Thursday, 31 July 2014

Ashbourne Comes to Life.

The most exciting thing about Ashbourne today was that I saw a party of Chinese tourists. One of them was taking a disproportionate interest in a plastic toy lawnmower hanging outside a toy shop. He was also taking photographs of it while the rest stood around laughing.

I thought of asking them whether they had seen the Tower of London or Stonehenge, but decided they were probably the sort to judge a culture more by its mundane artefacts like plastic toy lawnmowers. That struck me as very wise.

I also thought of asking them whether they knew a guzheng player called Ji Wei, but desisted since I didn’t want them judging my culture by the slightly mad people who occupy it.

Another man was taking pictures of roofs. I've no idea why, but nobody was laughing.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Conversations and Reputations.

Today’s significant inner dialogue happened when I was in Ashbourne, and it went like this:

‘Stop staring at that woman, Jeffrey. It looks lascivious.’

‘But it isn’t lascivious; it’s actually quite respectful. What’s attracting me is the compelling look in her eyes, the relaxed and engaging body language, and the way she uses her mouth, eyes, and tilt of the head, which tells me she has a vibrant personality and is probably intelligent. Best of all, there’s no hint of manufactured glamour about her. Manufactured glamour is cheap; this girl oozes inner class, the sort you can’t buy. I’ll bet you she’s just as magnetic wearing old jeans and a tattered sweater first thing in the morning before she’s even had time to comb her hair.’

‘But she doesn’t know that, does she? All she sees is lascivious because that’s what she’s used to seeing from men.’

‘You never know. She might recognise respect.’

‘Doubt it.’

‘Mmm, suppose you’re right.’

‘And are you telling me there isn’t just a teensie-weensie element of the lascivious there?’

‘Depends on how you define ‘lascivious’ I suppose.’

‘Let’s say… in a general sense.’

‘OK, just a teensie-weensie bit – in a general sense.’

‘Right then, and lasciviousness is wrong, isn’t it, because thought is energy and so lasciviousness amounts to a minor form of assault.’

‘Yes, I know that.’

‘Good. So stop staring at that woman, Jeffrey.’

‘OK.’

‘By the way.’

‘What?’

‘You’re way too old.’

‘Thanks.’

*  *  *

This evening I was engaged in conversation by somebody from the village. When I said ‘hello,’ she replied:

‘Oh it’s you, is it? I didn’t know you came out in daylight.’

I sometimes wonder why these people talk to me, and who the hell I really am.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Shepherd Cows.

I witnessed something quite extraordinary today.

The ground behind and to the side of my house is occupied by a small group of Farmer Stan’s beef herd. They’re happy animals, I suppose because they’re living a more or less normal life for a bovine. There are sixteen in that group, mostly black and white Friesians with a couple of brown and white ones and three pure white Charolais.

This afternoon I watched as the group made its way in line astern down the field towards the feeder trough at the bottom. (Once or twice a day they get fed with some kind of meal which I assume contains a growth hormone. They seem to like it.) The two brown and white ones – let’s call them B1 and B2 – stood back and seemed to be taking up ‘sentinel’ positions about 50 yards apart. I counted them all and there were six missing.

A few minutes later the first of the errant six appeared from behind a hedge, rubbed heads with B1, and then walked off to join the line. As each of the remaining five appeared, it rubbed heads with either B1 or B2 and joined the others. Once the last of them had gone, the two sentinels indulged in a bit of leaping and leg kicking, and trotted off to catch up with the group. But here comes the interesting bit.

When they caught up with it, the last of the errants in the line turned around and rubbed heads again with B2. B1 walked up, nudged B2 in the rump to push him forward, and all sixteen walked down to the trough with the two boss cows bringing up the rear.

It really seemed – and I don’t think I’m being unduly fanciful here – that the two sentinels really were playing a sort of shepherding role. So what was the head rubbing all about? Some kind of recognition process, a display of relative rank, or simply a greeting? How would I know?

You wouldn’t think cows would be that well organised, would you? Seems they might be.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Wrong Association.

The studio version of this song has long been one of my favourites. (This clip is taken from a live performance somewhere in Sweden, at a place that looks like a church hall in a town with an awful lot of letters in its name. Some of them even have umlauts. The sound quality is relatively poor and the lyrics a bit muffled.)


But do you know what really troubles me? The fiddler looks disturbingly like Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London who is both an ally and an enemy of Cameron depending on the exigencies of circumstance.

I must get this out of my head before I retire. Nightmares, you know…

Substance and Destruction.

The term ‘substance abuse’ is an interesting one because, logically, it ought to mean ‘the abusing of a substance.’ That makes little sense, of course, and what it actually means is ‘using a substance to abuse oneself.’

I was thinking tonight about the various kinds of people who do ‘substance abuse’ and the various reasons why they do it. The list grew surprisingly long, and the subject surprisingly complex. There’s no one reason why people get hooked on drugs, alcohol or the smell of adhesives.

What caused me to ponder this slightly depressing subject was reading about Sandy Denny and her early death at the age of 31. (I decline to use the term ‘premature death,’ incidentally, because none of us knows what, if anything, lies behind the business of life.)

Substances weren’t the direct cause of her death – she had a fall which caused a brain injury – but it seems they laid the foundation for the train of events which led there. And it seemed to me that Sandy Denny was an example of a type – the highly sensitive, keenly aware type who uses substances as a defence against the torturous depth of feeling to which such people are prey.

Or maybe there’s another reason. Maybe such people are so aware of the imperfections inherent in physical existence that they need to punish themselves for being a part of it. I’m speculating, of course, but it does seem ironic that those people are the ones whom the substances soon destroy.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Getting it Wrong Again.

The news report reads:

Sarah West, Britain’s first female navy commander, has left her battleship while claims of an affair are investigated.

Let’s put the record straight. Battleships became redundant in the context of modern naval warfare after WWII, and the Royal Navy hasn’t had any for at least fifty years. That was some time before Sarah West was even born. She is actually the Captain of HMS Portland, a frigate. A frigate is very small compared with a battleship.

So, beware things written by journalists.

On Moons, Logic and Circumspection.

The moon calculator at the bottom of my sidebar says that today’s phase is the ‘New Moon.’ The space where the moon is normally represented is notable for being empty, and below the space it says ‘O% of Full.’ So in that case, why do we call it ‘the New Moon?’ Why don’t we call it ‘the Non Moon?’ Better still, ‘the Dark of the Moon’ because that sounds nicely Gothic.

And how does this illogical appellation square with the old saying: ‘Never look at the new moon through glass?’ You can’t, can you? There’s nothing to see.

The old superstition I like best, though, is the one that says:

Upon seeing the new moon for the first time (assuming a more liberal and logical interpretation of the word ‘new’) kiss the first person you meet and you will get a new dress.

Some excuse, eh? Especially if you’re a man, and most especially if you’re prepared to forego the benefit of a new dress until the price is worth paying.

Remembering the Pits.

According to my Feedjit, I had a visit from Stoke-on-Trent tonight. Stoke-on-Trent? Why would I want a visit from Stoke-on-Trent? I come from there, for heaven’s sake. It’s the city at the end of the universe. It’s the place that best demonstrates the proposition that ‘All material existence is a constant flow of non-being, and therefore illusory.’ Even the locals call it ‘Joke-on-Trent.’

It has no style, you see. It used to have a sort of downbeat charm, but that was in the good old days when you could open the door of your little terraced house on a frosty night and shiver your way to the local chippy, exulting in the lurid haloes of yellow mist painted around the street lamps, the product of smoke from a million factory chimneys combining with the late autumnal mist. And then you’d cough your way back, carrying the prized parcel of battered cod and chips wrapped in a piece of old newspaper, and recline on the moth-eaten sofa to watch a late Universal horror film in black and white.

‘Lie-in tomorrow. Sunday. Bacon, cheese, tomatoes and oatcakes for breakfast. Yum.’

It’s all gone now. There are relatively few factories left, the big steelworks has gone, and so have all the pits. And I’m vegetarian. Full circle.

I think I know who the visitor from Stoke-on-Trent was, though, so I don’t mind at all really.

On Celebrity and Non Being.

I got quite excited this morning. I read that some woman called Tulisa Contostavlos had been found guilty of assaulting a ‘celebrity blogger’ and had to pay him £100 in damages.

(I’ve no idea who Tulisa Contostavlos is, by the way, or what she does. It took me a good ten seconds to work out how her name is probably pronounced; it doesn’t trip quite as easily off the tongue as Lady Gaga, or even Petula Clark come to that.)

So anyway, I got quite excited.

‘I didn’t know there was any such thing as a celebrity blogger,’ I thought. ‘I wonder if I could become a celebrity. I have a blog, and it must get at least five visitors nearly every day.’

Ah, but then came the fall. I assume a ‘celebrity blogger’ is someone who blogs about celebrities. I’m right, aren’t I? Damn! See how little I know about modern culture? Call me Mr Dumb.

Tonight I wrote out the rationale for the proposition that ‘All material existence is the constant flow of non-being, and therefore illusory’ and sent it Ms Wong in an e-mail. Having done that, I decided it was too boring to post here. Instead, I’m going to read some YouTube comments. Much more fun.

Did I say I’m becoming ever less tolerant of earnestness?

Friday, 25 July 2014

On Bugs and Bryan.

The problem with this warm sunny weather we’re having here at the moment is that I constantly have to watch my step in the house at night or I’m liable to tread on something. Moths and beetles, mostly. ’Twas ever thus. Who would want to harm a moth or a beetle?

I don’t care to mention the butterfly I found on a piece of furniture, except to say that I fear I might have damaged it. That sort of thing gets to me. It does. Big time.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d post a video of a young Bryan Ferry doing a Bob Dylan cover. I don’t usually like Bob Dylan covers, but I like this one.

  
Bryan Ferry has an interesting face, you know. He has the classic Northumbrian look, characterised by eyes that appear to be slightly closer together either side of a narrow nose bridge. I lived in Northumberland for three years and saw it a lot. I suppose it has something to do with a type of Anglian gene, since I've seen the same look in south east Scotland which was settled by the same people around the 6th/7th century. It's interesting that you don't see the same look in other parts of England which were settled by Angles.

And did you know that the Scots language (which has its home in the southern lowlands, and is not to be confused with Gaelic from further north) has the same root as modern English but evolved separately?

Thursday, 24 July 2014

An Unusual View of Maggots.

It’s interesting that people mostly like caterpillars, but find maggots repulsive. Seems to me they’re basically the same thing: just the larval stage of different flying insects.

I suppose what swings it against the poor old maggot is that it prefers to dine on rotting flesh, whereas the cute little caterpillar eats shoots and leaves (as opposed to eats, shoots and leaves, or eats, shoots, and leaves if you happen to be American. Have we all read the book? I haven’t.) Anyway, I assume that its preference for a scavenged carnivorous diet endows it with an association with death and smelly things, so that’s why we turn our noses up when we see one. (Bit like meeting a corporate executive, really.) And when we see lots of them we screw our whole faces into ugly shapes because we have a genetic memory of maggots en masse being associated with battlefields and charnel houses. Or so I suppose.

I don’t generally mind maggots. If I had a festering wound and a doctor said that maggots would be the best cure (as they often are, I believe) I’d be quite happy to accede to the suggestion. I grew up with them, you see. My favourite occupation as a boy was fishing, and I found that maggots made the best bait. Sometimes, when the fish weren’t biting and I was bored, I’d place a few maggots in my hand and watch them crawl between the gaps at the base of my fingers. It seemed a matter of some as-yet-unknown significance to me that a maggot would crawl through a hole, disappear, and then reappear underneath. I was bit unusual like that.

In fact, I grew so fond of them that I eventually had an ethical crisis at around age 25. I decided that sticking hooks into the poor things and dangling them in the water to either drown or be eaten was unacceptable. It was one of the main reasons why I gave up fishing. I'm still a bit unusual like that.

Cultural Comparisons.

The video which follows is interesting because it demonstrates the difference between American and British women. The brunette is clearly American, the blonde equally clearly British. Take note of the eyes and teeth. The women in the background are probably French, most likely lifted from a Monsieur Hulot film.

 
Only kidding, mesdemoiselles. I always wanted to meet a French woman, you know. Come to think of it, I did once – in Oban Youth Hostel on the west coast of Scotland. She had acne, unfortunately, but lots of chic. Her way of saying ‘Why don’t you call her your future ex-girlfriend?’ was particularly charming. And I like Monsieur Hulot films.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Epiphany in July.

It was one July 22nd and I was sitting in a waiting area of a local hospital, the one which served the labour room. I was nineteen years and eight months old. At about 3 o’clock in the morning a nurse appeared and said ‘Mr Beazley? Would you like to come and meet your daughter?’

Would you like to come and meet your daughter? It bears repeating.

Some moments are epiphanic, you know? They change who you are and how you see yourself. I don’t think I showed much response on the surface, but I felt the thrill inside. It was a gentle, wholesome, warm sort of thrill. It didn’t have the intensity of a first parachute jump, but it went deep. And as I drove home in the early light of a cool but sunny July morning, it felt as if the car was floating.

I was thinking today that women must miss out on that special moment. They must get an inkling of it when they first learn they’re pregnant, but from then on I assume it’s the gradual unfolding of a changing perception. How can you not be cognisant of your new maternal status when your progeny is alive and moving inside you for nine months? It isn’t quite the same as being merely aware that your partner is getting ever fatter, and then in one blinding moment having a complete stranger say ‘would you like to come and meet your daughter?’

‘Did she say “meet your daughter?” Daughter? I have a daughter? Me?’

Life changed again five years and nine months later, one dark April night when a rashly made promise came a-calling and demanded to be kept. But that’s another story; the point of the post is made.

Matching the Mood.

I know I posted this video back in the early days, but it bears repeating because I still like it so much.


Somebody commented: ‘…what does an 18th century love song from Donegal have to do with these images?’

Answer: Nothing at all, but the video suits the treatment of the song brilliantly. The clouds! The clouds!

British One-Upmanship.

To my American friends:

Thought you might like to see House in his younger days, before he came over to your side of the pond. And this clip shows just how far ahead of you we Brits were in the homeland security department.

To my Russian… erm… can’t call them friends yet since none of them have ever spoken to me, but it seems that several of them read this blog, so… comrades?

Take a look at this and tremble. You never knew what you were up against back in the good old Cold War days.


And I just discovered that Hugh Laurie's hair is receding in exactly the same way mine is. Phew, that's a relief.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sometimes a Cigar is Just...

Please tick the box which says ‘I am over 18.’ And please be sure you are over 18, or the following post might leave you with irreparable psychological damage.

I’m reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis at the moment. It’s the story of poor Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find that he’s turned into an insectoid creature of undefined type. Being an Oxford World’s Classics edition, it has notes – presumably written by the same woman who did the translation.

So, one of the first things Gregor notices is a patch of white spots on his abdomen. They are, and remain, a mystery. ‘Maybe the result of a nocturnal ejaculation,’ writes the note-maker.

1. Why assume a hidden sexual reference when there’s no hint of a sexual dimension to the character of Gregor Samsa? Why assume any hidden reference at all? Maybe Kafka was simply adding a little detail to further establish the fact that Gregor’s body is no longer human. Human bodies don’t generally have a group of white spots on the abdomen; an insect’s body might.

2. Besides, a nocturnal ejaculation wouldn’t leave a group of white spots. It would leave a gloopy mess which would be unpleasant to the touch but virtually invisible. Where has this woman been all her adult life? I assume she must be reasonably advanced in academic circles to be allowed to translate a classic. Does she know nothing of ejaculations, nocturnal or otherwise?

And then there’s an episode further down the line when Gregor, having escaped incarceration in his bedroom, is being pelted with apples by his horrified father. One of them hits and injures him, and the narrative relates that Gregor feels ‘pinned to the floor.’ ‘A possible reference to Jesus on the cross,’ offers the note-maker.

Need I go on about the making of oblique and highly speculative assumptions about the hidden intentions of the author? Maybe Gregor, in his injured state, simply feels pinned to the floor. Is it part of the academic’s role to find ways of justifying their existence by always having to spot and interpret arcane dimensions for the benefit of us lesser folk? In some situations, maybe, but maybe they also sometimes get carried far away on the tide of their undoubted cleverness.

It’s not Nelson’s Column, says a French character in a classic British comedy sketch, it’s Nelson’s willy.

Quite.

Measured Responses.

EU heads of state are meeting today to discuss further reprisals against Russia over the MH17 affair. The French are offering to delay delivery of a new warship, which should really set Russian spines tingling. Anguished cries will no doubt be heard all the way from St Petersburg to the Bering Sea:

‘Oh, no! We only have 3,798 warships (I’m guessing…) We really need another one and we must have it by Christmas!’

Meanwhile, the British Government has announced that a fresh inquiry will be held into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident who was murdered in London in 2006 by lethal injection (radioactive plutonium in his case, and I imagine his constitutional rights were denied by not informing him of the chemical formula in advance.) Russian state complicity in the crime was suspected, but earlier inquiries proved ‘inconclusive.’

Well, it seems to me that the writing between the lines is apparent enough. What it says is:

‘We’ve known all along that Russian agents did it, but diplomatic exigencies required that we cover it up. But we don’t like you any more, Russia, so now we’re going to expose you to the world for the bounders you are. Stick that in your samovar and boil it!’

The Pecuniary Benefits of Boyish Charm.

I was thinking tonight that I’ve never been any good at making deals. In that respect at least, I’m traditionally English. The English traditionally don’t do deals. We set a fair price for something (cost + a modest profit) and then you either buy it or you don’t. But that’s the traditional way. Now we’re into the post Branson era. (Virgin this, Virgin that, vergin’ on the greed is good.)

Branson is a sort of British Donald Trump, but with added boyish charm. We would never tolerate anything as averagely entrepreneurial as a Donald Trump becoming a celebrity over here, but add boyish charm and you’re made.

Branson has been ripping the British public off for years. He must have been, mustn’t he, otherwise he wouldn’t be a multi-billionaire. If you’re a multi-billionaire, it means you must have been charging far more for your goods and services than you needed to in order to make an income commensurate with your time and effort. In other words, more than they were worth. I suppose that’s why they gave him a knighthood. Oh no, the reason they gave him a knighthood was because he went around boyishly charming everybody into thinking that ‘Blair is good, or God, or something like that.’

I dislike entrepreneurial multi-billionaires, especially when they're also celebrities. They smell of something unpalatable.

I’m in a bad mood.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Darkly Pythonesque.

I read today that somebody on death row somewhere in America has had his execution stayed because he wasn’t given full information on the chemical that was to be used to kill him. It seems the State (I forget which one) is saying:

‘We are going to kill you, but you have the constitutional right to be told exactly how we are going to kill you. We will, therefore, refrain from killing you until we’ve given you the chemical formula of the stuff we’ll be injecting you with. That way, everything will be above board. Of course, once you’re dead you won’t have any constitutional rights because you will no longer exist. Happy now?’

To us in Europe, where every state save Belarus grants its citizens the right not to be killed by the state in the first place – at least not in peacetime – this seems extremely bizarre, a sort of Theatre of the Darkly Absurd which Mr Becket would probably have applauded heartily.

And an interesting little piece of trivia: the first country to abolish capital punishment was Venezuela back in 1863. Isn’t that interesting?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Putin, Psychopathy and the Matter of Reputation.

I read not long ago that most successful leaders have elements of psychopathy in their natures, and that the more powerful and tyrannical they are, the more likely they are to be full blown psychopaths.

So what of Mr Putin? There’s certainly a general consensus in the west that he’s a powerful tyrant, but how can we know? I don’t know the man personally and I don’t know how much of his reputation is engendered by western propaganda. (We in the west are, at least partially, conditioned by propaganda, just as the citizens of less democratic countries are.) Recent news items do, however, suggest that the view has some credibility.

So let’s suppose we’re right and Mr Putin is, indeed, a tyrant of the first (or maybe second) rank. I wonder how he feels about the reputation he appears to be gaining over the MH17 affair. Those on the Russian side of the line do seem to be pointing the finger of guilt at themselves with their allegedly obstructionist behaviour towards the international investigators, not to mention the stories of Separatists removing vital evidence from the crash site. It isn’t proof, I know, but it doesn’t look good.

Well, I don’t suppose he cares a jot. As a general rule, sociopaths are concerned about their reputation, but psychopaths aren’t. The problem is that Mr Putin represents Mother Russia in the eyes of the world, and so the whole Russian people are being tarred with the same brush. And that isn’t fair, surely.

An Ethical View.

There’s a farm in the Shire that I hate walking past. It has an air of misery about it which is almost palpable. The animals there always look sad.

I’ve seen milkers being let out of the milking shed with their udders still ¾ full. The calves destined to be fatteners spend their whole time in a crowded shed, never having the chance to graze a blade of grass. Worst of all, there are veal crates standing outside, exposed to the elements and occupied by small calves which hardly have the space even to turn around. Two of them called out tonight as I walked past. They sounded distressed, and I imagine they wanted to be let out.

It seems that there are good farmers with good farms and bad farmers with bad ones. The beef cows kept by Farmer Stan on the land behind my house always look content and relaxed. They have play fights occasionally, and sometimes they just gallop in a group for the fun of it. It’s the same with the sheep which Sam and Ange keep up the lane. I’ve talked to those farmers, and their attitude is that they want to give their animals as good a life as possible for as long as it lasts. Surely it’s no more than a decent society has a right to expect.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Ultimate Sadness of MH17.

Until a couple of days ago the situation in Ukraine was of only passing interest to most people around the world. It was purely and simply a Ukrainian issue. And then somebody pushed a button and within minutes 298 innocent people from various countries – none of whom were Ukrainian or Russian – were lying dead across a swathe of the Ukrainian landscape. Suddenly, everybody around the world wants to know who pushed the button. Somebody somewhere is a mass murderer, and the eyes of the world are on Ukraine and Russia.

That was going to be the start of a post about the fate of Malaysian Airlines MH17, and the crazy circus of claim, counter claim, demand and denial which is currently ensuing.

I got so far and had to give it up; it was becoming too big and inevitably straying into areas in which I have neither knowledge nor expertise. I just wonder, however, whether the three warring parties will – or can even be expected to – stand aside and allow an expert, systematic and unbiased investigation into the evidence. It seems unlikely, and it further seems that some of the evidence has already been destroyed.

In that case, we will probably never know for certain who pushed the button, and on whose order. That means that the relatives and other loved ones of those who died will never have proper closure. And the eyes of the world will, no doubt, judge those most guilty of obstruction as being probably the ones guilty of the act itself. And how long, I wonder, will it take before the world forgets about it.

Trivia.

I did it again tonight – typed a long post on a subject that’s important to me, and then got bored about two thirds of the way through and deleted it.

‘God, this tedious…’

Ctrl-A-Del

I do it often.

Instead, I thought I’d post this short clip from The Graham Norton Show which might, or might not, be of interest to my American chums.


Somebody once told me I have eyes like Hugh Laurie. He was wrong. But then he was basing his opinion on the publicity poster for House, so maybe he wasn’t.

And for some unaccountable reason, it reminds me of the strange woman who told me to sit on my camera ‘and give the world a global view.’ I still don’t now what she meant by it, but that was in Toronto so it probably doesn’t count. The only thing I remember an American woman saying to me was ‘I always said Europeans have thick blood.’ That was in New Orleans, so it probably doesn’t count either. The bunny girl in the Broadway bar didn’t speak to me at all.

It’s 2am and we have thunder. It’s been a warm and sultry day.

Still a boring post, but shorter.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Waiting for Number 3.

For most of the day I’ve been feeling that I should make a post about the terrible airliner crash in Ukraine. What is there to say, though, apart from the fact that it was pretty shocking?

I wonder whether we will ever get to find who or what was responsible. It’s easy to speculate that it was a case of mistaken identity on the part of some amateur with his untrained finger on the launch button of an air-to-ground missile, but judgement must be reserved.

It does occur to me, however, that there might be a lot of people with Malaysia Airlines tickets out there who are currently muttering ‘Oh my God! Things always happen in threes.’ I don’t think they need worry. I was brought up to believe in that old superstition and I’ve been seeking evidence for it all my life. So far, there has been none. It’s been my experience that in the scheme of repeating forms, the number 3 occurs no more frequently than any other number.

Five Questions.

I’m trying to lighten up here, you understand. Recent posts have been depressingly serious, so I thought I’d do another list. This one is ‘Five Questions I’ve Been Frequently Asked.’

Q. Why didn’t you continue your education beyond sixteen?
A. Because when I was fifteen my stepfather asked me what I was going to do when I left school. I said I was going to go to another school and take A-levels, and then go to university and become a geologist. His face turned a whiter shade of pale and he began to shake. ‘I’m not paying good money to keep you sitting on your fat arse in a classroom,’ he said. ‘You’ll go out and work for a living like everybody else.’ Did I ever mention he had strong sociopathic tendencies? He did.

Q. Why aren’t you married?
A. I’m not the type. I don’t compromise easily and I have to keep moving on. Besides, what woman is going to happily accept that she's married about seventeen different personas and she doesn't get to choose which one comes next?

Q. Why did you leave the navy?
A. The level of control was intolerable. It was driving me to distraction and beyond.

Q. Why are you such a loner?
A. It saves on Christmas presents.

Q. Why do you drink so much late at night?
A. Sleep comes easier if you remove the suit of armour first.

And there’s a bonus ball:

Q. Have you lived in these parts all your life?
A. Not yet. (I stole that one from Lee Evans. Couldn’t leave it out, but I dislike the number 6.)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Misusing the B Word.

I wonder why we supposedly sophisticated moderns are so obsessed with the concept of ‘best.’ You see it all the time on YouTube. Best version ever is a depressingly common uploader’s bleat. What it really means, almost without exception, is ‘this is my favourite version.’

It seems to me that the adjective ‘best’ is rarely applicable to creative endeavours. It belongs where qualitative comparison is easily judged by simple, consensual criteria. The person who sprints the fastest is the best sprinter. The student who gets the highest marks in the maths exam is the best maths student (although, even there, other subjects might be considered less clear cut.)

But applying the principle to creative works is largely inappropriate, unless you happen to be comparing the poetry of a bunch of illiterate 11-year-olds with that of Keats, in which case the difference would be clearly demonstrable. It’s why I pay no attention whatsoever to those daft Oscars, and why, presumably, a few of the awards have been declined down the years. ‘Best Picture. Best Actor. Best Director.’ By what criteria do you judge a doughnut to be superior to a bagel? And why bother anyway?

Inevitably Taking Sides.

I just saw a photograph of some Palestinian children in tears and looking terrified. My barrier against such images is growing thin and ineffectual these days, and so they send me into a tailspin heading down towards the depths of despair.

We all know what I’m talking about, and please, please, don’t anybody tell me there are two sides to every story. Yes, I know there are, but sometimes the balance is so skewed in favour of the rich and powerful that you would have to be either terminally dumb or exclusively obsessed with pecuniary considerations (like several western banks and corporations which – directly or indirectly – foster the Israeli ‘cause’) not to see it. Some things are just so patently evil that you can’t simply sit on the fence.

On Wrongful Redistribution.

There was a poster in the window of one of the supermarkets in Ashbourne today, requesting donations to Food Aid for people in crisis. This sort of thing was supposed to have become history after the end of WWII when the welfare state was born. There was no Food Aid when I was a kid; there was no need for it.

Coincidentally, the last couple of decades have seen a substantial rise in the number of billionaires in Britain, all of them with more money than they can ever hope to spend, and most of them living abroad and/or salting their billions away in offshore bank accounts and investments where the taxman can’t get at it. (Thank you, JK Rowling. A rare exception.)

So how did we get here? How did we come to grant Mrs Thatcher’s wish for ‘a return to Victorian values?’ You tell me.

Meanwhile, the present government avers that the way to reduce welfare dependency is to reduce welfare expenditure. Clearly a case of criminal insanity, but they’re getting away with it. Mr Cameron has just had a cabinet reshuffle and a few ministers have been replaced. It seems to me that Mr Cameron and his whole entourage should be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

*  *  *

I should be making silly posts at this time of night, not going off into rants. Blame the government.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Summer Evening Notes.

Another one of the few things I never tire of in life is the sight of midges dancing in the shafts of sunlight shining through trees. It’s quite warm here at the moment and we had a little light rain this afternoon, so there was lots of dancing going on when the sun came out again this evening.

Talking of sunlight, the view to the Weaver Hills was in the High Romantic tradition again. There were still some grey shower clouds drifting across them with beams of sunlight breaking through the gaps. In consequence, the hills were ever washed with moving pools of soft sunshine. A classic image, but no Arthurian knights riding down to Camelot.

The hemlock has had a short flowering season this year. If my memory serves me right, hemlock usually blooms all through high summer from June to August. This year it’s gone to seed already, and the verges are full of brown stems topped with dry husks. I wonder whether it bodes something. We shall see.

Another Term Coined.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit’
~ Desiderata.

I encountered some in Ashbourne today: three men – a teenager and two others around thirty. They were yawping, hollering and swaggering as such people do, not offering any obvious physical menace, but just being objectionable.

It seemed to me that such people are highly dependent on the Id, being usually less endowed with Ego (in Freudian terms, of course) and wholly deficient in the faculty of Super Ego. I decided that there should be a noun to suit the type, and came up with ‘Iddites.’ I like it; I do. Spread the word.

It also occurred to me that a typical Iddite would probably regard a person like me as inferior. That’s OK. They have their thick skin; I have my own defence.  

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Three Pet Hates.

1. Adverts, politicians and corporate executives. They only count as one because they’re all at the same end of the spectrum.

2. Being woken out of a dream by an alarm. The idea of having a piece of technology destroy my choice of reality looks pretty obscene from where I’m sitting… lying.

3. Not having the right person to rub tiger balm into the two big muscles which sit either side of the spine, and which are aching from standing too long, painting skirting boards in an awkward position, and sitting on a computer chair which is both old and inexpensive. The Mintz is conspicuous by her absence. I miss The Mintz more than most.

I admit, this post is clutching at straws. That’s because I had less than five hours sleep last night and my brain resembles a modern TV picture viewed from a tight angle – still all there, but a little on the wan side. Tomorrow is another day (I hope.)

Monday, 14 July 2014

A Reason Not to Apply.

I just read that the Church of England has finally voted to approve the ordination of women bishops. Well, it had to come one day, didn’t it? And I’m fully in favour of the change, but before my feminist friends become too gleeful, let’s consider how many women are likely to apply for the job. I mean, would any self-respecting woman allow herself to be seen in public in a hat like that?

Then again, when you look at the unflattering monstrosities women wear at weddings, maybe the application forms are flowing thick and fast as I write.

*  *  *

And that had me wondering what sorts of headwear do women best justice:

First prize goes to the cowl. It’s all about mystery. The hoods of duffle coats may be included, but I’m not so sure about anoraks.

Second prize goes to the beret. It’s all about being Gallic, and French women are the world leaders in the matter of chic.

Third prize goes to the baseball cap, but only as long as there’s a pony tail sticking out behind it. It has an air of freshness and energy about it.

And a special award has to go to the Lady Bella’s Paddington Bear hat. It is (or maybe was) blue, and looked splendid against her black hair.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Questioning the Memory.

I was just listening to a song on YouTube that was big when I was a naval officer cadet at age 17. I remember sitting in the chart room of HMS Scarborough somewhere in mid Atlantic, listening to it on the BBC World Service some time during the middle watch – that’s midnight to 4am. I don’t remember why I was there, apart from the fact that I was following orders.

The world outside was dark, the ship pitched and rolled and yawed on the deep Atlantic swell, the turbines throbbed, and spray from the bow washed the poop deck just outside the hatch. The air smelled of salt and furnace oil.

As I listened to the song tonight, the memory seemed painfully false. Was I really there all those years ago? Is life really just an illusion, and is memory its principal agent? Was that an ordinary experience or an extraordinary one? How do you know?

Existential crap, right? Right. But the memories persist, as do the questions.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A Little Dream Come True.

Ever since I first heard the line ‘and the moon rose over an open field’ in the Simon and Garfunkel song America, I’ve wanted to see just that. Tonight I did, over farmer Stan’s hay meadow, the crop from which he baled and collected today. It was a full moon, too.

To be strictly accurate, the moon rose over a conifer plantation on the far side of the field – and I suppose I should have been sitting on a Greyhound with a girlfriend asleep in the next seat – but it was still rather beautiful and near enough to satisfy the aspiration.

*  *  *

I, too, had a girlfriend called Cathy once. She was sixteen and had a job, while I was a thirteen-year-old schoolboy. I wonder what she saw in me. The fact that I was a bit precocious, I suppose.

A lot of moons have risen over a lot of fields since then, and I’ve finally seen my first. And it’s comforting to think that my Cathy still isn’t as old as Paul Simon…

Missing the Rectilinear.

I’d always loved the film The Old Dark House (see previous post) until last winter when I applied the epithet to the house where I live and had second thoughts – all those storms with the roaring winds and lashing rain, and this place without a true horizontal or vertical for reassurance. I went around with a spirit level once, you know, trying to find one. Nope. It adds an extra dimension to the business of picture hanging.

My Kind of Dinner Party.

Oh, go on, you can surely spare a mere sixty three seconds. So very English, so very me. If only I had his nose and his way of saying 'have a potato,' but alas...

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Tonight's Surprise.

Do you know what? Somebody from the village asked me tonight how old I am, and before I could answer he made a guess. He was twelve years out. I decline to say whether it was forward or back, but I reckon his error was due in no small part to the way I’ve been walking since I started taking cod liver oil capsules.

I said I wanted to find something silly to say, didn’t I? That’s the best I can do.

The Classic Corporate Tautology.

I’m always both amused and irritated when I see those notices in stores which say:

Join our loyalty scheme and we’ll give you a £10 voucher FREE!

‘No, you’ll give me a £10 voucher.’

‘That’s what it says.’

‘No it doesn’t, it says you’ll give me a £10 voucher FREE.’

‘Same thing.’

‘No it isn’t. In this context, both the definition of the verb ‘to give’ and the fact that the offer is a promotion clearly implies, without reasonable prospect of it being otherwise, that no payment will be required for the voucher. The word ‘free’ is redundant, and the statement a tautology.’

‘A what?’

‘A tautology – saying the same thing twice unnecessarily. It’s like saying that Mrs Smith has got a tiny little nose.’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

‘The same thing as is wrong with saying you’ll give me a voucher free. Saying “you’ll get a £10 voucher free” or “We’ll give you a £10 voucher” would be OK. Saying “we’ll give you a £10 voucher free” isn’t.’

‘You’re not making sense, mate.’

‘No, I don’t suppose I am.’

‘Anyway, we have to put the word ‘free’ in so people know they’re getting something free.’

‘But, as I’ve just explained, they already know that.’

‘Not unless you say FREE in big letters, they don’t.’

‘Are you suggesting your customers are idiots?’

‘Of course. All customers are idiots. Only corporations have brains.’

And Now for Something Completely Different.

You’ve never seen a video like this on a JJ blog before, but they say a change is as good as a rest, so… I love this kind of thing – kids having fun and displaying a high level of dance skill into the bargain.


Having been closely involved with an inner city charity for several years, I’m familiar with the kind of culture this performance comes from. I was never part of it, but I understand it. It contains some pretty bad people, but some very excellent ones, too.

In Praise of VW.

Greensleeves has to be the corniest piece of music ever written, right? ‘Oh no, not bloody Greensleeves again. Anything but that.’ Right. But then you listen to what Ralph Vaughan Williams did with it, as I just did after a long lay off, and it becomes lush and vibrant again.

 
Some of the YouTube comments you get on classical music are just as bad as the ones you find on more popular stuff, only in a different way. They’re so pretentious you could make a sitcom out of them. So very earnest. I used to be earnest myself once, but I can’t be bothered any more. Life’s too mysterious to get deeply enthusiastic about the things people do with it.

One of the comments I did like on a Vaughan Williams piece, though, was ‘his music makes you feel bigger inside than out.’ If I’d written that, I’d be using it all the time. But I didn’t, so I won’t.

And did you know that VW had a long and happy love affair with a woman forty years his junior, right up until his death at 86? Someone commented that he looked like a bulging old sofa, but he was also credited with great charisma and not a little energy…

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

On Failing.

This blog has been far too serious since I came back to it. I keep looking for funny stories to tell, but I’m not finding any. I try to think up silly ditties, but Ms Wong is getting all those by e-mail at the moment. I thought of mentioning the two happy dogs I saw play-fighting outside Sainsbury’s in Ashbourne, closely followed by the cutest pair of East Asian children accompanied by a very lovely East Asian mother. That seemed too innocuous, even though I always wonder whether the universe is giving me a message when it sends complimentary images in pairs. I wrote a whole post on the subject of ‘the womaniser gene’ and scrapped it. I decided I would need to be invited to make a post like that.

Seems I’m a failed blogger at the moment. Sorry, just in case anybody’s interested.

Today's Complaint.

It’s nice when you get to know the assistants in your local supermarket, and they smile a greeting when you walk in. I know they’re just the human face pasted onto a soulless corporate machine, but at least it’s a real face.

I was in Homebase before that, the Ashbourne branch of a DIY chain. They have a member of staff standing just inside the door whose job it is to smile and say ‘hello.’ That isn’t a real face; the operative word is ‘job.’ He’s doing it because he’s told to do it, and that makes it forced, intrusive, manipulative and disingenuous. He makes you feel waylaid; he invades your personal space. And that’s why I ignore him. It can’t be rude if he’s only doing a job.

I went to the garden tools department to compare a range of equipment, and heard a voice behind me say ‘Are you all right, there?’ (That’s the downmarket version of the old ‘may I help you, sir?’ Or maybe it’s just an expression of the modern mania for streetspeak in all things.) Needless to say, I ignored him too

He said it again and I ignored him again. He said it a third time, so I turned to face him. ‘Are you all right, there?’ he asked a fourth time. ‘Yes I am. If I should get to the point where I’m not all right and need your help, I’ll come and ask for it. OK?’ I suppose I shouldn’t have been sharp with him since he was also doing his job, but I was mightily irritated by then.

I decided to complain to the manager. The manager wasn’t available so they gave me his e-mail address to put my complaint in writing, and that’s what I’ve done. My favourite bit is where I point out that this practice only serves to demonstrate that Homebase is a soulless money-making machine managed by a bunch of idiots who apparently don’t know what a gulf there is between genuine friendliness and harassment. I’ve told them that I dislike being harassed, and if it doesn’t stop I’ll shop elsewhere. Much effect it will have, no doubt.

A Missed Opportunity.

Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget thee, do not thou forget me. March on boys.

That’s a famous prayer ascribed to Sir Jacob Astley, commander of the Royalist foot at the Battle of Edgehill. It was the first major engagement of the English Civil War in 1642.

So who were these boys who were being ordered to march on and risk dismemberment, disembowelment, decapitation, or other sundry injuries likely to be effected by the tender mercies of cannonballs, musket fire and cold steel? Who were they who were being commanded to kill or be killed?

They weren’t professional soldiers; they weren’t even volunteers. There were no standing armies until the Parliamentarians instituted one in 1644. They were farmhands, millers, blacksmiths and bakers, all coerced by their landlords into forming a company of foot or a troop of horse, thence to be added to a regiment formed by a higher ranking landlord.

It must have been pretty frightening, mustn’t it? And it was a bit of a cheek. Why didn’t they all just kill their landlords and invent communism early?

Another Retrospective.

Nothing of any note happened today (apart from the loud cracking sound that crossed the sky from horizon to horizon this afternoon and was probably some kind of thunder I’ve never heard before, and the oddly heavy sound of something rushing past me on the other side of a hedge which resurrected my suspicion that there might be wild boar in these ’ere parts) so I thought I’d do a list again.

The last one was five things I want to happen before I die. This one can be five things I tried to do, but failed at miserably.

1. Play the piano. How the hell do people play one tune with one hand and a different one with the other? I reckon the piano was invented for women, and any man who is a good pianist should be a little embarrassed at the fact.

2. Play chess. My daughter beat me easily when she was twelve. I was a little embarrassed, but also proud.

3. Ride a horse. It’s a moving animal and the saddle is slippery, so how do you stay on? The only time I tried it they gave me a horse called Satan. It was when I learned that horses are not only intolerant of novices, but also laugh silently.

4. Write poetry. Nope. It requires the natural propensity to be succinct, and I’m a rambler.

5. Conquer my acrophobia (which has nothing to do with vertigo.) It’s amazing how your legs will happily obey your brain up to a certain height, and then suddenly hang up on you. I never feared falling, of course; it was the prospect of landing that troubled me. I dreamt about it frequently as a child.

So there you have it. Maybe I can do a post on Five Things I was Good At next. I can think of only two so far, so that list will have to wait.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Value of Small Facts.

Did you know that you often get a better idea of the compositional integrity of a picture if you view it upside down? That’s one of the first things I learned when I was training to be a photographer. And I just discovered that you get a better idea of the form of a dance if you adjust your vision to focus on infinity, rather than the performers.

I do believe that the importance of small things can’t be overestimated. ‘Less is more,’ say the Modernists. ‘Small is big,’ say I.

Doing Classical for Folk.

I realised some time ago that, for me, the problem with classical music is that for all its undoubted beauty and skill, it belongs to the high culture tradition. As I see it, that means the composer, the performer and the listener effectively occupy different spaces.

And then I found this clip on YouTube. Valentina Lisitsa, widely recognised as possibly the greatest pianist of our age, is giving an impromptu performance for commuters at St Pancras station on an old upright with a sticking key. Seems she got over the problem, and it’s riveting.

You don’t have to watch it, since the point is made. But if you’ve got ten minutes to spare and you like the idea of bringing high culture to a more egalitarian level, it’s well worth the time.