Sunday, 31 July 2016

Counter-productive.

I’m curious to know why software houses like Microsoft and Google insist on putting moving adverts on my web pages. The thing is, if the advert is still I can ignore it and that’s fine. But if it jumps around, or has animations, or includes 1-second loops of Oprah Winfrey crying because she’s ‘been lying to us all these years,’ I get really irritated very quickly and develop a seriously bad attitude towards the advertiser.

You’d think they’d realise that, wouldn’t you?

Saturday, 30 July 2016

About Emily.

The only time I ever went to Haworth Parsonage was the only time I ever felt a sense of being on a pilgrimage. I looked through the door to the sitting room and gazed upon the chaise longue on which Emily Brontë took her last breath. I desperately wanted to touch it.

But was it her death bed? I’ve wondered since whether I read somewhere that it was, or whether I only imagined it. I’ve even wondered whether I knew the fact from some other, more arcane, source. The odd thing is that I’d never given much thought to her before that day; I didn’t know she wrote poetry and hadn’t even read Wuthering Heights, although I’d tried three times when I was the same age as she was when she died. For some reason I never finished it, and then my copy went missing. But the visit and the view of the chaise longue awakened something, though exactly what I don’t know. Something to do with longing and frustration, it seems. The fact is, it isn’t Emily’s literary work that fascinates me; it’s her abiding presence.

I see her sometimes, you know. She’s standing on a dirt track watching me as I approach, her hands clasped in front of her stomach and her eyes showing neither malice nor welcome; and yet they look expectant in some way. It soon vanishes.

Tonight I’ve been looking for a picture of mine which might suffice to commemorate her birthday, but I can’t find one. That’s frustrating.

Emily Bronte
Born 30th July 1818

The Tale of Reggie, Maggie, and the Shopping Mall.

My dislike of shopping malls made a successful re-entry into my orbit today. I was in one, you see, and remembered how dear old Margaret Thatcher bequeathed them to us as a lasting legacy to her inestimable wisdom. What happened was this:

Margaret had a favourite American friend who she liked to go and play with now and then. His name was… was… what the devil was his name? (I remember he was a dopey actor who pretended to be in charge of the USA for a few years.) Regan, that was it – Reginald, I think. Reginald Regan; that sounds about right.

So anyway, one day, when Reggie and Maggie had tired of burying their dolls head first in a sand pit and giggling a lot, Reggie offered to take Maggie to his old stompin’ and gun tot’n ground in California where, lo and behold, they chanced upon a shopping mall.

‘Oh, I like these,’ said Maggie, ‘I really like these. Britain must have a multitude of them. They will become a lasting legacy to my inestimable wisdom, and I shall be first among women for ever and ever.’ And that’s what she set about doing.

First she got herself elected leader of the Tory Party by convincing the menfolk (allegedly) that she was really very sexy and they began frothing at the mouth and falling over backwards. Then she walked regally upon their supine bodies until their eyes assumed a euphoric glaze and they could no more see reason than Blind Pugh could see Long John’s parrot. It didn’t take long for the Great (and rather easily fooled) British public to see her as the new Boudicca, and so she became Queen (the real one, that is, not the figurehead who – by an amazing coincidence – had a sister with the very same name.)

Then came the clever bit: She gave away all the industry (well, most of it) to countries where people of relatively short stature worked 100 hour shifts in sweatshops for 3p an hour. This meant that we could buy the goods back from them cheaper than we could make them in a country where workers selfishly expected a living wage and a few basic rights. The scene was then set for the great revolution:

The Shopping Mall.

And so it came to pass; the tradition was established and promises to continue unabated into a glorious future. People are never happier than when they’re running frantically around a covered building which smells seductively of artificial chemical scents, trying their very best to find something to buy that costs more than it’s actually worth because both the owners of the malls and the owners of the businesses believe resolutely in Maggie’s adopted maxims:

Greed is good, and nothing counts unless it sells (well.)

Besides, things that cost more than they're worth are worth all the more for it, aren't they? 

And that’s progress (and marketing propaganda.) And the thing that's going to make Britain truly Great again is having more shopping malls per square mile than California. So there.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Fuelling the Crime Rate.

I need a displacement device, since the enjoyment of an English rural landscape replete with perfect summer sunset is not congruent with the sound of rap and dance music coming from somewhere over the valley. So…

… I thought I’d mention this interesting little incident from our neighbours across the water in Sweden. This is the accompanying photograph:


It shows an off-duty female police officer arresting a man who stole her friend’s mobile phone while they were relaxing in a Stockholm park. It’s expected that police patrols will be greatly strengthened tomorrow in anticipation of a massive rise in the number of men picking pockets, snatching bags and stealing ice creams from children, and then not running away very fast.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Angela Rules OK.

I read the report on the last day of the Democratic Convention this morning. The BBC correspondents were clearly enraptured by it, claiming without let or hindrance that it was overwhelmingly more vibrant, more cohesive, more confident, and altogether happier than the fractured Republican effort a couple of days earlier. Maybe it was because they were there; maybe they were carried to dizzying heights by the irresistible combination of euphoria, expensive perfume, and Barack Obama’s ‘poetic’ speech. I wasn’t there, and all I could smell was artifice.

It seemed to me that the Democratic Convention was simply better stage managed than the Republican one. It obviously had better script writers. While Donald Trump was pictured doing air kisses, Barack and Hillary were locked in the genuine embrace of true blue friends, which just goes to prove that Hillary is a splendid person after all. (Doesn’t it?) The whole thing smelt very much of political exigency and very little of anything remotely genuine, and my impression was that they all come from the same stable. But that’s politics, and that’s why my bottom line on the whole disingenuous business is:

I don’t want my world to be ruled by the sort of people who rise high in the political machine.

I don’t, I really don’t. But then I skimmed through the rest of the world news and came across something very interesting: Angela Merkel has declined to rescind her policies on immigration, even after the recent atrocities in Germany and France. She says she won’t abandon the refugees.

I’m suspicious; I have to be suspicious because if there’s one thing I’m hyper cynical about, it’s politics and politicians. Can it be that here is a senior politician who is putting humanity at the top of her list of priorities? Is it possible that a woman who has risen to the highest branch of the political tree is declining to engage the usual animal instincts, preferring instead to aspire to human potential? Can she be the one to prove me wrong? God, I hope so.

And so, Angela, if you should ever want to take over Europe and annexe Britain in the process, you have an ally in me. If you need helping hands to remove the drain covers so the rest of the political ne’er do wells can be shovelled into the sewers, give me a call. If I’m right in my assessment, many thanks and blessings. If, on the other hand, I’m wrong about you, don’t worry about it. I’m good at shrugging and carrying on regardless.

Literary Reprise:

Just to get back to the goings-on-in-America (because they were so goddam inspirational.)

I was trying to decide which of the sound bites I read in speeches at the conventions best deserved the prize for the Sound Bite Which Proves What a Load of Dingo’s Doings the Political Machine Really Is. It came down to a short list of two:

Donald Trump: Believe me!

Michelle Obama: Don’t let anybody ever tell you that America isn’t great.

I decided to be magnanimous and concede a dead heat.

Epilogue:

There is much to be anxious about in the world of JJ at the moment. Blog posts don’t come easy in an atmosphere of high anxiety. Just saying.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Les Vacances de Geoffroi.

In recognition of my resurgent interest in M Hulot films, and in honour of the fact that I just had a visit from Miami Beach, I thought I’d post a picture of me with grandma at Blackpool (sur la plage, no less.)


She was quite the style guru, was grandma. She was light years ahead of everybody else in her taste for retro. And did you know that this very beach is the one on which the little dog ran with great aplomb and delight, carrying in his mouth a disembodied human foot, in the film Funny Bones? It was a sublime M Hulot moment. Connections, connections…

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A Life in Two Halves.

For the first half of my life to date I was a predominantly left brained sort of individual. For as long as I was allowed to have an academic career, I did very well in all subjects. I was good at figures, good at writing formal letters and reports, and good at organising things. I was formal in most things, and mostly anaesthetised by the hum of mother culture. And I functioned generally within the tram lines, being safely settled in the expectation of a regular career path and the accumulation of those accoutrements which normal people are supposed to accumulate.

And then I moved to a cottage in the country and my perceptions began to change rapidly. The second half of my life followed a very different road on which the right brain supplanted the left. Bohemian elements appeared in my psyche, and the winds of both fate and intent blew me this way and that, often in highly disparate directions. They led me into photography, theatre work and the discovery of the language of fiction. It’s how I became poor but maybe a little less boring than I had been before (although I suppose that’s for others to say.) And this was the place that brought about the sea change: 

Not very prepossessing is it, and yet I have reason to be grateful to it nonetheless.

The Wrong Vibes.

I once watched a music video of a song called Indus by the band Dead Can Dance. It’s an up tempo number that kind of gets you going, you know? Has you moving around in your seat without even trying.

So, being in an elevated mood that night, and feeling the humorous juices flowing freer than the drivel dripping from a Donald Trump speech, and being further energised by the beguiling quality of the rhythm, I made a joke in the comments box. I wrote:

I’m nearly dead, and it even had me dancing.

Dead Can Dance? ‘I’m nearly dead and…’ Get it? Good. My fellow YouTubers didn’t. Ever since then I’ve had them accusing me of ‘low frequency thinking.’

It isn’t an example of low frequency thinking; it’s a joke, for heavens sake. Maybe not a particularly inspired joke, but obviously a play on the band’s name. And dullards who can’t see a joke as obvious as that get on my nerves a bit, which is an example of low frequency thinking. Isn’t it fortunate that irony makes me smile?

China and the Human Aspiration.

There are things about China which trouble me, like the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and the mean-minded attitude of the Chinese government towards Tibet, for example. But China is also an ancient, sophisticated, highly creative civilisation with a depth of soul which must give us pause.

This video was made in China by Chinese people. It’s about a theatrical spectacle given by performers stricken with a variety of disabilities, and who either use those disabilities to produce something beautiful and meaningful, or at least rise above them to the same end. It encapsulates why I have asked the question on this blog:

Why is the human creature so obsessed with emulating the animals when it could, instead, aspire to be human?

Because what do we see filling the media day after day ad nauseum? Is it this sort of thing full of joy, higher mind, and superlative achievement made for no other reason than to grow a perfect rose on stony ground? Or is it wars, abuses, deceitful politicians, flagrant manipulation for pecuniary ends, terrorist atrocities and Donald freggin’ Trump?

I hope somebody somewhere gives ten minutes of their time to watch it and be moved. One would be enough to please me greatly.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Note on Seasons and Sensibilities.

I had another lane encounter with a dog this evening, only this one had a human attached. The dog was friendly, but the human scowled and said ‘It’s too hot, isn’t it?’ I broke with convention and disagreed, which isn’t what you’re supposed to do in Britain if a neighbour makes a trivial comment about the weather. You’re supposed to say ‘Isn’t it just? Roll on autumn, eh,’ even if you’re shivering under five layers of clothing (which I wasn’t, but that’s beside the point.)

When I got back I was pleased to be vindicated when I checked my outdoor thermometer: 21°C (69.8F if you’re colonial.) No wonder they think I’m odd. When they finally get around to chasing me to the burning mill with pitchforks, they’d better do so on a very cold night in winter so as to avoid melting before we even get there.

And just to prove that I haven’t become entirely bored with my new toy yet, I thought I’d offer this picture of my mother’s retirement presentation. I do so for two reasons:

1. Readers of longstanding might be interested to guess which of these nurses I would most and least want to appear out of the mist at 6am to change my dressing. The pros have two candidates, the cons one, but I think it would be ungracious to offer clues. You may, however, smile quietly as long as you do so with a modicum of guilt.

2. It offers a poignant reminder of the good old days when female nurses wore dresses and little caps which might be described as ‘fetching.’ I’m not at all sure I would want to be physically manipulated by a modern nurse wearing pyjamas, especially if she was also sporting boots more suited to chasing people to burning mills on a snowy night.

Lane Encounters.

I was walking along a little-frequented lane today when I felt something bang into the back of my leg. Being mildly alarmed (it being a little-frequented lane, you understand) I turned to see a black Labrador dog wishing to make friends. Needless to say she got her wish in abundance, and was then taken home to ensure she didn’t follow me to the sort of lane frequently frequented by motor vehicles. The next black Labrador I passed barked at me menacingly. Such is life.

In commemoration of the pleasanter encounter, I post herewith a 3 minute clip from a M Hulot film in which he makes friends with a dog on a lane occasionally frequented by motor vehicles. And the kid with his head in the steering wheel is one of those tiny bits of magical cinematic humour which you don’t see much of these days. Whatever happened to charm?


The First American Error.

I imagine the indigenous peoples of North America must be kicking themselves. They must be ruefully watching the big white guy with hair that looks like a wig that came off the shelf of a dime store (and maybe actually did) and saying:

‘Why didn’t we think of that? Build a wall down the eastern seaboard and deny entry to all Christians. Simple. Damn, damn, damn…’

*  *  *

In less serious vein, I have to say that I dislike the latest Battle Hymn of the Republicans:

America first.

It isn’t that I don’t understand its catchy and populist quality, it’s just that I would prefer something more general and ethically flexible, like:

Whoever needs the help most gets the most help.

(I hope I’m not plagiarising anybody.)

Friday, 22 July 2016

Reading a Little Boy's Future.

Here’s a picture of me doing-mean-with-twig. Clearly I was the person for whom German Expressionist cinema was invented. You only have to look at the non-conformist attitude suggested by the untied shoe laces, and the hand brush lurking menacingly on the top step, all ready to sweep the world clean in preparation for a darker future. And what about the twig, eh? What about that? The steps are the clincher, of course. Steps feature prominently in German Expressionist cinema, and I often dream about steps when I’m anxious about something. Steps were the means by which Nosferatu came to Jonathon Harker’s bedroom in order to prepare him for his own darker future. Frightening, isn’t it?

On Sounding British.

Somebody just posted a reply to one of my YouTube comments. It said:

You sound so British.

So how does one respond to such a statement?

1. That’s because I am British.

2. Is sounding British so unusual on YouTube?

3. Do you mean Basil Rathbone British, Bob Hoskins British, or Johnny Rotten British?

4. Would you say: ‘You sound so American’ to an American?

5. If you think that sounds so British, mate, you should read my blog.

6. Tell me, old bean, is your remark intended to be complimentary, in which case please accept my humble gratitude, or pejorative, in which case I demand satisfaction with rolled umbrellas at two paces?

7. Gertcha!

I mean, what does ‘you sound so British’ mean? And if I really do sound so British, why am I not inundated with comments from girls in Minnesota offering to do interesting things to me whilst wearing nothing but rhinestone-encrusted boots (and maybe that favourite shirt of mine which has shrunk a bit in the wash.) They don’t know I resemble the final remnant of the box of dried Moroccan dates I was given three Christmases ago, do they? And why aren’t a few dozen Russian ballerinas writing to me in Russian accents offering a pas-de-deux (whatever that might be, but it’ll probably do - heaven knows the accent would be sufficient.) Mick Jagger managed it, and he’s even older than me.

I think I’ll leave my response until after midnight when my bandwidth is unrestricted and the Hobgoblin ale is mixing, pas-de-deux fashion, with the Grants superior blended scotch. Together they encourage a more creative mindset and a distinctly un-British lack of reserve.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Tonight's Pictures.

Here's me as part of a 5-a-side football team which had just won a regional competition. (I’m the stupid looking one wearing the wrong colour shorts.) I scored both goals in our 2-0 semi-final win, and one of them was bloody brilliant. Nobody noticed.

  
And this is a picture of my ex, Mel, shortly after we started seeing each other. You wouldn’t think such an attractive young woman would have such terrible taste in men, would you?

Trump and the Bottom Line.

I once read a comment on YouTube which went something like ‘Mah daddy (I expect the writer came from Texas) always told me that the best way to run a country is to run it like a business.’

It’s a pretty damn silly thing to say. A business – at least a big business – is fundamentally a soulless money-making machine. A core aim of business is to run as efficiently as possible in order to maximise profit, because profit is always the bottom line in business. And the old maxim It don’t count ’less it sells is ever the watchword.

A country is an infinitely more complex organism in which efficiency has to be tempered with a whole range of social, ethical and humanitarian considerations. A country run like a business is not going to be a contented country; it’s going to be a troubled one.

So that’s why I was interested in Trump’s latest words of wisdom. He says that if he becomes President, the guarantee of all NATO countries to support each other in the event of conflict might not apply to America. His remarks are seen as being particularly aimed at the Baltic States, apparently. He asks why America should help those who don’t do anything for America. After all, it isn’t good business, is it? And Trump is a businessman. On a more general level, he argues that America can defend itself from home soil if it needs to; it doesn’t need to be in Europe. It would be cheaper that way, he says, more efficient. Good business thinking: cost is the bottom line and the other complex considerations can be swept under the carpet. I imagine there might be a few strategists rolling their eyes, but maybe Donald has enough self-confidence not to listen to strategists.

And the latest question I see being asked is:

Will the Trump family become the next great political dynasty?

To paraphrase another famous bottom line:

God help us, every one.

The Helen Mystery.

I bumped into an old neighbour of mine today – Helen, who used to live across the courtyard at my last house. I see Helen quite a lot because she, too, has decamped with her husband and children to the next village from where I’m living now and her kids attend the school opposite my house.

Today, however, we met in Sainsbury’s car park where we were both engaged in depositing recyclable waste in the recycling bins. She had four big bags of wholesome waste like ice cream tubs; I had one small bag containing five beer bottles, two beer cans, and a lone plastic milk bottle to offer balance and credibility. And if I’d finished the current litre bottle of scotch last night, that would have been included to challenge the balance and credibility equation further and make it even more realistic. Maybe next week.

The point of the post, however, is to say that there’s something odd about Helen. Whenever I talk to her I become strangely garrulous. As soon as we part I feel inclined to run after her and apologise for hogging the conversation, which I always do approximately in the ratio of about 10:1. Helen has a way of drawing me out, and I don’t know why.

Just Wondering.

I’d like to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all the wonderful people out there who append all those wondrous comments to my blog posts. I know I don’t deserve them, but I love you all.

Ahem…

Maybe this blog needs to become more specialised. Maybe I should forget the birds and animals, the existential musings, the political commentaries, the silly ditties, the musical notes, the current and historical anecdotes, the fantasy dialogues with fantastical llamas, the latest encounter with the woman in the coffee shop and other strange beings, the occasional repetition of the equation Google = glitches + grief, and probably many more which I’ll probably remember later. Maybe it needs a theme. How about:

Fashion and beauty.

I’ll bet fashion and beauty blogs get an average of 5,000 followers and every post at least 25 comments, mostly along the lines of ‘IMHO fair haired people should only ever wear a dark-tinted foundation.’

But therein lies the problem, you see. I’m not exactly sure what foundation is, much less whether it comes in a variety of tones. Nevertheless, I do consider myself an expert on beauty, even though I know nothing at all about make up, which sort of hairstyle best suits a pear shaped face, how you hide a double chin from the disapproving attention of an unkind public, or how to make your cheekbones resemble lethal weapons. But the problem with my type of beauty is that it isn’t photogenic. It isn’t this type, for example, pretty as the young lady undoubtedly was:

  
As for fashion, I have no knowledge whatsoever to declare, merely my propensity for abstract consideration which the 5,000 followers wouldn’t want to read.

OK, so maybe I won’t bother after all. Maybe I’ll maintain the status quo and hope that somebody from a foreign clime (like Portugal, Romania or Fontana, California) takes pity on me and declares an interest.

(All of which is just a roundabout way of saying ‘Who the hell are you?’ I’ve said most of the rest before. Sorry.)

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Watching the Trump Show.

I’m not going to comment on Meredith McIver’s ‘confession’ that she was responsible for the hilarious Trump plagiarism gaffe, since if she isn’t totally incompetent one must assume that she isn't the first junior to take the fall for somebody else. I’m not going to comment on the Trump’s claim that the whole sorry mess was good publicity for his campaign. I’m not going to comment on the 36 hours Sean Spicer, Trump’s campaign strategist, spent denying the charge of plagiarism, nor his assertion that the same words can be found in My Little Pony. The whole thing resembles a better than average TV sitcom because it’s mildly amusing to see people with egg on their faces trying to get it off by scuba diving in a bowl of omelette mix.

Instead, let’s leave the final word to Ms McIver, who said:

I’m honoured to be working for such a great family.

God bless America (when he picks himself up off the floor.)

Changing Reality.

I’ve been watching some favourite old videos on YouTube tonight. One of the things I’ve always found most interesting about life is the way music and spectacle can transform your consciousness, taking it into a different world with different senses, values and aspirations. Happily, all you have to do to re-enter that alternate world is to listen to the music again. And since I’m always saying that perception is the whole of the life experience, I suppose that’s important.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Trump and His Mystery Mole.

If British politics have shown themselves to be dirty, deceitful and disreputable over the past few weeks, spare a thought for Americans who are being given no other choice for their next President than Trump and Clinton. You wouldn’t give either of them house room, would you? And isn’t democracy supposed to be about choosing the candidate of whom you most approve, not the one of whom you least disapprove?

My real sympathy, however, goes to poor Melania Trump. She’s surely been hung out to dry by somebody in her speech writing team, and the smell here is more that of a mole than a rat. I’ve only read one comparative section of her speech, but it’s easily enough to conclude without doubt that it’s an open and shut case of plagiarism. Whoever wrote it undoubtedly took Michelle Obama's speech and only lightly paraphrased it, so lightly that no one in their right mind could have failed to realise that it would get picked up.

I did wonder whether Michelle Obama might have a case for litigation over breach of copyright, but I doubt it. I should imagine political speeches are probably in the public domain and that’s good news for poor Mrs Trump. With a name like hers she must have been the butt of much sniggering down the years, so maybe she was due a bit of a break. As for the mole in the speech writing team who managed to pour further scorn on the Trump effort, I reckon that will remain a public mystery. Whether or not he or she will survive is probably in less doubt.

A Developing Urge.

There’s a woman I’ve started seeing walking around Uttoxeter who I find intriguing. She looks as though she could have been a model once. She looks like a model – tall, perfectly proportioned, ultra slim, with an easy, confident walk and hair that looks like it has money spent on it. And she has ‘experienced’ eyes, if you know what I mean.

The reason I find her intriguing is that she looks to be in her late forties, maybe fifty, and is always seen carrying a little boy of around two. I feel a growing urge to offer her coffee in exchange for her life story. It might be boringly mundane, but I have a feeling it’s probably quite interesting.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Cats and Dogs.

America is troubling me. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it is. This picture troubles me:

  
You see, I can’t imagine that it could have been taken in any modern, economically developed country other than the USA. It was used to illustrate a news report on the fact that the cops in Cleveland want a ban on guns at the upcoming Republican Convention (despite the Republicans being the very people who jealously guard that section of the Constitution which gives every citizen the right to bear arms. Nice irony, folks.)

Mr Trump says America is falling apart. Mr Obama disagrees. I might for once agree with Mr T, but probably for different reasons. The image of America that’s crossing the water is of a country becoming dangerously polarised into those who want to keep the Middle Ages going as long as possible, and those who want to evolve and catch up with nearly everybody else. And please don’t shoot the messenger (irony is flowing freely here.) I’m just saying that it’s the image which is coming over the water. And America does sort of run NATO, doesn’t it?

*  *  *

So let’s get off the nasty stuff and onto something much pleasanter – two more pictures of two animals that were very significant to me in less troubled times. The first is Em doing her smart-but-a-bit-confused collie dog look. The second is Ratty doing cool (and ‘the rustle I just heard means that something is going to die pretty soon.’ OK, graphic but maybe not particularly pleasant.)



Stuck in the Groove.

The Daily Mail and its sister paper The Sun are considered in Britain by those with the odd brain cell to be the worst of the tabloids. Mostly we find them hilarious, as for example when The Daily Mail carried the headline:

GIANT MUSLIM SPIDERS BRING EBOLA VIRUS TO THE UK!

(I never read the piece because there’s always the risk that you might be spotted, and that would be a bit embarrassing, wouldn’t it? I suppose it was probably an attempt to encourage the base level right wingers to demand that spiders of foreign extraction be banned from wearing the kebab. They would have meant niqab, of course, but The Daily Mail isn’t terribly good with words. Words are for mealy mouthed liberals, not right on Daily Mail readers. But to continue…)

Mostly we laugh at them, but sometimes they can be dangerous. They love deceit, they love spreading hate, and they love to support deceitful hate spreaders in positions of power. Brexit was right up their right wing back alley, and their constant bleat was the primal fear:

Migrants.

No woman would be safe. Crime rates would become uncontrollable. We would all be reduced to penury because they would drain the national coffers. They would pollute the sceptered isle with dirt and alien bacteria, and soon our very skin would lose its pink-tinged purity. And suppose Britain were to sink beneath the waves under their weight, instead of ruling them as we’re supposed to do. Whatever hell they are trying to escape, we don’t want them here!

Migrants, migrants, migrants… Where would we be without migrants to demonise?

Today the Daily Mail headline was about the failed coup in Turkey. It wasn’t about the causes. It wasn’t about the political instability. It wasn’t about Erdogan’s leadership. It wasn’t even about the cost in human lives. It said:

TURKEY:
FEAR OF MIGRANT SURGE.

Megan the Teenager Talks Krapp.

When I was 10 I thought teenagers were wonderful. When I reached my own teenage years I tolerated most of them. By the time I was 30 I couldn’t stand them. Yet, oddly, the older I get the more I now like them. Even the gaucheness of teenage boys can be quite appealing, and the girls’ propensity for venom is wondrous to behold. But mostly I like their enthusiasm and (usually) their open-mindedness. I have a theory that a world ruled by teenagers would be chaotic, but probably happier.

I had some correspondence by YouTube comment with a teenager last night. I assume it was a girl because its name was Megan, and I assume she was a teenager because everything praiseworthy was ‘da bomb.’

The correspondence was fascinating because I couldn’t make out in which realm her mind was wandering or what the hell she was talking about. I like correspondence like that – reminds me a bit of Samuel Becket. I like Becket, especially Krapp’s Last Tape in which the sole actor has to eat about a dozen bananas every performance while talking very clever nonsense.

And talking of bananas, the one thing Megan said which I did understand was: ‘I only ever eat cooked things. Even my vegetables are cooked. Grilled zucchini is da bomb.’ Pity I don’t know what zucchini is, but never mind. I expect she was American. Anyway, my latest reply reads ‘What about strawberries?’ I’ll keep you posted.

Later:

Megan says she's never tried grilled strawberries (O O). My reply:

I've heard they're da bomb if sauted, covered with raw herring's entrails, and then dressed with garlic butter. Being a vegetarian I don't eat herrings or any part of them, so I wouldn't know.

Megan is growing on me. I'll keep you posted. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

A Nice Picture.

I haven’t tired of my new toy yet. Every night at about this time I feel the need to scan some picture or other whilst supping my second coffee of the day. It’s a routine that’s become useful for filling in the arid time between closing the outdoor activities at dusk and entering the shower-and-YouTube epilogue period.

The problem is that I’m getting close to running out of pictures because the vast majority of my stuff is held by publishers and picture libraries and I don’t have copies. Besides, there needs to be a reason for putting the picture on the blog, doesn’t there? Maybe there doesn’t, but I’d prefer it if the picture prompted the odd word or two, however trivial.

OK, so here’s a picture of Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire, which at least makes a change from the rugged and romantic Lake District:

The point about this picture is that it’s a perfect example of composition-by-numbers. This is how the Beginner’s Guide to Taking Nice Pictures tells you to do it. Rule of thirds, colour in the foreground, people to give context, side light to add body to the elements, etc. It’s a commercial picture taken for commercial reasons, so let’s be kind and call it unpretentious. Better still, let’s call it nice.

The point about the location is that it’s the sort of place where the suburban population of towns and cities go for a nice day out on Sunday. Some go while still digesting Sunday lunch; the more wilful and carefree throw their wallets to the wind and buy it while they’re there. (I went looking for commercial stock shots and took a packed lunch.)

The more extended point is that it proves the exception to my English teacher’s instruction. ‘Never use the word nice,’ she said. ‘Be more imaginative.’ I know what she meant and generally agree, but there are times when ‘nice’ is precisely the right word.

An Odd Connection.

There was a young girl from Astoria
Who went on a date one fine day
She gave her young beau much euphoria
By blowing his cobwebs away

Make of that what you will. I haven't a clue what to make of it. It dropped into my head ready written while I was looking at a picture of the Persian who introduced Europe to Hindi numerals (which Europeans henceforth called 'Arabic numerals.') Apparently they were banned in Europe during a part of the Middle Ages because, although they were far more functional than the daft letter symbols used by dumb Romans (not least because they included the number 0 which nobody else had ever thought of doing), they also made it easier for crooked merchants to cheat.

'Got your stylus handy, Vincenzio?'

'I have, Lothario.'

'Well get hold of Antonio's clay tablet - the one with the promissory note written on it  - and add a couple of them nought things to it. He won't notice.'

So now I'm wondering why everybody who was anybody in Mediaeval Europe had names ending with 'o'. Do you think it might have had something to do with Arabic numerals?

Whingeing Aussies.

Recently I read with interest and not a little delight that greyhound racing is to become illegal in the Australian state of New South Wales from next July. Today I read another piece in which certain Aussies (owners and trainers, you understand) were whingeing like hell about it.

‘Greyhound racing is an integral part of Australian culture; it’s traditional, for Pete’s sake! It’s taking away a whole third of what proper Aussie blokes bet on. The government only wants to sell off the tracks to make mean money. Think of all those poor people who will lose their livelihoods; some of them are in tears. It’s terrible that this should happen just to serve a political agenda.’

So why is it happening? Well, because a recent TV documentary exposed the mind-boggling cruelty that is endemic to the world of Aussie greyhound racing (as it probably is elsewhere, I imagine) and a lot of people were rightly horrified. Small animals used as bait to be chased and torn apart to train the dogs. Dogs being abused. Large numbers of them put down because they didn’t make the grade, and some of them drained of blood before they were euthanized.

C’mon, Aussies. It’s a shame that some people will have to find another way to make a living, but if the old way routinely involved horrendous cruelty to animals, my sympathy is severely limited. And it isn’t just serving a political agenda, is it? It’s serving an ethical one.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Age of Aquarius?

The world news seems so oversubscribed with violence at the moment – racial strife in America, the atrocity in Nice following on from several others in Europe, the attempted coup in Turkey, the honour killing of a woman in Pakistan which only made the news because she was a celebrity, but which is apparently distressingly common in South Asia… And all come down to rising conflict between those seeking radical change and those seeking to maintain the status quo.

Add to that the millions of refugees curently trying to find a way out of hell, and I wonder whether the world is entering one of those periods of great upheaval which happen occasionally down the centuries. It’s beginning to feel like that to me, and so I wonder what today’s generation of teenagers are going to live through over the next fifty years. Fifty years will see me long gone, but maybe I’ll be back to play my part.

Meanwhile, have a couple of pictures of something that doesn’t change much. Maybe I should have started a series on Moods of the English Lake District. OK, imagine I did.

 Wastwater

Crummock Water

And here's a bit of trivia that will truly astound you. Did you know that of all the lakes in the Lake District, only one has the word 'lake' in its official name? That's Bassenthwaite Lake, the one furthest north. All the rest are waters, meres or tarns. Blame the Norwegians.

Magic Mick and Minor Asides.

I see Mr Jagger (or ‘Sir Mick’ as the ever-so-whimsical media like to style him) continues to keep his end up quite manfully. His latest belle is a ballerina forty three years his junior, and she’s just given birth to his seventh child. Since he’s only 72, it makes you wonder whether his final girlfriend has been born yet.

I’m not being in any way judgemental in saying this; their affair is their business and nobody else’s. On the contrary, I’d be more than happy if he set a precedent – as long as he still has the body not to insult hers. I’m afraid that would be my worry if I had his charisma.

*  *  *

And on a note that right-thinking people will no doubt find more wholesome, I thought I’d post a couple of pictures which sort of sum up the charm of the English Lake District. It’s one of my favourite places.



*  *  *

I saw HT 54 in motion today for the first time in a long time. It waved to me, but I couldn't tell whether or not it smiled. It usually does, but you can never tell with Pisces cars. 

*  *  *

And now I’m going to watch a YouTube clip of Favourite Blackadder Quotes (which should be ‘quotations’ but never mind.)

A Post Avoided.

I won’t be making a post on last night's atrocity in Nice. I’ve spent all day going through the various angles and every one of them requires much more than a blog post. It would amount to trivialisation, and that would be disrespectful in the extreme.

I would only say that one aspect above all makes me numb. As a person who would suffer remorse and self-loathing if I accidentally ran over a rabbit, understanding a man who can play bowling ball to the skittles of human beings is more than difficult. I’m driven to understand human nature in all its extremes; I mostly make a decent job of it, but this one defeats me.

Might I also say that Mrs May’s response to the atrocity further eroded what little regard I have left for her (which isn’t much.) But that can wait until a more appropriate time.

Friday, 15 July 2016

A Roman Connection.

Following on from the last post, it occurred to me that Astoria sounds like some place the Romans conquered.

Having brought the Dacians to heel, the legions then crossed into Astoria, conquering it in a mere six months of campaigning and bringing a reported 10,000 slaves back to Rome to feed the lions in the Coliseum.

The Roman connection having being made, I thought I’d post a view from Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland.



And did you know that one of the favoured sites for the location of the Battle of Mons Badonicus – Arthur’s final victory over the Saxons – is also on Hadrian’s Wall about twenty miles west of this place? Don’t I know some interesting stuff? (And now somebody who knows even more is going to tell me that Astoria really was some place the Romans conquered. I can’t be bothered to Google it.)

On Posh Places and Influence.

There are a number of regular visitors to this blog whose identity is a mystery to me because they never declare themselves. I’m intrigued by them all, but the one which stands out at the moment is a fairly new one from Astoria, New York. Now, correct me if I’m wrong dear American cousins, but isn’t Astoria, New York a bit posh?

You see, I don’t understand why a posh person would be attracted to my blog. It’s not exactly a posh blog, is it? So now I have an image of a scullery maid or something, languishing on the lower decks of a 20-bedroom mansion, who has spent many years saving up enough little silver dimes to buy herself a computer and now takes succour from reading a non-posh blog written by some presumed kindred spirit in a far off land. That’s a bit tear-jerking. It is.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to construct a ditty based on Astoria, but all I’ve come up with so far is that it rhymes with Gloria and euphoria. That’s a bit sad, too. I think the ditty gene must be switched off at the moment. (I gather that genes can switch themselves off and on. I heard it in a documentary once, about scientists being wrong for a change.)

*  *  *

On a more optimistic note, I finally got around to sending the BBC an email yesterday pointing out what a crappy standard of English their journalists are foisting on us lately. I gave an example of a headline from one of the BBC Sports pages, and you know what? The item is still there today, and they’ve changed the headline in accordance with my criticism.

Yo! Influence at last.

(I’m secretly planning to take over the world, you see, and getting the BBC to replace ‘less’ with ‘fewer’ is just the first step.)

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Smelling Mrs May.

Sorry to go on about this, but the more I see of Theresa May and her departmental changes, the more I’m having suspicions about an undeclared agenda.

Wasn’t it a little suspicious that Boris Johnson got pushed out of the leadership race, only for the pusher to be voted out by the Parliamentary party and the inexperienced Johnson given a senior ministerial brief? Wasn’t it a little suspicious that Andrea Leadsom inexplicably pulled out of the final contest, thus putting Mrs May into Number 10 without her first having to go through a ballot of Tory members? And then – surprise, surprise – Mrs Leadsom is also given a ministerial brief, even though she, too, has little experience of government. Isn’t it a little suspicious that Mrs May has now disbanded the department dealing with climate change, and its function transferred to that dealing with business initiative? Let’s ask which sector has been the biggest enemy of action to address climate change ever since climate change became an issue? The big business sector has. And all this just as Britain prepares to leave the EU, after which it will no longer be subject to EU regulations.

And here’s another uncomfortable thought: Before Brexit, Noam Chomsky warned that if Britain left the EU it would come more under the influence of America. So which major power has been the most ready to drag its feet on climate change action because it would threaten the interests of big business? Is it any wonder that I’m curious to know just how far Monsanto’s poisoned tentacles are capable of reaching?

So as I said, the more I see of Mrs May and the whole suspicious business, the more I’m beginning to smell a very big and very odoriferous rat.

Something Rotten in the State of Westminster.

You might remember me referring several times to the fact that Michael Gove forced his ‘friend’ Boris Johnson out of the Conservative Party leadership race post-Brexit, and thrust himself into the contest instead. Boris, the Clown Prince of British politics, slunk away apparently into oblivion, while Gove subsequently lost out to Theresa May.

Ah, but now look what’s happened. Gove has been stripped of his Cabinet post, and Boris – of whom I’m hearing nothing less than pejorative being said either in this country or abroad – has been handed one of the top three jobs. That makes the chronically inexperienced Boris a far more senior politician than Gove.

Do you get the impression that there’s something rather less than transparent going on behind the scenes? And don’t you begin to detect a whiff of something suspiciously unwholesome about Mrs May?

Growing Beyond Caring.

I was in Uttoxeter the other day when the skies opened and a heavy downpour ensued. It lasted about fifteen minutes. I and maybe a dozen other people took shelter under an archway, one of the few places in the town – apart from the shops – where you can do that.

As we stood there, an elderly man walked off the High Street, proceeded through the arch, and continued beyond it and back into the torrential rain. About ten minutes later he came back and repeated the exercise in reverse.

He looked to be in his eighties, with fine white hair that dripped water, a bent back, and a shuffling walk with paces that were only a matter of a few inches long. The combined effect of his crooked form and the fact that he was carrying a bag in one hand while using a walking stick in the other caused his jacket to pull open, and all he had underneath it was an open necked shirt. Both were sodden.

I watched his eyes as he approached the arch and then walked past me. At no time did he exhibit the slightest sign of discomfort or any other emotion, and I was moved to wonder whether it was an example of fortitude, or whether he’d simply stopped caring. Whatever the answer, it was a reminder of why the modern emphasis on longevity is maybe missing a point.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Mrs May's Ugly Duckling.

I’m sure everybody around the world is as excited as we lucky Brits are to learn that we now have a new Prime Minister. Cameron has gone and Theresa May is all set to become Empress Maggie II. Her first job, which she discharged without further ado, was to name her new Cabinet, and there are a couple of surprises.

Philip Hammond is to be the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. I gather he is known to object most strongly to spending on public services, and since that includes welfare – the Tories’ favourite bĂȘte noir – it seems reasonable to suspect that Mrs May’s pre-election pledge to make Britain ‘a better place for everybody’ might be under threat. Chancellors who object to welfare spending generally make the poorest people in the country even poorer, but we’ll see.

The biggest surprise, however, is the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. You might remember that Boris spearheaded the Leave campaign in the recent Brexit poll, and when Cameron announced his resignation in the wake of the Leave vote, Boris threw his hat into the ring as a candidate to become the next leader of the Conservative Party. He was then stabbed in the back by his friend Michael Gove, and shuffled away with a waddle and a quack and a very unhappy frown. I thought we’d seen the last of him, but no.

A swan? Me a swan? Aw, go on. Yup; despite having no government experience whatsoever, Boris has been handed one of the three highest posts in government by Mrs May, a confirmed Remainer. Methinks there might be a little Machiavellian politics going on here. I get a faint whiff of the notion that she is remembering the old and much-quoted rule for maintaining power:

Hold your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Progress and Past Glories.

The young woman in the coffee shop who treats me like something-the-cat-brought-in-having-first-devoured-and-then-regurgitated-it offered a wholly new approach today. Today she treated me like something-the-cat-brought-in-but-hasn’t-yet-quite-despatched. There’s progress for you.

I asked: ‘Have you been on holiday? I haven’t seen you for some weeks.’ She replied: ‘No, it’s just that our paths haven’t crossed.’ Ah, but then I suspect she decided that the analogy of paths crossing was a little too intimate to be addressed to a man who is old enough to be an ancestor, and so she added: ‘What I mean is, I haven’t been on duty when you’ve been in the shop.’ That’s fine, and I’ll still regard it as progress.

So to celebrate this thawing of relations, I thought I’d post the picture to which I alluded when I first had my new toy, the scanner. (You might remember I mentioned two girls in cowboy hats.) I was a lot younger than the woman in the coffee shop etc-etc-etc when this was taken, by the way:

 
Notes

1. My hairstyle looks about ten years out of date, so I suspect it had been re-arranged by the keen onshore wind for which Blackpool is famous. The wind doesn’t trouble my hair too much these days.

2. As before, do excuse the poor quality of the picture. My friend Barry took it.

3. Colour film had been invented by then, but we hadn’t yet come to trust it. Besides, when you’ve only got a black and white camera…

4. The cowboy hats aren’t up to much, are they? Not exactly Deadwood Stage standard. More like the stage in St Winifred’s Church Hall, Ramsbottom Road, Wigan. The girls did come from Wigan as I recall, not Wyoming. (Nor even Wisconsin, more’s the pity.)

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Plan B.

I watched a disturbing video on YouTube tonight, all about extremely disturbing videos that are available on YouTube. Thankfully it showed no clips; heaven knows the verbal descriptions were bad enough. But it did raise an odd thought: how does a torturer cope with being given a masochist as a subject?

‘Tell us where the invasion plans are hidden.’

‘No, I refuse to talk.’

‘Then are you ready to have red hot needles forced down your fingernails?’

‘Oh, yes. Yes please.’

‘Shit! He’s one of those... Very well. We are not going to force red hot needles down your fingernails, we are going to give you an ice cream instead. What do you think of that? And what is your favourite flavour?’

‘I refuse to tell you.’

‘If you refuse to tell us it will go badly for you, my friend. We will find out from your mother and give you two ice creams.’

‘Aaargh… OK. I give in. The invasion plans are hidden in…’

I suspect the summer heat mustn’t be getting to me.

One day later...

I'm currently drinking the litre bottle of scotch given to me by Dave the Mechanic for writing up his accounts, and it's a bit odd. It doesn't taste anything like what it says on the label; it's rougher, more fiery, and makes you feel strange after a mere two doubles. I suspect it's somehow been tampered with. Unsettling as that fact is in a general sense, at least I hope it excuses the dire nature of this post.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Simpler Times.

Since I haven’t anything to write about at the moment (I’m tired of complaining to the gods about the summer we haven’t had yet), I thought I’d post a picture of my then wife’s first rock band.

  
They couldn’t think of a name when they first started, so I suggested Marley’s Ghost. They liked it and adopted it and that was pretty brilliant of me wasn’t it? Anna did vocals and keyboards (plural? Actually it was just a small Korg) and the two lads played lead and bass guitar. I don’t remember what they used for percussion – maybe the same Korg or maybe they didn’t bother. Times were simpler then.

The picture was made using double exposure or combined negatives or some such bit of trickery. (There was no such thing as photoshop then because times were simpler.)

The bassist was the one I wrote about on this blog once, the one to whom Anna remarked ‘it should be a B flat there,’ and he replied ‘there’s no B flat on this guitar,’ and she countered ‘does it have an A sharp?’ to which he answered ‘yes,’ and she said ‘OK, use that instead.’ Brilliant.

He was also the one I found sitting with his back to next door’s fence when I went out on one occasion, and it didn’t take many seconds of regarding his excessively glum expression to realise that he had a crush on the leader of the band. I suppose that made him a sort of stalker, but it wasn’t a problem. I had no sense that he was any sort of a threat and the leader of the band was quite unconcerned, so I left him to it and carried on regardless. I suppose that was wrong of me; I suppose I should have offered sympathetic words of comfort, since unrequited crushes can be terrible afflictions. Ask any teenager (or even me.)