Cleaned myself: 0
Monkey see, monkey do: 0
Believe in God? Obviously not.
Nothing can ever quite prepare you for the shock of seeing yourself in a photograph. You know – actually seeing the way that you present yourself to the world every day. Though I suppose that such of the rest of the world as you meet, have had a chance to get used to it – you’ve arrived at the way you look today by very small increments, which they’ll have hardly noticed.
Even knowing that when you come across the same photograph three years later, and you realise that you didn’t actually look that bad back then, is no comfort. This slack-jawed, puffy-faced, shambling idiot, who’s still promoting himself as someone to be reckoned with; this deluded, overweight, out of touch nobody, is you.
Yes, I’ve had such a moment, recently, in the kitchen with mother. She has grown during lockdown, and though it seems crass to put it all down to a simple uplift in confidence, that is the best way of describing the change. It’s as if everything she’s ever believed in has been shown to be true during the last three months, and now, instead of waiting for the vindication, she just comes out and says it, like the other day when she told her husband that we’d all have been better off if he’d learnt how to milk a cow.
The aspect of the change of which I disapprove, is the adoption of a new house-pant. You’re probably familiar with the style – a step away from ubiquitous leisure-joggers, these are made from lightweight pyjama material, flair massively from the knee, and look like they are going to be far too long and trail along the ground, but somehow don’t. I particularly don’t like the way that you can see the shape of her knickers through them. But all told, you can’t deny that they all go towards a new-old image of mother that we last knew a few decades ago.
Anny hoo, with her new girl-about-town elan, she had me pitch her my ideas for our Pearl & Dean advert. I have three: the first being the original idiot owner-manager who (ironically) over sells his goods; the second, which had been my first idea, until every High Street blue-chip adopted it – the zoom conference, like those hateful children singing to their gran (forgive me if I repeat myself, but child actors? Who thought that was a good idea?). In mine they are all unlikely types, each saying something strangely positive about their prestige car experience; and the third, on a similar theme, taking one of those people, the middle-aged, certain of his convictions type, with flat cap and string-backed driving gloves, who confesses to an interest in ‘motoring’. I borrowed the props if you catch my drift. The underlying theme of the campaign being to destroy the notion of what a prestige car owner looks like. Mother bestowed upon me the highest compliment she has in her lexicon after we’d watched the concluding Zoom parody, where I’d played all the characters, including the ‘motorist’ who later got an advert all to himself, when she said, and I can’t remember her saying anything similar since the heady days of Morecambe and Wise, and the Two Ronnies’ Christmas Specials, ‘that was marvellous, you ad-libbed that all the way through.’ Ad-libbing was a skill that only truly gifted actors possessed, the rest, were drones who merely regurgitated learnt lines. I was like Eric Morecambe, Laurence Olivier and Ken Dodd, all rolled into one.
I’d filmed the parts in the shed, the car, the driveway, Roger’s empty forecourt, and various other quiet crowdless places during the one-piece-of-exercise days, which, in our house, lasted way beyond Cummingsgate, and still makes for the basic structure around which we organise our lives. Mother’s husband believes that the images we see of crowded beaches are stock footage from another time, mother gets it, and says things like, ‘they’ll be lucky if they don’t come back with Ebola.’
I put it together at the kitchen table, and having nothing better to do than master Windows Movie Maker, worked day and night since my last phone call with Roger, so that I could present some coherent alternatives to him when we next met. It didn’t sit with mother’s husband, but she seemed pleased that I was doing something to which I seem suited. Me too, it felt at times like a CV enhancing activity until, checking for tips on YouTube, I realised that the software had been discontinued three years ago, and that new bedroom-guerilla film makers had moved on to something that was flimsier and semi-illusory and only found in the Cloud.
Like mother, I’m a dedicated evangelist for that which is learned first is best and I can’t quite find the energy to learn a new product. The shed extension is sufficiently waterproof to serve as the editing suite, and By Jove, having watched them back, I need to put some hours in yet. The question is, can I summon the same enthusiasm to learn new software in which to make the edits? On the basis that I would then be correcting everything that is shite about the videos, and not creating something new and attention grabbing, I think that we know the answer to that. By the way, is it only me? No it can’t be actually, so I’ll reframe the question. Why is it? Yes, why is it, that when you’ve put your heart and soul into something, made a passable job of it, got in a few jokes, and a nice bit of ordinary but weird sounding dialogue – you know how normal people speak – done all that, checked it a gazillion times, edited it about four hundred times, replayed it to yourself until you’re heartily sick of it, then reached the stage where you’re seeing it with fresh eyes, and start to like it again; why is it, that when you show it to someone else, you suddenly realise how flawed it is, and can see clearly where all the errors lie? Why is that?
It makes me scared that I’m going to do go through the same endless hours of editing, then have a fresh bunch of errors to show to someone new – and then perhaps following that, to edit it down to such an extent that it becomes safe and boring, and loses all the essence of being homemade, and well, an ironic take on irony, as is clear in the current rushes. Perhaps I should just leave all the shittiness in as part of the charm of the thing?
For these reasons, I won’t just send them to Roger, I’ll do it at a meeting, and maybe ask Big Tooth to attend too, so that someone he likes will support the effort. Then perhaps, after a further edit, I’ll contrive a way to send all three final versions to the Finishing House, asking their opinion about which one they think would work best: it’s what I call the back-door showcasing method of applying for jobs. You never know, as much as the disease does not affect young people, and that a round of mass redundancies are about to hit, I might just send it to a place where their workers have been decimated. It does not behove me to speak like that, but as mother is now apt to say, ‘sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.’ – As an aside it further behoves me to note that I may well be in the wrong place right now, since I’ve just received a text from Roger to ask how the organisation of Sevens Tournament is going. It ain’t, is the honest answer.
Frances will not be put on the distribution list, no matter how much I’d prefer that she and I had made the videos together in our bubble.
But should it ever fall into her hands, and with an eye to the edit, I have picked up on, and wholeheartedly endorse, a tip from YouTube that could have been written for me. The elixir, as I call it, is a fat burning drink invented by a professor of sports science, made from: chamomile tea, cider vinegar, sticks of cinnamon and the juice of a fresh lemon. It takes some getting used to, but you should see the good it does to your insides, even if you don’t lose much fat – it’s akin to decoking your boiler, I’ve seen the diagrams. You’re only supposed to have it once a day before going to bed, but to get the base dose up to the right levels, I’m taking it in place of meals three times a day.
*pic courtesy Mohammed Hassan