Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Bloody Cheek.

I do wish the YouTube people would stop interrupting my chosen videos with incessant adverts for blood sugar meters. Why do I need a blood sugar meter? I know when my blood sugar is low because the symptoms are unmistakeable. I have a packet of crisps and a chocolate biscuit, or maybe a jam butty, and the problem goes away. Have they no respect for music?


Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, came out with an odd sort of statement today. He said that terrorists are mostly people of low self-esteem who are addicted to porn because they’re unsuccessful with women. (I assume he meant ‘members of the opposite sex,’ since not all terrorists are men. Boris never was very good at the equality thing.) This opinion is allegedly based on psychological profiling of known jihadists by the security services.

So do I believe it? I have my doubts. Life is never that simple and the whole thing smacks of political-speak and weak propaganda. And if I’m right, it makes the Establishment look a bit silly, which isn’t much help in the war against terrorism.

Friday, 30 January 2015

On Dating and Decoding.

I’m still intrigued by the dating ads in the local newspaper. I’ve read them all several times over because that’s what I do when something intrigues me, and because I needed to crack the standard abbreviations. I’ve never read dating ads before, and so I had to work them out from their context.

The first to fall was WLTM. Would like to meet. I wondered why they didn’t use ‘seeks,’ which is simpler and still only one word for cost efficiency.

Next to be decoded was GSOH. It was interesting that so many people described themselves as having a good sense of humour. How do they know, since only they can judge? A person might have a subtle sense of humour, a sophisticated sense of humour, a droll sense of humour, a coarse sense of humour, etc, etc. But who is qualified to define good? Maybe one day some academic will devise an HQ test: Humour Quotient. Or maybe they won’t.

For some reason, tlc and ltr were always printed in lower case. Why is that, I wonder. What distinguishes tender loving care and long term relationship (assuming I’m right) from Good Sense Of Humour? I suppose the latter is a personal quality, so what about Would Like To Meet?

The most difficult was N/S. This is the only one to be graced with an oblique stroke (or forward slash for the computer generation.) There was nothing glaringly obvious in the context to give it away, but I’m assuming it means No Strings. Why the slash? Why the upper case?

Enough said on the subject. So, which of the ads most intrigued me? This one:

S: Asian 20yr old female, very pretty, feminine with long hair, enjoys nights in or out, seeking mature white male 56plus for discreet fun.

That’s pretty odd, isn’t it? No codes, grammatically perfect (which most of them aren’t,) and more than a hint of some hidden agenda suggested by the age gap. Rest assured: curiosity didn’t get the better of me.

I think I can stop reading them now; the purpose is served. And the reason I never read them before is simple: I never understood how people could ‘seek love’ through a newspaper ad. I was always the eyes-across-a-crowded-room type. My problem was that I never liked crowded rooms.

The Tale of Molly and the Pig.

Once, long ago, there lived a tribe in a forest. The people of the tribe kept several animals – a few dogs for hunting and guarding purposes, a few fowl to provide eggs, and a few pigs of different ages for fattening.

One of the dogs – let’s call her Molly – was unlike the others. She took her guarding duties seriously, but never went out on the hunt and generally kept herself apart from the rest of the pack. She did, however, become close friends with one of the pigs.

And then, late in the year when the winter was beginning to bite, the head man of the village decided it was time to kill one of the pigs for butchering and salting. The pig they chose was Molly’s friend.

Two of the men took hold of the animal and tethered it to a tree, and then they secured it at the rear while a third man despatched it with several blows from a heavy club. Molly had been watching, and Molly squealed. She continued to squeal loudly until one of the men kicked her roughly in the ribs, whereupon she retired behind a tree to shiver and whimper.

When the butcher shaved the dead animal and cut it into pieces for salting, the dogs crowded around eagerly, sometimes even fighting with each other to get the scraps of raw meat which the man threw in their direction. Molly remained behind the tree. She stopped whimpering eventually, but continued to shiver. And there she stayed, refusing to either eat or drink until she died one night covered by a fresh snowfall and with the blood in her veins frozen. Whether the men butchered her for eating I don’t know; the story doesn’t go that far. It doesn’t need to.

There’s no moral to the tale. It’s just one small example of how life and people sometimes treat those who are different a little cruelly.

That Night.

Talking about singles dating ads reminded me of that night at the theatre back in nineteen ninety something. The show had been given by a famous Ukrainian pianist, and afterwards she’d gone up to the bar and given an impromptu performance on the upright piano for those who’d stayed for a drink.

I was downstairs as usual, sitting at the reception desk and becoming a little irritated at the prospect of being kept late at work by hangers-on. It had happened before and it was part of my job to remind people of the strict licensing conditions which applied to theatres. Fortunately, the music stopped at twenty to twelve and everybody was gone within fifteen minutes. Everybody, that is, except the Ukrainian pianist. I knew I would have to find her before locking up and started the search in the bar.

She was sitting alone, sipping something from a glass but with a hip flask standing nearby. She watched me approach, a little wistfully I thought, and said ‘Hello.’ Her voice was a trifle dark, her accent unequivocally Slavic. Well, as she might have said had the boot been on the other foot, ‘what doo yoo doo?’ We all know that Ukraine has the highest concentration of beautiful women anywhere in the world, don’t we? We do. I said ‘Hi’ back. ‘Would you like to join a lonely lady in a drink?’ she continued. Well, what do you do? She held out the hip flask, so I sat down and took a sip. It was vodka.

We talked for half an hour about life, love and Soviet politics, her dark voice becoming ever more dreamy and my previously non-existent taste for vodka beginning to rise. There was a lull in the conversation and I took my chance:

‘Would you play Bach’s Minuet in G Major for me?’ I asked. ‘Do you know it?’

‘Do I know it? Every first year piano student knows it. Sure I know it. OK.’

And so she played it, and when she finished we exchanged mutual smiles. And then a claxon rent the air like glass smashing in the cloistered calm of a ruined abbey.

‘That must be my cab,’ she said. ‘Thanks for the company.’

I let her out by the front door and locked it behind her, and then conducted my rounds in an empty theatre which seemed so much emptier than usual that night.

You may decide for yourself whether that actually happened or whether my taste for fiction is running rampant. Just remember that theatres are dream factories, and empty ones have a habit of going into replay mode and making dreams come true. It’s what I most loved about the job.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Restricted Entitlement.

I looked through the singles ads in the local paper tonight, seeking suitable material for a post. I found plenty that warranted humorous commentary, but I didn’t feel entitled to be humorous. I get days when I don’t feel entitled. I don’t know why.

I still have a Christmas present sitting in my office unopened because I didn’t feel entitled to open it. And there was another package which came in the post about a week ago. That remained unopened too, because I knew who it was from and didn’t feel entitled to receive anything from said party. But then I was told that the person concerned had been made privy to my reticence and wasn’t pleased, since the package contained a gift from her 6-year-old daughter. That made all the difference. I decided that anybody, even me,  is entitled to receive a gift from a child because it’s one of the few things in life that is truly free. That’s what makes it so beautiful. So I opened it.

But I still don’t feel entitled to poke fun at B, 46, who says she’s ‘voluptuous, seductive and very saucy,’ however tempting her blatant and amusing descent into the realms of euphemism might be. (Nor even the ‘professional widow aged 73.’ Or M, who describes herself as a ‘sophisticated solvent brunette.’ I’ve heard that solvents can be very bad for the health, and I’ve no idea what a professional widow is.) So I’m not going to.

Money Musing.

So Apple has made a quarterly profit of $18bn – the highest ever recorded for a public company.

I wonder how far $18bn would go if it were used to make the world a better place. And I wonder how many more fancy dinner parties Apple shareholders will be able to have on the strength of their big fat dividend payments. And I wonder how many people in the world starve to death in the time it takes to have a fancy dinner party. And I wonder how much space $18bn would take up if it were stacked in bundles of $50 bills. And I wonder whether Apple would send me a bundle of $50 bills as payment for working it out. And I wonder how many starving children it would take to match the weight of $18bn (stacked in bundles of $50 bills.)

Just wondering in an idle moment.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

On Corn and Con.

One of this year’s shameless attempts by Sainsbury’s to capitalise on St Valentine’s Day is a white ceramic heart hung on a red ribbon. On the heart is impressed the message:

I love you more today than yesterday but not as much as I will love you tomorrow.

Conspicuous by their absence are the reinforced bags, one (or maybe two) of which should accompany each purchase just in case the recipient doesn’t get the joke and thinks you’re being serious. Maybe they’re assuming the clumsy English provides enough of a hint.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

On Being Mr Memory.

One of the episodes of Mayo I watched recently had an actress in it who I used to know during my time at the theatre. Not only were we on first name terms, I even got the occasional hug. (Mind you, there’s nothing particularly significant about being hugged by an actress. Actresses hug anything that moves, and probably lots of things that don’t. I never minded being hugged by actresses, it was being hugged by male actors that made me a bit queasy at times. Any proclivity I have to being tactile was always highly selective and strictly rationed.) Anyway, the point is that I couldn’t remember her name. I had to look her up on IMDB. Isn’t that sad? (It was Heather.)

And then tonight I read an old post of mine which had a sentence in it I didn’t understand. I really don’t remember for the life of me what I meant by it. That’s sad, too.

And then there was something else…

Oh, yes. In another old post I said: ‘August 1st is a particularly significant date to me.’ Is it? Why?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Ensnared by Subtle Understatement.

I’m currently succumbing to a new addiction: unsalted cashew nuts. Unlike the salted and sometimes flavoured varieties, the raw ones have a gentle taste. Some would call it weak, but I’d prefer ‘subtly understated.’ We Brits have a history of favouring things subtly understated, and I’m something of a traditionalist in that regard.

(It has to be said that this tradition is fast disappearing under relentless attack by the sharks of the corporate mentality, but I’m a little deficient in the money department so I’m largely unaffected. Corporate sharks favour people with fat pockets, fat egos, and a resultant lack of awareness, and so having no money is the best of all repellents.)

But anyway… There’s a problem with subtly understated flavour. You put a handful in your mouth and chew and chew and chew until the capacity of the nuts to be further chewed finally expires. That’s the point at which you realise that you haven’t experienced quite enough flavour, and so you have another mouthful, and another and another and so it goes on. This is why I think it would be advisable to legally require that unsalted cashew nut packets carry a Government Warning:

Unsalted Cashew Nuts are Highly Addictive. Don’t Start.

It might even be required that they be sold in plain packaging so that young people are not lured by seductive fonts and manipulative colour schemes. The thought of having a rash of nut dens erupting like pustules on the fringes of leafy suburbia fills a traditionalist like me with more horror than the disgrace of my own addiction.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

On Little Silly and Strange Things.

Having nothing to write to the blog tonight, and having grown too sleepy to read my VS Naipaul novel, I was flicking through the TV channels and came across Dragon’s Den. I've never seen it, so I watched it for a whole five minutes just to be sure that I was right in never having wanted to see it. I was.

What should one make of it? It must be somebody having a joke, right? All that contrived attitude, all those ill-fitting suits, all the nervousness thinly disguised as earnest enthusiasm, all those men (and women!) doing weak impersonations of Torquemada, all that hair gel…

This is surely a conscious parody on the sillier side of post-80s corporate culture, isn’t it? Got to be. Nice one, whoever you are.

*  *  *

A little while later I was sitting by the fire, ruminating on the continual competition between the world and me to decide which of us is stranger, when I became conscious of rolling something between my fingers. I looked down to discover a piece of soft, polythene-like material. It was black, and I have no idea what it was or how it came to be in my hand.

A Joke at Last.

I finally found something funny on the TV – an advert for some so-called beauty product (shampoo, I think) which cleverly converts real, moderately good looking women into Pixar characters. And what was the catch line?

The look that defines me.

That’s my kind of humour.

A Message from Oz.

The dream was more vivid and rational than dreams usually are. I was in the toilet block of a school or university – I assume the latter because there were young adults of both sexes milling about. There were no doors on the cubicles; people were wandering back and forth in a sordid free-for-all, looking for one that was unoccupied. There was evidence of bodily functions on the floor, along with pieces of soiled toilet paper. The stench was so thick that it was almost palpable. I left.

When I walked into the light of a sunny day I encountered a young man of friendly disposition. He suggested that I should consider being a teacher in my next life.

The message seemed clear enough on waking:

If you come into, or even observe, my reality, you will be crossing a line and entering a territory in which neither your standards nor your value system can apply. You would be well advised to stay away.

Got it. Thanks.

Unique Among Genres.

On looking down the YouTube recommendations tonight, I was reminded of a time when I listened to blues music quite a lot. I’ve also known a few other people who were blues fans. I remembered what kind of personal mindset prevailed at the time, and what kind of people those others were, and a speculative thought presented itself:

It seems to me that the people who listen to blues aren’t blue themselves. Rather they’re voyeurs who derive pleasure from vicariously experiencing the woes of others. And I don’t mean that harshly – it’s no different from reading a sad story or watching a sad film. The point at issue is that I can’t think of any other musical genre which performs such a singular role.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Rueing the Lack of Levity.

I watched some TV tonight in the hope of finding something funny to say. I had high hopes for the documentary on Hans Holbein, since the machinations of the Tudors and the comings and goings of their leading figures usually offer some scope for levity. No joy this time, I’m afraid. Fascinating though it was, there was nothing to make fun of. I found some resonance with the presenter’s assertion that all material acquisition and accomplishment is rendered pointless to the individual once the short span of life is over, but I think I’ve done that one to death…

And then I caught the last twenty minutes of another documentary about a schism between British and American film makers over how to make a salutary film about the Holocaust. I found myself mentally constructing a lengthy post around the proposition that remembering the Holocaust is important because it gives us a major angle on human nature, but whether it goes any way to changing that nature is highly doubtful. Not much fun there, then – too serious, too downbeat. I’m tired of being downbeat.

So what is this post if it isn’t downbeat? Sorry – best I could manage in the circumstances. Whatever happened to the good old days of commentating on Jonathan Harker turning into an Oompa Loompa overnight in a supposedly classic gothic novel? Will they ever return?

Superior Beings.

Ever since several Shire properties changed hands recently there’s been a rash of tree felling going on. I’ve counted at least ten so far, and the ugly sound of the chain saw continues to rend the air on a daily basis.

I find this disturbing because I have great respect for trees. It seems to me that if all the trees disappeared, the planet would become incapable of supporting human life except in artificial bubbles, and where would the wholesome air and beauty of nature be then? If, on the other hand, all the humans disappeared, the trees would flourish and the health of the planet would become fully self-regulating again. Is it not reasonable to postulate, therefore, that in a natural sense at least, the tree is more important than the human?

As for the question of whether trees are sentient, I suppose it all depends on whose beliefs you choose to follow.

Cheating on the Priestess & a Note on Shell Shock.

I have a couple of little problems. Anybody who has been reading this blog for any length of time will know how important the priestess used to be to me. Problem No.1: she still is, even though she doesn’t want to be. Problem No.2: I’ve promised to remain silent from now on, and a promise is a promise so I’m barred by my own standards from commenting on her blog.

But I do so want to comment on her last two. I want to tell her that her astuteness remains intact despite the vagaries of shifts in persona. I want to congratulate her, but I can’t. So what do I do? Well, I could always try making a post of my own in the hope that she will pick up at least a preview in her reading list. Is that cheating?

(Maybe I also want to let off a little steam by revealing that I can’t read anecdotes without seeing them play out in front of my eyes, and demons thrive on a vivid imagination. But that’s my problem.)

Meanwhile, I have a weekend to get through.

Imagine being an HSP type who has to leave the trenches and cross no man’s land, not knowing whether there will be incoming fire and, if there is, whether it will strike or miss. I wonder whether that’s the basis of PTSD. Other HSPs will know what I’m talking about, the rest won’t.

Death and Reflection.

I learned today that my cousin, Linda, died four weeks ago. I got the news via a voicemail message from my daughter. No doubt she got it from her mother, and I expect her mother got it from Linda’s husband. I never really got on with him, so maybe that’s why he chose not to apprise me of the fact. Then again, neither did the girls, my first cousins once removed with whom I did get on. But then they, like most members of my fractured family, were (and still are, what’s left of them) dour doers, whereas I was always the dreaming drifter. Drifting out of people’s orbits has been a regular habit of mine, and my cousin’s was no exception.

Still, I’m curious to know what she died of. Although a fair bit older than me (she used to take me to the rec to play on the swings when I was a little boy and she was a teenager, before my stepfather forbade further contact with my natural father’s family) she was well short of being old enough to have succumbed to old age in the usual way. Maybe I’ll never know, and I don’t suppose it matters. No doubt her funeral is done and dusted, and she is come to dust or is in the process of so doing.

In consequence of the news, I had a session with some photo albums tonight. It led to the question it always leads to: what the hell is it all about? And, odd as it might seem, I kept hearing that old rhyme:

It isn’t the cough
That carries you off
But the coffin
They carries you off in

As rhymes go, it isn’t entirely rational. But neither is life.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

YouTube and the Wealth Mystery.

Those adverts which belt your eardrums at the beginning of YouTube tracks seem to be almost entirely aimed at mentally deficient teenage boys. They have the defining characteristics – loud and inane.

What’s interesting is that you’d expect the advertisers to aim their effluent at that section of the market where the money is, so one must assume that the money is mostly in the pockets of mentally deficient teenage boys. Strange, but nothing about the human condition or the state of western culture shocks me any more. I came to the regrettable but inevitable conclusion a long time ago that the majority of human beings are pretty crap, and that includes me. (I lay claim to the fact that I’m pretty crap in a different way than most human beings, but also accept that it’s no excuse.)

By way of an odd contrast, it was reported today that nearly half the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the world’s population. I doubt that many of this elite band are mentally deficient teenage boys, although they might well be mentally challenged in a variety of other ways. That's the mystery.

Meanwhile, I should imagine that a similar statistic probably held true during the Middle Ages. Haven’t we come a long way in 600 years?

Monday, 19 January 2015

Taking the Lessons.

I can’t talk right now. This weekend I’ve learned at first hand, and only one factual step removed, how it must feel to be:

1. An abused child.

2. One of a repressed minority.

They’re both unpleasant. A fuller explanation won’t be forthcoming. Sorry.

In the process of contemplating the above, I also came to understand something that has puzzled me all my life – why the British public school system treated its young male charges in such a cruel and unjust manner during the days of Empire. The reason given by the Establishment – that it toughens them up – was obviously a lie. It was done to condition them to the view that treating the disempowered (like women and indigenous peoples) in a cruel and unjust manner was normal and even right.

But enough for now. It’s been a bad weekend and I’m not at all happy.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Success at Last.

My legs are cold. That’s what happens to people in war movies who’ve been shot in the back.

‘How ya doin’, Ben?’

‘Ma legs are cold, Jake.’

‘That means ya gonna die, Ben.’

‘Do it, Jake?’

‘Sure do.’

I just realised that I’m approximately one month older than my brother was when he died of an aneurism. That’s the first time I ever got one over on him.

Conservative and Crass.

David Cameron has gone public with his hope that the fall in oil prices will encourage employers to pay their workers more.

Laugh? Not quite, more of a sardonic smile. I still might have fallen off my chair, however, if I weren’t so much of a control freak.

David Cameron is an arch Conservative, and Conservatives are pretty conservative. In this context it’s reasonable to equate ‘conservative’ with ‘capitalist.’ And what’s the prime tenet of capitalism? Maximise profits. Get as much as you can get; pay as little as you can get away with.

Ed Miliband made his own capital out of Cameron’s latest foray into the naively absurd. In a major speech he said: ‘People will be choking on their cornflakes.’ He’s probably right, but at least that should reduce the competition for jobs.

American Heroes Hollywood Style.

I wish Hollywood wouldn’t do this sort of thing.

I watched a bit of Armageddon. It was pretty poor right up to the point where the eyes of the world were locked onto their TV sets, watching the boys in Stars and Stripes crossing the concrete on their way to saving the world (and not for the first time.) And then it got worse. The S&S boys were walking striding in slow motion, presumably to protract the heroic moment. They were doing the laid-back-but-transparently-heroic smiles, just as real heroes don’t. The music was trying to sound heroic, but failing dismally. Yet still the lower tiers of humanity (aka the rest of the world) watched with fearful but hopeful eyes. If the S&S boys can’t crack the asteroid before it gets too close to our beautiful planet, nobody can. That’s what America is here for.

I turned it off at that point, so I don’t know whether the S&S boys were successful or not. Frankly, I no longer cared.

This isn’t an anti-American post. This is a pro-American post. Over the past few years I’ve encountered some seriously splendid Americans. Films like this embarrass me on their behalf.

That’s why I wish Hollywood wouldn’t do this sort of thing.

A Ditty to Deceive.

I penned a serious ditty for a change. Don’t you just hate that word ‘penned.’ I do. I only used it to be irritating.

(My favourite detective, DI Mayo, is talking to his sergeant. ‘I agree,’ she concurs. ‘It is a bit cringeworthy.’ ‘Cringeworthy?’ queries my man. ‘Is English your first language?’ Mayo is definitely my man. I hope I’m not labouring the point.)

Anyway, the ditty:

Oh, I could tell a tale or two
But who, oh who, to tell it to
For those who can so rarely do
And that is why I don’t tell you

It’s been ages since I was cryptic. Must be all this fog.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Mean Feat Trivia.

Britain’s oldest woman died today (or it might have been yesterday. Come to think of it, since I’m writing this after midnight it might have been the day before.) She was 114 and thought to be the last person alive to have been born during the reign of Queen Victoria. She was a teenager when the Great War broke out. It’s a pity she was born in 1900, actually, because if she’d been born the year before she would have lived through three millennia, which is no mean feat. Her daughter is still alive. She’s 91. I don’t know why I find that fact funny.

I just watched episode 3 of Mayo. It’s bloody brilliant. And the Greene King IPA Reserve, which weighs in at 5.4% ABV, was only £1.24 a bottle at Tesco. It was £1.25 last week. If ever I find anything interesting to say, I’ll say it here.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Ads and the H Word.

There’s a law in Britain which requires that advertising be honest. Honest? Tricky word, but let’s look at the toothpaste ads for a reasonable definition.

Of all the mindless shite that forces its bloated and unwelcome presence in between sections of programmes which are otherwise watchable, toothpaste ads probably take the biscuit. The screen is filled with a close up of a pretty or handsome face. It smiles seductively to reveal an array of big, perfectly regular, brilliantly white teeth (sometimes they even go ping.) And then the shot changes to one of the Whizzo Toothpaste tube and the message is made: ‘If you use Whizzo Toothpaste, you will have a mouthful of big, perfectly regular, brilliantly white teeth.’ This is patently untrue, but they don’t actually say as much so you can’t accuse them of lying. Nevertheless, the message is explicit enough to allow the reasonable assertion that they’re trying to part you from your money under false pretences. That’s fraud, and fraud is a form of dishonesty, isn’t it?

And then there’s the other one. Have you ever seen a father and daughter brushing their teeth side by side and smiling inanely at one another while so engaged? If ever you do see such a thing, call the men in white coats without delay. Such people don’t deserve their liberty, and neither do those who try to persuade the gullible that their like exists.

I wonder whether I expect too much of life.

Wrong Way Round.

I had another little thought about the adage To serve is nobler than to rule. It’s interesting, is it not, that it’s the rulers who are referred to as ‘the nobility.’

Wine and Word Issues.

I heard somebody on the TV the other day refer to a ‘wine factory.’ It doesn’t seem right, does it? Beer is made in a brewery and whisky in a distillery, so why does the most ancient of urbane intoxicants have to make do with coming from a factory? Polystyrene receptacles and dog food come from factories. Wine should come from some place with a posher name than that. Maybe it does, and I just know what it is. I’ll bet the French have a posh name for places where wine is made. Maybe some kind French person will enlighten me.

And did you know that pottery doesn’t come from a factory either, at least not where I come from which is the traditional home of the British commercial ceramics industry. Pottery is made in potbanks. Don’t ask me why.

And on the subject of words, here’s a little mystery brought up by Chief Inspector Mayo in the TV series:

Those who select are called selectors; those who elect are called electors; those who prospect are called prospectors. So why are those who detect called detectives?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A Dark and Stormy Night.

If any night deserves to engage Snoopy’s typewriting fingers, tonight is a good candidate.

Dark? Definitely. Stormy? Certainly. And the rain hitting the window sounds like a skeleton suffering an attack of Saturday Night Fever.

I’m about to go to bed and wanted to write something lyrical, so I did. Ha. The question of why a wine factory is so called can wait until another day.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Doubting the Sound Bite.

An old favourite adage of mine is:

To serve is nobler than to rule.

Let’s take an obvious example. Nelson Mandela was a server. He sacrificed his liberty and spent his life serving the causes of justice and equality. Hitler, on the other hand, was a ruler.

Like all convenient sound bytes, however, it omits to mention the complications. What of those who serve their perception of God’s will by murdering people? And what of those rulers who rule not for the sake of self-aggrandisement, but selflessly in the interests of their subjects. There have probably been a few.

It’s why I rarely coin or quote convenient sound bytes.

Thinning the Syrup.

Something like a hundred years ago, or very nearly, I bought a copy of The Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha and tried to read it. I didn’t get very far. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I made the bottom of Page 1. I found the prose style syrupy and couldn’t be bothered to wade through it.

Being currently short of a decent read, however, now that I’ve finished Slaughterhouse 5 and Kafka’s Meditations (which is very odd, by the way,) I decided to give the Cervantes classic another shot. It isn’t syrupy any more, which probably means I’m growing up, at least where books are concerned. It’s perfectly easy to read and actually very enjoyable. And since the original was written in 17th century Spanish, I suppose I should do a thumbs up to the translator.

There is one problem, however. Unlike Dracula, Frankenstein and The Duh Vinci Code, there’s nothing to lampoon. It’s just a solid, rational, entertaining read. And I expect it has hidden depths, although I wouldn’t know about such things. I’m not that grown up. All of which means that I probably shan’t get any blogging material out of it, which is a shame. If there’s one thing I need, it’s blogging material (I never mention the others.) But you never know…

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

In Praise of Mayo.

I made a humungous discovery last night. I discovered that YouTube has episodes of Mayo available for me to watch again, about ten years after they were first shown on the TV.

Mayo is one of my all time favourite cop shows (or ‘detective dramas’ as we prefer to call them in the Old Country. It’s just that more Americans than Brits read the blog these days, so sometimes I like to pay homage to the fact by talking their language. I’m grateful. I am. Note, however, that the preferred Brit term is alliterative and therefore more sophisticated. But still…)

Strictly speaking, Mayo isn’t actually a drama. It’s more of an intelligent spoof masquerading as a drama. It’s quirky and stylishly presented, with slightly oddball main characters and a wealth of subtle humour. I’m convinced it’s why only one series was ever made. It was simply too good for a mainstream audience.

And the leading character – Mayo himself – is my kind of detective. In the first episode, a murder has been committed in the grounds of an expensive private clinic and he’s interviewing the Principal. The Principal is a wealth-obsessed psychotherapist dressed all in white and smooth as chocolate of the same colour. He’s cocky, evasive, possessed of a phony mid-Atlantic accent, much given to hip mannerisms and street-speak, and utterly vomit-inducing. He points Mayo to a large sign in his office which says:

NO Special Relationship’s

‘Why the apostrophe?’ asks the detective.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s a plural not a possessive. There shouldn’t be an apostrophe.’

‘I have more important things to worry about than the sign writing.’

‘OK, but you’re the one who looks stupid.’

Or something like that. As I said, Mayo is my kind of detective. If you can tear yourself away from all things Hallmark for an hour, you can watch him here:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Learning to Fake It.

By a long and tortuous route which I won’t bother to explain, I came tonight to remembering the time when I was a boy soprano in the church choir. (True – between the ages of 8 and 11. I must have looked a pretty neat sight in black cassock and white surplice, set off by some sort of bronze medallion hanging around my neck on a red ribbon. My mother would surely have been quite unable to restrain the tears if she’d seen me, only she didn’t because she never came to church. I often wondered why I did, and I asked her when I got older: ‘Why did I go to church?’ ‘Because you wanted to.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But I didn’t want to. I always thought you made me.’ ‘No.’ Isn’t life a mystery?)

Anyway, my most abiding memory of being in the church choir was the singing of psalms. Psalms have attached to them the most boring tunes ever written. They seem to start nowhere and go nowhere, they just float indiscriminately up and down like a codfish on cannabis. There’s nothing to get a handle on, and so they’re quite impossible to learn. I didn’t bother; I just sang whatever came into my head, and you know what? It always sounded right.

Changing Times, Cate, and Cat Fights.

The article I was reading on Catherine the Great sought to dispel the more lurid myths which took hold after her death. It said that she had twenty two male lovers (all human) during her reign, and went on: ‘While this would be considered modest by today’s standards…’

It would?

*  *  *

During my late teens I had a spell in trainee retail management. One day I was sitting in the canteen taking lunch with my then girlfriend – the ubiquitous Mary Davies who makes a habit of turning up on this blog – when one of the older women decided to have a go at me:

‘My husband says that real men either do labouring jobs or work in offices. He says men who work in shops are wimps.’

Mary, bless all 112lbs of her (which I could lift above my head in those days,) grabbed one of my hands and thrust it forward for general inspection.

‘Look,’ she hissed, ‘he’s got calluses.’

Which I had. Mary seethed; the accuser did the dismissive look; I smiled; times change. You get to be a member of the club these days if you’ve got a job at all.

Pauline Gets Famous.

For those who don’t know, Pauline Cafferkey is a British nurse from Glasgow. She was one of those who took a great personal risk by volunteering to help Ebola victims in Sierra Leone. She caught the disease and has subsequently been the object of intense, apparently often experimental, treatment, and has become something of a celebrity in consequence. She’s now off the critical list and is showing signs of improvement.

Good for Pauline. Let’s wish her all the luck in the world, because the world needs people like her far more than it needs most of the people who are famous for other reasons.  

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Dinosaur Resurgent.

I’ve just been reading the Wiki article on the women’s suffrage movement in America. It makes fascinating reading, and an interesting thought occurred to me.

I remember once being told (I assume accurately) that in Anglo-Saxon England a woman could obtain a divorce from her husband simply by standing in the middle of the village and stating her grounds publicly. And yet in 19th century America, women weren’t even allowed to speak in public. And when a woman in North Carolina filed for divorce on the grounds that her husband had horsewhipped her, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court denied the petition, saying "The law gives the husband power to use such a degree of force necessary to make the wife behave and know her place."

That’s 1,000 years of progress and a useful lesson in human nature.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Boleyn Conundrum.

We all know that Anne Boleyn was the great Wronged Woman of English history, don’t we? Executed on a trumped up charge in order to get her out of the way so that Henry could marry somebody else.

Actually, we don’t know that. In tonight’s hour-long documentary on Anne’s last days, a bevy of noted authors and historians were given the line ‘What I think happened was…’ and then let loose to present their theories and rationales. The trailer for the programme suggested we were going to get to the bottom of the sad affair. Trailers always do…  

Did Henry want Anne dead and order Thomas Cromwell to engineer the evidence? Did Cromwell engineer it on his own behalf because he and Anne weren’t exactly best mates? Was it an example of complex courtly protocols coming unstuck at the seams and creating a tragedy by accident? Could the charges levelled at her even have been true after all? Each of these theories and more were espoused by different members of the august body of experts and argued at length.

The privilege of making the final pronouncement was given to the youngest and prettiest of the historians (well, to be precise, the only one who was young and pretty. And, much to my approval, the only one to stand outside the whole process and say ‘historians don’t always give you all the facts.’) She said:

There’s enough evidence to keep the historians interested, and enough doubt to ensure we’ll never know the truth.

Ah, right. So that was an hour well spent, then.

Personally, I find Anne’s confession before and after receiving the final Eucharist the most compelling evidence of all. I’m voting ‘innocent.’

(And I’m tempted to suspect that Anne and Henry were respectively reincarnated as Catherine the Great and Tsar Peter III of Russia, and that revenge was sweet. Being neither a historian nor a Buddhist, I have no evidence to offer.)

Death and the Maidens.

A few years ago I wrote a couple of pieces of flash fiction and posted them to the blog. The point about flash fiction is that it should tell a complete story in a specified small number of words. I went for the 100 words category last time; this time I thought I’d try 50.

*  *  *

‘Who are you?’ asked Peter of the wraith standing at the foot of the bed.


‘But who were you in life?’


‘All right, so what was your name?’


‘Same as mine.’

‘Quite so.’

It was five days before the alarm was raised and they found the body.

*  *  *

The posts are becoming obsessed with women and death lately. It started even before I discovered Lady Gaga and the capacity for magnanimity.

(I avoided making the post about what’s missing in the appeal of Lady Gaga. It was too obvious and would have put me back to where I was about three years ago.)

Keeping the Herd Hungry.

I was just listening to an old Irish ballad called Lone Shanakyle. Shanakyle is the site of a common famine pit in Ireland, in which thousands of victims were buried during the famine years.

It occurred to me to wonder whether the famine years are given prominence in the schools curriculum, not as an historical curiosity, but as a lesson in what happens when the social elite and a complicit government collude to protect pecuniary and political interests at the expense of ordinary people.

I doubt they are. People might start wondering about the food banks that have suddenly sprouted in Britain and are groaning under the strain.

Friday, 9 January 2015

An Odd Pet.

My favourite Black Widow spider
Was really quite cute in her way
She ate all her seventeen husbands
And married a new one each May

The January Trend.

I experienced my first house move at the age of two months in the month of January. I made several subsequent house moves in January. I joined the navy in January and, two years later, left the familial nest to set up my own place in January. I returned to my home town six years later – in January. I began two ignominious affairs in January, both of which soon descended into difficulty and ended acrimoniously. I came perilously close to ending the whole damn thing one January 1st.

I wonder whether this is a variation on Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I also began blogging five years ago this month. It opened up a new world which can be fragile at times.

La Magie Francaise.

It seems that Ravel’s Bolero has the capacity to re-arrange my disordered brain cells a little when they’ve become disjointed in the dark mist of uncertainty and infinitely variable perception. It’s a bit like putting a magnet under a scattered mess of iron filings.

Remember me saying that Bolero always conjured up an image in my mind of a procession of the world’s cultures parading through a city? A French woman commented on YouTube (assuming my French isn’t even worse than I think it is) that she always sees a procession of elephants. That’s nice. I like elephants. And I always did have a soft spot for French women (well, Amelie at least.)

On Ignorance and a Dark Mist.

That horrible business of the Paris shooting is being cited, not unreasonably, as an attack on civilisation and free speech. The concept of civilisation is subjective, of course, but it’s still a reasonable position in the circumstances. For me, however, the pre-eminent question it raises has been asked for as long as humans have had the mind to ask it:

Can any cause be more important than the lives of individuals?

My instinctive answer would be ‘no,’ but it takes only a matter of seconds to see the relative components of the dispute start dropping into place, and realising that there’s no definitive answer because none of us knows what life is about. For me, that’s the point at which life gets veiled yet again in a dark mist of uncertainty and infinitely variable perception. It also raises another question:

If God really does exist, can we ever hope to reach It without first removing the barrier of religion once and for all?

Is that a contradiction in terms? Some would say so, but I don’t know.

I hate making posts like this. I’m off to hide behind some jolly music now.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Practice Starts Here.

When I asked the dentist’s receptionist today how I would know whether I’m allergic to latex, what she actually said was: ‘Has any part of you ever fallen off on account of coming into contact with a prophylactic?’

No she didn’t – just getting the hang of this lying business.

Reforming Old Habits.

The receptionist at the dentist asked me to complete a questionnaire today. It was in two parts: medical history and bad habits. The medical history part contained questions like have any bits of you ever fallen off on account of catching leprosy? and are you allergic to latex? (‘How would I know whether I’m allergic to latex?’ I asked her. She didn’t answer.) Anyway, the ‘no’ box got ticked for all that section.

The problem came with the bad habits part. I find it so difficult to lie, you see, so when the question is how many units of alcohol do you drink a week? I have to write ‘lots.’ That’s the point at which the people in white coats close their eyes disdainfully, raise their noses to the heavens, and wail ‘You are the architect of your own misfortune and not worthy of our sympathy.’ ‘But what about the basic human right to take risks?’ I respond. It cuts no ice.

I blame the people at the church when I was a kid. They were forever telling me ‘You can lie to people, but you can’t lie to God. He sees what’s in your heart and will punish you for uttering an untruth.’ Religion can be such a fear factory.

Well, I don’t believe that stuff any more, so I think it’s about time I started lying through my teeth. I might practice on this blog. Beware.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

On Society Belles and Filed Teeth.

There was a woman in Sainsbury’s today who looked as though she might have been something of a society belle in her time. On the tall side, slim, handsome, lightly tanned, long blonde hair, but most of all possessed of that look which suggests she’s been accustomed to the repeated attentions of men with more Ferraris than brain cells. What most commanded my attention, however, were the letters SMLC embroidered across her sweater, topped by a lion passant.

We crossed several times during the course of conducting the shop, and several times I pondered what the letters might mean. The LC could have stood for ‘Ladies Club,’ but I had no ideas at all for the SM. Eventually it occurred to me that she might have noticed my taking a disproportionate interest in the area of her chest, and when we landed on adjoining checkouts I decided to set her mind easy. I crossed the short distance:

‘Excuse me. I’ve been puzzling over what the letters might mean.’

‘What letters?’

‘The ones on your sweater.’

She looked down.

‘Oh, those. I’ve no idea. They were there when I bought it.’

‘Needn’t have bothered puzzling, then, need I?’ I said.

‘Maybe I should make something up in case anyone else enquires,’ she replied.

‘I think you should.’

I accosted her again as we were leaving:

‘Have you thought of anything yet?’


She was a lot friendlier than I make her sound.

*  *  *

I also paid a visit to my Transylvanian dentist today, the incomparable Medeea whose exalted reputation should be well established by now. I pointed out the tooth with a hole at the back where a piece broke off when I bit something hard a couple of months ago.

‘There are three things I could do,’ she offered. ‘I could put an additional filling in there, but it would probably collapse eventually. I could file the sharp edges down to stop them scratching your tongue. Or I could put a crown on it.’

A crown? That sound posh, doesn’t it? I’ve never had a crown. Peasants generally don’t, you know.

‘How much would a crown cost?’  I asked, masking my excitement with a natural show of nonchalance.


‘!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’ll take the sandpaper.’

She did a good job, as ever. It doesn’t scratch now, and it cost me £18.50.

I remember reading once that the inhabitants of some Pacific island used to file their teeth to a point in order to better facilitate the eating of human flesh. I reckon it was a load of colonial baloney. I gather human flesh is very similar to pork when cooked, and people who eat pork don’t need to file their teeth, do they?

Transylvanians, on the other hand, have an entirely different reason.

On Being Naive.

I just listened to Ravel’s Bolero for the first time in a long time. Somebody remarked that Bolero is unashamedly erotic. I’ve encountered that opinion before, but I never saw it that way. I heard this piece as a child, and the image I had was of representatives of all the cultures on earth, dressed in their finest national costumes, taking part in a grand sunlit procession through the streets of a city, there to sit down and celebrate being part of the human family.

That image is still with me, which I suppose proves what a case of arrested development I am.

Fake Spooks, Prodigal Sons, and Injustice.

The fake paranormal documentary I watched tonight was about a family being menaced by a couple of really nasty child ghosts – the sort that frown at you through the bedroom window and pull the blankets off the live kids’ beds just because they can. Excuse the cliché.

It was supposed to be real, but how real is it when the paranormal investigators capture the ghosts clear as day and in living Technicolor on their camcorders? It doesn’t happen, does it? If it did, nobody would be able to say ‘I don’t believe in ghosts’ ever again.

The best bit for me was when the man from the local church was called in to perform an exorcism. He was bald and 6ft 10” of pure blubber. In true man-from-the-church fashion, he reassured the benighted mother that she wasn’t going crazy, and called her Debbie with that simpering tone of voice that makes you want to vomit. At that point I found myself changing sides and wishing the ghosts would bounce him down the stairs. They didn’t, but neither did they leave. I like it when that happens.

The bad bit for me was that the whole thing was set in Pennsylvania. I like Pennsylvania. It has warm and scintillating associations. Arguably the biggest sparkle my life has ever known comes from Pennsylvania. Why not South Dakota, which is the only American state that has never visited this blog?

To conclude, Debbie put the house up for sale. ‘Until the house is sold,’ intoned the narrator gravely, ‘Debbie lives in constant fear of the unknown.’ Don’t we all?

*  *  *

I hear the Republicans are now running America and want a return to the good old days when poor people got the health services they deserve. We’ll take the better ones of you Yankees back if it all gets too much.

*  *  *

And since I’m nothing if not disjointed these days, I might just mention an old injustice. When I was a kid and my parents went out on a cold winter’s night, my mother would instruct me to switch on their electric blanket at 10 o’clock. Sometimes I forgot, and then I would feel terribly guilty. Why should I have felt guilty? I didn’t even have an electric blanket. That didn't occur to me at the time, but now it's simmering.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

On Just What Happens in New York.

My mind is taking a few strange turns lately. It can be quite disconcerting. I now know, for example, why people you see in asylums on the TV howl and scream a lot and hide under beds when they think nobody is looking. So far, I’m resisting the urge to buy an axe and a typewriter.

What I’m finding more difficult to resist is the urge to use up what little money I have by taking a trip to somewhere far away, just to see what happens. New York is favourite at the moment. It keeps jumping up in front of me, like one of those pockmarked steel targets they used to have in fairground shooting galleries, and whispering ‘visit me’ in precisely the same way that ghosts do in fake TV paranormal documentaries (like the one I watched tonight.)

But I imagine you must need lots and lots of money to be in New York just to see what happens. Then again, I might just have a fortuitous chance encounter. I might just meet a woman sidling along the sidewalk, and ask her:

‘Excuse me, madam, do you think you might see your way to directing me to a suitably inexpensive hostelry where I might rest my suitcase while I wait to see just what happens?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Do you think you might see your way to directing me to a suitably inexpensive hostelry where I might rest my suitcase while I wait to see just what happens?

‘Are you nuts?’



‘I expect so.’

‘So why aren’t you in some asylum, howling and screaming and hiding under the bed?’

‘I prefer to remain incognito.’

‘Oh, right. So why me? Are you a stalker as well as a fruitcake?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘So why me? Give me a good answer before I call the cops.’

‘You have an interesting face.’

‘An interesting face? Are you kidding me? Don’t you know who I am?’


‘I’m Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta.’

‘Gosh. How many of you are there?’

‘Aha, therein lies a tale, you crazy Englishman.’

(The Old World magic is working, and at that point she winks provocatively before continuing.)

‘Tell you what I’ll do…’

And then she proceeds to tell me how lonely she is deep inside where the crowds of adorers and hangers-on aren’t allowed, and how she’ll give me free use of the ten bedroom shack which stands on her estate and is only half a mile from the little mansion itself, and how she’ll pay me $100,000 dollars a year to talk to her once a month – say, every second Wednesday at 2pm for three hours – and how I can have all the soup I can eat.’

I frown and look hesitant for a carefully calculated span of time. She grows increasingly anxious… My response is timed to the millisecond.

‘What sort of soup is it?’


‘Oh good, my favourite.’

‘A deal, then?’

‘A deal.’

‘I’m twenty eight.’

‘I’m not.’

‘It shows.’

Then again, I might just get mugged.