Saturday, 30 June 2012

Two Magic Places.

I was thinking tonight while watching the bats fly up and down the lane that of all the special places I’ve known in my life, two stand well above the rest.

One was the backstage area at the theatre where I used to work, late at night after everybody had gone and I was putting the place to bed. The other is the lane at the bottom of my garden at dusk.

One is urban and the other rural, but they’re both imbued with magic. That’s the key to it – that certain, subtle something which defies description, but hangs palpably in the air so you can’t ignore it. It has a curious way of making you feel beyond alive.

Seeing the Sad Side.

I just spent quite some time leaning on the gate of the field where the sheep are, watching them. The lambs are developing individual characteristics now. They’re different in height and build; they have different faces and voices; they even have different mannerisms. They’re still attached to their mothers, though, often standing close and rubbing heads, or lying together when they’re not grazing.

Many of them looked back at me. Call me fanciful if you like, but I thought I saw anxiety in their eyes, and I wondered whether they thought I’d come to take them away. One day soon I’ll go up the lane and somebody will have come and taken them away. That’s what they’re there for; that’s why we breed them.

I’m making no judgement here, nor trying to score ethical points. I just found it a bit sad, that’s all.

Well Timed, as Usual.

The day being fine and pleasant, I decided to trim my neighbour's run of tall shrubs that border, and have a habit of encroaching upon, my path. So there I was at the top of the step ladders, one foot on either side to get maximum height and reach, when the deluge decided to descend.

I swear that dear Aine is either a bit miffed with me at the moment, or at least in an unusually playful mood.

Flying By.

It’s June 30th today – exactly half way through the calendar year (and Mel’s birthday, by the way, so many happy returns Mel.) And yesterday somebody said to me what people always say at this time of year:

‘I can’t believe we’re half way through the year already. It hardly seems five minutes since Christmas.’

Time does fly for us grown ups. I realised this week that it’s just ten years since I moved to the county of Derbyshire, and that’s flown by, too. So I thought:

‘If the next ten years fly by as quickly, and it will probably seem even quicker because it does as you get older, I’ll be... what age by then?’

Sobering thought. And there’s no time to waste then, is there? Such a little thing, a human lifetime. The trees know.

What Women Didn't Like.

Here are four things that women said to me when I was a young man:

1) No woman would bother with a man who wears suede shoes. I mean, men who wear suede shoes aren’t interested in women, are they?

2) I can respect a man who works with his hands, like a factory worker. And I can respect a man who works with his head, like an office worker. But I could never respect a man who works in a shop.

3) I couldn’t possibly go with a man who didn’t smoke.

4) I never trusted men who wore shoes with soft soles. You can’t hear them coming.

How times do change.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Choosing June.

These long twilights we get at this time of the year in northern Europe are very pleasant. You can sit and sit and sit in the garden for ages, watching the moon seem to grow brighter very slowly. And eventually you get to a point where you sigh (wistfully if you’re a poet) and say ‘Oh, well...’ And then you retire to the house and make a cup of tea.

It reminds me of holidays in Devon when I was a kid. We always went on holiday in June to get the long days. My stepfather was in a position to take his summer holiday whenever he wanted, you see, whereas most of my friends’ parents worked in jobs where they had to take the factory holidays in August, like it or not. I always thought it a cruel system.

Consolidating the Reputation.

Earlier this afternoon I saw several vehicles parked close up to the hedgerow of the lane where I live. A young couple were coming up the road, so I asked them what was going on.

‘School well-dressing,’ they replied.

Ah, good. I’ve been meaning to take a few pictures of the well-dressing ever since I moved here, and I always forget the date. Just then, the formidable Christine walked past.

‘Are you joining us?’ she asked without breaking her stride. And then, giving me no time to reply, she continued ‘Come on!’ and strode onwards and upwards regardless. I went back to the house, grabbed a camera and a couple of lenses, and headed up to the school. It didn’t occur to me to change out of my gardening boots.

There was a vicar in attendance, dressed as vicars dress and spouting the usual stuff that vicars spout. The first words I heard were:

‘Although some people say it has a pagan background...’

I turned to the nearest man and said:

‘So what’s wrong with pagan backgrounds? I like pagan backgrounds.’

I didn’t know who he was and he made no reply, so I was briefly tempted to wonder whether it’s politically advisable to utter such a statement to an unknown person in an English country village. I shrugged it off, naturally, and set about taking my pictures.

And then the headmistress took centre stage and said it would be nice if everybody made their way to the village hall where there were cream teas to be had. The vicar had to have the last word, of course. He spouted some more vicarish stuff about being grateful to God for keeping the rain off, and being further grateful to God for sending the rain to water the fields. (And some people wonder why I have a less than charitable view of vicars. But never mind; he was only doing his job, I suppose.)

By then I’d encountered my old friend Helen (not my ex Helen, now Melanie, just in case the disproportionate proliferation of Helens and Melanies in my life’s little orbit is causing confusion.) This Helen is somebody I used to know in my last village. She has two children at Norbury School, you see. So, chat with Helen, and then into the village hall for light refreshment.

‘Cup of tea, please,’ I said

‘A pound, please,’ the serving wench replied after pouring the tea.

Shit! It hadn’t occurred to me that there would be a charge for the tea, and I had no money on me. I made my apologies as abjectly as my state of cool would allow, and the woman didn’t pour the tea back into the pot – probably because it had milk in it, I expect. Instead, she said ‘There’s sugar on the table’ – a little icily, I thought – and I resisted the urge to reply ‘I don’t have any money for that, either.’ I talked to the new headmistress for a while, and then went home.

So the good folk of Norbury and Roston now have my number. He comes to functions wearing dirty gardening boots, he’s obviously a devil worshipper, and he tries to get his tea without paying. I’m not sure which is worse, really, but I expect I’ll find out one day.

Current Needs.

I shouldn’t read the news; it irritates the life out of me.

I need a dog to stroke, or a beautiful woman to say something I’d like to hear, or at least some freggin’ vanilla ice cream!

Priorities, that’s what it’s all about.

Still Haunted by Thatcher's Ghost.

Following three major scandals in the British banking industry, the Governor of the Bank of England has said that banks have been giving their customers ‘shoddy treatment,’ and that there must be a new culture in the industry. Well now, it’s at least twenty years since I first said ‘I hate bloody banks!’ because of the shoddy treatment they were giving their customers, so why has it taken this long for the Bank of England to notice? It did, after all, begin with Thatcher’s grand plans for The Great Impoverished Society back in the 1980s.

And while I’m having a moan, I also just read that funding of arts programmes by the five British terrestrial TV channels has fallen by 39% in five years.

Mrs Thatcher has gone, hasn’t she?

Getting it Wrong.

This is the second time in a week that I’ve been encouraged by a dry weather forecast to put a batch of washing out on the line, only to have it soaked by heavy rain shortly afterwards. Fortunately, I have an electric tumble dryer, but those things cost money to run, and you shouldn’t need them in the summer when the weather forecast say it’s going to be dry, should you?

Sky News on Yahoo Mail leads with a first report of the storms and flooding that affected large parts of Britain yesterday. Not only are they a day late, but the reporter has spelt ‘lightning’ with an ‘e.’ You’d think they’d do a bit better than that.

A Demanding Woman.

One of my neighbour’s cats (Annie, the fat one) appears to have taken a shine to me. If I’m sitting out in the garden, she comes over and demands attention. If I don’t stroke her enough, she sits back, lifts her front legs and pulls them towards her chest, apparently demanding more. I’ve never known a cat do that. And me not a cat person.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Scented Evening.

This evening’s walk took me via the sunken lane called The Hollow, which I’ve mentioned several times on this blog. The verges and embankments in The Hollow are carpeted with wild garlic, and the heavy rain that accompanied this morning’s thunder storms had beaten it down. The result was several minutes walk through a deep ravine swamped with the pungent smell of garlic, until I reached the top where another scent took over.

I’d always thought it was the smell of cow parsley, but further investigation appears to prove me wrong. Cow parsley has no smell, apparently. What I’ve been calling cow parsley all these years is actually hemlock, which is very similar but blooms a little later. My book on wild flowers says it has an ‘unpleasant odour,’ but I disagree. It reminds me of the smell of old fashioned disinfectant, and I rather like it. It also takes me back to those long, carefree hours spent fishing as a kid, which was when I first noticed it. It was part of the experience, and that sort of thing stays with you.

Returning along Bag Lane, my walk was arrested by a smell I recognised without doubt. Honeysuckle – the sweet smell of a lady’s boudoir (or so I assume!) I looked for the source, and there it was – a yellow variety in the hedgerow of the Old Rectory. I sucked in deep lungfulls of it before coming home.

Soon it will be the turn of the meadowsweet to flower, and then the air will smell even sweeter.

The Health of America.

I was reading today of the legal challenge to Barack Obama’s law requiring all Americans to have health care insurance on pain of legal sanctions. It astonishes me that a so-called Democrat president should want to engender such a gross dilution of personal liberties. I’m also a little bemused as to why the Republicans should object, since it would surely make even more profit for the fat cats in the insurance industry. Maybe an American can explain that one to me. And maybe you can also explain how a poor person who can’t afford health insurance will be able to afford the fine for not having it.

It raises a deeper issue, though. It demonstrates what a gulf there is between British and American attitudes on something as fundamental as health.

I’ve never had health insurance; none of my family ever had it; nobody I’ve lived with ever had it. We don’t need it, because we in Britain have had the National Health Service for sixty three years. It provides free, high quality health care to everybody, and it’s largely paid for out of taxation (it was wholly paid for out of taxation until the gremlin known as Thatcher put a spanner in the works.) The only point in having private health insurance in Britain is to jump the queue, be guaranteed a private room with TV, or maybe get access to the odd, very expensive drug that isn’t on the NHS list. Not much of a reason, really, to give your hard-earned money to the fat cats in the insurance industry.

I gather that America doesn’t want a National Health Service. The point about paying for health provision out of taxation is that the rich pay more than the poor, and that appears to run counter to the American mentality. As I understand it, the root American attitude is ‘Why should I throw some of my wealth into taxation in order to subsidise the health of poor people? Let them fend for themselves.’ (Let them die and decrease the surplus population?) And I suppose it’s a rational point. Whether or not it’s a fair point surely depends on what sort of core consciousness America wants to adhere to – a selfish one, or a more socially inclusive one in which the rich help out the poor.

And why should I be in the least bit troubled about this, as long as I don’t have to live there?

Being Good Looking.

Do excuse the apparently narcissistic (or at least self-indulgent) nature of the following statement. It’s just my way of making a general point. Ready?

I was looking in the mirror this morning and decided that I’m really a rather good looking bloke. It didn’t take me long to realise, however, that I can’t expect anybody else to agree with me because by all received means of assessment I’m a long way short of good looking. So that got me thinking.

Should we indulge ourselves on this one? Should we self-assess? Should we condition ourselves to believe we’re good looking no matter what the rest of the world thinks? Well, no; there wouldn’t be any point, would there?

Being good looking is entirely a second person concept. If you were stranded on a desert island and knew you would never again encounter another human being, it would be meaningless. It wouldn’t matter a jot what you looked like. Being good looking only has any value if somebody else thinks so, which means it’s entirely dependent on the judgement of others. And maybe that should encourage us to question whether we should care or not.

Wednesday Notes.

I have nothing interesting to say tonight. It’s been one of those busy sort of days which sweep you along and leave little space for reflection or the reading of news items. Maybe just a few little notes on the shopping trip.

1) I went for an eye test today, and I have to make mention of Heidi and the nice people at Specsavers opticians in Ashbourne. Thank you for being pleasant and helpful, for putting up with my inane rambling, and for not going all nadgy on me when I said I wanted the cheapest pair of specs I could possibly get. And it seems my eyes are in good health, which was nice to hear.

2) I told the woman in the bird food shop about the curious case of Melanie and I being on seemingly parallel courses with regard to life experiences (vis-à-vis the dark shapes in the woods and the rescuing of semi-conscious greenfinches that had knocked themselves senseless against window panes.) She said it was amazing, and it was a bit like those situations when you read a word in a newspaper just as somebody is saying it on the TV. Well, maybe it is.

3) Ashbourne remains devoid of simple vanilla ice cream. It’s a nice little town, but its record on ice cream casts a long shadow in my book.

4) I saw another little girl riding roughshod over her granny in the supermarket. Granny looked flustered, and I was naturally moved to wonder whether she’d ridden roughshod over her granny when she was a little girl. Little girls are pretty amazing creatures, one way and another. They know their weapons and use them skilfully.

5) When I asked the man in the post office for three first class stamps, he tried to get me to buy a book of six as usual. He knows I always get ratty when he does that, so he hurriedly explained that he couldn’t be sure whether I was a mystery shopper or not. It’s fortunate that I’m a Monty Python fan, for I now have some sympathy for the poor, benighted man in the post office.

Excuse me, Miss?

What d’ya mean, Miss?

Oh I’m sorry, I have a cold.

*  *  *

As I said recently, heaven and hell are the same place viewed from different angles. I spoke to Mel on the phone this evening (my ex-partner previously known as Helen.) It seems her dad, a retired vicar, wants to know what her view of God is now that she’s no longer a Buddhist. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Being Stylish for Once.

JJ has been unusually busy for a JJ today. It’s 10.45pm and this is the first chance I’ve had to make a blog post. And now I’ve got the chance, I can’t think of anything to write about. Except the shirt, maybe...

I bought a shirt last week, and took it back today because it had been wrongly labelled and was too small. It was pale pink, and I decided I didn’t want a pale pink shirt after all. Pale pink isn’t really a JJ colour, and JJs are prepared to go only so far in being adventurous – as least as far as pale pink shirts are concerned.

I changed it instead for a plain, off-white, linen one with a button-down collar. It’s the first off-white linen shirt I’ve ever had, and it’s rather stylish by the standards of the normally anything-but-stylish JJ. I plan to wear it next Saturday if I go to the Jazz and Barbecue Evening at the Old Rectory. It might persuade the good village folk that I have the means and sense of style to belong here, irrespective of whether I want to or not. That should fudge the issue nicely.

Living in a Material World.

It disturbs me a bit that it’s now possible to attach 'relevant' adverts to blog posts. Given that I regard advertising as being both blatantly presumptuous and an insult to one’s intelligence, I find that development a little sad. Is no medium safe from the grasping of the commercial world?

If ever an ad appears on my blog, please conclude that I’m no longer mad and have joined the material world in earnest. And then feel free to have me committed.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Learning from a Sociopath.

I just discovered what a sociopath is, and in the process realised that my stepfather – the man I lived with from age 6 to 19 – was just such a creature. The list of characteristics (here) fits him to a tee. That explains a lot, it really does.

I’ve long thought he did me a favour, because rebelling against the kind of person he was set me up for going my own way. As somebody famously said, and I’ve quoted this before but it’s worth quoting again:

Honour your worst enemy, for he is your greatest teacher.

Little Details.

Those with an eye for detail might have noticed that I’ve had a post up for fourteen and half hours entitled An Strange Sight. Somebody might have told me.

And I didn’t get the tranny editing done in the garden because we’ve had drizzly rain for the past two hours. Instead, I did another sowing of peas and runner beans (which have been an almost total disaster this year) and fixed a covered escutcheon to the keyhole on the back door. That means I’ll no longer have to keep stuffing it with rolled up pieces of kitchen towel to keep the wind out, and it looks a bit posher, too. Well, a bit less povo, anyway. I had to buy a brass one because that was all the shop sold. I don’t really like brass.

More Coffee.

I’m onto the next bag of special offer coffee now – French this time – seasoned with chicory. So may I say, in the Parisian accent for which I’m rightly famed:

“Bonjour, mes Gallic chums. Votre café est bloomin’ strong.”

Good, though.

Honesty and Lying.

A question occurs to me:

Can an expert liar be regarded as an honest person? I think so. I use my expertise when dealing with people like bureaucrats and the employees of big businesses and financial organisations. They are, after all, simply the artificial face of a soulless machine. I don’t lie to real people.

Simply Strange.

It seems to be a time for lots of personal reflections at the moment. Maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe it’s the time of life.

So, I’m only now realising what a strange child I was, with my odd sensibilities, high sensitivities, my desire to be independent as soon as possible, and my need to experiment with everything from shapes and words to fire and electricity (the last two nearly got me into trouble a few times, but I’d become an expert liar by then.) And yet nobody ever told me I was strange. Most of the slappings I got were for talking too much, arguing with parents or teachers, and being too free with the expression of opinions that were deemed improper or impolite.

Looking back, I now realise I was simply strange. So why didn’t anybody tell me? I find that strange.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, the stiff, weak and painful knees continue unabated, as do the twinges in the shoulders when I lift anything. I think I might have a rest day today. I have lots of transparencies to sort through, pictures that were sent back to me by a library which has now moved out of the landscape field. I need to edit them so I can ship the best onto another library which is still operating in that area. If it stays warm and dry after lunch, I can do it in the garden. That’ll be nice, won’t it?

Bagel for lunch in honour of Venus.

Still strange.

A Strange Sight.

I saw something odd in the wood this evening. It was black and of indeterminate shape, but about the size of a rabbit. It came out of the undergrowth and darted quickly across the path. Then it faded and disappeared. A rabbit’s ghost?

Should I be posting this?

Monday, 25 June 2012

An English Country Garden and Jet Lag.

Today we had a taste of what used to be called ‘summer’ in the good old days, and I saw the first of this year’s Red Admiral butterflies (my favourite.) I also took my evening meal out in the garden – a simple repast of green salad, two hot cheese and onion rolls, and some wholemeal bread. It was accompanied by the relentless calling of a chiff-chaff from a nearby tree, and a large number of bees going in and out of the foxgloves, of which I have a large number in my garden.

You know, I really don’t understand why people go to fancy restaurants, or spend their holidays sitting by a hotel pool in some Mediterranean resort. Each to their own, of course, and I realise that most people don’t have Avalon on their doorstep as I do.

Only once in my life did I ever sit by a hotel pool. That was in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and I was so jet-lagged that I would happily have collapsed into a garbage can if there’d been one nearby. I didn’t finish my scotch, I recall. That’s how jet-lagged I was.

Chicago, Ill.

Whenever you see ‘Chicago, Illinois’ in my Feedjit thing, you can be sure that JJ just got a little thrill in the solar plexus and felt a touch better than he had a minute earlier. You don’t want to know why, do you? It’s very complicated.

How long is it since I made one of these ‘nah, nah, nah-nah, nah, I’m not telling you’ posts? Ages.

T Shirt Trivia.

I’ve been wearing and washing T shirts for a very long time, and I’ve noticed something interesting. Black ones always keep their shape better than white or coloured ones. The fabric keeps its body better too, so they last longer. This has me wondering whether black dye requires a better quality fabric.

That’s my first ever post about T shirts. Two other bits of T shirt trivia:

I was on a course once with a young man who was unemployed. He was constantly bemoaning his lack of money, but admitted one day that he’d just spent £90 on a T shirt. £90?!! I suppose it’s all a matter of priorities.

When I was fifteen I played in the City Schools Orchestra. All the other kids came to rehearsals wearing school uniform; I turned up in ice blue jeans and a black T shirt – just to be different. Seems I didn’t belong any more then than I do now.

Morning Woes.

I turned the light off early for me last night at 2.25. I woke up exactly four hours later at 6.25 to the sound of banging somewhere. Not particularly loud banging, but banging nonetheless. I felt angry that somebody was making noise at that time of day, but worse than that was the overwhelming feeling of anxiety that was setting my nerves on edge. This was something that characterised the autumn, winter and early spring months when the fatigue problem was at its worst – waking up every morning convinced that something terrible had happened, or was about to happen, or that I was going to have to do something highly unpalatable. I haven’t had it for some weeks now, so it was a bit disappointing.

I couldn’t go back to sleep so I decided to get up, make a cup of tea and check my e-mails. Both knees were playing up as they have been doing lately, both a little weak, a little stiff and a little painful. I’m sure this has something to do with the ‘condition,’ although my doctor says it probably doesn’t. My tread on the stairs must have been heavier than usual because the sound of it set next door's dogs a-barking.

So there I was, feeling like I was cracking up mentally and physically. I slumped onto the computer chair and pressed the button to boot up the machine. The first thing that came up on the screen was a DOS message waffling on about Windows not loading properly, and saying it was probably something to do with there having been a power interruption when I last closed down. Shit! If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s computer problems. At least 90%, if not more, of my interaction with the outside world comes through the computer. But then Windows loaded so I made the cup of tea.

No e-mails. Well, that’s nothing unusual, so I took the tea to bed, drank it and fell asleep again. I woke up four hours later with cotton wool for a brain and so little strength that I might have had trouble rescuing a fallen fledgling. I got up and took the bird feed out.

I was greeted by the new relief post girl. She was slim, pretty and personable, and looked rather nice in her regulation uniform of red polo shirt and pale grey trousers. Thirty years ago she might have raised my heart rate a touch, but I can’t afford that these days. Heaven knows what might happen! But I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

Now it’s lunchtime and I’m not sure whether I want any or not. I probably will, but I think what I really need is a kick start.

Being Re-Acquainted.

I saw Mistress Moon tonight for the first time since I stopped my nocturnal perambulations about a month ago. The weather hasn’t been conducive, you see. She’s been hiding behind near-constant cloud cover, so tonight’s view was almost startling. I thought she had forgotten about me.

Come to think of it, I haven’t set foot in Mill Lane since then either. I must find out when Venus is due to reappear in the western sky, so I have an excuse to go that way when the night walks resume.

(Just did a Googling. It seems that Venus is going to be the Morning Star for the rest of this year – presumably because she’s now to the right of the sun. I don’t do mornings.)

We’ve got a high pressure system moving in at the moment and it’s wreaking havoc with my sinuses as usual. Peppery nose and sneezing bouts. Most disagreeable.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cause for Optimism.

OK, so let’s get away from damn politicians and the ills of society, and tell the story of a poorly little bird.

I heard a loud bang on one of the office windows, and went out to find a newly fledged bird lying on its side, apparently hyperventilating and unable to right itself. I brought it into the house and bathed its head with cold water, and then took it the greenhouse where it would be safe from the neighbour’s cats, hoping it would make a full recovery. I’ve done that before and it’s worked.

A little while later I went to check and it had gone. Cause for rejoicing, I thought, but it was a premature thought. I needed to go into the greenhouse again about and hour later and there was the fledgling, still struggling to stand upright and only able to fly a foot or two. I put it in a safe position on one of the strawberry pots, along with some water and food.

After another hour or so, I looked in on it again. It had come down from the strawberry pot and was on the greenhouse floor, but it was in no better condition and I began to think that this little guy wasn’t going to make it. I decided that the only thing to do was keep it warm in there overnight and hope it would recover after a night’s rest. I’m not keen on keeping birds in the house because I did that with a guillemot once and it died in a flurry of trying to get out.

But then, to my great surprise, I saw it fly away from the greenhouse and around to the path at the front of the property. That was encouraging because it meant that the invalid must have flown from the ground to the open window, and then made it some way around to the front of the house. But it was grounded again, and the front of the house is regularly patrolled by the cats. I decided it should go back into the greenhouse for safety.

Birdie had other ideas. As I approached, it took off and flew a good forty feet across the garden and into the branches of a tree. So that was my duty done and hence the title of the post.

And imagine the little guy’s excitement when he meets up with his parents and has such a tale to tell.

‘Hey, I just had this huge adventure. I flew into something and knocked myself out, and when I came to, there was this huge god creature who picked me up and carried me into this huge building that was very light. And he put me onto this bed where there were some huge red things that smelt nice, and I kept trying to get away, but he kept putting me back. But then I got strong again, and I escaped! I did!’

And so his parents will take him to a bird psychiatrist who will explain that the whole god episode was due entirely to a chemical reaction in the brain following the shock, and that was what produced the delusion so there’s nothing to worry about.

Going Backwards.

Cameron is at it again. His latest brainwave is to cut welfare payments to young people under twenty five who are living independently. He says it sends ‘the wrong message.’ (That’s the phrase politicians use when they can’t find a more constructive justification for an ill-conceived cost cutting plan.) David says they’re going to have to go back and live with their parents or fend for themselves.

But suppose the parents don’t want them back. Suppose the parents are already under such pressure from welfare ‘reforms’ (what a wonderful word that is) that they can’t afford to have them back. And what about those young people who don’t have any parents, or who are so estranged from them that it amounts to the same thing?

‘Fend for themselves.’ Right, what does ‘fend for themselves’ mean? Youth unemployment is at a staggeringly high level in Britain, and that’s because there aren’t the jobs available. Thatcher and Blair destroyed them. So what’s left? If you can’t get a job and nobody is supporting you, there are three options left: beg, steal or die. So when the crime statistics rise, please think twice before blaming the criminals. Unfortunately, Australia is no longer available as a fitting repository for starving sheep stealers.

And there’s another potential scenario. Statistics continue to show that the mega rich minority are continuing to get richer at a pace greater than the rate of inflation. The amount the government is expecting to save from this latest ‘reform’ could come out of Branson’s back pocket without him even noticing. We’re not ‘all in this together,’ and we all know that, including the under twenty fives. That’s a recipe for riots, so when riots happen, please think twice before blaming the rioters, however ugly they look

 *  *  *

In the middle of writing this I had to do my best to rescue a baby bird that had knocked itself senseless against a window pane. I wonder what Cameron would have done. Trod on it, I expect.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

More Bird News.

The local barn owl has taken to flying low across my garden at dusk. He’s big and white and magnificent – and tonight he treated me to a passing shriek.

The time has been my senses would have cooled
To hear a night-shriek...
~Macbeth.

The Boys Done Great.

When interviewed about tomorrow night’s match against Italy, England football captain Steven Gerrard said:

‘Myself and Scott Parker need to control the midfield.’

With a command of English quite as lamentable as that, you can’t help wondering which team he’ll be captaining.

Spirits Galore.

Odd things happen in and around this house, mostly at the back where my office, kitchen and bedroom are. I think they’re becoming focussed on my office now, and here’s the evidence:

1) About a year ago I made a post about the curious incident when my mobile phone, which was lying on the office desk, called my land line phone about two feet away – while I was in another room. I talked to two people who know about mobile phones, and neither could explain it so I put it down to some odd electronic glitch.

2) Since then, there have been several occasions when I’ve caught a glimpse of somebody walking past my office window in the direction of the back door. I’ve even gone out to see who it is, but there’s never been anybody there so I don’t bother any more.

3) A few nights ago you might remember that I saw my pen turn half a revolution and then turn back again.

4) The following day I found something in my office – I’ve forgotten what it was now – which wasn’t where I was sure I’d put it.

5) This morning came the clincher. I have an old range in my office – a fireplace with two ovens at the side and a hearth on the front. I never use it and regard it as an ornamental feature. It’s painted black, and I haven’t dusted in here for a while so the black paint has a thin film of dust on it. There’s a bowl of pot pourri sitting on the hearth, and this morning I found it had been moved about an inch and a half to the left, as clearly evidenced by the circular ‘hole’ in the dusty surface. I’ve had no reason to go anywhere near it, so who moved the bowl?

So, since I do all my late night scotch drinking in here, I think I should stop calling it an office and re-title it The Spirit Room instead. That’s exciting, isn’t it?

But, of course, it might have nothing to do with spirits; it might be the little folk playing tricks. Still exciting, though.

A Little Ego Question.

Here’s the question of the moment:

Is there any point in being concerned about your appearance once you’re sure that nobody gives a monkey's what you look like?

Conversation With God.

'Excuse me, God.’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s 2.40 in the morning and I’m not even a bit tired.’

‘So?’

‘So, I seem to be getting my energy back.’

‘OK, so what’s the problem?’

‘Well, is there any chance I could have my hair back, too?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘It’s against the rules.’

‘What rules?’

‘My rules.’

‘Oh. How about dancing, then?’

‘What about dancing?’

‘Well, I used to be a half-decent mover, if you remember.’

‘I don’t need to remember. I’m God.’

‘Oh, yeah. OK. Well, I wondered whether I might be allowed to dance energetically to a three-minute pop music track again – without getting a bit tight-chested.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Maybe?’

‘Practice, my boy, practice, and just maybe the facility will return.’

‘I suppose I’d look silly.’

‘Of course.’

‘But it doesn’t matter, does it, as long as there’s nobody watching.’

‘That depends on your perception of reality.’

‘In what way?’

‘Whether it’s subjective or objective.’

‘Oh, right. Never thought of that.’

‘Humans don’t.’

‘No, s’ppose not. OK, can I ask a simple question?’

‘Of course.’

‘Will I get a simple answer?’

‘Probably not.’

‘Shall I try anyway?’

‘Go ahead.’

‘If I practice the dancing, will I have a heart attack?’

‘Ah, that’s for me to know and you to find out.’

‘Shit! Why do I bother?’

‘Because you’re still alive?’

‘But for how much longer?’

‘Ah, that’s for me to know and you to find out.’

‘Bollocks! Change the freggin’ record!’

‘Ha!’

Donald's Ditty.

'Why do I think I know you?’
Said the Trump man to the flea.
‘You’re small and insignificant
And not at all like me.’

The flea hopped onto Donald’s nose
And winked his little eye.
He took a breath and spoke his truth
And gave him this reply:

‘You recognise the type, my friend.
We both have such a knack
Of bleeding people dry, you know,
While giving nothing back.’

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Joy of Flying Things.

I love swallows; they’re probably my favourite bird. So it was quite a thrill to find them hunting along the road and over the hedgerow when I went for a walk this evening. Dozens of them dipped and swerved and surged around and past me at breakneck speed, while I tried to get a glimpse of their tail fronds to see which were male and which female. At one point, one guy came heading straight for my face. I stood there smiling, trusting him to wheel away just in the nick of time – which, of course, he did. Maybe this is why I had a swallow tattooed on my arm long before I developed an affinity with birds.

It’ll be the turn of the bats in about twenty minutes – my regular evening entertainment. Not as fast, not as powerful, not as agile, but characterful and graced with the mystery of twilight. And they come closer.

The Fatigue Problem.

Should there be any odd soul out there who’s been interested in my fatigue problem, I can report that I got the results of my blood tests this afternoon. Everything is normal, apparently, which rules out anaemia, thyroid, viral infections, liver and kidneys (even kidneys!)

The doc suggests I see how things progress over the next two or three weeks, and then go back for a follow-up. Mmm... I might. I still think I’ve been right all along and it’s ME.

The Long Arm of Karma.

I just read of an incident in Arizona in which a water worker dealing with a leak on somebody’s property was injured when a giant cactus fell on him.

You know what I think? I think he was probably a lumberjack in a previous life. I do hope he’s learned his lesson and makes a full recovery.

Insensitive Media.

A few weeks ago there was a fatal house fire in Derby in which six children died. It seems the fire was started deliberately, and three people, including the parents, are currently under arrest. Today the funerals took place, and both the national and regional news bulletins devoted a large chunk of air time to them.

The coverage was obviously syndicated because the shots were the same on both national and regional TV. They included a cascade of pictures of each child, and the camera panned in on each photograph in turn so that the face increasingly filled the screen. This is an old TV technique to provoke an emotional response on the part of the viewer. And here’s my objection.

Following the cascade of photographs, the coverage turned to shots of the children’s coffins being carried into the church. What more do you need to evoke an emotional response than that? Nothing; it’s more than enough for anybody. So why indulge in corny camera techniques? It’s cheap, insensitive and an insult to the gravity of the occasion. But it’s what the media do to keep people glued to their sets, and I wish they wouldn’t.

Morning Mood.

I’m beginning to re-think my objection to shallow, materialistic values. Maybe the gloss, the glamour and the candyfloss are all we’re here for. Maybe that’s the point. Or maybe it isn’t.

I look back on a life of experience, experimentation and searching, and it all seems so short and inconsequential. But I expect there’s more to it than that. Probably. I’m just growing a bit tired of the effort.

Best go and carpe what’s left of the diem.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Few Diary Entries.

There’s a signpost at the top of my lane where it joins the main road. The board that points left says:

Norbury
Ellastone
B5023

The board that points right says:

Ashbourne
Sudbury
B5033

Now, since each board points along opposite directions of the same road, one of them has to be wrong. In fact, they should both read B5033. It’s a relatively new sign, having been erected to replace the old one only about three or four years ago.

It’s often occurred to me to wonder whether it’s down to human error, or whether this place is so old fashioned that they don’t know the war’s ended yet, and the disparity of information has been put there deliberately to confuse invading Germans.

*  *  *

The cows in the field behind my house are the maddest bunch I’ve ever known. They’re forever galloping across the land and bucking, and they don’t have ‘but we’ve only just been let out’ for an excuse. They’ve been there for two months.

I don’t think I’ll be going into the field to pay the hedge trimmer this September if these wild things are still around. Last year’s lot were a placid bunch, and even then I got charged at by one of them.

*  *  *

I feel sorry for the sheep up the lane. They were sheared two days ago, and now it’s turning wet and chilly again. The lambs are OK, of course, but the poor ewes have gone from winter coats to shirt sleeve order.

Persecuted.

The morning having been wet, I decided to get some accounts work out of the way. I noticed while so doing that the rain had stopped and the sky had brightened, so when I finished I went for a walk. Guess what. Just as I was at the furthest point from my house, it started raining again, and it continued to rain – heavily – all the way home. My supposedly waterproof raincoat isn’t, so I got wet. And because I’d been walking quickly, my socks had run under my feet, so when I took my wellies off, the socks went with them – and this being struggled with on the doorstep because I was trying to avoid making that part of the kitchen floor even dirtier than it already is. So then I towel-dried my hair and changed my clothes, by which time the rain had stopped.

Why does this happen so frequently, because it does, you know. I decline to believe that I have a persecution complex. This is actual persecution, or maybe another of Aine’s jokes. It has to be one or the other. It does.

Greed and Glamour.

One of Britain’s leading comedians, Jimmy Carr, has just got himself into a spot of bother. He’s been publicly criticised by David Cameron for investing his wealth into a tax avoidance scheme, which Cameron says is unethical. It’s a pity it had to be Cameron who said it, since I’m not his greatest fan, but for once I agree with him. The point is, however, that Carr isn’t the only person doing it (and he’s now engaged in a public show of contrition anyway, and says he’s stopped doing it.) This is just another example of how the free market mentality rewards the rich and penalises the poor.

The majority of people in Britain are in formal employment and don’t get a choice as to how they pay their income tax. It’s stopped at source by the employer under the Pay As You Earn system. Such ‘ordinary’ people might vary in relative prosperity, but they never get ‘rich’ unless they win the lottery or something. The rich people are mostly the entrepreneurs and celebrities who are self-employed and operating in fields capable of bestowing a level of wealth beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. Those who make the grade in such fields – and, in the process, get hideously overpaid for their efforts and end up with more money than they can ever hope to spend – get targeted by the tax avoidance operators. Since such operations are not actually illegal, the rich folks get to pay proportionately less in tax than the poorer people and garner even more money than they can ever hope to spend.

We’re living in difficult economic times. Public services are being cut, pension provisions are being eroded, and many of the cuts are being borne by the poorest members of society. Cameron says we’re all in it together, but we’re obviously not. The dictum ‘greed is good’ became acceptable under Thatcher, but can it still be tolerated now?

*  *  *

And still on the subject of celebrity, this woman expresses herself better than I do, so I’ll just point you to a small article to reiterate a point I’ve tried to make on the blog several times. It’s a quick read.

Perception.

I just read a comment on one of the YouTube versions of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. It made me smile. It said:

‘Stoned + this song = heaven.’

Quite so. At this level, it’s all about states of consciousness. Heaven and hell are the same place looked at from different angles.

Developing a CLOM and LOG Complex.

If I ever get to be old, I don’t want to be called a cute little old man. Little I might be, old I might be, but I’m not cute. Well... maybe I am... but I don’t want to be called it.

I’ve heard carers and nurses and the like say of old men ‘Oh, he’s such a lovely old gentleman.’  I don’t want to be a lovely old gentleman, either. I want to be a cantankerous old sod who nobody dares offend because they’re afraid of getting their fingers bitten off. OK, so I might not have any teeth by then, but I’ll think of something.

That’s if ever I get to be old, of course.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Strange Day.

As Arkwright muttered through many a closing sequence ‘It’s been a strange day today, Lord.’ So what should I talk about?

1) The little girl riding the shopping trolley in the supermarket like Queen Boudica, ably directing her grandparents and getting pretty much everything she wanted.

2) The plumber who came to do a job and interrupted my lunch in the process, and who then proceeded to give me the benefit of his advice on all manner of matters, the content of which was at best obvious and at worst spurious, and all of which was irritating.

3) Meeting a man from Green Lane who turned out to be Farmer Sillitoe’s younger son, and with whom I spoke at length about the magic of the land and community spirit.

4) Discovering I can buy a new computer printer/scanner/copier for a quarter of the price of a set of original cartridges for my old printer which works perfectly well – and feeling annoyed that modern commercial practice virtually forces me to throw away a good piece of equipment and buy a new one.

5) Feeling nervous about the results of my blood tests which are due tomorrow, but which I probably won’t get because the doctors are due be on strike over the government meddling with their pensions.

6) Feeling a bit sad that the three days of decent weather we’ve had for the first time in June are set to end tonight, with the weather forecast for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday reading rain, rain, rain and rain.

7) Being generally in a state that was rushed, bothered, flat and anxious.

Well, there you have it. That was today in a nutshell.

Fort Worth and Propoganda.

I had a visit from Fort Worth, Texas tonight. The name suggests a wooden palisaded structure, stuck out in the arid prairie and populated by nervous, sweaty, baccy-chewing men in blue hats, while bronzed Comanche braves encircle it menacingly riding palomino ponies bareback.

I don’t suppose it’s much like that these days. I expect they have cars and skyscrapers and TVs and McDonald’s now. I’ll bet the mayor even wears a suit. Shame.

You know, I want somebody to make a little inventory. I want them to go through all the westerns ever made (at least the cowboys & Indians ones) and compare how many Indians fell off their horses (having been shot three at a time with one bullet) with how may bluecoats lurched against the side of a wagon wheel clutching an arrow to their chest (the other ten having missed, of course.)

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Aine's Fire.

I just had had my second bonfire of the year – the summer solstice one in honour of Aine. Last year it was wet, but this year we’re in a short period of settled high pressure and it’s been dry and mostly sunny all day. And yet there was a little rain just before I lit the fire, which was right on cue and perfectly in keeping with the Aine I know. That pleased me.

No more fires now until the winter solstice.

In Lieu of a Proper Post.

I’m doing jobs in the garden today instead of being properly employed writing blog posts (I’m also struggling to find anything worth saying, which is why I’m writing this one.) Do bear in mind, though, that there are currently 2,894 posts on this blog, so you could always read some of the others. Only I’d prefer that you don’t go back further than about last summer because I was still trying to play roles then, so I was even more turgid and artificial than I am now. There are also lots of stories at the other blog.

Meanwhile, if anybody knows where I can get cheap ink cartridges for an Epson C82 printer that actually work, I’d be glad of the knowledge. I mean, nobody’s daft enough to get a mortgage to buy Epson originals, are they, and my old supplier of cheap, working alternatives has closed down their retail operation. I tried one of the internet suppliers, and guess what...

Bad Knee News.

Now I have a poorly knee. Actually, I already had a poorly knee, so what I should have said was ‘now I have another poorly knee.’ And since I’m blessed with only the regulation number of knees, it means that both of them are poorly at the same time.

Those years of energetic hill-walking in pursuit of photographs were good fun at the time, but I’m paying for them now. (Like in the fact that people don’t mind me dying as long as I don’t freggin’ haunt them!)

For Wuthering Heights Fans Only.

(It’s unlikely you’ll understand much of the following unless you are.)

The subject of haunting came up tonight, and I remembered this:

‘Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then!’

And what do I get?

‘OK Jeff, that creeps me out, please don’t haunt me!’

You see, this is what comes of being too old to wander the moors willy-nilly or throw flower petals into somebody’s porridge. And I suppose ‘I am Jeffrey’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it, either.

But maybe being a ghost isn’t so wonderful anyway, at least not a hungry one. This is what I said about them in my novel. Call it a shameless plug, if you like:

They’re spirits who are constantly hungry. They’re hungry for food, but there is none. They’re permanently cold, but they have no means of warming themselves. They want to see the light, but there is only darkness. They want to commune with their own kind, but they have no language. They even retain sexual desire, but they have no gender. They are all desperate to die, but they know they’re already dead.’

That isn’t very nice, is it?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Magic Garden.

How many times have I talked about the magic of my garden at dusk? It’s something to do with profound peace, the richness of natural growth and a sense of connection. But that falls far short of doing it justice. It’s one of those things that are beyond words. And it’s growing stronger.

Evening Concert and Sightseeing.

It wasn’t the chattering of the birds that kept me entranced tonight, but the discordant bleating of a hundred sheep in the field near the wood.. I’ve noticed before that they become very vocal at some point during the twilight, and this evening they were giving a veritable concert with each different voice raised in unison to the setting sun. A bovine version of Cwm Rhonda, no doubt.

*  *  *

There was one of those mountains of characterful cumulus cloud in the northern sky – the sort that’s white and fluffy on one side, but painted pale orange on the side that’s facing the yellowing sun; and that side had faces standing out of it in shades of grey. It wouldn’t be entirely fanciful to suggest that it looked a little like Mount Rushmore. Or maybe it would.

Technology for the Simple Minded.

I was watching some of the Italy vs Ireland football match on my new TV earlier. I had the sound turned off, as I often do when watching football matches because I find that the trite commentary often detracts from the enjoyment rather than enhancing it. The point is, however, that having the sound off was deliberate.

So why must I have a panel in the top corner of the screen saying ‘Choose Audio.’ It’s not as though I need to be told that the sound is turned off, is it? I know it’s turned off because I can’t hear anything. As far as I can tell, this panel serves only three purposes:

1) To pointlessly hide a part of the picture.

2) To irritate me quite a lot.

3) To alert the odd unfortunate person who has suddenly become profoundly deaf that they require attention.

What sort of bozo mind designs things like this? And why can’t we have people with common sense doing it instead?

A Growing List.

I’ve railed before against the poor quality of TV documentaries. Well, I’m going to do it again.

I just watched fifteen minutes of a documentary on the Battle of Waterloo. Despite having strong anti-war sensibilities, I can’t help being fascinated by the psychology and techniques of a battle scenario. It was why I was a member of The Sealed Knot once, and played my part in a few re-enactments.

So, having read several books on the Battle of Waterloo and seen the Rod Steiger film, I decided to give the documentary a go. It was as bad as the rest – full of mutually exclusive statements, unanswered questions, and constant commentary from so-called academics who seemed more concerned with the projection of cheap drama than the dissemination of useful detail. When the first commercial break came along, I switched it off.

I have a growing list of TV documentaries which I can cite to justify my poor opinion of them. This one just got added.