Friday, 30 June 2017

America's Mr Surreal.

I just read that Trump’s travel ban will apply ‘strict visa rules’ to refugees. Visa rules for refugees? Isn’t that… erm… well… just a tiny bit surreal, not to mention absurd roughly on the level of Alice in Wonderland? Doesn’t it miss the most fundamental point of all, which is the very definition of ‘refugee’?

Serving America.

I see Donald is raising eyebrows again with his tweet about a female TV presenter’s 'bleeding facelift.'

He’s not much of an ambassador for America, is he? If the top man can ooze such immaturity with his puerile Twitter habit, what does it say about the rest of the country to the rest of the world?

I don’t suppose that worries him much (assuming he has the nous to realise it, which is perhaps optimistic.) He is, after all, a businessman first and last, not a President. As such, I expect he will only concern himself with America’s reputation when he wants to sell America for pecuniary gain.

And I loved the story about his fundraising bash to help pay for his re-election campaign. This guy has the gall of a warthog with learning difficulties.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Crawling the Wrong Way.

The snails were crawling up the outside wall of my house again tonight. Snails seem to like the cold, wet, dreary weather we’re having at the moment.

I crawl up the wall often, but for different reasons. My crawling is usually driven by humans and their damn fool systems exhibiting an increasing tendency to be incompetent and dysfunctional. And the mood consequently engendered in a mind shackled to the concept of idealism is no satisfactory route to Nirvana.

Another Failing.

On the basis of a statistic given in my Blogger stats, I estimate that I’ve written around 1m words to this blog since I started it in 2010. That’s the equivalent of seven or eight full sized novels. So why didn’t I write seven or eight full sized novels instead? I’ll tell you.

I don’t have the attention span to be a novelist. My mind is too disorganised and given to feeling fractured. I’m most reluctant to commit to any project which will take longer than a few hours, so something as long term as a novel doesn’t stand a chance. And I don’t have the planning nous which novelists need to make their opuses cohesive so that critics and academics can feel entitled to crow about real and imagined depths. I gather you even have to know what a plot arc is.

I’m just an inveterate chatterbox. I was told as much as a child and my informant was right. And I worked in an office once (back in the bad old days when the office environment was conducive to my undeveloped nature) where a woman colleague said of me:

‘I do so like to hear him talk.’

Her best friend who just happened to occupy the next desk retorted:

‘I don’t. I want to punch him on the nose.’

Sailing, Not Searching.

I was searching faces yesterday for signs of wisdom, or at least a sense of enquiry. I didn’t see any. No one looked sideways to view the colours, the textures, the relationships of space, the imperfections, the integrity of an angle, the tonal distortions in a reflection.

And neither was it written in any face that there was some awareness of the unique atmosphere which touches every place at different times. All eyes were on the next footfall, or the corresponding eyes of a companion with whom they were engaged in everyday conversation, or the little piece of nondescript crockery which had caught their attention in a charity shop.

And so it seemed to me that I was watching numerous little planets sailing blithely and alone through the cosmos, occasionally touching the orbits of other little planets similarly engaged, and none of them were looking outwards to view the stars and maybe the heaven beyond or within.

I plead guilty, although to what I’m not quite sure.

Questioning Success.

I’m sure that lots of people must ask themselves whether they’ve had a successful life. Well, it seems to me that the definition of success must be about achieving a goal.

I wanted that job and I got it, therefore I have been successful.

I bought a lottery ticket this week in the hope of winning some money, and I did win so I have been successful.

It’s easy enough to judge success in the short term, but life? How can we know whether we’ve had a successful life unless we know what we came here to achieve? And how many of us know that?

On the Nature of Tragedy.

There’s something intensely tragic about the sight of a dead housefly on the windowsill. The poor little guy made one mistake out of understandable ignorance – he came into my house where there was nothing for him to eat, and was too scared of me to allow himself to be guided out again. And as he grew weaker he made one final bid to reach the light, only to find an impenetrable barrier which he had no way of understanding. Is that not the essence of tragedy whatever the life form?

Enlightened Snails.

I think I might have mentioned this before, but I’m always fascinated by the sight of snails climbing up the outside walls of my house during a damp twilight. Where the hell are they going? What are they seeking? I sometimes imagine my dusty old loft being full of happy snails, all thinking they’ve attained Nirvana.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Challenging the Invader.

I walked into the coffee shop today to find it busier than usual, largely due to a significant amount of floor and table space being disproportionately occupied by seven teenage boys. And they were being a tiny bit boisterous as teenage boys are wont to be.

‘To what do we owe invasion by the Mongol horde?’ I asked the woman assistant at the counter.

‘Don’t know,’ she replied blankly. I had the impression that she didn’t actually know what a Mongol horde was, and might even have thought me guilty of political incorrectness. I considered explaining that Mongols are people from Mongolia, and that their historic invasion of refined China and subsequent replacement of the refined Han Chinese dynasties led to the birth of the pejorative euphemism. But I couldn’t be bothered, and then I noticed that two of the horde were standing behind me.

‘Where are you from?’ I asked them. (I did realise that ending a sentence on a preposition is slightly unrefined in itself, but decided that ‘Whence came you?’ would have sounded unwontedly pretentious.)


Now, it is an odd coincidence that some of the snootier Ashbourne residents would consider there to be little to choose between Mongolia and Nottingham in the matter of assessing horde status, but not me. I’m not snooty. (And the coincidence didn’t strike me until later anyway…) So I continued:

‘And what are you doing here?’

(This makes me sound like a right douchebag, doesn’t it? Maybe the person who called me one on YouTube the other night was right after all.)

‘Camping,’ replied the Mongol.

‘Camping, is it? I see. OK.’

I retired to a table with my Americano and blueberry muffin while the two invaders rejoined their comrades, who by now had settled themselves tidily around two small tables near the window. And they were quiet as mice for the rest of my visit.

So then it struck me that there was a certain irony to be found in their behaving in an orderly and respectful manner, while I had been guilty of gross impertinence. And that amused me.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Being the Reluctant Seer.

Sometimes – usually very late at night when my body and lower mind are tired but my higher mind remains irritatingly active – I enter a strange state of awareness. I seem to be looking into a dense mist containing hazy figures which appear briefly and then disappear again. And every time a figure appears I get a subtle impression conveying some arcane and terribly profound message, but so hazy and fleeting is it that I have difficulty even clarifying the meaning, much less holding onto it.

What triggered last night’s episode was the priestess’s name at the top of my inbox. (Actually she has two names, an English one and a Chinese one, which is pretty damn grand in my book. And the Chinese one is the stuff of which fairy tales are written, or maybe ballads for voice, erhu and guzheng. But I digress…)

So I wrote and told her, and now I feel embarrassed. No doubt she will put my experience down to either a worrying psychosis or the effect of Newcastle Brown Ale combined with a couple of scotches. Priestesses can be terribly pragmatic when a cold wind is whistling through Sydney Harbour Bridge.

And I omitted to mention to her that one of the messages did become clarified like ghee in a Delhi deli. It said: 'She is definitely in charge.' Silly me.

Being Misconstrued.

I paid a young woman a compliment today, but instead of speaking plainly I took the ironic approach with a hint of negativity. I did it that way so she wouldn’t feel threatened or splashed with the oily sputum of an ageing Lothario.

She took offence and another member of staff brought my coffee to me. Life’s like that.

*  *  *

And yesterday I got called a douchebag on YouTube. In all my life I’ve never been called one of those before, but then for most of my life the term was strictly embryonic. I assume it means something like ‘master sage’ in American.

Being Quoted in High Places.

Six months ago I wrote in one of my diatribes against Donald the Dunderhead:

… if you want to make the world a better place you don’t build walls, you build bridges

So now I read a quotation from one of Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches in which he says ‘we should be building bridges, not walls.’

Is this plagiarism and can I sue? Or should I just be happy that he agrees with me?

Monday, 26 June 2017

Avoiding the Faux Pas.

It occurred to me this evening that I’m so glad I wasn’t invited to the wedding which took place in the village three weeks ago. There are two reasons for that, the first of which must be so obvious as to hardly need expounding, at least not to anyone with so much as a gram of emotional acumen. The second is my attitude to weddings in general and the concomitant obligation under which it would have placed me to make my excuses as politely as possible. I would have needed to write a letter along the lines of:

Dear Mrs P

Thank you so much for inviting me to your daughter’s wedding. It was most kind of you. It is with regret, however, that I must sadly decline owing to an unfortunate and incapacitating condition which precludes my attendance.

I do hope you have a splendid day

Yours etc

And that would have been that until I accidentally bumped into members of the family out riding their bikes, walking the dog, or being engaged in some other activity which resulted in our paths crossing. They would have greeted me:

‘Hello, Jeff.’ (That’s as much as I usually get, but this time they would have gone on.) ‘I didn’t know you were ill.’

‘Well, erm, I’m not actually ill as such.’

‘But you said you had a condition.’

‘I do.’

‘You do?’


‘I see, and what sort of condition is it – if you don’t mind me asking?’

‘I have a serious allergy.’

‘Oh dear, that sounds awful. An allergy to what, exactly?’


And then they would have hurried off in a huff, congratulating each other on the fact that they’d never invited me to tea in the eleven years I've known them. It would have been very embarrassing.

Where the Couch Potato Scores.

It’s a well attested fact that busy days seem to go by far quicker than non-busy days. And if it’s true of a day, I suppose it must also be true of a lifetime. And since I subscribe to the view that perception is the whole of the life experience, I’m tempted to assume that lazy people must effectively have longer lives than busy people.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Explaining Today's Silence.

Since nobody is talking to me I feel no obligation to answer.

But of course, if I'd married Kate Beckinsale when I had the chance things might have been very different. What follows is a picture of said Kate. It looks nothing like her (as most of her stills don’t) but it does look very like somebody else I know (or used to, sort of…) That being the case, I think I might keep it.

I often wonder why I bother writing a blog, although these late night, trivial, enigmatic and utterly pointless ones are among my favourites. Maybe that’s why nobody is talking to me.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

On Pecs and Puerility.

The latest advertising horror to arrest my attention on YouTube is the old-guy-with-pecs ad.

Men Over 65 Need to Read This!

That’s what it says. Really? Really.

What Really bothers me, you see, isn’t so much the old-guy-with-pecs (although that’s bad enough), but the big-breasted bimbos-in-bikinis who stand around doing fake adoration. If there’s one thing that would discourage me from seeking the dubious distinction of having prominent pecs, it would be the danger that such a lamentable version of the opposite sex might take an interest in me.

No, no, no. When the time comes to suffer the ignominy of invisibility, best rely on the prospect of reincarnation.

Dotty Logic.

I was reminded today of something an ex’s mother said once. She and her husband came to stay with us for a few days when we lived in Northumberland, and one day we decided to make the trip up the coast to Lindisfarne.

(Lindisfarne is quite interesting. It has a mediaeval priory and a castle – which is actually a Tudor fort to be precise – and is the place where the first Viking raid on England took place in 793. It was also the setting for Roman Polanski’s 1966 classic Cul-de-Sac.)

So anyway… Lindisfarne is also known as Holy Island because that’s what it is: a part time island. The road leading to it is a causeway which is covered at high tide, and so there are boards at each end showing the safe crossing times.

When we arrived at the causeway we stopped to read the board in order to plan how long we could stay on the island, and then Janet’s mother said:

‘We’d better look at the other end as well. It might be different from that side.’

Friday, 23 June 2017

Simple Wisdom and Creature Bits.

I met the local odd job man and his 41-year-old Land Rover again today. He told me that people often approach him with offers to buy it, so intrigued are they by its aged and rough-hewn charm, but he always refuses them. ‘Why won’t you sell it?’ they ask. ‘Because then I’d have to walk home,’ he replies. He also told me that he tells his friends off for being addicted to buying things and throwing money at the commercial world. He shows promise.

*  *  *

There was a big black tomcat prowling around the entrance to my garden at dusk this evening, and he stopped in mid-stride to watch me for some time. To me he looked spooky in the half light, and maybe I looked the same to him because when I said ‘hello’ he prowled away.

*  *  *

And then I saw something I’ve never seen since I came to live here. One of my twilight bat friends flew into the confined space inside my little porch and flew out again. It reminded me of a true story I told on this blog some years ago, but it bears repeating because different people are reading it now.

I was watching on old black and white Dracula film on the TV late one night. It was a little after midnight when a bat flew out of the fireplace, crossed the room and landed on the TV set. That sort of thing doesn’t happen every day, and I thought it must surely portend something. Pity I don’t remember what happened next, but it seems that bats and I go back a long way.

Another Connection Muse.

'Life moves on, Jeff,' was the only cruel thing she ever said to me.

But, of course, it wasn’t cruel. The concept of cruelty is abstract and belongs to intent, not action. It would only have been cruel if she’d intended to hurt, which I’m sure she didn’t. It was a factual assessment and entirely proper in the circumstances.

But the brevity of the statement did make it harsh, and it did hurt my feelings. It still does all these years on, every time I think about it. It surprised me, too, because I had come to think of her as being incapable of harshness. She said to me once: ‘I like to think that you and I understand each other.’ Well, that’s one thing I misunderstood about her and I suppose it’s always good to learn.

I’ve stopped missing her several times over the years but it always comes back undiminished. Maybe one day it will stop for good. I’m sure she would approve.

This post comes courtesy of the rain. I was going to do more gardening.

Useful People and Bits.

How about a male encounter for a change? Encounters with men are a relative rarity for me so I suppose it’s worth a mention – briefly.

Today I met the village odd job man. Personable sort of chap, drives a 41-year-old Land Rover which looks more like a home made tank with the rivets showing and a hole where the door handle should be. Strong as a bull elephant and willing to do anything from building a wall to refurbishing the old village well. Makes no apology for being poor and seems not to consider it in any way remarkable. Knows how to shop, and takes delight in teaching others the art of shopping cheaply.

But he does like to talk incessantly, and his articulation falters a little sometimes. Nevertheless, we got on up to a point – until I managed to get away.

*  *  *

I’ve started waking up in the morning feeling washed out, depressed and ill, and sometimes it takes about two hours for me to get into gear. I’m putting it down to either the changeable weather or the onset of bipolar. Apart from that I’m still keeping my nose above the briny swell.

*  *  *

I fitted a window stay to my kitchen window today. Can you imagine living in a house for eleven years with no stay on the kitchen window? It means I can now have the window open to let the steam out even when it’s windy. Such luxury. Such progress…

*  *  *

I’m waiting for three emails from three very important people. I'm expecting to get two.

Edited to add: Probably only one.

*  *  *

The following YouTube track illustrates why I refer to the sound of the cello as ‘midnight music.’ I don’t know what genius invented it, but how perfectly it captures the human capacity for melancholy.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Two Jays for JJ.

The jay is one of the seven members of the crow family which live in Britain, and my bird book says of them:

As one of Britain’s most wary birds, the jay is more often heard than seen.

I think I’ve seen a jay twice in the eleven years I’ve lived here and never in the garden, but now I’ve started getting regular and frequent visits to the bird table from two of them. So, this being something of an extraordinary event and me being the superstitious sort much given to wondering about the validity of portents, I thought I’d look them up.

But then I changed my mind because the last two times I did that the news was bad – and it proved to be accurate. This time discretion can weigh heavily on the scales and let sleeping omens lie. The jay is a very good looking bird, and that will do for now.

And I thought I might mention that the red climbing rose on the south wall of my house is blooming more prolifically than it’s ever done before. So I just did.

Stroppy Insect...

... a little green one. He’s been hanging around my desk all evening, but he must have been attracted by my body heat.

A little green insect climbed onto my hand
And offered to dance with a bow
I said ‘would you like an old French sarabande
Or a Viennese waltz just for now?’

He said ‘I will take what the hell you can make
Of the music you’re listening to
And if you decline I will take it as sign
That you haven’t the hint of a clue’

He got blown off.

Spookiness and Familiarity.

Mel said to me the other day: ‘… but you’re not easily spooked, are you?’ (She is!)

I’m not actually. I’ve had so many things hanging around me since early childhood, so many inexplicable things going on nearly everywhere I’ve lived, that I suppose I’ve got used to it.

But I was in the shower tonight and wondered what it would feel like if I saw something in the misty, ill-defined view of the room you get through the shower curtain. Suppose I saw something dark walk through the door and then disappear. That would spook me.

But the mere thought of it doesn’t. Being an old hand at that sort of thing, I have a pretty good idea of what’s likely to happen and what isn’t. Inexplicable shadows moving across the wall, yes (it happened twice in my last house.) But dark shapes coming through the door? No.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

On Looking French and Shrugging.

I got told I looked like a Frenchman today. It was because I was wearing a rugby shirt with alternating light and dark hoops. ‘You need a beret,’ continued my accuser. ‘And a bike and a string of onions.’

Francais? Moi?

That’s what defines the average Frenchman to the older English, you see: an onion seller on a bike wearing a beret and a hooped shirt. I wonder what defines the average Englishman to the older French.

I countered that I didn’t mind looking like a Frenchman since I’d always had a soft spot for Gallic culture, and proved it by saying how much I like M Hulot films. He said he liked M Hulot films too, only he aspirated the H in ‘Hulot’, which at least gave me the moral high ground in a manner of speaking.

And that’s just given me a possible clue to a mystery: women of all ages keep smiling at me. They were doing it again in Ashbourne today, and I’ve never understood why. I’m not tall, I’m not handsome, I don’t look athletic; even the laid back walk people used to say I had is feeling a bit creaky these days. So maybe it’s because I look French.

Only, apart from the rugby shirt with hoops, I don’t. Maybe I should just go and ask one of them.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

An Unlikely Source of Learning.

Working and walking, musing and talking. That was today. So now I’m settled with a cup of coffee and I want to write a blog post, but what to write about?

Tell them about the carpet fitters.

No. Boring.

What about how hot it’s been Britain the past few days.

It’s hotter in Phoenix.

You could talk about seeing the owl more often this year, and wax lyrical about its buoyant flight.

It’s already been done. I read it in a book once.

Erm… I know, the racist you had a go at on YouTube.

Nah, I’ve thought about him enough already.  Ah, but that gives me an idea…

YouTube, yes. I decided today that YouTube is the best of all places to learn about the human condition because all human life appears in the comments. There’s wisdom from the heights, mindless expressions of all shades of ordinariness from the valleys, dreaminess from somewhere up a tree, and venomous prating from Nazis in the slimy sewers. It’s all there.

Some is uplifting, some is boring, some is amusing, some is just plain stupid, and some is deeply disturbing. There’s even the odd surprise.

And that’s the point, you see; that’s the human condition. So thank you, YouTube, I’ve learned a thing or two. It wasn’t always what I wanted to learn, but learning is learning when all’s said and done.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Venerating the Sacred Space.

I’m told that when describing me recently, somebody said ‘he loves his garden.’ He was right, of course, but there’s rather more to it than that.

The fact is I like my garden because it’s a very pleasant place to sit with a beer or cup of tea on a balmy summer evening, but that isn’t why I love it. I love it because I venerate the life force which drives the growth, and the energy inherent in that growth fills me with awe on a much deeper level than most people realise. Given the profound nature of the experience, therefore, the whole of my garden is a sacred space to me. It matters a lot.

That being the case, I’m very sensitive to any circumstance in which people demonstrate a lack of respect for the space or my feelings for it. When that happens, the storm clouds gather, the red mist rises, and people think I’m being fussy and overly territorial.

Well, let’s put it this way: It’s not so very different from some insensitive bozo passing for a real estate developer in America wanting to run a bulldozer through an Indian burial ground and failing to understand why the natives are not exactly happy about it.

Being a Bit Far Side.

I got into a conversation with a woman out walking her dog today. Oddly enough she was the first person I spoke to after moving here eleven years ago, and yet I’ve never subsequently had a conversation with her. When we spoke eleven years ago she merely pointed me in the direction of the post box.

What was odd about today’s encounter was the fact that she was using her eyes in a way quite unfamiliar to me. I consider myself a foremost authority on reading people by their eyes, but these were a complete mystery. And she’s the second of the Shire women about whom I’ve noticed such a characteristic. I wonder why they do it. Maybe they’ve been told that I’m a little sub-normal and need to be humoured.

But today’s posts have all been a bit far side, haven’t they? Spirits in statues, disappearing artefacts, and now women with unreadable eyes. I take solace from the fact that if you can’t be strange there’s no point to getting up in the morning.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Questioning Reason.

Things continue to disappear from my garden – tools mostly, but not exclusively – in situations which preclude the possibility of what is usually called a ‘rational explanation.’ But what is a rational explanation?

Some might suggest that they are being spirited away by more subtle entities which share our space, beings commonly called the fey, the little people, kelpies etc. Alternatively, they might be disappearing through some kind of portal into a parallel dimension. Would those two explanations be irrational? How do you know?

It’s just that I’m coming to suspect ever more strongly that the world of phenomenal reality is actually only a small part of a bigger, more complex picture. I can’t claim to know this because I can’t prove it, which is why I don’t preach or read New Age literature, but I am reminded of the baby at full term. It’s conscious and sentient, yet all it knows of reality is the confined space in which it’s been growing for the past nine months. And then look what happens. Could the truth be something along those lines?

(And it might or might not be merely coincidence that all the tools which have disappeared have been old ones which I’ve had for a long time. None of the newer ones have gone.)

Becoming Pygmalion.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d bought an 18”-tall statuette of a Chinese lady (all done up in posh gear, probably Tang Dynasty, and accompanied by peacocks. Remember? OK.) She now stands in a very prominent position in my living room, and now she has a name:

The Lady Fu

When I bought her I had a feeling she would bring me good luck. Maybe she even told me she would bring me good luck, for how can one tell? Well, I received good luck within minutes of bringing her out of the shop – £5 worth of good luck, which is a small start but it wasn’t her fault that I’d been clumsy. The problem was sorted. And that’s why I named her The Lady Fu, because ‘fu’ is one of the words for good fortune in Chinese (whether Mandarin or Cantonese or both I don’t know, but at least it’s Chinese and she seems happy with it.)

And that’s what’s special about her. She looks happy to be here. She has a beautiful, happy smile – so beautiful and happy, in fact, that even I smile every time I look at her. (You might have guessed by now that I don’t smile much.) I think I might be forgiven for regarding her as the wife I never had.

Lost Connections and the Sanctity of Words.

I wrote to her and said ‘No more words from me.’ And that means there must be no more words from me because a promise is a promise. If you don’t keep your promises you have no right to speak them. Thus I am bound by my own self-imposed code of conduct to say what I mean, mean what I say, and live by my words come hell or high water.

But it rankles quite royally because there’s so much I want to say, so much I never said, so much she never understood, so much I want to get off my chest. But I asked myself: ‘Would my saying these things be of any value to her whatsoever?’ The answer came back: ‘No.’

And that’s why there will be no more words from me.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Garden at Dusk.

The still, soft silhouettes of summer-clad trees decorate the western skyline. Gossamer moths dance in the golden twilight. The faintest fragrance of wood smoke graces the balmy air. Nocturnal bats begin their nightly acrobatics. Effulgence reigns, and peace settles on one small corner of a troubled world.

A Disturbing Question.

There’s more disturbance planned for me tomorrow, and I do so hate going to bed knowing I have to wake up to something which will set off negative reactions. It reminds me of that question which has long intrigued me: how on earth do people on death row go to sleep the night before they’re due to be executed?

I mean, this is it, isn’t it? You know that this is the last time you will ever have the expectation of another tomorrow. Wouldn’t you want to avoid the fact by not going to sleep, or am I just being perverse? And at the very least, wouldn’t you resent wasting most of what’s left of your life sleeping?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Labelling Lady Bella.

I was re-reading some old correspondence with the great lost connection earlier. I discovered that it isn’t such a good thing to do because the sun suddenly shines again on the other side of the ice wall, so you can see its radiance but feel none of its heat. And that’s frustrating.

So then I set to wondering whether I might compose a not-so-silly ditty about the object of that connection. I got the rhythm quickly, but the words wouldn’t come. What did come, however, was the realisation that the word ‘label’ is an anagram of Bella.

Ah, now, if I were a proper poet – a celebrated proper poet – I might use that fact to my advantage. It would enable me to be enigmatic, to hide the identity of the connection, so that in a hundred years time some high school student might say:

‘But please, sir, why on earth would he write an ode to a label?’

‘Think on, young Lisa,’ would reply the sagacious old English master, ‘what would you assume if he’d written an ode to a sail?’

‘I dunno.’

‘No? Wouldn’t you recognise the coincidence of ‘sail’ being an anagram of your own name?’

‘Oh, right… Oh come on, sir, that’s just an example of academics making unfounded presumptions on no better evidence than coincidence.’

And I would be standing at the back of the room, tittering and shouting silently as wraiths are wont to do:

‘But this time they’re right!

Nondescript Notes.

If everybody underwent an interrogation during which they told the whole truth without reservation, thus revealing the strange things that go on in their minds and private activities, I wonder how many of us would be diagnosed as mentally ill.

My ex, Mel, tends to talk quietly and mumbles a little. For my part, my hearing has long been slightly less than perfectly acute ever since I had a bad infection in one of my ears as a kid. So who do you think gets all the blame when I say ‘Sorry?’ now and then?

The young woman on the train had the body and clear, unblemished and unwrinkled skin of a late teenager or early twenty-something, and yet she had the eyes of a middle aged woman. I was dying to ask: ‘Has anybody ever told you that you’re an old soul?’ The real middle aged woman sitting next to me wanted to talk about the weather.

It occurs to me that men aspire to use their muscles like a Viking’s battle axe. Women seek to use their eyes like a Saracen’s scimitar.

Being kissed on the cheek by a moth during a summer twilight is most pleasant.

There was a homeless man sleeping on the pavement in Derby, so I dropped a pound coin into his bag. It pleased me to think that he would find it later and never know where it came from. I wondered whether I was being charitable or self-serving. I gave another pound to a hedgehog rescue charity. And then I declined to spend £45 on a pair of Levi 501 jeans in the Debenhams half price sale, since that would have been a complete waste of money.

Several people looked at me and pointedly frowned today. I don’t know why.

This evening I dropped suddenly and unaccountably into a state of deep depression and felt fractured. I wonder whether I might be turning into a poet. No doubt the men walking between the tram lines wearing starched white coats would diagnose me as being mentally ill.

He’s mentally ill
So give him a pill
And when he wakes up
You can send him the bill

Seems I might be right.

There was a time when strange people were lauded and given the best seat by the fire.

I was paid a rare compliment yesterday. I think I’d better not say what it was.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Stuttering Blog.

Recent posts haven’t been so good; you can tell I’m dredging the bottom of the barrel at the moment, can’t you? That’s because certain things haven’t changed very much, such as the fact that I’m still missing a certain person quite badly, the waters of life are still choppy, and there are still storm clouds on the horizon. But why indulge in tedious repetition?

Apart from that, such things as are happening at the moment are complex and lacking the potential for humorous comment, disdainful outbursts, or lyrical expression. (Besides, Ivanka Trump says that I’m a very unpleasant person for speaking disparagingly about her dad, and far be it from me to gainsay a woman who dresses and talks like a Barbie Doll.) So I’m at a bit of a loss.

I admit to being intrigued by the sudden rash of visits from Illinois by a person using an iPad or iPhone, and I’m even more intrigued to know why somebody from Utah would explicitly seek out a post entitled An Antipodean Muse, since the antipodes of Utah is in the southern Indian Ocean a very long way from anywhere. And that, at least, did set me off on an educational journey. I searched for and discovered a website which gives the antipodes of every point on earth, and I discovered that the true antipodes of England is in the Pacific Ocean to the south east of New Zealand.

So then I remembered a film I watched once in which a bunch of 17th century English coalminers kept digging down into the earth until they came out the other side. Where they emerged was on a hill overlooking one of the Australian cities, at which point it became a story about time shift and culture shock. Actually, they should have just drowned.

And I did muse today on the question of why some people prefer dogs to cats, and decided it was something to do with the fact that humans might recognise the nature of a cat’s intelligence, but they don’t actually understand it. So then I mused on why other people prefer cats to dogs, but stopped when I realised that I might come up with an answer which would risk offending my friend Maddie…

This isn’t going anywhere. Bye.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Worrying the Addicts.

One of the headlines in today’s BBC world news runs:

Dams could ‘permanently damage Amazon.’

I wonder how many people reading it went rushing in panic to the Amazon website, hoping to get news of their dealer’s dilemma in the face of a threat from something called ‘dams.’

A Post Without Purpose.

I started writing another this-is-who-I-am post, but discontinued it on the grounds that it was boring me. And if it bores even me, it must be bad. It was going to be about the need to engage with multiple personalities in order to deal with life’s vicissitudes. Hey ho.

Instead I thought I’d mention that tonight’s beer is called Tangle Foot, and comes from the Badger brewery down in the misty and mystical south west (Dorset, to be precise. Dorset is the place to which archaeologists are drawn in order to dig holes in the hill forts, and geologists to vandalise the ancient sea cliffs. It’s very mystical.)

The Brewery has been going since 1777, apparently, which makes it 240 years old. Fortunately, the beer doesn’t taste that old, but 240 is about the age of some of the trees where I live. I doubt the same can be said of the badgers.  

The Irish Colleen.

She has an image on which we can all agree. Raven haired and pale of visage, short in stature and slight of build, she moves with purpose whether by skip or glide or cartwheel. Her voice is quiet and modulated widely to suit the purpose of the moment, but it always carries a hint of gravel from the banks of the Liffey.

Her most defining feature, however, is her eyes. Coloured a dark azure and shining bright though the damp Irish sky be leaden, they carry mischief. Be they pleading or angry or expectant or happy, they always carry mischief. You would fall under their spell in a moment and give her your heart; you might even give her your life. And yet you wouldn’t trust her with your grandmother’s toffee apple.

I met one once in a coffee shop in Letterkenny. It was fortunate for me, perhaps, that she was preoccupied with her work. I met another in a wood a few miles from Donegal Town, but that story can’t be told. Suffice it to say that I have been paying the price of denying her existence ever since.

And in the most unlikely event that you haven’t heard the following song before, this is her being rightly celebrated:

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Curse of Victim Mentality.

It occurred to me tonight that if I were going hungry because I hadn’t the money to buy food, I swear I would be less bothered by the hunger and more bothered by the fact that I couldn’t afford to eat. So what’s that all about?

It has nothing to do with shame. I’ve never had money because I’ve never been driven by money, and I’m fine with that. Being ashamed of poverty is, I’m quite sure, merely a product of systematic conditioning by a culture devised and controlled by those who stood to profit greatly from wage slavery. So if that isn’t it, what is?

I think it has more to do with feeling victimised, which means it’s all about self-pity. And that’s bad. I expect it stems from a messed up childhood when – or so I’m told – I went from being a bright, confident kid to a sombre and fretful one. I’m sure I’m not the only one so afflicted, but it’s still bad and I could do with getting rid of it.

But is it too late? And where do you start? And does it matter?

Monday, 12 June 2017

Dead and Walking.

One of the newspapers I was reading this morning re-stated George Osborne’s assertion that Theresa May is ‘a dead woman walking’ and should resign before she’s pushed. Boris Johnson, on the other hand, says that Tories should unite behind their leader.

Boris would say that, of course, because Boris was one of the candidates in the leadership contest who conveniently dropped out so that Mrs Ratty could become Prime Minister without needing to be elected, and who were subsequently rewarded with cabinet posts. Boris got the highly prestigious Foreign Secretary’s job, at which point the politicians of Europe were struck down with a serious case of the ague.

‘Boris Johnson? We have to deal with Boris Johnson?!!!

And it caused a great deal of confusion as well as disbelief:

‘Sacre bleu!’ snorted the Germans. ‘Gott im Himmel!’ wailed the French…

… because, you see, Boris had never been thought of as a proper politician. He was the clown on the political fringes who kept us all amused with his antics and played the fall guy in TV panel games.

So what of George Osborne? He was Chancellor of the Exchequer under his friend, David Cameron, so he has a bit of an axe to grind, too. And he’s a Tory, which makes him a bit of a bad lot in my book. But he does at least have a sharp brain between his ears, whereas the space between Boris’s ears seems to be filled with the mouldering remnants of all that sticky toffee pudding he no doubt filled the rest of himself with at Eton. (Or was it roly-poly pudding, or maybe spotted dick? I’m told that such stodgy fare is a great favourite among the privileged denizens of British public schools.) So I think I’ll side with good old George in the civil war that is currently rending Tory ranks (and long may it continue until both sides are exhausted and they all fall over frothing at the mouth even more than usual.)

The best, however, is yet to come. One tabloid expressed the wish that if there is to be a leadership contest, Boris should throw his hat into the ring again and attempt the feat of becoming Prime Minister. Heaven forbid that such an eventuality could ever come to fruition. If it did, I think we’d all become dead people walking.

Making Sense.

When I posted this track yesterday…

…I said that it didn’t make sense going one way, and I couldn’t see why it was so insistent that I should hear it. Well now it does, because I’ve now applied a different interpretation to it.

On the surface it appears to be a standard rock/pop ballad in which the singer is talking to an ex-lover about his frustration. I now think differently; now I think it’s a man’s rational mind talking to his own emotional self about the problems it’s caused him. Now it makes perfect sense that it should resonate so strongly with me.

And do you know who sent me this little bit of understanding? The most beautiful woman I ever met. I wonder whether she knows who she is. Not that she’d give a tuppeny toss, of course…

*  *  *

I’m currently engaged in some mildly humorous conversation on YouTube with a woman writer called Victoria. We’re talking about camels. Isn’t life endlessly adventurous?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Good News.

I read recently that the worldwide consumption of beer is dropping substantially. I must admit that my understanding of the supply and demand curve, and the volume and pricing curve (or whatever it’s called), and where they cross is what businesses use to justify charging more than something is inherently worth, is rusty, but I wonder whether that means the price will go down.

Will there be more supermarket promotions on beer? Will governments be forced to cut the rates of duty so as to support the beer industry? Will my pre-bed times become cheaper? Is there a hint of a silver lining appearing in the stormy sky? Do I feel the breath of a favourable wind rising? Should I try to find a third metaphor because I like the number 3?

I think I’ll go for a shower instead, and then have a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale with a whisky chaser.

A bigger bottle than mine

Mrs Ratty and the Sinking Ship.

Subsequent to Theresa May’s disastrous scuppering of the Tory ship and the calls for her resignation from all quarters of the known universe, today’s news was all about her cabinet reshuffle. Into the seats of power have come several of her known allies (from a dwindling breed, no doubt) which the news report said was to ‘shore up her authority.’

What a damning phrase that is. How well a simple four-word phrase can imply so much. And how gratified I am that the opinion I’ve expressed so fervently on this blog, ever since Mrs May somehow connived to get the Leader’s job after the Brexit vote, is being vindicated.

Meanwhile, the man who was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Cameron said in a TV interview that Theresa May is ‘a dead woman walking.’ I’ve been trying to re-arrange the words to better suit my feelings on the matter, but I think they’re quite good enough.

A Notable Weakness.

I’m the world’s worse softie, you know. I am. I played rugby for twenty years, stood firm over matters of principle, defended the weak against the strong on occasion, took on bigger men than me, did my duty in the face of seemingly imminent death, fought long battles with bigots and bureaucrats, was prey to outbursts of destructive rage, and generally treated others as I would wish to be treated myself. And yet I’m the world’s worse softie.

I’ve cried over a piece of music, cried over the death of a dog, cried over a suffering child, and cried with joy over somebody’s aspiration made manifest. Oddly, I’ve shed more tears of joy than tears of sorrow, especially my own.

Why am I saying this and should I post it? Who would want to know and how will they react. Should I care? Part of me feels ashamed and part of me wants to let it out and damn the consequences.

It’s that time of night and I’ve just been listening to Kate Rusby singing Let the Cold Wind Blow. I’ll post it and damn the consequences.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Snails, Mill Lane, and Other Oddments.

Being another wet and gloomy twilight this evening (although warmer and calmer than earlier in the week) it wasn’t the moths and magic which caught my attention, but the snails. Loads of them, mostly babies but with one notable exception. It was huge, probably the biggest I’ve ever seen, and had a dark aubergine shell with a black body. It was so startlingly unusual that I considered bringing it in as a pet, but decided it would be a bit silly even by my standards. My last sighting of it was at the top of my office window where it was diligently examining the wooden frame. Or maybe it was eating the putty. Who can say?

*  *  *

I composed a ditty about Mill Lane in my head today when I was out walking. That was because dear Mill Lane has become off limits again. One disastrous association has thrown a musty blanket over the many years of good ones, and I find that ditties help to make sense of the reasons why. It was dreadful, so don’t ask.

*  *  *

And a song kept impressing itself into my head later. Songs often do, but this one was particularly insistent and I’m not sure why. The lyrics are broadly apposite to my present situation, but I couldn’t decide who was singing which lines to whom. Having the whole song going one way didn’t quite make sense, and yet it was demanding my attention strongly. Maybe it was just the tone that was touching a chord (which is a way of transferring musical terminology into a literary metaphor. I hope you noticed…) You can hear it if you like.

*  *  *

I have two young squirrels coming into my garden at the moment. They take a bird feeding table each and watch me through the window while they nibble bits of corn and oat flakes. When I go out and say ‘Now look here, buggerlugs, this is supposed to be for the birds, not you,’ they amble away with a happy and mischievous gait. Isn’t that nice?

*  *  *

I paid £20 into Mel’s bank account so she could afford the train fare to come and have coffee with me. Sounds like one of the sad stories my mother used to tell me when I was a kid. (Readers of long-standing might remember the story of poor old Joe who couldn’t afford the train fare to visit his dying mother in hospital. You can see where I got my lifetime of failure from, can’t you?)

Friday, 9 June 2017

On Moths and Magic.

It seems to me that something happens to the quality of the twilight air as the summer solstice approaches. Something hangs in it; something subtle, enigmatic and beguiling. It’s like a scent without a smell. It’s one of those things that you sense without employing the usual intermediary of the sensory faculties. It’s somehow palpable even though you can’t feel it on your skin, and so it frustrates as well as beguiles.

I think it’s probably the closest any of us get to magic, and I daresay a lot of us miss it altogether. It wouldn’t, for example, sit well with beefburgers and side salad prepared al fresco. No magic at barbies, I’m afraid. Barbies are anathema to magic and therefore greatly to be scorned, at least around the summer solstice. And it needs quietness to reveal itself, so the hum can be recognised though the ears hear nothing.

And what of the moths which dance and flit and pirouette through the slowly deepening dusk, supping the nectar and replacing the buzz of busy bees with their silent, ethereal delicacy. Is it they who bring the magic, do you suppose? Is it they we have to thank?

On Politics and Vanity.

The result of last night’s election showed that Mrs May made a gross miscalculation in calling a snap election. The Tories did have a clear overall majority, but now we have a hung parliament. Several of her colleagues in her own party say that Mrs May must resign, and nearly everybody who is anybody in Britain and the EU is saying the same thing. But Mrs Ratty is hanging on.

Let’s look at one angle on this. The only way the Tories can govern the country effectively is by relying on the support of the DUP, the biggest conservative party in Northern Ireland, and that’s what Mrs May says she is going to do. But what happens when there’s a tricky vote in the Commons and the DUP say: ‘OK, we’ll support you, but only if you’ll give us concessions which suit us in Northern Ireland.’

At that point Sinn Fein and the Catholics start getting fractious because they can see their interests being shovelled down the drain, back to the sewers where they were in the bad old days. There’s a danger that the Good Friday Agreement could collapse. We might even see a return of the Troubles which caused such misery in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

And all to serve Mrs Ratty’s ego. Is it surprising that we’ve suddenly forgotten America’s Donald Trump? We now have our own.

Beset by the Wrong People.

It’s time for election fever to grip the country here in the UK, but I’m afraid I’m not gripped. I’m more concerned about the guy painting the interior of next door. He shouts a lot, plays rubbish on his radio loudly, sings along with it in a high pitched voice (although he wouldn’t know a melody from a particle accelerator), and occasionally squeals like a girl.It's really quite maddening.

I’ve told him to stfu several times, but I don’t think he hears me. I suspect he’s too busy focusing on the pride he probably takes in his beer belly and beef burger waddle. But then, I doubt that his brain is any bigger than Theresa May’s higher mind and he does have an unnerving knack of breaking into serious conversations with phrases like ‘but at least the rain kept off.’ I think I shall be very glad to see the back of him (for good.)

And I could well say the same of Theresa May, but I fear it is not to be. Exit polls suggest that the result will be a victory for the Tories but possibly without an overall majority. Given the state of opinion polls at the start of the campaign, such a result would effectively be a victory of sorts for the Labour Party and a real smack in the face for Mrs Ratty. I suppose that would be something to celebrate.

And do you know what I discovered yesterday? Stephen Hawking's IQ is only three points higher than mine, and yet I don't actually know what a particle accelerator is.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Learning Repartee.

I just asked somebody why she was the only one who had stayed in correspondence with me all these years.

‘I must be the one with the best taste,’ she replied.

‘Really? You must let me suck something some time. I’ll give you my opinion.’

I made two thirds of that up. It's what comes of mixing alcohol and Groucho Marx clips in the early hours of the morning.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Pleasant Encounters.

Right, let’s get off the serious stuff and onto something meaningful for a change:

I spent a good hour talking to an ex-neighbour of mine outside Sainsbury’s today. I really don’t understand why that woman likes me, but it appears she does. She’s taken to hugging me every time we bump into one another, and touches my arm about once every five minutes. Today, having given me a rundown on some of her own quite extensive woes – smiling through the whole narrative as usual – she even invited me to visit her in her new house. I just don’t get it; why would anybody want somebody like me in their house? I wouldn’t. Not that I’m complaining, you understand…

And I met a very unusual and pretty dog – a cross between a poodle and a cocker spaniel, apparently. Have you ever seen a cross between a poodle and a cocker spaniel? They’re unusual and very pretty. This one had uniformly cream hair and a most fetching fringe, and her tail wagged happily rather than frantically. (And I still have a very soft spot for cocker spaniels, just so you know.)

Oh, nearly forgot... I also spent some time talking to a young Chinese woman in the coffee shop. She told me she wasn't remotely interested in Chinese culture, past or present. Always the way, isn't it?

A Dangerous Election Game.

Let’s start with today’s headline in The Sun newspaper. For those who don’t know, The Sun is one of Britain’s leading tabloids:

Jezza’s Jihadi

‘Jezza’ refers to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party and the man with a very slim chance of becoming Prime Minister on Friday. The Sun doesn’t want him to become Prime Minister on Friday, so they put this headline out in reference to his views on terrorism, a highly emotive subject. OK, let’s go back a step.

Terrorism is a relatively easy way to strike at a perceived enemy. Bombs can be made in a domestic kitchen, knives are very easy to get, and even guns can be obtained if you know where to look and have some ready cash. It isn’t quite as difficult, therefore, as sinking an aircraft carrier. Which means that however clever and diligent the security services are, there will always be people able to slip through the net. It’s been tragically proved several times already this year and may well be proved again before the year is out. The war against terror obviously has to be fought – nobody is denying that – but relying solely on preventative measures applied by the security services will never win it.

So let’s state a fact which should be obvious to everybody with a functioning mind. Terrorists don’t do what they do for the fun of it. Terrorism isn’t a hobby. As unpalatable as the fact might be to the majority of us, they do it because they believe in the rightness of it, and many of them are prepared to give their own lives for a cause to which they have become dedicated. That’s radicalisation, and that’s what has to be eroded if terrorism is to be beaten. You need to stop people wanting to do it.

Corbyn is an intelligent man who understands this, and so that’s the sort of language he speaks. I think it likely that the editor of The Sun understands it, too, but he knows it isn’t what people want to hear. Most people want revenge; a good many people want Muslims vilified and tightly controlled; and there are people who want all the brown faces loaded onto a ship and sent somewhere else. They don’t want reason and a carefully considered approach, even when that approach is ultimately the only way to stop innocent people having their lives and limbs scattered to the winds.

And here’s the really bad bit: when tabloids use the kind of headlines quoted above, they’re tapping into and feeding the prejudice and bigotry of the hate merchants down at the lower levels of the intellectual spectrum. In so doing, they’re driving the wedge even further into the gap between Us and the Others and exacerbating the conditions which encourage radicalisation to flourish. As such, it wouldn’t be fanciful to suggest that tabloids are partly responsible for the spread of terrorism. And that’s what makes them dangerous.

Ah, but The Sun needs to sell copy in order to attract advertising, and The Sun doesn’t want Jeremy Corbyn (or Jezza, as he might be known to a user of colloquial street-speak and reader of tabloids) to become Prime Minister on Friday…