June 13-15: Chernobyl fall-out, turd wrangling, zombie invasion


Thursday, June 13

Last night we finally Hoovered up the last two episodes of Chernobyl. It was very good, and suitably harrowing, but is it really the best TV show of all time? Put it this way, in fifteen years I will still be watching re-runs of The Sopranos.

Still, the series has undoubtedly had a cultural impact: in the Times today, a report that tourism to Chernobyl is up 40 per cent, while the deserted streets of Pripyat – where most of the nuclear plant workers lived – are now the must-have backdrop for selfies.

Coincidentally, the curse of social media has been blamed as a contributory factor to the mental health epidemic among young people, according to Radio 4 this morning.

Raymond Krebbs and his spouse.

In an effort to spare my ears from rap music, and to get her interested in current affairs, I appear to have successfully weaned G onto the Today programme during the 15 min school run. My come-uppance today is a stern telling off from an informed 14-year-old about my antediluvian views on the subject – ie, that there is a certain degree of mass hysteria involved, and that in my day etc.

To de-stress, I take the dog to Middle Gelt woods and listen to Dan Maier‘s new radio play. Later I write to congratulate him, both on the play and the fact that out of all our year at school we appear to be the only ones who did not become accountants, stockbrokers or lawyers. [author’s note: although see entry below.]

Did we suffer from teenage mental health issues? As I recall, Dan and I spent most of our time putting lyrics to the theme tunes of popular TV shows of the day, so make of that what you will. Thirty-five years on, my favourite remains our adaptation of the Dallas theme:

Dallas, Dallas/ With J R Ewing/ Bobby, Lucy and Pam/ Miss Ellie and Clayton Farlow/ Raymond Krebbs and his spouse.

Happy days.


Friday, June 14

J thinks I should do something with the various completed/semi-completed/rejected manuscripts loitering on my hard drive. She even volunteers to send them off to agents under her name. I can see what my wife is doing, and I suppose in theory she is right – it seems silly to just have them there, gathering…er…bytes? But I still think it will be better to act from a position of strength, ie with a publishing deal under my belt.

Dismal procrastination on my part. Or perhaps I am just scared of further rejection. Either way, a tense early morning discussion ends in stalemate. I retreat to the bathroom and spend five minutes wrangling a recalcitrant turd of Kursk-like proportions around the U-bend with an old toothbrush, which seems symbolic of something, somehow.

Tom Goodman-Hill: owes his successful acting career to me.

A brisk walk in Gelt Woods with Parker. The June deluge has abated today, but the Gelt tears down the ravine, swollen by the sodden fells. Not for nothing is it called “The Mad River”. Listen to The East Coast Listening Post, a Radio 4 series by the Lazy Susan girls. The plots are a bit hit and miss, and sometimes there are too many voices, but they’ve absolutely nailed the smug American podcast style, right down to the commercials, the plinky-plonk Serial music and the editor who sounds like Alex Blumberg.

Postie delivers the latest ONA News, a quarterly update from my alma mater, which is increasingly becoming a thinly-disguised begging letter on behalf of the bursary scheme. Turn to the obituaries. Thankfully the only names I recognise are Max and Tom Hill, who have contributed a piece about their late father. Max was head boy in my day, and fittingly is now Director of Public Prosecutions. Tom was in my year and is now better-known as the actor Tom Goodman-Hill. I once played Wackford Squeers to his Nicholas Nickleby in a junior school production, which is increasingly a claim to fame.

An afternoon spent dealing with Day Job stuff, then 20 miles on the bike in an ongoing effort to shed a few pounds before hols in August. 800 calories burned, apparently, but I suspect there is no defeating the sluggish metabolism of a 51-year-old man.

At 9.30pm a text from Robin, my new next-door neighbour, suggesting a pint. Ends up being four. Home at 11.30pm, 800 calories consumed.


Saturday, June 15

Wide awake at 6.15am. It seems I can no longer sleep in, even at weekends, and despite a bellyful of Wainwright’s bitter the night before. Go downstairs, feed the dog, make the tea, fetch the papers.

J likes the Telegraph, but I can only stomach the review section. However, I note that the paper’s current “Agony Uncle” is Richard Madeley, and wonder what part of his career as a mid-morning TV presenter qualifies him to pass judgement on the sexual hang-ups of Telegraph readers. That said, the Telegraph’s previous “Agony Uncle” was Graeme Norton, so perhaps its readers aren’t too choosy where they get their advice.

To Keswick, to drop G off at a campsite in readiness for her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award outdoor weekend. The road out of the village is blocked by what appears to be a zombie invasion, but on closer examination is the stragglers from a mass-participation endurance event to run the length of Hadrian’s Wall. Most are already shuffling – slowly, painfully – and the bad news is they still have another 50 miles to go. I expect the leaders sprinted through as I was making the morning tea and are already at Vindolanda.

Author, wife, dog: bound for Howtown on the Ullswater steamer

The omens for G are not good: when I picked her up from her practice weekend last month, she promptly burst into tears and said she hated every minute of it. This weekend, rain is forecast in the Lakes. From the back she looks like a huge rucksack on two little legs as she staggers silently and resentfully from the car. It is hard not to feel emotional: at 14 she is, and will always remain, my baby.

A bracing walk along part of the Ullswater Way with J and Parker to clear the head and sweat out the beer. The circuit around the lake is 20 miles – but with zombies still fresh in the memory, we catch the steamer from Glenridding to Howtown and walk back along an undulating, six-mile route in capricious weather conditions. En route, a bench overlooking Ullswater where, 15 years ago, J announced that she was pregnant with G – although I still maintain I had already guessed long before the bombshell was dropped.

In theory a rare night to ourselves should hold all sorts of tantalising possibilities. But after our exertions, and with a combined age of 104, a Tesco curry and an evening in front of the US PGA golf is about all we can manage. On the news, a report from John Myers’ funeral at Carlisle Cathedral today. A suitably grand send-off for a larger-than-life man – but as the Beeb’s Mark McAlindon interviews a mourner on Castle Street, J’s parents are seen to swish past in their Range Rover.




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