Saturday, 31 August 2013

From Both Sides Now.

I was thinking while watching the sun go down this evening that sunsets are undoubtedly beautiful, and yet – like autumn – they have a melancholy edge to them. A sunset does more than merely mark the closure of the day. Every time you watch the sun go down, you’re seeing another grain of sand fall through the hourglass that is your life span.

*  *  *

And while I’m on the subject of half full or half empty, I was telling somebody the other day that I sometimes have to stop mowing the lawn, turn the mower upside down, and clear the damp grass that’s built up around the blade housing.

‘I assume you take the plug out first,’ she said.

What do you say to that?

‘Yes I do. Thank you for your concern.’

Or:

‘Of course I do. Do you think I’m an idiot or something?’

I said both. ’Twas ever my way.

Shanna and the Seed.

The Prize Produce Show at the village hall turned into a bit of an eye-opener. It wasn’t the produce that startled – although it was interesting to see onions half the size of footballs that seemed both spectacular and impractical in equal measure – but what you might call the ‘ancillary’ classes. These included The Silliest Looking Vegetable (and you can imagine what most of the carrots looked like,) Miniature Gardens laid out in baking trays, Vegetables Arranged to Look Like Animals, and Found Stones Purporting to be Something Else Entirely. The titles are mostly mine.

I noticed that a lot of the prize cards had the same name on them – Shanna Something-or-other. Her miniature garden had won third prize, although my ex-photographer’s eye perused them for a long time and decided that it should have come first by some distance. She had also won several other prizes in other classes. Her pi├Ęce de resistance, however, was the poodle. It was a small piece of cauliflower to which two eyes and a nose had been added in marker pen, and it really did look like a poodle sitting up and begging. It was a remarkable likeness. I had to talk to Shanna, and so I waited for the prize-giving in order to identify her.

She was a young girl of around thirteen, generally unprepossessing but with eyes that were wide, active and aware. I told her that I thought the poodle the best thing in the room, and that her miniature garden should have won first prize. I asked her whether she did art. She said she did. I asked her whether she had ever given any thought to sculpture. No.

And so I explained that the sculptor’s art is to see the remarkable in the mundane and apply such process as is necessary to enable others to see it too, just as she had with the poodle. She smiled, and that was that.

I wonder whether a seed will grow from here. Whether it does or not is none of my business, of course, but I thought it worth planting anyway.

I Love this Town (and weird women.)


I’m sure I posted this video once before, but I make no apology for posting it again. That’s because:

a) I think it’s the cleverest pop song I’ve ever heard.

b) There’s a story behind it:

My then-wife introduced me to it, as she did the album Consequences by the same duo. She had a bit of a thing about Lol Creme (he’s the one in the white shirt.) She said he was even cuter than me. Did that bother me? No.

‘That’s because he’s older than me,’ I said. ‘And he doesn’t play rugby. And he hasn’t been a sailor.’

My then-wife seemed unaccountably impressed by the fact that I’d been a sailor. She said the song ‘Sailor’ from Consequences somehow represented me in her eyes. Funny creatures, women.

Eventually she had a fling with an ageing Italian bloke at Wimbledon one year, and then got involved with an archaeologist who specialised in the Neolithic. Her place in my life was taken by a woman from Liverpool who turned out to be an absolute disaster, but that’s another story.

Taking the Risk.

There’s a possibility that I might go to the Prize Produce Show at the village hall tomorrow. I’m not at all sure yet, but just in case I thought I should take a second shower this month.

I don’t believe in bathing, you see. I’m convinced it washes away the essential oils and leaves you susceptible to such conditions as typhoid, dysentery and necrophilia.

At the same time, however, I felt it would be impolite of me to turn up smelling like the stuff the contestants put on their Produce to make it Prize, so a second shower was had. Just. I feel ill already.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Poor Beggars.

A man came up to me in Derby the other day and asked whether I could give him 50p, ‘to make a phone call.’

Make a phone call… Why do they still use that one? I feel compassionate towards beggars, I really do, but I wish they’d just say ‘I’m poor as shite, mate. Any chance of a quid?’

A quid is what I gave him (that’s £1, in case you didn’t know. It seemed appropriate, since it’s what I’d just spent on a pastie for my own lunch.)

He took the coin and said ‘Couldn’t make it two, could you?’

'No.'

There was another news item today which said that research has shown that poverty reduces the IQ. Seems it also thickens the skin, and I’m not being facetious. The point is that there’s no reason to fear losing face when you’re down at rock bottom and have no face to lose.

And Now the Good News.

A news report on the TV text pages said that, due to global warming, the Norwegian mountains are losing snow cover in places that haven’t seen the light of day since the last ice age. Archaeologists are cock-a-hoop, apparently, because all sorts of interesting things like flint arrow heads and leather jerkins are being revealed. So, while human and animal populations suffer great privation at the hands of hurricanes, ice storms, excessive heat, excessive cold, floods, droughts, and mud slides, at least they will be able to take comfort from the knowledge that archaeologists have more 10,000-year-old arrow heads and jerkins to study.

And I say this with apologies to my archaeologist friend Madeline for whom I have great respect, not least because she has the best sense of humour in America. (I just had to say it, Maddie. I did.)

*  *  *

Another report said that scientists have now grown a biological replica of the human brain in the laboratory. It’s said to be about the size of a pea and unable to think. Rumours that Donald Trump’s lawyers are about to sue for breach of copyright are probably just mischievous.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Name to Take Your Time Over.

I just had a reply to one of my YouTube comments, from a woman called Itsukasakurasakuhini.

That’s ten syllables, which, by an odd coincidence, is exactly the same number as were contained in the name of an Assistant Governor at a prison where I once worked. His name was Michael Francis Vibert Watson-Jackson. He’d been an army officer at one time, and a Russian who was examining his papers had asked incredulously ‘All one man?’

But at least he had gaps in his.

Tonight's Shire Sights.

The Mole

It was lying dead on the lane near my gate, its little front paws stretched out as though it was trying to break its fall. I’d never noticed before how like a human hand a mole’s front paw looks.

The Cow

A little white heifer, one of a herd of about thirty that are occupying a field between my house and the valley. She was chasing a pheasant around, and obviously only playing a game because cows can run a lot faster than pheasants and the bird didn’t need to take off. Eventually she galloped back to her more sedate friends who were gathered by the gate on the far side. I think I heard ‘wheeeeee’ drifting across the landscape, but I might have imagined that bit.

Sam’s Old Tractor

A little, late-1950’s vintage Dexter, which Ange told me he’d bought as a present for their daughter. It’s been standing in his middle field for some weeks, having helped with the haymaking, and was being taken home to be spruced up. Sam proudly remarked that it had been left unattended behind a cow shed for eleven years, but had started at the first attempt. It was also completely original in every respect. I remarked that it was made at a time when things were designed to last, and also be relied upon to work perfectly most of the time. A simpler age. Indeed.

The Western Sky at Sunset

A glorious, if rather messy one. It was exactly the same as the ones you don’t see when looking east across the Mediterranean from Valencia. (Occasional readers might care to read this by way of reference.) A troop of mediaeval Moorish cavalry with cloaks a-billowing would have looked quite splendid in silhouette, but such an eventuality is rarer now than finding Liv Tyler’s handbag without an airbrush tool. Maybe the local Nazgul frightened them off.

Confusingly North American.

When I was a kid, Brit TV was still showing old re-runs of ‘I Love Lucy’ starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Jr. I didn’t understand why Arnaz should be pronounced Arnez, and I didn’t get the humour at all.

Many years later, I encountered an American woman who was remarkably like Lucy. I still didn’t get it.

And I was telling another woman today that I was thinking of going to New York, and she said I should go to Canada instead. She said that Canadians are very sensible, have a disarmingly old fashioned attitude to propriety, and insist on inviting you to all their parties once they get to know you. But only in Vancouver. I don’t think she quite gets me.

Further...

Maybe I should point out for the sake of transparency that I exaggerated a little in the previous post. There are, of course, lots of things from which I derive genuine pleasure, such as having cute kids smile at me (if for no other reason than I get to do my Stan Laurel impersonation,) watching dogs’ tails wagging, and seeing people throw eggs at politicians (elitist, disattached, arrogant, self-serving bunch of undesirables that they are.) It’s just that such things don’t happen twice a day.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

So That's Why I'm Not Happy...

I was just reading one of those inane articles in which some psychologist makes a (rather silly) name for himself by coming up with ‘The Formula for a Happy Life.’ (Well, it was on Yahoo, so what did I expect?)

As you can imagine, the factors he lists are mainly either dumb, unrealistic, or pretty obvious to anybody with a brain cell. (By an odd coincidence, I’ve generally found that people with no brain cells are the happiest of all. He didn’t mention that.) The one I particularly picked up on, though, was this:

An essential part of a happy life is to do something twice a day that truly gives you pleasure or excites you.

‘Twice a day,’ note, not once. Doing it once a day isn’t enough if you want to glow. No.

But let’s say there are only two things that truly give you pleasure or excite you, and you’re too poor for one and too old for the other. What then?

Fortunately, it isn’t quite true of me since I get pleasure from talking to cows, but it nearly is.

Inappropriate Attire.

I saw a young woman with a remarkable face near the supermarket today. The edges of her mouth were turned so far down that she could have been the model for a cartoon character epitomising mean. I was even concerned about our close proximity to the supermarket, since I feared she might curdle the dairy products, especially as I wanted to buy a trifle.

She was wearing a tee shirt, on which was printed:

Little Miss Giggles

The New Lady in my Life.

On the way back from Derby today, I called in at the cheap shop in Uttoxeter to get another bottle of the much-esteemed Barnsley Blonde. I think this relationship is becoming rather deeper than most, and rather deeper than I’m used to.

Clean and Dirty Weapons.

I’m going out on a limb a bit here, but I have to admit to being a little confused over the reaction of the Americans, British and French over the business in Syria.

OK, I know that chemical weapons are nasty, not only because of what they do to people but also because they’re indiscriminate. But carpet bombing is pretty indiscriminate too, and I remember those horrifying scenes of allied missiles raining down on Baghdad at the start of the war in Iraq.

It seems odd to me that we find it tolerable, if not actually acceptable, that regimes can shoot people, crush people, burn people to death, and blow people’s limbs off, but when they bring out the chemical weapons we’re rushing to become militarily involved. We didn’t need the use of chemical weapons to become militarily involved against Saddam or Gaddafi.

Is this simply a matter of accepting that wars between Governments and Rebels are none of our business until the ‘collateral damage’ goes beyond boundaries which we define? Is it simply a matter of international legality, in which case shouldn’t we be asking whether it’s truly the reason or merely a convenient excuse? And shouldn’t we, perhaps, be questioning both the boundaries and efficacy of international law?

It seems to me that Assad and his type need to be removed from the face of humanity, but why wait until now? Maybe I’m missing a nuance somewhere, or maybe it’s just another example of an abusive, murderous, tyrannical situation being ‘complicated.’

I wish I knew, and I also wish I knew why the human animal hasn’t moved on very much since its inception.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Smallness of God.

I was riding up an escalator in Derby today, when a little girl turned round and smiled at me.

You know, if there is a God, then whatever it is definitely manifests itself best in small things.

Women in Harmony.

I found this on YouTube last night. It’s a serene and uplifting example of a cappella harmony for three female voices, and reminds me of those wonderful harmonies you get in Zulu music.


And the lyrics appear to be making a point about female spirituality. While the fathers are in the valley a-praying, the mothers have gone to heaven a-shouting. Must have been written by a religious Geordie. Geordie women are a fearsome breed.

Artistic Licence and Other Errors.

I was flicking through the TV channels the other day, and saw that one of them was showing El Cid – my ex-favourite film – so I thought I’d watch a few minutes of it for old time’s sake.

The scene I came in at was the one in which the Moorish army is riding along the seashore en route to take control of Valencia. Wave after wave of horsemen gallop past the static camera with the sea in the background, and above the sea is the kind of sunset sky you get shortly after the sun has gone down. They made a dramatic, stirring, and deliberately menacing sight, I can tell you, huddled up to the gunwales in Moorish attire and with cloaks billowing behind them in menacing silhouette.

But then I realised something. Valencia is on Spain’s east coast, and you don’t get sunset skies over the sea on the east coast of anywhere, do you? No, you don’t. But still, the billowing cloaks would have looked a damn sight less dramatic waving in silhouette against an eastern sky paler than a catwalk model first thing in the morning, wouldn’t they? They would, so let’s allow the director a bit of artistic licence, eh? Yes indeed.

But then there was another problem. Many of the riders were carrying burning brands, and since the city was undefended and merely to be occupied rather than attacked, the only reason for carrying burning brands would have been to light their way. Well, that didn’t make any sense, since at that point in early twilight there’s enough daylight left to make burning brands utterly ineffectual. But still, the burning brands did compliment the billowing cloaks rather nicely, so let’s allow the director a bit more artistic licence. Right, happy now.

No, hang on a minute. The riders reach the city where the gates are opened to them, and the scene has unaccountably changed to one of bright sunshine and deep shadows. More unaccountable still, the angles of the shadows on the walls leave no doubt that it’s very close to noon.

Ah… erm… that’s different. This is no longer a matter of artistic licence, but a Serious Continuity Error.

You wonder how directors expect to get away with it, don’t you? I suppose they assume that nobody will notice. And there’s an even more blatant Serious Continuity Error earlier in the film, but I can’t be bothered to type any more. Watch the film some time. You can’t miss it.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Drooling.


I'm a Ruth man myself. If a woman can play the bodhran like that, imagine what she could achieve with a wooden spoon and a packet of almond paste.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

'The Elephants are Flying South.'

I thought I’d put up this curious silent comedy for anybody interested in movie curios.

It’s a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler, but it’s quite unlike any Laurel and Hardy film I’ve ever seen. It’s set in some undefined stone age, and so the suits and bowlers are exchanged for bear skin tunics and hairy knees. The only hint of the later Laurel and Hardy style is the characters’ habit of occasionally tapping each other on the head with clubs.

What I find particularly interesting, however, is that it’s strangely modern, even though the print looks as though it’s been through a washing machine a few times on its way to the theatre. In places it reminds me of the Goon Show, and the Goon Show is widely regarded as having been the precursor of Monty Python. The connection is no more apparent than when the elephants of the title make their appearance. Terry Gilliam would have been proud of them, I’m sure. It's one of those films that crosses the line beyond which silliness becomes genuinely funny.

It also sports a crop of damn fine girlies – the prettiest pre-flappers that Hollywood could muster, it seems. And it’s nice that effete little Stan wins his own girly back from big bully Oliver. What’s nicest of all, though, is that the bear has the last laugh.


Starting Over.

Two relatively minor items jumped out of the news pages today.

1) The Scottish Assembly is proposing to charge refundable deposits on drinks containers. They say it will encourage people to return them, rather than littering the streets or adding to the mountain of waste going into landfill. The Swedes are already doing this, apparently, and the Swedes are always at the forefront of innovative environmental solutions, so they’re worth following.

Only there’s nothing innovative about it. Up until about thirty years ago when the throwaway culture was getting into full swing, it was standard practice in Britain to charge refundable deposits on things like soft drinks, beer and milk bottles. It had been that way for decades, but then it was scrapped as old fashioned and unnecessary. Some of us complained about it at the time because we could see where it would lead.

2) The Director General of the BBC says he’s going to sweep away the mountain of bureaucracy in the Corporation, with especial regard to the ‘meeting culture’ which he says wastes vast amounts of time and stifles creativity. Good, only that isn’t anything new either.

When I was working for an inner city charity ten years ago, there was a local umbrella body, funded by the government, which was there to offer support and advice. But there was a problem. It was difficult to actually talk to anybody because approximately 8 out of 10 phone calls brought the same reply: ‘She’s in a meeting.’ I complained about that at the time, too, on the grounds that it seriously impaired the functionality of the organisation.

So my question is this: When it’s plainly obvious that a system has gone down the wrong road, why does it take between ten and thirty years for those in charge to put it right again?

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Another Story.

I’ve decided to put a couple of previously unpublished stories up at the other blog. I think the days of getting them published are probably now done, and that removes the impediment to my releasing them here. I didn’t do so badly; over half my output found its way either into print or with internet publishers, so maybe it’s time I allowed First Rights to be used up on my own site.

I had two in mind initially. One was a conventional ghost story with a Gothic slant, the other a slightly surreal piece in which the nature of the ‘apparition’ remains a mystery. I decided to go with the latter, since it’s quite short and set in what subsequently became known as ‘the Shire.’ I’ll probably post the other in a couple of weeks. It’s here if anybody wants to read it.

Please Believe Me.

You know what really worries me about dying? The thought that somebody might boot up my computer, look at my Watch History on YouTube, and discover that a few weeks ago I watched a clip of a woman in short shorts waggling her bottom to a song called ‘She Gon’ Shake it Like a Red Nose’ sung by a man called Sage the Gemini.

I was only curious, honest I was. I’m horrified to think that my headstone might be inscribed with

Here
lie the remains of
JJ Beazley
Gone to his immortal rest
in a place
beyond the temptation
of dubious videos

I just thought it would make a change from corgis and Laurel & Hardy, that’s all. I didn’t like it, you know. In fact, I didn't even understand it. Really.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Beauty, California Style.

The boys from Mountain View run a feature called ‘News from Blogger’ in one of the blog’s inner pages. It often has a little piece about some blogger or other, somewhere in this big wide world, who is doing ever so well since he or she started following Google’s advice on how to make your blog do ever so well.

Mmm…

Anyway, at the moment they’re giving a plug to some woman from California (yes, that big wide world) who runs a salon as well as writing a blog, and they describe her as ‘a fashion and beauty expert.’

Now, hang on a minute. An expert on fashion I can believe, since fashion is a wholly manufactured concept invented by humans to fill the void left by not having to hunt mammoths any more. But beauty? Surely, an expert on beauty is someone who can see a rare radiance shining forth from the eyes, the voice, the personality, the grace, the compassion, etc, etc, etc. It isn’t about being a whizz at hair and make up. I’d be happier if they called her ‘an expert on fashion and the means of creating a deceptive appearance that magically disappears in the cold light of a wet Sunday morning’

Ah, but maybe they don’t have wet Sunday mornings in California. Never thought of that.

Fascination in Small Facts.

Something has long intrigued me:

When I was a kid, you didn’t want to be drinking milk that was over about two days old. Nowadays, I often drink milk that I bought in the supermarket two weeks earlier. It still tastes fine and doesn’t curdle in hot drinks. I wondered whether they’d started adding preservatives, so tonight I asked a dairy farmer of casual acquaintance whether that’s the case.

He told me it isn’t. The reason it lasts longer, he said, is because it’s homogenised these days instead of being merely pasteurised. Unfortunately, his description of the homogenisation process was at variance with what I later read on a couple of websites, so I’ll leave it at that and accept the potential risk of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

(And did you know that cow milk has three times more protein in it than human milk? Water buffalo milk has even more! Fascinating.)

CG Captured on Camera.

I thought you might like to see these pictures of my Chinese ghost, taken just before she started visiting. She didn’t have the red cheomsang then, of course. It was me who provided it.

(‘Shouldn’t that be “I it was…”?’)

(‘Probably.’)

The thumb nail provides some compensation.


That Friday Feeling.

They’re forecasting the possibility of electric storms, heavy rain and localised flooding for this region tonight.

Well, it is Friday, and I’ve noticed that extreme precipitation seems to favour Fridays. The last heavy downpour we had which caused a flood in my kitchen and office happened on a Friday, and so did the heavy snowfall that brought my garage roof down last winter. And both mega blizzards which dumped feet of snow in our loft during that awful winter of 1981-82 happened on a Friday.

Isn’t that strange?

Taking the Circuitous Route.

I had a letter a week or so ago from a government department which, for reasons too complicated to go into, makes a regular payment to me. This payment has to be re-calculated every year because of its relationship with another source of income, and this year they got it wrong and were paying me too little. I rang the number on the letter.

Well, of course, these days you don’t get to speak to the government department which made the erroneous calculation; you get to speak to a call centre. Fortunately, the call centre which this particular government department uses is a good one. The operator understood the circumstances immediately, pulled up my notes and told me what the bureaucrats had done wrong. (Seems some clerk didn’t know the difference between ‘per calendar month’ and ‘every four weeks.’ Amazing, but there you are.)

‘But,’ said the call centre operative, ‘there’s nothing I can do about it because I don’t work for the government department. You’ll have to contact them yourself.’

Fair enough; I wrote them a letter, and today I got a re-calculated amount which is correct. There was no covering letter acknowledging my correspondence, much less an apology, but at least they’ve got the amount right.

And that’s how things work now. A government department gets something wrong, so I have to call a call centre to discover the nature of the error, and then I have to write to the government department to tell them what the call centre says they’ve done wrong. What a convoluted, over-complicated and increasingly dysfunctional world we live in.

I once worked for a government department, and my job involved the making of calculations. If I got one wrong, I would expect an irate person on the other end of a phone line, bending my personal ear in no uncertain terms. We didn’t work from a ring-fenced establishment, protected from the wrath of those we had wronged by a third party in a call centre. There was direct contact, and that gives you all the more reason not to get it wrong in the first place.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Ashbourne A-stirring.

There was a man in the supermarket today, engaged in earnest and lengthy conversation with the staff over the reliability of their payphone.  It seemed he wanted to call a taxi, but was afraid the machine might not work and he might lose his money. The staff were discomfited, and I heard one of them suggest that they might call him a cab from the kiosk, even though the rules in such corporate establishments are somewhat intractable. They just wanted to get rid of him.

He looked to be no more than a few years older than me, but he was stooped and had that redness of nose redolent of a drinking habit rather more serious than mine. Nevertheless, I was led to wonder whether I might not be too far from reaching the same stage.

So, what with the friendly collie, the strange man in the supermarket, the smiling woman in the charity shop who was wearing a dress instead of jeans for the first time ever, and the young woman in the bowler hat who kept staring at me before skipping down the Market Place like a 3-year-old, Ashbourne was wearing an unusually interesting face today. And did I mention the minor car crash on the hill leading up to the Buxton road which caused a tailback all through the town and for some way beyond?

Eat your heart out, Midtown Manhattan. Ashbourne is shaping up to compete.

Facsimile of an Old Friend.

I met a lovely Border Collie in Ashbourne today. She came to me of her own volition and pressed her head into my hands.

She looked very like a collie I had when I was younger. Em was my beautiful girl and rambling companion until she developed a malignant tumour in her throat and died young. Such a loss that was.

It was nice to be re-acquainted, if only in a manner of speaking.

The Paradox of Ostentation.

I walked past a brand new, very big, top-of-the-top-range Jaguar today. It stood out like a carbuncle among the ordinary cars, and had me pondering my attitude to ostentation. It may be summarised thus:

‘Ostentation is the flaunting of expensive accoutrements for the express purpose of garnering empty approbation, and in so doing demonstrates a cheapness of spirit.’

If I were ever to become very rich, I hope and trust that I wouldn’t stoop to such a demonstration. If you think that’s an example of inverted snobbery, you might be partly right, or you might be wholly wrong.

And of course, if I were to buy a top-of-the-top-range Jaguar simply because I liked the look of it and didn’t give a damn what anybody else thought, it wouldn’t be ostentation, would it?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Covering the Soaps.

One of my little weekly amusements is to see what the TV listings magazine is showing on its cover. It’s always the same format – a bleed shot of two or three of the characters from one of those hilariously turgid soaps, always photographed against the same blue background in a photographer’s studio, doing mean.

They’re hopelessly unconvincing, of course, unless you've succumbed to negative conditioning to such an extent that you've started to see soaps as being both realistic and examples of good drama, and they always have splattered across them a dramatic tag line in oversized lettering, complete with the obligatory exclamation mark. A selection from recent weeks includes:

I’LL DESTROY YOU!

Don’t die my darling! (It seems expressions of affection don’t warrant caps.)

We’re going TO DIE! (I think that’s an example of elegant variation.)

Out of CONTROL!

I know the TRUTH!

Who’s the dad? (Dishonour evidently outdid death this week, hence the question mark. A wimpy one for a change.)

And just to make sure that at least 33% of the population tune in, they’ve now started carrying the bonus of a few thumbnails at the bottom of the cover, complete with an extra tag line. This week’s copy has:

Eastenders: Abi’s pregnant. (Seems the typesetter forgot the exclamation mark!)

Emmerdale: Rhona overdoses! (The replacement typesetter didn’t.)

Coronation Street: Hidden CCTV catches Ken picking his nose when he thought nobody was looking!!!

I made one of them up.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Writers and Authors.

During the course of a Google search today, I came across a young woman who was described as ‘a best selling author.’ Not merely ‘an author’ you understand, a best selling author. The best selling bit is important because it means she’s famous, and being famous means she’s a celebrity, and being a celebrity means that people want to know her and come up to her in public places, drooling and simpering and offering the opinion that ‘I do think you’re an amazing writer, Ms Whatever-her-name-was.’

Did I say writer? That’s a different word. There’s a general, if rather loose, axiom in the world of the scribblers that writers and authors are fundamentally different creatures. The author belongs in the world of entertainment, and the best selling author is a leading light in that world (as well as probably being very well off into the bargain.) The writer, on the other hand, belongs somewhere in that ill-defined area to which the word ‘art’ is generally applied. The truism would have it that whereas an author might make the reader’s eyes cry, the writer should be capable of making their soul lament.

It is, as I said, a rather loose axiom. The likes of Kafka and Flann O’Brien were clearly writers, and Agatha Christie was clearly an author. Others – like Dickens, maybe – managed to straddle the demarcation line and cause it to blur. Things are rarely clear cut, but I suppose it helps to have some way of dividing those who write to entertain, and those who write for a whole load of complex reasons that are both inward and outward looking. And isn’t it interesting that both entertainers and artists often fall foul of drink, drugs, and even suicide – the entertainers because they can’t stand the pressures of fame, and the artists because they can’t stand the pressure of heightened awareness?

My reason for musing on this isn’t to be snobbish; the entertainer and the artist both have their place in the complex and unfathomable business of life. It’s just that so many people don’t see the difference between the two, and while the world heaps its material benefits onto the head of the best selling author, the poor writer is often left to cry in the wilderness.

A Theory.

I must get my head around this:

I was just talking to the Brooklyn Minx (a one-sided affair by email, you understand) when it occurred to me that for all the splendid achievements of the scientists, the great literary figures, the polar explorers and the writers of Father Ted, the greatest exposition of the human spirit lies in the combination of music and dance. I think it has something to do with the soul breaking out of its cage for a little while and flying free, but I’m not sure yet. Enjoying a bottle of Barnsley Blonde followed by a few whisky chasers might do wonders for the imaginative and intuitive faculties, but it doesn’t help much with the working-it-all-out process.

The Delights of a Cheap Blonde.

Tonight I’ve been joined by a visitor from Barnsley who introduces herself as ‘The name’s Blonde… Barnsley Blonde.’ (Very droll, these Yorkshire folk.) She isn’t actually a blonde, though, more of a gingery redhead, but I’m sure they must have far more gingery redheads in Yorkshire than true blondes, so I expect they just amend the definition. She came with the following reference:

‘Shimmers and shimmies with an attractive and seductively golden full bodied flavour that is sure to tantalise your taste buds. At 5.0%, with a fruity bitter aftertaste and deliciously satisfying aroma, this is a blonde to truly savour.’

And do you know what? Notwithstanding the odd bit of judicious editing that might make her introduction read more like the self-conscious outpourings of a piece by Patrick Kavanagh, she really is true to what it says. She’s very tasty indeed.

I picked her up on my way back from a professional visit to Mr Nigel. £1.29 for a 500ml bottle, which means that she isn’t only blonde, but cheap with it. Who could ask for anything more? And she’s said to go well with pork scratchings, only I’m vegetarian.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Kavanagh - Writer or Poet?

I read tonight that Patrick Kavanagh is ‘regarded as one of the foremost poets of the 20th century.’ It took me aback a little.

I confess to being familiar with nothing by Patrick Kavanagh except the poem which became the popular song On Raglan Road, a song for which I admit a certain fondness. That fondness is not without reservation, however, as evidenced by the following lines:

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge

While not exactly earth-shattering, they’re decent enough. They do at least contain a moderately evocative metaphor and a bit of alliteration. The next line is, however, nothing short of bloody awful:

The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay

How could ‘one of the foremost poets of the 20th century’ own up to writing a line containing nothing more than a facile reference to an old nursery rhyme, followed by the clumsiest of mixed metaphors? It isn’t even competent, much less inspired. He later refers to the girl who’s let him down as ‘a creature made of clay,’ which is fair enough in the circumstances, I suppose, but he then goes on to categorise himself as ‘an angel.’ Raglan Road is a flawed piece of self-indulgent writing which contains some moderately good lines and some very bad ones. Hardly the work of a ‘foremost poet,’ I think, even though it translates into a very nice song.

But then, when he went along the road of prose instead of poetry, he wrote this:

'Although the literal idea of the peasant is of a farm labouring person, in fact a peasant is all that mass of mankind which lives below a certain level of consciousness.'

That’s an interesting thought and I like it, not least because it places among the peasantry a lot of people who think themselves rather grand. And it’s succinct, which good prose should be.

A contemporary critic said that ‘Kavanagh’s prose is better than his poetry,’ so I think I’ll leave it at that.

Inviting Medussa.

So there I was, just about to view some nice images and listen to some nice music on YouTube, when up jumps this advert for a ‘mature’ dating site. I moved to click the ‘close’ button, but then the whole page jumped again and I clicked the ‘view profile’ button instead.

Panic! (x10) Mad rush to close the profile, but too late.

Heaven knows what cookies are now infecting my computer, ready to invoke the most terrifying of the gorgons to petrify me with cold stares, outsize bosoms, and hair of snakes on the morrow. I shudder to think.

Back to Front.

The two 'women' featured in this excerpt from the Laurel and Hardy short Twice Two are uncannily like two of the women I lived with, one in my twenties and one in my thirties. Oddly enough, they both had the same name.

My taste improved later, and now it's quite impeccable. Didn't I once say that experience builds in inverse proportion to the number of opportunities we get to use it?

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Pull of Maverick Energy.

I kept feeling an inner conviction tonight that the current life doesn’t last forever, and that maybe I should blow what little capital I have on a trip to New York. It would only need to be a short one – just enough to call into the Met, and then go to Tea and Sympathy for a cronut and coffee – and so I googled ‘package trips to New York.’ I found several listed on the BA website that looked pretty reasonable, and so I clicked ‘book.’

I clicked ‘book.’ Imagine that.

My mind had fallen into that invisible maelstrom where you find yourself being dragged along by some insidious form of energy that has no truck with reason or caution. The voice crying plaintively ‘you shouldn’t be doing this’ is weak and distant, while the one intoning ‘don’t be a wimp, just get on with it’ seems irresistible. It’s pulled me through some irrational and injudicious doors a few times in my life and left me to deal with the consequences – which I suppose I always did, and the outcome was at least usually interesting.

Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it) I came to the page where they ask you to accept their cookies policy. I’m naturally reluctant to accept corporate policies on cookies or anything else they might dream up for their corporate benefit, and that brought me to my senses. I closed the tab.

I’m not entirely glad that I did. There are other reasons for not taking the trip, you see, reasons that have more to do with conscience than cash, so maybe it was right that the voice of reason and caution should have prevailed. And yet I’m not wholly comfortable with the grey light of reason. It seems to me that I really have become a hobbit since moving to the Shire seven years ago, and that a trip to New York would be a bit like making the journey to Mount Doom to despatch the troublesome ring once and for all. Maybe not quite as hazardous, but you never know.

Still, there’s always tomorrow, isn’t there? Isn’t there? Oh no, that’s where I came in. One day there is no tomorrow.

Mmm…

Getting Respect from Sydney.

I was just reading an old post from a couple of years ago, and it had a comment from the same person who called me a sad drunk recently. On that occasion she wrote:

‘You need sleep or you’ll get even more insane.’

Even more? It’s nice to be so highly thought of. And actually, although I’ve known a few people as strange as me, I think she was the only one who was even madder. I’m only mad occasionally; she was mad all the time. She even had a pony tail – at her age!

I’m hoping a little Chinese sprite will whisper in her big Aussie lugghole and persuade her to a rare viewing of my blog, just so she reads that bit. I do.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Appreciating a She Elf.

I watch this clip from LOTR for two reasons:

1) To see Arwen get off her horse.

2) To hear her speaking Elvish.

The appeal of certain things is a little difficult to explain.


Incarceration and Approaching Fallout.

Being in prison can be a physical reality, a state of mind, or a combination of the two. In any event, there are those who can stomach it, those who are unmoved by it, those who welcome it, and those who are driven to despair by it.

On an unrelated note – and it really is unrelated, believe it or not – seeing these octogenarian ex-celebrities being sent to prison for decades-old sexual offences has led me to wonder about something. Do prisoners who are over the state retirement age have to work while they’re inside, as younger prisoners do?

*  *  *

So then I look around the world as reported in the media. Everywhere (even here) I see killings, atrocities, and abuses of just about everything capable of being abused. In short, I see the depths to which the human animal so easily allows itself to fall. And that’s when I’m reminded of the famous last line from the film On the Beach:

‘God, God forgive us, Peter. I’m ready for that cup of tea now.’

Those familiar with the film might understand why I’m so reminded.

The Geisha Gene.

This is a snippet of some email correspondence that I referred to briefly some weeks ago:

Me: Why did you have to go and get God?

Her: Um… Who’s the sad drunk here? Yup! That’s why.

Don’t you just love those Ladies of the East who know how to generate affection with an insult? Frankness is such an engaging quality, especially when it’s effervescent.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Uncomfortably Familiar.

I was just browsing one of those movie sites that give famous last lines from celebrated films. I came across this one from Sweet Smell of Success:

‘I’d rather be dead than living with you. For all the things you’ve done, JJ, I know I should hate you. But I don’t. I pity you.’

You wouldn't think it, would you?

All Knowledge is Here.

I’ve always been curious to know just what the difference is between a gnat and a midge, and how these two relate to the mosquito. Tonight I finally got around to taking the Route to all Knowledge in the 21st Century:

I googled ‘difference between a gnat and a midge.’

What I was hoping to find was some genuine expert on the subject who could answer the question in layman’s terms. What I actually found were a large number of forums containing a lot of lamentable English, a number of self-styled experts who trotted out strings of scientific names but didn’t actually answer the question, and a majority of contributors who shrugged their shoulders and said things like ‘as far as I’m concerned, it’s a just a matter of size, but I’m no expert.’ Quite.

In the end I came to the conclusion that ‘gnat’ and ‘midge’ are interchangeable generic terms for a whole load of small, flying insects, some of which bite and some of which don’t, and that the mosquito is a type of such insect that lives in warm, wet places (no sniggering!) Oh, and the mosquito is the only one whose bite is capable of causing a fever.

OK, now I’m as expert as everybody else.

I might just add that my favourite of all the answers given was:

‘One is vertically challenged, one bites and the other one is an aeroplane.’

He very nearly got my vote.

Macca's Music Money.

I see Paul McCartney has got the rights to his songs back from Michael Jackson’s estate. He says he fought the legal battle on a matter of principle, in that it was very annoying to have to pay to sing his own songs.

Well, I can understand that, but you have to wonder how much the issue of income played a part in the affair. McCartney’s fortune is reportedly worth several hundreds of millions of pounds, so he doesn’t exactly need the services of a loan shark to afford a holiday this year. Wouldn’t you be more inclined to say ‘Good old Macca’s got his songs back’ if good old Macca were henceforth to donate the royalties to charitable causes? Then he might be even happier singing his own songs free of charge, so maybe he will.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

On the Subject of Openings.

Do you know what I greatly miss? Those old fashioned railway carriages which had doors with windows that slid down, the sort you could stick your head out of while the train was rushing along at 100mph, knowing that the oncoming train on the other track was too far away to hit it.

What I really miss about them, though, is the romance of saying goodbye to somebody through an open window in a closed door. The aperture becomes the final portal of connection, and that makes the experience bitter-sweet, which it’s supposed to be. And you can wave to the person watching you from the platform until the train severs the connection as it turns a bend just beyond the station: one moving forward into a new world – albeit temporarily, maybe – while the other remains rooted in the old. It’s poignant. It is.

Door windows in railway carriages are fixed now, and the door itself is operated electronically by the ticket collector. No more pulling the window down with the leather strap to reach out and turn the handle when you get home again. No doubt there are obvious health and safety reasons for the change, but the romance has gone. I’m not at all sure that the marginal safety benefits are worth the loss of something so special.

*  *  *

I’ve mentioned before that I dislike button flies on jeans. They’re always metal and a little sharp, so it’s both time consuming and uncomfortable to undo them and do them up again. I seem to remember remarking that you have to anticipate the moment and go to the toilet five minutes before you need to.

I was just thinking along such lines, when a little ditty jumped into the saddle, as little ditties are wont to do.

I went to Connemara
With a girl whose name was Sara
And another one called Bridget
Just for luck

We crossed the sea by ferry
And I thought of making merry
But the buttons on my jeans
Kept getting stuck

You may interpret that whichever way you like. I’m in a bad mood and too old to care.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A Tale of Two Towns.

The two towns nearest to where I live are Ashbourne and Uttoxeter. Ashbourne is in the county of Derbyshire, Uttoxeter in the neighbouring county of Staffordshire (which is my home county, don’t you know.) The two towns are similar in size, and both have a few old buildings of historical and architectural note. In all other respects they are markedly different.

Ashbourne is a genteel, polite sort of place, and has a well fed look about it. Uttoxeter has an impoverished air, and the people are noticeably thinner. You’re far more likely to hear an expletive uttered in anger in Uttoxeter, and you’re more inclined to avoid offending the womenfolk for fear of being garrotted with the rusty wire they use to hold their corsets in place. You’re also more likely to see a drunk fall over in a Uttoxeter street at pretty much any time of the day. I’ve never seen it myself, but I’d be far less surprised if I did.

Dr Johnson has an association with both towns, having stood in the rain to do penance in Uttoxeter, and having applied unsuccessfully for a schoolmaster’s position in Ashbourne. Uttoxeter folk are proud of their connection to the great man, and even built a memorial in his honour. Ashbourne folk never mention him. He was a debt-ridden vagabond for part of his life, you see, and Ashbourne doesn’t like to be seen in the company of debt-ridden vagabonds.

It would be reasonable to suggest, therefore, that Ashbourne is the more comfortable of the two, but Uttoxeter the more interesting. I shop in Ashbourne, partly because it’s quicker to get to, and partly because I prefer the supermarket there.

Today I went to Ashbourne. It was boring as usual. The only noteworthy facts associated with the trip were:

a) The supermarket had Greene King’s IPA Gold beer at half price.

b) I saw a one-eyed dog which reminded me of a Christy Moore song, about a drunken man encountering ‘a group of creatures with the strangest looking features’ on his way home from the pub, one of which asks him whether he has any sisters.

And here’s the song. There’s no video, unfortunately, but it does have a catchy tune and silly, slightly surreal lyrics. I doubt that anybody in Ashbourne ever plays it.

A Sort of Peter Pan.

My life to date has been essentially episodic, constantly moving on from people, places and activities every few years. With just a few rare exceptions, I haven’t really connected in any deep sense with anything or anybody. It’s been a case of hopping from one rock to another to follow the stream, and you don’t pick the rocks up and carry them with you as you go. In short, it’s been a loner’s life, surrounded mostly – but always at a small distance – by various levels of acquaintances. And the problem with being a loner is this:

The loner doesn’t have the usual markers to teach him how to grow old. There is no life partner to grow old with. There is no career ladder to climb until you reach the point at which you retire and get off, thereby gaining closure. There is no intimate family environment in which your position develops securely and naturally until you become the patriarch.

I reached the age of thirty two when I was about seventeen, and I’ve been thirty two ever since. The mirror tells me differently; my muscles, tendons, ligaments and organs tell me differently; the weight of experience sitting on my shoulders, and gained mostly through observation rather than commitment, tells me differently. But they confuse me because I’m still thirty two. It’s the one rock I’ve carried with me along the stream, and I don’t know how to throw it away.

Go the Mail!

The Daily Mail is probably Britain’s most prominent right wing tabloid. Like all tabloids, its editorial slant favours misinformation and the fostering of entrenched prejudices, and is generally the butt of endless jokes by the more intelligent of commentators. It’s regarded as the ‘newspaper’ that the more mentally challenged of the Tory faithful read. What a surprise, then, to see today’s headline ranting against the Tory/LibDem coalition government.

It appears that some old lady died leaving a bequest of nearly £½m to the government, requesting that they use it as they saw fit but ‘in the best interests of the country.’ According to the Mail, what the T/LD alliance actually did was split it between them and pay the money into party funds.

So should I believe this? It is, after all, the Daily Mail we’re talking about. Do you know, this is a rare example of a Mail lead story to which I am prepared to give credence in all its tawdry glory. I wonder why.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Adventure.

For me, adventure was always about the process of discovery, and discovery is a lone pursuit. There’s no togetherness in discovery. Two people might discover the same thing, but their reaction to it will always be different. Ergo, adventure is a one-person activity.

Being Accessible.

Did you know that when Stan Laurel was in the twilight of his career and living in Santa Monica, his phone number was listed in the main directory? Anybody could call him up and talk to him.

Can you imagine Lady Gaga doing that? I gather she’s too busy making herself accessible in other ways these days. That’s a statement of personal opinion, you understand, not an objective judgment.