Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bad Signs.

You know things are getting bad when you’re on your third large scotch and you start re-reading old e-mails – ones you’ve already read at least a dozen times, ones that come from a special person whose messages you leave in your inbox just because you like seeing the name there, ones that prompt you to read ever deeper between the lines even though you know that the assumptions you’re making could be hopelessly inaccurate – especially since you tend to make good assumptions when you’re in a good mood, and bad ones when you’re feeling negative.

And you know things are getting bad when you’re tired through having been woken two hours prematurely by workmen next door, and the fact that you’ve had a stressful day which has kindly donated even more reasons to feel anxious, but you can’t go to bed because you fear you might miss something. Like an e-mail from the special person, for example. (For example? Right.) ‘Just one more scotch, then I’ll go to bed.’ Eventually you do. Discontented, because your inbox still only has old messages in it.

Helen says I need a dog.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

New Story Posted.

Actually, it isn’t a new story; it’s one I wrote years ago. I’ve been putting off posting it because the determinist rationale might be tediously dense for some tastes, and also because it’s a rare venture into something like science fiction. I changed my mind; I decided there was nothing to be lost in putting it up there.

Something has occurred to me. In nearly all my stories involving mystery and/or the supernatural, there’s a woman who takes the upper hand. Sometimes she’s human flesh and blood, sometimes she’s enigmatic and other-worldly. I think this is because it’s always been women who have, consciously or otherwise, pointed me in the right direction to look for answers to the deeper and more searching questions. Men are generally more inclined to be driven by pragmatism, or at least be seen to be so driven. It’s what the culture expects, and most of us are unerringly inclined to obey cultural expectation. The likes of Albert Einstein are relatively rare.

Pining for the Priestess.

Pointless.

Pissed, definitely not patient.

About to go and occupy half a bed for a few hours.

I’m developing a taste for potatoes and cheap whisky. Must be my Irish ancestry.

OK, 'whiskey' then.

Night.

A Misconception.

Helen was surprised recently when I took a vocabulary test and discovered that mine is about average for my age. She imagined, as most people do I suspect, that being a writer means you must have a large vocabulary.

It isn’t true, of course. The secret of using language well isn’t to show off your knowledge of rare, elongated words, thereby forcing the great unwashed to reach for their dictionaries. It’s about using the right words, and using them well. And it’s often the case that simple words have more power than big or arcane ones. An example, if I may.

I recently quoted the last sentence of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death as my favourite piece of alliteration:

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable Dominion over all.

Stringing together those four words beginning with D is powerful not just because they all begin with D, but because together they also strongly evoke the sense of the end to which we must all come, even the rich and privileged like Prince Prospero. But you would hardly say that darkness, decay, death and dominion come from the further reaches of an extended vocabulary.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Forked Tongue of a British August.

I’m cabined by discontent at the moment – not crushing, but close and clinging. I feel ill at ease physically, mentally and emotionally. I think a lot of it has to do with the inclement and changeable end we’re having to August.

I’ve disliked August all my adult life. I was thinking about it today, and decided that if April is the cruellest month, August is the most dishonest. It struts its summer status, while bearing on its breath the first chill winds of impending autumn. The trees are still replete with green leaves, but the sound of their shaking is no longer soft, but sibilant. The verges and field margins are noticeably thinning and becoming littered with the browning wreckage of summer’s once-vibrant colour. There is nothing summery about a British August, whatever the calendar says. August lies.

September, on the other hand, is usually just what it’s supposed to be. I like September.

Out of Step.

It’s been a feature of my life – finding icons unconvincing, especially when it comes to people. I could never, for example, find Chaplin’s humour anything other than predictable and unfunny. I never found Marilyn Munroe attractive; she always seemed to me to be covering rampant insecurity with heavy layers of paint and the frenetic pursuit of indecorous behaviour. And the worst of all was Elvis Presley. All I ever saw in him was a strutting, hopelessly overcooked egomaniac who could sing a bit.

And then there are the TV soaps. Let’s face it: by and large they’re badly written, badly directed and badly acted. And yet a very large percentage of the population seem addicted to them.

I have tried to see what others see in these icons but I’ve never got there, so it seems one of three explanations apply.

a) My tastes are simply out of step with the majority.

b) There’s something I’m missing.

c) Popular icons are usually created by third parties for their own ends, and once an icon is made – justifiably or not – it becomes self-perpetuating and the majority are taken in by it.

All three?

Hitting the Iceberg.

The BBC – an iconic institution among the world’s broadcasters – has a TV text service called Ceefax. I’ve been using it for close on thirty years now and it’s always been excellent, until a year or so ago when standards began to decline horrendously. Here’s one very small example of its current state:

The Ceefax regional weather forecast for Monday night begins:

A mainly dry night with good spells of sunshine.

I suppose you’ve got to laugh at that one, but it’s symptomatic of what I see happening all around me. It isn’t only personal standards that are going the way of the Titanic; standards in politics, commerce, banking, journalism – standards everywhere seem to be sinking to ever deeper levels. There are even educationalists who claim that, for all the system’s crowing over record numbers of passes, for all its near-hysterical obsession with narrowly defined notions of excellence, and for all the pressures that are driving increasing numbers of kids onto anti-stress medication, standards have actually declined since I was at school. I can’t know that one personally, of course, but there are those with facts and experience at their fingertips who honestly claim that it’s happening.

All I can do is uphold my own standards and be content with the fact.

And since I mention the Titanic, one of my favourite Gary Larsson cartoons shows a man accompanied by a polar bear making enquiries at the White Star Shipping Line office as grieving relatives are being led away. The man asks the clerk ‘...but is there any news of the iceberg?’

The Right Reason to Risk Losing.

Becoming true to your values, which mostly equate to your sense of rightness and right dealing, isn’t easy. You tend not to get what you want when you do that.

‘Ah, but you do, my boy,’ says the wise man in the wood. ‘That’s the highest form of honesty, and honesty is the road to self-respect. You can revel in your integrity. What more could you want?’

Er...

He’s right, though. Isn’t he?

I once heard somebody for whom I had a lot of respect say ‘You can never be wrong if you follow your heart.’ It seems to me that it’s only true if the heart is ruled by the conscience; so does that make conscience an emotion, or the gatekeeper to the emotions? Has to be the latter, surely.

I get irritated when my brain rambles like this. It tends to happen most when I’m anxious. So then the irritation adds itself to the anxiety, the vicious circle asserts itself, and the scotch bottle empties quicker.

I remember the RE teacher at school telling us that ‘Philosophers aren’t just ancient Greeks in white robes, you know. I expect some of you to become philosophers.’

‘Oh good,’ I thought. ‘I fancy being a philosopher.’ And that was in the days when I was still into boyish things like rugby and under-age drinking. You just can’t escape your bloody destiny, can you? And I wasn’t making due allowance for being a hopeless Romantic as well.

I’m still anxious. The prospect of the priestess’s appraisal is weighing heavy. Must try to be more philosophical. Scotch first.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Namaste.

I’m having a day of nagging, unremitting anxiety today. It seems I do still have a role, or maybe roles, to play. Today it’s the turn of the accused man awaiting the jury’s verdict, and they’re going to be out for a few days. There is, thankfully, a measure of kindness and consideration behind the process, but I’m still anxious.

So, since I’m feeling a little distracted, I thought I’d lift the following from Helen’s blog and post it in lieu of my own thoughts, opinions and silliness. I hope she doesn’t mind.

I honour the place in you in which the entire universe dwells.
I honour the place in you which is
Of love, of truth, of light and of peace.
When you are in that place in you
And I am in that place in me
We Are One.

It’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? That place isn’t open in me yet, but one day...

A Mixed Metaphor.

I dreamt last night that I was taking part in a reality TV show, in which the viewer could follow my every movement and also see what I was seeing through some sort of webcam I had attached. I found it very uncomfortable, since my physical privacy is paramount and I guard it assiduously. Only a very rare, select few are allowed into the deeper recesses of my physical world.

What I find odd is that the song Send in the Clowns was playing throughout the dream. The lyrics have been haunting me all morning; I’ve been trying to work out their relevance to the invasion of my privacy.

Allegory Update and a Couple of Bits.

My beautiful Chinese ghost gave her answer to my proposal of posthumous marriage today. What do you think it was? Go on, guess.

Wrong!

--------------------------------------

Which reminds me of a favourite joke:

What’s brown and sounds like a bell?

Dun...n...n...g.

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And talking of brown... I know I’ve been going on a lot this week about clouds and the skies, but they really have been a strange, mixed up sort of bunch. This evening there was a massive and messy splodge of grey cloud heading for my house. Only it wasn’t even proper grey, it was a sickly brownish-yellowish grey that spoke of sulphur and satanic mills. I think this is the cause of my sore sinuses. My body is becoming very sensitive to changeable and disturbed atmospheric conditions these days.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Animals, Real and Imagined.

Remember the recent mystery of the horses that kept shying and running away when I was in the vicinity? They seem to have changed their minds; they all want to know me now. Two horses and a Shetland pony came hurrying over to the fence to have their noses scratched and their necks patted today. All crowding together for attention, they were. Maybe my dark companion wasn’t with me, or maybe horses are fickle.

So then I looked up and saw the most incredible bank of cloud drifting in my direction. It looked like a huge flying bear, legs outstretched and seen from beneath. The belly and hind legs were a deep slate grey, the chest and fore legs a mixture of light grey and white, while the head was off-white fringed with silver where the sun was catching the serrated edge. He was very handsome, but he didn’t come down to have his nose scratched.

Summer and a Rare Spirit.

I’ve added Mary Black’s rendition of Noel Brazil’s Summer Sent You to my playlist. It’s long been one of my favourite songs, but I had to pick up a live version from YouTube and it isn’t a patch on the recorded version.

You know how we’re prone to having an ‘our song’ with people we get especially close to? This one belongs to Judy, my late manager and special friend from the theatre. Judy managed to be everybody’s friend – naturally, easily, unselfconsciously. Judy was a rare and beautiful spirit with whom I re-engaged in July 1993 – hence the song. She died in June 2000, so I suppose you could say that what summer sent, summer also took away.

Two Little Irritations.

Somebody told me recently that I’m ‘a comfort.’ Somebody else told me that I’m ‘intriguing.’ Yet a third person said I could ‘talk about the deeper things in life.’ I suppose I should be grateful for such compliments, but there’s something missing. I only want what I want, that’s all. Is that so terrible?

--------------------------------------

I’m reading my novel again, just to see whether it still strikes the same chords. And do you know what I’ve found? Three bloody typos! How many times did I re-read and edit that book? And still there are three typos. A copy editor would have been useful. Damn. I suppose I can take some comfort from the fact that I read the best-selling novel Obssession last winter, and there are several typos in that. Good job I'm only an idealist and not a perfectionist.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Life in Desolation.

We had a lot of rain today, which kept me indoors doing several of those little jobs I’ve been putting off. It cleared for a few hours in the afternoon though, so I got my usual walk in and found myself talking to the farm animals a lot. They seem to like me talking to them. Maybe they sense how fond of them I am, or maybe they’re intrigued that a human creature is taking an interest in them. Or maybe it’s something else. Who knows? And then the rain returned, so I did some more jobs in the house.

The heavy sky brought the dusk down early. Everything dripped in the quiet, damp air. It felt desolate. I like it like that, because it’s only when all the visual and aural distractions are removed that the energy of nature flows forth. That’s when the garden, the trees, the hedgerows, the wild flowers, and the land in general feel most alive. I’ve said all this before, but I never tire of letting it sweep over me.

Sweeping Away the Bad...

Stage one of the revolution in Libya is almost complete; the tyrant Gaddafi is all but defeated. Stage two has already begun, it appears. Peace, reconciliation and justice for all? Er... no; widespread abuses and revenge killings.

I remember reading once about the aftermath of the French Revolution – about how the babies of royalist sympathisers were taken from their mothers and nailed to church doors.

And it could happen here, as it could happen anywhere. All it takes is the right shift in circumstances to shave off the thin veneer of so-called civilisation.

Don’t you just love the human race?

Cuteness and Conscience.

During my time in Northumberland I lived in a house with a field opposite, in which the farmer used to graze his flock of lambs during the spring and early summer. I often used to watch them playing, and was constantly surprised at how like human children they were. I even saw them playing a game of King of the Castle one day, just as I did as a kid.

Two evenings ago I was watching the ewes and lambs in the field at the top of my lane. There’s a tub of feed close to the gate, and two of the lambs, now almost as big as their mothers, were playing push and shove with their heads, each trying to gain access to the narrow opening. Eventually one of them won, and the other retired a pace to watch and, presumably, consider his next tactic. His next tactic was to lift one of his front legs and try to pull the other’s head out of the tub with his hoof.

‘Cute’ is an overused word, and it carries an unfortunately superficial connotation, but this was undoubtedly cute. I smiled at their activities, until it occurred to me that these little guys have only a matter of days, or a week or two at most, before they will be taken from their homes and mothers, crammed into lorries with no room to move about, pushed and bullied through a concrete and steel-encrusted market, herded into more lorries, and then forced into another shed where their brains will be blasted with a stun gun.

I once knew a man who said he was vegetarian, but then told me he’d just had some chicken McNuggets. I asked him why he ate chicken if he was vegetarian.

‘Because it tastes nice.’

I’m not preaching here, just saying how I feel. Everybody’s conscience is their own affair. Mine is one of the reasons why I’m vegetarian.

Time Flies.

Guess what I opened tonight. A bottle of Jura 10-year-old single malt. It was my payment for making up some figures for a woman and completing her tax return.

I’ve also got a bottle of really cheap scotch in the cupboard (full strength, of course) and I was going to drink that first. It’s always been my way to save the best ‘til last, but these are changing times. It struck me that I might get run over by a bus next week, and then there’d be a bottle of Jura 10-year-old malt sitting in the cupboard for somebody else to drink.

Tempus fugit.

Come to think of it, my Chinese ghost is a sort of example of leaving the best ‘til last, but I didn’t choose that one.

A Little Allegory and a Real Landscape.

Rare event:

Today I’ve been too busy to make a blog post. Now is post-bath time, so here I am.

The first thing that happened this morning was that I saw the office curtains twitch and the face of my Chinese ghost peer round them.

‘Boo!’ she said. ‘Your exorcist’s crap.’

I love her madly, you know, so she came for a walk with me and we talked about deep and meaningful things, like the nature of haunting and how some ghosts are for life, not just for Beltane.

As we entered Church Lane (she likes the church, for some reason) I pointed out how the clouds sometimes uncannily match the shape of the land. I used to notice it a lot when I was working as a landscape photographer. You’ll have to imagine the scene here, since I never carry cameras with me these days.

In the foreground is the lane, winding away and disappearing around a bend, and just on the bend is a large ash tree (odd that it should have been an ash; maybe it was called Randolph.)There’s a hedge running alongside it, and fields/trees/copses beyond that. In the distance, maybe three or four miles away, there’s a range of low hills called the Weavers. It’s a view I’ve often meant to photograph, but today there was an added bonus. Above the Weavers lay a mid grey cloud bank which echoed the shape of the hills almost perfectly, but the weird thing was that there was also a vertical column of white cloud that was placed in exactly the right place to echo the tree.

That was what verged on the freaky, but my ghost was unfazed. She said it was probably just a cosmic sign for something and it was for me to work out the meaning. At least, I think that’s what she said. She’s so damn wise, she sometimes leaves me behind. I asked her if she would marry me when I die, but all she returned was one of those inscrutable looks for which the Chinese are famed.

I’m not mad, you know, nor crazy if you’re American.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Fairy-with-a-Feather Spot.

That’s what I’ve taken to calling the point on the shoulder blade that’s most difficult to reach with either hand. It’s the bit that’s most prone to itching.

A Ratio Question.

I wonder what numerical figure the following ratio would produce:

People whose first priority is to ask ‘how do I get what I want?’:People whose first priority is to ask ‘what do I have to give?’

I know there are plenty of people who do both, but I’m talking first priorities and which takes precedence in the event of conflict.

Lot’s of levels, lots of room for discussion. But the more I think about it, the bigger the number in the first column grows. Me included.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Making the Case for Safety.

Warning: this post is a little harrowing.

I watched a documentary on the TV last night, about the dangers of F1 motor racing during the sixties and early seventies, and the efforts of people like Jackie Stewart to make the sport safer for both drivers and spectators. It contained much that was astonishing seen in retrospect, but one image stood out. It was poignant and, to a sensitive spirit, utterly depressing.

It appears that the dangers to drivers were many, but the most prolific of them was fire. Most cars that crashed burst into flames, and the chances of escaping the inferno were slim. Several times the programme showed footage of a driver’s body being lifted out of the wrecked car after the fire had been extinguished. It was little more than a pastiche of the man that had once been vibrant with life and courage. Two marshals, if such they were called then, put one hand under each armpit and lifted it quite easily. What got through my own emotional guard most, for some unknown reason, was that the arms still had hands attached to them, and they swung poignantly and without purpose.  

I wondered how the man’s wife would have felt if she’d seen that footage. Here was a man she had known intimately; a man she had lived with, laughed with, argued with, cried with and made love to, now reduced to some lifeless lump resembling a scarecrow. Children might have sat around it in the run up to Bonfire Night, asking for ‘a penny for the Guy.’

And then I wondered what had gone through the man’s mind as the flames engulfed him. Was it intense fear at the prospect of the most unimaginable pain? Was it consumed with the knowledge that his life was about to end? Did he think about his wife and family? Did he hope against hope for rescue? Was he mercifully unconscious, or does the mind have a mechanism for blanking everything in that situation even if it’s still functioning on some level?

And throughout it all the race carried on. Was that because there was scant regard for life, or because ‘the show must go on,’ or because commercial exigency required it as the commentary suggested? Or were the race organisers paying service to the sensibilities of the spectators, hoping perhaps that the sound of high powered engines would drown the screams of a man being burned alive?

Whatever the reason, it depressed the hell out of me right up until bed time.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Alternative (or Real) Sleeping Beauty.

Do you know what we haven’t had for a long time? (A week is a long time in the blogosphere.) We haven’t had a woman post. Remember when JJ’s blog consisted of little other than woman posts, most of them a bit agonised? Right then, here’s a nice one for a change.

If you’re not a man, imagine you are. If you don’t believe in reincarnation, imagine you do. OK? You’re a man who believes in reincarnation. OK.

So, you encounter a woman and feel an immediate connection with her. More than that, the conviction soon takes root that you go back a long way – back into past lives, that is. A sense of separation from a dearly beloved takes hold and drives you crazy with longing. You can’t bear to be separated from her, but you know that circumstances are such that any reunion in this life simply isn’t possible. For a while you try to deny this unpalatable fact; you try to get close, but all that leads you into is pain on several levels, pain so bad that you get constant sleeping and waking nightmares, and descend to a pretty dark place. It goes on for months, and eventually you have to let her go for both your sakes.

More pain and longing follow, but then a certain clarity begins to assert itself and is accompanied by acceptance. You begin to feel relaxed; you begin to see the rightness and inevitability of it all. You stop feeling agonised; the longing ceases and you can breathe again. You know that she lies soft, snug and sleeping in your heart, and that one day you will find her again and wake her up. You’re content with that.

Doesn’t that remind you of a certain fairytale?

And it didn’t hurt a bit, did it? So no groans!

Monday, 22 August 2011

An Inexplicable Noise.

There’s a big field about a quarter of a mile from where I live, and it’s got a lot of sheep in it – a mixture of ewes and nearly full grown lambs. Usually they’re silent apart from the occasional lamb calling its mother.

And so it was this evening, until I was on my way back. The air was suddenly filled with the sound of countless ovine voices of every tone and character, and it was little short of deafening - a veritable cacophany of bah-ing and bleating fit to raise the occupants of the distant churchyard in protest. It went on for about five minutes and then stopped again.

Why?

An Inexplicable Sensation.

Why do I keep getting this curious thrill running across my torso and down my arms, as though something good (but as yet unknown to me) has just happened, or is about to? It’s a bit like the feeling you get when somebody you’re nuts about says ‘Yes, yes, you may.’

I’ll let you know if ever I find out.

Speculating on Standards.

Here’s a current train of thought. No conclusions, just speculation.

It seems to me that for several decades we’ve been neglecting to instil into kids a sense of, and aspiration to uphold, standards. Those responsible for the education of children, from parents to schools to the government, are so obsessed with the attainment of status and ‘success’ that personal standards are being overlooked.

So here are the questions. Would it be reasonable to suggest that standards form the foundation on which self respect is built? Not self confidence; that’s different. Self respect. And would it also be reasonable to suggest that without self respect, a person is unlikely to have respect for others? Not the law, or morals, or the Establishment. Respect for the needs, rights and sensibilities of other people. And isn’t that just what we see happening so much now?

If I’m right, the next question would have to be: who or what should be the arbiter of right standards? I certainly wouldn’t be happy to entrust it to the Church, the government, the educational system, the media, the self-obsessed arts establishment, the self-serving capitalist establishment, the smugly self-certain conservative establishment, or the near-fascist liberal alter-establishment.

So who? Don’t know yet.

The Grail Option.

Which is it better to be:

A Lancelot, who searched for the Grail but didn’t find it?

A Perceval, who saw the Grail but didn’t recognise it?

A Galahad, who found the Grail, recognised its significance, then died almost immediately from a surfeit of ecstasy?

You’ve got to go for Galahad, haven’t you? Since we all have to die some day, what better way to do it than in a state of ecstasy?

Of course, you could always be a denizen of the modern world and never search for anything. That way you might get to die quietly, with memories.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Notes on Today's Walk.

The hedgerow berries are almost all ripe, the willow herb is almost all wool, and the harvest is all safely gathered in. The end of summer is almost upon us. I was talking to a woman in the lane who said she couldn’t decide whether this summer had been a good one. It’s been, like her, indecisive. We haven’t had the cold, wet washout that we had in 07 and 08, but it’s stuttered and never really got underway.

Do you know what’s tricky about walking around the lanes? Meeting somebody coming the other way who you know in passing but have no reason to stop and talk to. Something like mild anxiety builds as you approach one another. You know your eyes mustn’t meet before you get to within hailing distance because that would feel almost like a form of intimacy, and that would never do, especially if it’s another man. So you both look at the road, the trees, the hedgerows – anything you can find to pretend to be taking an interest in. And then you have to judge the moment when it’s appropriate to make eye contact and exchange a greeting. Having done so, you avert your eyes again and breathe a slight sigh of relief when you’ve crossed and gone your separate ways. Maybe it’s an English thing. Or maybe it’s just me.

A cyclist passed me while I was walking along Mill Lane. I was possessed of a sudden and most profound certainty that he was a blob of some alien life form that was quite unconnected with my species. That’s a bit scary.

Three Notes to Keep the Keyboard Active.

There are several tracks on my playlist that are, and ever shall be, irrevocably associated with the life I never had. Should I remove them, or should I be a brave boy and leave them there just because I like them?

Tonight’s revelation:

Now that the newly clarified me has come to accept how disturbing it finds decadence, there is something rather splendid about eating a lettuce and mayo sandwich alone in the early hours of the morning.

An earlier realisation:

I doubt that my creditors would allow me to go and live in northern Thailand. Aren’t there extradition treaties to prevent that sort of thing?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Time and the Sky.

We’ve had some interesting late evening skies this week. Skies with uncommon combinations of shape, colour and movement. They weren’t pretty skies; they were troubled skies, angry skies, confused skies, skies with regimented bands of cloud driving relentlessly on like so many ghosts heading for perdition's flames because there was nowhere else to go, skies that might be there to prepare for the unveiling of some apocalyptic event of great moment in a filmed drama. Remember the sky towards the end of Donny Darko, just before the jet engine plunged through the worm hole? We even had one like that. Tonight’s sky looked like the world in agony.

For some reason unfathomable to my limited capacity for analysis, tonight’s sky reminded me that time is our ultimate enemy. Maybe it was because this evening was one of those sublimely peaceful ones when time appears to stop. Only the writhing, tortured sky was there to assure me that it never does.

Life and Latvia.

Dear life is such a mystery
It’s really quite a wind up.
It pushes, pulls, then walks away
And cannot make its mind up.

Now I’m looking at the cost of flights to Latvia, but I think it might be a bit late in the year for a trip to the Baltic States. Don’t they have perpetual ice and darkness from now until next May?

One Man's View of the World.

I was talking to a car mechanic this morning. Oddly, for a car mechanic, he’s probably the most widely travelled person I’ve ever met. We got onto the subject of travel, and I thought I’d post four little snippets of what he said:

‘Funny lot, the Aussies.’

‘I’ve always said I’d like America if only there weren’t any Americans there.’

‘I was worried about going to Iran, but I needn’t have been. The food’s crap but the people are OK.’

‘I can see you in northern Thailand.’

My American buddies might be happy to know that I defended you. Why I should be seen as a match for northern Thailand remains a mystery.

Animal Magnetism.

There’s something odd happening with me and the local animals. The farm animals in particular have started to take an unusually intense interest in me. Animals grazing in fields will usually glance at you briefly and then carry on chewing. Now they stop what they’re doing and stare at me – and stare and stare. The cows usually come to me en masse, apparently wanting to know what this curious creature is. The sheep keep their distance and stare, but the horses have taken to staring with an alarmed look and then shying, even though I haven’t moved. That’s happened three times recently, and it’s a bit disturbing. They never used to do that. The local cats, of which there are many, flee at my approach almost without exception, but the dogs still seem to like me. The blackbirds are the oddest. They seem to want to get close, but then lose their nerve and fly away screeching their alarm call.

So what is this? Omen 4? At first I thought they were sensing some unusual energy I give off, but now I’m wondering whether I have a companion on my walks – something the animals can see and I can’t. Whoever or whatever it is, it really seems to bother the horses.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Retiring Into Irrelevance.

How surely does Manhattan shine
And seethe with satisfaction.
How wearily the west side wanes
And drives me to distraction.

But life is never that simple.

Making a Difference.

I went to the dentist today and found that the place had been given a facelift, with new ceilings, light fittings and so on. What horrified me was the sight of a big, widescreen, plasma TV installed on one wall of the only waiting room, and in a position that made it hard to avoid. When I got there it was showing one of those daft makeover shows beloved of brain dead TV producers and couch potato audiences. Today’s delight was the making of a dowdy, middle aged woman into an irresistible femme fatale.

OK, let me say at the outset that I don’t judge beauty in purely physical terms. But show like this do, and so it’s perfectly reasonable in this context for me to describe the woman as fat and ugly. That was why she was there.

So, in trip the experts: the make up artist, the fashion guru, and the ‘hairdresser to the stars’ (seriously, that was how he was billed.) They set to work and they set to talking about the importance of it all, the tricks of the trade, and how we wouldn’t know this woman once they’d worked their magic on her. ‘Turgid’ would be an understatement; ‘mind-bogglingly crass’ would be closer. At that point I couldn’t stand it any longer and went out into the corridor to await my call.

The hygienist was running late and I was getting in people’s way, so eventually I re-took my seat in the waiting room just as the magic was complete and the femme fatale revealed. The experts had, indeed, made a difference. The woman who had been merely fat and ugly was now fat, ugly and painted.

Is it me?

Poe.

Did you know that Edgar Alan Poe married his cousin when she was only thirteen?

He’s mostly associated with New York, Philadelphia and Virginia, which is a coincidence.

And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable Dominion over all.

Still my favourite bit of alliteration.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Finding Something to Like.

I keep getting visitors to an old blog post of mine called The Curious Case of the Russian Porn Site. It seems they’re looking for Russian porn sites, which I find disturbing since I hate porn.

It’s quite interesting, taking an honest look at myself now that I’ve dropped the role playing. I’m seeing things more clearly. I’ve discovered, for example, that I have a pretty deep dislike of showbusiness, too. It seems so pretentious, disingenuous, ego-ridden and artificial. All lurid colours and no substance, like candyfloss. The media are obsessed with it, the public are obsessed with celebrity, and the celebrities are obsessed with an inflated sense of their own worth. I saw two of the young actors from the Harry Potter films being interviewed tonight. Awful.

I met Sarah in the lane again today. Her little cocker spaniel is the sweetest dog you could ever wish to meet. She looked at me lovingly and tolerantly while I played with her big woolly ears (the dog, that is.)

A Favourite Line.

From Macbeth:

Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

Like waiting for a particular e-mail... and that's the point. There seems to be a line in Shakespeare that's apposite to nearly every situation. So is all human life contained within the works of Shakespeare? Most of it, I should think. Who wrote all that stuff? Probably not Mr W Shakespeare of Stratford, but it doesn't matter. I continue to opine that authors become irrelevant when they die; the only thing that matters is what they leave behind.

Thinking to Avoid the Alternative.

By the time I reached the supermarket this morning, my mind was in a state close to fracture. So, in order to give the poor thing a break, I considered the question of whether there is anything inherently unethical about stealing.

I inclined to the view that there probably isn’t, that the only unethical aspect is the loss and dismay caused to other people. And I supposed that the nub of the question is the concept of ownership which we are conditioned to take for granted. There are those who argue that ownership is a flawed, divisive and unhealthy concept, and there were monks in the Middle Ages who claimed that it was even un-spiritual. They were subjected to death by burning on the orders of the Holy Roman Church for saying as much. The Holy Roman Church was a great believer in ownership. But who was right?

I came to no definite conclusion, but it did help dear old mind to feel less fractured, which just goes to prove that thinking can be useful.

This afternoon it was ‘The Infinite Divisibility of Space as it Relates to Crossing the North Pole’ that was given the job of calming the mind. I came to no conclusion on that one, either.

Sarah’s horse has got his equine companion back and no longer scowls at me. I think there might be a lesson to be drawn there, maybe even a conclusion.

Making it Through.

If I were to commit to this blog all the many and varied aspects of loss and deprivation to which I’m currently being subjected, you would have reasonable cause to think that I might be developing suicidal tendencies. So, to put to rest the mind of anybody inclined to wonder, I’ll commit just one of them.

My lettuce is limp.

If I were becoming suicidal, I would hardly be concerned about the state of my lettuce, would I?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Three Pointless Questions.

Which is harder:

To reject or be rejected?

Which is more disturbing:

To need or be needed?

Which is more satisfying:

To pursue or be pursued?

Does it matter? This is what occupies my brain when I go for a walk and think about life.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Life and Conflict.

Why does life have to set parent and child at one another’s throats? The din is deafening. The kid demands, the parent declines. The kid screams, the parent scowls. The conflict begins to sound like some perverse form of poetry. Is there winning to be had here, or only feeble compromise?

Monday, 15 August 2011

An Excuse for a Post.

I’m tired of writing serious posts. I’d like to write some funny posts, light hearted posts, surreal posts, lyrical posts – anything but more serious posts. I can’t because I’m too swamped by things I don’t want to be swamped by. I wish this phase would pass.

I nearly wrote a post around Bob Dylan’s lines

For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally...

But it kept on turning serious, so I didn’t. Instead I checked out the cheapest flights to Cleveland, Bangkok and Cebu City. I didn’t check New York because every time I thought about it I kept being swamped by things I didn’t want to be swamped by again. (The others were too expensive.)

And so I settled on this excuse for a post. It will have to do.

Tonight I saw three lambs in a wood near the top of the lane. They’d obviously escaped from an adjacent field, and when I approached them they scattered in all directions. I shut the gate to the wood in the hope that it would discourage them from trying to get onto the road. What else could I do?

No Place for the Beautiful.

The classic song Starry Starry Night contains the lines:

I could have told you, Vincent
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

I never thought much about it before, but now it makes sense. This world is a place for tarts and testosterone-charged tough guys, both actually and figuratively. It’s a world in which value and success are not measured in self-contained terms, but in terms that are linear and vertical. It’s all about having more or being seen to be better than other people.

And that’s why when I hear the word ‘ambition’ (as opposed to ‘aspiration’) used in terms which suggest it’s a desirable quality, I have to turn away. To me it isn’t, it’s just one of many signs that, to use a Buddhist analogy, the monkey in man continues to have dominion over the angel.

Persistence of Sound.

This is a phenomenon that’s always interested me – the fact that you can get a piece of music stuck in your head, and you just can’t get rid of it. Every time your focus on something fades, back comes the music. I’ve known it go on like that for several days sometimes.

Today’s offering is Michael Nyman’s The Sacrifice. It’s on somebody’s playlist and I heard it a couple of days ago, yet it waited until today to ingratiate its persistent presence into every unfocussed moment. Fortunately, this piece is pleasant, poignant and has deep personal meaning, but usually it’s some awful bit of commercial crap that I don’t even like.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Questioning the Clever Sound Bite.

There’s something too self-consciously grand about some of those little sound bites of wisdom that profess to proclaim profound truths. I don’t mind things like ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.’ What I have a problem with are those that flaunt their clever conciseness and expect us to take it as proof of their unquestionable veracity. Things like:

Any existence deprived of freedom is a kind of death.

This is perfectly true in some situations, but as a general axiom it’s unsatisfying. Firstly, you have to define ‘freedom.’ And it might be equally well stated that any existence in which freedom is all you have can also be a form of death.

The Monochrome Look of Middle Age.

I think I know what it is about middle aged people that I don’t want to be. I’ve noticed that they mostly exhibit a relatively narrow range of facial expressions, and since facial expressions project the variety and depth of emotional engagement, the lack of them suggests a settlement into emotional mediocrity.

Packing for Avalon and Beyond.

To lose a precious but impalpable jewel is to be reminded that one day we must lose all palpable things. And then what will be left us? What will we carry not only to Avalon, but to the life after that? Impalpable is not the same as illusory.

This seems to be a time for losing the precious but impalpable, and the approaching twilight augurs badly for recompense. I’m glad I weep at deliverance and not adversity. Mostly.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

An Unpleasant Sensation.

All afternoon and evening I’ve been labouring under a most unpleasant sense of fear and foreboding. This happens occasionally, and every time it does I worry that it might be some form of premonition or empathic awareness. It rarely is, so I suppose it’s just a bit of a neurosis. Still worries me, though.

The Word.

Surely, the most powerful and magical word in the English language must be 'yes.'

The word of affirmation.

Current Bits.

The job of painting a window frame neatly is excellent for realigning the fractured mindset into something simpler and more pragmatic. For a while, at least.

Today is August 13th, so I need to offer birthday greetings to my ex-wife Anna, wherever she is now, and to Katy Stephens who I used to know in the good old days.

Off for a walk shortly – see whether the animals can show me anything interesting or teach me anything worthwhile. Sometimes they do.

Lovers in Life and Literature.

Not Cathy and Heathcliffe; they weren’t lovers. Not Romeo and Juliet; too clich├ęd. Let’s go for Lancelot and Guinevere, or better still, Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The memory of the latter is particularly poignant.

The message isn’t lost on me, and the lesson is already learned. Life is a whole lot more complicated and difficult than fiction. Maybe that’s why I write fiction. Life at the mundane level sometimes has too hard an edge for the heart of a child, and the mature mind has a hell of a job coaxing the kid through yet another hungry night.

Like a good parent, however, the mind gets tired but declines to abdicate its responsibility. This one is about to go and put the second coat of paint on two window frames. Painting window frames is one of the best of distractions.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Blame Where It's Due.

Apparently, there are young men in Rome who make a living by wearing gladiator costumes and charging tourists ten euros to have their photograph taken with them. Now it seems there’s so much trouble between individual ‘gladiators’ competing over this lucrative trade that the police have ordered a crackdown.

So who’s to blame for this amusing state of affairs? Damn silly tourists with more money than sense who are prepared to waste ten euros having their picture taken with a local bloke in fancy dress, that’s who.

Partings.

I’ve been through a lot of partings in my life one way and another. Some have been acrimonious, some indifferent, some unavoidable, and a few have been bravely accepting of the fact that the rightness of the separation outweighed the instinctive desire to cling.

I think the acrimonious ones are the easiest. Anger vindicates the process. It negates the sense of loss, albeit it temporarily, and provides welcome ballast in that gaping, empty hold that now echoes only one set of footsteps.

Unfortunately, I’m cursed with the need to respond honestly. If I feel angry, I’ll respond angrily; if I don’t, I can’t invent it. Maybe that’s best for everybody in the long run, and being true to yourself is always right, isn’t it?

Life, Mischief and Rightness.

I had an e-mail this morning that quite stunned me. It reminded me yet again that life often takes a seemingly mischievous pleasure in tossing you what you least expect and saying ‘There you are. How are you going to handle this?’ And what continues to surprise me is that I rarely react to the unexpected as I would have predicted.

So then I took a walk to clear my head and consider my response.

The hedgerows are at the point of maximum growth at this time of year, and haven’t yet begun to fade. It lends their appearance an air of wildness, an unkempt aspect that is both rich and ragged until the autumn takes its toll and the farmers trim them back to neat conformity. The air was warm, still and sultry. The animals grazed contentedly, the emerald meadows lay unruffled, and the crops in the cornfields stood proud and golden. It was a dreamlike scenario, and for once the sense of melancholy seemed almost right.

A Cute Little Question.

I find it cute when bumble bees rub the sides of their heads with their middle pair of legs. I watched one doing it today. And then it occurred to me that people find it cute when cats wash their ears. So what is it about an animal rubbing the side of its head that we find cute? And what’s the definition of ‘cute’ anyway?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Bovine Rejection.

I got talking to a cow in a field off Church Lane this evening.

‘Would you like me to scratch your nose,’ I asked her, knowing that cows sometimes like to have their noses scratched. At that point she turned her head to the nearest fence and began scratching her own nose.

Now, that’s what I call rejection.

Never Too Late to Learn Part 2.

I just realised something else about my latest ‘phase.’ I used to think of myself, by and large, as a human being on a standard human being’s life path. You go from infant to child to adolescent to young adult etc, and at each stage you do the things that seem appropriate to that point – things the culture expects of you and conditions you to expect of yourself.

I don’t think of myself like that any more. Now I see myself as a different kind of being, something universal and timeless, something that can do whatever it wants whether it’s culturally appropriate or not. It seems to be a reason why I don’t want to play roles any longer. I can’t find any appropriate ones for a universal and timeless being to play.

Problem though: in a physical sense I am a human being, and there are things you can do and be when you’re young that you can’t do and be when you’re older. That’s a bugger.

A Little Problem.

I broke the side off a tooth today. Grain bread.

It doesn't hurt particularly, just aches a bit - which is irritating. I have a routine dental appointment booked for next Thursday, and a week suddenly seems like a long time. I wonder whether I can hold out...

Never Too Late to Learn.

I think I learned something else about myself today. I think one of the reasons I don’t fit in too well with human society is because the human animal is a predator at heart, and I’m not. I think this might also explain another trait that I’ve always found puzzling. I can be as aggressive as you like when I’m on the defensive, but I find offensive aggression almost impossible to muster.

Never stops, does it? Did I say that before?

Riots Update.

Two little notes:

1) The Housing Minister is now demanding that rioters be evicted from their homes. Oh, right. So will that make them less likely to riot? And what do we do with them when they're homeless?

2) Cameron says the rioters were'criminally pure and simple.' Read that carefully. Is he doing his GW impression again, or has he just forgotten how to speak English?

The thing I find most disturbing about this whole business is being further reminded of the lamantable state of senior politicians. Wouldn't you think that with their education they'd be capable of learning the lessons of history? Do I have to state the obvious again? Riots are always a sign of long term discontent. So address the discontent.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Simple Disturbances.

I’m finding a lot of things disturbing at the moment, so here are three of the simpler ones:

I saw a headline in a tabloid newspaper this morning, referring to the riots. It said:

Sweep the Scum off the Streets.

It disturbs me that the sole purpose of the tabloid press seems to be to convince bigoted and small minded people that bigoted and small minded is the right way to be. But of course, a symbiotic relationship exists between the tabloid press and those inclined towards bigotry and small mindedness.

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In another reference to the riots, it disturbs me that David Cameron should stoop to the usual bit of politician’s rear end hyperbole when he speaks of ‘the fightback’ beginning. This is just a disingenuous ploy to divert attention from the real causes by painting the whole thing in simple term: the rioters are ‘the enemy.’ Mrs Thatcher used the same device with the miners in the 1980’s. Well, maybe the rioters are the enemy, but if so they’re an enemy created by politicians, the corporate world, the media, and the rest of the Establishment over the last thirty years. And there are only two ways of getting rid of an enemy; either you remove the causes of the enmity, or you destroy it. So what are we going to do: re-appraise our principles and get back to some pre-Thatcherite values, or exchange the plastic bullets for real ones?

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On a very much lighter note, it disturbed me to see a middle aged couple behind me in the checkout queue. They were buying bottles of wine and nice-things-to-have-for-tea. Life would be so much easier for me if I could play that role.

Stating the Obvious.

When the storms threaten to send you to a cold, watery death, you cry for calm. And when you enter the doldrums, you weep for the lack of wind.

Such is life. Nothing if not an adventure. You must admit though, landfall does have its appeal.

Trying for the Right Label.

The bats on the lane were brilliant tonight – doing their loop-the-loops in front of my face and then flying to within a couple of inches of my nose. I swear they’re showing off.

And guess what I do now. I talk to the trees. But they don’t listen to me. Or do they?

One up on Clint.

This is the point at which I quote Marvin:

‘Life? Don’t talk to me about life. God, I’m so depressed.’

Have I earned a label yet?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Riots. Briefly.

I suppose I should be writing a long, considered post on the riots that are currently ablaze in several British cities. Well, I can’t be bothered, because it really all comes down to one simple fact:

The Establishment creates an increasingly divided society and then blames everybody but itself when the shit hits the fan. Riots don’t happen in contented cultures.

The bozos blame it all on the immigrants, of course.

That’ll do.

The Wrong Label.

Can you believe this? Some Aussie bint labelled me a ‘drunk’ tonight. Just to set the record straight:

I do admit to seeking a state of mild inebriation once a day, more so over the last year since life has been playing games with all the elements that go to make up my consciousness. I do so exclusively during the wee small hours when the only harm I can do is to myself.

(And all the harm that e’er I’ve done
Alas it was to none but me.)

But, here’s the point:

The last time I got DRUNK – as I understand the term – was in 1985. Really. I still remember the price I had to pay. 

I just had a thought, though. Should one take it as a compliment when an Aussie calls you a drunk?

Today.

I just remembered that today is the anniversary of my mother's death. It's also the date on which Isabella - the lady in the village churchyard - died. And it's National Women's Day in South Africa. August 9th seems to have something about it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Word Paradox.

I’ve often said that the written word is inadequate when it comes to expressing more extended nuances of meaning. Paradoxically, though, even a few simple words can sometimes have a hell of an impact. Two short phrases that gave me the greatest thrill over the last year came in dreams:

‘E-mail me?’ and ‘Yes yes, you may.’

Pity we have to wake up, isn’t it? Although I suppose it is ill advised to complain of waking up.

‘I stand by everything I said,’ however, came in an e-mail.

Viewing a Difficult Prospect.

I have to say that this new clarified understanding of the two entities is causing me a little disquiet.

I used to think of death as probably no big deal. I used to think it would be simply a matter of dropping the outer shell and carrying on – not much different than a snake sloughing its skin. Now it’s looking a bit more like a significant event, and here’s what’s troubling me.

I’ve always found parting difficult. I’ve lost a good many humans and animals one way or another during my life and it’s always brought some trauma with it. It doesn’t stop there, though. I find it hard to say goodbye to an old car that has to go to the scrap yard, and I even have trouble throwing away worn out items of clothing. So how much more difficult is it going to be to watch my closest partner fall into lifelessness and rot away?

And the second question: How familiar will I be with the spirit entity? How well will I know him once he isn’t combined with an animal I can look at in the mirror? These very fingers that are typing this post will be so much dead wood fit only for throwing onto the bonfire. I look at them and feel sad because I know I’m going to have to say goodbye to them one day.

It probably won’t happen for quite some time yet, but I’m developing a different sense of time these days. The idea that twenty years is ten times as long as two is losing its grip. It’s a slow and subtle process, but it’s happening.

So how to prepare for this momentous event? By being positive, I suppose; by concentrating on the exciting prospect of having a new animal to engage with, and maybe renewing acquaintance with dear people from earlier times. By knowing that, however far I walk, the horizon will always be there. And by developing the sense that life goes on regardless and there’s no way it’s ever going to get rid of me.