Nobody ever told me…

…that sex could be this good. Or, not sex precisely; more sort-of high-pressure water hoses… but first some context…

This has been a weekend of spending money and crank phone calls; on friday night I received a call from on his cellphone; thing is, he hadn’t dialled it.

This sort of thing happens once every 6 weeks or so; because I am often the first person on peoples speed-dials – due to alphabetic sorting – every so often I get called by someone’s dropping their telephone, or sitting on it, or whatever.

Friday night was Ian’s turn, wherein he was having some late-night social event with (at least) a couple of girlies of our ken. Since you cannot hangup an inbound call, I eventually (through loud whistling) managed to get them to notice the phone, explain, have a laugh together, and hang up.

Saturday was shopping in that hell-hole that is Reading; finding that the Park&Ride was a better option for city-centre access, I went to High&Mighty and blew 130 quid on clothing; wandered around some camping shops and cook shops, latterly spent another 100 quid on camping gear, and a further 120 at B&Q, buying fire extinguishers, misc DIY equipment, and – (aha!) – a Karcher high-pressure jet washer. I dropped shopping at R&G’s in the evening and vegged, returning home to find 12 blank SMS messages received from .

Apparently this was another mobile-phone weirdness. The cause of the SMS messages remains a mystery.

Sunday dawned, and I tried out the washer for half an hour; it’s phenomenal fun – motorbike clean (enough) in minutes, being careful not to wash the grease out of the headstock and wheel bearings; slime-encrusted flagstones, waterbutts and wheeliebins washed clean, and the moss-encrusted barbecue is now 97% spotless and even fit for use, which it’s not been since before I bought the house.

I think my childlike glee in playing with this thing can be excused as precisely such – when growing up in Pittsburgh like all good suburban pseudo-American sprogs, my sisters’ and my favourite summer pastime was as-traditional, playing with the lawn sprinkler and hosepipes. My favourite trick was in using the jet nozzle to knock pollen out of the long-needled pine trees, causing enormous clouds of chlorine-green pollen to descend upon the neighbourhood from 30 feet up. The parents used to give me hell, but it was fun to watch.

I had sunday morning coffee with the neighbours, went to M&S for further clothes shopping, laundered, cleaned, tidied – the house is heading pell-mell towards showhome standards of cleanliness – and set about braising some large field mushrooms in a vegetable stock, encrusted with parmesan & slivers of wild-boar salami when the phone rang.

Yet again it was Ian’s mobile calling, and this time I was unable to raise him. Having a speakerphone, I left it on listened to him and yet another ladyfriend watching Shrek whilst I cooked, and the connection died eventually. Called him back and explained. I suspect that it won’t reoccur anytime soon. Also arranged to go see a comedian together towards the end of the month.

Reorganisation contines apace, and I feel pleased to have crossed-off almost a sheet’s worth of tasks this weekend.

Now back to real work.

Relaxing after…

…a hot, sudsy candle-lit bath, a hot-mushroom/salad sandwich, a cat nap, and now a malt & my laptop. If nothing else, my house is very good for relaxing after an arduous day. 😎 As hoped, the frost stayed off, so I biked over to Avebury – stopping off at Silbury Hill, a few barrows, and exploring the root of The Ridgeway. Had coffee and soup in Marlborough (a pretty market town) to warm up before the foggy ride back. It was about 115 miles all-in, allowing for my small goof when bypassing Newbury homewards, ending up dragged several miles southwards of my preferred route. Never believe roadsigns without doublechecking; they’re all designed for car drivers with too much petrol and better weather protection. Thing learned: I have got to get some winter gloves, really soon. My hands suffered somewhat from the cold, but better than they might have since waterproofing the gloves.

Holiday Winding Up

it’s been a good vacation, these past three weeks – even if i did cave-in and stop by the office a couple of times this week; i’ve crossed-off a lot of small domestic tasks which have left my house looking a lot more presentable – even stylish in parts – and there’s a 6′ high heap of garden waste to be put through a chipper once it’s hardened-off for a month.

my eldest sister and her husband stopped-by to visit en-route for gatwick, flying home to the usa tomorrow. she’s a network admin for a hospital, he’s a lecturer in medieval english and literature, and they’ve been soaking-up the shires and wales for the past fortnight.

curiously, they’d not been to a traditional pub on their holiday yet, so we went to my local which is about as traditional as you can get, and chatted about plans for the future.

i have since baked bread, repaired some clothes and a pair of moccasins, and can now sit back to sip a lagavulin, watch some movies, and think a bit.

lots of people seem to be posting new year’s resolutions and the like. i’ve never found that making them works for me – perhaps i’m jaundiced from my experiences when i was a member of the local gym, and found it wisest to avoid going there for the first six weeks of any year – time during which it’d be packed-out each night with people puffing and blowing and (eventually) giving-up. it wasn’t fun to watch. by mid feburary, things would generally return to normal levels.

maybe i just don’t like the implicit assumption that it must be a certain time of year in order for me to change myself. either way, just having a ticklist works for me. things to do, people to see.

perhaps new year’s is a time to consider bigger changes like getting into relationships, but (a) i see that as a being consequent upon the sort of social stuff that already goes on the ticklist, and (b) i feel more interested in having fun and making new friends at the moment. a relationship wouldn’t be a bad thing, but i’m not in a hurry to dive into one. i like my life, working on the house and garden, learning new things and finding fun new things to do. why mandate a need for change?

speaking of which: the frost seems to have broken today – if it’s still thawed tomorrow, i may go out for a cruise on the bike. it needs a runaround.

Ding-dong, the New Year’s Here…

Well, the Xmas and New Year’s break has been odd, and it’s not over for me yet because i’ve invested my three days carry-over vacation into keeping me on break until Jan 7th.

Why it is that I am in work, therefore, eludes me. Bandwidth, probably.

The holiday started with a funeral – a cremation, one of which I’ve never attended before, and which made me wonder just who it was that I could smell on the wind, but the service was nice and so was the reception afterwards – browsing memorabilia.

One day, a colleague threw a piss-up throughout which I stayed sober (driving) and spent the evening as usual, listening to other people wanting solutions to their love lives. I got home about 0230, and was up again at 0530 to go shopping and beat the crowds. I was pooped.

Xmas Eve and Day were family affairs; I got a bit bored and fraught what with being taxi-driver for two solid days, so actually getting-away from my family came as something of a relief. Being on my own was a bit of a pisser in certain respects, but at least you weren’t beholden to other people. Boxing Day was spent watching Morris Dancing and a Mummers’ Play with friends, and then off for a quick game of kickabout, and vegging on a beanbag with friends. Nice.

Since then, I have been working through a ticklist that covers 5 sides of A4, of all the fiddly little domestic and organisational chores that need doing – spring-cleaning, moving shower curtains, odd bits of DIY, hedge trimming and disposal, surveying, etc. It’s quite chuffing to be crossing-off so many of the little tasks I have amassed, part of which I ascribe to having consolidated several lists into a single big folder.

New Years Eve was spent sorting the kitchen, bathroom and storage cupboards and toolboxes so that things were sensibly organised; this was a horrendous 10-hour task but means that I now have an operational downstairs loo for the first time, without using it to store lumber.

It was a wry feeling, being on my own on New Years, especially as I had been told I would have been welcome at a friend’s New Year Party, but for the minor detail that the party was also to be attended by another person to whom the party-thrower was obliged, and who (cutting a long story short) hates my guts.

Hence I was sort-of metainvited to a New Year’s Party.

This is the second time that this has happened, and I must admit that I am starting to consider it a serious nuisance; the person concerned is, or was once a very good friend of mine, but after an altercation she has put out the message that she no longer can stand to be in my presence.

Stopping liking someone is fair enough in my books, but the situation has now advanced to the point where our mutual friends are imposing a sort of neurotic self-censorship on party invitations and public communications, lest she or I learn things about each other, or otherwise feel excluded from their lives in some way – which is ironic really, because exclusion is precisely what is going-on here.

If they’re going to do it, they might as well have the courage to stand up and admit it, preferably beforehand. One person has managed to do this and admit this to-date, but seems to have not liked being obligated to keep us separate. Ideally, people would invite us all, and let God sort it out.

Even intelligent friends are prey to propping-up this situation; one party-thrower has gone so far as to propose a mediation service by which some entity would arrange that my ex-friend and I could alternate party attendance, one-on, one-off; I consider this to be patently absurd as well as unfair, not the least because:

  1. it’s hideously complicated

  2. it implies a greater level of communication and organisation than the matter warrants – throwing good communication after bad.

  3. i am already two parties down from parity

  4. said person could declare to opt-out of any situation to which I had been invited even if she couldn’t go anyway, and thereby gain a Muffett-free party for zero cost.

I feel that there is a – maybe subconcious or unintended – power-game going on here; the person who is upset with me is the person that is putting our friends through the emotional wringer, without having to lift a finger to do it. People buy-in to her “situation” and do painful, co-dependent things in order to satisfy her needs.

The truly ironic twist is that my views regarding such manipulation, subconcious or otherwise, were a major part of the reason we originally fell-out; I refuse to participate in burdening my friends with pandering to my neuroses because (a) to do so would do nothing for my self-esteem, and (b) being as I am not cute, nor have an apparently fragile personality, I suspect that it wouldn’t have quite the same effect.

Hohum. Let the flames begin. It’s deja-vu all over again.

On a different topic: Camberley Central Sainsburys has been totally overhauled, as if Jamie Oliver went in and restocked the shelves personally – the place is lovely, selling deli olives by volume, fresh meats and salamis, interesting legumes… I went a bit mad in there and was surprised to have spent less than 20 quid.

The comely young lady behind the till did quiz me as to why I was buying all this “exotic” stuff; she seemed a bit amazed when I told her that it was prettymuch “my usual”. It did make me wonder quite how few people take food seriously, even in these days with more TV celebrity chefs than gameshow hosts.

Letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus

Thought-provoking extracts from a favourite text; the whole thing is worth a read if you have the time. (URL below)

http://www.epicurus.net/menoeceus.html
Letter to Menoeceus by Epicurus
In this letter, Epicurus summarizes his ethical doctrines:
Epicurus to Menoeceus, greetings:

Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come.

[…] Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.

And since pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatsoever, but will often pass over many pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater pleasure. While therefore all pleasure because it is naturally akin to us is good, not all pleasure is should be chosen, just as all pain is an evil and yet not all pain is to be shunned. It is, however, by measuring one against another, and by looking at the conveniences and inconveniences, that all these matters must be judged. Sometimes we treat the good as an evil, and the evil, on the contrary, as a good.

[…] When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is wisdom. Therefore wisdom is a more precious thing even than philosophy ; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that we cannot live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly. For the virtues have grown into one with a pleasant life, and a pleasant life is inseparable from them.

A lament for Patrick Gordon Smith

My mother and father discovered our neighbour, dead, this (tuesday) morning, slumped on his kitchen floor behind his front door so that it had to be forced to be open.

Patrick Gordon Smith – not hyphenated, but treated as a double-barrel name – lived two doors along from my parents, and was an significant influence upon my life right from our arrival back in the UK in 1978, through to when I left for college in 1985, and beyond.

He was a quintessentially English character; long-limbed, mild mannered, silver haired and perpetually dressed in proper shoes, trousers and a long-sleeved shirt with collar, he was cast from a mould of WWII military aviator whose values and behaviour are unseen – and barely understood – in this day and age. Fans of Dad’s Army would, with some fairness, compare his style to that of bespectaled John LeMesurier, but with a rather less wily air, more at-ease with himself, with a hint of Naval swagger but no bravado.

Pat was WWII ex-RN Fleet Air Arm and flew “Stringbags” (Fairy Swordfish Torpedo / Fighter-Bombers) off of the Ark Royal; I believe that he was in-on the hunt for the Bismark, but not based on the Ark Royal at that point. Stationed in Malta for a while. I also believe he finished up as a Wing Commander or somesuch.

I never pressed him about his war experiences because we shared another interest entirely: birdwatching.

His slightly betweeded love for all matters avian – porting everywhere his 1950s vintage copy of Peterson-UK and a pair of Barr & Stroud 8x30s, dressed in a muddy-brown smock – was an inspiration to me. Trips to Slimbridge, trips to Cley and Mins, regular weekly hauls up the A38 to the rather less-well-known-than-now reserve of Upton Warren… We must have spent several hundred (often freezing and rained-on) hours in each others’ company, or comparing notes after expeditions on our own; he always gave his time and advice freely, rarely took umbrage or became angered at anything, and when he did tended to express in terms of “being a bit miffed”.

One of the happiest moments of my birdwatching life was the time that I felt that I had managed to “give him back” a worthy experience; through another birder I learned that a nest of Quail had been discovered a few miles to the north of where we lived, in Doverdale fields. In the summer evening half-light we drove out there, I led us to the spot, and after a few too-long minutes a Quail emerged like some shrunk-in-the-wash Partridge, no bigger than a fist, perched on a hummock and began to display with its repetitive “twit-wip-wip” call.

Patrick couldn’t hear it – with age he was becoming progressively more deaf to high frequencies and was also partially blind in one eye, the other deteriorating through glaucoma – but we tracked it, we nailed it, we saw it we did, confirming the species observation by the frequency of the bird’s wingbeats as it flew off.

That was a good day.

I didn’t see Pat much after I left for college and then work; his birding trips tailed-off after hearing and sight defects made it less fruitful. As was his habit, he and my parents would get together on saturdays and do the Daily Telegraph crossword over dinner, phoning up family and sharing the clues and solutions in a joint social-event / race / intra-family war.

Apparently his deterioration recently became more serious after he finally became too disabled to drive; my mother attributes much of this to loss if independence, and I can see merit in this view. Yesterday – monday now – feeling poorly, he booked an appointment to go to the local medical centre, and my dad was to taxi him there at 0845 the next morning.

Sunrise came, Dad went to pick him up but found the front door locked, with a note stuck in the window for Pat’s cleaner; Dad cast-around, tried to find if Pat’d gone to the doctor’s under his own steam somehow, called Pat’s son, after an hour my Dad (82) himself was on the verge of attacking the front door with a sledgehammer when Mum found the spare key we kept. She unlocked the door and pushed, but nothing moved.

It was only while she was shoving the door hard that she had the horrible realisation of what might be blocking it, and putting her head around the door confirmed the body. I’m glad that Dad was there too, because he’s seen enough death – also WWII – to be able to cope level-headedly.

The police arrived later – they’d got lost – forced entry, arranged ambulances and examiners and so forth. As ever, the traditional response of Muffetts to emergency services personnel is to feed them endless mugs of tea – which gave Mum something to do; she (fortunately) like the rest of us is pretty bombproof on these occasions, and also saw to fielding Pat’s son when he arrived.

The general opinion was that Pat had dropped in his pyjamas while fetching the morning milk – a bowl of muesli, a sliced banana, cutlery on the sideboard bearing witness. It appeared to have been over quickly.

I hope it was quick. He deserved quick. It’s a pity that death takes no measure of gallantry or kindness, nor necessarily gives you the opportunity to, erm, properly dispose yourself for other people to find you.

Oh well – there are certainly worse ways to go.

Mum told me this evening that she feels a bit “steamrollered” by events, and will be having “a jolly stiff drink” before bed. Dad likewise, although he seems more nonplussed than anything. They’ll be OK. They’ve lived through worse.

And me? Well, I, too, shall have a small toast to his rememberance, before I turn in. It’s not my tragedy – it’s Pat’s, and the world’s.

Gentlemen (birdwatchers or otherwise) of PGS’s ilk are themselves rarities nowadays, and for this reason if no other I mourn his passing; yet I have much more reason for I owe him much of my knowledge of Natural History, and some of the best times of my youth.

I shall miss him, and my parents have lost a crossword-partner. In my family, that statement expresses a sentiment that it is not possible to put into words.

At least I knew him.

Weekend fun.

Overall, a very pleasant weekend.

Friday evening I went to see HuunHuurTu (Tuvan folk band) at the Royal Festival Hall, supporting a 20-voice Bulgarian Women’s Choir, and a trio of Modern Jazz nutters from Moscow & Stockholm.

It was a bizzare fusion of music, and worked well – solos and combined efforts, sax and scat-singing backed by the women’s choir, hybrid steppe cowboy-songs and russian folk, and a stonking set of modern Jazz with piano, sax, coronet and a 4-meter long Alphorn.

Impressive stuff, done with rhythm and humour; I am hoping that HuunHuurTu come back for a solo tour, though, because they deservedly got the most applause of the crowd.

Most of the rest of the weekend was given over to friends, movies, motorcycles and experimental gastronomy; a mate from work took delivery of a shiny red Ducati 748 and went blasting all over the place at speeds of up to 130mph. I turned up at his place on my freshly washed 125cc trailie, which though positively wimpy compared to his sportsbike, towers above the same. We had a nice chat, and then I went out for a potter around the locale. Stopped in on the Hartlands, and sorted out the next few weeks socialising.

The food included haddock poached in cream and butter served over mustard mash; banana and muscovado crumble with cognac – and on sunday, chicken breast in pancetta, braised with spirit molasses and chili, and served with green salad and a wholewheat crouton. I am not satisfied with the latter – needs a bit more kick, garlic maybe.

Yay…

sigh

is it me, or…

…is the “don’t auto format” option, slightly broken? sometimes I look at my previous posting, and it is manually formatted as I intended. Other times, and it gets superformatted and looks chunky.

small world, good music.

Well, the They Might Be Giants at the London Astoria tonight, proved three things to me:

  1. You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.
  2. It’s a very small world.
  3. Irrespective of the views of some of my friends, I must have had the words Nice Guy, Chivalrous, And Safe Too tattooed on my forehead in a script legible only to women. I can think of no other excuse…

The queue – which I joined an hour before the gig, and hence was at the front – was a living history of geek chic throughout the past 20 years, and being at the front got me a prized front-and-centre against-the-fence position.

There was I, standing with a woman on either side of me; to my left, blonde and pretty, a German who works as a media analyst for RTL (a TV station) and who has seen the band live some 40 times. She is over to the UK and booked to follow the band around the UK and attend every gig.

To my right, brunette, perky and cute, a Brit who has seen the band live 27 times. She’s a journalist, and is booked to follow the band around the UK and attend every gig.

And finally there is me, a TMBG virgin.

A pleasant three-way conversation sprang up when I put these two in touch with each other – they were astonished at the amount of overlap of attendance (“Fillmore Hall in San Francisco in ’95?” “Yes!”) yet never having met each other – and I seemed to get “adopted” as the band newbie and chatted (and listened in) at length on the history of TMBG gigs over the years.

The warm-up band was competent, fun even, but a little too serious perhaps; there was then an overly-extended break to the recorded soundtrack of Oklahoma!, in which further chatting with my new brunette friend revealed:

  1. Her name was Amy
  2. she was apparently writing this up for GQ and Bride’s Monthly (!?!)
  3. and yes, she also liked The Divine Comedy
  4. and also a band called The Cardiacs
  5. Oh My God, yes, I know Jim Finnis
  6. [He’s] a friend of my ex-fiance, Nige[l]
  7. So, how do [I] know Jim?

…which was about the time I swung around out of shock, only to find Narenek peering at me from the depths of the audience.

I really wonder, sometimes, how far one would have to go in order to not be within (say) 5 miles of someone who has not met, slept with, lived with, or worked with, someone from the circle of friends I know from my college days, to a depth of twice-removed, say.

Anyway – I shall leave the TMBG review to Narenek – suffice to say it was a foot-stomping spectacular and I enjoyed myself thoroughly, whilst alternately being tugged or snuggled-up-to by the girls on either side of me in order to stop people cutting into “our” slot in the fence, and simultaneously fending-off the crushing, drunken, beer-swilling mob to our rear. One guy was particularly pissed, smiling like a loon, handing out Lockets lozenges, drunkenly punching the air (and us) with his fists, and “grinding his genitals into [Amy’s] backside” for some time, until with a little surreptitious shin-kicking from my walking boots, he left.

The gig wound up well; I bade my new ladyfriends goodnight, fought my way out, and – in a pique of suicidal nostalgia – purchased a kebab from a notorious take-away that was known as “Dying-Greasyus” in my UCL years. It was just as vile as I remembered. Caught the tube, and the penultimate train home.

Funny old thing, life.

Oh, and while queueing, I think i saw Strange Behaving Dave, too. Or his twin. Something like that.