Monday, 31 December 2012

The Nature of New Years Eve.

The walk was a bit of a waste of time tonight. Somebody was letting off premature fireworks, and there were too many cars on the lane. Most were headed for the pub which is staying open until the early hours. No doubt they were coming early to claim seats and get tanked up for a few hours, by which contrivance they might properly be conditioned for the midnight round of crooning and kissing, hugs and handshakes, halloos and ‘Happy New Years.’

I’m not being cynical. People coming together in celebration has much to commend it, even though at no time in my life did I ever really see the appeal of New Years Eve. The calendar is, after all, an artificial instrument; there’s nothing of either natural or cosmic significance about the change from December 31st to January 1st. Beltane and solstice fires seem much more meaningful to me.

Nevertheless, I did decide earlier to accord with a popular custom: to look back on the year and draw up a profit and loss account, and maybe even construct a balance sheet. It’s what people do and I thought it might make an interesting blog post. I made a start sitting by the fire after dinner, but it soon became too personal, too profound, and ultimately too pretentious. As such it was only expressible in cryptic terms, and what use would that have been? And so I’ll offer up just one item from the list:

I made lots of soups in 2012, but only one apple crumble.

Make of it what you will.

*  *  *

I’ll tell you what was odd, though. When I woke up this morning I felt grateful that there was only one more day of 2013 to go, since I’ve never been fond of the number 13. It wasn’t until early afternoon that I realised we hadn’t even got to 2013 yet.

Stretching the Reader's Breath.

My reading material this year is going back in time. First there was Dracula published in 1897, then Jane Eyre published in 1847, and now Frankenstein published in 1818.

What I’m finding particularly noteworthy is the fact that, the further back you go, the more apparent is the style for very long sentences containing a quantity of clauses which we would today consider insupportable. Interestingly, though, the worst writer I ever read for constructing sentences so long that they were verging on the unreadable was Joseph Conrad, and most of his major works were written in the early years of the 20th century. In Conrad’s case, however, it should be borne in mind that his native language was not English, but Polish, which makes his ability to write as he did all the more remarkable.

Not a Fan.

I mentioned in a Christmas Eve post the version of A Christmas Carol done using motion capture techniques. It stars Jim Carey, who plays Scrooge and all three spirits.

The Ghost of Christmas Past was interesting and even a little spooky, with its flaming and disembodied head that kept floating away from its body. Where I had a problem was with the Ghost of Christmas Present. It was the usual rotund being sitting on top of a pile of food which didn’t, by some miraculous artifice, collapse. OK, that’s in the book; but it kept laughing even when there was nothing to laugh at. It was a typical stage laugh – over the top and wholly unconvincing. This agent of regressive therapy didn’t come across as the Ghost of Christmas Present at all, but as a gauche and slightly demented chain store Santa who doesn’t know where the line lies between funny and just plain irritating; in short, the sort of person you hide from at parties

Carey can be a skilled actor when he puts his mind to it, but more often than not he takes cheap refuge in the obvious, the unsubtle, and the utterly unfunny – which was why I didn’t make it to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I suppose I should have done, just to see what Carey made of a character who has no face and doesn’t talk.

Considering the Post-Hobbit Phase.

It’s been all about The Shire today, hasn’t it? Well, I’ve been thinking: what do I want to be next? You can only do so much as a hobbit, and having to keep standing on a stool to reach the bar counter grows a little tiresome after a while. So what should it be?

Definitely not a gnome. Caves and subterranean caverns are fun to explore, but I think I’d find it a bit stifling having to live in one. And besides, they use up so much energy getting angry all the time. Being an elf appeals, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that yet. Their world seems maybe just a little too pure, elegant and well ordered. So I think I’m going to have to stay human, but with a difference.

As a kid I loved the whole Arthurian thing, but it wasn’t the king or the knights I identified with; it was Merlin. I think that’ll have to be it. I want to be a magician; a proper magician; a Gandalf magician. Then I can be the power behind the throne, I can come and go as I please, I won’t have to sit in an exposed position on a high chair, I won’t have to utter daft lines like ‘Then bear your witness’ (which I did in a school play once and to which a story attaches, but that can wait for another time,) and I won’t have to refer to myself in the third person.

And on that note, have a bit of Mitchell and Webb:


Sunday, 30 December 2012

Judging The Shire Illuminations.

I was advised today to go and look at Mr and Mrs Coxon’s external Christmas lights, since I’d expressed commendation for the shimmering blue cascade at Rose Mount. Tonight I did. Heavens.

Mr and Mrs C live on a lane that I don’t usually walk at night, which is why I hadn’t seen it before. They live in a big bungalow with a sizeable amount of well tended land, bisected by a driveway, sloping down to the road. How should I describe the display laid out across the two capacious lawns?

Remember the post ‘The Shire in the Desert?’ Well, given the context of their relative locations, this was truly Las Vegas. There were Santas on sleds, Santas throwing snowballs, kids on bikes, kids swinging on trees, reindeer, a train, two shimmering Christmas trees, and lots more that I don’t remember. And high up in one of the mature trees there was a flashing star, no doubt in token acknowledgement of the religious connection.

For sheer brashness it would take some beating, and it certainly has no peer in The Shire. I’ve no doubt it can be seen from space, and I wonder whether they informed air traffic control at EMA to preclude the possibility of the odd Boeing or two trying to land thirty miles too soon.

So hats off to Mr and Mrs Coxon who definitely take No.1 spot this year. This is one impressed little hobbit, although I do wonder whether they were responsible for the short power outage we had a few nights ago. As for the cost, well...

The Community Intelligence Game.

Do you know what’s really useful? Discovering who to ask if you want to know anything about anybody in The Shire. And the same person is the one to whom a casual remark should be dropped if there’s something about yourself which you want to be known. On the other hand, circumspection is required if there’s something about yourself that you don’t want to become common knowledge.

I’ve never played this game before, but it might be fun to give it a go.

Being Weird and Pesky.

I had confirmed to me today something I suggested in a blog post recently:

‘Somebody said to me the other day,’ related my informant: ‘"I keep seeing that man from up near the school walking around the lanes every night. He’s a bit weird, isn’t he? I wonder what he's up to."’

My informant, apparently, put in a word for me, saying that I was a little interesting and mostly harmless. I said I’d try no to worry about it and nobody need stock up on garlic.

The same informant also told me something quite interesting about the actor Timothy Dalton, but I’m not going to tell you what it is because I’m like that. I can tell you that he lives in the same county as me, if you like, but that’s only at the edge of what’s quite interesting. Oh, and I can tell you that his mother was of mixed Italian and Irish parentage, which might explain something. Then again, it might not.

You can turn me off now.

The Power of Galadriel.

You know, I’ve never taken very much notice of Lord of the Rings, either the books or the much lauded film version. And yet I keep stumbling on YouTube compilations of clips from the film. They’re messing with my senses a bit. I mean, take a look at this:


This is where I’ve always wanted to go ever since I was a kid. This represents the combination of feminine beauty and power which is about the only thing – along with the Buddha, maybe – to which I would be prepared to bow. And yet it’s only a freggin’ film starring a bunch of well paid freggin’ actors!

I’m not sure what’s going on here. I’m not a kid any more. I’ve grown cynical over the years, and especially scornful of commercially-driven phenomena like high grossing films. And yet here I am in the final days of 2012 being completely wowed like a babe in arms by a fictional character with a funny name.

Maybe I really am a hobbit, or maybe I’m just losing the plot. Would I post this if I hadn’t had a drink or three? Probably not, so here goes…

Anticipating a Tough Read.

Since I’m about to read Frankenstein, I thought I’d familiarise myself with Mary Shelley, especially since her maiden name was the same as my surname at birth (though I doubt there’s a family connection.) Two potted biographies later and I’m disturbed. What a depressing life she had – it seems to be all drownings, suicides and other random forms of premature death. I do hope it won’t show through the novel. Dark I can take; depressing is another matter. And if the monster doesn’t really say ‘Smoke! Good!’ I’m going to be disappointed.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mad Women and Imaginative Professors.

I just finished reading the Introduction to Jane Eyre. (One is advised by the publisher to read the book before reading the Introduction, since the latter gives the game away here and there. In that case, it seems to me that ‘Introduction’ is an odd thing to call it. But anyway…)

According to the learned professor who wrote said Introduction, Mad Mrs Rochester’s act of tearing Jane’s wedding veil asunder on the night before the prospective nuptials represents a symbolic taking of Jane’s virginity in order to prevent Edward claiming his prize. Ooh…

But hang on a minute. Mad Mrs R is mad, right, so would she really be thinking in symbolic terms? Even if she’d known of and comprehended Edward’s planned act of bigamy – which isn’t all that likely since she’s locked in the attic all day with only the dipsomaniac Grace Poole for company, and is mad – wouldn’t she have been more likely to do Jane some physical mischief, especially since we already know she has difficult moods during which she likes burning, stabbing and biting people? Isn’t it more likely that, being mad, she just fancied trashing something?

Town and Country Climate.

I just read that in England, 2012 has been the wettest year since records began. In the UK as a whole, it’s still just behind the 2000 all-time high, but is expected to beat it this weekend.

I thought back to 2000, which I don’t remember having been a particularly wet year. Ah, but, I was living in the city in 2000, and I was reminded again of how much greater is the awareness of environmental conditions when you live in the countryside. You learn of one farmer who lost a whole field of hay to the wet conditions, and of another who had to use his winter feed in the summer because the grazing was ruined, and how his sheep were getting foot ailments because of all the mud in the pasture. You see the landscape transformed into a succession of pools where there should be earth, and watch the torrents of water driving out of the open land drains. And, of course, it’s several degrees colder in the countryside, and the wind tends to be fiercer because there are fewer obstacles to impede it.

The people worst affected, though, are those living in small towns and villages close to rivers. They’re the ones who’ve suffered repeated flooding this year. I read of one publican in a small town in Cornwall who’s decided to pack his bags because he’s been flooded out twelve times in as many weeks.

And I do realise that we in Britain are lucky compared with people who live in parts of the world which get hurricanes, or tornadoes, or tidal waves, or earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions, or catastrophic mud slides. So I keep my complaints on low burn.

But Still Planning...

I’m posting this for three reasons:

1) I seem to have hit a soppy mood patch.

2) It’s one of my favourite Loreena McKennit songs.

3) It’s got Arwen in it. If I can’t be an elf in my next life, I’m going to sulk.

Awareness in Absentia.

I think I mentioned recently that I seem to have lost my sense of the future. I was pondering while walking along Mill Lane tonight that sense isn’t the same as awareness. We might plan for the future, wonder about the future, anticipate the future, and even question the future, but they all operate on the conscious level. The sense resides at the unconscious level. It’s something we’re born with; it’s something we don’t question because it’s something we don’t think about; it’s something we take for granted. It’s like a clock ticking away quietly in the corner of the room. We don’t notice it until it stops, and then we become aware of something missing.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Where Fatigue Might Lead.

There’s something quite compelling about curling into a ball on an armchair by the fire while the sullen wind moans restlessly in the chimney, laying your head on a large cushion, and anticipating a little sleep. In my case, sleep didn’t quite come. Instead, my mind remained just on the edge of consciousness, but I experienced a succession of short, vivid dreams. No doubt someone can explain that in terms of brain rhythms. Please feel free to enlighten me.

When I came back to full waking state, I was pleased that the experience of a few weeks ago wasn’t repeated. I was feeling over-tired that night, so I lay on the sofa in front of the fire and fell properly asleep. The back of the sofa faces the bottom of my staircase, and when I woke up I was certain I could ‘feel’ somebody leaning over the sofa watching me. It was a little startling…

Was it the mad woman come down from the attic, I wonder; I dreamt about her frequently in early childhood. Maybe, but I hadn’t even bought my copy of Jane Eyre when that happened. And just who is the real mad woman in the attic anyway? Ah, if only I knew that, all might become clear.

An Oddly Dark Ditty.

As Tom lay sleeping in his bed
A lady came and crushed his head
With talons sharp and molars red
And sucked his brains ’till he was dead

Do you know, I haven’t the faintest idea where that came from. I think I might have discovered a new tenant lurking in my box of personalities, finally creeping out from under that damp corner where the stain is, the one that might be ketchup, or it might be cranberry juice, or it might be blood; the corner that has a squidgy, smelly, mildewed piece of festering cardboard behind it.

Then again, it might have been inspired by the white something-or-other that I thought I saw disappearing under my bed when I went into the bedroom earlier

… or the little bright lights in the hedgerow that I see out of the corner of my eye, only to find them gone when I look directly

… or it might be Mad Mrs Rochester’s legacy, bless her loony latin locks

… or I might just be bored

Whatever. Rejection beckons, so why worry?

Thursday, 27 December 2012

An Unlikely Suggestion.

I was aware that Charlotte Bronte prevented the re-publication of Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall after the latter’s death, but I never knew why. I just started digging on the internet and found this:

‘The reason for Charlotte Brontë’s suppression of Anne’s work is a question that has never been and most likely will never be answered. Was Charlotte’s motive to protect her sister Anne’s reputation, or was it simply to further her own and sister Emily’s literary careers?’

The second option raises two objections:

a) Why would Charlotte favour Emily’s interests over Anne’s in such a blatant and spiteful way? I’ve never come across any indication that there was any acrimony between Charlotte and Anne.

b) How could this have furthered sister Emily’s literary career? A person can only have a career while they’re alive, and Emily pre-deceased Anne by five months.

Not Strictly Correct.

They tried to tell us we're too young
Too young to really be in love
They say that love's a word
A word we've only heard
And can't begin to know the meaning of

Lamentable, isn't it - ending a sentence on a preposition? It's enough to make an Oxford man's gorge rise.

(After MR James Casting the Runes.)

I haven't been this silly in a long time. I don't suppose it'll last.

Bad Mouth Bear.

Mel paid me a visit today, and as she was due to arrive at about the time when it’s getting dark, I turned the security light on over the porch at the corner of the house.

All the time she was here I kept hearing a vague squeaky sound coming from the general direction of the front door. I put it down to some odd acoustic aberration and ignored it. When she was going, however, the source of the noise became apparent.

Bedlington Bear spends his nights in the porch, having sat on the lawn all day watching the trees and the birdies.

‘What the feck do you think you’re playing at, ya feckin’ eejit?’ he yelled at me as I approached, in a voice that is squeaky but commendably strident.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked.

‘Problem? Problem? What do you think the feckin’ problem is, ya great gobshite? The light! The light’s the feckin’ problem. How’s a bear supposed to sleep with a feckin’ great 60 watt bulb shining in his eyes? Would you like to borrow one of my brain cells to be going on with?’

‘Sorry, Beddy.’


The light is now off and the little man is sleeping peacefully. He was quiet as a mouse when I went out for my walk tonight. (And so was the vole which was eating the remains of the bird food on the greenhouse window sill. It’s usually a wood mouse that has his supper there. Maybe they went ten rounds over the privilege.)

You might remember this picture of Bedlington taken during the summer. He was in one of his better moods that day.


More than one person has complained that Jane Eyre is too pliant, too self-sacrificing, too absorbed by the will and emotions of others. She’s all those things, and she admits it. She is a flawed heroine, and she knows it. That’s what makes her believable. But she’s also possessed of an iron will, great moral strength, and an impish frankness that’s positively amusing at times. And she is capable of manipulating men when the cause is good, just as surely as they are capable of dominating her as long as they don’t cross a boundary which she defines. As a heroine, Jane will do well enough for me.

So what of Rochester, now broken, blinded, conscious of his greater age and convinced of his undesirability? He just reminds me of me.

Have you ever read a book which captured you so deeply that the ending is like a form of death, so that you see only emptiness ahead and can’t imagine ever reading another book again? It doesn’t last, of course, but Jane Eyre did it – at least for a day or two.

*  *  *

Some years ago I was asked a question:

‘If you could go back in history and meet anybody you like, who would it be?’

I had no answer because there wasn’t anybody. Tonight I got it, only I’m greedy: not one, but three people. I want to spend an evening in the sitting room of Haworth Parsonage in the summer of 1848, talking to the three Bronte sisters. That’s all.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Sullen Shire and the Lady Jane.

The Shire displayed a drear and desolate aspect tonight. The bounteous light of a full moon was dulled by the sodden, pool-bespattered landscape. No vehicle passed me on the road; the pub and many houses were in darkness; the wind, though not icy, was imbued with a damp, incisive cold. It felt as though the human population had fled, leaving only a few redundant Christmas lights to afford incongruous reminder that life had once been lived here.

I settled myself in front of the fire when I got back, and entered upon a protracted session with the heroine Jane Eyre, bringing her story to a close. More on that later.

Rainy Season.

I knew a girl from Nyack
In the south of New York State
When she went to school by kayak
She was wet, but never late


Typos and Stuff.

Why did nobody tell me? For two days the word ‘pixel’ has been sitting on my blog, when it should have been ‘Pixar.’ You feel a fool. You do. And to make matters worse, that version of A Christmas Carol wasn’t Pixar anyway; it was motion capture. And to make matters worse still, I’m not all sure the word ‘speculation’ can be a noun.

A Further Muse on Miss Eyre.

Here’s another thought about Jane Eyre (I won’t grace it with the title of ‘theory.’)

She says ‘I have no medium… between absolute submission and determined revolt.’

The reason I find this credible is because my mother was very similar, and I always assumed it was because she’d had a childhood which was both abusive and emotionally arid. It seemed to me that such a person will become naturally inclined to the utmost pliancy because they need to be liked and/or accepted, and yet switch suddenly to anger and stubbornness when they feel that a level of disrespect or presumption has gone beyond a certain line. That’s how my mother was.

So could something like this be true of Charlotte Bronte? She was only around six when her mother died, and her father is said to have been a strong, just, devout sort of man, but not warm or overtly loving towards his children. Might it be that she had a great need of warmth as a child, and found only cold correctness in the one man she loved? It’s interesting to note that there appear to be similarities between the Rev Patrick and St John Rivers. May we speculate, therefore, that one was modelled on the other. Of course we may, but we’ll never know.

An Idle Speculation.

I had a thought this morning.

A thought? Yup.

We all wonder what happens when we die, right? And there’s that old belief that the reality in which we live is somehow self-created. Well, maybe when we die, especially if we die ‘prematurely’, our minds don’t accept the fact for a while; maybe they go on creating another version of the same reality. So when my brother died on the operating table nine years ago, maybe he didn’t know he was dead. Maybe he’s still living, or thinks he is, in a second, parallel, reality – one in which a version of me also exists. Or maybe I’ve died in that version, so he it is who thinks his brother is dead, not me.

I do understand the logical objections to this, but maybe it’s an uncomfortable fact that when logic appears untenable, it’s actually only unfathomable. And I’m not proposing this as a theory, but one never knows, does one?

A Nasty Post.

Somebody on the TV tonight mentioned the harrying of the north by William I in the winter of 1069-70. Crops were laid waste, people and animals slaughtered – and many of those who remained subsequently died of starvation. Nasty lot, those Normans. But do you know what was really nasty?

By the time William died he’d grown excessively fat, and when they came to put his body in the stone coffin it was a very tight fit. So they pushed and forced and twisted – and somebody went off to fetch a crowbar, I expect – and guess what happened: his abdomen burst and the contents spewed all over the church floor.

It was remarked at the time, apparently, that there was an unpleasant smell in the air for some time afterwards. And I expect the Saxons cheered.

Dog Stars.

There was a bright light close to the eastern horizon tonight. At first I thought it was the nose light of a plane coming west out of East Midlands Airport, but after I’d stood there watching it for five minutes and it hadn’t come any closer, I realised it had to be a star.

Now, I knew it couldn’t be Venus because Venus is on an inner orbit and can, therefore, only appear in the east in the morning. (Getting the hang of this, aren’t I?) So what could it be, I wondered.

Aha! The penny dropped. I looked at Orion, looked back at the star, and realisation dawned: it had to be Sirius, the Dog Star. And on Sara’s dog’s birthday to boot.

So hello Sirius, welcome to my collection, and Happy Birthday Enya the dog. Neat.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Explaining Miss Jane Eyre.

Remember the difficulty I had squaring the servile Jane with the tough, uncompromising Jane? Well, she explains everything on page 354:

‘I know no medium: I never in my life have known any medium in my dealings with positive, hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt.’

I’d say that makes for an interesting and believable character, and I wonder whether Charlotte was speaking for herself in that admission.

Jane's Current Dilemma:

She and Mr stone-cold-fish St John Rivers are a bit at odds. St John has tried to browbeat her into accompanying him to India when he goes off to be a missionary – in a most arrogant, pompous and patronising way, it has to be said – and further insisted that she must marry him if the arrangement is to work properly. Poor Jane! She agrees to the work, but flatly refuses the nuptials. It’s the only point in the book so far when she makes reference to… erm… wifely duties? The after hours kind? She does so briefly and very obliquely. (Remember this book was written when Queen Victoria was still a young woman. I have no comparable excuse.)

St John is a bit miffed and goes off to bed that night without shaking her hand, a fact which upsets our poor heroine greatly. ‘I would rather he had knocked me down,’ she says. Interesting character indeed.

I don’t like St John. He’s cold, arrogant and self-righteous, and I think somebody should come along and knock him down. I want Mr Rochester back. So does Jane.

A Problem of Credibility.

I just watched some of Lord of the Rings, and I have to say I had a problem here and there. Laudable though the film is in many ways, there are occasions when the director's habit of putting spectacle before credibility wears a bit thin. Example:

The beautiful-is-an-understatement Arwen is galloping hell for leather with Frodo clutched to her chest, meaning to transport him to her neck of the woods to get his wound healed. The problem is, she’s got half a dozen Bad Guys in Black chasing her and it’s evident that they can ride just as fast as she can. They’re up alongside her, but she takes a bit of evasive action around a few tree roots and manages to get across the river before they do. At that point she turns and says ‘You want him, you come and get him.’ The BGIB follow her into the river, oblivious to the fact that she’s got some magic up her sleeve and has summoned a big wave to come crashing around the bend intent upon drowning them.

At this point it’s obvious that they have two options: the wave is some way off and there’s clearly enough time to either carry on chasing Arwen or turn round and go back to the bank. So which do they take? Neither. Instead, they turn right and gallop downstream ahead of the deluge… and get subsequently deluged. Serves them right for being so dumb, eh?

I really think I should read the books one of these days. I’m reliably informed that it’s worth the effort.

Tell you what, though: them elf women are certainly a cut above your average cheerleader.

A Few Christmas Day Notes.

One of the films they’re showing on the TV this afternoon is the old Ealing comedy The Lavender Hill Mob. The Ealing comedies were made at London’s Ealing Studios between 1947 and 1957, and have a simple, quirky charm that I find very appealing. There’s just one problem. Several of them, including The Lavender Hill Mob, involve a crime, and the central characters are the criminals. The audience is expected to like and relate to them, but the intractable, manufactured morality of the day required that they all came unstuck in the end, winding up either dead or on their way to prison. I find that frustrating.

*  *  *

I swear you could make a lot of money at Christmas hiring out small fridges for a week or so, just to take the overflow from the Christmas dinner.

*  *  *

Shameful though it is, I find that my main guiding principle when cooking is how to make the least amount of washing up.

*  *  *

I finally got to grips this lunchtime with one of life’s golden rules: never press the ‘send’ button on an e-mail while under the influence of alcohol, not unless you either know the recipient very well or care nothing for what he or she thinks of you.

The Magic of the Unfamiliar.

You know, as a kid I could never understand why people wanted to go away for Christmas. The only time we ever did it was when I was about ten, and we went to stay with my brother and his wife near Oxford. I hated it; it was the only childhood Christmas that disappointed.

To my mind, it was absolutely essential to be in the familiar surroundings of home on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. That was so that on Christmas Eve I could go to bed with the expectation of finding on Christmas morning something unfamiliar in a place where usually there was nothing. It didn’t matter whether it was at the end of my bed or on the sofa in the living room. It was there just once a year: a sack containing things wrapped in coloured paper.

It wasn’t the value of the gifts that mattered. It wasn’t a materialistic thing. It was just that neither of my parents was inclined, for different reasons, to buy me anything during the course of the year. Christmas was the one time of the year when I was given something. And my favourite gifts were always the chocolate selection box and the comic book annual, usually Rupert Bear.

I suspect that was largely true of most kids where I grew up. Times change.

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Christmas Eve Ramble.

It’s Christmas Eve and I can’t think of anything to write about. I want to write something… I do… so I’m going to sit here and ramble about whatever comes into my head. OK? OK.

I think I should say ‘thank you’ to all those people who not only drop onto my blog, but also take the time and trouble to comment. What pleases me most is the quality of the people who do that. I’ve noticed, you see, that there is a culture of obsequiousness abroad in the blogosphere. There are those who appear to regard it as a forum for mutual and effusive praise, whether warranted or not. I don’t get that sort. When I’m offered praise, it sound earnest; but I don’t just get praise. Sometimes people round on me, sometimes they disagree with me (thereby forcing me into extended argument or explanation, which I find irritating because I’m lazy,) sometimes they point out some fact or detail which I’ve got wrong. That’s good; it’s how it should be. So thank you.

I had to go out today, partly to get a few extra food items to see me through to my next shopping trip on Friday, but also to buy a new vacuum cleaner. The one I’ve had for about ten years – which was a very good one – chose yesterday to become number whatever-it-is on the list of Things That Have Gone Wrong and Needed to be Replaced in 2012. This year has been a bit of a drain on my bank balance. But anyway, what I noticed again today was what I’ve been noticing all my life – that young women always look prettier at Christmas. I’ve a strong suspicion that it’s a pagan thing.

And here’s something odd: the young woman on the checkout where I bought my food items looked remarkably like Lady Number 2 in my Frog Song post – the one who wasn’t at home when I rang. I was going to ask her to elope with me, you know. I was – really. When I saw her a few months later and told her all about it, she said she probably would have done so because she was just in the mood for eloping with me. Ha! Fancy that. A whole different road in life fallen into the abyss through the simple accident of one person having been out of the house at the wrong – or right – time. It would have all ended in tears, I’m sure. There was some chemistry there, but we weren’t really suited. Nevertheless, it made me slightly wistful to see her young double all these years on, charging me £2.45 for some bread, milk, potatoes and porridge oats. Life can be hilarious sometimes, can’t it?

I watched some of two adaptations of A Christmas Carol this evening. One was the old Alastair Sim version made in the 1950s, and the other was the latest Jim Carey Pixar version. The latter was quite spectacular in parts, but it didn’t hold a candle to the old one for charm.

Dickens was a funny bloke. He obviously had a big heart, but he just didn’t know where to draw the line in expressing it. There’s a huge gulf between strong, understated sentiment, and the overstated kind that’s so mawkish you want to get hold of Tiny freggin’ Tim, boil him with his own pudding, and bury him with a stake through his heart. He could tug at your emotional strings given the right treatment, but in Dickens’s overly zealous hands, he becomes quite a revolting little creature.

In Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre has found her long-lost family and is very happy, but she still misses Mr Rochester dreadfully. She’s now feeling somewhat overawed by the strong, taciturn, Grecian-visaged St John Rivers. He’s a bit of a cold fish, is St John. I’m hoping that Mr R is going to ride over there, call him a cad, and biff him on the nose. It’s a good nose, apparently, but that’s no excuse. I like Jane. I think I’m supposed to. And by the way, just in case anybody doesn’t know, St John isn’t pronounced St John when it’s a personal name. It’s pronounced Sinjun.

I think I should quite like to eat the last of my mince pies now. I start the Christmas cake tomorrow. I have five Christmas cards and two presents.

Happy Christmas, if you’re interested in such a notion.

Singing Frogs and the Prospect of Dalliance.

I watched this little video earlier in order to assess, while I was still 100% sober, whether posting it would risk losing all my friends. You see, it’s the sort of thing that’s likely to make even an ardent fan of Disney roll their eyes with incredulity – and I’m not even an ardent fan of Disney. In fact I’m not a fan of Disney at all; I’m more of a sophisticated Looney Tunes man.

But it’s like this:

The Christmas when this was popular – ’84, I think it was – I had two prospective romantic dalliances simmering. It was the only time in my life when I had two pretty impressive roller coasters to choose from (although, as things turned out, the choice wasn’t mine to make: one of the ladies in question was already pushing; the other was out when I called her and the moment was lost. The pushy one got the goods, and I eventually discovered that she was a little way short of being my type of lady. I moved on eventually, but that’s another story.)

So anyway, the fact is that Mr McCartney’s Frog Song, or Frog Chorus, or whatever you like to call it, holds a moderately high place in my affections. It takes me back to a time when I still had cause to believe in prospects, and I miss my belief in prospects. I do. Besides, I have four further justifications:

a) It has Rupert Bear in it. He was my favourite cartoon character when I was a little boy, and his friend Tiger Lily was my first love at the age of about eight. The fact that Mr M saw fit to exclude my petite and charming Chinese heartthrob from the video I consider to be nothing short of scandalous and indicative of a poor sense of priorities; but then, I never was much of a fan of Mr M.

b) I like frogs.

c) It's... erm... sort of cute

d) I’m not 100% sober now. 

So I'm posting the video. Watch on an empty stomach.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Snowman on Trial.

I just watched that dopey Snowman video again, the one they always show at least a hundred times every Christmas.

According to all received opinion, the snowman is taking the kid on a trip to the North Pole. We know it must be the North Pole and not the South Pole because:

1) The little girl watching them from her bedroom window has yellow hair, and we all know that only Scandinavian children have yellow hair.

2) When the travellers arrive at their destination, the kid is taken to Santa’s party, and we all know that Santa lives at the North Pole.

OK then, the evidence establishes beyond reasonable doubt that it’s the North Pole they go to. I rest my case, and I have two questions:

1) Why are there penguins and a forest at the North Pole?

2) How come it’s the snowman who pops his clogs at the end instead of the kid, who should have succumbed to exposure before they were even half way there?

Sentiment and Small Things.

It’s odd how it’s often the small things that have the greatest impact, especially where matters of sentiment are concerned.

When Jane Eyre founds the village school at the request of St John Rivers, she’s allowed to have a young girl from the town workhouse to do the menial jobs. At the end of the first day she remarks ‘I dismissed my little orphan with an orange for remuneration.’ That got to me more than anything else in the whole book.

I don’t think I need explain why. The part of me that analyses and expounds can have a vacation on this one.

Letting Go.

The British National Health Service used to be the jewel in the crown of our welfare system. Now it’s crumbling. Over recent years we’ve had case after case involving abuse and/or neglect in NHS institutions. In the latest example, a man died of starvation. Hear that? A man died of starvation in an NHS hospital. The Health Minister says he is ‘disgusted and appalled.’ Well now, how ironic is that?

I was going to make a long and bitter post about it, but decided not to. My personal circumstances have, of late, tipped me over the fine line between being relaxed and being constantly stressed. At the moment I can’t afford to be focussing on the bad stuff that I can't do anything about. Most of it is unnecessary, and so it makes me feel both angry and impotent. I see a culture approaching crisis, obsessed as we are with a whole plethora of worthless values. I need to switch some of this off and carry on trying to strengthen the belief that it’s all just one form of reality.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Apocalypse: Rapture by Numbers.

Well, Britain has made it through 21/12/12. The question now is whether America will make it through 12/21/12. Only about eight more hours to go and then we should all be safe.

I gather Stonehenge had an awful lot of people calling themselves ‘druids’ hanging around at dawn yesterday morning. And an awful lot more looking terribly earnest. Rapturous, even.

If only I could be so easily enraptured. Actually, I can, but not by following the crowd.

The Value of Wind-Down Time.

Recent circumstances have caused me to realise something about myself:

I have to have a period of at least 2-3 hours at the end of the day when the world is shut out. My HSP nature requires such a breathing space if I’m to relax sufficiently to go to repose. It’s why I go to bed so late, and have done ever since I became independent of parental control. If I’m denied it, if my breathing space is habitually disturbed, the effect is like boiling the water from a pot without replenishing it. I dry up and burn.

And not many people understand what I’m talking about.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Fog and Three Ladies.

The walk tonight was a strange one. Fog such as I have never seen in the Shire suffocated the vista of dale, hill, hedgerow and copse; and Mistress Moon, glowing fitfully from a hazy heaven, failed in her attempt to conquer the dark, damp blanket with the grace of her light. The forward aspect of New House Farm and its attendant trees rose broodily in dark half tone, whilst the rear was all but consumed by the clammy vapour.

This is what comes of reading Jane Eyre and walking past a house that was built while Charlotte Bronte was still alive, if only just.

*  *  *

My horoscope in the TV listings guide informs me that Venus is now entering my sign, so I should expect dalliances. Venus has, indeed, re-entered my world in the form of the electrifying Bagel Lady of Brooklyn. There is, of course, no prospect of dalliance. Neither is there any prospect of further elucidation.

I like to end on a mystery, and it seems I have a lot of comments to read.

Defining Christianity.

I want to quote a snippet from Jane Eyre to illustrate a point.

Having fled Mr Rochester’s house in a destitute condition, and having nearly died on the moor from exposure and hunger, Jane has been taken in by the charitable St John Rivers. His housekeeper had at first refused her shelter and is now excusing herself. Towards the end of the conversation, Jane says:

‘But I do think hardly of you,’ I said; ‘and I’ll tell you why – not so much because you refused to give me shelter, or regarded me as an impostor, as because you just now made it a species of reproach that I had no “brass” and no house. Some of the best people who ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime.’

It was for statements such as this that a leading reviewer of the day – a woman of high social standing who subsequently married into a title – accused Charlotte Bronte of being anti-Christian and anti-Establishment, even going so far as to suggest that she was the stuff of which evil revolutionaries are made. And she further expressed doubt that Charlotte could have any place among others of her sex.

Doesn’t that speak volumes about the way in which Christianity came to be defined by and for the benefit of a wealthy, privileged elite who sought to vindicate their elevated position in the class system? It had very little to do with what Jesus supposedly taught.

I have the impression that the same holds true today – not so much in Europe where Christianity is becoming ever more marginalised, but certainly in America where it remains highly revered as a controlling influence on the population.

Brief Nothings.

Recent research has shown that solo artists in the music business are much more prone to dying young than those who are members of a band. Speculation is being offered that it’s because they don’t have the support of band members. I wonder what that indicates about life’s natural loners.

*  *  *

I painted the door. I only paint one door at a time because oil-based paints have an adverse effect on me these days. They make me dizzy, and my sense of balance goes a bit awry. I’m becoming ever more reactive to chemicals.

*  *  *

I did my Christmas food shop yesterday, and guess what I forgot. Potatoes. What an idiot. That means I’ll have to make a twelve mile round trip to get some, which further means that the petrol will cost more than the freggin’ potatoes.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Next Misinterpretation.

Three years ago I wrote an essay on what I saw as a fundamental and universal misinterpretation of the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. That misinterpretation having been born and accepted in its early days, it has been slavishly followed by the makers of all dramatisations and spin-offs since. Now that I’m in the mood for taking issue with what I see as literary misinterpretations, I want to offer a greatly abbreviated version here.

This is the received view:

Catherine and Heathcliff are childhood sweethearts who grow into ardent and apparently inseparable lovers. Unfortunately, Catherine is a selfish little gold digger who cruelly spurns her low-born gypsy boy and marries Edgar Linton instead. Edgar is a socially well appointed and refined gentleman, so the union offers her a comfortable, prosperous lifestyle and a position in society. Heathcliff is a bit miffed and takes himself off to earn his fortune. When he returns, he and Cathy attempt to rekindle their relationship but Edgar is having none of it. Heathcliff gets angry and plots revenge, Cathy dies of a brain fever, Heathcliff pines, Cathy’s ghost wails etc, etc.

Rubbish. Catherine and Heathcliff were never lovers. The full rationale is in the essay here, but let me restrict this post to a few bullet pointed bits of evidence:

1) At no point in the novel do they ever behave towards one other as lovers in the conventional sense. They never embrace in that way, they never kiss, they never use the conventional language of lovers.

2) At no point in the novel do they ever express sexual jealousy over their respective relationships with other people.

3) Their attempt to rekindle their relationship is not done clandestinely.

4) Both express frustration at Edgar’s objection. Heathcliff even goes as far as telling Nellie Dean that he doesn’t understand it, as he surely would if his intentions amounted to an extra-marital affair.

5) When Cathy is dying, she tells Nellie that she would never have married Heathcliff even if she hadn’t married Edgar, because she doesn’t even like Heathcliff.

Poor Edgar is completely bamboozled by the whole business. Well, of course he is. That’s because he’s seeing the whole thing through the eyes of earthbound social convention, and regards Heathcliff as Catherine’s ex boyfriend who is trying to cuckold him. And for more than a hundred and seventy years, the reading public has been making the same mistake.

So what’s it really all about? The answer, surely, lies in Catherine’s oft-quoted but little understood statement:


Get it?

Understanding Scrooge.

There’s a line in A Christmas Carol, near the beginning when Scrooge is giving the charity collectors all the ‘let them die and reduce the surplus population’ stuff. At one point he checks himself and says ‘Excuse me, I don’t know that.’ I’ve never yet seen a dramatised adaptation of the book which has included that line. They all leave it out, and it isn’t surprising. It’s a moment of vulnerability, the one hint Dickens gives that the pre-enlightened Scrooge isn’t the out and out villain that modern audiences want to see. They want to see a bad man made good by the agents of correction – the Spirits – who punish him by showing him things that make him uncomfortable.

It doesn’t wash, does it? An out and out villain wouldn’t care about the things the Spirits show him. But Scrooge isn’t bad; he just behaves badly. The first thing the Spirits show us is the little boy left alone at school over Christmas because his father doesn’t want him. So now we know that the child Scrooge had been starved of affection to such an extent that he has understandably constructed a hard shell of cynicism and ruthlessness for self protection. The Spirits aren’t agents of correction at all, but agents of regression therapy. Scrooge has been a good guy all along. He just needed to be helped to find himself again.

*  *  *

And a footnote, if I may:

The time I spent working for the Prison Department and an inner city charity showed me that punishment doesn’t turn truly bad people into good people. In fact, it usually makes them worse. Truly bad people don’t understand why their badness is bad, and so they don’t make the connection between the badness and the punishment. The only thing punishment does is make them even more angry against those inflicting the treatment, because they see such people or instruments as abusers. It might serve the purpose of revenge, and it might act as a deterrent in a few cases, but it doesn’t make bad people good.

Admitting Pecuniary Interest.

It's raining again. Fancy that.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...

I just donned raincoat and wellies, grabbed a shovel, and went up the road to clear one of the land drains that had become blocked with leaves and dirt. The water running off the land and down the lane is now disappearing into the grid instead of running like a river past my front hedge.

So is that my civic duty done for the day? Nope. I did it because the river kept scouring out the gravel that's filling a pothole right where I need to get my car out, and I have to keep raking it back again. Which is a nuisance. Conscience clear.

I have two posts lined up regarding the misinterpretation of two literary classics, and the misunderstanding of the link between bad behaviour and punishment.

Bet you can't wait, but first I have to have some lunch and paint at least one door.

Jane's Principles and Other Bits.

While I’m on the subject of literary characters, there’s something I don’t understand.

I’ve reached the point in Jane Eyre where our heroine’s marriage to her beloved Mr Rochester has had to be called off because some party pooper has snitched to the vicar that the bridegroom is already married.

Rochester declines to give up; that’s what Rochesters do (or don’t, if you see what I mean.) He points out to Jane that it can hardly be called a marriage when his ‘wife’ is a sub-human creature much given to growling, biting, stabbing, renting wedding veils asunder, and setting light to occupied beds. Jane doesn’t give up either – her principles, that is. She decides she has to leave, breaking her beloved’s heart and her own in the process, and walks off into the night. She sleeps on the moor, gets rained on, and wanders around a nearby village wondering how she can get a piece of bread to eat when she hasn’t got a single penny to her name. And her only excuse for this outlandish, counter-productive behaviour? Staying with Rochester in the circumstances would be offensive to God.

That’s weird, isn’t it?

*  *  *

I’ll tell you what else is weird: I’m getting really into New York lately. I can think of four obvious reasons, but whether they’re adequate reasons is another matter.

There’s a shop in Ashbourne displaying several paintings of New York at night in their window, and I want one. It’s the next best thing to going there in person, which is out of the question because it would be far too expensive and I doubt that my poor fatigued self would even make it to the airport, let alone stand the stress of take off. And then there's the problem of who I might bump into when I got there.

*  *  *

I’ve decided I really must stop being preoccupied with mortality and just get on with it for as long as I have left. That was a joke.

*  *  *

Oh, and I just finished my weekly treat of a bottle of this Yankee IPA beer. It’s becoming a pleasant Wednesday habit.

The Count in Ashbourne.

I had a dental appointment today, and while I was there I saw the Transylvanian one walking through the waiting room. (I’ve mentioned her before. She really is from Transylvania, you know. She is.) And then I discovered that my dentist’s ¼ Greek nurse is called Lucy. And then I noticed that my dentist smelled of garlic.

You must admit, there’s a pattern emerging here.

‘Your name’s not Mina, I suppose,’ I said to his stand-in nurse.

‘No, it’s Anna.’

Well, there you go. Lucy had a bad back. I took to speculating.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Shire in the Desert.

The night is wet and windy again, and at such times the walk is undertaken out of habit and for the sake of the exercise. There are no heavenly bodies to be seen (and no, I’m not going to demean myself by making the obvious joke.)

What we do have at this time of the year are external displays of festive lights – the pub and three houses close to it have them. The bottom of my lane at Christmas is about the nearest we get to Las Vegas in The Shire. And the only foray into gambling activity is the taking of a car along Shields Lane after heavy rainfall, hoping to keep the electrics dry and the wheels away from water-filled potholes of indeterminate depth.

I thought of going into the pub and singing, but decided I don’t have the energy at the moment. Besides, I look more like a scarecrow than Sinatra when I go out at night. And talking of scarecrows…

The Missing Apostrophe.

There’s a cupboard door at my local supermarket that has a sign saying ‘Cleaners Cupboard.’

Where’s the apostrophe?

Maybe the person who designed it didn’t know which side of the ‘s’ it should go, and decided it would be better to be thought ignorant than put it in the wrong place and remove all doubt. I still say it’s the other side of the coin to those notices beloved of greengrocers that say ‘Apple’s. 40p a lb.’

‘Is the apostrophe necessary?’ you might ask. ‘No,’ I might reply, 'but neither are good manners.'

Christmas Viewing.

I just discovered that I can watch the whole of Nosferatu on YouTube. I'll save that for a Christmas treat.

Isn't it odd that I haven't looked out any Christmas carols? Do you think they have boy sopranos in heaven?

Ending on a Preposition.

I don’t know how I should face the prospect of becoming old. I’m just not elderly person material. I said to somebody today:

‘Give me a new adventure or a quick and painless death.’

Well now, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the two could very well be combined. Could I be that lucky, do you think, or should I be more circumspect in what I wish for?

Replacement Wheels.

The infamous Red Renault is no longer with me. I went to see Mr Nigel today to pick up some paperwork, and while I was there I asked him to look at Monsieur R’s latest bits of under-the-weatherness. ‘I can do better than that,’ he said, and unveiled another car (providing me with a car is his side of the professional arrangement, if you remember.)

It’s only a little Ford Fiesta, but I had one of those once and it was probably the best car I ever had for reliability. It’s smaller than the Renault, less stylish, less well-appointed, and six months older, but I’m hoping it’s also going to be less of a source of unremitting anxiety. Fingers crossed.

Unfortunately, it isn’t glossy red like the Renault; it’s metallic maroon, but I expect I’ll get used to it.