Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Trial of New Things.

I find it happens with nearly every new device I have to learn how to use. Today it was the new remote control that came with the new TV.

Stage 1: The familiarisation phase. I have my reading glasses on and look at each button carefully because I’m not used to where they are yet, so I get it right.

Stage 2: The complacent phase. Now I think I’m used to it, but I’m not. So that’s when I turn the TV off instead of muting it. Or bring up some weird screen, the purpose of which escapes me and which I don’t know how to get rid of. Or maybe I’ve changed something, or unwittingly set something like a timer – which I did with my last set and wondered who the hell was turning the TV on while I was upstairs taking a shower at midnight!

Stage 3: Weeks later. Now I’m used to the damn thing and I can relax.

*  *  *

And on the subject of TVs, did you know that when they first became popular, the instructions included something to the effect of ‘Always switch the set off before attempting to move it.’ This led to the widespread belief among the first generation of TV owners that sets weighed more when they were switched on. True, apparently.

Two More Notes on Ageing.

Do you think Paul Simon is still looking for fun, feeling groovy and talking to lamp posts? Well, there you are then.

*  *  *

I just read that when people reach the age of around eighty, they start smelling like babies again. Can’t wait.

Finding the Right Name.

It’s interesting how much a person’s name is an integral part of who they are, and so how much it informs our perception of them.

Helen, my ex and the person I’m probably closest to in this life (well actually, the priestess has confused the matter, but let’s leave her out of it for now) has decided that her name ‘just doesn’t fit any more,’ and so she’s changing it to Melanie Grace. As a result, the very foundation of my perception of her is being shaken. I don’t think it will fall down, but it’s being shaken. And here’s the interesting bit:

Helen is very much a ‘light’ person. She wants nothing in her life that isn’t light; she consciously declines to have anything to do with the dark side. Dark is anathema to the person formerly known as Helen, so here’s the question:

Should I tell her that the name ‘Melanie’ derives from the Greek for black or dark?

Advertising for the Connoisseur

I’ve finally found a series of internet ads I like:

Mature dating sites.

They’re very funny and most informative. All the ones I’ve seen so far have shown pictures of women aiming to please the mature gentleman (!) and the basic rules seem to be:

1) Make sure there’s no room for doubt that your hair has been dyed that colour.

2) Wear revealing clothes that... well... reveal those physical aspects that you wouldn’t expect most mature people to want to reveal (especially when they look like that.)

3) Cultivate the look that says ‘One day, big boy, this – let’s call it a ‘body’ – can be all yours, and then you’ll know what happiness really is.’

4) Have the picture taken in an exotic location, ‘exotic’ being defined as ‘a bar in some part of Spain where the tequila is particularly cheap and the pot plants are properly plastic.’

I think I might join.

Being Peculiar.

Anger management is, relatively speaking, a piece of cake. I do reasonably well with that one. What isn’t so easy is peculiarity management. It requires the constant application of stratagems and tactics, and nobody gives lessons in it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Are We Not Amused?

It’s the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations this weekend, and there are union flags littering the place everywhere (let’s face it, it isn’t the prettiest of flags – hopelessly over-complex, for one thing.)

Ashbourne has done it slightly differently. They’ve got strings of bunting all over the town, but they haven’t used union flags. They’ve used alternating pennants of red, white and blue, the effect of which is to look more Gallic than British.

Which is amusingly ironic, don’t you think?

*  *  *

And while I'm on the subject of Jubilee celebrations, I have to decide whether to show my face at the village do on Saturday. It carries great personal risk for me, you know, and I'm not about to divulge the nature of that risk, so you'll have to be content with the plain fact.

A Rise in Consciousness?

Over the last year I’ve noticed a proliferation of news reports covering examples of corruption. There are lots of arrests and sackings being made in fields such as government, the police, the media, sport and big business. Cameron’s ex-press secretary, for example, was arrested today, and another man successfully sued Olympus for wrongful dismissal after he’d blown the whistle on them. Those are two examples among many.

I’m tempted to suggest that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg, but I can’t know that for certain so I can’t claim it. I do wonder why it’s happening, though. I wonder whether it has anything to do with it being 2012.

The Dining Car.

Remember the dead rabbit I wrote about last week – the road kill outside my gate? It had gone by the following morning and I assumed a fox or something had carried it off for supper.

When I went to get my car out this morning, I noticed something furry lying in front of the nearside back wheel. It turned out to be a rabbit skin; just the skin, no flesh. I could be sure it was a rabbit on account of there being one ear still attached, and the white bit of the tail was lying a few inches away.

All of which suggests that something had picked up the mangled body and taken it under my car to eat it. Should that please me, I wonder. Well, I suppose it’s one way of getting close to nature.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs...

In the modern UK English vernacular, ‘wicked’ has come to mean ‘rather good.’

I’ve been oddly reluctant to make blog posts today. It’s been a fine, warm spring day, I got several jobs done in the garden, and I even got an e-mail telling me that my new TV should be delivered tomorrow. And then there was the correspondence with the priestess.

And yet there was something grindingly flat about it. It felt as though I was being held in the blocks – that energies were stirring unseen and about to produce some sort of ignition or breakthrough. Whether it will prove to be the calm before the storm or the dark before the dawn – or neither – remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Mixed Fortunes.

The old blog seems to have been a bit dormant today. Visitor numbers are down, and nobody seems willing to tell me what an American ‘unincorporated community’ is.

But then, our weather is still holding at the moment, so I’ve been in the garden all day. Temperatures are due to plummet from Thursday onwards, and there’s said to be rain on the way. The rain we need.

Two notable happenings:

1) I received a splendid and entirely unexpected e-mail from the priestess, for whom Camelot is proving a disappointment. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? She’s way above that sort of thing. E-mails from the priestess have a way of altering my consciousness, so I felt like a different person after I’d read it.

2) The landlord’s agent apologised for the fact that I haven’t received my completed contract yet. He apologised? Yup.

I suppose I might also mention that I was reading through one of those little marketing booklets full of useless items at lunchtime. Being the sort of person who needs to buy something just because it’s there, I considered the goodies on offer. I couldn’t decide between the little light tree ‘that will look great on the TV, mantelpiece or table,’ the talking Bible, or the incontinence underwear. Seems I just can’t spend money even when I want to.

Another American Question.

I just read that New Boston, Michigan is an ‘unincorporated community.’ What on earth is an unincorporated community? Does that mean it hasn’t floated on the stock exchange yet?

A Good Excuse.

I’m tense and confused. Tense I’m used to, confused I’m not. Too many unknowables, and today has been a day of quite astonishing blog visits – in several senses.

Then there were the dreams: old faces reappearing, people long-dead or long-flown. There was my brother who died just about exactly nine years ago, and there was Zoe in the bagel shop. What does it mean?

I think I might take up drinking.

Questionnable Advice.

I was at a wedding once – suffering, of course, and on my own – when a young lad of about twelve approached me. He said he’d asked somebody a question, and this somebody had told him to come and ask me.

‘When I get older,’ he said, ‘what’s the best way of getting on with women?’

‘Never lie to them and treat them with respect,’ I answered – without hesitation, as far as I recall.

‘OK. Thanks.’

What a very strange thing that was, and I’ve always wondered whether I ruined any prospect of the poor lad ever having a successful relationship.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Matter of A While.

'Awhile’ is an adverb, but I’ve noticed it’s becoming common to confuse it with the article and noun (a while.) Hence:

I rested awhile. Fine.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you. Irksome.

I’m wondering whether commonality of usage in American English has reached a point where it’s become ‘officially’ acceptable, and I’d be interested to know what American schools teach on the matter.

And whether or not it matters is, I suppose, a matter of opinion.

Pleasing the Plants.

I discovered today that roses are grumpy.

I spent an hour and forty minutes hosing the garden, and everything looked mighty pleased. Except the roses.

‘What took you so long?’ they asked. ‘Where’ve you been? Don’t leave it this long again.’

It isn’t easy being sensitive to the feelings of plants.

Berating the Cycles.

The ageing process is bothering me again (there’s a reason.)

‘It comes to us all, JJ,’ people tell me. Yes, I know it does. If you’re going to offer me platitudes, wait until I’m properly old, would you? Or at least consider why it has to come to us all.

Suppose I don’t want it anywhere near me. Suppose I don’t want to sit in the corner on my birthday wearing a silly hat that somebody has placed at a jaunty angle just so they can say ‘wow, you look really sexy in that,’ which is pretty bloody ridiculous, and the bright young things skip around singing ‘happy birthday, great granddad’ and patronise me to hell and back, while I worry whether my teeth will cope with the challenge of the ice cream, and whether I’ll stay continent enough to avoid an Embarrassing Moment. And they all expect you to smile and be grateful.

Bugger that! I don’t want it. So why? Why, why, why?

Regeneration; that’s the key. You have to get old so you can regenerate and be a bright young thing again. Oh, goody. So what about the bit in between when your muscles start aching, your tendons get stiff, your midriff shows signs of becoming just slightly out of proportion with the rest of you, your hair begins to mysteriously disappear, your face develops more lines than Clapham fucking Junction, and your eyes have more bags hanging around them than a whore house in Old Barcelona?

Mmm... Start planning for the next life, I suppose. But then it’ll all happen again, won’t it? Will I ever get used to it?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Putting Things Right.

How many times have I said that there’s no point in regretting things we did or didn’t do? Quite apart from the fact that the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on, there’s also the obvious fact that it’s impossible to second guess fate. Going back and doing something different would put us on a different road, and there’s no way of knowing where it would lead.

Let me offer a simple fiction. I can’t imagine I’m the first person to use this as an example, but it will do nonetheless.

Once upon a time a man was driving a horse and cart down a street. A little boy ran out into the road and the carter was faced with a split second decision: to steer round the boy or pull the reins hard to arrest the horse. Instinct led him to take the latter option. He pulled back on the reins, the horse reared, the little boy was kicked in the head, and he died of the injury.

The carter was distraught. He loved children, and nothing comes worse than taking a child’s life. Besides, he had a son of his own, about the same age as the boy his action had killed, so he was doubly aware of the horror of what he’d done. He prayed to his God all night, begging for the chance to go back and change things. His God was merciful and sent a ministering angel to answer the man’s plea.

‘Are you sure you want to do this,’ asked the angel. ‘I can send you back in time if you like. You will remember nothing until the critical moment, when I’ll put it into your mind to steer around the boy instead of trying to stop the horse. Is that what you want?’

The carter was beside himself with joy, and said there was nothing he wanted more.

And so he was driving his horse and cart down the street, when a little boy ran out into the road. Something told him to pull on the left rein only, which he did. The cart steered around the boy in the road and there was no accident. The carter breathed a sigh of relief, imagining with horror how he would have felt had the child come to any harm. And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, not quite. The carter was an Austrian Jew, and so his son was also an Austrian Jew. And the little boy who lived was young Adolf Hitler.

What then?

Sunny Day Fizz.

I was right; the fizz came back.

‘Tis sunny and a briskish breeze
Is whispering in the old oak trees
While butterflies and bumble bees
Are tripping lightly as you please.

There really is something most pleasant about painting an open window frame on a warm, sunny day with some favourite Vaughan Williams or Delius playing at concert volume. There have been those who’ve scoffed, you know – told me I don’t know how to live. Well, actually...

And I was wondering again today, while VW’s 5th Symphony was playing (probably my favourite of the nine.) How do they do it? Composers? What kind of mind conceives something like that, and then puts it all together so the rest of us can feel it? Because that’s what music is to me, or should be: something you don’t so much listen to, as feel. And I suspect it doesn’t come so much from the mind, but from somewhere rather deeper.

Fizzless Bits.

JJ’s lost his fizz. I feel dull, anxious, dissatisfied and generally fizzless. I think it has a lot to do with the Land of the Pharaohs.

I now realise that my last post must have seemed utterly incomprehensible to anybody unfamiliar with the phrase ‘bloody Greta Garbo’ and its relevance to the history of British TV comedy. I was guilty of assuming that everybody knows of and reveres the Dagenham Dialogues as I do, which was a bit silly of me. You could always follow the link and watch.

My TV is working perfectly again. It seems that now I’ve picked up the lesson, the little folk have put the wire back and tightened the screw.

My jobs for this afternoon include painting a window frame and hosing the garden. If that doesn’t put some fizz back, I don’t know what will.

Poor Substitute.

I’ve got a bird feeding contraption on my office window, in which I put a fat ball for the blue tits. Blue tits like fat balls, and I like watching them feed. But now it has a nocturnal mouse visitor. It seems that mice, too, like fat balls.

The problem is that it’s held in place with two suckers, and so it knocks against the window when it’s used. During the day it alerts me to the presence of a bird, but at night the curtains are drawn so all I get is a tap, tap, tapping at the window. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was bloody Greta Garbo hanging from the window ledge crying ‘Gottfried! Gottfried!’ in that way Swedish women do, but a bloody mouse...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Seeing Ourselves.

A woman asked me recently: ‘Am I fat?’ I gave her an honest answer.

Now I’m thinking of asking her: ‘Am I ugly,’ but I’m afraid she might return the compliment.

Taking the Lesson.

I’ve said it often enough: I watch very little TV. At this time of year I can go two weeks without seeing a single programme. I tend to watch it more during the long nights of late autumn and winter.

But at the moment there’s a test match on (that’s cricket, don’t you know) between England and the West Indies, so I want to watch the highlights between 7 and 8pm. And there’s the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, which I usually watch. And because it’s a public holiday weekend, there are a couple of other decent programmes on. So guess what. My TV packed up today.

Today is Saturday – the first day of a three day holiday period, which means I won’t be able to call an engineer until Tuesday, which further means that it won’t get it fixed until at least Wednesday, by which time everything will be over. That’s good timing, that is.

I’ve ordered a new one instead. I’ve been meaning to for a couple of months, but never got around to it. I should have, shouldn’t I? Maybe that’s the lesson.

In the Loop.

According to both the Feedjit and the Flag Counter, I had my first ever visit from Trinidad and Tobago at around 4am this morning, after I’d gone to bed. And yet I distinctly remember it being in both trackers yesterday.

This is happening to me with increasing frequency these days. I keep seeing things for the ‘first time’ that I know I’ve seen before. It isn’t the usual subtle, fleeting sense that I’ve always called déjà vu, it’s stronger and more persistent than that - more certain. I’m beginning to feel that I’m caught in a time loop, as the characters are in one of JB Priestley’s time plays. Fortunately, I don’t know what’s coming next, which I’m sure is just as well.

Coincidentally, it was Priestley's book Outcries and Asides from which I took the title of this blog.

Daft Headlines.

Sky News:

Britain Hotter Than Africa as Mercury Soars!

Hotter than Africa? Which bit of Africa, exactly? It’s nearly winter in southern Africa. Why else are the swallows here?

Friday, 25 May 2012

Picture Post 10 - Final Oddments.

This is the last picture post for now. Maybe I'll do more in the summer when the landscape and garden have changed. I realise I haven't got one of the river or the pub, so stay tuned for a few more weeks, eh?

A lone ash tree in Church Lane. This is significant
because the ashes are leafing very late this year;
they're about two weeks behind the oaks, and
according to country lore, that's supposed to augur
a dry summer.

The view down the path and across the Shire from
my spare bedroom window. It's the place from 
which I could send messages by flashlight in
morse code to the Lady B (if only I could remember
it and she could read it.)

A single primrose among the forget-me-nots in
the verge under the Old Rectory hedge.

My apple blossom.

Errant Heifers and Being Philosophical.

I was half awake this morning when I heard lots of thumping noises. I knew Mrs Next Door was due to go on holiday tomorrow, and assumed she was engaged in Noisy Preparations. But then I had second thoughts; the noise wasn’t coming from her side, but from under my bedroom window. I got up and had a look.

‘Shit! Cows! Again!!’

I got dressed and went downstairs, just in time to hear a knocking on the door.

‘There are cows in the garden,’ said my neighbour.

‘I know.’

‘Pretty, aren’t they?’

I envy women in being able to see ‘pretty’ first, and ‘bloody nuisance’ second. I’m the other way round.

Five young heifers were wandering around the paved area at the side of my house. They looked at me in that way cows do when they’re wondering why you’re walking on two legs. I shooed them around to the front and onto my neighbour’s lawn, which is badly overgrown (courtesy of the landlord’s agent who keeps saying he’ll send a contractor to take down the excessive growth, but hasn’t got around to it yet.)

‘Do something useful,’ I told them. ‘Eat that.’

They didn’t. As soon as my back was turned they wandered through the main part of my herbaceous border, and then went and trampled all over the vegetable beds. I decided it was better to leave them to find their way out of the garden themselves, since chasing them around would probably have resulted in the damage being more extensive. Cows are no respecters of things which humans consider important.

So then I rang the police because my neighbour said the rest of the herd were making their way to the main Ashbourne road, which isn’t good. It seemed somebody must have known whose cows they were, though. Five minutes later a farmhand turned up on a quad bike and strung a line across the entrance to my path.

‘We’ve got some cows on the loose. We’re just going to round them up.’

‘I know,’ I said with ill-disguised irritation. ‘They’ve been in my garden and done some damage.’

‘Oh, sorry about that,’ he said, and rode off.

I decided to be philosophical. This sort of thing is part of the price you pay for living in a rural area, and I wouldn’t change that. And the cows left me a gift in recompense for the damage they’d caused – loads of cow dung all over the place. Free fertiliser (even though I slipped on it a couple of times because I didn’t expect it to BE there!)

And then I thought of all those people around the world who live in places where they have tornadoes, and hurricanes, and tidal waves, and earthquakes, and devastating floods... And the whole business slipped nicely into perspective.

Too Busy.

I had a visit from five rather attractive young ladies this morning – bovine ones who’d escaped from a nearby field. Now I have to go and attempt some repair work in the garden. Back later.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Picture Post 9 - More Oddments.

Where JJ lives

...and dreams

...and cooks

Simple mind, simple taste.

Something Missing Concluded.

And so I sat in my garden through the long twilight as the balmy air sparkled with the chatter of birds and swam with the scent of lilacs and new mown hay. The swallows flew late, and then the bats appeared, the new moon made her entrance from behind one of the sycamores, the distant landscape grew ever hazier, and a lone, lighted tractor made its way homeward along Church Lane, its long day’s work done.

Something Missing.

I walked along Church Lane this evening and looked across the fields to M’Lady’s house. A sense of something missing was well apparent, and I couldn’t even lean on my usual farm gate because the farmer had taken it off for the tractors to enter. It’s silage cutting time, you see. And I thought:

What use is Lady Bella’s house
If Bella isn’t there?

An empty fireside seat
An empty tread upon the stair
And just a fond remembrance
Of a girl with raven hair

What use is Lady Bella’s house
If Bella isn’t there?

'Please Check You Have All Your Belongings.'

I’ve mentioned before that I have a nest box at the back of my house, close to the kitchen window. The blue tits raise a brood there every year, so from about late March to late May I see the adults going back and forth, first with nesting material and then food. Eventually there comes a time when I realise that I haven’t seen them for a couple of days, so I assume the young birds have fledged and that’s it for another year.

Yesterday, one of the adults did something unusual. He flew from the hedge to the box, and then perched on the entrance poking his head in and looking around – for a full ten minutes. He came back a while later and did the same thing again.

Since then I haven’t seen them bring any food, so I assume the chicks have flown the nest. So what was this adult doing? Had he been away on a long trip and didn’t know the kids had gone, or was he checking to see whether he’d left anything behind?

The Problem with Hot Weather.

Far be it from me to complain about the warm, sunny weather we’re having at the moment, but it does have a drawback. My wrist gets hot and sweaty, and then it sticks to the mouse mat when I’m using the computer. Most un-British. I’m glad I don’t live in Tennessee.

*  *  *

Just think - all the things I could say about the Lady Bella while she's not reading the blog. Better not.

Picture Post 8 - Oddments.

An old public footpath sign in 
Bag Lane. The modern ones have
no character.

The old school well. I don't think
it's been used in a while.

There'll be a couple more oddment posts to come. Aren't you lucky?

Poor Us.

I knew it. The Lady B sailed away with no word of farewell. I knew it.

That’s what we men have to put up with, you know. Women don’t think we notice things like that.

I spent an hour and a half painting a lattice window frame this morning. Maybe I should sit and watch it dry.

Picture Post 8 - Two Views Across the Valley.

About a mile north of here, from the main
Ashbourne road.

The long shot from my garden. I thought it
worth sacrificing compositional integrity
for the sake of getting that glowering
sky in.

Moving Through the Fair.

I made my last nocturnal walk tonight, until the days shorten again later in the summer. All in all, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Although the air was warm and sultry, the sky was cloudy so the Lady Venus and Mistress Moon were in hiding. I expect Venus will have dropped below the western horizon when I resume. And the Lady B’s household seemed to be in the process of retiring, since there were only upstairs lights on, and even one of those went off as I walked past. There was a single star keeping a lonely vigil in the eastern sky, and – me being me – a line from the most classic of Irish folk songs came to mind:

He made his way homeward with one star awake
As the swan in the evening glides over the lake.

I said my au revoirs to the trees, of course, and I swear they reciprocated. Call me mad if you like, but they looked closer, more enveloping. It wasn’t difficult to feel a sense of being in receipt of an arboreal embrace.

So, tomorrow the raven-haired Mistress of Mill Lane jets off to foreign climes. It’s just a short holiday to her, but she has no idea what it means to me and I have no intention of telling her. Fortunately, she’s unlikely to read this post so it won’t matter. As, indeed, it shouldn’t and doesn’t.

OK, so I am mad. I’ll probably post a few more pictures in a minute. I’m on the second beer at the moment because I’m thirsty. The scotch can wait until the thirst has been slaked.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Picture Post 7 - the Bears.

Bedlington the Irrascible.
He lives in the garden

Berlioz the Fretful.
He lives in my bedroom.

 The Nameless Wild One
and her cub.
They also live in my bedroom.

Village Oddments.

Guess what came to the village today, for the first time (as far as I know) in the six years I’ve lived here. A bloody ice cream van! And guess who knew he was too far away and wouldn’t get to it before it drove off again. Bloody typical!

*  *  *

We’ve got a village gossip. She’s one of those who makes it her business to know everything and everybody. I asked her today:

‘Do you know whether those two caravans have taken up permanent occupation on the land by the pub?’

She answered with practiced authority:

‘No. They’re booked in for two weeks. They’ll be leaving on Saturday.’

How does she know that? I decided that village gossips can be quite useful, as long as you manage them properly.

*  *  *

I made the acquaintance of a very handsome husky today. What beautiful eyes those dogs have.

Ashbourne Today.

I was in the bank, and there was a banner stretched across several desks that said HAPPY ENGAGEMENT.

‘Who’s getting married?’ I asked. I think I must have displayed a certain reaction unwittingly, because my teller nodded at the young woman further along and said

‘She is. And don’t you go being cynical, now.’

‘Well, everybody to their own, I suppose,’ I replied. ‘What suits some doesn’t suit others.’

‘Are you married, Mr Beazley?’

‘Nope. I was once, but it didn’t suit me. I like my own space too much. Besides, I’m very, very choosy, and I can’t afford to be choosy at my age, so I suppose that’s it now.’

‘Oh, but no, Mr Beazley,’ she replied enthusiastically. ‘You’re a very handsome man. I’m sure you can still afford to be choosy.’

Guess which bit I made up.

*  *  *

It was hotter in Ashbourne today than it often is in July, but do you know what? There was still no freggin’ ice cream van. Can you believe that?

Picture Post 6 - The Lanes

The Hollow, the most sunken of the sunken lanes.
The telegraph pole gives an indication of the height
of the embankment.

The lane and the house. Excuse the poor contrast,
it's what comes of using a fourth generation

The bottom of Bag Lane. The parish council call 
this bit of sloping ground 'the village green,' rather
optimistically, I think.

The southern end of Church Lane.

On the street where I live.
'I have often walked...'

Avian Close Encounters.

The big white Barn Owl was on the hedge again when I went out tonight. He didn’t stare at me this time, just flew away, but it’s the first time I’ve seen him since that evening last autumn when he did give me the owl stare.

And I nearly collided with a swallow. I came around the corner of my greenhouse and the best of birds was heading straight for my face. I tilted my head to the right, he swerved slightly, and we missed one another by about six inches.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Recognising Instinct.

I wrote an e-mail to somebody in the early hours of this morning, and then sat and deliberated whether I should send it. (Actually, I went for a pee and deliberated whether I should send it.)

My mind was adamant. ‘You mustn’t send this. It will cause you further difficulty. Haven’t you had enough already? Don’t send it.’

The rest of me wanted to send it, but in the end the mind won. I was sure the mind was right (still am, about the prospect of it causing me difficulty.) I hit ‘delete.’

As soon as I did so, I felt a sickening sense of failure. It was part conviction of cowardice, and part the sense of having been wrong in not following my instinct. Was it instinct, though? I don’t know. But the moment was gone, and I never go back.

What do you do in that situation?

You make a choice and then forget about it, that's what you do, because there really is no such thing as the road not travelled. Unless you count parallel universes, which would be pointless because you can only live in one.

(I was going to go on about parallel universes and other versions of me having different lives, but it got really complicated. I'll save that one for a book in my next life - in this universe. See what I mean?)

A Sad Sight.

There’s a road kill on the lane outside my gate, a rabbit that is still recognisable as such, but otherwise pretty mangled. I expect it’s the one that’s been visiting my garden lately.

It had to be a rabbit, didn’t it? Anyone who knows me knows of my fondness for wild rabbits, and how Rabbit was my favourite character in Odyssey. The one consolation, I suppose, is that it will provide food for my new crow visitors, so maybe fewer baby birds will be taken from the nest.

Do you know, I’ve only seen two road kills this year, and they were both outside my gate. Maybe there’s a hint I should be taking. Maybe the rabbit is part of some overall process relating to me. Or maybe I’m just being fanciful as usual.

Whistling Down the Wind.

It’s said to be something witches can do, given the necessary arcane knowledge. Well, there’s an easier way. Go and trim some bushes, then start sweeping up the leaves. Never fails.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Marking the Seasons.

Now that the nocturnal walks are nearly over for a few weeks, I was remembering tonight that time in early February, I think it was, when the walk was made through 8” deep snow. The most notable feature of tonight’s walk was the scent of lilacs at the bottom of my garden as I made my way out onto the lane.

Oh, to be in England...

Spring arrived in earnest today. The sun shone as powerfully as it should in late spring, the air was pleasantly warm, and the merest zephyr stroked a hint of faint movement into the blades of grass. Having got a lot of jobs under my belt, I went for a belated walk up the lane late in the afternoon.

The first thing that struck me was how lucky we are in Britain to have such a profusion of grasses and wild flowers growing on the verges beneath the hedgerows, and painting them a multitude of pinks, greens, blues, whites and yellows. Coming after a lot of rain recently, they look even richer and more vibrant this year than usual.

I looked over to my right and saw that one of the local farmers has apparently set aside two of his fields, and so the wild plants are starting to show there, too. That means they’re beginning to take on the appearance of those beautiful, old fashioned hay meadows that all but disappeared in the post-war drive for intensive production.

I didn’t walk far. I cut through the little wood at the top of the lane, walked past the old pheasant-rearing enclosures, and came out into the field where the sheep were grazing last week. They’d been moved to a field further down the lane, so the gate was off and the field was empty. There was a grass roller lying by the hedge, and grass rollers make excellent seats, so I sat on it and perused the view.

It stretches for many miles to the Trent Valley and beyond. Mile upon mile of fields, hedgerows, single trees and copses, gently lit by the afternoon sun, gently growing at nature’s own pace, and gently stirred by the lightest of breezes. Most of the trees are now fully clad in their spring livery of fresh, light green leaves, and the air carried that subtle but provocative scent of new growth.

About three miles away is the village of Rocester, which stands at the confluence of two small rivers – the Dove and the Churnet – which then flow their final few miles to join the Trent on its way to the North Sea. At that distance the view was a little hazy, but the spire of Rocester church could clearly be seen rising in the mist and surrounded by trees. The phrase ‘the church in the vale’ came to mind. ‘In the vale’ is such an evocative phrase – so quintessentially English, so redolent of a more organic age, so lyrical.

And so I sat there for quite some time in the blissful sunshine, taking in the view, taking in the atmosphere, taking in the meaning. Although I don’t believe in the concept of ‘heaven’ as it’s usually perceived, I couldn’t help thinking that if there were a heaven, it would surely look something like this. A line from a Kate Bush song floated into my mind:

L’Amour looks something like you.

And then, just to lift the experience from the sublime to the magical, a wild rabbit hopped out of the wood and sat close by, nibbling the grass contentedly. Was it really so fanciful to wonder whether it might have been a gift from Aine, my favourite goddess? I said ‘thank you.’

As I walked home I realised that this place where I’m living has changed little in two hundred years. And so, uppermost among all the precious nuances of meaning and experience, was one word: Timeless.

As I said in an earlier post, I like timeless.

Being Undecided.

I'm torn. I just had the most delightful late afternoon walk in the spring sunshine, and now I want to write about it. I would hope to convey why the countryside of Old England is so damn splendid and precious, and why it means so much to me. The problem is that I'm hungry and dinner beckons.

Looks like I'm going to be a slob - make dinner and hope to keep the walk fresh in my mind to write about later. Maybe when the cricket highlights have finished on the TV. I'll try.

Royalty as Religion.

Some woman in the North East of England has opened a ‘Royal Tea Shop,’ and a news report said that she’d ejected three customers for not standing when the National Anthem was played at 3pm on the dot!

I could go on, and on, and on about this, but I won’t. I’ll stick to saying that the woman in question is entitled to believe that royalty is in some way significant, and that the National Anthem has some sort of value. If she’s going to open a public catering facility, however, she might consider accepting that others have different views and being a bit less inclined to get her narrow little knickers in a twist over behaviour that is perfectly reasonable. It’s her right to feel aggrieved, but ejecting paying customers is another matter.

Considering Pleasure.

I was thinking this morning that one of the very greatest pleasures in life is to come home and be greeted joyfully by a child or a dog. I decided it was because:

1) Unlike having a new car or the myriad other trappings of an opulent lifestyle, it functions on an internal level and is therefore more intimate and direct.

2) Unlike sex, it comes without conditions or complications.

Attracting the Big Black Birds.

I don’t know what’s going on with the crows lately. I’ve always had visits to my garden and bird table from the smaller members of the family – the jackdaws and magpies – but now I’ve got a pair of bigger Carrion Crows taking a frequent interest in my little piece of earth. That’s never happened before, and coming on top of the visit from the big, big raven, it has me slightly nonplussed. Crows pick over the bones of dead things, don’t they?

Maybe they’re picking up on my mood. A certain person was forcing herself into my consciousness this morning when I woke up. She wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t very nice. It brought up one of the problems of being an ageing male who was once fit and strong, but on whom time has taken its toll until he’s left to take refuge in imagination, observation of perceived analogies, and the dubious distinction of having a sensitive spirit.

I call it the Deposed Stag Mentality, because it presages pretty much the same prospects. The mind accepts the cyclical imperative, but the heart can’t help resisting.

The Trouble with Blogging.

Do you know, there are some really fascinating people out there in the blogosphere. Which I suppose is another way of saying there are some fascinating people out there in the world. But that’s the problem: ‘out there in the world’ is a long way away, and blogging doesn’t allow you to reach out, prod somebody’s arm and ask ‘Are you real?’ Does it? No.

What you can do, of course, is go onto their blog and leave a comment, like ‘Awesome!’ But then you’d want to shoot yourself, wouldn’t you? Or you can make a very intelligent, considered comment which would be bound to sound pretentious, and the desire to shoot oneself would be delayed by approximately twenty four hours – just until you re-read the comment and think ‘Shit! Did I write that?’

Nil Desperandum! You go onto the blog anyway, and what do you find? Their last post was made on 25th July 2008. They gave up blogging.

Oh well...

A JJ Definition.

A successful life is one you get through. That’s the only marker. All the rest is pretty but unnecessary embroidery.

Don’t you just hate those little sound bite quotations? I could expand at length, but why should I? It’s what I believe at the moment. What anybody else wants to believe is their business. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong, since how can you possibly know?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Walking Through the Twilight.

We get long twilights around the summer solstice in Britain, and tonight I got the first hint of their onset. It was nearly dark when I left the house, and it was still nearly dark when I got back. Just another marker for change.

The big news tonight, though, was that I finally got to make friends with the pony who lives in the Lady B’s field. He was standing by the fence looking lonely, and seemed more than happy to have lots of nose strokings and ear scratchings. So that was good.

Glancing Over My Shoulder...

I just realised something. There are only three women in my immediate orbit – only three I ever talk to face to face – and they’re all deserting me next week. One goes to Egypt on Thursday, another goes to Austria on the same day, and the third goes to Spain on Saturday.

It’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it? Circumstances are such that a conscious conspiracy is unlikely, but taken in conjunction with the sudden appearance of the raven, it has me wondering...

Late Late Spring.

The Hollow (the most sunken of the sunken lanes around these parts) had a strong whiff of cow parsley today. The weather has warmed a bit, and the cow parsley is suddenly blooming in profusion. The smell is one of the earliest I remember from boyhood, when I would hike along lanes and across fields en route to some lake or river to go fishing. That makes it, to my perception at least, a bridge across the years. It makes it timeless, and I like timeless things.

The May blossom has also appeared, and with next week forecast to give us our first taste of summer, the local landscape should be – as Tennyson put it – ‘white with May’ by the end of it.

Believing the Sporting Illusion.

There were big celebrations last night when Chelsea FC beat Bayern Munich to win the Champions League trophy. Even the Prime Minister was seen to celebrate, apparently. It was a great night for the people of Chelsea and the whole of British football, wasn’t it?

Well, no, not really. I don’t believe that Chelsea FC represents the people of Chelsea these days, any more than the Manchester clubs represent Mancunians, or any other Premier League club represents the people of its local area. Premier League teams aren’t local now, they’re multinational franchises. The constitution of a British team is little different from that of a German, French or Italian one, and why would a player from Rome or Rio care anything for the people of Chelsea or the interests of British football in general?

They pretend to represent their fans, of course; it’s part of the marketing imperative. And the fans continue to believe it simply because they want to. It gives them something to believe in. But I don’t believe it’s true.

Top flight football is big business now. It’s an arm of the entertainment industry. It’s run by big money, with big money, for big money. A team can no longer be successful at that level without spending countless millions buying and keeping the best balance of the world’s best players. It’s what they all do, wherever they’re based. The connection it once had with the local community has long gone. It’s an illusion now, maintained for the sake of the business and people’s need to associate with the potential for success.

Having said all of which, maybe it doesn’t matter. American sport has been pulling the same trick for decades, and everybody seems happy enough. And I suppose there’s no reason why sport should be alone in resisting the movement taking place in the generality of life – supplanting notions of meaningful identity with the interests of big money and the rich minority.

Letting it Stand.

I really should take that last post down, you know, but I’ve decided I quite like it. It is, after all, a mere snapshot of a few moments in the life of the creature known as JJB. And the moving finger does, indeed, write, as I often remind myself.

So maybe I should just add a rider. The one cryptic statement was made in a tone of levity. I was in a silly mood (courtesy of the Precious Peanut who kept me buoyant until far too late.) I wasn’t even particularly drunk; I never am these days – too much in control. So the upshot is that the post stands, but nobody need feel pressured or threatened in any way. I’m harmless. Mostly.

Now. 02.33.

Feels like I should be sitting in the cabin of a small boat, somewhere off Martha’s Vineyard, drunk and making jokes about women breaking my heart, while the Great White circles unseen. Or maybe I should be the one singing Ladies of Spain in the gravely old voice of a gravely old sea dog.

Women have broken my heart through the ages, you know. They have. And they continue so to do. A car passes me on the lane, and my heart cracks with the report of a shotgun.

‘Bout time I grew up, I think, some time before I die. Yet again.

For now – no boats, no Great Whites, no jokes, no songs, just drunk. It’s an easy life this time round.

A Kind of Failure.

It seems a curious fact that I’ve always found the pursuit of the unattainable more compelling than aspiring to the attainable. I wonder why that is. Could it stem from a subconscious need to fail so as to vindicate my low opinion of myself? Or is that too Freudian? Is it really more to do with having a taste for the fantastical?

Well, whatever. The unfortunate fact is that the seemingly unattainable has often been gained, which is probably part of my tragedy: not setting my sights high enough.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Night Sights.

The walk was a strange one tonight. My attention was arrested by the sight of orange lights a little way above the high ground on the far side of the river. There were maybe twenty or thirty of them forming a roughly semi-circular pattern, and they climbed far higher than could be accounted for by any land based phenomenon. They were certainly not stars, since they were the wrong colour, too closely packed, and the sky was completely cloud covered. My only guess is that they were distant street lamps being reflected from the cloud base. I’ve never seen anything like them before.

On the way back I looked through the window of the pub and saw several young couples exhibiting standard young couples' body language. It’s so transparent when you know what to look for. And it struck me that life can be a bit of a pain sometimes. It gives you bags of knowledge and experience, but not until you’re past being able to use it.

I walked away into the darkness and talked to the trees, as I usually do. It seemed that something pale and misty began gathering among the branches, so I stood and watched it for a while until it disappeared again. I swear there’s something sentient out there, you know. Something that’s aware of me.

Ah well, I currently have what some would consider the very best of companions – a mug of hot tea. That will have to do for now.