Facebook school friends: let’s move on

A consequence of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown is that I’m staring at my phone more. I know it’s wrong but I can’t stop swiping. Version 3And I’ve come across a Facebook group dedicated to my school’s alumni. There they all are, my classmates, the good, the bad and the extremely naughty, all grown-up. It’s meant to be a forum for all ex-pupils, but the posts are dominated by my cohort. It must be the fact we have more past than future that’s exciting my classmates. I put it down to nervous chatter.

Swiping through the discussions I find their ‘voices’ sound the same today as they did all those years ago. This shouldn’t surprise me but it does. They don’t seem to have changed at all – although the Facebook photographs suggest otherwise. We look like our parents and some of us look like our grandparents. Especially me. Gravity takes its toll and the weight of years has led to bad knees and bald heads – or is that just me again?

Not everyone in my year has joined the group and most of those who have, dip in and out. I wonder how many there are like me, who watch silently from the sidelines. I suspect I haven’t declared myself for the same reason we lost contact in the first place: the bonds weren’t sufficient. As in all things, natural selection knows best. Interestingly, those with whom I have kept in touch haven’t appeared in the group either. I’m not sure what that says but I think it says something. Perhaps we all died and no-one told us.

There are, however, a few who post comments all the time, and I’m ashamed to say this raises uncharitable thoughts. Is it because they prefer who they were to who they now are? Or is it vice-versa – a chance to rewrite history by replacing one personality with another? Time, the great leveler. Be nice now and people might forget what an awful shit you once were. The irony is that those who keep feeding the discussions of school memories, were, at the time, the keenest to leave school.

Certainly, friends I remember being pushed to the fringes of playground society are now in cheerful discourse with those who pushed them there. That’s good, but I wonder how long this social re-balancing will last. Once a Piggy always a Piggy, as Ralph and Jack might write on their post-apocalyptic Island Friends’ page.

Talking of Piggy, I was hoping to find some posts about me but disappointingly my name seldom crops up. I am so absent I had to check I actually went to that school. It seems I left little or no impression on anybody which is odd because I have a clear recollection of being popular. Too bad that’s a memory nobody else shares. Not even my friends.

However, other, darker, memories are posted. Complaints of casual racism, chronic bullying and punitive abuse by teachers. But just as casually, any attempt to discuss these traumas are closed down with comments such as ‘that was then and this is now’ and ‘it’s best to move on.’ Best for whom, one wonders? And move on to what? It’s clear the idyll is not to be broken. This is a happy website for happy memories. Even so, I am reminded that it is dangerous to be different. That is true now and it certainly was then.

And so the posts return to safer ground. We are challenged with questions such as ‘who was your favourite teacher’ and ‘what music did you dance to’. I liked to head-bang to Lyrnyrd Skyrnd but that’s not something I’d want to share with the group. Or should. We all have our murky secrets. But frankly, there are only so many posts I can read on the subject of ‘who remembers Miss Finaghty’ before time spent in this way becomes disappointingly repetitive.

I have a platonic relationship with the past. I don’t want to forget it but I also don’t want to relive it. I would jump at the chance to be sixteen again (knees permitting), but only if I could take my current mind with me. I suppose like most people I am secretly trying to walk up the down escalator.

Being social media migrants means we should be careful about getting too carried away in an online world. We might forget this jaunt down memory lane is in reality a public and open forum. Feelings can be hurt, confidences broken, libel laws breached. Worse still, we might encourage each other to wear cheesecloth again.

One day we will all know everything about everyone. There will be no secrets and the past will sit side-by-side with the present. Only the future will remain unknown and unknowable, as COVID-19 has demonstrated. But that’s how it should be. ‘That was then and this is now’ is indisputably true, but it’s tomorrow that interests me. Especially as I still hope to be in it.

A few comments on your response to my complaint

From: James Ellis
To: <Customer Care>
Subject: Re:
Complaint – unused deposit taken [ref:_99DFT6200_gtDDS529:ref]
Date: 10 Mar 2020, at 08:27

Dear <Customer Care> – a few comments on your response to my complaint. From one writer to another.

Best,
James.
—————————–

From: <Customer Care>
To: James Ellis
Subject: Re:
Complaint – unused deposit taken [ref:_99DFT6200_gtDDS529:ref]

On 9 Mar 2020, at 15:03, <Customer Care>  wrote:

Hello James Ellis !

JE – An exclamation mark! Did you just leap out from somewhere? It does make it look as if my name has been automatically inserted, though. And seriously, neither of us are that excited. Go for a comma, or a full stop (period). Or even (heaven help us) a semicolon. Anything but an !

Thank you for contacting <Customer Care>.

JE – Well, that’s okay. But I would have preferred not to have had to. This is where you need to insert your apology.

The inconveniences you experienced are not acceptable to our standards.

JE – Nor mine. This is going really well. But it would have been better if you actually referred to my complaint here. Can you automate that in some way?

I want you to know that the comments and suggestions we receive are taken seriously.

JE – And I want you to know I expect nothing less. But strictly speaking, it’s neither a comment nor a suggestion. It’s a complaint because you have taken my money unnecessarily. And, in my opinion, the ‘I want you to know’ is too intense.

They tell us what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong and how we can improve.

JE – Yes, but it’s not all about you. It should also tell you I am dissatisfied. See above comment. This is now revealing itself as a generic response and the initial goodwill I had is receding. No mention of my specific complaint yet.

Your willingness to share your recent experience is genuinely appreciated.

JE – If you’re trying to mollify me, it’s coming across as me being patronised.

Please accept my sincere apologies.

JE – Hey, there it is. But it’s buried. This should be at the top of the email.

Be assured that any and all of the issues you’ve raised will be addressed, and that appropriate action will be taken. I have opened a Customer Service file, to document your comments, which will be reviewed by the department in charge to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.

JE – Great. This is what we want – some action. Please can I see your Customer Service File after it’s been reviewed so I can see how you will ensure this doesn’t happen again. That is, taking my money unnecessarily and the 5-10 working days to repay it. If I can’t see it, then you need to rethink the purpose of this paragraph. And I’d be careful using the word ‘ensure’. Someone might hold you to that.

If you should need any further assistance, please feel free to reach out to us again by replying to this email.

JE – See comments above. Hope they are of some help.

Kind regards,
eye

Don’r rush a good thing

Watch out, many of the baby boomers’ final cohort will be turning 60 this year – those born in the satisfyingly neat year of 1960 (it is so easy to work out how old one is, when there’s a zero at the end).

So expect a deluge of articles on the subject – how entering the seventh decade is a liberating experience, that 60 is the new 40, that age is just a number (well, yes, but it does mark some passage of time) and that the best is yet to come.

But let that big birthday come at its own pace. Exciting though it is to become a sexagenarian, don’t rush towards it. I am one of those baby boomers, and I find I am already thinking of myself as being 60 even though I’ve another six months to go. That’s the problem with an approaching landmark-birthday, it’s like watching a giant planet from a small moon: it fills one’s horizons.

The decade of my fifties has been good to me and I don’t want to be rude by dashing off without saying a proper goodbye. I want to enjoy a full twelve months between one set of candles and the next.

So, my sixtieth birthday can wait its turn. No sneaking a few months from my fifties. When it comes I will embrace it with gusto but I do not expect to see any changes in what I do or how I do it. My only question is this: while I am being so determinedly 59 who will actually plan my birthday celebrations?

Seriously, it’s only six months away.

A bone is born

I’ve broken my elbow. To be precise, I’ve fractured it. To be utterly accurate, the end of my funny bone has been chipped off. I’ll leave the gags to you. I was knocked over by a group of charging youths late on Friday night. It was an accident; these things happen; it could have been worse – I could have chipped a bit off my head. The lesson I’ve learned is to wear body-armour whenever I go to Bath.

I’ve never broken a bone before, at least I don’t think I have, but now I wonder about all those times I tripped and landed on my knees when I was young. Are there fragments of my fractured knee drifting inside my joints?

On the X-ray I could see the end of my funny bone floating some distance from the main bone, like an off-shore island. Its shape exactly matched the coastline where it had once been. I felt strangely uplifted, as if it were setting off on a new adventure.Elbow

While the X-ray was being displayed the nurse explained the purpose of each bone inside my arm. But she had to agree that, strictly speaking, I now have an extra bone in my arm, and one that has no purpose at all. I like that. I am proliferating.

It’s been a while since I was clattered to the ground. The last time was when I was thirteen and playing rugby. I was a terrible rugby player and they only picked me because I was big and heavy. The opposing scrum would charge at me and knock me flat and then run over me in their studs. Sometimes my own team did that too. Getting back to my feet in Bath city centre  brought back many of those happy childhood memories. And it’s made me wonder if adults fall over enough. I don’t think we do. I think we need to establish controlled environments where we can go on a Saturday morning and spend an hour or so tripping up and falling flat on our faces. Just like we did when we were young.

I feel positive about this new pain in my life. There are lots of advantages to having a broken elbow. Playing my ukulele, for example. I can only strum and pick for a few minutes at a time. This is a tremendous relief to so many people. And carrying things and lifting things up – I don’t have to. In fact, almost any household task can be avoided by saying, ‘I have broken my elbow’. Even typing takes its toll which means I have the perfect excuse to finish whatever I’m writing, such as this blog post, whenever I want, and without having to come up with a witty or satisfying or logical ending…

The Limehouse Golem review – a big helmet with lots of makeup – 3/5

The Limehouse Golem is a Ripperesque throat-slasher stuffed full of London fog, grubby horse-drawn coaches, grimy cockney characters and naïve prostitutes with dirt smeared on their faces. Was it ever clean in London?

It stars Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth, ably supported by a bald Eddie Marsan who steals scenes and Daniel Mays who wears a big helmet.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina , based on the book by Peter Ackroyd, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and with a screenplay by Jane Goldman, the film is a convergence of two storylines: a series of explicitly gory and unsolved murders in olde London-town and the trial of a musical hall comedienne Lizzie Cree (Cooke) who is accused of murdering her failed playwright husband. Drawing these strands together is Inspector John Kildare (Nighy) and his sidekick, Constable George Flood (Mays).

Plot-wise, the requisite twists, turns and red herrings of any self-respecting whodunit are all in place, along with the bold device of the audience seeing each suspect in situ as the murderer, but what really keeps us guessing is how much was the makeup bill? Most of it is slapped on the musical hall mentor and star turn, Dan Leno (Booth), but there’s plenty left over for everybody else. My tip for any school-leaver is to forget university, get into the makeup supply business and win a contract for films based in Victorian London. You’ll be on velvet for the rest of your life.

For me, despite the calibre of the cast and crew, it’s the plot-driven narrative that is the film’s weakness (unless you like people being cut up with knives in which case it’s all great). Yes, it keeps us guessing but is that enough? I think it’s reasonable to expect more of the character-driven strands to be developed, such as Kildare’s past victimisation (just say he’s gay and be done with it) and his relationship with his sidekick Flood (just say he’s gay and be done with it), or the way in which the claustrophobic dynamics within the theatre’s ‘family’ worked. Otherwise, why mention them?

The characters are, with the notable exceptions of Lizzie Cree and Dan Leno, thinly drawn. I doubt Flood is meant to be a Watson to Kildare’s Holmes but even so, Daniel Mays must be wondering what is the point of his character other than to take the weight of his considerable headgear. Remove Constable Flood from the film and nothing changes. But it’s Inspector John Kildare who gets most of my sympathy. No DNA sampling, no crime scene forensics, no computers – and he’s being played by Bill Nighy.

Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are fascinating to watch on screen because they bring something of the human condition to their characters – but with Bill Nighy the acting is in what he doesn’t do – which is act. With Bill it’s all about the twitches, stares, stiff movements and The Face. The joy is watching Bill Nighy ‘be’. He is a character in his own right who simply has lots of different jobs: louche academic, resurgent pop singer, ageing lover and now a Victorian policeman, Inspector Bill Nighy.

As the credits rolled I was left with a feeling that the likes of TV’s Sherlock and Ripper Street have done this sort of thing to death, and done it well, and that this film needed to be something really special to justify its big screen status, something more than just a neat tale. Sadly, it’s not. I think more bald men and smaller helmets might be called for. And makeup. Lots more makeup.

I am me. Really.

Yesterday I had to visit a solicitor’s office to have my identity validated. I’d failed a money laundering test because I have two addresses and it wasn’t clear to anybody, including me, in which one I lived. According to the test I was a paradox; an object that had failed to satisfy any condition.

Fortunately, these days, solicitors offer an existential service, and for £15 they confirmed that I am the person I’ve been claiming to be all these years. Me. And they stamped a letter to confirm it. But can I still launder money? I don’t know. I paid in cash.

As I walked home to one of my possible addresses I wondered what other philosophical uncertainties the solicitor could resolve and stamp.

  • Why is there something rather than nothing? Because there is. Bring in a photo ID and a recent utility bill. £15. Stamp.
  • Do we have free will? No. Bring in a current council tax bill and a current driver’s licence. £15. Stamp.
  • If I see blue, what colour do you see? Blue. Bring in a letter from your parent or guardian and proof of postage. £15. Stamp.

The possibilities seemed endless. After all, who can argue with a stamped, legal document? But when I walked into my house I was surprised to find myself already there. So I went back out to demand the return of my £15. They were closed.

 

That Moment

Five months ago a very important person in my life died. I was there. I saw it all. Senses diminished. Movement slowed. Breathing stopped.

It might be witnessing the mechanics of dying, or trying to accommodate the loss, or just failing to comprehend nothingness. I don’t know. But that moment, that image… it just won’t go away. I do get it. I do get that we all die. But for the life of me I cannot shake that moment from my mind, that moment of being and then not being.

Her last breath.