Thursday, 27 February 2014

Being a Bit Out of Step Again.

I read something in a TV listings magazine the other day. It was part of an introduction to a TV documentary, and said:

‘… at a time when more and more women are taking up lap dancing to make a living…’

Have you any idea what effect such a statement has on me? No, of course you haven’t. Well, I won’t bother to elucidate, I’ll just post a video of something I find a million times sexier than lap dancing. It’s supposedly taken from the period of the Tang Dynasty in China, which flourished at the same time as the Saxons and Vikings were hitting each other with big axes over here in the civilised west.

Lightening Up.

I just had a salad and mayo sandwich, and this is a nice picture:

And this is another nice picture:

And this is a nice picture of a Chinese woman. I'm posting it because it reminds me to mention that I bumped into three of them in Derby last week, which is a bit freaky because it's three more than I usually bump into in Derby.

And while I'm being uncharacteristically frivolous, I thought I'd mention that the glass of porter I'm drinking at the moment looks very much like dandelion and burdock, which was my favourite drink as a kid. I have no pictures to illustrate the similarity.

Being a Prose Philistine.

I’ve found yet another personal deficiency to proclaim to my friend, the blog. Here goes:

I’m very fond of elegant English. It’s why I like Charlotte Bronte’s writing so much. And because I’m so interested in language, I decided I should read Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Tennyson is, after all, one of the great narrative poets of the Romantic period, so I had to be bowled over, didn’t I? Well, I’m not.

I’m finding it irritating, ugly even. To me it feels dense and muddy, clogged by an unnecessarily over-complicated structure that staggers and stutters, rather than flowing smoothly. I want to go back in time and ask him: ‘If you want to tell a story, why not do so simply? Why have all these clauses tripping over each other through being forced to march in unnatural order?’ And maybe he would answer: ‘Because I’m a poet, and this is written in the tradition of epic poetry.’

And I suppose he’d be right, and I’d be wrong. I’m certainly in the minority, which I suppose proves the case against me.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014


Do you know what a man told me today? He told me that as you get older you loose the springy tissue on the undersides of your feet. In the end, you are –as he put it – ‘effectively standing on bone.’

It’s a nice image, isn’t it? You’re turning into something Tim Burton might make a film about. In fact, something he did make a film about. So let’s make a list of the things you lose as you get older:

Gum tissue (hence the expression ‘long in the tooth.’)
20-20 vision
Hearing acuity
Muscle strength
Elasticity in things that are supposed to be elastic if they’re to be of much use
The means of having a spring in your step

They don’t tell you this before you come here, do they? You never see such a list appended to New Baby cards under the heading:

This is what you have to look forward to.

‘Excuse me, God. If this is what you lose when you get older, is there anything you gain by way of compensation?’




‘Does it help you achieve anything?’



‘It helps you to be more philosophical about what you’re losing.’

‘Oh, right. Anything else?’


‘Does that help you achieve anything?’

‘Erm… Not really.’

‘Not much of a list so far, is it? Anything else?’

I know! I’ve got one!’

‘Make it good.’

‘It is.’

‘OK, I’m listening.’

‘Attractive young women get closer to you.’




‘Because they know that all they have to do is walk away quickly and you won’t be able to catch them. It’s a bit like a kitten bopping a Rottweiler on the nose through a small gap in a high fence.’

‘You’re having me on, aren’t you?’


‘Seriously, though: is there anything of substance you gain as you get older?’

‘Visceral fat?’

Notes of Little Consequence.

I decided to end a self-imposed exile today. I decided to walk along Mill Lane in daylight, something I haven’t done since the summer of 2012. (Don’t worry about the reason, I just haven’t.) I walked along Mill Lane in daylight today – all of it.

I even went further and walked to the river, just to see what it was looking like after those months of winter rain. That's something I haven't done since the fatigue symptoms started in the autumn of 2011. As I looked over the bridge parapet to the fast moving waters, I got an uncomfortable sense of acrophobia. I think I must be shell shocked or something.

And opposite the end of Mill Lane is the old railway station that was decommissioned around fifty years ago, and is now a private dwelling. I noticed something that I never have before: the platform is still there, with a narrow strip of grass in front of it where the line used to run. It must have been a regular Buggleskelly in its day.

*  *  *

I get a lot of visits to this blog from Ukraine, and very welcome they are. What I don’t understand, though, is this: With all that’s been going on over in that neck of the woods lately, why would anybody from there be interested in reading a nondescript blog written by an Englishman of No Consequence? You’d think they’d have bigger things on their mind, wouldn’t you?

I see the Russian bigwigs are saying that the protest movement was an ‘armed mutiny.’ In other words, the protesters are ‘criminals.’ Well, if my limited knowledge of world history is correct, the modern Russian state wasn’t exactly born in an atmosphere of peace and consensual politics, was it? It’s odd how the lineal descendants of a revolutionary movement are prone to calling other revolutionaries ‘criminals’ when it suits them. And if the news reports we get are accurate (not to mention the video footage of Russian protesters being whipped at Sochi) I have the impression that there are a few Russians who would like to start their own protest movement against their own bigwigs. I wonder whether Putin ever has nightmares about walking the same road as Morsi. (There are a few of us over here who have nice dreams about the whole Tory front bench standing in the same line.)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Search.

I’ve spent the last few hours agonising over the wording of a post about something I read in a magazine today. Eventually I decided not to bother, since there was no point. A personal truth is a personal truth, and no amount of ranting by me is likely to replicate it in somebody else. Neither should it.

What transpired at the end of it all, however, was the sense that all notions of beauty and connection down at this level are defilable. It seems that what I’ve been seeking all my life – the Holy Grail, if you will – is that which is undefilable.

It isn’t surprising that only one person found it, nor that he died immediately from a surfeit of ecstasy. And I doubt that I’ll be the second; but if you have to keep looking, you have to keep looking.

Monday, 24 February 2014


As I was getting back from an uneventful walk today, I decided to carry on in the opposite direction and walk a little further. This change of plan produced two unforeseen consequences:

1. A car came towards me in the narrow confines of The Hollow, so I stepped onto the rough verge and promptly stumbled when my foot caught under a protruding branch. Needless to say, I had the presence of mind to stumble forwards rather than sideways into the path of the car, but it just goes to show how a seemingly innocuous change of mind can possibly have a significant effect on the progress of your life.

2. I was joined for the last couple of hundred yards by the two loveliest ladies in the Shire, which just goes to show how a seemingly innocuous change of mind can have a significant effect on the progress of your day.

*  *  *

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that my mind has a disconcerting habit of standing a little way removed from my body and observing virtually whatever I do. This also has two notable consequences:

1. I’m permanently lumbered with a most irritating back seat driver.

2. I’ve found that if I try to observe myself thinking, which I sometimes do, I become quite incapable of analytical thought. Fortunately, I rarely do it in situations of extreme potential ramification. But then, I’m much more likely to switch to instinct in such situations anyway, so maybe it wouldn’t matter.

A Little Retrospective.

I thought I might make a post about the observation and analysis of extended downs, since it’s something I do a lot these days. But then I decided you can take self-indulgence too far, so I thought I’d post this short clip from Twin Peaks instead. Andy is having trouble with the simple things in life as usual, but the log lady is on good form. And ‘Have you seen this man?’ is a very good joke if you get it.

Between the autumn of 1990 and the spring of ’91, I didn’t just watch Twin Peaks, I lived it. I got through a lot of coffee and cherry pie during those few months. Conditions were just right, you see: I was living in splendid isolation, I was travelling the country taking photographs for a living, and I’d given up on women. I failed in one respect, but life would be terribly boring without a touch of failure here and there.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Laura, Dale, and the Dancing Dwarf.

I’ve just been on one heady nostalgia trip.

Back in the autumn of 1990, I cut myself loose. I left my then partner (by mutual, and slightly acrimonious, consent) and went to live in a small cottage well off the beaten track in Northumberland. It was a very cold winter that year and the cottage was inadequately heated, but I had compelling company:


The first episode that was aired in Britain was a double one and it piqued my interest. It was the final scene from the third episode, however, that stunned and hooked me completely. The show was broadcast in Britain at 9pm every Tuesday night, and then repeated around midnight on Saturday. I watched every episode twice after that. I would have driven a million miles to get home for Twin Peaks, since few people had recording equipment in those days – me included. It taught me a lot about who I really was, and I still maintain that it was the finest TV programme ever to be broadcast.

This is the final scene from the third episode. The quality is poor, but it’s still watchable. In case you don’t know, by the way, Laura Palmer is dead, and Agent Cooper is the FBI man sent to investigate her murder. One strange thing, though: I would swear by all that’s holy that, in the version we got in Britain, Laura was wearing white.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Stranger in my Head.

I had an odd dream a couple of nights ago when I fell asleep in front of the fire.

I was in a house in which I lived a long time ago. I thought I was alone until I heard a noise upstairs, which I went to investigate. I walked into the back bedroom and saw a man – a complete stranger – on his knees, rummaging through a cupboard. I asked him who he was and what he wanted, and when he declined to acknowledge me or my enquiries, I ordered him to leave.

He continued to ignore me, so I took my mobile phone out of my pocket and dialled 999. I thought it might encourage him to leave if he knew the police were about to turn up. He was tall and well built, so any physical encounter was to be avoided.

When the call was answered, a woman’s voice began to trot out a load of gibberish that sounded like some sort of computer code. I was distracted momentarily from the intruder, and when I looked again, he’d gone. Except he hadn’t. I turned to see him sitting under the window on the other side of the room, leaning against the wall. He had his overcoat pulled around him as though he was cold, and his knees were drawn up to his chest with his arms wrapped around them. He looked lugubrious at least, if not actually depressed. He smiled sardonically and told me what the computer code meant, and then I woke up.

Who the hell was he, and what was he doing in my subconscious?

Learning the Ropes.

'Oh no, not more bloody slippery dancing!’

The next event billed on the Winter Olympics was Men’s Ski Half Pipe. Sounds like a load of blokes in sailor suits dancing on skis, doesn’t it? But no; the reason it’s called ‘half pipe’ (I assume) is because the arena is shaped like a massive upside-down half a pipe. Oh, right; that’s OK then.

(I can’t be expected to know about winter sports, can I? My early childhood was poor and spent in a poor neighbourhood. I never learned to either ski or skate, and I didn’t have a sledge because I didn’t have the sort of father who was interested in making such a thing. And nobody, but nobody, in my neck of the woods ever bought a sledge. Hell, I didn’t even have a winter coat to go to school in on freezing winter mornings… Oh, wait; I’m getting carried away. I did have a coat, but it wasn’t very thick.)

So anyway, the Men’s Ski Half Pipe was actually quite entertaining. There were lots of flips and somersaults and skiing backwards, and several of the contestants fell over. The French bloke who fell over even did a Gallic shrug, so I’ve seen worse.

Aha, but then we switched events and watched the British curlingers, or curlingists, or curlers, or curling players, or whatever they’re called, whooping the Norwegian likewises 6-5 with a brilliant last shot (or push, or curl, or whatever – how the hell would I know?) My theory as to why we won is the fact that the Norwegian shootist (?) was wearing a fleece, whereas our shootist (?) was in a short-sleeve T shirt. No doubt Valhalla was in uproar.

Tough Saxons 1 – Wimpy Vikings 0


Drawing a Line under Lady China.

Warning: Serious post, but not terribly earnest.

OK, this is my bottom line on the subject of Chinese women dancers. Ready?

What so impresses me about them is that they’re not obvious. They’re sensual, but subtle. Sensuality is built into the spectrum of feminine attributes, unlike what appears to have become the default western position these days, which is:

‘Hey, big boy, I’ve got a huge pair of zonkers and somewhere nice to put your equipment when you’ve finished fiddling with them. Look. See? What do you think of that?’

Forgive me being a bit graphic, but that isn’t sensual, is it? It’s coarse, and I don’t like it. I don’t.

(I could now take this into questions about comparative social and cultural mores, about a possible effect of feminism that was never intended by my heroes, the suffragettes, and about the erosion of finer values by a soulless corporate mentality. But I won’t, because then I’d become earnest, which I don’t want to be any more. I just want to state my personal view.)

So, enough said about Chinese dancers. I would, however, like to close the post with a video I showed before. At the time I was having a bit of a rant about the fact that they smile through it all, but I see it differently now. They’re supposed to smile like that, apparently, because it’s a traditional Chinese wedding dance. I’ve grown very fond of it. It embodies grace, beauty, power and scintillating movement, and isn’t that what femininity should be about?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ranting on Ice.

What is this obsession with ice dancing at the Winter Olympics? Four nights out of the last five I’ve switched on the TV only to drop in on…

Freggin’ ice dancing!


Don’t they know that I’m having my dinner just about then? Don’t they know that ice dancing is the second most boring sports event after darts? And haven’t they noticed that the costumes the women wear are deeply unsavoury, and that the men’s event looks more like a cross-dressing competition than a sporting event – two facts which are probably not unrelated?

I think that either the Olympic Committee or the TV schedulers (or both) are probably full of Very Strange People. I do.

Another Warning to the Curious.

It’s worth bearing in mind that if you put somebody’s name into a search engine, you might learn something that comes as a surprise. And it might not be a nice surprise.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Unimportance of Being Earnest.

I just read an old post of mine because somebody had accessed it – twice. (Why would anybody read one of my posts twice? Apart from me, that is, when I’m looking for loopholes and usually missing them.)

It was terribly earnest. I can handle serious, but earnest, well… Earnest suggests self-help groups (which I’ve only experienced via the TV, I might add) and those vicars who used to play guitars and sing earnest songs about Jesus, apparently under the impression that guitars automatically make Christianity cool.

I don’t think I want to be earnest ever again, so if ever I become earnest again, please tell me off.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Parish Peasant and the Rain Problem.

We’ve been given the welcome news that Britain has seen the last of the ten-week run of wet and stormy weather, at least for the time being. (I got a bit alarmed last night when I heard what sounded like a commercial airliner going over the house at about 1,000 feet. But then I realised that the sound wasn’t rising and falling again; it was assailing my eardrums in precisely the unwavering manner that commercial airliners don’t.)

Today saw the final grumblings of the latest storm system, and it was, in consequence, an indecisive day. I couldn’t decide whether to go out for a long walk or a short walk, because the sky couldn’t decide whether to leave me unmolested or make a valiant attempt to drown me (probably at a spot about two hundred yards along Church Lane. That’s the spot at which the water draining off the land uphill crosses the road on its way to the river downhill, and there’s been a shallow pond across the carriageway for what seems like a very long time.) And my problem, you see, is that my old winter coat is no longer securely waterproof, being so old that it won’t be long before it will be older than I was when I bought it.

A woman from the village noticed my coat a couple of years ago. She remarked upon the quaintness of the piece of orange fishing net twine that I use to pull the broken zip up and down.

‘It’s quite an old coat,’ I explained.

‘It shows,’ she replied, without so much as a smile or hint of irony.

She and her husband have three posh cars and a damn big house, and she’s the same one who said to me once: ‘You’re not a peasant; you’re too intelligent.’ So c’mon, missus, am I a peasant or aren’t I?

Anyway, in the event I went for two walks – one very short one up the lane to check on the condition of the drains, and then a slightly less short one later when the rain stopped. And that’ll do for today.

The Spirit of the Games.

On tonight’s edition of Winter Olympics from Sochi, they showed a replay of the medal ceremony for the Women’s Skeleton – that’s where some fit young filly lies flat on her stomach on a slidey piece of wood and goes ZOOM… down the bobsleigh track (it’s quite exciting, actually, unlike the men’s ice dancing which is about as exciting as sucking the finger of an old woollen glove with a peg over your nose.) Anyway, the medal positions were as follows:

1. Great Britain
2. USA
3. Russia


What I found a bit suspicious about it was this:

When the big posh bloke with grey hair came out to present the medals, he shook the hands of the American and Russian girls, but he kissed the Brit. Why would he do that? I mean, if he was only going to kiss one of them, why not kiss the Russian who was easily the prettiest? Whatever his excuse for being less than discerning, however, does it perhaps indicate that he’s a bit of a bounder on the quiet? Bit flagrant, don’t you think? In which case, shouldn’t he be in Siberia rather than Sochi?

And another thing: I couldn’t help noticing how much more properly reserved the British girl was than the American, who spent the whole of the time waiting for her name to be called doing a routine from Saturday Night Fever. They just don’t know how to behave in distinguished company, these colonials. I’ll never get the hang of them.

So what’s my favourite event so far, me being a relative stranger to Winter Olympics?

The women’s snowboarding, without a doubt. The girls exhibit a great sense of camaraderie with the other contestants (which is what sport should be about,) they wear big baggy trousers and a parka with a hood, and they’re dead scrummy – even the Australian, who came third.

(Could it be that I’m missing the point of all this, I wonder.)

A Question Upon Retiring.

A brief and relatively unimportant point:

We Brits have always excused our lack of success at the Winter Olympics by citing a climate and topography which doesn’t encourage an interest in winter sports. So can anybody tell me why the Netherlands is fourth in the medals table?

Defining Normal.

I’m getting through my latest book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, at double-quick speed. I usually read novels quite slowly, but not this one. Then again, it’s as much a documentary about autism as it is a novel.

The protagonist, fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, has become frightened of his father so he decides to seek out his mother who lives a hundred miles away in London. He’s never been further than the shop at the end of the road on his own before, so it’s a massive undertaking in which he has to draw on his superior logical faculties and employ all his survival devices (like counting the numbers of things he sees and working out the cubes as he goes along.)

The author describes the journey in such minute detail that it would ordinarily be tedious in the extreme. Instead, it’s riveting, because we’ve already been made privy to a mind that sees the world a little differently from the rest of us so we can feel his pain and fear.

I don’t usually recommend books, since I realise that taste in literature is very personal. But to anybody who is interested in looking well outside the box, this is one worth trying. And let’s imagine for a moment that, by some curious genetic mutation, the majority of the next generation of children were born with the neurological structuring that gives rise to autism. Before long it would be you who would be regarded as odd, wouldn’t it?

And by the way: at one point in the book, Christopher lists the things which ‘normal’ people see when they stand in a field, and compares it with what he sees. His list is more familiar to me than the other one. But I’m just an observer.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Running in the Groove.

I sometimes feel that the real me isn’t JJ Beazley living a life at all. That JJ Beazley is something like a vinyl record with a groove that runs unbroken from the outside edge to the centre. The record is all there, all at the same time, and the groove is the illusion of time passing. The real me is an individualised fragment of consciousness which rests in the groove as a stylus does, being moved from birth on the outside to death on the inside, picking up each experience as it sweeps past and having the capacity to remember them only as long as it’s playing the same record.

Today I tried to venture beyond that simple, and inevitably simplistic, simile. It became too complex, so I dropped it for now.

Meanwhile, back down here in the groove, I missed HT54 by seconds again today, twice – once on the way out for a walk, and again on the way back. That’s never happened before, but I doubt it’s significant.


We’ve had another casualty in the Shire. An old beech tree in Bag Lane was brought down by last night’s storm, blocking the road. So sad. There was a team of three men there all day today with chains saws and one of those shredding machines. Heaven knows whether the insects in the bark survive the process. My greenhouse suffered more damage, too.

And I had my hair cut today, which is completely irrelevant.

Being Disassociated.

There’s a phrase on the back of the book I’m reading at the moment:

An emotionally disassociated mind.

I like that. I think I have one.

And I’ve been meaning to make a post all day on what I find vaguely unsatisfactory about the fact that some people spend their lives doing Very Important Things like writing the works of Shakespeare or conquering the known world, while others make do with pruning the rose bushes and discussing the weather. But then I found myself sitting by a warm fireside reading the outpourings of an emotionally disassociated mind, and that makes you a bit sleepy. So I can’t be bothered now.

Ice Issues.

This has nothing to do with the awful weather my friends in the US are having to put up with at the moment. It's about skating.

The Winter Olympics TV programme last night covered the ice dancing. I dislike ice dancing (quite a lot.) The way I see it, ice dancers can’t dance properly because they’re too busy keeping their feet on a slippery surface. Neither can they skate freely because they’re too busy trying to dance at the same time. The result, as I see it, is an example of the whole being less than the sum of its parts, which is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Tonight’s programme featured the figure skating, which I also dislike for broadly similar reasons. It got interesting, though, when the man who looked vaguely East Asian fell over. ‘Oh dear,’ I thought. ‘I hope he’s Chinese and not Japanese, because we don’t want any more blood and viscera staining the snows of Sochi, not to mention the compassionate decapitation once the poor chap has done his social duty by suffering sufficiently. It would give the place a bad name – not to mention a bad smell – and then nobody would want to stay there and there’d be nothing to watch over dinner by the fireside.’ I waited with bated breath until the score was announced and the man’s name came up on a board. Turned out he was from Kazakhstan, so I was none the wiser.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

A Rare Find.

I don’t want to talk about today’s Ashbourne visit. Too wet, too many delays and mishaps. Miserable – apart from one thing:

I found a book in a charity shop called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I opened it at random and read one passage, just to see whether I approved of the style (since the style is as important to me as the content.) I bought it because I was hooked by this joke:

There were three men on a train crossing the border into Scotland. One was an economist, one a logician, and one a mathematician. They saw a brown cow in a field, standing parallel with the train. ‘Ah,’ said the economist, ‘the cows in Scotland are brown.’ ‘No,’ said the logician, ‘there are cows in Scotland, at least one of which is brown.’ ‘Actually,’ said the mathematician, ‘there is at least one cow in Scotland, and it appears to be brown.’

I only mention it because it struck me that the kind of person who could write such a joke might well be a rare example of my kind of person. I think I’m maybe not quite right.

I read about a quarter of it tonight, sitting by the fire and trying to ignore the barbaric storm-force wind that’s been vandalising the garden furniture and wheelie bins, and removing yet another pane of glass from the greenhouse. The book is holding my interest well. Its protagonist is an autistic 15-year-old boy, who you just have to love for his innocence, high intelligence and oddball ways. I’m hoping he’s going to teach me about one more thread in the tapestry we call life.

That’s enough for today. Today I worked out why winter is such a problem to me, and a windy winter especially so. Such revelations can be quite tiring.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Hint of Paradox.

In keeping with my current fixation on all things Chinese, I just watched a video about Shanghai on YouTube. Included among the comments was one from Kelvin Wang (note: Kelvin Wang) who is presumably a native of the city. It said:

‘All f..king foreigners go back home china is not for u f..king foreigner dogs shanghai for shanghaines china for Chinese kill the foreigners !’

So, here is a man who not only wants foreigners removed from China, but even advocates the killing of them. And yet he has a European given name, writes English – punctuation excepted – rather better than I write Mandarin, and has sufficient sense of reserve that he abbreviates the expletive.

Isn’t that interesting?

The Tao of the Vegetable Samosa.

I was saying to Mel tonight that anything I feel strongly drawn to, as opposed to merely liking, always brings with it a degree of frustration. Be it a person, a landscape, a piece of music, a particularly favourite item of food or drink – there’s always a nagging sense that beyond what I’m seeing or hearing or tasting or feeling, there’s a hidden essence which would make the experience complete. And I never find it.

*  *  *

I wish I hadn’t thought about vegetable samosas while I was taking a shower tonight. As wonderful as hot buttered toast is, it doesn’t quite match the meltingly magical appeal of a vegetable samosa. Then again, it isn’t as frustrating either.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cultural Contrast.

I watched a bit of the Winter Olympics again while I was having my dinner tonight. It was the women’s ski jump this time, the two main areas of interest for me being:

1. How shiny their bottoms looked in those tight Lycra ski pants.

2. Whether any of them would fail to stop in time and hit the wall at the end of the course. None of them did.

Tonight, however, I found something else to interest me:

As the distance for each girl was announced, she would smile broadly and wave at the camera. There were two exceptions: The Japanese girl smiled demurely and then bowed. Isn’t that sweet? The German girl fell over backwards and cried buckets, because she’d won. That’s sweet, too, only in a different way.

Cathay Crème.

Ballet isn’t my thing; modern dance is. I’ve been lapping it up ever since I was turned onto it by Pina Bausch and her Wuppertal Dance Theatre back in the early 80s.

So now I discover the Chinese…

I’m utterly gobsmacked, but I don’t know how to make a post about it because everything I try to say sounds either pretentious or ludicrously effusive or both. Let’s keep it simple and say that, to my mind, Chinese girls have something I’ve never seen anywhere else. And here’s an example, just in case anybody shares my taste and wants to be as gobsmacked as I am.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Living Dangerously.

It’s an interesting fact that several of MR James’s celebrated ghost stories feature creepy things to be encountered in English country lanes – disembodied shrieks, pools of blood with strange black flies on them, dead men covered in spiders… I read two of them tonight. What with that and the Presence at the Bottom of the Stairs, it makes you realise just what a perilous place the Shire is.

Seppuku by Any Other Name.

I was watching a bit of the Winter Olympics while eating dinner tonight (spaghetti Bolognese and a strawberry Cornetto – I know how to live.) I came in at that strange bobbly-snow-and-somersaults event, and was mortified to see the Japanese skier miss his footing and fail to finish the course properly. It struck me that there was a time when his only honourable option would have been the committing of hara-kiri. I do hope they’ve moved on a bit these days.

We’d heard of hara-kiri when I was a kid, you know, only we pronounced it Harry Carry (’Arry Carry, actually.)

‘’Ere, Jeff, who’s ’Arry Carry?’

‘Dunno. Some Japanese bloke, I expect.’

That’s a fair reflection of the state of my roots. It is.


The River Thames has been getting too big for its boots today, or, more accurately, its banks. It’s the latest part of Britain to be plagued by flooding, and a resident of one Berkshire community so afflicted said:

‘It was a scene from a horror movie.’

Horror movie? What sort of horror movie would that be? A vampire movie? A werewolf movie? A college-kids-in-peril-from-a-homicidal-axeman movie? A dead-Japanese-woman-with-long-black-hair-crawling-out-of-the-TV-set movie?

I can imagine that being flooded must be pretty awful, but horror movies aren’t generally about floating furniture, not unless it’s floating without the assistance of water. And why did he call it a ‘movie’ anyway? People from Berkshire, of all places, are supposed to speak English.

Unidentified Creatures.

I’ve long had the sense that the bottom of my staircase (which leads into the living room, not a hallway) plays host to some kind of presence. I don’t know what it is, and I’m not suggesting it’s a ghost since I think it credible that all sorts of life forms occupy this world with us invisibly. I sometimes feel that I’m being watched from there, and last night I caught sight of a dark shape moving towards it. I only saw it out of the corner of my eye, so I was happy to accept that it was probably just imagination.

But then I went to bed and dreamt all night about dinosaurs. I was part of a group of people whose job it was to lure these dangerous creatures into a vehicle and transport them somewhere safe. We did it several times, and the animals got bigger with each new assignment until the final one was a full grown T Rex. As we took cover and waited for the big guy to show, an adult tiger appeared and put the wind up us, because adult tigers aren’t exactly pussy cats either. This was a complication and we considered how to deal with it, but then the dinosaur appeared and killed the tiger. We still had to capture the dinosaur, however, and the dream ended with the job unfinished.

So who or what were the dinosaurs, and who or what was the tiger? This is almost Life of Pi stuff, only the explanation won’t be presented on a plate as it is in the film.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Just a Moment.

I’ve often mentioned that I struggle with the word ‘moment.’ Logically, there’s obviously no such thing, and yet Siddhartha would have it that ‘eternity is contained within every moment.’

Imagine trying to reconcile those two. If such reconciliation could be reached, maybe it would confirm that time is an illusion.

And isn’t ‘love’ a terribly dangerous word?

I’m boring myself, so maybe I should mention that the scotch I’m currently drinking was given to me as payment in kind for doing somebody’s accounts and tax return. It’s a bottle of Teachers, which I haven’t had in years. There; that’s better.

Questioning Herman.

I just finished reading Siddhartha. In the end I found myself experiencing an unexpectedly negative reaction to it, which is odd since the philosophy expounded therein largely accords with my own at the moment (albeit in a more coherent and complete form, and with a greater level of certainty than I can ever manage.)

I think I might have answered my own question. I am innately suspicious of just about anything which agrees with me.

There are also, however, at least three more reasons:

1. It’s a little unsettling to read words which propound the view that nothing of real importance in the grander scheme of things can be learned by reading words.

2. My writer’s instinct was ruffled by a couple of glaring errors in the plot logic, although I decided that the objection was irrelevant in the grander scheme of things.

3. I was left with a nagging suspicion that the person who recommended it did so in order to tell me something I probably don’t want to hear.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Against the Wind.

Today’s walk was unusually strenuous owing to the occasional very strong headwind. Five years older and I reckon I would have been going backwards. I also considered it prudent to keep one eye on the tree branches, because they’re bloody heavy and have been known to kill people.

On the way round I met three lovely Labradors taking my landlord’s wife for a walk. Jess got told off for trying to jump up, but I wouldn’t have minded. Honest. (Jess isn’t the landlord’s wife, by the way. I don't know what her name is, and thankfully she never makes any attempt to jump up. She's very posh.)

And then I encountered a young woman from the village, out riding her motor scooter. Something occurred to me which I don’t recall ever having occurred to me before. I’ve always known that riding on two wheels was more hazardous in icy conditions, but it seems to me it must also be more hazardous in very windy conditions.  Pretty obvious, really. I wonder why it took me this long to think about it.

Seeing Through the Gift.

The power company from whom I get my electricity is trying to persuade me to have a smart meter fitted. In case you don’t know, that’s one which sends usage information direct to their computer rather than having to be read in situ.

They’ve sent me two letters inviting me to call a freephone (toll free) number, and the letters are written – as you’d expect – in such a way as to manipulate me into thinking that the change would be for my benefit. It begins:

We are offering you a free upgrade.

Note the three words:

Offer – interesting.
Upgrade – desirable.
Free – even more desirable.

They go on to tell me that the new meter will help me keep better track of my usage, and therefore enable me to save money. This is bullshit. I already economise as much as I can on my electricity usage. Even my poor little brain is perfectly capable of working out all the tricks, and anybody with an even poorer brain is unlikely to do so just because they can see how much electricity they’re using.

The fact of the matter is that switching to a smart meter is entirely for the benefit of the power company. It facilitates the easier collection of data and enables them to make a few more meter readers redundant. And that’s why I continue to decline their offer to make my life better. I object to being treated like an imbecile.

Saying it with Hands.

I have to admit that I’ve learned quite a lot from watching YouTube. For example:

It’s interesting to compare the different approach taken by Indian and Chinese dancers with regard to hands.

Hands are obviously very important in Indian dance. A wide range of emotions, principles and so on are expressed by precisely controlled angles and movements. Chinese dance, in comparison, is more inclined to hide the hands with water sleeves and express the same things that way.

Might I suggest that this probably reflects a fundamental difference in Indian and Chinese cultural mores? Hindu culture appears to be far more permissive in its attitude to overt expression, whereas Chinese culture seems to be more innately demure.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? And probably wrong.

Next up is to compare Chinese dancers and their water sleeves with American cheerleaders and their pom-poms. Difficult territory.

Friday, 7 February 2014


Guess what we had today. No, better than a second Christmas. A dry day! We even had some sunshine this afternoon, which gave HT54 every excuse it needed to squint and pretend it hadn’t seen me as it drove past at speed.

Still, by way of consolation, the little Long Tailed Tits have returned to the garden. They came about a week ago. First there were three, then there were five, and today there were seven. They’re very cute.

Guess what weather we're forecast for the next four days. Yup. Didn't take much working out, did it?


So there I sat in a long traffic queue waiting for my turn to get through a set of temporary traffic lights. By then the rain was falling steadily and the low grey sky was making a damn good job of painting everything else the same colour. I grew irritated by the sight and sound of the windscreen wipers, so I switched them off. After that, all I could see was a hazy facsimile of the vehicle in front which hadn’t moved for three minutes.

I had Eva Cassidy’s Songbird album playing at the time, and one track in particular calmed my ruffled feathers like pouring oil on a jacuzzi. I was going to post it to the blog, but when I found it on YouTube and read the lyrics, I changed my mind. The melody and arrangement are charming, and Eva Cassidy’s delivery flawless and soulful as ever. But how anybody could render the poignancy of personal loss in words so mawkish and clumsy that even Hallmark would probably disown them is beyond me. I think it might be better not to name this inglorious effort for fear of having a chartered B52 winging its way to the Shire, intent upon making a large hole where JJ once was. The YouTube commenters were, as you might imagine, fulsome in its praise.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


I was at the theatre today, and guess what turned up. A bunch of Chinese people. They hadn't come to see me, though, so it seems they hadn't read my blog (except on a cosmic level, maybe.) None of them sang, danced or bit my neck.

And Mr Ford is now back in the fold. He's had his EGR valve blocked off, but his voice hasn't changed.

Oh, and Mr Rob told me all about how permaculture is the best bet for the future of the planet. Must keep that in mind for next time round. Collect waste paper from an early age.

Testosterone and Tittle-Tattle.

I always preferred to feel things with my fingers and sniff them with my nose, rather than weigh them with my arms. That tendency did not, however, apply to opposition rugby players.

Do poets have testosterone? I’ve always wondered.

And while I’m in poetic vein, I just have to post this again. Have to. 

Sorry for the repetition, but this woman’s voice has the power to make me feel physically lighter. (The priestess did that once. Literally. She’s Chinese, too.) And the girl in the video looks very like my old friend Chan San-Mei, only Sam (as she preferred to be known, having been born in Birmingham rather than Beijing) wore glasses.

And on the subject of lifting things with arms, I was driving up Green Lane this morning when I saw a piece of fallen tree branch lying across the road. Cars were driving around it. Can you believe that? I stopped mine, got out and moved it. It was raining, too.

And on the subject of rain and fallen tree branches, the BBC has dispensed with their weather forecasters and replaced them with a recorded announcement which says: ‘Tomorrow will be wet and windy.’

Oh, and on the subject of wet and windy, several young women stared at me in Ashbourne today. I think it must have been because I was wearing a cap, which I usually don’t. That doesn’t explain the bluff older woman with leathery skin and wearing a long blue skirt, though. She took pains to attract my attention and say ‘hi’ like she knew me, really knew me. I’ve no idea who she was, but I said ‘hi’ back. It’s what you do.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Reason and Response.

I’m currently reading Siddhartha on the recommendation of the increasingly esteemed Brooklyn Belle. I came across this excerpt, close to the start of the chapter entitled ‘Awakening’:

…for to recognize causes, it seemed to him, is to think, and through thought alone feelings become knowledge and are not lost, but become real and begin to mature.

Well now, what a succinct way of encapsulating one of the many reconciliations I’ve been attempting all my life. Like all expositions of wisdom, of course, it’s open to the forces of flux. It seems to me that there is no truth of today that can’t become a Buddhist sand mandala tomorrow.

*  *  *

And to flick with indecent haste from one end of the rational spectrum to the other (just so you know I’m not reclining on a cloud, radiating the light of potential pretension) I was talking to the coalman recently. He said ‘There’s no such thing as King Coal any more. It’s too dirty. People don’t want the mess these days.’

I like the mess. I like all that clearing of the grate, emptying of the ash box, sweeping of the hearth, filling of the scuttle, and soiling of the fingers in laying the foundation for the provision of bodily comfort. It’s all a matter of cause, effect and consequent association.

East Wind Lament.

When the east wind blows on a winter’s night, my kitchen gets so cold that I almost can’t be bothered to go and fetch another scotch. I get over it, but it isn’t easy.

‘Why don’t you bring the scotch bottle into your office?’ I hear you ask.

‘Because I like to put a splash of water in it. It’s supposed to improve the taste. And the cold water tap is in the kitchen, where cold water taps usually are.’

‘So why not bring a jug of water through to your office, too?’

‘I don’t have a jug.’

Fireside Ephemera.

The cold wind is strong and in the east tonight. In such circumstances my office becomes uncomfortable, being haunted by a frigid wraith which will insist on stroking my face, arms and legs incessantly. And so I repaired to my living room, built up the fire, and having read a chapter of Siddhartha, spent a long time being mesmerised by the mystery and magic of flame.

I asked myself what it is, and settled on the prosaic explanation. It’s the energy of ancient sunlight, trapped for millions of years in a tree and now being released.

OK, so where does it go next? Does it get trapped again in my furniture, my carpet, my body? Does it go up the chimney and begin an endless journey to the farthest reaches of the universe and beyond?

It doesn’t seem quite enough, somehow, or maybe it seems too much. Maybe it was the confusion that kept dragging me down to the verge of sleep. The weight felt irresistible, and yet the need to resist was paramount. I was mostly successful, but not quite totally. Three or four times I succumbed, but only briefly. Several fragments of potential dreams presented themselves for a second. I stood behind a woman and said something. She laughed. I didn’t hear what it was. And I was reminded of that curious fireside incident last night, when the hazy outline of the Brooklyn Belle materialised on my sofa. It stayed for only a couple of seconds, but it quite startled me.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A More Refined Approach.

Believe it or not, I don’t really like filling my blog with videos made by other people, but this one makes a nice point.

When I first saw it on YouTube, I entered a comment which said ‘Very stylish.’ I subsequently revoked it because ‘stylish’ is a western word, and this is in marked contrast to the relatively coarse approach that is generally taken to visuals in western culture. This is elegant in its simplicity and evocation of inner stillness, and a better representation of beauty would be hard to find.

Cymric Circumspection.

Whoever heard of a Welsh beer? I hadn’t, but I have now. Tonight’s speciality comes from Cardiff, and is called Jack Black Oatmeal Stout. It’s a kind of porter, but what makes it different from other porters of my experience is the liquorice note. Usually it adds a sweet component to the beer, but in Jack Black the liquorice is bitter. That’s surely how it should be, since liquorice is a little bitter by nature.

Jack Black must be a character in some work by Dylan Thomas, since this brew is part of a series celebrating Thomas’s work. Maybe there’s an Under Wood Milk Stout, or even one with a magic ingredient which makes you not go gently into that good night. I think you might need the company of just the right person if you were going to risk that one.

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Perodua Experience.

I’m driving a very strange little car at the moment, while Mr Ford is in for his MOT check and work. ‘What the hell’s that?’ I asked incredulously when Mr Nigel backed it up to JJ for the use of. He mumbled something which I didn’t catch, so I looked at the back instead.


‘Perodua? Never heard of it. Where’s it from?’


Actually, it isn’t; it’s Malaysian, and the full title of the make is… wait for it…

Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sendirian Berhad.

Perodua, for short. Thankfully.

It looks like a little silver box on wheels, but it’s dead nippy in town traffic. It has that sort of nippyness that gives you the confidence to jump through gaps in the oncoming traffic and be a hundred yards down the road before the other guy’s adrenalin has settled enough to let him wave a fist. I did it several times, just to prove that the first time was no fluke. And the brakes... Oh, the brakes! You press the pedal and nothing happens, so you press them a bit more. Suddenly it’s like you’ve thrown an anchor out of the window and it’s snagged a rock face.

‘I didn’t want to stop quite that quickly,’ you complain.

‘Tough,’ says the cocky little git. ‘My granddad was a rickshaw.’

Maybe that’s why it also corners brilliantly at speed.

I got my own back, though. Mr P wasn’t quite so cocky when we got onto the main highway leading east from the city towards the Shire lands. He’s definitely a town car, is Mr P. He’s in his element when he’s accelerating from 20-25mph in half a second flat, but getting him to go from 70-75 in fifth gear on the big road takes rather longer.

‘I don’t really like going fast.’

‘Tough. Anyway, 70mph isn’t exactly fast. Just a bit more. C’mon: a bit more... a bit more...’

And he didn’t like the crosswind one bit. Nor the head wind. Nor the tail wind. Seems that wind from any quarter makes Peroduas nervous. He was dancing fretfully around all over the place, seemingly unsure whether to take off with a cry of ‘Geronimo,’ or head for the nearest bridge support and end it all.

I didn’t allow either, of course. One has to keep a tight rein on little silver boxes. And he got me here, so I said ‘thank you.’ I think we’re friends.


Bad weekend. End of tether stuff at times. Got through, as usual, but it’s becoming a bit of a habit.

So tonight I listened to this, to make a change from my usual musical fare. The music is rather beautiful and deeply moving if you’re in the right mood and the right situation. And as an ex landscape photographer, I can vouch for the high quality of the images. A few are a bit too photoshopped in my opinion, but even they are worth looking at. Viewing in full screen is recommended.

But here’s what I found interesting:

At the end of the video (when watched on YouTube) there’s a message telling how many children have died of starvation during the nine minutes of playing time. It’s followed by links to a few charities. And then Google throw a banner ad across it…