Thursday, 28 April 2016

Ships Passing Nicely.

I have a confession to make (for those who don’t already know.) I smoke. What’s more, I roll my own so I smoke on the cheap. And although smoking isn’t the healthiest of pastimes, I have no problem with it because, as a favourite character said in a recent TV drama I watched: ‘whatever gets you through.’

So, today – having been through two days of tedium during which nothing worth reporting happened – something mildly interesting did. (Although I suppose I should let others be the judge of that.)

I was standing in the market place rolling a cigarette. In front of me was a bench on which was sitting a late teenage girl – pretty, black hair with purple highlights, slightly hippie-ish clothing, funky glasses; you know the type. I could see out of my peripheral vision (which, being an inveterate observer, I’m quite expert at using) that she was watching me. Eventually I looked back. She smiled nicely and looked away, as did I. But then the old pv caught the stare again.

‘Excuse me,’ she said after a respectable pause, ‘could I trouble you for a cigarette?’ I moved towards her, at which point she held up a big bag of crisps and said ‘You can have a crisp in return if you like.’

That’s the funny bit. At least, I thought it was funny.

I declined the crisp, gave her the tobacco and papers and invited her to make two cigarettes, one for now and one for later. The one she made for now contained the normal amount of tobacco. The one she made for later contained at least twice as much, and I suspect she was planning to split it between two papers and have two cigarettes later.

I suppose that’s the sad bit.

I continued standing behind the bench on which she was sitting while she engaged me in conversation, and then she said ‘You can sit down, you know. It isn’t my personal bench.’

That was the endearing bit. And so I sat, and she continued to engage me in conversation until it was time to go back to work – in a shop which sells slightly hippie-ish, individual items of clothing which are not exactly inexpensive. She said ‘It was lovely talking to you’ as she crossed the market place, while I sauntered off for a cup of coffee. And neither of us asked the other’s name, which adds an extra little degree of charm because it’s a bit like waving to a ship going the other way in the middle of the Atlantic and which you feel reasonably confident you’ll never see again

Rather nice, don’t you think? I do.

And isn't it odd that just when I decide I should stop talking to strangers (see earlier post), a stranger should insist on talking to me. I really don't know what to make of this life sometimes.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Beauty and Cocktails and Things.

Somebody famously said ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ To put it another way: If you find something beautiful, it is. If you don’t, it isn’t. Beauty is an abstract concept that has no objective basis.

So why do we all think roses are beautiful? Is it a learned response or is it genetically imprinted? I don’t know, but the question makes for a shorter post than explaining why my tendency to view all situations as cocktails in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is currently hiding the tulips.

Being Past it in Japan.

The girl I met in Tokyo 
Said ‘Would you like a ride?’


I said ‘I’m rather broke, you know
And then there’s this beside:


I’m not as young as once I was
My hour is getting late


I think you should take up your wares
And seek a fresher date’

It’s all lies. I’ve never been to Tokyo, although I've always had a yen (sorry) to visit rural Japan. Three people who’ve spent time there tell me that it’s a very beautiful country, and I gather the Japanese have great respect for reserve, quietness and the sanctity of other people’s space. That would suit me nicely.

And I remain intrigued that somebody from Japan continues to read the same two stories, as I mentioned in an earlier post. What can it mean? Might I one day see a version of both translated into Japanese horror stories on YouTube? That would be fun. And if you read this, esteemed Japanese person, please don’t worry about copyright. I don’t. I happen to believe that stories live best when they are freely repeated.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Overcoming the Language Barrier.

I just watched a short Japanese horror story on Youtube which was slightly less than satisfactory because it didn’t have English subtitles. Not that it really mattered, since you know that at some point the girl is going to turn up unexpectedly because she always does. You know she will be young and pretty, but will look less so by virtue of her emaciated condition, raggedy black hair, and generally wan demeanour.

Tonight’s offering had a twist, however. Instead of looking creepy, tonight’s lady looked sad and rejected every time she knocked on the hotel door and the young businessman in regulation spectacles turned her away, evidently because she wasn’t the sexy escort he’d just ordered by phone from the local takeaway. I felt really sorry for her (really), and was pleased when she appeared in the room anyway and smiled menacingly while holding a blood-stained butcher’s knife even more menacingly. ‘Serves him right for being such a heel,’ I thought. ‘And what the hell was he doing listening to Mozart? What’s the point of being Japanese if you’re going to listen to Mozart at two o'clock in the morning instead of watching a Kurosawa movie?’ The businessman dropped his phone at that point. Good. I hope it broke.

You know, it’s amazing how much of the story you can pick up without subtitles, only I got irritated when the man on the other end of the phone kept saying ‘hi’, since I know it doesn’t mean ‘hello’ in Japanese and I get easily confused. But at least he also said ‘fuck you’ at one point. At least that’s what it sounded like.

An Unlikely Case of Mugging.

The sheep didn’t call their kids away from me when I walked through their field today; they ganged up on me instead. They did, really. One started trotting towards me, then a second followed, then two more decided to join in, and the phenomenon grew almost exponentially until I was all but surrounded by a veritable posse of ovine potential assailants.

‘What’s this all about?’ I asked the leader, at which point she approached and sniffed my leg. ‘I have nothing to give you,’ I pleaded (like they do in movies set on the mean streets of wherever.) I offered to pat their heads, but that didn’t impress them and eventually they let me go. Throughout it all the kids hung around just watching, as kids do, and three of them were black. Imagine that: three black lambs. I’ve never seen even one before.

I realised they must have thought I was the farmer come to give them their daily hay ration, and once they got the message and decided I wouldn’t taste as good as best meadow hay, they lost interest.

It reminded me of the day when one of my ex’s got mugged by a pair of sheep for her sandwich, on a mountain above Derwentwater in the Lake District. By the time I heard the squeals and turned round, she was already flat on her back (rendered supine by ovines – nice phrase) with two bloody big sheep stamping all over her, trying to grab her cheese and tomato butty. I had to go and lift them off, which was a bit irritating because it interrupted the taking of a picture I was lining up. No one apologised for troubling me.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The American Problem.

Two things relating to America have struck me over the past couple of days:

1. I gather Donald Trump has now effectively admitted – or at least is claiming – that the version of him so far presented is fake. Should he eventually make it to the White House, Americans are being told, the real Donald Trump will be very different. That strikes me as a pretty weird and dishonest way to conduct an election campaign. And if he does make it to the White House, it will say something rather less than complimentary about the Americans who put him there.

2. President Obama is following his usual habit of lecturing the people of other countries on how they should think and behave. He’s currently in Britain telling our young people that they should ‘reject cynicism.’ Well, there’s a slight irony here, because one of the things Europeans are most cynical about is the concept of the US President being styled ‘leader of the free world.’ It raises a few questions, so let’s put one to the Pres:

How can you expect young people not to be cynical when the ‘leader of the free world’ might be elevated to that exalted position by the kind of people who support the fake Donald Trump, especially when they don't even know which one is really fake?

Sorry, Americans, but you’re on a bit of slippery slope here if you’re truly concerned about your credibility among the peoples of the free world (which might or might not be quite as free as we’re led to suppose.)

Oh, and I gather Hillary Clinton has a few agitated skeletons in her own closet, so it’s looking like a bit of a no-win situation. Good luck.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The Question of Enrichment.

I’ve been intrigued for some weeks by the fact that there are two teenage girls working in one of Ashbourne’s charity shops – which is unusual – so today I asked one of them whether they were volunteers or whether they were working to some sort of bureaucratic requirement.

‘We’re volunteers,’ said the girl enthusiastically. ‘Wednesday afternoons are free of lessons on the understanding that we do something enriching, like studying philosophy or something.’

‘Enriching?’

‘Yes. Wednesday afternoon is enrichment time.’

‘You’re from the local high school?’

‘Yes.’

 Thinks: The educational establishment has finally realised that the old platitude ‘personal development’ is getting a bit long in the tooth, so they’ve come up with a new one. Enrichment time… Mmm…

‘So you choose to work in a charity shop because it isn’t quite as boring as philosophy?’

No answer. Scowls from the (middle aged) manager. Oh dear.

‘OK. None of my business. Bye.’

I really must stop talking to strangers. I must tell myself repeatedly until what’s left of my brain takes notice:

‘You must not talk to strangers. Most strangers are normal people, whereas you’re odd. It’s a near-certainty that at some point you will either annoy them, discomfit them, embarrass them, or perplex them. Don’t do it.’

OK.

But I’ve thought of more questions, as well as a few suggestions…

Monday, 18 April 2016

Life, Siblings, and Japanese Motivation.

There are times, like now, when I can read any old blog post I choose and want to disown it because it wasn’t written by the person I am at the moment. I’ve always been like that – a host of different people all inclined to reject their siblings (although we do share some personality traits.) I used to think everybody else was the same, but I don’t expect they are.

So anyway, tonight I watched a detective drama in which the solution to the mystery came when the man in charge of the investigation discovered that the name Zoe means ‘life’ in Greek. They could just have come to me and asked, couldn’t they, since I’ve had an odd fixation with the name Zoe for quite a long time. It’s one of those personality traits most of the siblings share.

Alas young Zoe. I knew her, Horatio. A woman of infinite…

… but that would be telling.

Tonight’s Me is into mysteries, melancholy and blue Stilton cheese. Blue Stilton is expensive, which is why I don’t have any.

And I’ve been in correspondence with a person connected with a splendid Japanese marimba ensemble called Remix. I’m told they formed it to show people the beauty of the sound of wood. What a very Japanese thing to do. And while I’m on the subject of things Japanese, I still don’t understand why so many of their ghost stories are set in ladies’ lavatories. (I’ve been watching some again on YouTube by way of bed time relaxation.)

Saturday, 16 April 2016

On Critters and a Sense of Place.

We’re having a bit of a cold snap here in Blighty today, and even had a few flakes of snow drifting around this morning. I gather Scotland had a lot more, but the Scots aren’t noted for recognising cold. It’s my theory that they were all Canada Geese in previous lives. (‘Polar Bears, actually’ I hear them declaim en masse. As you wish.)

Anyway, it resulted in me musing on just which part of England I live in, and I realised that the Shire is on the geographical boundary between the two areas generally recognised as the English Midlands and Northern England respectively. (The political boundary is a little further north, but geography is more real than politics so we’ll stick with that one.) To celebrate this new-found awareness, I decided to acquaint myself with a previously untrodden (by me, that is) public footpath, and made a few friends along the way.

First there was a beautiful piebald mare grazing in a field. In spite of my best entreaties she declined even to recognise my presence until the prettiest little Shetland pony came trotting across to investigate. Once the Shetland received a little fuss, the mare decided to butt in and demand my undivided attention. (I’ve noticed that about horses: they seem to have something of a superiority complex when it comes to Shetland ponies.) Needless to say, I permitted my attention to be equally divided.

Then there was the finest specimen of an old oak tree you’re ever likely to encounter. Squat of aspect, broad of crown, gnarled as a piece of old leather, solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, and probably about 300 years old in my estimation. I congratulated him on escaping participation in the Napoleonic Wars and wished him a good new season.

Stan’s Boys (Stan being the local beef farmer.) They permitted a quick nose scratch each, but no more. Beef cattle are more suspicious of strange humans than horses are, which isn’t surprising in the circumstances, and a hell of a lot dirtier.

On the way back I looked in on the fresh batch of new lambs in the field up the lane. The nearest lamb said something which I’ll need to translate using nothing but well honed instinct: ‘Mum, there’s one of those big creatures with two legs only a lamb’s bound away. What do I do?’ The mother’s deep alto answered without hesitation: ‘Don’t be a dummy. Come here immediately or you might not get the chance to cuddle up to me when it turns frosty tonight.’ And so he did. Don’t they always? Meanwhile, the chicken regarding me inquisitively through the wire mesh fencing was unable to make friends because chickens aren’t designed to squeeze through 1½” wire mesh.

The big news on the critter front this week, though, is the sighting of a Goldcrest in the garden. In ten years of living in the Shire I’ve only ever seen one Goldcrest, and that was around the corner in one of the lanes. This one was carrying nesting material, so it appears my garden is to host a Goldcrest’s nest this year. That’s a thrill.

What isn’t a thrill is that a mother rat has given birth to six babies which are now engaged in trying to eat the food I put out for the birds. They won’t be babies very long, of course, and so humane measures are in hand to attempt relocation.

Cultivating the Look.

I think I might start wearing an actory scarf. What’s an actory scarf? It’s a scarf that successful and aspiring theatrical actors (as opposed to the commercial film variety) wear in place of outdated cravats in wholly inappropriate circumstances – like on hot summer days and while being interviewed under hot studio lights. (This is a Brit thing, you understand, although I suspect we might have picked up the habit from fin-de-si├Ęcle French and Italian artists. It demonstrates creative integrity.)

So why do they do it, apart from demonstrating creative integrity? Well, to paraphrase a commercially successful American actor: ‘Pseud is good.’

And why do I want to do it? Why not? When you have little left to offer and only women your own age smile at you, clutching at straws is permitted.

My Apologies...

… for the fact that recent posts have been wordy, remote and boring. It’s just that current circumstances are subduing my natural propensity for silliness, which is no less boring but a lot less heavy.

I am, however, intrigued by the fact that two of my stories at the other blog seem to be gaining some popularity in Japan. This is a mystery since neither contains any pale, emaciated female characters with unkempt black hair who haunt ladies’ lavatories or crawl out of TV sets. Maybe that’s the secret.

And I read that a German comedian is in trouble for insulting the President of Turkey. Do you realise how much material that could give me if I weren’t subdued? Bad timing, eh? And I bet the joke wasn’t too slick either.

On Priests and Philosophes.

It occurred to me earlier that schools of philosophy are not so dissimilar to religions, since both amount to unprovable belief systems based on the pronouncements of one or more persons presumed to be enlightened. So then I wondered whether the reason why the decline in religious observance is not matched by a comparable decline in the reverence paid to schools of philosophy has more to do with our veneration for clever people than with our faith in their pronouncements.

But maybe not. I suppose the main difference between the two is that whereas religions seek to order and arbitrate on the human condition, usually in the name of an also unprovable supreme being, schools of philosophy incline more towards encouraging healthy debate of the ultimately unknowable.

OK, but I still wonder whether – given that individual philosophies are highly complex and generally only debated by intellectuals in refined knitting circles – schools of philosophy actually have anything like as much influence on the human condition as religions do.

So tell me I’m wrong. I’ll be fine with that.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

An Antipodean Muse.

One of my stats trackers informs me that a person or persons unknown from Victoria, Australia, read one of my old blog posts at 7.22am local time on his or her iPhone. It's an insignificant bit of trivia, but when the mind is starved of inspiration, insignificance is no bar to a little idle speculation.

Being a bit of a whizz on world geography, I happen to know that Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so I'm aware that their seasons are back to front. That means it’s autumn Down Under. I go further and remember that an erstwhile correspond from that fair continent once informed me that Victoria prides itself on being the upmarket state, so a picture begins to take form.

I imagine my visitor to be living in an old, villa-style house – a remnant of colonial days probably – and is sitting on his or her balcony in the gentle warmth of an antipodean autumn morning. He or she is taking coffee in the company of some extravagant plant with luxuriant foliage which compliments the filigree design of the wrought iron balustrade perfectly. Together they are shaded from the glare of the morning sun by the leaves of an old beech tree, planted long ago by a Victorian (assume whichever definition you prefer) colonial officer who, on finding himself unable to be in England now that April’s here, chose to plant a reminder of the Old Country so that he could at least bask in its golden radiance when dear April was forced to wear the garb of an incongruous season. Lying on the table is a half finished crossword in whichever newspaper presumes to be the Australian equivalent of The Times. And so it goes on…

I expect I’m completely wrong, but I do wonder whether some person in Victoria, Australia is concurrently engaged in a reciprocal muse about the writer of a blog sitting in his house at 10.22pm enjoying the supposed delights of a properly vernal English April. I doubt it, which is why it’s merely idle speculation to fill the gap between the ending of tonight’s DVD and engagement with the diurnal shower routine.

Walking the Vale.

A man called Liam commented on an Enya track:

This song is amazing. Please comment if you can think of any other words to describe it.

The challenge was irresistible.

 Awesome?

If taking an interest in prime numbers is perverse, engaging with primary nerds on YouTube hardly bears thinking about.

Added later:

Liam came back with:

Breathtaking.

Irony is apparently an unknown quantity to those who walk in the light, but at least the rest of us can smile in the dark. 

Life in Brief.

Sometimes you feel like giving up on the whole damn thing, don’t you? You do. But you don’t.

Tonight I found myself taking a perverse interest in prime and perfect numbers. I think it’s all to do with developing a taste for things that have no inherent value, but which make you feel better for knowing them.

Sainsbury’s didn’t have my favourite bread for the second week running. I complained.

… if thou hear never more of me, pray for my soul.
~ Mallory

I expect thou wilt.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Rueing the Wrong Impression.

Seems I made an impression on a young lady today. She was about two years old and refused to walk past me with her mother and grandmother. Her mother pointed at me and said ‘doggie,’ but it didn’t help.

Shortly before that, the rather older young woman in the coffee shop maintained her habit of treating me like something the cat brought in (having first devoured and regurgitated it.) I can only put it down to the fact that I once enquired after her accent, since she didn’t sound local. Maybe that’s enough to attract the epithet ‘creepy’ these days. We are, after all, living in strange times.

Or maybe I should stop talking to strangers. Then again, it might be my scrufty dog hairstyle. I’m having it cut tomorrow, so let’s see what next week brings.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Currently Considering...

… whether the Romantic tradition is just wishful thinking, or whether it’s a view of a higher reality in which the power of the feminine is greater than the power of the masculine. Consider how Arthur is conceived, and then ask who destroys him.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Disturbing Encounters and the Travel Wish List.

It’s been a week of unusual creature encounters and today the trend continued. I don’t want to talk about today’s encounters with the rat and the wild rabbit, though, since both would stir unpleasant emotions and make for unpalatable reading. Instead I thought I’d make a list of the places in the world I’d like to visit, just for my own amusement you understand. Let’s see, there’s:

1. China, to see the Dunhuang caves and the Daming Palace.

2. Sydney, NSW, to walk in the footsteps of the priestess.

3. Providence, RI, because the Venerable Borg’s eye for unusual style, combined with her clever iPhone’s capacity for being both a camera and darkroom in one little package, make it look like an interesting place to be.

4. The Met in NYC, once graced by the professional presence of the person who gave me the biggest thrill I ever remember.

5. Svalbard, to see the Northern Lights.

6. Transylvania because they probably don’t have mirrors there.

That’s about it, which is fortunate because I can't afford any of them anyway. And the last one was a joke. Seems I can still joke, although the imminent shower and nightly YouTube habit might change all that.

Sensing the Mockery of Ancestors.

Here’s another ad that’s caught my attention for all the wrong reasons:

  
Find out? Find out what? Do I need to explain that the only thing you stand any chance of finding out is the opinion – authoritative or otherwise – of some self-styled pundit who can say whatever he likes without fear of contradiction? That puts it in the same bracket as astrology phone lines which charge £1.50 a minute to be told what the future probably doesn’t hold for you Sagittarians out there.

So tell me, is there anybody, anybody, anywhere on the planet who is dumb enough to click the Find Out Now button? Please tell me there isn't, but I bet you'd be wrong.

You know, if ever there was an age for revealing the unbelievably stupid side of human nature, the technological age has to be it. Graveyards all over the world must be shuddering with the silent laughter of our ancestors.

A Matter of Reputation.

I couldn’t find anything to write a post about yesterday, since only two happenings of note cast any light into the gloom. Firstly, I saw a Blue Tit taking the initial batch of nesting material into this year’s nest; and secondly, I had an apparent visitation to my blog from a Pennsylvanian ghost. Watching nature take its course in a constructive way and being delightfully haunted by Pennsylvanian ghosts are both substantially thrilling to me, but I don’t expect anybody else to be impressed (except maybe the ghost.)

Today is different. Today I cleaned the car.

‘Is cleaning the car a matter of universal interest?’ you might ask. Well, sort of. It was sunny, you see, and the car radio was playing one of those Viennese waltzes known and loathed by true music lovers everywhere. It struck me that a man cleaning a car on a sunny Sunday lunchtime, with the Blue Danube Waltz, or whatever it was, playing quietly but just loud enough to put passers by into a state of simpering reverie, is the very epitome of traditional suburban living. It goes with roast beef dinners, the imminent prospect of Sunday school, and that awful sinking feeling you get when contemplating the unavoidable reality of having to go back to school or work tomorrow.

‘Why a man?’

What?

‘You said a man cleaning the car.’

Oh, that. Yes, it has to be a man because in traditional suburban culture, only men clean cars. The man owns the car; the man drives the car; the man cleans the car. The traditional suburban male expects his wife to clean everything else, but he would be less than sane to allow the little lady anywhere near his trusted steed. (And I expect this Law of Right Attitude still prevails in South Dakota.)

‘Really?’

Really; I was there.

So anyway, the realisation disturbed me. It occurred to me that sundry lane strollers (and even those on horseback, of which there was one) might have their simpering reverie polluted by the notion that I belong. They might even think I have a job or something. That would never do, so I resolved only to be seen on a Sunday doing something either disreputable or at least culturally neutral. I don’t really care about my reputation, you understand, as long as it doesn’t encourage the view that I might be worth inviting in for morning coffee after all.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

On Language Skills.

Having long been a bit of a coffee addict I was curious about the term ‘barista’, so I googled it and read the Wiki article. The first thing it said was:

Not to be confused with ‘barrister.’

Really?

I blame the invention of the cell phone and the modern obsession with tertiary education.

On Being Untypical.

One of my stats trackers has started to throw an ad for a Chinese dating site at me, and this is the image they hope will persuade me to press the ‘Join Now’ button:


They don’t know me, do they? If I were in the market for intimate female companionship (which I’m not because I don’t think I’d know what to do with it at this point in my life) this is the image which might (just might) persuade me to exercise the left mouse button (it's the singer Ha Hui):

  
Or maybe this:

  
Or even this if I were fifteen and into war games, gyms and energy drinks:

 
But that? Give me a break from the stereotypes, please.

Dodging the Rubber Bullet.

A few nights ago I listened to some ‘music’ on YouTube that I didn’t rate very highly. Being in a tetchy mood and thoroughly irritated by the laughable plaudits being heaped upon what was little more than New Age candyfloss, I offered a comment of my own. It began ‘For me, this music has no merit whatsoever,’ and then continued with a hatchet job which I admit might have been a little over the top. I’ve been expecting incoming fire of the most hysterical kind ever since, and tonight I got a reply. It came from a man with a Spanish name and said:

‘Ok.’

OK? Is that it? Having no Spanish, I’m tempted to wonder whether ‘Ok’ is Iberian internet shorthand for ‘May the Devil roast your most private parts and consume them in a taco with a green salad and lashings of mayonnaise.’ Otherwise, it’s not exactly being hailed on with bananas, is it? Must try harder.

Friday, 8 April 2016

A Summons Happily Answered.

Following on from the last post about the disappointment of the lambs, tonight’s little encounter was anything but disappointing.

I’ve been concerned about the bats during the recent chilly spell. Would they handle the cold? Would there be enough food around? April’s capricious nature must be a bit of a problem to bats fresh out of hibernation and needing to build up fat reserves, and I’d only seen an occasional lone one up until tonight.

He (or she) was back this evening, and so I said to him (or her): ‘I wish you’d bring the family with you so I know they’re all right.’ He flew away, but about ten minutes later he reappeared, closely followed by a second, and then a third.

Need I say that I was about as beside myself with joy as I ever get these days?

The Encounter that Wasn't.

Today’s walk took me through a field where some of the local sheep are now domiciled with their very young lambs. I kept my distance of course because sheep can be susceptible to stress if alarmed, but at one point a couple of the kiddies came dashing towards me, evidently intent upon making friends. They would have had a friend, too, because I’ve never touched a lamb and it strikes me as rather a splendid thing to do.

But then, as they were within half a pace (credit to Albert and the 'Eadsman), there came an impassioned bleating from my right. Mother was obviously alarmed, and mothers are not known to be trusting creatures when there are strange men about (and who can blame them?) The lambs hesitated but briefly before obeying mother, and the chance was gone.

I did see a coot today, though, on the hidden pool-in-the-wood that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It was the first coot I’ve seen in this locality, since the nearest lake – the usual habitat of coots – is about a mile away across the river valley. So that was some little compensation (but not quite enough.)

Thursday, 7 April 2016

British Bureaucracy in Free Fall.

I had to call a government department today to enquire why I hadn’t received notification of something which I should have received at least two months ago.

I sat through the menu options and recorded announcements, including the now ubiquitous ‘We are currently receiving a higher than average volume of calls, so you might want to call back later.’ (It’s a euphemism which means ‘we don’t have the staff to deal with enquiries promptly these days. Government cutbacks, you understand.’) I didn’t want to call back later because I knew I would get the same message, so I hung on through more menu options and waited.

Eventually I made contact with a so-called advisor. I remained patient while she asked an excessive number of security questions, all the time aware that I was paying for the call because they don’t use freephone numbers any more. (Government cutbacks, you understand.) Eventually I was free to ask her why I hadn’t received my notification.

‘We sent you a letter on 30th January,’ she said smugly.

‘I never received any letter,’ I replied tetchily, ‘would you send me a copy.’

‘Not yet. You’ll have to call again next week.’

‘Why?’

‘Because we can’t send out copy letters until after the 11th.’

‘Why not?’

‘It’s the system.’

‘Why?’

‘It just is.’

There was silence while I considered whether there was any point in pursuing the matter until after the 11th. The eventual presumption being in the negative, I rang off.

If only she’d taken the opportunity to recite the usual bottom line:

‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’

It would at least have given me the compensation of a wry smile.

Of Moss and Magic.

I was walking past the edge of a wood today and found myself enthralled yet again by the sight of moss growing on the bases of tree trunks. I’ve always felt that way, and what’s even more striking is the sight of moss overgrowing the stumps of long-dead trees cut down by past generations.

And so I asked myself why, and wrote a long, laboured and much edited post about it, and then decided that the whole thing reeked of artifice and scrapped it.

Let’s just say that the sight of moss on tree trunks takes me into the realm of myth and magic – of legends, fairytales and the Romantic tradition – and half persuades me that such a realm is not so far from mundane reality as we generally believe it to be. That’ll do.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Indulging Ms April.

It hailed a lot in Ashbourne today. A Lot. Frequently and heavily. The steel roof of the store on the retail park seemed to be hosting an orchestra of kids with tin drums, which I suppose is why shoppers were looking up in awe and exclaiming ‘Oooooo… listen at that.’ (‘Listen at’ is a local colloquialism – something to do with 9th century Danes who proliferated and pillaged in these parts, I expect.)

The hail it was a-hailing
On road and roof and railing
While flood fanatics trimmed their arks
In readiness for sailing

Hmmm…

It was, of course, the work of our favourite British strumpet, dear April, who struts her capricious nature quite shamelessly when the mood takes her. For the past several days she’s been wearing one of her more attractive spring outfits, but today she decided she wanted to be a scarf and woolly hat girl again. And tomorrow she might break out the bikini and smile a summer smile. We never know; we’re used to her changeable nature. Visitors are advised to wait until May takes the helm.

Assuming Minor Significance.

The only interesting that happened in Ashbourne today involved brief encounters with four women. (Sorry, women again, I know… but can I help what happens to me? Well, there you are then.) So…

Three of them I knew, but the first two thwarted my intention to say ‘hello’ by turning away and pointedly ignoring me. By contrast, the third greeted me far more enthusiastically than she’s ever done. So what should I make of that? You tell me.

The fourth was the young woman in the coffee shop. She usually treats me like something the cat brought in having first devoured and regurgitated it. Today she had my coffee ready before I’d even ordered it and placed it in front of me with a ‘there you go.’ But then she gave me one of those looks that are slightly longer than normal and seem to carry some sort of meaning but you haven’t a clue what it is.

I treat such subtle encounters with a shrug of the shoulders these days since the female of the species is almost as big a mystery to me as the male. But it’s nice to be noticed, isn’t it?

Preparing for Fight or Flight.

Back in the winter of ’94-’95 I was forced to do a 13-week course in a town about twenty miles away by my benefactor-cum-worst-enemy, the Job Centre. It involved getting up early and going out at 7.30 in the freezing cold or driving rain and walking two miles to the railway station in the dark. The day was spent stuck in front of a slow and faulty old Amstrad computer in a drab portakabin with no windows, no pot plants, no wall decorations, dull fluorescent lighting, stale, recycled air, and in the company of a bunch of miserable people who desperately didn’t want to be there. Can you imagine what effect that sort of thing has on an HSP type – characterised as we are by extreme awareness of our environment – and is it any wonder that I fell asleep every night on the train home?

One night I occupied a small compartment separated from the main carriage by a door. It had two sets of four seats facing each other, and one other man got in and took a seat opposite mine. He had wild eyes, and when the train moved off he began jumping around, making strange, inhuman noises as he did so. I don’t know to this day whether he was human or not, but I didn’t fall asleep that night.

YouTube Lament.

I just watched a video on YouTube entitled Top Ten Historically Accurate Movies. One was Das Boot, the sets for which were described in the commentary as ‘excessively accurate.’ I’m curious to know how anything can be excessively accurate, since ‘excessively’ means ‘beyond what is warranted.’ The commentary went on to say that the movie was set ‘aboard a U-boat’ which should have been ‘on board a U-boat.’ Though the movies might be accurate, seems the commentary doesn’t quite match.

So then I searched for several Susan McKeown tracks and found five of them, but every selection came up with Video Not Available. Sometimes you just have to wonder about the people running the culture, but I suppose I got a post of sorts out of it.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Value of Ignorance.

There were things I wrote in old blog posts that I would never write these days. That’s because blogging changed me; it’s a great tool for getting to know yourself, and in my case some of what I discovered irritated me and change happened naturally.

Then again, some of what I wrote in the early days is better than anything I scribble now, which is maybe a good reason for not getting to know yourself.

Themes and the Hat Question.

Have you noticed that there are two recurring themes on this blog? Dogs and women. You rarely hear me talk about men and cats, do you? (I suppose it’s because I never had much fun with men and cats.) So wouldn’t you think I’m just the right sort of person to have a wife and a dog? Oddly enough, I’m not.

Today I made a little throwaway dog post, so now I’m going to make a little throwaway woman post.

There’s a young woman assistant in the bakeshop whose name is Poppy. That’s a very unusual name in Britain, but it suits her perfectly because she has just the right combination of fragility and expansiveness. I was going to tell her so today if she’d served me, but she didn’t – which is probably just as well because the odd ramblings of eccentric observer types can be so easily misunderstood. It’s occurred to me more than once that my path through life might be greatly eased if I had Mostly Harmless tattooed on my forehead, but there’s the hat to be considered.

Which reminds me: I feel the urge to re-vamp my headgear. This is the sort I wear at the moment:

 
And this the shortlist for final consideration:


Monday, 4 April 2016

A Jaded Response.

During the old photography days I went to take some pictures at Norham Castle in Northumberland. The only other visitor was a young woman who evidently liked poking about in old castles, and as we walked in tandem along the tops of two bits of broken mediaeval wall I said:

‘Bit like The Famous Five, isn’t it?’

She looked at me in that way young women do so very well when they’ve decided that all men are stupid and the one in close proximity just proved it. She said:

‘No.’

And I never saw her again.

(Norham Castle is the one on the right, under Herman Hess on Nobility.)

Translating Dog.

The dog coming from my right with its human was a Cocker Spaniel with a waggy tail and friendly eyes. The one coming from my left was a smaller something-or-other with a tail and eyes which seemed determined to prove it wasn’t a wimp. As they crossed in front of me, the little something-or-other lunged and snarled at the spaniel.

'Come back, Rattus Norvegicus,' cried its benighted human, valiantly attempting to hold the force of the lunge.

(Actually, it wasn’t called Rattus Norvegicus. I didn’t catch what it was called, but Rattus Norvegicus seemed wholly appropriate.)

Meanwhile, the spaniel made a deft skip to the left which would have done justice to Phil Bennett in his heyday. (He’s a legendary Welsh rugby player noted for having a mercurial side-step.)

As the two dogs (and their humans) walked of in opposite directions, they both looked back. The spaniel’s eyes said:

What was all that about, ya mad bastard?

The something-or-other’s said:

If I hadn’t been stuck on this f****** lead, ya pansy, I’d have bitten your f******* balls off!

Or so it seemed to me.

Death by Enyaphile.

I just realised there’s a novel way to commit suicide. You leave a comment on an Enya video on YouTube which says: ‘Not much of a looker, is she? I mean, Lady Gaga she ain’t.’

There are men in this world who would cut your throat after first emasculating you with a rusty razor blade for saying that. You should read some of the sycophantic slop they write. On guy admitted he’d camped out in front of her house on a semi-permanent basis just to get a look at her. And another one wrote:

Enya still play with my Feels.

Heavens! I reckon that anyone who is glad to have his Feels played with would be capable of anything.

*  *  *

And I just caught sight of my face in the bathroom mirror (in spite my best efforts not to.) It’s a reddish coppery colour. I’d quite forgotten that the sun can affect it like that. It’s been a long time.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Being Stalked by a Thing.

Remember me mentioning in an earlier post that I've twice heard a loud exhale of breath when I’ve been sitting in my living room? Tonight it was a loud scratching noise on the carpet. Have you ever read Casting the Runes by MR James?

On Socks and Solitude.

I made two new friends today, a Shetland pony and an American Quarter horse. They were both inveterate softies who were more than happy to have lots of nuzzle stroking, cheek patting and one-way conversation (and scratchy heads in the case of the Shetland because Shetlands have very hairy heads which just beg to be scratched.) They got a bit ratty with one another at one point and there was lots of stamping and squealing while I stepped back a few inches to allow them space to express themselves. Maybe they were jealous or something, but they soon gave up the spat and came back for more divided attention.

So then tonight I was sitting alone by the fireside, darning a sock that has an inconvenient predilection for springing leaks at the toe end, when I thought how strange all this is. It’s odd that a chap of extended awareness and some slight erudition should spend approximately 99% of his time alone, occasionally holding one-way conversations with hairy equines rather than the two-way variety with relatively hairless homo sapiens. I suppose it must be because hairy equines and other animals find my company more convivial than homos do. I am, after all, not the kind of person to whom invitations to tea are habitually extended.

The thought of being invited to tea was the point at which I became concerned. I’m still raiding my late mother’s sewing box for darning wool, you see, and the only colours in there are dark blue and brown, whereas the offending sock is charcoal grey. Neither wool was suitable if you’re going to be prissy about it, but I decided that brown was probably the lesser of the two evils. But then I had a terrible thought: suppose someone should break ranks and invite me to tea, and suppose they should ask me to take my shoes off. They do, you know, some people. I knew a woman once who invited me to dinner on the recommendation of her deluded daughter. She asked me to take my shoes off because the whole of her house was carpeted in white. That’s even dafter than darning charcoal grey socks with brown wool, so it wouldn’t have mattered in that case. But wouldn’t you just know it? My socks were in pristine condition. Damn. But anyway…

Being invited to tea isn’t very likely. There are a few people in these parts who seem to quite like talking to me, but only as long as we’re on neutral ground so they’re able to run away when my oddness becomes unbearable. Running away is more socially acceptable, don’t you know, than asking a tea guest to leave because he is unbearably strange and demonstrates the fact by wearing charcoal grey socks darned with brown wool. (I used to hope that the Lady B’s mama would invite me to tea because she’s sort of sophisticated like that and lives in a big house, but it never happened. Maybe her daughter wasn’t deluded enough to recommend me. And what would I have done for socks? It’s fortunate that I know my place and accept it with resigned equanimity.)

So where was I? Oh yes, darning socks with the wrong coloured wool and talking to horses. My life in a nutshell.

 
A Shetland pony that isn't the one I was talking to
and the sort of person who never invites me to tea.  

Saturday, 2 April 2016

A Recluse's View on Looks.

I’ve noticed that nearly all dogs are good looking. So are nearly all cats, squirrels, badgers, rabbits, hedgehogs, cows, sheep, orang-utans, lemurs, bears (especially so), Golden Lion Tamarin monkeys etc, etc. In fact, animals just are good looking.

And yet I’ve been noticing more and more lately that most humans are anything but good looking. So if the animals can do it, why can’t we?

I met a handsome young cow this afternoon. He came across to the hedge that separates his field from the track that runs down by the side of the wood where I was.  I couldn’t get close because there was a ditch between the track and the field, but I talked and he listened. At least, I think he was listening. He looked attentive (and peaceful and not unaware of finer values) and I think we made a connection. I like that.

(Trees are also good looking. There are five in the Shire that particularly impress me. I’m wondering whether to give them names, but that might be going just a little too far. I don’t want to offend them.)

Another Idle Note or Two.

I was thinking this morning while scraping soot off the bottom of my chimney flue that wise people either question everything because nothing is infallible, or never question anything because there’s no point. And people who think they’re wise hardly ever are.

I found this video on YouTube earlier. Aren’t these people beautiful? So real and unassuming, despite being genuinely skilful. (And I get really fed up with YouTube telling me I can't spell 'skilful' just because I don't spell it in American.)