Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Beltane Greetings.

The Beltane Eve observance was infused with a little magic as usual. I really must do it properly one of these times and eschew any prospect of sleep. There would always be one vital element missing, of course, but it would be unwise to go into detail. Happy Beltane to those attuned to such things. Off to see what Melanie has posted.

Musing Aloud.

I’m often given to wondering whether the only way to live a productive life is never to want any specific thing, but to seek a generality of experience that will bring an eventual understanding of what the hell it’s all about. It isn’t an easy road to walk in a culture that directs its people in the opposite direction. But when you’ve come to see the culturally-entrenched focus on ‘high achievement’ as so much horse shit, you have to wonder.

I suppose I’m only expressing a major strand of the Buddhist view. And maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe it doesn’t matter.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Magic Quivers and Other LOTR Asides.

I just wasted an hour reading up on the cast list of LOTR, and also some of the things that were revealed in the extended version of the trilogy. It made interesting reading. For a start, I was amazed at how many of the actors were American. I never heard a single American accent in the films, which says a lot for the likes of Mortensen, Wood, Astin, Tyler, and Dourif. Other points of note:

  • Mortensen bought the two horses he’d ridden in the films because he’d bonded with them so well.

  • He was also on the same side as me at the last Presidential election.

  • Wood and Astin became close friends during shooting, just as they were in the films.

  • In spite of Peter Jackson’s best efforts to make Legolas look a bit… well… girly, Bloom had the guts and gusto to break several ribs on set. In fact, it appears he has something of a propensity for breaking bones in real life.

  • Bloom is a Buddhist, and once rescued and adopted a dog during the making of another film.

  • They seem like my kind of people.

  • Aragorn revealed his age in one of the extra scenes. 87.

  • 87?

  • What isn’t revealed, apparently, is how Legolas’s quiver usually manages to have more arrows in it than it did in the previous scene, in spite of the fact that he’s just shot fifty or so into various ne’er-do-wells. I’d like to assume elf magic at work, but I suspect we’re just not supposed to notice.

Regarding a Hole.

Over the past month or so I’ve got used to having a hole at the back of one of my teeth, and as is usual in such matters, I’ve become accustomed to feeling it with my tongue. It’s what we do for some reason.

The habit continues, even though it was filled today, and so I keep flicking my tongue over to the right side of my mouth and being surprised to find that there’s something missing. There is: the hole.

Now, this is a strange thing. A hole is a place where there’s something missing, but now it’s been filled in, there’s still something missing. It’s all to do, of course, with whether the concept of ‘a hole’ is viewed subjectively or objectively. Isn’t life strange?

On Ladies with Dangerous Tools.

I went to the dentist today to get that broken tooth sorted – the one that felt like the entrance to the Channel Tunnel every time I scraped my tongue on it. (The French entrance, I expect. I’m sure the English side must be far tidier, although I admit to having never seen either.)

I was impressed!

Italics and an exclamation mark; that’s because not many things impress JJ.

I was attended to by Medeea, the Romanian dentist who seems to be growing a little tired of people mentioning Dracula, and Lucy, the young woman with incisive eyes and partial Greek ancestry. They made quite a team. Never in my life have I been treated with such care and thoroughness by a dentist. Never.

‘Does it hurt a little?’ asked Medeea when I winced (quietly.) Her expression betrayed genuine concern, which seemed, in my experience at least, totally uncharacteristic of a dentist’s surgery. Nice, though.

‘Yes.’

‘Would you like more anaesthetic?’

‘No; I’m not that important. Carry on.’

I was being worked on for at least half an hour, and when it was all over I was told that I shouldn’t eat before 3.30. ‘Then you can have lunch,’ said Lucy, adding as an afterthought (since she’s aware of my strangely nocturnal habits) ‘or breakfast…’

And it wasn’t only excellent treatment I received at the hands of the Romanian lady; I got some free philosophy, too. She told me I shouldn’t be so obsessed with mortality, since I’m only thinking myself to an early grave. I gather, however, that one of her maxims is ‘A pessimist is just an optimist who’s well-informed.’ A note of realism, to boot.

Medeea was the consummate, caring professional, and I took the trouble to have myself transferred to her list for future visits. Maybe Van Helsing was onto something when he said that Mina Harker had ‘the mind of a man, but the heart of a woman.’ (Damn; I mentioned Dracula.) Maybe dentists should all be women. The splendid Lucy was simply as splendid as ever.

There is one thing that troubles me, though. Those Perspex face masks that dentists wear these days lead me to the unsubstantiated, yet nevertheless nagging, suspicion that I’m about be welded.

Fifteen minutes to breakfast.

Time and Tedious Reminiscence.

There was a time when this was my favourite song. It was a time of warm summers, new ventures, and being the guy with potential. I was even married, not that it made much difference…

Life moves on. Pedestals are for other people now.


Perennial Victims.

Actually, it wasn’t entirely a dull day. I saw something a little odd in the field at the side of my house this afternoon.

There was a wild rabbit standing rigid, and creeping up on it was what appeared to be a cat. Only it seemed rather bigger than a domestic moggie, and it ducked when a jackdaw flew overhead. It was an unusual colour, too – a pale shade of grey that I’ve never seen in a domestic cat. I went off to fetch my binoculars, but when I returned, the rabbit was still there but the cat had gone.

And then I saw a damn great buzzard on the school playing field, which is where the rabbits are much given to frolicking. That’s bad news for rabbits, especially if they’ve got babies. I think that being a rabbit must be one of life’s riskier occupations.

Spirits.

I’d like to make a little post
About my fabled Chinese ghost
Alas, she isn’t here today
She’s with the good guys far away

She only ever comes to me when the spirit moves her, you see, and I only ever go to her when the spirits move me. Well, almost. What a dull day.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Power of Music.

I find it interesting that it can sometimes take five or six or a dozen listenings to a song before you feel its full weight. I suppose it’s because the mind, heart and soul have to attune themselves to all the nuances. And when they do, the song can become almost too heavy to bear and you find yourself exposed to sensory overload. The song I included in the previous post is a good example for me.

I’m sure we don’t all experience this; I suspect it’s something that mostly affects those afflicted with the HSP gene (if gene it is.) So is it a curse or a blessing? Well, where music is concerned, I’d say it’s a blessing because it can be remarkably therapeutic.

But if you don’t experience this, please try to understand. The next time you see someone emotionally overcome on hearing a song, try not to mock. A powerful force is working on them, and they might even be healing from something you don’t know about.

Redressing the Balance.

When I was a very small boy, my dad told me a story concerning something that had happened close to where he lived during his own childhood. It was about a horse and cart crossing a retractable wooden bride over the canal. A wheel of the cart had slipped over the edge of the bridge, the cart had tumbled into the water dragging the horse with it, and the horse had drowned.

I was only about three or four at the time, but I remember quite vividly how much it upset me. I wouldn’t have given a tuppeny toss if the carter had drowned, but the horse was an innocent, captive creature, and its death struck me as the most gut-wrenching of unbearable tragedies.

So, just to make up for it, I’m offering another song from the lovely Kate. It’s an old Scottish song which tells the story of a man so driven to see his lady that he dies in his attempt to cross the river. Tragedy enough, you might say. I agree, but the horse survives.


Cheering the Bad Guys.

I seem to have the Nazgul on the brain at the moment. I’ve mentioned them in two recent posts, and I wonder whether that amounts to a form of obeisance. It’s just that I’ve more or less decided they’re my favourite characters from LOTR. They strike me as the most powerful and realistic.

Not that I like them, you understand. They’re nasty. They even had the temerity to chase our beautiful Lady Arwen on their black horses and wave their swords at her, the bounders! Such behaviour is utterly inexcusable to a gentleman of high principle, but you must admit: they do have a sort of inverse charm.

And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe we should like them. Maybe we should cheer when they come a-riding. Maybe they would be so mortified at being liked that they would melt from the very shame of it.

*  *  *

There’s a big moon the colour of butterscotch rising behind the tree in the corner of my garden. It looks creepy.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Two Sides of Twilight.

I gave the lawn its first mow of the year today – a high cut, of course, to ease it in gently – and this evening at twilight I stood on it.

It looked bigger than it has of late, but then lawns always do when they’ve just been mown. All around it the growth is greening and waking to a new season; it’s looking more like a garden now, and less like a brown and frigid wasteland. The herbaceous plants are swelling, the leaf buds on the fruit trees are beginning to open, and the forget-me-nots are running rampant with masses of tiny pink and blue flowers. Such unassuming plants, forget-me-nots, so simple yet so free in their gaudy attire.

But there was another side to this evening’s twilight. There was an unseasonal chill in the air, and the marbled clouds of mid and dark grey were driving purposefully from the north. The big hedgerow trees were standing rigid, silhouetted starkly against the uneven, shifting sky, and seeming to wait with bated breath for the daylight to desert the Shire. One could almost imagine the Nazgul riding close. Such an evocative name, Nazgul, so redolent of power, darkness and indifference to the woes of men. Let’s hope there’s nothing to find here, and they ride on.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Going Badly Beyond Ghostbusters.

Dan Ackroyd says that Ghostbusters 3 – using the original actors playing the original roles – is close to becoming reality. He says he expects shooting to begin early in 2014. The problem is, apparently, that Bill Murray wants no part of it. He is reported as saying ‘Nobody wants to watch fat old guys chasing ghosts.’

I think he’s probably wrong. I think an awful lot of people would watch it out of a sense of curiosity. What I don’t understand is why Ackroyd wants to do it, except to gross a few more million for the studio and the top stars. I don’t believe it could ever be the third part of a true Ghostbusters trilogy; it’s too far removed. The actors are thirty years older now, so the characters would have to be thirty years older. That might make for some interesting script and plot elements, but its connection with the originals would be weak.

Ghostbusters stands tall as a cinematic icon consisting of two films about some fit, thirty something parapsychologists-with-attitude coming to the rescue of New York City in the greed-is-good eighties. It's funny, exciting, imaginative, and even romantic. It's so different from anything else that it remains almost as fresh today as it was then. A third one now would have to be so essentially different in terms of character and environment that it could only amount to a curio tagged on the end. I think it would dilute the magic, and that would be a shame.

Our Taste in Leaders.


One of the reasons I never watch those local magazine programmes on the TV is because they’re forever interviewing the people who run society – politicians, police, business leaders and so on. They’re all so neat and colourless. And yet we all know that in many cases it’s a façade they construct in order to look respectable and be accepted. And that’s what bothers me: the fact that people respect and accept them because they look so neat and colourless.

Apportioning the Finite Quantity.

Kate Rusby’s song Old Man Time is about a ‘rare old man’ who controls the sands of time, taking it from the old and giving it to the young. So it caused me to ponder…

Suppose time really is a matter of finite quantity. Suppose it’s apportioned to living beings at their birth in accordance with a life expectancy prescribed by the determinist principle, and then re-apportioned to other new lives as it’s used up. And suppose all the sand of time is in circulation, so that there’s none to spare.

That would mean that as one form of being – say, the human being – proliferated, other forms of being would have to contract. Or, alternatively, that the proliferating form would have to have its average life expectancy reduced.

But then this would also have to apply to non-living beings, like mountains and beer cans, since they’re subject to the ravages of time, too.

I wonder why I waste my mental energy on such pointless speculation.

Pros on Either Side.

I just had a reply to one of my YouTube comments. It said:

‘I’ll take an ageing whore over a professional virgin any time.’

Conventional though it is, I respect his view. It does raise a few questions, however, such as ‘Does such a view identify the nub of the difference between the Rationalist and the Romantic?’ If so, does it further carry implications of low mind and high mind? I really don’t know. But then, I’m not entirely sure what a professional virgin is anyway.

Heavens, the roads this could lead me down. Not in the mood. I think I reported on most of them ad nauseum two summers ago.

A Few More Pointless Rambles.

I got stood up tonight; the call from NYC didn’t materialise.

I did see three women walk past the garden earlier, though. One of them was my one-time friend Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned. It was nice to see her, even if only briefly and at a distance.

I just went through to the kitchen to get my fourth double scotch, and I swear I heard a duck saying ‘quack, quack.’ I think it’s time I went to bed.

I wish my right knee would stop hurting.

In Praise of Birds.

I never really saw birds until I came to live in this house. I never saw how they are noble but not pretentious, fragile yet tough, rarely pretty but always beautiful, intensely cautious yet as brave as it takes when there’s a nest to defend. And they go about their business with an uncompromising certainty of purpose that we could learn from.

There are a few pictures on this video which capture their bearing, but if you don’t see it – as I didn’t most of my life – a few pictures probably won’t do the trick. The music is nice though, courtesy of the Barnsley Nightingale.


The Night Sky and the Trembling Ball.

I’ve given the night walks up now, at least until next autumn if I’m still here. The decision was driven partly by the refusal of my old knee injury to settle down, and partly by the bad conscience I developed over my habit of prowling the public roads of the Shire at 9 o’clock at night like some latter day Nazgul with a nose for cheap deodorant.

I did, however, go and stand on the lawn at about 10.30, just to see whether the night sky had anything interesting to offer. It did: the eastern horizon (that’s the top of the hill behind my house) was suffused with an unusually bright and extensive white glow. Since the dawn was still so far off, I assumed it must have been the moon about to rise and lighting up the misty atmosphere. Having come to the pragmatic conclusion, I decided to regard it as mysterious anyway, ’cos that’s what I do.

And then I caught sight of the round thing on the lawn again, standing stock still in the torchlight. It was my little friend the hedgehog. He was about two feet away, regarding me with a sideways stare and trembling. He looked frightened, poor chap, so I turned off the torch straight away and left him in peace.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Orcs on the Right.

The right wing press in Britain is at it again:

A Million on Benefit and Able to Work! resounds the headline.

The implication is clear enough. There are a million people out there who are just plain lazy and sponging off the tax payer.

The purpose of the right wing press is, of course, to feed the ill-informed prejudices of timid Middle England in order to keep the right wing politicians in power. (Ironically, right wing politicians generally come from a class of people who have generated their wealth down the centuries largely by sponging off others – usually tenants, workers and so on.)

So, the message is plain: reduce or remove altogether the largely pitiful welfare payments to these ne’er-do-wells in order to force them back to work. Fine, except that there aren’t the jobs for them to do. It’s odd how the Orcs on the right wing always manage to forget that bit.

A Yorkshire Beauty.

Have another bit of Kate Rusby, the Barnsley Nightingale, singing in her native Yorkshire accent with its flat vowels an’ all. I do so appreciate it when people don’t pretend.


J'Accuse Jackson and LOTR.

So, just to keep the blog ticking over until I see how things work out…

I’m going to step well out of line here and say that I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I’ve spent the past three nights watching. I don’t deny that the films are enjoyable; they are. They’re enjoyable because the story itself is epic and imaginative, the battle scenes in wide shot are strongly rendered, the romantic elements are mostly movingly handled, and the special effects are up to the standard you’d expect of modern technology. Nevertheless, it is, in my opinion, a highly flawed piece of work in the following areas:

a) Even in fantasy films, mechanical laws still need to apply. Gravity is still gravity, and if a human being – or even a hobbit – falls five hundred feet down a precipitous mountainside, bouncing off jagged rocks as they fall, they don’t roll over and say ‘ouch.’ They mostly die, or at least suffer multiple injuries so severe that they’ll probably never be completely normal again even after months of advanced treatment and rehabilitation.

b) Mechanical laws aside, the plot is full of implausible elements. It was never explained, for example, how Frodo and Sam, when making the final climb to destroy the ring, are wearing borrowed Orc outfits. Orcs are about 7ft tall and built like gorillas. Hobbits are – what – a third that height when standing to attention? Where did they find the miniature Orc outfits? I didn’t see any Orc children anywhere.

c) The relationship between the men of the Fellowship – the male bonding stuff – is so bad that it had me gagging at times. It’s naïve and unrealistic; it’s little short of pantomime; it’s cheesy in the extreme. I’ve never in my whole life seen even ordinary men behave like that, much less hardened warriors. I have encountered a few hardened warriors in my time, believe it or not, and they simply don’t act that way. I don’t believe they ever did. It was sheer am-dram. They overdid the laddish humour, too. Much of it was out of context and fell flat on its face.

d) And then there was the attempt to convey emotion in the death/glory/triumph scenes. On the whole, they didn’t convey emotion at all; what they did was provoke cringing embarrassment. The death of Boromir was bad; Aragorn’s coronation scene was worse; the leave-taking of Frodo at the end was almost as bad. There was little genuine emotion conveyed. It was mostly a level of sentimentality so mawkishly expressed that I found myself turning away with closed eyes at times. It was the worst form of third rate Shakespearean parody.

I could have gone on and on if I’d made notes as I went along. I didn't, of course.

Do you know what I think? I think Peter Jackson was so carried away with making a gigantic epic that he forgot important details like mechanics and human nature. And it showed in the fact that some of the acting was uncertain, even by the biggest names in the business. I’ve never seen Cate Blanchett act badly before. I have now.

The film is certainly an epic, and I admit that it’s enjoyable, but only if you switch off all critical faculties. Does that make it a great movie? I think not.

Addendum:

I just remembered this. The scene in the coronation sequence in which royalty, nobility, warriors and a magician bow the knee in unison to four little hobbits is mind blowing. If there's one scene which demonstrates that Jackson apparently has no clue as to the level of reality needed to make fantasy work, that has to be it. I swear he must have been high on something the Maoris slipped into his coffee that morning.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

On Hiatus.

I’ve been taking a break from blogging while I:

1) Finally get around to watching the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy.

2) Contemplate giving up on nearly all that has shaped who I’ve become over the past few years, and the likely need to re-invent myself in consequence.

Whether I resume the blogging habit will depend on the outcome of (2.) Do keep checking back.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Not Defending Kate.

I'm always amused by the raised hackles that you find in the comment section of YouTube videos. Someone said of the following video 'This is crap music. I have to do stupid math homework to this shit.'

Intriguing, you must admit. Why does he have to listen to 'this shit' while he's doing his homework? I thought of letting my own hackles rise and posting a reply, but thought better of it. He's probably just at that age. Make up your own mind:


Getting Kitted Out.

I’m now the proud possessor of a new headset for use with Skype. My last one cost 99p from The £1 Shop, and… erm… wasn’t very good. This one cost £7.50 from somewhere else, and is a lot better. It favours the treble end a bit, but the overall sound is clear as a mountain stream, so now I won’t have to keep saying ‘Sorry, could you say that again? My hearing seems to be a bit off tonight.’ Actually, my hearing is always a bit off, but one does so feel the need to pretend.

(It also means I can listen to YouTube stuff loud without disturbing the Shire residents, which is a bonus.)

So anyway, I reckon this means another delve into the heady prospect of a call to New York City. All I need is for the Face of Brooklyn to pick up, which isn’t at all certain, alas. I thought of posting a picture of The Face right…


HERE


…but you’d only think I was either lying or bragging, so I won’t bother.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Night Sky Oddities.

Just occasionally I’m treated to the sight of something strange in the night sky. Tonight it was a small cloud glowing white for several seconds before turning dark again. And then another one would glow, and then the glow would pass across several clouds, as though somebody was moving a high powered searchlight across them. I expect it was some kind of electrical discharge, but there was no flickering as there usually is with lightning.

What’s stranger is something I’ve seen twice this winter – a small point of light like a star moving across the sky in a straight line and at many times the speed of a commercial airliner. They had none of the characteristics of a meteor about them, so I thought they might be asteroids or comets. But then, a few nights ago, I saw two travelling in opposite directions. They passed close to one another, and then one of them turned through 90° and continued on a new course. Asteroids and comets don’t do that, do they?

Being.

These are deeply anxious times, replete with ill-formed yet potent fears.

I wrote the following to somebody last night, somebody who said ‘I don’t know who I am out there.’

‘So you don’t know who you are out there. You never did, did you? That’s why you went inside yourself and found me, and why you still sometimes go back there and renew our acquaintance.

The world out there is a place for role playing; it’s what we all do. I’m fairly convinced that it’s entirely what we’re here for. Some of us realise it, most don’t. And those of us who do realise it grow tired of strutting and fretting the hour upon the stage because we know it’s probably all meaningless in the wider context of existence. When you get to that point, inside becomes the only place to find any meaning worth having. It’s a more honest form of reality in there.

So if you want to play the corporate bitch and snort cocaine through $100 bills, why not? And when you get tired of that role, move onto another one. I doubt it matters a jot when you come home to the real you. And playing roles is the one thing that keeps you from being lonely as hell, so you might as well get on with it and enjoy it.’

Had it been somebody else, I might have written something different. I don’t know. Neither do I know whether I’m right or not; the nature of being is such a complicated business. Or maybe it isn’t. The Laughing Monk would have us believe that nothing is simpler than being, it’s only the illusion that’s complicated.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Spring Firsts and a Captive Flower.

After the blackcap’s visit yesterday, I saw the first ant and the first bumblebee of the season today. The swathes of daffodils are now rampant with trumpets, the early perennials are greening up nicely, and the little redcurrant bush is in full leaf.

I saw a daffodil lying on the lawn, broken off at the base and probably the casualty of a clumsy pheasant. I brought it in and put it in a small vase of water in my office, where it now adds a little additional colour to the green house plants.

But, do you know, I’m not terribly keen on seeing cut flowers in a house. There’s something of human artifice about a flower ripped from its parent plant and standing incongruously in a glass vessel filled with tap water. It always puts me in mind of somebody on a life support machine, or – worse still – the sort of thing you would find on a Borg spaceship.

The Yorkshire Lass and the Leprechaun.

Tonight I found a rather special video on YouTube - Kate Rusby, Cathy Jordan and Dervish all on the same stage singing As I Roved Out. I've already posted one YouTube video tonight, so maybe I'll save this one for another time.

It's of some small interest to me that Kate Rusby has the same birthday as Mary Davies, the first girl who truly aroused my passion when I'd reached the ripe old age of seventeen. We worked together, and she used to come around to my house when we had an afternoon off to listen to some music in my bedroom. My mother didn't like her; she suspected poor Mary of trying to lead me astray. Mothers can be incredibly naive about their sons sometimes.

The passion went largely unrequited, but that's of no importance. It's always the feelings that matter, not the actions.

Bogie on the Block.

Sam Diamond protests his innocence in Murder by Death, it having just been revealed that he'd been spotted frequenting a gay bar:

'I never kissed nobody. And I never did nothin' to a man that I wouldn't do to a woman!'


Friday, 19 April 2013

Being a Demi-God.

There’s a tract of hedgerow at the near end of Church Lane that hasn’t been trimmed for some years, no doubt because the verge and ditch on the lane side are unusually wide at that point. It’s turning wild and unkempt, and I thought tonight that there must be thousands of little lives being lived out among it, unseen and unheard by my inadequate human eyes and ears. No doubt they’re all aware of me, though, because I’m the big, unfamiliar thing that makes a lot of noise when it walks. I wonder whether they know how to find Polaris by using the Big Dipper as a guide, as I do.

A Matter of Motivation.

Following several high profile scandals involving the press in Britain, new laws are being brought in next week with a view to controlling ethical standards in the industry. I just read that these laws won’t apply to bloggers with a turnover of less than £2m and fewer than ten employees.

This is a world I know nothing about. How glad I am that I blog alone and purely for the fun of it. I make not a penny, nor a cent, nor a fraction of a yen, and thus it has ever been with me.

Little Things in the Big Picture.

There was a blackcap feeding on my bird table today. The blackcap is a small bird that migrates up here from tropical Africa between about April and October, and it was the first migrant I’ve seen this year.

This is what seems to most impress me in life. How ridiculous do the celebrated, shallow icons of our culture appear, strutting their self-importance and flaunting their material wealth, when compared with a little bird that has just made an heroic, three thousand mile journey using nothing but his own energy and navigational skills. And it further seems to me that helping him to build that energy back up is one of life’s worthier endeavours.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Gale and the Night.

The gale and the Shire night made a pleasant combination. Of particular note was the sight of clouds racing across the moon, which I always think has something nicely gothic about it. The first horror film I saw even before I was officially old enough to watch horror films was Hammer’s The Gorgon, and the image I most remember from it was the sight of clouds racing across the moon. It became, for me, the principle image of the gothic style.

And then there was the untended growth at the near end of Church Lane, which squeaked and grunted and growled as though there was something moving among it, something other than the wind, that is. (I forgot to take the grapes!)

On a more prosaic note, I’ve said before that the great benefit of scattered, moving clouds at night is that they add the third dimension to the sky in a way you never see during daylight. It’s all about levels: clouds at the lowest level, moon in the middle ground, and stars far away. It takes the cosmos off the celestial canvas and puts us in our place.

Early shower tonight. Did I mention that I have a call booked to New York at midnight? Hey…

Posh Fruit and International Connections.

I have a Skype call booked to New York at around midnight tonight. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Exotic, even. So much so that it justifies repetition:

I have a call booked to New York at midnight.

Me?

My fruit bowl looks exotic, too. That’s because it has a bunch of grapes on top of the apples, pears, plums and bananas. It looks like somebody should come and paint its picture. This is all too epicurean for me.

I’m off to brave the gale and the Shire night now. I wonder whether the fiends that stalk the lanes get hungrier when it’s windy. Maybe I should take the grapes with me.

Out of Line.

Having had the unusually cold weather and the unusually snowy weather, now we’ve got the unusually windy weather. Winds like this are more typical of March, and we did have the worst of the winter at the end of March, so I’m wondering whether we’re running a month behind schedule this year.

If we are, it means that the atmospheric conditions will be out of synch with the light levels. Won’t that confuse the plants and wildlife?

A Reasonable Comparison.

I gather Mrs Thatcher was buried today with all due pomp, circumstance and media attention. The cashier in the supermarket told me so. As I said last week, her death meant nothing to me apart from stirring up a few grievances.

On Monday, an eight-year-old boy was waiting to see his father cross the finish line in the Boston Marathon, when his future was extinguished by a bomb. Which of the two do you think runs me through with a sharpened blade, turns my emotional state on its head, and has me questioning again what the hell life is all about? How easily can I be expected to switch off the agony I feel on behalf of his parents?

‘Ah,’ you might say, ‘but that’s an irrational and unrealistic comparison.’

No it isn’t, not if you go deep enough into the question of where the human spirit should be directing its attention.

Becoming Temporarily Decadent.

The fruit shop in Ashbourne had big bunches of grapes at the marked down price of 50p. They were obviously at full ripeness and needed selling off, so I bought a bunch. It occurred to me that 50p for a whole bunch of decadence compares more than favourably with a single Spanish plum which costs 52p, and I do so like finding a bargain.

It’s many, many years since I had grapes. Grapes are what people with more money than sense eat, or so it always seemed to me, but now I can pretend to be one of them. All I need is somewhere to recline and a troupe of Abyssinian dancing girls, and then my life won’t have been entirely wasted.

A Welcome Visitor.

When I came back from the walk tonight, I spotted a round something on a part of the lawn usually notable for being entirely devoid of round things. It was a hedgehog, of course, and it trotted away when I caught it in the light of the torch. Can you believe that’s the first hedgehog I’ve seen since I moved back to the countryside eleven years ago? They hibernate, you know; I just checked. And it occurred to me that the phrase ‘hibernate in the winter’ is a tautology.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Note on the Boston Horror.

The cloud I was under today wasn’t helped by reading about the Boston bombing. I don’t want to say anything about the horror of it, since there wouldn’t be any point. Nothing I could say would sensitise the mind of anyone not already brought to their knees by it. Instead, I want to take a step sideways and consider what President Obama said in the aftermath.

In his first public statement on the matter, he referred to it as ‘an act of terrorism.’ He then went on to say that there was no clue yet as to the perpetrators of the atrocity, but he’d already used the term ‘an act of terrorism.’ This causes me concern for two reasons.

Firstly, ‘terrorism’ has a fairly specific definition, something along the lines of ‘the deliberate arousal of terror within a defined population in furtherance of military, political, or ideological ends.’ Since the perpetrators aren’t known, Obama has no basis on which to make the assumption. If, for example, some crazed person had planted those bombs to take revenge on the people of Boston for some perceived grievance, it wouldn’t be terrorism, but a matter of personal vengeance. This is important because terrorism is a major concern these days, and it needs to be understood by everybody if it is to be effectively addressed.

On a more human level, however, a greater concern stems from the fact that terrorism has become indelibly associated in the minds of people in the west with Islamic extremism, and too many people fail to make the distinction between the generality of a religious belief system and the extremist end of it. In consequence, I’ve little doubt that there are people in America – and maybe other parts of the western world – who will translate Obama’s statement as ‘the Muslims did it.’ That isn’t right; it’s the sort of thing that can inflame the lynch law mentality.

So does the President know more than he’s admitting to, or was he simply guilty of unconscionable carelessness in his choice of words? If it’s the latter, then I have to say that one has a right to expect better of a man in his position.

The Green Bin Mystery.

In Britain, one of the many receptacles now issued to households by local authorities for the purpose of recycling is the Green Waste Bin. It’s for compostable waste like garden trimmings and vegetable peelings. They’re collected once a fortnight, and the next collection in this area is scheduled for 25th April.

I filled mine with garden trimmings yesterday, but when I checked it for remaining space this afternoon, I found it empty. So who emptied it, and why did they come into the garden to get it? On collection days I always put it out by the lane, as everybody is required to do.

I rang the waste department of the local authority and spoke to a woman who said she was mystified. The next collection is indeed due on 25th April, and they have no vehicles in this area today.

Oh.

I think it was emptied by a consortium of locals looking for something with which to incriminate me. Anything. ‘Just find an excuse to hang him from that ash tree in Church Lane. We don’t want his sort here. Have you seen the age of his car?

I’m kidding. I think. The mystery remains.

The Emergence of a Weird Hybrid.

Earlier today I tested an earpiece microphone for use with Skype. When I plugged the two jack plugs in, I got a message on the screen which said:

You have plugged a device into your computer

Erm…

When I took them out later, I got another message which said:

You have unplugged a device from your computer.

I have a new theory regarding the evolution of computers. I think they’re developing into some weird creature that’s part delinquent and part nanny. Punks with blue rinses and gingham pinafores. Where will they take us, and will it hurt?

Monday, 15 April 2013

Stirling and the Ladies.

Stirling Moss says that women don’t have the mental toughness to be F1 motor racers. Whoops! Susie Wolff isn’t impressed.

Well, Stirling was one of the world’s great racing drivers, but he retired before political correctness was invented. In his day, beautiful women filled a similar role to that of decorative scarves – there to be hung around the neck with the dual purpose of keeping the driver warm and providing decoration.

In my experience, the toughest of women are at least as mentally tough as the toughest of men, if not more so. But then, my experience is considerably less extensive than Stirling’s.

Fools, Fiends, and the Faithful Phone Box.

My mind has been going round and round this evening, constructing an essay with the title ‘Compare and Contrast the Present Government with Laurel and Hardy.’

It kept getting out of hand; it kept going down too many roads; it kept ending with me spilling bile. Frankly, I’m tired of spilling bile over the nasty, misconceived actions of ignorant fools – and dangerous fools at that. I just hope we can get through the next two years without any more riots or too many more people being rendered destitute, and then sweep them into the wilderness. It didn’t get written.

Let’s do the walk instead.

*  *  *

I was struck again tonight by how plaintive that lighted telephone box looks in its little dark place at the bottom of Bag Lane. It’s still doing its job, you see, as it has for maybe six decades. It’s still doing its duty by lighting up every night as the darkness falls, standing ready to facilitate the needs of the Shire folk. Only nobody comes any more. And I’m sometimes persuaded that the genus loci is a credible and literal concept. I saw Poltergeist 2 (or was it 3?)

But then I got a little spooked in The Hollow. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt spooked down there. A place that grows swathes of wild garlic on its embankments has to be a friendly place, right? Well, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, those embankments are steep and rise to around fifteen feet in places. At night, it’s very easy to imagine a large, unidentified shape skulking along the top of them. Could it be heading for a spot where ambush would be easier, you wonder. I switched my imagination off and thought of Laurel and Hardy.

Observing the Connection.

My excellent acquaintance Maddie says that ‘the need for control occasionally prevents her from enjoying the spontaneity of life.’ Well, that got me thinking.

To some extent, I feel the need for control, too. In my case, though, it isn’t the only thing that prevents me from enjoying the spontaneity of life. A bigger factor is my need to observe.

The problem with, or value of, spontaneity is that it encourages unconditional connection with a person, situation, or whatever, unencumbered by external considerations. It’s like walking into a wood. You can see the detail in the nearest trees, but you can’t see the wood in the context of the surrounding landscape. I need to see both at the same time, and that inevitably dilutes the connection. On those occasions when I allow entirely spontaneous behaviour, I always feel in retrospect that I’ve missed something. I’ve let the bigger picture pass me by unnoticed. And that leads to a question:

Are the need for control and the need to observe two different psychological traits, or is the need for control a corollary of the need to observe?

Being a Being of Little Use.

Computers confuse me sometimes.

JJ is rephrasing the last sentence. Please do not power down or shut off your computer.

Computers confuse me a lot. I’m convinced of the fact that they were originally designed the way they were in order to create a technocratic niche which technically minded people could utilise to their advantage. Now I think they’ve developed minds of their own and are regressing into delinquency. My latest theory is that technological evolution works backwards.

This is, of course, no more than a cover for my own inadequacy. I’m no technocrat, you see. I do far better with abstract thought than I do with technology – or even building walls, come to that. This frequently causes me to ask a searching question: Am I any use?

Post Mortem.

What I believe is this:

When the being known as JJ finally stops functioning and gets taken off to feed the flames, the crows, or the earthworms (I’d like it be the crows, but it’s the least available option,) his consciousness will continue to function. So what I want to know is this:

That consciousness will probably continue to have a sense of individual identity, but will it have a personality now that it isn’t attached to a person?

These things interest me, you know?

*  *  *

I like this little-quoted line from Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers:

A carriage driver has just had his head knocked off as a result of not ducking soon enough when negotiating a low archway. The writer ruminates:

‘So there he was: sandwich in hand and no mouth to put it in.’

I’m not CD’s biggest fan, but he did have a sense of humour.

Eupho-Speak.

This irritates me:

(It’s from Skype)

Please wait a moment while we improve your Skype experience.

Why can’t they be honest and say:

We’re not letting you in yet because we’re installing updates whether you want them or not. Tough.

I get nervous about updates. I do. I have a troubled history with them.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Seeing Things.

I was sitting at my desk earlier and received a sudden, vivid impression of a picture. It showed a reed-fringed lake somewhere deep in the countryside. There was no place of human habitation in view. It was seen at twilight in winter, and showed a pallid sky streaked with pastel pink and pale grey. And then a big bird – maybe a heron – flew in from the right and landed on the water.

I’m not aware of having seen such picture lately, and it was no soft memory anyway; it was a sudden, vivid impression. I wonder where it came from.

*  *  *

In stark contrast, I was just looking at a map of the world and noticed that Indonesia has the appearance of a salt water crocodile, creeping up on Australia and about to take a bite out of it. In fact, if you look at northern Australia, it appears that the beast has already taken a bite out of it. Forget all that stuff about plate tectonics. It was all the work of a giant, salt water crocodile.

*  *  *

Isn’t imagination fun?

More Mid Evening Notes.

I was astonished to read that Barack Obama’s presidential salary is only $400,000 a year. How can a chap maintain an aura of importance on a salary as low as that?

*  *  *

I was checking the state of the grids in my lane, and remembering those hours spent in the downpours last autumn, clearing the blockages so as to relieve the road of its role as a temporary river. One of the Shire residents drove past in his big new something-or-other, stopped, and said in a tone of great indignation: ‘If this was snow, we wouldn’t be able to bloody move!’ He seemed to think that it was all somebody's fault.

*  *  *

The weather has turned a lot milder here. Night temperatures are about the same as the daytime temperatures were in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago. The wind remains a bit fresh, however, and the daffodils are ‘fluttering and – as it were – dancing in the breeze.’ (With credit to Sue Limb. I got that from her book The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere, which is very, very funny in parts, though out of print I think.)

*  *  *

I’m going to post a letter when I go out for a walk tonight. That should bring a note of respectability to my nefarious activities. And the post box is next to the phone box, so I can say ‘hello’ at the same time without arousing suspicion. Oh, the subterfuge…

Last Word on Mrs T.

I’m growing very tired of the attention being given to Margaret Thatcher. I’m sick of the endless, pointless rhetoric over whether she is to be lauded or reviled. In particular, I’m sick of senior politicians and the media lauding her because it’s the polite thing to do now that she’s dead.

To me, the issue is simple. Mrs Thatcher was the prime architect of modern Britain. There’s no doubt that Britain is more stress-laden, more debt-laden, more divided, more dangerous, and dirtier than it was before she took the reins.

So let’s just bury her, shall we? Put her remains in a hole, fill it with a ton of earth, place a heavy stone on top of it, and walk away. There’s probably no need of a stake.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Soul State.

I went and visited an old friend tonight – the lone ash tree that stands in a hedgerow in a field off Church Lane. It looked quite magnificent silhouetted against the misty night sky. It seemed to be watching me. It even seemed to be waiting for me.

I’ve often expounded on the various pleasures I get from taking walks alone at night, but I think the subtlest and strongest is the curious sense of disassociation from the human condition. It strikes me that whatever the soul consists of, being disassociated from the human condition is probably its natural state.

And the breeze was soft tonight, as it should be in the magic month of April.

Respecting the Lower Life Forms.

I have a problem with gardening, you know. I’m not ruthless enough; I have too much respect for the sanctity of life, even at the lower levels. It’s why I dislike digging. Digging always involves cutting a few earthworms in half, and I dislike that, even though I know they survive and regenerate.

Where I really have a problem, though, is when I see people making bonfires with garden trimmings. Garden trimmings are full of insects, especially in the autumn when things like ladybirds are settling among the decaying summer growth to hibernate. So when I see such a bonfire, my first thought is for the thousands of insects which are being burned alive. It’s why all my garden trimmings go for compost, and it’s yet another example of how being a bit out of the groove can cause you problems.

To Boldly Go...

My Hotmail account (only it isn’t called Hotmail any more, it’s called Outlook) keeps telling me that the Twitter app for Windows 8 is now available, and that I can stream video and Tweet at the same time with Snap.

I bet there are people reading this blog who know what that means. I bet some of them even Twitter and Snap with gay abandon. And if I were to say ‘It’s English, Jim, but not as we know it,’ I bet they would look down at me disdainfully from the Cloud they’re undoubtedly sitting on.

Manipulating the Scales.

The present Tory administration in Britain likes to propound the view that people who live on welfare are bad people. They’re lazy, anarchic, dangerous even, and need to be punished. Worthy people – the ones who deserve to belong – are those who work for a living and make their proper contribution to society. (The administration conveniently ignores the fact that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, of course, but let’s not get too rational about this. Politicians rarely do.)

OK, so let’s turn the clock back to a previous Tory administration, the one ruled with an iron hand by the Iron Lady herself. They set about destroying the coalmining industry (along with the steel industry, the shipbuilding industry etc, etc,) so the miners went on strike. ‘Please don’t destroy our jobs,’ they said. ‘We want to work; we want to keep our self-respect; we want to make our contribution to society and belong to it in a proper manner.’ And what did Mrs Thatcher do? She set the dogs on them (in the form of the police, who were told to provoke violence on the picket lines so that the public would see the working man as a thuggish brute out to attack our brave boys in blue, and therefore undeserving of our sympathy.)

Politicians have a most interesting habit of tilting the scales to suit their current agenda, don’t they?

Maybe that’s why a London policeman was sacked today for tweeting that Mrs Thatcher ‘died eighty seven years too late.’ Maybe he was one of those who received instructions from on high.