Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Beltane Eve Sights.

The Beltane Eve fire was a special one this year, partly because I had more wood so it went on longer, but also because it treated me to a couple of unusual experiences.

I lit it a bit further down the garden than I usually do in order to put maximum distance between the fire and the growing things. It meant I was walled in on three sides by tall hedges and shrubs, which made the near environment feel like a natural temple. Or I suppose ‘grove’ would be more appropriate in the circumstances. It also meant that the fire was much closer to the apple tree, which is particularly heavy with blossom this year and the flowers are more advanced than they usually are at the end of April. It made a pretty sight. We’re used to thinking of lights on a Christmas tree being spectacular, but seeing those masses of marbled white and pink flowers being lit by the glow of a fire is every bit as good.

There were some unexplained lights. First I saw a flashing blue one which appeared to be on the lane, although there was no sound of a vehicle, not even the swish of bicycle wheels. Then there was a big flash of orange light in the branches of the sycamore tree growing just across the road. And then, most spectacular of all, a big ball of blue light appeared in the darkness, a little way below the western horizon. It was an odd blue – a sort of petrol blue – which rose to a high intensity, then faded again over the space of a few seconds. What these lights were, whether they had any form of existence outside my head, and whether they were in any way connected with my fire, I have no idea.

Anyway, Happy Beltane to anybody who's interested.

Rejection and Respect.

I was talking to Mel tonight. She said she has the abiding feeling that being down here in a world run mostly by monkeys, either for their own benefit or that of other monkeys, feels like a kind of demotion, maybe as a punishment for having got something wrong. Quite. It inclines me to misquote a couple of lines from a favourite Bob Dylan song:

For them that think life’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

I had a bad day, too. I got kicked out of the only heart in which I felt truly at home. Ha! Serves me right for being a smart ass and presuming to know somebody, I suppose. Priestesses! Who’d have them? It hurt, but we carry on.

*  *  *

A favourite tree of mine was cut down about a week ago. It was a big ash tree in Church Lane – probably about 200 years old – which had suffered bad damage during the winter storms.

I noticed today that somebody had come along and collected some of the wood, but they’d left one small piece of branch by the field gate. I picked it up and brought it home. Don’t know why – I suppose I felt it was deserving of some respect. Well, that’s what it will get. What was I saying about slightly mad people?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Late Late Post.


For some reason this reminds me of a girl I met in Halifax, Nova Scotia when I was in the navy. We used to walk alongside the docks area and talk, and the most abiding memory I have is of iron railings bordering the concrete. Her name was Ruth.

Some months later a friend of mine, who was in another ship also visiting Halifax and who spent most of his shore leave with me, brought me a message from Ruth:

‘Tell Jeff I’m in love with him. Ask him to write to me.’

I never did. I felt it was better to say nothing than to make excuses. It still haunts me ever so slightly because I wonder whether it changed her life. I hope she met a better man than me and settled into a more fulfilling one.

Late night thoughts, you know?

The Double Dream Phenomenon.

I had a dream last night in which I was with somebody I knew many years ago. I woke up and realised it was just a dream, but then she appeared for real and I thought how odd it was that she should turn up just after I’d dreamed about her. I woke up again to find that the second encounter had also been a dream. A dream within a dream.

It was a bit freaky. Things like that happen in films, but I’ve never known it happen in real life before. I do hope she wasn’t trying to tell me something.

Reverse Perception.

I’m still big into the China thing, you know. I was as a kid and I think I always shall be. And I was wondering whether Chinese people think we Europeans look odd. Remember that YouTube comment I quoted a few weeks ago?

Chinese women are ugly anyway. Some Japs are OK.

I wonder whether there’s a Chinese redneck somewhere writing:

German women are ugly anyway. Some Greeks are OK.

Today in the Field.

The poor ewes were suffering today. As the lambs gambolled and tottered, those mothers which were bothering to move at all did so slowly and heavily, their breath short and panting. The heavy woollen coats they’re still wearing must be hell when the late April sun shines, and the cool nights must be blissful.

And while I was watching them I noticed something apparently watching me from the wood a little way across the field. It was a head, pale and hairless, with two black spots where the eyes would be and two smaller black spots where you’d expect to find nostrils. The more I watched it, the more I was convinced it moved. The mind does that sort of thing. I think it reasonable to assume that it wasn’t a head at all, but you never know…

(Imagine waking in the middle of the night and seeing such a thing looking back at you from the end of the bed - glowing in the darkness. Go on, dwell on it.)

A YouTube Oxymoron.

Among the recommendations offered by YouTube for my delectation and delight is one which features what I assume is meant to be a young woman’s face. On the basis of such a small picture it’s difficult to tell whether it’s an example of CGI or a real woman disguised with makeup and an airbrush tool. I would imagine, though, that she’s some celebrity or other (so take your pick as to CGI or human-in-disguise) because the caption reads:

9 Celebrity Facts that Might Explode Your Brain

But… erm…

Maybe not technically an oxymoron, but the recommendation makes it a damn close-run thing.

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Question of Blasphemy.

OK, I’ve said it often enough but it bears repeating in light of a few recent news stories.

All religions are belief systems, and we all have the inalienable right to believe whatever we want as long as it doesn't adversely affect other people. What I don’t consider we have the right to do is force those beliefs down other people’s throats.

Accordingly, I consider blasphemy laws to be one of the greatest evils known to humankind (and I use the term ‘evil’ in a general secular sense, not a religious one.) I deem them to be a means by which the despot maintains control over the blind faithful, and I further consider that those individuals or regimes who assume the right to arrest and punish blasphemers – often by killing them – should themselves be brought to trial on a charge of perpetrating crimes against humanity.

And, ironically, if I were a religious person I would consider the very concept of blasphemy to be the grossest insult to God, Jesus, Mohammad, the Buddha or any other spiritual figurehead. Such figureheads should surely be regarded as superior beings, so why would I deem it right to believe that such a figurehead could be sufficiently insecure as to be offended by the mere mutterings of an inferior species?

Fatigued and Slightly Mad.

Last night was a bad one. Tired? Worse. The old fatigue thing reached a new low, so much so that I nearly went to bed at 10 o’clock. That’s as bad as it gets, right? Only people who are ill, over eighty, or normal go to bed that early. Normal isn’t something I’ve ever been and I’m a long way short of eighty, so I reckon I must have been ill. I was a bit depressed, too. I spent my YouTube sessions searching for depressing or melancholy songs to match my mood. And I have an exercise regime I go through every night before showering, come hell or high water. Not last night. Neither hell nor high water came close to matching last night.

One of the songs I came across was this:

  
The woman he’s singing about reminds me of somebody I know, somebody who’s slightly mad, and therein lies the message: I generally get on best with people who are slightly mad.

Nobody understands really mad people, do they? Not even experts in the study of really mad people. Neither do I, but I don’t understand normal people either. I don’t understand why they’re interested in the things they’re interested in. I mean, if you’re not going to question life until it capitulates and admits it’s a bit of a failure, how are you ever going to win? The beauty of slightly mad people is that they question everything, and that I understand.

And it’s getting to that time of year when I shall be reminded with uncomfortable frequency that I belong to the cocktail school when it comes to the appreciation of ambient experiences. I’m one of those unfortunates who find my Harvey Wallbanger quite undrinkable when somebody’s slipped a teaspoonful of engine oil into it. I remember it being a particular problem when I was taking daily walks along the sand dunes on the Northumberland coast. It's a difficulty that goes along with being slightly mad.

And did you know that the Harvey Wallbanger was invented in 1952 by a man called Donato ‘Duke’ Antone, who was a three-time world champion mixologist? Mixologist? That’s as bad as being a lifestyle guru, albeit rather more useful.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Breathless.

This evening’s twilight was a special one. The rain that had been falling steadily for several hours had stopped, leaving the air saturated and mellow. A heavy haze hung over the darkening valley and there wasn’t a breath of wind. Neither was there a sound except the occasional trilling of a bird from some nearby shrub or high treetop. Never since that splendid Beltane Eve fire three years ago have I felt such a sense of profound peace on the outside, while silent but vibrant forces fuel the fire of nature’s imperative somewhere out of sight.

You know, I can laugh at a Japanese ghost story, I can thrill to a good rugby match, I can become enthralled by an intelligent film or novel, and I can rail at the self-serving machinations of political and corporate establishments. But it’s twilights like today’s that truly take my breath away.

For This Relief...

I was in the wood yesterday, watching the sheep in the adjacent field. Most of the ewes were resting in the spring sunshine. Some of the lambs were with their mothers, while others were playing games or exploring the woodland margin for nice things to eat.

Two lambs came part trotting, part tottering on their still-oversized back legs. They were heading for a ewe resting near the gate, and I realised immediately that there was going to be a problem. The lambs had the number 7 sprayed on their fleece; the ewe was number 28. Wrong mother...

The rule among sheep mothers is a simple one; their thinking appears to run thus:

‘I’m not giving my milk to some other woman’s brat. Why should I? Bog off, you little varmints.’

And so it came to pass. She pushed the lambs away unceremoniously, and appeared to have no qualms about so doing. I became a little anxious, of course. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It’s only natural.

The lambs looked bemused; they looked around in all directions; they looked back at the unrepentant ewe.  They bleated – hopefully it seemed at first, then more desperately. The ewe remained unconcerned, but I didn’t.

I caught a movement to my left, and turned to see another ewe trotting across from the other side of the field. She was too far away to see her number clearly, but I guessed she recognised her own kids’ voices. The lambs saw her too, but they didn’t trot towards her. They didn’t even totter. They galloped hell for leather, and were soon settled into a feed. I managed a smile.

My view.

 The mother's view. (Not my photos.)

I’d never make a farmer, would I?

Postscript

Of course, choosing the wrong father is potentially even more hazardous:

 (Not my photo.)

Late Night Recession.

I’ve just been listening to some songs and albums that were big for me in their day. The result is that my mind has gone into a strange state, floating around in a space pregnant with confused values, occasionally striking the walls of a hollow cylinder and resounding with the clang of bone on metal. I had to stop before I went upstairs for a pee. My legs had gone weak. I kept looking for the Priestess and the Brooklyn Belle, but they’ve disappeared.

Blogs don’t have to make sense, do they? Must do some more painting tomorrow.

Dark Skies over Suburbia.

I watched a film tonight called Dark Skies, which was set in the world of American Dream-style suburbia. Every house in the neighbourhood had at least twenty seven rooms, each one filled with expensive – though largely tasteless – furniture. The neighbourhood had neighbourhood gatherings in which kids of assorted ages jumped into the outdoor swimming pool (a common theme in such films) and the marginally post-pubescent vamp sported her bikini provocatively with the sole intention of driving the marginally post-pubescent boys frustratingly euphoric (also a common theme in such films.) And not to be upstaged in the fun stakes, the grown ups sat around the table eating barbecued dead animal, all wearing their informal-designer ego cloaks, the men discussing the economy while the women concerned themselves with the slightly saltier matter of who in the neighbourhood was canoodling with whom. Meanwhile, the man of the protagonist family (one husband, one wife, two kids) was tearing his guts out because he’d fluffed the interview for a better paid job and he really needed the increased salary to maintain his lifestyle.

(Lifestyle? You call that a lifestyle? It’s at such times that I’m truly glad I was never driven by money and never had any.)

Ah, but then the nightmare begins: The greys are coming. Well, actually, they’re already here, but they’re invisible right up until the end when they appear as stick man puppets silhouetted against the glow-of-indeterminate-source shining through the window. They don’t move or anything, they just stand there doing Nosferatu impersonations. And then the marginally post-pubescent older boy disappears. Oh, good.

‘Why are they picking on us?’ asks the beleaguered suburban wife when she visits the expert on greys who has ‘stopped fighting them now.’

Because you and your study in vacuous values and rampant superficiality are fascinating, madam. Why wouldn’t they pick on you? I would.

As usual, I was rooting for the wrong side.

(And if anybody reading this happens to be an American with a 27-room house in the suburbs… Sorry.)

In short, it was a crap film.

I might tell the story of the two little lambs who had lost their mother tomorrow, if I can be bothered.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A Late and Probably Pointless Question.

I watched a short video tonight in which a black girl from America told a Japanese ghost story. Odd combination, but there you are. The story was about three boys in a park who see a ghostly little girl on a swing. Two of the boys see her as being sad and looking at the ground, while the third boy insists she’s looking directly at him and smiling. The next day, the third boy gets killed in a car crash. It purports to be a true story.

But that isn’t the point of the post. The point of the post is:

The black girl had a rather splendid accent. (She sounded like Zoe to me. Remember Zoe? I do. I’m sure I said that before.) So, I’d like some American to tell me what American accent opens up the ‘i’ in ‘hill’ and pronounces it more like ‘heel.’ I don’t suppose any American will, because life’s like that, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Suspecting the Locals.

There was a woman in Ashbourne today with long, black, unkempt hair, and I realised just how much such hair is now indelibly associated in my mind with Japanese ghosts.

The story I watched last night before the internet failed was about a ghostly woman called The Bear Lady. She’s an old lady with the appropriate hairstyle who skulks about in an alleyway carrying a teddy bear. (You wouldn’t think they’d have teddy bears in Japan, would you? You’d think they’d have akira bears, or something.) She rises from a dark doorway and accosts young women, relieving them of certain body parts in order to acquire trinkets. So, if she wants a ring, she cuts off a finger. If it’s a necklace that takes her fancy, she cuts off a head. And so on.

I didn’t laugh at that one. Not only were the poor benighted girls uncommonly pretty, they also looked genuinely terrified – a fatal combination which evokes a certain masculine instinct to which men of my generation are prey. Besides, it broke with tradition. The two girls must have been desperately in need of a pee, but there wasn’t a ladies’ lavatory in sight.

Learning the Ropes.

This had to be placed before me as some sort of preliminary lesson, right? Or even a sign. All I need now is the money to get there, and sufficient recession of the old fatigue problem to have the energy to cross those big wide roads they have. The road I live on is about the width of a NYC cycle lane.


I wonder whether it would help to try the disorienting, mixed message approach – get a T shirt printed with:

Hate New York
Love New Yorkers

‘Are you for real?’

‘No, from England.’

I wonder whether I’d end up dead in some sort of municipal receptacle.

A Little Spring Magic.

I do so favour these typical April twilights in our temperate little island – cool, cloudy, calm, and with a light rain falling. Everything in the gardens and the landscape is heavy now with spring-green growth, and on such an evening it glows in a way it never can in sunshine.

Captain's Log Supplemental.

Time: 1636 BST

Date: 23rd April 2014

This is the log of the Nostromo. Captain JJ reporting.

Life support has been restored and we appear to be relatively unscathed physically and mentally. Thanks go to the engineer at Plusnet who told me that resolution could take 2-3 days, but who expedited the matter when I explained (quite nicely, I think – not sure because I was in a state of shock at the prospect) that the issue was a little too critical for 2-3 freggin’ days!

Anyway, we are now continuing our search for big alien life forms which dribble a lot and have extending teeth. They’re really good at despatching humans and we thought it would be fun to hover at a safe distance and watch.

Nostromo out.

Captain's Log.

Time: 0146 BST

Date: 23rd April 2014

This is the log of the Nostromo. Report entered by Captain JJ ‘Jitterbugger’ Beazley.

Disaster struck the ship at 0110 BST this morning. Vital life support provided by the Internet failed. All attempts at restitution by ISP Technical Support were unsuccessful and the ship is now drifting.

We have food for a few days only. Power and water supplies are unaffected, however, and we have scotch for about two weeks, so we remain optimistic. The next few hours will be critical.

The fact that you have received this bulletin proves that life support has been re-established. Whether we will have survived the outage remains an unknown. If you never hear more of us, pray for our souls. God Bless America the Shire.

Nostromo out.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Looking Beyond the Bluebells.

The wood at the top of the lane is rampant with bluebells at the moment. I’ve never seen them so prolific – courtesy of a mild winter, I suppose. And I was trying to work out earlier what makes bluebells growing in a wood so special.

The ones growing on the verges and in the gardens are attractive enough, but it’s the ones growing among trees that delight the mind with a sense that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s as though the scene is a canvas, beyond which – if only it could be breached – lies a subtler form of reality. And ever since I was a child I’ve harboured the suspicion that such a form of reality is the source from which the human mind derives its appreciation of aesthetics.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, nothing funny happened today, which is a shame. Except, maybe, watching the new lambs gambolling. Their back legs are still a bit too long for their bodies, which makes their let’s jump up and down and kick our legs out so the predators will think we’re too fit to be worth chasing game a source of mild amusement.

Not Believing It.

I read today that a court in Michigan voted 6-2 in favour of banning universities in the state from using race as an element of selection criteria.

You mean that’s what they do? And who were the two dissenters?

This was just a formality, right? Martin Luther King Day?

Seeing the Golden Calf.

I looked out of my bathroom window this evening to see this season’s new herd of young fattening cattle crossing the top of the hill behind my house. The window faces east, and the herd includes several pure white Charolais bullocks. In the opposite direction the sun was sinking low in the west, turning an ever deeper yellow as it did so. It transformed the white animals into glowing golden ones, backed by a leaden grey eastern sky. It was a sight that had to be seen to be fully appreciated. It was the sort of sight from which legend might spring.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Missing the Point.

I just found a new Chinese dance on YouTube that took my fancy. I’m not going to post it because I don’t need to; the fact is that it’s a masterpiece of grace, elegance, strength, suppleness and co-ordination, both individually and as a group. More than that, the choreographer’s art is to say, through the medium of physical movement, something meaningful about life and/or the human condition. That’s why dance can evoke such a strong emotional reaction in those aware enough to take the message, be it the intended one or one they’ve created for themselves – I doubt it matters which.

And what’s the first English language comment I read?

They all look like pretty flowers :)

I mean, why bother?

I’m being curmudgeonly, aren’t I? I am. Sorry. The priestess is unhappy in Italy and it’s best that I don’t care. Time to exercise finger and thumb on that wonder of modern technology, the screw thread. If it proves too much, I’ll get the Tiger Balm out.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A Magic Medicinal Compound.

On Friday evening I was suffering some quite stiff muscular pain in my lower back, brought about by forcing it into positions to which it is no longer accustomed.

(‘Oh, JJ!’ I hear you cry. ‘You haven’t been indulging in nefarious activities, have you?’ Unfortunately, no. I had merely been painting the sloping ceiling over the top of the stairwell, which required a certain amount of leaning backwards and stretching while standing on a ladder. Pity, but there you are.)

So anyway, simple tasks like tying shoelaces and picking things off the floor were becoming irritatingly painful, and a remedy was required. Did I go for painkillers or expensive concoctions? No. I got out the jar of Tiger Balm.

Tiger Balm is wonderful stuff. Not only did the pain disappear in seconds, it stayed gone. And it has a heady, healthy smell, too – camphor, eucalyptus, that sort of thing – so it even clears your head while it’s mending your back. Who could ask for anything more? I doubt it would do much for tonsillitis, duodenal ulcers, sticky-out ears or in-growing toenails, but if you’re suffering the consequences of putting your back into positions to which it is no longer accustomed (nefariously or otherwise) it’s magic.

Disclaimer:

Since I’m recommending a medicinal compound here, I suppose good practice requires me to notify any possible side effects. It has one: it stains your T shirt yellow, and the stain doesn’t come out completely on the first wash. It does eventually, though, so that’s OK. And since nobody but me ever sees my T shirts anyway, it’s doubly OK.

The Kansas Peculiarity.

There’s a woman who walks around the Shire with her dog. The only time I ever spoke to her was about six years ago when she told me she was from Kansas and – maybe more importantly – that her dog was called Jo-Jo. I’ve only seen her a few times since then, usually when I’ve been in the car and she’s been walking along the top road that skirts the common. Yesterday, however, I decided I needed her.

I’ve started to get an occasional visitor in my Feedjit, you see, who is recorded as coming from ‘Kansas City, Missouri.’ This confused me because I’d always assumed that Kansas City would be in Kansas. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? So I googled it and the returns were ambiguous. Some suggested that there are two cities called Kansas City, while others suggested that there is only one, but it’s split down the middle by the Kansas/Missouri state line. I dislike ambiguity; it irritates me; I like definitive answers in situations where there’s a definitive answer to be had.

‘I could do with meeting that woman from Kansas,’ I thought, ‘the one with the dog called Jo-Jo. Bet she’d know, but I see her so infrequently that it isn’t likely so I’ll just have to put up with not knowing. Life can be cruel like that. Oh, well…’

I went for a walk today, and guess who was coming out of Bag Lane as I approached. Yup: Mrs Kansas and Jo-Jo. Isn’t it good when life works out just perfectly for a change?

She gave me the lowdown on Kansas City. It is, indeed, one place divided by the state line. And she also told me something interesting:

‘If you buy liquor in one part of the city, you can’t take it across the state line to the other part. Different taxes.’

Ah, in that case I don’t think I’ll go there. The special offers might be on the wrong side of the line.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Water Sleeve Habit.

I’ve been complaining for some time about the clothes you get in cheap clothes shops. The problem is that the sleeves on shirts and sweaters are always several inches too long. I couldn’t understand why, until I had a thought…

Chinese traditional costume employs the water sleeve, and traditional Chinese dance uses it to great effect. These are water sleeves:


Clothes in cheap clothes shops are usually made in the Far East these days. Explains everything, doesn’t it?

Shades of Nippon.

OK, having now watched umpteen zillion Japanese ghost stories on YouTube, I consider myself an expert on the Japanese and Japanese ghosts. Certain trends have become apparent:

1. However brave the Japanese might be in other areas of human endeavour, when it comes to anything supernatural they’re a right bunch of squealy, knicker-wetting scaredy cats.

2. Unlike our more rational European ghosts, Japanese spectres generally eschew the more obvious haunting grounds like creaky old buildings and crumbly old cemeteries. Their preference is for schools, modern offices and ladies’ lavatories (especially ladies’ lavatories in schools and modern offices.)

3. Nearly all dead people in Japan appear to have got that way by committing suicide, mostly either by hanging themselves or jumping off tall buildings (especially tall school or office buildings, where they take careful aim to fall past the windows of the ladies’ lavatories. Never the men’s, for some reason.)

4. The best credential for becoming a ghost in Japan is to be female, 30-something, pretty, with long black hair (unkempt, of course) and the capacity to do mean as only the Japanese can.

5. The best credential for becoming a ghost’s victim in Japan is to be female, aged 15-22, pretty, with long black hair (arranged tidily) and the capacity to squeal and succumb to incontinence as only the Japanese can.

6. There appears to be a damsel-in-distress thing going on here, but there are no knights in glinting armour to ride to the rescue. On the odd occasion when there is a young man in the vicinity, he’s always the first to run away and leave his girlfriend to face the music (or menace, or moaning, or whatever.)

7. Alternatively, it could be all about subliminal cultural conditioning, the message being that women with tidy hair are nice, women with scruffy hair aren’t, and boys are useless.

I want to go to Japan. I might be useful (and lucky.)

Friday, 18 April 2014

United in Pleasure.

Isn’t it interesting that the different races of humans around the world – separated by thousands of years of different cultural evolution – all use the same facial muscles to smile?

Repelling the Missionary.

The mad woman with her tale of numb bums wasn’t my only encounter in Uttoxeter today. I was approached by a missionary. At least, I assume he was a missionary. There were three of them, all looking like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, and I heard one of them tell another victim that he was ‘at the monastery in London.’

(What sort of missionaries look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, I wonder. Have the Mormons finally tired of being mistaken for CIA operatives? But Mormons don’t have monasteries, do they?)

Anyway, I didn’t stop to find out. I waved him away with the customary ‘whatever it is, I’m not interested.’ I used to engage in meaningful discourse with missionaries, usually until they got thoroughly bored with me and wanted me gone – which was the point of the meaningful discourse, of course. These days I’m too tetchy, so they get the arm wave instead.

Missionaries irritate me a bit, you know? They do. All religions are belief systems, and everybody has the right to believe whatever they want in that regard. What I don’t think they should do is pressure people to follow the same belief when they have no way of proving they’re right. Maybe next time I’ll quote William Porter, the stationmaster at Buggleskelly:

‘You waste your time and I’ll waste mine.’

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Loony Right.

It seems that some Tory minister is proposing sending a letter to all people approaching retirement age, advising them on how long they’re likely to live based on such things as where they live, whether they smoke etc. He says it’s because retired people tend to underestimate how far away the wooden box is, and consequently run out of savings before it no longer matters.

I needn’t indulge in lengthy comment, need I? (Although I’m curious to know how they propose finding out whether people smoke or not. What else do they know about us? How many rolls of toilet paper we buy every year?)

The simple fact is that not only is this an obscene form of Nanny State-ism and an insult to the British people, it’s also the crassest thing yet to come out of this brain dead bunch of buffoons currently sitting on the government benches at Westminster. And they’re running our bloody country.

Perilously Alfreso in Uttoxeter.

Having bought my usual lunch of chips and a cake in Uttoxeter today, I set off to find somewhere to sit and eat it. Uttoxeter is a little sparse in the public seating area (it’s that sort of town) but there was a wooden bench nearby, backed by a sort of brick-built ‘box’ with soil in the middle where there ought to be flowers or shrubs or something (only there aren’t; Uttoxeter is that sort of town.) The wooden bench was half occupied, so I sat on the low brick box instead.

Just as I was taking the iced top off my vanilla slice (because vanilla slices are a lot less prone to having the custard squirt off in all directions if you remove and eat the iced top first) an elderly woman approached bearing a somewhat serious air.

(Thinks: What does she want?)

‘When it was the Queen’s Coronation,’ she began…

(What? Who is she?)

‘…some friends of ours had a TV. We didn’t, because not many people did in those days…

(Why is she telling me this?)

‘…but our friends did, so we went to their house to watch it.

(Scowling now. This woman is completely bonkers.)

‘Anyway, I sat on the floor the whole time because all the seats were taken…

(Has she escaped from somewhere?)

‘…and when it was all over I stood up, and I was really stiff. “Have you got a numb bum?” asked my father. And I had.

(I don’t think I’m quite believing this.)

‘So I saw you sitting on these cold stones…

(Bricks, actually…)

‘…and I thought “That man’s going to have a numb bum.”’

(Ah! Enlightenment at last!)

‘Oh, that’s OK,’ I said. ‘I won’t be here very long.’

‘But there’s a wooden bench there,’ she continued unabashed.

(I know, but there’s an old woman sitting on it who looks like she mightn’t smell too good. That’s why I sat here in the first place.)

‘No, I’ll be fine. Won’t be here long.’

‘Oh, all right, but I just thought I’d tell you.’

‘Thanks.’

She walked off smugly, having apparently done her duty.

(Mad old bat.)

She was wrong about the numb bum, but Uttoxeter is that sort of town. And it's all true.

More Ashbourne Oddments.

Sainsbury’s in Ashbourne today had litre bottles of Whyte & Mackay at £15, and 500ml bottles of Spitfire Ale at £1. That means you could get something for £16 which would normally cost £23.99, which made today – in my jaundiced opinion – something approaching a Good Day. And I wondered whether some brewery in Munich makes an ME109 Ale. Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

(The Spitfire Ale is currently going down nicely, but I’ll avoid the obvious joke.)

And I’ll tell you something odd about Ashbourne today. I went into the same shop where I heard Doris Day singing Move Over Darling last week, and the same song came on again when I was at the very same point in my circumnavigation. Such things make you feel there’s some meaning to be taken, don’t they, but I never know what it is.

And I saw HT54’s younger sister in Sainsbury’s car park. Same British racing green, same white roof. BJ05. It was empty and didn’t wave.

Women and The Voice.

…and while I’m on the subject of women, I watched about thirty seconds of a Chinese woman singing on the Chinese version of The Voice. It seems that Chinese women are as apt to dishonour womankind on their version as ours are on ours.

Not that I watch shallow, glitzy, overcooked, ego-ridden tripe like The Voice, you understand, but I have caught the odd objectionable clip here and there. Hateful. Just hateful.

(If anything, the men – ??? – are even worse.)

Just Loving American Women.

While I was searching pictures on Google Images I came across one with a caption which I assume to have been a quotation from some film or other. It said:

The opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is indifference. The fact that you hate me means you still have feelings for me.

And do you know, I had the very same thought just a couple of nights ago. If I were still in touch with the Woman from America (in a rational, constructive way, that is – not the irrational, destructive way to which one is apt to be given, having consumed more scotch than the government says is good for you in one day and it isn’t quite 4 o’clock in the morning yet) I would send it to her. I’m sure she would concur, and possibly even appreciate the thought. One of the first things she said to me all those years ago was:

‘I won’t tolerate indifference, Jeffrey!’

Or maybe it was more like:

‘I won’t tolerate indifference, Jeffrey!!!

It was what led me down the same road as Charles Smithson Esq – realising that American women have something about them that is refreshing and really rather attractive. The dark-but-feminine tone, the hint of New England in the accent, the forthright attitude…

But I’m not, so I won’t.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Contrast and Completing the Trip.

This blog’s been a bit in the doldrums lately, hasn’t it? That’s because I’ve been a bit in the doldrums lately. Mind, body and spirit have all been erring towards a darker shade of pale.

But it won’t do. What else does life have to offer the more mature and discerning person but the opportunity to spout trivial nonsense on a blog? Not much, I can tell you. So, a trivial blog post will have to be attempted.

How about the little contrast I came across in Ashbourne today? OK. Sit up straight and no talking while I’m talking.


It being a warm and pleasant day, I was sitting in the car park outside Homebase with my driver’s door wide open and my legs swung out. There was some nice Irish music playing on the car stereo, courtesy of Boys in the Lane, and I was eating my lunch. It was about as close to idyllic as I ever get these days. Suddenly, this car comes through a vacant space in the row behind and into the space next to mine, thereby forcing me to half close my door to avoid the possibility of having it removed altogether. I tell you, there must have been fifty empty spaces on that car park, so why does he have to choose the one next to me? What is his freggin’ problem?! Here we go again, you see? No respect for personal space. The driver was a man in his late fifties or early sixties, and he got well scowled at.

Move on half an hour…

I took my walking shoes into the Ashbourne cobblers to get them heeled. The older men who work in that shop always give you the standard line:

‘Be ready Tuesday.’

But the young guy who’s there on Wednesday – I’d say he’s probably in his late teens – is a bit more versatile.

‘When do you want to pick them up?’

‘I’ll be in Ashbourne again next week.’

‘I can do them today if you like.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’

‘About 2.30?’

‘Don’t see why not.’

And so he did, which means I don’t have to spend a week tramping the lanes in wellies even if the weather is dry. Good, eh?

And that, children, is why I don’t entirely subscribe to the These Kids Today! school of thought.

Right then, you can put your exercise books away now and listen to one of Mr Beazley’s favourite songs, aptly suggested by my earlier reference to a darker shade of pale. 


It’s all about the Titanic, apparently. Or so they say. And while I’m on the subject of the Titanic…

You know I give a lot of credence to the concept of reincarnation, right? Well, one of my most chilling fears suggests the possibility that I might have been one of the unlucky 1500 who boarded the infamous ship in Liverpool (or was it Southampton?) but never made it to New York, except in Ghostbusters. I’m sure this doesn’t explain my near-manic desire to go to New York now, but it might explain why I like Ghostbusters so much.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Salute the Daffodil.

So bold and brave a flower, the daffodil. Standing shoulder to shoulder, usually alone in massed ranks of yellow and white livery, they are pre-eminent in the van of the floral army come to raise the siege of winter. The daffodil is the flower that makes me wish I were a poet. But if I were, my brave fellows would shun all fluttering and dancing in the breeze. My daffodils would be seen riding with the Rohan cavalry.

That regiment of heroes is largely spent now, their serried ranks bent low with the dead and the dying. Their job is done and the field cleared for tulips to grace the gardens and bluebells to bedeck the woodland floor. And just to show that the frigid queen is dead or near defeat, young lambs were stretched out asleep in the sunshine today, their mothers sitting heads-up, relaxed but ever vigilant. And in this brave new world was heard the first visitor from southern climes: a chiffchaff sang from a nearby tree.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Admiring Our Leaders.

The Conservative Party leadership in Britain has issued a code of conduct to all their MPs telling them not to ‘bully, abuse or harass’ their staff. The code is, however, voluntary.

Well now, let’s jump to two immediate and inescapable conclusions:

1. Tory MPs must be a uniformly nasty lot if such a code is deemed necessary. If there were only a few Members given to such behaviour, cases would be dealt with individually.

2. Making the code voluntary is tantamount to saying ‘of course, if you really want to bully, abuse and/or harass your staff, we won’t stand in your way.’

Thought-provoking, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Commons has expressed his intention to set up a telephone hotline for victims of abuse, such is the culture of bullying and sexual harassment now prevalent in the British parliament.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, kids in Britain are taught that our parliament is one of the things we Brits should be most proud of. Ah, right…

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Little Exercise in Self-Knowledge.

Sorry if I’m posting a lot of videos lately (but they’re only short ones, so that’s OK) but this one has me struggling a bit. You see, I can’t decide whether I find it mildly amusing, deeply sad, or supremely horrific. Each reaction would say something different about me, wouldn’t it, and I came to a strong suspicion yesterday that if there is any purpose to life at all, it is to know thyself.

‘And what would be the point of that?’ I hear you ask. Ah, well, that’s where it gets complicated and a bit too wordy for a mere blog post.

So, if you’ve got a spare five minutes and you’re up for a little test, you might consider watching the video and evaluating your reaction. Only you need know the result. It’s nobody else's business.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Doris and Defining Feminine.

I was in a shop in Ashbourne today, and the PA was playing Doris Day singing Move Over Darling.

‘I love this song,’ I said to one of the shop assistants. I do, you know. I always have, even when I was a kid and it was still being played on the radio.

A brief discussion ensued, mostly along the lines of how popular songs could be well raunchy in those days, but the raunchiness was more subtly expressed than it is today. An elderly woman agreed. ‘Women were so much more feminine then,’ she said.

Were they? I’m not sure, for how does one define femininity? And I expect the feminists would argue that even if they were, they were also more dominated by their husbands and a culture run almost entirely by men.

But I’m not even sure about that. My great grandmother certainly wasn’t dominated by her husband. The poor bloke fled to America to escape her violent ways. And when I asked my mother why Mr Peach down the road had blue scars on his face, she said they’d been caused by Mrs Peach hitting him with a poker. More feminine indeed.

And then I had another thought. Maybe the woman was right and young women these days really are less feminine than they used to be. Maybe that’s why today’s young singing stars feel the need to take their clothes off in public. Maybe it’s the only way they can prove they really are women.

OK, so now I’m being facetious. And to continue the humorous theme, I still like Groucho Marx’s famous quotation regarding dear Doris:

‘I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.’

Anyway, here’s dear Doris being supremely feminine, early sixties style, and doing raunchy in a subtle way.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A Ruse and Respect in Derby.

I had a thought when I was in Derby today. If you want to walk around a town centre talking to yourself without attracting quizzical frowns from the masses, all you need do is hold a mobile phone to your ear. I decided it was one of the leading benefits of modern technology.

*  *  *

The girl in the coffee shop was running about like a mad thing, trying to deal with the small queue that had built up. When she got to me she said 'sorry to keep you waiting.'

'Bet your wages don't acurately reflect how hard you work, do they?' I said.

'Nope.'

*  *  *

And while I was sitting on a sofa in the shopping mall, munching my vegetable samosas from the Asian tucker wagon, a woman approached and asked whether I’d mind if she placed her handbag on the arm of the seat while she rummaged in it. When she finished she said ‘thank you.’ I returned the thanks, because a lot of people wouldn’t have shown that much respect for my personal space.

Spirit of Nippon.

You know, if all these Japanese ghost stories that I’m watching on YouTube – and which purport to be dramatisations of actual experiences – are true, Japan must be about the most haunted country in the world. That’s something that used to be said of Britain, but maybe their rising sun is eclipsing ours now that we’re becoming more internationally-minded.

Their ghosts are weird, though. Comfy British ghosts do nice comfy things, like rattling chains and walking through walls trying not to drop their heads in the process. Japanese ghosts are much darker of habit. They do things like lying in front of women’s lavatories, long black hair spreading around their recumbent heads like pools of blood, tripping people up. Or pushing bicycles along city streets when the living are trying to ride them. Some of them are even funny. Here’s one to be going on with:

Monday, 7 April 2014

If all else Fails...

I had another sales and marketing call today, only this time it wasn’t silent. This time the operator got to me before I hung up. The South Asian accent was very strong.

Gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble. How are you today?

I was a little less than honest in my response:

‘I’m sorry, I didn’t understand a word of that. I assume you’re trying to sell me something.’

Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble.

‘Well, whatever it is, I don’t want any. Bye.’

How are you today?? Don’t they realise what a terminal turn-off that question is? I’ve heard that Indian call centre operatives are highly intelligent people – usually university graduates, apparently. You’d think they’d know better, wouldn’t you?

Maybe they do; maybe it’s their management who are bit deficient in the brain cell department. That’s usually the way of it.

On Duty and an Alien's Observation.

We had monsoon conditions for about half an hour this afternoon, and the lane at the bottom of the garden was impersonating the source of the Nile again. (If only Speke and Burton had known about the lane at the bottom of my garden. They might both still be alive today.)

So, we all know what Jeffrey’s job is in such conditions, don’t we? He has to don his ancient winter coat (which is a Swedish mountaineer’s anorak and still tolerates snow better than it does rain) and go out with his trusty shovel to clear the road drains. I consider it the least I can do in return for the denizens of the Shire tolerating my presence in their exalted company, and not chasing me to the burning mill (with pitchforks) or at least to the top of the church bell tower without even an Esmeralda to keep me warm. So that’s what I did.

I made the mistake of failing to notice just how deep the water running down the road was on this occasion, and went out in stout boots instead of wellies. It wasn’t long before I realised that I would not only have to change my wet jeans when I got back, but also my wet socks. And the other problem with clearing road drains in such conditions is this: Once you’ve done it, you have to go back to the beginning and do it all over again. That’s because once you’ve cleared a drain and the water is flowing freely down it, all the shite being brought down the road gets deposited on top of the grid and clogs it up again. It means you have to do the job twice, which seems a bit silly to me, but that’s what you have to do.

The exercise did, however, provide yet another valuable lesson in the oddness of the human animal. It was school run time you see, so there were a lot of vehicles about. Some of them slowed as they passed me, and one woman even raised a regal hand in recognition of my valiant efforts. (I would have tugged my forelock if I’d had one, in appreciation of her graciousness, but I haven’t so I didn’t.)

Others, however, were a little less kind. They were the ones who deemed it unnecessary to moderate their speed one jot, thereby showering me with quite a lot of dirty water. It was one of those situations where you stop what you’re doing and watch them race away through the flood, hoping they’ll see you in their rear view mirrors and notice that you’re not exactly smiling. And they’re the ones who prove yet again that some of these human types haven’t the faintest clue how to conduct themselves in such a way as to make their world a fairer and more amicable place. That’s the primary trait which will form paragraph 1 in my report when I get back, if only I get to remember where I came from.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sad Farewells.

A growing realisation came fully home to me yesterday: Cyberspace can be a remarkably potent medium for making real connections with people and animals. I would never have thought it; I used to be utterly uncomprehending of those stories of people meeting over the internet and ending up married. Not any more, it seems. Some of the connections I’ve made over the internet in recent years have been substantially more meaningful than the vast majority of those I made in the ‘real’ world. I suppose when you have the whole planet to wander on, you’re bound to find the odd diamond among the routine pebbles scattered over the field of life.

And so I went to bed feeling sad last night. I had to say farewell to two of those connections – first to a person in America who used to come bearing the magic tinder box, and then to the very smashing Mr Dog of upstate New York, whose trips to Maine and ball-digging in the snow were a source of delight.

The first has, I hope, a lot of living to do yet. She deserves that it be a rich and vibrant experience. I’m sure it won’t always be happy, but I hope that it might be mostly so.

The second had, I’m reliably informed by his human, also a person of some significance, a ‘long and happy life.’ I’m sure he deserved every minute of it.

Epilogue.

I finished The French Lieutenant’s Woman tonight and felt numb. I tried to remember why I bought the book in the first place. Did somebody recommend it? I didn’t think so. And then I recalled going into the second hand book shop in Uttoxeter, looking for the next bit of cosy fireside reading to keep me amused through a few dark winter’s nights. Nothing took my fancy except The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which jumped up and down on the shelf, waving.

I don’t recall a novel ever leaving me feeling numb before. Take tonight, for example. Charles has found Sarah and they’ve engaged in their final, anguished conversation. I had to put the book down at one point. It was getting too tough and I needed to summon the wherewithal to see it through. Too familiar. Too many rattling skeletons, gibbering ghosts, snarling gremlins – call them what you will. It was never cosy fireside reading.

We leave Charles probably heading back to America, there to live out his fractured life and end his days. I wonder where I’ll end mine.

This topic is now closed. Off for some light relief, courtesy of barley juice and Japanese phantoms.