Sunday, 31 July 2011

It Never Stops.

I went onto Google Book Search earlier and entered my name to see whether my two Lulu books have got there yet. They haven’t, but I did come across a letter I wrote to the British Journal of Photography in 1984. It reminded me again of how much I’ve spent my life hiding from my true nature.

Finally coming to terms with how you really feel about certain issues can be difficult, especially when those feelings run so contrary to received cultural norms. What’s even more difficult, however, is preventing them turning into definitive judgements. That’s the real test, and it’s a stern one. Life just won’t let me relax. Even now.

The Walk.

So, how did the walk go? It was warm, much warmer than yesterday even though the Yahoo weather forecast said it would be cooler.

I had three stubby beer bottles that needed to go to the recycle bins so I thought I’d take them and walk round that way. Since there were only three, I didn’t bother to put them in a bag, and I found that if I held one at just the right angle it caught the wind and went woooooo all the way down the lane. Back to the old small-things-please-small-minds phenomenon. Some disappointment accrued, however, from the fact that all three bottles produced the same note, so I was unable to manage even a little dissonance, let alone harmony.

Sarah’s horse scowled at me again. It’s been doing that a lot lately.

When I reached the end of Mill Lane, I was struck by how noisy it was. There was a whole tribe of sparrows cheeping away like crazy in the hedgerows, and the cows in the farm buildings on the other side of the lane were bellowing for some reason. Then there was the very loud hum of the milking equipment. How noisy the countryside can be sometimes.

When I arrived at the entrance to the church drive, I thought I’d check out the state of the downpipes (see recent post.) The purloined lead ones have been replaced with grey plastic modern ones, but no CCTV cameras yet. So then I paid a visit to the grave of the enigmatic Isabella – remember her? A thought struck me: if I’m right in my belief regarding reincarnation, it’s likely that there are places in the world where the remains of my previous bodies are still lying. How fascinating it would be to go and find them.

I turned into Church Lane to make my way back and saw a domestic cat apparently stalking some small creature on the verge outside my landlord’s mansion gates. It scuttled away at my approach, and I felt pleased that a mouse or vole had been spared a nasty ordeal as a result of my presence. After all, I’m sure the landlord’s cat didn’t need it for dinner. But then it struck me that said feline probably went hunting elsewhere and found another innocent rodent to mangle, one that wouldn’t have got the treatment if I hadn’t been there. You can’t win, can you?

So that’s the total of today’s little adventures, bar one. There was one other encounter, and it led to a train of thought that could have comprised easily the biggest part of this post. Unfortunately, it’s all bound up with the nature of the horrors that have been troubling me so badly lately, and they haven’t altogether gone yet. So that one will have to wait for another day.

Another Bit of Thinking.

I'm missing somebody badly at the moment, so now I'm asking myself the question 'Is it the person I'm missing, or what she represented?' I don't know yet, and I don't suppose it matters in the long run. A man has to get used to what a man has to get used to.

OK. Walk. Who will I meet today, I wonder.

Semantics or a Paradox.

Earlier today I was running over the inventory of gains and losses during the last year. It occured to me that loss is an experience, and that all experience is a form of gain - arguably even the most important form of gain.

You might think there's a paradox here; you might think I'm playing with semantics; I think I think too much.

So now I'm going for an afternoon ramble around the lanes of rural England.

The Horse Might Talk.

I once heard what I gather is an authentic Tudor joke. I’ve told it before, but different people are reading the blog now so it bears repeating.

A man was standing trial before the King on some capital offence. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. In an attempt to extricate himself, he made the King an offer: ‘If you will delay sentence for one year and release me, I promise to make your horse talk.’ The King was intrigued and released the man on the understanding that the horse must talk within a year. Later, the man’s friend admonished him, saying it was impossible to make a horse talk and he was only delaying the inevitable. The man replied: ‘Who knows what will happen over the next year? The King might die, or I might die, or the horse might die, or the horse might talk.’

This is why I have so much difficulty planning anything. It isn’t that I can’t do it; some things have to be planned and I can do so if I have to. But I don’t like it at all; I need to go with the impulse of the moment.

Tomorrow, circumstances might change; tomorrow, I might change; tomorrow, somebody else might change; tomorrow, the horse might talk. If there’s one thing I trust least of all, it’s the vicissitudes of life.

Insecurity, a Chinese Minx, and the Land of Two Dimensions.

Zhen reckons I’m insecure, bless her. She’s right; there is one thing I’m tragically insecure about. So hands up anybody who can claim they’re not insecure about anything.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Here endeth the second scotch.


Change of plan. I’ve been seriously considering paying a visit to Sydney, NSW recently. I’ve done the cheapest-flights-and-visa-requirements research thing, but I’ve changed my mind. Every scrap of evidence suggests that Zhen is about the only thing worth experiencing in Australia, and I’m not about to spend around 25% of what little money I have on Zhen alone. Sorry, Zhen; you might ride high in my consciousness, but not quite that high.


Am listening to All the Stars. The voice so reminds me of somebody I’m missing. Hey, ho. That’s another trip off. I still have Berlin, Barcelona and California. Or Wigan Pier. That’s a Brit joke.


The problem with gardening on warm, sunny days is that you spend the whole night scratching!

The Chinese Teapot Delusion.

I just watched a TV programme in which a Chinese woman told an old Chinese proverb:

The more a teapot is used, the more beautiful it becomes.

I don't need to stoop to the lowest form of wit, do I?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Pointless Preoccupations.

At the moment I’m preoccupied with Mohammad’s night journey to Jerusalem. You don’t make friends and influence people with preoccupations like that!


I’m also curious to know why some interesting people force themselves to become ordinary so as to avoid pain and be accepted by the lowest common denominator. Where’s the self-respect?

And then there are those who desperately want to be known, and yet build an impenetrable defensive wall around themselves. What’s that all about?

I’m rambling. The search goes on.

Trying to Get it Right.

How far do you go in being frank with somebody? I suppose it depends on:

a) What you hope it will achieve, which accords with the Buddhist principle of ‘useful truth.’

b) How thick skinned you believe the person to be, which means relying on your judgement of an individual’s nature.

This is something I’ve found myself having to do a lot lately and it bothers me a bit. For a start, the very concept has an air of the patronising about it. It isn’t, of course, it’s something we all have to do occasionally and I just happen to have found myself in that situation several times of late. It’s simply a matter of responding authentically. What bothers me more is that I’m not perfect and I might be getting it wrong. If I am, I could be doing damage. I don’t want to do damage.

Maybe I'm just taking the whole thing too seriously.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The Year Moves On.

The farmland in this area is mixed pasture and arable, and the cornfields have now started to glow gold in the twilight.

Being Lead Astray.

I decided to pay a visit to the local mediaeval church when I took a walk this evening. The approach to the churchyard is a gravelled drive leading off the main road, and as I rounded the corner I saw a line of new, expensive motor cars and a group of people standing by the churchyard gates. They eyed me with interest as I approached.

‘Is this a deputation,’ I asked, refusing to be cowed by the recently disgorged occupants of new, expensive motor cars.

‘Somebody’s stolen the lead downpipes,’ said the tallest of the deputation, pointing out the stains on the ancient stonework where lead downpipes should be hiding them.

It seems that lead thieves had been at work, and the ‘deputation’ consisted of the church committee plus the verger, all come to lock the churchyard gates so as to deny the miscreants further pickings. Why it needed eight people to lock the gates was beyond me; and what good they thought it would do, since the gates are only about four feet tall, lent a further air of query.

‘You’ll be installing CCTV cameras next,’ I offered.

‘Funny you should say that,’ said the tallest of the deputation, at which point a shorter member of the august body produced a catalogue of CCTV equipment.

What is the world coming to? And have you ever noticed that members of church committees always seem to drive new, expensive motor cars?


I'm not at all clear whether somebody was referring to me when she wrote in a recent blog post: 'you little shit.' I only read the first sentence, you see, and the rest of the first sentence sort of... fitted. I still doubt it, somehow.

I've been trying ever since to write something clever in which I counterpoint 'you little shit' with 'nor all your tears wash out a word of it,' but I haven't been up to the task today.

Today has been a rare, uneventful one (I even got a full night's sleep for the first time in ages,) which is why the above is tonight's inadequate substitute for a proper blog post.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Lacking the Right Skill.

I gave up much of today to cleaning, mostly the car and the exterior paintwork. When I was brushing the cobwebs away from the door and window frames, I encountered several dead moths hanging limply among them. It struck me that there is something poignant about a dead moth hanging limply in a cobweb, and I thought that if I were a poet I would write a poem about it. But I'm not, so I didn't.

It did please me, though, that one moth was still alive and fluttered away at speed when it was released. Maybe it shouldn't have pleased me; maybe I should have felt sympathy for the spider.

Winding Down.

This evening was one of those precious ones again: warm, no wind, no traffic, no people, no distant sounds. I sat out until it was almost dark with only a lone bat for company. He was busy; I watched.

And on a related note, I saw that some of the willow herb on the lane verges has its first white, woolly fronds. It won’t be long before it’s all covered in white wool, and that’s the surest sign that summer is coming to an end for another year.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Twin Pillars.

I’m coming around to the view that when we’ve had our careers, established our partnerships, raised our families, made our friends, played our games, created our works, taken our travels and acquired our possessions, we have to realise that none of these things are ends in themselves. They are merely the media through which we build the only two pillars of life: the one built of experience, and the other built on truths.

Experience is cumulative; truths are mutable.

Experience grows; no experience is ever changed or lost. Truths, on the other hand, are in a constant state of flux. New ones get added, whilst old ones are modified, strengthened, weakened, or lost altogether as experience and instinct dictate. And it seems to me that instinct is the vital conduit through which the two pillars communicate.

If there is a purpose to life, this has to be it. Doesn’t it?

I know nothing.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Sarah Saves the Day.

Today was another one that started three hours early with a premature wakening and the usual horrors circling my head. The Saturday complex seems to be getting worse, not better.

So, the day being warm and sunny again, I decided to try and shift this near-neurosis with some weeding, trimming and the lifting of this year’s onions. No good; the horrors hung around all day. After tea I felt there was only one option: back to the good old favourite – go for a walk.

As I was setting out, I thought how nice it would be bump into the much vaunted Sarah from Mill Lane, she of the rare inner beauty about whom much has been previously written. She’s the only person within a twenty five mile radius in whose company I'm happy to spend time, and I decided that a person of rare inner beauty just might provide a suitable antidote to the black stuff that was hanging around in the pit of my stomach. I was also very much in the mood for talking to the right person, and there aren't very many of those even beyond a twenty five mile radius. Problem was, I never see Sarah taking a walk these days. I think the last time I bumped into her on her own must have been a least a year ago.

I was less than a mile along Church Lane when who should be walking the other way with her cocker spaniel? I muttered something like ‘I don’t bloody believe it,’ and then her dog came bounding in my direction. We stood leaning on a gate in a field entrance and talked for a long time. She told me her secret, and I told her one of mine. The big one. The bottom line. And the day improved immeasurably.

This year’s crop of onions is a good one, too.

Killing the King Slowly.

For several years, a favourite TV programme of mine was a live, daily OB show called Springwatch. One of its regular features was watching the deer rut on the Isle of Mull, and that was the one I found most compelling.

There was a King Stag – I forget the name they gave him – who had been king for several years. Witnessing his strength, power, courage and determination as he drove off pretender after pretender was thrilling stuff. I do believe he became the closest I’ve ever had to a hero figure.

And then, one terrible May, he lost. He was getting old, obviously, and though his courage was undimmed, his strength was deserting him. He simply didn’t have the weapons any more, and so he lost.

The camera followed him as he walked slowly away from the battleground with head hung low, his magnificent antlers now drooping downwards instead of being held proud and erect as they had been. He cut a dejected, defeated figure as he wandered onto the higher ground above the river, now destitute of all reason to live save the natural imperative to exist. He didn’t look back, and none of his hinds went with him. Life is a cruel mistress in the deer world; concepts of exclusivity and lifelong fidelity have no place in her scheme. The commentator told us that he would spend what little remained of his life wandering the hills alone, until a cold winter’s night would finally put him out of his misery. We never saw him again.

How my heart went out to that guy. This was nothing less than emasculation, and that’s the one thing no male can endure. And what bothered me so much wasn’t the fact that he’d lost. There is no shame in defeat; life moves on, the cycle is unstoppable and no doubt that’s how it should be. I simply thought how kinder it would have been had his opponent killed him there and then. His life was over anyway, so why let it drag on without point, purpose or identity?

Unfortunately, Mother Nature is the most indifferent of women and not given to random acts of kindness.

Being Singular.

I was talking with Helen today about the problem of being outside the groove. The things the culture wants to sell you are worthless, the definitions it wants you to use are superficial, the values it wants you to adopt are trivial, the standards it wants you to uphold are too low, and trying to find the right person to walk alongside you is like trying to find a butterfly in a January garden.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Muse at 10.27

The weekend was bad.

Today the sun shone and the temperature climbed to a level appropriate to a modest summer. After dinner I took a stroll along Church Lane, shortly after sunset.

Bats flying early...

The western sky wild with ragged form and rich colour...

Rabbits running round a meadow...

The willow herb still heavy with two-tier pink...

...and me swamped with the twin tones of emptiness and revulsion.

There’s something going seriously to waste here.

And I still haven’t worked out what is so compelling about tree branches swaying gently in a light breeze at twilight.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Guts and The Gift Horse.

Right then. I got my guts turned over today. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that I really should be more careful who I share my secrets with. I’m still shuddering at the thought of it.

So, by way of trying to straighten them out, I decided to self-publish my novella The Gift Horse with dear old Lulu this evening. If anybody’s interested, it can be viewed at the ‘Books’ link on the sidebar. I might point out that you can get a preview of the book by using the ‘more details’ link underneath the cover picture. It gives you about the first twelve pages, which is a pity since The Gift Horse starts slowly and only gathers pace about a quarter of the way in. It’s also worth mentioning that it was accepted by three publishers, but withdrawn because I couldn’t stand the company I was keeping - if that’s any recommendation.

And the same offer holds as it did with Odyssey. If anybody is happy to read it on the computer screen, I’ll gladly send the ms free as an e-mail attachment.

I think I might need an extra scotch or two tonight. When you let somebody know which of your buttons is the self-destruct one, and then they push it...

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Tale of Two Women.

Ah, if only I could write it as a piece of fiction. It would be a tale of toughness and vulnerability, of openness and guardedness, of honesty and hypocrisy, of gentleness and truculence, of grace and vindictiveness, of erudition and naiveté, of arcane wisdom and childlike misapprehension, and of the straight and the disingenuous.

I won’t, of course. It would take a much greater literary talent than mine to put the pieces together in some order even remotely approaching the coherent. It would be like trying to rearrange the pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope while somebody is still turning it. Only one factor stands out in simple certainty: when two people have entrenched views at opposite ends of an issue which is, to each of them, non-negotiable, the only ways to go are separate.

So now I can come home and change the record having learned some valuable lessons, not least among which is that it’s never too late to learn valuable lessons.

Problem, though. Now that they're both gone, there's a damn big hole inside of me that needs filling with something and I don't know what. Onion rings?

The Nature of Beauty.

At the moment I’m preoccupied with the perception of beauty.

a) The common view:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

True up to a point, but hopelessly inadequate when taken deeper.

b) Shakespeare’s view:

Beauty lives with kindness.

Better, but still too objective for such an abstract concept.

c) My view:

Beauty is in the mind of the beholder.

This morning I was forced to change my mind about somebody. We live in a world obsessed with physical beauty, and young people are conditioned to see it no other way. To me, it’s a shallow, impoverished view. We’re all entitled to our opinions.

Right now I need to get busy. The change of mind deposited a pile of unpleasant black stuff in the pit of my stomach. I need to get rid of it.

Important Question.

So where do I go?

America has its bourbon, which at least has body but makes me sick to my stomach. Australia, on the other hand, has Fosters – which is only good for watering the garden.

Maybe I’ll just stay here and wait for the village pub to re-open.

Wise Words.

Desire is the root of all suffering.

Pretty obvious really, I suppose. Won't stop us doing it, though, will it? Isn't that what the Vale of Tears thing is all about?

I'm inclined to agree that material life has no other purpose than to serve God's desire to experience Itself through separateness. But if you take that view, it's the separateness that causes the suffering, not the desire. Unless you go further and argue that without separateness there is no desire.

Herman Hess said that the purpose of love is to find out how much we can endure. So does that make love the root of all suffering? But God is love, isn't It?

Where is this going?

Friday, 22 July 2011

A Stinging Rebuke.

Life without life is a tough call, but at least the ditties are back. Aren't you glad?

Where have you been, beloved girl,
Where have you been today?
‘I’ve been to see my grandmamma
Who lives so far away.’

And did you think of me, my sweet,
When you were in that place?
‘Now, why would I do that?’ she asked,
‘You’re just a waste of space.’

This is known as self-deprecation. Words, words, words...

The garden was gloomy tonight. Everything dripped. No bats, no bunnies, no owls. Abandoned.

US Mail.

I sent a package to New York today. What a lot of numbers American addresses do have.

Later addition:

I just realised that said package will soon be sittting on a plane, one of those things I dream about in my garden, heading for foreign climes. Lucky old package. And then it will be held by the stuff that dreams are made on...

I can't help being incorrigible.

Seeking Truth.

I read a small news report today that told of a churchman in Wales who has publicly burnt some pages from the Bible, and torn others out to make an artwork for an exhibition. He says they demonstrate a ‘cruel and vile’ God.

I realise I don’t have the full story, but it brings me back to what I’ve been saying for years: that I wouldn’t give the God of the Old Testament space in my trash can. And what I’ve never understood is this. If the Gospels are to be believed, Jesus explicitly preached against the edicts of Jehovah. So what the hell is the Old Testament doing in the Christian Bible?

I’ve read that the decision to include it was just another victory of politics over truth, but I don’t know enough about the history of the Church to argue the point. All I know is that the only religious figure I find myself able to revere is the Buddha. Which doesn’t make me a Buddhist, you understand, merely a truth seeker.


Seems my world has been restricted to North Carolina tonight. I'm happy with that.

If I can't write a bed time e-mail...

...And One Loss.

Tonight I have to resist the urge to write my customary bed time e-mail. No matter how desperate I get, I have to stay firm. There are certain powerful impulses I find very hard to resist; following my heart with reckless abandon is one of them. In fact, it’s easily chief among them.

Two Small Gains.

Remember me moaning about losing tracks from my playlist because ‘content owner has disabled embedding?’ Well, tonight one of them came back. I assume some other enterprising soul has uploaded it to YouTube again. I wonder how long it will stay there.

I have a story called Hand in Hand which has been rejected and rejected and rejected, which was a shame because I rather like it. Tonight it finally found a home with another Misanthrope Press anthology called Rustle of Dark Leaves. Pleased about that.

Luring it Back to Cancel Half a Line.

I’ve talked a lot in recent posts about the revelations that have been coming in thick and fast over the last couple of months. They haven’t really changed me in any substantive way, but rather revealed things that were previously hidden, or at least clarified things that were confusing. And one outcome, as I mentioned in one post, has been to free me up to be what I am, warts and all. No more hiding from myself on sensibilities that are inconvenient.

So, it is with dismay that I re-read some of my old posts, as I occasionally do when Google stats tell me that somebody has accessed them. I could take them down, of course, but it’s a matter of principle not to delete posts that have attracted comments. And there’s no point in wishing I hadn’t said this or that, because I did and that’s all there is to it. The fact that I wouldn’t dream of saying it now is immaterial.

Nevertheless, I think I can permit myself the indulgence of wishing that people wouldn’t read the damn things!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Educational TV.

Tonight I watched a half hour programme on a commercial channel, and for once I sat through the commercial break. I very rarely do that, but just now and again I find it educational. It tells me yet again why I don’t belong here; nothing they’re selling is of any interest to me. And I noticed that the adverts largely fell into one of three categories:

Glamour (cheap)
Lifestyle (trivial)
Domesticity (grey)

Where the hell am I going to go to get away from this ocean of dull plastic? And something I want to ask my American friends (please don’t be offended; this is an honest observation.) Why do all the presenters on American TV shows look as though they’ve just been taken out of a box and wound up? Why does ‘respectable’ have to include hairstyles that look like gel-encrusted wigs? I’m sure real Americans aren’t like that.

OK, shutting up now.

Unconnected Musings.

Should I be going to Carolina in my mind? Is there a connection? The memory’s vague, so I don’t know.

This is one of those posts where I’m just thinking aloud. It’s a habit that drives people mad in the real world, but it doesn’t really matter on a blog, does it?

Did I say recently that the village pub has closed and is looking forlorn? I meant to. I was sad about that, but then I heard today that there’s been some shenanigans going on and the situation is only temporary. So that’s OK.

A Matter of Some Import.

What shall I talk about today? Woman troubles, the cruel vicissitudes of life, bouts of anxiety, identity crises, the waves of self-loathing to which I have suddenly become prey, or onion rings? OK, onion rings it is.

The most notable feature of Sainsbury’s onion rings is their size. It takes quite a stretching of the mouth to fit two of them in - even arranged in the most economical manner - and when you do, the brain says ‘Gosh, this a big feed, better tell the stomach to mobilise its forces.’ Ah, but the impression is short-lived, because it takes only about five chews for the onion rings to be reduced almost to nothing. This is, of course, because 90% of their composition is air that has been carefully arranged so as to be unnoticeable.

At this point the brain gets confused. ‘What’s going on 'ere, then?’ it asks, while the stomach stands with hands on hips and shouts up to the brain: ‘Hey, brain, I’ve got two men on overtime down here. Where’s the big shipment you promised?’

The brain imagines that it is somehow neglecting its duty, and can think of only one course of action. ‘Will you please eat some more of those onion rings, stomach needs something to occupy those men he’s got on overtime,’ it pleads. And so you do, and so the process continues until the brain wakes up, realises it’s being duped, and instructs you to re-take control of your life.

(The concept of re-taking control of my life is more apposite, ironic, sad, and maybe even amusing than you know. But I did undertake to talk only of onion rings, so...)

I think the makers of Sainsbury’s onion rings are a very clever bunch of people who know just what it takes to sell a lot of them. I think they must be cleverer than I am.

Becoming Quasimodo.

Isn't very nice.

A Warning.

If your self-image is already undergoing a stern examination, don't get a new passport photograph. If you have to, don't look at it.

Pertaining to Planes

I’ve noticed the last couple of evenings that the planes flying low out of East Midlands airport sound louder than usual. That’s odd because the low cloud has been obscuring them from view. You’d think they’d be quieter when there’s a big load of water vapour in the way, wouldn’t you?

Maybe I’m just noticing planes more these days, which is something else that’s odd. I sit here in the middle of Avalon, relishing the silence, and then the roar of a Boeing something-or-other passes unseen overhead. Any other noise disturbing the peace would irritate me. But not the planes. I feel torn; half of me wants to be subsumed into the essence of nature, while the other half wants to spread its physical wings and fly away. I don’t yet see a compromise.

And while I’m contemplating far-flung places, the following track reminds me so much of a beautiful woman in Pennsylvania, a woman I once heard sing. I’ll be going to bed soon.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Birds of Avalon.

I made the acquaintance of My Lady Thrush again this evening. The song of the thrush is quite astonishing in the complexity of its range, tone and phrasing. It sounds more as though she’s holding a conversation, but with whom or what? The spirit of twilight? Nothing was answering her. I knew how she felt, and sympathised.

And then, much later, as the dusk was gathering to near-darkness, the white wraith of the barn owl went hunting over the field on the other side of the lane. The air was calm and mild, there was nothing to break the silence, and the energy of Avalon came alive again. Evenings like that are so precious.

The Flipside.

You know the old saying 'The truth will set you free?'

There's an alternative, and unpleasantly ironic, way of understanding it.

And in similar vein, I continue to be reminded just how inadequate the written word is when it comes to deep and difficult levels of communication. You can be an excellent writer, you can construct your statements carefully and completely, you can go to some trouble to place the emphases where you need them to be. And yet the reader will still see what their mindset conditions them to see. What jumps out at them won't necessarily be what you want to jump out. People read through a filter, and however carefully you say something, you've no idea how it will enter the reader's mind. Which is why I try to avoid expressing deep and difficult things in writing, especially when the reader, the reader's feelings, and the reader's opinion of me matter a lot.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Avalon Rises Again.

I started to watch the first of a new series of ‘Coast’ tonight. It used to be a favourite programme of mine, but not any more it seems. I turned it off after about ten minutes. I’m becoming ever more intolerant of chirpy TV presenters, and even more intolerant of the constant pushing of those chirpy, trivial and trashy preoccupations sadly (to me) endemic in modern western culture. Saunas indeed!

I longed to take the arm of some rare and special person, grab a couple of stray dogs in need of love and care, find the way to Avalon, and bring the mist down so nobody can follow us. I went for a late walk around the lanes instead, since this place at twilight is about the closest I’m ever likely to get to Avalon.

No rare and special person, I’m afraid, and no stray dogs. What I did encounter to my great delight was a thrush, singin’ on yon bush, only a few feet away. What music that bird makes, and what unfettered confidence she displays in making it. No wonder she inspired the classic Irish folk song The Jug of Punch.

And when I’m dead, aye and in my grave
No costly tombstone will I have.
Just lay me down in my native peat
With a jug of punch at my head and feet.

And since I’m in the mood for quotations, how about this one from Sir Thomas Mallory. King Arthur’s final words before being taken to Avalon by the three queens:

Comfort thyself, said the king...for I will into the Vale of Avalon to heal me of my grievous wound: and if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul.

Lucky old Arthur had three rare and special persons. No mention of dogs, though.

The Sagittarian Male.

Zhen suggested to me recently that I’m a typical Sagittarian male – in need of constant attention. I think she’s probably right; the less attention I get, the more I wilt. It’s that dog mind thing again.

So now you know how to punish a Sagittarian male: ignore him. Not that some people need much prompting.

Presumption and Perfidy.

I’m reminded yet again of how easily we slip into the error of assuming that other people’s reality is the same as ours.


I really must try to get back to some extreme silliness. Like the News International phone-hacking scandal. It’s amusing to see politicians dripping filth, yet still presuming to sit in judgement on the other miscreants whilst trying to have us believe that politicians never go anywhere near slurry pits. Who does the Establishment think it’s kidding? And isn’t it odd how people who blow the whistle on said Establishment have a habit of turning up dead? R.I.P. Mr Hoare.

A Thought Beyond Bed Time.

One life just isn't big enough to account for the connections. Nothing like big enough.

Waiting Until Bed Time.

All through my teens and early twenties I was a keen angler. I well remember what used to take me back to the waterside time and time again for fifteen years, sometimes every day during the school holidays.

You leave the bustle of everyday living and go to some quiet lake deep in the countryside. There you bait the hook and cast it far out where the bait sinks into deep, impenetrable waters. Only a small, coloured float is visible to keep you in touch with the quest. Now you’ve done all you can, and so you wait and watch.

The float sits unmoving on top of the water, and the wait seems tedious... frustrating. And so it is, but it’s also exciting because it’s pregnant with expectation. There’s mystery here because you can’t see beneath the surface. For all you know the lake might be empty of fish, or they might all be over on the other side, or they might not be feeding today, or there might be a dozen big ones all eyeing up the bait at that moment and about to take it. The fact is, you don’t know. So you wait for an hour, two hours, all day. And when the float finally trembles and shoots beneath the surface, the adrenalin rush is magnificent.

Life is a bit like that, only it isn’t bait you’re casting into deep, impenetrable waters, but words. And the words aren’t intended to capture a fish, but to attract something of much greater consequence; something that is at least your equal if not your superior, something you’re not going to return to the water at the end of the day but keep beside you to enrich, and maybe even legitimise, your existence.

The stakes are infinitely higher, the wait infinitely more tedious and frustrating, the expectation infinitely more engaging. And if, at the end of the day, you have to go home to bed without so much as a quiver of the float, you know you’ll be back again tomorrow.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Probably Another of Aine's Jokes.

The day being dry, if cloudy and a little cool, I spent most of the afternoon in the garden and then went for a walk. Half way along Mill Lane the heavens opened. I had a light raincoat on, but it’s really only shower proof; it isn’t up to the job of coping with God’s attempt to re-float the Ark. I wasn’t pleased, but I looked at my female companion and she laughed, so I saw the funny side, too.

The heavens stayed open. Soon the sides of the lanes turned into torrents, and then parts of their whole width became lakes, small lakes but too big to jump over. So I waded. I wasn’t dressed for wading. And the worst bit was the coldness of the water, which isn’t surprising since the airflow is coming from the Arctic Circle at the moment. No doubt the rain was part of an Icelandic glacier yesterday. When it first penetrated my cotton chinos, about ten seconds after the storm started, it stung, you know? Really stung.

At least ten cars must have driven past me during the forty minute ordeal. I tried to look miserable, but none of them stopped and offered me a lift. I suppose they didn’t want something sopping wet getting into their tidy, dry cars and dripping water onto the carpets and upholstery. I wondered whether they would feel guilty later; I wondered whether I would have stopped for somebody in that situation.

The rain ceased completely about three minutes after I got home. And the sun came out. Right.


Have you ever had that experience where you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted? You know it's been caused by a dream you had, a dream so full of power, or excitement, or menace, or whatever, that it's set the adrenalin flowing big time. And yet you can't remember anything at all about it. But then you also realise that your feelings about something or someone have become stronger or better clarified than they were the night before, and that there is a way around a problem you thought insoluble.

So is this an example of the well known capability of sleep to unravel tricky problems, or did the dream have something to do with it? I want to remember the dream, but I suppose it doesn't matter as long as the message has been received.

A Kind of Fairytale.

Once upon a time somebody said to me:

‘I do care, you know.’

I was angry at the time and told her that I wasn’t interested in her trite platitudes, that if she really cared she wouldn’t have behaved that way. She asked whether we could talk and I declined. I’ve often wished we’d talked, but pride and high emotion got in the way.

I’ve looked at pride from both sides now...

Now I feel the need to say the same thing myself.

‘I do care, you know!’

I don’t sleep normally these days – haven’t done for what seems like ages. Always too much to be stressed about. Seems to be largely a side effect of finding life, finding myself, and making sense of the demon. Bit late in the day, but there you are.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Casablanca, USA... becoming a serial. It's even got a new title.

Opening the Door.

It says in my profile ‘I’ve never had money because I’ve never been driven by money.’ That’s always been true and it still is. But now, for the first time in my life, I want money.

I don’t want it just to survive, as has been the case a few times in my life. I don’t want it to invest for the future. I don’t want it to have fancy clothes, cars, holidays, gadgets, trinkets, or any other of the myriad, crappy lifestyle accessories people are so obsessed with now. I want it to change gear, to go out and grab the next phase of my life. I want it to find life.

Today I had a royalty cheque from a picture library, the first for seven months. It was only small – a mere £40 – but it was a step in the right direction, a forward-flowing of the money energy. Tonight I won £10 on the lottery, another paltry amount but another small step in the right direction. Could this be an indication that the energy flows when you need it to? Does it mean that I should throw caution to the wind and trust the divine dynamic?

Tonight I watched a short video recommended by Helen. The final words were:

When imagination knocks, open the door.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Coming Down.

After all the emotional, psychic, psychological and spiritual firecrackers of the last few months, everything suddenly feels flat. The day after the night before. Cold turkey. Zero adrenalin. I have a nagging suspicion it might be the eye of the storm.

For those who like literary storms, I would recommend Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon. Thrilling with a humorous slant.

LA. Carmageddon. How do people live like that? How did we get here? If ever I do get to America again, LA will be the first place I won’t be going to. I think there are better bits of California.

Variations on a Universal Theme.

When the mist rolls in, the seabird falls silent.

When the whispers cease, the silence speaks instead.

When a cloud hides the star, it still shines silently.

I’ve heard it said that silence is the true fabric of reality. My recent forays beyond the physical face of nature would appear to vindicate the view. I still have questions, though, and life doesn't reveal her secrets readily.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Getting Stuck at the Second Verse.

Simple, but rather nice I think; and simple doesn't always mean naive.

My problem has always been getting beyond the second verse. I really don't see how you can get beyond the second verse until you understand what the second verse means. Until then, life just moves on without you.

Beauty in its Own Time.

I make no apology for repeating a few words I wrote in an e-mail today. It will suffice as a post while I come to terms with something.

The world holds much beauty, beauty that can be experienced over and over again, beauty you can even choose to live among if you have the means, beauty you can hold onto. The aurora borealis is different. She is perhaps the greatest beauty of all, the most spectacular, the most mysterious, the most awesome in the true sense of the word. But she isn't somebody you can visit; you have to wait for her to appear. She comes and goes in accordance with her own will. She won't be held onto. I've always wanted to see the aurora, and I've always known that the thrill of seeing her would be countered by deflation at her going.

Two posts in one here.

Easy to Please.

I took some stubby beer bottle empties to the recycle bins at the village pub the other day. Ever in need of amusement, I blew across the tops of two of them as I walked down the lane. And do you know what? Even though they were both empty and dry, the notes they made were a semitone apart. Things like that delight small minds like mine.

W is For?

Talking of women...

I encountered four on my walk today. That’s a lot. One is usually a lot. They comprised two with dogs, one on a bike, and one riding a horse. I offered polite greeting, as one does, and three responded politely. The fourth seemed to be questioning whether I’d crawled out of a hole in the embankment with the other rodents. Sniffy young madam. Her horse was overweight, too. It didn’t so much walk as waddle.

Other news: I switched realities today from the light and fantastic to the grey and comprehensible. Feel free to congratulate me.

Now it’s back to greeting my dear old friends, the wee small hours of the morning. No, I’m not going to sing.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Cat's Cradle.

I was thinking about magic today, and in particular the using of spells to bend circumstances to one's will. It occurred to me that nearly all the choices we make – even the small, innocuous ones, even the ones we have every right to make – influence not only our own road, but that of others, too.

No doubt that’s just how life is – being constantly affected by the choices of others, I mean. We all have to do it, of course: make choices. It’s only that I hadn’t realised before just how intertwined the roads of all us sentient beings are. A new sense of responsibility could make me nervous if I allowed it to.

A Gallic Omen?

Heavens! I've had a visitor from France on 14th July. Might this portend the breaking out of some metaphorical prison, or the passing into a revolutionary phase? Or am I just seeing the face of Jesus in a chocolate chip cookie?

Ramble Ramble Ramble.

He was born too early. She was born too late. This has my head spinning all over again with the question of what existence really is.

Existence is just a succession of moments, but a moment can’t exist in any objective sense. There is only flow. But that means time is the bedrock of reality, and I can’t throw off the nagging suspicion that time doesn’t exist either, it’s just an illusion providing a framework for an illusion.

This is too simple. Being an illusion doesn’t stop something from being real. Anything that is perceivable is real, and everything save the ultimate goal is an illusion. The semantics of language are getting in the way, but I’m led to suspect that the first real illusion beyond the current real illusion is experience. Experience lives in consciousness, and I’ve long thought that consciousness is central to the ultimate goal whether we call the ultimate goal ‘real’ or not.

I’m rambling, and another question presents itself. What is love, and how does it relate to life? No, that’s too personal. How does it relate to existence? Love is an experience, isn’t it? Or is it something more; is it at least an advanced form of experience? Is it merely further along the first real illusion beyond the current real illusion? So does that mean it’s extra real? Is it permanent, is it binding, is it universal, is it worth dying for? A sense of loss is a form of death, albeit a passing one.

(Oh dear, what is death? A mere nothing I suspect at the end of the equation, something of significance only in passing. And here we are back to time again.)

This doesn’t worry me, it merely intrigues. My current real illusion is being extended in several ways at the moment. Boundaries are falling away, and it’s difficult enough to make sense of the new views without o’erleaping myself and falling on the other (I’ve used that reference twice now. Must find a new one.)

Am I learning finally to revere life, however illusory it might be? Certainly. Am I learning to love life? (Am I learning to love at all?) I don’t know yet. Can time be manipulated so as to alter the current real illusion? Probably, but I don’t know how. Yet.

This is interesting (to me, that is.) Did I say that the last twelve months have been freaky? I wonder where I’m going. I wonder how long it will be before I get to know anything. But now I’m countering my own point. ‘Going’ and ‘how long’ presume the reality of time. Maybe I’m not going anywhere. Maybe I know everything already. Maybe we all do; maybe we’ve just forgotten.

Shutting up now. My current real illusion is making me sad. I’m going to do some jobs and pretend I’m living, and then go for a walk while the sun shines. Or appears to.

A Thought at Lunchtime.

I just read my last post again. I have to admit that I was thinking of taking it down because I’m in a different place now. Can’t, can I? Like most things that ‘pop into’ my head, I didn’t know what it meant at the time. What was particularly bothering me was:

Subsumed, consumed, exhumed.

I thought it was just some cheap, pretentious ramble attempting to make rhyming words sound clever. It isn’t; it’s actually quite profound. It’s about the journey into love and change – be it through the love of a woman, nature, God, whatever you like, whatever’s appropriate – and really is quite clever. The words are in the right order. So who wrote it, because I’m sure I didn’t.

I tell you, life is bloody freaky at the moment. The last year has been getting freakier and freakier. Helen has a theory. Maybe I’ll tell you about it some time.

And my need to travel is growing. What a shame the modern world makes it almost impossible to wander (credit to Zoe for that one.) What’s really odd is that I want to go to America. Why America? Why not the Brazilian rainforest, or the jungles of Thailand, or the Antarctic Ocean? These are the places I always used to want to visit. Why America? Something to do with the great social experiment, maybe, or to be at the heart of the cradle for change? What is there for me in America? The fact is, I need to do something with what’s left of my life.

I’ve found that most of the meaningful learning processes in my life have come from following the policy: Wait; Watch; Grab the Opportunity. So now I wait and watch, and stay prepared.

That Time of Night.

It’s that time of night.
It’s that state of mind.
It’s that place, the White Lodge,
Where Life takes command
And mortal man follows.
Subsumed, consumed, exhumed.
Taken to the stars and beyond.
There is life beyond the stars.
The sky is not the limit.
There are no limits.

Something else that jumped into my head while I was watching a Wailin’ Jennys video and thinking about a woman who can sing.

Being frank, aren’t I?

It’s that time of night.



Genuine men flirt with women who hold a certain position in their affections, women who know the score. They don’t flirt with women who are below that level; neither do they flirt with women who are above it. Especially those who are above it.

Late Night Bits.

Guess what I did today. Walked the whole length of Mill Lane (about a mile) with a young woman, a baby, and two dogs. It must have been pretty scintillating because I don’t remember anything we talked about, apart from the fact that the dogs were brother and sister and were a different colour than both parents. I hope I didn’t tell her that it was only the dogs I was interested in.

The joiners (father and son) made a mess, and dad recommended I get an air rifle to shoot the jackdaws, wood pigeons and pheasants that get on my bird table. I’m growing so tired of telling people I don’t do that sort of thing. But at least the new windows fit.

The Red Renault got me to the town and back again today, but it still isn’t right and I still don’t trust it. Nigel is supposed to be looking out for another one (I don’t need to explain why I have to rely on Nigel, do I?) He says he’ll get back to me. Right.

I have a vague but nagging sense that I’m serving a punishment. Paranoia, I expect.

After yesterday’s bombardment of revelations, followed by only four and a half hours sleep, I’m nothing like as tired as I think I should be. Adrenalin? Paranoia? Anxiety? Who knows?

Looks like my story The Gypsy Rover is finally going to get published. I had the edits today and they’d hardly touched it. The only thing I could find to take issue with was that they’d changed ‘any more’ to ‘anymore.’ That’s the problem with having an American editing a Brit’s story. Sometimes they don’t know what the Brit convention is, just as I sometimes don’t know the American one. I’m not going to press the matter.

I’m boring myself.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Another Important Revelation.

Onion bagels, toasted and liberally spread with butter, are pretty damn scrummy. Why did I not know this before? How many more lessons will life cast in my direction this week?

I feel strongly inclined to send a parcel of Staffordshire oatcakes to an address in the United States. Only I don't have it. And Staffordshire oatcakes have a short shelf life.

Montague on Dots.

At the end of The Ghost Stories of MR James, the author appends a little piece about story ideas he’d had but never completed. At the conclusion of the final one he writes:

‘Do not, in any case, bring it into the house. It may not be alone... (Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more ......)’

Which proves that dear, dry Monty had a sense of humour after all, and gives me just a whiff of cause for embarrassment...

Three Anagrams.

Don't you think it an astonishing coincidence that the words eleven plus two form an anagram of twelve plus one?

And maybe more amusing, if less suggestive of the esoteric, is the fact that mother-in-law is an anagram of woman hitler.

I went shopping today and bought a bag of bagels for the first time in many years. Had to, didn't I? Just had to. The only decent anagram I can think of is gables, which suggests a pinnacle, so maybe...

An Early Thought.

Regular readers will know that I’m a night owl. Last night I went to bed early at 2.15 because I knew the joiner was coming this morning. Nine o’clock he said. At 8.40 there were ladders going up to my bedroom window, and I’m being invaded by various sorts of unwholesome noise as I type this.

It won’t be surprising that my thoughts are consumed by a review of last night’s main post. Yesterday was intoxicating and I have a hangover. Now it’s a new day, and in the cold early light to which I’m unaccustomed I realise that the post could have been better written. Frankly, I’m nervous. Ever open, I said what wanted to be said and there’s no luring it back to cancel half a line. But I’m nervous because there’s a rare and special person far across the sea who has probably read it. I just hope it caused her no disquiet because she’s been very special to me for some time and remains so. Maybe more so now than ever. I hope she knows that, for what it’s worth, and will excuse the hopelessly inadequate reference to her.

That’s all; I need to get off this subject now. Back later.


Hell, today has been freaky. From about lunchtime onwards, reality was the very definition of unreal. And here I am about to go to bed, and everything still seems unreal. It took so long to type that last post that I started my 'nightcaps' late, and I have to be up early tomorrow to accomodate some bloody joiner! I haven't even loaded Skype tonight.

I should sleep the sleep of the just because I know that nothing I've said to anybody over the last year was untrue or even disingenuous. I'm more constant than I seem, you know. I probably shan't because people will misunderstand, as people do.

Does anybody other than me care?


A Hard Day in the Classroom.

It’s hard to know how to approach this post. It needs to be made because it’s hugely important to me (and that’s what this blog’s all about,) but it also needs to be as brief as I can get it.

The last year has seemed grey and uneventful to me. I’ve said so often enough, and on the surface it has been. But I’m only just coming to realise that under the surface – in mind and heart and spirit – it’s been hugely significant. If it’s at all possible for a mind to be literally blown, it’s been literally mind blowing. Looking back on it, it’s been like spending long, tedious days in the classroom on a fast track course to higher management. Today I looked back on it, because today the lessons were so intense that by six o’clock this evening I felt shattered. The insights have covered many subjects, some of which I’ve written about. Today, the final pieces of one great jigsaw puzzle took their place and I could see the whole picture of what’s been malfunctioning in my relationships with women.

Oh no, JJ’s going on about women again. Change the bloody record, JJ.

Sorry. My blog, my problem, my choice of subject matter. And don’t worry, I’m not going to go into detail: too complex and too personal. I just want to commit the principle to my pal Blogger.

I’ve sailed in and out of ‘long term’ relationship with a regularity that might disturb a person of sounder mind. People have been known to tell me that it was simply a matter of not having met ‘the right woman.’ I used to tell them they were wrong, explaining that I was simply not equipped for long term relationships. Well, now it seems possible that we were both right.

I’ve long known that a large part of the reason for my lamentable lack of success was the demon, that creature I’ve mentioned several times over recent months. I’ve known he existed all my adult life, and for most of that time I gave him a simple label. But then, a couple of months ago (remember the priestess?) I got a blinding revelation. I suddenly understood where this demon came from, what his root was and what gave him his strength. That was a major step forward, but it still didn’t explain where the root came from. Today I was bombarded with layer upon layer of understanding. That was what left me shattered. Now I know where the root comes from, and why I’ll never beat him. That left me a bit shattered as well, although it hardly matters as long as nothing happens to feed him.

But of course, the demon was only part of the problem. The other was my addiction, and now I understand where the addiction comes from, too. This really is major league stuff, and so there’s something that, for once, I’m not going to leave unsaid.

There is a woman out there, far across the sea, who might – just might – have been the right woman had circumstances been different. I’m sure I’ve never known anybody with the intelligence and the right emotional wavelength to understand the complexity of the problem. There is also a quality of will about her that makes me think she would have been capable of keeping the demon quiet, as well as an inherent air of mystery that might have proved a constant source of sustenance for the addiction.

I’ll never know, of course, since she doesn’t qualify by reason of age. She has a life to lead that certainly doesn’t include helping dear old JJ finally get it right, and she’s never given any indication of wanting to anyway. That’s as it should be. And maybe she wouldn’t qualify in other ways either, even if the point were worth considering. I don’t know about that, and I don’t want to. What I know about her so far has her standing high and proud on a plinth like Pygmalion’s statue, and that’s where I would rather she stay. She’s far too rare and special to be seen climbing down and wandering off with some dissolute sculptor. We all know how Pygmalion ended up, don’t we?

So there, I stuck my courage to the sticking place and didn’t leave it unsaid.

And tomorrow the joiner is coming to spend the day fitting some new windows, so maybe the rapid plummet into mundane material matters will pull me back to something like normal. I wouldn’t want too many days like this one.

Was that brief enough?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Inviting the Opportunity.

Guess what I've been up to for the last hour.

1) Starting the application process to renew my passport.

2) Checking out cheap flights.

Positive thought has been known to create opportunity. (And the persistent fear that I might have hurt a rare and special person is getting to me.)

Life - a Thought at Bed Time.

'If the chance is there, we have to go for it. No more reasoning. No more fearing the consequences. Take it; deal with them; live. Take the chance. It might come off.

There is a day in the future which has no tomorrow.'

I heard that when I was watching the bats tonight.

As Time Goes By.

No, not Casablanca this time. Life is giving me a problem at the moment. It’s a bit flat, featureless and frustrating. Everybody I know seems to be moving forward, while I’m not. It’s like being in a fairground watching all my friends riding the rides, while I sit on a bench and wave as they go past.

Interestingly, this isn’t depressing, but it is making me feel increasingly desperate for a kick start. I need to do something, but I can’t see any openings at the moment given the lack of readies and the need to fulfil certain obligations.

The last time this happened I got myself all ready to take a trip to Egypt. But then life came a-rushing into my arms and everything changed dramatically. Can’t expect that to happen again, can I? You never know, I suppose.


On a more substantial and wholesome note, I made a bowl of rice salad yesterday. Just a simple one – rice, broad beans, chives and fresh sage. I can’t stop eating the stuff in multiple spoonsful (spoonfuls?) It’s my current pig out food. Better than Mars Bars and milkshakes, I suppose. If you’re going to comfort eat to fill a hole, best do it healthily.


At the theatre where I used to work there’s a commemorative oak tree, and next to it is a plaque containing a short poem by a little-known English poet whose name sadly eludes me.

An let’n grow
And let’n spread
And let’n live when I be dead.

I love those simple, evocative lines.

The passing of life is a most poignant preoccupation at the moment.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Extension.

As promised, the extension to Casablanca, USA has now been added. I wonder whether I should change the title.

I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I made here. It’s a beautiful sunny day today, and I’m sitting in a dark office in front of a computer screen, missing it for the sake of my art! Or maybe it’s for the sake of something even more beautiful than sunshine. Ha!

The irredeemable in pursuit of the unattainable. Right.  

The Affliction.

Damn. It’s that time of night again and my lingering affliction with Casablanca Syndrome is making its presence felt.

I think I might add a short extension to Casablanca, USA tomorrow. Better make it tomorrow because the only things I write well under the influence are dream sequences, and we don’t want any of those, do we? Anyway, it might help. I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I don’t suppose I’ll get a full night’s sleep again. I keep waking up after about six hours and can’t get back to sleep.

Of course, tomorrow will be a new day, and new days sometimes produce incidents that screw up your intentions. We’ll see.

Declining the Compliment.

I had an e-mail tonight from a publisher I’ve never heard of. Seems they’d read one of my stories in an anthology and wanted to ‘warmly invite’ me to submit one to theirs. That’s never happened before.

The problem is, their anthology has a tightly defined theme and so I would have to write something to suit. I don’t work that way; I can only write stories that want to be written. One has to maintain one’s integrity, and writing to order would somehow seem like a mild form of prostitution. Worse still, it would be almost akin to being appointed Poet Laureate.

(Write a poem to commemorate the royal wedding. Can you imagine anything more whorish than that?)

So, I don’t suppose I’ll accept their warm invitation. Pity really; it’s a bit of a compliment.