Sunday, 31 January 2016

Seeing a Sad Demise.

All these years on and I still revel in the satisfaction to be felt upon the making up of a coal fire.

To glowing embers, dying but not yet dead, is added the shaking out of black and cold refreshment. The waiting starts, but not for long. The smoke begins to curl, shyly at first, until it grows in confidence and swells to a mass of thronging thickness rushing upwards to an unseen heaven. Fledgling flames creep and peep between the gaps as the base beneath the black stuff brightens ever brighter. Soft sparks jump like electric fleas; poppings and crackings and spittings join the chorus; plumes of smoke, driven by gasses trapped for millennia, stream free and unrestrained from individual coals to add their gay abandon to the rushing slate grey torrent. And then, to bring the celebration to a climax, the flames that once were creeping and peeping begin to dance, growing more and more populace and humming a single note that sings of warmth and the sustenance of life.

There are moves afoot to aim for a carbon free future. Coal is to be consigned to the fate of the steam engine; another piece of life’s little romance is to be taken from us. Necessary as this might be for the sake of the planet and the health of close-closeted populations, I can’t help but feel sad for future generations in a sanitized world, denied the joy felt by ancestors who delighted in being warmed by the natural comfort of real flame. 

How Lucky is a Lucky Dip?

Two of my numbers came up on the lottery last week, which meant I was entitled to a Lucky Dip. A Lucky Dip is a free lottery ticket with randomly selected numbers which goes into the following week’s draw.

I checked mine today and, as expected, it didn’t win. But then I read the little slip they give you with it. It boasted of how lucky I am to get a Lucky Dip, and how there have been 6 million winners of Lucky Dips this week. Winners of what? Free lottery tickets that don’t win anything?

You know, even a well practiced cynic like me sometimes finds the sheer dishonesty of the marketing system quite mind-boggling at times. Did I ever mention toothpaste ads? They’re the best. I think I did.

Shifting Responsibility

I used to give money to street beggars as a matter of course, but lately I’ve started being selective. I’ve observed over the years that genuinely homeless people have a look about them that is different from those who are playing the game. They have a different pallor to the skin, they hold themselves differently, and they have a look in their eyes betraying desperation or resignation. They wear their depleted status where it is most visible, and it’s a form of dress that can’t be manufactured at will.

But maybe I shouldn’t differentiate; maybe I should go back to giving money to all of them. That way, responsibility for the ethical dilemma – if such there be – is all theirs and my conscience is clear. Karma would be better served, I think.

*  *  *

And on a related tack, I often think about those people who organise food, warmth and shelter for homeless people at Christmas. They mean well, obviously, and I applaud them for it. But there’s a problem. The relief lasts a few days and then the victims get turned out into the cold again. How awful must that be for them, and isn’t it adding a further blow to an already injured spirit? I don’t know the answer to that one, but I suppose it does at least highlight the fact that there’s something very wrong with a system which permits destitution in a society where such vast wealth is held securely in the bulging pockets of so few.

A Little Appreciation.

About a year ago I bought Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds and tried to read it. I’d loved his later work, The Third Policeman, but this time I was disappointed and gave up at about page 42. I realised that there was nothing wrong with the book; it was my jaded perception that was deficient, so tonight I started it again. This time the first sentence was sufficient to recognise the change:

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.

Isn’t that splendid? On a wavelength now. Good.

What I really need, however, is something to lampoon on my blog, which is often a little jaded these days. I need classics like Frankenstein and Dracula, or something massively popular like The Da Vinci Code – books that people study in university, or books that make university professors rich, books that stick their heads above the ramparts and beg to feed the iconoclastic tendency. Genuinely good books fail in that respect, so Flann O’Brien won’t do. Somebody suggested I try Jane Austen, but my constitution isn’t what it used to be.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Which the Victim?

Something I read today caused me to think about the issue of unrequited affection. I’ve been on both sides of the phenomenon, and I found that while being the subject undoubtedly hurt, being the object could be almost as bad. You can, to some extent at least, take responsibility for your own feelings and maybe ameliorate them, but you’re on difficult or impossible ground if you try to take responsibility for somebody else’s.

But it’s still a pressure because having someone possessed of feelings which you can’t reciprocate means that you know they’re hurting, and if you have even an ounce of sensitivity in you, it isn’t a nice thing to be saddled with. So what do you do?

If you ignore them the situation is likely to continue unabated for some unknown length of time. If you react harshly and tell them to go away, it’s likely they will feel worse. If you’re attentive and pleasant they will be happier for a while, but their hopes will probably rise and then they’ll be heading for an even bigger fall. For somebody like me who doesn’t abdicate responsibility easily – even when it’s self-imposed and demonstrably irrational – that’s a problem.

And of course, there’s always the possibility that the object of this horribly unbalanced situation might become a stalker. One of mine did – in a relatively minor sort of way – so I know how awful that can be.

Friday, 29 January 2016

England's North/South Divide.

I had cause to think about Yorkshire people today. Yorkshire people like to foster their reputation for being hard, uncompromising, unsophisticated and straight as a stair rod. It’s grim up North and that’s the way we like it! might be the watchword of the typical Yorkshire person.

So then I took to imagining a Yorkshireman and a southerner coming face to face on a narrow bridge. The southerner sniffs the air disdainfully and asks:

‘Excuse me, old chap, but do you think you might exercise propriety and good manners by at least offering to give way?’

‘Art tha jokin’, lad?’ replies the Yorkshireman. ‘I never believed in bloody fairies ’til I saw thee.’

Being Easily Fooled.

I discovered something interesting today. If you get just the right distance from a group of children playing noisily, they're very easily confused with a gaggle of geese.

A Reasonable Cause to Wonder.

I was due a payment from a government department in December, and I did receive a payment but it was wrong. It was only half what it should have been.

At this point I could relate the history of my attempts to sort it out. I could talk of long wait times, interminable menu options, pointless recorded announcements, being given the wrong information and having to start again, and the fact that I was paying for the many phone calls. I could, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll offer a thought.

I discovered this error because I’m the sort who keeps a careful check on my bank account and my finances generally. I spotted it straight away and began the frustrating process of trying to set it right. But what of those who don’t keep a careful check because they’re not made that way? My brother wasn’t made that way. He was a practical man, a physically strong man, a tough man; he was the sort who would fight a lion over a pork chop and win. But he was frightened of paperwork and figures, so he never checked his bank account. He assumed that everything was as it should be and left well alone.

I’ve no doubt that those who run the affairs of a complex society know that there are many such people, and so I wonder. Could it be that errors are deliberately generated in order that a portion of them will go unnoticed and money will be saved? Could this be a covert cost-saving measure? We’re always hearing about the need to reduce government expenditure, aren’t we?

If I raised this matter with the bureaucrats or my MP, no doubt I would be told that I’m being silly and paranoid. Well, I’m not being either silly or paranoid because I’m only wondering. And the reason I’m wondering is because I distrust bureaucrats, especially at the upper echelons, and I distrust politicians even more.

An Odd Way to Sell Posh Food.

There was an advert on the TV tonight for Waitrose, one of Britain’s supermarket chains with a reputation for being a bit posh. It showed image after image of mouth watering food items, and stuck in the middle of this dazzling cornucopia was a repeated shot of a toilet roll becoming smaller and smaller…

I assume the obvious connection wasn’t the one they intended.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The China Connection.

I want to talk about China, only I can’t quite make sense of my feelings about the place, much less express them adequately in a post. I just watched the first of a series of documentaries called The Story of China presented by Michael Wood, whose sensitive and intelligent insights always impress me.

I got that old déjà vu thing again when he showed images of what you might call a shanty town in the suburbs of Xi’an, the first of the ancient capitals of China. It looked oh so familiar; it felt homely. I get the same feeling when I see those fat lions, and fierce dragons, and oversize goldfish, and pink lotus flowers, and bright red wall hangings, and Chinese characters on banners.

I used to get the same feeling when I was a kid growing up in a grimy industrial city in the English Midlands. And when I was around thirty I saw a photograph of a mountain range in China and thought: ‘I know this place. I’ve been there. How can that be?’ All of which leads me to feel that I really must go to China before I die. But maybe I was already there before I was born and don't need to. How can one know?

And here’s an interesting thought: Let’s suppose that reincarnation is true; and let’s suppose that I had a previous life in China; and let’s suppose that I do go there before I die. I might meet my own descendants; I might even accidentally tread on my own grave. And then some grizzled old man struggling under the draconian social rules imposed by the Tang emperors might shudder and exclaim: ‘Somebody just walked over my grave.’ What a lot of fun that would be.

There’s just one problem with all this: I could never for the life of me (this life, that is) get on with chopsticks.

Missing My Cue.

One of those professionals I mentioned earlier asked me today:

Are you taking any medication?

‘Yes. Alcohol.’

Oh?

‘It helps ward off the incipient insanity.’

Is this something you should talk to a doctor about?

‘No.’

Bloody cheek! She sounded like my old English teacher. I wish I’d said: ‘I take it under the supervision of a qualified leprechaun, through a catheter on reverse thrust.’

That’s the difference between writing and living. You can always add things later to a written work, but in real life you rarely get a second chance. (Until somebody else asks me the same question, that is. Then I’ll be ready.)

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Englishmen and the Matter of Peas.

During one of my many photographic forays I was staying at a youth hostel and taking dinner with a group of fellow wanderers. The conversation turned to vegetables, and the young man next to me declaimed:

‘Tell you what I don't like: those green things. What are they called?’

‘Peas?’ offered someone speculatively.

‘That’s it: peas!  Can’t stand them. Horrid little things.’

Now, this might seem a matter of minor consequence, and yet I somehow can’t imagine an American or German or Moroccan or Chinese treating the humble pea with such defamatory declamation. It seemed to me to be a very English thing.

And then there was a Sherlock Holmes film I watched once. Holmes is pacing the carpet, explaining the finer points of a complex problem to Watson who is just finishing his dinner. The good doctor has one pea left, and is trying, with little success or hope of success, to shift the remaining pea onto the curved back of his fork. Holmes becomes exasperated, snatches the fork, turns it round, crushes the pea onto it, and hands it back to his colleague.

‘You’ve squashed me pea, Holmes,’ laments Watson, clearly distressed. ‘I like it when they go pop, and now you’ve squashed it.’

Would the native of any other land, I might ask, take such offence at the squashing of a pea, or even the turning of a fork upside down counter to the propriety of established form?

Talking Happy Talk.

I’ve said a couple of times recently that very few people talk to me these days, which is a shame because I’m naturally garrulous. Well, today I had conversations with no less than eight people in Ashbourne. Eight! And all in the space of about three hours, which was a little exhausting because I’m out of practice. But the fatigue, unfamiliar as it was, had me thinking about the different broad categories of people, and how difficult or easy it is to talk to each of them. There’s a list coming up:

Men

Old: Difficult. They’re too prone to saying things like: ‘Kids these days! Want, want, want. When I was a lad and Adolf was up to his tricks, you were lucky if you got so much as an orange for Christmas!’

Middle aged: Difficult. They’re too focussed on mundane practical matters and the fortunes of their favourite football team. Practical matters and football have their place, but surely not in conversation.

Young: Easy(ish.) They can be surprisingly diffident, good at listening, and are often gauche, but those qualities tend to require the willingness of the mature person to accept the superior position, as well as the responsibility to find something wise – or at least indicative of experience – to say. I mostly can’t be bothered.

Women

Old: So-so. The problem with old women is that they’re usually so delighted that somebody has consented to stand and talk to them that they try to hold you on station longer than you want to be there.

Middle aged: A lottery. Middle aged women are often even weirder than I am, only in different ways. Some of my most challenging experiences in life have come at the hands of middle aged women. Generally to be treated with more than the usual degree of circumspection.

Young: Dead easy. They’re the group with the most open, intelligent and engaging attitude to life (mostly.) The only problem I have with young women is that I fear being seen as some ageing Lothario keen to be indulged with one final fling before the obligatory arthritis sets in. I tread carefully, but with mildly veiled enthusiasm.

Of course, the best people to have a conversation with are professionals on duty – doctors, dentists, podiatrists, physios etc. When you tire of talking, you can go silent without giving offence. They’re usually on a time limit and therefore glad that you’ve finally shut up, and that gives you a feeling of being in control. I tried it today and it worked a treat.

On Toothache and a Twisted Mind.

No strange posts from me tonight. I have a toothache (it’s the one I’ve had for twenty five years – the incurable chronic infection which doesn’t just hurt but makes you feel ill as well. That’s not something you get every day, is it? Thankfully, neither do I. It’s what my mechanic friend would call ‘intermittent.’ It’s the only posh word he knows.)

The mind’s a funny thing, isn’t it? I mean, what was all that weird Chinese water stuff about last night, if not a polluted stream of consciousness emanating from the spring of a diseased imagination? It happens all the time, only I’m usually more circumspect about revealing it. As I said in an earlier post, very few people speak to me as it is.

Take tonight, for example. I was going to post a Mitchell and Webb sketch about the new Fuehrer. I thought it was very funny, but I was worried that a German person might watch it and get terribly upset with us smug, triumphalist Brits. We’re not smug and triumphalist actually (at least, I’m not.) We just have a weird sense of humour which we justify on the grounds that it’s sophisticated. Nevertheless, I found myself constructing an apology to the whole German nation and not getting very far, so it didn’t get posted.

(But here’s the punch line: This is General Eisenhower’s telephone number. This is the English for ‘surrender.’ And this is our military situation in one rude word. None of which will mean anything out of context, of course, so I think I’ve got away with it.)

And you know what? It’s amazing what alcohol can do for a chronic tooth infection. Unfortunately, it’s not so good at purifying polluted streams of consciousness.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Finding the Odd Pearl Among the Pebbles.

Occasionally I re-read old blog posts, and occasionally I find a really good one (by my standards, at least.) And when I do, I consider re-posting it on the grounds that most – if not all – people who read this blog now didn’t do so back in 2012 or whenever.

But then I decide that such a practice would be cheating. I could make it less of a cheat by declaring that it was a re-post, but it still wouldn’t seem quite right. So I don’t.

And you know what the real problem is? When I first started this blog I had no idea what a tag was.

‘What’s a tag?’ I asked myself.

Don’t know.

‘Well if you don’t know what one is, it doesn’t seem very likely that you’ll have need of them, does it?’

Suppose not.

‘So don’t bother.’

OK.

And so I didn’t. And now I want tags, especially for the ditties, the delightful Dracula posts (which I consider some of my best) and one for Dead Good Posts.

But I’ve now published nearly 6,000 posts, and going back over that lot to tag them all is just too tall an order. I could start tagging now, but I’m superstitious. It would be just my luck to die as soon as I’d added the first tag because life’s like that. So carry on regardless; it’s the only way.

Tesco and the Free Market Tradition.

There’s a news item here in Britain today, reporting the fact that the supermarket giant, Tesco, has been deliberately delaying paying its suppliers in order to improve its own financial position. This is a bad state of affairs, but it’s nothing new.

Back in the early eighties, a man called Lord Weinstock – head of the multi-national giant GEC – went public with advice to large companies: ‘Change your payment terms to your small suppliers. Pay them three monthly instead of monthly in order to improve your cash flow.’

I was a young revenue inspector at the time, and I saw many small traders in serious trouble. They were losing their livelihoods, their homes, and even their marriages in some cases, because they were contracted to large companies and their own cash flow was drying up. They had plenty of work on, but no money to pay their creditors. The lives of small people were being all but ruined.

Weinstock’s advice was the face of Thatcherism at the time, and it seems her ghost haunts us still.

Bronze Age Bother.

And just to finish off the night, an update on that thorny problem of modern technology (only backwards.)

The Real Chinese Peril.

I’ve been so immersed in Chinese culture over the past few years that I feel I just have to go there. I won’t, of course; the water scares me.

Haven’t you noticed that Chinese water looks different than European water? It has an unfamiliar colour and texture about it, and I’ve heard it said that if you get wet in China, your toenails turn yellow and dissolve, fizzing and popping as they do so, while cormorants gather and wait patiently to eat what’s left of your toes while you lack the will to kick them away.

And then there are the fish. You can’t tell me that it’s mere coincidence that the goldfish grow so big. It’s all in the water; has to be. Look what happened to HMS Amethyst in 1950 in the Yangtze River. They only managed to escape by stealing quietly away at night while the river was asleep, keeping their navigation lights off so as not to wake it up. And what about those bridges you see everywhere? They’re more humpity than honest, functional European bridges, so you can’t avoid the question: Which came first, the bridge or the water? And how did they come to be that shape? It’s all rather sinister.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Look at the water; look at the humpity bridge; look at those people standing on it. Are they real people or something else entirely?

Monday, 25 January 2016

On Humans and the Horrors.

I was walking through a shopping mall this morning and was startled to observe how ugly everybody was. They were, you know, they were. I’m not making it up. There were a few pretty young female specimens, but none of them was attractive. (Well, all except the girl from Latvia who was serving in Greggs bake shop. And, oddly enough, she wasn’t particularly pretty, just attractive. Aren’t humans interesting?)

I really need to get one of those little cameras that policemen wear on their jackets, then I could have some pictures to take back to my home planet when I finally make the trip. I might even publish a book.

*  *  *

And here’s a funny thing…

I was listening to the old Beach Boys classic Caroline, No on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, and I entered a jokey comment to the effect that I’d always wanted a girlfriend called Caroline (because it’s a nice name) but had never had one. I finished with:

I don’t suppose there are any Carolines out there who like old men? No? Thought not.

It was a joke. I was in a silly mood. But then, about three nights ago, I got a reply:

My name’s Caroline, and I like old men.

Panic set in: ‘Oh my God! I have a stalker. I’ll bet she’s old and fat with a beard and greasy hair. She’ll want to ensconce herself into my life and my house, where she will sit in front of the fire, sweating and burping and making me cut her toenails. She must think I’m a lot older than I really am. I’m not ready for this yet. I still do twenty seven sit-ups every morning. Why don’t I keep my big mouth shut?’

Such thoughts – and more – really did run through my head. I made a polite reply, graced with a little pretended gratitude, and ran away. Call me coward. I don’t care. And it’s all true.

Swimming Against the Tide.

I just read a comment on YouTube in which the writer imagines a scenario about lying on the beach, swimming in the sea, hearing the cry of seagulls and the sound of children playing in the distance, retiring to one’s hammock ‘with the one you love’ and sharing earbuds… Get the picture?

It’s cheesy as hell, the imagery is mundane, the writing is about as lyrical as melting ice cream, and the very best you can say about it is that it’s ‘nice.’ Which is fine; if that’s the image the music conjures up for the guy, so be it, and he has every right to say so in his own words. But writing it ain’t, and yet…

Response after response after response tells him how wonderful it is, and how it conjures up beautiful images, and how the world needs more of this sort of thing, and how he should consider writing professionally, and so on.

And this goes some way to demonstrate why it’s very easy for good writers to starve in garrets.

Kid's Stuff About Paths.

Here’s another benefit to writing a blog: it teaches you how damn complicated so many things are.

Tonight I was going to write a note on my response to music. It all seemed so simple at first, but as the list of conditions grew, so did the exceptions. It began to take on the appearance of a vast forest in which the path has all but disappeared, so I went home for tea and cartoons instead. And I suppose that also demonstrates just how lazy I am. (Did you know that in his book Tao: The Pathless Path, Osho argues that it is irrational to take a pejorative attitude to laziness? He does.) But here’s some music I like, just so you know:

  
And I was thinking tonight about the issue of libido. That became terribly complicated, too. No simple Id response in this neck of the woods, rather a load of twisty paths! And all because I keep feeling inclined to propose to somebody, only I won’t of course. She would never speak to me again if I did, and that would be a shame. Very few people speak to me as it is.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

An Issue of Equality.

I was thinking earlier about those films in which the hero despatches his enemies until he emerges victorious. In such productions we are always guided to believe that the lives of those enemies are of negligible importance, if any at all. But if the hero’s life is threatened, out concern isn’t limited to the deleterious consequences which might ensue upon his demise; we are led to consider his very life itself as being of the utmost consequence.

I no longer find this acceptable. To me, every life – no matter how badly it has been lived – is sacred in its existence and to be mourned in its passing. I would find it hard to envisage a situation in which I could celebrate the taking of any life without some degree of regret. It’s why I no longer watch that sort of film, and why I’m so opposed to capital punishment, and why I find the lynch law mentality one of the bleakest of human failings.

A Note on Promises.

I was discussing the question of promises with my daughter the other day. She was arguing that promises are worthless and therefore not worth making. ‘Comfort for fools’ she called them. (And you think I’m cynical.) I argued that they are worth making as long as you regard them as sacrosanct.

This is a difficult one. I can certainly think of circumstances in which the keeping of a minor promise would have consequences so negative or injurious that the value of breaking it would far outweigh the value of keeping it. In such a circumstance, reason would prevail in favour of the former.

So does that mean a promise really is worthless, or does it simply bring into question the nature of sanctity?

Being Uninvited.

It’s a fact that when some YouTube uploader bills a paranormal documentary with Real proof! Or a film clip with Really funny! Or a piece of music with Best version! – people like me just don’t go there.

People like me? Oh, right. Got it now.

Not Suspending Disbelief.

I watched a clip from the film Troy on YouTube last night. It was a scene in which Brad Pitt – who must have been a Greek because he came from over there somewhere – engaged in a fight to the death with some other bloke – who must have been a Trojan because he came from inside the city where he’d just made his baby cry by saying goodbye to it (which had me wondering whether the dastardly director had devised some diabolical deed to effect the required reaction… But I digress.)

The point is, I couldn’t take it seriously. And you know why? Because Brad Pitt crops up everywhere, especially in news pages reporting the fact that his latest co-star has just become his seventeenth wife, or he’s been arrested in Australia for being in possession of an offensive hairstyle, or something or other equally trivial. He’s one of those people who’s impossible to ignore because the brain dead media won’t allow it, while other brain dead people hold him up as the standard by which to judge what it takes to be regarded as truly successful. In short, he’s famous to the point of being irritatingly ubiquitous.

So I watch this scene in which I’m supposed to believe that he’s a legendary Greek warrior. Only I don’t see a legendary Greek warrior; what I see is an overpaid, overexposed, rather pretty young man who’s probably been in make up since 4am having his hair styled, and who is now responding to the director’s instruction to ‘give me lots of swagger and do mean.’ I see a film star, not a warrior.

It seems that most other people see it differently, which only serves to illustrate that most other people are prepared to suspend disbelief rather more easily than I am. And does it matter? I suppose not. But it does make me wonder whether the modern media and modern film stars are engaged in a process which will ultimately prove to be mutually destructive.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Beer Guzzlers or Absinthe Sippers?

I just watched another of Julian Richards’s TV documentaries on the history of Britain. Tonight’s episode considered how the encroachment of Anglo-Saxon settlement during the 5th and 6th centuries functioned.

Now, I’ve been following this story since I was knee high to an ornamental belt buckle because the whole Anglo-Saxon thing fascinates the hell out of me, and so I know that there’s a great deal of uncertainty on the matter. In fact, we simply don’t know whether it was a process of armed and murderous invasion, or a gentler process of migration and assimilation. A major thrust of historical and archaeological study over the years has been an attempt to estimate how many of the Germanic invaders/settlers came to Britain during that period, and two principal sources have been used:

1. The archaeological record.

2. Genetic testing of the current population of England.

Guess what: the two methods have produced diametrically opposite evidence. According to the archaeological record, the number was very small. According to the genetic evidence, it was huge. So we still don’t know. Oh, well…

Richards did, however, come up with two reasonably reliable conclusions:

1. Early Anglo-Saxon men must have been a right load of wusses (I’m paraphrasing, you understand) because they chose to be buried with grooming sets – combs, razors etc.

2. Some were certainly warriors, though, because one guy was buried with his horse and a dirty great sword that a limp wrist would have had difficulty wielding.

But as Julian remarked with regard to the latter macho type: ‘His legacy lies not so much in his prowess as a warrior, but in his genes.’ Given the evidence so far presented, I was tempted to wonder whether he meant ‘jeans.’

How to Play the Trump Card.

The British parliament recently debated a public petition which had half a million signatures, including mine. It more or less said:

On no account let Donald Trump enter Britain. Syrian refugees are welcome, but Trump would be too much of a bad smell.

The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbin, is against this view. He wants to let Trump in and take him home to meet his wife, who is Mexican, just to demonstrate that even Mexicans can be normal people. (I gather Donald reckons that Mexicans are almost as insufferable – and therefore unwelcome in the land of the free – as Muslims.)

I’ve changed my position. Now I think we should let him in. I think we should take him for a game of golf and trick him into firing a shot into one of his own bunkers, and then when he goes down to play it we should accidentally build an apartment block over the whole site. (Preferably using immigrant labour for the sake of a bit of sweet irony.)

Think of the problems it would save. I mean, Trump might be President of the good old US of A before the year’s out, and then he will be the face of America. What does the rest of the world do then? George Bush was a joke, but at least he was an amusing joke. Trump is just a joke. So what do we do? Pretend that the last two hundred and fifty years didn’t happen and America was just a bad dream? This very issue came up in the parliamentary debate, believe it or not. I have the transcript.

Dreaming In Situ.

It’s an odd experience to fall asleep, then wake into a dream set in the same room and in precisely the same circumstances. It’s what happened to me earlier. When you wake up a second time back in normal reality, you find yourself looking around, wondering whether the people who just visited are still there but invisible. And it’s doubly odd when one of them was a close relative who died twelve years ago, and his companion is completely unknown to you. It encourages further wondering about where reality starts and ends.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Losing the Subtle Touch.

I admit to having a taste for the black American girl bands of the sixties, and something just occurred to me while watching this performance from the Crystals:

  
Women singers (and dancers) in the sixties knew how to do sexy. Seems their modern equivalents only know how to do sex.

'Like One That on a Lonesome Road...'

I’ve been in a disturbed frame of mind all day today, apparently without obvious cause. I’ve tried to describe to myself what it feels like and the best I can come with is that it’s like having something following close behind me, regarding me with malevolent intent and breathing down my neck. I can’t see it or feel its breath, but I do sense a dark disturbance in the vicinity of my energy field. It’s why I haven’t made any posts today; that sort of thing eats away at both the desire and the ability to communicate.

I did wonder whether it might be the woman I thought I saw briefly a few nights ago standing at the foot of my stairs. She was wearing a white gown – maybe Victorian or a little earlier – and she was watching me. I got quite excited at the time. I thought it might be Emily Brontë responding to my invitation to ‘haunt me, then.’ Wouldn’t that be exciting? I’d probably be lost for words if she did.

But would Emily have malevolent intent? She doesn’t strike me as having been a malevolent person, but who knows? If she was happily wandering the moors of Haworth, and then suddenly found herself projected into the house of a complete stranger who just wanted to know whether she had a West Yorkshire accent, she might be a bit miffed.

Or I might just be mentally ill.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Where Lines Cross.

It’s fun reading old posts and the comments they engendered. You get to see how much you’ve changed in six years, and you become reacquainted in spirit with people who drifted into your life and then drifted out again. It produces a sense of relativity: have those people stood still while I’ve moved on, or have I rested on pointless laurels while they progressed? It’s neither, of course. It’s all about trains passing through Clapham Junction.

Declaring the Soul Sister.

It’s late, but maybe not too late for a rare post that has something to say.

I often wonder about the concept of soul groups. Like everything else that’s esoteric and unknowable, it’s attractive but remains mysterious. But here’s something I wrote in a comment reply five and a half years ago:

… the essential problem with loneliness isn’t the aching for contact with other people, but the fact that it further challenges one’s sense of self.

The first question is: how did I get from there to here? Well, it doesn’t really matter; what’s important is that it was the point at which I discovered the priestess. She was only around seventeen at the time, but over the following couple of years she took me to places I’d never visited before and taught me stuff I’d always wanted to understand. Our discussion on that long comment thread installed her into my mind and heart, and she’s still there. She always will be. And maybe I really do mean always.

It occurs to me that I might die at any moment, and there are a few things I would want to be entered onto the record before I do. That’s one of the big ones. And if there’s one reason to give credence to the concept of soul groups, the priestess is it. Such depth over distance would be hard to explain any other way.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

While I Was Away.

The progress of my life during my enforced absence from the blogosphere (I hate British Telecom with a passion, just so you know) consisted of little more than encounters with three ladies and two dogs. Two of the ladies were of little consequence and may be dismissed. Of the two dogs, one was sweet and friendly and wanted to play, while the other was in a belligerent frame of mind and wanted to use me for sport – which isn’t quite the same thing. They were both delightful.

The third lady was of substantial significance. She it was who entered my dream a few nights ago and took me home (I think I might have been a dog at the time, but there was neither mirror nor lamppost in evidence so I can’t be sure.) Yesterday she hurt my feelings dreadfully. I got over it, but then the internet went missing. I intended to go to bed early, but instead woke up in front of a cold computer and retired with ‘good morning, birdies’ on my lips as usual.

You didn’t miss much.

Like Seedless Grapes, Only Orange.

Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed boy?
Where have you been my darling young one?
~Dylan. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall 

I’ve been sulking. My internet was off for 24 hours and I’m nothing without the internet (I’m not much even with it, but without it I am but an empty vessel. I wonder how that came about.) I might make a post later on the progress of my life during the lean period, but for now I just want to mention today’s mystery:

I’m curious to know how supermarkets manage to extract all the flavour from carrots. I wonder whether they have a machine which removes it, then stores it in a vat to be used for making carrot cake or artificial tanning lotion or something. It’s really very clever, and it surprises me that they don’t sell their carrots in bags proudly proclaiming:

PREMIUM FLAVOURLESS CARROTS

… and then charge twice as much for them. Maybe I should write to Sainsbury’s and hope for a commission on the extra profit.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Worthless Words.

I’ve mentioned here before that I dislike being accosted with a ‘hello’ when I walk through the door of a shop. I’m a private sort of person, and I know that the greeting is being made only to serve the diktat of policy, not out of any genuine interest in me or my presence. It’s disingenuous, and I dislike all forms of falseness. The only reason I don’t reply with: ‘Excuse me, do I know you?’ is because it would be churlish in the extreme to discomfit somebody when they’re only doing as they’ve been instructed by a vacuous management.

What I dislike even more, however, is having ‘thank you’ called out to me when I leave empty handed. Thank you for what? I didn’t go into the shop to grace the establishment with my esteemed presence. I went in looking for something I wanted – preferably at the lowest price – and since I didn’t find it, I’m now leaving again. What is there to thank me for? Politeness has its place, but in this case it’s just pointless pandering to contrived form. There’s no worth in that.

*  *  *

By contrast, I watched a film tonight in which Dylan Thomas (who used words rather well) put the skids under the stuffed shirts and puerile academics of Yale University by reciting bawdy Limericks to them. Seems there can be a lot of worth in bawdy Limericks.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Returning to Real.

...we are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
~W.S. The Tempest

The most beautiful woman I ever knew walked into my dream last night. Or rather, she stood outside a window in the sunshine and beckoned, smiling a smile that was warm and open, not guarded as it always was.

I went outside to meet her, whereupon she took my arm and led me through empty streets past untenanted houses to the place she called home. It had a kitchen with a table, and a bedroom with a bed.

And so we sat on the bed and talked of nothing memorable, but her eyes said ‘welcome to my world at last.’

*  *  *

The day that followed was dull and damp and dreary. There was a peevish chill in the air, typical of the sort of day which fails in the task of being properly cold, but which feels all the more frigid for its very lack of identity.

Hoping for Reconciliation.

You might remember that I got the wrong apples for Ben – sharp cooking apples instead of sweet eating ones. He seemed happy with the first one, so today I took the second one for him. He chewed the first piece for quite some time, then dribbled a lot, spat it out and turned his back on me.

I wonder whether horses give you a chance to redeem yourself. Or was that my second chance and I blew it?

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Film with Two FFs.

Do you know what the Welsh word for film is? Ffilm. Being mildly intrigued, I did some research and discovered this bit of lexicographical history:

Once upon a time, somewhere around 1900 I believe, two men were engaged upon important business in a garret room of an old country inn not far from Port Talbot.

‘We have a problem,’ said one man to the other.

‘What’s that?’

‘Have you heard of this new thing called “film”?’

‘Film? Yeah. Pictures on bits of plastic. Clever stuff, boyo; they say it’s going to revolutionise the way we see the world.’

At this juncture, I must point out that the whole conversation was in Welsh. I assumed you’d know that, but just in case… And did you know that the only word that’s the same in Welsh as it is in English is ‘boyo’? Thought not. Anyway, just so you know.

‘So what’s the problem?’ continued the second man.

‘The problem is, we don’t have a word for it.’

‘Yes we do: Film.’

‘No, no, that will never do.’

‘Why not?’

‘It sounds too English. We can’t have a Welsh word that’s the same as an English word, now can we?’

‘What about “boyo”?’

‘Ah, but they got that word from us.’

‘Did they?’

‘Yup.’

‘Oh, right. Never knew that. OK, so what do you suggest we call this film thing?’

‘Ffilm.’

‘F-film.’

‘Yup.’

‘Why f-film?’

‘It’s got two fs in it. All words with two fs in them are Welsh.’

‘What, like “diffuse”?’

‘No, no. “Diffuse” has two fs in the middle. What I mean is that only Welsh words have two fs at the beginning.’

‘What about “Llandaff?” That has two fs at the end. We could call it “filmff.” That would sound really Welsh.’

‘No, it wouldn’t. It would sound really silly.’

‘But “ffilm” looks really silly.’

‘No, it doesn’t. It looks really Welsh. Like Blaenau Ffestiniog.’

‘Mmm, suppose you’re right.’

‘Agreed then?’

‘Agreed.’

So that’s the story of how the Welsh film industry, or Ffilm Cymru as they like to be known, got its name. And I interrupted a f(f)ilm about Dylan Thomas to tell it. I did, really.

(And how fortunate it was that George Formby wasn't born Welsh, or we would have had to endure songs with lines like I'm lleaning on a llamppost at the corner of the street in case a certain llitle llady comes by. His audiences would have needed umbrellas.)

J'Accuse Monsieur Poe.

A few nights ago I finished reading Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Mystery of Marie Roget. It’s a murder mystery, and it took a long time to read because it requires ploughing through what feels like about ten thousand pages of tortuous (read: ‘maddeningly pedantic’) explanation by Monsieur Dupin – a precursor in both style and logic of Sherlock Holmes – as to why the police and press have got it all wrong. He finally concludes that it was probably the mysterious naval officer what done it. And then we get an editor’s comment to the effect that (and I paraphrase for the sake of blessed brevity): ‘The police were impressed.’

Is that good enough? I don’t think so.

Ways of Seeing.

Do you realise that no two persons’ version of reality is quite the same? I, for example, can never understand why some people like snow. If ever I manage to get a seat in the god realm – which I think I might after maybe another thousand or so lifetimes (I need to become a lot more intelligent, a lot wiser, a lot less neurotic, and a lot more tolerant of simians pretending to be human) – I intend to raise a motion in committee: all snow to be banned outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. Polar Bears and penguins are welcome to all there is.

It’s bloody cold in my house tonight.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

A Note on Magic.

I've decided that magic has nothing to with card tricks or levitation. Magic is when something conveys a deep significance, even though you can't work out why - like the name Zoe and the song Golden Brown. And being called 'Jeffrey' when Venus is an evening star. And hot buttered toast at midnight.

I have a new kettle. It's shiny and works.

Shooting Up.

Writing can be addictive. It is with me, which is why I started this blog when the stories ran out. It has the same twin characteristics: the high when something is written, followed by an increasing sense of restlessness as time passes without producing something new to write about. It’s why I sometimes write rubbish that is even more rubbishy than the usual rubbish. It’s why I’m writing this.

I have three other addictions. One day I might be so gorged on cold turkey that I’ll write about them.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Still Friends.

I made a mistake and got the wrong apples for Ben. Ben is a retired old hunter who lives in the field at the top of the lane, and he likes apples. For some weeks now I’ve been keeping one in my coat pocket in case he’s near the gate when I walk past, and I’ve been using up the seemingly endless stock which came off the apple tree last year.

The stock wasn’t endless. They’ve all gone now, so I got some from the supermarket because it would be quite unthinkable to walk past the gate without giving dear old Ben his treat. But I made a mistake and bought cooking apples, which aren’t as sweet as the eating variety.

Today he had his first Bramley apple, and my heart was in my mouth. Would he spit it out and walk away, never to speak to me again? I waited as he chewed, then gave him a second piece, and a third, and the fourth. He ate them all, and then tried to headbutt me and bite my nose as he always does. So that was OK.

Eschewing Balance.

Back in the mid-90s I was doing a college course leading to a Higher National Certificate in Business Studies. (Business? Yeah, I know. But anyway…) We had to do a project requiring us to assess the pros and cons of privatising British Rail (which was a public body back then.) So I did, and I came up with eight reasons against and one for. I got low marks because, said the Head of Department, my conclusions weren’t ‘balanced.’ I argued:

‘Why do they need to be balanced? I’ve assessed all the factors known to me and made a rational case against privatisation in the ratio of 8:1. Isn’t that how you come up with decisions?’

The Head of Department accepted my reasoning and gave me high marks. That was Round 1 in the bag.

And I’m still doing it. I was walking around Ashbourne the other day considering the question:

‘Abba and Simon & Garfunkel were both commercially successful groups in the 60s and 70s. Compare and contrast.’ So I did (in between prosecuting my search for a heavy woollen sweater in the charity shops and enjoying the rare treat of having double cream with my Americano.)

They were both appealingly tuneful, which largely, I suggest, accounts for their more-or-less equivalent success in the mainstream market. The difference, I would further suggest, lay in what underpinned them. Abba were largely about glamorous image – they were leading lights in the glam rock movement. Simon & Garfunkel were about lyrics – they were the advanced guard of the art rock movement. Where Abba had ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight,’ S & G had ‘All lies and jest, ’til a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.’ The bottom line, I think, is Paul Simon. He was the difference. And that’s why Abba now sound dated, where Simon and Garfunkel don’t. It’s a matter of long legs vs poetry. Bubblegum vs Dolcelatte. No balance; no need. The winner:


(And there’s a deeper philosophical argument around the question of qualitative judgement, which probably means I’m wrong. That’s life.)

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Spotting Genius and Personality.

I was in a shop the other day and heard a song which reminded me of something The Borg posted to her Tumblr recently (and her blog some months before, if I’m not mistaken. Is that cheating? Probably not – different media. OK. To continue…)

‘This is much better quality than the usual mindless drivel they serve up in shops,’ I thought. ‘I’ll see whether anybody knows what it is.’

I found two young women assistants who looked like they might know about such things.

‘Excuse me. Are you into modern rock and pop music?’

They shrugged, but I persevered.

‘Do you know what this music is? It reminds me of an Icelandic rock band whose name escapes me.’

‘No,’ they both answered without so much as an apology.

‘You’re hopeless,’ I concluded (and said) and went off to buy some instant noodles (25p a pack: cheap lunch.)

So last night I did some detecting and found the name of the band, and then I set about searching YouTube. I didn’t find the track I was after, but I did find this rather splendid video to another one:

Unfortunately, the YouTube (by Google) search in the Blogger (by Google) system doesn't pick up this video. Do click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAI5GSyXMjA. It's worth it. 

In my opinion, this is close to genius; and what makes it so – also in my opinion – is its very simplicity. Two young women, obviously twin sisters, lip synching to the lyrics and occasionally breaking into a frantic yet co-ordinated dance. And all in monochrome. What could be simpler? But it works brilliantly, because (again in my opinion… pft…) the combination of energy, expression, compatibility with the music, and simplicity of image makes it utterly compelling. And it’s fascinating to watch the two girls’ eyes and assess the difference in their natures. It is. Believe me. Look at the final scene.

An Anniversary.

Thought I might mention that I started writing this blog six years ago this very night.

(Still paraphrasing A Christmas Carol, I see.)

‘Sorry. If I can make it last another year, I’ll be able to quote it exactly.’

So should I write some kind of retrospective? Nope; I’m far too lazy for that. And besides, my head is a lot more screwed up than it was six years ago. All I’ll say is that writing a blog for six years has shown me two things:

1. What a complex and flawed creature I am.

2. How much a person can change in six years, mostly becoming more irritatingly complex and depressingly flawed.

I’d greatly recommend the writing of a blog to anyone who wants to know themselves better and isn’t too concerned about the issue of self-esteem. And I hope this goes some way to balancing the wordy and turgid bio that was my first post on 14th January 2010.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Putting the Record Straight.

One of several theories about the meaning of the lyrics to this classic has it that it’s all about the sinking of the Titanic. I like that one. The sinking of the Titanic gives me the shudders – shipwrecks always do – so it’s nice to add a bit of a chill to the hearing of it.

  
Did I mention once that the captain of the Titanic, Captain Smith, came from my home town? He grew up very close to the first house I lived in as a baby. And it’s still popularly thought that he was the villain of the piece – the irresponsible skipper who pressed on regardless of the known risks. I gather it isn’t true; it was all the Americans’ fault, apparently. Something to do with big money being at stake – corporate pressure, and all that. I forget the fine details; I always do.

And I’m not having an anti-America day today, as the blog might seem to indicate. I’m just being mischievous because I find being sensible so difficult.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

On Cuteness and Reality.


You’re supposed to find this image cute. Here’s a plump little bird looking happy and well fed, holding centre stage in the prettiness of a winter scene. It’s one of the most ubiquitous of the themes used on British Christmas cards – because people find it cute.

I don’t find it cute. What I see is a wild creature trying to find food where there is little, if any, to be found. It needs food in order to make it through the night and live another day, and it doesn’t have much time to find it because the period of daylight is so short. And the reason it looks plump isn’t because it’s well fed, it’s because puffing out the feathers is the only means the bird has to insulate itself against the cold that threatens to kill it. Whether it’s happy or not I wouldn’t know, but I should think it’s more likely to be desperate.

Putting the Wind up the Birdies.

My regular habit of feeding the birds has resulted in there being a flock of House Sparrows, about two dozen strong, which have become (or so it seems) dependant on me. They sit on the hedge top like a veritable tribe of little Woodstocks, waiting for me to take the seed and rolled oats out.

So today I said to them: ‘Do you want to know who really comes out when the moon is full?’ They cocked their heads in curiosity.

Werejeffrey!’ I cried, at which point they screeched mightily and flew away.

The final statement was a lie, and even the joke isn’t mine. Credit is due to Mr Schultz, whose splendid cartoon strip went some way towards ameliorating the bad reputation bestowed upon American culture by Walt Disney, fast food giants, the NRA, and Donald Trump. And it isn’t always easy to find something to say on a blog.