Monday, 19 October 2020

Encountering the High Family.

I was out on the lane this afternoon, performing my civic duty on the leaf-encrusted road drains, when I saw two ladies a-walking my way. It was none other than the Lady B’s dear mama and Honourable Sister, accompanied by the elder of the little princesses, riding howdah-style in a carrier strapped to grandmamma, and Ivy the cocker spaniel.

Now, it is an interesting fact that when Dear Mama is out perambulating with members of her family, it is she who asks the questions and she to whom one addresses the answers.  She is the one clearly most possessed of erudition, loquaciousness and a voice which sounds as though it were trained at Roedean. (This is, you understand, partly why I like her. The other reason is that she’s straight, and straight people are not as common as they ought to be.) And so a short conversation was had with Dear Mama.

By contrast, the other members of the retinue – all highly likeable, I must stress – were somewhat more reticent. Honourable Sister restricted her contribution to the two words she usually affords me (‘hi, Jeff’), the little princess held me with that mildly discomfiting stare to which 2-year-olds are generally given, and Ivy barked aggressively while simultaneously wagging her tail to add a note of confusion to proceedings. And a good time was had by all.

And it occurred to me that Dear Mama looked a lot younger than she has a right to look. In fact, Dear Mama seems to look younger every time I see her. I considered asking her whether she was in possession of one of those pictures so I might warn her of the consequences, but decided that Oscar Wilde and his decadent creation would not be her choice of reading matter. So I didn’t.

I have no idea where the Lady B and the other little princess were at the time. It strikes me that the answer might be unpalatable.

Interpreting the Whisper.

It struck me tonight that if you woke up in the early hours when the bedroom was still fully dark and you felt a chill breath of air on your ear accompanied by the whispered words ‘you are not alone,’ you’d be forced to assess what it meant.

If you were a positive, optimistic sort of person, you might well perceive it as a message from some friendly entity like a guardian angel letting you know that you have help in your difficult endeavours. If, on the other hand, you were a neurotic sort of person given to dark imaginings and pessimistic expectations, you’d take a rather different view. You would assume that you were being haunted by something scary and malevolent and feel desperate to get hold of an exorcist. But if you were an ultra-realist completely convinced that there really are no more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, you’d go back to sleep.

A Maddening Melody.

I had to call my doctor today to give them my new mobile phone number. They have a new jingle playing which is presumably intended to keep the caller entertained between the various recorded announcements being repeated pointlessly about every twenty seconds.

The new jingle is about as bad as anyone could possibly make it. It’s so bad that I was tempted to wonder whether there was a touch of malevolent genius involved in its creation. We hear a synthesised guitar playing a simple rhythm as a simple chord which starts on the tonic, rises to the fifth, returns to the tonic, rises to the second, then returns to the tonic again. Repeated endlessly and with scant regard for the mental health of the poor caller.

It’s anything but entertaining. To anyone with the slightest grain of musical appreciation it’s maddening. If the call had been answered in less than ten minutes I would have explained the issue to the receptionist, but it wasn’t so I didn’t. And I’m sure my complaint would have fallen on deaf ears anyway. It’s just how things are.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

A Mini Memoir.

I’m generally inclined to the view that my reclusive nature is something that has developed over the last decade or two, and especially since I moved to this house fourteen years ago. And yet I’m occasionally reminded that the reclusive germ was probably alive and stirring quietly in the mould even from birth.

I remember how, during my twenties, the lifestyle I envisaged as ideal consisted of living alone in an offshore lighthouse, provisioned with an unlimited supply of books, films and music, and receiving infrequent visits from interesting people and attractive young women. (I also wanted a couple of dogs, but they raised a difficulty. I would have been scared to allow them the run of the island for fear that a large wave might wash them away. That would have upset me terribly.) Add a then-unheard-of pc into the picture to provide access to a word processor and the internet, and the image of perfection would have been complete.

In stark contrast, however, the reality of my life during my twenties was entirely suburban, and for a few years I was comfortable with it. I was living for a while on a housing estate on the edge of a market town in the East Midlands (which, ironically, is about as far as you can get in the UK from any lighthouse) and even fraternised with my neighbour. That’s what seems oddest of all to me now.

Looking back on it, though, I recognise that there was a degree of novelty informing my sense of ease and it lasted only a few years. The main road that I drove on to go home faced west, and I often felt inclined to ignore the right turn into the estate and continue driving into the sunset instead. And the neighbour’s extremely sour breath began to irritate me and encouraged the need to keep him well at arms length. The close proximity of the unattached and rather pretty Judy Claridge, on the other hand, was tempting, but I never succumbed and never regretted the fact.

And so, from small acorns great oaks do grow, and thus it was with my reclusive tendency. And here I am.

Do excuse me being even more boring than usual this evening. When the night is dark and quiet, and pointless memories begin to swirl around an isolated mind like upland mist on a lonely moor, they tend to fester if I don’t write them down.

Staying Stum.

I thought of a piece of fake news today which could easily be put out as real news to woo the waverers in America. It would be fully believable to those of limited brain capacity and, given the way the electoral college system works, could well win Trump the election.

I’m not going to say what it is, of course, because those of us with slightly more brain capacity can’t wait for the day when Trump is confined to the mire of forgotten history. I’m just surprised that it isn’t plastered all over YouTube, either by the less developed primates posing as loyal Americans or Murdoch’s media empire.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

The Turnip Treat.

The local dialect word for a turnip where I grew up in one of the UK’s industrial heartlands was ‘chonnock.’ At least I assume that’s how it was spelt. I never saw it written down because you don’t with dialect words, do you? But it looks right.

Anyway, there was a patch of ground behind my primary school where one or more of the teachers grew them and sold them to the kids for a penny each. We all used to buy one, you know, and eat it raw as a snack at break time.

Can you imagine young people these days eating a raw turnip as a snack? We hardly ever had chocolate, of course, or any of the other multitudinous snacking comestibles which are freely available now, so a raw turnip was a rare treat. I expect it still is in places like Bhutan.

Dreams and Swedish Cars.

The dreams are coming almost nightly now, dreams of being in a strange place and wanting to go somewhere or do something but being unable to work out how to go about it. Feelings of confusion, frustration and mild panic soon ensue and continue until I wake up. 
 
This morning I woke up wondering whether they are a sign of the early stages of dementia, but I don’t suppose they are. I expect it’s just a reaction to the isolation, the increasing difficulty I have relating to the world and its expectations, the almost certain onset of angina, and this pain of a persistent bloody pandemic.
 
*  *  *

But at least I got waved at today by Honourable Sister. At least I think it was Honourable Sister. The car was the right make, the right colour, the right age as far as I remember it, and it was approaching from the right direction. It didn’t stop and offer me a lift, of course, because Volvos rarely do. I suspect it’s a Swedish thing. I think Greta Garbo was probably a Volvo in a previous life.

Friday, 16 October 2020

The Mystery Man in Our Midst.

I think I have a rival in the Shire. He lives in a detached house, which shall be nameless, surrounded by a modest garden. He keeps the gates to his drive shut and locked – which is most unusual for these parts and previous tenants never shut them – and there’s a big red notice on them in a foreign language. It appears to say ‘no mail’, but I can’t be sure because I don’t know what language it’s written in. There’s another notice in English instructing delivery drivers to ring his mobile for attention, which is also unheard of in these parts, and I’ve seen him in his garden accompanied by a dog of unfamiliar breed.

This is a little mysterious, you understand, and seriously untypical of an English country village mostly populated by people who are comfortably well off, drive around in 4x4s waving at everybody they know (which is more or less everybody), attend the summer garden show at the village hall, and vote Tory by default even if the candidate is a headless chicken.

This man does not belong, and one is left to speculate that he is either engaged in some nefarious activity or is even more reclusive than I am. In either case, I fear he is likely to be chased to the burning mill with pitchforks ahead of me. Should I mind?

October Light.

This October is proving unsatisfactory so far. I like my October days to be characterised either by a low and mellow sun casting its golden glow on trees and stonework alike, or still, misty conditions in which the trees at least seem somehow to produce a glow of their own. This October so far has given us too many sullen skies dropping frequent and copious amounts of rain on a sodden, unprepossessing landscape. 
 
When I was a landscape photographer I found that there was a particular kind of shot which could only be found in October. The following picture of St Mary’s Lighthouse on the coast of Northumberland comes close to illustrating it. The quality is poor because I scanned it at moderate resolution from a postcard (my photography career was pre-electronic) but it will suffice, I think. The second picture was taken a little further up the coast where I lived. It was also taken when the day was fading, but this time in December. The quality of light is so different.
 
St Mary's Lighthouse, Whitley Bay

Druridge Bay, Northumberland

The Take-Down Mystery.

I’ve had another YouTube comment, which was complimentary, taken down. I’m losing count. Oddly, another comment I left on the same track some months ago, which was also complimentary, has now been elevated to top spot. It’s even had one like.

(Allow me to step out of season for a moment and paraphrase a line spoken, dewy-eyed, by Kathleen Harrison in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol: ‘A like? For me?’)

Anyway, I suspect there’s a bit of cross-cultural misinterpretation going on here, and so I think I should take the lesson: If you’re talking to anybody who lives more than six streets away, keep your mouth shut. I won’t, of course. Perception is the whole of the life experience, and its pitfalls are there to be tolerated.