Wednesday, 31 August 2016

BT and Other Woes.

At about 4.30 last Friday afternoon I was walking the lanes of the Shire when I spotted a British Telecom engineer dragging a length of cable across a verge and tying it around a pole. I recognised it as the piece that had been hanging 7ft above the road for about a week, ever since it had been partially brought down by a falling tree branch. I asked him what was going on.

'I came to replace the cable on the pole,' he said, 'but there wasn't a hoist available so I've had to cut it since it was dangerous.'

The upshot of this little incident is that a large part of the locality, including the whole of the main village, all properties in an adjoining lane, the village school, and me have been without phone and internet access since last Friday.

Many subsequent attempts to get BT to expedite the matter have brought only frustration, anger and another reminder that BT is the worst of all companies I've ever had to deal with in my entire life. They're easily the most damning expression of Mrs Thatcher's dreadful free market mania and most certainly shouldn't be running the British telecommunications network. Unfortunately, they are. The latest date I've been given for this simplest of repair jobs is 7th September.

I'm making this post from Ashbourne library, just in case anybody thinks I might have died. Sorry to disappoint. I expect I'll be up and running again eventually, but who knows? It just so happens that I'm also suffering the intermittent upsurge of five separate infections at the moment, so I'm not feeling very alive anyway. Maybe I'll force myself to see a doctor one of these days. I dislike seeing doctors because they tend to behave like authority figures and I'm allergic to authority figures.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Achieving a Position.

One of these days, when I’m in a more positive and generally more optimistic frame of mind, I might endeavour to construct a post to justify the assertion that:

One of the effects of becoming a recluse is that it subdues the ego, and in so doing erodes one’s sense of self.

But for now, here’s something completely different.

I rarely laugh. I smile a lot and chuckle occasionally, but I’m a relative stranger to full blown laughter. This made me laugh:

Anyone who has never seen the whole film and doesn’t know the wider context might suspect a hint of anti-Semitism in it. There is none. Neither does it have very much to do with Romans or the Roman Empire. It’s a parody on that curious phenomenon called the English class system, and raises an interesting point:

From 1066 until the end of the Middle Ages, the English aristocrats were the real tough guys of society. And then along came the Renaissance and they gradually metamorphosed into figures of fun. You’ve only got to look at the Royal Family to see that they haven’t realised it yet.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

A Victim of the Free Market Mentality.

My landline phone went dead today. There was a time – before the tyrant Thatcher wrested power and set about foisting her free market mania on a country that was functioning very smoothly – when if your phone went dead, you called the number of the nationalised (and therefore not-for-profit) phone provider and spoke to an engineer. You explained the problem, he listened. You discussed the problem, he ran some checks. And then he advised on the best way forward; and because you were talking to a human being who knew his subject, you accepted his advice and life went on its merry way with a minimum of stress.

You don’t do that any more. You go online now and spend fifteen minutes registering your right to report a fault, which involves answering a whole load of impertinent questions ranging from your shoe size to the time you last bathed, and eventually get told ‘you may now tell us what your problem is.’ (Unfortunately, you don’t get the chance to say ‘you are the problem, British Telecom; the system is the problem; the fact that I can’t discuss the issue and put questions to you is the problem because there is no longer any human contact.)

So then you start jumping through automated hoops of their creation. You follow prompts and press buttons, and at the end of it all you come down to the bottom line when the automated voice tells you:

‘We can book an engineer’s visit, but if the problem lies with your equipment, or anything within the bounds of your property (even if it’s their equipment, note), we will charge you £129.99. Do you want to book an engineer?’

F*** OFF!

I decided to use the mobile phone and call their old Faults number, just in case there was some poor soul of an engineer languishing in a crumbling office somewhere who they’d forgotten to make redundant and who desperately wanted to be of service to the public. There wasn’t. There was a recorded voice which functioned in online mode and eventually said:

‘We can book an engineer’s visit, but if the problem lies with your equipment, or anything within the bounds of your property, we will charge you £129.99. Do you want to book an engineer?’

At that point I became somewhat glum (and the rain began to fall copiously from a deeply leaden sky at the same time) because this sort of thing is becoming all too common these days. It’s happening to me a lot, and I seriously began to wonder (seriously) how much longer I want to drag myself through the sludge of a frustrating, impersonal, dysfunctional bloody system created for and on behalf of a soulless, selfish, manipulative, and occasionally dishonest corporate world whose only reason to exist is to get fat on the backs of those who have to rely on them (and create an extra half dozen or so billionaires in the process.)

Tomorrow I will reconsider the problem. In the meantime, since I’m hardly in the mood for making chirpy blog posts, have a picture I took once. It can serve as my homage to one of the two things which keep me dragging myself through the sludge.

Isn’t she lovely?

Good Seed Falling on Stony Ground.

I just watched a YouTube video on ‘Funny Test Answers.’ As the title suggests, it was a catalogue of funny answers given by kids on school test papers, and I think my favourite was:

Q: If you were living at the same time as Abraham Lincoln, what would you say to him?

A: Never, ever, watch a play.

Some of the answers were quite astonishing examples of lateral and original thinking, and it made me wonder:

Do some of the most brilliantly minded kids consistently get big fat zeros in their tests, and so never make the grade because the system simply doesn’t know how to channel their brilliance?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Moving with the Times.

Isn’t this a splendid old wall?

It formed one side of an alleyway in a small town called Stone, close to where I was living when I first took up photography. I suspect it might have housed a well known local brewery, famed for the excellence of its beer except during hot summers when it tasted like vinegar. It had ceased trading before I moved to the area and began my photography phase.

I haven’t been there for a long time, but I expect it’s gone now and been replaced with a swish apartment block or shopping precinct. It’s what usually happens to characterful old buildings with their peeling paint, shaling brickwork and glassless windows. And that, I suppose, is how it should be.

Escaping the Spanish Inquisition.

I was in a Poundland store today and noticed a banner at the back of the shop which said:

For GREAT Value Everyday

Well, to a fussy old grammarian like me, such an offence to the mother tongue is reason enough to shrink a little inside. I soon get over it, though, since I know what ‘context’ means and I’m not entirely devoid of a sense of priorities. Nevertheless, I thought I’d drop it into conversation when I went to the till, purely for the sake of dropping it into conversation. I didn’t expect a response.

‘Did you know that “everyday” should be two words?’ I remarked casually to the woman on the till.

‘I’m sorry?’ she replied.

Oh. I hadn’t expected a response. Oh well…

‘Your banner says “great value everyday.” Everyday should be two words. It’s an adjective and a noun.

Thinks: This is getting too deep already. I wish I’d kept my mouth shut.

She regarded me quizzically for a few seconds, and said:

‘I don’t follow you.’

Did I expect the Spanish Inquisition? Nope.

‘Your banner at the back there. The word ‘everyday’ should be two words. It’s only correct as a single word when it’s only an adjective, as in the expression “the everyday story of country folk.”’

‘Oh, I see.’

You don’t look as though you see. Please God, can this be over now?

She thought for a few more seconds, and then said:

'Ah, right. So the D should be a capital letter?'


'Well, yes, but the basic point is that "every" and "day" should be separate words.'

The light of apparent understanding appeared at last. 

‘You know, I do believe you’re right,’ she said.

‘I am.’

Should I offer some credentials to back up my assertion? No; don’t complicate matters further.

‘I’ll point it out to somebody,’ she said decisively.

No, you won’t. Can I go now?

I went.

*  *  *

Later in the evening I checked into my Blogger stats and discovered the remarkable fact of there having been no less than 227 pageviews from Russia within the space of a minute. Nothing even approaching that magnitude has ever happened before, but the first ten accessed posts were listed (Blogger only ever lists the first ten of anything) which appeared to confirm that it wasn’t just one of those odd glitches to which Google products are frequently prey.

It worried me a little. I remembered feeling slightly uneasy when I made that jokey post last night about ‘Russian’ tanks entering Berlin, just in case I’d stumbled upon one of those secret things that people occasionally stumble upon by accident before being hauled up before the Spanish Inquisition.

I wondered whether the KGB still exists. I know they didn’t have quite the reputation of the Stasi, but it was bad enough. And I know that the CIA and MI5/6 were probably just as bad, but at least they were less open about it. So may I just say this:

Please, dear Russians, it was a joke. I know nothing. I’m just one of those people who combine a good imagination with a poor sense of humour. I’m not significant enough to be worthy of your attention. I’m merely a poor English peasant seeking to demonstrate to the bourgeoisie that the proletariat might in some instances be possessed of brain cells as well as basic rights.

Please be aware that if I were to be ground down in a gulag, I would be most unhappy. And I know that being poisoned with polonium would be quicker, but it still wouldn’t do much for my joie-de-vivre. I’m an internationalist who believes in the brotherhood of mankind, even if I’m not entirely convinced that I’m one of them. I’m innocent of all charges and sometimes listen to Prince Igor. I even made it to the end of Crime and Punishment.

Can I go now?

My New Conspiracy Theory.

You might recall my recent post about Germans being advised to stock up on food and bottled water. The last paragraph began ‘Is there more to come?’ Seems there is, because now I read that the German government is thinking of reintroducing National Service. (Like, conscription?)

Oh dear. Nations don’t usually have National Service unless they’re labouring under the perception of an imminent or near-imminent major threat to their national security, do they? Either that or… But no, forget that one. I thought of every which way to say it and it always came out sounding offensive, albeit inadvertently.

Of course, there is a third alternative. Could it be that at this very minute, several battalions of NATO troops are getting kitted out in Russian uniforms and climbing into facsimile Russian tanks all ready to drive into Berlin. And they will, of course, be drawn from ex-Soviet Bloc countries which have Slavic languages (like Poland, ironically) so that when they block off the Brandenburg Gate and declare ‘Resistance is useless!’ it will sound convincing. And then the Germans can reply ‘We’re ready for you, Boris. There’ll be no retreat from Moscow this time, mate; and watch out Stalingrad! Expect big things that go 'bang' to be fired in the direction of your capital within the hour, and always remember that you started it!’

Which isn’t very likely, I suppose (although I gather Mr Putin is thinking along similar lines.)

p.s. Only kidding.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

An Instinctive Appreciation.

My reputation as a bloke who knew how to use a camera was spreading, and my boss introduced me to these two girls…


They said they wanted some nice pictures, so I took them home and duly obliged (they really were nice pictures, not the other sort – and my wife didn’t mind, or so she said. ‘I’ve brought these two strange girls home dear, and I’m going to take some pictures of them.’ ‘Oh.’) And then I decided to do this one:

It breaks every rule in the Manual of How to Take Proper Photographs (no fill light, no catchlights in the eyes etc,) but that was how I wanted it. I liked it and kept a copy. I could never explain to myself why I liked it, but I did. Strangely enough, I still can’t and I still do.

Fairies at the Top of My Garden.

The fairies were out in force again this evening – lots of them with gossamer wings, flitting around the sweet pea flowers and illuminated by the light from the window.

(from Google Images) 

I expect they were moths, but who knows? They looked magical enough. And maybe if the quantum physicists are right and we do in some way create our own reality, all it takes for fairies to exist is that we have no doubt of it. And if a sight can imbue the mind with a sense of magic, why not just be grateful?

Monday, 22 August 2016

Seeing Stars.

Did you know that Michelle Yeoh’s full name is Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng? Imagine reading that lot out at school roll call time.

‘Here, Miss.’

‘OK. Lunchtime.’

And did you also know that she was once voted one of the Top 50 Most Beautiful Women in the World? Well, that raises a few questions, doesn’t it, like ‘what is beauty, exactly?’ and ‘had the judges seen all the women in the world?’ What she should really have been voted was one of the Top 50 Best-Looking Female Celebrities in the World in the Opinion of the Judges. Having said which…

*  *  *

And on a completely unrelated note, here’s an intriguing picture. You know how they say that dogs can see and sense things humans can’t…

Sound Advice.

I just read that the Germans are being given official advice to stock up on food and bottled water as a precaution against a possible national emergency, and one has to scratch one’s head and wonder what is going on here.

1. Is this a case of a few very bored people in the corridors of power saying: ‘I know, let’s have some fun. Let’s spook the population into panic buying and fall off our chairs while people hit each other over the head with heavy objects while fighting over the last can of baked beans. I mean, it happens in America on Black Friday, doesn’t it? Yeah, lets.’

2. Is it a case of the government getting its lederhosen in a twist and being a bit silly? Governments are, after all, capable of being a bit silly. I remember one hot summer in Britain when the government advised everybody to paint their houses white. They omitted to mention whether we should scrape the white paint off again in the autumn, and completely overlooked the fact that painting a house white would only be a defence against solar gain. It would have no effect whatsoever on high ambient temperatures caused by warm winds coming up from North Africa. But then, only scientists, photographers and people who went to school would know that.

3. Do they know something the rest of us don’t?

Is there more to come? Is that faint noise in the background the Russian national anthem or the theme from The Twilight Zone? Should I watch the sky and be prepared, or should I watch an Australian soap and go out on a high note?

Sunday, 21 August 2016

An Unworthy Choice.

Oh, hell. What am I going to make a post about tonight? I’m really not myself at the moment for one reason and another, and I’m completely devoid of ideas.

Donald Trump wants black people to vote for him. Fine. GB came second ahead of China in the Olympic medals table. Yippee. The All Blacks trounced Australia at rugby. Predictable. Most of the Atlantic has been falling on my house tonight. I’m the only one who would care.


I know, I’ll post another arty picture and then write a commentary. OK. Go for it.

This is one of those opportunistic shots I did when I was still into Modernism, still earning a living as an executive grade civil servant, and still convinced that my emerging Bohemian tendency qualified me to know a piece of art when it stood in front of me and crooned ‘Hey, man, I’m your passport to fame (if not fortune, exactly.)’ So when did an emerging Bohemian need a fortune? Snap.

I was young and inexperienced, which is why I failed to notice the wall panel joint running down the right hand side. I only noticed that when I saw the transparency.

‘Pity about that line,’ said my friend who pre-empted me as a confirmed Modernist (and who taught me all I know about Modernism, which isn’t much.) ‘It completely ruins the picture.’ (His favourite joke was to approach women who had just spent a lot of money in a swish salon, and say ‘Hey, like the new hairstyle.’ And then he would wait for her to go all coy and reply ‘Why thank you, Philip,’ and then he would continue with ‘Be nice when it’s finished.’ He was from Liverpool.)

I had to agree with him, of course, not because he was the Master Modernist, but because I’d already noticed. But do you know what? It got published in a photography magazine, which just goes to show that photography magazine editors are maybe not quite as discerning as they ought to be.

(One day I might tell the story of how a photography magazine did a feature on the question of whether black cameras get hotter than silver cameras in sunshine. You wouldn’t believe how ignorant a journalist can be about his subject.)

For now, however, please excuse me for being boring.

Brontes and Maybes.

We’re all fascinated by the prospect of being able to go back in time, aren’t we, back to some famous event in history where we can be invisible and watch events unfold.

Aren’t we? Oh, I thought we were. Well, I am anyway.

But what on earth would you choose to go and watch, since the options would be endless? The Battle of Waterloo, maybe? Jesus feeding the five thousand? Julius Caesar’s assassination? Robert Maxwell falling off the boat?

Tonight I made my decision. I’d want to go and spend a day in the drawing room of Haworth Parsonage in 1846 where I could watch the Bronte sisters at work and play. I’d so love to know what they really looked like and how they talked. Does that sound boring? Not to me it doesn’t.

Ah, but then I envisaged a possible problem. Emily was a bit of a strange one, and it occurred to me that she just might have been the sort to possess the faculty of being able to see me. And that would completely alter her perceptions, wouldn’t it? And then her whole future might change. She might never have written Wuthering Heights, so then she might be known as the Bronte sister nobody talks about. She might never have gone to Branwell’s funeral because she was busy behind the bar of the local pub that day and the nasty Victorian publican wouldn’t give her the time off. And then she wouldn’t have caught the chill that brought her low and contributed to the onset of TB (or so it is said.) And then she might have lived to be ninety seven and died in obscurity as a lonely old spinster of whom everybody said: ‘Did you know there was a third Bronte sister?’ Hey ho.

But then maybe – just maybe – if I went back in time, maybe my doing so is already a matter of history and I just don’t know it yet. And maybe Emily did see me, and maybe I was the inspiration for a character in Wuthering Heights (probably not Heathcliff, possibly Edgar, most likely Joseph.) Because it’s at this point that the whole question of time travel – and even time itself – gets hopelessly complicated. And the beer beckons, and what the hell?

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A Personal Interpretation.

I watched this film again last night for the third time (I was seriously off colour yesterday, suffering from a sudden infection which was both painful and debilitating, hence no blog posts.)

It’s one of those films which ingratiate themselves into your psyche and stay with you for an extended period, causing you to reflect on them all the next day and possibly the one after that. Today I decided which scene made the most meaningful statement and was, therefore, my favourite.

It wasn’t the spectacular fight scenes between the young and headstrong Jen and the mature, supremely beautiful Shu Lien. It wasn’t the heart-rending episode in which the master warrior Mu Bai finally tells Shu Lien that he loves her just as he is about to expire. It wasn’t young Jen, disguised as a boy, out-Clintoning Clint Eastwood by defeating all the bad guys in the ancient Chinese equivalent of the Last Chance saloon. It wasn’t the point at which she unexpectedly leaps off the bridge and flies into the mountains for ever.

Nope, it was the moment when Shu Lien spares Jen’s life and tells her to go to her lover who is waiting for her in Wudan, even though Jen’s obsessive self-interest has just led to the death of her own loved one, Mu Bai.

That’s the point when I suspect most people would say ‘Isn’t that lovely? She forgave her.’ And I would have to say ‘You’re missing the point, I think. It isn’t about forgiveness; it’s about having the spiritual maturity to exist in a state of grace and equanimity.’

And maybe I’d be wrong, but that’s how I saw it because it's that sort of film. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, I would recommend watching it.

Friday, 19 August 2016

On Beer and the Colour Blue.

When I was walking down the lane tonight, one of the local women pulled up beside me and said ‘I thought you should see my new car. Not because it’s a new car, you understand, but so you’ll recognise it when it drives past.’

What? Why should I care? People say the strangest things, don’t they? There followed a brief discussion about the women’s Keep Fit class at the village hall, during which I was asked ‘Were you spying on us?’ ‘Certainly not,’ I replied indignantly, ‘I was trying to look the other way.’ And then she drove off. The car was blue, by the way.

And on the subject of blue (or more appropriately, bleu,) I thought it worth mentioning that tonight’s beer is Kronenbourg 1664. It says on the can La Première Bière Française, which must mean that it’s French.

French? The French don’t do beer; the French do wine and absinthe. They can’t even spell it. Beer is a Germanic thing. While my ancestors were wearing horns on their helmets (which they didn’t actually, but shhh…) the French were wearing lilies. So since when did the French become unsophisticated? And the fact that they produced my two favourite heroines in Jeanne d’Arc and Amélie Poulain, and the fact that French women have the most engaging way of saying ‘Oh!’ is no reason to take French beer seriously.

I just tried it and it isn’t bad. Oh.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Vaguely Connected Rambles.

I read a quotation from an Olympic competitor today. It said:

Winners are people who come first, not second or third.

It seemed to me that there spoke the narrow voice of ego.

And then something put me in mind of a little and a little-known ode written by an English poet to a tree:

And let’n grow
And let’n spread
And let’n live
When I be dead.

There, I thought, speaks the universal voice of higher mind.

And I thought it sad that we in modern culture are conditioned to view the work of writers, poets, artists, musicians, dancers et al as enlightening recreation at best, and sometimes merely as entertainment. The politicians, on the other hand – and the bankers and the corporate executives and the populist media – do their level best to confine us to the prosaic and keep us rooted in the mire of material preoccupation. And in so doing they become rich and powerful and very important.

*  *  *

I referred to myself recently as a ‘country boy.’ I take it back, preferring instead the epithet ‘nature boy.’ Because something has been troubling me lately: living in the countryside as I do, I’m uncomfortable with the fact that too many people here are country people, not nature people.

*  *  *

And something else occurred to me the other day when I was passing an estate agent’s window. I remembered that it used to be common in Britain for boarding houses to have signs in the window which said:

No blacks
No dogs
No Irish

If I were running an accommodation establishment, I would be more inclined to list:

No politicians
No corporate executives
No estate agents

*  *  *

Being vaguely connected

Just to Explain...

Following on from one of last night’s posts, it occurs to me that people unfamiliar with European history, especially when it concerns architecture, might not get the following joke:

The Gothics, on the other hand, (a Germanic tribe from somewhere in the vicinity of Wuppertal,) invented the flying buttress…

That was a joke. There was no such tribe as the ‘Gothics’ who hailed from Wuppertal or anywhere else in Germany. I feel obliged to set the matter straight because I would hate to be responsible for some American YouTube channel on 10 Little Known Facts about European Architecture demonstrating its erudition with:

#1 How the Gothics, a tribe from Western Germany, invented the flying buttress.

Oh dear. They didn’t. Sorry.

There was a group called the Goths who did, as far as I know, come from somewhere in Germany. And if you want to read up on how an irate Italian (who didn’t like Germans because they messed up the Roman Empire) coined the term ‘Gothic’ in a pejorative sense – by using the aforesaid Goths as representative of ‘barbarous bloody Germans’ – you may do so here.

He was a little prejudiced, of course. Gothic architecture is actually both visually attractive and supremely functional, although I confess to disliking the flying buttress. I think it looks clumpy and inelegant, but that’s just me. Please don’t blame the Germans for my divergence from received taste.

A Matter of Black (and White) Humour.

Have you noticed that traffic cones the world over are red and white? It’s a matter of definition; the traffic cone is definitively a red and white object, right?

Not always, it seems. I was walking past an undertaker’s premises recently and they had traffic cones set up to discourage parking in the space reserved for the hearse. Their traffic cones were black and white.

Now, I do understand the reasoning behind this chromatic aberration. What I don’t understand is why I found it funny.

The Mystery of the YouTube Channel.

I have a YouTube channel. I don’t know why I have a YouTube channel because I never asked for one, but I do. I assume it’s because I make the occasional comment on YouTube, in which case I must also assume that everybody who comments on YouTube gets a YouTube channel whether they want one or not. That's usually how Google works, but I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’ve never uploaded anything to YouTube. I wouldn’t know how to do it, although I expect I could work it out if I felt so driven. But I don’t, so I haven’t.

The interesting thing is that this phantom channel of mine has eight subscribers. What are they subscribing to?

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

On Old Ruins.

I thought tonight’s pictorial offering could be another of Britain’s notable old ruins.

This is Kelso Abbey in Scotland, a relatively unusual old ruin for having been built in the rather solid-looking Romanesque style (or ‘Norman’ as it is more usually called in Britain.) It’s fortunate for us that most of Britain’s ecclesiastical old ruins – and this is a rare something we have in common with other parts of Western Europe – were built in the various Gothic styles. I gather the Normans, for all they were pretty good at conquering people, weren’t so good at building big buildings. Their solid-looking structures weren't quite as solid as they looked and had an unfortunate tendency to fall over in a strong wind. The Gothics, on the other hand (a Germanic tribe from somewhere in the vicinity of Wuppertal,) invented the flying buttress and never said ‘oh, bugger’ again.

But back to Kelso Abbey, most of which blew over in a strong wind but some of which is still standing.

It was begun in 1128, although it was fifteen years before even part of it was habitable. Seems they took the time to do a proper job back then, and I assume the monks must have lived in motor homes or portakabins through a lot of uncomfortable winters. Or maybe they used tents covered with water-repellent Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, a most efficacious concoction with a wide variety of uses and which the monks probably had a lot of owing to their unconventional lifestyle. (I’m guessing here.)

Anyway, this picture was taken quite a few years ago. As far as I know, the building is still there, but the flowers probably aren’t.

On Differing Days.

Yesterday in the Shire was one of those typical August days when the land looks to be tiring of summer; when the first signs of decay are showing in its myriad withered faces; when the nettles, the thistles and the willow herb are weaving their shrouds of woolly whiteness in preparation for autumn’s demise. On such a day the walk along Church Lane is a mildly melancholy matter, and so it was yesterday.

But then I spied a single stand of meadowsweet, freshly green and with a new show of sweet smelling flowers. It seemed she was late for some reason; July is the month for meadowsweet, and I wondered what I should make of it.

*  *  *

Today in the town was different. Today, no less than four different dogs were anxious to be my friend, and a little girl smiled at me, presumably for no other reason than she thought me worth smiling at, and the special offer beer in Sainsbury’s that should have cost the reduced price of £1.25 went through the till at 50p. I didn’t complain.

And then there was the woman in another of Ashbourne’s stores. She’s a recent acquisition to the staff, and I’ve noticed how polite and respectful she is to people. Today she needed to get past me with a trolley full of merchandise, and did so with politeness, patience, and a level of graciousness that is quite rare. I’m pretty good at judging whether such outward shows are manufactured or genuine, and I have no doubt that she is as genuine as they come.

She was on the till when I went to pay for my discounted copy of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and I noticed how lovely she was being to a customer’s child. When it was my turn to pay I detected a foreign sound in her voice and asked where she came from. ‘Poland,’ she whispered. So what does it say about so many people that an individual of such apparent quality has to whisper their origins, presumably for fear of attracting abuse? It reminded me of why I’m an internationalist at heart, and why, if there is benefit to her being here in Britain, such benefit accrues more to us than it does to her. I told her it was good to see her, and wished her well.

Monday, 15 August 2016

The Curmudgeon Continues.

So here we are at blog posting time and I’m at a loose end again. I don’t want to comment on the Trump’s latest vitriol or the issue of Muslim women being banned from wearing the burkini on French beaches because the rational view is so self-evident to me that I find myself getting very cross with small town mayors, Presidential hopefuls, and all those other public figures who pander to the lowest form of mindset. I’m fed up with them all (and I think my INTJ side must be showing.)

I suppose I could go all whoopity-doodie over GB’s extraordinary successes in the Olympics, but it would be no less than disingenuous. The problem is that while I understand why the medal haul is extraordinary, and while I fully applaud the individuals hauling in the medals, it’s the Olympics themselves I find difficult to take all that seriously. I even suspect that they were re-established as yet another clever means of keeping the population of the world quietly and safely anaesthetized so the powerful people could carry on being quietly and safely powerful.

OK, so now I’m being a miserable old git. I agree; I am. It’s just that I have this odd conviction that I’m not allowed to be comfortable, much less happy, until all the world’s wrongs are righted. And that isn’t going to happen, is it? It isn’t.

So should I tell the story of the young elfin lass with the intense eyes who works in Tesco, the subtly odd story that began in the car park of Uttoxeter station about two years ago? No. Somebody might tell her, and then she might stare at me intensely (which she’s already done a couple of times,) and then I might tremble a little (which I didn’t, thank heavens,) and then I’d feel silly.

Right then, when all else fails, post a picture (or two.)

This is one I like because I thought it an inspired choice of tree and pose. And if you think Mel looks about twelve, I can assure you she wasn’t. She was still being asked for ID in pubs when she was thirty five, and likes nothing better than to be told: ‘My God, you’re looking old.’ (Even when you’re only joking.)

And this is Mel and Penny engaged in earnest conversation. You don’t get shots like this every day, you know. You don’t.

I think I should splash out on a bottle of gin. Back in the day when I used to drink the stuff, it never failed to put me in a most un-curmudgeonly mood. I found everything hilarious, and even fell under a table on one occasion. Would it be worth risking the cost?

Sunday, 14 August 2016

A Partridge out of Place.

I heard an unfamiliar and rather strident bird call at twilight this evening, and traced its origin to something perching on a bracket almost at the top of the telegraph pole just beyond my garden hedge. Although it was partially obscured, I got a good enough view through my binoculars to be fairly sure it was a Grey Partridge (not the more colourful – as it would be, I suppose – French Partridge. The French always were better at showing off.)

Now, this is a bit odd. I’ve never seen a partridge anywhere other than on the ground before, not even in my pear tree at Christmas, so I looked it up on Wiki and found a seemingly authoritative article on the subject (for a change.) The partridge, according to the seemingly authoritative article, is the acrophobic of the bird world. ‘It avoids high places,’ said the article. It likes to perch on gate and fence posts, but that’s about its limit. Any higher than that and it gets dizzy (presumably.) So what was this bird doing 20ft up a telegraph pole? (Apart from making a strident call, that is, which might well have been partridge language for ‘OMG! OMG! How do I get down?’)

So I returned to my rudely interrupted pastime of watching the midges dance against the darkening sky, marvelling at the spectacularly messy grey and orange sunset, and saying ‘hello’ to the bats flitting in delightfully agile manner across the garden. (I think I heard one of them mutter ‘call yourself a bird?’ as it passed close to the telegraph pole, but I couldn’t be certain.) When I looked back at the pole, it was once again devoid of partridges. And here’s a picture of a partridge being where it’s supposed to be:

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Memories Ancient and Modern.

I made a blog post once about the woman who never was. She was the one with whom I had a nearly-but-not-quite affair over a very long period. She was the one who skilfully kept me at arms length, but only just. She was the one who said ‘If I’d been at home when you called that Christmas and you’d asked me to go away with you, I would have done,’ but not until about two years later when the moment had passed and the status quo was safely resumed. Looking back now, I’m so glad she wasn’t at home.

But I found a picture of her tonight and considered posting it. It’s the only one I have, and was ironically taken by her husband. I decided against it because it seemed indiscreet. I have no way of knowing who might read this blog and might recognise her, and that could prejudice her reputation. The risk of posting it wouldn’t be mine, you see, but hers, and that’s the best reason to back out.

*  *  *

So you may, instead, peruse another one of my photographs. This is a picture of the knot garden at Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, England. Knot gardens are not uncommon in old English houses, although why they call them knot gardens I’m not entirely sure because they don’t look much like knots to me. But they do.

Little Moreton Hall is one of Britain’s best known Tudor houses, having been built over a long period stretching from the late 15th to the late 16th century (which by an odd coincidence just about defines the Tudor period. And did I ever mention that the Tudor period is the one with which I feel most comfortable? There are times when I could almost swear I remember it.) The man mowing the knot garden – and presumably trying not to unravel it in the process – is a later addition.

A Matter of Motivation.

I saw a headline on the BBC news website which read:

NY City Billionaire Offers Reward for Stolen Ice Cream

I decided to read it, hoping to find a rich man with a heart. I saw it in my terms, you see; I hoped to read that a man had made an offer-that-no-one-could-refuse to catch the nasty little tyke who had snatched a child’s ice cream. I didn’t. I found a seemingly well overfed man called John Catsimatidis.

He owns a chain of grocery stores called Gristedes, and his bleat is that thieves are ‘wreaking havoc’ in his stores by stealing his (his) ice cream and selling it to bodegas. You have to feel sorry for him, don’t you? You have to ignore the fact that he seems to be missing a point here: that crime is the natural corollary to a free market economy. The more free market an economy becomes, the greater grows the motivation for crime. They’re inseparable bedfellows. And he isn’t even offering a decent reward. It’s a mere $5,000, which is rather less than insignificant loose change to a billionaire.

He reminded me again that while plants and animals achieve their potential, human beings generally don’t.

So maybe somebody from NYC can tell me that Mr Catsimatidis is actually a wonderful person who gives freely of his time and wealth to help the poor and disadvantaged (because a totally free market economy is highly competitive, so you inevitably have to have rather more poor and disadvantaged people than rich and well-advantaged ones. The American Dream is a myth as long as the human condition maintains its depressingly low level vibration.) That would be nice.


My mind has been going round and round for the last two days, pondering the question ‘why do I so love animals and growing things, but have such difficulty with human beings?’ and coming up with the same answer:

Given the chance, animals and plants achieve their potential without exception. Human beings almost invariably don’t.

And I think it should go without saying that I’m talking higher mind here, not relatively insignificant things like winning an Olympic medal, inventing the smart phone, or conquering the world.

Meanwhile, I’m getting the urge more and more often to walk the lanes of the Shire in a gown with a voluminous cowl. Something like this, only in black:

I wonder whether anybody would notice.

I’m also getting a craving for bamboo shoots again. And foreign cigarettes that smell like old socks. And a piece of Baked Alaska with a dollop of Cornish clotted cream. And to be the Emperor of China, for whom the very best dancing girls perform with no expectation of reward other than my approbation (as a kid I was much more into mediaeval mandarins than cowboys with bulging barrels.)

*  *  *

Last night I watched a most pretentious video in which a man claimed that cats are superior to all other animals because they live in a constant state of Zen mind. I thought of commenting: ‘How do you know?’ and ‘Being a Taoist, I prefer dogs.’ I didn’t bother.

*  *  *

And I want to wake up in the darkest hour before dawn and see this vision looking back at me:

And I want a comment below which says:

My name is Ms Renfield and I look exactly like that. I will happily assume the requisite position, and I will dance for you, and I will bake for you a Baked Alaska, and all I ask in return is that you allow me to eat your houseflies. (I would have to decline, of course.)

It's getting late and I'm getting sillier. I'm missing the priestess. Bye.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Dull Day and Discarded Posts.

Having read the latest piece of political comedy from the Trump campaign, I thought of making a serious post about how it doesn’t matter much whether he or Hillary wins in November because they’re just two slightly differing servants of the same control system, and how it’s the system that’s in need of a radical overhaul. But I’m tired of Trump, and I’m tired of being serious, so I can’t be bothered.

So then I thought of making a post about why 13th August (tomorrow) has proved a significant date in my life on several occasions, and why I always expect something significant to happen on that day. But I suspect I made that post last year, so why bother?

And then I thought of making the annual post about why I don’t like the month of August very much, but I’m not in the mood for tedious repetition.

The fact is, I have nothing to say today because nothing much has happened, so have a picture (which I took) of one of Britain’s Great Stately Homes. This one is called Sudbury Hall and is the closest one to where I live – about 10 miles that way.

I know three things about it:

1. The posh people who used to own it don’t any more. The National Trust does (and I don’t like the National Trust very much either.)

2. It has a Museum of Childhood containing such wondrous artefacts as dolls, rocking horses, and bibs stained with yellow vomit. (I made the last one up because I have to find something to joke about, don’t I? What would be the point of life otherwise? And why shouldn’t they have bibs stained with yellow vomit in a museum of childhood anyway?)

3. It’s older than America.

I’m bored.

Comings and Goings.

I’ve been out and about today, negotiating five-way intersections, one-way systems, incompetent drivers, etc, etc. It isn’t really my natural environment since I became a country boy, but I cope well enough. I’ve also gone short on sleep this week, and the priestess – who’s been keeping me company for a couple of weeks – has gone back to the fray of being an old soul in a young body. I miss her and the mornings are lonely. Put those together and I’ve been too tired to think of a blog post today.

But then I came across this old picture and remembered an interesting fact. This is me with my mother (on the right) and my Auntie Hilda.

Auntie Hilda was my dad’s youngest sister, and when my mother first started seeing my dad, she discovered that his youngest sister was somebody she’d been friends with as a girl. When my parents separated, the two women had no further contact.

My mother eventually died of cancer in a hospice in Stoke on Trent at 11.20pm. Auntie Hilda died of some respiratory disease in a hospital in Coventry, around fifty miles away, 40 minutes later at midnight.

As for me, I just carried on getting cuter.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Soulful and Sinful.

This is the view from my office window, taken one Christmas back in the day when I was still a mere fledgling photographer. Soulful, isn't it?

The top window is the room where the Christmas parties were held. I never went to them because I knew my nature and didn't want to dishonour myself. Christmas had a habit of tripping a switch, and I always deplored people who allowed their switches to be tripped against their sense of standards.

A Note of Rare Profundity.

‘Let’s not be Cathy and Heathcliff or Ash and Christabel. Let’s be us. When the world turns dark and there is no place for lawyers or commercial whizz kids, when I am dead and come to dust, when you’re scraping a meagre living with Edgar and the rest of the neo-cavemen, find a quiet beach with wet sand and write our story in it. Then smile as the incoming tide washes it away. I don’t think it will be the end.’
~Anonymous MS from an unlikely source.

Pokemon Goings On.

There have been a number of news reports lately about children playing Pokemon Go being mugged for their phones – sometimes at knifepoint, and in America, of course, at gunpoint. That’s worrying and dangerous, but it strikes me that there’s a subtler problem accruing from this craze. The question arises:

Is it possible for older children to engage with a peer group these days if they don’t have a smart phone? I should imagine it would be difficult, so what are poor parents supposed to do?

(Encourage their kids to go out and mug the children of richer parents, of course. Oh, right.)

This is nothing new; it’s how the corporate world has been dictating the conduct of society for a long time now, and keeping the vast majority of people safely distracted from the need of a radical re-distribution of wealth and re-ordering of the power structure. And we continue to allow it instead of simply saying ‘I refuse to be conned into buying this latest, utterly unnecessary gadget.’

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

A Kind of Lateral Thinking.

Did you know that a galanthophile is somebody who collects snowdrops? I just read it on OED Online.

What’s odd is that for a full ten minutes I was convinced it meant somebody who collects snowflakes. This puzzled me because it seemed a somewhat impractical form of recreation, and the only sense I could make of it was to speculate that it might be an alternative to the Buddhist practice of making sand mandalas.

The Value of Ds.

I was very ready for my habitual coffee in Ashbourne today. When I walked into the coffee shop, two of the four regular women assistants were behind the counter, one serving and the other preparing.

‘Ah, the ladies of solace,’ I exclaimed. And then do you know what I said next? Wait for it:

‘Dispensing the Devil’s brew to those inclined to the dark and deceitful.’

Why do I say things like that? And what is this manic attraction to alliteration?

Anyway, the young woman behind the counter gave me one of those knowing smiles that young women do quite well, drew the back of her hand across her forehead, and said ‘Phew.’ Whether she was expressing admiration, mockery, or whether she was responding appropriately in what she saw as a game of role play, I couldn’t tell. I just felt slightly silly for having said it.

But there followed a discussion about vampires, Dracula, children of the night and so on. She’d never read Dracula, she admitted, but she had seen a documentary about the vampire tradition in literature and knew about Vlad the Impaler and Vlad Dracul – which suggests she isn’t quite as ordinary as she likes to pretend.

Her colleague joined in. She had read Dracula, she informed me proudly, and agreed with me that some parts of it are very well written, while others are just plain silly. So it seems that alliteration has its uses after all.

It got better. I decided to have a piece of Belgian chocolate tiffin with my coffee. I think I’m correct in calculating that it’s the first time in about two decades that I’ve gone to such extravagant lengths as to buy a piece of cake in a coffee shop.

‘It’s to celebrate the fact that it isn’t my birthday,’ I said.

‘That it isn’t your birthday?’


‘How so?’

‘Well, I’ve reached an age where birthdays are more a matter of dread than celebration, so it makes more sense to celebrate the fact that it’s not my birthday today.’

That second conversation never happened. I put it in here is because:

1. What I actually said was ‘just so you can’t accuse me of never buying anything to eat,’ which wouldn’t have been half so incisive.

2. It’s what I wish I’d said.

3. It makes impeccable sense.

4. Because I can.

And this post is in lieu of the discarded one about how miserable yesterday evening’s walk made me feel. The Ds were dropping thick and fast: death, decay, descending, dull, dour, damn-cold-wind, etc, etc. And this morning I got a highly complimentary farewell from somebody who is very dear to me. It depressed me a bit.

The Drain Man Cometh.

A man turned up first thing this morning to conduct a drain survey. Having stomped irritatingly around my garden, and having made a hole in my hedgerow, he finally left four hours later. And still he couldn’t answer the question ‘Where do it come from? Where do it go?’

And then I got busy, and stayed busy until 1.30am. Hence the reason for there being no blog posts this evening. (And I still have an email to send with attachments.)

So have a picture of a typical Cotswold church at Snowshill in Gloucestershire by way of compensation. It’s built of oolitic limestone, so now you know.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Seeing Through Conditioned Prejudice.

When I was growing up the Cold War was still in full swing, and such references as were made to Warsaw Pact countries both by the Establishment and the media tended to err on the negative side of the propagandist imperative. Poles were putrid, Romanians were rotten, and Hungarians were… well… hungry. The message went home:

That part of Europe which lies behind the Iron Curtain is a wasteland of hovels, rampant pollution, and people kept in penury and ignorance by the evils of Communism. Only Western Europe has fine buildings, fine wines, and fine individuals with characters built upon free thinking, erudition and a sophisticated mindset.

And then the Wall fell down and people of my generation began to learn differently. This is a postcard I received this morning from somebody I once worked with, a Czech woman who now lives back there. She often sends me postcards and they’re often pictures of fine buildings. This is just one example. Not exactly a hovel, is it?

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Line of Least Resistance.

I want to talk about China again. I want to address a message to all those Chinese people living there:

With all that depth and longevity of culture – all that wonderful architecture, soulful music, sumptuous art, and probably the best female dancers on the planet – why do you have leaders who present a derogatory image to the world? Why do they show us abuses in Tibet, suppression of dissent, and ethically dubious expansionism in the South China Sea? And why do we still remember Tienanmen Square?

And I want to talk about nationhood generally and its pre-eminence in the value system of the human psyche. Why do American Republicans use the phrase ‘America First’? Why don’t we draw lessons from the fact that ‘Britain First’ gave rise to the largest empire ever known, an empire which is now provoking debate in Britain over whether the term ‘genocide’ should be attached to its dealings. And why is it so difficult to say that ‘Germany First’ spawned the rise of Adolf Hitler? And why, when Angela Merkel says she won’t abandon the refugees, do I see a YouTube video spring up with the title ‘Angela Merkel Betrays the German People.’ Why do people in positions of power so rarely say ‘Humanity First?’

But I can’t be bothered because it’s a contentious issue and I’m tired and I’m not looking forward to the rest of this week.

Instead, have a picture of Penny le Pooch wearing my hat without asking permission. That isn’t contentious, is it? It isn’t likely to provoke outrage among patriots who will feel moved to accuse me of being a dangerously misguided traitor, even when they have trouble spelling the word ‘traitor.’ OK, so here it is.

Overstating the Trivial.

I saw a poster in a shop window today showing a pretty average-looking young woman doing the pouty thing. Her name was writ large below:

Kourtney Kardashian.

Oh right, so presumably she’s one of them. My problem here is that I have absolutely zero interest in phenomena like the Kardashians apart from the cultural curiosity of their seemingly phenomenal status. (And I suppose I must admit a mild degree of respect for the fact that their parents were apparently attracted to alliteration.)

The poster went on:

Look and Feel Better (presumably by using these products, whatever they were.) That’s OK; that’s just typical marketing gobbledegook. But the best was reserved for the bottom line: Ms KK’s signature, no less. It said:

Global Brand Ambassador.

Wowee! That’s an impressively grandiose title for a woman who’s being paid a great deal of money just for allowing her pretty average-looking face to be plastered across a pile of posters, isn’t it?

*  *  *

But the day was saved when the Tesco cashier overcharged me for a bottle of beer (isn’t it good when words rhyme by accident?) When I went to the customer service desk to claim the 36p difference, I came away with a substantial profit. Now that’s what I call a matter of significance.