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I Told You So (Or at least I think I did)

Reading the depressing news from Afghanistan had the effect of sending my mind scuttering back twenty years to the arguments that raged about first sending a huge international force into the most unconquerable terrain in the world to find a small handful of ideological terrorists or failing that their chief financier and spokesman.

I seem to recall being a bit dubious of it at the time but I sort of accepted that the wrath of the United States was going to have to be appeased. Which was probably my big moral failing in the affair, a bit of cowardice I shared with a lot of people. But even then I think I was doubtful about whether there would be a proper plan or that anyone in the Pentagon was going to know what to do with a country once you’ve conquered it.

I’m fairly clear that my opposition to the policies of the Bush administration had congealed into futile rage and disgust by the time the invasion of Iraq happened but it occurred to me that perhaps I’m remembering with advantage and the fierce Jeremiads I recall writing back then only ever existed in my own head. There are people who supported (and some who still support) the whole exercise who are convinced that nobody ever objected to the Twin Wars. Was I as deluded as them?

(The picture up there is supposed to be Jeremiah: he was called ‘The Weeping Prophet’. By Michaelangelo: I think it’s out of copyright.)

I didn’t have a blog back then so I can’t go and look but I do have the zines I wrote for ALARUMS & EXCURSIONS, the venerable gaming Amateur Press Association in somewhat readable form in longterm memory storage so I went off to investigate.

I only found a few references to Afghanistan. Lots of stuff about Iraq but that was at the end of the whole sad process when I was trying to persuade another contributor to A&E that his blithe optimism and ‘support the troops’ attitude was misplaced and his ‘why do you liberals not condemn Islam’ rhetoric was witless. We didn’t communicate much but we did each make our positions clear to the other. Which is something I suppose.

I heard President Biden say repeatedly that he had never supported ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan. What depressed me was that he seemed to feel that it was a reasonable position to invade a country, smash its existing government to bits and then not do enough to fix that situation. “We made the mess but it’s not up to us to fix it.” Ye gods and little fishes.

(At least he seems more coherent than the last fella. He repeated himself a fair bit but I got the feeling that was because he was trying to batter his message into the minds of the listeners rather than running on automatic.)

So what this seems to say to me, as a government statement of policy, is the following:

1) America has the power to invade any country in the world and make a godawful mess of its armed forces, government and economy.

2) America isn’t going to hang around long enough to clear up any mess and is incompetent to do so.

3) America has not intention of using the advantage this gives to ‘build democracy’. America has it seems forgotten how you do that since the Second World War.

4) If you attack America we have the power to take vengeance and the right, will and power to do so.

I keep thinking of Sondheim’s last number for INTO THE WOODS.

“Careful what you say

Children will listen.

Careful what you do.

Children will see.”

America, when you tell your children to clear up their mess, don’t be surprised when they ask you why they should. You will raise up a generation that loves vengeance and thinks itself entitled to it. Oh, wait. You already did.

Dammit, you know, I think I did say this back then. I think my principles and my prudence were enough to say back then: “Do the job properly or don’t try to do it at all.” And I certainly remember saying: “Armies won’t help. This is a police and intelligence job.”

Let’s see what Jeremiah has to say. Oh, look. Such a lot. (Though the Internet seems to have confused the Prophet with some TV series.) Ah, yes, this will do.

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'”

I’m not sure that ‘the ancient paths’ are always the good way. But I don’t think the good way is so hard to make out as some people are saying to cover up their own complicity. And I see Tony Blair is sticking his nose in again. One of these days he may slip and tell us the actual reasons he supported British involvement. Or perhaps he remembers with advantages too and has rewritten the whole thing in his memory. Perhaps his lie has become his truth and he honestly doesn’t recall what really happened.

What the absolute…. Oooh Shiny!

I got a Brown Envelope today!

I dread these: I think most of us do. But the fact it was addressed to ‘The Resident’ reduced my worry to background level neurosis.

Inside was a letter from the Office of National Statistics. I have nothing against that organisation. They doubtless provide useful data for politicians to ignore or twist to their own purposes and employment to many persons of a mathematical bent. Several of my relatives are bent in that direction though they tend to find private enterprises pay better.

The letter was to explain (this is the bit that strained my credulity) that in a few weeks they would be sending me another letter inviting me to take part in a survey that could provide them with valuable data for their future number-crunching needs.

I know that I am old and getting a bit unadventurous in my lifestyle. But I am not yet so feeble of mind that I need a couple of weeks’ run up to making the decision whether to answer a survey or not. I have already decided to do so as my life is a little lacking in excitement just now. The fact that they offer a ‘five pound voucher’ is not an inducement because I know these government freebies of old. They are always giving you credit which you can spend a number of places whose only recommendation has to be being enthusiastic supporters of the Party of Free Enterprise. Even if you do want to keep the voucher for later you will probably store the details on your computer and then lose it.

So why, for the love of St Thomas More (patron saint of civil servants) are they sending me two letters instead of one? Is there some psychological theory that says people respond to government surveys more often if they get a warning it’s coming? Seems unlikely. If there are foes of government overspending out there I recommend they go after the person who set this up. Not me, it’s too darn hot for writing letters to the press.

#####

I got an Amazon parcel today!

I had been having a conviction that I should polish my shoes for the past few weeks, on and off.

Those who know my sartorial care and elegance will not find it surprising when I say that I probably hadn’t polished them since before the pandemic started. I wear the same pair of black, buckled barge boats day in and out. The NHS provide them to support my fallen arches and keep my diabetic feet from chafing in ill fitting mass produced shoes. They are what I wear because my feet no longer tolerate anything else. And since I haven’t been invited anywhere that involved a wedding, a funeral or an appearance in court I haven’t bothered with polishing them.

But even I can think that perhaps I need to care for them better. So I went and looked for my shoe polishing kit.

It wasn’t in the place it should be. It wasn’t in any of the numerous places I casually put things down and then pile things on top of them. It wasn’t in my suitcase (where it normally gets put when I have to go and visit other people who might care about shoe polishing more than I do). It was not to be found.

Which doesn’t mean I’ve lost it other than I’ve lost it in the flat. But it wasn’t available so I went and bought a new kit from Amazon.

It arrived today and it’s nice. I polished my shoes and all was good. But now I need to find something to keep the new kit in. And it should be big enough to keep the old kit in as well as I’m going to find it any day now. And small enough pop into the drawer where I normally keep my shoe polishing kit.

Perhaps I should have paid more for the kit which came in a fake leather bag or even the one that came in a little wooden box. Now I’m going to have to start searching the flat for the various leather bags I’ve picked up from my years in the Far Isles and which I sort of remember having. If I can’t find those where I think they should be then I can see a whole new cycle of acquiring stuff that I’ll put away ‘somewhere safe’ and then lose.

This is why I’m a slob, folks. When you get trapped into the cycle of buying stuff it’s downhill all the way. Well, until the accumulated clutter forces me onto the street.

£££££

And now for the Big News. I have had work! (Insert triumphal trumpets here!)

Well, four lines of a recording for Audible which will not be winning me my own star on the Hollywood sidewalk however much I might merit it.

But it is for something very cool: Part 2 of Dirk Maggs audio adaptation of the SANDMAN comics. I play a demon grovelling to Lucifer as Cain comes to him as an emissary from Dream. Recorded in my bedroom via a large number of iDevices and a lot of takes.

Which gives me a tiny amount of streetcred among my fannish acquaintances, a small amount of money and absolutely no chance of being noticed for the in production live action version of the comic Netflix is doing. I’d have made a lovely Fiddlers Green, as well. Harooom Harooom.

Here, have a link: http://adbl.co/morpheus

I’m sure they didn’t mean it that way…

Reasons to get other people to prufreed your text aren’t confined to typos. Also there are reasons advertising copywriters can earn generour salaries.

In evidence I offer a banner from an online advert that passed by my eyes which read in toto:

Immigrate to Canada

Want Canadian Citizenship? Get professional help

No? Just me then? I’ll get me coat.

A sign of global recovery

My Kickstarter copy of Atlas Games’ DICE MINER arrived today complete with the extra bits for the Backers and a set of dice for their OVER THE EDGE game.

To say it is a little behind schedule is to put it mildly. It completed funding June 23rd last year and for a considerable part of this year the game has been stuck in China unable to find space on a container ship to bring it to the rest of the world.

But now it is here and I look forward to this being not only a sign that things are moving in the world again but that I may be able to play it with my friends…

Of course with HMG deciding that we are all jolly healthy now and no annoying precautions are necessary I expect that we will all be forbidden to leave our homes again by the end of August. Still, swings and roundabouts eh?

I wonder if this game can be played solo…

Bruce has gone walkabout

Only yesterday I got in touch with the RSPCA lady who brought him to me and said “Let me keep him.”

I paid the charity some cash after some fiddling with my bank’s computers saying I hadn’t got the account name right and she said she’d come around Saturday to finish off the paperwork and re-register his microchip to my name and address.

And at about two thirty just after that I got a delivery from Amazon I wasn’t expecting until tomorrow and what with fiddling about with them wanting a security code (they’d never done that before) maybe that was when he slipped out. Or maybe it was later when I was sweating away at the computer working on last night’s game. I’d had the French windows open, you see, to let some air into the flat. I’d drawn the screen door across to keep him safe and indoors and it was still in place when I closed the French windows.

It wasn’t until several hours later that it registered I hadn’t seen or heard anything from him for a while.

I didn’t instantly start worrying because he had vanished once before, also when I had opened the French windows. I went into a panic then and went searching the nearby streets. And I got back posted his details on a missing pets site reported the loss to the RSPCA lady… And then he strolled out from behind some furniture where I’d swear I’d looked as cool as a cucumber and I had to make apologies all round.

A case of the Cat Who Cried Wolf, I fear.

But he didn’t come out from behind anywhere, not even though I left out food for him so I think this time he managed to slip through the screen door somehow or I failed to keep it secure the whole time. My forgetfulness has been getting worse. It looks as though I am going to have to say that if he doesn’t come back this is it for me living with a cat at least until the fabulous day I somehow find enough money to move to a house where I can have a cat who can move from indoors to out without a care. Doesn’t seem likely, I must say.

He had been growing more affectionate with me but I don’t think he was getting more reconciled to being kept confined. He would miaow for no clear reason and you should have heard the noise he made when he spotted another cat through the French windows, lurking near his territory! He wanted to be out there and showing them what’s what and who’s who.

Maybe he’ll be safe for a while. But he’s FIV+ and suddenly in a part of the world he knows nothing of.

So his name and photo is on websites and on a notice (see illustration) outside my flat. Let me know if you see a black cat in the vicinity of High Wycombe let me know.

I shall go now and try to follow the advice the RSPCA lady gave and try not to despise myself. Any more than I already do, I mean.

EDITED TO ADD

And he’s back.

Either that or he never left, it’s hard to tell.

I eventually went out to dump some stuff in the bins at the back and when I got back there he was having scoffed the food left out for him and looking obscenely pleased with himself. He dashed out the French windows and I went and got a sheet that I could throw over him (he’s faster than me) and went out to look for him around the block of flats. No sign, so I went back in… and there he was emerging from the bedroom. This time I managed to get the French windows shut. He prowled about demanded some attention, jumped up on my lap and peed on me.

What is hard to figure out is: was he out all night playing the Wild Rover (he doesn’t appear to have any injuries) or had he hidden in the flat all through last night and into today because he wanted to put me in my place or just to appeal to his evil feline sense of humour.

Yes, I know I’m anthropomorphising. You try living with a cat, see what it does to you.

I may have to take drink tonight…. I’m just going to pop out and take the ‘missing cat’ notice down. I’ll keep it on the computer. He may try to pull this again.

More affectation!

I’m currently reading H D F Kitto’s book THE GREEKS, a highly pleasing if old fashioned book (well, it dates from 1951: it’s older than I am) and I was delighted to come across this anecdote in the section on Sparta.

Diogenes the Cynic, being at Olympia, saw some young men from Rhodes, wearing very fine clothes and ejaculated “Affectation!” Then he saw some Spartans dressed very shabbily and said, “More affectation!”

I have a deal of affection for Diogenes though I’d never count myself a follower of his: living in a discarded ceramic jar strikes me as too like living in a cardboard box. You may call me a sybarite if you like and perhaps the climate of Greece is more conducive to such things. I can’t think of anything positive he supported that I like but I do like a lot of his popping of other people’s philosophical pretensions. And I wonder what the Greek word is that Kitto is translating as ‘affectation’. The devil’s always in the detail.

Which is a long winded way to not only show you how eclectic and far ranging my reading is but to advertise my latest artistic oeuvre a YouTube reading of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK. All eight fits and most of the Preface too. It certainly counts as affectation on my part for which I humbly beg your pardon.

I had planned to release it on April the First, the anniversary of the first publication but immense laziness and Easter overcame my plans. So instead let it count as a present to my old friend Dave Langford whose birthday I also just missed. Have an unbirthday present, old Fanglord! It’s appropriate because at the end I not only dedicate it to you but describe the enterprise as all your fault. Which it is and I shall explain why.

Back in the dear, long dead days of the early 1970s (which seemed all gosh wow, futuristic and new to us then) he and I were contemporaries at Oxford and members of the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group, my first introduction to fandom. I got to be Secretary to his President a year or so later and was later described by him in a moment of reminisence as ‘the laziest Secretary OUSFG ever had’. This was true and he should count himself lucky he wasn’t one of my tutors all of whom had even more right to complain of my indolence.

In our first year there were a few social occasions I remember with particular reasons for pain (one of them was the OUDS/ETC cricket match in which I was unwise enough to referee and got a cricket ball to the testicles for my trouble) and one of others was when Langford, using what mesmeric powers I have never been sure, managed to persuade nearly the entireity of OUSFG to take punts up the Cherwell and find a suitable grassy bank on which to perform a mass reciting of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK, a poem he had committed to memory and which he was fond of.

I found much to praise in the occasion. There was the chance to recite parts of the Agony (I was not given nearly as much of the text to perform as I deserved!), there was food, there was drink, there was the joy of the softly flowing river. I remember, with gaps due to the amounts of drink, the ceremony as a happy one.

But alas, Langford had not considered issues of security, let alone Health and Safety. For on the way north some barbarians had pelted our boats with condiments from their own picnic baskets: I cannot remember what long lost quarrel brought this about.

So when I rose at the end of the picnic and attempted (as one must at least once in one’s Oxford time) to punt back, not only was I slightly the worse for wear but the end of the punt I stood upon had been coated in the very best butter!

Naturally, my feet went one way and the boat went the other, demonstrating the equal and opposite reaction that I believe was first described by some Cambridge man or other. I found myself first going down in the water, once, twice, thrice (yes, that really happens: another thing I could have lived quite happily without discovering) and then somehow managing to swim to where I could pull myself soggily ashore through a patch of nettles and land gasping like a beached whale on the bank from where I could walk, squelching the whole way, back to college, a bath and clean clothes.

It may be that I have harboured some residual resentment over this incident over the years but I hope this tribute (which is also me giving in to vanity and long suppressed ambition: I get to do the whole thing and all the voices) will show at last that I have forgiven Langford at least of his part in my humiliation.

My wrath towards the Hooray Henries in the other punt remains as incandescent as ever.

American Writers! Let me solve the problems you don’t even know you have!

I started this with the intent of calling this diatribe “The pleasures of reading trash” and blaming myself for my tendency to find a cluster of not brilliant, but not demanding fantasy works on the Internet and dipping my toes into them. I always think I can give up after one if I think it’s too trashy but my standards reset a little lower every time and the next thing I know it’s several days later and I’ve not only completed all the works so far but I’m having dream sequences in which I point out to the major character how much their lives are screwed by their Author.

(“I’m afraid Doctor that now you are officially the Ruler of the Demon Realms, The Blue Eyed Lady, Wearer of the Iron Crown, you and your pet/lover the half-succubus can no longer moonlight as waitresses at the sleazy club owned by your best friend’s lover the ex-diabolist. Remember that it is immensely selfish of you to put your elite draconic bodyguard to all the trouble that you having a regular twice weekly spot in which you parade around in semi-fetishistic uniforms involves. Your regular as full moonlight howling and improvisational orgy with the werewolf pack in Battersea that the other part of your love triangle, your teenage boyfriend, belongs to is putting enough strain on their scaly souls already if you ask me.”)

I said it was trash didn’t I? I was embarrassed to awaken with that monologue still going through my head.

Anyway, after I finished that one I looked around for something else to keep me amused and I found something at the recommendation of my cohort Roger Bell_West in his series of occasional reviews on his blog site specifically his review on the 5th April for the latest in a series called Lady Sherlock.

Now, Roger has his own low tastes and he does have an ability to pick up things in the Romance section with covers that tend towards the floofy and deeply furbellowed. (I have a similarly robust immunity to feeling embarassed if the cover of my current enthusiasm bends towards the demi-pornographic.) If he finds one (as here) which combines romantic but independent heroines longing after Men They Can Never Have with classical detective tropes he’s happy.

And so too was I by and large. I read the series through over a couple of days and enjoyed its revisionist version of the Holmes and Watson stories in which Sherlock Holmes, like Remington Steele, was the cover for a female detective protagonist who is not only generally perceived as A Mere Woman but who has (in order to never be married to anyone) deliberately chosen to make herself A Fallen Woman too. I’m sort of impressed by the high degree of seriousness with which (it would seem) romantic fiction takes High Victorian Moral Bollocks.

But that’s not the point I wanted to make either, though it’s true that both Roger and I are not typical readers of anything and what we like is going to missfire for many readers. We’re not as neuro-atypical as the protagonist Charlotte Holmes but we both find what most people seem to like a bit incomprehensible.

What I’m going to say is how little it takes to precipitate a reader out of their imersion in the fictional world and the flow of the narrative, especially when the setting is Britain, doubly when the setting is historical Britain and even more so when you are suddenly struck by the realisation that the author is an American and living in the 21st century. Not only are you abruptly reminded that they have never visited the 19th Century but you are willing to entertain the possibility that they have never visited the British Isles at all, at all.

Which is not to say that only Americans offend in this manner. The author of the trashy Blue-Eyed Sorceress novels I mentioned above had a tendency to wildly guess what a word he had only heard looked like when written down and go for it, self-publishing without a wisp of a proofreading. I can’t recall how exactly he mangled the Latin for ‘Sweet mother’ but I know his version of alma mater caused me to wince and would have caused my old Latin master, Mister Greenhaulgh to burst into improvisational violence with the nearest lacrosse stick.

Among the problems with the Lady Sherlock series was the moment when Charlotte Holmes’ sister apologised for hugging her saying that she knew that it made the Great Detective ‘antsy’.

‘Antsy’, I ask you. There were two or three of equal wrongness in each of the five volumes and I ask each and every American working in this field whether they have any actual idea that there is any culture in the world other than their own and whether the idea of asking an Actual British Person their opinion of their pretend historical narrative had ever occurred to them.

(Roger says he’s found references to ‘antsy’ back as far as 1838 and I must accept that even though I get pointless internet citations that take it only as far back as ‘early 20th century’ or even ‘1950’. My Compact OED (text 1933) (See illustration) doesn’t even seem to notice the word.)

So, let me throw this offer open to the world, which will probably ignore it and spare me much labour. Bring me your sub-Jane Austen or sub-Bram Stoker or sub-Conan Doyle stories yearning to be British and I will give them the once over. You may not care that British people are reading the Stuff What You Wrote and going “Oh dear god….” at them but in case you do you had best let a Genuine Oxford English Graduate have a gander first. A shufti. Lay my mince pies on it. No charge. For now.

I, Guinea Pig

And now I’ve had part two of The Jab just a day short of seven weeks after the first. I note that I was being cynical at the time of the first jab about my chances of seeing a second but I was wrong. I also note that other people are being kept for the full 12 weeks between jabs. Was I particularly blessed? Time alone will tell but I went for a jab in the other arm in the hope that a balanced immune system will lead to super-powers this time. That or suddenly discovering late in life that I missed my rightful invitation to Hogwarts would be acceptable.

VOICES FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: Hogwarts? You’d be lucky if you ended up at Dom Daniel rather than the Scholomance, you evil old fart! ME: The catering’s better at the Scholomance. Not so many pupils in a class and a lot less reliance on fish. There is the damnation to be considered it’s true.

Anyway, the reason I received my second blessing so soon is a bit of a tale. I didn’t get my booking via the online booking system which was in its early days then but via my doctors’ surgery. I didn’t get a second date when they jabbed me either but only the assurance I’d get called a second time. So I put a note in my diary twelve weeks ahead (April 28th): ‘You should have been jabbed by now’ and let it be.

I ignored the letter inviting me to book my jab via the internet which arrived a short while after the jab: I reckoned I was covered. And then all my mates started posting about how they had used it and had a comitment to both dates. (They got the job done and people were still being cynical about the Tories often in the same post which warmed the cockles of my heart but I’m aware my friends may not be a representative sample.)

And then I started worrying because I’m a terrible worrier (see Joyce Grenfell). So I rang my doctors’ surgery to check and they had ‘Please don’t call us about vaccination appointments: we’ll call you’ in their opening answer phone message so I did that.

And then the very next day (Honestly! Sometimes I feel like I’m being guided by a Higher Destiny.) the government was making a statement via the BBC that old and vulnerable persons (which sacred band I joined a few months back) should ensure that they have their second jab booked ‘before they ran out of appointments’. I swear that’s what it said. Well, actually I swear that’s what I thought it said. My brain is not displaying any super-intelligence just now.

So I rang up and spoke to the Nice Receptionist who recognises my dulcet tones and she said she was sure she didn’t know. So I hung up… And within twenty minutes I’d not only been called by their Person In Charge Of Covid Jabs who had got the wrong end of the stick and thought I hadn’t had my first one yet but also got a text message which allowed me to book today’s appointment.

Only imitate my actions if you think you can stand the weight of guilt of suspecting yourself of queue jumping for the rest of your life that I’ve just acquired.

A-Z vaccine again and I wore my Ken & Robin Phoenix t-shirt this time. Not a sign that they had noticed it. Not a titter to be had. Ars Longa, Vita Brevis as the actress said to the bishop.

The weather is warm and spring like. If it lasts and it may not I think I may go for a walk in the park later. I may also post more about the Second Saga of the Rats of High Wycombe dependent on how much comic effect I can drag out of the visits tomorrow of a) the chap from the anti-rodent people come to pick up his poison and b) the chap from the new landlord’s maintenance contractors to see if I am for some mysterious reason lying about the holes in the kitchen skirting board. He said he was coming in the morning but wasn’t afraid to face the apparition of me in my night shirt if he rouses me out of bed at Some Ungodly Hour.

All part of life’s rich pattern

Life always seems to be looking at me and thinking: “What J.Michael could do with right now is a new learning experience.”

It’s probably my own fault. I’ve always admired Merlin’s advice to Wart when he was feeling down. (“The thing for you to do is to learn something…”) I quoted it at my mother’s funeral: I’d like it spoken at mine.

But there’s learning and there’s learning and there are a lot of things that over the years I’ve learned and rather wish I hadn’t had to.

There’s learning the unpleasant sensation of having a sample sucked from your marrow: it’s rather disturbing. That was when they were trying to find out why the platelet count in my blood is low, I think. And I am just going to have to accept that in most such cases they say, as they said to me ‘It’s ideopathic’, which is doctor for ‘search me, guv’. I understand that there are a number of really alarming things they eliminated by that test so I should be grateful. The same could be said of a number of alarming tests and even more alarming symptoms I’ve had over the years. I should have learned this when the first Big Alarm sounded back when I was still a fair bit shy of forty and one Christmas Eve I got an intense pain right in the middle of my chest at the back and being the bright, sunny individual I was came to the conclusion that this was it. My heart was going to give out on me before I’d even properly got out of life’s starting blocks. (Query: did I ever manage to do that?)

I should have learned my lesson then when the doctor I finally got to see said: “That’s just a back pain. Yes, they are unpleasant. Here have some pills to help with the pain.” (If I had known about the bunging up effects of opiods I might have thought twice about taking them just before a Christmas feast.)

The lesson I probably should have learned was not to be such a gloomy type but I maintain to this day an assumption that the worst will happen. That’s probably what this week’s drama was about: Life trying to teach me to hope, again.

Briefly, on Tuesday night about 10:40 I leaned back in my chair, heard a slight sound to my right and looked over to see a rat in the door from the kitchen. He’s chased a bit of dryer fluff out of there and was just chewing it to see if it tasted good when he became aware of me. No expression on the ‘face’ of a rodent at all but his body language conveyed alarm and his movement was then retrograde back the way he came. When I got up and went and searched the kitchen he was nowhere to be found.

Now I’d had rats in the place once before and then my late cat Monty caught one, slaughtered it and laid it at the side of my bed as tribute, looking me with an glance that said: “And what are you going to do about this, eh?” So I knew what to do and contacted the Council’s extermination contractors via their website and booked an appointment, the earliest available, for today. (My landlords are handing over the property to new owners on Monday which is bound to complicate matters but when I called them with my tail of… I’m sorry my tale of woe they agreed to send someone round next week to see if maybe, perhaps, they could justify the expense of bunging the hole the rat got in by.)

The day after the rodent apparition I gave the kitchen a good clean up, both to get any food out of the way of possible returning visitors and to make it decent enough to show a visitor and when I had finished doing so I became aware of a very disturbing stench arising from beneath the sink, the area where the rats got in last time.

It only got worse over Thursday and Friday morning. You may imagine what my nights were like, if you know me. I lay awake for hours imagining what the problem might be. I settled on ‘There has been a breach in the sewers’ pretty early on and from then it was all downhill in the Imagined World of Michael. I had extrapolated from my kitchen fittings having to be ripped out to my walls having to be rebuilt to the whole block of flats being condemned as unacceptable for human habitation. I kept going through the very short list of ‘Family and Friends Who Can Be Imposed On’ and bewailing the necessity.

Yes, there’s a lot going on under the placid surface of Lake Cule. You don’t normally see half of it.

So when I say that I am now actually grateful that I now know what the smell of a dead and decaying rat is like you must understand that I’m being very philosophical about the whole sensory experience. The young man from the extermination company who came along and left some rat-poison (New and Improved, he assured me and something they had only just been allowed to put down) said it must have died there because it couldn’t figure out how to get back into the sewer system from this side. It had probably eaten poison somewhere else and then dropped dead soon after I saw it. He also was unimpressed about the job the landlord’s contractor had done bunging up the hole last time.

I said a brief word of thanks to the guardian spirit of the late Monty for continuing to keep an eye on me and reflected that the next time I panic over something I won’t have learned any lessons from this time either.

Yes, I really do need to get a new cat. No, I’ve not had any luck there either.

Guinea-Pigs All!

Today I got jabbed!

Astra-Zenica (since you were going to ask) and no, so far I’ve not had any side-effects but it’s only been an hour and a half.

I got called at an ungodly hour yesterday (08:36) by my GPs’ surgery. They could offer me a vaccine shot the next day and after I intimated that five past nine in the morning was a little early for me they shifted it to two fifteen in the afternoon.

And it was only a totter down the road in the freezing bloody cold to the town hall and wait outdoors for a few minutes before the line moved forwards at a rate of knots. Inside, got told to take my gloves off and use the hand sanitizer provided. Check the temperature of my forehead and then in to give my name and get given a card with that and my date of birth which I give to the young lady I’m guided to. Off with my jacket and jumper (I wore the t-shirt in the illustration but no-one noticed. Sigh. The life of an entertainer is hard. You can order your own via Redbubble.) Then they gave me a card with the details of the treatment and a piece of paper describing the vaccine and I was off.

The nurse asked if I was happy to have the vaccine and when I said something like: “Well, I’m here, aren’t I?” she explained that some people change their minds at the last moment.

She said I’d be called again in twelve weeks. Probably. If the government doesn’t decide something else.

And then it was out and back into the cold pulling my gloves on again, over my nrewly sanitized hands. A little light shopping and then staggering back to my flat.

Oddly enough, the night before at the Monday GURPS game we’d chatted about getting innoculated. At that moment only our oldest member, Hartley Patterson, (he admitted to being seventy-harumph) had been innoculated. Astra-Zenica too and only slight throbbing in his arm. And having noted that all of us were getting on and therefore vulnerable we wondered when we would get our jabs.

The very next morning… It’s the sort of thing you really hope is just a co-incidence and not a sign of us being under constant if benevolent monitoring.

And one thing Chris Southern said Monday night sticks with me. He said we can’t know, no-body can know how all this will work out. Which vaccine, how long between the doses, whether you can combine the different vaccines (that”s bound to happen): all of that is being subjected to experimental use on everybody. Results and certainty comes later. People need reassuring, especially the people suspicious enough of the state to balk at the last minute with their arms already bared for the needle.

We are all Guinea-Pigs now, the whole nation. Hopefully, we will learn a lot. And it’s not as risky as getting up in the sky in a Spitfire or a Hurricane and getting near burned to death, the way the original Guinea Pig Club did. So be glad about that as you serve Science and the Nation. Even the refuseniks will have their place in the great statistical analysis.

EDITED TO ADD: It’s odd after my writing that but during Wednesday night’s game (BLADES IN THE DARK) my friend Graham Arnold (a legend in his own lunchtime!) said that he’d managed to get innoculated already despite being notably younger than me by being a) in his fifties and b) willing to have two different vaccines in the two different doses so they could see what happens. So he is doubly a member of the Guinea Pig Club. If he (or indeed I) develop super-powers as the result of experimental treatment I’ll let you know. Happened to Deadpool: there’s no reason but science why it shouldn’t happen to us!