Friday, 31 January 2014

The Alternative Yawn.

I’ve noticed that when conversing with women, a point is often reached at which one of those pauses which naturally punctuate conversations exceeds the subtle, but critical, duration and becomes a pregnant pause. At such a point it is common for the woman to utter a sound like ‘mmm…’ inflected with an artificially rising and falling tone suggesting contrived enthusiasm. Roughly translated, it means ‘this conversation has become tedious’ and may be taken to indicate dismissal, for you know you are now simply keeping her up.

A Surfeit of Smiles.

I’ve come to the considered opinion that few things embody feminine grace and beauty as well as Chinese traditional dancers, but I do wish they’d dispense with the obligatory smiling. It reminds me of those daft-looking synchronised swimmers with pegs on their noses.

So come on, ladies. There’s a time to smile, a time to scowl, and a time to be inscrutable. You of all people should know that inscrutability is one of the most potent forms of expression. It drips mystery.

...just in case you want to see what I mean.

Another Chinese Question.

Chinese languages are tonal if I’m not mistaken, which means that the sense or definition of a word varies according to the intonation with which it’s expressed. So what do they do about songs, where the intonation is constrained by a melody?

I haven't a clue how to recognise Chinese New Year, which is... erm... now. Nobody from China has invited me to a party. I should have got some bean sprouts from Sainsbury's, shouldn't I?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Tricky Words and Coal Pudding.

I decided to choose a word that I thought Oxford Dictionaries Online might have difficulty defining. I chose ‘big.’

Of considerable size or extent

OK, predictable enough, but if you don’t know what a simple word like ‘big’ means, what are the chances that you’ll be familiar with terribly academic words like ‘considerable’ and ‘extent?’

If a child asked you what ‘big’ means, you’d sit him down with a ping-pong ball and a basketball, point and say ‘This is a small ball. This is a big ball.’ Or you might try the same thing with cows:

‘These are small, but the ones out there are far away.’

‘So does far away mean the same as big, Ted?’

‘Er, no.’

Tricky, isn’t it?

*  *  *

The only reason I’m bothering to scrape the bottom of the barrel like this is because the coal I’m being sold this winter is rubbish. No matter how much I lift it, separate it, draw it and rake out the grate vents, it still sits there like a black version of the skin on a week-old rice pudding. If it were any deader, I would just bury it in the garden suitably armed with a note to St Peter saying ‘It isn’t my fault, gov. Mrs Thatcher closed down all the good pits and left me to carry the can.’

The upshot of this is that my living room isn’t getting as warm as it should, so I might as well sit in my slightly-less-than-lukewarm office, accepting the cold nose in the knowledge that at least I have the compensation of being able to keep my fingers exercised typing trash.

The Case of the Oval Bottle.

Ashbourne was duller than ever today. It was also cold, wet and windy, but I did get an interesting beer for tonight’s beer treat:

St Peter’s Organic Ale

It has three things to commend it:

1. It’s refreshing, with a bitter finish

2. It was on special offer

3. It was on special offer

4. It comes in an interesting oval bottle

Sorry. Four. Here’s what it says about the bottle on the bottle:

Our beautiful, flask-shaped oval bottle is a faithful copy of one produced c1770 for Thomas Gerrard of Gibbstown, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The original is now kept at St Peter’s Hall (in Suffolk, England) and is a rare example of an oval eighteenth century beer bottle.

Now I have the problem of knowing what to do with the empty. Would it be at all proper to cast such a bottle into the recycling bin? Should I instead put it on a shelf in a prominent position and pretend that I’m interested in bottles. Should I send it to my friend Maddie in upstate New York who really is interested in bottles, and is well known for putting them on shelves in prominent positions? Should I, perhaps, carry it with me in the event that I ever get around to visiting New York in hope of seeing the Holy Grail before I die?

(The one problem with an oval bottle, by the way, is that it’s only comfortable to pick up across the wide part, not the narrow part, which is probably why they started making them round.)

Becoming a Ukrainian.

I just signed an Avaaz petition and accidentally clicked on the wrong country. The latest signers list included:

Jeff Beazley, Ukraine

Well, why not? Ukraine is much in the news lately, so maybe it’s about time I gave a thumbs up to the protesters. I’m not at all sure you’ll be any happier with closer ties to the EU than you would with closer ties to Russia, but I like popular rebellions. They feel right. And the Russians justifiably celebrate Revolution, don’t they, so they shouldn’t complain if you have one.

And isn’t it interesting that regimes which come to power through revolution are the first to crack down on popular subversive movements and call them ‘terrorism.’

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Making Do.

You know, to somebody who was brought up to think of the Chinese as being merely clever and inscrutable, it’s interesting to discover that they have a genuinely romantic spirit and a superb sense of style.

I’ve been wanting to make a post all day, but I find myself suddenly distracted by a major preoccupation from over the water in the other direction. This is the best I could manage.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Sad Loss.

A number of the Shire trees suffered some damage during the recent storms, but as far as I’ve seen, only one was brought down. The shame of it is that it was one of three Horse Chestnuts growing at the side of Church Lane on the edge of the creepy copse.

The Horse Chestnut is a favourite of mine because it’s the first of the standards to leaf in the spring, often preceding the others by about a month. The leaves are particularly large and spectacular, and they last well into autumn as the others do. That, for me, makes it the true harbinger of summer. And that’s why, even though I find any fallen or cut tree a sad sight, the Horse Chestnut is a particular loss.

Early Morning Miscellany.

I was just watching a video of Penguin CafĂ© Orchestra playing something-or-other, when I had a thought. They used to have a woman trombonist called Annie Whitehead, and it struck me as odd that we usually associate women with string and woodwind instruments, but brass and percussion instruments are generally seen as the preserve of men. A silly prejudice, of course, but still interesting. I expect it’s all to do with the military connection.

And then, while I was watching some Chinese dancing girls, another thought struck me. All my life I’ve had an insatiable hunger for new experiences, and I have a dubious history of dropping the old in favour of the new. Yet when it comes to things – like cars, tools and household accessories – I much prefer to mend and maintain the old rather than having to get used to something new. There’s probably something of deep psychological significance there.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Dead Blog Day.

I’ve been trying to think of something suitable for a post all day, but…

Who wants to know that I’m £220 poorer as a result of having to replace the thirteenth item of equipment in the past three years?

Who wants to know that I got a bit interested in Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, because some of my ancestors probably fought the Danes under her command in the 10th century?

Who wants to know that I got a rare wave (and smile, I think) from HT54 today while I was checking that the recycling bins at the pub really have gone?

Who wants to know that I regard the removal of our recycling bins as another example of favouring the cult of the personal over the value of the communal?

Who wants to know that I’m fast wearing out my relatively new wellies because the Shire is such a wet and muddy place this winter?

And who wants to know that I’m spending more time at the moment sitting by a warm coal fire re-reading the ghost stories of MR James than I am sitting in a lukewarm office writing this pesky blog?

See? Nothing to write about. Maybe later.

Life and Light.

'Light’ has to be the operative word for this one.

I bumped into an old flame today. By ‘old flame’ I don’t mean ‘ex lover’ which is the way the expression is usually used, but someone who once brought a lot of light into my life. I thought it was extinguished, but instead discovered that it’s richer and brighter than I ever knew it to be. She re-acquainted me with the novel Siddhartha, which I now know I should read again. But here’s today’s question:

Achieving enlightenment through the totality of experience gained through many lifetimes has to be a laudable pursuit, right? But it still raises the question ‘what then?’ Or, to put it another way, ‘what’s the point?’

Maybe you get to know that when you get there. But that implies embracing faith, and I’m not sure I believe in faith.

Well, maybe it doesn’t matter whether I believe in it or not. Maybe it just happens. And let’s face it, you have to spend your lives doing something, don’t you? Why not spend them seeking the totality of experience until you get enlightened? Which brings me back to where I’m at already, and reminds me of Harbottle’s famous line ‘The next train’s gone.’ It’s here if you’re interested:

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Grating Reflection.

This blog needs to start looking outwards again. I’ve hit blinkers-and-mirror mode.

This is what happens occasionally to people like me. One minute you’re stepping around the world observing the birds in the trees, the politicians in parliament, the red highlights in a young woman’s hair, the Chinese dancing girls, and trying not to look at all the atrocities going on everywhere which you can’t do anything to change, not to mention the despoliation of your most sacred temple by a bunch of students who have no idea what inner space is about, thereby threatening to tear your gender identity to shreds and serve it on a plate with a side dish of burgers, heroin tabs and pretentious philosophy…

…and the next minute you find yourself locked into a tight space with only a mirror to look at.

Oh, how I envy normal people sometimes.

I’m trying.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Reading the Sky.

I went for a walk just after lunch today. There was a mild breeze blowing and the sky was a bit glowering, but the weather was dry so it seemed right to take a pleasant perambulation. As I came around by the pub, however, I looked at the western sky and changed my mind. I decided to head home at a brisk pace.

I counted the delay between the first lightning flash and its peal of thunder: four miles. A few minutes later I counted the next one: two miles. The storm was coming quickly. As I walked up my path, the most deafening clap of thunder I think I’ve ever heard struck right overhead and the wind rose to gale force. The hailstorm began literally as I opened my door. It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, which makes a change.

The Rant of an Ancient Mariner.

I’m beset by a crisis at the moment: a crisis of identity, of point and purpose, of freedom. I feel like a caged animal, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Nothing that is apparently available would come close to providing a means of escape; I know myself very well.

I’ve been here several times in my life, sitting on a painted ship upon a painted ocean and being beset by slimy things that walk with legs upon a slimy sea, waiting for a wind to fill the sails so that a course may be steered. And all the time the hunger deepens and the madness grows. The wind always rises eventually – or at least, it always did.

Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? It is. More than that, it’s melodramatic; I’m well aware of the fact. This is no mere wallowing in the doldrums, but the holding of a mirror to view myself in context.

I’m not a wild animal, you see. The animal lives with but one imperative: to survive, and through personal survival, to contribute to the survival of its species. The human needs more. Maybe we shouldn’t, but we do. I do, and I know what gives me sustenance and what doesn’t. Most things don’t.

So there you have it: not a cry, but an observation. Rant over.

Priestess Mind.

Let me correct a lamentable error. I meant no disrespect, much less dishonour, to the priestess in my last post. The surface image is only skin deep, after all. The priestess is always inspirational and always commands respect.

I find this short piece of music inspirational, too. It’s a natural accompaniment to the climbing of mountains and treks through the underworld, both of which journeys are part of the priestess’s remit. It’s Chinese, but has a distinctly Indian flavour.

Train Mind.

While I was sitting on the train today, a ditty began to form in my mind. It was all about this pale girl with henna’d hair who kept turning round and looking at me. (I don’t know why; I wasn’t throwing things at her or wailing or anything.) ‘Aha,’ I thought. ‘I’ll work on this ditty and post it to my blog later. I haven’t posted a ditty for months.’ Unfortunately, I couldn’t get beyond the second line, so I took to working out the percentage by which the train fare had gone up since the last time I went to Derby. I found four different ways of working it out mentally before I got bored.

So then I turned my attention to the two men sitting on the other side of the aisle. One had a back-sloping forehead, while the other had a vertical forehead. I decided that human heads come in three varieties: the Neanderthal, the reptile, and the Neandertile – that’s the middle way and, unsurprisingly, the predominant one. I considered my own and concluded that I’m definitely a reptile. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or not, but shrugged it off as a matter of little import.

As the train entered the outskirts of the city, I looked at the forest of satellite dishes festooning the walls of some modern houses running alongside the track. I looked at the four people closest to me who were all stroking and pressing the screens of smart phones, their ears dripping cable and their awareness oblivious to their fellow travellers. And I realised I would soon be walking through a shopping mall. A shopping mall… I began to have a sense that the crust of characterlessness and the cult of the individual is growing ever thicker in our modern world, and felt a little sad. What a strange thing for a loner to feel.

I turned my thoughts to the priestess, and felt even sadder. The image of the priestess – or, to be more precise, the surface image of the priestess – is not terribly edifying at the moment. It’s what I was referring to in a recent post.

Still, there was a woman in the shopping mall who looked a little like an orang-utan. I like orang-utans, so the day was saved.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Damage Limitation.

So, Mel went off to find a table in the coffee shop while I ordered the drinks. I found myself drawn to the hair of the young woman preparing the Americano and chai latte. She appeared to have a redhead’s skin type and her eyebrows had a natural reddish tinge, but her cranial hair was uniformly dark with artificial red highlights in the curls at the extremity. Being fascinated by such mysteries, I continued to look until she spoke sternly:


‘Oh, sorry. I was just looking at the red curls in your hair.’

‘What’s up with my hair?’

‘Nothing, nothing at all. I just find that sort of thing fascinating.’

‘Oh. Do you want cinnamon on the latte?’

‘Yes please.’

I was also interested in her nose. It was an unusual shape, and I remembered seeing just such a nose on an actress in a film I watched recently. I decided not to mention it.

Meanwhile, the woman customer standing next to me was smiling. Women bystanders always seem to find my encounters with other young women amusing for some reason.

Real Ladies.

That’s what it said:

Real ladies don’t buy fakes.

It was an ad for expensive wardrobe fitments. Don’t you just despair of western-style culture sometimes?

*  *  *

I’ve been trying to find the right words to make a post about the nature of the sacred. It would have meant treading a fine line if it was to avoid the potential for major misapprehension. I couldn’t find them, but I did realise something about myself in making the attempt:

I’ve always been able to face pain, and I’ve always been able to face terror. What I sometimes find impossible to face is horror, and I find horror in places which leave most people floundering for an explanation. Profaning what I hold to be sacred is one of them, and that isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, either. It’s why I didn’t make the post.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Bleak Post.

Yesterday was a bad day; today has been worse. Today attracted two instances of unforeseen expense which I can ill afford, one of them quite considerable.

The one exception to the trend was a visitation from two lovely ladies and an even lovelier lady dog. They were today’s pearls in the muck heap, and they provided the first visit I’ve had, apart from tradesmen, since last summer. I actively discourage visitors now, for reasons which would take too long to explain.

Sorry the post is a bit bleak, but at least I didn’t mention China.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Closer to Home.

The Chinese horror film wasn’t a Chinese horror film at all, but a long exposition of all the various supernatural beings that haunt the folklore of East and South East Asia.

There were women with elongated necks, women with no faces, women with long black hair and dead eyes, vampires whose bodies are so stiff that they have to hop to get around, little girls who sit in the third stalls of bathrooms on the third floors of schools, humanoid creatures which dwell in ponds and are so polite that all you have to do to render them immobile is get them to bow, hungry ghosts who are so hungry that they will even eat human excrement and rotting flesh…

Phew. Very imaginative.

I think February might have to be Blackpool month. Funny Bones, Albert and the Lion and bawdy humour will be much easier to handle.

Facing the Dragon.

OK, so now I look up at the ceiling and ask ‘Is this the test? Is it? Is this to find out whether I really did learn what was shown to me back in the summer of 2011?’

Right then. Give me a day to prepare, and then Blow wind! Come wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back.

Who out there has a clue what I’m talking about? Good.

Right now I’m going to watch a Chinese horror film, and I might find a way to celebrate Chinese New Year this year. Unlike our New Year, it’s a movable feast based on astronomical factors (like Easter, you know?) which puts it rather more up my street.

Where did China come from? You look down at your plate and it’s suddenly full of China.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Thought on Feeling.

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that feeling is the sole rationale for being. To put it simply: if you care for nothing, if nothing engenders any feeling in you, then nothing that happens is of any consequence.

If I’m right, wouldn’t it mean that the person who feels the strongest, and most readily accepts those feelings, is the one most in touch with the nature of phenomenal reality?

And wouldn’t it further mean that those who advise us to subdue or hide our feelings, except temporarily and for some practical purpose, are working to deny us the very reason to exist?


I learned something interesting today when I searched ‘ethnic groups in China.’

Apparently, Mongolian people have the lowest concentration of sweat glands. That’s why they find the rest of us obnoxious: to a Mongolian nose, we smell bad. In that case, I don’t think I’ll go there.

Mind you, I don't sweat much anyway. It has to get pretty hot or pretty hectic to make me damp. It probably has something to do with testosterone, since Mongolian men are a bit deficient in that department, too. I think I should get a yurt.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Good Voice and Goldfish.

I doubt anyone will watch this video; at eight minutes long, it probably stretches the modern attention span beyond acceptability. Nevertheless, I’m posting it anyway for two reasons:

1. The melody, which seemed relatively innocuous on first hearing, went deeper and deeper the more I listened to it. Eventually it became little short of compulsive, and I find that intriguing.

2. The singer’s voice is quite remarkable. Not only does she hit every note of a complex tune with perfect intonation, but the high tone expected of a Chinese woman takes on a silky, creamy quality when she gets down into the lower register. It could almost be a Belgian white chocolate, and you know how partial I am to Belgian chocolates.

So that’s why, plus the fact that it has goldfish in it. And a very, very big Buddha (the fat Chinese type, not the thin Indian type.) And a beautiful girl dressed in white. And as I’ve been saying for some time now:

If the priestess won’t come to JJ, JJ must go to the priestess.

Two Nightmares Averted.

Mr Putin says that he has no opinion on whether Scotland should become independent or remain part of the UK. He says it’s none of Russia’s business; it’s a purely UK affair.

Is it? Phew! That’s a relief.

*  *  *

It struck me tonight that it would have been a nice touch if Peter Jackson had cast Chinese actors to play the elves in LOTR. Imagine a Chinese Galadriel. Better still, don’t!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

On God, Gays and Gaga Politics.

An Oxfordshire councillor from the United Kingdom Independence Party has declared his view that the recent storms in Britain were the manifestation of God’s wrath over the fact that Britain has legalised gay marriage. He says he warned Mr Cameron that there would be disastrous consequences, and now he’s been proved right.

As far as I know, he hasn’t offered any opinion – or indulged in any further rampant non sequiturs – on whether God’s wrath also played a part in generating the California drought, the polar vortex over the north eastern states, the Philippines hurricane or the record heat in Australia. Neither, as far as I know, has he explained why the winter storm of 1953 in these parts killed far more people than the recent ones did, even though homosexuality was illegal at the time.

The UKIP leadership was quick to distance the party from his views, but said that he would be neither censored nor censured because he is fully entitled to hold and express his private opinion. That, they said, is what makes Britain Great. Nevertheless, he has now been suspended from the party for refusing to stop talking to the media about his private opinion. But I thought they said…

Sometimes the world of politics is just too damn silly for words. But then, if we have to put up with God moving in mysterious ways, maybe God alone knows what the politicians’ excuse is.

Sino Season.

It won’t have gone unnoticed that January has been Chinese Month on the JJ blog. Well, it is the month of the Spring Festival after all. So, another couple of observations:

1. I love their bulging-eyed dragons. I remember seeing them as a child and feeling comfortable and familiar with them. It was as though I remembered them from an earlier time. And I seem to recall that my first lady-love, Tiger Lily, had a pet dragon which smiled in between puffs of smoke.

2. The traditional music videos on YouTube are notable for ubiquitous schools of goldfish and some very attractive bridges.

3. Chinese horror films, however, present a problem. It seems that something can be said in three syllables in Chinese, but it takes a long sentence in English to say the same thing. This means that you’ve only got to about the fourth word of the subtitle before it changes to another one. I just watched such a film, and it was particularly irritating when the budgerigar said something meaningful and I didn’t catch it. (The leading lady called it a parrot, but it was actually a budgerigar.)

To be continued. Probably.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Pi: a Personal Reaction.

Whilst I’m quite capable of criticising a film objectively, I find it pointless these days to do so with the disinterested eye of a film critic. I’m more inclined to the view that if it grabs me and holds on, I enjoy it; if it doesn’t, I don’t.

Well, I just watched Life of Pi. At times I found it terrifying almost beyond bearable and wanted to switch it off. By the time it was over, I found it so heart warming that I watched every second of the end credits just to prolong the experience. It was some experience.

Hurrah for the Yellow Peril.

When I was a boy there was still a fair amount of prejudice applied to foreigners and all things foreign. Older generations still remembered the days of Empire, you see, when Britain was Top Country and everything to the south and east of Europe our footstool. In particular, I remember there being two notable characteristics which were said to apply to the Chinese:

1. They were clever, but in a sneaky sort of way. We Brits regarded ourselves as having the monopoly on honourable cleverness; anybody who didn’t play cricket, but who had, nevertheless, to be acknowledged as clever, could only be sneakily clever. That’s the imperialist attitude at work.

2. They were inscrutable, which I suppose fits neatly with being sneaky. The game of poker – in which inscrutability is deemed a laudable attribute – was never highly regarded here. We were more inclined towards honest, open pursuits like charades, polo, and shooting big animals.

So, the first of those can be dismissed as merely silly, but the second warrants a note.

I’ve been watching an awful lot of Chinese people on YouTube lately – in films, music videos, dance productions and so on – and I have to say that I haven’t noticed the slightest hint of inscrutability. What I have noticed is that the Chinese appear to be rather more subtle in the way they express emotion than we westerners. And it’s a characteristic which this old, post-colonial Brit finds both fetching and effective.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Nearly a Romantic Tale.

Once upon a time I knew a girl called Dorothy Parker. Notwithstanding her oddly anachronistic name (I never knew another girl of her generation called Dorothy) she was, by common consent, the best looking girl at my school. She was certainly the best looking girl in the post-school gang of which I was a member. Unfortunately, Dorothy never fancied me. Her twin sister Catherine did, and Catherine was attractive enough in her own right, but Dorothy had the better teeth. Life always nearly worked out for me, but never quite completely.

When we were around seventeen or eighteen, several members of our gang went to a fancy dress event, but only two of us wore fancy dress – Dorothy and me. I went as Sinbad the Sailor in a costume made by my mother who hadn’t a clue what a mediaeval Arabic sailor’s costume should look like. (Fortunately, nobody else did either so I got away with it.) By a strange coincidence, Dorothy went as Scheherazade in a much better costume and looked every inch the mediaeval Arab princess. We had our picture taken by a press photographer, standing close, which appeared in a subsequent issue of the local paper. That was the closest I ever got to Dorothy.

Anyway, as the evening drew to a close and I drew ever closer to being unable to stand, I dropped my beer glass (which was empty, I’m proud to say.) I picked up most of the pieces, and then discovered that my finger was bleeding quite profusely. Just as I was looking at it thinking ‘I wonder what I should do now,’ I saw a hand stretch out and take hold of mine. And then I saw a second hand produce a handkerchief. And then the two hands worked in unison to bind up my injured digit. I turned to look at the source of such sweet succour and it wasn’t Dorothy, but another girl of similar age who was even more beautiful. She was smiling and saying nice things to me. (I don’t remember what they were – really I don’t – but I remember they were nice.)

Well, it was one of those moments when life hands you a single pearl among the million pieces of nutty slack. Life worked out. Our eyes met across a bloody handkerchief and I was smitten. We started dating three days later.

That was the infamous Pauline McNicol, of whom mention has been made on this blog before. Such a pretty name for such a pretty colleen (her dad being an Irish bricklayer, you understand.) She was the one who finished with me a month later because, she said, I wasn’t domineering enough. If only I’d known she wanted to be dominated…

So, life nearly worked out, but not quite completely.

Not Being Leader Material.

They said I had the potential to be a leader, and they tried to train me up to my potential.  They failed because I’m not a leader, for one very good reason:

Leaders are both driven and committed. (OK, that’s two reasons, but they both apply to me.)

I’ve never been either driven or committed.

When things get serious, I skip. When anybody claims to be right, I switch off. As Bob wrote (and sang)

There are no truths outside the  Gates of Eden.

You probably haven’t noticed, but all the album versions of Bob Dylan’s early examples of genius seem to have disappeared from YouTube. I blame Google, since they seem to be responsible for most things that are wrong these days.

A Conversation with the Audience.

The day that’s gone was a Wednesday, JJ. You go to Ashbourne on a Wednesday, don’t you? And you know how avidly we follow the soap opera that is Ashbourne, don’t you?

You do?

We do. ’Tis thirsting we are, thirsting for the latest instalment. So take the best seat by the fire, the one reserved for the storyteller, and tell us a story.

About Ashbourne?

About Ashbourne.

Nothing much happened, I’m afraid.

A small repast is better than an empty belly.

Is it?

It is.

Oh, right. Let me see… erm… I bought a really good shirt at a ridiculously low price.


Indeed. And then I went into the library and explained to James why I thought the book he’d recommended wasn’t very good. I’m getting quite good at explaining why I don’t think a book is very good.


Think so?


Erm… erm… Oh, yes. Remember the tadpole I mentioned back in the summer?


Well, I saw him again today and he hadn’t turned into a frog at all. He’d grown into a rather fine Staffordshire Bull Terrier.


Quite. And I suppose that’s why the queue of hopeful princesses had disbursed.

Tangential whimsy.

That’s a bit of a mouthful.

Can you think of a better term?


That too.

Well, that’s about it, I’m afraid. No, wait. There was one more thing. There was a board outside the library relating the history of Ashbourne through the ages, and during the Napoleonic Wars, three French officers who had been billeted on the town married three barmaids from a local pub. And do you know what it was called?

Do tell.

The Cock Inn.

That’s funny.

I know.

Congratulations. Have a scotch.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Noting the Numbers.

The three girls playing gu zhengs on the dais look remarkably similar. (Yes, I know all foreigners look the same once you get east of the Bosphorus or south of Sicily, but these three really do look the same.) I think it reasonable to assume that they’re triplets, and I wonder whether you get sent to prison for having triplets in China.

Meanwhile, one of the comments on YouTube asks: ‘Are they twins?’ I blame the influence of Google for attracting such people.

Budding Entente.

Having been brought up at the height of the Cold War, it was heartening to learn that the Americans gave the Russians a present in Paris yesterday. Two potatoes. Admittedly, they were Idaho potatoes, but still…

Oh well, I suppose small beginnings are better than no beginnings.

In return, the Russians gave the Americans a pink fur hat. Maybe I should have called the post ‘Buddy Entente.’

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Constructive Vandalism.

The nature of the problem which is keeping me less than communicative lately has given rise to an unconventional thought:

Nothing in the world of phenomenal reality is permanent, not the shape of a mountain nor life itself. We all know that. So maybe we should go into every art gallery in all of the world and destroy everything we find there. Maybe art is only art as long as it’s being created. Once the painting or sculpture is finished, maybe it becomes a stagnant thing ready for destruction. Maybe our obsession with conservation derives from a pointless longing for unattainable permanence; maybe it’s one of the things that trap us in the illusion. Maybe.

We won’t, of course, and neither should we. Or should we? There are many reasons for not doing it, but it would teach us a lesson, wouldn’t it? It’s what the Buddhists do with their sand pictures.

Monday, 13 January 2014

On Dylan and Being Deficient.

I’ve had a couple of nights away from the computer and the blog. Instead, I’ve been sitting by the fire musing on many things, not the least of which was whether I have a future, and if I have, whether some ship might pass by on which I can hitch a ride. Maybe it will be going to China, which would be nice because I’ve always wanted to visit Shanghai. All China-bound ships go to Shanghai, don’t they? It’s why the modern version of the cheomsang was invented there. At least, that’s my theory. I also did some reading and discovered something interesting.

I thought I’d give Dylan Thomas another shot. I first bought an anthology of his poetry when I was about twenty, and didn’t understand a word of it. I still don’t understand a word of it. To be more accurate, it isn’t the words themselves I have a problem with. He talks about wombs and worms a lot, and they’re not so difficult to understand as words go. It’s his choice of words and the order in which he places them that leaves me floundering. Clearly, I am deficient in my comprehension of the poetic form.

And I watched this week’s episode of Sherlock, which also kept me feeling well floundered. I mean, what was all that stuff about Mrs Watson’s past about? But it was while I was watching Mr and Mrs Watson making up that I had a profound revelation about myself. It can remain my secret, since self indulgence can easily become an irritating habit.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Annual Will.

Just lately I’m coming increasingly to the conviction that nothing I have to say could be of the remotest interest to anybody else. That’s probably a pretty fair assumption. But then, most of what most people have to say is of very little interest to anybody else. The difference is that most people don’t have a blog to maintain.

So, what should I stick on this blog after two days of silence?

Well, a year ago I posted a clip from one of my favourite Will Hay films, Ask a Policeman. I offered the view that those old, character-driven films have a charm that’s entirely lacking in modern cinema, and I still hold to the opinion. Accordingly, I thought I’d post another short clip from my other favourite Will Hay film, Oh, Mr Porter. It’s set in remotest Ireland, and tells the story of how One-Eyed Joe got murdered by the railway, and how his ghost now ‘haunts the station, haunts the hill and the land that lies between.’ It’s a lot more interesting than anything I have to say.

Meanwhile, I’m back off to YouTube to feed my continuing preoccupation with mountains, priestesses and all things Chinese.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

TV Ads: the Next Generation.

I hardly ever watch the TV, and the odd programme I do pick up is usually on the BBC. Consequently, I rarely see TV ads.

Tonight I watched something on a freeview channel, and it had adverts. Being inclined towards curiosity, even at the expense of embracing masochism, I watched them just for the experience of marvelling at the extent to which civilised society has completely lost the plot.

Well. Ahem. From what I remember of TV ads, they used to be all about Fairy Liquid and Timex watches. Not any more. Now there’s one for some preparation to bring relief to ladies with itchy parts. It even featured a cartoon in which a lady so afflicted appeared to be desperately in need of the toilet. Explicit stuff indeed.

There was a time when such an advert would have scandalised the nation and raised questions in the House. Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells would have been blowing gaskets until the air was heavy with thunderclaps and the rolling hills of this Seat of Mars running with the boiling bile of righteous indignation.

Oh, how standards have fallen. And all for the sake of having a laugh.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Civic Duty and a Name Issue.

As I said in an earlier post, I decline to watch the weather forecast at the moment. I’m tired of hearing the words ‘strong wind’ ‘heavy rain’ and ‘flooding’ being placed in uncomfortably close proximity over and over again.

Tonight there’s no wind to speak of, but it’s definitely the wettest of the winter so far. The road outside was a river again when I went for a walk, so when I got back I ignored my state of bedragglement, fetched a spade, and cleared the drain that takes most of the water coming downhill past the school. Is that being properly civically dutiful? I would say so.

And while I was out I checked the state of the culvert by the Lady B’s place. It was less than half full, so that’s OK. There’s no danger of her being washed into the River Dove and finding herself at five o’clock in the morning doing the Saxon trip backwards en route to the North Sea.

But onto more interesting matters…

Mel was saying to me last night how disappointed she is with Jean Butler’s name. It just isn’t fit and proper for somebody who is so lovely, dances so divinely, and is Irish, for heaven’s sake!

I agreed. It isn’t. She should be called Sorcha O’Riordan, or Aisling McDonal, or even Kaetlyn McCafferty. Coming from New York is no excuse for not having a proper Irish name. There were women called Jean Butler in the street in an English industrial city where I grew up. Well, there might have been; it’s that sort of name.

A Noteworthy Day.

Today is the anniversary of my leaving home for the first time at age seventeen. I took the train (well, several trains actually) to Devon, there to take up my cadetship at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

The first thing the authorities did when we got there was issue uniforms, including caps. The problem was, the cap badges hadn’t arrived, so the Captain ordered us not to wear them. Without badges, he said, we looked like a bunch of taxi drivers.

It was downhill from there on in. I hated the place. Far too much control, and I hated being controlled then, just as I do now. The only thing I enjoyed about the navy was being at sea, and that isn’t much of a reason to be in the navy, is it? That was why I left seven months later and embarked on a hedonistic lifestyle founded mostly on alcohol. The girls were important, but not that important yet. The Problem of Women was still a year away.

And I never looked back – except on every January 8th when I recall dark evenings, even darker mornings, and being artificially subservient to men with bits of gold fabric on their sleeves.

Remembering Biko.

I’ll tell you something that rarely fails to bring a lump to my throat: being reminded that people have to be abused, tortured, and eventually killed just for going public with a request to be afforded the most basic principles of liberty and justice. And, further, that there are people who are caring and courageous enough to pay the price.

So it was today when I was having some lunch and listening to this in the car:

Nelson Mandela is one of the great heroes of history, but Steve Biko played his part as well.

Maybe it’s all about the unscripted drama we act out down at this level. If the world were perfect, I don’t suppose there would be any point in us coming here.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Free of Ulterior Motive.

You know what’s good about having a National Health Service?

It’s free?

Well, yes, but apart from that. It’s the fact that when a health professional gives you advice, you can assume it’s genuine. You don’t live under the constant suspicion that somebody is trying to sell you something.

Joanna and the Warring Parts.

I had a visitation with a podiatrist today, free on the NHS of course. She told me that my feet woes have the same source as my knee woes.

(They sound like two sets of indigenous peoples, don’t they? “The Feetwoes and the Kneewoes had been at war for hundreds of years, until Chief Tow-Nale of the Feetwoe tribe fell in love with Princess Pat Ella of the Kneewoes. They got married, lived happily ever after, and nobody ever threw another carrot in anger.”)

But anyway, I’m now reliably informed by both a podiatrist and a physiotherapist that I was too active when I was younger, thereby putting certain parts under Intolerable Strain. It seems that if I hadn’t spent all those years playing rugby and cricket, and then wiled away further years tramping over mountains taking photographs, I would still be tripping the light fantastic with the teenagers. That’s if there were any teenagers who know what a light fantastic is, of course, which I very much doubt, but you know what I mean.

Her name was Joanna and she asked me not to sing to her, which I wasn’t going to do anyway. And we talked about Sherlock a lot. (I liked her, which is rare.) She also asked me whether I ever get cramp in my feet.

‘Only at the base of my toes.’

‘Base of your toes?’



‘Along there.

‘What a strange place to get cramp.’

‘So you don’t know what causes it, then?’

‘No. Must be something to do with the way you walk.’

Story of my life.

(I think I should point out, just in case there are any teenagers out there who are suffering inadequacy crises because they don't know what a light fantastic is, there's actually no such thing. It's as non-existent as mornings, standards, and the infallibility of parental guidance.)

Monday, 6 January 2014

Women, Wiggly and Winsome.

I’ve gone flat again, so I thought I’d keep the blog on life support by posting a couple of videos.

The first shows a caterpillar composed of Chinese women moving across a stage. Watch in wonder as the skin of the beast ripples, courtesy of some engagingly agile bottoms. The music is pretty neat, too.

And then there’s this. Melanie is the girl I always wanted, but I kept getting lumbered with the boss.

Caution: Sleep Fairies Playing Pranks.

Now, here’s a funny thing. I quite often fall asleep at my computer in the early hours of the morning, and what’s odd is that it always happens when I’m not tired. One minute I’m wide awake and thinking ‘It’s time for bed now, better turn the computer off,’ and the next minute it isn’t the next minute at all, but half an hour or an hour later and I’m waking up still sitting here. I think I might be catching necrophilia, or something even worse if my sudden descent into malapropism is anything to go by.

What’s even stranger, however, is that something’s always happened to my computer when I wake up. Usually it’s been closed down, which is probably something I did myself just before I dropped off and have simply forgotten. Maybe that’s how narcolepsy works. Maybe you forget the last thing you did before you zonked out.

Last night was different. Last night, the album I had playing in YouTube was on its last track, but the browser had been switched to full screen. As far as I know, the only way to get Firefox into full screen is to press F11. So who pressed F11 while I was asleep, sitting bolt upright and still holding the mouse with my right hand?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

On Being Beside Myself.

No walk tonight. When I heard the sound of the rain rapping its frigid fingers against the window, I decided it was better the window than me. And the gale wasn’t just whistling and moaning, it was thumping as well. Heaven knows what it was thumping against.

Instead, I stayed by the fire and watched this week’s episode of Sherlock. I like him, you know. I do. He was performing the best man duties at Dr Watson’s wedding, and at one point – shortly after the solution to the mystery had unfolded in his mind whilst making the best man’s speech – he uttered a classic Sherlockian line:

‘Keep your wife under control, will you Watson.’

Dr John wasn’t pleased, but I was. Beats ‘Elementary…’ doesn’t it?

I was reminded that it was one role I never played in life. I was never anybody’s best man. I suppose nobody ever considered me best enough to offer the invitation. And when I got married, I didn’t have a best man because there was nobody to ask. It meant I had to make the speech myself, but that was OK. The best man’s speech is usually one of the most torturous aspects of a generally frightful occasion anyway.

The Reverse Side of the Compliment.

Time to have salt rubbed into the wound today. Well, several different wounds actually, but let’s stick with the main one for now and consider something mildly interesting.

I had resolved not to tell you this, but I feel you can handle anything as long as it’s true.

Coming from the only person for whom you’ve ever felt a sense of reverence, that’s a compliment, right? Right. It’s also akin to a form of blackmail, because one possible translation would run thus:

The one good thing you have to take from this is that I hold you in high esteem. Should you fail to handle what I have to throw at you, that esteem will slip and you will be left with nothing.

It wasn’t meant that way, of course, which is why the sense of reverence is undimmed and possibly even tightened a notch. But it still puts you one the spot, doesn’t it? It’s still interesting.

I must stop pestering this blog with woeful whinges. Lunch is a bagel.


Who was the bloke in the Bible who was allowed to see the Promised Land but told he couldn’t enter? Was it Moses? I don’t remember. Well, whoever it was, I know how he felt. It isn’t very nice.

*  *  *

On a more positive note, I just discovered that one of my YouTube comments in defence of Stevie Nicks’s singing got five likes. That’s at least three more than anybody else’s. Success at last. It isn’t much consolation.

*  *  *

I’m just listening to the whole of Fleetwood Mac’s album Tango in the Night on Youtube. It reminds me of a warm summer’s evening spent in the grounds of St Briavel’s Castle youth hostel in Gloucestershire, some time back in the 90s. There was a group of young teenage school kids having a disco, and an American woman standing next to me said: ‘Your young teenagers are so mature. At that age, ours are still children.’

Chinese teenagers, on the other hand, are more than just mature; they’re evil. The first thing Chinese girls learn is how to make damn good thumbscrews. The second thing they learn is how to convert their eyes into flame throwers, and it’s a skill they hone with age. If you’re lucky enough to be the sort who can ‘handle anything as long as it’s true,’ you might hope to escape with a mere singeing rather than a comprehensive melting. I take ‘evil’ back; let’s call it ‘assertive.’ It’s actually rather invigorating, as long as you realise that you’re down here on terra firma for the experience, not for some cultural definition of success or the pursuit of conviviality.

Do I continue to revere the Priestess?  I do.

*  *  *

It’s been both an enlightening and invigorating couple of days. Thank God for Whyte & Mackay Special, I say.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

On Being Flat.

I’m feeling flat at the moment. My spirits are flat and my mind is flat. No doubt it’s why this blog has become flat.

You know what happens to a balloon, don’t you, if you blow it up and then let it go without tying the end off? It flies purposefully across the room before fluttering weakly into a corner where it assumes its rightful status as a flaccid, inert piece of pointlessness. Flat.

I had three posts in mind today, on:

1. The casualties among the Shire’s tree population as a result of recent storms.

2. A speculative theory as to why we humans like things to be clean.

3. The Priestess, aka my Chinese ghost, aka my Irene Adler, aka my Mary Magdalene (the real one, not the Christian character assassination.)

They didn’t get made because when you’re feeling flat your words come out flat, a fact to which a reading of recent posts will attest. Anybody got a balloon pump?