A feature length album review for Stylus, which I’ll link to when it’s published. Two gig reviews for t’local paper so far (Bugz In The Attic on Monday, Hidden Cameras last night), and another tomorrow night (David Essex).

6. And as if three gigs in five nights wasn’t enough, I’m attending a proper grown-up Serious Music “recital” this evening: yer Steve Reichs, yer Terry Rileys, yer John Cages, that sort of thing. Talk about a busman’s holiday. (Note to self: avoid the Big Clapping which gave you away as an alien interloper last time round. For “recitals”, dainty little clappity-clappitys are the accepted order of the day.)

7. Today is quite an important date for K work-wise, but we don’t talk about such matters. I’m just leaving a reminder for myself in the archives, that’s all.

8. I’m currently trying out some new-fangled vari-focal gas permeable contact lenses. The methodology is still being developed, and so these kinds of lenses aren’t yet generally available for purchase. However, not having worn lenses at all for the past five or six weeks, I’m having difficulties with them. They’re also bigger and thicker than my old gas permeables, which makes them harder to get used to. I can see myself reverting to the standard models, and using reading glasses as and when necessary. It’s nice to be in the vanguard, but I’d rather be able to see properly, thanks all the same.

9. All I want to do right now is kick my shoes off, lie flat out on the sofa, and stare at whatever moronic telly happens to be on at the time while thinking about as little as possible – which is highly untypical, as I’m usually super-fussy about what I watch. (As a habitual Big Brother addict, I am well aware of the inherent irony of this last statement.) Anyway, I did this for all of ten minutes yesterday evening, and it felt wonderful. Cabbage therapy! Brilliant!

10. Why is it important to drag these lists out to ten items, anyway? I’ll fill this one in when I think of something. Don’t hold your breath.

“Big Brother reminds you that it is strictly forbidden to discuss events in the outside world.”

Maintaining a personal blog sometimes feels a bit like being a contestant on Big Brother. With so much of our Big Important Stuff off-limits as subject matter, we end up wittering on about the colour of our socks, or the price of stamps, or the nice late summer weather that we’ve all been enjoying.

If Troubled Diva really did contain a full and accurate representation of the main events in my life, then you would be reading an altogether different set of posts. Sometimes, the frustration gets to me, such that I feel like digging a tiny virtual hole in the blogosphere and whispering into it – but then we all know what happened to silly old King Midas, don’t we?

The events of yesterday are a case in point. Suffice it to say that a friend is in intensive care on the other side of the world, but thankfully past the critical stage, and steadily improving. As a by-product of this, I found myself caught up in a complex network of e-mails, phone calls and texts, which saw me take on the role of central information bureau for a sizeable number of people, all desperate for up-to-date news. At the height of the drama, I was more or less constantly relaying messages for nearly three hours solid.

One thing which struck me about the experience is how calm, clear-headed, focussed and energised I became – to the extent that I actually started to get a peculiar kind of euphoric buzz. It was only during a short break in the proceedings, during which I nipped outside for a “calming” cigarette (the self-justifying delusions of the “social” smoker really do know no bounds), that I started getting what might be considered the more “appropriate” reactions: anxiety, shakiness, a lurching sense of dread. (There again, it might just have been the nicotine rush.)

Although I don’t tend to talk about this much, I do struggle, on a more or less daily basis, with a generalised, low-level, tired-all-the-time feeling. I guess it’s my default setting. So it did rather creep me out that it took a serious crisis to shake me out of my torpor, and that I was, in a certain sense, almost benefiting from someone else’s suffering.

(At this point, I should pause for a moment, in order to reassure you that many, many other more important and relevant thoughts were also passing through my brain at the same time. I might be a blogger, but I’m not that self-obsessed.)

I experienced the same sensation in late May and early June, in the immediate aftermath of the tragic loss of K’s sister. Again, there was a good reason: there was so much to be done, and so many people to support, and it turned out that I was actually quite good at staying calm under that kind of pressure – in which case, maybe that emotionally repressed boarding school upbringing did me some good after all.

I do understand where these spiritual energy surges come from, and why they have to happen. I’m also well aware of the human capacity for manufacturing guilt at times like these. I only wish that it didn’t take an event of this nature to send the blood coursing through my veins with such productive efficiency.

Get well soon, JP.

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part Four.

As we entered the capacious knock-through living-cum-dining area, with its mahogany panelled integral units running down the full length of one wall, Olga’s husband Cliff stepped forward to greet us. A self-made man and proud of it (“I’m a money maker, not a philosopher!”), Cliff ran a company which supplied raw materials to the building trade. Then, as now, these products were in great demand, due to the burgeoning mid-1980s property boom.

“Michael! How are you, young man?” Cliff raised and tilted his whisky tumbler toward me, expansively. “What is it you’re doing these days? Computers, is it? Champion! Well, they’re the future, aren’t they? I mean, ha ha, I know nothing about them myself, but you young uns, you’ve got to get in there, haven’t you? Now, have you all met our friends Ray and Molly?”

The group divided. Towards the rear of the room, my father, Cliff and Ray fell into business talk, with Molly looking on. In the lounge seating area at the front, girls’ talk was the order of the day, as S and Olga began to catch up. Naturally, K and I gravitated towards the latter group. Olga was holding forth about the delights of the estate.

“Of course, all the other houses have only the one telegraph pole in their back gardens – but we’ve got two telegraph poles in our back garden. Oh, S darling – let me get you an ashtray for that…”

My stepmother, not exactly on her first drink of the day, was waving her dangerously ash-laden Embassy Slim Panatella around, with reckless disregard for the state of the shag-pile. Or, if I am to be strictly accurate, a reckless disregard mixed with a certain veiled, f**ked-if-I-care contempt. Oh, I knew her too well.

The talk turned to cars, which gave Olga another excuse to lament the state of the back-seat cigarette lighter in the Rolls. Sorry sorry, one of the back-seat cigarette lighters in the Rolls. Just in case we hadn’t picked it up the first time.

“So what’s that you’re driving?”, she asked K, who proceeded to tell her all about his pride and joy, the 1972 MG Midget. With chrome bumpers. And round wheel arches. (Amongst the community of MG owners, such details are critical. Chrome bumpers wave at other chrome bumpers, but never at rubber bumpers. The very thought.)

Olga looked unimpressed. “Well, I’ve just picked up that new MG Maestro”, she explained. “You know, as a little run-around. It would leave your thing standing”, she added, with an air of dismissive finality, allowing herself a sharp little victory puff on her Players No. 6.

With her elaborately lacquered and bouffanted jet-black hairdo, with “beauty spot” to match, Olga cut a singular figure in the village. Her early 1960s Elizabeth Taylor look, unchanged for the past two decades, flew right in the face of prevailing fashions, and was the cause of much comment. Apparently, Cliff had some sort of “thing” for women who looked like this, and had insisted that the look be maintained at all times.

People sometimes spoke sympathetically of “poor Olga”, and not without reason. An essentially sweet-natured woman and a loyal friend to many, Olga was, it was felt, trapped in her role. Still, she was allowed considerably more stylistic freedom in her clothing, today’s ensemble being “golfing casual”: a black V-necked Fred Perry sweater over a polo shirt, and matching pegged trousers.

My step-sister C had recently announced her engagement, and plans were underway for a big summer wedding, with a reception at one of the local country clubs.

“She must be so excited!”, beamed Olga. “Oh, I’ve had an idea. Would C like to be driven from the church to the reception in our Rolls Royce? It would be such a thrill for her on her special day! Of course, we’ll have to get that back seat cigarette lighter fixed first – I don’t know what we’re going to…”

For the first time that afternoon, Molly piped up from the other end of the room.

“Or there again, maybe C would like to be driven in our Rolls Royce? Because of course, our Rolls Royce is open top.”

If daggers could kill, as one of my barmy line managers at the council once said.

On our way out (Cliff’s parting shot to me: “Get climbing that ladder, son!”), K shot me a stricken, what-the-f**k-was-that-all-about glance, which I returned with a rueful, welcome-to-my-world, better-get-used-to-it-darling glance. To this day, it remains one of his favourite stories – which is why I have retained such an accurate recall of its salient details, none of which (lest you should think otherwise) have been exaggerated for effect.

How very unlike the home life of your own dear author and his beloved civil partner, in their stylish and elegant “new rustic minimalist” weekend retreat in the Derbyshire Peak District. (As featured in Period Living magazine, and did I ever tell you about that?)

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part Three.

Cliff and Olga lived on the new estate: a winding cul de sac of sizeable detached red-brick houses, which had undoubtedly been described by the estate agent as prestigious, if not exclusive. To most of the kids in the village, it was known more colloquially as Snob Alley.

Although architecturally unremarkable in most respects, many of the properties distinguished themselves by their use of selected “heritage” elements. In Cliff and Olga’s case, this meant juxtaposing the quaint bull’s-eye panes in the bay windows with a pair of imposing neo-classical Grecian columns, which flanked the entrance porch. Reproduction carriage lamps on either side of the front door completed the look.

It was a Sunday afternoon in the late spring of 1986. K and I had been together as a couple for barely a year, and were still some distance away from disclosing the nature of our relationship to our respective families. As far as my father and stepmother were concerned, he was my new flatmate – albeit a flatmate who did seem to have the habit of accompanying me everywhere, even on weekend visits back up to the north of the county.

K found instant favour with them both. My father, being fond of coining nicknames for those whom he liked the best, dubbed him “Kevin the Gerbil”, after the popular breakfast television puppet of the day. My stepmother simply called him “Darling”, and flirted with him heavily, as was her wont.

Cliff and Olga had invited us all to join them for afternoon “drinkies”, in order to fill that awkward gap in the day between lunchtime last orders and evening early doors. Despite their house being not much more than five minutes’ walk from our own, it would have been unthinkable for us to arrive by foot. Hell, my father would often drive from our front gate to the nearest pub, less than a dozen doors away.

Seizing her opportunity, my stepmother asked to ride with K, in the passenger seat of his immaculately restored 1972 MG Midget. (Mallard green exterior; ochre interior; chrome bumpers; round wheel arches; sold eighteen months later, before the prices started going mad; still much missed.) Meanwhile, I travelled behind in my father’s chocolate brown Rover, with its odour of stale cigar smoke and dog hairs all over the seats.

As the two cars pulled up in front of Cliff and Olga’s des. res., Olga emerged from the front door to greet us. With a cut-glass champagne flute in one hand and a Players No. 6 in the other, she arranged herself betwixt the dual Ionics and flashed us her most winning smile, every inch the Lady of the Manor.

“K, darling – kiss me!”

Before K could raise an objection – assuming he would ever have dared – my stepmother leant over to his side of the open-top car, lunged her upper body forwards, planted her lips onto his, and held them there. As a free spirit trapped in a petty world, she had to take her pleasures where she could find them, and these sorts of épater la bourgeoisie stunts were a regular source of delight.

Whatever Olga might have thought of the spectacle, she didn’t so much as flinch.

“S! Lovely to see you! And who is this young man?”

“Oh, this is Michael’s… friend, K.” (She had a way of pausing before “friend”, just for a split second, but just long enough to let you know that she knew, and that she knew that you knew that she knew.) “How are you, Olga?”

“Flourishing, thank you! But we’ve had such problems this week, you couldn’t imagine: one of the back seat cigarette lighters in the Rolls Royce has broken. I don’t know what we’re going to do! Now, in you come. What can I get you? Campari and soda, or a nice glass of bubbly?”

Telegraph Poles on Snob Alley – Part Two.

My father’s social re-alignment within the village was mirrored by the nature of his two marriages. With my mother, he had forged a propitious match, marrying a good couple of notches above his status. (Let us not forget how important these distinctions were in middle class English life of that period.) Ill-prepared for the comparative coarseness of life “up north”, my mother kept an inscrutable distance from most of the village, only integrating herself to the extent that was deemed necessary and proper. When she left her husband, her children and the village behind in order to re-marry (a local re-match, which caused something of a scandal at the time), it was generally felt that no-one had ever been permitted to get to know her properly.

In stark contrast – and this must surely have been one of the many causes of tension between them – my father was almost voraciously gregarious, in a way which cut through all class boundaries. Snobbery was never one of his flaws; instead, he would befriend whoever he happened to come into contact with, deploying a disarmingly effective equal-opportunities charm that was never based on social positioning. He would think nothing of walking into a strange pub on his own, and striking up conversation with the people next to him at the bar. Indeed, it was one of his great skills and pleasures, to the extent that he would visibly bridle if forced to sit at a far-flung table, away from the action.

However, this complete lack of discrimination on my father’s part was not without its drawbacks, as he was also a hopelessly bad judge of character. A complex and in many ways immature man, something in him constantly craved approval, and he would go to great lengths in order to generate it. Many, if not most, of the people with whom he associated were not used to enjoying the company, hospitality and generosity of a man such as this, with his law degree from Cambridge and his army officer’s background, his large house and his privately educated children. Not surprisingly, his popularity was immense. Equally unsurprisingly, his kind-heartedness was often exploited.

My future stepmother burst onto the scene in the fabled long hot summer of 1976, in a flurry of back-combed hair, rattling jewellery, plunging cleavage, earthy language, and thick, choking cigar smoke. The village had never seen anything like her, and many felt distrustful, even threatened. Accompanying my father on her first visit to the nearest pub, one of the local matriarchs bent over and hissed in her ear: “So, are you his screw for the weekend?”

Her riposte – as she delighted in reminding us for the rest of her days – was to smile sweetly, flutter her thickly mascaraed eyelashes in a parody of the wide-eyed ingénue, and breathily reply: “No darling, I’m just here for the night.”

Shortly after their engagement a few months later, and on their way to the same pub one Sunday lunchtime, the two of them approached the vicar walking in the other direction. My father, a faithful church-going man during his first marriage but now somewhat lapsed, seized the opportunity.

“Vicar, can I introduce you to S? We’re looking forward to getting married in the near future.”

Without breaking his stride, the vicar replied, in the iciest of tones: “Ah, that would explain why you’ve left your car headlights on” – and carried on walking straight past them.

At around the same time, a deputation of concerned friends paid my father an unannounced evening visit, with the express intention of talking him out of what they saw – correctly, as it turned out – as an over-hasty, ill-matched and dangerous union. It didn’t make a scrap of difference.

As it turned out, my louche, theatrical, outrageous step-mother carved out more of a niche for herself in village life than my impeccably well-bred mother ever did. But then, times were changing, and the people who ended up standing next to my father at any one of the village’s four pubs were beginning to emerge from altogether different stock.

People like Cliff and Olga.

Of whom more tomorrow…