Wednesday 27 March 2024

Touching Base.

So, it’s been twelve days since I wrote a post to the blog. Same reason as usual: the heart was willing but the spirit was weak. There’s a post around the question of whether there is any intrinsic value in saving a life currently sitting half written in the file. When it became a little complicated I couldn’t be bothered to set the logic in order and translate it into well constructed ink blots. Maybe I will some time.

But I was reading through some old posts last night when I came upon a comment which directed me to the priestess’s Tumblr channel from ten years ago. Having nothing better to do, I took a peek at the first three or four of them and realised something. I realised that the apparent connection which we both appeared to believe in was at least a mystery, if not an illusion generated by a sense of something unfulfilled. The persona she projected through her activities and attitudes were such that we were about as ill-matched as two people could possibly be, and so I set to wondering why she had ever shown any interest in me.

Speculation led me to only one conclusion. I reasoned that there must have been an empty compartment somewhere in her consciousness which was rumbling like an empty stomach, and she needed something to occupy it and keep it quiet. That, presumably, was where I fitted in.

It occurred to me, you see, that I must have been the most boring person she’d ever encountered. So straight-laced, so highly principled, so perfectionist, and so much given to the idealistic tendency. I considered whether it bothered me that I must have been the most boring person she’d ever encountered. I decided it didn’t because, after all, being the most anything is some sort of position on some sort of podium, and I’ve stood on very few podiums in my life.

*  *  *

Off now to watch another episode of an old Brit TV sci-fi series called Primeval. I have to say that it’s not of the highest quality. Much of the acting is overcooked, some of the direction is lacking finesse, it’s littered with glaring plot holes, and the death scene of the main character which occurred in the last episode is hopelessly implausible. It struck me that it’s how Charles Dickens might have written the demise of Tiny Tim if he’d allowed an unrepentant E. Scrooge to oversee the event.

And yet it retains the capacity to entertain. (And it provides some ballast in an empty compartment of my currently jaundiced consciousness.)

My latest book, by the way, is Umberto Eco’s last – The Prague Cemetery. He takes an awfully long time to get anywhere, but I like his style.

Friday 15 March 2024

Bemoaning My Ignorance.

Today is the Ides of March.

Today are the Ides of March.

‘Today’ is singular, ‘Ides’ at least appears to be plural. So should the verb be true to subject or object? There are times when I feel quite ashamed of my lack of extended erudition in the matter of language.

Simple Encounters and Questionable Considerations.

The highlights of today’s pre-lunch walk included:

Being passed on the lane by a jogging Lady B, and being afforded the sound of a squeak emanating from that direction. I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was the complaining of knee caps under strain or an energy-saving version of ‘hi.’ I chose to assume the latter.

Offering my best regards to a grey-whiskered chocolate Labrador sitting at the side of his house in the village, and being welcomed most heartily with much squirming and general lolloping.

Noticing a ladybird trapped behind the glass of the village notice board, working out how to open the contraption, and releasing the benighted insect to enjoy freedom and the mild spring weather. I admit to having felt slightly noble.

*  *  *

In between the encounters with dogs, ladybirds, and the Lady B, I found myself ruminating on the fact that I seem to be moving towards the making of a difficult decision: either release most of what little savings I have and tread closer to the cultural tram lines, or move in the opposite direction and accept a life of simple survival. Such a prospect goes some way to showing you how far you’ve come in trying to make sense of being alive.

*  *  *

And of course, there was the ever-present habit of giving a little thought to the female of the species. I felt quite confident in concluding that they are at their prettiest as children, their most beguiling from late teens to early twenties, and their loveliest in their thirties. What I couldn’t decide was whether it’s rightly said that at forty they become invisible. I was content with the uncertainty because the matter no longer holds any relevance for me.

Thursday 14 March 2024

A Star in the Shire.

I was standing outside Sainsbury’s yesterday when somebody I recognised came out of the store. She’s a woman who lives in the Shire about half a mile from me in one of the old farmhouses. I’ve had a few brief, mostly perfunctory conversations with her down the years, but not enough to claim to know her.

What piqued my interest, however, was the fact that she looked at me but showed no sign of recognition. I’ve said often enough on the blog that I’m always surprised by the number of people who seem to know all about me even though I’ve never spoken to them. Yet here was somebody to whom I have spoken, but who clearly doesn’t remember me.

Is this a good thing, I wondered? Has she not heard of my reputation for being a bit strange at the very least, if not a denizen of some dark realm who luxuriates in the children of the night and the music they make? Is she the one person who will sit quietly at home while the assembled multitude drives me to the burning mill with pitchforks? To an incorrigible recluse like me, I suppose it is a good thing. And so I declined to be ignored and engaged her in conversation, a snippet of which revealed that she rescues animals.

‘What sort of animals?’ I enquired.

‘Dogs, cats, chickens, sheep, horses – we’ve got five of those.’

‘Must cost a fortune.’

‘It does.’

And then she told me of a few circumstances which gave rise to their rescue, such as the lamb which had been thrown over a hedge and couldn’t move because it was trapped among thorny brambles.

Well now, what does it take for someone to gain my approbation? A few things actually, but rescuing animals in distress would definitely vie for top spot. And so I will readily converse with her again if I should encounter her jogging around the Shire or taking a tribe of dogs for a walk. And maybe it will be less perfunctory next time. I like people who rescue animals.

It troubled me a little that she looked ill. She had grey patches under her eyes where most people develop bags as they age, and eyes are a good indicator of the state of a person’s physical or mental health. But maybe she’s just exhausted by the work of caring for numerous dogs, cats, chickens, sheep… and five horses.

(I couldn’t resist asking her whether she had a YouTube channel because YouTube is replete with animal rescue videos and I’m convinced a lot of them are fake. She said she didn’t. That helped, too.)

Wednesday 13 March 2024

On Ashbourne Ladies, Smiles, and the Spaniel Phenomenon.

I seem to be becoming a connoisseur of smiles just lately. I made a list of some of the different types in a recent post, and today I collected another one for the album: the shining smile.

I was at the counter in the hardware store (it’s nicely old fashioned and locally owned, which is why it still has a counter), returning a faulty light bulb which I bought last week. I heard a woman’s voice behind me and turned to trace the source. She looked at me and smiled in a way I can only describe as the sort of smile you would expect of a little girl to whom you had just given the money to buy an ice cream. Bright, shining, almost playful. It was so bright that I hardly noticed the crooked front tooth thus revealed (or maybe the crooked front tooth contributed to the charm. How can one tell?)

And so as we walked to the door side by side – purely by accident, you understand – I couldn’t resist the urge to compliment her. ‘Excuse me,’ I began, ‘I hope you won’t mind a personal comment, but you do have the most engaging smile.’ She did it again, so I felt emboldened to continue: ‘It’s real, which isn’t as common as you might think.’ And then I luxuriated for several minutes at the thought that she might go home and tell her husband: ‘There was this really nice man in the hardware store, and do you know what he said?’ Or the alternative might have been: ‘There was this creepy old guy in David Neil’s today. Made me shiver, he did, dirty old scrote.’ I will never know of course, for such are the mysterious vicissitudes of life.

I might add, however, that I’d just come from Sainsbury’s where I’d engaged the deputy manageress, or whatever she was, in a discussion about my having been overcharged to the tune of £5 last week. She didn’t smile. Her manner was one of constant aggressive defensiveness to everything I said, as though she’d been trained by Catholic nuns, well versed in the corrective use of a whippy cane, scaring innocent young children with tales of the Devil coming to pull their fingernails out very slowly if they didn’t pay obeisance to gentle Jesus every night. ‘And the screams of agony will be so terrible that they might carry all the way to Tipperary if the wind is in the right direction.’ Or maybe I exaggerate a little (but not much.) Not being an innocent young child, however, I did come away with my £5.

And then a lady smiled brightly at me. Job done.

And I’ll tell you what was odd about Ashbourne today. I saw several people walking dogs, both driving there and walking around the town, and every single one of the dogs was a Cocker Spaniel. No other breeds or mongrels at all, just Cocker Spaniels. Was that a message from the universe, do you think? I did wonder.

Oh, nearly forgot the trolley girl outside Sainsbury’s. She was walking up from the car park and noticed an errant shopping trolley which had been lazily left on the paved walkway that leads to the town centre. She made a detour to collect the article and placed it neatly on the line of trolleys outside the wall of the store. That was impressive, and so I said ‘Congratulations. Not many people do that sort of thing.’ She didn’t smile either. She coloured up quite alarmingly and hurried past.

And then I noticed something interesting about her. Her lissom form, body language, hairstyle, and clarity of skin suggested a mid-to-late teenager, but her eyes carried the experience of a 30-year-old. I considered approaching her to suggest that she might be an old soul, but then I worried about the fairness and clarity of her apparently young cheeks. Maybe they wouldn’t take too kindly to the sanguinary experience to which she seemed inclined to subject them, so I didn’t.

And that was today in Ashbourne. The car behaved well today, bless her. She’s French, you know. Time for coffee and toast now (I’ve missed four hours sleep this week and the caffeine helps.)

Tuesday 12 March 2024

The Dichotomy of Spring Markers.

The weather turned in Britain today. The chill winds relented and calmer, milder weather moved in preceded by yet more rain.

(It’s been a very wet winter and the land has been saturated for three months now. The cereal crops have suffered badly in some of the fields, and I fully expect to read that wheat and barley prices will be high later in the year. That means dearer bread, cakes, cereals, beer, and whisky to name but a few of the affected products.)

And the downside of this combination of warmth and wetness was that I was harassed by midges for the first time this year. Apart from wondering how many insects you’re breathing in during the onslaught, the real nuisance is the way they go for your eyes. I wonder whether anybody has thought of inventing a human version of those hoods with gauzy eye sockets which people put on horses during the summer midge season. Or maybe I could set a trend by wearing swim goggles on my morning walks. If the locals think I’m a fruitcake anyway, what difference would a pair of poncy swim goggles make?

In other firsts – the wood anemones are showing their first blooms in the little wood at the top of the lane, I saw the first bee of the year today, but I also saw the first ant in the garden. I’m sorry to say that I dislike ants quite a lot and my garden is overrun with them during the summer. That’s where the dichotomy comes in. Must make sure I’ve got plenty of white spirit to smear on the wellies I wear for digging. Ants are known to dislike white spirit and are generally reluctant to associate with it.

*  *  *

And here’s an odd thing: Why is there a region of London called Waterloo? Well, no doubt it was named after the area where the battle took place between the allies (mostly British) and the French in 1815. But it occurred to me today that the word ‘loo’ is the commonest colloquialism for toilet (previously lavatory, and WC – water closet – before that. Forget that they’re called ‘heads’ in the navy. There is a logical reason, and sailors are a strange bunch anyway.) And the term ‘loo’ is derived from ‘l’eau’, the French for water. So why would somebody combine the English for water with the anglicisation of the French for water, and name an area in Belgium after it? Never thought of that before.

*  *  *

I think that last paragraph is probably the most tedious I’ve ever written. Blame it on the fact that I got up three hours earlier than usual this morning in order to accommodate the young man from the land agent who had been sent to do a ‘property survey.’ So I’m tired. And I do wish they would leave me alone and stop sending young men to irritate me with their property surveys, especially when it means I only get five hours sleep the previous night. Dropping and signing off.

Monday 11 March 2024

Sleeping With the Enemy.

It seems that Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán of Hungary are the very best of pals at the moment, each thinking that the twin suns of a glorious future shine brightly from their respective fundaments. Orbán says that if Trump wins the Presidency, all American military aid to Ukraine will cease. Trump agrees with him. And at their recent meeting they were wearing matching suits and ties – all blue (and dark blue is widely recognised as the colour of authority, which is why police uniforms are that colour.)

This is interesting because Orbán is also best mates with Putin, and it pleases Mr O to point out that if America stops funding Ukraine, the war will be over quickly. (That’s the slightly veiled way of saying that Russia will win, and the real reason for the ‘special military operation’ – to put an extra layer of battlements between Russia and the NATO alliance – will have been successful.) And there have been some pretty strong hints that Trump holds Putin in high regard, and that Putin wants Trump in the White House again.

So what comes next?

You see, it’s always seemed fairly evident to me that the taking of Ukraine is Putin’s attempt to lay the foundations for rebuilding the USSR, which raises the spectre of a new Cold War in which the relationship between America and Europe will not be as firmly cemented as it was during the last one, at least not as long as Trump has any say in the matter. So that has me wondering whether: 1.) We are headed for a very troubled future, and 2.) Supporters of Mr Dunderhead have any idea of the power shift they might be unleashing in November. (It also has me wondering whether there really is some shadowy but powerful third party pulling strings here.)

Fortunately, I’m no expert in foreign affairs, military matters, or the veracity of conspiracy theories, so maybe I’m wrong. But it still doesn’t smell too good.

Sunday 10 March 2024

On The Lay and the Lady's Day.

’Tis but a week to the Lady B’s birthday, but I can’t send a missive – real or digital – because I once said ‘no more words from me’ and my word is my bond. (I have communicated with her since then but only in response to an incoming message. I consider that to be not only allowed, but obligatory.) But I thought I’d mention it here anyway just in case she accidentally presses the wrong button on her stroke and poke machine and lands on this post. At least she’ll know that I have remembered the date and I do wish her a happy birthday.

So then I worked out what age she will become on the appointed day and set to wondering what I was doing on my own equivalent all those years ago. Where was I living? With whom? How was I making my way in the world and in what general conditions? It all came back very easily and led me to think of all the phases I’ve passed through since then – the people, the activities, the changes, the successes and failures, the gains and losses, the romances and separations, the house moves etc, etc. And they all seemed so very short.

There were several close ladies involved in this otherwise unremarkable odyssey, and I felt an urge to write something for posterity with the title:

The Lay of the Lost Ladies

Has a ring to it, doesn’t it? I like titles which have a ring to them. I won’t bother, of course. The Lay (or its archaic original ‘Lai’ from Norman French) is a form of poetry which has it’s origins in the 13th century. I gather they were usually very long and required to be written in a prescribed form. I have enough difficulty writing a simple blog post these days, and I was never a poet anyway, so I think the Lay can be true to its name and join the other good ideas which will forever lie on stony ground.

*  *  *

It’s been a bad day today; depressingly inclement weather and one malfunction after another. I hate it when things don’t work as they should. It makes me feel rattled. To me, a malfunctioning machine or other appliance is akin to having a serious chest infection so that even the act of breathing is painful. It appears a lack of functional perfection is yet another neurosis to which I’m prey, and the more complex we make our functional artefacts, the more they seem prone to glitches and breakdowns.

Interesting note:

When I came to post this, my internet dropped out. Methinks the universe is being a little mischievous today.

Friday 8 March 2024

A Seed Staying on Stony Ground.

I’ve mentioned on this blog that sometimes the black dog wakes up and goes into aggressive controlling mode. And one thing he does is take up a menacing position between me and the computer keyboard, thereby preventing the making of blog posts.

It’s an odd fact, however, that during such periods I often have ideas for posts, but I can’t make them because the will is too weak. And so they fall like seeds upon stony ground and rarely see the light of day thereafter. In retrospect, that can be a little irksome because I do so like to chatter, you know. I do.

And so I decided to adopt a simple procedure which any sensible person would adopt: keep a notebook handy and jot a quick trigger to remind me later when circumstances are more amenable to chattering. I did it last night when it was almost bed time, the old computer was being frustratingly cranky, and the two double scotches were making perception a tiny bit misty. I saw something on YouTube and had a light bulb moment, so I reached for the notebook and wrote Sofa. Today I took out the notebook.

‘Sofa? Sofa? What have sofas to do with anything worth making a blog post about?’ I thought. (Because I have a lazy mind which doesn’t give a tuppeny toss about ending a sentence on a preposition.) I thought and thought but wasn’t getting anywhere, not until I read a comment on an old post and the penny dropped. I began to compose the post in my head to make sure that I was going to get everything more or less in the right order and cover all the salient points.

It started to become far more complicated than I’d imagined. It threw up mutually contradictory statements. It had me wondering whether I really had a clue about the subject at hand. And what was worse, I realised that it might well cast me in rather a dim light to the minds of right-thinking people, a few of whom I care about. It began to assume the tone of a shameful confession, and I wasn’t in the mood for confessing. By the end of it, it seemed I had dug myself into a deep hole out of which there was no escaping.

I dislike being trapped in dark holes, so this post will have to serve as an alternative. With apologies.

Thursday 7 March 2024

On Chaos and a Special Smile.

I watched a video on YouTube last night which explained the principle of chaos theory (although presented not as a theory, but established fact.) I think I got the gist, or at least some of it, but I’m glad my life isn’t dependent on being able to explain it to a bunch of 15-year-olds in a high school science lab.

Part of the problem – along with my lack of intelligence, at least in the matter of far end physics – was that the video was only twenty minutes long and spoken at speed by a man with an American accent who seemed to presume that everybody’s non-tutored brain operates at the same speed as his highly tutored one. There was also a lot of fascinating and rather lovely visual imagery to illustrate the teaching, so how is a person like me, highly attuned as I am to visual imagery, supposed to listen to somebody rattling along like the bullet train to Tokyo instead of regarding the fascinating imagery with some degree of fascination?

One thing I did catch and understand was that Newtonian physics is entirely deterministic, and the move through Einstein and onto quantum enquiry now proves that determinism is accurate only up to a point. Having been a lifelong supporter of Determinist philosophy, that revelation was a bit of a disappointment. And of course, none of it takes into account the big question on which I’m currently a little fixated: does anything in the material universe objectively exist anyway?

Eventually I switched off and came back down to terra firma. I’m more or less resigned to the fact that as long as puppies and kittens continue to look cute, and as long as the Lady B continues to smile at me and her car smells of fresh flowers, and as long as I can dream that somewhere in the world is a person who might one day present me with a bowl of hot baked Alaska and a small pot of fresh cream, all is well. (Even though I know that Dr Pangloss was an idiot.)

And may I be permitted to add a brief note on the subject of the Lady B’s smile? I may? Here goes then:

I have observed that there are many widely differing varieties of smile. There’s the forced smile, the disingenuous or fake smile, the polite smile, the formal smile, the excited smile, the mischievous smile… I could probably go on if I could be bothered; I recognise them all instinctively. But the fact is that the Lady’s smile is none of these. It’s a simple, natural smile of projected warmth. When she smiles at you it’s like walking into a warm house after you’ve spent the past couple of hours freezing your butt off working in the frigid garden. And that’s why it’s so welcome.

Thank you for your indulgence.