Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Fond Recollection and Two Little Catastrophes.

You know, every week I buy a TV listings magazine, and every week it sits on my sofa unopened. I hardly ever watch the TV; there’s nothing on it to interest me.

So, I was thinking back to the good old days before those twin scumbags Maxwell and Murdoch invaded the airways with their satellite and cable, and infected our brave old world with media versions of McDonalds and KFC. I did warn people at the time, but they didn’t listen; such is the power of advertising and the myopic tendency of the great British public.

In particular, I remembered what I consider to have been the most consistently and outrageously funny sitcom ever made – Drop the Dead Donkey. A major part of its appeal was that it sent up the twin Ms and their pernicious cultural plague quite mercilessly, and the characters were brilliant conceived, brilliantly written, and brilliantly executed. The only thing that worried me slightly was the disturbing similarity in character traits between Henry Davenport and me, but I’d prefer not to expand on that (except, perhaps, to say that I haven’t taken to wearing a toupee yet.) It’s complicated.

Instead, I must just mention tonight’s little catastrophes.

The evening was warm, damp and sultry, with a low, heavy, grey sky driving remorselessly from the south. Having gone to check on the sheep at the top of the lane, I came back and made my way to my favourite gate at the top of the farm track opposite Bag Lane.

No gate. It was there, but it wasn’t on its hinges; it was lying prone (or maybe supine – its hard to tell with gates) on the grass nearby. A quick check around the field indicated that the farmer is in the process of re-posting and hanging his gates.

Well, the sight of the Weaver Hills having their tops obscured by low cloud was atmospheric and pleasing, but what compensation is that for not having a gate to lean on? Not quite enough, I’m sorry to say.

Tonight’s other little catastrophe was the realisation that I’d forgotten to buy a croissant to dunk in my French coffee. I’m coming to quite like the stuff, but it’s nearly gone. I could always get some more ‘Café de Paris’ the next time I go to Uttoxeter, of course, and maybe the rival supermarket nearby will have fresh croissants. OK, that’s the plan.

(I wonder whether New Yorkers have considered dunking their cronuts in coffee. Maybe I should ask one.)

How to Get Published.

I haven’t a clue, and I don’t believe anybody else really does either. It might be worth pointing out, however, that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by the first twelve publishers to whom it was offered, and was accepted by the thirteenth effectively on the recommendation of the chairman’s eight-year-old daughter.

That probably says just about all there is to be said on the matter.

Other Ashbourne Notes.

So let me see, what else was notable about Ashbourne today? Well, there’s…

a) Being at the start of the long summer school holidays, the place was awash with kiddies. They were everywhere – taking up toilet space, littering the lanes, and polluting the pathways. Even the dogs were staying close to the feet of their humans for fear of having their tails pulled or their ears trodden on.

I have a problem with kids. I always want to stop and talk to them, but it isn’t allowed any more. I might have the mind of a 5½-year-old, but I look rather older, and males who look older than 5½ mustn’t talk to strange kids unless the kid speaks first and the parent is no more than three feet away. I understand and respect the reason, but it’s still a shame.

b) The billboards for the local newspaper carried the headline Body Found in Wood. I wondered whether such a headline might apply to me one day, since I can think of few nicer environments from which to depart this mortal realm than a wood.

c) This troublesome tooth which seems determined to fall apart has lost a few more bits of enamel and left a small cavity. Accordingly, I called in at the dentist’s to see whether I could arrange an assignation with the incomparable Medeea. Seems not; she’s so popular that she’s booked solid until the end of September, so I was given an appointment with the hygiene therapist instead. I didn’t even know there was any such thing as a hygiene therapist, but it seems I’m about to meet one for the very first time. And isn’t it annoying when you find something rare and precious, only to have to share it with hundreds of other people?

d) The girl at the supermarket checkout had the most unusually piercing light blue eyes. It occurred to me that she might have foreign ancestry, and my interest was sufficiently piqued to ask her about it. I decided not to when it further occurred to me that her knowledge of English vocabulary might be no more advanced than the bakery girl’s knowledge of fancy American pastries, and that the statement ‘I should very much like to be made privy to your antecedents, my dear’ might get a chap into serious trouble.

Ashbourne and the Cronut.

I forgot to go into the bakeshops and ask about cronuts, but I remembered when I got to the supermarket. I sidled around the counter and called out to the people at the back of the bakery section.

‘Have you got any cronuts?’

‘Any what?’ asked the young woman in the sexy (!) white trilby.

‘Cronuts.’ The young woman coloured up as her eyes betrayed both amusement and embarrassment.

‘I don’t know what they are,’ she said.

‘You don’t know what cronuts are? How dumb!’ (It seemed appropriate in the circumstances to use the American vernacular.)

‘I’ve never ’eard of ’em either,’ affirmed her young male colleague, slowly and with a downbeat countenance. He says everything slowly and with a downbeat countenance. It's as though he’s only just discovered that the world is a terrible place and is never going to get any better.

So then I put them at their ease by admitting that my familiarity with the cronut was a mere twenty four hours old, and explained all about croissants, doughnuts, New York and taking the world by storm. They appeared interested, but not massively impressed. Ashbourne isn’t the sort of place to be impressed by flighty new things from far-flung shores, and it’s my guess that the cronut will remain an unknown quantity for a few years yet. Bit like the potato, really.

The Problem with Cronuts.

My major accomplishment today was learning what a cronut is. Or, to be more precise, I learned that ‘cronut’ is a portmanteau word derived from ‘croissant’ and ‘donut,’ and that it’s the appellation applied to a pastry confection invented in New York, but now ‘taking the world by storm.’

But of course, simply knowing the etymology doesn’t actually help much in understanding what it actually is. How much of it is croissant, and how much donut? One assumes that it’s sweeter than a croissant. In fact, being American, it probably has so much sugar stored within its fat little form that you’re liable to catch diabetes just by walking past a patisserie window displaying the dishy little delectables. And in all the pictures I saw, the delightful little creatures were covered in chocolate. What has chocolate to do with either croissants or donuts? Chocolate comes from trees, and finds the zenith of its appeal when stirred into boiling water and handed to you in a mug as you’re being drenched by ice-cold Atlantic spray while standing on the bridge wings of a Type 12 frigate in the middle of a Force 11 storm at 2 o'clock in the morning. I should know; I was there.

And there’s another problem. In Britain, we don’t have donuts; we have doughnuts. This would appear to suggest that we Mother Country types should be calling them ‘croughnuts.’ Only that looks as though it should be pronounced ‘cruffnuts,’ which doesn’t do much for their appeal.

Tomorrow I intend to go into a bake shop in Ashbourne and enquire as to the availability of cronuts. I think I might have some explaining to do.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Two Notes of Little Consequence.

Now I have to be patient. The first draft of the new story is finished and edited, but now it needs to go cold for at least a week. I’ve decided it can be included in the canon of short stories, so it has a catalogue number. And that means it must be afforded a modicum of respect. I must resist the urge to look at it for at least a week, because it’s surprising how wrong some things can read once the filter of familiarity has been removed. I’ll probably post it at the other blog once I’ve done the final edit.

*  *  *

And while I’m in a vaguely creative vein, I must mention the strange appearance of some of the clouds this evening. There was nothing vaporous about them at all; they looked like solid swathes of tangerine, donkey brown, and charcoal grey oil paint applied to a canvas with a palette knife. I don’t remember seeing any clouds quite like them before. Maybe I’m just noticing things more keenly these days.

A Party Political Broadcast.

I never thought I’d say this, but I think I might vote Liberal Democrat at the next election. I like the way they’re raising two fingers at their Coalition allies at the moment. I also like their celebrated naiveté and propensity for the losing habit. It suggests a certain genuineness, insofar as such a notion can apply in politics.

The Tories are currently caving in to the Xenophobe Tendency with their grubby little illegal immigrant detector vans, and the Labour Party are climbing into bed with the Suburban Popular Front, so where is there to go except with the Lib Dem Nice Guys, the Greens, or the Monster Raving Loonies?

(The Tories have become so grubby and pseudo-populist under Cameron. They were always elitist and objectionable, but never grubby…)

Time will tell.

This party political broadcast was brought to you by White and McKay Special Reserve.

(Then again, Cameron did sit on plans for minimum alcohol pricing, which was always a bad idea… Mmm…)

Monday, 29 July 2013

Evening Shapes and a Special Star.

This evening I saw a salamander, a bottlenose dolphin, a slug, and an ocean-going liner, all etched in shining silver and holding station in the north western sky just after the sun went down.

When I was a little boy, I had some curtains in my bedroom with flowers on them. From the bed, however, the flowers looked like elephants. I would occasionally go over to check that they really were flowers, which they undoubtedly were, but when I got back into bed, they always turned into elephants again.

I find it almost awe-inspiring that Venus can outshine a late sunset sky, while the stars in the darker eastern sky are still not visible.

Declining the Smile.

I was just reading an old blog post of mine about a man who smiled at me on a train. It reminded me that a young bloke rode past me on a bike in Ashbourne last week – and smiled at me.

Needless to say, I scowled back, but it raises the question: Why did he smile at me? Why?

Let’s get this straight:

Men smile at women, women smile at men. Women also smile at women, but men don’t smile at men. Got it? It’s a primeval thing to do with clubs and pointed sticks. It isn’t natural. It isn’t, not even if your name is Jesus, Gautama Siddharta, or Donny freggin’ Osmond.

I mean, what would have happened if I’d smiled back? He might have asked me to ride pillion, and then I would have had to tell him where to stick his bicycle pump, and that might have made his eyes water.

See? Why can’t we just keep things simple?

Fortunately, the White & McKay scotch was on special offer the same day. It’s going down nicely.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A Matter of Taste.

Here’s an interesting little story from the movie world.

When the James Whale picture The Old Dark House was released in 1932, the movie industry press in Hollywood gave it bad reviews. One publication called it ‘a somewhat inane picture.’ All nine New York dailies, on the other hand, gave it good reviews.

The American public weren’t impressed. After a positive opening in the States, it suffered from bad word-of-mouth and failed miserably. In Britain, however, it broke box office records.

It’s now become a cult favourite and is considered a classic of its genre.

Make of that what you will.

A Kind of Therapy.

The first draft of the new short story is now done (it took a couple of days for it to tell me how it wanted to end.) The next job will be a comprehensive edit of the whole thing.

I didn’t think I would write any more stories. I thought that all I had in me were now written down and an episode of my life was closed. The thing is, though, the last couple haven’t been straightforward pieces of fiction, as those in the main body of the canon are, but allegories.

And the good thing about writing an allegory is this: when the over-fed form of the unfriendlier side of life has you pinned in the mire with its knee on your chest, at least turning the experience into an allegory makes something creative out of it. And that helps you breathe a little more easily.

Shifting into Dream Mode.

During the electric storm last night, I spent some time standing inside my shed watching it. There’s an edgy thrill about an electric storm – the flashing, the crashing and the teeming rain put you on the primal cusp. They make you aware that nature is a bit more powerful than humans can handle when it wants to be, and that takes you closer to the edge of the comfort zone.

In my case, there was another reason to be uncomfortable: I knew that some of this watery deluge was making its way into my house and soaking parts of it that are meant to be dry. Imagine what it must be like having the whole structure swept away by floods, mud slides, lava flows, earthquakes, wildfires or powerful winds. Yes indeed.

But back to the easy stuff. Sitting in my office watching a little bird preening himself in the sunshine, the memory of last night’s storm has an air of unreality about it. It’s a bit like talking to a beautiful woman from New York. We get used to the parameters of normality, and when we step outside them, the experience edges into that area of consciousness normally reserved for dreams.


I do so envy psychopaths, like the people who run society.

‘I want, therefore I take.’

No emotional fallout. What a life. I wonder whether you can get a pill for it.

Siddharta's Little Helper.

I’ve long held that to understand somebody, you have to understand their sense of humour. Well, to me, the following is the funniest comment I’ve found on YouTube so far. It’s on a compilation of ‘Elvish Songs and Melodies’ from LOTR. I’ve copied and pasted it, so it’s exactly as written:

‘For fuck sake shut up about Christians and there bibles there is no prof god existed I learned that now i am a Buddhist’

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Old Wet House.

One of the greatest of my several bêtes noir is any kind of invasion of my personal space. It can send me very quickly into a rage or depression, depending on the circumstances.

There are several things that can invade a person’s space, and one of my current culprits is water – rainwater. It’s started to run in at the bottom of a sloping ceiling in my spare bedroom, and I had the agent out last Tuesday to look at it. He made a quick assessment and diagnosed it as almost certainly a crack in the lead that lines the gully between two small gables. He said he’d call a builder the following day and instruct them to get onto the roof to make a proper diagnosis. I was expecting the builder the same day, since water can cause a lot of damage and is usually treated urgently.

Well, nobody has turned up yet and tonight we had a rare old electric storm. The rain has been coming down in sheets for some time, and both wall and ceiling are getting predictably wet.

In trying to make light of it, I remembered this little clip from the classic old horror film The Old Dark House. My current circumstances are not dissimilar. The character of Horace Femm has a line which runs ‘…you don’t seem to understand!’ I wonder whether the agents administering the Norbury Estate understand that serious problems need urgent attention. They’ve been occupying the position for 2½ years now, and they haven’t shown much sign of understanding it yet.



Do you know, I was once married to the great great niece of Ethel Voynitch, the woman who wrote The Gadfly, the music to the film adaptation of which was written by none other than Dmitri Shostakovitch.

You would never have known it. She couldn’t speak a word of Russian.

Melancholy Music and a Meeting with Queens.

Here’s another thing I haven’t posted in a while – some favourite music.

I’ve long been a little in awe of June Tabor, especially the way her dark voice seems to find light and meaning at the more melancholic end of the spectrum.

Now I’m also a little in awe of Martin Simpson’s guitar playing. It’s the sort of thing I was heading for once, but I fell way short. I simply didn’t have the innate musical nous to turn mere style – which I could manage reasonably well – into advanced technical skill of this magnitude.

So now I have to decide whether to carry on with the new story, which continues to grow as the meaning demands to be expanded. The old man is in the process of meeting three queens – Princess, Life, and Priestess – on a barge carrying him to somewhere I haven’t discovered myself yet. It’s the sort of thing which requires just the right kind of mood – offbeat, maybe a little transcendental, but clear-minded.

I think I’ll have a drink and listen to some more music instead.

Friday, 26 July 2013

In the Cryptic Tradition.

It occurs to me that I haven’t written one of my cryptic posts for a long time. The cryptic posts were the ones that were only comprehensible to those who know my mind and situation very well. I decided it was time I made one, just for old time’s sake, so here goes:

I was joined on my walk this evening by a ghost, by which I mean the wraith of someone who passed over to the light about a year ago. It was lovely to see her again after all this time, and made this evening’s walk one of the pleasanter ones.

Will that do? I promise not to make too many of them.

A Dichotomous Sheep.

I’ve been meaning to mention this for a few days, but kept forgetting.

Sam-and-Ange the Sheep Farmers had a good lambing this year (which seems odd considering how late the winter went on, but Ange insists they did.) The lambs are quite big now, almost as big as their mothers, and one of them has horns.

I’ve never seen a lamb with horns before. They're not the curly sort that you see on beasts wearing coats and leading men in uniform at military parades, they’re the sort that grow upwards at a slight angle and then curve outwards, the sort that used to make the covers of Dennis Wheatley books in the days when Dennis Wheatley was a leading author of occult fiction.

(You want to know why I’m not posting a picture of him, don’t you? It’s because I only have conventional 35mm equipment, and that’s a very expensive way to take pictures. And, on top of that, both camera bodies have gone west – or south if you’re American.)

So, anyway, he makes an odd sight because he looks both cute and diabolical at the same time. In fact, he reminded me of the ghostly sheep I wrote about in The Helvellyn Ram, the one which tried to lead my friend to a watery demise.

The Value of Fiction.

I didn’t finish the first draft of the new short story last night. I wrote a bit more, but mostly did the first edit on what I’d done so far.

It’s turning out to be longer than I expected. I originally thought it would be very short at around 750-1,000 words, but it’s up to 2,000 words already and there’s some more to come yet. Seems I had more to say about the state of mental incarceration, co-existing age categories, and the role of women in such a disturbed context than I realised.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that fiction has two purposes:

One applies to the reader, to whom it suggests things they might care to think about. The other is to the author, who learns a bit more about himself than he knew yesterday. Being a near-loner, that’s the one that’s important to me. (Although why I should care remains unclear.)

I wrote some more tonight. I expect I'll get there eventually.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Smelling the Sweaty Armpit of Big Brother.

I just read that the American Senate has voted in favour of allowing the NSA to monitor everybody’s private phone calls. Supporters say that it’s a useful tool in the fight against terrorism, and must continue in order to keep Americans safe.

Well, maybe it is, but it raises two questions:

1) What else are they using it for, or what else might they use it for if and when it suits political or military exigencies?

2) How far should Americans allow their privacy to be invaded in the fight against the bad guys? Will it one day come to the point at which every room in every private dwelling will be fitted with audio and visual monitoring equipment, so the intelligence services can see what everybody is doing while they’re at home. Will it one day come to the point at which everybody will be electronically tagged at birth, so the security forces can know where everybody is at any given time? No, of course not. I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I? Paranoid, even. Am I? The fundamental question is this: what is the right point at which to draw the line, and who is qualified to make the decision?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Always Look on the Bright Side...

In all fairness, it behoves me to be sufficiently magnanimous as to admit that living in a secular, notionally democratic state with a constitutional monarchy at its head does allow me (as far as I’m aware) to refer to His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge as a sprog and a naked mole rat, without being dragged to the deepest dungeon and hung in rusty chains to rot.

If the price of such a privilege is to tolerate preposterous titles and a half-witted press (or quarter, in the case of the Daily Mail) then I should pay it without too much complaint. And so I do. I do.

Irrelevant Sprogs and Important Dogs.

I should think it’s probably a well known fact that the British Royal Family got a new addition to its already well-inflated ranks yesterday, so I suppose it should have come as no surprise that today’s front pages of the tabloid press would be plastered with pictures of a naked mole rat tightly swathed in a white blanket. Indeed, I wasn’t surprised. Neither was I generally surprised at the inane headlines which accompanied them, since inane headlines are the tabloids' stock-in-trade. What did surprise me was one headline in particular. It accompanied a picture in which the naked mole rat’s front paws were sticking over the top of the tight white blanket, and the headline ran:


Well, we all know that one of the major functions of the tabloid press, second only to fostering bigotry, is to hideously sensationalise Establishment trivia in order to keep the less gifted among the population safely anaesthetised. This is so they won’t notice the serious shortcomings evident among those running the Establishment, and is why said tabloids are so good at writing inane headlines. However, however… Even I didn’t think a tabloid would be capable of digging the pit of inanity to quite such a depth. Seems they were.

And do you know what’s ironic? The British monarchy has been of the constitutional variety for over four hundred years. In simple terms, that means they’re little more than a comfort blanket which the British like to hug and suck every so often. That’s nice, but that’s all.

We’re living in difficult economic times in which the road western economies have been taking for the past few decades is being seen to be a dangerously unstable one. It seems to me that economic growth has to be a finite concept, and that raises two distinct possibilities with regard to the time when the current sprog is ready to take his place among the line of constitutional monarchs:

1) The constitutional monarchy might have been demolished by then, since it’s a very expensive comfort blanket.

2) Global economies might have collapsed, and we’ll be back to a culture in which tribal warlords will be ruling the roost.

*  *  *

And now the sensible-and-nice news:

I made the acquaintance of a lively young Labrador in Ashbourne today. Her humans even offered me custody for half an hour, but unfortunately they were only joking. They were just having difficulty eating their alfresco lunch of saveloy and chips in peace.

And there’s another point: If Inca the Local Cocker Spaniel were pregnant, I’d be very interested. But the Queen’s granddaughter-in-law? Nah.

(And just in case anybody wants to know, the writing of the new short story went well last night. With any luck, the first draft should be finished tonight, and then the work of making it readable will begin.)

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Capt Oates Revisited.

I'm about to start writing a new short story. I might be gone for some time. Contrariwise, I might not.

The tent was getting just too damn cold, so I had to find some means of escape.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Versions 2.

The interesting thing about watching YouTube clips and reading the comments is that you realise just how many versions of reality there are to be accessed in the modern world. The problem, it seems to me, is finding one that's worth holding onto.

Friday, 19 July 2013

This Evening.

A soft summer breeze
Was stroking the trees
And cooling the air
By about ten degrees

There, now: a ditty with a pragmatic slant for once. But it was exceedingly pleasant.

*  *  *

I’m getting used to this French coffee, and I think I know how I might make acceptance complete. I’m drinking it out of a mug at the moment. Isn’t one supposed to drink French coffee out of a bowl? Or at least, isn’t that the Gallic way of drinking it? And don’t you think that if the style were to be emulated, the full experience might be accentuated? I must ask around the charity shops in Ashbourne next week to see whether any of them have coffee bowls.

I grew up in the heart of the British ceramics industry, and it was always said that tea tastes much better out of a China cup than an earthenware one.

*  *  *

I was reading some comments on an old blog post earlier, and I realised something. Making the transition from being acquainted with a person to actually knowing them can come as a result of a single look in the eyes, or physical gesture, or statement of preference, or small flight of imagination. It can be the key which unlocks the door to a deeper level beyond the surface persona. I could offer a list of examples, but I don’t think I will. That sort of thing is private.

Telling the HSP to Ignore the Discord.

I saw one of those bits of typical tabloid fluff recently, in which a ‘leading psychologist’ (who’d just written a self-help book; they’ve always just written a self-help book) gave the readership the benefit of his vaunted advice on How to Think Positively and be a Happier Person. It included such gems as ‘concentrate on the good things in your life and ignore the bad.’ Laughably simplistic? Of course, but he also failed to take account of those unfortunates afflicted with the level of awareness generally known as HSP. Let me explain it this way:

Suppose you’re part of a group of people watching an orchestral rehearsal. During a rousing passage involving the whole orchestra, the 2nd trombone plays a b flat instead of a b natural. You don’t notice the one wrong note among the hundred right ones, and neither does the rest of the audience. After all, it’s only one instrument playing a semitone out. The conductor does, though. He hears the discord immediately and it makes him wince; he stops the rehearsal and admonishes the offending player. If it happens several more times, he’ll be tearing his hair out.

Life is a symphony made up of countless sensory experiences, and the HSP is acutely aware of every one of them. It might be the sight of something out of place, or a bad smell among the sweet scent of flowers, or a sound that’s out of harmony with the natural order or his own choices. Such things affect the HSP like an instrument playing out of tune with the rest of the band. They irritate and sting and depress the spirits.

Unfortunately, he isn’t a conductor who can stop the music until it’s put right. I can’t, for example, knock on the door of the woman around the corner who plays dance music through an open window in the summer, and ask her to stop. For me, it wrecks the harmony of summer growth, the song of birds, and the rustle of leaves, but there’s nothing I can do about it. She has her rights too, and as long as she’s exercising them within the parameters of general consensus, all I can do is wince, then grit my teeth and live with it. The HSP, however, doesn’t function in accordance with general consensus, and few days go by without some discord somewhere.

So please, Mr Psychologist, don’t tell me to ignore these things. HSPs aren’t equipped with blinkers. You might as well tell the conductor to ignore the 2nd trombone playing a b flat instead of a b natural. Life might be that simple for most of the population, but not for us.

A Little Paradox.

So here’s the rub.

You click on a YouTube video which tells the story of a still and serene little Buddhist boy making the transition to a higher state of consciousness (characterised as an angel.) On the way he is helped by a beautiful Indian girl (maybe his sister,) a wise man who is always in the background and never makes eye contact with anyone, some swift-flying birds which represent the concept of ascent, and some majestic elephants which represent the impermanence of physical life. And it’s all accompanied by uplifting music sung by a woman who has possibly the most primal voice you’ve ever heard.

So how does YouTube prepare you for this mind-enriching experience?

They play you an advert in which cool dude and chick, sans shirts, get to grips in moody monochrome so you’ll be fooled into spending a ridiculous amount of money on a bottle of man-made chemicals while a bunch of soulless executives laugh all the way to the Bentley showrooms and throw affluent dinner parties in their high-rise apartments.

There’s something paradoxical about that. Or, to put it another way, it’s sad.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Little Gallic Mystery.

The shop in Uttoxeter which used to sell cheap-but-very-good Italian coffee no longer does so. Much of what they sell comes from batches of redundant stock, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. In place of it, they now have several new lines which are equally cheap, but as yet unproven. One of them was French, and being a bit into things Gallic, I decided to risk a pack.

Frankly, it’s a bit dull and earthy, which is a trifle odd when you consider that most things Gallic are anything but dull and earthy. French people, for example, are more given to being vivacious than dull and earthy. I met one called Hélène in Oban Youth Hostel half a lifetime ago. She wasn’t dull and earthy at all. In fact, she had a remarkably good line in whimsical humour, which I consider no mean feat when it’s being practiced in somebody else’s language, and all the evidence I need of a vivacious tendency.

So now I have a mystery on my hands: something Gallic that is also dull and earthy. It did occur to me that maybe French coffee doesn’t taste right until it’s had a croissant dipped in it at least a dozen times, and that’s the hope to which I am fervently clinging. It also occurred to me that somebody visits this blog from France on a regular basis, so maybe he or she might put my mind at rest.

Gifts from Disparate Sources.

Mr Ford and I both received a gift today.

He got a shiny new fuel filter (and it really is shiny; the old one was black) in the hope that it will cure him of his predilection for wayward revving. He behaved perfectly on the 30-mile drive home (not counting the interruption to buy coffee, beer and chocolate biscuits from the cheap shop, about which more later,) but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything. Time will tell.

I got a tail feather from a cock pheasant (by which I don’t mean a cock pheasant gave it to me; read on.) I found it when I walked back through the little wood at the top of the lane this evening. I hadn’t seen it when I passed through the other way, but it was there, plain as a pike staff, on my return. Now, I’ve long held the nagging suspicion that errant feathers are gifts from the fey, and that was the wood where I saw the mysterious dark shape cross the path last autumn (in full daylight and a good twelve hours on from the last drop of alcohol.) And a cock pheasant’s tail feather is a splendid thing, being around 2ft long with a pattern of brown and cream bars, so now I have to think of something to take in return.

Watching the Diurnal Performance.

The setting sun was a particularly startling shade of orange tonight; and as I watched it sink, I was reminded again that it wasn’t sinking at all, but that I was moving backwards.

This is one of those circumstances in which the mind is superior to the brain, because to my earth-bound brain in which the stillest of celestial bodies moves its relentless course relative to me, the sun did, indeed, sink into a haze of pink-tinged grey.

When it was gone, I looked south to where the moon was rising above the trees in the cold blue of a darkening sky. There seemed something of deep significance about watching the end of day exiting stage right, while the start of night made her entrance from the other side.

And that made me wonder just how long this play has been going on, and where I was at the start of it all.

A Soppy Spanish Song.

You remember I posted this video a few weeks ago, along with a translation that was a bit less than intelligible? Well, here it is again with a proper translation this time. This one isn’t as funny; what’s funny is the name of the woman who translated it:

Grete Freyfrau von Humbug

So here it is in all its glory, courtesy of Ms Humbug:

‘If the sea would be ink and the sky would be paper, it would not be enough to describe how much I love. I love you more then there are leaves in the air, stars are in the sky and grains of sand in the seas. I love you more then there are grains of sands in the rivers and fish in the seas. If you could enter my heart and see my emotions you would be more satisfied and would love me even more.’

I think that’s perhaps just a bit over the top, but nevertheless:

‘I wish I’d said that, Grete.’

‘You will, Jeffrey, you will.’

But I still like the rhythms, and the girl harmonies, and the angels (well, two of them anyway) and the promenade of autumn leaves, and the boots on the shingle beach. I keep waiting for somebody to shout ‘Halt!’ in the background.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Seeing Through the Heat.

Ashbourne was a one-layer town today, by which I mean that the population, almost without exception, was wearing only one layer of clothing. I was one of the rare exceptions. I was wearing a light summer jacket over my tee shirt because I decided to act in accordance with my elevated (though rarely evident) sense of standards and style for once.

So, that and several other factors conspired to have me wondering about an age-old question again: why is the human being the only animal that wears clothes?

At this point, a very long post began to emerge. It became tiresome; it awoke too many dangerous inner creatures which began to sharpen their claws, and it prompted the possibility of fallout so excessive that certain valued relationships might have come under threat. So I scrapped it.

Let it suffice to say that I went over this ground ad nauseum a couple of years ago on this blog. I established that my attitude in such matters is highly unorthodox and quite incomprehensible to the mainstream of western culture. More than that, it tends to be inflammatory because my reasoning is almost invariably deflected by inappropriate cultural axioms. Well, I know where I'm coming from and I'm backing my own judgement.

Just as a tangential side issue, however, Mel said to me recently that she's becoming ever more convinced that there are two different species of human on this planet. Watching the world pass by in Ashbourne today, I found myself almost agreeing with her. Maybe I belong in a zoo.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Piercing Comes to the Shire.

We have a Goth cow in the Shire. She has a black body and an all white face, and instead of having a ring through her nose like Mr Robinson’s big Hereford bull, she has one hanging from her front left teat.

I made that up, since I'm trying to get the hang of positive thinking. I often wish I could draw. I think I might have a forte for bad cartoons.

Summer Evening Encounters.

How precious these balmy summer evenings are. You just have to go out for a wander in them, don’t you? The deep orange sun looks so friendly as it reminds you that another day is nearly done and you won’t be here forever. Quite. And talking of things friendly, I had three encounters this evening.

The first was Mr C coming up the lane in his top-of-the-range Lexus roadster. He had the top down, of course, and stopped as he usually does when he passes me in one of his posh cars. He told me that, contrary to popular belief, it’s his car not his wife’s, and then drove off. He it was who stopped in his big SUV one day while I was out clearing drains in a rainstorm, and said ‘If this was snow, we wouldn’t be able to bloody move!’ And then drove off. He’s very talkative is Mr C, and he laughs a lot.

So then I wandered into the grounds of the village hall, purely for the purpose of finding a fence to lean on, since leaning on things is what I like to do at twilight. I was engaged in amicable conversation about sheep by three old ladies who were standing outside the doors. Fortunately, I remembered Basil Fawlty’s immortal words just in time: ‘Don’t mention lavatories. I did, but I think I got away with it.’

Upon reaching the fence, I leant on it. Said fence forms the bottom boundary of Sam and Ange’s bottom field, and that field is currently occupied by Sam and Ange’s sheep (which fact was not entirely coincidental vis-à-vis my conversation with the old ladies.) But the sheep are not the only ones in residence at the moment; Ange’s big bay hunter is also grazing there. And do you know what he did? He saw me from the top of the field and trotted the whole length of it, just to come and say hello. That was the highlight.

The Sensory Experience.

I’ve always got a bit of a high from sniffing certain things, although it’s never enough and always leaves me frustrated. As a kid it was mostly sandalwood elephants and plasticine. Now it’s more likely to be a handful of new-mown hay left in the field after bailing. I pick one up and sniff and sniff and sniff.

It’s odd how you can get such pleasure from a sensory experience, isn’t it, since most of them actually have no substance. It’s all to do with the brain processing electrical signals. But then, I suppose everything is.

At one time I had a near-mania for women’s perfume, but my olfactory nerves have become too prone to picking up the noxious odour of man-made chemicals these days.


You know, it’s amazing how many versions there are of Enya’s Now we are Free on YouTube – even though it has absolutely nothing to do with Enya. I found one tonight that’s a dub re-mix version.

I freely admit that I haven’t a Cockney’s freggin’ clue what ‘dub re-mix’ means, but it wasn’t at all bad. If that’s how teeny-boppers want their music to be arranged, I won’t complain.

And I just spent nearly an hour talking to a beautiful woman from New York, so I’ll believe pretty much whatever you want to throw at me. Some things defy gravity and the natural order. They do.

Late Night Difficulties and the Ganesha Tendency.

There’s a problem with this warm weather we’re having at the moment. I get through my aperitif (an ice-cold beer) too quickly. And that means I start on the main course (currently Grant’s) too early. And that isn’t good. I tried ice-cold milk and orange juice…

*  *  *

I have a house fly in my house (I suppose he feels entitled, since it suits his title.) So here’s the scenario: I’m sitting at my desk and notice that the house fly is perched on the other side of the window that separates my office from my kitchen. And then I further notice that the door between the two rooms is open, so I hurry to shut it before the little blighter notices the same thing.  (They like to explore your hands, eyes and ears while you’re trying to concentrate; it’s most irritating.) But I forget that I’m wearing a headset which is plugged into the computer. You can see why I relate to Laurel and Hardy, can’t you?

*  *  *

For those who missed it the first time round, here’s that wonderful YouTube clip featuring the little Buddhist boy and the voice of Lisa Gerard (not Enya.) You’ve no idea how much it sends my pulse racing, seeing those elephants rise out of the water in the first scene. I love elephants.

‘Elephants are great, aren’t they Ted?’

‘Yes, Dougal, elephants are great.’

Seriously, though, elephants really are great.

Resisting the Trend.

Since time immemorial, the word ‘trend’ has been only a noun. When did it become a verb? Who made it so? As far as I can tell, people like Facebook and Twitter made it so.

Do I like that? Not really, mainly because I’m a serious detractor from the sort of shallow, brainless stuff that modern culture serves up these days. At the same time, however, I approve of language evolving, and so I’m in a quandary. I expect I’ll get used to it one day.

This trending’s offending
The bleak, never ending
Reluctance of Luddites
Like me

To go with the bending
Of pressures descending
To levels so shallow
And twee

And so I’m pretending
To scoff, while ascending
To rarefied places
And be

The one condescending
(While only suspending
The urge to be cool
And agree)

Monday, 15 July 2013

One Day's Issues.

It was another one of those days today. Every day seems to be one of those days these days. Sounds poetic, doesn’t it?

*  *  *

The engineer came to address my concerns over the new fridge freezer. It seems they were groundless. Modern fridge freezers are supposed to make that curious popping sound when the motor switches on and off. It’s to do with the way thermostats operate now. And they’re supposed to run for three or four hours at a time, instead of the forty minutes my old one was content with. That’s all to do with the coolant being fed through the bigger freezer compartments first. And the freezer drawers are supposed to be a bit erratic in their temperature variations because the thermostat works entirely from the fridge compartment on the ‘affordable’ models. (£220 isn’t exactly what I call affordable, but I take the point.)

So, having considered the evidence, the engineer announced his verdict: ‘I find no fault with this man machine,’ and off he went. I was just about to shout ‘Welease Bwian,’ when I noticed a screw head on the floor by the front of the machine. Just a head, you understand; the shank is still lodged in the body of the machine. The screw is broken. Long story short:

a) The screw is important, or it could be a little way down the line (probably the week after the warranty expires.)

b) It isn’t simply a matter of replacing a screw – there’s the broken shank to be considered, so it’s a bit more involved than it looks.

c) The engineer will have to come back.

*  *  *

After that, I had a little computer problem, and here’s some advice:

If you’re using the little nozzle on the vacuum cleaner to pick up bits of stuff from the desk, make sure the computer is switched off if you intend to run it along the keyboard. If you don’t, you see, you run the risk of touching one of those keys that Do Things. I did, and my browser switched to full screen. Once that happens, every bit of control mechanism disappears (all apart from the Start menu) and the only way to make it appear again is to know which magic key to press, which I didn’t. Simply re-booting the machine doesn’t make any difference. I thought of a way, and it’s this:

First you have to click Start and go into another browser (opening another copy of Firefox, which I was using, didn’t work, although it might for you since technology probably likes you more than it likes me. I opened Explorer.) Go to Google and search ‘Firefox control keys.’ Open the first website it returns and click on ‘miscellaneous,’ then look for ‘toggle full screen.’ Next to ‘toggle full screen’ it says F11. Right, getting there. Return to the offending browser and press F11. Voila, you’re now up and running again.

Got that? Good. I had to work it out with a brain that just wants to go to sleep and pretend it’s sitting by a placid lake somewhere with somebody nice. Aren’t you lucky to be the beneficiary of my ailing brain?

*  *  *

And then there were other issues, but I’m bored now.

Old Acquaintances.

I’m not overly happy tonight – hence no posts – but I was just reading some old stuff and remembering a couple of people who used to be regulars. I suppose they should be nameless, but…

One was young and American. She was seriously aspirational, and is probably betrothed to the quarterback of the college football team by now. If only she had been a little more polarised and less given to insisting on the midline view of everything, I would have considered being a surrogate uncle.

The other was a little less young and from various places in Australia. She was avowedly un-aspirational, and one of the cookiest people I’ve ever encountered. She might well be a nun by now, but I’m hoping she saw the light and pulled out of the God freefall state before she became tedious. If only she’d been less into Jesus, I might have considered being her best friend.

Life moves on, and the random nuggets we see lying by the wayside ignore us once we’ve passed by.

This post was sponsored by Messrs Grants, whose superior libation was on special offer at Sainsbury's last week.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Three Angles on Premature Death.

Death dominates the news pages again today.

I read that Zimmerman was acquitted. I wish I could offer an opinion, but I can’t since I wasn’t in the courtroom to hear the evidence. It strikes me, though, than an old grievance might be about to rear its ugly head again in America. And I have a couple of questions. Why were there only six jury members? Is that normal in America? We have twelve over here. And why were they all women?

There was a bizarre story from Brazil about a grazing cow that somehow wandered onto the roof of a shack. The roof collapsed and the cow landed on a man asleep in bed, crushing him to death. This is one of those stories which straddle that horrible line between the truly tragic and the unintentionally funny. And it must have been a bit of a shock for his wife sleeping next to him.

And then I read that more British servicemen committed suicide in the past year than died in Afghanistan. Campaigning families claim that this proves a lack of official support for servicemen, and they may well be right. What the statistic doesn’t show, however, is a comparison between the percentage of servicemen who took their own lives and the equivalent percentage for other professions. I was once told, for example, that dentistry has the highest percentage of suicides. And that’s the problem with statistics.  You need to view the figures from all angles if you’re to make a valid judgement, and all too often they’re not given.

Trials and the Waltz Form.

I’ve been wracking what’s left of my brain in an attempt to find something suitable for a late-night post. I failed, so it will have to be a little review of the day in four easy chapters.

1) Trial by computer.

2) There was a solitary little flying thing hovering around me when I was leaning on the farm gate this evening. With swallows and house martins still active, and bats about to become so, I wondered whether it would make it through the night. I wished it good luck, although that was verging on the hypocritical since I also want my bat buddies to get fed, fit and fat before the winter arrives.

3) I was reminded that I’m really an elf, and I was further reminded that elves have a problem. Their quiet and refined ways impose themselves not one jot on the day-to-day lives and sensibilities of orcs and others of the lower orders, but such lower orders can have a devastating effect in the opposite direction. I first became aware of this phenomenon when I lived in a remote spot on the Northumbrian coast (by remote, I mean there was nothing there except sand dunes, a few cottages and lots of birds. There was a power station visible a few miles to the south, but that doesn’t count. The visitors were the problem.) The real elves, however, have the benefit of magic to keep the rowdy college kids off of their goddam lawn, whereas pretend elves like me have no such resource.

4) Having become used to getting an average of about one e-mail every three weeks, I had two in the space of three minutes today. The first was from a very sensible person offering help with a practical problem; the second was from the priestess. It seems she’s settling among the Saxon hordes and I can go hang myself. That’s just like a priestess, isn’t it? Honest to a fault, and all the more lovable for it. I don’t think I fancy hanging myself, though; it seems a most distressing experience. I’d rather go for poisoning myself with laudanum like the hero of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. And that had me ruminating on all the examples of creative works which juxtapose waltz music with macabre themes. It’s the only time I like waltz music.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Considering a Grey Area.

I was always a little uneasy with the fact that treason is considered the most serious of all crimes. (When the death penalty was abolished in Britain, treason remained the one capital offence.) It seems to me that it can be, and sometimes is, used as the state’s ultimate tool in controlling the population. There was a time, for example, when the English monarch was considered so inseparable from the body politic that even the occasioning of personal injury to him or her was considered treasonable. That was the legal basis for the beheading of Anne Boleyn. Her basic crime – whether or not she was actually guilty of it – was infidelity to King Henry.

No doubt the supporters of such a notion would argue that the state is not a separate entity in and of itself, but the homogenous identity of the people who form it. The argument then goes on to assert that any aid given to an enemy of the state is therefore potentially injurious to all its people.

I understand that, and in some circumstances such an objection is clear. But what of those misty areas in which the aiding of an enemy, as defined by state policy, is actually beneficial to its people or serves some greater good? An obvious example to cite would be those Germans who opposed the Nazis in the 1930s/40s and helped Jews to escape the pogrom. The German state, in the form of the Nazis, logically regarded their actions as treasonable, whereas the rest of us regard such people as heroes. And I can think of another example a little closer to our own time.

A Little Observation.

I saw something this evening that I’ve noticed before. If there’s red in the western sky during the bright, early part of twilight, mid yellow flowers reflect it, thus looking richer coloured and appearing to glow.

Falling Foul of the Times.

I have several categories of woes running consecutively at the moment, but let’s stick with the simple one for now: Technology.

On Wednesday my car threw a wobbler. It didn’t actually break down, but it isn’t comfortable having the revs surging and fading rhythmically while you’re trying to overtake somebody on a steep hill. It isn’t. When I rang the mechanic about it, he said he ‘didn’t have a clue what that might be.’ And bear in mind that this is the car I got to replace the Renault which was so infested with gremlins that it spent most of its time scratching its own wheel arch.

Also on Wednesday, my computer threw a wobbler. That one seemed to have sorted itself after several re-boots, but read on.

Today it threw another one after installing the latest version of Adobe flash player. That one seemed to have been solved with some careful thought and a couple of phone calls, but it still isn’t happy.

Yesterday, after much monitoring with thermometer and clock, I was finally convinced that my new fridge freezer (the one that was sent to replace the first new one that was faulty) isn’t working as it should. I have an engineer’s visit booked for Monday.

Are you getting the picture here?

Now, it could be that I’m simply going a bit off my rocker. It could be that the fridge freezer, the electric kettle, the toaster, the computer, the landline phone, the mobile phone, the vacuum cleaner, the TV, the shower unit, the beard trimmer, the lawnmower and the hedge trimmer didn’t all break down and have to be renewed over the past two years. Maybe I just imagined it all. But maybe there’s another explanation.

All the positive things that have happened to me lately have been to do with nature – the blackbird which came clattering onto the bird table and stared me in the eye while I was putting food out, the little bat getting himself a companion, the hedgehog which toddled past me on the lane, the badger which ran past me in the field etc. All the negative things have been to do with technology.

So could it be that my gradual evolution into a hobbit is causing my matrix – my personal version of external reality – to be undergoing a subtle shift, one that conflicts with the energies of things electronic? And could that mean I have a choice to make between becoming a complete recluse living life as a hunter/gatherer, or retreating back into the world of the technology-obsessed modern human and giving up being a country boy?

That would be a difficult choice to make, but it seems I’m having trouble finding a middle way.

Reviewing Romance.

I wrote this to somebody in an e-mail recently:

‘For people like us, romance is about nothing more than uncertainty and discovery. It’s like leaping off a cliff into the sea. All the excitement is in the leap and the fall. Once you hit the water, all that remains is a tiresome swim back to the shore so you can climb the hill and do it all over again.’

When I wrote it, I’d had a little more than my usual prescription of Scotland’s finest export, so did I agree with it when I viewed it through the cold filter of sobriety? Mostly, yes, but with a couple of reservations:

a) It’s a bit more complicated than that. The greatest benefit of alcohol is that things look simpler when you’re under its influence.

b) Rules are not to be trusted unless there are exceptions to prove them.