Sunday, 31 December 2017

On Wisdom and the Cocoa Bean.

Part of my New Year’s Eve rambling to myself (there being no other person present to whom I could ramble verbally) involved coming up with a definition of ‘wisdom.’ I couldn’t do it. Wisdom is one of those qualities – like love – which appear to exist but have no universal definition. At one point I came up with:

Wisdom counsels, but avoids advising and never instructs.

Well, I suppose there’s something of minor worth there, but it isn’t a definition. It’s just a sound bite, and sound bites are almost invariably inadequate because they consciously seek to address abstract values which are not only complex but also untouchable.

Eventually I decided that it’s probably something to do with knowing yourself, living up to your own values, seeking to augment those values, and then promoting the concept to anybody who wants to listen (and keeping quiet if they don’t.) It seemed general enough. And then I wrote this because I was bored and tired of being earnest. I wonder whether hot chocolate would help.

A Personal Mystery for New Year's Eve.

’Tis now New Year’s Eve and the traditional time to look back over that artificially contrived span we call twelve months. I don’t usually bother, since dates are just numbers and I’ve long felt that the definition of a year should be solstice to solstice. But this year something is tugging at me, insisting that I write it down for no better reason than the fact that it seems rather more significant than it should. Back in May I was visited for the first time by the wraith of the Lady B.

At this juncture I should explain that I had known her for about ten years by then, and during that time she had moved in incremental stages further and further to the edge of my orbit. In consequence – and being a bear of moderate brain – I thought I had put her behind me and that she was no longer of any significance, especially since such significance had always been a bit of a mystery anyway. Not so.

On that day in the merry month of May I was hit in the middle of my chest with such force that it arrested my movement and seemed to pull my head and shoulders down. (Imagine getting a sudden and severe attack of heartburn; it was something like that.) And the message which rose into my mind from the onslaught was unequivocal. It told me in no uncertain terms that my fondness for the dear lady was undiminished, and so was the magical, magnetic pull which her presence in this world had long exerted on me, almost certainly without any artifice or volition on her part. And then, less than a week later, I learned that she had left my orbit altogether and shut the door behind her.

I found it devastating at the time and struggled for weeks to understand why. Eventually I did and it helped, but the wraith became a regular visitor and continues so to be.

So should I be grateful that she left something of her presence behind to haunt me - forcibly, though not aggressively - on the byways of the Shire, in my house, and even in the little market towns to which I make regular forays? I don’t know. On the one hand it can be enervating; on the other, it brings a splash of colour to an otherwise grey life. And maybe one day the wraith will explain to me the mystery of the Lady B connection. But that raises its own issue: without knowing what the explanation is, I can’t know whether or not it would be welcome.

Meanwhile, I can now rest content in ending the year with a brief explanation as to why the Lady B has attracted so many posts in 2017. I expect they will continue because some things just refuse to lie down and at least pretend to be dead even if they're not.

Avoiding the Badger Mafia.

We had quite heavy rain last night and rain has a disastrous effect on my bird tables. The contents, being a mixture of rolled oats and mixed seeds, turn into a cold, wet, gloopy substance which I like to refer to grandly as ‘fortified porridge.’ But the birds don’t like it. I see them looking disconcerted when I open the curtains in the morning, and the robins – being the most knowing of birds – eye me with a look which clearly indicates a measure of avian discontent. So I have to scrape it all off and replace it with fresh, dry stuff, and then the little feathered friends flock eagerly to the table again and all is right with the world. (They never fly to me and tweet a word of thanks, but sometimes you just have to accept that good deeds are their own reward.)

So what do I do with the scraped off stuff? Do I throw it away, thereby sticking hot needles into my extreme sense of disquiet at wasting perfectly good food? Nope; I deposit as much as I can manage in a polythene bag and tip it out close to a nearby badger sett. Badgers seem to be quite partial to cold, wet gloopy stuff. I came across one feasting on it in my garden a few winters ago, so I should know. And my question is this:

How smart are badgers? Might they have come to recognise that heavy rain is the precursor to a free supper of fortified porridge? And if I fail in my now time-honoured practice, will they take the hump and come a-stalking to punish me for my oversight? Badgers are the heaviest, strongest and toughest of the carnivorous mammals we have in Britain, so getting on the wrong side of a whole family of them probably isn’t a good idea.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Southern Faux Festival.

There are several theories as to why 25th December was chosen by the Romans to be Christmas Day, but most of them relate in one way or another to its close proximity with the winter solstice (the whole of Christendom being at that time in the northern hemisphere.) I think it reasonable to suggest, therefore, that in a cultural sense, Christmas is simply the current incarnation of the Midwinter Festival which has been practiced since time immemorial. And it is a routinely recognised fact that many well established Christmas traditions are pagan in origin.

So what about those people living in the southern hemisphere who celebrate Christmas alongside the summer solstice? Midsummer and midwinter are completely different in character and have different attributes associated with them. Australians and the like should surely be celebrating Christmas in June, otherwise the celebration has lost its connection with its historical root – which is most important in my opinion.

This is yet another mess we Christian Europeans created by insisting on ruling the world for our own benefit. (And it’s interesting to note that the Chinese never made that mistake, despite their having been the world’s premier civilisation at several points in history.)

Friday, 29 December 2017

On Misanthropy and Aspiration.

I’m one of those people who fit the occasionally heard statement: ‘I dislike people, but I love humanity.’ It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it, since humanity is made up entirely of people, but actually it isn’t. What we love about humanity is its potential; what we dislike about people is their constant failure to aspire to that potential.

Too many people are consumed with a selfish disregard for the rights and needs of others. They start wars for stupid, selfish, arrogant and misguided reasons. They foster systems which reward the psychopath. They’re too prone to abusing one another, and often take pride in so doing. They abuse animals as a matter of course because they allow themselves to believe that animals have no emotions, don’t feel pain, and generally don’t matter anyway. They slavishly follow religious traditions which encourage this view, claiming that it is sanctioned by their version of God; and those whose God has a different name too often get slaughtered or abused themselves for being out of step with some small minded notion of rightness. They give to the rich and tread the poor into the ground, and the rich hoard greedily beyond their capacity to spend while the less fortunate struggle to subsist and often fail. And all over the world there persists the notion that women are inherently inferior to men, there only to serve the will, the desires, the needs and the criminally carnal drives of the physically stronger sex. I could go on…

I saw a fragment of a TV programme tonight in which a Thai woman was greeting her draft elephant at the start of the working day. The degree of mutual affection and respect which passed between them seemed entirely genuine, and I trust my judgement in such matters because I’ve been studying the signs of artifice for a long time. And then the woman said:

When I was a child I saw a bull elephant in the jungle. He was wounded from his logging work, but they drove him on regardless. The look in his eyes changed my life forever.

Therein lies the aspiration to human potential, and there are more climbing the same ladder. The two groups I have a problem with, and which validate my tendency to misanthropy, are:

1. The other 90+%.
2. The ones who hold most of the power in the world.

And so my prayer to the God of Small Things is: ‘Please show me more of those who aspire to humanity’s potential, that I may walk the rest of my road in company with the cream.’

Thursday, 28 December 2017

On Emptiness and Patience.

The last post I made was one of my poorest. It was so badly written that it was beyond editing and I thought I should take it down. But then I decided to take Omar Kayyam’s moving finger literally and let it stand as testament to an imperfect being.

There’s a darkness inside me at the moment. It’s a grey, foggy sort of darkness which hangs silent and impotent in a void of its own making. Emptiness does not suit the living being. Emptiness is symptomatic of the dying time when the frigid air is filled with nothing but unreal images of times past going round and round on a wheel in the mind’s eye. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the nature of man is no exception.

A vacuum needs to be filled with life-giving air and energy – the fresh new growth of spring, the balmy breezes, the strength of a waxing sun, the scent of new-mown hay drifting off the field. The problem is that you cannot force the progress of spring. Though driven by an irresistible imperative, she’s young and fickle of purpose; she comes when she’s ready.

And that’s what this year’s Midwinter Festival has felt like: trudging without vigour through a dismal wood with only sleeping, skeletal trees for company, waiting for something or someone draped in colour, light and adventure to walk around the next bend so I can say: ‘May I walk with you for a while?’ I’ve been here before.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Tell Me Who I Am.

There’s a song that was recommended to me by the priestess recently and I’ve listened to it several times. It includes the lines:

There are worlds within me that I cannot explain
There are so many doors but they all look the same
I am lost, I don’t even remember my name

A few lines later it ends with:

…please tell me who I am

I think this relates to a problem experienced by those beset by the reclusive tendency and to which I’ve referred several times on this blog.

It seems to me that people rarely recognise that their sense of personal identity is largely a reflection – positively or negatively – of the environments in which they operate and the fellow human beings who operate there with them. As the recluse becomes more reclusive and turns his back on those people and environments, he suddenly wakes up one day and realises that he doesn’t know who he is because there’s so little to show him. It’s a feeling I have occasionally experienced. It’s confusing and uncomfortable, but I suppose you just have to get used to it and keep putting one foot in front of the other. There is, after all, a grain of personal identity still slumbering somewhere inside, so maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right people and environments to put some flesh back on the bones.

*  *  *

Tonight’s Lady B post didn’t get made because the allegory was too convoluted and I couldn’t be bothered to struggle with it. It was all to do with a pearl, a beach and the ebb tide. Will that do?

The Lady B at Christmas.

The Lady B’s ghost did her charging rhino act again last night. She does occasionally; her wraith crashes into my consciousness with an almighty thud and it’s always unexpected. It happens when I’m engaged in some trivial act which has no connection with her and I’ve no idea why.

But of course, it led me to wonder what her erstwhile host is doing this Christmas and where she is doing it. I wonder whether she is musing quietly on her life thus far; I wonder whether she is looking into some celestial mirror and taking stock. I wish she would tell me, but she won’t and neither should she, since the only constructive purpose in looking back is to turn again and move forward with augmented intelligence.

And just to prove that I’m nothing if not imperfect in approving my own edicts, I have to say that I miss her and her little dog a lot sometimes. But trials will be trials and challenges will be challenges and isn’t that what Christmas is all about? And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a Lady B post, would it?

Monday, 25 December 2017

Finding Christmas.

It’s been an odd sort of Christmas this year. For as much as I’ve tried to ignore it as usual, something of its essence has refused to remain quiet. It pressed itself remorselessly against the creaky, reluctant door of my mind, persuading the rusty hinges to give just a little more until something of its fabric could be glimpsed in the dark recesses beyond.

What I saw, or thought I saw – for the light was low and the images vague – was not the Christmas of common practice. The three foundations comprising the spiritual, the commercial, and the traditional were entirely absent. There was no merrymaking, no gathering of the flock, no gift giving, and no thanks held up to any saviour of mankind.

There was only a kind of musty melancholy, but not the depressed kind. There was no joy, no excitement, no fear, no pain; and yet it was not without substance. There drifted from it the need to muse quietly on a life lived thus far, and to accept the challenge to look into some celestial mirror and take stock. I saw the Green Knight come to Arthur’s court at Christmas; I heard his challenge and felt Gawain’s response. And out of the darkness flowed some intimation of great significance about the midwinter festival.

Christmas Cheer from My Favourite God.

Christmas Day in the Shire has been mild, damp and breezy. The walk was pleasant and I managed to remain amenable to the couple who wished me a merry Christmas when I passed them in Mill Lane (it always happens when I go for a walk on Christmas Day.) I decided that gushing would be dishonest, but they did get a slightly lukewarm ‘same to you’ in return. Ah, but then the good old God of Small Things stepped in to ensure that my Christmas should not be entirely devoid of cheer.

There are two horses temporarily domiciled in a field at the bottom of my lane. One is a grey hunter of about 16 hands, the other a neat little bay of about 15.1. They often watch me with some curiosity when I walk past and they always get a word and a wave in return. Today was different; today they trotted over to the field boundary hedge and stretched their heads so far across it that I was able to touch their noses. Making physical contact with animals is a singular treat to me, so I did have a merry Christmas of sorts after all.

On Meghan's Munching.

Today’s BBC News website is headed by pictures of the royals arriving at Sandringham church for the Christmas Day service. They’re all dolled up in their posh outdoor gear, of course, and it struck me that between them they’re probably wearing about as much as five bus drivers get paid in a year. But then my sardonic irritation turned to a chill of horror.

The group included Prince Harry and that American actress he’s planning to wed. Do you realise she probably eats her food by holding her fork upside down in the wrong hand? Imagine the mortified and icily silent stares which must greet her presence at royal banquets. I venture to guess that Her Majesty the Queen is not all amused, and it certainly would never have been allowed when I was a boy (it’s my considered opinion that such was the real reason why Edward VIII had to abdicate over his affair with Mrs Simpson.)

Maybe Ms Markle will have the good grace to take her Christmas dinner alone in a private anteroom. It would require the engagement of extra staff, of course, which would precipitate yet further cost to the beleaguered exchequer. But if the royals can spend the annual income of five bus drivers on outdoor apparel, how much more valuable a return would be represented by the maintenance of proper standards for which we are all eternally grateful.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

On Slim News and Sledging.

I’ve been searching the news pages for things to write about but nothing much is happening at the moment. China has built a very big plane that can land on water, but that’s no major surprise. They’ve got an awful lot of water in China. I expect the Americans would have got there first if only they didn’t have to share the Great Lakes with Canada. And the sports pages are full of Aussie cricketers insulting us poor old Poms as is their frequent wont. We ignore them, of course. What do you expect from the land of beer bellies, barbies, obsessive suburbanism and the ultimate nanny state? Our dear English cricketers’ stock reply should be: ‘We only come to play cricket, mate. What other reason is there to come here?’

And just in case anybody doesn’t get the joke, maybe I should explain that the issue of ‘sledging’ (barbed insults which cricketers hurl at each other on the playing surface, often couched in language which the more respectable journals decline to repeat verbatim, and the practice of which Australian cricketers consider a particular forte of theirs) is a big one at the moment. And my pejorative description of the land down under was carefully contrived in the hope that I might be the first person in the world to be accused of anti-Ozism. It would be nice to be a world leader in something.

Not Quite Scrooge.

I just watched the 1951 film Scrooge for the umpteenth time, and I still say that the two most convincing characters (apart from Scrooge himself, played brilliantly by Alistair Sim) are the charwoman and the wide-eyed maid who lets the reformed Ebenezer into Fred’s dinner party at the end.

But it was the message which struck a chilling chord with me. I don’t keep Christmas myself, you see, and I have been known to sit a sad and solitary figure in front of a meagre fire on Christmas Eve with a bowl of pea and potato soup perched precariously on my knee. But I took heart from the fact that at least I feed the birds, so maybe I might be spared the ignominy of having my bed curtains purloined and sold for a pittance to the rag and bone man.

Seasonal Music.

Here you go, here’s a rare bit of Christmas music I can recommend (at least, it’s from the Chieftains’ Bells of Dublin album and it says ‘Christmas Eve’ in brackets, so I suppose it must have something to do with Christmas.) Whatever its provenance or association, I can at least aver that it’s jolly, foot-stompingly pleasant, and unashamedly Irish in character.

My one regret is that there’s no accompanying video of long-legged step dancing colleens. If there were, the album could be re-titled The Belles of Dublin and then it would come even more highly recommended. 

Saturday, 23 December 2017

On Petitions and Presumption.

I signed an online petition tonight against the deportation of American archaeologist Jennifer Wexler ordered by some clearly pea-brained bureaucrat in the Home Office. I signed it because I was enraged by the absurd reason given for the refusal to grant permanent residency, but then I was given another reason to be enraged. I got an email from the petition organiser which said:

In signing our petition you have joined our organisation. Here are lots more petitions we want you to sign (or words to that effect.)

Needless to say I took the necessary steps to unsubscribe, paying particular attention to my entry in the Tell us why you’re leaving (optional) box. If this is the sort of thing we’re supposed to accept in the modern online world, maybe it’s about time somebody organised a petition to rein back the unmitigated presumption of petition organisers.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Notes on Why.

A time to live, a time to die
A time to eat some apple pie
A time to jump, a time to lie
And never blessed with knowing why

*  *  *

I haven’t mentioned the Lady B (or her ghost) for some time, have I? That’s because her spirit in physical absentia hasn’t assaulted my being like a charging rhino for some time now, and also because it sometimes seems like a pointless thing to do. The Lady B is probably the most tantalizing mystery of my life, but only I can understand why. I'm sure she doesn't have a clue and there's no reason why she should. I’ve thought of writing the whole story down and posting it here, but that would mean breaking the odd confidence or two and revealing things about myself which I wouldn’t wish to reveal except to a most trusted confidante. Besides, no one would get it. I expect she will rise again like the phoenix one of these days, as is her habit.

*  *  *

‘Look at me. I’m 46 and have never left home. For the whole of my life I’ve lived with my parents. I’ve had a few boyfriends, but they were relatively superficial affairs and never lasted long. I’ve never been married, never had children, nor even lived the wild life. All I’ve done is kept my job and taken care of things.’

And this from one of the calmest, quietest, most consummately able people I’ve ever known. A delightful – maybe even inspirational – person who you would want to have with you in a crisis because she would handle it with relative ease. She handles everything with relative ease. Isn’t it a shame that people feel the impulse to denigrate themselves because they haven’t lived life in the manner prescribed by cultural convention?

Thursday, 21 December 2017

A Slight Improvement.

Today I could have made posts on:

1. Trump’s welcome defeat at the United Nations.

2. The attitude to gender roles and sexual politics in China.

3. The watching of an Arthurian-themed TV series which would have taken me in completely as a young man, but which now has me bemoaning the absurd lack of credibility in certain plot points and the occasional serious lapses in the quality of acting and direction. (Why do we have to grow up?)

I didn’t make them because they all seemed too earnest, when what I really want to do is get back to playing the fool (in other words, being creatively silly.) It’s a role I was accepting quite happily until the darkening days, the plummeting temperature, and the onset of multiple woes over the past couple of months set the black dog snarling more aggressively than usual.

But today is the winter solstice, so tomorrow the sun starts climbing again. I’d decided not to bother with my usual solstice fire this year, but then changed my mind and had the fire. Some things are just too fundamental to let go of easily.

And this week has seen the welcome return of a treasured old cyber friend from Ohio, USA. Without wishing to tempt providence to breaking point, my fortunes have improved a little during the same period. Whether there is any causal relationship between the two facts or whether they are purely coincidental I have no idea, but the return of an old friend lifts the spirits whether connections may be inferred or not.

All I need now is a silly ditty to set the ball rolling. Working on it.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas Songs and the Cynic.

‘I don’t make merry myself at Christmas,’ said one Ebenezer Scrooge of Curmudgeon Court, Old London Town. Neither do I. But unlike that most famous of all literary misanthropes, I have no objection to other people making merry and keeping the season in whatever way they wish as long as they don’t disturb me. Thankfully, they generally don’t.

What does disturb me, however, is the shopping experience. Most shops at this time of year have the same old Christmas songs playing over and over again, and most of the same old Christmas songs take as their theme either the Nativity story or the wonder of snow.

Well now, the Nativity story not only encourages the endless regurgitation of shamefully saccharin-encrusted lyrics, it’s also almost certainly a fraudulent fabrication concocted to fool the feeble minded (songs like Mary’s Boy Child and Silent Night kindle in my rationalist breast such a rage as can only be ameliorated by hurried egress from the offending retail establishment and the writing of blog posts like this one.) And as for snow being wonderful, not to me it isn’t. I hate the bloody stuff even more than I hate Mary’s Boy Child.

There is, however, one Christmas song which I can tolerate: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. That’s probably because it makes no mention of snow or babies in mangers, and was used to superbly ironic effect in the splendid anti war movie The Victors. None of the shops I’ve been into this year was playing it, and The Victors is far too depressing to watch a second time. Soon be next year.

On Meanie Miss Trump.

‘We will be taking names,’ says Trump of those states which oppose his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It’s an interesting statement. It puts me in mind of that stereotypical old schoolma’am, the ageing spinster who is unmarried not because she wants to be, but because she’s never found anybody masochistic enough to live with her meanness. She has grey hair pulled into a tight bun; she has hard eyes which speak volumes for fear and emotional insecurity; she wears a permanent frown and has thin, bloodless lips pulled down at the corners. She has no interest whatsoever in educating children, but is consumed with the need to control and bully those not yet strong enough to stand up to her.

This is the latest image of the wrecking ball known as Trump, determined as he is to bring the USA into ever greater disrepute. Let’s hear the phrase again:

We will be taking names

This is not the language of the White House as we remember it. This is the language of a third grade kindergarten in some small Midwest town that nobody has ever heard of. And once more the world looks at America and rolls its eyes.

As for Nikki Haley, she must surely be aware that if she continues on her present course she will be remembered by history as the consummate political whore. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks she would be well advised to nail her colours to a different mast before it’s too late.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Trump's Afterthought.

I gather Trump’s first tweet following the Tacoma derailment amounted to a blatant attempt to make political capital out of the tragedy (and rather foolishly, too, given that I assume the cause is yet to be established and therefore the question of infrastructure spending of unknown relevance.) Only later, apparently as an afterthought, did he make a second tweet in which he said his ‘thoughts and prayers’ were with the victims. I expect some advisor told him it would be good for his image…

But that phrase: ‘thoughts and prayers.’ It’s the standard phrase used by people who can’t think of anything original to say, and as such is effectively meaningless and carries a condemnatory message about the user. And it has to be asked whether Trump is the sort of person to have thoughts for victims anyway. It doesn’t seem likely, does it, given his track record thus far? And does he ever pray? Well, who knows?

So once again he paints himself as a sordid little man totally bereft of any finer virtues, while the world watches his every move and reads his every tweet. Oh to be an embarrassed American in the Time of Trump.

Monday, 18 December 2017

One Man and His Dog.

The reason there have been no posts since November 30th is because there’s been too much depression, too much anxiety, too many issues. I simply haven’t been minded to say anything because there was little to say and none of it seemed worth saying. But today I saw something that lit a spark in a jaded mind: I saw a man walking his dog along the footpath which leads out of Uttoxeter bus station.

The dog was an unusual looking creature, part border collie and part borzoi was my considered guess, and the man matched the dog in the matter of oddness. There was something about his face and mannerisms which suggested one of those conditions typified by the umbrella term ‘learning difficulties.’

As they walked along the otherwise unoccupied path, the man would occasionally bend forward to slap the animal’s rump playfully. The dog apparently understood the gesture and responded happily. At one point the man halted the animal and moved forward to run his fingers through the mane of thick hair around its neck, and then buried his face in it to express affection. And again the dog responded with obvious delight while I watched from a distance and smiled. Dog and human rapt in mutual love, trust, and the pleasure of one another’s company.

And then it occurred to me that there are millions of people all over the world whose lives are made miserable or snuffed out altogether by the self-serving iniquities of cruel and greedy tyrants, furtive governments, and deluded people who place national, ethnic and sectarian boundaries above the qualities of compassion and humanity. And in this foul and foetid swell of a dark and depressing sea, once more the God of Small Things showed the true value of life to which we should all be aspiring.

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.