Monday, 31 August 2015

Comparing Terms.

Somebody once asked me what I saw as the difference between morality and ethics. It was in response to a post I made in which I said that I had no regard for one, but the greatest regard for the other. That was some years ago, and so I think it warrants another little note. And I think it best to explain the view by telling a story from my own experience. I’m assured that it is true, and I have no reason to doubt that it’s at least mostly true.

Once upon a time there was a young woman who had a young daughter. The mother was not averse to making a little money on the side, if you get my meaning. Her behaviour would have been considered highly immoral at the time, and would still be largely frowned upon today. And yet I feel that I have neither the right nor the inclination to judge her for it.

But she also had another habit. She would coerce her young daughter into doing jobs for neighbours, and when the child came home with the few pennies she’d been given in recompense, the mother would take it off her not to buy food or clothes or to pay the rent, but to spend in the pub carousing. I have no problem with the fact that she spent her evenings in the pub; I have no problem with her spending money carousing. What I have a problem with is the fact that she took the money for which her child had laboured in order to do so. To me that’s unethical, and that’s the difference.

Going into Partnership.

My computer and I appear to be engaging in some sort of mind meld. It usually gets cranky at the same time as I do, and when I’ve had a drink it does the strangest things. A few nights ago it switched all the tabs around in the browser, which I wouldn’t have thought possible but maybe a drunken computer can do anything. (That’s one thing we don’t have in common. When I’m drunk I’m merely capable of doing different things than when I’m sober.)

I’m a little concerned at where this might be leading. Those who have seen the cult film Dark Star might recall the amusing attempts of the astronaut to persuade the onboard computer to override the ship’s self-destruct system, using logic. Problem: computers are good at logic even in the context of matters existential, and the astronaut is struggling… Will it one day come to that, I wonder. And then there’s the matter of when I die. Instead of waking on a barge crossing placid waters in the company of three queens en route to Avalon, will I find myself looking out of a monitor screen? If so, I just hope there’s something worth looking at.

Lacking Erudition.

It took me some time to realise that Salva Nos means ‘save us.’ (Salva – salvation? Nos=Nous=Us?) I thought it had something to do with salt.

Simple soul that I am, I listen to it regularly because the lead singer’s voice is so sexy.

So Much for Experts.

I just had my YouTube session interrupted by what sounded like a dog barking quietly outside my office window. When I went to investigate, all I could find was my resident hedgehog with its nose pressed against a plant trough which stands by the door. And so I wondered…

I Googled Do hedgehogs bark?

The first return I read was from a hedgehog expert, and he assured me that hedgehogs never bark, they only purr. Next up was a Facebook entry in which a woman was expressing great delight that she’d just heard her pet hedgehog bark for the first time. And then it was onto a YouTube video which showed a hedgehog clearly barking.

Refer to title.

Knowing the Adversary.

Something has been made clear to me by my frequent recent contretemps with YouTubers. Sometimes you have to recognise that what you’re fighting against isn’t their reasoning, but their attitude. That’s the point at which you should realise that you have to let go, because attitude isn’t usually based on logical thought processes but on genetic imprinting or environmental conditioning. You can demolish their reasoning as comprehensively as you like, but if their attitude stems from bigotry and/or narrowness of perception, it will contrive to ignore reason and keep them convinced that they’re right. Attitude is a very efficient, if self-serving, filter.

It’s a bit like going into a boxing ring with a zombie. Even if you literally knock his head off, he will keep on getting up and throwing wild punches. And this doesn’t just hold for people of low intelligence. Even those who are intelligent and articulate will either resort to sophistry or continue to argue down a narrow line of vision which permits no breadth of alternative considerations. I had an example of just such a person today and it took some time to convince myself that staying in the ring would be a waste of time and mental effort.

*  *  *

And something else I learned recently: getting the pressed top off a plastic bottle requires a slightly different technique than is needed for a pressed top on a glass bottle. It’s all to do with the ‘give’ in the bottle’s neck. Now that’s useful.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Old Ways.

We’ve arrived at that time of year again, when the first splashes of yellow and brown appear in the tree tops and sections of the hedgerow grow black with ripening elderberries. It reminds me of the small shops that proliferated when I was a kid, and how the shopkeeper would start clearing his displays late in the afternoon ready for a quick getaway at 5 o’clock sharp. His only concern was that he might be interrupted by the odd late shopper who had discovered that she didn’t have quite enough potatoes for master’s tea.

‘Are you still open, Mr Brown?’

‘For you, Mrs Smith, I’m always open.’

‘Ooh, Mr Brown, you’re quite the flirt.’

‘Ah, some old habits are hard to shake, Mrs S. And that’s not all I find hard to shake these days.’

Squeals of laughter and deep guffaws.

Life was simpler then. But back to the elderberries.

If I were more resourceful and had the requisite storage space, I might be inclined to pick the berries and make gallons of elderberry wine. Then I could bottle it, keep a little for myself, and sell the rest at village hall events, taking only the cost of the bottles in recompense and donating the profit to village hall funds. That’s how things are done in country areas; it’s all about contributing to the function of the community.

Not that I’ve ever been a fully paid up member of any community at any time in my life, you understand, but it’s the thought that counts.

A Race about Race.

I just watched the women’s 4x4 relay final at the World Athletics Championships. The British team consisted of two black girls and two white girls, and they gained a creditable bronze behind the Jamaicans and Americans.

The anchor leg was run by a white girl, and when she crossed the line joy erupted in the team. So then we had the spectacle: two blacks and two whites doing something together as equal partners, and succeeding together, and embracing together, and being joyful, together. And when you think of all the abuse, the cruelty, the shameful exploitation that the white race has loaded onto the black over the past three hundred years – and continues so to do in the more evolutionary challenged corners of the world – thereby shamefully trying to insinuate into them a sense of inferiority, it was pretty damn moving, you know? It was.

This isn’t about flags and national anthems and steps on a podium. It’s much, much bigger than that. Dare we hope that we’re getting there? Together?

Backing My Instinct.

There are four ‘recommendations’ on the back of movie DVD boxes that never fail to have me putting them straight back on the shelf. They are:

Academy Award-winning

Family entertainment

All action


A few nights ago I mentioned watching this film, and the box didn’t have any of those words on it:

It stayed with me all the next day, and the following night I was seriously tempted to watch it again. That’s virtually unheard of for me. It’s loaded with atmosphere, elegance, subtle observation, emotional power and ice-cold charm. And the young female protagonist has a wonderful way of dealing with lecherous male cellists (not to mention seducing the older female pianist whose life she wants to ruin.) That has to be some recommendation, and I’m so glad I was right and didn’t put it back on the shelf.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Thinker's Creed.

Limit your thinking to what to have for dinner.

Limit your observation to the water running out of the bathtub.

Limit your questioning to ‘Why does it always rain just when the laundry is nearly dry?’

Repeated overstepping of these bounds leads either to pointless wisdom or incipient insanity. In extreme cases it can be both, and then you gain a reputation for being weird and stupid and people stop inviting you to tea.

Needing Lessons in Yacs.

I read a comment on YouTube last night that was completely unintelligible. A few of the smaller words were English; the rest sort of looked English, but were ones I’d never heard before. There was no grammar of any recognisable sort and I was completely at a loss to know what to make of it. I assumed that the writer was using some sort of Young Alternative Culture Speak (let’s call it Yacs for future reference - not to be confused with Yaks, which splendid animals I assume have fifty different moos for mountain) so…

I replied with a comment of my own couched in the best purple prose I could manage after a beer and a couple of scotches, to the effect that I didn’t understand a word of what the writer was saying but I really liked her hat (which I did.) Today I got a reply from somebody I assume to be a member of the same alternative culture. It said:

the fuck

Well, although this is what Word likes to call a ‘fragment’ and is therefore ungrammatical, and although the ‘t’ is lower case and therefore not strictly correct, at least I’m familiar with the meaning of both words so I suppose it isn’t quite true Yacs, but it’s close enough. I think I might go out on a limb and guess that it means:

What the hell is this weird bunch of crap all about?

I intend that my riposte should be:

Take me to your leader.

*  *  *

In stark contrast, I also got a reply to a comment I made about a Denez Prigent song. (That one was more lyrical than purple because the song warranted it and I wasn’t trying to be funny.) This one said:

Well said, and I couldn’t agree more.

Isn’t it nice to be sprinkled by a cooling shower on a hot day in Barbados instead of being hailed on with bananas? It is. (Although I have to admit that I’ve never been to Barbados, but I assume it is.)

Bible Night.

Tonight I went searching the web for what people are claiming as Biblical evidence for reincarnation. Bit silly, really, since people routinely interpret the Bible in whatever way suits their prejudices and cultural conditioning. The Bible is that sort of book. I did find two interesting bits, though.

One man said that reincarnation is the only way to make sense of ‘God’s perfect justice.’ Quite. That was the problem I had as a kid, and was a major reason for my giving up on Christianity. Interestingly, I never gave up on Jesus. Jesus is OK.

The other man said that since reincarnation is not explicitly taught in the Bible, it can’t be true. Well now, if that doesn’t raise an eyebrow to the heavens and encourage me to thank God that I gave up on Christianity… You might as well say that because my school history books made no mention of Leif Erikson, it proves the Vikings never went to America.

(Ah, but I’m forgetting. My school history books were written by humans, whereas the Bible was written by God. I see, so that’s why the world has been ruled by the preeminence of white middle aged males all these centuries. Good. I feel vindicated.)

I also watched a YouTube video about the number 666 (and 616) presented by a couple of mathematicians. It seems the evidence is pretty compelling: the number is simply about St John the Divine having a personal dig at the Emperor Nero in code. Forget all that stuff in The Omen. Damien is just zis kid, you know?

Friday, 28 August 2015

On Candyfloss and Contentment.

I kept seeing candyfloss in my mind’s eye today – a big, multi-coloured candyfloss the size of a basketball. And along with it came the nagging realisation that if you were to reduce such a confection to the sugar of which it is composed, it probably wouldn’t be much bigger than a dried pea. And then I got to thinking that maybe here is a clue to the nature of life: that life is actually something of very little substance which we spin out in our minds until it looks like a giant, multi-coloured confection.

(And I must point out here, just in case a winged confection of American stardust should happen to fly to this corner of the blogosphere, that I do mean life in its grand sense, not somebody whose name happens to have been plucked out of a classical language.)

To continue:

Shortly after receiving this startling bit of speculative intelligence, I realised something else. I have never been able to tolerate contentment for very long. Contentment has always brought a growing sense that the shine is wearing off my world and I need to find something new to buff it up again. I suspect that the two things are connected, and that I’m probably a candyfloss person after all.

(And I was further struck last night by the fact that the word ‘blog’ is a contraction of ‘web log,’ and yet it has gained such currency in its own right that we now permit ourselves to refer to a video log as a ‘vlog,’ which isn’t actually a contraction in the same sense. This is quite irrelevant, but mildly interesting.)

This post was made in lieu of the other one I was going to write, about how the Victorians gave vent to their misplaced notions of good and bad taste by painting Tudor half-timbered buildings black and white, and how this has led to the false impression that they always looked like that. It would have been very tedious.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Taking Refuge in Animals.

I’m having difficulty finding something to say again.

I could talk about my attempt today to get a simple answer to a simple question from a government department and an energy supplier. I could relate how, having gone around and around in circles and still failed to get the answer, I gave up in a state of frustration bordering on despair. I could ask how we have come to such a low point of service and functionality, mostly lacking any semblance of simple sense, in a country with such a highly educated population. But such a state is becoming the norm and I’m tired of writing long posts that whinge pointlessly. I also feel a little guilty about having given the man from the government department a lecture couched in angry and agitated terms. It really isn’t his fault that bachelors degrees don’t (as far as I’m aware) include a module on how to be rational, helpful and efficient in real life situations.

Instead, I could talk about having just watched the film The Page Turner (or La Tourneuse de Pages en Francais.) It’s a superb French film and much recommended if you like slow moving but beautifully crafted psychological thrillers. Everything about it, especially the acting performances, is exemplary – except for one thing: the point of it all. It’s about belated revenge, and I just don’t understand belated revenge. In fact, I don’t understand the need for revenge at all, except as a heat-of-the moment, knee jerk reaction. I can sting like a prodded scorpion, but plotting is completely alien to me.

So how about the fact that today I was reminded again that those who argue a point rationally and convincingly often get called ‘stupid’ by people with minds that would pass easily through the eye of a needle? That would be favourite since I like irony, but there’s really nothing more to say on the matter.

*  *  *

I’m tempted to write that short story I mentioned some years ago, about the lion that was frightened of its own reflection and his befriending of a streetwise goat. If ever I do, I’ll post it here. I stroked a cow’s nose today. She was young and pretty, and I couldn’t possibly countenance stroking the nose of a young and pretty human female, now could I?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On Bias and Bad Humour.

I was reading an account of the life of Mary Queen of Scots tonight, and being reminded yet again that I no longer trust historical accounts. This one was awful – biased as hell in her favour. The sun shone out of every orifice, especially those which saw the light of day more than is common in a Christian country (or so I gather from other historical accounts I’ve read.) The only bit I found easy to believe was the account of her head slipping from the hand of the executioner, while he stood there holding the wig he hadn’t known she was wearing. I expect he was embarrassed, and no doubt the many English peasants among the ‘hundreds of onlookers’ were doubled up and shouting ‘Encore! Encore!’ (Being English peasants they wouldn’t have known what ‘encore’ actually means, you understand, but that isn’t the point. Or maybe it is.)

And so it led me to ponder how different my life would have turned out had I been blessed with a different stepfather, and had we done a different history syllabus at school. Having always been interested in history, I think it quite likely that I would have sallied off to university and become a historian.

Just think of the possibilities…

I might have become a TV personality. I might have been invited across the pond to become a guest lecturer (or whatever they call them) at some prestigious Ivy League institution, with all the attendant attention from young lady Americans attending there. I might have become a successful author of books with titles like Executions: Seeing the Funny Side and Mary, Mary, Not So Hairy.

It is equally possible, of course, that I might have fallen out of a dormitory window in a drunken stupor a week into my BA studies, broken my neck and never smiled again. (For which expression I am indebted to Messrs Sellars and Yeatman and their unrivalled version of English history entitled 1066 and All That, a tome which I would recommend to anybody wanting to read a historical account which tells it as it is – or was. Or wasn't...) This is precisely why I never express regret at not having become a historian, or not having done anything else different for that matter.

And I might have ended up like David Starkey. Yuck.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


I had a long post lined up this morning, all written in my head and raring to go. It was a rant about life – not life in general, but my life in retrospect. It was one of those dark, acidic rants that are quite entertaining as long as it’s somebody else who’s being dark and acidic, and the reader can smile benignly because they’re feeling light and mellow while sitting in the sunshine luxuriating in their morning coffee. It didn’t get made because there are certain things I would be happy to say to someone who is in tune with me, but wouldn’t be happy to throw around on a public platform. It was a good post, but it didn’t even get typed up.

And then things began to go wrong…

It started raining just when I didn’t want it to, the car threw a wobbler (curve ball to the DYs) which might or might not presage its doom, the rain continued all afternoon and into the evening, my anticipated call from Mel didn’t materialise (which I later discovered was because she hadn’t realised it was Tuesday,) and then the computer threw a different wobbler from the ones it usually throws these days.

My mood declined in consequence, from dark and acidic to… whatever comes below dark and acidic. The whimsical alternative post – about the difficulty occasioned by cars with bench seats at the front – seemed suddenly out of keeping with that mood, and I do so like to be in harness with my mood when I’m writing.

And the priestess sent me an email last night. That always shakes me up and the dust rarely settles quickly. I hope she dreamt about me last night in Sydney, but she probably didn’t. As for Sidney, well… (That’s an in-joke which brings me back to life – and that’s a double entendre, though not a risqué one. Where am I going with this?)

Ah, yes. Posts aren’t important. Only perception is important. If nothing else goes wrong between now and bed time, I might stop by and say goodnight.

An American Gift to the British Park.

I've decided I've had enough Corby Pale Ale and Whyte & Mackay scotch to risk posting my favourite Mitchell and Webb Sketch. The fact that I find it so funny embarrasses me mightily, but I'm unrepentant. I just don't care any more.

And here's a little addendum:

I found a comment left six months ago by somebody called Geliefde Liefde. It read:

I have no idea what they are talking about, it is simply not true. In Europe we have such trees everywhere and it is the most favorite tree and tea in Europe.  The Linden tree definitely does not smell of semen!

I replied:

It doesn't matter whether they do or not. The real joke is about Victorian mores. The line '...and ill children, playing' gives it away.

Within ten minutes, Geliefde was back with:

I do not understand.

This wouldn't be a German thing, would it? Where do I go from here?

A Reason for Not Posting.

These past couple of days I've become more than a little fixated on the serial killer, Reginald Christie, and his place of abode at 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill. I've been researching the subject a lot on the net over the past two nights (and discovering a few odd facts in the process, like the assertion that nobody is quite sure where Rilllington Place was. Surely, all you need is an old A-Z and there it is, isn't it? What am I missing?)

But anyway, the fact is that stories about serial killers and miscarriages of justice aren't very nice, and yet the story fascinates and consumes on the one hand, while simultaneously depressing me on the other. And that isn't conducive to the making of blog posts, unless you count this one.

What worries me slightly, however, is that my fascination with this story began some decades ago when I first saw the 1971 film 10 Rillington Place. The location was eerily familiar, and I only discovered tonight that the exteriors were filmed in the actual street shortly before it was demolished. So now I'm wondering just what it is I might be remembering.

Monday, 24 August 2015


I got talking to a black Sista a few nights ago. It was good – one of those meaningful occasions when you connect with somebody briefly on the road of life and then walk on a little enlightened.

In this case it brought some clarity to the whole subject of racism. It seems that whatever the history, the backlash, the complexities, the bigotry, the political correctness, the matter of cultural differences, the allowance for cultural conditioning etc, etc, it all comes down to one word: Respect. I suppose that’s because it’s the one universal right that has nothing to do with anything other than being human.

When Head and Heart Diverge.

I was reading up on Albert Pierrepoint tonight. He was Britain’s most celebrated public executioner in the decades leading up to the abolition of capital punishment.

I came to wondering how he must have felt when one of his ‘assignments’ – Timothy Evans – was posthumously pardoned after it came to light that Reginald Christie had done the deed all along, and that the police had suppressed evidence which would have got Evans acquitted.

No doubt his mind would have been untroubled. He was only doing his job after all; he wasn’t in any way responsible for the evidence, the verdict or the judgement. What effect it had on his heart, however, is another matter.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

On Snails and Mr D.

Having no paint conveniently drying in the close vicinity, I spent a little time this evening watching a couple of snails climbing up my office window.

(I soon realised that this is not such a bad alternative activity because, slow as they are, snails do climb windows rather faster than paint dries, and that makes watching them a suitable form of recreation for those who lead busy lives and don’t have much time for fun.)

So, being an inquisitive sort, I naturally wondered why they do it. What are they looking for? What do they expect to find when they get to the top? Does the life of a snail hold some arcane purpose that makes it superior to the apparently purposeless life of a human? Probably not, but I chanced upon a theory.

I suspect they’re descended from an ancient species of snail whose natural habitat was the well worn pathways used by sabre toothed tigers, mastodons, heavily built humanoids and so on. In the sure and certain process that is natural selection, the ones that survived were those which confined themselves to vertical surfaces and so didn’t get trodden on. Hence the window-climbing genetic component became dominant. There.

An alternative theory is that they’re looking for God because no one has told them about Charles Darwin yet.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Silence of the Bees.

And live alone in the bee-loud glade
Yeats ~ The Lake Isle of Innisfree

This summer has been notable for the great reduction in the usual wealth of wild visitors. The incessant call of the chiff-chaff has been entirely missing. So has the scythe-winged swift soaring gracefully in the high heavens. The number of swallows and martins has been down to around only a third of what I usually see swooping and swerving, climbing and chasing in the mad melee of the feeding frenzy. Butterfly numbers have been little more than about 20% of normal, and my favourite butterfly – the Red Admiral – has failed to augment the beauty of the flowers with its black and orange livery at all. Fortunately, the bees have been as prolific as ever, both in terms of quantity and the number of species, but here’s what’s odd:

They’re not making any noise. On a warm summer’s day like today, when almost every flower head has one or more bees gorging on the nectar, the garden is awash with the soporific drone of buzzing. It’s usually one of the delights of summer. This year – nothing.

So why have the bees fallen silent?

Post-Nightmare Discoveries.

Having recovered from seeing myself on the screen being uncharacteristically reticent when approached by a young French woman, I subsequently made two discoveries which refreshed the matrix:

1. Slugs like rolled oats. There was one on the windowsill outside the back door gorging itself on the stuff intended for the birds. I thought of giving it a home as a pet, but decided against it because I realised that you can’t really stroke a slug, you can only wipe the slime off. And that would be a bit like picking your nose when you’ve got a cold.

2. Fosters lager doesn’t taste of anything at all. Really. Nothing. I only bought it because it was cheaper than St Cervois, and now I know why. Maybe it’s because it’s brewed in Melbourne. And could there be any other place on earth where they would put beer (so called) in a plastic bottle? Maybe it’s because they sell it in Sydney.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Saved by the Finale.

I just watched Terry Gilliam’s film The Zero Theorem, the first ten minutes of which provided a sobering experience.

First there was the location – a city resembling a broken down, washed out London of an all too believable future. Most of the exterior wall space is covered with screens carrying video adverts, the park is dominated by banks of prohibition signs, and the traffic drives on the right. And then there’s the hero, Qohen. Apart from the fact that he speaks with a German accent, has even less hair than I do (zero, by a strange coincidence,) and exhibits an uncharacteristically reticent air when approached by the sexy young French woman, he’s pretty close to a mirror image.

The rest of the film is about the nightmare of his life, and in true Gilliam fashion much of it went over my head. What didn’t go over my head was his response to the nightmare – fighting the good fight until he flips altogether and throws himself into the black hole of cosmic chaos.

Ah, but then he wakes up inside his own head where the sand on the tropical beach is soft, the water warm and inviting, the sunset seductive, and the French woman calling his name even more so.

Good. Now I can sleep easy.

One for Mistress M...

... who took time out of what must be an unconscionably busy schedule to talk to me about the sad circumstances surrounding my grandfather's demise. Mistress M is a brick, and I like bricks. And the video is apposite to granddad's demise, albeit a little less serious. (I think I might have posted it before, but I don't remember.)

An Incongruous Connection.

I saw an advert on the TV the other day (which is odd because I hardly ever watch the TV. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but anyway…)

A beautiful young woman is riding a beautiful white horse through the surf on a beautiful summer’s day. (In slow motion.) Her beautiful dark hair floats with every rise and fall of the horse’s gait, while her dress of seemingly white samite billows beautifully in the breeze. She is beauty personified, the very image of the Romantic female replete with remote sexual potential. In short, the maiden archetype brought to scintillating, shimmering life. She lifts her arm (in slow motion) and catches…

…a toilet roll, several leaves of which stream out in the wind like the banner on St George’s lance. A toilet roll…

You know, for all the disdain in which I hold the denizens of the high commercial world, even I didn’t realise that they could be quite as crass as that. Maybe some advertising executive somewhere isn’t quite as humourless as one imagines advertising executives to be.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

On Dogs and Dodgy Dealing.

I noticed a display of multi-pack crisps in a store yesterday which proclaimed:

7 for the price of 5

What it should have said in equally prominent lettering, but didn’t, was:

But please note:
The individual packs in this multi-pack are 11% lighter
than our regular packs.

They were. I checked. That’s what makes the claim ‘7 for the price of 5’ a lie, since there’s no direct comparison. And that kind of institutionalised commercial dishonesty is something we shouldn’t put up with.

By contrast…

Anyone who read last night’s post might recall my mentioning that I was bitten twice by a Pit Bull Terrier. It’s true; I was, once on each ear lobe. He was just showing affection, you see, and his bite was suitably restrained. Humans say it with flowers; Pit Bulls say it with their teeth. That’s a kind of honesty, and it’s why I generally prefer dogs to most people – certainly that breed of person who runs a large commercial organisation and not only regards the conning of the public in order to make more profit an acceptable way to behave, but even considers himself important in the process of so doing. For what it's worth – if anything – I prefer straight dealing, even if it leaves me with ear lobes that are a little engorged but otherwise uninjured.  


Writer’s block comes in two forms. The first is where you can’t think of anything to write; the second is where you can, but can’t bring yourself to write it. (There should be different terms for them, and maybe there are. I know nothing.)

The first has been afflicting me for over a week, but today is different. Today I have the second sort. Today produced incidents and impressions that I considered worth writing about – like being bitten twice by a Pit Bull Terrier, for example – but I’m possessed of the notion that nobody would find them the least bit interesting so why bother? If nobody is listening, why not keep it to yourself and save the brain power? It has been rightly, if tritely, said that in space no one can hear you scream.

So does this indicate that my career as an amateur writer is coming to a natural close, which happens with everything I do eventually, or is it just a temporary hiatus? Time will tell. Be he blockhead, tyrant or merely a construct of the illusion, time has the reins.

So now I’m off to YouTube to talk to Lucy. Lucy is one of the very rare breed of YouTubers who think and write like off-tramline human beings, and not like one of the more usual pack of chimpanzees who strut angrily and irrationally about the medium full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Thanks to Will – or the Earl of Oxford – for the words.)

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Changing Titles.

A few years ago a reporter from the local paper came to interview me about something or other, and eventually asked me: ‘What do you do?’ I could have been honest and replied ‘not a lot,’ but I styled it out and said I was a writer. By then I’d written 40-odd short stories, a novel and a novella, much of which had garnered a reasonable amount of approbation and been published, so I decided I was entitled to the title (which is a poor way of putting it, but occasionally I like to feel flawed.)

It was the first time I’d ever made the claim in public, even though I’d written lots of things before the fiction and even got paid for some of it, but I decided it was high time I did. I’d always wanted to be a writer, you see, and felt it was time to claim my birthright.

Not long after that the stories ran out but the writing bug was still wriggling. That was when I started this blog, and the fruits are now stored in my personal Google database (well, OK, file) there to be accessed by anybody with a few minutes to waste on not a lot.

But now I have a problem. At the moment I have little urge to say anything and nothing to say anyway, and how can you call yourself a writer if you’ve got nothing to write?

Maybe this is a watershed. Maybe I'm no longer a writer and need a new career. Maybe the next time I get asked ‘What do you do?’ I can say ‘I’m a drinker.’ I’ve had lots of practice, and who knows where it might lead?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Just Waiting for the Nightcap.

I found an unfamiliar beetle on my bedroom carpet earlier. Being curious, I put it on a piece of white paper and brought it down for identification aided by Google’s Images of Beetles.

(I’m uneasy about doing that sort of thing. It occurs to me that I have no right to interfere with the life path of an innocent creature which hasn’t done me any harm. It wasn’t even in the way, for heaven’s sake. But curious I am, so I permitted myself to err mightily – and felt guilty in consequence. I seem to be feeling guilty a lot lately.)

Anyway, according to Google’s Images of Beetles, it was a species with the imposing title Brown Beetle. Oh well, so much for tonight’s excursion into the exotic. I took it to the further end of the room and left it on the piece of paper to continue its inoffensive existence without further assault from some damn human.

It sat there, unmoving, for an hour. A whole hour. Beetles must do a good line in patience. I went to the kitchen to fetch a small scotch, and when I came back it had gone. Good. I feel better already.

The Point of Punishment.

So, let’s go back to a subject I chickened out of a week or so ago: the question of punishment. I’ll keep it simple this time because my brain is getting lazy.

It seems to me that there are only two reasons to punish:

1. To correct.

2. To exact revenge.

OK, so what about the Christian notion that if you don’t ask Jesus to absolve you of original sin – or any personal sins, come to that – before you die, God will punish you by consigning you to hell fire for all eternity? That’s a bit odd because Christians also preach that God is our loving father – more than that, the best and most loving of all fathers. So let’s ask a question:

If a good and loving father punishes his child at all, does he do so for any reason other than to correct? Surely no such father would do it out of the need for vengeance. That’s just spiteful, irrational and quite unthinkable. So now we have a dilemma:

Those poor souls consigned to hell fire are – by definition – beyond correction. So why continue to punish them? Either to take a spiteful revenge or for no reason at all, and where does that leave our view of God?

I suspect that the whole notion of hell fire and damnation was thought up by clerics to persuade gullible souls out of the urge to be naughty. Well, it didn’t persuade those supposedly pious but rather nasty Normans, did it? No doubt it was why Duke William was really very, very sorry when he knew he was getting near the end. (I mean, look what he did to my ancestors, some of whom came from the north and were no doubt well harried.) He must have felt that building a few abbeys and churches wouldn’t be quite enough to get him off the hook, especially since Norman architecture was a bit prone to partial collapse anyway. Is it surprising that his stomach burst when they forced him into his coffin? I think not. 

But I’m moving away from the point now, which is what happens when you have a capricious and lazy brain, so I’m shutting up.

*  *  *

Except to say that I intend to wear the same shirt tomorrow as I did today, just so nobody smiles at me and I won’t have to help them out of any ditches.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Bad, the Bad, and the Beautiful.

Today’s Tale of Three Women.

The Bad

I got an email from Blogger this morning, saying that the priestess had invited me to view her blog which she has now made private. I went through the ‘Accept’ procedure and got a message which said: This invitation is now invalid. What is a simple chap to make of life, eh? What?

The Bad

I missed a serious traffic accident by inches and by virtue of a quick (and very firm) right foot. Her fault, 100%. Maybe she thought she was a Flying Apsara to whom red traffic lights don’t apply. And me just a simple mortal…

The Beautiful

On that note, here’s another picture of a Flying Apsara from the cave murals at Dunhuang in China. It should be evident by now that, being a simple sort of male, I’m a bit into Chinese things.

A Random Encounter.

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I want another piece of toast.

Put the bread away, Jeffrey.
Do it.

Put the spread back in the fridge, Jeffrey
Do it.

And so I do. It hurts, but I obey because I don’t want to get fat. I mean, it wouldn’t look good, would it, if a Flying Apsara came flying through the window one dark December night and I resembled Bibendum?

So what’s a Flying Apsara? One of these:

I came by the information through encountering an absolute jewel of a lady on YouTube of all places. Strange, but true.

The Vegemite Sandwich and Beyond.

I gather the Australian government wants to have vegemite banned from sale in certain aboriginal communities. They say that some individuals are using it to create illicit alcohol, and the result is various sorts of trouble.

This is a complex issue. On the one hand they might have a point. On the other, it smacks of over-regulation (a trait to which Australian governments are prey, I hear) and a whiff of the old colonial mentality. I’ll reserve judgement since I’m not close enough to be entitled to make one, but what I would say is that I think it pretty clever to be able to make beer from vegemite, and I’m wondering whether they’ve published instructions for the general benefit. (I believe it’s all to do with vegemite containing brewers’ yeast.)

Oh, and another thing. The news report in which I read this little snippet referred to vegemite as ‘an Australian culinary icon.’

I said ‘Do you speak-a my language?’
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite
~Men at Work. Land Down Under.

So that’s one thing Aussies and I have in common: a sense of style.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Personal Questions.

I wonder why I hate getting wet so much that I find it mildly stressful to take a bath or shower.

I wonder why my ego is so dominant that I feel compelled to take showers anyway, rather than just becoming honestly smelly like people used to be in the good old days.

I wonder why a recurring childhood nightmare is still echoing all these years down the line.

I wonder where the recurring childhood nightmare came from.

I wonder whether, if I knew that, it would stop echoing.

I wonder whether getting drunk teaches you more about the fundamentals of life and the human condition than going to school does.

I wonder whether having a high IQ is more of a curse than a blessing.

I wonder why I’m always in such a terrible mood in the mornings.

I wonder why injustice, be it personal or social, bothers me more than most things.

I wonder why people don’t realise that money doesn’t actually exist, but is just an abstract mechanism that can only function as long as there’s common consent.

I wonder why people sometimes smile at me.

I wonder why YouTube is so good at persuading some of the worst specimens of humanity to crawl out of the woodwork and give us the benefit of their opinion.

I wonder why I feel guilty about hurting people’s feelings, even when they’ve tried so hard to hurt mine first.

I wonder why I still do things which subsequently make me feel guilty.

I wonder where Zoe Mintz lives these days.

I wonder why the writing of lists bores me.

I wonder whether I’ll regret posting this.

Beware Greeks Bearing Similarities.

I just took the Oxford Dictionaries Online quiz to find out which classical hero my personality type most resembles. Apparently I’m Odysseus. Never heard of him.

Well, actually I have, but I can’t say I’m at all familiar with his exploits. That’s because I’m not the biggest fan of Greek myths. I read up on them once when I was due to take part in a TV quiz show and they depressed me to Hades. They’re too full of male characters who assume the god-given right to abuse women, but if the woman strikes back she’s consigned to posterity with the reputation of an evil stereotype. It occurred to me that the human animal hasn’t grown much in 3,000 years, and that the Judaic tradition isn’t the only source of male-centric arrogance. Let’s say I found them discouraging.

So, sorry Odysseus. For all I know you might have been one of the good guys, but I have no intention of looking further to find out.

Trivial Bits.

To accompany the Staffordshire Hoard display (see recent post,) the City Museum and Art Gallery commissioned a local sculptor to create a 9ft statue of a Saxon warrior which now stands in the museum foyer. I have to say that it is pretty powerful, but I have a doubt:

Our 6th century soldier is equipped with an array of weapons, including a long bow slung across his back. I was led to believe that the longbow was introduced to the English by the Welsh somewhere around the 14th century. Enlightenment would be welcomed.

And another thing…

Staffordshire was in Mercia, and Mercia was an Anglian kingdom, and yet they will insist on referring to the people of the area as Saxons. Whatever justification might be made on the basis of generic convention, it’s still the sort of thing that drives a pedant like me to a state of moderate irritation. It shouldn't.

*  *  *

There was a hover fly today taking a strangely persistent interest in my electric drill.

‘It’s an electric drill,’ I said. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’

Having been so informed, it flew away.

*  *  *

I saw a comment left on a YouTube track tonight, referring to the fact that a model must have been used for the face of some fantasy character. ‘They must have used somebody’s continence,’ it said.

Did I have to post a reply which said ‘Thank God they didn’t use her incontinence?’

I did.

Priestesses and Principles.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t contact the priestess ever again. She has a life to lead in which I have no part to play, so it seemed sensible to leave quietly and stay gone. (And I always keep my promises because if you don’t there’s no point in making them, not even to yourself.)

But she contacted me unexpectedly a few days ago and it was evident that I would have to write back because failure to do so would have been less than respectful. (And I have to be honest and admit that it also gave me quite a lift at an appropriate moment.) So that’s what I did, feeling duly entitled because it was a reply and not something I’d initiated.

I re-read the reply the next day and decided it was hopelessly inadequate, which persuaded me of the need to write again and say ‘My reply was hopelessly inadequate. Sorry.’ But I couldn’t because I’d promised not to contact her.

There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza…

Doesn’t life get ridiculously complicated when you have standards?


I'm not suggesting anybody listens to this (I haven't.) I'm posting it only for the picture.

I would find it hard to imagine anything more disturbing than having a naked man with wings sit on my bed and play the violin. It might just be enough to push me over the edge at the last minute and ask Jesus to absolve me of my original sin. I suppose that was the point.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

On Ducks and Dusk.

This evening I was reminded to wonder yet again why the sight of a pair of mallards flying across a sunset sky has such a special appeal. It does, you know. Painters have painted it countless times. More to the point, I’ve felt it countless times.

So can this be analysed? Should it be analysed? Should anything abstract ever be analysed? Not for me to say, but unfortunately I’m the sort who is cursed with the impulse to try to analyse pretty much everything. So far I’ve failed with the mallards.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of owls and bats flying at twilight. It’s all about energy and function, overlaid with a touch of the mysterious and macabre because nocturnal creatures naturally operate at a time when we generally don’t. And it’s easy to understand the appeal of a skein of geese in spring and autumn. That’s all about the noise they make, and the fact that a big chevron moving across the sky is dramatic, and the further fact that it’s a seasonal marker. But a pair of ducks? All I’ve come up with so far is the tentative notion that it has something to do with the shift from diurnal to nocturnal energies. It’s about transition in the daily cycle. Probably. (But that doesn't explain why ducks are special but wood pigeons aren't.)

And no, it doesn’t really matter why the sight is so special. It just is.

The Meal Ticket.

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid-nineties, this was my first ever choice for the song I wanted playing at my funeral.
Although it’s sung by Karen Matheson in Scots Gaelic, it’s actually about a man being driven to distraction by his obsession with a special woman. I’ve been through many changes of mind since then, but I encountered the old album the other day and found myself coming round full circle. It’s just that if the person waiting to welcome me to the other side is the one I think most likely, she might appreciate the sentiment and buy me dinner.

Coming Third.

My brother’s greatest claim to distinction was in being the one to take on the school bully and win, thus ensuring that said bully was henceforth more circumspect in his behaviour.

I now learn that my daughter’s 11-year-old daughter (I decline to use the G word; it doesn’t sit naturally with me yet) has a similar claim. She’s mixed race, her dad being Jamaican, and a boy at school recently referred to her using the N word. She let it go – the first time. When he did it again she explained to him why it isn’t a nice word to use. When he did it a third time she punched him on the nose, wrestled him to the ground and rubbed his face in the dirt. I gather the boy now tells his friends that the N word isn’t a nice word to use.

I have to make do with being the runt of such an august litter. I never cured anybody of anything.

Friday, 7 August 2015

When People Come and Go.

I’ll tell you what I’ve experienced a lot in life: people who come to me for help or advice or companionship when they need it, and then remove themselves and ignore or reject me when they don’t. It used to bother me; I used to take the view that it was manipulative and selfish, but I don’t any more.

Now I’m more likely to put it down to that old principle I keep harping on about – that each of us lives in our own version of reality, and that it can change by the day, the hour, or even the minute. What’s more, it seems that a lot of the more complex personality types effectively have several different people living in the same body (which is certainly true of me) so that when one persona living in one current version of reality is drawn to me, it’s perfectly genuine, and when a different persona living in another version isn’t, that’s perfectly genuine, too.

The difficulty comes when you’re the sort who tends to attract the more complex personality type, as I seem to be. It means you’re likely to get picked up and dropped a lot, but allowances have to be made.

Of course, there are those to whom this doesn’t apply. Some people are just manipulative and selfish. The trick is in learning to spot the difference.

Getting Away Lightly.

I spent a little time in the City Museum and Art Gallery today, poring over some glass cases in which were exhibited artefacts from the much-vaunted Staffordshire Hoard. They were mostly divided into two sections:

a. These are sword decorations.

b. We haven’t worked out what these are yet.

The exhibit I found most interesting was an apparently human skull. The info card even said ‘Human Skull,’ but I had my suspicions. No mention was made of whether the object had been found with the Staffordshire Hoard or somewhere else, like the nearby theatre for example. It seemed to me that the mouth contained rather too many teeth for a modern human, and the jawline looked suspiciously simian. And I never trust anything I read on cards these days…

And then it occurred to me how disastrous it would have been to have a DPhil archaeology student along for the ride. I would never have got her out of the bloody place, would I? I would have been trapped in the black hole that is the city of my birth for ever and ever, my brain developing warts and my lips becoming encrusted with dried froth, while she valiantly attempted to work out what the things that haven’t been worked out yet were. Fortunately, I was alone (as usual.)

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Edited to Add.

It’s taken me over a week, but I finally got the answer to the problem experienced by the beggar at the bottom of the previous post. Here’s what he does:

He takes the money from the little girl and asks ‘Can I spend this on anything I like?’ The little girl nods enthusiastically, so he takes her by the hand and goes to the nearest purveyor of ice cream. He buys her one and says ‘You earned it, kid. You just gave me a whole lot more than a pound.’ She skips away and everybody’s happy.

‘Hey kid,’ he calls after her. ‘What’s your name?’


‘You’re kidding.’


And so it was that the beggar realised that life was worth living after all, and his little dog companion wagged its tail.

If only life could be as real as fantasy.