Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Question for the Chaplain.

Seems I’m not quite finished with October yet.

Something reminded me tonight of the Grace we used to say before lunch at the high school I attended:

For what we are about receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.

Only now does it occur to me how irrational such a request is. If you have to ask God to make you grateful for what he’s giving you, doesn’t it rather negate the value of the gratitude?

Going Out with a Whimper.

Having no inclination to write anything original on this unusually dreary All Hallows Eve, I considered posting a link to one of my stories that is set on this very occasion.

It seemed unforgivably egotistical, so forget that one.

Instead, I’ll offer a topical greeting to all misguided people who are reading this post instead of doing something more constructive:

May perspicacity prevail and your pumpkins ever prosper.

I know it doesn’t make any sense, I know. It just jumped into my head.

(I rescued a stunned nuthatch today, and the moon looks oddly misshapen tonight. 1½ hours to November. Shuddersome.)

Friday, 30 October 2015

Words for a Sad Life.

I learned two new words tonight: meme and lolcat.

People like me have a problem, you see. We know what words like parsimonious and effulgent mean, and we find it quite staggering that there are those who confuse sight, site and cite. But when we read a headline informing us that a Taiwanese model’s life has been ruined by a meme, we find ourselves entering a state of pointless, if amusingly lurid, speculation as to its definition. Eventually we give up and type it into Oxford Dictionaries Online.

Oh, right. Got it now.

But in so doing we discover a bonus: Oxford Dictionaries Online has a lolcat generator. We can type anything into the box and said facility will translate it in real time into lolcat language while we continue to be amused by the picture of a tabby cat wearing a red bonnet with horns. For about 60 seconds, that is, and then we get bored. So then we find ourselves asking two questions:

What is the world coming to?

Has my brain shrunk so much that it can be amused for even 60 seconds by a picture of a tabby cat in a red bonnet with horns translating ‘I am’ into ‘I iz?’

And then we use the experience to create a most inconsequential blog post, hoping that only thoze wot noze wee int az sad az wee seams read it.

The Old Ways and New Methods.

So what am I to make of the two knocks I just heard on my office window, two dull but definite knocks, like human knocks but not quite loud enough for a human caller? Could it have been, I wonder, the garden fey reminding me that their favourite day is approaching and they usually get a treat? If so, I haven’t forgotten.

*  *  *

I’ve been watching some supernatural TV dramas on YouTube recently, several of them being adaptations of MR James ghost stories. Most were made in the 70s or early 80s, and they were pretty awful – poor scripts, unwarranted excursions from the original plot, clumsy direction, and acting that was often either wooden or hopelessly over the top. Last night I found an adaptation of A View from a Hill (MR James) made in 2005, and it was so, so much better.

So welcome, 21st century. You have greatly improved on one thing at least. Sorry I’m usually so unremittingly harsh in my condemnation of your habits.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Not Dead Yet.

I had serious reservations when I read of a plan to reboot the Ghostbusters franchise. The two Ghostbusters films remain among my all time favourites, but I felt that a thirty year gap was too big for a third entry to have any meaningful connection with the originals.

But then I read that the new team is composed of all women, and that one of them is played by Kristen Wiig who demonstrated her ability to play deadpan comedy superbly well in Ghost Town. Now I feel that there is hope, and will be happy to give it a chance when it comes out next year.

I was also undecided about this video which I found recently. The problem is that dudes doing cool never ding my donger, but the lingerie swung it.

Wearing the Pointy Hat.

I’ve often wondered what the difference is between the terms ‘academia’ and ‘academe’ so tonight I looked it up. I was hoping to learn that ‘academia’ is the grosser, more modern term used by the grosser, more modern New World people, and ‘academe’ the older, more classical equivalent to which we sophisticated Europeans are naturally drawn. Had that been the case, I could have enjoyed poking fun at my American associates by casually remarking that ‘academia’ sounds like a type of nut.

But no, it isn’t that simple. There is a difference, apparently, but it’s rather more subtle than a clumsy clash of continental egos. I think I’ve got it now, but please don’t ask. If God had wanted me to explain things, he wouldn’t have permitted Google to cross the Styx in reverse direction.

So now I'm content to be magnanimous and rely on The Borg, a highly educated American, to correct a lowly educated European should he err in the use of either term. Although I’m not even slightly erudite, you see, at least I’m smart enough to recognise the benefit of knowing somebody who is.

Vaguely Related Note

I watched part of a TV quiz show tonight, and the answer to one of the questions was ‘Brown University.’ Unfortunately, I’d only just switched on so I didn’t hear the question, which is a shame because it was the only one I probably would have got right.

Second Vaguely Related Note

I reckon this kid is fully aware of the fact that reading a vertically written word from top to bottom is merely an arbitrary convention, just as is the practice of putting the North Pole at the top of the map.

 
This principle does not apply, of course, to getting BC backwards, since only the end of the period is clearly defined. I knew I could trust myself to get a dig in somewhere.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Recollecting.

Something reminded me tonight (I don’t remember what) that during my early days of working at the theatre I had a sort of minor semi-fling with one of the young women there.

Our first date was an unprepossessing affair, being nothing more than a quiet drink at a neutral location – a pub close to where she lived. I was intrigued by her insistence on telling me more than once that she had hairy legs. I suspected a trace of misinformation and assumed she was testing me, maybe assessing my capacity for commitment or something of that ilk.

The relationship bubbled a little but never quite fizzed, and ended in minor tragedy three months later. I spoke to her rather savagely one night because I believed that she had, deliberately or recklessly, trodden on my feelings and I dislike having my feelings trodden on (since what else is there?) And the question of whether her legs were unusually hairy or not remains one of life’s enduring mysteries.

*  *  *

I remembered something else that I did during my recent leave of absence: I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. So what did I think?

Well, I have mixed feelings about Peter Jackson. He does epic very well and he has a great eye for sets and locations, but I do believe his direction can be naïve and heavy-handed at times and he sometimes lacks subtlety (especially when it comes to humour.) Accordingly, I found the Lord of the Rings trilogy highly commendable but with a few flaws. I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey little more than flaws. That’s what I thought. And still do.

The Feverish Fruits of Misplaced Levity.

It’s a fact that people often like to quote famous lines from famous films, or famous catchphrases from famous people, at appropriate moments. (For example, a woman once said to me ‘Oh well, we’ll always have Paris.’ Never having been to Paris, and not having seen Casablanca for about twenty years, it took me days to realise what the hell she meant.) Being a little more imaginative (for which read ‘pretentious’) I prefer to reprise an idea or principle rather than simply quote a line.

So, I was in the pet shop today waiting behind a woman who was trying to decide on which was the right sized dog-collar-that-flashes-in-the-dark for her dog.

‘You can serve this gentleman while I decide,’ she said to the shop assistant.

I looked around one way, then looked around the other.

‘What are you looking for?’ asked the assistant.

‘The gentleman.’

And then I felt the fever of embarrassment because it really wasn’t very funny, was it? What happened, you see, was that when she referred to me as a gentleman, I remembered a scene from the old classic comedy Oh Mr Porter and my response was based on it. The problem was that I’m no Harbottle, and a pet shop in Ashbourne doesn’t quite replicate the atmosphere of a run down old railway station in Buggleskelly.

Must get a grip on myself.

An Odd Way to Feed the Addiction.

I often pay a visit to the local garden centre just to marvel at its function as an icon of the consumerist ethos. It has a big sign in the window proclaiming the fact that it is one of the ten best garden centres in the country, a claim which I assume is based on impartial arbitration by people gainfully employed in the business of roaming the country passing judgement on the relative merits of the nation’s garden centres. On what basis they formulate their pronouncements, I have no idea.

What I can say is that my local one has an enormous amount of stock, and I noticed a new addition today. They have dogs’ heads, evidently meant to look like stone but I assume made of concrete. Some are designed to be mounted on walls, while others are clearly intended to repose among the rockery, the gravel paths, the flower beds, or wherever else the proud owners might decide they look most comfortable. But there’s a problem: they look like hunting trophies. Would any genuine dog lover, I wonder, want such a thing? I wouldn’t, but then it’s long been established that I’m not exactly in step with the consumerist ways of the western world.

On a tangential note, I’m interested in the way a word can change its meaning through the process of cultural evolution. As I understand it, the term ‘consumerism’ was originally coined to represent the power consumers could wield over the supply process. Now it’s come to mean something almost diametrically opposite. Now it’s used to describe the state of obeisance paid by the consumer to that very process, a state amounting to the biggest of all modern addictions.

A Reminder...

...of the days when sexiness was still subtle (and all the sexier for so being.)

Happy to be Unknown.

I've found that the fretful mind sometimes takes refuge in ego, which is why I spent a little time earlier seeking reviews of my published stories. I found one which began ‘The writing is reminiscent of Lovecraft’s, though less dense.’

Is being less dense than Lovecraft a compliment or a criticism? I have no idea. But then the review finished with ‘I was confused as to the narrator’s connection to the story.’ The narrator has no direct connection to the story; he is simply repeating what was told to him by somebody else. Dickens used the same device in The Signalman. Mary Shelley used it in Frankenstein. But therein lies the point.

If I’d written Frankenstein and submitted it to literary agents, I have little doubt that I would have been blasted by a barrage of ‘This is the most tedious, unremittingly self-pitying narrative to which I’ve ever had the misfortune of being subjected. Go away.’ The point being that those with a name are judged by entirely different standards from those who are unknown. In one case a reason is sought to open the door. In the other, the primary imperative is to close the door unless unassailable evidence is found to prevent it. I suppose that’s human nature.

But then my ego, with its accustomed habit of being disarmingly candid, informed me that my fiction rarely came close to attaining the standard to which it aspired. I knew that already, and is why I remain an unknown.

But what does it matter? Memento Mori is the motto, or as Thomas Gray so neatly translated it: ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave.’

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Two Childhood Mysteries.

I don’t remember anybody explaining to me what a mirror was the first time I looked into one. Neither do I remember having any doubt that what I was seeing was me. I wonder how I knew.

*  *  *

What I do remember wondering as a child was why the lions being brought to Noah’s Ark didn’t simply eat Noah and take over the operation. If they had, the world might now be ruled by lions instead of a bunch of ape descendants who ought to understand the purpose of evolution but apparently haven’t got the hang of it yet.

Alien Eyes.

I have reason to suspect that people with high awareness, sensitivity and imagination have proportionately larger eyes than those lucky enough not to be so afflicted. I'm curious to know whether anybody has ever researched this apparent phenomenon.

Superhuman

Sub-human

Closet Troglodytes.

There’s a new advert appeared on YouTube. It’s one of those old, achingly hackneyed lovers-on-sunkissed-beach ones, capitalising on the great lie that is populist romanticism. The catch line runs:

Shredded Wheat: Looks after your heart, so you’re free to follow it.

How long have they been regurgitating this sort of mindless nonsense? Eighty years or thereabouts? And yet still they go on.

I swear they’re the worst of the lot, you know. They’re worse even than YouTube Orcs. At least true Orcs don’t pretend to be anything other than half-witted cave dwellers, whereas advertisers like to believe that they’re not only clever, but important. And the system pays them vast sums of money just to get on our nerves.

The Mundane and the Maddening.

I was sitting eating a carton of chips today (and activities don’t come much more mundane than eating a carton of chips) when I was struck down by that old frustration again. I was watching the people walking up and down the street and puzzling whether it was they who were moving, or time, or both. The whole thing seemed oddly unreal in a way that I couldn’t even describe to myself, let alone expound upon in any form of language. I asked myself: ‘What the hell is going on here? Here is an existence composed of an endless succession of moments, but there’s no such thing as a moment because flow doesn’t permit the concept.’ (A librarian told me recently that I’m probably using the wrong formula to address a question that is essentially mathematical, but maths was never my strongest subject. The teacher said it must have been due to laziness on my part, since I was good at everything else.)

Now, it occurs to me that one of Albert’s relativity theories probably explains the whole thing, but by the time my existential curiosity had reached the point of wanting to know, my mind had grown far too lazy (again!) to dedicate itself to any of Albert’s pronouncements (apart from the philosophical ones; they’re easy.)

But the chips were as good as ever, and 5-pack doughnuts (the custard variety by choice) remain easily the least expensive form of post-chip niceness. And the weather had grown rather too mild for the coat I was wearing, and two little girls came and sat by me which was a timely reminder that the company of children is almost as nice as the company of friendly horses…

And then there are voices. This guy’s voice is amazing. The song is another favourite and comes from the same album (Bohème by Deep Forest) as the last one.

Monday, 26 October 2015

A Little Catching Up.

Am I back? I’ve no idea. We’ll see.

*  *  *

I have a problem, though: I need something to do in the evening. I’ve exhausted the library’s stock of watchable DVDs, I don’t build model aircraft any more, the TV programmes aren’t worth the cost of heating the living room, and I can’t leave defamatory remarks (of the considered variety, you understand) on YouTube until after midnight because I have restricted bandwidth on my computer. So…

I’ve been considering whether there has been anything of note worth reporting during my leave of absence, anything I would have reported had I been in the mood to note it. Well, not really, but since I’m determined not to let this blog die just yet, I thought I’d mention the following:

*  *  *

The tabloids are at it again:

Halloween Hell!
Britain Out of Pumpkins!

You’d think the U Boat fleet had been re-commissioned, wouldn’t you, and sent to patrol the Western Approaches with orders to starve poor old Blighty into submission beneath the Nazi jackboot? Such is the gravitas attaching to the shortage of pumpkins in the scepter’d isle. But maybe this is just as bad as enforced food rationing. Times and priorities change. Or maybe the dearth of pumpkins has been deliberately engineered to keep us on our toes in preparation for WWIII. And yet it was odd to discover that one of the local supermarkets had five damn great bins full of pumpkins. Maybe we’re not considered important enough to be prepared out here in rural middle England.

But seriously, we never used to bother with Hallowe’en in Britain. The plethora of cheap plastic-and-gauzy rubbish festooning parts of the shop where useful things ought to be is a relatively recent phenomenon. It seems that corporate Britain looked west and realised that here was an opportunity to find yet another way to persuade people out of their money. And they did so in the sneakiest but best way possible: by getting the kids to pressurise the parents. Now there’s magic for you.

I was an exception, of course. When I was a kid I was the one who took Hallowe’en seriously. I used to go to the local library on the Saturday afternoon nearest the day and read books on the supernatural. I would always stay until after dark, then walk back to the bus stop through damp, dimly lit streets, pretending that life was more interesting than it actually was. And they call me unimaginative… (Oh, sorry; haven’t got to that bit yet. Read on.)

*  *  *

I took a phone call one night recently, from a number that had come up as a missed call several times over the preceding days. A man said:

‘Could I speak with Susan Adamson, please?’

‘Not on this number you can’t. Mrs Adamson hasn’t lived here for nearly ten years.’

‘Oh, OK. I’ll call back later.’

Where would we aliens be without humans to amuse us?

*  *  *

I got called a troll and a turnip on YouTube last week, by the spokesperson of an internationally known choral group. It was on account of the fact that I said they ‘simper better than they sing’ and suggested that if they didn’t change their presentation they would start attracting John Denver fans. The spokesperson went on to say that my remarks were ‘unimaginative.’

Well now, whether or not I am a troll and a turnip is a matter of variable judgement, and I concede the right of others to hold their opinions. But I would contest ‘unimaginative.’ My guess is that there would be a consensus among the literary cognoscenti acknowledging the expression ‘they simper better than they sing’ as being superior to most of what passes for considered comment on YouTube. And I am, after all, only trying to make my world a little more interesting than it actually is.

*  *  *

On the subject of music, this is a YouTube video I found a few days ago. The song has been a favourite for twenty years, but the video gave it a whole new lease of life and is the current most favoured.


*  *  *

I met Rosie yesterday. She kissed me on the nose. ‘She likes you,’ said the human sitting on her back.

Monday, 19 October 2015

British Tact.

You must understand that this sketch was recorded before Simon Cowell's ego went public. Things are very different now.

Taste on the Far Side.

This piece isn’t exactly melodic I grant, but I do have a soft spot for imaginative percussion, immaculately behaved German girls who like to pretend they’re neo-Pagans for a couple of hours, and nice Dutch boys faking orgasmic delirium while strumming their guitars back-to-back with half-naked men from Cornwall.

Extending the Options.

Last night I responded to a comment on YouTube from a young man whose profile showed him to be from Texas, and who styled himself Proud Hispanic. Thug.

He’s utterly fascinating, being at best semi-literate and seemingly quite at ease using words like ‘fag’ and imprecations like ‘burn nigga.’ In all my ramblings through the smelly subterranean caverns of YouTube, I’ve never encountered anyone quite as Orc-ish.

Being so outrageously over the top, his comments and language didn’t annoy me; rather I was intrigued and wanted to know all about his upbringing in the hope of discovering some reason for how he came to be what he is today. I even felt an inkling of sympathy for him, believe it or not. I suspect he probably had a challenging childhood.

So there’s my next life beginning to take shape. If I don’t make the grade as an astronaut, I might set my sights on clinical psychology instead. The psychologists will probably be a bit surer of their ground by then. (And it all depends, of course, on my not being born a three-legged goat on the island of Rum, which would be just my luck and probably no better than I deserve.)

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Movies and the American Question.

I just finished watching The Hunger Games, it having been recommended to me by my daughter. So what did I think?

Well, on the surface it seemed a typical Hollywood production, an American film made by Americans and aimed at American sensibilities. It’s basically a juxtaposition of violence and sentimentality, as seems to accord with two of the apparently predominant themes in the American psyche.

But I got drawn in as we mostly do when we have somebody to root for. The heroine has all the required credentials: she’s young, physically attractive, resourceful, brave, intelligent, compassionate and virtuous. She’s a poor little poor girl from a mining community modelled, I assume, on West Virginia. She has none of the luxuries or social advantages enjoyed by the elite, and so she’s the underdog who successfully takes on not only her immediate enemies, but more importantly the decadent Establishment which pitted them against her for the purpose of political control and its own amusement.

But then I got to wondering. Why does Hollywood so favour the idea of the underdog taking on the might of an omnipotent Establishment and winning? The highest grossing franchise of all time must surely be Star Wars, and who do we root for? The rebels, of course. The Empire is an evil, controlling force which must be defeated if right is to prevail. Nobody questions that. Why?

Is this simply an echo of American cultural roots, when a small but brave and determined force of colonists took on the might of the British Empire and won? Well, that seems reasonable enough. But how about looking around the world and questioning where the centre of Empire lies now, and who are the rebels? Has the canary become the cat without really noticing the volte-face?

And I’m not trying to be either wise or didactic here, neither is the question meant to be anti-American. The human condition is too complicated for that, and the human animal too self-interested for simplistic judgement. I’m just musing on why the most powerful country on earth which has a proven track record of strutting that power, often with questionable justification, should so favour the idea of David beating Goliath.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Gullibility, Old and New.

Given that ancient astronomers had a reasonable understanding of the cosmos, it strikes me as likely that mediaeval theologians didn’t really believe that the heaven they envisaged was somewhere up in the sky. That being the case, I wonder why they encouraged the view that angels had wings. Could it be an early equivalent of Big Pharma trying to convince the gullible that expensive medication is the answer to all the world’s ills?

A mediaeval angel

A distant relation

Friday, 16 October 2015

Being Unworthy of the Term.

I dislike the word ‘naturalist.’ Or, to be more precise, I dislike being categorised as one. The problem with the –ist suffix is that it suggests (though not exclusively) someone who studies a subject and practices a discipline, and that just isn’t appropriate to my approach to the natural world.

Not that I have any objection to people studying and practising, of course. I have no difficulty with scientists, theosophists, podiatrists, hypnotists or archaeologists (especially archaeologists, heaven forbid!) I don’t even have a problem with naturalists; it’s just that I’m not one.

A naturalist looks at nature in a cold, clinical way, and talks a cold, clinical language in cold, clinical terms. If we have a particularly severe winter, the naturalist will investigate the mortality rate of a particular species and declare that as long as it doesn’t exceed 80%, the species should have little difficulty recovering. And then they go home to their warm houses and hot meals, happy that all is well in the world of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

I don’t see things that way. I don’t study nature, I observe it. There’s a difference. I don’t stand apart making notes, rather I attempt – gradually and hopefully – to make some sort of connection on a visceral and emotional level. And that’s the level on which I hope to understand it.

So if we have a severe winter, I’m quite oblivious to population statistics and survival rates. What concerns me is that there are fellow creatures out there in the darkness dying from the related effects of cold and starvation. It bothers me, even though I know it shouldn’t because we all have to die of something some day. But at the forefront of my concern is that they might be suffering.

And that’s why I’m not a naturalist.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

In Danger of Emulating Hereward.

I’m a little concerned. I’ve had a suspiciously high number of visits today from Mauritius – a country with which I’ve never previously had contact – all landing on the same post:

Marriage in Terminal Decline?

(That was the one which prompted my friend The Borg to fire whole crateloads of bananas at me with extra strong knicker elastic.)

Why are people in Mauritius so interested in my views on gay marriage? Should I expect a visitation of some kind in the darkest hour before dawn? Will I become the stuff of legend, of whom men (though probably not women) will say ‘…and he was never seen alive again, nor his remains ever found. But the old folks in these parts do say that his voice is sometimes heard, calling across the marshes in the darkest hour before dawn.’

*  *  *

I get confused in differentiating between Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius, you know. I think my taste for alliteration might be adversely affecting my memory cells.

Modern Times and Manic Technology.

I’ve been researching the cost of electric blankets recently because my current one seems to be so deficient in current that it wouldn’t defrost a thin slice of bread in less than an hour. I found one recently in the Argos catalogue and finally decided it would do, so I went into the Argos annexe attached to Homebase in Ashbourne today to make my purchase.

Now, every Argos store I’ve ever been into (ever!) has had paper catalogues. You know, proper books. This one didn’t; it had a bank of electronic screens. And on the electronic screen was a box, underneath which was writ Type in a keyword or the catalogue number if known. I looked for a keyboard on which to type in the keyword. No keyboard, so I called to the supercilious-looking young man at the counter:

‘How do I type in the keyword?’

‘Use the keypad.’

‘There isn’t one.’

He walked slowly towards me, looking in all directions except the one in which my eyes lay and oozing the kind of disdain which is the almost exclusive preserve of modern youth on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder. He tapped the box on the screen and a keypad appeared below it as if by magic. And then he walked disdainfully away again.

Well, come on, how was I supposed to know that’s what you do? Is this another example of the arcane knowledge to which only belongers are privy, those possessed of smart phones, tablets and other gadgetry I don’t even know exists yet? Do I look like the sort of person who would possess such wonders and know how to use them? My mobile phone makes and receives calls and texts. It doesn’t even take pictures, much less keep watch for signs of alien intelligence or give you a privileged view of President Putin’s freggin' bathroom.

I managed manfully from there, even discovering something interesting in the process of poking and stroking the screen (which methodology I learned only from watching people on trains, you understand.) I discovered that if you stroke the screen in precisely the wrong way, the software thinks you’ve poked it instead and gives you a different picture. I wonder it doesn’t have the intelligence to flash up an angry message in pulsating red:

NOW LOOK HERE! WAS THAT A POKE OR A STROKE? BE MORE PRECISE, MORON, OR I’LL TURN MYSELF OFF AND THEN WHERE WILL YOU BE? HUMANS!!

But it didn’t. It remained quiet and I continued my education, trying – mostly successfully – to balance the fun of learning against rising irritation.

And do you know what? The electric blanket I’d found in the paper catalogue wasn’t in the electronic version, which just serves to prove…

More for the Trash Can.

I’ve grown a little tired of writing trivial and mostly pointless blog posts, so I busied myself with alternative occupations tonight – like reading one of my own longer short stories. It wasn’t very good. In fact, I felt chastened to discover that my writing style in those days was substantially poorer than it is in my trivial and mostly pointless blog posts. As an HSP forever struggling with The Issues, it didn’t do much for my mood, but anyway…

… what next? I read up on Crimson Peak. I saw its forthcoming release advertised on a billboard and was enthused by the fact that it was directed by Guillermo del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth fame, which is quite some recommendation. In order to remember the title for later reference, I envisaged the Matterhorn bathed in the light of a red sunset, only to be irritated when I came to recall it and could only think of ‘Red Mountain’ which is an inferior brand of instant coffee. (Come to think of it, all instant coffee is inferior, but some of it especially so.) But I got there in the end and read a few pieces thrown up by a Google search.

There was much enthusiasm, not least from Stephen King who has seen the pre-release and says it’s ‘terrifying.’ Is that a reliable recommendation? Not really. Stephen King has been known to say some pretty silly things now and then (like his derivative assertion that adverbs should be banned) and is possibly easily terrified, although I did like what he said about fiction being the truth within the lie, an excuse I intend to cultivate since he’s older than me and consequently wiser.

So I watched the official trailer and wasn’t at all impressed. I saw nothing that could be remotely described as terrifying; what I saw was a catalogue of tired old horror clichés. But then, it was the official trailer, and official trailers are always composed of the poorest, or at least the most yawn-inducing, bits because they’re aimed at the lowest common denominator where the bulk of the money is. My judgement shall be reserved until the library has a copy and I can watch it on the cheap.

You see? Here I go again. I wish I could come up with something demented and interesting to say for a change. Which reminds me…

While prosecuting yet another of tonight’s alternative occupations, I discovered that The Borg is a far better writer than I am. She’s also a far better archaeologist, artist and knitter.

I hate hotels, especially opulent ones.

I’ve recently taken a shine to this:

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Origins, Illusions and Schooldays.

I asked the young woman in the coffee shop:

‘Are you a Scouser?’ (For those who don’t know, a Scouser is a person from Liverpool.)

‘No.’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘London.’

‘London? So how do you manage to sound like a Scouser?’

‘I don’t know.’

And then she broke into giggles and Mel told me I’m far too forward with young women in coffee shops. The mystery of both the accent and the giggles remains.

And then there was the conversation occasioned by my asking the same question of the young woman on the calendar stall in the shopping mall (because she had a Slavic accent) and she answered ‘Croatia.’ But I’d prefer not to go into that.

By an odd, and somewhat perverse, coincidence, the accent of the young Pakistani woman who runs the Asian tucker wagon (from which I get my vegetable samosas) is becoming so thick that I have to keep saying ‘I’m sorry?’ I suspect it’s because she’s so used to seeing me that she no longer feels the need to try too hard.

*  *  *

It occurred to me yet again that around 95% of what they sell in shopping malls is of little, if any, real value. It’s all ephemeral lifestyle stuff, and only there to persuade people to spend vast sums of money on things they don’t actually need. The really valuable stuff is what they sell in the old fashioned markets, like dishcloths, socks and potatoes, and the old fashioned markets are nearly empty these days.

So here we have a bunch of people at the cutting edge of science telling us that both individuality and the very fabric of the material world are effectively illusions, and yet we continue to push the notion that image is the be all and end all. Has Bedlam become the new Eden, I wonder? And I really can’t be bothered to explain why I suspect the material world might bear analogy with the shadow, but Mel liked the idea. She generally prefers my existential theories to my habit of being overly forward with young women.

*  *  *

The nice thing about travelling by train is that it frees your mind to wander into strange places, like today I wondered whether schools still have buckets of sawdust stationed at regular intervals to throw onto the vomit when a kid spews his guts up. And did you know that when you’ve cleared vomit from a carpet but the smell remains, the way to neutralise it is to sprinkle the area with soda water? It’s required knowledge for those working schools matinees in theatres.

*  *  *

And here’s another little anecdote from when I was a kid at school. I was around 10 when I got my finger trapped by a hinged wooden seat. It shattered the nail and left my poor little digit spouting blood at a rate of knots, so I was taken to the space between the headmaster’s office and the staff common room and deposited on a chair to await transport home. I remember looking down and being surprised that my feet and the chair legs were resting in an ever-spreading pool of blood, and by the time I was taken to the headmaster’s car I was all but gone. I suppose it was the combined effect of pain, shock and loss of blood, but I could hardly stand without assistance. So did I get taken for treatment? No. In those days and where I came from, you either got better or you didn’t. No doubt it saved the NHS some money and also prepared us for the possibility that we might be required to defend the Empire against people carrying sharp things with malicious intent. This is odd because we didn’t have an empire by then, but old habits die hard. So did I, nearly.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Blade Rider.

I was sitting on the train waiting for it to move off when an elderly woman took a seat on the other side of the table.

‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’ she said.

‘It is, yes.’

I briefly considered whether to attempt some constructive extension to the conversation, but couldn’t be bothered.

‘And isn’t it lovely how the leaves turn all those pretty colours at this time of year?’

I felt my favourite autumnal theme coming on: the colour of autumn leaves is the colour of decay. I wondered whether I should proffer the thought that autumn may be seen as a metaphor for the later years of life. I declined both; she didn’t seem the responsive sort.

‘It is, yes,’ I repeated. I thought it better to keep it simple and be thought a miserable git than engage in forced and fruitless conversation and remove all doubt.

She took out a book and began reading. It was a Catherine Cookson novel, at which observation I nodded inwardly.

But then it occurred to me that people reading books on trains is relatively uncommon these days, and turned my attention to the pair of people on the other side of the aisle. One was a woman dressed in a business suit. She was tap, tap, tapping on a laptop. The young lad in the opposite seat was stroking and poking his tablet, which was propped up on his own closed laptop. His Samsung smart phone rang and he answered it immediately, since he was already prepared with the ear piece in place. As far as I could tell, neither of them so much as stopped to glance out of the window for the whole twenty six minutes of the journey.

I wondered whatever happened to the days when people dozed on trains, and dreamed of summer sunsets because they hadn’t yet heard of electric sheep.

Lamentations and Bemusement.

I keep on encountering things – like songs and so on – that talk about home, and it occurred to me that I don’t know where home is. I suppose it should be in the arms of the woman who just bound up the wound after I inadvertently sliced a piece off myself with a very sharp knife and bled like a stuck pig. Only there wasn’t one, so I’m still wondering. (And not only was the treatment self-administered, the mockery was also self-inflicted, which was the only noticeable benefit.) I've never belonged to any time, place, person or organisation, so home remains an elusive concept. And my heart has a tent slung over its shoulder, just in case anybody should feel moved to quote the old adage.

*  *  *

I’m a little bemused by the high incidence of visits to this blog from Russia today. It’s a bit of a coincidence since I remember also feeling bemused this afternoon at the sight of Vladimir Putin hugging Lewis Hamilton, especially since the seat of Hamilton’s pants was damp with perspiration at the time (he having just won the Russian Grand Prix, you understand.)

*  *  *

Tonight I watched the final episode of the BBC drama Peaky Blinders. It’s a superior piece of work and I found it uncommonly engaging, which I why I was most put out when the final scene showed the nasty policeman from Belfast in the act of… But I won’t spoil the surprise, just in case anybody over there feels moved to take up my recommendation.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

An American on an American in Europe.

I just watched a YouTube video on the subject of ‘The 10 things about Europe that most shock Americans.’ (Note the word 'shock.')

The (American) presenter explained in the intro that it is aimed explicitly at Americans going to Europe for the first time (so I’m not supposed to be watching this, presumably? I felt guilty, but watched it anyway.) I’m so glad that I did because it gave me something to write about - My Two Favourite Things about Europe That Most Shock Americans (according to an American):

1. Europe isn’t one country. There are lots of countries here and they each have their own language, so don’t get angry if you encounter somebody who can’t speak English. Not all of them do.

2. Europeans are so worldly and well educated. Anybody you talk to will probably know more about what’s happening in America than you do, so read some newspapers before you come.

This is seriously funny, right? And one person, presumably European, commented:

This tells me more about America than it does about Europe.

(Come to think of it, I suppose it might have been an American who left that comment – one of the more erudite variety who knows that they speak French in France, German in Germany, and that Donald Trump is an asshole.)

I declined to leave a comment (I wasn’t supposed to be watching, remember?) Nevertheless, I’m curious to know whether this is a true reflection of American insularity. Any American who is not shocked by these revelations (you qualify if you’re already aware that Italians mostly speak Italian when they’re in Italy) may feel free to enlighten me. Americans of my acquaintance, however, should ignore the whole post. He wasn’t talking about you.

And I’m only kidding... (And I can't criticise anyway, since I was about 14 before I learned how to spell Mississippi.)

Edited to Add:

It just occurred to me that somebody should recommend this video to Ben Carson, just in case he gets the White House job.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

A Hat and its Message.

Early hours of the morning and I’ve finally found something to say that isn’t achingly tedious:

I have a strong aversion to the sight of women wearing Stetsons.

Should I go on? OK. I also have an aversion to the sight of men wearing Stetsons, but at least they can justify it by citing a surfeit of testosterone, real or imagined.

Women are generally strong enough as it is in ways that matter. Pretending a surfeit of testosterone just says ‘I yelp and sing Rhinestone Cowboy very loudly when excited.’ Bit of a turn off, even in Milwaukee.

The Trump and Carson Show.

Life continues to be troublesome, and blogging material has been hard to find recently. However, I just came across this:

Ben Carson, a leading contender for the Republican nomination in the next US Presidential election, says that the Holocaust might have been avoided if the Nazis had allowed Germans to carry guns. Three questions spring immediately to mind:

1. Is Carson so low on native intelligence that he believes it?

2. Is he, instead, guilty of making a massive error of judgement with an extraordinarily inept attempt to justify American gun mania?

3. Or does he, perhaps, believe that a substantial number of Americans are so intellectually impoverished as to agree with him?

No doubt there are more, but that will do for now. But here’s another general question:

Do you realise, you rest-of-the-world out there, that Carson and Donald Trump (who is taking the Scottish Executive to court, by the way, over their plans to build an offshore wind farm close to the Aberdeenshire coast because he says it will spoil the view from his golf course) each stand a real chance of becoming the next President of the United States?

Should we cheer at this prospect, since either man is likely to provide us with more amusement than even GW did? (Or even Monty Python, come to that.) Or should we Europeans, at least, start preparing to lay a marine minefield all the way from Iceland to North Africa? I favour both, although I greatly sympathise with all those good Americans for whom their country will become a less than compatible environment should the Republican vaudeville act come to fruition.

Oh, and another by the way. Do you know who’s backing Carson? Rupert Murdoch. Need I say more?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Casting Pearls Before Swine.

It is a fact well known to Google, Inc that my gmail address begins jeffrey.beazley, and my gmail address gets me into anything over which Google has sway because having a gmail address makes me a known and trusted member of their club. It’s also a stated aim of said Google to target me with advertising which is most appropriate to my profile.

So could Messrs Google tell me, please, why my YouTube account is constantly inundated with ads for ladies’ sanitary products which proudly boast their ability to turn liquid into gel (and gel doesn’t leak!) Wouldn’t you think they’d be wise to the fact that people called Jeffrey are unlikely to be impressed?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Joke and Some Smiles.

I heard a joke last night which met with my approval. It came from one of Ireland’s best-loved comedians, the late Dave Allen, whose brutal treatment at the hands of Irish nuns led him into a successful career making fun of religion:

A Catholic and an atheist were discussing faith. The Catholic said:

‘Without faith you are like a blind man wearing a blindfold, searching in a darkened room for a black cat which isn’t there.’

‘Then we’re not so different,’ replied the atheist. ‘You, too, are like a blind man wearing a blindfold, searching in a darkened room for a black cat which isn’t there. The only difference between you and me is that you found it.’

*  *  *

The Mystery of the Smiling Women raised its head again today. I was sitting in my car when a young woman pulled up in a van nearby and got out. She made a point of turning towards me and smiling. She was pretty, devoid of make up, and possessed of hair which appeared (most uncommonly in England) to be naturally black. There was a hint of Romany about her features. When I walked across the car park to get a ticket she smiled a second time, and a third when I walked back again. Later in the afternoon, three more young women caught my eye and smiled.

This is becoming an oddly common occurrence and I suppose I ought to be pleased, but I’m not; I’m mystified. The fact that they never used to do this maybe offers a clue of some sort, but what sort? I’m neither young enough to attract libidinous attention, nor yet quite old enough to evoke either condescension or pity. So what are they seeing? I wish I knew. Maybe I should stop one of them and ask.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Taking Refuge in Fiction.

I had an email today from a man called Hiram T Peckinstuff III. He’s an executive producer from an indie film company in New York City, and he tells me that they want to adapt my novel for their next major movie venture. He apologised most sincerely for the fact that they’re not in a position to offer the kind of money Hollywood has available, but he hoped I might consider $500,000 for the film rights plus royalties to be negotiated. He also asked that I come to NYC to discuss the matter, offering to pay for all flights, accommodation, and the provision of a limo to get me around town. Now all I have to do is decide whether to:

1. Accept his proposal.

2. Accept in principle, but ask for a higher rights fee.

3. Hold out in expectation of MGM making a better offer.

This is the first time I’ve ever posted a complete lie on my blog.

*  *  *

And did you know that the only time the earth stood still was on 7th April 1952 at 0231 BST? The earth stopped rotating for precisely 2.7 nanoseconds.

Lying on my blog is becoming a frivolous habit. Must stop.

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Retail Park Post.

Having had lots of whimsy lately, let’s go a bit more upmarket and have something sensible for a change.

Retail parks. I’ve had lots of moans about shopping malls – what they are and what they represent in cultural terms – but I don’t think I’ve ever taken a bullwhip to the ubiquitous retail park. OK.

The problem with retail parks is that they don’t function as human spaces because they’re not designed to function that way. They function only as soulless commercial machines which give us monotonously homogeneous retail units and as many parking bays as can be squeezed into the space that’s left. That’s about it, so what don’t they give us?

They don’t give us imaginatively styled buildings with some variation from one to another. They don’t give us quiet spaces where people can sit and take their ease between footslogging perambulations around Tesco, B&Q and Poundstretcher. They don’t give us pedestrian-friendly access – most of the walkways are laid out to facilitate movement within the park, not onto it. I’ve found that to get onto them by foot, it’s often necessary to cross busy main roads, step over barriers, and negotiate banks of ill-maintained shrubs that are the only inadequate nod to nature. Access is designed for motor vehicles, not walkers. The three I’m most familiar with don’t even have toilets, except one that happens to have a store big enough to provide them.

The result of all this is that I find them unpleasant places to visit, and only do so because the commercial world has consciously shifted the retail emphasis away from the High Street and effectively left me little option. Is that good enough? I don’t think so.

No doubt the planners and property developers would tell me that they have to work on very tight budgets because the cost to return equation has to maximise profit. Well, let’s ask two questions:

Are we to believe that there are no designers in this country up to the task of making retail parks more user-friendly within comparable budgets? I don’t believe that.

What is so wrong with building human experience into the equation anyway, just because it’s a good thing to do? That’s the big difference between now and how things used to be back in the days when entrepreneurs took some pride in the innate value of their structures, and saw it as their ethical duty to give something back to the community that had made them rich. We’re perfectly free to change back again if only we could generate the will so to do.

I hate to admit it, but religion used to provide the primary prod to condition such a mindset, and conventional religion is all but dead. Consumption is the new religion, and it obliterates humanity because there’s nothing humane about rampant consumption.

So I suppose what I’m coming down to with all this is that the retail park stands as testament to the fact that we need to become independent of the belief in gods and heavenly rewards – as we mostly have – but replace it with something other than self-serving pecuniary motivation. We need to recognise that the human animal is an important component of society just because it is. Then, maybe, profit could become the servant instead of the master.

Today's Town Notes.

The strange girl was in the library for the third week running (for regular readers only) but she was very quiet this time. She didn’t accost me and muttered only one sentence in her native language (or it might have been a phrase or even two sentences for all I know.) She did scowl at me, though, twice. Whether that represents an improvement in relations between us remains to be discovered.

*  *  *

On the way out of the library (where the computers were on the blink, by the way) I spotted a feature for ‘blind awareness week.’ It had a picture with the caption ‘If you have normal sight, you will see a picture of Albert Einstein. If you’re near-sighted, you’ll see a picture of Marilyn Monroe.’ What I saw was Einstein’s face with Marilyn’s hair. None the wiser, then.

*  *  *

One of the discount stores had a big banner proclaiming:

Jane couldn’t believe how cheap everything was!

… and dominating the banner was a picture of a suitably astonished Jane, complete with speech bubble in which was printed in very big letters:

WOW!

You know, I think it reasonable to assume that whoever designed that piece of mind-bogglingly creative marketing probably has at least a bachelor’s degree in something or other and is receiving a deservedly high salary. What more vindication could you want for a belief in the value of higher education?

(And on that subject, I noticed how well one of the girls in a different store was working, re-arranging shelves and merchandise. She even had the awareness to notice when a queue was building up at the tills and opened another one to get the queue down. She didn’t have to be paged, which is what usually happens. I asked her whether she was being paid the national minimum wage [which is pretty low]:

‘More or less.’

I told her the system should value people like her far more than it does.

‘Thanks,’ she replied,’ ‘but at least it’s a job.’

Maybe we need another Black Death in Europe. I gather the last one forced employers to pay their workers greatly increased wages due to the shortage of labour. (The employers continued to survive well enough.)

*  *  *

Last and least interesting, I was standing outside a public toilet when a woman came out, stopped, and began tapping around her hips. In retrospect, it seems likely that she was feeling for something in her pockets, but I had an almost irresistible urge to ask ‘Did you forget your knickers?’ But resist I did, which just goes to demonstrate that insanity does not yet hold illimitable dominion over all, as I was beginning to suspect. If you can remember a line from Edgar Alan Poe, you can’t be completely barking. They don’t come much saner than him.

*  *  *

This blog is becoming too whimsical for its own good.

A Dual Purpose Video.

It occurred to me that I’ve never posted a clip from one of my favourite TV sitcoms, so I looked through the YouTube catalogue and chose this one. I thought Americans might like to see where House got his attitude from. (Somebody once told me I have House’s eyes. Fancy that. I haven't.) And it’s just under three minutes long, which makes it perfect for doubling as an egg timer.

Mean and Mean.

I just saw a still from a 2005 version of King Kong in which the CGI gorilla is quite convincing apart from one unfortunate fact. In order to be the mean machine he’s supposed to be, and in order that the average modern King Kong fan should appreciate the fact, he has to do mean in the manner of an all-action movie star. Consequently, he looks rather more like Arnold Schwarzenegger than a real gorilla. That’s some quandary they’ve got there.

And it’s a mildly interesting fact that the YouTube clip from which the still was taken has had 40.5m views. A week or so ago I watched a young university student giving her views on the consumerist ethos in today’s society. Her presentation was good, her views well researched and carefully reasoned. Her clip has had 536 views. That’s a bit mean, isn’t it?

Sunday, 4 October 2015

On Mood and Mild Discoveries.

I’ve written three posts today and deleted them all. I seem to be in one of those why the hell would anybody be interested in anything I have to say? sort of moods. I often am in autumn and winter.

*  *  *

I discovered that somebody had recommended one of my old posts on Facebook. She said ‘Trust me. It’s all about DNA and very funny.’ So I read it. Couldn’t see how she’d arrived at either notion.

*  *  *

The man who called me ‘nuts’ on YouTube apologised last night. He even said I ‘seemed like a gentleman.’ I complimented his courtesy. Who wouldn’t?

*  *  *

I further discovered one of those blog analytics websites which estimated the value of my blog to be $62,583. Is there a person out there who would be prepared to buy it? It also said my ‘X-Content-Type-Options’ is ‘nosniff.’ Is there a person out there who knows what on earth that means?

*  *  *

I came across a Spanish TV talent show on YouTube which featured a girl who looked so like a childhood version of the Lady Bella that I was utterly captivated. She was fabulous. (Her singing wasn’t too wonderful, but she was.) And I should just add that I only found and watched a Spanish TV talent show as a result of searching for variations on the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight. I still have some regard for my reputation, whatever the season.