Sunday, 30 September 2012

JJ's Music Ad.

Are you tired of the mincing of Mozart, the bluster of Beethoven, the vaingloriousness of Wagner, and the cheesyness of Tchaikovsky?

Why not give the music of the English Late Romantics a try? Vaughan Williams, Delius, Bridge, Butterworth et al. It glides on the breezes of the Spheres It smells of the earth and fresh water. You could soar with VW’s Lark Ascending, bask in the shadow of Butterworth’s Banks of Green Willow, or dream sad dreams beside EJ Moeran’s Lonely Waters. You could even join Delius in remembering how you felt On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.

Do It Now!

(There. I got a ‘now’ in with an exclamation mark. That makes it a proper ad.)

More on the Night Walker.

What a difference a day makes. The walk was very dark tonight. The cloud base was low and heavy, there was a constant light rain falling, and the wind that had been blustery all day had dropped to nothing. It was warm, too.

Despite the low cloud, however, there was still enough light in the sky to see the trees silhouetted against it, and at one point I thought I saw something else. In a gap between the branches, there appeared to be the figure of person standing behind the hedge – apparently watching me. I thought it unlikely, and I thought it was probably an optical illusion, so I ignored it.

What wasn’t an illusion was the herd of heifers standing by the gate of a field off Mill Lane. I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to cows at night before, and so it was a pleasant surprise. I stood and talked to them for a little while, and they, no doubt, wondered what on earth this strange creature was. I had my hood up against the rain, you see, but I wasn’t wearing the elf coat. I was wearing the Swedish mountaineer’s coat, and the hood on that one is heavy and voluminous. It makes me look less like an elf and more like a fugitive from Masque of the Red Death.

There were no vehicles on the pub car park tonight, and nothing passed me either going out or coming back. It struck me more forcibly than ever just what a compelling experience it is to walk alone at night along a dark and silent country lane, although the exact nature of the compulsion eludes me. I suppose it has something to do with feeling that you’ve entered somebody else’s painted picture, and that you’re the only moving thing in it. And so I further suppose that it makes you feel a bit like the mysterious creature from an MR James story.

Wondering Why.

No talking with people today, fellow hobbits or any other form of human life. It’s been a day of frequent forays into reverie. Some thoughts of things remembered, some created fictions, and some small but factual scenarios built into bigger and more interesting ones. Every so often I have to keep pulling myself back into the here and now in the Shire. It’s been a day of living in other worlds. I wonder why.

Talking of the Shire, I explored another lane I’ve never been down before. There was a lone cow in a field, evidently ready to be milked. Just the one. I wonder why.

And my garden is almost empty of birds today. The food I put out is hardly being touched. I wonder why.


I just remembered, vis-a-vis the Hobbits and Charlies post, something Mr David of the Sillitoe Clan said. He suggested very pointedly, though not actually directly, that I'm eccentric. Can't imagine why.

If Music Be the Messenger.

Tonight is the night of the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. That makes it the harvest moon, and takes my mind back to the writing of When the Waves Call. It was the last short story I wrote with serious intent, and is probably my favourite.

It owes its genesis entirely to Maire Breatnach’s album Angels’ Candles, which set my mind flying off to a traditional bar on the storm ravaged coast of Connemara at the time of the harvest moon. I lived the music as I lived the story, and when the last full stop was in place, the tape broke. I’ve never heard a track from that album since. There are none on YouTube and the CD is expensive.

I don’t think I want to, either. The messenger came, delivered the message, and then left. Why call her back to hear it again? The flow goes on.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Being Job.

I painted the little strip of window frame that I’d missed yesterday. It took five minutes and I still felt dizzy afterwards. Today’s Inventory of Electronic Things Displaying Minor Glitches currently stands at:

Mobile Phone

It has to be me, doesn’t it? Bad vibes, I expect. Or maybe they’ve developed an adverse reaction to oil based paints, too. But that wouldn’t explain why I had to effect some hasty repairs to my rickety old garage this morning, one wall of which was beginning to lean out a bit too far for comfort.

One day I’ll turn into a frog, and then a princess can come along and take care of me. I’ve already got the looks; all I need now is the webbed feet.

Hobbits and Charlies.

I’ve been doing the rounds of the Shire today, even stopping for extended chats with a couple of fellow hobbits.

First up was farmer Sillitoe Snr who was coming down the lane on his 1966 vintage tractor.

‘Just taking it for a wash,’ he said. ‘The water pressure’s better down the bottom than it is up at my place. We’ve got a tractor run tomorrow.’

I asked him where the bulls had gone from the fields at the back and sides of my house. He hesitated briefly, and then said with more than a hint of rueful tone:

‘Ah, they’ve gone now. They were a nice bunch, you know.’

And then I saw about as much of a hint of emotion as you’re ever likely to see betrayed on the visage of an elderly farmer. He continued:

‘I hate it, you know. Hate it! I love my animals. It wasn’t so bad when I had the milkers; at least they’d had a life when it was time to go. These lads are in their prime. Hate it!’

And then he talked about the serious illness he’d had some years ago, and about his wife’s death in a car crash just a little way from home. His daughter was driving, and ran into a hay wagon when she was temporarily blinded by the sun sitting above the Weaver Hills. It was July. He put that aside and told me I should go and meet the Charlies in his top field.

‘They’re Charolais, really, but I like to call them Charlies.’

I headed off to meet the Charlies, but who should I encounter leaning on his gate watching the world go by, but farmer Sillitoe’s younger son, David. We talked at length about the meaning of life and the methods of living it. He said the reason he liked talking to me was that I was so open minded. (Ha! Not always, I’m not.) He talked about his mother, too, telling me about the near death experience she’d had a few years before her eventual demise in the car crash. I began to feel that there was something a bit special about Mrs Sillitoe. I wish I’d known her.

When I did eventually reach the field in which the Charlies were ensconced, they paid me scant attention. A couple of them seemed mildly curious, but mostly they just wanted to graze. Next time, maybe.

And finally, while I was talking to Stan the Elder on his elderly tractor, a portion of the Mill Lane family came walking past. There was mother, sister R, the pony and his passenger – a little girl of unknown genesis, but whose eyes suggested she was family of the Mill Lane clan. We exchanged greetings, and sister R even resumed her customary habit of smiling nicely, a trait that was noticeably absent the last time I saw her.

Welcoming What Isn't There.

Remember the partial denture I had fitted to fill the two gaps in my lower teeth, one on either side? I gave it a trial period of three days and intended to persevere for a week, in spite of the pain and discomfort. I thought my mouth might get used to it and everything would be OK. Something other than pain and discomfort tipped the balance.

This contraption consists of two ‘teeth’ attached to a little plate that fits behind and below the front real teeth. It also has two wire clips that grip the existing teeth either side of it. And guess what happens – food gets stuck underneath the plate and clips and you can’t remove it without taking the whole denture out. That means taking it out every time you eat something and cleaning it. Not very practical, is it? The alternative is to have a gradual build up of masticated and slowly festering food in your mouth all freggin’ day! After three days, the prospect was turning my stomach, and dear little denture had to go. Welcome back gaps.

Those gaps have been there since I was a child. They’ve been with me through hell and high water, through successes and failures, through tears and laughter, through combat and romance, through delirium and despair. They’ve accompanied a non-poet through a sometimes Byronic life.

So welcome back, old friends, and damned be he (or she) who cares that you don’t exist.

A Major Detail.

My desk is up against a window frame which I painted today. It’s an old fashioned, Edwardian window frame with lots of angles and curves. Painting such a frame takes a long time and a sure technique.

When I switched on the desk light tonight, I noticed that I’d missed a bit – just on the curvy section at the very bottom of the frame. You can only see it when you’re sitting down. I’m sitting down; I’ve been sitting down for quite some time; I keep looking at it, and it’s getting on my nerves. That’s tomorrow’s second job, if and when I get the big one sorted.

I’ve run out of Storyteller videos on YouTube. What’s next?

Weighed Down.

My posts have been too serious today. I don’t much like being serious these days, but I suppose you have to go with the flow. I would much rather be silly, but you need to be in the right mood to be silly, and today wasn’t a silly mood day. Most days aren’t; problems keep landing on the mat with indecent frequency. I have to try and sort the latest one out tomorrow.

A mystery winged its way in today, too – all to do with Buenos Aires, a strange search term, and the ability of cyber robots to identify a tool from a photograph. Fascinating, if you like that sort of thing.

Friday, 28 September 2012

They Tried to Tell Us...

Any post about the case of fifteen-year-old Megan Stammers and her elopement with a thirty-year-old teacher from her school would, of necessity, be long and complex. So let’s leave aside the relatively insignificant matter of the age difference, the rather more significant matter of the teacher-pupil relationship, and the fact that their escapade was interrupting her education. Let’s just keep it to the simple question of age in isolation.

Even if Ms Stammers’s beau hadn’t also been her teacher, there would still have been an outcry:

‘She’s only fifteen,’ people would have screeched. ‘She isn’t old enough to know her own mind in matters of romance. She isn’t mature enough to fall in love. She can’t know the meaning of the word.’

Well, frankly, neither do I, not even after a lifetime of practice. And neither does anybody else. It’s just one of those abstract terms which is used to describe an emotional condition too deep and mysterious to define in any way that makes it universally applicable. So let me say this.

I remember being fifteen quite clearly, and I can assure you that I knew my own mind very well. By that time I’d had two romantic relationships, one when I was thirteen and another when I was fourteen. The girls involved were sixteen and thirteen respectively. The way I felt about the second in particular was no different than the way I felt about all the other women I became involved with over the ensuing decades. Fifteen-year-olds are perfectly capable of falling in love – with all the concomitant slings and arrows – whatever it means.

I don’t know Megan Stammers, and so I can’t know her personality, her mindset, or her level of maturity. That means I can’t speak up for her as an individual, even though I can probably imagine what she’s going through and feel considerable sympathy. But it bugs me that people make judgements based on culturally prescribed notions of what people are and are not capable of at certain ages, especially when age limits are usually at best arbitrary and sometimes determined purely to suit cultural exigencies. Let’s not forget that when I started school it was considered normal to start work at age fifteen. When my dad was at school, it was fourteen. And before the advent of universal education, it was common practice for young people to marry and start a family at age thirteen.

And a note of caution: I do hope that people treat Megan Stammers with sympathy and understanding, because it strikes me that too heavy-handed an approach could do more long term harm than her romantic adventure would ever have done.

How Not to Kill Bad Ideas.

Somebody from my home town has today been found guilty of using racially inflammatory language on his website and given a suspended jail sentence. He’s an ex BNP councillor. For the benefit of those who don’t know, the BNP is a far right British political party composed of small minded thugs who want the country swept clean of all skins that are not properly white.

So let’s be sensible here. Holding racist views isn’t illegal. From what I can gather from earlier reports, the charge related to a term he used. He called black people ‘darkies,’ and this was deemed to be racially inflammatory. You could reasonably argue, therefore, that the full weight of the law has been thrown at him for using a politically incorrect word, and that’s likely to inflame the very problem that the action is supposed to be addressing. It makes him a martyr to the believers, and it’s likely to make the waverers stop and say ‘Hang on a minute. This is ridiculous. The bloke’s got a point, hasn’t he?’

This man is contemptible; his party is contemptible; everything it and its followers stand for is contemptible. But it’s more than that: it’s small minded and obviously pathetic. So shouldn’t we be finding a way of holding it up to ridicule, instead of trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer? If the culprit had been actively involved in orchestrating violence towards black people, then prison would be where he belongs. But what he actually did was express an opinion – albeit bigoted and narrow – and did so using politically incorrect language. The giving of a prison sentence, suspended or not, is only likely to be seen as nanny state once more strangling herself with her own knickers and being unable to know where sensible lines should be drawn.

The strong arm of the law won’t kill prejudice. The law has never been able to kill ideas, and rightly so. It takes the right kind of education to do that.

Rights of Empire.

I was just reading about the ‘Iron Man’ carving, a Buddhist artefact that was stolen from Tibet by the Nazis in 1938. Scientific analysis indicates that it was carved from a 15,000-year-old meteorite, which gives it both religious and historical significance.

So now – surprise, surprise – they’re talking about its monetary value. $20,000 is the current estimate, but it could be worth a lot more. But… but… shouldn’t they be giving it back to the Tibetans? ‘Ah,’ you might ask, ‘but would the Chinese let them keep it?’

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Post of Sorts.

Been far too distracted by various sorts of busyness to make blog posts today, or even think of things to write about. A few current random thoughts:

I see Cameron was doing his GW impersonation on Letterman last night. Wouldn’t you think that a man who’s received ‘the finest education money can buy’ in an establishment renowned for its leanings towards the classics would know what Magna Carta means? Further evidence, perhaps, that we should be re-evaluating what is and isn’t fine, and re-defining ‘education.’

The people at the pub have put some strings of little flashing lights around the trees and outbuildings. They look silly.

I re-discovered tonight that the websites of major retail chains are bloody hopeless. Trying to find what you want is a frustrating, time consuming, and often unsuccessful endeavour. All I wanted was flannel or brushed cotton sheets for the winter. An hour and four major retailers later, and… When I tried searching ‘flannel sheets’ with one of them, they gave me pictures of funnels. Another one gave me some basic details, but no prices. The other two gave me no positive returns at all. Hey, ho.

I think I might have offended, or at least irritated, somebody who used to be rather dear to me. That’s one thing I’ve always been good at.

I’m tired and grouchy. Time for tea and toast.

Being Properly Simian.

I’d say that I’m about average build. I’m 5’8, have a 38” chest, a 32” waist, and I reckon my arms are reasonably in proportion with the rest of me. So why have nearly all the upper body clothes I’ve bought over the last few years been a little too narrow in the chest, a little too full on the waist, a little too long in the arm, and sometimes a little too short in the length?

Could it be due to the fact that most of our clothes are made in Asia these days? Are Asian men a different shape than northern European men? If so, could somebody please show them a picture of an average northern European man and get them to change the proportions?

On the other hand, could it be that the clothing industry doesn’t want us to have a natural shape any more. Does it want us all to look parallel? If that’s the case, could somebody please tell them that I don’t want to look parallel, and I doubt there are many men who do? I want the bit between my upper arms to look wider than the bit beneath my rib cage. I’m a gorilla at heart, and I want to look like a proper gorilla. The next time I'm charged by Eric the Bull and I put my hand up and say 'whoa,' I want him to stop. I don't want all the other bulls egging him on with 'Go get him, Eric. He's just one of them wimpy parallel types. No problem, mate.' Do I?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Emperor Cookie.

Being at something of a loose end, I was idly browsing the images for Peter Skellern which Google kindly supplied at my behest, when what do you think I found? There, placed among such alumni as Richard Stilgoe, Victoria Wood and Peter Sellers, was my blog header.

How can this be, I asked myself. Is there, perhaps, an omniscient Emperor Cookie watching over the cyber universe, ever ready to reach out with acquisitive fingers, exclaiming

‘Aha! Here be writ the magic words Peter Skellern. I will take its likeness unto myself and place it in my gallery, for I am Emperor Cookie and all that I behold is mine.’

I bet it laughs maniacally and frequently. And I bet it bows the knee to none but the Great God Google.

The Moon and Smiling.

A change of routine was called for. The grey twilight walks were losing their appeal, and also starting to interfere with dinner time. It meant either having dinner earlier or later, or going for a complete change. I decided that now would be the right time to resume the night walks and put twilight into storage until next year (I really only like twilight between early May and early September anyway.)

It was a good decision. Being reacquainted with the spirit of the night was like meeting old friends again. Everywhere was soaked after days of rain, and so the drainage channels were in full spate and singing out their liquid baritone with great gusto in the darkness. Not that it was particularly dark, though, because Mistress Moon was almost full and lighting up the spaces between the trees. I stood and regarded her for some time, and I swear she smiled in return. Seeing her again after all those months was a real joy. It appears that Mistress Moon has become truly My Lady of the Dark Time. The trees seemed sleepy of course, as you’d expect now that the solstice has passed, but their company was still welcome. And the fields were none the worse for having been turned into a succession of small ponds.

I took my old route. I decided that trespassing on Mill Lane would be OK as long as it was dark and I wouldn’t be seen. But therein lay the difference between tonight and all those other nights last winter and spring when the fatigue problem was holding sway. Tonight I didn’t stop and turn round at the usual place; I carried on; I felt full of energy. And when I did eventually turn and come back, I still felt full of energy – all the way to my door.

And do you know what? As I was coming close to my house, I realised I was smiling an involuntary and unforeseen smile. Maybe it stemmed from that silent word of welcome that the Mistress and her entourage whispered into my ear.

Living the Roles.

There was a man walking across the town today wearing what I think of as the professional person’s regulation uniform – expensive suit, long designer raincoat, and carrying a big umbrella which also had a swish label on it.  He was tall and heavily built, a bit bloated but basically well groomed. On the other side of the street was a short guy wearing scruffy tracksuit bottoms (jogging pants to young people and Americans,) a worn old jacket and a tatty sweater. He had stubble on his chin, lank, unkempt hair, and his skin carried that pale, waxy hue that tends to characterise those from the poor end of town. He looked anything but professional.

I realised that I didn’t see those two men in terms of one having been successful in life and the other not. I saw them as simply two types of character, each playing his role in this interesting, but probably ultimately meaningless, thing called life. What struck me as the biggest difference between them was that the big guy was trying to show me how successful he’d been, whereas the little guy wasn’t.

*  *  *

And on the subject of clothes, I bought a winter sweater from the Sally Army charity shop to replace my 25-year-old blue one that’s becoming too ragged to wash. (It’s the same style and colour as one Bill Murray wore in Ghostbusters!) It might be second hand, but you wouldn’t know it. 70% wool and only £3.99. I was going to have a portion of chips for my lunch, but decided that if I scrubbed that extravagance off the list, the sweater would have cost me only £2.69. That’s the way to live.

Late Night Listening.

OK, so - it's gone 2am and I'm going to play the late night DJ thing and offer the incomparable Peter Skellern singing the Fred Astaire classic Just the Way You Look Tonight.

Only please, ladies, spare me the phone call asking 'Play Misty  for me.'  Eunuchs don't do that sort of thing.

Less is More.

I read today that somebody has been researching the longevity of eunuchs, and it seems that they lived on average a lot longer than other men. A tentative conclusion has been drawn that this vindicates a theory that there’s a connection between male hormones and short life expectancy.

I wouldn’t know, since I suspect my own male hormones went into a state of irrevocable atrophy a long time ago, but it did have me pondering possible alternative explanations.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Love's Lyrics Lost.

I have an old audio tape that has a collection of Fred Astaire classics on one side and Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours on the other. I played them both today while I was third-coating the corner cupboard, and the contrast was interesting.

I think it reasonable to assume that the best of popular romantic songs accurately reflect contemporary attitudes to the business of romantic love, so compare and contrast the confident and comfortable…

Oh, but you’re lovely
Never, never change
Keep that breathless charm
Won’t you please arrange it
’Cos I love you
Just the way you look tonight

…with the cynical, ascerbic…

Thunder only happens when it’s raining
Players only love you when they’re playing

They’re both typical of their time, and how times changed in a mere thirty years.

The Privilege of Comfort.

Do you know what I really like? When I get back from my late evening walk, it’s nearly dark. And if it’s been a cold, wet and windy walk, I like to stop on my way around the side of the house and look in through my office window. It’s comforting to know that I’m free to go in there where it’s warm, dry and light. Most of my fellow creatures on this curious road we call life don’t have that privilege, do they? And some of them are even human.

Soggy Britannia.

After the wet spring and summer we’ve had this year, we were all hoping for a dry autumn. Well, I’ve never known as many areas of Britain to be simultaneously affected by flooding as happened today. There are evacuations and rescues going on from Scotland down to the West Country, including in the town where I used to live in Northumberland. Several areas have had more than a month’s rainfall in twenty four hours.

It hasn’t been that bad here. We’ve had plenty of rain, but I’m not aware of any emergencies in the county. What did trouble me a little was seeing a mixed flock of swallows and house martins hunting low over the fields the past two evenings. I thought they’d all gone back to Africa now, but evidently not. It’s always a little sad to see them leave, but it’s much sadder to see them struggling for a final feed in such wet and windy conditions. Maybe the south wind is discouraging them from setting off. Maybe they’ll go on Thursday when it’s due to fall light.

Swallows and martins are birds of the long, warm days. Their mastery of flight is almost unsurpassed, and they’ve kept me well entertained through many a summer’s evening. Too many more summers like this one, and they might give up coming here altogether.

The Road.

Buddhists and others of similar persuasion tell me that the secret of happiness and fulfilment is to live the moment. Forget the past which has gone, and the future which hasn’t happened yet. There is only the moment.

This is inconceivable to me. I see nothing that is identifiably a moment. Time never stops, just as the sand in an hour glass never stops running. Living life with a physical body in a material reality is a never ending procession of prospect turning into memory with nothing in between. That, it seems to me, is the first dimension: the road on which whatever we are never stops travelling.

But then there’s the second dimension, the one we might call the current situation. ‘Current’ is an inadequate term in the circumstances, but it will have to do. That’s the group of fixtures with which we surround ourselves – family, home, friends, work, hobbies, and so on.

But fixtures come in various states of fluidity, and they’re all temporary. So what happens when the current situation drips away to nearly nothing, and all that’s left is the first dimension? The first dimension becomes mysterious to the point of being effectively unknowable. The road becomes a dark one on which we stumble blindly, with only memories visible behind us.

Buddhists and others of similar persuasion tell me that I’m talking about the Dark Night of the Soul, and maybe I am. And I suppose when they refer to 'living the moment,' they really mean 'experiencing the flow.' And maybe that brief glimpse of timelessness that I mentioned recently wasn’t a delusion after all. But how can I know?

Meanwhile, this thing in my mouth is getting on my nerves.

Fantasy Friend.

There's a beaver in the bath tub
And it's singing Sweet Sixteen
It really is the strangest thing
I've ever, ever seen

This is what comes of watching The Storyteller with a bottle of scotch in the wee small hours. Once there were more tangible diversions.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Today at the Dentist.

I think it’s about time for another dentist post. I went today to have the partial denture fitted – the one that was constructed to fill the two gaps in my lower teeth that have been there since both Adam and I were lads.

It’s horrible. Horrible, horrible, horrible… I swear it’s worse than a brace, even though I never had one so I can’t speak with authority. (When I was a kid, not even the girls had braces. The general view in Britain was ‘if God had wanted me to spend two years looking like all my teeth had holes in them, he would have arranged for me to be born in America.’ Ha!) As I was saying, it’s horrible. I feel like a wild pony that’s just had its first bit forced into its mouth. I want to kick and bite, although not on anything too tough because it hurts if I do that. Having something hard and unfamiliar in one’s mouth is most disconcerting. A certain type of woman might be familiar with that phenomenon, but I’m not even a woman, let alone one of a certain type. Eating is a strange and slightly unnerving experience, and it doesn’t even make me look younger. I’ll give it a few days and see whether I get used to it.

I wanted a pee while I was there, so I paid my first ever visit to the TLC For Smiles toilet. It has a notice on the wall which says Please dispose of sanitary items in the bin provided. I wanted to write underneath ‘What should I do with the unsanitary items?’ And when I came out, the receptionist went rushing in there making a sort of ‘grrrrr…’ sound. ‘You have to turn the tap off yourself,’ she said sharply when she returned. I didn’t know, did I? You expect everything to be automatic these days. The hand dryer was automatic, so it seemed reasonable to expect the tap to turn itself off. I’ve even been known to walk into manual doors in the mistaken belief that they would open without the need of effort on my part. Modern times are like that – confusing.

I swear the dentist was wearing a different uniform than usual. It looked too casual, somehow. He seemed a bit put out when I suggested that he looked like a punk rocker, which he didn’t really, but it sounded right. I’m wondering now whether they’ll let me change to a woman dentist. I’m none too keen on having a man put cold, wet fingers in my mouth. And warm, wet fingers are even worse.

On the subject of woman dentists, Medea was sitting in the reception area when I came out. Remember her, from about a year ago? There followed lots of interesting, informed chat about Romanian vampires, the fact that dentists are crap at doing scale and polish jobs, and whether the Greek Medea was a wronged woman or merely a bad guy.

And on the subject of Greeks, my dentist’s nurse (I wish I knew her name) looked more tanned than she had done the previous week. I asked her why and she said she’d spent time on a sun bed last Saturday. Ah, right. That puts her out of my league, then. By which I mean a higher social class, of course...

Creative Songwriting.

I was listening to some old Fred Astaire classics while I was painting yesterday. One was called No Strings and includes the lyrics:

Like a robin upon a tree
Like a sailor that goes to sea
Like an unwritten melody
I’m free, that’s me

The first two lines are trite enough; it’s the third line that impresses me. Relating freedom to an unwritten melody might sound obvious when you hear it, but it’s a moderately profound concept and not the first thing most people would think of if they were writing a song. And that’s what sets the classic balladeers like Irving Berlin apart from the common herd of popular song writers.

Me and My Sprite.

I was on my way to bed last night when I discovered that the kitchen sprite had been active again. The socket switch had been turned off and the fridge magnet had been moved. It isn’t me doing these things, I assure you.

I think that’s a bit naughty. Playing such tricks in the cold light of day is one thing, but doing so just before a chap goes to bed is a little disconcerting. Only a little, but disconcerting nonetheless. I was a little annoyed, but only a little. Just think how annoyed I’ll be if I find the pesky sprite has been drinking my scotch.

J'Accuse Yahoo.

I’ve mentioned before that some of the news items on Yahoo now feature auto play videos, which you can turn off but not before the 30 second ad has finished. They don’t let you turn the ad off.

If that isn’t bad enough, they sometimes pull this trick on news items related to tragic events. So while you’re reading about some poor woman killed by a falling tree branch in a London park, there’s an idiot actor jumping around at the top of the screen trying to persuade you to buy a new kind of breakfast cereal.

It isn’t on, is it?

Windy Night.

The wind is a-howlin’ and a-moanin’ tonight. I gather they’re having gales in northern England, southern Scotland and Northern Ireland. I used to live in the far north of England – in Northumberland, a mere two hundred yards from the grey North Sea. On stormy nights the wind would make the slates on the roof clatter violently. It sounded like a kid playing a tin drum in the room, and sleep doesn’t come easily when there’s a kid playing a tin drum in the room.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

If a Job's Worth Doing...

There’s a strong and chilly east wind blowing tonight. That’s bad news because the joiner who fitted a new bathroom window last year didn’t do a very good job. The casement doesn’t fit quite as well as it should, and so even my best efforts with draught-proofing sealer strip have failed to keep the wind out completely. And the bathroom window faces east.

This seems to be par for the course these days. The plumber who came to fix some taps a couple of months ago was little better than useless, the painter who painted the house last summer dripped paint everywhere, the computer technicians couldn’t fix my computer, and Nigel appears to be having trouble with the windscreen wipers.

Is it just me, or is this the shape of normal service now?

Today's Miscellany.

Today being anything but fine and pleasant, I spent hours and hours with a paint brush and a can of white, silk finish paint. I was putting the second coat on a built-in cupboard in the corner of my office that used to be pretty gruesome. The doors are oak, so that was OK, but the cabinet and architrave were stained that horrible dark treacle colour that people used to like for some reason. I didn’t, so now it’s a white built-in cupboard with oak doors, and looks like it belongs at last.

So then I went for an evening walk in the wind and rain, complete with elf coat. I was trying to get some inspiration for a blog post, since it seems to have run out of steam a bit lately with me being busy an’ all. Didn’t get any, apart from noticing again that there’s to be a Family Halloween event at the pub – mainly just a bonfire as far as I can tell. I wonder whether I’d be allowed in, since I’m not part of anybody’s family in these ’ere parts. That’s on the 27th October, and the following weekend there’s the Autumn Fair.

Imagine that: two social events in the space of seven days. Will I stand the strain if I go? Will I stand the disgrace if I don’t? And if I do go, will it necessitate averting my eyes from certain members of the village community to whom I am now persona non grata? It’s a tough life in rural England.

The only other event worthy of a mention is that farmer Andrew was going to cut my boundary hedge today, but his machine broke down. It’s me, you know. It is.

Oh, and maybe I should congratulate the Swiss on cocking a snook at nanny state who wanted to introduce a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces. They had a referendum on the issue; the British nanny just imposed it.

Life as a Backward Fairytale.

I was just watching an episode of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, when I realised that life is a sort of fairytale in reverse.

In fairytales, the lonely creature is transformed into a handsome young bloke courtesy of the love and dedication of a beautiful princess, gets shacked up with said princess, then lives happily ever after. In life, you start off being a handsome young bloke, get shacked up with the best you can find, fall out, get divorced, go off to live alone, grow old until you come to resemble a warty toad, then die.

Isn’t that interesting?

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Now I feel guilty. There have been eleven views of my post ‘Suspecting Psychopathy.’ No doubt they were all expecting to read something intelligent, and instead they got me ranting on about politicians with a bad sense of smell. Sorry.

*  *  *

And I haven’t given up on my twilight walks as I said I was going to do. The vernal equinox occurred just about six hours ago, and I seem to have grown used to the diminished energies. It feels as though the trees are nodding now, if not actually asleep. Maybe I’ll stop talking to them until around Christmas time when they should be waking up to prepare for spring. Anyway, things feel more or less right again, so maybe it’s just the period of transition I find disconcerting.

*  *  *

The sky above the western horizon was brilliant this evening – that hot, intense, orange/red colour that gives an impression of hell being just over the hills. Come to think of it, my home town is about twenty miles in that direction…

The Limerick Problem.

It struck me that it would be a neat idea to write a limerick about somebody from Limerick. It couldn’t be done. No rhymes, you see. Some places are easy to rhyme:

There was a young man from Bombay
Who went to the toilet one day…

Pimpsy. And it isn’t the –ick that causes a problem:

There was a young woman from Crick
Who ate a whole cow and felt sick…

The problem lies in the fact that Limerick has three syllables, and the accent is on the first of them. That means you have to rhyme the whole name, and words like dimerick and wimerick don’t exist.

Never let it be said, though… let’s try anyway.

There was a young fellow from Limerick
Who suffered from something called shimerick
Till a woman from Crete
Helped him back on his feet
By rubbing some oil on his jimerick

Limericks don’t have to be naughty, but where’s there’s doubt it’s a reasonable presumption.

Seasonal Perception.

It surprises me how often I read on blog posts and in comments ‘autumn is my favourite season.’ I’ve been seeing it a lot this year, especially from America which has had an unusually hot summer. And I think that gives the clue to it.

We in Britain tend to me more ambivalent about autumn. We like the colours, and maybe the cosy novelty of darker evenings spent closeted indoors, but Britain is set quite far north for such a densely populated country. We’re on the same latitude as Labrador and southern Alaska. That means we get less daylight through autumn, winter and spring than many of the heavily populated areas of the western world. And we have a maritime climate, which means that summers are relatively short, often fickle, and not overly hot. We start using the term ‘heatwave’ when the temperature threatens to rise above the 70s, even in July. We treasure our short summers, and we feel cheated if we don’t get a good one.

When summer gives way to autumn, as she now has, you’re as likely to hear rueful voices muttering ‘well, that’s it for another year’ as you are to hear somebody say ‘autumn is my favourite season.’

Post Titles...

… I think I should compose them more carefully.

‘Suspecting Psychopathy’ sounds serious, sensible, and psychological. Only it isn’t.

I feel tired and spaced out. The fatigue thing kicked in again tonight. And I’m having second thoughts on whether I could live with somebody.

New York confuses me. I think New York is supposed to be confusing. I was ready for bed six hours ago.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Suspecting Psychopathy.

Recent research has shown that psychopaths have a poor sense of smell. The two phenomena are traceable to the same part of the brain, apparently. The news report included the statement ‘…psychopaths, who are famously manipulative in the face of questioning…’

Aha! On Monday morning I want every Member of Parliament lined up to have their sense of smell tested.

The report also said that psychopathy is a severe personality disorder characterised by lack of empathy, antisocial behaviour and callousness. Right, then. Tory MPs first.

(Yet another Tory MP – a government minister, no less – is in trouble. When stopped by a policeman from riding his bike where it wasn’t allowed, he called the officer a ‘pleb’ and shouted ‘know your f****** place!’ That’s my boy.)

The Elf Hierarchy.

I just went for a walk in the pouring rain, wearing my rain jacket with the hood up as you’d expect. The man from Bag Lane said ‘Ha ha ha! (He laughs a lot, does the man from Bag Lane.) You look like a blue elf with little green ears.’ And I said ‘I know. Neat, eh?’

‘That conversation never took place did it, JJ?’

‘It did, Ted, yeah.’

‘It didn’t, did it, JJ?’

‘It didn’t, no. I made it up.’

I did see the woman from Squashley Bank, though, the one taking a husky and a toilet brush for a walk. She looked like an elf, too, a red and white one. I said ‘hello,’ but she didn’t answer. Maybe red and white elves and blue elves don’t get on. Maybe it’s a class thing.

High Level Conflict.

Talking of nostalgia, this is the most erotic super-ego video I've ever seen. It puts my super-ego very much at war with itself.

And another little thought: When two people look in the same direction, how do we know they're seeing the same thing?

Defending Nostalgia.

Having watched every episode of Open All Hours, now I’m going through every episode of Father Ted that YouTube has to offer. One a night. Sensible. Ration them or they become commonplace and lose their appeal.

These things take me back, you know? And being taken back is all about remembering the nice bits. That’s the definition of nostalgia. Remembering the nice bits.

‘But you shouldn’t be living in the past, my boy,’ I hear you cry. ‘Nothing you want is upstream.’

Yes, yes, I know all that. But we agree that there’s no such thing as the present moment, right, since moments don’t exist? And the future never gets here because as soon as it does it becomes the past. Right. Life and reality lie mouldering in the crypt. So maybe nostalgia is the best way to go after all.

I’m becoming really cynical lately.

Drink. Feck. Arse. Girls.

Those who’ve been denied the benefit of the Father Ted experience might find the last bit confusing. Actually, it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.