The Great Pea Disaster

Two years ago I published a post which garnered a lot of likes and comments, so much so that it is still bubbling around just under my all time top ten. I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks doing some housekeeping on the blog – hopefully invisibly – and when I found it again I realised that many of you won’t have seen it before, so I thought it worth reworking for the more recent audience.

The story was of my becoming famous. Well, I’d been featured in public, which must count for something, I think. Andy Warhol once said that ‘in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.’ I wouldn’t dignify my time in the spotlight as being that long but hey, we can all dream, right?

Some background is needed, to help fill in the gaps. Back in 2016, a guy named Rhodri Marsden asked on Twitter for people to give him stories of family Christmases. Rhodri is an author, journalist and musician – a member of Scritti Politti, no less – and was compiling a book about what made for a traditional British Christmas. My elder daughter, Katy, shared a couple of stories with him and, following his acknowledgement, we heard no more. Until May 2017, that was, when Katy WhatsApped me to say that Rhodri had been in touch and wanted to chat about using one of her stories in his book, as it was a perfect fit. Fame at last!

I thought no more about it until the following Christmas, when the girls gave me a copy of Rhodri’s book (other gifts were available). Here it is, in all its glory:

The book is a lovely mixture of funny and sad stories from contributors such as Katy, bound together by Rhodri’s witty writing. As you can probably guess from his subtitle, he based his themes loosely around the 12 Days of Christmas song. Very loosely, actually, with chapters entitled Eleven Sherries Swigging, Ten Carols Screeching and Five Broken Limbs! which is where I come in.

Nothing broken, in my case, unlike some of the other sad cases in the chapter, but this is me:

I would like to point out that the excitement of winning a whole pound on a lottery scratchcard wasn’t entirely the cause of my sedentary gymnastics: I was ill at the time. It was Christmas, and I was always ill at Christmas, according to our family legend. But no one really wants to know that, do they? Apparently my roll from chair to floor in a semi-comatose state was quite spectacular to behold. And it is now recorded for posterity on the printed page. Am I a star, or what!

We talked about the book for a while, and it brought back many happy memories of Christmases when the girls were little, not all of which were due to my various seasonal illnesses. Katy expressed a little disappointment that Rhodri hadn’t used her other story, though to be fair, after I’d read the book, I couldn’t see where it would have fitted in. Two years on,  he has shown no signs of stretching the material he collected to a second book, and I think it is a pretty good story, so I’m going to share it again with you now.

This one probably dates to when Katy would have been around 10 and Ruth 5. My (now ex-) wife always prepared the table well for Christmas lunch, and as far as we could tell it was childproof. Yeah, right, what did we know? A plastic tablecloth was laid on the table, above which went the usual linen job, all topped off with a paper tablecloth with a Christmas theme. For the kids, naturally. Despite the fact that there were three adults present (my ex-wife, mother-in-law and me) we made the elementary error of leaving the two member Junior Destruction Squad unattended for no more than a minute or two between courses, while we were getting various puddings ready in the kitchen. Suddenly, there was a huge commotion from the dining room, and a shout that none of us was expecting: ‘FIRE!!’

As part of the table display, my wife had set out a large glass bowl, filled with water and adorned with a decorative display of tea lights, and as by now Christmas Day was getting on a bit – lunch was never early – we had also lit some candles to brighten the ambience. From what we could glean from the subsequent discussion, Ruth had been attempting to move a paper napkin to her Nan’s place opposite her own, and had somehow contrived to catch it on one of the candles. Not content with her nascent attempt at pyromania, she then managed to drop the aforementioned napkin onto the table, having missed the bowl of water and tealights. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen flames leaping a foot or so above your dining room table, but it is at once both spectacular and terrifying.

What do you do to put out a fire? You use water, of course, don’t you? Being the nearest to a water source, I grabbed it and launched it at the fire, accompanied by four hysterical female voices screeching advice. The fire was successfully doused, but what I hadn’t heard in my leap into Fireman Sam mode was the warning from my wife that the saucepan of water I was about to use wasn’t exactly as I expected it to be. My brain went something along the lines of ‘fire-water-saucepan containing water- that’ll do.’ Unfortunately my eyes didn’t take in the full picture: the saucepan did indeed contain water but, also, quite a sizeable portion of leftover peas which had been intended for use in the Boxing Day bubble and squeak. Oops!

I’ll admit to feeling very smug and satisfied at the effectiveness of my firefighter act, followed a millisecond later by a realisation that the water I’d used seemed to be very green. The ensuing panic then widened itself to checking that the table hadn’t suffered any lasting damage – it hadn’t – and to using copious amounts of kitchen towel to mop up all the water that Dad had just flung with wild abandon at the dining room table. Having done all that, we then embarked upon the Great Christmas Pea Hunt. Have you ever thrown a saucepan of peas and water at a table? The little green buggers can travel some remarkable distances, I can assure you! It took quite a while, and there was a careful balance to be struck between locating and rescuing the errant veg and not treading them into the carpet – even though it was a green carpet we didn’t want it adorned with uninvited horticultural decorations. They were the wrong shade of green anyway. Eventually we decided that we had rounded them all up, and could now enjoy our pudding, though the occasional outrider was still being spotted several days later. For some reason, my suggestion that we rinse all the peas off so that they could be used in the bubble and squeak didn’t meet with universal approval – in fact, it was the classic equivalent of the Eurovision song contest’s ‘Norvège nul points.’ Well, I thought it was helpful, even if no one else did.

Christmas wasn’t always that eventful in our house. But at least, for once, they all forgot that I was coughing and sneezing all over them. If I’m honest, though, there have been better Boxing Day bubble and squeak meals.

As regular readers will have noticed I’m quite partial to a tune or two decorating my posts, and I wanted to find something suitable for this one. As far as I know there are no songs about garden peas, apart from a few children’s songs. I thought of trying John Lennon’s classic hit Give Peas A Chance, or Big Country’s Peas In Our Time,  but on reflection, this one seems kind of appropriate. It may not be the song with this title that you would expect, though:

Anything to be different but, as the lyrics say, there was definitely something in the fire and in the water!

That Was The Year That Was

Around this time of year we find ourselves looking back at last year’s experiences and looking ahead to how we hope the new year will be. Do we ever really know? As I’m agnostic, with atheist tendencies, I don’t rely on that kind of life guidance, nor do I claim any supernatural powers of my own: I’m not Nostradamus, or even Old Moore (the Almanack guy). So I tend to rely on looking back at what happened to me to inform my way ahead – I’m a great believer in learning from our experiences. In my case, that means learning what NOT to do! I don’t keep a diary, so I tend to rely on my blog posting history to remind me of the past year, and that review is always accompanied by a look back at my blog’s statistics.

Last year was an odd one, in blog terms. I posted 53 times, which is similar to recent years, but not to any regular schedule: there were some gaps in there! Total views increased by over 40% from 2018, but likes and comments only saw small improvements. What am I supposed to make of that? Should I be pleased that so many more people read my posts, or concerned that the levels of ‘approval’ shown by likes and comments didn’t increase in proportion? Or should I ignore the statistics and just carry on regardless? Guess what – regardless continuation is the order of the day. I don’t blog for anything other than as a hobby, so it’s not as though I have commercial sponsors or advertisers to worry about. To be honest, I wouldn’t want that kind of pressure anyway: I suspect I could probably generate a better income from putting my non-existent predictive talents to work on the lottery and the football pools than I could derive from selling my blog (and my soul) for money.

I was actually approached a couple of months ago (via my Contact Me page) by a company wanting to use my blog as a vehicle to promote their product, but as that product was an expensive set of tablets with (in my view) over-generous claims for their general, sexual and mental health benefits, I made the decision to spare you from that, dear reader, and declined their kind offer. I trust that you are duly grateful. But if you are interested in that kind of thing, a quick internet search will furnish you with many companies who would be only too happy to separate you from your cash, with no help from me!

But I digress (as usual). I’m really looking back at what did happen last year with my blog, not at what didn’t. Using the number of likes as my criterion, I was pleased to see that four of my top five posts last year were mental health-related. Despite appearances to the contrary (e.g. all those music posts) the reason why I began doing this was to share my experience of depression in the hope that my small voice might make a tiny difference in the great scheme of things. So, whilst I have at times been indulging my blogging self with the more enjoyable aspects of life, it is heartening to see that people still take notice when I share the message that we need to be supporting those who suffer from a mental illness. Learning the lesson from that, I could make it a New Year Resolution to post more on mental health matters in the coming year. But, as I said yesterday to a fellow blogger, the only New Year’s resolution I ever make is not to make any other resolutions. That leaves me feeling that I achieve something every year! But even without a resolution you can expect more from me on mental health issues.

When I reviewed what you guys had deemed to be my top posts of 2019, it was very pleasing that my annual post for World Mental Health Day was the most liked, by a distance: so much so, in fact, that it is one of just two 2019 posts to feature in the all time top ten. If you haven’t seen it, or want another look, it can be found under the imaginative title of World Mental Health Day 2019 – I worked hard at that!

The second most liked post of last year was one for which I spent a little more time coming up with a title: 2018: They Think It’s All Over. Given that I’m sharing that with you in a post reviewing last year, I’m aware of the slight irony of that being the equivalent post to this one. But, like this one, it is a quick way for newer readers to pick up on what they may have missed before signing up for this drivel – and that one gives you a whole new set of links to follow. Sometimes, my generosity surprises even me!

The rest of my top five posts of 2019 were all mental health posts and, perhaps through no coincidence, they were all reworkings of posts I had originally written in 2016. As I said earlier, that is the primary reason I started blogging, and there is clearly an audience for posts on this theme. Those three posts were:

Time To Worry – An Update

I’m Still Me and

Reprise: My Top Ten Depression Tips

In its original version, the last of those is still my fourth most popular post in the seven years I’ve been doing this: as I said, there is an audience interested in mental health issues and I will never forget that. Even if I do stray off into other areas I will always return at some point.

You may wonder why I go back to those older posts and share them again. The answer to that is simple: I regard the words I wrote previously as being just as valid as they ever were, and the total number of people following my blog has more than doubled since 2016, so I would imagine that those posts were new to many. My apologies if I created a sense of déjà vu with you, but the message is important and, I think, worth reiterating.

Quite a few of my 2019 posts had nothing overtly to do with mental health. I’m thinking here of my December series of music posts – of which there were six – but, as music is regarded as one of the contributors to our mental well-being, there may be an indirect link. On a different theme, one of my favourite posts last year was Missing, Inaction – having just re-read it, even that had a passing nod towards mental health too, though its main theme was our dependence on the internet and the deprivation I felt from an enforced 15 day absence.

I’ll leave you with my own favourite post from last year. It was another of my musical ones but with a difference: its main aim was to show how talented musicians can be found on YouTube amongst all the dross on the site. I deliberately gave the post a slightly ambiguous title and, as you can see from the comments, a couple of people admitted to being drawn in by it. As I said to one of them, it was good to know that my MBA in Marketing (1980!) was still of some value, and who wouldn’t want to find out what Under The Covers was about? That was far from being the most ‘liked’ post, but is probably the one from which I derived most pleasure in writing.

Many thanks for indulging me in this little meander through my last year of blogging. I hope to see you again throughout this year though, unlike many other bloggers, I haven’t planned anything beyond this post. I’ve noticed a growing trend among bloggers to dedicate an annual theme, or a word (or several) for their blog. Having given this much thought, and in view of what I just said about my lack of advanced planning,  I’ve decided that my word for this (and probably any other) year should be: Whatever. It seems to fit me well: what you’ll get is whatever comes into my addled brain. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride – whatever it brings!

(PS New Year = new style: I decided to change the template theme for my blog, as I’d used the pre-festive period theme for several years and fancied a change. WordPress don’t offer one called ‘Whatever,’ as far as I can tell, but I hope you like the new look. It’s like me: simple.)

#NewYearSongOfTheDay 2020

Last year, following hot on the heels of my Christmas songs, I began posting a #NewYearSongOfTheDay on my blog’s Facebook page and on Twitter. It seemed to be well-received, so I thought I’d do the same again this year. And, as last year, it also felt like a good idea to do a post including all the songs I’d shared, for those who haven’t been keeping up – where have you been?!

I began these songs on Boxing Day and continued until today. Including a bonus second song today, that makes eight in total and, as with my #ChristmasSongOfTheDay I’ve tried to vary these, and not rely on obvious selections of previous chart hits. Only three of the eight featured last year, so if you saw last year’s post you will, I hope, be pleased to see the new choices and won’t be too bored! In addition, keeping to my intention to steer clear of the charts, only two of these have been top 40 singles in either the US or the UK (one in each) though they and one other have graced the lower reaches of the charts.

The first selection, on Boxing Day (Dec 26 for those countries who don’t celebrate it), was one of the three also included last year. My view is that the New Year is a time both to reflect on what has been and to look ahead to what is coming. This is one of my favourite ‘reflective’ songs, and has an accompanying video which fits that feeling perfectly. Counting Crows have long been a favourite band of mine too, since their first album way back in 1992. This song is from their second album, Recovering The Satellites: it peaked at no.6 on the US singles chart and no.62 in the UK. It includes what is probably Courtney Cox’s best acting performance ever (even better than when she danced with Bruce Springsteen 😉):

Another long-time favourite band of mine are the Foo Fighters. I ran out of days to include this one last year, so I made up for it this time, on Friday 27th. This is very much a stylised ‘looking ahead’ song, and I love its video. They may be one of the loudest rock bands on the planet but when they go into softer mode I think they really excel. This one reached no.17 in the US Alternative chart (whatever that is!) and crept up to no.42 in the UK: criminally underrated, in my view. If you never thought you’d see a rock band on the Moon, here’s your chance:

I’ve long felt that Gretchen Peters is one of the best singer-songwriters around. She has made some wonderful albums of her own, and is a great live performer, but if her name is known to you it is probably as the writer of songs which have been single hits or album tracks for others: for example, there is Independence Day, a no.1 for both Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood, or songs for the likes of Shania Twain (Dance With The One That Brought You), Trisha Yearwood (On A Bus To St Cloud), Neil Diamond (Talking Optimist Blues) and Faith Hill (The Secret Of Life). She has also written and performed quite a few with Bryan Adams. My song on Saturday 28th was another of hers which is better known as a cover, in this case by the country band Alabama, and it has also been recorded by the country singer, Barbara Mandrell. Gretchen sang harmony vocals on Alabama’s version, which was only ever a B-side and an album track and, as far as I know, she has never recorded the song – New Year’s Eve 1999 – herself. I was going to include the Alabama version when, quite by chance, I came across another one, by a band who were totally unknown to me: Prescott-Brown. Apparently they were a Canadian country band who released two albums, in 1992 and 1994. Their version of the song is on the second of those albums, which made no.10 in the Canadian country albums chart. I much prefer it to the Alabama effort, as Tracey Brown has an amazingly warm voice. I got a ‘like’ on Twitter from Gretchen when I posted this, so I guess she enjoyed it too! I’m rather glad that I found it:

On Sunday 29th I posted a song by a band which holds a very special place in my heart: Great Lake Swimmers, coincidentally another Canadian band. If you want to know why, I’ve posted about them twice before: the second post, which featured in my (now very occasional) series of #SaturdaySongs can be found as no.14. I got a ‘like’ AND a ‘retweet’ from both the band and their record company on Twitter for this one! This isn’t specifically a New Year song, but it is very much in keeping with the spirit of determination and hope which we attach to this time of year, so I thought it fair to include it. To my knowledge – and I have all of their albums – this has only ever appeared on a re-released version of their 2006 EP Hands In Dirty Ground, having not been on the original release. That probably explains why there isn’t a dedicated video for it, but I love the song nonetheless:

Another band of which you probably haven’t heard, but to which I feel a connection, is The Rescues, a US rock band. I was part of the crowdfunding effort which became their 2013 album Blah Blah Love And War, and both the band and band member Kyler England still follow me on Twitter (probably due to inertia more than anything else!). They provided my song for Monday 30th: this is another of those ‘hoping for better’ songs, and the video is hilarious:

Yesterday was, of course, New Year’s Eve, and was one of the days where I shared a song I also included last year. The song which I imagine most people associate with New Year’s Eve is Auld Lang Syne. There are countless versions of this, but none are quite as lovely as the one by Mindy Smith. If you’ve been keeping up with my seasonal music posts you’ll know that I featured Mindy on Christmas Eve – you can find her song here if you missed it. For the video to accompany her version of Auld Lang Syne she asked fans to send her photos of those they loved or had lost, or maybe both. The resulting collage is absolutely wonderful, and is made even better if you watch it on YouTube and see the heartfelt comments from people whose photos were featured. This really does capture the end of year reflective mood so very well:

Mindy sent me a ‘thank you’ tweet for that, which was kind of her.

Today’s first post was one I didn’t feature last year: it is the second of my selections which was a top 40 chart hit, reaching no.10 in the UK and no.53 in the US, though it did get as high as no.2 in the band’s native land. Originally written as a love song to Bono’s wife, this changed into being about the Solidarity movement in Poland: Lech Walesa and all that.  Last year I gave you ABBA, this year it was U2, from the time before Bono became a prat:

As I also did last year, I posted a bonus song for today: the same one, i.e. the third which featured last year too. This is another selection from the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter, who also featured in my Christmas songs collection, on Christmas Day itself: you can find her by following the link in the paragraph above about Mindy Smith. There is a video of MCC performing this song live, in which she explains the background to the song: it is based on a dream about a meeting with a friend, which she noted down and turned into the most beautiful song. I’m giving you the ‘official’ video from her record company, which has slightly clearer audio than the live version. As she says,

‘We dwell on possibility on New Year’s Day’

Another bonus that I shared here last year, but not on Facebook or Twitter, was a reminder of my childhood. One of my earliest childhood memories of New Year’s Day was the televised concert of Strauss family music from Vienna, which my late Mum loved and we watched with her, along with the ski jumping from Garmisch-Partenkirchen which followed it. These were both rare treats in the late 1950s/early 1960s, before wall to wall TV took over. The closing delight of the concert was always the final encore, the Radetzky March, during which the conductor would turn to the audience and conduct their hand-clapping. This has always seemed to me to be the epitome of the joy and hopefulness that the start of a new year can bring, and I think it is suitable way to bring this compilation of New Year music to a close. There are many versions of this on YouTube but I think it is most fitting to share this one from 2016, conducted by Mariss Jansons who, sadly, passed away a month ago, on 1st December. It is a lovely reminder of the spirit which he brought to the music he conducted, and the clear rapport he enjoyed with both the musicians and the audience:

If that isn’t a joyous way to begin a new year, I don’t know what is! As I’m posting this the Vienna concert is playing on my tv, so I’m in my element – I hope your day is equally good!

Happy New Year to you all!