Saturday, 14 November 2015

An Honourable Mention.

There are those who don’t know that there’s a world beyond the tram lines, and there are those few who step outside them and can never go back.

This little gem of a piece was the perfect balm for an alien under pressure. It was re-blogged from the only person I know who can trip with equal dexterity either side of the barrier, a person given to simple pleasures and complex understanding.

The next post might be tomorrow or next week or never.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Tale of Two Ends.

My earliest memory is of being spoon fed as a baby. I remember the intense discomfort I felt when some of the food dribbled down my chin, and I remember feeling even more discomfort when my mother scooped it up with the same spoon!

I still hate mess to this day, and I particularly hate dribbles. I gather some people regard this trait as an indicator of being anally retentive, but in my case it isn’t. In my case it’s more to do with having once been orally un-retentive. I like to be different.

The Commercial Name Game.

I have some Ainsley Harriott soups in my kitchen cupboard (Ainsley Harriott is a celebrity chef in Britain) and it set me thinking again about how celebrity endorsement works, which seems to be as follows:

A company develops a new product and then goes to some appropriate celebrity and says ‘Please may we stick your name and face on the box and other marketing material? If you agree, we’ll give you a very great deal of money.’ So the celebrity says ‘OK’ and whistles all the way to the bank to pay in the very great deal of money. That’s just another example of the sillier side of modern times, but the interesting bit is this:

In order to defray the cost of paying the celebrity, with some more on top by way of extra profit, the company then has to charge more for the product than they otherwise would. And what that means is:

1. There’s no guarantee that the product will be superior just because it’s got a celebrity’s face on the box.

2. What is guaranteed is that the product will be overpriced.

So isn’t that a very compelling reason to avoid celebrity-endorsed products?

(I think I might have written all this in an earlier post, but I don’t remember. And I only bought my Ainsley Harriott soups because they were on half price promotion.)

The Girl in the Cheesecloth Dress.

I was in a nightclub many years ago, and there on the dance floor was a girl clothed in translucent ectoplasm. Or could it have been white samite? I couldn’t tell; I didn’t care.

She disappeared somewhere around midnight, but by then she’d told me enough about herself to track her down the next day. And you know what? In the cold light of day she looked and walked like Dick Emery, and she was married anyway (to a man I subsequently discovered liked his rice pudding cold and got very angry if it was served hot. True.)

And that was when I first realised that life and glamour and cheesecloth dresses are all illusion.

The Bee Gees brought me here.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Case of the Trojan Dog.

I was just reading about a dog called Archie, currently domiciled at a London animal shelter. Apparently, he gets taken out regularly by a woman called Marie-Hélène who, as her name rather obviously suggests, is French. And now the staff at the shelter have a problem: dear Archie (or ‘mon petit chou’ as he likes to be called) only responds to instructions delivered in a French accent.

I feel a conspiracy theory coming on. I mean, look at the angle on Archie’s left paw. He didn’t learn that in Battersea Dog’s Home, I’ll be bound.

Essential Instructions.

I bought a new hedge trimmer today and was just browsing idly through the instruction manual in case there was anything I’d been missing through all the years of using hedge trimmers. I came across a gem. It concerned the battery pack. Apparently, I mustn’t knock nails into it, hit it with a hammer, stamp on it, or throw it against hard surfaces.

*  *  *

This reminds me of a government sponsored course I was once sent on (for fifteen torturous and utterly wasted weeks) during a period of unemployment. It was intended to make me more competitive in the jobs market, and one lesson was dedicated to that most vital piece of knowledge: What not to do in an interview. I had to write on a piece of paper (yes write, with a pen…)

I must not swear at the interviewer.

I wrote it down. I did. (It was government sponsored, after all.) And then I waited for the handout which I assumed would say:

You must attend interviews properly dressed. Remember that socks come in matching pairs and you must put one on each foot. Never go to an interview wearing both socks on the same foot.

Another Take on the Two Towns.

I saw a man in Uttoxeter today who was the spitting image of Walter Long, best known for playing gruff voiced and punch-drunk heavies in Laurel and Hardy films. Allowing for the difference in accent, the man I saw even spoke like Walter Long.

It isn’t unusual to see people like this in Uttoxeter. It is, however, very rare indeed to encounter this type in Ashbourne. There, you’re more likely to spot the following:

This is a shot of a typical Ashburnian couple who have just been told that a man claiming to be a socialist has been seen in Birmingham, and Birmingham is only fifty miles away. (Actually, it’s a shot of Tubbs and Edward from the brilliant comedy series The League of Gentlemen, but it’s close enough.)

Saturday, 7 November 2015

On the Role of Words.

You know, the written word really does have its limitations. However much care a writer puts into the words so as to convey the bare meaning unequivocally, a reader still needs to hear – actually or instinctively – the inflections in his or her voice, otherwise the sense in which the meaning is couched can so easily be missed. This is especially true of people divided by a common language. I suspect there are quite a few Americans who imagine me to be very old, sour as an unripe lemon, and not terribly good at writing English. (Comments disabled on this post.)

And on that subject, I really need to alter my approach when replying to Criticism-by-Idiot on YouTube. I should confine my replies to honest and reasoned defence, whereas I so easily fall prey to the instinct for counter-attack. I have few notable skills, but one I do seem to have is knowing how to sting sharply with the written word. Such a practice tends to hurt people’s feelings, and to one of my ethical aspirations, that probably isn’t good. I shouldn’t be in the business of hurting people’s feelings. Defence is acceptable, but counter-attack is maybe dubious.

A Village Occasion.

I was at the Autumn Fayre in the village hall today when a young woman came over and greeted me cordially, like she’d known me forever and was very pleased to see me.

Thinks: Who the hell is she? Better say ‘hello.’

‘I hope we haven’t been disturbing you, digging the pond opposite your house.’

Ah, pond; opposite house; must be somebody from the school.

(I later learned that she was Rebecca, the new headmistress. Seems to me that headmistresses, like policemen, just keep on getting younger.)

So, mystery solved. We subsequently had a moderately interesting conversation about ponds, pond skaters, nature areas, bat boxes, and the New Vic Theatre where I once worked. The real mystery, however, remained. How on earth did she know who I was, let alone where I live?

*  *  *

And then a little girl came up to me and said ‘Would you like to buy an ice cream?’ She held up a bag containing little chocolate-covered ice cream lollipops on sticks. Now, the real question isn’t whether you actually want an ice cream, is it? The real question is whether you can possibly resist a little girl who is looking up at you, blinking. Being dismembered by wild horses would be preferable, right? Right.

‘How much are they?’


‘OK, a brown one.’

The accompanying grandmother said ‘thank you,’ knowingly. And do you know what was really cute? The kid put the money I'd given her into a little silver pouch hanging off her belt. Sweeter than the jam and cream scone to which I'd just treated myself as a rare indulgence. The god of small things definitely has the best smile.

*  *  *

And then it was time for role reversal: I saw my landlord and greeted him cordially. I’ve known him for 9½ years and also happen to know that he’ll be 85 next month.

‘Hello, Mr Clowes,’ I said.

The look he returned might be described as ‘vacant.’ He used to call me Mr Beazley, but not any more it seems.

‘Hello,’ he replied.

‘How are you?’

‘Oh, very well. Getting older, of course.’

‘Even I’m getting older.’

‘Well, you know what I always say. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 85, 55 or fifteen months, we’re all ageing at the same rate.’

And with those words of wisdom he walked off in the direction of the car park and was never seen again.

*  *  *

But then came the interesting piece of intelligence I received from the redoubtable Christine, just after she’d said ‘Well, we all know you’re odd.’ It seems that what people in villages do is talk about you when you’re not listening, so maybe that explains everything.

*  *  *

(Oh, and the man who wears a toupee appeared to have had a new one. It was very swish and quite unmoved by the persistent wind it must have encountered on the way to the hall. Benefits of modern technology, I expect. Or super glue. I wonder how much they cost.)

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A Blogger's Late Muse.

'Who are you?’ I asked.

‘Who, me?’

‘Yes, you.’

I’m just a face
To fill a place
And ease the cold
In cyberspace

Is any of it real?

I connect best with snails at the moment. There’s something disarmingly innocent about them.

A Little Indulgence.

This YouTube clip is only a minute and a quarter long, but the music is one of my favourite tracks from Deep Forest’s album Bohème. The accompanying images are disjointed, quirky, and quite fascinating in the context of the music, and the penultimate one was my childhood dream. (Although I think my favourite is the legs under the jetty.)

Meaningful Creatures.

I had an unusual visitor yesterday. A sparrow hawk flew low across the lawn at dusk and landed on the garden table about ten feet away, and there she sat for some time seemingly unconcerned at my close presence. I don’t think I’ve ever been closer than a hundred yards from a sparrow hawk before.

I’ve heard it said that unusual encounters with birds are meaningful. It’s said that birds come to us in such circumstances with messages, so I wonder what message a sparrow hawk would have been bearing. Furthermore, would I want to know? I don’t know. How can I know? That’s the problem with arcane traditions.

Coincidentally, I’ve also been drawn into some extended conversation on YouTube with a Canadian woman who’s into shamanism (and Denmark.) She tells me that it’s a good idea to don a mask of your spirit animal and dance to the sound of native drums. She says that it produces a powerful experience, bringing you face to face with the animal and teaching you valuable lessons.

Well, I’ve twice been told that my spirit animal is the bear, so even though I’m degenerating ever further into eccentric behaviour, I think I might give it a miss. I’m not sure yet that a bear is something I would want to come face to face with.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Emancipation Matters.

For some reason the Beatles’ song No Reply started running through my head earlier. The singer is lamenting the fact that the woman he wants to get off with is not reciprocating his feelings, and the line I kept hearing was:

If I were you, I’d realise that I
Love you more than any other guy

This is something else I’ve only just noticed is odd. What he’s effectively saying is that she should choose him over other men because he loves her more than they do. Her preferences don’t seem to count.

*  *  *

And I discovered only this evening that it wasn’t until 2006 that the Anglican Church offered an alternative to the traditional marriage service, allowing for the woman’s vow to ‘obey’ her husband to be omitted.

The argument for making this change is even more interesting. It was to avoid the possibility that the word ‘obey’ might be taken as justification for domestic abuse by men, and encourage passive acceptance of that abuse on the part of the women. It wasn’t because the concept of one partner being obedient to the other was innately unacceptable. I suppose this approach was taken so as to avoid any doctrinal divisions over the issue of male superiority so beloved of the Judaic tradition, in which case it’s an interesting example of the political side of religion.

Echoes of Hamlet.

I wrote a lengthy post today about the furore currently raging in Britain over the design of our new passport. I wrote it, edited it, and then saved it for further editing and posting later. When later came it seemed turgid, so I discarded it.

I decided to fall back on the other post I was considering making. That one was much lighter, more frivolous, and maybe even a little humorous. The problem was that I couldn’t remember what it was about.

But last night I watched an adaptation of an MR James ghost story on YouTube. The leading character was an eccentric Oxbridge professor whose social connection with those around him was remote to say the least. He was not at all self-obsessed, but he was profoundly self-absorbed. He had a line which I liked:

I should prefer to say that there are more things in philosophy than are dreamt of in heaven and earth.

He remembered it later while sitting alone on the windswept dunes fringing the North Sea, and chuckled. I knew him well.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Culture Trap.

My eye was caught today by a DVD featuring two documentaries on the subject of cults made by Sir David Frost. It occurred to me that there’s a problem here:

The mainstream media operate very much within the cultural tram lines, whereas cults, by their very nature, operate well outside them. And documentaries, like news features, have to take a ‘position’ in order to simplify a set of circumstances or principles which are usually complex as well as controversial. That position will almost certainly conform to received cultural mores, and so the chances of getting a comprehensive and open-minded view are remote. And that’s why I didn’t buy the DVD.

Arrested Development.

It’s quite foggy here at the moment, and there’s something I like doing at night when it’s foggy. I go out with a torch and shine it upwards so that the beam is picked out in white by the water vapour. It reminds me of those old war movies about London in the Blitz, which is a bit silly but there you are. It’s odd how little girls almost invariably grow up, but little boys rarely seem to.

The Nerd Connection.

Two oddly related facts from today’s sojourn:

1. The Balaclava seems to be making a comeback. I saw two in different shops today, a standard woolly one and a fabric one with ‘thermal’ lining. (Don’t you just hate how manufacturers continue to strut that meaningless term ‘thermal’ in an attempt to hoodwink people into thinking they’re getting the benefits of space age technology?)

The home knitted variety

The posh variety

The ‘what the hell are they
doing to my image?’ variety

When I was a kid, every kid had one. Mothers who didn’t know how to knit one even ran the risk of having their children taken away and placed in care. But then they fell out of fashion and took brief refuge in the nerd realm before disappearing altogether, and I haven’t seen one in many years.

2. I was in a shop and noticed a sign advertising vynle records.

‘You’ve spelt vinyl wrong,’ I said to the man behind the counter.

‘How should you spell it?’ he asked. I told him. ‘Oh, right. I’ll pass it on.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ I added hurriedly, partly to make him feel better and partly out of a sudden horrified realisation that I was doing a Thorndyke.

So what’s the connection between these two seemingly unrelated facts? Thorndyke is. If you can be bothered to watch this short clip you’ll see what I mean.

Musing on the Fallen.

It’s that time of year – approaching Armistice Day. The ad for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal reads:

The British Legion is not just for the fallen, but also for those who are living on.

‘The fallen’ is both a euphemism and a highly emotive phrase, and both functions are consciously overlooked in the message. This is probably as it should be.

My daughter had a child who was stillborn. The child fell early and was granted her very own grave, while the rest of us lived on.

What is one to make of it all?