Sunday, 30 November 2014

Boys and Girls in the Shire.

I was walking along Church Lane today when I saw a boy and girl canoodling. (I say boy and girl. They were probably around 16 or 17, which qualifies in my jaundiced view.)

They didn’t notice me at first, but then the boy – a strong looking lad – picked the girl up to carry her along the road, as men were once wont to do in movies but seem rather less inclined to copy these days. There was nothing gallant about his action, of course; he was merely showing off. I remembered my own of habit of placing my hands under the armpits of the svelte Mary Davis and lifting her above my head at about the same age, and smiled. And then they saw me and the boy returned the girl to terra firma. We crossed.

‘Keep it up, lad,’ I said. ‘You’ll be surprised at how quickly you grow too old for that sort of thing.’

The boy kept his head down and shuffled on. The girl said something in reply which I didn’t quite catch. I looked back to see her turning towards me, her face wreathed in an impish grin. I was reminded again of how teenage boys tend to be composed more of bluster than of substance, whereas teenage girls are more open, confident, and possessed of innate savoir-faire. I sometimes wonder how the species survives.

A matter of little consequence I grant, but rare enough in the Shire to be worth reporting.

I also met Millie today. She’s a horse and rather beautiful.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Lo, a Familiar Note.

Tonight’s Nabokov sampler:

While our protagonist, HH, is being driven to a state of rose-coloured insanity by young Lo, Lo’s mama has designs on him herself. She writes him a delightfully desperate and idiotic letter expressing her (oh so hopeless) intentions. It carries the line:

I know how reserved you are, how ‘British.’ Your old world reticence, your sense of decorum may be shocked by the boldness of an American girl!

Ah yes, I think I’ve been there. (A long time ago.)

Seduced by Black Friday.

It was Black Friday in Britain today. (Maybe it was Black Friday everywhere in the known universe today. That would be apposite since it also happened to be my birthday and my mood was as dark a shade of grey as makes no difference.)

The police were out in force in several major cities, I gather, attempting to control the mobs. A woman in Manchester was injured by a falling TV set. I decided to make a foray to the lawless wasteland of the retail park and join in the mindless melee, just to prove what a committed citizen of our free market democracy I really am.

There was no mob, no melee, no shop assistants armed with tasers, no wrecks, and nobody drownded, but still I did my duty and bought things. This is the list:

1 tube of toothpaste
1 bottle of mouthwash
1 yard broom to replace the old one which, like me, has few bristles worth counting
2 packs of rolled oats for the birds
1 bottle of beer on special offer (it's the only thing that was)

So now I belong. I’m a consumer at last. Hooray.

On Peaks and Predilections.

I’ve just been watching a few random clips from Twin Peaks on YouTube. It takes me back to the cold little cottage I rented in the Northumbrian outback between October ’90 and March ’91. It was a bad winter that year and the cottage was inadequately heated, woefully so. But it didn’t matter because as soon as that deep guitar intro started, with its heavy reverb and weeping dessert of strings, I left the cottage and landed in the woods of Washington State.

I can honestly claim that there have only ever been three TV series of which it can be said that I was a devoted fan, and Twin Peaks was chief among them. The other two were Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, but even they didn’t transport me to another reality the way the big one did.

And now you may have my confession. Twenty four years on I have no reputation to guard, and so I’m free to make it. I was a Donna man.

The point is, you see, one of the things which lifted Twin Peaks to near mythical status was the classic three-woman motif. I doubt it’s far from the truth to claim that every man (every straight one, that is) would have to be either a Donna man, a Shelley man, or an Audrey man. Audrey was perfect for the lonely nights. Shelley was ideal for the busy days. Donna was universal. Psychoanalysts are free to make of it what they will. After all, what’s the point of clinging to a reputation when you’re busy trying to find a way to stop being thirty two?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Good Words and Bad.

So now I’m becoming acquainted with Lolita – whose real name is Dolores, by the way, Lo for short. I said I would reserve judgements until further down the line, and so I will, but I should note that I continue to luxuriate in Mr Nabokov’s use of English. Let me offer a couple of examples.

M Humbert is in New York City and working reluctantly in the advertising industry. His complaints include:

…how repulsed I was by the glitter of deodorized career girls…

Such economy of description grown to greatness of expression. (And how like me, I might add with apology.)

He escapes the ad industry and takes a position with an Arctic survey:

I had little notion what object the expedition was pursuing. Judging by the number of meteorologists upon it, we may have been tracking to its lair (somewhere on Prince of Wales’ Island, I understand) the wandering and wobbly north magnetic pole. One group, jointly with the Canadians, established a weather station on Pierre Point in Melville Sound. Another group, equally misguided, collected plankton. A third studied tuberculosis in the tundra. Bert, a film photographer – an insecure fellow with whom at one time I was made to partake in a good deal of menial work (he, too, had some psychic troubles) – maintained that the big men on our team, the real leaders we never saw, were mainly engaged in checking the influence of climatic amelioration on the coats of the arctic fox.

Such restrained cynicism towards the academic process raises a rare smile. More than that, such words I could chew and chew like a plug of favourite tobacco.

By contrast, I followed tonight’s episode of Lolita with a rare viewing of a TV programme on BBC4. It was a documentary on the Hundred Years War between England and France.

Now, it is widely recognised that one of the chief markers of maladroit writing is the impulse to add weight to a statement by using two words or phrases that are effectively, or actually, synonymous. Hence we had the narrator blessing our sensitive ears with:

… they emerged profoundly changed and very different.

What on earth has happened to the BBC? Such words remind me of that little piece of eggshell which your tongue strokes and your teeth crunch whilst eating an otherwise properly soft egg and cress sandwich.

A Pending Disappearance.

Readers of long standing should remember the venerable Lady B of the Shire – she about whom much was written, around whom several minor fantasias were constructed, and to whom and for whom a number of ditties were crafted. There was a time when she was the star witness of my life among the Hobbits. I remember saying once, and I meant it, that she was the only person within a 25 mile radius who I really wanted to talk to. It's still mostly true.

Today she told me she’s leaving, taking herself and the little princess to another Hobbit hole a few miles distant. ‘We have to move on,’ she said. Indeed.

I can’t in all truth say that I’ll miss her because I see her so rarely these days, although HT54 is likely to get fewer, if any, mentions on the blog. Nevertheless, Mill Lane is about to be demoted to the ranks of ordinariness, and the mere knowledge of her absence will remain a slightly sad issue for a while.

I wrote recently that I seem to be saying ‘and now it’s gone’ a lot lately. Well, there you are.

By Way of Contrast.

I received another cheque for a picture royalty today. Guess how much. £5.

Five freggin’ pounds!

It’s twenty years since I was an active landscape photographer. Twenty years since the Great Recession pushed me off the ladder I’d put so much effort into climbing. Back then, the very minimum fee paid for a magazine reproduction was £20, usually more. Still, £5 is better than £0. Don’t complain, Jeffrey.

I didn’t complain. I took it to the bank to pay into my account.

There was a woman in front of me and I couldn’t help overhearing her conversation with the cashier. ‘I want to talk to somebody about inheritance tax,’ she said. ‘I have two properties, you see, and I don’t want the taxman to get his hands on any of my money.’

I’ll bet she complains if the police, the fire service, the NHS, the Highways Agency, the educational system, etc, etc, are less than diligent in performing their functions. I wonder how she thinks it’s all paid for.

When she’d gone I took my cheque to the same cashier.

‘I have no property,’ I said, ‘but I do have a raindrop to put into my jam jar.’

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

On Both Sorts of Age Gap.

I still haven’t met Lolita. Tonight’s session was all taken up with Mr Humbert’s discourse on the nymphet phenomenon, which, frown-inducing as it might have been, was brilliantly observed and expressed. This man can write. I gather, however, that it might all be some sort of smoke screen, so deeper judgements will be reserved.

*  *  *

On a loosely related note, I watched another of the 80s TV episodes of Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes last night. The principle characters of the case were a man probably in his mid fifties, and his American wife who looked to be around thirty five. One of the YouTube commenters went straight to the heart of the mystery:

‘What’s a woman like her doing with an old fogey like him?’

The more intriguing question, however, came later:

‘Why are Holmes and Watson (or it might, more typically, have been Homes and Wotsen) always dressed like they’re going to a wedding or a funeral?’

Because the shorts hadn’t yet arrived from Bermuda?

Admitting Ignorance.

Another literary milestone was reached this week when I finished Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which I started in the summer but laid aside because I wasn’t in the mood.

So now I want to know what it’s all about. I could, of course, read the Introduction which will probably explain it to me in great detail. The problem is that the Introduction is written by the same academic who translated it, and not only do I have reservations about the quality of the translation which doesn’t flow well, I also have reservations about the role of the academic. With all due and genuine respect to certain persons I hold in high esteem and who I know to be academically inclined, I still can’t avoid the suspicion that much academic criticism and analysis is disingenuously constructed to bolster their egos and their job prospects. I might well be wrong. Feel free to excuse my ignorance on the grounds that I’m largely devoid of formal education. You might well be right.

You see, I’d love to think that The Metamorphosis is simply a random outpouring of Kafka’s idiosyncratic imagination. I don’t really want to be told that it’s an allegory for the emergence of the beef burger as a staple of the western diet, or that Gregor Samsa is Jesus in disguise. Some stories need to make a point, obviously. Others can just be stories which touch a nerve in the human condition, surely. The one observation I should like to make about this one is this:

Kafka’s pronouncement of Gregor’s death is beautifully understated and all the more poignant for so being. In fact, I think The Metamorphosis is possibly the saddest story I’ve ever read.

Off to wash the dishes now, and then hopefully meet Lolita.

*  *  *

Somebody I met in the Shire yesterday told me I don’t look well. ‘That is, not as well as the last time I saw you,’ she continued with undertones of both urgency and apology. That made me feel a lot better.

Adulteration and Bits.

The Daleks at Google have destroyed about the last six months of my YouTube Watch History, taking the whole thing back to a place it was at last summer. On first discovering this disaster I was mortified, but then I realised it was quite interesting to see what I was watching and listening to six months ago. Accordingly, I watched and listened to some of it again. Being transported back to the reality I was living in back then was like thumbing through an old photograph album, and I came across this little curio:

Somebody had put a comment on the official video to Faun’s Dies Kalte Nacht. It said:

‘so… this is what pure, unadulterated sex sounds like… in song form.’

It’s an opinion of sorts, I suppose, and therefore to be respected. Nevertheless, I’m curious to know what adulterated sex is.

*  *  *

The post I was going to make about how an American actress in a TV programme pronounced ‘Derbyshire’ didn’t get made. I came to my senses just in time and saw how boring it would be.

*  *  *

Those who read yesterday’s final post might be pleased to know that I made it through the night and am now sampling the Johnnie Walker. It isn’t half bad, which is more than can be said of me.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

On Blogging and Posh Gs.

I just saw an advert for a correspondence course which included a section on How to Write a Blog. Can you believe that? I had trouble believing it, but that’s definitely what it said. I’ll bet my version is shorter than theirs:

1. Say what you want to say.

2. Don’t worry too much whether anybody reads it, or the voices you hear coming back from the depths of cyberspace asking ‘What on earth is this fruitcake talking about?’

3. Enjoy the experience of learning something about yourself which you didn’t know yesterday. It can be a little chastening, but it’s probably good for the soul.

That’s about it really, apart from the fact that it’s worth getting a Feedjit. It helps you learn the flags of the world, so when somebody asks ‘Where the hell is that flag from?’ you can answer smugly ‘Singapore.’ (But see below.) It also provides fascinating little snippets of information such as the fact that Hanoi is in Ha Noi.

*  *  *

Non-English persons might be interested to know that posh English persons pronounce the g in ‘Singapore’ as a sort of glottal stop, whereas the low life who come from where I do pronounce it as a g. That, according to the posh folks, makes us inferior. But then we knew that anyway, and pronouncing both g’s in ‘singing’ confirms it absolutely. The received view on ‘blogging’ is that you pronounce the first two g’s as one, and the last as in ‘Singapore.’ It isn’t as complicated as it sounds, once you realise that it’s the preceding n which separates the classes.

Before I Go...

Tomorrow I get to open my bottle of Johnnie Walker Explorer's Club Collection scotch.

You know, most nights I don't mind the idea of dying in my sleep. In fact, I mostly welcome it, since one should be so lucky. But tonight is different. Before the great conveyor belt consigns me to a diet of milk and manna, it would be nice to sample something the Pearly Gates Customs Officers don't let through. What's the point of being here otherwise?

Landscape Photography: an Honest View.

When I was fifteen I was told that I should decide what I wanted to study at university, since that would determine what subjects I took between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.

I thought long and hard about what I was really interested in, and decided that the only thing which had compelled my attention during my life to date was landscape. I’d always loved landscapes, and so the question was: how do you turn a love of landscape into a career? I could think of only one subject that fitted the bill. I said I would take geology.

It would have been a mistake, even if I’d been allowed to continue my education beyond sixteen (which I wasn’t.) I later realised that geology is the scientific study of landscape; my interest was aesthetic. And that was why I eventually became a landscape photographer and made an enjoyable living at it for six years. But then I realised something else.

Aesthetic appreciation of landscape comes from much more than just the simple physical form contained within your field of vision. It comes from the wind in your face, the smell of new-mown hay, the sound of running water and birdsong, the moving shadows of clouds on hills, and the clammy feeling of mist on your skin. But most of all it comes from the sense of being a tiny speck contained within a very big space. Landscape photography misses all that. What you get with a landscape photograph is a small, two-dimensional facsimile. You’re looking down on it, rather that it looking down on you. All the power is missing. The photograph is little better than worthless.

And so I watch YouTube clips with their slide shows – pictures of autumn leaves, and sunset skies, and waves breaking on rocks, and creamy water courtesy of slow shutter speeds.

‘Amazing pictures!’ say the commenters. Actually, they aren’t.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Discovering Nabokov.

I’ve spent the evenings over the last few winters catching up on some of the modern and not-so-modern literary classics that I missed while I was still dreaming about Rupert Bear and Tiger Lily. (What a splendid couple they made – no agendas, you see. No tensions. I was always suspicious of relationships with agendas, and it seemed to me that life carried enough tensions in the here and now without adding to its often ponderous weight by reading about somebody else’s fictional ones.)

But then I spent nine years writing my own fiction, and over those nine years I developed my own style and learned a lot about how to put words together in a way that makes them worth reading. It didn’t make me a good writer, but it gave me a much better understanding of those who were. It’s what makes me feel modestly qualified to be critical – both positively and negatively – of other people’s efforts, and to feel reasonably free to differentiate between the good, the populist but passable, and the never-mind-the-quality-feel-the-width stuff like The Duh Vinci Code.

This evening I started reading Nabokov’s Lolita. So far I’ve only read about Lolita’s predecessor-by-twenty-four-years, Annabelle, but it has me well engaged. The narrative is complex yet direct, the observations keen yet perfunctory in expression, the style lyrical yet terse. The words are simple, but the meanings have to be thought about. (And that ultimate preposition was deliberate.) It reminds me a little of somebody idly throwing best caviar to feral pigeons while musing on the odd sight of a smooth column topped by a Corinthian capital. Alternatively, imagine a basketball player sitting on the edge of the court eating a sandwich and reading a newspaper. He lobs the ball casually over his shoulder and it lands dead centre in the basket.

I’ll bet you couldn’t do that again. I’ll bet he could.

I think of literature as having three characteristics – form, style and content. Form is of no concern to me, being mostly the plaything of the academic. Style and content matter to me, and in this case they’re not only both superb, they also match one another perfectly. I’ll let you know if I change my mind.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Considering Importance.

Recently I said goodbye to somebody dear to me. Well, no, I didn’t actually say ‘goodbye’ as such. What I actually said was more along the lines of ‘I can be of little use to you. You have to let me go to wherever I’m going. Thanks for everything. Good luck.’ Something like that. But it amounts to goodbye, doesn’t it?

It was the intensity I couldn’t handle, you see, not at the moment. I’ve never had a problem with intensity before. In fact, I’ve usually been the one to generate most of it. But there are too many difficult currents trying to pull me down right now, too many distractions. The additional effort was too much.

And then I had a strange, sad dream, and realised that she was dearer to me than I knew. I started listening to a piece of gentle Baroque music that she’s fond of (I’m listening to it now, as a matter of fact.) I know that she believes in the power of thought, and I’ve wondered whether she’s calling out to me. How egotistical is that? Too egotistical, surely. Nobody of sound mind could ever regard me as important. I don’t think I even want to be important.

But now I feel uncertain, guilty even. I feel that I should go back, but how do you do that? I’ve never been one for going back.

*  *  *

I walked past the remains of the grand, now cut down and dead, ash tree at the top of the lane today. I thought how insignificant is the life of one tree in the context of earth’s long existence. So it is with the life of one person, one great war, or the sinking of a continent. The stage goes on and on, inviting you in, feeding and entertaining you, and then kicking you out again.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Notes on Beverages and Rileys.

1. I love cold milk as long as it’s well chilled. Once it gets close to room temperature or above, it revolts me.

2. There was a time when I made my own blend of tea. It consisted of five parts Assam, two parts Earl Grey, and one part Lapsang Souchong. Wasn’t that terribly urbane of me? I went downhill rapidly after that.

3. I can declare that the best coffee I ever tasted was Taylor’s Premium Blend. When I lived in Northumberland it was a weekly treat to drive seven miles up the coast to a coffee shop in Warkworth which served that very brew. My budget doesn’t permit such a regular luxury these days.

4. Contrary to its reputation, coffee makes me sleepy. Alcohol, on the other hand, puts me on a rollercoaster. First it wakes me up, and then it plunges me into a narcoleptic state in which I’m prone to falling asleep without even realising I’m tired. When I was in my twenties, driving at night had the same effect.

5. Gin is supposed to make people maudlin, but it has the opposite effect on me. Everything is uproariously funny after a couple of gins. You could recite the Lord’s Prayer and I’d be doubled up laughing. (Come to think of it…)

6. I love the taste of bourbon, but even a couple of small shots makes me sick to my stomach and gives me a headache. In contrast, it takes quite a lot of scotch to have any noticeable effect at all.

7. I knew a man once who used to make a bit of extra cash taking bets that he could drink twenty pints of beer in twenty minutes. He could, too. He used to have aides keeping the route to the toilets free so he could rush off and vomit the whole lot back when he’d won. His name was Riley, which is a bit of a coincidence since he was a big man with a stomach the size of a small car. (When I was in my early twenties I knew a young woman who drove an old Riley Elf. She was a typist where I worked and was in the habit of giving me come hither looks. She was pretty and smelt nice, but I didn’t like her legs so I remained hence. I did have the occasional ride in her Riley, though.)

Stopping on 7. I like sevens.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Bottles and Hobgoblins.

Somebody for whom I did a little work back in the summer gave me a bottle today in recompense. (No, no, not an empty one. Read on.)

He said he’d tried to get me a bottle of sake (not to be confused with HH Munro who spelt it differently) while he was in Japan, but was told that Customs wouldn’t let it through. He said this was further proof that the Japanese are a pretty weird bunch.

‘We spent one night at a turtle sanctuary,’ he continued…

‘A what sanctuary?’

‘Turtle.’

‘Oh.’

'Anyway, can you believe it had communal showers?'

‘What, you mean men and women together?’

‘Well, no… just men, but when I went to the toilet I thought “smells a bit fruity in here” (fruity?) and there were all these Swedish girls in there with towels wrapped around them’

Personally, I find that more than a little disturbing, but I’m probably even weirder than a Japanese Customs official.

So, having failed with the sake, he got me a bottle of Johnnie Walker Explorers Club Collection scotch instead. Maybe I’ll report on it in due course.

In the meantime, tonight’s delight was a bottle of Hobgoblin Ale by Wychwood Breweries. It’s a strong (5.6 ABV) dark ale that tastes of liquorice (and beer) and comes highly recommended (by me.)

*  *  *

According to Wiki, a hobgoblin is a mischievous but friendly creature who does your ironing for you while you’re asleep. They like to be given food, apparently, but if you give them clothing they take the hump and desert you forever.

It all sounds pretty weird to me. I wonder what they think of towels.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Google, Know Thyself.

I just typed an email direct into my Gmail account. It included the term ‘Gmail’ and Google’s spell checker put a squiggly red line under it. Isn’t that dumb?

A Muse on Mutual Need.

Following on from the last post, there was something else I remembered about my walks to the town centre. I would often see a couple walking up and down the hill, apparently a mother and son judging by their body language. He looked to be in his mid forties, and she thirty or so years older. They gave the appearance of being exclusive to themselves and inseparable, a visible exposition of symbiosis – she needing his support as she grew increasingly frail, and he never having relinquished the need of her maternal presence. I used to wonder how such a man would cope when his mother passed beyond his reach.

I saw him again a few months ago, alone that time. He seemed to be coping.

Demolishing a Prop of Personal History.

Before I moved here to Derbyshire I spent nine years living on the outskirts of a medium sized town in the neighbouring county. They were lean years following the collapse of my photography business, and I couldn’t afford to run a car so I walked everywhere. Fortunately, everything I needed fell within a two mile radius and so the imposition was easy to live with.

I did my grocery shopping at a supermarket about a mile away, situated on the edge of the town centre at the bottom of the hill. I went there three or four times a week and bought enough groceries to fit in a back pack.

Such a high frequency of visits meant that several of the staff got to know me, and in addition I would often bump into neighbours and people I knew from the theatre where I worked. Strange as it may seem, that supermarket became almost a home from home, or a kind of social club if you like. I can’t claim any specific ‘happy memories’ of the place, but the overall recollection carries a warm and comfortable resonance.

I took a walk around that side of the town today for the first time in several years, and discovered that the store had been demolished. I remembered the summer days, and the misty autumn evenings, and the Christmas colour, and the countless easy conversations with familiar people. It was a nice part of my history, and now it’s gone.

I seem to be saying ‘now it’s gone’ a lot lately. I’m thinking it even more.

Another Blessed Holmes.

I was pleased to discover that there was one more Rathbone/Bruce version of Sherlock Holmes still to watch. It was made in 1942, evidently with propaganda in mind, and is called Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. I watched half of it tonight and saved the other half for later.

I have to say that the customary deduction-by-footprints is the daftest of all, and by the half way point the identity of the secret Nazi agent is obvious. But the style is impeccable, as ever.

Reflecting the Monkey.

I was watching a video tonight and realised how much more engaging is the smile than the grin. The smile is a little more reserved and therefore safer. The grin carries a hint of potential menace (unless the eyebrows are raised, for some reason.)

I expect it’s all to do with ape ancestry. I seem to recall that a central theme of The Name of the Rose was about laughter being an emulation of the monkey, and therefore an insult to the Deity. By contrast, the smile is essentially human with its implication of humane.

It’s complicated. I swear I’ve known dogs which could smile (although they rely more on their ears.)

Why do I write this stuff? Why do I even think about it? I hope my friends in New York (state and city) don’t get any more snow. Can’t stand it myself.

(Chuckles are OK, by the way. I'm good at those when the mood permits.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

R.I.P. English Dottiness.

I’ve decided on my favourite line from a movie. It belongs to Katie Johnson who played the terribly upright and delightfully dotty Mrs Wilberforce in Ealing’s The Ladykillers:

‘And who is Mrs Lopsided, may I ask?’

Fire, Water, and Bits.

According to the astrologers I have my sun in Sagittarius, my moon in Pisces, and my ascendant is Scorpio. That’s one fire and two waters. Now, as I once wrote in a post (it’s about the only thing I remember having written, and I’d quite like it to be engraved on my tombstone just to confuse the parishioners)

Water falls to rest. Fire rises to oblivion.

It’s hardly any wonder I get confused, is it? And somebody once told me it’s the perfect combination to produce a sot. See, I always said it wasn’t my fault.

*  *  *

Why have airline companies suddenly started quoting prices as 499 GBP? What was wrong with £499? They do the same with USDs.

*  *  *

There’s a track on YouTube entitled The most beautiful rendition of Ave Maria I’ve ever heard. It would have to be.

*  *  *

The woman who sings Alegria – the video to which I’ve already posted twice so I’m not going to post it again – has a most astonishing voice which makes my skin tingle every time I hear it. She’s worth ten of the paste-encrusted bimbos who pass for music stars these days, and yet I don’t even know her name.

After Bathing.

The tapping and thumping in the pipes was irritating, and yet reassuring in the circumstances. It told me that the water system had returned to normal at last, so now we can breathe again (or drown at will.) If only Kelly had given me her mobile number, I would have sent her a congratulatory text.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Little Autopsy on an Old Sherlock.

I’ve watched all the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films now and I’m already missing them. I can’t agree with those YouTube commenters who claim that they’re the best adaptations ever, or that the pairing of Rathbone and Bruce is definitive. There’s too much ‘Elementary, old fellow,’ Holmes isn’t emotionally cold enough, and Bruce’s buffoonery irritates frequently. There are too many ludicrously evident footprints conveniently laid out to provide the vital clue. Some of the acting by the other players is seriously short of professional, and many of the plot points are laughably lacking in credibility.

And yet they have an infallible charm. They’re comfortable almost to the point of being hypnotic. They wile away a late night hour most pleasantly, and they will be missed.

On Praising Kelly.

After yesterday’s run of mishaps, today’s little celestial prank was a severe interruption to the water supply. We had a mere trickle this morning and it soon dried up to nothing. Nothing was what we subsequently had all day. It returned to a mere trickle at about 7pm, and at the time of writing (see below) the pressure is still worryingly weak.

I talked to lots of people during the day, none of whom impressed very much – several young men in call centres, another young man sitting in a Severn-Trent Water van at the bottom of the lane, and a local resident who told me she’d heard that the whole of Britain and the Commonwealth had run dry and it was probably a Russian plot. I exaggerate, of course (as does she usually.) The message was coming through loud and clear, though: this is no Shire issue; this is BIG, and it’s going to take quite some time to fix.

And then there was a phone call from Severn-Trent which carried a recorded message to the effect that they were working very hard to resolve the issue and the supply should return to normal by 7pm. As I said, it was still a mere trickle at 7pm, and by 8pm it wasn’t much better. I rang again.

‘Good evening, you’re through to Severn-Trent Water. My name is Kelly. How may I help?’

Alarm bells. Kelly had a very young voice. Kelly sounded as though she’d only left school yesterday and this was the first day of her working life. I put the problem to her anyway and asked whether she had any up to date information.

‘Would you excuse me for a moment while I consult with one of my colleagues? Thank you.’

Suspicion confirmed: ‘…while I consult with one of my colleagues’ usually means ‘I only left school yesterday and this is the first day of my working life, so I haven’t a clue what I’m doing yet.’

I decided I would have to put Kelly on the spot, poor girl. None of this was her fault but it had gone on long enough and I needed answers. Maybe I would have to ask to speak to her supervisor, which isn’t much of a confidence boost, is it? Bad timing, Kelly.

Kelly came back.

‘Thank you for holding.’

‘That’s OK.’

And then she gave it to me, the whole picture and why it was taking so long to resolve the problem. She wasn’t reading off a script either. She’d obviously listened to the explanation, got it in one and fast, and was talking from a position of knowledge. She answered my questions convincingly. She inspired confidence. She impressed.

Well, I had to compliment her, didn’t I? Briefly but highly.

‘Thank yooo’ she intoned – nay, almost squealed.

‘Have a good evening,’ I concluded.

‘You tooo…’

That was nice. I’m so glad I didn’t tell her she was cute, even though she was. It seems so patronising (not to mention presumptuous) when an old git like me tells a young woman she’s cute, and she deserved better. And I hope the first day of her working life sets the pattern for the shape of things to come.

New York: the Current View.

New York is such a powerful and evocative name, isn’t it?

New York! New York!

Indeed.

Who would have thought that when I visited that unfair city all those years ago, it should prove to contain such prospects for future delectation? For now it is my personal experience that the city and its attendant state contain the best of Americans. (It is also my personal experience that good Americans are hard to match, as are bad ones in equal measure.) This is, of course, a subjective view.

*  *  *

By an odd coincidence, I watched Sherlock Holmes in Washington last night.  The intrepid duo are en route to Washington, DC, and are currently flying over New York City. There’s an impressive shot of the Manhattan skyscrapers, but I couldn’t help noticing that they’re flying in the wrong direction.

On Being Improperly Weird.

I read an article tonight about David Lynch, director of such classics as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, all favourites of mine.

It seems that David is a bit weird. I’m a bit weird, too, or so several people have told me. Ah, but there’s the rub, you see. David is consistently weird, whereas I’m usually only weird when I’m in the company of normal folks. It’s the normal folks who tell me I’m weird. When I’m with weird people, I generally play the straight guy. ‘Aren’t you boringly ordinary?’ they say. ‘Get a life, man. Straighten up.’ Oh well…

This dichotomy probably has something to do with seeking balance, or maybe just wanting to make sure that I never belong anywhere. Sometimes I envy properly weird people, and sometimes I don’t.

So what is ‘weird’ anyway? I suppose it might be defined as ‘displaying attitudes, demeanour, opinions or behaviour which fall outside those parameters defined by common consensus.’ (Actually, they’re defined by the hum of Mother Culture and conditioned into the majority view, but I suppose it amounts to the same thing.)

So what does this tell me? Well, since the normal people are – by definition – in the majority, I reckon I’m mostly weird. That’s good; I’ll live with that.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Bad Stars Day.

I spent one and a half hours this morning dealing with a Bureaucratic Matter. My desk and part of the floor in my office were soon buried under files and papers, and the phone calls were becoming expensive. Ever since my brain switched its focus from left to right, I don’t deal with bureaucratic matters half so easily as I used to, and this morning’s episode was particularly torturous. By the end of it my head ached and I felt uncomfortably disassociated from many of my essential faculties. I’d go so far as to say that I felt slightly ill, probably because I’ve re-engaged with the unfortunate habit of getting only five hours sleep a night. And all to do with the fact that I shall soon be even worse off financially than I am at present…

I pushed it away and made some lunch. The lunch was fine, right up until a tooth broke – just a small piece off one of the molars at the back, but it’s left a jagged-edged hole which might be small to the eye but feels gigantic to the tongue. My next dental appointment is in two months, and my dentist is so busy that seeing her any earlier stands not within the prospect of belief. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt much. Yet.

I pushed that away, too, and made my way into Farmer Stan’s field, there to finish a small trimming job which needed doing from the other side of the hedge. It was high work, and a large piece of trimming fell to earth but landed in my right eye en route. The eye is still sore and prone to watering, but I expect it will be OK by tomorrow.

The piece-de-resistance came this evening when I was made privy to an item of intelligence which brought me up short – you know, one of those moments when you just stop and say ‘Oh…’ Much musing ensued and much reflection was observed, until magnanimity carried the day. All I’ll say on that issue is that I hope my brightest star has found a home worthy of its radiance. I do, earnestly.

But I still have the headache from this morning.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Murky.

… and the princess and the prince discuss
What’s real and what is not
~ Bob Dylan. Gates of Eden.

Some days I can’t get my head around what matters and what doesn’t, what’s worth saying and what isn’t. Making posts to a blog is difficult in such circumstances.

‘The world is a magical smoke screen,’ says the Log Lady (in the clip I posted a couple of nights ago, but which you probably didn’t watch. Such a fine voice that woman has.) It’s been a recurring thought for two days now, demanding to be explained. Well, the interpretation seems obvious enough on the surface, but the smoke keeps getting in my eyes.

I might manage some logic again one of these days. I would like to say that coffee and cherry pie are on the house and the birds will sing a pretty song while you wait, but that would be a bit silly.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Being Incomplete.

I often dream up cartoons to accompany blog posts, but I can’t draw for toffee. If I could, this would be my style for the moody ones…


… and this for the 'clever' ones…


I need a partner.

Entente and an Ending.

There was a fight at Waterloo
We Brits wore red, the Frenchies blue
And then we ceased
(For now, at least)
And said ‘Bonjour’ and ‘How do you do.’

*  *  *

We suffered a sad loss in the Shire recently – a magnificent ash tree which I estimated to have been around 200 years old. When the tree surgeons cut it down, they counted the rings and declared that it was, in fact, 220 years old. That means it was growing there when the timely arrival of Blucher saved our bacon and put an end to the little corporal’s career. And now it’s gone.

*  *  *

The Frenchies must get a bit miffed at the fact that we call the sea which separates us ‘The English Channel.’ It’s so very possessive, unlike their term ‘La Manche’ which is merely descriptive. There must surely be no division, however, regarding that splendid term ‘the Western Approaches.’ So very evocative of home, horizons, and the cold smell of maritime conflict.

A Note on the Outsiders.

I’ve encountered a small number of very highly aware people during my life. I’m encountering a few now. High awareness can be a curse at times because the generality of others – the great majority – simply don’t understand it. They knock you over in their rush to get to the shopping mall, or home for the latest episode of a soap, or down to the beach with their beer cans and footballs. And then they step carelessly on your head in passing and wonder why you groan.

And so you spend your time consciously avoiding the crowd or pushing back at it, because that’s the only way you can stay upright and live life in your own way. You’re well outnumbered, of course, so it's far from easy at times.

Life and 2015.

This is fascinating. It’s my kind of stuff. Back in 1990, Twin Peaks filled a dark, empty hole in my life and gave it meaning. It’s never really gone. I’m convinced that David Lynch knows more than he’s telling, and 25 years will come to fruition in 2015.

In the received parlance of YouTube: Zoe brought me here. I have an odd feeling about this, but tomorrow will return to normal. For a while.

Friday, 14 November 2014

On Plot Arcs.

I was just reading some reviews of a few of the anthologies in which the odd story of mine appears. I didn’t fully understand many of them, since the reviewers were using a number of technical terms with which I’m unfamiliar. ‘Plot arcs’ was one of them.

What’s a plot arc, I wonder. It sounds as though it belongs in the world of mechanical engineering or the science laboratory.

The stresses on the plot arc must function in indirect proportion to…

Now children, we place a little plot arc in a test tube, add sulphuric acid – that’s H2SO4, don’t forget – and watch it go pouf.

So what I want to know is this: did plot arcs exist before creative writing courses did? Was Charlotte Bronte, for example, ever heard to proclaim ‘My plot arcs are my strongest suit, you know. A person doesn’t get to where I am today without having good plot arcs.’ If they didn’t, why do we bother reading literature that was written before the academic world began teaching people to write stuff in such a way that it would stand the test of correct structural analysis? Could it be that antediluvian amateurs like the Brontes just wrote well because writing well was instinctive to a person with talent?

As far as I’m aware, none of my stories have plot arcs. If they do, they got there purely by accident or the nefarious design of some third party. And when I get to heaven, my first question is going to be:

‘Who the hell assumed the right to stick those bloody plot arcs in my stories?’

Waiting for a Wind.

It might have been noticed that this blog has been both erratic and trivial of late. That’s because I’m preoccupied with matters which can’t go in here. I’m waiting for something that might prove more illusory than Beckett’s Godot, but when it comes to achieving desired outcomes (a phrase much beloved of those pedantic sadists who compose funding applications) I’ve found that waiting usually works better than creating.

If chance would have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir.

Macbeth failed to heed his own advice, and look what happened to him.

In Mocking Mode.

While I was out today I looked at what was available by way of appointment calendars to grace my office wall next year. It came down to a choice between two: pictures of Rhianna or pictures of Beyoncé. They had none featuring Justin Bieber, alas.

So what sort of humour am I employing here, would you say? Facetious? Nope. Sarcastic? Not quite. Sardonic? That’ll do: sardonic. It fits my mood.

*  *  *

I was going to make a post last night on the latest entry in the Sherlock Holmes stakes, but by the time it finished I was too tired and a little inebriated so I couldn’t be bothered. It was made late in the series and I think everybody was getting tired by then (and maybe a little inebriated.) Points to note were:

1. The story concerned the murders of several young women who’d all had their right forefingers chopped off. The Commissioner of Police from Scotland Yard calls his men together and tells them:

‘This is the work of a terrible fiend who murders first and mutilates afterwards.

Note the emphasis on ‘afterwards.’ Given the order of words and placement of the emphasis, this can only mean one thing. In the Commissioner’s opinion, the murderer would have been less fiendish had he mutilated his victims before killing them. I’d say that’s a bit sloppy on somebody’s part.

2. We had to have the obligatory footprints again. We did, in the sitting room this time. ‘Look at these footprints, Watson. The fact that they’re muddy tells me that the assailant must have come in from the garden.’

Clever chap, Holmes. I think there are three more to go, one of them set in Washington, DC. I’ll bet the footprints will be the biggest of all in that one.

Opposites and Exemplars.

I was in a checkout queue today, and the man in front of me had about twelve bottles of water, several of which kept falling over every time the belt moved. So what do you do in that circumstance? You lay them down pointing front to back so they neither topple nor roll. Better still, you anticipate the problem and do so in the first place. This man kept picking them up, and they kept falling over again. I swear people like him get through life more easily than I do.

And somebody (or some persons) from China keeps accessing an old post of mine called ‘Opposites and Corollaries’ which is an idle and rather pointless muse on the difference between the two. (It even contains a deliberately irrational statement; I must have been up for a joke that day.) I wonder if I’m becoming a learning resource.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Life and Footprints.

I missed out on my Sherlock Holmes fix tonight. That’s because I was engaging with life on a rather grander scale than usual. So now I’m doing what one habitually does after engaging with life on a grand scale: drinking scotch and listening to music, mostly. And it’s getting late.

And talking of Sherlock, it’s remarkable how the solution to the mystery nearly always comes down to implausibly well-defined footprints.

‘Hullo! Look at this, Watson. Footprints!’

Oh no, not again…

It isn’t only Sherlock who steps into this particular groove, of course. Watchers of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings might have noticed something odd. In the final scene leading to the destruction of the One Ring, Frodo and Gollum are having one of their regular spats over possession of said ring, when Frodo slips it onto his finger and promptly disappears. But Gollum wants it, and locates his invisible adversary by the little hobbit’s footprints – and this despite the fact that Frodo is barefoot and walking on rock.

Maybe he was sweating a lot from the heat. Let’s go for that one.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Another Little School Story.

I should never have started making posts about my school days. The memories are crowding in now and my brain isn’t big enough to handle them all. Most of them fall into one of two categories:

1. Being Treated with Unmitigated Unfairness (I got punished once for looking at the very thing the teacher was talking about. He said I wasn’t paying attention.)

2. Being Unappreciated.

Here’s an example of the latter:

During one sports period, the sports master was clearly at a loss to know what to do with us. ‘Let’s have a game of football,’ he said. And so we did. We all tripped off to the football pitch (that’s ‘field’ to the DYs) and divided into two teams. I played in my customary position of centre half. (They’re called central defenders now, just so the foreign players know where to stand at kick off.)

My team won a corner kick on the right, and I suddenly got this kind of premonition. I somehow knew that if I pushed up to the opponents’ penalty area and stood in precisely the right spot, the ball would land at my feet and I could take a shot at goal. And do you know what?

The lad who took the corner made a bit of a hash of it and one of their defenders got in the way. The ball was deflected outfield and landed just in front of me and slightly to the right. I’d seen it all happen beforehand and was ready for it. I took one step forward, drew my right leg back and hit the ball sweetly on the half volley. It flew clean as a whistle inside the right hand post. Goal.

Now, if Beckham had done that, he would have been lauded to the heavens and paid an extra 20m or so to have his face stuck on yet another bottle of some smelly chemical. What I got was a wry look from the sports master.

‘Bet you couldn’t do that again,’ he said. And that was that.

Misplaced Ethics, Maybe.

There’s a shop in Ashbourne with big banners across both windows proclaiming:

Closing Down Sale
Everything Must Go

I would be most reluctant to go in and buy anything. I would assume that the business was folding due to having fallen on hard times, and that buying something at a knock-down price simply because I could would amount to taking advantage of someone’s misfortune.

I suspect that my lack of ruthlessness probably has a lot to do with why I never amounted to very much, since life does tend to reward the ruthless. I’m more than happy to grab opportunities if I’m comfortable with them, but opportunism is quite another matter.

Voices.

I know I posted this clip a few weeks ago, but I’ve become more than a little fixated on it. It’s surprisingly creative when you look at it in detail. And it isn’t the kids, the animals and the Lady B lookalike I want to remark on this time, it’s the singer’s voice.


No piping soprano here. No measured mezzo or sultry alto. This is sharpened steel striking flint. I can’t decide whether it’s Gallic or Spanish with a Moorish provenance. Not that it matters. It’s splendid wherever it comes from.

And Mel said to me tonight that the great thing about the company of dogs is that they never want to give you their opinion on anything.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Drop the JJ Memoirs.

Della suggests that I should write my memoirs. I don’t think so somehow, since such an undertaking would require a substantial boost to both my ego and my attention span. Besides, what would I write about?

Headings. It would need headings.

On Schooldays
On Sport
On Music
On Reading
On Bullshit

…etc, etc…

OK, here’s a little extract from the Memoirs that Never Were.

On Schooldays (or Sport, whichever needs more padding.)

It was a cold Saturday morning in January and I was playing in a rugby match against a team from another school. I was sixteen – only a year to go before attaining the perennial age of thirty two.

I picked up a loose ball and took it into a maul which soon collapsed to form a ruck. (Such a state of play was known as a loose scrum back then, but these days it’s known as a ruck – which, by an odd coincidence, happens to rhyme with ‘luck’ and many other words in common usage, a fact which might or might not be deemed appropriate in the circumstances.)

Body after body piled on top of me until I spied a knee descending inch by unremitting inch towards that part of my anatomy which I expected to put to meaningful use in the not-too-distant future. What might a fit young man be expected to do in such circumstances? Scream to get the game stopped? One doesn’t like to scream during a rugby match, but one likes even less the possibility of having one’s future prospects prematurely compromised. I screamed, manfully I hope.

The referee blew the whistle immediately and my future prospects were saved – for posterity, as they say, although posteriors were not then, nor ever have been, my forte.

All true, but hardly saleable.

Thinking Above My Means.

Today I was trying to work out whether the doctrine of karma is consistent with the philosophy of Determinism. I don’t know why I do it, I really don’t. I’m just not brainy enough.

Monday, 10 November 2014

A Flight of NY Fancy.

I was standing in the lobby of a Manhattan hotel waiting for my credit card to be processed when I noticed a skin-tight young woman, smooth as a vanilla milkshake and pristine as a newly minted scalpel, staring pointedly at me. Eventually I stared back.

‘You’re English, aren’t you?’ she asked with merely a hint of hard edged interest.

‘Yes.’

‘Thought so. Probably explains why your hair resembles the Titanic.’

‘Titanic?’

‘It’s a wreck.’

‘Oh, I see,’ I replied limply, being quite unable to conjure a pithy reply. She allowed me little time anyway.

‘Come to my salon tomorrow and I’ll raise it from the sea bed. 2811 W 44th Street.’

‘Erm… Right. Thanks.’

The expression on her face dismissed me, and so I went about my business. Needless to say, I was otherwise engaged tomorrow.

None of that happened. It just dropped into my head when I looked in the mirror.

On Sirens and Syllables.

Think Herod and Salome, or Uther and Igraine. What is it about a skilful woman dancer that’s capable of sending a normally healthy male mind into a state of temporary insanity? I haven’t worked that one out yet, which is a little inconvenient because Manpreet comes close to doing the same to mine. (Especially when I'm glum, for some reason.) Manpreet is the taller of the two wearing orange frocks in the following clip. She’s an Indian American, which isn’t the same thing as an American Indian. Don’t we make life complicated for ourselves with our insistence on categories?

 
And there’s a little matter of pronunciation to be considered. I noticed early in life that Americans place the emphasis on the first syllable in the name Salome, whereas we Brits usually place it on the second. In this instance, I prefer the American convention. Sounds more exotic, I suppose.

Contrariwise, I have the opposite view on Samuel Beckett’s non-existent hero, Godot. I gather Americans stress the second syllable, while we stress the first. In a rare showing of Anglo-Irish accord, Mr Beckett – who was neither American nor British – said that we Brits have got it right. Good.