Thursday, 31 December 2015

Time and Meaning.

I’ve never really understood the hype surrounding New Year. The periods of time which we label with numbers are artificial constructs, so defined to help us organise our concepts of past, present and future. Whatever happens next year, there will be nothing essentially more individual about 2016 than there was about 2015 or 1658. They’re just groups of digits. The real end of year, if such a notion is worth considering at all, is the winter solstice which we mostly ignore these days. Time never stops; there is only endless flow, completely bereft of instants. It seems to me, therefore, that the concept of New Year’s Eve is pretentious, and rather pointless for so being.

But then I wondered: how do we know that time never stops? If it did, our conscious perception would presumably stop with it, in which case we wouldn’t be aware of the fact. Would we? I don’t know.

I changed tack and considered the rationale surrounding the idea of being projected just one day into the future, if such a thing were possible. You wouldn’t believe how unfathomable it became. I gave up.

Right Wing Blues.

David Cameron’s policy chief, Oliver Letwin, is in a spot of bother. A newly-released memo from 1985 reveals that he blamed the Broadwater Riots on black people having ‘bad moral attitudes.’ And Tories don’t?

Actually, to be fair, Tories probably have quite sound morals, morality being the arbitrary and judgemental cultural artifice that it is. It’s ethics they seem to have a problem with.

Mixed Encounters.

There’s something I’ve wanted to know for about three years now. The woman who runs one of the charity shops in Ashbourne has a Romanesque air about her. Unconventional use of the term, I know, but what I mean is that she looks as though she ought to be speaking with an accent from one of the Romance languages – face, form and manner of movement all suggest sub-Slavic origins. And she blushes easily when there are young men around, which is a dead giveaway. So today I plucked up the courage to ask her:

‘Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?’

‘Not at all.’

‘Do you have French or Italian ancestry?’

‘Italian. I suppose it’s the nose, is it?’

‘No, it’s your eyes mostly.’ (Which is true.)

She seemed quite pleased by that, so much so that I’m hopeful of getting a second hand pair of socks half price one of these days. (Only joking. Charity shops never sell second hand socks, underwear or chewing gum.) So that’s that sorted at last.

*  *  *

In stark contrast, the woman who prepared my Americano in the coffee shop gave me a little pot of disgusting soya milk instead of cream, a fact which went unnoticed until I’d poured some of it into my coffee. She’s the same woman who wiped my table with a damp cloth last week, thus rendering it wet and unsuitable for leaning on. I didn’t drop her in it with the manager since I don’t want an inspector calling (the Priestley kind) but I do wonder whether she has issues.

*  *  *

The most beguiling encounter was with a woman in Sainsbury’s. I must have been partly blocking a space she wanted to get through, and instead of attracting my attention and saying ‘Excuse me,’ she put her hands either side of my waist and moved me out of the way like an abandoned shopping trolley. It’s really difficult to know what to do in that situation, except go with the flow.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sounding Grand.

The British Met Office recently started to name the storm systems which sweep in from the Atlantic. The current one, which is roaring and booming as I write, is called Storm Frank.

We really know how to do exotic over here. If ever we get a full blown hurricane, I expect we’ll call it Kevin.

Hidden Dangers.

Today’s favourite news report comes from Germany. It seems a man blew up a condom machine in order to steal the contents, but a sliver of steel hit him in the head and killed him. I reckon that should make you think twice before trusting the safe sex ads.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Asda Experience.

The self-service tills in Asda supermarkets have become afflicted with a case of Neurotic Tendency these days, ever since the government introduced a mandatory charge on carrier bags.

They invite you to press a button at the start which says I am using my own bags. So you press it and assume that, the fact being now established, you may proceed to scan your barcodes without further interrogation. And so you do, but the machine is still suspicious, and at the end of the procedure it double checks. Do you need any more bags? it asks with a hint of constabulary function creeping into its demeanour. And then it gives you a keyboard on which you must choose a number, thereby forcing you to make a statement which may be used against you in a court of law should you be lying. But you’re not lying; you really don’t need any bags, so you press 0 and Enter, hoping the machine will now be satisfied. It isn’t. It still thinks you might be a ne’er-do-well trying to rob the corporate giant of 5p while circumventing the weight of statute in the process. It tells you to place your bag in the bagging area. But the only bag you have is your backpack, so what do you do? You place your backpack in the bagging area, whereupon the machine begins to swoon visibly, crying in anguish as it does so:

Can’t compute Can’t compute Can’t compute (or some such.)

And then it enters a state of catatonic seizure and has to be revived by the tender ministrations of a trained and patient assistant. There being no smelling salts to hand, you want to give it your handkerchief at least, and say ‘please feel free to keep it,’ only you can’t because nobody carries handkerchiefs these days…

I only wanted two bottles of beer. They have Bass at £1 a bottle, which is pretty cheap for a 500ml bottle of premium beer at 4.4% ABV, and such things matter to a taste as refined as mine. I couldn’t face the neurotic machine, so I went to a checkout instead.

It was manned, if you’ll excuse the term, by a rather narrow and florid young man who was twiddling his fingers nervously.

‘I decided to come to you instead of that damned neurotic machine,’ I said.

‘Right, boss,’ he replied.

Boss? Nobody calls anybody ‘boss’ these days, but his manner grew stranger. He began moving nervously from one foot to the other and back again. He regarded the screen nervously. He waited nervously for verbal instructions between operations. I wondered whether he’d become infected with the dreaded Neurotic Tendency through being in too close proximity to the machine. He kept on calling me ‘boss,’ and I began to form the notion that he was a part-timer, maybe an overgrown Boy Scout doing Christmas voluntary work.

‘That’ll be two pounds, boss,’ he said in tones somewhat short of dulcet, which prompted the inconsequential assumption that he was as gay as a eunuch’s girlfriend. I gave him a £5 note and he handed three pound coins back. ‘That’s your change, boss,’ he continued.

I avoided the urge to say ‘I know,’ but stood rapt as he thanked me for shopping at Asda and instructed me to have a nice day (and a Happy New Year, and a safe trip home.) And all for two bottles of cheap beer. Just thought I’d mention it.

(I needed a couple of drinks before deciding to post this. I do realise that presuming the man to be ‘gay as a eunuch’s girlfriend’ – and having the temerity to state as much – is quite inadmissible, but I just can’t resist coining phrases to spread Christmas cheer at this time of year.)

The Complete Set.

Those who read the previous post might be interested to know that the third ghost turned up today ahead of deadline. I was more than interested; I was astonished, truly I was.

So now it seems I have a compact to keep, a resolution on which to resolve to bound up each corporal agent etc, etc. Now I could drink hot blood (sorry, that's Hamlet) must make earnest effort to be more respectful to anyone who thinks I'm worth knowing. With any luck there won't be any and I won't have to bother, but you never know.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Two Down, One to Come.

You might remember the post I made earlier in the week about Christmas cards from the past seeming like a lecture from the irascible and very late Jacob Marley, and how I received a visit a few hours later from the first of three potential ghosts. Well, the second turned up today, so if the third should appear some time between now and Twelfth Night, I’ll know that the compact is affirmed and resolution made more resolute. I must become as good a man as the good old city knows (or something like that.) No more drifting away.

(How rash to make a resolution public.)

Regarding Robert's Pardon.

I noted from the BBC World News pages that the actor Robert Downey Jr has been granted a pardon for a 20-year-old drug conviction. The news item contained the following lines:

A proclamation from Mr Brown's office says Downey Jr has "lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character, and conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen".

I suppose that being concerned as to whether a person has ‘lived an honest and upright life’ might be considered reasonable in the circumstances, although the definition of ‘upright’ is questionable; and ‘conducted himself as a law-abiding citizen’ is merely a statement of fact. What concerns me is ‘exhibited good moral character.’

Which version of morality is being considered here? I assume it’s the American 21st century moderate and mainstream Christian variety, because there’s a problem with morality. Unlike ethics, which are more or less universal, concepts of morality vary from time to time to time, culture to culture, and even community to community. Things which are considered immoral in one culture can be considered perfectly acceptable in another, and that even applies to the use of drugs. Morality is, therefore, little more than conditioned cultural prejudice.

So is that any basis on which to establish and assess criminality, or is it just another case of confusing justice with judgementalism?

Of a Lady Less Ordinary.

There was a lady once: fair of face, elegant of form, graceful of movement, gentle of spirit. She was – I have little hesitation in saying – the most beautiful woman I ever met. When she smiled the sun shone, no matter the state of the day.

She touched me sometimes with the grace of her earnest attention. It was a touch both ethereal and ephemeral, and instilled in me the lethargy of empty longing, for I stayed rooted to the heavy clay of mature reason without prospect of ever walking free. And then she left my sullen earth for greener fields and became a lady of history.

I see her occasionally, mostly in the passing dreams of sleep which always end with her exit. The taste of unfulfilment is bitter as the gourd painted in mute tones of inevitable resignation. I miss her ever, and sometimes sadly, without valid point or justification.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

A Road Song.

The singer’s Northern Irish accent takes a bit of getting used to, but I think it’s worth the effort.

 
… ’til there’s nothing left that he can hold, except the rolling motion

Takes me back and brings me up to date. Is there anything else for an idealist and Romantic to hold onto?

Meaningful Mutterings.

Having recently heard the expression (American, I believe) ‘Sixty is the new forty,’ I now come across ‘Staying in is the new going out.’ It was in a BBC News feature on the reluctance of Britons to embrace the duvet.

There’s such a seam of wisdom to be mined out there, if only you know where to look.

Current Reading.

Edgar Allan Poe (revisited.) Having become intrigued by his tragic life and enigmatic personality – not to mention the dispute over whether he was a rabid racist and slavery supporter – I decided to read his stories again. Oddly, I’m finding them a lot more easy going than when I read them before.

Tonight’s offering was The Tell Tale Heart. It’s about a man protesting that, despite having senselessly murdered a harmless old man just because he disliked one of the old man’s eyes, the careful manner of execution proves that he isn’t mad. And he really did hear the dismembered victim’s heart beating under the floorboards. He did.

Fun stuff.

Christmas Bonuses.

I worked out tonight how much I’ve saved this Christmas through being given things I would otherwise have bought for myself, and then I worked out how much I’ve spent. The result was a £2 profit, so it seems Christmas did have some point to it after all. I’m sure my mentor, Mr S, would have approved.

*  *  *

This afternoon’s walk took me along a lane I don’t usually frequent. I saw Ange, the sheep farmer, who asked:

‘Have you had your dinner?’

‘Dinner?’

‘Yes. Christmas dinner.’

‘Oh, that. I don’t do Christmas.’

'Why not?'

'I'm not a Christian.'

‘I see. I went to the church service last night. I enjoyed the atmosphere and singing, but I don’t believe a word of it. I reckon it was all made up.’

I assumed she was talking about the nativity story, so she got the lecture. I don’t know why I do it, I really don’t.

*  *  *

The real bonus was meeting Ange’s collie dog. Delightful. Dog fixes are so precious.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Jacob Called Again.

I was thinking about those old Christmas cards I mentioned a few posts ago, and recalling one in particular which said:

Thanks for all those fun-filled evenings. Hope there will be many more.

That’s the one that confused me most. When did anybody ever have a fun-filled evening with me, at least one in which I was in some way at least partly responsible for the fun?

Epiphany was at hand…

You see, I always thought that having a good time was all about what you did. Now I realise that having a good time isn’t about what you do, it’s about how you feel. So sitting in a quiet room with somebody you greatly like, maybe with a drink or two helping to release the uninhibited child inside, luxuriating in a relaxing, convivial atmosphere, is having a good time.

Blow me! And I never noticed. Maybe I was convivial company once… There’s a revelation…

Good old Jacob Marley seems intent on letting his jaw drop this year.

I think this unexpected epiphany might have resulted from watching Bill Murray’s Scrooged again. I’m always blown away by the Ghost of Christmas Present in that film – the fun-filled fairy lady who keeps beating him up. Now she’s convivial company if ever such a thing existed. May she bless us, every one.

An Arthurian Mystery.

I finished Idylls of the King tonight. (Phew!) The penultimate section on Guinevere is probably the most moving of all, and the final section on The Passing of Arthur probably the saddest and most atmospheric. But it raised that old question again (it having been asked on this blog before.)

This picture is by James G Archer and called Le Morte D’Arthur:

  
It depicts the final moments before the king is carried off to Avalon by the three queens, but there’s a mystery. According to Idylls, which I gather is based entirely on the definitive Malory, three queens come to escort Arthur out of the world of mortal man and they are all wearing gold crowns. So why are there four women prominent in the picture, and only two are wearing crowns? Which is the third queen?

Seems I need an art historian who specialises in the Pre-Raphaelites. A solution would be appreciated.

A Reluctant Seasonal Post.

I watched the 1953 Alistair Sim version of Scrooge again tonight for about the hundredth time. No other film comes close in its capacity to keep me watching, so I thought I’d list its pro and cons.

Dislikes:

1. It’s about Christmas.

2. The middle section dealing with the ghosts of past, present and future drags mightily, and the special effects are risible even by 1950s standards.

3. There are far too many religious references in it.

4. Tiny Tim. He’d be OK if he was a snotty-nosed, obstreperous little tyke called Charlie, but the combination of alliteration and mawkishness has to be the all-time literary disaster. And it’s my opinion that the line ‘God bless us every one’ should have been edited out by the publisher on a non-negotiable basis, Dickens or no Dickens.

Likes:

1. Alistair Sim. Brilliant.

2. Kathleen Harrison (Scrooge’s housekeeper.) Never fails to engage, whatever she does. Her line: 'A Christmas present? For me?' touched the strings admirably where the TT creature failed miserably.

3. Marley makes an excellent ghost.

4. The pre-visitation Scrooge is compellingly hard.

5. The post-visitation Scrooge is delightfully dotty.

6. It’s about a man being rescued from a dark place. That’s the clincher. Stories of people coming out of the dark and into the light never fail to move me. (Pity it had to be at Christmas.)

*  *  *

And talking of God (sort of, briefly) I have a trivial question for you Germans out there:

You know how there’s a trend these days for people to liberally scatter ‘OMG!’ all over emails, YouTube comments and so on? Do Germans liberally scatter ‘GIH!’?

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

On Coffee and Complaint.

I carried my cup of Americano to the only free table in the establishment, it being busier than usual in homage to the season. (I chose to sample the new blend today and was charged an extra 20p for the privilege, which I paid with only the raise of an eyebrow.) I found the table top spotted with drops of water, so I went to the counter and asked for a tissue or piece of kitchen towel with which to dry it.

The assistant would have none of my attempt at self-sufficiency, but instead insisted on dealing with the matter herself. And so she did; she followed me back to the table with a cloth, a damp cloth which she used to wipe the surface.

‘But it’s wetter now than it was before,’ I protested.

She said nothing, but walked away seemingly uncomprehending of the absurd and counter-productive nature of her action.

I felt moved to press the matter, but decided against it because I’ve observed that complaint requires the instinct for fine judgement. If nobody complains, nothing gets done. But if a person complains too much, or is so perceived by those protected by irrational filters, he is viewed as a mere nuisance and his argument – however irrefutably rational it might be – becomes instantly transformed into inconsequential mist which passes harmlessly over the heads of those in a position to right the wrongs.

That’s frustrating, and so I kept my arms off the wet table and mused on the imperfect nature of life on an alien planet. I disliked the new blend.

Eddie and Me.

I saw a documentary recently on Edgar Allan Poe, and I was telling Mel last night about some interesting similarities between him and me, both in terms of his nature and his personal circumstances. (And given the peculiar circumstances of his demise, I found the comparison a little disturbing.) She Googled him while we were talking and said:

‘Mmm. He looks like a cross between Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin.’

Conversation dismissed.

His left eyebrow droops. Mine's the right, otherwise...

But I thought I might offer one of his better known pronouncements, since I’ve been known to say something very similar myself and in not dissimilar words:

They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

Yes indeed. If ever I should disappear for a while and then be found lying semi-conscious in the street wearing somebody else’s clothes, put it down to an interesting coincidence.

Confusing Crosses.

As is my wont, I had a small fire today to note the passing of the solstice. When the fire was nearly burnt out there were two pieces of unburned wood on top which suddenly rotated to form a perfect Greek cross. And then they burst into flame… They did. They really did.

Aha! A Sign! (I thought.)

Where from? Don’t know.

A Symbol!

Of what? Don’t know.

Something of profound significance!

Really? Go on, then. Explain. Erm…

I decided against the idea that it was Jesus sending me a message, since it was a Greek cross not a Roman one. I tried Google, but not much joy there (nor comfort even.) Nearly every website I found was full of juvenile rhetoric promoting either pro- or anti-Christian propaganda, and all I could come up with after some extensive and rather tedious searching was:

1. It was in use for a very long time before Jesus invented Easter.

2. It was used to denote the Mother Goddess. (Maybe.)

3. It was used to denote the Sun God. (Maybe.)

4. Its use in Christian iconography is on very shaky theological ground and it’s all the Emperor Constantine’s fault. Jesus probably died impaled on a stake, not a cross. Somebody got their Greek all wrong in translation. Damn.

So where do we go from here? Nowhere. The Universe really is a bit of a tease, or maybe it was just a meaningless coincidence after all. Night.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Cost of Unwitting Sacrifice.

Edgar Allan Poe struggled with poverty all his adult life. It was a tortured life, replete with tragedy and characterised by incipient insanity.

Shortly before his death, a newspaper editor with the nous to see beneath the surface wrote:

Had Mr Poe possessed talent in place of genius, he might have been a money-making author…

It seems that today’s preoccupation with talent over genius is nothing new.

Must lighten up.

The Honourable Road to Perdition.

I was seventeen and an officer cadet at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. One day I developed a throat infection, and the ruling powers, not wanting the infection to spread, confined me to a bed in the sick bay for two days.

The sick bay was in a quiet backwater of the grand old building, a place well apart from the highly pressured environment in which officer cadets normally function. The windows looked out not onto the river, or the parade ground, or the sports fields, or the gymnasium block, nor into the stuffy ambience of classrooms – the places where learning was learned and purposes filled. They looked instead into a cloistered world of mellow stone and leafy walls, a peaceful world in which I never heard a sound or saw a person walk during the two days of my confinement. And the only person in the room was me.

I filled my time with reading and musing, musing and reading, and one of the things I read was a magazine article about the search for the historical Arthur. What impressed me most was the illustration that accompanied it. It showed a knight and his lady in Dark Age attire riding down a woodland path away from Camelot or some other towered place. It was done in the style of a Gustave DorĂ© woodcut, such as he did for Idylls, though whether it was one of his or not I don’t know.

What I do know is that it impressed me more than any other picture I have ever seen. It swept me almost bodily into a profound understanding of my personal reality in which the road must be built on duty to that which is right; in which the watchword must be truthfulness; in which pledges must always be honoured and ethical values upheld. It’s a difficult road which promises pitfalls and failures, and even the successes are apt to be painful. The Grail in the mist ahead is faint and undefined, and often disappears altogether. You don’t know what you’re searching for; you just hope you’re going in the right direction.

Failure inevitably evokes guilt, and guilt comes riding with a message from the sages: ‘You must forgive yourself,’ they declare, delusioned by certainty. ‘You must see failure as a natural part of being human.’ The second part I can agree with, but not the first. The very concept of forgiveness strikes me as insufferably arrogant, for what right do any of us have to forgive anything? What happens happens. How we feel is how we feel. There is only observation, perception and emotional response. Somebody once asked me during the darkest episode of my life: ‘Can you not forgive her?’ I could only reply: ‘It isn’t a matter of forgiveness. I can only accept or not accept as the feeling takes me.’ On that occasion the feeling did not permit acceptance, and so it sometimes is with guilt.

But the road goes on, echoing the words of poets and balladeers. For where is there a Grail to be found, holy or otherwise, in the mundane world of politicians, professionals and TV pundits?

On which note, have a small quotation from Tennyson and his Idylls, partly for the prettiness of the language and partly for the sake of familiarity:

The world of Arthur and the Round Table is crumbling. Many of his best knights are dead, others dispersed, the Queen is gone to a convent and the land become unsafe again. He’s just returned from defeating a ruffian in the north country.

That night came Arthur home, and while he climb’d,
All in a death-dumb autumn-dripping gloom,
The stairway to the hall, and look’d and saw
The great Queen’s bower was dark. – about his feet
A voice clung sobbing till he question’d it,
‘What art thou?’ and the voice about his feet
Sent up an answer, sobbing, ‘I am thy fool,
And I shall never make thee smile again.’

As I said recently, this world is no place for an idealist.

*  *  *

Having got that off my chest, maybe now I can get back to weightier matters, like whether I remembered to put mayonnaise on my salad tonight. I did.

Monday, 21 December 2015

A Bad Sign.

I forgot to put the ketchup on my chips tonight.

I’d been quite pleased with myself earlier when I remembered to take the squeezy bottle out of the fridge and stand it on its head, thus encouraging the small amount of ketchup remaining to slide to the bottom and make expression more efficient.

‘Well done, JJ,’ I said to myself (and maybe to the ghost which hangs about in the corner of the kitchen, amusing itself with little demonstrations of telekinesis.) That’s planning, that is. Forethought. Most commendable.’

And then I forgot all about it. And that’s worrying because it seems to me that there are few things more indicative of incipient senility than forgetting to put the ketchup on your chips.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Dubious Preparations.

There was an advert on the TV featuring a pretty little cartoon lady who looked terribly sweet and wholesome. Finding such an image less unattractive than the usual plastered up model girls giving cosmetics a bad name, I decided to watch this one to see what she was trying to sell me.

It turned out to be a treatment for something called bacterial vaginosis. Now, I don’t know what bacterial vaginosis is, but the image of the pretty little cartoon lady suddenly looked less sweet and wholesome, which I suppose is the point of the ad.

And no, I didn’t Google it, but I strongly suspect that:

a. I wouldn’t have any use for such a preparation.

b. Had such an ad been shown on the TV when I was a kid, the Advertising Standards Authority would have been buried under a deluge of complaints from scandalized Middle England. Standards have clearly fallen a lot in the intervening years.

The Christmas Spirits.

I lived with a woman once who sat up in bed one night staring at the curtained window through frightened eyes. She was clearly distressed and insisted that she’d seen the silhouette of a nun walk past it.

That was spooky, but spookier still was the time my wife sat up in bed and stared at me with abject terror in her eyes. It was when I learned that somebody else’s fear can be the most contagious of conditions.

It seems to be the season for it. ‘A Ghost Story for Christmas’ was the generic title of a collection of supernatural offerings put out by the BBC over several years. It’s the time when living alone has questionable charms. And the wind is rising again.

Spectres and Queens..

Anyone who read my last post with even a modicum of interest might now be wondering whether I had a visitation on the stroke of midnight. No. There were no bed curtains drawn aside, no mysterious noises in the wainscoting, and no dragging of chains in some far corner of my little old house. The only moaning came from the mournful wind outside.

By an odd coincidence, however, a ghost did appear in my Feedjit timed at 0038. Maybe her arrival was delayed by a heavy swell on the broad Atlantic, in consequence of which she may be excused.

And by another strange coincidence, she was, in life, one of three who reversed the drifting habit. They all drifted away from me, you see, with unimpeachable justification for so doing. It was a natural process entirely in keeping with proper expectation. And three ghosts, like three queens, have a natural symmetry which justifies the Romantic predilection.

This post is insufferably self-indulgent, I know, but one has to seek meaning of some sort, somewhere. ‘Expect the second on the next night…’

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Finding a Forgotten Life.

I was going through a box of old greetings cards earlier, cards that were sent to me over the last twenty years or so and which I chose to keep for some reason. I was both surprised and a little chastened to discover how many people used to like me, and seemingly even value my presence in their lives. Two of those people are still around, three are dead (two died young) and the rest are long-flown and far-flung.

There were several from some of the actors I used to know during my time at the theatre. Their missives kept coming for several years after they'd moved on, and always finished with the question: ‘When shall we see you again?’ They never did; it was always I who drifted, not them. The two who are still around are the two who kept me on a long leash.

My habit of drifting away troubles me, and I often wonder why I do it. I suppose it’s because I always found it slightly incomprehensible that anybody should like me. I never knew what there was to like. And being valued always made me feel trapped in a cage of expectation that I feared might one day suffocate me. Maybe that’s what one or two people meant when they called me a commitment-phobe. And yet chastened is how I feel.

For once in my life I want to go and find some of these people and say ‘I’m really sorry I didn’t answer your letters. I’m sorry I didn’t take up that offer of a spare bed in Coventry where you were playing in panto. I’m sorry I rejected your friendship and drifted away. But do tell me, please, what was it about me you liked? What were those ‘fun-filled evenings’ to which you referred? I don’t understand. But could we take up where we left off?’

I won’t of course, and it wouldn’t work even if I did. There’s a process of micro-evolution that changes people day by day and year by year. If you don’t evolve together, you drift apart forever. Besides, there’s the loner gene to be taken into consideration.

On a lighter note, the card I found most surprising was an undated Christmas card in which is written:

Dearest Jeff,

I am so thankful to have made your acquaintance! Your friendship means a great deal to me… you make the sun shine brighter in my heart! Forever may we be in touch… I wish you the very best on your journeys…

May this holiday season bring your heart sunshine and inspiration! I wish you and your family the very, very best! Peace, love, health, and happiness to your lives! Much love to you, dear friend.

Kate

See what I mean? And what’s funny is that my first thought on reading this was: ‘Who’s Kate?’ I’ve known a few Kates in my life, but none that I remember indicating feelings of this sort. The most likely candidate is an American post-grad student I knocked about with for a few months over the winter of ’98-’99, which would fit with the Christmas card and the Oxford comma. But it was the most intensely unhappy few months of my life when I was even less worth knowing than usual. So what was that all about?

I wonder whether the reading of this little piece of personal history should be my Marley’s Ghost. I wonder whether the question of rehabilitation has any practical application now, since my opinion of the human race is falling with every news report, my sensibilities are becoming ever more singular, and the number of people I can tolerate for more than ten minutes continues to diminish.

Maybe I should wait to see whether I get the first of three visitations when the clock strikes twelve. If I do, the matter can remain open. If not, well…

Friday, 18 December 2015

Interpreting the Superpowers.

President Putin says that Donald Trump is ‘colourful and talented.’ Trump replies that he’s ‘honoured.’

I keep thinking of different ways in which this bizarre interchange might be interpreted, and I’ve come to favour the view that it’s nothing more than two little boys in kindergarten shouting ‘bum’ and ‘willy’ at one another and congratulating themselves on their wit. But I have to say that Putin’s ‘compliment’ does at least have the distinction of being ambiguous, or at least carrying a hint of damning with faint praise.

Shame and Singularity.

I just did a little internet quiz and discovered that my level of alcohol consumption would be considered quite normal in Moldova, but hardly anywhere else. I felt a little ashamed of the fact that I had to Google Moldova to find out exactly where it is.

*  *  *

I also discovered that today is dubbed ‘Mad Friday’ in Britain because alcohol consumption increases substantially on the last Friday before Christmas. Mine doesn’t.

*  *  *

And it seems that there is a spike in the birth rate towards the end of September which demonstrates that there is a concomitant rise in the number of conceptions over the Christmas period. This is considered to be partly due to the increased amount of frisky behaviour fuelled by the extra consumption of alcohol. Yet again I’m out of step, a fact which I ascribe to having always been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

*  *  *

All in all I’m wondering more than ever just what the hell I’m doing here.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Malapropisms and the Media.

Being concerned for the priestess’s welfare, I typed ‘Sydney tycoon’ into Google.

Whoops. Rewind…

‘Sydney typhoon.’

What surprised me was that most news reports called it a tornado. Tornadoes and typhoons are completely different phenomena, so which is it?  The media are really crap, aren’t they? Bastions of slackness and ignorance.

Fortunately, both typhoons and tornadoes are rather less destructive than Rupert Murdoch, who controls large swathes of the media. I hope his Rolls was going backwards.

On Women, Dogs and Bite.

One of these days I must tell the story of Mistress Catherine Simms. It’s a powerful tale of lust, finely judged romantic stratagem, rank opportunism, ego-destruction, the discovery of a magical potion, abandonment, and ultimately guilt (on my part strangely enough, since it was my ego which suffered the destructive assault.)

But not right now. Right now I’m sampling the first of my bottles of extra strong Guinness to which I referred a few nights ago. It tastes like one of those hard sticks of liquorice juice, only more bitter. Or should that be bitterer? Word says it should, but it looks wrong and sounds silly. In any event, it has more ‘bite’ than normal Guinness.

*  *  *

I’m learning to read dogs’ eyes. There was one sitting outside Sainsbury’s today that was looking at me with eyes that seemed to say ‘I dislike human strangers. Don’t come any closer.’ I held out a hand tentatively just in case I was wrong, and he lifted his lip on one side. Point taken.

*  *  *

And the man in Costa Coffee asked me whether I would like to try the new blend of espresso they use for Americano. He said it had the same concentration of caffeine, but was smoother with less bite. I said I’d stay traditional and take the bite. I like bite. The young woman who is used to my weekly visits had prepared the brew anyway, and she refused to look at me as usual. I don’t know what I’ve done to offend her, but it must be something. I decided against holding out a tentative hand.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Losing Faith.

I'd like to be a misanthrope
But don't know how to do it
I'm looking far and wide to find a way 

I think it very likely that
The news will bring me to it
'Cos that gets more depressing every day

A Rare Sight.

The moon. I saw the moon at twilight tonight for the first time in about three weeks. That’s how long it’s been depressingly dull and wet in Britain. The lanes are muddy and pool-spattered, the fields are soft and sodden, and hardly a plant or tree branch has stopped dripping.

My description is hopelessly inadequate. Tennyson says it much better in Idylls:

…the wan day
Went glooming down in wet and weariness

Isn’t that splendid? Only make ‘day’ plural.

Amazingly Dark.

I saw a woman in a shop the other day who had amazingly dark eyes: no colour at all, just black and white. I stared at her several times, but stopped when a scenario began to unfold:

She turns and stares back at me.

‘What?’ she asks in that confrontational way that only women with amazingly dark eyes do well.

‘Please excuse me. It’s just that you have amazingly dark eyes and they’re quite hypnotic.’

‘Would you believe me if I said I’m not human?’

‘I wouldn’t disbelieve you; I’d keep an open mind. It’s a trait I inherited from my mother.’

And then she smiles a kind of smile I’ve never seen before, and everything inside my skin turns to crushed ice. The world goes amazingly dark.

I wake up lying next to a mountain road and see a llama looking down at me with its head turned quizzically to one side. I can’t resist the absurd question:

‘Where am I?’

‘Peru,’ answers the llama in perfect RP.

‘You speak English?’

‘Fluently, and not inelegantly, as you might have noticed.’

‘That’s really strange. Where did you learn?’

‘A woman with amazingly dark eyes taught me.’

‘What a coincidence. Now it’s really, really strange.’

‘Want to see something stranger?’

‘I don’t know. Will it hurt?’

‘Probably not. Follow me.’

And so I follow the llama into a cave encrusted with something black which I assume to be bat droppings, although I've no idea why.

‘Sit on that stone,’ says the llama.

I do. I wait. Suddenly I hear a hollow swishing sound and am immediately nervous because swishing sounds don’t usually sound hollow. And then the ground in front of me opens up and the rock tips me into it. The world goes amazingly dark again.

I open my eyes (which are blue-grey, incidentally) and feel the air rushing past my ears. I realise that I’m sliding down some kind of smooth incline, but I can’t see a thing. Darkness reigns for a few panic-stricken seconds until I see a light growing ahead of me. It turns into the pale face of a woman with amazingly dark eyes, and it grows bigger and bigger. She opens her mouth and I’m faced with the horrifying realisation that I’m about to slide straight into it. Unsurprisingly, though with some degree of amazement, the world goes dark again.

I blink twice. I’m standing in a supermarket looking into the amazingly dark eyes of a woman whose head is turned quizzically to one side. She reminds me of a llama I once met.

‘Now do you believe I’m not human?’ she asks without moving either her lips or her head. It occurs to me that I’ve never seen her blink.

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Go away.’

I walk back to the car park eating the little bar of chocolate I just bought, which, by an amazing coincidence, is Peruvian.

I swear the first and last sentences are absolutely true.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Suspecting the Speculators.

I watched a TV documentary once in which the distinguished TV historian, Neil Oliver, introduced us to the contents of a Bronze Age burial chamber (or it might have been Iron Age or even Neolithic. Please excuse my ignorance; round barrows and long barrows confuse me.) Anyway, he showed us how all the leg bones were piled up here, while the rib bones were stacked here, and they built a little mountain of skulls here, and so on. He then went on to declaim, with commendable passion, that this showed how Bronze Age (or Iron Age or Neolithic) persons had little sense of personal identity, but were more inclined to perceive themselves as part of the greater community whole.

It’s a compelling theory, but isn’t that all it is? Couldn’t it be that Bronze Age (or whatever) persons simply had a taste for arranging things in pleasing, homogeneous piles by type? I know people like that. They’re a bit strange, but mostly harmless. Or maybe there was another explanation, who knows? And doesn’t this suggest that historical anthropology is a process of endlessly seeking to know the unknowable, while building definitive conclusions on speculative foundations?

I’m hoping that the Oracle of Upstate New York will tell me why I’m wrong. Or maybe she’ll remind me that she told me as much six months ago (which I think she might have done.)

Meanwhile, this is my latest favourite track from the band to which the Oracle introduced me. The lyrics are a bit sad, but the music is nice.

Survival Skills.

I’ve honed them to perfection over recent years. Let me give you two examples:

1. The price of Natural Selection 100g packs of high quality cashew nuts in Boots the Chemist is £1.60, but I make it my business to know that B&M sells the same product for 89p.

2. Coincidentally, 89p is also what B&M charges for 330ml bottles of Guinness Foreign Extra, a beer so strong that a 330ml bottle contains roughly the same amount of alcohol as you get in 500ml bottles of other premium beers. Such beers routinely cost around £2 in the supermarkets.

Such an advanced skill as this means that you don’t have to live like a pauper, even though you are one. You can get fat and trash your liver almost to your heart’s content.

Monday, 14 December 2015

A Shave Closer than Gromit's.

Self service tills in supermarkets can be irritating. They insist on giving you retrospective messages and instructions that are meant to be helpful but are actually historical absurdities. You swipe your Nectar card, and the machine says:

Have you swiped your Nectar card?

You take your change, and the machine says:

Please take your change.

You’ve just finished putting your items in your bag and are about to walk away when the machine says:

Please take your items.

I have been known to respond to such nonsense with invective that is less than polite, though usually in an undertone because there are often ladies in the near vicinity and one of the Rules of being a Romantic is that ladies must be protected from the coarser elements of masculine diatribe. It’s one of those little niceties which prove the superiority of ladies over both women and men (and I do have a ground-to-air missile system capable of atomising all known sizes of banana.)

Today’s self-service till had a seasonal sting in the tail. Just as I turned to walk off towards the safer and simpler world of the car park, I heard a mechanical baritone behind me call out:

Ho Ho Ho. Merry Christmas.

Now, having a mealy-mouthed machine intoning ‘Ho Ho Ho. Merry Christmas’ to me is a bit like telling Father Jack that he really doesn’t want a drink, so let’s throw it away and remove the temptation. It produces an immediate, irrational desire to strike out with whatever is harder than the thing being struck.

I was fortunate. The slim-and-pretty lady overseer who had just overridden the machine’s irrational desire to halt my progress had also called me ‘sweetheart.’ Such things matter, you know? They soothe the savage breast, so to speak. Amelioration is achieved and the risk of being arrested for causing criminal damage all but obliterated. The Goddess was smiling, bless her.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

My Mentors Speak.

This is the introduction to a message sent from the Big Guys at Google to me, a mere li’l old Blogger:

As bloggers, we all know how important it is to post frequently in order to encourage readers to come back. Of course, the more you post, the more quickly your posts slip down into the archives, making it harder for your readers to discover everything you’ve posted that they might be interested in.

How big an ego do they think I’ve got? Would this be a California thing? (And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that ‘more quickly’ should be ‘quicker.’)

Being Beyond Ebenezer.

This is the time of year when I should be considering the annual anti-Christmas post, but I think I’ve moved a little beyond it. I’ve now become so anti-Christmas that the celebration is deemed supremely ignorable and therefore not even worth a whinge.

I’ve been likened to Ebenezer Scrooge, you know. I have, and maybe the comparison is not entirely without merit. Had he not been so insufferably prejudiced against the poor, I think I might have preferred his pre-visitation persona to the one responsible for the survival of Tiny Tim.

Contemporary Perceptions.

Over lunch today I watched a few minutes of the 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts. As is my usual practice these days, I watched it with the sound off so as to get a better take on the general tone and style of the piece without the distraction of dialogue.

What a disappointment. I remember loving that film when I was a kid, but it seems I’ve become a bit more difficult to convince down the years. There was a time when I thought it an accurate representation of ancient Greece, but the cheap costumes and the general bearing of the actors now put my grizzled perception more in mind of a nativity play at the local primary school.

And nothing changes. A few years ago I saw the publicity poster for the film Troy. It showed head shots of three of the leading characters – Helen and two conflicting Heroes, I expect – and they could just as easily have been starring in a 21st century cosmetics ad.

So I have a request for the great and good in Hollywood, should anyone from that august institution ever read this post. If you do a remake of The Vikings, instead of loading up the warriors’ beards with styling gel, could you make it dried vomit instead? Thanks.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

An Unsolved Mystery.

When I first went into my kitchen his morning I was struck by the presence of two objects that I know weren’t there when I went to bed last night. Logical (and entirely sober) consideration of the facts appears to allow only three possibilities for their mysterious appearance:

1. Supernatural agency

2. Somnambulism

3. Incipient insanity

I think I favour number 3, since that would place me in some pretty august company and is probably no more than I deserve.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The State of Things.

The word of the day is ‘malfunction.’ And not just of today. Today was bad; yesterday was worse. It is the word of most days in the present epoch.

Systems malfunctioning. People malfunctioning. Technology malfunctioning, even that which was bought new some time between a week and two years ago.

Frustration at the inanity of recorded announcements (how many more times do I have to listen to the disingenuous bleat ‘This call is being recorded for training and quality control purposes?’ If you want quality, please change the bloody system. I object to wasting money on a phone call just to listen to pointless rubbish I don’t need to hear.) Frustration at the tyranny of menu options, which you cannot circumvent however loudly you complain to the machine. Frustration at the final contact when you’re greeted by an automaton who reads from a script and is only fit for ticking boxes.

This could be a very long post, but there would be too many seemingly disparate areas to be covered. Let’s just say that things used to be better before the Commercial Revolution raised candyfloss to the status of manna and set about eroding initiative.

My sensibilities are being trodden on, too many tools don’t work properly, and I’m owed money because ‘we’re having problems with the system.’ How long before my mind jumps onto the same malfunction bandwagon?

The Passing of the Queens.

A personal muse on the Grail Quest, being a re-post in different words and with the hope that the ghost of ALT will excuse my presumption.

All the pretty lights and lilting promises have come to ghosts, bidden from gossamer tombs by the song of a Hebridean maid.

‘Why do you call me from my peaceful place?’ wails the One. ‘I am but spirit and therefore phantasm. The soul which drove my beating heart has long since gone to rebirth in a distant land which you cannot tread, not even in your dreams.’

Two sisters stand and bow their heads in mute concurrence.

And so the seeker, long of tooth and tired of limb, joins the hopeless, broken band in common lament:

This quest was not for me…

… they cry as one.

This quest was not for me.

Matching Moods.

Idylls of the King is not an easy read. The problem is that clauses frequently crop up in unfamiliar places – presumably to suit the metrical exigencies of the blank verse format – and it can get a bit confusing. The need to re-read about every third line is a bit of a bloody nuisance, to put it simply. But I’m soldiering on. I’ve now got to the point in the Quest for the Holy Grail where the distraught, dishevelled and disheartened knights (substitute bewitched, bothered and bewildered if you like) are back in the all-but-destroyed Camelot, pouring out their tales of woe.

The one that most interested me was Lancelot’s, since it was all about the symptoms and consequences of his descent into madness. It was intriguingly familiar. It even had lions in it…

Slaughtering the Language.

There was a sales assistant in Homebase today wearing a sweatshirt on which was printed See me if you want a Xmas tree. The salient bit bears repeating:

A Xmas tree

When you consider the compound nature of the carnage thus wrought on the integrity of the English language, it doesn’t do much for the image of Homebase, does it?

I remember Tesco being pulled up some years ago for having signs above the express checkouts which read 10 items or less, and changing them for the more grammatically correct 10 items or fewer. It seems to me that whoever came up with A Xmas tree should be more than pulled up; he should be strung up.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Lord T's Poison.

Tonight’s fireside reading was the first half of the section on the Quest for the Holy Grail from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. So far it’s all about ecstatic nuns, hallucinating knights, and a red goblet that slides down a beam of light like one of those tubes that carried cash around in Co-operative stores when I was a kid. I suspect the influence of opium.

Oddnesses.

I just replied to a woman on YouTube:

Excuse my impertinence, but do you wobble when prodded?

I never used to say things like that. I used to say sensible things. I think the ghost of eccentricity is finally taking possession.

Did I ever post the story of Rockliffe beach and the Christian Scientist? I think I probably did, and repeating old posts is worse than being eccentric.

I was given a Christmas present yesterday. Diligent palpation of the wrapping indicates an oval bottle with a knobbly top, and it’s driving me nuts. This is a new one on my pretty extensive database of bottle recognition.

Can you believe that the word currently trending on Oxford Dictionaries Online is octopus? That’s truly bizarre.