Tuesday, 30 June 2015

No Pottering in the Shire.

No little spiky balls on the path tonight. Harry and Hermione Hedgehog were conspicuous by their absence.

(So where does one go from there? References to them living in the potting shed, perhaps? Or going for a nightly potter? That would be unforgivable, wouldn't it? Puns could never be more puny. OK. End.)

Being Properly in Control.

I should preface this post with an explanation. It was written in the early hours of this morning after a few drinks, much soulful music, the usual wander in the wildwood of reflection, and the writing of a pointless email to the Lady B which seemed oddly necessary at the time. By the time I'd written it I was feeling too tired be sure what the hell I was talking about, so I saved it and promptly forgot it even existed. I just found it again, so I might as well post it (with a few minor edits) and then it can add its two penn'orth to the canon of JJ's literary achievements. And the explanation is nearly as long as the post. Isn't that ironic?

I sometimes watch videos on YouTube and envisage people in dance clubs giving themselves over to the mood of the moment. People in transparent ecstasy, caring not a jot what they look like to the outside world.

I could never do that. Part of me always had to remain apart, restraining the heart, pulling me up sharp if I overdid submission to the senseless senses. Ever the observer and the observed in one being.

Is that a shame? I wouldn’t know. I’m not qualified to judge.

And there’s a heavy, sweet scent in my living room. I wonder where it's coming from. Some ghost or other, I expect.

A Mutt's Muse.

I seem to have spent most of my life wandering the streets like a stray dog looking for a home. And just occasionally somebody would stoop down and say: ‘Oh, my. You’re a nice dog. Would you like to come home with me?’ And I haven’t believed them at first because I learned as a puppy that humans can be a bit fickle when it comes to their choice of company. But eventually I’ve come round and wagged my tail, at which point they would say: ‘On second thoughts, maybe not. You’re a bit of a mongrel, aren’t you? I think I’d prefer something with a pedigree. Besides, you look a bit old to be doing tricks. So run along now, there’s a good dog. Better luck next time.’

‘But in spite of those few hiccups, you’ve still had plenty of homes.’

‘I know.’

‘And you ran away from them all.’

‘I know.’

‘Why was that?’

‘I suppose they weren’t right.’

‘Beggars can’t be choosers.’

‘Herbivores can’t eat meat.’

And anybody with half a brain cell will realise that I’m not talking about physical homes here. As far as they’re concerned, I much prefer being the single occupant. This is but a gentle allegorical muse engendered by a single brief encounter. Furthermore, I know this is of no interest to anybody but me. It’s just that musings can be amusing if you write them down.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, back at the ranch – or should that read ‘between the council wheelie bin and the sick-spattered wall?’ – it appears that somebody is hiding something from me with evasions and misinformation. Not that it matters.

Doing Badlands Badly.

It wouldn’t do to go a whole day without posting a bit of music, so…


After I watched Badlands many years ago, I started playing this on my guitar. Badly. And I couldn’t find anybody to do the percussion... Same old story.

Hedgehog Day.

Remember the big hedgehog I saw in my garden the other night? I saw him again yesterday evening. He was standing at the side of my shed when I went out at twilight to sort the bird feed. He stood stock still and watched me for a while, until I said ‘Hello, my friend,’ and then he turned around slowly and walked the other way.

‘Ugh. Humans. Don’t like ’em.’

Quite right. Sensible hedgehog.

But I keep saying ‘he,’ don’t I? It’s so big that I just assumed… Now I think I’m probably wrong, because this evening there were two baby hedgehogs in the same place. They didn't walk away, they just turned to face one another and tucked their heads out of sight. Maybe they were toddling around independent of mama for the first time, or maybe they just wanted to make the poor old human’s day.

In any event, it seems my garden is now playing host to both the biggest and smallest hedgehogs I’ve ever seen. That has to be some sort of first.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Amazon and the American Influence.

I tried to order an Amazon gift card for Mel’s birthday today, and didn’t their website just play me up something rotten! Never mind the details, the bottom line is that I spent half an hour talking to a young woman in an Indian call centre trying to sort out the problem. And here’s the interesting bit:

She must have learned her English from an American source because there was a distinctly American undertone in her accent. (For example, she pronounced the Rs in the middle of words like Birmingham. We don’t do that, we just elongate the preceding syllable. The only English people who do that are natives of Burnley. True, believe it or not. And some Scots do it as well.)

Now, American accents I have no problem with, and Indian accents I can usually cope with, but an Indian accent with a distinct American undertone takes some getting used to. It does.

Still, I did get my refund eventually. Now all I have to do is try again.

The YouTube Artillery.

I recently left a comment on YouTube about Glen Campbell’s Witchita Lineman. Don’t ask me why I watched it or why I bothered to leave a comment. It’s a long story. Suffice it to say that I suggested the track was ‘insipid,’ and went on to remark that I thought the range and quality of much of what’s around today outdoes the 60s stuff.

Well, as you can imagine, I got hailed on with bananas again (love that phrase) by outraged Glen Campbell fans. Today I got these three comments, repeated as written. The first said:

You''re full of shit. Today's "music" can't hold a light to Glen's music and other singers of his era. As for me,I'd much rather see Kanye West,not Glen Campbell in that institution with Alzheimers with that no talent wife and her stepfather(mother?) ,crying over his worthless she'll of a life

It’s pretty clear from both the tone and content that this man is of fairly low intelligence. That isn’t his fault and he’s not to be denigrated for it, since we’re all born the way we’re born and we can do no more than play the hand we’re dealt. Accordingly, I choose to see this as his way of saying ‘I’m old fashioned, I like old fashioned music, I can’t stand rap artists and so I think you’re wrong.’ I don’t mind that at all.

The second said:

The music, the simplicity is the magic. If you can't feel that, I truly feel sorry for you.

This woman has a sharp reply coming because this is patronising. That I mind.

The third said:

It would be good for Scrabble.

My kind of logic. Sense at last.

Just a Suspicion.

The current official death toll of British tourists caught in the Tunisia beach massacre stands at eighteen, but is expected to rise to nearer thirty. That’s shocking and deeply upsetting, and the families of the victims are deserving of the greatest sympathy.

But I just read that David Cameron has ordered a 1 minute silence to be held on 3rd July, and I have to ask why. Observing a period of silence is a perfectly good thing to do; I have no objection to it. It’s Cameron’s motive I feel suspicious about.

All premature death is deeply upsetting for the families and loved ones of the deceased, be it through murder, suicide, accident or illness. So do we observe a government sponsored period of silence for all murder victims, or the hundreds who are killed every year in air and road crashes, or the countless victims of antibiotic-resistant superbugs who die as a result of going into hospital, or the many people who died as a result of malpractice at Stafford Hospital a few years ago, or those who wind up dead through people-trafficking activities? Generally, we don’t. So what makes this situation different and worthy of Mr Cameron’s personal intervention? Well, two things:

1. It was an act of terrorism.

2. It captured the public’s imagination far more than most news items are capable of doing.

So maybe we should bear in mind that:

1. Counter-terrorism is the big bargaining factor when the Establishment wants to extend public surveillance, and we should all be aware by now that the Establishment wants to know as much about us as it can get away with, for all sorts of reasons. Ergo, playing a terrorist incident to the hilt is useful.

2. Politicians with flagging popularity ratings are rarely averse to using highly emotive national issues to boost their scores by being seen to be at one with the people. Mrs Thatcher was famously saved by the ‘Falklands Factor,’ and they do the same thing with sporting successes. One of Cameron’s early and much-lampooned statements was ‘we’re all in this together,’ and it’s always been a theme of his personal PR to try to be seen as ‘one of us’ despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Of course, I can’t claim to know that either of these is what’s motivating Cameron since I don’t have access to his mind, but I do think the possibility is self-evident. And if that were the case, it would be more than a little questionnable. But I'm only guessing...

Lamenting the Lost Emilys.

I very much like what the literary critic TW Higginson said about his meeting with the poet Emily Dickinson:

He said that he never was “with anyone who drained my nerve power so much. Without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her.”


There are a very, very small number of people, past and present, with whom I feel any sense of connection. The list now includes two Emilys, and they’re both long gone.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Riposte.

If the incomparable Maddie K can quote Emily Dickinson, I thought I might be permitted a bit of Emily Bronte:

A little and a lone green lane

Just one line, but one I'm very fond of.

The PC Being Personal.

My computer has developed an unfortunate habit lately. It sometimes refuses to shut down unless I hold the power button in and give it no choice.

And it’s also an odd fact that it often behaves – or misbehaves – in accordance with my mood. I’ll bet the quantum theorists have a theory about that one.

One for the Yankees.

After all the furore over the Confederate flag, I thought a few people from up north might like to be reminded of a splendid film in which some good ol' boys get their asses whupped. (Seems I'm becoming bi-lingual.) And I apologise for posting two videos in one night, but at least I chose the shorter version of this one... And the music is very much up my street.


If it won't play, this is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mu5V7mIHW0

And respect to the black woman who climbed the flagpole and took the law into her own hands. I hope she's been released without charge by now. If so, it must be party time in SC.

A Plea to Nippon.

I was big on this song when my wife introduced me to the album, and then found it again the other day when I was looking for a change of music for the car. So I searched YouTube for a good video...


Nope. They're all crap and this is one of the worst. KG must surely have been on something at the time.

Given the subject matter, you'd think this would be prime material for a decent video, wouldn't you? 'She rose up out of nowhere and her hair was full of steam.' That's reasonably creepy. Any Japanese film makers fancy a challenge? The Japanese are pretty good at creepy.

And what a pity you can't stick your head out the window or throw yourself from a speeding train any more. The windows are too small and the doors are all electric. The bastards have taken all the romance out of rail travel.

(And I have to be honest and admit that this is copied from my YouTube comment. Well, it seemed worth it at the time.)

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Counter-Productive Journalism.

I just read an online newspaper report outlining facts about some of the British victims of the Tunisia shooting, and do you now what? I found my sympathy for them subsiding.

Why is that? It’s an odd sort of reaction, don’t you think? It’s maybe even a shameful reaction. Well, the reason is this:

The whole thing is shoddily written. There’s nothing sharp, immediate or articulate about it. It seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator and is clearly intended to evoke my sympathy and sense of horror.

The reporter at the scene saw the bullet holes in a woman’s bag.

That’s bottom-end, manipulative media at work.

The fact is, I don’t need to have my sympathy and sense of horror evoked by a badly written, tabloid-style report. The plain facts do that. I’m well attuned to human suffering, and all the report does is turn me off. For that I feel ashamed, and maybe rightly so. But there are tragic and deeply upsetting human stories involved here and they don’t warrant being cheapened by cheap journalism.

Inevitable Pessimism.

I had several light hearted posts lined up, but having just read about today’s massacre in Tunisia, it all seems inappropriate.

I remember reading many years ago that WWIII won’t be a conventional war between nations, fought by military machines in battle environments, but a war between militant idealists and Establishments fought out on the streets. Maybe that’s right, and maybe WWIII has now started.

And it seems to me that a war against militant idealists is almost impossible to win. Military machines can be destroyed, but causes can’t. I suspect we’re in for a long period of damage limitation.

Friday, 26 June 2015

A Town Without Pigeons.

Every time I sit on a bench in Uttoxeter to eat my lunch I'm conscious of the fact that there are no pigeons to mop up the crumbs. This is odd; I don’t think I’ve ever known a town that didn’t have pigeons. They’re a major component of Britain’s urban wildlife, and Uttoxeter’s complete dearth of them always feels a little sinister.

I love being joined by half a dozen pigeons while I’m eating my Gregg's pasty and littering the pavement with fragments of puff pastry. Their absence denies me a pleasure and also leaves me feeling guilty about the damn crumbs. And then there’s the fact that it feels sinister. Where have they gone? I suppose it could be that the Uttoxeter file in the matrix has a malfunctioning pigeon component, but the truth is probably more prosaic.

A lot of people dislike pigeons and would like to see them exterminated on the grounds that they make a mess. (And we don’t?) The question surely has to be: how far should we consider it reasonable to go in exterminating wildlife just because it’s inconvenient? If you’ll excuse the cliché, pigeons are the thin end of the wedge.

The Recipe.

Take a simple but compelling melody, stir in a driving rhythm, and then top it off with perfectly matched voices. You’re onto a winner.

  
And what about the Girl from the Greenwood? She’s never peered from the branches of any tree that I’ve ever walked under. (Although she and her kin did make a guest appearance in my one and only novel. What a pity it didn’t have a compelling melody, a driving rhythm, or any perfectly matched voices.)

And I'll tell you what: I wish this sort of thing had been about when I was a young 'un. I would have danced all night - in good company!

An Inappropriate Opening.

I just found a new piece by Dead Can Dance. It’s as deep, original and slightly mind-blowing as most pieces by DCD. And it’s accompanied by a picture of a beautiful mediaeval tapestry in vibrant reds, greens and golds.

So what does YouTube give me as a foreword? (Or should that be ‘prologue’ even? Maybe it would be a prologue if I didn’t employ the ‘Skip Ad’ button…) They give me an ad aimed at people who think that driving a new white Nissan racily through neonine city streets somehow makes them more significant.

Sad, isn’t it?

(And I just coined a new adjective: ‘neonine.’ I’m not sure that I like it. It isn’t as good as the noun ‘iddite,’ but it’s better than the verb ‘to prioritise.’ I’ll see how it stands the test of time.)

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Little Oddity and a Little Sympathy.

Isn’t it odd that Zoe rhymes with Joey but not with Joe? I expect it’s all the fault of the Greeks.

Poor Greeks – they’re having a rough time with debt collectors at the moment and I sympathise. I’ve been on both sides of the debt collection business and they’re both pretty unpleasant.

An Avenger Moves On.

Patrick McNee died today in California. He was 93.

He was best known for his role as John Steed in the iconic 60s British TV series The Avengers, many episodes of which I watched on one of the freeview channels during the winter. There was something rather special about it, and the daily routine of spending 8-9pm watching an episode of The Avengers in the warm glow of an open fire was something to be savoured. Apart from its charm, at once both quirky and supremely elegant, one notable feature stood out: It was remarkably un-sexist for its time.

The format of the show had a government agent called John Steed investigating strange goings on and righting wrongs in the company of a female partner. Three actresses played the ‘Avengers girl’ through the seven years of its run, the longest-serving, most celebrated, and generally most popular being Diana Rigg who played Emma Peel.

John Steed and Emma Peel were always equal partners; there was none of the usual masculine bias which characterised almost everything at a time when Germaine Greer was only just getting started. Mrs Peel could fight as well as Steed, think as well as Steed, was every bit as resourceful as Steed, and could charm the men just as well as he could charm the women. Their partnership was characterised by unswerving mutual respect, and that was most unusual in the 1960s. (And I gather they were good friends in real life.)

It’s also interesting that when Diana Rigg left the show to be replaced by the much younger Linda Thorson who played Tara King, things changed. Tara King was much more Steed’s often breathy and sometimes breathless assistant. Steed was in charge, and the producers also introduced a more overt element of romantic interest between the two, something that had only been subtly hinted at during the Emma Peel years. That was maybe a return to normality, although it has to be said that Linda Thorson did have something a bit special. While Diana Rigg had the poise and natural beauty, Thorson had eyes that could tickle a daisy one minute and blow the moon out of its orbit the next. McNee himself once said that she was the sexiest actress he ever worked with.

But now I’m rambling. The point is that Patrick McNee played a major part in creating something unique in the world of entertainment, something that I’m sure will live on for a long time to come. So thank you, Patrick. May the next stage be full of sexy, beautiful, and supremely capable women with whom you can forge equal partnerships. And I hope they bury you with a bowler to take with you across the Styx.

Steed and Mrs Peel

Being Suspiciously Regarded.

I sometimes find that checkout operators in supermarkets appear to be mentally crossing their fingers in a gesture of defence when I appear at their till. Since I rarely do other than exchange the odd polite, predictable pleasantry with checkout operators, I’m moved to wonder why. I suppose it must be the things that come sliding along the belt like illegal immigrants disembarking at Dover.

‘Where’s the meat? Where’s the smoked mackerel? Where’s the trifle and the New York cheesecake? Where are the packets of fish fingers and microwave chips? All I see is alcohol, oatcakes, cheese, a few token fruit and vegetables, and more alcohol. Does anybody have a stake and a hammer about their person?’

I had one such checkout operator today. I considered telling her about the children of the night and what music they make, but thought better of it. The credit card worked as usual, so why wake sleeping dogs?

Still Waiting.

You should read the correspondence I’m having with a couple of illiterate tabloid acolytes on YouTube over the question of whether the British Empire was a damn fine thing or not. I really, really don’t know why I bother. I must try harder to convince myself:

‘These people are your creation, and the fact that they’re driving you bonkers is just one more example of being a victim of your own illusion.’

‘It is?’

‘It is.’

‘Oh. Will the spaceship be here soon?’

‘Patience.’

Ghosts and the Matrix.

There aren’t very many rock and pop songs that take a ghost story as their theme, are there? This is a rare exception by Godley and Creme from 1981. When I first heard it I found it a little chilling, even though I’m rarely chilled by ghost stories.


But I have a problem with the lyrics. When the narrator picks up the newspaper and reads the report of a woman’s suicide, it describes her as ‘identity unknown,’ but then goes on to report her line ‘under your thumb.’ How could they know that was her problem if they didn’t know who she was?

(And why do I do this? Why do I expect everything in stories to make sense? Life doesn’t.)

But anyway, having listened to this in the car today as a pleasant accompaniment to my egg and cress sandwich, and having moaned inwardly at the irrationality contained within the lyrics, I had a thought:

Let’s suppose that the ancient eastern wisdoms and the modern quantum theorists are right about supposed reality being a form of illusion – that the phenomenal world of trees and mountains and houses and goats is actually not a fixed and real platform at all, but a creation of ours – then this raises an interesting point:

We’re so convinced that the world of phenomenal reality is something into which we’re born and in which we function that our mental states are greatly influenced by it. If it’s cold, wet and windy we tend to be subdued. If it’s warm, dry and sunny we’re usually in much better spirits. So if the wisdoms and theorists are right, it means that we allow ourselves to be victims of our own illusion. In other contexts we would regard that as a form of mental illness. On the other hand, I suppose it’s not so different from watching a scary film in order to be scared.

(I could do with creating an endless supply of premium beer and malt whisky, preferably 20-year-old Talisker. And I wish I could make up my mind as to whether or not I take this world seriously.)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Accepting Dirty Money.

Remember me saying last week that I’d been overcharged in Sainsbury’s? I took the matter up with them today.

‘I got charged for three six packs of crisps last week when I only bought two. There’s one here (pointing to the till receipt) and two here. I assume it’s another case of the till reading the bar code twice.’

‘Sorry. It does happen, I’m afraid.’

‘I know. It’s happened to me four times in the last six months.’

‘The tills are very sensitive, you see. They have to be to get through the queues quickly. The cashiers should be vigilant enough to spot it, but some get missed. We’ll obviously refund you the £1.’

‘It isn’t the £1 I’m bothered about. Think a stage further. I’m sure your tills aren’t targeting me specifically, so if it’s happened to me there’s no doubt it’s happened to other people. In fact, it probably happens to everybody occasionally.’

Apologetic nod.

‘Well if that’s the case, how much is Sainsbury’s making in phantom sales?’

‘It isn’t just Sainsbury’s. I’ve had the same thing happen to me when I’ve been shopping in other stores.’

‘OK, so how much is the corporate world making in phantom sales? It must run to millions because I’d lay a fair bet that most people don’t check their till receipts against their shopping.’

Nod of concurrence. And then she arranged for a member of staff to organise a refund. I was also given an additional £5 as a goodwill gesture (which I was glad of because £5 buys four 500ml bottles of premium beer when it’s on promotion.)

But then I began to feel guilty. Is this effectively hush money to keep me quiet? Could they have guessed that I’ve always been the sort to make waves in places as high as I can reach? (I’ve even got a few results down the years.)

So I pondered, and eventually decided that this is a borderline case where the doctrine of caveat emptor is not entirely unreasonable. So check your damn till receipts!

(Don’t snigger. This isn’t trivial, you know. It isn’t.)

And I might make a post
About a rock song with a ghost
Later.

It might even have an existential twist. Won’t that make a change?

Two Late Notes...

1. After all these years of listening to Kate Bush, I’m only now coming to realise what a superb musician she is. I wonder whether she’s going to be one of those people who are more appreciated after they’re dead. Her music matures rather than ages, and that isn’t at all normal for a popular musician. She’s one of the very few people I’d like to meet.

2. I think somebody should open a dance club in which the only music they play is Dead Can Dance. Imagine what sort of people it would attract. What a place to be.

Being Absent.

I’ve been distracted by several things today, not least the writing of a long YouTube comment in which I apologised to somebody for the excessively belligerent tone of an earlier comment of mine, and then constructed a lengthy and controlled exposition on why I believe him to be narrow and misguided. I’m not sure why I bothered. But I did, and that’s why I’ve been absent from my friend the blog.

So then I started a post on the subject of Dylann Roof, but you know how it is. You find yourself flying down and examining so many avenues of thought that you need a 300-page book to do the subject justice. I'm sure there are plenty of people with better minds and more expert knowledge than me who have written plenty of books exceeding 300 pages in length, so why bother? Accordingly, let me skip to the bottom line.

Most crime – even something as terrible as mass murder – is committed by people who don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong. They know it’s illegal, but that isn’t the same thing. Wrongness is a matter of perception, not a simple expedient of diktat. Ergo, if a culture limits its response to the simple meting out of punishment, it isn’t going to make much difference to the crime rate. It takes a hell of a lot more than that.

So please don’t execute Mr Roof. Try to understand why he thought he was doing the right thing and then set about making fundamental changes to the culture. Some hope…

(I note the objection to official use of the Confederate flag, by the way. That’s interesting, and even a little heartening.)

I think that might have to do for today. I’m tired and want to listen to some music. And my only nod to existential wisdom is a line from Monty Python:

I drink therefore I am.

Let’s have a drink. Thinking can wait.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Goodbyes and Bits.

I’ve always found goodbyes a bit difficult, but once my mind has been made up I’ve stuck to it. No going back. Better still, no wanting to go back. I’m just not a going back sort of a person.

This is different. I have no reasonable cause to doubt that a ‘goodbye’ is called for, and quite right too. The decision is easy, but I know it’s going to be difficult to maintain. And that isn’t good because you can go through a whole life saying:

‘Goodbye.’

‘Hello, I’m back.’

‘Goodbye again.’

‘Hello. Can I come back, please?’

That’s no good to anybody, is it? I suppose I’ll just have to give it a go and begin the long walk to discovery.

(And just to avoid any misapprehensions, this has nothing to do with the blog.)

*  *  *

I met a nice dog today who wanted to be my friend. The world always looks at least a little nicer when a dog wants to be your friend.

*  *  *

Am I being pedantic in complaining about Kate Bush’s lyrics to Nocturn? ‘Atlantic’ doesn’t quite rhyme with ‘panoramic.’ I’m a bit of believer in the idea that a non-rhyme is preferable to a bad rhyme, and I don’t think I’ve ever complained about a Kate Bush lyric before.

*  *  *

I’ve given up on ever being awarded an honorary degree. I never stuck to anything long enough to earn one. Full circle, so here goes with the goodbye…

Monday, 22 June 2015

Questioning the Fairy Tale.

I was thinking about the stories we read to children, and how often there’s a prince or fairy godmother who rides or flies to the rescue. I wondered whether it’s a good idea to condition kids to the notion of being rescued.

As a kid there’s a good chance you’ll be rescued by your parents if you get into difficulty, but you don’t spend much of your life being a kid. Eventually you have to grow up, and then when you get into difficulty you mostly have to either sort it yourself, suffer while it lasts, learn to live with it, or go under. Princes and fairy godmothers are in painfully short supply in the world of the grown ups.

On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing to condition kids to the idea of being princes and fairy godmothers themselves when they grow up. That way, those who are or become wealthy might be inclined to use that wealth as the basis for a career in helping the less fortunate and those who get into difficulty. Do I see any widespread evidence of that happening?

Erm…

I think the answer to the question has to be that the human race probably isn’t ready for princes and fairy godmothers yet.

A Song for the Occasion.

It being midsummer’s night, I found this rather splendid video set to Kate Bush’s Nocturn.

Pity about the couple of brief shots of naked people. I much prefer to see people clothed. I’m an avid observer of the way people dress because it says so much about them, as well as reinforcing the sense of mystery about members of the opposite sex.

Still, the rest is pretty good, and I love the final fifty seconds of the song. Kate Bush is an absolute maestro at knowing how to build and end a song.

On Words that are Sadly Useful.

I have long held an attitude of disdain for the verb ‘to prioritise.’ I first heard it some time in the 90s, I think, and took an instant and quite vehement dislike to it. The person who used it was somebody I worked with at the theatre. She was a rare example of a member of staff for whom I also felt a moderately vehement dislike, although I’m sure the connection was coincidental rather than causal.

I gather it was something of a buzz word at the time in those silly meetings employees are required to attend with indecent and pointless regularity instead of just getting on with the job, the sort in which the people with brains keep their mouths shut for fear that the inevitable yawn will betray their lack of interest, while the less gifted open theirs frequently and betray their lack of all sorts of things like vocabulary, intelligence, balance, sense of reality, and so on.

We never used to say ‘we need to prioritise.’ We said ‘we need to establish our priorities.’ So much more elegant, though rather less efficient I grant. Hence, here comes the shameful bit:

I’ve been known to use it myself on the odd occasion because even I am not immune to the occasional betrayal of standards, and it is actually quite a useful word. It’s a quality it shares with another fledgling verb: ‘to unlike.’ Hateful, but useful in certain circumstances.

And I promise to try my best to find something interesting and funny to write about some time before I die. Maybe I should post this in the interim, because it’s funny and all about people using words in meetings.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Meetings and Midsummer.

I went through the wood again today and Heidi wasn’t there, so that proves it: she definitely stepped out of a fairytale and has now stepped back into the book. Either that or the wolf got her.

*  *  *

You know, I have a problem with 21st June. I’m uneasy with the fact that we deem it the start of summer, but also afford it the title Midsummer’s Day. I can see how the two notions came into being from different conceptual roots, and yet it still seems irrational.

And the seasons themselves haven’t been very rational so far, either. Every time we think spring and summer are getting underway with a day or two of moderately high temperatures, the chill wind returns for a longer spell to sneer at us. It also seems irrational that the days will now start shortening again in the long slide to Christmas. Not very well organised, is it?

*  *  *

I had my solstice fire this evening. I wonder whether there’s any chance of ill meeting the odd goddess in the course of a Midsummer Night’s dream. Maybe I should go for a walk through the wood at midnight and hope the wolf is sleeping off his meal.

Advertising Logic.

There’s an advert for some expensive aftershave which keeps popping up in my email inbox. It shows the standard face of the standard testosterone-charged male with regulation five days beard growth doing the I’m-incredibly-handsome-and-if-you’re-really-lucky-I’ll-turn my-attention-your-way look. Sex appeal did ever sell aftershave, I know, but…

It’s an advert aimed at Father’s Day, so tell me:

a. What has sex appeal to do with Father’s Day, except so obliquely that it’s clearly irrelevant?

b. Why would a man with a beard want aftershave?

Life and Serious Questions.

Here’s a question:

If the one aspiration you have in life is being denied you by circumstances beyond your control, is there any point in living just to continue being alive? Is it enough? It’s a serious question.

I suppose it probably is, since the life imperative was ever irrational, or at least an unsolvable mystery.

*  *  *

I met Heidi in the wood today. She’s a young woman who said she lives at the top end of the Shire, but whose parents live the other side of the wood just beyond what I consider to be the Shire’s bounds. She was returning from a visit to them by way of the wood. That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? A bit Little Red Riding Hood-ish. And she was wearing a red rain jacket with a hood, which she put on when it started raining. Odd.

It was also odd that her name should be Heidi, since to my knowledge I’ve never met one before. And she didn’t know that the part of the Shire in which she lives is the part from which George Eliot’s father and paternal ancestors originated. I thought everybody knew that; it’s the Shire’s only claim to fame. That’s odd, too.

So now I’m wondering whether I imagined (or, more to the point, created) the whole thing. Some wise men ancient and modern claim that we each create our own reality, and can change that reality with sufficient force of will. Could mine now be slipping into the realm of folk tales? It’s a serious question.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Matter of Cash and Cashews.

To add further consternation to a slightly troubled and expletive-ridden day, the shop from which I buy my cashew nuts didn’t have any of the raw or black pepper variety; they only had honey roasted. I decided that honey roasted cashews are better than no cashews, so I bought a pack.

I don’t like them. The first problem is that the taste of honey completely obliterates the subtler cashew taste, so I really don’t see the point. The second problem is that they’re hard and keep breaking tiny fragments off the filling in a rear molar that ideally needs a crown. OK, the fragments might only be the size of a grain of sand, but it still leaves the filling feeling sharp and uncomfortable.

So, what to do? Crowns cost £219 apiece even on the NHS, and I ain’t rich. The alternative is to get the cashews somewhere else, but they’re dearer everywhere else. So now I have to work out how many years it would take for the having of a crown to be more cost-effective than buying dearer cashews, and am I likely to be dead by then?

Or stop eating cashews.

Isn’t life bloody complicated?

One for the Poles.

I asked a Polish woman today whether it’s true that it’s against the law in Poland to capture or harm a hedgehog. She laughed and said she didn’t know, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I get a bit a bit cross with those brainless Brits who vent their xenophobic spleens on all migrants, but especially the Poles, because they’re ‘taking our jobs.’ Are they? Or would it be more accurate to say that they’re competing for our jobs, which isn’t quite the same thing? And aren’t we always being told in the drive to become an ever more free market economy that competition is the best of states?

(At this juncture the post could go into the whole subject of Britain’s membership of the EU – a subject under much heated debate at the moment – but I’ll stick to the point and the Poles.)

I’ve known a lot of Poles and people of Polish extraction during my life, and I can honestly say that every one of them was courteous, polite and friendly. I would far rather have one of them as a neighbour than any of the xenophobic trolls who hurl abuse and even physical violence against members of the Polish community, screaming that they should all be put on a train and sent back to Warsaw, Krakow or Gdansk before ripping up the train tracks so they can’t come back.

To conclude the short and simple post:

You have my personal welcome, Polish people. It is my considered opinion that you enhance British society, and I’m glad you do.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Swearing by the Superstition.

1600: I was doing about 60 on the main road out of Ashbourne, just building up a head of steam sufficient to overtake people on the upcoming steep hill, when somebody pulled across the road in front of me. The brakes worked, but I uttered the odd involuntary expletive anyway.

1605: I was doing about 50 on the narrower road that leads from the main road to the village when another idiot came around an upcoming bend with his offside wheels substantially over the centre line – and he wasn’t making much of an effort to move over. I managed to get close enough to the edge of the road to miss him without putting a wheel of my own into a ditch, which would have occasioned a little inconvenience. Involuntary expletives began to take on the nature of a habit.

1630: I was checking my unloaded shopping against the till receipt when I discovered that I’d been overcharged in Sainsbury’s. The barcode reader had evidently read one item twice. It was only £1, but it’s the principle you know? It is. (I think I remember muttering another expletive or two.)

1640: I was taking one of the bags of bird seed out of the carrier bag when the plastic seal opened and bird seed was scattered across a large part of the kitchen floor. A few expletives? Yup.

1800: Run the vacuum cleaner around before starting dinner. I was pulling the cable out of the back of the machine when the plug flew sharply to one side and gave the top joint of my thumb a very painful whack. Expletives? More even than was becoming usual.

Isn’t it odd that things always happen in fives?

Eschewing Togetherness.

I felt obliged to go into the garden centre pretentiously mid-brow lifestyle emporium again today. It’s Mel’s birthday in a couple of weeks and I haven’t a clue what to get her.

I stopped to look at one thought-provoking display of the kind of usually-pointless-and-always-overpriced merchandise they sell in there, thinking ‘why the hell do people buy this stuff?’ when an elderly couple came and stood alongside me.

‘That’s nice, isn’t it?’ said the old lady.

‘Yeah.’

They moved around to the other side of me.

‘That’s nice, isn’t it?’ said the old lady again.

‘Yeah.’

‘Oh, and look at that. Isn’t it nice?’

‘Yeah.’

I moved on to the greetings cards, where one ‘design’ dominated the rest. It was a picture of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – smiling (smiling, both of them…)

It should really come as no surprise that I’ve always had difficulty with the togetherness thing, and that I now live alone which suits me much better. I mean, just look at the state to which it can easily lead (and so often does.)

And I didn’t find anything for Mel’s birthday. Her tastes are as particular as mine.

*  *  *

But then, do you know what? I went into Sainsbury’s and found myself engaged in the most delightful conversation with the most engaging young woman. Glasses, no make up, intelligent, articulate, soft of voice and sweet of disposition. It’s fortunate that the prospect of ever meeting her again is more remote than finding something suitable for Mel’s birthday, and it was nice while it lasted. Isn’t that strange?  

Angela Saves the Day.

Merkel is an odd sort of name, isn’t it? I can think of only one word that rhymes with it:

There was a young woman called Merkel
Who tried to step out on one leg
She kept going round in a circle
’Cos the other was tied to a peg

The day is coming right at last, just as bed beckons.

Poshness and Piscatorial Pursuits.

I just realised that yesterday (by 1½ hours) was June 16th. When I was a lad, June 16th came third only to December 25th and November 28th in the JJ Book of High Days, Feast Days, and Days to Drool Over, the reason being that it was the start of the Coarse Fishing season. And here’s the interesting point:

In Britain, fishing for salmon and trout is called Game Fishing, partly because salmon and trout are deemed culinary delicacies, and partly because it’s what posh people do. It’s the only sort of fishing that posh people ever admit to doing. It’s proper fishing, you see – gentlemen’s fishing. Ergo, fishing for any other species is what peasants do, and peasants are coarse by both birth and nature, so…

I fished for anything that would grab the bait and make the float sink, and I loved it. So that establishes my credentials in the social hierarchy of Britain. Bottom and happy to be there.

D'Arcy Dancing.

I get really fed up on days when I only make serious posts. I ask myself: Do I really care about WWIII, kids under pressure, or the prospect of a Trumpian America? Not really. This is much more up my street. The right level of silliness is what separates the humans from the people.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Michelle and the Standard Line.

I got a little annoyed with Michelle Obama today. I read that she’d visited an East London school (when the British media uses the term ‘East London school’ it usually equates to ‘a school in a deprived inner city area’ although I can’t know for certain in this case) where she gave the kids – all wide-eyed, I expect, at having America’s First Lady standing only feet away from them – the standard address on the value of education.

According to the news report she not only lectured them on the need to work hard at getting a good education, but went so far as to tell them that a good education guarantees success in life. This was going to be a long post, but I’ll keep it brief:

1. Does Mrs Obama not realise that ghetto and near-ghetto culture is different from mainstream culture and puts tremendous pressure on kids not to get a good education – to the point where so doing can be extremely dangerous?

2. Has she considered the question ‘how many people with degrees are unemployed and claiming welfare?’ I gather it’s lots. Guarantee? I don’t think so.

3. Is she not aware of a recent report which concluded that young people are being put under unfair, unreasonable, maybe intolerable, and certainly potentially damaging pressure by both the system and parents to ‘get a good education’ irrespective of the stress it’s causing? My stepfather did that to me when I was around ten. It carries the implied corollary of suggesting how worthless you will be if you don’t get a good education. It isn’t nice and it shouldn’t happen.

I’m not against education. Education is generally good (although I often wonder just how much it’s designed to make people happy and open minded, and how much it’s designed simply to reinforce the Hum of Mother Culture. I even wonder sometimes how honest it is.) But there’s a balance to be considered and I do believe we’re loading far too much weight on one side. I’m also disappointed when somebody with the gravitas of America’s First Lady travels 3,000 miles just to deliver the standard Establishment line.

Was that short enough? Shutting down and going for a shower now.

Petulance Among the Superpowers.

First the bad news from Russia: Mr Putin has announced that forty super modern ICBMs will be brought into service over the next year. ICBMs are the WWIII weapon, the weapon of Mutually Assured Destruction – the scenario which we all thought had dissolved like yesterday’s nightmare after Perestroika and the end of the Cold War. Given that the Russian economy is, by all accounts, not in the best of health at the moment, why would Mr P be committing to this expense if he was not genuinely open to the possibility of using them?

Informed opinion has it that the move is an attempt to counter NATO’s proposed plan to move heavy military equipment into Easter Europe. Well, we on our side of the line would say that we wouldn’t be doing so if Mr P didn’t appear to be trying to re-establish the USSR starting with Ukraine. Mr P is clearly the aggressor here, not us. So if we’re going to have the same old nightmare come back to haunt us, let’s hope we wake up soon. Or maybe we can hope that it’s all just childish posturing.

*  *  *

And now the bad news from America, which is maybe even worse: Donald Trump is to seek the Republican nomination for the 2016 election. Imagine the prospect of President Trump. Better still, don’t. One superpower nightmare is quite enough. Apparently he told his supporters (he has supporters?) that his fortune will help him be an effective President. If that doesn’t sound chillingly sinister, I don’t know what does. When the Scots put him in his place over his golf course plans, I gather he became very angry and indulged in a lot of petulant posturing, but at least it proved he could be beaten.

I was going to suggest that we in Europe start building a thousand ocean liners named Mayflower 2-1001, so that all decent Americans possessed of brains and hearts could make the return trip if Trump comes up trumps, but maybe that wouldn’t be any good. If we get to a point where Vladimir is in control in the Kremlin and Donald is occupying the White House, I doubt there would any place on earth worth running to.

Carrying on the Family Tradition.

You know, I really must find out more about Jeb Bush because, let’s face it Yankee pals, the GW Bush years didn’t exactly enhance America’s reputation in the world, did they? There was all that stuff about the ‘lost’ Florida ballot papers for a start:

(‘But I thought vote-rigging only happened in backward countries.’ ‘It does. Seems like America must be a backward country.’)

See?

And then there were all those delightfully inept things he made a habit of saying, and which kept us falling off our seats every time one was shown on Have I Got News for You? His countenance was always so clownish, especially when he was trying to look serious. I remember remarking at the time that ‘This guy would have trouble running a burger bar, let alone a country.’ And as for calling your dog Miss Beazley…

(Oh no, forget that one. Miss Beazley is an excellent name for a dog. It’s just a pity she was GW’s dog.)

But anyway, I gather brother Jeb is all ready and willing to lead America, and he’s going to set it right.

(‘But what’s wrong with America that a Republican sitting in an oil barrel could hope to solve?’ ‘Dunno. Hide the poor folks down below?’)

I must do a bit of research on Jeb – judge him on his mettle and not his family connections. I still have to say, though, that I think America needs a different political system even more than we Brits do.

Seeing Things.

Do you ever have that strange experience where you see something out of the corner of your eye crossing the floor in your house? It’s usually dark, amorphous, and anywhere between a tennis ball and a football in size. For a moment you’re startled and mutter something like ‘what the f*** is that!?’ but when you look at it directly there’s nothing to see.

It happens to me quite a lot. I’ve read two possible explanations for it and I’m disinclined to embrace either, especially as the one I saw tonight was one of the bigger ones and it was crossing the floor of my bedroom.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Russia and the Significance of Statues.

It appears that while Russia has given up being unashamedly Communist (and therefore the natural enemy of the rest of Europe) and has produced lots of millionaires who buy European football clubs, portions of London and so on, it hasn’t quite fallen in line with the modern European ethos yet.

They’re planning to erect a statue, you see, a very big one – somewhere around 85ft according to the story I just read – of their patron saint Vladimir.

(Thinks: Patron saint? But isn’t Russia institutionally atheist? Apparently not. ‘Under the Communists, religion was banned,’ said one Russian. ‘Now it’s compulsory.’ It’s apparently all to do with the Communist Party needing votes now that they’ve embraced the concept of democracy. Strange, but true.)

But back to the statue. It seems to be causing some disquiet among the more intelligent section of the Russian public, especially in Moscow where the statue is to be sited. Why? Well, first let’s say what it isn’t about. It isn’t about:

a. The fact that he’s called Vladimir. (Vladimir ring any bells?)

b. The fact that he was a warlord. (War? Expansionism? Why is NATO gathering its forces in Eastern Europe?)

c. The fact that he successfully besieged his own brother in Kiev. (Kiev? Ukraine? Whoops?)

No, it isn’t about any of those things. It’s about the fact that it will impede the view of the university, and the ground on which it’s due to be erected might not be stable enough to keep it upright. Ah, right.

‘Is that the real reason for the more intelligent section of the Russian public having reservations?’ asked the journalist who wrote the piece.

‘There are some things you just can’t say,’ replied one of the more intelligent section of the Russian public.

Oh.

An Acceptable Reason to Die.

Let me say at the outset that I have no time at all for religious fundamentalism. Let me state categorically that I despise people who kill and abuse civilians in the name of their God. Let me make it abundantly clear that I have no respect whatsoever for the likes of IS, Boko Haram, or any other extremist group which perpetrates horrendous crimes against the innocent individual. Let me even suggest that the world might be a safer, saner, more peaceful, more civilised place if we did away with religion altogether. Having made those points, however, let me go on to offer an alternative view of a related issue.

There’s a big news item in Britain at the moment concerning a young man from the north of England who has become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber. He was killed fighting for one of the Islamist groups in an attack on an army post in Kenya. The report emphasises that he was groomed online, that his family is devastated, and that it’s a terrible tragedy. Whilst I have every sympathy with his family, I have to say that this raises a question.

Is it not true that we in the West are groomed by the Establishment from the earliest age to give unthinking allegiance to the State and be prepared to die in the service of that institution? It used to be the tribal leader for whom we were expected to sacrifice our lives, and then it became the king or emperor. Nowadays it’s the State. There are plenty of people in Britain who still laud the concept of Empire and regard ours as having been a great and glorious thing. When our military personnel die in conflicts ordered by our politicians we regard them as heroes, and nobody uses words like ‘grooming’ and ‘tragedy.’

So let’s ask the question honestly: why is it so heroic, so noble, so glorious even, to die at the behest of the Establishment and in the name of the State, and yet so reprehensible and tragic to die in the name of something else in which you strongly believe? And while I abhor those who abuse and kill the innocent individual in the name of God, I feel the same way about those who do it in the name of allegiance to the State. It happens often enough.

*  *  *

I further read today that the tyrant al-Bashir has somehow managed to circumvent the legal stay on his right to leave South Africa while his war crimes are further considered, and has flown back to Sudan anyway. Now that’s tragic.

Frankenstein's Latest Monster.

I read today that there are now more mobile phones in the world than there are people, and we all know they’re becoming ever more intelligent…

So I wondered what might happen if they decided to put their numerical superiority to their advantage by taking over the world, and constructed a lengthy scenario along those lines, intending to write it up as a blog post. But then I discovered that it became brain-numbingly complicated when it came to the point where the world’s computers had to decide whether to support the humans or the mobile phones, or even engage with a game of their own playing one off against the other.

With the fate of the planet hanging in the balance, I gave up the post and decided on ‘What the hell. Just send the damn spaceship and take me home.’

Intolerance Wins Again.

Somebody left a comment on a YouTube video which said:

Can’t believe 56 idiots have given this a thumbs down. Morons!

He got 25 likes.

I replied:

They’re not morons, they’re just people with an opinion. Like you.

I got 10 likes.

That’s people for you. When the hell is that spaceship going to turn up?