Sunday, 31 May 2015

Turning the Interview and Crabbiness.

Do you think that spending so much time alone has caused you to see things differently than you used to?

Yes.

More or less realistically, would you say?

Before I can answer that you’ll have to define ‘real.’

Well, as normally perceived.

Do you hear that hum?

No.

Thought not.

*  *  *

I’m crabby today. I just wrote to the priestess to give vent to a persistent ache that creeps in occasionally and unsettles the psyche. Aches make you crabby. And then there’s the forecast of severe gales over Monday night and Tuesday, which makes me worry about the trees because trees are more vulnerable to strong wind when they’re in full leaf. Trees matter to me, and worry is something else that makes you crabby. There’s more, but now I have a routine job to do. Excuse the self-indulgence.

Superpowers.

America.

Two news reports:

Independent analysts have revealed that the actual number of people killed by police officers is about twice what official figures show. It seems the official figures are compiled from stats supplied by police departments, which raises an obvious suspicion about police departments. The report also shows that the number of deaths among unarmed black men is disproportionately high. No doubt liberals and conservatives will be going for each other’s throats on this one, while a disproportionately high percentage of the population will sit on the fence and nothing will change. At least, that’s how it usually works.

A man in Hawaii saw a swordfish swimming in the sea, so he leapt into the water and speared it. The fish turned around and speared him back, straight through the chest. The man is dead – unsurprisingly since all intelligent people must be aware that swordfish are pretty good at spearing things – but there was no mention of the fish’s condition. That’s a shame, since I would very much like to know that it swam off and continued its life of not bothering anybody.

Russia.

The Russians have banned eighty nine EU politicians, diplomats and military figures from visiting the country. They’ve given no reason so far and EU leaders are said to be ‘furious.’ I can’t see why. When you look at the kind of things the leadership says and does, and the kind of people and regimes it chooses to support, you get the impression that Russia isn’t the sort of place you’d want to visit anyway. Pity the poor Russians who have no choice.

One Human's Dream.

When I was a kid there were lots of houses that had a notice on the gate, or the door, or the wall by the door, or in the window nearest the door. It said:

No Hawkers or Circulars

If somebody knocked on the door trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner, you could point to the notice and say ‘Can’t you read? Go away.’ The message was generally taken. And then we got the internet and our computer screens came under constant assault from an ungodly horde of hawkers and circulars.

Most of them have a button which you can press to say ‘I’m not interested. Go away.’ But the message isn’t taken, and often you don’t get the choice. The button doesn’t close the ad, instead it throws up a little questionnaire which asks What’s wrong with this ad? and then gives you several options which pointedly exclude I don’t want any ads.

‘But you enjoy watching things like YouTube,’ you might say. ‘The ads pay for it.’

‘I know,’ I might reply, ‘but does it have to be paid for in money?’

‘Of course.’

‘Why?’

‘Because money makes the world go around.’

‘So how did the world turn before we invented money?’

‘We all lived as savages. Money drives development.’

‘But that’s only because the human animal is obsessed with status, and status is defined by wealth and material possessions. If it weren’t, we could develop things just because we wanted to.’

‘That’s just a silly dream.’

Quite. End of post.

Not Too Dead to Dance.

A man who might be described  as being a little past his prime was walking down the street one day listening to Song of the Stars through his walkman. (He was that old.) He closed his eyes and started dancing, following every rhythmical and tonal nuance with an instinctive appreciation of something a little magical.

When the music stopped, so did he. He opened his eyes to see a number of onlookers regarding him with amusement. Applause broke out, and then a young woman stepped forward and kissed him on the cheek. She was followed by a heavy set young man a good eight inches taller than him and at least thirty years his junior.

‘Hey man, you’re cool.’

‘Cool? You mean as in nearly dead?’

‘Ha! Yeah, some’n like that. The girl who kissed you was my girlfriend.’

‘Oh. Sorry.’

‘No worries, mate. Chill. You deserved it. Only don’t let her do it again.’

‘OK.’

And then the dancer went home and had buttered crumpets for tea...


 ... and wrote some more fiction.

Advertisers' Logic.

A few days ago I searched the Amazon website for backpacks and chose four that warranted extended attention.

So what do I get now? Nearly everywhere I go on the internet I’m bombarded with Amazon ads for the same products. Why would I look at them? I already have. What sort of crackpot mind cooked up this silly system? It’s just further evidence that the world is either in the hands of imbeciles or people who think I’m an imbecile.

A Welcome Addition to the Palette.

Spring in the English countryside is very much dominated by white. The verges are crowded with cow parsley, the hedgerows are laden with May blossom, and the creamy flowers of elder are just starting to show.

But today the humble buttercups burst forth. After all these years I’m still bowled over by the colour of buttercups. No natural yellow is quite as vibrant as the yellow of a buttercup flower, which is why most of those growing in the garden get left alone by yours truly while everybody else is muttering ‘weed.’

Friday, 29 May 2015

Another Loner Problem.

I saw three of my favourite ladies in Ashbourne on Wednesday. Two of them said ‘hello’ and walked on. The third just walked on.

It never happens to me, you know. I never get stopped in the street with a ‘Hello. Nice to see you. How are you? Are you still living with that woman… erm… what was her name?’ Only dogs do that, and the occasional horse.

It’s probably due to the Dr Pincus look I’ve cultivated down the years. (See the film Ghost Town.) And it’s probably why I get so excited when I see one of those little red boxes over the bell in YouTube:

2

Two? Wow! Something to read…

And a little aside that isn’t entirely unrelated:

I was watching an episode of Vera tonight (it’s a detective drama set in Northumberland where I used to live.) The murderer is explaining to D.I. Vera why he killed the guy. He assumed his wife was having an affair, and part of the reason for his assumption was:

‘She was contacting him with a pay-as-you-go mobile. Well, nobody has one of those unless they’re up to something.’

I’ve had a pay-as-you-go mobile for thirteen years. It’s because I don’t like the things, and I only make about four calls a year on it. Neither do I encourage others to contact me that way. The effort society makes to force you down their prescribed little paths…

Bloody Tourists.

I just watched this video, which is fundamentally about the fabled magic of Egypt.

 
It reminded me of a problem I’ve always had. If I visit a place steeped in history, magic, Romantic atmosphere, that sort of thing, I can’t see it or feel it if there are tourists about. I have to be alone, or maybe with one other special, trusted, like-minded person. Add a group of tourists, however small, and the magic disappears. It becomes just another tourist attraction, another theme park. I expect I've missed a lot that way.

Vlad's Dubious Friends.

I see President Putin is backing the dark horse again. This time last year it was Assad. Today it’s Sepp Blatter. He doesn’t exactly work at improving his reputation, does he? And if you read that I’ve died of plutonium poisoning, you’ll know why.

I thought of extending this post into one about how so much of the world is being run along similar lines to mediaeval Europe, and how mediaeval Europe was anything but the Romantic place that a lot of people seem to think it was.

Maybe another time. I think I’ll make one about pyramids and bloody tourists instead.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

On Internet Perils and Gallic Style.

I read today about a man who conducted an internet romance with a French woman. Eventually he moved into her Paris apartment, and then lost his job, had cigarette butts stubbed out on his skin, and was forced to eat cotton wool and drink window cleaning fluid. I always said French women had that something special about them, didn’t I? They make sure you have cotton wool to soak up the window cleaning fluid. As Shakespeare said: ‘Beauty lives with kindness.’

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The World Turns.

Standards at the BBC news desk continue to fall. One report today said ‘An Air France plane missed the highest mountain in Central Africa.’

But isn’t it routine for airliners to miss mountains? Do you think the word ‘narrowly’ might not have gone amiss?

And there are people still being paid to write ‘compared to’ when it should be ‘compared with.’ There are even sub-editors being paid to miss glaring errors of that ilk.

I blame the politicians. I usually do.

Bed is a little overdue. The sky is lightening early these days. Four weeks to go and the days will start shortening again.

42.

When I was delving into panpsychism recently, it occurred to me to wonder why we have philosophers. I don’t mean little people like me who wander from I think therefore I am to but is that reality? to there’s no point in asking that question until you’re sure you know what ‘reality’ means (which I don’t) and then give up. I mean the hundreds and hundreds of career philosophers stretching back thousands of years, being lauded as the Great Thinkers, being categorized into groups and sub-groups and sub-sub-groups, and then having their images sculpted in marble for the delectation of the acolytes.

It struck me that the whole business of philosophy is just a talking shop around the subject of so what’s it all about? which never, ever comes up with the definitive answer and almost certainly never will.

So do we have them to aid us in our own thought processes, adding depth and complexity and level upon level? I suppose so, but it doesn’t actually get us anywhere, does it? Whether I spend my life reading weighty philosophical tomes, or whether I just muse occasionally on the place of the bumblebee in the greater scheme of things, I’m never going to know what it’s all about. It’s ultimately just for the sake of amusement, and for that you don’t need weighty tomes.

So here’s what I think we should do. I think we should go into all the seats of learning and remove all the philosophy books to a vault. And then we should set up a big stone in each of them, on which is sculpted:

If you want to think about the meaning of life, the universe and everything, then do so. If you don’t, then do something else.

And leave it at that.

(So now I expect I’ll be hailed on with bananas, on each of which will be sculpted: but it is integral to the human condition to want to enquire. OK.)

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Connections and the Couch.

When I was a kid my parents liked Nat King Cole, and dear old Nat was a regular visitor on Sunday.

(For some reason, music in the house was an almost exclusively Sunday phenomenon. That’s odd, isn’t it, given that my mother was a fairly accomplished soprano? You’d think she would have had music playing much of the time. Not so. And she once said to me ‘I don’t know where you get your love of music from. You father wasn’t musical at all.’ It didn’t seem to have occurred to her that maybe I got it from the distaff side. I gather her mother, my grandma, was a bit of a singer too, although her style was more the bawdy music hall stuff. Grandma was a bit bawdy generally by all accounts, and there’s some dark stuff there I’d rather not go into.)

So, back to Nat. I never liked him at the time, probably because he made his appearances between late Sunday morning and early Sunday afternoon. Such an unfortunate accident of timing meant that I associated him with canned rice pudding and Sunday school, neither of which gave me a reason to savour getting out of bed on Sunday. The only thing that achieved that feat was the prospect of having bacon, grilled cheese and hot tomatoes rolled in Staffordshire oatcakes for breakfast. And even that was a mixed blessing because I had to cycle two miles in all weathers to fetch the oatcakes. Two miles seems a long way when it’s raining, you haven’t quite woken up yet, and you’re only eight.

But then times changed, life moved on, and now I’m a bit of a fan of the old crooner. I haven’t had canned rice pudding for a very long time, and I haven’t been to Sunday school for even longer. The association est disparu.

Why the French expression?

‘I wanted to sound pretentious.’

Why?

‘So people will find me objectionable and won’t talk to me.’

Why don’t you want people to talk to you?

‘Because I feel obliged to talk back.’

Is that a bad thing?

‘Sometimes.’

But not always?

‘No.’

So it doesn’t apply to everybody?

‘No.’

OK. Carry on.

What more is there to say? Have some nice Nat and some nifty dancing to go with it.


I've a horrible feeling I've posted this video before. Please excuse me. Blame the stresses; blame the Sunday school; blame grandma. Blame whatever you like.

Comparing Gold with Silver.

Garanca has surely never looked lovelier. It’s a rehearsal, you see, so there’s no cleavage or coiffured hairstyle. This is surely the real woman, and it’s rather attractive.

What most interests me, though, is the combination of voices. It’s honey mixed with lemon sherbet. It’s the duchess and the chorus girl. It’s fine claret and Asti Spumante.

What intrigues is the brief look Garanca shoots at Netrebko at one point. I’d love to know what it meant.

Back to being serious.

Inventing an Approriate Condition.

I think I’ll start putting the word about that I’ve got Morgan’s Dissociative Syndrome. There’s no such thing as far as I know, but it sounds like the sort of condition I ought to be diagnosed with.

It’s characterised by a number of delusional states, the most common being that when you’ve had a day when nobody spoke to you, nobody hurled anything at you for making inflammatory comments on YouTube, and even the sheep couldn’t be bothered to look at you, you begin to suspect that you’ve died and the man who was supposed to come and conduct you up the big staircase got lost in the fog. And then when the postman turns up, you can turn very grave and ask him:

‘Are you he?’

‘He?’

‘Yes.’

‘What d’you mean, he?’

‘The man who has come to conduct me up the big staircase. I assume you got lost in the fog.’

‘No, mate, no. I’m just the postman.’

‘Oh.’

And that would be really useful, because the postman is second only to the village gossip in being good at putting the word about.

‘Have you seen that bloke from up near the school recently?’

‘Yes, I saw him yesterday.’

‘What was he doing?’

‘Talking to some sheep, but they were ignoring him.’

‘Mmm… I reckon he’s got Morgan’s Dissociative Syndrome.’

‘Really?’

‘Yup.’

‘Oh, right. Better start humouring him, then.’

And this is the good bit: Eventually the rumour will pass into urban legend, and when you get famous the Wiki article will say ‘In 2015, JJ Beazley was diagnosed with Morgan’s Dissociative Syndrome.’ And that’s when everybody will realise just how important you really are.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Remarking the Unsavoury.

No posts today; the communication juices just haven’t been flowing. But having said that…

Isn’t ‘juices’ a disgusting word? ‘Juice’ is fine, but make it plural and it becomes the ultimate in unsavoury. It hints at something which shouldn't be let out, something viscous and smelly.

The first stage in the embalming process was to drain the abdominal juices.

Grossville. I made that up, but they always say something of similarly disgusting ilk. It’s on a par with:

They sucked the brains out through the nose.

(And I didn’t make that one up. I heard it in a documentary once, and Téa Leone said it in a film I watched recently. She was playing an Egyptologist, so it must be right.)

Sucked!? You mean somebody actually stuck a straw up a dead man’s nose and sucked his brains out? I hope those ancient Egyptians were smart enough to have invented some sort of atmospheric pump, because the alternative is more than enough to put you well off ancient Egyptians. I expect they did. They seem to have been a pretty smart bunch.

Tell you what, though. You know the Eskimos have fifty words for snow? I’ll bet the ancient Egyptians had at least fifty words for juices.

Connected by Eyes and Wordless Language.

So call me weird, but not many things enthral me. This did (if anybody's interested.) Eight minutes usually seems a long time on YouTube, but this seemed to pass almost in a heartbeat.

Valuing Useful Information.

And it came to pass that JJ found a new challenge when all seemed lost: find a way to make a post related to YouTube once a day (it’s such a goldmine.) So, today’s is this:

My username on YouTube is JJBushfan. (I know it can be misinterpreted, but it really was thought up hurriedly and relates to my affection for Kate Bush. Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense, and all that – which clearly applies to me as much as anybody else. This is irrelevant.)

This is relevant. Tonight I inadvertently dragged the pointer across my username, and a big banner flew out which said

JJBushfan (YOU)

Me? Duh. Shucks. No kid. Herpty Derpty.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Sheep and Synchronicity.

After matters mystical, something a little more mundane.

The sheep in the top field are looking a lot more relaxed now. The lambs are growing bigger and the mothers less inclined to stare suspiciously at two-legged creatures leaning on gates. They’ve even started running away from youngsters who want to suckle. Seems they’ve had enough of playing nursemaid to babies and want to get back to the sensible business of grazing safely while passing cars play Bach on their sound systems.

(I did once, you know. I was just driving past the top field while Classic FM was playing Sheep May Safely Graze. It was one of those moments when you wonder whether there really is something out there giving you a nudge.)

On a sadder note, I learned that one of the lambs died about a week ago. I’m told that sheep die easily, often for no apparent reason.

Identifying the Third Queen.

I posted this picture back in the early days of the blog, but for some reason it’s become prominent again today and has been holding my attention all afternoon and evening.


Le Morte d'Arthur by James G Archer

The thing is this: Ever since I was a young child, the Romantic Arthurian canon (forget the quest for the historical character, the existence of whom can never be more than speculative) has been absolutely central to the Romantic side of my nature. What’s more, the transfer of Arthur from earth to Avalon has been the most potent element. I assume it’s how I came by my near-fixation with the three women motif in all things Romantic, mystical, and even mundane. But there’s a mystery here that I’ve been unable to solve.

Tradition has it that Arthur was conducted to Avalon by three queens. Two of the women in this picture – those closest to his head who are each wearing a crown – obviously represent two of them, but which of the remaining women is the third? Is it the one leaning against the tree, or the one on whose thigh the King’s feet are resting? The former is more pictorially prominent, but the latter is making physical contact. And why is it that neither of them is wearing a crown? Should we, perhaps, assume that Archer intended that four queens accompany Arthur on his last journey? That would throw me completely (even if you think I should have better things to waste my time on…)

So, if there are any experts in art history or artistic symbolism in the auditorium, I would welcome an opinion. Odd though it might seem, such things matter to me (quite a lot.)

Bed Linen Blues.

I bought a new set of summer bed linen the other day. I was fed up with having only one set, because when it needs washing you have to take it off the bed, wash it, dry it, iron it, and replace it all in one day. When do you get to have lunch?

So, I went for a pale blue set – that kind of washed out pale blue that’s verging on blue-grey. I like blue-grey; it matches my eyes and my prevailing mood (and maybe I spent a previous incarnation sitting on top of the Mason-Dixon Line with one leg on either side and answering to Johnny Yankee.) But here’s the interesting bit.

I still use a top sheet as well as a fitted sheet. (That’s because I like to have something between me and the duvet cover; it avoids having to wash the duvet cover very often and I’m an economical sort of person.) I picked a double top sheet and a double fitted sheet off the shelf and noticed that they were a different colour – only very slightly, but different nonetheless. I said as much to the woman on the till.

‘Oh, you won’t notice when they’re on the bed,’ she remarked dismissively.

Well, no one likes to be dismissed, do they?

‘I most certainly will notice, madam.’

But I bought them anyway because there was 20% off.

And do you know what? I installed the items on the bed today and noticed that they were a different colour from the piece of fabric which covers the bedside table. That particular piece of cloth has less grey to compliment the blue than I thought it did. Life’s just one big disaster waiting to happen, isn’t it?

Milking the YouTube Superlative.

There’s a comment on a Lisa Gerrard track on YouTube. It says:

Lisa Gerrard the finest voice on earth.

Er, no. There are 7bn people on earth, each with a different voice. We are permitted our favourites. We may even permit ourselves qualitative discernment, but that’s it. It’s like the groom describing his wife as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ in his wedding breakfast speech. There’s no such thing as the most beautiful woman in the world. There’s no such thing as the finest voice on earth. Here’s what David Mitchell has to say on the matter:

  
Another comment on the same track says:

Enya so amazing!! omg

Where do they come from – all these people who seem to think that every female voice on YouTube is Enya’s, or at least the ones they like? They crop up all over the place. Do they belong to some little-known cult with its headquarters deep in the hills of Donegal, being brainwashed while high on shamrock soup and second rate poteen? You can’t tell them they’re wrong, you know. They simply refuse to believe you. I know because I've tried.

(How on earth did I ever write a blog before I discovered YouTube?)

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Singing Lessons.

Quite some mezzo voice this woman has. Pity about the cleavage, but at least you can’t hear it.

My mother was a soprano. How different my life might have turned out had she been a mezzo. Fate hangs in such delicate balance.

A Problem with the L Word.

Somebody I encountered recently said she’s ‘a loving person.’ The phrase intrigued me and I wanted to make a post about it, but I didn’t know where to start. I’ve never been a loving person and I don’t think I’ve ever known one. But then, how can I be sure of that when I don’t know what one is? Maybe I need either the attention of some needy ghosts or regression therapy.

Another Fairytale of New York.

I watched a film tonight called Ghost Town, in which an obnoxious Englishman in New York starts seeing ghosts who all need his help. Not being a people person – and especially not a deceased people person – this is very irksome to him and his life becomes intolerably complicated.

I’m not sure whether I can recommend it because it’s a film in two halves. The first half is both original and very funny, but the second half does tend to dissolve into routine sentiment. Still, it ends happily as all stories should, and I can’t deny having enjoyed it even though the obnoxious Englishman reminded me of me to an uncomfortable degree. (Damn this rhyming mind.) It owes a big nod to A Christmas Carol.

Favourite and Familiar Line:

'I don't have a problem with crowds. It's the people in the crowds I have a problem with.'

Spoiler Alert:

The Englishman gets the girl (well, woman.) That settles it.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Hard Work Having Been Done...

I watched somebody having a hard time driving into a parking bay today. She kept getting the angle wrong and hitting the kerb. Eventually, after about seven attempts, she managed it – fully between the white line and the kerb and properly parallel. Perfect.

And then she looked out of the window and evidently decided she didn’t like it (exactly what she didn’t like, I don’t know.) She backed out again and went to park in an easier one a bit further along.

Some people take a lot of understanding, you know? They do.

Little Things Noticed.

There’s a shop in Wuttuc’s homestead that sells a variety of those wall adornments that have jokes on them. I call them jokes for want of a better term, but here’s an example:

My husband said it was me or the cat.
I miss him sometimes.

Let’s face it, such an utterance isn’t likely to cause you to rupture anything, is it? And that was one of the better ones. The point is this:

Even a good joke is usually only funny at the first – or maybe second if it’s a bit subtle – time of hearing (the white-horse-called-Kevin joke is a rare exception.) And it’s pretty obvious that bad jokes don’t mature and become funny with successive readings. So why do people buy them?

*  *  *

I saw a big, nearly new Mercedes park up (illegally) at the side of the road. It wasn’t as ugly as the big, nearly new Ferrari I saw on Wednesday, but the driver was pretty gross. I’m beginning to detect a connection between posh cars and ugliness.

Learning from Colonials.

YouTube is definitely the medium of the moment at the moment. (!) I recently came across a comment in which somebody used the phrase ‘herptdy derpty’ and I would like to have it defined.

It has to be American, of course; nobody but an American would use a phrase like herpdty derpty, so I’m hoping that somebody from the star spangled sub-continent will enlighten me. It sounds like the sort of expression that would most likely be used by a young woman, but how can I know?

This is earnestly meant. I’m only just coming to realise that a lot of those quirky Americanisms are not only fun but also keenly expressive, and I do think we speakers of the Queen’s English might adopt a few to our benefit – by way of starch reduction, if you see what I mean. So no hailstones, please.

Blowing the Bronte Myth.

Re. the previous post about ‘The Crimes of Charlotte Brontë.’ I’ve got it now; this is the book written by a man called Tully who claims that Charlotte connived with her father’s curate to murder Branwell, Emily and Anne by poison. I gather there’s another one which claims that Charlotte wrote all the Brontë novels herself, but was minded to spread the kudos around. There’s yet another which claims that Emily had an incestuous affair with her brother. There’s even one which claims that squirrels are plotting to take over the world and have their headquarters in Stoke-on-Trent. Aren’t humans fun?

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Charlotte the Criminal.

Somebody has replied to a comment I left on a YouTube video, the one that showed the Brontë Sisters episode of Psychobitches. He says ‘Have you ever read The Crimes of Charlotte Brontë?’

The only crime perpetrated by Charlotte that I know about was the creation of Bertha bloody Rochester, which scarred me for life. There were more?

Health and Illiteracy.

Why are health food websites so badly written? I was curious to discover the health benefits of cashews (because I’m a bit addicted to them, at least the raw, unsalted variety.) I opened the first five returns on Google, and closed them all down again because they were so badly written.

The problem with most of them is that they’re a little short of being fully literate. Sentences aren’t constructed properly, clauses aren’t connected properly, articles and prepositions are missing, and so on… But sometimes they’re just illogical. An example:

Cashews are the number one crop in the world (after almonds.)

So they’re not the number one crop in the world, then. Almonds are. So why say it?

This all leads me to wonder what it says about the people who write health food websites, the people who read them, and – worst of all – those who have an especial fondness for cashew nuts. That’s the one that worries me.

Whistle Stop.

The merry month of May
Flew into town today
It’s due to fly back out again
On Sunday
So they say

Noting the View.

There are two big sycamore trees framing the view from my garden. This evening they stood in abundant silhouette against a darkening sky, and nestled in between the two were the crescent moon and Venus.

It would be nice if I could paint. Writing has its limitations.

The German Who Came and Went.

I’m currently engaged in defending the German language against undue vilification on YouTube. It’s a bit of a strange occupation – especially since I don’t speak German – but there you are. Life is nothing if not strange. It had me wondering whether I’ve ever met a German, and I can think of only one.

Back in my photographing days, when I routinely travelled all over the country staying in youth hostels, I met lots of foreigners. There were Aussies aplenty, and Americans, Canadians and New Zealanders. Most of the European foreigners were either French or Dutch, but there was one German woman.

I was staying overnight at a youth hostel in Pembrokeshire. It was February and quite cold. There was a gale force wind coming off the sea and the hostel was perched on top of a cliff. It was also very draughty, and the only heating was a sparsely endowed coal fire at the end of a long room. The German lady and I – we were the only two guests that night – sat huddled up close to the meagre fire and talked until late. And then we went to bed (in separate rooms – she had big hands and an intimidating manner…)

That’s the bit I remember most. (No, not the hands and manner, the going to bed.) There was no heating in the bathroom, no hot water in the bathroom, and no heating in the dorm. (I can only speak for the men’s, of course. You’d have to ask the German lady about the women’s.) It was one of those nights when you stay fully dressed, grab as many blankets as you can from the unoccupied beds, and try to go to sleep. I managed it eventually, and in the morning the German lady had disappeared.

And that’s it: my one and only encounter with a German person. What a narrow life I’ve led.

Back to YouTube now to see whether I’ve been hailed on with bananas.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Two Sides of Oddness.

I’m just beginning to make the connection between a recurring childhood nightmare and a current woe. Whether that nightmare gave rise to or was the expression of an unusual neurosis, I can’t tell; it’s too far back for the chronology to be known. In other words, I don’t know which came first.

What I do know is that the neurosis has been with me as far back as I can remember – mostly lying dormant, occasionally giving me an innocuous nudge, and then suddenly bursting forth to produce a mental response that is entirely disproportionate to the circumstances which opened the floodgates.

This is interesting. It is. Disturbing, but interesting.

The whole story is far too long and involved to tell here. Let’s just say that it seems to be centred on Charlotte Brontë’s most terrifying creation, Bertha Rochester, and the unfortunate circumstance of seeing a clip from a TV production of Jane Eyre as a young child. (It was also accidental; the babysitter let me stay up while she was watching the TV.)

The lesson, however, is simple enough. It is that what appears on the surface to have been a minor childhood fear can lie dormant in the sludge at the bottom of the mind, and then rise up to shake your nervous system to its roots many years later. And I wonder whether this is something that can happen to anybody, or whether it’s a condition to which we HSP types are exclusively prone. I wouldn’t know, but I could do with getting to the bottom of it.

And incidentally, I used the nightmare as the foundation for a story once. I thought it might be cathartic. Seems it wasn’t.

*  *  *

And while I’m on the subject of loopiness, I saw a delightful little dog in Ashbourne today. Its human kept tugging at the lead in an attempt to persuade it to walk alongside her, but every time she did the dog would roll onto its back and kick the air with its paws. A number of people stopped to watch this unusual behaviour, and several of them went over to pet the dog. This was clearly what the conniving little terrier wanted, because she became very excited and made a lot of friends. Meanwhile, the human maintained a tolerant smile and offered explanations, the gist of which was ‘My dog is loopy but lovable.’ I can relate to that.

The Hum of Mother Style.

A very big and nearly new Ferrari sports car drove onto the car park in Ashbourne today. It was ugly. The lines were lumpy and it reminded me of something from a 1950s comic book. Emperor Ming-style, you know? And the (no doubt super efficient) braking mechanism was visible, big and bold in yellow, behind the wheel trims. The size, style and colour were out of synch with the rest of the car – functional, I grant, but hardly pretty. Imagine if I’d remarked to the driver:

‘Your car’s ugly.’

‘Ugly!? Ugly!? How can it be ugly, you idiotic Philistine? It’s a Ferrari, for God’s sake, and the latest model to boot!’

That’s the point, isn’t it? It’s a Ferrari, therefore it’s very expensive. And being both expensive and Italian, it must be stylish by default. More than that even, it must be beautiful.

No. It was ugly. Let’s take the badges off so there isn’t a prancing horse in sight, and park it next to a lowly Mini with the badges also removed. For sheer style – and with a view unencumbered by cultural conditioning – I’d go for the Mini.

A Rake's Progress.

I read a news report today about a Chinese man who had seventeen girlfriends, each of whom thought she was the one and only. Their respective delusions came to light when he got sick, went into hospital, and all seventeen visited at the same time.

So now he’s been arrested and charged with trying to defraud the deluded ladies out of money, and the deluded ladies have set up a hate website to get back at him.

Some people just know how to live, don’t they? I think I’m glad I don’t.

Three on the Stronger Sex.

Mel was telling me this evening that she went to a concert given by her friend’s lesbian choir.

‘How were the bass-baritones?’ I asked.

‘A bit wimpy. But nearly all the women in the audience had long hair.’

Which of us was more guilty of stereotyping, do you think?

*  *  *

And now for something completely different. I came across a comment on YouTube by a young woman whose profile pic indicated that she was a bit of a looker. It was followed by a great number of replies from men all over the world offering chat up lines which ranged from the naïve to the lewd, but all frothing at the mouth and falling over backwards. I left a comment of my own which said something to that effect, since I find it perfectly normal that men should be wowed by a pretty face but I wish they wouldn’t be so damn obvious about it (not to mention verging on the illiterate.)

The woman – Sara, from somewhere in the Deep South – replied almost immediately. She got it; she agreed with me (I even got an lol) and a conversation-by-YouTube-comment ensued. As a result, I didn’t get to bed until 4 o’clock, and I even managed to slip in a mildly lascivious comment of my own. It said ‘Pity I don’t like gritz…’ See? Subtle.

*  *  *

And then there was the case of the mysterious headline I saw in last week’s local paper, which said there is ‘a growing problem with middle class women drinkers.’ There’s definitely a joke in there somewhere. There is, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. It’s been driving me crazy all week.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Bemoaning a Mean May.

A good May makes a difference to a year. It sets up the summer and makes it a season to call a season. May is the month of bounty in the garden, the fields, the hedgerows and the woods. Such bounty is nature’s chorus of bold and optimistic youth. It should be stroked by warm and friendly breezes, not assaulted by an icy blast of equinoctial dimension.

For such was the wind haunting the Shire this evening: Icy. And earlier we had frequent squally showers of hail and sleet. I’m sure when Tennyson wrote the line Blow trumpet. The world is white with May, he didn’t have the frozen forms of precipitation in mind.

Translating to Save the Day.

I’d just come out of the wood today and was walking down to the road, when I heard my name called. I looked across to the near-vertical embankment on the other side and saw a lamb standing on top of it. He’d got under the wire fence and was apparently making a bid for adventure.

Heart in mouth time. It’s a fifteen foot drop onto tarmac there, and it didn’t look good. I realised, of course, that my name in lamb language means ‘Hey everybody, look where I am,’ so I spoke sternly to him and he ran back into the field to find his mother. Job done (until the next time.)

Siding with the Other Side.

I had a visit from Union City, Georgia today, which I thought a little strange – the name, that is, not the visit. Isn’t Georgia way down there in Dixie? In which case, why on earth would they give the town a Yankee name? Isn’t that a bit like the French calling one of their towns Wellington?

Monday, 18 May 2015

A Zoe Post.

Hope she doesn’t mind…

She came to the fore because of that old ‘You’re too sensitive’ thing. Let’s go over it again:

Dear Z (blessings be upon her) once asked me: ‘Do you think it’s possible to be too sensitive?’

Answer: ‘No. First you would have to establish what the “correct” level of sensitivity is. Who can do that, and does the concept have any validity anyway? A person is as sensitive as a person is. That’s it.’

I’m so fond of that woman, you know. I am. She’s such a trier. I judged her unreasonably harshly once when she came out of the charity sector and went into advertising. She yelled at me. Quite right, too. I’m surplus to requirements at the moment, but that’s just part of the role.  

On Trials and Travels.

Somebody must have been into my house and changed the wall calendar. It’s on the page for May, but I’ve just been outside and it definitely isn’t May. I could believe early March, but February would be favourite.

*  *  *

Things could be worse. My current horror is the plight of the would-be migrants from Myanmar. They can’t go home and nobody will take them in, so they’re left bobbing around on the Indian Ocean with dwindling food supplies. It seems they’re now killing each other in desperation, which reminds me of how easily the veneer of civilised behaviour slips away when the stakes get high.

There was a time when the poor and oppressed simply went to America, but that isn’t an option any more. As dear Zoe (blessings be upon her) once said to me: ‘The world doesn’t let you wander any more.’ And I’ve always puzzled over how the poor and oppressed paid for their passage anyway. I had a thought about it once when I was walking across a mountain in the west of Scotland, following one of the routes that some of those dispossessed by the Highland Clearances would have taken. It depressed the hell out of me. It seems I get horrified easily when I peruse the darker side of human nature.

‘You’re too sensitive.’

‘We’ve done that one.’

*  *  *

Still, let’s turn the heat down and the lights up. For those who didn’t watch the little excerpt from Duck Soup last night, I should like to quote my favourite line from Groucho:

‘You can leave in a taxi. If you can’t find a taxi you can leave in a huff. And if that’s too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff.’

There, that’s better. And there’s a tiny money spider hiding under my keyboard cable as I type. Good omen, I hope. (It resumed its journey as I typed the last sentence. It’s currently heading north.)

The Corporate World in the Dock.

Back in 2006, two children died on holiday in Corfu. They were killed by carbon monoxide from a faulty heating boiler, and the subsequent inquest found that the tour operator, Thomas Cook, had been deficient in its duty of care.

This has hit the headlines again recently because the parents of the children have been demanding an apology from Thomas Cook, something which the company at first refused to give. When they were forced to bow to public outrage and issued an apologetic letter to the parents, it somehow must have gone astray because the parents only learned about it from the press. Needless to say, this generated more fury.

Today I read that Thomas Cook – the company held to be partly responsible for the tragedy – has been awarded £3m in compensation from the Corfu hotel owner. Seems an odd way to boost profits, doesn’t it? But it gets better. No doubt concerned about their somewhat tarnished image, Thomas Cook has announced that it is to give half the £3m to charity. Only half, mind, only half…

Is this the time to remember a famous phrase used by Edward Heath, an ex Tory Prime Minister, when he spoke of ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism?’ I think it probably is.

Maturing Taste.

My ex wife was a big fan of the Marx Brothers. I didn’t really get them at the time, which I now recognise as indicating that she was way ahead of me. That might be part of the reason why she left (although it wasn’t the main reason…)

The Ostrich Method.

I heard quite a loud knock, knock, knocking at my office window at around 11 o’clock tonight. I considered the matter and decided that if the source had been human, they would surely have knocked on the door. That meant it had to be either a bird, an animal, or something you wouldn’t want to know about. So I ignored it.

If I find a dead body lying on the path in the morning, I’ll let you know. Or I might just delete this post and pretend innocence.

*  *  *

An aside:

As a kid I was a bit of a stamp collector, and I could never understand why Austrian stamps had 'Ostrich' written on them.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Another Peter the Great.

I was just reading various bits and pieces about Peter Cheeseman CBE, the man who founded the theatre where I used to work and which he ran for thirty six years. He died in 2010 after struggling manfully with Parkinson’s disease for the twelve years following his retirement.

I had a minor contretemps with him one night and was later congratulated by one of the production staff. It was rare for anybody to fall out with Peter, especially in public. He was a steadfastly uncompromising sort of person with a predilection for irascibility and an international reputation, the sort of credentials which give a person a certain air of invincibility. One of the actresses I knew called him ‘a gnomey Napoleon.’ Being short in stature but big in most other ways, that’s probably about right.

I doubt that anybody reading this post will have heard of Peter Cheeseman, but the reason for making it is this: However much you disagreed with his reasons for doing or demanding something, you always knew that those reasons were based on honestly held beliefs in the rights and needs of humanity. He was as straight as they come, and that’s rare.

Abusing Auntie.

Here’s an example of modern BBC English spewed onto the BBC website:

‘Farage said of one unnamed critic, whom he did not name…’

Terrible, isn’t it? And now the new, unchained Tory administration is threatening to screw up good old Auntie Beeb even more. Apparently they’re miffed at the Beeb’s election coverage and want revenge. That’s Tories for you.

I signed the Avaaz petition, the one that said:

‘Keep your filthy Tory paws off our BBC. Auntie Beeb is a much loved and highly respected British institution - which is more than can be said of you - and you touch her at your peril. Stick to getting stoned and chasing the wenches around Baskerville Hall, and we hope the hound picks up your ungodly scent.’

At least, that’s what it should have said.

Keeping New York Simple.

I filled an idle moment today reading up on Midtown Manhattan. Don’t ask me why, I suppose it just intrigued (and Zoe mentioned it once – a long, long time ago.)

I’m none the wiser. It was all West this Street, and East that Street, and Business Districts, and Bloomingdales, and ‘most of the skyscrapers,’ and ‘this is the view from somewhere-in-New-Jersey…’

We don’t have that sort of thing in London. London is simple. The East End is the rough bit + yuppies, the West End is the decadent bit, and the City is where they push the illusion of money around.

I concluded that Midtown Manhattan is the bit in the middle of Manhattan. I’m nothing if not rational.