Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Whimsy Indicator.

I  realised something today:

Unintelligent people rarely display whimsy.

Narrow minded people rarely display whimsy.

Egotistical people rarely display whimsy.

So what does that say about the whimsically inclined?

The Gallic Way.

The little Fiesta having spent three days entombed in the collapsed garage with the roof sitting on top of him, I decided to take the little guy over to the big city to be checked out. No apparent problems, but he’s due for his annual test in a couple of weeks, so that should make assurance doubly sure.

While I was there I learned that Monsieur Renault has been sold on and is now the proud steed of a pretty young nurse, and I’m told that he’s behaving impeccably. Well he would, wouldn’t he? He is French…

Out of Adversity...

... sometimes comes something good.

Having failed to get my weekly bottle of American IPA beer, I bought a bottle of London porter instead. It’s dark, bitter and intense, with a hint of liquorice. And the brewery claim to be the oldest in Britain, having started life in the 17th century.

My ancestors drank this stuff, and I don’t blame them. Made up for being treated as cannon fodder, I suppose.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Ashbourne 30/1.

Dull and windy.

The End.

*  *  *

Oh no, there was one thing:

The young flibbertigibbet of a cashier who I’d never seen before asked me as I went through her till:

‘Did you get everything you wanted today?’

‘What?’ (I get so irritated by staff in chain stores who accost me with stupid questions like ‘Are you all right there, sir?’ Repeatedly. I scowl at them. There’s a man in Homebase who drives me up the bloody wall.)

‘Did you get everything you wanted?’

‘No. You’ve stopped selling that American IPA beer that I used to treat myself to once a week. You’re always doing this, and I don’t like it.’

‘Well,’ says the flibbertigibbet, ‘you could always talk to the manager. Maybe he’ll get some in for you.’

Ha! As if…. How many times have managers told me they can only stock what head office tells them to stock, not what their customers ask for? You’d think Sainsbury’s would teach their flibbertigibbets to tell the truth, wouldn’t you?

Another UFO?

I was walking along Mill Lane tonight when something caught my attention in the northern sky. It was a bright green disc moving at considerable speed from right to left and on a downward trajectory, apparently heading for earth (although that would only certainly be true if the object’s course was at right angles to mine.) I saw it briefly through about 30° of arc before it disappeared behind some trees.

Whatever this thing was, it was far bigger than a meteor or a plane’s navigation light, and it was green. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Any ideas?

The Blackmail Ad.

I’m back on the anti-ad campaign again. My latest pet hate is the one insurance companies use, in which a cherubic child looks most alarmed and has a speech bubble – or the equivalent of – which says something like ‘I can’t believe you don’t have life insurance, dad.’

The subtext, of course, is the implicit suggestion that if you’re a parent and don’t have life insurance, you are by definition a bad parent who cares little for his children. This amounts not only to unwarranted presumption, but is also a form of emotional blackmail. And we’re often advised, are we not, that it is folly ever to give in to emotional blackmail.

Ergo, one should never buy insurance from a company which uses this ploy.

Three Little YouTube Asides.

I was just listening to Loreena McKennit’s track Prospero’s Speech on YouTube. The title said ‘with lyrics.’ The song is, unsurprisingly, a musical setting of the speech made by Prospero at the end of The Tempest. So, call me elitist if you like, but referring to one of Shakespeare’s most famous passages as ‘lyrics’ seems oddly disrespectful. OK, I’m elitist.

*  *  *

I also noticed that the name of one of the commenters was ‘lardmonk.’ I don’t know what ‘lard’ means in other parts of the world, but in Britain it’s the name given to refined beef fat, and when I was a kid, a common component of the invective aimed at a person deemed to be useless was ‘ya great lump of lard!’ Lard plus Monk paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it? I wonder how he came by it.

 *  *  *

And to hark back to a bygone age, a few nights ago I watched the Russian Dervish sequence from Riverdance. The uploader referred to the three men and three women as 'a group of virtuous dancers.'  I suppose he wasn't terribly virtuoso in English.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Shire News.

I had the monthly Village Newsletter today. For some reason that currently defies elucidation, I like reading the Village Newsletter. Three notes:

1) They want ‘snow wardens’ to spread grit on the untreated lanes of The Shire during icy weather, but they don’t say how the spreading is to be done. I have my doubts.

2) There’s to be a Live Irish Music Night at the village pub this Friday, but I already knew about that and decided I shouldn’t attend. Few things are closer to my heart than Irish music, but there are impediments. For a start, I might have to rub shoulders with somebody who isn’t my best friend at the moment (and it isn’t who you might think it is.) Secondly, ever since the onset of the dreaded CFS, drinking alcohol before midnight sends me a bit lopsided, and the prospect of listening to live Irish music without a pint of Guinness would be unconscionably sacrilegious.

3) If anybody asks me whether I’ll be attending the ‘Age UK Roadshow,’ I might well drive my car over their feet at the first opportunity. ‘Wellness Shop with Lisa,’ on the other hand, sounds well good for a giggle. As it happens, however, they’re both Women’s Institute events, and I doubt they allow men into those. Not unless, that is, you happen to be a rare male of the species who can make jam and sing Jerusalem in a falsetto voice at the same time.

Spooky Without Spooks.

I once did a series of posts on spooky things that have happened to me down the years. There was one I missed out because, on the face of it, there was no suggestion of there being anything supernatural involved.

It happened when I was married. I was going to bed late one night, and as I opened the bedroom door my wife sat up in bed and stared at me with terror in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t answer. As I walked across the foot of the bed she watched me all the way, still looking scared as hell, and then she lay down again.

I concluded that she’d been asleep the whole time and didn’t wake her, but I felt very shaken. Being stared at as though you’re a dark demon crawling out of the wardrobe is a surprisingly spooky experience. Maybe fear is just a strongly contagious emotion, but it still made me wonder what the hell she was seeing that I wasn’t aware of.

When I asked her about it the next day, she remembered nothing.

Gain and Loss.

To those who might be interested, I can report that the car is now free and the garage non-existent. The builders came and demolished it today. The car appears to have escaped lightly, having apparently suffered only a few minor bits of cosmetic damage. As for the garage…

I liked my garage. It was a hobbity sort of garage – old, made of wood, and heavily attired in ivy. It also made the garden private, hiding about half of it from the eyes of Shire folk and strangers alike. I like privacy; it’s back to that old ‘pollution at the interface’ thing. So I miss it. I do.

Life giveth and life taketh away. I no longer feel trapped, but I’ve lost some privacy. I used to enjoy both, but life is rarely that kind for very long. The constant state of flux is one of her few reliable attributes.

Being Inventive.

That post of mine – ‘A Poem’ – has me thinking. It seems I’ve invented a new poetic form. You know how the Japanese have the haiku? I’ve invented the hokumu – two lines of five and six syllables respectively, and the first word of each line has to rhyme.

Try it at home, but don’t forget that JJ invented it. JJ has now passed into legend.

Being the One in Ten.

I said I was going to make a post about the descent (or ascent) into a reclusive mindset, did I not? I did. So here’s what seems to be a typical route.

Let’s suppose you’re an independently minded person, a free thinker who stands outside the cultural tram lines and looks back in. You begin to detect the sound of consensus, the hum of Mother Culture, and you realise that the hum operates at all levels and has a gently mesmeric effect on the great majority of people. Once you’ve heard it you can’t stop hearing it, and you find yourself increasingly viewing the consensus with a critical eye. In short, I suppose it can be said that you wake up out of the trance. That’s when the process begins:

… Once you wake up, you begin to lose common ground with those still under the influence.

… The more you lose common ground, the more isolated you become both emotionally and physically.

… The more isolated you become, the more you feel the need to create your own world with your own version of reality.

… The more dependent you become on that version, the more the encroachment of the ‘normals’ into your world feels and smells like pollution.

That’s the point at which you turn into the person who reaches for the shotgun as soon as anybody so much as leans on your garden gate.

It doesn’t always happen that way – I’ve known a number of free-thinking, hum-aware people who manage to co-exist perfectly well with the ninety percenters – but it’s what can happen, and I think the secret of avoiding it is support.

Family connections seem to help a lot, if you can maintain them. But you also need to gather about you as many ten percenters as you can and allow them access to your world. And you mustn’t lose sight of them, because they’re your buffer against the pollution.

To the recluse, isolation isn’t the problem. You get used to it and learn to be content with your own version of reality. It’s the bad smell at the interface that drives you crazy.

Monday, 28 January 2013

A Poem.

Drinking makes me weird
Thinking makes me weirder

It rhymes, sort of.

Olden Times and the Leaf Dancer.

I was just reading a few old posts of mine, and felt a little wistful at the fact that I used to make the odd good one in more relaxed times. I’m rarely in the mood these days (well, let’s say ‘at the moment’) to tip out the box of unrelated and occasionally surreal toys, and decide which ones to play with tonight. But, never mind; phases come and phases go.

When I was walking back up the lane tonight, something small scurried across my path. To all appearances it was a bunch of shrivelled leaves on a twig, blowing in the wind. ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ I thought. Or even up, in my case. (It’s uphill all the way from the pub.)

So anyway, the bunch of shrivelled leaves did a little pirouette and then waited for me to catch up. And then it led the way, dancing from side to side in my torch beam like a performer in a follow spot. It continued like that for quite some time before eventually bowing out and returning to the verge.

It was only a bunch of shrivelled leaves, wasn’t it? It couldn’t have been anything in disguise, could it? No, of course it couldn’t. Still, I’m little short of mortified that I didn’t think to applaud.

A Note from Dolorous Garde.

Who wants to hear the latest on the garage roof problem? Right, then…

The agent called me back on Saturday and said he’d get somebody here today. Nobody has turned up and it’ll be dark in a little over an hour. I tried calling the agent but he didn’t pick up, neither has he returned my call yet. So, I still don’t know when my car is going to be freed, and I still don’t know how much damage there is. I feel trapped, and I really, really hate feeling trapped. I think I might have been a rat in a previous life.

Meanwhile, the cold wind out there has risen to gale force. My old house is draughty, so it gets cold when it’s windy. It’s also very dull and we have driving sleet. Not the best of atmospheres in which to feel trapped.

I was just telling Beddy (my concrete garden bear) that life as a human can be difficult. He reminded me that humans also have all the fun, and I suppose he’s right. Roll on the day.

Undeclared Ghosts and Anonymous Mice.

People have occasionally asked me whether I’ve ever seen a ghost. Well, I’ve never seen a woman in grey walk through the wall with her head underneath her arm, no, but how can I be sure that some of the people passing me in the town aren’t ghosts? They might be, mightn’t they? So the answer is ‘I don’t know.’

And while I’m on the subject of ghosts, here’s an interesting little thing. I was pouring milk into my tea a couple of nights ago, when I heard the fridge door shut behind me. I must have left it ajar when I took the milk out. Now, there’s a slight slope on the floors in my house – it being old an’ all – but the slope falls away from the fridge. If the door had swung under gravity, which would be logical, it would have opened, not shut. That’s the same fridge where I occasionally find the little mouse magnets moved out of position. I said ‘thank you’ to whatever had shut my fridge door for me.

And talking of mouse magnets, I was pleased to see that the tiny wood mouse who comes out at night and eats up whatever the birds have left has survived the cold weather. He or she was there when I came back from the walk tonight. Of course, it might have been a different wood mouse. He wasn’t wearing a hat or anything.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

An Unfamiliar Sound and a Too Familiar Subject.

Twice tonight I was surprised by the sound of the wind in the tree branches. I’m not unfamiliar with that sound, but this was different. The words I would usually use would be ‘roar,’ ‘moan,’ whistle,’ or ‘hiss.’ Tonight’s sound was more like that of a bass flute, or somebody blowing over the top of a large bottle. It started quietly, and then rose evenly like a vehicle approaching along the road, or maybe some airborne spirit passing by. I wonder what that was about. The moon was high and full, and I realised that one of The Shire’s bigger houses is now empty. The man with the Close Encounters car – the pick up truck with the bank of lights along the top which looked so mysterious coming out of the mist – has gone, it seems. Pity. I quite liked him.

*  *  *

I’ve been thinking all day today about a treatise on the subject of ‘The Process of Descent, or Ascent, into the Reclusive Mindset’ (and the difficulties associated therewith,) but I decided there’s been quite enough of that for the time being. Maybe I’ll make it when I’ve pulled my own mind out of its present dolorous state and said something funny for a change.

Venting.

Do you want to hear about my latest little problem? No? Stop reading now, then.

I have an old wooden garage that is gradually rotting away. I’ve made several running repairs on it over the years, adding spars here and buttresses there, because I feared that a gale would bring it down one day. So why did I continue parking in there? There were reasons to do with a lack of off-road parking that is causing enough difficulty between my neighbour and me as it is, so I continued to strengthen it and continued parking there.

However… The strengthening I added was all geared to preventing sideways movement of the walls in strong wind. What I didn’t realise was how heavy snow could be. We had heavy snow throughout Friday night, and yesterday the weight of it brought the garage roof down. My car is now pinned by a fallen roof that is far too heavy to lift manually. It’s going to need mechanical lifting or jacking gear. And I’ve no idea how much damage it’s done.

The nearest town is seven miles away and there’s no bus service here any more. Such a service isn’t commercially viable and the local authority has stopped subsidising the minimal service we used to have. Taxis are expensive; to use one would double the cost of my week’s shopping. So now I wait for the landlord’s agent to send an expert, which I’m onto.

This week had already brought some nasty interpersonal problems and several losses. It hasn’t been a good week. OK? Shutting up now.

Defining Poetry.

I want to know what poetry is, by which I mean that I want to know what distinguishes poetry from prose.

It obviously has nothing to do with rhyming, since that’s just an outdated convention. It can’t be merely lyricism, since prose can be eminently lyrical. It can’t be about the distillation of a story or some musings down into the fewest number of words in order to achieve the purist form of expression. Prose can do that too. It surely can’t be achieved by the separation of sentences into lines. That seems to be a contrivance, and therefore insufficient to establish the full distinction of difference.

It has to be about metre, doesn’t it? Metre serves two purposes, both establishing structure and also providing a certainty of rhythmical integrity rarely achievable in prose.

Is that it? I’m hoping somebody will tell me.

*  *  *

I could have made a post about why I’ve been absent for a couple of days, but I’m tired of talking about ill fortune and the dangers of walking a solitary, unconventional road. Maybe I’ll make it one of these days – some time when I’m less afflicted by such dangers and it will sound less like whingeing.

Friday, 25 January 2013

A Select Club.

It’s been a day of sourness today, but at least something finally came into focus. It’s been sharpening for some years and I’ve made several references to it on this blog. Now it’s clear as a bell:

I don’t function at all well in close proximity to normal people.

Normal people rattle me. I find their concerns and preoccupations largely tedious, and they find mine mostly incomprehensible. At best, it means I have to make the effort to shift towards them if there’s to be any interaction. At worst, it means that when they push my button and provoke seething rage, low depression, or high anxiety, I have to put up with it. There’s no point in trying to explain; they just don’t get it. Why would they? They’re normal; I’m not. And I can find many examples of that going back to at least age twelve. It included my parents and the rest of my family even at that age.

I intend neither self-aggrandisement nor self-debasement in saying this. Neither do I imply any criticism of normal people. It’s just a fact of life. So how do I define normal, you might ask. Normal is the set of social, intellectual and spiritual parameters within which 90% of people function.

So, to all those abnormal people out there: hello. Nice to make your acquaintance. We’ll never meet, but at least we can pretend to be part of a select club – the 10% Club, where unlike but compatible minds meet.

*  *  *

I haven’t posted any music for a while, have I? The following is rather nice if you’re into gentle melancholy. The accompanying video doesn’t match the title at all, but at least most of the images are conducive to the music. It needs to be watched full screen.


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cabin Fever.

The Shire seemed bleaker than ever tonight. Snow is still lying thick, and so there are no animals around. The pub was in darkness even though it’s Wednesday, I haven’t seen or heard a vehicle on the road since tea time, and the air has a spiteful, incisive chill to it.

*  *  *

Do you know what’s odd? The fan heater in my office is quite loud when it’s working, and I keep hearing a woman’s voice singing among the noise of the fan. And what’s even odder is that it only happens after midnight.

Maybe it’s that naked young woman I keep seeing in my bathroom. She’d be a welcome sight if only she didn’t display an unfortunate habit of turning into an old crone every time she gets close. Or maybe it’s the twins; they’re creepy enough. I’ve tried talking to them, but they never answer. They just stare at me.

All work and no play makes Jeff a dull boy.


All work and no play makes Jeff a dull boy.


All work and no play makes Jeff a dull boy.

Must remember to mend that door panel tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Frugality in the New Age.

I’ve observed that this fatigue problem, with all its myriad symptoms, gets a lot worse in cold, damp weather. Today, the lying snow was augmented by an atmosphere laden with near-freezing vapour, and the Ashbourne shop was a bit of a trial. I was a good boy, though. I resisted the urge to waste money in a coffee shop. That sort of thing is for people who are driven to be kind to themselves, and I’ve never really had a high enough opinion of my worth to do that. Not when I'm alone, anyway.

Besides, I can only think of two characteristics I inherited from my mother. One is small fingers, and the other is a frugal nature. I remember my wife saying to me one bad winter:

‘I refuse to bathe in that bloody bathroom while there are ice crystals lying in the bathtub, and yet more ice on top of the water in the loo.’

I pointed out that the ice would soon melt when subjected to warm water, but she was unmoved. She took strip washes in the kitchen until the weather warmed. At least, I assume she did. I never looked.

And it’s worth pointing out that frugal people are trendy now, or at least they should be, since they’re more environmentally-friendly. In fact, if having a low carbon footprint were to become an Olympic event, I reckon I’d be on the podium every time. I do.

The Shire and Belonging.

I find myself wanting to make a long post about The Shire and the people who live in it. It’s breaking into factions, but the trend is definitely away from Middle Earth and towards Middle England. I’m not going to because the subject is too complex, too dependent on personal truths and perceptions, and pollution is a relative concept which relies on them.

What I will say is that the strength of the moon surprised me tonight. Even though she was all but hidden behind a veil of cloud, she still picked out the detail in the landscape clearly. It helped that the landscape is monochrome at the moment – a black tapestry of trees, lanes and hedgerows, stitched onto a white canvas.

I’m not sure that I belong here. I’m not sure that being a faction of one is quite right for a place like The Shire.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Present Condition.

Fading fast…

The coincidence of surnames ending in –ng just provoked another silly ditty in the ‘There was a lady…’ series:

There was a lady from Hong Kong
Whose husband’s name was Willy Wong
‘Your name I like,’
Said dear old Spike.
‘It’s just what made the cows go bong.’

It helps if you’re aware of the song.

*  *  *

… and no-win situations.

Shall I tell you what’s annoying? The heating in my office doesn’t quite cope with sub-zero nights, so I have a fan heater in here to supplement it. However, I do try not to turn it on until late because heat’s expensive, you know? Instead, I don my woollen jacket and make a hot cup of tea to help convince me that I’m not as cold as I think I am. So off I go into the kitchen, which – as previously stated – is just a big fridge in the winter, and I get even further chilled. I come back bearing my large mug of the steaming beverage and re-take my place at the computer, only to find that the bloody seat’s gone cold while I was away! How many things are there more uncomfortable than sitting on a cold seat? Not many.

Carl and I.

I’m not generally given to quoting sound bytes from the great and the good. Though they might be laudable enough when taken in context and with a measure of circumspection, in a general sense they’re usually overly simplistic, often self-consciously clever to the point of pretension, and sometimes just too damn shallow.

However…

I’m just setting out on an introduction to Carl Jung, and I can’t help identifying with a few things he said, such as:

‘To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.’

‘So every man whose fate it is to go his individual way must proceed with hopefulness and watchfulness, ever conscious of the loneliness and its dangers.’

Maybe this sense of the familiar can be explained by the fact that Carl and I had a critical experience in common: enforced separation from the mother figure at an early age. According to somebody called John Bowlby, who I’ve never heard of but was probably very clever, this commonly leads to a defensive attitude of emotional detachment, and to becoming self-absorbed and self-reliant to an unusual degree.

(He makes it sound like an illness, doesn’t he? Well, I’m gradually getting over the first condition, but rarely in public.)

And there are another couple of things that ring a bell with me:

‘Nobody reads my books,’ said Carl, and

‘I have such a hell of a trouble to make people see what I mean.’

Taken together, all of this makes me feel a little less adequate than I did before.

Harryspeak and Army Training.

The British Royal Family is head of the Establishment over here. As such, its members are afforded the best education money can buy, and that educational system always pushes them out speaking English impeccably, albeit with a funny accent. Impeccably, that is, as defined by the Establishment.

Prince Harry is a member of the Royal Family. He’s currently third in line of succession, and so you’d expect him to speak as impeccably as the rest, wouldn’t you? Ah, but, Prince Harry has been in the army for a little while, and the army is a culture unto itself. When asked whether he’d fired on the enemy in Afghanistan, he replied in the affirmative and continued:

‘If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game.’

It’s rumoured that he’s currently practicing the received inflections in the phrase ‘shit happens, man’ so that he can use it frequently and with confidence. I suppose it’s a belonging thing.

Dutiful Reading.

I’ve finished reading Frankenstein now. I’m glad I’ve done so, because it means I stuck to my guns and finished what I started. It also means I won’t have to continue reading it tomorrow. So what to make of it?

It is conjectured, I know, that Frankenstein is an allegory alluding to the dangers of playing God with science. Well, anybody in search of allegories can find them wherever they want to, just as easily as they can spot Jesus’s face in the bumps on a potato. Who can know whether Mary Shelley intended it that way? Maybe she did, but if she did, I’m afraid she executed it badly.

As I said in an earlier post, an allegory has first to work as a plausible story, and Frankenstein is so short on plausibility of both character and plot that the whole thing is risible. If, as one critic of Wuthering Heights avers, Heathcliff is a Byronic sham, then Victor Frankenstein is an utter Byronic shambles. He’s given to such outlandishly melodramatic speech and behaviour, and so lacking in the further reaches of fundamental reason, that it’s impossible to take him seriously. In fact, the only one of the main characters who argues his case convincingly is the Creature, and even that’s implausible given the source from which he learns his linguistic skills.

As for the plot, rarely a page goes by which fails to encourage a sense of incredulity at the sheer lack of thought given to it by the author. At the end, for example, Victor has died on Walton’s ship, and the Creature tells Walton that he is going to head for the furthest reaches of the North Pole, there to build a large fire and cast himself onto it. He jumps off the ship and onto an ice floe heading north, taking with him nothing but the clothes he stands up in. He fails to explain where he’s going to find the materials to make such a bonfire at the Pole, or what means he has to light it. The book is loaded with such ludicrous lapses.

My first thought on reaching the end was to cast the book onto my own living room fire, but I didn’t. Burning books is something I don’t do, not even bad ones. I expect I’ll just put it away somewhere and forget about it. I did my duty.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Icy Night Musing.

The walk was a bit tricky tonight. Most of the lane surfaces were slippery, and who wants to risk a potentially injurious tumble when the forecast temperature is -10°C? Accordingly, it was necessary to keep finding areas of snow or frozen slush in the middle of the road or on the verges where they existed. And that led me (as is my want, poor sod) into two areas of musing.

When you consider what a massive range of temperatures the universe is capable of producing – from the unimaginable heat at the surface of the sun to the intense cold of outer space – how vulnerable it makes you feel to realise just what a tiny fraction of that range the human animal is capable of tolerating.

But then the constant changing of position to find safe ground had me reflecting on the following question: Allowing for rather more hazardous circumstances than those in which I was engaged, how should one approach a seriously hazardous journey? Is it better to draw strength and inspiration from a contemplation of the goal, or is it better to remove all thought of the destination and concentrate on each footstep?

I erred on the side of the latter, not least because, to the traveller, the destination doesn’t exist until he gets there. And what surer way is there of arriving safely than to focus on completing each step successfully?

This post has the tone of a sermon about it, don’t you think? Sorry. I reckon it comes from reading that bloody book Frankenstein. I finished it tonight. More on that later.

Clan Blackbird and Universal Consciousness.

The friendliest birds in my garden at the moment are the female blackbirds. When I go out with food – and even sometimes when I go out empty handed – they hang around me, or follow me, or hop ahead of me. I greet them all by name, which is easy because they’re all called Mrs B. (How on earth they organise their mail deliveries is beyond me. I wonder the same about the women who live west of the Seven Sisters in the Scottish Highland, who are all called Mrs McCrae.)

So, today I hitched up the huskies and took the trusty sled to the retail park on the edge of Uttoxeter. And guess what. I was walking between the place where I get cheap coffee and the place where I get cheap oats, and there was a female blackbird behaving just the same as the ones do in my garden. ‘Hello, Mrs B,’ I said, and I swear she answered me.

I wonder whether universal consciousness is at work here. All female blackbirds the world over are friends with JJ, because JJ comes bearing food. What a nice idea.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

All Change.

You see how the world turns when you're blessed with CFS? Last night at this time I was afflicted with devastating fatigue and a severe attack of the chills coming perilously close to hypothermia. Tonight I'm dancing energetically to Caribbean Blue. But only briefly.

Being Unbalanced.

I noticed something odd tonight.

My footprints have always been quite close to the central line with both feet pointing almost straight ahead. But tonight I looked at my prints in the snow and found that something was amiss. They were still close together and the right foot still pointed almost straight ahead, but the left one was several more degrees to the outside. I’ve become lopsided. Should this worry me? Might it even explain the silly ditties?

There was a lady from Baghdad
Whose compass skills were very bad
She sailed one day
For Mandalay
But ended up in Trinidad

Maybe my multiple personalities are to blame. Maybe one of them is controlling the right foot, but a different one the left. What will happen when they want to go in different directions? Will both eyes water at the same time?

Being Bright and Creative.

Some bright and creative people over here in the bright and creative UK have just completed a bright and creative musical project. They left some sheets of manuscript paper where the birds would deposit their droppings, and then turned the poo blots into a musical score.

The news report said that the piece is called ‘Bird Sheet Music,’ which might be a deliberate malapropism, or it might be a misprint. Seems to me that there’s a word very close to ‘sheet’ that would not only be more obviously appropriate, but also deliver a telling double meaning.

Almost Normal.

We have icicles! Icicles are surprisingly uncommon these days. The temperature rose briefly yesterday and melted a little of the snow on the roofs, so now they’re fringed with icicles. It would look quite pretty if only there was sunshine to make them sparkle.

That’s what’s unusual about the current weather. If we get a big snow in Britain, the front normally moves away quickly and either a high or low pressure system sets in. One gives us a few days of cold, sunny weather, the other a mild period with a thaw. Not so this time. The weather remains bleak, grey and frozen, with a biting east wind and frequent snow showers.

*  *  *

And here’s an interesting side issue. To save money, the only room I keep heated during the day is my office, only adding heat elsewhere at night when I need it. Consequently, the temperature in most of my house at the moment is lower than it was last night when I was having the inner chill problem. But I don’t have the inner chill problem now. I feel cold on the outside, but not on the inside, which is how it should be. That’s what CFS is like. One day you’re struggling to stay afloat in a heavy sea, the next you’re swimming normally again. Well, almost normally.

*  *  *

And just to prove that I’m swimming almost normally, here’s the latest in the little ‘there was a lady’ series. I know they’re not very good, but they keep my mind ticking over. Just…

There was a lady from Tibet
Who kept a yeti as a pet
’Twas very rude
Ate all her food
How silly can a lady get?

Groan time. And time for me to attend to the needs of my avian friends. They’re hanging around waiting for food. As Captain Oates said: ‘I may be gone some time.’

Cate Therapy.

Tonight was a bit rough. The old fatigue problem produces different symptoms from day to day which seem to depend on such disparate factors as the weather and the price of baked beans. Tonight’s symptoms were:

1) Such extreme tiredness that you feel drunk.

2) An inability to stop feeling chilled inside to a debilitating degree, even sitting in a warm room. Ironically, this gets much worse if you succumb to the extreme tiredness and fall asleep.

Taken together they make you feel a bit low and desirous of moving beyond them, but how? I decided to watch a Lord of the Rings video on YouTube which contains many shots of Cate Blanchett’s eyes and general body language, at least one of which gives me an adrenalin rush every time I see it. I swear all human life is there, and they brought me back to life as if by magic.

Conversely, I’m irritated by a statement on a website that Ms Blanchett is ‘half American and half Australian.’ I thought about that and decided it doesn’t make a lot of sense. And then I thought of making a post about why it doesn’t make a lot sense, but chose not to.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Big Issues.

It seems that, according to botanists, the new Canadian banknotes have the wrong leaf on them. Experts say that it’s the leaf of a Norwegian species of maple, not the Canadian one.

‘You’re being pedantic,’ say the Canadians. ‘It’s only meant to be a graphic representation of a maple leaf.’

So who’s right? I seem to recall that the Canadians describe their flag as ‘A Canadian Maple leaf in red…’ Are they now covering their embarrassment with a convenient excuse, or are the botanists being pedantic?

Oh for such matters of great import to keep our minds from atrophying in the mire of mere trivialities. Such as, for example, Oxfam’s assertion that the world’s richest hundred people (yes, just 100) have enough wealth to end world poverty four times over. Though the detail might be complex, I’m sure Oxfam have a valid point here. They’re asking that we reorganise the way in which the world operates so as to achieve a better balance between the masses who die of want, and the tiny minority who bathe in unimaginable luxury.

I think the wrong people are in charge to have any hope of that happening, and maybe there’s a bigger picture to consider anyway.

Have Some More Rambles.

No more whinges about winter, eh? It’s becoming tiresome, right? Right. No more whinges about winter. (But may I just mention that the temperature in my kitchen tonight is 5°C. The recommended temperature range for fridges is 2-5°C, which officially makes my kitchen a very big fridge.)

*  *  *

Mel said to me tonight:

‘All experience is neutral. It’s only the construction we put on it that defines it as good or bad.’

This is a glass half full/ half empty thing, right? I agree. So if you get leprosy, you should see it as a damn fine way of losing weight without recourse to diet or exercise. Got it.

*  *  *

My probable Irish ancestry just came up with a poem in order to demonstrate that we Irish make very good poets – which is much better than eating them like we used to.

There was a lady from Bangkok
Who kept a rabbit down her frock
Upon the hour
Come sun or shower
It popped up like a cuckoo clock

Friday, 18 January 2013

In the Bleak Midwinter.

I shouldn’t have mentioned the retreat from Moscow. The coincidence of similarities was all too evident tonight. The Shire is bleak and snowbound, with an eye-watering wind whispering replies to the grunts of my footfalls on ice-encrusted snow. I was, at least, grateful that I didn’t have dysentery.

I followed a set of fresh footprints when I walked down the lane. They were about the same size as mine, and I wondered who’d made them. Who would be crazy enough to go out walking on such an inhospitable night as this?

Apart from a dog fox, that is. I heard one barking close by, just as I set foot on my path when I got home. I turned around and saw him break cover a few yards away. His dark, shaggy shape watched me for a few moments, and then trotted on. I hope his coat was warmer than mine.

Oh No, Not Again.

I thought I would never have to do this again.

I once spent all of a freezing Saturday in the loft of an old cottage, clearing 2ft snowdrifts to avert the damage they might have done when they melted. The reason for the snowy intrusion was that much of the torching had fallen off over the century of the house's existence, and the previous day’s blizzard had driven an awful lot of the white stuff through the gaps. (Torching, by the way, is the plaster-like concoction which they used to seal the gaps behind the tiles in the days before roofing felt.)

When I moved into this house in 2006, I persuaded the landlord to have the torching renewed so that I wouldn’t have the same problem again. They did a good job, but apparently not good enough. Since we’re being treated to a bit of a blizzard today, I thought I’d go and check. Most of the torching is good, but there were still four or five piles of snow that had come through gaps, one of which wasn’t small enough for comfort. I thought I’d better get a shovel and a big plastic bag and remove it.

The loft here is difficult to get into through the tiny entrance in the bathroom ceiling. And it’s too small to move around in comfortably. You have to crawl, feeling all the time for the joists which are hidden by lagging laid at right angles. And then you have to stretch and twist to get at the snow. And lofts are always cold, dark, dirty places at the best of times. Mercifully, it was a much smaller job than the last one.

Did I mention that I don’t like winter?

The Memory Effect.

Memories might only be faded photographs of something that doesn’t exist any more, but sometimes they can be significant. They can put down markers to a story still extant. They show you where you were then compared with where you are now, and you wonder how the hell you got from one to the other. And nothing is better at triggering memories than music.

So it is with this. It’s all about priestesses and playing games and discovering what is most profound in human connection.

It’s also a timeless little gem, even if it doesn’t trigger any memories and have you glancing at Elysian Fields.


Mother of all Rambles.

You know, the previous post could have been a lot longer. When I’m out walking the lanes at night, I get these little germs (which isn’t a typo) of observation, and they grow into long discourses, and I decide to make a post about them when I get back.

But who wants to read long philosophical discourses from somebody who isn’t even a philosopher? Bigger minds than mine have had a go at philosophy, and still all they’ve come up with is Yet Another Theory. So instead, I try to distil it down to something short, just for the sake of having something to write. I suppose that makes me the philosophical equivalent of a poet or a glass of gin.

Be glad you’re not accompanying me on a night walk down the lane. You’d probably get a long discourse from a strange being huddled inside a tattered coat and a woolly hat. You’d get bored, and probably faint or something. You might even feint a faint, just to shut me up.

It’s still snowing out there, and this is only the showery phase. The big stuff is coming to bury us tomorrow. And here’s a ditty from the swamp creature. I don’t see him very often, thankfully.

I met a lady from Peru
And, being polite, said ‘how d’you do.’
‘Front, back or side,’
She said with pride.
‘Just any way you want me to.’

Turned out she was a hairdresser.

So much of life is about perception rather than reality, you know. And talking of life, guess who I might be having a conversation with this weekend, for the first time in two years. A star in the west, that’s who.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Answering the Question.

Tonight’s walk wasn’t quite as cold as last night’s, but it was still a bit chilly. And the wind had risen, which made it feel colder. And it was snowing. I trudged on, taking in the atmosphere of it all.

It occurred to me that if any of the locals saw me out tonight, they would probably be even more convinced of my strangeness than they are already. (What am I talking about? What’s this ‘locals’ business? I’m a local. But then, I think I’m strange, so that’s OK. To continue…) They might ask me ‘Why the hell do you do it?’ So, failing the close attentions of a fellow local, I asked myself the same question (talking to myself comes naturally anyway – always did.)

Well, for the experience I suppose. A case can, and often is, made for the assertion that:

a) Since the past no longer exists and the future is unknown, there is only now (even though a case can also be made for the assertion that now doesn’t exist either. And yet it does – or seems to – in an odd, incomprehensible sort of way, so let’s go along with it for the sake of simplicity.)

b) Life is experience; experience is life. There is nothing else at this level.

OK then, the reason I’m doing it is for the experience. Doesn’t that just make perfect sense?

A Dilemma.

I started feeding the birds the first winter I lived here. I wanted to help them through the lean time, and I expect I did. But it leaves me with a dilemma.

When the weather is as consistently cold as it is at the moment, the birds become frantic. The ground remains frozen and there are no seeds or berries to be had (for some reason, the ivy hasn’t fruited this year – presumably because of the exceptionally wet summer.) And so they’re turning to me, and the job of keeping them supplied is almost full time.

No doubt I’m helping some to survive who would otherwise die of cold and starvation. That seems good. On the other hand, they’re dependent on me, and that doesn’t. What does one do? Harden the heart and let nature take its course? There’s a certain rightness about that, but I would find it extremely difficult to do.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Moscow Connection.

Tell you what: going out for a walk on a night like tonight is a bit like being part of the retreat from Moscow.

OK, maybe it isn’t quite as bad. At least I had several layers of clothing and a woolly hat on. And I didn’t have quite so far to walk, or dysentery, or hunger pangs. And maybe it wasn’t quite as cold as it gets in a Russian winter. But it gives you some idea of what it might have been like.

Maybe my current dislike of winter stems from having departed a previous life while retreating from Moscow. There’s an interesting thought.

Swanky Gloves and Silly Stories.

When the outside temperature drops as low as -5° Celsius, I take it as adequate cue to don my seriously good gloves when I go out for the night walk. Tonight being forecast to drop rather lower than minus five, on went the gloves.

All my life I’d wanted a pair of seriously good gloves, and last winter I finally laid out the money and bought the most expensive pair the shop had in stock. They’re heavy and thick, like boxing gloves with fingers. They have a fleece lining as well as the body insulation, and they have lots of fancy buckles and straps, the exact purpose of which eludes me but they look good. Best of all, they’re black, with the maker’s logo – White Rock – embossed in red. In short, they’re a pretty swanky pair of gloves. I assume they’re pukka skiers’ gloves, and skiers are a swanky bunch, aren’t they? They drive Volvos.

I did think of dropping into the pub, just to swank with my swanky gloves, but thought better of it. The good burghers would have looked at my dirty wellies, my raggedy work jeans, my winter coat that’s falling apart at the seams (it really is literally falling apart at the seams) and my tatty old woolly hat, and then declared:

‘There is incongruity afoot here. The gloves do not match this ill-attired peasant. He must have stolen them from a rich person’s Volvo. Seize him!’

People have been accused, tried and convicted on flimsier evidence than that.

I might have been summarily suspended by the neck from the nearest tree. At very least I would have been taken before the magistrate and condemned to having my autumn years spent in ignominious incarceration.

I gave the pub a wide berth.

*  *  *

If you think that’s implausible, you should read Frankenstein. It gets sillier and sillier by the page. It reminds me of a story I wrote when I was nine, the denouement of which revolved upon the unlikely incidence of a match falling from somebody’s pocket and striking, thus setting a fire which razed the witches’ house to the ground. Frankenstein is becoming that bad. It lends itself to the gnawing suspicion that it was written by an immature nine-year-old with no clue as to how things work, but with a skill for writing impeccable but stodgy and turgid English. I’m reading it now for two reasons:

1) I like to finish what I start.

2) The sheer implausibility of it all is becoming an amusement in itself.

Negative Flow.

I lost £2 in Ashbourne today. That is, I lost the voucher half of my car park ticket which would have enabled me to claim it back against my shopping in the supermarket.

I know £2 isn’t a lot of money, but it’s the principle. I hate waste in all things. And it’s what it represents – the negative flow of money energy that’s been dogging my footsteps for the past couple of years. It’s about time it turned positive, as it usually does eventually. But how do you choose the time? Was it right to go without lunch to recompense myself for the lost two pounds? Is that how it’s done? Probably not.

‘Let’s look on the bright side,’ said father.
‘What can’t be ’elped must be endured.’

OK, let’s look on the bright side. There should be a joke coming, but I can’t think of a good one. It’s cold in my office, so I’m off to cook dinner.

You know, there’s something going on in my life at the moment. It’s subtle and distant, but highly significant. And it’s a secret. Bye for now.

Winter Continues.

Ever since the weather turned full zero, by which I mean that the temperature is staying below freezing even during the day, my garden has become a refugee camp for the local birds. Every morning when I go out with food, they’re perched in battalions on greenhouse, hedgerow and shrub, waiting and watching. And the amount of food that usually lasts two hours is gone in about fifteen minutes. I had to buy double rations of oats in the supermarket today. British garden birds seem to favour porridge oats above all else when the weather gets this cold.

Meanwhile, The Shire looks a bit like a Christmas cake. The tree branches have been heavily laden with thick hoar frost all day; and even I, hater of winter that I am, can’t fail to be impressed by the beauty.

Down Among the Ad Men.

OK, here’s what really bugs me about YouTube:

YouTube doesn’t charge, but since few things come free in this world, there’s still a price to pay. The price – as is usually the case with ‘free’ internet things – is being subjected to the soul-destroying blatherings of the admen. Let’s face it, there aren’t many good adverts out there. Most of them are either inherently mindless, or at least aimed in the general direction of mindless people.

So, off you go to YouTube and select a piece of music that you’re in the mood to hear. Music, as all non-mindless people know, is capable of transporting us to an infinite number of alternate dimensions – dimensions to which we want to be transported – dimensions that are difficult to access any other way. This is the nearest most of us get to the magical world beyond the rainbow. And what do we get first as an aperitif? Some overweight, brain dead bozo rampaging up and down a train like a warthog on speed, trying to find his executive-style wife so he can give her the latest, multi-chemically-impregnated offering from junk food f****** heaven! And when the music does eventually get underway, another advert jumps up on the screen to obscure the accompanying video.

Sad, shameful, hideous.

If we have to have ads, couldn’t they at least try to pick ones that match the magic?

All of which proves, I suppose, that there aren’t any HSP types in the advertising business.

Fudging Frankenstein.

However much a story is meant to be an allegory, it still needs to make sense as a story, right? Well, there’s an awful lot in the story of Frankenstein that’s irrational or implausible. Most of it I’ve tried to ignore, but this is the big one:

Victor’s narrative never says how he actually made the creature. I was assuming he’d put random bits of cadavers together, partly because the films take that route, and partly because there was early reference to scouring graveyards and charnel houses for bodies. But he never actually says that’s how it was done. And maybe it wasn’t.

Mr C has now prevailed upon V to make him a mate and threatened dire consequences if he doesn’t comply, so that’s what V is currently engaged in. And where’s he gone to make the second creature? To a small, remote island in the Orkneys which only has three shacks on it, one of which V has rented to do the job. And all he has with him is his laboratory equipment. And there’s no mention of graveyards this time.

Hmmm… I suspect that Mary has glossed over a pretty important element here, but time will tell. Reading on.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Shire and the Winter Queen.

Call me a wimp and a whingepot if you like, but I don’t like winter. It constricts my energies and irritates my mind; it makes me uncomfortable and I’ve had enough of it now. Yes, I know all the arguments about natural cycles and things, but they don’t get snow in the Amazon basin do they, and that’s natural enough. The birds don’t like it either. They were in a bad mood today, especially the blackbirds.

So anyway, The Shire had an air of frigid desolation about it tonight. The pub was in darkness, some of the bigger houses were in darkness, not a single vehicle passed me, no dog barked, no owl hooted, and no wind whispered in the branches. The only sign of life I saw consisted of a pair of arms clad in pink engaged in some presumably mundane occupation at the kitchen window of a cottage in Mill Lane. They at least were moving, I think. The cars standing out in the open, however, looked abandoned, left to atrophy by their human owners and subsequently claimed by the Winter Queen for her petrified menagerie. Even Mistress Moon was wearing her spooky aspect in which the yellow crescent lies on the underside instead of on the right as a proper waxing crescent should. Seeing the two horns turned upward, it was easy to imagine that two sinister eyes might suddenly open and stare at me.

And might I mention that my fingers were tingling, even though I was wearing gloves?

My fingers were tingling, even though I was wearing gloves.

Skill and Speculation.

There’s a woman I sometimes see walking around the lanes, pushing a baby buggy with one hand while controlling two dogs on leads with the other. I always admired her skill in doing that. I saw her again today, only this time she had the baby buggy and four dogs on leads.

This has to be down to the famed female skill for multi-tasking, doesn’t it? Either that or the dogs were huskies in a past life and are conditioned to walk parallel with each other and in a straight line. Maybe they even think they’re pulling the baby buggy.

Whatever the answer, all four dogs seemed happy, and there are few delights in life to match the sight of a happy dog. Whether the woman and the baby were happy I have no idea. I find the body language of babies quite incomprehensible, and the woman was wearing a hat.

Food Fetishes.

You know how some people can eat a whole box of chocolates in one sitting? (They usually have blue hair, a surfeit of maladjusted poodles and a 50” TV set, but not always.) Well, I’m the same with bread. Give me a loaf of good quality bread and I have great difficulty putting it away until tomorrow.

Oddly, I’m not keen on most of the centres you get in boxed chocolates, especially the fruit creams. The invention of lime cream chocolates has to be one of the very lowest points of human endeavour. Hand made Belgian chocolates, on the other hand, are something else again. Come to think of it, I haven’t had a hand made Belgian chocolate for about twenty years. I have a vague memory of savouring one while watching the TV alone one Christmas – Ghostbusters, I think it was, or maybe Eraserhead. It definitely wasn’t the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast. I would have had too much respect for the chocolate.

Time for another scotch. That’s more of a comforting habit than a fetish.