Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Ghost in my World.

That old fixation on Emily Brontë is back. It’s as though every now and then her ghost walks through the door and demands attention, her limpid eyes staring steadily and softly before shifting to steel and spearing the mind until the heart capitulates. Charlotte said of her sister: ‘An interpreter ought always to have stood between her and the world.’ Emily was dead by then, otherwise I think she would have asked the same question I do:

'Which world?'

A Life in Two Halves.

I found this little gem and realised how appropriate it is. The first part is where I’m going, and the last part is where I’ve been.

Please ignore the middle bit, which has no relevance to me whatsoever – past, present or future (especially…)

Dawn of the Brain Dead.

If I were the sort to wilfully murder the English language by acknowledging the legitimacy of the verb ‘to trend’ I should be inclined to report that there’s a strange video currently trending on YouTube. Since I’m not, would you please pretend that this post is being written by somebody else? Thank you.

What this other person finds strange about the video is that it’s called ‘What’s the choice in this election?’ and is a pep talk given by Martin Freeman (of Sherlock and Hobbit fame) on behalf of the British Labour Party. It’s had 22,900 views already, apparently.

What’s strange about it is that anybody with at least one functioning brain cell is capable of working out for themselves that the Labour Party has no notable history of nastiness, unlike the Tory Party which has always considered nastiness (at least to the lower social orders) to be a matter for celebration. To put it another way, nobody with even half an ounce of common sense needs to have their voting intentions influenced by a celebrity. So who, I wonder, are the 22,900?

Monday, 30 March 2015

Walking the Road that Suits.

I sometimes wish I’d been a child prodigy – one of those kids who cast aside the rattle before they’re old enough to crawl, preferring to construct complex melodies on a tin whistle instead. By the time they’re old enough to talk they’re already virtuosi par excellence, and go on to spend their lives being watched by half a million YouTubers and getting likes:dislikes in the ratio of 10,000:1.

Not for me, though. Being a child prodigy leads inevitably along the road of endeavour, accomplishment and recognition, and people like me aren’t comfortable on that sort of glistening surface. I’ve had a marked mistrust of endeavour, accomplishment and recognition ever since… but that’s a long story. In retrospect, I think a life of drifting without ever getting anywhere in particular was probably about right.

But here’s an interesting thought: Is it better to be a nobody or a has been? The nobody doesn’t have anywhere to fall, does he? But I suppose that’s the negative view, and maybe I can blame it on my early life mentor, the great Bob himself. One of the first lines of his which I remember being impressed by was:

When ya got nothin’, ya got nothin’ to lose.

And now I’m even struggling to remember which song it comes from.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Breasts and Questions.

On thumbing through the TV listings tonight I came across a programme called Bodyshockers. First on the agenda was ‘A woman who regrets her double G breast implants.’

Question: Am I supposed to know what a double G breast implant is? Is this one of those universally known facts that have passed me by, courtesy of my tendency to be both reclusive and naïve? (‘You mean you don’t know what a double G breast implant is? Where’ve you been all your life?’)

The fact is, I have only a vague idea what a breast transplant is at all, and even less comprehension of why anybody would want to have one. (See? I even get it wrong. I should have said 'implant.' Are they different?)

More questions:

1. Would it be worth asking whether there is such a thing as a double A transplant/implant, or a double X one for that matter?

2. Do the purveyors of such procedures ever have promotions?

Buy One, Get One Free
Have a breast and brain implant at the 
same sitting and get the cheapest free!

Well, maybe this goes some way to explaining it: There was another programme listed called Ibiza Weekender, the synopsis for which reads:

Imogen discovers that Jordan has set his sights on Rachael and the two girls have an almighty showdown.

I see a duel in the dust at high noon: enhanced breasts at fifty paces; first to get both barrels on target wins.

I suspect this all says more about the culture than it does about the quality of TV programming. Or maybe it just says more about me than I care to admit.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Peasant's Retailer.

I get a little bit irritated when I hear people complain about charity shops. ‘High Streets are full of bloody charity shops these days,’ they say, as though charity shops are on a par with the blight of 1960s concrete tower blocks just waiting to be demolished. Here’s three reasons why I think charity shops are a damn fine thing:

1. Financially challenged people like me (and plenty more) can pick up as-new quality clothes from top names at a small fraction of what they would cost from the mainstream shops. That makes them a great leveller.

2. They recycle functional items, thus reducing waste and pollution in an already over-polluted world.

3. Best of all, the profits go to good causes rather than into the coffers of corporations or the oversized pockets of hideously overpaid executives in their company Audi A6s. (One of these days I might explain why I’m negatively fixated on the Audi A6. But for now…)

I got just what I needed from a charity shop today – for 50p! That’s less than the bag of chips cost.

Friday, 27 March 2015

On Standards and Silent Draws.

I’ve said before that people without standards must have a relatively easy life, since they can slouch through the whole experience without bothering to maintain anything. Those who do have standards owe it to themselves to live up to them, since only by so doing can they approach the final curtain with any vestige of hope that they might have got something right.

And so it was that I was sitting with my lunchtime bag of chips – watching the multitude pass by and wondering who was the aid worker and who the estate agent – when I decided that today’s maxim should be:

When you feel the horse fly bite, don’t swat it. Blow it away gently, preferably in the direction of a horse.

The horse won’t thank you, but at least you’ll be paying funds into the karmic bank account. (See, it all comes back to self-interest in the end.)

*  *  *

And since I mention estate agents, the next bit of Catherine Tate might amuse. (And incidentally, for those not familiar with iconic British TV shows I should explain something, just so you get one of the jokes. Silent Witness is about a team of forensic pathologists. It has lots of scenes set in the mortuary where non-speaking bit part actors in green pyjamas pull open big metal draws that slide silently and efficiently on well oiled bearings to reveal waxy corpses with body parts missing.)

A Moment of Value.

I was waiting to cross a busy road in a town today. The traffic flow was unremitting – first one way, then the other, sometimes both ways at once. I was just beginning to think that I might have to stand there for an hour and a half until the school crossing lady turned up with her lollipop which says STOP, when I noticed that an approaching car was slowing and a gap was appearing in the flood. The woman driver gestured to me to cross, and so off I nipped with grateful pace. I smiled, waved and said ‘thank you’ and she smiled and waved back.

Such an incident is a highlight in a grey, scurrying world. It’s pregnant with significance, not the least of which is that it makes me wonder whether living among the human animal might be made to work after all.

A Little Paradox.

When I opened the curtains of my office this morning I saw a small bird lying on the path by the greenhouse. It was a dunnock, one of the commonest of European woodland species.

I saw that its leg was twitching, and thought it might have dazed itself flying into the window glass. It isn’t uncommon at this time of the year when courtship is preoccupying them and they’re chasing each other around. As far as I could tell, it appeared otherwise uninjured.

Fearing that it would chill, I dashed out and picked it up to cradle it in my hand to keep it warm. It usually works and the bird recovers quite quickly. Its eyes were open at that point, its leg was still twitching, it felt warm, and I detected a slight struggle as I held it. It didn’t last long. After about ten minutes its eyes closed and it was dead.

The death of a bird is a matter of great consequence to me because I venerate all life and have a particular fondness for birds. And yet it also produces an odd paradox – how supremely important every individual life is, and yet also how inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It’s one that I haven’t resolved yet.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Breaching the Last Bastion.

Somebody said to me a few months ago:

‘I want to live in my own head. Everything else is illusion.’

My reply is hopelessly belated:

‘For God’s sake don’t, not unless you can be sure that only those expressly invited can get in there with you. Bulls in china shops have nothing on the gatecrasher who invades your head, deliberately or otherwise. The damage can be mind-numbing, the sense of violation chillingly real. Your head is your castle keep. Once that’s breached, there’s no further retreat. If you can’t get rid of the invader – and doing so isn’t as easy as it sounds – you’re in trouble.’

Today’s other three posts never got written.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A Modern Addiction.

1.10 am: I edited a post and clicked Update.

Error. Try again.

I tried again, and again and again. No good.

And then I noticed that my internet connection had dropped out, so I turned the power off and on again. Still no good, so I turned the power off and on again… again. Mmm… Call the ISP.

‘I have no internet.’

‘What’s your phone number?’

‘***** ******’

‘Routine maintenance, 1-6 am.’

‘So it’s going to be off all night?’

‘Could be.’


Periods of blank, followed by periods of idle musing, followed by games of Free Cell and Solitaire, followed by Thinks: Sometimes it isn’t off all that long.

It came back on at 2.15. Jump straight into YouTube and pick up some music. Relief. Balm to the soul. Update the post. Phew.

Pathetic, isn’t it? Whatever happened to the days of hunter-gathering?

Admitting a Dark Condition.

Many years ago I had root canal treatment on an infected molar. Unfortunately, a tiny piece of infected tooth was left at the very tip of the root and became a chronic condition. Mostly it lies dormant, but just occasionally it flairs up and reminds me that it’s still there. And here’s a psychological parallel:

I can’t come to terms with that horrible incident in Kabul in which a young woman was beaten to death by a mob. It seems she’d been arguing with a mullah, and he’d accused her – falsely as it turned out – of burning a copy of the Qur’an. The accusation was heard by somebody in the crowd and then a crazed, animal-like gorging on the madness of mob violence took over.

I find this incomprehensible. It doesn’t compute. It confuses me, and that confusion leads my mind to the tip of a root deep down where a tiny bit of residual prejudice normally lies dormant. I feel hints of racism and Islamophobia, and that isn’t good. I push them away and acknowledge the chronic condition openly. It helps, but I still don’t like it.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

On Avengers and Conquerors.

Lately I’ve taken to watching re-runs of the classic 60s TV series The Avengers. It’s very silly, utterly implausible and endlessly engaging. Tonight’s episode was all about some ne’er-do-wells murdering poor George the Computer (a wooden box about three feet long with some lights attached and said to be the most powerful computer in the world) who was about to reveal a dastardly plot against the Establishment.

What most caught my attention was the establishing (no relation) shot at the beginning of the programme. It showed some gates and a group of buildings, and on the gates was a sign which read Cybernetics and Computor Department.

The spelling errer isn’t mine.

*  *  *

And then I watched yet another historical documentary on the Normans. I don’t know why I do it. We English peasants still hate the Normans nine hundred and fifty years on, and still view the Battle of Hastings with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And since my surname at birth was Godwin, I have a personal reason to hate William (the bastard!)

It was also one of the things that set me against my stepfather who sided with the Normans (and whose name wasn’t Godwin…) He said it was a southern thing. He came from London, you see, and tried to instil in me from the age of six onwards the notion that the southern English are a class above us northerners. (It took a long time to get him out of my system.)

I turned the programme off just before the Norman armada was about to cross the Channel. Couldn’t face it.

*  *  *

And a final note: There’s an enduring question around The Avengers regarding which of the Avengers girls was the best. In my opinion, there's no contest. Emma Peel had all the class, charm, beauty, elegance and emotional range. She has to take the top step. On the other hand, Tara King defined sexy. I gather Patrick McNee said pretty much the same thing.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Demonstrating My Point.

You know how I’ve often questioned the value of trying to force everybody into higher education? Well, this is what happens in a world where you’re required to have a 1st class honours degree to get even a receptionist’s job.

An Undefined Suspicion.

There’s an advert in my Hotmail account for retirement planning. I look at it and feel suspicious of the concept; the term ‘retirement planning’ causes me some consternation for some reason, even though I have no justification whatsoever for knocking those who plan for retirement. I’m sure it’s a perfectly sensible and reasonable thing to do. And yet I’m still suspicious and curious to know why.

I think it has something to do with the way we’re expected to structure our lives in modern, so-called developed cultures. There’s a nagging sense that it has become too structured, and there’s a further sense that it’s all part of an overall picture in which the great majority of wealth gravitates to a tiny minority of people. There’s a whiff of artifice about it; it feels unnatural. The picture accompanying the advert shows an anonymous executive in a smart grey suit ‘helping’ a middle aged woman in pearls plan for her retirement. The middle aged woman looks happy and pleased that she will be secure when the time comes. She also looks wealthy, while the executive looks merely functional. And yet it feels as though the converse is skulking behind the manufactured image.

This is all just an undefined muse, and I suppose it ultimately comes down to the fact that money and material acquisition is paramount in the modern world. We’re conditioned to chase it while we’re working, and we’re conditioned to expect it when we stop. Meanwhile, the bankers, the entrepreneurs and the corporate world take all the real wealth, and the same people are the ones who charge for their services to help us plan for retirement. Maybe that’s the root of my suspicion.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

At Peace with the French.

The English rugby team beat the French rugby team 55-35 today, and that reminded me of the mutual belligerence that is supposed to exist between the English and the French.

I never hated the French. All the French people I ever met were perfectly nice to me, and I got on perfectly well with them. There was the French lorry driver to whom I gave directions (in French) and who reciprocated the favour with a 10-pack of Gaulloises. There was the delightful Hélène from Le Pui who just dripped all that chic for which French women are supposedly renowned. And there was the bunch of French guys I worked with once – they were over here doing an installation job for my employer, and I got the translating assignment because I’d learned a bit of the language at school. They invited me to their lodgings one evening and plied me with absinthe, while I practiced my terrible French on them and they practiced their terrible English on me. It was a potent combination which produced much silliness and hilarity (and I should never have driven home; I shouldn’t.)

And on the subject of the French and silliness, I’m further reminded that I like this bloke. I’m posting the English language trailer because the French one doesn’t have the canoe scene.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Looking Both Ways Through the Window.

I remember hearing once that they burned Jeanne d’Arc twice – first to kill her, and then to reduce her body to ash so there would be no grave for people to venerate as a shrine.

*  *  *

I was talking to another woman the other day. I said:

‘I don’t see any point in trying to make the world a better place. It seems to me that it’s supposed to be bad, as some kind of testing ground, maybe.’

‘But that’s the point,’ she replied. ‘We need to try in order to promote our own spiritual growth.’

‘Maybe you’re right, but I’m not convinced there’s any such thing as spiritual growth. I’m tending to the view these days that we only come here because we enjoy the experience of being physical.’

‘So why would we volunteer to be born into a life full of sorrow and suffering, as some people are?’

‘I don’t know. It’s like everything else in life: it doesn’t make any sense once you step outside the circle and look back in. Maybe even souls like white knuckle rides.’

*  *  *

And yet oddly enough, I still think of Jeanne d’Arc as a rather splendid woman.

Body Parts.

An American woman I once knew always asserted that ‘dancers have the best legs.’

Well, every time I watch that clip of the opening sequence from Riverdance I’m reminded of just how much pleasure legs are capable of bestowing in the right hands.

Entente et la Belle Dame.

I just listened to Charles Trenet’s original version of La Mer on YouTube. There followed a long conversational thread in the comments.

First a German man berates the French for hating Germans. Back comes a French woman who hates the Germans for hating the French. Then she turns her fire on the English for not teaching our kids about Dunkirk (which isn’t true) and the Americans for forgetting that the French helped them kick the Brits out. Indignant American replies by berating the French for accusing Americans of being poorly educated. Then another American joins the Gallic ranks and claims that the average French teenager is far more adroit than most Ivy Leaguers. And an Englishman enters the lists by pointing out that the British two-fingered insult was designed purely for the French (by mediaeval English archers) and rightly so.

Shouldn’t we be over all this by now? All you have to do is think of Amelie.

(And isn’t it interesting that the whole conversation was in English?)

Friday, 20 March 2015

On Plunging and Things Spectacular.

At around 9.30 this morning I noticed that the light level was a little lower than would be consistent with the time of day and density of cloud cover. I’d heard that we were due a solar eclipse today and assumed it to be responsible, so I checked with the BBC website and found I was right. The hint of something resembling early twilight lasted a few minutes, and then the level returned to normal.

Tonight the website news page was full of enthusiasm for the ‘spectacular’ event, and said that the earth had been ‘plunged into darkness.’ What a lot of tosh.

So then I paid a visit to my old home city and went into the centre for the first time in several years. I used the public toilet at one point and saw something written on the mastic between the wall tiles in one corner. It said (phone number) teen LHD look. I was intrigued as to what ‘LHD’ might mean, and kept thinking ‘local hard disk.’ I doubt I was right. I imagine it was code for something known only to the denizens of a subterranean world into which I have never plunged, spectacularly or otherwise.

But much to my delight, the museum had a copy of the Sutton Hoo helmet in a glass case – part of the display relating to the Saxon Hoard coin find which was made in the county, and some of which is kept there. Now that was spectacular.

Seeking Democracy in May.

The burning question at the moment is who to vote for in the upcoming General Election. The constituency in which I’m registered is a safe Tory seat, you see – so safe that a broom handle would get elected if you put a blue necktie on it and lifted it high enough to look down its nose on anybody who doesn’t drive at least an Audi A6 (preferably black.) Voting any way but Tory is, therefore, pointless. That’s how democracy works with a first-past-the-post system.

So what do I do to keep this clueless, toffee-nosed bunch of psychopaths from continuing to run my country? (It might have become obvious by now that I’m not the biggest fan of Tory ideology.) If I went for the unthinkable and voted Tory with the rest, I would have to face the prospect of doing a Thomas Cranmer by shoving my right hand in the flames of the execution pyre when my conscience got the better of me. ‘This hand that shamefully marked a cross next to the name of Patrick McLoughlin shall be the first to burn!’ Don’t fancy that. It seems the only possible chance of throwing the Tories out is to vote UKIP, and that isn’t really practicable. I’d be far too convulsed with a fit of the giggles to have any chance of holding a pencil straight.

What I would really like to do is vote for the Scottish National Party. There’s some consternation in political circles at the moment (almost exclusively in Tory ranks) that the SNP might hold the balance of power in the event of a hung parliament, since they’re expected to more or less sweep the board in Scottish constituencies. Tories don’t like the SNP because Scots generally don’t like the Tories and hardly ever vote for them. (This is a historical phenomenon deriving from the not unreasonable assertion that Tory ideology was responsible for the Highland Clearance, and we all know how nasty that was. If there’s one thing the Tories are good at, it’s being nasty.)

The SNP said today that ‘The English needn’t fear us.’ I don’t fear them. Scottish socio-political principles always struck me as being a lot more people-focussed and civilised than English ones, so if they get to hold the balance of power I’ll be the last to complain. Unfortunately, I don’t have that option since SNP candidates only stand in Scottish constituencies.

So what do I do? Exercise my democratic right to abstain, I suppose. It’s about the only way to make my opinion count for something.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

All Eyes on Israel.

I was saddened to read that Mr Netanyahu and his Likud Party won the election in Israel. My first thought was that the Israeli people had missed an opportunity to regain the approbation of the world after that excessive nastiness in Gaza. My second was to wonder whether the result had made Israel a more dangerous place for Israelis to live. But now I have to come down to the wire.

When the powerful Israeli military machine was killing and maiming innocent Palestinians and their children by the trainload, it was tempting and easy to excuse the ordinary citizens and blame it all on Netanyahu and his hard line cronies. But the ordinary citizens have now voluntarily returned the hard liners to power, so where does that leave the world community and its attitude to Israel?

Could it be why the powerful American political machine has openly stated its disapproval of Netanyahu’s campaigning rhetoric, most notably his promise never to allow the creation of a Palestinian state? Could this be the beginning of America finally distancing itself from Israel?

I expect there are complex power politics in play here – there always are – but I still think it’s a space worth watching.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Twenty Four Frustrations Revealed.

There was a news report today about three judges who have been sacked - and another who has resigned voluntarily - over the fact that they've been watching porn videos on their official internet connections. It has to be said that the porn wasn't of the illegal variety, but it still adds an interesting and unexpected flavour to one's image of the judiciary...

I never found the sight of women taking their clothes off particularly erotic. I never found frilly lingerie even slightly erotic. As for cleavage, it belongs in the trash can with the week-old bits of bacon rind which it closely resembles.

What I find erotic is the first 60-90 seconds of this video. Eroticism can surely be a sacred thing, encapsulated in the matter of beauty, promise and privilege.

On a more mundane note, imagine you were the dance director of a group of young people achieving something like this. Wouldn’t you be so damn proud of them?

Brits Being Rightly Indignant.

Anybody reading this blog who is not endowed with the honour of being able to call themselves British might be interested to know that the breed of human represented in the following sketch is remarkably common in the sceptered isle. Remarkably. They think, dress, decorate their homes, and talk just like this. I’ve rubbed shoulders with countless examples during the course of a life less ordinary.

In terms of political allegiance, they infect the landscape across the spectrum, although these days they’re increasingly likely to offer obeisance to Mr Farage’s troupe of lovable clowns. They’re one reason why I err on the side of being a recluse and voting Green Party in general elections. To little avail, I might add.

A Birthday Note.

No, not my birthday, but that being celebrated today by one of the world’s rarest creatures: somebody I’m fond of. In the process of offering greetings, it occurred to me that I don’t think I ever celebrated any of my birthdays. It always seemed to me that the very concept of celebration only makes sense in the context of meaningful things like achievement or deliverance. Celebrating something which just comes along every year whether you want it to or not always struck me as being a bit strange.

And that led me to thinking about how the advertisers view age. Ads aimed at young people are all about fun, excitement, adventure, sex, romance and aspiration. Those aimed at the elderly take as their themes concepts such as slowing down, becoming increasingly reliant on younger people and gadgets, and generally sinking into a state of relative worthlessness. However brightly they are presented, the subliminal message seems to be that ageing is a cause not for celebration, but for the onset of shame. I’m tempted to wonder whether this is one time when they’ve got it right.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Rough Cut Gem.

Two videos in one night – unforgivable, but understandable I hope.

I watch this to experience the sheer loveliness of Cara Dillon, the wearing but undeniably legendary Paul Brady, the enigmatic and unsung heroine behind the harp, the ever-perfect fiddle playing of Ally Bain (who becomes ever more inflammatory as the night wears on – a fact I discovered to my cost a couple of times) and the sad story it tells. But mostly I watch it for the piano playing of Sam Lakeman. I’m not generally a big fan of the piano, but sometimes it just works in the right hands.

The Maltese Falcon Unstuck.

This appeared in my Recommendations on YouTube tonight. I had to listen to it, didn’t I? By Jove it takes me back a bit, back to the foot-loose, fancy-free, callow youth days.

I went alone to a nightclub one balmy May night, and this track was still a staple. I looked around the dance floor at the jinking bodies, not so much heaving as huffing and puffing, and there among the throng was a blonde vision of loveliness in a cheesecloth dress. She was dancing alone, so I thought it no more than dutiful that I should keep her company.

Aside: I could dance, you know. I could. I know that because an Essex Girl once told me so. Imagine that! An Essex Girl! Recommendations don’t come much higher than that on this side of the pond. You’d have to hear the accent to know what ‘You’re quite the mover, aren’t you Jeff?’ sounds like, but it certainly had a touch of music about it. She was an actress, which is irrelevant, and I never danced like John Travolta, thank heaven. But I digress…

So, the cheesecloth dress and I kept station for a while through several dances and several drinks and much conversation, and then she disappeared. Well, I don’t like being dropped, you know? I don’t. Even though I had no idea where she’d gone and why, it felt like being dropped and I decided it wasn’t going to end there. A bit of Humpty Go Kart was called for. The problem was, the conversations hadn’t revealed very much about her. I knew her name was Monica (which is fictional to protect the guilty,) that she lived somewhere south of Stafford, and that she was a student teacher. It was enough. The following day I began by visiting the only teachers’ training college in the area and engaging in relaxed conversation with the janitor.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that I eventually tracked her down to an amateur dramatic group in a town about twenty miles away. I joined the group and turned up for rehearsal one evening after work. And there she was, sitting on the far side of the room. We stared at one another a few times, and then she came over during a break in proceedings.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ she asked. ‘Would you like to come over and meet my husband?’


Fortunately, she was nothing like the vision I remembered. It’s the nightclub lights that do it. They soften the image, and then they cloud your vision and screw with your perception. What looks and smells like honey eventually tastes like raw molasses. I expect she felt the same way about me. Lessons learned all round.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Musing on Hiatus.

If you’re not feeling communicative there’s no point in trying to force communication. Sometimes you just want to withdraw and live in your own head for a while. There’s nothing wrong with that, but some people just don’t get it.

You know the type: those uncomprehending half-wits who decide that you’re being unreasonably glum and it’s their duty to cheer you up. And so they grin excessively and inanely; they chivvy you with petty imprecations; they unwittingly pile misery onto your melancholy; and when you finally snap and become very stern with them, they call you a miserable bastard and walk away in disgust.

Worst of all are those people who tickle children. I remember it well. They thought tickling me would bring me out of myself, would cheer me up. Well, it did bring me out of myself, but it didn’t cheer me up. It caused me to scream bloody blue murder at them and try to tear their freggin’ fingers off! Eventually they would give up, presumably concluding that Jeffrey is a very strange child. It’s my earliest recollection of realising what an abject pile of shite an awful lot of adult humans are.

(I love the fact that Word doesn’t recognise the word ‘shite.’ It’s a good word, and probably of Irish origin. ‘Gobshite’ has a different slant, but that’s a good word too. So should I add them to the dictionary? Don’t think so. I think I’d prefer that they remain a little subversive.)

*  *  *

And on the subject of adult humans being an abject pile of shite (wiggle wiggle) I was reminded yesterday of something my daughter said around ten years ago. She claimed that child sex abuse is rampant in the hidden underbelly of British society, and she would be very careful about what sort of institutional activities she would allow her children to engage with. She came by this knowledge from her own experience of an inner city school, and from what she’d picked up from the word on the street. People told her she was just being paranoid, as people do.

Yesterday, the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, made an announcement. She said it was becoming evident that child sex abuse is endemic in the British Establishment, and that the hundreds of allegations currently being investigated by the probes into historic abuse will prove to be only the tip of an iceberg.

I somehow doubt that only the British Establishment is so afflicted. Why would it be? But at least our law enforcement agencies are all part of a homogenous body controlled by one government department. I wonder whether national probes into historic abuse would be practicable under a federal system. It could be the saving of some very guilty people.

*  *  *

To conclude on a happy note: One of the great pleasures in life is to sit by an open fire on a dark winter’s night with a cryptic crossword.

1 Across: Look to what’s inside in order to feel satisfied. (7)

Got it?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Twenty Four Frustrations.

I’m posting too many YouTube videos lately. Must stop. It's just that I don't have much to talk about at the moment.

Be grateful I didn’t post the one featuring a dozen Irish ladies’ legs which make you hate God for:

1. Creating two sexes.

2. Inventing time.


(It’s easier to lay the blame there than on the Director of Photography for being a bit gratuitous with the camera angles.)

Mother Russia's Top Side.

This is from the days when the Russians were not only the good guys, they were the best guys. It’s my favourite dance from the original Dublin version of Riverdance the Show, 1995 PP (Pre-Putin.) For all the delights of Gaelic and American culture in that production, this Russian routine shone the brightest in my opinion. The combination of virtuosity and a sense of sheer joy is utterly compelling. Even the slight imperfections add to its charm, and if my ears don’t deceive me, I’d say they got the loudest applause of the night from the Dublin audience.

By a fortunate coincidence, it also encapsulates the most vibrant period of my life: a veritable cornucopia of delights and other things beginning with D. That’s why I had to find it again. Things went a bit downhill after the heady heights of the mid to late 90s, and they’ve never got back up to standard. Maybe I should have emigrated to Russia.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Shades of Illusion.

For several weeks last year these eyes drove my mind to a place wherein it no longer has any right to be. They’re doing it again. I love the way they eschew the ‘come hither’ stereotype, and go instead for ‘submit, or else.’ You’d never dare grow tired of these eyes, would you?

Meanwhile, I’m curious to know why the tabs on my Firefox browser have started to display Chinese characters every time I type a reply direct into the comment form. I decline to believe that the Chinese Ghost is feeling competitive.

Dreams can tell you a lot about yourself, just as wearing oversize clothes can make you believe you’re thin.

Pause for Thought.

Mel told me a sad and sobering true story tonight. It concerned the niece of a friend of hers, a 32-year-old woman who was married, had a 2-year-old son, and was five months pregnant with her second child.

She was driving home one afternoon with her son in the back seat, when she felt what she thought was a panic attack coming on. She turned into a side street and parked up, and then called her husband to explain. She said she would be home in about fifteen minutes. Twenty four hours later, the police, responding to a missing persons alert, found her car. She was dead, with her body turned around in the driver’s seat to face her son. She had no known medical conditions and the cause of death remains unexplained so far.

My first reaction was a sense of horror at the ordeal suffered by the little boy – trapped for twenty four hours alone in a car with the body of his dead mother. Surprisingly, he showed little sign of distress apart from complaining of the cold, and is still showing no indications of trauma. Why is that, I wonder?

Is he simply displaying a high level of resilience, as children sometimes do to a surprising extent? Is he too young to understand the gravity of the situation? Or could it be that his mother – a very devoted mother by all accounts – somehow managed to reach out from beyond the veil to comfort him? The police thought it odd that the car keys weren’t in the ignition; they were on the back seat with the child.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Unstructured Life.

I was talking with Mel tonight about the different ways in which people spend their lives. Most do it in a structured way built on the twin foundations of career and family. That suggests a parallel with a three act play that has a start, a middle and an end. Others, like her and me, live it as a selection of often disparate episodes. Life to us is a comedy sketch show, only less funny.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Demanding the Truth.

Three nights ago the moon was a pale silver grey. Last night it was yellow, and tonight it’s yellow again.

So, I don’t want feeding any rubbish about filtration through atmospheric gasses, spectral separation by water vapour, or variations in refractive indexes. What I want to know is: who painted it?

*  *  *

I thought of something interesting to say on the subject of perception earlier, but I’ve forgotten what it was. Noting the fact that rain kisses some people but spits on others will have to do.

*  *  *

I read earlier that Mr Putin has admitted that he’d been planning the annexation of Crimea long before the referendum. Is this true? If so, it raises an interesting question: Should Bhutan replace Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council? (I’ve long had a soft spot for Bhutan, ever since I read that the king had banned TVs because they were a bad influence. I’ve also sat in that big circular chamber in the UN building, the place where mature, refined statesmen shake their fists and shout ‘Niet!’ and ‘Non!’ and ‘Up yours, you c****e b*****d!’)

Questionable Advice.

I remember some years ago when I’d put a lot of weight on and was seriously dieting, there was a standard piece of advice given by those in the know:

‘If you feel like munching between meals, don’t eat high fat, high salt, high calorie foods like crisps; satisfy your craving with a piece of fruit instead.’

Oh yeah? Whenever I eat a piece of fruit to satisfy my craving, I immediately get an even bigger craving for something savoury like a packet of crisps or a cheese sandwich. I just had a plum.


… imaginings and ancient memories. Of ghosts and heroes and golden carp pouting ripples on the surface of a misty pool. I remembered once, and then it faded.

An Impressionable Age.

I was about 8 when I was privy to my mother telling my stepfather about the suicide of a man who lived two doors away.

It began with the man’s wife coming home from a shopping trip, and then rushing into the street screaming ‘My boy’s gone. My boy’s gone.’ Mother and another male neighbour were the first into the house, where they found Mr So-and-so hanging from the loft entrance. The man cut the rope and lowered the body, which mother tried to resuscitate but without success. He was a retired miner who had suffered the pain of pneumoconiosis for some years, and the last thing she described was the brown discharge dripping from his lifeless mouth. To my sense of horror was added a layer of disgust which took some time to wear off.

That isn’t a nice thing for a sensitive and imaginative child to hear, and I wonder whether it contributes to your view of life from that time forward.

Debating in the Human Zoo.

So, you drop a pejorative but entirely rational comment on a YouTube video. Some guy misinterprets what you’ve said and counters with an irrelevant reply. You explain it again and the same thing happens. You explain it a third time, expanding the point and putting it a different way. You’re doing your best but he still doesn’t get it, or doesn’t want to. He obviously isn’t reading what you’ve written, but is disagreeing irrationally because he doesn’t like the fact that you’ve knocked his treasured view.

At this point you realise that he doesn’t have a measurable IQ so there’s no point in further discussion. You let it go and walk away. Now he decides that he’s won the argument.

That’s life’s justice at work, and all you can do is smile at the beckoning sunset.

Learning from the Box.

I was flicking through the TV channels with the sound off earlier and caught a few seconds of Jamie Lee Curtis in conversation. I learned that the easiest expression to lip read is ‘Oh My God!’ ‘Arghhh…’ is only the second easiest, since you need to see the eyes to distinguish it from a top C.

And then I was watching a Catherine Tate sketch and realised that my best course of action might be to marry a woman serving a life sentence in some American women’s penitentiary. I wonder whether they publish a catalogue.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

State Parenting.

I read today that the government is planning to include ‘sex consent’ lessons in the schools curriculum, to be given to all children aged 11. Clearly this isn’t about simple biology and mechanics as the old ‘sex education’ lessons used to be, but about the bigger and more complex matter of attitude. And it seems the state feels the need to take over.

The business of teaching sexual attitude used to be vested in parents and the pressure of over-arcing social axiom. The guiding principle was the received morality of the day, and this in turn was based on the prevailing religious teaching (even though a lot of people didn’t realise it, and such a basis raised questions of its own.) In the modern world this is apparently inadequate. Sex has become a matter of mere recreation; it has entered arenas which didn’t used to exist and become subject to previously unknown pressures. In consequence, parents can no longer be trusted to cope with it. So now another question presents itself:

Who is going to decide what children should be taught and on what basis? Furthermore, should we trust them? Politicians are no experts in either psychology or education, and it’s an open secret that government policies are influenced by commercial and other pecuniary pressures.

I expect time alone will tell. And since I’m not a parent of young children, should I care?

More on the Sequel.

Jurassic Park III won’t lie down. There’s something else I have to say on the matter, and it’s this:

Our intrepid foursome – Doctor Thing, the husband and wife who are there to look for their kid, and the kid itself – are all that’s left of the party that flew there. They are beleaguered to say the least, menaced on all fronts by dinosaurs which are not only homicidal, but also more intelligent than the average YouTube commenter and permanently hungry.

Suddenly they stumble on a huge pile of dinosaur shite and their eyes do the eureka look. This pile of shite must be all that remains of the guy who was in possession of the only mobile phone (I think he was the second one to get eaten) and they know that mobile phones are indigestible. How they can know it’s the remains of the right man is never explained; they just do. So they firk among the faeces until they find it (alliteratively, of course.)

But then it’s back to the boat where they get menaced yet again by a homicidal, intelligent, hungry dinosaur. The phone washes about the deck getting wet, but it still works (!!!) and Doctor Thing calls his wife back at the homestead.

‘We’re on Dinosaur Island and in trouble,’ he says. She breaks off talking to the neighbour and does the OMG! look, before rushing off, never to be seen again. But within hours she’s mobilised two aircraft carriers, a fleet of helicopters, three amphibious landing craft, and a battalion of marines come to kick ass. (That’s what marines do, I gather. The ones in Alien 2 said so eighty seven times, approximately.) How she achieved this fantastic feat is never explained; she just did.

In the event, the marines didn’t need to kick ass. The dinosaurs knew they were beaten and skulked off camera (implicitly.) And in conclusion, the Fortitudinous Foursome got rescued and lived happily ever after.

If I think of anything else I’ll post it here. This could turn into a series.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A Sequel Too Far.

I watched Jurassic Park III tonight. It wasn’t very good. The variation in sound levels between the action sequences and the conversational ones was quite maddening, on top of which it had more cheese than a good pizza, it was mostly illogical in most practical aspects, and it was generally pretty silly all round. In fact, it was most of the things a multi-million dollar film shouldn’t be. The one good bit was where the heavy gets eaten by something even heavier. We didn’t like the heavy because he biffed the hero, so I think we were supposed to cheer for the dinosaur. They got that bit right.

Sam Neil did his best, bless him, which pleased me because he looks remarkably like one of my nephews. He only had one bit of cheese, and that came right at the end. By then I was nearly asleep so it didn’t matter.

An Unexpected Consequence of the Cutbacks.

While I was eating my dinner tonight I watched a bit of the European Indoor Athletics Championships from Prague. I’ve never been big on athletics, but what kept me watching (apart from the fact that I hadn’t finished my dinner) were the prizes given to the top three in each event. Those who came second and third got a bunch of flowers each, and the winner got a bunch of flowers and a cuddly toy penguin.

Is this the shape of things to come? I hope it isn’t, because now I’ve got mild stomach cramps and I swear there’s a connection.

Being Ruby.

Right, after the last post I’m now in the music groove (instead of watching X Files.)

Alas, I can’t sing to you through the blog (and you wouldn’t want me to anyway – I don’t even do Raglan Road any more, just the occasional Parting Glass.) But I can tell you this:

Back in the salad days when I used to entertain the gang on camping trips, a favourite component of the repertoire was the old Stones classic Ruby Tuesday. I think it was because I was seeing my future there. My favourite recorded version wasn’t the original, however, but the one done by Melanie in 1971. It has the tone of insipient tragedy just about right.

And Melanie Safka came from New York. It seems that an awful lot of what’s good comes from New York.

A Muse on Mindlessness.

I’m developing a gripe against the local charity shops: the music they play.

One of them has the local radio station playing constantly, and its stock-in-trade is a slightly (only slightly; any lower and it might be entertaining) sub-middle-of-the-road mix of chat and mindless music. Most of the others follow the current trend in commercial shops for preferring a modern and mindless ballad style. It isn’t the classic ballad style of the great balladeers, more of a soppy, tuneless, characterless, formulaic attempt to instil a grinding sense of tedium in all but those to whom appreciation of tedium is already installed as default. What little melody is evident seems pretty much the same in all of them. In short, mindless.

The one exception is the YMCA charity shop in Uttoxeter. What they play is an equally mindless cacophony of indeterminate style and purpose which I assume is chosen by, or for the sake of, the eponymous Young Men. Only it isn’t the eponymous young men who shop there, it’s people like me, and what I like is elegant or quirky melody, imaginative bass and percussion, meaningful lyrics, and striking harmonies which have the power to shift your consciousness to a different, better place. I don’t do cacophony. It irritated me so much today that I left after about thirty seconds. Isn’t that just a little bit mindless?

But I did get a good premium beer called Corby Fox from Cumberland Breweries at only £1 a bottle. Must get a proper pint mug, though. Good beer definitely tastes better out of a proper pint mug.

I wonder whether there’s still time to watch an episode of X Files before retiring.

(Or should I talk about the mindless idiot with whom I’ve been having an argument on YouTube? Nah. When you’ve placed all your rational cards on the table, and he’s just getting angrier and ever more irrational, and is obviously determined to have the last, irrational word, all you can do is let it go. X Files would be less taxing.)

Friday, 6 March 2015


Re the last post about students who look like wives:

Am I talking rubbish again? I’m doing a lot of that lately. It’s a deflection device. It’s when I stop talking altogether that the worrying begins.

I sought solace in the incomparable Catherine Tate. I can usually rely on her to make me think at least, if not laugh out loud. The following clip is a monologue from The Valley Girl. I gather The Valley is in California, and the Valley Girl is a sort of American version of our Essex Girl, with one difference. The Valley Girl has standards at least, whereas the Essex Girl generally limits herself to aspirations.

A Student out of Character.

The main reason I enjoy watching the TV quiz shoe University Challenge is that I like spotting types. Modern students probably come from a wider variety of social backgrounds and sub-cultures than they’ve ever done, and I like trying to work them out – from their voices, mannerisms, hairstyles, modes of dress, and so on.

There was one young woman a couple of weeks ago – the team captain of one of the Oxford colleges, I think – who particularly intrigued me. There was something anachronistic about her, and yet at the same time familiar. Eventually I got it: she didn’t look like a student at all, she looked like a wife.

So what does a wife look like? Quite. That was what puzzled me, and eventually I worked it out. She didn’t look like a modern wife, she looked like an old fashioned wife. She looked like a character you might see in an Agatha Christie adaptation. And that set me thinking further.

It seems to me that becoming a wife used to mean something rather different to a woman than it does in these more emancipated times. I have the impression that most modern young married women don’t really see themselves as wives in the traditional sense; they see themselves as partners-with-a-piece-of-paper-to-prove-it. It isn’t quite the same thing. Fathers used to take seriously the business of giving their daughters away, thereby relinquishing control and the duty of protection to another man. And it seems the women took it just as seriously. They stopped being independent women and became wives. Critically, the change of status was so profound that they effectively entered a different universe and became different people in consequence, and so their persona changed from that of the maiden to that of the wife. I know there were exceptions, but in general I think that’s true.

And that was why this particular woman stood out. She appeared to radiate the persona of an old fashioned wife. I imagined that one day she might find her husband murdered in the library, and be quite discomfited until Miss Marple has worked out who done it.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

A Rare Moment.

Having had nothing to say today, I had to post this for one reason only: It cracked me up more than anything else has cracked me up for at least twenty years. The final line is genius.

And it isn't racist. The joke is on us.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


... I love this sketch, probably because it sends up people like me. It's worth six minutes if you want to see people like me being lampooned (and it's quite funny, if you like that sort of thing.)

On Personal Responsibility.

This is troubling me a lot lately, and by an odd coincidence it came up in a conversation tonight:

We’re told that each of us is a product of two factors: genetic makeup and environmental conditioning, otherwise known as nature and nurture. If that is the case, how can any of us be responsible for our actions? If I have criminal tendencies, or am prone to doing other bad things, how can you blame me? That’s how I’m made, isn’t it?

‘Ah,’ you might say, ‘but you have free will. You can see that you’re wrong and make the effort to change.’

Can I? Let’s suppose – as is likely – I’m genetically or environmentally conditioned to see nothing wrong in how I am. And even if I do recognise that I’m a bad person, suppose the compulsion that drives me to bad deeds is so strongly conditioned that I’m unable to overcome them. We’re back to the same question.

I sense that each of us must be held accountable for our actions, but is that rational? Is being held accountable the same as being deemed responsible? What’s the answer to this, and who holds it? The psychologists? The philosophers? The religionists?

As I said, this is troubling me a lot lately.