Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Sad Circumstance.

Something reminded me today of those times when I had to take an animal to the vet to be put down. There’s something insufferably bizarre about going through the practical motions to bring it about. I never had much difficulty making the decision once I was convinced that the animal was in pain or had no quality of life left, but the sense of desolation was still a bit unpleasant. I first felt it as a young child when Peter the budgie died, and it got worse as I grew older.

And do you know what I find really bizarre, even though I obviously understand the rationale? You have to pay for it. You have to give somebody money to kill your beloved companion. That’s one of life’s weirder little tricks.

The News in Balance.

I thought my TV had packed up at lunchtime, but it only needed the power supply switching off and on again. So I read the BBC text news pages over lunch. They didn’t do much for my digestion.

They included stories of police brutality, the Catholic archbishop who’s had to resign over revelations of ‘inappropriate behaviour,’ substandard MRM products getting into the food supply through a legal loophole, the sex trafficking of 13-year-old girls, the Conservative local politician who’s resigned after remarking that disabled children should be put down because they cost the authority too much money… They’re the first five to trip off the top of my head. There were more.

Still, there was one bit of good news. Rosa Parks has finally got a statue in DC. It might not matter much in the greater scheme of things, but at least it sends out a healthy message. It shows that, however much the Establishment is proving itself to be horribly untrustworthy these days, at least there’s a corner of it capable of recognising an ordinary person who had the courage to stand up for right values. I don’t really have heroes, but people like Rosa Parks come closest.

Crocuses in the Van.

The first crocuses are flowering today. There’s one in my garden and another on the verge down the lane. Although a few straggly primroses make an attempt to show themselves early, it’s always the crocuses that provide the first vibrant colour after the white of winter snowdrops.

Both crocuses are deep yellow, which seems entirely right since the spice saffron comes from the crocus family. And although the saffron crocus is an autumn flowering perennial, doesn’t the brave little flower at the head of spring’s vanguard deserve to bear the colour of its more august cousin?

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Ashbourne 27/2: Hilarious or Extremely Interesting?

Nope. Boring. Ashbourne is always boring these days, and I suffered yet another malfunction while I was there. I took the car into the garage to check the air in the tyres, and discovered – in passing – that the electric window on the driver’s door has stopped working. It goes down, but not up again. The motor sounds tired. All of which is probably just the universe reflecting my present state back to me. ‘Down but not up again’ describes me rather well at the moment – in more ways than one.

The only thing that caught my attention was a poster in the window of the Age UK charity shop. It said that to help the elderly stay warm this winter, they’re providing them with free thermometers. It omitted to say what the calorific value of a thermometer is, or how long one is expected to burn in a controlled environment.

The Shire and Sydneywood Horror.

I heard an odd noise when I was walking down the lane tonight. I heard it four times, each one sounding closer until the last one seemed to be just the other side of a nearby hedge. It would be difficult to describe accurately; the nearest I could get would be to say it was a grumbling, snorting sort of noise. It didn’t sound like a horse, a cow or a sheep, and there are no pigs around here that I know of. But then I wondered…

I read once that there are wild boar at large in the British countryside, so maybe that’s what it was. I told myself that British wild boar are shy creatures which avoid human contact – nothing like the giant ones that people encounter in Australian horror films. (And doesn’t that just say something? The Chinese and Japanese have brilliant creepy ghosts in their horror stories; the Aussies have big hairy pigs. Must be all that Fosters lager.)

So anyway, I chose to trust my theory for once and completed the walk. I noticed at one point that the moon is full tonight, but I’m sure it was merely coincidental. A werepig?

Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a pig when the pigswill flows
And the moon is full and bright

Nah. Dingoes’ kidneys, mate.

A Little Non-Post.

I was going to post two YouTube videos tonight – Cara Dillon singing The Parting Glass, and the finale of Boorman’s Excalibur (with music by Wagner.)

I resisted the urge because quests and queens are very personal to a chap, you know? They are. Goodnight.

The Usual YouTube Rant.

I wanted to listen to Bob Dylan’s original recording of Boots of Spanish Leather tonight. It used to be on YouTube, but it isn’t any longer. Instead we get this:

Bob Dylan – Boots of Spanish Leather (Original)

Only it isn’t original; it isn’t even Bob Dylan. It’s some guy who can pluck a few chords on a guitar, but none too well. He doesn’t sing so brilliantly either, and his rendition is utterly devoid of the strident melancholy that made the real original so worth listening to.

There ought to be a law against it. There should also be a law against vested interests taking songs off YouTube once the artists and recording companies have earned more from one song in a few years than a deep sea fisherman makes in a whole lifetime of risking his life among the tender mercies of forty foot f****** waves! There should.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Seven Meaningful Notes.

1) My boundaries are being crossed far too often at the moment. I get growly, withdrawn and defensive when my boundaries are crossed, and I rarely stop being growly, withdrawn and defensive these days. Even Smaointe is failing in its duty of care to my spirit, but maybe that’s because it’s eighteen years since I had a spliff.

*  *  *

2) Tomorrow I’m scheduled to give Mel a tutorial in how to use Skype. Mel is the only person in the whole wide world who is less comfortable with the mysteries of computer programs than I am. ‘You press the button marked Call, and then wait for the person to pick up.’ Genius.

*  *  *

3) Tomorrow is also the day for doing the weekly shop, circumstances permitting. Maybe something Hilarious or Extremely Interesting will happen and I’ll have something to write about on my ailing blog.

*  *  *

4) The person-who-comes-to-my-blog-by-searching-my-name has made another appearance. I suppose a mystery is the next best thing to something Hilarious or Extremely Interesting.

*  *  *

5) A man was parking his car in his driveway when I walked past tonight. I said ‘Evening’ but he only stared at me silently and with apparent suspicion. Bears wearing woolly hats must be an unusual sight in the Shire.

*  *  *

6) I top-coated another section of skirting board today. I thought of watching it dry, but didn’t feel up to the effort. Too stressed.

*  *  *

7) Ugh.

The Tale of Gonwid.

A very short story, as promised.

*  *  *

Gonwid the bear lived in a small cave which was set high above the river valley where the other animals lived. The other animals didn’t have much to do with Gonwid; some feared him a little, but most just thought him ugly and possessed of strange notions which they didn’t understand, and therefore considered silly.

One day at the end of summer, when the air was turning cooler and the greens were becoming tinged with a little yellow and brown here and there, Gonwid was strolling alone along a woodland path. He saw something move ever so slightly nearby, and walked over to investigate. A caterpillar was sitting on a fallen tree, and every so often it moved ever so slightly.

‘Hi,’ said the caterpillar.

‘Hello,’ returned Gonwid.

‘Do you have any friends?’ continued the caterpillar.


‘Me neither. Would you like to be my friend?’

‘Yes please.’


And then the caterpillar crawled into a hole in the log and disappeared. Gonwid waited, calling ‘Hello’ at respectful intervals, but the caterpillar only said ‘Mmm…’ now and then, and remained hidden. He did hear the sound of rustling as his new furry friend moved around in its dark little place, but of further sighting there was none, and so he went home.

Gonwid walked along the path often after that, always stopping to call into the hole with a general greeting, or a remark about the weather, or a muse on the deeper meaning of life. Sometimes the caterpillar would poke its head out and answer with some perfunctory remark of its own, but mostly it just rustled.

‘Strange friend,’ he thought. But he persisted in his avowed intent to be a good companion through the winds and rains and snows of winter, always stopping to talk to the caterpillar, always listening for the rustle, always reminding himself that a strange friend is better than no friend at all. And then the rustling stopped.

Spring had arrived. The browns were filling with green again, flowers were appearing along the fringes of the path, and the sun cast shorter shadows at noon. But no sound came from the log. Day after day he called and listened and waited, but in vain. Until, that is, one day when the sun was high and hot and another creature was sitting where the caterpillar had sat.

‘Who are you?’ asked Gonwid.

‘Butterfly,’ said the creature.

‘You’re very beautiful.’

‘I know. I’m a Peacock butterfly. Don’t you see my many iridescent colours and the big eyes I have on my wings?’


‘Well there you are, then.’

‘Have you seen a caterpillar around these parts lately?’

‘No. Caterpillar’s gone.’



‘Gone where?’

‘Just gone.’

And then the butterfly stretched its wings and rose into the air, joining myriad other butterflies racing to feast on the multitude of flowers now filling the neatly tended gardens in the valley. Gonwid turned and looked at the hole in the log. He called one last time, but only the searing sharpness of silence came back to him. And Gonwid never saw the caterpillar again.

Clueless Tonight.

Still a bit under the weather, but I have to say something some time, don’t I? So let’s stick with the tried and trusted:

The Shire tonight: cold, windy, damp, dark. Somebody flashed their headlights at me, though I haven’t a clue who it was. I waved anyway, just in case I was supposed to.

The beer tonight: Bulldog Strong Ale (6.3% ABV) which says on the label ‘Imported from England.’ It gets odder. The next line says: ‘Birra doppio malto da consumarsi preferibilmente entro.’ I’m drinking it anyway, even though I haven’t a clue what it means. You don’t care when you’re depressed.

Tonight’s activity: writing a very short story. Since it’s so short I’ll post it here, even though you won’t have a clue as to what it relates. It’s called The Tale of Gonwid. Sounds Arthurian, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Oh. That's OK; it isn't.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Legal Poison.

Forget the depression post for the time being. I thought my little black dog had gone back to sleep this morning, but he’s still growling with intent. So let’s do the aspartame post instead, just in case there’s anybody out there who isn’t yet aware of the infamous aspartame issue.

I’m not going to attempt the whole story on a blog. There are countless internet sources doing that, and my technical knowledge is limited anyway. Instead, let me offer a few bullet points to lay out the basics of what appears to be a very serious issue.

1) Aspartame is the ubiquitous artificial sweetener used in nearly all sugar-substitute products, most notably ‘diet’ versions of fizzy drinks.

2) I gather that when its creator, Monsanto, first sought a licence to use it, the American Good Guys (the FDA) refused because independent research indicated that it was just too injurious to human health. But then the American Bad Guys (the combined forces of the political system, corporate America, and those researchers who were beholden to corporate America for their funding) secretly marshalled their formidable resources and won the day. Aspartame subsequently flooded the world.

3) Many authoritative sources state unequivocally that when the wood alcohol in aspartame reaches 86°F it turns first into formaldehyde, and then formic acid. 86°F is lower than human body heat, and formic acid is the nasty component of ant stings.

4) I’ve seen it reported that the FDA originally identified sixty nine deleterious conditions that were linked with the ingestion of aspartame. Its favourite trick, however, is to mimic the effects of multiple sclerosis so convincingly that people become just as ill as they would be with the real thing. Note the irony of the last three words.

5) Some European states have got the message, apparently, and banned the stuff. Others haven’t, like Britain.

It’s hard to understand why a much bigger fuss isn’t being made about this, but maybe that’s just the system covering an inconvenient truth with a layer of slime as usual. And let’s face it, what value the health of a large number of people when compared with the megabucks to be made from the diet megacraze? It’s an impressive strategy they have going: the fast food industry gets rich by making people obese, the fashion industry and lifestyle media persuade people that being proportionately wider than a bus ticket makes you socially unacceptable, and Voila! – you now have millions of people queuing up to spend even more money on things that have the word ‘diet’ on the label. Oh, and the wheelchair industry sells lots of wheelchairs to people who can’t walk, and the healthcare industry … you get the picture. Clever trick. Yes indeed.

Simple solution: never buy anything that has the word ‘diet’ on the label, or anything else that contains artificial sweetener. Most of all, never, ever give such things to children. Avoid them like the plague, otherwise something akin to the plague is what you – or your children – might end up with.

And please excuse me if you've heard all this before.

The Big D.

The old depression thing has had me well and truly manacled over the past few days. Several things offered themselves as potential material for blog posts, but I couldn’t be bothered. I thought of making a post about depression, but decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to do that while being in its suffocating grip. Posts about depression are definitely best made when the air is breathable again.

It can wait. Observation is everything; resistance is useless…

Friday, 22 February 2013

A Kind of Strangeness.

I spent a little time sitting by the fire in the living room earlier, watching a historical documentary on the TV. When I grew tired of it – as I usually do with documentaries because they have a disturbing habit of making mutually exclusive statements, presumably hoping that no one will notice – I switched the TV off and came through into my office.

It’s colder in here than it is in the living room when there’s a fire burning, so I decided to make a hot cup of tea. But of course, it’s colder in the kitchen than it is in the office, because it’s unheated and gets the full force of the east wind. I shivered a bit and hurried with the tea making. And do you know what I had a sudden yen for? A choc ice. There I am, freezing my butt off as the Yankees would say, and I become possessed of a passion for ice cream. How strange is that?

I gave in and ate the choc ice.

Fate and the Farmhouse.

There’s a farmhouse in Mill Lane that was built in 1854, the year before Charlotte Bronte died. It’s a typical example of an English Victorian yeoman’s dwelling – double fronted, with the door in the middle, a window either side, and three windows on the upper wall. There’s an extended section on the back that would originally have housed the kitchen and food store, although I don’t know how the rooms are laid out now. It isn’t used as a farmhouse these days either; the number of smallholdings in the English countryside is dwindling.

It’s a solid, sturdy sort of house and looks to be in good condition. The yard, fences and boundary wall are tidy enough. There’s nothing scruffy about it, and no sense of decay. And yet it looks unhappy.

More than that, it looks resigned to its fate. It has the air of a place that’s been lived in, but not loved; a house, but not a home. It needs someone to connect with it and form a partnership, to encourage it to show its true character and develop some self-esteem.

You’d think that fate would place it in my lap, wouldn’t you? But fate is ever pragmatic; fate rarely does fanciful.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Bring Back the Balaclava.

Whatever happened to the Balaclava helmet? I can think of nothing better suited to make my night walks more comfortable when the weather is not only cold, but windy as well. Like now.

(Just in case anybody doesn’t know what a Balaclava helmet is, see here.)

When I was a kid, every boy had one. (Girls didn’t, for some reason; maybe it was because their hair was longer and they had less need of one.) But then they became associated with nerdy types and fell out of fashion, which is an awful shame because they were a very practical bit of kit. I haven’t seen a kid wearing a Balaclava for many years.

If I were a celebrity, I’d start wearing one just to get the fashion going again. But I’m not. If I wore one now, people would roll their eyes and put it down to my strangeness. Besides, I wouldn’t know where to get one. Mothers used to knit them in my day, but times have changed.

Being Bleak.

These are wintry times in more ways than one. To put it in a nutshell:

My mind is dull, my will is torpid, my heart is hungry, and my soul is cold.

(Come to think of it, my feet are cold, too. That’s because the polar wind is coming from the east, and that’s the quarter from which it gains readiest access to my house.)

So anyway, I need spring, and I’m at a loss to know how to make it happen. Sitting tight and riding the orbit.

Coming in Pairs.

I burned myself yesterday (nothing serious.) Today I burned myself again in the same place. It hurt more the second time.

This seems to be a recurring theme in my life. The only bone I ever broke playing sport was the top joint on my right little finger. I broke it at age fifteen playing rugby, and then broke it again in my early thirties playing cricket. That hurt more the second time, too.

Emotional People.

Logic is the finest of tools for dealing with practical problems, like how much food to take on a self-catering holiday, or what’s the best way off the mountain when the fog is coming down. But it seems to me that life is ultimately about experiences, and all experiences are rooted in the emotional faculty. So doesn’t that mean that people who are driven by their emotions are the ones who have the richest lives, even though it’s tough sometimes?

False Face Must Hide...

I don’t see how I can be expected to get close to a person who hides their troubled emotional state behind a false smile. If the emotional state is still there, then the smile is fake and the person effectively fraudulent. What’s more, it means they’re shutting me out. They have every right to do that, but they can’t have it both ways.

*  *  *

I realised today that I’ve only ever been very good at playing one role in life. It was bitter-sweet, extremely so and in equal measure. Do I miss it? Yes and no.

*  *  *

The label on my bottle of London Porter says it complements the richest of chocolate puddings. What a strange claim for a beer. Mine’s had to make do with complementing a houmous sandwich.

*  *  *

Good days are rare these days, and this winter seems unusually long and bleak. There was a penetrating polar wind moaning its way along the now-desiccated lanes of the Shire tonight, assaulting my face all the way home. Bleakness is, at least, rather good at complementing firesides.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Having My Timbers Shivered.

This is the first chance I’ve had to make a blog post today, and now that I’m here I don’t have much to say.

The only notable thing that happened today is that Mr Rob cast his expert eye over my little treasure chest, and pronounced the contents to be worth around $1,000 (it sounds more that way than expressing it in pounds.) That would be enough to buy me a new fridge/freezer, a new monitor for my computer, and still have enough left over to keep me in scotch for three months.

I’m thinking of burying it in the garden and leaving a map under one of the floor boards. The parrot says ‘Hi, everybody.’

A Gender Thing.

Isn’t it interesting that we understand a distinction between the words ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’ when applied to women? Pretty girls are ten-a-penny, but a beautiful woman needs something extra – a strong personality at least, and preferably some rare and deeper qualities. Men, on the other hand, are merely handsome or not. There isn’t a male equivalent of beautiful, at least not as popularly conceived. Does that mean that men aren’t expected to have deeper qualities?

Tonight's Late Notes.

I seem to have developed another ‘condition.’ When I woke up this morning, I found that I was getting dull pains in various parts of my chest and back every time I breathed in. Still am. So who wants to be the first to make the obvious joke? I wonder whether it’s pleurisy. I was always curious to know what pleurisy is, but I’m not any more.

*  *  *

Son of Frothgar is due to return to the fjords tomorrow (well, Bignall End, Stoke-on-Trent to be precise,) while the little Ford should be coming home to his little rectangle of tarmac in The Shire (where the garage used to be.) Maybe that’s just as well, since it wouldn’t surprise me if the Danish Great Army rampaged mercilessly across this part of England back in the 9th century, and who wants to be reminded of that? And I do realise that Denmark has no more fjords than Morecombe Bay, but you get my drift.

*  *  *

You know how it is when something’s really turning you inside out, and somebody says ‘You don’t want to worry about that. Just ignore it.’ Only non-HSP types say ‘just ignore it.’ Don’t they know, poor deluded fools, that if there’s one thing the HSP type is singularly ill-equipped to do, it’s ignore something?

*  *  *

I’m hoping that Mr Rob is going to weigh my hoard of gold treasure tomorrow and tell me how wealthy I have the potential to be. (Mr Rob knows about gold. He bandies phrases like ‘the bullion rate’ with as much ease as you or I would say ‘the price of baked beans’ or ‘it’s a bit black over Willie’s mother’s.’) It doesn’t amount to much – just my late mother’s charm bracelet, my old wedding ring, and a rather mysterious swastika that my step-grandfather gave to my mother when I was little. I was always a bit uneasy about having a gold swastika sitting in the drawer, so maybe it’s better that it be melted down and turned into an eternity ring for a couple of crooning lovers in Bognor Regis. Out of the strong shall pour sweetness. It used to say that on the cans of black treacle and golden syrup when I was a kid.

*  *  *

My toaster just burned my piece of toast. Oh no, not again?

*  *  *

Do I need a drink?! I need a drink. That is, another one.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Big Niggles.

Remember Mistress Sarah, aka the Lady Bella? I’m worried about her. I have a sense that she’s unhappy. I get it every time I walk past her house.

But she no longer holds me in any sort of regard, we no longer have any sort of contact, and she no longer reads the blog, so I suppose I’ll just have to worry quietly and hope my sense is wrong. It probably is.

It’s been a bad day today. Extra pollution, extra nausea. I don’t function at all well when I’m feeling nauseous.

Questioning the Unconscious.

According to Carl Jung, all human beings are born equipped with a copy of the Collective Unconscious – that blueprint of ‘archetypes’ which enable us to have an innate understanding of life’s major imperatives. One of these is suspicion of the ‘stranger’ or ‘other’ which, if Jung was right, is presumably the basis of racism.

So what about those of us who object to racism, believing it to be unjust, irrational and cruel? It would seem that we are rejecting an element of the Collective Unconscious. Does that mean we’re wrong?

I’ll go with ‘no, it doesn’t.’ I’ll go with the assumption that we have a right to adjust the archetypes. But it’s an interesting point.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Who Ya Gonna Call?

I’ve been a bit too much into the meaning of life thing today, haven’t I? The thing is, you see, I’d quite like to have fun instead, but there are two problems:

1) There’s nobody to have fun with.

2) None of the things I regard as fun are available to me any more.

Consequently, I have to fall back on the next best thing, and that’s the meaning of life. Nevertheless, I did need to be brought back down today, and guess what I found on one of the Freeview channels:


I love Ghostbusters. I truly do. I’ve watched those films many, many times, but they still tickle my fancy afresh every time. They take me back to those two Christmases living alone on a wilder part of the Northumberland coast, doing what I wanted to do (consuming malt scotch, mince pies and TV mostly) instead of forcing myself to pretend to get on with in-laws, or getting yelled at for admitting that the sweater the dear lady bought me is the absolute essence of what I most dislike in sweaters. Freedom and Ghostbusters belong together. But there’s more.

Ghostbusters is gold dust. It grounds, balances and amuses me. It brings me back to that ‘what the hell, let’s just get on with it’ mindset. Peter Venkman reminds me of me when I was younger, and I fall in love with Janine all over again. And what greater spur do I need to prick the sides of my intent to see New York once more before I die than Ghostbusters? That establishing shot of the Manhattan skyline has such power, energy, and unpretentious grandeur. Forget what some of it stands for, it’s the spirit underpinning it that I’m interested in. I was seventeen the last time I saw it for real. Maybe, one of these days…

Connecting with Nature.

Western culture discourages an understanding of natural connectedness. It has to, because if people felt a connection with nature, they wouldn’t tolerate our cavalier treatment of it in order to accord with material mania and the pecuniary interests of wealthy people. Instead, Western culture encourages the academic view. It teaches us about the colours and shapes, the symbiotic relationships, the operation of the food chain and the startling skills of the predator. Interesting as those things are, they’re not about connection. Complex as they are, they’re not about the depth that lies hidden beneath the surface.

I had my first real taste of natural connectedness when I moved to this house. Connectedness is a subtle sense that moves through you; it flows in your being and tingles at a sub-material level. You can smell it and taste it, but not through your nose or mouth. It shows you that there are certain places where the energies coalesce most strongly, and that’s what makes them sacred. The high spot of my new found understanding came on Beltane Eve two years ago, when my head swam with euphoria for about an hour. The sacred place was on good form that night.

As I said in an earlier post, however, the sacred place is now being polluted, and the only people who can do anything about it are paid up members of Western culture. There would be little point in trying to explain to them what the problem is, because Western culture discourages an understanding of natural connectedness.

Life and Lessons.

When I was writing my novel, Annie said to me: ‘Life is all about learning lessons, Brendan.’ I’d like to discuss it further with her, only she doesn’t seem to be around at the moment.

*  *  *

The thing is this: The winds of fortune have been blowing from a troublesome direction for the past couple of years. They’ve been all about breakdowns, malfunctions, invasions, and seeing people whose presence I valued disappearing down unfamiliar roads, or at least retiring to a distance at which they became untouchable. When the last of those was most evident about eighteen months ago, I was walking up the lane one day and asked myself the question: ‘Are you able to live alone, I mean really alone?’

It occurs to me that maybe we should all be asking the same question; maybe we should all even be practising the fact to find out; maybe the ultimate definition of success in life is to learn to be content with nothing but our own company. How the hell would I know? I’m only human.

*  *  *

So, back to the beginning: is this all about learning lessons? Well, maybe it is, but I have another question: since I don’t know what the purpose or meaning of life is, and since I don’t know where it’s all leading, what’s the point of learning lessons? I expect Mr Jung would say that it’s to add to the Collective Unconscious, that primordial matrix of archetypes through which we pass over and over again so that our sparks of consciousness might maintain the continuum of individuality.

Maybe it is, but maybe we shouldn’t think about it too much, or maybe we should think about it so much that we make the breakthrough and emulate the laughing monk.

I might lighten up later.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Beating the Big Cat Phobia.

You know, for many years I couldn’t bring myself to watch the film The Ghost and the Darkness. Man-eating lions have always scared me witless, and the trailer gave me the willies big time.

But then, a couple of years ago, I thought ‘Stop being a wimp. Watch the damn movie.’ So I did, and I realised that, although based on a true story, the film is actually an almost word-for-word remake of Jaws.

Same three leading characters, same hunted-turned-hunters theme, same high body count courtesy of rampaging wildlife, same male-bonding scene around the gin bottle, same one-dies-two-survive denouement. Same film. Easy viewing, once the sight of the process has put the reality one step removed.

Mind of Still Water.

'How terrible it must be,’ he thought, ‘to be the water in a stagnant pool.’

My mind felt stagnant all day today, maybe because nothing in particular went wrong for a change. I thought it might revive a little if I moved all the furniture off one wall of the living room, rubbed down the exposed skirting boards, undercoated them, and then put all the furniture back. So I did, but it didn’t help much.

I got only mildly interested in the story of five hundred people in Russia having been injured by the shock wave caused by a meteorite falling into a lake, but a little more interested in the fact that the Ceefax news report called it a ‘meteor,’ which isn’t strictly correct. The BBC isn’t what it was, you know.

And the walk was pretty uneventful apart from one thing:

(Two, actually, but let’s not mention the ladies in their colour-coded dressing gowns who sometimes remind me of characters in a French painting.)

As I was walking up Lid Lane, the extremity of my torch beam caught two eyes looking back at me from the darkness. The size suggested a local moggy out on patrol. Nothing remarkable there, I agree, but I had a thought:

You know all those films in which somebody is wandering through the jungle at night and hears the low, guttural growl of a big cat close by, and we all feel really, really scared for him? Well, it seems to me that if there really was a big cat intent upon devouring the itinerant human, it probably wouldn’t growl. It would surely remain silent so as not to betray its presence and location to the prey. But then we wouldn’t feel really, really scared for him, would we?

Cyber Gremlins.

My computer automatically downloaded some Windows updates this morning, then shut down as it’s supposed to. When I booted up again, it gave me a black screen with a message box which effectively said – I’m paraphrasing, of course – ‘We can’t find Windows. It isn’t available. Go away.’ I had another ‘Oh no, not again’ moment, and called the computer repair people.

One of the minions passed a message through the receptionist to the effect that ‘This is a Very Serious Problem. You’ll have to bring the machine in for repair.’ I arranged to do so tomorrow, awash with trepidation at the prospect of spending a whole evening and early morning without a computer.

I shut the machine down, but then tried booting it again to see what would happen. Voila: it worked perfectly, so I rang the repair place and gave them the good news, the subtext of which was ‘Up yours!’ I didn’t say as much, of course; I was very polite because something might go wrong again and I’ll need them to be as prompt and helpful as possible, won’t I?

Mr Rob at the theatre thinks I should consider getting an exorcist in.

Our Mexican Problem.

I bought a copy of The Big Issue from a street vendor today. I felt sorry for her after I saw some weasly looking man approach her with the apparent intent to make a purchase, but change his mind and declare them to be too expensive.

She was Romanian, which, by an odd coincidence, is also where some of the infamous horse meat came from. I doubt very much that she was in any way connected with it, but I’m just as sure that there are people who would hold her responsible by default. The expansion of the EU a few years ago gave us Brits a convenient scapegoat for most ills. If in doubt, blame the East Europeans. It used to be the Croatians, now it’s the Romanians. It’s probably fortunate that most of those inclined to jump to such generic judgements are too ignorant to know that Transylvania is in Romania, otherwise I expect there would be a few stakes getting sharpened. Maybe there are times when a lack of education – either geographical or literary – isn’t such a bad thing.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Being Made Roadworthy.

I had to take the little Ford over to the big city today, he being due his annual test of roadworthiness. I came back in Son of Frothgar. Remember old Frothgar – he who carried me across the ice with such commendable sureness of foot a couple of winters ago? The son is a fine young chap and a little more sophisticated than his dad, but the old warrior had a certain simple grittiness about him that I found most appealing.

As for the little Ford, I’ve been saying for weeks that there was something not quite right about the front end. I’ve said the same about a lot of things – and a lot of people – down the years and been wrong, but not this time. He needs a new ball joint. Don’t we all?

Thinking to Scale.

I watched a bit of a documentary tonight on The Size of the Universe. It made me want to laugh again. The theoretical cosmologist said ‘When you consider the size of the universe, it makes you feel small.’ Erm… yeah, just a bit. I wondered whether he’d read my blog, or even Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which august work pre-dated my blog by a few years. Did you know, for example, that our galaxy is just one of 170 million known galaxies in the observable universe? And the observable universe might not be all there is. There might be an unobservable universe which is unobservable because the light coming from it hasn’t had time to reach us yet since time itself began.


Meanwhile, back in The Shire, I was pleased to see that Orion has moved into the southern sky at the time I go out for a walk, and is at just the right height to be standing on my shed roof. The baby moon, on the other hand, was lying on her back and looked asleep. That sort of reality I understand.

And while I was perambulating in the darkness under Orion’s watchful gaze, I took to considering whether the human race really has a great deal of use for theoretical cosmologists. I know what the theoretical cosmologists would say and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them, but it’s still a moot point.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Benefit of Snow.

Having six hours of incessant and sometimes heavy snow confers one benefit: it gets you some exercise. Today I:

a) Cleared the paths and a parking space three times with the snow shovel.

b) Cleared twelve land drain grids in the lane in anticipation of the forecast heavy rain that is supposed to be coming overnight.

c) Went out around once an hour to keep my frantic little feathered friends adequately fed.

And I never fell over once, but I do now have backache.

They Eat Horses, Don't They?

There’s a huge furore going on in Britain at the moment over the fact that some processed beef products have been found to contain horse meat. It’s reached the point of near-hysteria, and while I accept that there’s an issue to be addressed, I wonder whether the sheer extent of the reaction is maybe a little overblown.

The official view is that there’s no health risk involved; it’s simply a matter of misrepresentation. If you label a product ‘beef’ it’s supposed to be made of cow, not horse. That’s fair enough, but I’m sure there are also two other factors involved.

The first is the matter of cultural sensibility. We British regard the eating of beef as being ethical because the cow is essentially a farm animal, whereas the eating of horse meat is deemed unethical because the horse is a pet animal. The logic behind that argument is surely questionable.

The second is the sense that the horse meat amounts to an unclean contaminant, thereby making the product not only mislabelled, but inferior. Well, it seems to me that if people could see exactly what goes into processed beef products, they might come to the view that containing a little healthy horse meat is of relatively minor concern.

Since I’m a vegetarian, of course, none of this matters a jot to me.

Snow and the Birds.

It’s snowing again – has been for the last five hours, and I’m getting a bit fed up with it. However, the question I have is this:

Every time the ground is covered with snow, the birds go frantic for the food I put out. I assume that’s because their usual source of food – seeds, insects, grubs, worms and so on – is cut off. In that case, how do they manage when there isn’t a human providing an alternative? I remember one winter when there was quite deep snow on the fields and gardens, and even the side roads, for eight weeks without a break. How on earth did any bird survive? I want to know.

Always Moving.

Have another favourite Penguin Cafe Orchestra video. It eases you down gently, and then stops suddenly and the applause jerks you back up again. Bit like life, really.

A February Tale.

(…but first of all, a correction. It turns out that Old Growler is porter after all. It says so on the back label, and is rather tasty. So, apologies to Uttoxeter for thinking you porterless.)

The tale:

One February, back in my days behind the camera, I drove down to Pembrokeshire (south west Wales) to get some coastal shots from the cliffs. The weather forecast had been good, but it was wrong. The light was flat and grey, and there was a cold gale blowing off the Irish Sea. I took a few nondescript shots for the sake of it, more to relieve the boredom than anything else. This is one:

I was staying at the Pwll Deri Youth Hostel perched high on the cliffs above Ynys Mau, and it was a bit basic. The lounge was a long and very draughty room with a small coal fire at one end, and I spent the first evening with the only other ‘guest’ staying there. She was a big-boned German woman with hands the size of dinner plates and a serious disposition. The conversation was a little forced, I remember, as we sat in two armchairs either side of the fire and pulled up as close to it as possible. What little heat was being generated by the mean amount of fuel was more than counterbalanced by the even meaner gale invading the room via the ill-fitting door at the other end.

When bed time arrived, Brunhilde and I parted company. I intended to have a shower before turning in, but found that the washroom was a corrugated iron annexe to the main building. It was unheated and there was no hot water. I washed my hands and face instead. Hurriedly.

The dormitory was unheated, too, but since I was the only person in there, I felt justified in borrowing several blankets from adjacent beds and turned into a caterpillar for the night. The wind moaned mercilessly, but it didn’t stop me sleeping. I vaguely remember feeling relieved that Brunhilde hadn’t made any improper advances.

This looks like her:

This doesn’t:

A few days later I came down with a heavy cold which took weeks to clear. Did I say that February is a long month? February is a long month.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Uttoxeter 12/2

I should imagine that Americans have difficulty pronouncing the name ‘Uttoxeter.’ I have the same problem with Des Moines. (I like to speculate that the origin of the name is Anglo-Saxon for ‘The hut of Utt,’ but it probably isn’t.)

So, anyway – as predicted last Wednesday, this week’s shopping trip took me in the opposite direction to the mad mayhem in Ashbourne, and downhill instead to the relative sanity of the Trent valley (it’s usually the other way round, actually, but that’s another story.) And, also as predicted, they didn’t have porter.

I bought a bottle of Old Growler instead. According to the label, it’s robust, superior and dark; and to illustrate the fact, the label also sports a pen and ink drawing of a crumpled old bulldog wearing a bowler hat. I’ll be sampling that at about 7.15pm EST. Or even 7.15 PM EST, if you prefer.

And talking of crumpled old things, I saw an example of exactly what I don’t want to become. He couldn’t have been that much older than me, and was sitting in the Costa Coffee franchise in the supermarket, munching on an egg mayonnaise sandwich. And he had flecks of egg on his bottom lip…

Now, there isn’t much you can do about the lines, folds, wrinkles, receding hairline, aching joints, fading muscles, inflexible tendons, and so on. But at least you can lick the egg off your bottom lip and put it inside your mouth where it belongs, can’t you?

On Earth, Nobody Can Hear You Laugh.

The Shire had that eerie silence about it again tonight – the sort that’s so profound it makes you feel like everybody has gone and left you behind. It was easy to imagine that even the well lit cottages only had lights on because their erstwhile occupants had forgotten to turn them off on the way out.

And then, just as I was passing two such cottages in Mill Lane, I was struck by a mind boggling absurdity: just how inconceivably tiny we and our structures are compared with the vastness of space. It was so mind bogglingly absurd that I wanted to lie on the road and laugh my socks off.

The Longest Months.

We had another covering of snow at the weekend, and then some of it faded. Today the Shire is an unprepossessing patchwork of old snow, brown earth, muddy pools, and the dull green of winter grass, all settled immutably in the grey air of a near-freezing day. It isn’t pretty, just gloomy and inhospitable.

Tomorrow we’re forecast more heavy snow, and then more heavy rain. No matter what the calendar says, I do believe that January and February are the two longest moths of the year, and May and June the shortest. Did I mention that I dislike winter? I find its frigid torpidity highly contagious.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Another Pretentious Job Title.

When I took my little train trip last week, I noticed that the ticket collector had a name badge. Underneath his name, where it should have said ‘Ticket Collector,’ it said ‘Revenue Protection Assistant.’

You have to wonder where we’re going, don’t you?


My internet is just about back up to normal speed now, which means I have YouTube again (I just checked.) The past few days were bad, and getting through them without even the company of an elf woman or two was extra difficult. And I’m not joking.

*  *  *

Talking about beautiful young things, I’m often struck by the quality of the girls sharing the lunch boxes of the lads from Thomas Alleyne’s High School in Uttoxeter, or Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Ashbourne (both founded in the Tudor period, I believe.) They weren’t like that in my day. There wasn’t a single girl in my secondary school I would have wanted to go out with (or even share my lunch box with if I’d had one, which I didn’t.) The only two girlfriends I had prior to the age of seventeen both came from the church youth group. Yes, I belonged to a church youth group, but only up to the age of fourteen. At fifteen I became a regular pub crawler and stood under lamp posts singing ‘I’m a poor little lamb who has lost his way, bah… bah… bah…’ Oh, no; that was my granddad, or so I’m told. I only met him about twice, and nobody even told me when he died. In fact, he might still be alive for all I know, but I doubt it.

*  *  *

It was very wet yesterday, and the lane turned into a river again. I went out at dusk to clear some of the grids so that the water could run off, and do you know what? There I was standing in the torrent, getting well soaked and with fingers going numb from the cold, shovelling out spades full of soil and leaf mould, when a car came past. He didn’t cut his speed one bit – just drove past as though I wasn’t there and showered me with dirty water. Some people have an odd way of expressing gratitude, don’t they?

*  *  *

The next jotting was going to be about how difficult it is to ‘just be yourself’ since it’s so difficult to know who ‘yourself’ is, but by the time I’d fetched a piece of cheese to munch, I couldn’t be bothered. At least I have YouTube for later.

*  *  *

My office is cold tonight. In between typing, I’m holding a hot cup of tea to my lips in order to warm my nose. It’s steaming up my reading glasses. I hate winter.

The Phone Fault.

Update on an old post:

My phone line problem was fixed at lunchtime today (the engineer told me it was due to a corroded pole connection in the infamous Bag Lane.) As a result, I expected my painfully slow broadband to be back up to full speed, but it wasn’t. I called my ISP, and they gave me a bit of techno information.

When there’s a fault on the phone network, apparently, the local exchange turns the broadband speed down to minimum, and it comes back gradually and automatically once the network is fully stable again. That can take as long as seventy two hours. I didn’t know that, did you?

So, I don’t suppose there’s anybody in the Shire who reads my blog, but if there is, and if you’ve got a slow internet connection, that’s probably the reason.

Awakening the Fear Gene.

One of the Shire stalwarts asked me recently why I go for walks at night. I tailored my reply to things I assumed she’d understand: I talked about identifying constellations, seeing meteor showers, and enjoying the play of moonlight on the landscape. She understood, and even agreed.

What I didn’t mention was the fact that I also experience something subtly primal about being alone and out of doors in the darkness. Neither did I mention that it sometimes generates a modicum of fear which I assume stems from an ancient genetic memory, or that such fear gives occasional rise to some chilling imaginations.

The prosaic and materialistic nature of the modern human has, I think, largely buried that ancient genetic response under more immediate and pecuniary concerns. I assume that’s why horror films are so popular: they reawaken something that’s largely missing from most of our relatively safe living environments. Very few horror films have that effect on me. They rarely go deep enough, and I have no need of them anyway.

A Note after the Break.

The last five days have brought an unusually high concentration of troubles: some technical, temporary, and therefore merely irritating; some perennial, corrosive, and increasingly debilitating. My continued dwelling in the beloved Shire is on the line, you see. The benefit and beauty of living here is being counteracted by increasing discomfort, and so the balance is shifting.

Today I put in train the only prospective plan I can think of that might solve the worst of the problems. It’s risky. It might have the desired effect, it might have no effect, or it might even make matters worse. But I have to try. The magic that was once here has become buried by the mud of shifting fortune, and I want it back.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Being Oliver.

Here I am again, as promised, just because I can. Still connected, but only by a thread. The faulty phone line signal will permit slow web browsing, but not streaming. And that’s tonight’s disaster: no YouTube. It keeps stopping and starting. Hopeless.

What value the wee small hours without YouTube? Going to bed without YouTube is like going to bed without supper. I feel like a Victorian waif incarcerated in a workhouse with a cruel superintendent who denies me sustenance, just because he can.

Well, not quite I suppose, but if you can’t exaggerate on a blog, where can you exaggerate?

*  *  *

I caught a glimpse of Miss Sarah through her kitchen window tonight. I miss Miss Sarah. I do.

*  *  *

I think I’ll grab a houmous sandwich and go to bed. Wish I had some cucumber.

*  *  *

Poor me. It’s enough to drive a chap to picking pockets.

Friday, 8 February 2013

To Be or Not to Be Connected.

My internet connection is being painfully slow today. In calling the ISP to find out why, I made two discoveries:

1) My connection disconnected seven times today.

2) My phone line is up the creek, which almost certainly explains the connection problem.

Called the phone company who confirmed that my phone line is up the creek, and promised to have it fixed by 5pm next Wednesday. They even sent me a text message which said ‘Hi, BT here. Sorry about your fault.’ Chirpy. Mmm…

That was the short version of a long and frustrating story.

So, if I should disappear for some unaccountably extended period over the next five days, it will probably be due to either:

a) Being depressed.

b) Being dead.

c) Being without an internet connection.

d) All three.

Please note the elegant variation.

I’ll probably drop in again later, just because I can.

Politeness is Everything.

A  publisher who was once going to publish one of my books insisted that all her authors read her latest blog post. It was a ramble about the necessity of politeness, and concluded with the title of this post. I was incensed for a number of reasons, and replied ‘Not in my opinion, it isn’t.’ And then I withdrew the book.

So what have I got against politeness? Nothing, in itself. Politeness is nice; I’m polite myself. Politeness makes life a little more comfortable; it tells us that the person is conforming to the catalogue of civilised behaviours and is therefore likely to act generally in a predictable way, which makes us feel safe. But only on the surface; it’s no indicator of deeper characteristics.

Politeness resides in the veneer of respectability with which we cover our relatively settled and well organised culture – the veneer that’s the first thing to crack when things become difficult. It’s part of the mask we wear, hiding the deeper person within, some of which is usually dark. I’ve known some pretty nasty people who were impeccably polite, and I’ve known some rough and ready types who were decent to the core. Are sociopaths polite? Yes, unflinchingly, until they decide it doesn’t matter in a particular situation.

Politeness has its place, and I think it’s worth using. But I also think that those who express the view ‘politeness is everything’ are overstating its value, and betraying the fact that they see life too much in surface terms. That’s why I wouldn’t want such a person editing my book.

The Enlightened View.

There was once a more or less universal belief, and one that still hangs on in some ‘simpler’ cultures, that certain people are infected with negative energies. And it was believed that such an infection doesn’t only affect the host, but spreads into their immediate environment, polluting it with bad vibrations that bring troubles of various kinds to those in the vicinity. It can be a dangerous belief, because it can lead the ‘sufferer’ to be ostracised, abused, or even killed.

We live in more enlightened times now in which anything that doesn’t accord with rational scientific thinking is dubbed ‘superstition’ and dismissed out of hand. Well, I wonder whether we’re taking the right view of enlightenment.

I don’t know whether such a belief is true or not, but I’ve seen circumstantial evidence that it might be. I’m seeing it right now. So maybe we shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, but accept the possibility and try to address it with consideration and understanding, rather than ostracisation, abuse, or even murder. Maybe that’s what enlightenment should be about.

Over the Edge.

Oh dear, I'm in one of those moods...

Have another short Penguin Cafe Orchestra video. I might have posted this one before, but I don't remember. Posts come, posts go, and I have trouble separating memory from imagination sometimes. The versions of reality are overlapping, which is probably progress.

All I know is that I find it a bit hypnotic, and I have a real thing about women cellists. I suspect it might have something to do with the position of the knees.

Question and Answer.

The question and answer session is always the same. I ask myself:

‘Am I content with my life so far?’

‘Did you feel anything?’

‘Yes, plenty.’

‘Then you should be.’

It’s an interesting fact that I’m fairly discontented with my life at the moment, but fully content with what it’s been so far. Maybe that’s because the state of discontent is just another feeling.

‘Why do I ramble pointlessly like this?’

‘I’ve no idea.’