Monday, 31 July 2017

Dripping Woes.

I’m tired of things dripping.

No, no, not my nose this time: two taps and the shower. Colds go on their own; plumbers are expensive.

(‘Dripping’ is another word which conjures a whole load of mostly unwholesome images. What a life. What a language.)

Belated Greetings, Em.

My very favourite ghost, dear Emily Brontë, is scowling at me because I omitted to celebrate her birthday on my blog yesterday.

Emily Brontë was born on 30th July 1818 at Thornton, Yorkshire, England. She wrote Wuthering Heights and quite a lot of poetry. Please try to understand her because she was a bit special; she was a true deviant in the classic mould. It isn’t easy, but she’s worth the effort.

This is a million miles from
what Emily wrote.
Don't be fooled.

Experts Out.

I just watched the opening title sequence of The Third Man on YouTube – just the titles, you understand, and the famous zither theme. It made me want to watch the film again.

The accompanying recommendations included a 4.38 piece in which Bogdanovitch explains why The Third Man is so brilliant. I don’t want to know why it’s brilliant. It just is. As soon as some expert starts explaining why a film is brilliant it loses the core of its appeal, because you become an observer of technique rather than being subsumed into the story and the atmosphere. The Third Man is the sort of film which is better felt than analyzed.

Film noir is all about being subsumed into the story and the atmosphere. It’s a kind of magic. So would Mr Bogdanovitch and all the other experts please shut up and allow us to be transported into another dimension unhindered by expert opinion.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Commercial Gall.

Surely, nobody is fooled by this kind of advert:

‘If you want to be a top tennis star, or be powerful in some other way, buy one of our mattresses and sleep on it.’ It isn’t quite as bad as the advert which said Doctors Smoke Camel, but it gets close.

And I’ll bet the price they charge for such a mattress is as outrageous as the claims they make for it.

Still Connected.

It appears the Priestess hasn’t gone after all. We seem merely to have reached the point of needing to re-negotiate my job description.

In saying that, why do I appear to assume the inferior position? Well, I think it’s partly the fallout from having been brought up in the company of humble peasant stock in a humble, peasanty sort of place in the English North Midlands. But in addition to that, I’ve always been possessed of the notion that if you can’t be worthy yourself (which people from humble, peasanty sort of places in the English North Midlands generally aren’t), the next best thing is to assist the worthy on their road to greatness.

And I sometimes wonder whether I should publish my emails to the Priestess on this blog, then I could play both the Fool and the fool at the same time. (I hope everybody understands the difference.)

Is anybody taking this seriously?

Friday, 28 July 2017

A Thought about Charlie.

Little Charlie Gard is dead. The story that has captured the hearts of people in Britain, and possibly around the world, has reached its probably inevitable conclusion.

 Image ©BBC

You know, I’ve heard it said by adherents of several spiritual traditions – and it’s a claim which finds much favour with me – that we come into these bodies and live a life in order to learn something. And so you might ask what the point could possibly be of coming into a life which is destined to be a mere eleven months long, much of which is to be spent lying in a hospital bed on life support while the poor parents suffer.

I can’t answer that and I don’t believe anybody else can, but maybe Charlie’s role this time around wasn’t to learn something, but to teach something. Maybe Charlie was no less than a little messiah. He had the eyes of one.

And if you think I’m trivialising this issue – or, even worse, callously taking the opportunity to make a blog post – you’re very wrong. Don’t you think his story has brought a lump to my throat? Do you imagine that I don’t feel the most intense sympathy for his parents? It has and I do. I’m just honestly musing on whether there might be some sense to be made of it.

Subtle Energy Blues.

We had another cold, dark, wet and windy twilight tonight. It’s a matter of much surprise to me just how debilitating an effect such circumstances can have on my mood, but then twilights have never meant as much to me as they do now.

Somebody suggested that what I feel at twilight is the chi flowing through the natural growth, and said that inclement weather – especially wind – can disrupt its regular flow. And since the perception of such a phenomenon is very subtle, the disruption is enough to make it imperceptible.

Well, I don’t whether they’re right because I don’t claim to know things like that (even though I'm prepared to give them credence.) Pretty much all I claim to know is what I feel, and when the twilight is cold, dark, wet and windy, I don’t feel what I usually feel when it’s mild and calm. And that means there’s something special missing, and that adds further weight to a mood which is already less buoyant than it ought to be.

More Dabbling with Darkness.

The black dog is sitting in my lap again. Circumstances depress me; life depresses me; depression depresses me.

I think the priestess is gone now. That’s the second beacon I’ve lost in the space of six weeks, and I only had three to begin with.

I apologise for spewing my glumness onto the pages of this space. It’s just that when I get depressed, the only thing I can write about is depression and its attendant preoccupations.

Still, I did find a line I like in a story I wrote once. It refers to an earlier beacon who took her leave of me some years ago:

The long black dress did nothing to hide the poetry which moved within it.

I like that one, and by an odd coincidence the story ends with the line:

Priestess closed the book.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Something Familiar.

I encountered three middle aged women talking in a huddle when I went for a walk earlier. I asked them whether they were rehearsing for Macbeth, but only one of them got the joke.

She was the woman I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the woman who uses her eyes in a strange way which I find impossible to describe. She mumbled something furtively about white witches and good vibes, which suggests the possibility that there might an interesting person living in the Shire after all. And she has a wall-eyed collie, which I suppose is no more than you would expect.

Another Pet Hate.

Hospitals. I have an abiding and quite virulent dislike of hospitals. It’s partly down to the fact that they tether you in close proximity to complete strangers, and my tolerance of the majority of the human species is far too low to accept that particular form of torture.

But it’s also about how they’re built and designed, which is too much about function and not enough about form. They’re designed by architects with practicality and efficiency in mind, rather than by humanists who recognise that people are more than just biological machines.

When my grandfather was dying of TB he was locked in his bedroom and the only person allowed in there was my grandmother. If the same or similar fate befalls me, I hope someone will lock me into my house and allow access only to a nurse come to dispense palliative care. If I have to die in hospital, I will know that my luck has finally run out.

Walking into Webberley's.

I paid a visit to the city centre of my old home town recently and was a little upset at finding that my favourite bookshop had closed. It had been big as bookshops go – a five story, 102-year-old building taking up a corner where two roads intersected. The ground floor housed the books, and they sold artists’ requisites on the first floor. I bought my portfolio case there when I was a photographer.

When I lived in the city I used to frequent it regularly, often not to buy books but merely to browse them. And to study the old monochrome photographs of people like Dickens and Arnold Bennett hanging on the walls, and smell the old wood from which the old wooden stairway was carved, and breathe in the scent of the printing ink seeping down from the second floor where they had a printing press, and hear the silence of people wrapt in their own browsing of the classic, the comic, and the way far out. Walking into Webberley’s offered a kind of aesthetic charm which was wholly absent from the branches of two national bookstore chains in other parts of the centre.

But the age of the traditional bookshop seems to be dwindling to a close. Now is the age of the e-reader and internet shopping, and those Aladdin’s Caves of quiet delight are tumbling and coming to dust. And the city centre is all the sadder for it.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A Telling Difference.

I’ve said several times that I find being in a shopping mall an unpleasant experience, but I thought recently that maybe I shouldn’t. They are, after all, just the modern equivalent of old fashioned covered markets. Actually, they’re not.

The old markets sold things like provisions, basic clothes, simple household requisites, wool for knitting sweaters and fabric for making curtains. The aim of the old market stalls was to provide for people’s needs. The aim of the modern shopping mall is to persuade people to buy things they mostly don’t need. The shopping mall is a singular product of the consumer generation, and they put poor people under undue pressure because poor people are just as gullible as rich people.

So I’m back to treating them with the disdain they deserve.

*  *  *

And should I mention that I committed an act of rank opportunism today? That’s unusual for me; opportunism is not generally my forte. I don’t think I’ll explain because I’m sorry to say that I was pleased with myself, and nobody lost anything and no harm was done. (She was Polish, by the way, and had the good grace not to indulge in seat-licking.)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

An Unlikely Hygiene Lesson.

I was on a train today and saw a woman on the other side of the aisle lean forward and lick the back of the seat in front of her. It seemed an odd thing to do and I was naturally moved to wonder whether she’d spotted an errant fragment of jam or ice cream or something, or did she just like the taste of plastic? In any event, I made a mental note never to lick the back of a train seat because you just don’t know who’s licked it before you.

The Prospect Park Conspiracy Theory.

I was just reading the intriguing story of the aggressive – possibly rabid – squirrel which has been attacking people in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. When the news reached Donald Trump he reportedly tweeted:

Dont no body beleev it. More fake nooz. Just maid up by some raybid dems, a mean ya gota bee raybid to bee a dem, rite?

The tweet never went public because a subsequent argument with his copy editor resulted in the editor being the seventh person fired that day, and by then Donald had lost interest. And reports that two men resembling Trump Jr and Kushner were seen feeding a squirrel with some unknown substance in a room at Trump Tower are so far unsubstantiated. Kushner admitted to being fond of squirrels, but said he’d done nothing improper.

Monday, 24 July 2017

On Slugs and Sloping Off.

I sometimes wonder whether slugs are some kind of supernatural beings. I’ve often looked at the wall outside my office and seen that it was empty of all life save the odd housefly or wasp, and then looked again to see one or more slugs on the windowsill making for the rolled oats I put there for the birds.

How do they get there so quickly? They’re not exactly rivals of Usain Bolt, are they? I’ve considered that they might be disguised Klingons utilizing their cloaking device, but dismissed the idea as lacking credibility. I’m more inclined to stick with the safer theory that they’re ghosts of human nose droppings come to take revenge by eating our cabbages and bird food.

*  *  *

My sometime acquaintance, Chelsea, has been conspicuous by her absence for several weeks, but today she was back.

‘You’ve been missing,’ I said. ‘Where’ve you been?’


‘Where to?’

‘Around the world.’

‘Was it expensive?’

‘Not really.’

‘Are you going to tell me about it when you’re less busy?’


Now, said Chelsea used to have the sort of exceptional but restrained personality which only exceptionally perceptive people like me get to recognise, but today it was about 500% bigger. I knew the same thing happen once to another sometime acquaintance who travelled the globe. She went from being a pleasant but shrinking violet to someone with a personality which filled the room.

So there you have it: if you want to expand your personality, take the world tour. Only do it on the cheap; don’t do it on a cruise ship. Those things are designed to set your feet even more firmly in suburban concrete.

(And Chelsea also said that she was finding it difficult to re-acclimatize herself to being a wage slave. So that’s something else to watch out for.)


What am I going to do about the priestess? The current score of our last eleven items of correspondence reads:

JJ 11 : Priestess 0

How do I know she isn’t taking the corporate ladder seriously and feels that I don’t belong in such exalted circles? How do I know she hasn’t been eaten by a shark or rabid wombat? How do I know she hasn’t changed her mind about being Most Beloved and Esteemed Empress next time round? I don’t, do I?

Priestesses do this sort of thing. One minute they’re talking to you, and then all is silence and you find that they’ve disappeared down some track going heaven knows where.

Is this her latest lesson? Patience is a virtue.

*  *  *

And while I’m on the subject of the high Romantic tradition (sort of) I came across a Kate Rusby track recently called The Elfin Knight. I haven’t heard it yet, but you can if you want to. It’s here:

  My first thought on reading the title was:

If I could be an elfin knight
I’d say ‘Oh no, not that’
Too many fears
Those pointy ears
Would make me feel a prat

Why don’t I just get a Facebook account and a smart phone like everybody else?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

My Slug Theory.

When I came down from my shower tonight there was a slug and an earthworm on the kitchen floor. I always get slugs in the kitchen on wet nights in summer.

(There were two baby frogs once. Catching them and putting them out in the early hours of the morning – under the influence, even – was fun. But back to slugs…)

I wouldn’t mind slugs so much if they weren’t so slimy. You can’t pick them up without spending the next half hour trying to get the yellow slime off you fingers, which is why I imagine they started their evolutionary path from something that dripped from a humanoid’s runny nose. Why didn’t they do the civilised thing like snails and grow shells?

Because then they wouldn’t be slugs?

Mmm… Needless to say I wouldn’t knowingly do one any harm. And rescuing earthworms reminds me of happier days.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Being Careful.

What does one do when the sky glowers, the temperature drops, the rain falls, the body feels fatigued, and the mind is torpid from the want of something to seek? Walk the lanes alone and glum because there's no longer any hope of bumping into the two favourite ladies?

I think I need the entrance onto my stage of some intriguing and exhilarating new character, offering no threat or ill will but bearing the magic wand of beauty, mystery and benevolence.

I don’t wish it, of course. I only ever wish things for others, never for myself. Wish fulfilment can be an unpredictable business and regret is always too late.

The Fascinating Future of Mr Twitterfreak.

As Baby Donald continues to slither and slide in his own mess, I was interested to read this in a BBC World News report:

Mr Trump also said he had "complete power" to pardon, amid reports he was considering presidential pardons for family members, aides and even himself in response to the Russian investigation.

This is fascinating and disturbing stuff. It seems that – as earlier postulated – America now has a dictator at the helm.

I don’t suppose Donald has even heard of the English Civil War, much less have any knowledge of its causes and eventual outcome. But maybe he should look into it because Charles I also believed in the Divine Right of Kings, and seven years after it was put to the test he became the only monarch in English history to be judicially executed.

Will Trump still be there in seven years time? Will it take the military to remove him? Will he use his wealth to bribe the top brass? Or will he play fair and merely contrive to re-arrange the system so as to win the next election by foul means if fair ones won’t do.

Fanciful? Probably. But who knows the real nature of Donald Trump? At times he seems to be a very dangerous man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. On the other hand, some of his weak tweets and avoidance tactics suggest that he might just be a paper tiger. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a crystal ball and look four years into the future?

On a Musical Gulf.

Just because I’ve listened to a couple of Vedic mantras on YouTube recently, the Google machine seems to think I want to be inundated with recommendations for ‘relaxing New Age music that will enrich your soul’ – or variations on the same silly theme.

I’ve listened to some of it in the past, and it never failed to have the same effect as drinking a cup of hot water with ten spoons of sugar, when what I’d asked for was a cup of strong, unadulterated Lapsang Souchong. There’s a big, big difference between ‘relaxing’ (but utterly syrupy) New Age music written for the commercial market and repeated on YouTube, and authentic Vedic mantras. The difference should be immediately apparent to a chimpanzee with an Id the size of Africa.

Why don’t the uploaders understand that? Why doesn’t Google understand that? Why do the people who assume the role of purveying music to a hungry public so routinely fail to comprehend the depth of the human psyche?

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Wraith of the Lady B.

(Wouldn’t that make a good title for a short story? It would.)

I was standing under the roof of my porch this evening, sheltering from the rain which was uncomfortably heavy considering the fact that my coat gets easily soaked and takes three days to dry. The twilight was as atmospheric as usual, but the water was a bit too wet.

So there I was, feeling the atmosphere and listening to the rain beating down my plants, when I suddenly and unaccountably saw the Lady B standing on the lane looking up the garden at me. It was the real Lady B all right; she looked just the same as she did before her human alter-ego became a beautiful woman and abandoned her.

’Twas the ghost of the Lady B, no less!

OK, so maybe I’m being fanciful. It was, admittedly, only a fleeting glimpse, but the sense was very strong and I do suspect that inner senses can sometimes tell us things which the normal faculties are quite incapable of recognising.

You say I killed you. Haunt me then!
~ Heathcliff.

No, it isn’t quite that bad. Emily made me say it.

The Religion Effect.

Last night I listened to one of the Vedic mantras that Tina Turner has recently been recording, and then read all the comments appended to it.The song and video were fine; it was the comments which caused me disquiet.

I attach high credence to much of what the Vedic school professes, but it troubles me that when people chose to align themselves with a particular religious tradition they turn into simpering acolytes and start talking in platitudes and highly presumptuous certainties. They become helpless followers who believe what they’re told to believe, and think that by using weak, quasi-spiritual language they’re expressing knowledge, wisdom and a superior position. They claim to have found the truth, when what they’ve really done is joined a different queue at the lucky dip bazaar.

Oh powers-that-be, let me remain a cynic and searcher who knows nothing which can’t be proved or at least personally and convincingly experienced; who believes nothing because belief has no substance; who attaches levels of credence based on instinct and the available evidence; who follows a road based on intuition because I am probably as much a part of the ultimate God as every other iota of existence and feel that worshipping myself would be as silly as worshipping anything else; who strives to live life in accordance with ethical principles which shouldn’t need to be taught, even if it takes time to discover them. And then hope I’m on the right road.

And the bottom line has to be that I might be wrong.

The Mouse Conundrum.

Every night when I go out at more or less the same time to fetch the bird feeders in, a mouse runs across the path and disappears into the undergrowth at the side of the lawn. You wouldn’t think mice would be creatures of habit, would you? Do mice get OCD, or has a few million years of evolution provided them with quartz watches at last?

The Saving of Trump?

I was just reading about Spicer’s resignation in the BBC World News pages, and the focus of the piece eventually left Mr S and moved to Mr T and his six months of silly shenanigans. I suddenly found myself prey to what I hope is an irrational suspicion.

My friend the Venerable Borg (aka Mistress M who lives in America) said to me recently that Trump doesn’t need a name any more; a simple pronoun is sufficient now. She said: The New York Times could easily rename itself Guess What He's Done Now? No one would wonder who "he" was. 

And that’s where my suspicion comes in. Trump is clearly becoming the Clown Prince of America, and I wonder whether his lack of adroitness, sophistication, understanding of the needs of the people, and ability to speak or write half decent English might lead to him gaining in popularity. People who make us laugh – even unintentionally – do tend to become popular because we all like buffoons.

I do hope I’m wrong because let’s not forget that Baby Donald has a habit of throwing firecrackers out of his playpen, and firecrackers can start fires. And when I read that he recently lambasted the North Korean administration for being ‘brutal’, I think he might take a look in the mirror and reflect on the fact that brutality takes more than one form.

Descending Again.

Expect no mention of summer twilights tonight, for magic is a subtle thing and its sound is that of a feather falling onto a feather bed. I only hear it when the mood is positive.

When the finger moves but slightly from E to E flat and major slips into minor, everything retires to a distance or disappears altogether. Loves, longings and the lyrical spirit desert me. The Romantic tradition slips like Excalibur beneath the waves. Even the ghosts find my Dies Irae too tedious to bear and retire to a corner like scolded hounds, there to watch and wait until there is something to haunt again. The only companions which stay dutifully by my side are the demons. They sleep quietly most of the time, but they never leave.

I expect there’s a name for it. I expect there’s a pill for it, two of which should be taken three times a day after meals if normal service is to be maintained. Why would I want that? Why walk the level ground when there are heights to be attempted and gorges from which to escape? Why be the King who scorns the peasant when you can be the Fool who scorns the mould?

*  *  *

Did you know that writing can be cathartic? And did you also know that writers and builders have something fundamental in common? What the builder does with bricks, the writer does with words. The main difference between them is that the writer cares where the waistband of his jeans is situated.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Impressions of Brazil.

I’ve started getting regular visits from Brazil, so I took to wondering what images come to mind when I think about Brazil. This was the list in order of them dropping into what passes for my brain:

Beach volleyball (Best not think about that.)
Tanned and very fit young women (I said ‘best not think about that.’)
Copacobana Beach (Ermm… what did I say?)
Tall buildings
Overcrowded cities
Stellar footballers
Rain forest
Forest dwellers who don’t much like having their dwellings destroyed
Big rivers (with trees.)
Boa Constrictors
Jaguars (the cats, not the cars)
Politicians who are even more questionable than Trump, but also more open about it
Green and yellow
Footballers wearing blue and yellow (never understood why.)
Raven hair
Legs that climb and climb and climb, all the way to heaven (Jeffrey, for heaven’s sake!)
The girl from Ipanema

Stop it! That’s enough!

OK, time for bed anyway. Did I miss anything?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Twilight Idyll.

I wish I could stop talking about summer twilights. If only I could stop feeling them I probably would, but I do feel them, and I don’t want to stop feeling them because they’re very special to me.

The long, warm, still, quiet twilights of summer, especially if there’s mist over the valley and a little drizzle in the air, bring me closest to touching what I’ve been searching for all my life: the magic that most children know and most adults forget. I never have. I stand out in it for long periods, drinking in the nectar of something I can’t fully understand.

Call it fanciful, call it wish fulfilment, explain it away as the disordered workings of brain chemistry if you like. It’s real to me and it isn’t going anywhere.

I wonder whether it’s a sensing of some connection with the natural growth imperative. I wonder whether it’s an awareness of a reality beyond the material. I wonder whether the two things are part and parcel of the same thing.

It feels Arthurian. It seems to belong to the world of Merlin, and the Lady of the Lake, and the three queens come to escort the King to Avalon, and to Siegfried's Funeral March from Gotterdammerung. And now I really do sound fanciful, I know. But it still isn’t going anywhere.

Baby Donald's Latest Tantrum.

OK, so Baby Donald has thrown another firecracker out of his playpen. He says that Obamacare should be allowed to collapse. So what does one say about that? I’m sure lots of people will have lots to say about it, and will no doubt do so over the next few days, weeks, and however long it takes for either madness or sanity to prevail.

My view for what it’s worth (especially since I don’t live in America, for which may the Lord make me truly thankful) is that it proves yet again what a small mind Mr Twitterfreak has. There’s just about enough room in there for money, but nothing else. Humanity is far too big a concept to fit into its mean and miniscule passageways. Trump is the true beetle under the concrete, and he doesn’t know the way out. He is incapable of seeing, much less comprehending, the trees, the sky, and the cosmos beyond.

Americans, you are losing credibility with your allies. Your enemies are smiling because you look dumb and divided. You have to get rid of this megalomaniac, money-obsessed, pea-brained child before it’s too late. You can ill afford another 4½ years of him.

Edited to add:

I think that should be 3½ years. 4½ is about how long we Brits might have to tolerate Mrs Ratty.

Reaching Out.

I was watching a young couple going through a supermarket checkout today. They were both clearly of Middle Eastern ethnicity and the woman was wearing a headscarf. They had an air about them, a defensive air which seemed born of a sense of non-belonging, and so the suspicion that they were refugees was inescapable.

I went over to them when we had both been through our respective checkouts and asked the man: ‘Are you from Syria?’ He seemed a little surprised and answered ‘Yes.’ So I shook his hand and explained that I was so pleased that they had managed to reach a place of safety away from the horrors they’ve been experiencing for so many years.

‘No speak much English,’ he said with a worried frown.

‘Do you know what “welcome” means?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he said with a beaming smile.

‘Good man. That’s all you need to know.’

There was something mildly amusing about it, but it was touching too. And I’m sure he understood pretty much exactly what I meant because welcoming body language isn’t difficult to read wherever you come from. It’s one of those universal gestures which remind us that we’re all just human beings, and that the word ‘humanity’ comes from the same root. And I hope we all had a better day for the little piece of connection which passed between us. I know I did.

Because I Couldn't Think of Anything Else to Write.

I trimmed one of my hedges today, one of the tall ones which is quite hard going (especially when you’ve still got a cold!) and takes about two hours (even when you haven’t got a cold!)

A party of kids from the local primary school came past with a few custodial teachers, and one little girl took an interest in my work. She was about eight, taller than the rest and skinny. She was plain looking with mousy brown hair and cheap glasses, but she had an air of authority about her.

‘You’ve done a good job there,’ she said with easy conviction.

‘Do you think so?’

‘Yes, and my dad’s got one of those.’ She pointed to my pole hedge trimmer. And then she walked away as though she were off to inspect the rest of the troops.

I love kids like that. They’re so confident these days, so precocious. It isn’t the first time I’ve played second fiddle in conversation with kids from the local school.

And then a boy of around the same age walked over and asked:

‘Why are you wearing a mask?’

‘Because I get the snuffles if I don’t.’


Maybe he was the colour sergeant.

I also had a chat with a woman-who-used-to-live-in-the-village-but-no-longer-does-but-still-comes-back-to-walk-her-dog (apparently.) The dog was a whippet called Lulu and was very sweet. She came over and said hello with her eyes.

Later I became engaged in another conversation which took me up until nearly dark, and then wondered what to do next. I closed the curtains, settled down with a cup of tea, and read one of my old stories.

What was the point of that?

‘I wanted to find out whether I still thought it worth reading.’

And was it?

‘Just about.’

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Defences Down.

The most famous line from the Battle of Jutland came from Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty who said ‘There’s something wrong with our bloody ships today.’ There was, too. Their defences were all at sea and they were going down faster than Donald Trump’s reputation. And so it is with me today. Why do I have a cold?

I don’t get colds. I haven’t had one since I had a bad bout of flu in 1995 which seemed to make of my body an impenetrable fortress to the offending virus. Adult cold viruses warn their offspring: ‘Pass this one by, oh little one. Do not enter under any circumstances, for to do so will only lead to your premature demise.’ And so it does. At the first hint of sore sinuses my snipers take aim and they never miss, or at least they didn’t until today. Today I have a cold.

But at least I was still able to marvel at the midges dancing in shafts of sunlight this evening. Is there any sight more iconic of summer? I tried to count one group but gave up and blamed the cold.

And absolutely nothing of the slightest interest happened on my shopping trip today, apart from the fact that I sneezed occasionally. The cold, you know…

'If it be a natural thing, where do it come from? Where do it go?'
~The Ghost Train. 1941.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

An Acceptable Mode of Haunting.

When perusing the subject of ghosts
I consider what troubles me most
Being left in the lurch
Down the aisle of a church
Or to think of one reading my posts

Favourite lady ghosts may feel free to look over my shoulder just as long as they make a diligent effort to be recognised. And if they need a tip, I recall from a misspent youth quite deeply involved with spiritualism (among other things) that a familiar perfume is a favourite and easily learned recognition device. (Several other ghosts have used it down the years, mostly men who smoked pipes.)

On Noses and Stuff.

Isn’t the term ‘a runny nose’ disgusting?

Let’s face it, noses aren’t the most edifying organ of the body are they? They’re protuberances, pure and simple. And they contain stuff that you wouldn’t want spreading on your breakfast toast, right? Right. Not even if it comes from your own nose.

As for the term ‘runny’, well… ‘Viscous’ is a little suspicious, but at least it’s scientific and usually used in the context of relativity. ‘Runny’ is just nasty. Water is never described as ‘runny’, nor beer or blood or Coca-Cola. That’s because these things are meant to have low viscosity; they’re designed by nature or human artifice to run freely in their natural state. The term ‘runny’ is applied to things which don’t run freely in their natural state. Like the contents of a nose, for example. And that hints at something gone wrong, something disreputable and disturbing and therefore disgusting.

Put the two words together and you begin to sense the imminent onset of moans combined with the unpleasant odour of stomach contents making the return journey.

Not nice. And that’s why I never tell anybody I have a runny nose. I don’t mind being disliked in the least, but being thought disgusting is unacceptable.

On Cycles and Sympathy.

The sun was out in the cornfield today gilding more of the wheat ears. He’s nearly finished now and for miles around the landscape is liberally decorated with golden rectangles. Soon be time for the harvest, and then the late summer rest and the mellowness of autumn.

*  *  *

And isn’t this just the best anti-Trump picture imaginable?

Justin Trudeau meets Justin Trudeau. With thanks (from all of us who believe in putting humanity first.)

The Real Discovery Channel.

You know, for all I complain about certain aspects of YouTube, it has one great quality which makes it a force for good in the world.

Music has been one of my greatest preoccupations for most of my life, but when I discovered YouTube about five years ago it broadened my horizons quite astonishingly. I was like the beetle that’s lived under a car in a garage all its life, then one day ventured out, found the crack under the garage door, and seen the sky and the trees (and a bunch of idiot humans as well, but never mind.)

Take this piece by my two new sisters, for example (I just adopted them.) It almost blows me off my chair, and I have to ask whether I would ever have found it if it hadn’t been for YouTube. Most unlikely, so allow me to be magnanimous for once and give credit where it’s due.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Seeing the Real Mr T.

I note with interest the Women Have the Right to Bare Arms movement in American political circles. We had something similar over here recently when it was argued that Men Don’t Have to Wear Ties in Order to Sit in the House of Commons.

Quite right, too, and it has been heartening to see that there is some sympathy among the powers-that-be for relaxing archaic dress codes in official situations.

What I’m eagerly awaiting now is the sight of Mr Twitterfreak appearing at White House news briefings wearing nothing but a diaper or Bermuda shorts, depending on how grown up he feels today.

Martin Magic.

The good news today is that the house martins are back on station performing aerobatics over my garden. I saw about fifteen of them this evening, and I’m hoping it’s not a flash in the pan because watching martins hunt for food is one of summer’s major delights.

But it’s July 15th. The martins are usually here by the beginning of June, so what’s happened this year? Could it be that they’re becoming aware of climate change and flying north later? And if that is so, will they stay longer at the end of the season? It has been the case here in Britain over the past few years that the early part of summer has been on the cold side, but we’ve had warmer autumns.

Time will tell, no doubt, and I will attempt to apprise the interested reader (not ‘appraise’, note; I get so fed up with journalists, politicians and other people in the public eye using ‘appraise’ instead of ‘apprise’) of the latest situation on the house martin front. That is, of course, if I can divest myself of a current unfortunate predilection for silliness, blueness, or – heaven forbid – earnestness. No, wait: I like silliness. Silliness is good.

Down to Earth.

I came across this by accident today:

It occurred to me that I should make a list of all the young women of my acquaintance (since it does say ‘girl’) who might feel the need of one. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t. And as far as I know they don’t do a dog coat in the same range. Days are like that sometimes.

More Cynicism.

The dating site ads have started jumping onto my internet again. One of today’s says:

Meet Filipino Women
Meet Filipino women seeking dating and marriage.
Safe and secure.
Join now!

Since when has dating ever been safe or marriage secure?

*  *  *

And isn’t it ironic that just when you’ve started liking children you’re too old to have the opportunity of producing any? Still, maybe it’s better to borrow other people’s kids. Then you can just walk away when they disappoint you.

A Very Strange Statement.

A woman told me today that I have ‘a very beautiful face.’ She really did, but the apocryphal part of the story is that she shouted it through the attic door in the hope that I might let her out so she could set fire to things.

So let’s be realistic here. This is a picture of me being told that I have a very beautiful face while manfully resisting the temptation to be flattered.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Becoming Cynical.

Do you know what happens if you put a comment on YouTube advocating reason and tolerance? You get hailed on with unripe bananas hurled by squealing monkeys.

I’m growing ever more cynical in my view of the human animal as the years pass.

And have you heard that Mr Twitterfreak is thinking of changing his mind on the Paris climate deal? That’s good news because now he might get lynched by a posse of coal miners and corporate chief executives, and then we shall all be able to rest easy in our beds again.

This is me being cynical.

The mood is sombre tonight. I have sore sinuses, a sore throat, and little appetite. And I should very much like to receive a pleasant communication from beyond the grave, but emails from ghosts are something of a rarity. I can't even go and pay my respects to the original Isabella in the local churchyard because there's an imaginary tape across the gate saying Do Not Cross.

(Anyone who has been reading this bog for a very long time might know what I'm talking about, but it really doesn't matter. I'm just rambling to pass the time until happy hour.)

Shire Tenants.

I was wrong about something; there are house martins in the Shire this year. I saw a small flock of maybe 6-10 hunting with a few swallows over a little-frequented lane down near the river. But still the numbers of both are tiny compared with previous years.

It’s always interesting to watch swallows and martins together. The martin is a little smaller and lacks the opulent tail fronds of its bigger cousin. And it flies a trifle slower, being more inclined to drift and glide rather than charge with relentless intent. It’s fortunate that they’re both highly skilled at missing one another in the melee.

As for my place in the Shire, today’s leitmotif has been oh no, not again.

On Right, Wrong, and Guilt.

We learn the list of rights and wrongs as defined by the culture in the process of growing up, through lectures and remonstrations from parents, teachers and the powers that be. We enshrine it in law and a set of vague and variable diktats called morality.

But it seems to me that a more meaningful notion of right and wrong is a much more subtle and instinctive thing, and to some extent it’s even personal. And what’s more to the point, much of it is learned through experience both objective and subjective.

I was thinking today of something I did when I was nineteen, something which detrimentally affected the lives and states of mind of three innocent people. I had no spur to prick the sides of my intent save personal interest. It didn’t seem wrong to me at the time; it was merely an adventure. Now it does.

So should I feel guilty? It’s a moot point.

There are those who say that guilt is pointless because it doesn’t change anything. I’ve said as much myself. Others will philosophise that there’s no such thing as right and wrong; there is only action and consequence on a road which might or might not be illusory. I’ve said that, too.

But maybe there is some real value to a sense of right and wrong, and maybe guilt is the tool we use to modify it through experience. So maybe we should be a little more forgiving of the transgressions of youth, because there but for the grace of God go we all.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Two North American Notes.

I just read about a man in New Brunswick, Canada who got struck by lightning while making a speech at his daughter’s wedding. Am I sympathetic? Does the phrase ‘poetic justice’ spring to mind? Would I consider playing God if only I could?

Fortunately he only suffered a slightly injured thumb, so that’s OK. Weddings are pretty awful things in my view – not least for the torturous quality of the speeches – but probably not worth dying for.

*  *  *

And I gather the good folks of Nevada are becoming concerned about a growing shortage of marijuana. Aren’t we all?

Om and a Bit of Bridge Building.

I’ve never been so affected by conditions at twilight as I have this year. They’ve started sending my state of mind soaring or plummeting in concert with their own mood swings.

Tonight’s was another cold, wet and gloomy one. I didn’t mind the rain; we’ve had some warm, dry weather lately and the earth needed a drink. What bothered me was the low temperature and a leaden sky forcing a premature end to the day. It seemed somehow disrespectful, and I think that gives the clue as to why they’re having such an effect on me now.

Twilight is the time when nature goes through a change of shifts. The bees, butterflies and birds go home, and out come the moths, the bats and the snails. As such, I’m becoming more convinced that it’s the time when the veil between this form of reality and others which lie beyond is at its thinnest. It’s the time when magic stops being quite so mysterious and begins to make sense; it’s the time when Om becomes almost audible. The cold and the clouds get in the way, and that disappoints me.

*  *  *

And I haven’t posted any music for a while, so I thought I’d offer this current favourite:

It’s clearly Chinese, and yet there’s a hint of Blue Grass in the melodic structure. It would be almost as much at home in the Appalachians as it would on the banks of the Yellow River, and I like to think that music builds bridges to counter the walls prescribed by little souls like Donald the Dunce. And don’t Chinese women have beautiful hands?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Changing Colours.

Something I find pleasant about a mixed rural landscape is watching the colours in the patchwork of fields act as a seasonal marker.

Through winter and early spring the pastoral fields remain green, but the arable fields are the dull brown of ploughed earth. As the spring develops and the arable crops grow, the view becomes uniformly green. When high summer comes around the wheat and barley fields are gradually gilded until the patchwork is coloured green and yellow. After the harvest it’s green and tan from the lying straw. And then the land is ploughed, the muck is spread, and we’re back to green and brown.

The only time I don’t find it appealing is when there’s been a snowfall and the landscape is uniformly white. Most people find that strange. ‘But you’re supposed to like snow,’ they say. (Actually they mostly don’t, but that’s what they’re thinking.)

A Very British Reply.

I wonder whether there’s a friendly American in the audience who might tell me whether Ronel is a male or female name. It sounds feminine to me, but it’s too close to Ronald to call.

It’s just that I had a reply from someone of that name to a query I sent to MS Outlook. The aforesaid Ronel said that he or she hoped I was ‘doing great today’ and followed it up with ‘let’s work this out together.’ In my reply I said that I rarely do great on any day, and working things out together sounds like something Americans do.

But then I looked at the clock, assumed that the support centre is in California, worked out the time difference, and wished him/her a good tiffin.

(I didn’t correct his/her ‘your’ for ‘you’re’ error since that would have been churlish and inexcusably un-British.)

Am I doing great?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Being Shackled to Unsuitable Parents.

Today I was watching young parents walking past with their young children, and some of the parents were the sort I wouldn’t even want to live close to, much less share a house with. I thought of the children and how awful it must be to be trapped in a house with parents like that, and I wondered whether parents should make a conscious effort to be amenable to their children’s personality types. Or is feeding them and clothing them and not being abusive sufficient discharge of parental responsibilities?

My parents didn’t suit me, you know. By the age of 11 I couldn’t wait for them to go out so I could have the house to myself, and when I finally left home at 19 I was well ready for it. They fed and clothed me and weren’t abusive (well, that’s a moot point where my stepfather was concerned, but he wasn’t physically abusive and my mother was a very nice person.) They just didn’t suit me. And it wasn’t merely the usual teenage rebellion thing. Looking back on it now I realise that they’d never suited me because they hadn’t a clue who I really was.  I don’t suppose they cared, and that’s the problem.

On Atmospheres and Magic.

This evening’s twilight was one of those during which I stand enthralled by the version of reality in which I’m living.

The air was mild, still and damp. Midges danced and drifted; moths flapped and flitted; bats plunged and pirouetted; a mixed sky of greys, blues and pinks sailed lazily northward, dropping the occasional few raindrops on a grateful earth. The view across the river valley to Staffordshire’s ‘top country’ beyond was comfortably hazy, and the only sound was the cooing of a wood pigeon in a nearby tree.

Such a mixture makes a most seductive cocktail, and there was one more ingredient to turn the material into the magical: the mind’s capacity to perceive the abstract which transcends the particular.

I felt something similar when I was a boy walking along a familiar street in an industrial city on a cold autumnal night, huddled against the stinging sooty mist, smelling the carbon fragments which mingled with the wholesome aroma drifting from a nearby fish and chip shop. Different scenario, same sense of seduction. Different detail, same magic.

And that was what I meant in a recent post when I referred ‘to the unique atmosphere which touches every place at different times.’ Oftentimes it’s bland, but sometimes it’s compelling. It can be light or dark, sharp or dull, uplifting or depressing; but it’s always there to feed the hunger for abstract perception. And I suspect it’s the easiest way to hear the hum of what lies beyond a world ruled and impoverished by juvenile souls.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Being Boringly Grammatical.

I got a reply from a Blogger forum contributor tonight which began ‘Your welcome.’ What he meant was ‘You’re welcome.’ For the benefit of readers whose first language isn’t English, let me explain:

“Your” is a possessive pronoun. “You’re” is contraction of “You are”, a pronoun and verb. So a sentence might correctly read: “It’s your house now that you’re living in it.”

The problem is that the texting habit and computer-based communication has encouraged the development of a vernacular shorthand, some of which is acceptable because its identity as shorthand is obvious – as in “u” for “you” – and some of which isn’t because it’s leading to the mistaken belief that the shorthand version is correct. “Your” for “You’re” is a perfect example.

OK, so I do know that the English language is not writ in stone. It’s constantly evolving and “correctness” is ultimately established by commonality of use, not the didactic railings of a grammar text book. In the case of your and you’re, however, I think the conservative view has to hold sway, and that the ire I feel when I read “your welcome” is wholly justified. That isn’t because I’m offended by a lack of correctness, but because allowing “your” for “you’re” to become acceptable would be both illogical and replete with the potential for unnecessary confusion. There are times when getting it right is simply right.

(Sorry if this is boring. I seem to be in that kind of mood. And it’s Sunday morning in Sydney, NSW, which happens to matter to me.)

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Differences and Samenesses.

Something is happening to the wildlife profile down in the Shire. This is the twelfth summer I’ve spent here and the first in which I haven’t seen a single house martin. They’re usually the most prolific of the summer visitors from Africa, but this year not a one. And there are far fewer swallows than usual, too.

One swallow does not a summer make, runs the old adage. So what does fewer than usual mean? Climate change?

On the other hand I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before, like the big orange butterfly I spotted through the window a few days ago, and that unusually big snail with the aubergine shell and black body that I mentioned on the blog, and the big brown slug I saw last night which was so fat it was almost circular. And tonight I saw a heavy-bodied moth which moved with fast, frantic movements quite different from the flitting, laid back flight of the other moths. Is this only the beginning, I wonder.

But at least most of the flowers are showing themselves more or less on cue. At the moment it’s sweet pea time. Twelve years of passing through sweet pea time gives you a reassuring sense of the cyclical nature of life. For that’s how I perceive time these days: by daffodil time and sweet pea time and Himalayan honeysuckle time. Christmastime is a mere human artifice.