Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Understanding the Medium.

What impresses me about this is the way Dmitri moves easily from Russian into Viennese and back again. And it tells me that he understood melody and rhythm in the same way that Van Gogh understood colour and the palette knife.

Wise Words Wasted.

When my mother was trying to instil in me a proper level of respect for the fairer sex, she always concluded with the same old adage:

There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

As I understand the saying, it might be translated as ‘Be diligent through all stages of any process. Maintain your concentration, for stumbling blocks lie ever in wait for the unwary.’

I never heard it that way. Being unusually rational for a teenager, I always put a more literal interpretation on it. (Ahem?) Had I been more open to the value of metaphor, I might now be able to indulge my passion for savoury munches with an endless supply of healthy (but expensive) unsalted cashew nuts, instead of an over-indulgence in unhealthy (and cheap) ready salted crisps. There is a connection.

JJ is going to wonder who wrote this in the morning.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A Tale of Two Women and Goldilocks.

I spoke to a woman from the Shire this evening. Her dog led me to her. (Don’t they ever?) She was the first person I spoke to after I moved here in May, 2006, and I remember thinking at the time that there was something oddly familiar about her, and yet something else just as oddly mysterious. I had the same feeling tonight, even though we haven’t spoken in 8½ years. She has a way of looking at you which suggests she knows something you don’t, or maybe has some kind of power that is not for your understanding. I have no doubt that it’s all a product of my fertile and often feckless imagination, and yet life does occasionally weave strange patterns.

Meanwhile, the ex-Priestess is re-defining sordid. I have no reason to care, and so I choose not to.

It’s too early to be making this post. It belongs to the post-midnight period when a different JJ inhabits a different universe and doesn’t care who’s listening or how weird they think he is. Some mornings I read posts I made late the previous night and wonder who the hell has been sitting in my chair, eating my porridge.

Plumbing New Depths.

I’ve noticed over the past few months that my Watch History on YouTube has occasionally had an advertising video added to it. It happened again tonight. Let’s be clear: I never watch advertising videos on YouTube or anywhere else, which means that I didn’t watch the video that has appeared on my Watch History. I assume this is Google’s doing.

I understand that the adverts on YouTube pay for the service. I accept the fact that there will be adverts because I’m grateful for the free facility. I don’t like it because I find it bordering on sordid that nothing comes free in a free market economy. I dislike the fact that money rules at every turn, but I have to be realistic and accept that however crass, however irritating, however intrusive, however inappropriate, however objectionable the adverts on YouTube are, the service belongs to Google and they have a right to put them up.

But not on my Watch History. My Watch History is the one tiny bit of YouTube that is mine, unequivocally so, because these are things I’ve watched. This is my history, nobody else’s. To add things I haven’t watched is dishonest and a step too far.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Being About Bugs.

I just went into my kitchen to make a cup of tea, and saw a beetle scurrying away as fast as its little legs would carry it. It eventually took refuge in the dark place under the fridge. I like beetles. They’re inoffensive little creatures which just want to be about their business and keep out of your way.

The first year I lived in this house we had a hot summer and there were lots of bugs about. Late one sultry night I was sitting at my computer, frequently wiping the sweat from the side of my hand because it was making the desk wet, when I spotted a beetle – one of those handsome bronze ones that are a bit bigger than the commoner black ones – walking lazily across the rug. I imagined it was humming (or maybe whistling) an ancient beetle tune that had been passed down from generation to generation of handsome bronze beetles.

Now, call me odd if you like – I had imbibed rather a lot of barley juice if my memory serves me right – but I was suddenly possessed of the urge to get down on my hands and knees and stroke it. I tried, and it ran away as fast as its little legs would carry it. See what I mean?

Seriously Interpreting.

This is MC Escher’s picture Three Worlds. It’s one of my favourites, and there’s a print of it hanging about four feet from where I’m sitting.

The point is this: I interpret the three worlds as being

1. The surface world of phenomenal reality which you can reach out and touch.

2. The word beneath the surface, evidence of which you might sometimes see, but exploration of which would mean learning the required skills to dive to unknown depths.

3. The world above the surface, which you can only occasionally glimpse in reflection because you don’t yet know how to lift your head up.

I don’t make the slightest claim that such interpretation is definitive, not even to me. It’s just an interpretation based on one of my favourite notions as to what reality might be about. I don’t know what Escher intended, and I don’t want to know because I don’t want to be directed or even coaxed into any prescribed view of things. It’s why I don’t read books by gurus any more.

And if I get around to making another post later, I promise to try and make it a damn sight less serious than this one. Being serious is too much trouble these days, except when I’m bored.

Suspicious in the Shire.

The weather has turned unusually warm for late September. The balmy air is full of midges, the birds are singing spring songs, there are butterflies on the wing, and I’ve got the sneezes. It’s very pleasant, but it feels quite unnatural.

Maybe that’s why several people in passing cars waved at me when I went out for a walk this evening. I’ve no idea who they were; I didn’t recognise any of them. But they were all smiling, like they were planning something.

On Being Watched.

I dislike being watched unless it is my express will that I be watched. Being watched without such permission is intrusive, being furtively watched unhealthily so. It's like having a stalker.

I used the word 'debt' in a recent blog post, and now I'm being inundated with ads from credit companies. Well, we all know which internet giant is doing its damndest to be the world's biggest stalker, don't we? Maybe I should say:


I expect I will now be inundated with offers to invest my millions and become even richer. Unhealthy and unwelcome.

A Reason to Hide.

All my life I’ve had a singular problem. I’ve always wondered why everybody else looks normal and I don’t. Even extremely ugly people look more normal than me, and it’s coming to something when you can’t even see yourself as extremely ugly. Or handsome, or distinguished, or anything else. Just odd. The way I look is, by definition, abnormal.

I remember standing in a public toilet once, washing my hands. My friend Alan Steele was standing next to me, also washing his hands. He looked like the second bloke from the left in this picture of the Beach Boys:

There were mirrors on the facing wall. I looked at his face, and then at mine, and then back to his, and thought ‘Why can’t I look normal like him?’ (It was at a pub in Bagnall, Staffordshire. I have a good memory for face issues.)

Random Aside:

Poor Alan. He emigrated to Australia in his early twenties and embraced the lifestyle. I met his sister many years later and she told me he’d become a suburban, 250lb couch potato living entirely on junk food and having difficulty making it to the local takeaway and back. Such a shame. When I knew him he was fit and strong, and had a reputation for doing crazy things like diving into an ice-covered pool and having to be rescued and resuscitated because he was semi-conscious and probably would have drowned otherwise. (I was the one who took charge of the resuscitation procedure because I’d learned about that sort of thing in the navy. Clever, aren’t I? Strange-looking, but clever. I suppose it’s compensation of a sort.) We were all in awe of dear Abo, as he was affectionately known, and it helped that he looked normal.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the cool uncle Dmitri, with whom I have one thing in common…

…those lines across the bridge of the nose. But is it enough to have prominent frown lines? I don’t think so, somehow. I frowned in jest at a friend’s little daughter once and she backed off, whimpering. She’d done well to cope with the way I looked generally.

So what do I do about it? Nothing. Too late. What I need now is a bell tower to live in and some gypsy dancing girls to rescue. Some hope.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Creative Coincidence.

I just glanced at a dating agency ad on one of my Flag Counter pages. It had pictures of several young women, one of whom gave her interests as painting and reading, and another whose interests were photography and writing. It interested me because I could never paint for toffee and was never a particularly avid reader; my expressive outlets were always photography and writing.

So is this just a coincidence, or is there a connection between the propensity to photograph and the propensity to write? Is this something else I have to try and work out now? Isn't the nature of reality enough?

Oblique Connections.

I was reading earlier about the Haredim who held up a flight from New York to Israel for eleven hours because they refused to sit next to women. It put me in mind of an old Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch in which Pete is a film director and Dud a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan. At one point, the reluctant but diplomatic Pete says:

‘I have absolutely nothing against your right leg. The problem is, neither have you.’

I do make strange connections at this time of night. I take neither credit nor blame for them.

Patches and Put-Downs.

I’ve suddenly gone into a Shostakovich phase on YouTube. I must be hitting a little Russian patch.

I’ve always been prone to little patches, you know. For most of my adult life I’ve been given to occasional little Gallic patches, and about twenty years ago I went through quite an extended Indian patch. These days it’s more likely to be little American patches and little Chinese patches. Anyway, back to Shostakovich.

I have a remote family connection with him. My ex-wife had a great aunt called Ethel Voynitch who wrote a novel called The Gadfly, and when it was made into a film, Shostakovich wrote the music.  I liked to think of him as a sort of cool uncle by association and marriage, three times removed. But I’m not married to Ethel Voynitch’s great niece any more, and Shostakovich is dead anyway, so I’m not really sure why I mentioned it. But to go off at a tangent…

I once heard a young woman refer to an older man as ‘my cool uncle.’ Clearly, cool uncles are not to be confused with familial uncles, and that’s where my objection lies. When a young woman calls somebody ‘my cool uncle,’ it’s a bit like saying ‘In view of your advanced age and relative physical infirmity, your role in my life can be to serve the drinks and tend the fire while I give the Keys of the Kingdom to somebody else.’ What kind of a put-down is that?

Friday, 26 September 2014

Debts and the Metaphorical Milk Bottle.

I’m doing it again – typing out long blog posts and then losing interest and tearing them up.

All work and no play makes Jack...

Still, it won’t be long before I can start drinking myself to sleep and that will be the end of another day. I wonder where they all go.

Is there some metaphysical being somewhere which consumes days? Is a human life nothing more than a bottle of milk in his fridge? It sometimes feels that way.

I had to fill in a form today with lots of detailed financial information. It took 2½ hours and was far trickier than the average tax return. Such things are troublesome but manageable when you’re in an up phase, but when you’re in a down one they pull you lower.

It was all to do with some pretty considerable debts which were never mine, but which I got lumbered with because I allowed the agreements to be in my name. I’ve been paying them off for quite a few years, and there are lots more years’ worth still remaining. Maybe the dregs will be inadvertently swallowed by the Consumer of Days when he gets to the bottom of the bottle. Maybe they will give him a stomach ache.

A Little Drink Post.

I’m drinking a wheat beer from the Isle of Man tonight. I thought it might taste of either wheat or cats, but it doesn’t. It tastes of beer. Best of all, it was cheap and it’s quite strong, so I don’t really care what it tastes of.

A Matter of Conscience.

I was given too much change in a shop today. 5p too much. I noticed when I was walking away and checking the cash in my hand.

So what do you do? It struck me that when the cash didn’t balance at the end of the day, the woman who’d made the mistake might have had to make it up out of her own money. (You know what these bloody corporations are like.) That didn’t seem right. And it seemed even less right that I should profit. OK, I know 5p doesn’t buy you much, but that isn’t the point. The point is the principle, and it’s personal. So I went back and sorted it. They looked at me like I was playing with a card short of a deck, and maybe I was, but my conscience was clear. Playing with a card short of a deck is preferable to having a muddy conscience.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Today and Erudition.

1. My level of worldly wiseness (which isn’t quite the same as worldly wisdom) took a major leap today when I discovered what chai latte is. It’s only two days since I discovered what ordinary latte is, so this week may be regarded as a fast tracking one.

2. Continuing the theme of erudition, albeit obliquely, I donned my deerstalker and deduced with near certainty that I am almost personally acquainted with a Brunonian. Having become so damnably fond of, and impressed with, said Brunonian, I suppose I will now have to moderate my cynicism with regard to the value of higher education. When a person climbs to that altitude, they’re probably out of range of the anti-aircraft fire. And besides, there are some people you just don’t want to shoot at. You’re OK, MK, well OK.

3. Even more obliquely, I’ve remarked before that whereas people used to read books and magazines on trains, these days they’re almost exclusively engaged in the practice of poking and stroking smart phones and tablets. My fellow passengers today were no exception, apart from the man sitting next to me who was reading a book entitled ‘Beat Poets.’ Nobody stared, except me.

4. Lunch today consisted of a hot onion bhagee, a hot vegetable samosa, and a doughnut with caramel on the top and cream in the middle. Laying claim to erudition, whether by nature, nurture or association, implies neither sophistication nor sufficient wealth to make use of restaurants.

Favourite Words.

I seem to be using the word ‘compelling’ a lot lately. I go through phases with favourite words; ‘compelling’ appears to be the latest. I remember being slightly fixated on the word ‘eclectic’ once, but that was a long time ago, before the art students started having it printed on T-shirts.

I considered what ‘compelling’ really means, because I’m much given to using words without being clear as to their exact definition. I decided that it might be defined as:

Having the capacity to not merely attract one’s attention, but demand it.

I thought I might make a list of all the things and people I find compelling. It wouldn’t be very long, nothing like as long as the list of things and people who leave me cold as a marble toenail in an ice bucket.

I’ve been very fond of the word ‘effulgent’ for about twenty years now – ever since I first saw Becket’s Waiting for Godot – but opportunities to use it are rare indeed.

I think it’s time for bed. I've just been reading about the liberal Nazis in London wrecking a perfectly decent art exhibition about slavery. I find liberal Nazis about as compelling as born-again Christians, radical Islamists, corporate whores and diehard atheists. Let's all be open-minded and get on, shall we?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Oh, Well...

Contrary to what I reported on this blog a few weeks ago, it appears my novel hasn’t been stolen from Ashbourne library after all. It’s been placed on a unit close to the door which is reserved for relatively new titles.

So there you have it. Just when you come across something you can take as a compliment, you find it isn’t there.

Avoiding the Company of the Grim Reaper.

When I was 21 I became unemployed. I hated the job I was doing so much that I walked out and threw myself into the welcoming arms of what was then called the Labour Exchange. There was very little unemployment at that time, and the job of the clerk was to go through his little tray of cards and select a job or jobs for which one was obliged to apply. He gave me two: slaughterhouse operative at the town abattoir and grave digger at the town cemetery.

As you can imagine, there was no contest. Spending my days killing animals would have sent me to an early grave myself, so it seemed a much better idea to spend my time digging other people’s. I thought it might be a little creepy, but consoled myself with the notion that it would afford plenty of opportunity to make Yorick jokes to colleagues who didn’t know whether Yorick was a brand of toothpaste or a slang term for the male member. I rang the number and was told to start the next morning.

I overslept the next morning, and when I rang in to apologise and assure them that I was on my way, they told me not to bother. They wanted somebody reliable, they said, and I obviously wasn’t. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘that’s a relief. I wanted an employer who allows a chap to make one mistake without flying off the handle.’

I spent the rest of the summer watching cricket on the TV, decorating the house, and fishing. It was a good summer in which nothing and nobody died. In the autumn I got a job on the admin staff of a young offenders institution, and not a single one of them was ever executed.


HT54 just followed me all the way from Ashbourne. It's the first time that HT54 or anything connected with it has ever followed me anywhere, a fact which I concede is as inconsequential as it is uninteresting. The only reason I mention it is that HT54 remains oddly compelling, however much I try to excise its pernicious charm.

*  *  *

Ms Wong is becoming a little demanding. She sent me an e-mail last night saying, in effect:

'Talk to me now! I've had a difficult day and I'm in need of light relief. Witter on about something, or even tell me a joke (as long as it isn't the one about the white horse called Kevin.)'

Alas, the joke about the white horse called Kevin is the only joke I know, so I wittered. Fortunately, I'm very fond of Ms Wong.

*  *  *

This psychological equivalent of a duodenal ulcer which nags and nags all day every day just won't settle down. I had a duodenal ulcer once. The similarities are remarkable.

Hey Paul.

I’ve just been reading up on the old conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike. It pushed me to the edge of the pit. I watched part of a documentary claiming to prove the fact. It was full of supposedly creepy music, unintelligible dialogue, Omen-style imagery, and silly noises that would have been funny in a different context. All that was missing was the Dies Irae. I got closer to the abyss. And then I read about the ‘symbolism’ of the Abbey Road album cover. John is the priest, Ringo the undertaker, George the gravedigger, and Paul the corpse. Well he would be, wouldn’t he? And just to prove that he really was dead, he’s the only one out of step. I don’t suppose it could have anything to do with the fact that he's left handed? No? Maybe not.

So what’s depressing me? The fact that Paul McCartney might be dead? No. What’s depressing me is the fact that people will go to such lengths to convince us of the unprovable. It’s religious fervour under a different name. Who cares whether the real Paul McCartney died in 1966? I don’t.

So now I’m listening to the fourth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique ('Dream of a Witch’s Sabbath' which includes, by an odd coincidence, the Dies Irae) and putting disco dance movements to it to cheer myself up. You’d think I’d learn, wouldn’t you?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Two Sides of Sensitive.

I’ve been trimming a bush that grows up from one of my hedges today, and now I’ve got a sore throat. I often get a sore throat when I’ve been trimming things. I suppose the soft membranes are hypersensitive to foreign substances like sap and microscopic insects.

I have the same problem with crisps. There’s a popular brand in Britain called McCoy’s which I can’t stand. The taste of chemicals completely obscures any taste of potato and leaves an uncomfortable tingling sensation on the lips. I’m led to assume that the modern generation has become so used to things tasting of chemicals that it’s forgotten what the damn things are supposed to taste of.

The Russian Bear and the Recumbent Snail.

Should I make a post about Russia? It’s just that I read two news items over the past few days which intrigued me. One said that there had been mass protests in several cities against Russian intervention in Ukraine. That pleased me because I’ve already said that the Russian people seem to be taking a lot of flak for the sins of their leaders. The other said that Russia is working hard to make its internet access more self-contained so as to be ready for emergencies. These, said the news item, could include ‘war and an Arab Spring-style uprising.’ It led me to wonder whether the leadership fears one and is planning the other as an avoidance mechanism.

But what would I know? Two small news items amount to no adequate basis on which to form even a suspicion, let alone an opinion. So I won’t make a post about Russia, I’ll make one about snails instead.

There has been a snail in apparently the same spot on one of my outside door frames for two days. I have three theories so far:

1. The snail is dead, but still hanging on.

2. Snails are in the habit of returning to the same spot after they’ve concluded their nocturnal rambling. A bit like salmon, I suppose.

3. Snails sleep for long periods.

Any alternative suggestions?

Recognising Genius.

A favourite piece of classical music for a change. And a salutary reminder that Berlioz was refused the Prix de Rome because his music wasn’t conventional enough. I was once refused an Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society for the same reason.

But genius will out, in spite of the Establishment’s best efforts to subdue it – certainly in the case of Berlioz, though equally certainly not in mine. In all fairness, that’s a reasonable reflection of our relative claims to the status of genius. I’ve never been more than passably good at anything.

A Mini Maxim.

When I have nothing to say I generally say nothing. I like the maxim:

When in doubt
Think, don’t shout

It’s why I wrote it. ‘Drink’ may be substituted for ‘think.’ I’m easy either way.

There have been a few things to say over the past couple of days actually, but they were all serious and therefore boring and I couldn’t be bothered. I made do with thinking about them (and occasionally drinking through them.)

One small fact that might appeal to persons of unsound mind is that there’s another story gone up at the other place.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Adulterating the Water of Life*

Somebody once told me that warm milk is a better beverage on which to retire for the night than whisky**. I’m sure they’re right, but I have a problem.

When I was a kid I got a dose of the flu, and my stepfather’s ‘remedy’ was a mug of warm milk laced with scotch. It was the foulest thing I ever tasted. It produced an immediate urge to vomit and put me off warm milk for life.


* ‘Water of Life’ is a translation of the Gaelic term from which ‘whisky’ is derived. On this occasion it has absolutely nothing to do with the Queen of New York City.

** Blogger’s spell check appears to be ignorant of the fact that whiskey with an ‘e’ isn’t the only way to spell whisky. It seems the boys from Google haven’t yet realised that not everybody in that big wide world they’re trying to take over does things the American way (or even the Irish, come to that.)

Friday, 19 September 2014

Doing Diction.

This little clip from The Old Dark House is interesting if for no other reason than that the way Ernest Thesiger speaks amounts to an object lesson in archaic English pronunciation. His diction is of a form that largely disappeared after WWII when a more egalitarian ethos came to the fore. Note how he rolls his Rs, how he pronounces ‘cut off’ and how he sounds the second ‘i’ in ‘civilised.’

Even the posh folks no longer roll their Rs, and neither do they sound the second ‘i’ in ‘civilised.’ The second ‘i’ is now but an obscure phonetic at all levels of society. Speaking like this used to get a person marked out as being of a superior class; now it would be more likely to get them laughed at.

Twilight Wondering.

This evening’s twilight was another of those special ones which I’ve written about before, but which I can never resist reporting just one more time.

Nothing moved in the damp, still air. No birdsong broke the silence; no sound of man or his machines disturbed the peace. The foreground languished dull, the colour all but faded into monochrome. The midground melted into mist and the far landscape was lost in grey. Even the drops of water on the leaves stayed motionless; nothing dripped.

At such moments I feel that I’ve landed in that space between the milliseconds, somehow moving in a timeless reality, and everything I see is but a hologram which might be swept away with a wave of my hand. The only thing that’s real is me, as long as I choose to believe it.

And then there was movement. I saw a snail climbing slowly onto a windowsill. It moved across the painted surface a few inches, and then climbed slowly off again. It seemed the windowsill lacked whatever the snail wanted. I wonder what it was.

Scotland Decides.

I was pleased to have been proved right when I predicted that the Scots would vote ‘No’ in the independence referendum. Although the opinion polls suggested a very close result, the actual vote was clear at a ratio of about 5:4.

It always seemed to me that after all the rhetoric, the political posturing, the promises of greater devolution and the high economic language, in the final analysis it would come down to the choice between a canny ‘no’ vote and a romantic ‘yes’ one. The Scots are famed for their canny natures, and that’s why I thought they would opt to stay in the union.

And I’m glad they did, partly because I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scots and didn’t want to lose them, but also because they usually provide a bastion against Tory elitism at General Election time. The Scots generally dislike elitism, and relatively few of them vote Tory. A combination of historical English harassment and a folk memory of the Highland Clearances probably have something to do with it.

So now all you post-loyalist Americans, especially certain Very Interesting Persons in upstate New York, can rest easy. You won’t have to consign your Union Flag bunting to the trash can (or bury it just so you can dig it up again.)

Old, Dark and Hammy.

I’m watching James Whale's ‘classic’ film The Old Dark House in instalments at the moment. It has atmosphere aplenty, and Horace, his sister and the ‘uncivilised brute’ Morgan are pretty splendid, but the rest of the characters are a bit hammed up.  There are rather too many ‘darlings’ in the script for my taste, and the feckless Lothario’s fixation with the chorus girl’s wet feet is… what should we say… tawdry? And much of the script is a button short of stylish. Example:

The chorus girl braves the storm (thereby getting her feet wet for a second time) to join the feckless Lothario who is out in the garage fetching his bottle of whisky.

‘What are you doing here?’ he asks (hopefully.)

‘I was frightened,’ she replies (provocatively.) ‘Somebody slammed the door in my face.’

‘It was probably just the wind.’

‘Oh no, I know wind when I see it.’

There’s more where that came from, but I expect I’ll see it through. I usually finish what I start.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Today's Stuff (and Queens.).

It’s an odd fact that, despite there still being three months to go until Christmas, I’ve had The Pogues & Kirsty McColl’s Fairytale of New York going around in my head for hours. And it keeps resting on that bit of dialogue which runs:

‘You were handsome.’

‘You were pretty, Queen of New York City.’

And then I remembered that I know the Queen of New York City personally. I do. She isn’t called Elizabeth or anything as boring as that, nor even anything as twee as Griselda. I considered posting a picture of her, but was concerned that:

a. I might hear the dreaded words ‘Off with his head.’

b. I might get sued by the New York photographer who holds the copyright.

Intrigued, aren’t you? Or maybe not.

*  *  *

I finished trimming the longest and toughest of my boundary hedges today, and now I have sticky buds all over my sweater. (They’re the seeds of the prolific goose grass, in case you didn’t know.) Even a powerful vacuum cleaner won’t get them off; they have to be picked off laboriously one by one.

*  *  *

There’s a tiny, unidentified insect walking across my office desk. It happens a lot.

*  *  *

The polling booths in the Scottish Independence Referendum are now closed. If the decision goes the way of ‘No,’ I fear there might be trouble on the streets of Glasgow over the weekend. All the deluded Braveheart disciples seem to be on the ‘Yes’ side, and they weren’t reluctant to offer abuse and a little violence even before the decision was made.

*  *  *

The little piece of woodland about 100 yards from my house was sold at auction yesterday, and I learned this evening that it was bought by the man who lives next door. It was quite a relief, believe me, but if I say any more I’d probably be accused of having an -ism.

*  *  *

The Duchess of Cambridge has morning sickness again. She’s called Kate, and expects one day to be Queen of England and whatever else is left of the Union.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Historical Circumspection and Related Facts.

I’ve just read an article by somebody called Leanda de Lisle which set out to ‘debunk the myth of Lady Jane Grey.’ It was quite depressing, really. Lady Jane was always one of my favourite historical characters, and now it seems that maybe she shouldn’t have been.

Then again, how do I know that Ms de Lisle’s view is right and the received version is wrong? I don’t, do I? And neither does anybody else, so therein lies the point.

It seems to me that there’s a big gulf between history as it’s taught in the classroom and popular culture, and history as it’s perceived by historians. One simply takes the view: ‘This is what happened.’ The other may be summarised as ‘much of what is written about the life of this historical character is actually conjecture, surmise, presumption extrapolated from the relatively few written sources which existed at the time, and which we choose to trust largely because we can’t think of a reason not to. And if we can find two or more independent corroborative sources, so much the better.’ In the end, so much of it still struggles to pass any true test of certainty.

It gets complex, of course, because history isn’t just about famous people, but also about the progress of events and general movements in which the archaeological record adds its weight. You could argue about it all day, which is what I imagine historians spend a lot of their time doing.

1st related fact:

As a young man, my job required me to make trips to Winchester where I mostly stayed at a pub called the Eclipse Inn. It was reputedly haunted by the ghost of Lady Lisle (any relation to Leanda would probably be conjectural) who spent her last night in that very hostelry (allegedly) before being executed the following day in the street outside. I always hoped to see her, but apart from some suspiciously creaky floorboards which woke me up during some uncomfortably dark nights, the lady never manifested to ask ‘Jeffrey, Jeffrey, it’s so cold down here. May I come into your bed for some warmth?’ I’m damn glad she didn’t, actually, because I don’t suppose she would have smelt too good.

2nd related fact:

The barman there once told me that he’d seen a woman in an archaic grey dress walk down the stairs, proceed along the back of the bar, and then disappear into a wall.

‘So who was she the ghost of?’ I asked.

‘Oh, she wasn’t a ghost.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I don’t believe in ghosts.’

I’m not sure whether that’s evidence of defective eyesight, lopsided logic, or a difference of opinion on the definition of ‘ghost.’ I remain circumspect.

The Dog Fix.

I met Farmer Stan’s young Border Collie this evening. She was as good as dogs get – bright-eyed, intelligent, very friendly and a real looker. Farmer Stan is a nice chap, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that he would have a nice dog. I’ve found that dogs mostly live up or down to their humans. If I had one of my own, I expect it would be a real nutcase much given to growling and sulking.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ad Mad and Bad.

Wherever you look these days, the internet is becoming ever more Ad Mad. One of the worst offenders is YouTube, whose habit of throwing a banner ad across the video you’re trying to watch is a serious challenge to one’s sanity.

Ads generally fall into one of three categories:

1. Rare. Those which simply inform me of a new product or service which I might (but probably won’t) find desirable or useful. These I can tolerate, as long as they’re not plastered across something I’m trying to watch.

2. Commonest. Those which try to manipulate me into wanting something they want me to buy. These I find intolerable wherever they’re placed.

3. Becoming commoner. Those which tell me they’re giving me something FREE. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that nothing comes free in a free market economy, so this type is verging on the criminally dishonest. My considered opinion is that the perpetrators should be locked in a darkened room with only YouTube for recreation, but a version specially doctored so as to remove the little cross in the top right corner of the banner ads. Fiendish. Let’s see how long it takes before they’re begging for a straightjacket to save themselves further injury.

An Odd Choice of Name.

I just had a short e-mail from my friend Ms Wong to say that she has to leave at 4am for a business trip to Maidenhead.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, Maidenhead is a posh place down in the swanky southern shires close to Heathrow Airport. It has to be posh so that airline pilots have somewhere nearby and impressive to take that special member of the female cabin crew. Which brings me to my point.

Who the hell would think of calling a town Maidenhead? (And they say I’m strange.) I replied to Ms W along the lines of ‘I’m sure it will be very pristine and interesting. Maidenheads always are.’ And knowing that she always finds her business trips to Maidenhead a trial, I suggested that she should try to face the day with equanimity and think up as many double entendres as she can manage for ‘Maidenhead.’

More Inconsequential Rambles.

I sometimes wish I could see people in terms of their needs rather than mine, but it’s bloody difficult. At times, it’s damn near impossible.

*  *  *

Do you know what I like about America? I like it when American women pronounce ‘fall’ as ‘farl.’ ‘Noo England in the Farl.’ And then there’s ‘ball.’ ‘Where’s the barl, where’s the barl? Yeah! Good boy!’ Cute (or sweet, if you prefer.) I expect it comes from Suffolk or somewhere originally.

*  *  *

And I’m betting the Scots are going to vote ‘no’ in the referendum on independence. I think it might be just a step too far when it comes down to a final vote. Let’s see whether I’m right. There’s currently a debate raging over whether the English should have been included in the voting process. No, of course we shouldn’t. The United Kingdom isn’t a single country, it’s a union of two kingdoms, one principality and a province. If the Scots want to be independent, only they have the right to decide. Let’s suppose the English, who are much more numerous, voted down a Scottish majority in favour. That would surely amount to a return to imperialism, wouldn’t it? Nevertheless, I do hope they choose to stay with us. And I expect Sean Connery (who is very much a ‘yes’ man) will remain in the Bahamas no matter what the result.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Re-Arranging Goethe.

I was just thinking how much easier it is to press the Send button on an e-mail when you’ve had a drink. The chains of cloying circumspection simply fall away. And so I think the famous quotation from Goethe (which might not actually be his, but that’s another story) might stand a bit of re-arranging:

Whatever you can drink, or dream you can, begin it
Alcohol has boldness, genius, power and magic in it

Only kidding. (Well, actually, there are times...)

A Note on Loopy Posts.

I’m not blind to the fact that this blog is becoming loopier. That’s partly because it grows increasingly difficult to know what to write on a blog of this sort, but also because there’s a lot of inner dialogue going on at the moment. Inner dialogue is something to which most of us are given, but which rarely gets the release of external expression without the physically close proximity of a tried and trusted confidante. But if you’ve got a blog…

So I suppose if the blog is becoming loopier, it means that I’m becoming loopier. These are troubled times one way and another, and the loopy star is rather in the ascendant.

Hideous Models and a Heads-Up.

My screen keeps being assailed by mindless adverts for some fashion event. God, aren’t those models ugly? Where the hell do they get them from? The garden gnome factory? Hideous.

Anyway, I’ve just edited another story in which I encounter a rusting old friend languishing in a breaker’s yard, and meet another old friend who was lost at sea thirty years earlier. It’s about time it saw the light of day; it wanted to be written for about twenty years before I learned how to write. I expect it will appear at the other place before too long.

The Witch and Her Pet: A Folk Tale.

Once upon a time there was a pagan priestess who tired of the diligence expected of one in such an exalted position, and so turned to the blacker side of dark and became a witch instead.

It has to be said that she was an affable sort of witch who moved unnoticed among the lesser folk and never revealed her practice to the world of mortal man. No pointed hats for her; no cloaks, broomsticks, black cats, toads, or rotten teeth. And neither did she live in a shack hidden deep within the dark and musty environs of the wildwood, but luxuriated in an expensive house nestled in the suburbs of a great city, where even her cauldron was wired into mains electricity and equipped with the latest in electronic thermostats and timer controls. It was even rumoured that she showered once a day, although such extremes of unconventional behaviour can sometimes become exaggerated in the telling down the centuries. What is widely agreed in all versions of the story, however, is that the witch was greatly desirous of having fun wherever fun was to be found and in whatever form it presented itself.

So what, you might ask, was the point of being a witch if the only object of a sheltered existence was to have fun? Even the least of mortals has fun without ever feeling the need to dabble in the dark arts. A good question, and one that is easily answered. She also liked to be enchanting, you see, and how can one be truly enchanting without the provision of some object of enchantment? Objects of enchantment are the preserve of witches and witches alone. A witch, therefore, she had to be.

And so, although having no familiars to provide solace in a lonely and seemingly purposeless existence, she did have a pet, an enchanted pet. It was a man, a mortal man who had fallen under her enchantment many moons before and been quite unable to fully escape the spell. As I said, witches know about enchantment, but mere mortal men are quite ignorant of either the means or the method.

At this point I ask your indulgence while I make up the fire and tend to my own pet – my dear little dog whose mouth has tasted no food in… ooh… quite a long time. There, that’s better. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the witch’s pet.

He lived in a cellar deep below the seemingly innocuous residence at which postmen called, and alongside which neighbours strolled and cars cruised, all of them convinced that everything was right with the world and no witches lurked among their tepid ranks. The cellar, of which they were oblivious, was mostly dark; and the pet, of which they also had no knowledge, was mostly hungry. The witch, being consumed with the relentless search for fun, had long since ceased to consider him an object of regard, and had even gone so far as to forget about him altogether.

So how did this mortal man survive, you may further ask, since his mistress had consigned him to the ranks of the unremembered? Why, on the occasional morsel that rolled through the door of his cellar, of course. It happened this way:

The witch was much given to languishing in thoughts of past rights and present romances, and people called R whose touch she pined for, and over whom she had shed many tears. On such occasions she would take an apple and toss it over her shoulder, and the apple would roll down the steps to the cellar. Down and down it would bounce, and along dark passages it would glide, and down some more steps it would bounce again, until it rolled through the door where the mortal man lay sleeping the sleep of the hungry.

At that he would wake and look at the apple, now at rest and awaiting his attention. To eat or not to eat, that was the question which forever troubled him. For he knew, did he not, that some apples were sweet and wholesome and would sate his hunger. But others – oh, the others – would be laced with poison which would turn his empty stomach to a furnace of bitter fire. But he ate them all, for hungry men take risks that better fed ones blanch at. (And there are those who say that the apples themselves were enchanted and he had no choice.) And then he would either sleep the sleep of the sated or sink to his knees in the fires of purgatory, which never killed him but only made him anxious for the arrival of the next apple.

*  *  *

And that, my dearios, is all I can tell you about the witch and her forgotten pet. So what happened to the mortal man, I hear you clamour? Well, some say he escaped and lived to tell the tale. Others say that he died in the cellar, where his ghost now moans the moan of the perpetually hungry (for ghosts are quite incapable of eating apples.) Yet others say that he languishes there still, waiting for the magic star to descend from the remotest heaven and break the spell. How would I know? I’m only the storyteller.

*  *  *

Explanation, if any is needed: I was bored.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

A New Story.

As promised a couple of nights ago, the story Signals is now up at the other blog.

Falling Silent.

Every year at around this time I find myself feeling subdued when I’m out of doors. I get a sense that there’s something missing, and so I look around, trying to identify what it is. Everything looks pretty much the same as it did yesterday, and yet the feeling grows stronger the more I look. What’s interesting is that it’s the opposite of the sense I get every year in April or early May, when I seem to feel something subtle in the air that wasn’t present the day before.

Could the obvious suspicion be the truth? Could it be that the hum of Mother Nature, which grew inaudible through familiarity during the summer, has now fallen silent? Sudden silence is almost as potent as sudden noise.

*  *  *

I noticed when I got back from the walk that the boys in the back field had disappeared, to be replaced by a different herd of young beef cows which used to occupy another field further up the lane. I fear the worst; I fear their three year tenure has run its course. I watched them a lot during the spring and summer months, coming both to identify individuals and observe the group dynamic. I grew quite fond of them, which I suppose I shouldn’t.

Zoe's Comma.

In response to me saying I could do with a wife to knit me a couple of sweaters, Zoe wrote:

…you could always learn to knit, yourself.

First point:

Well said, Zoe. I am deservedly chastened. If only you’d said ‘you could always learn to knit, yourself, Jeffrey!’ my joy would have been complete. Your voice and the name Jeffrey were partners back in heaven, in the days before you were born one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind. But you already know that, and I’m being silly anyway. The point I really want to make is this:

Second (and primary) point:

My first thought on reading it was ‘Why the comma before ‘yourself?’ It breaks the flow of a sentence that has no natural pauses. But then I thought again. If there’s no comma there, then there’s immediate confusion (however irrational) as to whether the verb ‘to knit’ is being used in its transitive or intransitive sense. Given that consideration, the comma might feel awkward to a British user, but it does perform a useful service.

The humble little comma is the most volatile component of the minefield that is the English language. I wonder whether the Chinese have the same problem.

Music and the Fear Factor.

I had a rare yen to listen to some old Motown tracks tonight, and it struck me that it must have taken some courage on the part of producers and record companies to make stars of black people like The Supremes and The Four Tops. This was in America which had its own version of apartheid, and where less than a decade before, upright men in the Deep South were dismantling TV relay masts so their womenfolk wouldn’t see Nat King Cole singing romantic songs. It was OK to hear him, as long as they couldn’t see that he was black.

Oddly, I don’t blame them for that. Both rightness and reality are more subjective concepts than most people acknowledge, and fear does damnable things to a person’s perception of them.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Wasps, Water, and Orson Welles.

In all my life I don’t ever remember seeing a wasp drink, and yet this summer I’ve seen lots of them on the birds’ water dish apparently doing just that. I saw two today.

Having an odd mind that makes odd connections, I decided it would make a good piece of cryptic dialogue in an espionage thriller. You know, when the spy has to meet his contact from the other side and needs to be sure that the man standing in the misty glow of a weak street lamp wearing a heavy overcoat and a fur hat really is Boris the double agent and not some KGB lackey collecting passengers for the Siberian cattle train. 

The man in the trench coat and homburg steps silently out of the shadows and makes his way through a mist thick enough to swim in.

‘Good evening, my good man.’

‘Greetings, comrade.’

‘The wasps are drinking a lot of water this year.’

‘Yes, but the bees are humming a different note.’

‘CafĂ© Raskolnikov. 9 o’clock. And bring the girl.’

‘Girl? What girl?’

‘I dunno. There’s always a girl.’

‘But I don’t know any girls.’

‘None at all?’

‘No. I could bring my mother. She smells a bit, but she has a good heart. Or there's my special friend Igor...’

The scene is suddenly brightened by the light of an upstairs window, and just as suddenly the street is deserted.

Staying Separate.

It’s no good; this song is getting so under my skin that I have to post it.

Excellent as it is, however, there’s something causing me consternation. It’s the phrase make it happen. I’ll give you a bit of inside information here.

A few short years ago I had the opportunity to have a relationship with somebody much younger than me. She was attractive and compelling and I knew how to make it happen. I backed off because I knew it would have affected her life, and how was I to know whether it would have informed and enriched that life or damaged it? What right do any of us have to affect the life of another, and yet how many things are available which don’t affect the lives of others to some extent, however subtly? How on earth do you know where to draw the line?

It’s a little known fact about the reclusive mindset that it isn’t just about wanting your own space free of other people's influence, it’s also about not wanting to influence the lives of other people yourself.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Family and a Fiendish Bird.

Today I had a scheduled meeting with my daughter who I haven’t seen for about 3½ years. I thought we had become irretrievably estranged, but it seems not.

It was good – convivial, frank, open, easy; there was a lot to talk about because a lot has happened to both of us over the last 3½ years, much of it on the psychological front. And yet afterwards I felt rattled. I felt as I always do in such circumstances – as though I’ve opened up too much, too easily, which just goes to show what a private person I am beneath this manic-depressive and generally irrelevant exterior.

That’s why I haven’t made any posts today – too rattled. Instead I spent the evening editing an old story of mine, one I’ve been holding back for reasons which I can’t be bothered to explain. It’s about visions of a talking corpse, a girl with red hair and a green dress, apparent time shifts, convoluted logic, and a mysterious thin man in a black cloak who seems sometimes to assume the form of a homicidal cormorant.

One of these days – probably sooner rather than later – I’ll format it and post it to the other blog.

Shades of Mistress.

For all the near-adoration I feel for Kate Bush, and for all that her music and I grew up together, I’d never heard her classic Cloudbusting until a couple of nights ago. It’s a most compelling track. From a relatively calm, almost innocuous, beginning, it gets heavier and heavier until you feel like you’re sitting on the other side of the balance being pushed higher and higher.

And then there’s the repeating phrase: Make it happen! And so the demanding mistress appears:

‘Make it happen, Jeffrey.’

‘OK, I’ll do my best.’

‘No, you won’t do your best. You will make it happen!

Fate was a more tolerant mistress. I thought back to many of the things I made happen in my life, and remembered that Mistress Fate allowed me my short span of triumph before sweeping everything away and replacing it with what was right for me instead.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

An Odd Prospect.

The big domestic issue in Britain at the moment is the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. As you might imagine, the politicians and sundry experts in a variety of fields are arguing themselves hoarse over high political and economic questions. What seems of greatest consequence to me, however, is that for the first time in around three hundred years, my England might soon have a land boundary with a foreign country. (The middle of the Channel Tunnel doesn’t count.) That’s a freaky thought.

Recounting a Train of Thought.

For some weeks now I’ve been searching the charity shops for a couple of heavy winter sweaters, preferably in pure wool because it’s warmer than cotton, nylon or acrylic. (And I dislike the feeling of nylon and acrylics anyway.) So far I’ve been unsuccessful, and it just occurred to me how useful it would be to have a wife who could knit. The problem is that I expect she’d want to hang around even when she’d finished the sweaters, so that’s no good.

In coming to this conclusion, I remembered that I once lived with a woman who liked to buy me sweaters for some reason. She bought me lots, two of which I’m still wearing. I think she might have inherited the sweater gene from her mother because, by an odd coincidence, her mother once knitted me a heavy winter sweater in pure wool – and I’m still wearing that one, too.

And that little recollection led me to remember the bizarre circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. It seems her dad had gone out to some function one night and come home late. Finding that his wife had already gone to bed, he joined her and went straight to sleep. He woke up in the morning to find her stiff and cold beside him, and the subsequent post mortem indicated that she’d died even before he got home. That meant he’d spent the night sleeping next to a corpse, which isn’t very nice, is it?

So then her dad, being unusually fit, strong and capable for his age, went out and found himself a girlfriend some twenty-odd years his junior. They went on holiday together, where he died of a heart attack in the hotel – and in circumstances which led to some degree of indignation on the part of his daughter.

Isn’t it interesting how one thing leads to another?