Thursday, 28 August 2014

Style for Sale.

The really astonishing news today is that one of the charity shops in Ashbourne had a cheomsang for sale. It looked new, and was black with a printed abstract pattern in washed out golds and greens. A bit like this, only more abstract:

 
And it was the style of cheomsang that I gather is standard these days: the slinky, figure hugging, Shanghai-style cheomsang, with a slit up either side. It looked magnificent on the mannequin; heaven knows what it would look like on a person. This was true style. No ugly cleavage here, just an infrequent hint of upper leg on the outside only.

Well, readers of longstanding will know of my fixation with the cheomsang. I stood and stared at it for several minutes, then studied it closely from every angle.

‘Where d’you get the cheomsang?’ I asked the serving wench.

‘The what?’

‘The cheomsang. That, there.’

‘Oh, the Chinese dress. Dunno. It came in a bundle of donations.’

I looked at the price tag. £5.95. Imagine that: £5.95 for something of such class. I thought of buying it to give to Ms Wong, but it was large size and Ms Wong is rather petite. I thought of buying it anyway and hanging it in my bathroom, so that somebody might ask ‘Who the hell does that belong to?’ and I could answer ‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’ But nobody with such depth of interest in my associates ever visits my bathroom, so I didn’t.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Hint of a Wind.

I woke up in a terrible bad mood today, and I’ve been in a terrible bad mood ever since. So what do you make blog posts about when you’re in a terrible bad mood – when you’re tired of talking about yourself but feeling too introspective to talk about anything else?

Nothing. You don’t make one. You stay quiet and get on with painting the bathroom. That’s OK.

But then tonight I was listening to Liam Clancy’s version of The Parting Glass, which I haven’t heard for what seems a very long time, and I came across a comment which said:

‘I’m an American but I have Irish decendents (sic.)’

Well, I’m an Englishman and I have a strange sense of humour. This is the first thing that’s come close to picking me up all day. I think the Sargasso Sea is claiming me for its own, but a gentle breeze just briefly blew.

So I talked about myself after all. Sorry.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

An Unsuccesful Solution.

I’m becoming ever more susceptible to atmospheric conditions these days, both physically and mentally, and today it never stopped raining. As the heavy drizzle continued to fall and the chill wind continued to blow and everything beyond the walls continued to drip, my mood dropped lower and lower. By this evening I felt devoid of point and purpose. Oddly enough, the conditions were exactly the same as those pertaining at the start of the main narrative in my novel. That was set in August, too.

Anyway, I decided it wouldn’t do and looked for something to lift the spirits. I settled on the Harry Potter film The Order of the Phoenix, currently on loan from Mel.

It didn’t help. Not at all. I have two problems with Harry Potter films, so I suppose I should have known better. The first is that I don’t seem to have the required intelligence to fully understand them. I find myself frequently asking the question ‘Have I missed something, because this bit doesn’t make sense?’ The second is that Hermione never fails to knock me off balance. It’s that ‘boys are useless’ thing she does. My favourite line in the whole film was her saying ‘Ron, you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon.’ Irresistible, and unsettling. I continued to feel unsettled.

Monday, 25 August 2014

A Message to Israel.

And there was me thinking that it was only Jewish hardliners who supported the Gaza bombing. I just read with not a little degree of horror and astonishment that 87% of Israelis supported it.

Israel, you have to stop this. You were smelling bad even before the bombing started; the illegal occupations and decades of repression saw to that. Now the stench is becoming intolerable. What do you want the world to do? Stand by and gloat when your Arab neighbours band together to destroy your state? Most of us don’t want that. Most of us want the Jews to have their own homeland because we know you’ve had a rough deal down the centuries. Most of us are neither anti-Semitic nor Holocaust deniers. But you have to turn away from bloodshed and oppression if you’re to retain the support of the world community.

(You could, of course, tell me that 87% was inaccurate. You could tell me that it was, in fact, only 7%. Can you?)

I read recently that your government swore revenge for the death of an Israeli boy. The death of a child is a horrible, horrible thing, but you’ve already killed 459 Palestinian children. How much more revenge do you want?

I’m sorry if this post is uncharacteristically emotive. Visiting terror and death upon children makes me emotional.

Pushing the Point.

There have been lots of opinions expressed down the centuries by a succession of erudite and not-so-erudite people on the subject of what Life is about. One of my favourites came from some Irishman who said ‘Life is just a matter of passing the time.’ And that’s what I always think about when I read of a celebrity dying.

Today it was the turn of Richard Attenborough, and along came the usual plaudits: ‘He was one of the greats.’ ‘He will be sorely missed.’ ‘He is simply irreplaceable.’

And there’s me thinking: ‘Well actually, he just spent his few short years of passing the time entertaining other people spending their own few short years of passing the time.’ The fact is that he did what he wanted to do, enjoyed it I assume, and made lots of money in the process. That’s fine by me; I have no objection whatsoever. As for the rest…

I’m not being cynical in saying this, but am I being unreasonable?

Paint and the Chinese Connection.

Today has been an unprepossessing, practical sort of day. Nothing to write home about, nor even to write blog posts about. When all you’ve done is some painting, all there is to write about is painting, and who wants to hear about painting? OK, painting it is.

I’m on the last lap of the bathroom job. There’s just the top coat to put on the door frame and a shelf unit, and then there’s only the exciting bit left. The exciting bit is the airing cupboard and the panelled door. For seven years they’ve been two-tone yellow, but they’re shortly to be elevated to crimson and pale green.

The thing is, you see, my bathroom has an oriental ambience provided by three small Japanese prints, a medium-sized Chinese oil painting painted by a real Chinese woman (though what size she was I don’t know,) two large Chinese banners featuring plump birds, spiky butterflies and sundry flowers, and a wooden statue of the goddess Kuan Yin. Well, two-tone yellow isn’t very Chinese, is it? Two-tone yellow is more Kansas, really (corn and egg yolks.) Crimson and pale green, on the other hand, takes you straight in among the fisher boats of Quangdong Province where the guzheng and the erhu play plaintive duets as the sun rises over the South China Sea and those dark, mysterious cormorants eye you suspiciously. Much more fitting, and much more exciting.

Except it isn’t, really. Hearing people talk about paint is marginally more boring than watching it dry.

But there’s one more thing I might mention. Ms Wong sent me an e-mail tonight which said ‘I don’t want to talk to you tonight. Bog off. I want to be alone.’ I find it quite flattering when people are honest with me.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Reasons.

People sometimes ask me why I go to bed so late. I lie. I tell them it’s because ‘I have dealings with America, and there’s a time difference, you know.’ I suppose it isn’t entirely untrue; there have been times when I’ve gone to bed at 5am because I’ve been having ‘dealings with America’ until 4.30, but it doesn’t happen often. Mostly, the reason I go to bed so late is that I dislike going to bed.

I always have, even as a child, and I suppose that’s where my antipathy first started – through being told what time I have to go to bed, with a special concession on Friday nights because tomorrow was Saturday. I’ve always disliked being told to do anything. Fridays were the exception, though. On all other nights, going to bed was about becoming unconscious, knowing that the next thing is having to get up when you don’t want to get up, and going out to do something you don’t want to do. That’s how life is for most people.

And there’s another reason for not liking going to bed. My life will have so many days in it, and going to bed is the final acceptance that another one is spent. How many more will there be? That’s why I need lots of scotch if I’m to forget the question.

And so we come to the two great mysteries of life: why is it that the years grow shorter the older you get, and why do you almost always get an itchy nose when you’ve got your hands full?

Saturday, 23 August 2014

A Valued English Tradition.

I read a small news report the other day which said that British coastguards had rescued a man trying to sail a small dinghy across the Atlantic equipped with some biscuits and a map of Southampton.

So, two questions:

Is this a peculiarly English thing to do, and does it take a peculiarly English sense of humour to find it the funniest things you’ve read in years?

Becoming a Battery.

I got an hours work done in the garden today, between painting jobs. I thought it would help to breathe fresh air instead of paint fumes for a change. And while I was thus engaged, something struck me. No, not a local with a dislike of night-walking eccentrics, but one of these: A realisation.

I wrote a story about four years ago called When the Waves Call. On the face of it, the opening gambit is simply that a man called Liam meets a woman called Maire in an Irish pub, only it’s not that simple. Liam might be just an everyday boring Englishman, but Maire is rather more than just an everyday sultry Irish colleen.

I realised only today that when they first meet, Maire has very much the upper hand, and she uses the superior strength of her will to ingratiate herself into the consciousness of the rather more diffident Liam. But gradually things change. Maire’s strength eventually wanes and her vulnerable side begins to show through. Liam, on the other hand, rises from the mire of enervation and finds strength of his own. By the time Maire leaves the bar, their energies are in balance and they each need the other for different but complimentary reasons.

That’s a kind of structure, isn’t it? I never realised my stories had structure before; I just wrote what came into my head. And I could go further and ask whether this is an example of strong feminine energy being transferred to supplement weak masculine energy (which I’ve found from experience to be a credible proposition) in order to create a homogenous whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Like a battery? Nice analogy. Like a battery.

Well, this is a revelation! I’ve never been one to believe in too much analysis of creative things. I’m more the ‘you like it or you don’t’ type. Yet here I am analysing one of my own stories (and even thinking I might be right.) Is there a doctor in the house?

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cults and the Corporate World.

Ms Wong is home now from her week of connection with the corporate world. She sent me an e-mail telling me all about the woefulness of the experience, but remarked on how odd it is that when you’re there with ‘like-minded’ people, you get carried along with the whole thing. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘that’s the key to it. The corporate world is a cult.’

That’s it in a nutshell really, isn’t it? A bunch of like-minded people brainwashed into the corporate mentality and an unthinking allegiance to the brand, and all speaking a strange dialect, one of the Earnestspeak group. And I daresay some would even be prepared to lay their bodies on the line for the cause. They do, after all, go paintballing in the Yorkshire Dales for the express purpose of bonding with other members of the cult. Bonding is so important in cults. That’s one of the reasons I dislike them so much.

Not Raising Lazarus.

You know, that ‘Snake’ song I posted a couple of nights ago continues to hold my attention quite remarkably. It’s the combination of the music and those eyes; between them, they’re definitely in the High Romantic tradition. And where would we be without the High Romantic tradition? No Grail quest. What would be the point?

And you know who the face in the picture reminds me of, don’t you? No, of course you don’t, and I suppose I shouldn’t say. There are signs that the old CFS is lifting, and it would be better to let Lazarus lie.

I’m talking too much. It’s these damn mood swings – can’t get rid of them.

To Russia with Love.

I read that inspectors in Moscow have closed down several McDonald’s restaurants, claiming that their hygiene standards aren’t up to scratch. Funny they never noticed before, isn’t it? Do you think it might have something to do with the sanctions war? I do, but whatever. It strikes me that eating at McDonald’s isn’t a very healthy thing to do anyway, even if their hygiene standards are up to scratch, so it seems the sanctions are doing our Russian pals a favour.

And I have a tentative theory that McDonald’s fast food joints (I can’t call them ‘restaurants’ twice in one post; that would be offensive) are actually feeding stations set up by a superior culture of extra-terrestrials who like human flesh on the table at Christmas, and the fatter the better. So there you go, Russians – two favours in one go. Now you won’t have to lie on a plate with an apple in your mouth, keeping close company with cranberry jelly and roast potatoes.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

On Perception and Pretension.

This week has been a week of mood swings, mostly without just cause, although the news hasn’t helped. A week of feeling unsettled, confused, edgy, pessimistic. A week in which the chill wind now blowing through the Shire seems to echo a chill wind blowing through the world.

It feels to me as though the world is entering an ideological, political and economic autumn, to be followed by a winter of discontent before we settle back into the spring of a new order. Such a phenomenon has happened before, and the process can take a very long time.

But this is just my perception, of course; I have nothing empirical to offer as evidence. It isn’t a prophecy or anything as grand and pretentious as that. I’m probably just in a bad mood.

And talking of pretentious, I just sent an e-mail to Ms Wong, a line from which might warrant repetition on the blog. Ms Wong works for an American-owned publishing house, an environment in which the corporate mentality takes precedence over the core reason for the existence of publishing houses. Occasionally she has to suffer a period of moving in close and making the corporate connection before she can get back to simply doing the job. Ms Wong finds this difficult, and so I offered my opinion of the corporate world:

‘Such a characterless world. A colourless world. A drab world. A world in which superficial vices preen themselves as virtues in the minds of vacuous people.’

Pretentious it might be, but I think it’s the kind of statement I’d like to be known by after I’ve gone.

The Ultimate Clash.

After I made the last post I took a look at the news from around the world. I read about the civilian deaths in Ukraine, the murder of James Foley, and the ongoing situation in Gaza. Suddenly I felt sick and nothing was funny any more.

Well, you can’t feel sick and deny all humour forever, so at some point you have to try and put aside notions of retaliation and retribution, of good guys and bad guys, and instead try to make some sense of it all.

The only sense I can make of it is that some people are living in a different world of perceptions than that which most of us take for granted. It seems to me that what we’re facing at the moment isn’t so much a clash of ideologies as a clash of realities. One man’s view of insane brutality is another man’s just crusade. How you get over that, I’ve no idea.

To repeat the words of the Priestess:

Living is just the stories we choose to tell ourselves. It’s all a matter of perception.

Agreed, but that applies as much to beheadings as it does to pole dancing in Barcelona, so how do you stop the suffering of the innocent? The answer is, sadly, that I can't. All I can do is live in my own reality and make notes about it on this blog. But it doesn't stop me being aware and neither should it, even though it hurts sometimes.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Sign and the Sainsbury's Supervisor.

The environs of Ashbourne Sainsbury’s have been getting a facelift lately. The car park has been re-surfaced, parking bays have been freshly painted, smart new trolley depositories have been erected, and so on and so forth. One of the sparkling new features to delight the eye and refresh the senses is a range of smartypants modernist signage in plain orange (Sainsbury’s corporate colour) with white text. I read one of them as I walked across to the ticket machine this morning. It read:

This car park is at risk of flooding. Users park here at there own risk.

Clang, clang, clang, clang.

(‘What’s that?’

‘That’s the alarm bells going clang, clang, clang, clang.’

‘Oh, I see.’)

I made my way into the store in search of somebody in a position of authority, and the first person I saw was the young woman who told me recently that she’s no longer a rank-and-file member of staff, but a supervisor. I approached her with the determination one might expect of a sometime writer suffering a modest attack of something approaching the dreaded DT’s.

(Important point: The first thing I noticed about her, notwithstanding my state of agitation, was that she’s re-invented her image since she entered the ranks of the NCOs and it’s rather nice. That’s perfectly normal for me, and what’s also perfectly normal was a desire to tell her so. Being nothing if not wise, however, I realised that I’m at an awkward age – not young enough to be a serious contender for a dalliance, but not quite old enough yet to be thought completely safe and consequently ignored. Accordingly, I desisted and stuck to the point. It wasn’t easy. To continue.)

‘Are you still a supervisor?’ I asked.

‘Yes.’

‘Then I think there’s something you should know.’

She smiled, rather nicely and with evident interest.

‘What’s that?’

‘One of your new signs says Users park here at their own risk, only you’ve spelt it T.H.E.R.E.’

‘Oh no!’ said the said the scrummy supervisor.

‘I read that this morning,’ said a rather less scrummy member of the rank-and-file standing next to her, ‘and I never noticed anything.’

‘That’s why she’s a supervisor and you’re not,’ I said.

(No, I didn’t. In fact, if I’m to be honest, I never even thought it; I’m not that big a snob. I just made it up to make the post even sillier. The rest, however, is entirely true, and what I actually said was…)

‘…it doesn’t look good. Not very professional.’

‘No, of course not,’ said the supervisor, ‘I’ll get it seen to straight away.’

And do you know what? She did, too. When I drove out of the car park 2½ hours later, the job had been done and the spelling was perfect.

Now, at this point I could make the obvious joke about scrummy supervisors and spells, but that would probably make a few eyes roll uncomfortably. So let’s just say that she’s obviously a fast worker.

And now, assuming you've heard more than enough from me, you might want to watch the following YouTube clip. It shows how Mr Sainsbury started out, and demonstrates that there's nothing new about mis-spelt signage. Or, indeed, about boring perfectionists who like to show off their superior knowledge. Unfortunately, the YouTube search in Blogger isn't retrieving the clip, so you'll have to make do with the link. It's quite funny (if you like that sort of thing.) And it's only four minutes long.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKJPInGr0mI

The Abstract in Isolation.

All day today I kept having brief senses of a dream I must have had last night. I say ‘senses’ because I saw no pictures, read no text, nor heard any voices. I don’t know what the dream was about. The glimpses I had were just senses, and it happens to me a lot.

This seems to tie in with what I’ve been hypothesising about lately – that all sensory input is the means by which we experience the abstract. So maybe it’s entirely right that all I remember about the dream should be the abstract inner layer.

I’ll go back to the outer layer later and report on how I made life better at Sainsbury’s, Ashbourne today. It’s about time we had a success story.

Being Tonight.

Life is just the stories we tell ourselves. It’s all a matter of perception.

Thus spake the Priestess, and she has a point. (Priestesses usually do.)

It used to be that I was pretty much the same person from one day to the next, but not any more. Now I can be a different person every night, and it’s interesting to find out who I am tonight by noting which video or song I'm moved to watch or listen to over and over again. Some nights it can be a Father Ted clip; other nights it might be music by Erik Satie. Tonight it’s this one:

  
Tonight, the challenge in the eyes and the lure of some Gallician mediaeval music has me enthralled. Who will I be tomorrow? Who will you be tomorrow? Perception is everything.

Note with Epilogue.

Today has been a day of spills and mishaps, of things being trodden on and tripped over, of glitches in the machinery and things getting irritatingly in the way of other things. The sort of day when the frustrations eventually bring forth bursts of petty anger at things not worth getting angry about, and when you can’t decide whether your lowness of spirit is due to the circumstances, or whether it has a life of its own to add to the rest. And then there’s the backache and the twinges in the troublesome knee… On such a day you wonder how on earth you ever doubted the veracity of astrology, for today the configuration of the stars must surely be catastrophic.

And tonight I learned that the name of Australia’s capital city means ‘woman’s breasts’ in the native language. Well, it would, wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Lament.

I just read about the uproar at a wedding in Israel between a Jew and an Arab. A gathering of Israeli hardliners was chanting ‘Death to the Arabs,’ apparently. Doesn’t that kind of mindless bigotry just turn your stomach? What was the death toll of children in Gaza? 342 was it?

And then I found a YouTube clip of an old favourite track of mine. The video features somebody holding a placard which reads Jesus was a liberal Jew. I’ll go with that.


North American Ways.

I was just listening to a track called Beautiful Dawn by The Wailin’ Jennys. It has a nice Country feel about it, and for some odd reason it reminded me of a night in a Toronto bar quite a few years ago.

I was slumped over the bar counter with my straight up scotch (no ice; who the hell puts ice in scotch except North Americans?) The female bartender – they don’t call them barmaids in North America, as we Brits do with our taste for economy of form and less political correctness – was sitting on a stool filing her nails. A woman came in and began re-arranging the bar mats all along the counter, doing so with great diligence and purpose until she was sure they were all in precisely the right place. The female bartender looked at me and shrugged; I did the knowing look in return.

She was the same bartender who took my payment for a drink, then kept the change by way of a tip. I didn’t complain, but exercised discretion. ‘Never knock the natives until you know them,’ I thought. Which is probably a good way to think.

I do miss Zoe, though. Something she said to me about three years ago gave me the biggest high I’ve had in the last twenty years. Pity I wasn’t up to the task of returning the favour. Fools and North Americans rush in where angels and Europeans fear to tread.

Music from the Fringe of Europe.

It’s been absolutely ages since I posted a YouTube clip, so I think I can permit myself the indulgence. This is one I discovered a few days ago.


The first part is an old Irish folk tune, played with remarkable aplomb for a German band. And by that I mean no disrespect to Germans or their bands, it’s just that I’ve never heard a Gaelic folk tune played this well except by Gaelic musicians who’ve been brought up with their native tradition.

The second part is a mediaeval English folk song which has many versions. This one has a gentle earthiness about it, and reminds me of the original version of the film The Wicker Man. Natural religion at its most dissolute, yet compellingly attractive. And that probably says more about me than it does about either the film or the music.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Limbo of Fading Strangeness.

So how do I follow last night’s weird and wayward posts? I don’t, except to say that today’s trip to Derby was uneventful apart from wondering yet again how cooling towers at power stations work and why they’re that shape, and meeting a happy little Staffordshire Bull Terrier whose humans looked high on something. I decided the two facts were probably related. But then Mel said to me, when I was telling her about my summer’s work repainting the upstairs of my house and all the little restoration jobs that have come along with it: ‘It’s good to have a project.’

‘It is,’ I replied, ‘but a project isn’t the same thing as a focus. A focus takes you by the hand and leads you willingly into tomorrow. A project merely gives you a reason to get up in the morning.’

And then I bought a fresh cream éclair and ate it, but didn’t enjoy it very much.

Last night’s strangeness hasn’t entirely evaporated yet, but I’m growing bored with it.

On String and Virtue.

Had a drink now, and no, I don’t regret making the last post. Being strange is about the closest I get to having fun these days. And here’s a funny thing…

You know how they say that every little boy’s pocket has a piece of string in it? (Which is patently untrue, but that’s what they say, or used to.) Well, several of my coats also have a piece of string in them. I fiddle with them when I’m walking along with my hands in my pockets. They’re there because I have an abiding notion that one day I’m going to be required to tie something to something. Like, you know, one of those occasions when you’re walking along the lane minding your own business, and chance upon a maiden in distress, hands clasped to her bosom and crying:

‘Oh my, oh my! Whatever shall become of me? The buckle of my shoe is irretrievably broken and the sky betokens snow, methinks. I still have half a mile to walk before I reach the safety of my dear home and family. Shall I never see them more? Shall I nevermore feel the fond embrace of my dear mama, or sit beside the glowing hearth, there to read The Swiss Family Robinson for the seventeenth time, or see pictures of clouds and mountains and sundry beasts in the glowing embers, or settle in my feather bed, repository of dreams and fond imaginings, where the electric blanket shall fade into a bygone thing fit only for the moths? And what of my dear little dog, whose shivering form you see sitting plaintively beside me? Will she have no supper tonight, or any night, for shall we be found on the morrow, frozen to the hard earth in this wild and desolate place? I am undone, sir. I am lost, I say, lost…’

‘Never fear, my little one,’ I’ll reply, ‘for I have here a piece of string which will avail thee of thy rescue. Sit you down on this embankment among the browning detritus of summer growth. Lift up your leg (and what a very fine leg it is) that I may do the deed.’

‘Whatever do you mean?’

‘Mend your shoe.’

‘Oh, I see. Very well.’

And so she will sit, and present to me her foot (and what a dainty little foot it shall be) and I will proceed, explaining as I go along:

‘First, we take the string around the back of your heel (what an enchanting little heel it is) like this, and then we cross it in front and take it under the shoe and settle it against the heel of the shoe, and then we bring it back like this, cross it in front of your leg again (did I mention what a very fine leg it is?) take it back around the back (forgive my clumsy English, madam; I am but a rude peasant) bring it to the front again and tie the ends in a bow. May I dare the presumption to suggest that you like bows?’

‘Oh I do, sir, I do. I do so love bows.’

‘And now, my dear, you may proceed homeward to your supper with no fear of further distress, and live to walk another day.’

‘Oh, my dear, dear, sir. You are such a comfort to me, and such a hero. How may I ever repay you?’

‘You must not ask such a thing, my pretty. I forbid it. Virtue is, as ever, its own reward.’

And then she will blush, and begin to perspire (but only modestly) and talk of being all a-flutter, and blink three times, and I will stride manfully back to my lonely abode, head held high and light of heart for having saved the day.

So that’s why I have a piece of string in my pocket. I said I was in a strange mood, didn’t I? I have no idea why.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Life, Bagels, and the Big Question.

Shall I tell you what’s odd?

A few years ago I began to have the sense that I no longer knew who I was. Accordingly, I tried to work it out rationally. What I ended up with was the strong suspicion that I’m not actually anybody. That wasn’t so bad because it meant that I could still do what I do best: observe everybody else. But then the reasoning which led to the suspicion that I’m not anybody also strongly suggested that nobody else is anybody either. That’s a bit of a shock because it makes you feel like whatever speck of non being you are, it’s floating in an otherwise empty universe in which a mere billion light years is small potatoes when compared with infinite space. And that, of course, is an irrational concept. It also makes you feel a tad cut off.

(This is a bit bigger than Paul Simon walking off to look for America, by the way, exceedingly pleasant though the song might be.)

More latterly, it’s led to another question: Should I write yet another final e-mail to Zoe, explaining why I still buy bagels and telling her what a strong and scintillating memory she is? If I’m nobody, there wouldn’t be any point. And if she’s nobody, there would be even less point. And if, after all my deliberations, it turns out that she’s actually somebody, I doubt she’d give a tupp’ny toss anyway.

This is why I smile at earnest people who say they want to find themselves. My advice, if I felt inclined to give it, would have to be ‘I wouldn’t bother if I were you. You’ll probably either get it wrong or discover that you aren’t actually anybody. And then you might get lonely.’

But now something else is bothering me. One of these days I’ll arrive at The Gates, and the gatekeeper will ask me what I was in life. ‘I don’t really know,’ I’ll reply. ‘A philosopher?’ And then I’ll hang my head in shame when I see him roll his eyes.

‘But were you ever an artist?’ he’ll continue.

‘No.’

‘Next.’

(I’m assuming the gatekeeper will be a Buddhist.)

*  *  *

I’m in a strange mood tonight. I keep wanting to snack on things savoury and buttery. So far I’ve permitted myself a bag of crisps and three shortcake biscuits (cookies to the DYs, I think.) I’m wondering whether my brain needs feeding, but I’m not sure I have one.

*  *  *

I didn’t think I was going to make a post today, since I’m afflicted with a touch of melancholia (the black variety.) Maybe I haven’t, but I just re-read what I think I’ve written, and realised that it gets my goat when journalists don’t know the difference between ‘compare with’ and ‘compare to.’

Is anybody still reading this? I’ll probably come to my senses when I’ve had a drink and wish I’d never posted it.

Late Incongruity.

You often hear TV garden pundits enthusing about flowers which bloom late into the year. I don’t see it that way. To me, there’s something incongruous and unsettling about the plants which bloom at the end of summer under grey and glowering skies, with a chill wind blowing and the dusk falling early. It seems unfair somehow, a travesty of the optimism and opulence so apparent in spring and high summer. They look like an unnatural bridge between the time of bees, butterflies and flowers, and the time of fruit, berries, and the beauty of decay. Maybe I was designed to live in the tropics.

A Note on Courage.

You know, sometimes it takes a little bit of courage to press the Publish button on a blog post, especially when you’re not drunk. Or maybe that should be ‘recklessness.’ I’ve often wondered how much of what we call courage is simply a lack of imagination, and how much is the outward manifestation of ‘what the hell.’

And courage comes in many forms. I remember watching a TV chat show many years ago, on which the two guests were Bill Beaumont, the England rugby captain, and Nigel Mansell, the F1 racing driver. Mansell said he would never have the courage to put his body on the line the way Beaumont did, and Beaumont said he would never dare drive a car as fast as Mansell did. See what I mean? And moral courage is a different kettle of fish altogether.

The Priestess Wakes.

I knew she would eventually, if only briefly I expect. She said Life is just the stories we tell ourselves. Perception is everything. Pure Priestess. I couldn’t resist, obviously.

‘Morning Priestess.’

‘Morning Jeff.’

‘Are you well refreshed?’

‘Refreshed? Me? Never. What’s my body been up to while I was asleep?’

‘Not sure you’d want to know.’

‘Ah well, she’s young.’

‘I know.’

‘Are you still on speaking terms?’

‘No. She stopped taking me seriously – said I didn’t know her because I’d never looked into her eyes.’

‘Mmm. A nice escape clause. But she’s young.’

‘I know.’

‘Do you still love me?’

‘Of course. How could I forget the golden shower and the floating thing?’

‘Neat trick, eh?’

‘Unique, I’d say.’

‘Naturally. You haven’t forgotten the mountains, I hope.’

‘No.’

‘Nor Avalon?’

‘No.’

‘Good.’

‘You’ll be going back to sleep soon, I suppose?’

‘Mmm… When I’m ready.’

‘OK, I’ll leave you in peace then. Night, Priestess.’

‘Au Revoir, Jeff.’

I thought it was about time I went back to basics and made another enigmatic post. Long overdue, I’d say. And life is, after all, just the stories we tell ourselves. Perception is everything.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Life and Melancholy.

I’ve expressed the opinion often enough that feeling is the cornerstone of life, because without feeling nothing else matters. It seems to me, therefore, that life must be a little tedious for people who are constantly cheerful (and rather more tedious for those who are constantly miserable.) It must be like having pie and chips every night for dinner.

If you are to experience life as fully as possible, you need the widest variety of feelings you can get. Avoiding the unpleasant ones is natural enough, but you still need them. That’s why I believe that the people who experience the widest range of feelings, and feel them the deepest, are the ones most in touch with life. It doesn’t matter whether they come through being constantly active, watching the TV all day, or sitting ’neath banks of green willow staring into space.

And so I’ve come to the notion that, notwithstanding the etymology of the word, melancholy comes in two forms: black melancholy and what I like to call purple melancholy. It might also be called fake or false melancholy. Black melancholy is like mild to moderate depression; purple melancholy occupies a similar area, but has a hint of rose about it.

I’ve noticed, you see, that throughout my life there has been a repeating phenomenon. Whenever life has been treating me well – when there’s been no resurgence of the self-generating and self-perpetuating depressive tendency to push me into the pit, and no difficult circumstance to push me into the same pit from a different direction – I’ve sought the sanctuary of melancholy for the sake of blessed variation. I’ve wanted it and enjoyed it, which is why it has a rose patina. Fake it might be but it’s still melancholy, only it’s purple instead of black. And the beauty of purple melancholy is that it’s usually pushed away quite easily once you’ve had enough and want to move onto something else. It’s the moving on that keeps you alive.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Jeffrey Box5: The Artefacts.

This is a post for Maddie of upstate New York, who not only likes artefacts, but also likes using the word rather a lot. (Archaeologists do; I’ve noticed. And the fact that American archaeologists misspell the word bothers me only slightly. The ‘e’ gives it so much more class, you know. It does. It looks more classical. So there.)

Anyway, I thought I’d close the Jeffrey Box posts with a list of the artefacts I found at the bottom of the box. I’ll list them as they come out:

1. The two plastic bases for a model of a Royal Navy destroyer. A glimpse of things to come, of course. Pity I so loved the sea but couldn’t stand being told what time to get up, what time to go to bed, when I should be here, when I shouldn’t be there, what I was allowed to do, what I wasn’t allowed to do, how to do this, how not to do that, being punished for forgetting to lower a flag at sunset, etc, etc.

2. A lead weight for use when fishing in the sea. It’s shaped like a coffin.

3. A metal key that I remember used to wind something up, but I don’t remember what. I remember winding my mother up quite a lot, though.

4. A piece of flat, polished bone about 5” long, rounded at the top end and pointed at the bottom. I remember it was originally part of a pair, the trick being that they were held loosely in a certain way between the fingers and shaken to make a rhythmical clacking sound. I suspect they were my dad’s originally, and they’re probably responsible for the fact that I can still play the spoons.

5. A semi-circular piece of green plastic. I’ve no idea.

6. A wooden spinning top for use with a whip, the T-shaped type, not the barrel shape. Judging by its excessive wear, I think it was probably bequeathed to me, probably by my much older brother. (I’m still using his Boy Scout penknife.)

7. The real mystery: a white plastic brooch with a black embossed figure of Cupid on it. What the hell was I doing with that? Why is it in the Jeffrey Box? Something to do with an early girlfriend, perhaps? I was, after all, a little precocious. (My mother frequently called me ‘a little all-sorts-of-things’.) I don’t know.

8. A small, silver fob compass, which still works. Probably another bequest from my brother, or maybe it was mine from my time in the Boys Brigade (or ‘the BB’ as we hip types liked to call it. The BB was much more religious than the Boy Scouts. Why me?)

9. A white plastic skeleton (human.) ??????? That’s as much as I can say.

10. A 2lb Co-op bread token. The idea was that you bought the token to leave out on the step for when the bread man called. It was a security thing, you see, the fear being that if you left real money on the step, some ne’er-do-well might come along and steal it to purchase dastardly things. But of course, a ne’er-do-well wouldn’t bother to steal a 2lb loaf token because all he could buy with it would be a 2lb loaf, which wouldn’t be dastardly enough for any self-respecting ne’er-do-well. And the Co-op got the money in advance, which is a more socially acceptable form of stealing.

11. The Piece-de-Resistance: a safety pin, large. I have a theory based on the fact that it’s blue, not pink. Could this have something to do with little JJ’s pre-potty training days? (Actually, I only had one J then; the second one came with adoption.) I’m not sure whether to find it cute or revolting.

So that’s about it. Maybe I should dig a hole and bury these things. In years to come, somebody who likes digging things up might dig them up. And speculate…

JJ Meldrew on Sloppy Writing.

If I’m a grammar Nazi at all, I’m certainly a lukewarm one. Odd little errors and dialectical idiosyncrasies don’t bother me much, if at all (although misplaced apostrophes and ‘there’ for ‘they’re’ do tend to rankle.) And I have no problem with writers breaking with convention deliberately and for a reason. It’s often one of the things that make a good writer, and poets do it all the time. What bothers me is sheer sloppiness on the part of people who should know better.

There was a news report today about a yellow alert being issued because of expected heavy rain in East Anglia and Central England. It was headed:

Summer is Officially Over

Officially? That’s like saying ‘I literally died of fright.’ You’d think that people who are paid to write words for public consumption would be a little more diligent, wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Jeffrey Box4: Hot Air and Heirlooms.

First of all, a little addendum to last night’s Jeffrey Box post. I must mention something I wrote in my letter from Quebec (where they only sell beer in bottles!!)

In reporting how hot it was there (it was June if I remember correctly) I wrote that ‘the wind is warmer than the air.’ Isn’t that just the dumbest thing you ever heard? I mean, if getting BC backwards is fit to raise a titter, saying that the wind is warmer than the air should have you collapsed in hysterics. I know what I meant to say, I just didn’t say it right. Maybe the bottles were bigger than I thought they were, and I'd drunk ten of them when I should have stopped at eight.

However, to continue with tonight’s little discovery:

One of the things I found in the JB is a rather classy, though somewhat jaded, leather-bound copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It has my dad’s name written inside the cover, but it must predate him by some way because there’s a page dedicated to finding out the date of Easter ‘up to and including the year 1899.’ It must have been his father’s at least, probably his grandfather’s. And then he must have passed it onto me, hence why it’s in the Jeffrey Box. I don’t remember him doing that and he decamped in the direction of a much younger woman when I was 5½, but I suppose he must have done. That means I have an old family heirloom which I never knew about. Neat, eh?

But there was another discovery to be made inside the book. It’s a little rectangular bookmark in transparent red plastic with gold decoration and text. It shows a picture of Jesus on the side of a chalice, and each side of the vessel are written two statements:

O Amour de mon Jésus
Vous êtes mon amour

Below the chalice is written:

O Coeur enflamé de Jésus
Enflammez aussi mon Coeur

And along the bottom we have:

L DOPTER 588 PARIS

I think you might have gathered that I’m not exactly a devoted Christian myself, but this thing is rather sweet. And it raises two mysteries. Firstly, I never knew my father had the slightest interest in religion. Secondly, I never knew he’d been to Paris. (I doubt you would have got such a thing in England back then.) My mother once told me that he’d been to Europe before he met her, doing relief work in Berlin after the war she said, so maybe he made a side trip to Paris while he was there. Or maybe somebody gave it to him, which, small matter though it might be, is still something I find intriguing.

And a little postscript:

The bookmark is placed at the end of the section on ‘Solemnization of Matrimony.’ Given what I said earlier, that’s a little ironic.

Ashbourne Nicenesses.

I had another encounter with a crossbreed dog today, and saw further evidence of the notion that like attracts like when it comes to dogs and their humans. The dog was a shaggy, vaguely bearded mutt, and the human a bearded, vaguely shaggy man. What most struck me about the dog, though, was that it was the spit of the animatronic dog which appeared with John Hurt in The Storyteller. I asked the man whether it was a particular breed, and he said it was a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. ‘A Labradoodle,’ he pronounced confidently. I would have thought it a joke, had I not heard of the Labradoodle before. It was very friendly, and this is what it looked like.

 
And I went into the library to use a computer to scan the pictures I posted earlier. Sitting next to me were two children, giggling. I never realised before how infectious children’s giggles are; before long you’re giggling along with them, even though you have no idea what they’re giggling about. I also realised that it’s one of the loveliest sounds known to mankind. I remarked as much to the librarian, who agreed.

And then a question occurred to me: in light of what I said about my letters from America, would Victor Meldrew have said that?

Young JJ

OK, Sara wanted pictures. How could I refuse?

 Judging by the presumed location,
I'd say I must have been 4 or 5 when this
was taken. I've never looked that smart since.

This must have been a year or two
later. The milk teeth were, no doubt, 
the ones which caused Mrs Evans and
her Barry such distress. The look of
potential mischief in the eyes probably
caused my mother some distress, too.

Around 8, I should think. The smart, grown
up teeth presumably considered the biting
of humans to be beneath them, since they
never did. As for the looks, they went downhill
all the way from there. I'm shortly to take up 
a post in Paris, occupying the bell room of
Notre Dame. The job entails deterring 
woodworm, rats, atheists who refuse to
pay a fine, and everybody called Esmerelda. 

I don't have an up to date picture, but this is close enough:
 

Inner Dialogue.

It’s that time of night when the scotch loosens the tongue, but the brain refuses to give ground.

‘I have a truth to tell,’ says the lower brain.

‘But is it a necessary truth?’ retorts the higher.

‘Necessary?’

‘Yes.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Quite. Consider whether you’re in a fit state to evaluate the risk. Do you want to be misunderstood?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Do you want to offend?’

‘No.’

‘Is your opinion important enough to be recklessly expressed?’

‘Possibly, but I’m not sure.’

‘So don’t make the post until you are.’

‘OK.’

Night.

Up Against the Wall with a Blindfold.


I’m only posting this because it speaks volumes for changing times. If it were to be written and recorded today, no doubt it would be called Message on a Mobile, and the lyrics would be amended to read ‘Sending out an SMS.’ (The American version would have to be re-titled Message on a Cellphone, which is entirely lacking in alliterative bite and demonstrates just how inferior American culture is.)

*Only kidding*

And we don’t generally call it an SMS in Britain, preferring the more vocally economical ‘text.’ Which is further proof, if any were needed… The only person I ever heard call it an SMS over here was a woman from the Czech Republic, which is almost as bad as being American.

*ONLY KIDDING*

In actual fact, I can think of five Americans I really like, which is two more than the number of Brits I really like. No kid! And I liked the woman from the Czech Republic a lot.

What I don’t understand about this song, however, is why Sting felt the need to sing the verses in mock Jamaican. Maybe it’s because he’s a Geordie and gets easily confused. (They don’t wear coats in the winter, you know; they consider coats to be an insult to the clan.) He was probably trying to do Glaswegian.

*ONLY KIDDING*

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Jeffrey Box3. On Space and N America.

The trouble with the Jeffrey Box is that it’s easy enough to get everything out, but the devil’s own job to replace it in such a way that the lid fits. If my mother had one skill, it was being able to fit a month’s provisions into a shoe box. She had an abiding distrust of space, and refused to countenance a mere cubic centimetre of the stuff in anything she packed. It’s a trait I failed to inherit.

Tonight’s Good Reads were some of the letters and postcards I sent home from the North American cruise when I was in the navy. What a tedious little Victor Meldrew I was. Anything I could find to complain about, I complained about. The Captain promised this, and now he’s saying that. The price of beer in Quebec is exorbitant (They only sell it in bottles, you know!!) I didn’t get any mail in either Sydney, St. Pierre or from HMS Torquay this morning.

(Sydney?! Where the blip did I get Sydney from? The only Sydney I know of is, well, rather more than a day’s cruise from Canada. I swear I wasn’t on anything. There was nothing to be on.)

The postcard from New York was more upbeat, though:

NEW YORK HARBOUR LOOKING NORTH

(…and then some damn Yankee waffle about the Hudson River being the gateway to the world. It isn’t even the gateway to freggin’ Sydney.)

My mate and I visited the Empire State Building, Times Square, Broadway, Central Park, Wall Street, Washington Square and Greenwich Village. New York is a really great place. 2 weeks to go to Portsmouth.

It seems they didn’t teach me about the Oxford comma while I was in New York. And it couldn’t have been the day I walked back to the docks at around midnight and was later told that I shouldn’t still be breathing, because I was alone that night. And if NY was such a great place, why enthuse about Portsmouth?

The letter I sent from St Johns, Newfoundland was quite upbeat too, because it was all about the reception we were invited to (beer on the town. Yippee! I seem to have had a minor beer fixation.)

…I was rather lucky to meet a young lady with a car. I know how to pick ’em. And then lots about how I spent the whole weekend with her and her family, and how they had a dishwasher, and four cars, and a summer house on the other side of the peninsula… It finished with:

p.s. I’m thinking of getting engaged.

I only added that to put the wind up my mother. Like many people I’ve known in my life, she never knew when I was being serious and when I was joking. On that occasion, I was being serious.

But mostly the letters moaned about anything I could find to moan about.

(I’m looking at the open box right now. I don’t think the lid is going to fit.)

The Jeffrey Box2.

Inside the Jeffrey Box is a small, decorated cardboard box, and inside that is an unused linen handkerchief, neatly folded. There’s a note in my mother’s handwriting which says:

Jeffrey bought me this for my birthday when he was five years old, from Smithsons in Abbey Hulton.

Seems she was so moved by the gesture that she never used the handkerchief, but kept it pristine in a little box for the rest of her life. Doesn’t that bring just a hint of a tear to even the driest eye? Well, before it does, let me tell you about the tear I brought to somebody else’s eye at around the same age.

One day, my mother had a visit from a very irate Mrs Evans.

‘Your Jeffrey’s just bitten my Barry!’

Her Barry was about four years older than me, so it seems that, whereas I could be sweet where mothers were concerned, bigger boys up the street got to see the other side. I might add, however, that it was the only time I ever bit anybody. (Except playfully, of course.)

Tell you what, though, I wish I had a scanner. I’d love to post some of these pictures. I never knew I was such a handsome little chap. Which god did I offend when I got older?

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Jeffrey Box.

Whilst continuing the painting job in my bathroom today, I came across something interesting. I took the drawers out of a four-drawer chest and found the ‘Jeffrey Box’ which my mother gave me a few years before she died. (My brother John was also given a ‘John Box’.) I really don’t know why I’ve never properly looked through it before, but it seems I haven't.

It contains little things which she liked and were associated with my childhood – letters, postcards, photographs, a few small toys, etc. It’s keeping me interested and amused, and I wonder whether I should start a series of posts called The Jeffrey Box Posts.

First up is a postcard I sent home from a solo trip I made to London at age 10. I was staying with my stepfather’s son and his wife. The card was from the Tower of London, and shows statues of men and horses kitted out in full, late mediaeval armour. My written message reads:

Dear Mum, Dad, and Gill (the ‘and’ was added as an afterthought.)

Im having a nice time at London. I was going to get you another card with the chopper and head block on but Bud said it would be too blood thirsty. Well goodbye

jeff
Clearly the first signs of a talent for creative writing. And I didn’t leave quite enough space when writing the address, which reads:

Mr Mrs Beazley (seems I had a blind spot into which the word ‘and’ routinely fell)
41 Eaveswood R
Abbey Hulton
Stoke-on-Tren
Staffs
Isn’t that cute? I’ve a feeling there might be more to come.

Faded Grandeur.

August is rarely a favourite month of mine. Out in the lanes and fields and woods, the greens are browning and the hedgerow flowers have been displaced by berries. More than that, there is a sense of fatigue in the air. The vibrancy of spring and early summer has gone; the land looks tired now. Summer’s race is nearly run and nature’s legs are growing heavy.

August is the month when it starts to become noticeable that the evenings are getting not only earlier, but shorter. The very atmosphere feels arid as the grandeur fades. If August could be personified, it would probably take the form of Miss Havisham.

When September gets under way we’re becoming accustomed to the onset of autumn when the land grows torpid; a sense of wholesome mellowness sets in and the colour of decay delights the eye. But as the crops stand ripe in the fields just waiting to be cut down, August is simply a reminder of how short the summer is.

And I probably wrote the same thing in slightly different words this time last year. As I said, August is rarely a favourite month of mine.

Life and the Long Term Relationship.

A bit more self-indulgence if I may:

It would be hard to describe what this song meant to me at one time in my life. It was one of those ‘Our Songs.’ You know what I mean.

  
It was just after Christmas 1984, and I’d made my decision. She was the one. I went to the office one morning, desperate to call her and say ‘I’ve decided. Can we go away together?’ But I was scheduled to be out and about with two colleagues that day, and as the morning progressed I became more and more desperate. At lunchtime I saw a phone box and stopped the car. My colleagues were bemused, but they weren’t privy to my secret. I got out and rang her number. No reply. The disappointment was so intense that it turned the heat down on the situation and we never did get together.

It must have been at least five years later that I went to lunch with her one day, and – for the first time, oddly – told her about the phone call.

‘I was in a bad way that Christmas,’ she said. ‘If I’d picked up the phone, I would have said yes.’

So there you have it – how the road you travel can depend on whether somebody was at home to take a phone call on one day in the course of a life.

It leads to obvious questions:

1. If she’d picked up the phone, would I be in a different place now? Physically, yes, but in myself? Probably not. I’ve always been terribly independent in the matter of who I am.

2. Is this a case of the missed great love, or simply a missed episode which would have been merely a variation on all the others? I suspect it’s the latter.

About ten years after I told her about the abortive phone call, I bumped into her in the city centre one day. She said:

‘You know, whenever I’m in trouble – struggling with something – I still have imaginary conversations with you. I always wonder what you would have said to me. I even think I’d like to call you sometimes.’

I gave her my phone number, in case she ever felt the need. She never did and I never saw her again. Is that romantic, or just life? Does it matter? And why think about it today? I have no idea.

Back to the present, and a little sanity: aren't the people in the chorus at the end of the video excruciatingly beautiful?