Saturday, 31 July 2010

Hello Oklahoma and a Heads Up.

I had a visit from Oklahoma today. Howard Keel country! ‘Ooooooo-klahoma, where the...’ - don’t remember the rest. I’m reluctant to say ‘welcome,’ because every time I do that the person never comes back (although welcome you I do, of course.) An unrestrained welcome to this week’s other new state, though – Texas - because they have been back. I now have 56% of US states. Fancy that.


And just to say that the next story will be going up at A Handful of Stories some time around midnight. This one’s urban and a bit dark.

Why Weren't the Insects Moving?

My herbaceous borders contain several stands of plants that grow to about five feet in height and have lots of big yellow flowers. The insects love them. They’re obviously good for feeding, collecting nectar, or whatever insects do on flowers.


I went out this morning and saw that lots of the flowers had bees on them. But they weren’t moving – at all. And then I noticed that other flowers had other insects on them, and a couple had butterflies. All completely still; they might have been made of plastic.


I’ve never seen that before. It felt as though I had walked into a scene in one of those sci-fi films in which the protagonist finds himself in a world where time has stood still. It seemed unreal.


I wondered whether the insects were all dead, and touched a couple of the bees. They moved, just slightly, and then stood still again. When I went out again a couple of hours later, everything was back to normal.


So was it because the air was cool and damp? Were the insects in some sort of semi-hibernation, or something? If anybody knows about these things, do tell.

Intriguing Junk.

I never open junk e-mails, of course, but some of the subject lines continue to intrigue. I like to imagine what kind of person sent it, and what their agenda might be. The latest comes, supposedly, from Mr Mark Borris, and the subject line is Call Mr Mark Borris, If You Are Still Alive.


What???

Friday, 30 July 2010

Creepy Story 4.

Heads up, McC and Melanie. Don’t read this one immediately before retiring. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


As a child, I was afraid of being alone in a room after darkness had fallen. I used to go to bed frightened every night, and was allowed to sleep with the light on. I was twelve or thirteen before shame forced me to take my courage in both hands and switch it off.


Things got better quickly. As I moved through my mid teens and into my late teens, the nervousness subsided to almost nothing. But it didn’t disappear altogether. When I was twenty one or twenty two it came back with a vengeance.


I was at a loss to explain it. I was a working man with a young family. Not only did I have somebody else in the room, she was even in the same bed. And yet I suddenly felt the old terror come back, worse than it had ever been as a child. I lay there every night for a couple of weeks, sweating and rigid with fear. I felt that there was something in the house, something dark and terrifying, something that might make an appearance at any minute. One night I heard a clatter downstairs and had to go and investigate. I traced the noise to something that had fallen off a ledge in the box that held the electric meter. There was no obvious reason for the occurrence and it did nothing to allay my terror. My partner was unsympathetic, and I certainly wasn’t going to shame myself further by suggesting that the light might be left on! And so I suffered until sleep overcame me.


One night I woke up in the early hours – or at least, I thought I was awake. I felt fully conscious. But I was at ceiling level, still lying on my back. I turned my head to look at the glass panel over the bedroom door and saw a face looking back at me. I can’t describe it in detail. All I remember was that it was hideous; it had malevolent eyes, and they were staring at me with a manic, evil intent. My worst fear had come to fruition; the ‘ghost’ had appeared.


But then a wave of realisation swept over me. I knew that an evil presence had taken up occupation of the house; I knew that it was only energy and couldn’t do me physical harm; and I knew that it fed off my fear in some way. It was the last one that threw the switch of deliverance. All I had to do was stop fearing it; and so I did. No more night terrors, and I’ve been fine ever since.


I stayed in a loch-side cottage in the Scottish Highlands a few years ago. Just as I was going to sleep, I was startled to feel the bed clothes being pulled downwards around my feet. I had no doubt that something was pulling them. There was no doubt to be had; the sensation was too definite. I decided not to let it worry me, and went to sleep.


So, if my experience in the house in my early twenties was merely a case of night terrors and a simple dream, it was a very useful dream to have.


The next story is more concrete. Two other people saw the same thing I did. And that one did manage to spook me, even if only slightly.

Love is...

The last thing my mother said to me before she went into her final coma was ‘I love you, son.’ ‘I love you too, mum,’ I replied. I knew even at the time that I was saying it to help her go out on a happy note. The fact is, I don’t know what the word means; I never have.


I remember watching the film Love Story, and gasping at Ali McGraw’s famous line ‘Love is never having to say you’re sorry.’ Has there ever been an emptier catchphrase to please an empty-headed audience? It’s surely one of the greatest examples of Hollywood system-speak designed to keep the impressionable securely ensconced in base camp. I went home asking myself the question ‘so what is love?’ I didn’t have an answer.


I’ve said ‘I love you’ to several women during my life, and I was sure I meant it at the time. In retrospect, however, I realise that what I actually meant was ‘I have intense feelings for you.’ Is that enough? I doubt it somehow. I also know that the only time in my life when I experienced genuine panic was when I got a phone call at work telling me that my daughter was missing. Is that enough? Closer, maybe. And I know that I was always prepared to give the nod to the vet when he told me he couldn’t do any more to give my dog or cat a meaningful quality of life. Is that it? I suspect that’s the closest of all, because I’ve always doubted the oft-quoted dictum that ‘greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for others,’ or words to that effect. It seems to me that a greater love is being demonstrated by putting one’s own interests aside and letting the object of affection go because it’s in their interest. It’s why I can’t help feeling massive admiration for the genuine mercy killer.


A question: why do parents love their children so much? Because it’s natural? Well, yes, I’m sure it is. And is it engendered by some genetic imprint? Probably. So are we saying that we love our children because they’re ours? There’s certainly some truth there; so love is selective in that case, and probably includes an element of possessiveness as well. Which brings me to the suspicion that most of the forms of experience we call ‘love’ have an element of selfishness about them. It’s only a four letter word, but it seems to me to be possibly the greatest concept in all the universes, temporal and spiritual. Can it afford to be selfish? Can it afford to be selective? Can it afford to be conditional?


Why only love our own children, and not all children? And if we’re going to do that, why not love all people? Why stop there? Why not love all sentient beings? Is that enough, or should we continue further and love all life, be it sentient or not? And what about all the other elements of existence? Why not love the lot?


It amuses me when people say ‘I love God,’ while being quite prepared to hate the commies, the illegal immigrants, the drug dealers, and even the neighbour’s cat who makes holes in their garden. Surely, if this phenomenon we call God exits, it must be something essentially unknowable but bound up in some way with the concept of the indivisible whole. It strikes me that the only way you can love God is by loving everything.


I have a feeling that I shall never know what love is until and unless I get to that stage. When I do, I’ll sit cross-legged and smile like the grinning Chinese monk resting on the bookcase beside me. Until then I’ll be very circumspect in my use of the word.

Being Picky, Maybe.

I decided to revamp my blog a bit when I resumed it – hence the new colour scheme and banner pic.


I tried those fancy new templates that Blogger is offering now. Seems you can’t get the simple ones any more, unless I’m missing something. I found there was a glitch with them; they were all putting one of my pictures off to the side of the screen. I got over that one, and then I noticed something else. All the post titles are underlined, and you can’t change it.


Who uses underlines these days? I did a design module as part of a desk top publishing course, and one thing came over loud and clear. Underlines belong to the school textbook, and occasionally to provide an additional enhancement tool in official documents. Apart from that, they went out with the typewriter. Now we have the facility to use standard graphic design tools – bold, italic, font variation, colour variation and so on.


When I consider that my primary interest is in words, it's odd how fastidious I am about visuals. I'm not proud of the fact. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it really isn't all that important.

Surprised.

It’s no secret that I’ve been questioning the whole purpose and value of blogging lately. One of my concerns was that it was all too ‘virtual’ to take seriously. Although different people use it in different ways, in the final analysis it’s just another networking facility. And unless you’re a small press publisher or something and use it to disseminate information, it’s a social networking facility. How social can it be when the people you’re talking to are scattered around the globe and there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance you’re ever going to meet them in person? To somebody like me who responds strongly to people’s ‘energies’ and body language, that’s an issue.


The recent hiatus I took surprised me. I realised that I had become rather attached to certain of these people scattered around the globe (and I might add that, to me these days, ‘the globe’ is anything beyond a twenty five mile radius of my little piece of earth!)


So it seems it does have value, and I’m glad I started again.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Creepy Story 3

Not one, but three stories that happened very close to each other.


I was fourteen going on fifteen at the time. It was late in the year, around November I think. Two friends and I were at a loose end one night, having no money and not wanting to sit around in the company of parents watching the TV. We decided there was nothing for it but to go for a walk.


The estate was a modern one, but the bottom end adjoined an area that had been a village in mediaeval times. It had subsequently been encircled by the spread of suburbia and gobbled up in the general melee of tarmac and brick. It did, however, retain a little of the old atmosphere, especially around St Mary’s Road – a narrow lane largely dominated by the gothic church of the same name whose grounds occupied most of one side. That was the direction we headed in.


St Mary’s Road was poorly lit, and the churchyard not lit at all, except by what little light spilled in from the dim and widely spaced street lamps on the lane. When we reached it I dared the others to walk through the graveyard. They agreed, naturally, and so we entered and began walking along the main footpath into the deepening gloom. I was in the middle, with Barry on one side and David on the other.


We’d only walked maybe twenty or thirty yards when the others turned and fled back to the main gate. I admit I felt spooked. Now I was alone, and other people’s expression of fear can be surprisingly contagious. But I also felt triumphant, and decided to consolidate my triumph by continuing the walk. I left by the small gate at the bottom corner and made my back to where Barry and David were standing under a lamp, looking disturbed. I mocked them, of course, but they were having none of it.


‘Didn’t you see it?’ one of them asked.


‘See what?’


They told me that they had both seen a white, nebulous figure rise out of the ground in front of me and stand motionless, apparently blocking the path. I’d seen nothing; and if it had been there, I must have walked straight through it.


Now, you might be tempted to conclude that they had both been the victim of an hallucination, or that they had been playing a trick on me. The ‘trick’ hypothesis doesn’t hold water, since there had been no plan to walk through the graveyard and the impromptu suggestion had been mine. Besides, what would be the point if the joke had never been celebrated? The incident was never mentioned again. And if it had been an hallucination, I’m curious to know how they had both seen exactly the same thing at the same time. I really don’t know.


***


The following August, two classes from my school headed off to the Yorkshire Dales on a field study trip. We stayed in the Youth Hostel at Grinton in Swaledale, a building I was told had been a Victorian hunting lodge.


The lights had just been turned out one night when our attention was caught by a white disc at one end of the wall facing the window. It seemed to be a bright light, maybe twelve to eighteen inches in diameter, and moved steadily from one end of the wall to the other before disappearing. Someone asked who was playing about with a torch, but no one owned up. Somebody got out of bed to see whether there was any sign of a person with a light outside the window. That drew a blank too, and we speculated that it might have been the headlights of a car on a nearby lane.


The following morning we took a good look at the view from the window. It was obvious from the height and the angles involved that the possibility of an external source didn’t add up, not least because anything shining in would have cast a shadow of the window frame. There was none, just a clearly defined, circular light. We reverted to the likelihood that somebody in the room must have been shining a torch on the wall, but that’s impossible too. The light from a torch doesn’t throw a crisp, circular image. It takes a very expensive spotlight to do that, as I later confirmed when I used studio lighting as a photographer. And there’s another problem. The light remained circular throughout its travel. Anything projecting it there would have had to be moving along the opposite wall and running parallel to it. A light projected from a fixed point would have produced a succession of decreasing and increasing ellipses, only being circular when it was perpendicular to the source. You decide.


A couple of mornings later a classmate of mine, Michael Crawford, quietly asked if he could have a private word with me. It was obvious he didn’t want the others to hear what he had to say.


Michael was a very practical lad, but he told me he’d seen the strangest thing the night before. He said he’d woken in the night and seen me walking around the dormitory. He’d watched me for a while, assuming either that I wanted the loo and was disorientated for some reason, or that I was sleepwalking. Eventually, he said, he saw me walk back to my bunk and prepare to get back into bed. And then he saw that I was still in bed. There were two of me. The walking me slipped back into bed and the two figures became one. I explained astral projection to him and told him not to worry about it.


The next story is about the face looking into the bedroom.

Resumption.

OK. Enough prevarication. For reasons which I decline to identify, I’m exercising my prerogative to undergo a change of heart. I’ve decided to continue with the blog, at least for a while. I’ll try to express myself better when the subject gets a bit deep, and I’ll see how it goes.


I’ll pick it up where I left off – with the creepy stories series. I was never happy leaving them hanging anyway and there’s nothing deep to misunderstand. Just simple facts from which people can draw their own conclusions.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

For What it's Worth.

Seven people have expressed regret at the discontinuance this blog. I have a certain superstitious reverence for the number seven. So I’m thinking about it. I didn’t finish the creepy stories, did I? I dislike unfinished things.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Swansong.

The comments on my last post have brought me to a conclusion regarding a question I’ve been pondering for a while: how suitable is the blog format for addressing deeper issues?


I referred in The Summer of Our Discontent to ‘simple cultures.’ Maria asked what I meant by the term and then went on to defend its corollary, ‘non-simple’ cultures. I could have written a long comment back, defining the term and clarifying the argument in favour of the proposition. But I thought about it for a while and went beyond the simple matter of defence. There’s the bigger issue involved: the question I’ve already posed.


‘Simple cultures’ is, I agree, an ambiguous term; and that’s the problem with all propositions of a complex nature. They’re full of ambiguous terms, and those ambiguities must be removed if the argument is to have any weight. That’s why the blog format, with its short sound byte ethos, is unsuitable for this kind of exercise. To adequately address the reasons why people of a certain type of culture are happier, and generally healthier, than people of another would require at least a major essay if not a whole book. This is what gives me a problem.


There was a reason why I started blogging in the first place. I have spent several decades observing that big, nebulous subject we call the human condition. I have moved in a variety of environments during my life - from the public school atmosphere of Dartmouth College, to the hidebound mentality of the Civil Service, to the high pressure world of corporate sales, to the relatively low pressure world of retail management, to the underbelly of deprived inner city life working for a multi-racial charity, to the free-living life of a landscape photographer. I’ve worked in shops, factories, offices, prisons, warehouses, out of a company car, and from my own home. And all the time I was observing people: their attitudes and behaviour, their preconceptions and prejudices. I tried to think outside the box, and I tried to look beyond the conditioning impressed into us by the culture. And I can assure you: once you step outside the tramlines and look back in, the world looks very different. What’s more, once you’ve seen things differently, there’s no going back.


And along with this I’ve tried to make sense of the biggest question of all: what is this thing called ‘being?’ To put it simply: What’s it all about? What is existence? Why am I here? What does ‘I’ mean? I’ve delved into many traditional wisdoms, and one thing has become clear: compared with this question, the complexities of the human condition seem trivial.


And so I reached a point in my life where I became largely alienated from my fellow beings, because I’m the sort who always has to be moving on. Most people aren’t. Most people want to settle between the tramlines, and I can’t stay there with them. That’s OK, apart from one thing. How do I find an outlet for the conveyance of my observations if there’s nobody to talk to? I found the pressure was building, and I wanted some way of releasing that pressure by sending everything out into the ether where it might be picked up and pondered on. So that’s why I started blogging.


Frankly, the blog format isn’t up to the job. It isn’t giving me what I want. It’s generating as much frustration as it is providing an outlet. I can break it up with a few anecdotes, jokes and silly ditties, but the primary purpose isn’t being served, And that’s why I’m packing it in.


Thank you so much to all those people who have bothered to press the Follow button, and to those who have commented on my posts. It gave me a lot of pleasure to see you here. And those few people who have my e-mail address should know full well that further missives will be very welcome. I also intend to continue following a few blogs, and making the odd comment. And I will continue to post stories at A Handful of Stories as promised, unless it becomes evident that nobody is reading them.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Summer of Our Discontent.

How often do I hear people say they’re bored? They want something but they don’t know what it is. Or else they’re frustrated because they do know what it is but, for one reason or another, they can’t have it.


Simple cultures don’t seem to have this problem. When I read books or watch documentaries on anthropology, I never get the impression that the inhabitants of those cultures are fundamentally discontented. They live in a stable world that functions on tradition and in harmony with nature. What is there to be discontented about as long as they have peace, good health and the regular cycles of the seasons? They’re not conditioned to be discontented; not, that is, until they’re exposed to more ‘advanced’ cultures through TV and tourism.


We in the wealthy, highly technologised culture of the developed world, however, are conditioned to be discontented. On the face of it, we live in a glorious summer of prosperity at the cutting edge of invention and innovation. But it comes at a price. It bombards us with a bewildering array of opportunity and aspiration. It instils into us from a very early age that whatever we have, there is always something more to want. And in so doing, it ensures that we never have everything we want. The result is a chronic state of discontentment.


Is it surprising that stress levels are observed to be far lower in simple cultures? Has all our much-prized invention and innovation made us happier human beings. I think not.


So is there any way to get back a more fundamental lifestyle? I don’t think so, not until the bankers and the corporate giants conspire to blow the whole thing apart, or nature does it for us. Can we move forward with what we’ve got to a better future? Not, I think, unless we accept the need for a radical redistribution of wealth and re-alignment of basic principles. I can’t see that happening; the human animal is far too greedy, selfish and competitive.


I’m glad I’m nearer the end of my life than the beginning.

Five Magical Days.

I remember the five days in the year that I most loved as a kid:


Christmas Day.

My birthday.

The first full day on holiday at the seaside.

The last day at school before the long summer break.

The last day at school before the Christmas break.


I’m in a reflective mood tonight. The moon is nearly full. This is my 300th post, and the world is turning.


Glad to see the Australian flag in my flaggy thing again. I’ve missed you, ladies. And I had a new flag today – from Switzerland. Hello and welcome Suisse. I’ve discovered, however, that the Flag Counter statistics are not to be trusted. What is?

Friday, 23 July 2010

Creepy Story 2.

Ideally, you need to read Creepy Story 1 before reading this one. Unless you’re one of those people who can pick up serials half way through, in which case...


The next house was a doddle after Eaveswood Road. Maybe it helped that it was newer, didn’t have a piece of ancient woodland a mere hundred feet away, and wasn’t built on land once owned by a mediaeval monastery. Then again, what did I say about the haunting being mine, not the house’s?


I took up somnambulism at the second house. Nothing supernatural about that, of course, but it was a bit creepy waking up one morning to find the light on, the wardrobe door open, and me wearing a clean shirt. The house did, however, have one interesting little trick up its sleeve.


The entrance to the loft was in the ceiling at the top of the stairs. It was a heavy metal plate that rested firmly on recesses in the ceiling joists, and was situated in front of the two doors that led into the toilet and bathroom respectively.


It had an disconcerting habit of removing itself. One of us would go upstairs and report that the loft cover was resting half inside the loft. Guess what my mother put it down to. Yup, ‘an airlock.’ Now, as I understand it, the only way an airlock could have been responsible was if a vacuum had somehow been created inside the loft. That doesn’t seem very likely, since roofs are designed to allow free passage of air for ventilation purposes. And even if it had, and the greater air pressure in the landing area below been sufficient to lift a heavy metal plate, I still don’t see how the plate could have moved a good twelve inches to one side.


So, one day – I think I was around the age of puberty at the time, which might have had a bearing on the matter – I went upstairs to visit the loo. My mother was downstairs washing the dishes and my father was out at work. It had become customary to glance at the loft cover every time I went upstairs, and that day was no exception. It was firmly in place, flush with the ceiling.


I can’t have been in the loo for more than thirty seconds, and I remember that I could hear the clatter of dishes and my mother singing in the kitchen below the whole time. I also remember that it was a moderately warm day in summer, and that there was no wind. When I came out, the cover was lying even further into the loft than usual. Three quarters of the loft entrance was open.


I thought about the ‘airlock’ theory again, and it didn’t make sense. And then I realised something else. There had been no noise. How does a heavy metal plate get lifted out of position and deposited about eighteen inches away without making a noise – by an airlock?


I’ll tell three stories from my teen years in the next one. Two concern things that other people saw and I didn’t, and the third concerns a light on a wall that defies explanation. We all saw that one.

Blame Google.

If you’re wondering why the link colours on my blog have gone haywire to the point of being effectively unreadable, blame Google. They’ve screwed it up, and my efforts to unscrew the problem have so far proved fruitless. I’m awaiting a reply from their Help forum on the issue.


This is what so irks me about modern technology. Not only does it force us to keep up with a game controlled (if that’s the right word) by the Googles, the Microsofts, the Apples, and all the other technocrats of the modern world, it also has us tearing out our hair in trying to cope with the increasing propensity for dysfunctionality over which these much-vaunted whiz kids are presiding.


Is it so na├»ve of me to believe in ‘Make it function; keep it simple; don’t mend it if it isn’t broken?’


We’re not improving the world. We’re just paying people to pour more water into the quicksand on which an increasingly technological system is based. I’ve no doubt what the result will be.


How long? I don’t know.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Welcome Romania.

I got a new Follower this morning - two ladies called Ildiko and Flavia from Harem6art in Romania. It got me thinking about immigration to the UK.


Most of our immigrants used to come from parts of the old British Empire, like the West Indies and the Indian sub continent. Over the last twenty years, however, we’ve been getting increasing numbers from Africa, Eastern Europe, and the trouble spots in the Balkans and the Middle East. People complain mightily about this. ‘They’re taking our jobs,’ they say, ‘and they’re polluting our culture.’


I find this a sad and negative attitude. If I walk down a street and see different styles of dress, different coloured skins, and hear languages I don’t understand, I revel in the richness laid out before me. The world with all its beautiful faces is coming to my doorstep. Why would I want to complain about that? I don’t see it as ‘pollution.’


Sure, they’re taking ‘our’ jobs, but that’s because we in the west have created a system in which it is convenient to invite people from countries with a lower cost of living to do jobs that, to us, are too low paid. And why do we have to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ anyway? The world is replete with resources that can even be sustainable if we have the will. I see no ethical justification for the west greedily grabbing the vast majority of what the world provides, and then complaining bitterly when the less financially favoured want to share some of it.


I want to see an end to ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We can all keep our cultures, but still share what we have. One world. I’m sure we could do it, if only people everywhere would develop the will.


So welcome Ildiko and Flavia. I’m glad you visited my blog. And if you want to come in person, I’ll gladly shake your hand and welcome you to this piece of earth.

Creepy Story 1.

We moved to Eaveswood Road when I was fourteen months old and stayed there for ten years. It was a typical British semi-detached. The living room was at the front of the house and had two doors: one in the side wall that opened from the hall, and another in the back wall that led to the dining room.


There was no central heating, just a coal fire in the living room, and so during the winter both doors were kept firmly shut to retain the heat. They each had a drop handle, the sort that has to be pressed downwards to release the spring-loaded catch. They were both modern handles and perfectly firm, certainly not the sort that could fall under their own weight. Young as I was, I checked several times.


So how do you explain this? Many times during my childhood there, we would all be sitting in the living room at night when someone’s eye would be alerted to the fact that the handle on the hall door was dropping. The door would open just wide enough to let a person through, and then shut again. We got into the habit of turning to look at the dining room door. Sure enough – every time – there was a delay of about half a minute before that handle would drop and the door would open.


I was a very nervous child, and the door incidents didn’t help. My mother seemed a bit unnerved, too, but she pretended to make light of it. ‘It’s only Charlie,’ she would say. It hardly helped. Charlie was simply the name she gave to whatever was opening the damn door. She told me not to worry, explaining that it was only an airlock. I later learned that ‘an airlock’ was her favourite explanation for everything that was inexplicable. When I became old enough to understand how airlocks worked, I knew it didn’t fit the facts. I still don’t know what does.


But that wasn’t quite all. I used to lie in bed some nights, wondering what the strange swishing noise was that sounded like somebody brushing a hand over the wallpaper. I decided on one occasion that it was some sort of acoustic effect caused by the trees in the wood at the back of the house, but then the wind got up and rustled the leaves. The sound was completely different. There seemed to be no relationship between the two.


When I was about ten, Gillian came to stay for a week. Gillian was the daughter of a friend of my mother’s who lived in London. She was three or four year older than me. One day we were alone in the house, she in her bedroom and I in the living room. She came down and asked


‘Have you just been upstairs?’


‘No, why?’


She said she’d distinctly heard footsteps climb the stairs, walk around the landing, and then go into one of the bedrooms. I wasn’t surprised; I’d heard them often enough myself. I’ve heard lots of shrinking boards and knockings in water pipes too, and they don’t sound anything like those footsteps did.


When I was eleven we left that house and moved to a newer one. Although I was sad to leave the only house I’d ever really known as home, I was glad to be getting away from the hauntings, or whatever they were. The relief proved to be premature, because the next house had its own little interesting trick waiting to be played. It was then that I began to suspect that maybe it wasn’t the place that was haunted, but me.

Coming Soon.

Haven’t had time to write a blog post today, and now it’s 1 am. Besides, I’m getting bored again. I’m fed up with observing, complaining, and writing silly ditties. I want to be a lumberjack! Swinging from tree to tree, with my best girl by my side.


I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK...


No, I don’t. I would hate to cut down a tree, and girls don’t like me any more. They say I smell funny and get in the way. That’s a lie. They just ignore me.


So, I thought I might start telling some of the strange things that have happened to me over the course of a life that is now assuming Methuselah proportions. My ex says she’s glad she doesn’t live with me any more because I attract creepy things. And I’m not talking earthworms or beetles. I’m talking eerie


I wonder whether that would be of interest to anybody.


The first comment I get that says ‘Oh please, JJ, please tell us what creepy things have suffused your eventful and ever-so-interesting life. I can’t contain my excitement. I’m so beside myself with glorious expectation that I am in danger of dampening my undergarments’ settles it.


Expect the first tonight when the clock strikes twelve. Expect the second the next night...


Oh, do shut up! The first will be the story of the mysteriously opening doors. Tomorrow, or whenever.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The English Peasant.

I know a lowly miner

Who lives on chips and beans.

He says there’s nothing finer when

You haven’t got the means

To eat that flashy foreign food

Like curry, quiche and stuff

It’s all too dear, and really

Doesn’t fill him up enough.


And so he sticks to simple fare,

The sort the British like,

At least the proper Scouser

Or the Geordie or the Tyke.

‘The toffs can have their fancy grub,

It isn’t right for me.

I’m proud to be an Englishman

And ever more shall be.’

Is this Disturbing?

My flag counter shows something it’s never shown before. Under both ‘Last new visitor’ and ‘Newest country,’ there’s no flag. There’s just a bit of text that says ‘Unknown – Satellite provider.’


Could this mean that my latest post has attracted the interest of some unsavoury body somewhere?


If I should disappear, or die in suspicious circumstances or something, will somebody make sure I become a conspiracy theory? Thank you.


Alternatively, could anybody offer another explanation?

Alice in Iraq.

I wish somebody would tell me what the hell we’re doing occupying Iraq. Let’s run over a few facts and speculations.


1) We know that Tony Blair lied to Parliament over the reason for the invasion.


2) We know that the weapons inspector who blew the whistle on Blair subsequently died in circumstances which a panel of leading doctors regards as suspicious.


3) We know that the journalist who permitted the whistle blowing, along with the Director General of the BBC, were sacked for overstepping the line beyond which truth-telling is not permitted.


4) We know that the cost of the occupation exceeds £20bn so far, and we continue to pay out despite that fact that the government says we can’t afford to extend free school meals to poor children, and is now talking about cutting back on free bus travel for the elderly.


5) The ex-chief of MI5 told the Iraq war enquiry this morning that there was never an adequate reason for invading Iraq, and that in doing so we ‘substantially increased’ the terrorist threat to Britain.


6) Several hundred servicemen have been killed or seriously injured in action. Yes, I know they volunteered to be in the firing line when they joined up, but it’s still pretty awful for their families.


7) Nobody knows how many innocent Iraqi civilians have died as a result of our actions. Numbers vary widely according to the agendas behind individual estimates, but it’s almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands. This might not matter to some people because Iraqi civilians are mere foreigners, but it matters to me.


8) I’ve heard it said that the family of a prominent American politician made an awful lot of money out of business deals over Iraq, but of course I don’t know that.


9) I can’t help wondering whether the Saudi oil sheiks were involved in some way.


10) There seems to be common consent that Iraq is now so destabilised that we can’t just come back out again and leave them to it.


So will somebody please tell me what is the reason for this strange state of affairs. The invasion clearly wasn’t about protecting Britain. Either that or Blair is an idiot, which I’m sure he isn’t. I’m sure he knew exactly what he was doing. I wish I did.

Taiwan.

Hey, guess what? My blog has had a visitor from Taiwan. Isn’t that splendid? Now, if only I could get Jen to tell me how to write ‘Welcome’ in whichever version of Chinese they speak in Taiwan... But then, my keyboard wouldn’t have the characters, would it? And the visitor probably knows English anyway.


This is me thinking aloud. No it isn’t; it’s me typing my thoughts. I'm getting confused because I'm excited at having had a visitor from Taiwan.


Why did I bother to get up this morning? I think I’ll go for a walk in the rain. It’s warm rain.


Before I do, though, Welcome Taiwan.

We Got One Right.

I see the French lower house has followed the Belgian example by voting for a ban on wearing the burkha in public. As a sometime Francophile, this disappoints me.


A British government minister said there were no plans to do the same here. He said it would be ‘un-British’ to tell people what they can and cannot wear. At last I have a reason to applaud the statement of a British politician, and to take some pride in my nationality.


No more xenophobia, please.

Flying Things.

I love to sit in my garden and watch the swallows and house martins flying. They’re both summer visitors from Africa, and people confuse the two. They shouldn’t.


The swallow flies low, straight and hard. It skims the fields, a picture of power, speed and agility. It’s the military jet of the bird world. The house martin, on the other hand, flies more gracefully, riding the air currents. Then it slips off to wheel and bank with grace and manoeuvrability. They generally hunt higher than swallows, and watching them beats any man-made flying display.


So watch them I do, avidly and with a fascination that never subsides.


And when the day is nearly done and darkness is descending, the bats come out to complete the show.


Summer in the temperate latitudes has its advantages.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Slaves to Ambition.

I’ve never been ambitious. I’ve had lots of aspirations, and have realised the majority – just far enough to get as much as I can get from them before moving on to another one. Aspiration is OK. Ambition is something different, and I dislike it. Ambition carries a highly dislikeable connotation. It’s generally about getting to the top, and often brings with it a ruthless imperative that has no truck with kindness, compassion or consideration. Macbeth was ambitious: ‘I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition.’ Yes indeed.


And yet we foster it more and more in a culture increasingly obsessed with targets and the cult of personality. It begins in school, where kids are put under unconscionable pressure to ‘succeed.’ Succeed at what? Getting a ‘good education?’ Who defines what a ‘good education’ should be? They’re too young to have the seed of vaulting ambition sown in them that way, and feel the pressures it brings with it, even before they’ve started to make sense of the big wide world. And it doesn’t stop there. The seed grows, as indeed it’s meant to grow, into a relentless force that stays with them throughout their working lives. It might lead to success of sorts to some of them, but at what price? Forty years of stress sitting constantly on their shoulders while they worship the god of ambition. What kind of a life is that?


I want to quote a couple of extracts from Khalil Gibran’s first complete book, Spirit Brides. Bear in mind that it was written in America over a hundred years ago.


We who spend the bulk of our lives in densely populated cities know virtually nothing of those who inhabit the secluded villages and farms of Lebanon. We have joined the tide of modern civilization, coming to forget or ignore the philosophy of that lovely, simple life filled with purity and goodness. Whenever we contemplate that life, we find it radiant in the springtime, heavy laden in the summer, fruitful in the fall, cozy in the winter. It resembles Mother Nature in all her phases. We exceed the villagers in our wealth, but they are more noble than we in their souls; we sow much but reap nothing, while they harvest whatever they sow. We are slaves to our ambitions, while they are children of their contentment. We imbibe the elixir of life mixed with bitterness, despair, fear and ennui, whereas they drink it pure.


***


Youth is a delicious dream, the savor of which is stolen by the riddles of textbooks that render it a harsh vigil. Will ever a day come when sages can combine the reveries of youth with the joys of learning, the way a common enemy unites the hearts of those who hate one another? Will a time arrive when nature becomes the teacher of the son of Adam, and humanity his book, and life his school? We do not know.


I’m glad you’re not here to see it, Mr Gibran. It’s getting worse, not better.

Shanti.

OK, no proper post today. I’m suitably distraught and engaged in self-flagellation as I type. Well, I would be if I had a third hand. And a whip.


I was planning to post about castles, quote a bit of Khalil Gibran for the benefit of stressed students - and something else I don’t remember. But I’ve been out today, I’m tired, and it’s late. Helen (she’s my ex, for those who don’t know - where’ve you been?) and I visited a mediaeval castle, had tea and ice cream, and made friends with some cute little animals with goat’s faces and sheep’s bodies. They liked having their noses scratched. The sun shone. So that was nice.


Seems it’s America’s turn to pass me by today. I think it must be something I haven’t said. Which reminds me of the man I saw in full climbing gear making a descent into a hole in the ground. I asked him why he was doing it, and he said ‘Because it isn’t there.’ Get it?


With sincere apologies to Gary Larsson. That’s one of his jokes.


So now I’m listening to the incomparable Sheila Chandra again. She just sang a song about Mecca. That woman’s voice... I know, I’ve said it before.


Om, shanti, shanti, shanti.


(Do you know, my spell checker keeps ‘correcting' shanti to shanty. Bloody Bill Gates! Denizen of western mediocrity that he is!)