Introduction

My name is James D. Irwin, and after being alive for over two decades I feel incomplete. I don’t feel as though I really know myself, and I think that’s a major obstacle in my development as a rounded, confident young man.

How can you pretend to know anything about the world if you don’t even know who you are? I mean, who you really are. We get told things like where we come from and how old we are etc, etc, but we don’t really know. We don’t come from wherever we were born; we come from our pasts, our history, and our heritage.

With this in mind I set out to investigate the real James D. Irwin— the enigmatic genetic make up that makes a humanoid, carbon-based life form so much more than the sum of its biological parts.

I will question everything and leave no stone unturned to discover just who the fuck I really am.


How Old Am I?

Although we can only prove that we’re really, really alive by releasing adrenaline or feeling pain, there are also birth certificates which prove we’re alive in a less philosophical and more legal sense.

Mine says that I was born in 1989, which means that I am, in the chronological sense, twenty-one years old.

However, Greg Olear repeatedly insists that I am in fact fifteen years of age. Scientific studies prove that if you hear something enough times you begin to accept it as fact. There are also scientific studies which say the memory is inherently unreliable so I may be making up that study, or simply inventing in my mind numerous instances where Greg exaggerates my youth. The upshot of all this means that it may or may not be true.

Then there are my behavioural traits, which must be taken into account:

I often sit in my pyjamas watching cartoons, eating cereal and watching cartoons like a six year old, yet I also like drinking scotch in quiet pubs like an eighty-five year old.

Finally we come to the theory of age put forth by the controversial philosopher Groucho Marx who believes ‘you’re only as old as the woman you feel.’

Unfortunately I am not currently feeling any women, so there is no data available.

We then add these figures together and divide them by the number of figures for an average.

So, that’s 21, 15, 6, and 85.

The cold hard maths:

21+15+6+85= 127.

There are four figures, so we divide 127 by 4.

Conclusion: I am in fact a little over thirty-one years of age.

Am I a man or a woman?

Initially this would seem to be quite simple: I have slight facial hair and I don’t have breasts. But then I watched a female athletics event with my grandmother and discovered it was perfectly possibly to be a woman without breasts, or despite having a moustache.

My old neighbours, both younger than six, used to ask me why I wore ‘girl shoes’, ‘girl trousers’ and why I had ‘girl hair.’ They make a compelling argument: I wear boots, flared jeans and I have long hair— all quite feminine characteristics.

I also own a lot of scarves, I’m quite thin and I’m no taller than 5’8. It does seem entirely plausible that I was a taller-than-average woman.

However, I do have extremely hairy legs and a penis with all the biological accessories you might expect (scrotum, pubes etc).

Conclusion: In the face of overwhelming biological evidence I can rationally conclude that I am a man; a fairly effeminate, skinny man, but a man nonetheless.

Where do I come from?

Once again we can turn to official documentation for this, documentation that claims I am English.

However, that’s merely a technicality based on the fact that I was dragged into the world in a hospital in Swindon that has since been demolished. For example, the actress Sienna Miller was born in New York and holds an American passport, but is no more American than she is Azerbaijani. It’s family origins that count, the legs you crawled out of— not wherever those legs were at a time. Otherwise babies delivered by water birth could go around telling everyone that they’re mermaids.

My family history can be traced back to Germany, Ireland, the north of England and the West Country.

I have a reasonable claim to being German— I love sausages, potatoes, beer, Claudia Schiffer and the song 99 Red Balloons by Nena. However, Ireland produces a lot of beer, sausages and potatoes, as does England. I also only like the English language version of Nena’s 1984 hit single.

Although I have German blood and I like a lot of what the country has to offer— mostly women who were incredibly attractive twenty years ago— the main Germanic traits I possess can also be attributed to my English and Irish ancestry. In short all I have learnt about myself is that I like beer and pork, like most men from Western civilization. There is nothing in my personality that is uniquely German, and I don’t much care for David Hasselhoff— Knight Rider doesn’t even compare to Magnum P.I.

So I must turn to Ireland and England and study those cultures to see which is closest to the man I think I am/wish to be/seek to become.

My family name is Irish. I know it’s an Irish name because there’s a soda bread company that shares my family name and soda bread is as Irish as being turned away from a job in 19th century New York. There was also a footballer called Dennis Irwin who played for Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland. And sure enough my family tree goes back to the early 1800s where the Irwin family are potato farming in County Mayo, Ireland.

However, I visited a Genealogy institute in Dublin a few years ago and was told that ‘Irwin’ is not an Irish name, and although having Celtic origins, it is closer to the Welsh ‘Owen’ and the Scottish name ‘Irvine.’ Apparently I’m no more Irish than a giant novelty Guinness hat. As with my German ancestry it doesn’t matter how much pork and potato I eat, or how much beer I drink, it doesn’t count for anything.

At some point during the potato famine from 1845-1852 the Scottish or Welsh conmen masquerading as potato farmers and calling themselves the Irwin’s moved across the water to Manchester, England. They probably spent most of that time building roads and doing other things associated with the Irish of that time just to fit in and keep up the whole ‘being Irish’ charade.

Eventually the family settled in the West Country, which is interesting. Firstly, because there was a lot of potato farming in the area and secondly because it’s very, very close to the Welsh border.

So far it’s all fairly inconclusive; I don’t think I’m any closer to discovering my true heritage. Although I think I have discovered something important about my family DNA…

We’ve moved again, this time to Cambridgeshire. We’re very close to a turnip farm, whilst the house itself was originally built for the farm workers who used to live in the area. A quick look at the history of the property shows that the majority of the families who have lived in this property have been farmers— potato farmers.

The Irwin’s cannot escape the ghosts of their potato farming past.

Conclusion: The only heritage I have is the heritage of potato farming. I am essentially descended from Welsh or Scottish con artists who spent centuries pretending to be Irish, presumably for the pure love of farming potatoes; they only left Ireland when the spuds ran out.

What is my purpose?

I’m interpreting this as my purpose in life— not so much in the sense as why I’m here on this, the third rock from the Sun, drifting in an ape descended civilization that tries to find meaning and purpose from concepts ranging from religion to spider solitaire— more in the sense of which social mechanism I am a cog in. Am I a big cog? Is my cog used often? Will I be a cog that fails to function in old age?

In other words: what profession do I fit into?

Like Randy Bachman I am self-employed, working at nothing all day aside from occasionally attending to business that needs takin’ care of.

Or to put in another way, I’m unemployed.

I prefer ‘between jobs.’

I have done work, but failed to achieve professionalism in most fields. For example my work here and in other publications has never earned me anything but kind words, good will and a paragraph on my C.V. I am not a writer, writing is not my profession— it’s merely a hobby I have like stamp collecting or masturbation.

I used to help out at my mum’s old hardware shop, but only manning the till in times of necessity. My duties earned little more than insincere praise and maybe a biscuit from the back if I was lucky. I also did work experience at a hotel, but as it was work experience it was unpaid. I also walked out after a few days because the manager was a bastard— the hotel would later be featured on TV’s ‘Hotels From Hell.’

However, I did work experience at an estate agency and I got paid for that. It was my job to file new properties and ‘un-file’ old ones. I was pretty good at it, so I was rewarded with a ten pound note.

The only thing I have ever been paid for is stand up comedy.

I haven’t done it in a while, but science clearly says I’m an out of work comedian with a sideline working in real estate.


General Conclusions

I wanted to find out who I really was in as I found myself both directionless and at a crossroads. I felt that I could only truly evolve into my true self by knowing who that was.

And it’s been a huge help. The biggest surprise for me was discovering that I was already a professional comedian. I haven’t performed for years, and thought I never would again. Before I undertook this research I’d been thinking about making ‘a comeback’ and with the benefit of this knowledge I can proceed with confidence.

And a lot of comedy comes from identity, and now I can shape my ‘comedic persona’ by drawing on my true self— a thirty-one year old Welsh potato farmer with a taste for trashy ‘80s Europop.

Before this research I only felt like half a man— half directionless young man, half genealogical enigma. In unlocking that enigma I have unlocked the other half of myself; I have unleashed the ‘real me.’

Now, who wants some mashed potato and a joke?

TAGS: , , , , , ,

James D. Irwin is a British writer based in the Hampshire countryside. His work has appeared online, in print, and on stage. He can be contacted at [email protected]

88 responses to “A Scientific Study into the Philosophical Question of Identity, or: Who the Fuck am I?”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    I would also suggest that the football clubs you support would give valuable guidance as to who you truly are. When I started following West Ham, my friend told me, “of course you do- they’re a bunch of perennial losers with an angry, blue-collar fan base that are as passionate about bitching as they are about their love for the club.” This, of course, because I’m from Boston.

    Also, as you know, I support Celtic in the SPL. No brainer here- both sides of my family are Irish, and I have gangs of cousins and such who are still there.

    So what do your teams say about you?

    Also, not to beat the music thing into the ground, but I would also be interested in what your musical and literary tastes say about you.

    • That’s a good point about sports teams. I like West Ham, although they’re one of many teams that are supposed to be rivals with my team, Spurs. The only EPL game I’ve seen live was West ham v Spurs at White Hart Lane. I was quite ill, and we lost 3-1. But our goal was fantastic and I stopped vomitting.

      When I was younger I kept flipping between Celtic and Glasgow, depending on who their best players were at the time. Now I’ve gone with Hibs, because they’re like the Celtic of Edinburgh i.e. they’re the Irish ones. I like Edinburgh more than Glasgow, and I’m thinking about living there one day. It’s a lovely place. And it has the comedy festival, which I’d love to do in the future.

      I support the Patriots, representing my awesomeness. I also support Spurs and Swindon Town— massive underacheivers. That’s pretty accurate to be fair. Although they’re both getting more successful…

      You make a good point about music and literature though. My reading says a lot about who I am, I think. A lot of stuff about other countries, and journeys. And in the case of Douglas Adams other planets…

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I never mentioned music.

      I’m not sure how deep musical taste can delve into your identity. Musical taste is defined by the same things that define you and whilst it does undoubtedly say a lot about you it’s fairly basic stuff you probably already know.

      Having said that I’ve not looked at it too deeply.

      I really hope there’s a good, deep reason for my appreciation of Bon Jovi.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    I tried to read this at least five times and got ERROR 404!
    I hate that ERROR 404 sign.
    I probably wouldn’t if I had the slightest idea what it meant,
    or what ERROR 403 was, or 405!
    Glad you pushed through the ether there, James!
    Whoever you are or were or will be.

    • haha, I tried posting it five times and got the Error 404!

      I’ve been struggling for a few days to write something and then this was written today in about an hour. It took an hour to revise and whatnot, but it was one of the quickest posts I’ve written for TNB.

      And then it took four hours to get it to post!

      I can’t thank Greg enough for saving this from the unchartered reaches of cyber space.

      • Irene Zion says:

        James,
        The Powers That Be require that time is spent on posts.
        If you write one quickly, you must spend at least four hours getting it to post.
        It’s a law of nature.

        (@Greg is a computer brainiac. We are all lucky he’s on our side. Think of the havoc that could ensue if he turned to the dark side!)

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It happened before, the last time I wrote a post quickly.

          The posts that I spend a few days on go up fine.

          Dam the gods!

          I think if Greg ever turned to the dark side Brad could take away his administrive postition. Then again if Greg was an evil genius he would have planned for that…

        • Irene Zion says:

          Yup.
          You’re catching on to the danger, James.
          Brad is too sweet to fight the dark side.
          @Greg is pretty stable, though.
          I don’t think he’d switch teams.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          That’s what they said about Luke Skywalker.

          But I can’t see Greg switching. He’s like Obi Wan Kenobi, if Obi Wan Kenobi wrote cool novels…

  3. Gloria says:

    “…babies delivered by water birth could go around telling everyone that they’re mermaids.” ha ha ha

    I couldn’t trace my family heritage if I want to. I like to make a joke that there’s been so much indiscriminate sex in my family that my family tree goes straight up – and it’s all women. But the only reason that it’s a joke is ’cause it’s funny, not because it’s untrue.

    Your tracing of your own heritage was dizzying.

    I love mashed potatoes. No bangers, though, please?

  4. Matt says:

    I know it’s an Irish name because there’s a soda bread company that shares my family name and soda bread is as Irish as being turned away from a job in 19th century New York.

    You, sir, are a brave, brave man to crack that joke, whatever your ancestry.

    At least you know for certain who your biological parents are; how do you think I feel when it comes to figuring out this stuff?

    And you’re not unemployed, you’re “a gentleman of leisure.”

  5. Lenore Zion says:

    i’m not sure you defined who exactly you are in this exploration of Irwin, but i’m very happy you cleared up what the biological accessories of a penis might be.

    by the way, in my experience, shit only gets more confusing and you get crazier and make stupider decisions. also, you find out you’re allergic to half the shit you like. but maybe things are better later. i’ll keep you updated.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I never said I was a good scientist, or even a qualified one! And at least I got my biology right.

      I look forward to the updates. I hope you don’t get allergic to spider solitaire.

  6. tammyallen says:

    I’m quite surprised the word VODKA hasn’t arrived in this lineage you profess. UM..POTATOS!!! or POTATOES as Bush and Quayle would say. Your toes are clearly English at least in your style of prose.

    As for scientific studies: there is psychological and physiological evidence of arrested development. Unfortunately the one with the condition can be incredibly intelligent and capable of writing like you do. It is unfortunate because social development is society’s matrix for maturity. Incorrect. At least in my opinion but society is a mass element that consumes our perception on purpose.

    You are an exception. That little tiny period doesn’t convey the magnitude of my statement. YOU ARE AN EXCEPTION. Rare and special. I’m not trying to get into your pants Irwin. Although if I were a hundred years younger I would. I will cherish every word you write and I believe you can be a card carrying member of “THE CLASSICS;” more so than anyone I’ve read on this site.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Vodka?! Lord, I hate vodka. I have a Russian obsessed friend who keeps drinking it. I don’t see the appeal myself. Prefer a good scotch, and potatoes are best as a solid food form.

      My almost complete lack of scientific understanding means I don’t fully understand what you’re saying here, but I’m going to try because it sounds very interesting. The last sentence of the paragraph is a help because it reminds me of all sorts of social science stuff I learnt…

      Those last few sentences are among the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, thank you.

  7. tammyallen says:

    Watcha go to say to that y’all

  8. Zara Potts says:

    I’m not sure that I have any better handle on you now, Jim, than I did before I read this. Besides, I like to think of you as some kind of slightly louche, Cambridge-going, Evelyn Waugh character who may or may not have a teddy bear called Aloysius.

    I really liked this piece – I like how you rummaged around your history and applied it so uniquely to yourself. Very nicely done.

    And I don’t think you truly get a good sense of yourself until well into your thirties (at least I didn’t) so until then -the best thing you can do is experience everything life has to offer and figure out what it all means later.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      That’s often how I’d like to think of myself. English identity in general is something even more confusing and muddled up that I’m probably going to write something on in the future.

      As with so much I write here this was largely humour dressed up as a serious piece. I have a far better sense of who I am now than I did a few years ago, although I fully expect to feel different in nine years. I’m not much one for meaning, and more experiencing life— as many a facebook photo will testify.

  9. I’ll sit and share jokes and potatoes with you any time, Irwin.

  10. Brave man, James. I’ve tried writing this sort of thing before. It’s not easy.

    But I can’t help noticing that under your physical characteristics you’ve implied that women aren’t capable of growing pubic hair… You’re clearly more a philosopher than a biologist.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      So far I’ve heard ‘brave’ and in an e-mail someone described it as ‘clever.’

      Weird. I was going for ‘a bit silly.’

      I only stated pubic hair was an accessory of the penis, not that it was exclusive to males. I didn’t want anyone to think that my genitals were basically a pale are of flesh with a bare sausage dangling in the middle…

      • Genitals aside, it would be interesting if everyone on the site wrote a post like this.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’ve always said the world would be a better and more interesting place if everyone copied what I did.

          I should turn this into one of those annoying Facebook applications— ~~*~FiNd OuT Ur tRu age;-)~*~~ or something to that effect.

  11. D.R. Haney says:

    I would prefer fries and a riddle, thank you very much.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      this isn’t Arby’s god dammit! This is a respectable— and fairly quaint— little cafe!

      Riddles are for Frenchmen, scoundrels and communists!

  12. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Me, me, me! I want mashed potatoes and a joke! Ah, it’s always a good day when I see a new Irwin piece on here. Hilarious as always.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Thanks Cynthia!

      a serving of mash and a joke (the mash, sadly, is metaphorical and a little lumpy):

      I saw a great bungalow a few days ago, it was almost perfect and I would have bought it— if it hadn’t been for the one flaw.

  13. Mindy Macready says:

    I will have some mashed potatoes with you , I like homemade never from the box.
    I actually like to use a Pastry Blender you can really bear down and its like punching your fist
    into the soft patotoes and I think the clean up is easier with it as well.

    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31A569CYFQL.jpg

    as for jokes, I make up silly ones all the time and they are really bad.

    Mr. Potatoe Head says to Mrs. Potatoe Head “I want our next child to be transgendered”

    Mrs. Patotoe Head “Dear , that can be arranged”

    I’m Hit-girl

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Is that like, a knuckle duster for vegetables?!

      I’m very particular about the masher I like to use. It has to be round and flat like a snow shoe. I’m quite good at mashing potato.

      I love that joke. I’m a huge fan of both silly and bad jokes.

  14. Richard Cox says:

    Hahaha. This is hilarious. I especially love the joke about finding work in 19th century New York and the water births. Awesome.

    Also, I feel a little better about myself than I did before reading this, because I realize in one small way my musical tastes are cooler than yours. Everyone knows the only proper version of Nena’s 1984 hit song is the German one. Come on!

    But in the end I have to once again pay my respects to your talent, and I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion that you are simply a professional comedian. That you may be, but your first calling in my opinion is writing. You are a talented writer. The only thing separating you from being paid as so is a bit of dues-paying and your belief that you are, in fact, a writer.

    By the way, I was cleaning out a closet yesterday and ran across some hand- and typewritten works of “art” I wrote when I was the same age as you. Irwin, it wasn’t pretty. I should send you something. I’m sure you could mine it for comedy.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Thanks Rich. I was quite pleased with those jokes, although Matt has scared me with his comment on the Irish one.

      I’m listening to 99 Red Balloons right now. Seriously. It puts me in a good mood, although it’s about a nuclear holocaust. Most people have a cooler taste in music than I do, as my favourite bands are almost exclusively early ’70s blues-rock bands.

      Your very kind to say those things Rich. Of course the entire piece is a less than serious study of my genealogy. The bit at the end about me being a comedian is only a half joke. Obviously I’m not a professional comedian, but I want to give it another crack. I feel compelled to, as my writing as gone in that direction. I feel much more comfortable writing comedy, and one of my proudest moments was when a tutor last year told me I ‘had a talent for comedy.’ The guy collaborated with Douglas Adams and Monty Python, so it had a bit of weight to it.

      My novel is a comedy, pretty much, with some dubious science thrown in. But right now I’m working on stuff like this to do on stage.

      I think I have the distinct advantage, as a 21 year old in the 21st century, of being able to post work online, get feedback and spend time online in the company of accomplished writers like yourself and the other contributors here. In fact TNB improved my writing immeasurably.

      I don’t think I could make fun of someone elses tentative efforts at writing. Not unless it was really, really bad. And at least you had a typewriter. Typewriters are cool.

      • Richard Cox says:

        That’s true about having a forum for feedback. But in a place like this, you need to achieve a certain level of talent before you’re even admitted. I’m sure you interact with other writers besides at TNB, though, which is something I missed for many years.

        The first time I EVER interacted with other writers who seriously were attempting to publish fiction was on the AOL Writers Club in maybe 1995. Us unpublished writers sat at the back of the bus, posting short stories in the “Library,” plain text files for review by our peers. Reviews were published on the bulletin board, and at the end of each month there was a vote for “Story of the month.” There was also a list of “Most downloaded” stories. I printed every one of my reviews and also made note that my stories were always among the most downloaded. I used to count them. But to be honest, posting there did nothing for my writing ability. All it did was boost my confidence and make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. But I needed that because I felt so alone in my quest to sell a novel, or anything. In fact, even now, when I’m feeling down about my work, I pull out those printed reviews and stroke my ego with them.

        I don’t want to revisit an old argument here, but I’ll just make the one comment that you don’t necessarily need harsh critique of your work to improve it. Honestly I believe the only person who can improve your own writing is you. People telling you to do this or that is all great, but if you can find it on your own, I don’t know how you can honestly expect to get better. Not that earning an MFA or joining a fellowship aren’t beneficial–they can provide the collaborative environment we share here at TNB–but in the end, objectivity and motivation mean more to your ultimate success, at least in my opinion.

        Sorry for going on so much about my own experience. You’re right…you’re fortunate to enjoy this type of writing environment. You can even share experiences with fellow stand-up comics. See: Slade Ham, John Singleton, etc. Now if you can just get Zara to fly to England and film you swearing…

        • Becky Palapala says:

          It may or may not improve your writing, but it will sure as shit prepare you to be a writer.

          Of course, part of the writerly talent/skill is the ability to sift through and past and beyond unnecessarily harsh criticism to whatever truth lies in it and decide whether or not you care to heed it.

          That’s a part of the skill whether the criticism is harsh or not. It might just be inept. Or poorly articulated.

          Disregarding criticism just because it’s harsh is no more advisable than assuming you’re done improving just because everyone seems to like you.

          I spent a long time at an online poetry workshop that sounds similar to your AOL experience. I got real nuts-and-bolts suggestions, real praise, fake praise, undeserved beratings, deserved beratings…(Squiggly red line says “beratings” is not a word. F U red line.)

          But I think you have to endure all of them, if nothing else, in order to understand the differences between them.

          What’s that about an old argument? I can let nothing go. Nothing at all. I’m just a vulture circling, waiting for someone, anyone, to drop something worth picking at. SKRAAAW! SKRAAAAWW!

        • Gloria says:

          Irwin totally already has a swearing video. He emailed it to me, didn’t warn me that it was riddled with cursing, and I watched it with the boys right next to me. Of course, Irwin’s accent is so ridiculously thick that they could only make out the word Fuck – all 100 times it was said. Tolkien even giggled and repeated “Fucking flamethrowers!”

          🙂

        • Gloria says:

          @Becky – “Disregarding criticism just because it’s harsh is no more advisable than assuming you’re done improving just because everyone seems to like you.”

          Similarly, I’d like to add that you shouldn’t assume that you’ve become the worst you can be just because no one likes you. There’s always room to be an even greater asshole.

        • Richard Cox says:

          “Disregarding criticism just because it’s harsh is no more advisable than assuming you’re done improving just because everyone seems to like you.”

          Don’t disagree with this at all. Harsh criticism can do a world of good if you’re able to look past your fragile writer’s ego and find the gold in it. But harsh criticism is just one kind of valuable opinions about your work, all of which can be useful in some degree.

          In fact the most difficult thing for me to learn to do was find something useful from the critique of someone who doesn’t read often. At first I assumed a person like that had nothing to say, but then I realized that occasional or infrequent readers will always comprise a portion of your audience, and their impressions of your work matter, too. You can find a nugget of gold in almost any critique if you really look.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Rich— Until I started at university I didn’t really interact with any writers in a meaningful way. I knew David Wills who was one of the first people to publish something I wrote. And at university, as big headed as it sounds, I’m older and more experienced than most of the other students and a few ask for me to help them. Which I do, of course, because of the environment at TNB.

          I do think though that I started writing very young, and had been taking writing seriously for a few years as a teenager before I came to TNB.

          I tend to believe that experience and time are just as, if not more, helpful than criticism. Although an environment like TNB is invaluable and in my more sentimental moments I thank the gods that I found my way here. It’s help comes in many form from the praise that builds confidence and thus confident writing. Constructive praise is also as useful as criticism— I’ve tended to focus on what people have highlighted in my work and built on that. Reading other writers obviously helps an awful lot, and then with a lot of help from Brad and Gloria I improved technical stuff like grammar.

          Without TNB I’d still be writing stuff that’s kind of funny but sounds like a kid wrote it.

          Becky— I don’t really believe in giving harsh criticism. It’s counter-productive because it totally knocks confidence and it’s rarely neccessary. Praise the good points and suggest ways to tighten things up.

          But ultimately ‘practice makes perfect.’ Unless you’re really, really, truly awful you will improve by your own instincts, I think.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Gloria— I don’t have kids and as such forget other people do. Also it never occured to me that you’d watch it with little people.

          ‘Fucking flamethrowers!’ is an awesome and invaluable phrase to know. I want it on a t-shirt with a picture of a flamethrower.

          Rich— I think TNB comments are a pretty valuable tool. It’s kind of like criticism/feedback. You can learn a lot about what worked and what didn’t. For example in this piece I’ve learnt from the comments that a couple of jokes really worked, although the humour of the piece probably didn’t come through enough. i.e. learning from what people don’t say.

  15. Well done for retaining the S on the end of “maths”, unlike that execrable fauxmo Gok Wan. He’s like a Viz character who’s conned his way into feeling norks for a living. Hello readers! Phwoar, look at the charlies on that etc.

    Do you have stamp collecting and masturbation on your CV? That’ll make you appear to be a well-rounded character. A polymath!

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Haha! That almost caused me to spit my tea in laughter. I can’t write ‘math’ without feeling dirty. I have nothing against americanisms etc, but I’d feel like a bit of a nob saying it. A faker.

      I don’t have either of those on my CV. I had a stamp collection when I was about 8, but I just bought someone’s old collection in a boot sale and never added to it. And as for masturbation, it kind of straddles the border between hobby and compulsion…

  16. Ben Loory says:

    the only thing better than being between jobs is being fantastically rich. and actually, if you’re fantastically rich, then you never know who you can trust. so enjoy it! is all i can say. i mean i could say more but it would probably be about hamsters and goblins and other unrelated topics. in the meantime, i always knew you were a comedian and i’m glad you finally woke up to it. love, ben

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I like to think I’d be a cool rich person. I wouldn’t be flashy, and pretty generous. Essentially I just want to be rich enough to live in relative comfort and do what I love. If I have enough millions left over to cure cancer or whatever then great…

      I think I technically re-awoke to being a comedian. It wasn’t even that really, it just took me about eighteen months to work out a way of doing comedy I’m comfortable doing, and have the ability to do it i.e. more a one man show than straight up joke telling.

      Always happy to hear about hamsters and goblins.

  17. James, I can only think that if you have the same spot in your heart for Nena and her luftballoons, if that nagging baseline did indeed drag you through a long, smitten-with-an-unattainable-girl summer as it did me, than it is all the proof needed that we are decidedly male. I’ll leave enjoying scotch in quiet bars as the Maginot line of the depths of that masculinity.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Tragically the main reason I like the English version of 99 Red Balloons is because Nena’s accent is adorable. Kind of like Stevie Nicks singing Gold Dust Woman. They’re voices I want to hug and take on a picnic or something.

      The sexual undertone to this is the only thing that stops it being totally gay.

  18. Becky Palapala says:

    The mermaid thing made me laugh out loud.

    I, too, am descended from fraudulent Irishmen. Mine were, a mere 1100 or so years ago, Norsemen. NORSE. Geeez.

    But, I have officially decided that 1000 years in Ireland is long enough to reasonably suspect that there was considerable intermingling with local Celtic populations, even if my maiden name is Scandinavian in origin. Therefore, along with an impossible 98% of the other white Americans, I insist that I am Irish. At least in part.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Glad the mermaid joke worked, thanks.

      We all know how those Norse fuckers got around.

      Everyone is Irish, everyone is descended from Genghis Khan… at some point it just becomes to mixed up to really define clearly.

      I am part Irish though, genuinely. My great-grandfather was Irish.

  19. Judy Prince says:

    HAHA—-your true self, a 31-year old Welsh potato farmer! That’s lovely, Irwin.

    And I join those who enjoyed this, which makes some kind of absurd sense: “It’s family origins that count, the legs you crawled out of— not wherever those legs were at a time. Otherwise babies delivered by water birth could go around telling everyone that they’re mermaids.”

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I had no idea how this was going to turn out, I just wanted to be able to claim something ludicrous. In the end I didn’t have to make anything up, or manipulate anything. It ended up much more based in fact that I intended.

      I’m quite pleased with how pseudo-scientific it stayed…

      • Judy Prince says:

        Irwin, as I read your serious tone throughout the post, your searchings and their innocent honest HILARIOUS revelations, I kept noting that you were seeking to establish your bearings, your future course, and how you’d achieve those aims.

        It recalled to me my teens and twenties when I’d from time to time list what my goals were and what I needed to do to reach them. Sometimes I’d call the lists “Judy Improvement Plan” and I took them very seriously.

        Years later, one of my dearest friends said she never made lists or even brief notes about what she intended to accomplish. I thought everyone did it!

        Now I wish I could reread those lists.

        How wonderful that your search is here and folks’ comments can deepen your understanding of what you want and how you want to get it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          yeah, there was a lot of seriousness in this. Essentially it’s supposed to be a humorous take on social science or something, but it wouldn’t work without a nice thick cut of truth.

          I’m always trying to figure out who I am and what I should be doing etc etc. I think it’s normal really. It’s not a lack of self-belief or confidence thing because I have potato trucks full of it.

          And I actually feel now (not because of this) that I have a better sense of who I am and where I’m going than I’ve ever had.

          Although I’ll probably look back on this in a few years and feel very embarassed.

          Something weird happened this morning though. My grand-uncle in Edinburgh wrote a letter. His son lives in Ely which is down the road, and his daughter lives about ten minutes from our new house…

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irwin, I wonder why your grand-uncle’s children don’t live in Edinburgh, and why they’ve come to live in and near Ely. Strange, that. Unless it’s an Erwin enclave in England.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Oops, Irwin; I wrote Erwin, prolly bcuz of the initial-E’ed other words (Ely and Edinburgh).

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It’s a mystery to me. I’d rather be up there than this particular patch of England.

          I’ve heard worse spellings of my name than Erwin, which is easy enough to make with ot without an ‘E’ dominated sentence. Urvin, I think, is the most inaccurate anyone as ever been.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I’m pretty eager to visit Edinburgh, too. It’s said to be beautiful. I thought Glasgow was terrific, want to go back and do the “tourist” sites we didn’t get to last time.

          The most somebody has gotten Prince wrong is to spell it “Price”.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I haven’t been to Edinburg in a very, very long time. In fact I don’t think I’d even hit double figures. I remember needing medicine and it tasted like sweet milk.

          It was voted the best place to live in the UK on a TV show a year or so ago. It knocked Winchester down into second place, and I want to see what they’ve got that’s so much better!

        • Judy Prince says:

          That’s interesting, Irwin; I don’t know a thing about Winchester or even what part of England it is in.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Winchester is almost at the opposite end of the country to Edinburgh, in Hampshire.

          It’s very close to Southampton and Portsmouth, but closer in land. It’s also next to the New Forest. It has city status because it has a cathedral and a university, but really it’s about the size of a substantial town…

          It was also an old Roman capital, and my favourite pasty shop has an upstairs seating area with some of the original bits of William the Conqueror’s castle in there…

        • Judy Prince says:

          Ah, yes, I ended up near Portsmouth from Wilton (Wilts), having gotten utterly lost trying to get back to Salisbury. It was at night, so I didn’t see much (and was keen to get back to Salisbury).

          I’d like to see Winchester extant bits of the Roman occupation and Wm the Conqueror—-and doubtless Rodent would love the pasty shop! Steak and ale pie pleases me more bcuz the crust is usually a puff pastry, whereas pasty crust is usually thick and tough. Typically, Brits do fantastic pastries, flapjacks and pies—-and Yorkshire puddings.

          I still haven’t experienced fish and chips!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          You wouldn’t have seen much in the day time! Portsmouth isn’t that nice a place, apparently.

          We have a fantastic statue of King Alfred (uniter of the Britons!) in town, near a pub called Alfie’s, which has a lovely courtyard beer garden and lovely bar staff. One weekend I went on the saturday and sunday and spent ages talking to one of the barmaids, she was very pretty, and, more importantly, laughed at all my jokes. I’ve not seen her since, and I go to the pub alot. I’m beginning to think it was a drunken hallucination. Anyway…

          We have two pasty shops right next to each other. Both are good, but the one on the left is slightly cheaper and the staff are more friendly. I prefer steak and ale pie pastry, it tends to be slightly stodgy on the inside (in a good pie). The Bishop on the Bridge (a pub by the river) does excellent pies. Huge things, proper chuncks of steak and lots of, oh yes, potato!

          You haven’t experienced fish and chips? You must do it properly. It has to be by the seaside, it has to wet and drizzly so the the heat from the hot chips warms your face as you huddle under cover for shelter.

          I spent most of my life living in Bexhill and Hastings, both seaside towns. I love the coast.

  20. Judy Prince says:

    Irwin, you’ve mentioned two things I adore: pubs and seaside living!

    Here in Darlington we’re not super far from the coast, but it’s still a bit of a drive or train ride. Rodent’s fond of saying that nowhere in the UK is far from a coast. And he’s right. But he is uneasy about actually living on the coast, as he thinks the ocean will encroach. I guess my having lived all of my life near huge bodies of water (Lake Michigan and the Atlantic Ocean), I just adore it, though have a proper respect for the frightening overflowing times.

    I’ve duly noted your mentions of foodie places and their cuisines for when we travel around.

    Oh, to be back at Babbity Bowster (Scottish for baby’s pillow-bolster) pub in Glasgow!!!! Clootie dumpling!!!

    What’re the wonderfullest seaside towns in which to live? Maybe Rodent and I could rent a teensy place there.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      It doesn’t get much better than pubs and seaside living…

      I think there’s nowhere in Britain further than 72 miles from the sea.

      I haven’t been to any seaside places up North, but Blackpool is quite a famous seaside town. Down at this end we have Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton. Brighton is referred to as London-on-Sea because it’s a big city seaside town. Eastbourne and Hastings are smaller, shittier versions. Brighton is the classic British seaside town.

      • Judy Prince says:

        I think I’d like the smaller but not shittier versions of Brighton, Irwin.

        Here’s a link to Stephen Moss’s recent Guardian article on Blackpool: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/aug/27/blackpool

        And here’s my TNB interview with Stephen Moss re his candidacy for Oxford Professor of Poetry: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/jprince/2010/05/interview-stephen-moss-candidate-for-oxford-universitys-professor-of-poetry/

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Most seaside towns are typically ‘faded’ as foreign travel has led to a decline in popularity.

          I want to go to Blackpool. Their football team have just got into the football Premier League and they’re really great to see. They’re so pleased to be there, and you now get to see a lot of shots of the seaside. I’m easily pleased.

          Lovely the interview. Sorry I missed it first time around.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Thanks, Irwin.

          It’s about time I went to see a football game in England, for goodness sakes!

          Re Blackpool, I really got an insight into it from one of the comments on Stephen Moss’s article. Here’s an excerpt from the comment; it really motivates me to go and take my 7 yr old grandtwinboys:

          “Blackpool has three of his most important works within 300 yards – name me another town or city in the UK with that claim. The Winter Gardens – described as the most important palace of amusement in the world – with architectural pieces unique in the UK – Neatby panels in the Empress, Mazzei designed atmospheric architectural interiors in the Spanish and the Galleon, Boekbinder plasterwork in the ballroom and the pavilion – I can go on and as for not spending £5 to work around one of the most important amusement parks in the world then I am speechless – the Joseph Emberton designed casino building – one of the finest examples of modernist architecture and Maxim Flying machine from 1904 and the eight roller coasters alone are worth the entrance price. There is much more I can write and have on Blackpool’s incredible entertainment heritage and why they were built and why they should be invested in But I will leave the last words to a young Scottish woman I met on the train today. After looking at the picture of the ballroom she said to me – I love blackpool I take the children every year and when I first went in there I thought this is not for people like me its a fairy palce – I smiled and said that’s why it was built and that is why it should be preserved. Blackpool still attracts 11 million visitors a year . . .”

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Oh, there really is nothing quite like watching a game of football live. Well, apart from watching other sports live. Probably.

          Seriously though. Lower league football is more fun and much cheaper. The Premier League has gone very money-orientated and costs a small fortune to see these days. The quality of the players is obviously better, but not neccesarily more entertaining. In the lower leagues the fans really, really care and there’s more love and passion there. Sometimes my brother and I go back to Swindon, where we were born, to watch our shitty shitty home team whilst we sit in a horrible old football stadium probably worse than any US college. It’s great. And the chants are often hilarious.

          Blackpool is pretty much THE great seaside resort of Britain. From about the 1950s… until then it was Brighton but the more Brighton expanded the trendier it became so it’s still got the seaside stuff but it’s more adult and has a reputation for being very liberal towards sex etc.

          Blackpool is, and always has been, a family place. And their Xmas lights are, rightly, a famous events.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Yup, Irwin, I’ll give it a go. Rodent’s son is a total football freak, so I’ll ask him what’s up with any team here in Darlington or nearby, and we’ll get to a game.

          Half of the commenters on the Blackpool article thought it was *not* a “family place”, but I’m still eager to see the stuff described as well as the Christmas lights.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Darlington are in the Conference, which sadly makes them a non-league team. Middleborough is very close though. They have a pretty nice stadium, and a pretty good team.

          Obviously Newcastle and Sunderland aren’t much further, but they’re both in the Premier League.

          I really want to visit Blackpool now!

      • Judy Prince says:

        Ah, Irwin, I just remembered that sending two url’s in one comment post means it’ll take awhile for the comment to show up. I just sent a second version of the first, and neither has shown up.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I got notified about both of them.

          I’ll see if I can get them up and then respond to it later.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Irwin, Middlesborough is only 15 miles from D’Ton, and a straight shot all the way. I’ll combine the football trip with antiques-looking.

          Right now I’m trying to locate a nearby horseback riding place to take the grandtwinboys in November. I’d thought that England was very horsey, but perhaps not for beginners.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Awesome. My grandmother has a friend at church who is, as well as an upstanding, lovely respectable Christian, an obsessive ‘Boro fan.

          Never ridden a horse, although there’s a field near here. I have a friend who insists she isn’t posh, despite the fact she regularly goes horse riding on HER OWN HORSE.

          I think you might have more luck further south, with us posh folk…

        • Judy Prince says:

          Gad, Irwin, I can’t imagine owning my OWN HORSE, and remember as a pre-teen meeting a neighbour (from a secluded area I had never seen before) who had her OWN HORSE! It was my first exposure to folks with Real Money—-and I loved it!

          I’ve got a query out to a woman in D’Ton who raises and sells horses as well as teaches riding, hoping she could accommodate the load of us (me, Rodent, my d-in-law and the boys) for a little slow gentle trek around the rural areas.

          You posh folk—–HAHAHAH! I have begun to “get” the North-South divide and the nature of many of its prejudices. Right now I’m pleased with it only bcuz we are able to purchase a home up north here for less than half the cost of a similar home in the south.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          The person who sold us this house is ‘proper rich.’ He wasn’t the one who lived here, but he pretty much owns everything in the town. His house is across the street.

          It’s bloody huge. In the words of Blur, it’s a ‘house, a very big house in the country.’

          Hope you find horses a little closer than ‘down here.’

          Of course I’m not really posh, or all that southern. I’m from Swindon, and Swindon isn’t posh. Personally I love the North and I’m pretty envious of how cheap it is up there in terms of house prices and the average cost of a pint.

          I think the divide is sort of friendly banter, although some people take it pretty seriously.

  21. Gawd, you’re so young. I can’t stalk you!

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Well you could, but you’d probably get a harsher sentence.

      And I’m old enough to drink, so they couldn’t charge you with corrupting a minor or anything…

  22. Tawni says:

    I really liked the mermaid joke too. The maths made me nervous, though. I don’t like the maths. Numbers make my brain freeze in terror like a rabbit among wolves.

    I recently participated in the National Geographic Genographic Project. They take your DNA (via cheek scraping – don’t get excited), and after eight weeks, reveal your deep ancestry. Our Becky told me about it in a TNB comment. I’m still waiting for my results and very excited. Here’s the link: https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/lan/en/participate.html

    Can my mashed potato be made from red potatoes? I really like those better than the brown kind. And I want a really dirty joke. The kind that makes audience members gasp uncomfortably, please.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I hate maths. It’s a horrible thing that shouldn’t have to be dealt with by people who aren’t good at it. I view it more as a sort of magic. I love watching maths being done. One of my favourite shows is Countdown, which is incredibly different to the US show of the same name.

      It’s a show where two contestants pick letters and then have 30 seconds to make the longest word they can out of it. BUT there is also a maths round where they have to pick numbers and a random number is generated and using the numbers they picked they have to make that number.

      That part of the show is done by a very pretty blonde girl with a Mathmatics degree from Oxford and a range of very short dresses. She can do the right sums in less than ten seconds. The whole thing is so mind-boggling it’s unreal. Also I want to marry her.

      That DNA thing sounds awesome. I’m definitely going to do that. Because of Matt’s post I did some research into a gravestone near where I used to live and it’s been amazing. History is awesome. So much more awesome than stupid maths.

      I’m pretty sure you can mash any potato. I’m sure I’ve had mashed red potato before.

      Sorry, I really can’t think of a dirty joke off the top of my head… I’ve been sleeping on floors and sofas in between long periods in pubs the last four days and my mind isn’t working like it should. It’s currently out of stock— we’ll let you know immediately when we have some available…

  23. You are one of the funniest, craziest kids I know, and born in the same year as my son Jordan. He’s crazy too. So is my other kid, Landen. In fact, you’re all damn crazy. Anyway, you’re a writer. And it’s not just a hobby. Accept the identity, damn it!

    Great piece. Loved every word.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      Thanks Nick!

      I know I’m a writer! It’s taken me a while to work it out, but I won’t be happy until I can legitimately print business cards with ‘writer/comedian’ as my profession.

      I have buisiness cards at the moment, but they just say ‘business card owner’.

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