Monday, 30 September 2013

Feeling Troubled.

Do you want to know why I haven’t made any posts today? It’s because my finer feelings, my propensity to ponder the meaning of life, my interest in base level philosophy, my observation of Shire phenomena, my curiosity regarding matters spiritual, my tendency to note little matters of minor import in the little life of JJ, and even my capacity to write silly ditties (especially my capacity to write silly ditties) have been swamped and brought to near suffocation by that wettest of wet grey blankets:

The Tory Party Conference.

The First Rule of Life in Britain is simple enough, and one that I learned a long time ago: during the week of the Tory Party Conference, do not switch on the television.

I forgot the rule; I switched the TV on. Now I’m suffering for my mistake.

Tory politicians are such an obnoxious bunch. They’re arrogant, pompous, aloof and didactic. Their body language oozes insincerity and the instinct for manipulation. They read from scripts cleverly written in the language of empty rhetoric and hyperbole. They have shifty eyes and oily mannerisms. And their favourite ploy is to take cheap shots at the easiest targets – today’s were the unemployed and immigrants. Then they take their bows while the brain dead masses in the audience stand and applaud the shameful shabbiness of it all.

It’s utterly nauseating, and I haven’t managed to climb out of the depressive state it engendered in me yet.

I just tried listening to some music. I thought it would help, but I made an ill-considered choice. All it produced was an abiding image of a woman in America, dancing. And that troubled me for a wholly different reason…

Having Nothing to Say.

I find it disconcerting when, for no apparent reason, I have nothing to say to the blog. Saying things is what I do; saying things is about all I’m good for these days.

I tried to make a post which included the line ‘… and it being fair dinkum to congratulate the Aussie Sheilas on the quality of their tucker probably went out shortly after the guns at Gallipoli fell silent.’ It isn’t a bad line, and it even made sense in context, but the context was the problem. It was rubbish, so I scrapped the whole post.

I suppose I could mention that I’ve had a visit today from a place in Alaska called Southerly North Slope Bo, and another from a place in Chile called Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins, but what else would there be to say on the matter?

I think it’s time I went and finished off the dregs in the last special offer bottle of Grant’s. See, that’s another question I put to the Girl on the Drinks Aisle:

‘Are the litre bottles of Grant’s still on special offer?’

‘No; it finished last night.’

‘But the shelf sticker still says £17.’

‘Oh, yes. Sorry.’

And then she removed the erroneous shelf sticker.

Now, if I’d said nothing and gone to the checkout bearing a litre bottle of Grant’s, and then used the ‘but the shelf sticker says £17’ line when it came up on the display as £22, they would have let me have it five pounds cheaper. I’m just too honest for my own good.

And on the subject of life being a hard mistress, I washed the car this morning for the first time in ages, and then learned that there’s rain forecast for the next five days. It isn’t fair, you know; it isn’t.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Little Shire Mystery.

There’s something odd going on in the little wood at the top of the lane, the one you have to walk through to get to the field where Sam and Ange keep their sheep.

Two circles have been created. The first is about twenty feet in diameter, with slices of tree trunk laid evenly around the perimeter as seats. In the middle is a fire pit made with regular pieces of heavy timber held in place by pegs. It’s too well made to have been built by some local itinerant needing a fire to sit by at night, and I’m not aware of any local itinerants anyway. The ashes in the pit have no fallen leaves on them, so I assume the fire that made them was recent.

I found the second one even more interesting. The ‘circle’ is less precise, and made with small tree branches to form a boundary. It’s about ten feet in diameter, and in the middle is what appears to be a model Iron Age village. There are several ‘shelters’ or ‘dwellings,’ having wooden pegs as corner posts and sheets of tree bark for roofs, and in the centre is a larger ‘hall’ made entirely out of similar sheets of tree bark.

I’ve never seen the like of it the Shire, and I’m wondering whether it’s the work of kids from the local school. I think I’ll go and ask tomorrow.

Regarding the Right.

Rarely a day passes at the moment when there isn’t some intelligent and fair minded person, or some group of intelligent and fair minded people, calling on the government to change its unintelligent and mean minded policies in one area or another. These people are usually far more knowledgeable about the subject at hand than anybody in government, and so they recognise what damage is being done and what deleterious consequences might well ensue. The response of the boys and girls in blue amounts to little more than:

‘Stop bothering us; we’re busy running the country.’

They buried Thatcher’s ashes yesterday; her ghost totters on regardless.

Still, if we Brits think we’ve got it bad, what about the poor old Yankees. According to our media, America is 48 hours from meltdown. That’s probably an exaggeration, but the more savvy among our colonial cousins might cherish the hope that the Republicans have a gun pointed at their own foot and are about to pull the trigger.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Children Deserve Better.

I made a post recently about the government’s plans to force children into formal education earlier than they start at present. I bemoaned the fact that they seem intent upon denying childhood to our children.

Well, a survey was published today, in which 2,000 leading experts on education were agreed that the best preparation for formal education is the fostering of social skills, and that means play. They said that introducing children to formal education at too early an age is likely to impede their later development. The government, of course, being the real expert in such matters, disagrees.

We surely need no reminding that the combination of ignorance and arrogance is a most potent and potentially destructive force, yet remind us is precisely what the present crowd of cretinous clowns seem determined to do on an almost weekly basis.

Mr Frodo Comes Down to Oxford.

I just watched a film called The Oxford Murders, in which Elijah Wood looked most unlike a hobbit. That was the first disappointment.

It opens with a professor giving a lecture about Wittgenstein, concluding with the statement that there is no truth outside mathematics. ‘Philosophy, therefore, is dead,’ he says. ‘Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.’ Well, I’ve long believed that philosophy ultimately serves no other purpose than to amuse us as a species, but the statement mostly appealed to my interest in language.

From that point forward, the film went downhill. The best scene, because it was the most amusing, was the one in which the leading lady (?) removed her bra four times without ever putting it back on again. Elijah Wood dropped the spaghetti, and played it straight as he proceeded to eat it off the liberated erstwhile contents of the now unequivocally discarded bra. I suspect he was intent upon proclaiming that being a hobbit was now an unequivocally discarded phase.

Mists by Any Other Name Would Smell of Fish.

I swear somebody should compile a book of YouTube comments – the sort you pick up and browse through every so often for a giggle. My latest find comes from the Roxy Music track Avalon.

One man left the comment:

‘What is Avalon? No google!!!’

…to which he got the reply:

‘is a kind of shellfish, very rare n very expensive!!!’

…which attracted a second reply from a guy with his nose in the air:

‘The ‘shellfish’ you refer to is ABALONE, not Avalon. Avalon is an old Arthurian myth.’

Hilarious, aren’t they? And to think, Avalon is to be the name of my first daughter in my next life (her mama and I are agreed.) I hope this page will still be in circulation.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Gluttonous Birds and a Doleful Ditty.

2013 has been a good year for sparrows where I live. They’ve bred prolifically and there are a lot of them, and that poses a bit of a problem. As soon as I put food on the bird tables, a great flock of sparrows descends and eats the lot in about five minutes. What about the robins, chaffinches, tits, dunnocks, nuthatches and blackbirds, I say. What about them?

I’ve noticed something interesting, though. The sparrows stop feeding earlier than the other birds, so the others do get their turn, even though it isn’t long. I'm speculating that the sparrows are the first to fly off and roost in the nearest wood so as to get the best spots. Woods are warmer than open ground at night, apparently. The trees store heat during the day and then give it off overnight. Or so Bill Oddie says, and he should know. Which interesting little fact gives rise to the worst ditty I’ve ever written:

Where do the little birdies go
When all the fields are white?
They go and find a snugly wood
To keep them warm at night

Terrible. It wouldn’t even make the body of a Rupert Bear annual. I’m uninspired today.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Bird Tables, Butterflies and Becoming God.

Today’s notable happenings were centred on the bird table. There was a Red Admiral butterfly on it, basking in the sunshine. I mentioned recently that I’ve seen no Red Admirals in the garden this year, and I feared that last year’s wet summer might have finished off the local population. Well, today there was one, and I suppose any revival has to start with one.

There was also a horse fly in the water bowl – not swimming, I assume, but drowning. I’m not the biggest fan of horse flies, but neither am I the sort to leave any creature slowly drowning. I put my finger underneath it, lifted it out, and placed it on a rock, where it, too, basked in the sunshine. Given the incident with the spider last night, not to mention the frequent assistance given to earthworms crossing hot, dry roads, it seems my focus in life at the moment is to rescue creatures which most people would think nothing of treading on. But then I had a thought:

In a few million years time, when horse files have evolved to the level of conscience and high consciousness, and go around abusing and killing each other gratuitously, maybe a genetic memory stemming from one little horse fly will trigger a new phenomenon. Maybe they will start believing that there is a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God who rescues them from the jaws of adversity. And let’s suppose my own consciousness is reincarnated in such a creature and I start worshipping the memory of my own action. Maybe I will even murder my neighbour for not believing in it. That’s an odd thought, isn’t it?

The Genus Loci of St Mary & St Barlok.

I took the long stroll to the church this afternoon, and sat in the lea of its 13th century south wall for a while. It’s a supremely quiet and peaceful place, being screened from the road and the outside world by lots of mature trees, and I began to get the sense that something was aware of me. My first thought was that I’d dropped into an MR James story, but then I settled to pondering a more likely explanation.

I decided it was none of the subterranean occupants; I’m sure they’ve long since moved on by now, and graveyards have never frightened me. Besides, the presence, for want of a better word, felt behind me. It was the church itself, or something in the church.

I reasoned, for want of yet another better word, that the genus loci might be an objective and sentient phenomenon, and that it was the spirit of the building that was taking notice of me. The feeling was slightly creepy but in no way malevolent, so I decided to enjoy it. I used to get a similar feeling in a wood close to another cottage in another village where I lived in the 1980s.

*  *  *

So then I began to wonder just how many bodies are really buried there. The headstones only go back about 400 years, but there’s been a church on the spot for 12-1300 years. That suggests there are rather more people taking their final rest than have headstones to attest to their presence. And I paid my respects to the lady Isabella, as usual.

*  *  *

By a strange coincidence, on the way back I missed HT54 by seconds. That’s the mystery in the tail.

Hard Love.

There’s a big spider that’s taken to getting stranded in my bathtub. Well, he’s not going to stay fat and healthy stranded in a bathtub, is he? So I have to give him a hand to get out, right? Right.

At first he plays hard to get, pretends to run away from the big bad monster with four legs missing. But then he calms down and walks onto my hand. And then he climbs up onto my sleeve and sits there.

‘Excuse me.’


‘You can’t stay there or you’ll get squashed, one way or another. I’ve already found one headless rabbit on the verge today and I’m a pro-life man. You have to go and catch some microbes or something.’

More silence.

I shake him off onto the box thingy that covers the plumbing, where he continues to sit, looking glum. He has an air about him:

‘I thought you were my friend. I gave you my trust; I climbed onto your hand, and now you’ve rejected me. I’m very sad.’

I steel myself to do the unthinkable. I walk away and switch the bathroom light off. I just went back and he’d gone. For now. I hope he’s getting some supper.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Hard Drugs Question.

Having always been a clean living lad, I never tried hard drugs. I only got as far as marijuana, and even managed to overdose on that one night. It wasn’t very nice. And don’t tell me you can’t OD on marijuana; you can; I did.

So anyway, Mrs Doyle’s line ‘Would you like some cake, Father? There’s cocaine in it,’ coupled with Dougal’s dancing cows, piqued my curiosity regarding the difference between heroin and cocaine. I just looked it up.

Right, so…

Cocaine comes from the cocoa plant, heroin from the opium poppy. Got that.

Cocaine is the buzz drug, heroin the chill-out fix. Got that, too.

Withdrawal from heroin is more unpleasant than from cocaine, and can even be dangerous. Right. But the question remains:

I’ve always been more given to observation than engagement, so would the same principle apply if I were to take one of these hard drugs? Would I be the one sitting quietly in the corner of a room full of buzzing people, going ‘Oh, I see, so that’s what happens.’ That would be typical of me; observers miss all the fun.

I still feel inclined to try one of them, and I suppose it would be sensible (you see?) to plump for cocaine. That’s if I knew where to get some, had the money to afford it, had somebody to show me what the hell you’re supposed to do, and somebody else to see me through the dark, post-buzz period. The coke down might be less virulent than the heroin one, but heaven knows I get depressed enough as it is. And there are only two people I would entrust with the task; they both live a very long way away, and one has family commitments.

This is looking complicated and expensive. Maybe I should stick to the highs I get from heroines, and leave the rest to another life.

The Drinks Aisle Girl.

I like the girl on the drinks aisle in the supermarket. She’s unusually tall for a female, with long legs, a shy manner and a helpful disposition. Well you can imagine, can’t you? If there’s one person to whom I address more queries than anybody else, it’s the Drinks Aisle Girl.

‘Have you got any more special offer Grants in the back? The shelf’s empty.’

‘I’ll go and see.’

She comes back bearing two bottles.

‘How many do you want?’ she asks.

‘Are they on multi-buy?’


‘Just one, then.’

For the past few weeks I’ve been making my Wednesday Special beer choices from a whole rack full of weird and wonderful brews, some of which boast that they taste of honey, oranges, peppermint and other such noxious travesties, and the trick has been to find ones that claim no other taste than beer. (They’re all discounted, you see, and I like discounts.)

Today’s choice was B.Bock, which claims to be a strong Bavarian beer – and at 6.0% ABV, it probably is. I mused quietly to the Drinks Aisle Girl that I hoped it wasn’t required to wear lederhosen and stand on the table while drinking it. She looked at me strangely – probably, I assumed, because she didn’t know what lederhosen are. And I, needless to say, am far too much the gentleman to explain such things to a young woman of demure disposition. With legs as long as hers, she has a long way to fall, and I’m no longer in sufficient prime to make light work of catching young women.

Come to think of it, she usually regards me strangely. I suspect she thinks I’m weird, though not wonderful, but it’s difficult to tell with tall women. Body language is more difficult to read when you’re looking at it from an unfamiliar angle.

James and the Giant Lie.

I went into Ashbourne library today. I decided that, with the nights drawing in and there being nothing worth watching on the TV, it was time I started getting one rented DVD a week to break up the monotony. (It’s what happens when you move naturally and irretrievably beyond socialising.)

Well, who should be on the counter but my old chat buddy, James. I’ve mentioned James on the blog before, but I haven’t seen him in years because I stopped going into the library, and he stopped working in Ashbourne on a Wednesday anyway.

‘Hey, look everybody,’ he kept calling to sundry library persons, ‘look who’s here. It’s Mr Beazley, and he hasn’t changed a bit.’

I don’t know which was worse, subduing the sense of embarrassment while saying ‘hello’ to sundry library persons, or being told yet again that I haven’t changed a bit. I might start believing it, you see, and then think of the additional trauma I’ll suffer every time I look in the mirror.

Two things of note accrued from the visit:

1) I told James about my two books, The Gift Horse and Odyssey, and he asked whether I might let the library have a copy of each to place on their shelves. It’ll cost me money, but at least it might mean that one or two people will read them at last. (Or at least a page or two.) And I can think of the cost as a service to the community…

2) The DVD I selected is a copy of The Oxford Murders starring John Hurt. John Hurt has long been one of my favourite actors, and I was pleased to see that he looks older than me. But then I looked him up and discovered that he is older than me. He was older than I am now even when he made The Oxford Murders, so that it explains it.

Oh, and I encountered a dotty woman in the library, who was, if I read her cryptic conversation with James accurately, about the same age as me. And yet she was far dottier than I am, which pleased me no end.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Virgin in the Bathroom.

The old black toilet seat is finally in the car, all ready to make its last journey to the tip tomorrow.

It’s the one that was in place when I moved to this house seven years ago. It was disgusting. In fact, the whole toilet was disgusting, and I confess to being a big girl’s blouse when it comes to toilets. The toilet is the one thing that must look perennially virgin, and so my first investment went the way of some ultra-strong chemical concoction and a new toilet seat. The old one has been lying in the shed for seven years, and I’m having a bit of a clear-out.

I felt guilty about the non-environmentally friendly chemical concoction, but… well… big girl’s blouse, you know? The new toilet seat was a white plastic one, and it’s still white, even in the crevices. I bought it because I decided that plastic would be the most hygienic.

(That’s a lie; I bought it because it was the cheapest, but I haven’t succumbed to typhus or died of anything yet.)

In Homage to Andrea 'JR' Kiss.

Andrea Kiss is a fellow blogger from Tennessee. Regular readers might have noticed that she regularly comments on my posts, or at least she used to. She’s been conspicuous by her absence from the blogosphere this summer, and this morning I discovered why. She got shot.

Seriously! (By which I mean ‘I’m not joking’ and also ‘it weren’t no mere flesh wound.’ So maybe I should start the paragraph again.)

She got seriously shot, seriously! And with her own gern, to boot. (You might remember that JR got shot with his own gern, and Brits who read the Observer at the time might also remember that Clive James, the TV critic, worked tirelessly to emulate the Texan accent.)

Well, Andrea has become something of a pal down the years. She’s almost family, and it was a bit of a shock to my system to discover that a pal-who-is-almost-family had been shot. It was.

So how did this unfortunate calamity come to pass? It was a complete accident. Andrea’s fiancĂ©e, a splendid chap called Alex, was about to empty the chamber in order to clean it, when the damn thing went off of its own accord. Andrea, brave girl that she is, leapt forward to save the living room wall from being holed and needing a redecoration job. (I made that up; she just happened to be in the flight path of the errant bullet.) And I expect poor Alex, splendid chap that he is, probably suffered more than dear Andrea did. You can read the whole story here if you want to. It will explain what the non-gun toting Andrea was doing having a gern of her very own, and there’s even a bit of a whooo factor to the story, since there was a tarot deck involved.

Now, every cloud has a silvery lining, and so it is with Andrea. She lost weight. They had to take some bits of her insides away, you see, since bullets have an unfortunate habit of scrambling a person’s insides. Better still, she has a rare story to tell. Not many of us can go through life with the opening line ‘I remember the day I got shot,’ can we? No.

Make a full recovery, Andrea. Not only are you one of the good guys, you’re obviously one of the tough guys, too.

The Dougal Priority.

Ah, go on. The video might be poor, but it’s only 55 seconds, and it is pure Dougal.

In Praise of Tesco.

Tesco is Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, and it’s known for… erm… how should I put this? Pushing the boundaries of the corporate mentality? Let’s be into euphemisms tonight, just for the sake of being kind to Tesco.

So why should I want to be kind to Tesco? Well, because they’re being kind to us, we poor shoppers groaning under the weight of grocery bills rising faster than inflation, while real-terms income is being eroded by Mr Cameron’s ‘we’re all in this together’ spending cuts. Here’s the story:

Tesco has launched its own cheap tablet, a mere snip at £119. The tablet market (or should that be segment?) is growing, and there’s still plenty of space left for a bit of entrepreneurial opportunism. You might be tempted to think, therefore, that Tesco’s motive had rather a lot to do with making a bit more profit to add to their current billions, and paying their wealthy directors, executives and shareholders even more in bonuses and dividends, mightn’t you? Well you’d be wrong, see. This is what their CEO has to say on the matter:

"We feel the time is right for Tesco to help widen tablet ownership and bring the fun, convenience and excitement of tablets to even more customers across the UK. The digital revolution should be for the many, not for the few."

So it isn’t about profits at all. It’s about helping; it’s about serving the many, not the few. Tesco, bless them, are in the van of a benign socialist revolution.

Thank you, Tesco; please forgive the misplaced cynicism to which I have been prey all these years. I feel truly contrite.

Monday, 23 September 2013

A Woman's Privilige.

I gather it’s now officially accepted that women are generally better at multi-tasking than men – something to do with their brains (ha!) being wired back to front differently.

So does this mean that the law forbidding the use of hand-held mobiles while driving should only apply to men? Is the practice inherently less hazardous when exercised by women because they’re capable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time? And would the feminists regard it as an example of positive discrimination, even though it has nothing to do with redressing balances?

The Good, the Bad, and Dougal Maguire.

I'd never seen this before. It was a trailer for a Clint Eastwood night on Channel 4, back in the nineties.

The Curious Case of the YouTube Comment.

Let’s face it, YouTube is not renowned for the quality of its comments. It appears to count among its ranks whole regiments of people easily roused to emotional nausea, and much given to spewing forth tirades of vomitous invective liberally sprinkled with words beginning with f and s. There are even those who are habitually given to suggesting that male appendages be deposited in ears. I never had a clue what that one was about; I assume it’s a colonial thing, since the tone is usually redneck in nature.

They don’t bother me, since the abiding impression is always that the commenter is suffering more than the recipient, and so they can be viewed with amusement. The ones that really irritate me are the ones that offer no comment at all, but simply quote the lyrics. Somebody has just listened to Land Down Under, and their comment reads:

‘Do you come from the land down under
Where women glow and men thunder?’

That’s it; that’s all there is. Why? Why would I want to read some words I’ve just been listening to? What’s the point? Can anybody tell me?

My own comments are, of course, literate, incisive and generally well-intentioned (!) Just occasionally, however, they’re a little veiled. There’s a song I listen to now and then, the lyrics of which amount to nothing more than:

Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum-tittee

I asked:

‘Does anybody know what language this is? Is it Japanese, or something?’

Sadly, the irony went begging. I got a reply which said:

‘It’s Gaelic, or Irish to be precise.’

Thank God for precision, I say. Here’s a man who really knows his stuff. That’s a rare quality on YouTube.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Equinox and Wild Geese.

Today is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, and it’s been a good one this year in my neck of the woods – temperature in the high sixties, a modest breeze, and warm sunshine all day. Today’s activities included a stroll along Church Lane.

There’s a big patch of convulvulus on the verge in Church Lane. It’s considered one of the worst of pests in gardens, but out in the countryside its white, bell shaped flowers are a welcome feature of the autumn livery. It occurred to me that its bloom should be called ‘the Equinox Flower,’ and so, in the world of JJ, it shall henceforth be known.

And there’s a spread of elder nearby that is literally bending with the weight of berries – dozens of sprays of luscious, shiny black ones, all begging to be converted into a few litres of elderberry wine. I wonder that no one in the Shire has seen fit to collect them for that very purpose. The reason I don’t do it myself is because I have neither the expertise nor the equipment, so maybe nobody else does either. Some hobbits, eh?

But the best of equinoctial treats came my way at twilight. First I heard the calling, and then saw hundreds of geese formed up into several skeins, crossing the red sunset sky in silhouette. I’ve never seen so many in the seven years I’ve lived here. Being in silhouette is fundamental to the power of the image, of course; it’s what makes it so poignant, dramatic and romantic. I wonder why. Maybe because it symbolises transition – night for day, autumn for summer, geese for swallows. I saw no swallows or martins today.

What I didn’t understand was why they were flying north. Geese are supposed to fly down here from the Arctic Circle in the autumn, so why were they flying apparently in the wrong direction? Maybe they’d got lost, overshot the Solway Firth, and were doubling back. I didn’t think geese ever got lost, but maybe they do.

Feeling Invisible.

I get days when I feel like the Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense. And when I feel invisible like that, I wonder whether it’s for the same reason. He was lucky, you see: he remembered being shot. But suppose you die in your sleep.

Euphemistically Speaking.

I keep on seeing references to ‘twerking’ on the seedier side of the web (the Yahoo home page, mostly, squeezed between the torrents of cheap celebrity gossip) and I’ve become increasingly curious as to what it means, so tonight I consulted the Urban Dictionary.

‘The provocative shaking of the lower fleshy extremities,’ it said.

Lower fleshy extremities? That’s a bit ambiguous, isn’t it? I can think of various bits that might have the terms ‘lower’ and ‘fleshy extremities’ applied to them, so to which bits are they referring exactly? I extended my research to Wiki.

Ah, buttocks. Why didn’t they just say buttocks? Do I need a parental consent button on my computer, or something? Would that gain me access to the post-watershed, adult version of the Urban Dictionary?

This reminds me of a classic Monty Python sketch, in which a staid TV interviewer talks to a man with three buttocks. It plays on the fact that respectable BBC interviewers of the time were greatly inclined to employ respectable euphemisms, and so he tries ‘Your posterior. Your derriere. Your sit-upon.’

The bemused subject eventually takes the meaning and says ‘Oh, me bum!’

‘Quite,’ replies the embarrassed interviewer. ‘Now, I gather… how can I put this? I gather you have a fifty percent bonus in the botty department.’

‘I got three cheeks, yeah.’

That was forty years ago. Aren’t we a bit beyond it by now?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Strange Imagination.

I heard a tread upon the stair
And when I went and called ‘who’s there?’
I saw a man with smoking hair
Who closed his eyes and said a prayer
Then disappeared without a care
While I could only stand and stare

This sort of thing happens a lot when I’m bored and waiting for an email that hasn’t arrived yet. Do excuse the unfortunate homophone; I’m no poet.

Our Lovable Loonies.

It’s the party political conference season in Britain (we don’t call them ‘conventions’ over here) and the political party currently spewing out dogma, rhetoric and hyperbole is the United Kingdom Independence Party. UKIP is a sort of British version of the American Tea Party, although I’m not at all sure it takes itself quite so seriously. Fortunately, most other people don’t either.

UKIP supporters seem to be drawn mostly from the ranks of those disgruntled Tories who have an even lower IQ than the non-disgruntled ones. They’re the sort who live either in denial or a state of apoplexy over things like the loss of empire and the existence of the Channel Tunnel.

‘Somebody’s only gone and built a big tube between here and France,’ they are wont to cry. ‘Never again will we sleep soundly in our beds on the hallowed turf of this Sceptred Isle, for Johnny Foreigner will creep in under the cover of darkness to steal our women, our livestock and our family silver, leaving us with nothing but our memories, empty coal bunkers and a surfeit of rabies.’

UKIP is also an unwitting bedfellow of the British National Party, only for people who know how to knot neck ties and therefore think themselves posher and of greater cultural significance. They are, however, more eccentric than the BNP people, and less given to overt demonstrations of violent behaviour.

Having said which, one of their delegates got into a spot of bother yesterday for calling a group of female party activists ‘sluts,’ and also for hitting a reporter on the head with a conference brochure. He passed it off as an ‘innocent joke,’ which it probably was, but it looks like he’s going to be expelled anyway for giving the party a bad name. What didn’t help his cause was an earlier remark that Britain shouldn’t be giving away taxpayer’s money in aid to people living in ‘bong bongo land.’ I suppose that’s a little more difficult to pass off as an innocent joke.

But, that’s UKIP for you. I’m glad we have them, actually. It says much for our greatness as a nation that we confer tolerant smiles on the likes of Mr Farage (which sounds suspiciously like a Johnny Foreigner sort of name to me) and his party. And stories that their private functions are characterised by people wearing over-sized top hats and standing on tables are surely apocryphal, although I hope not.

September Scene.

I just took a longer walk around by the main road for the first time in ages, because that’s where the best view of the valley and the Weaver Hills may be had. There was an open field gate which framed the four major markers of September in lowland Britain: golden corn stubble, berries of black and red, green trees splashed sparsely with yellow, and a mix of ragged and tidily trimmed hedgerows.

There’s a sense of stillness on the land now, even when it’s windy. The breath of growing things has slowed almost to a stop because it’s time for some things to die and others to go to sleep.

It had me wondering yet again: what is the point of learning merely for its own sake? Surely, learning for its own sake only has any worth if it’s part of some permanent state: the cycle of life, death and rebirth; the persistence of consciousness. It’s the best I can come up with at the moment, so I’m sticking with it.

Coping with the Climate of Fortune.

It seems to me that the phrase ‘winds of fortune’ is well chosen, and goes deeper than a mere superficial metaphor. Fortune really is like the weather: some periods are wet and stormy, some are hot and sunny, some are calm and mellow, some are achingly frigid, and some are capricious, with passing storms or sunshine and showers.

The difference is that fortune has no regular seasons. A winter or summer of fortune can last a day or several years. For some people, it can even last a lifetime. Talk to those trapped in ghettos or other forms of poverty by a selfish system designed to favour the rich and privileged.

Several people I know are going through extended periods of circumstantial or psychological turbulence at the moment, and I’m being oft reminded that there are no air conditioning units or winter coats to protect us from the irregular vacillations of fortune. The only protection we have is in the mind, and some people stand extremes of heat and cold better than others. It appears that the simpler you’re made, the less you’re affected by those extremes. Complex beings of keen awareness and high sensitivity can be dragged into depression, or struck down by one form of death or another. Death can even be literal, as we know.

So where does this point go from here? It doesn’t; it stops at the edge of the continental shelf, because beyond it lies an abyss populated by countless practical, emotional, psychological and spiritual nuances. All I can suggest is that we be aware of the sensitive souls and be prepared to lend them a winter coat when they need it, if we’ve got one to spare.

Having Nothing to Offer.

You wouldn’t think that a day spent taking train rides, followed by five hours in the city centre talking to one friend, one complete stranger, and one person I met only once about six months ago could offer up no material for a blog post, would you? It didn’t. Unless, that is, you count the fresh cream doughnut I had with my lunch. A fresh cream doughnut is a rare treat, and about as close as I get to hedonistic behaviour these days.

Ah, but one thing did go well on the technology front. My ailing vacuum cleaner no longer sucks. That is, it sucks very well indeed, so well in fact that any unsuspecting cat that comes within six feet of it will be playing a lead role in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. It took a length of garden hose and some effort, but now it works better than it did when it was new. Thank you to the man from Vax who put me onto the garden hose trick. I wish I’d thought of it myself. I’m ashamed that I didn’t.

And I’ve been watching Manpreet and Naina again. Manpreet has the form of a gazelle and moves with all the sinuous grace of a seductive snake. If only John the Baptist’s head was still attached.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

When Phones Had Style.

I was thinking tonight about how splendidly stylish the old candlestick phones were. I admit they weren’t as functional as the later type, since you couldn’t turn your head without having both hands occupied – one to hold the base and the other to hold the ear piece – but there’s an undeniable style about something so simple. You hold this bit to your ear, and you talk into that bit. Primitive and simple. I like things that are primitive and simple (apart from Donald Trump, that is.)

And that reminded me of a scene in the Laurel and Hardy film, Blotto. Olly goes into a phone booth to call Stan. He unhooks the ear piece, which connects him to the exchange, and then speaks into the fixed mouthpiece: ‘Oxford 0614.’ No dial on the equipment, you see. It’s done through the operator. That was in the days when people ran the show, not machines.

There comes a point at which he’s getting increasingly frustrated. He leans forward and yells into the mouthpiece: ‘Don’t you hang up on me!’ It’s the leaning forward that gives it the edge. It wouldn’t be half as powerful if he’d been using a mobile.

And onto another little sidestep:

As a kid I used to be fascinated by characters in films who wandered around the room while they were talking on the phone, holding the base in one hand and the earpiece or handset in the other. I was amazed that the phone would have so much cable attached, and it was the cable I found myself watching. I wanted to see whether it would get snagged behind a table leg, or knock a vase over, or get dragged under a sleeping dog and startle the poor thing. It never did, and that was when I realised that films lie. I suppose it says something for modern times that cordless and mobile phones mean the film makers don’t have to lie any more.

Sidestepping back:

I gather you can get a facsimile candlestick phone these days for under $50. Doesn’t seem much to get a bit of style and romance back into the art of communication, does it? Having your very own operator would cost rather more, of course.

Finding the Illusion.

The reason I have such a problem with mortality is that it causes a conflict, vis:

I have a deep, seemingly unshakeable sense that I’m permanent, but my body increasingly tells me that I’m not.

I’m sure the secret to resolving this conflict is to stop doing what we all do: thinking that what we see in the mirror is who we are. So, if only I could get to that stage…

And to perform a quick sidestep:

Mel just sent me a text bemoaning the fact that you can jump through hoop after hoop after hoop, only to have to start the whole process again because you forgot to tick one box. She wanted a name for this strange Law of Being Human in the 21st century. I suggested:

The Principle of Progressive Absurdity: that every advanced system rises to its own level of dysfunctionality. I think that’s about where we are at the moment. Google might wish to take note.

And to perform another quick sidestep:

The person who shut the door on me yesterday said that she doesn’t deal in illusion any more. Now, if only she could tell me what is illusion, and what isn’t. I’ve been wondering about that for years.

Jottings of Little Consequence.

Somebody called me a ‘wizard-like being’ tonight. Well, she’s only known me for about eight years, so she has a long way to go yet. Nevertheless, I thought I might start signing myself:

JJ Beazley MA (Hogwarts, failed.)

*  *  *

Back in the real world, I did something tonight that I don’t think I’ve ever done before. When I was putting my shirt on after my shower, I observed the way I fastened the buttons. I’m sure I do it the same way as everybody else, but it’s actually quite clever and well co-ordinated. Seems we humans aren’t so dumb after all.

*  *  *

And I’m in thrall to the dark haired woman in Faun. There’s magic about her. It’s in the eyes. I’m sure she is, to put it simply, a beautiful witch. It’s her voice that makes the chorus of Diese kalte Nacht so powerful, and her eyes that are the main reason why I keep on watching the damn video over and over again.

*  *  *

Tonight’s speciality beer is Harbour IPA, from Cornwall. Cornwall is said to have the highest pagan population of any county in England, and there’s a sad story on the back of the bottle about a giant octopus. This poor creature was renowned for saving people’s lives by guiding seafarers safely into harbour, but was given to eating the local sheep, so they killed it.

*  *  *

I had a door shut firmly in my face today. It didn’t so much sting as produce a dull ache that gathered weight as the day progressed. Zoe and Leila came to the rescue, bless them. I think it’s time I died or something, to save everybody the trouble.

*  *  *

Finally, there was a woman in Ashbourne who looked like Bjork, but she was fully dressed and didn’t wail, so she probably wasn’t.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

An American Revelation.

I just watched an interview with the bhangra dancers, Manpreet and Naina, and discovered that they’re not Indian at all; they’re American. There I was expecting lots of ‘my goodness gracious me,’ and what I actually heard was ‘we got such a great, like, reaction from the ah-dience.’

Oh well, they still seemed like very nice girls. And they’re still great dancers, albeit it in a vernacular, Asian-but-westernised sort of form. I suppose it’s that old thing about perfection and imperfection again.

And I’ve noticed that women seem to be entering my orbit in pairs these days. It always used to be in threes. I suppose it’s because I’m getting old – God is letting me down gently.

A Teutonic Revelation.

This YouTube track is my latest drug. I think I must have listened to it twenty times last night, VERY LOUD through the headset. It’s even usurped Laurel and Hardy.

The two women are, as ever, the very epitome of restrained sexuality, and what really amazed me was the pregnant one walking through the cloisters. I usually think pregnant women look merely lumpy and unbalanced, but she looked like she’d stepped straight off the set of The Wicker Man.

More than that: I’ve never heard the German language sound so lyrical, the bald guy with the big drum looked like my kind of guy for a change, and I definitely want a hurdy gurdy and a top hat. Pity about the neo-Boy George singer whose study-in-effete fell somewhat short of counterpointing the full blooded femininity of the women, but they do say that true perfection is defined by the single imperfection, so I suppose we can let that one go.

The title, by the way, means ‘this cold night.’ I looked it up.  

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

An Unanswered Question.

The past couple of days have produced a few aches in connection with a loss and some further potential losses – a highly valued person and some highly valued connections.

But then it just occurred to me that if you can feel the sadness of loss, at least it means you’re still alive and interested in something, which I suppose is better than the habitual comfort of routine mediocrity.

Or is it? I don’t know. I was trying to work out the other day just what a feeling is. A feeling has no substance, and yet it can send you into a climb or a plummet. ‘It’s all in the mind,’ they say, and they’re right. But it doesn’t answer the question.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

In Loco Epistolum.

So here I am, sitting in my cold office and desirous of making a blog post. That’s because there’s nothing I want to read or watch on the TV, and writing is one of the few things I like doing these days.

Right, here we go then. Erm… Nope. The only thing I can think of to make a post about is why I have more time for the Inland Revenue than I do for the likes of Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, and who would want to read it? I wouldn’t.

Let’s try a ditty, then.

I’d like to be an albatross
And ride the cold north wind…

Erm, erm, can’t think of a rhyme for ‘wind.’ ‘Sinned’ is too serious, ‘tinned’ too prosaic. Seems there aren’t many words that rhyme with wind, so forget that one.

How about my recent discovery that there’s a woman in Brooklyn called Jenny Huang, and what an interesting coincidence it is? Well, that would mean giving a lengthy explanation as to how I discovered the fact, and why it’s an interesting coincidence. It would be very lengthy indeed. Can’t be bothered.

All in all, it seems I might as well climb back into my teapot and go to sleep until and unless the combination of a little scotch and (tautology alert) the wee small hours provide some inspiration. If not, there’s always tomorrow.

I cheated with the title.

It's All About the Experience.

Every evening as the light is falling, I go out to the garden to fetch the bird feeders in. Tonight, something I’ve known for years became more clarified.

When I engage in any activity, I’m not just aware of the activity itself, but even more so of the underlying experience determined by the ambient conditions. So, if I fetch the feeders in on a warm, sultry evening in summer, it’s a mellow experience. If the evening is cold, windy and a little damp, as it was tonight, it’s a melancholy experience. If it’s freezing cold in winter and there’s frost or snow on the ground, it’s a frigid experience. Hence, doing a job in the garden during the day is a completely different experience from doing the same job at twilight. On balance, the experience far outweighs the job itself.

This principle applies to nearly every situation, and I suppose it’s a defining feature of the HSP. You go out on a snowy night to get a bucket of coal, and find yourself looking around at the conditions from which you’re deriving the experience. It’s why I stood on my lawn for ages one still, sub-zero night a few Januarys ago, being almost overwhelmed by the full moon and the effect of its light on the snowy landscape. Nearly every activity is more about the ambient experience than the activity itself.

No doubt it’s what drives the writers, poets, artists and composers. Maybe it’s what gives rise to that condition commonly know as ‘the artistic temperament.’ And it can be both a blessing and a curse.

The Google Glitch Again.

YouTube is well up the creek tonight. This is what happens when Google starts meddling.

Would somebody take Google in hand and remind them of what they used to be when they were everybody’s friend, before they contracted Corporate Megalomania and started frothing at the mouth.

Please, Google, please… if something is working perfectly and everybody’s enjoying it, leave the damn thing alone!

Alternative Activity.

For the past couple of days I’ve been doing a bit of manly work for a change – up a ladder with hammer, mallet, drill, screws, nails, and one or two other things, trying to patch up my greenhouse roof which is in a pretty bad way on the side that faces the field. I was trying to persuade it to last another winter or two, but time will tell. A lack of snow and high winds would help.

(It makes a change from doing poncey stuff like writing blog posts, right? It does.)

Anyway, it’s likely to get its first test tomorrow: gales and heavy rain. I think I might not bother to get up.

The Mumbai Mystery.

I used to get regular comments on this blog from a woman in Mumbai. She was erudite and observant; her English was not only impeccable, but had that extra quality of character that made it irresistible; she could invoke a complex sense with a one-word sentence; her comments could be rational, witty, pithy, or simply melancholy. She conveyed an air that was unpretentiously quiet, intelligent, and enigmatic.

I used to look forward to her comments, but she didn’t stay long. Her name was Dominique, but who was she?

A Formative Influence.

I couldn’t let a whole day go by without posting a favourite video, now, could I?

As a youngster, this song got well inside me. Even though the lyrics are enigmatic, and even a bit ropey in parts, the line ‘…her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale’ is surely verging on poetry.

What really turned me on my head, though, was another line:

‘One of sixteen vestal virgins who were heading for the coast.’

What sort of an impression do you think that would make on a young mind already showing the first signs of a High Romantic tendency?

A Bohemian Aspiration.

Do you know what Mel said to me the other day? She said she keeps having a yen to live my sort of lifestyle – writing deep into the wee small hours, with good music, a cigar, and a bottle of scotch.

This is from a woman who usually takes a year to get through half a bottle of scotch, and who can become staggeringly irascible if circumstances force her to stay awake beyond 10pm. Still, she’s thinking of doing a creative writing course next year, so maybe everything will change. (I did point out that true Bohemians don’t do writing courses, but maybe I’m prejudiced. Also, I don’t smoke cigars except the odd one at Christmas with a glass or two of port, but maybe I’m splitting hairs. And I play my music through a headset so only I can hear it, so maybe I’m not a true Bohemian.)

And do you know what I’ve only just realised? ‘Wee small hours’ is a tautology. The power of Sinatra, eh?

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Means to Persuade.

I got a comment from Mel about my story An Episode in Three Lives. It said:

‘Your story moved me. It was one of those that speaks to you, but you don’t know exactly what it’s saying.’


Her comment was added as a postscript to an email which began:

‘Any chance I could borrow £50 for a couple of weeks?’


Two Fruity Notes.

I picked up a windfall apple this morning that was perfectly formed but on the small side. Tonight I tried to eat it, and gave up for the sake of my stomach. I think I’ll put it in the greenhouse where a little wood mouse lives. I wonder whether little wood mice like under-ripe apples.

And this evening I encountered a couple of Shire residents picking blackberries. It reminded me of my childhood, when we would go out one Sunday at the end of every summer for the same purpose. My mother used them to make enough bramble jelly to last until the end of the following summer. Eventually the practice ceased, and she took to buying damsons instead.

So it was that my childhood was divided into the bramble years and the damson years. Oh, how I longed for some strawberry or plum jam bought from a bloody shop! Ungrateful wretch, wasn’t I?

Sacred in Glass.

I got to see a picture of the priestess this week (aka my Chinese ghost, aka Tiger-Lily-all-grown-up. Remember her? I do.) She wears glasses. I never knew that. (She must have been wearing contacts when her ghost visited.) I also got to see where she lives. It’s a small glass palace, maybe unsurprisingly.

In Vitro Priestess. Isn’t that interesting?

The Techno Week that Was.

a) I finally got around to taking my car into a tyre depot to find out why one of the tyres was losing air slowly but consistently. It had a nail in it, and the repair cost me £21. I’m curious to know how a nail lying flat on the ground managed to insert itself perpendicularly into my tyre. I’m wondering whether the fairies at the bottom of my garden are given to antisocial behaviour.

b) My 9-month-old vacuum cleaner sucks. Or rather, it doesn’t; that’s the problem. The people at Vax said they wouldn’t repair or replace it under warranty until I’d bought a new set of filters, since that (they said) was most likely to be the problem. I ordered a set and paid for them, and took pains to make sure they had the right address. They sent them to the wrong address. Fortunately, the local postie knows me well enough and delivered them here anyway. Only they’d sent the wrong filters, so now I have to wait another week for a replacement set while the floors continue to gather little bits of detritus. Brushes don’t work too well on carpets.

c) An engineer came yesterday to fit a new thermostat to my new fridge freezer. The new thermostat doesn’t appear to be working too well. In fact, it doesn’t appear to be working as well as the old one did. And there’s another issue regarding my new fridge freezer which I can’t be bothered to explain, but I intend to pursue the matter on Monday via the Health and Safety Executive. The saga continues.

d) I rang my ISP last night to ask whether they knew of any reason why my internet has been running slowly for the past couple of weeks. The technician got me to do a speed test and told me I was at the top end of the range for a connection by cable.

‘So why is it running slowly?’

‘Don’t know, but it isn’t our fault.’

All in all, a pretty average week. Sorry it wasn’t more interesting.

The People's Singer and the Meddling Habit.

It says a lot about Kate Bush that many of the people who comment on her YouTube videos refer to her as ‘Our Kate.’ I wonder how she feels about being in the same category as Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields.

*  *  *

And on the subject of YouTube, it’s evident that Big Brother has been busy further googleising it. Google’s surreptitious stamp is all over YouTube now, with their pretentiously arcane symbols and their silly slidey things. And of course, it isn’t working properly at the moment.

I don’t so much mind Google trying to take over the world, since their efforts in that regard are easily side-stepped once you see through them, but I do wish they wouldn’t meddle with something as precious as YouTube. Meddling is one of Google’s very worst habits.

On Fuming, and Fish in F Sharp.

You wouldn’t believe the frustrating day I’ve had today, trying to deal with two corporate suppliers over new or nearly new pieces of equipment that are already malfunctioning.

I’m not cut out for dealing with modern corporations. Despite the contrary impression that might be given by this blog, when it comes to dealing with the surface realities of life, I’m generally rational, well organised, considerate and flexible. Such attitudes don’t easily attach themselves to the after sales sections of the corporate world, and when you consider that I also have a bit of an anger problem, frustration can become explosive.

Tomorrow I’ll try a different approach, and if that doesn’t work I have another card up my sleeve for Monday. In the meantime, I’ve been reading about piper fish.

The piper fish is a little fish that lives around the coast of New Zealand. It has a long nose that looks like a pipe, which I suppose is where it gets its name, and I expect it’s a good source of sustenance for the gulls in those parts. A rare ditty jumped up and waved.

If I could be a herring gull
And sit upon the strand
I’d catch a hundred piper fish
And start my own pipe band

I’d take my trusty baton out
And wave it o’er the sea
And all the little piper fish
Would hoot in harmony

But then I’d get an appetite
And look upon my band
As there to be my luncheon fare
The best in all the land

My conscience then would be disturbed
It wouldn’t let me sleep
And so I’d send them with my thanks
Unharmed back to the deep