Friday, 30 September 2016

Mourning Mandalay.

Having remembered the fondness I felt for the name Mandalay when I was a kid, I just did a bit of reading about the place.

Oh dear, it seems that I was tapping into a fading icon because I gather the place has changed greatly during my lifetime. Whether the flying fishes still play there I don’t know, but it isn’t the dawn that comes up like thunder ‘outer China crost the bay’ any more, it’s the Chinese. Great swathes of them have crossed the border over the past few decades, rebuilding the city following several devastating fires in the 1980s and revitalising the old place in the process. That’s good in its way, I suppose, but the grandeur of pre-colonial days and the charm of the colonial era have gone now. Judging by the picture I saw, modern Mandalay would look more at home in Texas.

You know, it does bother me that resurgent parts of the world like East Asia so insist on aping the west in their architectural developments. I mean, where do we westerners go these days to escape the tyranny of sky scrapers and smartypants yuppie condominiums? Bhutan?

The Connemara Connection.

This is another postcard somebody sent me once, from Connemara in Ireland.

When I was a working class kid growing up in England, nobody talked much about Ireland. The Troubles hadn’t started yet and it wasn’t the popular tourist destination that it later became. And yet I once heard the name Connemara and it struck a chord like no other place name did (although Mandalay came close.) It felt warm, homely and romantic, and I wanted to be there.

I also had a recurring dream in which I was walking down a lane on a summer’s day. A little way in the distance I could see a whitewashed cottage or croft to the left of the road, and on the right was a gently sloping green field where black and white cows grazed contentedly. Ahead of me I could see an azure sea topped by a blue sky replete with white, fluffy clouds.

I always associated the scene with the name Connemara, and all my life I’ve had the notion that one day I might go there and find the exact location, right down to the white cottage and the Friesian cows. I never did.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Compelling Contrasts.

This is a picture by a French-born photographer called ClĂ©mentine Schneidermann. I hope she’ll excuse me posting it without permission, thus breaching her copyright. It’s just that she is obviously a woman of keen awareness and sensitivity to the nuances of contrast, a quality I appreciate and to which I wholeheartedly relate. I admit to being selfish in wanting the picture to grace the pages of my blog, but at least I don’t make a penny out of it.

It’s from a study she did of Abertillery, a Welsh ex-mining town brutally stripped of its function and tradition, a place which was always a little stoically dour, but is now tragically depressed. It’s about the contrast between now and then, and how the young instinctively compensate for the stifling greyness in which they’re trapped. I thought of writing a commentary on it, but it would have been pretentious. Besides, pictures shouldn’t be described in words. You either get it or you don’t. There is, however, one feature that particularly intrigues:

There are several levels of contrast presented here, and one is the contrast between the two girls. While one is sub-pretty in pink, the other is anonymous and the very essence of style-in-blue. Where did they get their outfits from? And in particular, where did the girl in pink find a top with Chinese-style water sleeves? I’ve never seen such a thing in Britain, which must say something about levels of creativity as well as contrast.

I hope that wasn’t too pretentious. Apologies if it was.

Beats Down and Up.

I used to be anything but a hypochondriac. Quite the reverse; I was the eternal optimist. No matter what the condition, I would go on for months or even years in the constant expectation that whatever it was would cure itself eventually and that tomorrow was a permanent state. Now the polarity seems to be reversing.

It’s all these intimations of mortality that are doing it. Every time I get a pain, or cough just once, I start planning what I need to do before the big day arrives. And being waved at by HT54 again didn’t help. If ever I do get shown the red card, I really must have a word with HT54 if a haunting is to be avoided.

And the antibiotics I just finished didn’t help either; they didn’t work. At least, the condition they were supposed to eradicate remains more or less unchanged, which might or might not amount to the same thing. So today I managed to speak to the lovely doctor Helen and she fixed me up with a different recipe. I do hope they work this time; I would so like to send her a note saying:

Deer docter Helen

Thank yoo for mendin my porly tow. Your a jeenius.

*  *  *

And on the upbeat, here’s a detail from a postcard I picked up when I went to Ireland once, and which I particularly like. It says a lot about why the Irish are instinctive musicians.

And here’s another which I like even more.

*  *  *

Still on the upbeat, I rescued a wasp from drowning today. It was in the birds’ water bowl and looked for all the world a goner, but I lifted it out and it recovered. The little guy did have a tomorrow after all. I watched it pulling itself together for quite some time and decided that wasps are actually quite handsome creatures. So now I like wasps. That’s nice.

Be Careful what You Google.

Consequent upon sending an email to somebody in Sydney, New South Wales (don’t worry about the connection,) I had a thought.

I’ve heard it said that spirit entities find electric and electronic pathways a convenient way of getting around in the material world. So let’s suppose you searched ‘Jin’ on Google. Would they be alerted to your interest in them, and would you then be running the risk of having your computer – and ultimately your life – invaded by fiery spirits with fierce Arabic eyes?

If I’d thought of that five or six years ago when the fiction bug was still alive and insistent, I might have written a story based on the concept (and been accused yet again of writing ‘a skippable Lovecraft knock-off.’) To do so I would have had to do some research on the good old fire-breathing elementals, so maybe I should be grateful that I didn’t.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Recognising the Exceptional.

I was standing outside a shop on the retail park today when I saw a young woman of mixed race walking towards me. She was tall and slim – around 5ft 10 I should say – and was possessed of an elegant, upright posture and a languid sort of walk that is almost non-existent in the standard European type. Her baggy jeans failed to obscure the length and suppleness of her legs, and the loose green shirt she was wearing was topped with a thigh length tunic – open at the front and sides – made of something resembling cream coloured goatskin. On her head she wore a white headscarf, tied behind, with ends that hung half way down her back. She wasn’t so much attractive as mesmerising.

As she came close she turned to look at me for a brief and perfectly judged span, and the half smile on her lips most assuredly said:

‘You’re right. I am.’

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Truer Picture.

Bearing in mind the content of the previous post (and worrying slightly that the bad guys at some corporation might be looking for an excuse to have me buried in an asylum just because I don’t like them very much), I thought I’d re-post this picture of me taken back in the heady days of my youthfulness, just to show how good I used to be at social interaction.

(Actually, it represents me rather well – centre of the group, but not exactly the centre of attention. Story of my life, that. And the real reason I value it is that it’s so rare these days to be in the company of two women, both of whom are shorter than me. Last week I had to look up at a sharp angle to ask the young woman assistant in Sainsbury’s whether they had any egg and cress sandwiches.)

Peter and the Big Word.

I just read a biography of Peter Green, some of whose early songs with the fledgling Fleetwood Mac remain favourites of mine. It mentioned that he suffered long periods of schizophrenia, so I thought I’d brush up on my understanding of that eminent condition. This is what Wiki had to say:

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand what is real.[2] Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and a lack of motivation.[2][3] People with schizophrenia often have additional mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, major depressive illness, or substance use disorder.’

Ye gods and little fishes! Most of this is startlingly familiar to me. How on earth, I wonder, have I managed to stay free of incarceration all these years? Probably by being very good at playing roles so people didn’t notice that I should be locked up, I expect. And although I don’t know what ‘real’ is, for example, I do at least understand what most of the Normals out there think is real, so I can play along with them when I can’t escape their company.

This whole issue raises some big questions about the hum of Mother Culture, but I’ve already done that one so I’ll leave it there. I think I might repeat, however, that I’m mostly harmless.

The Question of Sunsets.

Tonight’s sunset was one of the best of the year so far, the whole western sky being seared by hot orange flame liberally scattered with drifts of dark grey smoke. It would have done ample justice to a Hobbit’s late view of Mount Doom, and was nothing like the one below (more’s the pity.)

The one I saw tonight reminded me again of that conversation I once read in a book (which I later looked for but couldn’t find.) The master has just explained to the pupil that everything in the phenomenal world is an illusion, and then the pupil points to the sunset.

‘So that beautiful sunset is an illusion?’ he asks.

‘The sunset is an illusion,’ replies the master. ‘The beauty is real.’

That little exchange has long interested and seemed important to me, but I don’t know whether it should be interpreted as:

1. A clever piece of narrative writing which is enjoyable for its own sake.

2. Something to be taken literally as a deep spiritual truth.

3. A philosophical statement which serves my near-conviction that everything of value in life ultimately reduces to the abstract.

I suppose it could be all three, and I have said that I get easily confused, haven’t I?

Monday, 26 September 2016

On Sagas and Small Talk.

What a horribly turgid post the last one was. You’d think I suffer from a bad case of self-importance, wouldn’t you? I don’t actually; I’m not self-important at all. I’m just terribly fussy about what comes within my orbit, and generally intolerant of human beings who aren’t tuned into the same radio station as me.

I would have made a bad Viking, you know. I think about that when I read anything about the Norse Sagas. Imagine spending all those weeks cooped up in a small open boat in the company of a load of blokes who aren’t tuned into the same radio station as you.

‘Not much of a day, is it mate?’


‘D’you think the sun’ll come out tomorrow?’


‘Fancy a game of stone, rock, scissors?’


‘OK. My Ingrid says she’ll make me an elk pie when we get back.’


‘D’you like elk pie?’

‘Not much.’

‘What about porridge?’

‘It’s OK.’

‘I love porridge, as long as it’s thick. I don’t even mind it being lumpy as long as it’s thick. My Ingrid makes great porridge. Sometimes it’s lumpy and sometimes it isn’t, but it’s always thick. She was quite a catch was my Ingrid. Did you ever meet her?’


‘Pity. Quite a catch she was, quite a catch. I’m on lookout duty in half an hour.’


‘There’s never very much to look out for though, is there?’


‘Bit of a waste of time, really.’

‘Yup. By the way, did you know that on my last cruise somebody got eaten by a sea serpent?’

‘Did he?!’


‘Oh, so you were… like… having me on, then?’

‘Something like that.’

‘Oh, right. Be dark soon.’

‘I know.’

‘I think I’ll sharpen my battle axe.’

‘Good idea.’

‘Bye for now.’

Sigh… I wonder whether Venus is a morning star or an evening star at the moment.

You wouldn’t even have a quiet charthouse or some toilets to go to when you needed to have your own space, as I did frequently during my short spell in the navy (it’s how I managed the unlikely feat of entering New York harbour without seeing the Statue of Liberty. Not many people can say that.)

I do admire the Norse sagas though, even if I’ve never read any. All those hard, intrepid men following leaders with such evocative names as Eric the Red, Sweyn Forkbeard, Eric Bloodaxe, Ivar the Boneless, Kevin the Slightly Effeminate… Not forgetting the redoubtable Snori Snurlasson, of course, whose name I’ve probably misspelt but it doesn’t matter because he probably couldn’t write anyway.

And if I were a Viking now I would definitely have to retire because I’m becoming ever more intolerant of the cold. The thought of sitting in an open boat being tossed on the mountainous waves of the North Atlantic, drenched to the skin in freezing water and so salt-encrusted as to look like Lot’s wife with a beard, gives me the creeps. Maybe that’s why there’s no Jeffrey the Wimp mentioned anywhere (as far as I know.)

Answering Costa's Mr Small Talk.

I went into a Costa Coffee shop this morning and waited at the empty counter until a young male assistant walked through from the back. He was brimming with overly projected confidence, and said: ‘And what sort of a day are you having?’

Well, what sort of question is that, and how does one answer it? I would have been happy with ‘Hello’, ‘Hi’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Greetings’, or even the northern English vernacular ‘Ay up.’ A simple ‘Yes?’ would have sufficed nicely. The problem with ‘And what sort of a day are you having?’ is that it’s a nondescript yet complex question requiring a certain amount of consideration if you’re going to take it seriously. But you’re not meant to take it seriously; it isn’t serious, it’s disingenuous; it’s a form of small talk. I have difficulty with small talk at the best of times, and I draw the line absolutely at contrived small talk. So why did he say it?

My first thought was that it’s something they teach the lackeys on those idiotic training courses of which the idiotic corporate world is so fond, but that doesn’t wash. I use four different branches of Costa Coffee, two regularly and two irregularly, and I’ve always found the staff to be polite, pleasant and to the point. In all the years I’ve been using them, I’ve never been asked ‘And what sort of a day are you having?’ before.

I looked at him for several pregnant seconds and then answered: ‘Pretty much the same as any other day.’ He mumbled something which I didn’t catch as he turned to prepare the brew, and no further conversation ensued.

So am I becoming a miserable old git? I don’t think I am actually. I’m usually the model of politeness and pleasantness to shop assistants; I even have reasonable conversations with some of them. But I’m fussy about the level of interaction at which I’m prepared to engage. There is a line to be drawn and a point to be made, and so I make it as painlessly as possible and with the least prolonged acrimony. That’s all.

CITES: Questioning the Priorities.

I gather the delegates at the current CITES conference are divided on the issue of elephants. Some say that the best way to stop poaching is to maintain the legal trade in ivory, while others argue that the ivory trade should be banned altogether.

This goes over my head (or perhaps ‘under’ would be the better preposition) because the word ‘poaching’ troubles me. It stems from the notion that human beings have the God-given right (literally) to hold sway over the lives of animals and exercise that right according to their human will, no matter how shallow and senseless their reasons might be, and so long as the person doing the killing is sanctioned by whatever individuals or agencies consider themselves entitled to do the sanctioning.

And so all the talk is about statistics. It’s about what percentage of the elephant population has disappeared over the past so many years. It’s about the fact that the world is running out of elephants. Well, the world ran out of mastedons, sabre toothed tigers and duck billed platypuses a long time ago. Is that important? Maybe it is, but only marginally. In reality, we like to laud our concern for species diversity simply because it pleases us to so do. It makes us seem important, and some go so far as to believe that it makes us seem caring.

I don’t believe either. The whole debate is about controlling the numbers simply because we care about numbers and control. It reminds me of that ranger from some American national park who talked about the local grizzly bears in terms of ‘we’ve calculated that we can allow the hunters to harvest such-and-such a percentage of them.’ And there’s another word that disturbs me: ‘harvest.’ The bear isn’t a sentient being, it’s a crop. And we choose to regard it as a crop simply because a lot of human beings like killing things just because they can. I suppose it makes them feel important.

So what would happen if I stood up in a CITES conference and said:

We shouldn’t be talking about statistics. What we should be talking about is the ethical dimension, because human beings pride themselves on having a higher mind. The whole question should be about compassion, not numbers. Elephants are living, sentient (and quite emotional) beings which have more right to their life than some bozo in Manhattan or Maidenhead has a right to have an ivory trinket holding pride of place on his bloody shelving unit.

I’d get laughed off the podium, wouldn’t I? I’d be told that I was just being foolishly sentimental.

I don’t think I’m being foolishly sentimental. What I’m doing is questioning why this so-called superior species allots more importance to numbers and control than it does to ethics and compassion.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Looking Up at Yesteryear.

I need to pull myself up by the bootlaces. There’s too much arid darkness around – here, there and everywhere – and it’s draining the bloody life out of me.

(I had a long, long dream last night in which a woman for whom I have held a flame for many years came to me and said that she finally wanted to be with me. It made me very happy, and then I woke up. As we do.)

So, I thought I’d post a picture of me taken in happier times. Or were they happier?

This is the Mater and me feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square. It was taken shortly after my bus driver father had decamped to his younger woman, and before my sociopathic (but relatively well off) stepfather arrived on the scene. It was the time when we were at our poorest, so how my mother managed to afford her suit and mine remains one of life’s enduring mysteries. Maybe she made them; she was a decent amateur seamstress. And I doubt any of the pigeons are still with us.

Aleppo and an Old Phrase.

Aleppo has been in my head and heart all day today, so why haven’t I made a post about it? Why haven’t I rambled on again about how the world is ruled by psychopaths playing a power game in which innocent people are at best merely pawns and often no more than statistics? Because it’s old news.

The US is pointing the finger at Russia and accusing it of ‘barbarism.’ Well, that’s old news too. We could point the finger the other way, citing the American-led invasion of Iraq and asking how many thousands of innocent civilians died for a reason which has never been satisfactorily explained. Or we could point the same finger at the European imperialist powers and quote examples of mass abuse and genocide committed in the name of Empire. Maybe we should we leap across the Pacific and shout ‘Nanking Massacre’ in the ears of the Japanese. We could go on and on pointing fingers at each other, and it would all be old news.

So why don’t we just accept that every language – even Russian, presumably – has a word or phrase equating to ‘collateral damage’? Let’s all make a pact to say ‘it’s only collateral damage’ the next time we go to bed, and then we can all sleep content.

Bill the Bogey Man.

I realised only a couple of years ago that my stepfather (whose name was Bill) was very nearly the classic sociopath, and here’s one little piece of evidence to support my theory:

He used to pick his nose and then eat the juicy crop. (At least I assume it was juicy. Maybe sometimes it wasn’t. How would I know? He never said ‘Yum, yum, these bogeys are juicy tonight. Let’s see if I can find another one’ or anything like that.) What was interesting, however, was that he only ever did it when he was at home with my mother and me. I never saw him do it when we had company, and I never saw him do it anywhere else. Clearly he didn’t give a toss what we thought about his unsavoury habit, but he obviously cared what other people thought. And that has to be some sort of evidence, doesn’t it? It does, and there was plenty more.

I do tell the nicest tales, don’t I?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Uncovering the Original.

This is a picture of one of England’s best known country houses, the 15th/16th century Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, England. (Excuse the somewhat lurid quality of the colour balance. My print is a poor one and this is the best I could do with it.)

The house doesn’t look quite like this any longer. I took the picture before a restoration job was done on it some years ago, and the black and white of the frame and infill is now back to its original dark brown and tan. I approve of that. The black and white paintwork was added by the prissy Victorians who favoured visual sanitization over authenticity. It seems their contrived sense of elegance in dress and etiquette was more than balanced by their noted paucity of taste in architecture. They had no style of their own, you see, and so they spent their time copying the grandeur of the Classical and the whimsy of the Gothic, and doing their very best to hide the honest vulgarity of the Tudor. I quite like vulgarity as long as it’s honest.

And my favourite element in the picture isn't the house anyway. It's the goldfish. They remind me of China.

Friday, 23 September 2016

A Strange Hint of Sympathy.

Ever since I started taking these antibiotics, a thought has occurred to me. Are bacteria sentient? It’s something we don’t really know – what is and isn’t sentient. But if small insects can be aware, as they certainly seem to be if you try to capture one, why not bacteria? And if bacteria are sentient, if they're aware that they're being attacked by something trying to kill them, doesn’t that put a whole new slant on the taking of antibiotics?

Tonight's Prayer (and the China Connection.)

Dear God (if you’re there)

Could you please show somebody how to make an antibiotic that doesn’t give me heartburn the moment I swallow it, and doesn’t have me burping like a streetwise pig for at least half an hour afterwards. I know I live on my own, but I’m still easily embarrassed.

Oh, and I suppose you’d better put that other request on hold for at least a few more days. (You know, the one about the Chinese girlie half my age who wants me to teach her everything I know about the bad side of western culture so she knows what to avoid. That one. Thanks.)

*  *  *

I watched a YouTube video once (several actually) about the difference between northern Chinese women and their southern counterparts. It’s a sort of Manchu vs Han thing (for anybody who was sitting up and taking notice during Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) It seems that the northern ladies are more earthy, while the southerners are more worldly. The northerners are tougher and require respect of their beaus – which I could manage quite easily – while the southerners expect to be wined and dined, loaded up with lots of things made of gold, and provided with a truckload of fashion accessories at least once a week… which I couldn’t. The trick is in learning to tell them apart.

But this is all fantasy. If I were a few decades younger I could make it my mission in life to compare and contrast the two major strains of Chinese womanhood, purely for the sake of anthropological study of course. But I’m not, so all I can do is engage with YouTube in the hope of augmenting my wisdom base.

 Definitely southern.

 Manchu all.

Getting there.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Some Little Ironies.

The video to which I referred in an earlier post showed a group of young North Korean children playing a piece for multiple guitars in concert. Most of the comments, largely from Americans judging by the spelling and syntax, were either unashamedly acidic (‘they only play well because they know if they don’t they’re gonna get beaten to death’) or patronising. An example of the latter came from a man who asked why these kids couldn’t be brought to America to develop their skills. (The implication being that only in a civilised country like America can creative skills be encouraged to flourish. The thousands of years of high creative tradition in East Asia seemingly slip by unnoticed.)

‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘but then they’d be immigrants, and doesn’t this man know that the Gospel According to St Donald contains a ninth Beatitude?

Cursed are they who are not born in the Promised Land of America, or follow not the only proper religion, for never shall they shall be allowed to enter (unless, of course, they can provide some pecuniary benefit.)

The commenter’s oversight seemed all the more remarkable when you consider that Donald’s attitude actually makes perfect sense. I mean, America has no tradition of taking in immigrants, does it?

(At which point I hear D Trump Jr – if he has sufficient grey cells to get the irony, that is, which I’m tempted to doubt – intoning solemnly ‘Ah, but we didn’t come here with violent intent.’ I think the natives might disagree.)

But, you know what? I was reading the news from North Carolina this morning and had a thought. If somebody asked me the question: ‘Which two countries in the world would you most not want to live in?’ it would be difficult to answer because there are lots of countries I wouldn’t want to live in, but very high up the list would be America and Syria. Ironic, isn’t it?

Late Night Drivel.

I just had to go outside for something and noticed that the bird seed on the window sill close to the door was receiving the ravenous attention of five slugs, two snails and a wood louse. You just don’t know what’s lurking outside your window at dead of night, do you? Now there’s something to think about when you’re going to bed.

And having said that, I’ve now become possessed of the notion that I might go to bed in a couple of hours time, only to wake up and discover that I’m being slithered over by thousands of slimy slugs. And then I’ll wake up again to find that it was only a dream… but the slugs are still there… and then I’ll wake up again, and… well, you know how it goes.

And I got called ‘retarded’ on YouTube tonight. To be precise, my ‘perspective’ got called retarded, but the writer failed to make his statement less vacuous by offering any sort of rationale, so I think I’ll ignore him.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

On Being Thwarted.

I wanted to make a post about something I watched on YouTube last night. The comments showed how easily people’s views of a place – in this case North Korea – are swayed by the slant put onto it by the media (in this case the western variety, but I’m sure the media are the same the world over.) Their prejudice is soon well ingrained and their predictable responses follow a childishly acidic inevitability. The problem is that I can’t because I needed to quote one of the comments, and it’s gone. I just went onto YouTube and all the comments which were there last night are missing tonight. All, that is, except mine, which said:

I wonder how many of the good ol’ boys commenting on this video have actually been to North Korea and are speaking from experience.

So far it has one ‘like.’

*  *  *

Instead I thought I’d post this scan of a postcard I was sent some years ago. I do so for no other reason than the fact that bells and cute kids are two of my favourite things, although I suppose it also illustrates my fondness for the internationalist persuasion.

*  *  *

And I’m afraid nothing worthy of note happened in Ashbourne today (unless you count the fact that the young woman in the coffee shop maintained her habit of treating me like something-the-cat-brought-in-having-first-devoured-and-then-regurgitated-it.) There was, however, a major disappointment:

Some folks might remember that I once posted a ditty on this blog entitled Ode to an Ashen Coco. Well, for eight months I’ve been waiting for a reason to go into the lady Coco's money-changing establishment so I could say:

Ah, Coco, shall I compare thee to a smoggy day in old Beijing, where ne’er a merry roundelay is heard? For not a bird will deign to sing to woo his mate with lovelorn din, but coughs instead, in Mandarin.

Today I finally had the reason. I received a cheque from a picture library last week (first one in over a year) and needed to pay it into my account, so in I strode full of intent to do the deed and face the consequences (either amusement or crushing embarrassment were the most likely.) And you know what? She was on holiday for a week.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Value of Instructions.

My old office chair was getting beyond its prime. It was fourteen years old and had been sat on a lot more than any other chair I’ve ever had. It was still sturdy enough, but it wasn’t very comfortable owing to the fact that the padding on the seat was almost non-existent and the protuberances on the metal base beneath all too evident. Accordingly I bought a new one last week, and today I put it together.

It was a simple enough job – just a few components and eight bolts to hold them all together – but I read the instructions anyway since it sometimes helps to know the best order to follow. The final instruction (step 5) was the most valuable of all. It said:

Carefully place the unit in the desired location.

What a boon that was. Without it I wouldn’t have known what to do with the chair, would I? So that’s what I did; I placed it carefully under my desk and luxuriated in the sense of achievement.

Shifting the Power Base.

On the day that a UN aid convoy was destroyed in Syria by (presumably) Russian or Syrian army air strikes, thus consigning thousands of innocent people who are already living in hell to a winter without food, blankets or adequate clothing, Donald Trump Jr had this to say about Syrian refugees:

If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful?

That’s our Syrian refugee problem.

This image (of a bowlful of Skittles) says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.

This doesn’t merely amount to a one-way ticket to the nearest dumpster for the Trump family, this has much wider implications. This vindicates what I’ve been saying for a long time about the pre-eminence of the nation state and the parlous condition of world leadership.

The American Presidential Election is of relatively little importance in the general scheme of things. Trump and his nasty little brood are merely the sad, ethically impoverished rearguard trying to maintain the old ways. What’s needed is a massive sea change in perceptions, and that isn’t going to come from the American Establishment. Neither will it flow from the darkness of religious fundamentalism. It will have to come from people everywhere demanding that humanity be placed above the narrow confines of national interest and ideological dogma. Is that an impossible dream? I don't know, but I have noticed that today's young people seem to be moving in that direction, and I like to think they might begin the movement for change. 

Blowing the Ballast.

So, let’s skip lightly over why I haven’t been blogging lately. Let’s just say that I haven’t been the cheeriest bloke on the block, if for no other reason than it serves my obsessive predilection for all things alliterative.

Today things looked up a little. Today I finally overcame both my pride and my prejudice with regard to the matter of doctors. I decided that three months of trusting my immune system to win the war against the gremlins was long enough; the battles were going this way and that, but the enemy was showing no sign of giving up and so I summoned the trusty ally. I went to see a doctor (it occurred to me that if the Iron Duke could depend so critically on Blucher, there was little shame in me following his example. I need encouragement, you see.)

And what a lovely doctor she was. She had no air of the authority figure hanging about her person, more the air you might expect of a diligent niece you only see once every couple of years or so. That was OK; we got on; we even talked about a few things entirely unrelated to the enemy on the hill. She prescribed a course of antibiotics which I hope will prove to be the Waterloo of my personal Napoleon (and his own allies, and with due apology to any French person who might happen to read this.)

And that wasn’t all. I was also greeted most enthusiastically by a friendly dog, despite its human’s attempt at restraint and subsequent apology. ‘That’s quite all right,’ I said to the lady. ‘The greeting of a friendly dog is always most welcome.’ And so it is.

It got better. I was followed home – and subsequently waved at – by HT54. Could anything be better suited or more aptly timed to raise the spirits of an ailing person than to be followed and waved at by HT54? Not many, I think.

*  *  *

During my sabbatical I continued to read the news, and continued to be amazed and disturbed by the sort of things people say – people from the lowest social ranks right up to the highest echelons of political power. So much prejudice, so much bigotry, so much deceit and clear dishonesty, so much self-serving manipulation and so much plain stupidity drips from the mouth of the human creature with alarming regularity.

Of particular note was the row in America over Trump’s remarks concerning Clinton’s security arrangements. Both sides of the Trump-Clinton divide revealed themselves to be either uncomprehending of even the simplest logic, or else engaged in such transparently foolish opportunism as the day would quake to look on. And one or the other is destined to be the next ‘leader of the free world.’ Indeed. I fear America’s international reputation must be getting close to needing the urgent attention of a defibrillator by now. There was more, of course, but let’s move on.

*  *  *

I also questioned the blogging habit again. I questioned whether there is any point in me casting my inconsequential jottings to the winds of cyberspace. Can the little thoughts of one little person really amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world? (And the world really is crazy, I’m quite sure of that.) I don’t see how they can, and I don’t see why they should, which is why I came very close to saying ‘enough is enough.’

The problem is that writing is in my blood, and there’s very little else in there keeping it company these days (apart from the odd infection or two, whose own days, I hope, are numbered.) So what would I write, now that the stories are all written out? I’ve no idea. I can’t write one of those popular thematic blogs because I don’t know enough about fishing, football, flower arranging or how to invent fifty different recipes for apple pie. So what’s next? More of the same? I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll decide tomorrow.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Illustrating the Illusion.

Not one of my pictures this time, but something of genuine quality. It’s a detail from a postcard sent to me by my Czech friend Pavli, and I wanted to post it for its atmospheric value.

A lot of traditional cultures interest me, and one of them is the culture of old Eastern Europe. As dark and rich as Turkish coffee, there’s also something dissolute about it that sharpens the blood as it sucks you into the chiaroscuro world of its night time alleyways. It’s a world of samovars and Kafka, of paltry markets, and of men in fustian overcoats languishing in doorways while the lurid glow from a gas lamp reveals nothing but a suspicious eye.

And it’s probably all in my imagination, but I like it anyway. And this picture of Prague, for all its visual expansiveness, somehow speaks of it.

Rare Lunchtime Encounters.

Last week in Uttoxeter I was sitting on a bench at the bottom of the High Street eating my lunch (a mixed cheese and spring onion sandwich as I recall) when two young men crossed the road and approached me. One of them said, in a seemingly forced and overly jovial manner, ‘Is there room for a little one on there?’ Something about his mannerisms made me suspicious, and I usually trust my suspicion because my perception of mannerisms is very highly tuned. Nevertheless, I moved to the end of the bench to make room.

They both sat down and began to fiddle with things in paper bags, and then the speaker leant over to me and asked ‘Are you enjoying your Bank Holiday Monday?’ My suspicion was heightened. Who ever asks whether you’re enjoying your Bank Holiday Monday unless they’re preparing a sales pitch? A sales pitch was what I was expecting, so I gave him the standard response: ‘Is it Bank Holiday Monday? I wouldn’t know. I don’t come from this planet.’

I expected a gladiatorial conversation to ensue, in which I would have to explain to him what a tram liner is and hope it proved to be the decisive blow. It usually is if you time it right and leave them no room to manoeuvre (I use different tactics with Mormons, but this guy didn’t have a black suit, an American accent, or a book in his hand.) No contest ensued, however; the young man went quiet and I finished what little was left of my sandwich.

And then something that looked like a scratch card flew out of his hand and landed in my lap, despite the absence of any troublesome wind. ‘Oh look,’ he said, ‘now I’m attacking you. That isn’t very nice, is it?’ He leant across and took the scratch card off my knee, whereupon I regarded them both quizzically, got up and left.

That night the five infections mentioned in an earlier post flared up and I began to feel ill. The following day I felt so rough that I hardly ate a thing all day.  So did I wonder whether I’d been given the ricin-tipped umbrella treatment, or some equivalent, in consequence of my post about Russian tanks? I did, but I couldn’t have been because I’m still here, not unless my immune system is rather more robust than I have a right to expect. In the end I concluded it was just another example of the matrix cracking up. It happens a lot these days, especially in Uttoxeter for some odd reason.

*  *  *

Today’s encounter was different. I was sitting eating my portion of chips at the other end of the High Street this time, on the low brick structure-that-used-to-have-something-on-it-but-doesn’t-any-more. Sitting on the other side was a woman with a little girl of around eight or so.

The little girl was happily playing around said structure, occasionally smiling at me and interspersing her general jollity with sundry remarks aimed at her adult companion. She was quite delightful, so when I’d finished and disposed of the paper and polystyrene receptacles, I went around to the other side and said to the child: ‘Excuse me, young lady. Thank you for your company while I was having my lunch. It was most enjoyable.’

The child regarded me silently with big, luminous eyes while her adult companion smiled, and I thought that on such insignificant occasions does the rare sunbeam of niceness re-assert itself and the god of small things smiles benevolently for once.

After I left I wondered whether such an encounter might have an effect on the little girl’s future perceptions, as seemingly insignificant encounters in childhood sometimes do. And then I wondered whether that effect would be a good or a bad thing. And finally I resigned myself to the fact that I shall never know. And such is life.

A Ramble on Things of Uncommon Significance.

It seems to me that if you have a physical condition which is causing you pain, and you’ve had it for several weeks, and you dislike visiting doctors for reasons already given, the way to handle it is to cultivate the Buddhist assertion that:

Desire is the root of all suffering.

So stop wanting the pain to go away and then you won’t suffer any more. Simple.

*  *  *

I came across an odd and perverse little fact yesterday. My esteemed correspondent The Venerable Borg, who lives in Upstate New York, has visited Stonehenge but has never been up the Empire State Building. I, on the other hand, having lived all my life (to date) in England, have never visited Stonehenge but have been up the Empire State Building. This is a fact into which I read more than ordinary significance.

*  *  *

Another of life’s little curiosities is that while we can define humour, and even explain the neurological processes by which it functions, nobody can say what it actually is. This is further evidence of my suspicion that everything of consequence in life ultimately comes down to the abstract, and is another fact into which it is worth reading more than ordinary significance.

*  *  *

I’ve often wondered why just about everybody loves butterflies, but many people are cautious of moths. Yesterday I got what is probably the answer. Moths beat their wings much more rapidly than butterflies and are capable of flying faster, a fact which renders them more difficult to dodge and lends them an air of unpredictability. The assertion that the problem is caused by butterflies having bobbles on their antennae while moths don’t is almost certainly fallacious.

*  *  *

I don’t know why I bother. I really don’t.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

On Television and Tram Lines.

People sometimes seem surprised by how little TV I watch. I used to think the reason for that was simple: TV programmes are designed to function within the orbit of conventional culture, and since I connect to relatively few aspects of that culture there isn’t much on the TV to interest me. But now I wonder whether this might be a chicken and egg question.

Could it be that those who manufacture, maintain and manipulate the culture deliberately ensure that TV output is designed to keep the population programmed to stay in line? If that is the case, could it be that I no longer conform dutifully to the culture because I’m no longer much exposed to its main conditioning tool?

The problem is that I don’t know which came first. Did I step outside the tram lines and then stop watching the TV, or did I stop watching it first and then drift naturally outside the tram lines?

Or am I delusional and/or anti-social and/or misanthropic and/or a fledgling fruitcake? I wish I knew, but I don’t suppose it matters.

A Matter of Personal Taste.

This is a short video of a Chinese dancer dancing. There may or may not be a story behind it, but I’ve invented one anyway.

She opens as a cobra, expressing all the sinuous grace and immaculate precision expected of the Queen of Serpents. And then she wakes into the Goddess of the Wind, pulling it expertly this way and that while expressing the subtle yet childlike attributes of a playful spirit.

Fanciful, maybe, but it’s how I see it, and it’s why I watch this frequently but never watch Strictly Come Dancing.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

More from the Album.

These are two pictures I took back in the day when I was learning studio lighting techniques and Photoshop hadn’t yet been invented to make cheating easier.

(There are those who would say that using Photoshop isn’t cheating, but is merely a useful addition to the creative process. I would have to agree, of course, and rue the fact that I was born too early.)

Pretty, aren’t they?

On Being the Sperm Whale.

A section of the hedgerow in the lane where I live has just had its autumn trim and is looking very smart and orderly. That’s a sure sign that the cycle of the seasons is dipping into the dark time, and I realised today how quickly this summer has slipped by. I know we say as much every year, but this summer seems to have come and gone with unusually indecent haste. It seems like only a few weeks since the first spring colour appeared in the garden, and now there’s little colour left except the wine red of the sedums and Himalayan Honeysuckle to linger into autumn.

This is, of course, a phenomenon which accompanies the ageing process. It’s a bit like falling out of an aeroplane at 20,000ft. For a long time it must seem like you’ll be falling for ever, but over the last few hundred yards the ground must rush at you with alarming rapidity. So it is with life. Fans of Douglas Adams’s infinite improbability drive will no doubt get the title of the post, although I have to say that I mostly feel more like his bowl of petunias.

And talking of aeroplanes, I heard an almighty roar at about 9.45 a few nights ago. I had no doubt that it was a commercial airliner (I’m used to low-flying military jets, and their noise is quite different), outbound from East Midlands Airport about thirty miles away, flying over my house at a frighteningly low altitude. I’ve never heard anything a fraction that loud in the ten years I’ve lived here and I held my breath expecting the sound of an explosion any second. There was none, but I still wondered whether some in-flight problem had been encountered, and whether I’d come close to a sudden, fiery and very loud end. I don’t think I’d like that because, like dear old Arthur Dent, I wouldn’t want to go to heaven with a headache.

Responding to Kaerpernick.

I wrote a long post/essay today around the issue of Colin Kaepernick and his habit of sitting out the national anthem. To a European mindset there’s something surprising and mildly risible about the reaction to it – the gravitas attached to his action, the howls from the military personnel who say they’re being insulted by it, and the threat by the local police department to boycott the next 49ers game. (Trump’s opinion may be ignored as usual.)

It raised more issues than the mere protest of one American; it went into broader areas such as why America places so much emphasis on defence, why American children are apparently brainwashed into affording more reverence to the flag than any other cause, and why the term ‘patriot’ is given such excessively hallowed status. It was a long essay offering some pretty obvious suggestions, but I scrapped it because I’m not American and therefore not directly affected, and because I have no compelling reason to tread on sensitive American toes. Besides, there a some Americans for whom I have great respect. (Oh, and Europe isn’t perfect either.)

Let it suffice to say that I personally applaud Mr Kaepernick’s courage and sense of priorities, and leave it there.

Friday, 2 September 2016

On the BBC and the Big Apple.

During my leave of absence from blogging I found the odd programme that I could tolerate on the TV, usually at around 9pm. One of them was on BBC2 – a documentary about New York City.

Now, the thing is this: BBC2 was the first of the ‘culture’ channels in Britain. BBC1 generally did fairly sensible stuff, but Beeb2 was a cut above Beeb1 and mostly appealed to the more discerning viewer. That was why I was expecting the documentary about NYC to be about the soul of New York.

I wanted to know how the city functioned on all human levels, from the heroes of America Corps to the animal known as Trump. Instead, what I got was four chirpy presenters doing short sound bites, mostly around Midtown Manhattan, on the logistics of New York. They went jumping gleefully around saying things like ‘A thousand enquiries a day?! WOW!!!’ and irritated me greatly. It was all about how the city’s wage slaves keep the Big Apple juggernaut surging ever onwards, seemingly to very little purpose of any real significance. It certainly wasn’t about people being made sad or happy, and it certainly wasn’t about the soul of New York, not unless the soul of New York doesn’t really exist and the city is little more than a place where a few million people have to live because they can’t afford to buy a homestead in the woods of Oregon.

It wasn’t BBC2 standard, at least not as BBC2 is traditionally understood. It was a disappointment, and I imagine it was another victim of the Thatcherite mentality which is increasingly requiring the BBC to become more ‘commercial.’

Let’s make something clear: The BBC is not, and never has been, a commercial institution. That’s why we have a TV licence system in Britain; it’s there to pay for the BBC so that one revered institution at least can be shielded from the sort of commercial pressures applied by the likes of advertisers and their ilk (even though it doesn’t, unfortunately, shield Auntie Beeb from unwelcome government interference. See the sad story of Tony Blair and Dr David Kelly for evidence of that.)

And all of this is, I think, a shame. And I continue to believe that NYC does have a soul, knowledge of which would be fascinating to a discerning viewer. But it seems there just aren’t enough discerning viewers to make the dissemination of that knowledge a sufficiently commercial proposition. The principle most revered by the Thatcherite mentality was imported direct from America, and has become the leading light of 21st century attitudes: It don’t count unless it sells.

The Consequence of Absence.

This is what happens to your visitor stats when you’re a blogger without an internet connection for six days:

It reminds me very much of a favourite Far Side cartoon in which a man in full climbing gear and with a shoulder full of ropes is climbing into a hole in the ground. The caption reads:

Because it wasn’t there.

Notes on Death and Significance.

Several times during the six days I was without the internet there was a song I wanted to listen to on YouTube. This was it:

As I’ve gone through life I’ve picked up on odd pieces of music and marked them out as good candidates for my funeral. Given the nature of the occasion, I think this is my favourite because there’s such an air of optimism, elegance and simple peace about it. When I did finally get to listen to it again, I was struck by the scene I imagined before me. I was at my own funeral watching proceedings, and was struck by the fact that the people gathered there were focussed on the memory of me. And I felt that for the first time during my current mortal existence, I mattered.

Ah, well, I suppose that can be put down to poor potty training as a child, but the next little note is something different.

There was a vole on my path this evening. He was sitting still and seemingly uninjured, but his head was down and I judged that he’d reached the end of his time. I picked him up gently and placed him in the greenhouse where he could at least be peaceful and free of the unwelcome attention of predators. And he had my blessing, for what it’s worth.

The point here is that I know that death is the natural and necessary conclusion to every life. I know it and accept it, but I can’t accept it with equanimity. Every death hurts, even when it’s only that of a lowly little vole.

So where does this photograph of my ex wife fit into the scheme of things:

She’s very small within the overall image, but because she’s wearing red – at my behest – she’s the most prominent element in it. And maybe that gives the clue as to why I still like it after all these years.

You see, I’m singularly unimpressed by the powerful politicians, the wealthy business magnates and the all-conquering heroes. It seems to me that if anything matters at all in this crazy world, it’s the small things on which everything else is built.

Rambling at Last.

My internet is back earlier than forecast by BT, thanks in very small part to me and very large part to the Chairperson of the Parish Council. I rang her this afternoon and said ‘thank you.’ So let’s draw a line under BT (for now.)

At the moment I’m interested in why I so dislike consulting doctors, and came up with three thoughts:

1. I think it might be a race memory. Until relatively recently, doctors were drawn from the upper echelons of society because you needed to be rich to afford a medical education. Consequently, they hobnobbed with the aristocracy as a matter of course and frequently got invited to tea at the big house while the peasants (like my ancestors) caught typhus and other sundry peasant-type diseases and died of them in vastly disproportionate numbers.

2. Doctors touch you and prod you and generally fiddle with you, and I can’t stand being touched, prodded and fiddled with except in circumstances that should be obvious. (And they don’t happen any more, and never did with a doctor anyway. I had an affair with a nurse once, but they’re different – especially so back in the days when they wore cute little caps, capes, coloured belts and dark tights. For which read ‘panty hose’ if you’re from the wrong side of the water.) I don’t mind my car being fiddled with by a mechanic, nor my computer by an IT technician. Cars and computers are their own people; my body (what’s left of it) is entirely mine and therefore sacrosanct.

3. I remember even as a young child being appalled by the overly deferential respect afforded to the doctor by my mother. She never asked ‘What’s next, old lad?’ It was always ‘So what can be done about it, doctor?’ Hateful. It had me frowning at the invasion of an authority figure in my life and ashamed of my mother.

My reluctance might well have something to do with one or any combination of the above. They’ll do for now.

*  *  *

So here I am jotting a note again. Earlier this evening I thought I’d forgotten how to write; I felt so rusty after a six day lay off that I thought I could no longer put finger to keyboard and life as we know it was over. Maybe I still have a future after all. Maybe tomorrow I’ll make that post about the connection between New York City and falling standards at the BBC. Maybe.