Sunday, 30 June 2013

Wasted Words.

When I went for a walk tonight
I came upon a gruesome sight
I saw a slug without a head
I’m pretty sure that it was dead

I saw one crossing the road at the same spot last night, and told it to hurry up because of the traffic. What can you do? 

I talk to trees
And cows and birds
But e’en the slugs
Ignore my words

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Testing, Testing.

I only noticed something tonight. When you upload a music video from YouTube to the blog, you never seem to get the adverts with it. That’s why I’m posting this – which I’ve posted before – just as a test.This one always carries an ad on YouTube.

Having said which, this song is very special to me in a way I find hard to describe. It resonates with something deep inside, and I think it’s because it’s attuned to my taste for the shabbily exotic more closely than any other track. I never tire of it. Whether it’s about heroin, toast, Marmite, a woman, or something else entirely really doesn’t matter. What matters is the adventure.

And on the subject of ads, there’s another thing I noticed tonight. That big one you get at the top of the page when you first load YouTube doesn’t only have a ‘close’ button, it also has one which says ‘expand advert.’ Expand advert? I think that must be the best example of wishful thinking ever.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Being in Sauron's Shadow.

There’s a small range of hills to the north west of the Shire called the Weavers, and the north west is where most of the angry skies have been driving from lately because we’ve been getting unusually strong winds from that direction for most of the month. It isn’t hard to imagine, therefore, that the highest point of the Weavers is the source from which they emanate.

On top of that, if you walk along Church Lane at around 9.15-9.30 at the moment, the highest point of the Weavers is very close to where the sun is setting. And that means that if there are any fiery skies to be had, they’re to be had over the top of said range of hills, especially the highest point. It isn’t surprising that I’ve taken to calling it Mount Doom, is it?

Only to myself, of course. There’s nobody else to say it to, and the blackbird which sits in the ash tree every evening is too busy singing to care. I wonder whether he and his lady nested in a bramble thicket this year.

Keeping my Secret.

I said something to a young librarian today that I usually reserve for dogs, cows and horses:

‘You. Are. Beautiful.’

I don’t think I have ever, at any time in my life, said such a thing to a young woman on such short acquaintance (about half a minute.) In fact, I quite shocked myself. She, on the other hand, seemed mildly pleased but generally unmoved.

So what persuaded me to such impetuous frankness? Why, what she’d just said to me, of course. What else?

The Inscrutability of Luck.

When something happens to cause us difficulty, we call it ‘bad luck.’ But how can we know? If it hadn’t happened, we might subsequently have done something different, and that might have brought us to an even worse situation. So the ‘bad’ luck might actually have been good luck. There’s no way of knowing, is there?

But I still say a trend is a trend.

Being a One Man Trend.

This has nothing to do with Twitter. No; this in continuation of the previous post and a few before it.

I set the alarm for the unholy hour of 6.45 this morning and got up straight away, all ready to take delivery of the new fridge freezer which was due between 7 and 9. This, you might recall, is a replacement for the new appliance which I took delivery of less than three weeks ago, but which turned out to be faulty. You might further recall that the fridge freezer was the eleventh item of equipment which had broken down and needed to be replaced in the last two years.

At 8.25 I got a call from the depot to inform me that the delivery vehicle had broken down, and that delivery would be approximately 1½ hours late. Well of course it had. So tell me: why didn’t I trust the trend and get up at 10 o’clock as usual? Any ideas?

Hideous Clocks and Romantic Shellfish.

I’m not the cheeriest button in the box tonight. There are several reasons for that, including the fact that I have to be up at 6.45 because I had a message to tell me that the replacement fridge freezer is to be delivered between 7-9am tomorrow. Is that legal? The last time I was up at such an obscene hour was in 1999, and that was only because I had a 350 mile drive to make, with many lefts and many rights, and many lochs to look at languidly, and I wanted to reach the rented cottage in Wester Ross before it got too dark to find the freggin’ bed. 6.45am is an alien concept to me, and a disturbing one at that.

However, I retain just enough enthusiasm to post a Faun song that’s really rather nice. There are three things I like about it:

1) The opening instrumental with the flashing shots of angels.

2) The sound of somebody running on a shingle beach in hobnail boots.

3) The English translation of the lyrics, which (allegedly) runs thus:

‘If the sea were ink and the sky were paper, could not be written how much is my love. I love you more pounds that shakes the air leaves, that starlets have the Heaven and sand are the seas. I'm wanting more sands that have rivers and fishes has the sea. If in my heart entraeas and my feelings scallops, more satisfied to stay and much more I wanted.’

If that isn’t a transparent statement of undivided affection, I don’t know what is. The scallops are undoubtedly the clincher.

I wonder whether there's any point in going to bed.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

By Way of Contrast.

There’s something verging on the surreal about working for two hours in the garden, while the rain falls steadily and a flock of house martins swoop and swerve around you hunting flies. It’s the sort of experience that people who live in urban apartments tend not to have.

Walking the Road.

Now that there is some doubt around the prospect of my continued habitation in the Shire, I was thinking this morning about a particular missed opportunity. I went straight to the bottom line, the point at which wisdom might predicate that there is no such thing as a missed opportunity. There is only the road that has been travelled, and that road was ever inexorably led by the Determinist principle – the doctrine that every decision, act, and ‘accident’ of fate was the effect of a cause, however obscure that cause might have been. In short, the ‘missed’ opportunity never existed because the cause that would have brought it to fruition didn’t exist.

But, as with everything else in the matter of understanding life, it gets complicated. And it seems there is only one way to proceed: continue to exercise free will wherever possible, and then observe the consequences with as much equanimity as you can muster. It’s the second part that I find most difficult at times. The bagel I’m about to have for my lunch, for example, probably isn’t the healthiest of options.

Ashbourne Today: A Dog Out of Water.

Other than being treated somewhat less than respectfully by a supermarket till, today’s Ashbourne experience was brimming over with Interesting and Enlightening Happenings. You may have a list:

1) I went into the DIY store to make enquiries about a new hedge trimmer. I spoke to a manager who was most enthusiastic about my choice of device, because he said he’d bought one and had been ‘pleasantly surprised’ at how well it functioned. My radar told me he was genuine, so I asked all the pertinent questions and eventually decided to order one. Everything went smoothly until we got to the end of the process, and then the computer said ‘None available.’ Yup, that’s about the size of things these days. He promised to make enquiries and give me a call. We’ll see.

2) The woman-with-the-nice-smile who runs the charity shop where I bought a sweater last week didn’t smile at me today, even though I was wearing said sweater. Maybe she doesn’t feel the need to, now that she’s sold me something.

3) A little girl of about eighteen months did a double take as she was being pushed past me in a buggy. She even turned round and watched me as she was being wheeled away, so I assume there was something about me which she found Highly Interesting. Such attention is wont to pique one’s curiosity.

4) The big, fat, white bull terrier which I see every week in Ashbourne, and which seems desirous of making friends with every human within sniffing distance, now has a companion – a skinny little black bull terrier with bulging eyes. The eyes looked up at me as I walked past within sniffing distance, but their meaning was obscure. They could have meant ‘Don’t mess with me, buster, just because I’m little.’ Or they could have meant ‘You will be careful not to tread on me, won’t you?’ Or they could have meant ‘Mmm… just sizing you up to see whether I think you’ll be worth eating when I’ve grown a bit.’ Or they could have meant something else entirely. Come to think of it, though, I’m not absolutely sure it wasn’t a tadpole.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A Favourite Bit from Lord of the Rings.

Merry and Eowyn are sitting astride Eowyn's horse, about to rush headlong into battle with everybody crying DEATH!!! very loudly. The little hobbit is cradled in the lady's arms, looking terrified, until she says

'Courage, Merry. I'll take care of you.'

At which point he smirks. Yeah, I'll bet...

Falling Foul of the Gods.

Guess which checkout till chose to malfunction today. Yup, you got it. And its timing was impeccable: it waited until all the shopping had gone through and been packed into bags, and then it froze. It wouldn’t swipe my loyalty card and it wouldn’t process my credit card. Neither would it let the checkout supervisor save the information so it could be transferred to another till.

‘Oh look,’ it said, ‘look who it is. It’s that JJ guy. Better stop working, then, and now's about the best time to cause him maximum inconvenience. Isn't life a hoot? Bye everybody.’

And so it fell asleep, leaving the operator and supervisor to apologise profusely as they told me I’d have to go to another till, take all the shopping out of the bags, and put it all through again.


a) Is there a technology deva or devi floating on some celestial plain and taking a Great Deal of Unfriendly Interest in me?

b) If so, why?

c) Would it help, do you think, if I made a sacrifice for the purpose of appeasement? Should I, for example, burn my 1-year-old TV on a bonfire, or something?

You must admit, there does appear to be a trend developing here…

On the Matter of Bones and Things Decaying.

I’m having real trouble making blog posts at the moment, simply because there’s too much negative stuff hanging around me. Tonight’s little missive will, in consequence, be restricted to the two things I found most interesting today:

1) More and more skeletons keep falling out of closets in the fields of politics, the police, and media personalities. Mr Snowden’s revelations are only one part of a much bigger picture. This pleases me because I stopped placing any trust in the denizens of those fields long before the skeletons started appearing.

2) I first noticed that hemlock smells of disinfectant when I was in my teens. This evening - a few years on - I discovered that it only does so when the flowers are fresh and white. Once they start to fade and turn grey, the smell turns earthy and a little sour. Isn’t that interesting? Well, some people are obsessed with cemeteries, while others find fascination in the smell of poisonous wild flowers growing at the margins of cultivated land. It takes all sorts.

I think I’ll go and watch a Laurel and Hardy short on YouTube now. They make the world look a nicer place. Oh, and by the way, should you feel inclined to dance barefoot on wet grass, listen to this while you’re so engaged. It's what magic mushrooms sound like when they're happy. Allegedly.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Variations on Badly, and Beastly Biorhythms

I’m a bit ashamed to see how badly written the previous post is. It badly needs editing.

Well, it was 2 o’clock in the morning and my brain wasn’t working properly because Mr A was distracting it. It’s odd how it happens like that sometimes: a small beer and a couple of scotches can turn my brain into something akin to lumpy porridge, while most of the time I can drink a bucketful and remain more or less untouched. Must be due to biorhythms or something. (Nobody ever talks about biorhythms these days, do they? They were all the rage at one time.)

So am I going to edit the post? No; can’t be bothered. Life’s short enough and troubled enough as it is. Make allowance for badly balanced biorhythms.

Bird Skills.

It’s only since I moved to this house that I’ve developed my well documented fascination with birds.

I was walking back along Church Lane this evening when I came upon a group of swallows and martins hunting along the lane and over the fields. They looked like they were engaged in Top Gun-style aerial combat, only better. The swallow, in particular, is such a fast and agile flyer; I’ve heard it said that the merlin is the only bird capable of catching a swallow in flight. And I got treated to the same experience I described in a post last summer – turning round to see a swallow heading for my face at breakneck speed, only to swerve away at the last minute. It’s an exhilarating experience.

But then I heard a captivating sound. A solitary blackbird was sitting high in the branches of my favourite ash tree, singing his little heart out. I do believe that there is no creature on earth capable of such a wide and fascinating range of vocal expression than the blackbird and other members of the thrush family. The humpback whale might come close, but even that takes second place in my opinion.

And so I stood and listened for a good ten minutes. Neither of us moved while the swallows and martins continued to swoop, swerve, dive, and miss my cheekbone by inches. I swear that the blackbird never repeated a single note or phrase, such was his skill in variation. I said ‘thank you,’ and went home.

The Breakdowns Saga Continued.

Remember the post I made recently about all the things that have broken down and needed to be replaced over the past two years? There were eight of them, but I forgot two – the mobile phone and the landline phone. That’s ten.

Today it was the turn of the hedge trimmer; it seems the motor has packed up, and such things aren’t worth repairing so that’s another sixty quid or so I’ll have to splash out. (That’s about $100 in real money.) And it’s now eleven items of equipment. Where will it end?

I can’t afford to keep replacing these things. My income keeps me just about ticking over in a fairly frugal lifestyle; it doesn’t provide any spare to keep replenishing a little pot marked ‘Lots of dosh to deal with an express trainload of breakdowns.’ It doesn’t. And I’m already not the happiest bloke on the block for all sorts of reasons, so it isn’t freggin’ fair!

On Old Posts and Warring Parties.

Sometimes I’m intrigued when Blogger stats tell me that some old post of mine has been selected for reading by somebody from Latvia, or Russia, or Indonesia. I wonder why a person from such an exotic location would bother, so I click on the link and read what it said.

It’s quite an illuminating experience, because it reminds you of who you were back then. It’s like looking back over an old journal, complete with words, pictures, and pressed flowers. (Erm… Forget the pressed flowers. Let’s go for beer stains instead.) And some of the posts are really quite good – far better in many instances than most of the rubbish I write these days.

What’s especially nice, though, is to read some of the comments made by people I’d come to regard as friends, but who have now exited my cyber life a-shriekin’ and a-howlin’. Or maybe they just got on with the business of getting a real life.

There was one post I made about discovering YouTube. Carmen from Sydney said ‘CONGRATULATIONS!’ and I replied ‘You didn’t snigger?’ and she came back with ‘Nah, I just smiled.’ There is, of course, nothing remarkable about the statement; but when you hear it said in the Aussie accent of a 17-year-old girl, it carries a certain charm. I like the Aussie accent; it has an idiosyncratic expressiveness that sets it apart from most others. Life doesn’t have much that’s charming about it these days.

*  *  *

Talking of the Aussie accent, I once saw a documentary which explained how the root of the American accent is West Country English. Well, by the same token, I’m convinced that the root of the Aussie accent is East Anglian English, and the two have been at loggerheads for quite some time. The West Country is one of the places in which the Celtic Britons sought refuge when East Anglia was being rampaged over by the Angle and Saxon barbarians. And during the English Civil War, East Anglia was very much a Roundhead stronghold, while the West Country remained staunchly Royalist.

And do you know how Sellers and Yeatman described the difference between the two sides in 1066 And All That? They said:

‘The Roundheads were Right but Repulsive, whereas the Royalists were Wrong but Wromantic.’


Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Wrong Weather.

You know, it’s such a shame having weather like this at this time of year, since the few weeks leading up to and beyond the solstice are obviously when the daylight lasts longest. We have long twilights in northern Europe, in which full darkness doesn’t descend until something past 11 during June and early July. That’s when we can sit out late on balmy evenings with the right thing to drink, and the right thing to smoke, and the right kind of convivial company with which to have the right kind of conversation between sips and puffs. It’s when we can be most attuned to the music of Delius – so sublimely suited to such an atmosphere – at least mentally if not actually. (OK, so I don’t have the convivial company bit to concern me, but that isn’t the point.)

It isn’t quite the same if you’re huddled up in a winter coat with the temperature down in the low fifties, a gale force wind bending your eardrums, and an angry sky rushing purposefully from the north west like it’s intent upon doing battle with the gang from the next street and might well drop a load of cold water on your head in the process of getting there.

It makes you feel cheated.

The Day that Was.

A dull day. A damp day. A dreary day. A damn cold and windy day. (So I cheated.)

It isn’t quite the same as riding along the front rank of your best and bravest cavalry, clattering your broadsword against their bristling lances in a show of martial brotherhood and crying ‘A RED DAY!’ Is it? No.

I hope this is making sense. If it isn’t, it means you haven’t seen the Battle of Pellinor Fields, and must therefore live either in Bhutan, a commune, or a particularly impenetrable part of the Brazilian rain forest, in which case your confusion is of little consequence.

It’s also been a pretty uneventful day. Does it show?

Ah, I know what happened that was interesting. I saw the person to whom I behaved ungraciously a week or so ago. Unfortunately, she was a little way ahead of me and wasn’t alone anyway, so she didn’t get the personal apology that I should have liked to bestow. Maybe I’ll see her again next year.

There, now. Wasn’t that exciting after all?


It seems to me that there’s a maxim worth cultivating:

The purpose of life is not to enjoy it, nor even be successful. Ultimately, the only purpose in living is to experience life.

If you can believe that, then all the weight laid upon your shoulders by outrageous fortune and the suffocating machinations of soul-challenged humanity might bring you to your knees, but it will never leave you prostrate. That’s because you will have a viewing platform located somewhere on the edge of your beleagured mind to which you can retire and observe the experience.

But it’s a big ‘if.’

Meanwhile, there’s a song I’ve been wanting to post for several days, by way of dedication and apology to a special person I used to know. If my observational faculty serves me truthfully, it suits her. I only wish I could have helped.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Cheating Game.

I’ve now come across several examples on YouTube of two pieces of music – Adiemus and Now we are Free – being wrongly attributed to Enya. At first I thought it was due to ignorance on the part of the uploaders, but now I suspect differently. I suspect that at least some of them do it so as to get more hits. Enya has a wide international following, far greater I should think than either Karl Jenkins or Lisa Gerrard, so I’m sure it probably works. And I’m also sure that many people regard cheating as a legitimate way of getting the desired result in any endeavour.

Should that concern me? I don’t know. Does the game of life have to be played by inviolable rules? I don’t know. It just seems a bit of a shame for Karl Jenkins and Lisa Gerrard.

Watching Motherhood.

I was sitting on the train station in the sunshine this morning, watching a young mother interact with her little boy of around 2-3. She was a good mother; I could tell as much from their respective body language, and in particular the way she used her hands to apply sun blocker to the child’s exposed arms, neck and face. She had a mother’s hands, and she used them well.

The relationship between mother and child is something I’ve always found fascinating, and it must surely be one of the most wholesome and inspirational factors in the matter of life. Unfortunately, not all mothers are good mothers, and that’s a shame.

Just for Me.

This is a totally self-indulgent post. I don’t expect anybody else to share my taste in music or images, but I do have a really, really soft spot for elephants, birds, and boys who see a little further than Xboxes. And don’t forget:


The Rareness of Janets in a Topsy-Turvy System.

I could take up a lot of space describing in detail the annoyance and frustration I’ve been experiencing today in trying to sort out the issue of my new-but-faulty fridge freezer, and delivery of its replacement. I could, but I won’t, since the only purpose it would serve would be to demonstrate yet again what a pretty pass the commercial world has come to since it:

a) Wrested power from the consumer in the matter of supply and demand.

b) Invented the call centre.

It would have some merit, I suppose – especially since it was becoming truly surreal at one point – but it would still be tedious. Instead, I’ll skip to the bottom line, which by some fortuitous turn of fate ended the day on a high note.

At around 7.30pm, I decided to try one last phone call. I got Janet. I explained the whole sorry story calmly and methodically, while she listened silently. I finished by saying ‘You’ll understand why I’ve been fuming for the past few hours, since this is becoming farcical.’ She got it in one, and replied ‘I do, indeed. That would be enough to tax anybody’s patience. I’m so sorry you’ve had all this trouble; let’s get it sorted once and for all.’

And so she did – calmly, quietly, completely. I now have a delivery date for the new appliance and can run down the freezer contents accordingly. Janet made a difference today. Well done Janet.

*  *  *

And then it occurred to me later that a good call centre operative needs to be a highly skilled person. They must get a lot of varied problems thrown at them out of the blue, so they need to be intelligent, tactful, calm, articulate, and good problem solvers. I’ll lay odds on that their remuneration falls way short of reflecting the fact. I think it’s probably true to say that the big money in the corporate world goes to those who create the problems in the first place.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Progressing to a New Level.

This is a list of the things that have gone wrong and needed to be replaced over the past couple of years:

Electric kettle
Lawn mower
Vacuum cleaner
Electric shower
Fridge freezer

The new fridge freezer was delivered last Monday, and yesterday I had an engineer out because the freezer compartment wasn’t getting cold enough. It’s faulty, apparently, and will need to be replaced. So now things malfunction even before I get them.

You know, sometimes life works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Three Rare Ashbourne Notes.

I had an appointment with a physiotherapist today, to see what he could offer by way of an opinion on my knee problem. First he listened to my account of its history from 1987-present, then he pushed it, pulled it, pressed it, twisted it, flexed it, and watched me walk up and down the room (minus my jeans, heaven forbid, but I don’t think he was gay or anything.) After half an hour he delivered his verdict: ‘You have a good knee.’ His considered opinion was that I have a condition typical of people in mid life who were sporty in their younger days. The knee cap and the grove in which it moves get worn, then a little osteo-arthritis can set in and flare up occasionally. His advice was ‘Keep it exercised, keep it warm, keep the quads (thigh muscles) strong, and you’re unlikely to need a new knee for decades yet. Oh, and avoid stress because there’s a strong correlation between stress and pain.’ Yeah, right.

*  *  *

Somebody has cleaned up most of the cigarette butts in lower Market Place. Maybe they read my blog.

*  *  *

The woman who runs one of the charity shops found me a nearly new lightweight sweater for summer wear, priced at only £2.50. It was just about what I’ve been looking for over the past couple of months, and I congratulated her. ‘You should have got a woman to help you look,’ she said. Well now, maybe I should. I like her. She has a warm, open smile that carries just a hint of potential mischief.

Four Notes.

1) I’ve reached that point at which the slightest irritation pounds at my brain with the weight of a major and debilitating disturbance. This is a phenomenon to which the HSP type is no stranger, but there’s a limit.

2) The Faun singers perform in a bewildering array of languages. Their track Arcadia, for example, is not only sung in Finnish, but in Karelian dialect. That’s about the equivalent of a Chinese person doing Stand by Your Man in best West Virginian Appalachian. Clever.

3) I think the boys from Google might top the poll for The Most Irritating Organisation the World Has Ever Known. If they interrupt my musical listening with 'Why don’t you stop using your YouTube name and replace it with your own name' once more…

4) I hate Virgin Media and their unprincipled attempts to force me through their corporate hoops. They seem to be forgetting that ‘free market’ is two words. They only acknowledge the second one. What’s more, I think that Branson and others of his ilk who are manically obsessed with adding more and more millions to their already obscenely obese bank accounts, while countless millions around the world are dying of starvation, are a pox on the backside of humanity. I do.

Getting it Right.

I picked up a ‘recommendation’ on YouTube tonight. It was entitled NOW WE ARE FREE – ENYA.

I liked the song but it didn’t sound much like Enya, so I read the comments. The top comment said:


‘That could explain why it doesn’t sound much like Enya,’ thinks I. It was followed by other comments which included:

Acá yo escucho la voz de Lisa Gerrard!!

this mucic is beautifull but is no eya but lisa Gerard


this is not Enya!  Come on, man!

(sic all)

I was becoming convinced, so I thought I’d Google ‘Now we are Free’ and see what I might come up with. Not unsurprisingly perhaps, most of the returns mentioned Lisa Gerrard in the preview. I picked one which purported to be an Irish Gaelic-English translation of the lyrics, only it wasn’t. It was a Hebrew-English translation; and even that might not be quite right because after the translation, someone purporting to be a Hebrew speaker commented that said translation was a complete load of dingo’s doings and the actual translation should be this.

Next up was a comment which said:

Enya writes in Gaelic because she’s Irish.

Time to fall off seat.

I gather school kids these days rely on the internet a lot for study purposes. I’m thinking of starting a website dedicated to the history and cultural significance of coffee, in which I will claim that coffee is painstakingly ground from a rare form of oolitic limestone found only in the mines of northern Moldova. It might catch on. Anything goes on the internet, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Still Bouncing the Baseball.

I’m still in this pit, you know. I think it’s to be my cell for the duration. I’ve written several posts over the past couple of days, and deleted them because they were either turgid, trivial, or too damn silly. If anybody has a magic wand, send it over, will you.

Anyway, the only thing of note to come out of the weekend was that I found a new band to get keen on. Only they’re not new, apparently. Judging by the comments on YouTube, they’ve been around for ages. It beats me why I haven’t come across them before, since their music is pretty excellent.

I’m posting the shortest piece of theirs I could find, but it’s none the worse for being short. And by an odd coincidence, I knew somebody once who looked uncannily like the guy playing the tom-toms – same nose and minimalist hair style. He came from Dundee. Fancy that.

I never knew anybody who looked like the girl playing the recorder, though. (Just as well, I say.) None of the girls who played recorder at my school looked remotely like her, neither did they play the recorder half as proficiently. And I've decided I want a hurdy-gurdy.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Hobbit Mind.

The evening being twilit and temperate, I was leaning on a farm gate looking west as usual (although, since we’re this close to the middle of the year, most of the dramas and spectacular colour washes are to be seen in the north west) when I remembered something Sam the Sheep Farmer said to me at about the same time last year. He said that he likes nothing better than to come through the small wood to his middle field at twilight, there to lean on the gate and see how well the grass is growing. Need I say that the view from the gate of his middle field looks west?

He’s right, you know. There is something truly compelling about the combination of gate, grass, balmy air and a painter’s sky which hobbits understand in the deep heart’s core, but most people don’t.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Being on the Fringe.

Talking of being the ugliest person in the play, how about being the least important?

I think I was 5 or 6 when I took part in my only school Nativity play. I wanted a leading role, of course. If I couldn’t be Joseph, I would have settled for being a Wise Man. If I couldn’t be a Wise Man, I would have made do with being a Shepherd. (I seem to recall we didn’t have any angels; it was a rough neighbourhood.) But do you know what they cast me as?

A rabbit.

There were three of us, all come to adore Baby J. Needless to say, we had no lines to deliver. And to explain to the audience of adoring parents what these three kids were doing squatting in the corner of the stage, they gave us each a pair of long ears. One pair was grey, one brown, and one black. I got the brown pair, and I was allowed to keep them.

That much, at least, was a treat. Coming from a poor family, treats were in extremely short supply, so a pair of cardboard ears painted brown gave me something to feel possessive towards for weeks. And so I did.

Nevertheless, a pair of cardboard ears, treats though they may have been, hardly compensated for the feeling of being marginalised at such a tender age. I remember waving to my mother at the end of the performance, and I remember her smiling dutifully back. Or maybe I’m being unkind; maybe she was truly impressed with my still and silent performance as an adoring rabbit.

I kept the ears for a year or two, occasionally taking them out of the drawer to revel in the sense of a job well done. And life has been replete with small mercies ever since.

Being the Ugliest in the Play.

The more I look at that picture of Golum in a recent post, the more I notice the physical similarities between him and me. He even outdoes me in one respect: he’s a lot trimmer.

If these similarities continue to converge, as I suspect they might, I think the time is approaching when I’ll need to get my shopping delivered, since it will become inadvisable to be seen in public. No doubt I shall then be reduced to spending my time skulking in the undergrowth down by the river, and any good Person of the Shire who wishes to walk their dog in that locality would be wise to remove their wedding ring first.

The Machine.

When I was a kid the Cold War was still in full swing, and we in Britain were led to believe that Russian women were all great hairy creatures – little more than Incredible Hulks in Frocks. Well, we know differently now, don’t we? It just goes to show that democracy is no defence against manipulative propaganda.

It isn’t, you know. It isn’t.

The Meaning of Macedonia.

Did you know that there are four different definitions of Macedonia? They are:

1) The ancient kingdom that Alexander was king of.

2) The modern geographical region, which is broadly similar.

3) The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is a state in its own right.

4) The northernmost region of Greece.

And talking of Alexander, don’t you think it’s sublimely ironic that the great conqueror was eventually killed by a tiny insect? How very Shakespearean.

Another Lament.

Have you noticed how all the heroes in LOTR have long hair? The elves have elegant, girly styles with dangly bits at the side, the humans all have Jesus hair, and the hobbits have bushy cuts. My hair, in pitiful contrast, is looking more like Golum’s as each day passes. So if I start cheating, conniving, lying, and developing a taste for raw fish, I’ll know which way the wind is blowing. And I’ll just have to hope that I can stay downwind of everybody else.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Not Worth a Title.

I was ungracious to somebody today. I feel bad about it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, and however much we're all to some extent in thrall to our inadequacies, I find it hard to excuse being ungracious.

Admitting the Weakness.

I met a woman from the village out walking her dogs today. One of them was a replacement for the very old one which died last year, and that brought up the subject of how close we become to our animal companions.

I said that one of the reasons I won’t have a dog of my own is that I get too damn fond of them, and it hurts rather a lot when they go. And the older the dog gets, the more the prospect of the inevitable parting troubles me. She said that she knows a man in the next village who won’t have a dog for just the same reason.

This is, of course, both a cowardly and a negative attitude. What we should be doing is taking joy from the company of the living dog, and then giving thanks for that gift when it goes. Indeed it is, and I’m sure all animal lovers realise it, so there stands yet another black mark against my name.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Gold, Silver, Bronze.

Since it’s late at night and I seem to be resuming the blogging habit, I thought I’d persevere with an established favourite and cast my vote for the best three characters in Lord of the Rings.

First place, by a short head, goes to Aragorn’s chestnut (as far as I remember) horse who finds him and brings him home after he’s been pulled over a cliff by the big hairy thing and everybody-thinks-he’s-dead. The horse knew different. Clever and faithful horse, eh?

Second place (by the same short head) goes to Arwen’s painfully beautiful white horse who wins the race with the Nazgul to save little Frodo. Surely the original ‘bonny grey mare.’ She and her elf make a compelling combination.

Third place has to go to Eomer. If I’d had eyes and teeth like his, I’m sure life would have been a lot simpler. Sadly, all I had to compare was a good throwing arm; only in my case it was mostly cricket balls I threw, not javelins to be hurled at wild-eyed men riding big elephants. Shame.

Climbing the Highest Mountain.

Being something of an anti-war advocate, I’ve wondered why I find the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings so stirring. The answer, I suppose, is because they’re not realistic in a this-world sense. If you want to see something approaching realism, you’d be better off watching Luc Besson’s 1999 film Jeanne D’Arc, in which exhausted mediaeval soldiers struggle through an unholy mess of blood, mud and disembodied limbs, while fallen men cry for the merciful release of death. It’s a really nasty film, because real war is a really nasty business.

Lord of the Rings is a fantasy in which the battle scenes are not about portraying the reality of war, but about invoking the hero archetype. They’re about the human spirit (and elves and dwarves may be generically so categorised in this context) being taken beyond the point of reason to a place of willing self-sacrifice. They’re about laying the very nature of personal existence on the line in order to create a better world for themselves and those who follow, and all at the expense of nothing more than the bad guys. Real war has a habit of revealing psychopaths on both sides. In Lord of the Rings, the psychopaths are all on the side of the enemy.

The battle scenes in Lord of the Rings are about good men and women engaging in the ultimate adventure – pushing themselves courageously through a demon-strewn hell in order to reach the light, alive or dead. There are those in this world who do just that, and that’s why I find them stirring. Fantasy might be less realistic in a mundane sense, but that doesn't mean it's any less real.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Mothers' Magic Medicine.

I’ve tried ignoring my blog since I’m not much use at blogging at the moment, but my blog declines to be ignored. So I have one little anecdote to relate from today’s sojourn to Ashbourne.

I saw a young couple with a child of around two, and the child had a toffee lollipop which he dropped. Father hurriedly picked it up and took it to his wife, asking whether she had something to clean it with or whether there was a water supply nearby. Mother took it from him, sucked it, and handed it back to the child. Job done; it’s how the job has always been done.

We live in a culture that wants to sanitise the child’s environment to the point of near-strangulation. The corporate world encourages the process because it wants us to buy more and more products so it can make bigger and bigger profits. ‘Antibacterial’ is its favourite catchword, when all it takes is a mother’s saliva. I like that; there’s something natural, primitive and proper about it. I do.

But I wonder whether I’m right in thinking that it must be the mother’s saliva – that father’s spit is simply not fit for purpose. Or could it be that fathers are cowardly creatures who fear they might catch something nasty if they suck a fallen lollipop? Or is the relationship between father and child less corporeally intimate than that between mother and child? I suspect they might all be true.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Welcome Spark.

I miss writing my blog. It’s been a major cornerstone of my life for nearly three and a half years, and I miss it. It’s just that I have no spark at the moment, you see; nothing to set alight the need to communicate.

This evening, however, there was a brief glimmer of something smouldering in the tinder box. I took a late evening walk since the air was cool but mellow, and I was surprised at just how rich and vibrant the verges and the hedgerows are this year. I don’t remember ever having seen them look quite so splendid on a cool but mellow June evening. Having said which, they reminded me of my childhood, and of June holidays spent in Devon with my parents. So maybe I have seen them looking so splendid before.

And then I spent quite some time standing at the top of one of the leys looking down to the valley. Few distractions have remained constant throughout my life, but one of them is my fascination with those unsettled western skies in which might be seen the head of a bear, or a stomping ogre, or maybe a dragon hung in suspended animation between heaven and earth. They shift their shapes, textures and colours slowly, but always there is that tantalising combination of havoc and promise.

I talked to the ash tree in Church Lane, too. I reminded him of that cold, snowy night last winter when I visited to pay my respects, while Orion hung resplendent in the dark clarity of a different western sky. An unknown little bird flew close and chirruped at me. I said ‘Hello. It’s very nice to make your acquaintance.’

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Emily Davison, Martyr. R.I.P.

The suffragette Emily Davison died a hundred years ago today. Four days earlier she’d rushed onto the racecourse at Epsom during the running of the Derby and gone down under the hooves of the King’s horse. The injuries she sustained proved fatal, and she’s long been regarded as the great martyr of British women’s suffrage.

All the evidence indicates with near-certainty that she never meant to commit suicide, but was intending ‘merely’ a publicity coup. There are those who say that this diminishes her right to the status of martyr, since she didn’t go deliberately into the arms of the recording angel for the sake of the cause. I disagree.

Emily Davison’s career as a suffragette was characterised by acts of outstanding boldness and physical courage (such is the inclination of Northumbrian women, in my experience. Northumberland is a veritable Rohan replete with Eowyns.) Whether she intended the final sacrifice or not, the fact that one of those escapades was so dangerous that it resulted in her death surely entitles her to the ultimate accolade. I hold that to be a reasonable conclusion, which is why I found it so moving to photograph her grave in Morpeth churchyard, the headstone to which is inscribed with the motto of the Women’s Social and Political Union:

Deeds Not Words.

Emily Davison gets my vote for inclusion on the roll of honour.

*  *  *

And dear Emily is also one of many reasons why this might be my last post. Being a mere opinionated hot air merchant is hardly edifying when placed alongside the likes of her, and my inability to get out of this damn pit makes me wonder whether my own race is effectively run. I might change my mind.

(Tell you what, though: going a whole week without making a blog post has been informative in more ways than one.)

Oh, and by the way: Thankfully, the horse that unwittingly killed Emily was unharmed. The jockey was traumatised, but physically unhurt. He was, however, haunted for the rest of his life by ‘the memory of that poor woman’s face.’ So did he blame her? No, he honoured her memory and respected her courage. Good man.