THE NEW NORMAL #40 – KICKING THE BUCKET LIST

Right, monotony levels are reaching ridiculous heights now. I’ve done the ceremonial handing over of my Smurf collection to the little one – he was amused for about 48 hours and then declared that he was “over Smurfs”. I held back 39 years’ worth of tears and lovingly placed them all back in the box. Poor Smurfs. I have been through every single physical photograph I own and categorised them (‘Growing up’, ‘University’, ‘Various bands’, ‘Grandparents’ etc.), parted company with all manner of tat that I’ve been hanging on to for years and read through all my teenage lyric books to see if there were any nuggets of inspiration (spoiler alert: nothing much apart from the fact that I was a very angry teenager and was particularly productive at times when a budding romantic relationship ended. I know, shocker). Daily/Weekly excitements have boiled down to the postman coming, recycling being taken away, the phone ringing unexpectedly and recreating much missed ITV Saturday morning show the Chart Show by putting together YouTube playlists.

I can’t get my head in to the world of video calling no matter how much I miss my friends, family or colleagues. It feels like pressing your grubby little urchin face up against the window of a restaurant where you can see the warm glow of good times and even better cheer but you can’t touch, taste, smell or feel any of it so I’d rather scavenge in the bins for now and wait for the doorman to let me in when it’s good and safe to do so. I’ve tuned in to a few live streams of musicians but, with the best will in the world, watching somebody play their heart out in their spare bedroom with daylight streaming in while you’re sat on the sofa with a bowl of tomato soup just isn’t the same as jostling for space with a bunch of pissed up folk in a dark and sweaty basement, is it? We even had a go at a couple of quizzes with friends/family but Cornish Wi-Fi and various levels of technical ability make these generally quite painful experiences.

However, in amongst all of that, we keep getting messages of admiration and encouragement like “I don’t know how you’re doing it”, “How are you coping?” and, my favourite, “Just make some memories with the family”. I particularly like this last one because although it is meant with nothing but love and care, the reality is far less inspirational or heart-warming. Memories we’ve made so far include;

  • Making a scarecrow (inexplicably named ‘Popeye’) who we awoke to find covered in snails the following morning. I mean, if you can’t even scare the snails away then you’ve essentially failed at your job on day one at Scarecrow Academy, haven’t you?
  • Baking ourselves to death with more cake than Bruce Bogtrotter could manage in a particularly glutenous month.
  • Laughing until we cried after my five year-old tricked me in to putting a pillow case over my head repeatedly in a version of peek-a-boo that resulted, on turn 5, in him punching me square in my ‘gentleman’s area’ at 8.00am. I think we’ve raised a gangster. Or a Bond villain.
  • Having evening meals around the table in almost complete silence because we’ve been together as a family for nearly six weeks and nobody has anything new to say anymore.
  • Trying out different accents on Alexa to see what she/it can understand. So far so good but I’m building up to a strong Welsh accent early next week….
  • Having my belly and or back fat wobbled by an excitable five-year-old accompanied by “look mummy, watch it wobble”. It. Charming.

You see, it doesn’t matter how poignant the moment feels or how heavy your heart may be as an adult, kids just want to carry on as normal and if that means throwing stones at a fence, laughing maniacally at a squashed snail (seriously, Bond, your days are numbered) or just playing endless games of Lego Batman on the Xbox then that’s what it has to be. You can’t force special moments out of life, they just need to happen and that’s a hard truth to accept when you’re living on borrowed time.

Nevertheless, thoughts have frequently turned to the time after lockdown when we can emerge blinking into the world and start to create scenarios where special moments are more likely to naturally blossom. This has brought me to the conclusion that I need to make a proper bucket list but one with a two tier system that covers off what I’d like to do in the free world and how I would go about recreating that during lockdown if the cancer doesn’t let me get to the freedom stage. Obviously, like almost every thought, feeling, twist and turn I thought I’d share it with you lot because, well, who else am I going to share it with?

  1. Hot air balloon ride – this was a passing thought when I first decided to write a bucket list but the more I think about it the more I want to do it. I’ve never been able to sleep on planes because of the excitement of seeing the world from up high through a tiny window so the idea of a 360 degree view with the wind in my hair (OK, bald patch) is massively tantalising.

Lockdown version: I’m going to take the washing basket up to the top of the garden and sit in it with a candle and a balloon.

2. First football match – For a while I’ve been saying I wanted to take Jake to his first football match as some kind of rite of passage and I wanted it to be at Home Park (aka the Theatre of Greens), home of the mighty Plymouth Argyle. The trouble is, I am a bit jinxed as every time I’ve seen them play they’ve either lost or drawn so I’ve been waiting  for a game that holds no meaning just so I don’t curse the team. Maybe there will be a pre-season match I can get to and introduce the boy to the world of half-time pasties, creative swearing and generally being among a few thousand football experts.

Lockdown version: basically making him watch me play FIFA on the Xbox for hours on end as Argyle rise to the top of the Premier League. And eating pasties at regular intervals. It’s basically the same, right?

3. Go back to work – this might sound incredibly dull but I’d defy anyone with a mind and a job they even semi enjoy not to want to get back to this part of life. I dream of the day when I can sit in an office space and ask questions like “is anyone else’s internet being really slow today?” and “did you watch [insert TV show of the moment] last night?”. Even better, I’d love to feel that rewarding glow of helping a colleague to solve a problem or make them feel better about a bad situation.

Lockdown version: I’m going to have to teach the kids how to use Excel and give them arduous tasks before then revealing the magic of sorting data and creating pivot tables just to see the mixture of joy and relief on their faces. We can discuss last night’s episode of Peter Rabbit and whisper about who has the dirtiest mug in the kitchen.

4. Sit in a pub garden with my friends – This one has been specifically inspired by lockdown and the lack of social interaction, but this is definitely one of the things I miss the most. Warm sun on my back, cold cider in my hand, hastily ripped open bags of crisps and kids running over from the climbing frame asking “can I get a coke and some chips?”. Throw in some good mates, nowhere to be for the rest of the day and maybe someone setting up for a little gig in the evening. Ruddy bliss.

Lockdown version: sitting on the front step with a can of alcohol-free cider (still can’t stomach alcohol) and trying to strike up conversation with passers by while Jake asks if he can have another bloody biscuit.

5. Big family meal – you know those families that take up an entire corner of the pub and order a three-course meal along with coffee and maybe something a little stronger? That’s my family at it’s best and I love it. This bucket list wouldn’t be complete without getting us all together, last supper style, for a big pubby lunch where we all sit down one side of a long table so that somebody can paint us while we eat (fun fact; my mum has made a voluntary photographic career out of snapping people mid-gobble to the extent that she could easily put together an exhibition to be opened by Ed Milliband with mini bacon sarnies served as canapes).

Lockdown version: Face timing my family while I eat a bowl of instant noodles and taking a photo of the screen.

6. Visit London – I spent ten years living in the big smoke and I don’t really miss the city that much but I do miss certain aspects and I really miss some incredible people I befriended there. I’d want a clear weekend with Jake and the rest of the family to take in all the touristy bits in the day and then catch up with friends in the evening. I want a kebab from City Kebabs in Stoke Newington, I want to have a wonder through Portobello Market and/or Brick Lane and I want to see the wonder in Jake’s eyes as we take in the Science Museum/Natural History Museum/Hamleys.

Lockdown version: Aside from online tours and showing him old photos from when I’ve done these things before, there isn’t much that can replace the real experience. Still, I can do it all with a cockney accent so it will be pretty authentic.

7. Sit outside a French bistro – I’m not sure there are many greater pleasures in life than sitting outside a little bistro in Paris with interesting people to watch, fresh bread in a basket in front of you and cheap wine being served by the carafe. These are the times when the world, my world, stands still like you’re in the eye of a storm and you can just let go. Bliss.

Lockdown version: Again, this is going to have to involve sitting on my front step drinking alcohol and trying really hard to imagine that the Cornish accents of passers by is a rare strand of French. My lockdown bucket list is starting to look an awful lot like I’ve been made unemployed in the late 70s which isn’t a good look on me.

8. Travel somewhere new and foreign – I love a bit of travel, discovering new places and trying new things. Wifey and I had great plans to do so much exploring with and without the kids but now I’d settle for one more chance to put my seat in the upright position, pretend to pay attention to the safety information and take off for somewhere I’ve never been so that we can explore and make memories. Greece maybe. I’ve never been to Greece.

Lockdown version: it’s a toss up between watching lots of travel videos on YouTube or just selecting different dishes to cook each night based on varying cuisines but neither option quite has the zest of a real holiday.

9. Swim in the sea – As a child, I used to live for swimming in the sea in the summer and the days at the beach that surrounded this experience. Nowadays, I live closer to the sea than ever before but rarely get myself under the waves. So, one more time I’d like to taste the salty zing of sea water on my lips and that feeling of freshness that a gentle sea swim brings.

Lockdown version: This one is actually achievable, but I just need the weather to warm up a bit and for someone to keep watch on the shore so that I don’t accidently break social distancing conventions with a jellyfish.

10. Go to a gig – Regular readers will know of my love for music and there is no greater rush in this world (for me) than feeling a tight rhythm section reverberate through your rib cage while the melodies get to work on your ears. If I was being incredibly picky then I’d opt for a band I already love supported by a band that I’ve never heard before who put on a great show. I would also enforce a height restriction so that no tall folk would block my view and if anybody starts having a chat that goes beyond “these guys are great” or “check out the bassist” then they will immediately be ejected from the venue after being forced to buy a round for everyone who is left.

Lockdown version: I guess it’s going to be live streaming some random bedroom gig by popping on one of my live DVDs of Reef, Muse, Incubus or Reuben. The no chatting rule still stands though.

11. Get published – It has always been a pipe dream to see my name on the spine of a book so if I can turn this sorry saga in to the type of book that helps other people through a difficult time then I can die happy. An added bonus will be leaving this for my little boy to show him that, despite all my old photos, I didn’t spend my entire life in pubs or staring in awe at a bunch of dudes with guitars.

Lockdown version: Well, there isn’t enough ink in my printer to make my own version but if push comes to shove I could try to self-publish or write the whole thing out on the walls of my house like a slightly less mental Jack Nicholson in the Shining.

For now, the most immediate item on my bucket list is to have a successful operation on my blasted big toe which is now booked in for Tuesday 5th May. That’s right, for the third time in my life, I’m going to have anaesthetic injected in to my right big toe so that they can rip (sorry, surgically remove) my entire toenail, scrape out the melanoma from beneath it and then bandage me up like a cartoon character with a splinter. I’ll be up on bricks for a few days and hugely twitchy about people going near my feet but then I should have halved the number of known cancers in my body and that’s got to be good for my immune system, right? Immunotherapy then resumes on 15th May with treatment #6 and then I’ll be riding that hot air balloon all the way to Paris to watch Reef play before Plymouth Argyle take on Paris St Germain in the final of the Roland Monger European Cup which will be played out in the field behind a pub with all my mates and family watching. Man, these NHS drugs are gooooood.

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