Friday, 31 May 2013

A Green Lady and a Blonde from Suffolk.

I never made the weekly Ashbourne post yesterday. That was partly because I didn’t feel like writing yesterday (except for one e-mail that I was quite proud of) and partly because Ashbourne was as boring as it always is these days. And maybe I was still suffering an attack of delirium tremens as a result of doing something in Ashbourne the previous week that I never do:

I bought something from a charity shop just because I liked it.

Why did I do that? I never do that. Having always been short of financially comfortable to varying degrees, it’s always been my policy to buy things only because they’re routine purchases (like food) or because I have an acute need of them (like a new fridge freezer.) I don’t buy things just because I like them.

It was a tall jade ornament with a Japanese woman carved into the front; and now I’ve got it, I don’t know where to put it. That’ll teach me to go buying things just because I like them, won’t it?

Anyway, tonight I have the company of a blonde from Suffolk. She’s more pleasant than exciting, and she’s made from Hallertau hops with a proportion of East Anglian wheat to give her a delicious yeasty flavour. That’s what it says on the bottle, which is green and a rather nice shape. Maybe I should put it next to the jade figurine when I’ve found somewhere to put the jade figurine.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Healthy Diet for the Kids.

I’m not talking about Britain’s human underclass this time, but about Mrs B. She’s the lady blackbird I wrote about recently – the one who got into a fight with another lady blackbird and ended up with feathers missing. They’re still missing, and the feathers she does have aren’t in very good condition.

She has a nest now. (I wish I could say that it’s in the hazel thicket, as Sam did up on Mount Doom, but it isn’t. It’s in the forsythia bush at the side of my little front porch.) And the eggs have obviously hatched because she’s been taking food in for a few days.

We had rain all afternoon and into the evening yesterday, and I watched her flying in with food for the kids. She looked so bedraggled, poor thing. She looked more like a drowned rat than a blackbird, and that isn’t right. Adult birds fend off water pretty well, because feathers in good condition are oiled and the water runs off.

And so I worried about her all last night. I feared she might get chilled and not make it, as chicks with un-oiled baby down do if the parents don’t shelter them from the rain. Well, she did make it. She was charging around as usual this morning, eating for herself and bringing food for the wee’uns.

And I’ve noticed something interesting. She feeds ravenously on the oats I put out when she’s eating for herself, but I’ve only ever seen her bring earthworms for the chicks. That’s what I call responsible parenting, and Mrs B is what I regard as a right little heroine.

Reintroducing Oliver.

It’s been revealed that the uptake in charitable food handouts in Britain has tripled recently. Oxfam (yes, the Oxfam) says that government welfare cuts have gone too far and true destitution is now rearing its ugly head in the poorer areas of the country. The government department responsible for making the cuts responded – rather wittily for a government department, it has to be said – by saying that benefit reforms are 'designed to improve the lives of poor people.' (Note the predictable euphemism, by the way. What everybody else calls ‘cuts’ because that’s what they are, the government chooses to call ‘reforms’ because that’s what the comfortably off like to hear.)

It’s really quite astonishing that people in positions of power, and being paid salaries to match, can make statements that are so mind-bogglingly crass and so dangerously inflammatory. I really do worry that we won’t make it through the next two years without serious social insurrection, and it won’t be pleasant.

Meanwhile, there are rumours of contingency plans afoot to turn Botany Bay back into a penal colony, just in case the odd rapscallion or two takes it into his head to steal a couple of apples from Tesco to feed the kids. Nothing like getting back to the good old days, eh?

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Skype's Flaw and the Elvish Influence.

Skype has a flaw. It allows you to set your status as ‘away,’ but it doesn’t permit anything more specific. You’d think it would allow you to set up your own menu, wouldn’t you, with things like:

Just gone for a pee.

Hang on, somebody’s at the door.

Off to fetch another scotch and a slice of toast.

Wait a minute, I’m watching a scene from Lord of the Rings and I don’t want to miss the bit where Arwen does her silent wince.

Lord of the Rings is bothering me. It’s dragging me down into those fantastical depths where so many people seem to drown in the waters of alternate illusion. It’s the elves that do it. They’re the culprits.

Seeing Water.

For the first time in my life tonight I felt a deep sense of what amazing stuff water is. I knew it already of course, but I never really appreciated it before.

It seems so innocuous in small quantities. It has no colour, very little smell, and it offers hardly any resistance to the touch. It seems the very definition of mundane. And yet without it, life couldn’t exist. By the same token, it’s one of the foremost agents in the taking of life.

Being in the middle of the Atlantic during a force 11 storm was easily the most potent experience of primal power I ever had, but it’s the same stuff as you wash your hands in. Isn’t that amazing?

And maybe it can even tell the future. I keep on seeing that scene from Lord of the Rings in which Galadriel introduces little Frodo to the scrying bowl. The power of woman, the power of water. The gentle and the destructive all in one package. Amazing.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Admiring the Astuteness of the Internet.

You know, the internet is so clever. Whenever you shop online, or even only browse, hidden cyber eyes watch your movements and tailor the ads that appear on certain sites to match your interests.

That’s clever, isn’t it?

Well, I just ordered a new fridge freezer online because my current one is twenty two years old and having trouble doing its job properly. And now I’m being bombarded with ads for the very thing I’ve just bought.

Isn’t that clever?

A Little HSP Story.

Now that I’ve explained all about HSP in one easy lesson, I can tell a little story. (Actually, I might have told it before, but some of the people who read this blog weren’t even born then, and the rest didn’t know I was HSP – and neither did I, come to think of it.)

Back in the mid-nineties, after Mrs Thatcher’s policies had killed my photographic business, I had a lengthy period of unemployment. One day, the Gestapo at the Department of Employment, part of whose job it was to punish the unemployed for creating the unemployment statistics (nothing changes much, does it?) sent me on a course in a town about twenty five miles away to learn about computers.

I had no money so I had no car, and the bus service was hopeless, so every morning I had to push myself through the same unpleasant routine. I would get up at 6.30 into an unheated bedroom – because I didn’t have the money to afford heating – and walk the two miles to the railway station. It was still dark because the course lasted from the end of November to the end of February, and it was always either very cold or very wet and windy.

That wasn’t the really bad bit. The really bad bit was what I had to put up with for the rest of the day. The course was held in a portakabin erected inside an old industrial shed. It had no pictures, no greenery, and no windows in the plain magnolia walls. The air was stale because it was the same air being constantly recycled, so if one person had a cold, most of the rest of us caught it as well. Row upon row of old Amstrad computers sat blankly under row upon row of dull fluorescent lighting. The atmosphere in the place was one of sheer despondency, and when somebody complained, one of the ‘supervisors’ (there were no teachers – they gave us an error-strewn book and told us to get on with it) replied ‘If you think it’s bad coming here for thirteen weeks, mate, you should try working in the f****** place!’

It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Now, had the Gestapo at the D of E recognised that I was HSP and made due allowance, they wouldn’t have sent me there, would they? I could have stayed at home and played with my train set instead. And then I would have spent three months of my life being a bit less bloody miserable.

Experiencing a Small About Face.

I’ve never really fully connected with the world and its ways. Some part of me has always remained apart in order to observe, and such observation has brought me to a reasonable understanding of human nature. Or so I thought.

I watched the TV news bulletin at lunchtime, in which two stories stood out.

The first was a report from Syria. I saw whole communities reduced to rubble, but that wasn’t the true horror. Horror was engendered by the image of the father screaming in anguish at the loss of his loved ones. And it got cranked up even further by images of children who weren’t dead, but had dead eyes. And all to maintain the power and personal interest of one man and his system. What price my understanding of human nature now?

And then there was the story of rescuers freeing a newborn baby from a toilet outlet pipe in China. People had heard it crying, apparently. Heard it crying… right. I can cope with this. Can I? Nope. The inescapable conclusion has to be that somebody flushed the baby down the toilet to get rid of it, probably because of the strict child quota laws in China.

The trembling stopped eventually and I got back to eating my lunch. It seems, however, that a curious reversal is taking place. It seems I do connect with something after all; I connect with the suffering of sentient beings. Stories like these tear my f****** guts out! They do. Meanwhile, my understanding of human nature is looking decidedly shaky.

Marriage in Terminal Decline?

I gather the French have been protesting in their tens of thousands against the law permitting gay marriage. We in Britain don’t have such a law yet, but I expect we will before too long. It seems that even the conservatives in government (although not the conservatives in the rest of the Conservative Party) feel the need to roll with the right-on liberal bandwagon on this issue at least. Maybe they feel it will counter their unashamed crushing of the poor and boost their credibility. How can I know, since I’m not a conservative, a Conservative, a liberal, or a Liberal Democrat?

Meanwhile, the main opposition to gay marriage is coming from the religious fundamentalists, for whom gay marriage is offensive in the sight of God and therefore just about as offensive as you can get, and the traditionalists who feel it essential to maintain tradition just because it’s traditional. I don’t fall into either of those categories, either. (Neither do I like using the same word so close together twice in one sentence, but I can’t be bothered to think of a better alternative. I’m not out of the pit yet; I just have the top half of my face above the rim temporarily.) My take on the issue is this:

The more I thought about it, the more apparent it became that the definition of marriage is being challenged to the point of possible destruction. It seems to me that if a culture is going to have the institution of marriage at all, it has to be about more than just a contract. It has to be about something special which is above and beyond the mere signing of an agreement between two parties. It surely has to be about the conjoining of two entities to form a third, homogenous state. It has to be about two becoming one, however traditional that might sound. It isn’t about tradition; it’s about rational justification, and I don’t see any other way of justifying the institution.

That being the case, the question has to be posed: joining two what? Two people? I don’t think so; two solicitors can sign a contract and become a firm of solicitors. It isn’t strong enough; it’s too mundane; it isn’t sufficient to afford the gravitas to support the institution. In my view, it has to be about the conjoining of two equal and complimentary polarities – masculine and feminine. If such a view is accepted, then two same-sex people can no more enter into marriage than a man can hope to get pregnant. Furthermore, it amounts to a reasonable argument that if same-same marriage is permitted by law, it will destroy at a stroke the very meaning of marriage.

So do I care whether the law is passed or not? No, not really. It means little to me since I’ve never been the marrying kind (not even when I was married.) If that’s what society wants, then that’s what society is welcome to have. I think the institution of marriage, with all the gravitas implied therein, has been fading for decades anyway, so what the hell?

There is another issue involved here, of course: the question of whether the nuclear family is the only proper basis on which to found our social structure. And then there’s the question of whether – all other things being equal – children grow up better balanced if they have both masculine and feminine influences as part of their daily experience.

Well, they’re connected questions, but also separate ones, and this post is long enough as it is.

More on Being an HSP.

I think it’s about time I made a more detailed post about HSP. I’ve referred to it often enough, so let me try going into a bit more detail.

First off, I have to say that I have no proof that the HSP phenomenon is sufficiently concrete as to be medically recognisable. What I can say is that there is a condition, or more properly a personality variant, which is characterised by an exaggerated perceptual faculty and held in common by a relatively small number of people, including me. (I only found that out a year or so ago when somebody wrote to me and said ‘I’ve been reading your blog and I think you’re an HSP type. You match the symptoms.’) I can also say that a Canadian psychologist recognised this variant over twenty years ago and has been studying it ever since. She claims to have shown that it’s caused by our brains being wired slightly differently than those of ‘normal’ people, and who am I to disagree? The symptoms are certainly real enough, and it’s been my experience that they both differ sufficiently from the norm and accord sufficiently with the small percentage of like-minded others that I think it reasonable to proceed on the basis that it does exist. So let me do just that, using my own experience as my only guide.

According to that experience, there are two connected strands to HSP. The first is high awareness, the second high sensitivity. They both cause difficulty in our relations with life, but it’s the first of them that gets us most misunderstood. People know what sensitive means. Most people are highly sensitive to one thing or another that pushes their fear button, their anxiety button, their sadness button, or whatever, so it isn’t so difficult to explain that we’re highly sensitive to everything.

The difficulty comes with high awareness. People don’t think about awareness; it’s something that’s just there in the mind. It’s something we all take for granted, and I’ve no doubt that we all assume it’s more or less universal in its operation. I’m sure it more or less is for most people, but not for the HSP.

Being an HSP is like going through life seeing everything through a magnifying glass. Difficult issues loom more menacingly, bad atmospheres between people are more acrid, more detail is seen in the interplay of relationships, loud noises are effectively louder and bad smells effectively smellier, the energy of violence is more overwhelming, a small pool of blood becomes a lake on which floats the enervating perception of suffering, the play of light on a landscape is more complex, more connections are seen in the inflated spaces between the main message, objects which invade our space squeeze us to a sense of near-suffocation. And so on and so forth…

I expect the details vary with the individual, but what we have in common is the fact that everything looks bigger; and because it’s perception we’re talking about, if it looks bigger, it is bigger. Normal people are conditioned to their own level of awareness, and so they don’t understand ours. ‘Why is this bothering you so much?’ they ask. ‘It’s only a such-and-such.’ Yes, but it’s a much bigger such-and-such to us than it is to them. And it works both ways. We’re conditioned to our level of awareness, too, so we don’t understand why they don’t understand. Not until, that is, we bring HSP into the picture. I could tell the story of how, during my spell in the navy, I was brought to a state of near physical collapse by the repeated sound of gunfire from the big 4.5” guns. I didn’t collapse; it’s something you mustn’t do, because then you would lose face and have the shame to contend with on top of the collywobbles already turning your insides to a nauseating form of jelly. That’s what being an HSP is often about: hiding your true reactions so as to avoid being thought either a wimp or a lunatic. It helps a little to know that it’s because your brain is wired differently, and I suspect it probably plays a large part in PTSD.

It’s easy to become overloaded with all this awareness, and it’s easy to get swamped by the combined effect of awareness and sensitivity. The steadier ones might relieve the pressure by venting it through some creative pursuit, while those not so gifted might become alcoholics, or maybe go off the rails with an eating disorder or the proclivity for self harm. Most of us, I suspect, tend to live more in our own world than normal people do. And think of this: when society prides itself on punishing two offenders with the same prison sentence for the same crime, they call it equality of treatment. That isn’t surprising, but little do they realise that the punishments are far from equal if one of them is an HSP.

Maybe I should leave it there before the post becomes unforgivably long. And the news isn’t all bad anyway. High awareness brings benefits as well as drawbacks. I once heard a man with serious bipolar say that he’d always refused medication. He said that the highs were so good that he was prepared to pay for them with the lows. Well, maybe it’s a bit like that. I’ve survived so far without becoming an alcoholic or cutting slice marks into my arms, and I was brought to the verge of ending it all only once. Not bad, eh?

Tomorrow I might make the post about gay marriage, or write a silly ditty, or rant about idiot politicians (Ed Milliband’s rank opportunism raised my hackles this week.) Or maybe something will push me into the pit again. That’s how it is.

Monday, 27 May 2013

From the Pit.

I’ve been having trouble climbing out of the pit this week. Every time I got close, something else came along to push me back in again. Eventually, you just get tired of the effort. I need either a lift or somebody to donate a baseball and glove. Which reminds me of the saddest true story I ever heard, the one I said I’d never tell. So I won’t.

Anyway, since I don’t communicate well from the pit, I’ll make do with throwing up the video to one of my all time favourite songs. It’s arguably the cleverest pop song ever written (which is a pretty extravagant claim since I haven't heard every pop song ever written, but I'll forgive myself.) It’s dedicated to my curious predilection for things NYist, to Zoe who lives in New York, and to Maddie and her mum who almost do. I don’t know whether or not it helps to know who Howard Johnson is (or was.)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Oh No, not LOTR Again...

I wonder whether I’ll ever stop making posts about LOTR. When I’ve taken the sailing ship with Granddad Gandalf and the elves and gone to wherever it’s going, maybe. (I didn’t get that bit, by the way. Where was it going?) So anyway…

I’m not posting this so you can listen to the music, you understand (although some of it is quite nice.) I’m posting it because it’s my favourite picture of Arwen. ‘So why should we want to see your favourite picture of Arwen?’ you might ask. Because it’s my blog?

This is one of the scenes missing from the theatrical version. It’s the one in which Aragorn does his knowing look, and Arwen does the silent wince. It’s really rather touching.

And some young woman left a comment on the clip, which said ‘I wanna be an elf!’ Which is also rather touching, in a juvenile sort of way. But then some bloke comes back with ‘Join me… and you shall be!’ Where do they get them from? I liked the Indian man who left a comment on another clip, which said:

Only film. Not real. :)

And I’ve noticed that a lot of the commenters on LOTR compilations evidently come from the ranks of the converted, because they comment under LOTR-themed usernames, often taking one of the characters as the base. Do you think they’d let me have LeglessinLothlorien?

So, drum-roll-and-fanfare: My favourite picture of Arwen (and some nice music to go with it if you can be bothered.)

(Pity about the woman in the back row who looks like she's trying to curdle the milk, but I suppose it makes a nice contrast.)

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Pair of Bugs.

There are two things bugging me at the moment.

1) I do wish the YouTube people would make some attempt to match their ads to the tone of the clip being selected. Example: suppose you’re just in the mood for listening to some ethereal work by one of the Late English Romantics – say, EJ Moeran’s Lonely Waters – the last thing you want to have thrown hard and loud in your direction as soon as you select the clip is some rap artist in regulation uniform, complete with back-to-front hat as required in the space between his particular set of tramlines, trying to endear you to the prospect of buying a Big Mac tomorrow. It’s unlikely to do any such thing; all it’s likely to do is irritate you very severely and give the Big Mac an even worse name than it already has.

I daresay the YouTube people can’t be bothered to go to the trouble, but if I were an advertiser, I think I would insist on it.

2) One of the big news items at the moment in several parts of the ‘developed’ world is the legalising of same-sex marriage, and I’ve noticed that the media is almost invariably in harness with the proponents in one particular respect. They consistently promote the view that the detractors are all either religious zealots, rank traditionalists, or just plain right wing bigots. Well, I’ll put myself on the line and state that I have serious reservations about the validity of same-sex marriage – I’ll even explain it if anybody wants me to – and I am most certainly none of those. In fact, I’d say that I have distinctly liberal leanings, but I’d never call myself a liberal for several reasons, not least the fact that I dislike the odour of totalitarian narrow mindedness which tends to accompany it.

Respecting Our Landlords.

I was reading something recently which said that if we in a temperate country like Britain stopped farming, the majority of the landscape would be covered with trees again in just a few decades.

And then I was thinking…

I’m neither a biologist nor a botanist, but I gather that if all the trees on the planet disappeared, the planet would become uninhabitable very quickly. If all the humans disappeared, however, it wouldn’t make a jot of difference. It seems the planet needs trees, but it has no use at all for humans.

And then I was further thinking… (Whilst regarding the two magnificent sycamores at the bottom of my garden with a modest amount of reverence)

Trees live a lot longer than people. Those two sycamores were in place long before I was born, and they’ll still be there – all other things being equal – long after I’ve shuffled off.

All of which musing led me to a view of things in which the human being is a somewhat transient little creature which takes up a relatively short lived existence in the trees’ world. It seems the tree is the primary being in this world, not the human.

Now, I realise that there might be a bit more to it than that. There might, for example, be a spiritual element to be considered. Nevertheless, given the simple facts stated above, I really think we should show the noble tree rather more respect than we generally do.

Doing LOTR in Earnest.

The village hall committee here in the Shire is always looking for ways to make money, so I had this idea. Why don’t we stick a big screen up at one end of the hall and show the extended version of LOTR – seven nights a week for three weeks, one for each of the trilogy? People would come from far and wide, I’m sure they would, especially if the locals came in character to make the ambience complete. So let’s see…

My landlord is virtually an ent already, so he’d make a great Treebeard. The vicar is tailor made for Saruman. There are plenty of professional types who could easily carry off the Ringwraiths. There’s a woman who looks like Rosie Took’s mother. We have plenty of Sams, Merrys and Pippins. We could go and find the guy in Ashbourne to do Gollum. And I would happily go as Bilbo (post-relinquishing the ring, of course) or Grima Wormtongue, or maybe Gimli. We have no Galadriels or Eowyns, unfortunately, but we do have an Arwen.

And there are plenty of horses that we could tether round the front to put people in the mood… and the pub could send up a firkin of Pedigree Bitter and call it ‘Elven Ale.’

Sorted. I think I should have been an entrepreneur.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Reality Conundrum and Wimpy Beer.

I went on a little shopping trip to Uttoxeter today. There were things I wanted from both the town and the retail park at the bottom of the hill. And I went to the trouble of taking some lunch with me for a change, instead of spending exorbitant sums of money in shops, like the 65p I spend on a couple of cheese and onion rolls from Sainsbury’s when I go to Ashbourne. (It doesn’t grow on trees, you know, and neither do cheese and onion rolls.)

So there I was, sitting in the car parked outside the shop that sells nearly everything cheaper than anywhere else, eating my meagre but inexpensive fare, when my mind drifted to one of my favourite topics. I’ve done it in depth on the blog before, but briefly:

It can be argued logically that there is no such thing as a point – either on a physical surface, or in space, or in time.

Ergo, since everything we perceive as reality is made up of zillions and zillions of points, nothing we perceive as reality actually exists.

We counter this apparent absurdity by saying that things must exist because we perceive them and interact with them, but maybe that’s where we get things the wrong way round. Maybe our perceptive faculty is somehow conditioned to generate the illusion of reality at the universal level, and thus a loop is created beyond which we are not mentally equipped to see. It’s at this point, for want of a better term, that we step tentatively into the realm of laughing monks, the Buddhist concept of phenomenal reality, and the things the quantum physicists seem to be saying.

So that’s how I spend my lunch breaks on shopping trips, in between getting the paint, the seeds, the new 1” paintbrush, the chocolate biscuits, the cheap-but-good Italian coffee, the cheap oats for the birds, and the special offer beer from the shop that sells nearly everything cheaper than anywhere else. Sad, isn’t it?

The beer, by the way, is German Krombacher Dark again, and here’s what’s odd. It’s similar in style to London porter, but it has nothing of the heavy taste one expects of a dark beer. The taste is light and subtle, and that’s not very Wagnerian, is it? But then it says on the bottle that it’s ‘brewed according to the German Purity Law of 1516.’ Well, Wagner hadn’t introduced the world to Brunnhilde by then, so maybe that’s the reason.

Being Refused Entry.

It always stings just a little when you find yourself shut out without warning. There’s a blog you check into every day because you like what it says and you like the person saying it. And then one day you get the dreaded white screen with the message that says:

This blog is open to invited readers only. It doesn’t look like you’ve been invited…

To make matters worse, the browser tab says:

Permission Denied.

It isn’t actually writ in throbbing red neon letters, but it looks that way.

And to make matters even worse, you remember that the last comment left on that blog before it locked its doors against the unwelcome horde was yours, and so you wonder whether the two facts are connected.

I could say that it’s like going home as a kid and finding the door locked, but that never happened to me. I could say that it’s like being banned from the local pub, but that never happened to me either (I got thrown out of one for being objectionable once, but there were plenty more in the vicinity.) So it isn’t like anything really, except being barred from a favourite blog. It still stings just a little.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Make Mine Mezzo.

So why do I prefer the mezzo to the straight soprano? Well, because the mezzo voice has a maturity and mellowness about it that imparts a sense of both mastery and mystery. It’s the sound of midnight, the witching hour, the hour when the capricious, sensual moon takes passion away from the predictable, pragmatic sun and makes it her own. Let’s put it this way:

If a soprano holds the door open, you skip through, smile, and say ‘hi.’ If a mezzo holds the door open, you bow first and then wait for the nod.

If you don’t believe me, click on the link in the last post. And while you're at it, take pity on the poor old HSP type who makes connections like this. It's all to do with heightened awareness, and it can be a bugger at times.

Being Reminded of the Real World.

So there I am, being sent into reverie and gently melted by the breathtaking beauty and mellow, mellifluous, metzo tones of Elina Garanca, when the soulless yobs from YouTube throw an ad up on the screen.

It’s for a ‘mature’ dating agency, and has a picture of this… this… lank-haired woman, wearing glasses that appear to have been fashioned from the bottoms of two beer bottles, sporting massive boobs and even more gargantuan thighs, all hanging out of a skimpy black number that might be a dress or it might be a piece of lingerie, but in either event – and due in no small measure to the exaggerated proportions of the lady loosely contained therein – would still be capable of holding a whole 5cwt delivery of best house coal. This has far more of grime than of glamour about it, believe me. It isn’t right and it isn’t fair! How do they know I’m mature anyway?

Linked by LOTR.

On Wednesday, I said of Ashbourne that ‘nothing fun, funny or even mildly interesting happens there now.’ That isn’t entirely true; something mildly interesting did happen there on Wednesday: I saw a man who looked remarkably like Gollum. I looked at him several times to make sure, and he did. He even sported a passable imitation of the ears. I imagine he must be used to people doing double takes in his direction. I wonder if he knows why.

*  *  *

My recent watching of the LOTR film trilogy has had one notable and beneficial effect. I always felt a little guilty that I possessed no sense of rapport with horses. Well, I do now, ever since I realised that most of my favourite scenes from the film involved horses being noble, swift, courageous and faithful. It showed today when I met Ange (the sheep farmer) coming up the lane on her beautiful palomino hunter. She stopped to chat, while I spent the whole time stroking the horse’s nose and neck – not awkwardly as I used to, but as naturally as I’ve always done with dogs. He stood stock still the whole time, instead of jinking about as he usually does. ‘Your horse seems to like me today,’ I said. ‘That’s because you’ve put him at his ease,’ she replied. Well, there you go. At one point he turned and looked me full in the face for some time. It was a knowing look. It seemed to say: ‘Got here at last, have you? Good.’

*  *  *

And tonight I found my way to a Ringie forum website. I assume they’re called Ringies, like Trekkies and Peakies – people who don’t merely immerse themselves in LOTR, but seem to regard it as their primary reality. It was quite an eye-opener, reading all their earnest, deep discussion around facts, details and speculation on such matters as what really happened back in the day when Lord Sauron seduced the Nazgul into his service. It reminded me of the way people discuss the life of Jesus during confirmation classes. I thought of suggesting that they hold their next convention in Ashbourne, home of the real Gollum, but decided that the staid, sleepy little town would probably crumble under the weight of such excitement.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Loving Them Tories.

The Tory Government in Britain appears to be going into freefall. The latest bit of excrement to hit the fan is a credible report that a senior Tory – said to be ‘close to the PM’ – has been a little indiscrete in offering his opinion of Tory activists. In referring to their involvement in the Queen’s Speech debacle, he called them ‘a bunch of mad, swivel-eyed loons.’

For a senior Tory to describe the Tory faithful in such terms is the latest in a line of embarrassments for the Prime Minister, and David Cameron was quick to distance himself from the remark. He claimed that ‘nobody in Number 10’ – which is a fairly obvious fudge, and only lends further credibility to the story – had said such a thing.

I don’t know why he’s denying it. He should be celebrating this bit of Light on the Right. Not only is the phrase ‘mad, swivel-eyed loons’ commendably humorous and incisive in itself, it’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard a Tory say since they came to power three years ago.

Minds, Mormons and Money.

There’s an ad on my Flag Counter analysis page. It shows a grinning man wearing an old-style British policeman’s helmet, only it’s white. He has an overfed sort of face, like he eats 5lbs of junk food for every meal. He looks, if you’ll excuse the irreverent English vernacular, a ‘right plonker.’ Underneath his picture is the message ‘I believe God doesn’t give up on any of us.’ How utterly ineffectual; it seems designed to appeal only to that small percentage of the population which believes that God has given up on them. It’s an ad for the Mormons, who I always thought were very rich and could afford the best advertising brains in the business – the sort who know how to manipulate weak minds even better than the Mormons do.

And there’s another one which says ‘If you have a £250,000 portfolio, download this financial guide…’ Yeah, right; it’s that old money cult thing again.

I wonder what kind of person the Flag Counter people think uses their little stats tracker. Evidently not the free-thinking peasant type like me.

A Veritable Mother of Rambles.

It seems I have nothing to say tonight about beer, women, politics, social issues, religion, birds, music, Americans, New York, Chinese ghosts, Romanticism, the weather, garden matters, Shire matters, the future of the planet, Lord of the Rings, the trials of being an HSP type, the human condition, strange happenings, or lettuce sandwiches.

So, being at a loose end, I looked up people-born-on-the-same-day-as-me on one of those astrological websites. I don’t place very much credence on such things, but it did come uncannily close. It said that we 28th November people are difficult to get to know because we’re so moody and changeable, but we’re quite nice people really. Well, that’s more or less what it said. It also said that we open our mouths before our brains are in gear, which some people find refreshingly honest, but others find insufferably rude. I remember talking to a woman about astrology once, and she asked me what Leos are like. ‘Expert bullshitters,’ I replied. Well, you can guess, can’t you? She never spoke to me again. Come to think of it, I never saw her again, so maybe that’s why. I did see her daughter a couple of times, though, and she was very strange­ – and I mean strange in a disturbing way. She had the most frighteningly diabolical eyes I’ve ever seen. I honestly suspected she wasn’t human. Really! I did!

Right now I feel like I might have been one of those wandering mediaeval intellectuals in a past life, the ones who travelled around Europe writing poems and songs and poking fun at the locals. It’s a collection of their works that make up Carmina Burana. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? Ignorant lot. Neither did I until yesterday. They weren’t well liked, apparently, which probably explains my social insecurity.

On which note, I think I might be on the verge of becoming a low-cost version of Howard Hughes. Oh well, at least I won’t have to cut my finger nails any more.

And I have no idea why I’m saying any of this, much less posting it. I suppose it’s because if I have a maxim at all, it would be ‘when all else fails, write something.’ And if I’m going to write something, I might as well pin it to the board.

I just listened to Maria Callas singing Habanera. She’s a bit too overcooked for my taste, but I always did have difficulty with Sagittarian women. I think I’ll go back to YouTube and see whether I can find a nice Pisces lady to sing to me instead. I lived with two of those – not at the same time – but neither of them sang. They yelled a lot, but never sang.

I found one: Angela Gheorghiu. It doesn’t give her birthday, but it says she’s Romanian. That’s OK, then. My dentist is Romanian. Best dentist I ever had. So Angela it is.

I think it’s time I stopped rambling and fetched another scotch.

…but in 1916, the country said ‘Son,
It’s time to stop rambling
There’s work to be done.’
So they gave me a tin hat
And they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

Somebody shoot me, please.

Here’s Angela, by the way. Note the upper canines…

Friday, 17 May 2013

One for Inspector Clouseau.

I just read that jewels to the value of $1m have been stolen from a hotel room in Cannes. Apparently, they were to be loaned to the stars attending the film festival.

(That’s odd, isn’t it? You’d think film stars would have their own jewels, wouldn’t you? I mean, what’s the point of swanking around in expensive jewellery if everybody knows you’ve only borrowed it for the night?)

So anyway, there were several reports of a large pink cat having been seen in the vicinity shortly before the theft was discovered. Police have discounted them, saying they were entirely due to hallucinations caused by a vat of dodgy Chianti that was initially thought to have come from somewhere in Eastern Europe. Investigations are now centering on the theory that it was planted by a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, which wants to re-erect the Iron Curtain along the south coast of England and will do anything to give Johnny Foreigner a bad name.

Finding the Right Language.

I just watched the charge of the Rohirrim at the Battle of the Pellinore Fields in German. Hey, it’s good! Very Wagnerian! Hearing old Theodens spouting his pre-battle speech in the most guttural language on earth really works. And when the crumply-faced bad guy down in the valley yells Fire! the German version has Fi-yer!, which is much more exciting.

Getting the Appropriate Treatment.

After my rant about the regimentation of O Fortuna the other night, I thought I’d post another version by way of contrast. I suspect this one’s French, though I can’t be sure. It’s more pagan than plastic, which is surely how it should be since it’s all about life’s vicissitudes. And if anybody likes me enough – or even respects my opinions enough – to actually watch it, thank you. Oh, and here’s somebody’s English translation of the first verse, just to illustrate why a bunch of plastic Barbie dolls nailed to the stage don’t really accord with the spirit of the work.

O how Fortune,
apes the moon's inconstancy:
waxing, waning,
losing, gaining,
life treats us detestably:
first oppressing
then caressing
shifts us like pawns in her play:
mixes and melts them away.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Late Late Bird.

The European Robin is often said to be Britain’s favourite bird, probably for two main reasons.

Firstly, they’re one of the major icons of Christmas, featuring prominently on traditional Christmas cards where they bring colour to pictures of snow-laden branches and snowbound landscapes. By extension, this can be interpreted as bringing light into the dark season. Secondly, they’re the gardener’s companion, being smart enough to realise that gardeners expose things that robins like to eat.

They’re the bird that gets closest to people. It was a robin that followed me around for three years, expecting me to provide small piles of oats here, there and everywhere, some of which he would eat himself, and some of which he would take to feed the kids during the breeding season.

What I most like about robins, though, is that they’re the late retirers of the diurnal species. I’ve frequently seen them on the bird table during the winter when it’s been too dark to identify them by any means other than their shape and body language. And now that it’s springtime, they sing late into the dusk when other birds have gone home to roost. Maybe that’s because they’re so proud of their song and like to show it off. It’s the best. For those who missed the earlier post, here’s another clip of the beloved robin in performance:

Maintaining the Money Cult.

It seems odd that I should be agreeing with the Pope for once. Or is it that the Pope is agreeing with me? Well, I suppose it depends on which of us said it first.

He was speaking to diplomats today, and used the opportunity to ask world leaders to tone down ‘the money cult.’ He said that free market economics are ‘creating a tyranny in which people are valued only by their ability to consume.’

There are those who’ll say it’s just a case of sour grapes; he’s miffed because people don’t worship in the spiritual sector any more, they worship in the retail sector now. The shopping malls are the new cathedrals, and they’re even more numerous than the old ones were. And like cathedrals, it isn’t so much what goes on in them that’s important, but what they stand for.

But no, it isn’t sour grapes; it’s just common sense. Neither of us was the first to say it; it’s been central to a growing sense of unease among those who can see a bit further than their noses for several decades.

I remember a postcard that used to be on sale at the theatre where I worked. It was a cartoon showing a boat about to go over a cataract. In the bow were two young people screaming ‘Turn around, you idiots, before it’s too late!’ Sitting smugly in the stern were Mrs Thatcher and some of her cabinet, mocking them. It was probably drawn around the time Mrs T made the remark that is my favourite of her momentous statements:

‘There is no such thing as quality literature. There are books that sell and books that don’t.’

I don’t think there’s the slightest chance that world leaders will tone down the money cult. To do so would require such a radical change of lifestyle that people won’t accept it voluntarily. The current is too strong now; I’m sure we’re going to go over the cataract one day. And I think there’s a future generation of people – and maybe they’re already born – who are going to hate us for allowing it to happen.

Ashbourne Happenings.

None, near as dammit. I don’t know what’s happened to Ashbourne these days; it’s become terribly mundane. I didn’t even go over my time in Sainsbury’s car park today, which I always do. Nothing fun, funny or even mildly interesting happens there now.

Still, I did get two tomato plants from the garden centre. They were in much better condition than the ones they had last week. I didn’t put them out, though, since we’re forecast another frost tonight. And Shropshire, which is a county only about forty miles from here, had two inches of snow last night. Blow trumpet, the world is white with snow. Seems Tennyson got it only half right.

Today’s choice from the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range of beers is good old Yorkshire bitter. They all come in differently shaped bottles, you know, and the top on the Yorkshire bitter bottle proved to be the one most resistant to being prised off. Yorkshire people are like that. Yorkshire originated the saying ‘Ee, lad, it’s grim up north.’ And the label on the bottle describes it as ‘Demerara sweetness with full malt body and citrus overtones.’ I’d lay odds on that a Yorkshireman didn’t write that. That’s poncy southern talk, that is. A Yorkshireman would have said ‘It’s bitter, lad. What more dust tha want?’ It is, too. The next one to try is Suffolk Blonde. Sounds like a floosie with a funny accent doesn’t it – one step removed from an Essex girl? I could do with one of those. On second thoughts…

So that’s about the sum of today’s Ashbourne experience. The swish new, purpose-built, ultra-modern library should be open soon. It’s in a handier location than the old one, so I’ll go in and see whether my old chat buddy James is still around. James and I used to talk a lot. He disagreed with most things I said, but he always did so with such a diffident manner. There aren’t many old fashioned English gentlemen like that left any more.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Defending Cartels.

I called in at the filling station in Ashbourne today to get diesel. They didn’t have any. I’ve never known them not have diesel before, and I wondered whether it had anything to do with the raids that have been made on several European offices of leading oil companies. There’s a suspicion, apparently, that the oil giants have been colluding to fix prices for decades, and that’s illegal.

Well, illegal or not, I’d be very surprised if they hadn’t been fixing prices. We live in an almost totally free market economy now, and I’d be surprised if the free marketers didn’t consider price fixing to be, at least de facto, perfectly acceptable. The corporate world has its own mores which don’t always accord with the law or ethical standards. It’s the price they consider it reasonable for people to pay in order to have more gadgets, more trinkets, more holidays, more debt, more stress, and a more detrimental impact on the natural world.

I wish I could think of something funny to say.

Flying Alone.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been seeing a lone bat flying around the house at dusk. I never used to see a lone bat; there were always at least two, sometimes three or four. I wonder whether he or she is the only one that made it through the long, harsh winter. That would be sad. A lone bat is a lonely sight.

The New Ruins.

The approach to Derby railway station from the west is a wonderland of faded and abandoned industrial grandeur. The preface to the scene is a decommissioned power station where smokeless cooling towers hold mute court across acre upon acre of cracked concrete, while countless giant pylons stand stripped of power lines, purpose and pride. And then the stage is revealed in earnest.

Sheds, factories, outbuildings – all crumbling wood and brick left in memoriam to the ghost of the working man. Windows gape glassless, faded paintwork peels, railings recline at improper angles, and some are missing altogether. A massive gantry crane stands immobile and probably immovable, its once proud livery of buttercup yellow now washed with the rust creeping remorselessly earthwards from flaking seams.

But there is movement in this petrified place. Old scraps of plastic sheeting and frayed fabric wave in the wind, like the drowned Ahab waving from the whale. And there are the new colonists – the elder bushes, brambles, bindweed and wild grasses. They wave in the wind, too, but they have life. They have the only life to be seen from the train window. I expect there are rats, bats, owls and urban foxes there, but they stay out of sight. One might almost imagine them to be ashamed of calling such a rotting monument home.

And there it all stands in testament to the ephemeral nature of human artifice. A little way beyond it is the newly-refurbished Derby station. Very smart, modern and functional it looks, too. But for how long, I wonder.

Toilet Tales.

This post is unsuitable for children or young ladies with a propensity for hot flushes.

*  *  * 

I went to Derby to meet Mel for coffee yesterday, and as usual I took the train. On the way back I had time to call into the Gents on platform 2b, and the experience wasn’t quite as dull as you might expect.

1) Each platform on Derby station has a small toilet block, and the Gents each have three urinals. Now, here’s the rule if you’re a male of normal sensibilities faced with three unoccupied urinals. You go to one of the end ones, so that if somebody else comes in, he can take the other end one. But no, this guy comes in and takes the middle one. That’s too close, you know? And it’s unnecessary, so questions run through your mind. Is he not a man of normal sensibilities? Does he lack a sense of personal space? Does he have some nefarious purpose in mind? And so you go into shielding mode, not unlike the sort you use to protect the ball if you get tackled on a rugby pitch and a ruck forms over you. Only the rules of rugby require that you release the ball once a ruck has formed, whereas you don’t release anything in a urinal. What you do is hold everything tightly, including your breath, and hurry.

2) So, having escaped that situation, I was idly reading the front of a dispensing machine while I was washing my hands. They used to dispense a range of condoms, but they’ve moved on. This one sold condoms, the purpose of which is obvious, packs of mints, presumably so you have something to suck if you get bored, and a product called ‘Manenhancer.’ That one was unfamiliar, so I read the small print underneath:

Insert 4x£1 coins for a male enhancement supplement.

What the hell is a male enhancement supplement? A Viagra tablet? Some sort of cream? What? My interest is purely academic, of course, and I wasn’t about to waste £4 to find out since I can get two bottles of London porter or four vegetable pasties for less than that, but I was still curious. Needless to say, there was nobody available to ask. I certainly wasn’t going to ask the guy from the middle urinal. Well, you wouldn’t, would you?

Yankees Lacking Style and Bits About May.

I was all set to make one of those serious posts about growth, stagnation and depression, but I’m tired of the whole subject. May isn’t being a proper May this year, and Eckhart Tolle has just explained why that is and why I can’t do anything about it. Anybody familiar with the writings of dear Eckhart will find that statement confusing if not positively perverse. Good. Let’s leave it at that, then, and move onto something simpler.

*  *  *

The following rendition of O Fortuna is easily the worst I’ve ever witnessed. If I weren’t so becalmed in the doldrums, I’d find it laughable. As it is, I feel moved to say this:

When are you damn Yankees going to realise that plastic hairstyles, exaggerated glitz, military precision, and performers standing to attention is neither moving nor stylish? It’s just cheap. You guys are so good at so many things, isn’t it about time you got that one right? And on top of that, the power surge at the end has been so weakened that the most dynamic element of the whole piece is rendered ineffectual. It sucks, to use your own phrase.

So come on, Yankees. If you can produce a Leonard Bernstein and an Aaron Copeland – not to mention all those wonderful poets and writers you spawned down the years – you can do better than this. John Boorman did when he used it in Excalibur.

*  *  *

And now that I’m finally in the mood for writing something, I might also mention this:

Spare a thought for us Brits. It’s the middle of May. The bats are out of hibernation and desperate for food, the migratory birds have come up from Africa expecting a warm place to mate and breed, the cows have been turned out to graze, and the blossom is on the fruit trees. Tomorrow we have snow forecast.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Missing and Meeting.

(Sorry about the poor picture. It was the only one I could find on the internet.)

I went into the theatre today armed with a bagful of questions for Rob, such as ‘why does my computer do this, this, and this?’ and ‘am I using these charcoal discs and the dry incense right, because my house gets awful smoky?’ and ‘why didn’t you tell me the price of gold was about to plummet?’ Rob is one of those people who make it their life’s mission to know quite a lot about quite a lot of things. I was told he was on his way to Prague. OK, Plan B.

I went and talked to Russell instead. He was hanging the latest art exhibition, a job he’s done ever since I packed it in four or five years ago. He doesn’t do it as well as I used to, but I didn’t say anything (that’s an Alan Bennett and Rebecca joke, for those who missed it.) Russell has strange, oblique views on nearly everything, which is probably why we get on well. Today we talked mostly about in-growing toenails and when art isn’t art. But the best was yet to come.

Who should walk past, but Kerry. Kerry was another old associate, the girl who was always leaving late when I was doing my duty on the reception desk. She was a dancer/youth worker employed with the ongoing community project the theatre ran. She always stopped for a chat on the way out, I remember, and I was always a little flattered that she did. She had a hint of the dark Irish in her dark good looks, with maybe a touch of some Latin senorita a few generations back. Her eyes carried ever the potential for mischief, and even a sharp word or two should they be needed. I asked her what she’d been doing all these years. ‘Making babies,’ she replied. You wouldn’t have known it; she didn’t look a day different from the last time I saw her maybe ten years ago.

And then there was Jo, my old manager from the picture-hanging days, looking as contented and well balanced as ever. I wish I was content and well balanced, but then I’m a Sagittarian; Jo isn’t. Jo has the same birthday as my mother, which I always thought an odd coincidence when I was acting under orders.

So, having sated myself on old acquaintances, I took myself off to the town where I had a spot of lunch and bought some lawn feed. And then I went home.

No I didn’t. I stopped off at Uttoxeter on the way back, and went into the shop where they usually have a different beer for me to try – on special offer, of course. Today’s offer was Krombacher Dark German beer, which might seem a poor substitute for dark Irish good looks, but it will be kinder to the heart in more ways than one.

Dunderheads and Dancers.

Having read this morning of the first known example of a suicide attributed to the government’s ‘bedroom tax,’ my sense of loathing for this bunch of public school dinosaurs reached new heights. The ensuing blog post, however, was not only becoming hopelessly long, but was evidently likely to serve no other purpose than to depress the hell out of me, so I scrapped it.

I remained depressed all day, but then I found this on YouTube shortly after midnight:

It raised a question:

When a young woman is possessed of such fine features, such exquisite form, such enviable suppleness, and such a prodigious talent for gymnastic dancing, what does she do with it?

a) Find a creative application that will edify the human capacity for physical expression, thus adding to the general creative canon.

b) Show off.

It probably doesn’t matter, but I’m still curious. And depressed.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Post-Midnight Notes.

Just in case anybody is desperate to know where the poem came from in the last post, it’s Adlestrop by some English bloke whose name I don’t remember. It’s quite famous. Adlestrop is a small village in Gloucestershire which used to have a railway station, but now has only a bus shelter. They kept the station sign, though, and guess where they put it. In the bus shelter. If I had a slide scanner I could show you a picture of me standing next to it, but I don’t. Pity; it’s my one and only connection to literary greatness.

*  *  *

I must start going to bed earlier now that the year is advancing. When I turned the light off at 3.35 last night (this morning,) the sky was getting light. I hate that. It makes me feel like I’ve been cheated out of a night.

*  *  *

I made some coleslaw today and I can’t stop eating the stuff. I had coleslaw with lunch, coleslaw with dinner, and I just had a coleslaw sandwich.

*  *  *

To accompany the coleslaw sandwich, I watched an old Laurel & Hardy short called Hog Wild. Mr Hardy and his wife reminded me of my great grandparents, the male half of which fled to America. If you have nineteen minutes to spare and don’t mind admitting to a taste in humour that is both conventional and archaic, it’s here:

*  *  *

I’ve developed the habit of writing late night blog posts, and then deleting them unpublished. That’s because I’ve also developed the paranoid notion that they will compromise my privacy and/or my reputation as a sane, sober and rational being. This one is boring, so it can go up on the board.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Becoming Eddie.

My alcohol consumption is increasing. I’m beginning to feel like the Walter Brennan character in To Have and Have Not. I used to feel like the Humphrey Bogart character, but I don’t whistle too well these days.

This post is dedicated to Zoe, just because it's apposite.

Yes, I remember Zoe
The name
Because, one afternoon of heat,
The express train drew up there
It was late June

That's apposite, too, and I only changed one word from the original. (I have changed the line structure, though, in keeping with the metaphorical allusion.) And I haven't touched a drop since 3.15 this morning, just after I woke up and before I went back to sleep.

If I'm in this sort of mood now, just think what I'll be like once the moon has moved over the yard arm. I think I might watch a bit of Lord of the Rings again, to see whether I can ignore the sense of disquiet I feel every time I realise that none of the members of the Fellowship took a change of socks and underwear with them when they set off. No wonder Arwen's eyes spent much of the film watering.