Sunday, 31 March 2013

Trumpetless March and a Change of Plan.

Well, darkness has long since fallen on the last day of March, so now it’s official. No daffodils in bloom. I don’t know whether I’ve ever known a March without daffodils before because I never used to take much notice of that kind of thing, but there hasn’t been one since I’ve lived here.

And last night Britain had its lowest March temperature since modern records began: -12.5°C at Braemar in Scotland (that’s 9.5°F.)

*  *  *

I heard another strange noise in Mill Lane tonight. I’m not going to make any attempt to describe it because it evoked no comparison or suggested any phonetic spelling. It was just strange.

I think I’d better not haunt Mill Lane when I’m a ghost. I reckon I’d get far too spooked walking back and forth along there every night, and it wouldn’t do for the ghost to be trembling, would it? I’m not going to haunt Church Lane either. I swear there’s something living in the copse half way along that can cross boundaries and eats everything, including ghosts. It’ll have to be the stretch of lane between here and the pub, I think. Maybe I’ll make the acquaintance of the man who’s buried in the wood a little way down. I’m told he was a coalman in life, so maybe he’ll have a nice warm place to sit on winter nights. Maybe he can also teach me how to call dogs and get them to sit, wag their tails, and look up at me. Then I can have a giggle at all the humans going ‘What the…’

Papa from the Darkness.

I don’t know how far the British comedy sketch show League of Gentlemen travelled beyond these shores. It might be that it was considered too narrow in appeal and too domestic in style to attract big bucks abroad, and so there might be an unreasonably high number of people over there who’ve never heard of it.

The term ‘sketch show’ is inappropriate. It suggests something safe and comfortable, and League of Gentlemen was far from being either. It took risks and crossed boundaries as a matter of routine. It defined dark, and the darkest character of all was Papa Lazarou. The name gives him his image: Papa = power; Lazarou suggests something resurrected from the crypt. He turns up mysteriously; nobody knows where he comes from or how he got there; he collects wives. His declaration of triumph is ‘you’re my wife now,’ and it’s entered the language among the cognoscenti. Let me introduce you to him.

This probably isn’t the best example, but it was the only clip I could find on YouTube so it’ll have to do. And give praise for Reece Shearsmith, a greatly underrated actor. It’s best watched late at night just before retiring.

Women in Threes .

How often is the feminine principle represented by not one woman, but three? Off the top of my head:

Twin Peaks (the best TV series ever)
Donna, Audrey, Shelly.

Lord of the Rings
Arwen, Eowyn, Galadriel.

Arthurian Legend
Morgan, Guinevere, the Lady of the Lake.

And then there are the three queens who come to take the mortally wounded Arthur to Avalon.

Is this because the male perception of the female is divided into three different sets of characteristics? And does that perception stem from the need of mother, wife and lover, or mother, wife and daughter?

I once made a tragic error of judgement. There was a clash of interest between lover and daughter, and I chose the wrong one because I was a passion junkie (experience was always the primary driving force with me.) I suffered for it badly, one way and another, for the following three years. And the consequences still echo to this day.

Being the Ghost Out of the Machine.

I’ve decided it could be quite fun being that formless entity able to wander through cyberspace, waiting for the signal that somebody was reading my blog, and then taking up temporary residence in their machine. I could watch them from the other side of the monitor screen, and maybe I could learn to reconstitute this person I see in the mirror, and maybe I could even learn to slither out of the screen, dripping slime with each arduous inch until I landed in a gloopy mess on their desk. And then I could lift my head, wipe the mucous from my eyes, and hold them with a penetrating stare. And then I could say

‘Could I use your toilet?’

Maybe I’m about to do just that any second now.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Being the Ghost in the Machine.

I was sitting here this afternoon musing on the broken tooth, the cycle of negativity that’s been going on for the past two years, the fatigue problem, the increasing social isolation, etc, etc, when I became suddenly possessed of the notion that I’m not a real person at all. I’m actually a formless entity floating in some timeless void beyond the furthest reaches of the solar system, talking to a few people through their computers.

That’s how it seemed. I expect the psychologists have a name for it.

Meanwhile, the pub car park was unusually full tonight, and nobody told me there was something going on. But then, the music I could hear playing behind the closed curtains was country and western, so I was glad I wasn’t inside anyway. I don’t like country and western. And I found another constellation I want to identify. Just off to put ‘constellations close to Polaris’ into Google. I’ve no idea why I bother.

The Perils of a Polar March.

March is daffodil month in lowland Britain. They might come early or they might come late, but there are always daffodils in March. My garden is full of daffodils, and it should be awash with yellow blooms by now. March has less than thirty six hours left and there’s no yellow yet, not a single flower. Some of the plants are still lying flattened under what's left of the snow deposited by last week’s blizzard. Maybe there are some in bloom lower down nearer the river, but I never venture down there in daylight these days. A March without daffodils would seem like there’s a month been taken out of the calendar and put aside to lie barren.

What concerns me more, though, are the bats. They must surely need to be waking up soon and taking food, but bats fly at night. We’ve had a week of sub-zero night temperatures, and are forecast to have more of the same until at least the middle of next week. Last night it was -8°C (18°F.) I’m not sure how bats would fare in temperatures like that, and I doubt there are any flying insects to feed on anyway. It pains me to think that some of them might be facing starvation if Britain stays trapped in this polar air much longer. I like bats. I do.

About Talking and Tongues.

I was thinking this morning about how I use different versions of English depending on who I’m talking to (or even ‘to whom I’m speaking,’ if you prefer.) I often adjust the words and phrases I use in order to accord with what I perceive to be their normal linguistic idioms. Is this because I want to belong, or because I want to be more readily understood? I don’t know. (It does occur to me, though, that if I’d put this much effort into learning foreign languages, I’d be a clever bloke by now.) I even do it on this blog, but that has more to do with what time of day it is and what mood I’m in.

And talking of this blog, Google stats tells me I’ve had a record number of page views this month. I find it hard to understand why people read this blog at all, and the fact that they’re doing so in increasing numbers is a complete mystery. Maybe it’s the same as the reason why people used to be fascinated by freak shows in circuses. No comments, please.

I broke the back and side off another tooth last night, and now it’s scratching my tongue. I do wish something uplifting would happen for a change.

Friday, 29 March 2013

A Primal Fear.

So, here’s something interesting.

I was walking along Mill Lane tonight when there was a sudden and very loud rustling in the hedgerow. I shone the torch around but saw nothing, and then I heard the sound of wing beats. I subsequently assumed it must have been a pheasant, because the only bird that flies at night at this time of year is the owl, and the wing beats of an owl are all but silent. What was interesting was that it didn’t only startle me, it also frightened me briefly, and here’s why:

I do occasionally get startled when I disturb a pheasant roosting in a nearby tree, but they always break cover before I reach them. It’s my approach that causes them to do so, and it doesn’t induce fear because I know immediately that it’s something escaping me. Tonight’s little incident was different; I heard the noise behind me. That means that whatever it was waited for me to pass before breaking out, and the instinctive response in that case is to assume that something is attacking from behind.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m sure it’s something stored in the genes, or one of Jung’s archetypes contained in the collective unconscious: the wild assailant. Did he forget that one? I’m not knowledgeable enough to know.

Out of Step Again.

I just noticed a headline on the Yahoo news page. It said that people are slinging mud at Kim Kardashian for continuing to wear ‘figure-hugging’ clothes now that she’s pregnant. Somebody-or-other is quoted as saying ‘She must be in some kind of denial.’ Well, there are two obvious points to be made:

1) I don’t understand why somebody-or-others don’t just mind their own business. I suppose it’s because they have such small minds that there’s no room for anything of more consequence.

2) I don’t even know who Kim Kardashian is. My little world-of-one-with-a-few-esteemed-visitors doesn’t have Kim Kardashians in it. Aren’t I lucky?

In Need of Androcles and the Sieve Problem.

I was wondering why my right heel hurt when I walked, so I had a look and discovered that I had a thorn in it. I picked at it with a pin so much and so deeply (ouch) that it bled, and now I can’t tell whether the thorn is out or not.

Lions and people with competent spouses have all the luck, don’t they?

*  *  *

A greater preoccupation, however, is what to do with the new sieve I’ve bought for the kitchen (the old one was turning rusty and falling apart.) The problem is that it has a longer handle, so when I hang it on the existing hook, it doesn’t hang at all. It rests on the work surface, and that’s no good. The hook is one of those stick-on plastic types which I inherited with the house, and I’m damn sure it isn’t going to come off cleanly. Stick-on plastic types never do (it’s the same with stick-on plastic type people.)

Difficult times bring difficult problems, and it isn’t even 2am yet.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Odd Smile Out.

There are many sorts of smile. There are friendly smiles, warm smiles, excited smiles, enigmatic smiles, mischievous smiles, erotic smiles, sardonic smiles, silly smiles… (Lascivious smiles aren’t smiles at all, but leers.)

There’s a promotional ad on a Google page for a musician who is described as ‘a Christian alternative rock artist.’ She’s wearing the same smile as choristers project when they’re singing hymns or Christmas carols on the TV. It’s the only one that makes me want to look the other way.

End of a Bad Boy.

I watched a documentary tonight on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They showed several pictures of Millais, Hunt and Rossetti at various stages in their lives, and I kept thinking there was something familiar about bad boy Rossetti. And then it dropped: he looked a bit like me. Fancy that.

At the end there was a short summation of what eventually happened to the three men. Rossetti was last up:

‘Rossetti became more and more of a recluse, and eventually lost it all on drugs and women.’

I must have missed something, because it wasn’t clear whether the term ‘lost it’ referred to his fortune or his mind. I decided to take an educated guess.

This isn't Rossetti, but one of his models who hasn't been allowed to open her Easter egg yet.

Thinking Aloud.

While I was in Ashbourne today I was watching one of the teenage pupils from the local high school and it struck me that I was once exactly the same age as he is now. Suddenly, I was consumed by the notion that there’s something absurd about the process of ageing. Thoughts ensued (as they do.)

It seemed reasonable to postulate that existence is eternal.

If existence is eternal, then everything in it must also be eternal.

We know, however, that material manifestation isn’t eternal. It’s born, it ages, it withers, it dies. The material itself might be recycled, but the manifestation isn’t.

Ergo, material manifestation isn’t a fundamental part of existence, but some sort of illusory projection in which we’re trapped by the great trickster Time.

Those aspects of manifestation which are sub-material, most notably consciousness, might reasonably be assumed to be eternal. Thoughts are repeatable, but not recyclable.

The above might be a complete load of rubbish. I don’t know anything, and it’s easier to carry on strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage since philosophy can be as tedious as everything else if you let it to take you over. I’m just thinking aloud. Nevertheless, it does add an interesting slant to the doctrine of life, death and rebirth, and the question of whether trees are conscious.

So then I had two cheese and onion rolls for lunch. And tonight’s beer is Shepherd Neame’s ‘Spitfire’ Premium Kentish Ale, which was on special offer at £1 a bottle. £1 for nearly a pint of top quality beer is pretty damn cheap. I also got another litre bottle of Whyte & McKay whisky, which was also still on special offer. No, I haven’t finished the first one yet.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Tonight's Ramble.

I think I’m finally shutting the door on a busy and difficult day. Why it was busy and difficult would take too long to explain, but I can meander through a few inconsequential bits of it, if you like.

The snow is melting in the Shire, leaving a patchwork of green and white on the fields. By the light of tonight’s full moon, of course, it looked black and white. It looked harsh and unresponsive. It felt harsh and unresponsive. It’s very cold and quiet out there.

Mel crashed her car yesterday and is very emotional. She has a black eye and lacerations, apparently, and the car is a right off. She’s been having a very bad time lately. In fact, most of the best people I know have been having a very bad time lately. Why I got included in the trend is a mystery.

I met my new Greek dentist today. Nice chap, but he handles a scaling tool like a builder handles a pneumatic drill. And I was a little brusque with Lucy, his nurse. Lucy has sharp, penetrating eyes, the eyes of a woman who does her own thing, and it wasn’t her fault that I was feeling under the weather. I’d quite like to apologise, but I don’t suppose I’ll see her again for another six months. Lucy has quite a bundle of attributes actually, and it isn’t at all like me to be brusque with a young woman possessed of quite a bundle of attributes. Either I must have been feeling unusually under the weather, or I’m older than I think I am. Or maybe the bear in me was just a bit restive today.

The supermarket had my bread for once, but I didn’t find any old ladies to talk to. Not that I was looking too hard, but you know what I mean.

*  *  *

My last post was a bit rambling and badly structured, wasn’t it? I thought of taking it down, but decided against it. That’s who I was at two o’clock this morning (being a bit spaced out and in the throes of the fatigue thing) and what right do I have to take somebody else’s post down?

Sasquatch and Fiddle.

I often wonder why certain people choose to play certain instruments. Take the man in the white shirt playing the violin, for example.

He looks too big to play a violin. He looks as though he should be riding an elephant across the Alps, or leading a band of desperadoes in 19th century Mexico. He looks as though any one of his fingers would be unable to avoid pressing three strings at a time and he’d play all the wrong notes. And when he gets to the fast bits, you’d think the chair would collapse.

So what made him choose something as delicate as a violin? Was it a response to some deep psychological trauma, perhaps, like having had the nickname ‘The Abominable Snowman’ when he was at school? Does the white shirt give the clue to it all?

*  *  *

I played the trombone in the school orchestra, you know. Everybody else was rubbish, even Jennifer Howell who played the cello, which is an awful shame considering the knee positions of lady cellists. Not that Jennifer was any lady. She got me into trouble in the school play: she forgot her lines, and I got the blame. What I could never understand, though, was why the string section was perpetually flat. How could they all get their fingers in the wrong place at the same time? Seems they did.

When I left school I took up the guitar.

I could have been someone.

Well, so could anyone.

Best Christmas song ever. If only it wasn’t March, I’d listen to that instead.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Led by Donkeys.

Let’s have a little allegory on the state of government in Britain these days.

An army officer is leading his platoon out on patrol. He’s one of the old school, the sort Napoleon was referring to when he described the British Army as ‘lions led by donkeys.’ This man is a donkey of the first order. He’s the sort who still thinks that warfare is a bit like a fox hunt only noisier, and that peasants are there to be pawns by definition. He really shouldn’t be in charge of a modern army.

They see a discarded hammer lying on the track in front of them.

‘What’s that, sergeant?’ asks the officer. ‘That wooden thing with a piece of metal on the end?’

‘It’s a hammer, sir.’

‘What’s it for?’

‘Mostly banging nails into wood, sir.’

‘Banging is it, by Jove? Well it can bang off. We don’t want such things here. It makes the place look untidy and somebody is bound to trip over it, thus impeding our progress. It must be destroyed immediately. I know, I’ll bang it against my head and that will break this hammer johnny into little pieces, won’t it?’

‘Er, no sir.’

‘Why ever not?’

‘Well, hammers are quite tough things, sir. I should know; I used to be a carpenter in civvy street. The hammer won’t suffer any damage at all, sir; you will.’

‘Nonsense, man. We must have firm resolve and push through with these difficult decisions. You’ll see I’m right in the end. Here goes, then. Bang. My God, sir, that hurt. Whoever would have thought it? Never mind. We’ll learn from experience and press on regardless.’

You know, I doubt there’s a single member of Cameron’s cabinet who has a clue how to relate cause with effect when it comes to social issues. They don’t know how society works, and they really shouldn’t be in charge of a modern country. When the proverbial hits the fan over their idiotic changes to Housing Benefit rules, remember you read it here first.

Replay Mania.

I don’t watch much football these days, but I have noticed over recent years that the TV people seem to have developed a mania for action replays. At one time you’d get maybe two wide-shot replays of a goal, and that was about it. Now they have to have cameras tucked into every crevice, and we get replays from at least five different angles, most of them repeated at least once if not twice. It’s all becoming a bit silly in my opinion, but tonight it became even sillier.

I decided to watch some of England’s World Cup qualifier against Montenegro while my dinner settled. Just before the match started, a camera picked up the England coach walking over to shake hands with his Montenegro counterpart. And then they showed a replay.

Flow Pattern Man.

When we had the blizzard at the weekend, the wind was definitely blowing from the east. I know that for several reasons, not least the fact that the snow built up on the east-facing windows. So why do the hedgerows which run north-south at the top of the hill behind my house have drifts built on the west side? Must be something to do with flow patterns and how they relate to the lie of the land, I suppose.

I watched a TV science programme about flow patterns when I was a young man. I found it quite engrossing, believe it or not. Maybe I should have pursued my interest and made a career out of studying flow patterns. It could have been a real ice breaker at parties, couldn’t it?

‘What do you do for a living?’

‘I’m a flow pattern expert.’

‘What’s one of those?’

‘Somebody who understands the science of flow patterns.’


A Spooky Recollection.

Way back in the mists of my little life I got transferred with my job back to my home town, and for a few months I commuted weekly between there and where I lived about a hundred miles away. During the week I stayed at my mother’s house, a small terraced place in an old industrial part of the city.

The first night I went to bed there, I turned off the light and was startled to see how intensely dark the room was. Pitch black; couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. It felt intensely cold, too; and then I had the strongest feeling that there was something disembodied and unfriendly in the room with me.  It wasn’t very nice.

I do hope nobody reads this just before retiring.

The Ghost in the Fan.

You know, this is the strangest thing. When the storage heater in my office has lost nearly all its heat and become useless, I turn the fan heater on to make the room a little less perilous to men with depressive tendencies. And when I do, I hear a female choir singing a simple but rather beautiful melody. I have four theories:

1) I’m becoming attuned to some other dimension in which female choirs sing simple but beautiful melodies.

2) I’m even madder than I thought I was.

3) It’s some kind of harmonic thingy-or-other which physicists and people who went to music college know about.

4) The fan heater is haunted.

I know which one I’m going for.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Being Captain Scott.

I posted this once before, but I'll bet nobody watched it. Well, you should now because it saves me explaining what it's like being in my house at night at the moment. The wind tone is about the same, and the flapping bits of tent look familiar.

I got woken by the cold last night, and ended up wearing socks in bed! That's my first reason to be ashamed.

*  *  *

I haven't written anything tonight because I've been engaged in trying to solve a problem. I did it eventually, and was very pleased with myself. But then it occurred to me that the solution was glaringly obvious and I should have got it first off. That's my second reason to be ashamed. I'm blaming the cold.

Knowing My Place.

I was driving along Mill Lane this morning when a tall SUV coming the other way pulled behind a snowdrift to let my little Ford through on the narrow road. As I passed, I saw that the driver was Miss Sarah’s mama. She looked down at me from her elevated position, smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back.

Our relative positions seemed entirely appropriate, since Miss Sarah’s mama is rather posher than I am. And as Mr Wilde said ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the posher people.’

Thinking Ahead.

I’ve been giving some thought to what I would like to be in my next life (just so I know what to look for in the genetic make-up of the bodies on offer, you understand.) So far I’ve got:

Irish fiddler
Train driver

What I definitely don’t want to be:

Rock star
Reindeer herder (too cold)
Donald Trump’s great grandson

So what do I do if the powers-that-be insist that I go off to be a magician on Alpha Centauri? The problem with being a magician is that they never get the nice girls. They get the ones who want to lock them up in trees, and throw away the keys (and maybe even have hairy knees, but I couldn’t be bothered to write the ditty.)

Come to think of it, the Lady of the Next Life is already appointed, so I suppose I’ll have to arrange the job around her. Goat herder would be appropriate.

Don’t I write strange posts after 2am?

I just looked in a mirror. Wasn’t impressed, so I’d better make sure I’m good looking, too.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Lesson to be Gained from Fatigue.

I felt a bit off colour when I got up this morning. It had all the indications of the old fatigue problem experiencing a bit of a relapse, which is why I shouldn’t have spent an hour and a half clearing quite a lot of snow from the bottom of my garden so that cars could get out. I felt iller after that for several hours. I seem to be recovered now, though.

And maybe I should point out to those poor souls who live in places where English isn’t the first language that there’s no such word as ‘iller.’ It’s just me being silly. It should be ‘more ill.’ You see, there are some words, like ‘dull,’ which take –er, and there are other words, like ‘ill,’ which are preceded by ‘more.’ It all makes perfect since if you don’t think about it.

A Slightly Less Whingy Weather Post.

We don’t traditionally get much in the way of easterly winds in Britain during the winter. I remember being given the phrase ‘warm, wet, westerly wind’ to remember in a geography lesson at school, because that’s what we mostly get and how we derive benefit from the Gulf Stream – or used to. For the past few days we’ve been getting strong easterlies invading from northern continental Europe. It seems wind can succeed where Hitler and Napoleon failed, more’s the pity. And because of the aforementioned facts, I never realised before just how susceptible my house is to an east wind. It’s become very apparent this year, having had to suffer the wind chill factor inside the house. And it’s likely to continue for at least a few more days yet.


It’s also been apparent that walking homeward along Mill Lane is rather more uncomfortable than walking outward, because you get the damned east wind full in your face. Well, diagonally from the left to be more precise. On a more positive note, however, Andy Irvine and Davy Spillane’s album East Wind is well worth listening to if you’re up for some East European music played with an Irish bias. Here’s a track to whet your appetite:

Out of curiosity, I googled ‘record snow in March,’ and saw lots of reports of record March snowfalls in various parts of northern Europe. By stark contrast, though, there was another one which said that this is the first March since records began in which Toronto has had no snow.

Well, there you go. Seems we’d better start throwing expectations out of the window (or even ‘out the window’ if you’re an American who’s forgotten where you got your language from.)

A Question of Judgement.

I’m pondering a question that I believe is important, but which I know is unanswerable. Why did the Taliban shoot Malala Yousufzai? Did the man who gave the order and the man who pulled the trigger do so because:

a) They saw her as mounting a credible challenge to their power?

b) They truly believed that she was misguidedly attempting to dismantle the rightful social order?

c) They believed they were carrying out the will of an omnipotent and unchallengeable creator God?

d) They saw it as an expression of their love for that God?

I’m a big fan of Malala Yousufzai; her courage and tenacity are the stuff of true heroes. I wish her all the best in life and success in her endeavours. But it’s so easy to look at an alien culture and be too simplistic in our reactions.

Always Moving.

OK, so you beat the bad guy, you save the world, you find the Holy Grail, and you connect with your soul mate.

Good. So what’s next? There’s always a next. Is this the point at which you become a beetle living in a crack between the door frame and the wall? Is this the point at which the next great adventure is walking across the kitchen floor?

There’s always a next. There is. There has to be. Fantasy might sometimes be better and more real than surface reality, but it isn’t enough. Nothing ever is. That’s the problem. It's how I recognised the priestess, but she doesn't have the answer unless the answer is, as she says, 'there's nothing to be done.'

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Doing a Sherlock.

I followed somebody else’s footprints in the snow when I walked along Mill Lane tonight. I compared the size and shape of the prints, and also the relative stride lengths, and decided it was a woman around 5ft 5 with size 5 or 6 (UK) feet. I noticed that her footprints were joined by a dog’s paw prints when she moved over to the verge, which suggests she reined the dog in when there was a vehicle passing. It probably also explains why she stopped and turned round several times.

And then I had a wholly un-Sherlock thought. It struck me that it would be interesting to pass through one of those time portals you get in sci-fi stories, find myself in the same spot some years in the future, and meet my own ghost walking the other way. What an illuminating conversation we could have.

The Good, the Bad, and the Mildly Amusing.

The Good: I checked the loft and found only a light dusting of snow on top of the insulation. Nothing to worry about; nothing to do; much relief. There’s a whole post to be made about why spending a day clearing snow out of a loft is such a woeful activity. Another time, maybe.

The Bad: Remember how a few weeks ago the weight of snow brought the garage roof down onto my car? The white stuff was a little less severe today: today it only brought the guttering down on one side of my greenhouse. That isn’t so urgent. It can be a nice warm weather job, if and when we ever get any.

The Amusing: I spent the afternoon doing more of the painting job in the living room, and at one point I became aware of the fact that my left thigh was getting wet. Well, I’m not incontinent yet, and the wetness was cold anyway, so I set about investigating. I found a big lump of snow in a pocket of my overalls, evidently having been dumped there when I brushed the snow off the greenhouse roof, and it was melting away nicely. And there was me thinking I don’t produce body heat any more. You may smile. Even I did.

The White Damnation.

We had more snow last night, rather a lot of it. It’s drifted in the wind, so cars will have to be dug out if people are to brave the road conditions. The weather forecaster said last night ‘It’s unusual to get snow this late in March.’ Yeah, right.

The first job this afternoon will be to check the loft. I once spent a whole Saturday clearing snow out of a loft in another old house I lived in, which was what put me off the white stuff in the first place. It happened twice the same winter – in December and January. March was safe in those days.

Sorry to keep harping on about the weather, but, as the lady said, this is a bit unusual.

Cold as a Ghost.

The snow showers eventually ran out of steam this morning, so big brother stepped up to the plate and we had a blizzard instead. It was still blizzarding a bit when I went out for the walk tonight, scorning the snow being driven into my face on a 20mph wind and temperatures fit to scare the living daylights out of a brass monkey. That’s what I call true grit (as opposed to true grits, which is revolting and something with which no self-respecting Englishman would ever want to be associated.)

The night walk is no longer just a pleasure, you see; it’s become something akin to a duty. I’m practicing for when I acquire the status of ghost, and Mill Lane becomes my haunting ground. I want doting mothers to warn their children against the perils of being alone after nightfall on the lonely stretch of lane that runs from the pub to the old railway station.

‘They do say as it wears a woolly ’at and tattered clothes as be a-fallin’ apart at the seams, and carries a little blue light that swings back and forth as it walks. And no one ever sees it leave Lid Lane, and no one ever sees it reach Green Lane, so if it be a nat’ral thing, where do it come from, where do it go? And there be them as say it sometimes sings strange songs in a low and mournful voice, be the weather fair or foul, the wind mellow or bitter, the sky starry or mist laden. But of course, these be the ramblings of mad people, because no one that has ever seen it has stayed sane for a single day henceforward.’

Meanwhile, my kitchen is sweltering in the heady heights of 5°C (41°F,) which makes it officially a fridge again. More good practice.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Maiden's Child, Bleeding.

The snow and wild wind materialised as forecast. There wasn’t a room in my house that was entirely comfortable to sit in last night; old houses are draughty, however much you seal the doors and windows.

And this morning when I was clearing the path, I saw one crocus flower still just visible on top of the snow, its yellow bleeding into the white. Lord Winter is being greedy. It’s time the Maiden armed herself and sent him to his rest.

Being a Repository.

Shayna Prentice once told me a sad story. It was the saddest story I ever heard, and its shattered edges still hurt every time I think about it. It’s so sad that I’ve always declined to tell it to anybody else, and will continue to do so. Sad stories have to rest somewhere, and I accept responsibility.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, the freezing east wind has also taken up occupation with me. It’s currently exploring every room in my house, which, even by its own inimitable standards, is unusually cold tonight. Winter won’t go to sleep this year. It doesn’t even seem tired.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

So What About Infinity?

I was reading the other day that there is some disagreement over whether the Voyager spacecraft has left our solar system yet. This is the spaceship that was launched in the 1970s to study the outer planets, and just kept going. Well, if it hasn’t left yet, it presumably will do before much longer, and I find that fact fascinating for reasons which go beyond simple logic.

There’s something oddly incomprehensible about a machine made by human hands travelling beyond the solar system. Oh, I do realise it’s logical enough when regarded pragmatically, but it provokes a reaction in me that goes beyond pragmatic regard. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know.

It also provokes a fascinating question: will it keep going for ever? It’s reasonable to suppose that one day – trillions of years from now – it will get to the other side of the universe. But what is beyond the universe? Nothing, say the experts; no energy, no matter, no time even. So can something exist where this is no existence? What does that do to the concept of ‘for ever?’

And there’s another question: would I like to be aboard Voyager, travelling through the unknown reality of deepest space with enough air and sustenance to last my natural lifetime? How can I know what a natural lifetime would be in that situation? We’re told that travelling at speed in space does funny things to time. I’ve never been a fan of science fiction, but I expect such a scenario has been covered once or twice. Maybe I should have paid more attention to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Writing this is sending me into all sorts of wild areas. I think the best thing to do is just not think.

No Longer the Apple Tree Type.

Quoting myself:

‘I always tell the truth at that time of night.’

Actually, I generally tell the truth at all times, but I’m a little less strict than I used to be. It seems a little paradoxical that I’ve always been a very good liar, but also a very reluctant one in the vast majority of circumstances. I even went through a phase in my life when I was a paid up member of the George Washington I-cannot-tell-a-lie brigade, but let’s put it this way:

Suppose you’re Robin Hood’s best friend, and the only person to witness him robbing Sir Filbert of Fotheringhay and giving the money to some near-starving folks scraping a paltry existence in a hovel. You get brought up before the Sherriff, who asks ‘Did you see Mr Hood robbing Sir Filbert?’ You’d have to be a bit of a turd to say ‘yes,’ wouldn’t you?

So when I hear people declaring ‘I never lie,’ I don’t believe them. Not even when it’s me declaring it. Which is why I never do...


According to Google stats, this blog has had 60,000 page views. That's a bit unreal; it's like trying to imagine how far away 50 billion light years is. A four month winter, however, I understand.

More on Aspiration.

One of the things that was worrying me about last week’s hospital visit was the appointment letter. It told me I was booked in for an ultrasound scan, which I knew about, and also for something called ‘US guided aspiration,’ which I didn’t (or thought I didn’t.) I wondered whether they suspected something and weren’t telling me. I wondered what ‘guided aspiration’ meant. Was it something to do with lungs, breathing, that sort of thing? Surely not; that would be ‘respiration,’ wouldn’t it? So I asked the doctor.

It seems that in the medical world, aspiration doesn’t mean what it means to the rest of us – you know, things we hope to achieve and so on – it means ‘sucking.’ It was all about sticking a needle in, guided by the ultrasound device, to take up some cells for testing. Well, I did know about that, so that was OK. And he decided it wasn’t necessary anyway, so that was OK, too.

Tonight I have my weekly treat of a bottle of London porter. It’s very nice and goes well with buttered toast.

A Note on the Equinox.

Today is the vernal equinox (well, yesterday by thirty nine minutes to be precise) up here on the top side of the planet. That means it’s officially spring however you define it. So, here’s the weather forecast:

We’re going to get sub-zero temperatures for the next five nights at least. Friday and Saturday are pencilled in for snow. The temperature won’t rise above freezing even during the day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (and maybe beyond.) Oh, and there’ll be a strong east wind blowing.

Some spring.

The spring is sprung, the grass is ris
I wonder where the mellow is.

*  *  *

Here’s something interesting, though. It occurred to me tonight that between the northern vernal equinox and the northern summer solstice, those places that lie between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer must get south-pointing shadows, and any rooms that have north facing windows will get sunlight at noon. And, of course, the converse is true of the southern hemisphere. Isn’t that weird? I never realised it before.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Being All About Aspirations.

I went to a garden centre today to get a bag of gravel, and had a good look round while I was there. I was amazed at how many expensive nick-nacks there are (most of them a bit tacky in my view) to give prosperous people something to spend their money on so as to make their garden an extension of the living room. £1400 for a garden table, for example. £1400 is about what it costs to keep a fire burning in the grate on winter nights – for twenty years.

That’s what life-for-lifestyle is about though, isn’t it? Spend for the sake of spending. It’s what separates the worthy, successful people from the failures like me.

The Pros and Cons of Empty Shelves.

I got talking to a woman in the supermarket today. She talked cannily about the economy, damn politicians, and the rugby match between England and Wales last Saturday. (She was Welsh, you see, and Wales won rather handsomely. Her late husband had also been a coalminer in The Valleys, as well as a rugby player.) She looked to be in her mid seventies, but had the mind and bearing of someone in middle life. She told me she was ninety. She’d worked seven days a week throughout the war, she said, the seventh day having been expedient to pay the £1 weekly income tax. We got on, you know? We did.

And do you know what brought these two unlikely creatures into contact? We were both waiting for the special offer litre bottles of White & McKay to be replenished. The space on the shelf was empty, and I’d got one of the assistants to bring some more through from the warehouse. So you see, it isn’t only dogs that bring people together.

*  *  *

Talking of empty spaces on shelves, today was the fifth week out of seven that I was unable to get my favourite bread. I enquired of one of the bakery assistants, and was told that they have plenty in every morning, but it’s nearly always gone by lunchtime.

Sainsbury’s is one of Britain’s leading supermarket chains, and this is the 21st century. If their organic, stoneground, wholemeal bread is so popular, wouldn’t you think they’d have a bigger delivery? If it happens again the complaint will have to be escalated to manager level, though I doubt it’ll do any good. It never does. This is, after all, the 21st century.

Mundane Tuesday.

I had a dream last night in which I was engaged in a great adventure. I travelled to Scotland in search of an inscription on a church wall. I found it and photographed it, then brought it back home where I found a second inscription on the wall of my local church. I knew that the two together would provide the clue to an ancient mystery, and was just beginning to compare them when I woke up. I tried to go back to sleep, to go back into the dream to continue breaking the code. No joy, so I spent most of the available day painting a ceiling instead. Such is life.

And there was little of note on the walk tonight. No Women from Walsages walking dogs, no disturbing sounds of predators going about their business, no mysterious gruntings from beyond the field boundary hedges. There were lots of planes, though, flying unusually low en route to East Midlands Airport. I still get a kick from seeing planes, you know. I still find it amazing that they stay up there, however much I understand the science.

The only noteworthy event was being suddenly flooded with light as I passed a cottage, evidently from the opening of curtains or a blind. I didn’t turn my head to discover the source. It might have been indecent.

*  *  *

I do wish the winter would release its grip. We have more sub-zero temperatures and snow forecast. Winter is fine during December, when there's novelty value to shutting the blinds early and banking up the fire. And there's Christmas in the air. From January 2nd onwards, however, it becomes increasingly tedious.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Significance of Hats.

Somebody once said to me ‘Never trust a driver wearing a cloth cap.’ It’s true, isn’t it? There is something suspicious about both men and women who wear hats when they’re driving. It’s almost as bad as wearing a hat to the dinner table, though I’ve never worked out why.

And then there are those hats western women wear to weddings, which I’ve remarked upon before. It still beats me why women insist on looking so unfeminine when they go to weddings. Maybe it’s a way of saying ‘I’m spoken for, so it doesn’t matter how ridiculous I look.’ They always are, aren’t they? Spoken for. Except the one up front, of course, and she’s about to be claimed. Hey, ho.

And what about the military leaders, eh? What about them? It might be noted that Nelson and Napoleon wore their hats like this, whereas Wellington wore his hat like that. It must surely be no coincidence that both Nelson and Napoleon won lots of battles, but came to a sticky and premature end, while the Iron Duke lived to a ripe old age and probably died of gout or something.

(I wonder whether Miss Sarah still has her blue Paddington Bear hat. That one had style. A rarity.)

The Woman from The Walsage and Other Notes.

I encountered another Shire resident on the walk tonight. The Woman from The Walsage came out to take her dogs for a run in the field shortly after I passed the house. My first intimation of company was the sight of a disembodied torch following me along the lane, but when it entered the glare of the security light at the metal fabrication shed, it showed itself to be accompanied by a human personage, and the personage was accompanied by dogs. I recognised them; they usually bark at me from The Walsage yard as I pass. Tonight they were frolicsome and silent. The Woman from The Walsage and I exchanged a greeting as I was making my way back. She was leaning on the gate of a field and the dogs were continuing to frolic. Whether she recognised me, I don’t know. If she did, I expect my reputation will be enhanced. If she didn’t, then maybe rumours will be rife.  I still expect to be chased to the mill by people with pitchforks one of these days.

*  *  *

I watched a documentary tonight about the war in Iraq, with particular reference to the WMD issue. The last words came from the reporter and an Iraqi ‘informant.’

‘So the war in Iraq was based entirely on a lie?’


Blair, Bush and Powell came out of it smelling of the rear end renderings of a male cow. But then, I think we all knew that already, didn’t we? And the only person who smiled throughout the whole programme was a German. Such irony.

*  *  *

After the documentary finished, I took to wondering what the population of Europe would be now if the Black Death had never happened, or if the First World War had never happened. Makes you wonder whether somebody is pulling strings, doesn’t it?

*  *  *

I’m currently enjoying the company of a curvaceous blonde. To be more precise, the bottle is curvaceous, the beer is blonde. It’s all to do with it having been brewed from Kentish hops, apparently. Kentish hops produce blonde beer. The label proudly proclaims that it has ‘an aroma of spices, honey and caramel.’ Fortunately, it tastes of beer.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Father Ted Mind and a Woman Pretending to be Sandra.

Last night I treated the latest deep, dark mood by watching back-to-back episodes of Father Ted. One of them was the episode in which Dougal takes over the milk round when the lecherous milkman gets the sack, and included the line ‘Oh, no! Ted! There’s a pile of boxes in the road, Ted!’ Ted moves them just in time to avoid Dougal having to reduce the milk float’s speed to below 4mph, since that would have set the bomb off. The boxes were empty, of course, and had absolutely no logical reason to be there. Ardal O’Hanlon was very much funnier than Sandra Bullock, and the incident was an example of the sublime, subtle, surreal humour that needs the state of Father Ted Mind to fully appreciate it. I never really got it before, so maybe depression has its uses after all.

Anyway, having come up for a little air, I thought of making the post about how depression works, and how it relates to a succession of negative, troublesome circumstances, but…

What the hell.

So, the phone rang this afternoon. There was a pause, which always indicates a junk call from an automated dialler, but I decided to stay on the line for once. I was greeted by an accent which I think was South Asian.

‘Hello, sir. My name is Sandra and… (at this point the South Asian accent became just a bit too strong.) Gobbledygobbledygobbledy… pension… gobbledygobbledygobbledy…’

‘Hang on a minute, I’m not quite getting this. What exactly is it you want?’

‘Gobbledygobbledygobbledy… pension… gobbledygobbledygobbledy…’

‘Did you say something about pension?’

‘Yes. (Clear as a bell again.) Tell me, will you be relying on a state pension or do you have a private one?’

‘Now, wait a minute. Why do you want to know? Who are you?’

‘My name is Sandra.’

‘Oh yeah, right. No; what I mean is, what organisation are you from?’

‘We are a private financial institution.’

‘Oh, I see. A private financial institution, is it? In that case, I’m not interested. Goodbye.’

As my phone made its way from my ear to the base, I heard ‘Sandra’s’ voice yelling at me the whole way. It’s the most fun I’ve had in months. Doesn’t say much, really, does it?

The Age of Abuse.

The news is full of it. Stories of women being abused by gangs of men in India and self-righteous religious bigots in other places not too far away, of children being abused by teachers, priests, family members and people traffickers, of patients being abused by staff in hospitals and care homes, and of prisoners being abused by policemen. The news is full of it, and most of it I decline to read because the headline already tells me more than I really want to hear.

And this doesn’t include the teenage girl who was randomly murdered on a bus on her way to school by a crazy man with a knife, or the other teenagers whose murders have made the news lately. Neither does it include the multitude of stories about fraud, deceit, and the systematic gagging of whistle blowers by people in positions of trust who should be above that sort of thing. And, yes, I do realise that the media likes to afford disproportionate weight to lurid stories of nastiness, but they’re not actually making them up, are they?

And then there’s the natural world. I heard three sounds in Mill Lane tonight that made me uncomfortable. The first was the sound of threat, the second alarm, and the third probably death. Together they made an unpleasant trinity for one already labouring under the weight imposed by an enforced perception of the nastier side of life.

And do you know what the irony is? All night my mind has been full of Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World, when it would have been more appropriate to hear Don McClean singing ‘I could have told you Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.’

I think I know how he felt, but nothing I say will ever make a jot of difference. I have to get out of this pit.

Sorry for the miserable post. I grew tired of remaining silent in the face of confusion.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Blackbirds with Green Eyes.

I think I witnessed a bit of jealous rivalry today. For a while now, I’ve been seeing one female blackbird chasing another around the garden. Today it erupted into one hell of a serious fight that lasted until a male blackbird came and broke it up. I suspect there might be more similarities between birds and humans than we generally acknowledge.

Erm... actually.

Vis-à-vis the previous post:

As amusing as the Milwaukee bimbo episode was (and I’m ashamed to admit that I did chuckle a couple of times,) I was never much attracted to bimbos myself. That isn’t meant as a criticism. They were very good to look at and had effervescent personalities an’ all, but… well… they weren’t exactly the Holy Grail, were they? I was more the guy with the speech cards telling Keira Knightley how perfect she was, and how he’d love her until she looked like a desiccated mummy (which is how I know he probably wouldn’t.)

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, that romantics generally get through life fairly well, whereas Romantics are almost invariably sad people. They have an unfortunate habit of riding after mirages until the snow is thick on the ground, all their friends are hanging lifeless from sundry trees in wild places, and they only remain standing because they’ve become too insane to give in gracefully and fall over. It’s all pretty inevitable, actually.

*  *  *

Talking of mirages and insanity, the village pub is planning to open all day on Sunday for St Patrick’s Day (with live music, no less.) I haven’t yet decided whether to stick my head around the door, but I’m reminded that I only ever knew two people who were born on St Patrick’s Day. Although neither was perfect, they were both pretty impressive, albeit in different ways.

*  *  *

The only big news worth recounting today is that the priestess is home from America. She said she went on a ‘gallery crawl’ a couple of nights ago and came back on a train. It’s odd how somebody saying they’ve been on a train makes them somehow more real. I haven’t worked that one out yet. Should I call across the miles, I wonder, or keep to my place? Yeah, OK.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Sad, Actually.

I was having one of my occasional mega tired evenings tonight – falling asleep in front of the computer, too tired to make a blog post… nothing new. So I closed down, went through into the living room and flicked through the Freeview channels. I settled on Love, Actually.

You know, for all its celebrated status I’ve never seen that film, so I watched twenty minutes or so. Strangely enough, I came in at the one bit I’d seen already because Madeline’s mum once sent me a link to the YouTube clip. It’s the episode where the Milwaukee bimbos do a neat pick-up job on geeky Colin from Basildon with the immortal line ‘Are you from England?’ (which will surely take its rightful place with other classic one-liners such as ‘If that plane leaves and you’re not on it,’ ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ and ‘I’ve been slimed.’)

I have to say I was impressed, and would now very much like to see the whole thing from start to finish. But I have a question of those who’ve already had the privilege. Is the Milwaukee bimbo episode the only one that isn’t sad?

Mind over Matter.

I’m about to start doing some more painting in my living room, and I noticed something interesting earlier. I’m a bit susceptible to oil based paints these days. They make me dizzy, and dizzy is how I felt as soon as I decided to paint today. This was even before I’d donned my overalls, let alone opened a can of paint.

Clearly, the mind has influence over the body, and I’m sure I should be able to put that fact to some constructive use. But what?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dull Day.

Here I am in a reasonably good mood for once, and I have damn all to say. It’s been one of those uneventful days when my mind wandered easily into areas of reverie and reminiscence.

I remembered the editor who tried to dissuade me from using the word ‘moist’ in my little book The Gift Horse (the actual phrase was ‘moistening our hands in the May morning dew.’) She said it was redolent of a certain sort of literature, a category into which my novella certainly didn’t fit. I felt this was a bit of a cheek; it was akin to paying the Danegeld, and so I insisted that the phrase should stand. She wasn’t happy.

Apart from that, there were no stars filling the night sky tonight, just drizzle. And I had my hair cut this afternoon, rather badly in my opinion but who the hell is looking?

The only odd thing is that one of the canines in my upper teeth feels sharper to the tongue than usual. According to Bram Stoker, that isn’t a good sign.