Thursday, 31 March 2016

A Little Germ of an Idea.

Something I just imagined I saw in my living room (and it was only a trick of the light) suggested a neat little scene for a horror movie.

A person alone in the house at night walks into their living room to see a huge white cat reclining on the sofa and looking back at them with a less than friendly look. The cat gets up, jumps over the side of the sofa and disappears from view. The human stares in disbelief while the music augments the atmosphere, then takes tentative steps to examine the floor beyond the end of the sofa. It’s empty, of course.

Just a thought before showering.

An Aussie Tycoon's Moment of Confusion.

I gather there’s something of a furore going on in Australia over the fact that the University of New South Wales is encouraging its students to take a less conservative view of Australia’s origins. Their argument has many angles, some of which might be seen as amounting to undue political correctness, but as I understand it the main thrust of their position is that the establishment of modern Australia should be seen as a process of invasion and colonisation, not discovery and settlement.

Unsurprisingly I suppose, one of Rupert Murdoch’s rags is taking umbrage, accusing the university academics of ‘trying to re-write history.’ This is clearly false logic, and I hope our Aussie pals will have the good sense to see that it is clearly false logic. The only way to re-write history is to seek to change the facts of history, and UNSW are not taking issue with historical fact, but with the interpretation of that fact. That isn’t re-writing history.

And I suppose I shouldn’t take sides since I’m not Australian, but I can’t avoid the sneaking feeling (if I might be permitted a sneaking feeling) that if you walk into a foreign land, declare ownership over it, then force the indigenous people under your control and subjugate them to your will and self-interest, it would seem entirely rational to interpret the process as one of invasion and colonisation.

Spirits, Spirits, and Spooky Butlers.

I was taking some fresh clothes out of a drawer in my bedroom earlier when I heard a prolonged, rasping grunt coming from somewhere close by. This is becoming a repeating pattern. Several times recently I’ve been sitting in my armchair in the living room when I’ve heard a loud exhale of breath to my left. I wonder what it is (or who.) It’s quite spooky when it happens, but what can I do except use it as an excuse for getting more than a little inebriated before going to bed?

So, being in the mood, I watched about fifteen minutes of a third rate Hammer-style horror film on YouTube. I switched it off because: a) it was getting too silly, and b) the horses were upstaging the people. They were white and very beautiful (the horses, that is.) But fifteen minutes was enough to whet my appetite for becoming one of those butlers who serve an ancient (and tragically cursed) family in an old dark house, and who frown a lot while doing the I-know-a-lot-more-about-what’s-really-going-on-here-than-you-think-I-do look. Maybe I could learn to grunt unseen from behind the arras and spook the virgin (there’s always a virgin who’s terribly innocent and easily spooked.)

The HSP in War.

I’ve mentioned the HSP phenomenon several times on this blog. To recap: the HSP type is cursed with unusually keen awareness of everything in his or her environment and a concomitantly strong emotional reaction to incoming signals. To put it simply, everything to which an HSP’s sensory faculties are subjected appears far bigger than it does to a normal person. And since perception is the whole of the life experience, if it appears bigger, it is bigger. I’ve heard it said that the HSP’s major problem in life is being overwhelmed by the weight of sensory input, and in this context ‘overwhelmed’ is no exaggeration. Let me offer two personal examples:

During my time in the navy I spent a session on the gun direction platform during a live firing exercise by the 4.5” guns. The GDP is where you get the full force of the noise, and the noise from old fashioned artillery is a lot louder than anything most people are ever likely to hear. As the exercise progressed I found myself getting ever closer to panic and physical collapse, even though there was no danger and nothing to fear except the loss of face if the collapse had happened. The condition was entirely due to the excessive assault on my perceptual faculty by hideously loud explosions in the shell cases. Fortunately I held on long enough to avoid a collapse, but it was a damn close run thing and taught a salutary lesson.

I had forewarning of this problem when I was around eight and was brought to a state of utter panic by a persistent and increasingly loud peal of thunder. I knew even at that age that there was no danger, but the panic happened anyway. Much later in life I fought a fire in warehouse full of butane gas. There was a clear and imminent danger of explosion and death, but I felt no such symptoms on that occasion. Danger doesn’t affect me that way because it isn’t a sensory experience. Noise does because it is.

So what of the HSP who is conscripted into the armed services during time of war and sent into battle? Imagine the nature and intensity of the sensory input which he or she will have to endure – the noise, the smoke, the dust, the destruction, the smells, the sense of confusion, the blood, the sight of broken bodies, the suffering of the wounded… Is it any wonder that the recipient of such an experience, given their extended awareness of all sensory input, will be likely to suffer trembling, physical immobility, wholesale collapse, or the uncontrollable urge to run away out of sheer panic?

And what will the system do to them in this eventuality? The system will presume that they are failing to control their fear, and will court martial them using the time honoured charge: ‘cowardice in the face of the enemy.’ But it isn’t fear as ordinarily perceived; it isn’t cowardice; it’s simply a matter of being crushed by the unbearable weight of sensory input.

There was a time when such people were executed for their ‘crime’, and probably still are in some people’s armies, but it seems to me that the real crime lies in assuming the right to punish people – even to the extent of depriving them of their lives – because the normal ones don’t understand that a few of us have brains that are wired differently from theirs. It further seems to me that the issue needs to be understood and addressed. How you do so I don’t know, but that in itself is no reason not to at least acknowledge it.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Be Advised...

There was a time when public notices had something useful to say. That was why they were there, but times seem to be a-changing. I saw two today in Derby.

The first was on the wall of a block of newly-completed apartments. It must have been about 10ft square and said:

If you lived here you would be home now.

The logic is, of course, impeccable – so impeccable that my only comment can be ‘Every front door should have one.’

The second was on the wall of Derby station and contained Useful Advice for Travellers. I only read the first item on the list as I was walking past, and it said:

Make sure you arrive at the station in good time to catch your train.

I’m glad I didn’t read the rest. Good advice is best taken in small doses to make sure you’ve fully taken it in before moving onto more difficult stuff.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Dem Bones, Dem Bones...

There was something I didn’t understand in that documentary I watched about Shakespeare’s head being possibly missing from his tomb. The historian/presenter went waffling on about how terrifying people found the prospect of having their bones removed to a charnel house because they feared being trapped. Trapped how? Did I miss something? (I admit that I might have done because the sound on my TV is crap.) It’s just that I don’t see how spending your post mortem existence in the convivial company of the hamlet’s rude forefathers is any more ‘trapped’ than lying alone in a box – or even just a winding sheet – under a ton of earth. In fact, it strikes me that a charnel house is a veritable social club in comparison. And if it's the Second Coming they're worried about, I'm sure Jesus will have the presence of mind to give them a knock.

On a more positive note, I’m now consumed with a desire to find out whether my local church has a charnel house. It should do; there’s been a church on that ground since before the Norman Conquest (and possibly even before the Danish Great Army came a-rampaging and demanding protection money) but the oldest gravestone is 17th century, so they must have done something with the bones to make way for fresh bodies (insofar as a body might be described as ‘fresh’ you understand.) All of which means that if it doesn’t have a charnel house, what did they do with bones? (And did the owners feel untrapped or merely re-located?)

 My local church and some of its freshers

Monday, 28 March 2016

When Being Called Mad Won't Do.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about when I mention the white-horse-called-Kevin joke, let me repeat it:

A white horse walked into a bar and ordered a drink. ‘Blimey,’ said the barman, ‘a talking horse. Do you know they named a whisky after you?’ ‘What,’ said the horse, ‘Kevin?’

I told that joke to the woman in the pet shop last week. She didn’t laugh, she just said: ‘I had a hamster called Kevin.’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘a hamster walked into a bar…’ Only it couldn’t work, of course, because – as far as I know – there isn’t a whisky called Hamster.

So I tried to explain to myself why the white-horse-called-Kevin joke is my favourite, and attempted a variation:

The Duke of Wellington walked into a bar and ordered a drink. ‘Blimey,’ said the barman, a talking duke. Do you know they named a style of gumboot after you?’ ‘What,’ said the Duke, ‘Arthur?’

It isn’t quite the same, is it? So I decided to get clever and came up with:

A girl called Madeline walked into a café and ordered a scone. ‘Blimey,’ said the proprietor, ‘a talking Madeline. Do you know they named a confection after you?’ ‘What,’ said the Madeline, ‘fruit cake?’

But only Madelines who know they’re mad would get it, so I suppose the original will have to remain unchallenged.

Katie's Little Surprise.

We’ve had an unusually wet winter this year, but the past two or three weeks have been dry and the soggy landscape put back to its normal state. The temporary pools that formed in woodland dells and field depressions dried up, the sloping path in my favourite wood lost its greasiness and became comfortable again, and the meadow ground was once more firm to the tread.

Last night we had rain, courtesy of Storm Katie, and I knew nothing about until I walked the bounds of the Shire today. There’s debris all over the roads, areas of tarmac have been lifted and broken up, and the temporary pools are back and more extensive than at any time during the winter. Best of all, though: a large stretch of the river valley is flooded. Never in the ten years I’ve lived here – through the record wet summer of 2012, several wet winters, and periods of high snow melt during the cold winters – have I seen that piece of landscape under water. And all the result of one night’s rain that I wasn’t even aware of.

Another Hollywood Post.

I just caught another bit of an historical epic movie – The Fall of the Roman Empire this time.

A Roman column is moving through a dense forest in what is evidently hostile territory, only the forest isn’t so dense. The trees are neatly placed, of generally even thickness, and there’s not a sign of undergrowth on the forest floor – just a pretty green base that looks like a well manicured lawn. OK, let’s be kind to Hollywood for once and assume that the locals graze their sheep there. It looks like a public park somewhere just beyond the outskirts of Los Angeles, but maybe it isn’t.

But then the column is set upon by club-wielding, extremely hirsute men in woolly bear costumes who look terribly unrefined as befits their status as non-Roman extras. The Romans, on the other hand, are commendably smart. Their officers are clean shaven and wear well fitting uniforms with rather fetching helmets in various sophisticated designs. Even the rank-and-file carry pristine designer shields with a rather fetching embossed pattern in purple and green. And that’s why the Romans win the battle.

This is, of course, as it should be. The Romans were indeed a civilised and upright bunch of people who knew the importance of being properly kitted out, whereas the Britons, Gauls et al were just a bunch of ne’er-do-well, cave-dwelling rebels who needed to be brought to heel for their own sake. Historical veracity is well served yet again, and my only disappointment was that a family of dinosaurs didn’t turn up to make a meal of the fallen.

Today's Fun.

I’ve been suffering the most curious condition all day today. It started with a sore eye that got more and more painful until I could hardly keep it open. In the evening it progressed to disorientation, lack of balance, sneezing, sore sinuses, a sore throat, abdominal cramps, muscle stiffness and advanced fatigue. I was quite incapable of doing anything – even using the computer or reading was out of the question because it hurt my sore eye so much. But then it eased a little shortly before midnight, so I dragged myself into the shower and subsequently felt better. That’s a new one on me.

So then I wrote to the priestess and explained how we will found the Pong Dynasty in post-apocalyptic China in our future lives, and how it will be known as ‘the Great Pong’ to subsequent generations. I hope she agrees. She did say it sounded like a fun idea.

Meanwhile, the eye is still a little sore. I think it might be the work of some local witch who takes exception to me lowering the standard of the Shire by walking the lanes dressed in a 28-year-old coat with open seams and a generally soiled appearance. (And a woolly hat.)

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Hollywood's Sweet Tooth.

I was flicking through the TV channels at lunchtime and came across the 1961 movie King of Kings. I watched it for about thirty seconds, and even that was enough to pick up the film’s main characteristics:

1. An atmosphere so loaded with grandiose self-importance that the urge to stamp on it (or at least switch it off) was irresistible. The word ‘turgid’ came to mind, but it wasn’t strong enough.

2. A cliché-ridden script that would do justice to a primary school nativity production.

3. Wooden acting served up by Hollywood stars who just can’t avoid looking like Hollywood stars no matter what they’re doing.

4. Laughably outlandish costumes that resonated about as much with the historical period as I do with Donald Trump.

And you know what? I bet there are people out there who watch it in the belief that it’s an accurate portrayal of actual events and every word is true. (And maybe it is, but if I were a Christian I think I would be seriously offended by it.)

For my part, I watched an East European movie of the Passion story once and found it far more edgy and realistic than anything Hollywood ever manages. Hollywood has to load everything with bucketsful of saccharin so as to make it more palatable to contemporary audiences and attract big bucks. They don’t even use sugar; saccharin is an artificial sweetener (roughly as old as Hollywood by an odd coincidence) which has a tendency to make you feel sick.

Being Addle-Headed

I had a reply to one of my YouTube comments yesterday from a Chinese person who said how glad he or she was (how can I know, since he or she had a Chinese name?) that I so like Tang Siyi’s dancing and Chinese culture generally. It’s on such little turns of niceness that the internet gains worth.

And I thought it interesting that my correspondent’s family name was Qin. I was struck by the remarkable coincidence that the Irish have the surname Quinn, which is pretty suggestive of conspiracy theories or Atlantean connections, don’t you think?

But then it further struck me that, as far as I know, the Chinese version is pronounced Chin; and further, how funny it would be if Bob Dylan got stoned before a concert one night and sang ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ like the mighty chin.’

That sort of thing amuses brains like mine. According to those who know about such things I have a brain the size of a planet, yet spend my time rusting away quietly in the corner because I never know quite how to use it. Even being silly is boring sometimes.

Heads are quite the idée fixe tonight, aren’t they? And the beer is Bass Trademark Number 1.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Grave Issues.

There was a documentary about the Brontës on the TV tonight, but the description in the listings magazine sounded rubbish so I didn’t watch it.

Mind you, I never watch things about the Brontës anyway, nor adaptations of their works. The problem is mostly down to Emily, you see. Dear, dear Emily has always been the problem, ever since her discarnate self took up occupation in my house a few winters ago and said ‘Why don’t you go to Haworth and dig me up? That would be fun, wouldn’t it? And while you’re at it, do tell the readers of your journal what Wuthering Heights is really all about.’ Since dearest Em is buried under concrete in Haworth church and I don’t have a pneumatic drill, I only undertook the second of her suggestions (and that one was an order anyway.)

I find that people who write documentaries and essays and articles and movies and TV adaptations which have any bearing on the nature of Emily Brontë or her magnum opus always look in a different place than me, and so they don’t see what I do. And being the only person alive who understands her is a tough burden to shoulder.

*  *  *

What I did watch was a documentary about William Shakespeare’s head. Seems it might be missing. An hour’s worth of convoluted interpretation of a GPR investigation on his grave lends serious credence to a long-held notion that some friends of Burke and Hare stole his skull back in the 19th century and now nobody knows where it is. No doubt it’s languishing somewhere, infinitely jesting like Yorick and just waiting to be found so someone can say:

‘What have we here, Horatio?’

‘Someone you knew?’

‘Nope. Let’s throw it back.’

And shortly after the programme finished I composed a neat little silly ditty in my own head entitled Poor Willy’s Head is Missing, only now I come to write the damn post I can’t remember a word of it except the first line. Which isn’t much use, is it? Tough.

*  *  *

And while we’re on the subject of heads and their prospects, I feel like Sydney Carton in his kneeling phase at the moment.

*  *  *

And why do the makers of movie adaptations of Jane Eyre always make Rochester handsome? He wasn’t. Jane was quite specific on that point.

Friday, 25 March 2016

An Easter Ramble.

So here we are at Good Friday again. The clock of life sounds yet another chime, reminding us that the whole thing is probably devoid of any purpose except to perceive the illusion as real. So what do I make of Good Friday?

Not a lot, really. I loved it as a kid because it meant there were only two more days to go before I got to eat chocolate for the first time since Christmas. That was before I asked the question: ‘why is it good to eat chocolate?’ and the answer came back: ‘because it tastes nice.’ And then I got to asking ‘but why is that meaningful?’ and was told ‘because it gives you pleasure.’ And then I realised that taste is a sensory experience, but the concept of pleasure is abstract. So here we go again.

On a more mundane level, there were always two things that puzzled me about the Passion:

1. It’s a long time since I read the Gospels, but I seem to recall that Jesus’s (and I defend the use of ’s) interrogation by Pontius Pilate is described in some detail. So does that mean there was a secretary present taking the minutes of the meeting? Otherwise, how could anybody know what the two men talked about?

2. Why did Judas have to surreptitiously identify Jesus to the arresting party? I mean… you know… wasn’t Jesus a bit of a celebrity in those parts? Is it reasonable to believe that a bunch of streetwise soldiers wouldn’t have recognised him immediately? I know they didn’t have CCTV in those days, but still. And apart from anything else, he was the only one who wore white robes.

Nevertheless, I do respect the right of Christians to believe in their mythology because I think that’s the clue to making the world a better place. Why don’t we all respect and celebrate one another’s cultures and take from them the things we find worth having? It’s when a few people so totally believe in their mythology and convince themselves that they’re 100% right that the trouble starts, because then they go around trying to force others to believe the same thing, justifying any action in pursuit of that aim no matter how disgusting. That’s when the world turns dark and decent people find it hard to live here.

But maybe I need a little reprise at this point and recognise that while pain is a sensory experience, suffering is abstract. So where do I go now? I don’t know. I don’t know anything.

A Personal Thing.

I said recently that I’m not the greatest fan of Enya. She did, however, play a significant part in my life at one point, and for that she will always be memorable.

The period between November ’94 and February ’95 was interesting: dire days, glorious nights, far too little sleep. Enya’s album Shepherd Moons provided a haven of sanity and calm between the dazzle and the darkness of the daily rollercoaster. (Being around people possessed of a ready supply of cannabis helped, too. Don’t knock cannabis; it can be a life saver.) I don’t expect anybody else to share my enthusiasm, but the following song can have a place on my blog just because it’s my memory and my blog.

The period between November ’98 and February ’99 was also interesting, but no rollercoaster that time – just unremitting darkness of the deepest hue. The only thing that helped then was writing my own songs, all of which are now deservedly forgotten.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Following Fenella.

I’ve long been curious about the actress Fenella Fielding who is best known for having played brilliantly sultry comedic vamp roles in several British comedies of the 1950s and 60s. Tonight I read this in Wiki:

A 2007 article in The Independent remarked that it was “one of the mysteries of British life that Fenella Fielding, whose wit and distinctive stage presence captivated figures such as Kenneth Tynan, Noël Coward and Federico Fellini, should have drifted into obscurity rather than being celebrated.”

I also learned that she was (and remains at the age of 88) a serious and intelligent actor who performed many classic roles in theatre to great critical acclaim. It occurs to me, therefore, that there might be no mystery. Maybe she wanted to drift into obscurity. If you have sufficient money to live comfortably in a way that suits your nature, what better place is there to be? The fact that this superficial culture of ours assumes that everybody wants to become and remain famous is no reason to be blindly acquiescent enough to believe it.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Sadly Saving a Pound.

I saw a beggar sitting outside the entrance to a supermarket today. He held out his pot to each person walking past, and each person continued walking, as they do. I was no exception, and then I got to thinking again (as I do.)

It occurred to me that the problem with being a destitute person reduced to begging on the street is not only the combination of poverty, hunger and injured pride, but also the sting of rejection every time you hold out your bowl to another human being and that human being ignores you. And then, in this particular instance, a well fed person in posh clothes comes out and moves you on because you’re upsetting the customers who want to spend money in their store. It further occurred to me that if every person who is not destitute gave the equivalent of £1 a week to someone who is, there would be less suffering in the world.

I took a pound coin out of my pocket and went back to where he’d been sitting, but the well fed person in posh clothes had evidently got there before me.


You know what happens when you’re getting older? You do exercises to keep yourself supple, and the only noticeable effect is that you get twinges. It isn’t fair.

I think it might be time to become a couch potato. I’ve never been a couch potato. Lazy as hell, yes, but never a couch potato. Being lazy always meant going for a walk, or going fishing, or going to a party instead of going down the mine to dig coal like proper people do.

And today when I went for a walk, I discovered a pool that I never knew existed, hidden seductively among some trees. That was really exciting to somebody like me who gets really excited really easily.

An Early Visitor.

He’s back! I woke up this morning to the sight of an inquisitive hairy face only inches from mine, head cocked a little to one side with ears that might be imaginatively described as ‘akimbo.’

It was a bit of a shock, I can tell you, but once my heart had slowed to somewhere near normal speed I felt irritated.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I asked.

‘Why shouldn’t I be here?’ replied the llama.

‘Because it’s my bedroom.’


‘So bedrooms are private. You don’t just go walking into them without being invited.’

‘You don’t?’



There was silence for a few minutes while he turned his head this way and that, taking everything in and grunting quietly now and then. He seemed particularly interested in the smell of the wallpaper.

‘And anyway,’ he continued, ‘I didn’t walk in here.’

‘So how did you get in?’

‘How does anybody do anything? I just did.’

And then he walked over to the chest of drawers on the far side.

‘What’s that?’ he asked.

‘What’s what?’

‘That hairy thing, there.’

‘A teddy bear.’

‘Teddy bear?’

‘Yes, teddy bear.’

‘Does it talk?’

‘It isn’t an “it,” it’s a “he.” His name is Berlioz and he’s a friend of mine. And no, he doesn’t talk exactly, but he does communicate when he feels so inclined by means of facial expressions.’

The llama said something in a low voice which I didn’t quite catch. It sounded like ‘oh dear,’ but the acoustics can be deceptive in my bedroom.

‘Do you have any eucalyptus leaves?’ he asked eventually.


‘Eucalyptus leaves. Do you have any?’

‘Of course I don’t have any eucalyptus leaves. What the hell would I want with eucalyptus leaves?’

‘They go very well with dolcelatte cheese.’

‘Do they?

‘They do. And some Australian ones have microscopic fragments of gold in them.’

‘You’re having me on.’

‘No, I’m not. They come from trees that grow above gold seams, and tiny bits of gold get drawn up with the water. And it’s an interesting fact that gold is toxic to eucalyptus trees, so they push the metal out to the leaves in order to get rid of it when the leaves fall. Eucalyptus trees are a lot smarter than people think.’

‘Now you’re really having me on.’

‘No, I’m not. And their leaves taste excellent accompanied by chocolate mousse.’

‘You said dolcellatte cheese.’

‘That too. Goodbye.’

At that he emulated the Cheshire Cat by disappearing slowly inwards from the extremities. His right ear was the last bit to go. It flicked up and down three times before fading. It looked like a wave, but I suspect it meant ‘I’ll be back.’

Sunday, 20 March 2016

On a Wavelength.

I was talking to the bats last night (I do, you know, even when they’re asleep) and said: ‘Your return must be imminent, my friends.’ And then this morning I saw gnats dancing in the sunshine, which is gaining a bit of heat now (it being the vernal equinox today) and thought ‘Bat food.’ And this evening the first bat made its appearance. I said ‘Hello.’

Finding Yorick.

I re-read a post I made a week ago and discovered I’d typed ‘draws’ instead of ‘drawers.’ How do I do it? Will St Francis* forgive me? Can you die of it?

*That’s St Francis de Salles, patron saint of writers and journalists. I only discovered that scintillating fact a few minutes ago when I searched ‘patron saint of writers’ in Google because I didn’t know who it was (just so you know that however useless I am, at least I’m authentically useless.)

*  *  *

What I mostly discover when I read old posts is how wise I used to be. I was always saying wise things and replying to comments with wise counter-comments. Only I wasn’t being wise, not really. I stopped making wise posts and started making silly ones instead because I realised that:

1. I don’t actually know anything.

2. The concept of wise and unwise is illusory. Total wisdom must surely be infinite, or at least beyond the capacity of any human being to grasp. We’re all just somewhere on the same scale that disappears into the clouds wherever you are. So who draws the line between one and the other?

3. The delusion of wisdom encourages the onset of a certain type of earnestness which I find irritating. It also encourages inflation of the ego, which anybody with any common sense should be wise enough to find unacceptable.

4. I doubt that anybody has ever been happier for being high on the wisdom scale. Being silly, on the other hand, at least affords one the odd giggle or two. Ergo, being silly makes more sense than being wise.

But don’t hold me to this. I might say something mind-blowing tomorrow and disagree with myself.

One for the Anthropology Students.

I'm having trouble with the latest crop of mood swings at the moment. I'm no stranger to mood swings and I can usually explain them with consummate ease, but these are proving difficult to fathom.

So, instead of writing complicated stuff about today's happenings in the Shire (of which there were a few), I thought I'd cop out and post a Mitchell and Webb sketch for people interested in Ages.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Writing Types.

During my fiction-writing phase I came across the occasional forum where somebody would ask the question:

Excuse me all you people who are so much more experienced than I am and to whom I therefore earnestly bow the knee (with just a hint of irritating obsequiousness which I hope you won’t mind) but can anybody tell me what the difference is between a writer and an author?

(Clots! I hate forums.) My answer:

Authors write to please the reader. Writers write to please themselves.

Or, to put it another way:

Good writers get respected. Good authors get rich.

And now I’m struggling to decide whether to have a second piece of buttered toast (I’m back on my favourite bread, thank heaven.) I don’t seem to be putting any weight on so I think I will. Blow the expense.

Keeping up Appearances.

I still exercise every day, you know – have done since I was about eleven. I exercise most parts of my body (!) including my face, which I think is important since having a mobile face is so essential in maintaining credibility. You must have noticed that elderly people tend to be a bit static in the visage department, something I shall probably find acceptable when I’m dead but until then I’d prefer to retain some credibility.

I never look in the mirror at such times, though. I have a fertile imagination and suspect I must look like a Melanesian medicine man working to scare away demons in the devilish glow of a tribal camp fire. I don’t think I want to see that.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Life and Playing Games.

When I was a kid all I ever wanted to do was play. Anything that smacked of work was tedious by definition and therefore to be derided and grumbled about. I suppose most kids are the same, but the difference in my case was that I never grew out of it.

And talking of playing, I dusted my trusty old gee’tar down tonight and played my mean version of Mr Tambourine Man. Only it isn’t so mean any more because I’m well out of practice. I think the last time I played it was in the late spring or summer of 2011, sitting out in the garden with only a few critters-with-taste for an audience. At the end there was a whole bevy of badgers, foxes and bunnies applauding mightily, while countless birds flew excitedly around and the crows cried ‘Yeah!’ in that gruff, bourbon-soaked voice that crows do so well.

(See what I mean? Escape into fantasy at any excuse. I think I should write children’s fiction.)

Anyway, the reason I was playing it on that occasion was in honour of the Belle of Brooklyn who’d only recently apologised for not coming to live with me after all. She’d gone to New York instead to do brave and highly commendable work with deprived kids and a social conscience. (That was how she’d become the Belle of Brooklyn instead of the Filly from Philly, which would have been her soubriquet had I but thought of it at the time. Only I didn’t, so maybe that’s why she changed her mind. Have you ever been really excited at a prospect, but absolutely terrified at the same time? I have.)

The point is, however, that said lady insisted I’d played Mr Tambourine Man to her over Skype. Well, if I did I must have been drunk or something because I don’t remember having done any such thing. But then she did make a habit of keeping me up until 5 o’clock in the morning, which is as good an excuse as any for not remembering. Or maybe I just dreamt the whole thing and demonstrated yet again that life in all its forms is but an illusion. Or at least a game.

(I knew I’d find a way of reprising the opening somehow.)


Too busy for blogging today; I even watered the house plants and searched my late mother’s sewing box for some wool with which to darn a sock sporting an area of empty space where there should be only sock.

But it just occurred to me to post a video, one which I don’t think I ever posted before. I’m not generally a fan of Enya, but this one is special to me because I listened to it a lot one dark, stormy winter a long time ago when the system incarcerated me on a daily basis in a drab dungeon from November to February and-it-wasn’t-a-happy-time. This was my nightly release, sitting cold and alone in the nearest thing to a garret you’re likely to find in a dark industrial town.

A word of advice, though: don’t even think of listening to it without a side dish of weed. The combination is quite magical. It does the most amazing things to your sense of temporal perception, leaving you quite certain when you get to the uillean pipe solo in the middle that you’ve been listening to it for hours and are so grateful that you’re still only half way through. I should know; I was there.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Useful Discovery.

I just discovered that if you tap the top of an empty St Cervois lager bottle in different places, you can get a range of four whole tones in something approximating to G major. It isn’t quite enough to accompany the Chinese pentatonic stuff, but after a few scotches you don’t even notice.

The Viking and the Waif.

I saw what might be described as a mismatched couple in Ashbourne today. He was around 6ft 2, heavily built with a mightily oversized belly, and had short-cropped blond hair. She was more like 4ft10, bean pole skinny and virtually shapeless, with long black hair that didn’t exactly bounce and glisten. But she giggled and laughed a lot and he smiled back. They seemed entirely comfortable with one another, and not at all concerned that they were a little under-clad for the chilly north east wind that had last made landfall somewhere in the vicinity of Svalbard.

You know, Ashbourne has an air of retired colonel country about it. How these two had made it past the sentry post I’m not sure, but I was rather pleased they had.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Hands off Our Leader-in-Waiting.

It seems our esteemed second in line to the throne (Prince William, aka the Duke of Cambridge but better known as Wills to those who don’t know him from Adam but like to pretend that they sort of do) is being accused of hypocrisy for supporting both big game hunting and conservation measures to protect the rhino. Be assured: there is no hypocrisy. The two measures are entirely compatible.

You see, a predilection for slaughtering inedible animals in the name of recreation is an ingrained trait in His Royal Highness’s family, so it’s a kind of ‘to the manner born’ thing. And it makes perfect sense because the more rhinos there are around, the more there are to shoot dead with powerful rifles from the tops of Land Rovers when they and those of like mind want to have fun. Simple.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Appreciating Inspiration.

You might remember a post I made a few months ago about a piece of marketing genius observed in one of Uttoxeter’s discount stores – a picture of Marilyn Monroe with a speech bubble in which was printed:


Pretty bad, right? Right. But it gets badder. The picture of Marilyn has now gone and been replaced with a picture of Spot the Dog, who also has a speech bubble. It says:


An image of a brainstorming session swam into my mind: half a dozen marketing personnel looking vague and dejected because nobody’s brain is really storming very well today. Suddenly, the youngest and spottiest of the brainless crew finally gets an idea.

‘I know,’ he says, ‘let’s replace Marilyn with a dog and change the quotation to WOWF.’ Blank stares ensue.

‘WOWF?’ queries another brainless wonder.

‘Yeah, WOWF. You know, like woof, only combined with wow.’

All hints of glumness vanish like early mist in the rising sun as squeals of laughter fill the air, overfed stomachs quiver like jellies in an earthquake, five misshapen bodies slide ungraciously to the carpet, and veritable cataracts of urine run involuntarily down legs.

‘That’s the crassest piece of marketing shite in the history of marketing,’ cries the man in the most expensive suit with the biggest waistband as he sets about searching sundry drawers for signs of a towel. ‘It’s the dumbest thing since Doctors Smoke Camel. Nice one, Kevin. Let’s do it.’

And so they did, and my only question is: ‘How many customers get the joke?’

Being Educated.

YouTube is proving surprisingly educational these days. Tonight I discovered the duduk (pron. doo-dook.) It’s an Armenian woodwind instrument which is constructed like an oboe but sounds like a deep, mellow clarinet. And through further diligent exploration, I even found out where Armenia is. I never knew I was this ignorant.

Practicing the Pressure.

I met another new woman from the Shire today. That’s two in two days, which I think is probably a record. Fortunately, I liked this one so I didn’t have to feel bad about the encounter later.

Meeting new people is always a pressure for me because I can’t just talk to them as normal people do, I have to go straight into observation and instinctive analysis mode. I’m good at it too, and getting better. It’s surprising how many signals people give off without realising it in the course of an initial ten minute conversation, and they all get noted and interpreted. I was good at it twenty years ago; these days I’m as near infallible as makes no difference. I’m very rarely wrong – seriously, I’m not – and that’s a pressure. (How glad I am that there aren’t many things I’m good at.)

I’m particularly accurate with duplicitous people. The fake nature of their friendliness shines out like Rudolph’s nose in a frosty landscape. Same with any hint of the disingenuous, a facility I picked up early through being naïve and overly trusting.

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a trumpet-blowing exercise. It’s just that if I encounter today’s lady again, I shall be able to just talk to her like a normal person would. That doesn’t happen very often.

(I feel a post forming about the fateful night when I got the first inkling that my parents had been lying to me for years about the existence of Santa Claus. Wrong time of year, though. It can wait.)

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Beware the Ides of March.

It occurred to me earlier that the Ides of March, fabled in folklore and celebrated by Shakespeare as a day of ill omen, are almost upon us. I sometimes think that everybody should have a strange story to tell about March 15th. There should be one 15th March in everybody’s life which is difficult to the point of being distinctly odd and disturbing. Julius Caesar made his by a matter of minutes.

My strange 15th March came in 1995. The theatre was showing Hamlet that night, and I was in the company of an attractive young woman who was on the verge of becoming a romantic entanglement. It snowed very heavily during the course of the performance.

It was a night replete with much alcohol and marijuana, a night on which an innocent male third party stole my dream without even knowing it. It included an undefined period of amnesia, the contents of which remain a mystery twenty one years on, and a strange temporal shift during which four hours of silent inactivity seemed like a matter of a few minutes. And all to the incongruous strains of Enya’s Caribbean Blue, just because it happened to be in waltz time.

There was a walk at 4am on cratered, frozen snow which turned every footfall into the report of a shotgun. A mood of insane and enervating jealousy hung like an assassin’s dagger in the frigid air, and the full moon riding high in the starry heavens seemed intent upon mocking most cruelly. While my lady companion exalted, I waited with growing impatience, desperate to be anywhere but in my own head.

It passed as these things do, and the prospective romantic entanglement passed with it into history.

A Little Note on Remaining Individual.

The petitions that Avaaz send me to sign often have a progress meter showing the current number of signatures and a rolling list of the five latest signers. It isn’t unusual to see on that list:

Victoria and Andrew Smith, New Zealand (the names are fictitious, by the way)

This strikes me as a little odd - as maybe taking the concept of togetherness a little too far. I wonder why they don’t sign separately, which would be a perfectly valid thing to do and would offer two benefits:

1. It would double their contribution to the cause.

2. It would prove to them and the world that they are expressing the same opinion because they hold the same opinion, not because they’re a couple.

Bad Blogging.

No blogging today. I met somebody I simply didn’t like while out walking and it’s been playing on my mind ever since. It’s odd that being disliked myself doesn’t seem to bother me, but disliking others does for some reason.

And now there’s a stream of consciousness beating at the door, demanding access and the right to expression. It wants to be heard, but the door won’t budge so I don’t know what it wants to say. I think it might be a statement about a group of disabled Chinese people doing something creative and uplifting and making me suspect that humans can be beautiful after all. I thank them for that, but I don’t know whether it’s what I want to say.

So is this post worth making? Not really, but here goes…

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Mixing the Icons.

I saw something about a week ago that I’ve never seen before. The weather was dry and sunny, but cold, and there were two bees feeding – or attempting to feed – on the snowdrops.

Snowdrops are the iconic winter wild flower in Britain. As far as I know, they’re the only winter wild flower; they’re certainly the only prolific one, deriving their common name from the fact that they’re often seen blooming above the snow. Bees, on the other hand, are an icon of high summer. Yet there they both were in strange, incongruous harmony, seeming to have become a dual icon of the unseasonal seasons we seem to be having so much these days.

And it was a little sad to realise that the bees would probably have very short lives, since the nights were frosty at the time. I also wondered whether snowdrops even produce nectar. Do they? I don’t know.

Friday, 11 March 2016

No Light in Enlightenment.

It started by being prodded again and told: Perception is the whole of the life experience. Without perception we would be but mindless machines.

But then it went further into the question of whether perception is all that exists, and that led to the further consideration (consideration?! – do me a favour!) of what came before perception. So that took me back to the Big Bang, concepts of God, etc, etc, and I ended up with a few tentative notions:

1. All theistic religion is trapped in the illusion, and the corollary would have to be that so is atheism.

2. All science and mechanical considerations are also trapped in the illusion.

3. Philosophy is redundant because there’s nothing to talk about.

4. Art might be the one thing worth taking seriously, but my brain wasn’t up to working that one out.

5. I still know nothing and am as confused as ever. I still like eating when I’m hungry, though. It’s just that I still wonder why.

The whole process took about fifteen minutes, and now it’s lunchtime.

The Latest Fad.

I’ve decided I want a kite. One I found at Amazon – £8.99 and illustrated (more or less) – comes with the advice: Suitable for age 6 and over. The ‘...and over’ bit is encouraging, but quite unnecessary.

I should imagine the following one is rather more expensive, and I wouldn’t fancy the compensation claims from the local farmers for the bovine tranquilisers.

A Small Financial Risk.

I found out something else about tooth implants when I was the dentist yesterday. Apparently, the body sometimes rejects them. Imagine that: you spend £2,000 on a tooth (which is more than I spend on food in two years) only for your body to say ‘no, thanks’ and make you ill. And I’ll bet the dentist doesn’t put his hand in his pocket and give you your money back.

Making Manifest.

There’s a belief held by many that displaying images of things you want to bring into your life can help make them manifest, so I thought I’d display some images of Chinese art I like. Who knows, I might get there yet.

And while I’m in the manifesting habit, let’s have one of these…

And, erm, one of these…

Thursday, 10 March 2016

A Little Dream

 I wish to sail the Yangtze
And meet a maid called Yang
And ask her where the cormorants are fishing

And she would smile demurely
In groves where blossoms hang
And I would sail away again still wishing

Worlds and Worlds.

I was sitting waiting for the dentist today when I spotted a poster on the wall. A well heeled married couple were engaged in the business of being contented, and the catch line informed me that life is better with tooth implants.

Later, while lying on the couch, I asked the dentist how much tooth implants cost.

‘£2,000 a tooth,’ she said without pausing to take a preparatory breath.

Clearly, I live in a different world than the one which dentists inhabit. My world is the poet’s world of garrets, home made soups and gaps where teeth used to be. And I realised two things:

1. There is a point to be made about the questionability of applying free market forces to the field of health care, but it’s complicated.

2. You don’t have to write poetry to be a poet.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Conned by Creeps.

The advert for Sky TV says:

Limited time offer
Get a free 32” LG TV when
you join with
The Family Bundle

It just goes to show how much money the creeps from Sky are making out of people who allow themselves to be convinced of the life-enhancing qualities of family bundles (whatever they are.) Maybe it's all a mater of finding something to make life meaningful. Heaven knows it's difficult enough even for those who have a brain that functions occasionally.

I seem to be on a roll of little purpose tonight. Better get drunk so I can go to bed sensible. I wonder whether Chinese takeaways sell singers.

Incongrous Connections.

Have you ever wondered how crabs deal with an itchy back? It occurred to me the other day while I was driving over a narrow bridge.

And I noticed only tonight that the St Cervois lager I’ve been drinking for years and thought was French, is actually brewed in Scotland.

Furthermore, my friend Ms Wong tells me I’m still her mentor. How on earth does somebody like me manage to become a mentor without even trying?

Shades of Shallowness.

Mel was telling me something tonight and it elicited probably the crassest comment I’ve ever managed to insult myself with:

When there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel gets lighter.

Did I really say that? ‘Yes,’ confirmed my ex. Well, it's probably no worse than some of the words of wisdom people post to blogs, but it’s fortunate that when you’re on the phone nobody can see you blush.

*  *  *

And do you know what really irks me? You tell somebody how you feel about something, and they reply dismissively ‘Oh, don’t be silly. You shouldn’t think that way.’ So you reply with something succinct and logical, like: ‘I don’t think that way. That’s how I feel. They’re not the same thing.’ And they look surprised – or maybe continue to express a dismissive air – because it hasn’t occurred to them that while the reasoning faculty makes it relatively easy to alter the way you think, altering the way you feel is considerably more difficult, or maybe even impossible, because the way you feel doesn’t come from the reasoning faculty.

And they don’t even raise a blush, so you have to give them up for dead because they’re too lacking in fundamental nous to bother with.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Footsteps and Altered States.

It only just occurred to me, while listening to the Venerable Borg’s weird taste in music, that the sound of footsteps unaccompanied by any informative view of their source can be quite interesting. It can be menacing, encouraging, or merely mysterious depending on the circumstances.

*  *  *

I just looked in the mirror and wished I still had the same amount of hair as I did when I was twenty. A very great deal of it has now migrated south and metamorphosed into frown lines.