Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Death of an Old Friend.

The high streets in towns large and small throughout the length and breadth of the land are growing thin and weak now. Empty shops are proliferating and there is much talk of the need for intensive care. I find this sad, and one of the saddest aspects of all is the disappearance of the bookshop. Ashbourne used to have two; now it has none.

In the larger town where I grew up there was a larger bookshop, which remained stolidly family-owned as the corporate chains were tightening their pythonesque grip on townscapes everywhere. The shelves were made of dark old oak, and the mildly ornate staircase matched them in wholesome solidity. It creaked slightly and occasionally when submitting to its pedestrian duty, just to remind you that it wasn’t born yesterday. Best of all, it smelt like a bookshop.

I spent a lot of time in there for most of my childhood and much of my adult life, rarely having the money to buy anything but still enthralled by a seemingly endless perusal of the titles and the other worlds they represented. The fact is, I simply liked being there. It’s gone now and been turned into offices.

Nobody ever feels alone in a bookshop, wrote Penelope Fitzgerald. Did anyone ever say that of an office?

Being Pushed to the Limit.

So now a cocktail of technology problems comes along to add their contribution to the health worries, the house issues and the family concerns. I’m getting perilously close to the end of my tether and asking why I’ve suddenly attracted the unwelcome attention of the more vindictive gods.

Technology issues are a double edged sword. First there’s the frustration engendered by the problem itself, and then the already maddening weight grows even greater when you try to get it sorted. And so another question presents itself: how has the unholy alliance of technology and the corporate world been allowed to bring us to such a dysfunctional state? British Telecommunications is the latest body on whom I wish damnation to perdition’s flame, and I dream fondly of the days when all you had to do was call a number and speak to somebody who knew how to help.

Those days seem to have gone, and I see no prospect of them returning. Even in the democratic west where power-obsessed psychopaths are a little less evident, pecuniary interest still holds sway in so many matters which matter. The rich have to get richer while society seethes. Profit is all. Resistance is useless.

And there’s an interesting little side issue in my case. I gather it’s now a well attested fact that stress has a deleterious effect on physical health. The vicious circle is gaining speed.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020


I just watched the movie Elegy starring Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley. It’s about the unconventional but intense love affair between a beautiful young woman and a much older man. Mel lent it to me. She thought I would connect with it; she thought I would like it.

I did connect with it in several ways, though not all. And yet, although I’m no stranger to slow moving, psychology-based stories, I didn’t actually like it. I found it claustrophobic.

And so I’ve spent the last half hour wondering why I found it claustrophobic. Was it the direction, the screenplay, the lighting, the locations? I still don’t know, but I suspect it might have been a ‘there but for the grace of God…’ thing.

*   *   *

Must find Sibelius’s The Swan of Tuonela on YouTube later. I mentioned it in an email earlier as one of my favourite pieces of classical music. I haven’t heard it in years. It refers to the swan which glides silently over the dark waters which encompass the Isle of the Dead in Finnish mythology. Does that sound more like my kind of thing?

No Bouquets for Plusnet.

I had to call my ISP today (Plusnet, if anybody in the UK is interested) because my internet connection has suddenly become slow.

It didn’t go well. I ended up getting cross and aborting the call, partly because I decline to go through their absurd procedure which I’ve gone through before to no avail, and partly because the boy I spoke to (he didn’t sound old enough to be called a young man) irritated me greatly. When somebody cuts aggressively across what I’m saying and becomes patronising, I get cross.

It isn’t the first time this has happened – with Plusnet and others – and I’m inevitably coming to the view that the level of customer service in the corporate world is declining. In the case of Plusnet I assume it’s because they place too much emphasis on an applicant’s technical training, and too little on his or her ability to treat customers with calmness, helpfulness and respect. (I gather they call it ‘interpersonal skills’ these days.) I have found, however, that young women are much better at this sort of thing than young men, being generally more mature, more understanding, more open-minded, less inclined to aggression, and being possessed of more little grey cells.

Where I go from here I don’t know yet. Maybe the slow connection has something to do with the wind and rain we’ve been having quite a lot of lately, and will right itself eventually. But here’s an amusing irony:

Since I’ve consciously made a point of naming the transgressor in this post, it occurs to me that somebody’s algorithm somewhere will pick it up and start trying to persuade me to take Plusnet as my lawful wedded ISP. It always struck me that there must be something oddly satisfying about standing at the altar and saying ‘no.’

Monday, 24 February 2020

The Woman From the Walsage MkII.

I woke up this morning to discover that last night had been true to February form: heavy rain, lots of it, pools in places where pools are not supposed to be, the food on the bird tables reduced to a squidgy mess, no sign of Noah anywhere, and it was still raining. And I wanted to go to Uttoxeter today as I always do on a Monday. But I realised that the first thing I needed to do was check and clear the nearby road drains if I was to avoid coming back to find myself living on the bank of a fast flowing river. And so I donned a raincoat and wellies and set off to make a start.

I checked the first two going up the lane to find them clear, and then I spotted a female figure, suitably decked out in rain gear, walking down the lane and waving to me. I waved back and thought ‘I wonder who she is.’ We met and she told me that she’d come to clear all the drains in my lane.

‘But who are you?’ I asked.

‘I live in Mill Lane,’ she replied.

Mill Lane? Aha! The penny dropped. Here was the Woman from the Walsage. Not the woman with the dogs who I mentioned in a post several years ago; she’s gone now. This was the latest incarnation.

‘Ah, you must be S’s wife,’ I said with appropriate conviction, by now having realised that asking a neighbour ‘who are you?’ is marginally short of polite.

‘That’s right,’ she said with a smile. (And what a friendly sort of smile it was. One of those smiles which could endear you to a person if you weren’t as suspicious of appearances – and the state of the human race in general – as I am.)

S, incidentally, is a man I’ve spoken to several times since he took up residence here. He happens to have precisely the same name as a very well known snooker player, and so one has to be careful when making reference to S that the subject of snooker is avoided for the duration of the discussion. Failure to follow this simple edict could lead to all manner of misapprehension which might be the first small step to a situation of cataclysmic proportion, but as far as I know it hasn’t happened yet.

So then the Woman from the Walsage began to explain to me how the flow of water on the lane relates to the positioning of the grids.

‘I know,’ I said, ‘I’ve been doing this job for years.’

She looked suitably abashed, and I realised in an instant that she was not only practical but also perceptive. It’s the kind of thing I notice, you know. I’m even right sometimes.

And then she asked me where the grids were further up the lane because she had evidently realised that the water has been flowing and gathering strength for about half a mile before reaching here. See what I mean? A paragon of impeccable reason, which I greatly respect.

So off she went to finish the job while I took the opportunity to head off to Uttoxeter. And I did get there, and it did stop raining eventually, and I did get back without notable incident, and I did see floods where I’ve never seen floods before, and all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. And I decided that I quite like the Woman from the Walsage. If ever I meet her again I might ask her what her name is. And if I'm in a really good mood (which isn't likely) I might even tell her mine.

Noting the Irony.

There’s an advert on my email homepage which carries the message

Find Your Peace of Mind

It struck me as ironic that the primary master of the advertising industry – the corporate world, whose principle objective it is to promote consumption mania – constitutes one of the major causes of people having less peace of mind than they used to have.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The Ruling Class.

I’ve always exhibited a tendency to be sympathetic, sensitive and sentimental, but the older I get the more I’m becoming empathetic. I feel people’s pain and distress increasingly now, so when I read of what’s happening in Brazil with the rainforest and indigenous peoples, or how the Uighur are being treated in China, it all becomes personal.

And then I become painfully aware yet again of how so much of humanity’s business is dictated and controlled by psychopaths for whom humanitarian values hold no meaning. And I wonder what I’m doing in this human body with no power to take the ruling psychopaths and place them far away where they can do no further harm. And that’s depressing.

*  *  *

I read today that 49% of Americans approve of Trump’s presidency. What on earth does that say about America?

Au Revoir, Priestess.

Seems I’ll have to suspend correspondence with the priestess for a little while. She’s currently engaged in the practice of jetting around on business trips, and such a practice does not sit easily with my nature. I say this not by way of judgement, but only by way of awareness of what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not.

People engaged in business trips pale to my perception. They become colourless – mere silent and solitary ghosts shuffling pointlessly through an airless, alternative reality which I can see but have no desire to touch.

I’ve no doubt she’ll be back soon enough, but for now I’ll have to dream and fret alone.

Multiverse Questions.

I’ve read several accounts of instances recalling people undergoing odd experiences which are seemingly inexplicable unless you accept that they’ve switched into a parallel universe. It happens to me occasionally. (It does, really.)

But I always ask the question: what happens to the other version of them which belongs in that universe? Might they meet? And if they did, what would happen?

I think I have the answer now. It isn’t the body that switches, but only the consciousness. Presumably, the two versions do a consciousness swap. Which means that while I’m looking for the button which I know I put there this morning, another version of me is scratching his head and asking ‘What the hell is that button doing there?’

But two questions remain: 1. How do we know when we’re back? 2. Does it matter?

Friday, 21 February 2020

Terrible Troy.

I’m 54 minutes into watching the ‘epic’ movie Troy. The DVD case reports glowing tributes from journalists, but they’re all, as usual, tabloid journalists. Tabloid journalists never were connoisseurs of quality, so here’s my take on it:

The script is hackneyed to a point beyond predictability, being entirely based on a third rate version of grandiosity which is laughable.

The fight scenes are choreographed in a way that is hardly seamless. I grew increasingly credulous at the number of Trojan soldiers who stood there like unschooled extras (which maybe they were) just waiting for the Greek hero to kill them instead of at least trying to do something about it.

The direction might as well have been undertaken by an accountant from Slough. I know that isn’t an objective statement, but it’s how it looked.

The acting, well… The acting. Oh dear. The cream of British and Irish thespian talent strutting around like a bunch of enthusiastic high school kids doing the annual Shakespeare as well as they weren’t really able. Even the likes of Brendan Gleeson – one of my favourite actors – and Brian Cox looked hopelessly out of their depth amid such creative carnage. Only Brad Pitt and Sean Bean kept the walls from collapsing into obscurity.

The costumes were adequate and the scenery was nice.

Will I watch the rest? I don’t know yet, but probably not.