Thursday, 30 November 2017

On Trump's Last Post.

I thought of making quite a long and sensible post on the issue of Trump and his re-tweeting of British far right videos. I decided against it because I don’t suppose it really matters to me if Trump chooses to push America’s reputation down to where the worms crawl and the rats make their homes. Why should I care?

What does disappoint me is that Theresa May says the offer of a state visit to Trump is still open. She says that it's important to maintain the 'special relationship.' Well, anybody who reads this blog regularly will be well aware of my opinion of little Donald, so my disappointment will come as no surprise. And it seems there have been calls from British MPs to have the offer rescinded. And I’m quite sure there are loads and loads and loads of other British people who feel the same way. So let’s make it clear to avoid any confusion:

TRUMP, WE DO NOT WANT YOUR UNWHOLESOME PRESENCE POLLUTING OUR COUNTRY. PLEASE DO ONE DECENT THING IN YOUR LIFE AND STAY AWAY. WE’LL RESUME THE ‘SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP’ WHEN AMERICA GETS A PROPER PRESIDENT.

It was interesting to note, however, that Mrs May finished her announcement with ‘a date has not yet been decided.’ OK, maybe that’s the get out clause. Let’s all hope.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

What I Do.

So here we are again: it’s Wednesday and I’m supposed to make a blog post about my routine shopping visit to Ashbourne because that’s what I do. It’s a self-imposed discipline, the prosecution of which requires me to take note of every little circumstantial nuance to find something about which to say a few words because I have nothing to declare but my blog. So let me see…

Did anything exciting, uplifting, inspirational, frightening or funny happen in Ashbourne today? No. Did any dog befriend me? No. Did any dog behave aggressively towards me? Yes, but it was a poodle and its human was a young girl who giggled so it hardly counts. Did I see anybody slip on a banana skin and ask ‘why do people find it funny when somebody falls over?’ No. Did I encounter any of the Ladies of Mill Lane as I sometimes do? No, not even at a distance. Did I give money and a warm muffler to a pale and hungry waif I found shivering on a street corner? No. Did a squadron of hungry griffins darken the sky intent upon decimating the population?

I’m plucking at non-existent straws here. Is my life come to this? All those mountains climbed, cataracts survived and barriers overcome… Is that sad, or what?

I did, however, have one interesting little sensation when I was walking up the narrow cobbled alleyway between Victoria Square and the pet shop. (It was the last place in which I had what passed for a very short and guarded conversation with the Lady B, and is therefore entitled to a mention in the tourist publications as a Site of Special Historical Significance.)

I felt like some character not untypical of a darker sort of Dickensian novel: a shuffling, snivelling, solitary, inconsequential creature bereft of common comforts and the good offices of humanity. Does that sound sufficiently Dickensian? I think so.

The feeling passed quickly, and then I went for a cup of Americano with cream because that’s what I do.

Late Night Epiphany.

I just found this and discovered that Americans can be quite nice people (at least the off the wall ones.) Whoever would have thought it?


Slightly drunk and going to bed.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Wasted Wishes.

I received two ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes today, both by email. One was from Mel and the other was from a writers’ forum I engaged with once and to which I must have given my date of birth in order to register. I’m glad to report that, for my part, I managed to be completely oblivious to the significance of the day, which is probably just as well because it wasn’t exactly a happy one.

Back to the Bad Old Days.

Vis-à-vis my previous post: I decided to watch the second half of The Old Curiosity Shop in the hope of seeing Daniel Quilp receive his comeuppance, and so I did. I was also hoping that the death of Little Nell would be as amusing as Oscar Wilde said it was, but in that I was disappointed. A little overly mawkish perhaps, but hardly a laughing matter.

On a side note, it did strike me that the world is still full of Daniel Quilps. The modern phenomenon of public exposure and accountability has forced them to be more secretive about their dastardly deeds, but they’re still here and thriving.

And I’ve long thought it curiously hypocritical that many of the people who revere the works of Charles Dickens – socially crusading stuff in its day – are often the first to decry the notion of a welfare state, preferring instead to champion the kind of rampant free market ideology which spawned the class divisions and abusive excesses characteristic of Victorian society. And isn’t it delightfully ironic that Mrs Thatcher drove a privatisation policy aimed at making Britain far more dependent on the free market principle, having proudly declaimed that she wanted ‘a return to Victorian values.’

Monday, 27 November 2017

On Positive Depression.

Tonight I tried to watch the 2007 adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop. I turned it off half way through because when the black dog has already got you by the throat, the unremitting darkness of The Old Curiosity Shop only serves to enrage him further.

I did realise, however, that depression has its useful side. The more depressed you are, the less you tend to give a damn about anything; so when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune land on your unprotected head, the turmoil thus engendered can sometimes be ameliorated a little – although it does depend on the nature of the slings and arrows, of course. Still, yet another example of life’s little ironies.

I did warn of the winter blues, didn’t I? And I did say that November tends to be the worst month. Tomorrow is my next indelible marker of mortality. I hope nobody reminds me of it.

Milking Non News.

I gather an alleged grandson of the Queen is going to get married to some American actress I’ve never heard of. And of course, the media is going into one of its incomprehensible frenzies as it always does at such times, giving a matter which is of comparatively little import at least as much coverage as it would a high level political assassination or major terrorist attack.

I wonder why they do it. Are they trying to persuade us to give a damn, or could it have something to do with attracting advertising revenue? I find the whole thing quite mystifying, but it seems that quite a lot of people do give a damn, which is the most mystifying aspect of all.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Nepal's New Era.

I just read that elections have been held in Nepal for the first time since the end of the civil war between security forces and Maoist insurgents. All levels of the population have been allowed to vote and the response has been enthusiastic, with many people walking for hours through snow in the Himalayas to vote at their local polling stations. It was also mostly peaceful, the only trouble coming in one of the more northerly regions where police deployed armoured vehicles firing snowballs to disperse a protest by yetis demanding universal suffrage.

When Rainbows Fail.

There was a rainbow over the Shire yesterday, a perfect example such as you might find illustrating a child’s story book. The sky against which it was placed was a dark slate grey, and the landscape over which it stood was a sunlit mixture of fields, hedgerows, copses resplendent in autumn livery, and the characterful 17th century stone house which stands on its mediaeval footings at the side of Green Lane.

Half my brain was telling me that I should be finding the sight exquisitely beautiful and inspirational, while the other half was concentrating on the reason for my not so doing. It didn’t take much working out, but it would take a lot of typing to explain it. Besides, I’m not only growing tired of being me, I’m even growing tired of talking about me.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

An Early Christmas Note.

Every month I donate a fixed sum of money to Shelter, a charity set up to help homeless people in Britain, and every so often they send me emails. The latest missive is all about ways to further help Shelter at this festive time of year when Want is keenly felt and Abundance rejoices (they didn’t actually say the last bit, I just felt like quoting it so that some naïve soul somewhere in the world might take pity on me and kindly ascribe a measure of erudition to my generally impoverished mind.) One of the suggestions runs as follows:

Make space for the gifts you’ll be receiving this Christmas by donating unwanted items to your nearest Shelter charity shop.

This is me they’re talking to. Me, the guy who answers every irritating ‘are you ready for Christmas?’ query with a carefully rehearsed speech outlining the three pillars on which the celebration is built in order to explain why I make the informed choice to ignore it. Here is a list of the Christmas gifts I receive:

1. A miniature (5cl) bottle of scotch from Mel which she gives me every year. She insists on maintaining the tradition for superstitious reasons, fearing that if she breaks it there won’t be anybody to send one to next year. For my part, I save the empty bottles in a specially commissioned drawer. I pretend to be pursuing the hobby of miniature scotch bottle collecting in the hope that one or more of them will become valuable one day, but really I’m just as superstitious as she is.

That’s it; that’s the list of the gifts I’ll be receiving this year. So what do they want me to do in order to make space for it? Throw away one of the empties? What do they take me for? An unfeeling rationalist?

Trump's True Colours.

I was just reading about Trump’s latest spat with TIME magazine and it appears to confirm what many of us have long suspected. You see the lies, the exaggerated claims, the fake self-aggrandisement publicity, the laughably overcooked projection of ego, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to understand that it all makes him look stupid, and what is there to conclude but that he is suffering a chronic case of severe emotional insecurity? Either that or he is a sad and immature little boy living in a big man’s body, and maybe they’re both the same thing.

So should we now start feeling sorry for poor little Donald? Well, this is the man who holds the position of President of the United States, the man to whom the rest of the world looks as the senior representative of his country. He wastes a lot of hot air on facile attempts to promote and defend the concept of patriotism even when it involves denying the right to legitimate protest, a fact in itself which many would deem to be further evidence of insecurity.

If Donald is so concerned with patriotism, isn’t it about time he dropped all the ego and childish self-promotion? Isn’t it time he stopped asking what America can do for him and ask instead what he can do for America? Isn’t the answer to that question pretty obvious, and should it take one insignificant little guy living in England to suggest it?

Friday, 24 November 2017

Me Again.

People seem to think I’m observant, but I’m not – at least I don’t have the kind of faculty which people usually associate with the term. I’m no Sherlock Holmes, and I’d be pretty hopeless as a witness in a criminal case because I don’t notice the kind of things which matter in criminal cases.

Take eyes, for example. I’m very good at reading them. I read truth and lies; I read confidence and doubt; I read suppressed emotion; I read warmth and coldness; I read genuine interest and false interest. And if I don’t read anything in somebody’s eyes I know they’re either unbelievably dull or they’re hiding themselves from me. And yet I hardly ever notice what colour a person's eyes are.

I could give other examples, but why bother? Here I am doing the me, me, me thing again. It’s just that for some years now I’ve been obsessing over the question: ‘I need something… I need something… but what? What do I need and how do I get it?’ And I haven’t come close to finding the answer.

Well, tonight I experienced an epiphany. At a quarter past seven I felt a strange desire to go to bed. It was really very odd because apart from the time when I had an arthroscopy procedure in 2000, I haven’t been to bed before 2am for at least twenty years. Neither have I wanted to.

And then the light bulb came on and now I know what I need. I need an extended break from being me.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Post-Wednesday Post.

Yesterday was Wednesday, so what happened to the blog post? I regret there was no post because Wednesday is Ashbourne day and Ashbourne offered about as much inspiration as an old rich tea biscuit floating down the gutter on a wet Tuesday afternoon in February. This was largely due to the fact that there wasn’t a present or past resident of Mill Lane to be seen anywhere, although I have to admit that I didn’t spend a great deal of effort looking for one. I tend to rely on Macbeth’s philosophy in the matter of meeting people from Mill Lane: If fate would have me king, why fate may crown me without my stir.

So today I went to Derby. Was that any better? Well, I would usually restrict myself to one adjective when describing Derby: nondescript. Today it was promoted to two adjectives: cold and nondescript. I suppose it might be mildly interesting to mention that I was feeling adventurous and did something I’ve never done before: I had a latte in Costa Coffee instead of my usual Americano with cream. I took careful note of the flavour and then had a cup of my washing up water later when I washed the dinner dishes. Finding the two beverages to be remarkably similar, I made the bold decision to re-establish my usual practice henceforth.

In other news…

Yesterday the British House of Commons (seat of government in the Mother of Parliaments) obliterated what little credibility it had left following the growing number of sexual abuse scandals by voting on the animal rights issue. According to the members of that august institution, animals do not feel pain and have no emotional response faculty, thus paving the way for the promotion of unrestricted acts of torture in future times when political and commercial exigencies deem them desirable.

This vindicated a long-held view of mine – that the House of Commons is a chamber largely populated by poor specimens of humanity to whom qualities like low intellect, rank opportunism, abusive behaviour, and high psychopathic tendencies are the norm rather than the exception. It emphasised my opinion that it is now surely time for the relocation of most MPs from that place to temporary re-assignment in a giant wheelie bin, and then for the human detritus thus accumulated to be deposited in a modern high security oubliette on the island of St Helena. And then I recommend that we should spend a little money to good effect by offering gainful employment to a team of stonemasons to etch a giant plaque of apology to Napoleon Bonaparte in the surrounding landscape.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Flat Tuesday.

What do you do
In Kathmandu
When yetis search for prey

You tell them true
You’ve got the flu
And then they’ll run away

You see? This is what I’m brought to when the day has been uneventful: writing rubbish ditties for the sake of putting something on a blog. Writing is the only active and pleasurable pursuit left to me now that my chassis is rusting badly and the scrap yard is just around the next corner.

I suppose I could mention the slug I rescued. It was on my office floor looking dehydrated so I put it outside where it’s mild and damp, talking nicely to it on the way. And then I pondered the question of whether a life has been worthwhile if you’ve made at least one slug happy.

Tomorrow is Wednesday. Interesting things sometimes happen on a Wednesday.

Some Music - With Commentary.

I finally found – and listened to – the full version of Deva Premal’s Moola Mantra on YouTube.



The first ten minutes are magical; the rest is merely beautiful. But here’s a tip: if you listen to it, for heaven’s sake don’t read the comments. They’re so full of a maddening mixture of obsequiousness and quasi-spiritual smugness that they’ll have you tearing you hair out with one hand and reaching for the sick bag with the other.

Have you noticed that I’m in a better mood today? I don’t know why.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Adding Taste to the Taste.

For me, the appeal of having coffee in a coffee shop isn’t just about the coffee. It’s also very much about the atmosphere. A coffee shop should be located in an old building and have an air of mildly dissolute urbanity about it (I think of it as ‘the Italian tradition.’) It needs to have character because character is an essential part of the experience.

And that’s why it always surprises me when I walk into the Tesco store in Uttoxeter and see one corner of it cordoned off and used by a branch of Costa Coffee. I see people sitting there with their comestibles while shoppers walk past with their baskets and trolleys and the dull of the parish earnestly discuss the half-baked headlines in today’s half-baked tabloids.

Why do they do it? Supermarkets – and especially Tesco stores – are not exactly known for anything approximating to character, are they? They’re the supreme embodiment of bland functionality, and sometimes they even fall short of being acceptably functional.

So why? Why, when there’s a reasonably characterful coffee shop in Uttoxeter High Street, do they make do with the drab environs of a Tesco supermarket? Uttoxeter High Street is a mere half mile away – along the main road, up a short hill, through the little bus station, and you’re there. Is it just laziness or does it indicate a lack of something? I’d say it’s even money on that one.

On Being Outed.

The storage heater in my office malfunctioned recently and stored more heat overnight than it was supposed to. When I opened the door in the morning I found it swelteringly hot in here, and I felt so uncomfortable that I had to open all the doors and stand outside for a while. The thermometer on the wall registered 21°C.

But here’s an odd fact: the heater is now working normally again, and with the present weather conditions the thermometer is typically reading 19°C. And yet if I sit for any length of time at the computer I feel uncomfortably chilled.

Do you realise what this appears to indicate? It seems that I only function normally at 20°C, which, by an odd coincidence, is the recommended temperature for developing black and white films and photographic papers. So does this mean that I’m not composed of sub-atomic particles as other humans are, but silver halides? And is it the first indication that my true identity as an alien is beginning to assert itself?

A Case of Reverse Logic.

For about the first hundred years after the invention of the electric telephone the use of the device was a sedentary affair. All telephones were plugged into a socket which restricted the user to the length of the cable, and so conversations were necessarily conducted sitting or standing. But as we all know, the advent of the mobile phone changed all that. They allowed us to conduct our telephonic business on the move, and this appears to have produced an interesting phenomenon.

Time after time recently I’ve watched people using a mobile phone while waiting for a bus or heading for the supermarket, and they can’t seem to do it standing still. They have to pace and pace, up and down relentlessly. And so it appears that the device which allows people to take and make telephone calls on the move has produced a fascinating corollary: people now feel obliged to be on the move in order to use the device. This reminds me of the creature in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy whose defence mechanism was to cover its eyes in the mistaken belief that if the prey couldn’t see the predator, the predator couldn’t see the prey.

And this is, I think, one more reason why those of us who are a little less mentally challenged should be seeking relocation to another world where peace, quietness and reason reign, bodies have become redundant, and communications are conducted telepathically.

A Yen for Chinese Things.

I was just watching a yangqin recital on YouTube and thought how splendid it would be to be young again and do a degree course in Chinese Studies. It would no doubt include Chinese history, Chinese art, Chinese music, Chinese traditions, becoming fluent in Mandarin, how to use chopsticks, and how to slurp noodles without allowing them to slap you on the nose.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Fearing Encounters.

Do you know what worries me every time I go into a coffee shop? I worry that I might see the person I’ve long wanted to talk to sitting alone and I’m faced with two options:

1. Walk up to her and say confidently ‘may I join you?’ knowing full well that she will be polite and reply ‘of course; please do’ and I won’t know whether what she’s really thinking is ‘Oh, my God. Can I face spending ten minutes with this jerk? Think, think, think… What’s a suitable excuse to make an early exit? How about I have to go now or else my dog will become fractious and dig a hole in the carpet. Will he believe it? OMG! OMG! OMG!’

2. Walk past her, smile and say ‘hello’ in my most smiley voice, and then occupy another table. There’s a danger, is there not, that she might think ‘Does he imagine I smell bad or something? Does he think I’m not good enough to warrant his company? I’ll blank him the next time I walk past him – you just see if I don’t – arrogant, miserable git!’

It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? But here’s a bigger one: suppose we cross paths in the town and the following conversation ensues:

‘Hi, Jeff. How are you?’

‘Do you want me to say I’m fine, thanks. How are you? or do you want the truth?’

‘Erm… I’ll take the truth.’

‘OK, most of the time I feel tired, ill, cold, depressed, and lonely.’

‘Oh dear. Poor you. Can I take you for a coffee?’

‘Why?’

‘Why what?’

‘Why do you want to take me for a coffee?’

‘Why shouldn’t I?’

‘Because people never invite me for a coffee. They never invite me to tea. Neither do they ever invite me to dinner, nor to soirees on the terrace on balmy summer evenings while a string quartet plays Bach at a respectful distance. I’m not the sort of person to whom people extend invitations.’

‘Oh well, suit yourself. Bye.’

So there you have it – heart in mouth every time I go near a coffee shop, which is why I’ve added to my prayer script: Please don’t let me meet people I’ve long wanted to talk to, and most especially don’t let them invite me for coffee. The loner gene is there for a reason. Thank you.

More Creature Questions.

I saw a headline yesterday which said that some dog or other – police or military, I assume – had been given the top canine medal for bravery. Well, I love dogs and I’m very appreciative of their bravery when they exhibit the quality in a good cause, but what the hell is the point of giving them medals? I imagine the poor dog sloping away thinking if this is what you get for saving the world, what on earth do you have to do to get a bone?

*  *  *

I’m curious to know whether slugs and snails freeze solid in frosty weather, and whether they resurrect themselves and carry on regardless when it warms up.

*  *  *

Do you know that I once opened a packet of bread which had been in the freezer for ten days and a moth flew out? It didn’t even have a hat on.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

A Tale of Prospective In-Laws.

When I was eighteen I knew a girl called Lyn Pedley. She was the one in whose home we used to have not-very-wild parties every Thursday night while her parents were out.

Her parents intrigued me a little because her mother seemed convinced that Lyn and I were destined to spend our lives together. I never really understood why, but it seemed transparently evident from the fact that I was the only young man who was ever invited to dinner.

I wondered whether it was because I used to let Lyn carry my guitar when we went on camping trips to Welshpool. I supposed she might have apprised them of the fact, and that maybe it was an ingrained motherly trait to assume that any eligible young male who allowed her daughter to carry his precious guitar must be about to propose. I thought it might be a tribal thing, like the giving of a shark’s tooth or the standing on one leg outside the girl’s hut between sunrise and noon with only a big fish strategically placed to protect your modesty.

Tonight I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember whether I ever kissed Lyn Pedley. No results so far. I do remember that she had a front tooth which was coloured two different shades of white and that it fascinated the hell out of me. I never did get around to asking her how it came to be that way, and I never found out where her parents went every Thursday night either. But I remember the night when I’d had more to drink than usual and fell asleep in the downstairs toilet. I woke up some time after her parents came home, but they pretended they hadn’t noticed. Maybe they’d decided to start as they meant to go on.

And I do apologise for being preoccupied with the maidens lately, but I do miss them so. And when you’re becoming half convinced that you haven’t much time left in the vale of tears, the memory of past maidens can be the one comfort left to you.

Friday, 17 November 2017

A Portrait in Conversations.

I had a second conversation in Ashbourne on Wednesday. The first – with the Lady B’s sister – I’ve already reported. The second went this way:

‘Are you OK?’ she asked.

(For the benefit of those who don’t know, ‘Are you OK?’ is a standard greeting in UK English entirely synonymous with ‘How are you?’)

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t feel OK.’

‘Why? What’s the problem?’

‘Life is the problem. Shall I tell you what life is? Life is when you take your first lungful of air and then set out along the road to death. That’s all life is. Where’s the cheap lettuce?’

She pointed me in the direction of an iceberg lettuce which had been reduced to 34p because it was on its Use By date.’

‘Ah, right. Thanks.’

End of conversation.

I still don’t feel OK. I’ve felt ill in more ways than one for a couple of weeks now. In fact, I don’t think I’ve felt really OK since the last time I walked up the lane with the Lady B and her lady dog. That was about six years ago, and I didn’t feel entirely OK even then because I was in the throes of my chronic fatigue problem at the time. So when she asked ‘Is that the fastest you can walk, Jeff?’ I felt embarrassed.

I sometimes wonder whether God was inventing karma when he relieved Adam of a rib.

Being Easily Led.

A young man who’s just got his first driving licence decides that he’s going to buy a new car, and so he goes to the nearest showroom which just happens to be Ford.

‘You’ve made the right decision,’ says the smarmy salesman. ‘Ford is the best car you can buy.’

‘Oh, right,’ says the naïve young driver. ‘Better buy a Ford then.’

And so he does, and then he drives to his friend’s house to show off his new acquisition.

‘I bought a Ford because it’s the best car you can buy,’ he boasts.

‘How do you know?’ asks his slightly more mature friend.

‘Because the salesman said so. And he should know, shouldn’t he?’

I say this because I’ve noticed that most religious adherents choose their affiliation on precisely the same basis.

Being Brave for Change.

I think I was in my mid-thirties when I decided that my dress style was due for a major overhaul. Accordingly, I started wearing my shirt collar inside the neck band of my sweater rather than outside. It took some time to become comfortable with such a radical alteration in my image, but I persevered and never looked back.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Recalling the Late Night Ladies.

I worked out tonight how many people have been in my house after about eight o’clock at night during the 11½ years of my tenancy. It didn’t take long. I remember Mel staying overnight once for some reason or other, and then there was the weekend of my first autumn here when her friend Leila fancied getting away from her internship at a London teaching hospital. (I remember she very much liked my home made soup.) So there’s the answer: two.

And do you know what one of my life’s greatest thrills was? It was the night when Zoe from somewhere-near-Philadelphia said she wanted to get away from her mother, her home, and even America, and could she come over here and live with me for a while. I said something like: ‘May I look forward to late night discussions on deep and meaningful things over a few scotches?’ and she replied ‘Yes yes, you may.’ I went to bed in a rippling haze of contented anticipation that night, but I realised eventually that it wouldn’t work. Having an attractive young American woman living in the house would have been quite an emotional pressure – if you see what I mean – which is why my disappointment was mixed with relief when she announced that she’d got a position in New York instead.

And do you know what one of my most gut-wrenching moments was? It was the time when I got an email one night from the Lady B after she had reluctantly attended an event at the village hall. It said: ‘I kept anticipating your arrival, but somehow I knew you wouldn’t turn up.’ I felt as though I’d just accidentally dropped the cute little puppy onto a bed of sharp nails. (The Lady B never did set foot in my house, by the way, even in the days when we were getting on.)

And the result of such musings leads me to wonder whether I really am quite the misanthropic, reclusive curmudgeon I think I am, or whether life has just pushed me in that direction and I’ve come to believe my own publicity. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Neat Words.

A colleague of Mel’s uses an expression which she apparently picked up from her mother. She assumed it was a well known local saying, but nobody else seems to have heard it before. It runs:

I’ve lost my appetite and found Moby Dick’s.

I hope it shouldn’t need to be pointed out that it means ‘I’m hungry.’ I happen to think that it’s quite a clever and catchy expression which deserves greater currency and wider usage, so do feel free to pass it around. And it occurs to me that it might be an American expression, so if any American reading this is familiar with it, please let me know.

Sorority.

Anybody who read my post Not Quite a Lady B Post might be interested to know that I finally managed to have about 60 seconds of conversation with the Lady B’s sister today. You wouldn’t think it possible to live half a mile from somebody in a relatively close-knit community for 11½ years and never get to talk to them, would you? I can attest to the fact that it is.

I even got to ask her the big question: ‘How do you manage to be so mysterious?’ to which she answered ‘I am mysterious.’ Well now, that’s like giving somebody a pickaxe in the Klondike and pointing out the little slivers of shiny yellow metal lying close to the big hole in the rock face. Could you leave it at that and walk away? I did. So did she, but then she had the advantage of being the source of the shiny yellow metal.

Ah well, at least the encounter managed to lift my depression - as well as the inconvenient physical phenomena which accompany it - for at least an hour. That takes some doing, so many thanks and congratulations to the Lady B’s sister. And considering the way I’ve abused my body through the course of my life, I doubt I’ll still be around in another 11½ years so I expect today’s encounter will prove to be altogether unique for this life.

(I seem to recall that I once made a post about my fascination with the concept of sisterhood. I suppose it’s all to do with the combination of familial bond and that peculiarly feminine form of power which we men find both compelling and mysterious. Or maybe it’s the more prosaic perception that two pounds buys twice as many cupcakes as one.)

On Being a Space Cadet.

I mentioned in my last post that one of the aspirations I hold for my next life is to be an astronaut. I’ve long fancied being an astronaut as long as I’m a lone astronaut. That’s because I find the idea of being all alone in the deep darkness of the cosmos, millions of miles from the nearest human, highly appealing.

But there’s a drawback. Anybody who has seen the movie Moon will realise that three years without company can be a bit galling even for a confirmed misanthrope like me. It can send you off the wall in ways which are unpleasant rather than merely interesting, which is why I feel ambivalent towards the prospect.

But now I’ve thought some more. This is the future we’re talking about, isn’t it? There will no doubt be a vastly updated version of Skype which will enable you to call up attractive young women from all over mother earth and say ‘Hey babe, talk to me. I’m in orbit around a different planet.’ And when you’ve wooed her with your obvious charms, your sense of adventure, and your clever misquoting of Mr Beeblebrox, she will probably be able to join you in hologram form standing on the little round thing in the corner of the comms deck. And when she sees how fit you are (because you use the gym a lot, right?) she will readily agree to you joining her in Sydney or San Francisco or Salford, or wherever she lives, when you next get back on leave.

Good idea? I think so. And you will, of course, hide the sublime irony contained within this glorious idyll – that the world is now ruled by women and the term ‘hey babe’ is a serious criminal offence, punishment for which is to be sent off to explore the deep darkness of the cosmos as a lone and unwilling astronaut (trust the women to bring back the press gang and legitimise it with understandable feminist sensibility.) You wouldn’t want her to know that it’s why you’re on this damn spaceship in the first place, would you? You would rather she be impressed by your sense of adventure.

My posts all seem to be about death and the maidens lately, don’t they? I hope to get back to my old self eventually, if and when my old self manages to conquer the current mental and physical aberrations.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Late Developer.

There’s an ad appeared on my YouTube home page which reads:

What did you want to be when you were young?

Well now, all little boys wanted to be engine drivers when I was young, except me. I didn’t. When I was a kid I wanted to be a missionary. And then I changed my mind and wanted to be a film star. At age fifteen I briefly wanted to be a geologist, and then at seventeen the yen turned to law school and becoming a barrister. By my early twenties I’d settled on becoming an author. And then (and then) by the time I reached thirty I wished I’d become an engine driver.

I suppose the appeal of being an engine driver is all the romance that comes with it – the pulling of the chain to sound the whistle, the charging through the mountain pass in the snow with a whole regiment of pine trees for an audience, and the going into bars in strange towns and cities to chat up the local colleens who would ask: ‘Hey mister, you stink of sweat and smoke. Where’ve you been?’ and I could answer: ‘I’ve been everywhere, little lady, except one. How are you fixed?’ I think I would have been the politest engine driver ever to exult in the sounding of a whistle.

And now I’m forced to concentrate on my next life. At the moment I’m torn between being an astronaut and Emperor of China.

(The black dog is currently trying to open a can of Meaty Pieces with his teeth, by the way, which is why I’m able to make this post.)

Monday, 13 November 2017

A Will Without Witness.

Let me say at the outset that I have not been diagnosed with a terminal condition. I don’t know whether I shall die tonight, next week, in five or fifteen years time… But we are supposed to reach the fabled three score years and ten, aren’t we, so if I did ring down the curtain now people would say that I died prematurely. They’re entitled to engage the platitude, of course, although it would irritate me in spirit if I were still around to hear it.

What I do know is that when I open the box of pleasure seeds I find it empty, and my body does occasionally tell me that the garden of delights is now fading into the browning detritus of winter. In such circumstances it is not unnatural to give some thought to what lies ahead. And so I do, frequently, and I should like to place upon record that I wish the following with regard to that eventuality:

1. That my end should be quiet and painless
2. That I should be alone at the time.
3. That I should be in a place where nobody will ever find me.
4. That I should go un-mourned.

I’m committing this to published form because it occurs to me that somebody, some day, might consider a few of my jottings to be of minor significance. They might even write an essay about me, and so my endgame wishes will give them something to quote. I always did like being useful.

And I expect I will re-engage with the blogging habit when the black dog grows tired and goes off for a nap. He’s so full of irrepressible life at this time of year.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Blake, Blues, and Other Bs.

Sometimes I think I hear a whisper in the music of the wind, telling of great destruction and upheaval about to be visited on the earth and the state of mankind. It presses my depression button and evokes the obvious chicken and egg question: is the apparent portent driving me mad or is my madness driving it?

Did I ever mention that I share a birthday with William Blake, or that somebody once expressed the opinion that I look like him? The Wiki article has a paragraph which begins:

Although Blake was considered mad by his contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work.

Does any of that apply to me? How would I know and why should I care? But here’s William for the purpose of comparison:

 
I dislike the term ‘mental illness.’ It seems rather too prosaic and presumptuous for something as mysterious as the mind. Each case is individual, of course, and I haven’t yet found a suitable, all-embracing term for mine.

*  *  *

And now I would like to indulge a fancy to write an open letter to somebody:

I preferred you in the days of the rats’ nest hair, the sloppy Joe clothes and the unpainted face. They suited your uncommon appeal well; they glowed gently like the pale unicorn and bestowed upon you an air of the fey. There was magic and mystery about you then, the natural magic of star-dusted spirit which you kept discreetly hidden when you were not alone. At such times you feigned the role of quiet and diffident human, although I had been warned and so I wasn’t fooled.

And now that you have chosen to strut your uncommon charm in common form, I never come close to assess the survival or otherwise of the fairy spirit. Did you kill it on that fateful day in the month of May, or did you lock it deep and cast the key away? Does it lie there still, sometimes crying for freedom, or did it come to dust and seep silently into the hallowed earth of a country churchyard?

I’m sure I shall never know, and I know of no reason why I should. Nevertheless, do excuse my presumption and my fanciful nature. It’s just that when a star disappears you can never be sure whether it’s been hidden by a drifting cloud or has given up the ghost for all eternity.

There now, that’s that said.

Lady B and the Missing Comma.

Damn the November blues. They’ve been bad this week (hence no posts.) And November has a disconcerting habit of bringing issues on its train. This year has been no exception, although they’ve mostly been circumvented so far.

I need to write something, and I need to cling to a rosy piece of history to counterbalance the thorny history of November. So who or what would you expect to spring to mind in such a situation? Correct. Tonight I re-read an email from the Lady B (before she was a ghost) which she sent a couple of years ago.

She had a fault, you know. Her voice was compellingly well modulated and feminine, and her spoken English perfect, but occasionally she stumbled slightly in the written form; occasionally she failed to understand the significance of accurate punctuation. She closed that email with ‘Love me.’

Fortunately, I am – as my mother was often wont to say – not so green as cabbage-looking. In other words, I’m not stupid. I knew full well that what she meant to say was ‘Love, Me.’ There’s a striking difference, isn’t there?

I find it amusing now (even in November.) And don’t such tiny imperfections make a person all the more rounded and therefore even worthier of your approbation? They do.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Priestess Survives.

I don’t think I mentioned that my foolish fears for the welfare of the priestess were quite unfounded. She was neither taken by the cold spirit of the mountains nor consumed by a hungry yeti. She sent me a short email from her phone to say that she was relaxing in a lakeside town where the temperature was 21°C.

I should have known, of course. Priestesses take risks and survive. It’s a sort of coming-to-earth-for-the-experience thing.

It pains me sometimes to think that one day I’m going to have to leave her here while I move on. No doubt I will do my best to engage a reliable medium with enough spiritual acumen to faithfully transmit ‘JJ says…’

And did I ever mention that a medium in New York once told her to come to England and be with me? She didn’t, of course, because priestesses never do what mediums tell them. I suppose it’s a status thing. And I’m so glad she didn’t because she and I must never meet in this life. It would spoil everything. When she did come to England for six months, she was steadfast in her resolve to keep well away from me. That’s priestesses for you.

*  *  *

I think I would quite like to adopt a donkey. There’s an ad on YouTube offering donkeys for adoption at the knock-down rate of £24 a year. Everybody loves donkeys, don’t they? I do, so it’s tempting.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Despots with a Difference.

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when Trump reaches China on his Asian jaunt? Wouldn’t it be fascinating to watch the body language of the two Presidents, to assess their words and analyse how they’re presented.

Make no mistake; I dislike both the President of China and the Acting President of the USA. They’re both despots in their own way, but there the similarity seems to end.

Xi has the bearing and track record of a Godfather, and he enjoys the unwavering support of the Chinese Establishment and the majority of his vast number of people. Trump is a schoolyard bully whose support is mainly drawn from the feeble minded and those who aspire to benefit financially from hanging onto his coat tails. As for the Establishment, we all know what the media think of Trump, and we all know that most senior Republicans can’t stand the sight or sound of him. And now the military is telling him to rein back his childishly hawkish attitude towards North Korea, while the scientists are saying that his intention to address climate change by increasing coal usage is ‘absurd.’

So if it comes to a battle of wits between a Godfather who has his people behind him and a schoolyard bully who is disowned by most of his own people, who would you favour?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Late Bitching.

There’s a Deva Premal track on YouTube with a cover picture which shows her and that bloke of hers, Miten (I ask you, who the hell would go through life being called Miten and expect to be taken seriously? It rhymes with kitten, for heaven’s sake) looking so squidgily happy and earnest as to induce the need to vomit.

Do you know how much I hate people looking happy and earnest at the same time? On a good day I can cope with happy, and I can just about avoid frothing at the mouth when I see earnest most of the time. But both at once? How many sick bags does this aircraft have?

And do you know what three of my four most hated words are? We, Us, and Communal. (The fourth I can’t even bring myself to type.) ‘You two’ is another one, but that’s a phrase.

I wonder whether there's a name for this condition and whether there's a pill for it.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Becoming Over Ripe.

One day in idle reverie
I found myself to be
Upon a sunny, palm-fringed beach
Set in a sun-kissed sea

When all at once some native girls
Came running up to me
With bronzèd thighs and sultry eyes
And charms for all to see

And as they smiled I lay beguiled
But had to be so bold
To hesitate and tell them straight
‘I’m sorry, I’m too old’

It’s cold in my house tonight. It’s cold outside my house tonight. I expect there to be ice on the birds’ water bowl tomorrow morning.

And so I had my first mug of hot chocolate since the end of last winter, and wondered whether hot chocolate is the sole compensation when life is demonstrating that humans are not so different than fruit when they’re past their best.

Sad for China.

I read a news report today to the effect that the Chinese government is enacting a law in Hong Kong forbidding the residents showing disrespect to the Chinese national anthem. The penalty for so doing is set at a maximum of three years imprisonment.

Why are they doing this? Why, when you consider the beauty, depth and longevity of Chinese culture, does the government insist on demeaning their country this way. Why, when you take into account the Chinese reputation for the principles of balance and progressive wisdom, does the government choose to paint their country as a mean-minded, repressive, and therefore relatively backward state?

This is something you would expect to be espoused by a blustering little schoolyard bully like Trump, not the government of one of the world’s traditionally great civilisations. So does this mean the world now has another Trump on its hands – another Erdogan, Duterte or al-Assad? As a confessed Sinophile, I find that very disappointing.

Staying Home.

There was an Autumn Fayre at the village hall today. I didn’t go. And there’s a Bonfire Night bash at the village pub tonight (it sounds like a re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme at this very moment.) I’m not attending that little get together either.

The problem is, you see, that every time I’ve added my presence to such events and moved among the assembled multitude, I’ve been reminded that I don’t fit in here. I don’t accept that things are right just because they’re traditional. I don’t vote for the Tory candidate in general elections because he wears a blue tie and blue is true. I don’t feel comfortable with the odour of jingoism which hangs in the air like the sickly smell of cheap disinfectant. I’m not even a patriot because I see blind patriotism as the refuge of the small and simple minded. (Note the word ‘blind.’ When Trump sends his minions over here to pollute Scotland with golf courses, then I become a patriot – of sorts.) And I don’t understand why the person who grew the roundest potatoes for the vegetable competition should become a local celebrity.

Then again, I suppose I should admit that in terms of habitation I probably don’t belong anywhere. I don’t belong in the shires, the suburbs, the town centres or the inner cities. I belong in my own world and nowhere else. If there’s somebody with whom I can connect in any of them, I’m grateful and my life is all the richer for it. Otherwise, I’m on my own.

There used to be somebody in the Shire with whom I connected and my life was, indeed, all the richer for it. But she moved on to some other Shire over yonder hill and the richness evaporated like a raindrop in the desert. There’s nobody here to connect with now, so now I stay home.

Late Night Chill.

I dread the possibility that one day I might feel constrained to say ‘Please remember me for who I was, not what I became.’

And it’s a matter of little consequence that Saturday 4th November was the day on which I got married for the first and only time. Anna was a good sort, but she was never my wife simply because I was incapable of ever being a husband. I wonder where she is now.

Time runs apace and life is but a summer spent in the cornfield as an ear of grain.

Sleaze and the Mother of Parliaments.

If many more British politicians get suspended over allegations of sexual misconduct, I imagine the day won’t be far off when the UK parliament is relocated to a lock up garage in Whitechapel.

And I’m rather hoping that this sordid but predictable business will produce a domino effect all over Europe so that people will finally realise that most politicians aren’t fit to run countries.

I doubt it will happen in America, though. I expect American politicians (at least the sort who engage in sexual misconduct) all have enough money to pay handsomely for their victims’ silence.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

To Avoid Boldly Going.

I’ve been thinking again about that black, wolf-like dog which came crashing out of the darkness a couple of weeks ago just as I was drifting into sleep, seemingly intent on biting my head off. (Who wouldn’t?) And so tonight I did some reading up on shamanism and now I have a theory.

I wonder whether I became an involuntary and temporary shaman that night and wandered into territory which I’m not yet ready to enter. I gather that many of the traditional shamanic cultures around the world accept that some ordinary people have innate shamanic abilities, but don’t consciously use them because they’re not familiar with the rules, operative techniques, and methods of self-protection. If that is the case, I suppose I’d better be careful where I tread when the brain rhythms are at a critical point prior to sleep.

Or maybe I should consider another theory:

Shamanism postulates that ailments of mind and body are sometimes caused by malevolent forces – often spirit animals – in other dimensions which we might term the world of spirit, so maybe I was meeting the generator of my depressive tendency that night. (Depression is often referred to euphemistically as ‘the black dog.’) And if that’s the case, it would be helpful to know how to tame the creature and send it packing. Interesting, isn’t it?

On the other hand I could just be falling prey to fanciful notions driven by a sense of boredom and depression (November is usually my worst month for blues attacks.) The fact is that I keep on subtly inviting a couple of special people in the relatively close physical vicinity to commune with me, but neither of them is replying to my invitation cards. And I can’t go out and commune with them because it isn’t my place to go blundering uninvited into other people’s lives any more than it’s advisable to go blundering into unfamiliar spirit realms where ravenous beasts are lurking.

And did I ever mention that I do stretching exercises – among others – and have discovered that I’m an inch taller in the morning than I am late at night. Maybe that’s why the dog’s jaws didn’t quite reach my head before I pushed it away. Lucky old me.

(And maybe I should also be giving overdue consideration to a possible obvious reason why certain special people in the relatively close physical vicinity are disinclined to commune with me at the moment.)

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Not Quite a Lady B Post.

I saw the esteemed lady’s older sister in the town today. She intrigues me, you know; she does.

The thing is, you see, I’ve talked to the esteemed lady on many occasions. I’ve talked to her mother quite a few times. I’ve even talked to her mother’s partner (or ex-partner, whichever it is.) But I’ve never talked to the lady’s sister, and that’s intriguing.

Whenever I see her I want to stop her and ask: ‘Excuse me, why are you such a mystery?’ But the problem is that she’s always walking in the opposite direction and always breezes past with a quiet ‘Hi, Jeff.’ And that’s that for another non-encounter.

Needless to say I don't arrest her progress and enquire after her mysterious status because I fear it might discomfit the poor woman. And… well… you know me.

Being a Matching Wall Thing.

I went into the pet shop today to get my wild bird seed, and the woman who runs it was doing what she seems always to be doing when I go in – putting the prescribed quantity of big flying insects (I think they’re locusts) into plastic containers for sale as live food to the proud owners of reptiles which won’t eat anything else.

‘I feel a bit sorry for those little chaps,’ I said in a suitably mournful tone.

‘Me too,’ she replied. ‘But there’s one woman comes in here who bought a pot of them to keep as pets. She’s an artist – bit off the wall. She’s also got two pheasants and a guinea pig which have the run of her studio, and the guinea pig has several comfy little beds dotted around for him to sleep on.’

A question and answer session ensued. I had to know all about this woman, didn’t I, because whatever wall she’s off is probably the same as the one to which I became a virtual stranger quite a long time ago.

The Weinstein Message.

Following on from the Weinstein revelations the skies of Britain are full of people (mostly women, of course, although not in the case of those involved with Kevin Spacey) flying in to level accusations of sexual abuse against all manner of notable figures. Politicians are coming in for special attention and it is rumoured that Westminster is shaking from the accumulated trembling of a lot of worried men.

This is awful, but it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. What surprises me is that so many people should be holding up their hands in shock and horror. Hasn’t it always been apparent that powerful institutions from the Hollywood film studios to the seats of government are but shiny surfaces covering filth-laden cesspits? I always thought so, and the casting couch tradition has never been much of a secret.

But what about the back story? Shouldn’t we be looking at what appears to be a reasonably reliable truism: that a high proportion of people holding positions of power and prestige in most walks of public life got there by having a high level of psychopathic tendencies in their nature? Psychopaths don’t ask nicely and accept refusal graciously. They take. What’s more, they feel entitled to take and feel little or no remorse in consequence. Isn’t that central to the nature of a psychopath?

And so it seems to me that this problem is not going to go away. It might get swept under the carpet by a few protocols and complaints procedures, but you can only sweep so much dirt so far. The root of the problem appears to be that societies the world over allow psychopaths to rise to the top because societies are easily dominated by bullies. Until we change that there will continue to be victims.

The Conundrum.

Earlier this evening Mel and I were considering the question of memory and reality. It included such questions as: ‘did anything in my history actually happen?’, ‘what does “happen” mean’, and ‘how can there be a present if there is no such thing as a moment?’

We eventually settled on the likelihood that the definition of ‘moment’ is: ‘the sum total of all existence in which time has no relevance.’ Or something like that.

Just thought I’d say that before the scotch scrambles my brain.

Hallows Eve Notes.

It is now November, my least favourite month. My birthday falls in November and birthdays are but markers of mortality.

I hope the little people are enjoying the cake and scotch I left out for them. I hope I shall receive their favour in consequence. (I suspect it was they who were knocking at my window on recent nights, reminding me not to forget their annual treat.)

I fear the priestess might be lost in the cold mountains of Nepal. The evidence for such a suspicion is meagre, so I expect I’m just being paranoid as usual.

The one advantage of never getting comments on my blog is that when I announce my birthday month, nobody says ‘Happy Birthday, Mr JJ. You’re our hero.’ Please don’t be tempted.

My ear is ever at the service of those wishing to avail themselves of its receptive (and perceptive) faculty for as long as Mr Mortality keeps his bitter business to himself. I hope the invitation isn’t too veiled for the one person to whom it is principally addressed.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Falling in Love Again.

At one time I thought I was in love with Mistress Erhu. And then I met Madam Guzheng and the stars shifted position. After that I had a brief flirtation with little Pipa.

All of that is now but a fond history, for recently I encountered the Lady Yangqin. Our eyes met across the vastness of cyberspace and I knew it was the real thing. Bliss is now in evidence and the moon is rising over an open field.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Autumn Coloured Blue.

When I stand outside on a sunny day in late October I notice the weakness of the sunlight and the low angle it makes with the ground. I observe the long shadows creeping ever outwards like a slowly falling monument. And then I stop seeing the change and start to feel it somewhere deep inside that great repository of abstract perception we call consciousness.

It chills me mentally. It makes me a little more tense, a little more anxious, a little more depressed. I’m gripped with a sense of disease, decline and decay. This is the descent into the Hades of fable.

Macbeth has a line: I ’gin to be a-weary of the sun…

… likewise, only on this occasion the sun is also ’ginning to be a-weary of its diurnal duty. It’s growing old and weak, fit only to prostrate itself before the inevitable while we little life bearers blink in the darkness and shiver in the cold.

And this, ladies and gentleman, is not the rambling of a negative mindset. I know all about the beauty and the fruitfulness of autumn; I’m not lost to the principle of rest and replenishment. Rather it is one of the endlessly inventive symptoms of hyper awareness. It’s an HSP thing.