Thursday, 30 April 2015

Mixed Fortunes.

The Pyrenean Mountain Dog was trying to make friends with the Labrador, but the Labrador was having none of it. Fortunately, they both made friends with me.

The woman shop assistant who kept staring at me last week pointedly looked the other way today. Maybe she didn’t want me to see her acne. Too late.

It was a day for getting stuck behind slow vehicles. It started on the road out of the village, continued for thirty miles to the city and beyond, and happened again on the way back. It’s odd how so much of one thing can happen so close together.

I encountered a wizened little man who picked up on whatever I said, trivialised it in the extreme, and then wouldn’t stop talking. It got close to being torturous, so I stopped saying things.

I made what might be deemed a disparaging remark about Jimi Hendrix on YouTube last night. Judging by the quantity of replies in my Gmail inbox, I think I’m about to get hailed on like bananas…

I’m eating almost normally again. (I never stopped drinking normally.)

Respecting a Cold Mother.

Another Beltane Eve, another footfall on the road, another fire lit in homage to the earth that sustains and destroys us with equal ease. I’m alive because my body is nurtured by the fruits of the earth. My brother in Nepal is dead because the same earth shuddered. Our mother exercises her choices arbitrarily, but she’s still our mother.

Bits of Blue and Bad Plots.

It’s been a curious sort of day. In spite of being made very angry by the way I’m being treated by certain parties, and in spite of being a little worried by the onset of a physical malfunction the like of which I’ve never known, there were a few breaks in the clouds:

1. I haven’t been eating much for the past three days, so at least I’m losing weight.

2. I met the two most beautiful dogs I’ve ever seen. Their humans told me they were German Shepherd/Malamute crosses. The decision to cross them (unless it was accidental) was certainly inspired.

3. I discovered a delightful new beer called Hopping Hare by Badger Ales. It claims to be ‘crisp and zesty’, and so it is.

4. I think I finally got to the reason why I’ve been unable to stay with the same woman for longer than seven years - and usually rather less than that. (Not that the knowledge is much help. Too late, you see. When I finally encountered the one who would probably have transcended the difficulties, there were too many impediments. But let’s not spoil the bits of blue up there.)

5. I wrote a silly ditty which included the lines I’d like to wine and dine her, ’cos her mother comes from China. Lines don’t come much more inspired than that, do they? And all because of a chance encounter in Ashbourne. Weird world.

*  *  *

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve been watching the Geraldine McEwan recordings of Agatha Christie’s Marple over the past couple of weeks. I still have one to go. They’re very entertaining and the late Geraldine is delightful, but I never realised before just how laughably implausible Agatha Christie’s plots are. Has no one noticed?

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Enough.

Girding up the loins for the trouble that's coming. There's a limit to how far I'll be pushed. There won't be any updates.

Riding the Power.

I once made mention on this blog of the time I crossed the Atlantic in a small ship during a force 11 storm. This video comes somewhere close to illustrating what it’s like. The odd thing is that at the time I felt no fear at all, just a sense of awe at the power of the sea and a curiously thrilling awareness that in such an environment you’re on your own. Watching the video, however, scared the hell out of me.

On a mundane level, it might be noted that you get very wet (and cold) standing out on the bridge wings for two or four hours doing lookout duty, and the very finest drink in the world is the mug of hot chocolate somebody brings you on the hour mark.

Take Three.

I made a disparaging comment on a YouTube entry, and some wise guy replied:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Should I be thinking 'oxymoron' or does that have too many letters?

Early Swallows, Cycles, and the Question.

I saw the first swallow a couple of days ago and my thought went straight to that old maxim: ‘One swallow does not a summer make.’ Today there were five in the same place, and it still isn’t summer.

Nevertheless, the appearance of the first swallow is one of those significant events, like Christmas, which remind you that another orbit has come full circle and another footstep been taken on the road of life. And then those nagging old questions begin again:

The first one is easy: I wonder how many footsteps I have to take before I fall and fade away. The second concerns the matter of personal dualism – the notion that the mortal body and the immortal consciousness are independent entities working in partnership for the course of a human lifetime, before the consciousness completes a cycle and starts another one. I’m curious to know how much of me is my mortal body and how much my immortal consciousness, because that raises the most important question: when I die, how much of me will I keep, and how much will rot in the ground or go up in smoke?

And then I remembered that one of Delius’s loveliest short works is called Late Swallows. Apposite, I think.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bleats, High and Low.

There is a barrier to blogging at the moment. I can’t say what it is because I have a perverse predilection for protecting the guilty. I must just mention the local sheep, though.

Mothers and babies are all in the top field near the main road, and they get separated as a matter of course. The baby goes to sleep, the mother wanders off… You know how it is.

But then the kid wakes up and he’s hungry. He lifts himself onto legs that are still flimsy enough to totter slightly and he utters a bleat. It’s a plaintive, high pitched bleat which compliments the tottering perfectly. From somewhere far, far away comes a much deeper, more grown up sort of bleat. It begins.

You note the kid’s number, scrawled in spray paint on his fleece. This is Baby 8, so you look for Mama 8. And there she is, about 50 yards away. You look back at the sprog and note that he’s taken a few steps (totters) in the right direction. Mama bleats again. Kiddie bleats again. Mama stands steadfast while baby takes a few more uncertain but hopeful steps. And so it goes on until the distance has diminished and Mama’s beautiful face is recognised. Kiddie breaks into a gallop, goes straight into suckling mode, and all’s right in the world of ovine reality. You punch the air in triumph. It’s more thrilling than any football match.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Priestess Fever.

It is happening again.
~Twin Peaks.

And now I've discovered something else that is both astonishing and Australian. It doesn't live up to the first, but it's pretty damn good.

Monday, 20 April 2015

A Poignant Point.

If you were due to be executed the next day, would you go to sleep that night? It's a question that's always fascinated, intrigued and horrified me.

Onstage, Offstage.

Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania
~A Midsummer Night’s Dream

No love lost between those two, then. But do you know, when the theatre I worked at put that play on, the two actors playing Oberon and Titania kept disappearing after the show and nobody knew where they were going. And then somebody learned that they’d shacked up together in a rented cottage off the beaten track somewhere. I expect they were making up their differences.

Changing Horses.

You know, I get far more social intercourse these days through leaving comments on YouTube than I do on this blog. Take last night, for example. Lucy said:

I know… I just said that so people wouldn’t hail on me like bananas.

What a splendid phrase: ‘…hail on me like bananas.’ I’d never heard it before and I like splendid phrases. Cue conversation.

And there was another one around the question of whether a man gets his taste in women from the 99p shop or Primark.

It’s all deep and meaningful stuff, so I think I might scrap the blog and become a habitual YouTube commenter instead.

Does the Worm Turn?

On the day when yet another overloaded Libyan boat capsized in the Med killing most of the 700 would-be migrants, Nigel Farage of UKIP made an interesting statement. He said the disasters are the result of British bombing policy in Libya, and accused David Cameron of being directly responsible for the deaths.

Well, whether he’s right or not I wouldn’t know, but whoever heard of Nigel Farage being concerned for the welfare of foreigners? And yet he went further. He said that he ‘wouldn’t have a problem’ with granting some of the Christians asylum. Only some, mind, and only Christians…

I suppose it’s a start.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Jungle Mentality.

I’m not aware of any evidence that altruism exists in the animal kingdom, at least not in the wild. It seems there’s very little giving at all, and what there is usually occurs between parent and offspring or from a suitor to a potential mate. This, it seems to me, is a matter of biological imperative rather than any propensity for generosity. When I watch the birds feeding I see a pecking order in progress. Much as I love them, I see the big and powerful grab while the smaller, weaker and more timid ones wait.

It’s a reason why I take issue with those who say that the human being is essentially no different from the animals; that the only reason for our dominant position is that we have been lucky in evolving the kind of intellect which gives us the advantage in a material world.

I think we do have something which the animal lacks, something generally called ‘higher mind.’ This is more than mere intellect. It’s the faculty that permits us to peruse the abstract, to appreciate aesthetic worth, to weep at the sight of a hungry child, and to give freely without expectation of reward.

I note that there is a piece of advice given freely by those who see themselves as successful. It’s one of the very few things they ever do give freely: ‘Grab what you can. Do nothing for nothing. Get the highest price you can get, and do whatever it takes because the end justifies the means. That’s the way to become powerful and/or prosperous.' It’s good advice for those who want to emulate the animals, but entirely inappropriate to those who aspire to be human.

I further note that society is largely controlled and conditioned by the emulators, and that the aspirers frequently suffer at their hands.

*  *  *

This is far too late an hour to be making a post of this sort. My Jekyll and Hyde nature usually dictates that I be serious during the daylight hours and become silly after nightfall. I will, therefore, add an addendum.

I just watched an episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple and her damson gin looked delightful. I must find out how to make it.

Cooking the Values.

There’s a scene in Lord of the Rings in which we see Denethor, Steward of Gondor, picking over and chewing his morsels of gourmet delights while Pippin sings a less than merry song. It’s meant to convey the disreputable nature of the character. We’re meant be disgusted, and so we are.

I see the same thing every time I switch on the TV and catch yet another cookery show – the famous and the not-so-famous opening their capacious mouths wide to receive blood-ridden meat and puddings running with sugary sauces. And then they chew and chomp and slosh, while their faces become twisted with overstated expressions of earthly delight. This is joy, we’re being told. To me, this is the disreputable, uncaring side of decadence.

Because while my physical eyes watch these putrid little scenes, my mind’s eye falls on the places of famine, and the refugee camps, and the back streets of wealthy cities, places where the lucky ones among the unlucky millions get just enough to enable another wakening to another desperately miserable day. I’m reminded that 50% of the world’s wealth is in the pockets of 1% of the world’s population.

I don’t expect equality. I don’t even want a return to Puritan values. I have no objection whatsoever to people putting effort into their food preparation and enjoying it. I would just like to see the sense of outrage become more universal. I would like to think that a greater level of awareness and compassion might be on the rise. I suppose I wish that people watching cookery shows would question the value system being illustrated and recognise the level of excess, rather than cooing blandly over superficial and self-centred delights with their inner eyes well shut.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Going Against Type.

You often see comments on YouTube bemoaning the state of modern popular music and claiming that the good stuff began and ended with the sixties. That’s rubbish. OK, the sixties produced The Beatles and psychedelia and now we have Justin Bieber, but in general terms modern popular music is a lot more varied than the sixties stuff. It’s freer, more imaginative, more sophisticated, and musically more skilful than most of what was produced fifty years ago. Motown was nice, but it’s so naïve.

The track below is an illustration. Imagine trying to play that drum riff on a sixties drum kit. It couldn’t be done even if there was a drummer capable of doing it, which I doubt. Omnia’s drummer should be canonized.

Spotting the Type.

They say good things come in threes, don’t they? OK, so have a third Uttoxeter post to complete the set.

I was in a shop and saw a conversation going on between a middle aged man and an elderly one. It was obvious from their relative body language that the younger man held some sort of dominant position, so I sneaked a listen to the conversation. (It’s what I do. Since I don’t come from this planet, I feel entitled.)

It soon became apparent that the younger man was the older one’s landlord and was arranging to do some work at the property. Point established; move on. But it doesn’t quite end there.

I happened to follow the landlord out of the store and into the car park, so I decided to guess which of the line of cars he was heading towards was his. Well, it had to be the black Audi A6 with the personalised number plate, didn’t it? I watched and waited.

Yup. (Yay?)

(I have no idea why the woman assistant in Tesco kept staring at me, so I can’t make a post about that one.)

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Few Words in Uttoxeter.

While I was in Uttoxeter I went into Gregg’s to buy my lunch. (Gregg’s is a chain of bake shops which Mel insists sell rubbish food. I don’t entirely agree.) The young woman behind the counter saw me coming. She grabbed a paper bag and the serving tongues and made straight for the right cabinet.

‘Vegetable pastie? Hot?’

‘Yes. You always know what I want, don’t you?’

‘I remember you. Is that so strange?’

‘Yes. I’m not used to being memorable. I think you might get a mention on my blog tonight.’

‘Woo! Is that good?’

(When a Staffordshire girl says ‘Woo! Is that good?’ it can be meant either literally or sarcastically. You have to know how to read the eyes. I do because I was born there. She meant it literally.)

‘Not necessarily, but yours will be. And a piece of bread pudding.’

I’m really milking Uttoxeter today, aren’t I? It’s just that you don’t get this sort of thing in Ashbourne. Ashbourne is rather more genteel (it’s in Derbyshire and a safe Tory seat, don’t you know) and the people tend to be more restrained. Uttoxeter girls have an opinion as to where Ashbourne girls keep their pokers.

A Few Words about Uttoxeter.

I was reading a few words about the history of Uttoxeter today. (There’s a round stone thingy on which is writ Interesting Facts About Uttoxeter. It’s close to another stone thingy at which Dr Johnson stood in the rain all day by way of saying ‘sorry’ for something or other.)

Anyway, the few words said that Uttoxeter was founded around 600AD by the Saxons. Personally, I doubt that. If my reading of history is accurate, it would have been founded by the Angles. The Saxons founded things further south. (Even ‘Anglo-Saxons’ would have been incorrect, strictly speaking, but I can’t be bothered to elucidate.) No matter; founded it was, and functioning it still is.

But here’s a really interesting fact: if you think Uttoxeter is difficult to pronounce, be thankful you weren’t around in 600AD. Apparently it was called Wotocheshede in those days. (I swear Word’s red squiggly line is trembling.) The few words omitted to say whether or not it was pronounced ‘Uttoxeter’ – in a German accent, of course. And you might not be surprised to learn that the lazy locals call it ‘Ucheter.’

The two stone thingies
heretofore mentioned

*  *  *

While I was in whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I told some boys off for throwing pop* and chips around the pavement. (They got the lecture about starving people and wasting food first.) The pop thrower indignantly denied having thrown the chips. 'I know,' I said. The chip thrower remained silent and looked guilty. He was. 

*The generic term in England for all fizzy soft drinks.**

** Using footnotes makes your blog look academic.

The Danger of Tabloids.

I saw the headline news item in a tabloid newspaper today. It told the story of how a Polish migrant on his way to Britain had murdered a 9-year-old girl in Calais.

First of all, let’s state the obvious: Murder is a terrible thing, doubly so when the victim is a child. It is, therefore, innately newsworthy. But a point has to be made here.

If the murderer had been a local resident, it wouldn’t have made the British papers. If he had been a Polish migrant on his way to somewhere else in the EU, it probably wouldn’t have made the British papers. If he had been a British national, it probably would have made the papers but it almost certainly wouldn’t have been headlined. The reason it was given such prominence was because he was a Polish migrant on his way here. It’s there by way of propaganda. It aims to feed the xenophobic tendency, which would have it that:

1. Foreigners are less trustworthy than us.

2. Those from Central and Eastern Europe are less civilised than West Europeans.

3. Migrants are violent and criminally-minded, and are therefore dangerous.

Ergo, the Polish migrant is a dark, uncivilised brute who is to be feared, and it is a dangerous folly to allow him access to our green and pleasant land. I mean, look what they do when they get to Calais, for God’s sake. They murder 9-year-old girls!

I can understand the economic concern over the issue of excessive immigration, but this isn’t about economic concern. It’s about xenophobia pure and simple. It’s what the tabloids do; they feed people's fears so that the masses will feel comfortable having their prejudices validated, and thus buy the newspaper. The publishers get more advertising revenue that way.

And people continue to fall for it. That’s the real danger. Look at the way the Polish community in Northern Ireland is being treated by the locals, for example, and ask which side is being mindlessly violent.

It’s why I continue to observe the majority of people without ever wanting to join their damn club. And it’s also why the few special folks I encounter now and then are so precious.

Caging the Mind Bird.

I find that if I’m busy doing work which is practical or mundane, virtually all capacity for observation, reflection and imagination disappears. People like me are supposed to be lazy. It’s their natural state, denial of which leaves them quite unable to function properly.

I’ve been busy today. That’s why this is about the best I can manage by way of a post.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hollywood's History.

Nice music, but what the hell is Elizabeth Taylor doing in the slide show? If Cleopatra looked like her, then I reckon Genghis Khan looked like Stan Laurel.

Fun and the Butter Fridge.

While I was in Sainbury’s today I remembered the time when I used to work in a supermarket during my teens – for four months while I was waiting to take up my cadetship at Dartmouth. As well as performing general warehouse duties, my shop floor work consisted of keeping the butter fridge stocked.

It was a daunting task. I’d sweat over loading case upon 36lb case of Lurpack Slightly Salted Scandinavian Butter onto a trolley, and then take it down to the shop floor where the greedy shoppers were waiting to pounce. They’d be grabbing the damn stuff as fast as I could put it in. It made me angry. I wanted to yell at them:

‘Look, just back off, will you! Give me some space. Let me load the damn fridge. C’mon, back… back… Further. C’mon. Let me do my job.’

I imagined them retiring to a respectful distance, watching with nervous eyes while a crowd of butter maniacs gathered behind them like zombies, swelling their ranks in exponential certainty until the job was done.

‘OK. The fridge is full. That’s what you want, isn’t it? So demolish it, why don’t you?’

And then they would shuffle forward and grab, while I stomped off in a huff and repeated the operation over and over again until nightfall mercilessly ended the torment.

*  *  *

I made two friends during my time there. One was a sandy haired lad who had an assignation with one of the shop girls one night. She was pretty enough, but she had terrible teeth. I asked him the next day how it had gone.

‘Horrible,’ he muttered gloomily. ‘Er jumped on me like a bloody monkey! Couldn’t get her off.’

The other was a young man whose surname was Rose. He was a bit effeminate so we called him Rosie for short. As far as I recall he never had an assignation with a shop girl.

I did, though. Her teeth were fine, but her legs weren’t up to much.

Fun comes in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? It does.

Becoming Gothic.

I just washed my hair in the shower, and when I looked down I saw that a small mess of black gossamer had gathered around my feet. I looked further to see a thin black line of the stuff stretching to the plug hole. Cobwebs, obviously. My hair has had cobwebs in it since maybe as long ago as Sunday when I last washed it.

Now, there’s a story by one of my favourite authors, MR James, called The Tractate Middoth. It tells of an elusive vision – part cadaver, part ghost; the narrative never makes his exact nature clear – who appears in various places (but mainly the library) apparently attempting to prevent a family member gaining access to an important document. He’s described as having cobwebs in his hair. Is there something I’m not being told here?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Now and the Priestess.

Having wasted much valuable time considering whether the concept of ‘now’ has any existential validity, I thought I’d make up for it by concocting a very small ditty called What Time is it in Sydney?

‘What time is it in Sydney?’
Said the bed bug to the flea
‘Are all the folks there sleeping safe and sound?’

‘It might be half past nine, my friend
It might be just turned three
Their ups and downs are all the wrong way round’

It should come as no surprise that there’s more meaning (damn that word) hidden within it than might appear at first glance. I can’t help it, you know. I can’t.

(I got the cold beer, by the way.)

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

On Now.

I’ve suddenly been hit by the ‘now’ bug again. ‘Forget the past and future,’ they say. ‘Live in the now.’

But ‘now’ is a vague concept indeed, definable only as a vaguely delineated span of endless flow. My current now is sitting in a room typing this. But having typed that last sentence, it’s become history, a concept translated through the artifice of language and cemented into an endless past – or at least the notion of a past – there to be available in replay mode only to anybody who reads it. And what of those who do read it? What of their now?

This could go on and on. It’s all about time, of course. Time decrees that there should be no ‘now’ because it refuses to stop. And if we could stop time, we would then exist in the space between the nanoseconds without dimensionality and floating in an infinite space of nothingness. That’s a strange concept of existence, isn’t it? (Although at least we might come close to discovering what consciousness is, I suppose.)

Or so it would seem. Maybe I should study Zen. Or maybe I should bore myself rigid reading the words of all the philosophers and all the quantum scientists. Maybe I would get angry and consumed with self-hate for not being intelligent enough to grasp the complexities. That’s the state I usually come to when I read the words of philosophers and quantum scientists. Maybe I should post this and forget it, preferring instead to look forward to a cold beer in a couple of hours' time. (That’s if my current presumption about the future turns out to be accurate. In this context, ‘current’ is synonymous with ‘now.’ Oh dear. What a troublesome thing the nature of meaning is.)

So what brought this on? Reading an old story of mine, one rooted in several episodes of my own past. It was mainly about a ship, and now I see lots of NOWs floating backwards on its creamy wake. Irony upon irony.

Interesting things, stories. They’re full of mischievous imps which jump out and torment you with troublesome thoughts. Onward?

Using the Time Productively.

Having been reminded that I was once suspected of being a serial killer, I grew tired of the TV and read the dating ads in this week’s edition of the local paper.

Best up was a woman of 73 who wanted a man ‘5ft 6in tall – just a little taller than me – and aged between 60 and 67.’ I assume a man of 5ft 7in would be too dominating, and a 68-year-old just a little too ancient to be a toy boy.

The most intriguing requirement, however, came at the end where she said ‘I like a dog.’ Not ‘I like dogs’ or ‘must be a dog lover.’ I like a dog.

What does she mean by that? Does she mean she likes a particular dog, such as the Shitzhu five doors down the road at number 73? Or does she mean ‘I like a dog served rare with cranberry sauce?’ Or could it be something altogether darker? Could she be offering her undoubted charms to a man with animalistic predilections?

Well, the image of a 73-year-old and a 67-year-old behaving like dogs – even in the privacy of her semi-detached bungalow with the curtains drawn – seemed just too emotionally daunting to contemplate, so I switched to the cryptic crossword puzzle and learned a new word. Egregious.

And so, by all criteria pertinent to a curmudgeonly recluse, a most productive evening.

Well, Wouldn't You?

I’ve been quite unable to find anything to say today, but I just thought of three snippets (blame the beer if you think they’re not worth saying.)

1. Is there anything on God’s earth more tedious, disingenuous and just plain nauseating than politicians at election time? You’d think they’d have the sense to realise it and go away, wouldn’t you?

2. I had my ear nuzzled repeatedly by a very beautiful horse this afternoon. I got her number straight away, of course. She wanted me to feed her handfuls of the fresh grass growing on my side of the gate, which I did willingly. I’m a sucker for having my ear nuzzled, you know; always was. Nuzzle my ear and my mess of pottage is yours without argument. You’d think I would have learned by now, wouldn’t you?

3. I watched a TV programme tonight which reminded me that my mother once suspected me of being a notorious serial killer who the police were having trouble identifying, much less catching. Admittedly, there were certain circumstantial details which corresponded rather creepily, but still. Wouldn’t you think a mother would know her own son better than that? They caught him eventually and it wasn’t me. I expect she was relieved. (Or maybe she was disappointed that I wasn’t a celebrity after all.)

Monday, 13 April 2015

Unrepentant.

Sometimes it bothers me that I go to bed so late. I don’t know why it should – maybe it’s because I read somewhere that the latest research indicates that people who go to bed after midnight are 17% more likely to get athlete’s foot later in life. (Or something like that.)

I assume nobody takes any notice of experts. If we all followed their advice we’d all be running back and forth until we all gave up and jumped in the lake. It would be a recipe for disaster.

We go with what suits us, don’t we? I’ve been a night owl all my life, and I don’t bother anybody so why worry? OK, so I don’t get the sunrise and the dew on the grass, but while there's YouTube, and moonlight, and music, and toothpaste ads...


Simply style.

A Bad Word Rant.

OK, so I dial up a favourite YouTube video and the first thing that greets me is an advert for toothpaste.

Quote:

God, I hate these f***ing adverts! Designed for brain-dead f***ing people with heads full of f***ing sawdust and chicken Mcf***ingNuggets!

Unquote. Seriously. I swear a lot these days.

I want to listen to some beautiful music accompanied by images of a beautiful woman cradling a beautiful child and connecting with a beautiful horse. I shouldn’t have to watch daddy and daughter cleaning their teeth together (as if) while smiling stupidly. It’s inappropriate, criminally so.

So if we must have adverts, at least make them f***ing appropriate!

Vaguely Connected Notes.

While reading an old post, it just occurred to me that Amelie is probably France's most potent export (or at least its best ambassador.)


So now I'm wondering whether Amelie is the French version of Emily.

*  *  *

I had another strange dream when I fell asleep by the fire tonight. I was woken up suddenly as though I'd been shaken, and then I smelt something which was familiar but which I couldn't identify. Eventually I did: it was the scent of jasmine - the real thing growing on the plant. It's a very pungent scent, and one I've smelt only once in my life, until tonight. There is no jasmine plant in my house.

*  *  *

And I saw the first two lambs of the season today. They're not quite this big yet, but they soon will be.


Their mother looked very smug.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

States Playing Nanny.

I just read two reports about disputes over health and safety legislation. One came from Uruguay and was about anti-smoking laws. The other referred to an Australian plan to effectively force the children of poor parents to be immunised against the parents’ will.

They brought up an old question that has troubled me for a long time: where should the line be drawn between a government’s obligation to keep its people safe, and its equally important obligation to allow freedom of choice? It makes defining ‘democracy’ a difficult business.

(I have to say that I’ve read several reports about Australian legislation over the past few years that have made me wonder how the hell people who value freedom of choice can bear to live there. Maybe it isn’t as bad as it seems.)

What Presses the Buttons.

OK, here’s a list of the seven things I find most beautiful:

1. A very small number of women.

2. Most dogs.

3. Most sunsets.

4. Flowers living on their plants and not dying in vases.

5. Certain sections of music by the English Late Romantics and French Impressionists.

6. Animals which choose to trust you.

7. People being rescued from adversity.

I suppose I could do another one on the things I most hate – like Tory ideology, those who try to force their belief system on others, and the guy interviewed for the local paper who said ‘people on welfare should be made to clean the streets.’ But why bother?

See Emily Play.

Just in case anybody has arrived on this post expecting a piece about the 60’s pop song, let me stop you now. It’s actually about a beautiful woman playing the piano with dead but sensitive hands, as well as the game of togetherness with dead but marvellously expressive eyes.

(I had another post lined up based on something else I saw on YouTube. It was to be a reasoned argument about how some people who wear the liberal tag can actually be more bigoted than the people they call bigots. Phew! That would have taken some careful wording, right? I decided against it because I’m tired of being serious, especially late at night. And I’m tired of other people being serious – like the Brit who claimed that ‘we all hate America’ and the American who said ‘so what’s wrong with guns and ammo being sold in supermarkets?’ I’m fast coming to the conclusion that Bedlam is the only sane and safe place to be.)

But back to Emily. I seem to have a thing about Emilys. My beautiful Border Collie was called Emily, and so was my favourite Brontë sister. The Emily in this clip is also very beautiful. How the hell people can rave about Keely Hawes (whoever she is – she appeared on another YouTube clip) is beyond me. The music isn’t bad either. And then there's the dog... Don't forget to notice the dog.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Getting Worried.

My blog stats suddenly shot up alarmingly at about 10.15 this evening. Dozens of people – mostly from America – reading the last seven posts. It’s a bit freaky, frightening even.

This blog is really only meant for people I know, like and trust. I’d get really creeped out if I thought it was becoming popular because then I would have to start taking responsibility for what I say.

Election 2015: The Heavy One.

The scene is a busy town centre somewhere in a dark corner of the British Isles. Mrs Boggs is wandering aimlessly around because that’s what she does on a Tuesday afternoon, when she encounters a smart young man with a microphone.

‘Excuse me, madam.’

‘Who are you?’

‘I’m from the BBC and I’m conducting some research into people’s opinions and voting intentions in the General Election. I wondered whether I might ask you a couple of questions.’

‘Are they easy?’

‘Of course.’

‘Oh, all right then.’

‘Thank you. First of all would you tell me what you consider to be the five most important things in life?’

‘Erm… Cars, erm… Clothes, erm… three piece suites, erm… and chicken McNuggets.’

‘That’s only four.’

‘Is it? Oh, erm… Eastenders!’

‘I see, so who will you be voting for on May 7th?’

‘May 7th?’

‘Yes. That’s polling day. You know, the day when we all go and vote for the next government.’

‘Is it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, right. Let’s see, erm… erm… erm… Oh, I dunno.’

‘Well, do you have a preference for any particular party?’

‘No, I don’t get out much these days.’

‘I see. So you’re a floating voter?’

‘Am I?’

‘No, I’m asking you. Are you a floating voter?’

‘You mean can I swim?’

‘No, I don’t mean can you swim. A floating voter is someone who hasn’t a clue about policies, principles or anything else beyond their cars, clothes, three piece suites, chicken McNuggets and bleep Eastenders. They’re the ones who make last minute, arbitrary, usually irrational decisions in the marginal seats and swing the vote in favour of one party or the other. They’re the ones who decide what the rest of us will have to put up with for the next five years. Tragic, isn’t it?’

‘God, you’re posh aren’t you? Did you go to college?’

‘I’m asking the questions.’

‘Fuck off.’

Election 2015: The Easy One.

I’m growing very tired of all the policy snacking that’s going on during the run up to the General Election.

Today the Tories promised to provide more school playing fields if they win the election.

Today the Labour Party promised to review the size of the Trident submarine fleet if they win the election.

Every day a political analyst takes up valuable air time giving a rundown on what each party is promising with regard to today’s prize issue. It’s utterly tedious, and ultimately hopelessly confusing. And can you trust any party to deliver on its promises anyway? No.

It seems to me that in a General Election the choice is between what each party stands for in terms of the kind of society they want to create. Do you want the sort of party that will run the country like a corporation, with all the selfishness and soullessness thus implied? Such a society will be geared to the benefit of the rich and successful at one end, while creating ghettos at the other. That’s pretty much what we have at the moment. Or do you want a party that will find ways of making society more inclusive across the board, and in so doing reduce the vast wealth gap that exists between rich and poor? That’s the sort of thing that makes a culture more or less content, not the size of the Trident submarine fleet.

Continuing the HSP Tutorial.

Ask most people to cite an image which they associate with the positive side of winter, and they might reply ‘A snow-covered rural landscape’ or ‘a decorated Christmas tree.’

Ask the same question of an HSP, and he might reply ‘a full coal scuttle.’ The coal scuttle isn’t a notable image in its own right, but rather a symbol which evokes the feeling of comfort. That’s the difference.

A Sense of What's Missing.

I posted this video once before, but it was months ago and I expect everybody who read that post is either dead or gone to an asylum by now. So I’m posting it again.

The point is that I listen to it at least once a day, which is a bit excessive by anybody’s standard and leads to the obvious question. It’s that sharpened steel voice the singer has. I find it endlessly fascinating. According to one of the comments she’s Portuguese, which probably explains my fascination. You can hear the Moorish influence, can’t you? I suspect she represents a gap in my education.

A Tendency to be Briefly Dumb.

Have you ever leapt with gusto through an open door, only to hit the lintel above it with your forehead and end up flat on your back with a serious headache?

I have.

I think this might turn into a series. You’d be surprised at the number of serious blows I’ve taken to my head. Some of them were legitimate – like the sort you get playing rugby or defending yourself against a bunch of thugs who follow you down the road from the bus stop one dark night – but most were occasioned through temporary bouts of forgetting to be careful. I had the same problem with electricity. Shocks galore, and much embarrassment.

Hulk and Hound.

I was sitting on a bench today when a man walked past with a dog. The man was big and powerfully built, with a prominent beer belly which suggested a healthy, big man’s drinking habit. The dog was very small, very white, and very fluffy. It trotted along with head and tail held high, the latter appendage being much engaged in happy motion. And it carried a paper tissue in its mouth, just to add a touch of the surreal to a generally cheerful picture.

The man sat down on an adjacent bench, and so I watched them for a while. He paid no obvious attention to the dog, and yet there was something suggesting a sense of mutual comfort that existed between them. Maybe it was the way the dog sat proudly between the man’s feet, seeming to proclaim ‘This is my human and I’m quite happy that you should know it.’

I was left with the impression that the big man probably loved his little dog more than he loved most things, and I wondered whether he would stay true to his big man image if anything ill should befall it.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Struggling.

I started watching a documentary on Jihadist brides tonight, but turned it off after about fifteen minutes. By that time I was becoming uneasy because I realised that it was built on the presumption that all those watching it subscribed to the view that western cultural axioms are pre-eminent by definition. Although I generally subscribe to western cultural axioms because it makes life easier, I don’t regard them as being pre-eminent by definition. Furthermore, I don’t trust the western media any more than I trust anything else. Ergo, I wasn’t going to learn anything so why bother watching?

I decided to make a post about it, mostly along the lines of that old favourite, ‘the hum of Mother Culture.’ I was going to quote the family lawyer who lamented that one girl had received ‘the best education that money can buy,’ as though that made a difference. I was going to cite an example of conflicting assertions and ask ‘how do we know which one to believe?’

And so I thought and thought and thought about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it would mean walking down a lot of dark and grimy little alleyways where even Jack the Ripper would fear to tread. I also realised that I might possibly offend some people who don’t deserve to be offended. And so I decided against it.

Instead, I tried to think of something funny that happened in Ashbourne today, but nothing did. Not unless you count the young Polish woman who looked at me like I was a complete idiot. I was tempted to ask: ‘Are all young Polish women so perceptive?’ Would that be funny enough?

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Declining the New Wisdom.

I’m becoming ever more intolerant of those New Agey and self-help gurus who claim to know what life is about and offer instruction on how to live it to the full.

(I never really understood what ‘living life to the full’ means anyway. How is jumping about in a nightclub every weeknight, going bungee jumping every Saturday, and surfing with the gang on alternate Sundays, any more full than sitting by an open fire in the winter reading Kafka’s The Trial and ruminating on the state of existence? They’re just different. Wherever you aim yourself, living is surely still a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and carrying on through that curious constant we call time until the path runs out and you fall over. What does ‘full’ mean?)

But back to the gurus. I read one once who said that if you possess something which you haven’t used for more than twelve months you should throw it away. That’s a bit of a generalisation, isn’t it? If we’re talking about something of relatively minor consequence like a wife or a promising career in the Civil Service, then maybe. But that little plastic model of a Spitfire which you built from an Airfix kit when you were eight? I don’t think so, somehow.

(I know I've muttered something similar before, but when you're not living life to the full and garnering sufficient material for three blog posts an hour, the only remaining option is to try Variations on a Theme.)

A Proud Boast.

Have you ever climbed into a hammock on one side, and then fallen straight out of it on the other?

I have.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Considering a Contrast.

Luxuriating in the symphony of birdsong on a still April evening is like taking a spoonful of best heather honey with the coarse porridge of life. It sweetens and deepens the experience, turning the grey one golden until the eyes narrow and a primal glow suffuses the spirit. Or so it is for the modern human with its complex cacophony of cares and unnatural pressures.

It means nothing of the sort to the birds, of course. To them it’s a deadly serious game of territory, courtship and mating. And when that game has been played to the full, the hard work begins – building a nest, feeding the female while she sits the eggs, filling countless ever-open mouths from dawn until dusk: demanding, expectant, entitled, demonstrating the simple, natural pressure of life’s imperative.

I often wonder whether birds are happy. Do they know the difference between sweetened and unsweetened porridge?

Beware Frenchies Bearing Gifts.

Seems like the Ghostbusters might have got it wrong.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

I Want to be Amused.

I occasionally watch an American TV series called Monsters and Mysteries. They take a wild, sparsely inhabited part of the US and construct a ‘documentary’ around local inhabitants who have first hand stories to tell about encounters with nightwalkers, thunderbirds, Jersey devils and so on – crypto creatures that creep out of the hills, the woods, and the darkness to creep out the poor folks who have only assault rifles and exorcists for protection.

Tonight’s episode was set in New Mexico, and it began with the camera panning across an area of desert wilderness. A message in red script (and creepy font) appeared at the bottom of the screen. It said:

Desert wilderness.

Mmm. Prepare to be amused, and amusing it is. That’s why I watch it.

What I find interesting is that American and British approaches to programmes like this differ markedly. The American producer makes sure that however trivial, circumstantial, and speculative the evidence might be, you will believe! The British producer takes the opposite view. However compelling and inexplicable the evidence, you’re a complete fruitcake if you believe a word of it! I’m not sure which I find more irritating.

Still, I continue to be amused. And I can’t wait for the one about Sarah Palin.

Knees and the Action Man.

I just read that Daniel Craig injured his knee on the Bond set and has been in hospital for a ‘minor arthroscopic procedure.’ A spokesperson said he’ll be back filming on April 22nd.

Well, I hope they’ve got some sitting down scenes lined up (or lying on the beach, or in the bath tub, or playing dead or something) because I had a minor arthroscopic procedure once and it was nine weeks before I was walking normally again. I could hardly bend my leg for about three weeks, and I hadn’t even had an injury repaired – just a clear out of some tiny bone fragments from the worn knee cap. (I developed a really good technique for descending the circular staircase in the theatre’s green room. Happy days…)

So anyway, look out for the scene in the next Bond movie where James is chasing the bad guy across the airport tarmac very smoothly. He’ll be on wheels.

Spring Firsts.

In the last twenty four hours I’ve seen…

The first bat
The first bumblebee
The first butterfly

And I got the first fly in my eye today, just to prove I’m not seeing things.

Neo-Victorian Britain.

The teachers' annual conference has heard that more and more children are turning up for school inadequately fed and clothed against the rigours of the season. They say they’re seeing a return to ‘Victorian poverty.’

I’ve been warning about this ever since Mrs Thatcher began dismantling the mixed economy in the 1980s. I’ve made ironic references to ‘a return to Victorian values’ (Mrs Thatcher’s proclaimed aim) several times on this blog. The present, mainly Tory, administration has engaged unashamedly and irrationally on a policy of dismantling the welfare state. They say it will encourage people to work, conveniently ignoring the fact that there aren’t the jobs for them to do.

This same government, unsurprisingly, hides behind the heavy walls of Westminster, their expensive suits and flashy cars, their country houses and London apartments, their taxpayer-sponsored expense accounts… and counters that the coalition government has reduced child poverty during its term of office.

They are, also unsurprisingly, basing their transparent sophistry on theoretical statistics. The teachers are seeing the real picture.

On Easter and the Image.

I caught a bit of an Easter Service on the TV yesterday. I watched, fascinated, as two young people – a young man and a young woman – read the lessons. They were both squeakily smart, sickeningly self-aware, and infuriatingly earnest.

As the myth would have it, the original Christians were raggedy men and women walking around the countryside living rough. They probably had fleas. They were subversives, rebels who courted trouble with the authorities and the Establishment generally.

How on earth did they become plastic facsimiles of sugar candies, manufactured in the Establishment’s own workshop to promote its interests?

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Death and Frustration.

Every time I watch a murder mystery on the TV I’m struck by the contrast between two statements:

1. A murder has been committed.

2. A person is dead.

They always seem somehow unconnected. One is saying ‘somebody has broken the most important of our society’s laws.’ That’s a matter of simple logic; it’s mundane, banal even. The other is saying ‘something which once existed no longer exists.’ That’s the real mystery. How can it be? Where did it go? How does something just vanish? Now you see it, now you don’t. What sort of perverse magic is this?

The ending of any life is a matter of both sadness and annoyance to me – even when it’s the life of that innocuous little brown bird which died in my hands a few days ago. It’s unfair. It doesn’t make sense. It’s an inexcusable failing on the part of whatever force rules us. There’s something wrong with it, and I can’t get to the bottom of what it is.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Bitching Brontes (or the Haworth Harridans.)

This sketch misrepresents Yorkshire’s holy trinity quite disgracefully, but it happens to be seriously funny. It also demonstrates the difference between the Yorkshire lass and the Essex girl. Yorkshire lasses never attempt to educe any impression of style. Such an affectation is strictly for wimps and southerners, which two categories are synonymous to anybody raised in the shadow of the Dark Peak.

Americans might need to watch it more than once, since expressions like “get lathered and lose it to a cow ’and” might take a little working out. And I’ve no idea where the depressed black woman fits in. Do persevere.

On Social Intercourse.

I was standing by a waste bin today when three teenage boys approached. One of them fiddled in his pocket and took out some sort of wrapping which he deposited in the bin. He’d obviously carried it around with him and I was impressed.

‘Well done,’ I said.

‘What?’

I nodded in the direction of the bin and said ‘thank you.’ He looked back and forth between me and the bin and seemed a little nonplussed. I think the penny dropped eventually:

‘Oh, yeah. Right.’

You have to be so careful with teenage boys. Congratulate them too heavily for doing the right thing and they’re likely to rebel. It’s the best way to make delinquents of them.

*  *  *

So then it was into the newsagent to get a couple of photocopies done. I unloaded some loose change on the young woman assistant, which she counted and declared ‘perfect.’ Oddly, she didn’t pronounce it ‘perfict,’ which people in this area usually do. She pronounced the ‘e’ as in ‘felt.’ Perfect.

‘You said “perfect.” Where are you from?’ I asked.

‘Oh, around here.’

‘Are you educated or something?’

‘Something like that.’

*  *  *

And then I went into the bake shop to buy a cake. (I’d taken a packed lunch with me. It’s cheaper than buying a bag of chips.’)

‘A small egg custard, please.’ (They cost 50p.)

‘Is that all?’

‘All?! That’s my weekly treat!’

‘Weekly? Heavens! Poor thing.’

Quite. But don’t anybody tell me I don’t have good social skills. And don’t anybody tell me I don’t have a life.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Election War and Beyond.

Today’s major salvoes in the General Election battle concerned the old issue of big business versus small workers. The Tories were crowing about how wonderful it is that business is supporting them to further the cause of making bigger profits, while the Labour Party is promising to protect the workers from being screwed by business in pursuit of… bigger profits.

It seems that after decades of there being nothing to choose between the two main parties, the wheel might just be turning full circle. And I can’t help thinking that one of these days the human animal will need to find a better way of organising society.