Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Scotch Fairy.

My goodness gracious me!
Whatever can it be?
It’s got four eyes,
Sings lullabies,
And dances on my knee

‘Who are you, little lady,
So cute and full of glee?’

‘My one excuse
Is barley juice.
What other could I be?’

The e-mail I was expecting today hasn’t materialised. Expectations rarely do. ‘Have not expectation,’ said the sage, ‘for it leads but to the mire.’

Well said. I’m shutting up now.

More Questions.

Why does Google Blogger stats keep telling me that I’m getting regular, daily visits from Denmark, but my flag counter has never shown the Danish flag for as long as I’ve had it? Maybe it’s Hamlet’s dad short circuiting the system.

And another thing. Why does everything sound louder to me today? What is it with ears?

And finally...

Am I boring you? I’m boring me.

No lectures on reflexive pronouns, please. It’s all a matter of style.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Reviewing My Situation.

I’m spending far too much time on the computer these days. I’m becoming a computer couch potato. If I might be excused for playing the same old tune again, I think my time would be better spent sitting in a sleazy bar until five in the morning, drinking myself into a rosy mist and watching the sad detritus of an overheated culture descend into drink-induced delusion. Such occupation would at least have character to commend it.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of sleazy bar in Britain, at least I don’t know of one. We have pubs, nightclubs, café bars and ‘gentlemen’s’ clubs. Some of them are sleazy in their own way, no doubt, but it wouldn’t be the right kind of sleaze. Wrong ambience, if you know what I mean.

I have a kit to build a model Viking longship upstairs. My wife bought it for me back in the day when I was still dutifully tramping the tram lines. It looks awfully complicated. I could try making a model of the Taj Mahal in milk bottle tops, but milk bottles don’t have that kind of top any more. In fact, I’m not altogether certain that we even have milk bottles any more. I could buy a kite, I suppose, but they’re only any good when it’s windy. Besides, it’s the nights that drag a bit, and kites aren’t so good in the dark. Of course, it might help if... but let’s not go down that road.

So, the computer will remain my friend for now. It’s being awfully cranky and slow tonight, but I’m hoping that’s just a passing mood. At the moment it’s playing Bob Dylan’s original recording of Boots of Spanish Leather to me. It’s not so bad.

Neither, for that matter, is my situation, just in case anybody thinks of taking me seriously.

Do I have anything deep and meaningful to say today?

No.

Sides of Me.

Maybe I shouldn’t bathe. It encourages serious consideration. Maybe I should spend every penny of what little money I have on scotch, then lock the doors and drink for as long as it takes. That should stop me musing.

I sometimes have this yen to go and sit in one of those establishments much beloved of American downbeat movies – the sort that have ‘BAR’ and ‘LIQUORS’ in American-sized neon letters to encourage the failed, the footloose, and the fancy-free into the hallowed halls of the real living dead. (I even used an Oxford comma in deference to colonial taste.)

I sit there, a sad and lonely figure, with my equally sad, lonely, and solitary beer, and regard my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. A shabby woman in a short skirt approaches me. She’s obviously in her thirties, but has the air of a timeless, weather-worn and weary waif of an insensitive world about her. She reminds me of the sludge clinging to the piles holding up the dock of the bay.

‘Hey, stranger, you got somewhere to stay tonight?’ she asks with a well-practiced, but shallow and desperate smile.

‘Nope.’

‘Want to come back to my place?’

‘I don’t know. Is it clean?’

The smile dissolves into searing daggers.

‘Buddy, you just passed up the chance of a lifetime,’ she hisses, and then trips with all the grace of superheated vitriol towards the door.

I regard with interest her overdeveloped calf muscles, primed by at least two decades of balancing on pencil-thin stilletos, and then take another sip of my beer. She throws open the door and disappears into a rainswept oblivion.

Normal service is resumed.

I thought I wasn’t going to make any more posts today.

The Broader View.

I’ve heard people say that all religions teach fundamentally the same thing; that they only differ in terms of source and emphasis. You only have to look at the world’s two major faith systems to see that it isn’t so. The Judaic and Vedic traditions approach the whole concept of spirituality in radically different ways.

The Judaic approach is: ‘You have a life. This is how to live it in order to be afforded a better existence when it’s over.’

The Vedic approach is: ‘You have a constant succession of lives, going round and round on a wheel. This is how to condition your perception so you can come off that wheel.’

I’ve encountered a number of people over the last few years who claim to be Buddhist, but it’s obvious that they misunderstand what Buddhism is about. The problem is that people in the west are conditioned to the Judaic one-life mindset, and that’s the mindset with which they approach their chosen religion. They think that practising Buddhism is about achieving inner peace and harmony in their lives. Well, it can certainly do that, but it’s only a part of the means to the end. The end is about learning how to stop having to be human. And following that road is rather more mentally and emotionally taxing than simply following the conditioned mentality of a one-life culture.

I was sitting in the bath tonight, musing on all those things people obsess about: ambition, high education, wealth, status etc, etc, and I thought:

‘Look beyond the tramlines. There’s more to being than life.’

And then I heard Bob Dylan sing:

Preachers preach of evil fates,
Teachers teach that knowledge waits,
While goodness hides behind its gates.

And the last line of that song is:

It’s life, and life only.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Relationships.

Sorry, back already. Something’s bugging me. Relationships – not the pragmatic sort or the ones that are handed to us by circumstance, but the ones we choose. I’m talking friendships and romances.

Is there anything substantive about them, or is the substance merely a bi-product rather than an integral part? In other words, do they really only exist inside our heads?

I just realised: this is my 400th post. I'm thinking of taking up origami instead.

Thomasin.

I knew an actress/singer once called Thomasin Trezise. I’ve been thinking about her lately for some reason, and this just popped into my head. Strange really, since I don’t feel like talking generally to the dozen people who still read this blog. Individually, maybe, but not collectively. So this will probably be all the posting I’ll do today.

Oh lovely Thomasin Trezise,
Could charm the birds down from the trees.
She had a smile to drive men wild
And oh such very pretty knees.

At Last!

I’ve been waiting ten hours for the ‘Latest Visitor’ flag to change. Ten hours is a long time.

THANK YOU AUSTRALIA, whoever you are.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A Recommendation.

If there’s anybody out there who loves Sheila Chandra’s version of The Lament of McCrimmon, for God’s sake don’t watch the You Tube video. I did. It’s awful. It misses the haunting quality of that track by a million miles. Whoever made it (assuming it was a man) should be suspended by the testicles from a tree in Rutland and left there for the ravens to disembowel – slowly!

He should.

On the other hand, the video for Speaking in Tongues (the one where she's wearing what looks like a posh woolly hat) is quite brilliant.

Mystery.

This is the woman who once sent my head spinning until I thought I was going to fall over, just by looking at me and saying 'Hi.' She's the only woman who's ever done that.

Why?

I never spoke to her again.

Being Esoteric.

I wonder whether an apology might be in order for the last post. It’s my blog and I can write whatever I want on it; but it’s also what I choose to make public, so maybe it has a duty to be comprehensible. What I had in mind when I wrote it was something quite specific, something I don’t choose to make public.

Please excuse any sense of bemusement or pointlessness it might have engendered.

The Solution?

Complexity
Is next to me
It’s sitting on my arm.

It wants to bring
The quest to me
And fills me with alarm.

It wants to send
A text to me:
‘You think you have the charm?

Then go and be
So vexed with me,
You won’t do any harm.’

Friday, 27 August 2010

I Have a Little Peg Bag.

I was hanging some washing on the clothes line when Helen visited me recently. I had the peg bag tied around my waist. She looked at it and said ‘That peg bag’s a bit... er... isn’t it?’

OK, this bag was made by my wife in the days when I was young enough to have a wife. She made it for her own use, of course. It’s a lightweight denim material with a blue gingham panel stitched beneath the slit where the pegs make their entrances and exits. So yes, it is ‘a bit... er.’ Can’t deny it. But it’s practical. It does the job. What am I supposed to do, go out and spend money unnecessarily on a butch leather one with rhinestones?

This is a week for difficult admissions. First the slippers, and now this.

Leave me alone.

Another Bit of Junk.

My latest junk mail has a subject line to the effect that Janifer Nickless wants to connect with me on Yahoo. The name ‘Nickless’ sounds suspicious to me!

Logic vs Instinct.

During my last year as a photographer I was kept going for the first five months by a number of commissions from an illustrated partworks magazine on country walks. They gave me one job photographing a walk near a town called Ulverston in South Cumbria. It was early spring and the weather was awful. Those kinds of publishers like their illustrations to be cheerful and sunlit, preferably with fluffy white clouds. Flat grey light and rain are definitely out.

After several weeks I was becoming desperate. The deadline was looming and I badly needed the fee. The recession had been biting for two years by then and I was nearly broke, but there was no point in giving them bad pictures because they would simply have struck me off their panel.

One Saturday night all the weather forecasts for the whole of northern England gave more of the same: heavy cloud cover and incessant rain, some of it heavy. I went to bed knowing there would be no chance of doing the job the next day. The problem with most commissioning fees was that, although they were high – one day’s work more than paid a month’s rent, – they were flat rate. Expenses weren’t paid separately, so any money wasted on petrol for an abortive day effectively came out of my own pocket.

As I was climbing the stairs something started to nag at me. I seemed to split into two people. One part of me was writing off the prospect of getting the job done the next day; the other part was insisting that I set the alarm. Battle raged, but I’ve never been one to ignore instinct. I set the alarm.

I got up to see that the forecast had been spot on. Low cloud, a misty atmosphere and rain. I decided to go back to sleep, but Mr Instinct became insistent again. It told me to get up, have breakfast, prepare a packed lunch and drive into the gloom. And so I did, reluctantly and telling myself what an idiot I was being.

Ulverston was about 150 miles away, and the drive was mainly in three legs: a few miles of country lanes, then a long trek on the A69 that connects Newcastle with Carlisle, and finally a trip down the M6 motorway. By the time I was half way along the A69, the weather had become even worse. The cloud was so low that it was almost foggy, and the rain was lashing down. I considered turning around and cutting my losses, but Mr Instinct said no.

When I reached the junction with the M6 I realised that my wipers were scratching. The rain had stopped and the sky was noticeably lighter. Twenty miles down the motorway, I spotted a tiny patch of blue sky over to the east. My optimism remained checked because I was going the other way, but as I approached Ulverston I saw that there were more patches of blue. I found a car park in the town, and – can you believe this – as I opened the car door the sun came out. What’s more, it stayed out all day. The pictures I got were so good that the publisher used one on the magazine cover.

And that’s the story I tell people who insist that logic must always take precedence over instinct.

Another Personal Message.

Some things don’t change much. I’ve realised over the last few weeks that a few of the instincts I had when I was sixteen are still with me, undiminished. Only now they’re overlaid with experience, a different sense of self, and an aversion to mirrors. Does that make them easier to deal with?

Surprisingly, no.

I think it’s time for bed. I’m tired of hearing lullabies.

‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...’

Living in a Construct.

Funny old day, today. No e-mails, no blog comments, no snail mail, no phone calls. I feel invisible. I wonder whether it’s right, as some people say, that each of our worlds is merely a construct of our will, and that nothing material exists outside our own perception. The problem with that view is that it goes into a level of philosophical and spiritual reasoning that I can’t access yet. But maybe it is right, and maybe all the people who are important to me don’t actually exist. Maybe I made them all up. Or maybe they’re just not talking to me today. Interesting, though.

And those words – funny old day today – remind me of one of my all-time favourite sitcoms, and my all-time favourite line from it:

Granville: Oh, come on. Somebody must have loved me mother.

Arkwright: Oh, they did. Plenty of people round ’ere loved yer mother dearly. And some of them quite cheaply.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Mantra.

I heard this for the first time today. It made me feel that, with a little practice, I might be able to learn to love the world. I would commend it most highly to anyone who is feeling troubled. I would recommend that you turn off the lamps, light the candles, and listen to every beautiful eight minutes. It might work.

'Because You're Worth It.'

One of the many lessons my daughter taught me was this. An ex-boyfriend had said to her once:

‘Why do you want to be pretty? Pretty girls are ten-a-penny. Being pretty just means you disappear in the crowd. What you have is much more than that.’

Clever lad! And it had me thinking today – yet again – about the cosmetics industry. They have spent the last heaven knows how many decades ‘developing’ new products (they like the word ‘develop’; it makes even a worthless activity sound important.) They pay celebrity models huge sums to advertise them. They have cruelly tortured and killed countless millions of innocent animals in the process. And all for what? To persuade people to the patently absurd notion that beauty is skin deep, and that using the latest bottle of chemicals will make them even more beautiful. The products that were around fifty years ago would do the odd little enhancement job just as well as all those that have come and gone in the interim.

Surely, there can be few industries like the cosmetics one for demonstrating just how outrageously foolish and self-delusional modern culture can be. And before anybody tells me that people were using make up five thousand years ago, I know. But what they did was use a few simple, natural products in order to follow the latest style. The two things are very different.

Well, What a Surprise.

Remember how I was ranting on in June, complaining that the ex public schoolboy-led coalition government’s budget would hit the poorest hardest?

Today the Institute of Fiscal Studies published the report on a study they undertook. It said the coalition government’s budget has ‘hit the poorest hardest.’

The government put out a statement saying it disagreed.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Poor Old JJ.

Is this more down to earth?

I want to go to India.
I want to go there now.
I want to wander nonchalant,
And meet a sacred cow.

I lack the strength to walk there.
I lack the cash to fly.
So, seems I’ll never get my wish
To mosey in Mumbai.

Flight of Fancy or a Former Life.

I sometimes get hints of alternate existences trying to impress their half-remembered sensations into this one. I can only assume it’s where the following sprang from.

Or it could mean that I have an overactive imagination, or the mind of an incorrigible romantic, or that I’m a bit off my head, or any combination thereof. The only thing it demonstrates for certain is that I’m no poet.

But I decided I liked it anyway, so I’m posting it.

Lovely girl of old Cathay,
Would you come and spend a day
Teaching me of sweet seduction
In the oriental way.

Would you take me to the mountain top,
Or down to fishers’ shore,
Where the bamboo leaves wave witting,
Keeping secret evermore.

Lovely lady of Cathay,
Would you take me ’cross the bay,
Where your spirit still sits patient
Back in fabled Mandalay.

I’ve developed a real obsession with Mandalay lately. It keeps jumping into my head at every turn. I don’t even know where it is. Strange as it might seem, I don’t want to know.

Wild Weather.

The weather is like a bear with an intermittent toothache today: groaning one minute and growling the next. There’s a withering westerly wind that occasionally gusts to gale force, bringing swathes of icy rain sweeping in from the distant landscape and making it shiver in the swaying mist. The sky looks intoxicated and uncertain. Great masses of grey and dirty white chase each other across it like panic-stricken animals in flight. And every so often a steady batch of blue reveals itself, and the August sun bathes everything, incongruously, in a brilliant light.

Equitable Justice.

Back in March, the British Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton got into a spot of bother with the Australian police. It seems he performed some stunts in a road car, and on a public road, for the benefit of enthusiastic onlookers. Everybody had a few minutes fun, apparently, but the Aussie police charged him with ‘improper use of a motor vehicle’ and today he was fined A$500. Now, this raises immediate suspicions about the mindset of Australian bureaucracy, but I don’t know the details well enough to argue the matter.

What I can say is this. Lewis Hamilton is a Formula 1 world champion, and that means he’s at least a millionaire, if not a multi-millionaire. I think it reasonable to suppose that he spends more than A$500 on a haircut. Which brings me to the main point of the post.

We have a fixed penalty system in Britain for minor motoring offences. If, for example, we’re caught doing 40 mph in a 30 mph zone, we get fined £60. Everybody gets the same fine. That’s fair, isn't it? Well, no, actually it isn’t.

The purpose of the fine is to punish and act as a deterrent. To a rich person, of course, £60 amounts to a bit of loose change; but to somebody struggling to get by on the national minimum wage, £60 is a substantial sum of money. It’s a week’s worth of food to a family of three. To put it simply, the severity of the ‘punishment’ decreases in proportion to a person’s wealth. Or, to put it another way, it’s a further example of how the system is designed to favour the rich over the poor. And that isn’t fair at all.

Marco Polo Meets Emily Bronte.

Oh, Cathay!
Oh, Heathcliff!

Variation on an Old Song.

The sun has got his hat on.
Hip, hip, hip hooray.
The moon is in her undies
So I’ll look the other way.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Self Sacrifice.

I had another story accepted for publication today. The editor says it’s ‘full of symbolism.’ Is it really? Well, I never.

What’s interesting about this one is that it needed to start with a dream sequence, and I couldn’t for the life of me write it sober. So I decided to have a couple of large scotches and try again. It worked.

The lengths we go to for our art. What a martyr.

Watching the Game.

During my time at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, we were all whisked off one evening to take part in an overnight combat exercise at Poole. They split us into two groups. One was assigned to occupy and defend a building; the other was required to attack it, capture it, and take prisoners. I was in the attacking party.

There was a lot of running about, shouting, and the banging of thunder flashes. It struck me as being all a bit pointless, since it didn’t really replicate a combat situation in which the ammunition is live and grenades do rather more damage than thunder flashes. I found myself doing what I have always been inclined to do: I stood aside and observed, rather than engage with the general mayhem. Eventually the building was taken and the ‘defenders’ captured. At that point an officer yelled at me.

‘There are two prisoners escaping,’ he screamed excitedly. ‘Get after them, for God’s sake.’

No doubt he thought I was being lazy or ineffectual in some way. He didn’t know the real reason why I was so transfixed by the scene before me. It wasn’t the noise, the mayhem, and the overbearing silliness of it all; it was the violence. The real violence. We were all cadets together. We worked, played, drank and exercised together. We were all friends together, or so I thought. Which was why I couldn’t understand the reason for the violence. The attackers were treating the captured defenders with real brutality. The punches were real, so were the kicks, and so were the blows with rifle butts.

It was the first time I’d witnessed how easily people can have the veneer of decent behaviour stripped away from them. These were highly educated, intelligent young men destined for the officer ranks, and yet they were treating their colleagues worse than punchbags. And all because of the heat of a replicated moment.

That’s why I wonder what really goes on in genuine combat situations when the stakes are higher and the heat of the moment far more intense. I never forgot it, and it wasn’t to be the only time I’d witness it.

Er...

I’m curious. Is there a keyboard shortcut that inserts ‘thanks for sharing?’

Go Slippers!

I heard that awful phrase again today: ‘A pipe-and-slippers man.’ It refers to someone settling into the mediocrity of middle age.

No. One of my missions in life is to defend slippers. Slippers are comfortable and practical. They don’t label you Mr Boring. I like slippers; I’ve always liked slippers; I’ve been wearing them since I was knee high to a shitzhu; I was wearing slippers when I was a rakish seventeen-year-old going to parties several times a week, wooing the girls, and waking up in some stranger’s loo at 4 am having gone in there three hours earlier drunk as a lord.

Slippers don’t have to be a badge of middle life or old age. It’s all in the mind. I’m wearing slippers at the moment. My mother bought them for me one Christmas nearly twenty years ago. They’re moccasin-style, and have holes in the soles. (Rhyme intended - there’s gravitas in rhymes.) They also suffer from split seams, but they’re still comfortable and practical, and I’ll continue to wear them until they fall apart.

I do admit to being particular about the style. I wouldn’t, for example, wear pink furry ones with Minnie Mouse’s head standing on the toe. But that isn’t the point. The point is: slippers are OK. Get over it.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Plans.

Today is nearly over and
I haven’t made a post.
And now I’m feeling peckish
So I’ll make a piece of toast.
And then I’ll go and have a bath
To wash away the grime -
Prepare me for the early hours,
My winding downing time.
I’ll get that little bottle down
And have a drop of booze.
And then I’ll take myself to bed
For more than just a snooze.

Today I’ve been the sort of busy that precludes the contemplation of deep and meaningful things. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, so who knows where my mind will end up? Watch this space if you’ve got nothing better to do.

Actually, the bottle is quite big. Litres are cheaper pro rata.

The Times they are Prosaic.

The harvest moon is only a month away.

By the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy.

Not these days. Now they drone noisily around the fields in heavy tractors with those big headlighty things mounted on the roof of the cab, shattering the serenity of the rural night. And then they race up the lane sounding like the Devil’s flatulence personified.

One of them nearly ran me over when I went for a walk after dark tonight.

Oh for the days when ploughmen lived on nought but bread and cheese, reapers laboured around the clock with their silky scythes, and beautiful women got locked up in remote towers for nice young chaps to go and rescue. Where’s the poetry gone?

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Whatever it Takes.

One day a little jellybean
Was sitting on a twig
It tried to climb up higher, but
It wasn’t very big.

‘I’m tired of being a jellybean
I think I’ll go to bed.
Tomorrow I’ll stop trying to climb
And take the lift instead.’

So sayeth the Tao.

Boring.

I’ve been trying to think of something to blog about all day today, but I’ve drawn a blank so far. Either my world is being uninspiring, or I’m in an unreceptive mood.

I had this idea that I might start sending coded messages out to individuals, but suppose the wrong person got the message. Let’s suppose, for example, that Snark – a young man from America – were to decipher the one that said ‘Oh divine Lotus Blossom, your dark oriental eyes have the power to send me to a rapturous realm, the heights of which I never imagined even in my wildest dreams.’

Wouldn’t do, would it?

So maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll have a drink later and see whether anything funny jumps into my uninspired mind.

Do excuse me for being boring. Feel free to stop reading. Have me suspended unconventionally from a tree in Rutland, or cast into the darkest corners of suburban Essex. I deserve it.

Oh, and ‘hello Greece.’ Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms Greece came over for the first time earlier, and then returned later. That was really nice.

So something interesting did happen today. Scrap the above.

YMCA

I’ve had a good idea for increasing the number of my followers. I should click the ‘Contents Warning’ button. That should appeal to a few people with salacious predilections, shouldn’t it? Then I could buy some Village People gear and pose in my garden with a meaningful look. What’s the betting the local rats would go scurrying for cover, deep inside the nearest briar patch?

‘Ooh, did you see him? He was wearing a leather thong.’

‘Mum, what’s a leather thong?’ asks the cute little four-day-old rattus rattus, who looks like a mouse with extra large eyes.

‘You don’t want to know, dear. It’s not very nice. And I had him down as such a regular sort of chap. What on earth is the world coming to?’

I do so love the wee small hours of the morning. Such a spur to the imagination.

Change of Continent.

On the road to Katmandu
A little goat said ‘How d’you do.
Would you have the merest penny spare,
For I need to use the loo?’

* * *

There’s a field nearby where somebody keeps exotic animals. Huge sheep, American quarter horses – and llamas. Llamas have a very strange way of looking at you.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Was it Something I Said?

Blow me! I lost a follower today. Losing a few wives and partners along the rocky road of life is par for the course, but losing a blog follower smacks of carelessness. I have to wonder whether I’ve become either boring or offensive. Offensive I can just about live with, but boring would be intolerable.

The problem is, I don’t know who I’ve lost. It’s right, though. Google used to give 35 when the count was actually 34. Now they’re giving 34 when the count is 33.

Anybody want to own up and tell me where my fault lies? If not, I’ll pretend I don’t care. Actually, I don’t suppose I do really.

Who Were You, Isabella?

I went for a walk today and wandered into the old churchyard at Norbury. For some reason my eye was caught by a headstone over on the south side, so I went and read it.

It was the grave of one Isabella, who died on August 9th 1870, aged twenty six. Beneath her name, a second Isabella was inscribed. She had been born on August 2nd 1870, so it seemed reasonable to suspect that the demise of the mother had been related in some way to the birth of her daughter. The daughter had subsequently died at age thirty six, but it wasn’t her I felt drawn to. It was her mother. I had an image of a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair arranged in ringlets. She was looking at me with a friendly and knowing smile. I stood there for some time, thinking little but feeling a sense of connection.

Eventually I pulled myself away and considered why I should have felt that way. I find old headstones interesting to read, but I don’t recall ever having felt captivated by the occupant of the grave before. At first I realised there was a coincidence of dates, because August 9th was also the date of my mother’s death. That didn’t feel right; I’m sure it had more to do with the name.

I’ve always had a fondness for the name Isabella; in fact, I can even say that I’ve occasionally felt that I should be married to someone of that name. It speaks of feminine strength, but it also holds the promise of mystery. There is something both beautiful and gothic about it. Isabella is the one whose body is lying impatiently in the crypt, awaiting reunion with her lover. I feel similarly about the name Abigail, but her ghostly qualities are somehow more prosaic than gothic.

I left the churchyard feeling a mild sense of separation. Some small part of me didn’t want to leave Isabella. I even said goodbye to her and promised I would visit again. Isn’t that odd?

So, who were you, my lady? Or maybe I should be asking ‘who are you?’

More Respects to Mr Kipling.

Apologies for not making a post today. My mind has been on other things.

But Missy Silly Ditty Muse seems to be back, because she just blew a raspberry in my ear and threw this at me:

On the road to Mandalay
Where the cows don’t moo, they neigh.
And the tigers rest contented,
Eating candyfloss all day.

On the road to Mandalay
Where the local ladies say
‘Come you back you English tourist,
For we like how much you pay.’

On the road to Mandalay
Where pink elephants do play,
And the rest is mere conjecture
Now my hair is turning grey.

On the road to Mandalay
Where the night is bright as day,
And the dawn comes up like ketchup
’Cos there ain’t no other way.

Is this cabin fever?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Real Values.

Seems I don’t get comments any more. That’s OK. Why should it matter? Why should I care?

I met a friend’s 20-month-old daughter today. Her name is Hester. She’s beautiful. We got on.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Non-PC Generation.

I was on a train today. I looked over to the seat on the other side of the aisle where a young man was sitting. He was slight of frame, pretty, and had blond, wavy hair.

He smiled at me. I didn’t smile back. Not very PC, am I?

You may yell at me.

Comment Moderation.

I’ve never understood the business of comment moderation. Blogging is about publishing your thoughts; it means you’re choosing to make them public. If you have comments enabled, it means you’re inviting the public to comment on what you’ve said.

What does it indicate about a person when they exercise a right of veto on those comments, so that other readers are allowed to see only the ones of which the author approves?

Phlegmatic Flower

There was a little wallflower
A-growing by the wall.
A cat came up and sprayed it, but
It didn’t mind at all.

Being Above Forgiveness.

I’ve long felt uneasy about the concept of forgiveness. There’s something egotistical about it, maybe even self-indulgent. If we could raise our consciousnesses to a level where we didn’t feel the need to blame in the first place, forgiveness would be redundant.

More Things We Remember.

I was travelling to the Yorkshire Dales on a geography field study trip from school. I was fifteen. I was with half my class in a minibus driven by Mr Whieldon, the head of music, with a young woman RE teacher called Miss Moran sitting next to him. To break the monotony, I offered to sing a silly song.

There’s a well known music hall song in Britain called ‘Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?’ The chorus runs:

Oh dear, what can the matter be?
Three old ladies locked in the lavatory.
They’ve been there from Monday till Saturday.
Nobody knew they were there.

I’d never heard any of the verses, so I decided to make up my own. I still remember them.

The first was the Bishop of Chichester’s daughter
She started to pee when she shouldn’t have oughta
The place she was in became flooded with water
And nobody knew she was there.

Chorus

The second one’s name was Elizabeth Humphrey
She sat down so hard she could not get her bum free
And she’s been there from Monday till Saturday.
Nobody knew she was there.

Chorus

The third one’s name was Elizabeth Vendor
She went in there to mend a suspender,
But got caught up with her feminine gender
And nobody knew she was there.

Final chorus.

Miss Moran looked at me with a glint in her eye, a wry smile, and a shake of her head. I recall feeling flattered.

The things we remember.

The Cassanova of Carmountside Infants.

I was attending Carmountside Infants School at the time, so I must have been between five and seven years old. It was Christmas, and one of the young women teachers was standing on desks to hang decorations.

She came and stood on my desk, and I looked up her skirt. I knew – I just knew – that there was some reason why I should find this interesting, but I couldn’t for the life of me work out why. I felt irritated. And then I grew up.

The things we remember.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Missing.

Has anybody seen my Silly Ditty muse? She used to sit on my shoulder late at night, giggle a lot, and poke me in the ear until I’d written down what she told me. I haven’t seen her for several weeks.

She’s about six inches tall, with long, curly black hair and discreet wings. She looks about eight, but don’t let that fool you. She tells me she remembers a time before America had giant redwoods. She also tells me that she was the one who persuaded me to take the Big Drop and come into this world. I wasn’t very keen on the idea, apparently.

So, if you should see her skipping or flying absentmindedly about the place, would you please tell her I’m missing her. Thanks.

Letting Slip the Dogs of War.

There have been a number of cases in both Britain and America over the last few years about service personnel in war zones abusing, torturing and even murdering civilians. This shouldn’t surprise anybody. Such behaviour has been a normal part of war for as long as wars have been fought. The Romans even celebrated the fact, as Trajan’s Column illustrates. Fortunately, the public is a little less accepting of such things these days, which leads me to wonder about the cases that are reported. Although I have no evidence, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they are no more than the tip of an iceberg, a few token cases allowed to be revealed so that the public thinks they are isolated incidents and the perpetrators are being properly called to book.

The fact is that war strips away the veneer of civilised attitudes and behaviour to which civilians are habituated; and when that happens, what is revealed underneath is often ugly. I’ve witnessed it personally a couple of times in my life, in situations of aggression or high excitement. I saw a profound change come over men’s eyes, and it disturbed me. And it seems that soldiers are trained to let that veneer slip away very easily when the occasion demands.

I watched some interviews once, with soldiers who had been involved in the conflicts in The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me quote one typical conversation. The soldier, a sniper in Afghanistan, said:

‘I lined him up in my sights and pulled the trigger. I saw half his head disappear as it exploded.’

‘And how did you feel?’ asked the interviewer.

‘Elated. It’s the job I’d been trained to do, and I’d just done it well.’

‘Did it concern you that you had just killed a human being?’

‘Not at all. I didn’t see him as a human being. He was a just a target and I took it down.’

‘Do you feel any remorse now for the fact that you’ve taken so many human lives?’

‘Of course not. They weren’t humans; they were the enemy.’

This doesn’t appear to relate directly to the abuse of civilians, but I would suggest that there is a real connection. If you train people to forego their respect for human life, the side effects are surely predictable. It’s why discharged infantrymen are often a problem to society.

So should we excuse their behaviour and regard them merely as victims? I don’t think so. People must still be held accountable for their actions to some degree, even when those actions are triggered by strong conditioning. But I also think we shouldn’t stop at blaming the soldiers. To me, the primary responsibility for the abuse, torture and murder of civilians, lies with the politicians who start wars. They know, or should know, what happens when you do that. It’s why I consider it somewhat ironic that Tony Blair is giving the royalties from his latest book to a charity for injured servicemen. I wonder whether he feels some belated responsibility for their plight, and I further wonder whether he realises how far beyond the members of his own army that sense of responsibility should go.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Matter of Association.

There’s something I don’t quite understand. Why do I never tire of hearing Enya’s Caribbean Blue? Why does it continue to captivate me just very slightly? It’s surprising because:

1) I’m not that keen on Enya. Her song Smaointe is one of my all time favourites, and there are one or two others I find pleasant enough, but apart from that...

2) Caribbean Blue was one of her more popular tracks. Since my taste in music is hardly mainstream, I don’t usually like popular tracks.

3) The lyrics aren’t up to much, and the melody is no more than catchy.

So how come I’ve been listening to it for fifteen years and still like it so much? Could it have something to do with association? I associate it with an exciting time in my life, although it was a period containing as many downs as ups. Maybe it’s all to do with Sheona McCormack. She was a sort of roller coaster ride, with a long climb to a high peak followed by an almost vertical plummet. Maybe that’s it. In the unlikely event that anyone might wonder who Sheona McCormack was, her story can be found here.

Being Middle Aged.

I often feel a sense of unease when I look at other men my age. I don’t see myself mirrored in them; there’s something about them that I don’t want to be, and yet I struggle to put my finger on quite what it is.

I think it has something to do with comfort, convention and simple certainties. They seem to have given up on aspects of life that still matter to me. They don’t want challenges any more, or even questions. They have what they see as proper, and few things would be more alien to them than impropriety. They’ve settled into a mindset that regards blandness as a cardinal virtue. I think I shall always find that impossible. I’m driven by the constant urge to find something, even when I don’t know what it is. I don’t necessarily want it, you understand, but I still have to look for it.

I saw a middle aged man driving down a road near my house today. His wife was sitting in the passenger seat next to him, and an image, or archetype if you like, clarified in my mind as they drove past.

He drives a medium sized, respectable saloon or modest MPV. His wife sits next to him, and the distance between them, though determined by the placement of the seats, is still significant somehow: close enough to be comfortable, but far enough away to prevent any suspicion of intimacy. On the rear seat sit one or two grandchildren, or one or two small pedigree dogs, or maybe both. In the rear window there is a sticker that says ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.’ True enough, I grant you, but still clichéd and predictable.

Neither he nor his wife look cheerful, excited, depressed, anxious, or anything else that might suggest a susceptibility to the positive and negative poles of life. People like them are rarely subjected to the vacillations of polarity. But there’s nothing there to suggest they’ve reached a state of equanimity, either. There is only blandness. They are comfortable. They have followed the conventional road, and comfort in middle age is where it leads. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, but that sort of comfort is not for me. And so a question sprang into my head.

Does being independent help you to remain young at heart? Does the constant need to move on, ever seeking to encounter new places and people, help to avoid the stagnation of middle age? My mind still sees me as a thirty-five-year-old. It’s a pity my body frequently disagrees with it these days, but I can still pretend, can’t I? However much my hair thins, my joints ache from too much manual labour, and my breathing is that bit shorter when I walk uphill, I hope I shall never be middle aged.