Wednesday, 30 September 2015

On Poles and Patience.

I got talking to a Polish shop assistant today. I’d heard her chatting to a customer in a foreign language and was intrigued, so I asked her:

‘Was that language Slavic?’

‘No, Polish. Oh… Slavic… Yes.’

Good start. So then we talked for half an hour, of which around twenty eight minutes was incoming. (I suspect there must be a lot of two-legged donkeys in Poland.) She told me that British people are friendly and helpful, and a lot more patient than Polish people. She did the knowing look. ‘A lot more patient.’

I thought of telling her about something I’d seen on the TV when I was a kid. The compère of a stage show is going through his routine when a workman walks across the stage carrying two broom handles.

‘What are you doing?’ asks the compère.

‘Just showing these two Poles around London.’

I thought it very funny as a kid (and the kid in me still does) but I thought it might come across as a tad offensive in these more enlightened times, so I kept my mouth shut (which wasn’t difficult in the circumstances.) Instead I managed to squeeze in a different little anecdote.

I told her about how my mother had been in the next bed to a Polish woman in the maternity ward when I was born, and how the nurse had given each woman the wrong baby to hold. Both women took umbrage, apparently, but I’ll bet the Polish woman screamed first and loudest.

Wasting Time.

I’ve been busy today getting things done. It’s generally held that getting things done is a good thing to do, but I’m not so sure. The problem with getting things done is that it leaves you little or no time to sit and observe and muse and comment on the state of the human and its world, so then you feel deflated because you’ve got nothing to write about.

Moving On.

Catherine Coulson moved on today, so I thought it fitting that I should post this little clip of her playing the Log Lady in Twin Peaks.

 
Twin Peaks remains my favourite TV show of all time. Mystical, mundane, fearsome and farcical, it had everything, and Catherine Coulson once said that the Log Lady was the only sane character in it. The log that lives in my office agrees. 

After Jean-Luc.

In last night’s dream I had a little tabby kitten living in the house with me. It looked just like this one:


I didn’t like it, and it didn’t like me. It glared at me a few times, and I seem to recall it hissed once or twice. I didn’t want it in the house, and it didn’t want to be there. Eventually I managed to find the door and let it out.

So what kind of a person casts a cute little tabby kitten as the bad guy in a dream? More to the point, who or what did the kitten represent?

I risk the wrath of The Borg in posting this.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Late Reveries.

Having just watched a performance of the opening sequence of Riverdance, I've come to the conclusion that if you're really, really good in this life, when you die and become a ghost you get a prize: five minutes (invisible and completely harmless, of course) in the women's shower room after the show.

Meanwhile, I feel the need to meet a camel. I think I would really, really get on with camels.

The Hobby Horses of Old England.

Definitely not me.

Guess what I saw in a shop today. Sticks with ’orse’s ’ead ’andles. I believe they’re properly called hobby horses, but I prefer the Albert and the Lion version:

So straightway, the brave little fella,
Not showin’ a morsel of fear,
Took his stick with the ’orse’s ’ead ’andle
And shoved it in Wallace’s ear

I never had a hobby horse. Boys didn’t, at least not where I grew up. The only boys who had hobby horses were the poncy little spawn of the landed gentry, decked out in pristine sailor suits and embellished with golden curls and rosy pink cheeks.

‘Oh look, Mater, do look,’ cried little Lord Henry de Fartingwell, destined to be the 12th Viscount of Blithering once the old Pater had received the regulation assegai up the Khyber (Cockney rhyming slangKhyber Pass – get it?) ‘Do see how fine I look on my white charger as I close on the massed ranks of our cowardly enemies.’

‘You do, you do, my darling,’ cried Lady Blithering as she mopped the glow from a brow set to burst with pride. ‘Doesn’t he, my dear?’

‘Doesn’t he what?’ asked the Viscount, as he looked up in irritation from his parlour maids’ bed duty roster.

‘Doesn’t he look grand and noble, sweeping across the breeze-blown grasslands of Natal, sabre raised and blood at boiling point?’

‘Natal? That? Stupid little shit. Get him off to school, I say, and a good whipping or three. And make sure he takes that damned ’orse’s ’ead ’andle thing with him. You know where they’ll stick it, don’t you? That should put a bit of backbone into him if nothing else does.’

Monday, 28 September 2015

Side Stepping the Commercial Tricks.

I was in a chain store today perusing the beers. I noticed that there was a 4-pack of lager with one can missing, and the price had been reduced pro rata to ¾ of the original price. Stuck to one of the cans was a label which said REDUCED TO CLEAR.

I’ve known this shop do the same thing before and it grates with me. The term ‘reduced to clear’ is obviously intended to give the impression that the buyer is getting a bargain when they’re not. It might be argued that the word ‘reduced’ is not strictly a lie since the pack price has been reduced, but the product price hasn’t. Getting three cans of lager for £4.50 is the same as getting four cans for £6. So although it isn’t strictly a lie, it’s very close to one, close enough to be certainly dishonest.

No doubt this is another borderline case where the legal phrase caveat emptor applies, and it’s one more small example of why shoppers have to be so vigilant these days in order to avoid falling foul of the shady little tricks the commercial world tries to play on them.

Oddness and a Little Experiment.

I don’t know what it is about Uttoxeter, but I see somebody strange there nearly every time I go. The strange girl I mentioned last week was in the library again. She didn’t accost me this time, just walked around with a plastic cup of something-or-other, talking to herself in a foreign language. Then she sat at a computer and talked on a mobile phone in what I assumed was the same foreign language (but how would I know? They both sounded Slavic, and it’s entirely possible that she was still talking to herself, only with a phone held to her ear. Uttoxeter is that sort of town.)

And there was another strange woman in a shop, talking to a more or less normal man. I looked at all aspects of her physical being – her clothes, her hairstyle, her face, even her body language – and everything was pretty regulation. And yet there was something about the way she was that made her odd almost to the point of freaky. Alien energies, maybe. What else is there?

So then I decided that, since my mind was set on the switch between normal and abnormal, I would try an experiment. I would smile at a stranger and see what happened. (Enough of them do it to me, so it seemed reasonable to fire a salvo back.)

But what sort of person to choose? Obviously it couldn’t be a man, since he might wink at me or something, and then where would I be? I decided it had to be a woman. It couldn’t be a young woman, of course, because she might panic and call the police. And it was too risky to choose an old one since they're too given to latching onto you and talking you to death. I chose a woman of around forty who looked athletic, reasoning that athletic people are usually both emotionally secure and in a hurry. I did it. I caught her eye and smiled at her.

Would she frown and demand ‘What?’ Would she look the other way disdainfully and hurry on? Would she pretend not to have seen me at all? Nope. She smiled back. Experiment concluded. (I doubt I’ll make a habit of it, though.)

Ah, but what I haven’t relayed here is the really, really strange thing that happened. It was a classic matrix moment, the magnitude of which I’ve never experienced before. I examined the phenomenon from all angles seeking a rational explanation, but couldn’t find one. And I’m not saying any more than that because I don’t want anybody to worry about me.

Disappointment.

I just went out to watch the lunar eclipse which started half an hour ago. It didn’t look anything like they said it would. The full moon had simply changed to a waxing crescent; it hadn’t turned red at all. Makes you wonder why we bother, doesn’t it?

But the slug slithering across the path when I went out had changed direction when I came back, like it had a purpose. More hidden messages, I suppose.

Added later:

I just went out again and it still isn't red - just a narrower crescent. But the slug had grown much bigger and was eating the birds' oats on the windowsill, so there must be something of consequence afoot.

Barking Up the Wrong Assistant.

This is true.

I went into a shop the other day to buy a pair of those cheap reading glasses, the sort that all the discount stores sell for around £1. (I needed to look through the Argos catalogue, you see, and I’d rushed out without my proper reading glasses.) I couldn’t find any, so I found an assistant instead and asked her:

‘Where are the cheap reading glasses?’

‘Reading glasses?’

‘Yes.’

‘We don’t sell that sort of thing.’

‘Oh, come on. Everybody sells cheap reading glasses.’

‘We don’t.’

A man’s voice called from the next aisle.

‘Poundland, mate. Next door.’

‘Next door? But I thought I was in Poundland.’

‘No,’ said the young woman indignantly, ‘this is a pet shop.’

She was the only one who didn’t find it funny.

And What a Time it Was.

The three years from ’94 to ’96 stand out as the three most special of all the years I’ve had to date.

A time of innocence
A time of consequences

Both, and rather more besides.

It was a time of Helen and Hilary, of Sam and Sue and Sophie. A time of hurting others through no fault of my own, and being hurt myself through every fault of my own. A time of working in the dream factory and partying late with the purveyors of those dreams. A time of struggling financially, yet always having just enough luck with money to avoid going under. A time of dealing with a mother’s death, from accompanying her to the departure lounge to preparing the buffet for the wake, and all done alone because there was nobody around to help. A time of being very grown up when I needed to be, and living as a kid with a new toy when I didn’t.

It was a time of learning and loving and losing, but mostly a time of gaining greatly. A time of playing games and taking responsibility. A time of magic and consequences, and the tone was mostly innocent. It was the jewel in the crown of a life. So how good it was to find this on YouTube last night:


One of the colleens heretofore mentioned went to see a performance of Riverdance in Birmingham, and she bought me a tape containing a selection of music from the show. As I recall, this piece was my favourite. In hearing it I got to hold the jewel again, twenty unprepossessing years down the line.

What I never knew until tonight was where the title came from. The story of Countess Cathleen can be read here. It’s a nice story, and it's good to see the redhead not only being in charge but also biffing the blokes.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Priorities and Prejudices.

When I was first seeing the woman who was to become my wife, her dad disliked me. He did so for three reasons:

1. I had a beard.

2. I had a job he disapproved of.

3. The brakes on my car squealed loudly when I brought his daughter home at 3 in the morning.

The third was the one he made into An Issue That Must be Resolved. He was a Conservative.

Her mother, on the other hand, didn’t mind me at all. She was more concerned that the town where she grew up now had brown people walking down the High Street. She said she was a Liberal.

My only concern was that I didn’t want to be a part of their bloody family anyway. One of my most hated expressions is ‘We’re not losing a daughter, we’re gaining a son.’ Oh no you’re not!

Misconstruing and Just Missing.

It’s been a bad sort of a day all things considered. I’m not in the mood for writing a catalogue, so I won’t bother.

*  *  *

I got a reply to a YouTube comment tonight which amply demonstrated yet again just how prone people are to utterly miss the point of what I’m saying. It led me to wonder whether the world is full of imbeciles, or whether I’m just poor at expressing myself. And that led me to wonder how much of what I spout on this blog is also utterly misconstrued.

*  *  *

I found this on YouTube last night:
I’m posting it in honour of the Woman in America who I haven’t mentioned in quite a long time. She used to answer about 1 in 20 of my emails – which I got used to and really didn’t mind – but when it got up to about 0 in 50 I decided that she'd come to find correspondence with me unpalatable, so I stopped (mostly for her sake since I have no wish to cause discomfort to stellar beings.) I miss her, but life does have a habit of moving on.

Anyway, the point is that in my story A Fairytale in Philadelphia, the meeting with Louise is prompted by this very scene, and the meeting with Louise is the catalyst for the telling of some deep truths (mostly about me, but it appears I got a few things right about Lisa, too.) That being the case, I considered this scene to be apposite, although with one big difference.  (Erm... two big differences. No, no... wait... three big differences.)

Friday, 25 September 2015

Empty Pleasures and Bad Jokes.

No mention of the E word tonight. I’m too tired, and besides, the notion that all material existence is an illusion can get a bit depressing if you think about it too much.

There you are, just about to tuck into one of your favourite meals – grilled cheese, preferably Cheshire, and hot plum tomatoes rolled in Staffordshire oatcakes – when you suddenly remember that none of it exists. It takes the edge off the experience, you know? It's no joke.

*  *  *

But this is. While thinking about what Descartes said about existence, a thought occurred to me. If ever I drown, my last thought before leaving this life will probably be ‘I sink, therefore I’m not.’

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Question of Smartness.

Having mentioned smart watches in a previous post, I thought it was about time I read up on just what the hell they are and what they do. In particular, I was looking to find out whether they offer any real benefits to the average human being strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage.

Well, it seems the modern ones offer an awful lot of clever functions, but functions don’t necessarily translate into real benefits. From what I could tell, there’s little or nothing the smart watch can do that isn’t already being done by something else. In fact, the article I read made no mention of benefits at all. What it did point out several times – both in the commentary and the quotations from interested parties – was that the market in smart watches is potentially worth many billions of dollars. And that, it seems, is the point.

Smart watches are here to provide an increasingly obsessive capitalist (for which read consumerist) system with yet another means to promote the insidious condition of desire – which eventually develops into the perception of need – in the minds of the many in order to further inflate the wealth and power possessed by the few. And it’s a fact that many wise commentators through the ages have pointed out that cultivating a persistent condition of desire and need actually makes people less happy, not more so. (Which is largely why I got out of the whole silly system over twenty years ago.)

So let’s go back a few dozen millennia to an earlier invention: the wheel. The wheel has been of lasting and inestimable value to the human race. Where the hell would we be without it? The smart watch, on the other hand, is mostly only here to make a few very rich people even richer. The question ‘So which is the smarter of the two?’ hardly needs asking.

Hotels and Hostile Territory.

There’s an ad keeps appearing in my Hotmail inbox. It says:

Be adventurers
Wherever the road may lead you

It’s an ad for Hilton Hotels.

There’s something odd about this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t adventurers people who scale ice-encrusted mountains and sleep in tents while the mother of all blizzards rages outside? Who sail the mighty oceans singlehandedly in small vessels with even smaller cabins, and have only dried rations to eat because there isn’t room for normal food? Who attempt to walk from the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole faster than anybody else, ignoring the pain and general inconvenience of frostbite while keeping a careful look out for hungry polar bears?

That being the case, I think it reasonable to propose that staying in a posh hotel does not endow a person with the status of adventurer – not unless he happens to be sleeping with the head chef’s wife, and he knows that the head chef knows he’s doing it, and he realises that the average head chef has a large number of pretty impressive knives within easy reach, and he remembers that the head chef once spent twenty years in a maximum security prison for eating the liver of the last person who slept with his wife… Which isn’t very likely, is it?

Hype is an integral part of the adman’s armoury, but there’s rational hype and irrational hype, and this is definitely of the latter kind. Isn’t that reason enough to give Hilton Hotels a wide berth?

Is God a Comedian?

It’s easy to ignore the rantings of religionists because they offer no proof. Everything they preach is based on faith, and they can’t give me a convincing reason why I should have faith so I don't. Quantum physicists, on the other hand, claim to have come to their conclusions by empirical means. This is all provable by science, they say, if you go back to the start of existence and then investigate reality at the sub-nuclear level. This means that I feel more obliged to take them seriously. So…

I woke up this morning 5½ hours after going to sleep with much existential confusion beating my brain cells with a caveman’s club. (My quantum physicist and The Borg had conspired to keep me from my bed longer than I’d intended, you see, and that meant drinking more than I’d intended, and so I woke up feeling a little less than keen to start a bright new day. In short, I didn’t want to get up.)

I did get up. I did, mainly to deal with pressing existential problems like getting the washing on the clothes line and charging up the battery packs for the hedge trimmers. In so doing, my newly unrefreshed mind began to formulate questions for the quantum physicist. The first was:

‘You say that everything I perceive in the material universe is an illusion, and further, that it’s all a projection of my own consciousness.’

‘Yes.’

‘Does that include you?’

That was the first question, but there were more, like the assertion that this illusion has its root in my thoughts. So if I want to get to the truth, should I stop thinking? Well, that does find an echo in the Taoist doctrine that to gain true knowing it’s necessary to give up all knowledge. By the same token, however, I have observed that people who don’t think much (and even tell me that I think too much) are usually little better than monkeys with a taste for capitalist delusion. So should I suspect that monkeys have a better grasp of existential truth than I do? That’s both sobering and funny at the same time.

There were more, several more, and the caveman was becoming ever busier with his club, but I can’t be bothered to enumerate them here because I want my lunch and who cares anyway? I did have one little thought, however, while continuing to stay trapped in the illusion:

I’ve heard it said that material existence is all God’s dream. I’m now inclined to suspect that it’s all God's big joke, and that It’s been laughing Its socks off ever since the Big Bang and will continue to roar until Doomsday. But that can’t be right, can it, because the very concept of time is part of the illusion. Isn’t it?

I think I need to be born a lot smarter in my next life.

Epilogue on Tonight.

So now I want to roll back the years to my youth and dance with a young woman to the strains of Lord Huron singing Meet Me in the Woods, while the Chevy’s engine purrs idly on the blacktop, the water in the creek babbles without point or purpose, and the detritus of a million galaxies splashes the sky with a million milky spatters. Thank heaven it’s all an illusion (I think.)

An Epiphany of Sorts.

Yikes!

All the stuff I’ve been working out over the years (and getting hopelessly confused about.) The sentence I placed at the bottom of this blog when I started it five and a half years ago. The conversation I had with somebody only today about the relationship between the body, the brain, the mind, the consciousness, rebirth and the universe. The glimpses I occasionally get of the matrix in action which make me wonder whether I’m ready for the funny farm...

And suddenly, tonight, I watch an hour long video in which a bunch of quantum physicists (and a man for whom I organised a public presentation thirteen years ago) read it all back to me.

As the Rev Jim said: ‘You mean I’m right?!’

This I can’t believe. I’m just another nondescript little individual (individual?) wandering through a mire of fantastical speculation in a pointless attempt to make sense of life, death and the nature of being. I don’t think I’ve ever been right about anything important, so why start now? Apart from anything else, it places a responsibility on me to change my version of reality, and I’m far too lazy for such an undertaking.

Time for another piece of buttered toast. Time to tell myself that the enjoyment is real, but the toast is an illusion (after Richard Bach.) Time to go back to YouTube and enjoy some simple music (and ask myself why I’m enjoying it… because the life experience is nothing but perception… I think…)

Shit! Should I post this? Why not? Do I care what anybody thinks? Not really.

The Importance of Place.

I’ve been trawling the BBC News pages tonight, trying to find something worth talking about. There wasn’t anything, but this maybe came closest:

A major survey has been carried out which sought to establish, among other things, which areas of the UK have the happiest people. The ‘well-being quotient’ was based on four factors:

Happiness
Life satisfaction
Feeling that life is worthwhile
Anxiety

Guess what: the unhappiest place in the UK is an area of the county in which I currently live. The second unhappiest place is in the neighbouring county where I was born and grew up.

Hmmm…

There are lots of happy people in the Orkney Isles.

Interestingly, the happiest place of all is the south west corner of Northern Ireland where it borders the Republic. The following clip from the old classic comedy Oh Mr Porter might explain why, since it's set in that very part of the world. The station staff are English, but the postman is a local.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Obeying the Voice.

I was going to write a post on the subject of Inconsiderate People – What Makes Them That Way and What Should You Do About It? It was going to be one of those 'let's examine this rationally and not get too personal about it' sort of posts. But then I got this voice sounding off in my head again.

‘Hey.’

What?

‘You’re not as smart as people think you are, you know that?’

Yeah.

‘So don’t try.’

What else is there?

‘Lighten up some.’ (The Voice pretends he’s American sometimes, but he isn’t really.) ‘Ever get your IQ tested?’

Yeah

‘When?’

Erm… some time in my thirties.

‘Who set the paper?’

MENSA

‘Right. Cosher.’

Suppose so.

‘What did you score?’

I’d prefer not to say.

‘Embarrassed, huh?’

Something like that.

‘Okay, Stormin' Norman, so what are you going to post instead, now we’ve established you’re an under-achiever?’

Some music?

‘What music?’

I thought I’d post my latest favourite from The Borg’s Tumblr.

‘Why?’

Because I like it...

‘And you like this Borg dame, right?’ (So coarse, these pretend Americans.)

Well… yeah.

‘Good thinkin’. I’m off to hit the sack.’

(The prospect of being skinned alive by an archaeologist who then buries your bones before digging them up again, exclaiming ‘Hey guys, look what I found’ is a curiously surreal sort of nightmare.)


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Zero Carbon Alert.

All the furore over VW cheating on their carbon emission tests got me thinking. (About the parlous state of the corporate world mainly, but then about carbon emissions.) Avaaz, from whom I get about five emails a week, claims that the only way to save the world is to achieve zero carbon emissions within a very short time scale. OK, so that would mean:

No more smoking, not even if your wife is in labour and you agree to walk ten miles to the nearest railway embankment to light up.

No more matches.

No more candles.

No more incense, either in the home or in religious ceremonies.

No more fireworks.

No more bonfires, not even on Bonfire Night.

No more camp fires…

And that’s only the effect on ordinary people. Imagine the catastrophic effect it would have on Hollywood:

No more jobs for pyrotechnic specialists who can aspire to legendary status with words like ‘Ready when you are, Mr de Mille.’

No burning of Atlanta if they ever remake Gone with the Wind.

No more explosions in James Bond films.

No solutions for Sherlock if a case is even a one pipe problem.

No more Indians firing flaming arrows into covered wagons.

No more burning brands in crappy movies about Robin Hood (which should just about finish off movies about Robin Hood, since how do you navigate in Sherwood Forest at night without a burning brand or two and this is 1195?)

No more films about Joan of Arc or 17th century witch trials.

No second remake of The Wicker Man to atone for the dire state of the first one.

No more dry ice effects, just in case some teacher in Texas thinks it’s smoke and calls the cops…

Sorry, now I’m descending into fantasy on the back of obscure topical references. Time to shower and hope that water remains legal.

The Magic of Dance.

You know, there are few things more captivating than a woman who can dance. And by ‘dance’ I don’t mean knees-ups, waltzing, disco-jigging or pole dancing. The first is embarrassing, the second innocuous, the third patently egotistical, and the fourth vacuously brazen. I’m talking about those women who can dance in such a way as to imply a level of eroticism that is verging on the mystical.

This is a realisation to which I have come relatively recently and courtesy of YouTube. So, for once, give praise to the god of technology. And I’ve posted enough videos of Chinese and Indian practitioners over the past couple of years that to post more would be superfluous.

Admitting the Truth.

Just to lighten things up a bit, I thought I’d post a video featuring two men. One is the role model I always had, the other epitomises the reality of my life much more closely (apart from the 70k salary.) It won’t be hard to guess which is which.

Cameron and the Point at Issue.

There’s currently an attack being mounted on David Cameron over certain unsavoury things he is alleged to have engaged in during his younger years. (Something to do with a ritual involving a dead pig during his time at Oxford is top of the list, I gather.) I think the aim is to cause distress to the Tory faithful (otherwise known as ‘swivel-eyed loons’ in the words of one high ranking – yet oddly anonymous – Tory politician) causing them to gag on their afternoon tea and spit more cake crumbs than usual onto the carpet.

Well, I’m all for causing distress to the Tory faithful, but it really isn’t the point, is it? I don’t give a tuppeny toss what Cameron did when he was younger. All I’m concerned about is the kind of person Cameron is now, and I dislike the person he is now. He’s arrogant, elitist, mean-spirited, and hopelessly out of touch with the majority of British culture. I don’t want such a man running my country, that’s the point.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Mystery of Mountain View.

I sometimes get a little paranoid intrigued by the number of visits my blog receives from Mountain View, California, because we all know what Mountain View is famous for, don’t we? Silicon Valley, cradle of all that’s wonderful about the modern world and home to the really nice people who provide the facility to write this stuff (and the even nicer people who provide the platform on which it functions. Hi, Moz.)

But that’s what bothers me. As soon as I see Mountain View in my Feedjit, I wonder whether somebody is reading my blog with surveilant intent (I gather there’s no such word as ‘surveilant,’ but there ought to be so there is now.) So I Googled it, which is nicely ironic and feels almost like counter-espionage.

It seems there are four places called Mountain View in California. There used to be five until one of them changed its name, presumably out of a desire to disassociate itself from those who couldn’t come up with anything more imaginative for a place that just happened to have a view of some mountains. (I wonder how many places there are called Mountain View in Tibet…) It reminds me of those people in England who call their small, two bedroom, semi-detached suburban bungalows that just happen to be situated on a hilly street ‘Hillside.’

(That’s something I gather surprises Americans when they come to England – our cute but rather silly habit of giving names to our little suburban boxes. Among the most popular are Mon Repos and Chez Nous, which are even less imaginative than Mountain View but at least they’re in French. And we’re happy to concede that we didn’t give the world such cultural wonders as the Wild West and Hollywood.)

So there we have the mystery: Who is visiting my blog from Mountain View? Which Mountain View are you? Are you slurping your instant coffee in a house just a block away from the local grocery store, or are you sitting in a swish office playing fondly with the smart watch everybody gets given as a reward for a whole year’s employment with the same company? Do you have surveilant intent, or do you just like my style, replete as it is with delicious irony and subtle denigration but I’m only kidding, really I am?

Please leave a comment after the tone.

Malfunction, Strangeness, and Not Being Crazy.

TV, car, computer – all still performing their primary functions but all malfunctioning to some extent. Same with my body, mostly doing what I need it to do but also malfunctioning to some extent.

At this point I could start telling the more interesting stories of how the very matrix itself seems to be malfunctioning. I could talk about the two very strange things that happened in my house last night, or the two strange encounters with strange people in the town today – one a young man from the local high school, and the other a young woman I encountered in the library. I had no explanation for the young man’s strange behaviour, but decided that the young woman was probably one of Susannah’s friends on day leave from the big house at the edge of town. And then there was the second young woman to whom I said ‘hello’ because she’s an assistant in one of the charity shops and I see her often. Her reply to my friendly greeting was an unusually sharp ‘Mmm.’ But that was only slightly strange, so maybe it doesn’t count.

As for the other strange stories, I’m not going to tell them because there are a lot of normal people out there, and some of them read this blog, and the normal reaction of normal people to strange stories is usually ‘this guy’s mind is malfunctioning.’

It isn’t, you know. Beleaguered though it sometimes is these days, it’s still functioning normally enough to recognise the strangeness in strange things. That means you can’t be crazy, right? Right.

Maybe I should just relate how the cashier in the DIY store asked me ‘Did you get everything you need today?’ after I’d gone through her checkout. What kind of a crazy question is that?

Choosing the Moment.

Try watching this at 7 o’clock in the morning when you’re still coming to terms with the cold light of day. It won’t mean anything. Try it at 11am when you’re having a coffee break as a reward for vacuuming all those nasty places behind the furniture that only get dealt with once a year. You’ll probably last thirty seconds. Give it another go at 1pm when you’ve stopped for lunch and can’t decide whether to have scrambled eggs on toast or a cheese sandwich. It won’t reconcile with the mindset.

But watch it at 3am while the wind moans gently beyond the dark window and the third scotch is slipping down nicely, and it’s as close to magic as you’re likely to find in this poor excuse for reality. It’s all in the timing.

Boy, Interrupted.

I suppose I should mark my return from the wasteland with a note on tonight’s film-that-everybody-in-the-world-has-seen-except-me. I’ve been wanting to watch Girl, Interrupted ever since a variation on the phrase came to have great personal significance to me about five years ago, so tonight I did.

Did I enjoy it? Not really. There are too many things in it to which I’m allergic, like institutions and a culture obsessed with the question ‘What do you plan to do?’ Did I respect it? Sort of, but only so far. What disturbed me was the implicit presumption that anybody who steps outside the tram lines might not be crazy in the ‘clinical’ sense of the term, but they still need to be cured. So, Susanna found her capacity for self control and all was right with the world again. But did that actually mean she was cured, or that she had simply learned to act normal when it mattered? (I can personally vouch for the method.) I prefer to take the clue from the last line, spoken in voice-over by Susanna:

‘They say I’m a recovered Borderline Personality, and I still don’t know what it means.’

Note 1
I decided that Angelina Jolie can act after all.

Note 2
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Whoopi Goldberg character I didn’t like.

Note 3
I ate far too many cashew nuts while watching it. Nerves, I expect. 

Note4
The characters in the film encouraged my suspicion that women are probably better equipped to be psychiatrists than men – speaking generally, of course.

Note5
A Finnish woman told me today that I’m ‘very sweet’ and said ‘thank you.’ Admittedly only on YouTube, so it doesn’t really count, but it does vindicate my claim that I’m so good at acting normal when it matters that the occasional normal person has been known to like me.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

51st State Blues.

I gather Jeb Bush wants Margaret Thatcher to be the first woman whose picture appears on a $10 bill. That doesn’t entirely surprise me, coming as it does from one of the Bush clan. It was, after all, Mrs Thatcher who tagged Britain onto American coat tails until the joke over here was that we now had the honour of being the 51st state. The fervent wish of Bush #3 is being treated humorously in Britain, just as everything connected with the Bushes generally is, but maybe there’s a serious point to be made.

I can see why Mrs Thatcher should be regarded as an American hero in some quarters, since she was a great supporter of the old American maxim ‘It don’t count ’less it sells.’ During her time in office the term ‘greed is good’ became as prevalent in the City as I gather it had long been on Wall Street. She gave away the wealth creative function of industry to the Far East so that we could import goods cheaper than we could make them and the shopping mall could become the new centre of economic reality, conveniently ignoring the fact that a retail-based economy is not only more illusory but also far more fragile. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Americans, but I understand that you did the same thing some time earlier. For reference I have only Dylan’s Sundown on the Union and the sad fate of Detroit as evidence.) Mrs T even began the slow process of dismantling that great British monument to equality and common sense, the NHS. The legacy of the Thatcher/Blair years continues to roll on slowly, which must give great comfort to American Republicans who see the concept of a national health service as history’s Great Mistake.

So yes, it doesn’t surprise me that Jeb should want Mrs Thatcher to be commemorated on a symbol of American pecuniary principle. It seems entirely appropriate that the Mother of the 51st State should be so honoured.

And who, I might ask, would I choose to be the first woman on a $10 bill? Rosa Parks, probably. That’s one of many reasons why the Bushes of this world are rich, powerful and important, while people like me are just little nobodies.

Simians Building Podiums.

I read somewhere tonight that the actor Bill Nighy came high on somebody’s best dressed man chart. (Bill Nighy’s birthday is two weeks after mine, by the way.)

That’s ridiculous. People wear whatever they’re comfortable wearing. What they wear reveals who they are or how they see themselves, and is open to infinite variation. There’s no such thing as ‘best dressed.’

Why do human cultural monkeys have to make everything competitive? So they can have an excuse to be judgemental?

On Criminal Behaviour and Coffee.

Having lived much of my life at various levels below the official poverty line, I’m well practiced at being very close with money. I have a simple rule: ‘Do you need it?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ I walk away and revel in the sense of martyrdom thus engendered. (Alcohol doesn’t count as long as it’s obtained at minimum cost. A man has to have some form of recreation, doesn’t he? He does. One item of recreation may be deemed a necessity.)

Today I broke my rule; I went into a coffee shop and had… a cup of coffee. Having coffee in a catering establishment with Mel or my daughter is permissible because that’s only doing my social and familial duty, but having one alone is bordering on criminal behaviour. How else can you view the spending of £1.95 on something that would cost around 5p if you made it at home? But today I must have been feeling a little wild; I have nothing else to offer in mitigation, m’lud.

The serving wench behind the counter was young, pretty and friendly, which is an intoxicating combination when you’re feeling like a criminal.

‘Fancy doing bad things in the Badlands, babe?’ I asked her. 'The Chevy's hot and this hombre's hotter. Erm... Yo.'

(No I didn’t; I’m just being silly and finding an excuse to indulge in a spot of alliteration, which I haven’t done for ages.)

There was a woman in front of me paying with a credit card, but instead of typing in her PIN, she simply held the card in front of a little screen.

‘How does that work?’ I asked the serving wench. ‘Is that so you don’t have to run the risk of revealing your PIN to some nearby ne’er-do-well with a copying machine who’s intent on emptying your account?’

‘Yes.’

‘Can anybody do it?’

‘Only if your card has the Wi-Fi symbol on it. Do you know what the Wi-Fi symbol looks like?’

‘No.’

‘It’s a little dot with two semicircles above it.’

‘Oh, that.’

‘Your bank will update your card if you ask them,’ she continued helpfully (and in a young, pretty and friendly sort of way.)

‘Really? How interesting. I’ll bear that in mind. In the meantime, I’d like a small Americano with cream, and I’ll pay by cash. Are you local?’

‘Yes, why?’

‘You don’t sound it.’ (It takes a lifetime of practice to be quite as suave as that.)

So then I sat down with my guilt-laden brew and watched another pretty young woman tapping on a laptop in the corner without ever showing the slightest inclination to be friendly. I looked for the Wi-Fi symbol but couldn’t see one. And it occurred to me that when I was her age, the nearest thing to a laptop was one of those padded trays that elderly people put on their knees so they can be comfortable while eating their dinner in front of the TV set. I always used an old newspaper.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Nearly Instant Karma.

I saw a man walking across a car park the other day and watched him, fascinated, all the way into the store. It was because his shock of upswept hair appeared slightly too big for his head, his head seemed slightly too big for his torso, his torso in turn looked slightly too big for his legs, and at the bottom of his legs were two feet encased in the longest pair of winkle picker shoes I’ve ever seen. Had he been wearing make up and gaudy clothes I would have assumed he was a clown on his way to a gig, but he wasn’t: he was wearing a singularly innocuous grey suit. So then I wondered whether he was an alien in a badly judged disguise.

The following day I got hit in the eye by a piece of debris thrown off a farmer’s hedge trimming machine. It hurt. The eye is still slightly sore and bloodshot, and the socket a little bruised. I suppose it’s fair recompense for having added unkind judgement to ethically acceptable observation.

A Tentative Obituary.

It always irritates me slightly when people wait until somebody is dead before telling us how splendid that person was.

‘The world has lost a great man,’ they write, often disingenuously.

I’m hoping that when I die, some astute person will write:

‘The world has lost something it was never quite sure it wanted, and the feeling was mutual.’

Gaucheness and Green Women.

This is a bit of an oddity for a Faun track. The melody in the refrain is quite compellingly catchy, if a little commercial, and the rhythm line has a strong, driving beat that makes you wish you were still twenty five and had a wood nymph in thrall to your undoubted skills on the dance floor. And yet the verses are strangely inept.

  
I never knew any wood nymphs. The only green women I ever saw came to that condition through overindulgence in something or other. One of them even persuaded me to hold her hair back while she was vomiting into the toilet, a duty I reluctantly performed because I was still trying to make a favourable impression. The urge wore off eventually.

How to Know Yourself.

Imagine you're sitting on a park bench and an old tramp sits down beside you. (I was reminded earlier of something my mother witnessed in a bus station. This was my first thought on hearing the tale as a teenager.)

His clothes are filthy, his hair is lank and matted, the occasional flea leaps from his collar, what few teeth remain in his mouth are an equal mix of black and yellow, he smells worse than a fishmonger's waste bin, and his greasy beard is liberally spattered with vomit. Suddenly he grips his chest and falls back unconscious. Would you give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Be honest.

My answer (printed backwards so you can't cheat.)

suoicsnocnu ckab llaf mih ees ot hguone gnol deyats evah t'ndluow I

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Hunting Big G.

Something Mel said tonight gave me an idea for a novel. Let’s suppose that today’s generation of children has been born with a much higher level of spiritual awareness than earlier generations, and has extremely advanced, though latent in most, psychic abilities. And then further suppose that those abilities are so high in certain gifted individuals that they are capable of accessing the celestial plane, and that some catastrophic event has developed the gift to full potency.

OK, this group of individuals accesses the God realm in order to find God and take him to task over his cruelty and crimes against humanity as evidenced by the Old Testament. When they get there they find that God has seen the writing on the wall and gone missing, and that a party of angels is preparing to hunt for him with the intention of bringing him to justice at some supreme celestial court. Maybe they are led by a hugely wise, compassionate and liberal individual who has been cast in the role of fall guy for thousands of years. The humans are enlisted to help in the hunt here on planet earth, while other gifted beings are to become ground operatives in other parts of the universe.

But this is going to be some job. God is, after all, the granddaddy of magic. He could be hiding as a rose bush in an English garden, an obscure rodent in the jungles of Sumatra, a stone in the wall of the Taj Mahal, or a grain of sand on a beach in California. He might even be hiding in the magma at the centre of the earth. And that’s just on one planet. What about the rest of the cosmos?

How would this celestial intelligence agency (unfortunate initials, maybe) begin the job of second guessing God’s hiding place? And how would they recognise it when they came upon the spot? But find him they do, and bring him back to face the music. And then the trial begins…

It would take a special writer to bring such an idea to fruition – someone with an ordered and disciplined mind capable of linking complex strands into a coherent picture, someone possessed of an academic propensity who is practiced at holding a wealth of facts and data in their memory bank, someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of history, the Bible and legal procedures, a person of high intellect and imagination.

I couldn’t do it; I’m not smart enough. I’m a drifter, a dreamer, a cynic, and something of a simple iconoclast. Besides, I’m lazy. But I know somebody who might be able to bring it off, given maybe another twenty years or so.

Fantasy, Actually.

You know, considering the fact that Love Actually was made some time between the Siege of Troy and the English Reformation, it’s odd that I’ve never watched it. I saw a brand new copy in a charity shop today and it was only a pound, so I decided to splash out and complete my education.

It was sad. With a film like that you need to find a character with whom you can identify, and I fell just about half way between Billy Mack and Harry, with Jamie hanging from the tassels of my heart like an old plastic flower. And it was clear that my days of being a Colin are long past, which is sad enough, isn’t it?

Billy Mack, seeking old glories

Harry, seeking old thrills

Jamie, seeking the Grail


Colin, living in the now

And I have to say that it was a little short on credibility in lots of ways, not least the fact that the Prime Minister wasn’t a psychopath. That was the greatest and saddest fantasy of all.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Meeting Mrs Lopsided.

I heard a dark voice beside of me
And I looked round in a state of fright
~ Dreadlock Holiday. 10CC

But seriously…

I heard a small voice beside of me say ‘Oh dear, it’s raining.’ I looked round and saw an elderly lady, apparently sheltering from the three spots of drizzle that had managed to find their way to earth. A conversation ensued. It must have lasted around half an hour, but it seemed longer.

From such an inauspicious beginning it moved onto anecdotes, most notably the one about when she borrowed a pick axe and knocked a wall out between the kitchen and living room in her house – and did so while the kids were at school and without first consulting her husband. Apparently he neither fainted nor imploded when he got home from work, telling her instead that she was a better man than most men. She was very proud.

But then it moved onto religion so I had to be on my best behaviour. ‘Do you believe in God?’ she asked innocently. What does a person like me say to a question like that? It’s a bit complicated, you know? I tried to explain my view as concisely as possible, but I have no idea how many of the seeds fell on stony ground. ‘The way I see it,’ she continued, ‘there must be a God because I’ve done lots of things in my life and never come to any harm, so there must have been somebody looking after me, mustn’t there?’ I wanted to reply ‘that’s a rampant non-sequitur and quite absurd,’ but I nodded politely instead.

And so it went on and on. Eventually she asked:

‘Have you ever been a teacher?’

‘No,’ I replied. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘Oh, it’s just the way you explain things.’

I saw the red light again and avoided the immediate urge to say ‘That’s because I’m a prize bullshitter.’ It struck me that, being at an impressionable age, such a less than decorous term might have offended her. ‘Probably because I’m a writer,’ I said. She said she was a writer, too, because she’d decided to write her life story. ‘Nice idea,’ I replied. ‘Everybody should do that. Oh well, must be going.’

‘My name’s Eileen,’ she went on. She’d already told me so at least three times.

‘Oh, right. I’m Jeff. Bye.’

So there, you see. That’s how considerate I can be when talking to little old ladies, and all the while standing outside an Argos store deciding whether to order a new electric blanket now or wait until the winter comes on. Whatever God is, it moves in mysterious ways when it's effecting introductions.

Approving the Line.

I'm promoting The Borg's taste in music again, not only because I approve of it in general or like this song in particular, but because there's a line in it...

 
Like a fox caught in the headlights
She had animal in her eyes.

That's my kind of line, and good lines are important to me.

Not Changing Horses.

I had a thought that I might exchange the blog for a vlog. I’ve seen a few lately and it seemed like a fun idea, so I searched out what appeared to be the most comprehensive website on ‘How to Vlog.’

What I was looking for was some guidance on the technology and techniques required for getting something out of a head and onto a YouTube channel, but they skipped all that and went straight into the important stuff. The first thing I read was ‘How to grow your fan base.’

Fan base? That’s what it said. Fan base... Mmm… It would be hard to explain in a few words why that term encourages in me a state bordering on apoplexy, so I won’t bother. It just does. And it soon became apparent that the image they had in mind of the average vlogger was a thirteen-year-old egomaniac who was low on intelligence and just about bereft of talent, but who wanted a quick and easy way to get famous, albeit artificially. (Come to think of it, a lot of the people who really are famous these days are also bereft of talent, but that’s beside the point.)

And then it went on to ask questions like ‘Are you the right sort of person to vlog?’ and ‘Why do you want to vlog?’ The answer to the first was simple: ‘I have no idea.’ The problem came with the second. The only one I could come up with was ‘Because I’ve never done it.’ Seems it isn’t enough.

Clearly I’m not qualified, so I decided to give it a miss. Besides, I doubt I could afford the camera, especially since it would probably break the first time I smiled.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Ishmael Revisited.

I think few people realise the extent to which their approach to life is dictated to them by the powers that run the culture – the politicians, the corporations, the bankers, the educationalists, and maybe something else as well that pulls strings behind the scenes. They tell us what we want; they tell us what we need; they tell us what to value and what not to value; they tell us how to view the multitudinous elements which make up Life As We Know It. In short, they tell us what is normal, right and proper. And people go along with it.

So what happens to those who question the instructions, who think deeply about what they want, need and value? What happens when they start trying to circumvent the instructions, when they start dispensing with the trappings – the technology, the trinkets and the lifestyle accessories? Life becomes more difficult on a practical level because the system run by the powers-that-be make it so.

But that’s only the surface problem. The real, deeper problem is that such a person becomes out of tune with the culture, and then life becomes an increasingly persistent cacophony of discordant notes. And that’s when everything starts gradually to fall apart and the questioner gets driven closer and closer to the edge of reason. Or so it seems.

I’m being fanciful, aren’t I? I’m becoming paranoid. I am. Am I?

A Man Called Joe.

My childhood was replete with men called Joe who had fallen on hard times one way or another. There was a tramp called Joe who used to walk around the streets where we lived, and my mother would always give him a piece of cake and a cup of tea when he arrived at our front gate (which he naturally made a habit if doing.) And then there were the sad stories she used to tell me of woefully benighted fictional characters called Joe.

I remember there was one called Old Joe, Lost in the Snow, and another about a man who had to get to Birmingham where his poor old mother was bedridden and about to expire. He was called Joe, too. But he had no money for the train fare, and by the time he’d walked to the hospital, his mother was gone. I didn’t like that. I had no problem with Joe the tramp finishing his tea and cake when I was getting home from school, but arriving at the hospital too late to say cheerio to your poor old mother, well…

‘Change the ending.’

‘What?’

‘Change the ending. It’s too sad.’

‘Oh, all right. Some kind person lent Joe the train fare, and when he got to Birmingham his mother was much better.’

‘Good.’

She used to tell me another one called The Wig, the Wag and the Little Yellow Bag, about gypsies who kidnapped children and roasted them for dinner. That one was pretty surreal, not least because there was nobody called Joe in it.