Tag Archives: nostalgia

Spurs are on their way to Wembley

“Do you want me to call it off?” Mum stood framed in the bathroom doorway, hands on hips, looking down at me sprawling in pain.

“No! I’ll be fine!” My bladder had screamed full all the way home from school and was busy wreaking its revenge. I wasn’t going to let it deter me: it was Thursday 14 May 1981, and I had a ticket for the FA Cup final replay between my team, Tottenham, and Manchester City. I’d been to plenty of football matches – I had a season ticket – but never a match this important. Never Wembley.

And how could I face my school friends the next day if, after bragging that I was going, I then stayed at home – because of a bladder strain. That choice would haunt me forever. Nothing short of a detached limb would stop me going.

I wasn’t going alone, of course. My cousin Mark, altogether more worldly-wise at 18 or so, also had a ticket – and a car. It wouldn’t be our first trip together: we’d gone to London a few years before, just the two of us I think, to see 2001 at the cinema. No, not the original release; it might have been the tenth anniversary, though – 1978. I’d have been nine, he fifteen. Hmm, surely not? Possibly. Times were different then, all flares and hair and grainy film.

We drove to Wembley, or thereabouts. I have no memory of the walk along Wembley Way with the gathering thousands, or of the queue, or of the hunt for the correct stairwell, or of the steep climb to our seats – oh, perhaps I do. It seemed near-vertical back there, vertiginously deep in the top corner of the Royal Box side, not far from the left goal line from the usual TV perspective.

It was a tense match. Spurs took the lead early, never a good sign, with City levelling only a few minutes later in the goal nearest us. Five minutes into the second half they went ahead through a penalty. The supporters around me – all Tottenham fans – became nervous. After 70 minutes Spurs equalised: jumping, screaming, relief. Twenty minutes to find a winner.

Six minutes later, it happened. The finest goal I’ve ever witnessed in person. Ricky Villa, substituted in the drawn match the previous Saturday, took the ball deep into the penalty area past one defender, two, jinking left and right, and fired a shot—

I’ve never seen, heard or felt anything like it. Fifty thousand people simultaneously screaming, exploding in joy, hugging, bouncing. Astonishment, disbelief.

And then the interminable wait. Fourteen minutes, plus injury time. Just keep the ball. Just. Keep. The. Ball.

At the final whistle we could breathe again. The celebrations began. From our vantage point we couldn’t see the team climb the 39 steps to the Royal Box, nor could we see Steve Perryman lift the trophy; we simply cheered when everyone else did. We cheered as, presumably, each player in turn held the cup aloft. We were drunk on cheers.

I’m not sure how we got home without Mark crashing the car. Sober, but still drunk. A high I’ve never forgotten and know I can never recreate.

Football’s a game played by overpaid, often unlikeable twats; owned by oligarchs; run by idiots; watched by thugs and bigots. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s played by sublime craftsmen at the top of their trade, and watched by passionate, loyal fans who experience the greatest highs and deepest lows with friends and strangers on the terraces across the country. But it’s still owned by oligarchs and run by idiots.

Cup Final day is not what it once was, even ignoring the rosifying memory lens. This year it’s not even the final match of the season. It’s lost in the Premier League and Champions League cash-chase, another victim of the sport’s insatiable greed. The loss of the FA Cup’s prestige arguably began when money begat exclusive TV deals. Once, the FA Cup Final was the only live domestic football match on TV, and the build-up began on both main channels at dawn with Cup Final Pro-Celebrity Eggy Soldiers or some such; now the single terrestrial broadcaster has no work to do. No romance to talk up. No semi-literate panel to parade. No Moore v Coleman/Motty contest to hype (Coleman, obv.).

All we have is the game, yet another live game in a season of yet another live games. Eagerly awaited by the teams and the fans, and the obsessives, but few others. Of course I’m only saying all this because the year ends in one and by rights that means Spurs should have been there, dammit.



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Inflection point

It was an eighties telly in a seventies wooden box – complete with shutters you could draw across the screen, like music hall curtains closing on Spandau Ballet. A boxy remote the size of Dagenham was optimistically labelled with the full range of digits, only three of which had purpose. The remote did have a red button: for turning off the TV. I pressed, and held, and a red light on the remote blinked furiously until an overlong timer fired and the TV switched off. Not standby: off. The power button on the TV popped out with an alarming clunk. The not-flat, not-square tube crackled with static.

“Lift.” Feet up for Mum’s hoover, a frantic round of pre-holiday housework.

I’d been parked in front of the TV for a couple of hours watching the special coverage of Columbia’s maiden flight, Live by Satellite from Cape Canaveral. But Young and Crippen wouldn’t be flying that day: the pocket-protected NASA techs were taking no chances. Even with the world watching, another few days of tests wouldn’t matter. The shuttle programme was several years late already.

By the time Columbia arced into the Florida sky, two days later, we were settled in to our cottage at the Coral Reef Club in Barbados. Fancy. Launch was at 7am EST, one hour behind us, and since that time on a Sunday was in those days purely a hypothetical concept I didn’t watch it live. I saw later replays on a snowy hotel portable, Barbados TV showing a feed from a US network. It was 12 April 1981, twenty years to the day from Gagarin’s flight, and three days before my twelfth birthday.

Later, I’m asked: “Do you want to go waterskiing?”


“Why not?”

“Don’t want to.” I’d been skiing on previous holidays and enjoyed it. Grab the handle, crouch in the water, let the skis pull you upright as the motor roars, lean back, bend the knees, relax the shoulders, smile for the instamatics. Push down a little with either foot to drift to one side, even over the wake into choppier waters. Keep going until your arms fall off.

This time, though, I didn’t want to ski. But I did want to. I just didn’t want to belly-flop forward when the speedboat surged, or to catch an edge while waving to the beach, or to lose my balance venturing out of the wake. I didn’t want to fail. Failure was not an option, I’d decided.

I watched from the boat and from the beach. “Your turn next Dave?” No. My bare heels dug deep in smooth Caribbean sand. I retreated into my head: to science fiction, or the notebook in which I scribbled snippets of rubbish eighties code.

But even though puberty was beginning to ensnare me, dragging me to surly adolescence from the cosy certainties of childhood, I was no vampiric, coal-impersonating minigoth. I sizzled gently in the April sun, and swam where the spiky, poisonous sea urchins had been cleared. I explored the coast a little with my brother and his friend Robert, here with his parents in a multi-family extravaganza. We played shuffleboard – essentially, man-sized shove ha’penny.

My family tried again to persuade me to go waterskiing. Again I refused. “I just don’t want to.” It had become a point of principle: the more they went on about it, the more I was determined not to do it, even if I secretly wanted to. I just didn’t want to enough.

At some point during the holiday, I don’t remember how or when, I became friends with a girl called Carrie. Or Kerry. Or something like that. She was about my age, maybe a year older, on holiday from Florida with her family. We, like, totally hung out.

By her last evening on the island, the now-twelve-year-old grown-up me was beginning to wonder whether this qualified as a bona fide holiday romance. Perhaps it was, I thought, but as far as romance was concerned I was still skiing resolutely within the wake. After dinner, just the two of us, on a beach cool and quiet bar the lazy Caribbean rhythm of gentle waves and broadcasting crickets, we lay on sun loungers under moonlight and talked about everything – nearly everything. It was getting late.

“So… can you stay out a bit longer?” she asked. It seemed an Important Question.

“Um…” A little downward pressure on one ski and I’d start to drift to the wake. Push left, go right. That’s all I’d need to do. Simple, easy. “Er, I’ll need to go and check.”

I caught an edge.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Mum back at the cottage. “Time to stay in now.”

I somersaulted into the sea, skis cartwheeling off, handle skipping away in pursuit of the boat.

I don’t think I saw Carrie again. Or Kerry. Whatever.

On our last full day in Barbados, the constant nagging finally broke me. That’s not strictly true. “I tell you what,” said Robert’s dad, “I’ll give you twenty dollars if you waterski.”

There’s a photo somewhere of my brother, me and Robert, skiing three abreast. Easy money. I fell over while peeling off to ski unpowered to the shore, but that’s life, I guess. I lost no time in collecting the cash.

That holiday was memorable for many reasons: for beginnings and endings, for decision and indecision. For an uncertain glimpse into a future not to be, from a present clinging to the past. And for one other thing.

On my twelfth birthday that Wednesday, I had a few presents to open. One was small, no bigger than a packet of cigarettes. It was a silver box with an LCD display, a volume wheel tucked along the short side, and a single small button on top. When you pressed the button the box spoke the time. “It’s nine forty-three AM.” And there was a stopwatch. “One minute, ten seconds elapsed.” And an alarm. “Attention please. It’s ten fifteen AM. Please hurry” – followed by a few bars of music. It seemed magical, impossibly small.

I still have it. It’s by my bed, as it has been for thirty years, now grumpily sharing space with my iPhone. It’s seen me through school, college and nearly two decades of work. I never sleep late enough for it to wake me these days; it’s a backup, chiming and talking at 8am, 8.05am, and 8.10am, reliably, reassuringly. Eighties technology in a tens world.

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We could use it for recipes, or something

I’m often asked: “What were computers like when you were young, grandad?” The answer is: big and clunky, even the ones that weren’t big and clunky. The past always looks like that. Apollo got to the moon with little more than a heavily disguised abacus, intravenous nicotine and a mountain of nerds. But at the time, it was the future.

That was forty years ago. Thirty years ago, the future was the home computer. I remember my parents asking what would we use it for? I pointed to the moustachioed twonk in a glossy magazine advert, inexplicably engrossed in a green-on-black low-res bar chart. Finance! I implausibly claimed. Or recipes, or something. I’m not sure they bought either argument, but eventually they bought the computer. Christmas 1980: the Tandy TRS-80.

That means I’ve been coding, on and off, amateurishly and professionally, for fun and profit, for thirty years. I’ve seen more religious wars than the Vatican correspondent of the Jewish Chronicle. I have a list this long of creators of programming languages, libraries and other technological ephemera who I would, gladly and vigorously, throttle.

I started programming with TRS-80 BASIC and a very much mistaken belief that I couldn’t reuse variable names. Multi-dimensional arrays took a while to grasp, before I stopped worrying about real-world metaphors of rows of columns on pages inside folders inside shelves inside filing cabinets inside rooms on floors inside buildings in streets in cities in states in countries in continents on planets in solar systems in galaxies in universes and realised that if I needed an 18-dimensional array then I had bigger problems.

The first “proper program” I remember writing was called Data Draw. It used what might be the world’s least efficient way of encoding a graphic: arrays of ones and zeroes (TRS-80 display: 128×48 pixels, one-bit colour).

My brother wrote a much more interesting Space Invaders variant: it had a single invader, which crawled along the top of the screen while you crawled along the bottom firing lasers (slow-moving pixels) or photon torpedoes (slower-moving pixels) at it. We enhanced it regularly with ever more ingenious and slow-to-render alien designs.

It was a roaring hit. With us.

In those days, magazines like Personal Computer World printed programs contributed by readers. We didn’t submit any of our own masterpieces, but we occasionally typed in ones that looked interesting. They rarely worked – far too many vectors for bug transmission between the mind of the author and our own fingers.

Those we did get working, or bought from the Tandy store in Cheshunt, or borrowed, live strong in the memory. Various Scott Adams text adventures that I’ve written about before, full of plot and ingenuity in no more than about twenty locations. The trading game Taipan! by the excitingly named Art Canfil, with its moneylender Wu and sea battles regularly sending us to Davy Jones’ locker.

And then there was Dancing Demon. This was a genre-defining choreograph-em-up in which you gave a highly green creature a set of dance moves encoded in a long string of characters and watched him twirl and skip and tap along to tinny tunes. Yeah, that was pretty much it. And by the same author, Android Nim: a simple game, but full of character.

The most interesting part: although these games had sound, the TRS-80 had no sound chip. But it saved programs in audio form to standard cassette tape. If you threw correctly shaped bits speedily enough at the tape interface, and gave the user sufficiently detailed instructions on setting up their tape recorder, games could make sounds.

And if you could do that, all it took was a sprinkling of magic hacker dust and you could synthesise speech. And they did: one game we played, Robot Attack, would say phrases like “Game over, player two. Great score, player one.”

Not bad for 16K RAM.

I remember the same kind of astonishment a few years later when I first heard the single-channel audio ZX Spectrum play two-channel music. The game was Zombie Zombie, the isometric 3D follow-up to the isometric 3D Ant Attack. The two-channel effect was achieved by playing short bursts of each note in rapid succession and hoping the brain would fuzz them together. I can still hear the music in my head.

Many of the early TRS-80 games were written in BASIC and it was trivial to see the source code. I learned little coding technique but got a very strong taste for hacking. Even games written in the mysterious and arcane “machine code” weren’t immune. Later I’d progress to disassembly and the hunt for infinite lives and other treats, PEEKing and POKEing my way through my teens almost as if I were a real boy.

In fact I wrote my first machine code program for the TRS-80. It looped through every non-space character on screen – one ASCII-encoded byte per character – decreasing the value by one. Then it repeated, until the screen was entirely spaces. It was a neat clear-screen effect possible in BASIC but too slow even for the paltry 64×16 character resolution – 1K of video RAM.

I learned several lessons writing that first machine code. Not least: save your work before you run it, you idiot. I had no assembler. I wrote on paper, hand-assembled using a Z80 reference guide at the back of a book, and used a BASIC program to POKE the values in sequence from an array. “Error prone” hardly seems to cover it. I eventually got it working. I even got the code to exit properly. I think.

I know I used to be able to recite Z80 opcodes from memory, in hex and in decimal. What a saddo. Er, I mean, real programmer.

The early 80s home computing landscape was the equivalent of turn-of-the-20th-century film-making. Thousands of unpleasantly aromatic amateurs making things up as they went along, trying everything, making the hardware do things its inventors hadn’t thought possible. Audio on a system with no audio. Two-channel sound on a system with only one channel. The BBC Micro had several distinct video modes with different colour depths and pixel resolutions: and Bell and Braben’s classic Elite changed the video mode half-way down the screen.

Thirty years on from the launch of the Sinclair ZX81 on 5 March 1981, we’ve reached the 1930s of film. The talkies have arrived in the form of the internet as a platform for applications and data (some people said the talkies were a short-lived fad, incidentally). Computer games now, like movies then, are becoming a recognised art form – despite much huffing and puffing by those who should know better.

On the desktop, Charlie Chaplin no longer makes his programs single-handed. But the new frontier of mobile and tablet apps still has that back-bedroom feel to it. It still seems possible to make bags of cash developing on your own, at least for a short time. But it’s not a repeat of the early 80s; not another sequel. The difference, the key to success with apps on the new devices, is one simple realisation: it’s not a computer. Numerous geeks and geek-hags groan that their lives depend on unfettered access to a filesystem and the ability to place a thousand and one customisable pointless gizmos on their desktop-equivalents. But real people just want to Do Stuff. Computers are the means, not the ends.

In another thirty years, modulo the usual underwater caveats, the question “what were computers like when you were young?” will likely sound as odd to people’s ears as “what were motors like when you were young?” do to ours. In the early 20th century people could buy motors and add attachments to make them useful: the software to their motor hardware. Then motors became cheap and ubiquitous and disappeared inside the machines.

This transition has now started with computers. Big and clunky; big and clunky, but smaller; invisible.

Now take this Werther’s Original and clear off, I need a nap.



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The main news again

To begin the glorious decade nobody in their cotton-pickin’ mind is calling the unities, I present a brief but cryptic summary of my noughties. Worthless prizes if you understand them all.

  • Employed, redundant, freelance, employed, (employed), employed, redundant, freelance, employed.
  • Sciatica, gallstones, glandular fever.
  • Alpe D’Huez, Courchevel, Co. Kerry, Chamonix, Malta, Verbier, Agde, Les Arcs, (Frankfurt), Rome, (Hong Kong), La Plagne, Las Vegas, Les Arcs, Rimini, Dublin, Andalucia, Gibraltar, Tuscany.
  • Practical Guide to Making Money on the Mobile Internet. Detox Your World, Evie’s Kitchen. Raw Magic. Ecstatic Beings.
  • One, briefly.
  • One, surprisingly.
  • Two.
  • 572.
  • 1,213.
  • 8,182.

Incidentally: it’s twenty-ten, and the tens. Yes it is. Because I say so.


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One cube, one pitch

ITV1 has a new game show. I can tell from the tone of your eyes that this shocks and surprises you. It’s called The Cube and broadcasts to a supine nation on Saturday evenings at 8.30. The premise is simple: a contestant enters a glass cube to perform a task and win some money; repeat, increasing the cash. The show ratchets up the tension by employing a man off-stage able to play only the low notes of a synthesiser, some super slomo, and various other items of visual trickery – including “bullet-time” sequences. Ten years to get from cutting edge SF movies to an ITV1 game show. The host is former cupboard inhabitant and TV’s Mr Smiley Daytime, Phillip Schofield.

I can imagine the pitch: Crystal Maze meets Who Wants to be a Millionaire: tasks minus quirky host plus neon. Complete one task for a grand; work through all seven tasks for £250,000. Between tasks you can take the money and run, but once you start a task you can’t bail out. You have nine lives in total: lose them all and you go home with nothing.

Like the questions in Millionaire, the puzzles start out simple enough. While writing this I’ve seen a lady catch a ball and win a thousand pounds. Earlier I watched a man carry a box – containing a precariously balanced ball – a distance of about six feet to win £10,000. A few moments later he threw another ball through a hole and doubled his winnings.

But it’s not about the puzzles – though they do play a rather obvious part, and aren’t always as easy as I’ve made them sound – it’s about the people and the tension. This is a game show for the Deal or No Deal crowd. The ball-catching lady has just used up eight of her lives trying and eventually succeeding to throw a box into another box for £2000, and for the watching millions she might as well have been tightrope walking across the Atlantic carrying a wet ferret: you get caught up in the moment, despite yourself and your cynical, ivory tower ways.

The £20,000 ball-throwing man next had to step over two barriers blindfolded without dislodging them. The prize: £50,000. Harder than it looks. He lost a couple of lives before our genial host told him he could remove his trousers if he wanted – probably a first for both Schofield and for Saturday night ITV1. The contestant did – nice Y-fronts – and promptly won the cash. Cue bullet-time groin-o-vision and a great deal of whooping, and a trip home with “fifty large” as he called it. The contestant, not Schofield. I can’t imagine Schofield saying anything like that outside of a Going Live Panto, and even that would make Gordon the Gopher shudder.

I suspect ITV1 has a winner here. It’s a format like Millionaire that you can imagine being sold around the world with increasingly greasy hosts. As Millionaire reaches the end of its natural, along with I’m a Celebrity and the newly incarcerated death row inmate Big Brother, producers are scrambling for replacement ideas. I’d be surprised if Channel 4 replaces Big Brother with another long-running daily highlights reality show. But they have a year to think about it: they’re still committed to next year’s run.

I know what show I’d like to see.

In the early 1980s, nestled amongst the likes of Terry and June and That’s Life, was Now Get Out Of That. A simple idea: two teams, solving puzzles on the same course (at different times) against the clock. Outdoors, with both physical and mental puzzles. In the wind and rain. While finding and cooking their own food, and sleeping on the course. All narrated by journalist Bernard Falk.

There don’t seem to be many clips of Now Get Out Of That online, but here’s one. Be warned: old-fashioned telly was slow.

Aside from quickening the pace there’d have to be certain changes to account for today’s tastes, but I’d draw the line at the overly formulaic approach taken by any show involving the high-trousered panto villain Simon Cowell. Each series would have eight teams in a knock-out competition including semi-final and final. Each contest would take place over two days and spit out two shows: so seven contests, fourteen hour-long shows.

Each team would consist of members of the public plus a celebrity leader. The teams would meet for the first time on the day their contest begins and we learn about them as the rest of the team does – as the show progresses. Plenty of scope for human drama there; no cutaways to teary background interviews required or in fact desired.

Each contest would have a plot: not just a sequence of puzzles, but a mission. This mission would not be explained. The contestants would work things out as they went along, and – this is crucial – as the viewers do too. The missions would be different for each contest, and increasingly difficult for later rounds.

The puzzles would be challenging and cunning, and not always what they seem. As in the original, unseen judges would penalise contestants for violations. And an extra twist: kidnapping. If you don’t cover your tracks or you don’t keep watch, you might find yourself short by one or two team members.

One hallmark of the original show was Bernard Falk’s sardonic narration. I’d take it up a notch and narrate it like Come Dine With Me, full of sarcasm. The narrator should say what everyone at home is saying: “No, don’t do that you fool – use the milk bottle!”

There we go. That’s my pitch for fourteen hours of prime-time TV. Look out for the Avaragado Pictures logo on a screen near you on Channel 4 in 2011.


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Lunar rambling

On the phone to dearest mater a week ago, I was blahing endlessly about Apollo 11 in that tedious nobody’s-interested-but-I’m-saying-it-anyway way I have. She said she’d been thinking back to the day of the landing and now remembers that the three-month-old me was unwell at the time. She’s absolutely convinced I was on the settee with her and pater as they watched events at Tranquility Base unfold in the company of Patrick Moore and James Burke and 600 million others.

Take that, kids of today! You might have your youth and your hair and your stupid 80s throwback fashions, but you never saw the first moon landing while wearing a nappy.

The further that milestone recedes into history, the more amazed I become that they succeeded. It’s almost as if Jules Verne’s space cannon in From the Earth to the Moon actually happened. For this anniversary, sites such as http://www.wechoosethemoon.org replayed events from launch to landing with as-live comms recordings, and I fully confess to listening to hours of it. A great deal of it was static and Capcom relaying coordinates to Apollo, but it was nerdily exciting nevertheless.

Naturally I listened throughout the descent and landing. The greatly condensed replays shown on TV don’t convey the drama, instead boiling it all down to the standard soundbites. What struck me was how much time they spent simply trying to keep communications up: moving antennae around, that sort of thing. And the coolness of Armstrong, overriding the system (that tried to land them in a boulder field) and scooting around a couple of hundred feet above the surface hunting for a flat bit, with less than a minute’s fuel remaining.

I just cannot imagine the tension of everyone listening in at the time. So many unknowns. The whole enterprise a teetering tower of risk upon risk.

Space nerd that I am, I’ve also been looking at various transcripts of the mission, with commentaries by knowledgable parties such as the crew. Which led to a surprising discovery: that, as well as the radio transmissions we’ve all heard a million times, there are audio recordings from inside Eagle as Armstrong and Aldrin took her down to the surface. These I hadn’t heard. But, of course, they’re now on the web (albeit only in a stupid streaming format as far as I can see) – see the transcript for details.

Now, 40 years on, we of course have permanently crewed bases on the Moon and Mars and we’re mining the asteroids. How vividly I remember that day in 1988 when Michael Jackson actually moonwalked across the lunar surface.

Ah well. Perhaps in another ten years or so we might actually get out of Earth orbit again. As it happens I strongly suspect the Chinese will reach the moon before the Americans return.

Which leads me to Moon, the new film starring Sam Rockwell as a solitary moon-based employee of a mining company scraping Helium-3 from the lunar regolith. Not exactly the setup you’d expect for a science-fiction thriller, but it works. Without giving anything away, Things Are Not What They Seem.

The film toys with your expectations somewhat. Don’t expect a blockbuster, an effects extravaganza: it’s not that sort of movie. Some people have compared it to 2001, but that’s a lazy and obvious comparison and entirely misplaced.

Much has been made of the retro model effects – no CGI here. There’s a definite dusting of Gerry Anderson over the proceedings, with the gentlest aroma of Michael Bentine. But if you come out of the film moaning about the models (or the odd scientific inaccuracy), you’ve rather missed the point. The lunar setting enables the story to be told.

And it’s an interesting story, original and thought-provoking, and in the tradition of good science fiction all too contemporary in many respects. I liked it a lot.

I don’t expect it’ll be a contender for the next Oscars, but I’d like to think it would get a nod for Original Screenplay. Sam Rockwell deserves something simply for the number of scenes he’s in.

Avaragado’s rating: opal fruits

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Somewhere in Time

I promise not to keep harping on about the age thing. But for me, the best thing about nearly being forty is the queue of people telling me that I don’t look forty.

When I was, I think, 22 – still at college – I was walking home along a drizzly Trumpington Street when I was stopped by someone ostensibly doing market research but in reality trying to butter me up and sell me some timeshare. As a workshy layabout student with nothing but Neighbours and the Neighbours repeat to occupy my afternoon I played along with his inane line of questioning waiting for the inevitable reveal. After some nonsense about what type of holiday I prefer, locations, and other drivel, he asked me how old I was. I answered truthfully.

“Er,” he replied. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure.” A damp pause.

“Well, thanks for your time.”

Ah well, no timeshare for me.

Several years later when I was 28, the usual mob of that era were in a random pub. Toby’s then-ladyfriend was asked to guess people’s ages. For me, she guessed 38. Yeah, thanks love. Whatevs, as I believe the kids say these days.

It seems that my apparent age hovered well above my physical age until I hit my thirties, at which point it started to descend. When they coincided I don’t know, but now everybody seems to tell me I look a lot younger than I am. By everybody I mean about four or five people in the last few months, including Richard at work today. That’s approximately everybody.

I must have grown into my baldness. They can’t all be overdue for eye tests.

The scary part of turning forty is that it seems like ten minutes since I hit thirty. I’m half-expecting to wake up and find myself back in 1999 having dreamed the last ten years, with Bobby Ewing in my shower. It would certainly explain many things, not least George Bush.

But I’ve made some great friends in the last decade so it’d be a shame if they were all imaginary. I suspect some of my friends actually are imaginary, but not all of them. Hmm, if I do wake up tomorrow back in 1999 I’ll try to remember to make Flickr, and YouTube, and Facebook, and Twitter… I’ll fund them from my SCO options while they’re still worth something.

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Five weeks to midnight

When I was a minigeek I was obsessed with stats. This is normal for boys: see Top Trumps, Motty, etc. My mathmo/compsci skillz meant I drew graphs, or wrote programs, or wrote programs that drew graphs, to feed my obsessions. Add some kind of event into the mix (World Cup, General Election, etc) and I was in stats heaven, my silver wings woven from the wavy grey hair of noted fascists Norris and Ross McWhirter.

Thus it came to pass that one bored New Year’s Eve I wrote a program that watched the clock and displayed various tedious time-based percentages, updating every second: how much of the year had elapsed, how much of the day, how much of the hour, how much of the minute. The idea being, of course, that only at midnight that night would all values reach 100% (at which point they’d all be 0% again). This amused me in a way that only a 16-year-old at home on New Year’s Eve writing pointless computer programs will understand.

That program’s currently running in my head, I think. And every now and then – probably when one of the percentages cycles back to zero – an event fires that triggers an introspection process; or more likely it’s a garbage collector. The minutes, hours, days and years appear to be converging on 100% in exactly five weeks, when I turn 40.

I think it’s natural to be a little introspective at this delicate time: to look back, to take stock, and to think about what comes next. All while avoiding the classic mid-life crisis. Rest assured that messrs Harley and Davidson will not be receiving a visit, and neither will I be sporting a trophy girlfriend any time soon. But I wouldn’t be surprised if my navel-gazing does have some kind of effect still fomenting in the deep recesses of my subconscious.

However, there’s introspection and introspection. And I do have a tendency for the latter.

Introspection, analysis paralysis, death by a thousand buts, whatever you want to call it, it’s in my top three least-favoured attributes. (The mere existence of such a list proves that I take self-assessment into realms that HMRC wouldn’t have a form for. Even though, of course, I’ve just made up the list for the purposes of bloggage. However, had I such a list, its existence would, ipso facto bingo bango, ensure its presence on itself. A self-inserting list, if you would. New Year’s Resolution #1: Stop Making New Year’s Resolutions.)

So here I am, introspecting my own introspection. Matryoshka madness. Before long I’ll be busywaiting in my own skull, rocking in a corner of a bouncy white room with a beard and a mad expression on my face, reciting world records ad nauseum to a signed photograph of Roy Castle.


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