Saturday, 28 February 2015

Speaking Local.

Another thing about tonight’s X Files. There’s this dastardly Englishman, see – he’s the villain, the one who sets fire to things, including people. He’s sitting in a Boston bar when a female Bostonian sits down on the next stool. She’s obviously drunk and out for a cheap thrill, the cheaper the better. Suddenly she says ‘Hey, you’re English! I love that accent.’ I was a little nonplussed at that stage because he didn’t have an English accent, he had an American one. But no matter. What matters is that it gave me an idea:

Maybe I could get by in America just by speaking English. ‘Hey babe, talk to me. Mine’s a piece of cherry pie and a cup of coffee.’ Ah, but then there’s the language barrier to be considered.

Once upon a time I went America (not the last time, the time before that. I was seventeen.) I went into some kind of eaterie and ordered something with chips. I got French fries. So far so good.

‘Do you have any tomato sauce?’ I asked. (That’s what we called it where I came from.) The young woman looked confused.

‘Tomato what?’

‘Tomato sauce.’

‘You mean ketchup?’

‘Do I?’

She looked concerned – discomfited even – as she handed me a red plastic thing containing tomato sauce.

‘This?’

‘That’s it.’

Can I be a teenager again, please? I promise to do better next time.

Cheering for the Other Side.

I just watched an episode of X Files in which one of the prominent characters was a female English police detective played by an English actress. She overacted to a factor of about ten, and overdid the plumy English accent even more. For an Englishman, it was horrible to watch. Frankly, she irritated me to perdition’s flame and beyond. In the scenes she had with Gillian Anderson, dear Dana acted her off the screen, and outdid her in just about every other aspect as well. Just thought the Americans in the audience might like to know.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Tonight's TV Note.

I was skimming through the TV listings and came across the following:

This week’s edition of Gogglebox features (among others) ‘posh tipplers Steph and Dom, and hairdressers Christopher and Stephen, sharing (quote/unquote – I hate what modern culture has done to that once-noble verb ‘to share’) their opinions on what they’ve been watching on the TV this week.’ And all from the comfort of a sofa.

There’s a mystery here: I haven’t a clue what a ‘posh tippler’ is. It sounds as if Steph and Dom (which I assume is a diminutive of Dominique rather than Dominic judging by the five seconds I spent giving the programme a quick glance) are two erstwhile privileged kids from the Tory shires who were schooled at Roedean and now make a serious hobby of alcohol consumption in quantity. I know this isn’t very likely, but nothing about erstwhile privileged kids from the Tory shires who attended private schools would surprise me. What currently passes for a government is full of them.

My second issue would be to ask who the hell wants to hear the opinions of a few ordinary people on matters televisual.

(You’ve been known to offer the odd opinion yourself, JJ.)

Have I? Oh yes. OK, so let’s speculate:

The idea of two posh tipplers called Steph and Dom sharing a sofa with two hairdressers called Christopher and Stephen does have a certain… erm… flavour? Don’t you think? Or is it me?

*  *  *

I still haven’t made the serious post I promised. I’ve edited it many times over, but I can’t get the final sentence. Final sentences are so important.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

For the Sake of Saying Something.

I dislike going a whole day without making a post – even though I occasionally do – but the thing is this:

Today’s serious post will have to be allowed to go cold and then reviewed because I’m sure it will need further editing.

I decided not to post the ditty which rhymed ‘Coco’ with ‘joke-o’ because I knew it would be misconstrued. I thought it both funny and innocent, but I also imagined being accosted by a local farmer asking ‘I hear you’re a racist now, JJ. How did you get into that type o’ thing?’ And then I might have to cope with the mad woman going on about foreigners coming over here, taking our jobs and women and acting like they own the feckin’ place!

The only Ashbourne encounter today was too subtle to bother with. It was one of those situations characterised by repeated mutual glances, and terminated by a sense of both disappointment and self-reproach for presuming to judge others.

I suppose the dream was mildly interesting. It was about an old flame, only for the purposes of the dream she’d been re-cast as a man. What the hell does that mean? (We only talked.)

I’ve no idea, so I’m going to bed.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Cost of a Few Quid on Expenses.

Shortly after the last dinosaur began adding its contribution to the fossil record – I was around twenty two at the time – my employer sent me on a training course to Winchester. I left on Monday morning shortly after breakfast. The drive was an awkward one from where I lived in the East Midlands, and I didn’t arrive in King Alfred’s capital until quite late in the afternoon. Too late for lunch, but that was OK because expenses were a fixed sum so what you didn’t spend you kept. Who needs lunch when you can make a few quid on your expenses? I’d been given the address of a cheap boarding house a couple of miles from the city centre, so that’s where I headed and checked in. The room was sparse with just a single bar electric fire for heating, and it didn’t work anyway. Oh well, who needs luxury when you can make a few quid on your expenses?

I hung around for a few hours and then decided to make for the lights of the city (in Winchester?) I threw my raincoat over the flimsy sweatshirt I was wearing and went out. I got a bit of a shock. It was November and we’d had a good summer and warm autumn that year. It had felt like September when I left home – hence the lightweight attire – but now it felt like January. Winter had descended in a matter of hours. A hard frost was already setting in and my breath would have done justice to a steam train. The lightweight attire was clearly inadequate, and I was feeling pretty chilled by the time I’d walked around the corner to where the car was parked. No matter; the drive was just far enough to get the heater working and I felt suitably warmed when I parked up somewhere not far from the cathedral.

I wandered off in search of a hostelry. I suppose I should have been looking for a restaurant, but who needs dinner when you can make a few quid on your expenses? Eventually I found a pub that took my fancy and ordered a pint of bitter and a packet of crisps. I was shivering badly by that stage and felt the need to chew something. ‘Damn the expense,’ I thought. The packet of crisps joined the breakfast bowl of cornflakes as the only food I’d eaten that day. I got warm in the pub, and with the warmth came the onset of boredom. I decided to go to the cinema.

It took some time to find it, and I got very cold again in the course of searching. Find it I did, however, and went in. It was pleasantly warm in there, but the film was awful. It was unremittingly miserable and touched the rawest nerve in my psychological make up. When I began to feel nauseous I decided it was time to leave. I staggered out into the street feeling sure I was going to throw up any second.

It was cold out in the street, and a little busy. I needed somewhere private. A short way down the road was a junction giving access to a quiet Edwardian terrace – the sort of street much beloved of exorcists once the mist has fallen. It was a little misty that night, and deserted. Perfect. But not for long. I saw a woman walking towards me and instinct cut in. If you’re going to have standards you have a responsibility to live up to them. That’s one of my rules for living, and one of my standards forbids the act of vomiting in front of women, especially strangers who might be ladies, and even more especially if I encounter them in quiet Edwardian terraces. Besides, she might have thought I was drunk and felt uncomfortable. I crossed the street (in a zig-zag fashion, just so she could see what she was missing…) The next thing I knew I was waking up in the gutter, looking up at a street light with a lurid misty halo around it.

I hadn’t vomited, but I honestly wondered whether I was dead. I felt awful, and there was no human presence to convince me otherwise. Every window in every house was dark. I decided I wasn’t dead, although I still wondered whether the entrance of the heavenly choir was imminent. I was shaking like an aspen leaf in a stiff breeze. I got up and made for the car (it amazes me looking back that I knew where it was. I must have had a sound geographical sense in those days.)

The boarding house was cold when I got back. The bedroom was colder, and I already knew that the electric fire didn’t work. I stayed dressed, crawled under the frigid sheets, and went to sleep. I felt fine in the morning. And the training course was as boring as training courses always are, but at least I made a few quid on expenses.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Clear and Foreign Danger.

A group of scientists is claiming that it might not have been the much maligned Black Rat which was responsible for repetitive pandemics of Bubonic Plague in mediaeval Europe. They say it’s more likely to have been the Asian Gerbil. One scientist said ‘If we’re correct, we’ll have to rewrite that part of history.’

There’s something amusing about this, although I can’t quite figure out what the joke is. I think it might have something to do with the United Kingdom Independence Party feeling moved to rewrite part of its election manifesto.

Monday, 23 February 2015

On the Ultimate VIP.

Who is the most important person in the world? Obama? The Dalai Lama? The farmer who grows the food that keeps us all alive?

No, I am.

I say that because I’m coming to the tentative suspicion that the world of phenomenal reality – the world of mountains and murderers and music and call girls and cows that burp methane into the atmosphere – is but a contrivance, a stage on which the 7 billion real worlds can go about constructing themselves. I am at the centre of one of those worlds, and in it I’m the most important person.

(Isn’t it odd that this suspicion follows hot on the heels of another suspicion that I’m not actually anybody, and neither is anybody else? Is that a form of oxymoron? Maybe, but it sounds kind of smart if you have the mind to see it that way. Sounding smart to a small minority is fun, especially when they can’t answer back and put you right on what smartness is.)

So anyway, I’ve realised that this is why I prefer novels – good novels – to textbooks. And who decides what qualifies to be called a good novel? I do, obviously. The way I see it, textbooks only teach you about the stage, whereas a good novel teaches you about the nature of the most important person. That’s if you have the mind to let it, of course.

(I asked myself which novel taught me most about myself. It was a tough one, but eventually I went for Lolita. It taught me about worlds colliding and destroying each other. It brought out my grief instinct. And as a little aside, Nabokov was the answer to two different questions on University Challenge tonight. He was the only thing that was. Coincidence, I suppose.)

I came by these pointless thoughts as my current reading brought me close to the conclusion of A Bend in the River. For all it’s lauded as a classic of modern literature, I’ve found it mostly tedious. I realised that it’s because the world of the protagonist and my world have nothing in common. There’s no overlap, so while I’ve learned a bit about the stage – Africa in this case – I haven’t learned anything about Me.

Maybe I should write another novel, all about the world in which I am the most important person. The problem is, I still don’t know who I am and probably never shall. And suppose I get to the end and decide that I’m not anybody after all. Do I tear it up like a Buddhist sand mandala?

To conclude: The reason I’m wasting half an hour on a stream of consciousness that will be of little or no interest to anybody else is that I’ve had nothing to write to the blog for the past few days, at least nothing I’d want anybody to read. Seems I still haven’t.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Technology and Tell-Tale Traits.

I forgot to pick up my mobile phone when I went out today, and by the time I realised the fact it was too late to go back and fetch it. I thought of all the difficulty and distress that would have been caused if something had gone wrong with the trip, and came up with the three stages of Technological Dependency:

1. Enjoy the novelty.

2. Grow to rely on it.

3. Become enslaved to it.

And on the way out I called at the supermarket. My basket contained:

One bag of porridge oats
One can of kidney beans
One bottle of premium beer

That’s the sort of thing that gets you a reputation.

Considering the Dream.

I saw an advert in a travel agent’s window today:

Shopping trip. 4 days in New York. Flights direct from East Midlands Airport (my local.) £799.

Should I? The problem is that it doesn’t happen until November, and November is nine months away. That’s how long it took me to grow from a tadpole into something resembling a fledgling human, which just goes to show how much can happen in nine months.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Useful Sound Bites.

Somebody quotes Anais Nin in a blog post:

There are many ways to be free. One of them is to transcend reality by imagination.

Sounds like just the sort of thing you need to have written on your shirt cuff if you’ve been taken hostage by those IS people.

And here’s one of my own:

Self-discipline is an early casualty of both stress and alcohol.

Illogical, Captain.

There’s a video I occasionally watch on YouTube. It starts with a covering message which says:

With historic images of Dublin, old and new.

Duh?

Craving Useless Things.

I’ve been amusing myself again with the Catalogue of Useless Things that comes stapled inside the TV listings magazine. This week’s edition boasts an Everything Half Price offer, which is pretty hard to resist if it means you might get something useless for half the price it would normally cost. I picked out three which most tempted me:

3. A plastic plant with plastic leaves and plastic flowers in a plastic pot. The plastic flowers have little fairy lights in them – five in all – which have to be seen to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the overall design (allegedly.) They call it the Oriental Orchid Light, and I’m assured that it will ‘bring the joy of the Far East’ into my home. Well, I can think of a better way to do that (although I’m sure it would cost me rather more than a mere £12.99, one way or another.)

2. A Multi-Function Action-Spy Watch. I’m sure I’m just the sort of person the designers had in mind, since it’s said to be suitable for an action man who demands the ultimate. What gives it this distinction is the fact that it features ‘all those fantastic functions: compass, thermometer and dual time zones.’ Imagine what a change this could bring to my life. I could stride through Ashbourne with renewed confidence, declaring ‘the temperature is 7° Celsius, I’m walking north by north west, and it’s currently 10am in upstate New York.’ The thought of being an action man who’s acquired the ultimate was tempting, but I feared my arm might not cope with the weight.

1. I saved the best. Noiseless Incontinence Briefs. Now, I do realise that there’s nothing funny about incontinence or the means of containing it. What attracted my attention was the word ‘noiseless.’ Does this mean that briefs of lesser quality leave one prey to the undivided attention of children in supermarkets who tug their mother’s skirts and ask ‘Mummy, why is that man making a funny noise?’ Is this what the future holds? Instead of spending what little money I have on Useless Things, should I instead buy a one-way ticket to Barrow, Alaska, and find an uninhabited shack at the north end of town in which to live out my days?

(The plastic monkey which jumps and rolls around going OO! OO! ah ah ah [quote, unquote] when you take its banana away can have an honourable mention.)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Women: On Getting Wiser.

Remember me making a post recently about a young lad who asked me how to be successful with women, and I told him to make them laugh and always treat them with respect? I got it completely wrong, didn’t I? Completely. What I should have said was ‘If just being yourself doesn’t work, you shouldn’t be trying.’

See what advancing years do for you? And here’s something else they do:

I met Coco Law in Ashbourne today. Who is Coco Law? It doesn’t matter, but she’s quite delightful and her mother was a Chinese opera singer. She told me that there’s a Chinese New Year event planned in my home city on Sunday – including a dragon! (I like dragons.)

‘You should come over,’ she said. ‘I might see you there.’

Well, it sounds almost like a proposition, doesn’t it? I think I’d better decline.

Charity Begins at Home.

I just watched an episode of X Files, the plot of which revolved around the ghost of a murdered man who had once run a company selling defence equipment (in the circumstances, I suppose that should read defense equipment.) He’s cast as having been a good guy.

As the story unfolds, it’s revealed that this company has been selling their goods at exaggerated prices to a terrorist group, at which point the astute viewer will make an obvious connection: Terrorists kill innocent people. Lots of them. The more the merrier. That’s their job, and Mr Good Guy has been getting rich by selling them the equipment to help them do it. (The astute viewer has to make this connection unaided because there’s nothing in the script to guide him.)

But one day he learns that two American sailors got killed in one of their attacks. He has a crisis of conscience, breaks down, and decides to close the company. That’s what gets him murdered, and that’s what makes him a good guy.

Have I said enough to make my point?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Beauty Lies with Strangeness.

(The title is a paraphrase. What Shakespeare actually wrote was ‘Beauty lies with kindness.’ I can’t disagree, but it seems to me to describe a soft form of beauty. For the purpose of this post I’m not concerned with the soft form, but a sharper, more compelling form. I’m not concerned with what Shakespeare wrote either, but what somebody else wrote.)

So, this is a transcript of an email I sent to probably the most beautiful woman I ever met:

Beauty always has an element of strangeness.
~ Baudelaire.

In the essay, he went on to say that a certain amount of strangeness is the very thing which defines beauty. He suggested reversing the proposition and considering whether it would be possible to imagine a commonplace beauty.

Thought you might be interested.’

And do you want to know why I sent it? Well, it’s like this:

I always had the sneaking suspicion that she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever met, but I couldn’t come up with any rationale sufficient to propose something so outlandish, subjective and unquantifiable. She was certainly physically attractive, but that isn’t enough to justify the B word, is it? Nothing like enough. (Pretty girls are ten a penny; the cheap TV ads are full of them.)

It was when I read Baudelaire’s essay that the penny dropped. Now I understand why she’s probably the most beautiful woman I ever met. And that’s why I sent the email. See? I'm not expecting a reply.

A Nocturnal Possibility.

Mel suggested this evening that I should develop the habit of staying up all night and sleeping during the day. I can see the appeal, but there’s a worry:

The English countryside is replete with stakes. It seems that nearly everybody has one or more of them. Even I have one, although it’s pretty blunt. I’m sure they all have hammers, too. And where would I find three squeaky maidens to keep me company while I awaited the inevitable?

Current Reading.

The Bend in the River by VS Naipaul. The magic of Africa has just weaved its spell and resulted in an Indian and a Belgian having sex. The event is treated very thoughtfully, philosophically even, which means it isn’t terribly moving. Sweat is only mentioned once.

Nabokov does it better in Lolita. Maybe Russians and Americans should get together more often.

Existing as a Dummy.

Let’s go back a few weeks to Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse 5. (Let’s.)

The novel postulates, through a character, that existence is not a matter of temporal, linear flow, but a series of individual moments strung together to look like linear flow. Further, that these moments exist simultaneously, have always existed, and always will exist. (I suppose that’s how God manages to be omniscient, and how the Akashic records could be a viable possibility.) A person’s life, therefore, does not end when he or she dies. Every moment of that life continues to exist, and death is simply one of the moments.

I have a problem. How long is a moment? Anything we call a moment has to have a temporal span. If it didn’t, it couldn’t exist and nothing could exist within it (because there is no within.) So what am I missing?

And I was thinking tonight how much I like the idea that existence began with a sound.

In the beginning was the word…

Father, Son and Holy Ghost (sound.)

Tat, Sat, Om (sound.)

Only now I have another problem. Could somebody please tell me what there was before the sound was made, and could you please do so without using the word ‘nothing.’ That’s where I fall over.

I wonder whether Stephen Hawking reads my blog. I tried to read one of his books once and didn’t get very far. Clearly, I’m either very dumb or very lazy. I sometimes wish I wasn’t so ordinary.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Born at the Right Time.

Every time I see the word ‘girls’ I get taken back to my youth, and occasionally I consider how I would feel about being a teenager in today’s climate.

It seems to me that being a teenage boy now is not so different from how it was when I was there, expect in one important particular: teenage girls. God, how they’ve raced ahead of boys in everything but muscle mass. I’m not sure I would get through.

Funny or Not.

Are there any subjects that are unsuitable for humorous treatment? I can think of a couple that I would consider unsuitable, but others might disagree. So what about racism? Is there a difference between a funny story that is racist, and a story that is funny because it sends up the concept of racism? It’s an old argument. This clip comes from an episode of Father Ted which I consider to be one of the funniest and not at all objectionable. Others might disagree.

By the Fireside.

There’s something oddly satisfying about sitting by an open fire doing nothing. Turn off the TV, put down the book, just muse.

But then a blanket of introspection starts settling like a gentle but incessant fall of snow, gradually obscuring everything but that which lies within the walls of the shelter. Sometimes a little sleep comes falling with it, and with the sleep come little dreams that are of no value except to amuse or horrify. And sometimes also comes a sense of emptiness borne on the breeze of a life without allegiances.

I offered my allegiance to several people over the past few years – subtly of course, nothing obvious or expectant – but none of them wanted it. They all had allegiances of their own; there were no vacancies, no role for me to fill. That’s good, because incorrigible drifters never stop drifting, one way or another, until the final curtain begins to fall. Drifters can’t be trusted to be the same person this time next year, so what value their allegiance?

Monday, 16 February 2015

A King Herod Thing.

One of those pesky adverts I get on YouTube invited me to download a program which would 'eliminate embarrassing history.' I don't have any embarrassing history, unless you count this:


OK, I'm embarrassed, but unrepentant.

Unfathomable.

I’m in another one of those states of wonderment over why YouTube recommends I watch certain videos, since they’re supposed to bear some relevance to my watching habits. Tonight’s pick of three is:

1. Some bare-breasted men walking across a stage doing attitude.

2. A woman who sings opera in a skimpy bikini. Is one supposed to watch or listen? Anybody who can do both without suffering a serious psychological short circuit has to be a lot odder than me.

3. Best of all, The Carpenters! No comment.

On Reflecting.

Reading VS Naipaul’s A Bend in the River is starting to have the effect that novels of acknowledged high quality are supposed to have. It’s taking me into a viable alternate world – far removed in time, place and culture – and encouraging reflection. Is this a good thing?

Tonight it led me to reflect on the end of my mother’s life – how I took hold of it single-handedly and tidied it up. I felt a brief sense of a job well done, but then I asked myself whether it mattered. For whose benefit did I do it? The system’s mostly, to avoid the inconvenience of having loose ends floating around, cluttering up one tiny, relatively unimportant corner of a complex social organism. It certainly wasn’t for my mother’s benefit; her little life was over.

But this is a minor aside. The question is really all about the road and its purpose. The majority of us engage with our road and its individual structure of fine detail, but none of us knows why we do it. It’s just there, and so we do. I seem to have reached a floating stage in which there is no road, just a relentless drive to observe other people not observing theirs. There seems something ironic and frustrating about that, but maybe there’s a purpose to it. Is it part of some learning process, I wonder. How can I know?

It brings me back to Mel’s complaint about the unfairness of being thrown into life without a blueprint, and then expected to make sense of it. Do we need to? Does any of it matter? If you’re inclined to reflect, then reflect you will. But is that a good thing?

On a simpler note, there is one thing I still seem to be able to connect with – the game of rugby and the annual Six Nations Championship. It’s the only sport I get excited about these days. Not much of a tethering post, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Being the Barbarian.

I was reading earlier that the people from S.E.T.I. have been telling the delegates at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference that more effort needs to be put into the search. Some of the delegates disagreed, suggesting that it might be dangerous (presumably because the inhabitants of some star called D730/421X might be the interstellar version of Vikings and we don’t want any more of that sort of thing, thank you very much!)

Well, I’m not so sure. I noticed a couple of nights ago that Venus has become an evening star again, and she set me on course for a theory:

What I think is that all the planets in our solar system are teeming with intelligent, sophisticated life, and that they’ve all been here and taken a look at how earthlings conduct their affairs. They were so appalled that they constructed a cloaking device which makes their planets appear uninhabitable so we won’t go there. To them, planet earth is like one of those particularly nasty neighbourhoods we have down here – bad enough even for the people who are used to living there, and certainly not the sort of place you’d ever want to make subject to an exchange arrangement. And I expect they noticed that humans and chimpanzees are very closely related.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

State of the Nation.

While austerity measures make life ever more difficult for the poor in Britain, tax avoidance and evasion by the rich and powerful is the big issue at the moment. Politicians are engaging in much mutual accusation, and HM Revenue and Customs is doing its best to hide from justified embarrassment.

Meanwhile, there have been a few more additions to the growing list of teachers, clerics, MPs, doctors, celebrities, police, etc, etc being found guilty of sex offences, mostly against minors. I think it reasonable to assume that what we’re seeing is the tip of an iceberg. Who are we supposed to trust?

I would so like to have something funny to say.

Disappointments.

I’ve been watching some episodes of X Files on YouTube these past few nights. I used to be a big fan of X Files, but what a difference a gap of twenty years makes. Back then I thought the scripts sharp and sophisticated. Some bits still are, but much of the writing is sloppy, naïve and overplayed. And the poor quality of the uploads doesn’t help much.

*  *  *

The new flat screen monitor isn’t quite the wonderful experience I hoped it would be after thirteen years of using a CRT model. It’s too bright, even though I have the brightness turned down to 50%. The image resolution is relatively poor, even though it’s set to maximum. Worst of all, though, is the colour saturation, which looks washed out compared with the old monitor. I’ve adjusted colour balances but to no avail. To an ex-photographer, that matters. I’ve seen the same characteristics on flat screen monitors I’ve used in libraries and thought they just had the settings wrong. Seems not.

*  *  *

I fell asleep earlier and had a dream in which several of my regular blog visitors came to my house in the real world. One of them brought me a gift and I kissed the end of her nose in gratitude. She didn’t look best pleased, and it probably explains why I was never successful with women.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Nearly Forgot...

…I never made the post about the mad dog I met in Ashbourne this week. She was part Springer and part Red Setter, and a complete fruitcake. I got leapt at, licked, bitten and muddied. And when I moved away to get a bit of peace she stared long and hard, demanding that I come back here immediately! Meanwhile, her Cocker Spaniel friend appeared to be more than a little put out that her pal the fruitcake was getting all the attention. That’s a shame. I have a special fondness for Cocker Spaniels.

Neither did I make the post about my new-found interest in Africa and things African. I’ve always been a South and East Asia man myself; the Dark Continent (which is probably politically incorrect) hardly made the periphery of my interest. But that’s all changed, probably as a result of several coincidental references, not least of which is reading VS Naipaul’s The Bend in the River. The narrative is of variable quality, but the evocation of just-post-colonial Africa is compelling.

Maybe I’ll make them both when I stop being too bored to bother.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Out with the Old, Mostly.

I took some more faithful old friends to the tip yesterday. I’ve mentioned here before that I always find it difficult abandoning faithful old friends to the tip, but it has to be done sometimes. Old friends pass and life moves on.

And lately it’s been becoming increasingly apparent that my old CRT computer monitor is showing signs of age, which isn’t surprising since it will be thirteen in May. I’ve been thinking for some time that I’ll have to dig deep into the pocket and buy a new one soon, and so it seemed a fortuitous coincidence that I should come across a second hand Dell flat screen monitor for sale in a charity shop at the bargain basement price of £12.50. I had to buy it, didn’t I, even though there was no guarantee that it would work. I hooked it up today and it works just fine, so I think the old Relisys CRT model can now go into honourable retirement and let the young pretender take centre stage. Does this mean, therefore, that the old guy will be the next faithful friend making the one way journey to the tip? Definitely not.

Over the past thirteen years I’ve had three computers, several keyboards, countless mice, and so on. The monitor has been the one thing to remain steadfast throughout. I watched my fiction develop and grow through this monitor. Its screen was my window on the world during a time of deep and meaningful correspondence with a few very special people scattered around that world. And it showed me the genesis of this very blog five years ago. Those special experiences make it an extra special friend.

And so, for as long as I live and have any say in the matter, this old monitor will not be going to any tip. I may not have a pedestal to raise it on, but at least it can enjoy a well earned rest.

Being Unfit for Purpose.

I don’t know whether I’ve told this little story before, but if I have it was a long time ago. Time, tide and personnel have moved on since then so I might as well repeat it.

I was at a wedding once and a young lad of around twelve or thirteen came over and asked a question. He wanted to know how to be successful with women; he said that someone had sent him to me as the best person to ask. I was nonplussed since I’ve never been successful with women. The very concept seems tawdry since it suggests the player, and I’ve never been one of those. I never had either the looks or the throwaway attitude. I decided he’d been palmed off on me by someone who couldn’t think of an adequate reply, but I also decided that the buck might as well stop here.

‘Make them laugh and always show them full respect,’ I told him.

He smiled and went away, apparently satisfied. I do hope he didn’t become a player.

The Petard of Transparent Ego.

I read today that some actress or other from the mega-misery soap East Enders has been prosecuted for making a racially abusive statement. It seems she dropped a cigarette butt in the street one day, and when asked to pick it up she first replied ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ and then was alleged to have hurled the racist insult.

Well, today she was found not guilty and so we must presume innocence. And yet I can’t help feeling some nagging indecision as to which of her two alleged ‘offences’ should be considered the worst. And I’m not including the dropping of the cigarette butt.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Hidden Agenda.

Tonight’s TV ad of note:

Poor Joe Soap is an infected person. He’s sitting in the cinema coughing his guts up, in consequence of which the rest of the audience have removed themselves to the furthest reaches of the auditorium in order to be as far away from him as possible. Many of us would consider having so much space a fortuitous consequence, but not Mr Soap who is unhappy at being alienated from his fellow travellers on the road of life. He’s the very epitome of glumness.

And so he takes a sip of Lemsip©, and in no time at all (i.e. the next frame) he’s nestled securely among a crowd of well-wishers who are now happy to accept him into their company. The obligatory pretty girl in the next seat even smiles at him, which just goes to prove that not coughing is not only quiet, it’s sexy.

Ah, but… but… Mr Soap is still infected. Only the signs and symptoms have been masked. This would appear to indicate that the real purpose of the preparation is to dupe his unsuspecting fellow travellers into coming closer so that they, too, will become infected. Thus the infection is spread exponentially and the good people who manufacture the medicinal compound will be able to con more and more of us into buying it.

You’d think we’d learn, wouldn’t you?

Sparkles and Stings.

Life used to have sparkles in it, but with the sparkles always came the stings. Never was one without the other, and those two sensual imps – the seductive and the destructive – were what drove the rollercoaster.

Tonight I have three messages to send. One is a message of thanks, one a message of loathing, and the third a wordless appreciation of a vision – a picture of grace, charm and loveliness so eloquently entrancing that the imps themselves would quake at the prospect of interfering. (Although I expect they would still do so anyway.)

It’s hard having eventually to be anaesthetized by the cold light of harmless realism.

And it’s been ages since I had the wherewithal to be cryptic, but it’s also been quite a while since I saw something glint.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Employing Natural Remedies.

Vis-à-vis the previous post:

I’m treating my knee pain with a bottle of Shepherd Neame’s Bishop’s Finger. At 5.4%ABV, it might work. And then it will be onto the Glenfiddich 12-year-old malt, a bottle of which was given me today by my mechanic’s wife in appreciation of the fact that she doesn’t have to do his accounts (because I do.) They both strike me as more wholesome options than pain killers.  

Dead Blog Night.

I set this blog aside tonight to engage in an argument on YouTube. I don’t know which is worse – those mindless, semi-literate trolls, or the people who take the position of grovelling acolyte and fill the comment boxes with the nauseatingly obsequious (and then presume to tell me I’m ‘insulting’ the singer by calling her piece ordinary.)

So did today bring anything worth writing about? Well, let’s see, it brought:

1. Car woes. My friend Mr Ford might be about to ring down the curtain.

2. A lot of time standing around getting cold and miserable.

3. A near-serious traffic accident coming out of a tunnel on the way into the city. (My judgement was inch perfect, but the guy on the inside lane screwed up. True, like it or not. Fortunately, my brakes were up to providing the remedy, and so was the car behind me. Phew.) And then there were two other close shaves caused by drivers who seemed possessed of the notion that nothing and no one else existed. They were handled with commendable circumspection and three is a good number. You feel a bit safer after the third.

4. The mysterious onset of stomach cramps while eating my lunch.

5. The resurgence of unusually severe knee pain, which eventually eased off but came back again tonight. I’ve still got it.

So I’m in a bad mood. Bye.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Dramatic Unlikenesses.

Peter Cheeseman CBE, the man who founded the theatre where I used to work, once told me that I was starting to look more and more like William Shakespeare. I assume he meant the one who looked like this, since my hair was much longer then and there is a passing resemblance:


...not this one, which I've never liked and therefore repudiate out of hand:


He definitely couldn't have meant this one, which is included in the returned images if you Google Images of William Shakespeare and doesn't look a bit like me. In fact, I doubt this is Shakespeare at all, which leads to the not unreasonable suspicion that it might be the Earl of Oxford:


*  *  *

This morning I had an email from a once-precious person who I thought was lost forever. Tonight I had an uncharacteristically large piece of fruit cake after dinner, and subsequently fell asleep in consequence of an over-taxed digestive system. When I woke up I felt oddly convinced that the email had been the subject of a dream engendered by the fruit cake. Imagine what any of the Shakepeares might have made of that.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

...and Deliver us from Daffodils.

Eating daffodils is not a good idea because they’re toxic and can make you ill. OK, got that. But what about this:

Public Health England has written to all the supermarkets urging them to keep daffodils away from food displays as they might be mistaken for onions or Chinese vegetables. Good thinking, PHE. Let’s have a few illustrations to prove the point.

This is an onion.

 This is a Chinese vegetable,
chosen for its similarity to
the daffodil.

This is a daffodil doing a 
startlingly good impersonation
of the other two.

Can anybody tell me how the human race has survived its journey through countless millennia and still ended up in this paranoid place called Modern Times?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Southern State Irish.

I just watched this:



OK, it's tuneful and lively and passes a few minutes pleasantly enough. But one person commented:

Irish music swings

Hang on a minute. This was written by a man from Texas and has Grand Ol' Oprey stamped all over it. What the hell has it got to do with Irish music? If I wrote a song about meeting a girl in Beijing, would you call it Chinese music?

Being a Realist for Once.

I have another problem with the oversubscription of cookery programmes on the TV. I see all those experts putting all that time and effort (not to mention considerable quantities of ego) into producing supposedly delectable dishes, and I can’t avoid the temptation to imagine what happens to the food after it’s made the very short journey from the plate to the mouth. That’s the point at which the whole epicurean tendency seems shallow and even illusory, and that’s why I end up watching them for about ten minutes. Absurdity fascinates me.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

On a Paradox and Another Planet.

I was sitting by the fire listening to the popping of gas in the burning coal, and found myself asking ‘is that reality?’ I watched the meandering tongues of flame occasionally give way to purposeful plumes of smoke, and wondered whether that was reality. I felt the heat on my face and contrasted it with the chill air in the unheated kitchen. ‘Is that reality?’ And then it occurred to me that the question is a pointless one to ask, since you need to know the answer before you can define the word and know what you’re asking. That seemed to me typical of the unsolvable paradoxes you always come up against when you ask deep and damn fool questions like ‘what is reality?’ Oh well, just carry on regardless then.

(Actually, I still seriously suspect that if you insist on asking the question anyway, you need to be looking for the answer in the abstract not the phenomenal. But what would I know?)

*  *  *

I asked my friend Leila once, when she was in the advanced stages of her medical training: ‘What do you think happens when we die?’ She replied:

‘Our energy escapes and flies off to mingle with the cosmic soup.’

‘Does that include consciousness?’

She didn’t know.

*  *  *

And I felt a growing conviction today that we HSP types are not exclusively descended from early hominids like everybody else, but from something different which came here from another planet. Seriously.

Nondescript Notes.

I haven’t made any posts for a while because I’ve had nothing to say. Whether that’s because there was nothing to say, or whether it was because I wasn’t up to the task of saying it, I’m not sure.

I thought of telling the story of The Curious Case of the Lady Dog in the Lavatory, but decided that posts set in public toilets are a little coarse. Besides, the bizarre angle on the tale would probably have to be explained, and I hate explaining things.

I also thought of making a post about the TV ad for some hair preparation which proclaims NATURAL COLOUR! and then shows a picture of a woman with lurid orange hair. Her breasts look unnaturally inflated, too, which is probably immaterial unless you’re inclined to speculate on the nature of the target audience. But I think I’ve done ads a lot lately.

And then there was the letter I came across recently when I was going through some old stuff. It was written to my mother shortly before she died, and said:

It was nice to see you last week. I’d like to come again some time. Jeffrey was taller and slimmer than I remember him. I expect my memory is at fault. I wouldn’t have recognised him, but I would recognise his voice.

No doubt it explains why I was never any good at making anonymous phone calls. (Voice? What voice?)

Anyway, if ever there’s something to say and I’m in the mood for saying it, I probably will.