It’s Passing Sweet, When True Hearts Meet

Saturday 21st July

But it breaks the heart, when true hearts part; Anthony Trollope again, one of the greatest of Victorian writers whose style was impeccable.  Trollope wrote like a machine, mechanically rising before dawn and in the quiet hours committing a few thousand words to paper every day, a feat I would struggle with, finding even this paltry daily blog of a few hundred words some sort of chore most days.  And I think he must have done precious little re-writing; without word processors and printers it would have been a pain anyway, I prefer to believe that the words just flowed like honey from the nib of his pen.  This little couplet was probably a country saying or proverb, which he liked to sprinkle his works with, but somehow it contains more honesty and common-sense than all the hundreds of pages that surround it. (Rachel Ray 1863, if you are interested).  Because it is truly passing sweet when true hearts meet, and the thought takes me that without love we are a very sorry species of animal indeed.  For all our technological achievements, for all our wonderful buildings, the Pyramids, Stonehenge and the Shard of glass, for all our wonderful works of art, for all the music written and sung, for the strength and endeavor of all the young athletes arriving by the coach-load in London at the moment; for all of that counts for nothing if we lack love.  That sweet moment when two hearts collide, when the rush of emotion overwhelms one and you fall into the arms of one you love; ah, nothing can compare with that.  And this most written of emotion, love, has hardly ever found better expression than the words of that couplet which are just perfect – It is passing sweet, when true hearts meet.  What poet could ever begin to match this simple country proverb.

The Three Great Stimulants

Friday 20th July

Joni Mitchell wrote a song, way back in 1985, and the title was ‘The Three Great Stimulants’.  I was never sure what the song was about; as usual Joni doesn’t exactly write in straight lines.  It is actually quite a bitter and sad song, almost despairing of the human race.    But what were the three great stimulants, and why as Joni sang, were they stimulants of the exhausted ones.  She lists them, but in a way this just muddies the water, and doesn’t really explain anything.  For the record Joni says that they are Artifice, Brutality and Innocence.   I think she is saying that as the world goes to pot, and chaos creeps up on us all, then those in power are distracted by these three ‘vices’, if you will.  And now, over twenty years on, we are well and truly being engulfed by chaos, and I wonder if these are the things that keep us going; Artifice, Brutality and Innocence.  Artifice I understand, the whole world seems to have gone mad, with pretty pretty girls who worry far more about an eyelash out of place, or getting their tits enhanced than people dying in Africa, or the suffering we see all around us.  Brutality is also ever with us, and reading Victorian novels I understand that in many ways we are actually more brutal today than even 150 years ago; the disregard for human life is truly appalling.  But Innocence?  Why is innocence such a terrible thing?  And Joni herself has more or less given up the ghost too.  She has withdrawn from the scene and just paints these days, as if she is saying ‘No more, you have had me for three decades, I have written in blood, and shown you my pain, but I have no answers for you now.  Go work it out for yourselves.’  Maybe she just got it wrong, or maybe the song meant nothing, it was just words to a melody.  For the record it can be found on Dog Eat Dog, not her most popular album, most fans had stopped buying a few records back.   But even though it is still a mystery to me, it is well worth a listen.

Sackcloth and Ashes

Thursday 19th July

We appear to be in a strange mood, an unsettling time of recrimination and ritual humiliation, where both public and private institutions and individuals are hauled up in front of committees and inquiries and forced to not only apologise but to be publicly insulted and humiliated.  Whether this is meant to be some sort of cleaning out of the Augean stables or is more akin to the show trials of Stalinist Russia only History will tell.  And possibly the worst aspect of the whole shebang is that none of it satisfies; no amount of public blood-letting and heaping on the victims heads of sackcloth and ashes makes us feel vindicated.  All it does is whet our appetite for more, much as Madame Guillotine did in revolutionary France.  Maybe we will not be happy until all of the mighty are fallen.  Not many of us have any sympathy with the Murdochs or top bankers who are now quaking in their expensive hand-made boots as one after another is exposed, and even John Terry will have made few friends with his ludicrous defence that he was merely questioning what Anton thought he, Terry, had said.  Strange febrile times where the most innocuous of friendly e-mails are dredged up as evidence of wrongdoing, and even Tweeting is dangerous.  Whatever happened to free speech?  I hate to think what would happen if ever I were hauled up before some committee and my e-mails were exhumed.  No amount of sackcloth and ashes would possibly be enough to satisfy the public’s mood for repentance. Let us hope it never comes to that.

C is for the Mighty Johnny Cash

Wednesday 18th July

Well thank God we are out of the ‘B’s, they went on a bit too long didn’t they, and now for the letter C; and how better to start than the Mighty Johnny Cash.  Such a lot has been written about Johnny, and for me, he has always been there.  Listening to him singing ‘A Boy Named Sue’ as a kid in the back of the Ford Zodiac, watching a grainy black and white film of him ‘Live at San Quentin’ in the sixties, and then discovering him on the albums White Mansions, and Jesse James, catching him duet-ting with Waylon Jennings in the eighties, buying a Greatest Hits in a car-boot sale in the nineties.  Then the renaissance of the American Recordings albums with Rick Rubin producing in the last few years, culminating in the splendid heart-breaking video of ‘Hurt’, which seemed to sum up a life in a few short minutes.  So the drug-taking, heavy drinking, womanizing, deeply Christian deep voiced hell raiser was finally laid to rest a couple of years ago, and somehow we all miss him.  Far more than Elvis, who probably had a better voice, but for me the epitome of that fifties rock-a-billy sound that came rolling out of the deep-south will always be Johnny Cash. They don’t make ‘em, like that anymore


Humans weren’t meant to do this sort of thing

Tuesday 17th July

It is only a fraction of a second in evolutionary terms since Human Beings stopped being hunter-gatherers and started to become settled farmers.  And for a few thousand years most of us led a maybe hard, but basically stress-free life.  It is only in the last couple of hundred years that things have got bad, and of course the rate of acceleration is increasing so fast now, that we are hurtling into a more and more uncertain future.  The rate of technological development means that we are having to constantly adapt.  Even ten years ago no-one had heard of Facebook or Twitter, which will surely soon be consigned to the rubbish bin themselves.  I can remember in the late nineties, people talking about e-mail, and yet I am sure even the most enthusiastic of those early converts had no idea how central to the working life of us all it would soon become.   And now hardly anyone is not involved with sitting in front of a screen for at least part of their day.  But all of this technology comes at a price, and stress is one of the methods of payment.  As we become more and more reliant on this ‘wonderful’ new technology, so we panic when it doesn’t work.  Colleagues e-mail me desperate that they have left their mobile phone at home – the end of the world is looming as they realise that for a few hours they are un-contactable. ‘Enjoy the moment’ I reply, but sad to report I am one of the first to stress out if my own laptop starts to play up, or refuses to start, or won’t connect to the internet. And I realise more and more that human beings were just not designed to be doing this.  Of course, we cannot just opt out either, or not until retirement and a sedentary lifestyle is well established.  At some point I suspect we will all give in, throw in the mouse and hang up our modem.  But till then – be prepared for many stressful days ahead.

Capital and Income

Monday 16th July

I had a boss once, who was almost part of the ‘Aristocracy’; in fact his mother had been a lady in waiting to the Queen Mother at one time.  God only knows how these things are decided, if at all nowadays, but his family were certainly somebodies.  They were from Scotland, but ‘Mac’, as he was known to all was more English than ‘tuppence’, private schooling had done its worst, and he was a real posh boy.  Despite this he was very down to earth and loved dirty jokes and had a wicked sense of humour.  Whether working in Catering was his very own form of rebelling I don’t know, but he always assured me that he didn’t have to work at all, that he had plenty of money invested and could live ‘orf the interest’(that was in the days when interest was worth having, of course).  One of his mantras was that one must never spend one’s Capital, and even Income should be spared if any of it could be added to the Capital.  I was just a working class oik, and had no idea what Capital meant.  You got your wages on a Friday, and would be lucky to have any left by Thursday.  I did have a small amount in savings, but this was in case I lost my job, not in any way as Capital.  But then came the house-buying boom of the seventies, and desperate not to be left behind, despite living in a nice controlled-rent flat, I bought my first property.  So at last I had some Capital, or a Mortgage in place of it.  Those of us who lived through the eighties and nineties were so so lucky.  House prices kept going up in leaps and bounds, and it was almost ‘de rigeur’ to boast of how much more ones house was worth today than when one bought it.  And one consequence was that as your Mortgage slowed diminished and the value of your house increased, you had a larger and larger lump of equity.  But it was sitting useless in your property, you couldn’t actually spend it.  Many friends and colleagues at the time were busily re-mortgaging their houses, sometimes annually, and so releasing this Capital, and spending it.  Some were clever and used it to buy other properties, but most bought cars or holidays or a new kitchen.  I, on the other hand took the advice of Mac, and tried to pay my mortgage off even quicker, which I did.  I then sold the house and got a large sum of money, which I have now mostly spent on two properties, one here and one in France.  But in a way it doesn’t really matter, as long as you still have an income.  You will die and others will inherit your Capital and probably spend it foolishly anyway. Funny old game though.

No real News to report

Sunday 15th July

There is always news, but what constitutes News is not always new.  The problem is that we have an infrastructure that is quite unsuited to the reporting of news.  In the Middle Ages a Town Crier might be sent out to proclaim the death of a King, or a great military victory, the rest of the time there would be nothing except the usual gossip at the weekly markets.  With the coming of newspapers, editors soon realised that they had to fill their papers with something, and it was often made up, or if not actually invented then highly exaggerated, not only in its content but its importance.  Here we also started to see the blurring of comment and opinion with the personal interest of the owner, culminating in the late Twentieth Century and beyond with News International using its papers for both political and business ends.  For a long time TV news was trusted to be impartial, though anyone who knows anything will tell you that it was the News editing that was the most important element; in other words what was decided as News was as important as the actual reporting of that news.  So, in a way the Media make the News, or at least decide what prominence to give different bits of news.  And every year we have the silly season stories, where for lack of anything really decisive, especially when Parliament is on one of its many long breaks, the news schedules are filled with items that wouldn’t normally get in on the rolling news channels let alone the evening main bulletins.  And they have to fill in their allotted half hour with something, don’t they.  So, how does the discerning member of the public decide what is important, apart from as an increasing majority do and switch off completely.  You just have use the boredom factor, where at present Syria probably scores the highest followed by the Olympic Torch Relay which seems to have been going on all year already.  Wouldn’t it just be lovely if Huw Edwards were to say after five minutes, “And actually that is all that has really happened of any significance today; there really was no News to report, so goodnight.”

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Saturday 14th July

I have got a thing about these Nordic detectives and having watched Wallander on TV played so brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the books.  Being the logical sort of person I am I decided to start with the first Wallander novel, so Faceless Killers was the one I started with.  Well, it was brilliant and almost from the first page too.  The sense of a life careening out of control was captured without any sentimentality.  The prose is quite terse and there isn’t a lot of action or description, but somehow it just works.  The character of Kurt Wallander is quite sad really, a bit like a younger Scandinavian version of our very own John Rebus.  And why is it that we like our detectives to be miserable.  In the twenties and thirties we seemed to like them jovial and rich like Hercule Poirot, but as times have got grittier then we seem to like our detectives grittier too. The weather is also a constant factor in this book, almost every page there is some reference to the weather getting worse or slightly better.  And the desolate landscape of Sweden is captured in a few bleak phrases.  The story wasn’t actually that great, a few dead ends and the killers in the end aren’t that interesting.  One’s whole attention is on the pretty miserable lives of Kurt and his team of cops.  And I find that this is what I really like;  I don’t really care who dunnit, or how they were discovered, but the character of Kurt or Rebus is all important, even the little details of what they are eating and drinking and the clothes they are wearing.   I finished it in record time and now feel a bit empty that I have got to the end.  So a definite hit – and I will be reading more.  Shall we say 8 out of 10.

Mysterious Death of a Cow

Friday 13th July

The scientific community is buzzing at the moment with excitement.  It has long been understood that the domestic farm cow is actually quite intelligent and far from the popular conception that all these animals do all day is stand around chewing the cud.  Well of course, they do stand around chewing the cud, as this is part of the digestive process, but there may well be more going on than meets the eye. It has long been suspected that there is some form of cow language, or at least some form of communication rather than the occasional moo.  Farmers have long observed that cows know when bad weather is on the way at least a couple of hours before it arrives, and it has often been observed that younger animals, who have never seen the cattle transporter, appear to know that the arrival of this vehicle, a true harbinger of their death, means not only their separation from the herd but their eventual demise too. More evidence has arisen recently when Daisy Brown, a seven year old milker suddenly ran dry.  This is an infrequent but not unknown problem, and if it persists the farmer knows he will have no alternative but to send the unproductive cow to the pet food factory.  It seems that Daisy was aware of this too, because she appears to have colluded with others to arrange her own demise rather than face the inevitable.  Farmer Brown farms several acres of the Sussex Downs, right up to some very high cliffs.  The day that he decided poor Daisy was no longer a viable proposition and he went to collect her he noticed that she was being protected by a solid ring of other cows who, seemingly in concert shielded her from his advance.  Gradually the whole herd moved as one nearer and nearer to the edge of the cliffs, until poor Daisy was forced over the edge to her death. Officials from the EU are investigating as this would appear to be the first recorded case of assisted moo-icide.

B is also for, and let us not forget, The Byrds

Thursday 12th July

So many fabulous bands from the sixties, a time of musical creativity almost unmatched, and one of the most influential was ‘The Byrds’.  Formed around a nucleus of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman they took folk and country and mixed it with pop and everything going to create their own special sound.  And the defining element of that was always Roger’s jangling guitar sound.  Formed in 1965 and broke up in 1971, but they had about ten albums and were constantly changing, both personnel and styles, but they always sounded fresh and exciting.  They took a Bob Dylan song ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and put a funky beat behind it and gentle harmonies and it was an instant hit, so much so that it surely impressed Bob to get rockier too. They kick-started the whole West Coast thing with groups like the Eagles and Tom Petty carrying on where they left off.  The whole Americana scene that is now so popular has been widely influenced by The Byrds.  And let us not forget the songs, 5D, Eight Miles High, Chestnut Mare and So You Wanna Be a Rock’n’Roll Star, which provided a counterpoint to the Beatles poppiness..  In fact it was Roger’s use of the sitar in many Byrds songs that inspired George Harrison to play it too.  It was an incredibly fast moving scene and everyone influenced everyone else to some degree, but every time I put on a Byrds record I just feel like I have come home again.  Most people have forgotten them now, but at one time they were up there with The Beatles and The Stones and The Beach Boys, and deservedly so too.

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