Saturday, 29 April 2017

Regarding the Stepfather.

When I was a kid my stepfather bought a Renault Dauphin motor car which he insisted on calling a Ren’alt Dolphin because he said there was no way he was going to start speaking that stupid foreign lingo.

This was the same stepfather who told me that Etruria and Eritrea were the same place; it was just two different ways of pronouncing it. The same stepfather who refused to allow me to continue my education beyond the age of sixteen with the words: ‘I’m not going to spend good money keeping you sitting on your fat arse in a classroom. You’ll go out and work for a living like everybody else.’ The same stepfather who eventually died in a mental hospital, having been moved there from the care home where he’d taken to sexually assaulting the blind female residents. The stepfather my mother only married because he told her I’d die of malnutrition if she didn’t. (My mother wasn’t quite that na├»ve, but she was afflicted with a neurotic tendency which can amount to the same things in some circumstances.) And there’s plenty more.

So do I regret his arrival in my life at the tender age of 6½? Of course not; I regard him as having been a primary learning experience. And it’s become apparent to me that nobody really knows what drives another person, so we cannot judge from a position of omniscience. Besides, if he hadn’t come into my life that life would have been different, and we can’t second guess fate. Who knows where my different road would have led? I might have died of malnutrition.

From Dirty Harry to Uriah Heep.

It’s quite amusing watching Trump change his spots. Until recently his approach to North Korea was all high octane, all-American machismo:

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Do you? Fire one more missile and you’ll be staring down the bad ass end of my Magnum 45.

So North Korea fires one more missile and Donald shifts his position. He takes a deft step backwards and to the left and looks out from behind Xi Jinping’s ankles, whence he oozes righteous indignation.

Those North Koreans are very bad people. They’ve fired another missile and insulted my good friend, the President of China. (And what a splendid fellow he is.) Shame on them!

It’s all a bit transparent, isn’t it?

On Bridges and Legendary Beauty.

If ever I go to China I think I’ll have to give the humpity bridges a miss. Here’s one:

It looks like half the endowment of a princess of legendary beauty in a Disney film, doesn’t it? (See previous post.) I think I might have difficulty making it to the top. Maybe I could just sail underneath and pretend to be the princess’s pet one-eyed poodle.

(The only princess I ever knew didn’t have a pet poodle, she had a cocker spaniel. And her legendary beauty was based on virtues rather more substantial than a pair of Chinese bridges.)

A Pot Shot at a Prince of Persia.

I was in a charity shop the other day rummaging through their DVDs, and I came across one called Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The man standing next to me tapped the box and said ‘Good film, that.’ ‘I rarely watch historical epics,’ I replied. ‘They’re usually too much Hollywood and not enough history.’

But then I realised that it wasn’t a historical epic, but an epic fantasy supposedly in the style of Pirates of the Caribbean. And so I decided to buy it.

I watched the first thirty two minutes last night, having had difficulty getting through the last thirty of them, at which point I switched it off because I couldn’t bear to watch any more. Predictable script, wooden acting, uninspired direction, lamentably low on plausibility even by the standards of an epic fantasy… Worst of all was the scene in which we first see the princess billed as a woman of legendary beauty. She was hanging her more-than-ample breasts, loosely encased in a less-than-ample silk bikini top, over the edge of the battlements while giving orders to the manly minions waiting to repulse the might of the Persian army. I suppose the silk was authentic, but I doubt the bikini was and I remained unconvinced. The princess would have looked more at home on one of those soft porn calendars you see in mechanics’ workshops.

But of course, it was a Disney production and therefore high on sugar but low on substance. And legendary beauty is represented by an extensive frontal battery so as to appeal to the LCD. That about says it all.

Should I engage in deeper analysis? Nope.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Beltane Beckons.

It’s nearly Beltane again. I like Beltane. Beltane Eve is the night on which courting couples gather in the local churchyard with the express intention of behaving indecorously. And Beltane itself is the day on which the biggest of the bonfires smells alluringly of roast policeman.

I didn’t have a Beltane fire last year because it didn’t feel like Beltane, and whether I shall have one this year remains to be seen. It’s not quite the same for me, you see. I’m not half of a courting couple, and even if I were I would probably find it difficult to behave quite that indecorously, whether in a churchyard or a more traditional venue like a bedroom or the back of a Ford Transit van. And I have an absolute terror of being burned alive, with the inevitable corollary that I experience the most abject horror if I witness any other sentient creature finding the same end. (I could tell the story of the poor bee, but I won’t.)

I have, however, experienced the odd bit of intriguing but apparently harmless magic on Beltane Eve. If I should decide to invite some this year, and if the denizens of other dimensions should accept the invitation, I’ll be sure to let you know.

When PC Bounces.

I read today that some academics working in an equality and diversity unit at Oxford University have issued a list ‘racial micro-aggressions’ in a newsletter. These are very bad things which you mustn’t do because they amount to ‘everyday racism.’

I expect they meant well (although they might just have been finding one more way to justify their existence, for who can really tell?) and, of course, I have full sympathy with the principle. Racial intolerance has been one of my pet hates since childhood.

But the ball has bounced back and biffed them on the nose because one of the things listed as a must-avoid is not making proper eye contact. Whoops! Now they’re being accused of discriminating against autistic people because autistic people have difficulty making proper eye contact. Oh dear. And an emeritus professor at the University of Kent has suggested that the big boys at Oxford should ‘take a reality check.’

This is most interesting. Could it be that if you fire off large quantities of arrows too quickly rather than taking more careful aim with a smaller number of missiles, you end up missing the target and shooting yourself in the foot?

Meanwhile, the big boys at Oxford have said ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’ and promised to be more careful in future.

Mill Lane's New Magnet.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that there’s a field off Mill Lane in which are domiciled several American quarter horses, a herd of massive sheep (which must be foreign because we Brits don’t generally do massive), a Shetland pony, and three llamas. Today I saw that they have a new friend:


Ah, the donkey. We all say ‘ahhh…’ when we see a donkey, don’t we? Or at least we should, for the donkey is the animal exposition of the universal language. Frequently exploited, abused and neglected, the donkey is the animal which unites good people everywhere in the hope that all of their kind should receive a good home and tender care. And that is what I fervently wish for this one.

I used to have a special reason for frequenting Mill Lane, but that’s sadly in the past. Now I have a new reason for making the effort to stroll that way more often. It might be that, on occasion, the donkey will be close by and I can bestow upon it handfuls of fresh hay from the ungrazed side of the gate. For I think there are probably very few pleasures in life more uplifting than to bestow handfuls of fresh hay upon a donkey.

You may raise a solitary sniff, lift the single tear from your eye, and wish me well in my new endeavour.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Mystery of the M Word.

Boris Johnson, the Clown Prince of British politics, caused quite a stir today when he referred to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as a mugwump.

This is interesting because I’d heard the word, but only in connection with a song by the Mamas and Papas. I didn’t actually know what it meant. Neither, it seems, did Boris Johnson (I read somewhere that he was confusing mugwump with oompa-loompa), so everybody is now laughing at him as usual. When BBC Radio Derby asked the Prime Minister in an interview whether she knew the meaning of mugwump, she replied ‘I am conscious of the fact that the country needs strong and stable leadership.’ (Well, we all know that rats are capable of slithering through seemingly non-existent spaces, don’t we? I’ve seen them do it. Or maybe she didn’t hear the question. Or maybe Radio Derby was unwittingly connected to a recorded announcement.) Best of all, Word doesn’t have mugwump in its dictionary, at least the UK version doesn’t.

And that, it seems, is the point: mugwump is an American word. So I looked it up.

I was informed that a mugwump is a person who remains aloof and independent, especially from party politics. (Which doesn’t mean that a mugwump can’t side with a Socialist if that Socialist is trying to make the country a nicer and fairer place to live in.) As such, it appears that I’m a mugwump, too.

So hooray for me and Jeremy. And thank you, Boris, for entertaining us with the custard pie that missed.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Logic in Being Wrong.

Let’s say a sports team wins a match by scoring a fluke goal, even though the opposition played better. At the end of the game the coach is interviewed and says: ‘We didn’t play so well today, but I’ll take the win. A win is a win.’ I’ve heard it often. They really do say that.

That attitude is understandable in professional sport because professional sport, being an arm of the entertainment industry, is driven by and on behalf of moneyed interests. But I see it percolating down to all levels. I’ve heard it from school kids. Winning is everything comes the ubiquitous cry, and nobody seems to question it. So let’s ask the question: what is sport fundamentally about?

It’s about two things: it’s about putting your own ability to the test, and it’s about proving that you are better than the opposition. So if you play badly you’ve failed the first test, and if you win even though the opposition played better you've also failed the second. So how can winning be everything?

That’s why when I played sport I always said that I would rather play well and lose than play badly and win. Playing badly but still winning left a sour taste in the mouth because the purpose of the exercise was not achieved. It simply left me trespassing on the wrong step. To my mind, that’s just simple and unassailable logic. They said I was wrong then, and they say it with even more conviction now.

On Questionnable Definitions.

I just read a news report from Paris about two police officers who revived a woman declared dead by paramedics an hour earlier. She’d had a heart attack, apparently, but they noticed her abdomen moving, checked that she had a pulse, and then performed CPR to get her heart going again. She’s currently recovering in hospital.

OK. Nice story. The officers are to be congratulated and should be given official commendations. I applaud their actions. I do. Wholeheartedly. OK?

But now the commissioner in charge of their district says they should be given a bravery award. So tell me, what did they do that was brave? Bravery means taking action in the face of danger. Where was the danger? What were they risking?

I’m seeing more and more of this lately – officialdom making dumb statements. So how are we choosing our officials these days? Where are we going wrong?

Because They're There.

Somebody once said to me: ‘You should get out more and meet people.’

Why? What would it achieve? Not friendship or companionship or any of the other ships to which we’re persuaded to cling in the stormy sea of life. It doesn’t work that way with me, and it’s an interesting feature of a life like mine that very few people out there can even begin to understand why it doesn’t work that way with me.

We’re supposed to make friends with neighbours and work colleagues, aren’t we – people we’re accidentally thrown up against in the general prosecution of life? We are, and most of us do, but it’s an alien concept to me. If I’m to be friends with somebody, that person has to have qualities which I respect and to which I can relate. They have to be on a wavelength similar to mine, or at least be genuinely sympathetic towards it. Such people are few and far between, and I’m quite unable to relate to a person on anything more than the most superficial level if they’re there just because they’re there. I’m inconveniently endowed with tunnel vision when it comes to relationships.

But we all know that getting on with people just because they’re there is how communities function. It’s why people get together to chew the cud in village pubs and community centres, or take an active part in community activities, or go for communal walks, or throw pool parties for the neighbours’ kids, or have a satisfying life discussing shared interests in the cosy atmosphere of social and recreational clubs. (Coincidentally, it can also lead to people being ostracised because they dare to be different, or because they simply don’t fit in with received axioms. There can be a darker side to the communal imperative.)

And so I freely admit that this connection to the community ethos is all very fine in its own way and I do support the concept. The problem is that it means getting on with people just because they’re there, and to somebody like me that’s akin to being slowly suffocated.

All of which leads me to say that I would rather not be judged as mean. I’m not mean by nature. I don’t want to be mean. Although I admit to being intolerant of bullies, braggarts, bigots, ego-maniacs, camp followers and preachers, I’m also sentimental, compassionate, romantic, Romantic, idealistic, open minded, humorous, childlike in certain ways, mildly iconoclastic and a good listener. It’s just that if I’m forced to connect for more than a few minutes with people just because they’re there, I get fractious. I can be taken to the edge of reason.  And if people who are not on a similar wavelength to mine force their presence into my space, the anger starts to rise and I slip even closer to the edge. In the final analysis, all I want is to be allowed to be authentic. And that’s why there wouldn’t be any point in my getting out more and meeting people.

And I know I’m not alone. There are others out there with a similar problem; I’ve even met a few. I sometimes think it would be easier if we could be given a label – something like anorexic or autistic, something that would light a faint glimmer of recognition in the eyes of the normal folks, so they could say ‘Ah yes, I’ve heard of that. It must be awful for you’ … because normal folks like labels.

But we don’t have a label. We’re just a bit outside the box, and so we have to walk the less trodden paths alone, seeking our own sort of peace with life wherever it might be found. It isn’t usually easy, and sometimes it’s downright impossible.

Sorry for the extended rant. I expect normal service will be resumed eventually.

Real Women.

I was reading the news report about Ivanka Trump raising a few groans at the women’s empowerment seminar they had in Germany. It appears she was there purely as a diplomatic ploy because Germany has just decided that it needs to build a bridge to America. (Don’t ask me why the Germans feel the need to build a bridge to America. It’s another one of those mysteries which bamboozle people like me who immerse themselves in simpler values.)

The point is, however, that Ivanka might have matched the rest with regard to the money she spent (or her dad spent) on clothes, hairstyle and cosmetics, but in all other respects she was an also-ran. The rest of the top table panel were highly successful women in the fields of banking and politics, and we all know what that means.

We’ve had it demonstrated time and again over the past few decades just how crooked the banking world is, and if there’s one mainstream profession even more crooked than banking, it’s politics. We’ve also had it explained to us by a leading psychologist that people who rise high in such professions mostly have high psychopathic tendencies because that’s what it takes to win.

So are these women real? Are they the sort we should be listening to? Why were there no places for female directors of subsidised theatres or charities who earn just about enough for a modest, subsistence-style living, or women who dedicate their lives to taking care of disabled kids and get paid even less? 

It seemed to me that the message apparent in this seminar was that empowerment varies in direct proportion to psychopathic tendencies. Is that a good message to be sending to the women of the world? Is a world controlled by female psychopaths better than a world controlled by male ones?

Monday, 24 April 2017

Statistics and a Missed Mission.

After the last tedious post on the desiccated subject of politics, let’s get back to some wholesome insanity. Statistics; that’s a good one.

Statistics are becoming the stock in trade of academics and other experts everywhere these days. Remember the experts I wrote about here who said that 85% of the population was dehydrated? That’s the sort of statistic I’m referring to. Today’s was in a shop window in Uttoxeter. It said:

65% of women are wearing bras the wrong size.

Well, blow me. What a shame that I no longer have any sexual capital. (There, I managed to get that phrase in again. How I do honour the priestess and her words.)

I could have a fun-filled life, couldn’t I? I could go on a course and become an expert on well fitting bras.  (A few of them do have their uses – experts, that is, not bras.) And then I could make it my mission to seek out the ⅔ of women who are going sadly astray and lead them back to the light.

I greatly rue the fact that there were no experts around when I was a teenager and still had a future to map out. Don’t we all want to leave the world a better place than the one we found when we got here? And have fun in the process. Yes indeed.

On Politics and Principles.

The upcoming British General Election is primarily a contest between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, two people with very different approaches to the business of getting elected.

Corbyn talks principles. He’s a radical who talks about challenging the Establishment and addressing the wealth gap between rich and poor, thus making Britain a fairer place for the population as a whole. He talks about the need to change the system that runs the show in Britain.

The problem with this is that principles are already entrenched in the minds of the committed righties and lefties, but it isn’t they who determine the outcome of elections. The floating voters do, and floating voters are generally not interested in principles however laudable they might be. Floating voters want to be told that they will be a little more prosperous, that their children will be able to go to ‘better schools’, and to be encouraged in their belief that Britain is still a major world power.

May is anything but a radical, and when she talks of principles they’re the nice comfy sort which fence sitters want to believe in. So May does the classic, low grade Thatcher thespian act and talks about things like not increasing taxes, thus appealing to the middle ground who are the ones who make the difference.

This all paints a picture of Corbyn as a mostly honest and honourable man who genuinely has the cause of egalitarianism at heart. And such would be true whether you agree with him or not. May, on the other hand, is the classic opportunist – the rat in human clothing, the sort who goes for the easiest target, the type of politician who gets elected by appealing to fence sitters who fear any wind, good or bad, that might rock the boat.

And that’s why I don’t think Jeremy has much of a chance on June 8th. I think it’s a shame, but I think it’s true.

*  *  *

The other big election taking place in Europe at the moment is the one for the French presidency. I admit to knowing very little about the French political system, but I was intrigued by something M Macron said after taking the lead in the first ballot. He said he wanted to appeal to ‘patriots, not nationalists.’

Although we have to consider the matter of translation here, the statement still raises an interesting question of semantics. In some contexts, and to people of a certain mindset, the two concepts are effectively synonymous. So why did he say it?

I suspect this is another political ploy, although I would say that it is cleverer and subtler than most political ploys. I should think that it was intended to defuse far right fervour by placing doubt in the minds of those of such persuasion. As such, I think it might be described as a kind of sophistry, but probably an acceptable kind given its evident transparency.

And M Macron’s victory has produced one surprising result: Marine le Pen has turned her back on her background, which I suspect will work to her disadvantage. This suggests to me that Mlle le Pen is more desperate than M Macron, and probably not as clever.

On Non-Communication.

It happened again. The young man in the coffee shop with an earring and gelled hair asked:

How are things with you today?

I looked at him for a carefully timed 3.7 seconds before replying: ‘What?’

How are things with you today?

‘Pretty much as they were yesterday. And the question isn’t worth asking anyway.’

He turned away to get the cream out of the fridge, mumbling something about only trying to make polite conversation. But it isn’t polite conversation. It’s contrived; it’s superficial; it’s what passes for polite conversation in the soulless corporate mindset; it’s unimaginative and disingenuous. It would have been marginally better if he’d said ‘I see it’s started raining.’ Conversations about the weather are also superficial and unimaginative, but we all do it sometimes and at least it isn’t asking a personal question to which he has no right to receive an answer, especially when I know that he doesn’t give a tuppeny toss about how things are with me today.

I’m waiting for the day when my end is known and near, and then when the man in the coffee shop asks ‘How are you today?’ I can answer ‘Dying.’ He will probably smile and continue: ‘You mean dying for lunch?’, and I can say ‘No, dying of a terminal illness.’ For once the conversation won’t be superficial, and I will be genuinely interested to see how he reacts. I wonder how long it will be.

Meanwhile, I had a conversation of slightly more substance with the woman clearing the tables, just so that at least one of the staff didn’t get the mistaken impression that I’m a miserable git.

The next post will probably be about British and French political elections. These are stressful times in more ways than one, and the capacity for humour is in recession.

Losing Lemon.

There I was watching the last twenty minutes of the samurai-called-Lemon film. I was all settled with a pint bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and a piece of buttered toast, and the film was finally going into creepy mode. Lemon was in the process of being haunted by the ghosts of his victims and it was becoming all a bit Shakespearean. There was definitely a hint of Macbeth and Banquo in the air. Or Hamlet and his dad. The sheeted dead were squeaking and gibbering nicely in the Japanese streets. Yummy…

And then the video stopped. Just stopped.

I examined the options. Has my internet fallen out? No. Has YouTube packed up? Everything else plays, so no. Could it be a glitch in the system and I just have to pull the progress bar forward a bit? No. OK, let’s reload it and pull it over to the end.

Deleted Video. This account has been terminated due to multiple third party copyright violations.

What?! They’ve snatched it unceremoniously from my ravening maw. It’s like having your dinner taken away from you just when you’d saved the best bits ’til last.

It’s a bit bloody much, isn’t it, if you can’t watch a film on YouTube and have confidence in being able to watch all of it. Ten minutes from the end I was. Ten freggin’ minutes! Wouldn’t you think they’d give you a warning?

WARNING: This film will terminate in two hours, so don’t leave any over until tomorrow night.

So now I’ll never know what happened to Lemon. I could watch the modern version which is also up on YouTube (although for how long?), but that isn’t the point. The modern version won’t be as Shakespearean as the old one, and I’m sulking big time anyway.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Taking the Prosaic Option.

I have a small wind chime which I picked up from somewhere or other many years ago. The weighted piece at the bottom is a black disc with the following symbol printed on it in gold:

I assumed from the outset that it was the Chinese symbol for wood, although I didn’t know why. It just seemed right for some reason.

Today, as part of the reparation work following the demolition of my greenhouse, I hung it on the corner of the new bird table, there to tinkle its quiet little tune to the birdies and the plants growing underneath. And while I was at it I thought I’d Google ‘Chinese symbols’ to finally establish what it meant. Lo and behold, it’s the symbol for ‘tree’ or ‘wood.’

‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘how interesting. How could I have known that?’

My first thought was that it was a distant memory from a past life. My second was that I’m psychic. My third was ‘Maybe it’s because it looks like a tree…’

Mmm. Life just turned dull again.


One of my more minor problems at the moment is that I’m becoming ever more intolerant of things malfunctioning. Things do, frequently. Everything does: everything malfunctions or degrades, or both, eventually – everything from a vacuum cleaner to a tree to a physical body to a mountain to the very sun without which we couldn’t function at all.

Why does it have to be that way? Why is the design of every aspect of material existence inherently flawed? Why can’t everything function perfectly and perpetually? Why is nothing safe from the state of flux?

If I asked a religionist he would tell me that it’s God’s will. I would ask him why. He would either tell me that he didn’t know because God’s will passeth all understanding, in which case I would ask how he could possibly know that it’s God’s will, or he would offer some piece of meaningless sophistry or a vacuous non-sequitur. And that would give me something else to be intolerant of.

And did I ever mention that I’m intolerant of sentences which end on a preposition?

Seriously, though, let’s get back to God. I’m tempted to suggest that maybe:

It’s God, Jim, but not as we know It.

… because things like that occur to me when I’m in a bad mood.

The Mad Woman of Middle Earth.

There’s a strange woman I occasionally pass during my daily perambulations around the Shire. I call her ‘strange’ because she always seems to want to exchange a greeting with me but doesn’t seem to quite know how to go about it. And so she says slightly odd things in a slightly odd way, and regards me with a slightly odd look in her eyes, and smiles a slightly odd smile that might be described as ‘enigmatic’, before hurrying on without so much as a backward glance.

I’ve only been seeing her for about a year, and I’m tempted to wonder whether she’s the village mad woman who’s only just been let out of the attic. Maybe she just isn’t practiced at talking to anything but spiders. And yet she has an air about her – an outside-the-box sort of air – which I find not unpleasing, so maybe I’ll lead her into conversation one of these days. She has a dog, and dogs are ever the best of bridges by which a recluse might engage in conversation with a mad woman.

And you might find it entirely unsurprising that she’s only the second person I’ve met in my eleven years of living in this place who I’ve found intriguing enough to want to say ‘hello’ to and mean it. (Actually there was a third, but the third was the Lady B’s mother and she isn’t strange at all. She’s just far too posh for a peasant like me to entertain anything more than a polite greeting and a tug of the forelock.)

I wonder whether mad women smell funny. You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Reviving the Gladiator.

It concerns me that professional sport seems to be heading down a dangerous and unsavoury road. I remember when I was a kid somebody telling me: ‘Football isn’t sport any more; it’s big business now.’ I think it was partly true then, and I think it’s almost totally true now.

For let’s not forget that professional sport is an arm of the entertainment industry in which the game is the commodity and the crowd sitting in the stand or watching on a screen the ultimate source of the income. And like any industry, the first priority is profit.

So greed takes over. Profits have to grow because that’s what industries expect and enough is never enough. The marketing people move in so the hype and razzmatazz get cranked up and become an integral part of something to which they should be no more than a minor adjunct. It all becomes very silly and patently irrelevant, but that isn’t the dangerous bit.

The dangerous bit is that players have to be constantly stretched to the limits of endurance and beyond. They have to get better at the job because the crowd, wound up by the hype and razzmatazz, is frenzied and expects more speed, more skill, more aggression, more power. Hits have to be harder so that celebration can be more ecstatic. Enough is never enough. And the pecuniary interests hiding behind the scenes rub their hands while life-changing injuries become ever more serious and ever more commonplace.

An expert on concussion said today that ‘rugby is becoming unplayable.’ Concussion has reached epidemic proportions over recent years at the top level of that particular game. The authorities who govern the sporting side of things have made rules and established protocols in an effort to contain it, but the pressure on players to perform with total commitment is irresistible if they are to succeed and become heroes. And so the injuries continue to grow.

Where will it all end? Will professional sport become war in all but name? Will sports stadia become so many Coliseums where players give their lives to feed the frenzied sharks scenting blood? Will they be happy that the survivors become relatively rich, and will they expect medals if they die for the cause?

There was a film back in the seventies called Rollerball which forecast just such an eventuality. Did it make a difference?

A Samurai Called Lemon.

The new Japanese horror film I started watching last night featured a samurai called Lemon. It struck me that Lemon is a somewhat inappropriate name for a samurai, which maybe explains why he is a very grumpy samurai. Lotus Blossom would probably have been worse, but Lemon is bad enough.

He was very tall, very fat, very ugly, and very fierce when he wanted to be, and he had one of those very deep gravelly voices for which Japanese men used to be famous. That was before the modern world encouraged Japan’s young men to have their hair manicured and dyed blond so they would feel at home when emigration to California became irresistible. (The film I’m watching was made in 1956.) I expect they call themselves Wayne, Justin and Kurt now, but I doubt there are any Lemons among their slim-hipped ranks. (Plenty of lemons, maybe, but that’s different.)

Anyway, back to our grumpy samurai. He said ‘ugh’ a lot (in that deep, gravelly voice for which Japanese men used to be famous…) I don’t know what ‘ugh’ means, but I assume it’s something horrific in Japanese. The first twenty minutes contained nothing else that was even slightly horrific, so I suspect the ughs must give the clue.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Swallows Early and Late.

We have early swallows in the Shire. A small squadron of intrepid birds has been gracing the skies over Mill Lane for about a week now, although I doubt we shall see the full compliment until early May.

The swallow is the most iconic bird of summer here in Britain. I suppose that’s because, of all the summer migrants which come up from Africa, it’s the fastest, the most agile, and arguably the best looking. To see a group of swallows hunting midges over a cornfield or stretch of open water is to see speed, grace and power at nature’s finest. And when they hunt low and envelope you in the midst of their orchestrated frenzy, few thrills can compare.

So what of late swallows? One of the finest short works of the English Late Romantic canon is a piece by Frederick Delius called Late Swallows (actually it’s a movement from one of his quartets, but it’s mostly performed alone as a piece in its own right.) It’s a richly textured work that is more about mood than melody, and evokes the same sense of poignancy that you might feel when the swallows stay late at the end of an Indian summer, before leaving to return to their natural home on the South African veldt.

Why should it be poignant, you might ask; and why does the term ‘wholesome melancholy’ spring to mind? I suppose it’s because when the swallows linger into the shortening days and rich colours of October, it’s a fleeting means by which we can hold on to something we really don’t want to lose, even though we know that inevitably we must.

Fallout from a Film.

I watched the second half of Memoirs of a Geisha tonight and would recommend it to the discerning taste. You might believe that dreams really can come true, and only the American military left a sour taste in the mouth.

And like all thoughtful stories about the living of life in a world of choices, it left me wondering about the Determinist principle. I thought:

Every step along the road of life is determined by the first choice we make, which is to be born in a certain place at a certain time to certain parents. From then on there is only the disinterested but irresistible flow of cause and effect. And free will is only free in a manner of speaking.

But what of karma? It’s easy to see how a man’s kindness to a little girl on a bridge might result in the revival of his business fortunes many years later, but that’s only the mechanics. If you want to bring into the picture concepts like balance, justice and rightness, you need karma. And if you have karma, you have to accept a level of reality beyond the material.

This is where I need to talk to somebody who is sitting opposite me, somebody with the same drive to understand the nature of reality but with a superior capacity for rational analysis to provide valuable counterpoint. It reminds me of the man in a TV drama I saw during the winter who said:

‘You never stop and look at life, do you? You just drive straight through it. You should stop and sit, but find somebody to sit with you. You can’t do it on your own. Nobody can.’

Tonight I had a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Then I had a bag of crisps and a cup of coffee. Now it’s time for toast, beer and whisky. That’s virtually all I ever seem to do these days: eat, drink and keep my personal environment in order. I think I could do with finding somebody to sit with.

Today I did a lot of gardening and now my troublesome knee hurts. See? Cause and effect. Is karma included? How can I know?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Poundland: A Mixed Message.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, Poundland is one of the most ubiquitous of Britain’s discount store chains. It also happens to be my least favourite because most of their ‘bargains’ are not bargains at all. The illusion is easily created through the manipulation of pack sizes and the selling of products which are cheap because they’re poor quality. (In fact, given pack weight comparisons, some products are actually cheaper in the mainstream stores.) Nevertheless, I was in a Poundland today (I’ll explain why in a minute) and heard an instore announcement which went something like:

When you see our amazing collection of bargains, you might find that you’ve come out of the house without enough money. Don’t panic! We have a free cash machine right here in store, so you needn’t miss out on any of the wonderful offers we have for you. And if you can’t find it, one of our friendly staff will point you in the right direction.

Do you realise how many levels of deception, manipulation and sheer insult to the intelligence of the customers are contained within that announcement? I do. I hope everybody else does, too.

To be fair, however (because I do so like being fair), they do have one range of products which I wholly endorse. The sell second hand – though effectively as-new – DVDs at £1 each. That’s cheap by anybody’s standard. I’ve bought several and haven’t been disappointed yet.

Today I bought Memoirs of a Geisha (I’ve said before that I’m always about ten years late watching celebrated films.) I watched the first hour tonight and found it riveting. The highlight is the scene in which the Chairman takes pity on the little girl crying on the bridge. It puts light back into life, and I swear the Chairman was me in a former life because I’m the world’s biggest softie when it comes to distressed little girls crying on bridges.

He buys her an ice cream with sweet plum topping, and then gives her some money with which to buy a meal. Instead, she puts the money in a prayer shrine and prays to be a successful geisha one day. I paused the film at the point where, having grown into her teens after being trained by a leading geisha, she’s learned to do the look so well that she can make a passing cyclist fall off his bike. And so it seems that big softies do have their uses after all, which is most gratifying.

Dreaming of the Deeper Level.

Some years ago I was little short of obsessed with Indian culture. These days I’ve returned to my childhood inclinations and resumed my fascination with Chinese culture.

Back then I was told: ‘You wouldn’t like India if you went there, mate. It’s dirty, disorganised and dangerous.’ Now I’m told that I wouldn’t like China because it’s depressingly grey and obsessed with material values.

So then I have to try to explain that what fascinates me isn’t the mundane reality of day to day life, but something deeper; some undercurrent that flows beneath the surface; something that even the Indians and Chinese mostly don’t sense because it’s too close and therefore unfamiliar; something to do with the underlying psyche as expressed in the colours, the art, the music, the traditions.

And so we dream and see the realities that only dreams can show us. And when we do we get called delusional, as dreamers always have.

The Japanese Runny Stuff Obsession.

Remember the Japanese horror film I watched, and the sense of disquiet I felt at the sight of liquid human fat running through a tube and into a jar? Well, tonight I started another one, and this one also had runny stuff where it wasn’t supposed to be.

First it was a yellow/brown gunge running out of a young girl’s ear, and then it got better. Next up was…

…wait for it…

Porridge dripping from the ceiling!

They’re nothing if not imaginative, these Japanese.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

On a Cold Political Wind.

Today’s big news from Britain is that the Gorgon at number 10 has called a snap General Election only two years into the Tories’ current tenure of office. The tone of Mrs May’s announcement left no doubt that she is fully confident of winning it by a landslide, and on the basis of current opinion polls it’s what everybody else expects, too. Nevertheless, it has to be said that taking the tone she did was little short of arrogant.

And so the political wind that is blowing from left to right around the world blew a little harder in Britain today. The Tories will have another five years in office, making it twelve consecutive years in all. No doubt their policies will continue at pace and probably become more hard edged. Vital public services like the police and NHS are likely be eroded further, as are the local services provided by local authorities. The biggest loser is likely to be welfare, leaving the ghettos which didn’t exist before the arrival of Thatcher to become even more alienated. The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer. Britain will lurch even further into the kind of state in which only the wealthy and the substantially prosperous will feel fully at home. The word ‘egalitarian’ might well fade from the Oxford English Dictionary of its own accord.

I dislike Mrs May quite intensely. She is a most unattractive person, and in saying so I’m obviously not referring to her looks. It’s her attitudes and general demeanour which have something weasly, opportunistic, arrogant, elitist and untrustworthy about them. She is the embodiment of the unsavoury nature of historical Tory attitudes. She is the popular perception of the hag brought to the forefront of the political arena.

This is a personal assessment, I know, but what isn’t in doubt is that she’s the only world leader to have walked across a stage holding hands with Donald Trump. That has to say something, doesn’t it?

A Purer Form of Sexy.

Ever since I first saw Riverdance the fact hasn’t been lost on me that there is something subtly erotic about young women performing Irish dance routines. Over the past few nights I’ve been watching some performances – both traditional and modern – by the Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance based in Maryland, USA, and another interesting fact has occurred to me: erotic isn’t the same thing as sexy.

While the erotic clearly has a connection with sex, it seems to exist on a more rarefied level which sets it apart from the physical act. And that makes me think that perception of the erotic resides in a different part of the brain from perception of the merely libidinous.

I’m sure artists have known this for centuries. It just takes me a long time to catch up.

Monday, 17 April 2017

School Yard Diplomacy.

The more I read of the invective flashing like hissing squibs between the North Korean government and certain American politicians, the more it looks like a kindergarten spat between the two fat kids who are each trying to be chief bully.

We have no alternative! says Trump.

Don’t mess with Trump, buddy. He’s a big guy, says somebody else.

We’re with you 100%, Pence tells the South Koreans (as he strikes a heroic pose pointing across the DMZ.)

That’s the really worrying one. When a politician like Pence says ‘we’re with you 100%’, what he really means is:

We’ll be right over there in that aircraft carrier, and if you get into any really bad trouble we just might give you a hand. It all depends, of course, on whether:

1. We think you’re worth the risk, given all the other circumstances then prevailing.

2. We’re convinced that you can be of some use to us in our avowed intent to Make America Great Again.

It’s the South Koreans I’m most concerned about in all this. Let’s face it, even the mentally-challenged juveniles running North Korea aren’t going to attack anybody else, are they? Schoolyard bullies don’t fire their pea shooters at the big guys packing the Magnums. And now the poor South Koreans have Pence’s Promises encouraging a sense of doubt. And South Korea has such a nice flag…

More Horror.

I watched the latest instalment of the Japanese horror film tonight. There was more liposuction, more of the jar…

Tonight I didn’t wonder what they do with that stuff, I wondered what it smells like. More horrible imaginings that are less than present fears.

It’s late and nobody has talked to me for a week, apart from somebody who asked to borrow money. That was a relief because I still sometimes wonder whether I’ve died and nobody has told me.

Turkey: Our Mad Woman in the Attic.

The result of the referendum in Turkey came as no surprise, at least not to me it didn't. People like Erdogan never lose whether they win or not.

And so Turkey begins the slide back into the Middle Ages, when the rule of law mostly came down to the will of a single tyrant. I have to admit here that I don’t know Erdogan personally, of course, but his recent childish and hypocritical tirade against the Netherlands must surely give the measure of the man.

But just think what this means for the rest of us in Europe. We now have our very own North Korea in our very own south east corner to wrinkle our brow at. I mean, the Americas have one or two, Africa has its fair share, and now us. All it needs is for Trump to plant the Stars and Stripes on Antarctica and the set will be complete.

But I doubt that Turkey will stay in Europe very much longer, especially if Mr E gets his way and re-imposes the death penalty. (Poor old Turks. Imagine living in a country under the yoke of a man like Erdogan, with the ogre of capital punishment just waiting for the odd kangaroo court to feed it. Frightening, isn’t it?) And most of Turkey isn’t geographically in Europe anyway, but you might allow those of us who are to feel a sense of belonging to the world community as long as we have even the ghost of an excuse.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Wonder Woman Myth.

I’ve noticed a growing trend lately for 'epic music' tracks on YouTube to be accompanied by anime-style cartoon illustrations of heroic women wielding weapons of war. Is this a sign of growing respect for women in a traditionally male domain, one might ask.

I don’t think so. I’ve also noticed that the women illustrated are very young, very pretty, very well manicured, and show lots and lots of shapely naked thigh. In short, they’re just traditional glamour stereotypes being paraded on a new platform because the juvenile taste of the average nerd has changed.

The Sad Story of Success Perception.

I see the teachers in Britain are threatening to boycott Stats tests because they say such tests are damaging children’s education. According to another news report, they’re also contributing to the deterioration in children’s mental health. So what’s the bigger picture here?

Well, it seems to me that governments like to crow about how well educated their children are and so they put pressure on the education system to produce measurable results. The education system puts pressure on the teachers, and so teachers have to put pressure on the kids. And that leaves the kids with the weight of it all on their young shoulders.

And there’s another agenda being played out, too. It seems to me that people all over the developed world are becoming more competitive, more desperate for ‘success’ to give meaning to their lives and power to their all-important egos (which free market economic manipulators do so love to engage with.) And how do we define success in the developed world? Almost exclusively by the prosperity quotient. The more prosperous you are, the more successful you’re deemed as being. And the route to prosperity is a better job and the route to a better job is a better education. So the parents, who mostly – and rather foolishly – believe that this is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, get in on the act and put their own pressure on the kids.

Meanwhile, the kids have nowhere to hide. They don’t even have anywhere to run except to the Childline advice service which is reporting a substantial increase in the number of children begging for help with their depression, anxiety, sleepless nights, suicidal tendencies, and so on. Some kids handle the pressure well enough, but an awful lot don’t.

So do I have a solution to propose? No. The train of money madness, ego-mania and success perception is gathering speed and something needs to apply the brakes. Apart from a sudden and unlikely sea change in the human condition, I have no idea what that something might be.

Real Horror.

I’m currently watching yet another Japanese horror movie in instalments. This one is about a cosmetic surgeon, and there’s a scene in which she’s performing liposuction.

You see the liquid fat running through a transparent tube and the heart begins to beat faster. And then you see it running into a jar (it’s running into a jar… a jar, for heaven’s sake…)

And now that I’ve come round again I’m convinced that there’s nothing in any horror movie in history which comes close to producing the enervating effect brought on by the fatty fallout from liposuction. There isn’t. I really don’t want to go to bed on the back of this one.

(What the hell do they do with it? Flush it down the loo? Feed it to the pigs? Make noodles with it?  This post has to end.)

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Fame and Present Imaginings.

There’s something odd going on at the moment – a persistent sequence of related visits to both my blogs from the New York borough of Queens which make me wonder whether I’m about to become celebrated.

I don’t think I’d like that. Celebrity status has never really appealed to me because I’m a very private person who just wants to be left alone with my horrible imaginings (which are worse than present fears according to one notable mass murderer. It’s why I don’t mind going to bed on a diet of Japanese horror films.) Fame might bring fortune in its wake, but at what price? I’ll take privacy over fortune any day.

Then again, I suppose a fortune might buy me some real privacy. And maybe I could get some crooked psychiatrist to give me a Certificate of Madness, so that when people approach me in the street I could say: ‘You really shouldn’t talk to me, you know. I’m completely mad and here’s the proof.’

Ah, but then my interlocutor might run away and tell his or her friends that they’ve just met this really weird bloke. And if they subsequently pass me in the street they might giggle and point and throw things at me.

But then a beautiful lady of grace, substance and easy virtue who doesn’t know me from Adam might ask ‘Oh my poor, dear chap, why are those horrible schoolgirls throwing things at you?’ And I’d say ‘Because they think I’m mad, but I’m not really.’ ‘Oh dear, oh dear, that’s really too bad,’ the beautiful lady of grace, substance and easy virtue would reply. ‘Do allow me to take you for a cup of coffee. You can tell me all about it and I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better. Do you like etchings, by the way?’

OK, so the pros and cons are swinging this way and that. Let’s wait and see what happens.

A Matter of Balance.

I was just listening to a musical setting of Yeats’s poem The Wild Swans at Coole, and I wondered – as I have done often – why we laud the poets so. Why do we invite them to high tables? Why do we celebrate them, revere them, remember them to eternity, or at least until their print run expires?

The poet is an expert with words and feeds our perception. That’s good. But the bricklayer is equally an expert with tools, and builds walls to protect our bodies from the elements. Why make a demi-god of one and a mere artisan of the other?

Conversely, I’ve known people who have revered the bricklayer and denigrated the poet as a mere fop of negligible value. Is this all about snobbery in both its forms, and should we tolerate either?

Moments of Madness in Mill Lane.

I was walking along Mill Lane today when I saw a man operating a tractor with his young son of around 10 sitting on the foot board. I smiled at them both and the man lifted a thumb in return.

It occurred to me that the little boy will be old one day, and his dad will be dead, and the now-old man will talk fondly of the days when I used to ride on my dad’s tractor when he was working the field. For such moments are the stuff of which life is composed (even though moments don’t actually exist because time never stops flowing, but we do so need to describe the fabric of our life in words even though we don’t have the words to do so accurately.)

But for now the little boy’s life will flow on like the movement of the tractor, gathering an ever-growing store of memories in its wake until one day a real moment will happen and he will die. No more life; no more moments; no more fabric. All done. All gone.

And then I saw two women and a dog and offered a greeting which was returned. They were close relatives of the Lady B whose literary presence has been greatly absent from this blog of late, as her actual presence has been completely from my life. More moments; more fabric; more life. All gone. (I miss her quite a lot sometimes.)

And then I saw a crow and offered another greeting, and thought:

Today I spoke unto a crow
A-sitting on a tree
The crow looked back and said ‘Hello
Are you addressing me?’

And then it was gone. No more words; no extended ditty; all gone.

I was tempted to wonder why everybody is not going mad under the pressure of existential angst. I suppose religion offers a remedy for some, and I have little doubt that the hum of Mother Culture provides a most efficacious panacea for the rest (bar the few rare people I get on with.) Or maybe everybody really is mad but don’t realise it because the common condition cannot, by definition, be described as madness.

And then I dug the three remaining vegetable plots in my garden. Digging the earth really does lift the pressure of existential angst, albeit temporarily, especially when you’re being as careful as possible not to injure any earthworms.

Ah well, maybe the greatly esteemed Mistress M from Upstate New York is right when she suggests I might be mentally ill. Yes indeed, but I doubt it really matters.

And today I was planning to make two highly important posts: one on the dangers inherent in the combined juvenility of Donald Trump and the North Korean government, and the other on the increasing incidence of mental illness in children. Suddenly they didn’t seem to matter very much either. Just more fragments of fabric in the endless flow of non-existent moments, soon to be gone.

This blog is growing ever stranger. That, at least, is encouraging.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Easter Blackmail?

The old Japanese woman said to me: ‘Whenever you see a hearse approaching along the street you must hold your breath and not breathe again until it is well past, otherwise the spirit of the deceased will enter your body and bad things will happen.’

‘That’s just an old Japanese superstition,’ I replied. ‘I’ve never held my breath for a passing hearse before and no ill fortune has befallen me.’

‘But that was before I told you,’ she continued. ‘Now that I’ve told you, life has changed. Now that you know it, you must do as I say or suffer the consequences.’

Isn’t this precisely how the Christian Church has always maintained its grip?

Prometheus Reversed.

I get regular emails from the campaigning group Avaaz. They usually ask me to sign a petition or send a representation to some politician or other in furtherance of their causes. One of their causes is climate change, and they often promote the idea that we must all earnestly aim for ‘zero carbon’ by some date in the not-too-distant future if we’re to save the planet.

Do you realise what zero carbon would mean? It would mean taking fire out of the world. And that makes me wonder whether the Titans of Greek mythology really existed, not as gods but as a group of wise old aliens who knew where carbon emissions would lead. So maybe it isn’t Donald Trump and the oil industry we should be blaming for holding up progress, but bad boy Prometheus who started the whole thing in the first place.

I didn’t muse on it for too long. What I did muse on for a while without reaching any conclusion was a picture of the big bomb - GBU 43/B I believe it’s called – which the Americans have just dropped on IS. It has a stars and stripes pasted on the front close to the nose cone, and what I couldn’t decide is why there’s something fundamentally absurd about putting a flag on a bomb.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Sweeney and the Modern Musical Malaise.

I bought the DVD of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd today. I didn’t know it was a musical until I started watching it. Oh…

I dislike musicals. I liked them up to the age of about twelve and then moved more in the direction of kitchen sink dramas and historical epics (I got over the epics when I was about twenty and developed a more realistic attitude to the subject of history, but let’s not digress.) The fact is, however, that the musicals I liked up to the age of about twelve were the old style variety. Sweeney Todd is one of the modern variety, and there’s a difference.

The method of producing an old style musical was that you brought together two talents: a words man approaching the status of poet, and a composer worthy of the title (think West Side Story for an example.) You put the two together and what you got was a bunch of songs which held their own as individual works of populist art. (It might be noted that the operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan were musicals by another name.)

The modern method is to take a piece of average script, throw some random and often ill-fitting notes in its general direction, add a lush orchestration in a vain attempt to simulate credibility, then call it a classic and give the ‘composer’ a knighthood. It’s my considered – though admittedly inexpert – opinion that the modern musical is an offence to all music lovers who aren’t taken in by the marketing hype.

On the other hand, it might be that I’m simply a traditionalist at heart. I concede the possibility, even though I disagree with it.

But Johnny Depp was excellent as usual, although I thought Helena Bonham-Carter was even better. There’s scant need to mention Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall since neither would be capable of giving anything less than a splendid performance however much you paid them to try very hard.

But why did it have to be a musical?!

And I must take note of the credits when they roll (I just took a break half way through) because I’m sure I spotted an old actor friend of mine in a minor role. Coincidentally, he played a leading role in a production of Sweeney Todd we did at the theatre where I used to work. I remember audience members complaining of being splashed with the fake blood that was used in the throat cutting scenes. Such fun. And there wasn’t a musical note to be heard, apart from the odd wail of a victim or two.

A Snippet of Conversation...

... from the novel I’m never going to write:

‘You know, there’s something curiously rational about your strangeness.’

That’s because I always felt the need to inject my madness with a modicum of method. It helps to maintain some credibility, just in case I need it.

‘That’s a safety first attitude; it doesn’t really match up with the fact that you’re difficult to ignore.’

Is being difficult to ignore a good thing or a bad thing?

‘Bad. I don’t like people I can’t ignore when I want to. They make me feel trapped. Bye.’

The Moon and Spirits.

Being a male living alone, I’ve realised that there’s an advantage to having a bedroom with a south facing window. The rationale is a bit complicated, but here goes:

I sleep in a double bed, and I always sleep on the right because that was where I slept when several lady companions shared it with me (though not all at the same time, I should add.) Why on the right? I don’t know. It just always seemed right to be on the right. I stood to the right in my wedding photograph, and my dad stood to the right in his. I think it might be a race memory of needing to have the sword arm free for immediate action, wholly unencumbered by the close proximity of clinging damsels.

So anyway…

The left side of my bed has been empty for the past twelve years, except for maybe the odd Japanese ghost whose attempts to attract my attention with fierce and fiendish eyes – not to mention the white nightgown and straggly black hair – are wasted because I’m either too tired or too drunk to notice. (Actually, I never get drunk. I just get mildly inebriated on a regular basis. And I’d better be careful what I say because the odd Japanese ghost – and they are a pretty odd lot – might read this blog and steal the whisky bottle by way of fitting revenge.)

So anyway…

The left side of my bed faces south, and a couple of feet beyond it is a south facing window, and the full moon is always in the southern sky when I go to bed. All of which means that the moonbeams stream into the room if the sky is clear, and sometimes they stream in at such an angle as to occupy the left side of my bed so I’m not lonely any more (excuse the syrup.) Isn’t that nice?

(Well, it is as long as Japanese ghosts don’t use moonbeams as a means of conveyance to get through windows and take up station in people’s beds. It would be just like them to have learned such a dastardly trick, they being clever and Japanese an’ all. Maybe I should make an exception tonight and get well plastered.)