Sunday, 13 June 2021

The Final Polish.

I watched a YouTube video last night about a German Shepherd dog which likes to be useful. It brings the shopping in; it delivers the newspaper; it picks things up when people drop them; it even carries the kitten’s ball-on-a-string about so the cute little feline can have fun on the move. All very commendable I know, and the comments section was crammed with people saying as much. It’s what you’re supposed to say of such an adorable dog. It’s why you watched the video in the first place, isn’t it? Well, I’m nothing if not a mould breaker, a balloon pricker, so my comment read

What’s it like living in a house where everything is covered in dog spit?

There was a reply in my inbox this morning. It read:

Better than living in a house with some humans who see no good in anything.

This is clearly a barbed riposte, a personal attack. I stand accuse of being just such a human.

But it isn’t true. The comment was meant light heartedly; it was a joke, and I’m sure the vast majority of Brits would instinctively know it was a joke. But the woman who made the reply had a non-English name which I’m fairly sure is Polish, and therein lies the problem.

I’ve seen lots of videos in which Americans, and a few other nationalities, give their impressions of UK life and culture, and one of the things they all pick up on is our dry sense of humour. ‘You can never tell whether they’re joking or not’ is the common complaint. It’s true, and I’m one of the worst offenders. Even Brits sometimes give me the quizzical look and ask ‘was that a joke?’

So here’s the old lesson to be learned all over again: my dry British sense of humour does not travel well. So should I stop using it, or at least find ways to make the joke obvious? Of course not. It’s part of who I am, and I like being misunderstood when I’m joking. It’s the misunderstanding which completes the joke.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Science and the Layman.

I said I was going to make a post about the DVD of Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything, didn’t I? I did. Only the full post would be complicated, it’s now late at night, and I’m tired. But just a couple of things off the top of my head:

1) What was a single black hole the size of an atom doing hanging around in an infinite expanse of nothing? We know where it went (or so they say) but where did it come from?

2) Why did nobody mention that it bears a striking resemblance to many creation myths? Is it beyond the remit of science even to consider the question of coincidences?

3) The subsequent development of life can be explained in chemical and physical terms, but what is consciousness? Could consciousness as we know it have some relationship to whatever caused the black hole to be hanging around in an infinite expanse of nothing?

4) Why was Stephen Hawking of the opinion that there is no point to life but to engage in tracing its origins?

5) If the scientists now know that there are more than three dimensions – one estimate puts it at eleven – why does science continue to foster the view that no form of reality exists other than the material one to which we are habituated?

6) Why did nobody mention the correlation between string theory and certain writings in ancient Indian texts?

7) Why do Americans make tea in a microwave?

And so on, and so forth. I had more questions, but now I’m tired. Yes, I already said that. OK. Bye for now.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Buttons and Birds.

The character of Eleanor in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House mentions at one point that she collects buttons. I don’t, but I do have a favourite one. It’s the one that says ‘Skip Ads’ on YouTube videos. Pressing it is one of life’s great pleasures. The one I most dislike is the one which says ‘Video will play after ads.’ If ever a humble button should be consigned to perdition’s flame, that’s the one.

*  *  *

This year has been notable for producing a surprising number of firsts. I’ve mentioned a few on this blog, and this week there was another one: I saw my first ever pheasant chicks. There were two of them on my lawn, and when I walked towards them they toddled away as fast as their legs would carry them (which wasn’t very fast at all because their legs were only about half an inch long.) Meanwhile, the mother bird was hiding behind a plant and eyeing me with evident suspicion.

*  *  *

And if ever you want a good introduction to shuffle dance, try the SN Studio uploads. They’re probably the best. Whether that belongs in the ‘buttons’ or ‘birds’ category depends on which way you look at it. (Come to think of it, I don’t see any connection whatsoever between buttons and shuffle dance videos, but I’d had a couple of drinks when I jotted this post late last night. I do have a fortuitous tendency to say incomprehensible things when I’ve had a couple of drinks late at night. It’s about my only entertaining trait. And today’s reaction post to the DVD I watched last night – Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything – didn’t get written because the blues are back courtesy of somebody doing something incomprehensible in the cold light of day. My own theory of everything is, you see: [a] I only want to have anything to do with people if their energies accord with mine in a positive way. [b] If they don’t fit into that rarest of categories, I need them to stay quiet, stay out of my way, and respect my private space totally. Today somebody failed miserably on both counts.)

Meanwhile, here’s an SN Studio shuffle dance video, just in case anybody is interested.

Considering the Alternatives.

Ever since that glorious institution, the NHS, saved my life three years ago, I’ve been trying to be a better person. Or maybe it might be truer to say that I have been conscious of the desire to be a better person.

I was faced with an unusual situation today which brought the principle into sharp relief, and I did my best to be a better person. And after the deed was done a sobering thought arose:

It struck me that there are two ways in which you can become a better person. The first way is to go inside yourself and change the nature of who you are, so that you behave in a better way because your new inclinations take you there automatically. That’s not as easy as it sounds, so what’s the alternative? The alternative is to work from the outside, which means making a conscious effort to behave in a better way even though it flies in the face of your natural inclinations. Having considered the matter, I still don’t know which is the nobler, or whether the concept of nobility is even relevant.

I could go on to make an extended post about this by telling the whole story and relating it to my natural inclinations. But I won’t because I talk about myself far too much. I’ll leave the question open and listen to some nice Danny Elfman music instead. I am so very tired after all. Here’s some nice Danny Elfman music:

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Still Here.

I’m tired. The orcs deprived me of many hours sleep over the last two weeks, and so far I don’t seem to have caught them up yet.

And then there’s the fact of my being a curmudgeonly and somewhat misanthropic recluse. Living alone is all for the best in the best of all possible worlds apart from one thing: everything that needs be done has to be done by yours truly because there’s no other half to share the work. At this time of year, when the garden is running rampant, there aren’t enough hours in the day to avoid falling behind schedule. Work as I will, by 10.15 at night all I’m fit for is to collapse into my computer chair with a hot cup of coffee and watch a DVD. Sad isn’t it? So many posts on so many disparate topics have run through my mind recently, but by the end of the working day my mental capability has fallen into reception-only mode.

But at least the orcs have gone now – the first lot, that is. Two more to go and then maybe what’s left of the summer might be peaceful and relatively untroubled. Until August, of course, when my next cystoscopy is due. The last one resulted in my emergency admission to hospital if you remember. Isn’t life fun?

So, sorry you didn’t get the post about the hay meadows being invaded by a host of golden buttercups, and the fields being awash with yellow oilseed flowers, or the world being white not only with May, but also with an abundance of cow parsley and wild garlic. And then there was the glorious sight of a fresh green landscape being daubed with splashes of rich burgundy, courtesy of the copper beeches which grace the rolling landscape of the Shire and beyond. And the benevolent sun of early summer graced it all from an early summer sky. How lyrical it all might have been if only I could have found the words.

But never mind; at least I haven’t given up yet, just in case anybody out there was wondering. (Is that likely? How would I know?)

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Perception and Priority.

There’s an ad on my Hotmail home page for the University of London. The blurb reads: 
MSc Logistics and Supply Chain Management
Understand how to manage supply chains
 in a fast-paced, technology fuelled world.
Well now, all my life I’ve so wanted to understand how to manage supply chains in a fast-paced, technology fuelled world, so where was this ad when I was but a callow youth desperate to put my brain (which is the size of a planet, don’t forget) to some useful, life-enhancing purpose? Try to imagine, if you will, how gutted I must now feel. Meanwhile…

I did my very best to save the life of a tree today. Whether my actions will bear fruit remains to be seen over the next few months, but I’m hopeful.

I took a fall in the process of performing this duty of care – nothing serious at the time, but I now seem to have a sprained wrist. There are also signs that I might have exacerbated one of my neat little collection of health issues. So I considered the question of balance and value vis-à-vis the situation.

I came to the conclusion that all is for the best in the best of all possible perceptions. Trees are, after all, quieter than humans, nobler than humans, more long lived than humans, and best of all, they enhance the planet rather than running around chasing money and the superficiality of lifestyle obsession while wrecking the planet in the process. I doubt that trees need to learn how to manage supply chains. To them it’s simply a matter of ‘have sap, will manage.’

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Wan, Weariness, and the Way of Things.

Today has been a non-day. The hours of light and wakefulness offered nothing pleasurable by way of practices or prospects, and the wan day went down in wet and weariness. For those who don’t know, the last nine words are taken from a work by Tennyson describing the last days of the court at Camelot. And that’s how the days feel to me now. These are the last days of the world as we know it and my life in particular. (But it’s all a matter of perception, isn’t it? It is.)

I was looking back over some old blog posts earlier and discovered that Tennyson gave me some of the best of them. However much I sometimes fell out with his style of writing poetry, I do at least have to thank him for that. I didn’t realise just how many times I’ve quoted ‘the world is white with May’ or some fragment from The Lady of Shallot. And it seems that he was highly attuned to the effect that climatic conditions can have on one’s state of mind, as all sensitive people assuredly know.

*  *  *

It’s been a bad week generally in the JJ world for various reasons. I drove through two areas of the city in which I lived for almost the entirety of my teenage years, and witnessed so many changes that I felt my personal history being taken from me by the rapacious appetites of time and exigency. My memory of those glorious years has always been an abstract phenomenon, as all memory is, but at least the environment survived to provide solidity of a sort. That’s no longer the case, and that depressed me.

And then there was the falling out I had with E.ON, my energy supplier, for the third time in a year. Their behaviour with regard to my account (which is fully paid up to date, I might add) is becoming increasingly incomprehensible, inexcusable, and consequently insufferable. I won’t tell the story because it wouldn’t be worth the time to either write or read. I am inclined, however, to recommend to every reader living in the UK that they should have nothing to do with E.ON. But maybe that would be pointless, because maybe E.ON is simply following the rest of the corporate world into increasing seediness, self-obsession and the practice of placing profit before service. I don’t think it’s right for a utilities provider to behave that way in a civilised society, and I’d be glad to see the government take utilities back into public ownership. It’s not likely to happen, of course. Mrs Thatcher switched the points to the rails of the free market, and that’s where we’re likely to stay.

But now I’m off to close the curtains against the wet and weary night, and then fret a little over tomorrow’s prospect of having the Orcs of Ordinariness invade my private world. Hatred of invasion is the root of my principal neurosis, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I might be back.

Friday, 21 May 2021

On Swallows and the Future.

I’m going to be a true Brit and talk about the weather again, but with reference to my favourite, truly wild bird, the swallow.*

I mentioned in a recent post that I had seen the first of this year’s visitors at the top of the lane, and made reference to the old adage ‘one swallow does not a summer make.’ Today there were at least thirty of them, and still the prospect of summer seemed hidden beyond the far horizon. There they were, gracing the sky with their aerobatics as usual, sometimes coming within touching distance of me, while the rain fell and the air remained disappointingly cold for late spring. It reminded me of that dreadful wet summer in 2012 when I was constantly concerned for the welfare of these marvellous birds, as well as their cousins, the house martins and swifts, which had flown thousands of miles to get here, only to find gloom, wetness and airborne food in short supply.

The day did not continue in similar vein; it got worse. The gloom grew gloomier and the rain fell heavier throughout the afternoon and evening, and eventually I felt obliged to go out into the downpour to clear the road grids again. And part of the reason for saying all this is to consider the possible effects of climate change.

I gather there’s a popular misconception among foreign visitors to Britain; they seem quite convinced that it’s always raining here. It isn’t; the truth of the matter is that the weather in Britain and Ireland is notoriously capricious. I remember being told as a boy that you should never go far from home without a raincoat or umbrella, even if the day seems set to be fair and dry. And there’s an old saying along the lines of ‘Ne’er shed clout (clothes) ’till May is out.’ In other words, don’t be persuaded to break open the summer wardrobe until summer is with us in earnest because British weather is unreliable.

But in the last few years I’ve noticed a change. We used to be aware that the weather could change dramatically over the course of a day or two, or even from hour to hour, but now we seem to be more prone to long periods of one thing or another. The whole of last winter was depressingly wet. April, in contrast, was so consistently dry and cold that the land and early crops were suffering badly. May comes along and we’ve had rain, hail and sleet – and unseasonably low temperatures – nearly every day. We’ve also had at least six thunderstorms, which I swear we never used to get in May. Thunderstorms were associated with hot, humid spells in high and late summer. And I’m sure I’m not wrong when I say that we get far more easterly and northerly winds than we used to have. I’d be interested to have a meteorologist’s opinion on this.

Maybe this is why the Shire skies have been devoid of swifts for several years now, and house martin numbers are drastically lower than they used to be. Thankfully, the swallows are still braving the change – and long may they continue to bring joy and thrills to fair summer skies as and when we get them – but for how much longer? And I do realise that other parts of the world are suffering more extensive and dangerous changes, but I can only speak of my own observations in my own little piece of the planet.

So is this a preamble to the shape of things to come, and, if so, how should we view it? A core characteristic of the future is its perennial unpredictability, so maybe we should conclude that all is for the best in the most unfathomable of all possible worlds. If swallows are capable of considering a temporal concept like the future, it’s probably the view they would take.

* The reason I use the term ‘truly wild’ in relation to the swallow is this: I’ve said often enough that the robin is my favourite bird, and it still is. But the robin is a woodlands species and therefore, in common with other woodland species, the sort most given to utilising the conditions provided in a domestic garden. As such I tend to regard it, irrationally I suppose, as semi-domesticated.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

The Joys of Spring.

May continues to fail in its duty to be merry. Today has given us another succession of cold winds, glowering skies and rain.

I had to go to one of the nearby city centres today and encountered far more traffic congestion than is usual for a Thursday morning. It was everywhere – on the main highway, in the suburbs, and in the centre itself. I had the impression that the latest of the staged releases from lockdown has resulted in everybody with a vehicle taking it onto the roads just because they can. At one point I turned the car around and took a detour, but that was nothing compared with getting back out again later.

I’d decided to take a different route home because of the congestion on the highway, only to find that everything is changing. Roads where there didn’t used to be roads, more new roads under construction, roundabouts where there didn’t used to be roundabouts, new layouts, diversions… This is the city in which I grew up, but at times I hardly knew where I was or how to get onto the route that I wanted to get onto.

Eventually I did, and began to drive through a large suburban area in which I lived for four years during my teens. It should have been a single, straight road for about two miles, but no. More new roads, more new layouts, more new buildings. I confess to feeling surprisingly depressed by the changes, and I don’t suppose the inclement weather helped very much.

… neither did the fact that I’d gone without lunch.

… neither did the fact that the car seems to have developed an issue.

… neither did the fact that I’d had to get up two hours earlier than usual and that always makes me tetchy.

… and neither did the fact that the job I gave myself to do when I got back just wouldn’t play ball, and what should have taken twenty minutes took over an hour.

And the rain kept falling, and the wind kept whistling, and the sky sulked incessantly, and the house continued to get colder. It was that kind of day.

But at least I got to have coffee with my daughter for the first time in over a year, which has to be said to have been adequate compensation for an otherwise awful day. I’m still hoping for another lockdown in June, though. A warm, peaceful summer would be welcome.

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

A Note About Angela.

I was doing some more clearing out today and came across this picture of my wife (or to be strictly logical – because even I sometimes like to be strictly logical – the woman who was to become my wife) taken shortly before I met her. It was a picture taken for a feature in the local newspaper when she was doing research for something or other. (It is a matter of eternal shame to me that I don’t remember what the subject of her research was, although I do remember that she liked doing research into things, and I also remember that Admiral Anson was the ancestor of the man who owned the big mansion close to where she lived.)

I’m not quite sure why I’m posting it, apart from the fact that I quite like it and because something else I don’t remember is that she was this good looking. I suppose she must have been because she’s the only one of my live-in ladies I actually married.

And we got on, you know. We did. As far as I recall, we never fell out during the whole seven years we were together. I even acted as her roadie when she had a rock band because I was strong enough to carry the big amps around in those days. It could be argued, however, that we did have one sort of falling out. It was the morning when the following conversation took place:

‘Are you having an affair?’ she asked.

‘Erm… yes.’

‘Who is it?’

‘J**** *****’

‘But she’s fat and ugly.’

(She was neither actually, but perception is, after all, the whole of the life experience, which you might have noticed is something I quite like saying.)

But we didn’t really fall out as such. She simply made up a bed in my photographic studio, filled the walls with red things to match the black walls, and then slept in it until she moved out to live with an archaeologist called Cliff. She also took our pet rabbit, Beaumont, to live with them.

And that, dear people, is one of the more normal things I did in my life.