Thursday, 30 July 2015

Being America's Enemy and a Tough Decision.

Remember the woman on YouTube who told me that Jesus is the Christ, that the canonical Gospels are the most accurate of all sources of history, and that if I don’t accept this fact before I die I’m in trouble? You might also remember that I withdrew from the fray because fighting over unknowables is pretty pointless. Well, she had to have the last word, and what a chilling word it was:

‘You’re arrogant and amoral, and it’s people like you who are spoiling America.’

So what fate now awaits me even before I die? If you can get prosecuted in America for spoiling the neighbourhood by having a bare patch in your front lawn, what the hell happens to you if you spoil the whole of America? Was that black Chevy with the tinted windows, which was parked up just where I walk every week, pure coincidence? Should I start sleeping with the light on? Should I dig a priest hole under the living room floor? Could I live with the irony if I did?

Let’s change the subject…

Imagine you’re completely down and out and living as a beggar on the street, and further imagine that a little girl approaches and offers you the pound she’d been given to buy an ice cream. What the hell would you do? Take the money and deprive a little girl of her ice cream? Refuse it and deny her the grace of a charitable act? Would you be able to live with yourself ever again if you did either?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Spirit of Silliness.

I know I’ve mentioned this before but I have to mention it again. I do.

Something just reminded me of that incident a couple of years ago when a man had to be rescued by the British coastguard. He was sailing a small dinghy along the English Channel en route to America, equipped only with a pack of biscuits and a map of Southampton.

If there’s one thing that can evoke a sense of national pride even in me, that has to be it. If the world was full of people like that, it would surely be better.


So please, could we just forget about economics, patriotism, religion, the pursuit of power, ideological control mechanisms and superficial lifestyle concerns. You know, the sort of things which are supposed to get our juices flowing. Couldn’t we instead concentrate on tolerance, respect, kindness and the perception of beauty?

In furtherance of this notion, and out of sheer curiosity, I Googled ‘images of beautiful women.’ I didn’t get any. What I got was:

1. Pictures of glamorous women.

2. Pictures of undressed glamorous women.

3. Pictures of undressed ordinary women.

4. Pictures of men in frocks wearing lots of lipstick.

That wasn’t quite what I meant, Google…

I must try to shrug off this obsessive drive to get to the nub of what matters. Silliness suits me better. Tomorrow, maybe.

Being Made in God's Image.

Having mentioned in a previous post my sense of bemusement at what is and isn’t acceptable in Britain, I thought I’d turn my attention to our friends in America.

You see, it’s been bothering me a bit lately that an American President assumes the right to go flying around Africa lecturing their leaders on what is and isn’t acceptable. He tells them that if they want to get on the world they have to start seeing their affairs through American eyes and doing things the American way. So does that include allowing citizens to walk around the streets with loaded guns in their pockets, while threatening to prosecute people who have bare patches in their front lawns, as happened to an American acquaintance of mine? (Actually, it wasn’t she who was so threatened, it was a neighbour of hers. My acquaintance was threatened with prosecution for having a back fence that wasn’t quite straight. Apologies.)

And then there’s the Chinese. I gather that if you disagree with the official line in China you end up dying mysteriously in police custody. And if you join the ranks of those petitioning to have the body released to the family, the police come along and beat you to a pulp. Odd.

So what about Austria? A friend of Mel’s who lives there told her that Austrian society is becoming so frighteningly over-regulated that it’s difficult to breathe. Also odd.

I could go on, couldn’t I? I could turn my gaze to certain states where any divergence from the letter of religious dogma (as interpreted by the dominant sect) gets you stoned to death while the police turn a blind eye.

I could, so is it any wonder that I really don’t want to be of this world until the human animal at least makes some attempt to grow up?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

When BT Comes to Trial.

I had an email this evening from British Telecom. It sought to advise me that they’re always seeking to improve things on my behalf, and that’s why they’re going to give me a free subscription to a US crime and drama TV series.

Are they kidding me? Seriously. Are they? Why would they think that anyone in possession of a brain cell would want such a thing? And why would they think that I would have any truck whatsoever with subscription TV as long as the BBC manages to hold off the Tory wolves? And why, pray, would British Telecom of all the dubious corporations on planet Earth be giving away this tiny fragment of reject candyfloss? The answer was in the next paragraph:

They’re raising my line rental fee from September, and by an amount way above inflation, of course. And can you believe that this came on the very day when I was already seething with anger and frustration at other money-grabbing excesses perpetrated by the unscrupulous Nazis at British Telecom? Everything I ever encounter regarding British Telecom is bad, and every time I have to have any sort of dealings with them I’m left seething with anger and frustration. I don’t understand why the regulator hasn’t found a way to put them out of business because they’re terrible people. I can’t describe how much I hate the bastards.

Or can I? Let’s see…

I’m not a vindictive person – really I’m not – but when the revolution comes and I get the job of sitting on the judge’s bench, the brutal excesses of Islamic State will pale beside the fate I shall feel inclined to bestow on the executives of British bloody Telecom. I read recently that two of Countess Bathory’s accomplices were sentenced to have their finger pulled off their hands with red hot pincers before they were burned to death. If I’m either in a good mood or bored the day the BT bully boys stand before me, they might get away with something as lenient as that. If, on the other hand, I’m feeling imaginative…

Is that description enough?

Action Man.

Tonight’s supposedly premium beer is cloudy and vinegary. That’s a sign of either a badly kept cellar or an unusually hot and sultry summer. You shouldn’t get vinegary beer from a bottle, especially in a summer that hasn’t yet surpassed the typical expectations of mid-May, so I just sent an email of complaint to the brewery in the hope of maybe getting a couple of free bottles. That’s what’s known as being a real go-getter.

(I’m still drinking it anyway, and putting the first hint of a stomach upset down to imagination. It’s just that I can’t face wasting £1.)

Monday, 27 July 2015

Pale Patriot Makes Enemies.

I can’t say I’m much of a patriot. It seems to me that the line between patriotism and jingoism is confusingly blurred, and patriotism so easily leads to the Great Delusion:

My country is the best country in the world.

Clearly tosh. There’s no such thing as the best country in the world, nor the worst, come to that – unless you count Wales, only kidding.

(Seriously – ONLY KIDDING. I don’t want any Welshmen knocking on my door and spitting at me while speaking in tongues to the effect that they were here first and the English are just a bunch of illegal immigrants. Please. I really am only kidding.)

And hasn’t anybody noticed that America is the only country in which ‘We are the best country in the world’ is so ingrained in the subtext of the Constitution that even Presidents are allowed to say so in public?

The one time I allow myself to descend to the depths of (rather silly) patriotism is during an international rugby match. Then I get patriotic for eighty minutes. And the Rugby World Cup is due to start in less than two months, so there might be an unfamiliar JJ around for a couple of weeks. I promise to support the USA and Ireland, too, as long as they’re not playing England.

And while I’m on the subject of the USA and the Irish connection, does anybody know where I can get a Go Hillary! car sticker? It’s odd that I should care what happens in America, but I do.

I dislike national anthems as well, especially God Save the Queen and that bloody awful Italian effort that doesn’t know when to stop.

(I don't mind the American, French, German and Russian national anthems. At least they sound a bit like music.)

Skewed Values.

Those who read last night’s story about the peer, the prostitute and the snorting habit might be interested to hear the latest: He’s been given what amounts to unpaid leave from his duties at the House of Lords while his fate is decided, and he’s been reported to the police for a criminal offence. So let’s ask a question:

What does it say of a society’s value system that a politician can face the ruination of his career and possible imprisonment for having a bit of fun – however sordid it might seem in the eyes of Middle England – which did nobody any harm, and yet a British Prime Minister can get away scot free with sending thousands of men into bloody warfare on the basis of something he knew to have been untrue?

Not much?

Media Goes OTT.

In the city where I used to live, and where I originally grew up, it wasn’t all that uncommon to see young men in passing cars throw objects in the general direction of pedestrians. It happened to me a few times. It’s a bit annoying, but you eventually calm down and accept that it’s just kids having their silly idea of fun. Today I read this headline and subtext in the city newspaper:

Dog Walker Targeted in Drive By Attack!

48-year old hit on the arm by missile thrown from car.

That was exciting. Seems I grew up in the Bronx and nobody ever told me. I searched the pages in search of something else to excite me, like maybe:

Lithuania Masses Forces for Invasion of Russia!

But no, all I found was this:

Alabama National Guardsman Shoots at Venus
Thinking it’s an Alien Spaceship!

OK, I made that one up, too. But at least it’s plausible.

Packages and Perceptions.

Let’s be honest, babies don’t really look like little people, do they? Not normal people. Exactly what they do look like is a matter of individual perception. To my jaundiced eye they look like miniature versions of the missing link, but I’m not normal either. (And I was a rare exception to my own rule. I have a picture of me as a baby and I don’t look at all like the missing link. I look like something Agent Muldur might find hiding in a cupboard, and then call out ‘Hey, Scully. Come look at this. Now do you believe?’)

I saw another exception today, sitting in a buggy at a store checkout. It was very tiny and looked to be no more than a few months old, if that. And yet it was sitting up under its own effort and looked both content and interested. In fact, I’d say it really did look like a normal person, only tiny and more rubbery. And it had a band around its head with a big pink bow attached to adorn its forehead. Strange and stylish in one package. Unusual.

*  *  *

I’m becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that young women stare at me a lot. This is a puzzle, but I’m inclined to assume that they’re thinking ‘Oh my God, is that what I’m going to have to wake up next to somewhere down the line? I wonder whether you can get divorce insurance.’

*  *  *

And on that note, I’ve also noticed an interesting phenomenon. Just now and then – I would say once every few years on average – I see a young or youngish woman who is so utterly different and magnetically compelling that the sight of her blows me away. She looks like a prize orchid growing in and above a nettle patch, and is never, ever glamorous.

I saw one today, and heard myself say, ‘Oh where were such prizes in my younger day?’

(And then I got to thinking about the awful ramifications that would ensue if someone gave you the ‘gift’ of staying 25 forever, but that can make another post another time.)

Sondule's Song (after Grieg.)

Whatever happened to Maria Sondule?

This blog has been going long enough to give rise to the first hints of nostalgia for the early days, and Maria was one of my very first correspondents. I read one of her comments tonight on an old post, and that was what brought her to mind.

She came from Pittsburgh, or thereabouts, was very young, and I always imagined that when the day of the college prom finally arrived, she would be swept to the heavens in a mother-of-pearl landau with the quarterback of her choice snapping the reins in manly fashion. Hence the Prom Song:

Maria went out to the prom
Held at the school’s athletic track
Her beau approached with great aplomb
And threw her to a running back

They just slip out. Sorry.

Anyway, if this message in a bottle ever washes up on your shore, Maria, thanks for the memory. I hope you’re well and the touchdown didn’t hurt.

*  *  *

They’re silly things aren’t they, proms? We didn’t have them in my day; we just had bog standard discos as befitted working class kids. No gowns and tuxes, just winkle picker shoes and bootlace ties. (I’m kidding. I’m not quite that old, but this is a blog.)

And I remember getting into a spot of bother at mine. One of the school hard cases challenged me to a fight because he said I’d gatecrashed his girlfriend. I couldn’t say for certain whether I had or not, but he was probably right.

So anyway, the gauntlet was thrown down and accepted and the arrangement made: 7pm on Friday evening outside the local community centre. And do you know what? He didn’t turn up. Story of my life, really.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Tradition and Revelation.

Today’s interesting news item is the fact that Lord Sewel, a prominent member of the British House of Lords, has resigned his various posts having allegedly been filmed snorting drugs through a £5 note from a prostitute’s breasts. The Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness D’Souza, said that his behaviour was ‘shocking and unacceptable’ and that she has reported him to the police.

Well now, I do realise that the use of illegal substances is obviously illegal, but I’m at a loss to understand the shocked reaction. It’s a well attested fact of history that the rich and privileged members of the aristocracy have always sought their recreation in sordid ways. That’s always been regarded as perfectly acceptable; it’s just having fun. The sin has always been in getting caught, so Lord Sewel is just following tradition.

Ah, but maybe it’s the fact that the distinguished Lord has embarrassed his peers by using a £5 note instead of a £20 one. Bad form, and all that. Or maybe it’s the fact that such an incident serves to illustrate that those in privileged positions usually have sufficient influence to get away with such activity, while the poor people at the bottom suffer arrest, strip searching, imprisonment, and so on. That’s the sad bit, ain’t it?

A Cause of Sadness.

It’s been a miserable day today for one reason and another. Among other things we had eight hours of rain falling incessantly from a lowering grey sky, and when it cleared briefly this evening I took the opportunity to have a quick walk.

I was passing a farm gate when I saw something unusual. A single ewe accompanied by two grown lambs was walking slowly across the field. Some way behind, two more ewes and a single lamb were following. Further back still there was another group of ewes and a small bunch of lambs, and they were all walking slowly and in single file with their heads bowed.

I’ve never seen sheep behave like that before and there was something intensely sad about it, a sense of their having been somehow dispossessed. They reminded me of how I imagine a group of highlanders might have looked crossing the mountains on their way to the coast, having been robbed of their homes and livelihoods by unscrupulous landlords during the Highland Clearances. Two of the lambs stopped and looked at me, which further intensified the sadness, and I wondered whether the flock had been separated into those animals which are staying and those destined for collection. I suppose it’s easier than doing it when the wagon turns up.

There is something sad about the farming of animals when you’ve watched them grow and suckle and frolic and play and develop personalities. I could never do it.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Problem with Virgins' Blood.

Let’s face it, we all hate the physical signs of ageing. We all want a youth elixir to bathe in and reverse the flow. I gather some people start worrying about it somewhere around age 25.

But let’s suppose you look in the mirror one morning and notice a few changes. Those parts of your scalp that have become used to seeing the sun are now disappearing under new growth. And the beard you’ve been used to seeing as a distinguished 75% grey is now 75% dark brown and counting. And those familiar little creases at the sides of your eyes aren’t there, so you don’t look quite as (erm) distinguished.

It would frighten the bloody life out of you, wouldn’t it?

Friday, 24 July 2015

Too Big for the Blog.

Here’s an example of how the blog format is limited:

For days now I’ve been minded to make a post around the subject of ‘punishment.’ It was going to begin with an obvious truism:

Punishment hardly ever turns a bad person into a good one. The most it usually achieves is to make a bad person a little more careful when doing bad things.

And at some stage it was going to include the opinion that the Christian notion of hellfire and damnation is completely at odds with what Christians generally profess to be the nature of God. (That’s because I’ve long held that Christians are hopelessly confused with regard to the nature of God, probably due to the decision to include the Old Testament in the Christian Bible in order to give the new religion more validity as a Judaic heterodox.)

But then the details began to unfold, and – oh my giddy aunt – doesn’t it get complicated? Doesn’t it just? Like so many things it’s far too big a subject for a blog post, so read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment instead. (I did. I even finished it.)

The Upper Case Romantic Explained.

I was glancing through a local paper today and came across one of those multi-page bridal features, the sort that use commercially disingenuous terms like ‘your special day,’ and which are known and hated by all but around 2% of the female population (and some of their mothers, I suppose.) I groaned and hurried on as usual, but then I realised that they suggest what is possibly the best way to describe (for those to whom it needs describing) the difference between a romantic and a Romantic.

To a romantic, the wedding day is special because it’s the happy occasion when a person enters into a supposedly binding contract with their life partner. To a Romantic, it’s special because it's the unhappy day on which he or she gives up on the search for the ideal (even though he or she knows that it probably doesn’t exist.) There’s nothing wrong with either, but that’s why they’re different.

On Strangeness, Madness, and Being Ignored.

Very few people talk to me these days. My conversational partners are generally limited to Mel, who’s almost as strange as me, and checkout operators in Sainsbury’s. I say something like ‘Did you know that your name comes from the Russian for Christmas?’ and she replies ‘Really? I didn’t know that. I was a June baby so I doubt my parents knew it either.’ At that point I consider whether to continue with ‘I don’t think many people do, and I assume it must indicate that the Russian for Christmas has a Latin root,’ but I usually desist since I realise that I’m already becoming insufferable and she just wants me gone so she can talk to the middle aged woman behind who will discuss sensible topics like the state of the weather, the price of baked beans, and how the country is going to the dogs since we started letting foreigners in.

One person who does occasionally exchange the odd word or two is my much respected friend Madeline from upstate New York, a true Renaissance woman. She tells me interesting things like the fact that the words idiot, imbecile and moron were clinical terms in the 19th century, indicating various levels of mental derangement. And her name abbreviates to Mad, which I think is a splendid coincidence. That’s the sort of thing I find worthy of further consideration, and it’s probably why few people talk to me these days. Sometimes I care, and sometimes I don’t.

(I wrote a post last night on the positive side of depression – it does have a positive side, you know – but decided there were a few people out there to whom I wouldn't wish to impart the details. It’s currently on the shelf.)

Taking Art Seriously.

My mother once had a presentiment that I should one day meet Bob Dylan. Is he still alive?


Late last night I plunged into the deepest depression I've ever known, and subsequently had a nightmare about flying to Guatemala having forgotten to pack my passport. I don't think it's a good sign.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Avoiding Ungentlemanly Conduct.

Ashbourne Sainsbury’s has a narrow covered area running down one side of the building from the main entrance towards the car park. (Just to give you an idea of what I mean: If it was a mediaeval monastery, you’d probably call it a cloister. But it isn’t, so I don’t what the correct term is.)

Anyway, narrow it is, and they make it even narrower by having two rows of trolleys parked up against the wall. This means that if two people are trying to walk in opposite directions, one of them has to make a detour out into the uncovered area beyond.

The person coming the other way today was a young woman and I’m nothing if not a gentleman, so when I came to a gap in the ‘pillars’ I steered the trolley out to make the detour. But she moved to make the detour first, which rankled a bit.

‘I was going out there,’ I muttered, my rankled, gentlemanly sensibility probably evident from a furrowed brow.

She smiled in return and said nothing, which was probably just as well because what she should have said was ‘age before beauty.’ And if she had said that, I would have felt compelled by an impish nature to offer Dorothy Parker’s classic riposte: ‘pearls before swine.’ And that wouldn’t have been polite, would it?

*  *  *

And I might just mention that I so like the sight of the low westering sun backlighting the mist rising off the river in the valley. It makes the far hills look even prettier, and that was what it was doing ten minutes ago.

A Question of Logic.

Somebody wrote a comment to YouTube which read:

Paganism is inferior to Christianity because it has no trinity.

That's like saying that strawberries are inferior to bananas because they're not yellow.


I’ve been noticing the seasonal markers these past couple of days – mostly the elder bushes whose coats of white icing now impersonate myriad bunches of little green grapes, and also the Rosebay Willowherb which has its time of pink finery before turning feathery to declare the end of summer.

I’ve seen a change in my response to seasonal markers. At one time I found them comfortable and even energising because they were footprints on the road to an exciting and seemingly endless future. Ah, but then a day comes when intimations of mortality settle in the mind and take root. And from that day forth, the seasonal markers take on quite a different significance.

So have a silly ditty from Mr and Mrs Omnia. They call it Eddy the Squirrel, since it was Eddy’s ubiquitous presence on their woodland walks that gave genesis to the piece. I think it should be called The Squirrel’s Lament.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

To Set Celtic Feet a-Stomping.

Should I apologise for preferring this sort of stuff to Glen Campbell? I think it must have something to do with a taste for first rate drummers, lots of tattoos, and a woman who looks like she eats dragons' entrails for breakfast. And aren't those young Germans in the audience well behaved? Try bringing this band to Tyneside...

Still Only the Lonely.

Just back from the YouTube trenches (actually, commenting on YouTube is more like battling Orcs in the Pellinore Fields, but at least I know that roses are flowering in Picardy... and that it's in France... so the more worldly metaphor will do.) So...

A few weeks ago I thought I got a positive reply to a derogatory comment, but it was ambiguous so I asked:

'Does this mean I have an ally?'

Tonight she replied:

'Haha. lol. No.'

Oh, well. And she had such a nice name, too.

Another Little Mystery.

When I went for a shower tonight, I found a snapped rubber band lying in full view at the end of the bathtub. I swear it wasn't there earlier, so where did it come from? It was blue and formed an S shape. I wonder whether that's significant. Happenings of that nature are disturbingly common in this house.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Education by Feedjit.

My knowledge of the geography of Europe is atrocious. Of course I can point out the countries (mostly,) but deeper than that I can rarely go. I’m much better on the geography of North America, South America and Australia, probably because we ‘did’ them at school.


(That was how you structured an essay on Bolivia, Saskatchewan or New South Wales back in the days when life was bigger than education.)

But to the point:

This is where my trusty Feedjit comes in useful. I get a visit on the blog from some kind person in Aquitaine, so I Google it and find out where it is. Aha! South west corner. (I did know it was in France, by the way.)

On the Atlantic
And therefore Romantic

I realised that I know two things about Aquitaine:

1. Katherine Hepburn was the Duchess there before she married Peter O’Toole, became Queen of France, and descended into truculence. She then got on Peter’s nerves so much that he became very nadgy and inadvertently ordered the murder of Samuel Becket. (Or was it Thomas? I can never remember.)

2. On discovering that its capital is Bordeaux, I remembered once reading a story called The Bordeaux Diligence which made a big impression on me. I remember that it was in a book of horror stories and was maddeningly surreal, but I remember nothing at all of the plot. That’s the problem with surreal stories; they’re good while they last, but they give you no hooks on which to hang your memory cells.

All in all, however, the cause of erudition is well served.

(I’ve never had a visit from Bhutan, unfortunately – I suspect the King doesn’t permit computers – but at least I know it isn’t in Europe. Oh, and 'thank you' to the person from Aquitaine. I hope it's nice there.)

Straight Talking.

I might have said this before, but I get so irritated when I hear journalists and meteorologists presenting the news and weather. Why do they have to resort to all those abnormal pauses and artificial inflections when talking to camera? What are they trying to do? Make a valiant but misguided attempt to win an Oscar?

You know, a few years ago Britain's Channel 5 made a minor headline when they announced that they were going to dispense with meteorologists to give the weather forecast, but instead were going to employ an attractive young woman who had no technical knowledge but could read from an autocue faultlessly. And that was what they did.

And do you know what? She said just the same things as the meteorologists were saying, but her presentation was so much better.

(This was going to be an adjunct to another post, but I've forgotten what it was about. I think my brain is struggling to recover from that maturation vat it fell into. It's gone all soggy. Or maybe I'm being distracted by these YouTube battles I'm getting involved with lately. Two more tonight.)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

A Note from the Trenches.

I put another provocative post on YouTube last night, about a Joni Mitchell track this time. Well, popular singers don’t come much more iconic than Joni Mitchell, so I’ve been anticipating an incoming yellow artillery barrage all day. Nothing so far.

By way of relieving the boredom, I considered writing to Ms Jesus-is-Christ-and-the-Bible-is-the-Most-Reliable-of-All-Historical-Records-You-Ignoramus again, this time inviting her to a game of football in No Man’s Land on Christmas Day. I even considered calling it Xmas Day (which is something I would never do since I consider the term ‘Xmas’ to be both ugly and impolite.) However…

I got cold feet and cried off because I was suddenly beset by the suspicion that imps don’t go to heaven. But if I go off the radar for a while, look for the pile of bananas and dig me out.

On Bigness and Buttons.

I read this week that Google has become second only to Apple in the corporate Mr Big stakes. I gather it gave their staff something to cheer about (no matter what else is happening in the world that might be of slightly more consequence) and it’s all due to the increased advertising revenue on phones and YouTube, apparently.

OK, since the whole corporate Mr Big thing impresses me less than that horrible sinking feeling you get when you realise you’ve put a boot on and squashed a slug that was languishing innocently within it, and since – in my estimation – Google has gone sadly downhill since they stopped being the Saviour of Search Engines and aspired to corporate bigness, and since half the time the boys at Google couldn’t organise a bun fight in a bread shop, might I make a request?

Google, would you please have the decency to arrange for a time lapse to be inserted between pressing the Skip Ad button and getting the pointer across to the Mute Off one? I’m truly grateful for the Skip Ad button, but it’s maddening that I have to miss the first two notes of the music. Kind of takes the edge off the experience, you know?

On the Matter of Passion.

'Passionate' is one of those words – like 'awesome' – that people routinely overuse in order to sound louder when they’re expressing enthusiasm. I’ve been guilty of it myself: 'I’m passionate about music.' 'I’m passionate about dogs.' 'I’m passionate about hot apple pie with cream.' I’ve said them all, but actually I’m not.

Passion is the faculty that tilts the wings on the plane of life and sends it soaring upward. It’s what subdues the fear instinct and encourages you to take risks that you would usually baulk at. It produces mental and physical tingles every time you contemplate the next fix, which is most of the time.

I realised recently that I have had only four passions in my life. One I gave away on a wet April night when I packed a bag and walked out of the house in a state of shock, another became out of bounds the day I acknowledged not being 32 any more, a third I simply lost interest in, and the fourth I gave up for ethical reasons.

And you know, life down here on the runway tarmac seems a little grey and pointless sometimes.

*  *  *

It’s off to YouTube now. Maybe I can ruffle some more feathers and get called stupid again.

(Oh, and the woman who wrote the hysterical, 18-line outburst hasn’t given up yet. She’s hurled some more bananas my way, including the accusation that I’m ‘amoral.’ That’s interesting because nothing I wrote could have given her the clue to the one thing she’s got right. Should I write back and congratulate her, explaining that I don’t even believe in the concept of morality, because..? No, better not. The poor woman seems terribly upset as it is, and I really don’t want to hurt her feelings any more. That would be unethical, wouldn’t it?)

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Getting Hailed on Again.

I had two replies on YouTube last night, one from a man and one from a woman, both of which were hysterical in their own way. And they both told me I’m stupid.

You’re the proverbial ant who people try to explain Miami Beach to. Only you’re too stupid to realize it, said one.

I shuddered at the parlous state of the English. I suppose it’s unreasonable to expect that somebody who knows what ‘proverbial’ means (assuming that the ant and Miami Beach story really is proverbial) and who also knows that the adjective ‘too’ has two o’s in it would endeavour not to end a sentence with a preposition when it makes the statement quite as clumsy as that… but I do. She continued:

You’re arrogant and ignorant. The worst combo.

And that tirade (all eighteen lines of it) was the result of my suggestion that the Gospels are unreliable as a history source, and that nobody really knows who Jesus was or what he actually taught. Ah, well.

The second said come back when you get smarter, like in twenty years.

But I might be dead in twenty years. What should I do? I went to bed feeling shell-shocked.

(And now I’m wondering whether it’s right to hyphenate ‘shell-shocked.’ My feeling is that the noun ‘shell shock’ has no use for a hyphen, but the adjective ‘shell-shocked’ does.)

Oh, and I had another comment on YouTube from a grammar Nazi. He said Please don’t leave. The world needs more people like us.

Does it? Or do the banana merchants just need more trade?

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Most Pointless of Pursuits.

I’m currently engaged in a protracted argument on YouTube over matters religious and generally spiritual. It’s becoming tedious and has to stop.

The point is that an argument isn’t the same as an exchange of views. An argument is essentially competitive, and what’s the point of engaging in a competition around a subject like religion since neither of you can possibly know whether you’re right?

One of us needs to leave the ring, and on this occasion I’m quite happy that it should be me.

Being Self-Aware.

'Are you a gentle and good person?' asked my correspondent. The reply was unequivocal:

'Sometimes I'm gentle and sometimes I'm not. I try to be a good person but I fail frequently. I'm inclined to say that I define imperfection, but that would seem unforgivably self-important. So the short answer to your question is: I've no idea.'

I haven't heard back yet. Some people just can't handle straight talking.

Countering the Jaundiced View.

I read today that the number of births to teenage mothers last year was the lowest since 1946. That must be causing some wailing and gnashing of teeth in the ranks of the blue rinse brigade, and I'm still searching for the joke that I know is in there somewhere.

And then I remembered that when I was a kid, it was common to refer to profligate women with the statement that 'She's no better than she ought to be.' I could never get my head around the logic of that one.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Town Report.

I love those life size pictures of policemen printed on card that stores place just beyond the checkouts to deter shoplifters…

*  *  *

I was sitting on a low wall that bordered an area of concrete, when two men came along to perform a vital function. One of them placed a stencil on top of the concrete and sprayed it with paint, which left a small message that read Don’t drop litter. Bin it. Four questions came to mind:

1. Why were two men needed to perform this vital function? Was the second one there to provide moral support, perhaps?

2. How many people actually read small painted messages on top of pieces of concrete, especially once they’ve become dirty and hardly readable?

3. Do such messages deter the sort of person who is inclined to drop litter from so doing?

4. Why does the local authority cut vital services in the name of ‘austerity measures,’ yet continue to employ two men to go around spraying pointless or near-pointless messages on pieces of concrete?

*  *  *

There was a large display of chemical air fresheners in one store, and it occurred to me that they don’t freshen the air at all, they just fill it with chemicals.

*  *  *

Tesco had a sign outside the front doors which read Customers are kindly requested to wear a shirt or T shirt before entering the store. That’s a new one on me, so…

First of all, the English is hardly up to the standard you’d expect of a large corporation. The adverb ‘kindly’ is inappropriate, since there’s nothing to be kind about. ‘Respectfully’ would be better. And the conjunction ‘before’ is entirely wrong. It should be ‘when.’ But mostly, the obvious question it raises is ‘Why?’

*  *  *

Today’s people-watching produced one abiding impression: A face is just a face. It’s how you use it that counts.

*  *  *

Last but no least, shall I shut up?

Getting Noticed.

There were two women ahead of me in the queue for Sainsbury’s kiosk today. They both had jet black hair, but one was clearly dyed while the other was just as clearly natural. (Dyed hair never looks natural. Dying kills hair – which is probably the best pun I ever made – or at least it kills the texture.) Sure enough, when I got to see their faces it transpired that Ms Dyed was European, while Ms Natural was Chinese.

But there’s more. Later, I saw the Chinese woman with a much younger and taller woman, and it was apparent from their body language that they were mother and daughter. But the daughter had natural brown hair, so the conclusion was immediately drawn that she was mixed race. Being ever curious, I searched her eyes for signs of the Cathay connection, and it was there all right.

And then they both stared back at me so I whistled and walked away.

Respect to Ms Medeea.

Ever since the days of Mrs Thatcher, successive British governments have been gradually eroding the quality of the NHS, and one of the means by which the present administration is continuing the trend is to place strict limits on the time a doctor or dentist can spend with each patient. This is based on the entirely rational notion that it’s better to treat ten people inadequately than treat five people properly, since you can then produce specious statistics which show what a fabulous job the NHS is doing under the capable stewardship of the government and people will think you’re wonderful. (And the really sad fact is that plenty of people out there actually take government statistics seriously. Amazing, I know, but true. And it serves to demonstrate that the ability to pull the wool over people’s eyes is a sure sign of good government.)

But to the point of the post…

Primary health care professionals in the NHS are under great pressure these days to get patients in and out of the door as quickly as possible, so what does it say about your dentist when she stops in the middle of a scale and polish and asks ‘Are you still comfortable, or would you like to take a break?’

I think it says a lot.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Today's Four Observations.

1. If I were the proud possessor of a 1963 red E-type Jaguar convertible in pristine condition (an example of which I saw standing with its top down in the sun-drenched Sainsbury’s car par today) it would cause me some considerable difficulty. Not only would I have to take a refresher course in how to woo the ladies, I would also have to spend a sum comparable to the Greek fiscal deficit on plastic surgery and a cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Thankfully, I’m not.

2. Happy dogs make people smile, and then their humans smile at the smiling people. It’s a good system.

3. Dentists think that a sure cure for depression is chocolate and ice cream. At least mine does, which is why I now regret having taken up so much of her valuable time delivering a lecture on psychology. (And that was before she started prodding, scraping and polishing, poor woman.)

4. Of all the people I’ve lived with during my life, the one I found most difficult to cope with was me.

Being Rudely Interrupted.

Have you noticed how impertinent and intrusive the software people are becoming these days? They’re forever throwing boxes and banners across the screen, interrupting your browsing with things like We’ve blocked this… or We’ve checked that and think you should know… or We’re offering you the chance to download… And they give you options like Allow, Disallow, Continue Blocking, Update Now, when what you really want is a button marked Get off of my damn lawn! (In American, of course.)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Unexpected Colour.

This evening's twilight was mild and calm, but damp from the recent drizzle. The far landscape was misty and the sky uniformly grey, and yet there was a broad line of pink haze sitting above the western horizon. Very odd.

Following Mr K.

I was musing on Kafka earlier, and jotted this down:

Harold Bumstead awoke in the darkness of his bedroom and became immediately aware of two sounds. The first was the sound of rain beating against his windows; the second was the uneven ticking of the old alarm clock that had stood on the little walnut cabinet beside his bed since before he could remember. The rain sounded spiteful; the clock sounded nervous. He looked at the luminous hands and judged the time to be around ten past five.

For a minute, or maybe a little longer, he mused on the question of why he had woken up suddenly at ten past five on a wet November morning. He hadn’t reached a conclusion, nor even gained the merest notion of where to start working one out, when a third sound began to impress itself into his still lethargic mind. It was a car engine coming closer – from the left, he thought – along the narrow street of terraced houses, and which was clearly accustomed to going wherever it wanted to go and expected to be obeyed. He fancied he heard the sinister swishing of tyres on the wet road, but soon decided it was probably his imagination at work, since the old sash window was closed.

The car slowed, the engine stopped, and there was silence for a few seconds. Silence, that is, apart from the spitting rain and the jittery clock. And then he heard a car door bang, closely followed by a second one. They sounded very near, probably opposite his house and immediately outside number 19 where old Mrs Bullivant lived.

He remembered having said ‘good morning’ to Mrs Bullivant a long time ago, but she had only returned his greeting with an icy stare from pale grey eyes that looked drier than an old lady’s eyes ought to look. He thought he had heard her say ‘Don’t dare speak to me, you dirty little sewer rat,’ but that was probably his imagination at work, too. Whatever the fact of the matter, he had never presumed to attempt any form of verbal exchange since.

So now he wondered why Mrs Bullivant was receiving visitors at five o’clock in the morning. He wondered whether she might be dead, and whether Collecting Men had come from wherever such men are held in readiness to collect her remains and take them to wherever such objects are taken. He wondered whether he should rise from his bed into the frigid air of an unheated bedroom to watch through the window and find out.

There was a time when I would have thrown myself into the business of watching a story unfold, typing it eagerly as the pictures passed before my eyes, and then editing it conscientiously before casting it to the winds and towards many small press publishers in the hope that somebody might read it one day. That’s how it used to work, but I’m not sure I can be bothered any more.

Still, the ghost of Kafka haunts me sometimes, so maybe…

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Poor Men's Mountains.

You know what we don't have in Britain any more? Slag heaps - huge black mountains made of coal dust and nutty slack from the mines. There was hardly a spot in the city where I grew up that didn't offer a view of at least one slag heap, usually more.

My brother came home one day from his house in rural Oxfordshire (where they don't have slag heaps, but do have rich folks who frequently conquer bits of the Himalayas,) pointed to the nearest slag heap and asked:

'Have you ever climbed that?'

'What for?'

'Because it's there?'


The Pope and His Present.

It seems we now know who the Antichrist is. It's President Morales of Bolivia. He's given the Pope a present, you see. It's an ornament which combines a hammer and sickle with the crucifix, and this is sending shock waves through the many bathrooms in the Vatican.

'How dare he combine a symbol of Communism with an image of our beloved Christ?! Verily we say unto you: Armageddon approacheth.'

Why?  Let's state two simple facts:

1. There is nothing in the core principle of Communism that is anti-Christian.

2. If the teachings of Jesus as recounted in the canonical Gospels are accurate, then Big J was most certainly no capitalist.

So what's the problem? Maybe it's the fact that Mr Morales has said he hopes it will promote dialogue rather than preaching. Dialogue? He's obviously never watched Father Ted.

And I'm saving the more detailed argument in case some emigre from the unhallowed ranks of YouTube commenters, or maybe a latter day Torquemada, wants to invade my comment form and call me a douchebag (whatever one of those is.) Or worse.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Downs and Ups.

The problem with computer support forums is that the replies I get to my questions are rarely written in any version of English with which I'm familiar. I just had one:

'Has the sensitivity of your trackpad changed?' asked the acknowledged expert.

How the hell would I know?

(Edited to add: Time and life move on, and I now have two people telling me I might have inadvertently turned on caret browsing. Fancy that. I'm coming to think that the only way to survive on this planet is to marry a priestess who also happens to be a computer technician, so she can take care of the Black Oracle under the desk while I concentrate on trying to be human.)

*  *  *

Still, I also received a reply from somebody who got the joke I posted on a YouTube video a few decades ago.

'Funny. Ha. lol' she wrote.

That's what I like. Simple English and lots of options, just in case I'm slow on the uptake.

A Mediaeval Pop Song.

I gather the present Queen of Britain and the Commonwealth is planning to have a street party to celebrate her 90th birthday - just so you have something to look forward to. Oh for the good old days of blood and slaughter.

Seeing Beyond the Shapes.

This evening’s sunset (the first properly summery one – orange topped with a mackerel sky) reminded me that, however much I’ve changed tack in my search for the meaning of life, the universe and everything, I’ve always retained a fondness for that old favourite which I first encountered around twenty years ago:

The sunset is an illusion; the beauty is real.

It’s just that there’s plenty of empirical evidence to tell us how ocular, neurological and cerebral faculties conspire to turn an external phenomenon into a mental image of shapes and colours, but the perception of beauty itself is an abstract thing which resides in that mysterious place we call consciousness. And that leads me back to one of my favourite suspicions: that a more ‘real’ version of reality is not phenomenal at all, but abstract. I suppose that’s why one leading Buddhist teacher claimed that the most important human endeavour is art.

(And am I not glad that I was always far too mentally lazy to become a philosopher? I am.)

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Hazardous Creatures.

When I was doing my twilight tasks this evening, I found my steps being constantly dogged by small critters getting in the way – a small salamander and the two resident baby hedgehogs, Harry and Hermione. Well, neither salamanders nor baby hedgehogs are all that easy to see in the gathering gloom of dusk, and one obviously doesn’t like to tread on either of them, however inadvertently.

The salamander was easily dealt with. He got picked up and placed under some growth on the garden. But what do you do about hedgehogs which keep turning up just where you want to sweep or walk or whatever? I was told a very long time ago:

‘Never pick up a hedgehog. They’re absolutely riddled with fleas, so you’ll end up either scratching yourself to nothing or succumbing to severe loss of blood.’

Such statements make quite an impression when you’re at an impressionable age, so I’ve never picked up a hedgehog. A bit wimpy, but there you are. In consequence, Harry and Hermione got stepped over carefully and with a commendable lack of complaint

Woman with a death wish

Reflecting on an E

I only noticed today that there's a lane running off the main road just beyond the Shire called Virginsalley Lane. That's an odd name as it is, but imagine what a different provenance would be suggested if it was called Virginsally Lane.

Capricious Climate.

A week ago the news bulletin said that it had been the hottest day ever recorded in Britain.

Today I searched the Sainsbury's beer shelves, comparing the discounted ones. I settled for London Porter. It was a reluctant choice because porter is a dark, bitter beer best suited to winter nights; India Pale Ale is more suited to July, but porter was the best on special offer.

Guess what. Tonight it was so cold outside that wearing a winter coat wouldn't have been inappropriate - seriously - so the choice of beer was about right after all.

*  *  *

And I wonder why anybody bothers to read such inconsequential drivel as this. Where have all the ditties gone? Gone to young girls, every one.

Actually, that's only partly true. And anyway, where have all the young girls gone? Gone to warmer climes, one way or another.

A National Characteristic.

There’s a very big book on my bookshelf called The Rules of the Game. It’s a blow-by-blow, more or less real-time account of the Battle of Jutland, in which the Germans were getting the upper hand at one point and British battleships were exploding and sinking with alarming frequency, taking thousands of men to the bottom of the North Sea with them. Catastrophe loomed (from one point of view,) although some balance was restored in the end.

However, what I find interesting is the reaction to this watery carnage-on-a-grand-scale. A German admiral might have muttered ‘Gott im Himmel!’ and his French counterpart ‘Mon Dieu!’ An Aussie variant would have been something like ‘Jeez, mate!’ and the American version ‘Ah, shit!’ By contrast, Admiral Beattie’s famous response was a calm:

‘There’s something wrong with our bloody ships today.’

That’s the attitude referred to affectionately over here as British phlegm.  

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Tale of Two Smiles.

The young woman supervisor in Sainsbury’s did something odd today… but first, to recap:

Regulars might remember that incident last year when I felt compelled to point out to somebody in Sainsbury’s that their new signage carried the line ‘…park at there own risk’ when it should obviously have been their own risk. The young woman in question happened to be the recipient of my valuable intelligence that day, and I felt only the tiniest glimmer of suspicion that her declamation ‘Oh no!’ carried sarcastic intent. And maybe it didn’t, but…

Ever since then she has pointedly ignored me. In fact, she appears to pointedly ignore everybody unless they direct a query at her. I suppose that’s what supervisors do. But today she was supervising the self service tills when I walked across to pay for my lunch. I realised she was watching me and eventually turned to look at her, and you know what she did? She smiled. It was a sweet, ‘I forgive you’ sort of smile. (I’ve seen it before and I’m rarely wrong.) Forgive me for what? Being a clever clogs who notices wrong spelling and can’t bear to think of it going uncorrected? I smiled back anyway. It isn’t something I do often, but smiling is like riding a bike.

(At this point the post was going to enter a dangerous arena: the difference between teenage girls and young women. My courage failed. Sorry.)

*  *  *

The woman in the coffee shop on Monday was different. She was around forty, a mere customer, and had a little girl with her. I was having coffee with Mel at the time, but I couldn’t help noticing this woman’s eyes turned in my direction. More than that, I could feel them. They were powerful eyes, so I gave in and looked back. And you know what she did? She smiled. Hers was more of an ‘I’m sure I know you from somewhere’ sort of smile. (And I’m rarely wrong.) But it was strong in a feminine sort of way, and rather beautiful, and I decided she looked French.

‘Is something distracting you?’ asked Mel, who was trying to talk to me about something-or-other.

‘That woman. She’s incredibly compelling. Do you think it would be impertinent of me to ask her whether she’s French?’

I didn’t get graced with a reply. Mel can be quietly dismissive when she wants to be.

‘No, suppose you’re right.’

I made do with smiling back – in a non committal sort of way, you understand.

*  *  *

And now the muscles in my face ache. Too much smiling for one week.

Deep Purple.

I'm currently in one of those subdued troughs where I say nothing because nothing seems worth saying. But I did find this:

I've no idea what the lyrics to this song mean. I don't want to know because I don't need to know. For me, music - even when sung - was ever about sense and sensation, not verbal expression. That's the job of the poet. And this, I have to say, is one of the most powerfully melancholic pieces of music I've ever heard. It's breathtakingly beautiful, taking the mind to that dark, divine place where the greatest works of man pale in the face of his inevitable mortality.

This isn't morning or evening or night music. It stands apart from life's normal parameters, practical or temporal, speaking to the mind that is empty of point and purpose. It seems to say 'Melancholy is a perfectly proper state of perception. It's simply the means by which you look through the veil and wonder what lies hidden in the purple mist beyond.'

Monday, 6 July 2015


Commercial Rock:

Art Rock:

I like both. One makes you want to dance, the other makes want to smile and nod knowingly.

Come to think of it, though, there's a big comment thread on the CCR video on YouTube around the fact that some people hear 'there's a bad moon on the rise' as 'there's a bathroom on the right,' so maybe commercial rock has hidden charms.

And vis-a-vis the other one, I often wondered what the Freudians made of the line:

You gotta be cool on Wall Street
When your index is low

Early Learning.

Since there’s always somebody doing work at the primary school opposite my house, I occasionally take a sneak peek at the latest additions out of school hours. Today I discovered that in addition to the old tarmac yard and the field where most of the play equipment is set up, they’ve created a new corner consisting of:

Paths laid in limestone pea gravel and slate chips, neither of which is cheap.

A child sized summer house.

Decking areas like little stages with seats provided by sections of tree trunk.

A wooden, covered seating area in hardwood modern style.

A huge tractor tyre turned on its side, filled with earth and planted with flowers.

A wooden water trough served by an antique well pump which has been engineered to work.

… and several other features which I don’t remember. And all areas are bounded by rustic wooden fencing about 3½ft high.

The inner city primary school which I used to visit while working for the charity had an area of tarmac for the kids to run and play games of their own making, and it was bounded by an 8ft wire fence. The contrast between poor inner city areas and the mostly wealthy rural ones couldn’t be more marked.

So do I begrudge the local kids their playground delights? No, of course I don’t. I’m perfectly happy that they have such a splendidly imaginative learning environment. After all, it isn’t the kids’ fault that their parents are wealthy and dyed blue through and through. But I do have to ask the question:

‘Which environment is more suited to preparing them for an often difficult, and almost universally unjust, world?’

Or maybe I should see it as being part of the mechanism by which children of wealthier parents are conditioned to live in a different form of reality than those in the inner cities. I think that’s probably the best way to go. It explains a lot.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sharks Scenting Blood.

The Tories are planning to make a further £12bn cut to the welfare budget on Wednesday. (Oh, and they just confirmed that rich people will henceforth be able to inherit up to £1m worth of property without paying tax on it. Just so you know.)

I think this is something of a sharks’ feeding frenzy taking hold.

Yes, yes, I know that the scent of blood sends predators wild with desire for more. And I know that the law of the jungle dictates that the predator attacks the weakest in the herd.

But we don’t live in the jungle. We’re not animals. We’re human beings and we’re supposed to be possessed of higher consciousness. Aren’t we?

Reading from the Same Old Script.

There’s been a murder or some fatal accident and a senior police officer is giving a statement to the press. He looks like an animated mannequin dressed in starch and plastic, dripping shiny buttons. In fact, he looks so artificially smart that he could be trying to impersonate a West Point cadet being presented to the colonel’s mother after the passing out parade. He gives the statement in predictably subdued tones, the like of which seem transparently unfamiliar to him, and then finishes with the final sentence:

Our thoughts are with the victim’s family at this sad time.

They say it every time, and if I were a member of the attending press I would want to raise my hand at that point and ask him:

‘If you truly feel the sadness of the time, couldn’t you come up with an alternative to the same sad old cliché that everybody else uses? Only it doesn’t really ring true, you see.’

Missing Miss India.

This post is yet to be written. I pick up some of her old comments sometimes and try to describe the uniqueness of tone. I always fail. It seems that certain things are beyond my capacity to describe, but the will persists.