Friday, 30 April 2010

A Dark Day in Belgium.

I read today that the Belgian lower house has voted unanimously to ban the burkha in public places. Yet again I find my faith in human nature being shaken, and it makes me wonder afresh at the motivation of those responsible for the governance of so-called democracies. When a ‘democratic’ government presumes to dictate what a person can and cannot wear, it shakes the very root of the value system we are supposed to hold dear.

They say it’s because a person must be recognisable at all times in public. Recognisable by whom or what? The police? The surveillance cameras? There is more than a whiff of Orwellian nightmare about it. It smacks of the Stasi, the Gestapo and the KGB.

They say it’s necessary to counter the threat of terrorism. Is it? I’d be curious to know how many terrorists carried out their acts wearing a burkha. It’s a well known fact that governments can get away with anything these days if they can persuade the conformist masses that they’re protecting them from ‘the terrorist threat.’ It’s a classic example of rule-by-fear, a technique at least as old as the Roman Republic. People lose all sense of balance when they’re convinced there’s something to be frightened of, and values such as personal rights and freedoms are soon revealed as thin veneers. During one of the IRA bombing campaigns in Britain, I heard somebody argue that no Irish citizen should be allowed access to this country. There goes that sense of balance again.

And what of the emotional impact on the women concerned? These are women who have been conditioned to believe that showing their face in public is little better than walking around half naked. ‘Ah, but that’s just stupid,’ I hear people say (and have heard people say.) They fail to take into account that ‘standards’ vary from culture to culture and time to time. In calling the Muslim practice stupid, they are simply applying the current received attitude in the west, as well as displaying fear and suspicion of anything unfamiliar. They overlook the fact that not so long ago a woman was considered indecent in Britain if she showed her ankle, and a man was expected to don a cravat to afternoon tea if he was wearing an open neck shirt. To do otherwise was at least indecorous and verging on the indecent. It surely goes without saying that if the wearing of a particular garment is causing no harm, suffering or unwarranted inconvenience, we have no right to interfere.

So maybe this provides a second reason for the action of the Belgian Government. Maybe it’s just that they sense some level of xenophobic paranoia among the population and are simply pandering to it. Maybe it’s nothing more than thinly veiled Islamaphobia. Either way, it’s a dark day for Europe and I think Belgium should feel ashamed of itself.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A Whole Load of Nothing.

The conundrum I referred to a few posts ago. I daresay it’s well known enough, but it bears looking at.

If you project a missile at a target, whatever point it reaches in its trajectory leaves a remaining distance still to be travelled. That remainder can always be sub-divided, and so the missile can never reach the target. But it does; or it might be truer to say that within our perception of reality it does. And that just might be the crux of the matter.

If someone can give me the stock answer to this riddle, I would very glad to hear it. I can’t get further than a simple ‘rational’ conclusion, which is that the missile must reach a point at the end of its travel where the remaining distance is indivisible. But isn’t that a little absurd? Surely, anything that has substance – be it space, time or solid matter – can be divided. The only thing that can’t be divided is nothing. So does the missile cross a ‘nothing point’ at the end of its travel? In that case, why should there be only one ‘nothing point’ there? Surely, the whole length of the travel would have to be nothing but ‘nothing points.’ You come across the same problem when you try to define a ‘point’ on a solid surface, and yet every solid surface consists entirely of points. So should we conclude that space, time and all solid matter is just a whole load of nothing?

Such a conclusion will sound nonsensical to most people, or at least in the realm of rarefied theory. It doesn’t to me, because it appears to rationalise one of the cornerstones of mystical philosophy; that we are but fragments of the universal consciousness trapped within an illusion. The only reason we don’t recognise the fact is because the mechanism we use for experiencing existence is the brain, which is part of the illusion and therefore incapable of seeing beyond it.

That’s the view I favour at the moment. Tomorrow I might change my mind.

It's in the Eyes.

I saw a young woman walking towards me outside my local supermarket today. Her walk attracted my attention because, strange as it might sound, it didn’t look English. She had a young man in tow, and she looked in charge. As she drew level with me she stared pointedly into my eyes. It gave me a mild shock. It wasn’t so much fierce as supremely confident. And then she spoke to her companion in a language that was undoubtedly Slavic.

So I got to thinking about eyes and ethnic identity. It seems to me that Germanic women have eyes that are soft, but cool. Gaelic women have eyes that are mystical and easily roused to flame. Latin women have sensual, passionate eyes. The eyes of Slavic women are strong and piercing. A generalisation, I know, but interesting.

Rain.

Rain has been falling straight and steady most of the afternoon. The air smells sweet, the garden looks happy, and I don’t have to struggle with the hosepipe-from-the-bathroom-tap business. Thank you rain; thank you clouds; thank you nature. Wonderful!

The Value of Education.

The council has put some display boards up in my local town, telling a brief history of Ashbourne since the Domesday Book. It relates how the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School was founded in the 16th century, following a petition to Queen Elizabeth I complaining that a lack of education was leading the populace into disreputable behaviour such as swearing, drunkenness and whoring.

Five hundred years on, and the town is still beset by an abundance of swearing and drunkenness every night of the week. The main area of progress seems to have been a reduced proclivity to whoring. Young women these days give of their favours free and freely.

Thank God for education, I say.

The Rubaiyat.

I’ve been unconscionably busy today – hence no blog post. Since it’s now way past midnight, I thought I would keep the cogs turning with a bit of homespun wisdom from Omar Khayyam.

‘Come, fill the cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The bird of time has but a little way
To fly – and Lo! The Bird is on the Wing.’

‘Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.’

‘The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes – or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty Face
Lighting a little hour or two – is gone.’

‘Ah, fill the Cup: - what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our feet:
Unborn TOMORROW, and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TODAY be sweet!’

And, of course, there is the perennial favourite; the one I heard as a child and never forgot:

‘The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.’

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Looking Beyond the Dream.

I have a problem. I tend to take life seriously, and yet I don’t much care for being serious. I suppose that’s because the older I get, the more I sense that there’s something absurd and pointless about it. I’m becoming ever more convinced that this whole thing is just a level of dreaming, and that all the things we’re supposed to take seriously are really rather futile - and that applies not only to questionable things like the pursuit of wealth, power and status, but also to those more esteemed pursuits like working to make a difference. Make a difference to what, exactly? The illusion? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making a difference, you understand, just that I don’t think it’s worth taking seriously. In the final analysis, it’s merely a healthy pastime.

I’m coming to think that the only things worth pursuing are those that outlast and betray the true nature of the dream – peace, equanimity and joy. And anything that triggers those attainments is worth cultivating, whether it be the simple pleasure to be found in nature, the companionship of open-hearted people, beautiful music, the compelling dynamic of the life principle, or even the taste of a good cup of coffee. And I want to laugh at it all, for honest laughter is surely the road to enlightenment.

And yet I will probably continue to take life seriously and irritate myself in the process. And I might be wrong.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Writer's Block.

I have things to say. I type one sentence and lose interest. I feel unwanted and uncared for. It's a shame for me, isn't it? And it's probably all your fault.

So I thought I'd throw up some pictures of beaches. They're nice. Which is more than can be said for some people.

Hmph...

Whoever says 'Hmph?'












Sunday, 25 April 2010

Welcome Visitors.

Today’s big news is the arrival of the house martins from Africa. They come with the swallows and swifts, and spend April to September here. They don’t fly quite as hard or as fast as the swallows, but I think they make up for it with greater versatility. Watching them ride and use the air currents is quite mesmerising. It’s a favourite pastime of mine in the summer.

I had a neighbour where I used to live who told me that he was going to knock down a nest that a pair of swallows was building under the eave of his house. He said they made too much mess on his path. I pointed out – with barely disguised indignation, I expect – that these birds have just flown 5,000 miles and he ought to be honoured that they chose his house for a nest site. If the mess on the path is such an issue, it doesn’t take long to clean it up. I would consider it a labour of love. He didn't knock down the nest.

And a pair of bats is flying at dusk again. Magic, pure magic. It’s amazing that they came through that really hard winter we had.

Annie's Little Joke.

We’ve had no rain in my part of Britain for several weeks, and the ground is very dry. My garden is quite big; it takes two hours with a watering can just to give everything a splash – and that doesn’t include the lawn. I decided I needed a hose.

I have two old hoses and, together, they stretch from the kitchen to the bottom of the garden. All I needed to get them functioning was a connecting device to join them together and a tap fitment that would work on the modern taps in my kitchen. I bought them both when I went to Derby on Friday.

Problem: the tap fitment didn’t work because my taps have individual levers that point forward, preventing the connection. I couldn’t use the original tap connectors because they’re designed for old fashioned taps with a round profile. Brainwave: I realised that the taps in the bathroom are the old fashioned sort. All I needed to do was run the hose from the bathroom sink, through a bedroom window, and down into the garden.

Today was dry and sunny again. I did some washing first and hung it on the line, and then did a few little jobs before lunch. The time came to get the hose in working order and give the garden a soak. More problems. The first old tap connector broke when I tried to unscrew it. The second one fared better, but I found that the bulldog clip was slipping so I couldn’t tighten it onto the tap. I thought it might stay on anyway if I pushed it hard enough. Several floods later, I got it to stay on. I dropped the rest of the hose through the bedroom window and went out feeling quite pleased with myself. I felt the washing on the way to the lawn. It was dry already. Perfect.

I took the leading end of the hose to the bottom of the garden and began spraying a jet of life-giving water onto a part of the garden that hasn’t had any in weeks. Within five seconds at most – no exaggeration - it started raining. I left the hose pointlessly spewing out water while I rushed to get the washing in before it got soaked. Don’t you just love days like that?

But then I had a thought. The Celtic Goddess who took me on the journey that became my novel has water as her major element. She says there’s nothing she can’t do with water, and at the end of the story she tells the human that she will give him a sign when she’s around. And so she does, with an unexpected rain shower. You think I’m joking? I could tell you about the unbelievable run of water problems I had after that strange incident in Ireland some years ago – the one I don’t tell anybody about.

No, I’m not joking. I suspect Annie was, though.

What?

I don’t like to go a whole day without posting something, but I’ve been busy and it’s getting late. The enigma of the failing projectile and whether it demonstrates the illusory nature of perceived reality will have to wait until tomorrow.

So, just to keep my hat in the ring, I thought I’d mention my adoration of Dorothy Parker’s wit. My favourite is what she said about the Yale Prom:

‘If all the girls attending it were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.’

Do you know, I explained that joke to an actress three times once, and still she didn’t get it. Her favourite, true funny story concerned the day she fell off her bike while on holiday in Italy. She said the only thing that concerned her was the fact that she wasn’t wearing any knickers. I sense inverted logic at work somewhere, but I’ve never worked it out.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Animals the Third-and-a-bit.

Did I mention in a previous blog that I have a little robin pal? He’s been with me through two winters, coming up very close and expecting his own private pile of rolled oats. Sometimes he comes so close to my foot that I have to be careful not to kick him accidentally. Sometimes he sits on a branch of a tree or shrub close to my shoulder. In colder weather he’s often waiting for me by the back door when I first go out in the morning. Just lately he’s taken to following me around the garden, even when he isn’t particularly interested in my oaten offerings. Mostly he is, though, and I’ve noticed that he takes beaks full of the stuff off to a nearby hedgerow. I assume he’s either feeding his mate who is sitting her eggs, or he’s already got chicks with gaping mouths.

This worries me. The hedge is on the other side of the lane that runs along the bottom of my garden. It carries traffic; not much, but enough to cause me concern. I’ve become very fond of the little guy.

Today he flew over to me when I was checking the progress of the vegetable plots. I put a pile of oats down as usual and he filled his beak, before flying off in the direction of the lane. There was the roar of an engine, and I saw that a tractor was coming at speed up the lane. Vehicle and bird looked to be on a collision course and my heart was in my mouth.

The robin veered away from the lane and settled on the lawn until the tractor had passed. Then he continued his mission when the lane was empty. Dumb animals? I’ve known humans with less sense.

Friday, 23 April 2010

On Giving.

I took the bus to Derby today. It’s cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly than using the car, and also gives me the chance to read in a space uncluttered by competing demands. Rummaging through my backpack, I found a copy of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran that a friend lent me some time ago. I’d forgotten it was there, and decided to read a few pages. They contained his homily on the subject of giving. What follows is a selection of his words. I have to quote them verbatim because I have neither the eloquence to write such words, nor the well of wisdom from which to draw them. I might be in breach of copyright law, but some things are more important.

‘You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.’

‘There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.’

‘It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.’

‘All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.’

‘You often say “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.’

‘For in truth it is life that gives unto life – while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.’

‘And you receivers – and you are all receivers – assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings.’

With thanks to Zoe for reminding me.

And then I settled back and watched the countryside of rural England slip by in the April sunshine. This area is old fashioned mixed farming country, a rolling landscape of fields, hedgerows, shallow downs and a multitude of trees. I’d never realised before how much wild cherry there is growing here. Today they were decked in dense white blossom, like white candyfloss on sticks. It was a nice trip.

Proper Poetry.

My favourite limerick:

There was a young man from Bombay
Took a slow boat to China one day.
He got trapped at the tiller
By a sex-starved gorilla,
And China’s a bloody long way.

Now, that’s what I call poetry.

I’m planning a trip to Derby tomorrow, to get some things for the garden. Big thrills for little Jeffreys.

If anybody wants to know what a Gaelic Goddess sounds like when she sings, try getting Fiona Kennedy’s album 'Maiden Heaven' and listen to the first track. That’s what it sounds like.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Animals the Third.

It should come as no surprise when I say that I love animals. I don’t propose going into why, I just want to say something about people’s attitudes towards them.

Humans are convinced of their pre-eminence among living creatures. I would suggest that most go one stage further: they’re convinced that it’s only humans who really matter, and that any clash of interest, however trivial, must always resolve to the benefit of the human. There was a case in the news yesterday of a gamekeeper who was fined for poisoning predatory birds. Gamekeepers frequently do that, because predatory birds interfere with the landowner’s hobby of shooting the game birds. So we have a situation where people not only find it acceptable to kill creatures for the sake of recreation (because most of the birds don’t get eaten,) they also find it acceptable to kill other creatures that are getting in the way.

So on what do we base this conviction of pre-eminence? Almost entirely on the fact that we have superior minds. ‘Mind’ is a complex phenomenon that covers a number of different faculties, but two are most often cited as demonstrating our inherent superiority.

The first is our superior intelligence. Undeniable at face value, but it raises questions. What do we mean by intelligence? We define it in ways that suit us – the recognition of spatial relationships, mathematical relationships, and the finer nuances of reason and semantics. We develop IQ tests to compare one with another, conveniently forgetting that they’re geared to specific needs within specific human cultures – the ones that developed the IQ tests. They’re constantly, and rightly, being accused of inadequacy even within an inter-cultural context, let alone as a means of comparing one animal with another. There’s a bit of a cart-before-the-horse feel about it all. We decide first that we’re superior, and then design the tests on our own terms to prove it. The fact is, we don’t really know what animal minds are capable of. Research is constantly finding that they are more capable than we thought they were, even by the standards we set. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that animals use their minds differently, and in ways that suit their natural lifestyles. They don’t crow about their abilities, they just get on with doing what they need to do in order to function and stay alive.

The second is our ability to develop ‘proper’ ways of behaving. ‘Manners maketh man,’ we say. We call it civilised behaviour. OK, but again we have to accept that our perceived need to do this is largely driven by our move away from natural imperatives. We are isolating ourselves from the very root of our physical existence, but more on that later. A lot of what we call manners are nothing more than ‘mannered,’ and have more to do with class distinction than anything else. Etiquette can be quite ludicrous when you really think about it, and animals have no need of such extremes. They do have protocols, though – systems designed, again, to facilitate their function within the natural environment. They’re doing what they need to do without going to unnecessary lengths to serve any need to feel superior.

But there’s a more general point to make. The faculty of mind is just one of many faculties that a physical entity can draw on. There are lots of others, and in most of them animals are inherently superior. Some of them are stronger than us, some of them are faster than us, some of them can fly, and some of them have cognitive and sensual faculties that we can only dream of. And they use them to their best advantage, just as we use ours. We can build sky scrapers better than a blue tit could, but have you ever seen a blue tit’s nest? I would challenge any human to make one so perfect. And the reason we can build such good sky scrapers is because we’ve developed technology. This is what we do: develop machines to make up for our physical weakness. We can build machines that fly faster than any bird, and machines capable of lifting far greater weights than an elephant could. Does this make us superior? In a way, yes; but it also means that we are walking a potentially dangerous road. We are taking ourselves further and further away from the ability to exist without manufactured things. Is that a measure of superiority? And if there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s invent a machine that comes even close to the power and complexity of nature itself. Animals work wholly with nature; we choose largely to ignore it, or even work against it – often with catastrophic results. Is that superior behaviour?

I do understand that if you extend this argument to the spiritual level, however you define ‘spiritual,’ there is a case to be made for regarding humans as the most advanced species in the material world. It takes into account aspects of mind that the other animals probably don’t have, at least not most of them. It takes us into areas like art and ethics. As far as we know, animals never make art; but can we know for certain that they don’t appreciate it? Do they not make art simply because they don’t need to; in which case, does the lack of need in itself demonstrate the inferiority of the animal mind? That’s a moot point, since need is surely defined by function.

Where I feel this discussion reaches a conclusion, however, is in considering the human capacity for ethics and altruism. Apart from a small number of unproven incidents, it seems that animals show little or no capacity for either. In those areas at least, it might reasonably be argued that we are superior. So doesn’t that faculty prove itself only when we apply it? Doesn’t it place upon us a certain responsibility to treat animals with the respect they undoubtedly warrant, acknowledging their right to live and prosper in their own way? Doesn’t it argue absolutely that we should use our power and complex intellect to nurture and protect animals, not exploit and abuse them?

‘God gave man dominion over animals,’ crow the hunters (even those who don’t believe in God.) A friend of mine who has studied Hebrew tells me that this is an inaccurate translation from the original. She tells me that ‘dominion’ would be better translated as ‘stewardship.’ The two are very different.

Bathory Syndrome.

So, here’s what happened.

I had every intention of writing the Big, Serious Animal Post today. Fate is no respecter of intentions, however, and circumstances – some foreseen, and some not – kept me very busy until late. I started the BSAP, but it’s proving to be rather long and I intend to finish it tomorrow. The best I can hope for, given the way it is at the moment, would be half a dozen comments carrying infinitely inventive variations on the general theme ‘Sorry. Couldn’t get past the first seventy five paragraphs.’ I think I would be quite pleased with that.

But there was one big, spooky coincidence today. Remember that unsettling business with the broad beans? Well, I also planted some runner beans, far earlier than is recommended, in the greenhouse, and they started to push through today. I wondered whether I should risk googling 'Runner Bean.' Risk? My middle name! So I did. This is what Wikipedia had to say.

‘The runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) has many culinary uses, as well as excellent nutritional value. It is especially recommended in vegetarian diets. A word of caution has to be given, however, since it is also known to have hallucinogenic qualities. The nature of the delusional psychoses it produces vary from person to person, but the one most commonly reported is the conviction that bathing in the blood of virgins prolongs, or even re-establishes, youthful good looks. This is known as Bathory Syndrome, after a notorious 16th century Hungarian countess who was eventually arrested...’

Well, it didn’t actually say that in as many words, but given my luck, I’ll bet it says something like that somewhere.

The radishes are growing well, too. I wonder what they do. Did they have radishes in Twilight?

***********************

Finally, and this has no relevance whatever to the silliness above, I would like to say hello and welcome to Jen Kach. Who are you, Jen? Clicking on your avi produced no evidence of a blog. Do you have one?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Eat Your Heart Out, Lon Chaney Jnr.

Only two scotches and I come to this.

I have sixteen broad bean plants currently growing in my greenhouse and garden. The broad bean season is short, so I googled ‘Broad Bean’ to see how I could consume my embarrassment of riches in a variety of ways. I found a few recipes. (Recipes just give me ideas; I rarely use them.) But I found something else, too. One site said they’re regarded as an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world; it even said they’re an alternative to Viagra. Me? Viagra?

Eventually, I picked myself up from the floor and considered the implications.

Does this mean that every time I have broad beans with my vegeburger and baked potato, I need to find some understanding local to lock me in a cell overnight and keep the key safely out of reach? Will I be a frantic and tortured Jeffrey during the hours of darkness? Or will the vegetarian’s endless search for pulse protein leave the local maidens in serious jeopardy?

‘Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night...’

Do you know, I really did intend to be sensible today. There’s always tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Down Under.

While I’m on the international question, there’s something else troubling me. One of the reasons I’ve never been to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or South America is because I wonder how I would stand the shock of having to go from being the right way up to being upside down. None of the tourist books mention it, and I wonder whether there’s a conspiracy of silence going on. So can I ask a question of people who live in such places? Do you have specially adapted loos? I would feel much happier to have some reassurance on that one.

Divided by a Common Language.

I have a theory that the recruitment process for call centres includes the requirement that successful applicants have a strong local accent. We have a very wide variety of accents in these little islands up here, so it can sometimes be a problem. I have no trouble with most of them. Essex, Dorset, South Wales, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Tyneside, Dundee and Shannon are fine. The two I find difficult are Belfast and Glasgow.

Why Glasgow should be a problem is a mystery. I understand every word uttered by Billy Connolly and Rab C Nesbit, so why not the people in the call centres. Am I to assume that Messrs Connolly and Nesbit ‘talk posh’ by Glaswegian standards?

Having difficulty with Belfast ought to make more sense, because the native language of Ireland isn’t English. And yet I have no difficulty with Gerry Adams. And the south of Ireland is dead easy. They talk beautifully. You only have to listen to Ken Doherty once to learn that the Gaelic for ‘I thought’ is ‘Oi tart’ and the rest is simple. (This should not be confused, of course, with the English phrase ‘Oy! Tart!’ which means something else entirely.)

So what is it about people in call centres? I’m mystified. Even people from overseas give me no trouble. When an Indian man once told me he had no accounts because they’d been stored in the loft and had been ‘eaten by rats and Moses,’ I understood exactly what he meant. I even understand Americans, for heaven’s sake, as long as they speak loudly enough. (American actors, on the other hand, do give me trouble. The old ones didn’t – Bogart and the like – but the modern bunch tend to mumble quietly and drawl, while turning their heads away from the camera to look moody. About the only one I found clear as crystal was Forest Gump.)

Good morning America. (Thought I’d better add that in case 90% of the few people who speak to me stop speaking to me. Phew!)

I have another theory: I think it’s because I can’t see their mouths moving. I wonder whether I’m learning to lip-read as my hearing descends into dotage. Maybe I need one of those trumpet things.

Animals the Second.

Dogs versus Cats:



Only kidding. Sensible stuff later.
Addendum: Maybe I'm not kidding. This is a funkier post than I realised.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Animals the First.

So - Animals Episode 1.

I feed the birds. I can’t bear to think of them struggling through the winter with those frail little bodies, so I like to give them a hand. But then spring comes along and those in the know tell me it’s most important to carry on feeding them through the breeding period – April to June – because that’s the time when the adult birds are most under pressure. They have hungry mouths to feed. Problem is, there’s no way of knowing that the adults have stopped filling hungry mouths until the hungry mouths turn up on the bird table to fill themselves. Lots of tubby little fledglings flock to the feeding station looking distinctly unsure of the method and protocol, but very cute. What am I supposed to do then? Long story short: I end up feeding them year round. Oh well...

That’s the preamble; now for the serious bit.

During the winter, it’s mostly only the small birds that visit – the sparrows, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds etc. Come the spring, however, and the bigger birds get in on the act. Suddenly I’m inundated with jackdaws, wood pigeons, collared doves, magpies... and PHEASANTS. Oh, the pheasants!

I had one cock bird make occasional visits during the winter. I used to watch him trudging alone and forlorn around the fields that border my house. I felt very sorry for the poor old chap, and bade him welcome to my meagre offerings. He took advantage. Now he turns up about ten times a day with his harem of three hens in tow. They fill the bird table; nothing else can get near. They’re clumsy and tread on the edge of the water bowl, tipping it up and spilling the precious water – often soaking the food in the process. And they don’t take a few nibbles and go away again, like the small birds do. They stand there and eat until everything’s gone. One pheasant will eat as much in ten minutes as would keep the whole population of small birds fed for a couple of hours. I find myself becoming angry with them. Pheasants have the reputation of being the dumbest of birds, and at this time of year they become my enemy.

But then I pull myself up sharply. I reason that it isn’t their fault. They’re just wild creatures doing what wild creatures do. If they know where there’s food, they’re going to come and eat it. They don’t have the money to shop in supermarkets. If I get angry with them, I’m guilty of being dumber than they are. So I stop being angry. I calm down and look on them kindly, knowing that when I make one of my many forays into the garden they will fly away of their own accord. They’re very skittish birds, which isn’t surprising when you consider that their breeding in most places around here is regulated by nice people who want to shoot them.

But maybe I should still consider them my enemy. I’ve heard that a wise man once said something like ‘Value your enemy above all others. He is your greatest teacher.’ Bring it on, pheasants. I’m learning.

The Volcano Got Me.

I finally became a victim of the Icelandic volcano today. I put my lunch on the hob to heat up, and then switched on the TV to see whether anything interesting was happening. I arrived in the middle of an extended news report on the consequences of the ash cloud that continues to keep Europe’s airspace closed. I tarried too long, eventually returning to the kitchen where I was met by a smell of burning food and one hell of a mess on top of the cooker. I shook my fist vigorously in the direction of Iceland, before cleaning up the mess and having a belated lunch. I suspect this is a reprisal for the Cod War.

Animals later.

Coming to this Theatre Soon.

Animals. I want to talk about animals. Tomorrow.

Ah, Saturday morning cinema. The Lone Ranger is falling headlong over a 500 ft precipice, and you have to wait until next week to find out how he didn't die. And then they cheat. Bastards! An early lesson in how life works.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sexualising Society.

Up until at least the 1960’s, we were still living under a tight, moralistic mindset largely engendered by Queen Victoria. And then came the sexual revolution. Mini skirts, free love, feminists at the forefront, full frontal nudity – the 60’s had it all. The British public became emancipated; sex was no longer a taboo subject. Ah, but...

Like everything else that has any intrinsic value and catches on, the sexual revolution was picked up by commercial interests and trained to walk obediently at the heel of capitalist economics. They’d realised, of course, that sex sells; and so they made it their own. Now I’m inclined to wonder whether we’ve really become emancipated at all. I don’t think we have; I think what we’ve done is replace one party’s emotional and social conditioning with another’s. Instead of having to hide sex in the deepest draw, we now have it flung at us from every quarter. Anybody not looking greedily for sex around every street corner has to have something wrong with them. Marketing strategists have it at the top of their list, and terms like ‘breast enhancement’ and ‘erectile dysfunction treatment’ have become commonplace. We’ve exchanged repression for obsession. What seemed like a good and wholesome process has become polluted, or at least hijacked. And sometimes it goes into areas that are a bit disturbing.

A leading fashion chain store in Britain got into a spot of bother this week. They were selling padded bikini tops for children as young as seven. Do seven-year-old girls want to appear to have breasts? How should I know, since I’ve never been a seven-year-old girl? You might wonder whether the marketing strategists thought so, but that isn’t really the point. The point about marketing strategy is that it doesn’t seek to fill demand, it seeks to create it. And so the cry went up ‘You’re sexualising our children!’ I agree, although for reasons that are probably different from those of the majority. Being a believer in the superiority of ethics over morality, I’m not a moralist; and so I don’t see things in moral terms. To me, it’s a question of what is appropriate.

Breasts clad in bikini tops have been tagged irrevocably as a sexual symbol for an awfully long time, and so the store chain can’t get away with claiming that little girls simply want to look ‘grown up.’ It doesn’t wash. It really is a case of sexualising seven-year-olds, and that’s inappropriate because seven-year-olds have no sexual dimension to their make up. That doesn’t start until puberty. But then we come to the nasty bit: it’s potentially dangerous. Isn’t the sight of little girls with ‘breasts’ likely to arouse the predatory instinct in adults so inclined? I would have thought so, and it conveniently brings the argument neatly full circle.

Could it be that the modern obsession with sex, so beloved of the advertising industry, is at least partly responsible for the upsurge in predatory behaviour that we hear so much about these days? I daresay the psychologists are still arguing about that one, but it strikes me as entirely possible. What price the sexual revolution then?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Invasion of the Volcano's Breath.

I’ve been thinking all day about the difference between being sentimental and being compassionate. I managed a few tentative conclusions, but they simply refused to coalesce sufficiently for my tired old brain to do them justice in a post. I also thought a lot about animals, and how humans don’t give them enough respect. My tired old brain shook its head at that one, too. ‘Do dust,’ it said. So dust it is.

The dust cloud from the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano continues to intrude its unwholesome presence in our hallowed airspace. Only it’s becoming bolder. Now it’s intruding its presence in most of Europe’s airspace as well. Europe is grounded. The newscasters look seriously concerned; whether because they think a flightless Europe is a really serious issue, or whether because they are embarrassed at having to give the story precedence over the impending election is difficult to know. I confess to merely gloating a little. For years I’ve been waiting for nature to give us a nudge in the ribs and make us question our reliance on modern technology. A few relatively innocuous coughs from a minor volcano up in the Arctic Circle, and here we are. People are becoming increasingly concerned.

What seems to be spooking people more is the prospect of the dreaded dust abandoning the airspace and falling on our even more hallowed ground. Will we have to clean our windows more often? Will the water in the outdoor swimming pools turn grey? Is there any chance that it will melt our cars? I’m being silly, aren’t I?

What I did find spooky, though, was what happened when I went out into my garden at dusk this evening. I kept feeling little sensations on my skin, as though it were raining. I looked up at a cloudless sky, and wondered. Dust? It felt creepy. Science fictionish. I took refuge in a heartening prospect. Maybe I should go and hang around the house where Sarah, her sister and her mother live, just in case I might spot the odd naked clone slithering out of the petunia patch. Being silly again, aren’t I?

It was probably just the fairies saying hello. Now I'm being serious.

Defining Acceptability.

Just a couple of musings without explicit commentary.

I find it interesting that if somebody says they believe in God, we call them religious. If somebody says they believe in fairies, we call them fruitcakes.

A person claiming to have seen Jesus once is regarded as having had a harmless and temporary psychological aberration. Claim to have seen a fairy once, and people will cross the street to avoid you. Ghosts are different. They’re OK. Why?

And I wonder how many people are incarcerated in institutions because their perception of reality simply falls the wrong side of a line defined by cultural consensus. Did ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ actually make any difference?

I love telling people I believe in fairies. Watching their reaction is one of life’s great delights. And I didn’t want to walk down the street with them anyway. Is that explicit commentary? Sorry.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Out of the Mouths of Babes...

I’ve been thinking about kids a lot these past few years. I never used to understand them - was inclined to keep them very much at arm’s length - but I’ve grown rather fond of them now. They’re so honest. Even when they lie, they do it honestly. Even when they’re trying to deceive you, it’s a sort of ‘straight’ deceit. And it’s been my experience over the last few years that they’re often better at judging the more meaningful qualities in adults than adults are.

Two things have got me pondering the relationship the adult world has with children – a lovely blogsite I found from a delightful young woman called Megan, from somewhere in the UK, and my current reading of JM Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy (his own adaptation of his stage play Peter Pan.) It’s a book full of hidden meanings and surprises, so unlike the commercialised version, but more of that another time.

I think we look at kids all wrong. We treat childhood as something essentially different to adulthood - something almost opposed to it – something we grow out of. Once you were a child, now you’re a grown up. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t think it should be that way. We don’t inhabit one world as children and another when we grow up. It’s not that simple. Who’s to say when one stops and the other begins? We are the sum total of all our experiences from conception to the present day. Every age has its qualities, and young children especially have qualities we do well to respect. They have an innate understanding of some extra dimension to life – call it magic, if you like - that we feel we have to suppress when we grow up. Who was it said that magic is the poetry of life? We don’t have to hide that poetry away when we reach the age of consent or the age of majority. There’s nothing shameful about it. We can keep it in full view along with all the other qualities we’ve gained along the way, and be all the richer for it.

So let’s stop seeing kids merely as inferior beings training to be adults. Let’s start seeing them as different but equal. And, perhaps more importantly, let’s start acknowledging and respecting the child we all still have inside us. Thereby lies, I believe, the road to greater wisdom and a wider understanding of life.

And Another Thing...

I’m not breaking a promise, because this isn’t the next post. It’s a p.s. on the last one.

I forgot to say that the weather forecaster went on to assure us of spectacular sunsets, courtesy of the dust cloud. He showed a picture of one from last night, ‘sent in by a viewer.’ A more innocuous bit of pale orange sky would be hard to imagine, but let that one pass. He went on to explain why the sunsets are spectacular. It’s because, he said, the particles in the atmosphere break up the light so that ‘we can see all the colours of the spectrum.’ No it isn’t. Sunsets are red because certain atmospheric conditions scatter the low frequency radiation at the blue end of the scale, thus allowing the light from the red end to predominate. Similar, but not the same thing. When was the last time you saw ‘all the colours of the spectrum’ in a sunset? He seems to be confusing sunsets with rainbows. He’s an expert, and we’re supposed to put our trust in him. And the sunset where I live was rather less than modest tonight.

Keeping us Clearly Informed.

I’m led to question again the standard of information we get fed in this country. I’m referring, of course, to the Icelandic volcano. It has so many letters in its name – and most of them vowels – that it’s disappeared from the screen before you’ve had the chance to work out how it might be pronounced. That’s only the start of the confusion.

Last night we were told that the reason it was disrupting flights was because it was drifting at 20,000 feet, the altitude that planes fly at. This morning we were told it was because it was drifting at 35,000 feet, the altitude that planes fly at. Tonight we were told that that the volcano is spewing dust to a level of 15,000 feet. They didn’t mention planes in that report, but English and Welsh airports will remain closed until at least tomorrow morning. Then comes the question of whether this dust will fall on our heads and block our bronchioles.

An official government spokesman said that the dust is too high, so it hasn’t, and won’t, make landfall. Another government spokesman said that those with respiratory conditions should stay indoors and keep their medication handy, because they’re the ones most at risk. At risk from what, exactly? One of the best things I heard came from a BBC reporter in London who said ‘None of the ash has fallen to ground level yet, but there are reports of dust.’ Could you say that again please, just so the meaning is clear? And the local weather reporter tonight said that we’re likely to see a covering of ash in the morning. Oh, right; clear as mud in an Icelandic geyser.

The next post will be sensible. Promise.

Seven Things.

With all these intimations of mortality flying about, I got to thinking in the bath about the things I’d like to do before I die. This is what I have so far:

Persuade everybody in the world to start being nice to each other for a change. (I tried to watch Slumdog Millionaire tonight, but switched it off because it was shaking my faith in human nature – again!)

Look twenty years younger when I encounter the delightful Sarah walking her dog along the lane.

Meet the guys who wrote Father Ted and tell them what a pair of geniuses they are. (Be honest, the idea of having the idiot Dougal persuading the bishops to apostatize can’t be that far short of genius.)

Find a shop that gives away bottles of Talisker to anybody who can recite Albert and the Lion.

Be able to talk like Keith Wood whenever the fancy takes me.

Find a way of getting my little wild rabbit pals to eat the tops off only some of my carrots.

Invent a device that stops underpants turning inside out in the washing machine.

I stopped at seven. Seven is a good number.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I'm a Historical Figure at Last.

There’s a new series running on British TV. It follows the fortunes of a brave British family who have agreed to try living without modern gadgets for ten days. Back to the Stone Age, you might think. No; what they have to survive with are things that were available in the 1970’s.

The 1970’s!!!

The 1970’s surely weren’t that long ago, were they? Seems they were, and I expect everybody under the age of thirty two will agree. I made an inventory. I looked around the house to see how many things I have that weren’t available before 1980. There was my CD player, which hasn’t worked for ten years, my DVD player, which I haven’t used yet, and my PC. That’s it. So it seems that not only do I remember the Stone Age, I’m still living in it.

No doubt they will soon be making documentaries about people who remember the 1970’s, like they used to make documentaries about veterans of the Great War. Maybe they will come and interview me. I will be able to wobble my jowls, look knowingly over the bags supporting my eyes, and talk dreamily about bell-bottom trousers, Abba and the Falklands War. I might even fall asleep during the interview, and the sound recordist will be heard to mutter ‘Poor old sod. Seen a lot, this bloke. Living history, eh?’

Or maybe the programme makers are getting just a little bit short of material.

Poorly Volcano, Poorly Me.

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather today. I woke up with a chesty cough, and that progressed to a tight chest, sore sinuses and a bit of a headache. It’s quite normal for me to get those symptoms whenever there’s a change in the weather, but there hasn’t been one. Then I read in the news that some volcano in Iceland had too much to drink a couple of nights ago, and proceeded to spew the contents of its innards twenty thousand feet into the air. The north easterly airflow did the rest, and now we have a blanket of volcanic ash sitting over the country. All British airports have been closed all day and are likely to stay that way until at least tomorrow morning. It’s too dangerous to fly over British air space, apparently. And it’s Scandinavia’s turn tomorrow.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Evenin' All.

Well, that wasn’t much of a hiatus, was it?

So anyway...

I needed to talk to HMRC today (that’s the Brit equivalent of the American IRS. Don’t know what you call it in Ireland, Thailand and Australia - apart from a word beginning with b, that is.) They’ve sent me two coding notices in quick succession, and one of them doesn’t make sense. I called the Helpline number.

As is usual these days, I sat through a series of menu options and recorded announcements. Finally there was an announcement that said ‘OK, now I’ll put you through to somebody who can help.’ Without a pause, another announcement cut in. It said (slightly abbreviated) ‘All our enquiry staff are helping other people at the moment. You might want to call back later. Thank you for calling. Goodbye.’ And the call was terminated. No offer to let me hold, so no option but to hang up. I tried it six times through the afternoon and evening with the same result. That’s the ‘Helpline.’ I found another number for HMRC in the phone book and dialled that one. All the same announcements, menu options and ultimate termination. So how do I get to talk to HMRC to resolve my query?

And then I got to thinking, as ever (bane of my bloody life! I think I think too much.) What I thought was this. Menu options and recorded announcements are a relatively recent phenomenon. It used to be that you called a number, and it was either engaged – in which case you hung up – or somebody answered, usually fairly quickly. I wondered just how much this modern system is costing the great British phone subscriber, so I did a rough calculation. Lets’ suppose that an average of 10% of the population makes one call a day. That’s 6 million calls at a cost of around 5p per minute. And let’s say that each call has an average of 1 minute’s worth of menu options and recorded announcements. That’s £300,000 a day – over £100m a year boosting the profits of the phone providers. And people wonder why I have suspicions about who’s actually running this culture, and for whose benefit.

One thing would help slightly. Could we please have billboards dotted around the country saying ‘Your call might be recorded for training purposes, and to help us improve our service.’ A few people might even believe it, and it would at least save us having to listen to the same thing every bloody time we call a company or official department. Thank you.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Parting Glass.

This my hundredth post and I feel in need of a hiatus. I have one thing left to say at the moment; apart from that, I feel devoid of anything else to say or display. I intend to continue watching other people’s blogs, but my own is taking a break. For how long, I don’t know. Many thanks to all the lovely people out there who I don’t intend to lose touch with.

.............................

It’s a question that’s often asked; and, for me at least, it’s one of the most difficult to answer: ‘Do you believe in God?’

The first problem is that it’s a loaded question. People in the west generally have an image built on exoteric Judaic conditioning. The image varies slightly, but it’s usually based on the concept of God as an individualised Being, living in heaven and functioning more or less as a sort of super human. We are made in His image, says the Old Testament, and the agents of the various churches find it convenient to encourage a simple, literal translation. And so the question people are really asking is ‘Do you believe in my version of God?’ Inevitably, the first response has to be another question: ‘Which version of God do you mean?’

The image given in the Old Testament is actually quite unpleasant. He’s vengeful, vindictive, partisan, insecure, and makes his favour conditional upon being worshipped. The image we get from the New Testament is quite different. He becomes a caring, kindly father figure who gives his love unconditionally and ‘sacrifices his only son’ for the sake of humanity. This latter claim never made any sense to me, but I see now that it echoes the Abraham story and is a useful construct to bolster the messianic credentials of Jesus. What interests me more is the fact that those few accounts of Jesus’ life that the early Church fathers permitted people to see – the canonical Gospels – tell us that Jesus explicitly preached against the edicts of the Old Testament God. So, apparently, we already have two different versions of God. There are others.

You don’t have to move too far from the mainstream Judaic tradition to encounter the Gnostics. In their doctrine, the Creator God is the bad guy: a selfish, ambivalent character who made man to fill the role of plaything; a pet to be kept in ignorance of its true origin and potential aspiration, so that it will forever serve his vanity. The serpent in the garden, far from being the evil one, is actually the saviour of mankind – none other than Sophia, the ‘mother’ of the Creator God, who sees her son’s creation and takes pity on it. When she gives humanity the knowledge of good and evil, she is giving it the means to raise itself out of slavery. Go further to the east, and the Vedic tradition has a view of God that is considerably deeper and more complex again. They make the unknowable more accessible through the emanations that make up the lower Hindu pantheon. Ironically, the Christian West interpreted this as polytheism and inherently evil, when it is actually a more sophisticated representation of monotheism being presented by an inherently more spiritual culture.

So, to come back to the question: yes, I do choose to believe in God, but my understanding of It has no form. The problem for me is that I’m currently living in a human body, and my attempts to understand things still insist on going through the process of logic, which is a function of the brain. I strongly suspect that the whole of material existence is just one level of illusion, and because the brain is itself material, it is incapable of looking beyond its own limitations. I have a high IQ, but that means nothing when it comes to trying to understand God.

The closest I can offer myself is the idea that God is somehow the essence of everything that truly exists. It is anything but ‘a Being.’ It is simply ‘Being.’ The two are as unalike as can be. Maybe it’s the Universal Consciousness, maybe it’s the Primal Intelligence, maybe it’s the state of unbridled love and perpetual bliss. Maybe it’s all of these things and much more besides. I don’t know, and I don’t claim to know. Whatever it is, though, I further suspect that the core of what I am is a non-individualised part of It. To put it another way, ultimately there is no ‘I,’ as there is no ‘you.’ There is only the Is. It follows, therefore, that the road to spiritual growth, if I should want to attempt it, is not to worship some Being called God, but to seek oblivion as an individualised entity.

The Buddhists teach that there is a God Realm, on which the gods reside. Maybe it was one such god who created what we call the material universe. If so, he would simply be another level of illusion, and my aim should be to rise above it. If I should want to indulge in worship, it would make sense to do so by venerating the essence that lies deep within life. It would make sense to worship myself, in a totally non-egoistical way.

I would find that very difficult to do at the moment, and so I take life as it comes to me. I engage with the illusion by looking for every opportunity to awaken my capacity for love and the perception of beauty. I try to exercise kindness, compassion and respect in all things. I’m far from wholly successful, because I’m still human; but it’s about as close to the meaning of God as I can get right now.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Consequences.

I sometimes spend ten or fifteen minutes reading people's interests on Blogger profiles. It's surprising how many people include 'eating,' and and I can't help thinking 'and going to the loo a lot?' I wonder whether this is an example of masculine pedantic logic, or whether I just have a strange mind. Feel free to jump in with the obvious comment, ladies.

Only the Birdsong to Bedeck the Peace.

The weather was so pleasant today that I decided to have an afternoon cup of tea outside – sitting at the table at the top of my lawn with a book.

The air was warm, the sun veiled, and the view across the valley increasingly misty as it stretched to the low hills beyond. This is a landscape replete with trees of many sorts, and they are at their most varied at this time of year. The big old standards still have the skeletal look of winter about them, but others are clothed with the gauzy softness of spring. An occasional breath of breeze persuaded the daffodils to nod now and then; and all was silence, save for the song of birds.

This is a nice place to live.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Holy Ground.

I was going through my old pics in the picture library files, and came across some from Co Donegal. So, in honour of Roisin the Eyes (c'mon; what's that in Gaelic?) I thought I'd stick a couple up.











Why Write?

The problem with some publishers is that they think writers only exist to serve their needs. The problem with some writers is that they’re so concerned with being published that, knowingly or otherwise, they fall into line with that view.

Am I talking about editing here? Not exactly. The question of editing is a complex one that doesn’t easily lend itself to a simple rant. It does lend itself to a conditional rant, and I intend to get around to it one day because I’ve had some pretty silly experiences with editors; but, for now, I’m talking only about the furthest extreme of the editing spectrum: the re-write.

Publishers inclined to this view will read a manuscript and offer a provisional acceptance, but only if the writer makes substantial changes to fit in with the publishers’ requirements. I’ve had such requests, and I’ve always refused them. I’ve been accused of arrogance by publishers and other writers, but it has nothing to do with arrogance. It’s about integrity and the reason for writing.

Let me ask the visual artists out there a question. How would you feel if you were seeking to get work exhibited and the gallery agreed, but only if you repainted the pictures? Change that red background to blue. Get rid of that vase on the table. The woman’s dress should be striped, not plain. Obviously, you wouldn’t do it; so why should writers be expected to do it? One publisher told me that writing is different; words are easier to change, she said. Is that the point? Well, maybe writing is different, but it’s not that different. A bit of polishing is one thing; re-writes are quite another.

My view of this is really simple. I have stories I want to tell, and I have a way of telling them. People like them or they don’t. Either way is fine with me – really. Everybody is entitled to their own taste and I have no problem at all with rejections. Tell me yes or no, but please don’t ask me to re-write them your way. Why should I? Why should anybody?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Posh Job Titles.

It seems that some place in Wales wants to change the job title of their lifeguards to ‘Wet Leisure Assistants.’ Should open up the job description a bit!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Four Weeks!

A dull day. The news usually gives me something to groan about, but today it seemed to be full of politicians doing what politicians do best. The election is only four weeks away, and my views on that, and the state of politics generally, need not be repeated. It seemed the lesser of two evils to bore you with more pictures instead. British castles this time. The bottom one shows Warkworth in Northumberland. That view always puts me in mind of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, and the position from which it was taken bears an uncanny resemblance to John Waterhouse’s famous painting of the doomed lady.














Why does Blogger only let me upload five pictures? More another time.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Oh for the Perfect Lawn (and a note to Wizardess epi,)

I had a piece of advertising literature in the mail this morning. It asked me ‘Do you want a perfect lawn?’ But of course. We all do, don’t we? It’s one of the things that mark us out as paid up members of the tramline elite. Better still, the neighbours can see it, so it provides a badge of belonging just in case there should be any doubt. Knowing the majority of the populace to be pre-sold on the idea, the leaflet went on to offer the services of some company that specialises in the creation of perfect lawns. Sale made; fait accompli; everybody’s happy. Except me.

My first reaction was to wonder just who has the money for that kind of thing, and whether they might be persuaded to find something more meaningful to spend it on. I let that pass, because it isn’t my business to care how much money people have or how they should choose to spend it (as long as we’re not talking bankers’ bloody bonuses here.) Instead, I got down to thinking about the quality of my lawn.

I know it’s the sort of lawn that gives Serious Gardeners nightmares. For a start, it doesn’t do stripes or other geometric patterns.; and it has daisies and dandelions growing in profusion among the beleaguered leaves of grass. But then, being the weird sort of non-aligned creature that I am, I rather like the daisies and dandelions. I find an area of green spattered with white and yellow slightly more pleasing than a flat green space. I dislike mowing the lawn because I have to cut all those delightful white and yellow heads off. I tell them it’s only a hair cut in the hope that they won’t mind too much. That makes me feel better.

It has other things growing in it, too. The snowdrops from the embankment have had the audacity to encroach on the hallowed turf, so in January I get little white flowers growing down one side of the lawn. How terrible is that? And there’s more. Moss! I have moss growing around the edges. That has to be the final straw, doesn’t it? Well, not the birds it doesn’t. They scrape it off and use it for nesting material, which strikes me as being rather more useful and meaningful than most of the things rich people spend their money on.

I came to a conclusion. My lawn is flat, mostly green, and it grows. So do I want somebody to come and make me a perfect lawn? No, because I already have one.

*****************

And now for something completely different. Wizardess epi: thank you for adding yourself to Followers. I’m flattered and you’re very welcome; but I have a problem. I clicked onto your blog last night. Everything was fine until I tried to navigate around it, and then my computer took it into its head to behave like a rabid dog. Explorer panels started to flash up at a rate of knots. As I raced to keep closing them down, more appeared - and more, and more... Eventually I got rid of them all, but discovered they had settled in the tray. There were eighty of them. What’s more, my computer crashed and I had to close down manually, before re-booting to see whether it was still working. Thankfully it was, but it was the reason why I didn’t get into bed until 2.45. So what was the problem? Your blog, Google, my Internet Explorer, my Windows software? Or was it just one of those little bits of odd behaviour computers are prone to now and then? I have no idea, but it does make me wary of trying again. If you or anybody else can shed any light on this, I would be most grateful.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Finding out for Myself.

I remember with some fondness a record I had as a kid. It contained several songs from the soundtrack of Pal Joey. Oddly enough, I wasn’t all that keen on the music; but I had this older neighbour who liked that sort of thing and he used to unload his unwanted old records on me every now and then. That was fine with me, because I hardly had any of my own. Couldn’t afford them. It gave me something to listen to while I explored my reaction to the phenomenon that is music. It also meant that I spent about the first fourteen years of my life listening to other people’s choices, mostly stuff from my parents’ generation, but that was OK for starters.

I made up for lost time eventually, and finding my own taste in music has been a very rewarding experience. I have come to believe that music has a power to move us that no other creative form can. It speaks a universal language and doesn’t need any filters; it goes straight to the heart. I’ve never had any money so it was a slow process, but I believe my appreciation is all the richer for that. A friend who knows my taste sent me the latest album by Julie Fowlis a couple of months ago. I’m not used to receiving gifts, and so it was something unexpected and very special.

Here we go again: the rich kids who have everything handed to them as soon as they think they want it don’t know what they’re missing. And their parents think they’re doing them a favour.

Aren't Women Clever?

I was in a shop the other day buying wild bird food. It’s a very small shop, owned and run by one woman. She was on the phone at the time, evidently talking about something personal and of great import. She looked distracted.

The food came to £3.10. I didn’t have much small coinage on me and offered her a £10 note, whilst fishing in my pocket for a 10p piece to make the change easier. I didn’t have one, only a 20p which I offered. I didn’t think she would manage the calculation in her distracted state, but she took it without hesitation and gave me change for £2.90. That was really impressive. The facility women have for multi-tasking leaves my poor male brain agog sometimes. If only women could manage logic, I’m sure they could rule the world!

Lowers portcullis and beats hasty retreat to the battlements. Sniggering.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Silence of the Lamb.

Did I say I was vegetarian? No? Oh, right. I’m vegetarian. So is this post a sermon on vegetarianism? Certainly not. I do admit, however, that my proclivities in that direction probably have a bearing on the opinion expressed.

There was a celebrated story in Britain last year concerning the fate of a primary school’s pet lamb. The head teacher had it sent for slaughter. The country was outraged, especially the parents of the children who attended the school. Their offspring were, not surprisingly, very upset about the matter. The furore grew to such a pitch that the head teacher was forced to resign. She was reinstated this week, which is why I’m talking about it now.

Questions:

Would I have sent the lamb for slaughter? No; but then again, I don’t even swat flies. I have a very serious aversion to killing anything.

Do I take delight in upsetting children? No. I love kids, and hate the thought of them being upset.

Do I think the teacher should have been hounded into resignation? No. Why not?

Because while I hold with protecting children from harm and unwarranted distress, I don’t believe in denying them the truth. We live in a meat-eating culture in which animals are bred to be killed, and that includes lambs. Not many of the cute baby animals born on farms every year make it very far into adulthood. Some, like lambs and veal calves, don’t even get that far. Whatever my feelings on the matter, it’s a fact of life.

Given that the overwhelming majority of people eat meat, I should think that the overwhelming majority of the indignant parents and other complainants are meat eaters. So isn’t it a bit hypocritical to put lamb on their children’s dinner plates, whilst wanting to deny them first hand experience of where it came from?

The lamb, of course, had no say in the matter.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Soft Touch.

I was going to post about the head teacher and the slaughtered lamb, but it's getting a bit late so I thought I'd keep up the daily routine by posting something I just wrote to somebody in an e-mail. Don't really know why; it's nobody's business but mine. But you know how you sometimes get a feeling that you just want to throw something out into the ether...? I'll do the other one tomorrow.

I admit to being a bit of a soft touch for beggars. They have a look about them that I can’t ignore. I know some of them are making lots of money and living the life of Riley, but I think most of them ended up there because of some tough circumstances, the likes of which most of us never encounter. I used to rub shoulders with a number of homeless alcoholics when I worked for the charity. I heard some of their stories, and I learned that life can be a real bastard at times. And if they want to use alcohol as an anaesthetic, what has that to do with me? What right have I to judge them? I remember encountering a Chinese beggar near Euston Station in London once. I only gave him a pound, but the look of joy on his face made me very sad. So when people tell me I’m stupid for giving them money, I ignore it. I am who I am.

Imperfection.

Right then, here’s my second favourite parable.

Once there was a poor farmer who lived in the hills, several miles from the nearest well. Every morning he had to walk those weary miles with two buckets to fetch the day’s water. One of the buckets was new and in perfect condition; the other was old and had a small hole in the bottom.

The trip took several hours, and when the farmer returned, the new bucket was always full but the old bucket was half empty, having leaked much of its water along the way. Eventually the old bucket could stand the shame no longer.

‘I am so sorry,’ it said to the farmer. ‘You do all that work and I cannot help losing half the precious water. You must be very angry. You should throw me away and get a new bucket.’

The farmer took the bucket to the door and pointed to the track along which they walked.

‘Do you see how there are flowers growing on one side of the track only?’ he said. ‘That’s the side I always carry you on. I have no time in my busy life to cultivate flowers, and so I rely on you to do it for me. I am not angry; I bless and thank you for your imperfection. It brings forth great beauty.’

***************

‘Why are you talking to a bucket?’ asked the farmers wife.

...no she didn’t. That’s just me being mischievous. It’s one of my imperfections.

The Trailer...

Shayna Prentice of Needle Woven Studio gave me the hint with her stuff about Wabi-Sabi. So tomorrow you get my next favourite parable. Can’t wait, can you? Try to get some sleep if you can. Good things come to those who wait. This scotch is very nice. Bells, you know. I usually buy the cheap stuff, but Sainsbury’s had Bell’s on offer. I love bargains.

Pointless TV.

I was flicking through the TV channels this evening, when I came across some sort of quiz show. People were standing behind what I assume were scoreboards. Each one had the word ‘Pointless’ on it. I supposed that was because the game hadn’t started yet, so nobody had any points. But then I wondered whether it was a coded message from the producer. It was BBC2, after all. I flicked on.

Friday, 2 April 2010

On God and Parental Responsibility.

The arrival of Easter has me thinking again about that vexed question ‘Do you believe in God?’ I keep meaning to make a post about it, but it’s a complex and emotive issue that is likely to give rise to offence in some people - mostly because they won’t hear what I’m actually saying, but will process it through a filter conditioned to notions of heresy and blasphemy. That’s why I’ve avoided it so far; I want to be sure I get the words right. One aspect of it has come to my attention, however, and I feel I have to make a comment.

I was browsing through some bloggers recently and came across a woman who included in her interests ‘glorifying God and raising my children for Him.’ Those eight words could generate a sizeable essay on the subject, if not a small book, but I really want to keep this short and to the point.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I have no time for the certainties of fundamentalism. Nothing is certain unless it can be conclusively proven. I do feel convinced, however, that there are levels of reality above and beyond what we take to be this world. The question of the metaphysical is far from being a no-go area to me. The problem with this woman’s statement is that it comes in two parts.

The first part causes me no difficulty at all. I fully respect her right to believe in whatever form of Supreme Being suits her. If she wants to glorify her notion of God, it’s nobody’s business but hers. It’s the second part that concerns me.

Of course, it goes without saying that I don’t know exactly what she means by ‘raising my children for Him.’ It might be that she is merely offering them her beliefs by way of benevolent parental guidance. But it doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like a failure to appreciate that her children are not just ‘her’ children; they are independent beings who have a right to make their own choices and follow their own roads. It smacks of an unhealthy level of control and conditioning. It suggests the imposition of unwarranted certainties. And if what I have seen and heard of fundamentalists is typical, it might even amount to a mild form of child abuse.

Maybe I’m wrong; I hope I am. And maybe it’s all part of life’s learning process anyway. Rejecting the values and ideas instilled into us by our parents is part of the process of growing up. You don’t have to stop loving them to do that; you just need the strength to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Therein lies the problem, though: it’s OK for the strong minded, but what about the rest?

The Tao of Dogs.

Dogs have a way of generating good energy. I was walking through the town today and saw a woman coming towards me with one of those brilliant little scrufties on a lead – full of energy, exuding doggie happiness, mongrel and proud of it. I can’t help smiling at dogs like that, and so I did. Then I looked at the woman and saw that she was smiling at me smiling at her dog. So I smiled at her. Neither of us spoke, but the triangle of positive energy was complete. The moment was small, silent, and simple. It passed in seconds. It's at such moments that life has such a profound niceness about it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Is This a Blog?

So... I was about to go to bed last night when an interesting e-mail came in from a publisher. I decided to answer it, and had an extra scotch while I did so. I was about to go to bed again when she replied to my reply. I felt a further reply was warranted, and had another extra scotch. Result: I was even later going to bed than usual, and a little squify from the barley juice. I knew I had to be up earlier than usual this morning, because I was due to make a trip to Nottingham to see Helen. I woke up an hour before the alarm and couldn’t go back to sleep.

So... Off I went to Nottingham. I bought a roller blind for my kitchen, walked a lot, had conversations with several strangers, and gave some money to a beggar with an Irish accent who was honest enough to tell me he wanted it for a drink. I like that. I really like that. If I have the money to buy an Irishman a drink, I will. They’ve earned it in my book. Oh, and I told the guard on the train that she was nice - because she was.

And of course, best of all, I had a lovely day with Helen. Helen is pretty spiffing.

It’s now some way past midnight and I’m tired. I think I might aim to be in bed for about 1.30; an early night is definitely called for.

Is this an interesting life?

So that’s why there’s no blog from me today. Unless you count this. You’re really disappointed, aren’t you? Right.