Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Little Note for the Occasion.

Another Hallowe’en. Another marker of another year. A time to invite the memories, the little people, the neighbourhood ghosts, and one’s favourite people in for a drink around midnight. I expect only the memories will turn up; I expect the rest will be busy carousing elsewhere.

I wanted a video to post in honour of the occasion, and got a short list of three:

First there was Bryan Ferry singing Slave to Love, not because it has anything to do with Hallowe’en, but because it’s a big player in the memories box.

Second there was Christy Moore singing Reel in the Flickering Light, which also has nothing specifically to do with Hallowe’en, but does have an appropriate ambience and represents a rare aspiration of mine.

I decided to go with this one because it evokes a simpler, pre-gory, pre-commercialised version of Hallowe’en, and because it’s cute. Happy November.

Knowing My Place.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the local library wanted a copy of each of my two books. They’re still away being catalogued at the moment, but today I had a look at where they’d appear on the shelves.

The books are shelved alphabetically by author, so BEA would be…

Bottom shelf.

That’s where the supermarkets put the bargain brands, isn’t it? That’s good; I like being down among the bargain brands. Bargain brands are what I’m familiar with.

How the goddess will feel about it I don’t know, but I can’t help my name, can I?

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

As Notified.

The story I mentioned yesterday is now up at the other blog, but please exercise caution. Stampedes can be dangerous.

Discovering Theta.

I just read a comment on an old post, in which a truly lovely spirit called Sara-of-somewhere-in-Turkey referred to one’s increased creativity when the mind is close to sleep and going into theta rhythm. Well, a few nights ago, when I was uncomfortably close to sleep but still sitting at the computer, I wrote the following to somebody. It tripped quickly off the keyboard in a matter of seconds, with not a hint of pretension or poetic intent. In fact, I was so tired I was hardly conscious of even writing it.

I wish I were normal…

And then you’d be a distant person in a distant place
With a distant smile on a distant face
And all your charm and all your grace
Would be but just a distant trace
Of starlight
Shining meekly

I don’t usually write that sort of stuff, so is that what theta waves are about, I wonder.

Falling on Stony Ground.

When I got to the checkout in the supermarket today, I was behind a woman who discovered that she’d picked the wrong tea off the shelf. She’d brought tea bags instead of the loose leaf stuff.

(I blame the manufacturers for this. They will insist on putting both bags and loose tea in exactly the same package, apart from the fact that one says ‘tea’ in quite small letter, where the other says ‘tea bags’ in equally small letters. Why can’t they just sell tea bags in bags, then we wouldn’t make the mistake?)

Anyway, the Roving Checkout Person, or whatever the position’s called, had to be despatched to make the exchange while we customers waited. And waited. And waited…

When she finally returned, I looked at her sternly and asked ‘Did you have trouble crossing the Himalayas?’ And you know, it’s surprising how many people don’t get it when you say something like that.

Switching Brain Function.

I splashed out this week on the extended version of Lord of the Rings. (A used copy, I might add: £10.84 including postage.) I did so because I was intrigued by all those clips you get in YouTube videos which aren’t in the theatrical version of the trilogy.

There was one which showed Frodo and Sam, early in the story, watching a procession of elves passing through a wood on their way to going somewhere out west (I’m hoping the extended version will also explain the ‘somewhere out west’ thing a bit better.) It’s a lovely scene with a mystical air, and I wondered why the studio had cut it for the standard version. I decided it was because they thought it expendable in terms of the plot, and that bothers me a bit.

Ever since the polarity of my brain started shifting from left to right at around age thirty, I’ve tended to favour style over content in cinema and theatre. It seems to me that plot is all about making factual connections between characters, events and circumstances, even when the plot is psychological in nature, and that means it’s fundamentally a left brain feature. Style, on the other hand, is about aesthetics, and that makes it right brained.

I suppose that’s why I can drool over form, colour and atmosphere these days, whilst finding complex plots insufferably tedious. Alternatively, it could just be that my IQ is plummeting.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Being Constructively Employed.

I’ve been going through an old story of mine, one I thought I might post over at the stories blog. The editor who accepted it for publication said it was ‘full of symbolism,’ although what he meant by that I have no idea. It was just an offbeat story based on an actual dream and an actual experience on waking up. Another editor, who had earlier rejected it, dismissed it as ‘fuck brained.’ Well, maybe he didn’t understand it, or maybe he was nearer the truth.

Having read it for the first time in several years, however, I’ve decided it needs a little editing. When I’ve done that I’ll post it, and then anybody who cares to read it can decide which of the two editors, if either, was right.

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Hint of Guilt.

There was a pretty nasty storm in southern England today. It resulted in four deaths, all caused directly or indirectly by falling trees. The national news showed photographs of the victims, which is unusual. It’s usual for them to show pictures of murder victims, but rarely the victims of accident. And it means that in order to get those pictures, they must have approached the friends and/or family of the deceased within hours of the event, which struck me as being a little short on sensitivity. What a way to get your fifteen minutes of fame.

What I think I should be most disturbed about, though, is the fact that my greatest shudders of horror came as a result of seeing amateur footage of falling trees. The late Arthur Guirdham talked of his horror at seeing trees being felled in his book The Lake and the Castle. In his case, he claimed it to be due to memories of a past life as a Cathar. What it is in my case, I’m not sure that I know.

A Kind of Progress.

For two hundred years Britain’s economy was based on industry. We lived mostly on and for the making of things. It was a time of energy, sweat and pride in the process of creation. And then Mrs Thatcher came along and swept the majority of it away, converting us instead to a retail based economy. So now we mostly buy things, and load ourselves with debt and stress to feed the addiction.

I took my customary train trip to Derby this morning. For the last two miles before entering the station, the track is lined with the rotting corpses of industrial Britain on whose uncovered graves only nature places the hardiest of her flowers. And then, a mere ten minutes walk from the station, you enter the glitzy but insufferably bland superficiality of the shopping mall. It smells of chemically-induced sweetness, and it makes a poignant contrast.

Inexpert Professionals.

I was reading some customer product reviews on Amazon yesterday, and I was surprised at the lamentable state of the English used.

I saw ‘whatsoever’ spelt as three words, ‘itself’ spelt ‘it’s self’ and ‘definitely’ spelt ‘defanatly.’ There was an almost total lack of punctuation and some of the weirdest grammar I’ve ever come across. If anything, they were even worse than YouTube commenters.

The fact is, however, that customer reviewers are not professional writers, nor do they make any pretence at so being, so what does it matter if the educational system failed in its duty of care to the language? As long as the meaning was clear, which it mostly was, I could let it go.

What disturbs me more is the seemingly increasing linguistic ineptitude of professional journalists. I’ve seen both ‘comprised of’ and ‘from whence’ crop up in news reports recently, which means that the writers in question apparently don’t know that ‘comprised’ means ‘consisted of,’ or that ‘whence’ means ‘from where.’ That’s worrying because its part of a wider trend I’ve been noticing over recent years: that professionals in all sorts of fields appear to be becoming ever less professional. I’ve seen this in plumbers, electricians, builders, refrigeration engineers, an architect and a couple of building surveyors – and probably several others that I don’t remember off the top of my head.

So who do you trust nowadays, especially when you’re paying for their services? And how does it correlate with the increasing mania for higher education that’s been gaining ground in recent decades?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Muted Moods and the Curse of Chrysanthemums.

I’ve entered a strange state lately, which might be described as vacillating between mild depression and grinding apathy with an undercurrent of perpetual anxiety. There are lots of reasons, but I suspect it has much to do with the month of October. October and I don’t appear to get on.

So, in order to attempt at least a temporary release from this grubby little drainage ditch, last night I watched this:

It was made by the same director as made House of Flying Daggers, and cost a great deal of money. The chrysanthemums alone must have cost a king’s ransom. Millions of them, there were, and when the first batch had become blood-soaked and trodden under foot by inconsiderate soldiery, they rolled out another few wagon loads.

So was it any good? Mmm… seven out of ten. It was a tale of underhand goings-on at the Emperor’s court in tenth century China. Frankly, the plot was just a modest Shakespearian pastiche, but the characters were fun. There was:

The Emperor. He was good at two things – swordplay and skulduggery, although the occasional revelation that he wasn’t a complete psychopath was a little unconvincing. He was the principal bad guy.

The Empress. She was a bit of a player and a bit of a snob, but was generally more sinned against than sinning.

First Brother. He spent the whole film looking miserable: first because he felt guilty about having had an affair with his mother (which she wasn’t, biologically speaking) for the past three years, then because he didn’t really want to be Crown Prince at all, but only wanted to go and live in the hills with his cute little girlfriend (the doctors’ daughter,) then because it was revealed that said girlfriend was actually his half sister so there’d be no going off to the hills with her, then because he tried to commit suicide and was pathetically unsuccessful, then because he had to be carried everywhere – even to the Chrysanthemum Ceremony, no less – in a chair with a blood-stained handkerchief around his neck, thus proving to the assembled court and peasantry that he was pathetic and unsuccessful (which was maybe a little harsh,) and finally because snivelling little Third Brother ran him through with a sword in a fit of self-important pique. But he died of it and never looked miserable again.

Second Brother. AKA The Hero. Moody and magnificent, but never mean. He led an unsuccessful rebellion against his father in order to protect his mother, but was rather more successful than First Brother at committing suicide. He did so largely to escape being ‘torn apart by five horses.’ Why five? Two arms, two legs… What else? Surely not the head; death would have been too quick and merciful. So?

Third Brother. Obsequious, snivelling little rat. Having run First Brother through with a sword, but with little genuine excuse, he got beaten to death with a big belt by his father, the rather more powerful Emperor. Good riddance, I say.

The main problem came near the end when the identity of the various armies became a little confusing. So whose men are these, then? Mmm… let me see…

The guys in billowing black with their faces covered – highly skilled but not very numerous – are the Emperor’s men. The ones in wishy-washy tunics and black trousers are Third Brother’s pathetic band. They lasted about thirty seconds. The massive host in yellow armour are Second Brother’s valiant crew. They’re the ones we’re rooting for, even if they did inconsiderately trample on the chrysanthemums. They carried all before them until they came up against an even more massive host in functional grey armour. They’re the Emperor’s real army, and they had a portable twenty-foot-high wall to fight from, which was cheating a bit – and gave them the critical edge – but that’s what Emperors do best.

The bad guy won.

*  *  *

I didn’t mind the bad guy winning, except for one thing. The Emperor’s name was Emperor Ping, a name that evokes an inappropriate but indelible association with toothpaste and The Goon Show. Shame, that.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Ten Women in One Day.

There’s been nothing to write about to this blog for three days. Well, there probably has, but none of it seemed interesting enough to bother. Tonight, however, I realised that today has been a Ten Women Day. To explain:

I went off to the churchyard (14th century, just to impress the colonials) for lunch, the weather being calm, sunny and rather pleasant, and spoke to six women in the course of so doing – two on the way out (including Cassie the dog,) two on the way back, and two in the churchyard. I said ‘hello’ to the pair in the churchyard, but they only smiled back. I assume they were foreigners who didn’t know what the English for ‘hello’ was.

And whilst walking along Church Lane, I took to pondering the fact that my mother outlived all three husbands. I also pondered something she said to me once: she told me I must always be respectful to women. I didn’t actually need any telling, but she obviously thought I did.

‘I remember how you looked at that girl in the fairground in Great Yarmouth,’ she continued. ‘Just like your father!’ Oh. ‘Just imagine how you’d feel if a man was disrespectful to your sister.’

‘I don’t have a sister.’

‘I know that, but if you did…’

That’s seven.

Then I spent most of the evening engrossed in interesting reading matter provided by Andrea, followed by the latest instalment of Madeline’s archaeological discoveries. Tonight’s major discovery was a groovy rock. I expect it was looking for fun, it being a New York rock an’ all.

That’s nine.

But then there was the pièce de resistance:

Zoe is to be an elf on Halloween, and not just any old elf, but the one who marries the hero and learns about mortality. That elf! She has the credentials.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Envisaging the Visitors.

Somebody from France visited the blog tonight. Somebody from France quite often does, but tonight the realisation hit me:

There is a mysterious but real person, with a real computer, sitting in a real room, somewhere in Paris or Nice or Bordeaux or somewhere, reading my blog. It felt odd, profound even, and a picture started to coalesce, something along the lines of The Age of Reason. The bedroom in the apartment, the diffidence, the aged mother… (Maybe I should have thought Therese Raquin, and the ghost of the murdered husband in the forbidden bed.)

It’s all about national stereotypes, you see. The Russian is a man from Moscow. The Ukrainian is a woman with Slavic features and blonde hair. The Latvian looks Scandinavian, even though she wouldn’t like to be told as much. As for the Californian… A Madame with a Salon? A gay hairdresser? A gumshoe from Sunset Strip? Ah, but now I’m going into other sorts of stereotype, and maybe I shouldn’t.

The Germans and New Yorkers are no mystery. They’re friends who talk to me.

*  *  *

The blood blister on my hand has reached that irritating stage where the edges are starting to come loose. You want to pick at it, but you know you mustn’t. Not yet. Patience, my boy; your reward will come in days, rather than weeks.

*  *  *

The wind is whistling and the rain is spattering my office window. Two scotches down, a couple more to go. Bryan Ferry is singing Avalon. It’s 2am.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Questioning the Reason.

I read today that Facebook has lifted its ban on decapitation videos. They say it’s so that people can condemn such violence, not glorify it.

Maybe the news report was incomplete, since it seems an odd sort of rationale. I’m generally against censorship for all the obvious reasons, but this doesn’t seem to fit the obvious reasons. I have no objection to the videos being allowed, but surely you don’t need to see decapitation being performed in order to condemn it; we all know what it means. If such a thing horrifies you – as it should – why would you want to see it? I certainly don’t.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason people watch that sort of thing has nothing to do with condemnation, but is at best driven by morbid curiosity, and at worst something rather darker. As adults, that’s their right; but don’t let’s fudge the issue with spurious justification.

On Writing the Great Novel.

Back in the day when my writing endeavours were in full swing, I made the mistake of joining a couple of writers’ forums. I didn’t stay long. I felt there was an awful lot of point missing going on, and I kept encountering a strange obsession with targets and word counts. It wasn’t unusual, for example, for somebody to make an exultant post along the lines of:

‘I’ve been keeping to my target of 3,000 words a day for a whole month now, and my new novel, The Bride of Frankenfurter, has 150,000 words already!’

The replies would come in thick and fast:

‘Congratulations, Elspeth! (They were well into exclamation marks.) That’s really excellent!! Well done!!!’ (And cumulative exclamation marks are a laudable literary device, apparently.)

The best I could ever manage was:

‘But are they any good?’

My home town has a classical composer to boast of. He was called Havergal Brian, and he wrote over a hundred symphonies. Ever heard of him? Brahms, on the other hand, wrote four.

Meanwhile, I need a classic novel to mock over the winter. I have no hesitation in saying that last winter’s commentaries on Dracula and Frankenstein were some of the most enjoyable posts I’ve made. But therein lies the problem. I can’t go around mocking the real classics by really classic writers like Sartre, Kafka, Flann O’Brien, the Brontes and so on. I need to find a classic novel written by somebody who only thought they were a classic writer – like Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Surely there must be more than two, but I can’t think of another one off hand.

Out of Step.

Top of the list of my Videos to Watch recommendations on YouTube is one showing a big-and-bare-breasted woman wearing a football helmet. It’s called Make Women Approach You. If it weren’t so gross, it would be funny. But it is gross, so it isn’t, if you see what I mean. Nevertheless, it has 2,637,195 views to its name.

What is funny is the Laurel and Hardy short Blotto which has only 1,720 views, even though it features the very embodiment of the all-American woman. What more could you want? What?

Stan-LEY. The phone is ringing!’

It’s become one of my favourite lines. I think I must be eccentric.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Time Plays.

Three nights ago I was thinking about somebody and idly glanced at the clock on my computer. It said 22:36. Last night I thought about her again, and again I glanced at the clock: 22:36. Tonight the same thing happened.

What is this person’s connection with 22:36? Why does she tap on the windows of my mind three nights in succession at exactly the same time? It isn’t Groundhog Day, is it? JB Priestly wrote plays about this sort of thing. He also wrote the book Outcries and Asides, by an odd coincidence.

And did you know that Ralph Fiennes’ full name is Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykham-Fiennes? That’s even weirder.

High Days and Hot Leaves.

I was thinking earlier that there’s always a day some time after the first or worst rigours of winter when the temperature is high enough to go outside without a coat and feel comfortable. It can be as early as February or as late as May, but it has to come at some point. We should give it a name, shouldn’t we, and then everyone can go around with ‘Aha, it’s Joshua’s Day,’ or some such, on their lips.

‘Happy Joshua’s Day, Mrs Crimpletoe.’

‘And the same to you, Mr Bogfodder. How is Mrs Bogfodder?’

‘Very well, thank you. Enjoying the season, you know. We have a goose this year.’

That is what people do, isn’t it? I’ve quite forgotten.

It was warm enough to go outside without a coat today, which isn’t so unusual for October. What was a little unusual for October was the thunder we had this afternoon. The first peal was so loud and protracted that it quite startled me; I stopped on the lane and looked at the sky, somehow expecting that there must be something odd going on. There wasn’t.

And then I noticed a little something lying at the edge of the road. Among the ever-growing carpet of yellow and brown maple leaves, there was a single deep red one. I wondered whether it was a sign from nature, indicating that out there among the countless pointless distractions – the people and the politicians, the pressures and the privateers, the pretty things and the poultry sheds, the players and the poor bloody infantry – there is the odd nugget worth taking notice of and cultivating. Well, I already knew that, so maybe it was meant for somebody else.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

A Touch of Rare Quality.

The last two films I mentioned on this blog were donkeys, so it’s nice to redress the balance.

I just watched In Bruges again. I kept wanting to pause it to go and make a cup of tea, and I kept telling myself the tea could wait. You don’t leave a film of this quality merely for the sake of slaking a thirst.

At the end I asked myself why it was so compelling, me being the sort who likes to know why I feel the way I do about things. Well, it’s quite simple really:

It has you unsure whether you should laugh, cry, be horrified, or muse on the nature of life and the human condition. And it’s set in a world so like this one that only occasionally do you realise you’re actually in a parallel dimension.

I hope the Belgians accepted the few little jokes at their expense with magnanimity. Bruges really is rather beautiful.

The Fall and the Frolics.

I took a tumble today while trimming a high hedge. The full circumstances would be too tedious to recount; suffice it to say that it involved a greasy wooden plank which became suddenly possessed of the notion that it wasn’t a wooden plank at all, but a snowboard.

‘Wheee,’ it went as it slid.

‘Shit!’ I thought as I knew there was nothing for it but to take the fall.

Having learned long ago that the best way to take a fall is to relax, there were no wrecks and nobody drownded. And upon subsequently rising to a sitting position, it was easy to see the funny side. If only there had been a garden pond in place, it would have been pure Laurel and Hardy.

And succour was to bestow its beneficent bounty a mere hour later, for I was finally able to engage in hugs and kisses with a beautiful lady for the first time in a long time. Well, not kisses exactly, licks to be precise. And, to be even more precise, she licked while I snuggled into a long, furry, black and grey ear. I felt better already, already.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Doing to Order.

I get irritated by those banners that are sometimes flung across YouTube videos saying:

Subscribe to our channel NOW!

Don’t they know that I never accede to anything that has an exclamation mark at the end? It smacks too much of




If it said ‘You might wish to consider subscribing to our channel. It’s rather good and completely free,’ I might consider subscribing.

Some London Underground stations have excessive curvature on the track, which causes there to be a gap between the train and the platform. Such stations have a recorded announcement which says ‘Mind the gap’ every time the train doors open. I gather something similar is used in other western countries. (The New York subway has ‘watch the gap,’ apparently. If it said that in London, heaven knows how long it would take the train to clear while people stood around saying ‘Why, is something going to happen?’)

The Japanese, however, find such a curt mode of expression offensive. Their announcements have ‘There is a wide space between the train and the platform, so please be careful.’

No matter that a dozen people have fallen through the gap before they get to the end of the announcement. What matters is that it’s polite.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Odd Fact No. 7,659.

Do you know what’s odd about me, apart from the other 7,658 things? This is what’s odd.

I eat a piece of fruit most days, but it’s always in the afternoon. Once night has fallen, fruit is out. The very thought of fruit almost makes me gag after dark. Night cravings are all about carbs and savouries, so a snack will be either a bag of crisps, a piece of cheese, a thick slice of buttered toast, or maybe a lettuce and mayo sandwich.

And yet…

…sometimes I get a craving for a tomato.

A tomato. I just had one.

Me and Mr October.

The fatigue problem has made something of a comeback. I did an hour or two’s clearance work in the garden this afternoon, then went for a walk, then had dinner. The resultant drain on my depleted energy resources was a bit too much. I felt bloody rough for a couple of hours.

I read Madeline’s latest instalment on her archaeological project, and wondered ‘Could I spend a day doing this?’ No. I’d soon get weary, my heart would thump, my chest would feel tight, my legs would ache, and I’d get very grumpy.

Maybe it’s because it’s October. This thing started two Octobers ago. I think I’ll start calling it Mr October. I’m getting fed up with you, Mr October.

The fact that the Hunter’s Moon shone brilliantly on the Shire after nightfall helped. A bit.

Allez les Enfants.

I read today that thousands of French school kids took to the streets in protest at the decision to send two young immigrant students back to their own countries. They raised their fists in solidarity, and some of them called for the head of the French Interior Minister.

Well now, the problem with kids is that see things in simple terms. They want what they see as being right, and if that means compassion, justice and a generally humanitarian priority, then so be it. They don’t yet have the adult mind, enfeebled as it is with the cares of pragmatic exigency. They don’t fall back on ‘ah, but it’s complicated,’ as adults do, especially politicians. Their view is ‘We want what’s right. If there are consequences, we’ll deal with them.’

I like these kids; I salute their attitude and their actions. I’m even tempted to wish they’d get the head of the French Interior Minister, although I’m sure they won’t. I’m sure the politicians will largely ignore them while making the right noises for the sake of PR. Making the right noises for the wrong reasons is something politicians frequently do.

I think that politicians everywhere should take notice, however, because these kids are the next generation of voters. And I have a sneaking suspicion that today’s generation of kids won’t allow their minds to be enfeebled in the way that previous generations did. I think we have a generation coming through which has unwittingly taken heed of Khalil Gibran’s instruction to parents in his homily on Children:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.

Finding the Appeal.

I haven’t yet worked out why I find this Faun track so appealing and keep on playing it. It isn’t the sort of stuff you’d normally associate with them; some might even say it’s bland and commercial. And yet I keep coming back to it.

Maybe it’s the driving rhythm, or Lisa Pawelke’s eyes, or the fact that an attractive woman playing the bagpipes has a certain allure, or maybe it’s the keyboard player’s top hat.

There was a top hat for sale in one of the charity shops last week. £150. Oh well, at least a top hat isn’t entirely artless, craftless and pointless. It can embody all those things, depending on when, where, why, and how you wear it.

The Problem with Hanging Balls.

I was in the DIY store today and saw some hanging balls for sale at £15.99. They were about 12” in diameter and made of green plastic leaves. I asked myself:

'Why would anybody spend £15.99 on a 12” diameter hanging ball made of green plastic leaves? There’s no art in them, no craft in them, little of aesthetic value since they’re not even real leaves, and no practical value at all.'

Because they’re there. Because people want something to spend money on, because we’ve come to the point where the main focus of life is acquiring things you haven’t already got, however artless, craftless or pointless they are.

If these things didn’t exist, would you encounter groups of people hanging dejectedly around street corners saying ‘Oh dear, I do wish somebody would invent a hanging ball, about 12” in diameter, made of green plastic leaves. I’ve always wanted one of those. Life just isn’t the same without them.’

No. But they still buy them because they’re there, and because buying things is what you do. I wonder how far this can go before people wake up and say ‘But actually, I have no use for a hanging ball made of green plastic leaves, so what’s the point in buying one?’

The problem is that the world is awash with green plastic hanging balls. Shop windows everywhere – especially in shopping malls – are full of things that are artless, craftless and utterly pointless. But if everybody stopped buying them, the economy would collapse, and then we would have to go back to a simpler way of living, crying into our home made soup until we got used to it again.

I’m unusually tired tonight. I think somebody waved goodbye to me at 0436 their time this morning. That’s never happened before.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Under Surveillance.

Somebody told me today that he was passing the bottom of my garden when he saw a squirrel peering around the corner of the old gate. Upon offering a greeting, the squirrel turned to him, put one claw to its mouth, and said ‘Shh…’

Or did I only imagine it?

Shopping on a Wet Afternoon.

Ashbourne was cold and depressingly wet this afternoon, and I felt cold and a little depressed accordingly. I’ve always been hypersensitive to atmospheres, you know. I have.

I decided I wanted a smoke at one point, so I went up a covered alleyway that runs off the lower market square to get out of the rain. The cold wind still whistled keenly there, so I climbed a few stone steps that led to a recessed doorway and rolled a roll-up. I felt oddly alone, which I don’t usually feel even when I am alone, which is most of the time. Must have been the atmosphere, I expect. It went as soon as I left the alleyway and headed for the fruit and veg shop.

I told the woman that the two pears I’d bought last week had become inedible within three days; they’d turned brown and mushy inside. She said they’d come from a bad Belgian batch, and gave me two free ones to replace them – from an English batch. I decided it was unfair to judge Belgium pejoratively on the strength of one box of mushy pears. There is, after all, Villette to be considered, and Villette is one of my favourite novels.

By a strange coincidence, the Belgian theme continued at the library. I’d ordered the DVD of the film In Bruges, and it had arrived. Before I discovered that, however, I’d already selected Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for this week’s delectation. Problem: the case was there, but the disc was missing. The librarian was nonplussed. ‘What a shame,’ he said. Shame indeed; maybe it had something to do with the atmosphere. But then Messrs Farrell, Gleeson and Fiennes made their appearance and the day was saved. Shoot First, Sightsee Later. Right.

There’s a woman staff member in the supermarket who seems to regard me as more than a mere customer these days; it appears I’m an acquaintance now. Fortunately, she’s one of those people who radiate a simple goodness, so I don’t mind. She stopped me today to tell me about her dog which has become unaccountably standoffish with her. She said she felt sneeped. I thought the word ‘sneeped’ was a dialect word peculiar to my neck of the woods, twenty five miles away in the neighbouring county, but it appears to be known in Derbyshire, too. I wonder whether they have ganzies here.

During the course of telling the tale, she made several references to ‘Bob.’ I assume Bob is her husband, although she never said as much. Maybe I’m supposed to know, me being an acquaintance an’ all. I was duly sympathetic and wished her well.

They had Spitfire beer (Shepherd Neame, 4.5%ABV and a fine brew indeed) on special offer at £1 a bottle. The rain stopped and the sky lightened. Literally.

And, incidentally, Seance on a Wet Afternoon (which inspired the title of this post) is an excellent old British psychological thriller. It has lots of atmosphere.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Notes of No Consequence.

There’s a trend going on at the moment, vis-à-vis the Shire and me. It may be summarised with the phrases ‘always just too late’ and ‘noticing, but going unnoticed.’ That just about sums up my history.

*  *  *

Isn’t it odd how the hair on the crown of your head which you can still run your fingers through magically disappears when you look in the mirror?

*  *  *

The cheap shop in Uttoxeter is almost devoid of real coffee at the moment. They have lots of the instant variety, but the only proper stuff they have is a single brand of medium strength. To my mind, medium strength coffee belongs in the suburbs, which I don’t, so I’m currently running down my last three week's supply of Café de Paris. I like the packet as well as the coffee. It’s red and has lots of French words on it, not the least of them being Intense writ in large letters at the top. I’m going out on a limb a bit here, but I’m prepared to hazard a guess that intense is probably French for ‘intense,’ only said in a funny accent to confuse the English.

*  *  *

The blood blister I got where the pliers bit me is now a neat round black spot close to the base of my thumb. I look as though I have a plant disease caused by a fungus.

A Matter of Shire Security.

Did you know that one of the many conspiracy theories which found the light of day over the past couple of decades is a belief that squirrels are highly evolved beings plotting to take over the world? Seriously. I read it in a book…

Well, although I’m not entirely averse to all conspiracy theories, I was tempted to disregard that one. Now I’m not so sure. A squirrel has taken to watching me, surreptitiously.

The other day he was sitting in a tree, watching me through the bedroom window when I was making the bed. The next day he was on the paved area in front of the greenhouse, watching me through my office window. Today, he was eying me furtively around the corner of the old gate at the bottom of the garden. And here’s what’s odd:

For several weeks the peanuts in my bird feeder were disappearing at a rate of knots, which is about the speed at which squirrels devour them, but now they’re hardly being touched. Does he think I’m onto him, perhaps? Is he cautious enough not to risk eating peanuts which might possibly be doctored with scopolamine? OK, it might just be that the acorns are ripe now, and squirrels might prefer ripe acorns to second rate peanuts. But you can’t be too careful, can you? This could be the classic game of bluff and double bluff. And is it mere coincidence that the ancestors of the grey squirrels which now enjoy unchallenged access to most of Britain came from America? I think not.

On my guard. Ever vigilant. No fool me.

Fashion and the Shire.

Among the varied autumnal colours gracing the Shire today, one interloper stood out: shocking pink.

First there were two young women riding bikes and wearing shocking pink tops. Then there was another woman of indeterminate age (she was further away) riding a horse and also wearing the same shade of shocking pink. It would appear that shocking pink is this season’s colour.

But then, just to put some sanity back into a disappearing world, Cassie the pub dog came to greet me with the closest Cassie ever gets to a show of unrestrained joy. (Which is actually quite restrained.) Cassie is a peasant like me, and so has no truck with the vagaries of fashion or its colour trends. She was as grey and scruffy as ever, and maybe she relates to kindred spirits.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

In Burslem.

One of the stunning buildings from across the ages.

Having added the ‘Burslem’ element to my ‘Last Words’ post, I thought I’d Google the dear old place and see what I might come up with. I found one website dedicated to it, and it included the statement ‘It is packed with stunning buildings from across the ages.’ Of particular note are the words ‘packed’ ‘stunning’ and ‘ages.’

Bit of hilarious hype going on here.

As far as I recall, Burslem has one building – the neo-Classical town hall – which might be described as being of minor architectural note. That’s about it, I think. As for ‘ages,’ well, let’s see: We’ve had three Stone Ages, a Bronze Age, an Iron Age, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, an Elizabethan Age, the Renaissance, an Industrial Age, and a Technological Age. Age, in a historical context, is a big word. A bit bigger than Burslem. I don’t think there’s anything in Burslem that’s older than America, which goes to show, if you needed any reminding, that you have to be careful about giving credence to anything you read on a website.

Burslem does, however, have two notable people associated with it. The first – and by far the most important – is Molly Leigh, the Burslem witch. I made a post about her once, and her grave can still be seen aligned north-south in St John’s churchyard. The other is the novelist Arnold Bennett, who lived there until he couldn’t stand it any longer and moved to London. Oh, and there's me, of course. I was born there and never smiled again.

Schemes and the Corporate Mentality.

It appears the government has a scheme running, the purpose of which is to persuade large companies to pay their small suppliers more promptly. When small suppliers aren’t paid promptly they have a habit of going bust, and then the proprietors face the prospect of losing more than their livelihood; they can also lose their homes, their self-respect, and even their families. We’ve been here before, during the greed-is-good Thatcher years. I was working for a revenue department at the time and witnessed it first hand.

The issue surfaced in the news today when some minister or other said the scheme isn’t working, even though several large companies have signed up to it. So here’s my question:

Why do we need a scheme? If several large companies have signed up to it, then it follows that they must be willing to pay their small suppliers promptly. In that case, why don’t they just do it, and then there wouldn’t be an issue or any need of a scheme. And those who aren’t prepared to pay promptly won’t be joining any scheme anyway.

What this boils down to is an old problem: the soulless corporate world wants to run the culture for the benefit of its few high earners, whilst being unwilling to take responsibility for those ethical dimensions to which the culture is surely entitled. There was a time when men died because greedy mine owners weren’t prepared to put some of the profits into making the mines safe. It might not be quite as serious, but it’s the same principle.

And on a related note, the news today reported that Branson has finally left Britain to go and live in his tax haven. Not much of a personal recommendation is it, given the economic situation currently pertaining. But then, being a close friend of Tony Blair’s for all those years was never much of a character reference either.

I must try to get back to being silly later on. Wish me luck.

Covering the Iniquity.

I was reading about the cyclone in India, and came across the statement:

‘Panic buying is forcing up food prices.’

‘Forcing up food prices.’ That’s an interesting way of putting it; it’s the free market way of putting it, covering its greedy attitude by promoting acceptance of the self-serving mechanism. It’s an untruthful way of putting it. Food prices were not being 'forced up' at all. The true statement would read something like:

‘Unscrupulous vendors were charging inflated prices because they knew that frightened and desperate people would pay them, thereby capitalising on the misfortune of others in order to make inflated profit for themselves.’

If that’s the way the free market works, so be it; but at least be honest about it.


I know I’ve posted this once, but I’m going to post it again. That’s because I’ve made a few observations:

1) The guy in the bear suit playing the didgeridoo looks like a really nice boy, doesn’t he?

2) I don’t understand why the guitarist has his hankie stuck to the top of the fret board.

3) Did you know that you can get a hat like the drummer’s wearing for only £3.99 in a charity shop? I think I will.

4) For me, the real star of this piece is the drummer, along with the woman playing the bodhran who looks like she could knock you off your feet with a scowl.

5) What’s really amazing, though, is the audience. They look like they’re on an outing from the church youth club. That’s freaky.

Getting a Rare Lift.

You know, I’ve been feeling a bit rough all day today, but tonight I’ve felt strangely energetic. Feeling energetic is a phenomenon I’d largely forgotten since the fatigue thing set in two years ago. So why tonight? No idea, but it was good not having to struggle with unscrewing the top on the whisky bottle for a change.

Maybe it’s that horseshoe I found in Church Lane the other day. I had big hopes for the lottery draw tonight, but no: not a single number. Oh well, maybe the luck won’t be of the money variety. Maybe LL has something better in store, and maybe feeling energetic is just the first stage. See? Optimism, too. I think I’d better go to bed.

Last Words In Burslem.

I was just looking at the publicity poster for the film In Bruges, and I was remembering that scene towards the end when the Brendan Gleeson character is dying. Being ever the imaginative one, I put myself in the same situation, only instead of having my buddy by my side, I have my best girl.

‘Oh, JJ,’ she sobs. ‘What can I do?’

‘Nothin’, darlin’, nothin’. I wouldn’t expect you to kiss me, now, would I? I must look pretty revolting.’

‘Yeah, you do actually. Your face has turned all white.’

‘Shock reaction, I expect.’

‘And your eyes look funny.’

‘Well, I feel a bit woozy, ya know? And then there’s the pain.’

‘Does it hurt, then?’

‘Just a bit.’

‘I might have some paracetamol in my bag. I keep some for period pains. You know how bad they get.’

‘That’s OK, pet. You keep hold of them. Bit late now anyway.’

‘OK, thanks. Why’s your face all wet?’


‘Are you hot?’

‘No. Cold.’

‘Really? Oh, well, I suppose…’

‘No, no, you keep your coat on. It’s a cold night and you’ll have to wear it after I’ve gone. No point in getting it all messed up, is there?’

‘No, s’ppose not. I know: I could kiss the top of your head. Mind you, your hair looks a bit greasy. Haven’t you washed it lately?’

‘Yeah, yeah; it’s just that hair reacts to the way you’re feeling. Like when you’re ill, you know? It’s bad like that.’

‘Oh, right. short silence. Haha. I’ve got it. What about down there? That’s always pale, and I bet it isn’t sweaty.’

‘No good, darlin’. I pissed meself.’

‘Yerck! How gross!’

‘I know. Sorry. It’s what happens when you get shot this bad.’

‘It doesn’t in the films.’

‘This isn’t a film.’


Another long silence.

‘I’m afraid I have to go now, darlin’. It’s time.’

Sob. Oh, but JJ, you can’t, you can’t. You’re the sweetest person I’ve ever known.’

‘You might have said that when I was still alive.’

‘You are still alive.’

‘Oh, yeah…’

‘But I can’t bear to lose you, JJ. I want to come with you.’

‘Do you?’

‘Yes. We could sit on a cloud together, and you could sing Mr Tambourine Man while I do my nails.’

‘Sounds good. There’s one bullet left in the gun.’

‘Oh… right… well… I would, JJ, you know that. But you know how hopeless I am with technology. All fingers and thumbs, that’s me.’

‘Yeah, right.’

Long pause, punctuated by rasping and gurgling sounds.

‘Oh, JJ! JJ! I’ve just had a thought. You won’t haunt me, will you?’

‘I might, but I won’t be any trouble.’

‘You won’t come into the bathroom when I’m going to the loo?’




‘And you won’t move any fridge magnets around to make words upside down? That would really creep me out.’


'Or get the dog to roll over and play dead while I'm watching Eastenders? You know what a fucking weird sense of humour you've got.'


‘And if I get a new boyfriend, you won’t blow in his ear or anything, just when he’s about to…’

‘Oh, come on. What do you take me for?’

‘Sorry, JJ. I know you’re a gentleman.’


‘What? JJ. JJ. JJ… Taxi!'

*  *  *

'Where the hell is Burslem?' you might ask. I'll tell you. Burslem is one of the six towns that were confederated to form the borough, and then the city, of Stoke on Trent. I chose it for two reasons:

1. It begins with the same letter as Bruges.

2. I was born there, so it seemed amusing to imagine taking my leave by the same door as I used for my entrance.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Commendable Restraint.

I encountered a blog today, written by an American woman, with the tag line:

Still Catholic. Still Conservative.

Her latest post was what I suppose one might expect of a person of such proclivities: a mocking little attack upon Obamacare. I thought of leaving a comment along the lines of:

‘Madam, if I believed in your version of hell, I should take delight in commending you to it. It would be a fitting repository.’

I decided against it. I decided it would be ungracious and unbecoming of an English gentleman, even one of the peasant variety. That was today’s good deed to myself.

Notes, Intriguing and Disparate.

I found a scrap of paper today, lying on the verge a little way down the lane. On it was written:

Adrennes Rose---nd (the paper had a hole in it.)
Dreaming Evil Spirit Blog

The letters were all printed; some of them looked quite mature, while others looked immature and suggestive of a child’s handwriting.

I was intrigued enough to try several search terms in Google, but all I could come with were a number of websites offering advice on how to ask Jesus for protection against Satan’s little helpers, some New Agey adverts attempting to sell remedies to the gullible, and a few forums in which people were enquiring whether it was in any way dangerous to dream of evil spirits. I didn’t find a single ad for heavily discounted malt scotch.

Still, I remain intrigued as to why somebody – maybe local and maybe young – should have written such a note on a scrap of paper. You never know what’s going on in people’s minds and behind closed doors, do you?

And on the subject of notes, I went out into the garden tonight, in the rain after it was dark. To the south an owl was hooting; to the north there were fireworks banging. What a disparity of worlds those two simple sounds represent.

Risking Being Misunderstood.

I just put a negative comment on an Omnia track on YouTube, so I expect I’m about to get sworn at in either Dutch or Welsh. I might even get called a troll, even though the comment was articulate and contained not a hint of bad language.

You should have read the abuse I got hurled at me when I said I didn’t like the picture of a woman’s leg they used on a Roxy Music track. They didn’t appreciate the fact that I’m a connoisseur of legs, so I know what I’m talking about. Still, as long as it’s in Dutch or Welsh, I expect it will sail over my head. Or maybe I should stick to Laurel and Hardy or Lady Gaga in future.

And while I’m on the subject of misunderstanding, I read a news report today in which some fire brigade chief complained about a woman who dialled 999 because she’d found a spider on her pillow. 

What’s he complaining about? They’re happy enough to attend kittens stuck up trees, aren’t they? And kittens don’t terrify anybody, do they? So you’d think they’d be more understanding of an arachnophobiac, wouldn’t you? You would.

Avian Standards.

I had fun today watching a bunch of sparrows squabbling over bathing space in the water bowl. At one point there was a male and female sparrow in the bowl together. I do hope they were at least engaged.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A Ramble on Ambience.

I just went outside to find out what the night air felt like. It was cold and breezy, but soft. And I thought it interesting that cold, breezy air can sometimes feel harsh and unfriendly, but at other times it can feel soft and accommodating. And there’s a point to be made here.

I’ve mentioned before that some of the locals think I’m odd because I go for walks at night in the winter. I’m not really, you know; it’s just a matter of understanding the rationale. Most people go for walks either for the exercise or to look at the view, but for me it’s about feeling the ambience. I did all the looking-at-the-view stuff during my six years as a landscape photographer. It was very enjoyable, but now I want something different, something more subtle and difficult to define.

And I’ll tell you something else. Whenever I looked at a view, however beautiful or spectacular it was, I always felt that I wasn’t really looking at something, but for something – something that lay beyond it, something elusive that I was sure was there but couldn’t put my finger on. The closest I ever came to grasping it was during that Beltane Eve fire I wrote about back in 2010, and there was no view to be seen because it was dark.

So maybe that’s what the real pull of the night walks is all about, and maybe that’s what ambience is all about: stripping the coarse sensory stimuli down to basics, then sniffing the aroma of the resultant mixture to get a deeper view of what might be out there beyond the veil.

And here’s another point while I’m rambling incoherently: for me, the best literature (and music and film) is that which evokes a strong perception of ambience. The general view is that quality resides with such things as philosophy, psychology and technical skill, but for me it’s all about atmosphere. That, I feel sure, is what comes closest to the soul.

To Sleep or Not to Sleep.

I watched a so-called horror film tonight called House at the End of the Street. The blurb said it would render me ‘afraid to sleep for weeks.’ Sorry, but I nearly fell asleep in the middle of it. I abandoned it at that stage, and only returned because I had nothing better to do and I’m well in the doldrums again today. So, this is what I don’t understand:

The mainstream American film industry knows perfectly well how to do subtle, and it knows perfectly well how to generate atmosphere. At least, it used to. So why has every American horror film I’ve seen that was made in the last thirty years been about as subtle as Mike Tyson with flatulence, and had as much atmosphere as a McDonald’s restaurant on a Tuesday afternoon in January? No subtlety, no atmosphere, no horror. Simple.

Furthermore, add in a bunch of wooden actors, a formulaic script that’s been recycled over and over again, a load of fancy but predictable and unnecessarily intrusive camera work, and the infamous ‘shock break’ in which the bad guy, who must be dead or at least severely disabled because he’s been shot three times, grabs the heroine’s hand just when she thinks she’s free to go home and listen to The Carpenters in peace, and what do you have? A film that should carry a government health warning: ‘Caution: this movie is likely to send you to sleep for three weeks.’

Do they not care? The Japanese do; they make brilliant horror films. Why is Hollywood serving cronuts when it could be serving crepe suzette?

I’m a fan of the Scary Movie series, because that’s when Hollywood holds its hand up and says ‘We’re crap at making horror films, so we thought we’d have a go at sending them up instead.’ At least it’s honest. And quite funny.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Musical Note.

In memoriam to somebody I once knew, whose A sharps rarely sounded like B flats.

Oh Jane
You’ve lost
Your voice again

You cannot sing
It will not rain

Oh Jane
From causing further pain

Your efforts
Are in vain

Back in the 80s, my then wife had a rock band (she was very young) and their bassist was a bit of a novice. She told me one day that they’d been in rehearsal and she’d told him to play a B flat at a certain point. He’d looked up and down the cool, fretless fretboard, and declared:

‘There’s definitely no B flat on this guitar.’

‘Has it got an A sharp?’

‘Er… yeah.’

‘OK, play that instead.’

He had an unrequited crush on her, you know. I saw him sitting outside the house on one occasion, looking very miserable. I knew the feeling, so I left him to it.

And purists needn’t tell me that A sharp and B flat aren’t technically the same note. I know. My then wife told me.