Saturday, 27 February 2016

Needing a Copy Editor.

Do you know what’s both annoying and embarrassing? Reading a post you made twenty four hours earlier and finding there’s a word missing. You realise that there’s a whole bunch of people out there scratching their heads and saying ‘What the hell did that sentence mean? I don’t understand. Do you think he’s Chinese or something, like one of those people who write instruction booklets for electronic gadgets?’

Well now, there’s a consideration…

Excusing My Adopted People.

Mel doesn’t share my enthusiasm for China and the Chinese. It seems there are a lot of Chinese students at her university, and she constantly has to dodge those walking towards her because they don’t appear to understand the basic courtesy of both parties giving way on an equal basis.

I suggested it might be because they come from Beijing where there are ten people per square metre and they can’t see each other anyway due to the smog. She wasn’t convinced.

On Achievement and a Philosophical Clash.

‘What did you achieve?’ they ask, ‘they’ being the people whose attitudes accord with received cultural norms.

‘What do you hope to achieve?’

‘State how you will achieve your goals.’

‘List what you see as your achievements in your previous position.’

Achievement, achievement, achievement is the watchword in our modern, dynamic culture, and there’s nothing wrong with achievement to those who are driven to achieve. It can be, and often is, laudable. But does it have to claim the right of exclusivity?

What of those who, like me, are not driven by achievement but by the need to experience as much as can be experienced in the prevailing circumstances? Does it have to be the case that those who achieve little in the accepted sense but seek to experience much in the living of a life should be considered failures?

It seems to me that this question is symptomatic of the clash between Confuscianist and Taoist ideology, and the modern world is essentially Confuscianist in its understanding of success. Seems I’m a Taoist at heart, even though I decline labels.

Friday, 26 February 2016

A Chinese Limerick.

There was a young fellow called Wang
Who stepped on a pin and went bang
His people said 'Oh,
What a sad way to go
He needed more yin and less yang'

On Rebellions, Humour and Late Good Ideas.

I made reference in a recent post to the Boxcar Rebellion in China. It occurred to me that it might have precipitated a comment thread along the lines of:

It isn’t Boxcar, dummkopf, it’s Boxer.

‘I know. I was emulating Sellars and Yeatman.’

Who are Sellars and Yeatman, and in what way were you emulating them?

‘They wrote, among other things, 1066 and All That, in which they frequently made use of malapropisms – the humorous technique of replacing one word with another that sounds similar but means something completely different. For example, they say that King Henry I of England died of a surfeit of palfreys, when he actually died after being taken ill following an overindulgence of lampreys.’

So why is using the wrong word funny?

‘I don’t know. You’d have to ask a humour theorist that. Why is the white-horse-called-Kevin joke funny? It just is.’

Well, I think you’re stupid.

‘So now you’re casting nasturtiums.’

What?

‘Never mind. You wouldn’t understand.’

But back to the start of it all – Michael Woods’ documentary series on China. I thought last week’s episode was the finish, but it wasn’t. This week’s was, and this week’s was all about rebellions between 1850 and 1950. There was a man called Wong who started the Tie Pin Rebellion, and who was doing quite well until he lost. Then they mixed his ashes with some gunpowder and fired them out of a canon to ensure that he never smiled again. This gave me a good idea, more of which later.

There was an awful lot about Mao – the rise of Mao, the dissolution of Mao, the resurgence of Mao, the Maoist repression, the death of Mao, and how some people in China still think Mao was a pretty good chap and continue to celebrate his birthday. He even inspired a song:

One man went to Mao, went to Mao a meadow.

(I sincerely regret having written that, but I’m a warts and all type.)

Michael’s final summing up was some confusing stuff about how China is now the most successful capitalist economy in the history of the world, is still administered as a socialist state, has a rosy future planned for the next thirty years, and that’s what the world needs most. I had trouble following that bit.

The Good Idea:

I wonder why some manufacturer of fireworks doesn’t offer a (seriously profitable) service to the bereaved – send us your loved one’s ashes and we’ll add them to our mixture and send you a selection of rockets back. Then you can watch them light up the sky and go bang and things. Makes a fine accompaniment to fried rice and bamboo shoots at Chinese New Year.

I wonder whether it would take off. That’s a kind of pun.

I expect somebody somewhere, probably southern California, has been doing it for years. I always was the second person to have a good idea.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

A Chinese Idyll.

I realise that this sort of music isn’t to everybody’s taste, but the trick is to ignore the video. Instead, close your eyes and imagine fisher boats on the Yangtze, cormorants preening themselves on little rocky islands, bamboo swaying lazily in balmy breezes, and happy rustic peasants eating platefuls of Chicken Chow Mein which the more liberal post-Mao government has allowed them to import from California.


An Everyday JJ Faux-Pas.

I’ve long been possessed of the notion that every single person in the English-speaking world has read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, watched the movie, watched the TV series, and probably listened to the radio series as well. I am, therefore, unrealistically convinced that everybody but everybody is familiar with every notable line in Mr Adams’s august creation. And that’s why I said to a young woman assistant in Sainsbury’s today:

‘Talk to me, doll. I’m from another planet.’

Now, I’m the first to admit that it’s a pretty outrageous thing for an ageing, balding, laughably unprepossessing example of the masculine gender to say to one of Sainsbury’s more attractive young female staff. It is; I know it is. I’m not stupid, just careless. And I do – believe it or not – have a defence:

She looked like she needed rescuing. She was being followed around by a most irritating elderly male colleague who was insistently whingeing work related trivia to her, and she honestly looked like she’d had enough. She did; I swear it; reading body language is one of the few things I’m reasonably good at. And I’d already realised how irritating this guy was because he’d just irritated me with an irritatingly inept reply to a query and I’d been moved to speak sharply to him. That’s unusual in Sainsbury’s. I’ve done it lots of times in Homebase, but Sainsbury’s staff are more amenable than Homebase staff and I’m always polite and friendly with them (unless they’re managers, of course; they’re fair game.)

So anyway, I realised the moment I’d said it that the young woman might never have heard of Hitchhikers, much less been familiar with one of Zaphod’s better lines. ‘That’s a quotation from a book, by the way,’ I hurriedly exclaimed, and I think I got away with it.

And it served to show yet again that some things never change. My habit of pressing the throttle before my brain is in gear is one of them. I’ve had more eye rolls and head shakes than most people have had chip butties, and I suppose it’s just the way of things.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Echoing Mr Adams.

I've come to the tentative conclusion that the best definition of success in this fitful fever called life is when you stop playing Marvin and start being Marvin.

Would you like me to fall apart where I'm standing, or should I go and rust away quietly in the corner?

Quite.

This is some way removed from my normal taste in music, and yet there's something oddly compelling about it. That's why I've listened to it twice.

Mindless.

Just for a laugh, you can have a look at my blog’s Pageviews-according-to Blogger-Stats for the past week.



Pathetic, isn’t it. I must be doing something right for a change.

And it’s an odd fact that when the mind is labouring through dark places, beset by doubt and confusion, it suffers the irresistible urge to bombard innocent people with streams of trivial consciousness that are rational enough in themselves, yet totally devoid of relevance to anything at all.

The Venerable Borg is currently reading Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. I would, too, if only I could find a mind to read it with.

And I got a right slapping on YouTube last night from a sassy young girl who looked to be about 12, judging by her profile pic. My reply was gentle, polite and conciliatory, which it wouldn’t have been had she been a man. Mel accused me of sexism, but I don’t think so. The creature was probably pre-pubescent and therefore a child, not a female. Besides, aren’t 12-year-old girls supposed to be given to uttering streams of consciousness that are relevant enough, but not exactly rational?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

An Equine Obituary.

I’ve mentioned Ben on this blog before. Ben was Ange’s old hunter who lived in retirement at the top of the lane and to whom I used to feed apples, having to make sure they were sweet ones or risk losing his favour. He was 29. The last time I saw him was a few days ago when he declined the final piece of the quartered apple I offered. He had little muscle mass left on his rump, seemed to be having difficulty chewing, and didn’t look happy. Yesterday he took the final journey, and it seemed a poignant fact that I was left with one apple still to give him.

I recounted the amusing story recently of how he used to steal the hats of walkers crossing his field. Apparently he was quite the character in the hunt, too. Wherever he was in the pack, he would race at breakneck speed until he reached the front and then nip the lead horse, presumably to establish his primacy. Ange said that all she could do was give him his head and stay onboard. He was strong and wilful in everything he did, but never dangerous as long as you could handle the ride. It was a privilege knowing him.

Monday, 22 February 2016

YouTube and the Kafka Connection.

There’s a section in my ‘Recommendations’ on YouTube entitled Based on things you’ve watched. If logic serves me right, I think it would be reasonable to assume that the videos they are offering for my approval should have some relevance to things I’ve watched. That’s what it says on the can so that’s what I should get, right? It isn’t too far-fetched is it, even for a weirdo like me? So why does the very first offering show a picture of a supine, half naked woman clutching her breasts and screwing her eyes up, while the title of the video writ in big letters reads: 10 Weird Facts About Orgasms?

Let me say this: If I still had an aged aunt (which I don’t, unfortunately, because they’ve all gone now and left me entirely deficient in the aged aunt department, but if I did…) I would be perfectly happy for her to drop in unexpectedly and peruse my YouTube history going back to the year dot and have not the remotest fear of being discovered in the slightest impropriety vis-à-vis my watching habits. That’s a fact. I’m clean, man.

Only she wouldn’t, would she? She would only get as far as page one (recommendations based on things I’ve supposedly watched) and erupt into exclamations of great disgust and severity.

‘Jeffrey! What have you been up to late at night, you grubby little rapscallion? What would your dear mother think of such behaviour? If she weren’t already with the angels, this would send her to them as surely as you are guaranteed to join the Devil’s brood. Take thyself hence immediately and scrub every offensive little part of you with carbolic soap and a very strong scrubbing brush, or there’ll be no peace for you, my lad, not as long as I am here to forge your moral fortitude. Make sure the water is well bleached and has ice crystals in it. And if I receive intelligence ever again of such sordid, delinquent mischief, my tongue will be sharp and my scissors sharper.’

‘But Aunt Alice, I haven’t…’

‘No lies, you reprobate! The truth is there for all to see. Away with you, and do not presume to sully my presence further until your skin is glowing crimson with wholesomeness.’

But it isn’t the truth, is it? I’m innocent of the charges. And if I wrote to Google and asked ‘Where the hell do you get the idea that I watch this sort of stuff?’ they wouldn’t answer, would they? They never do. 

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Refraining.

I just listened to Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring on YouTube. It was pleasant, but then I read a comment from some clown who said:

Bach composed this with God.

Well, what do you say to that?

Really? How do you know?

But I didn’t. I didn’t. I must learn to be more tolerant of people who subscribe to cults, however outlandish.

Addendum to the Referendum.

I just had a thought. If we Brits were to pull out of the EU, would it mean that all those nice Poles and Romanians and Latvians and Croatians I’ve met over the past few years will have to go home? I don’t think I’d like that very much. Not only would it be a shame, it would also be a bit cruel to both sides. (One of them made the experience of buying this year's appointments calendar in Derby market a delight. She did, she did, really. I even went back to make sure she wasn't a fantastical product of my troubled mind.) And besides, they make Britain more cosmopolitan, and history does rather indicate that cosmopolitan places tend to be more interesting.

OK, that’s another reason for voting in. They’re building up.

The EU Referendum in YouTube-ese.

It seems we Brits are going to get a vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union (EU.)

(I put the EU bit in because that’s what the BBC News people do. It’s completely unnecessary and a bit irritating, but I do so like to follow established Establishment norms.)

Those very BBC News people were out and about today, interviewing people about how they were likely to vote. I wish I’d been out and about and got myself interviewed because I had my response all ready. Since I didn’t, I suppose I’d better put it in writing instead, and I further suppose I ought to use an appropriate style.

Yeah mate. Out in it. Wot I think we shud do is put all these fukin foriners on a bunch of tranes goin bak to fukin frogy land and then fil in our arf of the chanal tunal with conkreet. Then we shud go to war with the frogs and crowts and ities and fukin daygos and when weev beeten them we shud nook the hole of eesten urop cuz they aint worth nowin in it. No wot I meen.

One woman who was interviewed said she was undecided because she wanted to understand the economic ramifications first. Was she kidding? This is complex High Economics we’re talking about here. Even the high economists who went to university disagree on the ramifications. Good luck, madam.

I think this is a gut feeling issue. I do, and my gut feeling says stay in. I’ve come to quite like being European, even though I had doubts at first. I’ve learned that some foreigners are nice people, and it takes me one step closer to the Daming Palace at Xi’an.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Humour a la Cathay.

To continue the China theme, I just remembered a little something from when I was a kid. Whenever China or the Chinese came up in conversation, my mother would trot out the same old line:

Who flung dung at Cheung? Or it might be written Hu flung dung at Cheung!

And then she would titter. It kept her amused for years, and it even impressed me at the time. What didn’t impress me more recently, however, was the fact that I never heard Michael Wood in his History of China use the name Cathay. That’s a shame because I like the name Cathay. One of my favourite early blog posts was a one-liner called ‘The Chinese Wuthering Heights’:

Oh Heathcliff! Oh Cathay!

I remember Lucy Wu from Sydney, NSW being amused by it. She didn’t get the white-horse-called-Kevin joke, though, which just goes to show that while Chinese people might not be inscrutable, they do appear to lack the capacity to appreciate oddball humour.

Being Denied the Best Bit.

Here’s what’s annoying:

Having been engrossed by Michael Wood’s documentary series The Story of China over recent weeks, I fell asleep ten minutes before the end of tonight’s final episode (I’ve been up earlier than usual several times this week and I find making excuses very easy.)

Tonight’s episode was about the Qing* Dynasty, who started off as brutal Manchu invaders (yet more barbarians from the north – seems the best place in the world to live would be Svalbard, then you’d never have to worry about being troubled by barbarians from the north since polar bears and the odd lunatic Arctic explorer don’t count) but then produced the very best of emperors and a good time was had by all. Until, that is, the British turned up in the 18th century and set about trying to turn the Chinese into a bunch of opium addicts.

So why did the good old Brits do this? Well, just standard good old British trading tactics really, and all very innocent. The Brits, you see, wanted China tea and lots of it because Mr Wedgwood had invented the teacup and Brits had gone ape over these new things called ‘hot drinks.’ Ah, but in order to avoid an imbalance of trade they needed to sell something back. Problem: being a much older and more sophisticated culture than anything in Europe, there wasn’t anything the Chinese wanted to buy. They were quite happy to sell us tea, but they declined to buy Wedgwood vases in return because they said Ming ones were better, which they probably were.

Such rank unfairness was not to be tolerated, and so some Brit or other came up with a good idea. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘let’s get them hooked on opium. They haven’t got any of that, have they?’ And so they hadn’t, but the British had lots of the lovely stuff because they controlled the opium fields in India. What a good idea…

…only the Chinese authorities didn’t like it. Having their good people turned into a nation of smack heads was simply not cricket and so they set about giving the Brits a bloody nose, at which point I fell asleep just when it was getting interesting. I suspect, however, that the bloody nose precipitated general fisticuffs and probably had something to do with the Boxcar Rebellion, whatever that was. And it’s probably why the British invented the prejudice that the Chinese are inscrutable, which isn’t true. Chinese eyes are every bit as expressive as European eyes, only in a more subtle way. Learning to read the emotional outpourings of Chinese eyes has been a source of much delight to me over the past few weeks and continues so to do. And now for the footnote:

* I went onto a forum concerned with Chinese pronunciation to find out how Qing should be pronounced. There were five answers given, all purportedly coming from Chinese people. They were:

Cheeng
Ching (which was Michael Wood’s preferred option.)
Chen
Quing
Zhang

I suppose there’s a reason for the variation, but life isn’t getting any easier.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

One Job at a Time.

The following are three signs seen in shop windows or by instore displays in Uttoxeter, shown exactly as seen:

In the print and copy shop:

Print’s 50p

In a charity shop:

Vynle Records £2

And today’s offering in another charity shop:

Volenteer’s
Needed

So what does one do about such wanton abuse of the beautiful language? Nothing, I think. Having already been honoured with the title of Sainsbury’s Most Prolific Complainer, I think it would be a little greedy to pitch for Chief Smart Alec of All Uttoxeter as well. I resisted manfully. I did.

Smiles and the Ad Man.

You know which ads I hate the most? The ones where squeaky-clean family members do those ridiculously overdone smiles (usually while exulting, zombie-like, over a steaming plateful of some revolting chemical concoction masquerading as food.)

They’re fake, transparently so. Anybody with half a gram of body language awareness must see it immediately, and we all know that fake smiles are more of a turn-off than a turn-on.

Don’t the advertisers realise that? Am I weird?

The Genius of Motherhood.

A woman admitted her greatest source of guilt to me today. She said that when her son was a child she used to tell him that the ice cream man’s jingle meant he had no ice cream left. She omitted to say whether this was because she’d fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford the cost of an ice cream, or whether she was just plain evil. In either case, however, I couldn’t help feeling a certain degree of respect for her ingenuity.

On Cars and Status.

I was looking at the prestige cars in Ashbourne today and a thought struck me. As soon as somebody buys a car that is a little ‘above’ the everyday, everyman model, they’re declaring themselves to be a player in the status game. And the problem with the status game is that while it permits a declaration of superiority towards some people, it also requires the admission of inferiority towards others. Frankly, I don’t see the point. Unless you can afford the most expensive car available, you might just as well buy the cheapest and declare yourself to be at least unpretentious.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Wealth:Experience Equation.

I had three posts lined up over the past couple of days, but didn’t make them because I wasn’t in the mood for writing. And now I’ve quite forgotten what they were about. That’s the problem with being impulsive: easy come, easy go.

But today the priestess told me I should go to China. She’s right (she usually is.) I should, but there’s a barrier in three parts: penury, debt and principle. And as Spike Milligan once wrote, China’s a bloody long way!

The problem is, I’ve never been a seeker of wealth but rather a seeker of experiences, and experiences rarely pay in any currency other than their own. I always chose to do voluntary work in an environment which was conducive to my nature than paid work in an environment which wasn’t. It’s an HSP thing.

But it means that now I want the experience of witnessing Chinese culture at first hand, I can’t have it. Isn’t that ironic?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Perverse.

Something I’ve noticed in this often absurd and frequently incomprehensible process called life is that if you’re unhappy enough for long enough it becomes a habit which turns into not only an expectation, but a need.

And I do wish people would stop confusing the words ‘perverse’ and ‘perverted.’ They’re very different. It reminds me of the time when a paediatrician’s house was attacked by a mob because they'd heard she was a paedophile.

Missing the Balanced View.

I’ve been watching a documentary series in which a group of ageing British celebrities go off to ‘discover’ India. It was full of wide-eyed wonder and effusive enthusiasm, as you would expect of people who have spent their lives being dramatic, and at the end they were all adamant that they loved India mightily and would definitely be going back. I’m not being cynical when I say that it occurred to me more than once that they had the benefit of money behind them, so they could afford to have polite young men driving them around in brand new vehicles and a string of friendly hosts pandering to their every whim in their thirst for novelty and a reason to grow old gracefully.

I’m sure the celebrities were genuine enough in their reactions, and so I mean no criticism of either them or the country. But it didn’t seem quite right, somehow; I didn’t feel I was getting a balanced picture. I remember Mel telling me how terrified she was when she went on a Buddhist pilgrimage some years ago and found herself being driven for miles up a rough mountain road with wild switchbacks and 1000ft drops in a rusty old Land Rover with holes in the floor.

I expect India has good features and bad features as anywhere does, and that both are exotic in their own way simply for being profoundly unfamiliar. And it’s much easier to see the unfamiliar as exotic when you’re secure in comfortable hotels and posh cars and everybody is being nice to you because that’s what they’re there for.

The only correspondence I ever had with an Indian domiciled in India was with a woman who told me that westerners have a ludicrously romanticised view of her country. She was a very astute person who could express a great deal of meaning in a very few words, so I’m inclined to believe her (and I miss her delightfully succinct correspondence, by the way.) I suppose it’s just a matter of accepting that TV travelogues are inclined to paint out the warts because warts aren’t very entertaining. Seeing celebrities crying with happy, if maybe a little naïve, wonderment is.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Non-Mandarin Mumbles.

Low spirits tonight: circumstances, you know.

I searched YouTube for some music that would either match the mood or cure it. No joy there. Instead I found a Chinese documentary about the building of an imperial palace somewhere in China, followed by re-enactments of court protocol and suchlike with the Emperor and Empress taking centre stage.

The commentary was in Chinese (Mandarin, I assume) and it had subtitles – in Chinese (Mandarin, I assume.) Some help. But at least the date was in Roman numerals so I knew it was Tang Dynasty. That helped a bit.

It was sumptuous and I said so in a comment. There were no other comments, not even in Mandarin – which doesn’t seem right, does it? The Emperor died at the end and there followed a whole two minutes of credits in what I assumed was Mandarin. I sat through them because I’m like that. The world is a strange and disturbing shape at the moment.

*  *  *

Tonight’s beer says on the label:

… with a European combination of Slovenian hops and a unique German finish.

Sounds dubious. I think I might stop breathing for a while and see what happens.

Friday, 12 February 2016

China and the Gaining of Wisdom.

So what did Michael Wood have to say about the Ming dynasty in his series The Story of China tonight? Lots, but it was a general point about Chinese history which most caught my attention.

He pointed out that China never showed any inclination to be expansionist. This was because they saw the country itself as the world and everything beyond as alien. They were happy to trade with the west, but they were never interested in building an empire.

He read some extracts from the memoirs of a Dutchman (or he might have been Portuguese, I don’t remember) who loved the culture so much that he learned the language and settled there, and who expressed the opinion that China’s lack of the expansionist imperative was their only flaw. Says a lot about the European mentality, doesn’t it?

And while I’m on the subject of China (my favourite at the moment as you might have noticed) I saw Coco walking across the town today. She became the latest to demonstrate what is becoming a trend in my associations with young women.

Our eyes meet across an uncrowded marketplace and remain locked for a span of time that is brief and yet seemingly suffused with significance. I wave and they don’t. It can be quite disconcerting.

The Sense of Silence.

There have been several times since I’ve lived in this house when I experienced profound silence. No singing of birds or calling of animals, no traffic on the lane, no aircraft passing overhead, no wind to persuade the trees to whisper, no hint of human activity, nothing. Only silence.

I’m prepared to change the verb from ‘experienced’ to ‘felt.’ It’s palpable. But how can it be so described when there is no external sensation, as there is with wind and rain and the heat of the sun? I don’t know, and yet I’m half convinced that silence has an energy of its own, an energy so subtle that it makes its presence evident only to consciousness – two manifestations of an energy so rarefied that it resides in the last outpost of reality before the abstract, and yet is strong enough to move the mind to a sense of wonder.

I remember having the same experience as a child, only on those occasions I fancied I could hear a gentle hum somewhere inside, and sometimes I thought I could discern a hint of magenta in the air. I remember saying to my mother that it was like the calm before a thunderstorm.

The internal hum and the coloured air have gone now. Now I just experience the sensation, so does that represent a coming of age or the losing of a gift? I don’t know, but I expect the only reason my mother didn’t sell me to the first passing yogi she met was the fact that yogis were even rarer in my neck of the woods than the energy of silence.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Prospects.

More trouble with YouTubers. I swear some of those guys go searching language learning facilities looking for Swiss. Still, one of them did reply to one of my comments today with:

HaHaHaHa

I like that sort – proves they’re on a wavelength.

And I was thinking today that if I had my time over again I would travel more in my twenties, and then become a choreographer. Movement fascinates me. Or maybe I would be a musician because music fascinates me, too. Or a writer, because words fascinate me. (Oh, I did that one. OK)

In my next life I’ll have to be a goatherd so that I can meet the priestess in the mountains as promised. Or a bandit with a heart and a bandit bandana. Or a Nepalese Mountain Frog waiting to be kissed (I made that one up. I've never actually heard of a Nepalese Mountain Frog, and I'm not sure that priestesses kiss frogs anyway.)

(Tonight’s scotch is Sainsbury’s Basics, by the way. It’s cheap and alarmingly basic.)

... or maybe a lama with a touch of cool:

Habits and Tastes.

You know, I was sitting here all poised to watch the latest Chinese dance video on YouTube - the one that blew me to the four quarters of creation and continues to have a similar effect even after quite a few watchings - when I noticed an oddity on my bank statement (it’s sitting on my desk waiting to be balanced with my own record and things…) I had to investigate, didn’t I? It’s some way past midnight, the Guinness Foreign Extra mega strong stuff is going down nicely, and here I am investigating an oddity on my bank statement.

And my last post was really serious.

Where will it end? Oh for the days of ditties…

I know, I’ll watch the dance now. And I’ll post it here just in case there’s anybody out there whose tastes are as far side as mine and would like to accompany me to the four quarters of creation. (The chorus girls are cute and doll-like, the woman in white is wild and wilful and bloody fabulous - note how she kicks the drum with her back foot - and the music is very Chinese and rather powerful.)


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Declaring the Ignoble.

I recently heard a character in an American TV drama (and bear in mind that this character was neither extremist nor fruitcake, but somebody whose view we were supposed to take seriously and respect) say in support of capital punishment:

What you must understand is that certain people just shouldn’t be on this planet, and they have to be executed.

Seriously? Shouldn’t be on this planet?

The first thing I would have to ask is ‘What person or group of persons is arrogant enough to believe they have the right to decide who should and shouldn’t be on this planet?’ Islamic jihadists upholding a belief system? American judges upholding a statute? Fascist despots upholding self-interest? They all believe they’re justified.

The second point is that this is a pretty dangerous point of view. If my memory of recent history serves me correctly, there was a group of people in Europe in the 1930s who believed that Jews shouldn’t be on this planet. Were they right?

Ah, but now I’m going to irrational extremes, aren’t I? Am I? So tell me where the line should be drawn. Should we in a supposedly Christian country draw the line on the wrong side of Jews, Muslims and atheists because their denial of Jesus’s divinity makes them undesirable? Should we arrange the secular transgressors such as traitors, murderers, fraudsters, pickpockets, football hooligans and internet trolls on a sliding scale, then stick a pin into the chart to mark the applicable level? Who but a megalomaniac could truly believe that he or she is qualified to do so?

It’s interesting that this statement was made in an American TV show. As I understand it, America prides itself on being the most Christian country on earth. It even puts In God we Trust on its banknotes. So wouldn’t it be reasonable to suppose that the overwhelming majority of Americans (those who are neither extremists nor fruitcakes) should take the view that there is only one Being in the whole of the universe who has the right to decide who should and shouldn’t be on His planet?

The most famous hangman in Britain was a man called Albert Pierrepoint. He spent the whole of his working life sending people to the drop, and a the end of his career, after reason and the weight of public opinion had persuaded the politicians to abolish capital punishment for murder, he wrote his memoirs. In it he expressed the view that after a lifetime of judicially killing people and ruminating on the fact, he had concluded that the only justification for the death penalty is revenge.

Fine. Even though I disagree with such an abject sentiment as the revenge motive, it does make a kind of sense. I think it would be heartening, therefore, if proponents would admit the fact and stop resorting to arrogant and self-righteous platitudes in the belief that their cause is somehow noble.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Denied by Moments of Clarity.

I was going to make another post about the HSP phenomenon today. It was going to be entitled ‘Being an HSP and the Effect This Has on Conversations about the Weather.’ But then I had one of those rare moments of clarity when I realise that nobody is really interested in anything I have to say, so I didn’t.

But at least Tesco got its act sorted out over its faulty stock record vis-à-vis towels. Did I mention I had a problem in the matter of Tesco and the Charcoal Towels? I didn’t? Oh. Must have been another rare moment of clarity.

The problem is, nobody talked to me today (apart from the girl who had the courage to admit that she comes from Stoke, as do I) and nothing much happened apart from the fact that I avoided being swept into the River Dove by the near-biblical deluge, so it’s difficult to know what to write about.

I suppose I could mention my irritation at the fact that those packs of sandwiches you get in supermarkets always have egg and cress on wholemeal bread, but egg mayonnaise and egg and salad on white. I don’t like white bread, and I don’t understand why they do it. Does that save the day? OK.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Surprised and Soggy.

I had a thought while listening to the car radio on the voyage home today. (It’s that wet in Britain at the moment. Fledgling river valleys are appearing in fields, disgorging brown torrents of rushing water to make lake beds of the lanes. It’s like watching page 1 of Genesis.) But anyway, it struck me how amazing melody is. There are only twelve notes in the chromatic scale, and yet for thousands of years people have been arranging this tiny resource in varying combinations to create countless millions of tunes, all of them different.

What really surprises me, however, is that so many of them are appealing. Some even have the power to enhance or change your mood, so how do people do that? Where do they get them from? I could never write appealing melodies for toffee. I wrote lots of songs with decent lyrics, but tunes were a complete mystery to me.

I said something similar in a YouTube comment once, and got one of those preachy types telling me that humans don’t write melodies at all; God does. He said the very existence of fine melody is proof of the existence of the big Guy. It was in the early days of my war against the preachers, the trolls and the sub-Orcs ranged across the battlefield that is the YouTube comment facility. On that occasion I had a few allies. Mostly I don’t.

Avoidance Tactics.

This reminds me of a few interviews I endured when I really didn't want the job:


I have to admit, though, that I never managed quite this level of humour. My best line, when asked about my commitment to the company, was:

I could never be committed to somebody else's money-making machine.

But at least the look on the interviewer's face was amusing, and at least it's true.

A Baby Post.

No, not the usual ‘aren’t babies weird?’ post. It goes like this.

Being an HSP type can be a crucifying experience at times, so much so that if I’d known what was in store I would have been sorely tempted to get my umbilical cord wrapped securely around my neck and positioned myself for an ultimately pointless breech birth. But then I do have a couple of pieces of pretty compelling circumstantial evidence that I did know what was coming, and put off taking the dreaded drop for as long as possible. Which makes me wonder…

I wonder whether babies aren’t quite the blank sheets of paper we think they are. Maybe their tiny brains are working full tilt from the word go, and maybe when that rubbery and relatively useless little proto-human is regarding its adoring people trafficker (aka parent) with the sort of enigmatic look that used to give my mother the creeps (or so she said) it’s thinking ‘Why? Why did you have to do this to me? Couldn’t you have risen above the procreation imperative, or whatever sordid motivation was responsible, and got drunk enough to pass out instead?’

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Enjoying Popular Archaeology.

I watched an archaeological documentary tonight (I usually do if I happen to catch one between the end of something really highbrow like Father Ted and turning the TV off) on the Mississippian culture in 10th century PHF America. (That’s pre-Henry Ford, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

There was a problem: they kept referring to Cahokia – site of an ancient ‘pyramid’ in Illinois – as ‘America’s oldest city.’ How do they know it’s the oldest? Couldn’t they have added the word ‘known’ just to keep pedants like me happy?

There was a second problem: they explained in detail – with graphics – how the builders of this ‘pyramid’ used an ingenious method to retain the integrity of the clay core. Frankly, it made no sense at all, which suggests that:

1. It was load of old baloney, or

2. It was badly explained, or

3. I’m even dumber than I look

The jury rests.

But then there was the question at the end. There’s always a question at the end, usually several.

They claimed that this massively impressive site had lasted only about two hundred years before mysteriously vanishing.

Theory given for mysterious vanishing:

1. A serious drought had left the local area with insufficient food to sustain the population of around twenty thousand who lived there.

2. This had precipitated civil war.

3. The cataclysmic circumstance which had finally driven everybody out was a major flood of the nearby Mississippi river.

The question (ahem):

In ancient Egypt they relied on the periodic flooding of the Nile to provide ground water to sustain the growth of crops, especially after drought, so wouldn’t the Mississippi flood have provided the desperately needed opportunity to re-invigorate their agriculture? Why run away just when salvation is at hand? There might be an answer, of course, but...

... they didn’t offer one. They never do, and do you know why? Because they insist on taking up valuable air time with an investigation (so called) into… wait for it… the evidence that these people practiced human sacrifice!

Ah, good old human sacrifice. We love human sacrifice, don’t we? Where would an archaeological documentary be without a bit of human sacrifice? Mmm…

Balm.

A video and some music for the sort of day which seriously saps your spirits.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Today in Arthur's Country.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
       Over tower’d Camelot;
~Tennyson. The Lady of Shalot.

The stormy wind is in the south west here and there’s no Camelot to be seen, only misty Mount Doom some miles beyond the valley. Otherwise, it’s a pretty good description of today in the Shire. I did say the landscape here is Arthurian, didn’t I?

I met a woman from Edinburgh with a wall-eyed Collie. Edinburgh is overlooked by a hill called Arthur’s Seat, so maybe there was something of significance in our chance encounter. But probably not.

I got wet.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Turning the Tables.

It’s the universally received convention to refer to Europe and the Americas as ‘the west’ and Asia as ‘the east.’ But who decides which part of the big ball we live on should be called the west, and which the east? Is this just a Eurocentric thing?

Let’s suppose that China becomes the next Top Nation, as it probably will. Conventions might become Sinocentric then, and the Chinese might want to change everything around so that they’re the west and we’re the east. Do you realise what that would mean? People from Wigan would become Orientals overnight. All the major Chinese cities would have to create Europetowns and have displays of football hooliganism every year on January 1st. And Europe and America would become a different type of tourist destination:

Have yourself the trip of a lifetime and unearth the mysteries of the Orient:

Take a romantic cruise along the Manchester Ship Canal

Visit the ruins of Old Detroit

Watch men in fancy garters perform an extremely silly Morris Dance in the picturesque Cotswold village of Much Piddling on the Marsh

And suppose the Chinese took it into their heads to purloin our best jokes, like the white-horse-called-Kevin joke:

A red dragon goes into a bar and orders a drink. ‘Blimey,’ says the barman ‘a talking dragon. Did you know they named a rice wine after you?’ ‘What,’ says the dragon, ‘Zhang Wei?’

It doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

*  *  *

I got the name Zhang Wei from a website dedicated to the most popular Chinese personal names. According to this website, the commonest female name is Wang Fang which means ‘aromatous’ (sic.) I assume the writer meant ‘aromatic’ and speculated on the difficulty of accurate translation.

‘Hello, my dear,’ says the polite Englishman visiting a bordello in Xi’an, 'and what is your name?’

‘Wang Fang.’

‘What a beautiful name. And what does it mean?’

‘Smelly.’

Equine Justice.

Remember Ben, the old horse at the top of the lane who spits and turns his back on you if you give him a cooking apple? Well, I was talking to his human today and she told me that when he was a young horse he lived in a field which had a public footpath running across it. If any walkers had the temerity to enter his hallowed ground, he would go over to them, snatch the hats off their heads, and run away with them. She got complaints.

Declining Mandarin Manners.

One thing I’ve decided since immersing myself in Chinese culture is that I’m not much of a Confucianist, being more inclined to the Tao persuasion. The British Empire was Confucianist, and look what it brought us to: rampant constipation and the wearing of some pretty silly hats. Mind you, at least British civil servants didn’t carry fans as a matter of social propriety. Bit girly, that. They might have donned lipstick and silk stockings in the cellars of Soho after midnight, but in the harsh light of day their upper lips were pretty stiff.

The Chinese Doing Superior Again.

Tonight’s episode of The Story of China was all about how the nasty Barbarians from the North came down and trashed the beautiful world of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE – that’s for academics who like dates and are also politically correct.) Isn’t it odd how barbarians always seem to come from the north? Maybe it has a parallel with fleas seeking body heat.

What I found myself most attracted to, however, was the ancient Chinese doctrine called Mandate of Heaven. At first I was tempted to suggest a similarity with the mediaeval European concept of the Divine Right of Kings, but then I thought again. As I understand it, the Mandate of Heaven may be summarised thus:

We the undersigned, being from heaven, approve of and will support the Emperor, but only as long as he rules wisely and justly.

The Divine Right of Kings, on the other hand, was the monarch’s excuse for saying:

I’m King because God says so, and that means I can do whatever I want. If you don’t like it, up yours.

Not quite the same, is it? And it’s how this guy went from having three heads to none in one fell swing (or two, as is sometimes claimed. For those who don't know, it's King Charles I who was beheaded in 1649 after losing the English Civil War. He is the only English king ever to have been executed through legal process, rather than assassinated.)


Next week’s episode of Michael Wood’s delightful series is about the Ming Dynasty. I’m looking forward to that one for two reasons:

1. The Ming Dynasty is known for having produced some pretty neat vases, and so is the place where I grew up.

2. Ming was my second exposure to Chinese culture when I was a child. She was a Pekingese dog. (My first exposure was – as has oft been mentioned – Rupert Bear’s girlfriend, Tiger Lily. She had no dynasty, but her dad was a great magician.)

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Coping with the Tapestry.

Two nights ago I thought of a blog post which had me chuckling fit to shake a tooth loose, but then I had my dinner and forgot what it was about. I still don’t remember what it was about, which is a shame.

Today I bought my lottery ticket from the strange man who talks to the till while he’s operating it, as though he’s seeking either reassurance or moral support or both. The egg and cress sandwich I had for lunch contained a small fragment of eggshell which crunched when I bit it and encouraged the wish that I’d chosen cheese and red onion instead. And then the Staffordshire oatcakes I bought turned out to be a lot smaller than usual, which left me feeling cheated and burning with the intention to have words on the matter the next time I go into Sainsbury’s. But I did get a penny knocked off the price of a small D shackle I bought in the hardware shop. All in all, a day of mixed fortunes which brought the rich tapestry of life into sharp relief.

Mel told me tonight that she has evidence of having been a blue furry animal on another planet in a previous life. I had no option but to concur.

Missing the Mark: A Fairytale.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived a life of leisure wandering the meadows and hills and woods of her father’s kingdom. She was a happy princess, apart from one thing: she was lonely and felt the need of a companion to share her walks and wile away the long winter nights when the world is white with snow and they might watch Jack Frost roasting on an open fire in blissful togetherness.

But she didn’t complain, especially on a day like the day in question when the world was white with May and everybody was going around blowing trumpets. She was walking along a woodland path close to a pool where the fish were plopping and the hares were hopping and none of them ever thought to go shopping, when she saw a frog sitting alone in the shade of an old oak tree.

‘What a handsome frog,’ thought the princess, and without giving the potential consequences a second thought, she bent down and kissed it.

Pouf! went the frog, and turned into a handsome prince with toothpaste-ad teeth that pinged, and ever so shiny hair that waved like the willows in the warm west wind.

‘Congratulations, lady,’ said the prince, smiling fit to charm the bed bugs into the cold light of day.

‘What?’

‘I said “congratulations.” You just won the jackpot.’

‘Shit!’ spat the princess, eyes glaring in disbelief. ‘Why does this always happen to me?’

The prince looked nonplussed, which caused his fringe to slip a full quarter of an inch.

‘Look, buster,’ continued the princess,’ there’s something you need to know. I don’t like princes; I like frogs. So you just wander off into the sunset – it’ll be over in that direction in about twelve hours – and find a cheerleader or something to cheer you up and lead you astray. Try Iowa, it looks good in the movies.’

And so the prince wandered off across the plaintive plains of the Great Midwest (which is actually the Midnorth, but life’s like that) and lived sadly ever after, while the princess continued in her state of fractured happiness, searching for a frog that was just a frog.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Covering the Riposte.

Today’s only notable encounter:

A little Chinese girl from Hong Kong – aged around 2, I would guess – said ‘hello’ to me. My initial response was, as you would expect, to feel quite considerably captivated. But then it occurred to me that the phonetic components of the English word ‘hello’ might represent a serious obscenity in Cantonese, so I said ‘hello’ back, just in case.

Madness and Mourning.

I just read an old post of mine from five years ago in which I first admitted the suspicion that I might be slightly mad. What a long way we do come in five years. The fact is now well established and I’ve quite forgotten what it is to be normal.

The downside of being slightly mad:
You have dreams about hallucinating.

The upside of being slightly mad:
You get to meet llamas.

Kaetlyn McCafferty, my Irish-American friend from Ohio, sent me a CD at the time called ‘Moments of Madness’ in celebration. I wonder whether there’s one called ‘Moments of Sanity.’

And I just read that Alan Rickman died a couple of weeks ago. I missed that one. ‘Cancel Christmas!’ is one of my favourite lines from a movie.

Looking on the Good Side.

With all due respect, apologies and condolences to Americans with an IQ exceeding 10, I have to confess a secret sense of favourable expectation at the possibility of Trump becoming President. For a start, I’m curious to know what the effect will be on the Special Relationship. Strained, I should think. But that isn’t the main reason. Mostly I’m looking forward to getting back to the good old days when that good old boy, GW, was the world’s greatest comedian. With the Tories in power over here, we’re desperate for a good old laugh.

I’ve also thought of a possible explanation as to why Putin was talking him up a few weeks ago. He probably realised that if Donald gets the vote, there’s an even chance that the whole of the EU will be seeking associate membership of the Russian Federation.

Meanwhile, I expect the Chinese will continue their drive towards becoming the world’s next great superpower (as they have been several times throughout history, I gather) which mightn’t be such a bad thing after all. Have you taken a good old honest look at Chinese culture lately? It’s good.

(The llama just poked his head around the curtain and winked. Enigmatic as ever.)

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Tonight's Early Gibberish.

Things Learned Upon Reading a Few More Pages of At Swim-Two-Birds:

Reading text that is rational in form but nonsensical in overall context, all couched in a florid style immaculately constructed, can be most satisfying if you happen to be a bit on the far side yourself.

Irishmen say ‘boyo.’ That came as quite a shock, I can tell you.

Music goes well with reading, but badly with writing. Music is the ketchup to the chips of reading, but writing has more of the chocolate truffle about it, and we all know that chocolate truffles and ketchup do not play happily together.

I very much like the word ‘jackanapes.’ It’s a word that, so far, hasn’t appeared in At Swim-Two-Birds, so I assume the connection must have something to do with my habit of consorting with tangents.

Other Note:

Though the fire was warm and the reading soporific, I consciously avoided falling asleep in the armchair tonight. Having first woken into a dream, and then progressed to waking into a dream in which I suffered hallucinations, I shudder to think what might come next. I fear I might be on the verge of being cast adrift on the sea of alternate reality without the benefit of oars, engine, rudder, sail, two-way radio, YouTube, or a serving wench with whom to consort in the absence of tangents.

Creating Losers to Feed Jackals.

There’s a new programme started on the BBC in which four identical bedrooms in an apartment block are given over to four interior designers who are charged with revamping them. At the end of the show each designer's work is judged and one of the four is eliminated, leaving the other three to move onto a more demanding project. The process is repeated until one designer is left, and that person is declared the winner.

Isn’t this a bit cruel and so typical of the modern approach to everything? Over the course of the series, three of those people will suffer the public ignominy of being told ‘You’re a loser. Go.’

When did we become so obsessed with holding people up as losers, instead of celebrating the different skills, tastes and values each one brings to a project? And why has so august an institution as the BBC fallen into the trap of this nasty little trend? If we have to be competitive about a creative endeavour – which always struck me as both pointless and stupid – why not let all the designers work on all the projects, and then allocate marks for each one and only announce the winner. Wouldn’t that be more humane, more reasonable, and all the more enjoyable for so being?

(The jackals of the title, by the way, refer to those people who get pleasure from seeing other people lose and be humiliated, a type to which a programme like this seems designed to appeal.)