Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Regrettable Incongruity.

Another film review. I just watched an animated Japanese film called Princess Ononoke. It was set in mediaeval Japan, and was all about gods, demons, a hero prince and a battle to save the environment.

It had a lot to commend it. The visuals were striking, the plot engaging (adapted by Neil Gaiman who must be nearly as rich as Rowling by now) and there were some excellent creatures. The little ghostly glowing things with twirly heads were really cute. Pity the princess wasn’t that-word-beginning-with-‘s’-that-surrogate-big-sis, Della has forbidden me to use (don’t want to get sent to my room with no supper, do I,) but never mind. Generally, it was very watchable. There was just one problem. Hollywood obviously had a big hand in it, because not only was it dubbed with American accents, but even the linguistic idioms were American (example: girl in market: ‘Hey, wadder ya try’nar pull?) And the elderly Zen monk sounded remarkably like Eddy Murphy, which didn’t really match his persona!

Now, I have no problem with American accents (New England, for example, is rather that-forbidden-word) or American linguistic idioms, if they match the film. But they don’t match a film about gods, demons, a hero prince and a battle for the environment in mediaeval Japan. Do they? Be honest.

It would have saved a lot of time, effort, and the expense of employing actors like Gillian Anderson if they’d just subtitled it. And it would have been a better experience for being able to hear the ‘music’ of a language that matches the situation. No?

Final Story - For Now.

Before I force myself into my freezing kitchen (I’m really making capital out of this weather, aren’t I?) to make my much-needed dinner, I thought I’d just mention that the next story will be going up at the other site shortly after midnight GMT.

I’ve already explained why this has to be the last for a while. You don’t need me to explain it again, do you? This one is a little shorter than usual, but it’s one of my favourites.

Damn Snow!

I really don’t understand what people like about snow. We had a rather large amount of the stuff overnight and through today. There was a bit of a lull around lunchtime, so I went out and cleared all the paths again. Second time in three days. One of the reasons I do that is the fact that my disabled neighbour has three carers a day, and I feel a certain obligation to do for him what he can’t do for himself. A reason that’s more pressing to me, however, is that I’m nearly out of coal and the coalman won’t carry hundredweight sacks of the stuff up a sloping path if it’s slippery. Can’t blame him for that, of course, but I do need the fuel while it’s this cold.

Then there’s the poor birds. They’ve been going frantic all day because the food I put out for them gets covered by the damn snow within minutes. So I’ve been going back and forth trying to make the food available, and every time I do I bring pools of dirty wet stuff into the house on my shoes. My kitchen floor is disgusting.

That strikes me as one of the ironies about snow. It looks so pristine when it’s lying on open landscapes or decorating the tree branches, but wherever it ingratiates its pointless presence onto areas of human habitation, it ends up producing filth one way or another.

And I haven’t mentioned worrying about the integrity of old roofs if the snow is being driven on even a moderate wind. Or the problem of going out on the roads. The narrow, winding lanes where I live are very pleasant to walk on in decent weather, but they’re no fun when they’re covered with snow that has become compacted and turned to ice. They don’t get gritted because they’re not classified.

We’ve had more snow these past three days than at any time since I moved to Derbyshire eight years ago. I don’t like the stuff one bit. The only thing that can be said for it is that it looks pretty. So, I expect, did Lucretia Borgia.

Out of Step and Cold.

I watched the CGI version of Beowulf tonight. It’s very impressive how they do that stuff, although they took a few big liberties with the original story. What I found really interesting, though, was the fact that they made the animated characters look like the actors who did the voices. And – surprise, surprise – it’s the only film I’ve seen in which I found Angelina Jolie sexy, or even good looking for that matter.

I think I must have unconventional tastes.

And I really must stop using the word ‘sexy’ in blog posts. It’s becoming tedious.

The temperature in my office tonight is 13C (55F) And that’s with the expensive storage heater on maximum.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Sorry!

OK, OK, I know I’m overdoing the Ephrata thing, but it’s such a good name. Every time I see it I think ‘My word, that’s a good name isn’t it,’ and rhymes just jump into my head before I can say ‘Go away, you’re becoming tedious.’ This one jumped about in my ear tonight for only a few seconds and demanded to be given voice. It’s even got a name. It’s called ‘Poetic Justice,’ which isn’t exactly original I know, but I haven’t had a drink yet.

There once was a girl from Ephrata
Who liked slices of fried alligator.
One day by a bog
She got lost in the fog
So a dragon came right up and ate her.

Whoa! How you are moving my creative juices Miss, Mrs or Ms Ephrata. Can I stand much more?

Still Learning.

As it was still crisp, calm and sunny today, I went for a walk around the local lanes. Most of them were still covered with snow and ice, but I saw that there were several patches of clear surface here and there. I decided to stop and work out why. It didn’t take long.

I saw that all the clear patches were adjacent to hedgerow trees, and that the length of the patches accorded with how many trees there were. Simple. I already knew that tree trunks absorb sunlight and then give off the heat overnight. That, apparently, is why birds roost close to them. Obviously, therefore, the heat coming off the tree was sufficient to clear the road in the near vicinity.

Given how many years I’ve spent living in the countryside, you’d have thought I would have worked out that simple fact a long time ago, wouldn’t you? Dumb, I admit, but at least it’s good to learn something eventually.

The Girl from Ephrata.

Since the regular visitor from Ephrata, PA declines to identify him or herself, I have no choice but to remain curious. The name did, however, lead me to ponder possible rhymes, and a hopelessly inadequate limerick ensued.

There was a young girl from Ephrata
Who journeyed across the equator.
She played with the boys
Till she tired of their toys
And then left when they started to hate her.

The night is too advanced for quality. And if you’re a man, sorry.

Being Nesh.

I want to know more about the way the body controls temperature. I have a problem with that. It goes like this.

If I do any amount of modest exercise, I generate plenty of heat quickly. Yesterday, for example, I’d shovelled the snow off only half the path when I had to open my coat because I was too hot, even though the temperature was below freezing. If I sit, however, or even walk at a moderate pace, I get chilled just as quickly. I only generate heat if I’m doing manual work.

Other people don’t seem to have a problem being warm. Some years ago, when I lived in the city, I had to walk to the train station at 7.30 on a very cold January morning. The approach to the station took me past a parade of shops. It was still dark, the frost was thick on the pavements, and I was huddled in three thick layers and a heavy winter coat. I still felt cold, but then I saw a man walking nonchalantly across the road in shorts and a tee shirt. He seemed quite unconcerned by the sub-zero temperature, and I want to know how some people can do that. Is there some way of learning it? I’ve heard a few people say there is.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether I should temporarily suspend my habit of having a beer at about one in the morning (as a preamble to the scotch.) Beer cools you down; I’ve known that for years. That would be a pity, since having a preliminary beer reduces the amount of scotch I drink. It’s all to do with the point at which I feel tired enough to go to bed, you see.

Decisions, decisions...

‘Nesh,’ by the way, is a slang term from my home town, and means ‘having a tendency to feel the cold easily.’ It’s used in typical male banter such as ‘They’t nesh, thee great pansy!’ Good job I have no typical males with whom to exchange banter, isn’t it?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

To Do or Not to Do.

I finished watching the film Into the Wild tonight, about the trek to personal freedom undertaken by Christopher McCandless until his premature death resulted from a case of botanical mistaken identity.

There are a lot of good messages in that story, and yet the one that occurred to me most forcibly wasn’t even overtly expressed. It concerns the doing of good.

I’ve heard it said that doing good is pointless because the material world is essentially flawed, always will be, and maybe is even meant to be in order to act as a proving ground. The argument has it that whatever wrongs we right, they will simply crop up elsewhere or in a different form, or will be replaced by other wrongs. That’s a big subject in itself, and I have some sympathy with certain parts of the reasoning. (I heard it pointed out recently, for example, that for all the laudable efforts of the abolitionists, there is more slavery in the world now than there was at the time of the great European slave trade.) Where I differ, however, is in the final position.

I currently hold the view (and this might change) that doing good without desire of reward is a good thing to do because it connects us with a positive aspect of spirit. In other words, it isn’t the external achievement that really matters, but the good we do ourselves in the process.

This is a complex subject, and one that I need to consider further.

The Weather and Friends.

It’s amazingly cold here for November. Parts of the UK recorded the lowest ever November temperatures last night, while others are experiencing widespread disruption through heavy snowfalls. Tomorrow the wind is forecast to strengthen appreciably, and it’s coming from Siberia. My house, which has expensive, piecemeal heating, is getting uncomfortably cold. It isn’t even officially winter yet.

I worry about the animals at times like this, and it brings me to the subject of how differently people see them. Even if you restrict it to pet animals, people’s attitudes vary widely.

To some, animals are basically lifestyle accessories. They’re the sort to whom pedigree is everything. I’ve noticed since I moved here to Derbyshire that professional people moving into their extended and renovated cottages usually furnish themselves with a brace of black Labradors or Springer Spaniels. They’re the ‘in’ breeds at the moment. Others care nothing for animals at all, and never have pets. A man I once knew told me of an acquaintance whose dog had died. He couldn’t understand why this person was upset. ‘It’s only a dog, for God’s sake,’ he said. I don’t blame him for that. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I, and others like me, just love animals. We see them as fellow sentient beings sharing this thing called life. They feel pain and emotion, and it seems that some of them are even capable of higher feelings like compassion.

I feed the birds in my garden, and they’ve become something like friends to me. I suppose they’ve become surrogate pets. That’s why I worry about them spending the long, cold nights outside. I have to stop myself getting constantly wound up about it, because there’s nothing I can do except feed them during the daylight hours and hope they make it through the night. I get a thrill every time I open my door in the morning and the little robin is there wanting his breakfast of rolled oats.

I make no apology for being soft about animals. I’ve always been that way, and I see it as nothing more than connecting with life and revering the spirit that drives it. It’s one thing about me that I can’t see ever changing.

Sexy Bones.

Before I head off, though, I forgot to say:

I watched Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride tonight. What a super little film. Never seen it before. Wasn’t the corpse bloody sexy?! She knocked spots off the cutesy Victoria. No wonder she turned into butterflies at the end. Far too good for a mere human.

Walking the Merlin Way.

I was talking to Helen yesterday about spiritual paths. She’s going through a process of transformation, you understand. She’s had her hair dyed red and has taken to wearing pink clothes. She used to be a Buddhist.

So anyway, we decided that I’m probably following the Way of the Magician. Not the stage variety, nor even the Harry Potter sort. Oh, no. God forbid. (That was a joke, the second one actually.)

I don’t remember why we decided that. I think it had something to do with me saying that I wanted to be Merlin when I was a kid.

This is what advanced birthdays do for you. I’ll be off to a warm bed as soon as my playlist has finished. Funny old life.

Writers Beware.

A suggestion for any aspiring writers out there: avoid writers’ forums as you would the Black Death. They're awful. If I explain why, I'll end up sounding bitchy, which is one of the things that trouble me about writers' forums. Just don't.

And Another Thing...

Today, November 28th, is my birthday. Same day as William Blake and John Bunyan. B, B and B. I approve.

Feeling Victimised.

You might remember that I was having a problem with an old back injury a couple of weeks ago – how it finally eased, and then I had to do some more clearance work in the garden which made it flair up again. A couple of days later I got a call to go and help the old man next door. He’d fallen and couldn’t get up, so I had to go and lift him into his chair. That doesn’t do bad backs any favours. And then today I awoke to the sight of a healthy covering of snow that had fallen overnight, so I spent the first hour or so after breakfast clearing about 120ft of path. Backs don’t like that, either. As Julius Caesar said (according to the film Carry on Cleo)

Infamy! Infamy!
They’ve all got it in for me.

And I don’t remember it ever being this wintry in November. I’m typing this encased in four layers of clothing, including a heavy, lined woollen jacket with a lambswool collar. And when you scatter coal ash on the sloping path to try and make it safer, you end up tramping half of it into the house every time you go in and out. That’s one of things I dislike about winter – the fact that it’s so messy. I think I could do with living in a warmer climate.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Defining Atheism.

Today’s news carried a small report on the public debate between Tony Blair and the Canadian atheist Christopher Hitchens. From what I can gather, it seems the main issue was whether religion is a force for good in the world, or a justification for committing every atrocity known to man. This is an interesting point to argue, and I should think the balance of historical fact is very much in Hitchens’ favour. The point I want to make, however, is that it was billed as a ‘debate on atheism,’ and I think it illustrates how vaguely the term ‘atheism’ is used, and how it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of spirituality.

As I understand it, ‘atheism’ literally means ‘declining to acknowledge the existence of God.’ This strikes me as a perfectly reasonable viewpoint, since the existence of God can’t be proved. Indeed, it has to be the default position of science in its present form, even though individual scientists are perfectly free to believe whatever they like. The problem is that people don’t always use it that way. Three other ‘definitions’ spring to mind:

1) The intractable opinion that any belief in God is delusional.
2) The opinion that material reality is the only form of reality, and nothing can exist beyond it.
3) The opinion that organised religion is nothing more than a means of controlling the masses and should be done away with.

These three are widely different concepts and, even though any one or all three of them might be right, they shouldn’t be covered by the use of a single noun. If you do that, the whole issue becomes fudged, there follows confusion and narrow-mindedness, and the result is pointless conflict.

I think the problem stems from the fact that, at least here in the west where we’re taught the simplistic truisms of the Judaic tradition, people fail to make the distinction between three different aspects of the subject: God, religion, and spirituality.

Let’s be clear about something: God and religion are not inseparable. I suppose the best example of this is Buddhism, which does not teach the concept of a single, individualised creator God. When Buddhists use the word ‘God,’ as they occasionally do, they mean something very different from the notion held by Jews, Christians and Muslims. There is no place for the Jewish God in Buddhism, or any other creator God for that matter. This is why I’ve occasionally heard western commentators refer to it as an ‘atheistic’ religion. And yet Buddhism is rightly regarded as one of the world’s major religions because it addresses the issue of what lies beyond the material realm and how we should best prepare for a higher level of existence.

Conversely, it’s perfectly possible to believe in, and pray to, the creator God as taught in the Judaic tradition, and yet have nothing to do with any organised religion. In short, it’s possible to disagree profoundly with the first of my three alternative definitions, whilst totally agreeing with the third.

Spirituality, of course, is something else again. This is a broad concept that isn’t easy to define, and it varies from person to person. To keep it simple, I would say that it is fundamentally the conviction that material existence is only one level of reality, and that there is some point in seeking to discover what the other levels are and how the ‘inner’ aspect of human life relates to them. As such, it’s easy to accept that a person can be highly spiritual, and yet have no truck with either God or religion.

It’s this complexity that so many people fail to understand. For more than fifteen hundred years, Western Europe has been the centre of Christendom, and Christendom has never permitted choices beyond its own narrowly-defined parameters. The issue was simple: you were either a Christian or a heathen. There was no other way, and fifteen hundred years of conditioning can still be discerned in the simplistic view so many people have of the big question: ‘Is there more to being than life?’

Things are changing now, of course. We live in a secular society which brings problems of its own, but at least we don’t burn people to death simply for wanting to take a more fundamental view of Jesus’ supposed teachings. We’re free to choose between atheism, agnosticism, any of the organised religions, or a spiritual path of our own individualised design. And yet I still hear people ask simplistic questions like ‘Do you believe in God?’ and ‘What do you think of atheism?’ I can’t answer those questions in simple terms. All I can do is delve deeper by posing the challenge ‘Define God’ or ‘Define atheism.’ Only when the definitions are cleared up can we begin to get somewhere.

The Thrill of New Music.

This is one of those red letter days when I discover some exciting new music. Andrea Kiss recommended that I listen to The Mediaeval Babes, so I did. Sexy music, sexy women, absolutely my kind of thing. Many thanks, Andrea. If I had a Christmas wish list, one of their albums would be at the top. I don’t, because there’s nobody to read it. But, never mind. I’ve added one of their tracks to my playlist. I love finding new music. Is there no end to the power of musicians to create magic?

Making the Relationship Work.

The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

The best way to a woman’s heart is by exposing your emotional frailties until you feel six inches tall, not correcting her when she agrees with something you haven’t said, handing her a hot water bottle once a month, avoiding the temptation to be honest by pointing out that all newborn babies look like monkeys, showing due consideration for her finer feelings by holding her hair back while she’s leaning over the loo throwing up, and agreeing with whatever she wants you to agree with whether it's what she said or not.

Simple.

Friday, 26 November 2010

A Little Mystery

I had a Comment Deleted on my post ‘Ephrata, PA,’ and the timing matched a visit from Ephrata. Isn’t it a pity that the first comment(s) on a blog post doesn’t come into my Googlemail inbox, only those made subsequent to my reply – and even then, not always? I still think it’s a nice name.

Seeking the Spirit.

When I look back over my life, I remember all the countless people, places and incidents that engendered all those countless emotions. And none of them has any substance. They’re just memories; and memories, like photographs, are nothing more than two-dimensional shapes on a two-dimensional surface. Or at least, that’s how they seem to me most of the time. Where this gets interesting, however, is when I find myself projecting that perception into the present, and seeing even the now as nothing more than two-dimensional shapes on a two-dimensional surface.

It’s only when I move beyond the material and consider my relationship with spirit – the spirit of place, of nature, and of other sentient beings – that some semblance of substance starts to emerge. For me, it’s the spirit that forms the starting point on the quest to discover reality, not the material.

Which isn’t to say that surface appearance can’t be what attracts me to seek the spirit in the first place. That’s my excuse, anyway.

Incongrous Evocation.

Isn’t it interesting how we come to associate certain pieces of music with certain themes or experiences, even when they have nothing to do with one another?

The second Julie Fowlis track on my playlist is the first one on her album Uam, and I was in the habit of playing that album when I was reading Kafka’s The Trial last winter. So even though it's a Gaelic song and the title translates as ‘My land is rich,’ I now associate it indelibly with the stuffy offices and seedy hovels of pre-war Prague.

Ephrata, PA.

For some reason I’m extra bored tonight. I think it’s because I’m used to being in a silly mood at this time of night, and tonight I’m not. I’m in a flat mood. And my hands are cold. The temperature in the UK has hit way sub-zero, courtesy of a polar air flow, and my office, whilst being the warmest room in the house until I start lighting coal fires in the living room December, is still some way short of a comfortable sitting temperature.

So, what should I post about, seeing as how I haven’t got anything else to do between now and going to bed? There’s only one thing I can think of. Ephrata, PA.

Ephrata crops up a lot in my feedjit thing, and I really like the name (I assume it’s pronounced e-fray-tuh.) I don’t know who the visitor is, of course, since feedjit is notoriously unreliable when it comes to specific locations. When I visit other blogs with a feedjit, for example, I come in as Rickmansworth, which must be about 150 miles from here. My friend Rob explained that this has something to do with it picking up the network hub location (or something like that,) rather than the actual source. So, even though I know where Ephrata is, it doesn’t mean that the visitor comes from there. In fact, he or she probably doesn’t.

Nil desperandum. The name suffices. When visits are infrequent and I’m feeling even more disassociated than usual, I get pleasure from seeing ‘Ephrata, Pennsylvania visited...’ So thank you, whoever you are.

Am I guilty of being ‘nauseating’ again, would you say?

And do you know what’s annoying about playlists? The volume varies so much. I have to keep stretching to turn the speakers up and down nearly every track. But at least I got Golden Brown back. Somebody had taken it down from You Tube. Some small minded record company executive, I expect.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Looking for Clues.

I’m recording the Jack Nicholson film Something’s Gotta Give tonight. I’m hoping to gain some inspiration.

Turning the Clock Back.

Some Tory politician who’s just been promoted to the peerage came out with an enlightening comment today. He said that he disagreed with proposed changes to the Child Benefit rules because they might ‘encourage the poor to breed.’ It seems that good old Tory attitudes are making their way back into mainstream politics. I wonder how long it will be before we invade Ireland again, and Sydney harbour witnesses the arrival of a fleet of latter day convict ships.

No Place for Judgement.

I heard some disturbing news today. A close neighbour of mine at my last house shot himself a few weeks ago.

It isn’t the phenomenon of suicide that disturbs me; getting to a point where the prospect of death has become preferable to the pain of living is something that happened to me once. The fact that it was someone I knew and talked to several times brings it into sharper focus, but even that isn’t it. It’s the method.

Committing suicide by overdose somehow leaves open the possibility of rescue, as does leaping into a body of water intending to drown. And standing on a railway track is a matter of waiting for the end to come. Shooting is both immediate and proactive. There’s no room for second thoughts or the possibility of rescue.

And so I drove home today wondering what frame of mind he was in during that brief period between applying pressure to the trigger and having his head blown apart by a 12-bore cartridge. How can any of us know, unless we get to that same point ourselves? So how can any of us pass pejorative judgement on suicides, as some people do?

Sheer Nonsense.

Ephrata, Pennsylvania
And Sydney, New South Wales
Are all a man could ever need
To push him off the rails.

Sung to the tune of Benson, Arizona. You have to love the image of the redneck riding the asteroid belt to oblivion, don’t you?

This is the second damn silly post in succession. I put it all down to anxiety, one cause of which is the fact that I have a birthday coming up in a few days. That has to be bad news.

Am I losing you here?

Right. Better go to bed then.

Teasing.

I just wrote a poem. It’s called JJ. It has six words in it. Are you intrigued?

This is what happens when you’re bored, slightly inebriated, not tired enough for bed yet, and wondering who won the toss in Brisbane.

Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust
If the beer doesn’t get you
The barley juice must

That isn’t the poem.

There’s a Chinese song coming through my speakers at the moment. I think it’s about fishermen. Either that, or fishermen used to sing it. How would I know? I don’t speak Chinese. Coincidence though, eh?

I think I just went off the rails.

And now I’m being sung to in Gaelic. I asked an actress once whether she had any Irish blood in her. She said:

‘Nah. Plenty of Irish sperm, though. My last boyfriend was Irish.’

Her name was Sarah, believe it or not. More coincidences.

Mercury is definitely retrograde, and I’m going for a pee.

Ta ta.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Being Three-in-One.

It’s odd how my mood varies from one part of the day to another. I did lots of practical jobs today, and all the time I was working, I was thinking out a blog post about the law on defamation of character and how it relates to the Vedic attitude to spiritual growth. Sounds unmissable, doesn’t it? I thought so at the time, but now it seems about as interesting as a chartered accountant with halitosis and an infectious skin condition. So I’m not posting it. Can’t be bothered.

This happens a lot. The morning ‘me’ is spaced out; all I want to do is trudge through a few routine jobs and then chill out in front of the computer with some strong coffee. The afternoon ‘me’ is industrious and serious; that’s when the proper jobs get done and the proper posts made. Once night has fallen and the curtains have been drawn, all I seem to want to do is drift off into fantasy, reflection and entertainment. Can you imagine any woman living with somebody like that? Good job I don’t want one, isn’t it?

As for what I said in the last post, I’ve changed my mind. I have a reason.

Would you like a run down on all the interesting memories that attach to my old sofa, and why, in consequence, I’m very fond of it? They’re mostly to do with women. No? OK. Maybe something completely different later, then.

What am I going to do for the next forty five minutes until the water is hot enough for my bath? I’m currently listening to the lovely Julie Fowlis, who hails from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. I’ve also added a Sinead Lohan track to my playlist. Fascinating singer. I went to her website once in the hope of finding an e-mail address. I wanted to ask her what the hell her lyrics were all about because, fascinating though they were, I hadn’t a clue what most of them meant. There was no e-mail address listed, but the site did include an interview with her in which she said that she didn’t know what they meant either. They were just streams of consciousness. Oh well, that’s good.

Getting Personal.

I want to make a post about a particular person who occasionally reads and comments on this blog. Would that be ill-advised, I wonder? I don’t see why, because I wouldn’t expose her to any embarrassment or discomfort that might accrue from being identified. I might attract pejorative anonymous comments from people who think they have the right of sanction over what I choose to post here, but who cares?

I wouldn’t expect to gain anything from it, of course. That wouldn’t be the point. The reason for doing it would simply be to illustrate how strong an impression somebody can make, even when they only effectively exist in cyberspace.

So I probably will – tomorrow, when my head is clear of John Barleycorn and a delicate part of my anatomy has stopped aching, I hope. My doctor tells me it’s referred pain, probably from my old back injury. He’s a good doctor; I trust him; and the tests were negative!

Right now, Clannad are singing Harry’s Game, and a pre-heated bed beckons. The temperature is well below freezing tonight. I worry about my little robin pal on nights like this, and they say it’s going to get colder. Winter is starting early this year.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A Search Oddity.

It seems that somebody found my blog post ‘Ten Reasons to Hate Weddings’ by Googling ‘reasons to hate weddings.’ What an odd thing to search. Does that mean he or she was looking for reasons, or seeking to vindicate his or her own? I wonder whether I was of any help.

What a Pain.

It might be recalled that I mentioned the back pain I was getting for a few days recently. Two or three days ago, it went; I felt fine and back to normal. Today, however, I spent a few more hours doing autumn clearance work in the garden – clearing low embankments and climbing ladders with a hedge trimmer and a pair of loppers. So now the pain has returned; and tomorrow we’re promised another dry day, so I suppose I’ll have to do some more.

That’s life. Things have to get very bad before I’ll take pain killers. Don’t like chemicals.

And the Cage Shall Keep You Comfortable.

I reached that point again today, as I occasionally do, when I felt I had no option but to give up on trying to co-exist with the culture of middle-ness: Middle England, Middle America, Middle Class... It’s just so riddled with illusion and bigotry, and yet so safe and settled in its certainties.

I heard people having what they were convinced was a meaningful discussion about something, and yet it was obvious that they hadn’t even considered whether the axioms on which their argument was based were even tenable. This is the essence of middle-ness: be happy to live in a cage of someone else’s creation, and never even consider that there might be a door somewhere that could set your mind free.

And then I watched a film in which middle class, middle American parents were earnestly striving to perform the first duty of middle-oriented parents everywhere: indoctrinate your kids in an absolute belief in the cage, and ground them without mercy if they show so much as an inclination to look for the door. And guess who suffers when the kid finds the door anyway: the parents. It’s ironic, heartening, and even amusing when that happens. In this particular film, the kid pursued his own goal and found the door. The voice of a continent was raised in condemnation, as if it had anything to do with them anyway. Partisan judgement is a classic symptom of middle-ness, and one of the things I find most difficult to understand.

And it isn’t only parents who take this duty seriously. The whole culture is complicit, from politicians to educationalists to policeman to the media...

At least I took some small comfort from hearing an American economist admit that the American Dream had never been more than a cruel delusion, since logic dictates that it is simply unattainable in a free market economy. If I might be permitted to dive into the depths of shameful cliché just this once, it was too little, too late. By then I felt thoroughly beleaguered by the sheer lack of imagination and earnest questioning that keeps the human race firmly incarcerated in its gilded cage. Someone, somewhere is enforcing parameters, and we are only allowed to argue within them, not question the reason for their very existence.

Do excuse the rant. I try not to take life too seriously, since I believe it all to be a form of illusion anyway. Sometimes, however, I get sucked in.

Favourites

I couldn’t answer the question ‘What is your favourite film?’ There can be no one film that overrides the influence of mood and the current perception of priorities. When I was a young teenager, I would have said El Cid. I was big into the heroic stuff then. More latterly, I would have said Funny Bones. But for a while recently, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was favourite. Tonight, I would definitely say Amelie.

Oddly, this doesn’t apply to drama. Waiting for Godot has been number one to me for sixteen years now, and I doubt that will change.

I don’t see any reason why anybody out there should give a toss. I’m rambling.

And now I’m off for an early night.

Monday, 22 November 2010

J'Accuse Renaissance Man.

So, I said I was going to tell the story about the bad man from Italy, didn’t I?

First off, though, I don’t need to say that this isn’t meant to reflect on modern day Italians, do I? I don’t need to say that, right? I’ve been paid a lot of compliments over the past few days, which have included being called ‘nauseating’ and ‘off the rails,’ and I wouldn’t want to blot my copybook by being thought xenophobic. I have nothing against Italians. As long as that’s understood, read on.

Some time in the 1570’s, Robert Dudley decided to organise a grand party for Queen Elizabeth II at Kenilworth Castle. It seems he was making a final attempt to woo her into marriage, and what better way to impress a virgin queen than with a firework display? All those new-fangled rockets climbing all the way to heaven (which is best heard in a Welsh accent, for some odd reason,) and then bursting with symbolic potential. Yes indeed, boyo (the Welsh accent again.) Robert Dudley was evidently a man ahead of his times.

So, where best to go for a pyrotechnics expert? Italy, of course. Italy was the cradle of the Renaissance, and the Renaissance was about more than just art. So an Italian master of fireworks was sent for, and he duly arrived with his bag of tricks.

But what did this Renaissance Man, this shining example of the cream of civilisation, want to do for the crowning glory of the display? Rockets bursting with erotic potential? No. Catherine wheels? Hardly – unfortunate choice of name. Sparklers for the revellers to wave whilst dancing a merry minuet? No. What he wanted to do was fire live cats and dogs from canons. Fortunately, he was persuaded to abandon his plan.

One up for the barbarians, I say.

Declining Pointless Risk.

I saw a news report the other day that quite incensed me. I considered making a post about it, and decided not to. Why? Because certain subjects are so emotive that they get wrapped in barbed wire. If you’ll excuse the mixing of metaphors, a single, narrow view is so firmly established that it is effectively writ in stone, and any divergence from that view, however rational and well considered it might be, is simply not allowed. Any attempt to so diverge runs the real risk of being greeted with hysteria and a frenzied call for disembowelment.

This has happened to me several times. I remember one occasion when a supposedly intelligent young woman, who’d had a university education and gained a degree, was so taken aback by my questioning of one of society’s shibboleths that she was moved literally to the verge of hysteria. No amount of reasonable argument would convince her that there might be more than one way of looking at something, and that there was nothing wrong with examining possible alternative views. She was far from being the only one, and it taught me a lesson.

Too many people want to be told what to believe; they don’t want to think things out for themselves, because if they did they might run the risk of rejection. And they’re right about that. Questioning dogma is a dangerous thing to do if you want to belong.

So, a couple of questions crop up here. Firstly, do I think the people who read my blog are the sort who will disallow my right to question whatever I want to question? For the most part, probably not. Secondly, since I don’t really belong anyway, and don’t feel any great need to, should I be concerned about offering a controversial opinion? Therein lies the problem.

If I could be sure that anything I say would be kept private among the regular readers, I would be prepared to say anything. But my blog is public, and it’s become apparent to me that the world is watching, waiting to pick up on a word or phrase and re-publish that opinion to a wider audience. We need to bear in mind that, even in the so-called democratic west, people can still receive the most serious sanctions for offering opinions that certain sections of the populace find unpalatable. There are a number of seemingly respectable bodies out there that work tirelessly to suppress free speech, whatever the politicians like to pretend. And sometimes the politicians are openly complicit. Since I hold no position of influence, any opinion of mine is most unlikely to make the slightest difference to anything, and so I think that circumspection is sometimes advisable. But only sometimes.

Prospects and Reservations.

My last blog post got me listed on a website called World Singles Zone. How odd.

So, does this mean there’s going to be a bevy of beauties lining the lane five abreast from here to the pub tomorrow? Or should I be uncomfortable at the feeling that I’m being watched?

No, I expect it means that I’ll now be inundated with junk e-mails from women called Tracy who want to light my fire. And charge me for the dubious pleasure.

Don't Call the Call Girl.

I watched a good French thriller on the TV tonight. It was called Le Serpent, and is well worth a look if you’re into thrillers. One bit of it even related to a matter close to my heart.

It started with an elderly professional man being blackmailed for his night of pleasure with an attractive young call girl. Admittedly, the elderly professional was rather more elderly than me, but it still got me thinking. It struck me that the only way I’m ever going to enjoy a night of pleasure with an attractive young woman is if I pay for it, and there are two problems with that.

The first is that I don’t have that kind of money, and even if I did there would be better things to spend it on. I suppose that objection could be overridden if I won the lottery or something, but the second problem is deeper and would apply no matter how rich I was.

I need to be invited if the experience is to be worth anything. To use a simple analogy, the sex is the icing on the cake; the cake itself is the ego-boost that comes from being thought attractive enough to be allowed into the inner sanctum. Ergo: if there’s no cake, there’s no icing to put it on.

It’s a shame for me, isn’t it? I wonder whether you can still get bromide.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Maintaining the Habit.

When I was a kid, smoking was all but universal among adults, to the extent that any man who didn’t smoke was in danger of being ‘labelled.’ I even remember one woman saying to me in my teens that she could never have an affair with a man who didn’t smoke. That attitude was not uncommon then. Smoking was not only acceptable, it was required - at least of men.

All that has changed over the last couple of decades. We’ve been swamped by anti-smoking propaganda, anti-smoking legislation, and dire health warnings on everything to do with smoking. I’ve even seen at least two publishers’ submission guidelines require that a health warning be given on every page of a manuscript in which a character smokes! Smoking has become socially unacceptable in mainstream society, and anyone who still indulges is viewed as a fool at best, and a pariah at worst.

Now, maybe that isn’t entirely a bad thing since I’m not claiming that smoking is conducive to a long and healthy life, but that isn’t the point of this post. The point is this.

It occurred to me while this process was going on that adolescents would react very differently to it than adults would. Most adults want to belong to mainstream society, and are easily swayed in their habits by propaganda aimed at that section. Adolescents, on the other hand, are naturally inclined to rebel against the mainstream – especially since youth culture has become entrenched as a separate social group in its own right. Consequently, it doesn’t surprise me in the least when I read that the smoking of cigarettes is actually increasing among young people.

At first I thought this was just another example of the establishment – in this case represented by the government and the NHS – misunderstanding the workings of society and missing the boat as usual. But then I began to wonder.

The duty on tobacco is a major source of revenue to the exchequer. I heard a government minister only a few years ago speak out against smuggling by saying that the revenue from legal sales of cigarettes and tobacco virtually paid for the NHS. It seems apparent to me that no government would want to see it disappear; it simply isn’t in the national economic interest. So then I began to wonder whether the aiming of anti-smoking propaganda at the social mainstream was actually quite a clever ploy, maybe cooked up by the bright boys in the tobacco industry. It would work nicely in their favour by ensuring the next generation of tobacco sales, wouldn’t it? No doubt it will be claimed that the anti-smoking message is also being pushed at children in schools, but I would expect the effect of that to be at least limited, if not counter-productive, once the kids reach ‘break off point’ in adolescence.

So am I just being overly imaginative and inventing another wild conspiracy theory here? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

The Saga Continues.

Having had the syrupy stuff about William and his girlfriend all week, now some American news channel has raised a spectre of much greater import. When Charles becomes king, will his wife have the status of Princess Consort or Queen Consort? Gripping stuff, eh? I was tempted to wonder at that point whether the British royal family means more to Americans than it does to us. It seems not, because the next thing to appear was the result of a British opinion poll which suggested that the majority of Brits would prefer to have William as the next king, not Charles. Do people really care enough to have an opinion on such things?

It has been suggested, possibly correctly, that all this preoccupation with the royals is being carefully stage managed to take the minds of the British plebeians off the impending privations caused by the cuts in public expenditure. It’s just another old trick that we learned from the Romans. Their circus was vigorously maintained for the same reason. I suppose we should be grateful that we’re not feeding Christians to ravenous lions. Then again...

Taking Offence.

I’m fortunate in being very difficult to offend. The way I generally see it is this:

As long as I’m comfortable with myself – and that includes being comfortable with my faults – what does it matter what anybody else thinks? If somebody ‘insults’ me, then one of two facts apply. Either they’re right, in which case why should I be offended? Or they’re wrong, in which case that’s their problem not mine.

Leaning towards extroversion does, however, slightly complicate the matter. Work it out if you want to. The resurgence of my old back injury has been troubling me all day, and I’m tired.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A Major Fault.

I’ve often been struck by the fact that I have a particularly bad fault. The more I like something, the more dissatisfied I am because it isn’t enough. The higher I go (and I’m speaking metaphorically here,) the stronger is the urge to go higher. The better something tastes, the more frustrated I become because it doesn’t taste stronger.

This is not the way of the Tao, which I greatly admire. It’s a serious flaw.

An Acceptable Repeat.

I must be in the mood for jabbering aimlessly tonight, because I’m now going to repeat myself without apology.

I still find it verging on the incomprehensible that people who’ve never met me keep on coming back to read my latest blog posts. I still get a little thrill every time I see a new visitor appear in my tracker widget. Many of them are identifiable by one means or another, and I have an image of all the regulars. That image is probably completely up the creek in many instances, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that I have an image at all means that every time I read Perth, Western Australia (Joanna just happens to be the most recent) arrived 11 minutes ago – or wherever it might be – it’s like somebody has called in person to say hello. That gives me a lift.

So, I just want to say – again – how much it means to me to have you there. Thanks.

And I don’t expect comments on this post. I had enough the last time I said it. I just think it’s important not to take the company of people for granted, and also to let them know I don’t take it for granted.

Crappy Colour.

Since I imagine that most people will view my last two posts as evidence of a diseased mind, I thought I’d make the next one more rational.

I accessed my blog from a library computer while I was out today, and got a shock. The background I set is a very dark blue – almost black – and that’s how it appears on my monitor. On the library computer, however, it was a sickly green, somewhere between pea and sage. Rob tells me it appears green on his monitor, too.

I’ve long known that colour varies a bit from one monitor to another, but I didn’t realise it can vary so much as to change both the colour and the tone completely. If anybody else is getting a sickly green background, do please make the effort to imagine it dark blue, almost black. I think I might go for black, white or greyscale in future. Can’t trust anything, can you?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Losing a Treasured Companion.

I have no interest in cars as symbols of wealth, power or status, tending instead to regard those who flaunt their prancing horses as rather sad and insignificant doyens of a delusional culture. Nevertheless, I am capable of developing great fondness for cars as personalities. They all have a personality, even though it’s rarely allowed to become manifest because people will insist in cloaking it under the above mentioned delusion. The point about a car’s personality is that only develops when the potential is recognised, and it flourishes in direct proportion to the driver’s willingness to afford the vehicle the level of respect he or she would afford any other sentient being.

The car I’ve been driving for the last three years or so is a lady, a quiet and demure lady of charm and gentle habits, and I always treated her as any considerate gentleman would be moved to treat such a lady. In the process, I became remarkably fond of her. Unfortunately, she is also deep into advanced age, and today the list of repairs needed to get her through the annual test proved just too long. She is come to the end of her days, and will soon be exposed to the un-tender attentions of a scrap metal dealer. This is a sad day.

I’m reminded of the end of the film Poltergeist II. When the Native American is asked what the family can do to repay his services, he says something like:

‘You must let me take your car. She wants to be with me.’

So, do I have the mind of a mere savage? Does the mere savage have a mind inferior to the prancing horse brigade? We all believe what we want to believe.

A Hint of a Premonition.

With reference to the post ‘Disconnected.’ (Two posts down.)

Maria wasn’t entirely wrong; the dream was a little premonitory. I entered the bar area from the balcony that overlooks the car park, expecting to find the tables mostly occupied and Rob’s comforting, homely presence bringing light and joie de vivre to the bustling atmosphere.

(Rob is the bar manager who now reads this blog, apparently, so I have to pretend to like him. I thought I would do so with a dash of irony, which he understands better than most.)

To continue:

The shutters were down on the bar counter. No people, no bustling atmosphere, no Rob. The place felt as dead as only an empty public space in a theatre during the hours of daylight can feel. It’s why I used to hate doing Christmas matinees. It went one stage further than that, though.

I decided to go for a pee, only to find workmen in both public toilets. They were replacing panels in the suspended ceilings, so there were holes where there shouldn’t have been holes, just as there had been in the dream – caused by workmen, just as they had been in the dream.

This is slightly worrying. If there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s prophetic dreams.

There’s a Wales-Fiji rugby match on the TV shortly, so I might tell you today’s other bad news later.

Banned!

I don’t think I’ll ever fully get used to the experience of clicking on somebody’s blog, a blog I’ve been reading and commenting on for months, to find that it’s now ‘Invitation Only’ and I haven’t been invited.

It’s OK; it doesn’t offend me. I don’t shed tears into my scotch or charge around the house kicking the furniture (I don’t have a cat, and I wouldn’t deliberately hurt an animal anyway, whatever my mood.) In short, it isn’t a problem. It’s just intriguing and a little ‘Oh’-ish to be told you’re not welcome.

Hey, ho. Early night tonight. I’m aiming for 2.30. And right now I’m listening to a Chinese woman with a lovely Chinese voice singing a rather nice Chinese song accompanied by a video of the most drop-dead-gorgeous Tiger Lillies you ever saw.

That’s a thought! I do hope I never get banned form a Chinese lady’s blog. The scotch just might turn salty.

Should I survive the trial that tomorrow might prove to be, I’ll tell you a story about how horrible Renaissance Italians could be, and how we English were much nicer!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Disconnected.

I had a dream last night in which I went to the theatre where I used to work. I was smoking, and suddenly felt guilty because I remembered that no smoking was allowed. The Theatre Director came up to me and said it was all right because she was smoking too. I went to watch the play that was being staged in a small room with high ceilings, instead of the main auditorium. Workmen were busy closing off entrances and making new ones, so both the actors and the audience had to come in through makeshift holes in the walls. It all felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar; I felt I didn’t belong there any more.

I’m having a lot of uncomfortable dreams lately - not full blown nightmares, just scenarios in which things are not as they should be and I’m feeling out of place and uncertain. I suppose they must reflect something of my current frame of mind.

Maybe the dreams represent my view of an outside world in which I feel increasingly alien. Or maybe it’s all the government’s fault.

I have to be out most of tomorrow. One of the places I’m expecting to go to is the theatre where I used to work.

The Night Before: A Dark Question.

I’ve always wondered whether condemned people go to bed on the last night before their execution, particularly if they are to be executed by some hideous means like burning or being hung, drawn and quartered.

How on earth does a person cope with the knowledge that this is the last time they’ll lie in a bed; and that when they wake up in the morning, it will be the last time they do that, too. And how do they deal mentally with the knowledge that in a few short hours they’ll be subjected to the most terrible physical agony, after which their life will cease?

It’s easy to imagine that the people of earlier times were somehow braver and more habituated to physical pain than we who live in what is generally a less brutal age. A letter I read that was written by one of Henry VIII’s victims suggests otherwise, and brutal executions still happen in some parts of the world.

So how do they deal with the night before?

There's Hope Yet?

I’m the last person to be interested in the affairs of a celebrity, but...

Sometimes it’s the principle that’s interesting, not the celebrity.

John Cleese’s latest lover is thirty one years his junior. Since John Cleese is a fair bit older than me, it would mean that, let’s see... let me get my calculator...

Yup, that would do nicely. I wonder whether having fame and a lot of money makes a difference. Maybe I should continue to concentrate on my potato patch.