Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Mrs Ratty's Mistake.

I’m being driven to distraction by a repetitive ad on YouTube at the moment. It appears at the beginning of three out of four videos I watch, and it’s for the Tory Party in the run up to the General Election.

Needless to say I switch the sound off as soon as I see the little notification that it’s coming, and I switch the rest off after I’ve been forced to sit through the obligatory five seconds.

It features a woman with the face and bearing of a rat and the disposition to match, standing in front of a lectern doing an impersonation of Margaret Thatcher. I assume she is labouring under the absurd delusion that it will persuade me to vote for her.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Cheeping Post.

There was a little fledgling bird sitting in the middle of the road at the end of Bag Lane, cheeping plaintively. I assumed it had left the nest before it was quite ready.

 A fledgling bird (not cheeping plaintively.)

That sort of thing worries me and I naturally wanted to help the little guy, but what to do? The experts’ advice is to do nothing; they say the parents will continue to feed it as long as you don’t touch it. Parent birds don’t like the smell of humans, apparently. (Come to think of it, neither do I particularly.)

So, having warned off a cyclist who was about to ride perilously close to the little creature, I shooed it off onto the verge and walked away in the hope that the parents would do their duty. When I came back to the same spot later it was gone and I carried on walking home.

What do you think I found when I got there? The same little bird sitting in front of my car, cheeping plaintively. But at least it was also pecking something from the ground, so I assumed it had learned how to feed itself even if it couldn’t fly yet. I decided to fetch it some oats and seed from the house so it wouldn’t have to try too hard to find food, but when I returned to the spot it had disappeared. Good; maybe it’s flown away. Nope. It was sitting at the top of my lawn cheeping plaintively!

I fetched more food and a bowl of water; I put them down in front of the little guy; he ignored all three of us (the food, the bowl of water, and me.) And then he hopped away and disappeared under the plants in the garden. I hoped there were no rats or cats about. I couldn’t see any.

You know, wildlife sometimes has a way of making you feel absolutely bloody useless.

*  *  *

And I watched the kiddies from the Blue Tit’s nest box make their bid for freedom yesterday, something I’ve never seen before. It was one of those ‘Come on, come on, you can do it!’ moments, and I was very proud of them. But later I saw one of the tinies sitting on the path by my shed, and guess what it was doing. Cheeping plaintively. Forget the rest.

A Little Apology.

Should I reprise that post I made a few years ago in which I explained why I so despise weddings and why I feel a creeping sense of antipathy towards anyone who insults my good taste by inviting me to one?

I don’t think so. I do feel somewhat inclined so to do, but the subject of weddings carries too many debilitating associations at the moment.

And I promise to lay off the subject of weddings and debilitating associations once the fever consequent upon a flare up of my Writers’ Fixation Syndrome has settled. Sorry to be so boring, but it is my blog (and my syndrome.) If you can suffer Kavanagh's poetry, you can suffer my blog.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Oh to be Simple.

How strongly the winds of change are now blowing. How strange it is that they are swinging from one quarter to another and back again. How striking is the need to concentrate on constantly having to re-set the trim of the sails, and how enervating the psychological effort in so doing. How strong I’m striving to be in saying the right thing to a most esteemed person, when every fibre of my being cries out to say something different. The last of those feels like committing seppuku. Oh to be a simple psychopath and deal in simple certainties.

*  *  *

I just read that most Germans hate Donald Trump. I don’t because I don’t do hate. I merely despise him. That’s one simple certainty I can allow myself.

The Limitations of Wisdom.

For thirty years people have been telling me that I’m wise. Well, I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but if it is I assume I must be wiser now than I was thirty years ago. And if that’s true, I feel entitled to make an observation:

Wisdom is a great tool for helping other people understand and come to terms with their problems, but when it comes to your own it has an unfortunate habit of lying down and playing dead. When somebody has reached into your chest and pulled your heart out, wisdom doesn’t want to know. 

(Apart from anything else, it fails to persuade you not to make statements charged with fanciful and embarrassing hyperbole.)

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Good Guys vs the Rulers.

I just read a biography of the American environmental pioneer Rachel Carson. She has now become one of my heroes.

Apart from anything else, her story further vindicated my utter mistrust of big business and senior politicians. These are the people who largely run our culture with dishonesty, disinformation and deceit – and all in the cause of making personal and pecuniary gains – while the Rachel Carsons who work tirelessly and selflessly to promote a restrained and sensible approach to environmental practices have to struggle to overcome their sleazy barriers.

The best quotation I saw came from one of the politicians opposed to her unquestionably laudable mission. His name was Ezra Taft Benson and he was a former US Secretary of Agriculture. He wrote to the then US President, Dwight D Eisenhower, claiming that Rachel Carson’s unmarried status while being a fully fit woman meant that ‘she is probably a Communist.’

It has everything, doesn’t it? Fallacious presumption, bigotry, prejudice, and irrationality, not to mention the petty vindictiveness which led to the writing of the letter in the first place.

The Compassion Question.

I was asked: ‘Do you think it’s possible to learn compassion?’

Not being a psychologist I wouldn’t know, but I suspect it isn't. I’m sure that compassion can be released if it’s been covered over and suppressed by cultural conditioning, bad experiences, bad parenting, and negative traits like anger and control obsession, but I suspect it has to be there in the first place. I think it’s probably genetic.

But do keep trying…

Saturday, 27 May 2017

On Muzak and a Marriage.

There’s some loud noise coming up from Mill Lane tonight, and I would like to be down there among it just so I can say:

‘Who the hell chose this bloody music, because it isn’t music, is it? It’s mindless, mediocre muzak. It has no personality, no character, no identity. It isn’t rock and pop, it isn’t folk, it isn’t classical, it isn’t jazz, it isn’t blues, it isn’t even middle of the road. It’s just pointless noise fit only for people with about as much taste as a piece of virgin polystyrene. And it’s far too loud. I bet it can be heard clear as a bell 500 yards up the hill where I live.’

Only I am 500 yards up the hill where I live, and I would have been right. I suspect it’s coming from the pub, but maybe not because…

*  *  *

Somebody from the village got married today. My suspicions regarding the marquees to which I referred in an earlier post were right. Wedding reception. Mmm…

But I doubt that’s where the noise is coming from because the quality of the people who live in that house would suggest otherwise. That house is of substantial historical significance to me. I like the people connected with it, which is why I’m mightily intrigued to know which of them got married today. I don’t suppose anybody will tell me.

Wondering About Donald.

I missed the incident in which the President of the Leader of the Free World pushed some minor Prime Minister aside (at the G7 Summit, I think. As I said, I missed it.) People from my little corner of the globe would ask: 'Was he brought up or dragged up?'

Donald really is a one, isn’t he? So now I find myself trying to decide whether pushing a Prime Minister is more or less damning than picking your nose over the bowl of sheep’s eye. Let’s call them different but equal, since they both send the reputation of America down into the frigid zone at the base of the thermometer.

And I wonder whether he was privy to Kushner’s slimy little Russia antics. Do father-in-laws concern themselves with such matters, I ask myself, when they’re busy making their country great?

And I further wonder whether he will maintain his position of being out of step with the rest of the world in being the only one to abdicate the cause of trying to save the planet. Maybe he feels that America’s greatness puts it above such concerns. Maybe it’s a Divine Right of Kings thing.

On Winds and Freedom.

The winds of change are rising in the world of JJ. I hear the singing in the wires and feel the breath on my face. I know where they’re coming from, but I don’t yet know how strong the blast will be or where it will blow me.

At such times I lose faith in the principle of Taoist equanimity. Instead I get fretful, feeling like a caged animal waiting to be removed to a different zoo. Will it be a better zoo than this one, or will it be worse? And why do I have to be in a zoo at all?

And I lose patience with the self-styled gurus who sit smugly within the pages of their profitable self-help books, telling their rapt readers who want to believe:

You can be whoever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do and go wherever you want to go.

It doesn’t actually work in practice, does it? Life isn’t designed like that. Try telling it to a caged tiger pacing back and forth in a 12ft square cage until sadness and desperation turns him into a vegetable, and the only instinct he has left is to attack whatever comes within striking distance.

As for we higher minded creatures, the concept of freedom – whether defining it or living it – is actually both complex and subjective, and you could probably argue that nobody but the suicide is ever entirely free.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, what should I make of the two huge marquees that have appeared in somebody’s garden locally? Why do people spend large sums of money having huge marquees erected in their gardens? I have my suspicions, and I’m growing tired of enforced endings.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Finding My Predecessor.

My ex-wife had some unusual tastes, including a fascination with Chinese and Japanese culture, and especially their literature. Two of her favourite works were The Tale of Genji and The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and I had occasion to mention the fact in a YouTube comment tonight.

So then I read the Wiki articles and found this description of The Pillow Book:

The Pillow Book (枕草子? Makura no Sōshi) is a book of observations and musings recorded by Sei Shōnagon during her time as court lady to Empress Consort Teishi (定子) during the 990s and early 1000s in Heian Japan. The book was completed in the year 1002.

The work of Shōnagon consists of a collection of essays, lists, anecdotes, poems, and descriptive passages that have little connection to one another except for the fact that they are ideas and whims of what Shōnagon was thinking of in any given moment in her daily life.’

It sounds almost eerily redolent of my blog, and so I wondered whether I might become famous in a thousand years time, and whether I should re-title my little effort: The Pillow Book of JJ Beazley. I concluded that it doesn’t have quite the same ring, so I don’t think I’ll bother.

The Genius and Me.

I just watched a YouTube video on the ten personal qualities which indicate genius. I only scored 8½ out of 10. Sorry to disappoint.

I was struck by the fact that throughout the video there was a constant presumption that geniuses – or at least highly intelligent people – are the most successful members of society. I haven’t found that to be true. Some of the most intelligent people I have known have been the least successful, largely because they can’t be bothered trying to fit in with the stupid way in which humans go about conducting their affairs. It’s the Donald Trumps of this world who enjoy worldly success. It’s a self-evident fact that western society, at least, tends to reward the psychopath, not the genius.

And that made me feel better since I’ve never been successful at anything. One of the personal qualities not included in the ten was a tendency to be restless, a tendency to feel the need to move on and explore something else once you’ve reached a level which you consider acceptable, or at least proved you can do it. Maybe they didn’t include it because restlessness is considered a failing.

Right then, so that’s my excuse for being a committed failure. And it really doesn’t matter anyway since I never claimed to be any sort of genius. I’m just looking for an excuse to make a blog post because it’s been a boring sort of day.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

An Eternal Fixation.

Today I saw the woman I’ve mentioned a few times before on this blog, the one I’ve referred to as ‘the most beautiful woman I ever met.’

I’ve seen her a few times across the years and managed to meet each encounter with composed resignation. Today I felt unusually sad. I was reminded of the fact that she it was who ignited my fondness for a popular Irish ballad. It’s one I've posted it before, but I’ll post it again in case anybody’s interested (and I won’t be offended if nobody is.) The poetry is a compound of the sublime, the unsophisticated, and the slightly silly, but the narrative bears some small resemblance to my own experience:

It also occurred to me that writers can be a little prone to fixations with that one bright light which sucks them in, caresses them with a firm but demure eye, and then holds them with their walk, their personality, their demeanour, and their lightness of being – all the things which make a woman beautiful whether she is pretty or not. And if she adds that quality into the mix, well…

Kavanagh had his Hilda, Yeats his Maud, Dickens his Ellen, and TS Eliot even married his fixation when he was sixty eight and she was only thirty. (It takes a woman’s particular brand of courage to do that, I think.)

And then my own minor ditty flowed quickly and remorselessly into my head. It’s embarrassingly syrupy, but I do admit to there being an embarrassingly syrupy side to my nature, a side which occasionally – though not often, thankfully – finds egress when I’m not frowning and staring steely eyed at people I dislike.

Do kiss me once before I die
Before the redd’ning of the sky
Before the final lullaby
Before the dark'ning of my eye

Before the race of life is run
Before the setting of the sun
Before the battle’s lost and won
Before my deeds come all undone

But no, belay that trifling plea
Forgive the shameful symmetry
For ladies fair must ever be
In concord with their honesty

Trump Gives a Speech (to Arabs...)

According to the BBC News website, Trump is going to deliver a speech in Riyadh this afternoon on the subject of ‘good versus evil.’

Ha ha
Ha ha ha
Ha ha ha ha

It then goes on to say that he will ‘call on regional leaders to condemn violence done in the name of religion.’ It omits to mention whether he will also condemn the far greater levels of violence traditionally done in the name of protecting western, and particularly American, pecuniary interests.

And I’m curious to know whether Trump’s ‘good versus evil’ speech will represent the mindset of a rich, secular American businessman, or a rich, ostensibly religious oil Sheik, or a poor, fanatically religious Arab peasant. Just who exactly will he – or at least his speech writers and policy advisers – be trying to impress?

I suppose the hope has to be that he will have written the speech himself, in which case it will probably be a string of semi-literate gobbledegook which nobody will understand anyway, so no harm will be done.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

In Praise of Daily Mail Tories.

With only twelve days to go to the British General Election there are divisions in Tory ranks over a manifesto pledge to reduce a particular welfare benefit paid to pensioners. John Stanley of the Bow Group (a Tory think tank) said: “The impact on the core vote will be awful - what I call the ‘Tory Shire’.” He then goes on to define the ‘Tory Shire’ as:

Those Tories who work hard, play the game, live life by the rules.

This is most enlightening because it illustrates the truth about that section of society which the Tories aim to represent. They’re the followers, the conformers, the obedient ones, the ones who go through life in a smug state of certainty that Big Brother knows best, the people who accept the instruction: “Keep your eyes, ears and mouths shut. Accept what traditional culture dictates is the right way to think and act. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t question us. Rebellion is evil by definition.”

I don’t necessarily condemn such people; we all have the right to be what we think is the proper way to be. But isn’t it mind-numbingly one dimensional? Doesn’t it fail to take account of the differences in personality types and social attitudes? Aren’t we now supposed to be living in a better modern world courtesy of the suffragettes, the Chartists, the early trade union leaders, and those who fought for the abolition of slavery? Did they conform and keep their eyes and mouths shut? Did they “play the game and live life by the rules”? And so doesn’t it reveal as nonsense Mrs May’s disingenuous pledge to represent the whole of society with the aim of making it better?

Maybe best of all, though, is what Mr Stanley said next:

They're going to wake up Monday around the family copy of the Daily Mail asking themselves what on earth has just happened.

The Daily Mail? Need I say more?

Trump's Travels.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Trump fares on his first trip abroad. The first bit’s easy, of course. As long as he keeps away from the issue of human rights, which I gather he intends to do, it’s just a matter of being polite while the mega-buck deals are being signed. Money is one area in which Trump has some expertise. Table manners, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. If he starts licking the remnants of the gravy from his plate, or picking his nose while poring over the sheep’s eyes, the odd eyebrow might be raised in Riyadh.

And then it’s off to Israel where they will no doubt applaud every one of his words and actions enthusiastically (especially since he’s promised to make no mention of human rights.) But what of Palestine? I expect he’ll be ring-fenced by an unholy alliance of Mossad, the CIA, and the Israeli military, but will he be able to escape noticing the fact that seriously oppressed people don’t like him very much? We’ll see.

As for the Pope, well… One thing you can be sure of is that the Pope won’t be cowed by Trump’s coarse, materialistic megalomania, or even his hairstyle. And I think it just possible that he might raise the issue of human rights whether the Pres likes it or not. What I’m really curious to see is whether Donald tries to hold the pontiff’s hand, or will he just kiss his ring like everybody else? Will he even bring it home with him?

Brussels? I doubt that Donald even knows where Brussels is, but I expect the pilot will so the good burghers of Belgium will have to put up with him whether they want him there or not.

Then it’s home sweet home. Back to the country he was never actually elected to lead. Back to the mud slinging, the back stabbing and the contradictory values (I must make another post some time on why it seems to me that making America great doesn’t quite square with putting America first.) The squeals of delight and cries of ‘Daddy’s home’ will soon fill the air again, and all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Oh to be in America now that Trump is here.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Sentimentality and the Light of Life.

Those who read last night’s post about the sick squirrel might be interested to know that when I went into the shed this morning the little guy was dead. His front paws were pulled up under his chin and his eyes were closed. That, at least, was a blessing, since I was spared the sight of his dead eyes.

And so I thought some more about why the death of one innocuous animal should cause me such disquiet. I realised that every time I encounter it, my personal space becomes suddenly dimmed. And I remembered that, in spite of the credence I ascribe to notions like persistence of consciousness and the fact that each life is just one of the many journeys we take through time, I still hold life itself to be sacred.

More than that, I imagine the life force to be some sort of universal energy which we all share as individual fragments, be we human, a squirrel, or a housefly. And each fragment is a light which illuminates the void, so when one is extinguished the space dims. The closer the light is, therefore, the more it affects me personally.

I’ve always felt like this. I could tell stories of the fevered states I went into as a child when faced with the imminent prospect of a light going out – even the little mouse which invaded my bedroom and which my stepfather set about killing, or the mackerel I caught fishing off the breakwater at Brixham and which I wanted to show to my mother, but I couldn’t find her… But enough of that.

And it hardly needs saying that I have often been accused of being overly sentimental. Am I? If the fervent desire to keep a sacred light burning brightly is the definition of sentimentality, I’ll just plead guilty.

Bright Eyes.

I have difficulty with the concept of death. I find it hard to accept and it bothers me quite a lot. I was faced with the prospect today when I found a squirrel lying on my path, apparently uninjured but immobile and trembling. I picked him up and placed him at the top of a bag of soft material in my shed where he would at least be warm, dry, and protected from the attention of cats and foxes. I left him some food in case he recovered, and tomorrow morning I’ll find out whether he made it or not. I suspect he won’t.

I try to make sense of my feelings on this issue because I know that death is the inevitable conclusion to every life. It shouldn’t trouble me so much, but it does.

I think a lot has to do with the eyes. The light goes out of them. On the face of it they don’t look any different, and yet they are. I remember once writing in a story which opened with the MC finding a dead woman lying on the floor of a carriage in a tube train: ‘living people don’t have eyes like that.’

And maybe the eyes are the indicator to the real issue: the life force has gone. Gone where? The life force is so little understood, and yet it must stand as the most magical and mysterious feature available to us at this level. The losing of it, therefore, is the matter of most consequence and the source of the deepest pain. Even when it’s only a squirrel. Only? Whatever the life force is, I imagine it’s essentially the same for everything that lives.

I suppose that’s why it troubles me so much, and always will.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mrs Ratty's Smokescreen.

Over on this side of the pond we have our very own Imperator in the shape of the Prime Minister, Mrs Ratty. She’s currently going around claiming that she’s really a good Socialist at heart and is very much on the side of the working class (which isn’t the same thing as working people, don’t forget.)

According to Mrs Ratty, the traditional guardians of working class interests – the Labour Party – has abandoned its traditional roots and only she and her terribly able minions in the Conservative Party know how to make Britain a fairer place. She made this claim in the course of launching the Conservative Party manifesto, while lots of very smart men in very expensive suits – the terribly able minions – looked on attentively (or at least tried to look as though that’s what they were doing while the cameras were pointed in their direction.)

You know, there are people here in Britain who are dumb enough to believe tabloid headlines. And if they’re that dumb, they’ll probably believe what Mrs Ratty says.

(And I’m beginning to wonder whether there is something big going on here. I learned today that the billionaire behind Trump’s election campaign was also behind the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign, breaking British polling laws in the process. Something big? Who knows?)

Trump and the Roman Way.

Trump keeps hopping from one foot to the other so fast it makes you wonder how many legs he’s got. In the space of a day he first makes the switch from juvenile invective to self-pitying mode (no President has ever been treated as badly as me/the Russia inquiry is a witch hunt), and then tries to use the same deflection tactic that he used over North Korea when he switched from don’t mess with me, buddy to you’re very naughty people and you’re insulting my good friend the President of China. His latest statement on the Russia inquiry is to claim that it will hurt our country.

Let’s keep this simple: the inquiry will only hurt America if Trump and his minions are found to have been guilty of colluding in a plot to give him power. But it will be a minor hurt, more of an embarrassment you might say. And Trump will still be first in line for the body blows, so the deflection tactic doesn’t work.

But suppose Trump’s statement isn’t quite what it seems. Could it be getting perilously close to what I predicted a few nights ago:

Any enemy of mine is an enemy of America.

You see, I just have this uncomfortable suspicion that if Trump isn’t removed fairly quickly he will get his feet under the table and want to stay there forever. As things stand at the moment he has little to no chance of doing that, but suppose he were to engineer a ‘successful’ war against the North Koreans. Leaders who win wars are known to gain a lot of personal popularity (take Thatcher and the Falklands as an example.) Then he could say ‘Look at me. I’m making America great again, but I need more time to finish the job so I’m scrapping democratic elections for the foreseeable future.’ He would need the support of the military, of course, but if the military has just won a war…

You think it couldn’t happen? I hope you’re right.

A Questionable Comestible.

Could somebody please tell me what ancient grains are? It’s just that Sainsbury’s has recently introduced a new line of sliced bread which boasts that it contains ‘sprouted and ancient grains.’ I bought one today.

You see, I thought ancient grains were something which archaeologists painstakingly picked from the abdomens of 5,000-year-old mummies. So now I can’t help entertaining the sliver of a suspicion – however absurd and unlikely – that sarcophagi have become grain mines for the benefit of the Egyptian economy, and that what I’m eating comes not from the bowels of the earth but the bowels of some desiccated pharaoh of the 5th Dynasty. And that takes the edge off my houmous and cucumber sandwich a bit.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

No Wheels on My Wagon.

What a delightful picture we’re getting from America at the moment. The President and his minions are huddled inside a wagon train formed into a tight defensive circle, all taking random pot shots at anything that moves (which often includes their own feet.) The Cherokees (aka Democrats and Trump-hating Republicans) have them pinned down with superior numbers and flaming arrows, at least one of which they hope will set Trump’s hair alight.

‘This is lookin’ real bad, Jim,’ says one of the minions to a man called Jim. ‘If I don’t make it and you do, would you take this letter to that little Russian guy who was sitting at the back of the room that day. Gosh, he sure was a cutie. Tell him I want him to find happiness with somebody else now that I’m gone.’

(Which just goes to show how courageous and gallant minions can be when they’re staring into perdition’s flame.)

Ah, but what do we see in the distance galloping to their aid? None other than the 7th Cavalry in the guise of the President of Russia.

‘He didn’t say nuth’n,’ yells Putin,

‘I was in the room and I didn’t hear nuth’n,’ agrees one of the minions.

‘Oh yes I did,’ intones the wagon master defiantly, ‘and I was perfectly entitled to because I’m President. So there.’

And then the pantomime chorus takes up the shout (I do hope everybody knows what a pantomime is):

‘Oh yes he did.’ (Cherokees.)

‘Oh no he didn’t.’ (Minions.)

‘Oh yes he did…’

What an inspiring picture it paints. It’s the stuff of which greatness is made.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Alien Beings and a Gender Issue.

Sitting at the next table in the coffee shop were three women, two young and one middle aged. Next to one of the young women was a pram which I assumed contained what prams usually contain. I was right. Within minutes several other women entered the establishment and began cooing around the creature contained within said vehicle.

‘Isn’t it odd,’ I said to the assembled multitude, ‘the way women flap and coo around babies? Men don’t.’

‘He’s not our only baby,’ said the sitting middle aged woman. ‘We’ve just had a new baby foal as well.’

‘Ah now, that’s different,’ I said, warming for once to a conversation with a middle aged woman. ‘Men are quite at home cooing over baby animals, it’s baby humans we have a problem with.’

And then I wondered why that should be. I assume it’s because baby animals are recognisable. They look like small versions of their species, whereas baby humans don’t really look much like anything except alien beings. And maybe men are perhaps genetically predisposed to be suspicious of alien beings, whereas women are more inclined to spot the potential for growth into creatures just like us. (Well, you actually. I’m an example of the old maxim ‘once an alien, always an alien.')

I sneaked a quick look at the alien on the way out and got spotted by the middle aged woman. ‘Just checking it’s genuine,’ I muttered lamely. It was the best I could manage at short notice. Middle aged women scare the hell out of me.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Guilt and the Learning Process.

When I was around ten years old I was taken out by two older boys and shown how to use an air rifle. I took careful aim, squeezed the trigger, and a crow fell dead at my feet. One of the other boys pressed it with his foot to make it squawk, and they both laughed.

I felt terrible. I felt like a sick and twisted being. I felt a sense of guilt which has never completely left me. (I later discovered that guilt usually diminishes with the years, but rarely goes away altogether. It’s different if you don’t feel guilt at all; then you’re a psychopath.)

Today I was watching the birds on the feeding table and a little ditty flew by as they often do when I’m musing.

And now the little birdies
Are all my bosom friends
I sometimes wonder why that should be so

I think I might be feeling
The need to make amends
For what I did those many years ago

I’ve wondered ever since how I could possibly have taken the life of an innocent creature just to demonstrate that I could fire a gun accurately. Maybe I didn’t realise the essential wrongness of it until the grisly fruit of my expertise was lying lifeless a few inches away. Maybe that was when a simple truth became obvious to me: that the taking of a life is irreversible. (And maybe that’s what fixes the guilt in perpetuity.) Or maybe I assumed I would miss. I don’t remember.

(I later became something of a marksman of note. I won prizes for fair ladies in fairground shooting booths. I was able to argue with a Royal Marine sergeant that the sights on my rifle were misaligned and he was forced to concede the fact. But I never shot at anything living ever again.)

So how do I make sense of the fact I took the life of a creature which I didn’t need to eat in order to survive, and which offered me no threat? How do I honour the bird by applying some objective purpose to its demise?

Maybe life itself offers an answer. I don’t know what it’s about any more than anybody else does, but my favourite suspicion is that it’s some sort of long term learning process. And maybe the best way to learn the wrongness of an action is to perform it and feel the consequent guilt. Maybe that’s it. It’s about the best I’ve got.

Talking Beauty Queens.

The current Miss USA, Kara McCullough, was asked whether she considers healthcare a privilege or a right. She said she takes the ‘privilege’ side, and went on to say:

‘As a government employee, I'm granted healthcare and I see first hand that for one to have healthcare, you need to have jobs.’

Note how she pretends a superior position: …I see first hand… Note how the logic of her statement amounts to: I have a job and I have healthcare, therefore it must be right that only people with jobs should be entitled to healthcare.

I wonder whether Ms McCullough knows what a non sequitur is. Laurel and Hardy did, which is why they used them occasionally in their scripts. Only they were smart guys, and they knew that a non sequitur is a joke. Ms McCullough, on the other hand, appears fairly bereft of both intelligence and a sense of humour, which means that on this occasion, she’s the joke. It also makes a joke of anybody else – irrespective of their political or social leanings, and irrespective of how they view the ‘right or privilege’ question – who cannot see the back-to-front absurdity of the lady’s statement.

I gather the term ‘bimbo’ has now entered the Handbook of Political Correctness as a forbidden word, and maybe rightly so given its undoubtedly sexist association. Ms McCullough just ripped it out to wear as a sash of pride around her moderately attractive body. Thank heaven she isn’t blonde.

Should I go on to take issue with a small matter of incorrect English in her statement? Nope. Clumsy English among public figures has become de rigueur ever since Trump slithered into the White House by mistake. Ms McCullough’s use of the language is relatively decent by comparison with what has sadly become the norm.

And should I go on to talk about the question of ‘Beauty Pageants and How They Relate to the Definition of Beauty’? Nope. Can’t be bothered.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Told You So?

I’m constantly being badgered by various organisations to ditch paper and conduct all my dealings with them online. And I constantly resist, not because I’m conservative by nature, nor even because I deplore a trend whereby more and more people lose their jobs while more and more profits get siphoned into the pockets of other people already too rich to be taken seriously. It’s because I don’t consider the internet to be reliable enough or secure enough to be trusted.

So was I pleased to read about the current, panic-inducing assaults by ransomware on major IT systems all over the world? No, but I did feel vindicated.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Coveting the Cardinal.

I said recently that there are two things I would like to do before I die. One is to sail the length of the Yangtze River, and the other is to see the Northern Lights. But now a third little oddity has crept into the picture: I would like to see a Cardinal bird, just because I like birds and the Cardinal is a handsome one. We don’t get Cardinals in Britain.

And here’s a second picture, just because I like pictures and I especially like Chinese pictures and this is redolent of the Chinese style.


The Gall of Mrs May.

The North East of England has a long and proud working tradition rooted in the Industrial Revolution. It even still displays a few of the honourable scars from its days as the land of shipyards and coal mines, all of which are now gone courtesy of Mrs Thatcher’s remorseless axe. The North East of England, along with other traditional industrial areas, suffered very badly at her blood-smeared hands.

And yet in spite of that, another Tory Prime Minister went up there today. Mrs May headed north from the comfort and safety of the metropolis to garner support for her cause in the upcoming General Election. She went to tell the poor benighted northerners that ‘the Labour Party has abandoned the working class.’

Do you realise what levels of hypocrisy are contained in that one callous and ill-conceived statement, coming as it does from the leader of the Tory Party, the party with a centuries-old history of exploiting and abusing the working class? And coming as it does from the successor to the very woman who destroyed communities and took away the pride of the people up there?

The modern Tory Party claims to be on the side of working people, and I wouldn’t entirely disagree even though the concept has much about it which is disingenuous, and even though it results in a particularly political form of dishonest calumny. But the obvious has to be stated. ‘Working people’ is not the same as ‘working class.’ I wonder whether Mrs May understands that. If she does, she stands accused in one way. If she doesn’t, she stands accused in another.

Friday, 12 May 2017

The Cost of Productivity.

Today was a productive day. I spring cleaned the kitchen.

I cleaned the window frames, the window sill, the door, the door frame, the cupboard units, the kick boards, the skirting boards, the shelves, the cooker, the fridge, the microwave, the scummy soap dish, and… um… the tray off which I eat my dinner. (It hasn’t been cleaned in months and suggested comparison with a pavement outside a kebab house at 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning. I do have a dining table but I’ve forgotten how to use it.)

And now I have a headache because I always get a headache whenever I come within fifteen feet of household chemicals. Worst of all are chemical so-called air fresheners. If I spend longer than ten minutes in a vehicle with one of those car air fresheners (so-called) dangling from the rear view mirror, I get an absolute blinder. I think my brain must be even more allergic to chemicals than it is to advertising executives.

Boosting the Alaskan Economy.

Shortly after reading about Jeff Sessions’ avowed intent to fill America’s jails to bursting point and beyond, a thought occurred to me. I’ve wondered from the outset what Trump’s apparent clandestine love affair with Putin is all about, and now I have a theory. I reckon he needs advice on the building and running of gulags.

It keeps on getting scarier, doesn’t it? Just wait for the day when Trump says:

Any enemy of mine is an enemy of America

I’d be interested to know what odds the bookmakers might offer on the likelihood of that happening. Alaska isn’t the only one whose economy could use a boost.

Scary New World.

I was reading recently that a journalist in America was arrested for asking an awkward question. They said it was his tone and behaviour that got him arrested, but on the face of it at least it seems the respondents’ refusal to answer the question was probably more to blame, since that would only inflame a man prevented from doing his legitimate job.

So now it seems that America is becoming a scary place to live, and maybe it isn’t surprising. Trump is clearly running scared over the Comey fiasco, changing his story and throwing out the kind of brainless invective more usually associated with the schoolyard bully. What’s of even more concern is that he appears to lack the wherewithal to avoid showing the fact.

So what would you expect of a country being run by a scared President who is also a bully with limited mental faculties? You’d expect a scary country.

Sensing a Different World.

I was walking down The Hollow in the Shire today (that’s the sunken lane that I’ve referred to several times on this blog) when I was struck by the sight of a huge old tree growing out of the tall embankment. The roots which protruded from the earth were wholly clothed in moss and liberally encroached upon by strings of clinging ivy. And beneath the roots was a carpet of wild garlic with its multitude of lanceolate leaves and delicate white flowers.

There was an aura of quiet, natural wholesomeness about it. It reminded me of the fact that as a kid I used to get a strong sense of the misty, mythical Arthurian world – a world in which Romantic ideals held sway and the land was something magical and sacred, rather than a resource merely to be exploited for human gain.

And do you know, I’ve never lost that sense. It surfaces occasionally, usually when I’m alone in a quiet, rarefied spot and the insistent energies of nature whisper ‘this is closer to reality than the one you’re forced to think of as home.’

I hope I never lose that sense, and after all this time I doubt I shall.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

On the Matter of Ears.

The manager at one of the coffee shops I frequent never fails to attract my attention because I find all aspects of her physical appearance pleasing, including her face.

It’s a face that I would call handsome rather than pretty, with features that are sharp but not indelicate. I’ve never seen her smile, which suggests that there is nothing false about her. (I have observed, you see, that not everybody who smiles is false, but false people invariably smile false smiles, frequently and when it suits their purpose. Ergo, someone who never smiles is unlikely to be false.)

Her small mouth is commendably stable, which suggests a calm and orderly mind, and her eyes project the strength of someone who is comfortable with authority but not given to delusions of grandeur. She has the sort of face that you would be pleased to wake up next to every morning because you would feel confidant that whatever ill fortune stalked the day, she would probably overcome it with consummate ease.

Having said all this, and having seen the young woman in question many times, only this week did I notice her most impressive feature: She good ears. And by that I don’t mean that she listens well to the concerns of her staff, I mean they are a good shape.

Ears are the most dangerous and potentially damning part of the head area. It’s all those twists and cavities and floppy bits. It’s the irregular shape and the curled edges, the awkwardness of the offset angle, and the unfriendly gristly protuberances. Whoever designed the human ear must surely have been in the first throes of practicing for a future life to be spent designing ears for more superior beings. One hopes that he or she improved with experience. A bad ear is an utter disaster; an ear that is tolerable and relatively innocuous is a good ear.

When I was growing up I had issues with the shape of my head. I had issues with my nose, my mouth, my teeth and my chin. Even my eyes were slightly irregular in both size and placing. But I had good ears, and they gave me the confidence to face the fairer sex with a modicum of hope. Such little success that I enjoyed must surely have been due to my ears, since nothing else was worth looking at.

Interestingly, I grew close to a most attractive young woman who had all the attributes in abundance but one. Occasionally I felt moved to say to her: ‘You are very pretty, my lady. You are lithe, elegant, and graceful as a young feline. Your eyes carry sunshine, your smile is bewitching, and your personality draws me like a bee to a flower. But would you consider wearing your hair long so that your ears become invisible and I might feel no ripple of discontent in your presence?’ I never did, and it never mattered because she threw me over anyway. But the point persists.

Preaching to the Converted.

I set out to watch the second half of Edward Scissorhands tonight but didn’t make it to the end, partly because the DVD drive on my computer decided to malfunction and partly because I didn’t want to.

By then I’d realised that this is a simple parable about the parlous state of human nature. You take an innocent who is gifted but different from the norm and set him loose in human society. The majority of the inhabitants of that society are intrigued by his skill and exploit it exclusively to serve their own interests. And when their exploitation turns sour and the innocent reacts with understandable emotion, they turn on him. They see him as dangerous and feel justified in wanting him destroyed.

It’s like the man who overloads his pack horse to save the expense of using two. And when the horse stumbles under the pain and weight, it’s the animal which gets the blame and feels the whip.

Well, I already knew that about human nature; I’ve been observing it carefully all my life. I don’t need Tim Burton to show it to me.

*  *  *

And on a personal and unconnected note, isn’t it a shame when the last rays of the westering sun are the strongest and warmest of the day, and then the sun goes suddenly down to leave nothing but darkness and the chill air of night?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

More on Film (and Bits.)

Tonight I watched the first half of another film which I should have watched decades ago: Edward Scissorhands. I find it strange that I never watched it before, considering the fact that it stars the magical Winona Ryder for whom I’ve had a very soft spot ever since Beetlejuice. First impressions (this is becoming a habit):

1. Certain practical considerations came to mind with regard to a man who has scissors for hands, but they’re rather too delicate to go into.

2. I was initially open-mouthed at just how bad American suburbia is until I realised that I was missing the obvious. The writers were clearly intent upon making it appear a tiny bit worse than it really is so that those who live there could smile and be reassured that everything is just fine really. British suburbia is similar, but with rather less enthusiasm and a lot less colour.

*  *  *

Earlier today I was engaged in my usual hobby of people-watching onboard a train. I was looking for interesting specimens to record here, but there weren’t any.

The closest I came was the man with a shaved head sitting in front of me. He was wading through what appeared to be a business report and kept breaking off to pick his nose. It piqued my interest sufficiently to wonder whether he would eat the crop as my stepfather routinely did, but he merely rolled and flicked them in what I assume to be the conventional manner. I was unable to establish whether any of the missiles attached themselves like limpet mines to any of his fellow travellers’ laptop screens, or even landed in their coffee. I would have found the former ironic and the latter amusing, but the stars were clearly not in a fun configuration today.

 *  *  *

Mel said ‘I like the coat.’

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The Hidden Cost of Personal Technology.

It’s hard to believe now that only a mere twenty years ago nobody had laptops or smart phones. Even basic mobiles were still a relatively rare commodity, and the sight of somebody walking along a street apparently talking to himself with his hand pressed against his ear still turned heads.

And it was about twenty years ago that I was on a train, travelling back from London to my home in the north Midlands, when the lights in the carriage went out. It was twilight and so the carriage was plunged into near darkness, but there was still a view to be seen through the windows.

I heard no voice raised in complaint. The carriage became quiet. Those who were reading books put them down, and those travelling with companions turned to look out of the window. People rested back in their seats, almost as of one mind, and a near palpable sense of peace and relaxation settled upon us all.

Would it happen now, I wonder. In the drive for convenience, entertainment on tap, instant communication and the making of billionaires, have we maybe lost something?

Commercial Disrespect.

I’m going to have another moan about animated adverts on web pages. I hate them. They distract you from whatever you’re trying to read or look at, and I find that very irritating. It’s what they’re there to do, of course; that’s their job. They slide and slither and flash, and jump up and down so they’re always in the corner of your eye trying to make you take notice of them

So let’s imagine you’re talking to somebody and a child keeps grabbing your arm and demanding your attention. You would remonstrate with them, wouldn’t you? You’d tell them that interrupting you while you were talking to somebody else was impolite; that it was disrespectful, which is worse. And you’d be right. But that’s exactly what animated adverts do, and you can’t shoo them away as you can children.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Vampire Hunters and Other Bits.

I finished watching Van Helsing tonight. Final verdict:

1. It was entertaining.

2. I never knew werewolves could fly.

3. The gods don’t make many Kate Beckinsales. That was the enduring bit, and that’s why it bears repeating.

And the finale reminded me that I go through periods when I have to walk away from rare and precious people, and I seem to have entered one such period now. It always hurts a bit, but it has do be done. It’s never their fault. I think it must have something to do with my Grail fetish.

*  *  *

I spent £2 in a charity shop on a Cherokee coat. It’s characterful rather than smart which makes it a bit special, and now I reckon I’m going to be the best dressed person for miles around. There’s a story behind it, to do with trying to find my new identity now that I have no sexual capital (#4, for those who are counting.) I’d ruled out baggy trousers, baseball caps worn backwards, sports jackets and flannel trousers, cravats, hombergs and hoodies. None of them were me (whatever that is.) The Cherokee coat seems like a step along the right road.

*  *  *

I spent another £10 on a 15” high statuette of a Chinese lady dressed in Chinese finery (Tang, I think) accompanied by peacocks. She now has second pride of place in my living room after the North American Indian mother figure. It’s almost unheard of for me to spend money on something just because I like it.

*  *  *

The woman from whom I bought my tomato plants had the squeakiest voice I’ve ever heard. I wanted to ask her whether she was high on helium, whether she had escaped from the Disney studios, or whether she’d been a rodent in a former life. We talked about the weather instead.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

When Crass is the King.

There’s a full page glossy ad in this week’s TV listing for a ‘Hip Shakin Elvis Signature Pendant.’ It depicts him in typical pose wearing his trademark white bat suit, and the text boasts that it is ‘accentuated with genuine Swarovsky crystals’ (whatever they might be.) The biggest and most mouth watering boast, however, is that his hips really do swing! (Oh, and it’s got a facsimile of his signature printed on the back. I think a ‘wow’ is in order.)

Do you know how much they want for one of these tasteful bits of body adornment? Of course you don’t, so I’ll tell you: They want £89.07 + £6.99 S&H. That’s very nearly £100, right? Right.

And do you know what I find really disturbing? They wouldn’t be marketing these things if they weren’t sure they’d sell, so that means there are people here in Britain lurking in the shadows, or maybe prowling the dark alleyways, or paddling in the sewers, or even joining forces with the mythical creatures which are said to haunt the London Underground, all wearing Elvis pendants with hips which really do swing. And they’ve all paid nearly £100 for the privilege.

Should the mind be boggled or the fear centre activated?

Saturday, 6 May 2017

An Earnest Film Review.

The first two things I look for in a film are atmosphere and characterization – in that order. I wouldn’t say that plot is unimportant, but it definitely comes third.

So, tonight I started watching Van Helsing for the second time. It’s unusual for me to watch a film twice, but Van Helsing is high on atmosphere and characterization so I paid the £1 they were charging in a charity shop for a second hand (or ‘pre-loved’ as they now so indecorously call second hand items) copy of the DVD, and tonight I watched the first 37 minutes. Why 37 minutes?

1. I have terrible attention span these days. 37 minutes is a long time to me. I usually get bored and want to do something else after a maximum of about 15. How fortunate I have no sexual capital. (That’s the third time I’ve managed to sneak that one in. Thank you Sydney, NSW.)

2. It was a natural scene break.

My impressions so far?

1. Romanian peasants seem uncommonly inclined to drive strangers out of town with burning brands and pitchforks, so it probably isn’t the best place to go on holiday.

2. The gods don’t make many Kate Beckinsales.

*  *  *


There's something I've always wondered about vampires: how do they manage to keep their hair so impeccably combed if they can't see their reflection in a mirror?

Insulting the Big Guy.

I read a little news item today about Stephen Fry being in trouble with the law for insulting God on an Irish TV programme. Immediately afterwards I read another snippet about Stephen Colbert being in trouble over some insults he hurled at Donald Trump on an American TV programme. I do realise that the perceived ‘offences’ were different in the two cases, but I still found the parallel amusing.

Is the White House the new heaven on earth, I wondered. Will kids now have a new prayer to learn at school:

Our Donald
Who art in the White House
Hallowed be thy hair…

I gather Colbert’s offence was compounded by its homophobic slant, and it’s the gay Trump supporters who are up in arms. This is interesting because being gay and being pro-Trump is an odd sort of match. I’m not sure why that should be; I suppose it’s because gay rights has long been one of the great liberal shibboleths, and liberals aren’t generally big pals with Donald.

And what worries me a little is that this could get out of hand. America might soon be subjected to a new phenomenon: gangs of gays dressed in pink robes and hoods and carrying flaming dollar signs, intent upon finding a Democrat or poor person to lynch.


This post is not homophobic. I’m not anti-gay. And I do realise that there’s nothing funny about Klan activities. It’s just that impressions occasionally float across the water which beg to be commented on one way or another. It’s all a matter of method and prevailing mood.

Friday, 5 May 2017

An Odd Fascination.

Ever since I first saw the film 10 Rillington Place I’ve been fascinated by the sickeningly sordid story of serial killer Reginald Christie. I’ve sometimes even felt an urgent desire to visit the scene of the crimes by way of some sort of bizarre pilgrimage. This is odd because I’m not generally interested in serial killers, and every time I read anything about the Christie case I go into a moderately deep depression.

Maybe the explanation lies in the fact that it’s not so much Christie who interests me, but his lodger, Timothy Evans, who was wrongly convicted of two of the killings (his own wife and baby daughter) and executed before the other murders came to light. Maybe it’s the sense of injustice which both fascinates and depresses me. But does it explain why I sometimes feel the need to visit the scene? I don’t know.

And what I find really odd is this: Rillington Place was demolished and redeveloped after Christie himself had been tried and executed, but I gather that nobody can now say where exactly it was situated. How can that be? This is 1950s London we’re talking about. Are there no street plans in the archives? And what about the younger residents who were relocated after the demolition? Some of them must have lived on for decades after the redevelopment, and some of them might still be alive today. Is somebody hiding something?

The Holiday Called Life.

I’ve always been drawn to writings about mortality, which I suppose is why I’ve written a sentence or two on the subject myself. It seems that there’s a certain type of writer – poets more often than prose merchants, I would say – who can’t help musing on the curious suspicion that the business of living has something vaguely absurd and pointless about it.

The pleasures and pains, the losses and gains, the thrills and the spills and the vales and the hills… We strut and fret an hour upon the stage and then are heard no more (to slightly misquote Will) and every grain of tomorrow slips through an ever gaping maw to become a yesterday with inexorable certainty. To quote Mr S again (accurately this time):

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death

Or to quote a latter day bard (Mr D, a favourite of mine):

… for those not busy being born are busy dying

And that, it sometimes seems, is all there is to it. You get born and set out on a walk of unknown length to death, with an infinite variety of adventure available along the way. Life is a walking holiday. Simple.

But at the end of a walking holiday you go home, so the real question with regard to life has to be: Where is home?

*  *  *

Maybe I’ll write something more original when I’m feeling less washed out. The results from yesterday’s local authority elections suggest that the Tories are going to get a landslide in June’s General Election. I sometimes want to disown most of my fellow Britons.