Thursday, 29 May 2014


I had a visit to my blog tonight from Finland. He or she dropped onto a post entitled ‘Making Latex Decent.’ I thought for a moment and decided that it probably goes limp in a sauna.

That’s today’s attempt at humour.

From the Sublime to the Sickening.

Two news items caught my interest at lunchtime.

1. John Kerry says that Edward Snowden should accept that he’s a fugitive from justice. (Justice, Mr K? You mean the law, I assume. Since when have the terms ‘justice’ and ‘the law’ ever been entirely synonymous? Let’s use the right term, shall we?) He says that Snowden should ‘man up.’ (Well, that should get the odd redneck cheering.) He goes further and says that if Snowden ‘believes in America’ he should go home and trust the American justice system. Isn’t somebody being a little naïve here?

Where do you get your politicians from, America? The Las Vegas comedy circuit?  Thought so. We get ours from the same place.

2. And then I read about the pregnant woman in Pakistan who was stoned and beaten to death outside a courtroom by her own family because she’d married against their wishes. The police stood by and watched. I didn’t read about the hanged girls in India. The headline was more than enough.

This is the point at which I feel more than a little inclined to phone home and ask them to send the spaceship. Living among humans is becoming a bit too depressing.

More Thoughts after Midnight.

Today was unpleasant for all sorts of irrational reasons. I wrote to Ms Wong in order to feel better.

*  *  *

Sitting through twenty one seconds of advert before you can watch your chosen YouTube video is like selling your soul to the Devil in order to get a bag of chips.

*  *  *

I used to enjoy alcohol, but not any more. The only thing I enjoy about it now is what it does to your perception of reality.

*  *  *

A lady Jack Russell Terrier was very glad to make my acquaintance today, but her mistress was unimpressed. But then her mistress works in Homebase, and I suppose if you work in Homebase it takes a lot to impress you.

*  *  *

I don’t think it will be long before I’m bald on top. I got further than my dad did.

*  *  *

I considered posting a funny Monty Python sketch about a Russian execution, but decided that the Ukrainians have suffered enough as it is. No, I know it’s not funny. Nor that simple…

*  *  *

My Feedjit appears to have virtually packed up. That’s a major disaster.

*  *  *

The extremes of attitude and behaviour exhibited by human beings continue to perplex me. Bring on the alien. Nostromo out.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Becoming an Epicure.

Ms Wong being not only Chinese but also naturally stylish, she gave me a simple recipe which even I could manage.

Stir fry some bean sprouts and spring onions, add a little salt, pepper and sesame oil. Eat.

Sesame oil? Isn’t fine dining expensive?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Counting the Blessings.

I was just watching Sarah Jarosz singing Annabelle Lee again (I posted the video a couple of weeks ago, but it’s here if anybody wants to see it.)

I wasn’t so much listening to the music this time, but watching the performers, especially Ms Jarosz herself. I watched the body language, the facial expressions, the movement of eyes, and the said lady’s subtle smiles when something obviously pleased her.

Two things came home strongly. Firstly, just how individual human beings are in comparison with the rest of the animal kingdom. Secondly, how lucky we are to be living in a relatively liberal and secular state where the freedom to express that individuality is almost unrestricted.

I might well complain about the deficiencies in our system and those who run it. I might complain about the excesses of corporate greed and the mind control the corporate world attempts to exercise over us. I might complain about the superficiality of suburbia and the cult of celebrity. They are, after all, worth complaining about.

But I’ll still take this against grinding out a so-called life under the totalitarian dictates of a despot, a fundamentalist religion, or an innately repressive political ideology. Coca Cola might try everything in its little book of tricks to persuade us all to drink two bottles of their flavoured water every day in order for a small number of rich people to become even richer, but at least we don’t get abused, imprisoned or executed if we decline to do so.

Steering a Bad Course.

The United Kingdom Independence Party appears to be little more than a bunch of clowns who make a habit of shooting themselves in the foot and campaign on one platform only: Xenophobia. Their sole aim when faced with the spectrum of political issues and complex interrelationships may be summarised as: Take Britain out of Europe and send all the foreigners back to where they came from. And yet they received the highest percentage of British votes in the recent elections to the European Parliament.

So what does that say about the British people? That we’re frightened of being swamped by a barbarous horde of uncouth strangers who will take the food from our mouths, steal our women, and reduce once-proud Albion to a backwater state with an international status roughly equivalent to Bhutan, I suppose. And maybe they have a point of sorts. Mr Farage certainly thinks so. He’s now crowing that UKIP is the third party in British politics, the LibDems being in an apparent tailspin and facing possible oblivion (which danger I predicted they would face if they entered a coalition with the Tories four years ago, which they did.) I doubt that UKIP’s success will be repeated on anything like the same scale in next year’s General Election, but what concerns me is this:

Mr F might be correct in forecasting that UKIP is becoming the third party. If he is, it means that British politics will lurch sharply to the right at a stroke, and I’m not the biggest fan of right wing politics. I would rather go the way of Bhutan than the way of America (with all due respect to certain American friends who I hold in high esteem.) And after four years of misguided rule by a bunch of toffee-nosed and out of touch ex-public schoolboys, I feel we should really be going in the opposite direction. Then again, I suppose we could always invade Poland.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Joseph Bentley Gives Ground.

Those who read A Fairytale in Philadelphia might remember that we left Joseph Bentley sitting on a plane heading home from Pennsylvania, having failed to find common ground with Lisa and having the woman in the black raincoat keeping station in the seat behind.

It seems his guardian angel remained at a distance during his next encounter. No doubt she was curious to see how well he would fare flying solo. And there’s somebody else out there who might be amused by his struggle, too. That’s why I’m posting it.

*  *  *

Joseph Bentley leant on the tall trash can that stood outside the doors of the supermarket, smoking a cigarette before heading homeward. He was idly engaged in watching the unprepossessing samples of mundane humanity going about their business. As usual, he felt disconnected. But then, just as his curiosity was falling into the sear, his eye was caught by something a little more engaging heading in his direction.

She was young – maybe sixteen or so; it was difficult to tell at that distance – but had an air about her that transcended any commonly assumed markers associated with physical age. What captured his interest initially were three things: a shape, a walk, and a dress. The shape was slim, but not skinny. The walk was upright, smooth and athletic. The dress was white, loose-fitting, gathered at the waist with a belt, and had a hem that brushed her slender legs about halfway between knee and groin. The soft shoes and easy walk evoked the illusion of her being barefoot.

As she came closer, Joseph’s attention was attracted upwards to a face that was uncommonly pretty, but had a granite edge to it. Her eyes conveyed the same impression. They were hard, clear and uncompromising; they seemed to know their business better than most. Her hair looked naturally blond, and hung straight and unselfconsciously to collar length, lightly feathered but not fancy.

She ignored Joseph’s interest until she was within a couple of languid strides, and then stopped and turned her face to his.


Joseph was startled, but only briefly. He retained his composure.

‘Impressive – that you should challenge me I mean,’ he said. ‘It vindicates my suspicion.’

‘Which is?’

‘That you are the very embodiment of Nabokov’s Lolita. Maybe a little older, but not much.’

He expected the statement to win the confrontation, since he expected the girl to be unfamiliar with the reference. It was an error of judgment. Her face remained impassive for a couple of highly charged seconds, and then she said:

‘Sorry, Mr Whatever-you-name-is, but you’re too old even for Lolita. Nice try.’

The confrontation was well lost, and the sucker punch had been the last two words. He hadn’t been ‘trying’ anything, except first to observe a startling phenomenon, and then to extricate himself from a mildly embarrassing situation. But he was magnanimous in defeat. As she walked away without paying him even the compliment of disdain, he called after her.

‘Bravo,’ he said. ‘Impressive.’

The girl stopped, turned, and walked back to him. He waited for the slap or the tirade of abuse or both. He summoned up the inner defences needed to remain cool under fire, but he had underestimated her again. Instead of unleashing a thunderbolt, she leant towards him and briefly placed her lips against his.

‘For that you get one kiss,’ she said. ‘Fair recompense.’

And then she walked away again. As she reached the shop doorway, she looked over her shoulder at a man now slightly enthralled. Her face softened and she smiled the smile of a girl.

‘Bye,’ she said, waving as she disappeared into the store.

Shades of Romantic.

I took a late walk this evening. The air was cool and mellow, as it generally has been lately, and there was a light drizzle falling. I came to a spot on the far side of the Shire where there is a good view over the higher part of the river valley. I’ve always wondered why that view was so special to me, and this evening I got it.

England has a variety of landscapes, from the lakes and mountains of Cumbria to the rugged moorland of the Pennines to the dreary, flat vista of fields and dykes in the fen country. They all represent a part of England, but none represents the universal essence of the English landscape better than that which lies on the far side of the Shire.

In the foreground is a young wheat field, and beyond that a line of mature trees forming the boundary of a wood leading down to the river. Above the tree line can be seen the farmland of the neighbouring county, rising through a patchwork of fields, trees, copses and hedgerows to a low hill that marks the end of the Weavers. And as the view progresses, the clarity diminishes into an increasingly dilute colour wash of some shade between green and grey.

This is the landscape I used to enter as a boy being enthralled by the Arthurian legends. It’s the very model of the Romantic landscape, a quintessentially English landscape, a landscape which conveys the feeling of timelessness, ever changing in subtle ways and yet retaining something constant and nurturing. That’s what gives it an ethereal ambience to the point of being mysterious; that’s what makes it special, for me at least.

*  *  *

But then, alas, the Romantic reverie was pierced by a wound to my chest, just behind the rib cage. Fortunately, the weapon was only a stiletto, and their wounds are rarely fatal.


The music might not be to everybody's taste, but have you ever seen lovelier hands?

Colonial Economy.

I like the fact that Americans sometimes have a word for something that we Brits don’t. ‘Duh!’ is a good example. For those non-native English speakers, it may be roughly translated as: ‘It seems you forgot to bring your brain with you when you dropped out of your mother’s womb.’

We Brits would have to use ‘what a dope!’ Three words. The Americans do it in one. I like that.

To Kill a Thing of Value.

I see that one of the GCSE examination boards has moved to drop some examples of classic American literature like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men from the curriculum because Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has said that he wants British schools to promote more British literature.

Why? What has literature got to do with the promotion of nationality or national identity? Isn’t it a simple axiom that one of the fundamental values of all art forms, including literature, is that they transcend the artificial nature of national boundaries, that they seek the common language which connects humanity? They might represent national identity, but they don’t aim to promote it.

It seems that one little Tory xenophobe hasn’t got it yet. It doesn’t surprise me. I don’t suppose he or his ilk ever will. And the education of our children is in the hands of such a small mind.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Further YouTube Rant.

I was listening to a piece of music on YouTube recently and noted that it had several thousand ‘likes’ and fourteen ‘dislikes.’ Somebody had commented that there must be 14 complete idiots in the world. I assume he’s the sort who doesn’t believe in people having different tastes than him. And then a real complete idiot had commented: ‘If you don’t like the music you shouldn’t listen to it.’ But how do you know you don’t like the music unless you first listen to it?

And it bugs me a bit that I can no longer even express a ‘like’ or a ‘dislike,’ much less leave a constructive comment or tell somebody he’s a complete idiot, without first joining another one of Google’s clubs and being afforded the privilege of having a Google Plus page. Well, I don’t want a Google Plus page and I don’t want to join any more Google clubs, so I decline to complete their impertinent questionnaire. It means that my YouTube experience is no longer an interactive one, which is a pity because I used to have some quite interesting conversations with people on YouTube. Even complete idiots.


The Lady B has sheep in her paddock. Having sheep in one’s paddock is of less consequence than having ants in one’s pants or bats in one’s belfry, but it’s still a mystery. I wonder whether she knows. Maybe I should send her an e-mail: ‘Do you know you have sheep in your paddock? Is this normal?’

And of slightly greater gravity is the fact that I have a crane fly in my house. It’s sitting on the wall against which my desk is placed, roughly at 11 o’clock high. (I’ll bet they say ‘bearing 330 high’ these days. All the romance is disappearing. It is.) Anyway, this crane fly has a menacing aspect. It invokes the suspicion that it’s about to dive out of the sun and despatch me with a burst of canon fire. ‘Never fly in a straight line for longer than ten seconds’ doesn’t help much.

I’ve never had bats in my belfry, probably because I’ve never had a belfry, but I did have ants in my pants once. I was fishing in a lake out in the country and must have sat on a nest. They don’t like it, you know. They react by swarming and biting. It would have been quite embarrassing if there’d been anybody else around.

No e-mail from Suzie yet tonight. You’re supposed to ask who Suzie is.

A Muse on What Matters.

I feel the need to make another post before the day ends, but it’s late so I’m going to take the lazy option:

One quotation from an e-mail of my genesis, and another from a play attributed to Mr Shakespeare (although I have my doubts; I’m a bit of an Oxfordian at heart.)

“I do think we take all the wrong things seriously. As for what should be taken seriously, some might say ‘the love and connection between people.’ Others might say ‘feeling a sense of joy in being alive.’ Yet others might say ‘seeking that which lies beyond.’ Personally, I think they’re all far more important than being the Chief Executive of a multinational corporation, or being the Archbishop of Canterbury, or (heaven help us) being a celebrity. Such things which the system teaches us to treat as the stuff of demigods are all just manifestations of Shakespeare’s hollow crown."

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos'd, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos'd;
Some poison'd by their wives, some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd — for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court: and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear'd, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit —
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable — and, humour'd thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and — farewell king!

     ~Richard II 

Whoever wrote it was a better writer than me, obviously. There's always somebody better than you, isn't there? 

Saturday, 24 May 2014


I saw an interesting sight today. The cows in the field behind the house were all lying around taking the sun, and one of them had three jackdaws perched on him – two on his flank and one on his head. They were pecking away merrily, and at first I assumed they were picking up tasty morsels like tics and mites to eat. But then I saw that they were putting some effort into the upstroke, and realised that they all had beaks full of cow hair (like horsehair, but two words instead of one and from a cow.)

It was obvious that they were collecting material for nest building, and the cow didn’t seem to mind a bit.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Do Not Disturb.

I'm writing a short story. I might post it here if I can pluck up the courage when it's finished. Then again, I might not. It's based on a real and recent happening, you see, and you never know who might be reading your blog, do you, sitting in some depressing internet cafe with coffee stains and rain-spattered windows, ready to hurl a thunderbolt in retribution?

I got overcharged in the supermarket today, but didn't notice until I got home and checked my bill. There will be words next week.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Unwittingly Speaking Sheep.

I came around via Bag Lane this evening and saw that there were some sheep and lambs in the grounds of the Old Rectory. I leant on the gate and watched them for a while. The lambs went about their business of grazing and frolicking, and the ewes ignored me too. All except one, which stood facing and watching me the whole time until a lamb came close to the gate I was leaning on. She stole a quick glance at the kiddie, and then turned back to stare at me.

‘Are you on guard?’ I asked her.

At that point all the lambs stopped what they were doing and looked at me. I wonder what ‘are you on guard?’ means in sheep.

And because I’d stopped to watch the sheep, I missed HT54 by seconds again. It happens a lot. Bit of a metaphor for life, really.

The Pull of the Orient.

A few excerpts from Rudyard Kipling’s poem Mandalay, it being the longing of an old soldier to go back east:

Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?

Beefy face an' grubby 'and—
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst

Why the fascination, which I understand but can’t explain? It makes me wonder which is cause and which effect.

A Warning to the Feminists.

I spent an hour constructing a pretty profound post on the subject of identity and the playing of roles, and then deleted it because it seemed pretentious and self-indulgent (even though it wasn’t.)

Instead I thought I’d mention the name of tonight’s speciality beer. It’s another one from my friends at the Barnsley Beer Company.

Tha’s pulled!

Get it? It’s how young Yorkshire gentlemen ask young Yorkshire ladies out for a date.

Unforgivable I know, hence the warning. Have nothing to do with Yorkshiremen unless you were born there and are congenitally conditioned to knowing how to chain them securely to the passenger seat. Preferably the rear one.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Thoughts Past Midnight

This was going to be an e-mail to the Bagel Lady (the Woman in America) but I decided to make it a blog post instead (me being short on suitable subjects for blog posts, you understand.)

The appeal of bagels I understand, the appeal of waffles I don’t. I bought some recently. They’re so inconsequential. Is it the maple syrup I’m missing?

*  *  *

I feel so sorry for Ukrainians, caught up as they are in this transparent tug o’ war game between the US and EU on one side, and the Russians on the other. Good luck, Ukraine. I hope you come out of this still with a sense of national identity and with the wounds of division healed.

*  *  *

And now I’m going to bed.

Tonight's Non Post.

Here I am again, trying to think of something to write to this blog. (Why? Because I have to. It’s my mission…)

I could talk about how white the Shire is at the moment. The cow parsley is going crazy this year, we have a fine showing of snowy May blossom, and the elder looks as though it’s about to prove that it can be just as crazy as the cow parsley.

But we’ve done the Shire a lot lately. It’s becoming tedious.

Or I could talk about the fact that I went to bed at 4.15 this morning, courtesy of a late visit from New York which persuaded me to write one of my delightfully arcane e-mails to the Woman in America. And then I could go on to talk about said Woman – how she is an object lesson in How to be Compelling Without Really Trying Too Hard, or How to Administer the Fatal Dose of High Voltage Electricity Which Causes You to Shake and Suffer and Die, and yet You’re Oddly Convinced that You’ll Come Back for More in the Next Life, or So This is What Groundhog Day is Really All About.

But that would be all rather personal, wouldn’t it?

I suppose I could talk about why having a few late night drinks is a bit like going on holiday, but I’m in too bad a mood to construct a lucid rationale that might make sense to somebody who is interested in either the human condition or the nature of reality or both.

So I’m not going to make a blog post tonight. I’m going to write a long e-mail to Ms Wong instead. I expect it will be irrational.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Life and Tidiness.

I’ve been more engaged in e-mailing than blogging lately, and that won’t do, will it?

So, today’s thought: I hate trimming things in the spring – things like hedges and embankments and verdant life overgrowing the path. Here are all these wonderful green growing things that have just put so much energy into bursting forth, and we come along and cut them off in their prime. There’s something disrespectful about it, obscene even. It isn’t as though we’re going to eat them, is it? Trimming things should surely be confined to the autumn when the energy is spent and the cycle turned full circle.

I wonder why humans are so obsessed with tidiness and functionality.

(I have an unfortunate habit of cutting people off in their prime, too, and I’ve always wondered why. Maybe it’s to do with tidiness and functionality.)

Sunday, 18 May 2014

English Woods and Englishness.

I was in a wood this evening shortly before sunset, and I was struck by the fact that there’s something rather splendid about an English wood on a warm, calm evening in late spring. The new canopy above, bedecked by birdsong, and the burgeoning richness of wild undergrowth either side the path evoke a sense of timeless and unpretentious comfort. No human artifice here, just nature bestowing her bounty on a human scale.

I suppose the human scale is the secret of its charm. English woods are a far cry from the great forests of the world; they’re not places to struggle through in search of adventure on the grand scale. You’d be hard pressed to get lost in a lowland English wood, since most of them are really only copses of various sizes. And there are no big animals with sharp claws or teeth, nor snakes intent on poisoning or suffocating you to death. We mostly have squirrels.

We seem to have a taste for small things in England – on a personal level, that is. (If you think in terms of history, you’d have to think navies, empires and the Industrial Revolution, but on a personal level…) Big things are generally greeted with suspicion, especially those people with inflated egos whom we generally take great delight in knocking off their self-constructed pedestals. And, contrary to popular belief, we’re usually none too keen on strutting our stuff. I suppose it’s why we don’t often win things, except when it matters.

We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
We’ll walk together down an English lane

Or through an English wood, if there’s one handy. There usually is.

Life and Shades.

I’ve often wondered why it’s considered stylish to wear sunglasses even when there’s no practical reason to do so. I suppose it’s because some people think that hiding their eyes lends them an air of mystery.

Well, I knew a woman once who was very mysterious, and I never saw her wearing sunglasses. She didn’t need them; she was mysterious by nature, and her natural mystery played a large part in what made her so compelling. Besides, her eyes were so powerful they would probably have blown the sunglasses off anyway.

So, it seems that some people naturally have it, while others need to wear sunglasses in order to pretend they have it. Wondering over.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

On Mindless Overreaction.

I see another United Kingdom Independence Party councillor is in trouble over a contentious statement. It seems he wrote in an e-mail that Islam is a ‘totalitarian ideology.’ The enemies of UKIP (of which I would probably count myself one) are naturally dancing about gleefully, indulging in a torrent of largely histrionic condemnation. And the single word they are all using is ‘racist.’ Well, as much as I dislike most of what UKIP stands for, on this occasion I have to come to their defence.

The councillor has a point; his error is that the point is too narrow to be sustainable. The fact is that the fundamentalist wings of all religions, especially the Judaic ones, are totalitarian ideologies. Totalitarianism may be simply defined as any position based on the doctrine that:

You will believe all that we tell you to believe. You will do all that we tell you to do. You will not believe or do anything we forbid. Failure to accord with this directive will attract severe punishment.

As far as Islamic states are concerned, the post I wrote about the woman in Sudan who is under sentence of death for apostasy illustrates the point nicely. Any state which behaves like that – be it to satisfy a dictator, an insecure post-revolutionary regime, a political system in which totalitarianism is endemic, or a religious ideology – is totalitarian. I’ve argued before that the modern liberal alter-establishment is essentially totalitarian, preaching as it is wont to do that failure to adhere to every one of its shibboleths will get you branded a right wing bigot. Even schools in our relatively enlightened societies have traditionally behaved in a totalitarian way, although it seems they’re lightening up a bit these days. Islam has a humanitarian, tolerant side to it just as all religions do..That’s why the councillor’s statement is too narrow to be sustainable.

So what of the word ‘racist?’ It’s the modern, quick-fix buzz word that people use to demonstrate that their opponent is not only wrong, but disgustingly so. It’s become utterly devalued through immersion in the swamp of mindless hysteria, and is fast becoming a meaningless platitude.

I’ve been anti-racist all my life; I’ve had arguments with strangers in the street over the issue. As I understand the term, it’s the process of taking the view that:

You are from a different racial group than me, therefore you are inferior. As such, you are not entitled to the same rights as I am.

What the councillor said may have been narrow and ill-judged (and he may, indeed, be racist by inclination) but there was nothing innately racist about the statement itself.

Lifestyle and Lettuce.

It’s that time of year again, time for the decadence of late night lettuce and mayo sandwiches. I’ve rarely had a meal in a restaurant that I enjoyed as much as a late night lettuce and mayo sandwich. That’s why I find myself a little bemused by the ubiquitous presence of celebrity chefs on the TV.

I took to wondering why they’re there. We don’t have celebrity brain surgeons, do we? Or celebrity bus drivers, or bricklayers, or solicitors, or accountants, or car mechanics, or call centre operatives. But we do have celebrity chefs. I decided that it’s all to do with our modern obsession with lifestyle.

Lifestyle obsession is, it seems to me, the very definition of decadence. It fills the gap in our aspirations when we no longer have to work, scavenge or fight just to survive. The focus of our efforts is not survival any more, but the visible quality of our lifestyle. It’s why people pay large sums of money for a piece of furniture that is no more comfortable to sit on than something costing considerably less. Lifestyle is the means by which we judge one another in a world becoming increasingly vacuous. It’s what makes us important. It’s what proves the illusion. Some people see it, and some people don’t.

Lifestyle is why we have celebrity chefs, and maybe lifestyle is why I like lettuce and mayo sandwiches. I suppose I should be happier with a raw carrot. And history recalls that the descent into decadence is the beginning of the end of civilisation, so maybe we should coin a variation on the old adage about people and incompetence:

Every civilisation rises to its own level of unsustainable decadence

How about if I got rid of the mayo and had a lettuce and carrot sandwich instead?

Can’t be bothered. It’s late.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Religion in the Dock.

I was reading about a woman in Sudan who has been sentenced to hang because she married a Christian man and converted to his religion. It seems that in Sudan you’re not allowed to believe something different from what the state tells you to believe. (Religion is just a belief system, right?)

The woman is pregnant, and it’s said that she won’t be executed until the child is two years old. So now she has to start counting down the days until the final one when a bunch of hired thugs will come and take her away to meet a violent death and an innocent two-year-old child will be deprived of his or her mother.

That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, back in this relatively safe and blessedly secular state of ours (and one in which the majority religion is Christianity) a man can lose his job for criticising Islam. That’s because it’s being disrespectful to somebody else’s belief system.

What is one to make of this strange juxtaposition of opposites? The whole thing is utterly absurd.

I’m inclined to suggest that the world is full of mad people, but if I did I would probably attract the attention of some arrogant religionist monkey who would jump up and down, frothing at the mouth and railing at me that it’s all because we’ve ‘moved away from God.’

The religionists (at least the Judaic variety) tell us that man is made in God’s image. So what on earth does that say about God? And is it any wonder that I walk mostly alone, trying to maintain high ethical and humanitarian values whilst harbouring the deepest suspicion of humankind and refusing to have anything whatsoever to do with religion? I don’t think so.

Late Colour.

The late sun was coloured deep orange this evening. It was painting the May blossom in the hedgerows and the white lilacs at the bottom of my garden an unaccustomed shade of cream. All I needed was a double shot Americano to pour some of it into.

My back aches and my arms are still suffering from nettle stings. I’m beginning to think that winter has its uses after all. No, I’m never satisfied. I don’t think I’ve ever been completely satisfied with anything in my life.

An HSP Thing.

Somebody asked me today: ‘Why do you drink so much?’

I don’t; I just like being my own boss when it comes to defining reality, especially late at night when the senses tend to be at their most potent. Beats cutting your ear off, doesn’t it?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Indifference and the Practical.

There was an almighty shrieking in the Shire this evening. Blackbirds, no doubt of it. But this wasn’t the usual single bird that’s been startled by something; this sounded like the banshee and all her sisters had come together for a rare reunion and rehearsal. Something had to be up.

I looked into the branches of the two old sycamores which frame the view from my garden, and then I saw what was up. The local Tawny Owl was flying from one tree to the other, and there was something dangling from its talons. It turned to reverse direction, and flew off down the lane with two blackbirds in hot pursuit.

It reminded me again that developing a love for nature can be a hazardous occupation for those even remotely inclined towards the squeamish or the sentimental. Nature is never a cruel mother – the concept is effectively redundant – but she can be a remarkably indifferent one.

Today's Reverie.

An English cottage nestled in an English cottage garden, dripping multitudinous colour in the warm and mellow moistness of a damp July evening. A girl with raven hair plays Debussy’s La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin through an open window. The scent of honeysuckle seduces the senses.

You could invent such things all day, couldn’t you?

I saw the Lady Bella today, jogging up a hill, bedecked in tight black and availed of modern headset. She was holding up the traffic on the narrow lane. I waved, and she waved back. She looked more Mediterranean than English. I wonder what the music was.

I thought of little else for about an hour.

Didn’t somebody once say: 'Nothing you want is upstream?' He was wrong. Everything you want is upstream. At least, that's how it appears to me on days replete with English summer gardens and Mediterranean sylphs.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Finding the Soft Spot.

Occasionally you come across something that bypasses the rational faculty. Instead, it aims unerringly for the tiny gap in the cuirass that’s meant to be keeping the heart free from assault.

I read today about the birth of twin sisters in Ohio who had a rare condition that could have been fatal. They were born holding hands and clutching one another.

See what I mean?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Failing Again.

I keep getting this dating agency ad from Zoosk on YouTube. It has a photograph of a woman they assume I’d find attractive.

‘Do you want to meet her?’ it asks. ‘Well, no actually. Fancy clothes and hairdo, and smothered in makeup… Seems to me she’s all cheap style and no substance.’

And can you imagine what the poor woman would think of me?

‘You haven’t even pressed your trousers.’

‘I didn’t want to hurt them.’

Mary Poppins in the Machine.

When I bought my new washing machine a few months ago, I put the first load in on the programme I wanted and discovered that the cycle lasted about half an hour longer than it said on the timer display. I rang the dealer because I assumed it was a fault.

Apparently not. They told me that modern washing machines are very intelligent, and they know what you really want, even when you don’t.

Aren’t modern times wonderful? Even the washing machines have a mind of their own now, and what’s the first thing they gravitate towards? A nanny complex.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

On Being the Life and Soul.

I realised earlier that since I started this blog I’ve become something of an occasional raconteur. It didn’t please me.

I worked with a raconteur when I was young and impressionable, and duly found him quite impressive. He claimed to have been in the RAF during WWII, and once told an amusing tale about the misreporting of enemy kills during the Battle of Britain. I later discovered that what he claimed to have been a personal experience was, in fact, a well known (and probably apocryphal) anecdote of unknown origin. Henceforth I regarded him as being merely a prime bullshitter, and applied the same pejorative attitude to all raconteurs.

That was probably unfair of me, and I expect I will carry on telling my own tales regardless (if I have any left to tell, that is.) I suppose that as long as the story is genuine, and as long as any elaboration is added only to apply colour and not append anything false to the core truth, there’s no harm done. And maybe it’s all to do with the way you tell ’em.

Another type I have difficulty with is the bon vivant. It smacks to me of trivial values, and even pretension. Imagine going through The Gates and being asked what you did with your life.

‘I was a bon vivant,’ you answer proudly.

Not much of a recommendation for a seat at the Captain’s table, is it? You might as well say that you collected expensive works of art so that people would think you important. I should imagine that having collected cornflakes and arranged them in order of size and shape would get you more points.

North Korea: On Buttons and Bums.

I was amused by the furore over North Korea’s racist diatribe against President Obama, prompted, no doubt, by the fact that he’s bigger mates with the South Koreans than he is with them. I gather they were making statements like ‘He’s a big ape with a red bum’ and ‘He eats indiscriminately, sometimes off the ground and sometimes from trees.’ They referred to his ‘thick lips’ and ‘uncertain blood.’ And all this from official sources, not your average YouTube commenter.

Well, nobody should take this seriously, of course. It’s funny. It’s the language of a five-year-old with behavioural difficulties having a tantrum.

What we should be taking seriously, however, is the question of North Korea and nuclear weaponry. Let’s face it, nuclear weapons are a bit nasty, so you don’t want the big red button in the hands of a bunch of five-year-olds with behavioural difficulties, do you?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Ms Wong and the Campanologists.

My friend’s new alias kept knocking on my head demanding to be made into a ditty, so that's what I did. It isn’t very good, but it’s a damn sight better than all those I haven’t written for such a long time. (And I do realise that my occasional use of deliberately irrational English must occasionally drive non-native English speakers to despair.)

There was a young woman called Wong
Who sat on a bell and went bong
The ringers said ‘Hell!
There’s a girl on our bell
It’ll make all our ringing go wrong’

Music and the Moses Effect.

Tonight I listened to a couple of short classical pieces which always had the power to move me – Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets suite, and Elgar’s Nimrod from The Enigma Variations. They reminded me again that music exhibits the most frustrating habit of drawing you out of the mundane, carrying you up the steepest hill, and then just as you get a glimpse of the Promised Land – whatever that might be – and are about to weep tears of joy at the prospect of entering it, the music stops.

For me, the following comes about the closest:

(although I have to offer the opinion that the person who commented 'Love this! Reminds me of Enya a little bit' is in urgent need of a lobotomy.)

Friday, 9 May 2014

Fooling the Natives.

I’ve had a thought. Why don’t I get my friend Ms Wong (see previous post) to come shopping with me in Ashbourne? Quite a few people in Ashbourne – especially in Sainsbury’s – are familiar with me, and the sight of an oriental flower would give them something to talk about.

‘Oh, look. JJ’s only gone and bought himself one of those Thai brides. (I think I should explain that Ashbourne is a very conservative, almost exclusively white sort of place, whose inhabitants – good, decent people though they undoubtedly are – probably wouldn’t know a Maori from a Mongol. Everybody from east of the Bosporus looks the same to them.) You know what I reckon? I reckon he’s loaded really, and he only drives a Fred Flintoff car because he likes to be thought eccentric.’

‘She’s very chic, isn’t she? Is that the right word?’

‘It is, and that’s what’s fishy. Buying a dusky maiden and then kitting her out to go one better than Audrey Hepburn? You’re not telling me that he hasn’t got a few more pennies in the bank than you or I have.’

‘Do you think he’d fancy being Mayor?’

So then everybody would want to know me and I’d live happily ever after.

My Other Chinese Ghost.

I had lunch today with an old friend of twenty years standing, but whom I haven’t seen for about the last eight. That was when we drifted apart and she became my first Chinese ghost. For the sake of privacy and security, let’s call her Wong Ying Mei.

Ms Wong (who actually isn’t called Wong any more, nor even by her real Chinese name because she got married to an Englishman with an English name and now writes her own backwards) is a lady of erudition, elegance, style, charm and vibrant personality. More than that, there isn’t any hint of pretension about her and she has very high standards which I admire. More than that even, we get on – still – as we always did. And dare I mention that she is delightfully svelte of form and pretty as peaches, looking easily ten years younger than she actually is?

(Daren’t I? Oh, OK. Draw a line through that bit if you like.)

So, that was what made today delightful, at least in part. She even bought the lunch. (She drives a very much posher car than I do, you see, and that fact in itself qualifies a person to buy the lunches.)

And since I know that she occasionally reads this blog, making this post will save me sending her an e-mail which would have said pretty much the same thing.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Further Out of Step.

Am I the only person in the world who dislikes Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, the films of Walt Disney and Gone with the Wind? It isn’t only that I don’t for the life of me see why they’re regarded as being so iconic, I actually dislike them.  If I were trapped, alone and feeling cabin feverish, in a snowstorm in a cabin somewhere without a TV, a radio, any means of writing, anything to read, or any guitar to strum, but with a DVD player and a selection DVDs featuring the aforementioned, I’d stick with the cabin fever.

Standards and Discrimination.

Celebrity gossip is usually the last thing I’d ever bother to read, but my eye was caught today by a headline which suggested that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson had fallen out. I thought it might have something to do with perception of standards, so I took a trip down to the basement and read it.

Seems it has nothing to do with standards; they haven’t even fallen out, according to young Dan. They just want to ‘meet new people, having spent ten years working together on Harry Potter.’ Oh, well.

So then I wondered whether to make a comprehensive post on the subject of standards. It didn’t take many minutes to realise what a long, subjective, tedious and ultimately pointless post it would be. Scrap that one, then. I’ll restrict myself instead to three quick jottings on how I see it.

1. If you restrict yourself to a one life, one world view of existence, there’s probably no need to have standards at all.

2. Standards are entirely a personal matter. If you do choose to have them, you probably owe yourself a responsibility to be reasonably diligent in living up to them.

3. You have no right to impose your standards on anybody else. You do, however, have the right to judge everybody else’s standards purely for the purpose of being discriminating with regard to the people with whom you choose to associate. That isn’t the same thing as saying they’re wrong, and neither does ‘discriminating’ mean the same as ‘discriminatory.’

I suppose that’s all pretty obvious really, but I had half an hour to kill before lunch.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Life and Niagara.

I’ve had a few visits from Buffalo, NY lately, so I thought it might be worth mentioning that I went to Niagara Falls once.

I must have been a bit of a curmudgeon even then because they didn’t impress me much. I knew nothing about them, you see. I was working on a photographic job in Toronto, and one night somebody said ‘Do you fancy a trip to Niagara Falls tomorrow?’ Well, yeah, why not? I didn’t even know then that they were some sort of honeymoon destination for Americans. I expected them to be stuck out in a wild, bear-infested landscape, and be at least three times as high as they are.

And what I didn’t realise (just in case there’s anybody out there who is as naïve as I was at the time) was that Niagara Falls isn’t just a load of water; it’s also a resort that’s amusingly called a city. In fact, there are two resorts amusingly called cities – one on either side – both called Niagara Falls. Well, blow me…

I was on the Canadian side, of course, and I remarked to the guide that I thought the resort a little tacky and somewhat detractive of the area’s anticipated charm. I’d been expecting mules and mountain tracks at least, if not pack elephants and mahouts. He agreed, but with a rider:

‘If you think this is bad, you should see the American side.’

I had an immediate vision of neon-bright streets awash with burgers, candyfloss, brainless rednecks and casinos. Mmm… no thanks.

But then I learned that if there’s one thing you shouldn’t do, it’s allow your image of America to be influenced by a Canadian, any more than you should allow your image of England to be influenced by a Scotsman.

I’ve since wondered whether anybody actually lives in Niagara Falls (either of them.) I couldn’t imagine it, somehow. I mean, I know that people live in Blackpool, but Blackpool wasn’t built for visitors. Rather, the visitors gravitated to Blackpool from the industrial hell holes of Lancashire because it was somewhere to breathe clean air and paddle in salty water for a week. The attractions came later.

So maybe nobody does, apart from the summer migrants who fly up there to service the needs of the visitors for a few months. I suppose they just take the money and then fly back to somewhere proper when the days shorten again.

What the Hell?

I just discovered one of the risks inherent with drinking modest amounts of alcohol. You see something on the kitchen worktop that could be a bit of crisp, a morsel of stale bread, or something else entirely. You’ve no idea, but you eat it anyway.

No Sad Stories.

I decided not to run the lamb story (see earlier.) Some stories are just too sad to be repeated, you know? It’s like Shayna’s heart-rending story of the orang-utan and the single die. It has to stop somewhere and it might as well be here. If we’re going to tell sad stories, let us sit upon the ground and do so about relatively minor matters like the deaths of kings.

Besides, I’m trying not to think about the horrors which could befall the poor little guy after nightfall. There are creatures about – even in a placid place like the Shire – which don’t have my compassionate (or should that be sentimental?) nature. Stum.

Appreciating Sarah J.

Since I mentioned Sarah Jarosz last night, I thought I’d post a short video.

I needn’t waste words expressing my appreciation of this sort of thing, except to say that this young Texan is good. She’s a natural musician, as evidenced not only by the quality of her singing and playing, but also by her arrangements which break with convention. She wouldn’t make the grade in a TV talent show, of course. If what I’ve seen of her so far is truly indicative, her failing is that she’s all talent and no ego.

Loving the Tabloids.

Yahoo reprinted an interesting little piece from a tabloid recently. It was tucked not far below the headlines which covered, as always, such weighty matters as which female celebrity is wearing the fewest clothes this week, and whether some tacky-but-popular TV talent show is fixed. The interesting one ran the following:

An American TV evangelist is saying that he’s sure the world will be destroyed one day by a massive asteroid strike. He says it’s the only scenario he can envisage which accords with biblical prophecy. I gather he’s noted for his apocalyptic predictions, but on this occasion he was relatively restrained. ‘It could be next week or it could be in a thousand years,’ he said, ‘but I’m sure it will happen one day.’

The tabloid which ran that piece began it with:

Evangelist predicts massive asteroid strike, and it could be as early as next week!

Don’t you just love the tabloids? They provide hours of amusement (not to mention material for blog posts.) It’s just a pity that they sometimes stumble into matters which are weighty, and then it isn’t always so funny because that’s how innocent people get lynched and politicians who are both nasty and incompetent get their feet under the table of government.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Questionnable Criteria.

Somebody has conducted a study to discover the ‘unhappiness quotient’ of ninety countries. They questioned a sample of each country’s population and graded them on a scale of 1-100. The news item in which I read it went on to list the ‘unhappiest’ twenty countries, and this is what surprised me:

Most of them were among the world’s leading centres of violent and volatile socio-political conditions, and yet the primary reason for unhappiness in every single one of them was given as either unemployment, inflation or high interest rates.

And so I wonder just who devised this poll and how they weighted the questions. Could it have been, perhaps, a bunch of academics living a relatively peaceful and prosperous life in the US or Western Europe? Is that why they failed to notice that being ruled, used and abused by vicious gangs, or running the daily risk of being dismembered by a routine bomb in the marketplace, is a greater reason to be unhappy than paying more interest on their overdrafts?

*  *  *

Maybe later I’ll tell the story of the injured and apparently rejected little lamb which I bottle fed today. Seeing animals, especially baby ones, in distress gets to me, you know? It does. It really does. And it takes me a while to get over it. Besides, I’m fed up with this blog being bloody miserable.

Death and Music.

Something I read tonight reminded me of that incident I reported on this blog back in its early days – the time when Paddy Connolly and I fought a big rubbish fire in a warehouse full of butane gas containers. For a good half an hour I was constantly anticipating that the butane would blow any minute, and yet I had no fear of being killed. What frightened me wasn’t my death, but the manner of it. I kept asking myself the whole time:

‘Will I be killed instantly, or will I feel the flesh burning off my face before I’m released?’

Why didn’t I fear dying? Was it because, in that critical and very long moment, I knew that death was no big deal? Was it because I was so focussed on keeping the boxes wet and cold while Paddy pushed back the fire that I didn’t have the time to dwell on it? I don’t know.

The next interesting question is why I’m more afraid of dying now, all these years on, than I was then. Is it because I simply have the time to dwell on it? Or is it because the longer you live, the more familiar you become with your present identity and the more reluctant you are to give it up? I don’t know that either. Maybe I’m not yet old enough to know.

More late night thoughts…

*  *  *

Meanwhile, I took a listen to some songs recorded by Sarah Jarosz tonight. I saw her on a Transatlantic Sessions programme during the winter. The context suggested that she was maybe an Irish or Hebridean colleen (in spite of the surname.) Tonight I discovered that she’s actually from Texas. That’s the closest I can come to an interesting fact.

*  *  *

The priestess said to me recently: ‘I don’t know what you talk about any more.’ Neither do I, and who’s listening anyway?

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Drop the Green Candyfloss.

Since I haven’t written a ditty for an awfully long time, I tried to write one today about trees that look like green candyfloss. The Shire is full of them at the moment.

Hopeless. I came to the conclusion that the process of writing ditties involves invoking the child inside, and then editing what he says into grown up English. That’s how they come to have a certain lightness and frivolity about them, which is what, in my opinion, they ought to have.

My child inside is currently hiding in the safe room. He’s a sensitive little soul of high principles and ideals who doesn’t much care for the acidic smog clouding the atmosphere outside in the real world. He’s left his big brother holding the fort while he’s away, and his big brother is more given to the acerbic and the sardonic. He doesn’t write ditties, especially when they’re about trees that look like green candyfloss.

And so I decided to watch the DVD that I got this week from the library. It was called 360, and was supposed to be classy and ‘moving.’ Well, I suppose it was moving in a manner of speaking: the first scene sent me into yet another tailspin, while the child inside searched frantically for a paper bag to put over his head so he didn’t have to see what I was seeing. It got turned off after about thirty seconds. Too many bad associations. Listening to The Wailin Jennys sing By Way of Sorrow (which is classy and moving) helped a bit, but only a bit.

And do you know what? HT54 passed me by today without so much as a hoot or a wave. It cut me to the quick, you know? It did.

So, not much of a day so far, not much to write about here. But since my day doesn’t end until about 3am, hope springs eternal.